Why does the IEEE Standards Association have a Facebook photo contest?

Popularizing a difficult scientific concept and enabling open innovation through social media

So many of us use wired internet through Ethernet, but so few of us understand what it means. Last week, the IEEE Standards Association launched its “I spy Ethernet IEEE 802.3” contest to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Ethernet and the 30th anniversary of its standards, known as IEEE 802.3™. Ethernet has so many current and potential applications with great benefits for humanity; can Facebook help people grasp what it all means?

Today, as widespread as wifi and mobile internet are, about a million Ethernet ports are shipped every day – more than 300 million a year. What other technology has reached such masses? Not a lot. But when I ask my IT colleague what IEEE 802.3 is, I get this answer: “It's the original Ethernet protocol, which enabled computers to communicate at 10MBit per second over coaxial cables. And before switching came along with Ethernet, computers had to avoid collisions, [meaning they could not all talk at the same time].”

So many of us use wired internet through Ethernet, but so few of us understand what it means. A week ago, the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) launched its “I spy Ethernet IEEE 802.3” contest to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Ethernet and the 30th anniversary of IEEE 802.3™, which is the standard for Ethernet. In their words: “The contest seeks submissions of photographs or drawings of unique, groundbreaking, or visionary uses of Ethernet” to be then voted upon by visitors to its Facebook page.

For two months, the “I Spy Ethernet IEEE 802.3” contest will ask individual contestants to submit a photo or a sketch of an example of how Ethernet is being deployed presently or how it might be deployed in the future. All entries will be posted on the IEEE-SA Ethernet Anniversary Facebook page, allowing anyone with access to Facebook to “Like” the entry they think is best, most unique, or most innovative. Based on a the number of Likes, the top three entries will be judged by a panel including Dr. Robert (Bob) Metcalfe, the father of Ethernet. The winning entry will be featured in a widely publicized animated short, with the contestant being recognized in the film’s credits.

Credit: IEEE Standards Assocation Ethernet 40th Anniversary page

Even Wikipedia fails to make the concept of IEEE 802.3 easy to understand: It is “a working group and a collection of IEEE standards produced by the working group defining the physical layer and data link layer's media access control (MAC) of wired Ethernet. This is generally a local area network technology with some wide area network applications.”

Nevertheless, the IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee strives to develop standards that will improve communication for communities everywhere, with many positive results, including faster Internet access, longer battery life, improved health, better security, and improved energy efficiency. With regard to health, without Ethernet, there would be no high-speed communication between machines, at least as we know it today, and, therefore, no distributed calculations to handle the large quantities of data in bioinformatics, for example. Likewise, the calculating power possible today could not have been achieved without Ethernet. As applied to energy, high-speed communication may one day lead to the development of the smart grid. This could potentially allow networks of energy production to adapt to fluctuations and needs.

But can Facebook help people grasp the meaning of all this? Today’s Ethernet connections go as much as 350 to 2,000 times faster than they did three decades ago. So it’s worth trying to raise awareness of the importance of worldwide interoperable standards and systems. At the very least, it’s an opportunity to wonder how all this can work on a global scale. And we’re eager to know what people will come up with for this contest.

The IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee University Outreach Program also invites students and faculty members from universities to attend the meetings and tutorials that will take place in November to celebrate the anniversaries.

“This contest is all about the future of Ethernet and its positive impact on humanity. And there’s so much more to explore on a global scale in the areas of energy, healthcare, education and more,” said Bob Metcalfe. “The ‘I Spy Ethernet IEEE 802.3’ contest will help generate new and exciting ideas about what’s possible with Ethernet technology and get more people thinking and talking about as yet unimagined Ethernet applications that will help change our lives.”

For more information on the “I Spy Ethernet IEEE 802.3” contest and to submit an entry, visit the IEEE-SA Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Ethernet40thAnniversaryIEEESA. For contest rules, terms and conditions, please visit http://standards.ieee.org/events/ethernet/.   

Follow them on Twitter: @IEESA