Ramesh Jain on Search

[via John Battelle] ACM Ubiquity has an interview with Ramesh Jain. I had met Ramesh on my recent US visit, and he discussed some of his ideas. I think Ramesh is one of the key people who will define the next generation of search. His perspective combines multiple mental models – from multimedia to experiential computing.

JAIN: Current search engines like Google do not give me a “steering wheel” for searching the Internet (the term steering wheel was used by William Woods in one of his articles). The search engines get faster and faster, but they’re not giving me any control mechanism. The only control mechanism, which is also a stateless control mechanism, asks the searcher to put in keywords, and if I put in keywords I get this huge monstrous list. I have no idea how to refine this list. The only way is to come up with a completely new keyword list. I also don’t know what to do with the 8 million results that Google threw at me. So when I am trying to come up with those keywords, I don’t know really where I am. That means I cannot control that list very easily because I don’t have a holistic picture of that list. That’s very important. When I get these results, how do I get some kind of holistic representation of what these results are, how they are distributed among different dimensions.

UBIQUITY: What would that kind of holistic representation be like?

JAIN: Two common dimensions that I find very useful in many general applications are time and space. If I can be shown how the items are distributed in time and space, I can start controlling what I want to see over this time period or what I want to see in that space.

Connecting Blog Categories

Carrick Mundell writes:

What if you could be reading someone’s blog, or even your own, and you see that the blogger has assigned a category to his post, and that category is a link to, presumably, all his other posts assigned to that category… what if when you click that link, you not only get related posts from the blog you’re reading but from all other blogs (MT or not) that use that category? The resulting related posts from other blogs would be ordered by most recent at the top and limited to, say, five or ten displayed at one time. Suddenly, you would see an immediate connection between the post you’re reading and all other posts in the entire blogosphere. I think that would be very cool.

Now, implementing this would be the real challenge. First of all, we know it’s difficult to index blogs. I still don’t find much utility in Technorati or Feedster. There’s so much noise and, it seems, latency. A simple, and in the end, non-scalable solution would be to use trackbacks to a central system of some kind. The idea of all MT blogs pinging a central system with category and summary data might work but could become hopelessly bogged down once you have thousands, if not millions, of browsers asking for related data to every blog post ever written. And that’s’ just MT blogs. Seems like a more distributed system would be in order, something P2P-ish.

Opening up TV, a new API

Kontra writes: “Just like Microsoft (and Google, Amazon and eBay), one day all TV networks will have to digitally restructure their content and publish their APIs so that anyone can reliably and reasonably plug into them. That’s the difference between dormant assets and a constantly evolving and extending platform.”

Suggestions for NBC: “NBC should transform itself into a content platform that provides not just finished TV shows but a wide spectrum of technical functions, including extensive metadata on its programs; pervasive indexing; advanced text, audio and video search on its stock library; speech-to-text conversion; statistical data for its news, sports, quiz and financial shows; media format conversion; automated graphical skinning and rebranding tools; e-learning templates; reviews; ratings and so on. In other words, it should not only provide the footage but all the tools necessary to enable third parties to easily plug into and remonitize what would otherwise be dormant assets.”

The Linux Enterprise

LinuxDevCenter has an article by Tom Adelstein: “Much discussion exists concerning the presence of GNU/Linux and open source software in the enterprise. Linux users often call into question decisions by major vendors who increase innovation on servers at the expense of the desktop. In this article, we define the market and discuss the business reasons Linux companies pursue the enterprise market while limiting their initiatives for consumers.”

Powered by Skype

Stuart Henshall looks at Skype’s first year:

Skype’s business model is dramatically different to the traditional telecoms. For the most part all the hardware required to operate the network is owned by the individuals using the service. Thus unlike traditional telecoms there is no need to build out infrastructure, new users simply bring it to Skype. In that way it is similar to the Seti at Home project.

Increasingly I think of Skype’s potential like a low cost electrical utility. Compared with telecoms which have had little innovation in handsets the electrical grid enables thousands of different appliances. Electricity is also similar in that it is always-on and you use it in real-time. The switch and control remains with the user.

A year ago Skype was just another IM client with a voice-centric bias and tremendous audio quality. People said no-one makes money at IM or in free telephony. I have quotes in my Skype Journal. A small few a year ago (including me) said that Skype was disruptive based on its architecture and audio quality. I believe the hidden learning now is more about evolutionary changes that may not look like much in the short term but in the end are quite revolutionary. Skype is beginning to rewire the whole way in which we communicate. It will extend to business processes and social interactions. It’s also living proof that telephony is now just a software application.

Their platform capability means that when they release an effective API just about anyone may be able to develop services that plug into Skype’s data and communications network. Early DOS is a good comparison in this regard. Although there it was hardware, Skype is directing their assault at platforms. These platforms have long life spans and the operating piece they are carving out is underdeveloped. While Microsoft looks at Dell, IBM, HP, Toshiba, etc, Skype is looking at the platform suppliers as manufacturers.

So their strategy poses a continued strategy for both Telecoms and Microsoft Windows. Telecoms are threatened by the cost structure and the long-term challenge to their numbering system. While Windows will be challenged by Skype if the API is open enough because the incentive will exist to develop an office platform for Linux that integrates presence and availability and communication capabilities with documents and files. While LCS Live Communication Server will offer this capability it requires a central server and my guess is still a lower quality audio engine. A successful Skype gives new utility to a Linux desktop at significantly lower cost vs. Windows. If the API enables easy cross platform solutions then this market may explode.

TECH TALK: Thinking A New Food Portal: Business Model

So, plenty of ideas to build a new food portal leveraging existing expert and user-contributed content, with enhancements in the form of formatting for mobile phones, RSS feeds to provide alerts, videos of the cooking process, personalisation, and more. But what is the business model? How does a site like this make money? Here are a few ideas:

Subscriptions: A part of the site could be available only to subscribers. I think the video content should be made available for the equivalent of tens of rupees per download. So, users can get the recipe details for free, but if they want to actually see the entire cooking process on-demand, then it is available for a fee.

Mobiles: Given the growth of cellphones in India, they can be tapped as a source for revenue. Food-related information could be a useful value-added service for cellphone users.

Advertising: The food industry is quite big and growing. The major Indian foods companies are still not advertising online in a significant way. But the more interesting opportunity could come from neighbourhood restaurants, who can even provide deals if they have space to fill. Non-intrusive contextual text ads could be a useful source of revenue.

Commerce: Selling ingredients and cooking-related appliances could be a potential source of revenue. Making books out of the content that exists on the site is another possible financial source.

Food is a very important part of our lives. A new food site done well could be financially lucrative. The time is right for leveraging a mix of content and technology to create richer user experiences. More importantly, it would also create a platform to build other vertical sites along similar lines.

Beyond Food

The idea of this thought experiment was to think on how new technologies can help build better and more interactive content experiences, and at the same time also provide potential advertisers with targeted segments. Many times our legacy prevents us from thinking out of the box. Our habits change much slower than the relentless march of technology. And at the same time, it is the technological innovations which create new opportunities. The first ten years of the Internet in our lives have been a source of great value. The next five will probably see even more innovation as content producers start seeing the power of the changes and extensions in the Internets infrastructure.

In India, we have an opportunity to leapfrog and embrace much of this change. As the foundation of low-cost access devices (be it cheaper computers, thin clients, cellphones, TVs) leverage the communications base that is being built, the need will be for a new generation of services which go beyond the content that is in prevalence today. This is the opportunity for Indian entrepreneurs envision new services and applications for an India with a hundred million Internet users.