One of the most interesting discussions I had in San Francisco two weeks ago (where I was co-presenting Mobile 2.0 and the Mobie Tech 4 Social Change camp) was with Brian Fling on the unlikely subject of email. We both agreed that we hate email (a common sentiment these days) and that something needed to be done. I don’t know a single person who actually doesn’t roll their eyes these days when the subject of email comes up. Kids these days already refer to email is “something I use when I want to communicate with old people.” Ouch! Email as a medium is not keeping up with how we interact, how we do our jobs, how we live in the modern world. It’s overtaken by spam (encouraged by its nature as an open and free medium and the relatively little it costs to send out emails in bulk). It has no intrinsic trust mechanism (and developments like sender policy framework are basically a band-aid and do not address personal trust circles, only whether an email is from where it purports to come from). Email has no intrinsic semantics that allow email clients to do anything useful with them. Even advanced email clients can do little to help with this mess. Email is actually follows a typical trajectory for innovation. In the book Why Things Bite Back, Edward Tenner takes us through a history of technological innovation and why some innovations have “unintended consequences.” The unintended consequences of Email have become all-to-clear: lost time, “inbox anxiety,” spam …

Can We Kill Email? Read more »

Update on the Barclaycard OnePulse. Apparently, getting an application out to me in the mail is too difficult for these guys because I haven’t received it yet. I also don’t quite understand why I have to re-apply for this card. Instead, shouldn’t I, as a valued Barclaycard customer living in London, have been offered the opportunity to upgrade/whatever to the OnePulse card? Big campaign behind this OnePulse thing all over the Tube (see inset: “Welcome to the Future.”) I don’t feel very welcome in your future, Barclaycard. In fact, I’m on the verge of canceling my existing card and writing the whole thing off.

So Barclaycard (the credit card arm of Barclay’s, a major UK-based bank) is rolling out a new product, Onepulse, which more or less combines a few payment instruments into one card. Firstly, it’s a regular “chip and PIN” credit card, now ubiquitous across the UK. Secondly, it’s an Oyster card. Oyster is the brand name for the smart card system now in use across London’s transport network. It’s a “touchless” RFID card that you can either load with money that decrements with each journey or with virtual tickets that allow unlimited travel over a period of time. Oyster has been around since 2003. The third instrument on this Onepulse card, however, is something new, at least for the UK. It’s called “Visa Onetouch” and appears similar to something MasterCard has rolled out in the U.S. called Paypass. So why is this at all interesting? Well. I’m always interested in new smart card technology and how it changes our behavior and impacts our society. I participated in a digital cash trial in Manhattan in 1997 (that famously floundered). I’m an early adopter of this kind of stuff, and I also am drawn to the promise of greater convenience. Convenience was a notably missing element from the Mondex trial in Manhattan (where you had to bring your card to a special equipped ATM and load money on it in order to bring it to a specially equipped vendor so they could schlep out a huge multi-part card reader – for which you would have to use a separate …

Smart Cards, Digital Money, Oyster and the Effective Use of a Hole Punch Read more »

[ad] The hard drive on my Powerbook was giving up the ghost. First, it started making a high-pitched squeal. Then it started “sticking” intermittently – the machine would just hang there until I gave it a bit of a shake – very unsettling. Finally it just refused to boot. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. Three weeks ago, I received my Powerbook 12″ back from Daystar technologies. It left me with a 60 gig hard drive (dead), a 1.33 GHz G4 processor and 768 meg of ram. Having undergone essentially a brain transplant, it has returned to me with a 1.67 GHz G4 processor, a 120gig hard drive and 1.25 gig of ram. Total price including shipping was £437.88. Was it worth it? I only paid £850 or so for the thing off the apple reconditioned store in summer 2004. I could have bought a refurb Macbook for £580 today. So from a price / features perspective it may not have been the most rational choice. However, I really don’t like the Macbook — for one, I can’t see myself getting used to that keyboard and for another the thing’s just too damn heavy! I really like the form factor of my 12″ Powerbook so I was reluctant to give that up. But that was the choice I was faced with. Well… having used it was three weeks, I have to say that the operation was a complete success. The only issue is that this thing gets hot. Subjectively, it doesn’t get that much hotter than it …

Powerbook 12": The Upgrade Read more »

