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App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

May 12, 2008 2:43 PM

It's the Webbys, Acknowledging Internet Excellence

Presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for more than a decade, the Webbys are annual awards acknowledging excellence on the Internet.

While much of the focus is on the best advertising, website design, and interfaces rather than applications, some of the categories include socially beneficial things like Activism, Charitable Organizations Non-Profit, and Health.

You can see a Flash-based layout of the winners here or a straight list of entires sortable by category here.

If you're just looking to spend a couple of minutes randomly looking up cool websites, I recommend the first link. Otherwise for more intensive study I strongly prefer the second link as it's much clearer what things are. Sometimes flashier isn't always better when it comes to presenting information.

But regardless of which link you choose, there's definitely some good stuff to be found herein as these links represent some of the best web design out there.

May 12, 2008 10:50 AM

In The End, The Users Always Pay

Here’s a simple truth about broadband that too often gets lost amidst the din: in the end, you and I are the ones who pay for broadband deployment.

It doesn’t matter who’s doing that deploying, be they private, public, or somewhere in between, its the users of those networks that ultimately pay to have them built.

Whether it’s private companies passing through costs and raising prices, or public entities spending tax dollars, or something in between, in the end the money’s coming out of our pockets.

It’s an important thing to remember as it reframes the public vs. private debate around deployment. Instead of defining one as good or bad, it suggests that if it’s our money driving this than we need to be considering two things first: how can we make the most of what we have and what are the goals we want to achieve.

I want to make sure my dollar’s being spent to give me the best possible service.

And I want my dollars to be invested with the long-term social benefits in mind not simply short-term profits.

Private guys are more efficient but not as interested in the public good, and public entities are all about the public good but notoriously inefficient.

Keeping this basic tenant that we're the ones paying in mind is important when considering just about any telecom legislation.

For example, last week I was lamenting about how the net neutrality debate had taken what I feel is a wrong turn when Sen. Wyden began threatening network operators with higher taxes and more lawsuits. What was left out of his remarks is the reality that since users ultimately pay, penalizing network operators would likely trickle down to harm you and me by resulting in higher prices or lower service.

At the same time, if we're the ones paying for the network, and private companies aren't building networks with enough capacity or reach to satisfy what we feel we need, then it suggests we should be putting our money elsewhere.

But at the same time again, I don't want my dollars going to purely public endeavors for fear that they won't be able to innovate in delivering new and innovative services over these networks as that task is most often best left up to private companies so long as they exist in a competitive environment.

I don't claim to propose any answers in this post, but I would suggest that before we make any more decisions regarding broadband in this country, we must first remember that in the end its the users (meaning you and me) paying to have it built, no matter who's actually doing the deploying, and its the users who pay to keep it running, no matter who's actually delivering services.

May 9, 2008 11:38 AM

Fold Proteins, Score Points, Cure Cancer

Using your computer to help cure cancer is nothing new; the [email protected] project has been around for years, leveraging a distributed network of personal computers to crunch numbers related to folding proteins when they're not being used for regular purposes like word processing and web browsing.

But now digital do-gooders have a new opportunity to take a more proactive approach to helping fight disease through broadband: Foldit.

Foldit is a computer game created by the University of Washington. Download/install the application, and you're ready to start contributing to the cause.

To play you manipulate 3D proteins in order to find the best possible ways they could fold. (I have no interest in trying to explain the mechanics/purposes of folding proteins, so if you'd like to learn more about this, click here.)

The important thing to know is that there are limitless ways in which proteins can fold, and "Foldit attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of humans' puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins."

Things should continue to get even more interesting over the summer when the project plans on releasing the ability for users to not just identify proteins but even allow them to design new proteins that can help prevent or treat a host of diseases.

As a warning to anyone interested in giving this a try, while I didn't catch the precise file size, I do know it took a good ten minutes to download over my top-end Comcast connection. So while the game itself isn't all that bandwidth intensive, be prepared to wait if you're downloading it over a slower DSL line.

And in terms of the gameplay, while interesting and well-packaged, I didn't find it overly compelling. But that said, I've never had that strong of an interest in biology and I'm sure things get more interesting once you make it past the initial training stages.

The goal of this initiative is twofold: first, to see if humans can do a better job of identifying the best way for proteins to fold than computers, and second if we are better to teach computers how to think more like us.

It's a fascinating use of computers and the Internet to leverage the power of the masses to solve complex biological problems. And proof positive that the future continues to be filled with many wondrous ways in which to use technology to make our lives better.

May 8, 2008 8:28 AM

Net Neutrality Could Mean Higher Broadband Prices, Lower Speeds

I'm officially flabbergasted by the debate around net neutrality.

This article details a recent speech given by Sen. Ron Wyden from Oregon as he spoke at a Computer & Communications Industry Association conference in DC.

In it he delivered a passionate declaration of his support for net neutrality. And to his credit he went into greater detail than most about his belief of why net neutrality is important and where the idea came from, stepping beyond simply equating it to free speech.

