History, our future

… no civilization has ever saved everything; acknowledging that fact does not obviate the need to try and save as much as we can. — A Working Library

Way back in 2006, I heard Chris talk, demoing Nokia’s mobile web server. I loved that and in my imagination it combined with the idea of owning your own data. Imagine carrying your own data with you, the canonical copy of everything digital that’s you, serving it from your mobile device. (There was a newspaper picture I saw, during the terrible years after Yugoslavia disintegrated, of a refugee family carrying their hard drives stashed around their van and in their bags and coats. They called themselves, I think — I’ve never been able to find the picture since — the first hi-tech refugees, carrying with them all their digital stuff.)

Owning your own data:

I’m building a solution, bit by bit. It’s certainly incomplete, and with rough edges … but iteratively improving as I find time and inspiration to work on it. I’d rather host my data and live with such awkwardness in the open than be a sharecropper on so many beautiful social content farms. — Tantek Çelik

I haven’t even the beginnings of the technical knowledge needed to follow that particular path (‘This is what I mean by “own your data”. Your site should be the source and hub for everything you post online. This doesn’t exist yet, it’s a forward looking vision, and I and others are hard at work building it. It’s the future of the indie web.’), though I’d dearly like to. If someone builds that, I’d buy it.

In 2008, at Open Tech, I heard Danny O’Brien talk, Living on the Edge (pdf), and read his posts on the same theme: 2008–07–16, and then Independence DayIntermediariesDeath by BoredomH-T-T-P, You Know MeReachability on the EdgeHow Many Nines Does One Person Need?. From Independence Day: ‘a trend you couldn’t help but notice in this latest overexcitement is migration of data from the edge to centralised servers. … I’m curious as to what happens when one tries to buck this trend. … how much of our life that we share with the Web 2.0 giants do we really *need* to share? How much of these services can and should we be running from the comfort of our own homes?’

The year before, Ben had written: ‘I’m living out of webapps at the moment: Google Docs, Gmail, Reader, Meebo and the like. It has been a revelation: these things work really well.’ (And see Matt Haughey, writing in April that year.) How long ago that seems now!

Discussion of the issues hasn’t ceased and, for the foreseeable future, how can it? Take John Naughton, writing earlier this year: ‘the components needed for a new, user-controlled architecture are beginning to fall into place. It’s still a bit geeky, but all it needs is a human-friendly front end’ (my italics). And last year’s speech by Eben Moglen (FreedomBox), Freedom in the Cloud. Or, Take Back the Tubes — A DIY Data Manifesto:

… the web will likely never be completely free of centralized services and Winer recognizes that. Most people will still choose convenience over freedom. Twitter’s user interface is simple, easy to use and works on half a dozen devices. Winer doesn’t believe everyone will want to be part of the distributed web, just the dedicated. But he does believe there are more people who would choose a DIY path if they realized it wasn’t that difficult.

For much of the last year, I’ve become preoccupied with archiving and preserving our data; ‘we are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not’ (William Gibson, 2001). mmmarilyn: ‘The one thing that differentiates human beings from all other creatures on Earth is the externalization of subjective memory—first through notches in trees, then through cave paintings, then through the written word and now, through databases of almost otherworldly storage and retrieval power.’  And then — YAHOO!LOCAUST. John Naughton again (from earlier still this year):

Think of the pleasure we get from old family photographs or the delight that comes from clearing out an attic and finding boxes of love letters, school reports, our first exercise books and old appointment diaries. The contemporary versions of these personal documents are mostly stored either on obsolescent PC hard drives or on the servers of internet companies …


The European Union says its member states must do more to digitize Europe’s cultural heritage and not simply leave that work to the private sector. To do otherwise, suggests a recently commissioned report, could steer Europe away from a digital Renaissance and “into a digital dark age.” — ReadWriteWeb, 2011

I’m no programmer, though decades ago I learned to use Fortran, writing my own program for an A level Biology project, and played with BASIC. Now, I’m playing with a Mac Mini server and a Pegasus R6. I want to know that we can hand on certain things … music, audio, photos, text and, increasingly important, video. History for the future.

Last Christmas, I was hoping we’d see some development in 2011 around the Mac Mini, though I suspected the game plan was more likely to be centred on the ecosystem that individuals, families and groups weave around multiple Apple devices. There’s room for both and it seems that Apple thinks so, too. I use cloud services a great deal, and this won’t stop as I play with creating our own, centralised repository of music, audio, photos, text and videos. I want our own backup and personally maintained server and store, but I know the cloud offers us so much, too.

