Etech a Sketch, Part 1

by Daniel Smith

A look back at the Emerging Tech Conference...


Amazon BOF

Amazon is very much into
href="">web services. They are making it easy for associates to develop
their own front end store, tapping into Amazon for product descriptions,
shopping carts, and much more. The associates then earn referral fees
from Amazon for items sold through the custom front-ends. Amazon
supports SOAP and REST. What's getting used the most? REST.

(some Web Services Links for more info)

Some of the technologies they use: Linux, Oracle, Perl Mason. If I
heard correctly, the originator of Mason (Jonathan Swartz) is
now working at Amazon. They develop primarily in C/C++, Java,
and Perl.

I would love to see RSS feeds from Amazon. Example: a new book
or DVD in a certain genre (or something that matches a search)
becomes available. I would then see the new offering in my
RSS newsreader (such as NetNewsWire)

As Tim O'Reilly href="">noted last
year, Amazon gets the notion that they can provide a valuable
service to developers everywhere, and make money from it. There's much more to Amazon than
their Web and phone/iMode interfaces.


Howard Rheingold - Technology Innovation and Collective Action

Rheingold kicked off Wednesday with a great talk, mostly revolving around social and political implications of how technology affects us all. Greg Elin is one of several people who
captured href="">
a nice outline of the talk.

Some of Howard's assertions:

  • We are at a pivotal point of technology.

  • We face political assaults on our freedom to innovate (DRM).

  • We are seeing early signs of Techno Collective action.

It has been collective action which has defined civilization, going
back to when humans banded together to hunt.

The web (built on the internet, Unix/Linux, and Open Source) is an
example of Collective Action.

Peer to Peer software, distributed computing (such as href="">folding@home), WiFi, href="">Social Software, and the
WikiPedia are examples of Techno Collective action. The WikiPedia is an example of a collection of knowledge
contributed by collaborators working outside of a traditional hierarchy.

There are Political ramifications to Techno Collective action. In the
US 2004 elections, we will see how the net affects the ability to get
out the vote. It has made a recent difference in Korea and Kenya.
Other examples include the Dean
, and anti-war protest organizing.

Howard went on to illustrate the difference between Consumers and Users.

  • Consumers: passive. They receive what is broadcast by the few (media companies that control most of TV, Radio, and traditional print)

  • Users: active. Users actively shape media. They link together for Collective Action. They use the web. Things can spread around the world from a grassroots level extremely fast.

Howard maintains that we must fight to remain users. Our control of
innovation is under attack.

An example worry: Routers that discriminate amongst packets, allowing some to pass, and
dropping others (which would go against the spirit of the internet
-- dls)

Howard wants us to think of how to innovate in favor of user power.
One example: How to make micropayments common and easy to use, as a way
of addressing intellectual property issues. File Sharing makes
cultural material available, and Howard believes that most people
are honest, and would pay for music directly. We need to solve
the problem of music and film distribution.

Self Organizing Networks

There are 600 million people online now. Howard wants to encourage
self-organizing networks, and to think of billions of mobile people on
the network.

What will the trust mechanisms be? How will reputation evolve?
Reputation is a function of relationships to others.

Howard imagines a scenario:

You're walking through an airport, or a street, surrounded by strangers.
Right now, there is no easy way to communicate with them. Soon
there will be the tech where our devices communicate with
those of strangers, flagging us when there is a common interest
or goal.

(my take on this is that I would want to have it shut off most of
the time. Tech has the power to chop up our attention span with
constant interruptions and diversions. In another session, href="">Ben Hammersley proposed the
idea of having things like Instant Messenging automatically go into
"away message mode" when he is developing code, or doing some other
"need to concentrate for a while" (my emphasis) task. Getting back
to Howard's idea, I think that mobile users will either get
very good at defining when they can be alerted to something, or
will just shut off the capability most of the time)

Some other thoughts from Howard:

Preserve Open Systems, then invent new ones. Think about whole
systems from end to end, and learn from the past.

Link to others, and build systems that enable more links and options
for users. The design of defaults has an important role to play.

Did you go? I imagine Howard Rheingold is happy about Apple's iTunes/Music Store announcements today...