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Founder’s myopia

Just before Christmas, John Lanchester had a good essay in the LRB, Let us Pay, ‘on the future of the newspaper industry’. It dealt very well with the crippling expense and economics of the physical product and all that that means (something Horace Dediu also tackled late last year — ‘one wit remarked that a newspaper is nothing more than an instrument that permits the depreciation of a printing plant’).

Here’s something from Lanchester’s piece that I’d not heard before (it’s probably very well known):

In some ways, the story of text messaging is a parable for the way the net has evolved. SMS messaging was taken up by Nokia in Finland as a way of allowing engineers to communicate short, factual messages about where they were, what they were doing and how long it would take. Nokia then made the service available on their phones, since, well, there it was, so you might as well let the punters have a go. They were amazed to see the spike in data traffic which suddenly showed up. The reason: Finnish teenagers were using SMS to organise their social lives. From there, texting hasn’t looked back. Nobody decided what the purpose of SMS would be, it just evolved.

(He goes on: ‘It would be hard to deny that texting is a new thing; also hard to argue that it has fundamentally changed the world. I’d say that’s roughly where we are with the journalistic uses of the new media. Their democratising and decentralising effects have barely begun, and aren’t going to go away.’ Both he and Dediu — ‘the medium needs its Orson Welles’ — look ahead to the Murdoch online-only paper, the Daily.)

And here’s Janet Abbate on email (Inventing the Internet, pp 106–111):

Email (initially called “net notes” or simply “mail”) made an inconspicuous entry onto the ARPANET scene. Since many time sharing systems provided ways for users to send messages to others on the same computer, personal electronic mail was already a familiar concept to many ARPANET users. By mid 1971 … several ARPANET sites had begun experimenting with ideas for simple programs that would transfer a message from one computer to another and place it in a designated “mailbox” file. … Email quickly became the network’s most popular and influential service, surpassing all expectations. … From ARPA email began to spread to the rest of the military, and by 1974 “hundreds” of military groups were using the ARPANET for email …

The popularity of email was not foreseen by the ARPANET’s planners. Roberts had not included electronic email in the original blueprint for the network. In fact, in 1967 he had called the ability to send messages between users “not an important motivation for a network of scientific computers” … Yet the idea of electronic mail was not new. MIT’s CTSS computer had had a message feature as early as 1965, and mail programs were common in the time sharing computers that followed …

Why then was the popularity of email such a surprise? … The rationale for building the network had focused on providing access to computers rather than to people. … The paradigm of resource sharing may have blinded the ARPANET community to other potential uses of the network. … Email and mailing lists were crucial to creating and maintaining a feeling of community among ARPANET users. … Even more important, mailing lists allowed a virtual community to take on an identity that was more than the sum of the individuals who made it up … [providing] a way for people to “meet” and interact on the basis of shared interests, rather than relying on physical proximity …

In the process of using the network, the ARPANET community developed a new conception of what networking meant. … the network planners … did not anticipate that people would turn out to be the network’s most valued resources. Network users challenged the initial assumptions, voting with their packets by sending a huge volume of electronic mail but making relatively little use of remote hardware and software. Through grassroots innovations and thousands of individual choices, the old idea of resource sharing that had propelled the ARPANET project forward was gradually replaced by the idea of the network as a means for bringing people together. Email laid the groundwork for creating virtual communities through the network. Increasingly, people within and outside the ARPA community would come to see the ARPANET not as a computing system but rather as a communications system. Succeeding generations of networks inspired by ARPANET would be designed from the start to act as communications media. By embracing email, ARPANET users gave the network a new purpose and initiated a significant change in the theory and practice of networking.

We teach about the unexpected rise of email in our first year ICT course — adding in, for good measure, John Vittal’s 1975 addition of Reply and Forward. We also point out that no-one foresaw the appeal of SMS, but it’s lovely to be able to include that story from Finland.

And here’s something else in the same vein (again centring on our love of communication) that makes a point about invention. I’m reading Tim Wu’s The Master Switch, and early on there’s this about the early American rural telephone companies (chapter 3):

The Independents, rooted in the farms and small towns of the West, were innovators, but of a conceptual kind, not the technical kind à la Alexander Bell. They saw a different world, in which the telephone was made cheaper and more common, a tool of mass communications, and an aid in daily life. They intuited that the telephone’s paramount value was not as a better version of the telegraph or a more efficient means of commerce, but as the first social technology. As one farmer captured it in 1904, ‘With a telephone in the house, comes a new companionship, new life, new possibilities, new relationships, and attachments for the old farm by both old and young.’

