Planet Earth Challenges

Scientific American has a special issue (Sep 2005) focused on the challenges facing us: “Three great transitions set in motion by the Industrial Revolution are reaching their culmination. After several centuries of faster-than-exponential growth, the world’s population is stabilizing. Judging from current trends, it will plateau at around nine billion people toward the middle of this century. Meanwhile extreme poverty is receding both as a percentage of population and in absolute numbers. If China and India continue to follow in the economic footsteps of Japan and South Korea, by 2050 the average Chinese will be as rich as the average Swiss is today; the average Indian, as rich as today’s Israeli. As humanity grows in size and wealth, however, it increasingly presses against the limits of the planet. Already we pump out carbon dioxide three times as fast as the oceans and land can absorb it; midcentury is when climatologists think global warming will really begin to bite. At the rate things are going, the world’s forests and fisheries will be exhausted even sooner…These three concurrent, intertwined transitions–demographic, economic, environmental–are what historians of the future will remember when they look back on our age. They are transforming everything from geopolitics to the structure of families. And they pose problems on a scale that humans have little experience with. As Harvard University biologist E. O. Wilson puts it, we are about to pass through ‘the bottleneck,’ a period of maximum stress on natural resources and human ingenuity.”

Future Web

Ramesh Jain writes about the future of the Web after his purchase of a Canon EXILIM S500:

Is it a video camera or a photocamera? Well, it is both. It does amazing job with both. It takes 5.25M pixels and can take dvd quality video with MPEG4 compression. The quality is amazing. I like both the photographs and videos equally well. First time that I saw a camera that can do equally good job with both photos and videos. This is a step towards removing the distinction between photos and videos. Fundamentally a video captures a microcosm visually over a period of time while a photo captures the microcosm over a moment. In that sense, photos are the limiting case of a video.

This camera is the smallest camera that I saw size of a credit card and about half in thickness maybe less than my wallet. That means that I can carry this camera very easily in my pocket. I have 256M memory card with it, but I can get one of 1G today and possibly several G in the next year. One can easily put several thousand pictures or more than I hour of video in 1G. Today this camera is not connected to internet. But given its technology and what you are hearing from Samsung in phones, it is a matter of months when such quality will be available with your phones. Now consider that soon there will be 3G or always connected infrastructure in which you may be paying flat monthly rates for any amount of connectivity and data transfer. When you combine these with even conservative progress in audio and video processing technology and infrastructure related to this, it becomes clear that finally the time has come when more information will be produced and consumed in non-textual visual and audio form than in text form.

…it is clear that for the first time in the history of civilization we will be able to take audio-visual notes, capture our environments in its natural form, edit it, store it, upload it to a central location, access similar content created by others, distribute our content to specific people or post it at locations for access by anybody who cares about it.

The Week on India’s Internet

The Week recently covered the Indian Internet’s first decade. It also carried a profile of me (for which I did not provide any direct inputs – I don’t particularly like being written about). The quote they picked from my writings is nice and relevant:

Looking back at his dotcom days, Jain feels that a positive aspect of the Internet boom was that it triggered a “flavour of entrepreneurship”. He wished that the boom had lasted a little longer. “With any new technology, we tend to overestimate what it can do in the short term and underestimate what it can do in the long term,” he says. “For anything to work, the eco-system has to fall into place.”

MySpace

The New York Times writes:

Created in the fall of 2003 as a looser, music-driven version of www.friendster.com, MySpace quickly caught on with millions of teenagers and young adults as a place to maintain their home pages, which they often decorate with garish artwork, intimate snapshots and blogs filled with frank and often ribald commentary on their lives, all linked to the home pages of friends.

Even with many users in their 20’s MySpace has the personality of an online version of a teenager’s bedroom, a place where the walls are papered with posters and photographs, the music is loud, and grownups are an alien species.

