Bus. Std: A Tale of Three Platforms

My column in today’s Business Standard (ICE World) on the need to construct the next generation of platforms for the telephone network, the PC and the world wide web:

The three technology platforms that form the foundation of our digital life today are the telephone network, personal computer and the world wide web. While the legacy of the telephone goes back many decades, the PC and the web are recent creations. They have served us well today, over 500 million computers are in use across the world, billions of documents on every conceivable topic across the world are no more than a few clicks away and a global telecom network connects people, computers and information.

Yet these platforms are now beginning to show their age. The wire line telephone network which has carried voice so well gets stretched to its limits when it comes to data, the computers cost makes it unaffordable for much of the developing markets and the web has overloaded us with information, even as the time we have in our lives has remained constant.

The time has come to rethink and construct the next generation of platforms in each of the three areas communications, computing and information access. We need to consider the technological developments that are taking place, aggregate them and build platforms which will bring technology to the next billion users across much of the developing world.

Imagine a world where bandwidth for voice and data is not constrained and we are enveloped by a ubiquitous communications network. Imagine a world where computing is available for all at prices everyone can afford. Imagine a world where just the right information is delivered to us in real time. This is a world that is now at hand. The elements to construct this future are visible if only we are willing to see them. As we in India think about constructing a digital technology infrastructure, it is this tomorrow that we need to envision, and not one built and encumbered by the legacy of yesterday.

The communications platform needs to be built on IP (internet protocol) and be always on. Voice needs to become an application on IP networks. Wireless and broadband technologies need to be made available for homes, businesses and rural areas at affordable prices. Just as the Indian government is constructing a network of expressways, we need to enable the construction and deployment of high-speed IP-based networks across the country. Existing artificial telecom restraints and restrictions need to be done away with. For this, service providers need to be given the freedom to carry any traffic voice, data, video on their pipes. A reliable, world-class access infrastructure is the prerequisite for the new, shining India.

The computing platform needs to focus on affordability so that a connected computer is accessible to every family in urban and rural India, and every employee in corporate India. The requirement is access devices which are as easy to use and affordable as phones and have the functionality, versatility and footprint of computers. Think of these as PC terminals, designed for a networked world. The architecture of todays computer was created in the late 1970s and 1980s when networks were few and far between and, therefore, both storage and processing had to be done locally within the device. As we get high-speed networks, the access device can be simplified, and storage and processing can move back to central servers across a network. This re-architecting along with the use of open-source software can help cut the total cost of ownership of computers by 70-90 per cent.

The information platform needs to become real time, event driven and multimedia-oriented. The first web made publishing possible by the few, for many. The next web will enable mass publishing and narrowcast audiences many writing for the few. Information will not just be accessed through the browser or searched but will be delivered via RSS (Rich Site Summary; an XML-based syndication format) to news readers. Think of this as the publish-subscribe web. It bridges the gap between information producers and consumers by establishing an information stream between publishers and subscribers, ensuring real time delivery of news, information and events. The other shift is towards multimedia information, as the tools to create and distribute digital content proliferate in the form of devices like camera phones.

India has an opportunity once again to do things right. What is needed is a generation of entrepreneurs to think beyond the curve and outside the box to create technology platforms and solutions for tomorrows world. As Alan Kay said, The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Ideal Social Networking Site

Christopher makes his wish: “My ideal service would have the the multiple professional affiliation features of LinkedIn, but also allow me to show non-professional affilations. It would allow me to form intentional communities like Tribes.Net, but would also let me do a Wiki in addition to a message board. It would have meeting/party invite services like eVite, and blogging features like LiveJournal. It would have an endorsement system like LinkedIn integrated not only with professional endorsements, but personal endorsements as well, and you could even endorse intentional communities. It would let me better map and control my network, giving different friends different privileges. It would handle the release of my personal information like Ryse, but less clunky.”

Online News in 2003-4

Mark Glaser (OJR) looks back and forward:

2003 offered up much more than just an unhealthy fascination with blogs. We also obsessed over the proliferation of people with camera phones breaking spot news stories; the rise of Google and Google News; the soap opera at (AOL) Time Warner; the continued inroads of paid content; RSS feeds; massive online coverage of the war in Iraq; viruses, worms and spam overwhelming newsrooms; the struggle for independent news in Zimbabwe, China, Iran and Iraq; and political rhetoric and election coverage.