Typically, the rural telephone systems were giant party lines, allowing a whole community to chat with or listen to one another. Obviously there was no privacy, but there were benefits to communal telephony other than secure person-to-person communications. Farmers would use the telephone lines to carry their own musical performances. …

And so, while the Bell Company may have invented the telephone, it clearly didn’t perceive the full spectrum of its uses. This is such a common affliction that we might name it “founder’s myopia”. Again and again in the development of technology, full appreciation of an invention’s potential importance falls to others—not necessarily technical geniuses themsleves—who develop it in ways that the inventor never dreamed of. The phenomenon is hardly mystical: the inventor, after all, is but one person, with his own blind spots, while there are millions, if not billions, of others with eyes to see new uses that had been right under the inventor’s nose. … it was simple farmers in the early 1900s who pioneered the  use of the phone line for broadcasting long before the rise of radio broadcasting in the 1920s.


3 x 3 = 9x

The diagram comes from John Gourville’s paper, Eager Sellers and Stony Buyers (2006), and is one iteration of what he calls the 9x problem. I’d not come across Gourville’s work until yesterday, when I read Andrew McAfee’s 2006 post, The 9X Email Problem. Andrew’s post is so good, I hope I may be forgiven for reblogging a substantial part of it here:   

A while back I heard John Gourville, a colleague in HBS's Marketing department, talk about his research investigating why so many new consumer products fail to catch on with their intended audiences despite the clear advantages they offer over what's currently on the market.

His explanation was fascinating, and very insightful.  He said that we need to stop thinking about consumers as highly rational evaluators of the old vs. the new products, lining up pros and cons of each in mental tables and then selecting the winner.  Instead, we need to keep in mind three well-documented features of our cognitive 'equipment' for making evaluations.    

  • We make relative evaluations, not absolute ones.  When I'm at a poker table deciding whether to call a bet, I don't think of what my total net worth will be if I win the hand vs. if I lose it.  Instead, I think in relative terms --  whether I'll be 'up' or 'down.'

  • Our reference point is the status quo.  My poker table comparisons are made with respect to where I am at that point in time.  "If I win this hand I'll be up $40; if I lose it I'll be down $10 compared to my current bankroll."  It's only at the end of the night that my horizon broadens enough to see if I'm up or down for the whole game.

  • We are loss averse.  A $50 loss looms larger than a $50 gain.  Loss aversion is virtually universal across people and contexts, and is not much affected by how much wealth one already has.  Ample research has demonstrated that people find that a prospective loss of $x is about two to three times as painful as a prospective gain of $x is pleasurable.   

When combined, these three lead to what the behavioral economist Richard Thaler has called the "endowment effect:"  We value items in our possession more than prospective items that could be in our possession, especially if the prospective item is a proposed substitute.  We mentally compare having the prospective item to giving up what we already have (our 'endowment'), but because we're loss averse giving up what we already have (our reference point) looms large.   

And Gourville points out three factors that make the situation worse for product developers who want their offerings to succeed.  First is timing:  adopters have to give up their endowment immediately, and only get benefits sometime in the future.  Second, these benefits are not certain; the new product might not work as promised.  Third, benefits are usually qualitative, making them difficult to enumerate and compare.   

As if all this weren't enough, Gourville also highlights that the people developing new products are very dissimilar from the products' prospective consumers.  You don't go work for TiVo (to use his example) if you don't 'get' the potential of digital video recorders and think they're a really good idea.  And after working for the company for a while, having TiVo becomes part of your endowment; you think of things in comparison to TiVo, instead of in comparison to a VCR.  Both of these factors make it harder for developers to see things as their target customers do.   

Because of all of the above, Gourville talks about the '9X problem' --  "a mismatch of 9 to 1 between what innovators think consumers want and what consumers actually want."1  The 9X problem goes a long way to explaining the tech industry folk wisdom that to spread like wildfire a new product has to offer a tenfold improvement over what's currently out there.2  …   

Email is virtually everyone's current endowment of collaboration software.  Gourville's research suggests that the average person will underweight the prospective benefits of a replacement technology for it by about a factor of three, and overweight by the same factor everything they're being asked to give up by not using email.   This is the 9X problem developers of new collaboration technologies will have to overcome.   

1Gourville, J. T. (2004). Why consumers don't buy: The psychology of new product adoption, Harvard Business School Note #504-056   

2Andy Grove, Churning things up,  Fortune, July 21, 2003

 

Trend watching

1) Bill Tanger, general manger of global research at Hitwise, writing in Time:

Perhaps a more interesting — and more accurate — way to figure out where college students are going online is to assess which of the 172 web categories tracked by Hitwise get the most hits from 18- to 24-year-olds. Here's a shocker: Porn is not No. 1. I've actually been puzzled by the decrease in visits to the Adult Entertainment category over the last two years. Visits to porn sites have dropped from 16.9% of all site visits in the U.S. in October 2005 to 11.9% as of last week, a 33% decline. Currently, for web users over the age of 25, Adult Entertainment still ranks high in popularity, coming in second, after search engines. Not so for 18- to 24-year-olds, for whom social networks rank first, followed by search engines, then web-based e-mail — with porn sites lagging behind in fourth. If you chart the rate of visits to social-networking sites against those to adult sites over the last two years, there appears to be a strong negative correlation (i.e., visits to social networks go up as visits to adult sites go down). It's a leap to say there's a real correlation there, but if there is one, then I'd bet it has everything to do with Gen Y's changing habits: they're too busy chatting with friends to look at online skin. Imagine.

