The Future of Blogspace

One person whose writings require a lot of thought to read and digest is Clay Shirky. His latest column is on Shirky: Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. It discusses how blogspace is likely to evolve, in the context of recent network theory work. Shirky’s conclusions:

At some point (probably one we’ve already passed), weblog technology will be seen as a platform for so many forms of publishing, filtering, aggregation, and syndication that blogging will stop referring to any particularly coherent activity. The term ‘blog’ will fall into the middle distance, as ‘home page’ and ‘portal’ have, words that used to mean some concrete thing, but which were stretched by use past the point of meaning. This will happen when head and tail of the power law distribution become so different that we can’t think of J. Random Blogger and Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit as doing the same thing.

At the head will be webloggers who join the mainstream media (a phrase which seems to mean “media we’ve gotten used to.”) The transformation here is simple – as a blogger’s audience grows large, more people read her work than she can possibly read, she can’t link to everyone who wants her attention, and she can’t answer all her incoming mail or follow up to the comments on her site. The result of these pressures is that she becomes a broadcast outlet, distributing material without participating in conversations about it.

Meanwhile, the long tail of weblogs with few readers will become conversational. In a world where most bloggers get below average traffic, audience size can’t be the only metric for success. LiveJournal had this figured out years ago, by assuming that people would be writing for their friends, rather than some impersonal audience. Publishing an essay and having 3 random people read it is a recipe for disappointment, but publishing an account of your Saturday night and having your 3 closest friends read it feels like a conversation, especially if they follow up with their own accounts. LiveJournal has an edge on most other blogging platforms because it can keep far better track of friend and group relationships, but the rise of general blog tools like Trackback may enable this conversational mode for most blogs.

In between blogs-as-mainstream-media and blogs-as-dinner-conversation will be Blogging Classic, blogs published by one or a few people, for a moderately-sized audience, with whom the authors have a relatively engaged relationship. Because of the continuing growth of the weblog world, more blogs in the future will follow this pattern than today. However, these blogs will be in the minority for both traffic (dwarfed by the mainstream media blogs) and overall number of blogs (outnumbered by the conversational blogs.)

James Gleick on Spam

From NYTimes Magazine (a longish article):

The crush of the [spam] messages on the world’s networks is now numbered in billions per day. One anti-spam service measured more than five million unique spam attacks in December, almost three times as many as a year earlier. The well is poisoned.

Spam is not just a nuisance. It absorbs bandwidth and overwhelms Internet service providers. Corporate tech staffs labor to deploy filtering technology to protect their networks. The cost is now widely estimated (though all such estimates are largely guesswork) at billions of dollars a year. The social costs are immeasurable: people fear participating in the collective life of the Internet, they withdraw or they learn to conceal their e-mail addresses, identifying themselves as user@domain.invalid or The signal-to-noise ratio nears zero, and trust is destroyed.

”Spam has become the organized crime of the Internet,” said Barry Shein, president of the World, one of the original Internet service providers. ”Most people see it as a private mailbox problem. But more and more it’s becoming a systems and engineering and networking problem. It’s depressing. It’s more depressing than you think. Spammers are gaining control of the Internet.”

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Microsoft’s SME Strategy has an interview with Doug Burgum was formerly chief executive of Great Plains, and now is President of Microsoft Business Solutions (after Microsoft acquired Great Plains). He outlines Microsoft’s enterprise software strategy focused on SMEs:

There are four broad business types that we’re going to focus on. There is a core functionality that would cut across all businesses, including things like payroll and accounts payable. We want to be participating in that core.

Moving up from those core components, there are four broad types of businesses: retail, services, manufacturing and wholesale/distribution. We are going to provide extended functionality in those areas through applications that can be purchased from us or software partners. We want to provide broad functionality in those four areas. Outside of that, there is a lot of white space for software partners.

