Wednesday, December 10, 2008

And The Future?

Ten prophecies for the digital millennium

Graeme Philipson

December 9, 2008

A summary of the main trends in IT, from the rise of the supernet
to the threat posed by intelligent machines.

Recently I was asked to speak at a conference about what's going to happen in IT predictions in the next 10 years. It's always hard to tell the future, but here goes anyway - 10 predictions, in no particular order. I have mentioned most of these ideas in various columns during the past year or two. So treat this, my last column for the year, as sort of a summary of what I believe to be the trends in IT as we near the end of the first decade of the digital millennium.

1. The internet will become the "supernet"

The internet has been around since 1969, but it's only 15 years since it has become the web - easy to use, easy to navigate, with billions of web pages and billions of users.

We have already reached the point at which most devices connected to the internet are mobile - phones, cars, even household appliances. That trend will continue, with the move to "embedded computing", where the internet links objects as well as general-purpose computers.

2. The decline of the PC

This is a consequence of the first prediction. PCs will not die - indeed, they will become massively more powerful, but they will become only one of many types of computing device. Mobile phones and "thin clients" will be much more popular ways of connecting to the supernet.

3. The rise of software as a service

Again, a consequence of the rise of other types of computing device. Data and processing and applications are moving off fixed computers - or even mobile computers - and on to the web.

This is increasingly being called "cloud computing" as all processing takes place in the "cloud" that is the internet. An important example is the craze for "software as a service", in which applications reside elsewhere and are accessed through a web browser.

4. The decline of copyright

Regular readers of this column will know this is a hobbyhorse of mine. Copyright and most intellectual property laws are now an anachronism. Attempts by record companies and film studios and book publishers to stop people copying digital media are doomed to failure.

Technology is forcing big changes to business models.

5. The greening of IT

Computers contribute about as much to carbon emissions as do aircraft - about 2per cent of the world's total. Many users and vendors are working out clever ways to reduce this figure - virtualisation, data centre consolidation, thin clients and telecommuting. All worthy stuff. But the real greening of IT comes when the power of information systems is harnessed to increase efficiencies throughout the organisation, in logistics, in manufacturing and in power distribution. IT is also an integral part of the carbon footprint monitoring and measuring process.

6. The threat from intelligent machines

Look up "The Singularity" in Wikipedia or somewhere. The term, invented by American writers Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, refers to the time in the near future when machines become more intelligent than humans and start replicating themselves. Who then will be the dominant life form on the planet?

7. Increased importance of technology for the aged

The population is ageing. The proportion of people disabled by the illnesses of old age is growing rapidly. Digital technology has a big role to play in helping people live independently and in keeping them out of expensive and soulless institutions.

The rise of so-called "e-health" is a big trend in this direction - use of technology to remotely monitor people's vital signs, to provide diagnoses at a distance and to supplement communications systems.

8. The decline of IT as a speciality

A hundred years ago it seems someone predicted that if telephony job opportunities continued to grow at the same rate, within a generation everybody in the world would be a telephone operator. Well, with automatic dialling, everyone is. Somebody else once predicted a similar thing about computer programmers. Today we all program computers, by the very act of using them. There are fewer specialists, but many more generalists.

9. The death of newspapers

Newspapers as we know them are in decline. Are you reading this in hard copy or online? Around the world, newspapers are shutting down or moving to the web. Blogs are replacing the mainstream media.

The profession of journalism, and the way we consume media and get our news, is being transformed. I'm not sure whether this is a good or bad thing, but there's no doubt it's happening.

10. The growth of internet TV

TV is going digital. At the same time, internet bandwidth is quickly increasing, and most of the data it carries is video.

Many kids simply don't watch TV any more - they download stuff. All sorts of people are offering all sorts of video content on the net, from legitimate TV stations seeking another distribution medium to amateurs on YouTube and elsewhere.

The existing pay TV model of expensive content over a proprietary distribution medium has only a few years left. And "free-to-air" will become "free-to-internet".

Call me at the end of 2018 to see how all this has panned out. And do have a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Teaching Techniques that will Improve your Blogging

In this post Leslie Madsen-Brooks explores 5 teaching techniques that bloggers might like to explore to connect with their readers

The best teachers–from first-grade teachers to university instructors–employ some simple techniques that bloggers can use to their advantage.

