Meeting with Traction Software

I also met with Traction Software yesterday – with Greg, Chris and Jordan. Traction has a very interesting enterprise blogging platform – and I use the word platform with care. It has its roots in the work done in hypertext over the past decades and creates a very rich environment. For us who thrive in information, it works like magic with all its cross-referencing, “collection” and ease of publishing. A must-look if one is looking at collaborative applications with a blogging base.

Greg made an interesting point on his blog after the meeting: “It was very refreshing to talk with Rajesh this morning. He has a very clear, simple and direct way of making his points, while communicating a personal sense of his values and commitment. I’d call it his reality enhancement field in contrast to Steve Job’s well known reality distortion field. The experience made me reflect on the personal aspect of blogging that I find valuable: it’s the ability to use a cultivated record of the sources, insights and opinions of people I choose to trust (including me!) as a non-intrusive source of facts, opinions, and more effective understanding of their point of view.”

The one thing I am convinced about is that the blogging revolution and its use in enterprises is just beginning. Just like the web and home pages began as a consumer thing and later began being adopted by enterprises (initially through the efforts of small teams or even individuals running skunkwork operations), I see blogs penetrating deep into the enterprise – to a point that they will become invisible and embedeed in what we do as information workers.

John Robb on Emergic

Yesterday, I had a wonderful meeting with John Robb of Userland. John is one of my favourite bloggers, and it was a delight meeting up with him. We had a great 2-hour session on the world of blogs and software. He has posted his summary of our discussion on the K-logs Yahoo Groups (you must join it if you have interest in knowledge management or weblogs). Have reproduced it in its entirety here.

Dear K-Loggers,

Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Rajesh Jain, the CEO of India’s Emergic, at my home (in the midst of a double birthday party for two of my lovely daughters). Rajesh is working on building a desktop for the 80-90% of people working at corporations in developing countries that don’t have PCs yet.

The problem is that in order to extend PCs to the vast majority of employees at these companies, the cost of software and hardware needs to come down to around $200 a desktop. He is already working on sourcing older PCs that cost $150 a pop. By putting Linux on them, they are nearly as powerful as new PCs we buy today with Windows (Windows has a lot of overhead that radically slows the performance of a PC). Next, he needs to be able to build almost every type of application people would need on a PC for under $50 a year. He needs Swiss
army software.

The solution of course is to build applications as websites on the desktop. Given that people he is selling to don’t have a legacy problem (they aren’t already using existing last generation apps like Office, ERP, CRM, e-mail, etc. from the major vendors nor are they likely to), the opportunity is to provide them a new, more functional experience. His idea, which I think is wonderful, is to put K-Logs at the center of the desktop for these employees and surround them with digital dashboards that connect them to the data they need to do their job. Search, very much like a Google on the desktop, would tie it all together.

Basically, the K-Log would serve as the routing system for employee data entry. This means, that employees could enter data into the system using a browser-based interface and route the data to where it needs to go (to one app
or multiple apps). This creates a single point of data entry for KM K-Logs, ERP, CRM, financial, and e-mail. All entries would be logged on a personal K-Log (a time-organized back-up brain). Some entries would be published to a central K-Log on the Intranet for general consumption by other employees (KM). A digital dashboard would enable employees to see data on sales, financial performance, e-mail, supply information, news, etc. All of that data would arrive as RSS subscriptions or Web Services delivered in real-time (all data displayed could be easily subscribed to ala carte — also data could be annotated and added to the K-Log through a simple post procedure).

The advantages to this approach are too numerous to list.

Although initially, much of this may be centralized, the longer term vision is to totally decentralize it. So, in five years, the standard PC used by a large percentage of the employees in the world may be running Linux, Radio (which includes a database, content management system, development environment, and web server that runs on the desktop — Swiss army software), and web apps powered by centralized Web Services built by Emergic.

Nice!

Note: It was so great to talk/work with someone that really didn’t care about all the buzzwords spewing out of the big technology companies. We are all so overmarketed in the states, particularly in regards to software, that most of us don’t realize how really bad or nonfunctional most of what we buy is. Buzzwords, jargon, branding, etc. totally cloud our judgement. Legacy systems and mindsets freeze us in place. Unfortunately, I think we are stuck with it. Rajesh is planning to build a system to allow companies in emerging markets to leapfrog us in terms of the productivity, flexibility, and functionality of their information systems. I expect tales of woe in five to seven years about how America missed the opportunity to reinvent software but didn’t. Fingers will be pointed, particularly given the billions that were spent. It would be interesting to see Microsoft, IBM, and Sun treated like GM, Ford, and Chrysler were 17 years ago when Japanese imports crushed their marketshare.

John has summarised Emergic’s Vision better than I ever could have!

