Mobile In/Mobile Out

I blogged the other day about how much I enjoy writing on my blackberry.

I may continue to post this way when I get back from europe because it allows me to sit back and think instead of lean forward and write.

But in the few days that have passed since I wrote that ‘quill pen’ post, I’ve had a number of interactions that lead me to believe that reading on the mobile device is a much bigger deal.

Of course mobile reading is a bigger deal because for every writer, there are tens or hundreds or thousands of readers. Writing is still something not everyone is predisposed to do. But reading is something everyone does.

And reading in lean back mode on the couch or in the coffee shop, on the train or in the plane, is more enjoyable and relaxing than the lean forward mode required by the computer.

I find myself reading more and more on my blackberry and its not even well designed for that experience. The iPhone is much better for that and the Kindle is another step beyond the iPhone. And we are just getting started with this whole mobile internet connected reading device thing. I expect we’ll see a ton of innovation in this area in the next couple years.

A reader named Scott commented the other day than "commenting on mobile devices" is an area that needs some focus. I agree with that and hope our portfolio company disqus can innovate in that area in 2009.

Its becoming more natural for readers to want to interact with the content they are reading. Computers have allowed this to happen and mobile devices need to support it. Its not just commenting, its tagging, sharing, reblogging, and a host of other interactions that make consuming content online a better experience than offline consumption.

It’s gotten to the point that if I can’t interact with content, I don’t want to consume it. When I read books, I underline certain passages so I can blog about them later. If I were reading on a connected device, I’d simply reblog on tumblr and be done. I don’t think I’m unusual in this regard but I do think I’m in the leading edge of behavior and that more and more people will feel this way.

In any case, this is an area where entrepreneurs should focus on. Reading on mobile devices is a big trend and reading is just the start of the content consumption paradigm in a connected world. There’s a lot to be done and its going to be done. So let’s get on with it.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. fredwilson

    Maybe someone should focus exclusively on what a mobile and social feed reader would be

    1. Cory Levy

      I’m gonna do a little experiment. Is it possible (through this comment thread) to brainstorm/focus on what a mobile and social feed reader would be…Personally . . . I would want a social feed reader with exceptional mobile capabilities. I’m going to focus on the social aspect..I would want my feed reader to be as simple as can be with functionalities such as: reblogging to tumblr or twitter, saving feeds, and commenting. These are all important…however, the most valuable feature on this ‘social feed reader’ should be recommendations. I have thousands of unread feeds in my Google Reader piled up; it is impossible to filter. If your trusted group of friends are on such site and each recommend a feed a day, the amount of ‘worthwhile’ content should increase. Something similar to TimesPeople..I encourage everyone to add their thoughts!

  2. jillianb

    I’m reading your post on my iPhone on a bus in Sydney. I’m surprised at how quickly the iPhone has become my primary computer. I can almost touch type on the screen keyboard. I’ve just started a bookbinding and publishing service in Sydney. My clients are mostly musicians and artists and printed codes in the books can be recognized by the iPhone and link to playlists in iTunes. Multimedia is now smart and subtle. Regards jillian

  3. Robert Hacker

    I think your point about mobile devices is well taken, but I think the point has a wider application. Feed readers also need to expand their functionality to “reblog on tumblr” ot Twitter…If most of future information comes via a feed, manipulating that feed to share a post, save it (e.g. delicious) or excerpt it will be the key requirement in an integrted functionality set.The issue that you raise is the key strategic issue for companies such as News Gator, Evernote and Lijit. Friend Feed recognizes the point but they still have limited functionality in what you can do with the information (no real organization of saved information). If Evernote or Zotero combined with FriendFeed in terms of functionality we would be making real progress.Hope you continue to blog on this issue but the focus on mobile devices may limit the scope unless we all recognize that the cell phone will be today’s computer for most us in another 5-10 years.

  4. Dan Blank

    The iPhone is becoming something closer to a primary device for me – the center of how I consume information. It’s interesting how it shifts the consumption of other media. I arrived early to the theater last night for a screening of “Milk,” and I spent 15 minutes working on an upcoming blog post, which I emailed back to myself for further edits on a desktop computer, and then read the news and emails for another 15 minutes. The whole time, I was ignoring the endless ads and pre-movie content that everyone is forced to watch prior to the trailers coming on.I wonder if businesses understand how this will affect other forms of attention – such as staring at magazines while online at the foodstore – now a prime opportunity to use a mobile device. I passed a guy walking his dog, with his attention fixed on his Blackberry – and I think that this has become a common site, especially in urban areas. Partial-attention to the “real world” activity at hand, and partial-attention to people’s digital lives, brought to them via the phone.It will be interesting to watch this evolve, especially as the “texting generation” gets older and moves into the workforce. Perhaps that checkout line in the supermarket will begin to leverage that mobile phone by encouraging you to go to a website on your mobile phone to read a story about Brad and Angelina, or enter a contest, or connect with someone.Thanks, have a nice day.

