People are India’s Opportunity

Mohan Guruswamy writes how demographics will favour India: “In 2020 India will have more than 270 million people in the 15 to 35 age segments, when productivity and economic contribution is the highest. If savings rates hold and with productive potential at its peak in 2020 and we will have a great window of opportunity to make it as a developed and prosperous economy by 2050.”

Will India exploit this opportunity? Not by the way things are:

The appropriations on health, education and welfare have now cumulatively dipped to about 6% of our GNP, dropping from 6.4% in the previous year. We have just earmarked Rs 75,389 crores for education (center and state governments) which at 2.9% of GDP represents a contraction from the previous years actual expenditure of 3.1%. The total amount spent by the central and state governments on healthcare is Rs 33,915 crores or just 1.3% of the GDP.

Consider this, if we de-subsidise just milk and domestic gas, it will fund the health care and education of many millions who do not get anything from the State now. If we just do away with the so-called fertilizer subsidy of Rs 7,000 crores, which really is a gift to the high cost domestic fertilizer industry, we will in effect double what we spend of irrigation at present. This will create millions of new jobs in the rainfed areas where the majority of Indians below the poverty/hunger line live.

Similarly if food subsidies totalling about Rs 21,000 crores, which actually are subsidies to middle and large farmers, mostly in Punjab, Haryana, coastal AP and western UP, India’s infrastructure will look entirely different in just a few years. But will Parliament ever be able to discuss this seriously, given its class composition and pre-occupations?

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Scalable RSS Aggregators

Dave Winer points to a post by Andrew Grumet. Says Andrew:

I like everything on one page: the less clicking I have to do, the better. The “everything on one page” style lets me quickly scan a post and decide whether read it closely before deleting. Excepting mainstream media feeds, lead-ins usually don’t give me enough information to decide, and I wind up having to click anyway.

The likely objection here is that one’s aggregator page can get long. Hence we have the three-pane aggregators. These are supposed to help us manage large amounts of data by providing segregated views and a folder system. But in my hands, at least, this “scalability” encouraged bad habits. I wound up with thousands of undeleted messages in my various SharpReader folders. It was the worst aspects of email, all over again.

Try an aggregator that doesn’t scale. Like this one or this one. It will force you to work through the posts, and help you do it quickly. Don’t worry about stuff that you didn’t have time to read. Just delete it. Remember, it’s not email. The data will (probably) remain out there on the Web where you can get to it later if you really need to.

Dave endorses the view, stating that “the three-pane `feed reader’ is a disaster, it’s merely recreating a mess I want to run away from. I like having a new queue every few hours.”

I think I have hit upon the ideal solution: a single folder with all the RSS items in an email client, like what our Info Aggregator does for the following reasons:

– it allows me to work within an application I know very well (the email client) and not learn (or download) something new
– the IMAP support ensures that I have a sync-ed RSS store irrespective of the computer I access it from
– the single folder elimintaes the wastage of working through differetn folders. Email clients have a sort on the source, so in case I want to view (or delete) all feeds by date or source, it is a matter of a couple clicks.
– search within the feeds is possible via the email client search itself

VoIP Magic

SJ Mercury News writes about how phone companies in the US are being left out of the loop:

Largely as a result of readily available broadband Internet connections and low-cost telephone appliances that attach to any home computer network, it is now possible to use VoIP to make phone calls to any phone number in the world using the trusty traditional handset, even a cordless one. What’s more, VoIP service comes with features the traditional telephone companies are not even able to offer and at costs that are a fraction of the typical residential phone bill.

Those features include advanced voice-mail management, individual call-handling methods configured over the Internet, and sophisticated call-blocking schemes.

And, if you move, whether to another area code or another country, VoIP allows you to take your phone number with you.

“There is no doubt that this is nothing short of a revolution in telecom,” says Ravi Sakaria, president and chief executive of VoicePulse, a New Jersey company offering the new service. “It’s not just a viable technology; it’s the direction all of telecom is going in.”

I am wondering what will happen to the various Indian telcos who are investing hundreds of millions in telecom. Why don’t they just use VoIP? I am sure they are legal and regulatory issues here, but technology tends to overcome all hurdles.

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Complete RSS Feeds

Ted Leung makes a passionate appeal (which I concur with) for providing full content in the RSS feed:

I’m interested in timeboxing my RSS reading. The more items I can read per unit time, the better. Having to click, or spacebar or whatver slows me down. Out of the many items a day that I read, only a few are worth following up on (either via blogging it, or going to see the comments or whatever). When a feed doesn’t include all the content, then it slows me down if I have to click and have the tab open up in Mozilla. (FeedDemon can do this now). It’s especially bad if I have to do that, only to find that the item wasn’t of interest to me. So I want all the content in the feed.

I want to break down the walls between silos of personal information (including microcontent). In order to do that, I need my programs to be able to much on that data. If the data is off on your web page, it’s harder to do. So I want all the content in the feed…

I am finding the same thing. It is especially frustrating to find only part of the content in feeds. RSS is becoming the way I am finding much of the new content. Content providers need to look at this new medium seriously – and not just as an previewer of content.

