The sudden charge of Apple stock over the past two days due to rumor--yes, it's definitely rumor not fact--about the coming of a iPhone Nano, so soon after the recent iPhone launch is a quick study in swarm intelligence. As the Business2 blog indicates, this is an example of rumor going wild and spreading quickly.
Swarm intelligence, if you haven't heard of it, describes how very simple behaviors can amount to "smart" decision-making through the work of a swarm of individuals. This theory started originally in the study of how swarms of insects, birds, fish and other animals seem to make intelligent decisions with relatively simple brains. For example, how a school of fish know to move rapidly away in a direction of a predator seemingly all at once, or how ants know when it is time to rebuild their nest or send our foraging parties. Each creature is programmed with a few very basic rules of how to function: e.g. if one or more of my neighbors is suddenly turning and moving rapidly in a new direction, I should be too. They count on individual actions, and the propagation of reaction through the swarm.
Swarm intelligence is a form of collective intelligence, but when it hits humans, the complexity grows because of our seemingly greater decision making abilities. Collective intelligence is part of the spark of interest in the social networking side of Web 2.0. Swarm behavior exists in humans at a basic level, but we call it by a variety of other things like herd-instinct, mob behavior, market trends, crowd movement, flow, etc. There is a lot we can learn from this in SN: how folksonomies grow and change, how decision making happens in online groups, what causes idea propagation, etc.
In the iPhone Nano case, I can see several basic elements: recent excited activity, seed idea, association with recent activity, trusted parties doing research, publishing/syndication, amplification, individual and market reaction.
recent excited activity - Apple released its iPhone, one of the biggest 1st day successes in history, to an eager world
seed idea - several Apple blogs picked up on an Apple patent for a new use of their touchwheel to dial numbers
association with recent excitement - the idea could theoretically apply to the iPhone
trusted parties - Kevin Chang, an analyst in JP Morgan (a well known and trusted investment institution) came across this information
publishing/syndication - both the blogs and JP Morgan published or posted on this, and the trusted party information got syndicated to news organizations
amplification - news organizations everywhere jumped on this
individual reaction - individual investors saw this as good news for Apple in the longer term and started buying stock
market reaction - the individuals and institutions all around eventually pushed the Apple stock to new heights
This isn't all that different than one or two herring thinking they saw a shape seemingly like a predator salmon nearby and started shooting off, and the reaction propagating through the whole school. And we call schools of fish jittery. :)
This trend is well known by successful spindoctors and public relations organizations, and there is a whole industry of job roles behind it. Again, it sounds Machiavellian and controlling, but it really is how information flows.
In terms of social networks, we need greater understanding of what actually works in an online social environment, which is a different setting and may have different behaviors than live groups of folks.
According to a recent New York Times article, Tim Berners-Lee is partnering with MIT and the Univ of Southampton (UK) to launch their Web Science Research Initiative. I don't have much more information than that but it sounds like a graduate level research space into a more modern version of social networking analysis. The key people are Berners-Lee, Wendy Hall (head of School of Electronics and CS at U of Southampton), Nigel Shadbot (prof of AI, Univ of Southampton), and Daniel Weitzner (principal research scientist at MIT).
Commenting on the new initiative, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of theWorld Wide Web and a founding director of WSRI, said, "As the webcelebrates its first decade of widespread use, we still knowsurprisingly little about how it evolved, and we have only scratchedthe surface of what could be realized with deeper scientificinvestigation into its design, operation and impact on society.
"The Web Science Research Initiative will allow researchers to take theweb seriously as an object of scientific inquiry, with the goal ofhelping to foster the web's growth and fulfill its great potential as apowerful tool for humanity."
I'm pretty sure the web is already an object of serious scientific and even commercial inquiry, but more effort is always a good thing. In comparison, our undergraduate UAMIS class seems much less conceptual. I'm sure those ideas will eventually trickle down to us too. Social network analysis is a complex enough task, and not a simple topic; i.e., it'd need a full-blown semester to teach.
