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Going mobile AND real time: We are the sensors

[Web 2.0 Expo 2009:  Web comes to its senses] | [Web 2.0 Expo 2009 – Part 1: Sense of self] | [Part 2: Sense of presence] | [Web 2.0 Expo 2009 – Part 3: Sense of place] | [Web 2.0 Expo 2009 – Part 4: Sense of governance] | [Web 2.0 Expo 2009 – Part 5: Sense of community]

In my last piece on the Web 2.0 Expo 2009, we looked at the “Web 2.0 Expo 2009 – Part 1: Sense of self” –particularly as made important on the Web via self-presentation, and using the tools of Nancy Duarte. Now we take our “selves” on the road: We go mobile AND real time at the same time — and it makes ALL the difference.

I call this a “sense of presence” because the mobile component, particularly as combined with the recent super-emphasis on real-time communications, turn our very individual presence into a source of the most compelling data on the Web today. As Mitchell Baker said at *last* year’s Web 2.0 Expo, “I am the mobile component in my life — I do not want my mobile devices out wandering around without me.”  The combination of our presence as humans with the capability of networking ourselves around its essence is nothing short of profound.

nokia: new behavior requires a new deviceIf that sounds dramatic, consider how Nokia’s Anssi Vanjoki characterized this combination in his keynote The Year of the Mobile Computer: “We are going to bring the net to everybody at every time everywhere.” On how this new kind of “social location” data raises the stakes, the keynote talked about how “A user’s immediate location and social network can transform mobile Web services into personalized, unique experiences. Imagine the map on the device becoming the user interface for search instead of a text box or search results based on the physical world and augmented by the digital world.”

Not only do “we” become the net with our devices, but our devices themselves continue to transform. Vanjoki showed off a cool “wearable devices” video (a future we keep awaiting), while in addition talking about the “map” becoming “The Interface.” “Why did we pay $8B for mapping company? It can form a database for *everything.* Everything on this planet can be described in coordinates,” he explained.

“The question ‘Where are you?’ becomes irrelevant,” he continued, “because we have chosen to share our location, and it is *all* about location – social location.”

Meanwhile, Microsoft for its part downplayed the primary importance of the mobile device. “The device, combined with service, combined with software on the device – all rolled together is key,” said Stephen Elop in his keynote conversation with Tim O’Reilly.  “Clearly the best user experience is going to come from a combination of software plus service,” he continued, predicting the continued importance of the Microsoft Office suite of software.

vic gundotraYet even if it doesn’t all come down to one device in the future — and it’s the one we carry around with us or wear — we are at the least going to continue to be doing more things with our mobile devices than we’ve ever done before.  Google’s Vic Gundotra demoed an early technical prototype of Gmail written as a Web app on the iPhone, and also talked about voice search being a “core area” for Google going forward. “We’ll build it internally; it’s technology we want to have entirely in-house.”  

In the article Google Maps Out the Future of Its Mobile Apps Gundotra underscored, “These devices will become our agents and friends, support us with advice, be our friends.

We’re also participating in a generational evolution, not just for evolving devices (all these mobile apps for blackberry and iPhone — while I keep carrying my old Treo, hmmm) but for us evolving humans ourselves.  I liked that Gundotra emphasized implications of mobile for children, since our nearly five-year-old daughter already considers the iPhone “her iPhone.” Likewise, Gundotra told a story of 4-year-old just knowing you go to a mobile device if you don’t know answer to a question.

moya twittering at the web 2.0 expo 2009Now: Enter the real-time component. In perfect manifestations of what Nat Torkington calls “continuous partial attention,” with my device(s) by my side, I not only Twittered widely but also crowdsourced via Twitter to see which session I should attend after I tilted during a VC money session.

Twitter’s influence was as omnipresent as caffeine, and though I’m pictured here (thanks to Linda Bortolus breathing down my neck!) Twittering with my Mac, my mobile phone Twitters too — and goes more places with me, most all of the time.

