Distributed Search

News.com writes about LookSmart’s acquisition of Grub in the hope that “distributed computing [will] improve its Web search results.” This is interesting because perhaps silimar ideas could be applied to weblogs.

“Most engines only update their entire document catalog once a month, because there’s an inherent computing problem: They can’t do it any faster,” said Pete Adams, chief technology officer of LookSmart. “The goal of this technology is to be able to crawl every document on the Internet every day. We can only do that if we can grow the number of people that are running the software–the computing power we would use is a function of how many people we have donating their computer power.”

Danny Sullivan, editor of the industry newsletter Search Engine Watch, speculated that LookSmart might use the Grub system to start a “trusted feed” service for inclusion into its WiseNut index. Marketers could send updated Web pages to the index to refresh it for a fee–or what’s known as paid inclusion. Search engines, including Inktomi and Fast’s AlltheWeb, already use such a service to keep indexes of product-related sites and catalogs fresh and to augment revenue.


Fortune writes about BEA’s battle against IBM: “Alfred Chuang’s goal is to turn BEA into the de facto operating system of corporate networks, enabling companies’ far-flung, incompatible systems to work easily with one another.”

TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: eChoupals

ITC is setting up eChoupals across the agricultural belt in India to offer the farmers of India all the information, products and services they need to enhance farm productivity, improve farm-gate price realisation and cut transaction costs. Farmers can access latest local and global information on weather, scientific farming practices as well as market prices at the village itself through this web portal – all in Hindi. Choupal also facilitates supply of high quality farm inputs as well as purchase of commodities at their doorstep. A paper describes the phased approach:

In Phase I, the business goal was to create a physical infrastructure of eChoupals at the village level and create local level ownerships through the identified Sanchalaks. At this stage the business goal was supported by creating a local language portal, which provided the required information to farmers such as local weather, market prices and best practices.

In Phase II, the business goal was to get the farmer registered and transacting by selling directly to ITC Ltd. through the virtual market. This goal was supported by creating a B2B site, which integrated the transactions directly to the back-end ERP and ensured that there was no latency in processing any of the procurement by the processing units.

In Phase III, the business goal was to create a full fledged meta-market .In this phase, the market would facilitate other operators like inputs providers and rural distributors to work effectively through the eChoupal to deliver and procure goods from every participating village.

The technology road map to support this phase was to have a secure, consolidated Farmers database with all information pertaining to their holdings and credit worthiness to be available online. This database, along with identification provided by smart cards would enable support for online transactions through the eChoupal leading to integration with participating financial institutions such as banks, insurance and credit agencies.

A more detailed description of the ecosystem being created by the eChoupals comes from a note on the World Resources Institute Digital Dividend Knowledge Bank site:

[The business model] centers around the deployment of a network of Internet-connected kiosks, known as e-Choupals, throughout agricultural areas in India. An e-Choupal is a high-tech version of the traditional “choupal,” or “village gathering place” in Hindi, where farmers are provided with the latest weather reports, local and international produce prices, and farming best practices. Costing USD 3,000 – 6,000 each to set up, they also serve as procurement and purchase points, allowing farmers not only to sell their produce to ITC, but also to buy agricultural inputs and consumer goods for daily household use.

Each e-Choupal is managed by an ITC-appointed “Sanchalak”, a respected farmer of the community who takes a public oath of office upon accepting the position. While ITC covers equipment, the day-to-day operating costs, which consist primarily of electricity and Internet connection charges, are covered by the e-Choupal Sanchalak. These costs vary depending on usage, but average about USD 60 and USD 160 per year respectively. Miscellaneous travel and equipment maintenance costs add another USD 20 in yearly fixed costs. ITC, for its part, spends an average of USD 100 annually on each kiosk, which goes toward training and infrastructure management. Such activities include maintaining a helpdesk, addressing equipment and software complaints, and repairing or replacing broken equipment.

This reorganization of the role of middlemen results in lower procurement costs for ITC, despite having to pay higher prices to the farmers. Transaction costs are also minimized for the farmer by buying output at the farmers’ doorstep, and through transparent pricing and weighing practices. A substantial quantity (120,000 MT of various commodities) has already been procured through this channel, resulting in overall savings over a million US dollars. The savings are shared between buyer (ITC) and seller (farmer). According to company officials, the average soya farmer saves US$ 5 per ton of beans when he sells through the e-Choupal network. ITC, for its part, saves US$ 4 per ton, even after paying transportation costs.

