We're not quite there

A lot of people ask me the benefits of Twitter, especially in regards to face-to-face interactions. I have a list I can roll off, but often find myself answering "Well, we haven't quite arrived yet." And I think that is true. We aren't there yet. But we are moving closer.

Picture courtesy of Ryan Lane

The question is How do we encourage people to move outside the technology? Here is one idea:

I would like to see a locale-based Twitter system become successful. It would be great to harness the social power of Twitter and refocus it into physical locations. At the very least, it would create more face-to-face interactions. In addition, it could act as a fantastic tourism tool and the equivalent of a text-based two-way radio transceiver.

In a museum, we could discuss and suggest fascinating displays. In a city, we could give traffic alerts. In a concert, we could discuss the music. In an emergency situation, we could quickly organize ourselves. The list goes on.

In reality, Twitter is already being used for all of these purposes. Users tag and filter tweets to listen to a group at a conference or major event. But there are a couple of problems with this approach:

1) I need to somehow know the tag. This isn't always the case, especially in the scenarios I listed above. Even in a more organized situation like a conference, it takes awhile for the members to get on the same page. Tags go through a social darwinistic evolution where only the strong survive. In a less organized situation (a coffee shop), it is downright impossible to find out if anyone in the area is using Twitter.
2) Noise, noise, noise. Twitter is almost too general purpose. There are too many messages flying around. Although users can filter and listen to only a certain batch of tweets, they often don't. I believe that a constraint based system will push innovation within those boundaries.
3) Not sensitive to movement. Right now I'm at the MFA in Boston. But later, I may be at a Radiohead concert. Moving around forces the user to restart the whole process of finding the right tags or search terms.
4) Only good for densely populated areas. What I'm hiking and want to let the people in my vicinity know that there is a bear hunting near one trail. If I am using a Twitter based system, there is no good way to do this. None at all.

It doesn't seem like much of a stretch to create a locale based Twitter system. The technology is already here. The real challenge is making it succeed. Other evices have tried to use bluetooth for similar location communication. As far as I know, the bluetooth features are used sparingly at best. That's why I hope that by piggy-backing onto the wildly successful Twitter network, we might be able to take a second run at this problem.

What are the benefits? A Twitter network that impacts the real world in a deeper way than it already has. I believe it would encourage face-to-face interaction as well as act as a valuable collaboration tool.

Twitter has made a remarkable impact on news networks, media, and emergency communication systems. But it isn't quite there. This idea may help, but it won't solve everything. We need to continue to make it a priority to push the technology outward into our everyday lives.


Understanding Technology Policy

With an Obama administration coming right on the heels of the New Year, there is a lot of technology policy on the table you should know about. Here are a couple of interesting reads:

Weighing a Broadband Stimulus Plan

A clip: "In today's deep recession, digital age advocates are trying to persuade President-elect Barack Obama to put billions into a nationwide broadband build-out as part of his planned economic stimulus package ... But how do we make sure that the billions aren't spent creating the 21st century equivalent of ditches to nowhere?"

A little background: The United States is embarrassingly behind other tech-savvy nations in broadband adoption. To over-generalize the situation, our internet is slower, more expensive, and less available than many countries in the world. If you are interested, The Internet Technology & Innovation Foundation has a separate article on the issue.

(click picture for a larger view)

Should Computer Science be Part of a K-12 Education?

A clip: "Computing education benefits all students, not just those interested in pursuing computer science or information technology careers," said Bobby Schnabel, chair of ACM's Education Policy Committee (EPC). "But students often do not have many opportunities to engage in rigorous computer science study at the K-12 level," said Schnabel, dean of the Indiana University School of Informatics. "To meet the nation's educational and professional needs in the face of insufficient numbers of undergraduates majoring in computer science, we need to work harder to increase interest at the K-12 level, and to expand the pipeline supplying the necessary workforce for an information-based economy."

A little background: The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is recommending that Obama insert Computer Science into basic K-12 Education. The ACM is "the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society." Anyone who does anything related to computing is probably part of this organization (including me). I tend agree with them, as CS encourages abstract thinking and problem-solving skills that are difficult for children to develop at the elementary level. Also, even a cursory knowledge of programming gives enormous power to students later on in their education. Anyways, read the article and decide for yourself. It probably won't be the last you hear of it.

Business Time

I have not chatted with you in awhile. For those of you who keep tabs on my writing, I apologize. My notebook is filled with two-sentence thoughts and blurbs, but none of them have been flushed out enough to write a full article. Lets get some coffee sometime. Maybe that will make up for it.

photo by Leonard Cillo

On that note, I'd like to change the pace of this place a bit. In the past, I've felt compelled (for no good reason) to write at least three, lengthy paragraphs before pushing the post button. Well, that is not working. And to be honest, that approach undermines some of my intentions for this space. I don't mean this to be a space where readers are drowned in one more over-opinionated voice. If you want that, turn on the news. Instead, this should be a place where thoughts and ideas, all of which may be raw and unpolished, can be gleaned and formed by someone else.

This isn't my job and I don't want to pretend like I hold authoritative views in the subject matter.

Some things to look forward to:
- Short, "wouldn't it be nice" technology ideas
- Lists of interesting articles I've been reading
- Launching pads to larger discussions
- The same sort of articles as before.

Have a wonderful Christmas season. Cheers!