Where is our brave networked world going? Nick Galvin looks at 10 important trends and ideas.
As little as a decade ago all these innovations had yet to be dreamed of. Think back to the days before the internet existed. Think back to a world before "google" became a verb, before a user-generated encyclopedia called Wikipedia replaced Britannica and before Trade Me turned the country into one big garage sale.
It's easy to forget that as little as a decade ago all these innovations had yet to be dreamed of. The effect can scarcely be overstated and there appears to be no slowing in the number of new ways that are being invented to use this new connectedness.
"A decade from now, I've no doubt we'll be similarly astounded with the way these technologies will have reached even further into our lives," says John Allsopp, a software engineer, author and founder of the influential Web Directions conference series.
But predicting exactly what will be the next thing is fraught with difficulty.
What follows is a smorgasbord of websites, services, concepts and gadgets that give a picture of where our brave new networked world may be heading.
The Chumby, due to be launched this year, is a wireless internet device about the size of a rugby ball. It has no keyboard or mouse but instead uses software called widgets to display pretty much anything you want it to -- all the time.
It can act as an alarm clock, play your music or show you constantly updated news.
And the really interesting thing is that it is designed to be hacked -- everything from the software code to the specifications for the case are freely available. No-one, including the manufacturers, knows what owners will make Chumbys do once they are released. www.chumby.com
This involves sharing short messages among a group. Messages are typically posted from mobile phones via text or instant messaging.
The best-known microblogging service is called Twitter.
Twitter has also spawned a host of imitators such as Pownce and Jaiku. Microblogging fans claim that, at their best, the mini-messages are almost haiku-like, while detractors question the usefulness of being bombarded with messages such as "Just made cup of tea". www.pownce.com and www.jaiku.com.
This is still in development but EveryBlock is the work of Chicago journalist and programmer Adrian Holovaty.
He is the brains behind chicagocrime. org, which overlays crime statistics from the Chicago Police Department on maps, thus providing a graphic overview of crime in the city.
EveryBlock will use some of the same techniques to create "hyperlocal" news.
The kinds of information Holovaty wants to provide include the results of house sales, scores from youngsters' sports events, local crime figures and stories written by local people. www.chicagocrime.org
23AndMe allows anyone to unlock their own genetic history -- and likely future.
For $US1000 ($1145) the service will reveal whether you have a predisposition to arthritis or Alzheimer's or, more frivolously, why you can't stand tomatoes.
Kiva expands on the concept of microfinance -- making small loans to the working poor to help them establish or expand businesses. So, instead of giving a donation to an organisation such as Oxfam to distribute, peer-to-peer lending lets you invest small amounts directly in a particular entrepreneur. More than $US15 million has already been lent through Kiva -- and the default rate is claimed to be just 0.23 per cent. www.kiva.org
The concept of a "mob" of networked citizens forming an irresistible force has been proposed and developed by, among others, futurist Harold Rheingold and Sydney web theorist and author Mark Pesce. "In just a decade, we'll have gone from half the world never having made a telephone call to half the world owning a phone," Pesce said recently. He says the people are the network and when that mob of people get together and decide to go in a particular direction they are virtually unstoppable. Just ask former Philippines president Joseph Estrada, who was forced from office in 2001 by mass protests co-ordinated by waves of text messages. www.rheingold.com.
Meraki is an internet start-up that aims to provide cheap -- or free -- wireless networks. Meraki sells a device called the Meraki Mini for $US49 ($NZ63). Plug it into your internet connection and it will instantly provide shared access to other users up to 50m away.
Put several Merakis together in a neighbourhood and they will form a "mesh" network, giving internet access to anyone in the area. www.meraki.com.
World Community Grid
The World Community Grid project is one of the latest examples of a concept called distributed computing. The idea involves harnessing the computing power of many thousands of idle PCs around the world to try to crack complex scientific challenges. World Community Grid aims to establish "the world's largest public computing grid to tackle projects that benefit humanity".
So far 343,000 members have donated 128,000 years of computing time. Projects include one aimed at giving scientists a better understanding of cancer and another that is modelling the effects of climate change in Africa.
One of many social networking services that capitalise on the global positioning software now standard on many mobile phones. Loopt members register with the site and then, when one of their friends is nearby, their location is shown on a map plus a note about what they are doing at that time. You might not want your location to be always visible so, thankfully, users can turn off the service. www.loopt.com.
One Laptop Per Child
The One Laptop Per Child programme is a bid to help bridge the digital divide with a machine called the XO Laptop. Under a "Give One Get One" scheme, donors give $US399 ($NZ518) and they receive a child-sized XO machine and another will be sent on their behalf to a youngster in Haiti, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Mongolia or Rwanda. More information: www.laptop.org.
- © Fairfax NZ News