City Clouds: Becoming The World Cup


Municipal wireless networks are now being built or planned in hundreds of cities. But what will be “on” it?

The hardware infrastructure must come first, but it’s software that does the real work. Cellular, WiFi and hard-wired networks are now becoming testbeds of groupware.

Navigation, social networking, location-based advertising, community service, games and other applications are exploding.

Nintendo’s “DS Lite”, available on June 11th, costs $129.99. It plays games, video and surfs the web with built-in WiFi. So does Sony’s Playstation Portable ($199) and Nokia’s Tablet ($350). Cellphones are also becoming WiFi enabled. They’ve already got Bluetooth.

MySpace has some 80 million registered users. Now they’re getting wireless social networking. Google, Yahoo!, and Facebook, the college and high school community site, are going mobile, too.

Business 2.0 offers a peek where wireless technology is headed. Let’s tour the latest Web 2.0 innovations.

Your mission: find social networking, navigation and location-based services and imagine how they could make city clouds more fun and useful.

South Korea has become the world’s best laboratory for broadband services. Cyworld, a social network owned by a subsidiary of SK Telecom, is a mixture of MySpace, Flickr, Blogger, AIM and Second Life. Helio, a joint venture between SK Telecom and EarthLink, is launching a full fledged marketing effort for its service in the US.

Cyworld has 90% penetration rates for South Koreans in their 20s, using avatars that visit and link to each other’s “minihompy” – a miniature homepage that’s actually a 3-D room containing a users’ blog, photos, and virtual items for sale.

NCSoft, the company that runs Korea’s most popular multiplayer online role-playing game, Lineage, has found a string of successes in the U.S. with its City of Heroes online games. Starcraft by Blizzard is so widely played in South Korea that two TV channels broadcast Starcraft matches between professional players.

With over 135 million mobile subscribers in the U.S., mobile games are a force to be reckoned with.

Mobile development uses software platforms like Qualcomm’s BREW, Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME), MacroMedia’s Spotlight and TI’s Open Multimedia Applications Platform. The Python programming language, Palm OS and Windows Mobile can also be used.

Mobile applications can be played on Verizon’s V-Cast, Sprint’s PowerVision, Cingular’s MEdia and Nokia’s N-Gage and many can be ported to Wi-Fi enabled devices like the Nokia Tablet, Playstation Portable, the Nintendo DS or UltraMobilePCs. WiFi-enabled devices will be everywhere; in taxis, buses and train stations, as well as pockets and purses.

Soon they’ll be WiMAX-enabled. Using open standards.

Verizon is offering the VZ Navigator (above), which provides directions, like a regular GPS, on the LG VX9800, the RAZR and the Motorola V325. It costs $2.99 a day or $9.99 a month. The MG FuelFinder shows the cheapest gas stations near your location for $1.99 a month or $5 for the Wireless Mobile Web version while the Vindigo City Guide points out restaurants and stuff for $2.99 a month.

VOCEL’s push technology sends targeted advertising to mobile phones. Perhaps a guided tour (via Bluetooth or WiFi) could also be an option for cellphones or PDAs. Perhaps chirping birdhouses could be the cue for wireless kiosk info tours (also delivered by FM radio).

Bluetooth enabled posters in London’s Underground deliver mini documentaries to cell phones.

On the other hand, municipal wireless pioneer, Chaska, 27 miles southwest of Minneapolis, hasn’t morphed into some sort of cyber village…yet.

City Cloud Applications are being developed by university researchers at the University of Georgia’s Wireless Athens Project, UCSD’s Active Campus Project, Berkeley’s Project PlaceSite and Dartmouth’s Wireless Campus which tracks friends (with their permission) using Wi-Fi.

Look what’s available for free…it’s just amazing.

Recent Web 2.0 applications include:

  • Flagr (Flags locations from mobile phones)
  • Bones in Motion (Use GPS to turn mobile phones into exercise-tracking devices)
  • Kamida (Tag a location with notes or images)
  • Plazes (Tag locations to find other users or related places nearby)
  • Semacode (Use camera phones as bar-code readers)
  • Platial.com (a free mashup that lets you easily make your own clickable city map)
  • Wayfaring (like Wikipedia, you build and share your own maps)
  • Communitywalk (a site for mapping communities).

