Ideas

Ideas constantly float by. They have to be caught, integrated with our current view of the world and even preserved for the future so they can be executed at the right time. Many times, we see Ideas as standalone (silos), and so let them pass us by.

Some of the best Ideas come in unconventional situations or when one least expects them. We should keep a small diary or book so we can jot down thoughts and Ideas, as they come. They are almost always in a raw format at first, and need to be mined and massaged.

Many times, an Idea is the result not of a sudden epiphany but a series of small nudges. Things come together slowly, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, one which keeps expanding to give us an increasingly bigger view of the world around.

It is very important for us to have diversity in our reading which can stimulate the thinking. Also, one must keep an open mind. We have to challenge ourselves, and let others challenge us. Every so often, it is necessary to question the fundamentals and the most basic assumptions of what we are doing to ensure that we are on the right track. We should not be scared of redoing things, or even retracing our path. Many times, we are afraid of what we will discover if we think too much, and so just let the status quo prevail. That is is grave mistake.

Ideas have to also pass the “next morning” test. Many times, we get excited with something and in our haste, take quick actions. This is also not right. We must wait a brief while and sleep on it — are we as excited the next day about our Idea? Good Ideas will always stand the test of time, and in fact, will become stronger and richer with time.

India Today article on Blogs

India Today (September 23 issue) has an article (not yet available online) entitled “The Blogs are Coming”. From what I can tell, this is the first blogging-related article in the mainstream Indian press. Its written by Nidhi Taparia Rathi [her blog].

The article has a small mention of Emergic: “And then there is Rajesh Jain, CEO, Emergic, a software solutions start-up, for whom blogging is business. He maintains a blog on emerging technologies underlining business plans of his own startup and also finding valuable business feedback from his readers.”

The first sentence has 3 errors:
– I am Managing Director, Netcore Solutions Pvt Ltd. Emergic is the name of the blog and my vision for cost-effective technology solutions.
– Netcore is not a start-up, it is 4+ years old.
– Blogging is not yet business for me or Netcore. It is more a way to (a) build a personal knowledge management system of all that I’ve read and liked so I can find them again later (b) share my ideas and get feedback on them (the second sentence is quite accurate, except for the startup bit).

Two additional thoughts (more generally):

– when mainstream publications write on technology, they invariably make errors. It would be nice if they could run the quote or the relevant excerpt with the subject so as not to make factual errors (the journalist is entitled to his/her opinion, but at least, let us get facts right). I have seen this happen to me on more than a few occasions. All it requires is a quick phone call or a short email. The final prerogative on what to write still rests with the writer and the magazine.

– an article like the one on blogging needs URLs – either with the websites mentioned, or perhaps separately in a sidebar. Rather than waste so much of space on the fancy graphics which serve little purpose, it would have been better to give 8-10 URLs of good blogs and blogging tools/sites.

Nevertheless, a good effort. One thing about India Today: they are always the earliest in India with the trends of tomorrow.

ISPs learning from TV!

News.com writes about a complete turnaround in the world of new media, as ISPs searching for a business model seem to be now focused on learning from their cable brethren:

America Online wants to be the Internet’s HBO, scheduling exclusive content that people will go out of their way to pay for, according to CEO Richard Parsons. SBC Communications has linked hands with Yahoo to create its own bundles of “programming”–music, video, and other content and services.

Other Internet service providers (ISPs) and content companies are increasingly striking variations on the same tune: The ISP business needs to attract people with content, in much the same way cable TV does. The trouble is, some analysts say, there’s not yet much reason to believe that people will respond the same way they do to cable TV.

Internet2

Writes News.com as part of an article on Internet2:

Over the last 30 or 40 years, business has had a skewed perception of information technology, HBS professor Richard Nolan observed. Business usually looks at IT as a way of automating transactions. Computers were imagined not to change the information structure of a business per se, but to make the existing structure run more efficiently. This idea came straight out of the Industrial Age, he said. “We even called computers ‘machines,'” Nolan said.

The whole concept of computers was that they were standalone objects. Now, when people can do collaborative work spanning time zones, the concept is a good bit different.

This is the underlying thinking behind my Tech Talk series “Rethinking the Desktop”. The desktop of today has its origins when computers were standalone devices. Today, collaboration between people and computers has become paramount. This is where blogs, syndication, web services and the digital dashboard come in.

Internet Advertising Success Story

Writes WSJ:

Search-engine advertising — paying a fee to ensure your company is listed prominently on a search-results page — has taken off in popularity. By allowing advertisers to target customers using any word or phrase, these sites have lifted the lid on some of the more peculiar niche markets on the Internet — and how much advertisers are willing to pay to reach these groups.

Although still a small fraction of the overall online advertising market, pay-for-placement advertising is one of the few bright spots in the slumping online advertising segment these days. In 2001, keyword searches accounted for 4% of the $7.2 billion in online advertising revenue, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau, an industry trade group — but that number is growing. In July, Overture alone reported second-quarter revenue of $152.5 million, from $62.5 million the year earlier.

Siebel UAN

Siebel Releases Universal Application Network With Version 7.5: “Initially unveiled in April, the UAN brings a new approach to integration by embedding industry-specific customer business processes, gained from Siebel’s 3,500 customer implementations, in layers on top of industry-standard technology. It lets organizations implement and maintain business processes from a central standpoint while also eliminating the need to write and maintain hundreds of point-to-point integrations between applications.” Something we should definitely look at.

