It’s time to bring the beat back

“Earth is a place. Nowadays, we may watch the Olympics in Athens, soccer in Seoul, buy a book in Seattle, chat with a Parisian, and win a computer game in Singapore. This is the neighbourhood.” So says the website for New Earth Time (NET) an alternative system for measuring the time of the day. NET proposes a scale where the global day is divided by 360. “You play online at 270° NET and watch TV at 7.00 pm. The times do not get inter-mingled and confusion is minimised.”

But I do find it confusing because NET is another sexagesimal system where net-minutes and net-seconds have different meaning to the minutes and seconds of our existing sexagesimal system. Why not just bite the bullet and move to a decimal system? Like Swatch Internet Time.

Dubliner, and online friend, Robin Blandford has moved to Singapore for six months and now finds himself writing online messages such as “there is a serious problem with working in GMT+8, my view of the web is dead with both EU & US asleep. My feedreader never updates during day”. Not only does Robin feel out of sync but he feels the need, understandably, to convert his Asian timezone into his ‘home’ timezone of GMT where most of his family and friends are living. Robin puts the effort into the conversion because he realizes that most people don’t maintain an intuitive sense of various worldwide timezones.

Robin posted that message to the microblogging platform Jaiku. Which is similar to Twitter. Microblogging is a form of real-time blogging where many users receive instantaneous notifications of updates via IM and SMS. As such these two web services host numerous messages where people inform of their intention to do something at a certain time of day. Consequently the need for a universal measurement of time comes sharply into focus.

When Robert Scoble tweets that he’s going to be streaming live video from the CES bus at 1pm [sic] you have to first remember that he’s based in Silicon Valley, then convert that Pacific Time to your own local time, GMT in my case. Which isn’t always straight forward when you have to take daylight savings into account as we do with Irish Standard Time. This is why I checked Scoble’s streaming video page twice only to find there was still no video being broadcast. I’d converted incorrectly.

Now I’m well aware that there are numerous online tools and software downloads for tracking and converting timezones. But, as the number of people I befriend on Twitter increases by the day I can forsee a time when I’m following someone from every timezone on the planet. And I don’t fancy managing a screenfull of animated clocks.

It’s a decade this year since the Swiss watch maker Swatch introduced the concept of Swatch Internet Time (it’s worth noting that Swatch was like the iPod of watches for a while, at least in Europe). Swatch Internet Time is a decimal time concept launched as an alternative measure of time. One of the goals was to simplify the way people in different time zones communicate about time, mostly by eliminating time zones altogether. It’s interesting to note that Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the One Laptop per Child association, as well as founder and then-director of the MIT Media Lab, was in attendance at the launch ceremony.

Here’s how Swatch Internet Time (SIT) works

  • Instead of hours and minutes, the mean solar day is divided up into 1000 parts called “beats“.
  • Each beat lasts 1 minute and 26.4 seconds.
  • There are no time zones; instead, the new time scale of Biel Mean Time (BMT) is used, based on the company’s headquarters in Biel, Switzerland.
  • The most distinctive aspect of Swatch Internet Time is its notation; as an example, “@248” would indicate a time 248 beats after midnight, equivalent to a fractional day of 0.248 CET, or 4:57:07.2 UTC.
  • Although Swatch does not specify units smaller than one beat, third party implementations have extended the standard by adding “centibeats” or “sub-beats” as a decimal fraction, for extended precision: @248.00.[2][3]
  • Internet time is the same throughout the world. For example, when the time is 875 .beats, or @875, in New York, it is also @875 in Tokyo.

A number of high profile websites, including CNN, adopted Swatch Internet Time and Ericsson even released a mobile phone, the T20e, which could display time in that mode.

Today I’m starting a campaign to for the relaunch of Swatch Internet Time. If I hadn’t de-activated my Facebook account I’d even setup a Facebook group. But instead I’m setting up a Twiter hashtag #SIT. From this point forward when I tweet about upcoming events I’m going to have the manners to remember that not all my followers are in the same timezone as me by adding the time in SIT beats.

Coincidentally the notation for SIT beat is ‘@’. A this is also convention used for replying to message on Twitter it brings up an interesting possibility. If Twitter Inc, was to reserve the usernames @0 to @999 it would be very easy, using the Replies RSS feed, to build a Twittervision like service for monitoring a worldwide schedule of upcoming events.


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