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First thoughts on Smart Mobs. Posted on 10/23/2002.

I've just begun reading Howard Rheingold's new book, Smart Mobs, and I like it a lot already, because it's making me think. The book is about how wireless communication technologies, particularly mobile devices, are enabling groups of people to interact in concert almost instantaneously, and the social effects that arise.

I was reading it on BART, and using my mobile phone to email my laptop brief messages to remind me of stuff that I wanted to noodle on. The first message was: "WIRELESS ISP: t1 to wireless. mass competition at wireless level." I was thinking about how the big ISPs are running scared from 802.11b, making it a breach of contract to turn your DSL connection into a free wireless access point. I feel that if I'm paying $50 for an "always on" connection, I should be able to do what I want with that bandwidth. Mulling over the economics of the situation made me wonder if we'd see something like this:

-- the Big ISPs (AT&T, SBC Global, etc. etc.) would recede, providing super fat bandwidth only to...
-- a collection of small-to-medium ISPs, who would resell this bandwidth in any number of ways to business and individuals

It's going to be interesting to see how competition bears out in this market. If AT&T tries to restrict how I use my DSL connection, there will be another provider who allows me to do what I want, and I'll go with that one. I suspect that 802.11, by eliminating the need for physical wires, ought to lead to mass competition for ISPs serving individuals and small offices. This, I think, is what Boingo is all about.

Smart Mobs has a weblog (natch), and in it I found a link to a post on another weblog about a small ISP offering 802.11 to any of it's DSL customers. This is exactly along the lines of what I was thinking.

Other posts on that page discuss 802.11 in airports, which reminded me of how AT&T Wireless is Not Getting It in a big way. I just flew from Boston to Oakland, with a connection in Denver. I would have loved to have checked email during my wait in Denver, but I would have had to pay $9.95 to do so. For, like, 30 minutes of access. What's particularly dumb is that the connection is offered by AT&T Wireless, with whom I have an account as a mobile phone customer. Here's what I should be able to do:
- Open a wireless connection in Denver
- Type in my account ID and password (which I use to my mobile phone bills online)
- Be charged a more reasonable time-based fee (50 cents every ten minutes? Hell, I'd probably pay 2 dollars for ten minutes)
- Have it billed to my AT&T Wireless account
What's the point of having a telecommunications behemoth servicing me, if I can't seamlessly connect with it's many offerings?

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I agree with the lack of understanding in the wireless marketplace and the inane restrictions some DSL providers put on their customers. What has really intrigued me is how much I actually use the text messaging and Internet functions on my cell phone. I quickly also realized that anything but HTML (it helps if it validates and helps tremendously if it meets accessibility guidelines) is nearly impossible to have access to on a cellphone. Having access to information for fun (getting scores of a Giants game to share with parents you are dinner with), business (checking if the Web servers are up and a launch has been successful), or perceived need (finding a theater nearby that is showing the movie you found was just sold out as you were standing inline and had promissed your significant other all week you would go see) is one thing that helpful while on the move. Waiting for your car to come out of the car wash is a great opportunity to catch-up on Digital Web's ( latest article is a good use of time (well for me at least) and is only done because it is done in HTML. Finding information held captive in a PDF or Flash and can not be run in your PDA either (should you link it to your phone) because the information is stuck in bloated media requiring a plug-in, a processor more than in a mobile device, or a relatively large chunk of memory (also not found in mobile devices nor should they have it) is frustrating and poorly thought through. The key to pervasive access to information is not more power in the devices, but well structured information in a format that is easy to use.
Posted by vanderwal @ 10/24/2002 06:04 PM PST [link to this comment]

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