Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 5, Number 2: Midwinter 2005


Trends & Quick Takes

The Hazy Crystal Ball

Walt Crawford

It’s that time of year—time for pundits and gurus to tell us what’s to come and for a few of them to spin last year’s projections.

I was going to include snarky comments (or credits, when applicable) about last year’s forecasts—but I see that last year got so confusing that I never ran a set of forecasts. Neither did I make one: That should be no surprise.

WebJunction’s Emerging technologies for small libraries

You could think of this as a counterpart to the LITA Top Technology Trends group, but with fewer participants (eight in the October 4 posting) and a small-library bent. The committee develops a quarterly “list of five technologies they think are worth considering for your library.” I like the guidelines: “The committee avoids recommending technologies that are faddish, over-hyped, or just too darn cool. If it’s on the list, it’s there for one (or more) of these reasons:

Ø    “Your patrons will be asking for your library to support this technology soon (if they aren’t already).

Ø    “The technology will improve your ability to deliver services your patrons need.

Ø    “The technology is a wise investment that will save you time and money”

Here’s a brief version of the October 2004 list:

Ø    Flash and USB Drives: “Patrons can carry around 32MB of storage on a $10 device the size of a pen cap. But they can’t use them at your library if you aren’t set up for them.” These days, 32MB is minimal; 128MB for $20-$25 of 256MB for $40-$50 may be more typical. With XP computers typically having front-mounted USB slots, the primary setup requirement is security.

Ø    Wireless Access: “Providing wireless access frees up your public access computing terminals for those who truly need them, and makes your library the neighborhood ‘hotspot’ for information access.”

Ø    Thin Clients: “Thin-client technology enables you to extend the life of your existing computers, lower costs on expanding the number of patron terminals, and simplify maintenance procedures.”

Ø    Upgrading Your Operating Systems: “TechSoup Stock offers upgrades to Windows XP for $8 (libraries are eligible)…” The text calls Windows 2000 and 95 “antiquated.”

Ø    Technology Planning: “Thinking ahead about what your library needs, and how to fund and support those needs.”

I don’t know enough to say much about “thin clients” (except to note that, these days, that really means low-end or older PCs, not the traditional smart terminals). Otherwise, this all sounds about right, although Windows 2000 isn’t quite as “antiquated” as Windows 95.

The December version eliminates USB drives and adds “Blogging & RSS” both as ways to keep up and as library tools. Can’t disagree. Then there’s the odd “#6 with a bullet: E-books and audio e-books.” Given the range of definitions for both terms, that might be reasonable—or might not.

PC World: “What’s new and what’s next”

This December 2004 feature story (by Michael Desmond) says “what the next two years will bring us” (emphasis added):

Ø    The “next PC” will have dual-core processors; two-thirds of all PCs in 2006 will feature 64-bit processors; high-end PCs are likely to have 4GB or more of RAM; and “you could be upgrading your next PC with Lego-like blocks—the ultimate no-hassle upgrade.”

Ø    We won’t get volume production of SED displays until 2007 (which may be worth waiting for), and the “promise of big and flexible organic light-emitting-diode and other foldable displays remains the stuff of lab demonstrations,” but we may get rear-projection TVs that add three more “primary” colors for an expanded colorspace.

Ø    MIT Research Labs still claims we all really want “computation everywhere” (the Oxygen Project), with video walls that do whatever we need them to—but it’s now targeted for “five to ten years.”

Ø    Photo software will get smarter, in conjunction with digital cameras that provide automatic metadata as pictures are taken.

Ø    High-definition DVD recorders shipping: That’s a safe bet, since Sony and Panasonic already sell them in Japan. Several makers plan to ship HD-DVD devices in 2005 or 2006, and a bunch of Blu-ray supporters will have recorders and players—including a Blu-ray player in Sony’s PlayStation 3. Will the 25-50GB Blu-ray (Sony, Matsushita, and others) merge with the 15-30 GB HD-DVD (NEC, Toshiba, and others) to make a single HD format? Probably not—but universal player/recorders will eventually emerge.

Ø    Worms will get nastier and will spread to anything with an IP address, including cell phones, Pocket PCs and PDAs.

Ø    We might get “batteries made of paper and other fibers.” SRI suggests manufacturing may be “a couple of years out,” but “couple” is a dodge.

Ø    Cell phones will get hard disks and be able to switch between digital cellular and Wi-Fi networks—and, sigh, they’ll probably be usable during flights.

Ø    What would a set of tech predictions be without assuring us that the Smart Home is really, truly, going to happen now, and that we really, truly want it? Sure enough: Kitchen tables that become virtual workspaces, food containers that track freshness, and all the other wonders of home automation. Any day now.

