The Digital Nomad Test

by Juan on June 21, 2009

Summer’s solstice, the longest day of the year seems to be a great day to sit in the backyard to read the usual weekly magazines and catch up on some writing. In a typical residential area in the middle of the city, my macbook detects almost a dozen different wireless networks including mine, of course. With a broadband connection and a high-end wireless router, there is no difference between what I can accomplish here or at the office on any given day. I’ll take the backyard every time I can.

Already in hackers & work culture I had discussed how the boundaries between professional and private live were blurred. First with a wave of mobile communication devices that made everyone accessible to attend business at any time of the day and now with ubiquitous wireless access points that are now converting everyone into a local nomad, pushing us away from our desks into third spaces, far more amenable and with a twist of social.

Connectivity seems to be an increasingly important factor when deciding where we are going to travel. After all, you wouldn’t want to be disconnected from twitter while travelling… or have to pass on a great project right in the middle of your trip. I’ll leave to other posts the discussion about entrepreneurial spirit, which may justify this obsession with being in the loop at all times.

In any case, knowing about what kind of connectivity you’ll get whether you are going to be away from the office for a few hours or a few days is now an essential factor in your decision process. While more and more destinations are offering wireless access (even for free), very few provide a good enough environment to support a productive work session. So that got me thinking on what are the “must-have” when it comes to connectivity?

We could talk about Wi-Fi, 3GS, EDGE, broadband, DSL, but there are far better forums for that kind of information if you are curious about the technology. Instead I propose the following test, a digital nomad test that expresses in simple human terms the quality of your connectivity:

  • Price Voice: How much would it cost to make a 5 minute call to the top contact from your mobile phone? While most destinations would likely provide the means for your current mobile phone to roam, sometimes the fees involved are prohibitive.
  • Price Data: Let’s assume you’re one of those modern workers who have achieved the goal of working only 4 hours a week. How much does it costs to be connected for those 4 hours on a given week?
  • Delay to receive a message: in today’s hyper-connected world there is an implicit expectation that if you’re sent a message (email, instant messaging, Twitter, etc), you would respond within a reasonably short time frame. Of course, if you’re trying to save on your data plan because you’re roaming and you only connect once a day, you’re for all intents and purposes disconnected. So this attribute measures how long it will take before you’re able to get a message sent to you.
  • Time to compose a 1000-words message: No, I’m not talking about how fast you type but to the misconception that you can be just as productive with your mobile than with a laptop or desktop computer. Let’s admit it, tiny keyboards are not built for typing long messages and when faced with the option we’ll likely postpone writing that long memo or document. So while we may fool ourselves into thinking that carrying a smart-phone is enough, sometimes we’ll have to wait until we’re in front of a computer to be productive.
  • Time to download/watch a 15 minute video: This is the ultimate performance test in today’s world. With video demanding the most from your connectivity infrastructure, this will measure the overall quality of your network, end to end.

With this sort of standardized connectivity test, it would be easier for people to make decisions about how to remain connected when on the road. Is there any other dimension that needs to be measured?

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