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World Wide Jam


New Media Tug O' War on the Riviera

bob mohl (captainbob)

Cannes is nice, but it's not Nice. The airport is in Nice and that's not nice: it's a $60 cab ride to get from one resort to the other, for Milia -- the International Publishing and New Media Market.

Four years ago, Milia was the first great hope for multimedia developers; now it may be the last hurrah. The handwriting on the wall is turning MM upside down. Now it spells WWW. Content is still king, although Intel, Apple and webcasting companies like WebTV, NetGem, and an extravagantly hyped satellite internet broadcast company from Switzerland called the Fantastic Corporation were prominent.

Douglas Adams compared CD-ROM production to the movies and online to theatre: when a film is in the can, it's done, but a play is constantly being adapted to the audience.

By day, hopeful authors and hungry developers roamed the exhibition floor between conferences, networking with multimedia publishers. Later, there were cocktail parties in exclusive villas along the coast, and awards ceremonies (Peter Gabriel won the Gold Prize for a CD-ROM called "Eve", as in Adam and) and late night drinks at Hotel Martinez. We came from winter weather to the warm beaches of the French Riviera, then spent the entire time indoors.

Milia opened with a decidedly non-commercial keynote from Sherry Turkle ("Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet"). When we interact with the computer, asserts Sherry, it becomes a mirror of our self, our identity, our mind. Multiprocessing in multiple windows on the PC lets us cycle through multiple identities. One moment we are chatting online, the next reading email, the next checking a spreadsheet. We step in and out of character and invent several identities. (AOL offers five screen names per account; envisioned for families, the options are often used to explore different personalities: a name for each mood.) For many today, the experience of a childhood safe from physical harm is a lost dream. Through experimentation in virtual worlds, we can recapture some of the freedom of exploration without risk.

Recently in a MUD, Sherry ran into "herself": Dr. Sherry the CyberShrink, who interviews users about their online experiences. At four am, seven am, at ten pm, Dr. Sherry could be found online, unnerving the real Sherry Turkle: "Doesn't she ever sleep?" Real-world colleagues in real-world settings would wink at the real Sherry and refer to text-based MUD conversations from the night before. "Virtual appropriation is the highest form of flattery," she says, and suggests that the online Dr. Sherry might have been a "'bot."

Walt Mossberg, the author of the Wall Street Journal's Personal Technology column, spoke about "Liberating Digital Content from the PC." He said the tech-tonic plates of the computer industry have hardly shifted in its twenty-year history. The PC simply doesn't work and cannot become mass medium until it does. When was the last time your TV "crashed?" When was the last time your car stopped dead on a six lane freeway, announcing, "You can't go any further without an engine upgrade. You need Motor97." TVs and telephones have a 95 percent penetration level. Personal computers are at 35 percent and will never exceed 50 percent unless they are fundamentally changed so that they work.

Even at 14 million people a month, the Web is all hype; it is not a mass medium like TV, where 28 million people tune in for a single thirty-minute TV program. Imagine watching Friends on your computer: by the time you booted up, made menu selections, logged on to NBC, got disconnected, and redialed, the show would be half over (and silent, because you didn't have the right audio plug-in).

Walt thinks 5 things are needed for the Internet to become mass media:

  1. Bandwidth
  2. Persistence (i.e., it is "pushed" at you like TV, not "pulled" from the user's side.)
  3. Better content. 80-90 percent is crap.
  4. A business model.
  5. A new PC.

He thinks the best chance for the Internet to become a mass medium is through TV access, like WebTV, Netbox, Nintendo, Sega, Pippin. He call these, and other devices like email phones and lap-top size PDAs, "Info Appliances" but concedes it's a lousy term.

Walt doesn't believe the usage numbers. The internet numbers are phony. He presented a clever graph which showed the inevitable: it is just a matter of time before the number of users exceeds the population. Of course, Sherry could have explained that with her theory of multiple identities.

Nick Donatiello Nick Donatiello said that the computer will never be mass media until it becomes an entertainment device (like TV). "Entertainment is the six-thousand-pound gorilla. Information is like a tiny chihuahua in the living room."

Linda Stone, of Microsoft VChat and Comic Chat, took Nick to task for not recognizing that chat, which is entertainment, accounts for 30 percent of online usage on many services, not to mention bulletin boards, let alone email.

Joseph Haddad, president of NetGem, thinks the computer culture (including Microsoft and IBM) has its head buried in the sand. The last thing he wants to do when he gets home in the evening is turn on his computer. I told him I am exactly the same way -- when I get home, my computer is already on (and full of today's news and gossip.) Yes, computers must become better and more reliable. But if they continue to adapt, people will continue to adopt. The race is on between the desk top in the office and the living-room set top. My guess is that there'll be room for both.


windwalker said:

I am once again a very small child exploring the paths through the Montana woods and find a place of total enchantment where there lived a very wise old man who taught me to talk to the fairies on their huge sunflower telephones and walk down a magic path to where the trout filled pond lay glistening in the sun. An old dead tree stump, carved with nitches here and there and a crow's nest sat atop it waiting for its owner to come cawing back, while I, in awe and wonder, saw a Fairy Post Office which held from time to time, a pack of Wrigleys Juicy Fruit gum, a string of pearls or a nail set to fix my nails. How I loved that gentle soul and often wished his tale be told. His name was Hawkins and the place was Absarokee, Montana

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Sherry speaks!

Sherry Turkle

"Virtual appropriation is the highest form of flattery."

Another Cannes tradition lives on

Another Cannes tradition lives on, whether or not the CEO's are men or women.

walt speaks!

Walt Mossberg

When was the last time your TV "crashed?" When was the last time your car stopped dead on a six lane freeway, announcing, "You can't go any further without an engine upgrade. You need Motor97."

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