Local grub and why mobile matters

I’ve been looking at buying a new laptop. I have been considering buying a netbook mostly because if I can reduce my cash outlay from approximately $3,000 to $700 that makes me happier. But I haven’t bought a netbook. I keep looking at a MacBook Pro, a Dell m1330 and a Sony Vaio Z. And I realized why, Joey deVilla describes the problem with netbooks

Slightly bigger and pricier than a phone, but can’t phone. Slightly smaller and cheaper than a laptop, but not that much smaller or cheaper. To adapt a phrase I used in an article I wrote yesterday, netbooks are like laptops, but lamer.

The mobile device is the platform of the future. Blackberry, iPhone, Android, Palm Pre, Symbian and Windows Mobile.These are the platforms. There may be others that emerge. Sure there are economics for application developers that are being explored. Simply, much of these economics are about distribution, customer acquisition and retention costs and the necessary scale to run a successful business.

There is a different model which is similar to Google (read Googlenomics), Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, etc. A marketplace with a transactional model. Consider mobile devices as an enabler for players in a ecosystem. How does the availability of personal computers and the emerging high speed mobile smart phone enable?

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FarmsReach is a marketplace for “buyers to order food from local producers through delivery or local markets”. It uses technology to enable the transactions between local food producers and buyers. Using the web and mobile devices like the iPhone, FarmsReach is able to leverage an existing infrastructure of home PCs, carrier wireless networks, mobile devices and GPS to build unique applications for each person in the value chain. It’s brilliant. It also starts to look like something we’ve seen before. Who are the players in the local food production and distribution value chain? What part of the existing value chain are you disrupting? How are you going to acquire customers in each layer? What do you need to build as part of the prototype?

I first saw Alistair Croll present FarmsReach at DemoCampGuelph8 and have been in love with the business they are building. And I’m not alone, FarmsReach is winning awards and trying to change the world.

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Identifying trends is important. Look at some assumptions around FarmsReach:

  • There is a growing local food movement
  • It is incredibly difficult for local farmers and local consumers to connect, other than through existing retail outlets
  • “Only 30% of farmers use the Internet as part of their business” – Keep It Rural
  • Average age of farmers is increasing (indicator that less young people are choosing farming as a career) – Farming For Us All
  • To attract/retain younger generations farms need to embrace technology – USAToday
  • High penetration of PCs in rural areas (yeah, it’s UK data but it demonstrates a point)
  • New mobile devices and data connectivity allow for distributed solutions

It is incredibly important to understand the societal, economic, technological and other trends that are happening. Use them to help predict your market, to predict customer behaviours and expectations, to look for opportunities.

Where to look for trends:

Startups can learn a lot from FarmsReach.

A web without windows

moz_design_challenge_logoCan’t help but love the shot at Microsoft in the latest Mozilla Labs Design Challenge post. Nice.

No windows, no unnecessary trappings.

I’m sure that this was not intentionally aimed at Microsoft’s IE8 RC1 announcement. But it made me laugh. It’s hard to imagine the world without the trappings of the personal computer. This is one of the unique challenges presented by August de los Reyes about Predicting the Past. I’ve been thinking more about personal health data, and thinking about how to build solutions aimed at informing and altering behaviour. Not on the scale of transformation that the Office Labs and MSR teams did with Future of personal health concept.  The video storyboards used in the Aurora Concept and the MSR Future of Healthcare videos are a great medium for students to express the complexity of the environment and the changes they see in predicting the future.

The question posed by the Mozilla Labs team is about extending the interpretation of the web. What does a user experience look like if the web is ubiquitous?

The Design Challenge is a series of events to encourage innovation, and experimentation in user interface design for the Web. Our aim is to provoke thought, facilitate discussion, and inspire future design directions for Firefox, the Mozilla project, and the Web as a whole.

It’s an interesting outreach to inspire and engage members of the Web community. It builds on the work that Mozilla did with Adaptive Path on the Aurora Concept exploring the future directions and ideas for Mozilla as a browser. The Design Challenge Spring 2009 asks 20 students to answer the following questions:

“What would a browser look like if the Web was all there was? No windows, no unnecessary trappings. Just the Web.”

It’s an interesting question and it provokes a series of other questions:

  • What does the Web really mean?
  • What does the Web mean in the context of a device? Does the device have local storage? local computation?
  • What assumptions as designers are we making about bandwidth? latency? interaction? behaviour?

The question of what is the Web and how individuals and groups interact, communicate and collaborate is really interesting. I hope that design students will document their assumptions about the hardware, software, networking infrastructure, carriers and to make their visions real.

As the Web becomes even more ubiquitous, we’ll never have to leave it. Whether it’s on touch tables, giant wall-sized screens, mobile devices, or just our computers, exploring the interactions for browsing a windowless Web will become ever-more important in the next couple of years.

Great opportunity for 20 design students to design a vision for the future. Plus they’ll get to work with Beltzner, Madhava, Aza, Alex and the rest of the team at Mozilla.