The Evolution Of Web Search

Forbes has an article by David Ewalt:

We need a search system that doesn’t just process and parse our language, but understands it; programs that don’t just match your search terms but intuitively recognize context to deliver what you’re really looking for. Fortunately, engineers and researchers around the world are already at work to bring about this system, and they call it the semantic Web.

At its most basic level, a semantic Web would allow search engines to act more intelligently, making it easier to find specific things. That’s good news for Web surfers, as well as for the companies who develop search engines, like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

But semantic technology also holds great promise for all kinds of businesses. “We need to collect data to conduct business for all sorts of reasons,” says Gartner Group analyst Alexander Linden. With data growth rates averaging between 20% and 30% annually, many businesses are drowning under the weight of their own files and devoting huge resources to processing and handling them. It’s becoming increasingly important to automate the process so businesses don’t have to keep throwing staff at the problem. “We need to describe the data better so machines can take over,” he says. “We want to get the human out of the loop for obvious reasons–they cost money, and they make errors.”

To some extent, businesses are doing this already. In financial services, companies are tagging financial data with a language called XBRL, which helps identify related items in different financial documents and allows computers to automatically generate complex financial reports.

China’s Future

Brad DeLong outlines his notes from a talk on China:

China Today

* 1.3 billion people: population growing at 0.6% per year, 1.12 male/female newborn ratio
o All in a space the size of U.S. east of the Mississippi
* Economic growth: up to 10% per year
o Investment: 43% of GDP
o Industrial production growth: 30% per year
* Economy size: $2 trillion GDP ($1,500 per person per year)
o $6 trillion PPP GDP ($4,500 per person per year) (cf. U.S.: $40,000)
* Economy sectors: agriculture 15%, mfg mining 52%, services 33%
o But: labor: agriculture 50%
* Economy distribution:
o Top 10%: 33% of income
o Bottom 10%: 2% of income
* Exports: $500 billion a year and growing…
o Coasts disconnecting from the interior…

China’s Problems

* 400 million people on the coasts
o 800 million people in the interior
* 400 million people in the cities
o 800 million people in the interior
* People doing well:
o Beijing
o Coastal cities
o Party bosses
o Peasants near coastal cities
o Migrant workers
* People doing badly:
o Heavy industry
o Rural peasants without migrants in their families
* The Communist Party’s task
o Move 10 million people a year into the coastal cities
o Find them jobs
o Make them happy

How long can China keep growing?

* 400 million peasant workers whose productivity is 1/3 the average
* 100 million manufacturing workers whose productivity is 4 times the average
* Do the math:
o Basic mechanization of agriculture plus transfer of 250 million peasants will triple the size of China’s economy and its desired manufacturing exports..

Salesforces Operating System

Steve Gillmor writes:

Midway through the demos at Salesforce.coms lunch event the other day, I noticed an interesting trend. As Dan Farber illustrates in his joust with Marc Benioff and affiliated post, Marcs “death of software” logothe red circle and line through the word “software” is growing tattered at the seams. It still performs the same old magic for the uninitiated, such as the video developer from SFU who sat across from me at the playground lunch table the other day. “What does that mean, no software?” he asked, referring to my Salesforce baseball cap from a previous event.

Its about services on demand, I said then, and Marc says now. As Farber says, its a supersalesman grabbing you by the lapels. Inside the browser window, its still software, says Dan. I agree. How the bits arrive is important, but only a detail. The platform is whats newits not Windows, or Java, or LAMP, or Symbian. Its the browser. The hat could just as easily be a circle and line through the word “Microsoft.”

In and of itself, Salesforce does not present a comprehensive threat to Microsoft. But Benioff doesnt need to contribute all of the disruption in order to ride the momentum of the Net operating system. He can sit back and let Google and Adam Bosworth take a chunk out of Office with a Gmail-hosted suite of ad-supported services. Its no coincidence that Bosworth is a Salesforce advisor, nor that the early editions of a Salesforce offline solution that used the IE-based XML store are, according to Gross, being migrated to an architecture based on Bosworths Alchemy intelligent caching mechansim work at BEA.

Dan Farber adds:

I asked Benioff what he views as his biggest challenges in becoming a developer platform for business and ERP applications, given that it is an area in which companies like Microsoft, Oracle (+PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards) and SAP have dominated for decades.

He talked about delivering an on-demand platform, including tools, applications and user interfaces to access information. “Our advantage is that we are more likely to make customers successful than any other vendor,” Benioff added.

How?will Salesforce.com make customers happier than competitors can? Other vendorshe named Microsoft, IBM and Siebelare trapped in failed paradigms of the past. Microsoft, he said, is trapped in the client/server model, which was great in the early 1990s, but not appropriate for the 21st century. Salesforce.com represents the future of utility computing, he said.

There is also a Business Week interview with Marc Benioff.

Reboot 7

Jacob M. Btter wrote to me saying:

I am not quite sure if you know me, but I am danish entrepeneur and blogger. I blog in english at www.cph127.com about design and innovation.

I am writing to you for your help. In june we’ll have a great conference
in Copenhagen starring some great speakers, among them are Douglas Bowman, Jason Calacanis, Jason Fried, Robert Scoble, Doc Searls, Jimbo Wales, and Dave Weinberger. It’s called the reboot conference and you can find more info here or here.

