On Elections

Considering that both India and the US have elections this year (India in April-May and the US in November), one thing surprises me. Why don’t the challengers (the Congress Party in India, and John Kerry in the US) name their complete administrations – the people who would be in various positions of power if they won the elections. Governance is not just done by a single person. Releasing a manifesto is not good enough. I want to know the alternatives – person-for-person. What does this also do is to provide a wider platform for debates as there will be more people who will be discussing specific issues (what falls under them), rather than just one person talking about everything.

This is like the shadow cabinet that exists (?) in the UK. What we need is a shadow cabinet pre-elections.

Search Engine Flaws

Writes Ramesh Jain:

I feel that these engines are still following a dead-end path. They are pursuing information-centric approach. In information centric approach, the model used is that the user comes to the system with a precise question and the system has answer to that question so it provides the answer. This simple model was good for early databases and even for early search systems. Now, when I type a keyword and the system firehoses me with a list of 5 Million items listed 10 on a page, what am I to do except getting frustrated. Advanced queries are each a new query and as every normal user knows, they are not much help. So what is fundamentally wrong with these search approaches. Here are somethings that I think are fundamental to search in the rapidly expanding cyberspace where current search engines are starting to choke and are ultimately likely to choke and become useless, opening up the space for a new fresh approach by a graduate student, or a start-up, working somewhere maybe even today.

1. The engines have the simple model of information based on keywords. Use of ontological filtering to reduce the list helps but does not really solve the real problem. The real problem is that a set of keywords are not semantically enough to express the context in which search is being done.

2. In most cases people have multidimensional search in mind. The simplest and most common example is seen in LBS (Location Based Services) where a keyword must be combined with location to provide the context. This then gives more meaningful answer to a user. Now LBS is not useful only in the context of mobile phones. The main point is providing dimensionality to search. Dimensionality provides different constraints that further helps in expressing context. Current search engines primarily store a link to the sources containing the keyword. This model is too simplistic to allow and match relations leading to context. By developing more rigorous models and extracting and storing all essential information, search can be more contextual.

3. The search environment based on current approach of specifying keywords and getting a list of pointers in return does not scale-up. People are interested in solutions to their problem, not knowing that 5 Million pages on web contain their keywords. The environment should be more exploration based, rather than query based. In exploration based environment, I will have freedom to slice and dice my results in many different ways to explore and find what I am looking for. Also, this exploration must be multidimensional.

4. Current approach of showing a list is too primitive. We never like to look at a table of stock values over time we look at charts. Two-dimensional data (stock value, and time) when reduced to a liner representation, theoretically contains the same information but practical is useless as the number of data item increases. After about 100 items, it is for all practical purposes completely useless. We need to develop powerful visualization mechanisms. This is not a simple point. Mathematically we know that when a two-dimensional information is projected onto one-dimensional space (extend it to higher dimension) there is loss of information. Same is true for human mind in fact that is more true for human mind.

IIT Bombay’s Incubator

Writing in Tech Review, Venkatesh Hariharan shows how “IIT Bombay is using its technology incubator to counter the exodus of its brightest graduates to the West.”

Despite the challenges, R. K. Lagu, the IIT Bombay electrical engineering professor who is in charge of the incubator, says that there is great interest. The incubator started as an IT incubator but now faculty and students from other disciplines have also become interested, says Lagu. He adds that initially, most business plans were from final year undergraduate students but in the last two cases it has been a faculty-student combination.

Powai Labs Tikoo sums up the attitude of IIT Bombays entrepreneurs when he says, There was a time when India did exports through cheap labor, but that time has gone. You cannot build an Infosys today with any amount of capital. The next ten years will belong to technology R&D based product companies out of India.

Tikoo adds that 20 years ago, the United States was the place to be for technological entrepreneurs. But now, he says, growth and investments are happening in India. This is where the action is. It would be foolish to miss this opportunity by being out of India.”

A missing element in the Indian entrepreneurship ecosystem is angel and start-up funding and assistance/mentoring.

Home Server

Tech Review writes about how “a server in your home allows easy storage, retrieval, and backup of your filesat very little cost.”

Ive had a server in my basement since 1995, and frankly, I wouldnt want to live without it. Always running, my server holds my personal files, my music collection, and all of the digital data that Ive been building up over the past 20 years. The server also mirrors the data thats on my two laptops and my two computers at MIT, keeping everything properly synchronized, and it automatically backs itself up. I can also log in remotely and get an important file if I happen to be at a friends house. Its easy to lose your data if you keep it on a single computer. My server gives me automatic redundancyand that safety net has saved me from many data disasters.

The most important program my system runs is the mail server. Like those at a growing number of businesses and universities, my server speaks IMAPthe Internet Message Access Protocol. Unlike the Post Office Protocol (POP) used by most Internet service providers, IMAP keeps all of my mail on the server and downloads a copy of each message only to whatever desktop machine I happen to be using. When I delete a message, that action happens both on my desktop and on the server at the same time. And if Im using my laptop, my mail program remembers all of those actions and transmits them back to the server when its back on the network. This means that the mailboxes on all of my various laptops and desktops are kept perfectly synchronized.

