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Sunday, January 18, 2009

End User Networking

My local supermarket, the Acme in Randolph, NJ, recently installed do-it-yourself check out lanes. They were one of the last of the bigger stores in the area to go this way, distributed checkout now available as a growing option.

In the late 80's, I worked for Pan American World Airways, in the department termed End User Computing. The idea was that instead of having secretaries and assistants who did word processing and interacted with a computer, the end user, from the chairman on down, would all have a computer and do their own work including email, word processing, database analysis and reporting, spreadsheets, etc. This was an enormous change in approach and philosophy and was, frankly, one of the attempts to save the airline which had not made money since the 70's. The concept was to distribute the computing work to the actual person who needed the work done, not through an intermediary (word processing department or secretary or assistant.) Now it seems in most organizations this is how it's done, with a few people having secretaries or assistants, but most doing their own email, word processing, spreadsheets, etc.

In the end, by the way, computers (of course) could not save the airline and in 1991 it closed its doors. According to a friend of mine still there at the time they piled up all the computers with the trash and threw them out. I hope some went to good use in some way.

Now we have Web 2.0, cloud computing, ATM's, grocery store self checkout, home/school/work/cafe and nearly everywhere Internet access, social networks, personal networks, online shopping (which didn't suffer so much economically as retail stores during this past holiday season),Twitter, LinkedIn, Delicious, Diigo, and more. Nearly everything pushed out to the fingertips of us all. End user networking in effect. No go between, no one to separate us from the work and the activities.

How far will it go? I think we will see eventually the end of the IT departments as we know them - although there will be a need for experts in centralized support. Instead of everyone having servers at their locations, they'll connect to server farms where redundancy and security are part of the package. This is already happening of course but not so much yet at schools. But in a recessionary economy, cost cutting and consolidation rule, and IT will be examined closely.

Who will survive, who will thrive? Most likely the people with the end user networking perspective, who have a strong PLN, who have seriously seen and considered the shifts happening, who can understand infrastructure and grids and large scale information delivery, who have become experts at some things and generalists at other things, who can articulate their vision, and who can form and strengthen learning and working communities.

The product I'm personally waiting for is the fully functioning portal to gather together all the various networks that exist, with a single signon, with feeds and updates and access to everyone and everything in my personal and professional learning network, where opportunities/ideas/discourse/information/learning/teaching/microblogging/news feeds are all available from any networked computer anywhere. I know parts of this exist but not in a fully formed environmental consolidated one stop shopping way.

But as we consolidate and distribute and bring back to the end user, how to we strengthen communities where we actually see one another? Wouldn't it be great if along with this fully functioning one stop shopping portal there were a fee charged that would go back to local communities that would set up localized drop-in in person community centers that would be physical spaces, with full Internet access, which would allow people to drop in, socialize, interact, speak in person, hold meetings, share information, read and relax together. There might be specific things set up to gather say teenagers together, others for retired people, others for family. It used to be that every town had a movie theatre and lots of people went to the movies nearly every week and saw their neighbors and friends and met other people routinely. This new physical community center could help tie us together in online and personal ways.

What do you think?

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