Noteworthy at DEMO

Stumpled upon this nearly month old post by venture capitalist Steve Hall. These are amongst the few companies that he found interesting at this years DEMO conference.

Mailblocks. Basically just another spam protection email system. However, they have incorporated one very interesting intelligent agent feature into the email app that I wish Microsoft would wake up to. The Mailblocks email app intelligently recognizes when meetings are being requested and analyzes text to create calendar event, locations, etc. automatically. This sounds like a small nice-to-have, but it actually represents the seeds of the enormous potential application value within Microsoft Outlook that can be unleashed through intelligent agent technology. I am highly pessimistic that Microsoft will push the envelope of innovation in this area.

Turntide. I’ve written off the spam arena as an area I’d like to invest in. Clearly there are huge problems that need to be solved – but the number of companies tackling the problem and the various regulatory and other issues that are moving in parallel make it an area where I am happy to sit on the sidelines. That being said, I thought Turntide had quite a unique approach to spam fighting: identify the likley spammers and limit available ISP bandwidth throughput dramatically altering the economics of sending spam. Making it more expensive/less profitable helps to stop spam at the source. The live demo of spam throughput reduction was impressive.

Proofpoint. Very interesting. Sort of the reverse of spam detection. It actually analyzes all outgoing enterprise email (scary!) and applies intelligent machine learning to detect statements inconsistent with corporate policy, trade secrets, confidential information, etc. A bit Orwellian but a pretty amazing demonstration.

Silkroad Technologies. Enterprise blogging for collaborative knowledge management. Im a big fan of this concept and Silkroad has one of the best implementations Ive seen. I’ve tried Traction Software and I think Silkroad is better designed. Not sure if you make money on it as an investor, but very powerful as a user.

Finders Keepers

First Monday article on the decision to keep or discard information. It is deemed as an essential part of personal information management.

To keep or not to keep? People continually face variations of this decision as they encounter information. A large percentage of information encountered is clearly useless junk email, for example. Another portion of encountered information can be “used up” and disposed of in a single read the weather report or a sports score, for example. That leaves a great deal of information in a middle ground. The information might be useful somewhere at sometime in the future. Decisions concerning whether and how to keep this information are an essential part of personal information management. Bad decisions either way can be costly. Information not kept or not kept properly may be unavailable later when it is needed. But keeping too much information can also be costly. The wrong information competes for attention and may obscure information more appropriate to the current task. These are the logical costs of a signal detection task. From this perspective, one approach in tool support is to try to decrease the costs of a false positive (keeping useless information) and a miss (not keeping useful information). But this reduction in the costs of keeping mistakes is likely to be bounded by fundamental limitations in the human ability to remember and to attend. A second approach suggested by the theory of signal detectability is relatively less explored: Develop tools that decrease the likelihood that “keeping” mistakes are made in the first place.

Transactional Friendship

Clay Shirky says that Orkut and Friendster don’t seem to understand that friendship isnt a transaction.

The attempt to fit the roundish-but-with-weird-protuberances peg of human congress into the square hole of transactional connections and bi-directional links is the problem. Orkuts changes to the friend interface do nothing to address the underlying badness of fit between friendship as mutual feeling over time and their desire to make it transaction because transactions are easier to code.

TECH TALK: As India Develops: Microcredit (Part 3)

To give an idea of the opportunity in the microfinance sector in India, take a look at Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, started by Muhammad Yunus:

Grameen Bank Project was born in the village of Jobra, Bangladesh, in 1976. In 1983 it was transformed into a formal bank under a special law passed for its creation. It is owned by the poor borrowers of the bank who are mostly women. It works exclusively for them. Borrowers of Grameen Bank at present own 93 per cent of the total equity of the bank. Remaining 7 percent is owned by the government.

Grameen Bank has 1,195 branches. It works in 43,681 villages. Total staff is 11,855. Total number of borrowers is 3.12 million, 95 per cent of them are women. Total amount of loan disbursed by Grameen Bank, since inception, is Tk 191.44 billion (US$ 4.18 billion). Out of this, US$ 3.78 billion has been repaid. Current amount of outstanding loans stands at US$ 274.08 million. During 2003, a total amount of US $ 369.22 million has been disbursed by the bank. Loan recovery rate is 99.06 percent.

The Economist had a review of Muhammad Yunuss book Banker to the Poor (December 10, 1998):

Can we really create a poverty-free world? asks Muhammad Yunus at the end of his autobiography. Yes, he says, and he believes that he has the key: credit. According to Mr Yunus, the surest route out of destitution for the worlds poorest people lies not in aid, welfare payments or loans from development banks to governments, but in lending tiny amounts of money directly to the poor. This book, the story of both Mr Yunuss life and Grameen Bank, the institution he founded, is his account of how he has put his belief into practice.

The poor, he argues, have a much greater incentive than the rich to repay their debts: it is their only way out of destitution. He claims that Grameen Bank has a default rate of less than 1%, far lower than conventional banks can boast. Moreover, most of the worlds poorest people are women. To Grameen, they are more reliable customers than men, and make up 94% of the banks borrowers. The banks unusual system of making loans, which relies on peer-group pressure, also plays an important part in keeping defaults down. Prospective borrowers form groups of five who learn the banks ways together. If one member of a group defaults, the others cannot get a loan.

Microlending, for all its successes, has barely scratched the surface of the worlds poverty. To rid the globe of poverty through credit would require many, many more people with Mr Yunuss energy and optimism. Are there really enough?

The development of India is intricately linked to creating microfinance options for the poor in both urban and rural India. This is an opportunity that is only now being seen by the bigger players. The last word from Vinod Khosla: There are NGOs and Grameen representatives, who have powerful micro-financing model with a business principle in mind and market competitiveness. Venture capital funds for BPL (below poverty line) families is a very good idea. If it happens in a more systematic way it will be probably the single largest revolution after the Green Revolution of 1960 in India.

Tomorrow: Market Access

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