But at the same time, he spoke out directly against the possibility of network operators charging for higher tiers of service, which is something I see no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to do so long as these higher priority tiers of service don't slow down lower priority traffic and/or harm consumer freedom to use broadband however they want.

Here's where things get interesting: in denouncing the possibility of selling higher tiers of service, Wyden basically threatened network operators with two consequences.

First, they may lose safe harbor. Safe harbor is a provision of the Communications Decency Act that frees network operators from any liability associated with content delivered through their network. If they were to lose safe harbor it potentially opens them up to a host of lawsuits covering everything from kiddie porn to piracy to online scams.

Second, they may lose the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which has kept most taxes from applying to Internet connections. If lifted, a number of states will almost certainly begin taxing broadband as some have been wanting to do so for a while.

So if network operators ignore net neutrality and start selling higher tiers of service, they'll be vulnerable to new lawsuits and have to pay more taxes. Hmmmm...has anyone thought through what this might mean to consumers?

Last I checked, network operators didn't like squeezing their profits to pay extra taxes, so isn't it likely that any tax increase would simply be passed on to consumers?

And if network operators have to face a wave of lawsuits due to the loss of safe harbor, wouldn't that also likely result in the costs of litigation being added on to the bills of subscribers?

The cherry on top of this misguided sundae is that if we threaten to take away network operators' money, doesn't that mean they'll have less money to invest in upgrading the capacity of their networks?

So unless I'm reading this wrong, Sen. Wyden just made the assertion that passing net neutrality will mean higher cost and lower capacity broadband.

The only way I can see this not being the case is if net neutrality is followed up by massive government re-regulation of telecom, making a major move back to treating them as monopolies, telling them what they can and can't do, and providing a guaranteed rate of return to incentivize them to deploy everywhere.

At this time I'm not trying to qualify if that would be a good or bad thing, but it does certainly seem like an unlikely turn of events given that the last 15 years have been all about moving as far away from this mindset as possible.

What's frustrating in all this is that everyone has such a head of steam going about sticking it to the big evil broadband providers that it sometimes feels like all rational thought has gone out the window.

We can't punish network operators in such a way as to harm the interests of consumers. That's just not good policy.

What we need to do is set the goals for what we want broadband in this country to be, and then either find a way to entice incumbents into action to achieve them or establish a new alternative to the current market-driven approach to spurring broadband deployment.

And until we get to having that kind of a dialog, I couldn't be more concerned about how the unintended consequences of net neutrality may harm instead of help us.

May 7, 2008 3:11 PM

Government Gets Wiki With It

Here's a tremendous article from Governing Magazine about the use of wikis in government.

A wiki, generally speaking, is a webpage or database where the users/readers can edit the content, enabling the collection and collaboration of multiple knowledge sets to establish the best possible answer/definition.

This article is great in that it not only defines what a wiki is and why it's a good thing, it also gives a series of specific examples of wikis in action.

It's a longer piece as it was their cover article, but it's a very worthwhile and informative read that I highly recommend anyone interested in the use of broadband in government go check out.

May 7, 2008 9:47 AM

iProvo: Failure or Success for Muni-Fiber?

Big news in the world of fiber and municipal broadband. The biggest public fiber-to-the-home project in the country was just sold to a private company.

The name of the network is iProvo, located in Provo, Utah, a city of 100,000. The name of the company that bought it is Broadweave, which before this purchase focused primarily on delivering full fiber networks into new home communities.

While the network was successfully built out, it never attracted the customers it needed to pay the bills, suffering through a series of years losing money.

In total a recent article itemized $8 million in losses realized over the last few years of operation. So even though public proclamations indicated iProvo would be soldiering on, it was really no surprise that something had to give.

To finance the build, the city went $39.5 million in debt. They sold iProvo to Broadweave for $40.5 million.

Many will point to this sale as a sign of failure, not only by iProvo but the entire premise of municipal broadband.

I see things differently.

Provo spent $47.5 million total, they sold for $40.5 million, so in the end the city’s out about $7 million.

But you know what? The fiber’s still in the ground, the network’s still there.

Without the iProvo initiative it likely would’ve been years, possibly decades since they’re in Qwest territory, before anyone else laid that fiber, equipping the community with that much capacity.

Instead, for $7 million the community of Provo got wired with a full fiber network to every home and business that the city can continue using for public purposes. Is that really such a bad deal?

Now this equation is incomplete as it doesn’t put a value on the blood, sweat, and tears that went into giving iProvo a go. And the reality is that with less than a quarter of the population of Provo signed up for service, there’s still a significant hurdle that needs to be overcome if the network’s to ever become a viable business.

But in the end what matters to me is that the fiber got out there, so ultimately what some may see as municipal broadband’s greatest failure I instead see a success story that showcases how even when a public initiative fails it can still find a way to succeed.

May 6, 2008 2:51 PM

Pure Publicity For NASA, But I Like It

I don't often link to stuff that's pure advertising, but in this case I made an exception.

Go check out NASA @ Home and City.

Click on the link and you'll open a new window that showcases an impressive, interactive overview of the impact research at NASA has had on our day-to-day lives.