This reshaped online landscape leaves me feeling old and out of the loop. It seems that social-networking sites have not only usurped porn in popularity, but they've also gobbled up time Gen Y-ers used to spend on traditional e-mail and IM. When you can reach all of your friends through Facebook or MySpace, there's little reason to spend time in your old-school inbox.

2) Via John Naughton, a report from Hitwise: 'For the first time last month, UK Internet visits to social networks overtook visits to web-based email services' —

image

3) From /personal:

It seems like all the camera usage graphs at Flickr are pointing down and look somewhat like this:

Canon camera usage on Flickr
Canon camera usage on Flickr (November 2007)

Are people using Flickr less than before? Or is camera usage more distributed by model than before? (I find this unlikely.) Is Facebook to blame?

(A number of explanations are possible, of course, of which The Facebook Factor is one — see the comments.)


Netiquette?

Having ventured this week into adding my cent's worth in an online discussion forum, the sole direct (off-list) response I got was a curtly worded email telling me that, if I was going to top-post, then at least delete the quoted gubbins underneath. It was then that I remembered why I don't usually bother contributing to discussion forums.

I know so few people who don't top-post in their emails that, after much racking of my brain, I am still counting them on the fingers of one hand. Popular new email tools such as GMail just go for the quoted text route.

If I were paranoid, I'd think John Gruber's post somehow connected other than by the subject matter: its timing was perfect.

The fundamental source of poor email style is the practice of quoting the entire message you’re replying to. If that’s what you do, then it doesn’t matter whether you put your response at the top or bottom. In fact, if you’re going to quote the entire message, top-posting probably is better. But both are poor form.

Writing an email is like writing an article. Only quote the relevant parts, interspersing your new remarks between the quoted passages. Don’t quote anything at all from the original message if you don’t have to.

I'll leave to one side the odd suggestion that writing an article is like quoting relevant parts and interspersing your new remarks (that's more like annotation — annotation-for-friends?), and merely note that this bothers John so much he's even written some script for Apple Mail:

For the email accounts that I want to read on my iPhone, I need IMAP, so I’m switching those accounts to Apple Mail. I’ve been dreading this for years. My first must-fix annoyance is that Mail’s Reply feature is hard-wired to encourage top-posting, an uncouth and illiterate practice.

Lucky he doesn't use GMail, then! Wikipedia: 'The default quote format and cursor placement of many popular e-mail applications, such as Microsoft Outlook and Gmail, encourages top-posting. Microsoft has had a significant influence on top-posting by the ubiquity of its software; its e-mail and newsreader software places the cursor at the top by default, and in several cases makes it difficult not to top-post'.

What strikes me as bizarre is the idea knocking around (in the email to me, in John Gruber's On Top post) that somehow the moral, literate and intelligent high-ground belongs to the anti-top-posting guys ('Does it take more time to edit the portions of quoted text included in your reply? Yes. So does spell-checking and proofreading. It also takes time to shower and brush your teeth each day'). It doesn't. I find annotated email much harder to read than top-posted email. I imagine this is because it's what I'm used to working with — and guess the same applies to those few people I know who like and use John Gruber's approach to email. (Hunting the annotations is, to me, a tedious and fragmentary experience. If it's supposed to create the illusion of conversation … well, it falls on my ears like snatched, broken remarks and nothing like a conversation.)

I have more sympathy with John's view when he says, 'the idea that each new reply in a thread ought to contain the entirety of each previous message in the thread is … unnecessary' (I've cut out 'silly, wasteful, distracting') — but, really, so what? Far and away most of the people I know who still use email ignore the quoted stuff (and, of course, GMail has the clickable '- Show quoted text -' line in incoming emails that are part of a thread, so by default quoted text is hidden), very occasionally stepping into it when they want to fish out some new part of the conversation.

All in all, I'd far rather spend my time thinking carefully what I want to say in reply to someone and then write that in as good English as I can. In any event, there are surely more important things to be fussing about — such as what you're actually contributing via email (be it top-posted, interlaced, whatever), not to mention how you make people feel welcome on forum discussion lists. Michael Sippey:

Jon Gruber on the reason 99% of email users will not live up to the Official Daring Fireball expectations for appropriate use of electronic mail:  "The fundamental source of poor email style is the practice of quoting the entire message you’re replying to."  I used to care about things like this.  Then I stopped caring...right around the time I stopped caring about whether people sent me email in plain text. Life's been a lot simpler ever since.

