Liveblogging Futures of Entertainment 2 – Mobile Panel

This was an absolutely fantastic panel – best I’ve seen in the last year certainly on mobile, probably overall. This might mean my notes are a bit more scattered – but there are lots of interesting points and questions in what follows. I will try to clean up a bit later.


Description from program:

Beyond the launch of shiny new devices, the mobile market has been dominated by data services and re-formatted content. Wifi connections and the expansion of 3G phone networks enable pushing more data to wireless devices faster, yet we still seem to be waiting for the arrival of mobile’s “killer app”. This panel muses on the future of mobile services as devices for convergence culture. What role can mobile services play in remix culture? What makes successful mobile gaming work? What are the stumbling blocks to making the technological promise of convergence devices match the realities of the market? Is podcasting the first and last genre of content? What is the significance of geotagging and place-awareness?


Alice Kim – lots of interesting challenges.
– How do we get compensated?
– How do we stay relevant to our userbase, which is very forward looking?

Marc Davis – an MIT Media Lab alum. Early Stage Products at Yahoo! focus on Mobile
– in the next few years, 4 billion people with cell phones and wireless connections to each other
– Nokia N95 – which unlike the iPhone is programmable easily
– Realtime sharing of video from billions of geolocated phones live – that’s what gets me up in the morning

Anmol Madan – a PhD student upstairs (Media Lab).
– Research interest – computation models on how people share things in media
– Ultimate goal is to make all phone interfaces socially aware

Bob Schukai – VP of Wireless/Mobile at Turner
– I mostly live on a plane. 90% of our research is outside the US.
– The US is behind on mobile and broadband. Way behind.
– We can learn a lot from other geographies

JG: How do we account for how far behind we are?

Bob Schukai – he’s got more phones than anyone else at the table – I counted seven, I think. (Of course none of them work since there is no cell phone coverage here).

7 different standards, from which we’re still suffering.

In the US, we’re still talking about coverage. Standards are definitely an issue.

Marc Davis -But it is also about business model – bundled data is huge leap forward, and this is one place where we’re ahead. The iPhone isn’t just about the UI but about the bundled unlimited data. Then there’s the challenge of mobile development.

Internet, Telecom, and Content industries all fighting over true mobile innovation. The one thing we share is an interest in advertising.

Alice Kim – we all agree standards are an issue, business models are an issue. Less than 25% of those who are on data plans access mobile video on a regular basis. The consumer behavior just isn’t there either. Is there an opportunity to leverage some of the ad budget to subsidize the cost of content delivery to mobile devices?

Bob Schukai – but we’re still building for coverage not bandwidth – text messaging is where the margin is, which is low bandwidth.

Marc Davis – carriers have an effective monopoly on messaging via the phone – once you get IM on the phone you no longer need SMS

Anmol Maden – I think the big issue is interoperability. It’s an order of magnitude worse than the PC 15 years ago. This leaves users dependent on the carrier networks which they should not have to be. (Bluetooth, Mesh, Wifi – these will help solve the issue but are opposed to carrier business models).

JG: but will we ever get beyond walled gardens?

Marc Davis – we will. Think of the history of IM. As we move into social applications, you have to be able to reach out beyond the end of your walled garden. We will shift from a walled garden model to an open internet model.

JG – how does the shift from Walled Garden to Open Internet get sold as a business model? Why didn’t we get the real internet is the first place?

Bob Schukai – the carriers see that off-deck plays are going to be huge. They understand the walls are coming down fast. Initially it made sense because of the limits of handsets which couldn’t handle web content.

Anmol Maden – the ideas here are coming from startups and 17 year olds in finland – not coming through the on deck models from carriers.

Marc Davis – another challenge has been the lack of an interface – why didn’t we get the web? We didn’t have a mouse on the phone. This was a significant barrier – the UI paradigm of web browsing and using a phone are different. Both are evolving, which is why things are changing – new phone interfaces, new web paradigms. It is just about to happen – we are at the point of convergence. Back in the 90s Media Lab paper about Data Cameras – but the iPhone is the realization of the Data Camera. It isn’t just about consuming content but also creating it.

