There’s a good interview with Howard Rheingold up at ZDnet:
Of course, I believe that open technologies like the Internet promote innovation and provide political, economic, and cultural opportunities to entire populations that used to be reserved for elites, and I fear that the current efforts by incumbent wealth and power holders might successfully enclose what was once open.
Extension of copyright into every realm, digital rights management building control into cultural products, trusted computing baking control into the hardware itself, the death of net neutrality recentralizing control of the formerly radically decentralized network â€” all these battles in political arenas, financed by huge amounts of money, are going the way of the powers-that-be.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently democratic in new media. Many-to-many communication and commons based peer production will produce social and economic capital only if large numbers of people understand what is at stake in these esoteric techno-regulatory conflicts and take the power that is temporarily theirs into their hands and do something with it.
It’s probably no surprize to anyone that I agree. Recently I’ve been thinking even more than normal about how to get control of “mobile” into the hands of the people using it. By which I really just mean making the mobile networks and building mobile applictions more like building internet applications. Things like replacing or blending cellular access (one of the reasons I’m so jazzed about my dual access method device) so that we end up less dependent on the cellular network, or replacing centrally controlled messaging architecture with systems like XMPP.
I want a device in my hand that lets me make voice calls, send messages to my friends, and run some internet connected applications. What runs underneath that device doesn’t really matter to me from the application side, as long as it works I don’t really care. So if cellular networks are a hostile place to work, I’m definitely fine with working on other access mechanisms. For the most part the other access mechanisms aren’t as convenient and don’t offer all the functionality of a cellular network (although even that is changing). Having the other access mechanisms available helps put pressure on the carriers to work to make their networks competitive with other technologies, otherwise their cashflow goes away as traffic moves to those other networks. The only real motivation they can comprehend with such a glut of regulation keeping them away from the fear of direct competition from anything outside the traditional telecoms marketplace.
Stuff that’s worth checking out if you’re interested in this kind of thing:
- Asterisk – an open source implementation of the kinds of equipment normally run by telecommunications companies.
- SIP – an example of a protocol that extends telecommunications signalling interface out to IP based endpoints and client.
- XMPP – is the “Jabber protocol” for instant messages. Instead of being built on a monolithic central server/server farm approach it works more like the decentralized email system.
- Homebrew Mobile Phone club – a group of folks working on getting a device of their own making that they can replace their mobile handsets with. Meetings in the Silicon Valley area, but the website itself contains a lot of useful information for folks anywhere.
- Handhelds.org – works on open source projects for portable and handheld systems. I have a soft spot for this one, Linux on an iPaq was pretty much the first pratical Linux based handheld I was able to get working. Where “practical” is subjective of course.
- Python for the Series60 – for the folks interested in the low barrier to experimentation route, the open source language ported to a relatively easy to get and popular set of handsets. (much more easy for folks outside the US as it turns out)
Stuff like Asterisk and SIP start to blend the line between where the telecommunications network stops and the Internet starts. Exactly the kind of stuff most of us techies expected to happen when all the talk about “voice traffic going IP” was getting flung around. However the traffic went IP and stayed bottled up inside a private network. The work on alternative operating systems for handsets, as well as fully open handsets, is important because the carriers understand the threat from systems like WiFi, and generally do what they can to not carry handsets that could threaten their lockin. If it’s not on the carrier shelf it effectively doesn’t exist in the US. Even the geeks are normally confused about how to get some cool handset they might want if they can’t walk into a Cingular store and ask for it. Breaking that channel, with the carriers controlling both the network and the distribution of access equipment for that network, would also work out to our benfit.