GPS, Wi-Fi and social networks

In Part 5 of this ongoing series on the surprising startup of our favorite technologies, we geolocate with GPS, go wireless with Wi-Fi, and become social media influencers.

The first use of GPS

The Global Positioning System (GPS), as you might have guessed, originated in space, the final frontier. In 1957, Russia launched Sputnik, the first successful space satellite. Scientists from Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) observing the strange radio signals discovered what became known as the Doppler effect.

Sputnik’s use of the Doppler effect allowed scientists to use radio signals to track the movement of the satellite from the ground. Later they expanded the idea: if the location of a satellite could be determined from the ground via the frequency shift of its radio signal, then the location of a receiver on the ground could be determined by its distance from a satellite.

In 1958, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects (ARPA) used the principle of the Doppler effect to develop Transit, the world’s first satellite navigation system.

By 1968, 36 satellites were operational with Transit technology which greatly improved location accuracy and has been credited with improving the accuracy of earth maps. In 1996, the US Department of Defense replaced Transit with the current GPS.

Fast forward to 2021, when in the US alone over 900 million GPS receivers are in use. You’ll find them in cell phones, commercial trucks and buses, and railroads. More than 100 million cars are equipped with navigation systems. Ships, planes and drones use GPS for navigation. Trucks use GPS not only for location-based services, but also for electronic logging devices, which tell if drivers have been driving too long and falling asleep. Emergency responders use GPS instead of maps to locate crash sites and get people to hospitals. You don’t want to wait for the fire truck or the ambulance when the GPS is hacked or disrupted.

The image above shows some of the locations that control the 30 operational GPS satellite operations in space as of April 12, 2022. Now with an accuracy of around 2 meters (6.5 feet), we are all GPS addicts because our technology finds everything.

First time using Wi-Fi

The “father of Wi-Fi” was Vic Hayes, who was the first chairman of the IEEE 802.11 group which in 1997 finalized the wireless standard that would operate in the frequency spectrum opened up in 1985 by the United States Federal Communications Commission .

Interesting that I’m sharing a story with Hayes’ employer. The 1997 decision sparked the interest of its then-employer, NCR, who realized that a wireless standard would allow the company and its retail customers to create a radio link between cash registers. NCR and back-end mainframes. The radio link would physically simplify the connection of systems and eliminate the need to handle proprietary protocols.

According to the Wireless Broadband Alliance, Wi-Fi today makes substantial positive economic, social and environmental contributions that continue to exceed expectations.

My favorite above – smartphones and IoT devices with Wi-Fi 6 have up to 67% lower power consumption with power saving features. The pandemic has been a dramatic accelerator of Wi-Fi and wireless usage and the internet are forever linked.

As the above infographic from the Wireless Broadband Alliance points out, there is still a long way to go to unify the world through the digital connectivity that Wi-Fi enables.

First use of social media

Is there a Kevin Bacon in the history of social networks? Yes, considering Six Degrees was the first online social media site.

Six Degrees gets its name from the “six degrees of separation” theory, which states that everyone in the world is connected to everyone else by no more than six degrees of separation. This is often referred to as the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” theory, although Kevin Bacon himself has no connection to the phenomenon.

Launched in 1997, Six Degrees had at its peak 3.5 million users. It was purchased by YouthStream Media Networks in 1999 for $125 million, but was shot down in 2001.

In quick succession, this is what followed:

  • AmIHotorNot.com (Year 2000) – Users invited to submit photos of themselves so others can rate attractiveness. The site was sold a few times and tried to come back in 2014 in game form. It was rumored to have influenced the creators of Facebook and YouTube.
  • Friendster (2002) – Originally a dating site, but its popularity and the company’s inability to respond caused users to decline.
  • Myspace (2003) – Became Friendster’s go-to site for millions of teenagers and the site hit 25 million users in 2005 when it was sold to NewsCorp where it began its decline.
  • The current leaders arrive (2003-2005) – LinkedIn appeared in 2003. Facebook was founded in 2004 and YouTube visually made its debut in 2005 with this first video which has accumulated nearly 233 million views to date.

Fast forward to 2022 and 4.62 billion people are now social media users worldwide.

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Just over last year, social media added a million new users per day, or about 13.5 new users every second. Wondering where we spend our time on social media?

Widespread, more convenient connectivity through GPS and Wi-Fi has accelerated global digital communications through new platforms such as social media. Are we satisfied with the result? Where do we think all of this will take us next?Tony D'Onofrio's website

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