I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the mobile user experience, particularly the experience of the Web on the (typical) mobile device. I say “typical” because I’m not talking about the iphone here — I’m talking about the kind of mass-market device that billions of real users hold in their hands every day. Increasingly these are devices that are capable of a reasonable data services experience, but they are still not being used to their potential. What is the new user paradigm that will truly kick start the mobile Web? The essential innovation of the Web itself was putting together two existing technologies: hypertext and the Internet. Hypertext had been around for a while, in library-science and computer science circles and even in such products as Hypercard. Likewise, the Internet was around and widely used (mostly by academics and students) through well understood but essentially plain text paradigms such as FTP, Telnet and Gopher. Both these technologies by themselves were limited in their appeal. But somehow, layering Hypertext on top of the Internet (the Web) created something that was greater than the sum of its parts, and the Web as we know it was born. Yes, there were other factors at work in the birth of the Web but I believe it was the marriage of these two technologies that was the crucial factor. When we come to the mobile Web, however — that is, usage of the Web on devices which are intended to be used one-handed, often with a four-way rocker switch instead of …

Wanted: a New User Experience Metaphor for the Mobile Web Read more »

Arun at AOL ran a great panel today titled Browser Wars Past and Present. There actually wasn’t much discussion of past browser wars, but there was lots of good discussion on the future of Web standards and HTML standards in particular. Opera, Microsoft and Mozilla on the same panel – great stuff. So when question time came around, I asked about when these guys are going to implement the WICD specification that we’ve (with the exception of MS) have been working on jointly in W3C for the past 2 years. To Charles’s credit, he said Opera is implementing it – great to hear it. But what I heard from Brendan Eich, CTO of Mozilla, floored me. He actually said that he doesn’t believe people are going to browse the Web on their phone. He sat there and said “I don’t believe people want to use Wikipedia from their phone.” Well — speaking as someone who has authored Wikipedia pages on mobile devices, of course my point of view is that this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about with regard to mobile, which is a bit sad because he’s obviously a smart guy in other respects. It’s typical of the willful denial that’s all too prevalent in the “Web” community about mobile, and it stems from a misapprehension about the nature of the platform. Yes, the mobile is not suited to the kind of Web browsing that people are used to on the PC. It is suited to a different kind of Web usage and interaction …

Browser Panel at SXSW Read more »

Just now listening to a great talk by Alex Steffen at an organization called World Changing. Lots of good ideas on living in a more sustainable way. One interesting thread is the idea that products should have an “ecological nutrition” label on them that inform consumers of the pedigree of products and services before they make purchase decisions. I think there is a burgeoning trend towards this approach that you can already see with Fairtrade coffee or organic produce at the grocer’s.

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.

Attended a great panel chaired by Ryan Carson on the ins and outs of building successful businesses out of Web applications. Of all the Web 2.0 ringmasters, one thing you can say about Ryan is that he definitely has the coolest hat. Lots of good insights for entrepreneurs here. The other highlight of today was Justin Oberman’s great panel on using mobile technology for activism. Good insights and great chairing from Justin, but a little too much US-centric thinking among the panelists (with the exception of Roger from Rave Wireless), especially when many of the opportunities for social impact from the mobile are to be felt in the developing world. Also: too much focus on texting.

Wow! Just sitting here in Brian Fling’s presentation on the Mobile Web. I know Brian because he spoke at mobile2.0 last year, but I’ve never heard him speak at length on the future of the Web on mobile. Brian definitely gets it. Not only does he have at his fingertips the specifics and standards involved in developing Mobile Web content, but he deeply understands the problem space and the opportunity. It’s elating sitting here and listening to someone speak so eloquently on these topics and referencing work that I’ve been part of driving for the past three+ years (such as the Mobile Web Initiative). And judging from the rapt audience here (filling up one of the larger rooms at the conference) I think people are starting to listen! By the way, this post was written by Opera Mini. (And then edited later on a desktop browser to add the image and clean it up. Unfortunately there’s still a limit to what you can do on the mobile side Flickr – even though their mobile site works well. It amazingly allows for photo upload from within the mobile browser but you can’t do much with the photo after that. Blogging from your photo once you’ve uploaed it would be a great feature, for instance.)

Now sitting in a panel on geospatial data on the Web. Slightly less interesting in that we seem to be celebrating what has been done (particularly with Google Earth). Well yeah – but where is the talk about where this is all going? Frankly, what about the possibilities for mobile applications of location and use of geospatial data? Ok — some good stuff from Dan Dubno of “Blowing Things Up” (great name for a company). He’s talking about using personal agents to use spatial data and external data to negotiate with vendors as you walk down the street to get you the best price on, say, a cup of coffee. Interesting twist on the age-old “mobile marketing” standby of getting a Starbucks coupon as you walk down the street: turning around to the use of agents that use location and proximity data on the user’s behalf. This meshes with my view of how digital identity (of which location is a facet), privacy and security will evolve along Web 2.0 lines. Clearly, this is an important use case for the burgeoning effort on the Ubiquitous Web within W3C.

So here I am, sitting in a panel at South by Southwest on “designing for convergent devices.” As I walked in, I caught the tail end of something that seemed really cool – a service called Zannel that does user gen video content with a mobile and Web UI. Forget Youtube for mobile – these guys have already done it. They’ve designed for simplicity, and it’s great that the designers and app developers here at SXSW are getting that message. Also interesting to see that the SXSW.mobi site is getting a lot of discussion here – and people aren’t asking “what is dotMobi?” – there really seems to be a lot of recognition here of what dotMobi is and more generally what a mobile friendly Web site is (works on your phone). That’s pretty cool. Just now listening to Denise Burton from Frog Design talking about the challenges of 4-way navigation based design (especially with regard to focus state). She stressed the importance of animations and transitions. YES. This is exactly the challenge that the WICD mobile profile seeks to address – being able to design consistent user experience that responds in a coherent way to user input, and be able to use SVG-based animations and transitions to respond to user feedback. Other notes: I had joked that they would probably put all the Interactive content off in a back room somewhere to keep the nerds away from the film and music people. Well, it’s no joke. These SXSW Interactive panels are off in what seems …

South by Southwest Live Notes Read more »