BJP should support the Congress

I am beginning to think that the only way out of the confidence crisis that is there is if the BJP decides to support the Congress and the government pushes ahead full-steam ahead with reforms across the board. Before you jump on me, here me out.

Let us understand who are the real enemies of progress and reform of India. They are the Left parties and some of the smaller, regional parties (especially in Bihar and UP) who are more interested in consolidating personal power bases and wealth rather than doing good. Every few years, they go the voters segmented by caste or ideology with promises, win and enrich themselves.

What India needs is the equivalent of a benign dictatorship for a few years. Our national elections have become the equivalent of 25 state elections so it is unlikely that a single party will ever get majority on its own. This will also leave the largest party hostage to the blackmail of the smaller parties – after all, the greed for power comes above everything else.

The only way for India to undertake rapid economic development the way China did is to simulate those conditions in the framework of our democracy. We need a unified government for a few years – hopefully, by then enough infrastructure and social development (and yes, disinvestment) would have been done, that it will not make a difference. We need to eliminate mindless needling in our economy for the foresseable future.

This is where the Congress and BJP need to come together. Together, they have the majority in Parliament without relying on any third party. Since the Congress has emerged as the larger party, it should have the Prime Minister’s post for 3 years, and then the BJP for 2 years [the Congress can decide which 3 of the next 5 years it wants to take]. Key ministries should be divided between the two – yes, there will be some bickering, but the manifestos are reasonably similar on most issues. This is the “dream team” that India needs – the best people from both the parties who can lead India forward without fear.

The ball is in the BJP’s court. As they discuss what path to take, the only choice that seems to be ahead of them is a more stringent nationalistic line. This will undo the good work Vajpayee has done in moderating the party in the past few years. It will also polarise the country even more. That is not the route to take, but left to some, it may well be the road the party goes down on.

What the BJP needs to do is to take a different view and say, “Yes, maybe, all of India is not shining and we understand that now. So, we will work with the Congress to really make it shine in the next 5 years.” That is the future every Indian wants.

What everyone needs to undertsand is that the money we spend on subsidies and wasteful public enterprises goes out of education and healthcare for the ones who need it most. They compete for the same limited resources.

Besides, India needs international capital, and what better signal to them than our two leading parties saying they will do what it takes to globalise and transform India.

We cannot change voting patterns in India – for that we need to educate our people and give them the basics of life so they are not taken in by the next politician who promises them handouts. We have to get out of this vicious cycle. And for that, I believe India needs a historic decision by two parties which have symolised in their own way the good things that have happened in the past 13 years.

If India and Pakistan can work towards peace, why not the BJP and the Congress? What is the greater goal – an India which remains at the bottom of all development indices because a few in power hold the rest to ransom, or an India which is on the fast track of development and a magnet for the best in the world?

India has one of the youngest populations in the world. Are we going to let another generation wither away? Or are we going to become the manufacturing and services capital of the world? India needs 10% growth and 10 million jobs each year for the foreseeable future. The people who need it most at the bottom of the pyramid do not understand the damage they cause themselves when they vote for handouts like free power. The top of the pyramid does not care except for their stock market investments (their children are anyways getting educated abroad and can easily settle down there is the need arises). That leaves the middle – they are the ones who need to be shown the future, because it is they and the entrepreneurs in them who can actually transform the bottom.

At this juncture in time, India needs a government of national unity. It is time for the Congress and the BJP to support each other and make the Shining India a reality in 5 years.

Searching to Filtering

Brian writes:

A log of people talk about search as the “killer app” of the Internet. It’s not. Search is easy. Filtering is hard. Speed is hard.

This is a vast oversimplification. Search isn’t really easy, but it isn’t terribly difficult to present search results for a search of hundreds of thousands or millions of documents. Presenting relevant results is another story. That’s where filtering and speed come in. Search is useless without some kind of filtering or sorting, and painful without the speed to which we’ve become so accustomed. Both of which are why Google has been so successful with their PageRank algorithm.

Does anybody remember Usenet? There were a couple of NNTP newsreaders that would do article scoring: they would run each article in a newsgroup through a number of filters and assign each article a score. You could then sort the articles in a newsgroup by score and read the highest-scoring articles while merely skimming the titles (or ignoring completely) the rest of the articles. The web has much less formal structure than Usenet and so this kind of filtering is much more difficult to do.

In the world of weblogs, there are a few companies targeting weblog search. Nobody seems to be thinking about filtering. There will be a need, in the not-too-distant future, for something like the current crop of spam filters for weblog aggregators.

