Wireless Wonders

No news, just comment about mobile phones and services, from a veteran practitioner...3G, GPRS, WAP, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Don't think of an Elephant

I agree with some of Ajit Joaker's blogging about Mobile Web 2.0. Let me declare that in my rounds of visiting operators and running workshops for them on behalf of a major mobile vendor, I have been promoting "2.0" ideas for the past year. However, the slant I take is more about the transition from the current mobile experience ("1.0") which is all about "dialling to talk" to a relatively new mobile experience, which is "clicking to do" ("2.0"). However, the vehicle for this transition is not the Web, which is why I don't talk about Mobile Web 2.0. The pivot is the buddy list and presence.

"Don't think of an Elephant" is the title of an interesting book by George Lakoff. It's all about framing. The words we use affect how we think about things. Truth is, no one can really define Web 2.0 - it seems to mean all things to all people (with some very strange explanations). In Businessweek it's means those new cool websites programmed by twenty-somethings that cost very little to build and do some kind of aggregation stuff, build communities and - if you're really lucky - sell for a large sum. In the technosphere, or whatever it's called today, Web 2.0 means a cool use of "Ajax-ian" stuff built in 2 weeks in some cool framework (Ruby Rails?) and perpetually in "beta" (which is itself and old frame that doesn't fit the always-upgradeable web world).

I don't think the current fascination with "mobilising" the Web 2.0 thing is going to be all that productive, but still worth exploring and I'll leave Ajit's new book to inform us about his ideas, which are wider than I'm painting here. Certainly, using some of the technical approaches will yield some interesting service possibilities. Opera Platform is an interesting technology and some cool things can be done with it. If there is a "new way of doing things" ("2.0") transition of the mobile experience, then it is presence and buddy lists that should be grabbing our attention. Don't think of a Web 2.0! Think of IM 2.0. Think of building your online life around an IM-type client that can do IM, voice, PTT, video, blogging, chat, etc. Presence is a powerful paradigm that has not been explored enough (in fact, most operators seek to surpress this element of IM in order to lower bandwidth requirements for what they deem as "signalling" stuff - old frame again).

The fact is that the mobile experience is extremely limited. This point seems to go repeatedly unnoticed by many would-be mobile entrepreneurs (the 99/100 that fail). Right now, you are most likely reading this blog in a web browser, but no doubt you have multiple tabs and apps all over the place. You can switch context easily. A lot of effort has gone into making browsing a really neat experience, which is why we have a "2.0" - people want to build services on the Web, not just publish documents. By contrast, relatively little attention has been paid to the IM interface, as we simply don't think of it as an entry point for many services (although desktop IM clients are clearly headed in this direction). Nor do we really think of the desktop as being something that hinges around a buddylist (or contacts/address book). A mobile is hugely buddy-centric.

As a brainstorming exercise, if you take time out to think of all the interesting things you might do with an IM-type interface, you might be surprised about how many services could be delivered via the buddy paradigm (and buddies don't have to be human - they can be bots). Is a conversational paradigm more useful than a hyperlinked one?

That said, Web does have a role to play and there is a lot to be done here. Firstly, as mobile networks begin to move towards an all IP existence (SIP etc.), the possibility for mash-ups becomes very interesting. The must-have-an-API trend in "2.0" world makes for all kinds of exciting possibilities and this is an area that I encourage operators to consider. Of course, they are challenged to do this, but the huge gravity of certain types of community on the Web - and the ability for these to form and re-form at lightning speed - is not something an operator can hope to mimic, nor can they continue to ignore. However, they could exploit it. They need to go there in the end, for a number of important reasons (we can discuss later).

Web should be intimately linked to mobile but isn't. Today these are two very separate worlds for a typical operator customer. A typical user has a mobile experience, but not in any way connected to an accompanying web experience - I mean on The Web, not on the handset. There's no real continuity between the mobile experience and the operator's portal (and then beyond via affiliation and mash-ups). Again, think of the buddy paradigm. Once I get my buddies on my mobile and on the net, I can think of all kinds of interesting things to do with presence, like connecting real-time with visitors to my blog, my myspaces and so on.

Way back in 1998, when I designed the Zingo wireless portal for Lucent Technologies, a major theme was fluidity of data and experience across the mobile and desktop/Web. This needs revisiting in the "2.0" world now replete with WiFi and other "seamless mobility" technologies. New devices are coming out that can give developers the access to mobile goodies that they need to make this happen. I do believe that a migration towards larger format devices with tiny Qwerty keyboards is going to happen, but the fuel for the tipping point is hard to tell. As I suggested in an earlier blog, it might be as simple as making these devices cool - I think the Motorola Q is headed in the right direction, but when we put our thinking caps on, there's a lot further we can go to make larger devices truly irrestible. Do we need a "2.0" in device design? I think so.

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