Friday, February 17, 2006

Virtually Present

I'm in the middle of having a REALLY cool experience!

A few minutes ago, my friend Ayush sent me an instant message through Google Talk. We chatted for a few moments, and he said he was sitting in a lecture by one of my favorite professors at the University of Michigan, Elliot Soloway.

Ayush started telling me what was being discussed in the lecture, and we started having our own side conversation about it. Then Ayush asked:

"Wanna plug into the class? I could set up chat and you could hear what's going on in class."

I didn't even think twice. I just clicked the Call button in Google Talk, and instantly I was a part of the audience of my old professor's lecture!

As Professor Soloway continued to lecture, Ayush and I continued to chat about the subject of the lecture.

It wasn't an "effort", a "product", or a "service" that people are spending resources to provide. It was my friend, sitting in the back row of a huge lecture hall with a Tablet PC (which generally happen to have great microphones), a WiFi network on each side, and a VOIP IM client, that's letting me participate in a University lecture while sitting on my couch in Seattle.

Ayush says, "if only my laptop had a built in camera", "wonder if this beats tuning into a lame radio channel when you are driving down the street".

Ayush suggests talking to Professor Soloway about podcasting his lectures. But in my mind, I'm imagining a big web-based map of the University's campus. I'm drilling down by clicking on a building, then a lecture hall. Instantly, I'm plugged into what's going on in the room. I can hear/see the lecture. I can chat with others in the room and others like me who are watching from afar.

Would it cannibalize the University's market? Would fewer people attend if they could just tune in for free from their couches? Or would we be giving the opportunity of an education to infinately many people across the country and the world. Do less people go to football games because they can watch on TV? Or is the football market bigger because ESPN can reach more people than can drive to or fit in a stadium?

(The lecture was on The Mythical Man-Month, and also included tidbits of Soloway's famous "WHAT'S NEW?" session.)

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