Here’s why: Imagine a C# programmer who is subscribed to thirty or so .NET, C#, and related weblogs. Even if all of these weblogs stay completely on-topic, there will be a fair amount of noise in this programmer’s aggregator. This might include posts in a .NET weblog that are more focused on ASP.NET or upcoming features in Longhorn. All this programmer wants is to read tips, suggestions, and the occasional open-ended question on C# programming. Every day he reads roughly fifty posts and ignores about half of them. Over time he subscribes to more weblogs — about one new subscription per week. At that rate, he won’t be able to keep up with his subscriptions after a couple of months.

Now imagine that he has two buttons in his aggregator: “signal” and “noise”. He! can mark any post he reads as either signal (interesting) or noise (uninteresting). The aggregator can use a number of techniques to learn what the programmer find interesting, and can filter out the noise. With this feature, he can be subscribed to twice the number of weblogs and get twice the amount of good information in the same amount of time spent reading every day — like we used to have with article scoring on Usenet.

Phone to Email to Blogs

Fred Wilson captures the importance of blogging nicely:

When I got into the venture capital business in the mid 80s, the only way i could network effectively was to go to events, conferences, trade shows, etc and then work the phones incessantly.

Then in the early 90s, email hit the scene. Suddenly, everyone had an email address. And my ability to network grew by an order of magnitude. I could “touch” hundreds of people every day, ask what they were up to, hear about new deals, etc. It suddenly became a lot easier to be a venture capitalist.

I think blogging is the next quantum leap in networking. Today I can “touch” 1000 people a day with the things i am thinking about, deals i am seeing, technologies that interest me, and i hear back from at least 20 or 30 of them via comments or email. That is making my job a lot easier again.

I agree whole-heartedly!

Games Growing

Exceprts in Future Salon from a talk by Nicole Lazzaro, president and founder of XEODesign:

Just as film and television eclipsed the stage and literature as the dominant mediums of expression in the 20th century, computer games are emerging as the new ambassador of culture and taste for the 21st. As over 50% of US households play some form of computer games, next generation products and services will look increasingly to games for ways to connect with new consumers, how to become more emotionally and mentally engaging, and to seize the opportunity to offer emotions and challenges for optimal human experiences. Future products and services, work, and other cultural artifacts will provide better customer experiences by carefully crafting a consumer’s cognitive and emotional responses.

People will play more games in more places. What happens when the services offered by today’s laptop become cheap enough to print on a candy wrapper? Mobile gaming will improve other experiences such as interacting with friends and waiting in line. Augmented reality games break out into the real world through Geo-casching or games of tag through a city. With ubiquitous computing soon everything from your mobile phone, to your front door to the ketchup bottle in a diner could contain enough smarts to offer services. Will everything from your car, elevator, to coffeepot contains a screen and therefore the potential to host a game? Will we surf the net from our salt shaker or will it provide other opportunities to delight us and engage our attention?

Open-Source Software: Business Strategies

John Koenig discusses 7 strategies: Optimization, Dual License, Consulting, Subscription, Patronage, Hosted and Embedded. From the section on the Hosted Strategy:

At the March 2004 Open Source Business Conference, Tim O’Reilly discussed what he called the “Open Source Paradigm Shift,” advising companies to look for “hidden service business models.” He pointed out examples like “Google and Amazon, whose APIs treat Web applications and their data as programmable components.”

In looking at open source business models, it is apparent that service providers have much to gain from OSS. They can use GPL-licensed software internally without restriction and without the obligation of sharing their code modifications. This allows them to leverage open source, and incur little or no competitive risk. The GPL license allows them to own and keep secret the intellectual property modifications they create, and as long as they don’t distribute the software, they don’t have to publicly share the modifications. Using open source allows them to lower costs, while delivering extremely reliable enterprise-quality services.

For example, in June of 2003, Salesforce.com CTO Dave Moellenhoff disclosed to LinuxPlanet that his company used open source Eclipse and Linux. Salesforce.com, an application service provider (ASP), provides a net-native customer relationship management (CRM) application based on a monthly per-user subscription model. Netsuite, another ASP with both financials and CRM applications, also makes heavy use of OSS for delivering its services to customers.

Consider also Amazon, through which billions of dollars of consumer transactions flow each year. Amazon is a large user of OSS. CNET a few years ago discussed Amazon’s SEC filing, where Amazon attributed millions of dollars in savings to “migration to a Linux-based technology platform that utilizes a less-costly technology infrastructure.”

Google even more impressively bootstrapped its business using Linux and commodity servers, saving Google millions in server infrastructure costs. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, gave the 2002 keynote presentation at LinuxWorld, describing how Google runs Linux on more than 10,000 servers, generating advertising revenue through a search service that is known for speed and relevancy. Google is now rumored to be running more than 100,000 Linux servers, and laying plans to leverage its server infrastructure in ways that extend far beyond search.

Computerworld reported in 2002 that financial services companies, often the leaders in IT adoption, were rapidly deploying Linux servers. One major example is E-Trade, a successful Internet-based banking and securities trading service.

