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August 24, 2010

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Taka

Many have pointed out, and Beschizza has updated his article agreeing, that bandwidth is a pretty meaningless measure of web usage. The original Wired diagram is probably more useful, comparing what people are actually *doing* because ultimately, the web, the net, computers are just tools and it's all about what they let us *do*.

I think a lot of people didn't get the point the Wired article was making: the nature of how we use the internet is changing and the web is becoming less important. You say you don't know what the next wave is going to look like but I think I do :-) The money quote from the article is this one: "The rise of machine-to-machine communications — iPhone apps talking to Twitter APIs — is all about control." and it's something I've been rabbiting on about in the Awasu blog for years as well :-)

There's been a lot of discussion about the rising importance of iPhone apps and the like and I think (God help us all) that this is the future. As a software developer, I find the idea peculiarly distasteful but from a user's point of view it makes a lot of sense since they can assemble a collection of apps *specific to their needs*. So instead of going to a bunch of web sites and having to take whatever the publishers are giving us, people can customize their devices to do what they want, get the information they're interested in, how and when and in a way they want it. The current crop of apps are pretty lame but it's early days. A WSJ app will only get the latest headlines from the WSJ but In The Future, we will have apps that we can tell that we're looking for a second-hand car, make/model, price range, and it will go out and find some for you. What we used to call "intelligent agents".

As the Wired article said, "[t]he story of industrial revolutions, after all, is a story of battles over control" - there's so much information out there, it's about time we started being a bit smarter about how we access and use it :-/

Earl Mardle

Thanks for the high quality gloss Taka.

I've been sceptical about machine to machine stuff because too many people think of it as machines talking to machines about machine stuff, but if they are talking about people stuff that's different and I'd go with that.

Again, the mobile net may or may not be the future, and I may or may not bother with it. One of the things about thinking locally is that it depends on where you draw the horizon and how much time you have. For people standing half a day in a breadline, mobile apps may become essential if they want to be able to do anything but stand.

On the other hand, yesterday while setting out to walk my dogs I came across an arborist working on a neighbour's property, finishing up the job by grinding all the prunings into mulch. I asked him how much there was and did he need somewhere to dump it. "4 metres" and "yes" led to an invitation to drop it in my driveway which he did. I can't imagine any app that could have achieved that without huge effort on his and my part.

Oh, and I have ALWAYS been in the "its about control" school. Mostly with the refrain of "you don't have any so get used to it" and enjoy swimming in the info-pool.

Taka

Oh, I think that's a bit harsh :-) You and I may not care about mobile apps but we are tomorrow's old fuddy-duddies. Kids growing up today who have never known anything other than iPods and Google certainly will.

And the fact that you "can't imagine any app that could have achieved that without huge effort on his and my part" doesn't mean that it's not going to happen. Could anyone, even say ten years ago, imagined
Twitter or YouTube? Sure, these are large-scale web sites but Craigslist looks like the guy hacked it up over a weekend. After a big Friday night :-/

The thing about iPhone apps is that they're relatively easy to build so there's going to be a massive deluge of them (as if there isn't already :-/). Sure there will be lots of dross but they will get winnowed out and the useful ones will last (hey, it's just like the web). Even today, there are apps where you can key in your sexual preferences and, um, availability and it will alert you if a suitable match is in the vicinity. So it's entirely imaginable that someone writes an app that lets your neighbour key in that he's got XYZ that he wants to get rid of, and it appears on your device. It's a virtual sidewalk that people can dump stuff on for other people to grab, and the effort on the part of you and your neightbour is trivial. Think mobile, highly localised (say to your neighbourhood block) Craigslist or eBay. Can't imagine it? Meh, it's here already :-/

And yes, companies will hate having to give up their precious data and there will be much kicking and screaming but give it up they will, or be left behind. And once it and the API's become available, we can start doing some really useful stuff with it. Sure, if the underlying infrastructure fails and civilization collapses, it becomes less useful but that's kinda another issue :-/

Earl Mardle

I love the idea of the virtual sidewalk to dump stuff. Actually, we have something akin to that with TradeMe. I have moved all sorts of stuff that I would never expect people to pay anything for at $20-50 a time.

Its been great.

So I can imagine it, but what I can't imagine is me investing all the time I would need in using it. My problem is that we respond to opportunities and devices/software require us to be explicit. But we aren't explicit in a great deal of what we do.

