Douglas Crockford




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The Digital Transition [2004 - 2007]

I began programming at San Francisco State University in 1971. I majored in Broadcasting. I would have taken a second major in Computer Science, but that major did not exist yet. In my first semester, I determined that broadcasting and computing would ultimately become the same thing. Television sets would be computers, and computers would be communications devices, but it was going to take a long time. Eventually we saw some significant steps, like Lucasfilm's Editdroid in 1984, and Sony's D-1 in 1986. These were very expensive professional systems. I was more interested in digital video technology becoming cheap enough for everyone.

Over my career, I drifted between these two subjects, anticipating that they would eventually become one.

The period after the Bubble and 911 was a dark time for software startups. I had companies that ran out of cash in 2000 and 2001, so I retired from software for a few years until things thawed out.

The Grand Alliance had proposed a digital broadcasting standard in 1995, and it looked like it was finally going to be rolled out to the public. I started a newsletter that tracked The Digital Transition, in which HDTV replaced analog television and over the air broadcasting became obsolete. It was a fascinating process, partly technological, partly political, with an abundance of good faith and bad faith activity.

I read extensively and attended many conferences and meetings, interviewing the players, looking past the public positions, trying to predict where it was all going. Looking back, it is interesting to see how many of the URLs in my reports are broken now. That is partly due to the flimsiness of the WWW, and it is partly due to the dangers present in a highly volatile market.

I reported to clients until 2005-09 when I went to work for Yahoo. I continued to report to the public.

I think most of the positions I took at the time turned out to be right. The biggest thing I missed was the importance of streaming. Fifteen years ago, no one in industry talked about streaming. The computer networks were simply too slow. The closest things back then were On Demand and Near On Demand, which are as different from streaming as VCRs are from DVRs. The transition to digital broadcasting was happening very slowly, and broadband appeared to be a much more difficult and expensive problem. But broadband happened surprisingly quickly. Streaming is (or should be) easier for viewers because they do not need to consult schedules. The ephemerality of the stream eliminates much of the paranoia that inspired DRM.

In 2005, Netflix was a DVD-by-mail service. Now it consumes a significant fraction of the band, along with Amazon, HBO, and very soon, Disney.