Although many people over 30 have never heard of MySpace, it has about 27 million members, a nearly 400 percent growth since the start of the year. It passed Google in April in hits, the number of pages viewed monthly, according to comScore MediaMetrix, a company that tracks Web traffic. (MySpace members often cycle through dozens of pages each time they log on, checking up on friends’ pages.) According to Nielsen/NetRatings, users spend an average of an hour and 43 minutes on the site each month, compared with 34 minutes for facebook.com and 25 minutes for Friendster.

WSJ(Lee Gomes) writes:

It is becoming clear that the collective Internet is growing into that immersive reality, even if it doesn’t have the animated “avatar” guides and realistic 3D graphics that these places have in science fiction.

How else can you explain Web sites like MySpace (www.MySpace.com)? There, untold tens of thousands of young people spend many hours a day wandering around as if in a suburban shopping mall, looking for friends, expressing opinions, acquiring trends and, in general, leading a life that at times seems to have more reality to it than the life they lead when they log off.

MySpace’s technology doesn’t explain its success. Instead, some unpredicted perturbation in the cultural atmosphere seems to get a few people interested in a particular site, and that quickly snowballs into a full-fledged viral phenomenon.

What does it take to build India’s MySpace?

TECH TALK: Internet Tea Leaves: Alibaba and Yahoo

Yahoo invested a billion dollars and handed over its Chinese operations to the local Alibaba management in return for a 40% stake in Alibaba. The deal valued Alibaba at $4 billion. Alibabas flagship site is a marketplace for SMEs helping Chinese SMEs sell to others in China and globally. It had revenues of $46 million last year. (By contrast, Baidus 2005 revenues are expected to be about $30 million.) Alibaba also operates two other sites: Taobao is a consumer auctions sites (in direct competition with eBay in China), and AliPay, which is a payments and settlement service along the lines of PayPal.

The Wall Street Journal wrote about the deal: The deal marks a supreme vote of confidence in [Alibaba CEO Mr. Jack] Ma, whose knack for bold statements and charismatic leadership has helped build his company but has rankled local and foreign competitors along the way. The Yahoo connection will cement the 40-year-old as one of the most prominent public faces of China’s new entrepreneurial culture and give him a much larger platform from which to pursue his ample aspirationsThe tie-up will create a company with a formidable presence across all major segments of the Internet industry in China, combining Alibaba’s existing business-to-business and consumer-auction sites with Yahoo’s stable of Chinese search engines and communications services.

Bill Bishop added: “No question this creates a monster in the China Internet. It will have a powerful combination of search, communications, commerce and auctions. All they need is a game component and they could have a shot at becoming number one…This deal is potentially disastrous for Ebay in China.”

An article a few months ago in Knowledge@Wharton outlined why Alibaba is so important:

Alibaba has been successful because it recognized it could fill a gaping market need: China has virtually no printed directories or electronic databases that allow companies to describe their products and help buyers and sellers find one another while providing a certain level of comfort that the firms are on the up and up. Moreover, Alibaba focuses on mom-and-pop businesses in China, of which there are untold numbers, rather than trying to facilitate transactions between multinationals, which often have their own web-based systems for dealing with suppliers, and other big companies.

Alibaba “offered a platform where China manufacturers can reach world exporters and vice versa,” says Safa Rashtchy, an e-commerce analyst with the investment firm Piper Jaffray. “It’s a pretty inefficient system [in China] right now. The company figured if it signed up all the manufacturers in China and carefully listed their products and made them available to the U.S., Europe or wherever, it could extract good revenue. That’s what they’re doing.”

I have followed the fortunes of Alibaba since its early days. I liked the idea of an SME marketplace very much. At that time, Global Sources was the leader in the print media in helping connect SMEs. Alibaba raised a lot of money and went through many ups and downs in its journey. (There are two Harvard Business School case studies on Alibabas early days.) Alibaba has crossed one mountain another lies just ahead.

Tomorrow: China Internet Potential

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