2003-04: A Personal View

The end of one year and the start of another is as good a time to become a little more contemplative than normal. For me, 2003 was a year of strengthening of our core vision of affordable computing, especially for SMEs. We did not make as much progress business-wise as I would have liked. But I expect 2004 to be very different. More on that in a moment. 2003 was the year I also met Atanu. His dream of bringing about an economic revolution in rural India is one which I now share.

So, if 2003 was a year filled with Envisioning and Experimentation, I expect 2004 to be a year of Execution. We have to now build on the ideas we have developed and make them a reality. My two basic goals are: creating an affordable computing platform the next billion users, and transforming rural India. 2004 will be the year we start to take the first significant steps in this direction. A lot of elements need to be put in place, and I can slowly see that happening. Id have liked it to have happened faster, but the slow pace of fast change is something we have to accept.

Ours is a long march. My approach is one of learning-by-doing. I figure out things as we go along. This is not necessarily the best approach, but the only one I know. I do make mistakes, and have to course-correct periodically. I have an overall goal in mind, and as long as we are headed towards it, I am fine. This is because most of the time we are traversing over unchartered territory we dont have maps, only a compass.

The weblog and you, dear readers, are constant companions. I write what I think. I document what we are doing. This sharing has helped increase in a non-linear increase in the people that I know. Best of all has been the interactions with many of you. Keep the ideas and thoughts flowing as we welcome 2004. It is now time to take the show on the road.

Wish you all a Very Happy New Year!

Media and Technology Convergence

NYTimes writes about how high-speed Internet access is bringing about the long-awaited convergence between the two industries: “With more American households going to broadband, faster Internet connections are changing the movie, music, telephone, computer and cable businesses.” The related articles highlight the converging trends in the US:

– Television Technology: A Race to Enter the Flat-Screen Business
– Initial Public Offerings: Will Google Take the Plunge?
– Telecommunications: A Do-It-All Attitude Among Providers
– Venture Capital: A Stirring of Hope Amid Pessimism
– Cellphones: An Industry Watches Japan’s Experience
– Software Companies: A Drive to Grow by Absorbing Rivals
– Security Technology: For Global ID Systems, the Tried and True

– Piracy: Studios Fight Piracy With Education
– Internet Advertising: More Businesses Are Turning to Paid Listings on Search Engines
– Newspapers: New Focus for Publishers Is the Hispanic Reader
– Music: With CD Sales Slipping, the DVD Steps In
– Satellite TV: A New Murdoch in the Spotlight
– Magazines: For Young Men, Shopping Handguides
– Personal Video Recorders: Executives Plan Now to Deal With Popularity

The one thing to note is how much time this convergence has taken to start happening. India has the opportunity to speed things up – as the computing, communications and content revolutions are happening simultaneously and will reinforce each other. This is one trend where the Asian countries (especially, Japan and South Korea) are leading, with China and India rapidly following.

Tackling Information Overload

Daily Herald writes about information overload: “The always-connected nature of our world can be overwhelming. Instead of driving technology to better our lives, we’re often letting technology manhandle us. And the longer we stay connected, the more data we tend to produce for others to process, quickly cycling into information overload.”

Jakob Nielsen adds that “a steady dose of realtime interruptions is toxic to anyone’s health.” A suggesed solution is the Internet control panel (or what I prefer to call the Digital Dashboard):

This would be a single central base for monitoring and prioritizing all the information a user is interested in. Do you want to keep track of your eBay auctions? Instead of five e-mails per auction, all scattered throughout your inbox, you would have a single flag in the control panel. Discussion groups? The control panel would show when hot topics of interest to you are being discussed and would call attention to discussions with contributions by writers you particularly respect. E-mail? Restricted to truly personal communication. Newsletters, intranet status reports, and other nonletter communications would be summarized and available for perusal on request. IM would have a small role, but your personal agent would be very strict at screening incoming requests.

Whether or not you believe in my control panel, the most important point is to change our ideology for computer-mediated communication. The old thinking was that more information was better. If a unit of information were sent, it would have to be transmitted and received at all costs. The new thinking must be that human time is our most precious resource. Stop strip-mining it.

Traditional operating systems managed and scheduled computer resources. The next generation of computers must protect users’ time just as strictly as the most vigilant executive secretary protects a CEO’s calendar.

2 RSS Services

Two interesting services:

MobileRSS: “A Web-based client for reading and managing RSS feeds. It is specifically designed for small PDA screens, works within your browser (thus requiring no software downloads or upgrades), and stores all your settings and feeds online (thus using no memory on your device).”

[via Disruptive Technology] My Yahoo to RSS: “It converts modules personalized at http://my.yahoo.com/ into RSS feeds. At the moment, Stock Quotes, Movie Listings, and Weather are available.” [Mikel Maron’s paper explains the software.]

TECH TALK: 2003-04: India in 2004

2003 has been a year when the world has started romancing India. 2004 will be a defining year for the relationship whether it leads to marriage and the start of a new era, or as has happened many times in the past, separation and isolation. The onus for where it ends is very much on India and Indians. We have the world coming to us. Now is the time to rise to the occasion. Too often in the past, promises made have remained unfulfilled. Too often, there has been a ray of hope which got quickly intercepted by a cloud. Whether Indian Shines in 2004 or not is up to each one of us, as much as it is to the government.

The challenge India faces in 2004 is that of infrastructure and attitude. Even as the world is keen to make India the services capital, Indias physical and digital infrastructure lags. We gloat about having USD 100 billion in forex reserves, but most of our cities do not have proper roads and reliable power. We love our IITs and IIMs, but our education system for the masses has barely changed and universal literacy is still far away. We seek to conquer the health tourism market, even as we have no proper strategy to counter the looming threat of HIV/AIDS across the country. Confidence is good, but there is a fine line which separates it from arrogance. What India and Indians need to do is get down to not stopping at building a few pockets of brilliance, but diffuse this across the nation to create an infrastructure that matches the best in the world. One Golden Quadrilateral project and a couple of Metros are not good enough. A co-ordinated, national effort has to be undertaken to upgrade the entire nation urban and rural.

This brings me to the next challenge that India faces: that of Attitude. Now that we have got the attention of the worlds media and businesses, we need to show statesmanship and leadership. We need to put economic development at the top of the national agenda India needs schools, not temples, we need to talk technology not politics, we need tolook outward to the future, not inward to the past. Our legacy is rich and good, but that in no way can guarantee success in the future. We need to move from thinking and talking to doing. We need to think entrepreneurially so that we create innovations to solve problems, not discuss them to the end of eternity. The Field of Dreams needs to be built, not just envisioned. The Attitude must that of being the best in what we can do. Today, this is there in a few companies which can match up to the best in the world. This needs to go across the board and right down the organisational hierarchy in corporates and government.

2004 is an important year for India and Indians. We need to not only dream big, not also back it up with operational excellence. These moments come once in a few generations. We had one such opportunity after our Independence in 1947, but we let it go. We now have it again. Whether we march on and it will be a long march and climb the mountains beyond mountains or whether we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, our actions will make or break the next generation of India and Indians.

Tomorrow: India in 2004 (continued)

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