The home server is part of the Always-on World Dana Blankenhorn envisions. This could be an interesting opportunity – to take features from corporate servers and put them on appliances for the home market.

Search Action

Plenty of Search news today.

News.com: “Microsoft plans to introduce a news aggregation service for Web logs and to develop a social networking product…Microsoft’s Yusuf Medhi said one in two search requests currently go unanswered and that there are a number of ways to improve on that. One is to learn more about the searchers, in order to give better results.”

Adds WSJ: “Microsoft said it will introduce MSN Newsbot, which gathers news from hundreds of news sites, and MSN Blogbot, which can search Web logs, or personal Web pages…Unlike rival news searches, MSN Newsbot keeps track of a visitor’s queries and suggests news articles based on past requests. MSN Blogbot is still in development, but a beta version should be available in the first half of this year.”

Michael Kanellos writes about interpreting search. “University of Southern California spinoff Language Weaver, for instance, has come up with technology that performs functional translations of Internet articles or video clips on the fly…People can submit a Web page in French, Arabic, Chinese, Hindi or the ever-popular Somali, and a functional English version pops out in about a minute…MetaCarta has come up with software designed to enable intelligence agencies, oil exploration teams and marketing execs to search for documents in their own data files and then plot them geographically…The MetaCarta and Language Weaver efforts essentially address the central paradox of search: The more you know, the less you know. The amount of information out there and the ways people want to use it are so wide-ranging that there are plenty of technology opportunities.”

Two deals: Yahoo paid $575 million for European e-commerce provider Kelkoo and Infospace is buying Switchboard, a provider of online yellow pages listings, for USD 160 million. “Analysts said the market fever has been driven in part by the early success of paid search services pioneered by Yahoo’s Overture Services subsidiary and Google’s Adwords service. Sales from keyword searches increased to 31 percent of the total $1.75 billion in online ad revenue in the third quarter of 2003, according to online-advertising trade group the Internet Advertising Bureau.”

Newsweek has a cover story on Google.

Healthcare for India’s Poor

NYTimes writes about the realities in rural India, with absentism driving people to quacks:

India has a vast primary health care system to serve its billion people, with clinics for every 3,000 to 5,000. But the system is often just a skeleton. New studies have documented the startling, damaging dimensions of chronic absenteeism and not just in India.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton, in a detailed survey of 100 villages here in Rajasthan, in north India, found a no-show rate of 44 percent. When combined with absences for meetings and other work-related reasons, these vital clinics were closed more than half the time.

What is starkly clear in India, home to more poor people than any other country, is that the health system is both starved for resources and desperately in need of reform.

India’s public health spending is among the lowest in the world $4 a person per year, less than 1 percent of its gross domestic product, the United Nations Development Program says. The United States spends about $2,000 a person, or almost 6 percent of gross domestic product.

But India’s experience also shows that more money alone is not the answer. India sharply increased its health spending in the 1990’s, but most went for new hiring and for pay raises to those doctors and nurses who are not showing up for work, according to a World Bank analysis.

The economists coordinating the research [in Rajasthan] Professors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, co-founders of the Poverty Action Lab at M.I.T., and Angus Deaton at Princeton will work with 120 villages and 100 clinics.

They will add a nurse to each clinic and monitor attendance through a punch clock or dated digital photographs. They also will try chlorinating contaminated well water, fortifying flour with iron to fight anemia and paying parents to have their children immunized.

They will try each strategy in half the villages or clinics, then compare the health of people in villages that got the help with those that did not.

Because the public service is so undependable, the survey found, even the poorest turn to private doctors or traditional healers 79 percent of the time, spending 7 percent of their monthly budget on medical care. Four out of 10 private doctors surveyed had no medical degree.

Chronic absenteeism among government doctors and nurses is a hard thing to stop in widely scattered villages. The clinics have no phones, so it is impossible to check on the staff’s presence with a simple call. The local village councils are supposed to ensure attendance, but they have no authority over the medical staff, whose salaries, transfers and promotions are controlled at the district and state levels.

Outsourcing Views

Always-On writes:

Beneath the passionate debate over U.S. companies outsourcing jobs to low-wage foreign workers in far-off countries lies a new and worrisome truth: They’re gaining on us.

People in the Third World are rapidly acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to close the gap in the great competitive race against the U.S. It is the race to win — and hold — markets around the world.

Robert Hormats, vice chairman (International) of Goldman, Sachs, sums up the issue: “Historically, developing countries have been competing against us on the basis of cheap wages. Now, increasingly, they are competing against us on the basis of high-quality goods. We don’t have much alternative to raising the quality of our work force. The answer to the challenge of outsourcing is to address the problems of education and training that we have at home.”