Rafe Needleman at C/Net says Jambo tells you who in your social or business network is nearby by checking to see if people you know are attached to the same Wi-Fi access point.

It doesn’t actually know where you or they are–it just knows who’s close. If you want to connect with somebody you know is in your area, you can either shout their name real loud or use Jambo’s built-in instant-messaging client.

The service is in early testing on Windows Mobile phones, and cofounder Jim Young told me the company is working on supporting Symbian, RIM, and Palm OS. He wants Jambo to be radio-agnostic–it should help you find your buddies (if they are open to being found) no matter what wireless technology they have.

When the service launched in early 2005, the company intended to build out its own social network, which would link its members together with the Jambo proximity technology. Since then, the founders have realized that expecting people to sign up for yet another social network (technical term: YASN) was not a reasonable model for growth.

So they’ve reset their model and are now selling Jambo technology to existing social network sites.

Other social networking projects that track people and their locations include Dodgeball and Plazes. Other interesting experiments in finding Wi-Fi access point locations are SkyHook, Wigle, and Microsoft’s Location Finder (part of Windows Live Local).

Microsoft’s new Street-Side (above) augments Microsoft’s Live Local service with a street level, through-the-window view of a city. Walk or drive. Microsoft is bringing Xbox Live to mobile phones with Live Anywhere.

An open interface might allow bloggers and others to build 2D, 3D and mobile extensions in a “virtual” city.

Pew/Internet says at the end of March 2006, 42% of Americans had high-speed at home, up from 30% in March 2005. About 84 million U.S. residents now have broadband Internet access at home, up from 60 million last year, says the Pew Internet & American Life Project study (pdf). There are about 110 million households in the United States — television is in about 108 of them.

Advertising linked to online video is estimated to be currently worth about $300m but this is expected to grow to $1bn within the next few years, according to Merrill Lynch. Of the record $12.5bn spent on internet advertising last year, most of it was spent on search and this remains the biggest source of online ad revenue.

The Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) states that in 2002, radio’s revenue reached about $20 billion. Local television revenues in 2006 are expected to total $22.2 billion, says the BIA Financial Network. Parks Associates says over $60 billion was spent on TV advertising last year. With 108 million TV households, that’s a total investment of $45 – 50/mo per household.

Public WiFi networks, if they were “free” would need to generate about $10/mo to break even on advertising revenue. That’s about 30 clickthroughs a month at 30 cents/each. Eyeballs are the thing. Relevant eyeballs.

That implies compelling content tied in with location-based services and social networking.

Dramatic stories can be told through oral history, adventure guides, shared interests, Public Radio, Arts Events and Maps. Google’s Green Tour a case in point. The riches of a city come from Portland Stories, Altportland, Metro Blogging, Portland Bloggers and Portland Podcasters. Tom Chamberlain guides us on a walking tour of Portland filmmakers.

Google Earth projects abound. Whole states are now covered with high resolution, color data including Indiana, Missouri, and New Jersey. Google Earth partners include Razor Fish, for dashboard applications. The Google Earth Community has 3D Models built from Sketchup. 3D browsers include 3B, Browse3D and SphereXPlorer.

Open Croquet (WikiPedia), is a 3D world similar to Second Life, but is open source and runs P2P. Within the 3D, virtual reality environments, participants can enjoy synchronous telepresence, shared access to the internet and can design complex spaces individually or while working with others.

The Socialsoftwareweblog covers centralized social software like Friendster, Tribe.net and Orkut (Google), which let you find people of similar interests (& friends). Fandango’s Evite lets you pick a movie, invite friends, and let everyone vote on a time and place, and then everyone can click back to Fandango to purchase their tickets in advance.

Friend of a Friend (FOAF) takes a decentralized approach. FOAF profiles are normal XML text files that are stored on your website. This means that the data about yourself belongs to you and not to the social software site. It gives you the power to put the data back in your control, and on a server/website that is controlled by you.

