Google, GooglePhone, 700 Mhz, OpenGardens, Innovation and carterphone


The 700 Mhz spectrum discussions have a sense of Déjà vu .. with the Carterphone principle for landline networks. Historical evidence shows that it is just a matter of time before the networks will have to open up fully as we discuss below.


Large telecoms companies like AT&T and Verizon control a major portion of the broadband market and also the wireless spectrum. Google is seeking to change the status quo by advocating that the 700 MhZ wireless spectrum recently vacated by analogue television stations be treated as ‘Open access’.

Open access, from Google’s standpoint, means four things which Google outlines in their blog.

1) Open applications: consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;

2) Open devices: consumers should be able to utilize a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;

3) Open services: third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and

4) Open networks: third parties (like internet service providers) should be able to interconnect at a technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee’s wireless network.

The carterphone principle

So far, Google has got agreement from the FCC about Open devices for 22Mhz of the 700 Mhz spectrum(A portion of the condition 2 above).

This is a step in the right direction since it leads to the Carterphone principle

(which opened up the landline networks many years ago).

In a nutshell, the Carterphone principle advocates that we don’t have to buy the landline phone from the network provider(specifically AT&T in case of that litigation). Prior to the carterphone regulation, customers were forced to buy the devices only from the network.

We take the benefits of the carterphone principles for granted today and we cannot imagine a world without these ideas

However, if we look back into history, we can see that devices like fax machines, modems, answering phones etc may not have been developed without such legislation which required the device to be network agnostic(i.e. any device can be connected to any network)

In that sense, from a historical perspective, the requirement for Open access does lead to innovation and benefits the customer.

Telecom companies do innovate – but that innovation is based on connectivity within their network as opposed to connectivity across networks. However, customers benefit from cross network connectivity and interoperability – hence the requirement for devices to be able to connect across networks.


Google actually wanted all four conditions – especially open services(wholesale access) which would have opened up the door to competition from a whole raft of smaller vendors much like the dial up access in the early 90s.

They have ended up with open devices on a portion of the spectrum – only a fraction of what was asked for.

But a journey of a 1000 miles starts with one small step .. as the ancient Chinese proverb says ..

At this time, not much is know about a ‘Google phone’ – so it is not easy to tie these initiatives to specific objectives which Google may be trying to achieve – but the overall benefit to the customer is clear


So, as the creator of the OpenGardens blog, I support all of the four conditions especially because I believe that they benefit the consumer and lead to greater innovation based on the historical evidence of the Carterphone principle. Customers benefit from cross network connectivity and interoperability through the ability of devices to be able to connect across networks.

Of OpenGardens, Walled Gardens, Tim Wu, Net Neutrality, Carterfone and IMS


Probably my longest article on this blog. I am preparing a pdf version as well!


As many of you know Columbia University Professor Tim Wu has written a fascinating article called: Wireless Net Neutrality: Cellular Carterfone on Mobile Networks . If you have not read it already, I very much recommend that you do!

With a blog called ‘OpenGardens’, this topic is clearly of deep interest to me.

However, after reading the article, I have mixed views. The paper does a great job of highlighting the issues we face today, but I also believe that it mistaken on many other issues – and I find my selves taking a stance which is much more neutral.

This article outlines my thoughts on this document.

All comments welcome to ajit.jaokar at

Particularly, I welcome feedback from Operators – since many in Europe I know are thinking of Opening up the network in some way.

Synopsis of my thinking• Tim Wu’s document does a great job of highlighting the issues. It does an excellent job about raising consumer awareness and I truly hope it drives some thinking at Government and at Operator levels.

• The USA is clearly losing out due to the practises highlighted in the document. However, these practises are not a global trend. Even within the USA, there is a range of behaviour exhibited by Operators. Legislation may not be the only option here – and indeed may not be the best option.

• The whole document is primarily based on the application of Carterfone principle to the Mobile Operators. I believe that the Carterphone principle can be applied to voice but not to data unless certain other conditions are fulfilled first – which I explain below. Thus, it is not a simple case of applying the Carterphone principle to the Mobile Network Operator as is implied

• Oddly enough, the document does not talk of IMS . IMS is a huge buzzword in the industry and addresses the very same issues that are outlined here. I discuss some implications of IMS below.

