Late last year, I was asked to write an article for a “digital parenting” magazine produced by my employer, Vodafone. I was asked to write about (positive) trends I see in the future – I chose to focus on the future of social networking, the future of human-computer interaction and the future of open data – three key trends that I see having a major impact on how we live, and have major implications for how we need to think about digital privacy. Besides my musings, though, the magazine is actually packed with great information for parents of young children who are just starting to explore the Web, social networks, texting and other forms of digital media. As a parent, I really recommend reading it. To read the full article, you have to go to parents.vodafone.com and “click on” the “Digital Parenting Magazine.” It is also downloadable as a PDF.
In 2006, I wrote a blog post in an attempt to define “mobile 2.0.” Looking back at that post, I can see that many of my predictions have come to pass. We have indeed moved into a new area, where apps and the mobile Web are bringing a new class of services to mobile users. And we are continuing to see the mobile and Web/Internet industries converge.
But what relevance does the “Mobile 2.0” conference have in 2010?
Hard to believe that this will be the fifth Mobile 2.0 event running in Silicon Valley. In 2006, after discussing with Mike Rowehl and Gregory Gorman the fact that the Web 2.0 Summit (and many other industry events focusing on disruptive innovation) had no mobile-related content to speak of, we decided to create Mobile 2.0 – a day-long event that would take the format we had helped develop with MobileMonday and expand it to a day-long event. The result was Mobile 2.0 – ok, not the most original name, I grant you. But behind the name, there was and continues to be an ethos that is different from other industry events. We are informal. We are emphatically not pay-for-play. We are people who work and live in this industry. We value people with knowledge they are willing and excited to share with others. We are passionate (and I don’t use the word lightly) about innovation in mobile and we have borne witness to a great era of change in that industry. We strongly believe in the importance of holistic thinking – bringing together entrepreneurs, developers, strategists, VCs, designers and marketers to talk to and learn from each-other. We understand that we live on a planet and that innovation is happening around the globe. We shy away from hype and try to expose the realities of what’s going on. We agree that the convergence between the Internet and the mobile platforms is creating a new medium with aspects of both. We are trying to move the needle.
I was amused to see that Nokia’s new CEO closed his talk at Nokia World in London by reprising Balmer’s famous “developers, developers, developers” speech. I’ve been talking to a lot of developers lately. I just got through co-organizing and co-presenting Over the Air and I’ll shortly be heading to San Francisco to help put on another event – Mobile 2.0, which includes a developer day and a “business” day. I’ll also be heading over to SuperHappyDevHouse to talk with yet mote developers. I want to talk to developers about what’s going on with HTML5, the social Web (and especially OneSocialWeb), the WAC, the Mobile Web Application Best Practices, and the re-launch of Vodafone Developer. I’m also very excited to hear from our line-up of speakers at the Mobile 2.0 Developer Day about what they think are the key issues facing developers today. And I hope to hear from many developers about what their issues are – what they think we as an industry should be focusing on.
photo credit: Charlotte Gilhooly
I’m an early adopter, or possibly a serial alpha tester. I’m always willing to give something new a go, especially when it comes to new ways to get around my city, London. I was first off the block to get an Oyster card – a fantastic innovation that has transformed Tube and Bus travel, in my opinion. I was an early customer of the “OnePulse” combined Oyster-Visa-contactless payment card – less than fantastic, but that’s the subject of another post. So it should come as no surprise that I was one of the first to sign up for the new “Cycle Hire” scheme in London – cheerily called “Boris’s Bikes” by the press. (Us Londoners know they’re really Ken’s bikes but “Ken’s Bikes” suffers from a lack of aliteration so “Boris’s Bikes” it is.)
They probably had enough work to do just launching the service and getting basic e-commerce systems up and running to worry about mobile app development and I’m aso guessing they didn’t have the expertise in house (though that’s just a guess). Many companies and organizations launching new services, particularly in government, might be in similar situations. They could have decided to bag mobile all together, but that would have been shortsighted. Clearly, this is a service that needed a mobile component. So, as reported in the Guardian, TFL decided not to roll their own mobile app associated with the service but rather opened the field up budding mobile developers. They did so by releasing their data as an API to the developer community and seeing what emerged. And what emerged was a host of mobile applications, some of which have been reported on in the Londonist and CNet UK.
To guide me on my (so-far) three cycle hire journeys, I’ve used the Android Cycle Hire Widget by Little Fluffy Toys. It gives you instant feedback on your home screen on the location, direction and status of the 3 nearest docking stations: invaluable information at the beginning and end of your journey. (I’m also glad to report that we will be featuring a session from Little Fluffy Toys at this year’s Over the Air on how they built that app.)
The main take-away here is that by opening up their data through an API, TFL enabled a market to develop around how to best visualize and package that data for mobile use. And what we’ve seen emerge so far is only the tip of the iceberg. I fully expect to see mashups and other creative uses of that data in the near future.
