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Yahoo! Go? Yahoo! No!

If this is the future of mobile data - mobile data doesn't have a future

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The one part of the suite that can't be faulted, for reasons that are significant and that I'll expand on in the conclusion of this sorry tale, is the mobile Yahoo! Messenger. This boasts "Cool Features" such as Audibles, group messaging, and sending pictures during chats. It also caches messages sent while you're away. But the most significant of these is a sort of rudimentary VoIP service, which integrates with the Push To Talk button on the handset.

Yahoo! No! - some im

Imagine actually talking ... on a mobile phone! But the IM client scores higher than the other parts of the suite not because of these cool features, but because it allows more filtering: you can ignore contacts, manage your Ignore list, and sign on as "Invisible".

(Quite why anyone wants to do IM in real time on a phone with PC users, with only T9 for input and only one small screen, is a mystery that's immediately explained when you try it. Even with a Nokia bluetooth keyboard, I still didn't feel inclined to use it. There are several chats to switch between, the PC users will always type faster than you, and the difference in speed and more importantly, assumptions, is too great. Perhaps it's because IM chat is more of a background or ambient activity on a large screen PC. Believe me, it's not when you try and do it on a phone. IM and SMS might look similar, but they're so dependent on context, they're as different as sleeping and eating.)

Conclusions

So the "emergent" kids are now meddling in consumer electronics, and the result is a disaster.

Phones are very personal devices that magnify bad design decisions enormously. And services that make sense on a PC don't always map to a phone. PCs don't have to compete with real life in the way phones do.

And it's the cult-like thinking of the web people that really causes the problem, as they assume for example, that we want to publish everything we do.

This cult, which is so fond of berating us for "not getting it!" can get it woefully wrong. It mistakenly believes that computer communications are somehow "social", whereas in fact the web is all about "anti-social software" - it's about filtering and exclusion. This is why the IM client looks better than the other parts of the suite - it offers more opportunity for being selective about who you communicate with and how you appear. Phones, on the other hand, are "social hardware". By definition, I'd say that if you're out and about, and you need to look something up rather than ask someone nearby, you probably shouldn't be making design decisions for mobile technology at all.

So far this disaster has been limited in its impact. Y!Go is scheduled to launch in ten countries, but is initially available on Cingular, in only some parts of the US, and only on a few Series 60 handsets - which are a rare species here anyway. But Yahoo! says it will bundle the software with new Cingular handsets.

Just watch the complaints roll in when that happens.

My experience with Yahoo! Go suggests that PC-centric web services are going to find it hard to transition to acceptance by ordinary people on mobile, limited function technology like phones. CrackBerry users may love it, and it's a great technical accomplishment in a limited sense, but the intrusiveness actually made me think how hard it would be to host my own services on a server somewhere- and I've never had that thought since I started using Yahoo! I don't want to have it again, either.

Finally, what does this mean for the industry? We'll delve into this tantalizing question in more depth tomorrow. The cellular carriers, which these days are divisions of larger, vertically integrated telecomms conglomerates, may know less than nothing about what we want either, but they continue to rake in serious money. Verizon alone earned almost twice as much as Google, Intel and Apple combined last year, for example, which means that not only can they afford to buy political influence, they can afford a lot of flops before they find that one hit - whether it's GPS, m-commerce, or simply making a move on the self-defence market by turning the phone into a portable taser.

For now, if "Yahoo! Go" is the best that the internet services cartel - let's call it "AmaGoohooBay" - can offer, the carriers won't be breaking any sweat.

Google, take heed. ®

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