Social Web Ladder

Dan Farber writes: “Forrester analysts Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff have published a report, “Social Technographics,” ($279) that identifies six levels of participation in the realm of social media or the social Web in the U.S. based on a recent survey.”

OLPC, Microsoft and Linux

Larry Dignan writes:

According to an AP report, Nicholas Negroponte said the $100 laptop for kids in developing countries actually runs about $175. He also added that it will be able to run Windows and could be used in the U.S. too.

A few big points to ponder in this one:

1. Microsoft’s $3 software package looks more brilliant by the minute in terms of heading off Linux encroachment. The One Laptop Per Child project represented Linux’s big chance. Teach the fastest growing areas to grow up with Linux and Microsoft would be hurting in a generation or two. By offering a $3 package of software, Microsoft makes itself competitive with desktop Linux. As Dana Blankenhorn notes: Microsoft gets a strategic win on the desktop. It’s too early to count out open source though.

3. The OLPC would wreak havoc in the U.S. According to the AP report, 19 governors have expressed interest in the OLPC. That should spark fear at Apple and other PC players in the education market.

Vudu and Video

The New York Times writes:

Insiders familiar with Vudus hidden magic say that this 41-employee start-up has everything weve come to expect from Silicon Valley: a daring business plan, innovative technology and entrepreneurs prone to breathless superlatives when discussing their new offerings possible impact on the world.

Vudu, if all goes as planned, hopes to turn Americas televisions into limitless multiplexes, providing instant gratification for movie buffs. It has built a small Internet-ready movie box that connects to the television and allows couch potatoes to rent or buy any of the 5,000 films now in Vudus growing collection. The boxs biggest asset is raw speed: the company says the films will begin playing immediately after a customer makes a selection.

Motorola’s Mobile Problems

WSJ writes:

Motorola’s travails illustrate the risks for a company that rides high with a big consumer hit. Amid its success with the Razr, it fell behind on developing a phone with the next generation of technology. Missing a beat is especially hazardous in cellphones, where it can take two to three years to develop a new line.

Meanwhile, Motorola faced corporate infighting during the transition to a new CEO from outside the industry, which interrupted new-product development. Mr. Zander has also struggled to bring his Silicon Valley ways, developed from years in the computer business, to the cellphone world.

Mobile Advertising

Knowledge@Wharton has an interview with Omar Hamoui of AdMob. Omar’s response to how mobile advertising is different from web advertising:

It’s pretty different. The devices are different. Technically, the way you have to integrate advertising into the page is different. All the advertising done on the Internet is syndicated with JavaScript. JavaScript doesn’t work on mobile devices so you have to do it a different way from a technical standpoint.

The targeting is [also] very different. If you are an advertiser, you likely care what carrier the person is on, what handset they are using, whether the handset will support Java or [the] Symbian [operating system]; is it Microsoft Windows or is it Blackberry? — all those things matter to you. Online, none of those things matter.

The web pages themselves are not translatable onto mobile [devices]. You have to have a different landing page. We would love it if we could just find an ad network to fill our inventory with existing online advertising. But we can’t, because those ads would link to web pages which wouldn’t render on the mobile device in the first place. [The mobile web] is sort of its own silo.

TECH TALK: Doing Education Right: The Problems

By Atanu Dey

Education is one of Indias biggest challenges. It is not about building the best schools though that will help. It is about creating a platform to educate 200 million of our young. If India is to to benefit from the demographic dividend, then we need to get our education system in order quickly. My colleague, Atanu Dey, looks at how we can get education right. — Rajesh

The fractal nature of the generalization that education matters holds across time and space. Irrespective of the granularity of analysis, education aids development through the intermediate step of economic growth. At the finest level of detail, an educated individual anywhere in the world is more productive than an uneducated one. At the broadest level of analysis, the modern world is more productive arguably because it is more educated compared to the world that existed before. A cross-sectional study of the world today, or at any earlier time, reveals that the general level of education of the population is a good predictor of the success of the population.

The observed positive correlation between the macroeconomic variables of the level of general education and economic well-being has microeconomic foundations. There are two avenues, private and public. An educated person is simply more likely to make better-informed private choices regarding his or her production and consumption. Aggregated over the lifetime of the individual, that translates into greater individual production and therefore individual income. Individual incomes aggregated over the entire population determine the macroeconomic health of the economy. At the public level, an individual indirectly contributes to greater economic development by making informed choice among various public policies. An educated population is more likely to endorse enlightened public policy.

