Blabberings on technology, the web, mobile world, India, books, events, communities and everything else (Chautauqua: An old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the participants)

Location: United States

Saturday, August 27, 2005

on how to predict google's next product

Disclaimer: I hope there are no legal issues involved due to my use of the google logo on this post. In case there are, please let me know and I will remove it.

Nivi writes:

So how do you predict Google’s next product?

Take any piece of software you use all day: e.g. address book, calendar, web browser, iTunes, MS Office, stock charts.

Ask yourself: “What do I really really really wish this product could do?”

Wait for Google to make your dream come true. Or develop the dream product yourself so you can sell it to AOL/Yahoo/IAC/MS when Google launches their version.

Read the full post on Nivi's blog.

Friday, August 26, 2005

mobile content - some more discussion

Since, the comments on my blog are not readily visible, I thought I'll reproduce Dennis' comment on the main page for reference as I discuss some ideas. My ideas follow Dennis' comment.

Dennis wrote:

"I just love the power of the blog and I'm thankful that you've addressed these issues so openly. It’s difficult to give an answer to your question so I hope my rambling makes any sense.

Extrapolating existing concepts unto a new platform will not be (or only limitedly be) successful. Mobile is a different state of mind and it requires a different way of interaction. I totally agree with you there.

PHONifier is a far from optimal service. I totally agree again. Even more so, PHONifier will die over time and the quicker it dies the better. When you think about it, it’s idiotic that a PHONifier type service is needed to surf content on your mobile…

That we need something new instead of an extrapolation of a PC-based browser I don’t really agree with. I do believe that the way we present content to a mobile device should change. No one knows what navigation structure to use, to name a simple example. Yet the tremendous talent behind modern day websites shouldn’t be delayed because they need to learn something new. All they should have to learn is how a mobile user thinks and then be able to apply this knowledge in a simple and intuitive way.

The connection between ShotCode and PHONifier is there because it allows anyone without mobile knowledge to instantly set up and try out a mobile service. Your current, standard webpages, can be “optimized” on the fly.

How we can make this “optimization” even better or completely eliminate it, I haven’t figured out yet. As far as I've understood CSS already allows you to do a lot of this optimization quite easily. If you have any ideas I’d love to hear them. Let’s keep on trying things until we find it. :) "

I'm immensely impressed with Dennis' comment especially the humility in the way he talked about PHONifier which by all means is a great product for our present day needs.

I think I didn't communicate clearly what I had in mind about the extrapolation of a PC-based browser. What I was trying to talk about was broader than just the browser. I hope the ramblings below make some sense.

Consider the PC-based browsing model, it is an each-time-discover-push-and-pull mechanism. That is, every time a user browses, he/she first needs to discover/state the correct hyperlink, then the user pushes a request to the server, which then pulls the information requested and provides it to the user. This model relies on the user being able to discover the correct hyperlink to click on or type the URL into the address bar and in the case of PC it is easy because the user has a mouse and a keyboard.

Now, consider RSS/atom, it's a one-time-discover-and-pull based model, where a user subscribes to a feed once and it is pulled each time there is an update. The reason why we have seen so many mobile RSS readers spring up in such a short time is the simplicity of accessing syndicated content. One doesn't have to deal with discovery (navigation) and requesting (typing or clicking) each time one needs information.

Now, consider the above difference in the models, in light of the potential success of mobile RSS readers and the certain failure of WAP. I see an indication of what can succeed on mobile phones. And note that when it came to syndicated content, the content providers did not have to learn a whole lot. I'm not saying that all content has to be syndicated, I'm saying that we have to come up with a mechanism that incorporates some insight about how users have been behaving when it comes to mobile content and what model has succeeded and what has failed.

You're probably thinking that RSS is just a mechanism of delivering content and not a way of optimizing it for the mobile screen. You're right it is not optimizing content for the mobile screen. Yet, in terms of the overall "mobile experience" that I keep talking about, RSS provides for a better experience on cell phones than pre-RSS ways of accessing content. So does shotcode. The mobile experience is larger, wider and bigger than just the screen and navigation.

While RSS feeds just eliminate the 'discovery' requirement as discussed above, the mobile browser will bridge the 'discovery' and 'navigation' gap based on some new model where the providers will not have to learn a whole lot. The browser might thus support a different model (different from the PC-based way) of accessing and providing content altogether and therefore will not be an extrapolation of the PC-based browser.

That's sort of what I had in mind when I wrote about extrapolation. Maybe it doesn't make sense, maybe it does - but I agree with the notion of "let's keep trying until we succeed!". :)

Comments anyone? You can reach me at harshdhundia at gmail.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

the blog school

"I just love the power of the blog." A recent post culminated into quite an interesting learning experience for me. I realized the power of the blog to reach people and also some blog etiquette. I'll like to thank Oliver Starr and Dennis Hettema for more than just their insightful comments. Both, Oliver's insightful comment and Dennis' answer to my critique left with me with lessons, I might have not learnt otherwise - Oliver on Blog etiquette and Dennis on how to positively respond to a critique. This is a small example of how self-governing communities evolve - a new entrant does something that is percieved as a mistake by experienced members of a community. Some responsible experienced folks check the new entrant but still encourage participation, and the new entrant being a responsible person considers the advice and becomes a more responsible participant.

