Bus. Std: Content, 3G, VoIP are Hot

My latest column in Business Standard:

I attended CommunicAsia in Singapore in mid-June. There was an excellent conference and a huge exhibition area. The focus of the conference was around the twin themes of mobility and broadband. What follows are some of my impressions about the emerging communications landscape and the implications for India.

The conference sessions were focused around the telecom scenario in Asia. They provided a fascinating glimpse of the region with different countries at different stages in the evolution of their communications and services infrastructure. The leaders are undoubtedly Japan and South Korea, while the two biggest opportunities are China and India. Taiwan and Singapore are racing ahead to deploy broadband, 3G and wireless LANs. Hong Kong has the best IP-TV service. An interesting fact: last year, nearly a million new mobile users were added every day. The world now has 1.8 billion mobile users.

Two words that were heard a lot at the conference were convergence and ecosystem. Convergence is finally becoming a reality as the next-generation networks with all-IP cores are making it possible to have triple play services (voice, data and video) flow over the same network. Convergence is also happening in terms of the fixed line and wireless worlds in both the networks and handsets. Convergence technology drivers include SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and IMS (IP Multimedia System). There will be a time soon when our handsets will support WiFi and GSM/CDMA, such that in hotspots they would use WiFi to make and receive calls, while at other locations they would use the cellular networks.

Ecosystem is about the realization that there is no single company which has all the answers, and there is a web of relationships to deliver valuable services to consumers and enterprises. Operators control the networks (and the customer relationships), but they need a combination of cheaper access devices and compelling services to drive traffic and revenues. An ecosystem approach is about creating win-win scenarios for the entire value chain.

The three panel discussions identified the hot issues: content, 3G and VoIP. The biggest success stories in mobile value added services have been unexpected SMS, ringtones and increasingly, ringback tones. But there are still plenty of opportunities in the content space to deliver useful services to consumers on their always-on, always-available, always-connected, personal devices, and over broadband networks. Operators have begun 3G rollouts across the region but there is no clear business plan on how money will be made! WiMax looms as a possible threat or opportunity. VoIP is hot and happening it is clear that voice will just be another application on the IP network.

The vision for the future is simple, seamless and personal communications from wireline and wireless networks. Tomorrows world will be one where users will be able to communicate anytime, anywhere from the device of their choice. Users will be able to define their own experiences, and the network will become more intelligent to bring highly personalised services to users. All of this will bring about a significant lifestyle change for consumers and also enable the real-time enterprise.

The dream of this world of seamless mobility has been there for many years. But the work that has been happening in the background is now making it all possible. Parallel trends in digitisation are making a huge array of content available to us on any of the screens TV, PC or the mobile. The focal point is now shifting from the network to the user. What people really want is to be connected, informed, entertained and do so in their own way. Whether one is at home or work, commuting or in public places, the networks will connect us to friends, family, colleagues at work, and our business information.

As Peter Vesterbacka, founder of HP Mobile E-Services Bazaar, puts it: All people are mobile, even when they work. They have needs all the time, either private or professional. They need access to services and information all the time, wherever they are. The devices they will use to access these services can be wired or wireless the people are mobileMobility is a natural state of being, not a niche market. The Internet is a subset of the mobile market.

For us in India, we have a very good mobile infrastructure. What is needed is for the operators to alter their mindsets and open up their walled gardens to third-party content and applications developers much like the way NTT Docomo did with i-mode in Japan when they launched in 1999. More than voice and person-to-person SMS, future growth will come from an array of lifestyle and business services and for that the need is to build an ecosystem.

The broadband situation in India is nothing short of a disaster. Whereas countries like South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong talk of multi-megabit connectivity, we are stuck in the kilobit world. India needs cheap, reliable, high-speed, ubiquitous broadband access for homes and businesses. (Anyone who thinks 256 Kbps at Rs 350 per month with download caps is broadband should visit to one of our Asian counterparts.)

This will spur our content and software developers to innovate and build services for the domestic market and potentially extend them to others globally. South Korea did that very well and the result is not just companies like LG and Samsung, but also online gaming innovators like NCSoft. India has the creative talents in both story-telling (Bollywood) and software. The combination is what can help build out the next-generation killer services.