In other words, the way to combat outsourcing is not to slap tariffs or import quotas on foreign goods, not to bar U.S. companies from producing their goods and services as efficiently and inexpensively as they can, but to equip American students with the skills and knowledge required to beat the competition in the Darwinian global economy.

We are entering an era when whole countries and individual companies will be valued and rewarded according to the quality and exercise of their brainpower. The most valuable form of capital will be human capital, the intelligence and ideas, the resourcefulness and industriousness of a nation’s people.

Companies and other institutions will climb or fall along with their ability to seize upon new ideas, to carve out and capture new markets, to invest wisely in research, and to turn research into useful, marketable, urgently demanded goods and services and to make steady, incremental, day-to-day improvements in their products and services. Steadily improving education will go far to create all that.

Paul Schumann has an excellent survey of recent commentary, and adds:

In my crystal ball, the next major innovations coming our way will probably be in the convergence of infomatics, genetics and nanotechnology. To participate meaningfully in this revolution is going to require multidisciplinary approaches. People will have to have a high degree of education in more than one of these fields. The problem is that this revolution is still a number of years away. Technology takes a long time to develop. Look at the technologies that have come tougher to create the productivity improvements that have led to our current situation. They’re all 30 to 60 years old!

It will probably be some combination of these factors. And, I wholly support getting our children better educated in the physical sciences so that they can help produce the innovations of the nano-bio-info revolution. But, as you know, growing children into educated adults takes a long time. It seems to me that we cant wait for the nano-bio-info tech revolution. The process of globalization is going on too fast. It seems to me that we need innovations now that increase the productivity on US knowledge workers ten fold so that they can compete globally and still make enough money to buy the products they make. We need innovations in the way we look at corporations, the nature of work and how we organize ourselves. We need innovations in how we fund business and reward workers. And, we need innovations in the way we measure success – corporate and personal.

European Commission’s Microsoft Decision

The European Commission’s decision is coming in for a lot of comment. Writes the Economist:

The headline-grabbing 497m ($612m) fine imposed by the European Commission on Microsoft this week is the least of the software giant’s worries, for it makes that much profit every two weeks and is sitting on a cash pile nearly 100 times bigger. Far more worrying for Microsoft is the commission’s demand that it produce, within 90 days, a version of its Windows operating system stripped of its media-playback capabilities. That sounds trivial, but it would set an important precedent that could be used to make Microsoft remove other bits from Windows in future. Hence Microsoft’s recent strenuous efforts to negotiate a settlement to avoid this week’s ruling, and its determination to have the ruling overturned on appeal. Allowing PC-makers to pick and choose which bits of Windows they want from an la carte list of features is something Microsoft wants to avoid at all costs.

That is because Microsoft relies on the bundling of new features into Windows to protect its existing monopoly and to extend it into new areas. Windows is installed on over 90% of new PCs. So any feature Microsoft addsa web browser, say, or a media playerquickly becomes ubiquitous. Rival products, such as Netscape’s web browser or the RealNetworks media player, which must be installed separately, lose out. Microsoft crushed Netscape this way, and now the commission has ruled that Microsoft’s bundling of its media player into Windows is an example of a more general business model which deters innovation and reduces consumer choice in any technologies which Microsoft could conceivably take interest in and tie with Windows in the future.

The next version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn, due in 2006, will include search, database and security add-ons, and will no doubt inspire new legal challenges. By making Microsoft unbundle its media player when asked to do so by PC-makers, who can then substitute an alternative, the commission’s aim is both to level the playing field today and pave the way for further unbundlings in future.

If Microsoft’s various add-ons were optional rather than compulsory parts of Windows, each one would have to compete on merit with rival alternatives. PC-makers could then differentiate themselves from each other by assembling different software bundles for specific markets.

From The Register comes a different reading:

Far from penalizing Microsoft, Wednesday’s decision by the European Commission assures a bright future for the company as a patent licensing operation, according to one representative only two open source interests called to testify before the investigation.

Because Microsoft will be allowed to pursue royalty revenue from the APIs it publishes, Jeremy Allison says that the projects such as Samba, which he jointly leads, may face a prohibitive hurdle. Microsoft’s competitors use software such as Samba to access file and print services on Windows machines.

TECH TALK: As India Develops: Information Access (Part 4)

One of the key side-effects of the diffusion of information across all sectors of India will be the ability to adopt innovations. Wrote Atanu Dey recently:

As a development economist, I have often asked myself what are the invariants that underlie development. I know for sure that high technology (computers, internet, cell phones) are neither necessary nor sufficient for development. Most of the developed economies of the world developed at a time when all those were not yet invented. I believe that one invariant is the ability to adopt innovations.

People, societies, economies which can successfully adopt innovations tend to do better than those that don’t adopt innovations. The operational word is adopt. Innovations happen all over the place and all the time. Who innovates and how is not what I am concerned about although it is a fascinating subject in itself. What I am concerned about is the adoption of innovation rather than the causes innovations.