I picked up my copy of The Starfish and the Spider again to look back at how they describe their approach to building a community. The book advocates a new view of decentralized and non-hierarchical organizations, systems, even software. The two creates refer to the hierachical organism (Spider) that can survive loosing some parts of its body but after a point dies, as compared against the distributed organism (Starfish) which even when cut into pieces, essentially break up into multiple separate and surving organisms.
The reference is directly apt to communities, and in this light relevant to our Spaces model. Essentially, it is a way of how a community can organize itself. Per the book, there are five elements that help to make such a system successful: circles, a pre-existing network, ideology, catalysts, and champions.
In our view, a Space is a virtual implementation of having a circle of people that allows them to interact in any number of ways their own circle see fit. This is the home room for the virtual membership to gather together, interact or share information.
The pre-existing network comes from the large membership--6 million the last I checked--that already exists in developerWorks. However, that's not the only place. We also expect to draw folks from other areas of the Internet, which is why syndicating information from your space is so important. While circles can survive losses of members, they still need some minimum level of participation to sustain the existence of the system; otherwise, rather than subdividing, your membership simply dissipates. This is why for the long-term it is important to try to recruit new members. Of course, that still depends upon the intentions of the circle itself; they may decide that the circle only needs to exist for a short-term. In our model, the syndication not only helps to share information, but also acts a way to potentially draw more members based on their interest. The potential candidates can judge for themselves if they like the output of the circle.
However, raw information from the circle is not enough to bind people together. This is why ideology is of value. Call it what you like: mission statements, guidelines, values, tattoos, etc. They represent the ideas that the circle hold of importance; their view in relation to the information. Such ideology is not always necessarily complex, or spelled out; they may even be too subtle to ascertain from the regular ruminations of those on the roster. A better organized group works to make sure that their ideology is made apparent. To help shape that ideology, you need catalysts and champions who help raise and direct the circle.
dW Spaces can help shape the circle and tap pre-existing networks. It can even help the circle describe and post their ideology. However, this is where the software meets the wetware. This is where the brains of the catalysts and champions play key roles. In other words, software alone is not to build communities. It helps to to facilitate them, but you still need the people working to bring it together.
Our view in developerWorks is to try to help these communities start and grow, and collect the ideas of what works well in different situations, to feed back into other communities. That's a long-term process as well. Even though, the staff at dW may not be directly be the catalysts and champions, we try to help new them by acting as a common resource to collect and distribute that knowledge. In big companies, that is often referred to as a center of excellence. While we don't call ourselves that, perhaps that is the role we fill.
It's interesting to see the evolution of reward mechanisms in MMORPGs. In multiplayer situations, it is often difficult to tell who completes a task when there are a number of steps involved. For example, in a raid on WoW against a single monster, who gets recognition for the kill when it takes 40-80 people working as a team to kill that beast? It's defined now in WoW but this same problem existed all the way back to the days of text MUDs.
In the first generation, essentially there was no thought involved in this. Whoever made the killing blow got the points for the kill. Very primitive and the cause of many an argument. The next few improvements--it came in several different ways--was to add a list on the create being attacked where it kept track of who the attackers were and distribute the points based on how many points of damage each person made on the creature, so the distribution of experience points for the kill was more even. WoW provides a newer version of this whereby each person engaged in the raid gets dollars per kill, which once the creature was dead, they could spend to buy the reward items.
However, this still raises a problem when there are items that several people want to share from the common pool of rewards. In the people-administrative way, the guild--there's usually a guild involved--makes a decision on who gets what. This is where it breaks down again: what happens when there is an item so unique that the top contendors or leaders will argue for it. As my friend Eric described, that is the death knell of many a guild.
If you think this is a situation limited to MMORPGs and games, you're mistaken. This same situation exists when you have a community that is working for a shared goal, and there is some reward that needs to be distributed across the membership. In team scenarios in corporate environment, that is not very different than negotiations for annual bonuses. The differentiating factor is that in MMORPGs as in other communities, the group of people are not part of a single formal organization with defined managers and advocates. Instead it is up to each person to argue their own case. In other words, it is even more difficult in communities.
I don't have any answer here, but it is important to recognize that the situations are similar here, and compare what methods of distribution or approaches people take.