  5. Dan Kantor

    I’m reading this on an iPhone in Romania sitting on the couch. I prefer the iPhone to the computer and spend about 80% of my Google Reader time on the iPhone as compared to the computer.

    1. fredwilson

      There it isProof enough for me!

  6. aarondelcohen

    I really loathe my iphone because it’s such a poor phone. That said, I read much more while I’m mobile because igoogle translates so well to the Iphone. Yesterday, I read Roger Ehrenberg’s long and thoughtful essay on America’s last stand while waiting for a yoga class to start. This has also lead to a faster switch away from print newspapers for me as well. I find that I have often read the news the night before.Even as I write this, Im in lean back mode on my laptop sitting on our couch. I think lean back has arrived for digital.

  7. Jeremy

    Fred, you may want to research and invest in a better desk and chair setup if you are in “lean forward mode” while using your computer…perhaps even resolution adjustment / new monitor :)Otherwise, I do agree that reading on a mobile device on the couch is more enjoyable. Google Reader might be the App I use the most on the iPhone.

  8. CLaRGe

    Netbooks are another source of the ‘lean back and read’ experience you talk about. And they solve the commenting problem with a full keyboard. The point here, I think, is that the web reading/writing experience is more mobile.It’s also interesting that this blogging/commenting experience feels so much like voicemail and email in that each party can come and go as they please and choose to or not to participate in the conversation until they are ready.

  9. Sam

    Google Mobile has a slick RSS reader that I use frequently on my BB. Unfortunately, the comments have to wait until I get back to my desk. You are right, sitting back and reading allows contemplation. I don’t feel the need to move on to the next thing quite so quickly.

  10. Facebook User

    I am never without my iPhone, Kindle, or one of my notebooks while away. In any situation where I have 5 minutes to kill I am online. And both iPhone and Kindle are excellent devices for reading content. However I disagree with you on “interacting” with content. Very few people actually ‘interact’ with their content or want to. They want to grab the paper, read up on sports, update their status on facebook, or otherwise grab their favorite blogs. Devices are just now getting to the point where that content is being packaged on devices that are not painful to read and provide easy to use mechanisms to acquire that content (the free wireless on kindle is frak’n genius). And as a percentage of online users – very few people actually blog.

  11. howardlindzon

    reading from the toilet and that is a problem as well.

    1. fredwilson

      What, dropping it in the toilet?

      1. howardlindzon

        No just blogging from it

        1. fredwilson

          Yes, but there are hazards. Dropping the phone has consequences

          1. howardlindzon

            I have learned to have dry bottom toilets at lindzon co for blogging purposes. Way ahead of you

          2. fredwilson

            Yes, you are way ahead of me!

  12. Rich

    I’ve spent much of the last six months focused on this topic. I am convinced that the value, joy, and other associated benefits obtained from “Immersive Reading” – reading with a purpose, reading that takes focus and real attention – will rebound and take increasing share of both leisure time and time spent on personal advancement. Reading on sub-optimal devices (laptops and smartphones) and multi-tasking while reading will continue when they are the best alternatives based on location and situation, but better devices like the Kindle will be recognized as significantly more effective and enjoyable. As competence, real work, true effort and intelligence become appreciated again, as alternative entertainment options continue to degrade and as the desire for community around meaningful endeavors and topics continues to increase, look for significant user uptake of digital devices whose main purpose is for reading. The e-ink technology isn’t perfect yet, but provides excellent resolution (and great battery life) without the eye strain of backlit screens. You have to use one for a while to understand it – and they aren’t just for books. I much prefer reading the NYT on the Kindle and the basic browser turns a blog post into an essay as the excess components of the web page are stripped away leaving just the text and images on the full screen. It really is the future of reading.

    1. fredwilson

      You sold me RichI¹m getting one

      1. Rich Caccappolo

        Ha HA!!!!! Finally! …but you have to get in line, since they are sold out.I know you won’t list this blog with them, i.e., let them charge for access to it through the Kindle store, but that is ok – it is not necessary – can be read very well and is presented very nicely through the Kindle basic web browser set on default mode (though, as you note, commenting is difficult, though not impossible)

        1. fredwilson

          The new iTouch that is rumored to be coming out next fall could give kindlea run for its money

          1. kenberger

            and more importantly could tip the issue I addressed in my other comment here, to allow me to confidently read and write on a mobile device. The Nokia N810 tablet gave me an early taste of that.

