Open Mobile conference musings

Tomorrow I am giving a talk on disruptive technologies at the Open Nordic Conference, and how that theory applies to open standards and open source in the mobile technology industry. The audience is apparently very technical and I, quite frankly, do not think that open source plays that much of a role – apart from providing available functionality for innovators (mostly at the user interface/user service level) to build on.

The challenge in mobile technology (and in any consumer technology whose aim is to facilitate interaction) lies in establishing a platform for users and business to build on. Right now I am listening to Nick Vitalari analyze platform establishment and growth as part of the nGenera project PBG: Building a platform for business growth.

I am thinking about how platforms get established – and playing with words. It seems to me that the process can be described in terms of four words:

  • Problem (often personal): Somebody has an itch to scratch, something that can be fixed with software, so they do it. (This is what Eric Raymond considers to be the beginning of almost any open source project.)
  • Product (or service): The solution to the problem gets productized, either in a closed or open fashion, using standard or collaborative programming and development processes.
  • Platform: The solution expands both in scale (distribution) and scope (technologies it can run on, added services, links to other solutions) until it is less a solution in itself for others to build on, where customers and users get it less for itself than for the added functionality it provides.
  • Protocol: The platform becomes so open and ubiquitous that it is available everywhere, fading into the background in terms of user awareness. This can happen in many ways – it can expand to become all-encompassing (Google, for instance, maybe Facebook in certain communities, email certainly); it can be modularized with tools that pulverizes the proprietary value proposition (emulation, multiple clients (like Trillian in the chat space, cross-licensing); it can be regulated into a standard (AT&T with telephones, for instance); or it can be subsumed into an underlying functional layer (Microsoft’s embrace and extend strategy).

In the end, it will be forced into some form of openness.

Half-baked so far, but it’s a start.