This little gizmo is the latest data dispatcher from the people at Ambient. Itll cost you $149.00 and you can use it for info on the DOW, S&P 500, NASDAQ, the weather, even the presidential approval rating. For an additional subscription fee, it will give particular stock prices, the allergy index, even traffic congestion reports.
Modernism, especially the modernism of the mid 20th century, liked to conceive of life as something best lived in motion, that “getting ahead and “progress were the objects of the day, that people were happiest when “really going somewhere. “Life as motion was one of the powerful ideas of the day.
And its not hard to see why. Forward motion was a good metaphor in (and for) a technologically advanced, socially mobile world where things changed so quickly you could be forgiven the sensation of movement even when standing still. (Standing on a corner of any busy city and it looked like the place was changing at time-lapse speed, that we and the intersection were racing forward in time.)
But thats pretty much done for. These days we are more inclined to suppose that we are stationary and the data move. We like to talk about data streams, bit torrents, mobile data. In a post-modern era, we are still. Its the data thats always in motion.
No snappy terms and compelling metaphors yet. We are still the captive of the notions “push, where data is send to us (sometimes intrusively), and “pull where we must decide what it is we want (sometimes laboriously). I
But its clear what we want: streams of data that are perfectly chosen, arriving just in time, in exactly the form we need them. Every cell phone, PDA, laptop and desktop offers this promise. All of them disappoint. The company that gets this right will have created the ultimate killer app. And thats because what used to appeal to us as a “cool gadget now has the status of a necessity. It is the only device that promises us order in the world.
This has to be one of the reasons that Google just got into the portal game. The new portal gives us time, weather, news flashes, email. Google is a welcome player. It was late to the search engine game and still rose to the greatness. It did this partly by eliminating things from the screen. This sounds easy but it was, until recently, entirely beyond the poor bastards at Yahoo! and eBay who managed to make the screen look like the dogs breakfast had just exploded. (It turns out that the rule of parsimony that governs good prose operates here as well. What we take out is just as important as what we put in.)
And now there is a new player in the data dispatch game. The system from Ambient is not much to look at for the moment. The “dashboard above is a breathtakingly old fashioned (I will not say “retro) metaphor straight outa the 1950s. No, this iteration is not very promising, but listen to what Ambient offers as their business concept:
For the first time in history, ubiquitous wireless networks can affordably deliver digital information anytime, anywhere. The result for most of us is cacophony. Ambient wants to make the world calmer.
This is a very Google-ish objective and bodes well. Everyone in the computer space is in the business of manipulating and delivering information. And those who do merely this risk playing in the commodity basement. Advantage goes to those who can offer discrimination in a data rich world. Still greater advantage goes to those who can offer calm. This is the very top of the value chain, perhaps the biggest “value add of all
Someone will surely say, “So, this games belongs to Google and Ambient has no play. The thing is Ambient uses a proprietary broadcast system. This allows it to communicate with ordinary objects in our lives. The dashboard, an orb that shows the state of the stock market, a cube that announces the weather. No internet connection is required. Ambient has in other words found a way to disintermediate the disintermediator. Hmm, this is a value that Google cannot deliver, at least not until we find a way to wire (or wireless) the fridge and other things around the house.
But heres the thing that I thought really makes it sound like Ambient gets it.
With Ambient the physical environment becomes an interface to digital information rendered as subtle changes in form, movement, sound, color or light.
The dashboard is not very interesting, but an environment that pulses with data dispatches that we can use.
Now, we can choose between a) waiting till we go to the Google search engine for our data dispatch, or b) having the data come to us on any/all of the surfaces of the domestic world. This is data access that works a little like the pilots “heads up display:all but only the data we need, exactly where and when we need it.
Ambient needs a better execution than the “dashboard before it puts fear into the hearts of Google. And in the meantime, I would bet, Google will buy them as a precautionary bet against the rise of a new channel play.
The Ambient website here