05 August 2005

05.08.05. New Mobility Communications for The Commons (A working note)

Editor's note: Our current status report that sums up latest developments and offering in our IP communications toolkit. With some introductory words on the reasons why we need to put it to work without further delay in the interests of sustainable development and social justice. You'll see.

IP: New Mobility Communications for The Commons

Immediate access:
  • Click here for Skype phone link
  • Click for SightSpeed Video link
  • Check Paris time for call

    Deep background:
  • Electronic/Environment
  • ICT Operations Profile: 1972-2005

    IP in 2005: Efficient. Powerful. Cheap. Sustainable.

    The only real key to real progress in the struggle to sustainability resides in our ability to build knowledge and consensus. The inputs to do this are not going to come from a single place. A world wide outreach is needed. And to accomplish this we have to make good use of all the assetts we have in hand. Which brings us smack to the issue of mastering available communications technologies.

    Here is how our "virtual presence/distance work" communications toolset that we have built up here at The Commons looks thus far (with more to be added as the project moves ahead and the collaborators start to be more comfortable with these concepts and tools).

    You can start immediately to get a feel for how this works. Just click the Skype and/or SightSpeed links, and we can start talking or one-on-one videoconference at no cost to you. Once you have got the hang of it, believe me you will not go back. For more background, read on.


    Because we all need to learn, to be able to communicate better: more easily, more succinctly, and most likely in fact not necessarily all that much more in terms of sheer quantity of time spent. (Remember that every hour you waste sitting in an airport or on a plane is an hour stolen from your real work. So let's see how we can use our latest technologies to do a better job of all this.)

    Because we need to behave in a more responsible manner and do what we can, including through clever use of these technologies, to cut our CO2 etc. profligacy. Start by using this toolset to see if you can reduce your physical travels by half. Go on a CO2 diet. You and the planet will feel a lot better.

    The tool set that you see on this page is explained in this first instance largely in terms of one-on-one communications, with the option of trying it out with us at The Commons and our various programs that use these tools. But bear in mind that the final objective is not so much talking with us (though that is certainly a pleasure from this end), but rather to put these tools before you for broader uses. With your other colleagues in various places around the world, and of course in group situations. As you will see if you continue to read on here, there are some very

    Skype: Free IP Telephone

    Skype is a world wide IP communications service offering free or almost free phone calls anywhere in the world. Since it is easy to install and enormously cost-effective (and secure), we have found that even our most technology wary colleagues are able to get the swing of this and more over to it comfortable without having to undergo some kind of gut-wrenching mid-life culture change.

    It is our goal to move all of our international colleagues over to this handy means of communicating (or some similar, see below for a few more options), since we are convinced that those who are working to push the frontiers in these important areas need to have easier and cheaper access to each other.

    Click here to get full background information on Skype, as well as step by step guidelines for the very easy download and install routine. The whole thing should take you ten minutes. And if you wish to test your system, just pop the name ericbritton into the address box and you will be directly in touch with us here. Quality: very high. Cost: zero.

    Already on Skype? Click here to call direct.

    SightSpeed: videoconferencing and group work system

    If you are comfortable in this general technology environment, all you have to do is click here and follow your nose. If not, just drop down to the next paragraph and the leads it provides to facilitate your access.

    • First easy video connect (PC and Mac support, multilingual)
      The free SightSpeed.com package is the fastest and easiest to make that first contact. Works for both PC and Mac. The install routine is straight-forward with quick and clear step by step instructions for your first visit (download plug-in and off we go). Your cost for use with us: zero! (And later if you decide to use it mo0re generally in support of your work, very cheap.)

    • System requirements:
      Ideally in addition to your high speed internet connection and basic computer set-up, and Internet Explorer 6.0 or better, with sound card (see System Check below, ideally you have a proper webcam (example: good Logitech model, again see below). But even that is not absolutely necessary for the trial. If you are without camera, you will still be able to hear and see us in this first step.

