Always On

Ever since I got my DSL modem in 1999, I’ve been less impressed with its speed and more impressed with the fact that it’s always on.

This means that if you send me an email, I’ll hear a tone (as I would on a LAN) and can respond to you immediately. If you’re an editor or a news source, this is very valuable.

But recently, after I complained that I couldn’t find a copy of the “Iron Chef” theme song, reader Matt Smith turned me on to Audiogalaxy and a new lesson in the power of “always on.”

Audiogalaxy, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is a music-sharing service that’s equal parts Napster and Gnutella clone. It’s tried using ads and e-commerce as revenue sources.

When I first told the system what I wanted, I got no satisfaction. Whoever had the theme wasn’t online. So I left my requests and left my computer on overnight. Voil`! When I checked back a few days later, not only were my wishes fulfilled, but I had shared those files with a few other folks. (We won’t argue about Napster here — the music isn’t available on CD.)

The point is that by staying connected to the Internet all night you make the resource more valuable. This also means your own PC is on all night. So what can we do with that always-on intelligence and connection?

This is where the great business models of the next year will come from, in my humble opinion. The burglar alarm business, which for decades has depended on “dry pairs,” unloaded phone lines that are also perfect for DSL service, should be just the first industry to undergo a revolution. Not only can all your contact points be connected via Internet rather than voice, but all the intelligence of your network can be brought to bear in showing police or fire authorities just what’s going on.

Suddenly it makes sense to buy a “smart” refrigerator or a “smart” thermostat. Link the fridge to the Net, and you can constantly test the fridge’s systems, getting reports on why the lettuce wilted and having the repairman appear before you need him. Link the thermostat to the Net, and you can control the temperature more precisely in each room, even adjust your use of natural gas to its price automatically. (Imagine what always-on intelligence could do for California’s current power woes.)

People such as Halsey Minor of 12 Entrepreneuring are now looking hard at these and other ideas, using the power of always-on connectivity. Instead of looking at the Internet as a people-to-machine interface, we can look at it as a machine-to-machine interface. Instead of having the network wait for you to make a request of it, it can now anticipate your needs.

Best of all, when you bring these capabilities online, the prices can drop quickly since you don’t have people getting in the way. The service fees can take advantage of Moore’s Law and Nielsen’s Law of Internet Bandwidth, meaning that the value will grow and stimulate more people to keep their network connections open all the time.

So put your thinking caps on. What can you do with always-on connectivity?

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