Jim Brady's vision: Planet Earth in the palm of your hand
Hinsdale Cellars asked technology entrepreneur Jim Brady, a former newspaper reporter and Oprah associate producer, to share the inspiration behind the creation of Earthcomber. It is poised to become the ultimate lifestyle tool. Brady is founder and president of Earthcomber, based in suburban Chicago.
Hinsdale Cellars: If I am a tightly scheduled professional who spends a lot of time on the road but still carves out space for personal interests and pursuits, what are three ways that Earthcomber enhances my life?
Jim Brady: First, let your handheld discover your best choices. By that I mean, you have the advantage of setting a list – lists, plural, really – of things you like or need or love, which Earthcomber looks out for as you travel. So you can give your personal interests a chance to come to your attention if you happen to be around them. When Earthcomber finds, say, a really nice antique store, maybe you afford yourself 10 or 15 minutes to veer off your normal course.
The second one is probably the biggest – let Earthcomber find the stuff you always need. Instead of driving around looking for an ATM or a coffee place, just tap the screen and see what’s around you. It’s lovely, not wasting time!
The other way is to leverage what other people have discovered. Some people have logged in and marked all these real-world sites where pieces of movies were shot. Another has marked Frank Lloyd Wright buildings all over the place. I didn’t know this many existed! All you do is click to “join” that interest, then Earthcomber will flag you if you’re ever near any of them.
HC: What wireless communications providers and mobile telephone/PDA manufacturers are affiliated with Earthcomber?
JB: We’re pretty universal. Earthcomber is free, so it works with any data plan from any carrier. Right now, you need a smart phone or PDA that uses either Palm or Windows Mobile, but soon we’re releasing a simpler version that works on most regular cell phones and BlackBerry. Java-based, for you techies out there.
HC: What is your professional background, and how did it lead you to into the technology development field?
JB: Well, I’ve always been into reaching audiences. I started off in newspapers, and when the Internet began to catch on, it became immediately apparent how great it could be to convey information that wasn’t bound by time or distance. I went to work for Oprah in the mid-90s and it really helped us reach audience, and she gave me the privilege of extending the ways her audience could interact via Oprah.com. The idea for Earthcomber was, 'Okay, what’s the technological miracle that lies inside this new mobile medium?' And the answer really is using the power of data relation on the real world around you.
HC: Was Earthcomber an epiphany for you?
JB: It really was! I remember driving through Ohio, seeing glimpses of these old Gothic farm houses, and thinking, 'There’s an easy way after all to “know” whether it’s worth going out of your way.' Just let the computer match the DNA of everything you care about against the DNA of all that’s around you, measure the distance you think it’s worth going, and there you have it.
HC: What technological breakthroughs impacting handheld applications for the average user have you the most excited?
JB: Right now, no question, it’s two things: Big, fat high-speed wireless networks, and GPS – global positioning. The networks can get you data fast; that’s there. The frustrating part is that the cellular services are still playing gatekeeper on the location signal: it’s now built into your cell phone, but except for 911 calls, you don’t get to use it until they turn it on.
HC: What are the principal lifestyle categories that you find are most compatible with the Earthcomber model?
JB: Really three things. Getting to the not-so-sexy everyday things - ATMs, parking, a shopping center, post office – fastest. Next would be the usual suspects: Restaurants, hotels, etc., which all become much more easy to assess because you see all the options around you in a blink. And then it's really the big one, entertainment, that is most radically enhanced because you can combine so many things into one tap that you'd have to look up separately, otherwise: i.e., night clubs, comedy clubs, museums, events, amusements, movies, and way more, all in one spot check.
HC: The next-generation Internet is expected to offer blinding speed compared to today’s Internet. How will that impact the practical applications of technology in our everyday lives?
JB: Video is really the biggest thing. Look at the way the TV networks now actually program for web viewing – and notice how YouTube is such a success. Video is the heaviest data to move, and it just demonstrates how fast things have gotten. Especially in wireless. We're actually now here, in the age long promised, when you can get high-speed service to your handheld.
HC: What is your ultimate scenario in terms of Earthcomber’s evolution in the next decade?
JB: You get in the car and punch in your Earthcomber ID, and you are in a familiar world wherever you drive, with a guiding voice like a personal concierge riding shotgun. You get into a rental car, or use your handheld – it's that same, continuous state of total knowledge of what's around you and what you can do with your life, every minute, every day. Best choices, right there.