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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.


Anonymous Oliver Starr "stitch said...


Seeing as how you've been reading my blog and have been kind enough to comment, I thought I'd return the favor.

What you say is both very interesting and RIGHT ON. A mobile device is a computer but a computer is not a mobile device; therein lies the conundrum. How to make a mobile computer truly utilitarian in the way that making a phone mobile increased rather than compromised the uitility of the phone.

It's not an easy task because unlike a phone, which has a reasonably straightforward purpose if used simply for placing and receiving voice calls, a mobile computer is capable of so much more and is so readily customized by the user in addition to the thousands of manufacturers variations that there are truly more varieties of mobile devices than there are varieties of cats.

Interestingly, Dennis followed his public post to me with a second, private letter concerning this very topic and his frustration at the lack of inventiveness that characterizes the market place. A lack he attributes in part to the tight control that the carriers tend to exercise over content on mobile devices and particularly those mobile devices that don't have the ability to adequately parse internet pages explicitly as served by their hosts.

Known in the trade as "Walled Gardens" these limited online experiences are designed by the carriers with a primary goal of satisfying their customer's basic needs; email, stock quotes, movies, horoscopes-but only insofar as that carrier can control (and monetize) the content.

It seems that carriers have a signficant fear that if they open the walls the customer will escape to purchase content from other vendors - vendors that don't have any prior revenue sharing relationship with the carrier or the handset manufacturer.

Ajit Joakar of Open Gardens has written what in my opinion is the seminal text on this issue as well as a comprehensive guide to the methods he believes allow the innovative entrepreneur who is neither part of a larger recognized consumer brand nor funded with tens of millions of dollars a means of developing new tools and products that extend the boundaries of the walled garden without so antagonizing the carriers that they kill the enterprise by competing or simply nullifying the business by eliminating access.

This issue, as Dennis stated to me is a combination of the locked down world the carriers prefer we live in coupled with the fear in the mind of the entrepreur that if they step too far outside the sand-box they'll have no one to play with.

Thanks again for reading and for your comments.

Oliver Starr "stitch"

3:09 AM  
Blogger Harsh said...


Thanks a lot for such an informative and insightful comment. I do believe though that this carrier monopoly on the market is going to end sooner rather than later.


11:31 PM  
Anonymous Dennis said...

Hi Harsh,

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. :)

3:45 AM  
Blogger Harsh said...


Thanks for a wonderful wonderful reply. I certainly agree with you about keeping on trying things till we succeed. :)

I intend to write more about your comment soon.

12:57 AM  

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