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Developers: Do you buy the ‘Context-Aware’ computing concept?

How many ways can you repackage the concept of metadata, or information about information? Well for starters, if you are Gartner you can coin the term context-aware computing just about any time you like.

How many ways can you repackage the concept of metadata, or information about information? Well for starters, if you are Gartner you can coin the term context-aware computing just about any time you like. Even better, you can go on to explain that this is, “The concept of leveraging information about the end-user to improve the quality of the interaction.”

The worthy scribes in the hallowed halls and vestibules of Gartner’s venerable research operation have concluded that emerging context-enriched services will use location, presence, social attributes and other environmental information to anticipate an end user's immediate needs.

OK, so we already know that every CRM system worth its salt out there is monitoring what day of the week we buy our bananas on and feeding this all into Deep Thought’s bottomless database of tracking data. So what’s the big deal?

According to Gartner, “By 2012, the typical Global 2000 company will be managing between two and ten business relationships with context providers and by 2015, context will be as influential in mobile consumer services and relationships as search engines are to the web.”

Just when I was beginning to get won over by this argument and think, ‘hey, maybe user-context data is not on the average developer’s radar to the degree it should be’ - they kind of spoiled it a bit by calling it a ‘game changing disruptive technology’. OK guys; just turn down the contrast control just a touch will you please?

As with many of these press-facing statements, you don’t get to the meat until you’ve already filled yourself up on the sweet doughy bread-based coating. Gartner does recognise that many organisations are already employing some context-enriched services today and although many are relatively sophisticated, they tend to be fairly disparate implementations. Perhaps this is where developers (or IT project managers at least) can step in and build greater awareness of these concepts.

Gartner’s Anne Lapkin has noted that, “Location-based services, presence and portal personalisation are common, if simple, manifestations of context today. Many organisations are beginning to experiment with social networking, which can also provide significant context information as well as use context information to achieve better results. By 2011, Type A organisations (technology aggressive) will begin to integrate multiple contextual components to provide a richer user experience that enables top-line growth as well as workplace efficiencies.”

I wish they’d said that to start with, but I suppose you have to start with a bit of razzmatazz. While I’ve been somewhat cheap and glib in my notes here, it is only right and proper to recognise that Gartner is no bunch of amateurs and the research that exists for you to read on this subject is extensive, should you choose to go looking for it.

I think it probably comes down to what type of developer you are. If you have a commercial mind and want to explore further how the processes and functions that you are building will impact the business bottom line – then this could well be for you. If you are a more compartmentalised programmer with your own specific tasks, then maybe not so much.

If you can’t wait to get your hands on the Gartner Special Report, “Context-Aware Computing: A Looming Disruption” then there’s your link.