Intel’s Community PC

Iamn Howard reviews it:

I think this computer is a great idea and I applaud Intel for finally making it, I think that many whom have thus far written about it have not really understood where it will be important. This is not a computer for a telecentre. This is a stand-alone computer. Labs where power is a concern ought to use thin-clients, multi-headed computers or other solutions (see “Skol Linux”), as those solutions can save much more power. These computers are suited for the home and because of the 12 volt option (or computers like them) and its low power, they will be attractive to the middle class, in their homes. With burgeoning home internet access via DSL, wireless, GPRS, WiMAX etc. people now need a computer that will work in places where electricity is expensive such as in Bamako, or too often not available, such as in Kinshasa. Hence I believe that this computer, though also suited for the village will be most useful to the new middle class of emergent markets, in the city.

Great Products

Richard MacManus writes about what Joel Spolsky had to say:

In his Webstock presentation, Spolsky produced “The Formula” for great products:

* Make people happy — i.e. put people/users in control of a product
* Think about emotions — very funny example of cupholders in SVWs (too hard to explain, but wait for the webcast/podcast!)
* Obsess over aesthetics — Joel used the example of the iPod’s “style over comfort”; for example you can’t change the battery in an iPod, so it fails miserably in usability there. Joel called this the “French idea of fashion” and wondered if Steve Jobs is actually French.

In summary, Spolsky thinks “the world is monumentally superficial”, which is reflected as much in Web products as in Hollywood celebrities. He said that if products are usable/useful and reveal true functionality, then they are “honest”.

Changing Media Business Model

Charlene Li writes:

Media companies in the past derived their value from either: 1) their distribution channel; or 2) the content they created.

I believe that in the future media companies will generate the bulk of their value from serving their ability to aggregate and serve audiences better than the competition. It doesnt matter if the media company actually creates or even controls the content that draws them. Channels will be transparent and content wont necessarily even be owned in a syndicated and aggregated content landscape.

A case in point: produces no content of their own but has a very unique way to look into the interests of its users. Kevin showed a very cool software tool they use internally called Trace that looks at the stories a specific user is reading, and shows in real time how that users attention jumps to other topics. Kevin also showed how diggers were related to each other based on the stories they mutually dugg. The traditional audience management advocates like Tacoda have shifted toward behavioral targeting, but at the core, understanding users at a highly granular level will be an essential skill for media companies.

Mobile TV provides an update:

Fast networks have been key to the success of mobile television in Korea, where wireless carriers have actually had to scale back their offerings to deal with demand, Kenagy said. Fast networks like Verizon’s and Sprint’s EV-DO (evolution data optimized) networks and Cingular’s HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) network are just starting to roll out in this country. Without enough bandwidth, mobile television can be a tough sell, but MobiTV has been able to find some success with slower networks.

People seem to be willing to pay somewhere between $15 to $20 per month for mobile television, said Michael Schuppert, president of Modeo. “Pricing is a pretty hypercharged subject around this market,” he said, as carriers are anxious to recover their expenses from building out networks, but consumers are wary about spending too much on an unfamiliar service.

TECH TALK: Education and Reservation: Atanu Deys Primer (Part 3)

Distinguishing causes and symptoms is an useful thing to do when attempting to solve a problem. While it may appear expeditious to address symptoms, ultimately it is doomed to failure. Band-aids and pain killers could delay diagnosis of the deeper cause and the introduced delay may indeed make the system worse off.

Reservation for candidates from specific segments of the population at institutes of higher education does not help anyone, least of all the students. If the quota students are unable to gain admission by competing fairly with the non-quota students, then they will also be unable to compete in the course of study. Clearly the solution is to prepare the quota students so that they can gain admission on their own merits. This means that they should be helped at the school level, because it is there they are disadvantaged. The logical conclusion is that those segments of the population which are not represented in the higher education system need to be helped in the primary, middle, and high-school level. The objective should be to level the playing field for them at the earlier stages of the game, and if that is done, there will be no need to engage in the futile exercise of pushing them unprepared into the later stages of the game.

