RSS Tutorial

A Primer for Publishers and Content Providers. The benefits of RSS as outlined in the document:

  • RSS is an excellent and cost-effective way of driving traffic to, and increasing brand awareness of, any website that publishes content (e.g news, jobs, events) regularly. Once a publisher produces an RSS file, they are enabling others to syndicate their headlines, without any further work on their part.

  • RSS is the dominant format for distributing headline content on the Web.

  • RSS allows easy sharing of data between sites. Webmasters can use an RSS file to easily incorporate third party content into their own site.

  • Content from RSS feeds can be easily repurposed allowing, for example, cross searching of a number of different feeds at once.
    RSS content can be added to personal desktop news reading applications like Feedreader or AmphetaDesk.

  • RSS is a disruptive innovation – where HTML was in 1994.

    My First LCD

    Just got an LCD for the computer at home, and I must say I am impressed with the sleekness and resolution. Considering that I use a 4-year-old notebook at work and an 8-year-old 14-inch monitor as an optional additional display (part of our affordable computing thinking), the LCD is a major leap forward in my life!

    Private Google

    Steve Gillmor wants “a private Google, where I can find random notes without exposing them publicly–or more precisely, to unsubscribed (unauthorized) readers.” He also gives some suggestions on how to do it:

    1. Get Panther. This will cost $500 for an entry level developer license today.

    2. Investigate the new Mail APIs and the new TextEdit developer kit (if it exists).

    3. Develop Gary Burd’s idea of a brute force private Google built on top of a local IMAP store hosted in Mail.app.

    4. Produce NetNewsWire plug-in from #3’s work and contribute it to Brent Simmons with all possible speed.

    5. Use NNW plug-in framework to develop additional extensions for converting iChat AV/AIM/Rendeyvous presence and message attempts into RSS feed.

    6. Investigate wiring #5’s feed to iSync for persistent calendaring and scheduling.

    7. Work with Mozilla-based cross-platform aggregators to migrate to Windows/Linux base.

    8. Watch Microsoft and Google scramble to catch up.

    MIT OpenCourseWare

    Reading this Wired story makes me think I should take a look at the MIT’s course ware.

    When MIT announced to the world in April 2001 that it would be posting the content of some 2,000 classes on the Web, it hoped the program – dubbed OpenCourseWare – would spur a worldwide movement among educators to share knowledge and improve teaching methods. No institution of higher learning had ever proposed anything as revolutionary, or as daunting. MIT would make everything, from video lectures and class notes to tests and course outlines, available to any joker with a browser. The academic world was shocked by MIT’s audacity – and skeptical of the experiment. At a time when most enterprises were racing to profit from the Internet and universities were peddling every conceivable variant of distance learning, here was the pinnacle of technology and science education ready to give it away. Not the degrees, which now cost about $41,000 a year, but the content. No registration required.

    In September, as students arrive on the Cambridge campus for the start of school, MIT will officially launch OpenCourseWare with 500 courses.

    Walmart’s Clout

    We worry about Microsoft’s clout in the tech world. Take a look at Walmart. Charles Stein writes in the Boston Globe:

    With almost $250 billion in annual sales, Wal-Mart accounts for 6 percent of all US retail sales and 2 percent of the gross domestic product. If you want to know what’s going on with the American economy, Wal-Mart is the place to look. The growing trade deficit? Wal-Mart imports $12 billion worth of goods from China, about 10 percent of the US total.

    For Wal-Mart, success begets more success. The company’s low prices boost sales volume, which in turn, allows Wal-Mart to drive costs still lower. It’s a virtuous cycle others can’t match. “The value Wal-Mart can deliver can be extended to an almost infinite number of businesses,” said Eric Almquist, a senior partner with Lippincott Mercer, a consulting firm. That is already happening in groceries. It took Wal-Mart a few years to learn the ropes, say analysts, but today it can duplicate the quality of most supermarkets while offering shoppers bigger bargains. “It is shocking to see how much they have improved,” said Maureen Depp, an analyst with State Street Research.