  13. Chris Dodge

    It’s interesting to see a split between consumption and production in terms of device optimization. Clearly the iPhone is optimized for a media consumption use-case with it’s high quality display but mediocre software keypad. Vice versa, the Blackberry has the hardware keypad that is preferred for content producers (including just sending email) but the display is suboptimal for visual media consuption.Clearly the Android-based G1 tries to be in the middle, but I don’t have any first hand experience with that device. Can anyone speak to whether the G1 is successful in both content consumption as well as production use-cases? I don’t seem to hear much buzz about that device lately, so I’m not sure whether that is due it being a generally mediorce device or whether the iPhone has just simply sucked all the air out of the room.Although I’m a technologist by profession, I generally don’t enthuse casually about consumer devices. That said, I’ve always felt that the iPhone and App Store is the biggest computer paradigm shift as long as I can remember.

    1. fredwilson

      Android¹s not there yet but it will get thereNeed better hardware mostly and a few software things too

      1. Chris Dodge

        Following on your statement that “for every writer, there are tens or hundreds or thousands of readers”, that – to me – means that the Reader user-case is the predominant one. This implies that the iPhone will continue to have a significant edge over other devices due to that device’s significant optimization for media consumption (as opposed to mobile production).The counter-point would be – from my understanding of your philosophy – is that the ratio of producers to consumers will continue to monotonically increase to 1. Which may reward a device that has an optimizated user experience for both consumer and producers.It’s debatable whether its more likely that the iPhone will improve the content production side (particularly the text aspects) compared to G1 and BBerry improving the media consumption features. I still have to give the odds to Apple over the long haul to make any adjustments necessary over this (lengthy) convergence to a 1:1 producer/consumer ratio.Mind you, I’m writing SW for both devices, but I am allocating more of my resources to iPhone than Android right now.

        1. fredwilson

          I think that¹s the right call for now

  14. BmoreWire

    I want a dock where I can plug my Iphone in and have a full sized screen, keyboard, and mouse and a virtual hard drive port.

  15. hansHager

    There is also the fact that the mobile reading UX is not cluttered with ads and flashy doillies, its just pure text and links, back to the core basics. On a website the ADD factor is strong and you have to fight it to focus on reading the text. The mobile space so far filters out that stuff.

  16. fredwilson

    Didn¹t mean to but I do love itI am an evangelist

  17. fredwilson

    Simple, select text, hit reblog (to any blogging service) is the key featurefor me

  18. fredwilson

    Right, we need pointers not multiple instances of the same object

  19. Jeff Judge

    Hmmm, this makes me think about some of the deficiencies with the iPhone (copying/pasting, transitioning between applications). I can never imagine typing up a long blog post or comment from my iPhone, it would end up being so much messier and challenging to write than it would have been if it were written with a Blackberry. You’ve made me miss my BB with your last couple of posts.

  20. Rik Wuts

    I think a big problem for all this sharing and tagging etc. is that the same content gets saved and stored and sent around forever. Somehow filtering out the duplicates would make the whole reading experience even more valued – especially on mobile devices. (Why? Think of all the posts you see on a given day rehashing the same bit of news.)So if you and I are reading the same book, but I don’t know you, I should still be able to find and use your quote from tumblr or whatever without too much work. That way the really useful stuff will float to the top and we will be back to the situation where links were some sort of currency. And the reader will have to do a lot less filtering and such, it will be a more natural experience.

  21. Yule Heibel

    Such a coincidence to read this today, since I was just prompted by a Vancouver tweet to check out a blog post by Jon Husband (he blogs out of Vancouver, too), called “What’s Good For the iPhone Is Good For the USA ?” (see writes, “I’m just playing with the old saw … ‘What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA’ … which has often over the years been held out as recognition of the importance of the car industry to the economy … and the social cohesion … of the nation.”He’s thinking about the role of mobile devices in terms of society- and economy-building, and references an article in today’s Globe and Mail (Toronto), “Cars no longer cool in Japan.” There, we read, “‘Young people’s interest is shifting from cars to communication tools like personal computers, mobile phones and services,’ said Yoichiro Ichimaru, who oversees domestic sales at Toyota.”Trends/fashions, social needs, economic necessity/pressures come together in unexpected ways …which pings me that today someone else I follow on Twitter also made me aware that Benoit Mandelbrot wrote a book on financial markets (The [Mis]behavior of Markets, 2004). Hm, maybe we need a follow-up article that applies the insights of fractal geometry to emerging social trends…!(Sorry if this is off-topic, I think I’m misusing disqus/ comments boards as my version of tumblr – maybe I should sign up for an actual tumblr account instead! ;-))

    1. fredwilson

      Comment, tumblog, twitter, it doesn¹t really matterAs long as we are communicatingGreat comment/observation

    2. fredwilson

      I included some of this in my post today, my wishes for the new year

  22. RacerRick

    It’s quite simple to add a mobile version of a site. It really perturbs me when someone sends out a link via twitter to their own site and it’s not formatted for mobile. The left-really-long-nav just kills it – lots of space bar space bar space bar.If you’re promoting something via twitter, make sure you’ve got the mobile options built in.

