As the “New” wears off of “New Media,” investors start to expect results Years ago, I did the first big case study for the NAA, back when newspaper revenues were in free fall, and publishers were desperately flailing around for a revenue stream – any revenue stream – that might provide a lifeline with their […] [...more]
As the “New” wears off of “New Media,” investors start to expect results
Years ago, I did the first big case study for the NAA, back when newspaper revenues were in free fall, and publishers were desperately flailing around for a revenue stream – any revenue stream – that might provide a lifeline with their news organizations. At the time, paywalls were still a very dirty word with the digerati, as they seemed to reflect the very worst of Old Media Thinking.
Is the modern newsroom going to turn into something of an ad production studio? Or will there be some other way for it to survive?
Information wants to be free after all, and back then, there were some very prominent failures with trying to get people to pay for content. El Pais, which had been the market leading national newspaper of Spain, put up a paywall in the early 2000s, and then three years later, took it down after it had basically destroyed their standing in the marketplace. El Pais spent millions of dollars trying to win back the audience that had deserted them.
But then along came the crash in 2008, and the bottom fell out of the ad market (again). This time, unlike the dot-com crash of 2001, the revenues did not bottom out in 6 months, and then start climbing back again. No, this time there were insidious new technologies on the rise that have pretty much destroyed the value of the banner ad: the rise of RTB (real-time bidding) or “programmatic ad buying.”
In a nutshell, RTB allows an advertiser to reach an audience, no matter where it is on the web. Say you want to reach housewives under 35 with kids in school, who looked at washing machines in the past year. No problem. Just sign up with a programmatic bidding outlet, and you can buy banner ads across the internet that will deliver you that audience.
Great for advertisers. Disastrous for publishers.
Why? Well, because the supply of space on the web is basically infinite. That means our old friends supply and demand kick in – with a vengeance. The result has been that CPMs for ads are on a race to rock-bottom. Banner advertising is essentially going to be utterly worthless soon, which means that there is going to have to be yet another shift in how premium content publishers support themselves.
And no, we cannot just crank up subscription rates to the point where the readers pay for everything. Even at the mighty New York Times, with its much-lauded paywall, there is a recognition that doubling the subscription rates will pretty much kill the business. Not to mention the fact that putting all good & decent information behind a paywall pretty much ensures that anyone without means – that is, ordinary folks – are going to have to subsist on a diet of cheap&shoddy news. Yep. Find the flaw in that plan.
The situation gets even more dire when we consider the headlong rush to the mobile web. Banner ads are even less effective and valuable there – here, take it from the New York Times again:
The appeal of being able to buy targeted audiences at scale and the simple efficiency of automated advertising makes it a no brainer for most advertisers, and thus most publishers.
Meanwhile, the shift to mobile makes developing effective native ads even more important because, as Levien says, “we have not yet arrived at an effective interruptive format, a banner format, in mobile”.
Social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter are taking the lion’s share of mobile ad revenue in part because their ads come in the same container as the rest of their content, which works better on mobile devices. The thinking is that publishers need to do the same to compete.
…and here at last we arrive at what is shaping up to be the big fight of 2015. Call it “native advertising,” call it “content marketing,” call it what you will. It’s advertising messages that are inextricably mixed into the news content on news sites. You’ve already seen it in your Facebook feed, on Twitter, on blogs, hell, for the longest time, even in the midst of radio shows.
Why is this going to be A Thing? Well, check out what John Oliver has to say about it:
Is this the future of the news business? Or has it always been this way, and we’ve been deluding ourselves to think otherwise? Gallup’s analysis in 1928 basically says, “Yup. Nobody has ever read those long investigative pieces.”
Back then, they had tried various methods to track what people actually pay attention to, down to gathering the used newspapers off the floors of trolley cars and seeing what page they were left open to (and aren’t you glad you don’t have that job, back when people routinely chewed tobacco and spat?). Gallup came up with the novel idea of sending his researchers into people’s houses in Iowa and watching them read the paper (call it ur-Google Analytics).
People are liars. “The person who believes he has read all of the front page may not have read a fourth of it,” he wrote.
Nobody likes serious news nearly as much as they report on questionnaires. Gallup’s interviews reported that front-page stories were actually no more popular than small features in the back of the paper.
The most-read thing in the newspaper wasn’t news at all: It was the front-page cartoon by J. H. Darling, read by 90 percent of men compared with just 12 percent reading the day’s local government news.
For women, the most-read parts of the newspaper were “style and beauty pictures.”
