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The Mobile Broadband Era: It's About Messages, Mobility and The Cloud

“Listen to the technology;
find out what it is telling you.” – Carver Mead

image002.jpgThe DOS-era was marked by a
certain style of computing.  It was
primitive, largely devoid of graphics, and for developers, an exercise in
scarcity management.

In fact, the scarcity mindset
was so endemic to the time that it gave rise to the urban legend that Microsoft’s Bill Gates even once sagely
noted that “640K (of program memory) ought to be enough for everyone.&#8221 (the story is likely apocryphal);

image004.pngWindows, in turn, gave rise to
another computing form, one that was ubiquitous, almost to the point of
homogeneity; it was also graphical and added connectivity to the mix, a trend
that Microsoft was able to leverage into near-total hegemony during the first
decade of the Internet Age.

image006.jpgNow, all of this is giving rise
to another era, the age of Mobile Broadband, best exemplified by the iPhone,
the first caveat-free mobile platform.

In two short years, the iPhone
has enveloped the planet, with a 77 country global footprint, a 40M iPhone/iPod
touch user base, 65K apps rolled out, those same apps downloaded 1.5B times and
a 100K developer ecosystem.

This got me thinking about
Carver Mead’s mantra. If DOS had one form of “native” application, and Windows
had another, what then are the cornerstones of a native mobile broadband app?

Put another way; before iPhone,
the industry answer to the mobile question was more akin to coaxing a dog to
walk on its hind legs than watching a bird fly.  In other words, more hack and parlor trick than true dharma.

The Message is the Medium

image008.jpgForty years ago, media theorist Marshall McLuhan
asserted that the “medium is the message,” as a way of underscoring how
different forms of media are imbued with their own contextual forms of
meaning.

Yet, as we sit at the waking
hours of the Mobile Broadband Era, it is hard not to conclude that it is The
Message that is to be the defining characteristic of this era.

Why, The Message?  Simply put, messages have compelling attributes.  One, they can be date stamped and
packaged up to elegantly deal with both real-time and asynchronous
communication scenarios.

Two, messages can be transported on a
one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-many, man-to-man, man-to-machine, and
machine-to-machine basis (e.g., device to server, device to device),
facilitating a wide variety of unidirectional, multidirectional, manual,
automated and programmatic communication flows.

Three, as Twitter’s simple “140 characters
meets open API” model suggests, a message can simultaneously be simple (it
doesn’t get much simpler than 140 characters) AND support rich payloads,
auto-generate events, catalyze discussion threads, and be designed to make
creating derivatives easy, all the while supporting the exposition,
partitioning and instantiation of all sorts of Client, Server and Service
application hybrids.

image010.pngThat’s why it’s “interesting”
that when Google announced Wave, its open
source, open protocol messaging platform, the blogosphere’s response ranged
from applause to derision and confusion.

In part, this is understandable,
inasmuch as Wave represents an evolved sense of what real-time communication
flows look like, and sometimes, the most game-changing ideas take a while to
germinate (let alone actually execute the value proposition).

Hence, it’s reasonable to expect
that they will initially be met with a shrug.

At its core, though, I think that Google is
solving the right problem by focusing on messaging, and would suggest that the
most basic thing that they can do relative to making Wave a success is to eat
their own dog food by writing and exposing wrappers to all of their services
directly within Wave.

At its most basic, Wave begs the question of
why can’t Mail, Maps, YouTube, Gmail, News, Feeds, Documents and Blogger be
better integrated within Google?

But beyond that, if Google is serious about Wave they should enable developers (and meta developers – e.g., the former Visual Basic crowd) to build their own Wave apps by compositing Google service functions through one simplified wizard-like interface.

Similarly, Google should take what they have
done with shortcuts in Gmail, and expand it to their other products so that
users have a palette of simplified scripts that they can call upon in a
context-aware fashion with little technical know how (i.e., what can be called
in Maps may be different than Gmail or News for that matter).

Then, Google can focus on providing the best
client, service, media, search, analytics and developer tools for Wave on a
number of platforms, an approach which is congruent with supporting Chrome and
Android, while remaining open to iPhone, Windows, the Mac, etc.

And of course, a whole ecosystem of data
feed services, tool builders and service providers can piggyback on all of this
goodness.

Information Mobility is
Superconductivity

Like many people, I am a member
of multiple social (Facebook), professional (LinkedIn) and affiliated interest
networks (favorite blogs), places where I cultivate my online persona, build a
profile, upload content, participate in conversations and manage my connections
with friends, followers and the like.

In the old days, I had to create
my identity over and over, upload the same content repeatedly and perform
unnatural acts to cobble together the sum total of my online efforts in some
meaningful way.

