Mobile web 2.0: Web 2.0 and its impact on the mobility and digital convergence (Part one of three)
By Ajit Jaokar (Ajit.jaokar at futuretext.com)
Introduction and Objectives
This is a series of three articles – the first(this one) outlining the significance of web 2.0 technologies , the second article discussing the impact of web 2.0 technologies on mobility and the final article on the impact of web 2.0 technologies on digital convergence.
If you are already familiar with web 2.0, my goal, in a nutshell (no pun intended!) is to extend Tim O Reilly’s seven principles
to mobility and digital convergence.
Thus, I will not attempt to add to the body of knowledge in terms of basic web 2.0 concepts themselves. I would rather prefer to build on some of the excellent work done on the subject from folk such as Tim O Reilly , Richard Mc Manus and others. I will use their work as a background and extrapolate the basic web 2.0 principles to mobility and digital convergence (areas which I am more familiar with).
My approach will be to ask a series of questions based on my understanding of web 2.0 and mobility. I also welcome your questions. In the two following parts of this paper, I will seek to answer them. Also, if you are a company doing some interesting work in this space, please email me on the address above.
A bit about me
I live in London (England) and am the CEO of a publishing company futuretext.
I wrote a book called OpenGardens advocating openness in the mobile data industry. I also chair Oxford university’s next generation mobile applications panel. In 2006, I am commencing a PhD on IMS (IP Multimedia Systems). If you have an interest in IMS, please contact me to keep in touch. My blog is at OpenGardensBlog
A few quick definitions before we start – just to be sure we have the same frame of reference.
Mobile vs. wireless: In Europe, the commonly used phrase for Telecoms data applications is ‘Mobile’. In USA, it is ‘wireless’ or ‘cellular’. In this article, ‘Wireless’ simply implies connection without wires. Mobility or ‘Mobile’ on the other hand describes a whole new class of applications which permit us to interact and transact seamlessly when the user is on the move ‘anywhere, anytime’. Hence, I use the term ‘Mobile’ independent of access technology i.e. 3G, wireless LANs, wimax, wibro, Bluetooth etc.
Mobile Internet: ‘Mobile IP data service’. It is not ‘Internet on the Mobile device’ since mobility also includes other elements such as ‘messaging’ i.e. non-browsing modes of access.
The mobile data industry: The ‘data’ i.e. non-voice side of telecoms. The telecoms operators are an important part of the mobile data industry.
Within the mobile data industry, ‘openness’ is still an alien concept. I wrote a book called OpenGardens alongwith Tony Fish which advocated openness in the mobile data industry (OpenGardens is the philosophical opposite of ‘walled gardens’).
When I talk to senior telecoms people about ‘OpenGardens’ – they are still hung about ‘on portal’ or ‘off portal’. Further, most cannot see beyond the traditional ‘song and dance’ applications (ringtones/wall papers etc).
In contrast, I find web 2.0 concepts refreshingly intuitive and they formalise many things which we know and use. For example – in OpenGardens, we talked about an application called ‘Splash messaging’ also called air graffiti or spatial messaging.
Contrast this with a very different type of application called ‘splash messaging/air graffiti/spatial messaging’. In its simplest case, it’s the ability to ‘pin’ digital ‘post it notes’ at any physical point. Suppose you were at a holiday destination and you took a picture or a video of that location. You then ‘posted’ that note digitally with your comments and made it accessible to your ‘friends’. Many years later, one of your friends happened to come to that same place and as she walked to the venue, a message would pop up on her device with your notes, picture and comments.
The Splash messaging application is a ‘mashup’ of many different feeds (for example a location feed and a mapping feed) and it has other features like user created content. Its characteristics are very similar to a web 2.0 service.
So, coming back to my question, what’s web 2.0 and how does it apply to the mobile data industry?
There appear to be two early origin points for web 2.0
Firstly, a business week article:
and secondly .. a conference ( web 2.0 conference created by a discussion between O’Reilly publications and MediaLive International (a technology conference company – if you want to put a label around it)
Like the web 1.0 – It even has a ‘bible book’ as we had the cluetrain manifesto for web 1.0
For web 2.0 it is Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software (Addison-Wesley Professional Computing Series) (Hardcover)
And finally .. it has an odd ‘new agey’ feeling to it .. with words like ‘collective intelligence’, feng shui and morality being bandied about in the context of web 2.0 -
Starting with Nicholas Carr’s The amorality of web 2.0
And Kevin Kelly’s we are the web
and finally .. Tim o Reilly’s response to Nicholas Carr’s article at
Some questions to think about
The mobile device has the potential to act as a significant reporter of data rather than a mere consumer of data. The Web 2.0 / mobility interplay needs more thought. Consider principle two from the list of seven principles (harnessing collective intelligence).
