November 9, 2004

UsageWatch on Blogging

How do « ordinary bloggers » blog ? And Why ?

Ethnographic investigations of « ordinary blogs and bloggers» by B. Nardi, D.J. Schiano, M. Gumbrecht and L. Swartz provide insight into the practices, experiences and motivations of individuals and groups who publish a blog for a small audience.

The investigation combines interviews with 23 bloggers (age ranging between 19 and 60, 16 male and 7 female, higher education, a majority of students) and content analysis of a 9-day sample of their blog activities. It was carried out between April and June 2003, in California and New York.

In the 9 days, was published an average of 80 posts. Some bloggers published several times per day - in one case about 27 posts per day – others published every few days. The publishing process is a source of pressure: both creative pressure: bloggers feel that at times they have plenty of things to say, at times nothing much; and audience pressure: bloggers feel they have an audience expecting regular, good postings, and an obligation towards them. Participants speak about feeling burnout, and having stopped blogging for a while.

Posts had an average length of about 10 lines of text (209 words), with some posts comprising 494 words and others 80. There is real work around language to find the right “tactful” tone for direct and rich communication within a format that is quite limited. Compared to other digital communication formats, such as discussion lists, some participants appreciate the particular form that interaction takes with blogs. It is described as “interaction-at-one removed”; as “gentler, more reflective” and “constructive”: bloggers encourage comments on their posts and reciprocate by commenting others’ posts.

On the main page, blogs linked to surprisingly few blogs. The mean was 1, and range between 0 and 6 links. Individual posts instead on average included a link, with a range between 0 and 5 links. Links seem to be a differentiator between “ordinary blogs” and “topic-oriented” blogs as analysed by J. Bar-Ilan, who found that these blogs have many links both on the main page and within each post.

The bloggers interviewed say their preference for blogging over a web page because it is more dynamic “the rhythm of frequent, usually brief posts, the immediacy of reverse chronological order”, more focused “ the little distraction it provides”. As one of the participants put it: "You don't hear their voice in the same way".

Nardi and co-researchers identify four main non-exclusive motivations for publishing a blog.

For some participants, their blogs are personal diaries that describe to their family and friends the events, the projects and the experiences that happen in their life. Almost “real-time”, archiving and access from any web point are mentioned as very important features. A blog is perceived as a “superior alternative to sending mass emails” because it is freer and less intrusive: bloggers can publish when they feel it, readers can read when they feel like it, with no obligation to respond.

Other participants publish their blogs to raise and take position with respect to what they consider important public issues. They analyse and argue on issues that they feel "obsessive" or "passionate" and offer "a point of view, not just chatter". Politics, ethics and medical research are among the topics discussed. The blog works as an "outlet" for thoughts and feelings, and provides a framework for “working through issues, to let off steam”.

The act of writing, as art and craft or as a support for thinking, is also one of the motors of blogging. Blogging is a means for exploring and developing writing skills. As one participant says the discipline of blogging "forced him to keep writing”. Blogging is also a means to probe, articulate and convey one’s thinking on the public arena. It is partly a reality check, partly an interaction with the audience. And some participants describe the relationship they have with their "regulars" readers. Archiving of posts is again a central feature as some of the posts may be part of larger publishing endeavours.

A last reason for blogging is being part of a community. The publishing process becomes intrinsically collective, as people interact through blogs. "Blogs are natural community tools for people whose practice is to write and comment on the writing of others: researchers, poets, journalists, and to a lesser extent software programmers...and who typically obtain recognition from their written words".

Blogging as social activity, or, would you let 900 Million people read your diary?
B. A. Nardi, D. J. Schiano, M. Gumbrecht 2004 (CSCW, 2004)

"I'm blogging this". A closer look at why people blog
B. A. Nardi, D. J. Schiano, M. Gumbrecht, L. Swartz (to appear Communications, December 2004)

An ousider's view on "topic-oriented" blogging
J. Bar-Ilan, WWW 2004, 2004

Where: US
When: April - June 2003


October 5, 2004

USA Today - Web Servants

This coming wave doesn't even have a name yet. Some in tech call it the world network. A big part of the promise is that it will turn the Web around: Instead of having to find information or entertainment, it will find you — and be exactly what you want or need at that moment. The network becomes a butler. - Next big thing: The Web as your servant

October 4, 2004

SmartMobs ReBlogging

Some of my favourite bloggers of the moment are reBloggers.

