Video Conferencing & Collaborative SW...slick stuff!

David Mathog mathog at seqvax.caltech.edu
Tue Mar 2 13:00:00 EST 1993


In article <C34BI7.MII at news.cis.umn.edu>, ernest at lenti.med.umn.edu (Ernest Retzel (1535 49118)) writes...
>...
> 
>Briefly, what they do is 1. provide you with workstation based video- 
>conferencing [PictureWindow] and 2. provide a groupware environment for 
>you to share anything you can display on a screen,  a capture environment 
>and a "whiteboard" environment to write on it [ShowMe].  This is serious 
>cool, folks.  I can throw out a couple of examples--collaborations suddenly 
>become easier and a whole lot cheaper when you can just open a window onto 
>someone else's machine and see them and talk to them and show them what the 
>new things you just added to whatever ...without a fax machine and a phone 
>in your hand.  Distance learning takes on a real meaning.  Want to see a 
>conference being held somewhere else? --a video feed to the box can do it, 
>and you see it for free, no downlike setups and charges and arrangements.
>So far, we have done 4-way conferences, and the Suns aren't even breathing
>hard.  The main reason that we haven't done more is that the purchase was
>a proof of concept, and that is all the licenses we have.
>
>etc. 

I've got really mixed feelings about this one.

On the one hand, this video-conferencing would clearly be very useful.

On the other hand, if one had to actually buy the bandwidth from ATT, MCI,
Sprint, etc. it would likely be prohibitively expensive, at least for the
video part, although the rest of it doesn't sound too data dense.  Dr.
Retzl seems to be implying that this data channel is free, and that may be
a fair approximation for his local LAN.  However, if he's referring to the
Internet, the statement isn't correct - we pay for Internet bandwidth
indirectly through our government. 

I believe that the following two statements are true:

1.  Market systems are more efficient than command systems.
2.  Any significant expense that is part of publicly funded research should be
specifically approved as part of the grant review process.

I've been thinking about this for a while, and I suppose what I'm about to
say is heresy, but if the above statements are true, then probably the
government should dump the current "free" Internet and instead distribute
to the research/academic community the money that they now spend supporting
that structure.  In turn, these people would purchase such data
communications as they need directly on the commercial market. Internet
e-mail is "free", but is it really?  For all we know MCI-mail might be
cheaper than the real costs of Internet e-mail. The same argument holds for
the interactive video-conference that Dr. Retzl describes, Gopher, FTP,
telnet, and all the rest.   My guess is that the network video-conference
is slightly cheaper now than a "live" conference, but that the advantage
should grow over time as data transfer costs decrease. 

Implementing the suggested change should result in a decline in the total
data communications costs for the current "free" Internet users. We would
have to get used to these costs showing up as an explicit, and possibly
large, portion of research grants.  This might at first be rather shocking,
but if one can't justify the real expense, why should the taxpayer be
spending money on it? 

Direct all flames to:

David Mathog
mathog at seqvax.bio.caltech.edu
Manager, sequence analysis facility, biology division, Caltech




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