Re-Imagining the future of the Web

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Hmmm…

What we do differently if we had the chance to do it all over again? There’s no question that the Internet has ushered in some of the greatest changes of the century. And yet as humans we should ponder the question – What if?

What if in the future, the Web could deliver a richer experience and respect my privacy?

Think about that for a moment. It’s actually a pivotal argument which appears to be an almost impossible problem to solve. The Web has always been synonymous with free. As in free content in return for using your private data to deliver advertising.

After 20 years of using the Web i’ve yet to see an advert that appeals to me on a Web page. It’s like they (the advertisers) know absolutely nothing about me. I’ve often wondered why there isn’t a simple menu option in the browser which allows me to ‘share my personal ad preferences’ with the content provider?

And yet to this day there’s nothing.

The question that no one can imagine asking is how can I share my private data in return for a better experience. There’s currently no ‘Internet of You’ (or Me) and yet with Advertising becoming a limited resource (there’s only so many Web pages for ads) why isn’t someone ‘re-imagining the Web’ to provide a richer more personalized experience?

I define Privacy as the ‘ability to control the collection flow and use of my Private data’. What I want in a re-imagined Web is the ability to control that collection, flow and use in a simple and easy to use manner. And in the act of sharing more value with the content provider in return receive more value in return.

If you go back in time (Innovation, The Internet, Standards And the Arrow of Time – Part I & Part II) you’ll see that the key to unlocking the future is to re-imagine the current. In the examples shown you can see how obvious it is as the arrow of time moves forward.

At 3PMobile we started out re-imagining the future of the Web. It’s one which aligns perfectly with the current Web, and then extends it into the future for those who want something better.

Openness – The Key to Monetizing Mobile

(Or Why I think 3P-Based Infrastructure and Value-Add Channels are Sexy)

Over the past decade, rapid advancements in mobile technology and mobility in general, have changed how we live and how we do business.  It has changed us from an “on-demand” world to an “always connected” world.  No doubt, mobile is here to stay and it is big business; but it’s just getting started.  We are just approaching the point where open standards and open channels can deliver the real benefit of a business ecosystem.

Modern mobility started as a walled garden.  The carriers and handset companies controlled everything due to very real bandwidth constraints, network limitations and industry knowledge.  Voice improved, but data experiences were still lacking.  Good money was made on mostly disconnected enterprise app development for Palm, Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices. Over time, control shifted to the OS companies, where vertically integrated handsets and operating systems were designed to support better consistency in the user experience. Unfortunately, controlling the user experience has lead to more restrictive monetization models, locking out most developers from making meaningful money.  Effectively, we shifted the gatekeepers from the carriers to companies like Apple – but at the expense of the channels that provide value-add functionality and content.  One step forward.  One step backward.

Users appreciated the improved experience, so brought their devices to work.  BYOD was born, and with it, arose app development, security and curation platforms.  Emerging leaders in this space include Adobe, Antenna, Good and Appcelerator, to name a few.  In an effort to simplify and improve profitability, market consolidation is underway. While this may simplify things in the future, it is currently wreaking havoc on IT.  Platforms have added complexity without improving the user experience.

The answer to many of these problems is staring us in the face.  Apple had the original right idea – “the real Web on your mobile phone.”  The infrastructure just wasn’t quite ready back then and the user experience was limited to the user interface – which is a naïve view of modern mobility.  An “app for that” was born and now we are living with the fallout.

Improved bandwidth, ubiquitous connectivity, attention to user experience and now, an emphasis on simplifying security, management and app access are all here – everything needed to lay the groundwork for an incredibly rich mobile ecosystem.  It’s an ecosystem, which can be monetized by the greatest number of development, product and service delivery channels.  We’ve made great strides forward, but in order to realize the monetary benefit throughout the entire ecosystem, a new openness must ensue; the kind of openness that is exemplified by the Web economy.

Just as Microsoft created an open and engaging development community that fueled the PC economy, one, or more of these infrastructure leaders must apply the same model to mobility.  How?

  1. Deliver an exceptional user experience.  Include optimal performance, privacy and security management, and the ability to personalize the experience by device, location and personal preferences.
  2. Include meaningful channel monetization opportunities.  Offer standards-based tools, support and best practice advice for developers, integrators and service providers that can be put to use with existing skills and expertise.
  3. Provide a platform that supports choice.  Choice for both app and Web-based solutions.  Choice that supports both free and paid content.  Choice that supports both consumer and enterprise needs.

Once these three criteria are met, as in industry we no longer have to build walls in the name of bandwidth, user experience, or preserving the “free Web” business model.  With the openness of Web standards, we can increase user choice and satisfaction, while unlocking mobile monetization for the entire ecosystem.  (Although the thoughtful few that move first will reap the biggest benefits).