The scale of Indias developmental challenge needs big, bold decisions. Technology can play a small but critical part in this process. State-of-the-art mobile and broadband networks can help India address the challenges of education, health and governance. Removing obstacles to their buildout should be a national priority.

Cybercafes in India

A paper by Anikar M. Haseloff: “Using public Internet facilities in order to access information and communication technologies (ICT) is the main model of use after the more common models of home use (individual ownership) and access at work or at school/university. Especially in developing countries, public and shared facilities help to create desperately needed access and are a main strategy in several Internet access programs. In the context of public access, cybercafes play an important role as the most common Internet access model, especially in the urban areas of India. It is often argued that cybercafes could help bridge the digital divide, as they provide Internet access to people who cannot afford to have Internet connections at their homes or who need help in order to make use of ICT. The following article will take this assumption as a starting point and will present findings from empirical research on cybercafes in urban India. The research was conducted in order to explore the problems and potential of cybercafes as development tools for different urban communities. In order to examine these relationships, the reach of cybercafes, the users of cybercafes and the usage patterns have been examined. This study is part of a doctoral thesis and the following article presents some of the findings. The article has to be seen as a preliminary report on ongoing research, and it presents some of the data collected to date in order to help build understanding concerning this complex access model and its importance for urban India.”

Deep Commerce

Dana Blankenhorn writes:

What is Deep Commerce? It’s doing everything you can to drive sales for your commercial partners. Back in the day it meant performing research on your subscriber list, sharing the results and insights with advertisers.

Today it should mean much more. That should start with an attitude and a promise to your prospective partners. You will see new sales directly attributable to my efforts, and you will pay me based on those sales.

Some 99% of online sales are being lost by car dealers today because they don’t know how to deal with online responses. Help them do that. Train them. Do the pre-qualification work yourself. You will be earning the dealer money and becoming their commerce partner. A real estate listing can be worth thousands of dollars to the agent who gets it. If you’re helping them get it, each one of those listings could be worth hundreds of dollars to you.

What does this have to do with content? Everything. Publishers create content in order to create and define audiences who will support their advertisers. You’re doing the same thing, only you’re not talking here about advertisers, but commerce partners. And you’re not necessarily talking about content, either, but conversations.

Can this model work? It’s proven to work in politics. Political Web sites have directed literally millions of dollars to favored candidates and causes. They are a good model for what you’re trying to do on the editorial side, create compelling conversations that build loyalty, and make those people likely to support those partners you bring to them.

Mobiles and Emerging Markets

3G Portal has a white paper on increasing mobile penetration in emerging markets:

In brief, the challenge is to accelerate the adoption of wireless services in ways that are both affordable to the end user and profitable for the operator.

An industry observer based in the Asia region described this approach of lowering the cost for subscribers and operators as a dual-market approach to the emerging market scene.

Edmund Tee writing for Asia Tele.com said This approach is, in a nutshell, a focus on enabling an operator to turn a profit selling voice airtime to low-income consumers in rural areas, while still providing an infrastructure that can scale up to data services in the city centres where the higher spending subscribers reside.

This Dual Market strategy therefore recognises that in one emerging country, there are two markets that need to be served. The high-income users with a high ARPU but accounting for a small minority of the countrys population and the populous low spending customers where mobile penetration is usually tiny.

However with a successful strategy to serve this latter half of the Dual Market, the low-ARPU consumer represents the biggest opportunity to grow the mobile phone user base exponentially within that market.

Physical World Analytics

The Pondering Primate writes:

Most companies will soon target multiple, smaller pools of consumerson TV, on the Web, over cell phones and, yes, even in hotel rooms. The key will be finding audiences that are interested in the product to begin with.

How is this done? How does a brand know when a consumer is showing interest in an ad? Is there a way to measure this? Yes.

It will be known as physical world analytics. Just like there are companies that measure web traffic, and TV viewing volume, there will be an industry that measures the “traffic” physical world ads generate.

Unlike web analytic companies that can decipher what IP address and zipcode a user is from when visiting a site, this physical world analytic company will be able to provide the cell phone number and location of user.

Another post adds:

When the industry realizes they can have direct access to their targeted audience through physical advertising, the dollars will shift to ANOTHER medium. The reason the Google/Yahoo’s are getting so many advertising dollars is because advertisers haven’t been exposed to anything else.

