Microcontent as a Business

Guardian writes about the business of blogging, and how the strategies are focused on keeping costs low and looking for niches. Nanopublishing.

Weblogs are one of the few things online still capable of generating both media buzz and bucks…A growing number of entrepreneurs, media types and marketers have taken up blogging, in all senses of the word. And as they crank out their own daily contributions and links, they’re starting to see blogging as a way to reach out to and research opinion formers, as a lesson in online media, and ultimately as a place they might eventually make a little money.

BlogStreet is our venture in this world. At this point, we have no idea how we are going to make money. But we will eventually come up with a plan. I like to walk along some paths because there’s that feeling that you just have to do it!

AOL’s Future

AOL needs a new vision, and there have been plenty of suggestions. Business Week suggested selling AOL to Microsoft (and integration with its MSN service). Dave Winer and Doc Searls too have made their own thoughts. New York Times too has its ideas.

I think the easy way out is to contemplate selling AOL. That would be the wrong thing to do. I think what they should do is get Steve Case back and let him run it. There are few who understand AOL and its strengths better than him. As Dave Winer says, just as it is hard to imagine Apple without Jobs, it is tough to imagine AOL without Case. Throw Case a challenge. Give him 2 years.

In the current environment, my guess is that AOLTW will do is clean up AOL enough to line it up for a sale or spinoff in a year.

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Sony Emphasises Design

Sony is seeking to emphasise design in its products to counter growing threats to its consumer electronics business from companies like Apple and Microsoft. Writes New York Times:

Led by its dominant lines – including Walkman personal stereos, Handycam video cameras and the PlayStation 2 game console – Sony sold 86 million gadgets last year and is the world’s second-largest consumer electronics maker, after Matsushita Electric Industrial, which owns the Panasonic and National brands.

“The packaging is as important as the item inside,” says Mitsuru Inaba, the vice president in charge of Sony’s Creative Center in Tokyo.

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Generation Gap in Media Consumption

Shrikant Patil makes an interesting point about we are becoming consumers of rich media but are unable to express ourselves using the same media:

Today’s children want to only see cable TV, surf the internet and are not interested in reading books, said the [library] owner. The only ones who subscribe to the library service anymore are the ones above 50.

In a historic joint discussion between Andy Grove and Steve Jobs at the Intel Sales Conference in January, Jobs brilliantly explained a similar situation, the big problem today is children consume a lot of video and rich media but are not able to express using the same media, a phenomena pretty much one way. We may disagree but cannot ignore, this will be the media of communication for the next generation, he added. The computer industry needs to build authoring tools, that are easy to use and allows the next generation to author and communicate using video. Steve showed us a number of video demos, making it very clear that Apple is a leader to make this a reality. I was extremely excited to note the significant role the PC has in making the next generation author and communicate using video, a industry designated mature and boring.

I definitely agree – there is so much more which needs to be done to make authoring and sharing of ideas and information easier. Blogs are the first step – they make mass publishing easier. Cellphones can enable moblogging. Digital cameras will make it easier to publish images. The future of computers lies not just in making faster processors but making them more integrated with our lives – both on the information consumption and production side. Computers need to enable the Two-Way Web.

India Rising

I have been feeling this for quite some time: India’s star in the world is on the ascendant. Its a mix of various things taken together which makes me feel like this.

The construction activity that I see all around – roads, bridges, buildings. And the quality of this new construction is now becoming on par with the best in the world, not the makeshift stuff we used to do a decade or more ago. Gurgaon, Whitefields, Lower Parel, Bandra Kurla Complex…places and neighbourhoods are changing.

India is in the news. Indians are in the news. India a key part of the recent Business Week cover story on outsourcing. The recent IIT-50 bash in the US. Kalpana Chawla on the Columbia shuttle (sad). Sarin taking over as CEO of Vodaphone. The growing business and profits of tech companies like Infosys and Wipro. Tisco exporting steel to China. Times of India becoming the largest selling English newspaper in the world. Reliance Infocomm offering the world’s lowest telecom rates.

