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April 2003:
Special theme:
Cognitive Systems

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< Contents ERCIM News No. 54, July 2003
SPECIAL THEME: Applications and Service Platforms for the Mobile User

mBlog: a Mobile Information Service for All

by Emmanuel Frécon

Easy-to-use Web sites, called ‘weblogs’ or ‘blogs’ are the latest massive Internet phenomenon. mBlog, developed by SICS in collaboration with Ericsson, takes blogs a step further by adding a mobility component.

Weblogs, or blogs for short, are the latest Internet phenomenon. Having started as an underground culture in the late 90s, the movement has now reached such an extent that these Web sites have become an important medium for the general spread of opinion and information on the Internet. Thousands of new blogs are created every day by ordinary people or groups, and cover themes such as personal diaries, political or professional commentaries, fanzines around culture and sports, group diaries around fishing, excursions, etc.

Technically speaking, blogs are an easy way to produce a Web page by filling out a form. The text entered is displayed on a page organised in reverse chronological order: the most recent entry is at the top of the page and older entries follow. Blogs can provide an archive mechanism for all entries, and a search feature to look for specific information within older content. Typically, a blog will have a small number of authors and any number of readers. A commenting system will allow readers to react to the opinions expressed by the authors on the Web page.

The simplicity of this formula makes blogs available to the mass of Internet users, relieving them from the complexity of HTML editing. Apart from this simplicity, blogs are interesting both for their sociological aspect and for their content or topic area. From the latter point of view, blogs have two main purposes: they help maintain a community around any given topic (from a class trip to war in Iraq), and they allow one to make oneself publicly heard.

mBlog, developed by SICS in collaboration with Ericsson, takes blogs a step further through the addition of a mobility component. With mBlog, people can maintain any number of blogs simply by sending images and texts by MMS, SMS, e-mail or by filling out a form in a Web browser. Furthermore, each piece of information can be geographically positioned.

Mobility: the Future of Blogs
The very nature of blogs and their usage lead us to consider them as ‘real-time’ entities. Indeed, for a blogger, no matter what the topic of the blog, it is necessary that information be published as soon as possible. For example, if a blog was to support a local football team, being able to blog the main events of a match in real time is a way to keep supporters who could not join the game aware of its progress, as well as an effective method of keeping a record of the match. Consequently, the immediacy of information production and consumption naturally lends itself to extending the concept of blogs towards mobile environments.

The idea behind mBlog is the ability to post from a mobile phone (MMS, SMS, WAP input, e-mail), and the ability to read entries at any time using a number of mobile outputs (WAP browser, speech synthesis, etc). mBlog also introduces a new dimension to weblogs, namely space. Each blog can have a geographical dimension, with each entry being positioned within this space. This offers novel ways to access the information.

Business and Sociological Results
The genesis of mobile blogs will support the building of communities and social networks of many kinds, both at the professional and personal levels. For example, we foresee professional usage within mobile fleets of salesmen.

Being ubiquitous by nature, mobile blogs will generate traffic within several parallel distribution channels (GPRS, 3G, Internet), and will therefore benefit the telecom industry. In particular, mobile blogs will drive MMS, SMS, WAP and data traffic, as well as increasing the sales and usage of multimedia phones. Through the provision of a service that is anchored in our social lives and behaviours, mobile blogs could act as one of the kick-off applications for MMS and 3G services.

How does it work?
Users send SMS, MMS or e-mail messages to a dedicated number or e-mail address. mBlog then creates a new blog entry for each message. This entry is placed at the top of the Web page while previous entries are moved down. Upon posting, entries are time-stamped and automatically given a geographical position, ie that of the device. This position can later be changed if necessary.

Alternatively, users can direct their browser to a specific Web page and fill in a simple form. Upon completion, an entry is created as above. The resulting blog can be viewed from any Web browser or WAP phone. A geographical map shows the location of the entries. It is useful to note that new multimedia phones now include fully-fledged Web browsers.

mBlog takes blogs a step further through the addition of a mobility component.
mBlog takes blogs a step further through the addition of a mobility component.

Technology behind the Scene
Blog systems are based on XML technology, which makes their content easy to manage, arrange and exchange. Lately, a number of standard APIs have emerged, meaning that blog systems have now become fully-fledged Web services. mBlog makes extensive use of standard Internet protocols and is implemented in a scalable and distributed manner:

Each mBlog service can be run separately on any machine with Internet access. Upon reception, the content of MMS and SMS is analysed and routed to the appropriate blog through a communication standard called XMLRPC.

WAP output can be applied to any existing blog, and is triggered through continuous surveillance of any Web page (in this case a blog). Upon modification, blog content is fetched through XMLRPC, converted to WML and posted back through FTP.

Entries are automatically geographically positioned using a positioning server made at SICS. Currently, we only support accurate WiFi positioning, but we are hoping to support GPS and GSM in the near future. The geographical map of the blog is continuously updated as new entries are posted.

Future Work
mBlog provides a simple means for reading and writing blogs on the run. Compared to other 'moblogging' attempts, mBlog takes a unified approach through the support of most existing mobile devices. Additionally, mBlog adds the dimension of space to blogs, to enhance the association of information with places.
We are currently looking at extending the system by building it on top of a scalable P2P network infrastructure. Information can be replicated along this network as needed. This has two main advantages: it guarantees its very existence against external ‘attackers’ of all sorts, and access to consumers is widened.


Please contact:
Emmanuel Frécon, SICS
Tel +46 8 633 15 34