Info Aggregator

For the past month or so, I have been reading blog posts in my mailbox. We wrote a software that (we’ve called it Info Aggregator – here is where you can try it out for now). Its been a great experience. I have been exposed to a much wider set of bloggers. I have 60+ subscriptions. The software gets the RSS feeds and puts the items into an IMAP mailbox which one can add to one’s email client. No need for a separate news aggregator. Hoping to launch it into a full-fledged service soon.

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Game Theory

On a recommendation by Chetan Parikh, I am reading James Miller’s Game Theory At Work. It is an excellent book and a must-read for all. Through a wide variety of examples, Miller takes us through various situations that we face in personal life and business, and how game theory can help in analysing the possible options. Many times, we use our intuition to make decisions. Game theory can be a good add-on in our arsenals to, as the book puts it, “outthink and outmaneuvar your competition”. Nash’s Equilibrium, Prisoner’s Dilemma and various other situations are important for us to understand.

Atanu Dey and RISC

The last couple dyas, have been meeting with Atanu Dey and listening to his RISC ideas. RISC stands for Rural Infrastructure and Services Commons. The more I listen to Atanu, the more I believe that these are the ideas which can truly transform rural India. Atanu’s background in engineering and economics makes for A Brilliant Mind. The challenge is for us to see how these ideas can be implemented to create a revolution across an India that has remained largely unchanged and untouched.

Business Ignorance

Tim Bray of Antractica, an information visualisation software, has a two-part series on “the information landscape out there in the real world. Part 1 surveys the Business Intelligence landscape (it’s bad). In Part 2, the question is: how to get people to try new technology in tough times?” [via Rahul Dave]

Collecting vs Using: The bottom line: every company out there is collecting oceans of data on every aspect of their business. Nobody ever got fired for deciding to retain the records or generate a report…But investors aren’t handing out rewards for collecting a lot of data. It’s just meaningless mountains of vacuous bits unless you’re getting some good use out of it; and if what I’m seeing is the norm, a lot of people aren’t.

Sales Process: No matter which side of the fence you’re on, the software sales process is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. Furthermore, while we all acknowledge the hangover from Y2K and the bubble, we can’t all give up doing capital acquisitions, much and all as we’d like to…But I think that even when the good times return, we’ll never again see the days where people would write six-figure purchase orders for technology without having had their hands on it and really REALLY convinced themselves that it’s going to get the job done.

The second part has a discussion on the multi-part process Antractica is using to selling. Some good ideas which we can apply. A point which Tim makes: “For us at Antarctica, we find out if the customer really has a problem they care about, because writing even a small cheque, these days, is a very effective filter.”

EAI Troubles?

Barron’s writes about the shift from enterprise application integration (EAI) software vendors to application server vendors.

To some extent, the application integrators, such as Tibco, webMethods, SeeBeyond, Vitria Technology, and Mercator fulfilled their promise — some more than others — but the group has not performed over the long-haul nearly to the degree that many analysts and investors envisioned. Much of the blame justifiably rests on the companies themselves. Their products were often expensive, difficult to install and labor-intensive. But more importantly, during what was supposed to be their moment of glory at the turn of the century, much of the integration action shifted toward connecting with systems outside the firewall via the Internet. The emergence of “application servers” — layers of software sitting on top of operating systems that connect to the Internet — by BEA Systems, IBM, Microsoft, and to much lesser degrees Sun Microsystems and Oracle, stole much of the EAI group’s thunder. The application server became core of the enterprise universe, at least for a shining moment.

TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Connecting Blogs, Search and Personal Directories

Outlines – or Personal Directories – are the missing link in the information milieu that we see today. Imagine if each of us bloggers could create a set of pages which put our writings in context like a directory. So, now, if I wanted to find out more about WiFi or the Digital Divide and if I know that there is an expert in this area, then I can go to that person’s blog, knowing that I will get a complete perspective through the outline and links, rather than just what are the new developments. The blogger already has a mental map – a taxonomy, a context – of the space. With transclusion (the ability to connect and show outlines in place), all these individual outlines could be independently linked together to create paths through the web which a search engine or a directory can never do.

What’s missing? The language – OPML – is already there. What’s missing is a mass-market outlining tool which can be integrated with blogging. Radio Userland has an outliner. But what’s needed is integration at the blog post level – so that when I am doing a post, besides categorising it, I can also place it appropriately in my directory. Into this ecosystem of personal directories should then come search, and the ability to narrow searches – in a way the RSS search engines are now doing to blogs. They still do not cover verticals or trusted blogs, but that can be expected soon enough.

What Personal Directories will do is provide a context for viewing information. Instead of just seeing news items as individual specks, we will start seeing the landscape as a whole – through the eyes of the experts. This will create a richer overlay on the world that already exists. The time for a million, linked directories has now come.

Lets think about a world with personal directories. Imagine we were doing a paper on the Memex. The first step we would do (as I did when I started thinking about this topic) is go to Google and type memex. This is the result we would get. It is a good starting point but considering that others have probably also explored this topic in great depth, wouldnt it be useful to be (a) pointed to experts in this area, and (b) get connected to their outlines of the topic?

What is missing in the blogging world is a directory of experts. For which now, we could perhaps use Google itself, though it is a short step from where we are to build this. Imagine if I am searching for a specific topic, and then it could point me to people who have written extensively on that topic, and perhaps whom others consider as experts. This information could be gleaned by doing a semantic indexing of blog posts, along with seeing what others turn to the blogger for (for example, which of a bloggers posts have the most inward links).

Basically, this creates a third alternative to finding information: Yahoos directory gives us information on websites, Googles search gives us information on actual web pages, while our blog search gives us information on experts (who also maintain a blog). If bloggers started maintaining personal directories of the content space they have expertise in, it will provide a mapping of the blogosphere which is richer and more insightful and updated than anything we have seen before. By taking ideas from ants, brains, memes, and small worlds, the Memex can weave magic.

Tomorrow: Of Stigmergy and Memes

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