Life becoming faster. This struck me recently when I took the train from Pune to Mumbai. For all my life, the journey time for the 192-km distance used to be 3 hours and 10-25 minutes. And the trains used to be packed. Now, the trains are running a bit empty. And the journey time has reduced to under 3 hours by Shatabdi. The reason? The world-class 6-lane expressway between the two cities has shrunk road time, and that has got in extremely comfortable bus services which do the journey in 3 hours. People are also preferring to just take their own cars. Nice to see the railways reacting to competition by reducing travel time.

A mix of geographical, economic and social factors is putting India in the limelight. The doom and gloom being felt in many parts of the world (slowdown, job losses, war fears) doesn’t seem to be resonating in India. It is business as usual. In fact, there’s a sense of positive energy.

Perhaps, China must have been like this in the 1990s (and continues to be). But India has always moved slower. Now, thanks to a mix of circumstances, technology, opportunities and a few good Ministers (people like Arun Shourie), there is a feeling that life tomorrow will definitely be better, that India can yet claim its rightful place in the world.

Unlike China, India is WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get). The openness, transparency and democratic principles embedded in the people make India still go a little slower than China. But I can’t help feeling that this is a more solid growth. The dragon might have raced ahead, but the elephant has finally started moving, much to the relief and delight of the rest of the world. The dragon invokes fear, the elephant is an epitome of friendliness.

A start has been made, and this is just the beginning. But for the first time in my life, I sense that India is slowly getting its act together, determined to not just not miss the bus once again, but to leapfrog.

TECH TALK: The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem: 10 Ideas to Tap Invisible Markets (Part 2)

Continuing with the ideas outlined by Vijay Mahajan, Marcos V. Pratini De Moraes and Jerry Wind in their paper (Marketing Management, Winter 2000) on The Invisible Global Markets in the context of building our Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) ecosystem:

6. Recognise that low income doesnt mean low quality expectations: When we talk of the 5KPC, we are not asking users to compromise in features, applications or performance. We are giving them a full-fledged computer with state-of-the-art performance and an easy-to-use GUI. In fact, in terms of convenience and the applications that are available, these users, much like their cellphone brethren in the emerging markets, have an opportunity to leapfrog existing users in the developed nations because of their lack of legacy.

7. Use demand pooling to reach critical mass: This is where the concept of telecentres comes in. Just like STD PCOs provide telecom access to a neighbourhood obviating the need for individual ownership, the telecentres can become the computing and communications centres to provide access to individuals and enterprises in the area. Cybercafes have done much the same in India so far by offering Internet access for as little as Rs 20 (40 cents) an hour. But what has been missed out is the access to computing and applications. The telecentres can become the instant business office for SMEs and allow them to test-drive applications before they decide to invest in computing on their own.

8. Bring your own infrastructure: Connectivity and bandwidth has been a bugbear for much of the worlds emerging markets. WiFi is the way to bring about the broadband communications revolution in these markets. As WiFi technology improves and its costs fall, they create the infrastructure to make possible the 5KPCs which can now be lit up in the presence of a network. This infrastructure leverages the newest developments in wireless technologies. Because it uses open spectrum and is built-out in a distributed manner (customer-owned networks), the costs are lower as compared to 3G networks.

9. Rethink the entire marketing and business strategy: Creative and innovative solutions will be needed to tap into these new markets. One example is to consider a rental business model, based on utility pricing. For example, the hardware, software and communications could be provided for as little as Rs 500 per month, creating a 3-year total cost of ownership of Rs 18,000, which should be enough to allow the entire value-chain to offer the services profitably. Another idea we have discussed earlier is the use of older computers and accessories, discarded by countries like US and Japan.

10. Bridge the digital divide: This is exactly what the 5KPC ecosystem, along with its concomitant ideas of the thick-server, open-source software and WiFi make possible. They make computing affordable, thus making it possible to take it to the technology have-nots, across the digital divide. The digital divide can be bridged by disruptive innovations. For example, we can think of building an SME Barter network cash is for them an incredibly valuable resource. College students can become the next big open-source developer community. The new markets and opportunities are only limited by our imagination.

With this background behind us, let us now look at each of the seven markets that we have mentioned schools, colleges, government, bank branches, SMEs, homes and telecentres. We will see how the 5KPC ecosystem can bring about dramatic changes in each of these areas in order to make the vision of a connected computer accessible to every employee and family a reality.

Tomorrow: Schools

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