Promising ideas. Not unique by themselves, but the first time I've seen
someone actually attempt to put them all together. The key questions:
1) Where do you start?  and 2) How to get critical mass?  I certainly
won't claim definitive answers, but here are some thoughts:

1) Start with the client machine -- the cheap PC, the network computer,
whatever you want to call it. You can't deploy many in the beginning,
but you have to have this designed and operational in some fashion. 
This needs to include network access. Vanilla 802.11b (wi-fi) is
probably not right. See www.locust.net for one solution that turns wi-fi
access points into a "wireless mesh", bottom-up network using freely
available software to control off-the-shelf access points. Include some
kind of microphone and speaker capability, and Voice over IP voice
communication service (i.e., a "telephone system") can be made available
to all on the mesh.

These networks -- or any peer-peer bottom up network based on 802.11
will only be able to access the public Internet if one of there is a 
gateway hooked to the Internet -- and all the usual fees apply
(bandwidth and/or equipment, etc.).  This solution does not
automatically yield affordable Internet access.  Internet prices will
fall, and can be made cheaper, of course.  And naturally it should be
pursued.  I'm only suggesting the system should be constructed to add
value to the users even if Internet access was down, or unavailable to
some users due to costs.

This leads to the second question:

2) A critical mass of content for users to access needs to exist to make
the appliance/service useful. The Internet can not necessarily be
relied on to provide this. And the Application Service Provider (ASP)
model especially requires application content (i.e., spreadsheets, word
processing, etc.). One way to get the mass needed is to focus on the
utility applications that made computing and the Internet so valuable in
it's early days. First, email for all machines connected to the
wireless mesh (the bottom-up network). Even if Internet connectivity is
not available or remains expensive for some time, this will provide
exponential value as more client machines are connected to the mesh (a
village at a time, perhaps?)

Second, word processing, spreadsheets, small database applications, etc.
With the proper training, these can provide productivity enhancements 
for small businesses that might not otherwise use computers at all.

Third, games -- and networked games. This gets the younger generations
engaged and familiar with the technology so that they have shorter
learning curves with other applications as they grow up.  (Just make
sure they don't overwhelm network capacities or require cutting edge
video cards/memory in the client machines!).

Finally, make Internet style content available within the mesh.  Enable
people with client machines to build and manage sites (centrally hosted
for most, but distributed hosting is possible if people have the proper
equipment and meet appropriate guidelines). Deploy and host more
sophisticated content on behalf of the users. It could someday be the
world's largest intranet -- and be a valuable resource for many even if
the price of public Internet access never falls into the price range of
all.

My very best to you.

John Mullinax



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