This past weekend, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its semi-annual general conference. I had a scheduling conflict with the Saturday morning session, but I still wanted to listen live. The engagement was such that I would be sitting and waiting for most of the time, and so I could listen with very few interuptions. Unfortunately, I was going to be in a place without internet access.
The Church’s General Conference is broadcast over the internet, via C-Band sattelite, and by some local television stations (unfortunately none in my area). It is also shown in chapels around the world, and to Dish Network and Direct TV subscribers. Unfortunately, none of these options would meet my needs.
I of course considered streaming the conference to my Nokia phone, but it only supports RealPlayer, and the AT&T data connection speed around here is too slow and somewhat unreliable. Then it occured to me that if I can’t use my phone as an internet streaming audio device, perhaps I should just use it as a phone.
My final solution was to connect the line-in of my sound card to my Dish Network receiver, and write a brief Python script which caused Skype to call me and play the audio from the conference at the appropriate time. It also called me back if I got disconnected.
The solution was simple, and best of all, it worked flawlessly. The only unfortunate part was that it took me so long to think of it. I’m so used to thinking in terms of internet only solutions that I often forget about the older and sometimes more practicle options like the telephone.
Delivering content via phone is (on a per-user basis) probably never going to be cheaper than doing so via the net, but on the other hand, it is not as expensive as it used to be, nor is it as expensive as most people probably believe. This ironically is due in large part to the internet and Voice over IP, as well as increased competition and free and highly customizable PBX software like Asterisk.
So why am I telling you this? It’s not to sell you on the idea of using the telephone as a content delivery platform, though if it works for your application, go for it. Rather I just wanted to remind us all that as we rush head-long into the future, that we be sure to take full advantage of new technologies when appropriate, but that we also don’t forget the old boring tech that can often complement or even work better than the new. Just because we have AJAX and Flash doesn’t mean that plain HTML and CSS isn’t the better choice for many projects. Even though we can add autocompletion to forms and create flyout menus that look really sweet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should.