Release Avnish Bajaj Immediately

It is a sign of the times in India that the two hot topics for discussion are a kiss and a video. The kiss was publicised by Mumbai eveninger Mid-Day and was allegedly between Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor in a discotheque. The video was made by a Delhi male student about his escapades with a girl. The kiss has resulted in legal proceedings against the Mumbai newspaper and a critique from the Supreme Court. The video has landed Avnish Bajaj, the CEO of Baazee, India’s largest auction site which was bought by eBay for $50 million earlier in the year, in jail. As it turns out, the video made was sold by an IIT-Kharagpur student on Baazee. The police used the Indian Information Technology Act to arrest the Baazee CEO (who is a US citizen) after calling him back from the US.

I don’t see the connection between the video being on sale on Baazee and the need to arrest Avnish Bajaj. It is a bad misjudgement on the part of the police – no one can hold Bajaj responsible for the site listings. In that event, as a friend put it, the municipal commissioners may need to be arrested for allowing pornographic videos and material on sold on the pavement, since the responsibility for the pavement is with the municipal corporation.

The Indian IT and Internet industries need to protest vigorously and put pressure on the government to release Avnish Bajaj. Let the investigation into the incident and sale of videos happen, but that in no way implicates the CEO of Baazee and causes him to be sent to judicial custoday for a week. He should be released immediately.

Time’s Person of the Year

Not surprisingly, George Bush is Time magazine’s Person of the Year “for sticking to his guns (literally and figuratively), for reshaping the rules of politics to fit his ten-gallon-hat leadership style and for persuading a majority of voters that he deserved to be in the White House for another four years.” Steve Jobs is one among the “people who mattered.” Time writes: “It was a year of challenge and triumph for the man behind the iPod, who learned he had a rare form of pancreatic cancer and had surgery to remove a tumor. Meanwhile, the two companies he heads, Pixar and Apple, saw their stocks soar, thanks to The Incredibles and iPod’s little sis, the Mini.”

Japan’s Gadgets

Jeff Yang asks why does all the cool stuff come out in Asia first.: “Call it the gadget gap or the device deficit — call it what you will, as long as you recognize that, where cool high-tech stuff is concerned, America is light-years behind its counterparts in the Far East.”

He lists out his favourite Japanese gadgets:

1. Sony PSP (Playstation Portable): It’s only the most anticipated handheld gaming device ever — a portable wonder that packs all the power of the original PlayStation in one palm-size package. And it doesn’t just play games: according to Sony, it’ll also deliver music and MPEG-4 video, display photos and offer 802.11 Wi-Fi connectivity for wireless gaming and messaging. It’s going on sale in Japan this weekend. The United States, however, doesn’t get it until March 2005 at the earliest. Envy factor: 4.5 out of 5.

2. Sharp Zaurus SL-C3000: For the hardcore gadget geek, the SL-C3000 is the latest in Sharp’s heavy-duty Linux-based handhelds; more of a palmtop computer than a PDA, the SL-C3000 has an internal hard drive, a razor-sharp full VGA screen with zoom-in capabilities and a full QWERTY keyboard to go along with its swiveling touch screen. Plus, it looks damn good. Get it in a full-English version at Dynamism now. Envy factor: 4 out of 5.

3. DoCoMo “Mobile FeliCa” Payment System: A product, not a service, this e-payment system lets you buy stuff from convenience stores, software publishers, concert-ticket kiosks and train stations by transmitting virtual cash from your i-Mode-equipped phone. The system works in Japan because it’s riding on the back of FeliCa, an existing, wildly popular smart-card payment system; here in the United States, we don’t even have smart cards, much less i-Mode. Envy factor: 3.5 out of 5.

4. The NEC V601N: Sure, it’ll display live broadcasts for only about an hour before its batteries give up the ghost, but this first-ever combination TV/cell phone also lets you grab screen shots and video off programs being played on its bright but tiny screen and browse TV guides to schedule programming, and it can even be used as a remote control for external devices. Japan gets it later this month; we get it, uh, never. Envy factor: 3 out of 5.

5. SONY Clie VZ-90: Sony gave up on making PDAs for the U.S. market but has continued to build new versions of its best-of-breed Clie in Japan. This edition is the first PDA to offer an OLED screen, producing brilliant, neon-sharp colors that can’t be duplicated by LCDs. Sony has positioned the VZ-90 not just as an organizer but also as a portable media storage and playback device, with stereo speakers, multiple types of memory slots and integrated Wi-Fi; Dynamism has it, but, unfortunately, not yet in an English-language localized version. Envy factor: 3 out of 5.

