Helping the Mobile Mashup Discussion

MashupCamp is actually going to have a discussion about Mobility, which I'm extremely happy to see. Here's the current description of the session from the Wiki:

Consider the content and services that are being supported by today's mashup API providers... events, places, relationships, media, messaging, search, commerce, and storage. Now match these with the functionality provided by the software components found on today's most dominant device, the mobile phone. The telcos have so far failed in their attempts to provide a compelling and usable personalized experience that successfully integrates the obvious relationships between these offerings. This is a compelling opportunity that needs to be addressed by those interested in tearing down the walled gardens that have been erected by the proponents of the so-called Open Mobile Alliance (OMA).

So since I'm in London and can't attend, I wanted to help direct this discussion a bit from here, and correct some issues I have with the description.

I have a few problems with the sentence that starts with "The telcos have so far failed..." It's really not the operators developing the services, they're mostly just partnering with others, just to make that clear. Secondly, remember that these guys are the best way to get to the consumer, and will be for a while yet, so starting the mashup discussion with an antagonistic declaration that the carriers are bad and the OMA is some sort of evil organization is sorta dumb. Besides, the OMA is filled with tons of companies not just carriers and are responsible for real standards for interop like SyncML and standardizing the mobile web on XHTML, so I don't think they in particular are a problem. Are most operators arrogant, slow to open up access to their customers, and hard to work with as partners? Sure. Do they also provide 2 billion people with dialtones, deal with insane government regulations, provide expensive support for their users and spend trillians of dollars year after year improving their wireless infrastructure, blanketing the entire world with connectivity? Yeah, that too. For the most part if you have a reasonable data plan, the carriers aren't restricting your access to the network any more, and probably more half worldwide have open platforms for clients (sans Verizon, and some Asian carriers). But for the most part these guys aren't a barrier to creating mashups really.

Now, as for failing to provide services based on events, places, relationships, etc. on mobile? That's not true at all. There are actually lots of examples of these sorts of services. The best example is SKTelecom's CyWorld, which has an amazing 45% usage among *all* Koreans, and the mobile version is pretty much THE way to communicate with friends and organize your life. It includes many if not all of the feature list. Is an open platform? Not really, but it does meet the description of services above. If Marc Canter shows up, ask him to tell you about the American version being developed in Seattle right now.

But what about mobile products or services that use open APIs - combining two or more of them into something cool? In other words, where are the "real" mobile mashups?

Well, a couple examples off the top of my head are Shozu, which just won an Award at 3GSM which integrates with Flickr and other blogs as well. It combines your basic blog XML-RPC services with photo upload and management (Nokia's Lifeblog does similar things with a native client). BonesInMotion who just presented at MobileMonday and launched at DEMO has a custom Brew exercise-tracking client they've launched on Verizon handsets, but uses location data from online services, and provides a blog powered by Google Maps for displaying your daily runs, etc. It's very cool. SocialLight does location based post-it notes, with the maps, blog stuff, etc. And a company called MobileGlu just launched which does the whole moblog plus Flickr/Upcoming integration as well.

There are lots of mobile apps out there that use just one the various photo, map, RSS and other public web services out there, though these aren't technically "mashups" they still show the basic technology at work. For example, I'm sure Google's local java client uses its own public APIs. Then you have Bonfire Media's eBay Wireless (formerly Pocket Auctions) which uses their APIs. Nokia's mobile search client uses a variety of web services to provide web, local and other types of search for S60 phones. 411 Sync basically is just an SMS front end to lots of different webservices from Yahoo! (including Upcoming), CraigsList and others. You can even make your own web service SMS accessible with 411Sync's dev API. There's also got to be an Amazon mobile app floating out there somewhere... I just can't find one rigt now. And as for pure mobile plays, the MoSoSo torchbearer Rabble also integrates with various photo and blog sites as well via import/export.

When it comes to platforms on which to base your mashup, there's actually quite a lot of to choose from either already in market like the basic mobile web (xhtml and PHP baby!), J2ME (it's pretty basic to open up an HTTP Connection and snag some XML), as well as Python for S60, Flash Lite, native Symbian smart phone apps (if you like pain) and even Browser-based systems like the Opera Mobile Platform which has full-on AJAXability. So there's tons of options there for the client. Again, if you've got a Verizon phone or are in Japan, give it up. But the rest of us can start to do cool things on our phones right now.

Now the one thing I think everyone should talk about at the entire conference is licensing. Mashups are great, but I think anyone thinking of making a real business out of them should really be concerned about the commercial licensing fees that could be charged later. Location services in particular get me. Before Google and Yahoo! started giving away Maps and Geolocation services, this stuff used to cost a bunch - and still do if you're thinking of using them commercially. This is a real issue for those looking at creating Mashups as a sort of prototype for something bigger/better.

Okay, hope that helps the discussion! Have fun!


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