Web 3.0: Peer-to-peer air travel and electric power

Although the internet seems to touch every aspect of our lives, its network effects have yet to transform two major infrastructures: electric power and air travel. In earlier items -- The energy web and Peer-to-peer air travel -- I wrote about how we'll expose these infrastructures to the kinds of network effects that we now take for granted when we use services like craigslist and eBay.

The visions are spelled out most clearly in the EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute) roadmap, a lucid prescription for an intelligent power grid, and in James Fallows' Free Flight, which chronicles the efforts of Eclipse Aviation and others to create air taxi services that leverage thousands of regional airports like mine.

When I wrote those earlier essays in 2002 and 2004, I imagined two watershed scenarios. The first would involve networking my home appliances in order to itemize my electric bill, and to expose my electricity consumption to price-sensitive management both by me and by a management service. In the second scenario, I'd negotiate online for an air taxi that would take me and a handful of fellow travelers directly from my regional airport to its counterpart near my destination, bypassing both of the usual spokes as well as the Chicago hub.

While neither scenario is imminent, both are now more clearly discernible on the horizon. The June 2005 issue of Esther Dyson's Release 1.0 mentions two companies working to make these visions real: GridPoint and DayJet. GridPoint has two products. GridPoint Protect combines generator-based backup power for homes and businesses with demand-management software that enables (retrofitted) appliances to be scheduled for off-peak operation. GridPoint Connect uses the same demand-management technology in the same ways, but also offers intelligent management of renewable sources such as solar power. Writes Esther Dyson:

The idea is simple: to move beyond time-of-day utility pricing/consumption to something more granular, and to give users automated tools to control their usage in reaction to their own needs, to price/demand fluctuations of power supplies, and -- more novel --- demands of other users.

DayJet wants to use the same kind of peer-network negotiation to optimize air travel. The company's CEO is Ed Iacobucci, who I first met in 1989 when he came to BYTE to show us the original OS/2-based version of Citrix which he'd left IBM to create. In 2006 DayJet plans to take delivery of a fleet of Eclipse 500 jets and launch an air taxi service. The CEO of Eclipse, incidentally, is Vern Raburn, another veteran of the software industry (Microsoft, Lotus, Symantec).

In the Web 2.0 era, we're learning how to build and use software that enables us to collectively manage information resources. Those skills will serve us well in Web 3.0, when we expose other kinds of resources -- power, transportation -- to the same network effects.

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