io Personal Digital Pen

What’s better than NoteTaker? Writes Jeremy Wagstaff (WSJ):

It’s an “io Personal Digital Pen,” from Logitech Inc. But it really does look and feel like a pen. It writes like a pen, with real ink, on real paper. But it also stores everything you write, and will transfer it all to your computer when you return it to its cradle. I have to say it’s pretty neat, and may mark the beginning of Something Useful.

The technology behind the io pen comes from a Swedish company called Anoto AB .

Anoto’s technology works like this: The pen writes normally, using normal biro ink. But while you’re writing, a tiny camera inside the pen is also taking 100 snapshots per second of what you’re doing, mapping your writing via a patchwork of minute dots printed on the paper. All this information — the movement of your pen on the paper, basically — is then stored digitally inside the pen, whether you’re writing longhand, scribbling notes or drawing complex diagrams. You can store up to 40 pages worth of doodles in the pen’s memory. As far as you’re concerned, you’re just using a normal pen.

It’s only when you drop the pen into its PC-connected cradle that the fun begins. Special software on your PC will figure out what you’ve done, and begin to download any documents you’ve written since the last time it was there. Depending on whether you’ve ticked certain boxes on the special notepad, it can also tell whether the document is destined to be an e-mail, a to-do task, or a diagram to be inserted into a word processing document. Once the documents are downloaded you can view them as thumbnails, print them out, or convert them to other formats.

It’s a neat and simple solution to the problem of storing, sharing and retrieving handwritten notes, and of handling diagrams, pictures and other non-text doodling.

The io Pen costs USD 200. I want this new Pen!!

NoteTaker

We all make a lot of notes as information flows past us during the course of a day. I like to make paper-based notes in my book, and then will post some of the more organised ones on the blog. But there are definitely ways this can be improved – it is especially hard for me to search the older notes.

Scott Love of AquaMinds talks about his company’s tool NoteTaker, which seems to be just like what I should be using:

NoteTaker is a tool for organizing your personal notes, lists, information, clippings, file/document links and any other related information all in one place. From this standpoint, it’s unique in that the user decides how best to group, categorize and re-organize information, not the software. The key user metaphor is the visual notebook with tabs. Although this is not a new approach, the idea that you can decide how to divide up your pages into various sections using tab sections is a familiar one. NoteTaker is much like paper filing systems in that you just start adding notes and information as you like without worrying about how to do it. Specifically, NoteTaker is indexing the content behind the scenes so you can retrieve it later.

For me personally, I love to think and organize in an outline format. But realistically, I need to work with more than merely text; I have information access needs as well. For example, in running AquaMinds, I tend to leverage as much as possible using Web-based services. I have a notebook I use daily that contains clickable links to various company Web sites and their services that I use. Along with these Web links, I have relevant information about the service or company (much like a personal database system), and I keep a journal along with any passwords or user names to access these accounts. It just seems natural to work from one place without always having to jump back to the Finder to locate a file just to open Excel or to access a bookmark from inside a browser. Additionally, I have several documents attached inside this same notebook that I use for standard business transactions. So again, I find it first in my notebook before I go hunting for it from within the source application (in this case, a word processor).

Syndication via RSS

Scott Mitchell writes:

RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a format designed to allow Web site content to be easily syndicated. The syndicated content can be integrated into other Web sites, or can be viewed by individuals via an assortment of desktop applications. For example, CNet’s News.com site can be syndicated, meaning you can add the News.com’s latest headlines to your Web site. A plethora of other Web sites, especially blogs, provide this syndication feature.

In order to syndicate your Web site’s content, all you need to do is create an RSS feed. An RSS feed is a Web-accessible file those wishing to consume your content may access. The file must be an XML file in the proper RSS standards format. Typically, an RSS feed is a static .xml that is periodically updated by some background process, but you can use ASP or ASP.NET Web pages to dynamically generate the RSS feed’s content.

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Year Two Marketing Ideas

John Friess (founder of wired.MD) has ideas on how a startup should be doing marketing as it grows:

Welcome — not only to a company’s second stage, but also to its year-after-the-launch marketing campaign. That’s the time in the life of an entrepreneurial concern when you know you’ve moved past the startup to another level. You learn quickly that emerging companies and their products age as animals do, with one year being equal to seven in human terms. However, unlike 7-year-old children who get placed in a development refinement system — aka school — products don’t come with a manual of instruction. That’s where I hope this article comes in handy. For entrepreneurs dealing with marketing concerns as their companies grow up, my experience could be a guide.

It’s essential that companies which have moved beyond the startup phase progress quickly from macro to micro thinking. By that I mean making sure the right message is getting to the right prospects through the right channels. Indeed, focus for Year Two must be on marketing and sales of existing product lines.