In What if Flickr fails?, Doc Searls looked forward to ‘self-hosted versions of Flickr, or the equivalent’ but also to a future where we ‘pay more for what’s now free’:

I want them, and every other silo out there, to realize that the pendulum has now swung full distance in the silo’d direction — and that it’s going to swing back in the direction of open and distributed everything. And there’s plenty of money to be made there too.

Yes, indeed. If Apple gets it right with iCloud, I’ll happily pay for secure and really useful services in the cloud that respect my privacy and offer a level of backup and reliability that, even with all my best efforts, I’ll probably not (always) achieve at home. But I’ll hold them to the highest standards and aim not to have to miss a beat if it comes to moving to another service. Dave Winer:

The important thing is that you and your ideas live outside the silo and are ported into it at your pleasure. You never have to worry about getting your stuff out of the silo because it never lived in there in the first place.

Things my students might enjoy reading as they, too, wrestle with these matters:

Never finished, rarely simple

Last week, at a user meeting held by Firefly, Andy Reid, our Network Manager, and I spoke about the way the St Paul’s website has been developed over the last couple of years. A summary road map may be of interest to friends and to colleagues in other schools, and this is a story that certainly feeds in to some topical issues.


In brief and in diary form, with a few notes at the end, the work to date:

  • Summer term 2008. Discussions going on over some months about how we could improve our site are brought to a head. We draw up a short list of prospective designers and agencies with whom we might want to work. Small, in-house group formed for website development, including me, Andy, John Barlow (webmaster-to-be of Colet Court’s site — Colet’s our junior school), our Director of Studies and Deputy Head, and the Heads of both schools. Work of the short-listed companies reviewed; two companies invited to meet with us. Initial feedback indicates our existing site has lots of scope for improvement: visual design could be much more interesting and the information architecture needs attention. Beginning of summer holiday, Clearleft selected: they have the track record of achievement and the range of in-house expertise we need. At this stage, we are clear a good, local design service could give our site a face-lift for 10K; a top agency, working from and focused on user experience, might cost anywhere from 15–20 up to 40K, depending on the work required/requested. To keep these sums in perspective, we compare the cost of a prospectus and annual information booklet over a four year period (the probable life of a new web design before it might need to be overhauled extensively).
  • September–December 2008. Planning and research. User research (involving: selection and recruitment of suitable user volunteers; testing of feedback about existing site; subsequent testing and feedback about new site); competitive analysis; content analysis (spreadsheets of content and pages); creation of personas. Workshop: Clearleft learn about St Paul’s, uncover much more about our goals for the redesign and what we think makes us distinctive; we all consider how the site will develop over time. Here’s a shot of some of our affinity diagram work (KJ Method) — this ‘helps groups reach consensus on what the most important aspects of a product should be’*:
    Affinity diagram work

    We discover personas: ‘research-based documents that describe typical users. … they get people talking about user experience and how to design a website for customers’*. Profiles built of key users, leading to creation of user stories, in turn leading to compilation of a feature-and-function list which, in turn, means we can better deliberate priorities and cost implications. User experience design phase: card sorts (users reveal how they group topics: ‘card sorting can help you understand how users form relationships between concepts and allow you to create a shared vocabulary from the results’*), the understanding of the journeys users (will) make through our site. Information architecture work leads to a new site map and we receive a spreadsheet of how the old content and structure map to the new, along with the final site map. First meeting with professional copy writer. Initial work on copy, including interviewing pupils.

  • December 2008–January 2009. Usability and testing. Wireframes (‘A wireframe is a low-detail representation of an interface. It omits colour, image detail and other visual design specifics, providing instead a simple inventory of what’s on the page and how it should be laid out’*) built for key pages, providing clear guidelines for both design and build and a platform for usability testing. Usability tests lead to further refinement of the wireframes. This phase brings together the needs of the users with the goals of the school and proceeds iteratively. In this way, we can create and refine a site with a cohesive look and feel.
  • February–July 2009. Final wireframes. Final sitemap and old-to-new content maps. Visual design (developed by James Bates): intensive work and development of concept, coupled with intensive photographic work. Final design proofs. Completed front-end build: HTML/CSS templates (pattern portfolio) delivered.
  • Summer holiday–September 2009. Software development: Firefly, our existing content management system, is developed considerably to provide for the new site. Intensive back-end integration also undertaken in-house.
  • Autumn half-term 2009. First version of site launched, privately. Steep learning curve for all. Further developments to Firefly and continued extensive in-house development of back-end integration with databases in our MIS (iSAMS). Photographic work continues, including new aerial shots.
  • Late Autumn 2009–Spring 2010. Full revision of copy and completion of most new photographic work.
  • April–May 2010. Feedback from Clearleft about our implementation as we go, leading to changes in our methods or Firefly or both. Launch.
  • June–July 2010. Enhancement of copy and photography (this never stops). Completion of videos for 16+ entry.
  • August–September 2010. Revision of homepage image and small-screen optimisation.