Ø    “Smart cars” are nothing new, and it’s interesting that the article uses a photo of BMW’s IDrive system to show how neato they are—given how critics and drivers have reacted to the IDrive technology.

Harry McCracken’s “up front” column in the same issue discusses “yesterday’s future tech.” He notes that removable high-capacity microdisks (Iomega DCT, DataPlay) haven’t worked in the market; that “ultraportable” PCs are still mostly vapor (although the OQO finally made it to market two years after announcement); that voice recognition is still at that awkward stage where it’s great for people who can’t or shouldn’t use a keyboard, uninteresting for everyone else; that Bluetooth still doesn’t matter (except maybe for cell phones); and that OLED is taking forever to come to the U.S. market.

Educause Review: “Surveying the digital landscape: evolving technologies 2004”

EDUCAUSE has its own evolving technologies committee. Oddly enough, this report says it’s about “Internet life in 2004”—but it’s in the November/December 2004 issue, so you’d expect it to concern 2005. The main concerns for this group: Spam management, legal P2P, learning objects, “convergence of libraries, digital repositories, and web content management,” nomadicity, and regional networks.

It’s an interesting report, one that I can’t summarize neatly. You’ll find it at www.educause.edu/apps/er/ erm04/erm0464.asp

Walking paper: Top ten things to stay tech current

This November 25 posting definitely relates to libraries. Here’s the quick list, grouped sometimes paraphrased (on the posting, www.walkingpaper.org/ index.php?id=128, each item gets a thoughtful paragraph including costs):

Ø    Have a search box into your OPAC on the front page of your website. Related: If your electronic resources offer remote usage, make these easily available on your website.

Ø    Support CD burning on your public workstations so people can download large files. “No dumb computers” (which, as I read it, conflicts with other recommendations for thin clients). Configure your PCs for hassle-free browsing (with no unexpected popups or antivirus renewal notices).

Ø    Answer patron email rapidly—48 or 24 hours doesn’t cut it. Use IM. Offer wireless.

Ø    Use blogs and RSS to your advantage. “Don’t do it because it is trendy, but do it because it can help you.”

These all seem remarkably sensible, but not entirely uncontroversial (e.g., CD burning). Bonus: “You’ll need training on anything you implement.” Read the whole post for more details.

While you’re there, look at another excellent posting at Walking paper: “tech needs pyramid,” posted January 3, 2005 (“id=140” in the URL above). It’s an adaptation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and offers a model for the “tech needs pyramid for a public library.” For example, you should have email reference, OPACs, computers and instructional classes before you offer remote database use and CD burning—but you need those before you add wireless and IM reference. That’s a sample assessment. The idea that you meet your base needs effectively before haring off after the next level is an excellent one, worth remembering when you’re seeking out the hot new thing. Several other bloggers commented on the post; Michael Stephens (Tame the Web) and Laura Blalock (Creative Librarian) both noted that the pyramid will be different for every library; Stephens also notes that the pyramid needs input from the user population. I suspect discussion of this pyramid will continue. Walking paper is becoming must reading.

Red Herring top ten technology trends for 2005

I don’t read Red Herring, but a press release included six of the trends “that will dominate the world of technology in 2005”:

Ø    The end of Moore’s Law, as semiconductor density reaches physical limits.

Ø    Medical devices inside your body “to prevent depression, relieve back pain, and even paint your esophagus to reduce acid reflux.”

Ø    Videos, photos and music on your cell phone—and fast deployment of 3G networks.

Ø    Mini fuel cells making their first commercial appearance: “Your laptop will run for days instead of hours and your cell phone will take calls for weeks without a recharge.”

Ø    Internet telephony, with VoIP becoming a household word.

Ø    The digital living room, with consumer electronics vendors battling it out against PC/software companies. (Is Sony a PC or consumer electronics company?)

I believe the first is premature for 2005, the second unlikely this year on a wide scale (but what do I know?), the fourth highly improbable on a large commercial scale in 2005. As for the last the question is, will anyone but a few million early adopters care?

Business 2.0: Whither Apple, Google, blogs and DVRs

Erick Schonfeld’s “future boy” for December 27, 2004 includes eight predictions for technology in 2005—“best enjoyed with a salt shaker handy.”

Ø    The year of the DVR, with the number of installed recorders pushing well above the 10 million mark—mostly set-top boxes.

Ø    Apple introduces the iPhone, possibly made by Motorola.

Ø    Google searches everything, including video.

Ø    Blogs go mainstream and podcasting catches on. “Some bloggers and podcasters may even figure out how to make money.” (Do you know what podcasting is? Do you care?)

Ø    Tech consolidation continues, “to no avail” (as startups come up with better ways to provide software).

Ø    Nanotech makes fuel cells feasible.

Ø    Chinese IPOs party like it’s 1999.