Photo credit: Rob Pongsajapan.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Lift conference and helping to run a workshop on user privacy. This was a workshop with a difference. My colleague Franco Papeschi came up with the idea of a privacy “game” (“Denopticon“) which would help participants explore the issues around privacy, personal information and data sharing. The game started with participants filling out an ID card with personal information about themselves. Participants earned points for finding out and recording personal information from others and additional points for fulfilling various secret missions. It was enormously fun and I hope to help run it again at other events. But besides being fun, it helped the participants, and the moderators, think about the key issues around user privacy.
This was against the backdrop of enormous upheaval in the area of user privacy on the Web. I remember when privacy on the Web used to boil down to “turning off cookies.” Now-a-days if you turn off cookies, you might as well use your computer as a doorstop, and anyway the privacy conversation has so moved on. In a world where more and more of our communication is happening through social networks and socially connected applications, the whole concept of privacy is being turned on its head, to the extent that some (such as Christian Heller) are claiming that we are now living in a “post-privacy” world. And, of course, Google’s Eric Schmidt is on record saying “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” which (if he truly believes this) I think betrays an almost pathological misapprehension about the human condition.
The truth is, we need privacy, as a society. Anyone who claims we don’t is (forgive me) either terribly naïve, stupid, or a sociopath. Privacy, and a reasonable expectation that some of our actions and communications are and will remain private, is a social lubricant that allows for healthy exercise of denial and other mechanisms that keep us sane. Anti-privacy pundits are quick to reply that “the kids” don’t care about privacy – but this notion doesn’t bear up under the facts. (For evidence, an article from today’s NY Times reporting on the increasing awareness of youth to privacy issues.) In fact, there seems to be a backlash against the “private is public” mentality which has led to over-sharing and social networking fatigue. (Do I really care that you’ve won the medal of the badge of being the mayor of the Duncan Donuts at 33rd and 8th? Maybe that’s something better kept private.)
Over-sharing as promoted by servers like Foursquare may be annoying but it’s basically harmless. You may be opening yourself up to stalking or having your house burgled but that’s a choice you’re willing to make for the benefits that social sharing bring, right? OK, but what happens when you’re not just making that decision for yourself? What happens when your sharing impacts your family, your sexual partner, your children? Emerging usages of social networks will require more trustable, private environments. With their ability to share structured data, social networks could be a great environment to interact with your stock broker or financial advisor. What about health service communications – such as your blood sugar levels or the results of your AIDS test? What about parent-teacher communications? The list goes on – all of these intrinsically private types of communication could benefit from the rich communication mechanisms that social networks bring to bear. But people would (rightly) be reluctant to use Facebook or other existing social networks in these ways.
Unfortunately, although social platforms like Facebook are adding richer privacy controls, there remain problems both with the implementation of these controls and in making them understandable to regular users. I think Facebook has actually made a lot of progress in making privacy options visible and usabile – at least on their Web site. In fact, my personal trust level of Facebook’s privacy mechanisms has increased enough that I’ve begun sharing family photos and other information with family members on the platform. I’ve been very frustrated by the lack of privacy controls on their mobile clients and mobile web site, but it seems to me they are on the right track. There are challenges on the horizon, though.
Another challenge is going to be implementing trustable privacy in the post-Facebook world. How would my family photos use-case work if my family members were not all on Facebook but were members of a series of federated social networks? These are some of the problem spaces we’ve been exploring in the W3C Social Web Incubator. The OneSocialWeb project is building an open source platform that uses XMPP to bring some of these ideas to life.
One thing is clear: privacy is becoming a key industry topic and a flashpoint in the intersection between mobile, social and the Web. The common wisdom is shifting away from the idea that “people don’t care about online privacy” which is good, but it throws a spotlight on the mess that privacy on the Web has become. Cleaning up that mess is going to take some effort.
Meetings! We all hate them. Sometimes they are necessary. But what if you could minimize the number of meetings (and in particular status meetings) necessary to keep a project moving in the right direction. When I’m running a project, especially one with tight time-lines, I’m used to running daily (quick) “stand up” meetings in which each participant gives a quick status of what they’re working on; what they accomplished the previous day; what they plan to work on today and what challenges or problems they are facing.
For a development project I’ve been working on for the past few months (“Agora” – more on that soon), we have largely abandoned this “stand up” style and moved all of this daily status sharing into Google Wave. This was partially necessitated by the fact that the developers and designers we have working on this project are in a few different physical locations, but the results have been surprising.
I was sceptical at first that Wave would be a rich enough environment, but it has really enabled a kind of rich collaboration that.
Developers can post screenshots of UI mockups or code samples or error codes and then generate discussion and get feedback on these. Commenting on the Wave enables people to talk about priorities. And as some of our developers are not native english speakers, using the Wave combined with web translation has enabled them to converse more easily and clearly than via voice or real-time chat.