(School holidays prolong the re-design process and one of the challenges is managing the project over these gaps. Things gets easier as we near completion, but in the earlier stages the full group of people involved does need to be available for key decisions to be reached collectively. Added to this, we are developing two sites, St Paul’s and Colet Court.)


This has been the largest and most collaborative project I’ve been involved in, engaging the attention, time and skills of a distributed group of professional designers, our home team, our photographer, software developers and others over many months. The work of so many people was critical to the project’s success. (Communicating with and coordinating this distributed team went on through meetings, via email and Basecamp, and by phone.) I am grateful to all our team (mentioned above), and also for the indispensable work of our in-house developers, Simon and Zar, who oversee much of the back-end integration. Great thanks is owed to Jonathan Player, our photographer — unstinting in his efforts to get the shots we need. Clearleft’s work speaks for itself and they have been endlessly helpful, creative and astute. Hugely experienced, they have guided and grown this project every step of the way. At Firefly, Joe Mathewson, in particular, has done extensive work in developing Firefly’s capabilities. He was immensely patient as we bombed him with feature requests and bug reports.

Cennydd was Clearleft’s project and UX lead and his book (quoted above*), Undercover User Experience Design, is subtitled, ‘Learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time and limited support’. That alone should make schools buy a copy. It’s on my desk now and comes highly recommended.

Finally, we’ve all learned a lot more about CSS and HTML. If you want to explore things further, there’s Andy Budd’s (Clearleft), CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions. Jeremy’s (also Clearleft) new book, HTML5 for Web Designers, makes a complex thing seem alluringly approachable.


At the Oxford Firefly meeting, I said that the small-screen optimisation we asked Clearleft to effect is a first step as we think about the life of a site in an increasingly small-screen-accessed, “mobile”-accessed world. As Jeremy has put it, ‘The choice is not between using media queries and creating a dedicated mobile site; the choice is between using media queries and doing nothing at all’. Jeremy’s set out his thinking about responsive design in a number of very recent posts on his blog: A responsive mind; Delivering Sorrow; Responsive refresh; Responsive enhancement.

Last week, James Pearce picked up on this work and the responsive design initiative, and both Cennydd’s and Jeremy’s comments there, along with some other, excellent contributions (eg, Max Flanigan: ‘whilst CSS media queries may not represent a single revelational panacea for mobile, they do represent a step in the right direction. One that if taken more often can be iterated further’), repay thoughtful attention. We knew we weren’t trying to build a mobile site, and we’re well aware that media does not simply equal context.

St Paul’s is unique in my experience in having not one but two full-time, in-house developers on its IT team. Most schools I know don’t have one, and where they do have someone it’s almost invariably a talented individual who programs and develops in his or her spare time. Factor in the budgets schools can throw at this and the difficulties of developing a separate mobile site might seem insurmountable. All the same, we need to be thinking about these issues and, as I’ve said to James privately, it’s very useful to have his mobile-centric take on where we are now and what additional, cost-effective, smaller changes might help.

The way forward is going to take some thinking about. My ha’p’worth:

  • I'm seeing some rapidly changing behaviour around devices and their use. Just look at how things have developed since we first commissioned Clearleft in 2008 to do the re-design! Every day, there’s evidence of the greater and greater use of “mobile” devices (very notably, iPads, of course, so often sighted around London, on tube and train) and what we know of how these then get used in the home tells us that the shift away from desktops is now very significant. Whereas even recently “mobile” devices did seem to mean ‘a few moments’ of use in a busy life, this is no longer an adequate summary of how they’re being used.
  • Moreover, one of the fascinating things about the iPad is the way it makes a computer a social thing. Evidence of this came in very soon after its arrival. Here’s a scene I see now a lot, but this was back in June, in one of our main desktop-provisioned rooms:

    iPad social 

    And it’s not just around games, of course: the easy, intimate, sociable way we can gather around that screen with its 178° viewing angle … Once experienced in class, you realise things have changed. A decision as important as private education may be served better in some ways via a shared iPad than via a desktop — one person sitting at it and others having to stop what they’re doing and come and stand behind the viewer in order to have any part in the experience.
    So the context and manner of “mobile” use is changing very fast for us (we’re of course London-centric). “Mobile” is often noticeably immersive now, not simply briefly dipped into, and also often shared.
  • Another complication, as Jeremy points out in a comment to James’s post, ‘Large screen size does not equate to large bandwidth’, nor small to small.
  • There’s the difficulty of who the site is for (primarily). If we prioritise the “delivery” of news or calendar for a mobile device, will the primary audience be best served (remembering the rapidly changing patterns of user behaviour)? And how well will users adapt to changes in navigation?
  • And finally, how many taps/clicks from the homepage is too many to get to a phone number? It’s currently one.

