posted Apr 20, 2001

Handhelds: Tagger's Best Friend? Free Speech4/20/2001; 11:57:40 AM 'A San Francisco company has developed a wireless content application called HaikuHaiku that will let people with Web-enabled Palm or WAP-enabled mobile phones leave trails of digital messages wherever they go.'Interesting idea that's way ahead of its time.'"The challenge we face is how to build a location-based service when location-based technology is not yet available," said Ori Neidich, Neoku's wireless engineer.'Practically speaking, I have to wonder why you'd bother so soon? Seems like they'd spend a lot of time spinning their wheels on that issue when it'd be a lot more concrete when the tech's in place... But putting that aside, the obvious comparision is to Third Voice. So obvious, in fact, that the reporter followed up on that:'You've got to be kidding about that," Eng-Siong Tan, founder of Third Voice, said about Neoku's wireless Web graffiti plan.''"It's all well and good to promote free speech, but if you're going to run a business, you need to figure out how you're going to pay for this," Tan added.'Somebody's learned some wisdom the hard way. I do not envy those who created start-ups a couple of years ago... thank goodness for bankruptcy laws.'Tan also said that in a community application like Neoku's, the signal-to-noise ratio could be a problem, with users spamming each other with inane comments. "If you leave it open, it's going to go to the lowest common denominator," Tan said.''But Bain and Neidich are unfazed, and say they hope people will use HaikuHaiku in ways its developers never anticipated.'Bain and Neidich really ought to listen to Tan. They're singing exactly the same song Tan sung in 1999. Tan's observation about spamming problems comes from hard experience... excesses of spam was the biggest problem Third Voice experienced in terms of getting respect from the press. Most members of the press tended to more-or-less dismiss the objections people like me had to Third Voice, and reported them mostly out of a desire to cover both sides of the story, but the near-complete lack of non-spam definately failed to impress journalists.Now, about the service itself. Speaking as one of the louder critics of Third Voice, I would like to observe that this service shares none of the relevant properties of Third Voice. Third Voice sat on top of web pages and essentially modified those expressions, which I believe should be considered morally wrong at the very least. (Many people (others too) rationally disagree with this assessment.) This service is not modifing anybody's expression or "defacing" anything. Ethically and legally, there's really nothing wrong with this.That said, I suspect the service will be even less compelling then Third Voice. The article mentions "critical mass" as an issue. Basically, for an application like this, every "location" in the system has to independantly attain critical mass. In the case of Third Voice, only a handful of sites managed to attain critical mass (and a disturbing number of them were the protest sites ). Only a handful of sites really independantly obtained the critical mass necessary to promote actual conversations: Microsoft, the White House, a few others.This wireless application faces at least four more hurdles then Third Voice faced in order to become compelling:

  1. You must be physically present on a site. This alone strips the candidates for even the most interesting locations to only a few thousand, leaving only a few locations where hundreds of thousands of people are in (Times Square, stadiums, little else). Microsoft's homepage gets a lot more hits then most physical locations get.
  2. Wireless technology is harder to use right now, and will be for the near future. (The input method stinks.)
  3. Wireless technology will be more difficult to obtain. The amazing preponderance of Yuppies in San Fransico is not normal. Out here in the "real" world, I can count on one hand the number of people with the fanciest wireless phones currently available... and none of them use it. And remember, I'm in a Computer Science program at a major university... ask a class of seniors to hold up all their electronics on their persons and you'll have well in excess of one gadget per person. I live in gadget central by any but San Fransico standards.
  4. And finally, haikus are too short to conduct any meaningful conversations in. This hurts... badly. Meaningless messages tend to attract more meaningless messages, and chase away people who might make meaningful messages.
"Dead startup walking!"


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