Home' Technology Review : August 2005 Contents 51
location with an SMS message; if a potential contact who matches the traveler s pre-
speci ed areas of interest (say, Oracle databases) is nearby, both parties are noti ed, and
they can use SMS to arrange a meeting.
The social-networking sites, in fact, were only a preview of what Web 2.0 technolo-
gies will make possible. Using a few basic building blocks such as XML, open-source
database software, simpli ed programming languages and environments like Ruby on
Rails, and protocols, like SOAP and REST, for exchanging data between Web applica-
tions, Web developers can build elaborate yet practical "social ser vices" that collect and
redistribute the knowledge of large communities of people. (See the box on page 52 for
a tour of some of the most interesting new services.)
The more people who use the new services, the more powerful those ser vices be-
come. That s because they re all about coöperation: people are usually happy to share
their knowledge, experiences, creations, schedules, and loca-
tions if it means that they can learn what the people who are
important to them are thinking and doing. The most success-
ful ser vices are always about shared interests; Jyri Engeström,
a PhD student in the Department of Organisation, Work, and
Technology at the Lancaster University Management School
in Britain, calls this the rule of "object-centered sociality."
"The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of
people," Engeström wrote in a much-cited entry on his blog,
Zengestrom.com, in April. "They re not; social networks consist of people who are
connected by a shared object," such as the photographs they upload to Flickr, the URLs
they bookmark at Rojo or Delicious, or the articles they write for Wikipedia. Of course,
social software can also be put to less community-minded uses: the same Internet-
based services that keep businesses and families connected can be used to arrange
casual sexual encounters, distribute pornography, or run terrorist networks. But in a
way, the fact that the technology can support the full spectrum of human enterprises---
whether socially productive or not---only underscores its power.
Computing Is Real Life
It s clear that new technologies are making computing continuous---meaning both "al-
ways on" and "smoothly shading into our real lives." But what s actually new about the
experience of continuous computing? How is life changing for those with the money to
buy a few mobile devices and the time to sign up for Web-based social services?
At bottom, the shift is bringing computing far closer to our everyday experience. We ve
just seen how social software can give us new ways to tap into the collective wisdom of the
people in our social groups. But that s only one consequence of continuous computing.
On a more personal level, for example, the portable devices that sustain the information
eld are more respectful of our bodies and our perambulatory nature. No longer do we
have to slouch over desktop computers all day to stay connected to the Net: computing de-
vices have become so small, light, and ergonomic that we can take them almost every-
where. Visit any airport, beach, or city park and you ll see people carrying laptops, cell
phones, and dedicated devices such as cameras and music players as naturally as if they
were part of their clothing. For people who must take their cell phones absolutely every-
where, there are even "ruggedized" devices like Motorola s new i355 handset, which
meets U.S. military speci cations for resistance to dust and blowing rain.
Mobility, in turn, has created a demand for software that s sensitive to our ever
changing locations. Already, many cell phones sold in the United States contain sys-
tems such as GPS receivers that report users whereabouts during 911 calls. So far, few
carriers have created ways for third-party software developers to put this location in-
formation to other uses, but in time, navigation tools and automatic-access location-
speci c shopping or dining information will become standard fare for cellular
subscribers. In this area, Japanese and South Korean companies are, as usual, showing
the way. Tokyo-based cellular provider KDDI, for example, sells phones that use GPS
and onscreen maps to guide urban pedestrians to their destinations.
More powerful: This is one manifestation
of Metcalfe s Law, the observation by
Ethernet inventor (and Technology Review
board member) Bob Metcalfe that the
value of a network increases as the square
of the number of nodes in the network.
COURTESY OF JYRI ENGESTRÖM
Money: It must be said that in many parts
of the globe, low incomes and political
restrictions mean that citizens are very far
from achieving a state of continuous
computing. At the same time, however,
cellular networks cover an increasing
portion of the planet, efforts such as
Nicholas Negroponte s Hundred-Dollar
Laptop project may bring cheap comput-
ing to many markets currently underserved
by major manufacturers, and countries
without an entrenched infrastructure of
landline telephones are often leapfrogging
to broadband wireless networks.
Almost everywhere: There is, however,
one limitation still tethering us to the grid:
battery power. Even today s best nickel-
metal-hydride, lithium-ion, and lithium-ion-
polymer batteries will keep a laptop
running for only eight to 10 hours, and a
cell phone for about five hours (assuming
continuous talk). Compact fuel cells could
quintuple these times, but they aren t
expected to be widely available until 2010.
See "Terror s Server," February 2005.
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