On the marketing front, ITC is able to maintain and grow the trust of its farmers by enhancing their productivity and wealth. ITC leverages this position of trust among farmers, as well as its distribution capabilities, to market its own consumer good brands and those of partner companies offering products and services that ITC does not. Sales of consumer goods through the e-Choupals have been particularly successful because the cost-savings associated with dealing directly with the manufacturer allow Sanchalaks to offer goods at lower prices than other village-level traders or retailers can afford to do.

The total network already includes 1,286 kiosks, reaching almost a million farmers across some 9,000 villages. Enthusiasm from farmers is helping ITC to rapidly scale up its network. Current plans include diversification into a wider variety of crops in 11 other states across India. Expanding at a rate of 3 to 4 kiosks a day, the company expects to have 20,000 choupals covering 100,000 villages, or one sixth of rural India, within 10 years.

Next Week: Transforming Rural India (continued)

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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!!


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, 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 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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There is increasing interest in companies working on social network mapping and analysis software [1 2]. One such company is Socialtext. From their site:

Tools like wikis and weblogs make it easy to write on the web. With these tools, people communicate, collaborate, and build knowledge. Naturally. It’s as fast as email. As responsive as writing on a whiteboard.

Nice Little Wiki is a simple wiki engine initially created by Socialtext to serve as a prototype for us to try out some of our ideas about social software. We also use it internally as our intranet and company management tool.
Nice Little Wiki will be an open source project, soon to be published under a BSD or Apache-style license.

There’s further explanation on wikis:

What’s a wiki? A wiki (Hawaiian for “quick”) is a web tool used for information sharing and collaborative writing.

How do you use a wiki? You can write directly on wiki pages simply by clicking “Edit This Page.” You can make a link to another page simply by typing the title of the page.

What do you use a wiki for? People use wikis for collaborative software development, writing documents together, taking notes, building archives and encyclopedias, and many other applications.

What’s so great about wikis? Writing wiki pages is fast, like writing email. Collaborating with wikis is fast and satisfying, like taking turns at a whiteboard. Making information resources with wikis is natural, because you can reorganize as you go, like moving the chairs in your living room.

What’s different about Nice Little Wiki? Nice Little Wiki has a couple of differences from typical wikis. First of all, it’s password-protected, so you can create private spaces. Second, you create links between wiki pages by putting brackets around the page name, instead of using CamelCase.

One space which is becoming hot, building on our understanding of how networks form, is collaboration management – helping get the most out of ad-hoc groups and the tacit knowledge in people. SocialText is in the same space.

Knowledge Sharing Software

Rafe Needleman writes about “designing tools that extract knowledge from individual employees and make it available to the rest of the corporation”. He mentions OpenCola, Kubi Software and Tacit. More on Tacit’s ActiveNet:

This product builds profiles of users based on the e-mail they send (it does not store the e-mails), and then allows other users to find co-workers who are knowledgeable in particular fields. But it doesn’t force the connection, because, as CEO David Gilmour says, “What I know depends on who’s asking.” So the system allows the person with expertise to decide if a contact will be made: It just tells them who’s asking.

Search Engines

Search Engines are hot properties now. There has been recent consolidation. Yahoo bought Inktomi, Overture bought Altavista and some technology from FAST, while Google bought Pyra. Business Week writes about what’s driving this:

As Web surfers grow more sophisticated, they focus on specific tasks, such as checking mail or finding a recipe. More are using search engines to hurry through their to-do lists. The percentage of Web site visitors who arrived via search engines nearly doubled in the past year, to 13%, says analytics firm WebSideStory. Increasingly, says Jupiter Research analyst Gary Stein, “people are tuned out on banner ads and tuned in to search results.”

Yahoo boasts the biggest audience, Overture the most advertising, and Google has the leading search technology. But the balance of power is shifting fast. All the major players are busy building or buying the pieces they’re missing.

MSN isn’t likely to be sitting idle either. One can expect them to make a move soon.

TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: Bhoomi, eSeva and Information Village

Next, we look to Karnatakas Bhoomi, Andhra Pradeshs eSeva and the MS Swaminathan Research Foundations Information Village Project in Pondicherry.


The Karnataka government launched Bhoomi to create a service to computerise land records and make them available to the people for a nominal fee (in this case, Rs 15). Bhoomi is a finalist for the Stockholm Award 2002. Here is a brief overview from the contest website:

Bhoomi is a self-sustainable e-governance project for the computerised delivery of 20 million rural land records to 6.7 million farmers through 177 Government owned kiosks in the Indian state of Karnataka which has eliminated red tape and corruption in the issue of land title records, and is fast becoming the backbone for credible IT-enabled Government services for the rural population.
Rural Land Records are central conduits to delivering better IT-enabled services to citizens because they contain multiple data elements: ownership, tenancy, loans, nature of title, irrigation details, crops grown etc. In addition to proving title to the land, the Land Record is used by the farmer for a variety of purposes: from documenting crop loans and legal actions, to securing scholarships for school-children. These records were hitherto maintained manually by 9,000 village officials who often extracted a price for issuing copies.

