The Near Futurist

There is no “new” – only “stuff we haven’t tried again in a while”

I have lived long enough at this point to have seen a few things come and go. When it comes to technology, the Internet, gadgets, and the way people interact with these things, there is nothing quite so important to its success as a market and a general public that is ready for it. My own professional past is a story of “right technology, wrong time,” but my own recollection of this started even before I began my career; it started for me in college.

When I arrived at the University of Florida my freshman year, I wound up in the honors dormitory. Naturally, when my classmates on the third floor of Weaver Hall were looking for extracurricular activities, they tended towards the geeky and sedentary. My friend Mike and I found ourselves at the computer lab, where we were signing up for accounts on the university computer system. We were lucky enough to be able to choose our usernames, and while he chose a clever homophone of his last name, I drew a blank, and ended up putting down the name of the guy I had just finished hanging a poster of in my dorm room: EINSTEIN. See, I told you it was the honors dorm.

As EINSTEIN on the university VAX/VMS system twenty years ago, we had access to all sorts of utilities and tools that mostly enabled us to communicate and collaborate and sometimes even have fun with each other. Some variant of all those tools are now in the mainstream of technology:

  • A program we used called “SEND” was used to message back and forth with someone on the system, very much like the modern-day chat.
  • While logged in, you could set your process name to something clever, the modern precursor to setting your status in IM or even tweeting.
  • Of course there was email, which surprisingly hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years.
  • We also had access to UNIX machines, which had a utility called “talk” which looks like an early form of collaborative editing a la Google Docs or Wave.
  • A bulletin board system, similar to a common “wall” or “news feed”.
  • The finger command on UNIX machines allowed you to see who a person was, whether they were online, and what their .plan was, if any.  Facebook and LinkedIn are probably the closest modern-day approximations to this concept.
  • Multi-user dungeons or MUDs allowed people to create characters, explore their surroundings, and go on quests.  Sounds to me like World of Warcraft, Second Life, and other MMORPGs.

So then the question I have to ask myself is:  what other things did we do as naive computer science geeks that the online market of today could be ready for?

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