Interesting days. Perhaps, as James says (in the comments to his post), ‘There will soon be a time when mobile users are be considered first, and their sedentary brethren as an afterthought. One day, I think the desktop browser will be the trade-off!’. Right now, for a few hours of work, the media query approach is a very good option to take and then run with. The paint has barely begun to dry on the small-screen optimisation of our site. In its short life, it's yielded delight and pleasure. Inevitably, it involves compromises and we're very interested in the UX considerations, the context of use and user.


Over the summer, I was re-reading some of Brian Eno’s essays and thinking again how what he said in a Wired interview (with Kevin Kelly) in 1995 about things not being finished really fits our times. It’s rather out of context here, but it works for me now when I think about building a site:

The right word is “unfinished.” Think of cultural products, or art works, or the people who use them even, as being unfinished. Permanently unfinished.

Recently, I saw Chris Messina tweeted this:

Chris Messina tweet 19 Sept 10 That chimed, too, and made me think back to Dan Hill’s telling comment about the birth of Monocle (2007):

… it’s both thrilling and sobering to see how the creative and industrial process of making a magazine has been honed to streamlined effectiveness, given a few hundred years’ practice. Sobering, as it makes new media seem a clumsy, gauche ingenue.

So it gave me real pleasure, when I was thinking about writing this, to read again,

The launch or redesign of a website is the beginning of the story, not the end. We provide ongoing support, analysis and strategy towards improving and adding to existing functionality based on real world use. — Clearleft

Our attention is now turned, as it should be, to building and developing the site further, to thinking responsively ( :) ) about small screens and mobile users and to enhancing as much as we can (within the constraints of budget, competing claims and available time) the experience of people using our site.


To get a sense of how rapidly cellphones are penetrating the global marketplace, you need only to look at the sales figures. According to statistics from the market database Wireless Intelligence, it took about 20 years for the first billion mobile phones to sell worldwide. The second billion sold in four years, and the third billion sold in two. Eighty percent of the world’s population now lives within range of a cellular network, which is double the level in 2000. And figures from the International Telecommunications Union show that by the end of 2006, 68 percent of the world’s mobile subscriptions were in developing countries.

— from The New York Times article focusing on the work of Jan Chipchase (and colleagues), Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?.

… have you ever stopped to wonder why? Why, regardless of culture, age, gender and increasingly context you're likely to find a mobile phone in the hand, pocket or bag of the person next to you? Put simply - the ability to communicate over distances in a personal convenient manner is universally understood and appreciated, and it's easy enough to get the basics without going to night school or taking a PhD. It certainly helps that, as a functional tool that can be used discreetly or with a flourish, the mobile phone makes an ideal vehicle for projecting one’s status and personal preferences - from the choice of brand, model, ring tone or wallpaper, or simply that (because you're connected) you've arrived.

Today over 3 billion of the world's 6.6 billion people have cellular connectivity and it is expected that another billion will be connected by 2010. But what is often overlooked is the disproportionate impact of mobile phones on different societies, which is one of the reasons why as researchers, we increasingly prefer to spend time in places like Cairo and Kampala: there is simply more to learn. These are places where for many, it's the first time they have the ability to communicate personally and conveniently over distances - without having to worry whether someone can overhear the topic of their conversation - communicate with whom they want, when they want. It makes new businesses viable and creates markets where there was none. For many it's the first time they can provide a stable fixed point of reference to the outside world - a phone number, which in turn creates a new form of identity that in turn enables everything from rudimentary banking to commerce. And not least - each new feature on or accessible through the mobile phone brings new modes of use - unencumbered by my, and probably your entrenched (and increasingly outdated) notions of entertainment, the 'right' way to capture and share experiences, the internet. If you work or study in the mobile space and you're expected to innovate, these are places that bring fresh thinking and new perspectives.

— from Jan Chipchase's article, Small Objects, Travelling Further, Faster.

The human race is crossing a line. There is now one cellphone for every two humans on Earth. ... we've passed a watershed of more than 3.3 billion active cellphones on a planet of some 6.6 billion humans in about 26 years. This is the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history -- faster even than the polio vaccine.

"We knew this was going to happen a few years ago. And we know how it will end," says Eric Schmidt, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Google. "It will end with 5 billion out of the 6" with cellphones. ... "Eventually there will be more cellphone users than people who read and write. I think if you get that right, then everything else becomes obvious."

