“Listen to the technology;
find out what it is telling you.” – Carver Mead
The DOS-era was marked by a
certain style of computing. It was
primitive, largely devoid of graphics, and for developers, an exercise in
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.” (the story is likely apocryphal);
Windows, 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.
Now, 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
Forty 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
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
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
That’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
Information Mobility is
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
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.
This 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.
This 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
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.
Net 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
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