After dinner tonight at WTF 2004, there were a handful of short, sharp presentations in which speakers were limited to an eight- to 10-minute time slot. What follows are partial transcripts of some of the second round of talks, which addressed the role of work on the network, loss leaders, community-based networks, and other topics.
Martin Geddes is the proprietor of Telepocalypse, as well as a “humble functionary lost in the bowels of a huge midwestern telecommunications company.”
I work for a big evil telephone company. There’s a great business case to build a network if you’re a monopoly. There’s a great business case to build a network if you own your own network. There’s all sorts of those networks. But there’s an emerging indication that networks are loss leaders. You might imagine a future in which fiber to the home happens through an adjacent real estate transaction. This is true even in outside industries, like airports. Heathrow Airport should really be called Heathrow Retail Center — all of the money is in adjacent markets. If we take a hypothetical telco from Kansas, the network asset turns over once a year. And the data assets turns over once a century. That gives you an indication of where the opportunity is.
UK Community Nets
Lindsay Annison: There’s a lot more transmitting than receiving. At this event, a lot more listening would be welcome. We came here from the UK thinking that the U.S. could help us. We’ve got some problems. But maybe it can work both ways. This isn’t about technology. And this isn’t about money. This is about fundamental social change.
Other than the Access to Broadband Campaign, we also support and empower communities. I live in a deeply rural area. The people are suffering. We don’t have access to anything, so the communities are taking it on themselves and setting up community networks. We’ve been taking control and putting in everything from antennas and base stations to mesh networks. So the value remains in the communities, not in the pockets of the behemoths. We’re doing it all ourselves, and the communities need to learn to work together, which is a novelty. We could have one user who asks everyone else to stay off the network to do something that’s very important.
[At this point, Annison asked participants to free up the network so a remote user, Brian, could upload a large file. I turned off AirPort and paused in my typing, taking notes by hand (overcorrecting because the word processor doesn’t use up bandwidth; d’ohh!), but the back-channel chatter on the Web chat continued.]
They have unlimited resources. We don’t. We need to manage our use of the resources. We go door to door and knock on the doors. This is the only way we can do it.
Malcolm Matson: If we are looking at the edge, and we’re talking about getting away from the grips of the center, we’ve got to realize that there’s a vested interest there. Network capacity is viewed as a scarce resource. That’s what the network was about. But now that there’s no scarce resource, they’re using the computers between us to keep the valves turned down to make it scarce. All of the talent is out here, in abundance. The mother of all battles is whether it’s going to be my or your PC. Its not as inevitable as the wheel that we’re going to win out, but it matters whether it’s now or in 10 years. There’s a heck of a political battle underway.
Net Work, Not the Network
Melissa Davis works as an engineer for RS Information Systems.
I’m an engineer and a networker. And I want to talk about not data networking, not the World Wide Way, going to ESPN to find out whether Tennessee won the basketball game. I can wait for that. But can I have a video conference meeting in which I can be the baboon I want to be, scratching my armpits? We get 90% of our input from the body, from gestures: tongues, inflections, pauses in speech. How can we do business this way when we can’t travel around willy nilly? We can do that kind of work. There are some issues, but the possibilities are there.
Greasing the Path Retaking the Edge!
After working with Software Arts, Lotus Development, and Microsoft, Bob Frankston now pursues a number of projects and grapples with the broader implications of IP.
The old view I call MISS: Make it simply stupid. It’s a view from the edge. You want to work on crypto. You want to move the middle, but you also want logical control. I want to provide solutions. I don’t want to define identity or the edge. You don’t want the Net thinking for you. We have the Internet down, and people want the Internet to solve all our problems. We want to get rid of the differentiation.
The whole idea that we have a Federal Speech Commission is so odd. What’s the edge? It’s anything you want it to be. How do you manage too many details in a meaningful way? If you define the edge, you commoditize the transport. Water is water. People will find ways to create differentiation. Bottled water is an option for the rich.
Define simplicity at the edge, connect despite the center, and don’t ask; just do. How do we do it? Choose your own end point that gives you control. Scoot past the do-gooders. Why does this work? If there’s commoditization, there’s no differentiation. You’ll be forced to become a local utility out of self-interest — or a personal utility. You can create your own networks just by connecting.
How do you find someone if no one knows who no one is? A would give B a route. As you move around, you either tell the other party where you moved to, or the other party needs to re-find you. The middle is not a factor. There’s nothing like IP mobility or handoff.
The key is that the user experience is what you focus on. Any end point needs to be reachable by any end point. Connectivity becomes a local utility, and hauling bits becomes about as bad as hauling garbage. Going to the local marketplace is an inexorable process. Don’t ask, just tell them what you want.
Don’t Tell Me
Don Jackson is vice president of advanced telephony at Tellme Networks Inc..
A lot of us are rearchitecting the phone network. A lot of this is a new way to do the same old things. Let’s try to do a little bit more. Think about the new services like AT&T’s Vonage. It’s POTS. It’s POTS all over again. It’s the same experience voice had. There are some new features, but we’re just rehashing Dial Tone 1.0. Dial tone is an undistinguished commodity. You have no loyalty to any provider. It’s good if you’re a consumer, but it’s not good if you’re a service provider.
I see walled gardens. The only people who can create new services are the people who work for those carriers. They don’t understand Bill Joy’s Law. NTT Docomo really gets this. The thing is the customer relationship and the billing. They want to create new services for their customers. NTT gets to share in the results.
We’re interested in Dial Tone 2.0. Every telephone call is the same. The phone should know more about who I am, what I want to do — and help me to do those things. The Tellme experience is basically that there’s a personal address book. I can start a one-party call. I can transition to a multi-party call.
There are very few standard tools scripting these call flows. The call models were very clever. That’s extremely powerful. In the voice over IP world, they really don’t have that particular thing figured out. To create this demo, I had to write Java code that lives in this specific phone.
[Unfortunately, Jackson’s demo didn’t work, but that’s the way the conference cookie crumbles sometimes.]
Our Knowledge (Son)Net
Earlier this morning, I was unable to blog one of the interstitial presentations. Judith Meskill read a sonnet she’d written as a result of her experiences working in telecom support. What follows is a partial transcript of her introduction, as well as the sonnet itself, courtesy of the Social Software Weblog.
I was a member of the original core team of Pacific Bell Internet and then SBC’s Internet companies. Our in-house technical support was going to be outsourced. I moved from technology to operations to save the center. Long story short, we saved our center, won a number of performance awards, and set a model for all of the technical support departments in the SBC system. When I left SBC, the subsequent leadership did not believe in sharing knowledge, and everything dissolved. What I have done is written an English sonnet about the experience.
The Internet supplies a useful space
in which to serve your customers real-time
and though you do not see them face-to-face
you “feel” them in this cyber-place just fine.
Now SBC was adamant about
a service level for their DSL
with agents who, at times, would scream and shout
and customers who thought they’d gone to hell.
“Plan B” was what we called our “knowledge net.”
Our agents built it out of faqs and stuff.
It made us proud to know that we could get
good answers to our clients — not just fluff.
From 90 to 5 minutes “wait” times fell.
A “bottom-up” support job done quite well.