    TECH TALK: The Death and Rebirth of Email: Solution Ideas

    Email is our electronic lifeline. Just ten years ago, most of us outside of academia and research had barely heard of it. Telephone calls, letters and faxes were the communications means available to us. The interconnectivity between hitherto separate networks, services like AOL and Hotmail, Microsofts Outlook desktop email clients, the growing numbers of people connected to the Internet, and faster and more permanent connections to the Net have ensured a skyrocketing in the use of email. Whether it is for personal or business interactions, email has now become the preferred form of communication for many. So, when it is not available for some reason, we feel disconnected and disoriented.

    Viruses and Spams are now threatening to kill email. While a combination of firewalls, anti-virus software and spam filters can create a reasonably hassle-free environment, it may still not be good enough for the world at large. So, in this networked world, what can we do fix email? Here are some which are representative of the thinking that has been going around.

    Joi Ito writes about the need for alternate forms of communications, in response to a report that top Internet service providers blocked 17 percent of legitimate permission-based e-mail in the first half of the year: I pronounce email officially broken. If 17 percent of legit email is being blocked by spam filters, it’s not officially working. No wonder I’m using blogs, IRC and IM for my primary modes of connecting with important people these days.

    Robert Scoble, who works at Microsoft, advocates server-side filtering: I’ve switched all my personal email to Hotmail and it stayed up with no troubles through all the virus troubles during the last week. Despite putting my email address everywhere on my weblog — I only got a couple of the virus-related ones, and they had their attachments stripped. Server-side email cleaning is the only way to go. It’s also why I use a few instant messenging programs — in case everything email goes down, people can still get ahold of me with IM.

    Tim Bray looks at the problem of the email client in this case, Microsofts Outlook and Outlook Express. Their ubiquity has become a magnet for virus-writers.

    Since everyone else is running the same software, every deranged virus writer and bored script kiddie in the world has you as their target. While Microsoft does take security seriously these days, its going to be tough to get Outlook really properly nailed down because theres a lot of legacy code in there, and the original central architectural precept was to focus on responsiveness not security.

    Of course, there are a certain number of people who are stuck with Outlook forever, because their employer has bought into Outlook calendaring and they build their weeks around that. For everyone else, there are email clients that are either free or real cheap, and just as good if not better, and essentially virus-proof. Why on earth would you not switch?

    Tim goes on to suggest many alternatives, each of these has been proven to be able to handle massive volumes of email traffic, and huge archives of back-email. The alternate email client options are: Eudora, Mozilla, Mail.app (the Macs native email client), Pegasus, and a couple of non-GUI ones (Pine and Gnus).

    Business Week proposes many solutions, one among them is for ISPs: In general, the ISPs have failed to underscore that security is a serious matterAn educational campaign on the importance of computer safety would be in order. Even better, ISPs could easily offer antivirus and basic firewalling as an economical add-on service. I would bet they could sell it for $5 per month and probably make a profit on the deal, since many firewalls and anti-virus programs are now automatically updated and require little maintenance.

    Tomorrow: Solution Ideas (continued)

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    Wireless Software Opportunity

    News.com writes about the need for modularised building blocks for building mobile applications:

    A restaurant finder–a location-based mobile product that some of the most important operators already offer–illustrates the problems. A subscriber requests a list of nearby eating places, perhaps by the Short Message Service (SMS) or the operators mobile Internet portal; the operator notes the hungry callers location and replies with a list of restaurants. An operator developing such a product starts by defining its characteristics: which countries and cities to include, whether to add more detail (such as opening hours and prices), how to deliver the information to the subscriber (SMS, the Multimedia Messaging Service, or the mobile Internet), and a pricing scheme, which could involve a fixed monthly sum, usage-based fees, or fees based on the data usage that requests generate.

