Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lifecasting will be Prevalent, and has a Down-To-Earth Future

Lifecasting is one of those things that is interesting on a theoretical, academic, political, and artistic level. Yet, right now, it's pretty boring in "real life."

But there is a big bourgeois, commercial opportunity coming for lifecasting, and with that will come low prices, ubiquity, and all sorts of new content also relevant to the avant-garde. In the same way that cellphone cameras now catch politicians off guard and police beating protesters, the surveillance (sousveillance?) society will take a quantum leap forward.

Walgreen's sells a low-end USB web cam for $14.99 today, and for well under $100 one can get a higher-end unit. I predict that in 2-5 years, I'll be able to drop $40 in Walgreen's and get a wearable cam/mic with an 8-ounce belt-clip battery that will plug in to my cell phone ... and I'm in the game with

This is not live-without-a-net futurism here, either. I'm making a modest argument by extrapolation on the hardware side. The original rig was a hassle to put together with today's technology. The biggest challenges involved upstream mobile bandwidth, battery power, and data compression.

With EVDO Rev B, HSUPA, and WiMAX, bandwidth looks to be less of a problem than giving customers a reason to buy it. As MPEG-2 fades away in favor of MPEG-4 flavors like H.264 and 3GP, cheap hardware compression is already becoming less of an issue. In fact, many of today's low-end smartphones are most of the way there in terms of a basic lifecasting rig. Battery power will remain an issue for anyone wanting to go live 24/7. But for a few hours at a time, several ounces of lithium-ion will keep the camera, compressor, and radio humming.

So what are the bourgeois, commercial applications?

  • Conferences: organizers won't love broadcasts of the content, but, at least in tech, they are desperate to find some way to keep the shows compelling. I can see a lot of organizations sending one delegate to lifecast while others back home watch and interact, including talking to vendors, visiting hospitality suites, etc.
  • Meetings: an interactive lifecast of a remote meeting would be a more productive way to participate than just a conference call or even a traditional web/videoconference.
  • Social events: suppose your school reunion is far away and not nearly exciting enough to make the trek. But a friend who lives in the area goes, and you can ride along via lifecast? That could be a riot. And if it isn't, just close the browser.
  • Education: how cool would it be sit in on some virtual flight lessons, tuned in to a lifecast from a CFI giving a real student a real lesson.
  • Remote Personal Assistant: Instead of a worrying about wearable computers with smarts, you go about your business while a remote assistant tracks your lifecast. Need directions? a pickup line? a reservation? instant info on anything? Your assistant, sitting somewhere comfortable with easy access to all things cyber can do the virtual legwork and send you what you need in real time.

The monetization platform is already here, as early adopters have jumped out ahead. Phone hardware (which will serve as the workhorse for the system, just as it does now for millions of phone-cam snapshots, videos, and mms messages) is moving at a rapid pace. That just leaves a few more parts to design and sell to complete the picture. With the amounts of VC money flowing today, I don't see that last part as a problem.

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