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Are You Ready for the Sofa Web?

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In less than 72 hours from now many kids, and many more overgrown kids will be tearing off carefully wrapped packages, and with glassy eyes head to the nearest television to plug in their Xboxes, Wiis, and an odd PlayStation 3. And after playing around for a bit, many of you will discover that these new living room monsters have amazing Internet abilities. Welcome to the sofa-web!

Wii has a new browser friend in Opera. PS3 has a built in browser, and Microsoft just might add browsing to the mix. At the risk of repeating myself, I think these devices, and their broadband abilities will open up new vistas of opportunity, a whole new Internet so to speak.

Just like the mobile Internet proved to be a brand new opportunity, the gamer Internet could add, and extend the Internet, as we know it. Opera, the browser maker that has a tiny market share in the desktop world, is a good proxy for what is to come.

They were one of the first few companies to benefit from building web standards compliant software for the mobile Internet. Unlike Microsoft, they did not cram a web-browser into a mobile phone. Instead they built a browser that took the web of today and repackaged it for the tiny screen.

No wonder Opera’s mobile browsers are finding their way into most name brand mobile phones. Back in April 2006, when I interviewed Jon von Tetzchner, he said that when a good browser was available on the mobile phone, the data usage of phones went up. “I think any device that is connected and has a screen is an opportunity for us,” he had said.

And true to form, the Norwegian software company has been quick to recognize the opportunity that the “gamer Internet” represents and has made aggressive forays to extend their reach. Michael Wolf, an analyst with ABI Research and a good buddy of ours, agrees.

Wolf says, “the browsers in game consoles could be game-changers since they are devices that will see ten-million plus installed base numbers in fairly short order and nearly all of these consoles will be broadband connected.”

Like Opera, Sajeeth Cherian, a Canadian developer who wrote BitTorrent client Videora is jumping into the gamer-web business and has started Red Kawa, a company that bring web to the consoles.

“We are trying to create a new market for Rich Internet Applications and Games by bringing them into the living room using a variety of new web enabled devices like the PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii,” he says. “We have developed a service called the Red Kawa Marketplace which allows people to share their web games or applications and soon they will be able to charge and get paid for them as well.”

They have for instance created an application called SofaTube, which is a “mashup of YouTube and Revver designed to be used in the living room instead of a computer.” Though it can be seen on your PC, it is made to be seen on PlayStation 3 browser, on the Nintendo Wii. I guess, the big problem will be the keyboard and typing in the text, but a bluetooth keyboard with a USB-based bluetooth adapter could do the trick.

Now a lot of people are going to think about what is the big deal? YouTube freed from PC, now on your TV, is a pretty good idea, even though the image quality will be pathetic. But that is a good forbearer of what could be a big trend: web apps to the game platforms, and then a whole ecosystem around it. Think about that when you Box with your Wii!

13 Responses to “Are You Ready for the Sofa Web?”

  1. Dan, I don’t think the elder population is a minor thing. (wouldn’t go so far as to define it as over 40, though, geez.) I bought my parents, now in their mid-late 70s a webTV box six years ago, knowing my dad would enjoy the web, but probably wouldn’t take to a computer. A settop box was more familiar, like a VCR. Trouble is now I’ve been wondering if he needs a computer, since he’s reported he can’t do his very favorite thing anymore — order books from ABE. Lots of sites now are getting too laden with security features and visual gimmicks for the device (or its browser, not sure which) to handle.

  2. As much as I like to see Om talk about this, it makes me sad that TiVo is not even considered in the conversation, not that they deserve to. I feel that TiVo has really dropped the ball when it comes to being the box that integrates the Internet, PCs, Audio, Video, DVR, and TV in the living room. Everything was there from the head start in the living room to the easily customizable linux-based platform on which TiVo software sits.

    Perhaps TiVo and Opera need to be talking.

  3. As one of the rare engineers and ex-IT industry people, working in healthcare now with a focus on obesity as a health issue, I cannot say this thought of many more kids and overgrown kids joining the swelling ranks of the sedentary on the sofa really delights me a whole lot.

    Except hey, I shall have headlines to keep my blog on obesity headlines ablaze for a long time!

    I thought the Nintendo Wii had a minutely better offer in keeping people moving a little, just a little bit but I dont know if that novelty will also wear off soon.

  4. Hey Brad,

    you are right – i left out some stuff. boss man, wrote this post midnight, and well I want to let smart guys like you to add to the conversation. That is why I think, my role here is to get you guys talking, sit back, and educate myself.

    i still think this is not new audience, but a brand new experience for existing users, and also a way to extend the web to a new parallel.

  5. Dan Lester

    Compared to a supposed 1 billion people on the web, at a guess there are 100 million consoles around. A small fraction of these will web-enable people who wouldn’t otherwise have logged on.

    Sure, Nintendo for one hopes to target the ‘analogue’ generation with the Wii, and getting the ‘elderly’ on-line (over 40s…?!) will be a very good thing. It’s also great when we can reach out to partially-sighted users and other groups. But I don’t think this is a revolution on the scale of mobile communications – that’s my only comment. It’s certainly not the same type of advance.

  6. Even the new version of Nintendo’s handheld GameBoy has a little browser module that you can buy for it!

    I bought one of these for my girlfriend for Christmas and now want one myself, since I discovered that the little things are wireless-ready.

    …I think the big boom is going to come when all our little handheld devices become wireless-friendly. Sofa not required.

  7. Dan,

    I think that the fact that the new web users are not the leading edge is exactly what our industry needs. What Om failed to pick up on, in my opinion, is the ability of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo to push content directly to the users via partnership deals. Want to give the kids playing Animal Crossing on Wii a way to forecast their weather? Tie in Want the latest sports stats for NBA Live 2k8? Partner with for to-the-day statistics and articles. Publishers no longer have to worry about working out their own mediocre services for updates, mashups will triumph.

    Even services as basic as delivering the best Wii news via a Wii Channel will change the way gaming sites like mine market to their users. I’ve always been told by experts in the field that reaching those users is to ‘get [my site] on Xbox Live.’ We’re one step closer.

  8. Dan Lester

    Web on consoles will open up the ‘installed base’ of web users, but only marginally. Now we can reach (a relatively small number of) sofa-surfers who were not previously connected. This can only be a good thing. However, it does not compare to the mobile internet revolution. That was a whole new application, taking the web further; here we are just talking about extra users. Consoles only offer a cut-down surfing experience (if you’re struggling without a keyboard, get a PC!), and these new web users are by definition not the leading edge.