Ø    The word ‘passion’ is barred from all business meetings (please).

Again, I wonder about such rapid improvements in fuel cells—but I wouldn’t argue with the rest. I’m a little tired of “passion” being overused in library environments as well.

PC Magazine: Crazy technology predictions for 2005

Lance Ulanoff offers 19 predictions, calling them “statements of possibilities, those that range from the somewhat plausible to the decidedly fantastic.” Again, the writer explicitly calls for a grain of salt. I won’t list them all (including eMachines dropping the “Gateway” brand name from the merged company!), but here are a few interesting ones:

Ø    Bill Gates retires from Microsoft and devotes himself to his worldwide philanthropy efforts.

Ø    Apple launches a PDA smartphone in conjunction with Cingular. (There’s the iPhone again!)

Ø    Windows XP SP3 comes out by late August 2005, with a dramatically leaner IE.

Ø    “Spam wins”—but it’s a Pyrrhic victory, as we all just pay someone to handle it, response rates drop to almost nothing, and spammers switch to phishing.

Ø    A supervirus sweeps through most home PCs without up-to-date virus signatures, resulting in loads of zombies bringing down sites like Amazon, eBay, Google and Microsoft.

Ø    All production of VCRs stops, as does production of full-size VHS tapes.

Ø    Internet2 moves to the commercial world.

Some of the 19 seem plausible, some interesting, some mostly silly (e.g., Steve Jobs quits Apple and buys the Boston Red Sox, Michael Dell quits Dell and buys the New York Yankees).

SPARC Open Access Newsletter

Peter Suber offered 14 predictions for 2004 in the February 2, 2004 issue. You might want to look back at those predictions (www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/ newsletter/02-02-04.htm). I’d say he got 12 of 14 right and the other three at least partly right. (I haven’t seen that much OA activity in the humanities and I don’t believe Amazon’s “Search inside the book” has either proved or disproved the concept that free online full-text triggers more sales of print books, although I believe that to be probable.) That’s a remarkable track record, particularly given that some of the projections were neither obvious nor (I would have said at the time) likely.

Suber offers 13 predictions for 2005—use the same URL but with “01-02-05” for the full January 2, 2005 issue. He thinks the NIH policy will inspire other similar policies, that we’ll see at least one journal claim that the NIH policy is causing it to lose subscribers, and that we’ll start to see competition among OA journals within specific niches. Subscription-based journals will continue to experiment with OA in various ways (lots of hybrids); that means fewer journal publishers raising the “peer review” objection. While OA will expand in well-funded fields, there will also be efforts in less-funded fields.

OA literature will induce coders to create worthwhile tools that work with the literature (and vice-versa). OA journals will become prestigious enough to attract the top scholars. “OA to new journal articles will vastly outpace OA to new books. But OA to sufficiently old books (books in the public domain) will start to surpass OA in sufficiently old journals… [still] we’ll see new progress toward OA to new books…” Journals will find that restrictive archiving policies (e.g., Elsevier’s “only your own institution”) are unworkable. Very few (if any) journals will rescind “green OA” policies. Large publishers will diversify to ensure survival.

“OA proponents will have to cope with success. Or to be more precise, we’ll have to cope with partial success. That means preventing universities from using OA as an excuse to cut library budgets…”

I’d bet Suber’s right on 12 of the 13, and I hope he’s right that we’ll see more humanities OA. I suspect one prediction from 2004 is equally valid for 2005: “There will be less unity in the OA movement, or at least less concern to preserve solidarity in every public discussion.” That’s a good thing for the long-term health of OA.

Ed Felten: Freedom to tinker

Felten restated his seven 2004 projections before making his new list. For 2004, he predicted that some public figure would be severely embarrassed by an image taken on a picture-phone or audio captured on a pocket recorder; that e-voting technologies would lose credibility; that P2P tools resisting countermeasures would become more popular; that the studios would want more than the broadcast flag; that DRM would still be mostly useless; that WiFi would become more and more a free amenity; that VoIP companies would be “darlings of the business press” but the biggest stories would be security and reliability questions. He rates himself two right, three mostly right, two mostly wrong (VoIP and the timing of further MPAA moves). That’s a good track record. Felten says, “I’m surprised to have done so well. Obviously this year’s predictions need to be more outrageous.”

Here are this year’s predictions (www.freedom-to-tinker.com/archives/000744.html):

Ø    DRM technology on PCs will be seen as a security and privacy risk.

Ø    Vonage and other established VoIP vendors “will start to act like incumbents, welcoming regulation.”

Ø    IE will face increasing pressure from Firefox.

Ø    Major bloggers will either team up or affiliate with news outlets or major web sites.

Ø    A pure-internet TV show or movie will be a cult hit.

Ø    The Supreme Court won’t provide a definitive Grokker decision.

