Future Case

Crossmedia, Social, Mobile, Business Modeling, Marketing, Research and insights

Pandora’s Neocracy #5: Give back the Internet to the people

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Originally posted at www.crossmedialab.nl on 16 May 2010. I have added the comments.

A couple of weeks ago NOS (Dutch Broadcasting Corporation) announced that they would focus on Internet applications solely instead of forcing themselves into complicated and expensive different apps for different operating systems. At the first glimpse one may think that to be a sort of strange decision. One would expect this mastodon of digital innovation to serve as many people as possible. With all those different OS’s in the market of smart phones and other either mobile or portable devices, has NOS gone silly? Don’t they want to reach all capita? Have they no obligation to offer content to all in The Netherlands? The answer is: YES, they do. And that’s exactly why they chose to develop Internet applications instead of bringing all those different apps to all those different operating systems. And that’s smart, as far as I’m concerned. From now on everybody can obtain the contents NOS produces, aggregates and distributes, regardless of what type of OS one may have embedded in one’s smart phone. Thank God for that. Dutch public broadcaster is bringing Internet to the people – free Internet content – instead of supporting the original device and software makers. Now that’s what I call a true neocracy.

The other day I talked with a bloke who wanted to admire my iPhone as he saw me using the little rascal in public. I was making a phone call. Can you believe it? I actually used my phone to make a call. The guy had heard about iPhones and had seen them in print on posters from operators but never had seen a real one in full operation. It is hard to believe but it’s true, this story. But hey, let us not forget that people like me are like spearheads when it comes down to modern communication. So I showed the thing to him. At a certain moment I told him that I was sorry for not being able to show a lot of apps as I had not downloaded many. Apart from a Layar and QR button, my interface only offers the original buttons that came with the machine. “Why would you want them?”, he noticed. “Well”, I replied, “they, uuuh, well they come in handy. You see, here I keep my contacts, there my photo’s. That’s Youtube and next to it my calendar. Then, there’s the stocks and the compass. There is also a button for the camera, notes, maps, the weather, a Dictaphone, the clock, Safari, calculator and iTunes”, I explained the multi-color display. “And if I slide to the next page, there are some more buttons and apps. Great, hu?” They guy asked me which of these buttons I use most. I had to think. Could it be that I use the phone and Safari button most? I know I have used the compass once. Normally I know quite well where I am and I have not had any directions to go 51° North East during the last forty years or so.

Stop. I’m being over-rational. Had I been a boy scout, that compass would most certainly serve the purpose. I have heard that the US Army is using iPhones in distant Afganistan. Apparently the device is of great use to them. The machine is small, light weight and can be loaded with many relevant applications for soldiers in the cause of battle. True enough (but don’t drop it in the water). Of course I am being over-rational but I am trying to make a point.

For common civilians such as myself, many apps are not relevant. Stop again. I should not generalize my personal issues. For me reading my email on my phone is actually quite relevant.

Back to the Internet and giving it back to the people. I believe that it is the people who should decide how to use and what to use from the Internet. Currently, we, as the people, are pretty much forced into whatever marketing makes us need. As a marketer and Internet observer, I believe that marketing is making big mistakes. Sooner or later people will not accept push mechanisms any more. Power to the people!

tagged with: nos, power, people, internet


Rogier Brussee on 17 May 2010 at 17:29
Hi Kees,

the I-Phone/ Android/Blackberry/…. app phenomenon is yet another example of something that gets clearer if we analyze it from the media supply chain and the role of accessibility p.o.v.. Recall that the media supply chain is something like

production—> aggregation—> distribution—> consumption

Also recall that the web was invented by Tim Berners Lee as a social aka highly accessible medium, in the context of highly computer literate environment like CERN
because it made all the stages easy (type your conference notes with a bit of markup,  copy them to the proper directory,  and presto your colleague at SLAC can read them over the internet with the browser on his workstation). Once the web spread to the rest of the world the battle for control over the supply chain began. The internet is not an easy to control distribution medium, by design, its algorithms tend to route around damage by Hydrogen bombs and censure alike, and culture, the free for all culture was already firmly rooted and was one of the main attractions.  If the internet as a whole has an aggregation stage then it is dominated by Google and other search engines. On the consumption side, Microsoft has for many years tried to cripple access to the web by active negligence of IE, providing just enough functionality to crush netscape. But the web itself being enormously useful and profitable including for MS itself, and activist open standards based could not be crushed.