[In 2004], I’d say we will see an acceleration of many of these trends as online publications start to gain more solid financial footing. The watchwords for the industry are “cautious optimism.”

With the U.S. presidential election front and center for so much of 2004, and the Olympics, expect the three-ring circus that is online media to get more raucous and rowdy — but perhaps it will mature as well.

Among some of the things to expect in 2004:
– A continued explosion in blogging
– Net influences politics
– Participatory journalism
– Real Simple Syndication feeds
– Better content — at a price

Thin Clients for Security

News.com recently had a commentary by Philip Brittan of Droplets, who argues for server-centric computing:

Some experts say the roots of our current security plague lie in the fact that are we living in a Microsoft monoculture. Yet there is a more fundamental problem: There is simply too much to attack.

The desktop computing model is just asking for infection, and trying to inoculate each PC with patches is like trying to cure a flu outbreak by offering individual doses of medicine after it’s too late.

Servers, on the other hand, operate in highly managed environments and are much easier to protect than desktop PCs. If a server is infected, it can simply be taken offline, blocking a virus’s ability to replicate without affecting the operation of the enterprise.

All this points to a need to reverse the conditions that have turned desktop PCs into veritable breeding grounds for computer viruses and worms. The nutrients are program code on the client machines. All applications should be executed on secure servers and merely have their user interfaces displayed on the desktops. That would leave nothing for viruses to attack on the desktop, which makes them less destructive to users and far less able to propagate.

Mozilla as Platform

Linux News writes:

With user clients like e-mailers, HTML composers, calenders, debuggers, chat applications and address books, Mozilla must be far more than just a Web browser. And it is. The Mozilla Browser is built on top of the Mozilla Platform.

The Mozilla Platform itself is a set of programmable objects and XML processors bound together into a single program. Applications that exploit this platform consist of images, XML and text files that are interpreted at runtime when the platform starts.

Continue reading

TECH TALK: 2003-04: The World in 2004

Besides the ongoing trends that we have discussed, there are a few additional themes which will be seen in 2004:

Smart Mobs: Two of the worlds largest democracies go to the polls in 2004, and in both elections, technology is likely to play an important role. In the US, Howard Dean has already shown how the Internet can be used to garner political and financial support from the grassroots. In India, the media is coming of age in reporting news and events. The rapid cellphone boom is also likely to impact how electioneering is done. This is part of a trend that Howard Rheingold has termed as smart mobs think of them as individuals empowered with technology can start harnessing the power of the collective.

Tech IPOs: After a hiatus of three years, the technology companies are getting ready to hit the market. Salesforce has just filed its prospectus, while Google is presumed to be getting ready to do so soon. Three years of a holding pattern among entrepreneurs and venture capitalists after the boom and boost of the dotcom era is now giving way to optimism that tech is ready to take-off again on the markets. The IPOs will be followed by predatory activity as the companies flush with cash seek to consolidate, and that will once again fuel investment in start-ups. Hopefully, the lessons of the past will not be forgotten.

SME Solutions: As most of the worlds larger companies have invested in technology over the past decade, the small- and medium-sized enterprises have lagged behind. For one, they found the solutions quite expensive. For another, they are less easier to reach and in a world where the big companies had been liberal with their IT spend, the smaller brethren were all but ignored. In addition, enterprises are realising that their real-time information systems are only as good as the weakest link in the chain. So, now, the race is on to target SMEs with affordable technology solutions. From Microsoft to SAP to IBM, the focus is now on making SMEs intelligent, real-time and event-driven.

Visualisation Software: Even as the information we need to process has multiplied manifold in the past few years, the screen real estate, our attention span and our faculties have not changed significantly. 2004 will see an increasing focus on software which can help us envision and interact better with information. The start of the year sees Grokker, a solution from Groxis, becoming available to provide better insights into the search results from Google. Expect more such innovations as companies seek to add an additional dimension to the data that we see and process.