Functionally, we must be able to –
a) collect intelligence unique to being ‘mobile’
b) share that knowledge
c) enable others to comment on that knowledge
d) Ensure that the enhanced body of knowledge so created can be shared with the community.
This leads to more questions – What type of information can we collect when we are mobile(location, pictures(MMS)), How can it be shared?, How can it be enhanced?
Some initial questions which come to my mind:
1) If a web 2.0 service is treated as an amalgamation of data and enabling software, which data elements are unique to mobility (for example location feeds)?
2) How are these data elements captured?
3) What are the pitfalls associated with accessing(sharing) these data sources
4) Will the mobile web 2.0 be seamless as we all hope? If not, what are the options and choke points in extending web 2.0 ‘anywhere anytime’?
5) The impact of IMS. As per wikipedia
The aim of IMS is not only to provide new services but all the services, current and future, that the Internet provides. In addition, users have to be able to execute all their services when roaming as well as from their home networks. To achieve these goals, IMS uses open standard IP protocols, defined by the IETF. So, a multimedia session between 2 IMS users, between an IMS user and a user on the Internet, and between 2 users on the Internet is established using exactly the same protocol. Moreover, the interfaces for service developers are also based on IP protocols. This is why IMS truly merges the Internet with the cellular world; it uses cellular technologies to provide ubiquitous access and Internet technologies to provide appealing services.(By the way, IMS is the topic I am looking to commence my PhD in this year.)
6) How does the network effect work within the mobile data industry ?
8) What are the examples of harnessing collective intelligence / peer production on the mobile data industry ?
9) Contrasting the iPod/itunes models with other models of sharing data in the mobile data industry
10) Which companies are leading the way in this space ?
11) How will search be affected by ‘anywhere/anytime’ ?
12) Airwaves are not free i.e. there is a cost of transmission over the air through a telecoms network. Will that impact the wider deployment of web 2.0?
13) Impact of dual mode phones(WiFi and 3G phones)
14) IP /IMS does not mean ‘open’. Does openness matter ? If information can be accessed via a browser(and initiatives like the t-mobile web-n-walk initiative are already under way http://digital-lifestyles.info/display_page.asp?section=cm&id=2658 ) – what’s the impact of the ‘walled gardens’ ?
15) What type of data can be captured on a mobile device(music, video, images) and how can it be enhanced(tagged, shared etc) ?
16) What services can be mixed and what new services can be created ? Any examples of these?(citizen’s reporting, real time traffic monitoring are obvious examples)
and so on …
To understand web 2.0, I am going to mainly use Tim O Reilly’s original article alongwith other references from the web as linked.
The seven core principles of web 2.0 revised
As I understand them, according to the article, a web 2.0 service should have as many of the following seven core characteristics as possible. I have outlined these principles partly as a foundation for subsequent discussions but also for my own clarification. Please refer the original link as above for more details.
1. The Web As Platform
Software as a service is data plus software:
A web 2.0 service is a combination of software and data. The term ‘web as a platform’ is not new. Netscape used this term first but the Netscape application (i.e. browser) was created in context of the existing ecosystem (‘WebTop’ instead of ‘desktop’ mirroring the famous ‘horseless carriage’ analogy). While Netscape was still ‘software’ – in contrast, Google is software plus a database. Individually, the software and the database are of limited value – but together they create a new type of service. In this context, the value of the software lies in being able to manage the (vast amounts of) data. The better it can do it, the more valuable the software becomes.
Harnessing the ‘long tail’: The term ‘long tail’ refers to the vast number of small sites that make up the web as opposed to the few ‘important’ sites. This is illustrated by the ‘double-click vs. adsense/overture’ example. The DoubleClick business model was not based on harnessing the vast number of small sites. In contrast, it relied on serving the needs of a few large sites (generally dictated by the media/advertising industry). In fact, their business model actively discouraged small sites(through mechanisms like formal sales contracts). In contrast, anyone can set up an adsense/overture account easily. This makes it easier for the vast number of sites(long tail) to use the service(ad sense/overture).
In general, Web 2.0 systems are geared to harness the power of a large number of casual users who often contribute data implicitly as opposed to a small number of users who contribute explicitly. Tags are an example of implicit contribution. Thus, the web 2.0 service must be geared to capturing ‘many implicit/metadata contributions from a large number of users’ and not a small number of contributions from a few ‘expert’ users.
2. Harnessing Collective Intelligence
In this context, collective intelligence can mean many things
- Yahoo as an aggregation of links
- Google page mark
- Tagging and collective categorisation for example flickr and del.icio.us
- Ebay buyers and sellers
- Amazon reviews
And so on ..
All of the above are metadata/content created by users that collectively adds value to the service(which as we have seen before is a combination of the software and the data).
Harnessing the collective intelligence involves understanding some other aspects like peer production, the wisdom of crowds and the network effect.