When advertisers are able to directly interact with the consumer via every print ad and packaged good, watch what happens to shift in advertising dollars. It will be the first place advertisers turn to.

Subscriptions will be the next Search.

TECH TALK: Letter to a 2005 Baby: Advice for Life (Part 4)

Dear Abhishek,

Inculcate Personal Discipline

It has taken me the better part of my life so far to realise the value of personal discipline. I always thought of discipline in the strict sense of the word a kind of mix of rigour and regimen, which one needed to rebel against! A few months ago, a friend used the word discipline in describing my lifestyle. It was only then that I started thinking about it more.

The dictionary definition of discipline is a good place to start. This is from answers.com:

1. Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.
2. Controlled behavior resulting from disciplinary training; self-control.
3. a. Control obtained by enforcing compliance or order.
b. A systematic method to obtain obedience: a military discipline.
c. A state of order based on submission to rules and authority: a teacher who demanded discipline in the classroom.
4. Punishment intended to correct or train.

For much of my life, the applicable definition was a mix of points 2, 3 and 4. It was only recently that I transitioned to thinking about point 1. Thats what I want to discuss with you.

Discipline, to me, is now about evolving a specific set of ways to do things, and following them closely. Think of it as six sigma for oneself! While there is a definite need for variety and change, there are many things that we do during a day which can benefit from discipline. For example, until your birth (which still continues since you are currently with your mummys parents till June-end!), I had the following regimen for the early mornings (except Sundays and when I am travelling):

5:00: wake-up (I set 2 alarms 5 minutes apart to make sure I wake up!)
5:30: Listen to the BBC News on Radio as I am sitting in the balcony and thinking/reading
6:30-7:45: Walk/Yoga
7:30-9:00: Update Blog, Bath (cold water), Breakfast, Read Newspapers, Leave for office, temple visit en route

Sunday mornings are spent writing the Tech Talk for the week, and evenings are spent reading blogs and creating blog posts for the week. (I take a nap for about 1.5 hours in the afternoon.) Reading blog posts at a stretch is helpful because it allows me to better capture trends. Also, by slotting tasks at specific times make me much more efficient.

(Of course, some of this discipline will go out of the window as your mother and I take care of you while you grow up in the coming months and develop your own daily discipline!)

More seriously, I have found that I can be much more productive by following a discipline for some aspects of life. In fact, this discipline helps me think better. It also helps me get more things done.

Among other things that I do: carry the notebook (or a small pocket diary) wherever I go so I can make notes, keep two pens (so that if one stops working I have a backup), write down things that I need to do so I dont have to clutter the brain trying to remember stuff, eat at fixed times (whenever possible), limit eating outside food, check weight every few days so that I dont exceed the 65-kg limit that I have set for myself, make sure one is always punctual for meetings, and so on. You get the idea. The right kind of discipline is a great platform to build life on.

Tomorrow: Advice for Life (continued)

Continue reading

Kaaza and Skype

BBC News writes:

There are few people in the world who can claim to have invented something that captured the imagination of hundreds of millions of people.

But Niklas Zennstrm has done it twice.

Skype makes money because a small fraction of users is buying additional services, such as the capability to call from Skype to the telephone network or vice versa.

Not having to make money from every user is not a new idea, Zennstrm emphasises.

“It is very similar to companies like Google and other internet companies. When you go and search on Google you don’t pay for that. But sometimes you click on an advert and Google makes money on that.

“It’s the same thing with Skype. Some users are paying for services, but not everyone.”

Zennstrm believes the losers out of this new structure will be the telcos who do not understand that there is a change going on.

“This is a disruptive technology that shifts the industry”, he says.

“We have just started, and if you compare the number of people using Skype to the number using a telephone network around the world, we’re still just starting.

“And now we’re also very much focussing on moving away from the computer into mobile devices, so you can use Skype for free wirelessly.”

China Mobile Market

Dan Farber posts some numbers provided by a China Mobile general manager:

* Mobile phone subscriptions in 2004: 340 million (15 percent growth year over year, 26 percent of the population in China)

* Total number of wired and wireless subscriptions in China: 650 million

* Mobile phone subscriptions by 2007: 500 million, 35 percent of the population

* China Mobile Communications profit: 20 percent on revenue for 2004

* Subscribers who use 300 minutes every month: 200 million (costs about 100 yuan renminbi$12 US)

* SMS messages sent in 2004: 220 billion

* SMS messages sent during Chinese New Year holiday this year: 11 billion (three times normal usage)

* China telecom industry annual growth rate: 10-percent-per-year for wired, 15-percent-per-year for mobile

Ways to Order Food in a Restaurant

Jason Kottke has a nice post that offers a comparison of ideas from some recent books:

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Glance quickly at the menu and order whatever catches your eye first. Spend no more than 2-3 seconds deciding or the quality of your choice (and your meal) will decline.

