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Mobile Web 2.0 – Web 2.0 and Its Impact on Mobility

Part Two of Three: Will "Tagging" Signify the End of the Telephone Number?

Welcome to the second part of this 3-part article. Much has happened since I wrote the first part: for instance, I am now a member of the Web 2.0 Workgroup and I have also been selected to speak at SYS-CON's SOA Web Services Conference & Expo 2006 in New York City in June.

Many thanks for all your feedback to the first article. I would also like to introduce Tony Fish (who is my co-author for OpenGardens ). The authors of this article and the third article which will follow (about the impact of Web 2.0 on digital convergence) are Ajit and Tony jointly.

In this article, we will discuss three things:
  • The definition of Mobile Web 2.0
  • "I am not a number – I am a tag!"
  • A blueprint for a Mobile Web 2.0 service

Mobile Web 2.0 Defined
Using the foundation of Tim O Reilly’s Seven Principles for Web 2.0, we define Mobile Web 2.0 as your experience of preferred services on a restricted device.

This definition firmly drives the mobile Internet from the fixed Internet since the web becomes the point of configuration of a new service and the mobile device becomes an extension of that service (the ability to access the service anywhere/any time).

We struggled with the definition of a "restricted device." The only feature we could find common to all restricted devices is "they are battery driven." But then – watches have batteries. So, we decided to extend the definition of "restricted devices" by incorporating Barbara Ballard’s carry principle .

Thus, a restricted device could now be deemed as
  • Carried by the user
  • battery driven
  • Small(by definition)
  • Probably multifunctional but with a primary focus
  • A device with limited input mechanisms(small keyboard)
  • Personal and personalized BUT
  • Not wearable(that rules out the watch!). But, there is a caveat, a mobile device in the future could be wearable and its capacities may well be beyond what we imagine today. The input mechanism in the future will not be a keystroke on such devices, but a movement or sound. So, this is an evolving definition.

Finally, there is a difference between a "carried" device and a "mobile device which is in a vehicle." For example – in a car, a GPS navigator is a "mobile device" and in a plane, the in-flight entertainment screen is also "mobile." However, neither of these devices is "carried" and neither has the same screen/power restrictions as devices that are "carried."

However, it's clear that the mobile phone is an example of a restricted device. But there is more to "Mobile Web 2.0" than extending "Web 2.0 to mobile phones." We believe that Web 2.0 has the capacity to fundamentally alter the world of telecoms and mobile networks. That’s because the phone number – that last bastion of leverage – is itself under threat! Tags will replace numbers.

"I Am Not a Number, I Am a Tag!"
What do we mean by "I am not a number – I am a tag!"?

In the good old days, I had a telephone. It was connected via a wire to the wall and I could pick up the handset and dial a number to reach my friends. If I needed to reach someone that I knew - but did not have their number - I would refer to the telephone directory. The telephone directory would resolve a name to a number.

This worked fine when I had one number but it all got very complex when I left my youthful years and went to work. Soon I had an office number, a DDI number, my digs and my home (parents) numbers. The office then added e-mail IDs and a mobile number. At a personal level, I got a range of IMs (Instant Message IDs) and e-mail IDs (university, first e-mail, grown up e-mail, own domain e-mail). Now, it is followed by a range of VoIP numbers! And so it goes on...

To ensure that I spent lots of money calling and chatting some clever people created voice messaging services so that you could ask me to call back if I was not on one of those numbers, or you could only remember one of them. Some cleverer people created unified messaging in the hope that all my messages would go to one place. However, there is no one place to resolve the "number to name" problem.

This means I have to spend a vast amount of time maintaining an increasing database of people and their various numbers. The old system of the telephone directory sort of works, search engines can search many directories to find my many numbers and IP addresses - if they are available.

But why bother with numbers in the first place? Why relinquish control to them? Why should we not break free?

For instance, why is it so hard to keep your number when changing houses or mobile service providers?(at a cost I might add!) You have "become" the number. And nowadays, that’s increasingly "numbers" plural! People are forced to remember your various numbers and some do – but most will find it increasingly difficult.

But then came tags...and we believe that tags will erode 100 years of telecoms regulations on numbering and also the one control point that telephone operators/carriers still believe is untouchable. i.e. the number itself.

Imagine a world where you do not care what your number is or how many you have. A world where tags replace numbers. Others (friends, work mates, people who you see and meet) tag your data so that they can find you again.