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Rich Web Clients and Macromedia’s Central

Adam Bosworth continues his discussion on the “Rich UI” with an endorsement of Central…

what excites me about Central isn’t as much the media as other aspects of it. It has agents which intelligently look in the background for changes and let me know. It can run offline as well as online. It can have context which is so important for many mobile applications. It supports collaboration and direct access of information from the internet. It’s user interface makes use of the ability to ask for and send information to the internet dynamically to enable a much more interactive feel.

…and an appeal…

I think that there is a need for a plain old browser that can interact with the server at the information level and I think there is also a need for Central. We don’t use only one size and type of screwdriver. Why should this world be different?

…which has an answer by another Adam:

By throwing that information at a mod_pubsub Server (via publish), and programming a little JavaScript for the callbacks (via subscribe), you can turn an ordinary Web Browser into Adam’s “plain old browser”.

Adam Bosworth also recommends reading this Kevin Lynch white paper on Rich Internet Applications.

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Personalised Search

News.com profiles Kaltix, a stealth search start-up out of Stanford University:

Kaltix hopes to improve upon PageRank, with an attempt to speed up the underlying PageRank computations. That, in turn, could lay the groundwork for a breakthrough in a cutting-edge area of Web search development known as “personalization,” which aims to sort search results based on the specific needs and interests of individuals, instead of the consensus approach pioneered by Google.

The personalization of search tools entails matching results to user profiles. These profiles could include data such as zip code, birth date or individual search history. For example, the keyword “jaguar” might place car sites at the top of search results for someone who had recently visited automobile Web sites, but might lead off with Web sites about the cat for someone whose surfing history showed an interest in animals.

Personalization techniques include collecting data from the search user directly, as well as putting algorithms to work behind the scenes. With a little information voluntarily submitted by a searcher, an engine could localize search for results in German or French or segment listings to show only 15 out of the top 100 links. An advanced algorithmic technique might apply keyword-pattern analysis in order to examine an individual’s search history and guess what the object might be of the next search request.

The main task will be getting the user interface right. That means giving people notice of what data has been collected, where that data will be stored and how it will be used. It also means giving users the choice of changing data or removing it.

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TECH TALK: IT’s Future: Carrs HBR article (Part 2)

In the HBR article, Nicholas Carr contrasts infrastructural technologies with proprietary technologies. The latter can be owned, actually or effectively by a single company. As long as they remain protected, proprietary technologies can be the foundations for long-term strategic advantages, enabling companies to reap higher profits than their rivals. In contrast, infrastructural technologies offer more value when shared than used in isolationThe only meaningful advantage most companies can hope to gain from an infrastructural technology after its buildout is a cost advantage and even that tends to be very hard to sustain.

IT, says Carr, has all the hallmarks of an infrastructural technology. It is a transport mechanism, carrying digital information just as railroads carry goods and power grids carry electricity. IT is also replicable and this is not limited just to the software, but also to the business activities and processes that have come to be embedded in software. Through web services over a grid, companies are likely to replace customised applications with generic ones. Carr also points out that IT is subject to rapid price deflation thus making IT capabilities quickly available to all.

History, says Carr, shows that the power of an infrastructural technology to transfom industries always diminishes as its buildout nears completion. There are many indications that the IT buildout is closer to its end that its beginning ITs power is far greater than what busineses need, its price drops have made it affordable to all, Internet capacity has caught up with demand, IT vendors are repositioning themselves as utility providers and the investment bubble has burst. In essence, says, Carr, IT must now be considered as an infrastructural technology and thus a commodity available to all.

So, what should companies do? Carr offers some advice in a section entitled New Rules for IT Management:

With the opportunities for gaining strategic advantage from IT rapidly disappearing, many companies willwant to take a hard look at how they invest in IT and manage their systems. As a starting point, here are three guidelines for the future:

Spend less. Studies show that the companies with the biggest IT investments rarely post the best financial results. As the commoditization of IT continues, the penalties of wasteful spending will only grow larger. It is getting much harder to achieve a competitive advantage through an IT investment, but it is much easier to put your business at a cost disadvantage.

Follow, dont lead. Moores Law guarantees that the longer you wait to make an IT purchase, the more youll get for your money. And waiting will decrease your risk of buying something technologically flawed or doomed for rapid obsolescence. In some cases, being on the cutting edge makes sense. But those cases are becoming rarer and rarer as IT capabilities become more homogenized.

Focus on vulnerabilities, not opportunities. Its unusual for a company to gain a competitive advantage through the distinctive use of a mature infrastructural technology, but even a brief disruption in the availability of the technology can be devastating. As corporations tend to cede their control over their IT applications and networks to vendors and other third parties, their threats they face will proliferate. They need to prepare themselves for technical glitches, outages, and security breaches, shifting their attention from opportunities to vulnerabilities.

So, to summarise, in Carrs own words: IT infrastructure is indeed essential to competitiveness, particularly at the regional and industry level. My point, however, is that it is no longer a source of advantage at the firm level – it doesn’t enable individual companies to distinguish themselves in a meaningful way from their competitors. Essential to competitiveness but inconsequential to strategic advantage: that’s why IT is best viewed (and managed) as a commodity[When a resource becomes thus], the risks it creates become more important than the advantages it provides.

Tomorrow: Hagel-Brown and GM CIO

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