Enriching the Browser

Rafe Needleman (Business 2.0) writes on a solution that will “allow pages to update instead of reload” (think Outlook Express rather than Hotmail):

The startup Laszlo Systems has a clever mechanism that feeds applications that use XML and Javascript — languages in common use and for which it’s easy to write the database access instructions that underlie interactive apps like shopping — into Flash user interfaces. Technically, Laszlo creates client/server applications, where the user interface runs on the client’s computer but the guts of the logic (like a commerce engine or a database) run back on the server.

It is true that this capability already exists with other technologies — Java programs can do what Laszlo can, and so can applications that leverage the DHTML capabilities built into Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (MSFT). But neither Java nor IE is installed on as many machines as the Flash player is.

Small PC from Via and Mini-Box

News.com writes about Via’s Mini-ITX motherboard being part of the Mini-Box PC, running Linux.

The Mini-Box M-100, a general-purpose computer built around Via’s EPIA Mini-ITX mainboard, is about the size of a dictionary and weighs about 2 pounds. Besides being used as a desktop, it can also be used as “embedded” hardware–housed within a larger machine to perform a specific computing task.

The tiny $500 PC sports a Via Eden or C-series processor and 256MB of RAM. The standard M-100 ships with 64MB of CompactFlash memory holding the MediaBox embedded Linux operating system.

Buyers have the option of boosting storage capacity by expanding the CompactFlash memory to 128MB, or by adding a 40GB IBM notebook-size hard drive, thus allowing it to run the Windows XP and Windows CE operating systems.

The device features a 14-key customizable keypad on its faceplate and a general purpose input/output (I/O) port, but lacks an optical drive. The M-100 also features a built-in liquid-crystal display, which eliminates the need for a monitor in some applications.

These PCs could be used as PC-Terminals (thin clients) also.

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Fighting Spam

You know something has reached a critical point when it is written about in the Economist. This is now true about spam (as if we needed confirmation beyond looking at our mailboxes). Writes the Economist:

Why has spam taken off? The answer seems to be a matter of simple economics. Sending an e-mail incurs no direct cost. Even the cost of sending bulk e-mails is so small that a response rate as low as one in 100,000 justifies many bulk mailings (senders of physical junk mail usually need a response rate of one in 100). E-mail addresses on CDs sell for about $5 per million, and spamming software can be downloaded free from the internet or purchased for just a few hundred dollars.

The most reliable, though extreme, filtering approach is that offered by Microsoft’s Hotmail and other web-based e-mail services, which can be set to accept only e-mails from a specific white list of approved senders. But for most people this destroys one of the joys of e-mailreceiving unanticipated messagesand takes more time than they want to devote to managing their e-mail. One start-up, IronPort, is offering a system which employs a white-list of firms who post a financial bond guaranteeing good behaviour.

One new idea is challenge and response filters which bounce messages back to the sender, asking for a confirmation before accepting the message. Some spammers have already countered this ploy with auto-response software. Another new idea is software that statistically analyses the content of incoming e-mails to find spam, but this has yet to be widely tested and may also be vulnerable to counter-measures by spammers.

Enterprise Weblogs

IT-Director asks if enterprise weblogs are the next IM for enterprises. Benefits:

There are two main benefits: they reduce the barriers to information sharing, and they organise fragmented information. By reducing the barriers to publication, Weblogs bridge the knowledge gap between individuals with valuable knowledge and the wider community. Enterprise intranets are too slow, formal and impersonal to attract the titbits of insights and information that are the staple of Weblogs. Weblogs are organised by timeline and topic so authors can put a personal spin on the welter of information and ideas that flows past each of us in our daily work.”

Enterprise Weblogs take the Blogging concept into the organisation. Commercial software is emerging to allow organisation experts to contribute their knowledge in internal Weblogs. Instead of information being locked up in personal folders or stored in static and siloed information stores, contributors can publish the information in an organised, searchable format.

(The article also has a brief mention of BlogStreet.)

BI and Dashboards

Roland Piquepaille points to two stories from ComputerWorld:

  • The future of Business Intelligence: “Knowledge workers have tended to analyze data in isolation because the software they use doesn’t let them do anything else. But data analysis must move from solo to collaborative if we’re ever going to eliminate the bottleneck of specialized business analysts. This means packaging analytical applications into portal interfaces that ordinary people can access online and then allowing them to share not just the static output, but [also] the actual dynamic analytical experience through online collaboration.”