"It's the technology most adapted to the essence of the human species -- sociability," says Arthur Molella, director of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. "It's the ultimate tool to find each other. It's wonderful technology for being human."

— from The Washington Post, Our Cells, Ourselves.

Life in hypertext

My laptop needed some repair work. Limping by on a school machine during the day was made more than bearable by having the use of an iPod touch the rest of the time and access to an N810. None of these are my own. Of the three, the iPod touch is a revelation — so easy to use, the Gmail interface is (as of now) outstanding and surfing the web on it is often a joy. I don't yet know the N810 well enough to comment about it, but one thing that lets the iPod touch down is the laboriousness of entering text. I look forward to putting the N810's keyboard through its paces, but somehow I doubt it will prove as comfortable to use as the E70's thumb keyboard. The E70 is simply the best device I've ever owned for texting.

As ever when my laptop's down, I learn things. One thing I learned this time: wireless, mobile computing is getting pretty enjoyable all of a sudden. Like everyone else, I now want to try the Asus EEE. These are all devices we need to trial in school.

Meanwhile …

William Gibson (my bold):

One of the things I discovered while I was writing Pattern Recognition is that I now think that any contemporary novel today has a kind of Google novel aura around it, where somebody's going to google everything in the text. So people--and this happened to me with Pattern Recognition--would find my footprints so to speak: well, he got this from here, and this information is on this site.

(Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine — 1998, pdf: "Google is designed to provide higher quality search so as the Web continues to grow rapidly, information can be found easily. In order to accomplish this Google makes heavy use of hypertextual information consisting of link structure and link [anchor] text. Google also uses proximity and font information. … The analysis of link structure via PageRank allows Google to evaluate the quality of web pages. The use of link text as a description of what the link points to helps the search engine return relevant [and to some degree high quality] results. Finally, the use of proximity information helps increase relevance a great deal for many queries.")

II  Adam Greenfield:

… the book is an obsolete mediation between two different hypertext systems. For everything essential is found on the page of the researcher who writes it, and the reader who studies it assimilates it into his or her own blog.

Two talks and a visit

A busy few weeks, during which friends (for whose generosity I am so grateful) came to talk about what motivates and fires them on the web and in online life. Since we started these occasional talks, we've been fortunate to have winner after winner — and the two most recent ones were no exceptions.

Back on 8 November, Paul Farnell and David Smalley, co-founders along with Matt Brindley of Litmus (and see, too, Salted), came in to talk about starting a web-based business. Being a young entrepreneur is of interest to several students I teach or know at St Paul's; some have already launched their first ventures.

So: start with an idea that solves a problem (Litmus was born this way, in 2005); don't keep your ideas close but discuss them openly; have a revenue model; work with vision and passion, getting your first version out as soon as possible —  fail faster. Focus on the product, not on patents, NDAs, paperwork, limited company status … Earn money whilst your product cooks: freelance work (eg, web design) pulls money in for work on the product (until this starts paying its way) and also gives you the chance to learn new skills and to network (discovering potential clients). Strike whilst young: it's harder to make the jump to a start-up after earning a full salary working for someone else, and, if you start at university or school, you have a context within which you can take risks with greater safety and ease than later on.

Paul and David blogged briefly about their visit here and have posted a reading list 'of sites and articles which we’ve found to be invaluable over the years'. Adam blogged the talk here.

Riccardo Cambiassi came in the following Thursday to talk about Second Life. Briefly tracing the roots of virtual worlds from William Gibson's 1984 novel, Neuromancer (cyberpunk, cyberspace), through Neal Stephenson's third novel, Snow Crash (1992) and its use of metaverse, he brought us to 2003 and Linden Labs' launch of Second Life (Wikipedia): blending science, art and technology this offered the user the possibility to create and explore innovatory, 'what if' situations. A quick run down on key terms: avatar (Wikipedia: 'In video games, the term avatar refers to the character in the game's diegetic world controlled by the player. Although Neal Stephenson takes credit for creating the term in his book Snow Crash (p. 440), earlier usage can be found in the LucasArts virtual world Habitat); world — reprogrammable (open technology), allowing you to be the magician and write the spell; people — the major difference between web experience and virtual world experience — IM (etc) and voice; metaverse (not the only one: see developments in some web sites and in MMORPGs) — you can read the web, email, IM … see how the virtual world economy is faring vis-à-vis the real world's.