Under the Bhoomi (Land) dispensation, computerised kiosks offer farmers two critical services (currently): procurement of land records and requesting changes to land title. With 20 million records legally maintained now only in the digital format, Bhoomi has brought the power of IT to dispel the insecurities of the farmers in 27,000 villages. To ensure authenticity of data management, a Biometric Finger Authentication system has been used for the first time in an e-governance project in India. To make the project self-sustaining and expandable, Bhoomi levies user charges. Already, about 1.25 million farmers have paid Rs 19 million. As a pilot for additional cross-selling initiatives, one kiosk is currently being used by citizens, thus validating the potential of this platform.


The Andhra Pradesh government has launched eseva, with the aim of providing one stop non stop service to the citizens. It is, perhaps, one of the most ambitious projects in India, in the realm of government-to-citizen (G2C) services. It is currently operational through 29 eSeva centres (with 280 service counters) spread over the Twin Cities of Hyderabad and Secenderabad, and Ranga Reddy District. eSeva offers a wide spectrum of services ranging from Payment of Utilities Bills, Certificates, Permits / Licences, Transport Department Services to Reservation, Passport Applications and Downloading of Forms. The government is planning to, according to a report in the Business Line, to reach out up to all the 1,100 mandals (blocks) across the State, [and] it is proposed to deploy up to village in a phased manner.

Information Village

The MS Swaminathan Research Foundation has set up an Information Village project in Pondicherry. It won Stockholm Challenge Award under the Global Village category 2001. Here is a description from their website on the project:

In an experiment in electronic knowledge delivery to the poor, we have connected ten villages near Pondicherry in southern India by a hybrid wired and wireless network — consisting of PCs, telephones, VHF duplex radio devices and email connectivity through dial-up telephone lines — that facilitates both voice and data transfer, and have enabled the villagers to get information that they need and can use to improve their lot.

The entire project draws its sustenance from the holistic philosophy of Swaminathan, which emphasizes an integrated pro-poor, pro-women, pro-nature orientation to development and community ownership of technological tools against personal or family ownership, and encourages collective action for spread of technology. The bottom up exercise involves local volunteers to gather information, feed it into an Intranet and provide access through nodes in different villages.

Value addition to the raw information, use of the local language (Tamil) and multimedia (to facilitate illiterate users) and participation by local people right from the beginning are the noteworthy features of the project. Most of the operators and volunteers providing primary information are women, thus giving them status and influence. All centres evolved themselves to meet the information demands made by the community.

We have shown that empowering people through access to timely and relevant information can make a difference in the life of the rural poor. We have also demonstrated that new ICTs can play a crucial role in this effort. Information provided in the village knowledge centres is locale specific and relates to prices of agricultural inputs (such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) and outputs (rice, vegetables), market (potential for export), entitlement (the multitude of schemes of the central and state governments, banks), health care (availability of doctors and paramedics in nearby hospitals, women’s diseases), cattle diseases, transport (road conditions, cancellation of bus trips), weather (appropriate time for sowing, areas of abundant fish catch, wave heights in the sea), etc.

A discussion paper by Senthilkumaran and Subbiah Arunachalam provides more information.

Tomorrow: Tarahaat and Drishtee

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Inside Google

Fast Company writes about Google and how it keeps growing:

It is a joint founded by geeks and run by geeks. It is a collection of 650 really smart people who are almost frighteningly single-minded. “These are people who think they are creating something that’s the best in the world,” says Peter Norvig, a Google engineering director. “And that product is changing people’s lives.”

At Google, building and then following the traffic makes perfect sense. It’s central to the company’s culture and its operating logic. Consider this: For the first 18 months of its existence, Google didn’t make a penny from its basic Web-search service. Only then did it make the transition from great technology to great technology with a critical mass of users.

And Google was able to package that traffic in ways that seem both ingenious and completely synchronous. The search service itself remained free. But Google has, for example, sold untold numbers of ads pegged to specific search keywords.

Advertisers don’t just pay a set rate, or even a cost per thousand viewers. They bid on the search term. The more an advertiser is willing to pay, the higher its ad will be positioned. But if the ad doesn’t get clicks, its rank will decline over time, regardless of how much has been bid. If an ad is persistently irrelevant, Google will remove it: It’s not working for the advertiser, it’s not serving users, and it’s taking up server capacity.

