British Telecom’s 21CN

CNN writes about the new network being deployed by BT:

BT is creating an open, standards-based platform for which anyone can develop new applications. In other words, the phone has the potential to become more like the Internet with its proliferation of cool new Web sites, tools and services.

This is no small thing. Right now, for example, most of the mildly interesting stuff consumers can do with their phones – call waiting, caller ID, call forwarding – is programmed right into the big computers that route calls around the network. That makes it virtually impossible for some entrepreneur in a garage or some teenager tinkering at his computer to develop a new phone service.

By moving to an Internet-based architecture, British Telecom enables that tinkering teen to spend time he might have dedicated to making Google “mashups” to creating a fun application for the phone network. “We are doing what Google is doing,” says Reynolds, referring to Google’s willingness to make some of its application programming interfaces (APIs) available to the public.

Google and Microsoft Platforms

Joe Wilcox writes:

Google and Microsoft are both platform companies. Microsoft’s core platform is the operating system, while Google’s platform is information and all the “stuff,” like search and contextual advertising, wrapped around the information The companies’ platforms share a couple of important similarities, perhaps the most significant being about enabling third parties to make money. Windows succeeded over Mac OS in 1990s because Microsoft provided a better platform for third parties to make money. Google does the same through mechanisms like search keywords and contextual advertising. Like Microsoft, Google provides APIs (application programming interfaces) that extend the utility of its platform to third parties.

Google’s platform approach is similar to Microsoft’s in that the company offers stuff for less, usually free, and reaps money through other means, such as contextual advertising. Google also looks for that good enough threshold, where a product’s features meet enough users’ needs to use it on the Web and wrapped in contextual advertising or search keywords. Potential competition with Microsoft there could be real, if Google could release competing products that provide, say, the 10 percent of features people use 90 percent of the time. But the intent isn’t necessarily to compete with Microsoft, as so many news sites or bloggers seem to believe.

Online Video Surging

WSJ writes about the impact on the music industry:

The music industry is grappling again with how to protect its copyrights on the Internet, as amateur videos featuring commercial songs flood the Web.

Some of the most popular videos on sites such as YouTube and Google Video show amateurs lip synching to music by the Backstreet Boys, *Nsync and other pop artists. Many home-videos posted on such sites include songs as soundtracks, as well as snippets of concerts captured by music fans with their cellphone cameras. Virtually all this material is put online without securing permission from the owner of the rights.

The concerns have taken root as the popularity of video sites — which allow users to post their own and view others’ videos — has exploded, thanks in part to the spread of high-speed Internet connections and the rapidly expanding amount of amateur and commercial content online.

Coupons for Marketing

Seth Godin writes:

Coupons are a surprisingly subtle invention. Now that anyone can offer them (because now anyone can have a store), it’s worth a second to think about what they’re for.

First benefit to the marketer is that coupons allow you to offer different prices to different people.

There’s a reason that most coupons are not trivially easy to find or redeem. By trading effort for a discount, the marketer says, “if you care about price, I’ll sell it to you cheaper, but you have to prove it.” Hence the original idea behind Priceline. It was intentionally awkward to use so that the airlines could be confident that only the fare-obsessed would use it.

Mobile TV in Italy

WSJ writes that is is ahead of the pack:

Starting this month, Italy will become the first country to roll out a technology called Direct Video Broadcasting-Handheld, or DVB-H, one of several systems that are being developed to provide high-quality broadcast television over handsets. Leading cellphone-service provider Telecom Italia SpA says half of the company’s 30 million customers could be equipped with handsets to receive the new TV broadcasts in two years.

TECH TALK: Computing for the Next Billion: OLPC (Part 3)

There has been plenty of criticism about the project ranging from the inadequacy of the machines to the very appropriateness of giving kids in developing countries computers.

Atanu Dey wrote on his blog in November 2005:

I know that one should not ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained as stupidity. Not everyone involved in the laptop for every child is motivated by greed; some are motivated by a zeal that comes from an inability to figure out what the problem is and how it can be most effectively solved. The operative word is effectively. You can always use a cannon where a fly-swatter is sufficient. But for the cost of a cannon, you can get a million fly-swatters which will be more effective than one cannon. Cannons are more impressive then fly-swatters, however, and that may explain their fascination with some people.

A blackboard and chalk is not as sexy as a laptop. In fact, a TV and a media player is pretty much all the hardware that you need to provide basic education to a village full of children. That hardware (and some free software) would cost all of $200 a year, and if you pay about $2000 a year as salaries to a couple of village school teachers, you can educate a 100 kids for about $20 per child per year. Compare that to just buying $100 laptops for each kid.

I am confident that the One Laptop Per Child will have the effect which is the educational equivalent of the nutritional disaster that imported formula has had on the poor parts of the world.

Yes, they do kill babies in search of profits. And yes, they will not care that millions of children will be denied primary education because they are focused on the profits to be made from selling laptops.

Not surprising, both Intel and Microsoft have been critical of the project.

Yahoo News had comments by the former Intel CEO, Criag Barrett in a story in December 2005 (via my blog):

“Mr. Negroponte has called it a $100 laptop — I think a more realistic title should be ‘the $100 gadget’,” Barrett, chairman of the world’s largest chip maker, told a press conference in Sri Lanka. “The problem is that gadgets have not been successful.”

Barrett said similar schemes in the past elsewhere in the world had failed and users would not be satisfied with the new machine’s limited range of programs.
“It turns out what people are looking for is something is something that has the full functionality of a PC,” he said. “Reprogrammable to run all the applications of a grown up PC… not dependent on servers in the sky to deliver content and capability to them, not dependent for hand cranks for power.”

Kevin Maney wrote about Bill Gates objections and his alternative in January 2006:

Gates, with as much respect as he ever musters for something he thinks is dumb, said it was a really bad idea. He says it would be more effective to disseminate Internet-enabled cellphones to those regions.

Cellphones are cheap, use little power and are already made by dozens of companies. A single cell tower could connect a whole town. Cellphones have Web browsers and text messaging and e-mail and are stable, tested technology. They’re spreading quickly in a lot of the developing world.

So, to paraphrase Gates, why start from scratch? Why rely on a product that’s never been mass-produced and could have more bugs than a rain forest? If the U.N. and governments of nations such as Egypt and Nigeria want to get technology into poor villagers’ hands quickly, why not focus on cellphones?

So, given what they are saying, what are Intel and Microsoft doing in emerging markets?

Next Week: Computing for the Next Billion (continued)

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