    And if you are not accustomed to this sort of thing, courage! In truth it's no big deal. You will quickly get comfortable with this new and very useful functionality. Very high quality Help & On-Line Support available direct from: http://www.sightspeed.com. Be sure to check out your system and equipment requirements first (more on this below).

    Still running into problems and areas of uncertainty? Don't worry, pick up the phone and let us hear from you via Skype or the suddenly very old phone system +331 4326 1323 or try an email at secretariat@ecoplan.org.

    And once you get comfortable with this, we can begin to look further and start to make use of some of the more complete group conferencing packages, for which more information follows.

    SightSpeed supports The Commons and the New Mobility Agenda:

    The SightSpeed group has generously offered to support the work of The Commons, the New Mobility Agenda and the Kyoto World Cities 20/20 Challenge program by offering free one year subscriptions to all those who are cooperating with these projects. All we need to have for you to set up your free service is a one line email indicating your interest addressed to secretariat@ecoplan.org, with a copy to pzottolo@sightspeed.com.

    MSN Messenger: Useful support tools

    MSN Messenger: When we collaborate on a group project, we ask each member of the team to check in via MSN Messenger (that's http://messenger.msn.com/) and it's free.. We find this the best way either to knock gently on the door to set up a conferencing appointment, or alternately for you to leave a message to indicate that you dropped in, and when you'd like to hear from us, etc.

    MSN Messenger also offers a useful complement to both Click to Meet and SightSpeed, especially for the latter since it permits additional group work functionality, allowing for such things as simultaneous sharing and viewing of documents, webpages, high speed file transfer, whiteboards, chat, etc.)

    Group work and conference environment

    Once you have been on line a few times with our 'alpha' or learning system thanks to SightSpeed, it will be easy for you to take the next step, which is our much more complete and powerful group work and conferencing environments. The excellent and ever evolving software for this has been developed by a group called First Virtual Communications, based on early work carried out at Carnegie Mellon University going back a full decade. It is a mature product that works. We are grateful to our long time friends and colleagues at the Construction IT Centre of the University of Maribor in Slovenia for making these sites available to us for our pioneering public interest work.

    Note: When you enter either of these sites for the first time, please bear in mind that there is no need for you to register. Thus when it asks you to "sign in" you can safely ignore and keep moving right along, as if no one ever asked. (Later when you decide to join and wish to make fuller use of the capabilities, we can set up your sign in routine.)

    1. Click to access to our virtual office (appears in own window)
      Our virtual office is intended for private meetings and consultations, including eventual initial conversations about either our on-going work, future projects or ideas that you may have for collaboration or support. (The full office address in case you wish to pop it into your IE browser direct is: http://cgiserver.uni-mb.si:8080/clicktomeet/index.htm?ID=200. If I am not there when you check in, please drop me an email note and we can setup a mutually convenient time for a meeting.)

    2. Click to access to Conference facility (appears in own window)
      There is more to this than just videoconferencing (a powerful state of the art tool for our daily uses in any event). The program works to turn all more commonly used applications into a multi-level group work environment, integrating with the common desktop applications, your web browser, Windows Messenger and Outlook for calendaring and scheduling. The simple upload of PowerPoint, Word and Excel files allows seamless collaboration with others in the conference. (The full conference room address in case you wish to pop it into your IE browser direct is: http://cgiserver.uni-mb.si:8080/clicktomeet/index.htm?ID=16143.)

    Both of these group work programs -- PC only, sorry -- are comprehensive tool sets for distance group work: they offer not only offer direct or group videoconferencing and/or voice access, but they also accommodate different levels of participation (works with full webcam/sound, sound only, no-see no-hear but view visual proceedings). You will see more about this as you get into the programs themselves.

    However if you are not familiar with this technology, we counsel that you check out the following. A little care here will go a long way to make this an easier and more effective experience.

