Commentary

I Am So Easy

Perhaps because I am so easily entertained, I have become fascinated by the ShifD (www.shifd.com) project launched this week by the New York Times. Basically, this is a centralized repository for notes, addresses and URLs that a user can amend and access from any Web browser or mobile phone. The idea is that you are able to shift content from anywhere so that it is accessible anywhere. With the toolbar add-on, I can block text in a browser or highlight a link and simply have them sent to my ShifD page. At ShifD.com I get a simple tri-column grid of my Notes, Places and Links. From a mobile phone, either a WAP browser or the iPhone Safari browser, I get pretty much the same experience.  In fact, you can text in a message to an assigned short code and have it show up as a Note in ShifD.

Similar tools have been available elsewhere. I can access Google's Web apps from anywhere, for instance, and there are others. ShifD is not dazzling by any means. I still find some of its integration with my browser confusing, but I am as easily confused as I am entertained (occasionally at the same time). URLs and addresses come up as hot links in the iPhone as links, but phone numbers do not activate calls. And the environment can get cluttered with a lot of old stuff very quickly, so it requires more tending than my messy desk.

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Still, and perhaps because I am so easily puzzled, it raises a good question for me. What is it that I really need to be "mobilized" -- me or my content? The Times pitches ShifD as a way of shifting content where you want it. Actually, as I use the product I think more about how I am shifting -- and my content is staying in one place that I can dial up from anywhere.

Perhaps this is a distinction without a difference, but I suspect not. So much of mobile marketing and media is grounded in "extending" brand and translating brands into discrete mobile experiences. I am a bit surprised that in my increased use of mobile as a news, communications and information tool, I am veering towards experiences that are familiar and consistent across the platforms. Do I want my content "distributed" -- or me distributed? Does such a distinction even matter? I don't know yet. I am thinking out loud, which usually is when my family, the pet bird, cat and dog all stop for a second, look at each other, and realize it is time to ignore me. "He is so easily intrigued by things no one else cares about," they tell me.

Okay, maybe so. But this is a distinction that occupied Microsoft as it devised its home entertainment strategy. Unlike Sony, which aimed towards a more distributed map of discrete devices, Microsoft always maintained a vision of a centralized server-based media hub. There would be a single place that contained one's files, music, video, digital films, etc., and they could be tapped from PC, Xbox or mobile.

I really don't know if this is true of others, but as I amass more and more digital stuff, this centralized model is more appealing. On mobile I find that I use my Google iPhone app because it replicates the iGoogle experience of my PC. The same email account is accessible to me from PC, laptop, any Web browser and phone. My life is easier because my location changes, but my content doesn't.

So I ask all of you. Is this a difference with a distinction? Of course, there are location-sensitive instances where I really do need content to adapt to circumstance (LBS-empowered mapping, directories, etc.). But in most cases, is there a material difference in design and format between mobilizing content -- and making content accessible in ways that allow me to be mobilized?

Is there an easy answer?

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