TECH TALK: The Best of 2004: Mobility and Memex

8. Russell Beattie on the Mobile Web (November)

Russell Beatties essay was an eye-opener. For long, I have been among those who believed that the cellphone was never going to replace the PC. Of late though, I am re-thinking that assumption, given both the trajectory of innovation in mobile phones and its omnipresence with us as a personal device. When I first started reading RSS feeds on the mobile, it was an Aha moment similar to the one I experienced when I first browsed the Web using Mosaic and a Netcruiser account a decade ago. The mobile web is happening and we better wake up.

Of course people are going to want to access the web from their mobile phones. Why wouldn’t they? They’re not going to want to be walled off in some mobile-ghetto, but rather have the full-on, do everything I can do from my desktop on my mobile phone, access to the web.

I think people are going to want to view and use the web from their mobile devices just as quickly and easily as they use the web from their PC. And not just for when they’re moving around, but when they’re on the couch as well.
There’s going to be a point in the not so distant horizon, when most people are accessing the internet from their mobile phones, rather than from PCs. it’s a fact. Businesses are realizing this and retooling for this new mobile world already. Manufacturers are making efforts to standardize on open specs (XHTML, SVG, etc.) and improve screen resolution (QVGA 320×240 will probably be the sweet spot) and websites are starting to embrace web standards as well. There’s this vanishing point in the horizon when all these parallel lines converge, and I think that’s where the mobile web is heading.

I don’t see the future as one where there are different mini-webs per device or proprietary ways of accessing content and services, but a multi-device norm which adds some pressure to the webmasters out there, but forces a shift to web standards to meet the demand of billions of data-connected handsets all sporting standard minibrowsers.

9. Jon Udell on the network is the blog (December)

Reading Jon Udells article made me think of Vannevar Bushs Memex. What bloggers are constructing is an emergent information system we still dont have the top-level views to appreciate the landscape that is getting constructed. But we will very soon. My own reading habits have changed expert bloggers take precedence over mainstream journals for deep insights.

Just as telephones are meaningful only when connected to the telephone network, so blogs are meaningful only when connected to the blog network. Both are carriers of human communication, but where the telephone network is essentially fixed — at least for now, until VoIP softens its structure — the blog network is malleable and is shaped by our use of it. Its more like a nervous system than a computer network, and for good reason.

The crush of information we process every day creates a terrible dilemma. On the one hand, we must conserve the scarce resource of attention. On the other hand, we need to become aware of everything that matters. Its a tricky balancing act, but one that natures humblest creatures have adroitly mastered.
We cant say exactly how the trick is done, but we understand the basics: a network, a message-passing protocol, nodes that aggregate inputs and produce outputs. The blog network shares these architectural properties. Its foundation network is the Web; its protocol is RSS; its nodes are bloggers. These ingredients combine in ways that are not yet widely appreciated.

Consider how my own inputs have evolved over the past five years. At one time, my RSS intake was mostly feeds from conventional published sources, along with a few from individuals. Now its the reverse. I subscribe to people more than to publications, and not because I dont value the information in those publications — I do, very much — but rather because, outside of the realms in which Im closely involved, I can delegate the job of tracking primary sources to people whose interests and inclinations qualify them to do so.

The blog network is made of people. We are the nodes, actively filtering and retransmitting knowledge. Clearly this architecture can help manage the glut of information. More subtly, it can also help ensure that no vital inputs are suppressed because nobody has to rely on a single source. If one of the feeds I monitor doesnt react to some event in a given domain, another probably will. When they all react, I know it was an especially important event.

The resemblance of this model to the summing of activation potentials in a neural system is more than superficial. Nature knows best.

Tomorrow: Education

TECH TALK The Best of 2004+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.