In my earlier view, I only identified two stages: social networks, and communities. The former describes a loose network of people who generally keep in touch with each other for a common purpose, whether purely social or for business purposes. The people within the network usually know the others, and have some degree of strong ties with each other, but they don't really define themselves in detail as a group, have well-defined goals or ideology. This contrasts against the next level of networks, the community, which do have a common identity and purpose, and where the network of people generally work together for the direction of the community. Beyond the community is the organization, a very strongly oriented group of people, often with defined objectives, budgets and even some level of hierarchy as to how they should work together.
Somewhere in between the social network and the community are other social models. What Howard Rheingold keeps describing as "smart mobs", a loose social network of folks who gather on an "instant" basis for a specific purpose. This is slightly different than the pure social network since folks in a smart mob have a (vaguely) defined purpose: anyone who is interested in X, let's meet up to do something. Other descriptions for this are often used in events as Birds-of-Feather (BOF) sessions, and Meetups. Unlike the more personal connection of a pure social network, the members do not necessarily know each other from prior contact and simply have a common interest. This can also be a transitional idea; one the meetup is over, the members disperse taking the knowledge gained from the event. Sometimes, they do keep in contact and evolve into a longer running community of interest, where membes return to keep working on that interest.
Another model that is described aptly in The Starfish and the Spider (see my book list). Groups like the Apaches of North America (circa 1800s); Alcoholics Anonymous, a peer-group organization, etc. These have some of the characteristics of a social network in that each group is fairly independent with no overall leader. However, they also go the next step along where there is an organizing principle or ideology, and there are local leaders on a decentralized basis. I call this as something different--some will say I'm just splitting hairs--because the overall larger picture of the group is never centrally coordinated. For that matter, something like this is hard to converge into a realistic distributed model, unless there is a strong need for and common belief amongst the members that the goals and purpose are what they share. Otherwise, it tends to be a localized organized that never grows beyond it's domain.
On the other end, the centralized community, seems like a good idea to try out at the beginning but over time this can grow into an inherent bureaucracy instilled in trying to centralize activities. It has some advantages in that there is less tendency to deviate from the mission of the community across the distributed organization. The Starfish model on the other hand has resilience, but truly works on a decentralized basis if the core goals and beliefs are truly of common interest on a distributed scale, and has been tested over time. Otherwise, it can break down into separate factions as each group goes its own way.
The key to group involvement in any of these types of people networks is still strong leadership and influencers. There are good practices and models for each level that can help people work faster or better, but the idea still depends on a having an interest in being a leader and keeping that interest and momentum going over time. I'm surprised by how many folks keep imagining that they can instantly grow a network from complete zero to success in a very short time. Such situations are pretty rare, and usually, new ideas that work in this vein really leverage existing relationships, population moods or past history to get there, rather than truly working from zero.
I think it was inevitable that something like this would emerge: a top console maker integrates with the Internet and start creating online communities, to combine its graphics system, user-to-user interaction and build a following.
And it looks like Sony has beat the others in the race with its announcement of the Playstation Home. It leverages the enormous power of the PS3 to render truly gorgeous graphics. News of it is already starting to make the rounds as a serious contendor to other 3D MMO systems like SecondLife. Since I missed the Game Developers Conference last week, but I believe it was announced according to this article.
Since I haven't actually tried it, it is difficult to tell how well it works over a network link. Also, graphics aside, it still remains to be seen what you can do inside this virtual world. From reports, it is much more like a true-3D system competitive to Cyworld, where users have homes they can decorate, buy stuff online, etc. and used primarily for socializing with friends. There's no word about programmability or if there is a way to develop new items or objects within the world, as you can in SecondLife. This is what has helped make SL so popular, and has contributed to its growth. Plus, it's free. On the other hand Sony certainly has a huge marketing machine, an established base of fans, and a network of games that could integrate with it. This might even give MySpace a run for its money in terms of social spaces.
Is this the death knell for SecondLife or MySpace? Let me know what you think.