They use ReBlog, a tool that facilitates the process of filtering and republishing relevant content from many RSS feeds. reBloggers subscribe to their favorite feeds, preview the content, and select their favorite posts. These posts are automatically published through their favorite blogging software.

The system --publicly available as an Open Source project-- was developed by Michael Frumin for Eyebeam R&D to create a community site focused mainly on art and technology, but here and there are posts about politics, alternative comics, or society.

It might sound simple, but you don't just select a given content, you also select the way the reblogged author presented that content, the way it commented or illustrated it (though the system gives you the possibility to add pictures, text, or comments.)
The challenge then is to create a rhythm between strong visuals and interesting texts, while mixing the topics in an equilibrated "montage."

The system systematically gives credit to the original post, but not mechanically as the software allows the reBlogger to choose the link to use for "top of the post" status.

The Eyebeam ReBlog invites guests to try the system during a couple of weeks or so. Tom Moody and Tim Shey wrote their thoughts about the experience and another guest reblogger, Beverly Tang, said it all when she relaunched her own blog as a reBlog.

Related post: unmediated: new blog.

[Smart Mobs]

September 17, 2004

Stowe Boyd On Ryze

Get Real: Ryze Visibility Changes: Pay for Play

September 13, 2004

Jon on Infoware

The other day, Jeremy Zawodny asked:

Is it just me, or is Flickr (currently in beta) one of the best examples of next generation web services?

Note that in this context, I mean "web services" in both senses of the term:
  • A web site that provides some useful service that I can interact with using a web browser.
  • An application with an API that has been exposed over HTTP using REST, XML-RPC, or SOAP.
[Jeremy Zawodny's blog]
Nope, not just you. I've been using Flickr, and writing about it, for the same reasons. Likewise Among other virtues, both exhibit a really important one I haven't mentioned yet: you own your data.

What reminded me of this point was Steve Mallet's blog item entitled Applying Distributed XML to The Open Source Paradigm Shift, which says in part:

So, what happens when the software I depend on slowly shifts to Infoware that I can never really touch and that while still immediately practical gives me no assurance that it can't be taken away or misused at will without any recourse available to me?

I think we can apply the same principles to the data as we have to the source code. Google, eBay, Amazon, et al. are really only as useful as we allow them to be through the information we give them. We still hold the cards here which means we have options.
Exactly. When I think about meshing my own data with an infoware-style service, there are two key strategies I need to consider:
  1. The entry strategy. In the case of, it was easy to weave my own stuff into the service. Using the procedure I detailed here, tags that I maintain on my blog entries are automatically sprayed into With little effort, I was able to create hundreds of integration points between two complex information surfaces -- my blog and This was so effective that I decided to use for tag surfing of my blog.

  2. The exit strategy. With first-generation infoware services it's hard or maybe impossible to retract the information you've given them. Second-generation infoware challenges that notion. You can't delete reviews you write for Amazon, which is why I've never written one there. (Instead I write about books on my own blog where services such as All Consuming can find them.) But you can delete links you submit to or photos you upload to Flickr.

From the user's perspective, and Flickr support near-optimal entry and exit strategies. You can deeply and automatically mesh your own information with them. And you can undo that meshing. Participation in the services is thus an "at will" arrangement. If you maintain well-structured information, you can as easily mesh it with another comparably-equipped service. So the switching cost, as economists say, is low.

Now to be sure, deletion of links from and photos from Flickr is currently a manual affair. Neither API offers explicit support for wholesale automated retraction. And that would be a scary thing for any service with commercial ambitions to contemplate. But I'd love to see competition based on the value that's wrapped around the portable data we choose to mesh with infoware services, rather than on data lock-in.