• In fact, if IMS were to be considered, Skype would be one of the ‘walled gardens’ (since it does not use the SIP protocol – which means it is not Open).

• It is ironic that the Carterphone principle (opening up the Mobile network as envisaged in the document), would benefit the two closest walled gardens – Skype and iPhone. (My previous caveats about applying the Carterphone principle to voice apply in this case)

• The issues highlighted are not ONLY due to the Operator in all cases. For instance, for Mobile Video, the government is an important player(and cause) of the delay in deployment.

• The document does not address net neutrality as I understand it. Thus, net neutrality seems to be a keyword designed to gain some emotional currency

• I totally agree on the discussions about Disclosure. There may be a case for legislation in this sector only i.e. enforcing greater disclosure

• Cooperation and not competition is the key!! In that sense, unless America does some fundamental rethink, it may well lose out in the end because of it’s culture of competing vs. collaborating

My core belief (and potential solution to the issues outlined by Tim) is :

In a consumption driven world, competition is the driving force. In a creation driven world(User generated content, Web 2.0, Mobile Web 2.0 etc), cooperation is the driving force. For reasons I explain below, we have no choice but to accept a diverse ecosystem in the West and legislation is not a good option. Instead, we should look at cooperation and try to identify the dimensions of the stack where we can get critical mass.


Verizon: Firstly, let us acknowledge that Verizon is an exception. Much of what they do will be severely limiting in a Web 2.0/Social networking world – simply because Version customers will want to interact with other people (and not just other Verizon customers). Like AOL, Verizon will find out that it can’t maintain a walled garden for ever. Now, having got the issue of Verizon out of the way, let us look at a wider picture

Skype and iPhone: The irony here is – Opening up the network in this way, would benefit two of the closest gardens : i.e. Skype and iPhone

No IMS?: Surprisingly, Tim Wu’s document does not mention IMS at all. This is strange, since IMS is such a huge buzzword in the industry today. IMS also plays directly on the net neutrality issue in the sense either you can view it as a walled garden (at the packet level) or you can consider the disruptive potential of naked SIP (SIP sans IMS). Or, like I do, think that IMS has some unique and powerful features and depending on how IMS is implemented – this can be truly beneficial to the industry.

In any case, what you can’t do is – ignore IMS!

SIP and Skype : If IMS were to be included, Skype does not look that good – because it does not follow an open protocol(SIP).

The Carterfone principle: The whole document is primarily based on the application of Carterfone principle to the Mobile Operators. In my view, The Carterphone principle can be applied to voice but not to data unless the Operator creates APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) first. Carterfone without APIs is practically useless.

We can illustrate this by considering the example of Visual voicemail in iPhones. As a consumer, I love the idea of Visual voicemail. That’s EXACTLY what I want .. I hate trawling through old voicemail(and worse still – remembering keys to go next voicemail etc etc!). So, it’s fantastic to have visual voicemail .. BUT guess what? Supporting visual voicemail implies that the two (device and Carrier) are intimately in bed! Else, it is not possible to provide such a service(because the voicemail is stored on the network and not the device) .

Thus, in a Voice scenario, Carterfone may work – but in a data scenario it will not because to make a useful service(like Visual voicemail), the device needs the network to be abstracted(i.e. API enabled).

Tim Wu’s document misses this critical point.

An API enabled Mobile Operator actually is a very powerful proposition – something which I have been speaking of for some time as in Mobile web 20: Re-engineering the digital ecosystem with converged digital processes in a Post IMS/Quad play world and in The Long tail and Mobile Web 2.0

Thus, it’s certainly not a case of directly applying the Carterfone principle (i.e. Plug and Play) to Mobile Data scenarios.

