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Seidman's Online Insider is published by long-standing internet and online mavin Robert Seidman. We've enjoyed his writings for the past four or so years, and when this article hit, I just had to ask if it'd be okay to pass it along to you. Robert said yes...

Does it Have to be COOL
to be Meaningful?

by Robert Seidman

ALTHOUGH I HAVE MOVED TO SAN FRANCISCO, I was reading the Silicon Alley Daily -- the e-mail sidekick to the print version of the Silicon Alley Reporter* the other day and it got me thinking. The newsletter contained an editorial from the magazine's editor and publisher, Jason McCabe Calacanis titled "What was the last thing you saw on the Net that made you say, "Wow!?"
. . .
Calacanis talked about how when he sent a message to the World Wide Web Artists Consortium list ( or the WWWAClist <wwwac.org> ) that most of the responses he received back pointed him to Shockwave Flash animation sites.
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So I started thinking about this some. I mean, I have seen some cool uses of Flash. But how useful or meaningful to my life are they? And how do the users who don't have T1s, ISDN, Cable Modems or xDSL (pretty much all home users) feel about them?
. . .
For myself I've concluded there is a lot of cool stuff, but most of it isn't all that useful. And like Calacanis, it doesn't make me go "WOW!".
. . .
While I'm sure a thing or two will come along that will make me say "WOW!", I really don't think that's what the Internet is about. I mean, sooner or later we take whatever it is that is making us say "Wow!" for granted anyway, and it doesn't make us think "wow!" anymore. For example, what if I told you that you could communicate with anyone (provided they have access) anywhere in the world for, relatively speaking, FREE. That would be pretty cool, wouldn't it?
. . .
And what if I told you that you could figure out how to communicate with 3,000 or 30,000 or, depending on what you're writing about 300,000 or even 3,000,000 people, without spending much money?
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I bet you would think those things are pretty cool if you thought about them! These are things that you can't really "see", so they probably won't make you say "Wow!".
. . .
When bandwidth comes (for the 99.999% of us who don't have T-1s, Cable Modems, ISDN, or xDSL in our homes...okay, okay, so *I* do have ISDN, but that's not the point) one thing you will be able to SEE that will make you say WOW! is the video teleconferencing. You may have to spend $100-$200 on hardware, but it is pretty cool. Now conferencing with someone on a 28.8Kbps line (even if YOU have a T-1) is no great joy. But I've done cross country conferencing with people where I had ISDN and they did too. And it was pretty cool. Not all that meaningful to me. But then again I don't have children whose family is spread out all over the country. But if you and your family are in Seattle and your children's grandparents are in Florida, this sort of teleconferencing may very well be useful, meaningful and enjoyable. And cool, too.
. . .
But whether it's e-mail, buddy lists and instant messaging, bulletin boards, or teleconferencing, the communications aspects of the Internet are all very cool. And though we may not always say "Wow!" over these things, deep down, we do.
. . .
It is the communications aspects that excited me way back in 1982 when I connected to a bulletin board system via modem for the first time. And it was the communications aspects that held my attention for the longest time. Since then though, I've come to see an even cooler aspect. To me, the power of the Internet isn't so much wrapped up in communications, or commerce. The true power to me is all the information available. For the first time, everyone (with access) is on equal footing to make very informed choices. Whether it's about buying a car, what mutual fund to invest in, what are the best restaurants to eat in, or the best college to go to -- there is so much information available to help you make the best choices possible. You are empowered.
. . .
And a not small amount of focus is given to the issue of the "information haves" vs. the "information have-nots". Indeed, it is an issue of concern. But I believe that maybe it is an issue of too much concern. At the end of the day, if somebody is willing to pay for it (and I'm sure that eventually, we can find a way to pay for it that works for most people, most of the time) we can solve the access dilemma. That really all boils down to money. Not an easy problem, but not insurmountable either.
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The bigger issue to me, the one that will not be so easy to solve is this: how do you make someone WANT to be empowered? My best guess is that you can't make someone want to be empowered. They either desire to be empowered or they don't. And guess what, LOTS of people don't. Perhaps you see this as cynicism or myopia, but I don't think it is either. There will be people who don't care to be empowered. Technology won't empower someone, no matter how cool it is, no matter how much it makes you or I say "wow!", if they don't want to be empowered. But who knows, maybe this is just a marketing problem that AOL will be able to solve. ;-)
