Internet Businesses at 10

The Economist writes:

In their brief history, most online businesses have found profits harder to come by than publicity. Many early stars crumbled to dust (remember Webvan, pets.com and Boo.com?), and Amazon’s string of losses (which touched $1.4 billion in 2000) only turned to profits in 2003. Though quarterly results this week from eBay, Yahoo! and Google show their already healthy profits to be growing strongly, none of today’s online successes feels able to rest on its laurels. Each is trying to move beyond its original source of revenueselling books and an ever-growing list of other goods (Amazon); auctions (eBay); online advertising (Yahoo!); and contextual advertising (Google)by adopting the successful strategies of its rivals.

What might drive the next round of e-commerce business models? Mr Brynjolfsson says that two new technologies are already throwing up opportunities: mobile access to the internet and RFID tags, which enable the non-stop monitoring of the whereabouts of goods. Wharton’s Mr Amit says that the old-fashioned offline world was one where producers said to customers: I’ve made this; buy it from me at this price. In the online world, customers are saying, I want this; sell it to me at this price. That is why these internet birthdays really are worth celebrating.

MicroContent

A couple of posts [1 2] on SmartMobs on the MicroLearning Conference in Innsbruck, Austria 23-24 June 2005:

Arnaud Leene: With the advent of Internet, publishing has become accessible to everyone. People have been creating and gathering content and made this content available to everyone in the world. Where web-pages and -sites as MacroContent. MacroContent enfolds MicroContent…People realise that it is not just thoughts that they are publishing, but reviews, comments on other blog-entries, announcement of events, recipes, interesting sites, records of a golf run, books they keep, images they have taken, places they have been to, etc, etc. Items contain links to other Items, Items have structure. We are moving to Structured MicroContent.

Also see Arnaud’s detailed note.

People Power on Web

International Herald Tribune writes:

From photo- and calendar-sharing services to online games, desktop movies, “citizen journalist” sites and free encyclopedias, the Internet is transforming yet again, awash in a remarkable array of peer-to-peer software systems that make it easy to share anything digital instantly.

Many Internet executives say that the abundance of user-generated content is reshaping the debate over file sharing and that it poses a new kind of threat to Hollywood, the recording industry and all purveyors of proprietary content: not piracy of their work but the presentation of a compelling alternative.

“Sharing will be everywhere,” said Jeff Weiner, a senior vice president of Yahoo in charge of the company’s search services. “It’s the next chapter of the World Wide Web.”

Google and BPL

Alan Mutter writes about Google’s investment in Current, a broadband over power lines company:

Google, Hearst Corp. and Goldman Sachs have put $100 million into a private company called Current Communications Group, which says it can send and receive high-speed Internet signals to homes and businesses via the existing electric grid. The tres unlikely amigos are teaming up at Current Comm with earlier investor John Malone, the man who built Tele-Communications Inc. into a cable TV behemoth before he sold it to AT&T at the peak of ripeness in 1999.

The Current Comm deal dovetails nicely with the recent “beta” launch of Googles Video Upload Program, whose stated mission is to give the world a growing archive of televised content — everything from sports events to dinosaur documentaries to news programs. In addition to televised content, Google will host video from anyone who wants to upload content to us. Participants can offer their video free, or sell it by splitting revenues with Google.

Combining its search acumen, a vast video library and ubiquitous delivery through BPL, Google has a shot at delivering the Holy Grail, virtually limitless VOD. The achievement would outflank the long-promised efforts of the legacy multi-channel TV and phone companies, which continue to battle technical restrictions, the limitations of their business models and, not least, each other.

Location-based Services

Russell Buckley points to an article in IHT and writes about two of the challenges:

1. Lack of usability

Will we never learn to make mobile applications simple and intuitive? If the average person (not the average technically literate engineer) needs a user manual, they probably won’t use the application. This, above all things, is iPod’s strength – you can work out how it works in a few minutes.

SMS is easy to learn (though not very user-friendly as an interface). MMS is hard, especially if you expect the user to reconfigure their phone.

LBS technology is hard to use. It must become easier.

2. Compelling Applications

Or lack thereof.

Most people know the area they’re in pretty well, most of the time. Therefore, find-my-nearest-ATM/resturant has very limited appeal to most people. And for the tiny minority who might find it useful from time to time, they have to remember how to use the service – back to clumsy usability again.

Besides which, it’s far easier to use a Social Navigation Interface (as I recently heard it called – where?) otherwise know as asking someone the way.

What we need is good, relevant applications build with the user in mind. These innovations will almost certainly not come from operators, but from indie developers and they can’t get their hands on the API’s.

TECH TALK: South Korea’s IT839: Learnings for India

Indias IT leadership has, by and large, been limited to the services area in software and business process outsourcing. Except for a few exceptions, we have not really applied ourselves to creating world-class technologies out of India. This is what needs to change. If we can build the next-generation networks, access devices and services for the mass markets in India, we can foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that will enable Indian companies to take on the best in the world. But for this to happen, we need to look inward first and begin at home. Making the future a reality will require a mix of the right government initiatives with a willingness by Indian companies to take risk and think big.

At the government policy level, we need to get hurdles to our broadband infrastructure out of the way. For this, opening up access to the BSNL and MTNL lines to private sector players is important. DSL is one of the best and most reliable ways to get more bandwidth into Indian homes quickly. Between them, the two government-owned telcos control most of the wirelines. Enabling multiple players to piggyback on this access infrastructure and deploy technologies to get multi-megabit connectivity into Indian homes is the starting point for starting to think about next-generation networks and services.

In addition, the government needs to make available spectrum for the mobile operators to launch 3G services and also open up the space for WiMax and equivalent services. Taken together, this will create the wired and wireless networking infrastructure to allow Indian companies to focus on the two end-points: access devices and services.

Indian companies then need to then start thinking big and building the affordable and manageable access devices (as alternatives to todays personal computer). The need is for solutions that cost just about what a lower-end mobile handset costs (about $110 or Rs 5,000). These devices need to have the form factor of a PC with the guts of a mobile phone. They need to be able run existing Windows and Linux applications. They need to be manageable because the user base is not likely to be savvy enough to be their own IT administrators. While the government could help seed such initiatives, it is really up to the private sector companies to build these access devices assuming the availability of broadband networks.

With the networks in place and mass-market access devices on their way, Indian companies can now start thinking of the new world of content and services to be delivered on mobile and broadband networks. The starting point will be the three screens in the lives of the users: a computer screen, a TV screen and a mobile phone, all connected and integrated with the Internet. Both in content and software, there is a need for innovative ideas and services. By leveraging Indias inherent strengths in story-telling (Bollywood) and software-writing, we can make these services work in the Indian context first and then diffuse them to other countries.

India needs its own IT839 strategy built around access devices and services. A public-private initiative can help ensure that Indias development is accelerated by the right mix of technologies and Indian companies have an opportunity to be global leaders.