BlogStreet Enhancements

Some of the ideas we have been thinking about for making BlogStreet a key resource for bloggers and blog-readers are:

Integrate RSS Aggregator with Blog Neighbourhood

This means that when I go to see a blog’s neighbourhood (and blogroll), I can also see the aggregated RSS entries from the blogs which are part of the blogroll and/or the neighbourhood. We already have an RSS Aggregator which we have written internally a few months ago for our Intranet. Adding this to BlogStreet will leverage the power of the RSS feeds.

The key lies in automating the entire process. When a blogger updates his blogroll, the blog neighbourhood on BlogStreet will also get updated and so will the RSS aggregator.

Why is this important? The Blogroll is, for most bloggers, their “subscription list” – the blogs they visit daily. Assuming that the blogger works as a filter, then the blogroll is very much related to the blogger’s interests. Being able to see what a blogger is reading (and by extension, what his neighbourhood is reading) can give good overviews on specific topics. For example, if I talk on my blog on knowledge management, then my blogroll is likely to have more of KM blogs. Thus, the RSS feeds of these blogs can also be expected to have KM-related posts.

This helps take the blogpost flow to the next level. There are many blogs which I may not want to see every day but maybe once a week, to get a general sense of what is happening in that field. This way, I dont clutter up my own RSS feed – I can access anyone’s RSS feed (derived from their blogroll and neighbourhood) via BlogStreet.

Blog Post Search and Referencing

A blog comprises blog posts. Unlike websites where the entire page is likely to be on a single topic, a blogger covers multiple topics in a single page. This is where Goog;e’s limitations become apparent. They use the blog page as the granularity of their page. It not only becomes hard to find the particular text that I am searching for on a page, but also the page keeps changing every day or even every few hours.

What is needed is a Search Engine for blog posts. We need to treat each blog post as a unit, and enable search on an individual post. Each post can be uniquely referenced via a permalink (unlike a regular webpage where the page URL is the only way of access). In fact, a blog page is meaningless in the current context.

To build a blog post search engine, we want to use the RSS feed since it already does the job of providing each blog post as a separate entity. (There is no need to reverse engineer blog page templates!)

Once we do the blog post bot and build a search on top of it, a few other byproducts can be developed:

– telling bloggers which other bloggers have referenced their items. This is important because as a blogger I want to know who else has quoted me or commented on what I have written. Similarly, I want other bloggers to (automatically) know when I reference them. Trackback requires extra work and hence does not seem to be picking up.

– for readers, it can tell them who has commented on a specific story or blog post. This is somewhat akin to what Blogdex and Daypop are doing today.

One of the problems that I have with Google when it comes to blogs is that there is no easy way to get who has linked to what I have written in the past 24 hours. This is what we need to do in BlogStreet. It will dramatically enhance the flow. As a blogger, this will open me up to different viewpoints and introduce me to new people. All of which should enhance the power and richness of blogging.

Emergic Freedom Markets

The launch of Emergic Freedom with the EcoTimes ad in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore last Thu-Fri got us a total of about 20 inquiries. It has galvanised us and gotten us started in many directions.

So far, in the past 6 weeks, we’ve done 9 trial installations of our Thin Client-Thick Server solution, of which 1 has been in Delhi and 1 in Thailand. The good news is that in both these cases we sent across the software and the installation went across rather smoothly. In Mumbai, we’ve been doing the installations ourselves. [Anyone interested in trying it out can send an email to info@netcore.co.in.]

What’s becoming clear to me is that there are two distinct markets for Emergic Freedom:

1. The Sustaining Technology Market

This is where Emergic Freedom is viewed as an important but incremental innovation. This market encompasses the mainstream computers users today, especially in corporates. Here, we are providing software which can help bring down desktop software costs or eliminate the need for hardware upgrades. The Emergic Freedom users will be the ones who are switching from MS-Windows or dumb terminals.

For this segment, what we are really offering is a “Thick Server Software” – they install the software on a server, and then can add (Thin) Clients at will. There is always some resistance we will face since people will be moving away from a Windows-Office environment. In this market, other than cost savings, there is little value-add we are providing.

There are two ways to reach this segment: directly (via our sales people), or indirectly (through a channel). Initially, we will need to take the direct route because getting a channel is not going to be easy – they need to see an installed base before they will be convinced to take up our product as part of their portfolio.

Our target is that in this quarter we want to target our MailServ customers and others that our MailServ channel partners may know and get them to undertake a trial of Emergic Freedom. More than money, we want references. The early adopters will be the innovators and visionaries (to borrow a phrase from Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm”).

In this segment, we need our Emergic Dashboard and Emergic Internet – that will be the duo that will “delight” end-users, make them much more productive, and hopefully, even get the other Windows-users to actually switch to Emergic Freedom. We are hoping to have the Dashboard/Intranet apps ready for launch by December-end.

2. The Disruptive Technology Market

This is where Emergic Freedom is a disruptive innovation, and creates new markets because it is able to bring down the cost of both hardware and software, resulting in savings of 75%. This is what has never been done before in computing. Here, we want to target new users, new applications and new markets. We’ve enumerated some of these potential vertical markets on our Emergic Freedom website.

