The Internet has changed the lives of many people, the possibilities it offers are endless. Today we live in a “web 2.0” world, which pushed the limits of creativity, collaboration, and sharing of thought. The main players of “web 2.0, the wikis, the social bookmarking sites, photo management sites, blogging …etc are all tools that we have grown accustomed to. I for one could not imagine myself living without Digg, Google docs, Stumbleupon, Picasa, and a plethora of other tools. However the technologies powering most of these “web 2.0 websites aren’t new at all, in fact they have existed for a long time. So why did it take such a long time for “web 2.0 to emerge? I have a theory, read on.

Web 2.0

Let’s have a quick trip back to memory lane: Most observers consider the real birth of the Internet was in 1994. When the Internet got lots of attention from the public and the media, and started to grow exponentially. Sites started popping up from no where, companies scrambled to have a “web presence,” people were talking about it, in short the Internet started to catch on. Things were looking up.

However the honeymoon came to a screeching stop, things started to go amiss in net-ville. By 1995, the browser industry seemed too lucrative for Microsoft to resist, it couldn’t keep its greedy mitts off of it, and decided to enter the browser market. This ignited the first browser war. Microsoft and Netscape locked horns in a vicious display of power. This very much crippled the development of web browsers, and consequently the whole “web.” Both companies were too busy adding features, as none of them wanted to be perceived as falling behind, but neglected fixing bugs. Browsers crashed with every sneeze.

In an effort from both companies to gain a competitive edge over the other, they started to introduce proprietary features. Now this was a problem because the Internet (including web browsers) was built on standards set down by a standards committee. However, both companies started adding new proprietary features before they get the approval from the standards committee. The divergence from web standards just made life for developers harder, valuable time that was better spent on real development, was spent on ensuring that webpages rendered properly on both browsers. Needless to say this fragmented the Internet even more. Result? The development of the web was hindered even more. :(

In any case, by 1998, the Darth Vader of the IT industry emerged victorious on the browser front winning itself a virtual monopoly. Now we all know that monopolies are no good, it’s the consumer that pays the hefty price. But in this case web technology is what suffered. Microsoft with this complete monopoly had little or no incentive to develop the web or it’s applications. Things just stayed stagnant with no or minimal development for quite some time.

Fast forward 6 years later, still no web 2.0, just the same old web that we are used to. Multimedia was still crappy as hell , there was no youtube yet. Socializing was mostly limited within forums and chat rooms, there was no digg, while facebook was still in it’s infancy. Wikis were just a niche tool within geeky circles. The technologies behind these websites and others are by no means new, and the ideas are to some extent aren’t really novel or groundbreaking, yet they were almost non-existent. But something happened in year 2004, the prodigious son came back with a vengeance! Yes Firefox with it’s roots traced back to Netscape came back utilizing a new weapon! It’s open sourced now and wanted to claim it’s thrown.

Firefox took the world by storm, it’s open source structure gave it flexibility web developers could only dream of. Since they can see the code, this enabled them to manipulate Firefox the way they saw fit. Creating along the way a very strong third party development community, creativity flowed like wine! No longer browsers were constricted to what a few corporations (read Microsoft) deemed right. Creative plug-ins such as stumbleupon, which helped users discover interesting websites deeply hidden in the labyrinth of the Internet, foxytunes enabled users to control their music players from within their browsers, and ad block, as evident from it’s name, blocked those pesky distracting ads. Thousands of plug-ins were developed and showed users that there is so much more potential and versatility to the Internet than they had initially imagined. Tech savvy users flocked to Firefox like moths to flame!

With Firefox making inroads in Microsoft’s monopoly, the wheel of web development started to roll, creativity started to explode, things looked up again. The first chapters of “web 2.0″ were written! Firefox made us realize that the web we had was merely the tip of the iceberg, it could (and should) offer much more. Firefox served as a catalyst, it was the first domino to tip over, causing a torrent of other dominos to fall in the shape of innovation and creativity.

Firefox by no means ended IE’s monopoly, but it certainly did within tech savvy circles. I would really love to see the web browser statistics of digg, youtube, and wikipedia registered users. I truly believe that they would be skewed towards Firefox.

Let me confess, all this is a build up to my main argument. CELL PHONES! Cell phones are clunky, inflexible, unstable pieces of crap (yes even your iPhone). The mobile industry is one of the laziest and least innovative industries in the IT sector. They are just sitting on their laurels with a 1980’s business model that’s gaining them millions. Why would one have to pay a buck or two for a ring tone? or 7$ for a rehash of tetris? Because they want to rake the millions!

The whole mobile Internet experience is such an agonizing experience, even my SE P990, which is supposed to be Sony-Ericsson’s top of the line, provides such disheartening experience, whether it’s online or offline. In fact the software on my previous phone, the SE P900, was much more versatile, stable, and flexible! The P series seemed to take a step backwards within 3 or 4 years!

iPhone hacking news getting first page coverage on social media websites like digg and slashdot. The hackers gaining notoriety and instant Internet fame. It shouldn’t be this way! It’s my hardware, that I paid for with my hard earned cash, and I am supposed to install on it whatever I damn wish.

Phones should have videoconferencing, email, full browsers, instant messaging, SSH clients, IPTV, document and spreadsheet editors. I should be able to install Skype or have VOIP telephony. most phones cannot make such claims. It is in the mobile phone industry best interest to not provide you such things. But to overcharge you for rehashed versions of such applications that don’t work properly any ways.

Consumers are complacent, or rather not aware of the possibilities and potential their phone could offer. Our phones today are the supercomputers of yesteryear. They have much more power than they are currently utilized for. The networks are also fast enough to handle the huge demand for broadband juice had the phones worked the way they are supposed to be. The only obstacle in the face of true mobility are the wireless carriers themselves. This current business model they have right now, serves their best interests, with total disregard to the consumers!

But not all is lost, there is a glimmer of hope. Yes two projects that are gaining steam, and are gaining lots of coverage. Google’s Android (also here and here ) and FIC’s OpenMoko (here and here) could serve as two platforms that could catapult the whole industry into the greener pastures. Both could play the role that Firefox played with the web.

Android is an open mobile platform based on Linux and backed by 34 companies in an effort to advance the open standards of mobile phones. And as they always say, a picture is better than a thousand words:

On the other hand, OpenMoko is dubbed as the worlds “first open phone”, here is FEC’s Sean Moss-Pultz:

Android and OpenMoko will hopefully break the dead lock and help consumers realize what their phones could really do. Developers will flock to these two open systems, reminiscent of Firefox’s third party developer community 3 years back. Ingenious ideas and innovative applications will make our current phones prehistoric! Our phones will finally be free!