6. Takara’s Dream Factory: The geniuses behind the Bowlingual and the Meowlingual (universal translators for dogs and cats that turn woofs and purrs into human-intelligible speech) have created a product that allegedly helps you turn your nightmares into delightful dreams using musical tunes, sweet perfumes and prerecorded, whispered phrases. We’ll be dreaming of the Sony PSP. Envy factor: 2.5 out of 5.

7. Sony HMP-A1 Portable Media Player: Wish your iPod could play back movies? Sony hopes you do. Its new HMP-A1 PMP offers 20 gigabytes of MP3 and MPEG-4 playback goodness; it even has a video-out jack so you can watch your flicks on a big-screen TV instead of its embedded sharp but tiny 3.5-inch screen. Envy factor: 2.5 out of 5.

Ray Ozzie on Collaboration

News.com has a column by Ray Ozzie to mark 20 years of Lotus Notes:

The virtual office will shape our concept of the workplace. The new concept: a world of pervasive knowledge work, riding on the foundations of fiber laid by the ghosts of an Internet bubble past and enabled by cheap, self-service communications tools and technologies.

We’re only at the very beginning of exploring what can be done in the realm of using technology to enable joint work. How will Verizon’s fiber-to-the-home change the nature of how we work? As terabyte disks appear in our PCs and gadgets, how will we use the storage?

New concepts appear almost daily, emerging from both the distant parallel universes of paper-bound corporate or academic research and the “just try it and see what sticks” petri dish that is today’s Internet ecosystem. Those universes have brought us the likes of ICQ, Skype, Blogger, Wikipedia and Flickr.

In the 20 years since the beginning of this journey, I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen and to have played a small role in some incredible transformations. The nature of the corporation, of business, government, work, society and our own interpersonal relationships has changed–fueled by technology that’s still so very clearly in its infancy.

Advertising Techniques

Jakob Nielsen writes about “studies of how people react to online advertisements have identified several design techniques that impact the user experience very negatively.”

Here is a list of bad web ad techniques:
– Pops-up in front of your window
– Loads slowly
– Tries to trick you into clicking on it
– Does not have a “Close” button
– Covers what you are trying to see
– Doesn’t say what it is for
– Moves content around
– Occupies most of the page
– Blinks on and off
– Floats across the screen
– Automatically plays sound

Here’s what’s considered good:
– indicate what will happen if people click on them,
– relate to what people are doing online,
– identify themselves as advertisements,
– present information about what they are advertising, and
– provide additional information without having to leave the page.

TECH TALK: India Trends: Mobile Phones

As yet another December gets ready to give way to a new January, it is time for a look back to the year that was and what we can expect in the coming year. A little introspection can help things in perspective and help us see the forest rather than just the trees. Hopefully, it will also help us distill key trends which we can apply at work or in entrepreneurial ventures. [You can also take a look at my last years column.] The focus is on India. What are the key technology-related trends that we can distill from what we are seeing happen around us? We start with looking at mobile phones.

Look here, look there they are everywhere. At over 45 million, Indias base of cellphones now exceeds its landline base. The average monthly revenue per phone is about Rs 400 ($9). About 90% of the revenues for operators comes in from voice, and 7-8% from SMS. The rest comes in from value-added services: ringtones, games, and the like. Whats missing: enterprise services. Operators in India are now launching 2.5G services. Even the BlackBerry is now available in India although at a very steep investment. The growth in mobile phones is likely to continue, with the 100 million figure to be crossed sometime in 2006. Increasingly, the focus will be on increasing subscriber revenues through value added services.

In the context, mobile gaming is emerging as one key area. BBC News wrote:

The Indian mobile gaming market is expected to generate about $26m by the end of 2004, according to market analysts In-Stat/MDR. Analysts say cheap rates and a huge youth market is driving the market. India has a large population of under-25s, and many in urban areas are fast adopting mobiles as must-have gadgets. India’s mobile gaming market will bring in about $336m by 2009, according to the report.

Services other than just voice calls which are offered by mobile operators in India have, as a result of the huge rise in subscribers, grown significantly and rapidly. “The growth of this market sector has attracted publishers, developers, animators, musicians, and content providers, and is also stimulating the development of innovative business models,” said Clint Wheelock, director of In-Stat/MDR’s wireless research group. “Mobile gaming is not just about fun; it also represents one key element of a rich mobile entertainment experience for consumers, and a lucrative market opportunity for industry players.”

One of the byproducts of the infrastructure set up by the wireless operators for data services. Of special note is the network set up by Reliance Infocomm covering more than 1,000 cities and towns. From lottery terminals to ATMs and credit card authorization terminals, the data network is helping bypass the last-mile problem for low-bandwidth applications. At a rate of 40 paise (less than a penny) a minute and covering a large part of urban and semi-urban, this has to be on the cheapest and most widespread wireless data services globally. The challenge ahead lies in creating services which can leverage these kinds of networks.

Tomorrow: Outsourced Services

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