BlogStreet in The Hindu

The Hindu writes about BlogStreet’s Neighbourhood Analysis:

In a weblog, the weblogger logs all the web pages that interest her. That is, a weblog compiled by an expert on a specific subject will contain valuable links related to her subject. Apart from presenting interesting links with comments and writing stories on a specific subject, a blogger generally lists out the URLs of other blogs with similar content, which she reads quite often. This practice is called blogrolling. In fact from being just an on-line diary, blogs have evolved into an excellent collaboration tool.

What we can infer from this is that there is an automatic categorisation or self-organisation of blogs taking place. It is obvious that if we can locate weblogs with similar content or weblog neighbourhood as it is commonly called a Netizen can directly go to those sites that deal with his subject instead of spending time on search engines.

The challenge is how to identify related weblogs. That is, if you know about a blog that deals with, say, economics, how to identify weblogs that are in the neighbourhood of this blog? The blog neighbourhood analyser of weblog neighbourhood analyser it will immediately display a list of blogs related to this weblog. Apart from this service you will also find a reference page with a wealth of weblog related links at Blogstreet site.

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SMBmeta Initiative

Dan Bricklin has a very interesting idea to make it easier for SMEs “to communicate information such as the physical location of the business and the area it serves, as well at the type of business, to search engines and other services.”

One of the major drivers of the US economy are small and medium businesses (which we’ll call “SMBs”). These range from restaurants, machine shops, lumber yards, advertising agencies and law offices, to carpenters, musicians, and locksmiths, to weekend DJs and grandmothers selling their knitting. This document describes a data file format and associated services designed to help those businesses in their use of the Internet.

One of the concerns of businesses is having their web site found by customers. One of the concerns of customers is being able to find an appropriate set of businesses from which to choose to meet their needs. Web sites and normal search engines meet some of these needs. Unfortunately, it has been difficult for search engines to ascertain specific information such as the particular locale served by a business, the type of the business, the languages spoken by the staff, etc. A human being can often find out this and a wide variety of other information by reading a web site, but it can be hard to automatically find it out for constructing a reliable database. The goal of this “SMBmeta” project is to provide a way to amass this additional data to aid in searching. It is not to provide the data that you would find on the web site itself, just the data you use in searching.

The way we do this is with an “smbmeta.xml” file.

The smbmeta.xml file is an XML file stored at the top level of a domain that contains machine readable information about the business the web site is connected to. It is an open, distributed way for small and medium businesses to communicate information such as the physical location of the business and the area it serves, as well at the type of business, to search engines and other services. Hopefully, it will open up innovation that will result in a wide variety of new services that will benefit the SMBs and their customers.

I like the idea – it can, for example, plug right into an RSS aggregator, so I could subscribe to SMEs in my area of interest or even in my neighbourhood. Getting SMEs to interact with other SMEs and end-users is the next big challenge.

Microsoft’s Pricing

Jacques Surveyer writes (in Globe and Mail):

Let us examine the notion that Microsoft has become like butter, the high-priced spread. For Office XP Standard Edition, CNET’s November 18th average price was $390; for Corel Word Perfect 2002 Suite it was $270; for Lotus Smart Suite Millenium, $210; Sun Star Office was $80; and Open Office was and still is $0 (free download at OpenOffice.org). It is estimated that the Office Suite alone accounts for $10-billion of Microsft’s $30-billion in annual revenue. For Windows XP Home the price was $190; for Mandrake Linux 8 it was $27 ($0 on direct download); for Windows 2000 Advanced Server it was $2,350 for one CPU 25 users; Redhat 8 Enterprise edition with unlimited users was $149; Solaris 9 on x86 with unlimited users, $90. The estimates vary from $8-billion to $12-billion for the revenue brought in by the Windows server and desktop editions. Microsoft’s Visual Studio.NET was $750; GCC and other GPL developer software on Linux, $0.

So for more than two-thirds of Microsoft’s software portfolio by revenue the company is no longer the best price/performance producer, but in fact often has one of the highest purchase costs.

This is the opportunity for open-source software, which is now more than good enough for 80% of the new users in emerging markets.

95% Features at Half the Price

That is the essence, according to WSJ about China’s strategy in consumer electronics.

China is ramping up to do the same thing for big-ticket consumer-electronics items — especially wide-screen, high-definition television sets for the living room — that it has already done for smaller items such as DVD players, which now can be bought for $50.

Many medium-size booths were set up at the CES from companies you never heard of — Norcent, Sampo — that were showing off 40-inch and 50-inch HD-TV screens priced $1,500 below the current $4,000 to $6,000 asking prices from the A-list set makers. Expect all of those prices to keep dropping.