Carterfone, APIs and Pipes: Note that in the above API enabled scenario, the Operator is still the hub(and not the dumb pipe). The Operator still retains leverage in this situation by managing the APIs

The iPhone : Tim says: >>> Most importantly, to the surprise of many, the iPhone only works on the network of a single carrier, AT&T Wireless. The hundreds of millions of consumers who are not AT&T Wireless customers cannot make use of the iPhone unless they become AT&T customers. The question is, why? Why can’t you just buy a cell phone and use it on any network, like a normal phone? <<<

No No No .. I was not surprised. See my longish post saying ..

The iPhone is extraordinary not because of it’s UI but because it’s the tail wagging the dog ..( But the real question is: How many dogs can it wag?)

In fact, as I said before, the iPhone CANNOT work with multiple Operators with ease because it needs to be in bed with the Operator to give that unique user experience. The client alone cannot deliver that user experience and I use the case of Visual voicemail to indicate why

Locked phones? In light of the above, locked phones are not such a big issue.

Qualcomm/ BREW : One must also not ignore the role of Qualcomm/BREW in this – i.e. Qualcomm by definition leads to a certain ecosystem biased towards a walled garden at all levels(network, apps and so on). Outside that scenario, the Mobile world is a lot more open place.

Mobile TV and Video: Mobile TV and Video is hobbled not by the Operators – but due to a range of other factors(including broadcast spectrum allocations in Europe). Thus, it’s a much more complex issue – with standards wars at technology/broadcast level – not a pure Operator scenario

Developers: When the article talks of developers, the implicit assumption in the document is : you need to be on the carrier portal/deck. However, Operators were never good at marketing mobile applications. In other words, even if you did end up on the deck, it may not translate to sales(excluding simple content such as games etc).

The Operator Portal also degrades the brand of the content/application owner. They are not the destination site. If they were strong or innovative enough, they would not want to be eclipsed by the Operator’s brand and instead would want to promote their own brand. Clearly, the off portal market in the USA is not mature (and this is the real problem i.e. short codes need to be viable and interoperable). In the UK, companies like Yell Mobile , which have good content, are primarily taking the off portal route rather than the Operator route.

Thus, if the service is compelling enough, I would not recommend the Portal route. As a corollary, I think the off portal market in the US needs to improve. That’s a real issue

WAP vs. Full browsers : Yes, WAP was a crippled version of the Web. That’s true. But, in the early days (low bandwidth, low CPU etc), was there an option? i.e. could we have really been able to run full web browsers on mobile devices? Today, as we increasingly see the uptake of full web browsers on Mobile devices from companies such as Nokia and Opera, these vendors are redefining the landscape(and I include Widgets amongst browser technology). This will lead to applications that span the Web and the Mobile Web using technologies like Mobile Ajax, Mobile Widgets and WICD () – making long tail applications possible.

Openmoko : Openmoko has been on my radar. It is interesting. Time will tell. It still needs a network though and I am not sure how that works.

Net neutrality: Defining net neutrality primarily in terms of terms of the Carterphone principle sounds limiting to me?

The mobile network is different and the Mobile network operator is not anonymous : Mobile network operator is not anonymous. In fact they are a (longish!) phone call away. But accessible none the less. Which means – they can be sued. I don’t think this fact can be ignored. For instance, if you get Spam on the Web, there is not a lot you can do. However, if you get Spam on the Mobile web – who do you call? Your Operator. In practise, this fact cant be ignored.

The security risks are also higher due to the personal nature of the device. For example, a child may be using a PC(which may be also be used by an adult). But in case of the child’s phone, it is always being used by the child – hence more risk.

The point of these arguments is: there are genuine reasons to be cautious.

Why change and why now?

In the last few years since I have been tracking this space, why is the idea of opening up Telecoms networks suddenly of interest?

Here is the reason in my view.

Telecoms is a mature industry. Voice revenues still drive a lot of the business. Data revenues are small, indeed non existent. However, Voice revenues are under threat from VOIP – and that’s a universal phenomenon – on both fixed and mobile networks. (albeit on mobile networks today, it is still mainly voice over WiFi).

Also, in most places in the West, the markets are saturated. Thus, growth prospects for voice alone are limited. In contrast to the Web companies, especially with the uptake of Web 2.0, Telecoms is not an attractive investment proposition in light of the (lack of) future growth.

