The mobile web needs new hardware

September 13, 2007 | Leave a comment

One interesting thing about my recent trip to Silicon Valley was the sheer number of iPhones being waved about. Given the price tag (even with the recent drop), I’m genuinely surprised by their popularity – the US doesn’t even have 3G support yet, so consumers are paying through the nose for a very limited experience.

That said, it’s by far the best of a very bad bunch. My own Windows Mobile device – which Orange gave me for free when I renewed my contract recently – is cumbersome to use, and features like WiFi and the on-board GPS flake out if you so much as look at them the wrong way. The question, given this, is how on Earth we can expect the mobile web to take off, if the only devices we have are dodgy or cost the same as a cheap laptop.

Over on Last100, Daniel Langendorf makes the important point that for the mobile web to improve, we’re going to need new hardware. The iPhone is a start, but ultimately I want something that’s cheap (sorry, but I can’t afford to drop $399 + extortionate line rental on a mobile device, no matter how cool it is), flexible, cutting edge (Opera browser, please) and so easy my mother could use it.

Once that’s been achieved, we’re going to start to see a sea change, just like the advent of cheap broadband and cut-price laptops has changed the way we get information. I’m looking forward to programming mobiles interfaces for everyone, but I’m not really into what, for now, is an elitist medium.

More data sharing

September 11, 2007 | Leave a comment

LJI had a great meeting over at the SixApart offices yesterday; there are a couple of interesting conversations growing out of the data sharing summit, and this was one.

I’m flying back out to Britain tonight, energised and really glad of the time I’ve spent out here. Thanks to everyone for being so welcoming; particularly Marc Canter, David Recordon, and Tony Stubblebine. Also thanks to Kaliya Hamlin for facilitating the best – sorry, the second best – conference I’ve ever been to. More should be run like this.

I also wrote a two-part report for ZDNet’s The Social Web blog: see part one and part two.

Semantics vs real world

September 8, 2007 | Leave a comment

I will develop this into a post later, but I have an unfinished thought about semantic discussion vs real world system building.

I’m sat here at the DataSharingSummit, using the free wifi kindly provided by Innovis, eavesdropping on a couple of different concurrent sessions. Yesterday’s discussions were very down to earth; today has broken down into a number of different semantic issues.

There’s a tension between the people who actually want to build and market a system, and the people who want to have academic discussions about the ideas. Both are important, but I’m very much in the “build something” camp. If you have a bottom line to look after, as I do as the director of a company, there’s no other possible solution; you need to create a product that real people can pick up and use. The deeper, longer discussions are good and important, but that’s what universities are for. That’s not to say that those discussions aren’t important; they are (although some are arguably cul de sacs and echo chambers). It’s simply not what we do: we create products. Microsoft and Google can afford to have academic research divisions; Broadband Mechanics, Crowdvine, SixApart and Curverider cannot. We can certainly create new ideas and do research, but we do so through building them.

In the educational technology world, where Elgg originally came from, this conflict is obviously in the air. I’m not a little surprised to see it here in Silicon Valley, in an environment so thick with people doing it for themselves.


Thoughts from the summit are over here; I’m typing this from the second day, and will summarise that tomorrow.