Over the last week I've been on a fact-finding mission to Scandinavia. No sign of the Swedish National Bikini team (yet), but I've run into a few companies that may help determine what our always-connected lives may look like in a few years.
If Korea is cornering the market on innovative mobile hardware, then southern Sweden is teeming with amazing mobile software. In fact, many of the coolest new phones get their grooviness in part thanks to software made by companies like The Astonishing Tribe, which makes tools that allow phone makers to stitch custom user interfaces to deeper phone functions (like Samsung's Omnia phones, which put a TouchWiz interface atop a Windows Mobile OS). Or Scalado, which makes superefficient image processing technology used in more than 400 million digital cams and camera phones. Those are just two of the dozens of hot mobile companies in the Skane region of Sweden, in and around Malmo.
[ Cringely takes a look at the darker side of Internet ubiquity in "The high cost of Internet (de)fame" | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]
An interesting Malmo startup called Bambuser is onto something I think could change our lives irrevocably -- for good and ill. Bambuser's premise is brain-dead simple. It turns your phone into a live video camera on the Internet, which essentially turns everyone who has one into a broadcaster. If you have a handset with a hefty enough processor and relatively fast data connection, you can upload "live" video (with up to a three-second lag) to the Bambuser site or to a widget embedded in your blog. Viewers can access the video on the Web or on their own mobiles, and you can store the video for later viewing. The service is completely free; all you need to do is sign up online and log on from your phone.
Launched about 18 months ago, Bambuser has some 60,000 users worldwide, including many in the United States, says founder Pouria Ruhi. He calls it "the best democratization tool ever created, like Twitter for mobile video." And it's not the only one. QIK (pronounced "kick") offers a lookalike service, which is used by some professional news sites as well.
That's the theory anyway. In these early days of not entirely high-speed mobile data, the reality is a little grainier. Video playback can be pretty chunky and the subjects, well, fairly mundane. Consider Carolina Gynning, a stunning Swedish brunette who posts frequently to Bambuser (when she's not hosting the Swedish version of "American Idol"). Log on and you can view a stuttering 27-second video of her getting her teeth drilled. Exciting? Not exactly.
But that's today. A few years down the road, when mobile handsets with desktop-worthy CPUs and superfast connections are common, a brave new world of mobile video could emerge. Services like Bambuser and Qik could revolutionize news gathering. Imagine the Rodney King beating captured in real time, or the Obama inauguration as seen by 10,000 different live mobile feeds. They will completely obliterate professional sports leagues' monopoly on live footage (imagine frisking 90,000 spectators for their phone cams at the Super Bowl). And of course, there's real-time porn. I'll let your own imagination supply the visuals for that one.
But the real changes will happen on a more personal level, as some people choose to capture their entire lives and broadcast them across the Net. It's not just Bambuser, which has the feel of a company started by 20-somethings wearing ripped jeans and Chuck Taylors. Buttoned-down companies like Mashmobile (also based in Skane) are building portals for major mobile carriers who want to offer customers the ability to create their own personal "mash" of photos, videos, Facebook updates, tweets, and so on -- all in one handy page that can be accessed by invitation only or completely open to the world.
Is your day-to-day existence an endless exercise in drudgery? Just subscribe to someone whose life is more interesting.
Of course, you have to be one hell of a narcissist -- and/or desperately hungry for your 15 minutes of fame -- to take part in this. But there's no shortage of folks like that (just take a look at reality TV). If they want to butter their lives all over the InterWebs, they will soon have the ability to do just that.
The problem is the rest of us. What happens to the people who unwittingly find themselves on the other end of the camera? If you happen to intersect with one of these people, bits of your life may also be buttered all over the Net -- whether you like it or not. Let's hope you're not doing anything illegal or embarrassing when the "lifecasters" wander by.
Finally, if you ever find yourself in Copenhagen a) looking for a simple example of lifecasting, and b) needing a set of wheels, stop by Baisikeli, just east of the Orstedparken. For about $12 a day you can rent a Yahoo purple cruiser (complete with a Yahoo logo) that features a Nokia N95 camera phone inside a metal box strapped to the handlebars and a solar-powered battery pack on the rear rack. Every minute, the bike uploads a photo taken at random to Flickr, offering a minute-by-minute photo diary of your ride. (Along with a lot of photos of the inside of the bike shop -- I guess they forgot to turn off the camera when they got back.)
Are you ready for the mobile Webcasted future? E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.