The basic principle which needs to be kept in the forefront is this: that society can and must ensure equality of opportunity for individuals, irrespective of the random draw of their birth, but it cannot ensure equality of outcome, and indeed attempting to ensure equality of outcome is perverse and harmful.

All reservations are not created equal. I am all in favor of reservations, say, of the sort that exist for elderly and disabled people in buses. Such people dont have to do something, they just have to be. As passengers, the elderly and disabled are perfectly entitled to reservation, but the same cannot be said about their entitlement as bus drivers. Bus drivers have to do something, not just be. Students in higher education dont just have to be something, they have to do something. If they are unprepared to do what students do, then there is little point in putting them there. What they require is help before they arrive at the admissions stage of higher education.

Aside from the high cost that society bears as a consequence of denying a better qualified student a seat to admit a reserved category student, there is often a private cost that the reserved student bears. Merely because the student is ill-prepared, and not because of any innate inferiority, the student judges himself (or herself) unfavorably compared to the others. Not only his (or her) self-esteem suffer, but it confirms for others their prejudice that the reserved student is intrinsically inferior. Reservation is very costly for all concerned, except for the politicians who gain from appearing to favor segment of society over another.

The problem of under-representation of students from traditionally disadvantaged groups is a symptom of a deeper cause which needs to be addressed at the stages preceding higher education. Besides that, the problem of supply capacity constraint for the population in general is a more insidious consequence of the systemic problem with the entire education system. This we need to examine at some length.

Tomorrow: Atanu Deys Primer (continued)

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IMDB and Beyond

The New York Times has a story about Amazon’s Internet Movie Database:

Imdb’s convergence moment may soon be at hand, say studio executives who have worked with Amazon on developing a download service that could let people burn DVD’s on their desktops. Though Amazon and Mr. Needham decline to talk about plans, Imdb could play a more prominent role in the retailer’s media strategy. Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios and Warner Brothers are all involved in the project, executives close to the project have said.

Several weeks ago, one media executive who had been briefed on Amazon’s strategy but did not want to be identified because it was still being formulated, pointed out one aspect of Imdb’s popularity: if you use search engines to look for the title of virtually any past movie or television show, or the names of celebrities from those realms, Imdb often comes up as the first result.

Metaverse Summit

[via Kevin Werbach] Raph Koster writes:

There was a definite tug of war between two competing versions of what the metaverse means. One of them is the virtual world thing that most readers of this blog will be familiar with. The other is the annotated world augmented reality thing, which is the idea of pulling web data into the real world by overlaying it on our physical existence via heads-up specs and the like. In between is the mirrorworld which is a compromise, replicating the real world into virtual space and then annotating it there.

I have little doubt that all of these are dreams that are under development. But they dont all seem to me to be the same thing at all, and I think they serve different purposes because of their usage patterns. Virtual worlds are primarily, and will continue to be primarily, for leisure time activities. Augmented reality serves a primarily practical purpose, and will continue to be best-suited for that. The killer apps for augmented reality lie in local economy applications: real estate, comparative shopping, navigation, interpersonal interaction annotation (heads-up tickler files over peoples heads, etc). The killer apps for virtual worlds have been, and will remain, chatting, hanging out with friends, and entertainment.

Video on Demand

David Berlind writes:

Cablevision isn’t alone in wanting to roll out… a timeshifted VOD (video-on-demand) service. Comcast apparently has the same sort of service queued up. You can imagine how storage companies like EMC and Sun must be licking their chops at the idea of an services oriented storage architecture like this taking off. Moving all of those terabytes out of our homes and into the cable operators’ data centers will require some series hardware not to mention some special storage management software that’s suited specfically to the task of RS-DVR applications. For example, for everyone recording shows based on program title (versus custom time slot), the cable operator only needs to store the program once while feeding to many people in typical VOD fashion (an architecture that’s already in place for existing VOD offerings).

Underserved Web 2.0 Segments

Richard MacManus writes about a list from eConsultant and offers a few markets. Among them:

# Community-building services – overlaps with local; examples: craigslist, backfence, Oodle. There is a lot more that can be done to bring local communities into the 2.0 digital lifestyle.

