Email’s Special Power

Jon Udell points out why email is (almost) irreplaceable, whatever be the issues we have about spam and viruses:

Asynchronous messaging is one aspect of e-mail’s special power. It’s not the core benefit, though. If we peel another layer from the onion we find existing solutions that could be leveraged for store-and-forward messaging. Web-based forums, Wikis, and Weblogs are some of the messaging hubs that can enable groups to communicate independently of time and space. What they can’t support as easily or as effectively as e-mail is the dynamic formation (and dissolution) of those groups.

Every interpersonal e-mail message creates, or sustains, or alters the membership of a group. It happens so naturally that we don’t even think about it. When you’re writing a message to Sally, you cc: Joe and Beth. Joe adds Mark to the cc: list on his reply. You and Sally work for one department of your company, Joe for another, Beth is a customer, and Mark is an outside contractor. These subtle and spontaneous acts of group formation and adjustments of group membership are the source of e-mail’s special power.

Software that requires people to explicitly declare the formation of these groups, and to acknowledge their dissolution, is too blunt an instrument for such ephemeral social interaction. Like an operating-system thread, an e-mail thread is a lightweight construct, cheap to set up and tear down. Could a protocol other than SMTP, and an application other than e-mail, support such interaction? Sure, but any other communication medium that has e-mail’s special power to convene groups will suffer the same diseases that afflict e-mail: spam, abuse, infoglut.

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Growing Thin Client Market

News.com writes:

The market for thin clients–the term for network-based computing devices with no local storage–is expected to grow at an annual rate of 22.8 percent over the next five years, market researcher IDC predicted Wednesday. Shipments of thin clients will reach 3.4 million units worldwide in 2007, up from just 1.5 million in 2003, IDC said.

“Many companies are working to make the process of planning, deploying, configuring, transitioning and using thin clients much easier. If thin-client vendors can increase their percentage of the total PC market by even 1 percent, that would be a huge win for this lively market,” Bob O’Donnell, research director of device technology at IDC, said in a statement.

A key area that is likely to drive this market is Web services applications, although the demand for the latter will likely be lower than had earlier been anticipated. Windows software is expected to remain dominant, although there will be a shift toward alternative operating systems, IDC said.

At the same time, IDC noted, the transition from desktop PCs to notebooks could hurt thin-client penetration in businesses. But dedicated marketing from major companies such as Hewlett-Packard is expected to increase awareness of thin clients over the next five years.

Blogs and Text Ads

Nick Denton has a prediction on how Google’s AdSense (text ads) will change the way blogs are presented: “Text ads will force weblogs to become more like traditional media sites. Shorter front pages, more internal links, longer content…Google serves up text ads according to an analysis of the context. Internal pages are more specific, and therefore more appropriate for targeted text ads…And what will blogs look like, after they’re optimized for Google? Much more like traditional media sites, designed to keep viewers bouncing around from item to item. Google text ads will give blogs a business model; but they’ll also warp the format.”

Solar Window Shades

Wired News writes about an interesting energy idea being worked on by Anna Dyson, who teaches architecture at Rensselaer:

Imagine sitting at your office desk, looking through floor-to-ceiling windows. You look past dozens of tiny, translucent, 1-centimeter silicon squares suspended about every square foot or so between dual windowpanes. The little squares shift like automated, almost invisible Venetian blinds. The miniature squares follow the sun’s rays, so they don’t impede the view in any direction.

The entire module — a clear plastic pane between two glass panes — functions like a translucent sundial, letting you tell time with its shadows.

The glare that once bounced off your computer monitor no longer exists. And the sun’s intense heat, which once led to window-shade tug-of-wars with co-workers longing for a little natural light, no longer beats down on you. You comfortably tap at your keyboard under natural, abundant, ambient light.

But there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. These photovoltaic window shades quietly capture the sun’s rays of heat and light, focusing them into the small silicon squares, also called solar chips. The chips convert the light energy into electrical power and feed it into the building’s electrical system; the energy goes into the heating and cooling systems.

Dyson said a single solar cell will cost about 25 cents. The cells are situated about a square foot apart and will have a “way more than 50 percent” energy-conversion rate, she added. Typical solar panels have a conversion rate of less than 20 percent.

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Event-driven Enterprise

[via Phil Windley] ebizQ quotes Gartner’s Roy Schulte, starting with an apt analogy “for developing truly agile enterprises, which can react more quickly to changes in business conditions than the old-fashioned kind of organization.”

Changing a trucks direction is easier than making a train go where the tracks dont.

If you want the train to move over one foot, you have to do an immense amount of work tearing up and re-laying tracks. On the other hand, all you need to do to turn the more agile truck is move the steering wheel.

