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Monday, July 10, 2006

All-or-nothing technologies, IM, presence and IMS

I'm starting to look at mobile services and applications from a slightly different angle. It strikes me that some could be describe as "all or nothing technologies". What I mean by this is that they either work fantastically well - or not at all. There's no middle ground.

So, if everyone has them, they're standardised, and people use them appropriately - they're great. Think SMS here. This is the "all".

Or, alternatively, they're poorly standardised, not ubiquitous, implemented in different ways of varying user-friendliness, and non-interoperable with alternatives. Nobody uses them. Think MMS. This is the "nothing".

Basically, these technologies do not "degrade gracefully". They're binary. On or off. Success or failure. 100% usage (approx) or 0%. Lots of Internet applications (eg failed social networks) are "nothings" as well, it's not just a mobile phenomenon.

The converse are technologies which are either so simple, or so open, that they can thrive with adoption rates in the middle. Multiple different implementations and standards can work in (relative) harmony with a bit of glue - gateways, aggregation servers and the like. Voice telephony is one of these. It doesn't matter if you use PSTN, GSM, CDMA, SIP-VoIP, H323, Skype, Cisco or (almost) a tin can on a string. You can still talk to everyone else. Email is another.

I reckon that mobile presence is dangerously close to being all-or-nothing. It's great if 100% of people in a community use it 100% of the time, updating their status information regularly. But if 90% of people use it 90% of the time, it starts to become irritating. At 80%/80% you have to put up with a whole bunch of inconvenience, even before you consider interoperability issues. Below that it's worse than useless. Even the attempts to second-guess some of the status information into smart network-resident applications won't cut it sufficiently in my view. Too many "false positives" - yes, you're theoretically available, but in reality you've bumped into your boss in the corridor & don't want an interruption. Or you've nipped to the bathroom & didn't change your status first.

Attempts to knit together different mobile IM/presence domains won't work either, unless there's a transparent (and free) interconnection with Internet/PC based ones. Again, it's all-or-nothing. Interestly, the Internet IM presence model isn't all or nothing. With plenty of screen real-estate and a decent multi-tasking OS, there's nothing stopping people overcoming interoperability/uptake issues by the simple expedient of having multiple apps running simultaneously. This won't work in mobile as long as some people have operator-provided handsets with second-rate Internet IM interconnection, and others use single-tasking featurephones.

I'm also wondering about IMS. It's now patently obvious that the mobile world is never going to be all-IMS. There too much legacy, too many alternatives that bypass it, and too many operator-specific partial implementations rather than the whole shooting match. And of course, my pet topic...no phones. In other words, if it's an all-or-nothing technology.... it ain't gonna be "all".

So there's an interesting set of questions about how IMS behaves in a heterogeneous world. The best "vision" I've heard that can potentially extricate IMS from this mess is the idea of an "ocean" of Internet/IP applications, with "islands" of IMS floating in it, offering particular value-adds like QoS, integrated billing and so forth.

In other words, it's best to position IMS as a platform for selected "premium IP services", rather than the current worldview of IMS as a repository for "all mainsteam IP services, with a gateway to that nasty uncontrolled other stuff for the real pain-in-the-butt customers we don't really 'own'".

I'll be talking about some of these views at the upcoming IMS Services Brainstorm . This event looks like an increasingly influential one, and for this week there's a kind offer of a 25% discount for Disruptive Wireless blog readers - email the organisers and claim your special 'Disruptive Analysis' reduction".

3 comments:

Aswath said...

Why do you think Internet IM/presence is not "all or nothing". Yahoo IM for example, allows one to be invisible for a specific buddy but still allows one to send an IM to that buddy. This means, the presence info is not reliable and so I send a "are you there" IM hoping to catch that person's attention.

Alex said...

The all-or-nothing phenomenon is typically not applied to business cases or market forecasts: those are usually derived from a combination of drivers and barriers and thus more balanced than the reality of all-or-nothing.
Examples are WAP business figures that turned out "nothing" and SMS that turned out "all", compared to forecasts a few years ago.

The future often turns out simpler than the predictions.
Even companies that have grown fast and large thanks to an "all" haven't expected themselves the extent of "all".

I think the explanation might stem from humans capability to linear extrapolation, whereas reality develops more non-linearly, often self-amplifying ways.

Rick Loughery said...

Interesting take on mobile presence. I agree it is good to have everyone using the system (or at least everyone in your workgroup) otherwise it might not be reliable. IM started off as a desktop tool that provided an efficient way to know when someone was "available," to quickly chat. But with mobile IM and the fact that a mobile phone is always with you… doesn’t mean you are always “available.” There needs to be different levels of availability and it might be adopted better in a workgroup situation or via a tight friends and family network.