I'm back from family leave. The baby and mom and doing great, and we have no end of pictures. We've even started a site on Kodakgallery.com just for the family and friends. It's a much simpler way of selectively sharing a large number of photos with a group of people, although not quite an open social site. It's more of a private portal per owner. I think this used to be Ofoto before Kodak reopened it under their brand name. Unlike Flickr, it doesn't openly share pictures with everyone, but each site has its use. In fact, the better way would be to have both visibilities (public and private) through proper access control mechanisms, and let the owner figure out what they'd like to share.
Anyway, I found this article on Tom's Networking on building a Bluetooth sniper rifle, where you can scan open bluetooth devices from hundreds even thousands of feet away, all built from common parts for a few hundred dollars. So, if you have bluetooth cell or laptop, please make sure you try to keep it secure.
Money magazine has a US Dollar to Wizarding world currency convertor for the world of Harry Potter, but apparently it has some shortcomings. If JK Rowling, the first billionaire author, were to transfer $1 Billion--that's US one billion, or rather a UK one thousand million--to Harry's world, apparently she'd need several trucks to carry all that change, but not have much in terms of larger values.
CURRENCY CONVERTER RESULTS
Monday, July 23, 2007
1000000000 US Dollar = 2 galleons, 125862069 sickles and 15250000000 knuts
HARRY POTTER CURRENCY CONVERTER
US Dollar to Harry Potter Currency
Knuts do not divide evenly into dollars or vice versa. Consequently, there may be small discrepancies due to rounding.
After about 4-5 hours of sleep the previous night, I was still in reasonable shape to do my presentation at the 3rd Developer Relations Conference hosted by Evans Data Corp. This is a gathering of the folks who run developer programs at different technology companies, with speakers from Sun, Nokia, BEA Systems, Eclipse, Motorola, Yahoo!, HP Software, Intel, Borland, AMD, and many more (and of course ourselves from IBM). It seems an anachronism to have an event where all these companies that are competing for many of the same developers to share knowledge but I think it opens minds and views all the same.
My presentation was Extending your developer network with Web 2.0 communities, discussing what you need to know about communities to pick the right kind of Web 2.0 tools for yours. For all the organizations that may go headlong into setting up blogs, wikis, etc., and even multiple competing instances, without really understanding the communities they are trying to create, I hope this talk gives provides some food for thought. (The powerpoint works best in slideshow mode: F5).
I attended a few of the other sessions but the one I found refreshing was Chad Dickerson's talk about Hack Day at Yahoo! Chad's a Sr Director at Yahoo and responsible for organizing the internal Hack Days, and more importantly, the external Hack Day last June. I had missed this event entirely (busy with my then-8-month pregnant wife). They essentially opened up the Yahoo campus to 400 developers from all over who agreed to come and spend 24 hours developing new projects and mashups using Yahoo's many APIs. The format was what intrigued me:
Developers could come from anywhere but they had to agree to code, and not just be an observor
The developers actually camped out on the Yahoo lawn and ate and slept there for a day or two--even people like David Filo stayed till the wee hours of the morning
An unconference model where people signed up for any project that they thought of, led initially by talks about the APIs themselves
Yahoo employees roamed around the developers and stayed with them through the night
They had Beck give a performance there, which was quite appropriate considering he'd just appeared on the September 06 cover of Wired
The Legal departments agreed to let the developers keep whatever rights to their own code (seems the right choice but hard to accept by legal teams sometimes)
People could make whatever projects they wanted to work on, although at times, it raised some eyebrows
Now this is very obvious customer-led innovation. For all the executives and analysts that like to throw that term around, this model is the concept implemented in what I think is its truest form. I applaud Chad and the Yahoo team for doing the right thing and having the guts to put this together. Read more from the TechCrunch blog soon after the event. Here's hoping to the same success again this year.
Money magazine is reporting that Video Gaming will be a "welcome event" at the Beijing Olympics. Apparently the Chinese government recognizes it as an official sport alongside other ones that require agility or dexterity (like soccer), although the Olympic committee has not accepted it as yet.
This isn't like the World Cyber Games (in Germany in 2008) which takes things much more seriously as a sport, but it is a start. After all if Bridge counts as a "sport"...
