Friday, February 9, 2007

Standards in emerging spaces

One of the blessings of recent times in technology is introducing open standards: It turns industries around, it turns products around. It introduces new opportunities and new players that find themselves in a position to enter spaces they've never played before. And its all for the best.
Naturally in this context, the mobile code scanning space is one that is close to my heart. Clearly an emerging space, disruptive technology that aims to change the realm of how users (and by that I think its targetting consumers mainly) use and percieve their phones. There's a big promise and potential success in this space.
Looking at this space from a standards perspective, here's a couple of things that can be said:
  • It's an emerging market
  • Barcodes in themselves is not new. Its the innovation that brings code scanning to new phones that have cameras. Its the exploding new services on the phone and on the web that create a compelling story (see this great piece on mobile 2.0 by Rudy at m-trends)
  • Today there are two open standard codes: DataMatrix and Quick Response (QR). Both of which had certain success stories
  • Vendors that are playing in this space are devided in two: those who base their technology on those standard codes and those who either offer proprietary codes or go hybrid (supporting both)

A lot hads been said about applying standards to this space: in favor and against, for this code format or another: Tommy's S60 Applications blog (Re Standards:"Unless we do something, fragmentation is threatening the whole 2D barcode ecosystem." or, "First: totally agree - go for the standards - QR Codes and Datamatrix (we support them already:). If this is set, half of the battle is won."), Excellent coverage from 'The Pondering Primate' Blog including a coverage on the consortium initiative.

Why am I writing this? because I'm a little ticked every time I read about someone "declaring the standard" as one format or another. Here's my non-expert take on this.

Shift thoughts: a while back I was playing in the Push-To-Talk-Over-Cellular space (Lets call it PoC for the mental health of my fingers) . This is just about the time when IMS and IMS-based services were getting some traction and mountains of hype. Several things happened around PoC:

  • It was emerging disruptive technology
  • It was based on revolutionary IMS grounds and thus one of the first of many IMS services
  • It's success, for good or bad, was somewhat an indicator for the whole IMS investments
  • The big infra/phone vendors got together to set a standard to ensure interoperability pretty early in the game
  • Pleanty of smaller players in the space
  • There was a reference technology launch (in the US)

Similar situation, right? Let me quote from The pondering Primate Blog (becuse I was having the same thoughts at the time): "I agree 100% with this idea, but I question the motives, the companies, and the timing of this effort." (this is in regards to the code scanning consortium).

Here's how things rolled out from there: 5 big players started standardization. After making some headway, one left and started doing his own thing. Now we're with two different standards. As solutions started materlializing, we now have systems based on two different standard, and not necessarily interoperating. Remember, this is both an infrastructure and client application architecture. Imagine the scenario for an operator: users of one vendor's handset can't PoC to users of different vendor's handsets, both subscribers of the same carrier. Then came Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) and created PoC OMA V1.0.

Is PoC succesful today? You be the judge.

What's my point? My point is that standards don't create good solutions. good solutions create good standards. How do you know when you have a good solution? When the target user tells you so. When the players in the eco system are forcasting good returns. When there's good adoption and feedback during the trial. when your trial gets good interest from players OUTSIDE of the ecosystem. what happens when you force standards on a premature space? you get bad systems and bad standards, the ones that won't get adoption.

Back to mobile code scanning: An emerging space, lots of innovation, two open standards that have some success under certain conditions, lots of players. Has there been ANY serious launch (outside of Japan, people in the space know why I'm adding this comment) with measurable criteria that established one code more commercially successful than others?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for open standards and that consortium initiative (this could even become one of those once a month meetup some other place in the world kinda thing!) WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT. As an example: Is it reasonable to expect now that all the players in the space to agree on a starting point whose technology works best?

I say, when it comes to establishing what's a good mobile code scanning system, what defines it, and make that the standard, the jury's still's sitting in the court room

And for entrepreneurs thinking about mobile code scanning, or are in a similar call for standards on emerging space I say: your job is to excel and innovate, not to reinvent the existing. You'll be competing in a commodity market where others had spent more resources than you'll have during your first step. Get a great product, and set the standards by marching the end user to your shop. Help the consortium by adding your innovation that's been validated.


Scott Shaffer said...

In the last 2 weeks 2 Physical World Connection companies have landed major deals. One with a service provider the other with a phone manufacturer .

Neither one of these companies was invited to this "consortium".

Instead of talking about how to implement PWC, why not ask the companies that actually doing it?

dlethe01 said...

I don't understand why Scott Shaffer keeps bashing the same company over and over.


streetstylz said...

Good post dlethe01

It sounds like Mr. Shaffer is a very bitter little monkey.

As a private investor in Scanbuy, Scott must be very upset about Scanbuy being taken to task in court by the inventors of the PWC, NeoMedia Technologies.

They were given the option to license, but Oliver Attia was too stubborn and foolish. Now he is gone and Scanbuy has a MUCH better CEO.

Best of luck to both companies

Amir Rozenberg said...

Guys, let's not get mean here. The point here is whether the consortium idea time has come or not. I have every respect for those driving the consortium, would they agree themselves on what's best?.
If anyone needs any indicators, then hear the operators saying they want a UNIVERSAL decoder. In other words, they themselves don't yet know what's best. And if they don't know, anyone else in the industry can pretend to know, but they don't either.