Content Recommendation Engine

James Miller discusses how search will evolve following Google’s decision to buy Pyra Labs, and how that could further impact advertising, because “a superior search engine could challenge both big media companies and advertisers. A media company’s most valuable asset is its brand name. Since you can’t read everything, you must make quick, often uninformed decisions about what to read. Brand names save time by signaling quality.” An example of a strong media brand is the New York Times.

Miller discusses an idea which we have been thinking of for BlogStreet.

Imagine using some idealized search engine that could determine which news articles you should read. If you trusted the engine you wouldn’t care if it presented an article published in the Times or an anonymous blog.

You don’t get any more pleasure, per se, from reading an article in the Times than our anonymous blog; it’s just that there is a higher probability of you liking the Times’s article. This advantage causes quality writers to want to publish in the Times, which further strengthens the Times’s brand name. If, however, some search engine found the articles you would like regardless of publication place, it would no longer matter to reader or writer where an article appeared.

Such an advanced engine could be based upon your rankings of previously read articles. The engine could find articles whose contents matched others you have liked. It could further use the rankings of readers who have preferences similar to yours to predict which articles you would most enjoy.

Amazon.com currently allows readers to rank books and recommends new books based upon such a system. Since we read far more articles than books, however, a futuristic news search engine would have more data to work with than Amazon does.

This search engine might first present an article to a few readers. If they ranked it highly, the article would then be shown to a few more. Articles that attracted consistently high rankings would earn large audiences. If numerous people participated in such a system, any one user would need read only a few articles that many others had not already ranked. An article’s success in attracting readers would be based upon its quality, not its place of publication.

When we visit a website, by following specific links we are making choices. This “trail” is only known to the website, which could looking at the trails of its visitors, suggest new content based on what others have read. But this new content would be only from its own website.

What blogs do is create a trail across all the websites. Bloggers leave the trail on their own websites (blogs) of what they like. Taken over a large number of bloggers, this can potentially work like a content recommendation engine, just as Amazon can analyse the click-trails and purchasing patterns for book lovers.

This is one of the challenges I’d like us to work on in BlogStreet. Bloggers as Information Ants (or Filters), each making their own local decisions, but as a collective, we can now for the first time start seeing patterns on the whole.

Google has done this very well by analysing the links for its Search technology. The time is now ripe for a similar engine for recommending Content, based on links analysed from blogs.

Emergic Freedom at Cebit

If you happen to be at Cebit in Hannover, you can see a demo of our Emergic Freedom (thin client-thick server solution) at VIA Technologies’ booth (Hall 23, B42) and meet with Prakash Advani. [Map]

Blog Analytics

A post by Jason Kottke on “Sampling Networks Accurately” has sparked off an interesting discusson. The challenge: “How do you construct a fairly accurate map of a network (the weblog universe in this case) with a sample size much smaller than the total number of nodes (weblogs)? Is it even possible? A random sampling would work, but how do you tell your spider to go find a random node when it can only find nodes though links from other nodes?”

I’d like to think that BlogStreet has done a decent job at analysing some aspects of blogosphere, with a sample of 100,000+ blogs and growing. We have focused more on (a) neighbourhood analysis with externally-sourced graphical visualisation (b) blog ranking by popularity and a weighted one (c) identifying RSS feeds. There are a lot more ideas which we have been thinking on, and will implement in the coming months. I’ll write more on this soon.

AOL’s Mystro TV vs Tivo

AOL is planning to take on Tivo, according to NYTimes with a cable operator-centric approach to make reality the “holy grail” of television – a video-on-demand service with a huge programming library.

The essence of AOL Time Warner’s Mystro TV is a technology that uses a cable system itself to provide viewers capabilities similar to computerized personal video recorders like TiVo: watching programs on their own schedules, with fast-forward and rewind. But it also lets networks set the parameters, dictating which shows users can reschedule, and it also creates ways for networks to insert commercials.

Two senior AOL Time Warner executives said the company was hoping to begin rolling out service within two years. They said the company planned to sell the Mystro TV service to other competing cable operators, just as it sold HBO, potentially giving Mystro a central role as a gateway between television networks and viewers around the country.

So far, about 700K Tivos have been bought in the US.

Intel’s Centrino Strategy

A WSJ article on Intel’s next branding strategy, ten years after it started mass-advertising Pentium. This time, the focus is on primarily building a brand for its WiFi chips.