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
The key to ordering a good meal in a restaurant is understanding the economic incentives involved. Ask the server what they recommend and order something else…they are probably trying to get you to order something with a high profit margin or a dish that the restaurant needs to get rid of before the chicken goes bad or something. Never order the second least expensive bottle of wine; it’s typically the one with the highest mark-up on the list (i.e. the worst deal).

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
Take the menu and rip it into 4 or 5 pieces. Order from only one of the pieces, ignoring the choices on the rest of the menu. You will be happier with your meal.

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
Poll the other patrons at the restaurant about what they’re having and order the most popular choices for yourself.

Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson
Order anything made with lots of butter, sugar, etc. Avoid salad or anything organic. A meal of all desserts may be appropriate. Or see if you can get the chef to make you a special dish like foie gras and bacon covered with butterscotch and hot fudge. Ideally, you will have brought a Super Sized McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese Meal into the restaurant with you. Smoke and drink liberally.

Personal Fabrication

IEEE Spectrum writes:

Fabbersmachines that rapidly create useful items on demand from computer-generated design specificationshave been fantasy fodder for decades. And for good reason: a machine that could make a huge variety of reasonably complicated objects, and yet was attainable by ordinary people, would transform human society to a degree that few creations ever have.

Compact and yet capable fabbers point the way toward a future where the term “online shopping” takes on a whole new meaning. Imagine purchasing a piece of software that encodes detailed specifications of something and then seeing that object emerge from a box on your desk no bigger than a microwave oven. Like your desktop printer today, this desktop fabber would use some sort of cartridges. And just as desktop-printer cartridges contain the inks that can produce a limitless variety of images, the fabber cartridges would contain the necessary raw materials to create a profusion of desired items.

Neil Gershenfeld’s book “Fab” explores this in greater depth.

Mobile Games Bubble?

Russell Beattie writes:

First, even with the billions of people who are going to be playing these games, the amount of same-ol same-ol games that are flooding the market is going to kill it. To me supply is quickly out pacing demand, and it’s going to be 1983 again.

Secondly, these are just the games that are available for a Series 60 phone which I found available for free online at a cracks site. Do a search. The files are so small – none more than 200k, that they’re psychotically easy to store hundreds on your phone (my phone has 256MB of storage, soon to be much more).

Yes, we’re going to be moving to 3D games and online multiplayer games soon which could save those companies that make the transition quickly, but I think there’s going to be serious problems to all but the big game producers, if there isn’t already.

Finally, like I’ve said before, I think that mobile media is going to start sucking up a lot of the time that people are now spending playing games on their mobile. Professional content, amateur content and your PVR’s content are going to be available on the go.

People only have a finite amount of time which they spend on their mobiles and I can see the options for filling that time are quickly reaching a saturation point.

TECH TALK: Letter to a 2005 Baby: Advice for Life (Part 3)

Dear Abhishek,

Understand the Power of Passion

There are two attributes that I have found which can make a big difference passion and discipline. Passion is about the energy that we bring to what we are doing. Discipline is the process we follow to getting things done. Lets talk a little about both of these.

Think of passion as infectious enthusiasm. It is about the force that we bring in the work we do and how we can positively impact those around us. I learnt the power of this during my first year at IIT. I was contesting for the hostel elections standing for the post of Literary Secretary. My opponent was one of the most well-liked seniors. No one gave me a chance to win I was after all a freshie. But having made the decision to contest, I was determined not to end up with the same result as when I had stood for School Captain a few years ago. (I had then lost by a narrow margin after I forgot my speech.)

So, this time around, I decided to campaign hard. I was the underdog, so big deal. I had little to lose. I met with almost every single hostelite, explaining my plans for what Id do if I were elected. I only had my passion working for me. It was a big change for me. I was until that point of me an introvert content to live in my own small world. But having decided to fight, I knew that unless I changed, I stood no chance. It was one evening that one of my seniors in the hostel told me You know, Rajesh, what we really like about you is your infectious enthusiasm. That is a statement I have not forgotten to this day.