One of the most exciting projects I’ve been involved with this year has been the launch of Vodafone Betavine. Betavine is a collaborative portal for the developer community focusing on mobile and communications apps. Although mobile operators have launched developer sites in the past, Betavine is different because it’s aimed at individual, small company and student developers – the real grass roots. It’s also the first Vodafone group Web site to feature a blog, user-generated content. Betavine is now launching three exciting features: student competitions, APIs and the open source zone. The competition offer students the opportunity to win up to €5000 just for developing and uploading an innovative application in one of four categories (Social Networking & Communications, Information & Entertainment, Office & B2B and Social Impact). Very cool stuff. The API section (which will be previewed at JavaOne next week by Stephen Wolak, the pioneering soul behind the Betavine initiative) will feature, well, APIs. APIs into network functions, such as location and messaging functions, have been something small company developers have been asking about for years. The Betavine APIs will be initially provide SMS messaging, WAP push and access to Betavine itself (to allow for Betavine mashups). Watch the site for the launch and to find out more details. Finally, the open source counterpart to Betavine has now launched: Vodafone Betavine Forge. This is a fully functional open source community site featuring CVS, bug tracking, etc… the whole shebang. Along with the launch of the site are three internal Vodafone open source projects that …

Betavine Continues to Ripen Read more »

This morning I’m on my way to the Future Technologies event in Oxford. I’ve never actually been to Oxford, which evidenced this morning when I got on the wrong train at Paddington.  So now I’m going to be late, which is a shame because I am genuinely interested in what the other speakers have to say, especially Shannon Maher from Google whose talk it looks like I will miss. I’ll be talking about the future of the mobile Web, including the Mobile Web Initiative and dotMobi, but also dipping in to Mobile Ajax and next-generation mobile Web experience (widgets, for example). Looking forward to a fun day, if I ever get there.

I was amazed to find today that I can detect 9 WiFi networks from my home office location. That’s crazy!  Most of them have SSIDs like “BTHomeHub…” and “BTVOYAGER…” so these are clearly set up by BT engineers. There is even a “BT Fusion…” hotspot so at least one person within a stone’s throw of my house has the new-fangled BT Fusion phone that can hope seamlessly between GSM and your home hotspot. I wish I knew who it was — I’d like to find out how well that works. Apart from my network, there’s only one other with a sensible SSID name. I’m also happy to see that all of them are using security of some kind. This is not a tech-heavy neighborhood, so it seems like we’ve quietly crossed some kind of threshold with regard to WiFi penetration among the general populace. This could have some interesting unintended consequences as more and more devices (both mobile and otherwise, like the famous Nabaztag rabbit) become WiFi enabled.

Just a quick note: I’m now listening to Timo Veikkola of Nokia who’s title is “Sr. Future Specialist”. Timo’s talking about the values that will drive service and hardware design in the future. Great stuff, especially after the somewhat fluffy presentations from Target and MTV which basically amounted to “here’s how we’re selling you more stuff.” Timo is completely blowing them away – wow. “Devices will become intimate companions.” I believe this is true (though it raises a number of privacy and security issues). This vision of the future could easily turn into a dystopian nightmare if these issues are not correctly understood. “Leapfrogging” – users in developing markets will use the mobile device first as a connected [Internet] medium and will effectively leapfrog the existing [PC] paradigms. “Semantic Search & Find” – the importance of giving people the information they are looking for with far greater accuracy then is currently happening on the PC Web. Cool stuff. Nokia continues to push the envelope.

A group here in Austin called the “bootstrap network” (with a rough mission to enable small companies and entrepeneurs to partner with eachother) is launching something they’re calling a “complimentary currency” system to facilitate and formalize this kind of business barter and “in kind” payment for services. And they’re using OpenID in some way to facilitate the whole system. Right now the scope is limited to Austin but it sounds like something that could easily be exported. Very cool and potentially revolutionary stuff.

Well – it’s more like a Victorian Walkman, but I still though it was cool. This pocket-sized device (manufactured in 1926) unfolds into a miniature phonograph. Amaze you friends, confound your enemies! It was on display on the upper deck of Tower Bridge as part of an exhibit of Victorian musical automata including some other early phonographs and phonograph recordings. The collection is presented with great gusto by a “Mr. Bagpipe” (a gentleman sporting a rather unlikely beard). Your last chance to see it is tomorrow, the 25th. Definitely worth the visit, especially (but not exclusively) for those with small children.