Online Communities

Stephen Johnston writes: “I’d suggest that the natural evolution of things seems to be taking us down the Long Tail – more niche communities created to align with existing real world communities. And I’d doubt whether any of the existing mass networks are the place to start for this. For example, I’d love to have a more powerful online community component to my sailing club, but it’s unlikely that any one of these networks will have critical mass in these real world communities to be feasibe (MySpace is not big in Suffolk). The real-world community itself will determine the technology connectedness of its members, and 99% of real world communities have no internet presence. So, presumably there’s a viable business opportunity for a multi-platform community-service provider offering community services to these communities.”

Web 2.0 Challenges

David Beisel writes:

web companies who are attempting to leverage network effects to drive sustainable long term value are having difficulty because of the volume of companies launching places a strain on the available pool of true early adopters willing to try a service. The loud echo-chamber marketplace makes it extremely difficult now (vs. two years ago) to rise about the noise to spread the word in the blogosphere or other natural communications forums applicable to the target market.

As a consequence, consumer web services are being forced to attract customers outside this ecosystem. While Ive seen some entrepreneurs with successes in utilizing offline marketing to incite behavior online, my experience has shown that the best way to get people do something online is while their online after all, theyre already there. I think that as some Web 2.0 shakeout emerges over the coming months, well see a trend that the ones which endure beyond the initial flash are those which have incorporated the marketing of the service directly into the service itself.

Mobile Web Workshop

From the executive summary of the W3C Workshop on the Mobile Web in Developing Countries which took place last year in December in Bangalore:

As of today, the most appropriate way to provide such e-services on mobile phones is with SMS-based applications. The reasons for that are numerous :

* Easy to use (everybody knows how to send an SMS)
* Low and predictable cost (no cost for receiving a message, low and known cost for sending a message)
* Availability on all phones

Of course, there is a general agreement on the limitations of such applications :

* Low capabilities (text-only, limited size, basic services like single query – answer, …)
* Interoperability problems between operators

Adopting the Web as the platform for developing future services requires work on these blocking factors which have been identified :

* Problems of availability of Web browser. There is no web browser on low-end phones. Some of older phones have WAP browsers, and when available, it is used, but there is a lack of WAP content. It is not clear, particularly from handset manufacturers, that this situation will change in a near future. Indeed, organization like GSMA are not integrating in the specification of their Emerging Market Handset the need of having a web browser.
* Problems of configuration : the difficulty to configure a phone to enable web browsing, compared to the immediate accessibility of SMS is seen as a blocking point.
* User Interface: usage of mobile Web browser are still problematic : entering URI, …
* Cost : given the price and the unpredictability of the cost of data services, people are scared to use Web browser without knowing how much they will be charged. Participants acknowledged that the availability of affordable flat-rates plans for data-services would be a key factor for adoption.


WSJ writes:

Steve Case, who brought the Internet into millions of homes and then ushered America Online through an ill-conceived merger with Time Warner, is wagering tens of millions of dollars that consumers will eventually pay about $100 a year to subscribe to premium services on his Web site. He believes that as Americans are forced to bear more of the cost of their health insurance they’ll want a site that digitally stores their medical records and provides telephone services that coaches them about their health, matches them with doctors and helps them unsnarl insurance claims.

In launching, Mr. Case says he aims to transform a “broken industry by putting health care back into the hands of the consumer.” Skeptics, however, say his site — which will start off free, but eventually begin charging for premium services — may have trouble surviving, much less achieving Mr. Case’s goal of remaking the health-care system.

TECH TALK: When Bad Things Happen: Thursday Tale

Last Thursday, an Indian telecom operator inexplicably and without warning to us cut off our connection on the grounds (as we were told later) that we were causing harm to their revenue streams. For now, the details are not important. Suddenly, a service we had live become inaccessible to a large number of people. We had no Plan B. We were caught off-guard. We had given only passing thought to such an eventuality and here was reality staring at us in the face. It was a difficult day compounded by the fact that we were going into a long weekend and if services were not restored by end of the day, we would be facing a long period of downtime.

As I sat through making phone calls trying to understand what had happened, and what our options were, my mind went back to a number of such events that I had experienced over the past twelve years as an entrepreneur. Bad things happen. Even if one is trying to do good! Most entrepreneurs are too optimistic to think about these eventualities and tend not to have any fallback options. They assume that everyone plays fair.

It was a long and difficult day. I had come in with a set of things to do and a few people to meet. All of that went out of the window as the day progressed and the crisis showed no sign of abating. My cabin became a sort of war room as we tried to figure out how to get back our status quo. I talked to a few friends and well-wishers trying to get their inputs. Within the office, a few of us debated various alternatives. It is amazing how a Bad Thing can get the adrenalin flowing.

Amidst all this, I tried to keep calm. I had seen this before. Every Bad Event has an End. In this case, I wasnt sure when that would come. Time was running out for us. And, almost as suddenly as our service was blocked, it was restored later in the day. We were glad about it, but still left searching for answers. Would it happen again? Was this a planned move to shake us? Or warn us? Or show us who the Big Boss was? Plenty of questions, but few answers as I write this out.

My intention in discussing this is not to talk about what we did wrong. That is a separate story. The point is to discuss, from an entrepreneurs perspective, how one needs to be prepared for Bad Things. These will happen thats a given. And they will happen when one is least expecting it. How should Bad Things be handled, and how can they be metamorphosed into Good Endings?

Tomorrow: Connection Cut