Monday, October 20, 2008

Radio bookmarks

It's fund-raising season at NPR again, and some stations are giving out "radio bookmarks" as premiums. What's a radio bookmark? It's basically a USB device that you can push a button on while you're listening to the radio. It will record enough information for you to go to the station's website when you next go online, find out what was on just then, and even play it back.

In other words, it records the time.

Sort of disappointing when you put it that way, but on the other hand there's no rule that says an idea has to be complex for it to be at least moderately useful. Back in the dotcom days, the same idea was supposed to make Sony a lot of money. Dan Bricklin has a review of it (then called "emarker") from Comdex 2000. The original emarker could store (drumroll, please) up to 10 events, which seems ridiculously small even for the times, but what do I know?

Bricklin makes the point in real time that I was going to make eight years after the fact, that the setup "puts the appropriate intelligence at the right places". In other words, the device itself is dumb. The intelligence comes from the underlying database via the web. I agree with Bricklin that this is the right way to do it, if only because you can easily correlate with other databases as well (video springs to mind). In a way it's a good example of "dumb is smarter", though in this case it's a particular piece, not the system as a whole, that's deliberately dumb.

It's a separate (and interesting) question whether the emarker/radio bookmark "uses the Internet in ways that show the future". Eight years on, I'm thinking not so much, but then the question becomes "why not?". The general idea of connecting a fairly dumb device up to the web to get a smart system overall seems good. Maybe there are other examples hiding in plain sight?

1 comment:

David Hull said...

Note to self: physical access tokens like badges and hotel keys generally just carry (io better, verify) an ID, with the rest of the system determining what that means. Credit cards for that matter. QR codes too.