If you find youre not selling many SUVs and you want to transfer the assembly line over to some other kind of car, youd like to be able to (easily) reconfigure that business process.

Traditional business strategies are not event driven. Many companies, for instance, build to stock. On the other hand, an event-driven approach sees products being built to order. This allows customization and reduces inventory-carrying costs.

Event-driven, service-oriented architectures integrate three kinds of data: reference data, such as the number of trucks in a fleet; state data, such as the number of trucks under repair; and event data, such as a delivery being completed.

RSS Algebra

Sbastien Paquet writes about the various operations possible with RSS feeds, derived from set theory:

1. Splicing (union): I want feed C to be the result of merging feeds A and B.

2. Intersecting: Given primary feeds A and B, I want feed C to consist of all items that appear in both primary feeds.

3. Subtracting (difference): I want to remove from feed A all of the items that also appear in feed B. Put the result in feed C.

4. Splitting (subset selection): I want to split feed D into feeds D1 and D2, according to some binary selection criterion on items.

Opens up interesting possibilities…

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Simputer Update

Rediff has a story on the Simputer, stating that the handheld will no longer be cheap – “[it] is likely to carry a price tag of anything between Rs 12,000 and Rs 20,000. Encore’s entry-level model will cost Rs 12,000, while the most expensive one will be priced Rs 22,000. PicoPeta is likely to price its Simputer, Amida, at about Rs 15,000.”

, why would anyone opt for a Simputer and not go for a desktop PC or a handheld device?

For its portability and the range of features it offers, argue PicoPeta and Encore.

“Our Simputer comes with a smart card reader. It has a USB master that can host different kind of peripherals. It has an in-built modem, GSM/CDMA data interface, GPS receiver and the equivalent of a 400 MHZ Celeron. It is a power packed machine,” says Samyeer Metrani, group manager (embedded systems), Encore Technologies.

Says PicoPeta’s Professor Manohar: “The Rs 20,000 that a desktop costs is only a part of the total ownership costs. How many people can use the standard PC? You need to know Windows, English, how to operate a mouse, et cetera. The Simputer will give them applications that they can handle easily.”

But clearly, somewhere along the line from conception to development, talk of the Rs 9,000 Simputer that would become the computer for the poor man, has been lost.

I think that Simputer will find its niche, but it will not be the mass market “simple / cheap computer” that was once envisioned. To take computing to the mass market, the cost has to be Rs 5,000.

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TECH TALK: Next Billion: Innovations Needed (Part 4)

6. Social Network Software

While there is a lot of content out on the Internet, what is also needed is contact. This is where social network software comes in. People want to connect with other people. Websites like Ryze, LinkedIn and Friendster offer the promise of making connections between people. Email and IM offer one type of connectivity with people whom we know directly. What social networks do is extend this to friends of friends.

One specific type of this emerging breed of software is personal publishing tools for blogging. Blogs are personal journals. They are voices and conversations. The first generation of the Internet had home pages that people made in homesteads like Geocities. But after the initial euphoria, the home pages languished because they were hard to update. Blogs go beyond that they make writing and linking so much easier. The chronological organisation makes new content easily visible, and RSS makes syndication trivial.

Blogs are giving a richness and personal touch to the web that hasnt been seen before. They are what will give individuals and small businesses a mechanism to find a place on the Internet. It could be an individual writing about needlecraft or someone creating a weblog around Scrabble. Whatever it is, blogs have added a variety on the web that has been missing so far.

7. The Information Marketplace

Just as individuals need to contact each other, so do SMEs. One of the most important challenges an SME faces is new business generation. This is where the Information Marketplace comes in. It connects SMEs with other SMEs. It gets around the marketing trap that SMEs face: because they are small, it is difficult for them to spend money promoting themselves, and so it is harder for others to find them, and so they tend to stay small. Built around weblogs, wikis and RSS, the Information Marketplace is a manifestation of the Publish-Subscribe Web.

Imagine the small, neighbourhood businesses that are there in every part of the world. It would be nice if each of them could publish a profile of themselves and what is new with their business. This could then be made available as an RSS feed. Users (consumers or other businesses) could then subscribe to these feeds in their news readers, and thus be alerted whenever there is something new and interesting. This creates a win-win situation for everyone: users get the relevant content, and the businesses get a way to reach the interested people.

The Information Marketplace is what is missing in todays web. Search engines help us locate websites and pages of interest, but they do not get us access to regularly updating microcontent. The combination of simplified publishing tools and a syndication mechanism can help in bridging the information gap which exists. Business and the web share one thing in common: connections. This is what the Information Marketplace enables.

Tomorrow: The Road Ahead

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