America’s real edge

Thomas Friedman says the secret of America’s sauce is its institutions that nurture innovation.

America is the greatest engine of innovation that has ever existed, and it can’t be duplicated anytime soon, because it is the product of a multitude of factors: extreme freedom of thought, an emphasis on independent thinking, a steady immigration of new minds, a risk-taking culture with no stigma attached to trying and failing, a noncorrupt bureaucracy, and financial markets and a venture capital system that are unrivaled at taking new ideas and turning them into global products.

“You have this whole ecosystem [that constitutes] a unique crucible for innovation,” said Nandan Nilekani, the C.E.O. of Infosys, India’s I.B.M. “I was in Europe the other day and they were commiserating about the 400,000 [European] knowledge workers who have gone to live in the U.S. because of the innovative environment there. The whole process where people get an idea and put together a team, raise the capital, create a product and mainstream it that can only be done in the U.S. It can’t be done sitting in India. The Indian part of the equation [is to help] these innovative [U.S.] companies bring their products to the market quicker, cheaper and better, which increases the innovative cycle there. It is a complimentarity we need to enhance.”

That is so right. As Robert Hof, a tech writer for Business Week, noted, U.S. tech workers “must keep creating leading edge technologies that make their companies more productive especially innovations that spark entirely new markets.” The same tech innovations that produced outsourcing, he noted, also produced eBay, Amazon.com, Google and thousands of new jobs along with them.

Make

Ross Mayfield gives a nice perspective on Tim O’Reilly’s Hacks meme. He posits that we are at the beginning of the wave in the information revolution and have only begun to develop tools for it.

Relative to agricultural revolution, we just figured out crop-rotation and are in the process of entering the bronze age of tool development.

Sure, today its about hard core geeks messing with code. But the number of users as developers is increasing — as consumers become participants in networks and collectively demand the right to self-organize when the market fails them. From the bottom-up, we are attempting to overcome the complexity we have created…

What may be different from the industrial era archetype of mechanistic division of labor is the social practice of co-creation and pace of practice development we see in the open source, blogging, participatory democracy and other movements of the day.

Sparklines

From Edward Tuftein’s book Beautiful Evidence about Sparklines: simple one line graphics that communicate data patterns.

These little data lines, because of their active quality over time, can be called sparklines: small high-resolution graphics embedded in a context of words, numbers, images. Sparklines are data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics.

Read the comments on Peter Merhol’s blog which discuss the merits for their use in Digital Dashboards and CMS like Movable Type.

TECH TALK: As India Develops: Education (Part 2)

Atanu Dey has put a set of ideas together for delivering education to rural India:

The availability of ICT tools has major implications for the provision of education. The process of providing education involves the following steps at a minimum:

  • Content Creation
  • Distribution of content
  • Delivery of the content at the “last mile”

    Content Creation

    A good primary education system has to be built on a solid foundation of content. Content creation involves a high fixed cost. Once created, if the marginal cost of duplicating the content is relatively small, the average cost can be made arbitrarily small depending upon how large the population is that is served by the content. Since the content for primary education is relatively stable, once created the content can be reused year after year. Therefore the use of ICT tools for content duplication is a natural choice. For instance, once produced, the content can be digitized and then duplicated on digital media such as CDs and DVDs.

    The major innovation that can be done is in the way the content is presented. Hyperlinked content has the potential to present content in a more holistic way without artificial boundaries normally encountered in linear textbooks. One could navigate through the content in ways that suits individual tastes and inclinations. One could start off learning about the geography of a certain place and learn about the people who live there and understand their society and from there move on to history; or start following the links to the flora and fauna of the place and start learning biology and from there on to studying the ecosystem which supports them, and so on.

    The remarkable thing about rich hyperlinked content is that it can be endlessly fascinating to a young mind which can take it all in at a pace that the student herself sets. The important thing to note is that the creation of this type of knowledge object is extremely expensive since it requires the efforts of highly trained teachers. But because of the low cost of duplication, the marginal cost is very low and therefore the average cost can be extremely low.

    Consider that we have about 100 million children who require primary school content. Even if we spend Rs 1000 million to create the content (which can be reused for a number of years with minor changes), the cost per student for content creation is still only Rs 10. Massive economies of scale can be obtained because content once created can be distributed so inexpensively.

    Distribution of Content

    If content is produced centrally and then duplicated so as to reduce the average cost of content, then the next issue that arises is that of content distribution. CDs and DVDs can be mailed relatively inexpensively through the regular postal system. Or the content could delivered to the point of use via cable or wirelessly where internet access is available. This represents high fixed cost but a very low variable cost of distribution of content.

  • Tomorrow: Education (continued)

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