Draft #3 (5 pm 5-Sep)
For a living, I invent things that I hope will help other people. I live in this Internet world. For example, I posted drafts of this talk on my personal web site, danbricklin.com, and people emailed me suggestions from around the world which made it better.
Here is what I want to get across: You need to understand that what you see today with the Internet is not what will be tomorrow. The Internet is not like television. What TV was 20 years ago is basically what it is today with just a few more channels. You need to swim in this river of Internet change to understand what it is so you can apply it to your own concerns. I'd like to explain some things about that river.
There are devices and applications that will be invented soon that eventually you'll feel you couldn't live without. And it's likely many of these new applications will come from individual entrepreneurs without government help.
First, some history. Electronic communications used to need a separate system for each application, like TV and telephone. That led to such systems being heavily regulated and requiring massive amounts of capital and time to create new applications. Now, in constrast, most communications are moving to a single system, the Internet. The Internet can connect anything digital. It can take advantage of wires, wireless, and optics. In the old days new communications infrastructure only supported the applications for which it was built. The Internet already supports many different applications simultaneously, and will also support applications yet to be invented. Individual, entrepreneural inventors can take advantage of the Internet to create applications that previously would have been stymied by regulators and monopolies.
Connected to each other through the Internet will be a wide variety of digital devices. Personal computers running web browsers are just one of the many types of these. Digital devices come in configurations other than a box on a desk with a keyboard, screen, and disk. Other common digital devices are handhelds like the Palm Pilot, game machines like Nintendo, and digital cell phones. In all cases, there are different physical configurations of components.
For example, the Palm may seem like a joke compared to a PC with its small screen and slow input, but it fits in a shirt pocket, runs for weeks on batteries, costs just a couple hundred dollars, and requires almost no thought to use. It's perfect for sporadic personal use, much better than a PC. It made up for its lack of keyboard and printer by being able to connect to a personal computer to provide those things. Being able to be temporarily connected elsewhere was good enough to provide what it needed.
Here are some other digital devices:
[Palm VII] This is a Palm with radio email. [Stowaway] This is a folding keyboard for the Palm and devices like it. [RIM] This is a wireless email and web browsing device. You can type on it with your thumbs as fast as you can write with a pencil. This is a digital camera. This is a digital miniDisc recorder. [FastLane] This thing lets me pay tolls from inside my car in many states -- wireless cash. These are all different digital devices that have shown their usefulness in my life, and I'm sure you can think of many others.
Not all of the attempts will become popular. The highly successful Palm was the third completely different pen computer attempt from one inventor, Jeff Hawkins, and his were just a few of the many other worthy attempts. Getting just the right combination of functionality and ease of use is hard. If you need to think in the long term, don't ignore technologies just because early attempts are flawed.
Let me talk about personal computers for a minute. Personal computers were an obvious early choice for connection to the Internet because of their versatile nature. The personal computer has always been a very fertile device for innovation. It was designed to have new components or software just plugged in or old ones changed. Almost nothing is fixed. It's a inventor's dream. As it evolved, many applications could be deployed on it that changed the world. For example, the spreadsheet, first put on personal computers by my friend Bob Frankston and myself and basically written in an attic over a six month period, brought sophisticated financial scenario planning to individuals. Later, as the PC got more memory and better printers, others built desktop publishing. Capabilities once available only to large, rich organizations were brought to smaller, poorer ones.
In the very near future, all of these devices [Pick up devices], not just the personal computers, will be connected to the Internet, either by wire or radio. Because of the Internet, all will be able to communicate with any other device you choose, be they other devices you or your friends own or centralized machines run by big companies. In the old days, telephones could only talk to telephones, TV transmitters to TVs, etc. You couldn't fax to a TV or listen to TV sound on your phone. On the Internet, any device can send information to any other device. This combination of digital devices and communications is a very fertile field for innovation. No one device will be enough. You'll always need the right combinations of tools to get things done.
The barriers to creating these new applications are quite low. Individuals or small groups can have enormous effect. Tim Berners-Lee used a personal computer and the early Internet to publish some specifications that led to the World Wide Web, some of it over a weekend. Napster with, what shall we call it?, "sharing", was created by a college student with a little money from an uncle. These were done with just the components of a PC, a keyboard and screen. Think what millions of different connected devices can do. They won't all be keyboards and screens just showing text and pictures. Scandinavia is famous for cell phones. Who will be famous for each of the other devices?
What will we communicate with the Internet? Well, we'll continue to communicate hand typed text and pictures. This includes email, and online publishing, like web sites.
But web sites are just a small piece of what we can do. We can send live dynamic data -- such as voice and video, we can have GPS units giving the positions of vehicles, manufacturing machines and medical equipment sending out readings to other computers for processing, and more. Engineers at Georgia Tech have developed ways of connecting body sensors to the Internet with their "Wearable Motherboard" -- an undershirt with a special weave of cotton fibers and fiber optics. This will be great for heart and blood pressure monitors.
We can use the Internet to control things at a distance, like milling machines, vending machines, motors to move the cameras we're watching or anything else, locks, valves, and medical equipment. We can connect to services that do computation, data retrieval and eCommerce.
However, understand that eCommerce is not the only driving force behind the Internet. I think something that is missed in all the discussions of the Internet is how many of these applications will be very personal and mundane. Like web sites with wedding pictures, they will be part of life and relationships, not just commerce.
Look at how regular people use cell phones, especially if the cost is low like it is in many countries outside the United States. Listen to cab drivers, bus drivers, mothers and children. They mainly talk to their friends and loved ones about very personal, mundane things. When they pick up a cell phone, they aren't like a commercial radio station. They don't say: [speak in deep, announcer-like voice] "This is Dan's Cellular! Two Million Microwatts of Power..." No, they say: "I finally left the office, but traffic is light", or "I've got a free minute and thought I'd say hi", or "Where are you?", or "Well, tell him Daddy says no, too".
Look at what people do when they go to an Internet "cafe" when traveling. You don't find them surfing to buy things. They do email to stay in touch with friends and loved ones. A huge percentage of America Online usage is Instant Messaging. They say hi, flirt, and chitchat about their day, especially with their "buddies" who they know from the physical world.
The Internet and other technologies are allowing us to stay close to people we care about, sharing our ever more busy lives at a distance. These interactions are often simple, but personally very important. There is a huge demand for these relationship-enhancing devices and services, giving rise to home video cameras, digital photography, email, instant messaging, personal web sites, and cell phones. These are huge markets. Companies that think only professionally produced, broadcast-like uses of the Internet matter to regular people are doomed to be pushed aside by this demand for an "Electronic Hug".
So, I hope you see how the Internet will be more than just the web and browsers, how fertile the combination of digital devices and the Internet is for innovation, how that innovation can come about even by small groups of individuals acting on their own, and finally how many of those applications will be very personal and mundane.
It is important that you understand this world of the Internet and technology yourself. Use the the latest devices and applications, or at least those that become popular enough that some of your friends use them. Don't just read about them.
Now, of course, you can find a copy of this speech and more information on my web site, danbricklin.com. Thank you!
© Copyright 2000 by Daniel Bricklin
All Rights Reserved.