Hence, witness the interest in Fixed to Mobile convergence (fixed operators trying to poach customers from mobile operators and vice versa) and acquisitions in fast growing markets like India. And also an interest in Mobile data for the same reason.

Hence, market forces will drive the change in many part of the world. Other factors also help. Better devices, mature networks, better browser technology etc.

Case for Government intervention?

Tim Wu’s article concludes: “At some point, I think Americans are going to put their foot down and say, ‘We won’t tolerate this anymore.’”

That’s true

The real question is: What could be done and should the government intervene?

In fact, a government mandated environment leading to fantastic rates of growth and innovation does exist today. It’s in South Korea where the Ministry of Information and Communication (South Korea) or MIC Korea plays the overseer role.

But is that the best way? Is that the optimal path in the West?

Think about this, Korea and Japan have made great strides internally but have struggled (and will continue to struggle in my view) to export their Mobile/communications services globally. That’s the dark side of government mandated standards – high internal growth – low global growth.

Thus, excessive government intervention is the wrong thing in my view.

See my blog Should you be thinking of Vegas on your next flight to Tokyo or Seoul? .

Speaking of Governments, ours(UK) did intervene in the dot com boom and reaped a windfall through the 3G spectrum auctions . By saddling the Operators with debt, I believe the British government squashed a golden opportunity for British companies to take a lead in the Wireless space. We definitely don’t want more of that – Thank You!

The Web itself is not exactly free of monopolies. Take the case of Microsoft. However, with my Randian / free market view, I would oppose any regulation on a company like Microsoft. After all, if customers truly hated it, they could change(nothing prevents them from making that choice – much as the same with leaving a specific Operator). With Google applications , that may well happen – but the changes will be market driven and not regulatory.

The search for disruptive elements

The problem with the Mobile industry is: It’s still very arrogant. We talk of concepts like Mobile Youth – but the IPTV industry does not talk of ‘IPTV Youth’ or the fixed line industry of ‘Fixed line youth’.

Once we accept that there are only ‘people’ and they want to communicate irrespective of transport mechanisms – then we have to ask ourselves the question : Where can we get critical mass?

In my view, no single Operator can gain critical mass because the Operator’s subscriber base is fragmented along many dimensions, for instance devices, Pre pay-Post Pay etc.

So, disruptive elements can arise if we unify the stack across Operators along some dimension

At the application level, I believe that Web technologies will do this (especially full web browsers, widgets etc). At a network level, the combination of devices and WiFi/WiMax is the key.

These will happen organically – and we will always have to get used to working in a diverse ecosystem.

Co-operation as a solution

To recap, I believe that :

In a consumption driven world, competition is the driving force. In a creation driven world(User generated content, Web 2.0, Mobile Web 2.0 ), cooperation is the driving force. For reasons I explain previously, we have no choice but to accept a diverse ecosystem in the West and sweeping legislation is not a good option.

In that sense, unless America does some fundamental rethink, it may well lose out in the end because of it’s culture of competing vs. collaborating. In contrast, the European / GSM approach is more collaborative and suited for future growth

To conclude

1) We will continue to live in a diverse ecosystem and that is good

2) Operators will end up with Open APIs and that’s not a Pipe.

3) As we go from a consumption driven ecosystem to a creation driven ecosystem, cooperation will be a driving force and not competition. The need to communicate will overcome outdated business models.

4) Market forces are the main drivers to opening up in Europe(the need to show growth to the investment community for example)

5) In my view, government regulation is the wrong step(except in cases like Disclosure). A combination of Web enabled devices, devices supporting WiFi etc will drive disruptive applications.

PS: In an ironic twist, the March 26 issue of Business week’s best performers – has Google in the top spot. But guess who is on No 7? Yes, Verizon communications!. It indicates to me, that if customers want to leave a service, they will – but they don’t at the moment because they are primarily consuming content.

