Weblogs go mobile
So you're a salesman for those cool, smart phones that do everything: a PDA, a Web browser, a digital camera. Your problem? These things are certifiably cool, but perhaps too cool for the average Joe Lunkhead. These gadgets need a killer app, something that will make them fly out the door like hotcakes, right? Your brainstorm coalesces: "Step right up and get yer camera phone! Now with blogging! We call it 'moblogging' for mobile blogging!"
Mindboggling, really. The idea started with the Danger Hiptop, branded as the T-Mobile Sidekick, which was one such do-everything gadget. Then up sprouted the Hiptop Nation, a group weblog of people who use the Sidekick and send in photos along with text from the road, from their cubicle, from car shows, from wherever. Kinda silly, kinda new, kinda wow. In early January, an Irish company called NewBay Software announced FoneBlog software aimed at cell carriers who wanted to offer weblogging to smart phone users.
The idea is certainly in beta, and has had mixed reviews so far. IDC analyst Keith Waryas told Wireless NewsFactor's Jay Wrolstad that camera phones are becoming hot items, but noted that wireless carriers might be nervous about hosting user-generated content. Wrolstad wrote that "allowing users to create their own Web sites is attractive, but just because something is popular in a digital environment -- like blogging -- does not mean it will be popular in the mobile environment."
As for the user-generated content, Business 2.0's Bob Parks wrote that these folks could turn out to be "lynch" mobloggers for corporations, as some in HipTop Nation have sent in photos of long lines at Wal-Mart and complaints about Extra chewing gum. "It'll only get worse for businesses as technology gets better," Parks believes. But in the field of journalism, moblogging might bring in more amateur on-the-scene reports -- complete with low-res photos.
Still, the prevalence of these phones -- and even the idea of weblogging -- is still years away from the mainstream. Americans have only recently accepted cell phones as part of daily life, and even typing on them is a bit alien (if not difficult). Folks on a Slashdot discussion wondered about service charges for huge data uploads that such a moblog would require. One poster on Slashdot, KDan, put it best: "Shame we'll probably have to wait 10-20 years before it is implemented properly in a seamless way that allows it to be used by Joe Average."
No escape from e-mail
It's now official. Soon you will be able to climb the highest mountain, Mt. Everest, and still get spam e-mail. Not weird enough? A couple Silicon Valley baby boomers are bringing Net access to the jungles of Laos with -- get this -- a computer powered by a stationary bicycle. And that's not far from where these words are being written by me right now, at a cybercafe in tropical Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand, a formerly undiscovered island turned into rave music paradise, with more Internet cafes than gas stations.
Joking aside, the Mt. Everest project was hatched by a funky group including 74-year-old tech pioneer Dave Hughes (read the AP profile) and sherpas such as Tsering Gyaltsen (read the story in The New York Times), whose grandfather accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary's monumental climb 50 years ago. The idea is to give Wi-Fi access to climbers so they can e-mail people while climbing -- and to fund cleanup efforts and Net access for Nepalese. The Laotian hookup has similar intentions, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Kevin Fagan, with a rugged computer run on only 12 watts of pedal power helping a village without electricity or phone lines find the going rate for their goods via the Net.
My setup here in nearby Thailand is amazingly plush by comparison, with the influx of Western backpackers prompting cybercafe owners to set up satellite connections, some with speeds up to 512 kbps. Not bad, but you could barely get to the nearest town after a big rain because the roads are in such disrepair.
What does it all mean for those creating content online? Though you might not reach climbers on Everest or villagers in remote parts of Laos, you're probably reaching more people in more remote corners of the world than you ever thought possible. And Net access is only going to get more ubiquitous, so keep thinking global, with an audience that's getting infinitely more mobile.
Mark Glaser currently writes technology features for The New York Times, travel stories for the San Jose Mercury News, and a bi-weekly e-mail newsletter for the Online Publishers Association, whose membership includes most major media companies online. That won't stop him from taking cheap potshots at these outlets, when necessary. You can contact him with any juicy tidbits about online journalism at [email protected].