When Web 2.0 Goes Mobile, Things Can Change

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Right now, there is a disproportionate amount of attention being paid to the term "Web 2.0." Lots of places, online and off, have touted Web 2.0 as being the Holy Grail of sorts for widespread Internet adoption. And while it’s true that some of the principles behind this movement called "Web 2.0" have made things more accessible, for much of the world that connects to the Internet via something other than a high-speced laptop, it is nothing more than a glass ceiling.

For starters, there is no clear definition as to what Web 2.0 is. For some, this term means the collaboration and social nature of web sites that has blossomed. For others, this term has mean the realization of "big brother" and the concept of "the network as the office."

Whatever the definition you want to take, its clear that information is being brokered across several devices, via a web browser, in order to connect and make people productive in ways that are more seamless than paper and file cabinets could ever have been.

And yet, what has been missing in all of this rush to be social, collaborate, and work from the network is how to scale applications and services so that mobile devices — smartphones, PDAs, and smaller Tablet PCs — can best take advantage of them with their limited hardware but personal connections.

Opera has shown with its Opera Mini browser that its not impossible to fit the larger world of computing into the small screen. However, despite its success, Opera nor anything else outside of SMS (text messaging) has really taken off on standard mobiles. It seems that for all of the bevy of services and programs that come under this "Web 2.0" umbrella, there is still confusion as to where mobiles fit best.

A recent acquisition of Zimbra, by Yahoo!, might shed some light as to where mobile devices can fit it, but it will take a bit of work on several fronts to make this happen.

The Why

The reason why people carry a mobile device is because there’s some aspect of information they want or need to access as simply as possible. Whether that is a GPS device to get from point A to point B, or simply a phone book so that a call can be made. Mobile devices thrive when getting information has as few layers as possible.

The big play for this "right now" space is in the area of mobile web portals and widgets. Both are service-based applications which sit front and center on a mobile device and give access to needed information in as few taps as possible. Of course, there is only so much information that can be viewed on a small screen, but considering the regional and occupational differences across mobile device users, this is a hotly contested arena where any number of players can win out.

Part of Yahoo’s Answer

One of these players is Yahoo. Yahoo offers a mobile portal application called Yahoo! Go that is a Java-based application that is usable on Windows Mobile and Symbian smartphones. Yahoo! Go is essentially a portal to many of Yahoo’s popular services: Mail, Flickr, News, Search, and MyYahoo.

What is noticeable about this offering is that it integrates well with the mobile device, and gives quick online and offline access to what most want for their mobile devices. In using it on a Nokia N95, I noticed that if I were Yahoo-centric, it would be all that I would need on a device. However, there are some things missing, such as better support for Word, Excel, or PowerPoint email attachments. This makes Yahoo! Go great for a casual consumer, but it misses steps that would otherwise entice a more enterprising user.

This is why I see the Zimbra addition to the Yahoo portfolio — and a most probably similar move from Google and Microsoft with their online offerings — as something interesting for mobile devices. We can all agree that it is not efficient to be connected online all the time in order to have to read a document or get something done. But if in a portal, or portal application such as Yahoo! Go, you could access documents that are stored on a server, and then view/edit/sync them locally, the mobile device becomes a better platform for the "right now" viewing of documents and information that would otherwise be a hassle to keep track of or carry.

How This Solution Can Play Out

Mobile is more than just sync and carry. Because a document would be linked on a public, secured server, you could shoot a SMS/MMS/email message with just a link to view an item, instead of attaching the entire file. Documents can be tagged for being "mobile-friendly" or even formatted on the fly for mobile devices to better cater to whatever it is that the person has to view the document.

Because of this, we then get back into that Web 2.0 idea of information being something worth sharing, which in many respects is all that Web 2.0 is saying. Mobile devices have been left out because they have not had enough compelling reasons to be used as a part of the sharing circle. I believe that Office documents will be a important part of Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, and others’ mobile strategy, and that this aspect of using a portal to connect the data with the person — irregardless of device — will be the push the mobile web needs to step into the forefront of user’s hands.

Issues To Overcome

With nearly 3 billion mobile phones, and countless other mobile devices that are in use, it is impossible for one type of solution to meet every need. It is possible, though, to minimize the layers that mobile devices and users have to go through in order to use these services. Whether that is creating better web browser, streamlining networks and hardware so that devices can stay usable for days on end, or something that hasn’t yet been invented; innovation has to be allowed to continue.

Manufacturers have to push outside of conventional uses and seek better form factors and work out better deals with carriers and consumers in order to at least get the ball rolling.

Carriers need to lower prices, and instead of closing innovation within their own walls, making innovation something that’s shared across networks, nations, and devices.

And lastly, customers have to be invited to take a chance in doing something that they have never done before.

All of that together can play out into making Web 2.0 a bit more than a mobile myth, but something that really enables the kind of participation that birthed the Internet and will take us all to the next level.




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