Oh, and Drew Thaler commented in his del.icio.us bookmark of John Gruber's On Top post item, 'Top-posting was bad form on Usenet in 1991, but it's standard practice in e-mail in 2007'.

Thinking about all this, I can see there are issues with top-posting and discussion mailing-lists. The Wikipedia article does a good job of outlining these:

Top-posting is viewed as seriously destructive to mailing-list digests, where multiple levels of top-posting are difficult to skip. The worst case would be top-posting while including an entire digest as the original message. Some believe that "top-posting" is appropriate for interpersonal e-mail, but inline posting should always be applied to threaded discussions such as newsgroups. Objections to top-posting on newsgroups, as a rule, seem to come from persons who first went online in the earlier days of Usenet, and in communities that date to Usenet's early days. … Newer online participants, especially those with limited experience of Usenet, tend to be less sensitive to arguments about posting style. … As news and mail readers have become more capable, and as propagation times have grown shorter, newer users may find top-posting more efficient.

Discussion groups might consider having a short summary of preferred usage to help educate their users. That might then help people feel welcomed, too.

There are a number of things here to build in to a good ICT course for students.


Google novelties and the social web

I read earlier today (Google Talkabout) that if you set your GMail settings to 'US English' then GTalk would update to offer file transfer and voicemail — and also offer to show what music you're currently listening to. And it has, and it does:

I've tested the Voicemail facility, by the way, and it works beautifully: very simple to use (both to record/send and to receive/open) and it produces a very clear recording. (The 'Meep' is something we'll surely grow tired of very quickly, but it did remind me of the guy whose answer machine ran, 'Leave a message after the sheep'. So many people never stopped laughing after the 'Baa' that he had to change his greeting in order to get any messages.)

Changing the language settings also altered the top left of my screen in GMail:

Is this also new, or "just" something that's been there for a while for US users?

Picasaweb is beginning to attract some interest (and the purchase of Neven Vision adds spice). firsttube concluded a comparative review of Flickr and Picasaweb:

In the end, flickr and Picasaweb provide different things and a comparison isn't as apropos as you'd think. Picasa integrates with your current tools (Picasa on Win and Linux, iPhoto on Mac) and creates a simple interface to share and organize your photos. Flickr's strength comes from its thriving Web 2.0 community and collaboration and search. If you are seeking a place to store your online photos, either service will likely serve you perfectly well.

Ultimately, I have chosen Picasa because Flickr's interface is just too clunky for quickly accessing specific photos when you have a large number of photos in your photostream. However, I still use flickr, and fairly avidly, because the communities are great and the number of photos is simply astounding. It comes down to the fact that Picasaweb is a personal experience and flickr is a group one, and what I'm looking for for my photos is a simple way to show them to my family.

For me, the me/group distinction is telling. Richard MacManus posted yesterday, : 'A lot of people think the social aspect of this era of the Web is its defining characteristic. And judging by all the news above, it's hard to argue against that! It's fantastic too that Apple is getting into the spirit of things, while Microsoft and Yahoo continue to set the pace for the big companies. Social networking and Google are uneasy bedfellows, but hopefully even they will get into the act soon.'

So I was particularly interested in Google Video shifting in a more social direction, as Ben also noted:

Techcrunch has screenshots of the new Google Video interface. Google Video, of course, is Google’s Youtube competitor - which is faring badly in comparison. At first glance, aside from a page reformat, there are two features, either new or made significantly more prominent - comments, and “more from this user” - that Youtube has always had. In short, in order to compete, Google has added people into the mix.

Suddenly the dynamic changes. It’s not just a bucket where you throw video and hope someone will see it; people can now share videos with each other within the interface, and if you like one submission from a user, you can see everything else they’ve contributed. Rather than just the technology, it becomes a more social ecosystem, allowing users to filter content through other people they might be interested or have something in common with.

It will, indeed, be interesting to see how Google develops in the more human era of the social web.

Update: Google Talkabout has an excellent posting about the new features ('The new Google Talk features … have completed testing and are now available to everyone' — everyone? Other language users? US English users only?) written by one of their software engineers, here.

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"Gmail US", "Gmail UK"

Hmm …  I know I read somewhere (a day or so ago) that Gmail's new Delete button only appears if your display language settings are set to 'English (US)', but I hadn't appreciated how other features available in Gmail depend upon this setting: if it's not set to US, these features won't show.

Choosing 'English (US)' in Settings (I've been running on English UK, as shown)

means you get a Delete button, the Web Clip (as above) and

a choice of language for the spell-checker. (Latin!) But it doesn't seem to be working (properly, yet) for 'English (UK)', though I'm not absolutely sure what this error message means:

Has Google said when it will make these features universal? And are there other features I haven't yet discovered that depend upon the display language being English US?