    1. fredwilson

      So trueWe spent a lot of time on that when we redid AVC

  23. arubenstein

    Leaving my first comment (on Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures blog A VC) using Facebook Connect. I have a Disqus account but reckon I am spending more and more time on FB these days why not consolidate. Fun…

    1. fredwilson

      It worked it seems. Been getting reports of FB commenting workingintermittently

  24. kenberger

    Seems to me it depends on the person: some find not much tradeoff to reading writing or watching on small screens, others have tougher times.I am on the road for this entire winter, armed w/ several smartphones (iPhone, WinMo, Blackberry) and a MacBook Air. I’m already finding that I constantly have a phone in hand where I browse and get the general gist of things, but when it comes to anything to read or write w/ any substance, I calendar it to catch up on for when I get back to the laptop. It’s mostly because my head just can’t get the big picture unless a page can be displayed in front of me. It’s also because of the “lean back mode” you refer to– I love it too, and by design I’m relaxing and not wanting to concentrate as much. And when writing, I like to core dump thoughts and drag and drop re-arrange a lot.Kindle is a diff story btw, same size as a book so no compromise at all, I find.

  25. girishwarrier

    That is so true; the pervasiveness of the Internet through mobile devices will cause so much reading on the fly.I was just wondering how this compared to audiobooks. There was a point when I thought audiobooks was the way to go;reading while you are on the go. But did audiobooks really take off? It probably did not dent the hardcover copies that much.But I guess reading small snippets and short blog entries is really convenient on your mobile device. Did’nt twitter just take micro-blogs to the wireless world.

  26. Prakash

    It seems that all references to consumption pertain to textual content. What about browsing through catalogues? What about browsing through content that lead to a purchase?I think the mobile is full geared to making an impact in this area too.Thoughts?

    1. fredwilson

      Well let¹s start with video and audioThe fact that the iPhone doesn¹t natively support flash is a huge issue inmy mind

  27. haynes_dave

    Definitely agree that we need better tools for blog reading on mobile devices. I do 90% of my blog reading on a mobile. Previously on a Nokia N95 and now on my iPhone, both times using Bloglines. I found reading and making comments next to impossible on the N95 but it’s far easier on my iPhone. Yet there are still features I really need.Easy bookmarking to remind me to read a post in full when back at a computer. This is especially the case when it’s a post that has media like videos or slideshows that I can’t read in the device browser.As mentioned above, more support for rich media and flash content / videos in blog posts.Simple and ubiquitous tools to allow me to share interesting posts and links to twitter etc.Offline reading for when I’m on the underground or out in the countryside with bad reception.

  28. laptapos

    Not all countries in the world have greater than 1% in internet on mobile usage. There are some countries whose citizens don’t use mobile for accessing internet specially those less developed countries. But America and Europe as well as Japan and China can relate with this issue.

  29. pangaro

    user goals for “text on devices” can also involve scanning, filtering, finding key items of interest, or compare-and-contrast. a modest approach is offered at; use for iPhone viewing.

  30. Dorian Benkoil

    Fred, Interesting you say the Kindle is beyond the iPhone. One thing I very much dislike about the Kindle is how closed a system it is. While I can read on it, I can’t do the kind of sharing or commenting from it you site later in your post.Clearly, though, the larger point — mobile reading and interacting, and devises developing toward that direction — is valid.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s why the 7 to 9″ itouch is so interesting. Apple’s not totally open either (lack of flash support on the iphone for example) but the safari browser on that device is a glimpse into where this is all going

      1. Dorian Benkoil

        I agree that Apple devices (there, spelled the word right) are not open — though Apple is more open than it used to be.This discussion has got me thinking about the tension between open sharing and control, open source and proprietary, the tension between empowering users vs. keeping them in a specific environment in order to make a buck off them, the difficulty of supporting a product or service if it’s open and not controlled and vetted.Enjoy the Pompidou. One of my favorite things there is the escalators.