The case studies Riccardo went through were great for our students, illustrating something of the range of what can be done within Second Life: creating 3-D mind maps; creating a space (in this case, the work of an Italian journalist) to produce a low cost conference with high quality content; creating art pieces; an art gallery with a PDF, downloadable library; the celebration of a real life marriage in virtual reality; and Riccardo himself as R2D2. Finally,, an AJAX based SL client created by 15 year-old Katharine Berry (Google Code: 'it does not rely on browser plugins, making it suitable for use where you cannot install plugins, e.g. at work, school, or games console') — but sadly, since Riccardo's talk, taken down (see here). There are screenshots of AjaxLife here and an interview with Katharine in Reuters here.

Finally, on Friday, 16 November, Mark Selby, VP Media, Nokia, spent two and a half hours with us. The rise of mobile computing and the rapid development of powerful handheld devices (I've been using an N800 for a while now and we have an N810 on order) lent special purpose to Mark's visit, but above all I wanted him to to see what we're doing, what our students are using and playing with … and to talk directly with some of them. I hope we'll be able to build on this visit.

Conversation follows these talks and visits, breaking out around the speaker and carrying on over lunch and coffee. My thanks, again, to Paul, David, Riccardo and Mark for giving up so much of their time and for proving such good and stimulating company.

Google and Jaiku: living the social network

I found Chris Messina's post, Theories about Google’s acquisition of Jaiku — and two passages really caught my attention:

In the future, you will buy a cellphone-like device. It will have a connection to the internet, no matter what. And it’ll probably be powered over the air. The device will be tradeable with your friends and will retain no solid-state memory. You literally could pick up a device on a park bench, login with your OpenID (IP-routed people, right?) from any number of service providers (though the best ones will be provided by the credit card companies). Your user data will live in the cloud and be delivered in bursts via myriad APIs strung together and then authorized with OAuth to accomplish specific tasks as they manifest. If you want to make a phone call, you call up the function on the touch screen and it’s all web-based, and looks and behaves natively. Your address book lives in Google-land on some server, and not in the phone. You start typing someone’s name and not only does it pull the latest photos of the first five to ten people it matches, but it does so in a distributed fashion, plucking the data from hcards across the web, grabbing both the most up-to-date contact information, the person’s hcalendar availability and their presence. It’s basically an IM-style buddy list for presence, and the data never grows old and never goes stale. Instead of just seeing someone’s inert photo when you bring up their record in your address book, you see all manner of social and presence data. Hell, you might even get a picture of their current location. This is the lowercase semantic web in action where the people who still hold on to figments of their privacy will become increasingly marginalized through obfuscation and increasingly invisible to the network. I don’t have an answer for this or a moral judgement on it; it’s going to happen one way or another. …

In the scheme of things, it really doesn’t have anything to do with Twitter, other than that Twitter is a dumb network that happens to transport simple messages really well in a format like Jaiku’s while Jaiku is a mobile service that happens to send dumb messages around to demonstrate what social presence on the phone could look like. These services are actually night and day different and it’s no wonder that Google bought Jaiku and not Twitter. And hey, it’s not a contest either, it’s just that Twitter didn’t have anything to offer Google in terms of development for their mobile strategy. Twitter is made up of web people and is therefore a content strategy; Jaiku folks do web stuff pretty well, but they also do client stuff pretty well. I mean, Andy used to work at Flock on a web browser. Jyri used to work at Nokia on devices. Jaiku practically invented the social presence browser for the phone (though, I might add, Facebook snatched up Parakey out of Google’s clenches, denying them of Joe Hewitt, who built the first web-based presence app with the Facebook iPhone app). If anything, the nearest approximation to Jaiku is Plazes, which actually does the location-cum-presence thing and has mobile development experience.

A long post, full of good links and well worth pondering.

Incidentally, and for all their significant differences (IP-routed people!), the first paragraph quoted above recalled to mind Bruce Sterling's wonderful riff, Harvey Feldspar's Geoblog, 07.10.2017, on a future without a mobile phone:

"But Mr. Feldspar, suppose this international criminal doesn't carry a mobile?" demanded representative Chuck Kingston (R-Alabama). It would have been rude to point out the obvious. So I didn't. But look, just between you and me: Anybody without a mobile is not any kind of danger to society. He's a pitiful derelict. Because he's got no phone. Duh.

He also has no email, voicemail, pager, chat client, or gaming platform. And probably no maps, guidebooks, Web browser, video player, music player, or radio. No transit tickets, payment system, biometric ID, environmental safety sensor, or Breathalyzer. No alarm clock, camera, laser scanner, navigator, pedometer, flashlight, remote control, or hi-def projector. No house key, office key, car key... Are you still with me? If you don't have a mobile, the modern world is a seething jungle crisscrossed by electric fences crowned with barbed wire. A guy without a mobile is beyond derelict. He's a nonperson.

A non-person, 'increasingly marginalized … increasingly invisible to the network'.

Cutting loose at last?