[Jon's Radio]

August 20, 2004

Abstract Dynamics

Abstract Dynamics: Social No Dead

Unlike almost any software before it, social networking involves the complex interactions between thousands to millions of users. It works not on the level of the enterprise or the user, but on the levels of community and culture. So while the software might run in the global hyperspeeds of internet time, the effects I suspect will be far slower. What innovations will emerge out of the massive Brazilian population on Orkut? Or the from globalized social networks visualized and materialized on Friendster? The real test of social software is not the opinions of the experts, but the fact that there are still millions of users. I'm not predicting much then that something will emerge, something always does when the new tech hits the streets, hits the teens. And odds are its going to take a lot longer to materialize then the experts (and me) have patience for. So hurry on toward that next obsession y'all, but don't forget to check back from time to time...

August 3, 2004

Ed Sim on Influencers

If I were a startup, one great and cheap way to build buzz and excitement is through the blog community. I call this "influencing the influencers." Think about it - many of the more well known bloggers are also well known tech journalists, industry pundits, VCs, and technology executives. Forget about using the traditional PR route - if you can get these influencers to write about you on their highly targeted blogs, others will hear about it, write about it, and generate links to it. There has been much discussion about measuring the value of blogs but at the end of the day it is all about being influenced by a trusted source. BeyondVC: Influencing the influencers

July 29, 2004

Jon Udell on Bloglines

Since last fall, I've been recommending Bloglines to first-timers as the fastest and easiest introduction to the subscription side of the blogosphere. Remarkably, this same application also meets the needs of some of the most advancedusers. I've now added myself to that list. Hats off to Mark Fletcher for putting all the pieces together in such a masterful way.

What goes around comes around. Five years ago, centralized feed aggregators -- and -- were the only game in town. Fat-client feedreaders only arrived on the scene later. Because of the well-known rich-versus-reach tradeoffs, I never really settled in with one of those. Most of the time I've used the Radio UserLand reader. It is browser-based, and it normally points to localhost, but I've been parking Radio UserLand on a secure server so that I can read the feeds it aggregates for me from anywhere.

Bloglines takes that idea and runs with it. Like the Radio UserLand reader, it supports the all-important (to me) consolidated view of new items. But its two-pane interface also shows me the list of feeds, highlighting those with new entries, so you can switch between a linear of scan of all new items and random access to particular feeds. Once you've read an item it vanishes, but you can recall already-read items like so:

Display items within the last

If a month's worth of some blog's entries produces too much stuff to easily scan, you can switch that blog to a titles-only view. The titles expand to reveal all the content transmitted in the feed for that item.

I haven't gotten around to organizing my feeds into folders, the way otherusers of Bloglines do, but I've poked around enough to see that Bloglines, like Zope, handles foldering about as well as you can in a Web UI -- which is to say, well enough. With an intelligent local cache it could be really good; more on that later.

Bloglines does two kinds of data mining that are especially noteworthy. First, it counts and reports the number of Bloglines users subscribed to each blog. In the case of Jonathan Schwartz's weblog, for example, there are (as of this moment) 253 subscribers.

Second, Bloglines is currently managing references to items more effectively than the competition. I was curious, for example, to gauge the reaction to the latest salvo in Schwartz's ongoing campaign to turn up the heat on Red Hat. Bloglines reports 10 References. In this case, the comparable query on Feedster yields a comparable result, but on the whole I'm finding Bloglines' assembly of conversations to be more reliable than Feedster's (which, however, is still marked as 'beta'). Meanwhile Technorati, though it casts a much wider net than either, is currently struggling with conversation assembly.

I love how Bloglines weaves everything together to create a dense web of information. For example, the list of subscribers to the Schwartz blog includes: judell - subscribed since July 23, 2004. Click that link and you'll see my Bloglines subscriptions. Which you can export and then -- if you'd like to see the world through my filter -- turn around and import.

Moving my 265 subscriptions into Bloglines wasn't a complete no-brainer. I imported my Radio UserLand-generated OPML file without any trouble, but catching up on unread items -- that is, marking all of each feed's sometimes lengthy history of items as having been read -- was painful. In theory you can do that by clicking once on the top-level folder containing all the feeds, which generates the consolidated view of unread items. In practice, that kept timing out. I finally had to touch a number of the larger feeds, one after another, in order to get everything caught up. A Catch Up All Feeds feature would solve this problem.