This seems to be the way blogging has evolved and will continue to evolve. As web shifts to a plethora of users generating content, let it be for any reason, the control, on what is acceptable and what is not, is also going to lie with a plethora of users. That's what Craigslist uses for blocking spam and it has proved to be quite succesful. Now, I'm no sociologist but the intricacies of how the web 2.0 world will evolve in terms of people sharing responsibilities would be interesting to observe.

More to come on this...but anyone have any ideas on what social rules will change in the web 2.0 world? One interesting argument to consider is this one by Nivi , which I came across on Rajesh Jain's blog. Oh, and a discussion on Dennis' comment in my next post.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

some interesting posts

Over the last week or so a couple of interesting posts appeared that I think present an interesting picture when juxtaposed against each other.

A very interesting post by Jim Moore lays out why web superservices will transform the landscape. He writes:

"Traditional web services were tightly typed and constrained by the typology within which they were developed. Traditional web services are of necessity sponsored by large corporation because only a powerful economic entity can fund the design of a grand service typology, enforce a complex implementation of typing, and establish the training and tools and conferences and other institutions needed to establish a community of developers willing to work together under a particular framework. This is why there is really no competition in web services to the two corporate enties, Java, supported by Sun, and .net from Microsoft.

The new world of web superservices has no such limitations. Web superservices are by design only minimally or loosely typed, in order to promote the freedom of developers to imagine what they will. This is the big idea. The less typing the better. The less change in the basic standards--for example, URLs and RSS--the better. Loose typing promotes community participation.For those who are "Snow Crash" fans, the new world of superservices is more akin to the Metaverse, Stephenson's imagined digital city that has no boundaries, and allows every hacker to build whatever house or building he or she desires. The city expands without limit as new structures are built on open ground at its edges, and the edges move out to encompass more territory."

Now, put this in perspective with this post by Phil Windley presenting excerpts from Nick Gall's keynote at OSCON. Phil Windley reports the following from Nick Gall:

"Internetworked architectures should be interoperable, composable, extensible, generic, federated, and simple. Achieving these characteristics in an architecture requires that you create three standards:

Identifier (address, reference, name)
Format (document, message, packet)
Protocol (interaction, behavior, request/reply)

Email, Web, and containerized shipping have all of these in their own form. The hourglass in containerized shipping is takes multiple goods (grain, chairs, umbrellas) and stuffs them all into standard intermodal container (the spanning layer in Clark's terms) and then these get put on any kind of transport (ship, rail, truck).

Web 1.0 made a three compromises. It was read-only, one-way links, and macroformated (page-level granularity). Gall says that search engines are an example of something that's been layered onto Web 1.0 to deal, in part, with one of these compromises (back-links). Web 2.0 fixes these three compromises.

There will be unintended consequences of architectures in internetworked architectures. These can result in serendipity (like mash-ups, RSS, and podcasting) as well as perverse effects (like viruses, spam, and phishing). "

Those are views of the same thing from two different points. Both lay out how things will evolve in an increasingly networked and yet easy-to-change world, where everyone will be able to change and create and link. In such a world, I wonder, how will a user recieve information he/she wants? Any ideas on what users want and how "web superservices" will help them get what they want?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

For Dennis Hettema of PHONifier

Dennis Hettema, the man behind shotcodes and now PHONifier, explains why he built PHONifier in an email to Oliver Starr which Oliver has published (click here). (and while I'm referencing, see this one too). Here is what I have to say to Dennis and I hope that this reaches him in some way - let's check the power of the blog.

I like the fact that you call this a "first step". And I will say that what you've created with PHONifier is probably a better version of existing technologies. However, in my opinion PHONifier still is a copy-content-from-the-PC-based-web-and-paste-it-to-a-small-screen solution. You've raised some very key points in your email that all of us in the wireless content sector have asked again and again and yet with PHONifier we fail to address those.

You'll agree that having content providers provide mobile friendly sites is one thing, but realizing how content will be used and accessed on mobile phones is another. So, while PHONifier might be a step towards providing mobile-friendly content, it necessarily does not provide a mobile friendly experience. At least not yet. And while a part of the fallacies (nothing specific to PHONifier) come from not knowing exactly what we want as mobile users, a part of it comes from the desire to extrapolate the exisiting concepts into other areas. And this extrapolation does not always work - it didn't work for the internet and will not work for cell phones.

Look at shotcodes - we all love shotcodes because it provides a complete mobile friendly experience - not just content that is easily viewable. Shotcodes to this date continues to draw the "Oohs" and the "Aahs" and "this is really cool", while for me PHONifier didn't quite do the same. 'Shotcodes' is NOT an extrapolation of what a webcam can do on the PC - it uses the mobile phone's camera capability in its own way and provides a user with a great mechanism to get something that the user actually needs. It is user-friendly, innovative and specific to the user's needs.

