will anyone know about “show and tell” communicators?

Attaching a camera to a mobile phone doesn’t seem to create much value. In rank order of occurrence of key Telco 2.0 events, 200 early respondents to the Telco 2.0 survey placed “voice revenue less than 20% of mobile operator total revenue” at “13/never.”

Can you use your mobile to take a photo while talking to a friend and send it to her instantly in the stream of your conversation? In other words, can you do real-time show and tell?

Recently in a bustling T-Mobile retail store, I told an energetic young service representative that I wanted a phone that would let me send a photo to the person I’m talking to. He said that all the phones could do that. I asked him to show me how it’s done. He said the he had never tried it, and asked another representative how to do it. That representative said that the phones can’t do it.

The representative in the Verizon retail store told me that he didn’t know if the phones could do it. He then whipped out his RAZR, dialed a number, and then tried to take a photo. The device produced a message saying that the camera was shut off.

In the Sprint retail store, the first representative said she didn’t know. The second said she wasn’t sure if it was possible. The third said he did it once but he didn’t remember how he did it. A customer overhearing our conversation then told us that yesterday she was making a call about a pie that had arrived damaged and she tried to take a picture of it while on the phone and it didn’t work. Oh, that’s a shame, I said.

To assuage my disappointment, the second representative in the Sprint store then told me that she had sent a text while talking on her mobile phone. I asked her if she sent the text message to the person she was talking to. She told me that, no, she had sent it to someone else.

What’s the problem with showing and telling with a phone? Technically, the problem is that normal voice calls are tightly integrated with the transport infrastructure (“circuit switched” not “VoIP” etc.) Even with mobile phones with messaging capability, Internet access, etc., the communications channel established when a person talks on the phone is a traditional voice channel. Hence placing a photo in the stream of communication isn’t possible.

Applications and networks that can support a show-and-tell mobile communicator are right around the corner. Internet telephony software from everyone can already do this. According to the Telco 2.0 preliminary survey results, in order of occurrence “a leading internet player launches a mobile telephone service” is ranked #1 (it’s already happened: AOL in Germany) and “WiFi capability available in mass-market mobile devices” is ranked #2. So show-and-tell mobile communicators will soon be available.

But will anyone show these devices to you and tell you about them?

Carnival of the Bureaucrats #5

Good bureaucrats recognize mistakes. And they try to rectify them with as little public notice as possible. Under Rule 6 of the Carnival of the Bureaucrats, submissions to this carnival may not include the term “stupid bureaucrat” and related epithets as defined therein. It has come to our attention that we have failed to recognize that it appears to be the case that based on the available evidence before us that a small number of bureaucrats are not in fact heroes.

This month the Carnival of the Bureaucrats condemns the Board of Trustees of Duke University and associated administrative functionaries for conduct unbecoming of bureaucrats. At a recent meeting, the Duke Board took no action and rubber-stamped a proposal that had probably been in the bureaucratic pipeline for years. That’s exactly what Boards of Trustees are designed to do.

The Duke Board anchors the university bureaucracy and has a solemn obligation to ensure that its bureaucrats represent the interests of their own group. As a result of a grotesque travesty of the presumption of innocence, due process, and equal justice under law, three Duke students have suffered greatly and continue to face the possibility of lengthy imprisonment. One of the students explained his feelings about Duke now:

“I chose Duke to be my home for four years. And to see your professors … go out and slander you and say these horrible, untrue things about you and to have your … administration just … cut us loose for, for, based on nothing. Duke took that stance that “We wouldn’t stand for this behavior.” They didn’t want to take a chance on standing up for the truth. I can’t imagine representing a school that didn’t want to represent me.”

No excellence in inaction and rubber-stamping can make up for the failure of bureaucrats to defend vigorously their own organization. Their organization is Duke, and students are part of it. The actions of the Duke Board of Trustees, Duke President Richard Brodhead, and the faculty functionaries of the Group of 88 deserve the contempt of bureaucrats world-wide.

My brother graduated from Duke. In bureaucratic fury at the highly unacceptable behavior at Duke, I intend to destroy him in this year’s Galbi Brothers’ 800 Meter Challenge.

GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life reports that the USDA has stopped using the term “hungry” and started using the term “low food security.” Her reference explains:

The switch of bureaucratic jargon came about after the White House budget office questioned why the agriculture researchers actually called hungry people “hungry.’’ The USDA bucked the question to the National Academies of Science, where it was determined that using the word “hunger’’ wasn’t entirely accurate, since the agriculture researchers can count people who say they don’t have enough food—but can’t necessarily describe the symptoms they experience while doing without.

