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The Commercialization of Open Source Mobile August 16, 2007

Posted by matthewweber in abaporu, appropriation, cannibalism, cycle, iPhone, re-configuration.
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After a short recess, Abaporu is back – hey, we all need a break every now and then!

Over the summer I’ve noticed increasing talk of commercial open-source mobile phone ventures. What’s interesting about these ventures is they are growing out of the feedback of open-source mobile application developers. While traditionally US cell phones have been locked down by providers, there has always been a cannibalistic subset focused on cracking open the code unlocking phones for free open-source development. This is exactly the trend we all witnessed when the iPhone launched: within days developers were hard at work cracking into the depths of the iPhone source code. Out of this trend of cannibalization with the intent of distribution, a number of companies are now building commercial open-source mobile phones. In addition to Motorola offering a framework for open-source mobile phone development, the OpenMoko project is now selling two open source phones that allow users complete flexibility across networks and applications. The price of these phones is currently a bit prohibitive, but there’s a clear trend of open source development starting to emerge. Now that this once-niche form of appropriation is building towards mainstream, we’re hopeful that we’ll start to see a growth in applications and uses.


agon/antagon: appropriation as theater July 10, 2007

Posted by François in agonistic, cannibalism, iPhone.

This past weekend, 300 hackers gathered in San Francisco for iPhoneDevCamp. The camp was a first collective attempt to unlock the iPhone’s mysteries, prompted by Apple’s reluctance to publish details about its inner workings. The LA Times covered the event as if it were a military battle. The article describes how the DevCampers carefully prepared for combat, wearing “stickers classifying themselves as developers, hardware testers, designers or web coders.” It quoted organizers who said the event was “about killer participation”, “not just to create the killer app.”

On the surface, iPhoneDevCamp had all the hallmarks of antagonistic cannibalism. Apple resisted the assault by refusing to help or provide any basic information about its product. Hackers strategically deployed themselves to “bend the iPhone to their will” and “make it do things Apple might prefer it didn’t.”

But following Paul Duguid’s insights, we might choose an alternative reading. The displayed hostility may simply be appropriation theater, agonistic rather than antagonistic. Indeed on closer examination, the DevCamp battle looks a lot like a love fest. The hackers clearly relish the challenge laid out for them by their idol, and Apple must love the attention (if only because it presumably made at least $150,000 selling $500 iPhones to 300 hackers.) The result, one suspects, will be more iPhones sold to happier hackers.

Meanwhile, the show certainly is entertaining as we watch Apple playing hard-to-get, enjoying every cannibalistic nibble from its suitors.

Radical Cannibals July 3, 2007

Posted by François in cannibalism.

As we sort through appropriation practices, a key distinction is the degree to which users come into conflict with suppliers when they re-make technology. At the harmonious end of that spectrum we find baroquization, where users re-make artifacts along a supplier-provided personalization script. By contrast, cannibalization occupies the other extreme. Tech cannibals intentionally confront suppliers by re-making technology into something that goes against the interests of those suppliers. Just as with antropofagia, creation then emerges from destruction – literal or symbolic. This week’s news brings two examples of phone destruction, each creative in its own way.

The first story brings a welcome tale of technological failure: This week’s “attempted London car bombings were meant to be detonated by calls to mobile phones in the two vehicles, but failed for technical reasons.” Re-making mobile phones into bomb detonators is nothing new, and constitutes perhaps the most radical illustration of technology cannibalism. The practice is antagonistic at every level – artifact, practice, and politics. The objective is -literally- to destroy the phone, the practice is hostile to the intentions and business plans of providers, and, most importantly, the resulting explosion appropriates technology toward aggressive political goals.

The second news item reports on several iPhone dissections, some more meticulous than others. Here, the stated purpose is to discover what is inside and understand what makes this new device tick. The next cannibalistic challenge will be to crack the software. As the Reuters story points out: “Opening the iPhone was the easy part. For many, the real prize is hacking the phone to get it to do things Apple never intended, such as run on networks other than that of AT&T Inc., the exclusive U.S. service provider. Some programmers also want to find a way to run their own programs directly on the phone’s operating system rather than being limited to programs run through the Web browser.”

(click on pictures for credits and additional information)

Appropriating power June 11, 2007

Posted by François in cannibalism, creolization, frontera, power.

A while ago, Kathleen Diga sent this great picture she took in Mozambique, just over the border from South Africa. The person living there had appropriated (i.e. ‘stolen’) this solar panel from a cell phone tower on the over side of the border. The picture is a bit fuzzy, but the tag at the bottom appears to read “WARNING – this is the property of Telkom”, with the Telkom logo. The panel is skillfully angled to catch maximum rays, and connected to a battery that powers its new owner’s stereo (and perhaps their phone charger as well?)

Another great battery appropriation is this portable, personal, pedestrian music system sent by Nyaki Adeya. It may well be where Apple’s designers got the inspiration for their iPod…
(I don’t have any source information for that picture.)

Boost: cheap appropriable mobile internet May 23, 2007

Posted by François in boost, cannibalism.

Following up on a tip from Brett Stalbaum, I have been playing with a Boost mobile pre-paid phone. The two low-end models, Motorola i415 and i455 respectively sell for $30 and $50, including a $10 credit. Both have a built-in GPS. The interesting part is that Boost offers unlimited data for $0.35 per day. Combine that with the fact that Motorola recently opened the java interface to its iDen phones, and you have unlimited mobile internet access for about $10/month (I have yet to make a voice call. That would cost $0.20/min.) In addition to browsing the net with the phone, you can also use it as a tethered modem for a computer (instructions here; very slow — I’m only getting about 10kb/s… I need to figure out how to unlock Widen)

This Boost offer is being fully cannibalized by mologogo, the free social location service: they have appropriated it as a cheap networked GPS tool (they sell Boost phones, preloaded with their software, at a slight premium over the Boost price.) Mologogo’s web pages even include tips on “stopping unwanted calls”, to make sure nobody calls and eats up precious pre-paid time (receiving calls also disrupts the GPS application.) I wonder what Boost thinks about all this… A dynamic hacker community is emerging to do all kinds of interesting things with this. Mologogo has also used the twitter API to create a ‘molotwit’ mashup.

So far I have loaded up the opera mini browser, gmail, and mologogo (you can see where abaporu has been hanging out lately). One of the interesting features of the boost pre-paid plan is that it doesn’t charge users for incoming SMS. So, with the unlimited data plan, you can use m.twitter to send free SMS to a twitter feed, and boost phones that subscribe to that feed get free twitter updates. There has to be an interesting project that can take advantage of that… any brilliant ideas?

Technology appropriation in a distant mirror May 14, 2007

Posted by François in baroque, cannibalism, creolization, theory.

The ideas we plan to explore in this blog are laid out in “Mobile technology appropriation in a distant mirror: baroque infiltration, creolization and cannibalism”, by François Bar, Francis Pisani and Matthew Weber (April 07) [PDF – draft]. The paper was presented on April 12th as part of the Annenberg Center’s DIY speaker series, and on April 20th in Buenos Aires at the Seminario sobre Desarrollo Económico, Desarrollo Social y Comunicaciones Móviles en América Latina hosted by Fundación Telefónica [PPT slides]. Howard Rheingold covered the Annenberg Center presentation in the DIY blog: part1 and part2.

We welcome comments on this draft.