As it turns out, I did win the elections by a couple votes. That was the only election I had to fight in IIT as I went on to become General Secretary (Cultural), one of the highest posts in the student government. When I look back, it was that election which turned the tide for me. It changed me for the better. It also showed me the power of passion.

It was the same passion that I had going for me when I started IndiaWorld in 1994 and had to go out and source content from various publishers. I had to make them see a world built around the Internet that did not exist. I had to make them believe me. That is where Passion comes in. It is one of the greatest assets we can possess especially when we are trying to persuade others.

Passion comes from an inner belief you have to let your inner feelings reflect on the outside, and like a virus, infect others around you. Passion is one of the key dimensions of leadership and you will have to demonstrate plenty of it as you make no little plans.

Tomorrow: Advice for Life (continued)

Continue reading

India’s Tech Renaissance

News.com has a 3-part special report on India’s emergence as a tech powerhouse.

Once fairly anonymous organizations hired to run support desks and develop server applications for large multinational corporations, Indian companies are raising their profile as brand name suppliers in hardware design, software development, consulting services and virtually anything else in technology. Infused with new blood from a young tech-savvy work force, the new movement is a major advance toward economic independence that carries broad ramifications for a country whose past includes colonial rule, experiments in socialism and devastating poverty.

There are a few quotes by me in the report. Michael Kanellos had met with me about a month ago, thanks to an introduction by VIA’s Ravi Pradhan.

Not surprisingly, optimism is running high as younger generations come of age. The national exuberance has inspired many entrepreneurs, including Rajesh Jain, who sold an Indian-based Web portal, IndiaWorld, for around $100 million in 2000 and who is now incubating companies that he expects will bring computing to the masses in his country.

“For the first time,” he said, “there is confidence that tomorrow will be better than today.”

2005: Entrepreneur Rajesh Jain begins to promote thin clients costing $100 to $150 as computers for the mass population. “It’s not that we need just cheaper solutions. We need the newest technology, but at fundamentally lower price points,” Jain has said.

One of the critical ingredients for the $100 computer is probably in your garage.

In about three months, a little-known company called Novatium plans to offer a stripped-down home computer for about $70 or $75. That is about half the price of the standard “thin clients” of this kind now sold in India, made possible in part by some novel engineering choices. Adding a monitor doubles the price to $150, but the company will offer used displays to keep the cost down.

“If you want to reach the $100 to $120 price point, you need to use old monitors,” said Novatium founder and board member Rajesh Jain, a local entrepreneur who sold the IndiaWorld portal for $115 million in cash in 2000 and has started a host of companies since. “Monitors have a lifetime of seven to eight years.”

It is this kind of entrepreneurial thinking that has made Jain the latest visionary to seek out today’s Holy Grail of home computing: a desktop that will start to bring the Internet to the more than 5 billion people around the world who aren’t on it yet.

“Just because we are an emerging market doesn’t mean we want an inferior product,” said Jain of Novatium. The engineering behind his company’s base model illustrates his point.

Instead of a microprocessor, it will contain a digital signal processor that compresses and decompresses music and video files. In addition to lowering costs, the technology is designed to provide access to the full range of the Internet without bogging down the machine’s operations. (Novatium would not disclose which chip brand it would use, but one of its investors is also the chairman of digital signal processor designer Analog Devices.)

Using Linux applications and software from Jain’s Netcore Solutions, these machines will be tweaked so that multiple people can use them. This would reduce the cost of memory in the server that does the bulk of the computing work for the Novatium thin clients on its network.

Jain will also try to establish “operator grids,” local businesses that run the servers while acting as an Internet service provider. Eventually, instead of buying their machines, he said customers could have the option of paying a grid operator $15 to $20 a month for all hardware, software and storage needs.

While acknowledging the risks inherent in any start-up venture, Jain speaks eagerly of what he calls the phenomenon of the black swan–a rare, but not impossible, event.

“Google was a black swan,” he said. “No one expects the next Microsoft or Intel or Cisco to come out of India, but I believe it is entirely possible.”

