Thursday, February 10, 2005

Those Who Do Not Remember the History of the Web...

TV companies have missed the lessons of the Web. They prefer to avoid learning them, and so seem doomed to repeat them. Walled gardens and proprietary technologies cannot survive for long in the digital world except in niches. Advanced TV can grow like the Web -- and create a larger pie for everyone, but the TV distributors prefer to protect their comfortable but failing monopoly business models. That will not work for much longer.

What lessons? Before the Web, in the early '90, online services like AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserve had been struggling for years, investing many millions, trying to get people online, with only the most gradual success. They used closed, proprietary technology platforms, and they limited services to the "walled gardens" of content they controlled.

When the Web emerged and became easy to use with Mosaic and Netscape, it provided an open platform that encouraged an outpouring of entrepreneurial content and service providers. The old line online services fought that tide for a few years, arguing that most people really wanted the order and simplicity of a walled garden, but soon were overwhelmed by the upstarts. AOL found a half open, half walled niche by providing a high level of customer value for casual dialup users and kids, but the others were assimilated--and now AOL is floundering again.

Cable and satellite may have a couple more years to exploit their monopoly platforms and fight any service innovations they do not see bringing them monopoly rents, before Internet TV becomes a tidal force. However, they would better serve their stockholders by moving quickly to build a relationship with their customers that is based on value rather than exclusivity, one that will position them for the new world of open media. There are huge opportunities for new and profitable services, but their monopoly-minded managers are blind to them. If they do not get ahead of history soon, history will race ahead of them.

This could also be a prime opportunity for Telco TV services, since they have the advantage of starting fresh -- but the Web dynamic is as alien to Telcos as it is to cable operators. Only time will tell if one breed of dinosaur gets nimble, or those funny little companies poking out of the grass take over.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Tyranny of the Media Boxes

One of the ideals of user-centered media, as I see it, is to free us from a tyranny of the boxes. Users want to have their media content accessible from whatever box suits their current need -- as new home media centers, gateways, and adapters now seek to facilitate. Content publishers also want to maximize the ways consumers can use their content (subject to reasonable payment).

But the distributors of media (especially TV) are wedded to platforms that deliver content only to specific viewing boxes (TVs with closed set-top boxes). Cable and satellite operators exploit their closed boxes to build walled gardens that limit what and how we view. They like the idea of interactivity, but only when they have full control over it.

Coactive media technology is oriented to the idea that users should be able to use whatever box they like, at any time. Sometimes we want to lean back to view a TV from across the room (the "ten foot interface"), but sometimes we want to lean forward at a PC (the "two foot interface"). Similarly, when we interact with content related to what is on TV, we may want to lean back with the TV or lean forward with the PC. Even the people building PC-based media centers seem to think we want all media-related tasks to be done via the "ten foot interface."

I want a second screen to use with my TV, with the full power of a PC -- for program listings and information, to schedule my DVR, etc. Not all of the time, but some of the time. I already have the screen (a wireless laptop)--why can't I decide when to use it? Advanced versions of CoTV will enable me to decide what box to use when for TV-related tasks. ...Do you want your CoTV?

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Idea Adoption Agency

Collaborative intelligence is one of the most powerful aspects of user-centered media. One example that is near to my heart as an inventor, and as a fan of electronic communities, is The Idea Adoption Agency.

This is designed to be an open marketplace and large-scale collaboration medium for disclosure and development of very early-stage inventions.
  • It applies collaborative rating processes within a large online community of innovators to bubble-up and refine good ideas from any contributor.
  • It also exploits the 1-year grace-period for US patent filing, as a way for this process to capture value that is commonly lost -- for original inventors and value-adding participants/developers/commercializers -- and for society. (Inventors can expose ideas openly, then file within 1 year.)

This draws on the same powerful energies as the open source software movement and Creative Commons. Some may oppose patents completely, but I suggest that this opens up the patent system to much wider participation and fairness -- and can appeal to advocates of free speech, if not of free beer.

While a direct ROI case for funding such a business is challenging, I believe it could provide huge social value (with only modest investment) --by enabling the productive adoption and development of the large numbers of good ideas that are now lost because they do not find the support they deserve. I see it primarily as a pro-bono project, one that might attract some kind of sponsorship funding. A summary is at


Saturday, February 05, 2005

Life is Random -- Not!

Many have remarked on Apple's chutzpah in the classic art of redefining a bug to be a feature. Since the new iPod shuffle is too dumb to be much more than random, make lemonade of it.

A deeper media lesson can be seen here as well. Take the shuffle's direction toward dumbness, and look in the other direction. The classic example of this was given by Doug Engelbart, one of the fathers of hypertext (and inventor of the mouse). He proposed a research project for "The Augmentation of Human Intellect" using computer-based media tools that set the stage for the Web.

To illustrate the concept of augmented intelligence, Engelbart suggested it would be easier to get the idea of augmenting a tool, if we first considered de-augmenting a tool. He presented a picture of a pencil lashed to a brick. Imagine writing with this as our only writing tool. Now imagine how much better we can write with the pencil alone. That is augmentation. Now imagine what augmentation beyond the pencil would allow.

So now, we have life as random, which we can see as de-augmentation, compared to the playlist tools that are now common. Imagine what might come when we augment those tools further. Playlist services that know your tastes and use sensors to gauge your mood... that know who is with you and what they like... that understand which pieces of music flow together well... that draw on highly informed serendipity, not blind randomness...

Friday, February 04, 2005

CoTV: Coactive TV+Web Use, in Context

Growing masses of viewers surf the Web while watching TV. So far, the only connector between what they see on the Web and what they watch on TV is their brain and their fingers. I have been working on coactive media, particularly CoTV, as a way to link these two media in a far more powerful way.

Coactive TV (CoTV) software automatically harnesses the context of whatever a viewer is watching on TV to push related Web links and content to their PC screen. That provides a power-assist to TV-Web multitasking that directly links use of TV and the Web, to enhance both content and advertising.

CoTV enables a wide variety of applications. These include
  • Co-viewing: program-related information of all kinds (commentary, news reports, sports statistics, movie casts, etc.), including ad-related interaction and shopping (which like search ads, can actually be useful to the user).
  • Pre-viewing: richly intelligent and interactive program guides, VOD/IPTV catalogs, and DVR scheduler services that help users navigate their exploding world of media content.

This creates a variety of new revenue streams -- and one of the most significant is online contextual advertising driven by TV ads. CoTV is adaptable to a wide variety of deployed and emerging platforms -- wireless PC laptops, PDAs, phones, set-top-boxes, media gateways, DVRs, DVDs, WiFi, and more.

More background is at