    Check out your system first

    What you have here is one-click access to some very complete group work facilities, which you will find amply explained below and on the sites themselves. But let's start by checking out your system requirements, showing you first an optimum but still quite affordable set-up, following that with a rig that is perfectly useful for daily operation.

    Best audio, video, data experience:

    • Pentium IV 1.8 GHx 512Mb
    • QCIF video size at 30fps w/ 8 videos received
    • G.722 audio
    • Echo cancellation enabled (Windows XP)

    Still quite good:

    • CPU Windows: Pentium III 800 MHz 256 Mb
    • Operating Systems Windows: 2000 or XP
    • Macintosh: G4 800 MHz or faster
    • Macintosh: OS X 10.3 or higher

    • High speed (broadband) connection: Min. > 256k


    • Sound card, with headset or speaker phone
    • Webcam (Click here for a useful listing. Note: If you wish only voice access, you will not need a webcam.)

    Click to Meet Specifications: http://www.fvc.com/eng/products/ctm4.htm

    Attitude (Check out yourself)

    IP Conferencing although fast advancing is still very much in the process of finding its way. This means that when things are well prepared and conditions correspond, then it can offer an extremely satisfying and useful experience. On the other hand if you are working alone and without good support, you will need to exercise patience and forbearance from time to time. And in this a little knowledge about what you are actually trying to do helps.

    The bottom line: if you have a low frustration threshold and expect things always to work the first time around, this is probably not for you. Come back again in a year or so and you will certainly find a more facile working environment. But then too, you will have missed twelve months of working creatively with others perhaps many miles away and who just may have a lot to share with you, to teach you, and, yes, to learn from you. And of course, imagine all the CO2 that you are not burning when you keep off that plane. That should make you feel good, and the planet will certainly thank you.

    How to use. . . and protecting your time

    One of the more daunting tricks of these technologies is not only to get them up and working (which fortunately is getting easier with each generation of new products), but also the no less challenging task of figuring out how to make a useful tool of what you can have. This is not always so self evident and does require a bit of a strategy.

    For our part, when we go on line with services like Skype, SightSpeed and MS Messenger, which we have on line all the time during the working day, we make sure in the first place that we restrict entry only to those friends, family and colleagues that we want in fact to hear from. In each case when you get the product up and working, it is worth paying some attention to seeing how this can be done.

    But the other half of this coin is the matter of netiquette: how do we then figure out how best to let someone know that we want to speak or videoconferencing in a manner which is properly discreet and not disruptive of their work or concentration. Now there is of course the option there of simply and boldly clicking them in -- but this as you can well imagine amounts to an uninvited breaking down of their door. Not on clearly!

    All three of this first level of software products offer the possibility of leaving them a discrete note inviting them to a meeting, which they can then ignore, give you a good time for or whatever. This is very handy and works well for us and those with whom we are in frequent contact.

    Finally a note on CO2 et al. These technologies will, if you give them even half a chance, help you gradually to cut back on your physical movements, which of course is what in our view at least "New Mobility" is all about. If in the Kyoto World Cities Challenge we are asking on the cities to cut back on their CO@ and traffic by 20% in 2o months - well it is only fair that we do at least as well for our own part. And indeed we can.

    Hosting and Costs

    Thanks to a long standing relationship of friendly cooperation and exchange on matters relating to our deeply shared common interests and commitment to the sustainability agenda, the use of this system is free to The Commons and our programs and international associates and supported, with all costs and technical overheads most kindly covered by our colleagues at the Construction IT Centre of the University of Maribor in Slovenia.

    For more information/Help

  • General backgrond on Click to Meet: http://support.fvc.com
  • On current program (Ver. 4.0): http://www.fvc.com/eng/products/ctm4.htm
  • Full background on SightSpeed.com

    Le Frene, 8/10 rue Joseph Bara 75006 Paris, France, Europe. T: +331 4326 1323
    Copyright © 1994-2005 The Commons ® All rights reserved.
    Last updated on 5 August 2005


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