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Where are you

Posted by daniel on August 26, 2003 at 6:47 AM PDT

Long before cell phones were ubiquitous, Bill Joy remarked that they changed basic assumptions about how we think about phone numbers. With land lines, personal phone numbers were mostly bound to a place. When you dialed a number you were calling a location. With cell phones you might not know where the person answering is.

Think back to the good old days when you would make a phone call and often ask is so-and-so there. You knew where the phone would be answered but not who would answer it. Now when you dial a mobile phone you most often ask "where are you". You mostly know who will answer the phone but often don't know where they will be. To make matters worse, if you don't know where the target of your phone call is, you may not know what time zone they are in. The phone number no longer serves as a clue. We've traded where and when for who.

If we are so easily connected to each other does it matter where we are? Two pieces in Java Today address this issue. In the slides you can download from Alistair Cockburn's OOPSLA presentation Harnessing Convection Currents, he says "Information is 'like perfume,' stronger when closer, Drifting in convection currents." Cockburn encourages developers to be as near to each other as possible, saying, "Information transfer declines as distance between people increases." He adds that "Just walking down the hall costs $100,000 penalty plus Lost Opportunity Costs for questions not asked!"

In today's featured Weblogs, Eduardo Pelegri-Llopart considers Distance in the Internet... Time Zones and Geos. He disagrees with a study that "reported that people geographically close to each other would use face to face communication and that they would start using phone and email as people got farther away." Pelegri-Llopart writes that developers use email much more often than the study implies because it "is asynchronous, fast, and can be scanned quickly."

Pelegri-Llopart concludes that geographic distance is not a great measure of distance for the internet. As an aside, Cockburn's work implies that the geographic distance does not have to be very great for this transition from face-to-face communication to phone and email to happen. Being located down the hall or through a door may be enough to move the conceptual location of the other developer to somewhere in the distance.

Once you have made the transition to communicating via the internet, Pelegri-Llopart suggests that "geographic distance is much less important than time-zone distance." There is a four hour time zone span among the core team for java.net. If we only worked during standard business hours, our overlaps would be minimal and the time required for reaching consensus would increase dramatically. Pelegri-Llopart suggests some ideas for collaboration over large time-zone distances and then solicits your input for other strategies.

In the Also Today section, in addition to the Cockburn presentation, we link to the JavaWorld article URLs: Smart resource identifiers. Vladamir Roubtsov uses URLs in an example that makes an application extendable and pluggable without changing the original code or configuration. He cautions that "A sure sign of a novice Java programmer is to instead use code that figures out a classpath string of some kind and actually proceeds to scan all classpath directories and archives looking for "all classes in a given package" or other signs of plug-ins. That is really a hack that adds a lot of disk position-dependent code in your application."

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