I approached this with an attitude of “Wave must be good for something” and I can honestly say I am a convert. It has really shown its strength in helping to manage a distributed small-team development project. And while it hasn’t eliminated the need for meetings, it has certainly reduced their frequency, and (I think) boosted productivity.
I have three predictions for the coming year:
Prediction #1: I have seen the future, and it is Android. Or rather, the Android model is going to be the model that “wins out.” Right now, especially for those who tote iPhones around, that might be difficult to see or understand. The iPhone seems like a device which embodies all the mobile 2.0 ideals I first wrote about in 2006. It provides access to a wealth of applications and services. It’s easy to use. It’s connected. It has created new product categories (apps) and new routes to market. But, as iPhone detractors often point out, it’s a closed ecosystem. I submit that no matter how “insanely great” the iPhone is, the ecosystem that Apple has created around it cannot scale. So, we are back to another prediction I made, at 2008′s Future of Mobile conference: Android will be to the iPhone what the PC was to the Mac. Why? User choice. You can download and install an app on an Android phone without buying it from Android Market. You can download it directly, or from an alternative app store such as GetJar. I predict 2010 will be the year that Android apps will begin to rival iPhone apps – maybe not in terms of sheer numbers, but in terms of consumer and developer mindset. This will be the year in which “download our Android App” buttons will join “download our iPhone App” buttons on sites across the Web. Don’t believe me? Check out this interesting data point (take a look at the “customer satisfaction” graph – I predict Android and iPhone will change places by the end of the year).
Prediction #2: At the same time, richer functionality (enabled by the HTML5 platform and APIs such the geolocation API) within to the browser and web runtimes will enable the creation of a new class of WebApp (and Web Widgets) that will work interchangeably between Android, iPhone and other emerging smartphone platforms. The result of this trend will bolster the growth of Android as consumers will begin to perceive that they don’t have to buy iPhone to get a rich mobile Web experience.
Prediction #3: The Social Web will rise. This is hardly a surprising prediction coming from me. But what will it mean for the (mobile) industry and for consumers? We have already seen a rise of social apps and webapps on mobile, such as Brightkite, Yelp, Rummble and Foursquare: applications that take advantage of unique features of the mobile platform to bring real-time social connection into new places and to new user communities. We will start to see these applications weave together using emerging social web standards such as the so-called open stack and activity streams. For users, it will mean easier and more seamless social sharing, especially for long-tail social apps. The social web will make it easier for people to choose the right tool for the job without being as constrained by “where their friends are.” The mobile industry, however, is generally more used to thinking about scale and market-dominating players (yes, e.g. Facebook), so the tools the mainstream mobile industry puts in front of people will continue to orbit around these market-dominating social networks. (Ironically, the Facebooks of the world very much understand the social web trend so are actually on their way towards dismantling their walled gardens just as mobile industry players are building more functionality on top of them.) Meanwhile, predictions #1 and #2 will mean that people will have more and more choices and will increasingly go “off-piste” and choose their own social tools and applications.
It all adds up to 2010 being the year of user choice: choice of handset, choice of platforms, choice of social networks, choice of apps.
My friend Adam is a small animal veterinarian in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I rarely get the chance to see him, but when I do it’s always illuminating in some way. Last night over some lovely steaks and shirley temples at San Francisco’s A5A, we got to talking about apps. Adam is an app fiend. He has completely filled up his iPhone with apps. He yelps. He tweets. Adam is super-connected. More interesting though is how he runs his business. Adam uses Freshbooks to do all his business management online (or “in the cloud” as fashion now dictates). Using the Minibooks iPhone app, he is able to get into all this information while mobile, including patient records, blood work reports, etc… everything he needs to do his job. He uses VoiceCentral/GoogleVoice to manage his calls, get transcripts and make appointments. He uses MotionX GPS to get to appointments. He accepts credit card payments with MerchantWare’s credit card app. Otherwise, Freshbooks allows clients to pay him through Paypal. He has all kinds of Veterinary reference material and medical calculator apps on his iPhone. He uses Osirix to carry around digitised xray images from hospitals. He uses Evernote to sync multimedia of pets (images, sound, and videos) taken on the iPhone to his Mac. His entire business is mobile. He can show up at a client, pull up their pet’s records and start working without a single piece of paper. This enables him to do something almost unheard of in this day and age: make housecalls. In fact, that’s all he does. The “cloud” + mobile apps have enabled him to create an innovative new business model and the result is happy pets and pet owners (read his Yelp reviews). How many other small businesses is Mobile 2.0 quietly re-inventing?
Another highlight was Bruce Lawson’s talk on HTML5 which got a vigorous round of applause from the (800+!) attendees.
Anyway, Carsonified’s badges, which I gushed over in 2007, have also evolved as the company has evolved. See a picture of my badge in-line. Attendees wrote in their own badges this time, which no-doubt saved them some money but also enabled everyone to customize. I took advantage of some “brain” handy stickers to write in tags for topics I’m currently thinking about.