So define the market (as we did when spotting the enthusiasm in the health-resource center), tailor the product appropriately (as we did when we shifted to the marketing capabilities of our software package), and adjust the marketing strategy so that it is both effective and cost-effective. Run the numbers, and excise the excess.

Finally, keep in mind that an adolescent company still has a key advantage: the entrepreneurial spirit. Founders who are agile, resilient, passionate, and ignorant about the impossible are able to meet the Year Two changes that the market imposes.

TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: Tarahaat and Drishtee

Tarahaat and Drishtee are two projects being driven by non-government organisations, focusing on creating entrepreneur (franchisee) driven information kiosks and community centres in rural areas.

Tarahaat

TARAhaat, named after the all-purpose haat (meaning a village bazaar), comprises a commercially viable model for bringing relevant information, products and services via the Internet to the unserved rural market of India. It is set up as a partnership between Development Alternatives (DA), an NGO focused on promoting sustainable development in India, and its rural marketing arm, Technology and Action for Rural Advancement (TARA). It won the Stockholm Challenge Award in the Global Village category in 2001.

Here are more details from the Digital Partners website:
TARAhaat combines a mother portal, TARAhaat.com, supported by franchised networks of village cybercafes and delivery systems to provide a full range of services its clients. The subsidiary units include:

TARAdhaba – will provide the villager connectivity and access to a new world.
TARAbazaar – will provide access to products and services needed by rural households, farmers, and industries.
TARAvan – will deliver goods ordered.
TARAdak – will connect the rural families to the daughter married far off and to the son posted on the front.
TARAguru – a decentralized university will provide mentoring and consultancy to village-based mini- enterprises.
TARAscouts / TARAreporter – will collect relevant information for the portal.
TARAvendor – will run the store that will cater to products available at Tarabazaar.
TARAcard – will enable the villager to order goods and services on credit.

The economics of the TARAdhaba franchise are critical to the success of the network. The main costs of running a TARAdhaba are: loan servicing, staffing, utilities and royalties to TARAhaat. Preliminary business plans show that the break-even for a TARAdhaba with two terminals is around Rs. 600 ($15) per day, or Rs. 20,000 ($450) per month. The revenues to cover this must come from several streams. The owner will charge each user for the time spent at the terminal. (In the cybercafes found in cities all over India, the current charges range from Rs. 50 to 100 — $ 1 to 2 — per hour).

In addition, the TARAdhaba will charge a brokerage fee for certain kinds of transactions and information delivery. Other revenue sources include displaying ads from local businesses and professionals, downloading educational materials and accessing official information, application forms, etc. TARAhaat’s revenues come from the wide range of services it provides to its end-clients, the villagers; its franchises in the form of royalties and service fees; its advertisers; its vendors and its other business partners, all of whom will benefit by the growing market for the their products and services made possible by TARAhaat.

More details are available in a paper at the Digital Dividend website.

Drishtee

Drishtee is an organizational platform for developing IT enabled services to rural and semi-urban populations through the usage of state-of-the-art software. The services it enables include access to government programs and benefits, market related information, and private information exchanges and transactions. It builds upon the Gyandoot project of Madhya Pradesh. Here is more:

Drishtee is a platform for rural networking and marketing services for enabling e-governance, education and health services. It is a state-of-the-art software which facilitates communication and information interchange within a localized intranet between villages and a district center. This communication backbone has been supplemented by a string of rural services for example, Avedan, Land Records, Gram Daak (mailing software), Gram Haat (virtual market place), Vaivahiki (Matrimonial), Shikayat (online grievance redressal), Mandi Information System and a host of other customized services.

These services are provided through Drishtee in a village (or a group of villages) by a local villager, who owns the kiosk after having it financed through a Govt. sponsored scheme. The employment thus generated leads to a new breed of IT literate generation who can pay for their meager loans with their earnings and become a role model for the younger generation.

Drishtees business model is driven by a village entrepreneur who is suitably trained to handle user-friendly software. The unit revenue earned by this kiosk owner is a few cents per transaction, but the volume of the operations and an intrinsic demand enable viability very early in the operation. This individual, educated to 10th Grade or above, becomes a role model and a messenger of valuable information for the villagers. With a minimum size of 800 families as a prerequisite for a kiosks viability, a total of 100 such kiosks or more can be successfully set up within an average Indian District. A small fraction of the combined total revenue of such centers is enough to interest a local businessman to act as a channel partner and invest for the operational cost at the outset. This partner performs the role of a franchisee and adds value in scouting for kiosk owners, developing relations with District government, and maintaining the entire network of operations within the district.

Drishtees vision is to set up 50,000 Information Kiosks all over India within a span of six years. These kiosks would potentially serve a market of 500 million people, with aggregate discretionary purchasing power of Rs. 100 billion (USD 2 billion). So far, it has set up 90 kiosks across five Indian states.

Tomorrow: eChoupals

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