GrrlScientist notes:

“Very low food security”? Hello?? Is that like rethuglicans referring to themselves as having “very low truth security”?

GrrlScientist also reports that Reality TV is going to be used to choose a Price Minister of Canada. She notes, “Imagine choosing your next national leader by using reality TV.” I think reality TV is boring. I suggest instead having avatars vote in Second Life.

According to her profile and postings, GrrlScientist is a molecular evolutionary biologist who has been looking for a job for four years. Looking for a job is highly stressful. Now she’s coping with a very difficult personal situation. GrrlScientist, I wish you a speedy liberation and good health! Can any of you high-placed and influential purple motes co-participants help her to find a job?

Jack Yoest at Reasoned Audacity presents Donald Rumsfeld’s Rules: Advice on Government, Business & Life. Rumsfeld has offered some questionable advice:

Don’t let the complexity of a large company mask the need for performance. Bureaucracy is a conspiracy to bring down the big. And it can. You may need to be large to compete in the world stage, but you need to find ways to avoid allowing that size to mask poor performance.

Doing one’s job isn’t the same as a conspiracy!

Paul at Paul’s Tips offers tips about how to deal with information overload. He explains:

Most of what’s demanding your attention is probably pointless anyway. Information is so abundant and easy to get in today’s world, that any individual instance of it is likely to be next to worthless. It’s a simple case of supply and demand.

Nonetheless, documents must be filed appropriately.

Steven Silvers at Scatterbox describes “the big picture behind congressional investigations that are going to create new corporate scandals.” He notes,

The turmoil of the next two years marks the emergence of a new socioeconomic order in the three-way relationship between America’s largest employers, their stakeholders and representative government.

My department doesn’t handle those issues.

Alvaro at SharpBrains presents brain teasers. SharpBrains describes itself thus:

A mix of fun brain teasers and serious commentary on neuroscience-based brain fitness and “brain gyms” for health, education, and corporate training.

Check out the size of the face on this homunculus!

The China Law Blog presents China’s Foreign Business Blame Game and notes, “Chinese bureaucrats going wild with blame.” Hey, blaming is for politicians, not bureaucrats!

James Enck at Eurotelcoblog describes The Winter of Our Discontent, explaining:

I have just been given a pay rise so derisory that it will cost more in administrative costs than the actual value of the extra cash they’re giving me (who ever said that a high ranking, unusual ideas and interesting CV should matter to a bureaucracy which focuses on page count?)

I don’t believe that anyone ever said that. Moreover, here at purple motes, we surely know that’s not the case. But cheer up, someday you may get selected as Bureaucratic Hero of the Month!

RDoctor presents “Psychology of Law and Order. Interview with Dr. Deborah Serani.” Dr. Serani explains:

One of the recent trends in psychology highlights has been how the world has become fast-paced and media saturated. As a result, the world is filled with individuals who are either desensitized or overly anxious. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

I hope the good clean fun here at purple motes helps all its co-participants become more sensitive and less anxious.

That concludes this edition of the Carnival of the Bureaucrats. Submit your blog article to the next edition using our carnival submission form.

“whites of their eyes” video quality test

Faces, particularly eyes, naturally attract human attention. One aspect of the biological machine of faciality is eye structure. Compared to other primates, humans have more salient eyes:

the human eye lacks certain pigments found in primate eyes, so the outer fibrous covering, or “sclera,” of our eyeball is white. In contrast, most primates have uniformly brown or dark-hued sclera, making it more difficult to determine the direction they’re looking from their eyes alone. … Humans are also the only primates for whom the outline of the eye and the position of the iris are clearly visible. In addition, our eyes are more horizontally elongated and disproportionately large for our body size compared to most apes.

Experimental evidence indicates that a chimpanzee’s gaze direction responds primarily to a person’s head movements, while human gaze tracks another’s gaze direction. But if the objective is to indicate direction, the advantage of using eye movement rather than head movement isn’t obvious.

Eye contact, however, has more subtle value in communication. Seeing someone’s head move doesn’t mean that she knows that you were looking at her in a situation in which you would track her change in gaze direction. Eye contact generates common knowledge of gaze direction (you both know that you’re looking at each other, you both know that you both know you’re looking at each other, etc.) and common sense of whether a change in gaze direction would be tracked (nervous distancing or needed shift in attention?). Just looking at each other’s head doesn’t work this way, because head orientation doesn’t imply eye orientation in humans and other primates.

