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A Permanent Work in Progress

I borrowed the title for this post from Harry McCracken, who used it in his Techlog column in PC Worlds December issue. He writes:

More than any communications medium before it, the Web is a permanent work in progress thats always new.

McCracken goes on to write how current technology is allowing for more and more connectivity throughout the world, and what that will mean for consumers and ISPs. In fact, he notes that the United States is not necessarily on top in terms of the average users connectivity power. For example, the Communications Workers of America reports that the average American download speed is 1.9 megabits per second, far less than 61 mbps in Japan, 45 mbps in Korea, or even 7.9 mbps in Canada.

However, his comment also generally pertains to the core of what the internet really is, and the reality that we confront daily at Newfangled as we develop technology for use on the web. The web is a work in progress indeed, and that means that everything we build for use on the internet is also a work in progress.

Your Proximity to the Net

A recent On Point radio broadcast discussed Googles new phone plan, Android (another article here from Google Tutor), and the implications that phone technology will have on internet use and capabilities. Listen here.

It probably wont be very long before you can access the internet from just about anywhere. Whether you use a iPhone, a BlackBerry, public wireless access or some other source yet to be created, the internet will soon be wherever you are. This is a great thing for creators of web applications or those who like to be able to access tools and documents without having their personal computer in tow. Having an omniweb (Ill use this goofy term to describe the future where the web is everywhere, but not to refer to the early nineties Mac browser) would allow for such technological advances as smart homes, 4G phones, IPv6, Microsofts surface PCs, cars that drive themselves, etc. etc. that weve all been expecting since Minority Report.

However, this potential omniweb may not be such a great thing for those of us who like having some boundaries between our work and time off. I cant help but fear that someday not having access to my email or not being in cellphone range might not be valid reasons to not work while on vacation, or that no matter where I am in the world, I might be easily findable. I also wouldnt mind being able to escape from the ubiquity of technology every now and then, either, but from the looks of things this is going to only become more difficult. Even now, well soon be seeing good ol Google at the gas pump. Helpful, yes, but just one more step towards an all-Google-all-the-time lifestyle…

Your Proximity to Me Via the Net
Another aspect to this work in progress is that because internet access is available in more places, more can be accomplished (theoretically) by more people in groups regardless of the locations of individuals. One immediate caveat I would propose is that often work relationships are enhanced by personal, face-to-face contact (see my post, Social Media Tools and Synthetic? Communities for more on this). However, I also was able to work for Newfangled for an entire year while living in Penang, Malaysia, thanks to Telekom Malaysia, Skype, and my Dell laptop. Oh, and of course, the flexibility of my employers!

Being thousands of miles away from friends, family and co-workers didnt seem so extreme because I was able to communicate with everyone so easily. I would call people using my Skype Out account and nobody ever seemed to notice. In fact, Im not sure I ever used a landline while I lived overseas! Motoring down many streets in Penang also demonstrated to me that others were catching on, as a common sight there were many support centers being set up by companies like Dell, SeaGate, Sony, etc. (So, dont be surprised if a friendly Malaysian helps you next time your gadgets on the fritz.)

This proximity idea has also enabled us to serve our clients better. We can now more efficiently work with one of our agency partners clients, even if they are in Dublin and we are in humble little Carrboro, NC. For example, in addition to having integrated VPBX phone systems and BlackBerrys into our daily work life, we also use Adobe Connect frequently to demo our CMS to prospective clients, as well as to conduct training sessions to current clients without having to be in the same physical location. Other tools, like Mantis and DotProject allow us to maintain active projects even when the client, agency, developer and project manager are all in different places.

Its Still a Work In Progress
Despite all these achievements and potential, the reality is that the internet is still a work in progress. GMail will still go down sometimes. Google Maps will still not find a location every now and then, or leave you frustrated by bad directions. Facebook will reorganize your photo albums by accident. Your blog will disappear. The site youre on might not work in Internet Explorer but will work in FireFox (or maybe the other way around). Your BlackBerry just wont work when youre in the ski lodge. You will get spam. Lots of it. Embarassing spam. Your email newsletter wont look the same in everyones inbox. Your video might not play back perfectly. Your online store might need to be rethought now that a new payment gateway is available. I could go on and on… Suffice it to say that on the net you will have problems, but the point is that the internet is a work in progress and we are all participating in the effort to make it better… except for the creators of the animated mortgage ads. They are making the internet worse.

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