Technology: January 2006 Archives

SearchEngineWatch dug out a bunch of documents to do with the attempt by the US Justice Department to obtain a million random URLs generated during the course of a day to try to demonstrate the constitutionality of the Children's Online Protection Act. In the post, Gary Price quotes a sentence from Google's declaration in which the search engine company's counsel argues why Google should not co-operate: "It is against Google's competitive interest to be viewed as completely reflecting the world-wide web."

Think about that sentence for a minute. Not only does Google not reflect the state of the web, it's not even in the company's competitive interest, according to one of its lawyers. It's an interesting position for a search engine with a massive catalogue of websites and which was, until recently, working through a process to digitise and index every book on the planet. Or maybe Google is just concentrating on reflecting the world.

There is plenty more to read over there and the documents show that the "Google backs privacy" meme that is clogging up the blogosphere has less to do with this case than trade-secret protection.

Bye bye print

6 January 2006

As a primarily print journalist, one question I often get asked is how long do newspapers and magazines have left? I have given the same answer for the last ten years: as long as it takes to get an electronic reader with the visual quality of paper, that weighs no more than a thin paperback, with the battery life of an alarm clock and costs tens of dollars to buy. Actually, the battery life can come down a bit: a couple of weeks is just dandy, thank you. When all those things come together, you have the effective death of mass-produced print. It's difficult to think of any reason why you would not use an electronic reader over paper with those features other than stubbornness or vanity. However, vanity is powerful motivator, so I give books - some of them at least - a much longer lifespan.

Printed paper is no more than a distribution mechanism. As Mark Cuban pointed out, it is a distribution mechanism that is becoming prohibitively expensive compared with the alternative: electronic distribution. I disagree: print has always been expensive. It just happened to be cheaper than hiring town criers or minstrels to spread your words. Oddly, printing and distributing paper media has never been cheaper (well, barring some rises in paper costs recently). Go into a bookstore like Borders and just look at the racks and racks of mags. Many of them come from small independent operations, not just big publishers with deep pockets.

My favourite comment from Gizmodo's coverage of Sony's e-book reader, launched this week at CES, was Tom of MusicThing's "Yay EBooks! Party like it's 1999!". And 1989, for that matter - anybody remember VC Hermann Hauser's Active Book? The design mutated into the EO tablet computer before the whole project disappeared along with Microsoft's first tablet efforts and as Apple's more famous Newton PDA flamed out. But the e-book reader is one of those concepts that just won't lie down and die.

It is not so much that the ebook reader has suddenly, and once again, become an attractive proposition in and of itself: the story is all in the display and what that means for what could be one of the highest volume niches in portable computing. Companies have been striving to find a killer appplication for handheld computers and keep coming up short. It's not just because a lot of the software sucks. They have lacked the two major requirements in any device that seeks to replace paper: the ability to run off a couple of AAA cells or maybe even coin cells not just for hours but for weeks; and a display that does not make your eyes water after a couple of hours.