Two other related technology areas which will continue to garner attention are biotechnology and nanotechnology. 2004 will see a closer integration between those with mainstream information technology. The sciences of life and the small will merge with that of bits and bytes to create even greater insights and innovations. If there is one defining trend for tomorrows innovations, it is that one needs to look at the whitespaces and intersections between technologies. Digitisation is breaking down barriers between industries, competition and countries. The world of Networks is at hand.

Tomorrow: India in 2004

Continue reading

Open-Source Development Model

Brad DeLong has a thought-provoking quote from a forthcoming book by Steven Weber on open-source software: “Ever since the invention of agriculture, human beings have had only three social-engineering tools for organizing any large-scale division of labor: markets (and the carrots of material benefits they offer), hierarchies (and the sticks of punishment they impose), and charisma (and the promises of rapture they offer). Now there is the possibility of a fourth mode of effective social organization–one that we perhaps see in embryo in the creation and maintenance of open-source software.”

An earlier post features a longer commentary from a paper by Weber.

How People are using Camera Phones

Textually lists out some examples:

– Women have been taking shots of clothing items in stores, then e-mailing them to friends for instant advice on whether they should buy.

– At concerts, instead of using lighters, fans raise their cell phones, and snap away – despite the standard ban on cameras – and hold them up so their buddy at home can hear, something referred to as a “cellcert”.

– People have been taking pictures of washing machines or plumbing fixtures that need repairing, then sending them off to the repairman so he’ll bring the right parts.

– Camera phones have been used by real estate agents enabling them to forward pictures to prospective buyers, giving a speedy edge in a competite market.

One can see a new culture emerging…

India’s Dutch Disease?

Atanu Dey explains what Dutch Disease is (quoting from a website):

In 1959 a large reservoir of natural gas was discovered in the Netherlands, which by 1976 earned that country revenues of some $2 billion in addition to an estimated $3.5 billion of savings in imports. By the mid 1970s, gross corporate investment had fallen by 15% since the start of the decade, while employment in manufacturing had declined by 16%. The total level of unemployment had risen from a modest 1.1% to 5.1%, while the share of profits in national income which had averaged 16.8% in the 1960s had fallen to 3.5% in the first half of the 1970s. While the first oil crisis had a devastating effect on most of the western industrial base, why did The Netherlands, with its new-found fortune in natural gas, fare worse than most?
This process of de-industrialisation of the existing manufacturing base was attributed to the upward pressure that the energy discovery placed on the Guilder and the wage rate, and was dubbed the Dutch Disease. Since then, the term’s use has widened considerably to encompass any situation whereby a country’s apparent good economic fortune ultimately proves to have a net detrimental effect.

..and wonders if India could suffer from it: “India is a two-sector economy: the urban educated sector and the rural uneducated sector. The latter forms the base of the huge pyramid and toils away at a subsistence existence. The urban sector is seeing a boom what with BPO and ITES and all sorts of stuff. Policy makers, politicians, journalists, management gurus, TV reporters, and everyone and his brother are totally wrapped up in this incredible phenomenon. India, they all scream, has arrived. Having convinced themselves of that, they focus entirely on that part of the urban sector that is involved in the boom. This leads to a shocking neglect of the larger rural sector. Then when the boom runs out of steam, the country is worse off than what it would have been without the boom at all.”

I would tend to agree with Atanu. The boom that we are seeing is in pockets of India. That is a good start, but we cannot forget the 70% of India that is largely unimpacted. India needs balanced, all-round growth. Maybe in the coming year, India’s politicians will think about the rural populace since they will be voting.

Broadband Home

Wired (Chris Anderson) looks at the trends driving the broadband home of the future, and the market opportunities it is creating:

The first is the rise of digital media. What started with the audio CD has suddenly become a clean sweep: DVD players now outsell VHS players, digital camcorders outsell analog versions, digital cameras outsell film cameras, and both digital cable and digital TV are poised to pass their analog counterparts in the next few years. Except for radio (Sirius or XM users notwithstanding), odds are increasing that the entertainment media you consume is 100 percent digital.