Its the same problem with asking a travel agent to get me the "best" deal.

What I mean by best isn't always clear and can change part way through the transaction. I might refuse to accept any flights before 7am, until someone offers me one for half price at 6.45am.

If I have to specify every variable of every parameter I'll go nuts. Or I'll not use it.

Instead I go to webjet and say, "I want to get to Wellington next Wednesday, coming back Thursday, what have you got? Then it gives me 30 possible flights and I browse with my schedule, commitments, preferences, desires and dislikes all turned on until my internal negotiator says "OK, that one".

I make the flight every month and every month the conditions will vary slightly depending on arcane stuff like 'can I have dinner with my daughter' or 'will my ex be available for a coffee' and 'how early can I push the guys to have a meeting' and they all vary according to their own schedules, preferences, desires etc.

But you have my total support for breakign out the data, not only from businesses but especially from Government.

Its always been my contention that profits are a tax that customers pay for their ignorance. The more extensive our ignorance, the more we will pay for something, on balance.

If I know that some star uses a Gucci man Bag, I might be prepared to pay a bundle for it, but if I also know that said handbag is made by slave wage kids in Bangladesh, I might not buy it at all.

And the price I pay will vary according to all sorts of stops in between; some purely economic like "1000% profit margin? You jest" to "fair trade label, add 5%"

But again, I'll need access to that data in an efficient way. very probably I'll hit twitter or the blog and ask "what's the griff on Gucci man bags?" and look at the responses pro and con. And if there are no responses I might conclude that none of the people I trust care a damn about Gucci man bags so why should I buy one at all.

Your turn.
=)

kevotheclone

Several years ago we "unloaded" a bunch of "junk" for free by advertizing it on Freecycle: http://groups.freecycle.org/wellingtonfreecycle/posts/all

It was a great relief just to get rid of the stuff and not have to haul it to the dump.

One man's garbage is another man's gold.

You may not be able to get mulch on freecycle quickly, or at all, but 364 days a year you probably won't get mulch while walking your dog, but you never know...

Just make sure you always have a dog or cat to balance all your technology mumbo jumbo

Taka

>>> what I can't imagine is me investing all the time I would need in using it.

This gets to the heart of what I'm saying, that the nature of how we use the internet will shift to a more app-centric model and the ensuing changes may well result in you using them :-)

Bear with me... :-/

In the earliest days, it was used for communication between academics via email i.e. creating a network of connections between geographically separated people. Then came the WWW (as static pages), which not only opened things up to Joe Public, but made a whole bunch of content available, also networked but via hyperlinks. Then we got dynamic web pages that used JavaScript, Flash, etc. that allowed some kind of interactivity i.e. people could do things on the page, interact with the server and each other. The stage we're at now offers even more interactivity and we're starting to see the shift away from the WWW. Instant messaging doesn't run over the web, although you can do it from a web page if you want, but that's because people are familiar with the web, not because it has to. Likewise for Twitter, it runs over the web now because it's convenient but it's easy imagine a Twitter-like service that ran off your mobile phone; think sending an SMS to multiple subscribers instead of a single targeted recipient.

What I'm suggesting is that the next stage of evolution will continue this increasing interactivity, not only between people but also machine-to-machine which will be, yes, talking about "people stuff" i.e. looking for, and doing stuff, on behalf of someone (there's so much information out there and we're *still* sifting through it manually, which is really dumb - this is what computers are supposed to do!). So, this next wave will be maybe not specifically Phone apps, but something along those lines i.e. highly-focused, single purpose applets that people can pick and choose from to assemble a suite that meets their needs. As I said in a previous post, on the WWW we have to take whatever the publishers choose to give us, but in an app-centric model we have more control over what happens, what content we receive and how we interact with it. Combine that with the rise of open API's and the underlying data they expose, and then the relative ease of building apps, we are going to see a massive explosion in apps and what they do. You no longer need a web server, databases, an army of programmers and support staff to provide a service, just write an app! The big web sites will still be there, providing the underlying content, but as I know you know, the interesting stuff in a network happens not at the nodes but in the connections between them. There will be squillions of little apps bouncing around on peoples' mobile devices, pulling in information from here, there and everywhere, mashing it all up, maybe even pushing it out somewhere else, and this is where the fun is going to be. The underlying web sites will become about as interesting to us as the big-iron mainframes that power our banks and airlines are to us today :-/