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Yahoo! Go Mobile

Yahoo! Go Mobile is here:

With Yahoo! Go Mobile, emails, phone numbers and pictures synch with your account. So your stuff is always with you and easy to use.

  • Contacts — Stored phone numbers are automatically synched
  • Photos — Take a picture and it's stored online
  • Messenger — Record voice instant messages
  • Mail — Get notified when new email arrives

And …

Yahoo! Go - Get Started on Your Mobile

Yahoo! Go Mobile is available for download today on select Nokia Series 60 handsets. Prior to downloading the application, you should review the list of compatible handsets and read the installation instructions.

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Nokia's SmartPhone revolution

The Nokia N70 is a fine, fine phone. (I was fortunate to be sent one as part of Nokia's 360 SmartPhone Study.)  Jason Fried sang its praises last month: 'overall the N70 is the best phone I’ve ever used'. Marc Eisenstadt produced a very informative posting of his experiences with one (a 'Swiss-Army Phone') which is also a vade mecum for all phone buyers:

… there are some specific factors you need to consider when purchasing a ‘modern multi-purpose mobile (smart)phone’, and which don’t get mentioned in many reviews … :

1. Grab without thinking: If you have to think twice about whether to carry a gadget with you on Errand X or Trip Y or Meeting Z, then it’s too big. The N70 is an absolute winner on this front …

2. Thumb-centric vs pen-centric operation: if you’re making the jump to a smartphone (i.e. phone with PDA functionality), one key attribute you should consider is whether you prefer to enter short items with your thumb or with a pen …

3. Satisficing beats moving goalposts: when Nobel-prize winner Herb Simon invented ’satisficing’ in 1957, he meant (among other things) that people had a great gift for trimming a search space opting for solutions that were less-than-optimal but ‘just good enough’. Since Moore’s Law means there will always be a better gadget around the corner, and indeed the special-purpose gadgets (MP3 player, camera, etc) will get better even faster than an all-purpose Swiss Army Gadget, you just need to decide on your threshold of ‘just good enough’ acceptability for the features you want, and go for it.

… the N70 is a good all-rounder. The era of ‘jaw-dropping surprises’ is over: the fact that the N70 can do so much of what it does, and so well, ought to amaze us, but our expectations keep growing and we are increasingly hard to impress. … what are my biggest gripes?  Just two:

1. If you are a text-messaging fanatic, you will be unhappy with the N70: the keys are too small, and, most importantly, the ‘Clear/delete backwards key’ is in the wrong place, certainly for right-handed users. For me, this is an acceptable tradeoff given the good screen size and compact size of the phone (all things considered).

2. Scrolling through news/articles/messages/emails of more than, say, 30 lines in length is annoying because there is a ‘discontinuity jump’ as each new segment is rendered, which makes it hard for your brain to ‘do the right thing’, the way it can when scrolling even longish articles on most PDAs. …

So, there you have it.  Now to deploy my new productivity tool (by ignoring it). … Don’t get me wrong, this is one gorgeous phone! By ‘ignoring it’ … I mean ‘letting it blend unobtrusively into my activities, without fuss’.

I agree with Marc on his plus point 1 (but see below) and gripe number 1. As for one-handed (thumb-centric), my experience is that using a SmartPhone when busy makes one-handedness desirable. I'm not yet satisficed (?) with the camera: at 2 megapixel it's much better than what I've had before, but I still long for the day when I can leave my digital camera at home and just take my phone. And I have another gripe about the keypad: the menu/option keys are too close to the green and red (left and right) phone keys and also don't feel sufficiently different to the touch. I've mis-hit these a number of times now.

The N70 does seem to be a huge step on from the 6630 in the clarity of its software. (I haven't tried to work out why, but it immediately felt more intuitive and less like being parachuted into a jungle.) Its ease of navigation and use has encouraged me to run things on it such as LiteFeeds (RSS for mobile devices). I'm pleased with LiteFeeds, particularly as feed-reading on a mobile has been problematic until recently. (FeedBurner Mobile Feed 2.0 is not yet available, but I'd like to try it when it's out.)  Mobile Gmail works well. Audio-only podcasting is a no-no, but video can be done: see here (and there's a pdf guide here).

If I hadn't got the N70, I'd have been looking at the N90 (which Ross has blogged about here) — a far bulkier but very interesting transformer phone. My recent phones (SE P900, Nokia 6630) have been on the heavy side, and the N70's lightness is a delight. (If Christian Lindholm's right, mobile phones will soon be wearable, and the PDA will be a separate item again. And check out Nokia's 770 as reviewed by Russell Beattie and his challenge to Silicon Valley.) However, Ewan Spence's All About Symbian review of the N90 concludes:

To sum up, the N90 is Nokia’s first true cameraphone to focus on the camera, and it’s all the better for it. Yes, the unit has a number of quirks in the design, but the software, the operation and general polish of Series 60 continues, and makes the N90 the high-end phone of the moment in both Nokia’s N range and in terms of smartphones in general. It might be marketed with the camera as its killer feature, but with Series 60 it covers all the bases, and covers them well. Right now, there’s no solid reason to not look very, very seriously at the N90.

