The Gee-Whiz Factor

Like many of you, I’m susceptible to the sheer excitement generated by many of the new technologies that appear daily. In some cases, the offering that makes you go “wow” also makes you pause to wonder just how useful it really is. At other times, you begin to suspect that you might be seeing the very beginning of something that will change the world.

The gee-whiz factor has been a driving force of technology for many years. In some cases, the glitz and glitter of products have helped to launch new technological approaches and have provided us with the cool things that we can no longer imagine living without. In other cases, the glitz and glitter offered turned out to be a thin veneer on a rather dull pine box.

I bring this up because I am often invited to look over, experiment with, and review different types of technology. Some are impressive, while others can be underwhelming. In many cases, these new technologies face an uphill battle due to a limited market, proprietary plug-ins, or a lack of business focus.

I’ve never been the kind of guy to mean-mouth products I review, although I may point out practical limitations if I feel any exist. In most cases, I’m just happy to share my findings with others so that they can share in the discovery. Many of these new technologies may end up being just brief footnotes in technological history, but others may be harbingers of other cool things to follow.

Here are a few companies that are making streaming technology offerings to the online marketplace that I feel are worth a “gee whiz.” I do not personally endorse any of the following companies.

  • Eyeblaster. We all know that an ad has to be somewhat in your face to grab the eyeballs that the advertiser wants. Although these may be distracting (and annoying to some), there is little debate over whether they get noticed.

    Eyeblaster ads play over the current Web page that the browser has loaded. They are generally short-lived and either focus on branding or providing the customer with a link to follow.

  • facemail from LifeFX. As I look over the list of things that I feel will make my life easier, having my email read to me by a talking avatar isn’t one of them. On the other hand, it’s fairly amusing to have a devil or clown read your latest messages to you.

    This is a fun idea. Will facemail ever make it to the mainstream business market? I guess that depends on the context in which it is used. It certainly does make the interoffice memo a lot more fun.

  • Viewpoint. Viewpoint offers 3-D modeling and manipulation software for Web pages. This technology allows customers to watch as 3-D objects leave the ad banner space and drive around the Web page. The site also offers a bird’s eye view of the lower tip of Manhattan, and the technology allows users to zoom in on Ground Zero.
  • Emblaze Systems (formerly GEO Interactive Media Group). I’ll be honest; I’ve never once considered watching a ball game on my cell phone or Palm Pilot a must-have experience. On the other hand, why not?

    Emblaze offers technology that can provide streaming video content to wireless devices. Though this may be a fairly quiet area of technology right now, I suspect that we will see more of this type of streaming technology being used for advertising.

  • Artificial Life. Corporate training is a multibillion dollar industry, but the type of content that can be provided online is limited. Apart from FAQs and the occasional online video from the CEO, Web sites are pretty much stuck with text-based communications.

    Artificial Life is trying to transcend the limits of online instruction through the creation of bots that can answer questions in real time by using powerful language-parsing engines. The bots can also deliver a scripted lesson and utilize visuals for support.

    Imagine a virtual doctor (who, no doubt, attended a virtual medical school) explaining anthrax or a virtual financial advisor, and you’ll see that this technology puts a human face on information that has traditionally been less user friendly.

Whether we consider these technologies whimsical or the bedrock of the future, innovative ideas like these continue to drive the world forward. Remember, Alexander Graham Bell couldn’t interest anybody in his telephone invention at first. Sometimes the need for a product isn’t apparent until a tool that meets that need is available. Time will tell.

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