The second trend is a natural outgrowth of digital media: the home theater phenomenon. With the arrival of the DVD and its high-quality video and sound, consumers finally had good reasons to upgrade the rest of their home entertainment system. The result is a tsunami of wide-screen TVs, surround sound audio systems, and digital media devices. Today, 30 percent of US homes have a home theater, defined by the Consumer Electronics Association as at least four-speaker surround sound and a 27-inch or bigger screen. More than 2 million projection TVs with screen sizes ranging from 40 to 80 inches (6.5 feet!) were sold in the US last year. Nearly half of American homes now have DVD players. And sales of all-in-one surround-sound systems are about to surpass even stereo audio systems.

Finally, broadband has reached critical mass in the home. With a high-speed, always-on connection came a fundamental change in the way people listen to music, play games, and watch the news. Broadcast TV viewership is in decline; young people – the all-important 18 to 34 demographic – are looking to the Internet for their entertainment. What they first consumed on their PCs in a home office or bedroom they increasingly want everywhere, from the living room to the front pocket.

Which means the wired home is emerging in any number of ways. In one house, it might be a connection from the computer to the stereo – and suddenly all those MP3 files have rendered your CD collection obsolete. In another, perhaps a PlayStation 2 or Xbox in the living room holds the lure for online play; in comes the Cat-6 Ethernet cable or the Wi-Fi network, and the foundations of a broadband entertainment center are suddenly in place. Or in a third home, TiVo passion poses an obvious question: Why can’t I watch what I’ve recorded on any TV in the house? Install a home network and you can.

This impulse, played out in millions of homes, is creating a brand-new market unlike any other.

Entrepreneurial Mistakes

Eric Sink writes about lessons learnt as an ISV (Independent Software Vendor):

– Be careful about fixed-bid projects.
– Be careful about using bleeding-edge technologies.
– Small ISVs should do software and stay out of real estate.
– Investors don’t like low-margin business models.
– A market with no competition ain’t.
– The negative connotations of the word “middleman” are often deserved.
– All contracts must be reviewed by an attorney. No exceptions.
– Cash is supposed to flow from your customers to you, never the other way around.
– Small ISVs should build apps, not platforms.

TECH TALK: 2003-04: Blogs and RSS, India in 2003

10. Blogs and RSS

Weblogs continued to thrive in 2003 as more people found that publishing just become easier. While it is still not clear that there is anything more than pocket money to be made by writing for niche audiences, that has not stopped people from writing on the web. We all feel the deep desire to communicate and share, and weblogs are a natural manifestation of that. Of course, what also become clear is that it is easier to start a blog than to maintain it over time.

The real disruptive innovation, though, is that being brought about by RSS and news readers and aggregators. RSS is an XML-based syndication format that allows microcontent to be made available by software that can automatically pick it up, parse it and make it available without us having to go probing different sites for updates. RSS is laying the foundation for the Publish-Subscribe Web.

2004: Blogs will continue to be an important, parallel mechanism for us to get information and analyses from people we trust and experts in specific areas. Expect blogs and RSS to make their way into enterprises. Blogs have the potential to work as a bottom-up mechanism to extract and distribute tacit knowledge in employees. RSS will be used for syndicating enterprise events to our desktops and cellphones, and for creating information marketplaces which can connect publishers and consumers of information.

India in 2003

There are three key trends defining what we have seen in India in 2003: cellphones, BPO and affordability. Reliance Infocomm began on the wrong foot but quickly got its act together to unleash what has become the fastest adoption of any technology that India has ever seen. Indians are grabbing cellphones at a rate nearing 2 million a month as entry barriers in terms of upfront payments have fallen. Price wars unleashed by the various providers have brought down pricing of telecom all around. Watching Indians with cellphones is like watching a populace that was long suppressed of one of the most fundamental human needs communicating with friends and family.

IT-enabled services now go by a new moniker: Business Process Outsourcing. As the world hires educated Indians to do their work, it is unleashing a construction and spending boom across Indian cities. What started in the year as a trickle has now become a flood, with every day bringing forth announcements of new recruitments by global companies in India. The work is not just the low-end type; Google recently announced plans to set up an India development centre with 100 employees.