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The next generation of cool things will be the things that combine the communication tools with the information that empowers in new ways. So new, I don't really know what they are yet. But what I do know is that it's a level significantly beyond the things we have today. For a limited example of this, I think of Natrificial's "The Brain". The Brain seeks to allow you to organize all of your digital content in the way that you naturally think. For me it doesn't work so well. Perhaps that's because over the years of using computers, I've had to access digital content the way that made sense to the computer. Unlearning all that experience isn't easy for me. But I can see where you'd get a lot out of it after spending a lot of time getting it set up. You can check out "The Brain" at: < http://www.thebrain.com/ >.
. . .
Jerry Michalski, who was editor of Esther Dyson's Release 1.0 newsletter swears by The Brain. The latest version of the software will allow you to "publish" your own "brain" on the Internet. This is quite an interesting concept. For example, once Michalski publishes his "brain" (and he will, if he hasn't already), we'll all have access to it. So, we'll have access to Michalski's digital content AND any thoughts he has on that content and issues that are important to him. I'm not suggesting this will replace actually talking to people (in fact, I could see where it would lead to increased communication). But, if I can't get a hold of Mr. Michalski, and I want to know what he thinks about something I can check out his "brain". If it's in his "brain", I'll get to see what he thinks.
. . .
The only problem I have with this approach is that you need to have a brain (the real one) as big as Michalski's to make good use of this, and I for one, do not. It needs to be made easier for me. But it highlights an interesting opportunity. I like the way Michalski thinks. I don't always agree with him, but he always makes me think, and I trust him. So for me, this approach is superior to scanning the newsgroups via DejaNews < http://www.dejanews.com > to find out what someone thinks who I do not know. There are a lot of other folks I trust and if I had access to that sort of insight without actually having to bug the people individually all the time, that would be great.
. . .
Where it gets too hard with The Brain, I believe, is that most people will not spend the time necessary to set up their "brains". But seemingly, it's not a big leap to think someday that this sort of thing could be automated. There are a slew of access issues (I only want these people to see all of my brain, these people get to see only these parts, etc.), but the ability to get information from specific trusted people (not just sources like the Wall Street Journal) presents some fantastic opportunities. I hope we'll see some development in this area. To me, it's a notch above buying books online.
. . .
Buying books online is cool. You can shop in your underwear in the middle of the night and browsing is easy if there is a good search tool. But at the end of the day this is just "bringing the bookstore to you". It can be more convenient, and even easier (but in spite of what you read, I find it is rarely cheaper when you factor in shipping!). This is not a radical new way of doing things. A new way of doing things, yes, but not all that radical of a new way. And from where I sit, that's definitely okay for now. There are a lot of things that aren't perhaps radically different. But they're different enough to make things a little better, a little easier. For now, I'll settle for being able to listen to Yankees and Orioles baseball games from San Francisco.
. . .
We may not consider any longer that the things we have now are radically new ways of doing things. But I think 20 years ago, we would have. The more radically different stuff is coming. It's just that by the time it gets here, it may not seem so radical to us. But it will empower us -- those who wish to be empowered -- in new ways that were not available before. And that's plenty radical enough for me.
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* RE: Silicon Alley Daily -- you can sign up for the Silicon Alley Daily for free by visiting the web site at: < http://www.siliconalleyreporter.com >

Thanks Robert! Real food for thought.
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Our favorite version of Seidman's Online Insider, by Robert Seidman is the text newsletter you can get by sending an e-mail to: insider-text-on@seidman.infobeat.com. No subject line or body text is required. A Web-based version of the newsletter is available at: http://www.onlineinsider.com

Article References:
WWWAClist http://wwwac.org
The Brain http://www.thebrain.com/
DejaNews http://www.dejanews.com/
Silicon Alley Daily http://www.siliconalleyreporter.com/

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