But back to light-and-thin: on the near horizon, the slide form factor N80 looks very interesting indeed. All About Symbian had a preview of an early version of this phone:

… in slide closed mode, the phone at 95.4 x 50 x 23.4 mm is essentially the smallest Nokia S60 phone yet. As a slider it is a few mm thicker than a monoblock such as the 6680, but this is hardly noticeable. It is bigger and heavier (134g) that the other modern S60 Slider, the Samsung D720, but that is a reflection of the extra functionality found in the N80. …

High resolution screen support makes a real difference – physically the screen has not changed in size, but the increased density of the pixels results in a much crisper display. … The new S60 browser, based on Safari's WebCore and JavascriptCore components, is also found on the N80. The 'minimap' feature allows you to see a full page at a glance and navigate around it, while other new features include 'visual history' and support for RSS feeds. … In use, the browser is much faster than Nokia's previous efforts (and) will start to change the way people think about browsing the web on a mobile device. Previously, sites aimed at PCs were only accessible using SSR (small screen rendering) technologies and this had usability problems since it was always limited by the intelligence of the re-rendering algorithms. Higher resolution screens, together with minimap, mean that it is possible to quite comfortably view any web site on the phone.

A 3 megapixel camera, Flash Lite, improved Java support, Nokia XpressMusic, UPnP and Wi-Fi (to name just a few of its features — possibly Skype connectivity, too!) add up to a very powerful mobile device:

With features such as UPnP (play music on any device anywhere wirelessly), Bluetooth 2.0 (wireless stereo headsets), 3G and Wi-Fi Connectivity (music download/purchase over the air) the N80 is the most feature rich and powerful digital media playback device on the market. Imagine the reaction that wireless headphones, wireless music sharing and playback around the home and over the air song download and purchase would get if they were features announced in a new iPod and you can start to grasp the significance of the feature set of the N80.

The smartphone is often touted as the ultimate convergence device, and the N80 is just one more step along that road. Nokia made it clear they see the N80 at the heart of the digital home with UPnP, with its auto-discovery and remote control properties as the enabling standard. But it is also clear that this is just the first stage and we can expect to see increasing integration with other devices around the home in the future, which will be achieved through the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) 1.5 guidelines (which aims to enhance interoperability and user experience). All About Symbian

I blog all this because I am personally interested in what these slender, hand-held devices can deliver but I also believe that they will alter fundamentally the way schools and students operate. Moreover, although they are as yet so much the playthings of the richer countries these new generation phones have the potential to make the world more equitably connected — and for education that is also very exciting.

Or, if you prefer, as AAS concldues: all this is 'a story of four years of development in which the smartphone has moved from the initial concept smartphone to a series of feature-rich and powerful multimedia computers which will sell 100 million units in 2006. For the consumer electronics industry, it is an unprecedented story of product-line creation, growth and success and one that is largely unnoticed by mainstream technology pundits'.

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MS Live

Microsoft's Web 2.0 strategy, Windows Live and Office Live, was covered as it was announced by Read/Write Web; pictures of the launch announcement event from Michael Arrington here, his real time notes here and his initial appreciation of it here; Russell Beattie's take here; a reflective piece by Richard MacManus at Read/Write Web. Michale Arrington has also posted here about Office Live:

Office Live is not an online version of Office. Office Live is a set of free, ad-supported productivity tools for businesses. … The core tools are a free non-microsoft domain name, website and up to 50 email accounts with 2 GB of storage each. … For a small company needing a informational website, it will be great. Given that the domain name, website building, hosting and email will all be free, this will be very attractive to a small business. For customers needing more, Microsoft will offer a suite of additional productivity applications - 22 in all were announced yesterday. They will also support third party applications - ADP’s payroll software was shown integrated into Office Live. A set of APIs will be available for third parties to add their application functionality into Office Live. Among the additional applications was an office document collaboration tool. You can share an office document real time with others, allowing them to view and edit it. Impressive.

Windows Live Ideas here:

Windows Live is based on one simple idea: that your online world gets better when everything works simply and effortlessly together. So all the things you care about online - your friends, the latest information, your e-mails, searching the Net - all come together in one place. Windows Live is a brand new Internet experience designed to put you in control. And this is just the beginning-you'll see many more new products in the coming months.


