RSS Readers Market

Rafe Needleman looks at a couple of RSS newsreaders – NewsGator and Scopewares RSS Reader, and the business potential of the segment. His conclusion:

Most Internet users will likely get their RSS software from the same companies that provide them with their e-mail software and online gateways: Microsoft , AOL, and Yahoo.

RSS is incredibly importantfor publishers. Its a new way to reach users that leaves them in control (users can delete a feed at any time), and thus more satisfied and more likely to remain customers. But I fear that the RSS reader software business is going to be small, bloody, and ultimately not very profitable.

I would agree with Rafe – RSS readers are enablers. The key is how to integrate them into new content consumption experiences.

On a related note, Dina Mehta writes about her wishlist for RSS aggregators: “What i’d really like is an aggregator of aggregators – let me explain this in my non-techie way – a place where i could go to – punch in something like ‘dessert recipes’ or something more dynamic like ‘ecological imbalance’ – and i’d then get a list of sites/blogs that have them – with a little RSS feed button by the side of each. So i don’t really have to wade through a whole lot everytime i want an update on the topic. And if there was a rating or ranking system attached to the feed, better still…Something like Wikipedia with RSS feeds too would be great.”

Additional ideas for RSS aggregators/readers from A VC and David Galbraith.

Friendship Circle and Permachat

Two interesting ideas from Don Park in the context of social networking:

Friendship Circle: “Friendship Circle is a way to express types and depths of friendship with minimal effort. A Friendship Circle is basically a nested rings of people (represented by icons with miniture photo and name) around a person. To use the Friendship Circle, the user drag and drops icons from a palette of friends to the circle. Note that this can be done using DHTML+CSS. Distance away from the center represent depth of friendship. So the innermost ring is populated by family members, relatives, and best friends. The outermost ring is populated by people whom you don’t really care about (i.e. connection-addicts). Angle of placement on a ring is used to express types of friendship. To help the user, the rings are divided into four lightly colored quadrants: red, blue, green, and yellow. Red and blue quadrants will most likely be used to hold people with personal and business relationships.”

Permachat:

A community without communication is a dead community and friendship is more than just a wall of faces. Connections between people are born out of interactions between them and strength of connections are primarily based on the amount and frequency of interactions.

So it is communication that binds people and communities together…Communities have topics, but topics are little rooms one must make effort to enter and compartmentalized conversations within a group setting do not encourage others to join in uninvited.

To get around these problems. I think permachats should be created centered around individuals and communities. A permachat is like IRC except conversations takes place over much longer period, days even. Visibility of permachat should be limited to friends or friends of friends only. Amount is determined by rate of actvity. To promote interaction and to encourage the sense of conversation, sense of time is removed, leaving only faces and names next to each entry. Amount of activity within past 24 hours should be displayed in the ‘view network’ and ‘my communities’ pages using color hints (i.e. red for hot).

Permachat allows people who know me to communicate with me as well as others who know me. This in turns allows them to become friends over time instead of using more explicit introduction based social networking. It also allows interaction without spammy messages invading private spaces and deteriorating sense of friendship.

For communities, permachat serves as the single thread that binds the community. Topics is too focus-oriented to serve this function. Permachat allows casual conversations, encourages interaction, and informs every member with minimal effort. And, most importantly, permachat allows new friendship to be born out these intereactions among community members just as conversations among friends of an individual helps them form new friendships.

White Box Market for Laptops

Dana Blankenhorn writes about Intel’s plan to create a reference platform for platforms:

A “reference platform” is a single design that a Taiwanese OEM can use to build something. It specifies both hardware and software. Taiwanese OEMs like such platforms because it lets them build and ship quickly, ahead of their mainland competitors. And if a group of Taiwanese OEMs got together on a major “reference platform” in the PC space, they could continue to profit from it, by sharing in license fees paid by their Chinese counterparts to use the same thing.

The result would be a “white box” market in laptops. This would accelerate the move toward laptops, raise Intel margins (it makes more on laptop chips) and give the chipmaker a slightly bigger piece of the laptop profit than they can now get from outfits like Dell and H-P, who currently call the shots on laptop design.

This is very clever.

Oh, and what’s in it for you? How about laptop prices that are much, much closer to desktop prices, Mhz for Mhz.

I am amazed that it has taken Intel such a long time to think this up! This also shows the growing importance of laptops in the computing ecosystem.

Flash Memory

NYTimes writes about the increasing use of flash memory:

Vast improvements in flash memory cards – small, thin, but decidedly unsexy products capable of storing hundreds of photographs – have made the significant growth in digital camera sales possible.

But now these devices, known by such names as CompactFlash, Memory Stick and SD Card are also becoming the storage media of choice for a range of other consumer products, including TV’s, cellphones, music players, personal digital assistants and camcorders. And as the notion of the connected home begins to resonate, ever-smaller versions of flash memory cards will routinely be found, offering consumers an easy way to transfer pictures, movies, music and data from one to another.

