Friday, November 21, 2008

The Personal Web

A popular PC brand's tagline is, The Computer is Personal, Again... well, they could not have got it more wrong. Over the last few years, consumer behavior (demand) has shifted away from 'computing' to 'communication', 'collaboration' and 'entertainment'. The computer is, in fact, a relatively inferior device for most of the needs of today's generation. Its lack of portability / mobility and high power consumption make it a rather 'impersonal' device. 

Today, there is a surge in the device world - smartphones, mp3 players, LCD & plasma TVs, cameras are emerging as complements and in some cases, alternatives to PCs. While computer sales at about 200 million per annum are still amongst the highest in (hi-end) digital devices, more than 400mn other digital devices capable of entertainment, communication, content, etc. are being sold out there. Most of the consumers own more than one device,  often used inter-changably for some services. Take for instance, photography or video recording. Most mobile phones can perform the imaging functions reasonably well (for the lay person); yet people still do own digital cameras and camcorders. Similarly, e-mail and gaming are available on many devices including computers, mobile phones, smartphones and gaming consoles. Additionally, many of these devices are getting networked (or at least network ready). WiFi is now available on all laptops, most PCs, smartphones and gaming consoles, some cameras, music systems, mp3 players and special devices.   

In such a world, where the customer could choose from hundreds of devices and have Internet access from many of them, the Web emerges as the platform of choice for most services. To be successful in this world, a service should have at least the following characteristics:

Identity: The service recognizes who you are and customizes the content / offering based on your choices or previous patterns. Your identity enables you to access multiple services and carry your content / preferences across all of them.

Context Sensitive: The service recognizes what device and / or access mechanism you are using, and adapts itself accordingly; yet, it preserves the core features based on your Identity.

Storage: For the Identity to be preserved across contexts, your content, preferences and history need to be stored or hosted centrally.

Of course, Google is the leader and champion in this world, having transformed our online experience. With a Google identity, you can access all your e-mails, contacts, photos, videos, chats, documents, news headlines, stocks, blogs, maps... well, pretty much your life, perhaps, from any device, any location.  With the latest additions of the Chrome browser and Android mobile paltform, Google is reinforcing our ability to have this seamless experience, irrespective of access mechanism. While Google is the most successful in leveraging the "Personal Web", others like Facebook, Skype and LinkedIn have also made significant progress in recent times.

The Personal Web experience is not limited only to consumer services; businesses can also now create truly office-less work environments. Enterprises can roll-out hosted applications, including ERP, CRM, Salesforce, collaboration and even, voice, on private IP networks and/or the public Internet, in a highly secure and cost-effective manner. In fact, the success of Google in the small and medium business space reflects the opportunities for greater efficiency and cost savings that large enterprises are probably missing out on. 

I had said in an earlier post that Service Providers (as against Device Providers or Network Operators) would be the winners in the mobile world. The same holds true for the entire Communications industry. Networks are almost a commodity and hold no opportunity for differentiation and consequently, pure network operators have limited opportunity for a value upside. Devices are usually a one time purchase (till the next upgrade or replacement, at least) and therefore, device manufacturers have little scope for an ongoing customer engagement. Services, on the other hand, can leverage the capabilities of networks and devices to create a compelling and ongoing experience; thus, service providers have the best shot at long term value creation.

Customers, individuals and businesses, are of course, the ultimate winners. They can choose the best of all worlds from amongst networks, devices and services - mix and match them to suit their requirements. 

The Web is Personal, Finally... 

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