[Update: The feature, of course, exists. Thanks to David Ron for pointing this out. The reason I didn't find it: the Mark All Read link is right-aligned at the top of the left pane, and not bound to the other controls found there. Since I have some feeds with very long titles, it's necessary to scroll rightward in the left pane to find the Mark All Read control. Operator error on my part, but I'm sure I'm not the only one.]

Another feature I'd love to see is Move To Next Unread Item -- wired to a link in the HTML UI, or to a keystroke, or ideally both.

Finally, I'd love it if Bloglines cached everything in a local database, not only for offline reading but also to make the UI more responsive and to accelerate queries that reach back into the archive.

Like Gmail, Bloglines is the kind of Web application that surprises you with what it can do, and makes you crave more. Some argue that to satisfy that craving, you'll need to abandon the browser and switch to RIA (rich Internet application) technology -- Flash, Java, Avalon (someday), whatever. Others are concluding that perhaps the 80/20 solution that the browser is today can become a 90/10 or 95/5 solution tomorrow with some incremental changes.

Dare Obasanjo wondered, over the weekend, "What is Google building?" He wrote:

In the past couple of months Google has hired four people who used to work on Internet Explorer in various capacities [especially its XML support] who then moved to BEA; David Bau, Rod Chavez, Gary Burd and most recently Adam Bosworth. A number of my coworkers used to work with these guys since our team, the Microsoft XML team, was once part of the Internet Explorer team. It's been interesting chatting in the hallways with folks contemplating what Google would want to build that requires folks with a background in building XML data access technologies both on the client side, Internet Explorer and on the server, BEA's WebLogic. [Dare Obasanjo]
It seems pretty clear to me. Web applications such as Gmail and Bloglines are already hard to beat. With a touch of alchemy they just might become unstoppable.

[Jon's Radio]

July 21, 2004

Sometime ago, Dina Mehta

Sometime ago, Dina Mehta and I had met a large Indian company who wanted to make their Intranet more effective, and making the various teams more productive. These notes, made by Dina, capture what would be the ideal information workspace:

We asked the question - what is the dream system you desire - and that was really interesting. What it revealed is the need is not as much for a Content Management System as much as it is for a system that allows them to dialogue and converse effortlessly and seamlessly, brainstorm on ideas and projects, in a manner that is as 'face-to-face' as possible. Here's the gist of what an employee told us :

I know X is not here in my office (in Mumbai) but in another city. I want to be able to talk to her, as if she's in the same room as me. I want to be able to feel all the nuances in talking with her - its got to be touchy-feely and not a cold email or a phone call where I know the time ticking away means my bottomline suffers.

Underlying what this employee told us is her desire for flow. Easy, hassle-free, inexpensive flow. Flow that allows a dialogue as if the other person is right there with her.

Incorporating :

  • Presence indicators
  • Communications system
  • Collaboration space

    One of the key requirements - really a very simple one to have, but something so sorely left out in the current system, is a presence indicator. Much like in current IM systems - telling us who's available, who's logged in and therefore present in the office, who I can ping for a query, and ensuring that a response is received. In the case of his organisation, currently, they'd send an email, wait for a response, followed by more emails as reminders, and finally in sheer frustration, pick up the phone and make a call - which can be expensive if outstation (as is the case very often in their line of business) and does not always ensure that they will get a response - what if the person is away from the office?

    Tied into this requirement for presence indicators is the need for 'real-time' 'live' communication. This is where voice applications, small cam shows, conferencing facilities would be useful. Skype with its conferencing facilities has really shown its possible to do this with terrific quality. Combine this with some of the 'soft profiles' that make a person far more approachable than just another colleague, like those on Ryze or Orkut.

    And finally the need for collaboration spaces - where one can play around with Wikis and Blogs. Not having to rely on a whole host of asynchronous emails - or bothering to archive them systematically - these tools can do that automatically for you. And more food for thought pinging its way in through RSS in Newsreaders.

    Picture this scenario - you have a project on and are racking your brains about how to approach it - you check your presence indicator - see who's available - ping them with a request for conferencing - hitch up the webcam, enable voice - and bingo - in minutes you have a virtual team ! Record the conversation, take notes on the wiki, synthesize it in a team blog which has comments enabled, feed in current thinking on the topic from your newsaggregator, and you have real flow. And, ridiculously easy group-forming to borrow a wonderful phrase from Clay Shirky.