  • Management Dashboards Becoming Mainstream : “What we’re seeing today are management dashboards, which have been pushed down through the organization, providing relevant information to a particular manager. At Southwest Airlines, they call them cockpits, and they’re specialized, so that the guy in charge of putting peanuts on airplanes gets a different view than the guy who’s in charge of purchasing jet fuel. But they all see what planes are flying where. So I’d say dashboards are leaving the early-adopter phase and becoming more mainstream. ”

    Slashdot thread

  • Crummy Products Opportunity

    HBS Working Knowledge has an article on Clay Christensen’s ideas on creating sustainable new-growth businesses.

    The third model Christensen termed new-market disruption, whereby you create a product for a customer who hasn’t been able to participate because of low skill level or low wealth. The initial product for this new market usually isn’t very good; in fact, it’s usually “crummy,” Christensen said.

    But it’s good enough. When Sony developed the first transistor radio in the 1950s, the sound was awful. But Sony sold them to teenagers, a group that couldn’t afford the nice-sounding, floor-standing radios their parents enjoyed. For them, a transistor would do just fine.

    Once the initial crummy product has kick-started a market, follow-on products become better and better, eventually drawing in customers from above. As transistor radios evolved into the Walkman, parents bought them, too.

    Another key in identifying potential markets is to never compete against the customer’s manifest priorities. Instead, he said, facilitate them.

    Google and Blogs

    Always-On has an interview with Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt, and asks him about the Pyra Labs acquisition context:

    We’re extremely interested in getting more information published on the Web in any kind. A relatively straightforward analysis says that a lot of the digital authoring empowerment in people’s hands is at a stage where people do not appreciate how powerful this is. I’m not just talking about computers. I’m talking about digital cameras and those types of things.

    I believe that this notion of self-publishing, which is what Blogger and blogging are really about, is the next big wave of human communication. The last big wave was Web activity. Before that one it was e-mail. Instant messaging was an extension of e-mail, real-time e-mail.

    The next step in general for information is the self-publishing part. If somebody takes the time to write something, having Google understand that is very important to that person. So if you view the world as one person at a time, getting that person, that author to understand that we value, we index, we search, and we care about their information is a very important part of our strategy.

    TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Googles Domination (Part 2)

    To convert its technological superiority into commercial success, Google stuck to its simplicity rule by creating web advertising that actually works, according to a Fortune article by David Kirkpatrick: For all the flash and animation that marketers have put into building Internet ads, the geeks have figured out the real trick: Relevance is more important than style. We’re turning to the Internet more and more in the ordinary course of our lives. Whether I’m researching a person or a company, finding the distance between Phoenix and Santa Fe for next week’s vacation, seeking a movie review, buying a book, or learning about bird watching, I turn to Google first, then move out. The marketer that can reach me with a relevant message while I’m searching will win.

    Google has, reportedly, over 100,000 advertisers. It takes only a few minutes to set up an advertising program on Google and it can be all done online in do-it-yourself mechanism. Wrote Wall Street Journal recently: Google’s site has become the prime battleground because of its unprecedented power over the Web. Barely four years old, Google has grown largely by word of mouth to become the place where most people start to look for something on the Internet. Three-quarters of all online searches use Google or sites that use Google’s search results, according to WebSideStory Inc Because of its importance, Google can make or break businesses that sell over the Web. It’s the new location, location, location for online retailers, for whom ranking at the top of a Google search is the Web equivalent of landing a choice corner on Miracle Mile or Fifth Avenue.

    Adds Business Week: Advertisers love Google. They supply two-thirds of its revenue by purchasing keywords on Google.com and Google’s network of affiliates, including America Online. Owning a keyword allows the advertiser to place simple text spots on pages returned for searches containing that keyword. The ads on Google.com are unobtrusive. No Flash player or screen effects are allowed, and ads are confined to a small box on the side of the screen and a handful of slots at the very top. Still, according to Google, the barebones format is effective enough to drive click-through rates several times those of standard Web ads.

    Google has become the eBay of information, in the words of Mary Meeker. For advertisers, it is important to be part of the Google Economy. Wrote the New York Times: Much as eBay spawned an army of entrepreneurial auctioneers, Google has become enough of a Web gatekeeper that its leads now prop up plenty of commercial sites.

    Next Week: Constructing the Memex (continued)

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