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An Entrepreneur’s Q&A

Ajit Balakrishnan (CEO of Rediff) says that there are 10 questions one needs to ask oneself before deciding to take the plunge to become an entrepreneur:

1. Can you detect a wave 2-3 years ahead of its time?

2. Have you figured out where your business idea fits in the value chain of that industry?

3. Are you good at selling ideas?

4. Good at the give and take of partnerships?

5. Can you do with very little money for many years?

6. Know how to choose a VC carefully?

7. Is your team good enough?

8. Start soon after IIT or after many years of work experience?

9. Can you take defeat?

10. What could be tomorrows businesses?

Ajit is a serial entrepreneur, and has started many successful businesses over the past three decades. Good to see him blogging!

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Disruputive Technologies

Doc Searls has been reading one of my favourite books. He differentiates nicely between two technologies.

I’ve been re-reading The Innovators Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen. It’s a popular bigco book, because it’s spot-on about the difference between sustaining and disruptive technologies, and how disruptive technologies threaten the sustaining ones that keep bigcos alive. (Witness what Linux is doing to Sun’s Solaris right now. And even to Windows in some cases.)

Sustaining technologies are what big companies sell. They innovate gradually and grow at the same pace. They don’t take many risks, especially when the returns aren’t compeltely apparent. They depend on customers and investors for money, and they obey those market forces. They avoid small markets that don’t solve their large-scale growth needs. They don’t believe in markets that don’t yet exist. Their marketing imperative is Necessity is the mother of invention.

Disruptive technologies are what small companies sell, or what companies of all sizes might give away in hope that they’ll achieve ubiquitous adoption at no cost and change the world for everybody. Disruptive technologies often start out in forms too simple, small and trivial for big companies to take seriously. They appear in markets that don’t exist, can’t be researched, and therefore don’t interest big companies. Their marketing imperative is Invention is the mother of necessity.

The 5KPC (that I’ve been writing about in the Tech Talks) is a disruptive technology.

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

The government is the biggest spender on technology, and so can be the biggest beneficiary of the Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) Ecosystem. In India, for example, it is estimated that 70% of the package software revenues come from the government. (Of course, what this means is that enterprises and home users are the biggest purveyors of piracy!) Governments are typically strapped for funds, and yet are expected to provide a wide variety of citizen-centric services. Many of these efforts now go under the name of eGovernance.

There are two types of uses of technology by the government organisations: one is for internal use, and the other for providing eGovernance services. In the internal usage scenario, providing a computer for every (or most) government employees can help speed up processing of information and decision-making. The days of pushing files need to be replaced by clicking on files. Given the sheer numbers involved, it is imperative for governments of emerging markets to use lower cost technologies and yet achieve the same effectiveness.

For eGovernance, there are two aspects: the first is the backend computerisation, and the second is the front-end access. First, Here is a definition of eGovernance from E-governance or electronic governance may be defined as delivery of government services and information to the public using electronic means. Such means of delivering information is often referred to as information technology or ‘IT’ in short form. Use of IT in government facilitates an efficient, speedy and transparent process for disseminating information to the public and other agencies, and for performing government administration activities.

In fact, the Ministry of Information Technology of the Indian Government has gone further and outlines what a few ideas on what it would like to do:

Government should have an intranet for ensuring smoother flows of data, communications and access to information by different Ministries and Departments. It should be made mandatory for all Ministries and other Departments to put as much information as possible on to the intranet but in a manner in which searches can be made easily.

Transactions between various departments of the government of India and other Government organisations should be networked so that a substantial part of transfer of files and paper can be replaced by an intranet within the Government.

All departments & agencies to ensure that they operate web sites which provide up-to-date information, forms, leaflets etc.

E-mail to be incorporated into the normal range of contact methods and departments & agencies will implement arrangement for rapid response to e-mail queries.

There should be a single web based front-end for all government services to the public.

On the backend computerisation, the use of open-source software can help dramatically reduce costs. Linux, rather than Windows, should be the operating environment. Databases like PostgreSQL and MySQL could be preferred over Oracle and Microsoft SQL. We will discuss the second part in greater detail when we talk about telecentres and how a distributed network of computing and communications centres can make for universal access to information and transactions.

In fact, the government, through its influence on IT decisions, can play a positive role in the promotion and buildout of the 5K PC Ecosystem. We will look at some ideas on what he government can do.

Tomorrow: Government (continued)

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