Alice Kim – for a while we liked the walled garden. That’s what seeded many content providers’ mobile organizations. We’re experimenting with mobile device oriented productions. Short series, etc. American Idol’s vote via txt. This is in a sense a realization of the old “interactive tv” model, but the buttons were on the phone not the TV Remote. So we’re experimenting, but we’re also waiting to see where real interactivity comes from, technologically.

JG: How can we make smarter devices by taking advantage of the social-ness?

Marc Davis – it is important to remember what a modern phone really is. A programmable, portable, location aware, video camera, connected to the internet. The real opportunities have to do with leveraging what makes the phone a new medium for content production. Think about the opportunities of large scale production.

audience – why do you call it a phone?

Marc Davis – the primary reason people carry these is to make a phone call from anywhere.

Bob Schukai – you can try to call it a portable multimedia computing device as Nokia does (in finnish accent) but most people call it a phone.

London 2 bombings on 7/7 and photos from them – first large scale location aware event where those photos were the best reporting of it.

Marc Davis – the new diegetic realm that mobile makes possile is storytelling in the physcial world – what mobile will make possible is stories that live in space and timeout in the real world. What does news look like when there are 50,000 streaming mobile phones in a real time event? Real time, geo aware, time-aware content production across the planet.

(Demoing Zone Tag)

Bob Schukai – your life isn’t private anymore. This is fraught with anxiety. I think there is going to be a backlash as part of this – it won’t be all fun.

Anmol Maden – what if we think of phones as behavior recognition devices, not communication devices. What if your phone is aware of your routine, your friends, your movement through time and space. How you use this potential awareness is what is most interesting but also most potentially troubling.

JG: How do we get there? How do these location aware social apps actually get created?

Marc Davis – “the new vegetarian restaurant all my friends like that I’ve never been to” example – this isn’t an app it’s a gift. People are going to have to own their data – but if we’re getting people what they want when the want it, it will happen.

Bob Schukai – there’s a demographic bit here too.

Alice Kim – but that same demo (under 35) is also most anti-commercial, at least in terms of old forms of advertising. Millenial demographic is part consumers part producers part curators – more innovative in terms of content production. New forms of advertising will have to be created to meet them.

JG: Will the unease about location awareness be less important for “entertainment” contexts?

Marc Davis – fire eagle – an open platform for location awareness (desktop and mobile) with privacy built in. Granularity matters a lot – and should be user choice. Knowing I’m in Cambridge, or the Boston area, versus that I am in *this* auditorium is very very different.

ZoneTag demo – flickr map of phots. And this is with folks taking the time to drag images on to a map (like me). Tagmaps at – tag cloud over the map. A map of collective human attention – which is what media is really about.

JG: Where is innovation coming from?

Marc Davis – there’s lots of innovation – bringing it to market has been the difficulty.

Anmol Maden – the presence of location awareness (and availability of it to the OS and applications) is growing rapidly now.

Bob Schukai – the real innovation to me is where you are breaking the business models. Putting Skype on the phone, removing roaming charges for data access (X series phone?) across Europe. Until we see this kinds of stuff happening we will keep halting process and takng way too long to get new innovative apps into the mainstream.

Marc Davis – this also comes back to Bob’s original point about the US being behind. In Japan, all the phones have GPS. But the best behavior and intention understanding mechanism isn’t the web it is the phone – and that’s why eventually we will break these barriers.

JG – what about Apple and Google’s entry to the market?

BS – the significance of the iPhone is that Apple set the terms of the deal. They controlled the carrier. That’s a big cajones move Jobs put out there and god bless him for it – you’ve got to break the business models to make real innovation. Google, I don’t know what to say about that yet – how good are their intentions? They want to be open, they talk about openness, but they have real impacts on content producers. What will happen when Google buys spectrum?

