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The hottest things on the Net!
Surajeet Das Gupta |
July 28, 2005
They are the hottest new things on the Net. And they are catching on like wildfire. The disruptive technology which powers them could dramatically alter the way we read, listen, express ourselves and even do business.
Wiki, Podcasting and Google Earth are things that are challenging the time-tested and established institutions such as newspapers, radio encyclopaedia and the Atlas.
Today, the Internet is a place where users are generating content -- text or audio -- writing and editing stories or creating and adding to encyclopaedias.
"It is being branded as the citizen's media that will ultimately empower the lowest common denominator," says Sanjay Trehan, head of broadband at Times Internet Ltd.
Agrees rediff.com's head of new business Jasmeet Singh Gandhi: "Wiki reflects the power of the individual to publish content."
Here is Ice World's check list on the hot things to do on the World Wide Web.
Throw away your Encyclopaedia Britannica or that ubiquitous Webster's dictionary sitting on your book shelf.
For decades these were the bibles for checking out word meanings and references. Instead, get on to the Net and go to Wikipedia -- a free encyclopaedia where content is created by Net enthusiasts across the globe.
Wikipedia's English version, that took off four years ago, already has an amazing over 640,000 articles ranging on topics from the Taj Mahal to the London tube.
So what's the big deal? There are any number of encyclopaedias on the Net. But Wikipedia is based on a technology called wiki (invented in 1995 by Ward Cunnigham and named after the quick moving buses at the Honolulu airport) which is a piece of server software that makes it possible for users like you and me to freely create and edit existing web pages.
Wikipedia comes free. Its USP is that the control over content, as is the case with most sites, isn't with the webmaster. You as a user can not only open a page, say, on the Taj Mahal, but also write on the page putting in additional information that you may want to share. You can edit the page if you think it needs to be updated or add fresh references to it. In essence, Wiki is a community effort.
Small wonder then that Wikipedia has hit big time -- it ranks 65th in Alexa, the portal which keeps a tab on the number of hits that all the Internet sites across the globe get.
The good news is that it already has a Hindi version with over 1,000 entries. It is also available in other Indian languages (Bangla, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Kashmiri and Tamil) where the content needs to be built up. And if you want your language to be added to the list, you can petition to the Wikimedia Foundation (which runs Wikipedia), a voluntary organisation meant to spread the wiki revolution.
Wiki's potential is also catching the fancy of Indian portals. Times Internet Ltd that runs the Indiatimes portal is already considering setting up something "akin" to a wiki. Admits Sanjay Trehan, head of broadband at Times Internet: "Wiki is a killer application. Allowing everyday users to create and edit any page in a website is exciting. "
For the time being, however, Indiatimes will offer contextual links to Wikipedia as "setting it up needs huge bandwidth which is expensive," says Trehan.
Meanwhile, Wikimedia Foundation is now moving into other wiki sites using the same technology. Wikitionary and Wikinews has been launched.
The portal has put checks in place. News stories, for instance, undergo the "development" stage where questions can be raised on the source of the story or its neutrality. If the necessary changes are not made, the article is abandoned.
Wiki's biggest challenge is vandalism. Users can come in, destroy or add irrelevant content. Others also question the authenticity of the information posted.
If you happen to believe that you are a born Elvis Presley and want the world to listen to your 'golden' voice, here is your chance. Record all your songs as a sound file (MP3), host it on one of the sites that accepts audio files and let the world savour your talent.
Welcome to podcasting. It is simply a pre recorded radio or audio show, or an audioblog that can be downloaded at leisure and heard on the computer, an MP3 digital player and, of course, on the Apple iPod.
Two years ago, Dave Winer and Adam Curry developed real simple syndication (RSS) -- a software which makes it possible to deliver the data on the Net on to computers and other digital devices. But anyone can become a podcaster: a big media company, a radio station or an individual.
Like time shift TV (where you can see a programme when you want), podcasting offers customers the flexibility to listen to their favourite programmes at leisure.