This is very timely, as Wednesday’s class is going to be about using SEO and analytics to track what readers actually read – and the advisability of just giving them “fast food news”.
It’s led to the rise of what we in the biz are calling “hamster wheel” journalism. I talked last week to the editor of Metropolitan magazine, who said that he gets staffers from fairly reputable outlets, like Fast Company, where the reporters have an Excel spreadsheet with 200 stories that they are REQUIRED to do each month. These story “ideas” are generated by having bots track Google Trends to see what the target audience is clicking on, and then backwards-engineering that to have stories that will then fit those audience interests.
On the one hand: it makes sense to give your customers what they want. On the other hand: aren’t we supposed to be serving a slightly higher calling than the fry cook down at Mickey D’s? What does it mean when the news isn’t what you need to know to function in an increasingly complex and demanding world — but just the lowest-common-denominator pap that can be quickly shoveled out and morticed around the ads.
…back from summer vacation, and leaping into the school year. Well, trying to leap, anyway. I mentioned this development in digital news to my journalism classes at Annenberg, and figured I might want to expand a bit more on it, and provide some links to related articles & research. First, forgive me if this is […] [...more]
…back from summer vacation, and leaping into the school year. Well, trying to leap, anyway.
I mentioned this development in digital news to my journalism classes at Annenberg, and figured I might want to expand a bit more on it, and provide some links to related articles & research.
(Google Data Center from Wallpaperstart.com)
First, forgive me if this is old news, but I haven’t heard much about this from the usual suspects; for some reason, there isn’t much notice being taken of this by publishers, or professional journalists.
The feature, which Google calls “In-Depth Articles,” offers up links to a set of three long-form articles, usually at the bottom of the search results page. The articles are usually detailed profiles and exposés on companies and their leadership. Companies and high-profile individuals should take notice of this development and understand that it presents a number of opportunities, as well as some perils.
No one but Google itself knows exactly how these articles are selected, but the search engine giant has described them as “thoughtful in-depth content” that “remains relevant long after its publication date.” This is a major coup for traditional long-form publications such as Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair,Fortune, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker, as well as new online-only media such as The Verge,SB Nation, and Slate.
The implications for businesses, prominent individuals, and the people in charge of maintaining the reputations thereof, are pretty significant, if not outright terrifying.
This made me think of an encounter I had with a guy back when the job titles "Entrepreneur" did not have the suffused halo of glory around it that it does now. Looking back, this short conversation was one of the transformative experiences in my life. It's what has driven me to consistently take the road less traveled in my career. [...more]
Filed under: Things I didn’t realize I was internalizing at the time that have stuck with me & shaped my life
As a follow-up to my previous post about the “Secrets of Silicon Valley” post, there was something that Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin said, that stuck with me:
“I get thousands of pitches every month. And all of them suck. They tell me all about these numbers and charts and graphs. But what I really want to know is, ‘Why are you doing this? What makes you want to start this company.’ And then they relax, and they tell me what I really want to know.”
This made me think of an encounter I had with a guy back when the job titles “Entrepreneur” did not have the suffused halo of glory around it that it does now. Looking back, this short conversation was one of the transformative experiences in my life. It’s what has driven me to consistently take the road less traveled in my career.
When you try to imagine the most valuable thing in the world, what does it look like? Does it look like something in a museum, where people come from around the world and pay money just to look at it? Is it a Special Thing, ancient and mysterious, that you can own? Or is it something quite else…
In 1987, I was a Pulliam Fellow at the Arizona Republic, working as a copy editor. That meant that I had most of the day free – I went in at about 3 p.m. each day, stayed until midnight and pretty much lived like a bat. So during the day, I explored the city of Tempe, where I lived, and tried to cool off by swimming and enjoying the pool (hey – I’d grown up in Wisconsin, where the rare days you got when it was sunny and warm you automatically headed towards bodies of water to enjoy this amazing gift of weather).
So I was basking in the pool, when I was addressed by an older guy, who was leaning against the side of the pool, elbows on the fringe, watching the sun set. He looked content, but thoughtful. He was tanned like a saddle, with piercing blue eyes, and a bemused expression on his face. He asked who I was and what I was doing in Phoenix.
I told him that I was there, fresh out of college, working for this gigantic media company. But that it was a little strange to me, because the company was so big that I felt like just a little cog in a big machine.
Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – if I believed in what the Big Machine was doing, and if I actually felt that the Big Machine cared in any way for all the cogs that had to mesh to make it run. Neither of which were true.
