Even the brightest and best known technology experts at the exclusive Supernova tech event in Silicon Valley recently argued and thoughtfully debated a broad range of the most important issue topics. The focus of the conference was on the decentralization of our growing computer driven and connected work life.
The Supernova conference on June 24 – June 25 was an extreme example of the use of decentralized communications, computing and connectivity as everyone, and I mean everyone, except me, had a wi-fi connected laptop or notebook computer. I had a wi-fi enabled Pocket PC that does all the same things as a laptop. I was also very surprised at the number of Apple laptop computers being used by this elite group of technologists and journalists in the opening session. Everyone was using their laptops during the sessions to post comments to blogs, write e-mails, browse the Web and send Instant Messages via free wi-fi in all the session rooms to other people in the same room. The room sounded like it was raining with the vast and soft sound of keys being tapped by the 150 people in the room.
Very few people in active sessions were actually looking up at the speaker or panel presenting in the room. Most in the room were listening and communicating via the laptop to others in the same room and others all over the world.
Many people were pointing Web cameras at the speakers and panels during sessions to record or share the feed with friends and other colleagues around the world. The first day also saw many disruptions in the wi-fi service, which caused quite a social disruption and distraction to many who were actually spending more time trying to get reconnected to the wi-fi and complaining about it to others. Thus few were actually giving any attention to the speakers and panels during part of the first day. This is another example of our technology weakness and that was discussed quite a lot.
It was clear to me that the national tech elite is sold on the Apple PowerBook as the Mercedes of mobile computing. The other device that I saw everywhere was the Treo 600 smart phone. At lunch, I saw five of them around the table out of 10 people sitting at my table. That is 50 percent with this one smart phone.
Many of the topics at Supernova created very heated disagreement during sessions and keynote presentations. Most of the 150 technology elites who attended this event are well know names in technology news and weblogs. Some of the most prominent names in attendance were Ester Dyson, editor-at-large of Cnet Networks; Dan Farber, senior editor of Cnet Networks; Doc Searls, senior editor of Linux Journal; Marc Canter, co-founder of Macromedia; and Jonathan Schwartz, president of Sun Microsystems.
Attendee agreement on future outcomes was hard to come by on any of the following topics. These ten issues created the most heated technology discussion:
1) Future, or non-future, of e-mail
The debate was over whether we should be trying to save e-mail or just abandoning it for the new promising technologies like RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and or IM (Instant Messaging).
2) Is always connected digital communications better than in-person communications?
Most, if not all, of the thought leaders at Supernova are on the side of digital communications being better yet they attended an in-person conference to discuss these communications issue, which tells me that all attendees feel that in-person communications is just as important as digital remote communications. The other big discussion area was around the term back-channel. This is all the behind-the-scenes one-to-one e-mail, instant message, SMS, blog, Wiki and online discussion forums that are sparked by face to face conferences like Supernova.
3) How will the ubiquitous Internet always-connected world effect online behavior?
How will users behavior online change as we get even faster – between 10 and 30 mbps wireless broadband connections via WiMax, UltaWide Band into the car, mobile device and home wireless networks. The viewpoints were numerous and hotly debated.
4) How will we all pay for voice over IP services?
Discussion was over whether all voice-over-IP calls will be free via Ad supported service or software client fees. Voice call industry revenue will drop from $300 billion to $10 billion by 2010 as VOIP rolls out. The major telecom boardroom battles must be raging over this kind of industry revenue decline.
5) Will telephone companies exist in 5 years?
Many attendees speculated if telephone companies as we know of them today disappear as we are seeing, cable broadband companies like Comcast and AT&T will move to VOIP services.
6) Merging of data applications with voice communications
The talk was around what other data applications can be created with voice xml and the creative merging of Internet search engines and the 411 telephone directory voice command lookups that we presently pay 75 cents to $1 per voice search.
7) Government involvement in technology
There was debate over how involved government should be in technology research and development, regulation of Internet communications networks and how these technologies can be used and deployed. Some of the issues before government that created discussion are regulation and taxation of voice over IP services, controlling spam e-mail, Internet connectivity and e-commerce taxation and broadband radio spectrum.
Government has always had a hand in the development of new technology, but yet has always been slow in understanding the implications and impacts it has to properly understand in a timely basis how to control it and regulate it to keep it from becoming a plague on society. The best example of this is spam; because e-mail was created by government funded research, it is now faced with regulating the fast growing spam problem.
8) Digital identities and their security and ownership
We all know that we as individuals own our own digital identity, but who owns it after we give all our information to Amazon.com or other entities that we volunteer our personal info online or offline. What comprises a digital identification identity and what rights are given to that identity? Who should have rights to that identity besides the person identified in the identity? Does government have unbridled rights to your digital identity and what implications does that hold for all of us as we look out into the future as digital identities become more important to all of us and may be the one single most valuable thing we own.
What are the implications of single sign-on networks like Microsofts Passport and future national digital authentication networks that are operated by government? What quality of security will be needed to operate a national single sign-on network?
9) Exploding the workplace enterprise
The accepted fact at the conference was that the miniaturization of computers and there increased ability to connect to wireless data networks and general broadband speed into home offices are presenting many companies with distributed and decentralized work opportunities that can both benefit the bottom-line and offer better lifestyles for valuable and trusted employees.
The concern is that many work places may be rushing into decentralized work models that are not fully understood yet and that could cause problems for companies. Companies who have been offering remote work or home-based work need to share their experiences with other to avoid repeated mistakes in remote work deployment.
10) The coming impact of RSS (Really Simple Syndication)
It was generally agreed by most at this conference that RSS and/or Atom XML syndication models will dominate and be a major change driver for network communication. This was the single discussion issue that everyone agreed on. Well see XML syndication technologies invade every part of how you use the Internet and the Web over the next 10 to 20 years.
Rob Greenlee is host of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based radio and Webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.