Accidental Markets

Internet legend says e-mail was an after thought. Designers built the network for file-sharing and email was the way to attach notes to transmissions. In February, digital guru Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs told the Italian Magazine Digital Life Style that teens discovered and popularized the SMS message function on cell phones.

“Keep in mind that the original operators who enabled SMS, the killer app for teens and mobile phones, had NO IDEA that it would either be popular with youth or would be a revenue generator. The engineers build the SMS specification into the GSM standard, When young people got their hands on a medium that enabled them — for the first time! — to communicate directly with their peers without parents or teachers overhearing, they started using it. The ability to send a few words to a friend, instead of initiating a phone call, became both economically and socially attractive to others.”

Killer applications may have to be invented by users, not popularized by vendors. I read Rheingold’s comment on Unmediated, which relied on the design site Jumper for the translation. Jumper has great links to design sites. The interview also features media anthropologist Mizuko Ito and was more broadly focused on mobile media. I’ve simply extracted one point of interest

Unintended EcoSystems? I’ve poked fun at MySpace’s economics and added a snarky followup to the bottom of a later posting. In the same vein, Paid Content references a Forbes article that says add-on service businesses are blooming in Myspace.

“These are small businesses that do everything from helping users decorate their profiles to creating tools that let advertisers target MySpace users … Another subset are creating and selling software designed to automate tasks within the network, such as inviting and confirming friends, posting messages and sending bulletins.
MySpace’s offical response: well, nothing really — they declined to comment for the story.”

Is there a “Field of Dreams” metaphor in this for network designers? If you build it with peer-to-peer connections, others will figure out how to popularize and profit from its use?

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media