Tech Slump Delays Innovations

WSJ writes:

The slow economy has again delayed the rollouts of new technology, risking future gains in output. Indeed, some promising developments may fall along the wayside.

Recent surveys of U.S. and European executives by Goldman Sachs Group and Gartner Inc. indicate that business spending on information technology will be flat to down slightly this year — on top of back-to-back declines the past two years. And spending on newer technologies will likely lag behind the eventual economic pickup, because such technologies are perceived as riskier, says Ram Bhagavatula, chief economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Financial Markets.

It is time to look at the emerging markets which are beginning to spend on technology as the drivers for new innovations.

Net Boom, Act II

Richard Karlgaard writes in Forbes: “Net Boom, Act II is just getting started. Behind the revival is an array of cheap stuff, such as wireless broadband, 120-gigabyte disk drives for $99 and mail-order “blade” servers that are as powerful as $250,000 Unix boxes. The second-order effect of all this cheap gear is rapid Net penetration into poorer countries like India and China, which are becoming vendors of even cheaper products and services.”

RSS’ Growing Importance

The RSS feed is growing in importance. Two recent comments are an indication of the attention being paid to the fact that RSS may become the new way to dissenimate information.

Writes Jon Udell:

Direct one-click access to RSS sources is suddenly a lot more interesting. It used to be that RSS aggregators were few. Now they are many — because every copy of Radio is one. The people running these aggregators can now start to trade channels as we used to trade links.

The benefits of this new RSS fluidity, which kicks things up a level of abstraction, seem obvious to me, and will seem obvious to anyone who finds their way here to read this. But those benefits will not be obvious to most people. Casual use of ordinary links is still not nearly as prevalent in routine business and personal communication as it ought to be. The kind of meta-linking possible with channel exchange will seem even more exotic. The challenge — and opportunity — is to make all this as easy and natural as most people think email is.

Adds Tim Bray:

Eventually there will be business models built around weblogs, with more popular ones being more lucrative. And while the Pagerank-style ratings produced by Technorati, Daypop and so on are important, the big question is going to become: how many subscribers do you have?

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Blogosphere Dynamics

Mark McLuhan: “Blogs that come to be noticed are those which are cited, that is linked-to, interestingly mirroring the best academic tradition. This is the highest form of editorial oversight – peer review. Those bloggers who establish a reputation for themselves by virtue of their insight, wittiness and general wisdom gain attention, which, after all, is the most valuable commodity in a world of instantaneous communications. The community edits itself; those whose contributions merit mass distribution via the unique dynamic of the blogosphere will see such distribution. Those whose contribution remains in the realm of navel-gazing and news-about-their-cat will be ‘modded down’ in the best tradition of Slashdot, a site whose membership dynamics is a major archetype for community moderation.”

Mark also points to a story on Microdocs and says:

How does a story hit the big-time, and why aren’t I famous yet? The most interesting comment in the article is the conclusion: “Blogs cannot be read in isolation from each other. Blog stories are understood and appreciated in aggregate and not in isolation. On the other hand, mainstream media stories tend to be read in isolation rather than read and compared. This is the key to understanding why blogs provide the most appropriate form of journalism in a world of instantaneous communications, and the fundamental difference between conventional mass-media and a journalism formed of connectedness.

Blogs are part of an ecosystem, just like conversations. There is a symbiotic relationships between bloggers themsevles, and blogs and mainstream media.

Hyderabad Visit

Atanu “RISC” Dey and I spent the past couple days in Hyderababd meeting with various people to discuss rural development. Travelling and talking to people is a great way to think. I am understanding RISC better now. When we meet people, the initial reaction is normally, “Oh, its all been tried and done before.” It is interesting to watch this change from “Hmm, this seems different” and finally to “But what if others start copying it everywhere”. As we travelled, I got a good primer from Atanu on Economics, Game Theory and Rural Development.

Hyderabad is not a city I have visited often – this visit came after nearly 2 years. I remember going there in the early 1990s to the various R&D centres trying to (unsuccessfully) sell the image processing solution we had developed. A lot has changed in the city since then thanks to Chandrababu Naidu. It is a very clean city. The roads are nice and wide. The lake adds to the charm.

Travelling gives one time to think and contemplate. As one sees things around, linkages and connections start happening and images start forming, and the ideas get amplified. That is why it is so important to get out of the confines of the office every once in a while.

On the way to Hyderabad, we looked down from the aircraft window on the Indian countryside. We weren’t flying that high and it was a clear day. I was trying to see the villages and their distribution, and imagining where we could set up the RISC centres. Reminded me a bit of how Sam Walton must have felt as he overflow rural America trying to decide where to locate the Walmarts.

TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Emergence

What is most interesting about the Memex is that it is an emergent system made up of local decisions made by a large number of individuals. Each of us is just going about our normal course of (blogging) life making decisions on what content we like, whom to link to, what taxonomy to use for our personal directory, and so on. But out of these local decisions comes a bottom-up system that is beyond what a Yahoo or Google can ever hope of creating both because it cannot be cached and because it is continually evolving.

Writes Steven Johnson in his book Emergence: If youre building a system designed to learn from the ground, a system where macrointelligence and adaptability derive from local knowledge,there are five fundamental principles you need to follow. Steven Johnson discusses the principles in the context of harvester ants. We will apply these principles in the context of the Memex.

The first principle is: More is different. It is only by observing the entire system that the global behavior becomes apparent. Individuals (think bloggers) do not know the big picture as they keep doing their routine of linking, commenting and outlining it is as if they are working at the street level, with little understanding of the topology of the city.

The second principle is: Ignorance is useful. Better to build a densely interconnected system with simple elements, and let the more sophisticated behavior trickle up. Bloggers do their bit in terms of the simple acts of categorising and connecting, without resort of any complex algorithms or top-down instructions.

The third principle is: Encourage random encounters. These encounters are individually arbitrary, but because there are so many individuals in the system, they allow the individuals to gauge and alter the macrostate of the system itself. In the world of bloggers, this translates to the people or content they connect to via search engines or the ones who land up at the blogs. This is over and beyond the ones that are friends or friends of friends. This opens up new content worlds and ideas.

The fourth principle is: Look for patterns in the signs. Just as ants look for patterns in pheromone secretions, bloggers can look for patterns in sites like Blogdex and Daypop, which provide an idea of the popular memes. Technoratis links to new and promising bloggers is another example. This knack for pattern detection allows metainformation to circulate through the mind: signs about signs.

The fifth principle is: Pay attention to your neighbours. Local information can lead to global wisdom. Bloggers are not putting up a random collection of links, they are basing their decisions on what their neighbourhood does. This provides a feedback mechanism into the system.

Thus, local decisions made by bloggers is what enables the formation of the global Memex. This is emergence at work.

Tomorrow: Small Worlds

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