Intel plans to spend more than $300 million to build the Centrino brand, including a flood of television ads based on the theme “unwire.” Intel also is offering advertising and marketing subsidies to computer makers and wireless-service operators that submit to tests to show that Centrino-based laptops can easily connect with public Wi-Fi access locations, known as “hot spots.”

To verify that the hot spots work with Centrino laptops, Intel testers have fanned out to more than 100 cities in 19 countries. Thousands of hot spots have been checked, and Intel expects to test tens of thousands by year end.

Computer makers, which have long relied on advertising subsidies under the program known as Intel Inside, can’t sport the Centrino logo and earn additional subsidies unless they also buy Intel Wi-Fi networking chips.

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My 4 Interest Areas

I was making a presentation today and as I was preparing one of the slides, I listed out the four areas that we are working on in Netcore:

– Enabling the Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise [Messaging and Security, Desktop Computing, Information Management and Business Applications for SMEs]
– Building out the 5KPC (Rs 5,000 PC) Ecosystem [Thin Client-Thick Server Computing]
– Transforming Rural India [TeleInfocentres, Village InfoGrid, eGovernance]
– Leveraging Weblogs as Information Filters [Blogs, RSS and Beyond]

In each of the areas, I want us to think differently and come up with “disruptive innovations” which can create cost-effective and cutting-edge solutions for the world’s emerging markets and enterprises. My viewpoint is very much centred about affordability, and leveraging Linux and open-source software.

What is perhaps a seeming misfit in the list is the last item related to weblogs. This is a reflection of my belief that weblogs are a very important trend and my love for information – both reading and writing, and which is reflected here in this blog. Here we have an opportunity to create a globally competitive and leading resource for bloggers via BlogStreet. We aren’t there yet, but I am confident we will – very soon.

As I have written before, I believe that the biggest Force is 10X Vision – we need to imagine a different future, then go out and build it. Technology creates discontinuities and leapfrog opportunities. Each of the areas we are working on is built on this belief. We do not want to do me-too work, but something innovative. Of course, I also want to ensure that we build a profitable and successful venture out of these activities. At the same time, I do not know whether we will succeed or fail in these endeavours. As I’ve said before, for an entrepreneur, it is the journey which matters more than just reaching the destination.

My Tech Talks which are the long daily commentaries I write reflect these interest areas. My reading is wider, and is reflected in many of the other posts that I do.

TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: A Wider View

In a world of cold technologies (ones that shrink the revenue pie like Linux and Outsourcing), the search is one for technologys next killer applications and new markets. The schism in the world could not be more stark: there are about 500 million users of computers spread across much of the developed world and the elite among the developing markets. This is now a saturated market in terms of technology consumption. Yes, they will continue to buy new computers, cellphones and the like, but this is an upgrade market. They have current solutions, and are looking for incrementally better way to do their activities.

And then there is the Rest of the World, spread across the worlds developing markets. India, China, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Africa, the Eastern European countries they are among todays nonconsumers. They have been left out of much of technologys value chain so far because of pricing. They cannot afford computers which cost almost as a years GDP. This is a world of 4 billion people at the bottom of the pyramid that subsists on less than Rs 100 (USD 2) a day. Technology is a distant, non-existent dream for them.

And yet, if we think about it, they are the ones who perhaps can do the most with technology because it opens up options and creates opportunities which hitherto did not exist. Computers and the Internet can break barriers of geography which have existed since time immemorial. For them, computers are not going to be an alternative, they are perhaps the only instrument for progress and growth, a passport to a better life. The problem is that the benefits of (arguably) the worlds greatest invention have so far been unimaginable to these mass markets.

The digital divide is thus a hard reality. But there is also another digital divide between the envisioners who dream about what technology can do, the technologists who understand what technology can do, the funders who have the money but do not necessarily know how best to spend it, and the implementers on the field who know what solutions are needed. These divides have prevented appropriate and affordable technology solutions benefiting the worlds poorest.

India can become the first market to try out a set of new ideas to bridge the digital divide. India is large and diverse it is in fact a collection of many smaller markets. India can become technologys next big market. There is an optimism in its people for the first time in many generations that tomorrow will be better than today. There is a positive energy as people see symbols of the New India coming up even as the old sustains and endures. Indians also have the requisite technology skills to put together the solutions.

So far, much of Indias IT industry has focused outward making India as a destination for outsourced services. The time has now come to look inward what can we do for, in the words of CK Prahalad, the India Inside. If these ideas can work in Indias villages, they can surely work in the rural areas of the worlds developing countries, opening up markets for technology which are presently invisible. The bottom of the worlds pyramid waits.

Tomorrow: Indian Pyramid Economics

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