Peer production as defined by the professor Yochai Benkler’s seminal paper peer production . A concise definition from wikipedia is a new model of economic production, different from both markets and firms, in which the creative energy of large numbers of people is coordinated (usually with the aid of the internet) into large, meaningful projects, largely without traditional hierarchical organization or financial compensation. •
The wisdom of crowds – as discussed in the book wisdom of crowds by James Surowiecki whose central idea is that large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.
And finally, network effects from user contributions. In other words, the ability for users to add value (knowledge) easily and then the ability for their contributions to flow seamlessly across the whole community – thereby enriching the whole body of knowledge. A collective brain/intelligence of the blogosphehe if you will – made possible by RSS. A living, dynamic entity not controlled by a single entity.
3. Data is the Next Intel Inside
We have seen previously that a web 2.0 service combines function(software) and data(which is managed by the software). Web 2.0 services inevitably have a body of data (Amazon reviews, eBay products and sellers, Google links) Thus, it’s very different to a word processor for example – where we are selling only software (and no data).
Data is the key differentiator. In most cases, the company serving the data (for example Google) also ‘owns’ the data (for example information about links). However, that may not always be the case. In case of Google maps , Google does not own the data. Mapping data is often owned by companies such as NavTech and satellite imagery data is owned by companies like Digital Globe. Google maps combine data from these two sources(at least).
Taking the ‘chain of data’ further, sites like housing maps are a mashup between Google maps and craigslist. The more difficult it is to create the data, the more valuable it is(for example satellite images are valuable). In cases where data which is relatively easy to create, the company providing the most useful service and hitting critical mass will be valuable.
4. End of the Software Release Cycle
Web 2.0 services do not have a software release cycle. While Google reindexes its link indices every day, Microsoft releases a major software release every few years. That’s because there is no ‘data’ in windows 95, windows XP etc. It’s pure software. Not so with Google. Google is data plus software. It has to reindex its ‘data’ every day else it loses its value. Thus, operations are critical to a web 2.0 company. There is no ‘release’ as such. The flip side of this coin is – there are widespread beta releases and users are treated as co-developers.
5. Lightweight Programming Models
Distributed applications have always been complex to design. However, distributed applications are central to the web. Web services were deemed to be the mechanism to create distributed applications easily. But web services, in their full incarnation using the SOAP stack, are relatively complex. RSS is a simpler(and quicker) way to achieve much of the functionality of web services.
Simpler technologies like RSS and AJAX are the driving force behind web 2.0 services as opposed to the full fledged webservices stack using mechanisms like SOAP. These technologies are designed to syndicate rather than orchestrate(one of the goals of web services). They are thus opposite to the traditional corporate mindset of controlling access to data. They are also designed for reuse. Reuse in the sense of reusing the service and not the data(i.e. they make it easier to remix the service).
Finally, innovation becomes a case of mixing (cobbling together) services existing services – something which we talked about in OpenGardens in the mobile context.
6. Software Above the Level of a Single Device
The sixth principle i.e. ‘Software above the level of a single device’ – is an obvious staring point when we think of the impact of web 2.0 on mobility and telecoms. At one level, the whole of the ‘new’ web should be transparent and accessible across any device. Indeed a browser is the least common denominator in all mobile data devices – and that’s a sobering thought. But there is more to the sixth principle than merely access via the browser.
iTunes leverages data(music) through the service and provides some data management/metadata functions. The mobile device has the potential to act as a significant reporter of data rather than a mere consumer of data. This data, like all web 2.0 services, may be implicit or explicit. This point will be a significant area for discussion in the next two articles.
7. Rich User Experiences
While mechanisms like RSS are being used to syndicate the content of web sites out to a much wider audience, the user experience at the client itself is undergoing a dramatic improvement. The collection of technologies driving this enhanced user experience is Ajax popularised by Jesse James Garrett in the AJAX essay
AJAX is being used in services like gmail, Google maps and Flickr and it already provides the technology to create a seamless user experience combing many discrete services. The impact of RSS and AJAX is to create a service spanning content from many sites. To the user, this is a single, transparent experience. Effectively, content is being freed from its original container. Instead of the user going to the content(as in a user navigating to a web site), the content is going to the user(through RSS). Technologies like AJAX are making it easier for users to create the glue which binds the various content sources(RSS) together.
Conclusion to part One
This article laid the groundwork for the next two articles. It was an introduction to web 2.0 and a series of initial questions which came to my mind when discussing the interplay between web 2.0 and mobility. My objectives, as I have stated, are to extend Tim’s seven principles to mobility and digital convergence. I welcome your comments and questions and I shall answer them in the next two sections of this article.
Ajit.jaokar at futuretext.com
Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Web20_en.png
Permanent link: http://opengardensblog.futuretext.com/archives/2005/12/mobile_web_20_w.html