Second Life

The Economist writes about a virtual world:

Second Life…is not a game. Admittedly, some residentsthere were 747,263 as of late September, and the number is growing by about 20% every monthare there just for fun. They fly over islands, meander through castles and gawk at dragons. But increasing numbers use Second Life for things that are quite serious. They form support groups for cancer survivors. They rehearse responses to earthquakes and terrorist attacks. They build Buddhist retreats and meditate.

By emphasising creativity and communication, Second Life is different from other synthetic online worlds.

Social Networking Sites Expansion

Knowledge@Wharton writes about the downside:

Wharton experts note that expansion is a bigger issue for social networking sites than for other businesses, which don’t rely as heavily on user input. “Businesses based on community can become fragmented so much that they splinter off the people who were attracted to them in the first place,” says Bell.

While social networking sites wrestle with the expansion dilemma, Bell argues that the marketing problem these firms face is similar to the issues faced by other companies trying to segment a market. For instance, if Toyota’s Scion unit initially targets younger buyers, the cars could lose their cachet if Baby Boomers start buying them.

Mobile Buzz

Chetan Sharma summarises findings from a couple of mobile trade shows in the US recently:

MES and MECCA. The central theme from both the shows was community and advertising. The buzz shifted from Mobile Search, Mobile TV, and IMS during the last couple of shows to Mobile Advertising. The prospective lifecycle of product development goes like this build community (whether it is around user generated content, games, artists, bands or other) and monetize the community by advertising. The permutation and combination of the business models are: free application and/or free content, subscription, earn credits for watching ads, more credits for feedback/surveys, etc. Companies who are able to build a large mobile community (at least 5-10M active users) and gather some specific demographic data become hot property of the moment. It is important to note that the mindset for an exit strategy for companies in the social media and user generated content space has changed a bit. Instead of getting acquired by software or computing companies like Google and Yahoo (yes, yes, they are media companies as well) to traditional Media companies like FOX and HBO. This was quite apparent in a number of discussions I had with the executives from new media content companies.

PCs and Mobiles

The Economist writes: “What is the best way to make the benefits of technology more widely available to people in poor countries? Mobile phones are spreading fast even in the poorest parts of the world, thanks to the combination of microcredit loans and pre-paid billing plans, but they cannot do everything that PCs can. For their part, PCs are far more powerful than phones, but they are also much more expensive and complicated. If only there was a way to split the difference between the two: a device as capable as a PC, but as affordable and accessible as a mobile phone. Several initiatives to bridge this gap are under way. The hope is that the right combination of technologies and business models could dramatically broaden access to computers and the internet.”

Peer Production

[via Veer] CTheory.net has an article by Michel Bauwens: “Not since Marx identified the manufacturing plants of Manchester as the blueprint for the new capitalist society has there been a deeper transformation of the fundamentals of our social life. As political, economic, and social systems transform themselves into distributed networks, a new human dynamic is emerging: peer to peer (P2P). As P2P gives rise to the emergence of a third mode of production, a third mode of governance, and a third mode of property, it is poised to overhaul our political economy in unprecedented ways. This essay aims to develop a conceptual framework (‘P2P theory’) capable of explaining these new social processes.”

Smart Tech Stories

Forbes has 10 stories. One of them:

Construction company Emcor Group put voice, e-mail and specialized applications on a handheld device that fits in a shirt pocket. That’s providing a practical way to keep the people closest to the customer up to date.

Field technicians are now more productive, using a wireless dispatching system tied to Emcor’s customer support center. The result: Customers are served better and faster and with consistently higher quality. Technicians arrive promptly and are better prepared to address customer concerns.

The same device used by the technicians for this service application also is their cellphone. Emcor recently added e-mail delivery to the device, further integrating the tools and resources needed every day. The approach has improved time to invoice, invoice accuracy and overall customer satisfaction by more closely integrating the field to the office.

MySpace and Attention

Om Malik writes:

The utility of MySpace is that it is more than a social network. It is a platform, which puts users in charge of taking and assembling their pages, regardless of where the content comes from. It became one, just because it did not care what and how people put their MySpace pages together. Wild wild web? Sure, but millions saw it as the page they started their day, and spent most of their time on it.

