Google Labs

A peek into the ideas that Google is toying with at Google Labs. Says News.com, “At launch, these experiments include a glossary, a voice-search application, keyboard shortcuts for navigating through search results, and a tool for creating sets of Web sites or other items derived from a smaller set of like items.”

On a related but separate note, there are three good links for knowing more about how Google works (its PageRank technology):
a simple explanation of PageRank
the original paper by Google’s founders
a PageRank calculator

It would be interesting to apply some of the PageRank ideas to Blogs, especially the BlogRoll and the BlogPosts, to come out with clusters — the neighbourhoods among bloggers and blog posts which probably exist but are difficult to see from the “street level”.

Application Servers

Two recent stories on Application Servers — News.com writes about Sun’s plans to bundle the AppServer into the Solaris OS, and BusinessWeek writes about the competition faced by BEA from IBM. BEA is the current market leader, with IBM running it close. Microsoft is the other player working hard to get in.

Application Servers connect the OS to the eBusiness applications. According to News.com, it is a “technology that runs e-business and other Web site transactions. It’s essential back-end software that has become a standard piece of e-business infrastructure.” A little more explanation from BusinessWeek: “The Web application server is the traffic cop for the Internet, creating and posting Web pages on the fly and handling transactions for the busiest Web sites and run-the-business applications.”

In the open-source world, there is JBoss.

Digital Dashboard Update

We’ve been working with Outlines in the past 2 weeks. We have ready a Personal Outline Viewer (in a browser). This allows users in a company to create their own outlines, and edit the top-level nodes independently. Its a very simplified tool, but it works. Next step: to makes Outline nodes shareable with others in the company. This should be done shortly.

After this, I’ve been thinking of two possible paths: one, to make Outlines “Instant” (notifies others of updates) and Group Outlines (where multiple people can update/post to an outline), or to work on Weblogs (K-Logs) for narrating work. Earlier, I was inclined to go through the Outlines in greater depth. But now I think, it will be better to do the Blogs part next.

Not all people think in Outlines — publishing an outline doesnt come naturally. Where an Outline is very good is for hierarchically representing thinking and ideas, like a Table of Contents. Weblogs, however, can be used by everyone. Its about regular narration of what they are doing. What is needed is to make Weblogs publish RSS feeds which can be (a) visible to others, as decided by the author and (b) posted directly to create a community blog.

So, using the mix of Outlines, Blogs and RSS, we can create a nice read-write environment — one which allows people to make their daily notes, as well as create in-depth outlines on specific topics/projects. We want to use these building blocks together in our company to create a new collarborative environment, which will work on Thin Clients.

Microsoft SME Strategy

An excellent story in Information Week analysing Microsoft’s moves following its recent purchase of Navision (coming after the previous buy of Great Plains):

Microsoft wants to sell small and midsize companies low-cost, ready-to-assemble enterprise resource planning, supply-chain, financial, and other run-the-business applications. The blueprint calls for Web services to weave them all together.

As Gates envisions the world, desktop and business applications will be woven together via Web services to let IT departments mix and match applications across networks, with less middleware, custom integration, and consulting work. Microsoft officials give the example of an Excel spreadsheet user accessing inventory data from a supplier’s remote server. This desktop-to-back office architecture, seamlessly linking people and systems within and across companies, will provide an IT backbone for collaborative business, Gates says. The linchpin will be XML, the development language and Web-services standard, incorporated in development tools, databases, and the apps themselves.

We’ve been thinking along these lines also: enterprise software Legos which can be put together on the server. The difference: in our view, the SMEs use Thin Clients, Linux on the Thick Server, and pay USD 5 per person per month. Its for the SMEs in the world’s low-income countries, who cannot afford the high cost of computers and the increasingly higher cost of software.

TECH TALK: The Emerging Markets Paradox

Whats true for India is also true for Pakistan. And perhaps, many of the worlds other emerging markets. It is, what I call the Emerging Market Paradox: once an emerging market, always an emerging market. It is that rare nation which breaks through. In recent times, the only country that I can think of which has the potential and is doing the right things is South Korea. Most other emerging markets seem to be stuck in place. Two steps forward, one step sideways, and two steps back.

Whether it is India and Pakistan, or the countries in the Middle-East or Africa few get out of this trap. The Emerging Market Room is one with no Exit. Look at the ongoing confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians. At the end of the day, the economic impact is significant on Israelis. Even in our own Gujarat, business has come to a standstill in the past few months as politicians try and score points and use it as a test-bed to see what can win elections. Who cares about foreign investment? Who needs it? Who wants progress? Why do we want better roads, more phones? Why bother about globalization?

In his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman writes about the impact of globalization:

The driving idea behind globalization is free-market capitalization the more you let market forces rule and the more you open your economy to free trade and competition, the more efficient and flourishing your economy will be. Globalization has its own set of economic rules rules that revolve around opening, deregulating and privatizing your economy, in order to make it more competitive and attractive to foreign investment.Democracies vote for about a governments policies once every two or four years. The Electronic Herd [the millions of investors worldwide] votes every minute of every hour of every day.

The world has already voted and continues to do so everyday. China gets foreign investment of USD 50 billion per annum, 20 times that of India. 20 times. We both started the process of trying to integrate with the world at the same time in 1991. Of course, it was a no-contest. As far as the world is concerned, Indias never really been a player.

The problem is that the decision-makers the politicians and bureaucrats are playing a win-win game for themselves. Who cares if everyone else loses? This is not just limited to our government. Look at Bollywood. After a bad 2001, it has been a worse 2002 with just one film in the first 5 months earnings more than its cost. So, whats the response? Come June, and well have hold your breath FIVE films on Bhagat Singh, made at an aggregate cost of over Rs 50 crores (USD 10 million). Think back to the scorpions in the jar.

Every emerging market of the world has its own set of challenges and these are, amazingly, self-made. On the one hand, television and the Internet deliver the world to the populace in real-time. On the other hand, the leaders and the generals stay rooted in the past, oblivious to technology and the changes that are happening. The only game they know is of musical chairs. Keep playing the music. Keep going around in circles.

Tomorrow: Can We Change?