# Cooperative Distribution Services – e.g. BitTorrent; I’m no expert on P2P, but 3 products listed in eConsultant seems a little light to me.

# Financial Services – has plenty of contenders, but I read/hear hardly any buzz about them in the blogosphere; if you’re talking about ‘real world’ needs, finances is right near the top of the list (as opposed to blogging, organizing photos, etc)

Mobile Search Triple Play writes:

Mobile search is indisputably a potent way to generate value. Consumers find what they want; marketers gain traffic by providing relevant offers and advertising; and mobile operators and service providers capture increased revenue as a result of the increase in mobile content purchases by consumers.

However, the much more lucrative business opportunity may be in combining search, personalization, and recommendation (modeled on Amazon – this technology suggests content on the basis of the individual users past preferences or on the basis of what a users peers consumed, or both). The end-game is to boost content sales by providing users personalized and relevant results – as well as the tools to discover other cool content they might not have otherwise known existed.

I refer to this as a kind of mobile content triple-play and (after interviewing some 40 C-level execs at search, discovery and personalization companies – as well as mobile operators – for my own report on the topic) I see evidence that the mobile content industry is ripe for it. In fact, many these companies have told me they fear mobile search – particularly the big-name brands like Google. Content owners want users to come directly to their sites and not be directed by search engine results to explore their competitors portals. In a D2C play, they tell me, its all about improving the accessibility and discoverability of their content.

TECH TALK: Education and Reservation: Atanu Deys Primer (Part 2)

The mismatch between supply and demand is symptomatic of non-market economies, such as command-and-control socialistic economies. In market economies, generally supply adjusts to the demand, perhaps with some lag. If the demand outstrips supply, prices rise, which induces entry of suppliers into the market, and a balance is reached eventually. In command-and-control systems the government interferes, and more often than not, prevents entry into the market thereby restricting supply. Prices are not allowed to do their proper function of market signaling and rationing the goods or services. Instead, monopoly rents are extracted by the government and these are then distributed in exchange for political support from various constituencies.

The particular instantiation of this general principle is the government imposed reservation or quota in the institutes of higher education in India. Relative to demand, the supply is very low. The government controls every aspect of higher education by either running its own institutions (such as the IITs and IIMs), or indirectly by heavily regulating private institutions. The regulation specifies who is allowed to run the institution, what its capacity can or must be, what is permissible to be taught, what the syllabus should be, who should teach and how much they can be paid, what the fees should be, and who should be admitted.

Each regulation introduces friction into the system. More damagingly, it introduces massive corruption. For instance, entry into the system for private providers of education is severely limited. Private firms have to compete to acquire a license. This is facilitated by appropriate bribes to people who have the authority to deny the license, such as senior bureaucrats and politicians. This is in effect competition for the market, which leads to limited competition within the market, which in turn implies high prices, limited quantity, and low quality. The limited quantity not only hurts the economy but is again very shrewdly exploited by the powers that bethey hand out quotas to select groups to buy their allegiance.

There is no earthly reason for why there should be a chronic shortage of any goods or services, least of all an essential service such as education. Yet they exist in India. Not too long ago, getting telephone service was a major achievement. People used to have to wait for many years to get phone service. Why? Because the government had determined that it was an essential service that could not be entrusted to the private sector. It took the liberalization of the telecommunications sector (and some help from technological change) to get us to the happy position that you can have telephone service within hours, and at prices which could not have been imagined in those days when the government was the monopoly supplier.

The big news these days is the protests over the proposed increase in reservation in institutes of higher education for certain sections of the population. The capacity is limited to begin with, and now it will become even harder for non-quota students to gain admission. But in the end, it does not matter whether the current quota is raised to nearly 50 percent of all seats or not. Either way, the difference is marginal. Instead of fighting over stale breadcrumbs, there should be a public debate about how to bake sufficient loaves of bread so that no one has to go hungry at all.