China has an inexpensive but well-trained work force, along with access to the very latest semiconductor technology used inside these consumer-technology devices. The country’s basic strategy seems to be to make products with 95% of the performance of the very best from Japan, Korea or Europe, but at one-half to two-thirds of the price.

Indian companies have an opportunity to do the same in enterprise software.

Dell to sell Retail-store Systems

I found this item about Dell in WSJ interesting:

Dell Computer Corp. plans to begin selling retail-store systems including electronic cash registers as the world’s largest personal-computer maker continues to expand its ambitions beyond its traditional turf. The company aims to provide the customized equipment required to automate department-store and convenience-store operations.

Mr. Farello, Dell’s vice president of retail-business development, said Dell has been encouraged to enter the market by large retailers looking to lower their point-of-sale systems’ cost.

Dell’s new marketing will pit it against traditional point-of-sale suppliers including International Business Machines Corp., NCR Corp. and Wincor Nixdorf GmbH, as well as newer entries from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

IHL estimates the North American market for checkout systems at $4 billion a year. IBM, the largest supplier of point-of-sale systems, holds an as much as 75% share of the systems installed at the top grocery-store and retail chains.

I think there’s also an opportunity to look at Linux-based Point-of-sale systems in emerging markets like India. I haven’t researched the segment but this could be an area ripe for disruption. For the most part, the competition is nonconsumption – most retailers don’t use any system at all.

Steve Case Resigns

An era comes to an end with the resignation of AOL-TW chairman Steve Case. Says WSJ: “The departure of Mr. Case, effective in May, represents a coda to America Online’s short-lived and unsuccessful reign over Time Warner. Initially heralded as a sign of the new Internet era, the deal quickly became a failure as America Online’s business badly stumbled and cultural clashes between the two companies led to severe infighting. The stock price of the combined company has plummeted, wiping out nearly $200 billion in market value in the past two years.”

The AOL-Time Warner deal in January 2000 was a defining moment in business history – an Internet company acquiring one of the world’s largest media conglomerates. It also made most CEOs and managers sit up and take notice of the New Economy (if they hadn’t already noticed the booming Net valuations by then!)

Things have changed a lot since then. The Internet has melded more in the background and there really isn’t a “New Economy” or an “Internet way of doing business”.

Case is only 44 years. So, it will be interesting to see what he does next.

TECH TALK: Entrepreneur’s Enigmas (Part 2)

This is a dilemma the entrepreneur faces often. When an entrepreneur is worried about meeting payroll at the month-end or going through periods where it is difficult to generate revenues, it is all too easy to make decisions which can result in generating revenue in the immediate future but takes the enterprise away from the future he wants to create. If the entrepreneur considers only the near-term, he may fail to build out a sustainable, rapidly growing business, which is the ultimate objective and what is really driving the entrepreneurial venture. What makes it even difficult is that without survival in the near-term, the long-term does not even arise!

The challenge for entrepreneurs is, therefore, to create a two-fold strategy: one, build a business which may not be directly in line with the final goal but can help generate revenues in the near-term, and two, build out the new and exciting growth business, but whose gestation time can be unpredictable.

Building out a business which focuses on revenue generation in the short-term also helps keep the entrepreneur in touch with the market and the constantly changing competitive scenario. This also ensures that what the entrepreneur does for the long-term is grounded in reality, and not a static view of the marketplace.

Let me give a personal example. In IndiaWorld, our ultimate objective was to use the Internet to build out an electronic bridge and marketplace for Indians worldwide. But having gone through a couple of failed ventures, I realised that unless there is a bread-and-butter revenue stream, we will not live long enough to make that vision a reality. So, we took to creating websites for corporates. It may not have been the most exciting of businesses, but it helped us create positive cashflow, and thus gave us the money to invest into our portals business. We waited (waded!) through the initial years until the advertising business took off to give us the high growth that we wanted. Had we only focused only on the long-term, we would not have survived through the initial years. Had we focused only on the short-term, we would have been running just another commoditised business as other players got into the website design business.

I face a similar challenge now: we have an existing Linux messaging business that has been the breadwinner for the past few years but is now an undifferentiated business (too many competitors, falling revenues). Even as seek to build out a computing platform for the next 500 million users in Emergic, we need to ensure that we can build the messaging business into one which can generate a steadily increasing revenue stream.

My plan is to build out a Linux software solutions for enterprises which emphasizes customization to fight commoditisation and aggregates components from open-source and developed internally. This will keep the revenues coming in and keep us in touch with the enterprise market. In parallel, we will work on targeting new markets with the affordable computing solutions. This will take time to build out but has very a large upside if we can pull it off.

So, this enigma is not about either the near-term or the short-term. An entrepreneur needs to balance both to have a chance of succeeding.

Tomorrow: Entrepreneur’s Enigmas (continued)

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