Moblogging for the Masses: Part 2
By Mark Frauenfelder, Thu Dec 11 13:45:00 GMT 2003

In the late 80s and early 90s, dotcom entrepreneurs read the science fiction novels of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson and then used them as business plans. They also studied Howard Rheingold's The Virtual Community as a guidebook for how to create sticky interest in their websites by bringing together people who shared common goals and interests.

In the early 00s, no mobile entrepreneur would be caught dead without a copy of Rheingold's latest groundbreaking book, Smart Mobs. One company in particular wants to become the system through which the smart mob revolution emerges. It's called Wireless Ink. Five people work at the two-year-old company, located in Cold Spring Harbor, NY. For the last couple of weeks, I've been communicating with Wireless Ink's co-founder, David Harper, about his company and its remarkably rich mobile moblogging application, called WINKsite.

Blogging in your Pocket

At its most basic level, WINKsite turns a mobile device into a tool that provides basic "Moblogging 101" functions, such as blogging, messaging, and site publishing. But WINKsite goes beyond this simple suite of mobile applications, with features like chat, RSS feeds, surveys, zine publishing, and geolocation. Harper says WINKsite is "about providing features that support the needs of various networks and the mapping, measuring, and mobile enabling of those relationships - between people, groups, and organizations - as well as the reciprocal relationship between people and content."

One feature that Harper was especially keen on incorporating into WINKsite was location awareness - not only giving the network the ability to know where users are, but to know where they've been and where they plan to go next. This isn't because Wireless Ink wants to become Big Brother and snoop on its users. Instead WINSKsite's users will be able to use geolocation to find out about weather, news, and events in their area, coordinate meetings with colleagues, or find people with similar interests at events and conferences. In the future, WINKsite would like to see its geolocation services be used to manage food and supply distribution in underdeveloped countries, coordinate search and rescue missions, or allow activists to organize and inform mass gatherings.

While these lofty goals are still a few years off, you can go to WINKsite today and make your very own moblog quickly and easily. You might not even have to refer to the instructions, which is something Harper said he and his fellow WINKsters were aiming for when developing the system. The goal is to make the tools simple and straightforward. So far, it seems to be working. So far 1,744 mobile sites have been launched, with 200 new sites coming on line every month.

The Four Social Networks

But as popular as Wireless Ink's free moblogging service has become, WINKsite is not the company's main objective. Wireless Ink hopes to license its tools to carriers, hosting companies, and the entertainment industry, which will in turn offer the service to its subscribers.

Harper and his colleagues have put a lot of thought into what makes a moblog service useful, and has found four types of networks it wants to address: (1) the "Me" network, consisting of one person who needs personal productivity tools, (2) the "Creative" network, in which a dozen or more people collaborate on a project, (3) the "Social" network, in which hundreds of people share a common interest need to communicate, and (4) the "Political" network, in which thousands of people need to access breaking news and calls to action. Harper says that as additional services are added to WINKsite, "we will observe each type of network activity and build in awareness flags and triggers that effectively show the distinction between or otherwise utilize the three most popular centrality measures: 'activity,' 'betweenness,' and 'closeness,' to drive action.

Why Chat Rules and What to Do About it

Harper says, "for better or worse," chat rooms are the most popular use for WINKsites. His theory for chat's popularity is that "people seem to gravitate towards environments that make them feel comfortable," and chat is one of them. As a result, WINKsite plans to "introduce new features that extends chat's usefulness, such as making transcripts available in an archive where comments can be added after the fact or the ability to incorporate a survey within the room, or links to profiles or additional content.

"For us it is all about providing features in a way that supports how people prefer to work dependent on a particular situation or task. Give them a flexible tool, step out of the way, watch, listen then respond with innovations."