Affordability is the theme underlying technology adoption across India. The cellphone boom has showed that if a product is priced right, it can tap into an increasingly affluent middle-class in India. Computer prices are also falling. Acer recently launched laptops at the Rs 40,000 price point in India. Be it a Barista or a Big Bazaar, everyones joining the game Wal-mart pioneered worldwide: everyday low prices. Increasing competition thanks to the opening up of many closed markets and technology in the form of better supply chain management are helping reduce inefficiencies in Indian supply chains.

All of this is making the world stand up and take notice of India: both as a provider of low-cost services and a large market. Incomes in urban India are rising, and so is the confidence among Indians. For the first time in recent memory, there is a definite feeling that Indias best years lie ahead.

Tomorrow: The World in 2004

Continue reading

Entrepreneurial India

The Economic Times on Sunday led with a story by Chandralekha Roy on how Indians are becoming entrepreneurial. It featured a few quotes about and by me:

There was a brief period of time when we thought the New Economy had taken risk out of risk. The Net boom spawned so many wildly successful new companies that entrepreneur was no longer a euphemism for trying something small and insignificant that will probably fail because she couldnt get a job with Goldman or McKinsey.

The trickle effect is that the downside of entrepreneurship has improved along with the upside – and this change is probably permanent. Indeed, if anything the boom has educated a lot of people on the meaning of the word.

A colleague remembers the heady days chronicling the boom. At that time, he says, there were all these people one interviewed whose theme was we were just ordinary office guys like you and then when we woke up and read about the IndiaWorld deal and I thought I had to get out and do my own thing.

When Rajesh Jain sold IndiaWorld to Sify for over $100million it was catalyst of sorts. Till then mega money-deals only happened to the global Indian. Think Sabeer Bhatia.

What Jains deal actually did was to tell people in India that one could be a success in ones backyard. Once the preserve of the NRI population, Indian entrepreneurship at home could be just as robust as it was abroad.

As Jain says today:Entrepreneurship cant be a profession, just as money cant be the driver. Those who are in the short-term, with the motivation of only making money dont necessarily fail, but are likely to.

He also agrees that todays entrepreneurial model does not start with a picture of the business to be created, but of the customer for whom the business is to be created.

My quotes are not completely in context and make little sense by themselves. If you are interested in Entrepreneurship (now is as good a time as any), it may help to read some of the articles I have written:

An Entrepreneur’s Attributes (Nov 2003)
An Entrepreneur’s Early Days (Sep 2003)
Reflections on Ideas and Entrepreneurship (Jul 2003)
Entrepreneur’s Enigmas (Jan 2003)
The Entrepreneur’s Delights (Sep 2002)
Life as an Entrepreneur (Oct 2001)
Leadership Lessons from Lagaan (Aug 2001)
Entrepreneurial Learnings (July 2001)
Entrepreneurship (Mar 2001)

American Jobs

[via Anish] WSJ has an article by Robert Reich which puts the US jobs scenario in context:

It’s true that U.S. manufacturing employment has been dropping for many years, but that’s not primarily due to foreigners taking these jobs. Factory jobs are vanishing all over the world… What happened to factory jobs? In two words, higher productivity…Manufacturing is following the same trend as agriculture. As productivity rises, employment falls because fewer people are needed.

Want to blame something? Blame new knowledge. Knowledge created the electronic gadgets and software that can now do almost any routine task. This goes well beyond the factory floor. America also used to have lots of elevator operators, telephone operators, bank tellers and service-station attendants. Most have been replaced by technology. Supermarket check-out clerks are being replaced by automatic scanners. The Internet has taken over the routine tasks of travel agents, real-estate brokers, stock brokers and accountants. With digitization, high-speed data networks and improved global bandwidth, a lot of back-office work can now be done more cheaply abroad. Last year, companies headquartered in the U.S. paid workers in India, China and the Philippines almost $10 billion to handle customer service and paperwork.