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Powerline Networking

Writes Rafe Needleman: “Powerline networking certainly sounds like a great idea: Turn your house’s existing wiring into a home network. Ever since these devices hit retail shelves a few years ago, reviewers have loved how easy they are to use. I won’t argue about that. But as a business trend to bet on, powerline networking doesn’t look so hot.”

Adds Needleman: “Powerline networking has its advantages. It’s a lot more practical to use it to wire a big house, for example, since Wi-Fi bases offer limited range. And it’s more secure than Wi-Fi, because it’s encrypted and naturally blocked from leaving your house by the power company’s transformers. ..But, given Wi-Fi’s pluses, I still wouldn’t bet on this horse.”

Yahoo’s Challenges

An interesting article in Fortune on how Semel is working to turn things around at Yahoo. For many, Yahoo was our first experience of the Internet. Its a company which could have done so much more, had it not lost its way in between. Yahoo is now pinning its hopes in broadband, especially its partnership with telco SBC.

Reading about what Yahoo and SBC will do gives some interesting ideas for our digital dashboard: “SBC will mail customers who order DSL service a purple-and-blue box containing a modem and a CD-ROM with Yahoo’s web software. In about 30 minutes, users will be up and running with a browser that looks like the love child of MyYahoo and Internet Explorer. Once signed on, the experience is all Yahoo. Users can check their e-mail through Yahoo Mail and customize every inch of their screen with special Yahoo content. One corner of the screen will house a user’s three most recent messages, another a personalized news feed, another sports scores of favorite teams, another a radio station playing music the user likes. The system learns too. The more you listen to the radio, the more it knows what sort of songs you like. If you click on sports news a lot, Yahoo will feed more team reports to the front page.”

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Maytag’s Clicks-and-Bricks Approach

From WSJ comes a good example of how the Internet can complement the physical world infrastructure that companies have set up:

Visitors to Maytag.com can shop just as they can at any e-commerce site, browsing for appliances or searching for specific items. When they find something they want, they add it to a shopping cart, and when they are ready to check out, they enter a ZIP code and the site recommends nearby Maytag dealers and checks for price and availability. Shoppers can then transfer to a retailer’s site, where they can complete the checkout process and arrange for delivery.

For Maytag, this has several advantages. Like sites that sell directly to consumers, it gives Maytag detailed information about its customers’ shopping patterns. But unlike direct-sales sites, Maytag doesn’t have to make big changes in the way it conducts business. For instance, it typically ships truckloads of appliances to distributors; selling directly to consumers would have meant reworking its warehouse and supply operations to handle individual shipments to households.

Most important, this approach doesn’t alienate the dealers. Indeed, it has given them a boost.

TECH TALK: Rethinking the Desktop: The Next Generation Desktop

The next-generation desktop stack comprises of the following layers:

Linux OS: At the bottom of the stack is the operating system. Many of the ideas that need to be implemented for the next-generation desktop cannot be done without help from the OS. Also, Linux is more than good enough now for the desktop, especially when one considers the needs of the next set of computer users from the world’s emerging markets. They need an OS which is free and can run on older, lower-end and cheaper computers. Windows XP will only work on the newest machines and costs too much.

XML Store: This is the database, which stores all the information. Enterprises have databases, but so far, desktops have not. The overwhelming quantum of information that one needs to manage needs a SQL-compatible storage system. This unified personal database would store emails, files, bookmarks, cookies, blog posts, address books, appointments and buddies. This single store can now enable search across the user’s personal information.

Applications: The base set of open source applications on the desktop that are needed are an email client and personal information management application (Evolution), a web browser capable of being used as an applications platform (Mozilla), a unified instant messaging client (GAIM) and a desktop productivity suite that uses XML for data storage (OpenOffice). In addition, there is KDE, one of the two Linux desktop variants. New applications will be needed to provide support for blogging, RSS aggregation and outlining.

Web Services: Think of the applications available as web service components. Thus, instead of thinking of OpenOffice Calc as the monolith spreadsheet, think of it as a “computational engine” which provides calculation, tabular data representation, charting and more. Also, think of OpenOffice Word as the standard writing tool with formatting and spell-checking support. Evolution’s Calendar can provide time-based navigation. The advantage of using the existing applications as web services is that one does not have to re-invent the wheel in terms of creating new software. This also provides users with fewer interfaces that they need to learn.

Local Web Server: Running a web server like Apache (or a more lightweight one) provides a dual advantage – standards-based interaction with the web services and applications via SOAP and HTTP, and using HTML, XML and stylesheets for the display of pages on the web browser within the digital dashboard.

Scripting Language: The scripting language (or a visual programming environment) helps in extending the set of applications and services that are available, and customizing what each user sees. It also provides a mechanism to write filters that can automate routine tasks and act on RSS events.

Digital Dashboard: It is the visible faade of the next-generation desktop architecture. It aggregates together information and applications from multiple different sources. It provides a unified view of what’s important and most frequently used. The dashboard captures all that we write into a single database, so that our thoughts can be threaded together and the evolution of ideas be made visible.

Spaces: KDE has a nice feature which provides for multiple, virtual desktops, separated by a single click. For our purpose, think of the dashboard as having two screens, designated as Spaces. The two spaces represent the two identities that we don in real life: a private persona with our own social groups, and a business executive and information worker in an enterprise. These identities co-exist and have their own worlds, their own information flows. The time has come to separate the two on the desktop.

We will talk more about Digital Dashboard and Workspaces in the coming columns.

Tomorrow: Digital Dashboard

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