  • We arenÂ’t there yet, but getting close. A combination of new technologies are coming together to make it easier for us to work together in groups – be it in the workpace or among friends and family.

    Tomorrow: India Action: Create Contentrix


    May 19, 2004

    Phil Wolff Counting Pictures

    From yatta at Unmediated:

    eytan_adar_figure_2Reiter's Camera Phone Report covers a study by an HP researcher indicating that the longer people have their moblogs, the few photos they transmit. While most users post about 14 pics during the first week of their moblog, the number drops to four photos a week within a month.

    "We can hypothesize that this may be related to design of the moblogging services, or to issues with the actual device. For the service providers such results should be indicate the need for better incentives for the posting of content.

    "While bad resolution and image quality may diminish the desire to share an image, another major issue is the large number of key presses from the time a picture is taken to the posting. Users may be unwilling to deal with the hassle of the interface beyond the first few pictures."

    Reiter's also notes that Adar will be discussing his findings during the 13th annual World Wide Web conference in New York, May 17 - 22.

    Sometimes it seems as if the widespread adoption of a tool has a lot less to do with features and a lot more to do with minimizing the friction you go through to complete a task. Blog-type tools have been around for close to a decade. But someone had to remove all of the non-functional chrome, dialogues, and keystrokes to open up its use. All of this is magnified once you try to run this stuff from a 2 inch display.


    May 1, 2004

    Martin Geddes --- Comcast Box

    Via Corante comes news that Comcast cable are creating their own set top box. This is interesting because it continues an ongoing trend. Imagine you’re the network operator or some other middleman in danger of disintermediation. You don’t care about... [Telepocalypse]

    April 26, 2004

    Russell Beattie on Yahoo IM Upgrades

    In a post I wrote back in January about sending SMS from your computer, I mentioned how Yahoo allowed you to send SMS messages from their messenger client. That, it seems, was just the start.

    Yahoo just released a new beta version of their Messenger app with a bunch of new functionality, most impressive of which is the seamless mobile messaging integration. Yahoo is stepping up interop between it's Messenger service and SMS for U.S. based carriers. Back in January, you were able to send and receive SMS messages to certain networks via their messenger client. Now what you're able to do is instead of just turning off your IM client (for example when you shut down your computer), you have the option of choosing "sign into mobile" instead, which shuts down the desktop app and forwards all your instant messages to your phone via SMS, which you can reply to automagically. It's pretty damn cool if you ask me.

    Now, beyond this, Yahoo is incorporating mobile phones into their already very good identity system which runs the rest of their portal. You simply go to the Yahoo mobile page and add your mobile phone and number to your Yahoo ID, then you can get alerts, browse the web, download games (powered by Handango), use the messaging stuff and more. All customized just for your phone! It's very well done. I can see as time goes by, Yahoo integrating this functionality in every area of the site - from games through bill pay.

    It's great to see Yahoo coming up to bat on the mobile front. As I wrote a while ago, I really like Yahoo. I've used their services for years and now it looks like they're making moves to ensure that they are the number one destination for the mobile internet as well as the wired one. It's great to watch, though to be fair, many Yahoo services have long been available via WAP. I remember years ago using an old b&w WAP phone to log in and check my Yahoo Mail, send IMs and read news, etc. But this is a new level of integration that starts to give some respect to mobiles as a true alternative to the PC in terms of data services.

    That said, you can see that they still have some catching up to do - for example the Yahoo Photo service for mobiles is read-only. You upload via the PC and can view the photos on your phone. Why they haven't enabled a moblog-type functionality yet for their mobile customers is a bit of a mystery considering the success of companies like TextAmerica. They do have a cool function for downloading an image as a wallpaper, but that's dumb ass (though who knows, it could be incredibly popular). Another hold out is the WiFi Hotspot finder service. Duh. That's so 2003.

