Toronto – 2004: COMMON

All of us that travel internationally are used to big crowds at airports, but the number of people at Perason International airport in Toronto, Canada was as large as I have ever seen.  Although the lines for immigration looked formidable, the processing moved steadily and efficiently (even without the digital IDs I have been advocating). The purpose of the trip was to give a presentation about “The Future of the Internet“ at the Fall 2004 IT Executive Conference of COMMON, A Users Group. COMMON is the world’s largest community of IBM midrange computer users. The group provides information, education, and networking among users, IBM, and related third-party solution providers.
After my talk, the attendees of the Executive Conference broke up into four tables and discussed various things that I had presented. I rotated among the tables and then after a half hour, each table had their elected representative summarize the discussion and questions for everyone. I did my best to provide useful answers. The most asked questions were about instant messaging, css, blogging, authentication, and mobile devices. A lot of this is discussed in various parts of patrickWeb. I have summarized some of the answers I offered here.
BlackBerrys and other handheld devices are increasingly making email available to your pocket, purse, or belt, and so in a sense the email becomes like instant messaging. The big difference is that IM provides "presence". Even though you can send a message almost "instantly" to someone, that means the intended recipient will actually receive the message. They have their device turned off or be out of range or on vacation. The productivity gains of IM are because you can know ahead of time if the person you want to connect with is online. If you have a question that needs answering, you don’t want to wait for emails to be exchanged. By the time you get a reply, the answer may not be relevant. With IM, you know in advance if the person is connected and ostensibly available to answer your question.
Cascading Style Sheets provide a way to separate the content of a web page from the format of the page. By doing this, there are numerous advantages. Making changes to an entire site takes minutes by simply updating the style sheet(s). Managing the content becomes simpler because the web document is not cluttered with formatting information. Performance is better because the web pages are much smaller. Last but not least, using multiple style sheets allows content to be appropriately formatted for a large screen, a tiny screen, on a TV or projector, and even in braille.
I won’t repeat my thoughts about blogging since I have written quite a bit about the subject already. If you want an update on the blogsphere you may also want to check on things at technorati.com, bloglines, and feedster.
The question about using digital IDs often leads to the question of authentication. (I have written quite a bit about this in my book, Net Attitude, and also in the patrickWeb blog). How does a business authenticate one of their customers or suppliers? With employees, it is easy because you know them and they are "inside" your organization. With an "outsider" you can use weak authentication like "mother’s maiden name" or address and phone number but these are not trustworthy. Another approach is to ask the customer or supplier for information that only they would have. For example, you could ask them to enter their contact information and also the number and amount of their last invoice from you. This could easily be matched and enable you to authenticate. The higher the risk of fraud, the more comprehensive the set of things you want to ask before authenticating. A very strong method would be to do it in person and give the person a USB key containing their digital ID.
There was a lot of discussion about mobile phones and personal digital assistants. The technology advancements are causing a steady stream of new devices to become available. There was a lot of interest in the BlackBerry. I personally have never been a fan of the BlackBerry device itself but the messaging concept of "pushing" the email out to the device is a good one. The company that makes the BlackBerry, Research In Motion (2013 update – now Blackberry), is now licensing their technology so that other PDA’s can use the push technique. I am looking forward to having this service via AT&T Wireless on the Song Ericsson P910a which I hope to have very soon.
After the Common conference it was back to the Toronto airport for the trip to Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.