He frowned, and nodded his head.
“You’re coming to a point in your life where you’re going to have to make some very important decision,” he said.
I snorted, with the derision that only a 21-year-old recent college grad can muster. “Everyone keeps telling me that. But that just sounds like platitudes. What is that supposed to me to me? Every decision we make is important – we cross the street for breakfast, we get run over – hey, that was a life-changing decision! You look at it that way, hell, every decision you make is life and death.”
To his credit, he laughed. “Well, I guess that’s true. But I was thinking of something a bit different than what you do. It’s more about who you really are.”
And then he launched into the story of his life. Turns out that he was not retired, because he never planned on retiring, because every day he did what he loved. He had been a DC-3 pilot in WWII, flying the supply routes that went “Over the Hump,” or over the Himalaya mountains and into China. These were white-knuckle rides, because depending on how loaded down the old “Goonie Birds” were, you may or may not make it over these 20,000-foot peaks.
Each flight through the treacherous mountain passes was a gamble. As the odds against long-term survival mounted, the pilot I talked to said he just gave up the idea of control — that enemy fighters or sudden blizzards could trump any preparations humans could make. Simultaneously, he paid attention to all the little details that might mean the difference between survival and violent death.
He was terrified for the first few flights, and then he basically gave himself up for dead, and started having the time of his life. Most beautiful landscape in the world, wild adventures on either side of the flight, danger, and the feeling of contributing something meaningful to something really important, something that was bigger than him, something that was forever changing the world.
After the war, he started an airline. It was the wild & woolly days back then, not like today when there are basically highways in the sky, you never get lost, it’s all worked out for you. Back then, you were making it all up as you went along, trying to figure out what planes at what times into what airports would get there on time and make money.
But by his combination of daring (from the recklessness that he pursued life from flying over The Hump), and meticulous planning – because he had checked out every inch of every plane and every flight plan before he took off, which is why he survived and so did his whole crew – that combination made him successful.
He built an airline. Made millions. Had a big house and a pinup girl wife.
Was miserable. Hated running the company. Hated all the problems that come with having a lot of money.
So he divorced his wife. Gave her everything. Started from scratch. With a new woman in his life. He said that he had learned something really crazy about himself. He didn’t like being rich.
Making it back was no sure thing (image from Life magazine archives – click through for more).
He liked the struggle, the fight, the ups and downs, the thrills of BECOMING rich.
So he would repeat this pattern. Over and over again. He’d build a company – sometimes airlines, sometimes aeronautical service companies, or plane design firms – build it up until it was huge …
…and then he’d give it away, and start all over from scratch again.
I told this story to my mom, who grew up on a farm in the shadow of the Great Depression, to a father who had twice lost everything he had and worked himself into an early grave trying to provide for 8 kids … and my mom said, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
And for a long time, I agreed with her. What kind of a moron builds something only to give it all away? What kind of person can’t see that you earn money through struggle and pain? That every dollar is a treasure, and that you cling to it as hard as you can?
But then I remembered what that tough old pilot said, back when I said something very similar:
“Think about the most valuable thing in the world. Maltese Falcon, huge diamond, priceless painting – whatever. In your head, I want you to imagine having something that, if you had it, every other person you know would envy you. Just green-eyed, jealousy, eating their own heart out. Day and night, everyone wants what you’ve got, this Special Thing. There’s only one. And you have it.
But there’s a catch. Something that nobody else knows, that you’re trying hard not to let them see. The catch is that hanging onto the Special Thing is killing you. Burning your hands. Feels like fishhooks ripping into your fingers every second you have it in your possession.
But still, everyone passing by says, “OMG! What a lucky guy! Just look at that Special Thing! I sure wish I had that thing!” All the while, it’s just killing you to hang onto it. And you can’t put it down.
The question you have to ask yourself is: would you hold onto that thing?
Would you choose to live in pain, in isolation, in anger, in contempt for everyone you see as lesser than you – would you choose to live that way just so you could conform to some other people’s ideas of how it is that you should feel, and what it is that you should want?
Would you hold on to that thing?
Or would you put it down and say, here. You take it. And while they pick it up and laugh at you – you’re the one that’s laughing at them inside. Because they have to deal with that Special Thing now. And you? You’re free.
And you’re going to build something else now. And building that … whatever it is … building that, is what makes you feel like you have the most valuable thing in the world already.
That was a man with rare courage. He was able to look deeply inside himself and not only see, but accept what it was that made him happy. And then he acted on that knowledge, even when the rest of the world said that he was an idiot. That he had lost his mind.