    Anyways, very cool. Probably the most comprehensive mobile portal I've seen yet, even though it's missing quite a bit of functionality. Next steps? The move to 100% XHTML-MP based pages, mobile photo storage, data backup (via SyncML), J2ME-based apps for specific functionality, mobile RSS Aggregator, Pay Direct (mobile payments...Rock!) and more. That's the stuff that needs to happen. Also, they've got to get some deals with carriers. You know how Yahoo is the home page for SBC Broadband? Well, that's what needs to happen for mobile carriers as well. It'd be a huge revenue stream for them once the mobile ecosystem starts moving. Again, look to Japan and i-mode for examples of this. XHTML-MP is the West's answer to cHTML years late, but it's here now. Yahoo could use the vacuum that currently exists in mobile payments and advertising to become what DoCoMo was to i-Mode.

    I bet you all that is written on some biz plan somewhere deep inside Yahoo already. It should be very cool to see if they can make that transition, or if some startup or external player gets there first.

    -Russ [Russell Beattie]

    April 14, 2004

    Ross Mayfield on Syndication

    Jason Kottke makes an interesting point that RSS/Atom shouldn’t be called Syndication because this:

    BBC content —> regional UK newspaper —> readers

    …is becoming this…

    BBC content —> readers

    …and because the data is more specialized and structured than HTML with smarter edges using them.

    What he is describing is the vertical disintegration of content industries. Long ago, Kevin Werbach wrote how Syndication meant a trend towards directness and looseness that would reshape industries.

    But before we go naming anything, lets consider these evolving forms:

    BBC content <--> readers

    …and this…

    BBC content <--> users

    | X |

    users <--> users/developers

    What’s changing is the economics of group formation and property. A syndicate is a group or association with rights to redistribute. The cost of group formation has fallen to the point where the marginal cost of adding or losing a member is nominal, so individuals dynamically organize networks. It turns out that the most valuable form of personal property is, indeed, personal. When a house is on fire, you save your photos. We value content in the context of social capital, as converation. Our peers encourage the production for the commons. The abundance of free leaves little scarcity only for the spot (e.g. real-time market feeds) and that differentiated by reputation. It’s a powerful force for vertical disintegration. It also drives the local entropy reversal that lets more complex forms emerge. A symbiotic relationship between content and reader/writer or forming syndicates that are less association and more group.

    I’m not brave enough to venture a new term for Syndication, but unless one is found, there is a lot of explaining to do.


    March 24, 2004

    Ton Ziljstra Blog Stories

    Friday at BlogWalk 1.0 I found myself in the role of facilitator of the first part of the program. We planned the morning as an Open Space event, and though it was planned otherwise, I facilitated it on my own, never having done Open Space before.

    As I was preparing I took the last meeting of the Medinge Group as an example. I copied some improv games from John Moore, adapted the schedule we used in January, and dived in. Lucky for me Flemming Funch, one of the participants had experience with Open Space and he saved an important moment for me.

    The improv games at the start were a gamble. I needed them to get everybody out of their chairs, and moving, to energize the room a bit. Up front I wasn't sure that I myself would be comfortable doing it, as being a participant in these games often feels somewhat awkward to me. But it served it's purpose. I asked a few people about their experiences, and they thought it worked out ok. Even if for some it felt awkward playing along, and others expected that the games were leading up to making some point, which they didn't. Maybe I could have made their purpose clearer.

    The point where it could have fallen apart, but for Flemming, was right after everybody had split up in 2's and 3's to talk about why they were present that day, and what they thought they wanted to achieve. Most people immediately launched into deeper conversations, and when I called everybody back to attention I wanted to interrupt the flow as little as possible. As a consequence I hurried, and two things could have gone better:

  • A bit more time should have been spent on letting people talk about their goals and expectations, after the short round of conversations. Through that it would have been possible to let them decide on first topics of discussion more easily. I hurried through that, to let them get back to their original conversations.
  • But more importantly, in an effort to explain what I meant by picking up a topic and inviting others to join you in a conversation, I made the mistake of switching roles. As an example I said, 'I am going to stand here and shout 'public versus private [spheres in blogging]' and whoever wants to can join me'. Thus I stepped out of the role as facilitator, and created a vacuum. In stead of making things clearer, as I meant to do, I left the group somewhat confused. Flemming, by asking the right questions let me take up the vacuum I created again, and it went fine from there.

    We all saw the writing on the wall

    During the rest of morning things went smoothly, though I was a bit worried at first that only a few post-its seemed to emerge from the conversations. It turned out they were just saving them as to have to leave the conversation only once to put the post-its on the wall. When the energy level was starting to drop, I called the group together again, and we started organizing the stuff we created. We ended with a few people explaining what patterns they saw emerge from our output.