Another thing is the similarity of all this to what the file sharers learned a long time ago, that a decentralized peer-to-peer model is far more efficient and effective than a centralized client-server model. But now we're talking about information, not files, and instead of being locked up in web sites, tended to by sysadmins and DBA's, it'll be distributed over a massive network of small devices. It's just another pass of the same cycle of data and functionality moving from centralized servers accessed by dumb clients, to smart clients, then back again (it's bizarre to think that I'm barely 40 yet this shift has happened several times in my lifetime :-/). As a side-note, this is going to present a massive challenge to Google, since if all the interesting stuff is happening in a peer-to-peer network, how on earth are they going to tap into that? Their push into the mobile world is surely part of their effort to prepare for this.

The final point is about the rise of mobile devices. This is a no-brainer - it's inevitable. The stumbling block has always been the capabilities of the devices but with the current generation of iPhones and iPads, we're finally starting to get to a point where they're powerful enough, and connected enough, to be useful. For quite a few years already, people have increasingly been buying laptops instead of desktops because they're powerful enough for what they need, plus they have the added convenience of mobility. What's it going to be like when your mobile phone becomes as powerful as your laptop is today? A PC under your desk is going to look about as archaic as logging into a mainframe from a green-screen dumb terminal does today :-/

This has been an enormously round-about path to my answer to your original question: "why would you invest the time in it." The short answer would be: you wouldn't have to. All of the above argues why an app-centric model might happen but I didn't mention probably the most important one: because people will find it useful. Imagine if you had an app on your mobile device, that was the default screensaver if you like, that was called "What's On In The 'Hood". Your neighbour would've tapped into his device "got some mulch if anyone wants it", you would've seen it and the amount of effort for both of you is trivial. No need for explicit and detailed descriptions on anyone's part. Quick, easy, convenient and if you missed it, no big deal (indeed, someone else might've got it instead).

Why would anyone write such an app? Well, why wouldn't they? Because they're so easy to build, someone, somewhere in the world is bound to eventually write one (hiya, kevotheclone :-D) and if someone can think of a way of making a bit of money out it, you *know* that it'll happen. And as mobile devices become more ubiquitous in our daily lives (e.g. making small purchases, booking tickets, etc.), such an app will have more information to figure out what you want e.g. if you put a callout yesterday to borrow a ride-on lawn-mower and bought a bag of seed the day before, it might be smart enough to figure out that when your neighbour shouts out that he's got mulch, you might be interested. Google already gleans enough information, just from what you're searching for, to be able to deliver targeted ads, so this kind of thing is already happening.

So, all the pieces in the puzzle are finally starting to fall into place. Mobile devices are now getting powerful and connected enough, they are ubiquitous enough, and we're now starting to see an environment in which functionality can be built and provided. There's still a long way to go but I think this is how it's going to play out. The key is the rise of mobile devices - people are going to demand mobile apps but the devices are still going to be somewhat limited for a while (hence lightweight apps) and it's going to be a while before we get to the point where we can carry the equivalent of a current-day laptop around in our pockets.

You talk about using WebJet to book tickets but there's no reason why this has to run over the web. We think of a browser running on our iPhone because that's what we're familiar with but there's no reason why it has to be that way. If you fly frequently, wouldn't you (or someone else more amenable to the idea of using mobile apps :-)) rather have an app that did all that grunt work of finding flights, but also integrated with your calendar (also on your mobile device), maybe even co-ordinated with your ex/daughter/colleagues' calendars running on their mobile devices? Integrated with a taxi booking service? Or an app that told you about traffic flow on the road to the airport? A hotel booking app? No need to browse to a web site and navigate through an interminable number of option screens for any of this, the functionality would be instantly available, just by tapping on an icon. And all this is specific to you, I certainly have no need for such a set of apps. Businesses will be drooling over the opportunity to get their apps onto your device, can you imagine the fight!

I think I'll stop talking now :-/

Earl Mardle

Taka. Keep talking. I love reading what you have to say and I can see the thing you are talking about and I would love to be able to live in it.

Two problems in NZ, one infrastructural and the other personal.

