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.


Last Thursday evening I was at the Saïd Business School to hear Saul Klein (blog), Vice-President of Marketing at Skype. An eye-opening talk.

When eBay bought Skype for $2.6bn last September, with an additional $1.5bn dependent upon performance targets, the deal surprised commentators:

… the high price for the transaction and the young nature of Skype's business prompted scepticism among some telecommunications industry executives and analysts, who questioned Ebay's ability to generate significant revenues from its new acquisition. FT

Since then the Skype user base has doubled in size. The company is young, only 2½ years old (launched in August, 2003), yet as of April this year it has more than 100 million users and a 67% CQGR: every 5 days, 1 million people join Skype. It has websites in 23 languages and accepts payment in 15 currencies. A year ago it employed just 100 people; today, 300.

From its inception, Skype has been intended to be a simple product — easy to use. A new user can be up and running within 2 to 3 minutes of downloading it. The software is under rapid development (changelog for Windows here; the latest beta version is 2.5). Currently, Skype allows up to 100 users to talk in a Skypecast and up to 5 people to conference call for free. (If you use an Intel Dual Core Processor machine then you can host 10 people conference calls for free.) Group chats can accommodate up to 50 contacts.

To understand more about the new Skypecast initiative, you can begin here. There's some background here:

Skypecasts enable people to discuss shared interests — anything from classic cars and cooking, to home design and computer support. Skypecasts are moderated by the ‘host’ who is able to mute, eject or pass the virtual microphone to participants when they wish to speak. Hosting or participating in a Skypecast is completely free.

There's more food for thought on Skype Journal. TypePad users are well set up:

Yesterday Skype launched their Skypecasts Directory, as well as a Widget that lets TypePad users promote upcoming Skypecasts (either their own or Skypecasts they're interested in) on their blog.

Ready to start talking with your readers?  Hosting a Skypecast is easy...

  1. Schedule your Skypecast. Got a topic for discussion? Got a time? Visit and schedule your Skypecast. It will be listed for anyone to discover and join.
  2. Promote it on your blog. Once you’re listed in the Skypecasts directory, promote your Skypecast on your blog. Link to your listing directly in your post, or use the Skypecast Widget for TypePad.
  3. Host your discussion. Connect using your Skype client to share your passion with your audience and have a bit of fun.

My school has just gone wireless in its boarding houses and some rapid work by two of my pupils has established that Google Talk and Skype work (both within the school's system and across the firewall). Very shortly, I'll be exploring the use of Skype conference calls with pupils.

Skype's program of development is both rapid and tightly focused around a well-defined product, with close attention paid to user-feedback (forums from day 1). Reviewing some of what Skype already offers (in addition to group chats, conference calls and Skypecasts) can't but impress: SkypeOut, SkypeIn, voicemail, Video (1 in 5 Skype users now video call), IM, SMS, data transfer/sharing (last month I noted Matt Webb's piece about Skype and there's no doubt we'll be making use of Skype for moving files around), cross-platform interoperability, integration with other apps, Skype Me, presence …  The appearance on the market of Skype-enabled mobiles is gathering pace. Also developing swiftly is Skype's engagement in eCommerce (Skype embedded in eBay auctions is already running as a trial in China — 25% of sellers use it) and the company expects its role in this market to be big.

Skype has so much going for it and the blogosphere is closely attentive. No wonder it was the third most recognised brand in 2005, and Saul used Blogpulse to demonstrate that, for the most part, Skype tracks above VoIP:


Skype is offering some powerful tools that will make a great impact on the way we work in education. I'm grateful to Saul for putting me in touch with their developer relations program team, and I hope we can begin to work with Skype both on the kinds of functionality that Skype already has (and we don't know about) and on new implementations that will be of value to schools.

And I want to put Skype in control of my home, too!

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Librarians and the future now

Yahoo! search blog — Mark Sandler, University of Michigan:

1,100 librarians recently swarmed on the seaside town of Monterey, California for a deep dive in search technology, and I was among them. Topics included desktop search, visual and clustering search, podcasting, taxonomies and metadata, RSS, blogs, wikis, online education, intranets, spyware, digitization, wireless access, and more. In today’s world of search engines, librarians are reaching way beyond the physical walls of the library.

To make library services more compelling, some librarians have begun experimenting with new virtual reference techniques like instant messenger and text-messaging to interact with patrons. Although some adults may be slow to adopt these techniques in the library, just imagine the usefulness to all the teenagers who already use instant messenger and text-messaging as their main methods of communication. Elsewhere, librarians discussed creating online library catalogs that allow patrons to tag, comment, review, share, recommend, and otherwise create a virtual community around records in the catalog. Imagine browsing through a library catalog and seeing other people’s reviews or recommendations for similar items. Sounds like what happens on many Web sites now, places like Yahoo! Local, My Web 2.0, Flickr, Furl,, etc.

… librarians are continuing to evolve their roles now that people rely so heavily on search engines. What does this mean?

  • For search, knowing when to use particular vertical and specialty engines, specialty databases, meta-search engines, advanced search syntax for the big engines, and so forth.
  • For news, helping people use RSS, email alerts … to know when new and relevant content is available online.
  • For sharing information, helping people find and share with others by using blogs, wikis, and tagging.