Tony Fish could tag "Tony Fish" with his 50 words, others will tag "Tony Fish" with their views and that’s how they will remember the name. Collectively, all Tony’s tags will uniquely identify me as "Tony Fish" and not the other 462 Tony Fishes that are about!

A new type of search engine will emerge. The new search engine will not deliver my identity (and breach data protection regulations). Instead, they (the provider of the search service) will offer a service to enable "connection." "Find Tony Fish" will produce the result: Tony is currently in Starbucks on Oxford Street do you want to meet, IM, Mail, chat to him.

You see what we mean by "I am no longer a number, I am a Tag"?

You can visualize it as below

How will this start?

We would not expect that a carrier/ operator can be the first to implement such a system - due to the legacy of existing systems and their requirement for seeing a business model first. Rather, we expect it will be organic. I will start tagging, you will start tagging and thus a network will emerge. I will add my contacts and notes from Outlook, from Thunderbird, from Plaxo, from LinkedIn and then the tags will grow!

A federated service provider will become the "search engine by tags" – searching my professional information. I will have added personal contacts for family so they are in by default (i.e. linked through me). The value proposition for the user appears when someone in your network modifies or updates the data with new details and that data automatically updates your data set, saving time and maintaining contact.

The bigger the network you have, the more frequently your information is refreshed and the more fresh and valuable it is.

As a commercial extension, it would be possible for a service provider to combine tags from several people within a program that would provide to each "paying premium member" an improved data set. The commercial models will grow based on the knowledge and context within the search and tags.

Therefore we can see a federated, consensus-driven business model allowing both restricted and free communication services from a search engine. Eventually, everyone tags, search engines get access to my desktop and I permit my presence to be made known.

Thus, I become a "tag," an individual – and not a number!

Mobile Web 2.0 – A Service Blueprint
The idea  "I am not a number – I am a tag" is extremely powerful and disruptive. It shows us the reason why Web 2.0 is so critical to telecoms and mobility. Based on the principles we are developing, we were curious to find other ideas which truly encapsulated the principles of Mobile Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 being a bandwagon, you are likely to see many services jumping on it. However, most are bandwagon-seekers and cooked up by over-enthusiastic marketing departments.

So, in the final section, we now discuss a sample Mobile Web 2.0 service in detail. This service could act as a template for you in deciding future Mobile Web 2.0 systems and in separating the real from the fake.

The service we are considering here is a "mobile" version of a combination of del.icio.us and flickr

As you probably know, both del.icio.us and flickr are based on tags. However, note that - in a mobile context - a "tag" would have a different meaning from the same term used in a web context. People do not like to enter a lot of information on a mobile device. Thus a tag in a mobile sense would be explicit information entered by the user(i.e. a "web" tag) but more importantly information captured implicitly when the image was captured (for example the user’s location).

Such a service would enable you to:

a) Search related images and get more information about a ‘camera phone image’ using historical analysis of metadata (including tags) from other users. This bit works like del.icio.us i.e. searching via tags BUT with a mobile element because the ‘tag’ could include many data elements that are unique to mobility(such as location)

b) ‘Share’ your images with others (either nominated friends or the general public similar to flickr but as a mobile service)

From a user perspective, the user would be able to

a) Capture an image using a camera phone alongwith metadata related to that image
b) Gain more information about that image from an analysis of historical data (either a missing element in the image or identifying the image itself)
c) Search related images based on tags
d) Share her image with others – either nominated friends or the general public

Let’s break down the components further. We need:

a) A mobile ‘tagging’ system at the point of image capture
b) A server side processing component which receives data elements from each user. It then adds insights based on historical analysis from data gleaned from other users.
c) An ability to deliver the results to the user(these could be a list of related images based on the tag or ‘missing’ information about the image)
d) A means to capture the user’s feedback to the results
e) A means to share images with others.

Tagging an Image
It’s not easy to "tag" a mobile image at the point of capturing it. In fact, in a mobile context, implicit tagging is more important than explicit tagging (an explicit tag being a tag which the user enters themselves).

At the point the image is taken from a camera phone, there are three classes of data elements we could potentially capture

a) Temporal for example the time that the image was captured
b) Spatial – The GPS location or cell id
c) Personal/Social - Username (and other personal profile information which the user chooses to share), presence, any tags that the user has entered, other people in the vicinity(perhaps identified by Bluetooth), other places of interest recently visited etc

The client component captures all the data elements and sends them to the server. It also displays the results from the server. (The garage cinema research uses a system called Mobile Media Metadata (MMM)which performs this function).

