The proper cellphone application in the emerging markets

150 150 eriks

Cellphone applications today are often focused on, in some sense simplified, displaying the web page on the cellphone. The web pages are more or less exclusively designed only considering the restrains of a regular work station. This is perhaps one most important challenge in future cellphone solutions and in many ways this is a philosophical challenge rather than a technological challenge. Nevertheless, I will not try to fully address the challenge in this blog post, but indicate what I believe are the key elements of it and sketch the solution.

In the post I will focus on the restrictions on a cellphone application in an emerging market and/or developing country even though it might be applied to the developed markets. We start by looking at some of the differences between the two platforms.

Most cellphones have small screens. (Oh yes, they have.) That means that you have very limited space to present the content. Very few solutions so far have been able to present content in an adequate and appealing way on these screens. The difference in the (graphical) presentation the content between a cellphone and a normal workstation is therefore huge for most content.

For instance, considering the mouse/touchpad of a normal laptop makes the user interaction much simpler than on the cellphone, as the “keyboard” is small. Naturally the user interaction with a cellphone, i.e. texting, is very much linked to how used you are to it. Clearly, in Asia, Africa and Europe people are much more used to it than they are in for instance the US. Thus a clear distinction between possible cellphone applications in these regions has to be made.

Finally the cellular networks are still lagging in bandwidth and the data plans in cellular networks are continuing to be fairly expensive. Both these factors are limiting the amount of data that being sent to and from a cellphone.

What is the proper solution?
For me the obvious solution is to display an extract of information on the cellular platform, but combine that with the proper platform on the web where the full version can be seen. Think of either trailer or an article abstract. If you like the trailer, you want to see more. However in many cases an abstract of an article is enough.

What are the techniques to use?
For emerging countries the right choices are SMS and MMS. In some cases WAP might be an alternative, but in most cases the two first choices are enough. Those techniques fulfill the criteria as presented above. They are simple to use. They are already known to the user. They have a low entry barrier and exist in almost all cellphone out there. Even better, they are normally very cheap.

The available applications in this field usually lack the corresponding web application that completes the content delivered to the cellphone. You have to provide the user with the full version of the content, and this makes even better sense as it will boost the PC-market and need of bandwidth for workstations in those regions.

I think that in many cases these techniques, even though well-known, are underrated. Especially since the emphasis primarily have been to either deliver or submit content via these, but also lacking the proper backbone on the web to support them. Using these techniques to both send and retrieve data and combine them with a web application would be very powerful. Especially when combined with the proper business model and strategic partnerships.

The future cellphone applications in emerging markets and the developing world will need to or to be more direct should address this challenge.

The Future of Blogging

150 150 eriks

Blogging is changing the way we look on the content on the web and the media. It is more and more becoming a way to easy-publish to the web. Yet many blogs are lacking the fundamental design and architecture of a more conventional website. Where will this saga end?

Today everybody (or more honestly speaking an amazing large number of people) want to have a blog. Corporate blogging has turned into a personalized way for CEO:s and executives to release corporate news, and thereby bring the users closer to the company. The interaction is good as they will get direct feedback from the users, even though it is unlikely that they will ever tell you of any problems they face. However, the feeling of being a part or seen is central here and the social part of the blog software becomes obvious. Even though corporate blogging has some child deceases I am confident that the proper structure will emerge.

The true driving force of blogs has undisputable been the political arena, and I think the political arena has changed forever due to it. The debate in blogs during the last presidential election in the US, especially Howard Dean campaign, is a proof that bloggers is a new type of media that will change the political arena and is a true power to count on or fear. Everybody can be their own politician and speak their mind on almost anything. An amazing shift towards the power of the people on both good and bad. That discussion truly deserves an own post, so I will leave it there.

I am working on new ways to deliver news to the web during my time here at Stanford and I will shortly reveal some more details on the project. A question that is quite important when looking at this is what the news media really is, and in particular what a newspaper is. A drastic and maybe controversial approach is to consider a newspaper as nothing else than a well-reviewed group blog. Of course this is quite a simplification of reality, but still very much true in many ways. However, the payed (or unpayed) journalists that are assigned to write about a certain subject, reviewed by editors, approved by the chief editor and then published either on the net or in a paper edition. A blogger does all these steps at least subconsciously too before the blog item is created. A bit ironic, hey? The difference between a newspaper and a group blog then becomes were fuzzy. Therefore blogs cannot be discussed separately from conventional news media. (Conventional media might be a better word as podcasting is bringing both radio and television closer to the web.)

There is a great book “We the media…” by Dan Gilmor covering this topic and almost every aspects of it. If you have not read it, you really should. The book addresses the ongoing “battle” between the blogs and the conventional media.

The future challenges of the blogs are closely linked to the differences between blogs and conventional media. Blogs are uncensored, yet unreviewed (by others before publishing). The commenting system will be some kind of review system however. There is yet a need to address the trust of the content of a blog, which is one challenge for the future blogosphere. “Why? Just plug in a review system and there you go.” Well I am afraid it is not as easy as that. One of the true powers of blogs is the free form. You want to preserve the uncensored feeling of the blog, yet increase the trust of the content. A kind of paradox in itself and in there lies the challenge.

