StratVantage Consulting, LLC — Mike’s Take on the News 06/12/01

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StratVantage Consulting, LLC — Mike’s Take on the News 06/12/01

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The News – 06/12/01

Go With the Information Flow

Everything you know about computer interfaces is wrong, according to David Gelernter, noted computer author and thinker, and founder of Mirrorworlds Technology. The desktop metaphor was a revolutionary breakthrough in the ‘60s (yes, the ‘60s, when Douglas Englebart invented it and the mouse.) Almost 40 years later, the metaphor is worn out and unable to keep up with the demands of computing. The rise of small personal devices such as phones and PDAs has made the obsolescence of the desktop obvious. What we need, Gelerntner says, is a way of organizing information that is closer to the way our brains do it: in chronological order with a fast (well, relatively fast for those of us over 40) associative search engine.

Rather than dealing with information by conforming to computers, Gelernter wants computers that conform to the way we think. To accomplish this, Mirrorworlds has recently released Scopeware 2.0, which allows you to organize your life around streams, rather than a “standing pool of sludge,” as Gelernter calls current file systems.

The stream would be an all-inclusive electronic diary: every information item that entered your life would enter the stream at the same time. When you made plans for the future, you’d store the plans in the "future" of the stream. The stream could reclassify everything instantaneously. If you wanted to see all your zeppelin documents you would type "zeppelin," and all non-zeppelin-related documents would disappear, and you’d have a pure zeppelin stream. You’d rely on the powerful symbiosis among full-content-searching, easy browsing and time-order to find exactly what you wanted, fast. Emails, electronic images, and other information items would be first-class citizens of the stream, alongside documents and applications and anything else. In other words, this information management system would actually manage information, instead of gazing off into space while YOU managed information.

Scopeware allows companies or individuals to set up a stream which will contain all emails, word processing files, spreadsheets, PDFs, contacts, calendars – any of the electronic bits of information that currently rule our lives. Using sophisticated security, permissioning, and distribution technology, you can access the stream from any computer or any device, at least eventually.

Gelernter, whom you may be familiar with as a result of the Unabomber’s letter bomb attack on him in 1993, envisions a world in which we can forget all the arcane things we’ve learned about dealing with computers and concentrate on dealing with the information. Streams will be provided as a utility, like power and water, rather than being purchased in boxes that grow obsolete every 18 months.

Whether Mirrorworlds’ scheme pans out or not, you can expect some radical changes in the way you do computing over the next few years, what with dramatically increasing bandwidth and computing power, and the proliferation of computing devices.

It seems obvious that the primary computing metaphor, the desktop, will need to change. My feeling is there will be a variety of schemes to fit the variety of ways that people interact with information. I once had a colleague who filed everything by time, much the way Scopeware does. When she left, we couldn’t find anything, but it all was immediately and intuitively accessible for her. We’ve probably all known people with idiosyncratic filing methods. Chances are good, then, that the new computing environment won’t be a tyranny of standardization like the current one, but rather infinitely adaptable to the way people think.


Briefly Noted

  • Buzzword Alert: We’re all familiar with megabytes by now, and most will recognize gigabytes (1,024 megabytes). You may even know that a terabyte is 1,024 gigabytes and a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes. But now, for the first time, I’ve seen a number associated with the Internet that dwarfs them all: zettabytes. A zettabyte is a 1 followed by 21 zeroes. That’s the current estimate of how much information the Internet will contain by the end of the decade. Any bets on how long it will take to get to a googolplexbyte ?
    Dallas Morning News
  • NetZero and Juno Online Services, two ISPs who made their names with free Internet service, said they would merge to form a new company called United Online, expected to be the second biggest US ISP after AOL Time Warner’s America Online.
  • It’s Better to Burn Out Than to Fade Away: At least 54 US Internet companies closed in May, pushing the casualty total for the first five months of this year to 269, beyond the 222 total closings for all of 2000. According to Webmergers, a San Francisco research and advisory service, at least 493 Internet companies have shut down since Webmergers began tracking the phenomenon in January 2000. The company estimates that there are 7,000 to 10,000 substantial Web firms still in business.
  • Ferry Tale: Forbes columnist Rich Karlgaard waxes eloquent on the topic of assessing broadband demand: “How accurate is it ever to gauge, say, traffic for a proposed bridge by counting ferry boats and swimmers? Forget last-mile as you know it today: clunky DSL or cable modem service. These are mere swimmers and ferry boats. The bridge will come when last-mile connections are easy to order (one phone call or Web click); quick to deliver (the very next day); always on (like electricity in, uh, 49 states); and cheap ($20 a month or less). When the dogs are served that, they’ll eat till they burst.

Can’t Get Enough of ME?

In the unlikely event that you want more of my opinions, I’ve started a Weblog. It’s the fashionable thing for pundits to do, and I’m doing it too. A Weblog is a datestamped collection of somewhat random thoughts and ideas assembled on a Web page. If you’d like to subject the world to your thoughts, as I do, you can create your own Weblog. You need to have a Web site that allows you FTP access, and the free software from . This allows you to right click on a Web page and append your pithy thoughts to your Weblog.

I’ve dubbed my Weblog entries “Stratlets”, and they are available at . Let me know what you think. Also check out the TrendSpot for ranking of the latest emerging trends.

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