AM – we also should talk about the innovation of people writing apps for the iphone despite active antagonism from Apple. From a Google / Android perspective it seems like they are trying to solve the right problems but it is too early to tell – lets see what actually gets in the hands of users.

MD – so the iPhone is like .1 % of the market, and Android hasn’t achieved distribution yet. Scale matters. You need to be able to get to lots of people to have a real business model. Things have to become more open, and things which were differentiation become commodity, and new differentiators get built on top of them. We also have to be aware of the lower end of the scale – very inexpensive cell devices that are text only, in places like India.

AK – The iPhone was a wake up call, or a call to action. It was the first time the focus was on the user interface. It isn’t a great mobile data experience but it showed carriers that users really do care about the mobile interface. We need to come at this from the user perspective – it isn’t about product silos which is what content companies and carriers have done (ringtone storefront separate from SMS separate from IM seperate from email) but thinking about consumer friendly experiences. We’re also really happy to see Google entering this marketplace – we’re looking for scale that Yahoo! and Google can bring and aggregate. Their entry will be game changing, and will have to increase the voice consumers have collectively in the industry. Everyone is announcing that they are “open” but until that gets scale it doesn’t really matter – Android becmes just another platform to develop on.

Google buying spectrum?

BS – Google getting spectrum will be good for consumers.

MD – owning just part of the spectrum will not make the whole carrier base open. But what Google and Apple are doing (in different ways) is they are force factors – they are pushing and nudging the industries in certain directions. I think Android will ultimately have more impact than spectrum. But they also will have to be very careful about how they treat privacy and trust. They have high risk here of violating user expectations – openness and participation has to include trust and privacy.

AK – we also have to recall Google as the advertising powerhouse, allowing individual site developers even small scale to be able to monetize – they had a giant impact on the web in this way and that may have impact on mobile as well.

MD – search is key to watch in mobile. Yahoo One Search is actually winning in mobile space.


Audience questions:

Note from audience: openness is not all the same. Different license / distribution arrangements are different in key ways. Not everything called “open” is really open and as an app developer you run into that in actually trying to get apps on mobile devices right quick.

Q: There’s a lot about information delivery – but when does this get entertaining? Immersive, personal, and fun?

MD: We’ve seen some interesting experiences in augmented reality and the story world. Connecting the physical world and the gaming world – knowing where someone is and having that impact the game or the story.

AM – part of the challenge here is the network effects. There have to be enough users to create critical mass.

BS – Depends a lot on where you live. The Korea example – 70 minute commute is the average and people actually watch tv on their phone. We’re really a driving culture – so the entertainment is the “backseat babysitter.” We have a culture which encourages the short from – small pockets of attention between meetings, or waiting in line for a plane, etc.

Q: How do you see user generated metadata?

MD: That’s the beauty of mobile. The phone adds the metadata – so I don’t have to do it. That’s metadata. Mobile will be the breakthrough for media content.

Q: But what about corporate created media? When MTV or Turner create content, who owns the metadata?

AK: There is metadata we create – for a number of specific search providers. Then there is tagging, which users do. We want users to become cocreaters but we also have brand equity in what we’ve created.

Q: What will the impact of hyperconnectivity? (GPS, location aware, always on devices).

MD – we see this already with Flickr’s impact on photography. It’s not about beauty so much as “status-casting”

BS – but that awareness comes with privacy issues. The London camera surveillance network – that’s a tradeoff people made. But they won’t accept that on cellphones. It has to have the user control.

AM – as you get more media and better metadata, you also need new techniques for attention management – how do I decide what is relevant and what filters do the systems to provide to help.

MD- the FireEagle “hide me” button – big giant piece of the infrastructure which is absolutely critical.