However, I believe that the future will belong to those Operators who open up because the creation driven ecosystem will demand that (in contrast to the current consumption driven ecosystem)

Image source: Image shack

A note on comments:

I have been having a lot of problems with Spam. Hence, comments are disabled. Please email me at ajit.jaokar at and I shall be happy to post your comments

Simeon Simeonov joins the OpenGardens blog as a contributing blogger ..


After making it to the Top 20 wireless blogs worldwide according to Fierce Wireless and being syndicated on the W3C Mobile Planet , I am happy to announce one more significant development

The OpenGardens blog continues to attract the top talent worldwide and I am proud to welcome Simeon Simeonov as a contributing blogger on OpenGardens.

Sim is an ex-entrepreneur and the technology partner at Polaris Venture Partners -a tier one US VC.

(Other partners at Polaris include Dr Bob Metcalfe – the creator of Ethernet and hence the Internet)

Sim is a good friend and also one of the most approachable Tier One VCs I have met.

He runs his own blog and we share many views and thoughts on the industry. I have always valued his insights and I am sure you will gain value as well.

He has also agreed to give feedback (either in public or private) to concepts in the mobile, online and digital media spaces.

Note that this is personal feedback and is not in any way a formal endorsement /solicitation/ relationship by Sim or by Polaris.

Please email me an exec summary or presentation that can be shared with Sim and potentially a handful of other trusted experts I work regularly with at ajit.jaokar at

Responses may be slow but we promise to get back to you!

I wondered .. Why do VCs blog? One often finds many advisors/matchmakers and a whole motley crew of intermediaries blogging .. but a true blue VC from a Tier One VC is a rare exception(and even happier that he is blogging at OpenGardens :) )

I think the reasons are many – but Sim truly likes to share information, he lives in the Web 2.0 world and he enjoys the interaction of ideas at the cutting edge.

Like me, he is also a great believer in Mobility and the OpenGardens blog spans readers from both Web 2.0 and Mobility and also in Europe and North America.

So, this is an ideal home for Sim.

Please join me in welcoming Sim.

Mobile web 2.0: Web 2.0 and its impact on the mobility and digital convergence (Part one of three)


Mobile web 2.0: Web 2.0 and its impact on the mobility and digital convergence (Part one of three)

By Ajit Jaokar (Ajit.jaokar at

Introduction and Objectives

This is a series of three articles – the first(this one) outlining the significance of web 2.0 technologies , the second article discussing the impact of web 2.0 technologies on mobility and the final article on the impact of web 2.0 technologies on digital convergence.

If you are already familiar with web 2.0, my goal, in a nutshell (no pun intended!) is to extend Tim O Reilly’s seven principles

to mobility and digital convergence.

Thus, I will not attempt to add to the body of knowledge in terms of basic web 2.0 concepts themselves. I would rather prefer to build on some of the excellent work done on the subject from folk such as Tim O Reilly , Richard Mc Manus and others. I will use their work as a background and extrapolate the basic web 2.0 principles to mobility and digital convergence (areas which I am more familiar with).

My approach will be to ask a series of questions based on my understanding of web 2.0 and mobility. I also welcome your questions. In the two following parts of this paper, I will seek to answer them. Also, if you are a company doing some interesting work in this space, please email me on the address above.

A bit about me

I live in London (England) and am the CEO of a publishing company futuretext.

I wrote a book called OpenGardens advocating openness in the mobile data industry. I also chair Oxford university’s next generation mobile applications panel. In 2006, I am commencing a PhD on IMS (IP Multimedia Systems). If you have an interest in IMS, please contact me to keep in touch. My blog is at OpenGardensBlog

Some definitions

A few quick definitions before we start – just to be sure we have the same frame of reference.

Mobile vs. wireless: In Europe, the commonly used phrase for Telecoms data applications is ‘Mobile’. In USA, it is ‘wireless’ or ‘cellular’. In this article, ‘Wireless’ simply implies connection without wires. Mobility or ‘Mobile’ on the other hand describes a whole new class of applications which permit us to interact and transact seamlessly when the user is on the move ‘anywhere, anytime’. Hence, I use the term ‘Mobile’ independent of access technology i.e. 3G, wireless LANs, wimax, wibro, Bluetooth etc.

