Response to Michael Liebhold on The Geospatial Web

The following are my remarks on Michael Liebhold’s talk on The Geospatial Web, capture in my notes.

Mike insights and thinking on the promise of the Geospatial Web, as well as the necessary systemic alterations in the current service/media/business ecology are fairly well articulated in his essay The Geospatial Web: A Call to Action — What We Still Need to Build for an Insanely Cool Open Geospatial Web. His talk on the topic of the Geospatial Web fills in some of the questions surrounding what the Geospatial Web is, as well as what would make it happen and what is preventing it from happening.

My remarks on the talk pertain in part to what I think is the kernel of The Geospatial Web challenge: it is one of those bold visions tha’s as compelling as it is intractable in practice.

Why is it compelling? For many in the extended tribe of Geospatial Web enthusiasts, practitioners, hackers and visionaries, the idea of extending that data-rich and network-enabled environment best represented by the Internet (canonical, capital I) out into the world in which social bodies drive cars, walk down streets, throw punches and reach for their wallets means opportunities for creating new kinds of social formations. Liebhold outlined some possible scenarios, many of which are easy to imagine. I’m looking forward to the unexpected scenarios that cannot possibly be anticipated. I’m talking about the Geospatial Web-enabled experiences that really create a new arrangement of social interaction or circulate culture in a way that is far from doing the same old thing (e.g. buying some music) with the same old device (e.g. my cell phone) through a half-heartedly designed usage scenario (e.g. when I walk by an advert for a new Cold Play album.)

Why is it intractable? Well, not intractable forever, but certainly exceptionally stifling to my own personal style of innovation — the late-night hack motivated by passion for some completely off the wall idea. This is much of what Liebhold was referring to when he discussed the various “ecologies” that pertain to the Geospatial Web (see my talk notes). The Industry Ecology is made up of carriers, handset manufacturers, operating system developers, toolkit developers, business economics, content developers/deployers (media networks, apps developers, games developers), paying customers, with the carriers maintaining a somewhat heavy-handed authority over that kingdom. They own the customers, own the handset manufacturers in that they dictate what the handsets are able to do, dictate what operating systems will run on them, etc. Carriers are at the top of the “value chain” and want to stay there. But the value chain is untenable; it stifles innovation because the loop is closed. One palsied entity is dictating the terms of the entire ecosystem.

But there are ways in. It’s not possible to imagine, really, that everyone in the carrier world is interested in stonewalling innovation, or that there aren’t insightful clusters of intelligence therein that recognize that the opportunity for sustainability and growth is not about charging customers a nickel to let them know where the nearest gasoline station is.

One way in is to prove the business-economy case that open systems, cooperative practices and embracing the kinds of designed mobile experiences that are happening at the edges of the network are a viable, even necessary path to growth. Another approach I discussed with Liebhold and Francois Bar is the MVNOmobile virtual network operator. These are “white label” mobile operators, contracting for network usage from the big carriers. Essentially, they are branding and marketing exercises — cobble together your own Service Ecology and try to sell it through to your demographic. Often times these MVNOs offer a unique suite of applications and services targeted toward a particular audience — it might be music downloads, push-to-talk, chat..whatever. I suggested that one way a carrier might experiment with an open style Service Ecology might be to develop their own MVNO — sort of like what United does with its Ted airline service. It becomes a way to run an idea up the flagpole, and see who salutes.

Technorati Tags: , ,