    Then programmers get to work creating the applications, databases and interfaces. This is an arduous process that involves thousands of hours of coding, and the longer the code takes to write, the costlier the development of the product and the more time needed to bring it to market.

    The product also needs a restaurant database, perhaps licensed from local guides, because the richer the information, the happier the subscriber. Likewise, the user experience will be vastly improved if suggestions are tailored to individual wallets and tastes. Marketing executives would want the software developers to concentrate on improving the user experience; after all, the other main ingredients of the restaurant finder will just be support features also developed for earlier products such as customer profiles (is the subscriber a teenager most likely looking for fast food or a business traveler seeking a more up-market establishment?) and systems for locating and billing subscribers.

    This is when the problems begin.

    The supporting features, it turns out, arent readily available. Information about customers is almost certainly spread over a multitude of databases and applications. Programmers may be able to access it, but they will need time to understand the code and data structures of legacy applications, to create interfaces to legacy databases and to combine and match customer information from many different sources. Ultimately, the great majority of the 10 or 20 programmers in a team will focus not on creating a differentiating customer experience but rather on getting the basics right.

    Moreover, the problems dont disappear with less-sophisticated products. A prepaid calling plan, for example, might seem to be straightforward. But a team that’s developing one will look in vain for readily available support functions such as customer information, credit checks and the ability to calculate the price of each call for billing purposes.

    An opportunity for entrepreneuers?

    Developmental Blogs

    John Robb writes about the need for “a collaborate set of weblogs that address key problem areas for global development: water, food, energy, fabrication, eduction, communication, policital empowerment, environment, cooling/heating, and work. The key would be to ask the correct questions in each of these areas and focus on the identification of low cost enabling technologies that make the solutions possible (granted, technological solutions are my bias, but I am a tool-using animal).”

    Excellent! We need to do this for two themes: affordable computing and transforming rural India.

    Microsoft’s Affordable Pricing

    News.com and Computerworld write about Gartner’s comments on Microsoft’s decision to price a Windows XP-Office combo for USD 40 as part of a low-cost PC program run by the Thai government. According to Gartner, “Microsoft may offer a similar package in China as an incentive to keep Chinese enterprises using its products.” You bet! I am surprised the Indian government hasn’t woken up yet.

    PIMs and Information Clients

    Roland Tanglao points to a survey of emerging Personal Information Managers software applications. “There is a new breed of PIMs emerging that I’m *very* excited about. They are all addressing, in different ways, that fact that email clients have been unspeakable abominations for the last few years. The email client paradigm was okay when it was the primary method of “net communication” and you got 10’s of messages a day. In the current world of InstantMessages, 100’s of emails and adhoc group forming …. they just don’t cut it. We need better Intelligent Agents.”

    Gary Burd has a similar posting on what he terms “information clients”.

    Products or Solutions

    The McKinsey Quarterly has an interesting article which differentiates between the two, suggesting that “companies can earn higher margins or increased revenues by selling integrated offeringsif they dont merely bundle their products.”

    Not every company has to sell solutionsmany successful businesses offer products, services, or bundles of either or bothbut companies intent on selling them must recognize that their economics, and thus their managerial imperatives, differ from those of product bundles. In the absence of such an understanding, vendors might invest in packaging a pseudosolution that competitors can disaggregate and bid against. The crucial first step is therefore to understand what a solution is and how it differs from products or bundles of products.

    In the broadest sense, a solution is a combination of products and services that creates value beyond the sum of its parts. In practice, solutions are usually born when a vendor can meld a certain level of expertise with proprietary intellectual propertya method, a product, or an amalgam of the twoto handle a problem for a customer or to help it complete a step in its business. More specifically, it is the level of customization and integration that sets solutions above products or services or bundles of products and services. These two elementscustomization and integrationare more than just the glue that holds the package together: the way the elements are integrated and the extent of the customization define the added value for buyers and earn the added financial benefits for sellers.