Here are five of my favorites:

1. Find unexpected common ground.

A couple years ago, I was standing in front of a classroom of 100 college students immersed in small-group discussions. Try as I might, I had a hard time getting them to reconvene. So I pulled out a trick I had seen elementary school teachers use. I took a deep breath and said, “One, two, three–eyes on me!” About a dozen students responded with “One, two–eyes on you!” — an effect that astonished us all and allowed us to share a laugh. Many of my students had been conditioned years ago to respond to that simple rhyme, and they were surprised to see the technique had made its way around the state and the country, that it wasn’t unique to their own first- or second-grade experiences.

Similarly, I’m always delighted when I find a blogger who establishes novel common ground among his or her diverse readers. Sometimes that connection is ridiculously simple and tied to Internet pop culture, such as a recent post on the fabulous professorial blog Edge of the American West called I CAN HAZ SPLENDID WAR?. I didn’t care much about the sinking of the Maine in 1898, but the post title’s reference to LOLcats made me read on, and I was tricked–tricked, I tell you!–into placing history into a contemporary perspective and vice versa.

image by Patrick Q

2. Offer points for participation.

At my university, faculty can’t grade students on attendance. One way, therefore, to get students to come to class is to offer incentives for participation (or, some would say, punitive consequences for non-participation). Each student’s final grade in any of my classes, therefore, depends a good deal on how much–and well–he or she contributes to class discussion. Students appreciate it when faculty weave student contributions into the fabric of a lecture or class discussion.

Bloggers do much the same thing when they pull a reader contribution from the comments and make it the inspiration–or even reason–for a new post. It’s a way of driving a conversation into different direction but it also rewards readers who leave quality comments.

3. Know every student’s name by the second day of class.

In a large lecture class, this tactic may be beyond the capability of most faculty. But when I have classes of 25-50 students, I try to learn their names as quickly as possible, usually by letting them introduce themselves while I madly take notes on their appearance and their quirks so that I can remember them in the next class period. (A colleague of mine uses Facebook to study her students’ photos.)

If someone stops by your blog and comments meaningfully or comments several times in a short span of time, drop her a line to thank her for her participation and to welcome her to the community. Take notes on what your commenters say so you can refer back to them when the opportunity arises. Even better, go leave comments on your reader’s blog. In the corner of the blogosphere I frequent, there are 100 or so blogs where the commenters all seem to know one another’s stories. It’s a powerful community that came about through reciprocal links and comments.

4. Give meaningful, fun homework assignments.

At my university, we’re on a 10-week quarter system. Science students begin taking “midterms” during week 2-3 of the quarter. Accordingly, science majors enrolled in my courses are tempted to stop doing the reading assignments at this time. To encourage them to read, I make sure to provide interesting homework and in-class assignments that require students to read all the course texts and come prepared to talk about them. Students are rewarded for doing the reading when they come to class and receive the respect of their peers for contributing meaningfully to our conversations.

Blog contests and challenges provide similar stimulus for reader involvement. Right now I’m very much enjoying how Dave Navarro is blogging his way through Christine O’Kelly’s e-book on freelance writing. He hasn’t explicitly given homework to his readers, but I’m inspired to follow along just the same, especially since I purchased O’Kelly’s book.

More explicitly in this vein, Darren offered his readers a 31-day course in building a better blog, complete with such homework as link up to a competitor and do a search engine optimization audit on your blog.

5. Be interdisciplinary.

While teaching, it’s easy to get stuck in the rut of your discipline. For example, just about everyone in your department might use the same textbook for a particular course, so all students get stuck learning the same material from the same source in the same way. But if you’re in chemistry and your students are looking a bit bored, you can liven up your discussion of sugar versus saccharin by tossing in some history of how sugar was rationed in the U.S. during WWII in part so that candy bars and other sugary treats could be sent to U.S. soldiers, whom, it was believed, needed sugar for energy. Saccharin, in the form of saccharin pills, therefore became a necessary sugar substitute–and a chic accessory on middle-class dining tables. Paint a humorous picture for your students of 1950s housewives using teeny tiny prongs to pick up saccharin tablets from bejeweled, turtle-shaped saccharin containers, and your students have a new context for their learning.

Similarly, if you blog in, say, the internet marketing niche, it’s easy to simply re-blog the same techniques everyone else is using and to promote the same affiliate programs. Why not branch out into another discipline or field–online or off–in order to bring new perspective to your readers? What, for example, are librarians doing to help clients better find the information they need? What can you learn about keyword searches and keyword research from their techniques?

Leslie Madsen-Brooks helps a broad spectrum of clients–including university faculty, K-12 schools, museums, and businesses–develop better learning experiences online and off. Among other venues, she blogs at Museum Blogging and The Multicultural Toy Box.