Innovations are primarily discovered or invented by what I call ‘micro-agents’. That is, the suppliers of innovations are individuals or very small groups of people. These are the real smart people who have understood some problem very well and figured out a solution to the problem. This is hard work and it requires truckloads of inventiveness, intelligence, luck, and all sorts of fortuitous circumstances for innovations to arise. Therefore, the number of successful innovators is small relative to the overall population and so is the number of real innovations very small. But what is significant is that any real innovation has a multiplier effect in its implementation when the innovation is adopted by society at large. We all don’t have to invent a wheel or a wheel-barrow. Someone somewhere came up with the innovation of a wheel-barrow and for ever not so intelligent people have been using wheel-barrows to cart stuff around with much less effort than would be required without one.

Ever been to a construction site or a farm where they did not use wheel-barrows? The answer is: depends. I have seen hundreds of constructions sites in India and they don’t use wheel-barrows. The one right outside my window, where three massive buildings are being built, don’t use wheel-barrows. They pile the stuff up on their heads and carry small loads. The lever and the wheel (two innovations that form the basis for a wheel-barrow) have been known for ages. I have seen the use of wheel-barrows all over in developed nations. But not in India. In India, it is stuff on their heads. Go to a railway station and coolies will be lugging stuff on their heads for the majority of the loads. If you insist they will get a huge luggage cart but then you will have to wait for a while for them to track down one and they will have to charge you extra for that.

So as I was saying, micro-agents invent the stuff and macro-agents adopt them. Micro-agents have to be very smart to invent clever things. The society at large, the macro-agents, don’t have to be particularly smart: only smart enough to be able to use them. You have to be a veritable genius to invent the wheel-barrow but you have to be a certifiable moron to not use a wheel-barrow after it has been invented.

This, then, is the background and context in which we need to see the necessity for building out the next-generation information platform and ensuring wider access to information.

Next Week: As India Develops (continued)

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Closing the Sale

Eric Sink writes about the “function of proactive sales in a small ISV” and a situation which we (and other software companies) face regularly:

At some point in the many activities of a small independent software vendor (ISV), the customer trades money for software. No column on “The Business of Software” could be complete without some discussion of this magical event.

I’ll start by defining some of my terminology. Before the customer makes the purchase, I like to say that there is a “gap”. This gap is the distance between the prospective customer and your product, and it looks something like this:

Product ——————————– Customer

In order for the sale to occur, this gap must be closed. Until that happens, the gap represents all of the issues and obstacles that are preventing the customer from making the purchase:

  • The customer has never heard of your product.
  • The customer doesn’t know enough about your product.
  • Your product is too expensive.
  • The customer needs two levels of management approval for the purchase.
  • Your product lacks a feature the customer needs.
  • Your product doesn’t interoperate with the customer’s other stuff.
  • Your product isn’t mature enough to meet the customer’s expectations.

    To continue to exist as a business, your small ISV must find a way to close this gap, over and over again. There are exactly two ways to close the gap:

  • Move your product to the right. Tell the world about your product. Make your product better so that people will want to buy it.
  • Move your customer to the left. Find people who might want your product. Convince them to buy it.

  • Christensen on Startups and Open-Source

    Phil Windley reports on a talk given by Clay Christensen:

    Clayton Christensen contends that startups fail for knowable reasons. He lists some questions every startup must answer.

    – How do we beat the competition?
    – Which customers should we target?
    – What products will our customer want to buy?
    – How should we distribute to and communicate with our customers?
    – Which things should our company do and what can our suppliers do?
    – How can we avoid commoditization?
    – Who should be on our management team?
    – What is the best organizational structure?
    – How can we know when to change course?
    – Whose investment capital will help and whose might hurt?

    The “disruptive technologies model” shows that technological improvements in products out paces the customer’s ability to utilize or absorb the improvements. These kinds of technological improvements are usually brought about my established companies for their customers. Disruptive technologies start out so bad that they are not good enough for the mainstream market. The trajectory, however, causes the new technology to overtake the established technology. Further, since the existing customers are over-served y established products, this creates an opportunity for a disrupter to provide a “good enough” product at a cheaper price. Established companies almost never bring about disruptive change.

    You can’t position a firm to be at a specific place in the value chain, because by the time you get there, it will be gone. You have to position the form for where the market is headed. Attractive profits are typically earned in the stages of value-added in which non-standard integration of components occurs. Once the industry moves from an integrated architecture to a modular architecture, the money is made not by the integrator, but by the maker of the subsystems and components.

    Clayton introduces the “law of conservation of modularity.” The idea is that either the integrated system or the subsystems need to be modular and comfortable in order to optimize performance for the other. He uses Microsoft OS and Linux as examples. Applications in Microsoft are suboptimized in order for the OS to be optimized (this is a result of closed source) whereas in Linux, the OS is suboptimized via an open and modular architecture in order to optimize the application (i.e. being able to change code in the OS to optimize application performance).