    TECH TALK: The Death and Rebirth of Email: Email Tales

    BBC: The e-mail traffic generated by Sobig F is threatening to swamp some corporate networks that are already struggling to cope with the Welchi worm that scans for fresh hosts many times faster than last weeks MSBlast virus. Like the earlier versions of Sobig, the virus spreads by e-mail and by exploiting unsecured network links between Windows PCs.

    New York Times: Sobig began appearing Tuesday, just a week after a separate virus, Blaster, wreaked havoc on computer systems across the world. A variant of the Blaster virus fouled signaling and dispatching systems at CSX Corp., on Wednesday, a day after similar troubles brought down Air Canadas check-in systems. Sobig does not physically damage computers, files or critical data, but it tied up computer and networking resources, forcing networks like the University of Wisconsin-Madison to shut down outside access to its e-mail system Wednesday.

    Kevin Werbach in a post entitled The Day Email Died?: Between 10:45pm last night and 6am this morning, I received 1,470 pieces of spam (a run rate of nearly 5,000 per day). Most of them were from the SoBig worm, which seems to be the worst yet. And as far as I can tell, it’s still getting worseWe have to confront the reality: either email is broken, Microsoft’s email software is broken, or those two statements are the same. If it’s the middle statement, Microsoft and other vendors can close holes and improve filtering in their products. Email itself isn’t going to change. It’s too widely deployed. I still think a combination of steps will tame the spam epidemic, but we’re not there yet.

    Dave Winer in a series of posts over successive days: This morning 650 messages accumulated overnight, and my email program, Outlook Express, one which millions of people use, can’t download them without crapping outOver 800 messages accumulated in my mailbox, and my mailer is incapable of dealing with it. So if you sent me mail, I probably won’t get it until tomorrow afternoonOver 2000 messages are waiting. Perhaps its time to give up on the mail client software I’ve been usingEmail is still broken. I’m trying Eudora, it seems to work a little better than Outlook Express, but of course it’s totally strange and all my filters are goneIn the meantime I’m missing boatloads of email.

    Microdoc: The way we have developed the Internet is creating the biggest economic, social and cultural time-bomb of the century. We have become dependent on email, Microsoft and now Google, none of us realizing that, through widespread public support of highly popular solutions we are actually creating opportunities for what we have built to be torn down. The problem with email is that every email client works much the same way regardless of who constructed it, that widespread damage can be done by relatively few to so many. Because we have a world where software is made by Microsoft, and it works relatively the same the world over, we have created huge gaping holes for people in any society of the world to bring down the masses. To allow the Internet to survive, we need to embrace diversity, to make it near impossible for a single worm to create havoc the world over.

    Dan Gillmor: What will come from this crisis? I think we may be on the verge of the next transformation — from e-mail to other kinds of communications that will make life harder (but, sadly, not impossible) for the spammers and vandals who prey on the Net’s openness. You want to reach me? Unfortunately it’s getting more difficult unless I’ve given you a private e-mail address, my instant messaging signon or my mobile phone numberNo doubt, if another OS had 95 percent (or more) market share, there would be some of the same problems. Two points: First, Microsoft has flat-out refused to use its illegally gained profits sufficiently to stop this. Second, Windows is a monoculture. Ask any biologist about monocultures, and you’ll be told of the extreme danger they represent. The U.S. government’s willingness — eagerness — to help Microsoft keep and extend its monopoly is part of the dangerThis can’t go on. The next worm or virus may be a real disaster, not just an enormous pain in the butt. It’s a matter of time.

    You get the idea!

    Tomorrow: Solution Ideas

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    RISC to transform Rural India

    Atanu Dey has a detailed note on RISC (Rural Infrastructure and Services Commons). Atanu will be returning to India soon, and we will be working together to build on the model, and create a few prototype centres in the coming year. This is a great opportunity to do good and do well.