While most people don’t view infrastructure as sexy, I believe that adding the 3Ps to mobility not only makes infrastructure cool, but also enables new channels and all classes of business to fully monetize mobility.   Now, who in business doesn’t think making money is sexy?!

The Privacy Oxymoron – How do I increase My Privacy AND still get a great online experience

 

Oxymoron

 

Everyday now there is more and more discussion on Privacy. On the one hand you have the Privacy advocates who want nothing more than complete control over every aspect of their Privacy, and then on the other hand you have the Govt. and online content providers who want even more detailed information on you. 

It’s becoming like a Seinfeld episode – “something’s got to give Jerry!”.

But what? Privacy is really an oxymoron unto itself. If you de-identify data enough it has no value in which case the experience isn’t going to be that great because Web sites are built around figuring out who you are.

Two articles appeared on the Web today:

  1. How ‘Do Not Track’ Could Kill The Internet Startup Economy
  2. Developer Builds Privacy-enhancing Web Browser for Apple Devices

Also I’m starting to see Do Not Track show up in public company filings – saying that it could effect earnings. Let’s face it the Web has been built on the premise that in exchange for “free” I get to use your information. So it could be a huge drain on resources if this standard gets implemented. And now we’re also seeing new browsers pop-up (no pun intended) that basically anonymize your tracks on the Internet, but slows down your experience.

What continues to perplex me is that no one is turning this problem “on it’s head” and looking at it from a different perspective. It’s an opportunity vs a problem.

Lets face it nobody is going to suddenly overturn the last 10 years on the Internet. We’re all addicted to free and we basically turn a blind eye to Web sites using my private data. However with Mobile showing up to the party things are beginning to change. Mobile is deemed “really personal” and so we want to be sure that nobody is tracking us while we walk around. 

So can we really ever have our “cake and eat it to?” 

Well yes – I think we can. I wrote about how in a previous blog (A Contextual Approach to Online Privacy – It’s all about Me) but it bears repeating. What’s going to be needed is a way to placate both “stakeholders” – Me the consumer and You the content provider.

What I want is:

  • Convenience
  • Privacy
  • Control

What the Content Provider wants is:

  • Control
  • Commerce ($$$)

What we have to do is “align” those two sides and give them away to resolve the differences – when we align those sides you’ll see the real power of the Internet realized for the first time. 

So instead of trying to create more complexity, instead look for more simplicity. Alignment vs disorder. And as usual the answer will be staring us in the face.

 

The Power of Contextual Menus on a Mobile Device

 

This was an interesting exercise. I went to Google Docs in my desktop browser and looked at the contextual menus in the page.. They were File, Edit, View, Insert, Format, Tools, Table, Help. I wanted to see how long it would take to recreate those exact same menus in a Web page that work on both Android and iPhone (Google Docs requires a Mobile app to do this).

Here’s the result: 9 lines of HTML code, and about 2 minutes to create. Now the really cool thing is that I can change these menus in real time based on someone switching to another service or even another Web site. You could even pre-load from a cache on the device.

 

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And the same code runs exactly the same on iPhone

iPHone

The Innovators Dilemma – Improving the Internet so I have a choice in how it recognizes Me

 

In my last blog – Privacy: My Expectations vs.. My Reality I started with a famous quote from Wernher von Braun – you can recover from a production flaw but never from a design flaw.

The design flaw that I hinted at was the Internet’s (HTTP) reliance on Cookies to add “state” to a users browser. This is almost in direct conflict with Privacy. And I know the purists are shouting at me now, but think about it, if I don’t want to be tracked then I should simply be able to turn off anything and everything that could possible use my data, and that includes no more cookies. (Of course the Internet would collapse without Cookies).

So how do we change the current design of the Internet to solve this dilemma?

Before we try and answer that problem, let’s revisit another blog post (Privacy: Do Not Track & the real Elephant in the room) where I quoted two Norwegians and their definition of Privacy.

Selmer and Blekeli in 1977: Privacy is the legitimate interest of a person to control the collection and use of information that relates to him/herself. (Source: “Data og personvern” p. 21, Universitetsforlaget, Oslo)

So now we have the underpinnings of the problem we need to solve:

How do you improve the Internet so that I can control the collection and use of information that relates to “Me” – and do so while co-existing with the current Internet.

Now let’s double check with the current White Houses Administrations proposal to ensure that we’re still all in agreement. Here’s the paper you need to read “National Strategy For Trusted Identities in CyberSpace” Page 2 is the critical page. And here it is:

Individuals and organizations utilize secure, efficient, easy-to-use, and interoperable identity solutions to access online services in a manner that promotes confidence, privacy, choice, and innovation.