Mobile data affordability, and device affordability. iPhone4s or their equivalents and the costs of using them have to come down a long way before the majority of us will be able to contemplate them here.

But assuming that we solve that problem we hit the one that keeps screwing me up completely.

You blithely mention integration with my calendar.

Hah! I say. I have never, ever, been able to keep a calendar/diary, updated for more than a few days. I never put in appointments, deadlines, commitments and so forth because I find that its just too much trouble and I don't care enough about recording these things.

I see people on Twitter faithfully recording their current location, activity, people they are with, Johnnie Moore is pretty good at it, others are even better.

I think it has to do with what Jarvis calls publicness; the living in the public sphere. I did that as a broadcaster for nearly 25 years and I had no problems with it, it was just normal and I'm a showoff so fine.

But that was without any effort on my part, it was my job to talk on the radio, so some of the time I talked about the things I was involved in. Now I just don't care enough to bother telling the world, or even my mates, what I'm doing now, next, next week.

I have figured out that I am pretty unimportant to most people and that suits me well. I suspect that, as we move along the path, a lot of others will also tire of that publicness, not because it isn't fun or exciting, but because it is tiring.

Oh, and one more reason I'll be loath to get those apps on my device. Your last point. Its bad enough that people call me all hours of the day and night trying to sell me stuff I didn't ask for, I will bet that some clever programmer goes to a business with the proposition that he can configure their data to inveigle them into my device more often than their competitors.

Yes, there'll be a fight, but I don't want it on my hardware, in my time and on my dime.

/curmudgeon.
=)

Taka

>>> Mobile data affordability, and device affordability.

Oh, come on, I'm surprised you even brought this one up :-) People first started using mobile phones where I worked at in the late '80's and while I don't know how much they cost, a quick Google suggests several thousand dollars, which sounds about right. Today we have *disposable* phones :-/ I first got online around that same time, using a 1200 baud modem :-O, today a friend of mine is talking about getting 100GB of ADSL2 for about AUD 70/month. As mobile connectivity becomes less of a luxury and more of a commodity, it'll become faster, cheaper and easier. Whether or not we can count on this trend continuing, who knows. I know you're not optimistic about the future, and neither am I, but this is a separate issue.

>>> I have never, ever, been able to keep a calendar/diary, updated for more than a few days. I never put in appointments, deadlines, commitments and so forth because I find that its just too much trouble

You and me both, but I think this says more about our inability to write usable software than anything else :-/

>>> I don't care enough about recording these things

Again, we are the same, although my calendar is rarely so full that I can't get by with notes scribbled on bits of paper and the palm of my hand. But there are plenty of people out there who would get into serious trouble without their Outlook calendar.

Publicness is something else and it seems to be more of a generational thing. You and I might not worry about going offline for days at a time but I would imagine that a large percentage of kids today would start twitching violently if they weren't in some sort of SMS/IM/Twitter/whatever contact with their friends for any length of time. And if you think it's going to get tiring, well, this is *exactly* the kind of thing I see apps doing for us. I'd be flabbergasted if there wasn't something out there already that uses GPS to log your current location to a Twitter feed. And remember that post I wrote ages ago on the Awasu blog about "blogjects" (objects that blog)? Same thing - you book a ticket to Sydney via your phone, it also logs it to your Twitter feed and updates your blog telling the world when and where you're going. Oh, Brave New World :-/

Kids also seems to be more tolerant of the constant barrage of advertising and marketing; I guess they haven't known it any other way and it's just normal for them. Those ads we saw in "Minority Report" that were targeted specifically at *you* as you walked past, that kind of thing is happening already and I s'pose it could be seen as kinda cool, if you were young enough. We can sit on the porch when I get out to NZ and shake our canes and curse at the young'uns together... :-/

Taka

This is so cool, and exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about: Doctor writes an app that lets you use an iPhone as a stethoscope.

I've been talking with our mutual friend about telemedicine and it's easy to see how this kind of thing could be useful. As the simplest mobile devices become more powerful, imagine a suite of apps offering this, and other functions, out in developing nations. The mobile network is already there, more or less, and you just build on top of that. Jeremy Wagstaff posted about exactly this topic here.

In third world countries, a mobile phone is often one of the first things people buy when they have a bit of money - I remember reading some articles a while back about how phone credit was being used as a form of currency :-) - so this kind of approach is certainly possible.

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