Network of Things

Writes Greg Papadopoulos ( on the Network of Things, discussing the 3 waves of the Internet:

    The first wave was a network of computers that swelled to encompass hundreds of millions of systems, all connected, all continually exchanging data.

    The second wave, the one we’re riding now, could be described as a network of things that embed computers. It’s made up of wireless phones, two-way pagers and other handsets, game players, teller machines, and automobiles. In short, billions of potential connections.

    The third wave is on the way, and even as we create it, we need to prepare ourselves; it’s shaping up to be a regular tsunami. I call it a network of things. Trillions of things. Things you’d hardly think of as computers. So-called sub-IP (Internet Protocol) devices such as light bulbs, environmental sensors and radio-frequency identification tags.

Technology Innovators (WSJ) – Technology’s New Pioneers: A special report (subs. needed). Writes WSJ, “Innovators are creating our vision of the future. From shaping law in the digital age to designing cars, they are taking concepts only once dreamed of and making them into reality.”

Among the people covered:

    The Robot Maker (Helen Greiner, founder of iRobot, is leading an effort to bring robots into the consumer market), The World Builder (Philip Rosedale, founder of Linden Labs, is creating an open-ended alternative to online games), The Wireless Pioneer (Robert Fontana, founder of Multispectral Solutions, is hoping ultrawideband technology can reshape all sorts of industries), The Instant Messager (Jeremie Miller is the leader of a world-wide software-development project that has created a new form of instant messaging called Jabber), The Brainstormer (Jacob Goldenberg, a business professor at Hebrew University, has devised a template system that provides a framework for new and innovative ideas that can be applied to various problems), The Nanotechnician (Charles Lieber and his team of “nanoelectronic” researchers are leading an effort to create working electronic devices by manipulating matter at its most basic dimensions).

A must-read for all of us who dream of creating the future.

Blogging in the News

Three articles on Blogging in the past few days in the new media — two in Salon [1 2], and one in Wired.

Writes Scott Rosenberg in Salon [2] in a very balanced article on the debate between bloggers (amateur journalists) and pros (professional journalists):

    Blogs can do some things the pros can’t. For better and worse, they air hunches and speculations without the filter of an editorial bureaucracy (or the legal vulnerabilities of a corporate parent). They trade links and argue nuances, fling insults and shower acclaim. The editorial process of the blogs takes place between and among bloggers, in public, in real time, with fully annotated cross-links. This carries pluses and minuses: At worst, it creates a lot of excess verbiage that only the most fanatically interested reader would want to wade through. At best, it creates a dramatic and dynamic exchange of information and ideas.

Blogs are only as good as the person writing the blog. Blogs are about people, in most cases, a single individual with views to express. Bloggers may lack the variety and breadth of mainstream media, but they do have depth in specific topics which they use to articulate their viewpoint and present a lens on the world.

Microsoft and Web Services on Microsoft’s .Net My Services — This is an interesting article. It talks about the prevailing internal confusion about the future path for Microsoft’s web services initiatives. Two points are especially worth thinking about:

    [A] Microsoft plan under development two years ago to launch Web-based business productivity tools, code-named Netdocs, was “blown up,” or discontinued, because Microsoft executives didn’t think the technology plan was viable.

    Netdocs was expected to be an integrated business application including e-mail, personal information management, document-authoring tools, digital media management and instant messaging. Microsoft planned to make Netdocs available only as a hosted service over the Internet, not as software that could be purchased separately or pre-loaded onto a machine.

    The plan competed squarely with Microsoft’s Office business software, which makes up more than a third of the software giant’s overall revenue.

The idea seems right to me, but it is targeted at the wrong users. It should be focused on the new users — they are less savvy than the ones who have been using computers. They need a simpler, more integrated working environment. The way NetDocs should have worked is to have it run off a LAN server, not the Internet.

But then that’s the domain of MS Office (on the desktop). This is the Innovator’s Dilemma. There is a great profit machine which Microsoft is not willing to disrupt.

The second point:

    Microsoft plans to introduce software that big companies can use to set up instant messaging and internal communications over internal networks instead of the Internet. “An example would be that within Microsoft, if I wanted to talk with someone through a video, say, on the PC, or in an instant message conversation, I wouldn’t have to go to the Internet,” [Allchin] said.

The thinking here is along the right track. But it will work best in the context of emerging markets where bandwidth is a huge problem still. These markets are state-of-the-art when it comes to LANs, but many years behind when it comes to WANs. So, it makes sense to (a) think of running apps on the LAN (b) provide information replicated across locations in nearreal-time, rather than real-time.

TECH TALK: A Mass Market (Part 1)

(This column is part of an ongoing series on “India’s Next Decade”.)