Making sense of presence is probably more valuable to humans than to other primates. Across species, a larger neocortex, both in absolute size and relative to total brain volume, is correlated with greater social complexity (pdf link). Relatively salient human eyes, like the relatively large human neocortex (particularly prefrontal cortex), support sense of presence. Direct gaze is a powerful way to produce sense of presence. I relay to you fourth-hand a plausible reported fact: “human infants look at the face and eyes of their caregiver twice as long on average compared with other apes.”

Given the importance of gaze to humans, a video viewer’s ability to discern the whites of the eyes of persons on a video might be a useful measure of video quality with real human relevance. My video of the JDRF Spin to Win has little interest other than the eyes, faces, and expression of the participants. Viewing the video on YouTube, the faces are distorted and whites of the eyes are barely discernable. But viewing the video on Blip.tv, you can see whites of the participants’ eyes much more clearly. The point is not simply that Blip.tv offers better quality video than YouTube. High-density, huge-screen television offers much better video quality than either. People want to see the whites of others’ eyes. That is a human-relevant measure of video quality.

Note: Technical discussion of video quality problems here (see especially comments) and here.

distributing computing between humans and computers

While human brains and computers are often considered to be general purpose technologies, like any real technology, brains and computers have physical structures and operating designs that generate constraints and imply trade-offs across tasks. A computer program cannot easily read an image containing distorted text, but a human can. Thus requiring blog commenters to pass a CAPTCHA lessens automated blog comment spam.

Distributing computing between humans and computers is an important aspect of efficient problem-solving. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk provides a general marketplace for distributing computation to persons. Luis von Ahn is designing games for humans that produce both fun play and symbolic work that computers perform relatively badly. Some examples are the ESP Game, which generates image labels, and Peekaboom, which generates descriptions of objects within an image.

Sensory form is an aspect of distributing computing between humans and computers. Consider, for example, women-oriented social drama programming. Prior to the widespread availability of television, such radio programming was highly popular. This type of program shifted almost completely to television when television became widely available. With the exception of sensory modes, the radio and television programs were formally quite similar stimuli. Why did persons prefer the audio-visual mode (television) over the audio-only mode (radio)? A plausible explanation, it seems to me, is that the bodily cost of making sense of conventional drama via the audio-visual experience of television is less than that of making sense of the same drama presented solely through the audio channel of radio. Put differently, image computation was shifted from persons to television studios.

The Internet, by connecting huge numbers of persons and computers, enables a tremendous possibilities for distributing computing among persons and computers. Tim O’Reilly declares:

As the symbiosis between humans and computers becomes deeper, and at a larger scale, we’re going to see problems that were formerly construed as “hard AI” suddenly broken, not because computers themselves have become intelligent, but because humans and computers have gotten better at working together.

Getting humans and computers to work together better requires more thinking about what computers do well, and what humans want to do, and do well.

new media in action

Last Sunday a Galbi Think web 2.0 social interacter sent me this email:

Ok! so you’re supposed to be this hotshot economist and analyst. So tell me this, a communication policy should serve to protect cultural values, provide information and safeguard public interests. After all these years, we are now being ruled by the influence weilded by six media giants, and the world of communication is at their mercy. Communication is important because it affects economy, awareness, social behaviour etc. It affects every sphere of life. But it is being used by governments for their own strategic purposes and it is being maipulated by business to advance the interest of the enterprise. The US Government wants to eavesdrop on its own public, Bell South wants to limit the internet’s openness… and media giants want to keep participation marginal

So why not have no policy at all. What happens then.

I responded:

Thanks for your comment. I don’t think that having no policy at all is possible. If it is possible, I have no idea what happens then.

A lot of great things are happening in the communications industry. You might check out, for example, MySpace, youtube, and Second Life.

Perhaps the helpful, active, and interactive interacters who visit this blog could provide a better response. Offer your help as a comment for free.

presence in communication services

A lot of interesting thinking and experiments are now going on concerning presence in communication. Mike Gotta’s post entitled “Presence: Complex, Pervasive And Evasive” highlights the business case for presence. Which industry structure do you think is better for private investment, competition among many firms, and innovation: an industry in which firms compete to supply a commodity service like per-minute voice communication, or an industry in which firms compete to provide a “complex, pervasive, and evasive” good? My economics training suggests the latter!

Person-state definitions, attention management, and impression management are aspects of presence that shouldn’t be over-emphasized and that are probably better hidden in the design of services than presented as tasks that users must manage. In person, too active impression management goes by the name of being a phony. That would be a horrible insult to be associated with a Telco 2.0 service.