You can view by home or city, and then by room or part of the community. Once in a specific area, you're given the opportunity to click on and learn about innovations ranging from memory metals to edible toothpaste.

What I liked is that not only is the information interesting, it's also really well-presented. The controls are intuitive, and the animations between sections smooth.

This is a truly dynamic example of how information can be presented online.

So if you're interested in NASA, cool new technologies, or excellence in Flash interface design, go check this out. You won't be disappointed.

May 6, 2008 10:14 AM

USF: Behind the Times

The Universal Service Fund, or USF, was created by the FCC in 1997, is funded by a small charge telecommunications operators add to your bill, and has the intended purpose of increasing the availability and affordability of telecom services in rural areas and for low-income people.

The USF has come under heavy criticism in recent years as its payouts have skyrocketed--enough so that the FCC recently had to put a cap on it--and most all of its focus is still on subsidizing plain old telephone service.

For more about what USF was, is, and can be, check out this article.

The thing I wanted to add is how frustrating it is that we haven't been able to find a way to redirect the USF to focus on the deployment of broadband.

Now, this isn't a new idea, and the FCC has publicly stated its interest in working in that direction, but somehow we still don't have a solution for making it so.

Even more frustrating is that it's not like this is one of these issues where the incumbents are fighting any change. Everyone knows the USF is broken and needs fixing.

And it's not like we're still in a time where broadband is an unproven quantity with an uncertain future. Heck, a couple months ago the United State Telecommunications Association renamed itself the US Broadband Association, basically announcing that the future is in broadband not plain old phone service.

In the article linked to above, they suggest setting a digital transition date for phone service like the upcoming digital broadcast TV transition, mandating the use of voice over IP through broadband instead of plain old phone service.

I think this is a brilliant idea. And I'd suggest that if I could snap my fingers and make anything happen in the telecom world, one of the first things I'd do is find a way to transition every plain old phone customer into a broadband and VoIP customer.

Imagine how that would impact penetration rates. We'd finally have a way to blow past the mark of 50% of households having broadband!

In fact, I'd recommend any major telephone company to look at doing the same. They're already losing phone customers at an extraordinary rate to cable VoIP service. So why sit around and let the wound continue to bleed when they could potentially plug the hole by eating the short-term cost of equipping everyone with DSL modems and pricing a package at less than the cost of selling DSL and VoIP separately?

I'm not suggesting this would be a painless transition, but it does seem like it will eventually be a necessary one.

But back to USF reform: the simple truth is that until everyone in this country can access affordable broadband at home, there's still work to be done. Ultimately plain old phone service is a 20th century technology. We are now living in the 21st century and need to be considering the effectiveness of government programs and infrastructural needs of our country in that light.

Ultimately, the best and only solution is broadband everywhere. If we want to be a great country, the time to decide "if" we should do something has passed, now we must move aggressively to figure out the how, what, and when.

May 5, 2008 8:50 AM

Using RSS When RSS Isn't Available

Last week I wrote about the wonders of RSS and encouraged everyone to set themselves up with an RSS reader in order to better keep up to date with the latest news from their favorite sites.

But there's one little problem: while most sites nowadays offer RSS feeds, not everyone does. So does that mean you're out of luck when faced with this situation? No!

Check out Page2RSS.

Simply input the URL of the page/site you want to follow, and whenever new content is updated you'll be notified in your RSS reader. It basically creates an RSS feed even if there isn't one there already.

A tool like this won't change the world, and ultimately everyone will have an RSS feed to subscribe to, but until if you end up getting into using RSS as I have, this can be a useful tool, especially if the sites you frequent have great information but may not be all that up-to-date with the latest web delivery technologies.

May 5, 2008 8:07 AM

Cool Interfaces: From the Top of Mt. Everest to Typological Experimentation

What I find often to be one of the biggest cool factor of the Internet is its ability to introduce new ways to interact with and visualize information. There are just so many things that can only be done online, it's mind-boggling. Here are some more examples of my continuing exploration into new interfaces and online visualizations.

Top of Mt. Everest
I've linked to this website before, but wanted to do so again as I found this 360-degree panorama--which are their specialty--to be particularly striking. It basically shows what your view would look like if you scaled Mt. Everest. The image runs across the entire browser window and features pretty impressive clarity. For the highest impact, I recommend clicking on the fullscreen button in the lower righthand corner. It expands the view to take up your entire screen. This is the first time I've seen this done and it definitely ranks high on the cool factor.

Never Been - A Graphical Story
Here's something that's neat on multiple levels. It's a story told with illustrations instead of words. What makes it unique is it's interface. To move forward you don't turn to a new page, instead your grab the image and drag it around to unveil the rest of the story. Too add interest, it's not a straight line but instead takes turns. In total the original art was nine and a half meters long. Online, though, it can all be fit inside your browser.

Typographical Madness
Have to admit, I'm not sure how functional or practical anything in this site is, but I still did find it interesting perusing through this series of experimentation when it comes to using interactive text. In particular I liked the Description and Good News, Bad News sections best. Beware Motion Sickness as if you're prone to becoming sick due to motion then this might not be the most pleasant experience.