Yet like film before it, flash memory’s dominance will also be challenged by yet another storage format – mini hard drives, which are tiny, fast-spinning disks that can store multiple gigabytes of information.

Flash memory has some inherent advantages, though. Unlike hard drives, the devices have no moving parts and can be subjected to more rough handling without fear of erasing data. And low-capacity versions capable of storing several hundred pictures cost a quarter the price of the current crop of tiny hard drives.

A 256MB flash memory card is more than adequate to store hundreds of still photographs, but much more storage capacity is needed for long home movies or thousands of songs. As the industry develops flash memory cards capable of storing up to 4GB of data, the challenge will be producing them at a cost that is competitive with miniature hard drives of the same capacity.

Several mini hard drives, measuring as little as one cubic inch, are available for less than $100 wholesale from companies like Cornice, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and RioSpring. Last month, Toshiba announced what are said to be the world’s smallest hard drives, 2GB and 4GB models that are less than an inch long.

While hard drive memory, per megabyte, is less expensive, individual flash cards, irrespective of capacity, will probably always be cheaper.

Automation, Optimization and Centralization

Ross Mayfield blogs from the Enterprise Software Summit on the talk by Allen Bonde:

Automation — of external-facing processes and interactions drives CRM/eCommerce investments in 2004. CRM and eCommerce converging. Automation: market driven
* Apps at the edge getting funded.
* Payoff: reach and efficiency, lower cost of interaction, leverage existing investments.
* demand for self service

Optimization — of decision making and info delivery to all levels of business to increase demand for analytical apps and enterprise decision management fucntionality, delivered through operational systems

Centralization — to enhance accountability for technology an accelerate platform standardization, will emerge as key mandate from business to IT. Regulatory pressure, cost savings of implementations driving new initiatives of control.

Three catalysts for 2004
* Self-service
* Dynamic CRM
* BI for the masses

TECH TALK: Technology and the Indian Elections: Key Technologies

There are seven key technologies which can make a difference in the coming elections:

RSS: The syndication format that has captured the imagination of information geeks can be used to allow users to aggregate the content of their choice from a multitude of sources. This is as good a time as many for the various Indian web publications to add RSS feeds to their publishing portfolio. Users can then set up RSS aggregators (either as part of their email clients or via web-based services) to collate together the information of their choice be it from the political parties, candidates, media or bloggers.

Weblogs: Elections are about getting viewpoints across to voters. Weblogs can provide candidates voices and a direct communications channel. Most of the times, when we go to vote, we know very little about the candidates who are contesting. Blogs can help rectify this situation especially in urban India, to begin with. On the other side, weblogs can also enable individuals and microcommunities to share their opinions on the goings-on, and contribute ideas and commentaries. Blogs can thus provide an alternative to what we will be seeing and reading in the media.

Wikis: What should the agenda for the elections be? What are the local issues which need resolution? Imagine if citizens can contribute and shape the thinking in a collective manner. This is where Wikis can come in. Every constituency can have a Wiki page (along with a weblog) for helping bring out the issues that matter to the common people.

Cellphones: It will the rare person participating in campaigning who does not use a mobile phone. While voice remains the biggest application on cellphones and allows constant connections between the campaign and party offices and the field force, there is also an opportunity to start using mobile data in the elections. For example, SMS alerts can notify people on the status during the counting process in the constituencies of interest to them. Camera phones can be used to broadcast pictures of the campaigning process on to moblogs (mobile weblogs).

Analytics: It is believed that the BJP used a fairly detailed analytical procedure to select candidates in the various states that went to polls in November last year. The age of information analysis is here. It is now possible for political parties to look at demographic data, overlay it with election data over the past few elections, and then make decisions regarding the candidates and also identify potential weak links in the system.

Visualisation Software: Elections throw out a huge amount of data. Visualisation software can help in understanding this for the political parties, commentators and us. In the past, we have relied on television and the media to show us their charts. Now, perhaps, if the software were available to parse elections data, everyone could also do their own analysis.

Personalisation: Elections is still about broadcasting by a few for many. Personalisation can help users create their own dashboards a subset of the data available which is of interest to each one.

One can always argue that in a democratic country like India where every person just has a single, equal vote, it makes little sense to use technology because the number of people who can access Internet-based content is probably less than 5% of the eligible voting population. While that is numerically correct, the Internet can help draw in an active and influential audience which can help shape policy for the future. If India has to change, it needs a committed cadre of people who can believe that they can make a difference. This group needs to be connected together, and this is where technology comes in. It is this 0.1% or less of the voting population which can energise the other 99.9% and lay the foundation of the New India. As Margaret Mead said, Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world.

Next Week: Technology and Indian Elections (continued)

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