    In Clayton’s world, “modular” implies “suboptimal” or “inefficient.” You can’t make money on the modular layers in the value-added chain (they’re the integators). You make money at the borders to the modular layers. Another way of looking at this is that no one is going to make money on SOAP, you’re going to make money on the parts that talk SOAP, the services.

    Tim O’Reilly, who Clayton recognizes in the audience and asks to comment, says that Mac OS X is an example of this. FreeBSD is the modular layer in the value-added chain that Apple has put a layer on top of, added value, and is making money there. Clayton says that Motorola and Nokia should supply chip sets and software to Chinese manufacturers who can battle it out in the integrator, commoditized space.

    Startups can become established by competing against non-consumption. The example is the transistor radio. It wasn’t good enough for anyone who could afford a table-top tube radio. But teenagers embraced it because their option was no radio at all. This allows the startup to avoid the demanding technical hurdle of competing with established products that are better than customers actually need.

    Ray Lane on Software

    Excerpts from a News.com interview with Ray Lane (formerly, President of Oracle, and now a VC with Kleiner Perkins):

    Now, customers are looking for simplicity, integration and security across releases. They want standards-based software that doesn’t require the labor expenditure of the past. Software CEOs have two choices: They can try to impose their proprietary methods on the market or they can adopt a new service-based approach to providing and maintaining software.

    In the past, when customers have asked for improvements, we’ve said, “Replace your old system with this new system.” That’s not true anymore. You’ve got to use the existing infrastructure and take advantage of information already there. During the last 10 years, we did modernize the infrastructure. Now, I can actually do the renovation. I don’t have to knock it down.

    An Indian company is a better renovator. They’re going to be a real player in the renovation market, because their business model has the advantage in the renovation market. It’s like the home-building world. Most new home builders are not renovators, and most renovators are not new-home builders. They require different skills. But renovation is just as important as building new homes.

    The new enterprise has to do five things: respond and deliver to support demand; grow or shrink, based upon changes in demand; operate any time, anywhere, under any conditions; minimize asset and labor content per unit of production; and provide real-time transparency of operations, both internal and external. Those will be necessary to understand, as you build a software company.

    InfoWorld has more from a talk given by him at the Open Source Business Conference:

    Software is a service. We have to recognize it and a service company is a different DNA than a software company, said Lane.

    Using an automobile industry analogy, Lane said that today, someone interested in getting into the automobile business would more likely get into service business that improves the car experience rather than get into the car-building or car parts businesses.

    He also said open source software would have a destructive effect on growth of the commercial software industry, although he did not mean destructive in a pejorative way. Open source software will keep the software industry the same size over the course of this decade, he said.

    The software industry, he said, is used to the next big thing and is still waiting for it. He listed developments such as the PC, client-server computing, and operating systems as examples of previous next big thing developments.

    Its idiomatic about our industry as to why the question is even asked. We expect the next big thing to come along to get us out of implementing the old thing, Lane said.

    If you really want to wait for the next big thing, I think the waits probably a decade, said Lane.

    Bus. Std: Engineering the Next Revolution

    My Business Standard column:

    During my recent visit to the US, I found myself standing on Sandhill Road at Menlo Park. Sandhill Road is at the heart of the worlds venture capital industry. Almost all the leading VCs have their offices there. It is one of three elements which make up the Silicon Valley ecosystem. A few miles away is Stanford University, whose mix of professors and students churn our start ups year after year. And then there is the famed Valley culture, which encourages and amplifies innovation and entrepreneurship. While it rewards success handsomely, it also does not look down on failure, seeing it as a milestone on the journey.

    As I stood overlooking the freeway and the mountains in the distance from the Sandhill perch, my mind wandered to the eternal search that drives the innovation system. What is going to be the next big thing? Web services? Broadband wireless? Convergence?

    There are two thoughts which struck me as I stood there. One, the epicentre of the next revolution is likely to be in the emerging markets of the world. Two, the driver for this revolution will be affordability rather than the next big technological advance. Let me explain.

    In the developed markets of the world, the various technological waves came sequentially computers in the 1980s, local area networks in the late 1980s, client-server software in the early 1990s, the Internet in the mid and late 1990s, and wireless and broadband in the past few years. One of the key drivers was Moores Law, which states that processing power at fixed costs doubling every 18 months. As computers became cheaper thanks to falling prices of chips and peripherals, it created a positive feedback loop that drove adoption across various industries.

    Now, the same mix of cheap processing power and high bandwidth is working its way across the developing markets. There is one important difference. In the developed countries like the US, the various phases of technological enhancements were sequential, giving consumers and businesses time to adopt and adapt. However, in the emerging markets like India, there are all happening simultaneously.