Mobile Internet: ‘Mobile IP data service’. It is not ‘Internet on the Mobile device’ since mobility also includes other elements such as ‘messaging’ i.e. non-browsing modes of access.

The mobile data industry: The ‘data’ i.e. non-voice side of telecoms. The telecoms operators are an important part of the mobile data industry.

Web 2.0

Within the mobile data industry, ‘openness’ is still an alien concept. I wrote a book called OpenGardens alongwith Tony Fish which advocated openness in the mobile data industry (OpenGardens is the philosophical opposite of ‘walled gardens’).

When I talk to senior telecoms people about ‘OpenGardens’ – they are still hung about ‘on portal’ or ‘off portal’. Further, most cannot see beyond the traditional ‘song and dance’ applications (ringtones/wall papers etc).

In contrast, I find web 2.0 concepts refreshingly intuitive and they formalise many things which we know and use. For example – in OpenGardens, we talked about an application called ‘Splash messaging’ also called air graffiti or spatial messaging.

Contrast this with a very different type of application called ‘splash messaging/air graffiti/spatial messaging’. In its simplest case, it’s 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.

The Splash messaging application is a ‘mashup’ of many different feeds (for example a location feed and a mapping feed) and it has other features like user created content. Its characteristics are very similar to a web 2.0 service.

So, coming back to my question, what’s web 2.0 and how does it apply to the mobile data industry?


There appear to be two early origin points for web 2.0

Firstly, a business week article:

It’s A Whole New Web And this time around it will be built by you

and secondly .. a conference ( web 2.0 conference created by a discussion between O’Reilly publications and MediaLive International (a technology conference company – if you want to put a label around it)

Currently, there is a lot of hype around web 2.0. But also a lot of cynicism. Predictably, the VCs are excited

Like the web 1.0 – It even has a ‘bible book’ as we had the cluetrain manifesto for web 1.0

For web 2.0 it is Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software (Addison-Wesley Professional Computing Series) (Hardcover)

And finally .. it has an odd ‘new agey’ feeling to it .. with words like ‘collective intelligence’, feng shui and morality being bandied about in the context of web 2.0 -

Starting with Nicholas Carr’s The amorality of web 2.0

And Kevin Kelly’s we are the web

and finally .. Tim o Reilly’s response to Nicholas Carr’s article at

Some questions to think about

The mobile device has the potential to act as a significant reporter of data rather than a mere consumer of data. The Web 2.0 / mobility interplay needs more thought. Consider principle two from the list of seven principles (harnessing collective intelligence).

Functionally, we must be able to –

a) collect intelligence unique to being ‘mobile’

b) share that knowledge

c) enable others to comment on that knowledge

d) Ensure that the enhanced body of knowledge so created can be shared with the community.

This leads to more questions – What type of information can we collect when we are mobile(location, pictures(MMS)), How can it be shared?, How can it be enhanced?

Some initial questions which come to my mind:

1) If a web 2.0 service is treated as an amalgamation of data and enabling software, which data elements are unique to mobility (for example location feeds)?

2) How are these data elements captured?

3) What are the pitfalls associated with accessing(sharing) these data sources

4) Will the mobile web 2.0 be seamless as we all hope? If not, what are the options and choke points in extending web 2.0 ‘anywhere anytime’?

5) The impact of IMS. As per wikipedia

The aim of IMS is not only to provide new services but all the services, current and future, that the Internet provides. In addition, users have to be able to execute all their services when roaming as well as from their home networks. To achieve these goals, IMS uses open standard IP protocols, defined by the IETF. So, a multimedia session between 2 IMS users, between an IMS user and a user on the Internet, and between 2 users on the Internet is established using exactly the same protocol. Moreover, the interfaces for service developers are also based on IP protocols. This is why IMS truly merges the Internet with the cellular world; it uses cellular technologies to provide ubiquitous access and Internet technologies to provide appealing services.(By the way, IMS is the topic I am looking to commence my PhD in this year.)

6) How does the network effect work within the mobile data industry ?