The revolution is quietly hitting India as well. Sify has added a podcast site on SifyMax -- the broadband portal of the company. The company's editors who have scanned over 1,000 podcast sites are already building a directory which will suit the Indian listening style.
Says Ajay Nambiar who heads the portal in Sify: "We've just started and hope to get at least 5,000 users every week."
Indiatimes is following suit. It plans to set up a podcast channel in the next three to four months. Says Trehan: "We expect a good response from the Indian audience/bloggers. It would be a niche but a powerful community."
For podcasting Indiatimes will have to invest in audio servers, increase storage capacity and pick up additional bandwidth. Trehan is also open to tying up with companies like Apple and Riveria which enable podcasts to be downloaded on their machines.
Podcasting can be profitable too. Indiatimes plans to offer a platform to sponsored content. "We could podcast chairmen's speeches for companies for a price. Or advertisers could sponsor podcasts on their products," says Trehan. Podcast content will be largely driven by business, distance learning, music, humour and technology, he believes.
However, rediff.com's Jasmeet Singh Gandhi says: "There should be adequate bandwidth, content and devices available to push podcasting in India."
Podcasting shot into limelight last year when Curry wrote a software called iPodder which made it possible for customers with iPods to directly download podcasts on to their machines. Apple understood its potential. It has created the largest podcast directory in the world on its site iTunes.
Says the official spokesperson of Apple Inc: "The directory features 3,000 free audio programmes from ABC News, BBC, ESPN, Newsweek among others." The company says it has over 1 million podcast subscriptions since it launched the service at the end of June 2005.
The podcast listeners' global market is estimated to be 6 million. And 29 per cent of iPod users around the world have downloaded MP3 files. (There are 8,000 podcast stations around the world).
But will it be a big market in India? Says Trehan: "It might not emerge as large as in the west, but it will be significant. . ."
Cast away your good old Oxford Atlas. To find countries and measure distances, you can now get on to the Net and take a flight of fancy, virtually. You could be flying from Delhi to New York and "seeing" the entire route on the way. You could enjoy a bird's eye view of Manhattan's famous skyline.
Still not content, you could peep into the famous Macy's store on Thirty Fourth Street.
Dreaming? Well, no. The new world view is a reality, thanks to Google Earth -- Google's new satellite imagery based mapping product which combines 3D buildings and terrains with mapping capability. All this is combined with the power of Google search.
Launched just a month ago, Google Earth allows you an aerial view of the globe along with street and building level views on your PC. For that you need to download a small piece of free software.
Google Earth offers 3D views of buildings in the US for the time being and mountains, valleys and canyons across the globe. An integrated Google local search helps you find locations and details of restaurants, hotels, shops and video playbacks of driving directions in some cities. You could also go in for some upgraded services for a price ranging from $20 to $400.
Google is moving one step at a time, admits Krishna Bharat, Google Bangalore's R&D Center Lead and Principal Scientist: "We have more imagery of the United States than other country currently. We recently increased our international high resolution data."
Its database update includes, but is not limited to, high resolution imagery for all major Canadian and Australian cities, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Rome, Naples, London, Luxembourg, Paris, Toulouse, Valencia, Barcelona, Lisbon, and Athens.
Bharat adds that different areas are covered at different resolutions. The resolution varies from 1 KM per pixel, where a single pixel in the image covers an area of 1 KM to 6 inches per pixel. At the lowest resolution, large geographic features such as mountains and lakes are visible, and at the highest resolution, detailed features of the earth such as buildings and cars are visible.
But does India feature in the scheme of things? While Indian cities can be seen (there is no satellite imaging in most of the cases), Bharat is non committal: "We are continually adding new information to the database, but we're unable to provide details when a specific location will be updated with higher resolution imagery."
Soon Google will have competition though. Microsoft is about to launch of "Virtual Earth." Expected to hit the Net in a few weeks, it will offer maps and satellite photos similar to Google Earth. But experts say that apart from offering aerial views (like Google) Virtual Earth will also allow you to view buildings at close quarters.
Competition in these areas is bound to come. But for Net users studying geography or publishing their works will never be the same again.
Additional reporting by Shuchi Bansal.