AK – The cultural connection is important to. The clarity about what people expect to share and expect to keep private is shifting. People broadcast their locations, their tastes, etc – twitter, blogging, etc. What constitutes privacy changes.

MD: big shifting from “on the internet no one knows you’re a dog” to real people and real lives. People are living their real lives online.

Q: Where is voice in all this?

BS – there is a whole user behavior thing which has to change. People are willing to walk around with bluetooth headsets in their ears, but not willing to use voice command like “call fred.” People will sign up for text messages but not sign up for audio messages. There’s also the language issue – trying to do all the dialects in India is difficult.

MD – moore’s law is helping us here. This gets better as the handsets get smarter. We are going to get there, but it will take time.

Q: Granularity of privacy. All good for power users, early adopters, etc. But when it goes mainstream people won’t take the time to look under the hood. What role does media literacy play and who is responsible for it?

MD: We have a responsibility to make systems that people feel comfortable using. (Parallel – credit cards. We all use them, but they know an awful lot about us and they sell it. We exchange that for convenience). Designing social software architecturally that enable zones of intimacy and zones of privacy is crucial.

Q: What work is going on to understand how content is actually consumed in order to create better delivery (for example, curriculum from universities which could be distributed this way)

BS – this is one of the important advantages of off-deck content creation and distribution – because that lets people other than carriers get access to user behavior, including user media consumption behavior.

AM – this is certainly an active research area for lots of people – context and environment is important to how people consume.

All the content creators are looking at consumption patterns – but the context of the question seems to have gotten lost and turned into how content creators from *media* can get better consumption – not the educational / activist piece.

Q: Politics has been noticably absent from the discussion. What about the questions where privacy overlaps with the political realm?

Marc Davis: (Sous-veillance – surveillance from below). There are terrifying possibilities here for the CIA, NSC, etc. But there are also tremendous potentials – to allow collective action to be possible, to enable massive bottom up collectivism. Providing the power to individuals to act as a collective. The PC brought the computer power of corporations to your desktop. What we’d like mobile to do is bring the power of collective action to non-military, non-corporate entities.

Bob Schukai – you think it is bad here, try it in Europe. They have gotten better, from the point of view of controlling roaming costs inside the EU and such – but there are going to be big companies who control access. The UK has a “lite touch” regulatory approach. We need more proactive policy not reactive regulation. That said, there are times where mandates are critical – part of our problem now is the laissez-faire approach the FCC took to wireless in the first place.

Q: What about China, the Internet, Telecoms, and Privacy?

BS – some challenges in China – they have created their own standard, which is a problem, and it is difficult to interact as a western company in China.

MD – it is difficult to work with the Chinese Government. If you want to operate in that country, you face restrictions on how you can operate. Yahoo!s actions there were not specific to Yahoo!. What the Chinese government does to operators is untenable (speaking as an individual not for Yahoo!) – but not operating there simply isn’t a real option. Engaging is better than not engagine despite the challenges.

BS – you have to also understand just how quickly, radically, and fundamentally things are changing in China. That doesn’t mean what they are doing is right all the time, but it is understandable the tensions they face as they try to evolve from life under Mao to live under hypercapitalism – there are tremors as that happens as they try to prevent the nation from falling apart.

JG – what’s the next thing to watch for?

AK – Entrance of Google, Yahoo, etc onto the mobile device in addition to / instead of the “on-deck” play. How media companies will get back to direct-to-consumer approach.

MD – The ability of developers to get access to the mobile platform in a significant way will be the big change, in addition to location awareness. Solving the distribution problem. The kind of distributed innovation Von Hippel talks about can start to happen in the mobile space.

AM – The other thing I’m really interested in is this concept of mining people’s behavior for their own uses – how apps come to understand users behavior and know how to improve applications as a result.

BS – IMS – internet protocol multimedia subsystem – this is a bit further out in time but not so far. As more and more devices have IP addresses, what does that mean? Connecting from any IP device to any other IP device and what impact that has is the big thing.