The problem isn’t the number of jobs in America; it’s the quality of jobs. Look closely at the economy today and you find two growing categories of work — but only the first is commanding better pay and benefits. This category involves identifying and solving new problems. Here, workers do R&D, design and engineering. Or they’re responsible for high-level sales, marketing and advertising. They’re composers, writers and producers. They’re lawyers, bankers, financiers, journalists, doctors and management consultants. I call this “symbolic analytic” work because most of it has to do with analyzing, manipulating and communicating through numbers, shapes, words, ideas. This kind of work usually requires a college degree.

Over the long term, symbolic analysts will do just fine, as long as they stay away from job functions that are becoming routinized. They will continue to benefit from economic change. Computer technology gives them more tools for thinking, creating and communicating. The global market gives them more potential customers for their insights.

The second growing category of work in America involves personal services. Computers and robots can’t do these jobs because they require care or attentiveness. Workers in other nations can’t do them because they must be done in person. Some personal-service workers need education beyond high school — nurses, physical therapists and medical technicians, for example. But most don’t, such as restaurant workers, cabbies, retail workers, security guards and hospital attendants. In contrast to that of symbolic analysts, the pay of most personal-service workers in the U.S. is stagnant or declining. That’s because the supply of personal-service workers is growing quickly, as more and more people who’d otherwise have factory or routine service jobs join their ranks. Legal and undocumented immigrants are also pouring into this sector.

But America’s long-term problem isn’t too few jobs. It’s the widening income gap between personal-service workers and symbolic analysts. The long-term solution is to help spur upward mobility by getting more Americans a good education, including access to college. Unfortunately, just the opposite is occurring. There will be plenty of good jobs to go around. But too few of our citizens are being prepared for them. Rather than fret about “losing jobs” to others, we ought to be fretting about the growing number of our young people who are losing their footing in the emerging economy.

Game Theory for Kashmir?

[via Smart Mobs] Nature features a paper by Elisabeth Woodwhiich could help peace settlements:

A political scientist at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico has devised a mathematical method that could help civil-war negotiators to find the most stable peace treaties1.

Elisabeth Wood calculates that a settlement will be stronger and more likely to last if it finds the ideal way to apportion the stakes. For example, if two warring factions each want control of some part of a disputed region, negotiators need to divide the territory in a way that comes closest to satisfying them both.

Perhaps, this could be applied to the India-Pakistan talks over Kashmir.

Atanu Dey had written sometime ago on this topic in an essay entitled “Dollar Auctions and Deadly Games.”

India’s Next 5 Years

Rediff features a Business Standard article on India’s future, starting with some stats:

  • Today around 2 million new mobile connections are sold each month. That’s expected to climb to between 2.5 million and 3 million monthly by next year.
  • The auto industry should be making 1 million vehicles a year by 2005-06.
  • There will be over 70,000 bank branches and almost 200,000 ATMs by 2009.
  • By 2005 television sales should climb to about 9.5 million from the current 7.3 million.
  • BPO and software services should have a turnover of around $70 billion to $80 billion by 2007.
  • The production of motorcycles should climb to over 10 million from the current 3.2 million by 2011-12.

    “It’s so damn exciting,” says R A Mashelkar, the dynamic Director General, CSIR Council of Scientific & Industrial Research. “The change that is taking place is so huge. It’s a great time to be an Indian and to be in India.”

    What will India be like in five years time? If everything goes according to plan — in India that’s an extremely big if — the Indian economy should have undergone a transformation.

    At one level, the changes will be one of scale — the economy will simply be much bigger than it is currently. At another India should, truly, have become a knowledge economy and an even bigger player than it is today on the global stage.

  • TECH TALK: 2003-04: Web Services, Social Networking

    8. Web Services

    The hype surrounding web services is slowly turning to real-world solutions. The buzzwords in 2003 – service-oriented architectures (SOA) and business process management (BPM). Writes Phil Wainewright: At the same time as building up a service oriented architecture, enterprises need to equip business managers to take charge of processes from the top down.

    A quote by IBM’s Bob Sutor explains SOA: In an SOA world, business tasks are accomplished by executing a series of ‘services,’ jobs that have well defined ways of talking to them and well-defined ways in which they talk back. It doesn’t really matter how a particular service is implemented, as long as it responds in the expected way to your commands and offers the quality of service you require. This means that the service must be appropriately secure and reliable as well as fast enough. This makes SOA a near ideal technology to use in an IT environment where software and hardware from multiple vendors is deployed.