The realization of this vision is the user-centric “Identity Ecosystem” described in this Strategy It is an online environment where individuals and organizations will be able to trust each other because they follow agreed upon standards to obtain and authenticate their digital identities—and the digital identities of devices The Identity Ecosystem is designed to securely support transactions that range from anonymous to fully-authenticated and from low- to high-value The Identity Ecosystem, as envisioned here, will increase the following:

  • Privacy protections for individuals, who will be able trust that their personal data is handled fairly and transparently;
  • Convenience for individuals, who may choose to manage fewer passwords or accounts than they do today;
  • Efficiency for organizations, which will benefit from a reduction in paper-based and account management processes;
  • Ease-of-use, by automating identity solutions whenever possible and basing them on technol- ogy that is simple to operate;
  • Security, by making it more difficult for criminals to compromise online transactions;
  • Confidence that digital identities are adequately protected, thereby promoting the use ofonline services;
  • Innovation, by lowering the risk associated with sensitive services and by enabling service providers to develop or expand their online presence;
  • Choice, as service providers offer individuals different—yet interoperable—identity credentials and media

So lets summarize the problem…

The innovators dilemma is to figure out how to extend the current HTTP protocol so that it can offer Me: Privacy, Convenience, Efficiency, Confidence, Control and a Choice in how my information is collected and used.

 

Teamwork

Well here’s the good news – fortunately we only have a production flaw NOT a design flaw to deal with. Let’s head over to read the document that tells us how the Internet works and see if there’s anything there that can help solve the problem using a little teamwork e.g. the browser manufacturers, the W3, Web servers and Content providers all working together to give me a Choice.

The document is RFC 2616 and here’s the important part that points to the answer:

The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is an application-level protocol for distributed, collaborative, hypermedia information systems. It is a generic, stateless, protocol which can be used for many tasks beyond its use for hypertext, such as name servers and distributed object management systems, through extension of its request methods, error codes and headers. A feature of HTTP is the typing and negotiation of data representation, allowing systems to be built independently of the data being transferred.

 

I’ve highlighted the answer to the Innovators Dilemma.

HTTP is an “extensible” protocol which means that we can extend it to support new ways of doing things. And the way to do that is with something called an X header. In technical parlance this “is a standards based method to extend the protocol with non-standard based data”. The non standard data in this case is secure, encrypted information about me that I chose to allow the browser to share with a trusted Web site or 3rd party provider.

Now how do we integrate all of this? Well we start with the two Norwegians definition of Privacy and use that to determine the control method. If I have to be in control then there’s only one place to add the controls – the Browser. We add a secure database that holds my information – we then allow the user to control every aspect of that database. In essence you can chose to share whatever you want, with who ever you want.

Now lets go to the second part of the problem – the content providers/web servers. Well there’s good news here to. If I trust them, then I can elect to share my data, if they abuse that privilege then I can turn off sharing – I always have control over the process.

So how do they get my data?

They read the incoming X headers (the approved way to transmit non standard data over a standard protocol). Now again I can hear the purists shouting – “that’s going to put a big load on the servers”. And to that I say nonsense – servers are incredibly fast these days and the burden of reading an extra 100 bytes of data on every request even if it is encrypted is insignificant. And if it is – then buy a bigger server. Those bytes are the least of your problems.

So there you have it – the answer to the Innovators dilemma on how to improve the Internet – add your identity to the browser, do it in a way that allows you to control that identity, and then share it using current standards with any Web server. It meets all the White House guidelines, it works with every Web server, firewall, filter and router. It requires zero changes to the current infrastructure other than to ship a new browser with essentially a wallet built in.

In essence this will transform the Internet in to something it should have been in the first place – a “contextually aware data communications platform”. Only this time I will finally have a Choice in the collection and use of that information that relates to “Me”.

 

 

FaceBook going to New York through China to “Help Improve the Mobile Web” – but the Problem has already been solved

 

I’m going to switch from Privacy to the Mobile Web for this post.

Helping Improve the Mobile Web – Facebook Developers: “When you build for the mobile web today, it’s hard to know which browsers and devices will support your app. Which is why we’re proud to be joining over 30 device manufacturers, carriers, and developers in an industry-wide effort to help accelerate the improvement and standardization of mobile browsers: the W3C Mobile Web Platform Core Community Group. For developers, this makes it easier to understand your app’s potential reach and to help prioritize which browser capabilities are important to you.”

In the industry this is colloquially known as the “DevCap” problem. As in, what are the capabilities of the connecting device. Currently there is no way to figure this out in real time. Can’t be done.

 

But what if it could?


