DaveNet: Wednesday, July 23, 1997; by Dave Winer.

blue ribbon Canter on Scalable Content

From Marc Canter, marc@canter.com, in response to Philippe Kahn's article on information appliances at:


Canter on Scalable Content

Here's some comments, observations - from my prejudiced - rose colored glasses point of view.

In general I agree with everything you say - especially that small, connected devices are the easiest way for non-PC users to get onto the net and improve their lives and commnication abilities with technology. Just the hookers, drug dealers, gamblers and stock brokers alone justifies this theory! The real trick - for me - will be to provide functionality beyond just 'Information Device.'

The obvious is 'entertainment' - but as you might know - I got out of the videogame business in 1983 - so no - I don't mean more killing, shooting, driving or flying. When I think of being on the beach or mountaintop - I want to sketch, write, compose, jam, tinker, edit and in general create.

What's missing from your theorem - is what we used to call 'multimedia' computing. It's not that these small devices have to play video, stereo audio or be highly interactive (with joysticks, touchscreens or other whacky input devices) - it's just that there needs to be a smooth transition and inter-connectivity between fuller more robustly featured systems and these smaller devices. Anything less than a 'scalable' environment like that - will stifle the future.

To me 'scalable content' is a notion that's important for the future. In one sense you can think of it as keeping the creative impulse and inpiration of 'an idea' - as an ethereal bubble that floats above all media forms. The task of scalable content is to personify that content into a particular media form - taking advantage of what a CD ROM, Web site or traditional linear form offers.

Good scalable content will adapt itself to each media type, allowing content developers to amortize their investments and to finally get decent ROI from their titles, applications or services.

Great scalable content will capture the mystery and essence of each media platform, not by just taking advantage of the inherent capapbilites of a platform, but also by creating a seemless combination of technology, content (and if relevant) services and creating a new experience that has never been possible before, and to allow a user to get various 'resolutions' or versions of that experience based upon where they are, how much money they have and who they're with.....

Most 'multimedia' companies went out of business because they tried to recoup all of their investment from one media form - the CD ROM. We never called it the floppy disk industry before, so why were they calling it the CD ROM industry?

The same mistake is being done today with the Web today. That's the distribution medium - not what the content or commerce is all about.

You and I both seek an answer that floats above the usage of a particular platform or media type - and seek a new hilltop to stake out our claim. We've both done it before and I think that we're both on track for our next goals!

Another way to think of scalable content (very relevant to you) is in the automatic resizing of the text, layout information and templates we use on our full screen displays - 'down' into the LED, LCD, flat panel displays of portable small devices you talk about. This is one of the 'target platforms' that the scalable tools I'm working on.

Infrastructure - or the great hype-laden Info Hiway.

I've experienced one time in my life - the attitude of - "it's not a matter of if, but when" so I'm comfortable with the notion of this inevitable platform. The challenge this time around is that it's not just a matter of adding CD ROM drives or audio cards to PC's - or getting Bill Gates or Sculley to realize the obvious - but this time it's gonna take the entire technological industrial base to migrate, adopt and take advantage of an infrastructure which is the epitomy of Catch-22 - "how can we ever achieve broadband distribution systems if we don't know what to do with them, they don't exist and no one has ever developed anything for them?"

That's the challenge I've given myself this time around.....

Just as you have moved on and evolved from your first life (you actually you had earlier lives - but they're not relevant to this conversation) - I have also tried to move away form being just a 'toolsmith.' But no matter how hard I try - the world is still pulling me back into my earlier vocation - enablng others to create - and build - cool, hot multimedia base applications.

Except this time - they're networked based, broadband applications. So you could say that I'm working on Interactive TV authoring systems - which when combined with scalable content tools will provide content developers a way to invest in tomorrow - today.

I've always believed in put up or shut up and I'm sure that when you're ready - you'll have the 'Sidekick' or 'Lotus 1-2-3' of the portable, inter-connected universe you talk about.

I as well intend on thumping on few heads before this decade, century and millenium is over with......

Go for it!

Marc Canter

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