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Danger and the Internet sponge that could have been

In researching my next Switched On column, I came across this excerpted video of a talk at Stanford almost exactly five years ago by Danger co-founders Andy Rubin, Joe Britt and Matt Hershensen. Looking back on the looking back, I found some interesting tidbits.

Danger’s first product concept was called the “Internet sponge”, It was to be a keychain device that would bring down information from a portal (Yahoo, Excite, etc.) and be so inexpensive ($6) that portals could give it away as a loyalty play. One cool feature was that two people who had these devices could touch them to exchange contact and perhaps other information.

Five years later, the portal wars have been replaced by search wars between Google and Microsoft. We also have well-accepted push technology (RSS) and inexpensive options for broadcasting data from Ambient and MSN Direct, but clearly old Palm-style PC syncing is no longer good enough. No company has successfully implemented peer-to-peer information exchange via devices on a large scale, however, and such functionality might be a good fit for a social networking Web site such as Facebook or LinkedIn. I would have rather that Palm had implemented information exchange based on physical device contact rather than charging. This would have been a worthy successor to a platform that allowed users to exchange contact information via infrared. (Wouldn’t it be cool if digital cameras could exchange photos by letting via simple physical contact?)

There are many other fun points for mobile industry followers, including an admission about how voice on the Sidekick was an afterthought (and incredibly hasn’t improved much since its inception) and how Danger fought against being too closely aligned with T-Mobile (which happened, at least in the U.S.). The segment about delighting your customers’ customers in creating consumer products, complete with Blackberry references, reminded me of Peek (even though the Peek device is not distributed through carriers and dispenses with the Sidekick’s signature opening mechanism).