So, why does a mobile browser have to be an extrapolation of PC-based browsers - we need something new. The underlying assumption that content on a PC and content on the cell phone have the same utility vlaue has to change. And while we say we realize that the utilities are different, we still don't seem to use our awareness of this fact. Indeed, a big part of the responsibility needs to be taken by the content providers, but enablers like PHONifier have to drive this change. And that's what I don't see PHONifier doing at the moment.

Friday, August 12, 2005

more on mobile optimized web pages

In one of my recent posts, I had talked about how the sites were optimized only for the screen, bandwidth and memory and not the overall experience. Here comes another one (PHONifier)that almost fits into the same category, but still has some features worth discussing. PHONifier was launched yesterday and combines a feed (RSS/atom) reader with a mobile client that can supposedly optimize sites for cell phone screens.

However, before I get into any comparisons, the one laudable thing about the phonifier team is the that they openly give links to alternatives on their webpage. They mention IYHY and skweezer as alternatives to phonifier. The other thing I really appreciate is making the source code available. Gotta give you a thumbs up for that guys.

You might want to read a comparison between IYHY and PHONifier on Oliver Starr's blog.

The bottomline for me is that content is still not provided in a desirable way even though one may argue that it's a step forward.

Monday, August 08, 2005

tag search - does it really work?

Now, I do not intend to bash Technorati (they being the most well known in the tag-search domain) and I honestly do believe that the idea does indeed have great potential. Being a recent convert, I decided to check how their 'tag search' works. I made two assumptions for my test, both of which I believe are quite reasonable.

1) Most of technorati's admirers are tech-savvy people
2) Most of these tech-savvy people would know about mobile blogging

So, I decided to search for posts tagged 'mobile blogging'. The search results rolled out to 68 posts tagged in the last 102 days. I looked at the first 10 - lo and behold - not one of them had to do with mobile blogging! (I've included a screen shot of the first few results above) A lot of them had been categorized by the authors under mobile blogging, because they were written while mobile and at least one of them (the first one incidentally), had nothing to do with mobile blogging at all!

So, was I looking for blog posts that came from mobile devices? Or was I looking for posts about mobile blogging? Semantically, we should be able to pick up the latter and that's what I was looking for. Someday, when tags become an integral part of web publishing and people associate real semantics with them, tag searches will be incredibly relevant. However, until then, I guess we will still have to fish for relevant information.

Friday, August 05, 2005

mobile content - so close, yet so far

It''s been a while since I sat down to write, so the references here are probably about a week or two old.

The technophiles (I wonder if that is a word - if it's not, then we need this one: 'techno' - technology and 'phile' - lover) keep writing about the inadequacy of available mobile content, which we all agree with. Recent posts by Russel Beattie and Carlo reiterate the same point. And while I'm still talking about references, don't miss these insightful posts on the same by Sunil (click here and here).

The one thing to do about it is to change the medium. What we call optimized content today is merely a copy-paste job from the PC with a few bells and whistles added to it. So, while it might be optimized for the small screen we have on the phones, or maybe in some cases for a smaller memory and bandwidth, it is not really optimized for the overall experience.

The question then, to really ask is: What is the overall mobile experience?

Any ideas anyone? Please leave comments.

Instead of undertaking the daunting task of writing about the mobile experience, I'm going to lay out how it's different from a PC. That may help to put some things in perspective.

  • Unlike on a PC, I don't like to type in URLs on a mobile device. However, still something here can be learned from PCs - auto completion of already keyed in URLs. Is that so hard to do?
  • Unlike on a PC, I don't have a mouse on my cell phone. So, I don't like to click on too many hyperlinks on a mobile device. That is what I mean a copy-paste job from a PC.
  • Unlike on a PC, I'm not stationary with my mobile phone and definitely not at home or in my office. So, I don't really have time to fish for information - when I look for something on my phone, I know what I want. The thing is , can you provide me with that? I don't want to fish around for it.
  • Unlike my PC, when I access RSS feeds using an aggregator, going to the actual blog to read the whole thing is not an option I want on my phone. I don't want to swap between screens or have to read the same first paragraph over again. I want the whole feed as text on my phone.
  • Unlike my PC, my location matters when I'm mobile - can someone please use this information to provide me with better information. I know I can get weather and restaurants and locate hot spots and sixth sense can provide profiles in the vicinity - but how about linking my to-do things with my location and sending me a reminder (now wouldn't that be cool) or some other information about something in the vicinity that I would be interested in?
  • Unlike my PC, I can use my mobile to instantly initiate voice communication with someone...make me use it!

To sum up basically - the mobile and the PC might have many overlaps - but they're used in different environments and also provide different experiences. The way content is delivered right now is like fitting Danny DeVito into Arnold Schwarznegger's suit using some pins and needles.

things you can do with RSS

Just found this interesting link on emergic about a wiki on things you can do with RSS. A few of them as quoted there are

- News syndication
- Get RSS content through your email
- Track Fedex packages
- Get bargains at Ebay
- Get stock updates
- Get the weather reports
- Find out what people are saying about you, your company, your products
- Track Music, radio shows, TV clips
- Stay updated on someone's schedule
- Get cinema schedule updates
- Read your favourite comics
- Get software updates
- Be notified of traffic conditions

Click on the link above for the full Wiki.