The Medici Effect

[via Frans Johansson] His “The Medici Effect” looks like an interesting book:

A diverse research team discovers how to read the mind of a monkey. A chef mixes unexpected ingredients such as sea urchins and lollipops to transform the world of professional cooking. An engineer borrows from the foraging behavior of ants to determine surveillance patterns for unmanned aerial vehicles in war zones.

What these trailblazers share is not just the breakthrough nature of their discoveries, but where they went to find them. According to Frans Johansson, these innovators are changing the world by stepping into the Intersection: a place where ideas from different fields and cultures meet and collide, ultimately igniting an explosion of extraordinary new discoveries.

Johansson calls this proliferation of new ideas the Medici effectreferring to the remarkable burst of creativity enabled by the Medici banking family in Renaissance Italy. In this fascinating book, he reveals how we can find intersections in our own lives and turn the ideas we find there into pathbreaking innovations. Johansson explains that three driving forcesthe movement of people, the convergence of scientific disciplines, and the leap in computational powerare increasing the number and types of intersections we can access.

Mesh Networking

[via Corante]Sean Fioritto has a introductory guide:

A mesh node is essentially a smart repeater. Each node contains information about where all the other nodes in the mesh are located. It uses this information to determine the fastest route to send an incoming data packet to its end destination. (This is why its called a routing protocol). Also, (and this is a guess on my part), a mesh node could look at an incoming packet, determine if it is corrupt, and then request a new packet itself rather than pass the bad packet along and leave it up to the destination computer to make the request. This way requests for bad packets are distributed throughout the network of nodes and not concentrated at the outer nodes, like in the repeater model.

A mesh is also self-configuring and self-healing. Lets go back to our park model. You have a user that complains about a dead spot right at his favorite bench by the pond. Youre now using a mesh to cover the park, so this is no problem. You know that the traffic on one of your nodes is really slow, so you decide to move that node closer to the aforementioned bench. Two things happen when you do this. First, when you remove the node the nodes that were within transmitting distance notice that its no longer there. They then reconfigure their routing tables, (the set of best paths for data packets), and notify the nodes around them. This continues until all the nodes have modified their routing tables to no longer use the node you removed. Now you install the node in its new location. That node automatically begins sending out broadcasts letting the nodes around it know that its there. Those nodes in turn start sending back information to that node and telling the nodes around them until the entire network has once again reconfigured itself.

Broadband Planet

Om Malik writes:

The broadband penetration is growing at speed which makes everything else look puny. (okay take wireless adoption out of the equation.) Point Topic reports that globally broadband lines have galloped past 123 million. The number of broadband lines worldwide increased by almost 55% to over 123 million in the 12 months to 30 June 2004. DSL lines increased by over 30 million, or 66%, to 78 million. Cable modem and other broadband lines increased by nearly 13 million, or 39%, to 45 million. One big feature of the market in the last year is the growth of broadband services over fibre, so called ‘Fibre-to-the-building’, FTTB, or FTTx to cover all the options. The FTTx share of ‘other broadband’ lines accounted for 9 million lines by 30 June, or 7.3%.

So what does this all mean? Well for starters all those things Rafat talks about on his blog – content – is now a viable market. Add to that VoIP, IPTV and other emerging technologies, I think the market is now big enough to support innovation.

Grameen Bank, Microcredit and MDGs

EPW has an article by Muhammad Yunus which “traces the evolution of the ideas and practice of microcredit as pioneered by the Grameen Bank. Over the years, microcredit programmes in Bangladesh have grown, providing a wide range of services to meet the economic and social needs of its citizens, mostly poor women. It comes up with suggestions regarding the emerging issues of financial self-reliance and institutional sustainability of microcredit programmes.”

Google’s History

The Economist has a nice backgrounder on Google, with a look ahead:

Google now faces a three-way fight with Yahoo! and Microsoft, which have both vowed to dethrone it as the dominant internet search engine. Yahoo!’s strategy is to interconnect its various online services, from search to dating to maps, in increasingly clever ways, while Microsoft’s plan is to integrate desktop and internet searching in a seamless manner, so that search facilities will be embedded in all its software, thus doing away (the company hopes) with the need to use Google. Both firms are also working to improve their basic search technology in order to compete with Google.