Mobility issues

We have been thinking about the ways in which pupils and staff in our school will be connecting to the web in the months and years immediately ahead. Both campus-wide wireless provision and the expectation that hand-held devices will be common figure prominently in our planning. The huge success of hand-held devices, in particular mobile phones and their ever-evolving range of roles, may make the latter appear a no-brainer, but the laptop isn't dead yet. Time will come, though, when we take our hand-helds with us around the campus, perhaps docking them back in our studies and using there a standard keyboard/screen combo. (On the integration of WiFi into mobile phones, see, for example, this Time article.)

Some colleagues are concerned about increased distraction in classes when powerful mobile devices become ubiquitous. William Blaze has some interesting thoughts about this, including the idea that laptops are primarily a problem as they can create a physical shield between student and teacher/class.

… there are three main uses for the computer in a meeting or classroom, note taking, distraction and instant research. … Using the computer for distraction is the classic anti laptop in the room case, but I'm not sold. Sure their is a certain dynamic to IM that might pull people farther away from the topic at hand, but just how much does it differ from someone handwriting a love letter, doodling or reading all the small print on whatever they pulled from their briefcase? Any additional distraction the internet might bring is easily offset by what it can add to the conversation, no? I like laptops being in a classroom for about two reasons, google and wikipedia. Fast, cheap information. An in room error correction machine. When used correctly the internet can transform a room from a closed information space, into an open one.

*****

There is no finer enthusiast for the mobile phone than Russell Beattie:

People constantly say, “I just want my mobile to make phone calls,” Right? Well the answer to this is … “Your phone is always with you, wouldn’t it be nice if helped do other things as well? Inform? Entertain? Assist you and remind you? You’re lugging the thing around 24/7 anyways, as long as it’s there it might as well be useful!” This is the thing, most people don’t realize mobile phones can do all that, and most U.S. developers just look at it as an anemic platform unworthy of their time, just like Janne said. But it’s not! It’s this great device sitting idle in the pockets of billions of people, all day every day, just waiting to be put to work! Let’s give it something to do! Now is the time! Russell Beattie

The mobile phone is a PLATFORM now. Get it? Long gone are the days when it was used for just making phone calls … Get used to the fact that mobile phones are now the most important piece of technology in the world. More important than your PC or your television or your iPod. Russell Beattie

Mobility is going to change life as we know it - in some places it has already shaped world events and changed history. The ubiquity of the technology is the key to all of this and the lowly mobile phone is the shape of the box in which all of this possibility is kept in. It’s not the computer or the laptop or the PDA, and it’s not WiFi or WiMax, it’s the modern mobile phone. That’s just the way it is … Russell Beattie

So what makes the mobile phone different from a laptop? Janne Jalkanen:

I was listening to the Supernova 2005 panel on mobility as a podcast, and got progressively angrier at the complete lack of vision from their part: everybody was treating mobile phones as just lighter versions of laptops. Then I also read Charlie's commentary on the same subject, and got rather ranty on another blog. Mobile phones are not just bad browsers on resource-constrained devices with crappy connectivity and non-free voice. This is something we Nokians keep iterating over and over. But as I uttered those words, enraged at nobody in particular, I realized that I lack the proper explanation on what really makes a phone different from a laptop with Skype. And if I can't figure it out, then maybe these people are right. Maybe mobile phones should just be treated like computers with tiny screens?

I have a few explanations, though not many: … mobile phones are mostly background devices, whereas a laptop has a tendency of consuming all your attention, becoming a foreground device. The usage patterns are fundamentally different: a mobile phone is always on, always connected, always with you. It's not a Big Brother, but more like a Little Brother, if you excuse the pun. Another difference I can think of is that a mobile phone is more of a physical object than a laptop is: The mobile phone gets decorated with covers and straps and things; the laptop stays the same …

Charlie Schick:

I definitely see that a pocketable, networked, one-hand operated device is the core of the mobile lifestyle. A laptop can never be a true part of one’s mobile lifestyle. … the phone sits in the background, waiting until you need it. Then - a call comes in, an item comes into view that is great for a video or photo, a calendar reminder goes off - and you make the choice to bring it into the foreground. Successful mobile devices are ones that are background devices that don’t force themselves into the foreground. Background activities can be listening to music, waiting for appointment reminders, carrying snippets of actionable data (contact info, calendar, some notes, a to-do list), and waiting for a call or SMS. Things like video, chat, playing games, and browsing the Web are full-time foreground activities, and, while they can be done while away from the desk, aren’t really things I consider doable while walking or driving, or even for small snippets of time.

… to create an app that is truly geared for the mobile lifestyle, you need to take advantage of the background status of the mobile device and not bring it too far or often into the foreground.

Building "background-ness" into the hand-helds of the future can only add to their value in the classroom.