I keep running into Chris Anderson's activities lately. First, I'm listening to his dW podcast interview on our site this week, and next we had an internal meeting for book authors that Chris came to talk to us about. The main discussion in the call was more about how to approach book writing and some ideas that he found successful for his own bestseller, The Long Tail (see my book list). Some of it rang so true but is still missed by so many authors.
For one, he talked about blogging from the very beginning on the book as he did on his research, and carrying the conversation on regularly and for a long time. Chris started blogging from the beginning. It helped in shape his ideas, but also helped quite a bit when it came time to launch the book; he gave away a thousand copies of the book to all the bloggers who interacted with him on his blog. This, I think, really helped to spread the popularity of his book.
Blogging is certainly popular but to many book authors it is still a new phenomenon, even in the tech industry. With that in mind, many authors think that they should start blogging when their book is nearer completion that from the beginning. I think there are two parts to this: a) in general, for a blog to become even barely known takes a long-time of ongoing and active effort; b) blogging about your book helps to build awareness. In other words, if you already have (a) going for you, then (b) should be easier. However, back to my point on blogging still being new with many authors points to the fact that many of them don't even have (a) going for them.
To give my example, I am working on a book and many of the ideas that I have talked about are spread all around this blog of mine. However, I don't think I ever stated that intention. For me, the ideas are more significant--and even more than that discussion of the ideas--than the point that its for a book. But perhaps I should state that intention right away and define the premise more openly. I'll save it for a different post so as not to distract from Chris' point here.
Another interesting point and one that is dear to his heart apparently--he just launched a new startup BookTour.com on it--is about authors engaging others in live events, book tours, presentations, speaking engagements, etc. I think it's a great idea and fits my philosophy: most people need help on learning how to generate a community around an idea or even themselves. What live or virtual appearances and activities do is help to build that community and reinforce the significance of the work. By Chris' own admission speaking engagements can have a better ROI than book sales, even if they go hand in hand; and I don't disagree with that in terms of getting paid for day-long appearnaces versus spending months on a book. This means that as an author you need to spend the time and effort to actively promote your book and not just rely on the publisher's marketing team. The argument I always hear on this is that most people have full time jobs and do not have the time to do so. This is where I think an idea like BookTour can come in really helpful.
Let's take an online parallel: we at developerWorks are about to launch a new aspect called Expert spaces amongst other features. This allows a person to create a community around their own activities using different social software tools not unlike what groups of folks are doing with our community topic spaces now. Like our spaces now, you can start a blog of your own to talk about your project, link in resources your find useful. If you want to go a step beyond, you could even write parts of your book in a wiki online and ellicit comments about the contents you share.
For our own team, this means that we will now need to help these experts get going on communicating in this new way. BookTour focuses on the specific activity of bookwriting; we have a much wider focus on building awareness about any technical expert. We do that now to some degree, but there is a lot more that we could learn.
I'm not sure if I've posted this graphic before but I use this inslides quite often to familiarize those who new to community buildingbut have heard of Web 2.0.
I've heard a number of comments from people within IBM and beyond thatthis makes sense, in terms of how think of the different "levels" ofpopulation in groups, starting from a General Population, moving intoan Audience (or specifically categorized population), to a SocialNetwork, and finally to a Community. The final level above is sort ofdisconnected and may start off in its own way: the Organization.
As you can see from the graphic, most of dW is currently at the levelof an audience. This is natural when you start with a magazine formatas we did. Most magazines have audiences but not social networks orcommunities; some do, especially when they have means for members tointeract with each other (in online forums, live events, conferences,webcasts, etc.) Building the interaction gives the first level ofsocial networking, but you can improve this in many ways to exposesocial network especially in online systems (e.g., social tagging,wikis, forums, comments, polls, etc.)
The distinguishing factor between social networks and communities isthe level of group identity. This is when people start associatingthemselves with a particular idea (an interest, a hobby, a belief, atechnology, a product, a company, etc.) and regularly return to thatgroup of people with the same interest.