In response, Google has gradually diversified itself, adding specialist discussion groups, news and shopping-related search services, and a free e-mail service, Gmail, which is currently being tested by thousands of volunteers. It has also developed toolbar software that can be permanently installed on a PC, allowing web searches to be performed without having to visit the Google website, and establishing a toe-hold on its users’PCs.

Google’s technical credentials are not in doubt. The question is whether it can maintain its position, as search, the activity where it is strongest, moves from centre stage to being just part of a bundle of services. Yet the example of Gmail shows how search can form the foundation of other services: rather than sorting mail into separate folders, Gmail users can simply use Google’s lightning-fast search facility to find a specific message. So the technology that made Google great could yet prove to be its greatest asset in the fight ahead. Let battle commence.

TECH TALK: Thinking A New Food Portal: Todays Food Portals

I know a little about food portals Bawarchi was one of our bouquet of IndiaWorld portals. It was among our top accessed sites. Since then, Bawarchi has morphed into Sify Food. The anchor in Bawarchi was and continues to be Sarojs Cookbook one new recipe daily, based on a weekly theme. I take Sarojs Cookbook as an example here because I think it is one of the finest and largest collections of Indian vegetarian food on the Net.

Since Bawarchis launch in 1997, Sarojs Cookbook has grown to encompass more than 1,000 recipes. A sample recipe page looks like this for Daal Baati one of my favourite Rajasthani meals. So, there are basically three ways to navigate this vast repository of recipes: the category-based classification, search, and alphabetically by name.

Theres a lot more content on Sify Food now (some of which were also there in the original Bawarchi): many more recipes from multiple sources, columns on health and nutrition, tips, glossary, festival-specific information, and an interactive section. Sify Food continues to be freely accessible.

Two other popular Indian food websites are those by Tarla Dalal and Sanjeev Kapoor. Both have equally elaborate collections, but much of the site needs subscription. In both cases, the annual charge is Rs 1,000 for those in India. One of the interesting features on the Tarla Dalal site is the ability to personalise ones cookbook from the online collection.

On the international front, one of the most popular food sites is Epicurious. The top-level classifications include: Recipes, Features, Cooking, Drinking, Restaurants and Shop. Its Advanced Recipe Search feature allows a search based on ingredients. Recipes also have reviews and ratings by readers. From a 2002 PC Magazine Review: Think of Epicurious as an all-you-can-eat buffet that allows doggie bags. Its seemingly endless array of culinary information includes interviews with star chefs, slide shows of favorite dishes, book excerpts and reviews, culinary travel guides, comprehensive coverage of beers and liquors, buyers’ guides, newsletters, glossaries, discussion forums, an enormous shopping area, TV and magazine tie-ins, and over 13,000 recipes. Whether you’re looking for video instruction in omelet-rolling techniques or an authoritative discussion of glassware, Epicurious has what you need.

There are plenty of other excellent international food sites: AllRecipes, FoodNetwork, and Recipezaar are a few examples.

As I browsed through these sites, I was duly impressed. Their depth and breadth is much greater than the Indian food portals. But I could not help but think that these are, much like their Indian counterparts, still built for the first generation of the Internet. The question I am thinking is: how would we redo these sites (or create new ones) keeping in mind the next Internet? Maybe these sites are more than good enough having created strong brands amongst their users. Or maybe, there is potential for a disruptive innovator. I will keep my focus on the Indian food space, since I know it better and also am a direct consumer (as are probably most of us). So, put the thinking caps on: how do we build the Next Great Indian Food Portal?

A note: even as we think about Food, the ideas we will discuss are applicable to most portals. I chose Food because of my Bawarchi-legacy, and we all fall in one or both categories: cooks or eaters. So, there is an experience we can relate it almost daily.

Tomorrow: A Wishlist