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Web 2.0 vs mobile phones

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Symbian Show Sketch Hoping some Californian magic pixie dust might fall upon the sleepy world of telephony, the Symbian Smartphone Show organisers devoted an afternoon of presentations to the topic of "Social Media". Would Web 2.0 make it to the phone?

It had a bit of your Dad at the Disco about it, and even Symbian's no-nonsense research VP, David Wood, had been caught up in the excitement.

In his briefing notes, David posited that "in Web 2.0, the network itself has intelligence, rather than just being a bit-pipe for pre-cooked information". When previously rational people start to attribute agency and purpose to inanimate objects, it's a warning sign – as my lampshade reminded me this morning.

In the end, we didn't get the culture clash we expected, and by the end of the afternoon it seemed apparent that the mobile world needed "Web 2.0" quite a lot less than the Californian web cultists needed to go mobile.

And as the clock-ticked towards 5pm - hometime! - a rare consensus appeared to emerge: network integrity and security should not be compromised by script kiddies who'd just discovered the CPAN Perl archive; most 'user generated content' wasn't going to interest anyone; a blanket of pervasive HSDPA-speed 3G beats looking for an insecure Wi-Fi hotspot; and PCs were dumb, because you didn't have them with you, and they didn't know where they were.

That's more commonsense than you expect to hear in a lifetime of "Web 2.0" gatherings. In fact, even expressing such heresy is enough to get one excommunicated and sent to purgatory – for the web utopians are nothing if not a cult.

But to reach terra firma we had to negotiate a rocky terrain. Beginning with the buzzwords.

You know when something is labelled "social media" you've already arrived at a leaky abstraction that's going to sink at any moment. Add in an insulting, eye-rolling piece of nonsense like "democratisation of creativity" and you know you've really reached the technology world's Remedial Class.

We'll digress for a moment simply to point out the bleeding obvious. When someone uses a witless phrase like "social media", they're informing you that they're unable to distinguish the act of bearing witness from the business of being surveilled. Surveillance is big business these days, and technology can record everything we do or say. But that doesn't mean when we say something that we want it to be heard, or transferred out of context, or remembered. Or in the words of Google's ominous mission statement, "organised and made useful". Useful to, er...who?

All art is social and created as an act of testimony, but most speech isn't, it's designed to be forgotten - and the web cultists either, through ignorance or cynicism, willfully blur this distinction.

So it was refreshing to hear Orange's Mark Watts-Jones, in concluding his presentation, remind the audience that most electronically-recorded "content" wasn't of interest to anyone else. Orange seemed to be approaching the explosion of recording technology not as a gateway to a cybernetic all-recording uber-mind, but simply sharing your photos with your friends (or family).

Sling Media also disappointed the cult of the web wingnuts by pointing out that more practical matters were at hand. It was slightly ridiculous that in this "always-on", always-connected" world we couldn't access our own stuff - like TV channels we'd already subscribed to, music we'd already bought, or photographs we'd already taken - on our gadgets. They might as well be never-on, and never-connected - at least we could take a hard copy round to show the folks.

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