Friday, November 19, 2010

Battle of the Giants

Image representing Gmail as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBaseThroughout the development of modern technology, there have been products and services that have come and gone. Some have transformed into other products and some companies have gone in a completely different direction. Companies like IBM, Borland, Lotus, WordPerfect, WordStar and Netscape are have played a part in software and hardware development over the course of the past few decades. There have also been some memorable battles, with companies vying for supremacy and copyright. Lotus sued Borland claiming that the Quartto Pro had the same "look and feel" of 1-2-3. And then there was the browser wars. Microsoft's dominance in PC operating system software settled many battles by introducing MS Office. I was a committed WordPerfect user but when over to the dark side by sheer force (I still look for the Reveal Code screen).

It look as if a modern battle is brewing. Facebook is set to release an email service. Some are saying that this would be the death of other Web-based email services like Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail. As Facebook has 500,000 users across the world, a Facebook email could take a bite out of the market. Not being a Facebook user, I hope that loyal Google followers support Gmail as Google is known to abandon under-utilized applications. I do not see this happening as many thousands, including myself, have chosen Gmail as my primary email provider. Google, on the other hand, has tried to get some social networking into their suite of products and has failed. They claim not to be completing to Facebook.
I think that the result of this battle would be that Facebook users will have access to an email program and that Google will lose some of this Gmail users, but provide other services to tempt users to stay. Gmail is one of Google's primary services and I don't see it going away or there will be some very angry people and lost credibility in Internet services.

No matter how it works out, I think that the clear winners will be the users of FaceBook and Gmail.
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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Textbooks' Coming of Age

TextbookImage via WikipediaI have been teaching for over 25 years and one of my biggest frustrations is textbooks. Not only are they costly for the student but they are almost out of date by the time they are printed and not a valuable reference to the student after graduation. New academic textbooks are a $4.5 billion industry and the used textbook market is pegged at $4 billion.

A new company called is trying to capture some of that market by making books available to students who send them back after they are done. Not a bad idea but there is still the problem of the currency of the materials. The only way to go is digital. With digital books, students will be able to read materials that is more relevant, the prof can select part of one text and part of another, and there is no paper to waste which should keep the tree-huggers happy. It's a win-win all around.

Digital book, newspaper and textbooks have been slowly making their way into our lives. Currently you can get a digital copy of your daily newspaper, your favorite best seller and an e-copy of an academic textbook usually accompanies the physical copy. I think that print media is slowly disappearing and evolving into digital content. Steven Ballmer said that he believe print media will disappear in 10 years. Futurist Ross Dawson said that newspapers will cease to exist in the US within seven years followed by Britain and Iceland in 2019, and Canada and Norway a year later.

I think we have an obligation to teach students how to read digital content. It involves a different set of skills than reading printed text. Modern kids are considered digital natives because they are in tune with FaceBook and Twitter but that does not mean that they know how to use digital technologies to educate themselves.
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