But, thanks to services like
Facebook Connect, Twitter API, OpenSocial, and “embeddable” flash widgets, I
can create, converge and connect locally, but share that same information
globally with minimal (or, much less) effort.

image012.pngThis is the power of information
mobility, the premise that a user’s online actions, from login and session
instantiation to status updating, profile exchange, photo posting, tweets,
comments, movies/music buying/watching/rating can be spread liberally across
all of their devices, networks and runtime spaces.

It’s about command, control and
orchestration of the online “Me,” a domain which touches realms like
publishing, distribution, information management, and privacy.

This is why information
mobility, when it really kicks in (i.e., is on the right side of S-curve),
becomes a self-affirming engine of systemic growth.

Cloud-ification is Upon Us

When mobile broadband is stripped
to its core, you are really left with two underlying constructs.  One is the premise of being able to
access your media, information and apps anytime, anywhere, and two is the
precept that you need fast, perpetual connectivity to make the user experience
reliable and robust enough to become mission critical.

image014.jpgThis is the domain of cloud
computing, a mode whereby software, hardware and service layers are loosely
coupled enough that the data, logic and presentation elements of an application
can be partitioned (as needed) between local and remote instances.

In essence, when applications
are cloud-ified, they gain persistency, federation and derivation capabilities,
enabling the same core to be assembled in a way that addresses the needs of
specific runtime scenarios, device environments and scaling requirements.

As such, cloud-ified apps become
liberated from a single instance or a single client application, enabling all
sorts of interesting composite applications to promulgate.

That is why the same Twitter
tweet can be presented so dramatically different in a desktop Twitter dashboard
application, like TweetDeck,
the Twitter.com website and the Tweetie iPhone client.

Similarly, it is the reason a
website like StockTwits, which is built on
top of the Twitter ecosystem, can simultaneously parse specific tweets
pertaining to a particular stock or between members of a given investing
circle, and a StockTwits-aware client app, like the afore-mentioned TweetDeck,
can automatically create a filtered view of that same data.

In fact, Apple’s rise to it’s
current lofty place can be traced to a decision to embrace cloud computing by
tightly coupling iTunes (which has a service tier, desktop tier and device
runtime tier) first to the iPod, and then to the iPhone (and the iPod
touch).

The breakout success of App
Store is a by-product of embracing and extending this same model by overlaying
interfaces for developers and applications.

Finally, MobileMe takes this
same computing model and applies it to a user’s personal data, backing it up,
synchronizing it between devices and making it universally available across
those same devices via a Web client, a native Mac/Windows client and, you
guessed it, a native iPhone/iPod touch client.

But, to be clear, while Apple is
the current patron saint of this model at work, we are at the beginning of this
wave, not at the end game stage. Apple will not run the table.

image016.jpgNet It Out for Me

I am really bullish on the
potential to create new, highly innovative user experiences that are fully
native to the Mobile Broadband Era. 

They will be message-aware,
information and media rich, mobility premised, and optimized to a specific
application, service and/or device.

This is the next wave in its
purest form.

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  • So-crates

    “…it prompted Microsoft’s Bill Gates to sagely note that…”

    No it didn’t. That frequently-applied misquote was debunked a decade ago.

    “…the iPhone, the first caveat-free mobile platform.”
    Not unless you don’t call requiring Apple’s blessing on your app a ‘caveat’. I sure would. You know that when your platform is less open than Microsoft’s, then you’ve got a problem.

    Big on buzzwords, low on content.

  • http://www.corvalius.com Sebastian

    Great Post! We also have been writing about the changes to come. You can read our thoughts on that matter in http://www.corvalius.com/blog/?p=88

    Thank you very much!

  • Brandon

    So-crates beat me to it.

    I’m not even really a Microsoft fan, but seeing the quote supposedly having been said by Bill Gates being attributed as fact made me skip the whole article.

  • Hamranhansenhansen

    Oh, poor Bill Gates. And he was so right about so many other things … not. I remember reading “The Road Ahead” in hardcover in 1995. Gates sagely predicted that 1995-2000 would be all about the CD-ROM. Also, the future of UI was that little animated characters from Bob.

    A more-relevant Bill Gates quote for this article might be when he said in 1984 that “the next generation of interesting software will be done on the Macintosh, not the IBM PC.” Word, Excel, PageMaker, Photoshop, Illustrator, Logic and many others followed for the Mac over the next 5 years. Then in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee wrote WorldWideWeb (a graphical application) on a NeXT workstation in 1990 before there even were any graphical Windows apps. You have to go way forward to 1993 for a kind of beta rollout of these apps on Windows 3.1, and it isn’t until 1995 that you really see a real GUI on Windows and real GUI apps. If you are a Microsoft user maybe you see GUI computing as “Windows computing” but if you start with Windows, like I said you miss little things like Photoshop which defined painting and photo editing, and Logic which defined audio and music editing, and WorldWideWeb which defined general purpose Internet computing.

