Networked media means a lot to two different groups. To the billions of Web users worldwide, it is the stuff that makes the Web so great — the 3D games, the mobile streaming, the online services, the virtual office, the Internet of things. To the second, much smaller group, it is a key to their business of making the future Internet more compelling.
But as we enter the age of networks, the division between work and leisure, serious and fun, is beginning to blur. And the networked media business people are all for that.
Take Magnus Eriksson, a young tech scientist who works for the Interactive Institute in Sweden. He and the institute's 'games section' team working on the TA2 project are cleverly blending the serious with the frivolous as they develop technology to nurture family-to-family relationships which are under increasing pressure in modern society.
The current media's focus on the individual - everyone listening to their own MP3 players, watching movies on their PDAs - stands accused of building walls between people. And with increasingly networked homes, it means families are even splitting up into different rooms to surf the net, organize play lists, answer work mails. TA2 (together anywhere, together any time) has developed fun games, interfaces and the so-called "framing experience" to bring people together again, to share photos, videos and, perhaps most importantly, the times together that embody family life.
But what's the advantage of technology like TA2 over good old board games? Well, this is where networked media comes into its own as TA2 brings one family group together to play or interact with other groups or family members, on the other side of the city or indeed, the world. So, it's groups working, playing and interacting together but (well) apart.
Through its Seventh Framework Program for research, the European Commission has invested hundreds of millions of euros in scores of networked media projects involving hundreds of European organizations. And more is to come. Commissioner Viviane Reding announced last month at the 2009 NEM Summit in Saint Malo, France, that a further 300 million euros will be earmarked for a new public-private partnership (PPP) initiative.
Networked media is growing in importance, Ms. Reding said in a pre-recorded address, and it is having an impact on the media and entertainment markets thanks to such areas as 3D media, digital cinema, and immersive online games which rely on the Internet for delivery. The Commission is keen to play a role in the ongoing revolution, she asserted, through focused research funding.
Joao Da Silva, director of the converged networks and services section of DG Information Society and Media, explained why the new PPP and other initiatives like the European technology platforms (ETPs) are needed.
"We're not doing research for the fun of it," he told delegates, it should also get results, and job creation is one such outcome. It is estimated that, by 2015, three million new jobs will be created in many networked media-relevant sectors, such as entertainment, information and education.
To cope with the new realities — spam, the growth in apps, bandwidth heavy multimedia — threatening to "break" the current patched-up Internet as we know it, Da Silva speaks of the need to rethink its architecture, but he concedes that this "clean slate" approach may be hard for everyone to swallow. Instead, to usher in the future Internet, he proposes tackling the Internet's challenges in progressive steps that "cater for evolvability."
"We can't look at the future Internet as business as usual," he says, "we need a revamped strategy."
What makes networked media different from traditional media, then? Wikipedia defines it simply enough as "media mainly used in computer networks such as the Internet." To the European Commission, it implies perhaps more than the use of computers or electronic devices connected to networks; it supports individuals and communities who not only consume but also co-create and share content.
However you define it, to the delegates at the event on the seaside town of Saint Malo, hosted by the NEM ETP, networked media is more than the latest buzzword — it is a calling, a labor of love.
And the labor is literal for many of the nearly 500 summiteers who lugged elaborate and heavy equipment all over Europe to show off their latest 3D graphics, platforms for game playing, virtual applications, mobile solutions for work and play . . . you name it.
Take the guys from the VirtualLife project whose demo showed the importance of matching the quality of the 3D virtual experience — where users create and share content, media and data — with increasingly important security aspects demanded by the online world.
The specter of data privacy, online scams and instances of cyber crime spilling over to real-world problems are major barriers to the burgeoning virtual world — a world of aliases, imaginary organizations and even nations, with the best-known virtual world being Second Life. VirtualLife has come up with structures and rules to govern this new world.
"It's like a virtual legal framework and civil society organization rolled into one, which gives real people more confidence in the virtual world," says project partner Marianna Panebarco.
The TA2 and VeriSign projects are funded by the networked media strand of the EU's Seventh Framework Program for research.
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