Each year, over 1,600 top experts in telecommunications converge in Honolulu, Hawaii, for the Pacific Telecommunications Council’s (PTC) annual conference. This year,they came from 71 countries to discuss everything from the impact of cloud computing to why people are dumping their cable TV to trends in undersea cables.

My favourite part of the conference is getting to meet the industry experts and academics who are studying the future of telecommunications. This year, a lot of them had their heads in the cloud – literally. Cloud computing is the current tech darling and this conference had experts like Peter Coffee, VP of U.S.-based Salesforce.com, explaining cloud solutions like his company’s are already producing huge benefits – and they are.

But there may be a fly in the ointment: too many clouds that don’t connect properly. David Bernstein has the impressive title of VP, cloudscaling and, senior scientist for the United States Information Technology Lab. For him, what we’re seeing now with Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon all offering their own cloud platforms is eerily familiar.

“It really is déjà vu,” he said, showing a slide of the situation back in the nasty old days when we could only send email to people in our own company. Remember when we had competing Internet providers like AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy who tried to keep us isolated?

Bernstein cites one of the grand old men of the Internet, Vint Cerf, now VP and chief internet evangelist for Google, who said, “I’m seeing a possibility of intercloud problems mirroring the Internet problems we had thirty or forty years ago.”

“It doesn’t take a visionary to see what’s going to happen next,” Bernstein said. He predicts “we will see profound federation again” as the proprietary cloudstorage systems all learn to play nice in what geeks call “interoperable server side protocols and formats.” For mere mortals, this means if you have your data in one of these proprietary clouds, it will be a snap for it to work together with data in somebody else’s cloud, all the while maintaining proper security and access control.

Academics are a small but important part of the PTC program and this year the conference was further energized by a new cohort of PhD students who got a free trip to the conference to share their ideas. I was privileged to be on the selection committee that picked the lucky winners.

We had everything from a study of how having a smartphone affects your TV habits to how online gamers build their friendship networks. Meeting the young scholars at the conference brought their research to life and many of them are already moving on to careers in business or academia.

Sometimes the interaction between academics and telecom technology is not quite so friendly. Recently, University of Toronto professor Steve Joordens offered his students extra credit for adding relevant content to Wikipedia. Wikipedia bills itself as “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” but they weren’t expecting a tirade of amateurish alterations to their carefully crafted pages.

Joordens has defended the project, saying very few of the 900 or so articles that were touched by his students caused problems. The real issue seems to be resources. Since Wikipediais maintained by a small number of volunteer editors, this flood of changes caused a lot of extra work. The professor has agreed to put limits on such assignments in the future.

In a more troubling academic interaction with the Internet, George Mason University history professor T. Mills Kelly actually encouraged his students to create online hoaxes. He wanted

them to understand the process of doing historical research and also to appreciate how easily bogus information can spread online.

His students invented Edward Owens, the “last American pirate” who supposedly sailed the Chesapeake Bay in the late 1800s. Mills explains they had to do good historical research to create this fake person, since they had to mix in “true facts” with their fabrications. They succeeded, even fooling some history teachers.

Other hoaxes by Kelly’s students include the tale of a New York woman who finds clues that her great uncle Joe may have been a serial killer. “To pull this one off,” Mills writes, “the students created a fictitious person working on the family history, gave her a blog, created two Wikipedia entries (both of which were 100 per cent true, thank you very much) and tried to use Reddit as the place to get the hoax going.”

Mills believes Lying About the Past was a success because “the students all walked away from the course with a firm belief that research counts and accepting whatever you find online at first glance is a bad policy.”