Wifi Service Providers Battle

Writes Business 2.0:

Eventually the battle for Wi-Fi users will likely be fought between cellular carriers and wired network access providers (dial-up, DSL, and cable). From a marketing perspective, cellular is synonymous with wireless access, and upcoming dual-mode (GPRS/Wi-Fi) hardware might give subscribers automatic access to the best available data network wherever they are at any moment — something only a cellular data operator can currently offer. But as a group, the cellcos are inexperienced at billing for data.

When it comes to the all-important question of charging users, the landline access companies are better positioned: They have the billing relationships with data customers and are already supporting hardwired connections to the Internet. Adding Wi-Fi access points is not terribly expensive, and the acquisition of a few WISPs would make it easier.

Microsoft CRM

Writes Robert Cringley of InfoWorld: “Although Microsoft’s forthcoming CRM solution is positioned as a down-market offering, when it ships in December it will come with two connectors to SAP via bundled BizTalk technology. It will also coincide with an initiative rebranding all of Microsoft’s business applications and will be followed by an ASP-based version of the CRM offering targeted directly against Salesforce.com. Also on tap are third-party offerings that bundle a low-cost computer telephony feature and a partner relationship management app.”

He adds: “With Office and Sharepoint built into a fresh application that has no code from either Great Plains or Navision, two relatively recent Microsoft acquisitions, there is nothing “down market” about this application push into the enterprise.”

LTSP contribution

Anurag Phadke from our company has contributed “documented the process of building a custom kernel for an LTSP workstation, and also included information for using the LPP (Linux Progress Patch) to display a nice graphical screen during the bootup” to LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project).

TECH TALK: Tech’s 10X Tsunamis: RFIDs (Part 2)

Business Week (July 8, 2002) had an article entitled The End of the Road for Bar Codes, which discussed how RFID could revolutionise retailing:

In stores, RFID enables salespeople to locate and read tags at a distance–a big advantage over bar code systems, which require line-of-sight between the reader and the colored stripes. In warehouse settings, RFID systems can inventory an entire building full of goods with minimal human supervision.

In March, Marks & Spencer, one of Britain’s largest retailers, began replacing bar codes with an RFID system in its $4.4 billion fresh-food business. The company is putting radio tags on all of the 3.5 million plastic containers it uses to tote food from suppliers to stores. Before, suppliers had to print bar-coded labels for each of the 7 million bins M&S handles every week. Now, each time one of M&S’s 340 suppliers packs one of these bins, the system encodes shipment data–including product codes, quantities, and expiration dates–onto RFID tags embedded in the cartonThanks to increased handling efficiencies, less spoiled food, and fewer lost shipments, M&S expects to recoup its $3 million smart tag investment in three years.

To bring the cost [of the smart tags] down, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is heading an ambitious project called the Auto-ID Center, backed by 52 companies including Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Wal-Mart. The plan is to develop a common language of electronic product codes to identify billions of items, and to slash the cost of RFID tags to 5 cents by 2005–cheap enough to embed a tag in each can of Coke.

In a recent article, the Economist (August 15, 2002) wrote about the future direction of tracking technologies: The new generation of tracking devices combines two existing technologies. One is a global-positioning-system (GPS) chip, which uses radio signals from a network of satellites to work out where it is on the earth’s surface to within a few metres. The other is a mobile-telephone chip, which broadcasts that location to whoever needs to know it. The result is a pocket-sized, or even wrist-sized, personal locator.

It gives the example of Applied Digital Solutions (ADS), of Palm Beach, Florida, which calls its version of the technology a digital angel:

The angel comes in two versions. People get a pager-like device that clips on to their clothing. Animals get a collar. The digital angel can also issue an alert when its wearer has fallen down, or when there has been an unexpected change in local temperature of the sort that might be caused, say, by someone falling into a pond. For that to happen, the wearer needs to sport a specially modified wristwatch which has suitable sensors and a wireless link to the pager.

ADS’s device is a type of radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip. When an RFID chip is interrogated by a reading machine operating at the right radio frequency, its antenna picks up a small amount of energy from the signal. This is used to power the chip. The device then broadcasts data in the chip back to the reader.

Glover, in his HBR article, provides a glimpse of the future of object-to-object communications: Already, sensors and network of readers are making possible sophisticated four walls applications that can be carried out within the confines of a facility, an organization or (if the company is large, like Wal-mart) a corporate ecosystemSomeday we may well have a universally accepted standard for communication and a globe-spanning infrastructure of readers. At that point, objects will have wide-ranging and deep conversations with other objects, and their silent form of commerce will be the rule. Glover gives examples of the possibilities A to Z Product Tracking, Proactive Products, Variable Pricing, Continuous Selling.

Think of RFIDs as the next wave in communications: we first had people talking to people (through language and publications), then we had people interacting with computers (through the Internet, HTML and HTTP), now we are seeing applications talk to other applications (through Web Services). The next leap will be objects talking to other objects. When that happens, life will, truly, never be the same again.

Tomorrow: Displays