    Without rural economic development, India has little chance of achieving growth rates required to become a developed nation. Furthermore, economic development is both a cause and a consequence of urbanization. Clearly, in the Indian context, urbanization through further rural to urban migration is both unsustainable and socially disruptive. Therefore urbanization of the rural population will have to be achieved in the rural areas.

    Rural India is caught in what is called a development trap. Because of lack of economic opportunities, incomes are low. Therefore they are unable to pay for goods and services that would enable them to increase their incomes. This leads to low demand for goods and services. Consequently, firms don’t find it profitable to do business in rural India. This leads to the inadequate provision of infrastructure, which in turn leads to lack of economic opportunities, and so on.

    The model called Rural Infrastructure & Services Commons (RISC) has the potential for achieving the multi-faceted goals of sustainable development. It uses limited resources efficiently by focusing them in specific locations that are accessible to a sufficiently large rural population, such as that of 100 villages.

    RISC provides the benefits of urbanization by making available to rural populations the full set of services and amenities that are normally available in urban areas. It brings the benefits of ICT and the increased access to global markets that globalization promises. The model recognizes that rural populations face a number of inter-related gaps, not just the celebrated digital divide. Bridging them simultaneously with a holistic solution is more likely to succeed than any partial intervention can.

    Continue reading

    Interview in Express Computer

    An Express Computer special issue on Linux has an interview with me, done by Venkatesh Hariharan (Venky). An extract from what I have said:

    Our belief is that if you can make things available at an affordable price, there will be a dramatic growth in the usage of computing. It will create a domestic market which we sorely lack. While we have a successful exports business in software, we definitely need to have a domestic market. If Indian industry is to be competitive, we need to be big users of technology. We need to make complete solutions available at an affordable price and with no compromise on the applications front.

    Just because we cannot afford things, we dont want to tell people to compromise on applications and performance. This is where Linux provides a very strong platformespecially Linux which is running on the server so that your desktops can be of much lower cost. Instead of three new desktops, you can now give computers to 10 more people in your company for the same investment.

    The penetration of technology in Indian companies is so low5-10 percent is what we are at. The installed base is just seven to eight million. Basic applications like messaging, etc, will not be effective if only a small number of people use it.

    The idea iswhat does it take to get a computer on every desktop and accessible to every family in the country? This is where a combination of three things is key. This is what I call the 5K PC ecosystem. This consists of the thin-client, server-centric computing and open source software.

    What this does is bring down the input costs for computing. You cant sell at a low cost if input costs are high. At the same time, we do not want a nation of pirates. People can pirate a few applications but most applications they cannot pirate. Therefore they cannot use them and are doing things inefficiently. So they are caught in a technology trap.

    Our competition is not proprietary software, it is non-consumption. We need to take what Bill Gates said in the American contextA computer on every desk and in every pocketand translate that into an Indian contextA computer on every desk and accessible to every Indian family. We cannot afford dollar-denominated technology, so we should leverage Moores law on the server and leverage our strengths in the software industry through open source.

    The issue also has an article by Prakash Advani on comparison of the total cost of ownership between Linux and Windows.

    Future of Software

    Always On has a three-part interview with Sun’s Jonathan Schwartz (Parts 2 3). I like his interview because he elucidates his points very well. Some of his comments on the future of software:

    I think [the software industry of the future] will look more like Hollywood than like Microsoft. Because the single biggest content driver is games. Across the planet, Java-enabled data services are, for consumers, primarily an entertainment outlet. So you should expect Electronic Arts and Lucas Films and Disney to be major players in the consumer network outlets. Sony as well.

    [A mining company] CEO figured he could have his seepage application, which is a very simple forms-based application, show up on a mobile device. He could use Nextel’s network or Verizon’s network and reduce the number of devices his people carry down to one. That was an opportunity for him to gain efficiency. He was using Linux on his handset to do it, and he was running Java and our infrastructure on the back end to manage the analytical capability. That to me is representative of the enterprise side of this, which is improving the business infrastructure within the next two to three years.