Overall, the story is a big positive for India and reflects its coming of age. Now, if we can only get more Indian entrepreneurs to start thinking about building out tomorrow’s world, the renaissance will lead to domination. What is needed is a mix of entrepreneurial passion, cutting-edge innovation, and big thinking. We also need to leverage our domestic market — solving the needs of the consumers and SMEs in India can provide Indian companies the right platform to extend the solutions to other emerging markets also. And perhaps, ensure innovation blowback (as John Hagel says) to the developed markets.

France Telecom’s Nice Problem

WSJ has a brief report on France Telecom, which “is expected to generate an estimated 29 billion ($34.92 billion) in cash over the next 3 years. The question is, what to do with it?”

After three years of selling assets and integrating units helped France Telecom cut net debt by nearly 30 billion under French accounting standards, the company’s focus has shifted to exploiting sharp growth in broadband and the convergence of fixed-line and wireless services, and paying higher dividends. How France Telecom will balance sharing its cash with investors and spending on future growth has become the subject of much industry speculation.

France Telecom declined to comment.

Europe’s incumbent telecom operators have cleaned up their balance sheets against a backdrop of accelerating technological change, which is allowing them to offer more services than ever before. The buzzword is convergence: selling mobile and fixed-line services that include television, Internet, games and music along with calls. Yet no single model is proven, and operators are scattered across the globe.

Mobile Content Development

The Feature writes:

i-mode Strategy reports on a common complaint from mobile developers: that operators demanding mobile content to sell to their users have very little interest in subsidizing its development. Television companies pay production companies to produce pilots of new shows; record labels pay for recording and other costs. But as things stand in the mobile content world, operators want developers to assume essentially all the risk of developing new content, then want to take a cut of any sales. So, if things stay this way, it’s hard to see mobile content moving beyond repurposed (ie already-paid-for) content adapted for mobile devices.

Some operators like NTT DoCoMo are putting money into technology development by investing in companies doing technical research. But at the same time, DoCoMo says it’s delaying its HSDPA launch because there’s no content to make use of the high-speed connections. So, if DoCoMo is to be believed, the fast network is ready; the content is not. So why increase technology spending, but not throw content developers some cash?

Seeding developers with some monetary support is a solid first step, if it’s doled out VC-style, or via advances. Another is to make phones and networks “more hackable”, that is to simplify development for them, not just for commercial developers, but for people to explore unimagined uses and applications. Yet another is to empower lead users to lead the way on innovation. In any case, it’s hard to see mobile content move forward very quickly without more — and better — operator support.

Search Booming

Search Engine Guide has comments by Safa Rashtchy on the reasons:

Rashtchy feels there are a number of revenue drivers fueling the growth:

A second wave of small business just discovering search
The international growth of search
Discovery of the branding value of search
The growth of contextual search, with local search perhaps poised to take over

In addition, he sees four immediate and fundamental drivers of search growth. He collectively refers to them as T.C.P.C.

Traffic – More people doing more searches, especially commercial searches
Coverage – Expansion of keyword baskets, monetizing more search terms
Price – Increasing prices per click
Conversion – As we get better at converting clicks to buyers, advertisers are willing to bid more

Rashtchy summed up with five conclusions that state the future potential of search in no uncertain terms:

* Search is likely to become the most successful marketing method for all businesses
* Local search is a huge force that could change the dynamics of search for online-only merchants, putting them at a big disadvantage
* Concepts like broad match could make search an effective soft sell, suggestive advertising mechanism
* Merchants should focus on customer conversion and extending the customer life cycles
* Search providers should focus more on merchant conversion rates and offer lower charges for broad match and contextual search. They should also focus heavily on local and international expansion.

RSS-only Blog?

Russell Beattie writes:

Has anyone started an RSS-Only blog yet? I mean a blog where there’s no HTML version, just all RSS.

I have two types of readers: I have my subscribers who read my blog, come and comment regularly and occasionally link to me giving me decent search engine rankings. I have the other set of readers, those who find me via search engines and click on my advertisements and pay for my monthly alotment of gadgets. It’d be neat if these readers were one and the same, but they’re not. My brief experiment with RSS advertising showed two orders of magnitude less money generated for that month with RSS ads: $10 vs $1000. We’ll see if the new Google RSS ads generate any more money for their publishers, but I doubt it. People who use aggregators are also the people who use ad-blockers and know how to block images in Firefox.