*****

I took many things away from Marko Ahtisaari's posting about the shared mobile future. One tiny shard from there: the Finnish for mobile phone is 'kännykkä, meaning extension-of-the-hand'. To be this "natural", the phone has much development to undergo. Christian Lindholm has said:

The future of mobility is not a bandwith problem. We have a screen problem and that is terminal. The only way to get around it in small handhelds is to design content specifically optimised for small handsets.

Far too few of the big players are paying attention to mobility issues; Charlie Schick makes this point here. One problem, then, for schools, as mobile devices become ever more common, is that accessing web sites on them is as yet tedious, time-consuming and frequently deeply unrewarding (and expensive).  (Mobile Design has some helpful suggestions about how to adapt your website for a mobile device, prefaced by this: 'Publishing a mobile version of your content is harder than it should be. One significant technical leap must be made in order to give users a seamless experience … device detection, the relatively simple concept of routing different devices to the most appropriate content for that device.')

As things are now, we need to be candid about how we use our hi-tech phones. As far as my experience goes, I'm in broad agreement with Jason Kottke. Thumbs-up to clock, voice and text messaging. Email: last year, I ran my email through a Sony-Ericsson P900, but it was all a bit less than a pleasure. This year, with a Nokia 6630, I haven't bothered, and, like Jason, find that it hasn't mattered. Accessing the web: my preferred device for this is my laptop, too. (If the camera on my phone were better, I'd use it more. I'm eyeing the N90 come Xmas — the turn-around point in my 12 month upgrade cycle).

*****

'Next year there will be more than 2 billion mobile phone users in the world. … Mobile phones today have become ubiquitous, embedded into the fabric of everyday life. They have become a mobile essential. If someone owns a mobile phone today it is likely to be one of the three things that she always carries with her, the other two being keys and some form of payment.' — Marko Ahtisaari. And he goes on:

The mobile platform - because of its scale and its focus on the big human fundamental of social interaction - is a center of gravity for other familiar benefits and functionalities. Think of the clock. Imagine how many people wake up to a phone each morning, how many have stopped using a wristwatch. Or, to take a more recent example, the camera is now moving onto the mobile platform.

The future is definitely mobile. Schools must look to it and work out their strategies now. In fact, Marko's figures are already out of date, as Russell Beattie's post here makes clear ('Yep, we’ve hit the 2 Billion Mobile Phone mark ahead of schedule') — and see update below. Russell goes on, though, to say:

… the 2 billion number gets the headlines, but the real story to me is the penetration rates of faster networks and more powerful handsets. Over the next 18 months we’re going to see a dramatic increase in the number of advanced phones out there, which is really going to be exciting for those of us wanting to use these phones as a platform.

*****

Update (22.9.2005). Important posting that went up yesterday on Communities Dominate Brands. Much made me sit up and take note. Key excerpts:

The research organisation Ovum and the GSM Association released the data on Sept 18, 2005, that worldwide there are now 2 billion mobile phone users. …

Putting the number in context. There are twice as many mobile phones, than there are internet users of any kind. There are three times as many mobile phones than there are personal computers. There are more mobile phones than credit cards, more mobile phones than automobiles, more mobile phones than TV sets, and more mobile phones than fixed/wireline phones. In fact a staggering 30% of the global population carries a mobile phone. Since Taiwan first did it in 2001, today over 30 countries have achieved over 100% cellphone penetration rates, and even laggard USA has gone past the 50% penetration rate. In the most advanced mobile markets such as Finland, Italy and Hong Kong the typical first-time cellphone customer is under the age of 10. It is the only digital gadget carried by every economically viable person on the planet. Younger people have stopped using wristwatches and rely only upon the mobile phone for time. It is the only universal device, and the device of the Century.

Every mobile phone user can be reached by SMS text messaging (ie more than twice the number of people that can be reached by e-mail). Each mobile phone can handle payments (if the mobile operator/carrier decides to enable that ability) … And almost every mobile phone user keeps the mobile phone literally within arm's reach 24/7. Yes, 60% of us actually take the mobile phone physically to bed with us, either to use the alarm feature or to hear incoming text messages.. If we lose our wallet we report it in 26 hours. If we lose our mobile phone we report it in 68 minutes. As to those who are new to these phenomena, no, we don't only use the phone outside. In fact 70% of all phone calls are placed indoors, and a whopping 60% of all data access by mobile phone is done indoors.

… the mobile phone is becoming the evolution target for much of the converging industries. 19% of all music revenues are generated by mobile phones. 14% of videogaming software revenues come from mobile phone games. More cameraphones are sold this year than all non-mobile phone digital cameras ever sold. … there is a big future in the convergence of TV and mobile. … In fact almost all community behaviour is migrating to mobile phones, from blogging (there are more mobile blog sites already than there are regular internet blogsites - but most of the moblog sites are in two languages I don't speak - Korean and Japanese) to videogaming to dating to chat to TV-interactivity such as voting for reality shows etc.