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September 2006
Volume 1 / Number 5

By Joe Hildebrand

“Content is King” declared Bill Gates (News - Alert) in 1996. “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting [where] the long-term winners were those who used the medium to deliver information and entertainment,” he continued.

Ten years later, an information explosion has turned that declarative on its ear. Content is sexy and certainly continues to be the public persona of most media. However, in the digital realm, Context is what now matters… just consider the threat that Google (News - Alert) poses to Microsoft (News - Alert): Is that about Content with a capital C or about helping people find the right content within a specific Context? Today, nearly all information is accessible as a series of ones and zeros, and in less time than it will take you to read this article, you can publish directly to the entire world for zero incremental cost and vice-versa. We have shrunk the Earth and stuffed it with enough content that were it not for the balancing force of context it might collapse on itself like a neutron star.

As Gates predicted a decade ago, the democratization of content has created a wealth of opportunities for individuals and organizations of every size producing everything from the thoroughly useful to the thoroughly tasteless and everything in between. This is a double-edged sword, on one side offering valuable and readily accessible content where it wasn’t available before, on the other creating a glut of content, much of which competes constantly for our attention, with the high-value stuff often given the same weight and priority as the unwelcome distractions.

A customer at a large brokerage firm frames the issue of context around the concept of information half-life, which is to say that the value of information delivered to decision makers at the point of a transaction degrades measurably with every fraction of a second. In this firm, information comes fast and furiously from hundreds of source points. To be useful, traders need to be presented only with the information that matters to them and only at the point it is most actionable. Within this firm’s data feeds, content comprises only the ‘what’ of information, whereas context offers the more dynamic variables of ‘who, when, where, how, and why’ that information is consumed.

Within many information-intensive real-time environments, “presence,” which begins with the availability of people, devices, or applications, is being extended with secure mechanisms for subscribing to the changes in geographic location, expertise, capability, and anything else that can affect a system or individual’s ability and or willingness to consume and react to the data. Within the mechanisms used for publishing and subscribing to real-time changes in the extended presence of these endpoints lies the key to enabling contextually aware data networks that deliver exactly the right information to exactly the right person, place, or thing, at exactly the moment the data is most valuable and or consumable.

Identity-Based Routing

For example, the Capital Wireless Information Network, CapWIN (www.capwin.org), is an information clearinghouse coordinating the emergency response efforts of over 40 federal, state, and local jurisdictions in the Washington, D.C. area. At its generic core, CapWIN is simply a router for streaming XML that turns disjointed raw data into contextual information, pulling together individuals into ad hoc groups based on their capacity and expertise in responding to immediate crises. For CapWIN, identity-based routing is of paramount importance as it represents the ability of applications, services, and contextually aware data to follow people — appropriately — as they shift between locations and roles, capabilities, and availability, moods, and immediate interests. For instance, were a chemical spill to occur within a CapWIN jurisdiction, an ad hoc response team comprised of the most local first responders and chemical experts from anywhere within the CapWIN domain is created. This group convenes in a secure chat room that is aware of its own context and able to alert and invite the right participants — based on their many presence variables — instantaneously. Using identity-based routing, experts and emergency crews are located wherever they are, regardless of the device or network they are using. Additionally, because their identity and role can be factored into the CapWIN system in real time, incident rooms automatically assign the right command and control structure, i.e., determine who is in charge and responsible for specific decisions within this dynamically created group.

In telecommunications, we are finding that as service providers, device makers, application developers, corporate information managers, and advertisers seek to generate and route content to people that makes sense based on their current time and physical and mental space, it is becoming critical that systems and services employ advanced presence architectures that adopt the concept of identity-based routing. When the point becomes to better ensure that the interruptions that matter (phone calls, IMs, SMS, etc.) are filtered from the same types of interruptions that don’t, it is extremely relevant that content accounts for much more than simply who I am and even what I want. Content must have context, presence, and understand identity-based routing in order to dynamically factor not just my name and delivery address, but also my role within an organization and as a private citizen, my inherent capabilities and interests within my many roles, and my given availability to consume specific content based on these variables. When all of this is weighed we can arrive at the relative importance of a given communications in the context of what, where, and when I am.

While reaching this end goal is no simple task, it is getting easier and the reference examples exist. As we have seen in some very high stakes environments, the technology and logic are already deployed and high value contextual information is available to decision makers in these organizations. Moreover, it is becoming apparent — again looking at the position Google now holds — that the companies that can layer context onto the information we need and want will in the end exert exceptional influence over the user experience and likely the creators and even distributors of the actual content we consume. All hail King Context!

Joe Hildebrand is CTO of Jabber, Inc. For more information, please visit the company online at www.jabber.com.


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