But he knew what he had to do. Because he literally couldn’t live any other way.
To me, that is the core trait of the entrepreneur.
My students wanted to make sure to capture the conversation around the roundtable discussion we had on the subject of press freedom, so they set up the bagttered (but still serviceable) cameras outside the journalism department offices, and brought in all the accountrements of the formal coffee ceremony … the glowing coals in the brazier, […] [...more]
My students wanted to make sure to capture the conversation around the roundtable discussion we had on the subject of press freedom, so they set up the bagttered (but still serviceable) cameras outside the journalism department offices, and brought in all the accountrements of the formal coffee ceremony … the glowing coals in the brazier, the clouds of thick incense, and platters of roasted barley and chewy bread.
So far, everyone is still in a good mood....
It’s always difficult to figure out what the settings should be on a prosumer video camera, particularly when the opaque menus are written in a foreign language.
…in the courtyard of the Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism I’ve got great video of everyone having a blast, experimenting with the new guerilla-style video production tactics I’ve been teaching them — I showed them how to use the front and rear-facing cameras on their iPads to shoot video. Here, they are working […] [...more]
…in the courtyard of the Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism
I’ve got great video of everyone having a blast, experimenting with the new guerilla-style video production tactics I’ve been teaching them — I showed them how to use the front and rear-facing cameras on their iPads to shoot video. Here, they are working on producing “establishing shots” using whatever equipment is available to you at the time; in this case, it means holding the iPad up in front of your face and doing slow 360s, talking to the camera, so the audience can see for themselves what the landscape around you looks like.
They absolutely loved their brand-new iPad 2s. It was like seeing little kids getting handed Magic Mirrors. They were polite enough for most of the day, but about mid-afternoon, I just lost them in the wilds of the App Store. Also - I will never understand how the Ukrainian women manage to walk down these uneven, treacherous ancient cobblestone streets in stiletto heels.
I also taught them the basics of shot selection, framing, the Rule of Thirds, and some basic stuff about editing and shot sequencing as a means to create emotion. It was about a semester’s worth of material crammed into a one-day lecture, but at least I opened them up to what is possible, and where they can go to try to learn more on their own.
This is still a beautiful city, even if the sky in unrelenting slate gray, and the wind from Siberia knifes right through you after the sun goes down…
At night, the streets of Kiev are filled only with the rumble and clatter of Dr. Zhivago trolley cars, and the whistling north wind. The architecture here is like the people; kind of battered, but still full of character. Resilient.
I haven’t gotten to see as much of this city as I would like; I’ve always been working too hard, or pretty much exhausted & creaking from the demented flight schedule it takes to get here from Los Angeles. Still, the little I have been able to discover on my own has been delightful.
This time around, my students arrived in my classes with significant New Media skills. Some of them were already creating infographics, and this girl is already ghost-blogging for big financial companies. As you can see, she is quite determined; meanwhile, behind her, another of my more active and vocal students gasps in horror at the convoluted assignments I have inflicted on the class...
One of the greater joys of this class was seeing my students help each other out. When they got stuck with some of my more technically challenging exercises, they reached out to each other, and shouted advice back and forth across the classroom.
There is no better feeling for me. I am only here for such a very short time; I keep wishing that I had an entire semester to really reach deep into these young people, to help them draw out their skills & refine them. But seeing their willingness to follow me down these strange multimedia pathways, and to help each other out along the way … leads me to believe that they will continue to help each other out after I am gone.
I found this painting in a humble little clothing stall in the merkato in Addis Ababa, during my last day there, when I finally got some free time to wander around and explore this fascinating city a little bit. Amongst all the funky art & tchotchkes, this painting caught my eye for obvious reasons. What […] [...more]
I found this painting in a humble little clothing stall in the merkato in Addis Ababa, during my last day there, when I finally got some free time to wander around and explore this fascinating city a little bit.
It surprised me to find such an accurate depiction of the garb of the KKK in faraway Ethiopia. I guess movies or popular culture have exposed even the ordinary people around the world to our more sordid side...
Amongst all the funky art & tchotchkes, this painting caught my eye for obvious reasons.
What you can’t see, of course, are all the other exemplars of Obama’s presence here in East Africa. People walk around with Obama’s face on t-shirts, bumper stickers, hats … his face is pasted onto the clear glass shelves in the jewelry shops, and to the sides of the little “blue mule” micro-buses.
This is a good thing.
