The mobile web is following the same arc as the World Wide Web – people just don’t seem to see it that way
I think we’re collectively overlooking something huge here, a golden opportunity to learn from the past, improve upon it, and anticipate what’s coming. Let’s consider what’s happening with the mobile web. For most people, mobile web usage goes something like this:
- Check email
- Look up directions/ maps/ transit schedules
- Read websites/ news/ blogs
- Search for a random fact
- Use Facebook/ Twitter
Ignore the Facebook/ Twitter thing for a second – we’ll get to that. Doesn’t the rest of that list look a lot like how we used the web in 1999? MapQuest was magical. Email was the unsung “killer app.” Yahoo had all this stuff we could read. You could look up any movie on IMDb. And you felt some degree of nervousness about performing sensitive transactions online, like eCommerce or Internet banking. To me, this sounds a lot like using the Internet on my iPhone.
If you buy this argument, we can extrapolate out to where the mobile web is going. After the initial dot com came Web 2.0. If the mobile web really is following the same arc as the web, mobile developers, companies, and content providers should be gearing up for an explosion of creation and sharing.
After all, in an oversimplified way:
- Web 1.0 = Consuming (think: Yahoo, Amazon, NYTimes)
- Web 2.0 = Creating (think: User-generated content, a la YouTube), and Sharing (think: Social Networking, a la Facebook)
The iPhone in particular is already pushing us down this road. With the 3GS and OS 3.0 came video, a better camera, and improved text entry.
Taken together, this amounted to a distinct shift towards content creation. Now iPhone 4 will push us even further down this road, with iMovie video editing, a much-improved camera, and higher pixel density to help with more involved tasks.
(Note that I’m even excluding the iPad and other tablets here for simplicity… I will just note that leading up to the iPad announcement, Apple asked people to “Come see our latest creation,” with this creative, purposely messy image.)
Now, let’s come back to the whole “sharing” piece. Here’s the slight wrinkle in all this: the mobile web is building off of the existing web. We’re not starting from scratch. There’s already a ton of data, content, and existing usage that we can tap into and extend. Even Facebook pre-dates the mobile web explosion, let alone Google and Yahoo. So there’s plenty to port over to the mobile space, as people have been rushing to do. Making access to existing content mobile-friendly is definitely a fruitful endeavor.
However, the real power down the road will be in figuring out the creation- and sharing-focused applications that are uniquely suited for the mobile space. Here’s my take on the 3 1/2 richest areas for startups and investors to focus on:
- In-the-moment capturing and sharing of content: Twitter and other analogous services fit squarely in this camp. I would go so far as to say that Twitter is popular in large part because its development has coincided with the rise of mobile computing. Meanwhile, Facebook has been playing catch-up with respect to “real-time” content because it was conceived of as a site to browse using your dorm room computer.
- Mobile hardware designed for creation and sharing: Netbooks are rapidly maturing from cute web access devices to real machines that you can use to create and share your own content. And don’t get me started on tablets!
- Location-aware social networking and geo-tagged user-generated content: Foursquare, Gowalla, and others start to address this, but even Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley knows that they’re just scratching the surface, saying that check-in functionality will soon be, “a commodity feature.”
- (3.5) Mobile transactions: For the mobile web to really take off, we need to eliminate the lingering anxiety many have around money on mobile. This is one enabling component that we haven’t really figured out yet. Maybe someone like Jack Dorsey will.
There’s plenty of talk about the upcoming mobile web explosion. A lot of the low-hanging fruit around giving people mobile access to content is well on its way. People need to focus on what’s coming up beyond that. To my mind, it’ll mirror the computer-based web, and we’ll be seeing a lot more energy around mobile creation and sharing. I just hope we can come up with a better buzz-phrase than Mobile Web 2.0.