Enter mobile. The very phrase, mobile internet, is technically a contradictio in terminis, and frames the idea that it is a separate, rather than just poor and expensive but pervasive IP network. From the very start the mobile network providers, the controllers of the distribution stage, have tried to keep consumers in their own walled gardens: i.e .their own aggregation processes. They were carefully set up in such a way that the producers only get get access to distribution, and therefore to the customer, if they pay.  Conversely consumers can pay for services and content, because the network operators own an extensive billing platform.  Originally the network operators also largely controlled consumption by controlling the capabilities and the user interface of the phones. However, see below. Note that the network operators have incentives to sell subscriptions, but that carrying data only makes them money if they can charge per Mb. Otherwise it only costs them money, especially if so much traffic is generated that it requires investments in the infrastructure.

Enter Apple and the i-phone.  Apple has an interest in selling phones, and an interest in selling music and software, both of which they already have the infrastructure for to do over the internet. In other words they control both the aggregation and the consumption phase of the media supply chain. Next they manage to cow network operators (AT&T, T-mobile) in only selling the i-phone with flat fee relatively cheap subscriptions, thereby creating the conditions to use mobile as what it is: a pervasive distribution channel, over an IP network. Strangely enough i-phone users react by using the network just like they would the internet, creating traffic as if it costs nothing,
which should be enough to make the network operators hate Apple. Anyway,  by controlling the device Apple has control over aggregation and producer access to consumers/customers. In other words Apple has created another walled garden, which is just nicer looking one, and profitable to Apple rather than the network operator.  Even though Apple provides the safari webbrowser (without flash!) because they have an incentives to make the i-phone sell, they also makes sure that 1. an app (over which they have some control and on which they make a little money) provides slightly better experience than a website, 2. they carefully create the illusion and the idea that an app is special even if it is little more than a website in a frameless browser and 3. such apps are based on proprietary apple technology that cannot be easily ported to other platforms.
Enter Google with Android.  By controlling an operating system, Google gets much of the control over the device (like Microsoft has over PC’s) and potentially, they get this control over many more devices than there are i-phones (again like MS).  They do not have quite the same infrastructure for setting up a walled garden that Apple has: the Android Market is not quite the app-store, AND they don’t sell music and video content. Google will above all be interested in making their main assets, the search engine and their own services like g-mail and you-tube more valuable to advertisers by attracting more consumers. In this model, standards based web content from independent content providers fits much better,  as each such provider is a potential advertiser for Google. However,  in this model network operators will still have to play the role of IP carrier only.  It is to be seen if consumer pressure (with the I-phone as an example) will be enough to push them into this role.

three questions pose themselves:
* what will big device makers like Nokia, LG and Samsung do? At least Nokia used to control an OS, Symbian, but that seems to be slowly nearing the end of its life cycle.Nokia is also investing in opensource Linux based operating systems like MeeGo.  and setting up their own aggregation infrastructure for services for their phones. But I doubt if it can overcome the first movers advantage of the largely open source Android and the phenomenal advantage of Google’s search and other services, and provide an attractive alternative for network operators.

* What will Microsoft do ?.

* What will be the result of 4G which promises ADSL like speed but above all new competition for mobile network operators. With licenses sold at a fraction of the cost for 3 G. E.g. in the Netherlands a UMTS license costed from fl870M to fl1600M in 2000 http://www.umtsworld.com/industry/licenses.htm while a 4G license in 2009 was 1 million euro or less http://www.rijksoverheid.nl/nieuws/2010/04/26/frequentieveiling-mobiel-breedband-afgerond.html.  Thus new competitors have a better chance of being profitable while only providing IP connectivity.  Indeed existing network operators try with every legal means possible to keep these new operators of the market.



Kees Winkel on 26 May 2010 at 23:01
I couldn’t agree more. You do a good analysis of the current state of affairs. Th walled garden concept is one of technology. No words are used in marketing as the marketing of operators ans device makers focus on consumer markets, creating needs and wants. The entire industry is controlled by the distributers who either allow people to participate or not because they control the consumption possibilities. Rogier, I think we should write a paper on the subject.


Written by Kees Winkel

July 28, 2010 at 12:35

Posted in Uncategorized

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