Beyond Folders

The Economist writes: “Cheap hard disks and fast search software could change the way we store and find documents on our computers.”

The idea of establishing relationships between pieces of information, to allow connections to be made and results to be retrieved, is not new. Vannevar Bush, in his famously prognostic and influential essay in the Atlantic Monthly in July 1945, described how adding structured code words to associated microfilm pages in his imaginary Memex information-retrieval system would help researchers. It is exactly as though the physical items had been gathered together from widely separated sources and bound together to form a new book. It is more than this, for any item can be joined into numerous trails, Bush wrote.

Looking further ahead, the combination of databases, tagging and search will make it possible to navigate large numbers of documents in all kinds of radically new ways. David Gelernter, a computer scientist at Yale University, imagines searching using time and space axes: imagine picking New Haven, Connecticut, on a map and then zooming back to 1701 to see information about its founding. Ben Shneiderman of the University of Maryland has devised a new way to display search results in which data appear as concentrations of information in a tree-map: the colour, position and size of thousands of results can then be taken in at a glance. As folders fade away and search software evolves, it seems that we may, at last, be able to find what we’re looking for when we need it. With the death of the folder, perhaps we can finally get some work done.

Marketing 2.0

Niviwrites about a talk given by Jason Fried “about a few Web 2.0 marketing ‘tricks’ that you can use for your wacky new Web 2.0 Internet product.”

Hold some features back in your first release.

Release them next week or next month. This makes your customers think that you are actively developing your product and that there is momentum behind your product.

Even if you are passed out drunk in a bar.

Also, each time you release a new feature, you are giving your customers and evangelists something to talk about in their blogs.

Tech Review 35 Innovators

Here. A couple profiles I like:

Narasimha Chari, 31: Tropos Networks: Setting the mesh networking standard
Tropos Networks, the company Chari founded in 2000 with coinventor Devabhaktuni Srikrishna, helped launch commercial wireless mesh networking. With their straightforward installation–routers attach to lampposts–and attendant low cost, mesh networks have eased into plentiful use both outdoors (on campuses, in public safety networks, and at gatherings such as festivals) and in (in hospitals and factories). But Tropos is focusing on the rapidly growing market for networks that serve entire municipalities. That’s the application of choice for one-third of the company’s 200 customers.

Andy Carvin, 34: Digital Divide Network: Bringing Internet power to the have-nots
Carvin’s idea is to combine the ubiquity of cell phones with the ease of posting information to Web logs (blogs). Say protesting human-rights activists get roughed up by police, with no traditional media on hand to record their plight. Over their phones, the human-rights activists could send multiple reports on what’s happening–either audio or video–to the same website. Carvin is pushing programmers to create mobcasting software that works outside the U.S. phone system. With the use of mobcasting, suggests Carvin, “suddenly, the very people who are victims are empowered to bear witness to the world almost instantaneously.”

eBay-Skype Deal

Kevin Werbach has some interesting thoughts:

Communications and the Internet are converging. As a result, the idea of paying per-minute for basic telephone calls is quickly becoming an anachronism. The telecom industry as we know it will be replaced by a converged broadband environment with very different economic drivers. The major communications infrastructure providers — telephone, cable, and wireless companies — think they will dominate this new world. By controlling the pipes, they hope to extract a share of profits from the applications running on those pipes.

eBay-Skype represents an end-run around that “walled garden” vision. Skype is a self-contained communications platform, effectively designed to circumvent both traditional government regulation and private efforts to constrain applications. Given its huge user base, it could become the dominant Internet communications ecosystem, just as eBay has become the dominant ecosystem for person-to-person transactions online.

eBay isn’t alone. There are persistent rumors that Google is putting the ducks in line to create its own global communications platform. Yahoo! has multimedia capabilities in its instant messaging client and it recently acquired DialPad, a significant consumer VOIP player. And Microsoft has understood for several years that communications will be an important part of its future, albeit not as a traditional telephone company.

No one knows how exactly this story will play out. What is clear is that every major player will want to have communications capabilities as part of its toolkit. Users will get converged communications services from multiple providers: it will sound as awkward to talk about “your phone company” as it would to identify “your e-commerce company” or “your search engine company.” Get ready for some creative disruption!

TECH TALK: Building a Better India: The Bad

Let me start with the things that depressed me as I travelled around. I will then talk about some of the delights. The objective of the two sets of contrasting examples is to demonstrate that we can do things right and wrong. The choice is, as I shall explain later, in our hands.

To continue the thread I started yesterday, the most appalling part of travelling anywhere shortly after the monsoons are the road conditions. Take the road near Pune University around E-Square. A flyover is supposedly being built. Work has been frozen for a year. Deteours have been put in place. And the rains have taken car of washing away what little tar was left. Had this been a side road, it would have been one thing. But this is the road which takes one to and from the Mumbai Expressway! There is no escaping the tyranny of the road.

Exit the expressway at Panvel en route to Mumbai. And what follows is the same story. When I was returning to Mumbai on Saturday evening, it took 45 minutes to cover a stretch of 5 kms. Perhaps there had been some accident. Or it was just the cars and trucks navigating gingerly around the craters that made driving treacherous. We dont spend enough to get the road done right. And then we pay every day in countless person-hours lost and even perhaps a few human lives.

Talking of human lives lost, consider the Airport road in Bangalore. As a friend told me, that road is pretty much always jammed. I experienced that at noon. Supposedly we have plenty of time and so we can afford to waste time. But what about the Manipal Hospital that is there on that same road? What if an ambulance wants to get through in an emergency? The bumper-to-bumper traffic leaves no room for even a two-wheeler to edge across, leave alone an ambulance.

Consider the stink of the toilets in public places. My exhibit here is the toilet just after the Ghats off the expressway en route to Mumbai. Why do these toilets have to stink and make it an ordeal to go in there? Isnt anyone responsible?

A city like Pune suffers from power cuts for four or more hours daily. We are not talking here of a village in rural India. We are talking of a city with a population (about 4 million) of the size of New Zealand. Everyone without power for four hours everyday. And Pune is among our showcase cities after the four metros. What do we do? If you can afford it, get a generator. If you cannot, grin and sweat it out.

There are a myriad examples like these. The sad part of it is that all of these problems can and should have been solved. They are in our control. And yet, we choose to suffer in silence. Is this the New India we want to build and live in?

Tomorrow: and the Good

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