XFN (XHTML Friends Network) is a simple way to represent human relationships using hyperlinks. XFN enables web authors to indicate their relationship(s) to the people in their blogrolls simply by adding a ‘rel’ attribute to their tags.

Other related projects include:

Supplying a city-wide connection is not enough. Cities in Asia are already moving well beyond broadband wireless, to become economic clusters. They’re now crackling powerhouses with a global presence. And they’re coming to your town.

The $220 million SK Telecom/Earthlink venture may be just the start. Asia-Pacific has 40% of the world’s 209.3 million broadband lines and a good chunk of the world’s 2 billion wireless users. India’s VSNL and Reliance have both picked up huge network assets on the cheap with VSNL now the world’s biggest IP wholesaler. When China moves, the world market surely will shift. East.

We can re-envision the city. Enriching shared memory is one strategy. It can bring people together under “the cloud”, while maintaining the continuity and viability of our institutions.

A city-sponsored web experience could be like a World’s Fair. Innovative, memorable and world-class. It must provide inspiration and real benefits for all citizens. A managed backend with an open source interface for blogging software like WordPress or 3D browsers (via plug-ins) might allow individuals and organizations to contribute thematic or localized content in a 3D walk-through environment.

The Web3D Consortium (WikiPedia), is developing X3D, a royalty-free, open standards file format and run-time architecture to represent and communicate 3D scenes and objects using XML.

Mobile X3D could be supported by both cellphones and Microsoft’s Vista. The Octaga X3D Player is a free application or browser plug-in. ATI and Nvidia chips for cellphones will expand handheld television and games.

The experience must be compelling, vital and dynamic. Open source. Free admission.

Soon entire cities will be online, sharing space. They can become a model and a destination. They can generate revenue in the global marketplace. Every citizen can be a hero (or a criminal).

Architecture and image are important. They shape the city.

Planet 9 Studios, the largest supplier of accurate 3D city data, has produced more than 40 virtual cities. They produce custom databases in all common formats including 3D Studio Max, Maya, VRML, X3D, OpenFlight, Xbox and PlayStation 2.

Creatures of the Deep, a fishing game for Nokia’s mobile game platforms, was designed by Juicy Studios. Falcon Tracking might mix zoology with sociology. Birdcams could follow. Informatics and RF-ID could be utilized in a variety of applications. Pocket Gamer reviews mobile games.

Second Story, an interactive media studio based in Portland, creates work for National Geographic, Discover and other media companies and are currently looking for web designers to pioneer new forms of interactive storytelling.

Cities are living museums. Repositories of culture and context. Admittance is free with a cellphone. Soon a $129 Nintendo and $200 PSP will play. Wireless iPods and XBoxes are next up. The city as game grid.

The NY Times has a Special Network Edition of Circuits that describes how networked computing is allowing workers to work differently. In the wireless city.

Wireless clouds and the internet are opening up businesses and cities. Neighborhoods, communities and cities are brands. We must shape a compelling environment. It’s The World Cup.

Related DailyWireless articles include Mapping Cloud Users, Dartmouth Triple Play, MIT Location Conference, Seattle’s Place Lab, UCSD’s Stalker Net, UWB Tracing Tags, Location Services Hit the Street, Map Space, Social Networking Roundup, Map Bureau’s BlogMapper, Localizing Content, Homeless Roaming Hotspot, Revenue for the “Free” Cloud, Handheld Content, Seattle’s PlaceLab, Streaming Location Content, Handheld Tours, Wireless Museums, GPS Narrative Archaeology, Wireless Walking Tours, Electric Bike Tours, Mapping to Go Projects, My Pal Mickey, Cellular Walking Directions, Ekahau + ESRI, Linkspoint GPS + Symbol, MapInfo’s Hotspot Services, MapInfo’s Open LS, ATT + Microsoft + Maps, Location without GPS, Location By Triangulation – Not, Open GIS Magazine, Mapping Oral History, Poem Spots, Geocoding the Wiki, The Un-walled Garden, Tracking Individuals, Tracking Bryon, GPS+TV=Location and Location, Location, Location

Posted by Sam Churchill on .