Archive for April, 2008

Web page size balloons

Apr 30 2008 Published by Ryan under Digital Divisions

A report from shows that websites have ballooned in size over the past few years. Between 2003 and 2008 the average web page size has grown from 93.1 kilobytes to 312 kilobytes. For people with decent broadband connections 312 kilobytes is drop in the bucket, but for those with slow DSL or, god forbid, dial-up connections, 312 kilobytes will take an eternity to load.

The same site has another report showing that around 12 percent of web users are still hanging on to their dial-up connections.

If the average website takes around 45 seconds (312 kilobytes at dial-up speed) to load on a dial-up connection, is it actually possible to use the web?

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Broadband 2.0 finally comes the US

Apr 27 2008 Published by Ryan under Digital Divisions

Verizon and Comcast are rolling out the next generation of high-speed technology to limited markets. The new connections are going to deliver about 25 times the rate of the average broadband connections that are most widely available today. Verizon’s FiOS has been available to folks in a number of states for over a year now, and Comcast just showed up to the party; offering its new service in Minneapolis/St. Paul in the past few months.

Not in Chicago though – Boo.

While I’ve mentioned Comcast’s plans before, this Wired article has a good break-down of what the new lines will be capable of and where this is all headed.

The United States is still behind in the broadband game. Many other advanced nations have higher adoption, availability and speeds. Its great that the telecom companies are pushing things forward, but this was supposed to happen a while ago.

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Little publicized problems with micro-credit

Apr 27 2008 Published by Ryan under Digital Divisions

This is a bit off-topic for a blog about technology, but I posted yesterday about micro-credit financing helping people in Bangladesh setup phone business and want to follow-up with something I’ve found. Micro-credit has been touted as a great capitalist solution to poverty. A small loan and hard work should be enough to help people pull themselves out of poverty, right? Unfortunately not everyone is able to turn the loan into a successful business and there has been very information about the flip-side of this supposed wonderful idea.

France 24, a french television station did an investigative reporting piece on what happens when the poor take out the micro-credit loans and can’t pay them back. Loan officers of the Grameen Bank, the pioneer of micro-credit, are dispatched to do what they can to get the loans repaid. The poor residents of these villages are threatened with the loss of their homes and the few things of value that they own, and have no way to repay. Loan officers even persuade them to take more loans to try again to make money.

This all comes through the France 24 story, I’m sure there much more to the story, but this is quite troubling.

via Gawker

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The phone lady

Apr 26 2008 Published by Ryan under Digital Divisions

Here is a good video about using microcredit to provide a poor remote village with a cell phone. The video is produced by the International Telecommunication Union, a special agency of the United Nations. Grameen Bank is an organization that provides micro-credit loans to people throughout the world, and provided the money the phone lady needed to get her business off the ground. The video looks at how useful and economically beneficial instant communication can be to individuals and communities.

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The commercial web for kids

Apr 26 2008 Published by Ryan under Digital Divisions

everythinggirl.jpgSo what do kids do the on the Internet?

Warren Buckleitner, the editor of Children’s Technology Review magazine, studied children in 10 different households who had access to high-speed Internet. Buckleitner put video cameras in the homes and had parents record how the kids used the Internet. He found that the kids by and large visited the following sites the most:

All of these sites are associated with toys, televisions shows, video games or advertising. Most if it is over-commercialized entertainment with an apparent goal to supplement and support product brands. Buckleitner laments the lack of educational value in these web sites when compared to educational software. These popular websites do not have what he calls a high educational “quality per click” ratio.

What really struck me is one of his first comments: “I watched children as young as three use Google to look up sites (don’t tell them they can’t read!).”

How can you use Google if you can’t read? Their entire site is text-based with a few splashes of color. It reminded me of a few recent discussions I’ve had with educators, where the notion came up that email, instant message and the Internet are encouraging kids to read and write much more then they used to.

It’s an interesting idea and, hopefully, a positive trend. As long as kids are not spending all their time reading and writing about Barbie dolls. Although grown-ups do spend a lot of time reading and writing about their toys.


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The kids? What about the adults?

Apr 22 2008 Published by Ryan under Digital Divisions

If technology is growing and changing at exponential rates how do people keep up with all the skills? Kids are great at intuitively picking these computer skills, its the adults that need the education.

This opinion piece at the Financial Times argues that continuing adult education is becoming so much more important with the fast-paced changes in the economy. The author, Michael Schrage, makes some poignant observations that go far in making his case. The population is aging. People are healthier and live longer. Older workers are in need of investment.

Schrage goes on to discuss how the Internet and global communications should make this continuing education thing a snap. All kinds of free media is available online, including high quality educational resources, podcasts, and lectures.