    > Not unless you don’t call requiring Apple’s
    > blessing on your app a ‘caveat’. I sure would.
    > You know that when your platform is less open
    > than Microsoft’s, then you’ve got a problem.

    You talk as if this all hadn’t already happened. Microsoft has been making smart phones for over 10 years and they suck at it. Apple came in 2 years ago and cleaned their clock. Get over it. Microsoft does not even support HTML 5, they cannot in any way be described as open. Linux people also complain that Apple is not open enough, and it makes no difference to the real world when they do it, either.

    If you don’t like Apple’s end-to-end code-to-cash native application platform, you can make iPhone apps using the world’s most open API: HTML 5. It is 100% supported on iPhone. You have the equivalent technologies to Google Chrome OS in iPhone today, so you can ignore the native app platform if you want open. On the Microsoft side you can choose their native mobile app platform or you can choose to run some arbitrary Web code in their IE4-based browser (yes, it’s called “IE6 Mobile” but it is the IE4 engine from 1998 on the PC). Not open at all.

  • http://www.thenetworkgarden.com Mark Sigal

    @So-crates and Brandon, you assert that this was debunked years ago. Pray tell, where was that debunked? I see ASSERTIONS all over the web that it was debunked, and I certainly know why Gates wouldn’t want to be associated with it, but given that you seem so quick to throw the baby out with the bath water (i.e., dismiss my post without reading it), I would love you to point to something authoritative that proves your point.

    Cheers,

    Mark

  • http://ACAPsoft.com Andrew Glina

    @Mark Sigal, why should they prove it? You’re the one making a claim on your blog so you should prove them wrong by providing evidence of where Bill said it and when.

    But I’m a kind fellow so I’ll help you and them. Wired 12 years ago posted this story…

    http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/1997/01/1484

    …and there’s this story from last year…

    http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9101838/The_quotable_Bill_Gates_In_his_own_words

    Thus unless you can prove them (and Bill) wrong it looks like you owe Bill an apology.

    I stopped reading at that line too.

  • http://Http://thenetworkgarden.com Mark Sigal

    @Andrew, I understand that for some readers there is no separation of baby and bath water; and while I assert that the truth of whether this is folk legend or fact is murky at best, you are certainly right that it is purposeless to expend psychic energy on a point that isn’t central to the post (ie, the quote is debateable, the resource scarcity of the the time isn’t). Therefore, when I get in front of a computer again, I will attribute the reference as most likely apocryphal.

    Appreciate the extra effort on the retort.

    Mark

  • ben

    Hi Mark. I completely agree with you that this era is all about messaging. It’s a shame the big social networks are all still walled gardens which people have to join to send messages to one another. A few years ago there were predictions that they would all open up or die but this hasn’t happened. They have remained closed and have thrived. They clearly value their membership numbers (which gives them their capital value) more than the ability of their members to connect with their non-member friends.

    So far the only internet service I have come across where you can be found on a Google search of your name and be contacted without revealing your email address (and without the person contacting you having to then register themselves) is this online address book. Essentially it’s a free version of the address book service provided by the “dot tel” domains with an added email gateway thrown in. But it perhaps wouldn’t be necessary if the big social networks stopped coercing people to join them.

  • Mark Sigal

    @ben, thanks for the thoughts. Personally, micro-blogging services like Posterous seem to have the right approach in terms of making it easy to pull content in from a diversity of services (including and especially, email), and then auto-posting that same content out to a wide number of services, including facebook, twitter, linkedin, etc.

    I blogged about Posterous here:

    The Copy-and-Post Revolution in (Micro) Blogging
    http://bit.ly/6ki7S

    Also, give Facebook credit for providing a platform that makes it straightforward for app builders to build all sorts of interesting apps and services that tie into Facebook’s universe of 300M users, messages, payloads and handling methods, although, to your point, it’s a bit of a one way street, not to mention the privacy concerns their particular business approach raises.

    Clearly, today, Twitter is closest to the idealized ‘message bus’ approach, facilitating an ecosystem of client apps, analytics, inbound and outbound focused services.

    Along those lines, check out StockTwits, which takes advantage of this model by using $STOCKSYMBOL to convert tweets into filtered conversational views around specific stocks, with views optimized on a web site run by StockTwits, a proprietary client app that they’ve built and also a third-party social messaging viewer like TweetDeck.

    It’s a good proxy for thinking about the evolution of verticalized services across lots of categories, including pop culture, sports, medical/health and other real-time knowledge networks.

    Cheers,

    Mark