Invisible to just about everyone in the U.S., we are in a struggle for influence in Africa, which more and more people are calling “The Last Frontier.” China is spreading around the oceans of money (that we gave them in exchange for cheap plastic consumer goods, but that’s another story), and they are doing it in a very tricky, manipulative way. The U.S. and Western Europe have had decades of work, trying to figure out ways to actually benefit countries with their foreign aid. It has not been the easiest process.
However, we have figured out that nation-building takes time. Lots of it. And the investments tend to be gradual, building up infrastructure, institutions, ecosystems. The kinds of things that people really don’t see all at once – but if you take a snapshot of a country 10 or 20 years apart, you see the radical transformations. I know I did when I went back to both Colombia and Venezuela after 20 years absence in 2007-8.
In Addis Ababa, the modern struggles to catch up with the ancient.
Meanwhile, the Chinese are throwing up big, showy projects. Roads, bridges, dams, buildings. And slapping their branding all over them. Ordinary people see this and say, “Well look, the Chinese are actually doing something for us. What do the ferengi leave behind? They talk a lot, but what do we have to show for it all?”
In this kind of environment, having an African-American as President of these here United States is a definite advantage.
The clash of ancient and modern is never more stark than in these developing nations I’ve been in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the last week, training the local journalists and government information officers (aka PR flacks) on how best to take advantage of the way that “New Media” is creating new ways of connecting with […] [...more]
The clash of ancient and modern is never more stark than in these developing nations
I’ve been in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the last week, training the local journalists and government information officers (aka PR flacks) on how best to take advantage of the way that “New Media” is creating new ways of connecting with each other, and the world at large. I’m here as part of the same US Embassy program that has sent me to places like Chile, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Costa Rica, etc., to try to bring people the benefits of experience (aka the way newspapers & TV news has imploded in the U.S.), so they can start planning for the Great Digital Migration.
This is my class of TV journalists at Addis Ababa University (AAU). I tried to cram as much about online video and sharing into my short sessions as I could. Here, I'm showing how to use both professional tools like Adobe Premiere Pro CS5, as well as free alternatives like Windows Movie Maker.
The one thing that everyone here agrees on is that Ethiopia desperately wants to change its international image – c’mon, admit it. When you think of Ethiopia, what images come to mind? Deserts, starving people, vultures, Live Aid, right?
Well, it’s not like that any more. In fact, if you look around at the Addis Ababa skyline, you’ll mostly see cranes and highrise towers under construction. The real-estate bubble that burst and devastated the rest of the world never took hold here.
There are still many reminders that the ancient ways of living are still very much in existence here in Addis, but please also note all the other markers of modernity in this shot.
However, they are facing many of the same challenges as the rest of the world, at least when it comes to the emergence of the internet, and the struggles of newspapers, radio and TV stations to come to grips with social media, and the ability of anyone to become a publisher/broadcaster/internet troll.
The very first place I visited was Sheger FM, the one independent radio station in Ethiopia. This is the courageous owner, who is really struggling to walk the razor's edge here in Addis.
I’ve found many of the same behaviors and attitudes I’ve encountered in the other places that I’ve done web/online video/social media training sessions – stubborn insistence that things will never change, toxic skepticism, and even outright hostility.
After a bit of a rocky start, these guys really came around and appreciated the hands-on lessons I gave them on how to do live video stand-up reports and how to compress video into the best codec to upload to YouTube. The Nelson Mandela building is a challenge, though; between the thin air at this 8000-foot altitude, and having to haul my big carcass up 5 (five) steep flights of stairs, the first few minutes of every class were mostly spent huffing and puffing, and hoping that someone in the class had a particularly insightful comment.
Dave LaFontaine and his tv production class in front of the Nelson Mandela building at Addis Ababa university in Ethiopia.
This got written up in the Congressional Quarterly; considering that the constituents in Cal-33 overindex for mobile web use, this is a real stroke of genius. After the meeting was over, I helped at least 3 people load the QR reader software onto their phones so they could take advantage of this… IF QR codes […] [...more]
This got written up in the Congressional Quarterly; considering that the constituents in Cal-33 overindex for mobile web use, this is a real stroke of genius. After the meeting was over, I helped at least 3 people load the QR reader software onto their phones so they could take advantage of this…
IF QR codes are starting to cross over into political messaging like this, does that mean that they’re finally going to make the jump from gimmicks on soft-drink cartons to something that’s actually useful in our daily lives? I know that they’ve done the “BoomSplat” at least two times in the last four years, since I first started studying them as part of the case study I did on mobile advertising for the NAA. Part of that is the hucksterism of some of their more ardent proponents, who have harebrained schemes like affixing QR codes to every object of note in an urban environment, all in service to the concept of providing “historical context” to the objects we encounter every day. Which sounds like a really great stoner-grade dorm room concept, but which breaks down right about the time that a muffler shop owner gives you the Louisville Slugger shampoo for slapping what looks like graffiti on his store.