  31. kortina

    I am actually writing this comment on my iPhone as an email to myself that I will post on your blog next time I am on my laptop. Here’s a killer way for Disqus to implement mobile commenting. Just as you have a Reblog button from zemanta at the bottom of each post (it even seems to be in the rss feed version which I was reading, which is fantastic) there should also be a “comment via email” chicklet that opens mail on my mobile. I write my comment, it gets mailed to Disqus, and they parse out the address to figure out which blog I’m commenting on. This shouldn’t be too hard since disqus already has strong email integration.To make things even smoother for iPhone users, this: almost everywhere on the iPhone (safari, inside rss reader and other apps) there is an option to “mail a link to this page.” I should be able to mail this to [email protected], and, because a URL is the first line of the body of this message, disqus can use that information to determine which post my comment belongs to. This way, blog publishers don’t even need the chicklet.I have definetly been feeling this pain myself, and currently when I view a post I want to comment on, I just email myself a link and go back later to comment, but often lose my train of thought by the time I get back to it. Would love to see disqus or someone else build this. I find myself reading on my iphone more and more at home even when my laptop is in the dame room. iPhone is great for reading but still kind of sucks for writing.(other problem with mobile commenting like this is it’s hard to see the conversation / interact with other comments)

    1. fredwilson

      This has been suggested by a few others and its a very good idea

  32. Carrie Hartley

    I almost exclusively use my Iphone for the web now. It’s just so easy. In particular I love reading a book, with a Wiki app open. As I read anything that I am curious about I just wiki as I read. It’s great! I don’t do much commenting on websites with it, but as a user who never had a blackberry I have no problems with the iphone keyboard for typing.

  33. Andrew Deal

    how about listening to radio media on your iphone/blackberry/razr or whatever you happen to have?

    1. fredwilson

      I can¹t wait for that. It¹s happening to some extent but if the iphonesupported flash, it would be much stronger

  34. kerrypalringo

    A few random thoughts:be careful in trying to replicate the “web experience” on mobile. Context in the broadest sense is much more important with mobile than the web. there are still usability issues in mobile that cannot be ignored (from battery life to screen size)–and services ignore these at their peril.yes, the iphone has raised the bar regarding certain aspects of usability, it also proves the point that single purpose devices do have a future–people will gravitate to devices that best service their needs, whether it’s music, web browsing, emailing etc(and the iphone does not do all of these really well).on the subject of the iphone, there is a risk of seeing the consumer from the prism of the iphone. let’s not forget that symbian shipped 20million devices per quarter last year ! let me give you an example of a very non-scientific poll i conducted a couple of months ago. i was in silicon valley, in a room of start-ups, vc’s etc: 50% iphones; 25% blackberry as primary device; 3% G1; 25% other; and 50% had blackberry as second device. i did the same poll with similar mix of people in london: 10% iphone; 40% nokia; 40% blackberry as primary; 30% blackberry as second device.Unfortunately, the reality of the mobile world is that NOT all devices, operating systems are alike–it;s not like the web (and, yes, this opens the debate about developing native vs browser based applications).And, finally, if we are going to talk about hardware and mobile devices, let’s not forget that it’s as much as fashion and design as it is about functionality. Both the Kindle and the G1 both fail on this count–and, this is an area Apple understands very well (perhaps it helps that Brits have been a key part of the iPhone/iPod design teams!). If Amazon really wants to make the Kindle a global success, it should move its product design team to the UK!!

    1. fredwilson

      Great commentsThanks!

  35. Udo Szabo

    Nokia is working on this, Kerry. Have a look at the N97 if you haven’t seen it yet. The devices was specifically designed to merge the best of mobility, connectivity and usability into a “pockatable” form factor that can do anything you would expect from a computer today – and more.Fred is right that the access and availability of content on mobile devices will change the behavior and re-direct time away from the PC – we have seen this all happen with Email. Once you have a good mobile email device like a BB, iPhone or E71, you still can sit in front of your laptop to read and reply – but you dont have to, and most people use this freedom.We will see the same effect for consuming and creating content soon, allowing you engage when it matters, comment when things unfold and comfort somebody at the moment of sorrow. The best things hardly happen when we are in front of a PC.I gave a talk at LeWeb in December about the main consumer drivers for this evolution and how we think it can unfold. You can see it on SlideShare if you are interested: experience is that a really simple & valuable mobile & social feed reader will need all of the previously mentioned feature: personal filtering, text/video/audio, commenting, sharing, re-blogging, etc & a device that makes it possible to enjoy it with a large display, battery, browser incl. flash, audio, qwerty and touch. Finding the right trade-offs between those while keeping the experience extremely simple will create a winning solution.Let me know if you find an interesting one. Would be interested myself and their is clearly more opportunity here.