7) How does network effect work in terms of user contributions(i.e. can small contributions created by users be shared easily across to the larger body of users) ?

8) What are the examples of harnessing collective intelligence / peer production on the mobile data industry ?

9) Contrasting the iPod/itunes models with other models of sharing data in the mobile data industry

10) Which companies are leading the way in this space ?

11) How will search be affected by ‘anywhere/anytime’ ?

12) Airwaves are not free i.e. there is a cost of transmission over the air through a telecoms network. Will that impact the wider deployment of web 2.0?

13) Impact of dual mode phones(WiFi and 3G phones)

14) IP /IMS does not mean ‘open’. Does openness matter ? If information can be accessed via a browser(and initiatives like the t-mobile web-n-walk initiative are already under way ) – what’s the impact of the ‘walled gardens’ ?

15) What type of data can be captured on a mobile device(music, video, images) and how can it be enhanced(tagged, shared etc) ?

16) What services can be mixed and what new services can be created ? Any examples of these?(citizen’s reporting, real time traffic monitoring are obvious examples)

and so on …

To understand web 2.0, I am going to mainly use Tim O Reilly’s original article alongwith other references from the web as linked.

The seven core principles of web 2.0 revised

As I understand them, according to the article, a web 2.0 service should have as many of the following seven core characteristics as possible. I have outlined these principles partly as a foundation for subsequent discussions but also for my own clarification. Please refer the original link as above for more details.

1. The Web As Platform

Software as a service is data plus software:

A web 2.0 service is a combination of software and data. The term ‘web as a platform’ is not new. Netscape used this term first but the Netscape application (i.e. browser) was created in context of the existing ecosystem (‘WebTop’ instead of ‘desktop’ mirroring the famous ‘horseless carriage’ analogy). While Netscape was still ‘software’ – in contrast, Google is software plus a database. Individually, the software and the database are of limited value – but together they create a new type of service. In this context, the value of the software lies in being able to manage the (vast amounts of) data. The better it can do it, the more valuable the software becomes.

Harnessing the ‘long tail’: The term ‘long tail’ refers to the vast number of small sites that make up the web as opposed to the few ‘important’ sites. This is illustrated by the ‘double-click vs. adsense/overture’ example. The DoubleClick business model was not based on harnessing the vast number of small sites. In contrast, it relied on serving the needs of a few large sites (generally dictated by the media/advertising industry). In fact, their business model actively discouraged small sites(through mechanisms like formal sales contracts). In contrast, anyone can set up an adsense/overture account easily. This makes it easier for the vast number of sites(long tail) to use the service(ad sense/overture).

In general, Web 2.0 systems are geared to harness the power of a large number of casual users who often contribute data implicitly as opposed to a small number of users who contribute explicitly. Tags are an example of implicit contribution. Thus, the web 2.0 service must be geared to capturing ‘many implicit/metadata contributions from a large number of users’ and not a small number of contributions from a few ‘expert’ users.

2. Harnessing Collective Intelligence

In this context, collective intelligence can mean many things

- Yahoo as an aggregation of links

- Google page mark

- Blogging

- Tagging and collective categorisation for example flickr and

- Ebay buyers and sellers

- Amazon reviews

- Wikipedia

And so on ..

All of the above are metadata/content created by users that collectively adds value to the service(which as we have seen before is a combination of the software and the data).

Harnessing the collective intelligence involves understanding some other aspects like peer production, the wisdom of crowds and the network effect.

Peer production as defined by the professor Yochai Benkler’s seminal paper peer production . A concise definition from wikipedia is a new model of economic production, different from both markets and firms, in which the creative energy of large numbers of people is coordinated (usually with the aid of the internet) into large, meaningful projects, largely without traditional hierarchical organization or financial compensation.

The wisdom of crowds – as discussed in the book wisdom of crowds by James Surowiecki whose central idea is that large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.

And finally, network effects from user contributions. In other words, the ability for users to add value (knowledge) easily and then the ability for their contributions to flow seamlessly across the whole community – thereby enriching the whole body of knowledge. A collective brain/intelligence of the blogosphehe if you will – made possible by RSS. A living, dynamic entity not controlled by a single entity.