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The digital New Deal

Apr 21 2008 Published by Ryan under Digital Divisions


The San Francisco Chronicle has an interesting op-ed up on their website about a Digital New Deal. With a recession and a lot of young people coming of age having used the Internet for most of their lives, the author, Helen De Michiel, argues that the government should start an online public works program. The program would put savvy young ‘millennials’ to work building a public commons, kind of a super-social networking site, commercial-free and open to all.

This sounds like an interesting idea, especially with an impending recession that some have said will much worse than what we’ve seen in a while.

There is a response to the article at PBS’s Mediashift Idea Lab that brings up the most important issues of a kind of Digital New Deal, stuff that was not addressed in first article: broadband penetration and willingness of people to participate.

I think the priority of a Digital New Deal should lie in doing something about these issues. Like the effort to provide electricity and telephone service to rural areas in the ’30s and ’40s, we need a serious push to wire rural areas and neglected parts of urban areas for Internet access. Connected Nation, Inc.,, and not-for-profit that promotes broadband adoption and computer literacy, released a report that said that increasing broadband availability would add an extra $134 billion to the economy every year. That’s economic stimulus.

I think once this is done, we can discuss the possibility starting an online digital public works project. There is much that could be done with the Internet to improve our society and government, but we can’t leave people behind because they can’t get or afford access to it.

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Just another inexpensive computer for education?

Apr 20 2008 Published by Ryan under Digital Divisions

The Teachermate is targeted at kindergarden through third grade.

The XO laptop is designed to be easy to learn for kids of all ages around the world

Intel’s Classmate is slightly more powerful than the XO, but lacks custom software.

A new low-cost handheld computer called the Teachermate was introduced in March by non-profit Innovations for Learning, Inc. As part of a pilot program funded by the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, one-first grade class in each of Chicago’s 500 public elementary will get a full compliment of the $50 devices, each equipped with reading and math software that can be coordinated and monitored by teachers.

I spoke with the executive director of Innovations for Learning, Seth Weinberger, about the device and its place among the recent flurry of new computers designed for children, such as One Laptop per Child’s XO laptop, and Intel’s Classmate, among others. Weinberger had and interesting take on were the Teachermate fits, and with the experience he has in the educational software market he gave some interesting comments on the approach of the One Laptop per Child program and others.

The Teachermate is designed to be as simple as possible to keep the cost down and make it simpler and more reliable. But most importantly it keeps things simple for the young kids using it. Weinberger said that a full keyboard and Internet access aren’t appropriate for the age groups the device is targeted to.

“When you’re talking about a first grader they don’t really need to get to the internet and if they do, it should really be so filtered for them as to almost not really be the Internet. It has to be mediated by the teacher,” said Weinberger.

Weinberger sees devices such as the XO laptop and Classmate playing a larger role in older classes, after the students have graduated from using the Teachermate.

However Weinberger drew a deeper distinction between the Teachermate and the XO laptop, saying the Teachermate is designed in conjunction with educational software whereas the XO laptop has be developed as a tool or platform.

“They’re providing a platform for educational content, and they’re leaving it up the open source community to really come up with the content. … We work from the exact opposite approach. We started with the software that is needed from a content level to make a teacher effective in the classroom and then we were forced to create hardware, that would be a delivery system for that software but as a result we came up with a complete solution for the teacher.”

It’s an interesting observation on the problems of using technology to educate. It certainly makes sense that for a device that is destined for the classroom, software designed to help teachers teach the basics, reading, writing, math and science, is almost necessary. It doesn’t look like there is any work being done right now on any subject-based education software for XO laptop, at least.

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Ad-supported broadband access?

Apr 18 2008 Published by Ryan under Digital Divisions

Is the way to offset the cost of building wireless networks to provide Internet access through advertising? Los Angles-based FreeFi Networks has deployed a campus wide wireless network at Roxbury Community College in Boston. The company has partnered with Microsoft, a company called Front Porch which produces adware, and another company called Experience which provides a web-based recruiting platform.

This plan brings to mind NetZero from way back. Remember the boom days of the Internet when everything was free with an advertisement? That didn’t last with the collapse of the bubble. I haven’t seen the advertisements, but for a college, I would hope that they could provide Internet access to at least students and faculty without having to suffer through them. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out.

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Election season might halt progress on broadband legislation

Apr 16 2008 Published by Ryan under Digital Divisions

The Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008, introduced in the House by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) in the beginning of February might be in trouble. The goal of the legislation is to address Net Neutrality issues and broadband issues.

The law, if passed, would require the FCC to keep closer tabs on Internet service providers to insure that they are fair in the way they manage and charge for their services.

Predictably the telecom and wireless companies have lobbied against the bill, saying it’s unnecessary and would hurt them.

An article at IP Buisness magazine has a great look at where the bill is at and why its probably not going to happen this year despite broad support.

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