Okay, that said – imagine if I got sick of the random people showing up at my blog leaving derisive comments and disappearing forever (even if they do pay for it). What if I just wanted my blog published to a community of people who felt that they liked what I was saying enough to add it to their aggregators and see it daily? Well, I could have a page that just said “Welcome to Russell’s RSS Blog.” and underneath there was an orange XML icon and that’s it. Those who get it would subscribe, the rest wouldn’t.

Now, here’s a problem: Permalinks. How are people going to link to and follow permalinks? I’m not sure – maybe there’d be a public aggregator out there where you could refer to the unique ID of the post? Or maybe you just link back to the site, which gives you an RSS “snippet”, i.e. a channel with just one item in it, but with an XSL transform at the top to make it readable to regular web browsers.

A blog like this would be ideal for mobile phones.

TECH TALK: Letter to a 2005 Baby: Advice for Life (Part 2)

Dear Abhishek,

Learn to Learn

To make big plans, you will need the capacity to learn to learn. Let me explain. We are learning a lot when we are growing, and in school and college. But sometime later, as we start our work life, for many, this learning stops. Time freezes around us. Today becomes like yesterday, and yesterday was just like the day before. We lose the will, yearning and capability to learn. We become content to go through the rest of our lives as if on auto-pilot. We attribute it to the needs of family, our children, or whatever. In doing so, we lose the ability to learn. That becomes a very sad day. Unfortunately, few ever realise this until it is very late.

The ability to learn to learn is perhaps the most important that you should possess. Behind these simple phrase is a much deeper inner discipline that you need to develop. It is something that you will probably have to develop on your own. Our education system may not necessarily impart that to you! In fact, many times what the education system will be in dissonance with building out this learn to learn capability.

What do I mean when I say you need to learn to learn? Learning to learn means having a fundamental understanding of a latticework of concepts which will allow you to build and refine your mental models of the world around. It means having an openness which does not hesitate to question (or be questioned) on what one knows. It means looking around and thinking about what is happening, and placing the event in perspective. To build this rich model, you will need to read widely and think deeply. Keep these words from Charlie Munger in mind:

I’ve long believed that a certain system which almost any person can learn works way better than the systems that most people use. What you need is a latticework of mental models in your head. And you hang your actual experience and your vicarious experience (that you get from reading and so forth) on this latticework of powerful models. And with that system, things gradually get to fit together in a way that enhances cognition.

And you need the models not just from one or two disciplines, but from all the important disciplines. You need the best 100 or so models from microeconomics, physiology, psychology particularly, elementary mathematics, hard science and engineering [and so on].

You don’t have to be a huge expert in any of those worlds. All you’ve got to do is to take the really big ideas and learn them early and well.

If there is one regret that I have, it is that I did not understand the importance of this until very recently. Our narrow education inhibits us. The world around does not necessarily encourage us to delve deeper. After all, there is stuff to do and theres only so much time. Wheres the time to contemplate? This is where many of us go wrong.

When you are young, you will have few cares in the world. And that is the best time to learn to learn. In my childhood, one such companion for me was the BBC World Service. I would spend hours everyday listening to their various programmes on radio. Close my eyes, and let the imagination run free. Choose as companions some of the worlds great writers and explore the world that we live in and how we got here with them. Learning about our past along multiple dimensions will give you a perspective to build the world of tomorrow. Done right, this ability will stand you in good stead through your life.

Tomorrow: Advice for Life (continued)

Continue reading

Microsoft and RSS

eWeek writes:

Microsoft has decided that subscribing, via RSS, will become the third leg of its information-access triangle. The other two legs are browsing and searching. With the addition of RSS, once a user has found information they are interested in, they will be able to stay updated easily as the information changes.

To understand the significance of Microsoft’s announcement, it’s helpful to forget what you think you know about RSS. What we’ve seen with blogs and Podcasts doesn’t really hint at what a subscription technology can do when implemented in the operating system itself.

In that context, think of RSS as a means for the OS to look at XML data, process it and present the information to an application for presentation to the user. For example, a Longhorn user might use Outlook to subscribe to a public calendar, select specific events they are interested in and then get updates as the specifics change. Users might subscribe to other sorts of lists as well, or to search results, documents or whatever else developers decide to support.