Tomorrow: Atanu Deys Primer (continued)

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Wireless Future

Business 2.0 has a feature by Carlo Longino:

Technologies like Wi-Max could introduce more competition by eliminating the advantages that telephone and cable companies now enjoy thanks to ownership of the wires that deliver broadband into homes and offices. Unlike a Wi-Fi hotspot, which provides wireless access within a radius of just a few hundred feet, Wi-Max creates a wireless cloud big enough to cover several square miles.

“It’s hard to get excited by the technology as it exists now,” says James Enck, an analyst at Daiwa Securities SMBC Europe. “But when you look at everything that’s happening, it starts to get really interesting.”

Put simply, we’re on the cusp of a dramatic transformation that will extend far beyond the mere ability to download e-mail, photos, and webpages more quickly. Plentiful wireless bandwidth, coupled with more sophisticated mobile devices, will usher in a new generation of wireless tools and services.

Building a Platform for Growth

HBS Working Knowledge has an article by Donald L. Laurie, Yves L. Doz, and Claude P. Sheer. From the editor’s note:

Researchers at Harvard Business School and INSEAD helped Boston-based consulting firm Oyster International study how executives of twenty-four successful companies achieved organic growth over time. The answer: by creating “new growth platforms, on which they could build families of products, services, and businesses and extend their capabilities into multiple new domains.” United Parcel Service is a prime example, as it expanded from a small-parcel delivery service into a variety of high-growth areas, including managing the flow of goods for customers.

Video Ads Exchange

MarketWatch writes:

Google Inc. will be letting anyone — from Coke, General Motors, to your local plumber, physician, and you — create an advertisement no longer than two-minutes and upload it onto the search engine’s site. You must become a Google AdWords client (takes minutes to sign up) before you can submit a video ad by uploading it onto Google. As an advertiser, you can then bid to be placed across online publications — like niche blogs — that might find your video relevant.

For those who have any doubt about how much video advertising will be created and viewed, think again.

Videos will come from people and places unimaginable. Are we going to see passionate college students create ideological campaigns and target political blogs? Will Swedish nannies start creating ads about their services and target blogs that only attracts readers who can afford such luxuries? If the potential salary covers the cost of their ad spend, which it might, why not? Last year, I predicted that users would be creating commercials. With that creative power in their hands, anything is possible.

PCs with Mobiles Business Model

USATODAY has a column by Kevin Many on Microsoft’s FlexGo initiative:

Microsoft announced a “pay as you go” computing model aimed at emerging markets. The press release says it “allows customers to have a fully featured PC at home by paying only for the time as they use it through the purchase of prepaid activation cards or tokens.”

It works a lot like prepaid cell phones. A customer takes home a Windows XP-based machine and buys time on a prepaid card that has an activation code. Type in the code and a little timer pops up in the screen’s corner, showing time left. To get more time, buy more cards, or buy time online. After paying for a certain amount of time, the customer would own the machine outright.

It’s also yet another sign that the big computer companies believe their growth opportunities are in the next billion computer users — people who so far have not been able to afford computers or Internet connections. The current computer market is basically saturated, and it’s getting harder to excite customers to buy new, more powerful machines because — for most people — their old machines are by far powerful enough.

TECH TALK: Education and Reservation: Atanu Deys Primer

A part of India is seething. The reason? A decision, driven entirely by politics, to reserve 27% seats in Indias higher education institutions for other backward classes. The government has tried to assuage some of the anger by announcing a simultaneous increase in the overall seats by 54% so that mathematically the number of existing seats do not change. Over this week and next, we will discuss some of these issues here, starting with a five-column series by my colleague, Atanu Dey.

There are numerous characteristics which distinguish developed from underdeveloped economies but the one invariant difference is that the former have robust, efficient, and effective educational systems which the latter do not have. Indeed it can be argued that it is the educational system which forms the foundation upon which the development of an economy rests. Even economies with little natural resources can overcome this handicap and flourish based entirely on their stock of human capital created by an excellent educational system. Conversely, even though endowed with a wealth of natural resources, some economies dont prosper because of poor educational institutions.

