Helpful synchronicities

by Yule Heibel on July 24, 2006

Yesterday I came across an MIT Technology Review article, The Internet Is Your Next Hard Drive by Wade Roush. Its subtitle is, “New Web-based services don’t just store your data online — they keep it synchronized across your laptop, desktop, and mobile phone.” Given how many bits of me are threatening to walk off my brain to take up permanent residency somewhere else, this naturally caught my attention.

Roush always does an excellent job pulling useful bits of information together, and so I found myself clicking through on his links. I signed up on SharpCast as a result, but haven’t yet done the download/install, nor even begun to think about how I might get my camera, which still thinks it’s married to my iBook, to “talk” to the old Windows laptop I currently use… Well, that light, too, will dawn.

But Roush’s blog actually pointed me to some other issues, which were quite rivetting. First, I read Roush’s link to Thomas Vander Wal, who wrote something about personal infoclouds, which in turn led me to read Edward Vielmetti’s blog entry, neighborhoods, networks, communities, online+offline. Both of these bloggers are talking about web-2.0 apps that probably don’t quite exist yet, but which would clearly be useful: social networking or “community” applications that combine the power of virtual contact with the specificity of local interests.

As Vielmetti puts it:

There’s a whole range of books and thinking about virtual communities, focusing on how you construct a system online to build community, strengthen ties between people, welcome newcomers and recognize leaders, etc. I’ve most recently been reading Amy Jo Kim’s book on the topic, but there’s a lot of others, and you can’t help but seeing the word “community” in any book about online conversation software.

In some parallel universe, there are books and thinking and writing about neighborhoods, new urbanism, the power of being local, and other ways to connect up with people who are within a few hundred feet or a few miles of you. I have Superbia! (on “new suburbanism”) on hold at the library now, for instance, which talks about tearing down fences in your neighborhood and holding potlucks.

In personal experience there is a lot more of a tie between these two topics than has been satisfactorily explored, and I’m casting about for someone who has done a good job. A lot of the older online community books never even acknowledge that people might see each other in person, let alone organize their days and years around periodic meetings. The local community stuff generally doesn’t get much farther than suggesting a mailing list and doesn’t tend to incorporate much in the way of nuance in mixed online/offline community.

What’s so fascinating (for me, right now) is that to an extent, a mixed online/offline community (as Vielmetti calls it) is already happening in Victoria, through a forum focussed on new development projects in the city. It has allowed people to get informed and keep informed virtually, bypassing the filter that lets parsed bits by the local media through. The internet has let people get involved in real life, in other words. Even my lowly wiki has generated some participation by local people (who I haven’t knowingly met, too).
But there’s so much to absorb, to read… The InfoCloud post includes a sidebar, with recommended reading. So I click through to Amazon to learn more about Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing, which is described thus:

Digital Ground is an architect’s response to the design challenge posed by pervasive computing. One century into the electronic age, people have become accustomed to interacting indirectly, mediated through networks. But now as digital technology becomes invisibly embedded in everyday things, even more activities become mediated, and networks extend rather than replace architecture. The young field of interaction design reflects not only how people deal with machine interfaces but also how people deal with each other in situations where interactivity has become ambient. It shifts previously utilitarian digital design concerns to a cultural level, adding notions of premise, appropriateness, and appreciation.

So much knowledge, so many insights to absorb… Naturally, Amazon in turn recommends other books of related interest, and so on and so forth.

Meanwhile, as per a comment on Vielmetti’s blog, you can check out the work of Toronto’s NetLab, or read their paper (a PDF), Neighboring in Netville, which asks “what is the internet doing to local community?” Their findings? “Survey and ethnographic data from a ‘wired suburb’ near Toronto shows that high-speed, always-on access to the Internet, coupled with a local online discussion group, transforms and enhances neighboring. The Internet especially supports increased contact with weaker ties. (…) Not only did the Internet support neighboring, it also facilitated discussion and mobilization around local issues.” Ok, I didn’t know that “neighboring” was now an acceptable verb (“Hi, wanna neighbour?” …hmmmm), but personal experience has certainly borne out UofT’s conclusions.

