I’m not much into the ringtone market at all, but I got an email from TJ at ToneThis talking about the way that they’re approaching setting up a mobile service. The way ToneThis works a user can encode music from the MP3 library on their home PC and turn it into a ringtone. I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but that’s because it’s really the way that the system should work. What should be surprizing is that it’s hard to get a ringtone on a phone unless your service provider sells it to you. But for some reason this is mostly just unquestingly taken as “the way things work”. I’m sure that one of the reasons that it’s hard to get a quality ringtone onto your phone is because service providers want to charge for them. ToneThis is a way to break away from service providers wanting to wring every cent out of their customers. Instead of having to choose from a library of ringtones you get exactly the music you want. This is from the news section of the ToneThis site

Mr. Pannu says “Sprint’s open architecture allows users to access services like ToneThis, even when no formal deal is in place. I expect other carriers beyond Sprint will open up their networks, much the way Internet service providers have become conduits for outside traffic. What has been a series of closed networks is becoming more and more open… “

I certainly hope so. This is an excellent example of the kind of thing I hope will be possible if providers do open up their networks. The carriers might loose the additional revenue from the ringtone. But because users have more control, and the flexibility to use the network in the way they see fit (rather than the way their service provider wants them to) I think they’ll see a lot more raw thoughput. And more importantly perhaps, I think they’ll see a lot more users in general. Right now cellular providers in the US seem to be trying to reign in innovation so that they can make sure they’re optimally positioned in the value chain for any new service.

I really do hope that providers are starting to trend in the direction of more open networks, and that we’ll see more services like ToneThis. Most services view the user a passive consumer hopefully willing to swallow what the service providers dish out. I would be very happy to see more services which allow the user to genuinely interact with the network - producing, consuming, exchanging, gathering, and generally doing whatever they want. The current services remind me way too much of the television network, pumping out large volumes of poor content. I’m frequently reminded of the description of biomass in Snow Crash, where the media moguls are described like whales straining the sea for plankton, only the media moguls are straining viewers for money. I find this analogy unnervingly apt when I look at the way that service providers seem to envision their users.