If you wish to predict the trajectory of an economy, the leading indicator you pay attention to is its education system. If the system is in decline, the economy has little to look forward to in this age post-industrial age; if the system is in ascendancy, the economy will emerge to join the ranks of rich nations. Note not just the level but note especially the trend of the educational system, and you will have a fairly good estimate of where the economy is headed.

The Indian education system is moribund. It is not, and in fact has never been, very good. By the 12th standard, the school drop out rate reaches an astounding 94 percent. Of those who finally graduate out of college, only around 15 percent (or, one percent of the those who enter grade one) are employable, leading to a serious shortage of qualified college graduates. It is severely capacity constrained. Getting admission into a good school or college has become a Herculean task. Horror stories of three-year olds being given kindergarten admissions tests and the parents being interviewed abound. Quality higher education is scarce. The IITs, those much celebrated technology institutions, can only admit fewer than 2 percent of applicants: annually around 300,000 compete to get a shot at 5,000 seats.

But the disturbing fact is the negative trend in the system. The primary worry is that the system is increasing falling behind in its capacity to meet demand. India is demographically very young. About half the population is below 25 years old. Young people need schools to become productive members of society. The capacity constraintthe mismatch between demand and supplyhas the predictable effects of low quality and high prices. Prices are a rationing mechanism and high prices implies high barriers to entry for the huge number of poor people in India. The economic waste that results from tens of millions of people not being able to afford education is staggering. Poor quality education also has effects that propagate across the entire economy. Globalization has increased the premium associated with a well-educated workforce, and India stands to lose a great deal if the quality of its labor force does not make the cut.

The fundamental problem with the Indian economy is that the education system is one of the most flawed systems in the country. If there is one sector which is in dire need of reform, it is that education system. The most urgently required reform is to get the government out of itlock, stock, and barrel. The recent move by the government to further increase quotas in the so-called elite institutions with a view to social justice is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. No, I take that back: it is akin to scuttling the lifeboats even as the ship is sinking.

Tomorrow: Atanu Deys Primer (continued)

Roach on China vs India

SeekingAlpha quotes Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley:

If India is to services as China is to manufacturing, what role does that leave for the high-cost developed world? Down the road, if India also succeeds in pushing into manufacturing while China makes successful forays into services, the same question becomes all the more threatening to the worlds major industrial economies. Protectionism is the biggest risk in all this. IT-enabled globalization is pushing economic development into manufacturing and services at a breakneck pace. Moreover, IT-enabled connectivity has increasingly transformed once non-tradable services into tradables and has moved rapidly up the value chain and occupational hierarchy in doing so. The result is a mounting sense of economic insecurity in the developed world that has become a lightning rod for political action that, unfortunately, has unleashed an increasingly worrisome protectionist backlash.

China and India represent the future of Asia and quite possibly the future for the global economy. Yet both economies now need to fine-tune their development strategies by expanding their economic power bases. If these mid-course corrections are well executed and there is good reason to believe that will be the case China and India should play an increasingly powerful role in driving the global growth dynamic for years to come. With that role, however, comes equally important consequences. IT-enabled globalization has introduced an unexpected complication into the process a time compression of economic development that has caught the rich industrial world by surprise. Out of that surprise comes a heightened sense of economic security that has stoked an increasingly dangerous protectionist backlash. This could well pose yet another major challenge to China and India learning how to live with the consequences of their successes.

Reservation in Education

The Economist writes that the Indian government’s decision to reserve 27% seats for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in education institutions is “a quarrel less about educational opportunity than political opportunism.”

The government’s determination to extend reservations can be blamed on politics. Some close to the prime minister scent an effort by Arjun Singh to embarrass his boss, whose job he is widely reckoned to think should be his. Others see it as a concerted bid by the Congress party to win votes in India’s caste-ridden largest state, Uttar Pradesh, where elections are due next year. Either way, the benefits for those justifiably angry at the deprivation and discrimination they suffer in India are likely to be marginal.

Next week’s Tech Talk will feature a series of columns by Atanu Dey on this issue.