Clearly, though, the complexities of online life (everytime I think I can close one of my browser’s tabs, I find something else I want to follow, and so stay enwebbed, unable to clear the clutter from my screen) mandate that some savvy new tools come along to “manage” the added complexity of mixed online/offline life.

I know I can’t continue to leave this task to my dog, who, in deciding which route we take for our “walkies,” determines whether or not we may or may not run into someone, offline, from the online world. And if we don’t see anyone offline, there’s always the “dogs offleash” park, before the soft glow of the computer screen calls me back home, to the online neighbourhoods…


Gibu Thomas July 24, 2006 at 8:48 pm

Hi Yule,

I would definitely encourage you to try out Sharpcast. It is a one-stop solution for transparent remote backup (not just the files, also all your organization and metadata), automatic anywhere access, simple sharing (drag and drop on to a buddy list), and seamless syncing across all your devices (‘push’, so you don;t even have to think about it).

The result is that you always have the same view of your stuff regardless of whether you are on the web or offline and what device you are on. You never have to do the same thing twice again or worry about backups.

We are trying to recreate the Blackberry metaphor (Outlook client on a PC, Outlook Web Access via a browser and a mobile client working seamlessly together) for the average consumer.

As for how easy it is to make the mobile work with your Windows PC, simply log in to the client in both places. The mobile is still in Alpha, so please be patient with it.

The whole experience is quite powerful even if you experience just your PC staying in synch with the web (we say here that sync is the new upload) without the mobile piece.

Please let me know your thoughts after you use the product. We are just scratching the surface in terms of features and the types of data/applications we will support and your feedback will help us make it the best solution for your needs.

Btw, I really like feel of your blog. Much better-looking than the average ones you see out there.


Gibu Thomas
CEO, Sharpcast

yulelog July 25, 2006 at 12:28 am

Hi Gibu, thanks for stopping in! I will try Sharpcast, but it’ll probably take me a while to do so. I’ll let you know (or blog an entry)on how it works out…

I have a question for you, though, which you might be able to answer. The other day I watched David Pogue’s presentation at the TED conference (available through the TedBlog link here
and I swear that at one point he said that he doesn’t upload his camera’s photos to his computer in the conventional way, but rather takes the memory card out, folds it in half to reveal connectors (like in a USB port), which he then sticks directly into his computer. Was he pulling the listener’s leg, or does this really work? Any thoughts? (If it does, you should post a little tutorial “how to” on your site, seriously!)

Thanks for the compliment on my blog’s look — can’t take any credit for that, though: it’s those smart designers at WP. I did pick that red leaf, though, because I figured it looked close enough to the Canadian maple leaf…

yulelog July 25, 2006 at 12:29 am

The TedBlog link doesn’t seem to work. Here’s the url — very worth watching, in any case:

Gibu Thomas July 25, 2006 at 1:25 am


The SD card USB thingy that Pogue referred to does exist; I saw one for the first time recently, but have never used it. I remember thinking it was very clever as well 😉

I liked the David Pogue presentation, thanks for the link. I used to work at Palm (a few of the other Sharpcasters did as well; our first company built the orginal Blazer browser, which Handspring/Palm acquired), so we are big fans of the cult of simplicity.

As an example, we take Pogue’s cameraphone picture transfer dilemma to the ultimate level of simplicity, which is a zero-touch transfer. i.e. if you take a picture on your camera phone, without pressing any button, it is instantly synced to your PC and the web. We extend the same type of simplicity to all the common problems you face, whether it is sharing, anywhere access, syncing or backup (we like to say, the best type of back up is the back up you don’t have to do!).

We believe a lot of the complexity in the digital world comes from the management aspect, whether it is juggling all your islands of data on your various devices and the web, or backing up your stuff, or dealing with manual one-way uploads and downloads. If only you could just focus on creation and consumption of the digital media and not on the management, life would be a lot simpler (and more fun!).

This is what we are trying to do with Sharpcast. Using the web as an enabler to bridge your offline and online worlds across all your devices.

After you try Sharpcast, please send us any and all feedback!



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