A recent article in Business Week on the search engines estimated Google’s revenues to be about USD 375 million, with EBIDTA of about USD 150 million. Quite remarkable, compared with Yahoo’s revenues of just over USD 1 billion.

IT Productivity

McKinsey Quarterly writes about how companies can maximise their gains from their IT spends:

The first is to identify the productivity levers offering the greatest opportunity for competitive differentiation: Targeting the few specific levers that could well create a competitive advantage produces results more reliably than striving for improvement everywhere. The most promising IT initiatives usually evolve along with related business processes and build on an organization’s operational strengths. When taking this route, companies should beware the siren song of IT success stories from other industries, because the levers that matter in one sector may be irrelevant in another.

The second priority is to master the sequence and timing of investments. Many technology-based advantages, particularly those that don’t involve fundamental business changes, have a limited life because they diffuse rapidly through the sector. Timing is therefore critical if IT investments are to generate returns. Companies that get it right develop a clear understanding of how IT-enabled competition is evolving in their sectors. Investing ahead of the pack makes sense if the technology is hard to mimic, continues to yield benefits even if imitated, or offers great near-term value. Otherwise, companies can often hold down their spending and boost their returns by diving in only after others have made investments–and mistakes.

Customer-driven IT

News.com has an interview with David Moschella who says: “The main point is that IT market leadership is migrating away from its traditional focus on hardware and software products, and toward IT services. It is these services that will prove most beneficial to those companies trying to use technology to create important new value for their customers and/or industry. Implicit in this is a greatly increased emphasis upon so-called vertical (industry-specific) markets and solutions.”

He adds: “It would appear that this cooperative model will also play an important role in many of today’s customer-driven frontiers. Think about the cooperation needed for successful business exchanges, interoperable health care, effective copyright protection, and all manner of emerging industry-specific metadata and standards. The strong de facto leadership that has determined so much of the IT industry’s past is becoming steadily less important, although it will never fade away altogether. Once again, new cooperative entities are emerging. The control of these entities will be one of the great opportunities of the next few years.”

Security and Convenience

TheStreet.com writes that the “killer apps for investors will probably be software that enhances security and permits seamless roaming between all types of wired and unwired networks.” It builds on the WiFi theme, provide some ideas for solving the connectivity issues in rural areas:

Several well-financed start-up companies have already begun to sell advanced wi-fi transmitters, amplifiers and antennas that allow just about anyone to become a freelance telecom carrier by broadcasting a single broadband signal across a wide area.

The pioneer in this field is Glenn Wilson, president and founder of M33 Access in northern Michigan. Frustrated that none of the telecom carriers would bring high-speed Internet connections to the depressed countryside surrounding his hometown of Rose City, Wilson figured out how to buy a hodgepodge of parts from Florida-based online retailer HyperLink Technologies and rig up the country’s first renegade high-speed wireless ISP.

He now operates the largest consecutive wireless broadband grid in the country — about 100 square miles — with no telecom carrier involved, by beaming the signal from one self-rigged 200-foot-tall tower to the next. He sells wireless broadband to farmers, homes, school districts and small-business owners for as little as $25 a month (if you have a child in school, he’ll cut the price to $15). In a few weeks, Wilson plans to be able to add voice-over-Internet to his list of services, which will allow him to offer virtually free local and long-distance service at 4 cents a minute.

“Our company is about bringing Michigan out of Hooterville,” he says, referring to the ’60s-era TV show “Green Acres” in which communications was handled by tin can. “We’re causing the regional Bells some problems. We have 6,000 customers and they love us — no one is going to move in and take them away.”

Wilson uses Cisco routers at his head end and Orinoco-brand wi-fi radios made by Proxim; he runs the whole thing on Intel-based servers. But the whole operation, which obliterates the need for million-dollar switches made by old-school manufacturers like Lucent Technologies and Ciena, isn’t going to make equipment investors rich. The stuff is just too cheap, not to mention easy to upgrade and maintain.

The Cheap Revolution

Rich Karlgaard, writing in Forbes, asks what’s common with Google, China, India and WiFi? He labels it the “Cheap Revolution”. This is akin to UBS Warburg’s discussion about “cold technologies” recently.

Writes Karlgaard about WiFi: “France Telecom lost $23 billion in 2002. How? Like many other European state-owned telecoms, it had foolishly forked over billions for 3G wireless spectrum a few years ago. Whoops. Now comes dirt-cheap Wi-Fi and a host of other off-the-rack wireless wonders. It’s like the scruffy PC versus the minicomputer all over again.”