In other words, MySpace is an “attention page” not a portal page. For millions of users, MySpace is their most important page, the one that has all their attention. That attention is why MySpace accounted for 10.8% of Google’s search traffic, and the reason why News Corp subsidiary, Fox Interactive Media was able to craft $900 million deal with the search engine giant.

Perils of UGC

Rashmi Bansal writes about the problems with user-generated content:

The idea of ‘user generated’ content is a great one. And it works when you have millions and millions of people contributing such content – like at youtube.com. From a mountain of boring / mediocre trash you find a few gems and the system is designed such that users push these gems up to the top of the pile.

But when the number of users you attract is fairly low… you don’t have enough gems. And the trash attracts more trash and repels people who actually have quality content. Because you haven’t created an environment where the ego-driven creative types would like to showcase their work.

TECH TALK: The Now-New-Near Web: Leapfrogging

The Economist recently had an interesting essay on leapfrog technologies. It wrote:

Leapfrogging involves adopting a new technology directly, and skipping over the earlier, inferior versions of it that came before. By far the best-known example is that of mobile phones in the developing world. Fixed-line networks are poor or non-existent in many developing countries, so people have leapfrogged straight to mobile phones instead. The number of mobile phones now far outstrips the number of fixed-line telephones in China, India and sub-Saharan Africa. By their very nature, mobile networks are far easier, faster and cheaper to deploy than fixed-line networks.

…The lesson to be drawn from all of this is that it is wrong to assume that developing countries will follow the same technological course as developed nations. Having skipped fixed-line telephones, some parts of the world may well skip desktop computers in favour of portable devices, for example. Entire economies may even leapfrog from agriculture straight to high-tech industries. That is what happened in Israel, which went from citrus farming to microchips; India, similarly, is doing its best to jump straight to a high-tech service economy. Rwanda even hopes to turn itself into an African tech hub.

In countries like India, the Reference Web almost does not exist. Most businesses do not have websites; the ones that do have updates that are few and far between. This has been partly due to the slow growth of PCs and the lack of an inexpensive and reliable broadband infrastructure. Most of us in India rely on the ‘global’ Reference Web that we can search through the likes of Google and Yahoo.

India needs to leapfrog to the Now-New-Near Web. This is a web that will be built around mobiles and with a significant contribution coming from user-generated content. It will significantly improve life by bridging the information gaps that exist. It is a Web in which India can be the leader. The digital infrastructure and the devices to create and consume content are in place. What is missing is the set of services.

Another barrier to the creation of the Reference Web for the mass-market has been language. India has a multitude of languages. The computers that exist do not make it easy to create local language content. By adopting multimedia content creation techniques, India can break this barrier. Mobiles are the ideal devices for the creation of such content.

The Now-New-Near Web will be at the heart of the New India. It will be a virtual mirror of the physical world around us, accessible via the device we already carry and over networks that already exist. It will be the next big upgrade to the Web and one which India can lead.

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WISPs

Tom Evslin writes:

WISP means wireless ISP, an Internet Service Provider to which you connect through radio rather than through a wire or fiber last mile. WISPs MAY be part of the competitive answer to the uncompetitive duopoly of telecom and cable which make Internet access slower AND more expensive in the US than in many other countries. A WISP DID pull me out of a connectivity vacuum left by the duopoly in South Hero, Vermont where we have a vacation camp.

Although technically satellite ISPs are a form of WISP, they dont meet todays connectivity needs except in desperate circumstance and it is impossible (not a word an entrepreneur uses lightly) to see how they will. The problem is the speed of light. It takes so long for a signal to get to a geostationary satellite and back that the service is absolutely unusable for VoIP, gaming, or watching video and ranges from incredibly frustrating to unusable for browsing complex web sites.

Google’s Mashup Revolution

Forbes writes:

Most mashups cash in with Google’s advertising engine on their sites, splitting the take with Google. If you have just one page, you don’t make much, but some have many more. (Yahoo! has a similar service, called publisher’s network, which is less broadly used.) Google also wants to grow the Internet as much as possible–the more interesting things there are, the more people will need Google to find them. And the better it understands what users are doing with a mashup–something that only the owners of the original data see best–the better its search results.

