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November 10, 2010

Where next for the GDLN?

Way aheadThe GDLN led the way more than ten years ago with its worldwide video-conferencing network that, potentially, put the technology within reach of citizens of even the poorest countries. But what next? Video-conferencing at 256kbps is ubiquitous now. In order to remain faithful to its original vision the GDLN will need to innovate yet again.

The tech landscape is changing and growing at a breathtaking pace, so it's important to pick the right direction, early.

There seem to be two possible routes - move entirely to the Internet where services are increasingly sophisticated and grow ever cheaper, or continue to bring the most advanced (and therefore potentially expensive and out of reach) technologies within the reach of the world's poor.

The Internet, especially Web 2.0 with its social media networks and user generated content platforms, offers huge potential for widespread participation in everything. It would mean embracing a whole new set of technologies and styles of communications, a whole new business. Also, the Internet itself seems to act as a social leveller, so can the GDLN add much value here?

Video-conferencing,on the other hand, has developed well beyond the old slightly disjointed images and lots of "can you hear me Hanoi..?"  conversations we know so well. At one end of the spectrum, there are a whole range of very usable web-based services that let people video conference from their homes if they have a reasonable broadband connection. And at the other, there are a range of emerging high-tech products that try to inject all the features that make a face to face conference so different - eye contact, the body language and responses of non-speakers, etc.

This BBC Article  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11493961) provides an excellent review of some striking new technologies, including a robot  (telenoid) that interprets your movements and transfers them to the other party as an "avatar"! Or more down to earth, the Manhattan School of Music, which uses Polycom telepresence suites in its concert hall and remote learning studios to give lessons to 1,700 international students each year. With telepresence, people have a much greater perception of being in the same room, but it is expensive. At a typical $300 per hour, though, this is not much more than GDLN used to be in the past.