Ø    Copyright legislation will be stalemated, as will spam, spyware, and security issues.

Ø    Congress will pass a “harmless but ineffectual” anti-spyware act.

Ø    “DRM technology will still fail to prevent widespread infringement. In a related development, pigs will still fail to fly.”

Ø    New P2P systems will combine swarming (BitTorrent) distribution and distributed (KaZaa etc.) indexes; big media will try to corrupt system indexes.

Ø    “X-ray vision technology will become more widely available (though not to the general public), spurring a privacy hoohah.”

An interesting list, with #3 a done deal. Far be it from me to question the first eleven!

Wired News: “Vaporware phantom haunts us all”

This January 7, 2005 story by Leander Kahney isn’t a forecast, it’s a sad reality—the 8th annual Vaporware Awards. Ignoring games (and particularly ignoring Duke Nukem Forever), the vaporware awards include:

Ø    Alienware’s Video Array, which would allow video cards to run in parallel

Ø    A 4GHz Pentium 4 from Intel and a 3GHz G5 from Apple

Ø    ATI Radeon X800 video cards—supposedly shipping, but you can’t find them

Ø    Microsoft Longhorn, the successor to Windows XP, originally scheduled for 2004. (I can wait.)

Ø    “CherryOS,” a $50 Mac emulator for Windows PCs

Ø    The Phantom Game Console from Infinium Labs

That’s it for the forecasts (for this issue at least). Do these influence your “top technology trends” picks for 2005? Should they? In some cases, yes; in some cases, libraries should be behind the curve. In some cases, I just don’t know.

Quicker Takes

Bill Howard thinks everyone else should have the same preferences he does, which isn’t unusual for tech journalists. His latest piece of bad advice, “Rent, don’t rip,” comes in the October 19, 2004 PC Magazine. He doesn’t want to own CDs or DVDs; he wants to pay rental for all his media needs—and, presumably, rests comfortably in the assurance that this total dependence on the goodwill of Big Media will serve him well in the long run. What’s interesting to me is that Howard simply sweeps away the extreme compromises involved. Hey, for $10 a month, Napster or Rhapsody will give you “all the music you want at moderate fidelity (few of us stop to listen to music critically).” So much for quality audio: You’re not really paying attention, so who cares? It gets worse: He thinks it’s time to stop buying DVDs because his DVD collection “is about to become obsolete in the face of high-definition DVD.” That’s simply false (obsolescent is not obsolete, and—unlike LPs—those DVDs will play just fine on HD DVD players, when those eventually make sense), and “movie downloads”—with their extreme compression to save download time—really do fall into the “well, I’m not really watching critically anyway” category. It’s the old Heavenly Jukebox, a prime example of the need to be careful what you wish for. (Will those KTDs who really don’t ever buy or listen to CDs ever understand that they’re not hearing all the music? Will they care?)

Ø    “The Internet will prove to be the undoing of society and civilization as we know it.” Why? Because of “the Web’s natural ability to remove normal interpersonal structures that prevent society from falling into chaos.” Hmm? “Almost everyone on the Net is anonymous.” “Haughty bloggers” who “hide behind a good online template” are taken seriously and “may even become famous” if he/she stays hidden long enough.” The entire political scene has become totally dichotomous, and that’s “thanks to the net.” “If it were up to me, I’d shut down the Net tomorrow and make people get out of the house and mingle.” Who’s writing this over-the-top screed? John C. Dvorak, or some whack job posing as Dvorak successfully enough to take over Dvorak’s PC Magazine column (23:19, p. 61). And, of course, Dvorak has a special weekly column that only appears on…the Web. For which I suspect he makes very good money. Little wonder that the best letter four pages earlier in the issue offers “proof positive that John Dvorak is the complete idiot that I’ve believed him to be all these years” for claiming that the “D” in Class D audio amplification stands for “digital.” (It doesn’t, and Class D amplifiers have been around for a long time.) The last line of the letter was good enough to be the callout for the letters page: “John Dvorak’s column is a vastly entertaining piece of highly opinionated fiction.” Except it’s rarely entertaining these days.

Ø    While I didn’t include PC Magazine’s big roundup of HDTVs (it’s a little out of scope), I was delighted to see the article acknowledge and quantify one issue with plasma TVs: They’re power hogs. The three plasma sets required 708 (55"), 545 (50") and 363 (49") watts, where rear-projection (DLP/D-ILA or LCD) screens needed 195 (61"), 200 (50") and 250 (60") watts to yield brighter pictures than the plasma screens. (Direct-view LCDs are generally smaller, so it’s hard to make comparisons, but the three tested sets drew 350 (46"), 216 (37"), and 145 (30") watts.)

Masthead

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 5, Number 2, Whole Issue 58, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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