Another challenge of the blogosphere will be to find a way to solve the issue of the ever increasing number of blogs. More and more people start blogs and become active in them. The number of sites is increasing, and the volume of information is exploding. You will have to read more and more blogs whether you like it or not. Time is always limited. How many times have you not wished there were 48 hours per day instead of the always to few 24 hours… The time necessary(?) to read blogs can and will intrude on your work and personal life if nothing is done. Maybe the Darwinistic laws will solve it, but then again maybe not. RSS-feeds were created to solve this matter, but the growth of the blogosphere now really calls for some other approaches to decrease the workload of reading blogs.

On top of reading all these blogs you will have to write almost everyday on your own little blog to spread your message and preserve an active audience. Web traffic is funny. It is hard to obtain it, but it but so easy to loose when you have finally have it. Therefore many bloggers feel the need to constantly publish new posts. Some write many short posts, and some write a lot of “yada yada”. Nevertheless it still is not a sustainable solution. There are too many blog posts that comment with a few lines and linking to another blog post that is commenting on another that is commenting on another that is… Yes, you get the picture. It only contributes to the volume of content noise to be a bit harsh.

Design of the website might partly solve the problem of traffic, even though it is no full-proof way. Notably, I read a comment on this by Jacob Nielsen, who said that one of the most common errors of blogsites is that they hide their “highlights”. When you look at many blogs, the most read blog posts or highest graded blog posts are normally never listed so that the reader can easily retrieve those. Such a list can at least help some to keep the traffic alive and fairly high.

Is all you (Erik) talk about problems, problems, problems… Certainly not and I am not at all pessimistic about the future of blogs. Yet these features and challenges should/will be addressed and solved.

So what is likely to happen in the future? The way I see it the blogosphere and the conventional media will move closer to the each other, very much as Dan Gilmor predicts in his book. However, I do not fully envision the conventional media being “replaced” by the blogs as they fulfill different needs. The conventional media will in a more thorough way cover a story and have a more profound research before publishing the article. Normally blogs are like a tabloid version of a “story” and in many cases lack the proper proof of the content. However, blogs could be consider as an amazing control system of conventional media. Therefore it is likely that more softwares with built-in light versions of review systems to increase the trust of the content will be developed and released.

Group blogs or portals, like the, will be more common and will create a wrapper for people with similar topics. This will solve the issue of feeling the pressure of frequent posting as well as keeping the traffic high enough.

Well as the X-files says: The truth is out there…

Building the trust in technology….

150 150 eriks

Currently I am reading Nicholas Carr’s book Does IT matter? and even though I might not agree with everything, some of the conclusions made really makes sense. It has got me thinking in more general terms of how we are behaving when we are faced with (new) technology and what technology we actually need.

The thought started during a walk to Tressider (a student collection point at the Campus of Stanford University) for a coffee with some fellows in the middle of September. We started to talk about whether we had the right to give technology to extreme rural areas in the world. I posed the question: “Do we have the right not too?” We ended up agreeing that the question did not have a simple answer.

I thought more about the problem and ended up with two simple questions that should be answer in any development process of technology:

  • Should we give or do we need the technology solution?
  • What is the technology solution that is needed?

It really is as simple as that, as there will always be a solution in technology, but should one might question if and how we should use it. It is very easy to get lost in the buzz about new technologies. As I have said in many blogs before this one technology is a tool, but easy. However, the exposure of technology to humans is far from free of compexity.

Looking at social entrepreneurship gives a lot of useful input in the problem. The problem is building a technology solution that can and will be used by the audience. For me that is creating a trusted solution. Social entrepreneurs use technology as tools to make a difference mostly rural areas around the world. People in thise areas are quite new to being exposure to technology and that really changes how technology should be presented and in what form they are developed. Basically if a pen and a paper is what the audience will trust, then paper and a pen is the right technology solution.

I talked to Uuve Sauga, one of the fellows, about the idea I had for this blog and during the very interesting discussion, she summarized the social entrepreneurs work as “being able to take that first look at the persons needs, desires and constraints”. Nothing can be more truthful. The right solution should bridge solution and needs of the audience via the technology. This actually mean that this development process is applicable everywhere – both in the developed and the developing world. It might result in that the solutions for our “problems” in the developed world are found by looking at the needs of the people in the developing world. Quite ironic actually, yet this “irony” have been identified previously looking at Hernando de Soto’s book “The Mystery of Capital”. In the book, he concluded the problem of “formal capital” in the developing world and the high presence of self-assembled entrepreneurs in those areas.

This topic has now been realised by big high-tech companies such as Intel and Nokia. The needs of the audience is quite different, and the requirement of the developed products in those areas are very different from the believied needs in the developed world. This process started when these companies started to look att the emerging markets around the world. Both the seminars we had with Marko Ahtisaari, Nokia, and John Sherry, Intel, emphasized this new twist of development.

Personally I salute this change in direction of the development, and will anxiously follow and participate in it. While we are at it we might even start to question to the extent that we are consuming technology. I for sure am starting to do so and trying to cut down as much as my work permit me to. I want to have the control over my life, not technology. What is so cool about it is that it really makes the development process more appealing to me.

Use the highest possible level of technology, but hide the technology as much as possible. Make the technology more personal.

To quote one of the best slogans ever written: “Mmm, I like it.”