Rather than the odd new technology, Twitter has grown to be the actual focus of presentations in conferences this year, such as the “Effective Twitter” session from self-described early Twitter adopter Sarah Milstein — but the true impact of real-time microblogging is demonstrated in its ubiquity at the conference. Speakers provide their Twitter names as contacts now and many sessions provide a Twitter hashtag to both crowdsource questions and session feedback — in real time. Also, the real-time online interface means people who might not otherwise stand up at the mic get a voice and a response, having a chance to participate under the cloak of anonymity.  See this recent piece from Pistachio Consulting for more about presenting while people are Twittering.

It wasn’t just Twitter — often a Meebo chat room was used instead of Twitter. Nancy Duarte offered live Meebo chat rooms during her workshop, in order to “brainstorm an audience.”  The conference itself was said to have “ditched Twitter for Google,” citing Google Moderator as a better environment in which to crowdsource – and rate – audience questions – see for example an instance of Google Moderator for of the keynote sessions at http://bit.ly/askellen.

Sharing status and even using it to ask questions is all not really new, as we’re reminded in the recent Mashable piece A Brief History of the Status Update. Though thanks to Twitter it’s more hyped than ever before, the “status update” and short-form messaging has been around in various manifestations since the 1960’s. Even its ubiquity is not new. “Status is ubiquitous, but in fact chained to a specific moment in time,” says the Mashable piece.  So what is new?

twitter and real-time presenceThe way we look at it is changing, for one thing.

As Twitter co-founder and Web 2.0-rockstar-of-a-sort Evan Williams said of Twitter during Wednesday’s live Tekzilla filming in the keynote hall at the expo, “the product itself has changed very little; it’s how we think about it that has changed.”

This again echoes one of the key messages of this year’s expo and its theme itself – the embodiment of the power of less. Twitter, built within “the inherent limitations of SMS messages,” has used its ubiquity to learn what’s important to the people using it, and then built on top of that.

It could hardly have been a coincidence that the conference ended on a note of Twitter/Google  rumors, with many speculating that the threat Twitter poses to Google, particularly with search.twitter.com, is in its owning of the real-time search market. Recognizing the importance, Twitter in fact began parsing out new search-focused interfaces to its application during the conference. Build something small, they’ve learned; listen in to tons of data; let it evolve.

twitter's evan williams If those businesses that are listening in and are responsive to change prove “the survival of the fittest,” this translates to device innovations, accessible ubiquity, and effortless interfaces (right? someday?), and with our devices at hand, we are the sensors.

Now that the Web is both porting to our five-year-old’s hands and growing up into a mature application at the same time, what does the mobile, real-time component mean for Enterprise applications?

As SAP’s imagineering luminary Denis Browne pointed out in his session Enterprise Assets are Going Virtual, “Tracking enterprise assets remains a challenge for many companies. Emerging solutions to address this challenge include sensor networks that provide “last mile” information on almost every imaginable detail of physical assets.  New integration technologies now connect these sensor networks with enterprise applications to enable more responsive monitoring, reporting, and tracking of physical assets – carts, forklifts, palettes, computers, tools, mobile machinery, and even people – near real-time.”

Not only are the ramifications to the Enterprise of the whole world turning into a series of inter-connected mobile sensor components huge, but also traditional media are already feeling the pinch, and politics and human rights violations will never proceed the same way in the inter-connected world.  Current TV referred to the 2008 election as the “pundits vs. the people” in their session TV & Radio with an API: Stories from Current and NPR.  Recall that Current famously paid attention to what was going on live, real-time in order to “hack the debate” during the US presidential election in 2008. A whole new front-line of editors triage the firehose of user-generated and submitted raw-material, deciding what goes on to TV on election night. As NPR also agreed: “What we’re most excited about is the thing that surprises us most: the Twitter mashups – what are people talking about?

The result is that the key new question any business needs to ask itself is “Who bears more and more of the key data to running the business — at this moment?” Answer: You hold this future in your hands right now: presently.

PS: Next up in my series, we “go local” and see how it all comes down to Web 2.0 Expo 2009 – Part 3: Sense of place

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