Server-Side Processing
The server aggregates metadata from all users and applies some algorithms to the data. The data could also be "enriched" by data sources such as land registry data, mapping data etc.

It then sends the results back to the user who can browse the results.

Finding ‘missing elements’ of your image
In many cases, it’s not easy to identify elements of the image(or in some cases, the image itself).

Consider the three images of Big Ben shown below. The third image is not very clear. It also includes two neighbouring "points of interest" i.e. the River Thames and the Houses of Parliament .


Based on Meta data from other users, the "River Thames" and "Houses of Parliament" could be identified to the person capturing the third image. This is because  potentially other users would have captured separate images of the three points of interest and tagged them.

Thus, if the third user wanted to know ‘the river in the image’ or the ‘building in the image’ - they would be presented with a likely set of related points of interest which could include the River Thames and the Houses of Parliament. (Laughably trivial – I know – but it illustrates the point!)

Sharing Your Images
This is the ‘flickr’ component. However, ‘sharing’ in a mobile context, also includes location. This is very similar to the ‘air graffiti’ system I described in my previous article.

To recap, from my previous article, the air graffiti system is the ability to "pin" digital Post-it Notes at any physical point. Suppose you were at a holiday destination and you took a picture or a video of that location. You then "posted" that note digitally with your comments and made it accessible to your "friends." Many years later, one of your friends happened to come to that same place and as she walked to the venue, a message would pop up on her device with your notes, picture and comments.
Like flickr, "friends" may be members of the general public with similar interests (i.e. like flickr ) or a closed group.

So, Is This a Mobile Web 2.0 Service?
Let’s consider some of the principles here (for a detailed explanation, please read Part One of this series. 

  • It’s a service and not packaged software
  • It’s scaleable
  • It utilizes the ‘long tail’ i.e. input from many users as opposed to a core few
  • The service is managing a data source(it’s not just software)
  • The data source gets richer as more people use the service
  • Users are trusted as ‘co-developers’ i.e. users contribute significantly
  • The service clearly harnesses "collective intelligence" and by definition is "above the level of a single device"
  • Implicit user defaults are captured
  • Data is "some rights reserved" – people are sharing their images with others.

The two aspects not covered above are

• A rich user experience and
• A lightweight programming model

These are implementation issues and could easily be included. So, IMHO - indeed this is an example of a Mobile Web 2.0 Service!

Conclusions to Part Two
As always, we welcome your comments and feedback. You can contact us Ajit.jaokar (at) futuretext.com and Tony.fish (at) amfventures.com. The third and final part of this series will discuss the impact of Web 2.0 on digital convergence.

a) The example may sound trivial since Big Ben is a well known location – but the same principle could apply to images of other lesser-known sites.
b) Of course, other types of data could be captured from the mobile phone for example video and sound.
c) There are no major technical bottlenecks as far as we can see (there are some commercial/privacy issues though).
d) From the above, you can see that Moblogging, in itself, is not an example of a Web 2.0 service
e) There are a whole raft of problems when it comes to the network effect and mobility. We have not discussed these here.


Garage cinema research

Mobile Media Metadata for Mobile Imaging : Marc Davis University of California at Berkeley and Risto Sarvas Helsinki Institute for Information Technology

From Context to Content: Leveraging Context to Infer Media Metadata
Marc Davis, Simon King, Nathan Good, and Risto Sarvas
University of California at Berkeley

The carry principle: Barbara Ballard - http://www.littlespringsdesign.com/blog/2005/09/14/the-carry-principle/

More Stories By Ajit Jaokar

Ajit Jaokar is the author of the book 'Mobile Web 2.0' and is also a member of the Web2.0 workgroup. Currently, he plays an advisory role to a number of mobile start-ups in the UK and Scandinavia. He also works with the government and trade missions of a number of countries including South Korea and Ireland. He is a regular speaker at SYS-CON events including AJAXWorld Conference & Expo.

More Stories By Tony Fish

Tony Fish is the CEO of AMF ventures (www.amfventures.com). He has been involved for 20 years in the mobile, wireless, telecom and satellite industries and is known for his innovative approach, strategic and economic insight, analyzing, matching and executing merger and acquisition activities within blue chip corporations as well entrepreneurship and shrewd business decisions with regard to early-stage businesses and their growth.

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