$8 billion a year to POTS; “we are no longer on the right track” Anyone who’s traveled around the world has probably noticed what Janine and I have these last couple of years: we can usually access the internet much faster in other countries than we can here in the good ol’ US of A, […] [...more]
$8 billion a year to POTS; “we are no longer on the right track”
Anyone who’s traveled around the world has probably noticed what Janine and I have these last couple of years: we can usually access the internet much faster in other countries than we can here in the good ol’ US of A, where the internet was invented (take a bow, Al Gore!). When we were in Costa Rica, even in a hotel lobby, web pages just zoomed into view; we attributed the speed to the massive online gambling infrastructure that’s been built in Costa Rica recently. (It’ll be interesting to see what happens long-term to Costa Rica; it’s my hope that the law of unintended consquences will kick in, and the somewhat sordid gambling biz will actually result in more legit businesses using that bandwidth to grow & flourish.)
“The report points out the great broadband successes in the United States, including as many as 290 million Americans who have gained access to broadband over the past decade,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said. “But the
statute requires more. It requires the agency to reach a conclusion about whether all — not some, not most — Americans are being served in a reasonable and timely fashion.”
That’s not happening, he added.
Additionally, it appears that the revenues from the tax on long-distance service that we all grit our teeth and pay each month, and that was supposedly earmarked for improving service just like this has been instead diverted to Plain Old Telephone service (POTS).
More and more, we’re seeing governmental agencies starting to recognize that bringing high-speed internet to communities is an essential ingredient to lifting the local economy. This might have particular impact in the rural areas of the U.S. where coverage is lagging (and where the challenges are most severe), because the farmers/loggers/fishermen might be able to circumvent the supply bottlenecks that are eating up any hope of profits.
Still, I am reminded of the statistic that was widely quoted early last decade, where AT&T got the “gulp-adjust-your-collar” number of $90 billion just for the landscaping costs of stringing fiber-optic in the Western U.S. So what’s the solution?
Well, an interesting experiment was featured on Scobelizer – and the genesis was the big skyward-pointing light atop the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas. As I understand it, a giant laser system in the purple band could provide more than five (5) times the bandwidth than even the fiber-optic lines (Fiber To The House or “FTTH”) that are the fervent dream of all us techno-nerds still being held captive by Time-Warner Cable/Adelphia/Comcast/whatever. Basically, the information is streamed up into the sky, and
A purple laser which is almost invisible to the human eye and which is
inexpensive to buy (they are the lasers inside every Blu-Ray disk player
— the lasers are actually purple light, the “blu” in the name is
marketing) is aimed at the sky and an array of sensors reads data from
the beam of light. Readable due to scattering of light due to the
atmosphere. He showed me how this works: you aim a laser at the sky and
everyone can see the beam. If your human eye can see it, sensors can see
it too and due to some tricks can get massive amounts of bandwidth out
of the laser.
What would this mean for mobile bandwidth? Plenty. The problems I’ve seen with cell coverage in rural areas have less to do with the bandwidth coming from the towers than they do with the capabilities of the radios in the handsets to make the connections. Or, to put it another way, if you make the transmitter in your mobile strong enough to send a signal to a tower 4 miles away, it’s also strong enough to make the hair on the side of your head warm from the microwaves (anyone else remember this phenomenon?). Or to cook your retinas.
But if the bandwidth/connectivity issues can be solved by having some cheap Wi-Fi routers spaced around, connected to sensors pointing at the purple laser beam, then all of a sudden, we have a lot faster, cheaper and more reliable coverage. Even having a little Blu-ray laser integrated into the various existing 3G antenna arrays would be a massive improvement (if their various whitepapers aren’t just hokum).
This could really have an effect in some of the more rugged countries that I’ve done work in – I’m thinking of the mountainous regions of Chile, Colombia, Kazakhstan, and most recently, Georgia. The upstream bandwidth is probably still pretty limited, so in a certain sense, this is just a variation on the DirecTV/satellite internet service paradigm, but still, most users tend to download about 1,000 times more information than they upload.