    Consider whats happening in India. Cellphone adoption is increasing at over two million a month, leading to a user base of over 50 million by the end of 2004. Decreasing prices are driving computer adoption higher this year should see sales of over 3 million computers. Wireless data connectivity is available in hundreds of cities. Cable companies, telephone companies, power companies and Internet service providers are all working to provide high-speed connectivity to homes and businesses. So, in India, even as we benefit from falling prices, we are having to adjust to a world where the same ubiquitous envelope of computing and communications is rising around us.

    This, according to me, is the Next Big Thing. As nations develop, an unprecedented opportunity exists to create solutions for the next billion users from countries like India, China, Brazil and Russia. The challenge for entrepreneurs is to catalyse and capitalise on the technology-led development process that these countries are going through.

    Once again, consider India. Even as we get taken up with offshoring and outsourcing opportunities, we need to understand that a focus only on services will not transform India. (To put this in focus, less than 0.1 percent of Indians are involved in
    IT related services are currently involved in providing software and other business process services to international organisations.) As India develops, agriculture needs to become more efficient, thus reducing the labour force involved in farming. This surplus has to be absorbed in production. This means that the production of non-manufactured goods (such as handicrafts) and manufactured goods will have to expand and become more efficient to be able to absorb the surplus labor from agriculture and provide higher incomes.

    Affordable technology solutions can help in compressing time and speeding up the development process. Information and communication technologies can help in providing much-needed access to markets. India can benefit from the technologies developed to accelerate the education of its people and the modernisation of its industries. The challenge for entrepreneurs is to think on how to create solutions in this context for the twin engines of future growth – rural India and the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

    The developed markets of the world are like the countries of Europe in the fifteenth century. The developing countries like India and China are like America waiting to be discovered. Entrepreneurs are like the intrepid explorers who set forth from the Old World to discover new lands for conquest.

    For the VCs on Sandhill Road, the emerging markets are a world separated by many a continent and ocean. Even as they ponder on the future, Indian entrepreneurs have the opportunity to shape history only if we begin to start looking at the market within. Rather than trying to only focus on providing services to the rest of the world, we need to start producing hard and soft goods for Indians to use and leverage. India, its IITs and other engineering institutions, and its entrepreneurs have the opportunity to create the platforms for the next markets.

    TECH TALK: As India Develops: Information Access (Part 3)

    Easier access to information can help simplify life and business. And yet, this is where we have to still struggle a lot in India. By using new technologies, it is possible to rethink how content is created and consumed. It is this base of information which will also help propel the use of computers across India, which is a must for building out the digital infrastructure across India.

    The next-generation information platform can dramatically cut down the time and complexity for creating portals for various verticals in India. There are three key portals that are needed in the Indian context addressing the key constituencies of the neighbourhood, SME industry clusters and rural India.

    LocalNews: Much of our life is centred around whats happening where we live and work. There are also various small businesses which need a platform to reach out to consumers cost-effectively. Yellow Pages do this job very effectively in the US. In India, the use of yellow pages has still been somewhat limited. By getting people to come together to build mirrors of their neighbourhood online, a marketing platform is also created for the local small businesses to reach out to their potential audience.

    EnterpriseDigest: Just like Readers Digest aggregates the best content for the family, we need the equivalent of an EnterpriseDigest for every industry vertical. This provides a two-way flow of information. In India, while there are many magazines which do cater to verticals, the cost of publishing and distribution can still be a significant barrier. The Internet can cut both costs.

    RuralWorld: Rural India has to be one of the engines for growth. And yet, it is one of the most affected by the information gaps. From inputs on farming techniques to the latest prices of goods and commodities to the weather, the RuralWorld portal can bridge these gaps, as also connect farmers with other farmers so they can share best practices and answer each others queries, much like users do on community forums in urban areas. As Paul Romer is quoted in the book Information Markets: Informations capacity for simultaneous use means that we can take all of the poor people in the world right now, let them use all of the knowledge, all of the discoveries that we already take advantage of – and we can raise the standard of living without reducing our own.

    Indian entrepreneurs need to invest in building out the countrys information infrastructure, even as the telecom companies are busy laying the foundation for a broadband Bharat. The information highways will not be as useful without the digital worlds as destinations. Be it education or entertainment, food or fashion, business or barters, the Indian portals can serve as the energiser for the Indian Internet business and at the same time fulfill real needs in the daily lives of people and businesses in urban and rural India.

    Tomorrow: Information Access (continued)

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    James Burke Interview

    [via Yuvaraj] I first heard about James Burke from Atanu Dey in the context of his “Connections” series. Then, I bought a book of his – “Twin Tracks”. So, I was quite fascinated to read this interview from Gartner. What is interesting is how Burke connects seemingly unrelated events and weaves them into a story. Writes Gartner as introduction: “James Burke is best-known to millions worldwide as the award-winning creator, producer and host of the three Connections television series. His wit, unique perspective and wealth of knowledge make the series an imaginative combination of education and entertainment as he leads viewers on a dazzling trip through the history of science, technology and social change.” Excerpts from the interview:

    In history, the transition to representative democracy was directly driven by the spread of information due to the printing press. It didn’t start in 1215 with Magna Carta which was a private deal between the king and the barons.