    What has also become clear in 2003 is that to accomplish the next leap in productivity, organizations have to rethink their business processes, which is where the emerging area of BPM comes in. Web service providers the tools to bring about this transformation.

    2004: The Web services revolution will continue. The software development which began at the edge of the enterprise will reach within and extend outside to the larger ecosystem that organisations do business in. A service to watch is Sforce by Salesforce.

    9. Social Networking

    Venture capitalists found their calling in the last quarter of 2003 in social networking sites. Whether this is a bubble or a disruptive innovation, only time call. But for now, sites like Friendster, LinkedIn, Tickle, Spoke, Ryze and Tribe.net are part of the new connectivity revolution. This time, it is about networking people. Be it dating, jobs, business contacts or sales relationships management, social networking at least for the moment seem to have a solution for everything.

    Wrote the New York Times recently: Some of the fledgling social-network companies may indeed mature into powerful business hubs like eBay or Amazon. Yet the more intriguing prospect, from a sociological standpoint, anyway, is whether these applications will actually transform our lives. Ever since the publication of Bowling Alone, we’ve been flooded with even more data about the end of community and lamentations for its return. At least in theory, a readily accessible social network would enable more of us to bond with people we regard as far less anonymous than strangers. The larger possibility, that plugging into our social networks might somehow remedy a profound national loneliness, is even more enticing.

    2004: The coming year will be the true test of whether the social networking sites can build up a truly profitable and sustaining business. The leading sites are now well endowed with capital, so they will now need to show that it is possible to transform the six degrees of separation into something more than just network theory. 2004 will also the social networking ideas applied to many other verticals, and online reputation will plan an increasingly important role in our professional and business lives.

    Tomorrow: Blogs and RSS, India in 2003

    Continue reading

    Faith Popcorn’s 2004: FutureTENSE

    Faith Popcorn is a consumer trend expert and marketing futurist. “FutureTENSE involves everything from “Identity Terrorism” on one hand, to generalized anxiety over political, ethical and economic disruptions on the other. Other Trends such as EGOnomics (a de-personalized society drives our desire to be recognized for our individuality) and Anchoring (taking what was secure from the past to prepare us for the future) will also play an increasingly dramatic role in shifting the direction of the culture.”

    Among the trends: Big Mother, Persona Propaganda, Identity Terrorism, Profiling Paranoia, Porn as the Norm, Idoling of America and Mystic Messages.

    IT Hierarchy of Needs

    Phil Windley, listed in Network World’s top 10 weblogs, writes:

    If you haven’t seen the IT hierarchy of needs before, the idea is pretty simply. There are some problems you have to solve before you even become aware of or appreciate the scope of other problems. The bottom level is called “base infrastructure” and includes things like desktops, networks, etc.–the stuff that it takes to just make the enterprise go everyday. At the top is “business processes” meaning automation of and support for business activities.

    The problem is that while most CEOs are screaming for the top two or three levels of the hierarchy, most IT shops are struggling with the realities of the bottom three. Everyone ignores data.

    Take another look at the hierarchy and ask yourself which of those tasks can be outsourced (off-shore or not). That’s right, the bottom levels. You can’t outsource the top levels of the hierarchy.

    What’s getting outsourced? The IT equivalent of coal mining jobs. My undergraduate degree is in metallurgical engineering and I’ve spent some time in mines. Its dirty, but high paying work that doesn’t require much formal education. People love it. But its also subject to lots of ups and downs and over the years had steadily declined.

    My prediction is that while hundreds of thousands of IT jobs will go off-shore in the next decade, we’ll gain more than we lose as we move up the hierarchy. We do a poor job of meeting demands at the top of the hierarchy and there’s plenty of work to do. When you think about the real problems that IT should be solving, its amazing how little attention we pay to them. Our goal ought to be to provide every employee with the information they need to do their job when they need it. Instead, we throw an email client and a word processor at them and say “good luck.” We can do better and the first step is to embrace the changes that are required to solve the problems at the bottom of the hierarchy—even if that means some pain in the short term.