Successful eCommerce Sites

Writes David Galbraith: “The three most successful eCommerce sites in terms of number of paid subscribers are Classmates, and – this is not surprising, they are all about networks of people and so is the Internet.”

A focus on friends and family (past and future) is what seems to work on the Internet.

Blog Networks

Jon Udell has a post entitled Crossing the bridge of weak ties, which discusses the new developments linking blogs and Internet groupware, and muses about “a world in which transparency and information-sharing are the rule rather than the exception” and “the evolution of our species toward shared consciousness.”

Two projects which Udell mentions are:
Greg Reinacker’s Outlook-based News Aggregator and Ingo Rammer’s use of Exchange as a weblog platform.

Software TCO and Schools

Sankarshan has an interesting article for Linux in Schools based on the total cost of ownership:

FreeBSD and Linux systems can be of enormous benefits to school business models. While these operating systems have long been adopted as the backbone of the IT industry, running web-servers and the like, they are also in areas of mission critical importance replacing Microsoft and Novell File Server(s). The Linux operating system and other OS under the umbrella of OpenSource or Free Software movement can be obtained for free from the local Linux Users Group – nothing comes cheaper than that. Yet the price may not be the only advantage that schools will obtain from such a switch over. Recent developments in application suites entail that a wide array of established and presumed applications and operations are handled by such OSs. Moreover, the unique networked environment in schools makes Linux a better choice.

New Interfaces

Amy Wohl’s predictions For 2003 has this segment on New Interfaces:

Ive gotten bored waiting for a reliable voice interface. There are good voice interfaces to some things and less reliable ones for others. The trouble is they vary widely and I want them to all be just the same in both how they work and how well they work. The voice interface people need to talk to Sony about the standards for consumer technology.

On the other hand, I see a new graphical user interface for organizing my information proposed about once a day. So far, most of them arent very useful. Folks, Im not going to rework everything Ive got, use two different systems, or use an interface that thinks differently than I do.

And by the way, researchers, very few human beings store their information (or think about it) in chronological order. We tend to think about things in categories, projects, companies, teams or clients. But keep thinking about the problem. We cant manage all that information manually, so we need some help its just got to actually be helpful.

I have in the past thought about a concept called “MyDB” – a database which is flexible to store any information I want, wherein I define my own formats, and which can be accessible from anywhere via SMS (my cellphone) or the Web. The Unix command-line interface may work better than fancy GUIs. I need an interface which works like this:
[DatabaseName] [Add/Edit/Delete/Search] [Rest of the information]

If the DatabaseName (eg. PhoneBook, People, Project, Idea, Appointment) does not exist, it simply creates a new one (could be just a flat file). When I add, it just appends to the file. When I search on a string in the third field, it returns all matches where the string appears – I can do the worrying about duplicates.

Should be easy to build something like this. Maybe it already exists. And then I should actually start using it!

The 5KPC

Over the past two years, I’ve had many key ideas as I seek out to build out my new venture. The first was that of an eBusiness software suite for SMEs. Then, I expanded this to an SME Tech Utility, which comprised of a whole solution for SMEs. Later, came the concept of Emergic – solutions for emerging enterprises in emerging markets, using emerging technologies.

As we began work in 2002 seeking to build out various components of Emergic — a thin-client thick-server software solution, a digital dashboard and an eBusiness suite, an interesting thing happened along the way as I started talking to people outside about our ideas. The one thing which stuck as the notion of the “Rs 5,000 PC” – I would say it in the context of hardware for Rs 5,000 and software for Rs 250 per user per month. But what people had captivated about was with the Rs 5,000 computer.

This reached a bit of crescendo (for us) when the media started wanting to talk about it – we have had coverage in the past 3 weeks in various newspapers and magazines [EcoTimes, BusinessStandard, DQWeek]. The concept that has attracted them more than anything else I talked about was the “cheap PC”.

When I started thinking more about it, I realised that even though we were focusing on developing the software, what excited others was the fact that we could run the software on cheaper hardware – in effect, we were bringing down the cost of hardware and not software (which was being pirated anyways). That’s where the notion that one could get a computer for Rs 5,000 (USD 100) as opposed to the Rs 20,000 or more was an instant winner in terms of their understanding of what we did.

I have been realising that perhaps, to sell the software, we need the hardware, too. We cannot think of the software in isolation – it has to be part of the solution. This may mean us looking at selling the Rs 5,000 computers to get the software out there! That has set me on a train of thought about this Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC). This is the background to both my latest thinking about Emergic and the eloboration of these ideas in the latest series of Tech Talks.

TECH TALK: The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem: The Rationale

I have often talked about the Rs 5,000 (USD 100) Personal Computer in these columns as the cornerstone for engineering a revolution in taking computing to the next 500 million users. To build out computing for the next users in the worlds emerging markets, we need to think in terms of an ecosystem built around the Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC). In this series, I elaborate on these ideas, looking at specific segments and how they can be transformed using low-cost computers.

There are two driving factors behind the 5KPC thinking. For one, the PC can be the vehicle for opening up new windows and opportunities. For the first generation of users over the past quarter century, it has done just that. Neither the TV nor the telephone (or the cellphone) can match the computers interactive platform which enables its users to connect to each other, information and applications. The PC has engineered the technology and productivity revolution in the developed markets in the past two decades, flanked by the Internet and cheap connectivity. So, the question is: how can the PC now be taken across the digital divide to the next generation of users?

This brings us to the second factor. These users need a solution at a much lower-cost even though the computer cost has fallen to USD 200 (excluding monitor and software), that is still too much for most users in the rest of the world. I think the magical price point for computing to become a mass-market phenomenon in the developing countries of the world is USD 100 (Rs 5,000). Today, even the cheapest computers available in India are at least 3-4 times as much. Of course, they have the newest processors, plentiful memory and more storage than can be imagined. Software by itself costs way too much Microsoft Windows and Office can cost as much as the computer itself. (Of course, most users have their own way around these costs piracy.)

I have long believed that for consumers and enterprises in developing markets, computers are not a luxury, but a necessity. Here are two quotes from a story in San Francisco Chronicle, about the significance of a low-cost computing project in Laos:

Right now, the villagers have no way of telling what the market is like in the big towns they sell their stuff to, telling what the weather report is for their crops, things like that. This will absolutely change that. Plus, they will be able to talk to relatives in America some of them haven’t seen in decades. Lee Thorn, who is creating the Jhai computer.

The important thing is for them to have communication, because every day they sell their ducks, rice, weaving and chickens, and every day they have to sell for less money than they should because they can’t know what the real price is down in the towns. – Vorasone Denkayaphichitch, co-ordinating of the project in Laos.

And this from a story in the New York Times recently on Internet access in Ecuador:

“In the late 1990’s, everyone jumped up in arms over the digital divide, but it has proven almost impossible to bridge. Why would access to technology be any different than access to education, health care, employment or financial aid?” Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy-analysis center, and an expert on Latin America.

Food, Water and Electricity are the basic essentials of life. They ensure todays survival. But they do not alter quality of life from generation to generation. In this context, the connected computer can become a passport to a better life, or a growing business. Food and water take of the present, computers can provide for a future.

Tomorrow: The Concept