Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What Good is Facebook?

Facebook had its Initial Public Offering less than two weeks ago. This was the first time that general investors could own shares in Facebook. The IPO valued the company at around $100 billion. Why?

First of all, I do not own any shares of Facebook, nor should anyone consider this to be investment advice.

But from a technology columnist perspective, Facebook offers all of the aspects that most people already know and love. This includes the ability to share one's status, comments, photos and videos of one's experiences. Facebook also allows instant messaging, status updates and other ways for people to communicate.

From a business perspective, many companies have stopped having websites (e.g., in favor of a Facebook page (e.g., This is happening mainly for small companies, but large companies are having a Facebook presence, too. Why? Because that's where people are spending their time.

Advertising is, of course, how Facebook is making most of its money. That's why Facebook is free to you and me.

But I believe that Facebook's value is not in what it is now, but in what it will become. It's clearly a platform on which people can build their personal and business lives and interests. And strong platforms can become fundamental value generators. Facebook seems to have done this quite well.

Remember, though, that there are some companies who have built platforms that have not been successful. Two in fairly recent history include America Online (AOL) and SecondLife. AOL built a proprietary world that was separate and apart from the Internet. It did very well for about a decade, but the proprietary platform has all but disappeared. SecondLife ( is a virtual world on the Internet. While it started out as a possible fully virtual world, with everything from shopping malls to embassies to countries in it, interest in SecondLife has dwindled over the years.

With each iteration of platforms, some people get it right. Facebook certainly seems to be on the trajectory for getting this right, attracting people and allowing extensions to the Facebook platform for where people can add their unique aspects.

Look for more and more interesting developments on Facebook. In five years, I doubt you'll recognize it as what it is now.

But also remember that Internet users are fickle. Quite literally with the click of a mouse, they can be off on another website where their friends and interests are.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 30 May 2012.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Goodbye TV, Hello TV

Another nail has been driven into the coffin of this thing called a television. Or has it?

Within the past 30 days, Cablevision released its Optimum App for Laptops at It's available for Windows and Apple computers. This is a companion product to its mobile Optimum app that turns your Apple iPad, iPod Touch or Android device into another device on which you can watch movies and record videos.

What this app does is turn your laptop computer into yet another television in your home, as well as give you access to your digital video recorder in your home or at Optimum, let you watch live TV, schedule recordings and more.

I tried it on a couple of laptop computers in my home and it worked fine. It did not let me install it on a laptop with an external monitor, nor did it let me install it on a desktop computer.

According to Cablevision, this limitation is due to licensing issues because of the video signal that can traverse an unsecure cable from the main computer to the monitor. The point is that if a signal going from my computer to a monitor is not encrypted, anyone could copy and rebroadcast the recording without the owner's permission.

But what the new Optimum App for Laptops does is it allows any laptop computer to become a television. Already, you can watch DVDs on most laptop computers. The Optimum app already lets mobile devices watch TV on them ... so why do we need a large-screen TV at home at all?

I will continue to bang this drum that there are two reasons why TVs will continue to be a large part of our lives:

First, as humans, we need to spend time with others. Watching a TV show or movie as a family is a fun, enjoyable -- and I say essential -- part of being a group. Sitting on the sofa, having popcorn is a valuable experience. Having everyone watch their own small screen just isn't the same.

Second, sometimes entertainment is still better on a big screen with great sound. The opening weekend of "The Avengers," a group of my friends and I went to see the movie in IMAX 3D. It's not every show that we want the "big screen, big sound" experience, but this was one of those times. It was also a great human experience. I believe that large-screen televisions in the home will also continue to be attractive, especially as more entertainment comes into the home.

One of the limitations that is also present with the Optimum apps is that they work only in your home. If you're at a neighbor's home or on a trip, they won't work. Again, Cablevision confirms these are licensing rather than technical issues. I certainly hope that the lawyers and finance people are able to work out these issues, as the idea of "entertainment anywhere" is becoming more and more pervasive.

With all of these changes, I applaud Cablevision for continuing to provide these additional services at no extra charge. Please keep working on the licensing issues for content. They are solvable and worth the effort.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 16 May 2012.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Westport "Maker Faire" a Showcase of Creativity

Many people — more than 2,000 by last count — attended last Saturday's Westport Mini Maker Faire. Produced by CLASP Homes as part of its 30th anniversary in partnership with the Westport Public Library, this was the first official Maker Faire event in Connecticut.

Intended as a celebration of creativity and innovation, the tent on Jesup Green, along the Saugatuck River and inside the Westport Library brimmed to overflowing with 60-plus "makers" who were showing what they make.

Some of the highlights of the fair included 3-D printers that will create in front of your eyes something that you have designed on your computer. There were also robots that could autonomously operate or be remotely driven by others to perform tasks, including shooting basketballs, much to the wild cheers of the crowds.

While there was much that was high-tech, there were many decidedly low-tech makers there, including a group of Cub Scouts, who were following the growth of an apple seed through its ending up as applesauce in a grocery store; the Green Village Initiative, showing how to make a raised-bed garden; a group creating paper flowers, one person who builds wooden canoes and more.

There were even people wandering around showing and teaching magic and an appearance by Gumby.

Two events included attendee participation: the Battle of the Homemade Bands and the Rube Goldberg Experiment. Both allowed a showcase of creativity for people who wanted to demonstrate their known and unknown talents.

Beyond what was shown, the Maker Faire brought together people from different backgrounds, experiences and ages. Specifically, the robotics area included five groups from five different towns and cities in Connecticut. These are high school students who worked together on their robotics projects, showing off what they had built and building friendships.

While there were plenty of "makers" at the fair, what was wonderful to see was the inspiration that was given to those in attendance. We repeatedly heard children saying that next year, they wanted to have something to show at the fair, or that they wanted to build something like what they had seen or that they wanted to try something that looked fun.

Look for more events that continue the fair's energy and excitement.

While this fair has the Westport name on it, it is clear that the reach is far beyond our town, that creativity and innovation knows no bounds and is alive and well in our community and country.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 2 May 2012.