Wednesday, February 25, 2009

We Media 3: Person to person Web – literally

The sessions at the We Media conference in Miami always interesting, but some of the best information is gleaned in hallway chats during coffee breaks.

This morning I heard a broad British accent hail me with “Hello, it’s the famous Clyde who told us about Facebook.”

It was David Dunkley Gyimah, a hyper-energetic and hyper-talented video journalist I first met in San Antonio at the International Symposium on Online Journalism.

“Famous” is a stretch, but at during a coffee break at that 2004 gathering I had tried to tell my colleagues about this oddball Web site that my students were gaga about. I had recently become one of just a handful of faculty to sign on and I a gut feeling there was something to it.

Facebook? Frat party pictures and dorm chatter? I was met with blank stares. It certainly didn’t sound like anything that would be of interest to media professionals. But David thought the dearth of innovative thinking by the gathered journalists was funny.

So today David and I had another great laugh. And this time he told me about a technology to watch.

While David is a noted video innovator, senior lecturer at the University of Westminster and founder of, he is also a student in what may be the most unusual doctoral programs in the world. SMARTlab is a “practice-based Ph.D. program” Teams of students actually invent new technology after research that includes “landing” in a community, culture or research environment and spending enough time there to know it intimately.

And what’s on the boards these days? How about an Internet variant the lifeblood of which is real flesh and blood?

One of the SMARTlab teams is exploring a system similar to that used by British intelligence operatives to surreptitiously pass messages. The system uses a set of small Bluetooth transponders that exchange information when the person wearing Unit A gets close to the person wearing Unit B.

Great James Bond stuff, but the SMARTlab folks want to know what happens if you have a whole lot of people with those transponders. Could, for instance, one pass a message across a city or whole country by relaying it from a jogger to a bicyclist to a senior strolling the park to the mailman and on and on. Digitial internodal communications. That’s Web talk on the hoof, so to speak.

This is not just fun and games. One might be able to gather information from nearby stores without stopping or pickup news updates while walking to work. Or send a digital personal message to a distant loved one without ever going on the Internet. Who knows what you could do by putting transponders on dog collars.

So it’s my turn. Next conference, I get to give David the loud hello and tell everyone he is the famous seer. But they'll probably already know that before he is in handshaking distance.

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