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Thursday, August 21, 2008

What's Old Is New Again

This picture was cheerfully lifted from this article, talking about integrating rich media elements with consumer electronics for fancy information age mashups (more or less).

What's crazy is that when I saw that picture, I realized I had seen it before. Or rather one very, very much like it. I was at a conference in San Francisco held by a company some people might have heard of called Netscape where they were illustrating their new flagship, Communicator. Communicator was Netscape's salvo into what they thought would be the next generation of browsing: a one stop shop of information integrated deep into your computer where you could pick your email, schedule your life and get information pushed to you whenever it wanted.

At one session they pondered - why stop at computers? why not televisions? And showed a mockup of a baseball game with Internet fed information scrolling on the bottom. TV channels and push channels - all rolled into one.

Of course, another company we might have heard of was a bit annoyed at the idea of Communicator being the core location of their own flagship and spent many a dollars putting it back into a much smaller box.

And that certain company is not completely to blame, mind you. Communicator was full of weak points. Push channels never really took off. We now live very comfortably with their simpler, more portable and more maintainable cousin - RSS. Webtops in general were a pretty buggy affair (and I should know, I hacked one together for State Farm capable of launching Windows apps). Instead we have a modern web app world, where you don't really need either a webtop or a monolithic application capable of running all your apps in one stable.

But over a decade later, it's interesting how the song very much remains the same. It's a big world of information out there - and sooner or later it will get crammed onto my big TV.

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