The Cutting Edge: Computing / Technology / Innovation : Q & A: Carl Malamud : The Voice of the Traffic Reporter on the Information Highway

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Name: Carl Malamud

Title: President, Internet Multicasting Service

Age: 35

Education: Indiana University; bachelor's in economics and MBA

Daily hours on the Internet: four to five

Daily incoming e-mail: About 500 messages (all answered)

Favorite Internet newsgroup: "I don't read news. I don't like it."

Interests: Reading, music, cooking. His recipe for durian cheesecake was published in the Bangkok Post

Last book read: "The History of the City" by Lewis Mumford

For more information: e-mail info@radio.com *

What Magellan was at sea, what Roald Amundsen was to Antarctica, what Chuck Yeager was to the sound barrier, Carl Malamud is to the Internet.

Granted, pushing out the envelope of cyberspace is a little less treacherous than reaching the South Pole by dog sled, but in his own way, Malamud is no less intrepid an explorer. Among his innovations: He was the first to broadcast a radio program via the Internet, he was the driving force behind the project to bring Securities and Exchange Commission filings to the Internet, and he was the developer of "an experiment in remote printing" that lets you send a fax halfway around the world--free--simply by sending electronic mail to a special address.

Malamud, who refers to his nonprofit Internet Multicasting Service as a "cyberstation," is also a respected consultant and computer networking guru. We caught up with him in Las Vegas at the recent InterOp trade show.

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Q: What are you doing here in Las Vegas?

A: Well, we run the first radio station on the Internet. We send audio out. This isn't newspaper, this is people sitting in front of their computers and listening. People listen on any personal computer that has multimedia capability, so that's any Macintosh or any PC with a sound card or any high-end workstation. They listen to national press club luncheons, they listen to famous poets reading their own work. We do original programs--for example, I'm the host of "Geek of the Week," a very technical interview show.

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Q: Isn't "Geek of the Week" available on cassette in bookstores? Why would anyone want it on their computer?

A: Well, you have to go to the store and get it, whereas you've already got your computer on your desk. We're not going to replace audiotapes and we're not going to replace $10 radios. On the other hand, our programming stays around forever. You can listen to it whenever you want. You can stop it when a phone call comes in. You can pull the piece out that you like and ignore the rest. And so in that sense it is a new medium, and there are occasions in which it makes the most sense to actually listen to something on your computer.

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Q: I tried to download one of your radio shows. After an hour and a half, I had about 12 megabytes, which was not quite half the show. I thought, "There's something wrong with this picture."

A: You know what's wrong? You're trying to run it over 9,600-baud modems. And I'm not saying there's something wrong with the 9,600-baud modem, but if you're trying to get a 35-megabyte file, it doesn't make a lot of sense. It's like driving a huge truck down a little country road. On the other hand, there are roads out there that are big. There are literally 2 to 3 million people on the core of the Internet, people that have dedicated links, their network manager goes out in the middle of the night and brings it in, and in turn you have a 10-million-bit-per-second link into your corporate network. All of a sudden it takes a few seconds to get that file instead of six hours. So you can't look at something and say, "Gee, this isn't universal."

When CNN started cable TV and satellite-based systems, people in the country couldn't do it, and people in many areas couldn't do it. But you have to start someplace. What's interesting about our medium is the audience that can receive text on the Internet is now 30 million people. And the audience that could receive audio is 2 to 3 million. We're not trying to reach everybody, but we do have an audience of about 100,000 people in 30 countries.

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Q: You have put the Washington, D.C., restaurant Red Sage on the Internet by providing images from its menu and even a way to make reservations by fax. What was the point of that?

A: This is the beginning of trying to get as many of the restaurants in D.C. as we can on the Net. The real reason we're doing it is, we're a public cyberstation. We're a nonprofit. Most of what we do is global in scope--things like SEC documents and U.S. patents. But we feel that as a Washington-based organization, we have to begin having local roots.

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Q: That's interesting, because usually the whole idea of something like a cyberstation is that it is no place. It's virtual. Net "citizens" can reside anywhere.

A: People think of the Internet as a replacement for real life, and I think that's wrong. Electronic mail is part of the arsenal of things we do as human beings. It doesn't replace the phone, it certainly doesn't replace human contact. In fact, it makes human contact easier and better.

The same thing with our cyberstation in D.C. Just because we're on the Net and anyone in Japan can get to us doesn't mean that we're not still human beings and a part of our community. It's not a replacement for the real world, and that's really important.

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