We’ve got the right speakers, the right surroundings and most
important the right organizers. Thomas Madsen-Mygdal, founder of the
reboot conference, is doing this for the seventh time. He’s also a
serial-entrepreneur.

Microformats

Ryan writes:

With the advent of CSS and XHTML, markup can now be semantic (notice lowercase s)- it can have meaningful structure which is independent of how the content is presented in a browser.

So, we already have a web- a web which can be used to create semantic content, yet is, at the same time, presentable to users in its native form. As Tantek elik has said, users first, computers second.

…deemed microformats are appearing. These standards specify ways to markup XHTML in ways that give the content some meaning. Some examples include: Votelinks, NoFollow, hCard, hCalendar, podcasting, blogchalking, geourl, xfn, license, RelTag xFolk, and online news.

The promise of microformats is that they offer machine-usable data while at the same time providing human-usable, presentable content.

I think what were seeing is a stage of evolution which will have revolutionary impact. This movement toward having semantic, well structured markup which is separated from the presentation will have other fruit as well. In many ways, AJAX, the new buzzword that encompasses all sorts of cool client-side Javascript magic, has been enabled by the maturing of CSS.

WiMax Update

Barron’s writes:

Intel is expected to announce shipments of its first chip for WiMAX, a far-reaching wireless broadband technology. The chip has been sampling to equipment makers since the fall, under the code name “Rosedale.” A nascent wireless broadband industry hopes the chip will make WiMax service an economical proposition, by allowing production of WiMax modems that subscribers could buy for under $200 and install indoors without a technician’s help.

Gearmakers planning to use Intel’s chip include Israel’s Alvarion Networks (ALVR) and Airspan Networks (AIRN), a Boca Raton, Fla.-based company that announced Rosedale-based products last month. China’s up-and-coming networking vendors Huawei and ZTE are also jumping on the WiMAX bandwagon.

A proto-WiMAX service is already successful in Sydney, Australia, using equipment made by Navini Networks, a Richardson, Texas, startup. America’s first WiMAX services will appear in the second half of this year. They won’t give cellular service operators much to worry about, because they’ll only connect to subscribers in fixed locations — serving as alternatives to the phone companies’ Digital Subscriber Line service or the cable TV industry’s cable modems. Companies like Qwest Communications (Q) have expressed interest in offering WiMAX to customers in remote locations where its wires don’t reach. Other service firms, like AT&T (T) or the privately held TowerStream can use WiMAX to compete against local phone companies in big cities like New York. TowerStream has base stations on skyscrapers like the Empire State Building, and already offers businesses the wireless equivalent of the data service that phone firms call T1 — at less than half the price. Along with a fast data connection, most WiMAX services will layer on phone service, thanks to the up-and-coming technology known as Voice Over Internet-Protocol.

WiMAX promises to become a technology that could bring the Internet to the world’s next billion PC users in emerging markets, where wire and cable don’t exist. Intel’s Scott Richardson figures that it will take about five years before WiMAX is a really big thing.

TECH TALK: When Things Go Wrong: Dealing with Failure

Last weeks Tech Talk touched off a chord among many. I received many emails while others commented on the blog [here and here]. While I had planned the series as just the five columns I wrote last week, seeing the responses made me think that the topic of entrepreneurial failure deserves some more exploration. Also, by sharing some of my own experiences, I can provide greater insights into what one goes through an entrepreneurs mind and how to deal with the situation.

Two of the columns last week dealt with failures that I had experienced in my life as an entrepreneur. What I did not discuss is what I had done and what I am to get over the situation. That forms the other side of the issue, and that is what I will discuss. During the series, I will also address some of the points raised in the comments by readers. Hopefully, this discussion will be useful for entrepreneurs and others alike.

Let me begin with the situation in 1994. It took me many months to recognise that the current businesses we were in then (image processing solutions and custom software projects for Indian companies) would not be the ones which would be getting us too far. I had spent many months trying to sell our Image WorkBench software to Indian metallurgical and medical companies. All I managed in a year of selling was two orders not enough to make ends meet. Our custom software development turned out to be never-ending projects, effectively becoming black holes for our time. Things had to change.

As I had written last week, realisation of the fact that things are going wrong and there needs to be a different approach going ahead is the first step on the path to recovery. But it is a very difficult decision because entrepreneurs are perennially optimistic in their world view. They always believe that the next big break is always just around the corner. Continuing with what one is doing is much easier than taking a decision to write off what has happened and start afresh.

So it was when I decided that things had to change but it took me many agonising months to make that decision. Besides optimism, one of the other factors which held me back was that I didnt know what I would do next. But the one clear realisation that had dawned on me was that the current business we were in had to die. I decided to take some time off and think hard about the future. I went to the US and spent a couple months at a friends place in California doing a lot of reading, thinking and talking to people. I had a shortlist of a few ideas before I left, but I also had an open mind.

Getting away from the daily hustle-bustle of the Mumbai office also gave me fresh perspective along with chunky time to contemplate the future. It was then that I decided to put my bets on the nascent Internet. One of the ideas I had a few months before was to create an India data network like CompuServ. Once I was in the US, I realized that I shouldnt be worrying about the network but should focus on the services that will flow on this network. And that is how the ideas for IndiaWorld as a news and information service Indias first Internet portal emerged.

Tomorrow: Dealing with Failure

Continue reading