For long, India has bypassed the computer revolution (or vice versa). We got onto one of the rear bogies of the computing train through the software services route. We are now chasing the IT-enabled service train. There is an opportunity for India to be the engine of the next computing revolution in the next decade. It means envisioning this new future. The portents are there. The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are becoming available. It is for us to assemble them together to great a glorious future. This is one future in which we can not only be the producers but also an important portion of the consumers. Whats needed is to combine a view of where technology is heading (the New WWW, which we discussed earlier in the series), entrepreneurial thinking and a vision of the mass market that is possible.

A quarter century ago, Bill Gates imagined a mass market for computers and software and built Microsoft into one of the most powerful companies in the world. It is time for a similar revolution to make computing a utility in the lives of enterprises in the emerging markets of the world. This is the opportunity for India and Indian entrepreneurs: how to envision and help create this new computing mass market.

In doing so, we can dramatically alter the shape of Indias next decade. The technology digital divide needs to be bridged. It is time we entrepreneurs in countries like India became leaders in technology products, rather than pure service centres for the rest of the world. Let us dream of and works towards becoming the anchor store in the world mall, not a discount outlet. Let us lead, not just follow.

The three building blocks of a technology infrastructure are computers, software and communications. Computers continue to become predictable more powerful, keeping up a trend of the past two decades and powered by Moores Law. Software becomes bigger (bloated) to keep up the need for the faster and better computers. Communications is being driven to wireless expensive spectrum auctioned in many countries for 3G networks. The problem, as we discussed last week, is that much of technology has its pricing in terms of dollars, which makes it unaffordable for most companies and individuals in the emerging markets of the world.

Now, let us think differently. The computer is undoubtedly the most important innovation in the past quarter century. And yet, most enterprises in emerging markets like India have penetration levels of less than 10%. Of course, one can argue that the ones who need a computer already have it, and the others simply dont need it. But that is not necessarily true.

Look back at the cellphone experience. A few years ago, most of us managed quite well without it, as the handset cost in excess of Rs 10,000 and phone calls were Rs 8-10 per minute. Today, handset prices have fallen by 60-70% and phone calls are at Rs 1.50 per minute. As an alternative to post-paid, pre-paid SIM cards are available for Rs 300-500 per month. The number of users have skyrocketed. Most of us who were managing perfectly fine without a cellphone now find ourselves unable to do without one. The new computing infrastructure needs to get to the price points of a cellphone: an initial cost of Rs 5,000 or so, and a monthly cost of Rs 250-300.

Web Services

An article in The Guardian talks about Web Services:

    The big companies don’t necessarily get this. The day before Google released its web services to the public, technology guru Tim O’Reilly wrote: “(This) is a classic case of what Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, calls a disruptive technology. It doesn’t fit easily into existing business models or containers. It will belong to the upstarts, who don’t have anything to lose, and the risk-takers among the big companies, who are willing to bet more heavily on the future than they do on the past.

Life After Death for PCs

Old Personal Computers Never Die; They Just Fade Into Deep Storage (New York Times).

    The Information Age was supposed to be wondrously clean, but estimates of more than 300 million computers becoming obsolete between 1997 and 2004 pose an environmental challenge of Industrial Age proportions. Computer monitors, like TV screens, contain several pounds of lead. Mercury is another toxic substance found in abundance in electronic equipment. Even with all those people holding their old machines back in a digital purgatory, the Environmental Protection Agency says more than 200 million pounds of old computer hardware are trashed each year. Concerned about the environmental fallout, California and other states have banned such equipment from their landfills.

    A shocking report issued earlier this year by two environmental groups, titled “Exporting Harm: The Techno-Trashing of Asia,” contended that most electronic waste collected for recycling in the United States was exported to developing nations, mainly China. There it is dismantled, often by child labor under unregulated conditions, with dire health and environmental consequences.

How about “re-cycling” the PCs to desktops in emerging markets? The next 500 million users are waiting.

Blogs: Journalism of the Future – Blogs take Web diaries to the next level – May 10, 2002: An interview with Josh Quittner, editor of Business 2.0. He says:

    [Blogs are] the future of journalism…. The cool thing about blogs is somebody can say something, or point to a story in Time magazine or CNN, and other people can have at the story, and almost debug it… What this does is takes information and it puts it out before a community of users who will, in effect, crash test it. Hold every single fact up to the light and make sure that it all works.

    It’s all about communication. That’s one of the main reasons people use the Web; they’re using it to find information and they’re using it to communicate to each other. And the blog is this wonderful way of doing both.

The same thinking can be extended within the enterprise to create knowledge weblogs, or K-logs. Combined with an outliner, they form the foundation of a new read-write environment on the desktop.