I have not quite mastered the ideas I am discussing in this blog. Hence, feedback welcome.
What if we could extrapolate the idea of the ‘network is the computer’ and extend the concepts of a ‘computer’ and a ‘network’ to higher levels in the software stack and especially to a ‘Network of mobile phones’. We then have the makings of a global network which spans countries and languages. Such a network can reach many more people than ‘a network of computers’.
By strange coincidence, as I was writing an article on multilingual mobile access, Ray Tsuchiyama (Tokyo based director of AOL/Tegic who I have known for many years) , sent me an email about SMS capabilities in Marathi, a sanskrit based Indo-Aryan language which is my ‘mother tongue’.
It kind of articulates my vision: the mobile phone will touch the lives of many people globally who, for various reasons, will never use a computer. That network may not be in ‘English’. It will include richer media like movies, images, sound and podcasting. It will also bring together many more people globally : such as a Japanese American director of AOL living in Tokyo and a UK based director of a publishing company of Indian origin who originally speaks a language which AOL/Tegic have now SMS enabled in India(Marathi).
Lets start with the early days of computing. Back in the 1970s, Bill Gates articulated his vision of ‘a computer on every desk, and every one running Microsoft software’. By the late 90s, that vision was largely complete, making Mr Gates a fortune in the process.
Another profound vision was articulated by Sun co-founder John Gage in 1984. It concerned a different model called ‘distributed computing’ and it said : ‘The network is the computer’. By the late 1990s, that vision was also almost realised, especially with the rise of the Internet.
Both these visions were correct in their own right(and in their own time). They are also mutually complimentary: because we can have a PC on each desk running software and we can also leverage the network for ‘on demand’ computing power – much like the old time sharing options.
From my point of view, Sun’s vision is more interesting because it is closer to the Internet. A recent blog by Jonathan Schwartz(Sun CEO), explains this vision in the context of ‘Grid computing’
a) A ‘computer’ is something that can process information and
b) A computer is not confined to a single machine but to a network of connected intelligent machines.
While the notion of the ‘Network is your computer’ is enticing, it is still at a raw, processing capacity level.
What if we could extrapolate these ideas of a ‘computer’ and a ‘network’ to higher levels in the stack and especially to a ‘Network of mobile phones’.
While a grid network is at a physical architecture level, at higher(application) levels of the stack, another ‘network’ was taking shape. Called ‘web services’ or SOA(service oriented architecture), it is a way for discrete applications to collaborate with each other, thereby creating a new, more complex application which is greater than it’s components. According to the wikipedia definition, In an SOA environment, nodes on a network make resources available to other participants in the network as independent services that the participants access in a standardized way.
With the coming of web 2.0, lightweight versions of the SOA architecture have the capacity to reach (include) more people.
In both these cases (SOA and web 2.0 networks), there is
a) Some ‘computation’ at the application level and
b) There is a ‘network’ which facilitates that computation.
Purely by being simpler and at higher levels of the stack, it’s ‘reach’ is greater.
Now, if we extend the same thinking to ‘Mobile web 2.0’, the ‘network’ becomes even more interesting (and far reaching)
a) Globally, at end of 2005, there were 2.1 billion mobile phones vs. 1.0 billion Internet users.
Even amongst those one billion Internet users, over 200 million of them accessed the Internet via a mobile
phone (mostly in Japan, China and South Korea).
b) The mobile phone is capable of capturing far greater quantities of content because the phone is present
at the ‘point of inspiration’
c) Content created from the mobile phone is increasingly being ‘tagged’. This makes the network of mobile
phones capable of some computation/ intelligence (‘Intelligence’, being defined here as ‘collective
intelligence’/’wisdom of crowds’)
d) Content captured from mobile phones could incorporate sound, video, pictures, podcasts and text.
e) The ‘non textual’ web combined with the numbers of people using mobile phones as opposed to
computers, has greater potential of being a truly global network
f) Sound(music), images and video are much more universal than text(language). The non textual web
lends itself to being a ‘network of networks’. What does this mean in practise? Think of an application
similar to ‘flickr’ or ‘YouTube’ but including images and video from all over the world. Indeed, even now,
there are images and video from many different countries in an application like YouTube, but these are
created mainly by travellers to those countries as opposed to residents in the countries.
Thus, in a Mobile web 2.0 context, we could say ‘The phone network is the computer’. Of course, when I say ‘phone network’ – I don’t mean the ‘Mobile operator network’. Rather, I mean an open , web driven application capable of aggregating (mainly non text) content from any phone anywhere in the world
This can be depicted as below
To sumarise ..