Social networks may have this behavior, where people start buildingrelationships with each other, but it is when they start to organizearound the idea, is when you start building a community. It takes work,leadership and time to keep the group together and build a community.The rewards are that the communities tend to collaborate and create newresults of their own. If it is a strong and vibrant community, you evenget community members evangelizing their ideas to others. The morepeople behind the idea, the easier it is to accept or adopt the idea(unless it directly conflicts with yours of course).
I'm reading the chapter in Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams' Wikinomics book on Prosumers. (see my book list). It makes a particular point that I should highlight:
The old customer co-creation idea was simple: Collaborate with your customers to create or customize goods, services, and experiences, all while generating a built-in market for your wares...
This is the company-centric view of cocreation. We'll set the parameters by telling you when and on which products to innovate. You'll give us your ideas for free, but we'll choose the best of them...
I couldn't agree more with them on the intentions of the company. However, I still have to agree that the same examples they give in other parts of the book are still similar to this idea. For example, even digg has basic limits on what you can do: write a short port, or vote. Even though digg allows anyone to submit a post, it still sets the parameters on when people can innovate. Fine line? Possibly, but the reality is that short of giving a complete blank slate for anyone to do anything, the real value actually comes from giving guidance and parameters on how people can participate on a social site. If you make it too open ended, it may end up becoming too unfocused on purpose. In other words, if the leaders or owners of the community/social site define the purpose and focus area, then the users have an idea of what to expect and what to do there.
The model for prosumption that Wikinomics talks about is more about mashup culture, and the idea of enabling consumers to freely interact to create their own versions or interpretations of products. This means that the prosumers--a distinct subset of your overall users, and possibly even a relatively small percentage depending upon the complexity of the product--should be allowed greater freedom on how to use the products and share their ideas.
Wikinomics' suggestions on how to harness prosumers is very good:
prosumption goes beyond individual product customization (limited only to each user) - it means engaging users earlier in your product development cycle or even making it simple to remix them
loosing control - you sacrifice some control to allow them to do mashups, and you need to more actively engage the prosumers to keep track of successful ideas
customer toolkits - make it easy for prosumers to customize the product through user-friendly (not obfuscated) customer tool kits
become a peer - recognize that the company now plays a role as a peer of the prosumers, not patrons
sharing the fruits - prosumers expect to be able to share the fruits of their customizations; help them, don't hinder them
The practical reality that I tend to see is that unless it is a very widely used product, the amount of prosumption activity can be fairly small. This goes along with the idea of participation inequality. So the amount of prosumption you enable may really depend on the value you think this work will generate. In some cases, the product is simple enough that people can add or extract the parts they want to create a new thing (with a little skill or perseverance). In others, you need to create well-defined interfaces that allow access to a complex piece.
It's easy to give a hugely inclusive environment like Wikipedia and then say that wiki's can apply to everything, but it simply doesn't work that way. Participation in wikis, or for that matter any social service, depends upon the number of participants in the system, and more importantly, how many really care to be there. For that to happen, the users and potential prosumers need to easily see the value of being in that community. The simpler or more evident the purpose, the easier it is for people to decide if they want to be in that community or not.
Beyond just reading or consuming the info in the community, you need to find ways to engage or challenge the community to invite participation; and make it easy for them to participate. The more immediate it is to interact, the more interaction you will get. From simpler interactions, you can start building more complicated interactions and generate that recurring following. These return participants are what help to spur prosumption activity, or at least bring that activity into the context of your community. This is where more the abovementioned suggestions from Wikinomics can come into play.
We talked about crowdsourcing as a particular community use-case. It definitely counts as a use-case because of the use of multiple community services, tools and need for potential CMs. (I looked up Wikipedia but there's no entry right now, so perhaps I'll have to add one)
The concept itself is far from new but the delivery is. The core idea is that you pick a topic, invite a crowd to discuss or brainstorm on it, pick top ideas, let people vote on it. The way it's being applied in online communities is interesting. Take a look at a recent Businessweek story on this (and an earlier one from July).