The term “mashup” comes from music, when two or more songs are mixed together to build a new sound. In software, they arise when someone develops a company’s online maps, calendars, photos, search engines and other products, usually through relatively small amounts of code that is posted on the Internet. These outside developers take the application to new uses, usually through combining the data of several sites.

Social Networking with Mobiles

Paul Golding writes:

With all the various networking tools (e.g. Linked In) and other ways to interact with each other via the Web, it seems an obvious idea to extend this to the mobile. It would be great to allow swapping of “business cards” via Bluetooth, which is already possible, but to allow Web services to tag themselves on to the card. For example, if I’m in Linked In, then by swapping a business card with another Linked In user, the Linked In service would be able to detect this swap and make a link. An app on the phone could detect business cards and pass this up to a network service which does the necessary “registration” with Linked In.

The idea need not be limited to swapping via Bluetooth. Users who connect via any means, such as IM, could swap cards.

Mobile Web Issues

Little Springs Design has an essay:

Desktop applications and web sites have since the 1980s been designed assuming multiple windows. If you want to get information from another application, just open it. Browsers can have multiple windows open. This is particularly important in our current world of online applications: I can have my email window open, my business networking site open to research somebody in my email, and my calendar open – all in separate windows. Mobile phones do not support this cross-site fertilization. Instead, only one window can be viewed at a time.

For one web can become a reality, browsers must become adept at handling multiple tasks. This, by itself, is inadequate. High-end phones (variously called smart phones and PDA phones, usually with an operating system like Symbian, Windows, or Palm) have rudimentary multi-tasking – but on an application level. Multiple browser tasks must become easy; switching between pages must become easy; split-window viewing must become possible.

Browsers must become adept at handling multiple simultaneous tasks in the same way that messaging applications are adept at handling multiple conversation threads, except that users will want the information either simultaneously or with rapid switching. The browser will have to be re-engineered, from the ground up, to truly embrace the mobile environment rather than being a miniature desktop browser.

DIY Content

DIY Media Weblog has a post on a talk by Mizuko Ito on “Amateur Cultural Production in the New Networked Age.”

As part of last year’s Networked Publics program at the Annenberg Center, Ito and her research colleagues have been examining the changing relationship between cultural production and consumption. They have looked at the ways that many-to-many distribution, peer-to-peer social organization, and the availability of low-cost digital authoring tools have lowered thresholds to cultural production “manifest in public culture as increased visibility and mobilization of those actors traditionally associated with cultural consumption.” They see three domains “growing in salience with the turn toward networked public culture: 1) amateur and non-market production, 2) networked collectivities for producing and sharing culture, 3) niche and special-interest groups, and 4) aesthetics of parody, remix, and appropriation.”

TECH TALK: The Now-New-Near Web: Content Discovery

A number of other developments are helping bring the Near Web to life. Internet Yellow Pages are making yellow pages much more accessible. Google Earth brought us satellite pictures of the world around us. People then started tagging places. Flickr added geotagging support so that now photos could be linked with locations. In some parts of the world, webcams and sensors are already providing real-time information of the world around us.

The Near Web is important because that is where we live and do a lot of our socialising and spending. Yet, there is so little that we know of that world. To find out about the specials in restaurants or bookshops, one has to walk to the place to find out what is happening. We hear on radio and watch on TV about events in far-flung corners of the world in real-time. Yet, we have very limited knowledge of what is happening a few hundred metres around us. What we have is a discovery problem.

Businesses have to start thinking of a new world a world in which all of their customers have access to a mobile phone. How does one rethink local marketing? Can one use the mobile phone to create relationships with customers? Customers, too, are keen to know what’s happening around them. TV, radio and their newspapers do not necessarily cover the world near them. How can this chasm be bridged?

This is where we need to think of the new digital infrastructure that is being put in place and the far-reaching implications it will have on life and commerce. Here is a quote by Ashby M. Foote II which captures the essence: One of the most insightful commentators on the changes at work in the economy is Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine and author of a brilliant new book, The Long Tail. He cites three forces that are transforming the economy and creating vast new opportunities at the grassroots level for small and boutique businesses. Force 1: The democratization of the tools of production. (The obvious example is the PC as a tool for publishing and multimedia.) Force 2: The democratization of the tools of distribution. (For instance, the combination of the PC and the Internet makes everyone a distributor). Force 3: Connecting supply and demand. (Search filters and feedback loops like those found on Google, iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix help niche content find interested buyers and users.)