    Representative democracy emerged because that’s all we could manage with the technology we had at the time. Think about it: lousy roads and no telecommunications meant the best you can do is send a couple of locals to the capital city to speak for all the others.

    Today, information technology is making it possible to think differently. People are becoming dissatisfied with the system in which one person represents the complex and different interests of tens of thousands.

    What comes next is a product of information technology – direct democracy. One person, one vote. On all issues. Every second of the night and day. Via electronic agents. What democracy was always supposed to be.

    Today’s information technology makes the process of change more horizontal and accelerative because networking brings together things and ideas never brought together that way before. And when that happens, change happens: one and one make three.

    This is the greatest of today’s challenges. That the process of change is beginning to affect people’s lives in interactive ways that our old social systems were not built to handle – especially in the way we are no longer separated from one another by time and geography.

    Burke also talked about his Knowledge Web project:

    The Knowledge Web project is a pro bono, volunteer based, free-to-be-used-online teaching and learning tool. At the present stage, it consists of biographies of 2,200 major figures from history linked about 18,000 ways, linked by the way everybody is linked: to friends, to influences, to people they influence, to people the work with, to the people they collaborate with and so on.

    And the name of the game is to get learners – in most cases, that’s going to be children – to take journeys through these connected pathways from one person to another, to another and in doing so, to learn about how change happens. How change is anything but linear. How change through history is like a pinball – it bounces around.

    The reason I’ve taken this approach is because that’s the way life happens. What I’m also hoping to do is to get kids to recognize, first of all, how what they are learning interacts with its context. And second of all, that their own lives are the same. That what they are learning is not something separate, isolated, different, boring, but part of their own lives.

    I’d also like Knowledge Web users to go away and use the technology to build their own webs, to build webs between them and the rest of their schoolmates, between their school and another school, between their state and other states, between their country and others – because online, they can do that now.

    And in this way they can see how everything is interconnected, and see that nobody is an isolated, unimportant individual, that everybody contributes. I think that’s probably the most important thing a young person can learn.

    Andressen on Open-Source

    Marc Andressen succintly captures the magic of open-source:

    1. “The Internet is powered by open source.”
    2. “The Internet is the carrier for open source.”
    3. “The Internet is also the platform through which open source is developed.”
    4. “It’s simply going to be more secure than proprietary software.”
    5. “Open source benefits from anti-American sentiments.”
    6. “Incentives around open source include the respect of one’s peers.”
    7. “Open source means standing on the shoulders of giants.”
    8. “Servers have always been expensive and proprietary, but Linux runs on Intel.”
    9. “Embedded devices are making greater use of open source.”
    10. “There are an increasing number of companies developing software that aren’t software companies.”
    11. “Companies are increasingly supporting Linux.”
    12. “It’s free.”

    Open-source software is going to be the platform for the new markets in software.

    Energy Web

    John Robb recently pointed to an article from Wired (Jul 2001 issue) which outlined an alternate vision for the electrical grid of the future: “Every node in the power network of the future will be awake, responsive, adaptive, price-smart, eco-sensitive, real-time, flexible, humming – and interconnected with everything else.”

    The smarter energy network of the future, EPRI believes, will incorporate a diversified pool of resources located closer to the consumer, pumping out low- or zero-emissions power in backyards, driveways, downscaled local power stations, and even in automobiles, while giving electricity users the option to become energy vendors. The front end of this new system will be managed by third-party “virtual utilities,” which will bundle electricity, gas, Internet access, broadband entertainment, and other customized energy services. (This vision is reminiscent of Edison’s original ambition for the industry, which was not to sell lightbulbs, but to create a network of technologies and services that provided illumination.)

    Now, the digital networks will be called upon to remake the grid in their own image. By embedding sensors, solid-state controllers, and intelligent agents throughout this new supply chain, the meter and the monthly bill will be swapped out for something more robust, adaptive, interconnected, and alive: a humming, real-time, interactive energy marketplace.

    Meeting the energy needs of the next century, the Roadmap’s creators suggest, will require a substantial overhaul in how we think about electricity. The industry’s most basic assumptions will have to be put on the table, including the hub-and-spoke hierarchy of the existing grid – based on huge central power stations with long distance transmission lines radiating outward – which has been the backbone of the business since Edison’s avaricious protg, Samuel Insull, became the first utility tycoon in the 1920s.

    “In periods of profound change, the most dangerous thing is to incrementalize yourself into the future,” says Yeager. “Our society is changing more broadly and more rapidly than at any time since Edison’s day. The current power infrastructure is as incompatible with the future as horse trails were to automobiles.”

