There’s a lot of talk about ‘the Outerweb’ right now. It’s a great term and way of looking at what augmented reality, or “AR” might mean but I think it goes beyond this, and the clever people at TrendOne have encapsulated this as “the explosion of the internet into the real world.”

They go beyond a definition that refers to technology (mobile devices, in-windshield displays, etc.) that can overlay information from the Web on top of objects in the real world and look at how connections are occurring between devices data, video and social networks.

They highlight a contact lens technology that allows you to visualize the social networks another person may be accessing on their mobile device in quite scary manner. This is not just pointing your Phone up at a building, and getting an overlay of information about the building but rich levels of data links and connection between the digital and real world. This idea of an outernet is in truth a speculative idea right now. Indeed the idea of a web of things and the principles of the semantic web have been talked about for a long time without really happening.

Yet I feel there are a number of developments converging that will make the Outernet more likely; firstly the widespread deployment of the next generation of protocol IPV6 and it’s potential functionality is a major enabler, and importantly it’s ability to enable the mass connection of mobile devices.

Secondly the prevalence of video images again largely via mobile computing devices will make the connection of images with data highly desirable.

Lastly, and perhaps the biggest driver, is the spread of local based services, and social networks such as Four Square that connect to locations and the hyper local connections that are emerging in many urban areas. Added together these trends could well make the Outernet the next big thing.

So the term “outer Web” means the extension of the information outside the normal confines of broadband networks and into the real world, mainly via the screens of wirelessly-connected mobile devices. The outernet then is this idea taken further to include the connections and networks between computing devices within this mashed up world in many way shadowing the difference between the worldwideweb and the Internet itself.

What’s your call Outerweb or Outernet?

Augmented reality is set to drive a deeper wedge in the digital divide.

According to Internet World Stats, only 28.7% of people in the world are online. In simple terms, that means if I have five kids only one gets access to the internet. As I sit in a developed economy in Western Europe, the digital divide is not always well recognized or understood. That means that four of my kids aren’t seeing any internet content and getting the benefit of the largest knowledge sharing network the world has ever seen. One child will be given the advantage of the world’s information being organized and widely accessible while the others will be have to get by with what they can access locally.

Most recession-affected countries have proposed some sort of broadband stimulus project to increase the number of people using the internet and develop their digital economy. Emerging markets are rolling out infrastructure to increase uptake and bring more people online.

Discussions around the infrastructure side of the digital divide leads to a lot of trolling through stats and not much understanding of what the gap means. In developed markets the digital divide often means that the less money you have the less likely you are to be on the internet, own a smartphone or enjoy tablet computing. This is a divide between the rich and the poor and Russell M Davies proposes in his Wired column “Imagine the worst bits of Facebook, only they’re everywhere” that augmented reality could lead to a kind of “premium reality” for those that pay for better versions of everyday life.

Augmented reality offers users the opportunity to access information or alter landscapes through digital imagery on mobile devices that interact with their surroundings. Davies notes that this has so far amounted to pizza vouchers and works of art. As the potential of augmented reality is just beginning to come into focus, it illustrates how pronounced the digital divide can become.

Today it means that if you don’t have access to a smart mobile device you are being denied access to some less than essential information but as the technology develops it could mean that you are only seeing half the picture that others are. Once the technology has seen widespread adoption this could mean aggressive advertising models shaping the world you see through your mobile device.

Davis sees this world evolving along a similar path as television broadcasting with advertising cluttering the world of poorer users while those that can pay accessing premium content. He says:

“…businesses will pay to target the rich and end up only addressing the poor because the rich have paid extra to avoid being targeted. So if you’ve got enough money, your world could look like HBO on a Sunday night — high quality and commercial free. If you don’t, it’ll look like the nether regions of your guide — softcore chat offers and lawyers who’ve paid an actor to assure you that they really are lawyers. Which would be fine, except these people won’t be on your telly;  they’ll be in your world.”

This means that the one child in five who gets to enjoy the riches of the internet still might not be getting an optimum experience and getting every advantage the web has to offer.  As augmented reality technology proliferates we will see how access to these new means of information sharing evolves.

@Matthew_Whalley

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