Tomorrow: Leapfrogging

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Monitor110

Techcrunch writes:

Its a real time research suite tracking RSS, deep web, static web changes and many other sources with multiform alerts, semantic analysis, extensive domain knowledge concerning financial markets and high profile VC backing.

Monitor110 gathers information from 40 million sources of various types (100 million by the end of next year they say), ranked by financial market knowledge through a proprietary algorithm that takes 50 factors into account – inbound links being just one reputation metric. Users can chose between top sources preselected for their market sector and subscribe to sources of their own. Static sites can be monitored for changes with good granularity. Premium subscription and other deep web sources, blogs, forums, news and regulatory filings are among the sources included. The end results will be delivered through the companys RSS reader with email, IM and SMS alerts as appropriate.

Japan’s Mixi

[via News.com] Metropolis writes:

Mixi is Japans biggest cybercraze. A community portal like the USs MySpace and Koreas Cyworld, the two-and-a-half-year old site has quintupled its user base in the past year and now ranks third in page views nationwide, trailing behind Yahoo! Japan and Rakuten, but beating out the massive online bulletin 2ch.net.

Mixis 5 million-strong user base comes nowhere near the 54 million unique users of MySpace or the 18 million of Cyworld, which amounts to more than a third of the population of South Korea. But a decade ago, the concept of a public forum where people shared ideas was virtually unthinkable in Japan. Today, networking sites are creating a new dimension of social interaction in Japan, bringing us in step with the netizens of the US and Korea. And, like most other cultural trends that sweep the land, its happening in a uniquely Japanese way: its heavily mobile-based, its privacy-oriented, and its happening concurrently on both a mainstream and niche market level.

MovieTally

Ajit Jaokar writes:

Movietally is a website for indexing, tagging, and sharing movies (note sharing involves sharing recommendations not movies themselves i.e. its not napster like).

In addition to tagging movies, users can choose whether they recommend the movie or not. From these questions, the collaboration effort of movietally emerges. Different tag clouds are generated, some of which display the most popular tags, a user’s most popular tags, movietally’s most popular tags, movietally’s most popular movies, movietally’s most recommended movies, and many other types.

In addition, movietally will automatically recommend movies to a specific user with a
matching algorithm involving numerous factors including the user’s recommended movies, the user’s tags, other user’s recommended movies, and other user’s tags.

Mobile Youth Services

Ajit Jaokar quotes Tomi Ahonen from a recent forum: “The most insightful presentation I think was that of Peter Miles the CEO of university TV broadcaster SubTV here in the UK. Peter was amazing and I can’t do justice to all he said. So just a bit of a highlight – in the last three years the university student population mobile phone penetration went from about 85% to 99%. When they enter university they are 80% prepaid, and when they leave they are 80% postpaid. While all have access to online internet of course – and 90% access the web daily (51% access a social networking site at least once per week, wow) – very importantly the university age student is both online and offline. Their lifeline is the mobile phone. 74% say they “would lose their mind” if they lost their phone. Not because of a loss of contact info and stored messages etc. But because they would be out of contact. (reference the Ampd stuff above). As most don’t have a fixed landline connection, the phone is the ONLY way to contact them. E-mail and IM instant messenger is not an option. You reach someone via the mobile phone – but you can interact with them with any of a wide range of communication tools from online gaming to myspace to skype etc.”

Company Profile

Paul Kedrosky writes: “Too many startups (and not-so-startups) struggle describing what they do, why they’re different, and why they’ll win. Today I ran across this useful template for helping in that process.”

Part 1: What We Do

* For [insert customer company/department/type here]
* Who want to [insert what prospective customers want to fix/improve here]
* Our product is [insert how your technology helps the people in line 1 do line 2]

Part 2: Why Well Win

* Unlike [insert competitors here, whether direct or indirect]
* Our product [insert customer- and competitor-relevant points of differentiation here]
* As supported by [insert technology that underlies this differentiation here]
* And protected by [insert protectable IP, unique relationships, etc.]