Choice Browser

Welcome to Choice™ – the worlds first browser that can tell a Web server (and Facebook) in real time exactly what the device is capable of supporting, exactly what the browser is capable of doing, and just about anything else you want to know. It does all of this using all existing Web standards, works with all Mobile devices – and it can do all of this and preserve your right to Privacy.

 

Selenium for Android using the new Choice Mobile Browser

We’re pleased to announce the “Choice™” browser for Android and iPhone. For the first time you can now automate browser testing using the popular open source tool – Selenium across any carrier network. For more information please check our web site @ www.3pmobile.com or email us at info@3pmobile.com

Selenium automated browser testing for Android using the Choice Browser

AT&T introduces New Developer Platform – Immediately fragments the Carrier industy

Today AT&T announced a new developer platform (link: AT&T Announces API Platform to Boost Innovation and Collaboration with Mobile App Developers).

Only one problem (well several actually).

  1. It only works on AT&T’s network/phones. So if I build something that works for them it won’t work on any other platform
  2. AT&T controls access to the API’s. This is the Carrier dream. You get to see only what they want you to see. Want to innovate? Then wait for the next set of API’s to be released
  3. No support for Privacy – you can now access the API’s to the device and unless there’s a fancy pop-up (easily suppressed) then you won’t know what’s happening

The holy grain for HTML is access to Native Device side API’s AND, the ability integrate that capability with Native Web Services. It’s the game changer and makes Mobile apps obsolete (well except maybe for gaming). However the along with nirvana comes the privacy problem. How do I control what has access to my device?

I can see it now. Lots and lots of Mobile Web apps (simple apps where the content lives on the server and you access it through a “browser like interface). But therein lies the disappointment – the interface on the Mobile device will never be a full browser – just a very limited Web run time engine (think Phone Gap).

The solution – a Mobile browser that connects to ANY Web service (not just a Web app) AND allows Native Device side API access with standard programming techniques, all while protecting the users Privacy.

 

Could solving Mobile Privacy Speed up the Web?

 

Yes, Virginia it sure could… How?

Well let’s think about it for a moment and revisit an old blog post – “Privacy on the Internet is NOT binary”  I started with a definition from Wikipedia….

Privacy (from Latin: privatus “separated from the rest, deprived of something, esp. office, participation in the government”, from privo “to deprive”) is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves and thereby reveal themselves selectively. The boundaries and content of what is considered private differ among cultures and individuals, but share basic common themes.

When something is private to a person, it usually means there is something within them that is considered inherently special or personally sensitive. The degree to which private information is exposed therefore depends on how the public will receive this information, which differs between places and over time. Privacy partially intersects security, including for instance the concepts of appropriate use, as well as protection, of information.

What privacy allows us to do is be selective in what we share. It includes data about myself, my current location, my device that i’m using to connect with etc. In essence it’s context. The more context you have about something, or somebody, or some location, then the more PRECISE your response can be.

And Virginia therein lies the key to unlocking performance on the Internet – the precision you can bring to your response then the faster it will get there. Here’s a simple example. Yesterday I ran a performance test on Google’s Mobile home page. Here are the results…

  • Load time was 5.789 seconds on Sprints network
  • Page size was 525.83kb – that’s 525,830 bytes worth of data

Google

Think about that for a moment. Google sent over ½ MB of data to my Mobile phone and it still had to ask me for access to my current location. Imagine for a moment that I could transmit my personal information to Google BEFORE it had to send a response back to me. Instead of ½ MB you could drop it down to less than 100,000 bytes of data. That’s an 80% drop in the data sent. And on top of that I get a personal response.

So there you have it – Privacy really can help speed up the Web. The more you trust and share with content providers then the better job they’ll be able to do with the response that you get back.

Trends in Enterprise Mobility & The Cloud

Here is a quick slide show from Channel Insider which highlights how technologies are changing the way we work.  Mobile and cloud technologies lead the charge in things to come – whether designed to reduce costs, attract new employees or solve specific business problems. Key stats from the presentation:

  • 90% of surveyed enterprises will invest in productivty-boosting technologies
  • 88% will make avialable to employees “smart” personal devices (tablets, smartphones, etc.)
  • 46% of companies are already utlizing cloud-based services and that number is growing
  • 30% annual savings- what you can expect to save on occupancy expenses with a well-designed workforce mobility program

Enterprises who strategically update their current Web strategies and infrastructure will have a much easier time adapting to new device support, location-based service and policy management, and the privacy  and productivity issues associated with remote and mobile workforce support.  There is no silver bullet to addressing all the IT and management issues associated with these changes, but Planning and Preparation in support of performance, privacy and personalization issues is a very good way to start.