Our House, in the middle of the Web?

Written by Wil Harris

July 26, 2004 | 01:00

Tags: #column #im #msn #register #skype #technology #text-to-speech #voip #wil-harris

Companies: #cebit #computex #nvidia

This month, I moved house. Sitting in my new office, the whole world seems... exactly the same.

Allow me to give you some background. Having now graduated and finished with the world of edyookashun (at least for a while), bit-tech has taken over my life, to the point that I've upped sticks and moved myself 500 miles north to Scotland to set up shop with our WebDev SuperHero, James Costello (aka Moose).

Moving house, as I'm sure many of you will know, is very traumatic. The hassle of packing, changing addresses, getting parking permits etc can be a real pain. Of course, if you are changing job or moving offices, the whole thing is a heck of a lot more complicated.

"Using the web means that interaction doesn't cost a dime"

So, with the Yellow Pages open to Printing Services, I'm looking to find somewhere to get my business cards reprinted. New phone line number, new address, maybe a bit of a makeover from the old card design. Rather than my old Oxford postcode, my new one here in Aberdeen. But, oddly, my life really hasn't changed, despite what my business cards tell me.

Because, and this was my original point, location is really a sub-issue now. Technology is so ubiquitous, and our forms of communication so different from even just 10 years ago, that you can work wherever you are in the world.

There's no better example of this than right here on bit-tech, in the collaborative working model we've honed over the last 3 years. We have writers in America, Australia, Scotland and England, and we have the capacity to submit and upload articles and communicate from anywhere in the world, so that jaunts to Taipei for Computex or Hannover for CeBit pose no problem. Important topics get discussed, articles proof-read and refined, ideas bounced back and forward, and there's no concept of where anyone is - what matters is that we're on the web.

The same is true of my interaction with other companies. I can grab one of the Nvidia guys on MSN, or give their office a call, just as easily from here as I could from back down south. And using the web means that interaction doesn't cost a dime, save your monthly hook-up fee.

This is clearly a model that's being pushed further and further. The Register is reporting this morning that Skype, the online voice service that has taken the web by storm, is setting up a business agreement to allow for its web voice calls to be routed over local phone lines. This is in addition to the noise that Vonage has been making in the states about Voice over IP. And for once, you can believe the hype. I regularly converse, at telephone quality, with bit-tech's staff in Australia for no cost. It matters not a jot whether they are standing next to me or the other side of the world - the technology enables the communication, and the communication enables the business. It's little short of a revolution.


With new advances like web on the move (such as on my handy SE P900), I can keep up with the latest developments online even when I'm travelling. Whilst the web has traditionally enabled voice applications, this is a phone enabling web applications. Hello convergence!

Indeed, rather than just being a voice replacement, the web is providing advantages over and above traditional comms. When everything is discussed on a message board online, you don't need to log details of conversations or take minutes of meetings - all the information is right in front of you. People can take time to go away and research things and come back with definitive answers, rather than busting a gut to try and hash something together in time for a scheduled meeting offline. Is it slower? Text-based communication sure is, but how long until multi-way voice comms over the net can be logged using text-to-speech? The technology is already there, we're just waiting for the app.

"It matters not a jot whether they are standing next to me or the other side of the world"

Friendships, too, benefit from the net. Whereas, post graduation, it's easy to drift apart, I don't have a single buddy that isn't on MSN, or that doesn't have a mobile that I can text or phone. As Chris Caines wrote, mobile and IM will soon be one platform. How long before one number will reach us anywhere we are?

So, far from being despondent about moving away, and experiencing the strangeness of being away from friends, I feel just as connected as I have ever been, both to the world in general and to colleagues and friends. Whilst the buzz-word in the mobile sector might be 'location-specific computing', I'd argue that the term is perhaps inherently contradictory. With a computer and a net connection, it doesn't matter where you are.
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