These markets are what excite me, personally. It means selling a concept, making people imagine a future which is not easily visible. I have done it twice earlier – trying to sell an image processing product in the early 1990s (unsuccessfully), and then trying to sell the Internet as a business medium in the mid-1990s (successfully). Now, its once again time to paint a world which can be.

In this segment, we need to create a whole solution – we cannot go as just software sellers. Besides us as the software providers, we need two entities:
– the hardware sellers, who can provide the Thin Clients and Thick Server
– the vertical market specialist, who can eithe provide additional software and/or takes it to the end customer

For different vertical markets, we will need to have different partners. Some of the early vertical markets that we want to address include schools and colleges, hotels, residential buildings and service apartments, hospitals, call centres and cybercafes.

One can argue that this is just too much and we should be focusing on no more than one or two. That’s a good strategy once we know which of these markets will provide us best results – right now, we don’t. So, we will talk to organisations in each of these markets and see if there is potential.

(I will be expanding on much of the underlying ideas on disruptive innovations in this week’s Tech Talk series.)

Saturday Sessions

For the last few weeks, we’ve been having open-house company meetings each Saturday afternoon. It began a few weeks ago when one of the developers sent a email saying he wanted to talk about WiFi and the work he had done. Seeing the positive response, I decided to make it a weekly feauture with a small group each week sharing the work that they’ve been doing with the others. This helps make everyone aware of all that we are doing – and we are doing a lot of things for a company our size (40 people).

Last few Saturdays, we’ve added a twist to the sessions. After the presentation, everyone has to think for a few minutes and answer 2-3 questions (eg. what did you like about the software being developed, what are the 3 features you’d like to see, etc.) Then, everyone talks about what they’ve written. This converts passive observers into active participants. Just asking people a few questions means only a few answer. By getting them to write makes sure we get the opinion of everyone present. Most importantly, the presenters get a nice collection of ideas to think about.

Last Saturday, the session was on Emergic Freedom. The question: “What are the 3 things you like about the Thin Clients, and what are the three things you don’t like?” In the space of two hours, we had gotten lots of otherwise small (pain) points which had been largely ignored by both the users and the support team. It was a wonderful feedback session. As I told our team, “Individually, we may be good, but as a group, we can match the best in the world.” That is what the Saturday sessions are bringing out – the Power of the Collective.

Microsoft and the Desktop

From iTnews: “A growing trend of ultra-cheap computers is threatening to damage Microsoft’s hold on the desktop software market by attacking the core market to which Windows and Microsoft Office actually sell: PC bundles. Microsoft sells the majority of its Windows and Office licenses preinstalled with new PCs, but as PC prices fall–to as low as US$200 a box this year–the cost of Windows and Office licenses, as a percentage of the total system cost–is rising dramatically. That’s causing PC makers to look at alternatives in ever increasing numbers, to both of Microsoft’s core products.”

TECH TALK: Technology’s Next Markets: The Need for Disruptive Innovations

The worlds emerging markets are technologys new markets. Even as growth in technology spend in the worlds developed markets slows, we are seeing many technologies making a significant impact in the emerging markets. Wireless connectivity via cellphones is increasingly the preferred communications option over wired lines. Countries like India and China have state-of-the-art GSM networks. SMS (Short Message Service) has spawned its own language of interaction among the new users, even as text messaging has been slow to take off in the US. South Korea leads the world in gaming and broadband. The emerging markets are hungrier for new technology, because they see it as the one route to progress and a better life in times to come.

One of the major inhibitors with respect to technological deployment in the emerging markets has been Cost for the most part, technology is still predominantly dollar-denominated, putting it beyond the reach of the mass markets. Most new technology has been coming out of companies in US and Europe. Their pricing, especially for semiconductors and software, is what their markets will bear, which means it is many times the capacity of what users in the emerging markets can pay. Also, the feature set embedded in the products is not targeted specifically at users in the emerging markets.

What these users need is a small subset of features at a fraction of the price. But this is what few companies have bothered to do. For example, users in the emerging markets get the same versions of MS-Office or SAP or Oracle, at the same price points as their counterparts in the US or Europe. The problem is that the earnings for most users (individuals and enterprises) are in local currencies and not in dollars, putting the best technologies out of reach for them. This is the cycle that needs to be broken.

One of the reasons why technology companies find themselves in this zero (or even negative) growth phase is that their products have overshot the needs of their current set of users, and they have nothing to meet the needs of the next set of users who need similar products at lower price points. In other words, the technology industry is ready for disruptive innovations at the bottom-end of the markets, which offer solutions to new markets at dramatically lower price points, and are on a trajectory of improvement where they can one day even take on existing players in the current mainstream markets.

Think of the opportunity going ahead as creating a schism between todays developed markets (the mainstream markets served by established players) and tomorrows emerging markets (the low-end fringe markets targeted by new entrants). To borrow a phrase from Clay Christensen, existing technology companies serving the mainstream markets face the equivalent of an Innovators Dilemma. Their current markets are overserved by what they have saturated with hardware, software and communications options. The new markets need a very different value proposition which their current cost structures, business models and marketing methodologies are not conducive to. The technological battleground is ripe for new entrants with disruptive innovations.

Tomorrow: Disruptive Technologies