As the world of online and offline libraries continue to converge, I think this quote summarizes the conference perfectly: “In 2020, Internet Librarian will simply be called the Librarian Conference.”             

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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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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.

Texting & Literacy

Guardian Unlimited:

A study comparing the punctuation and spelling of 11- and 12-year-olds who use mobile phone text messaging with another group of non-texters conducting the same written tests found no significant differences between the two.

Both groups made some grammatical and spelling errors, and "text-speak" abbreviations and symbols did not find their way into the written English of youngsters used to texting.

According to the author of the research, the speech and language therapist Veenal Raval, the findings reflect children's ability to "code switch", or move between modes of communication - a trend familiar to parents whose offspring slip effortlessly between playground slang and visit-the-grandparents politeness.

But the study did find that the pupils familiar with text messaging wrote significantly less when asked to describe a picture or an event than those who did not use mobiles, potentially fuelling concerns that the quality and expressiveness of children's writing could be at risk even if their spelling is not.

The village global

Howard Rheingold makes some striking comments on the effects and implications of being 'always connected':

When millions of people carry Internet connections in their pockets, the focus of communications shifts from places to individuals – with significant implications for the way we think of ourselves and the shape of our social institutions.

I'm glad that places like NetLab are using the tools of social science research to probe provocative questions raised by technology-mediated communications: How do virtual communities affect physical communities? What kinds of social institutions are created or destroyed by new modes of communication?

Picture a mundane aspect of everyday life that most readers will recognize: you're in touch with a coworker on the other side of the planet via email or IM, and at the same time you get an SMS telling you to bring home a carton of milk: "Glocalization" is what sociologist Barry Wellman and his colleagues at the University of Toronto's NetLab research community call this "local involvement and global reach" enabled by email and mobile phones. NetLab, a network of social scientists with links to the Centre for Urban and Community Studies, the Department of Sociology, the Knowledge Media Design Institute and the Faculty of Information Studies, applies the decades-old methods of social network analysis (among other tools) to the social behaviors enabled by Internet-mediated communication.

… In another study of "The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism," Wellman, Quan-Haase, Boase, Chen, Hampton, Isla de Diaz and Miyata proposed that people are using five "social affordances" of networked, wireless, ubiquitous information and communication technology to change their lives and communities. Today:

We have broader bandwidth (which "facilitates the rapid exchange of large amounts of data, instant messaging, feedback, attached text, picture, voice, and telepresence.").

Are always connected ("This embeds the Internet heavily in everyday life, for as soon as a communication is thought about, it can be sent immediately and easily.").

Use media that are increasingly personalized ("with more control over the sources people want to get messages from, when, and about what. This form of communication and the ensuing interactions are more tailored to individual preferences and needs, furthering a more individualized way of interacting and a way of mobilizing as fluid networks of partial commitment.").

Take wireless portability for granted ("This facilitates personalized communication. The person becomes the target of communication. An individual and not a household is called. The person is the node to which communication is directed. Person-to-person communication is supplanting door-to-door and place-to-place communication. Personalization and portability are not the same. Personalization recognizes anywhere who people are. With portability, people take their devices with them. The combination facilitates the emphasis on individuals connecting and (mobilizing) to individuals, rather than individuals connecting to groups or groups connecting to groups.").

Are accustomed to global connectivity ("The digital divide – the socio-economic gap between those who use computer-mediated communication and those who do not – is shrinking in the Western world. This may mean an increase in the small world phenomenon, with potential connectivity over the Web to all, either directly or through short chains of indirect ties. … It also facilitates transnational connectivity, be they migrants staying in touch with their homeland or transnational networks mobilizing around issues").

Wellman et. al. conclude:

"Changes in the nature of computer-mediated communication both reflect and foster the development of networked individualism in networked societies. Internet and mobile phone connectivity is to persons and not to jacked-in telephones that ring in a fixed place for anyone in the room or house to pick up. The developing personalization, wireless portability and ubiquitous connectivity of the Internet all facilitate networked individualism as the basis of community. Because connections are to people and not to places, the technology affords shifting of work and community ties from linking people-in-places to linking people at any place. Computer-supported communication is everywhere, but it is situated nowhere. It is I-alone that is reachable wherever I am: at a home, hotel, office, highway or shopping center. The person has become the portal.

"This shift facilitates personal communities that supply the essentials of community separately to each individual: support, sociability, information, social identities and a sense of belonging. The person, rather than the household or group, is the primary unit of connectivity. Just as 24/7/365 Internet computing means the ready availability of people in specific places, the proliferation of mobile phones and wireless computing increasingly is coming to mean an even greater availability of people without regard to place. Supportive convoys travel ethereally with each person."

Like all good research, NetLab's findings raise further questions: What will it mean for minds and neighborhoods when "the person becomes the portal" and "supportive convoys travel ethereally with each person?" In some ways, these questions apply directly to the future of today's early adopter fifteen-year-olds around the world who spend their waking hours with with buddy lists, SMS, moblogs and cameraphones.

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