Here are the transcript and slides of my 8-minute DLD talk, titled "Internet Services and Mobile Devices: What the Future Holds." Three startups presented in the session: Socialite, Area/Code, and Plazes. A video is available for download on the DLD site.
Note: I’m kind of at a loss when it comes to posting presentations online. Is this slide+transcript a good format? Most photos are ripped from Google image search and some of them are probably copyrighted (UPDATE: I dropped one slide that contained a copyrighted photo of Bob Dylan).
Although this talk is about the future, I’m going to start with a dead person. He’s kind of a hero of mine.
His name is Pierre Bourdieu. He was a French philosopher and sociologist. When he was still alive some said he was the ‘grand old’ French sociologist.
Like many French sociologists, Pierre Bourdieu didn’t exactly suffer from a lack of things to say. Indeed he said a great many things and wrote many books. And there is one thing in particular that he said that I think is relevant to this panel today.
Bourdieu said that human life is essentially about a sense of individuality. Distinguishing ourselves from other people.
That as a person, I am unique…
…and stand out from the masses. But, Bourdieu noted, the search for distinction is paradoxical. It’s self-contradictory.
For even as we strive to differ from one group of people, we search for acceptance by associating with others who are the same as us.
The cycle of distinction and association never stops. It’s a yin-yan kind of movement. And this movement, Bourdieu thought, drives social life as a whole.
Now, we’re starting to approach where all this leads: People as such aren’t enough, because the cycle of distinction works through objects.
The object can be a band (as on MySpace and Last.fm, for instance)…
Or a celebrity / fashion item, as on Paperdoll Heaven…
Or a place where people hang out (as on 43Places, Plazes, and Socialite)…
It can be a book we read (as on Allconsuming and Amazon)…
It could also be the cuisine we prepare or consume (as on food-related Flickr groups)…
Or a movie (as on Filmtipset, the Swedish movie recommendation service)…
Or indeed an event we go to (as on Upcoming)…
These emerging new online services are so powerful because they super-charge some of the oldest processes of object-centered social distinction, like
– demonstrating your taste by showing your favorite objects;
– forming groups around objects; and
– teaching taste to others by making recommendations about good and bad objects.
When we use these services, we participate in a giant global swarm.
But if we think truly global…
I’m afraid the laptop computer simply won’t do. Something more natural is needed. Something that fits into our hand, and doesn’t require the level of literacy and technical skills that are needed to operate a PC.
I know what you think I’m thinking: the mobile phone, right? Well, I want to challenge that. The ecosystem of mobile telephony is structurally so centralized that it simply doesn’t allow the kind of distributed innovation that is taking place on the internet.
I believe that things are finally changing. Like in the Dylan song, only for mobile tech. There are signs that change is afoot.
The reason I’m excited is that for the first time, two critical enabling factors are falling in place, that didn’t exist before: 1) an open-source, hackable operating system; and 2) wireless networks that don’t require a license, meaning anybody – a company, a municipality, or a private individual – can set up an access point, and choose to charge a fee for the connection, or offer it for free.
I hope we’ll remember last year 2005 as the year when it all started, because last year the first handsets that are based on these open architectures started shipping. They’re still pretty geeky and not for the mass market, but when you look under the hood, there is fairly good reason to be excited.
The reason is that we can finally develop our services for mobile handhelds freely, just like we do on the internet today. In the long run, this could result in a richer, more globally accessible online conversation that we’ve yet dared to imagine. And I hope that if he was still alive, old man Pierre Bourdeu would be nodding his head in agreement.