New Feature: Search

Have added a “Search” box — its there on the Home Page in the right column. It searches the day pages. So, while the search does not take you to exactly the post (you get an idea from the brief description shown on the search results page), it takes you to the day on which the post which contains the phrase(s) occurs. Considering that I don’t post more than 5-6 entries in a day, it should be okay for now. We used HTDig to implement the search feature.

One interesting thing I noticed is that htdig highlights the word you’ve searched for in the brief abstract it gaves for the result, and links the searched word to the actual post (using the permalink). Have no idea how this is happening, but its actually very useful because by clicking on the link in the abstract, one can go directly to the post.

RSS Aggregation — The Real Discontinuity

Even more than weblogs, perhaps the real innovation in information publishing and access is the RSS newsfeed. What it does is get information to you from the sources you want (your subscriptions). This fundamentally changes the quantum of information that one is able to process. Very much like the way Samachar has changed the news habits of people. Earlier, one used to go to multiple sites and figure out what has been updated. In that mode, one can perhaps go to a few sites. What Samachar does in increase by a factor of 10 the amount of information that can be processed in the same time. [Samachar was launched by my company IndiaWorld in 1997.]

RSS Aggregation takes this one step further. In Samachar, one is limited to the sites chosen by the site managers. in RSS, you can do the same — it places the power of aggregation in the hands of the reader. In the past few years, most publishers now put out RSS feeds — consisting of the title of the story, URL, and a brief description. Put on a single page, it is possible to process (scan) dozens of stories very quickly and then decide which to read. All this, by just viewing a single page.

In future, I see RSS Aggregation (with its roots in XML) as being fundamental to the corporate portal (or the digital dashboard, whatever we decide to call it). The feeds will not be limited to just news or blog posts, but could be any “event”. The real action will happen when machines (process/applications) start putting out RSS feeds to be processed by other machines. Add to this an Information Bus which can multicast, and a “subscription” model — wherein a user/process can decide which events/feeds to monitor based on subject, description or source.

To this, one needs to add the weblog to close the feedback loop. When I read the RSS feeds, I can decide to post it (with or without comments) on my personal blog. What I post now also gets published as a RSS feed and enhances the interaction between people.

A few recent posts on related topics:
Dave Winer: What is a News Aggregator
Paulo: [The] set of news sources could also mean reports generated by your accounting software, status of your servers, posts in a discussion group, orders from your e-commerce site, updates from your co workers workflow management software.
John Robb on communications efficiency

I can envision the following scenario in a company to amplify and institutionalise knowledge:
– all individuals have their own blogs and RSS aggregators
– RSS feeds include external news, internal posts, mail, documents, “events”
– each blog published has its own RSS feed to close the loop
– search across the blogs: with the granularity being a blog post
– outlines for the table of contents

The combination of Blogs, Outlines and RSS Aggregation is what needs to be used to build the Digital Dashboard.

TECH TALK: Rethinking Enterprise Software: My WishList (contd), The Opportunity

Continuing with my wishlist:

  • Software could be priced at a fraction of what it costs today, at a few hundred rupees per month per person, rather than paying large amounts upfront. The first set of applications which could do with a slashing of the price (but which will not happen) are the Microsoft Office applications, which costs about Rs 15,000 per copy in India. Even if one looks at (an online CRM application), costs start at USD 65 (Rs 3,250) per person per month. Enterprise applications, even the ones targeted at the mid-market, cost lakhs of rupees.

  • I could buy the software that I needed from a few companies, even a single company, so that I wouldnt have to worry about how to integrate the applications together and there would be no finger-pointing when it came to support.

  • The software could scale as my company grew. This way, I could invest increasing amounts (for more functionality) over time, rather than paying for a lot of features I wouldnt be using.

The Opportunity

Enterprise software has become much more complex, but the focus has stayed on the bigger companies in the world who can pay a lot of money. This is the real digital divide. Not only do the smaller companies (especially those in the emerging markets) find it hard to buy software, even the cost of the computers is prohibitive all technology is dollar-denominated. In India, few local software companies have made a mark addressing the domestic market the volumes are just not there, and its much more profitable to deploy the same resources for doing work for international companies.

And yet, there is an unseen, invisible opportunity that lies ahead, serving companies like mine. There are 25 million such small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the world, which employ over a billion people worldwide. The majority of these SMEs are in the emerging markets of world. They need a solution which costs no more than USD 15-20 per person per month (inclusive of hardware, software, training and support). This is a market of USD 180-240 billion which is largely untapped today.

The barrier to targeting this market is the same faced by the established companies as outlined in Christensens The Innovators Dilemma. The customer base of the Big Software companies does not need the low-cost IT/software solutions we are discussing. They cannot easily drop their software price without disrupting their existing gravy trains and impacting their market capitalisations. (Can you imagine Microsoft making available MS Office for USD 25-50 to the enterprise market?)

Listen to Craig Barrett, Intels CEO: What started happening to mainframes twenty years ago the replacement of monolithic proprietary systems by interoperable, standard components Barrett was speaking in the context of the telecom industry and whats happening to Lucent and Nortel. But he could as well have been speaking about the likes of SAP, Oracle, Microsoft or PeopleSoft. Listen to the phrase again: the replacement of monolithic proprietary systems by interoperable, standard components. Thats exactly the revolution that needs to happen in enterprise software to bring in a whole new market the SMEs in Emerging Markets.

Software Piracy in Asia

WSJ on the growing piracy of software in Asia:

Despite efforts by many Asian governments to crack down on software piracy, illegal copying of business-related software in the region increased for the second consecutive year in 2001, according to a survey by the Washington industry watchdog group Business Software Alliance.

The survey showed that Vietnam, China and Indonesia, respectively, are the three countries with the highest rates of piracy in the world.

“Asia is now far and away the region with the highest dollar losses,” arising from software piracy, the survey said. It estimated forgone revenue for software vendors in Asia in 2001 totaled $4.7 billion, or 43% of the global total, compared with $4.1 billion in 2000. World-wide, the percentage of bootlegged software rose to 40% of all installed software in 2001, from a low of 36% in 1999, according to BSA.

The article also states that the problem is likely to be understated because “it only looks at business software and not at operating systems or entertainment software like games”.

The figures for piracy are not surprising…software continues to be priced in US dollars in Asia, and this puts it beyond the reach of most people and enterprises. They are not born robbers. If pricing was re-thought (to one-tenth of the current levels or even lower), not only will volumes go up, but it will make businesses much more competitive which will lead them to invest more in technology.