14 July 2008

MoMo London: the momentum continues

Filed under: Location, Mobile Monday — David Wood @ 11:11 pm

Mobile Monday is a worldwide phenomenon, with chapters in more than 60 cities. Typically, chapters hold one meeting most months, usually on the first (or second) Monday – though some smaller groups meet less frequently. I hear that the London chapter is among the liveliest.

Tonight, Mobile Monday London held its thirtieth speaker meeting. Checking back through my Series 5mx Agenda, I counted that I’ve attended 18 out of the 30, going back to my first attendance in December 2005. The reasons I keep returning to these events are:

  1. The networking opportunities are first class: all sorts of developers, entrepreneurs, VCs, project managers etc attend, from both large and small companies (including independent contractors)
  2. The presentations (which are deliberately kept short) and the demos that follow (which are kept even shorter) often convey new insight about the cutting edge of the mobile industry
  3. Disruptive yet throughtful questions are asked by highly knowledgeable audience members who have in many cases already personally been through a couple of business cycles, in different companies, experiencing the reality of technical ideas and business models similar to those being advocated by the presenters.

The quality of the Q&A alone often makes these meetings considerably more interesting and useful than some industry conferences which come with hefty price tags. That’s the benefit of the collectively highly experienced MoMo London community.

The topic for this evening was “Enabling Location in Applications”. The audience was enormous – being swelled, first by some members of the W3C who are attending a working meeting in London, and second by visiting members from overseas MoMo chapters (Germany, Estonia, Sweden, Spain, Boston, Italy, and New York, among others) who were in town to discuss the future international setup of the organisation. This was on top of the very sizeable more local audience.

All seven of the presentations / demos included interesting comments. Here’s a few points that caught my attention:

  • Skyhook Wireless (who were the sponsors for this particular event) have a database of the locations of over 50 million wireless access points, including 16M+ in Europe alone. This database grows as the result of the records made by 500 drivers worldwide, include 200 in Europe (who have already driven some 750,000 km)
  • A (non-mobile phone) application of the Skyhook technology is explained by David Pogue in this video: the Eye Fi system of automatically geo-tagging photos taken by your digital camera, without involving any GPS receiver
  • Another partner of Skyhook is Trapster, who have an app for mobile phones that allows drivers to provide real-time alerts to one another about speed traps in the area
  • Google Gears provides a Geolocation API, which in turn could provide much of the basis of a similar API in HTML5; that’s a reminder that (as stressed by the Google speaker, Charles Wiles) “Google Gears is much more than offline”
  • The demos and screenshots tended to show either the Nokia N95 or the iPhone; Andrew Scott of Rummble cheekily remarked that “It will take a long time before everyone has an iPhone – maybe two years”
  • Andrew touched on another sensitive point with a follow-up remark: “Mobile Network Operators are probably never going to waken up and realise that they shouldn’t be charging for location information”
  • Both Andrew and Justin Davis of NinetyTen emphasised that mobile search and recommendations needed to be filtered, to give more prominence to entries that had been favourably reviewed by trusted contacts of the user
  • Uniquely of all the speakers, Mark White of Locatrix (who said he had flown all the way from Brisbane Australia to speak at this event) spent more time reviewing business model issues. “‘Can do’ doesn’t mean ‘can make money’“, he emphasised
  • During the Q&A, the panel suggested it was only a matter of time before a free access API would be available, allowing applications to query central databases to find out the location of a cell with a given ID; any new startups who are working on providing this service wouild therefore be well advised to stop this at once.

Because the room was so full and was becoming pretty warm, the Q&A was stopped before it got into full gear, which was a bit of a pity. But lots of lively conversation continued in the reception area afterwards, over drinks.

To my mind, the energy and upbeat attitude of the meeting is testimony to:

  • The overall health of the mobile industry in and around London
  • The ever greater role of location elements in mobile applications.

I’ll end by echoing the closing words of Mark White: “This is not the LBS industry of 2000. It’s better”. Users have learned about the general benefits of GPS and positioning from car-based satnav systems, and are now increasingly looking for similar benefits from their mobile phones.

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