The following is from our slide on this item that draws some from this:
nInviting the audience to brainstorm, design, or build an idea, product, or service.
qDefine the key problem or issue you are trying to solve. Be specific.
qIdentify your metrics for success beforehand
qDefine your interval for how long this project should run
qIdentify an appropriate reward for the group
qSet up a filtering process
qTap the right audience
qHave community managers to guide and build the community
nThe implementation can vary significantly but the model is what is important.
I've been looking into ways of staying mobile with less the burdens of hercules upon my back, a.k.a. my ThinkPad. I use the laptop often enough that I carry two 9-cell batteries plus a drive bay battery which I can drain in a single day. I don't like carrying the power connector because that is rarely possible to use where I go.
So the search has been around a smaller or lighter form factor that can still do all my work. As with the dreams of any child, I want it all: powerful enough to run ten applications, high-speed network access, usable keyboard and mouse/trackpoint, a good docking solution at my desktop, long running and replaceable batteries, and decent graphics/video quality.
I've been looking at the new category of Ultra-Mobile PCs (UMPCs), a smaller form factor for PCs that still run a full desktop system. These tend to be be about the size of a thick paperback book and range around 2 pounds. The screens are small by even the ultralight laptop category, but the idea is not for many hours of laptop use. Most of my research was easily facilitated by Dynamism.com, which sells any of these models and other mobile devices.
(Image: courtesy Sony.com)
The only one I have seen first hand is the Sony UX series,which are quite decent with a good video screen, which, from this imagefrom the Sony site. is certainly bigger than their PSP (probably 50-75%more screen at 4.5inches) yet still usable in two hand mode. Thekeyboard is below the slide out screen, with chiclet-like keys. It onlyhas Wifi/WLAN, and no WWAN options, a 1.2GHz Centrino processor. Thelarge capacity battery claims up to 9.5 hrs of life. It even has not one but two video cameras (0.5MP and 1.3MP).
The first new one I've read about is the Samsung Q1 just recently released which is a tablet UMPC only and requires a separate USB keyboard. There's a virtual keyboard. The larger 7" screen belies the fact that there is only a 900MHz Celeron M or a 1 GHz Pentium M in it and the graphics rez is lower. (Image: courtesy Dynamism.com)
The real winner in my book is the newly announced OQO 02, from a relatively unknown company but a system that is relatively more powerful than the others. The 5" screen is partway between the two others, and while the screen rez is 800x480 (with zoom/pan up to 1200x720), what's really interesting is that it can output up to 1920x1200 over and external HDMI/DVI connection, even . This is awesome for a desktop replacement. The 1.5 GHz VIA C7M is a cpu I'm not familiar with but I'm guessing it is a variant on the Celeron. Like the others it can have 1GB of RAM but no separate video RAM. Max battery claim is 6hrs, which is good enough. Best of all it has an optional WWAN using Sprint's mobile broadband EVDO Rev A service, meaning access anywhere on the Sprint EVDO network (with the right unlimited plan of course at around $60) at 400-700Kbps. Of course, there's still Wifi and Ethernet too.
(Image: courtesy Dynamism.com)
I think the OQO trumps the others, but they are all fairly good. I don't know how useful the small keypads but I have managed to write an entire article over my Treo before. The question is if it is still practical on more regular mobile use: lots of email, make powerpoints, lots of reading (on the small screen); or would I still need a full USB keyboard to go with it, just to make it less burdensome.
The price for any of these is not cheap: ranging around $2k. For that price, I could get a well set up lightweight convertible/tablet PC with a larger 12" screen. This makes me wonder if the form factor is really that much of a saver. I certainly can't put it in my pants pocket, although a larger jacket pocket may work. I don't fly significantly but when I do travel for work, I do tend to have the laptop out (2+ hr flights); which is a real pain. What is heavy these days is carrying about 12lbs of laptop gear (at minimum) plus additional dead-tree material of 1-5 lbs, almost every other day, and walking a lot. (The walking is good exercise but carrying a heavy laptop bag is not for me or my back.)
Sometimes I wish I'd stuck to my old job as an independent product reviewer and writer, with the bennys of getting to take one of these for a spin (and getting paid for it). Oh well...