Marcus Weldon said an interesting thing at the recent Great Telco Debate. Actually he said several interesting things. As President of Bell Labs, you would expect nothing less, and he didn’t disappoint. This particular interesting thing was about becoming local. And latency.
You may think that latency is not a particularly interesting thing, and we would hesitate to argue. What he said, though, it that to deliver the types of services that we are in the hype of at the moment – virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence based services – the latency needs to be as fast as human latency. In other words, when you tilt your head you do not notice any difference in the thing you are looking at – that is how fast the bandwidth must be. Otherwise you feel sick.
To do this we need to be within 100 kilometers of the service delivery point, not thousands of kilometers.
We need, to paraphrase further, local delivery.
Setting aside the discussion about whether some of us are any good at actual reality, never mind virtual and (the mind boggles) augmented reality, it started a chain of thought: the world is almost done with going global and is beginning to become local again.
Facebook, for example, appears to be directing its focus on local services with things like the recently launched Marketplace (which, against all odds, we not only rather like, but have used successfully already). To deliver items within an hour or so (another recent and slightly ridiculous trend), you need to have very local delivery depots.
It seems that the goal of many is to recreate those halcyon days when calls to a switchboard in North West Scotland would go something like this:
Caller: Can you put me through to Mr Mackenzie at the Manse please.
Switchboard Operator: Aye, I could but it would do you no good. I just saw him go into the butcher, shall I put you through there?
Caller: That would be kind. Thank you. [Translated from the Scottish. – Ed.]
Or the corner shop that would order you a new pot of your favorite jam, because it is a couple of months since you last had some and you must be running out.
The new local, perhaps parochial, focus is being aided by governments too. The United States, under its new President, looks as if it will take a far more protectionist stance than of late. In Korea, Google must use local servers for government mapping.
The privacy issue is forcing a debate about data security and location, and about trust. And that is pushing a more nationalistic agenda.
Meanwhile the tech giants, in this local push, are trying to get into your home. Amazon is putting buttons on your wall that you simply push to order whatever it is you need. The others are right there with them.
At the same time, the customer is beginning to push back – beginning to understand that his data has value and not just for these giants to sell to advertisers. Their data can be used to manage advertisers and suppliers, to get the best deals while retaining control of their data.
The question is, though, as the conscious or sub-conscious journey back towards our own communities grows in pace, what happens to the mega players?
Facebook may face a situation where its users (remember that we are not its customers) realize that what is great about Facebook is keeping up with friends, and nothing else. The rest – the adverts and political bullshit from other countries – is disposable.
Soon, you can be sure, there will be a “local” social media site where I can just keep up with my friends.
Ah, the winds of change … they are strong indeed, and the current giants need to keep their wits about them.