    The impending marriage of the engineering marvel of the late 19th century with one of the most resonant innovations of the late 20th – the distributed network – hasn’t been named yet. In incubators of our energy future like the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Bonneville Power Administration, however, researchers are starting to describe the new system with phrases like the intelligent grid, the energy net, and the Energy Web.

    Considering the problems we have with power in India, it would be good to see discussion and initiatives on how we can build the next-generation energy platform.

    Desktop Wars

    USA Today has an AP story which looks at how Google and Yahoo are mounting a challenge to Microsoft on the desktop:

    Microsoft faces two rivals Google, the world’s most popular Web surfing vehicle, and Yahoo, the Internet’s most popular destination.

    Microsoft’s dominance may seem unassailable, given that its Windows operating system controls all but a small fraction of the world’s personal computers. But as the Internet consumes an increasing amount of people’s computer time, the plumbing provided by Microsoft is becoming less important than the online agenda that increasingly is being set by trailblazing Web companies like Yahoo and Google.

    “The Web has created the equivalent of an operating system layered on top of the computer’s operating system,” said John Battelle, a former high-tech magazine publisher who is writing a book on the rise of online search. “There is some question how important that underlying operating system is going to be in the future.”

    By establishing their products as essential services on personal computers, Google and Yahoo are vying to become even more ubiquitous as wireless technology proliferates and encourages more people to connect to the Internet wherever they are.

    Novell’s Linux Desktop Strategy

    News.com writes:

    “We’re focusing on building a complete Linux desktop as an alternative to what you’ve been using,” Novell Vice Chairman Chris Stone told Novell loyalists at the company’s BrainShare conference. “We believe that in the next 12 months, we will see the widespread adoption of Linux on the desktop.”

    The desktop Linux push will include software from SuSE Linux, the No. 2 Linux seller that Novell acquired in January for $210 million, and Ximian, the Linux desktop specialist that Novell acquired in August.

    With the desktop move, Novell plans to turn against Microsoft the same weapon that the Redmond, Wash., software giant used against Novell: a tight coupling between applications that run on the desktop and those that run on the server. Microsoft competed against Novell in part by building technology into Windows desktop machines that could connect easily to Windows servers for tasks such as storing files or tracking a company’s computing assets.

    “We think it’s the optimization of what happens between the desktop and the server that creates the value-add for us,” Messman said. “We have been the victim of that.”

    TECH TALK: As India Develops: Information Access (Part 2)

    The next-generation information platform is the foundation to build vertically specific communities which can exchange information and do ecommerce. This platform will enable users to pool together their individual knowledge and share it with others in the belief that while no one knows everything, together the body of knowledge can be far greater. So far, mass publishing has been rather difficult on the Internet. However, a new set of technologies and tools promise to make this easier, leading to the creation of the two-way web, where every reader is also a potential writer.

    This next-generation information platform comprises a series of innovations integrated together into a system which can be easily customised for niche areas. The various elements that make up this platform are:

    News: Think of Samachar, Google News and Moreover value-added aggregation of news.

    Search: A search engine focused on the content for the vertical is needed, along with Googles AdSense-like targeted and relevant advertising.

    Blogs: It should be easy for people to write, and blogs offer a framework to do just that. Blogger and Typepad offer. In addition, analytics like what Technorati and BlogStreet provide can glean additional value from what individuals and groups write.

    Wikis: A Wikis easy editing capability allows anyone with a voice to chip in. Think of Wikipedia, an encyclopedia created by individuals from around the Web.

    P2P Community: This should be on the lines of Slashdot, which self-organises and allows the good content to rise to the top.

    PubSub Backend: RSS is one of the key enablers of the two-way web. As people publish, they also have subscriptions. News Aggregators with a matching engine like PubSub and Feedster can play a powerful behind-the-scenes in helping generate the two-way flow the platform needs.

    Microcontent: The platform needs to take into account that access can happen not just on computers but also a range of wireless devices like PDAs and cellphones. For this, content will need to appropriately formatted to deliver smaller chunks.

    eCommerce: Whether it is like an Amazon (product sales) or eBay (auctions), there is need to facilitate transactions for the community. A common payments system would also be a needed feature.

    Classifieds: Craigs List and Alibaba are good examples of classifieds which can focus on geographical or vertical segments. RSS feeds can ease the task of searching for updates.

    Personalisation: Like My Yahoo, it should be possible for users to personalise the platform with the content streams that are of interest to them.

    Social Networking: Sites like Friendster and Orkut offer the ability to connect people together. This is especially useful in narrower communities of practice. A platform which can enable people to leverage IM and VoIP like Skype to interact is needed.

    Local-Language Support: There is a need for content to be able in multiple Indian languages. An auto-translate feature like Babel for Indian languages is needed.

    Visualisation: Video games like Everquest create incredibly rich and interactive environments. A similar interface can create 3-D environments for users to interact with others users.

    Tomorrow: Information Access (continued)

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