Tim Bray:

I was talking with a woman today, a professional writer who works mostly in the health-care technology space. She said “These days, I want to stuff my Dell in the nearest trash compactor and do everything on my Blackberry. The computer, it’s real work to manage, and I can read whatever anyone sends me on the Blackberry, almost.” Is this the future?

Chris Heathcote:

The big question is: do I really need a laptop anymore? Yes, for work, just for Outlook, Visio and mainly Powerpoint (though there is a crazy Powerpoint-esque application installed on the E70). I might feel slightly less tethered though.

Regan Coleman, Forum Nokia:

Our non-developers day-to-day use their laptops and desktops in three main areas 1) accessing the internet,  2) email and 3) office-type functions such as spreadsheets and documents. With smart phones like the Nokia 9300 and 9500, which we use internally, they can do pretty much everything from their phone. It seems inevitable that some day we won't have to all have bulky desktops or laptops - we'll just use our phones. Even more complicated enterprise apps can be hosted on a server and accessed from a browser on the phone. When back in the office, people will just dock their phones. External wireless keyboards for phones are already on the market. It will be interesting to see the development of external monitors for mobile phones.

Antony Pranata (comment to Regan Coleman's post):

Fully agree... In the future, we will be bringing our "laptop" inside our pocket. At home/office, we just attach our "laptop" to a wireless keyboard and big monitor and do normal work. Hope to see this happening in the next couple of years. Btw, don't forget about S60 phones too. S60 is coming to the enterprise world as well, for example with E61.

Insofar as time permits, I'm already getting a lot of mileage out of the E70. More about it soon-ish, I hope.

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Empowering mobile users

I'm awaiting delivery of a Nokia E70 (All About Symbian preview here, review here). The new Nokia browser is one of the key lures that drew me towards upgrading. (There's a comparison of Opera Mobile/Nokia S60 3rd edition browser here — by Ivan Kuznetsov.) Just came across this (via Timo's link feed) by Bernardo Carvalho on rawsocket dot org:

If you take a look where Nokia is taking the S60 3rd edition browser (please please please do yourself a favor and take a look at that demo), you’ll see that the concept of River is kind of old in itself. Why? Because nobody can, in their right mind, expect the industry to transcode the billions of websites that are out there so we can enjoy them on our mobile phones. What we want to do (and what Nokia is doing in S60 3rd edition) is empowering mobile users with a web browsing application that enables them to view websites just as they would see them in their computers - same user experience, no need for transcoding the content.

I was apprehensive when I wrote: 'We don't need separate mobile sites and, although I use the Opera and Google proxy services, I wish sites didn't "have" to be re-purposed'. After all, I'm an end-user and not at all knowledgeable about the technical difficulties involved. But I'm really cheered to read what Bernardo Carvalho has posted.

Incidentally, that same posting expressed some of the thoughts I'd been having about Dave's river of news and the mobile RRS hacks that have come out recently (eg, BBC-river and NYT-river): 'mobility is being packaged differently so old-time webheads can digest it, now that they are screwing around with their first smartphones and thinking what exactly does it all mean for the industry and their businesses. … For anyone who’s been working with mobility for some time it sounds kind of silly, but actually it isn’t - it means that good minds are joining the fray and something good might come out of it. Stay tuned.'

And also via this one post, Howard Rheingold's Shibuya Epiphany:

My epiphany in Shibuya Crossing led me around the world, to observe street culture, visit development laboratories, seek out industry analysts and sociologists -- anybody who could help me make sense of the technosocial phenomena of smart mobs. In Tokyo, I interviewed teenagers who appropriated mobile texting technology and set off a world-wide industry and grassroots cultural transformation. I also talked with the people who steered NTT's DoCoMo to success in the mobile Internet business at the same time their formidable competitors in Europe and America foundered and failed to connect the mobile telephone's portability and popularity with the Internet's capabilities. In Helsinki, I saw how the cultural appropriations of teenagers had transformed the communication norms of the entire society, met futurists and social scientists who studied the future by looking at what people were doing in the streets today. In Stockholm, I rode around the city half the night with a car full of maniacally devoted gamers, engaged in a location-based virtual combat game involving automobiles, laptops and wireless Internet connections, and text messages to mobile telephones.

Now, I'd never heard of the Shibuya Epiphany before and Bernardo explained more about it in a subsequent post (do read): 'So, back in 2000, standing in Shibuya Crossing, Howard Rheingold saw people looking at their phones instead of talking into them, and that blew his mind. That’s the Shibuya epiphany.'

