Silver Donald Cameron

Posts Tagged ‘iPhone’

After the Web

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

July 18, 2010

“You people,” sighed the Silicon Scout, shaking his head. “You and your web-sites. The web is like, so over.”

We sit on a non-profit board of directors together, the Scout and I. He’s one of the guys known to technology marketers as “early adopters.” The first guy with a cell phone, a fax machine, an MP3 player. The first guy with an infra-red mouse for his computer. The first guy to send you photos that he took on his phone. (On his phone?)

The Scout is considerably younger than most of us — well, he would be, wouldn’t he? — and during the breaks in the meetings he would be texting and surfing on his iPhone. If we needed to know the price of a doughnut in Dacca, the Scout could find out in a wink.

So there we were, trying to figure out what was needed on our organization’s web site, and here was the Scout, heaving youthful sighs and saying, “You people. You and your web-sites. The web is like, so over.”

Over? The internet is over? I was utterly bewildered.

Well, no. The internet is not over. But the World Wide Web is not the internet. The Web lies on the internet like a quilt on a bed and, like a quilt, it makes the internet much more comfortable and attractive. And the Web remains — but the action has moved to “social media” like Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and, above all, Facebook.

I wrote about social media in 2008, when Facebook had only been accessible to the general public for two years, and already had 100,000,000 users. Twitter, even younger, made me quite crotchety, with its ceaseless drizzle of 140-character “tweets” about users going for coffee, praying for rain and scratching themselves privily. What, I asked, “ is the point of this torrent of narcissistic nonsense?”

Good question. But it missed the larger issue, which is that the Web is relatively static and passive, and the social media are dynamic. A web site is like a brochure or a billboard, providing information to people who come looking. A social media site is a conversation, a buzz, an instantaneous international grapevine. Your Facebook or Tumblr or YouTube page is a busker’s performance. You put your stuff out there, and passersby look at it, engage you in conversation or walk on by. If they like it, they tweet to the grapevine and the world comes to watch.

So, for example, during the nine days after Susan Boyle did that electrifying performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” in April, 2009, her videos were watched more than 100 million times. Think of that: a hundred million times!! When her album came out in November, it sold nine million copies in six weeks, becoming the best-selling album of the year. Barack Obama largely owes his presidency to his ability to galvanize people and generate huge streams of cash by using social media. During the World Cup, reporters were tweeting furiously on their smartphones while the action was still unfolding — reporting not to their editors, but directly to the hordes following them on Twitter.

Social media allow smart entrepreneurs to create great instant businesses, and to reach customers they could never reach before.The trick is to pick a niche, create great content within that niche, and give a lot of it away.

Natalie MacLean, for example, a Cape Bretoner with a spectacularly successful wine site, gives away tons of information about wine and food. She’ll even provide you with a little program for your smartphone that allows you to browse her recommendations as you cruise the aisles of the liquor store.

But if you want her reviews of specific wines, complete with matched food recipes, you have to subscribe to her paid, premium service. It’s only $2.10 a month, though, so untold thousands have subscribed.

Facebook was cooked up in a Harvard dorm in 2004 by a couple of undergraduates. Today it’s an $11.5 billion company with 400 million users. Entertainment Weekly summed it up thus: “How on earth did we stalk our exes, remember our co-workers’ birthdays, bug our friends, and play a rousing game of Scrabulous before Facebook?” How indeed?

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The Magic of the Cell Phone

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

May 23, 2010

After hiking four hours up a Himalayan mountainside, we have reached an elevation of more than 3000 metres. Breathing heavily, we stop for refreshments. Our Bhutanese guide reaches inside the folds of his traditional gho, whips out a cell phone, and calls the hotel about dinner arrangements.

At a meeting in Halifax, the phone line for the conference call is being balky. As the organizer struggles with the phone system, the woman across the table types furiously with her thumbs, sending instructions and receiving email reports from the Sydney member through her Blackberry.

When you give a village woman a cell phone and a solar charger, says Bunker Roy, the director of India’s Barefoot College, you have given her a business. Now she can make phone calls for other people, send text messages and emails, do research on the internet. You have brought the resources of the modern world to that isolated village.

At the pub, my friend Jack is showing me how easy it is to create and transmit video using an iPhone. He holds his phone up in the air, and slowly pans across the room. He taps his finger on the screen a couple of times, and turns to me with a smile. There, he says. That video is in your inbox.

In the ruins of Haiti, a victim taps out a text message on a cell phone. NAN DELMA 33 NAN PAK T.OKAP LA NOU BEZWEN TANT, SI LAPLI TONBE NOU MELE! In Creole — and you can almost pick it out if you know some French — this says “At Delma 33, at the park, we need a tent. If the rain falls, we are in trouble.” The message arrives at an emergency response centre, and is forwarded to a worldwide network of Creole-speaking volunteers. They translate it, locate the park on a global positioning system and and send the message onward with a map attached. Moments later it reaches the Red Cross, just minutes after it was sent.

“Wherever I’ve been in the world — in Africa, in South America — the telephone industry is just exploding,” says Dan Jacob, a young management trainee working for Telus. We’re talking at a restaurant in Montreal. “The use of cell phone technology not just for connecting people, but for m-commerce — mobile commerce — is just phenomenal.”

And that’s just the beginning, he says. Universities are planning to make their courses available by cell phone, which means that a university in Alberta could offer distance education to people in Africa who have no computer. And have I heard about the new emergency phone for people with heart disease? The phone is wirelessly connected with a pacemaker. If the person has a heart attack, the phone instantly consults the GPS and uploads the patient’s health records and precise location as part of an automated emergency call to the nearest paramedics.

Nobody ever expected this. The original developers of the cellular phone system thought they were building something for a niche market of business travellers. Instead, the cell phone has created a whole new reality. Half the earth’s people now have cell phones. Whole nations have simply skipped the process of wiring their communities with landlines. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but 25% of its people have cell phones — which proved invaluable in the aftermath of the earthquake.

In the Philippines, cellular airtime serves as a form of currency. In Argentina, farmers sell their products by cell phone. In Kenya, cell phones have brought banking into the lives of the poor, allowing them for the first time to create savings accounts. During Kenya’s last elections, cell-phone users were able to report electoral violence to the police as it happened.

A great tool solves a million problems that its inventors never imagined. Decades ago, electronic visionaries imagined a computer so unobtrusive and powerful that users would carry it with them and treat it as an extension of themselves. It seemed hard to imagine, and nobody suspected it would look like a telephone. But here it is, and that’s what it looks like, and it has transformed the world.

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