Moreover, as Craig Roth insightfully notes, if Captain Picard doesn’t have effective interruption management technology, businesses today probably should be cautious about the prospects for developing it.

A service designed for persons to use to broadcast a text message answering one simple question, “What are you doing?” produced this message:

oooooh la la! Biz is looking like a well-dressed handsome man! ^_^ Ready sweep Livvy off of her feet…again! [Twitter]

That’s not literally state information, but it does make for a strong sense of presence.

where is the wind?

A more propitious direction for presence is better communicating persons acting in the world, expressing themselves where they are. Georgia O’Keeffe beautifully conveys this idea:

I have picked flowers where I found them.
Have picked up sea shells and rocks and pieces of
wood where there were seashells and rocks and pieces of
wood that I liked.
When I found the beautiful white bones
on the desert I picked them up and took them home too.
I have used these things to say what is to me the
wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.

[from exhibition catalogue, 1944]

Perhaps countries where persons have less experience using old-fashioned phones, and less experience using old-fashioned cameras, will more quickly embrace new communication possibilities.

custom regulatory searches

To help persons find information about communication regulations around the globe, I’ve set up a Google custom search that covers about 380 websites of national communications regulators, government websites, and intergovernmental organizations. These websites are not all in a common language, some are not limited to communications regulation, and some relevant websites may be missing. Nonetheless, this search might be a useful starting point for pulling up some information about regulatory approaches to particular problems.

I’ve also set up a search covering U.S. state regulatory commissions and associations of state regulators. Many persons outside the U.S., and some within the U.S., do not realize that state commissions play major roles in communication regulation in the U.S. Regulatory geography and jurisdiction are important issues that deserve more serious attention than they typically receive.

mobile financial services for low-income persons

Mobile phones have experienced astonishingly rapid take-up in low-income countries. For example, the number of GrameenPhone mobile phone subscribers in Bangladesh grew 105% in 2005 and recently surpassed 10 million subscribers. The telephone coverage rate in Bangladesh, however, is still only 12%. Coverage rates and demographics imply that, globally, almost all mobile subscriber growth in the future will come in low-income countries.

Low-income persons need financial services as well as communication services. Because low-income persons often lack physical security in their living quarters and in person, they particularly need a way to store money safely and to have controlled access to it. Low-income persons also need to monitor their balances regularly and the capability to transfer money among persons and make necessarily payments at the most favorable time.

Mobile phones can be a valuable tool for providing financial services to low-income persons. In South Africa and Botswana, one-third of people who do not have a bank account have access to a mobile phone.[1] Low-income persons often use per-call phone rental and pre-paid services. However, mobile devices typically also support customer authentication and billing technologies. These technologies are valuable for providing financial services.

WIZZIT, a mobile banking service provider that began operations in South Africa in December, 2004, has already acquired more than 50,000 mobile banking customers. WIZZIT has sought to make its service attractive to low-income customers by having no minimum balance requirements, no fixed monthly fees, and lower over-all cost than established banks. In its employment policies and its marketing strategies, it has explicitly reached out to low-income persons.

A recent survey found that low-income WIZZIT customers are enthusiastic about this banking service. The survey results suggest considerable substitution from bank and ATM use to WIZZIT’s mobile banking service (see Report (pdf file), Table 3). The survey also showed that a large share of low-income WIZZIT customers were using advanced services on their mobile phones: 62% keep a diary, 64% play games, and 34% receive multimedia messages (p. 6). Those figures appear to be roughly similar to the use of advanced mobile services in high-income countries around the world.

The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), the United Nations Foundation, and the Vodaphone Group Foundation sponsored the survey and report. A footnote included in the report declares that the project partners “intend to make the full data set publicly available via the Web” (p. 6). That’s an excellent idea that seems to have not yet been implemented. Carefully reading of the report raises some definitional questions about the published statistics. Public access to the raw data would foster better understanding.

While the WIZZIT banking service seems to have been designed with great attention to using appropriately technology to serve its customers, the WIZZIT website seems to have been designed mainly to impress managers and funders. It’s too much like glamorous brochureware and does not provide enough support for user contributions and sharing. Check out the WIZZIT users’ comments and questions posted at the World Resource Institute’s WIZZIT page. Unlike the WIZZIT website, that page readily supports user feedback. Web 2.0 is also valuable for low-income persons!

[1] Based on FinMark Trust surveys (FinScope), as reported in Mobile Phone Banking and Low-Income Customers: Evidence from South Africa (2006) [report (pdf)].