3. Data is the Next Intel Inside

We have seen previously that a web 2.0 service combines function(software) and data(which is managed by the software). Web 2.0 services inevitably have a body of data (Amazon reviews, eBay products and sellers, Google links) Thus, it’s very different to a word processor for example – where we are selling only software (and no data).

Data is the key differentiator. In most cases, the company serving the data (for example Google) also ‘owns’ the data (for example information about links). However, that may not always be the case. In case of Google maps , Google does not own the data. Mapping data is often owned by companies such as NavTech and satellite imagery data is owned by companies like Digital Globe. Google maps combine data from these two sources(at least).

Taking the ‘chain of data’ further, sites like housing maps are a mashup between Google maps and craigslist. The more difficult it is to create the data, the more valuable it is(for example satellite images are valuable). In cases where data which is relatively easy to create, the company providing the most useful service and hitting critical mass will be valuable.

4. End of the Software Release Cycle

Web 2.0 services do not have a software release cycle. While Google reindexes its link indices every day, Microsoft releases a major software release every few years. That’s because there is no ‘data’ in windows 95, windows XP etc. It’s pure software. Not so with Google. Google is data plus software. It has to reindex its ‘data’ every day else it loses its value. Thus, operations are critical to a web 2.0 company. There is no ‘release’ as such. The flip side of this coin is – there are widespread beta releases and users are treated as co-developers.

5. Lightweight Programming Models

Distributed applications have always been complex to design. However, distributed applications are central to the web. Web services were deemed to be the mechanism to create distributed applications easily. But web services, in their full incarnation using the SOAP stack, are relatively complex. RSS is a simpler(and quicker) way to achieve much of the functionality of web services.

Simpler technologies like RSS and AJAX are the driving force behind web 2.0 services as opposed to the full fledged webservices stack using mechanisms like SOAP. These technologies are designed to syndicate rather than orchestrate(one of the goals of web services). They are thus opposite to the traditional corporate mindset of controlling access to data. They are also designed for reuse. Reuse in the sense of reusing the service and not the data(i.e. they make it easier to remix the service).

Finally, innovation becomes a case of mixing (cobbling together) services existing services – something which we talked about in OpenGardens in the mobile context.

6. Software Above the Level of a Single Device

The sixth principle i.e. ‘Software above the level of a single device’ – is an obvious staring point when we think of the impact of web 2.0 on mobility and telecoms. At one level, the whole of the ‘new’ web should be transparent and accessible across any device. Indeed a browser is the least common denominator in all mobile data devices – and that’s a sobering thought. But there is more to the sixth principle than merely access via the browser.

iTunes leverages data(music) through the service and provides some data management/metadata functions. The mobile device has the potential to act as a significant reporter of data rather than a mere consumer of data. This data, like all web 2.0 services, may be implicit or explicit. This point will be a significant area for discussion in the next two articles.

7. Rich User Experiences

While mechanisms like RSS are being used to syndicate the content of web sites out to a much wider audience, the user experience at the client itself is undergoing a dramatic improvement. The collection of technologies driving this enhanced user experience is Ajax popularised by Jesse James Garrett in the AJAX essay

AJAX is being used in services like gmail, Google maps and Flickr and it already provides the technology to create a seamless user experience combing many discrete services. The impact of RSS and AJAX is to create a service spanning content from many sites. To the user, this is a single, transparent experience. Effectively, content is being freed from its original container. Instead of the user going to the content(as in a user navigating to a web site), the content is going to the user(through RSS). Technologies like AJAX are making it easier for users to create the glue which binds the various content sources(RSS) together.

Conclusion to part One

This article laid the groundwork for the next two articles. It was an introduction to web 2.0 and a series of initial questions which came to my mind when discussing the interplay between web 2.0 and mobility. My objectives, as I have stated, are to extend Tim’s seven principles to mobility and digital convergence. I welcome your comments and questions and I shall answer them in the next two sections of this article.

Many thanks.

Ajit Jaokar

Ajit.jaokar at


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