What do these companies all have in common? They are hosted service companies using OSS as a cornerstone to their IT platforms.

WiFi Hot Spots Future

InfoWorld has an article by Ephraim Schwartz who argues that WiFi hotspots will not survive – “broadband data over cellular networks will deliver the coup de grce.”

For a fresh insight, I turned to Randy Battat, president and CEO of Airvana, a mobile infrastructure provider.

Wi-Fi’s free spectrum and $100 access points have a lot of appeal, Battat notes. But the problem is that you need to get that wireless data to the wired Internet. A T1 line costs about $500 per line per month, depending on the distance to the ISP. How many T1 lines will be needed to offer decent service in a typical McDonald’s, which seats anywhere from 40 to 160 people?

“You’re certainly not going to have eight T1s so everyone can get 11Mbps performance,” Battat says.

On the other hand, the cellular networks, with their towers and base stations, are already in place. EvDO (Evolution Data Only), a new, high-speed cellular data technology, offers 300Kbps to 600Kbps throughput at the low end, with maximum performance rated at 2.4Mbps. Adding EvDO to an existing cellular network often means simply installing new cards in the base stations (and, yes, Airvana makes those cards).

The only companies in a financial position to lay out a nationwide Wi-Fi network are the cellular carriers, but with EvDO on the horizon, they have little incentive. Expect them to follow the lead of T-Mobile and market hot-spot service as a loss leader in order to win more subscribers for their cellular networks.

Cellular carriers will take over most subscriber-based hot spots and slowly kill them off, either by acquisition or through partnerships. If you find that hard to believe, think of Wi-Fi hot spots as you now think of pay phones on street corners.

He adds on the InfoWorld blog: “What I’ve been saying in my columns is basically that the wide area networks will, over time, become as inexpensive as subscribing to a hot spot…WANs are slowly but surely getting better. And given another year or two they will replace hot spots. Not Wifi. I think on campus Wifi is great. But off, if I want coverage everywhere, and I mean everywhere, then I have no choice but to use and subscribe to a wide area cellualr network…If anything, hot spots will help make the market for wide area. Consumers will be so pleased with the abilty to get on the Internet when at airports or certain restaurants they will naturally want more. WiFi not being able to give it to them will force consumers to look at other alternatives.”

Incidentally, Cometa Networks just announced that they are shutting down, according to Wi-Fi Networking News.

TECH TALK: An Agenda for the Next Government: Development

Roti, Kapada, Makaan (Food, Clothes and Home) and Pani, Bijli, Sadak (Water, Electricity, Roads) are still a source of immense challenge across the country. In many ways, this resentment against the status quo coupled by rising expectations fueled an anti-incumbency vote across the country. People want solutions quick! Patience seems to be running out with the politicians and bureaucracy. Even as TVs and cellphones connect hitherto isolated communities, people want a better life. Or so it seems. Because the only thing they get are promises and short-term solutions which in fact will make the situation worse. What use is the promise of free power if it is not available? What use is the promise of free education when there are no teachers to provide it? Are we going to sacrifice yet another generation at the altar of ill-conceived policies?

In India, we shy away from tackling problems at their core. We look for quick please-all measures without thinking through the complete implications. We are in danger of doing the same mistake again as we analyse the results of the elections of course, the actions will be no surprise because it is just what we have come to expect from our political leadership. And then five years later, we will have a new set in power looking for equally expedient solutions.

Vote 2004 has been called the revenge of Bharat on India — the rural masses have hit back in the only way they can against the India Shining and feel-good campaign. This makes for great political theatre and sound-bytes which are so necessary on television, our dumbed-down media, and our own nano attention spans. We seek quick fixes to reconcile events we do not understand. The danger in this is that we do not get to the core of the issues. We are all set to do this yet again as we seek to solve the mystery of the rural Indian voting patterns.

What Rural India needs is not additional analysis, but solutions to its core problems. It does not need free, invisible electricity, it needs reliable 24×7 power it can pay for. It does not need concrete structures called schools, it needs education. It does not need subsidies, it needs opportunities. It does not need yet another poverty alleviation scheme which only enriches the chain of officials, it needs services which rural people can use to enhance their incomes.

Above all, Rural India needs a vision which can transform it not between two generations, but between two elections. Just such a Marshall Plan for rural India exists proposed by Dr Atanu Dey and Vinod Khosla. For an investment of Rs 10,000 crores ($2.2 billion) in 5,000 rural infrastructure and services commons (RISC), we can create the right platform to bring industries, entrepreneurship and development in the lands of Bharat that India forgot.

For starters, read this paper on RISC by Atanu and Khosla, and lets work on operationalising it. [I had written a series earlier, As India Develops, which also discusses the developmental challenges we face.]