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Some thoughts on mobile viewing

Ben posts about some developments on this front:

Om Malik and Michael Arrington are pondering Dave Winer’s move towards mobile-enabling the blogosphere. Specifically, his product OPML Editor will allow users to view content they’ve subscribed to on their mobile phone. This is definitely a useful feature; I certainly spend a fair amount of time viewing my Gmail on my phone (in lieu of a Blackberry or similar device), and the ability to subscribe to content and take it with you is brilliant. Similarly, Winer’s service for posting to weblogs by phone looks like it could be great.

Take a look at Dave's portable river ('published by my desktop computer, every night at 1am' — OPML Editor support page).

As Om Malik says, 'there are a lot of tools out there' that enable (or attempt to enable) our mobile lives. On a list of things I've played with and found useful, I'd include Litefeeds and Delicious Mona. On the blogging front, TypePad has just announced TypePad Mobile for posting to your TypePad blog from a mobile device (though there's this route, too). And Gmail on the phone (link) is something I also use a lot.

Ben goes on to recommend Opera Mini, 'an excellent browser that goes through Opera’s proxy server which automatically provides content-squeezing functionality'. I agree: it's very good.

Google has its own functionality for mobile search and reading websites, of course, which currently comes, *I think*, in these forms:

  • Google Mobile Web Search (access your phone's mobile web browser, type in the URL field, type your search query and select Mobile Web); for UK users, is another option.   
  • (see here: 'offers Web Search and Mobile search. Mobile search restricts your search to the mobile index which contains sites that are specifically written to fit your mobile screen').   
  • Google's own mobile proxy (where you enter any URL and get a stripped-down version of the page — with the option of having images or not).

I can't speak for the following, not having made much use of them yet, but here they are:

  • Google personalised homepage for your mobile: set it up on your PC — US link here, UK here.   
  • Google Local XHTML — US here, UK here.

And there's the Gmail-for-mobiles that I mentioned above.

Google seems to advertise (ha) its specifically mobile services very little and I may have missed some obvious ones or have got some of the above wrong (it's a bit of a rabbit warren to investigate). Please add/amend accordingly.

Concerning mobile access of websites, I take to heart Chris Heathcote's view that 'well-written sites win' (link — ppt: slide 27). We don't need separate mobile sites and, although I use the Opera and Google proxy services, I wish sites didn't "have" to be re-purposed.  As The Man said, web pages ought to be designed to be read across platforms, across browsers and across devices: 

The Web is designed as a universal space. … The Web must operate independently of the hardware, software or network used to access it, of the perceived quality or appropriateness of the information on it, and of the culture, and language, and physical capabilities of those who access it. Hardware and network independence in particular have been crucial to the growth of the Web. In the past, network independence has been assured largely by the Internet architecture. The Internet connects all devices without regard to the type or size or band of device, nor with regard to the wireless or wired or optical infrastructure used. This is its great strength. … For a time, many Web site designers did not see the necessity for such device independence, and indicated that their site was "best viewed using screen set to 800x600". Those Web sites now look terrible on a phone or, for that matter, on a much larger screen. By contrast, many Web sites which use style sheets appropriately can look very good on a very wide range of screen sizes. Tim Berners-Lee

That's from a document Sir Tim wrote about the .mobi TLD proposal. He concluded: 'Dividing the Web into information destined for different devices, or different classes of user, or different classes of information, breaks the Web in a fundamental way'. The road ahead in teaching, with staff and pupils using their own mobile devices and their own desktops/docking stations, depends upon the web keeping this integrity:

The Web works by reference. As an information space, it is defined by the relationship between a URI and what one gets on using that URI. The URI is passed around, written, spoken, buried in links, bookmarked, traded while Instant Messaging and through email. People look up URIs in all sorts of conditions. It is fundamentally useful to be able to quote the URI for some information and then look up that URI in an entirely different context. ibid.

It's quite clear that teachers will need to be on top of the developing options for mobile viewing (and understand the arguments about web integrity). Is there a site (wiki) which collates and maintains links like these, preferably along with comments and reviews about user experience? If not, we ought to get together and create one.


Update (31 August). For the sake of something like Google-completeness, I should perhaps add here:

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GPS puzzle ... cleared up?

I've wondered why GPS isn't embedded in cellphones. Charlie Schick said both there and on his own blog that he couldn't be certain but 'I am sure there is a reason related to size of chip-set, power issues, usability, licensing, pricing, target users'.

David Weinberger's just posted this:

Nikolaj says that it'll be at least five years before we can programmatically and ubiquitously locate someone in terms of latitude.longitude based on their phone positions, but we can already (see Imity) see who is around a particular phone number. GPS will take that long to get put into cellphones because of battery life...

(Nikolaj is Nikolaj Nyholm of Imity — whose app impressed me so much at Reboot.)

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