    Two other observations from this:

  • As a facilitator it was harder to be a full fledged participant, having to think on two tracks at the same time.
  • Because of that I took less home I think from the discussions itself.

    But then again, I learned a lot from facilitating it. A big thank you to all present!
    [Addendum] I completely forgot to mention, that I deeply enjoyed facilitating a get together like this. It's so much more fun, and fit's me much better, than the enlightened dictatorship one has to excersize when presiding a meeting of some sorts.

    Our post-it wall, group blog or group wiki?
    [Ton's Interdependent Thoughts]
  • March 6, 2004

    Nick Hunn's Mobile Musings

    Yet another GSM conference is over (3GSM to be correct), and as a record number of attendees return home we can settle back and try to understand what it all means.


    Cannes is an interesting show.  Those of us who are long in the tooth have seen it develop from a small technical conference in Athens with no more than half a dozen tabletop exhibitors to todayÂ’s multi-million euro extravaganza,  Despite itÂ’s meteoric growth and reckless marketing expenditure it still feels more down to earth than many such events.  Most of the products on display come to market, and for a leading edge industry event there are relatively few booths from start-ups with no discernable business message (although the percentage is steadily increasing).


    So what of this year?  Inappropriate quote of the week must be attributed to Siemens, who proudly proclaimed that they 3G would run out of spectrum within the first twelve months.   It looked like marketing led scare-mongering to persuade network operator to choose SiemensÂ’ proprietary TDD migratable infrastructure.  But it also  raised the questions of where all the handsets are going to come from to cause this spectrum crisis.  Arun Sarin of Vodafone voiced the same concern – not because of spectrum congestion but the opposite problem of not being able to get any handsets.  His call for the manufacturers to get their act together was strangely at odds with the SiemensÂ’ spectrum crisis.  Perhaps Siemens have a secret master plan to parachute hundreds of millions of 3G handsets into the operatorÂ’s hands.   LetÂ’s hope its faster than the SX-1 delivery schedule.


    Of course everyone kept very quiet about the different 3GPP versions and the possibility of problems as handsets and infrastructure migrate through these over the next few years.  Or maybe thatÂ’s behind the offers of handset upgrades from some of 3Â’s regions.  But I think IÂ’m meant to toe the party line and not mention that.


    Symbian is now generally seen as a division of Nokia within the industry, but is being bullish with a forecast of 18.1 million handsets this year.  IÂ’ve long been a Symbian fan, if only for the traffic-i application which gives me real-time maps of traffic congestion in the UK.  I canÂ’t think of a better reason to buy a colour phone.  I still claim that email and exchange synchronisation are anathema on a handset – IÂ’m convinced theyÂ’re a ploy by the PC industry to make the smartphone unusable and drive us all back to PDAs.  The bad news from Symbian is that there are no immediate plans to support higher screen resolution above the current standard.  Unless this comes along soon, the buying experience when compared to the new generation of Japanese and Korean handsets is going to stall sales.  Especially as most retailers have yet to come to terms with demonstrating applications and content to the purchaser.


    As expected, lip service was being paid to acceptable content and use of camera phones.  The sessions on social responsibility were noticeably empty, whereas anything that touched on adult content attracted far more attention.  The mobile has recently been described as the “fourth screen” by the media industry.  Their reasoning is that the first screen for mass delivery of content was the cinema, followed by television and then the Internet.  The interesting corollary is that each screen has become more personal.  Think that one through and youÂ’ll also realise that as the screens have become more personal, theyÂ’ve been more efficient at delivering pornography, which has after all been a part of every communication medium from cave painting onwards.  Cue some private salivation from the networks, accompanied by worthy words on how theyÂ’re going to control it.  Last year saw the first adult content provider at the show, discreetly tucked away in the far-most corner of the furthest pavilion.  This year they were still discreet, but more prevalent.  Next year guess whoÂ’s running the show.


    However, the item that most affronted me wasnÂ’t the prospect of small screen porn, but the ridiculous degree of press coverage around NokiaÂ’s new communicator.  It wasnÂ’t the device as such that justified the coverage but the noise surrounding the fact that theyÂ’d included Wi-Fi in it.  WeÂ’d had the trailers that Nokia was going to integrate Wi-Fi into handsets before the show and the appearance of the device drove a frenzy of speculation suggesting that this was the first step to getting VoIP into the market.  According to the cunning plan that the Wi-Fi community has hatched, everyone is going to make their phone calls via Wi-Fi hotspots, 3G will immediately collapse, the network operators will lose all of their voice revenue and the PC industry will take over the world.  The only thing theyÂ’ve forgotten to include is Wi-Fi based SMS, but they donÂ’t understand the difference between text messaging and email, so thatÂ’s understandable.  This scenario obviously has nothing to do with: a) jealously that the mobile phone industry sells ten handsets for every laptop, b) a total ignorance of customer billing mechanisms, c) a simple comprehension of the limitations of the technology – notably battery life, d) history – in particular a little experiment called rabbit, and e) reality.


    Of course we all need wireless in a mobile phone – without it, it wonÂ’t work.  The question is what form of short range wireless is needed to complement it and to let the phone make connections to the other devices around it.  Today the usage models in terms of volume are headset/handsfree, remote access and data transfer, with cordless telephony beginning to stir.  All of these are covered adequately by Bluetooth.  ItÂ’s cheaper, lower power, more versatile and here today.  However the new mantra is that calls will be far better served if they are VoIP via an access point and Wi-Fi is the way to do it because everyoneÂ’s going to want to do it.  I just donÂ’t understand how this is meant to add up.  IÂ’ve no problem with VoIP – I use Skype whenever IÂ’m travelling, and would recommend it to everyone.  It needs a PC to do the VoIP work, but I use a Bluetooth wireless headset to free me from the PC.  That highlights the first flaw – why do I need to do VoIP processing in a handset?  ItÂ’s power hungry.  Surely it makes more sense to do the processing in the access point, in which case the link to the phone can use Bluetooth.  The phone will need Bluetooth anyway, as I donÂ’t believe in the concept of a Wi-Fi headset with VoIP processing.  Although maybe if I lived in Finland it would have an attractive secondary use as an ear warmer. 


    Add to this the fact that the biggest failure of the Wi-Fi hotspot is billing.  I wonÂ’t describe it – just try it yourself as you travel around.  Mobile phones have been successful because you dial a number without any additional setup and it works.  And you get one bill at the end of the month.  If itÂ’s not that simple a new usage model is unlikely to take off.  The other question is who wants it?  The only advantage for the user is lower cost.  ThatÂ’s not very compelling for the network operator.  There are also plenty of ways of implementing cheaper calls over an IP backbone with existing infrastructure with whatÂ’s out there today.  The experience in Denmark shows the existing disruptive potential for new charging models, and these will become more ferocious as time goes on. 


    So why is everyone getting so excited?  I believe that the answer lies in the increasing interest the PC industry is showing in telecoms.  Ten years of sitting between the two industries has taught me that the word convergence just means “I want to steal your revenue streams”.  The PC industry has been more prominent each year at Cannes as they try to work out how to steal it.  IntelÂ’s marketing spend on Centrino has created a momentum that screams out “wireless good, wired-line bad”.  TheyÂ’ve painted it on the wall of the barn and large chunks of the industry are buying it hook, line and sinker. 


    The only good thing is that given the PC industryÂ’s attention span it will probably be UWB next year, unless thatÂ’s old hat as well. 


    Incidentally, there were lots of new handsets.  It seems that the 1Mpixel camera will soon be de rigeur for all.  The question that no one wants to answer is whether users will print or send their pictures, or whether theyÂ’ll simply use the phone as a portable, personal photo album.  Kodak thinks itÂ’s the former and is investing heavily in remote printing plans.  The only flaw in the argument is the cost of sending the high resolution picture over GPRS.  But if the latter proves to be the case the networks could be at risk of being set up by the handset manufacturers into giving all of their users a free digital camera.  Maybe Christmas is coming early.  Just give me the 1Mpixel camera now – because at Cannes 2005 IÂ’m going to want the iPhone with the 1GB hard driveÂ…


    [Nick Hunn's Mobile Musings]