Indias present economic standing both in its limited successes and its myriad failures is to a large extent a reflection of its education system. It takes justifiable pride in the successes of its handful of elite institutions of higher education in turning out world-class super-achievers. But that exceptional success of the few is overshadowed by the dismal failure of the educational system as a whole. At the primary level, the enrollment is around 90 percent but studies have revealed that even after five years of schooling, around 50 percent of the students fail basic reading tests and are unable to perform single-digit subtractions. Ninety percent of Indian children drop out by the time they reach high school.

Of the ten percent who do get post-secondary education in Indias around 300 universities (comprising of 17,000 colleges), their results are disheartening. India produces around two and a half million college graduates, including 400 thousand engineers annually. But the quality is so poor that only a quarter of them are actually employable. Stark statistics reveal the oversupply of raw graduates and the undersupply of employable graduates. Infosys, an IT giant, last year sorted through 1.3 million applicants only to find around two percent were qualified for jobs, according to a recent report in The New Yorker.

That India is not an economic success today is significantly attributable to its failed education system. More importantly, its prospects of even moderate economic success in the future are bleak unless the educational system is urgently fixed. The fatal flaw in the system most likely arises from its near-complete government monopoly control. Practically all aspects of the system suffer from political and bureaucratic meddling. Who can run schools and colleges, what is to be taught, who is going to teach, how much they are to be paid, who is going to learn, how much fees must they be charged, what will be tested and howevery minute detail of the enterprise is rigidly defined and mindlessly enforced. Consequently the system has degenerated to become ineffective, inefficient, and irrelevant.

In this series of brief articles, I present a personal perspective on what is wrong with the Indian educational system, and why. I believe that if we have to fix the system, we have to necessarily first understand the system and what ails it. To the extent that the problem is understood, it is tractable. I hope to present the broad outlines of a solution as well.

Write to atanudey at gmail.com if you have questions or comments.

Tomorrow: China Comparison

New Search Engines

Valleywag lists out some potential challengers to Google. “What will replace Google? Maybe a retooled search from someone like Ask.com, or a hacked-up tool from three guys in Russia that no one’s heard of. But my money’s on the Balkanization of search, in which users check Wikipedia, Yelp, or Flickr for specific types of searches. No wonder Google made sure to corner the two prime search niches of maps and video.”

Mobile Ads in China

Business Week writes:

China’s mobile advertising market was valued at just US$17 million last year, well below the US$40 billion spent on ads in total.

A new kind of mobile advertising technology, however, could be the key that unlocks the country’s 461 million mobile phone screens to advertisers.

The technology uses two-dimensional barcodes, a more evolved cousin of the humble Universal Product Code found on groceries, to create an advertising channel with an aura of science-fiction.

MVAS in India

The Mint has a story about mobile VAS companies going direct to consumers. There are a few quotes by me:

Rajesh Jain, founder and chief executive officer at software solutions provider Netcore Solutions Pvt. Ltd. said mobile content providers would find it difficult to go directly to the consumer because billing remains a problem and because of that, mobile phone operators will dominate.

Operators need to realize that the market can only expand when you let a thousand flowers bloom, he said. Only with an open publishing platform is made open, will you see the next jump.

In China, content providers get 80% and in Japan they get 90% of the revenue, noted Jain, whose company has its own mobile portal. These changes are still a pipe dream.

Economist Telecom Survey

The Economist writes: “New wireless technologies will link not just people but lots of objects too. That will be tremendously useful; but getting there will be tricky.”

In years to come, wireless communications will increasingly become part of the fabric of everyday life. David Clark, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who helped develop the internet, believes that in 15 or 20 years’ time the network will need to accommodate a trillion devices, most of them wireless. To illustrate what that world might be like, Robert Poor, the co-founder of two wireless companies, Adozu and Ember, uses a modest example: light fixtures in buildings. If every one of them contained a small wireless node, people would not only be able to control the lighting more effectively but put them to many other uses too. If the nodes were programmed to serve as online smoke detectors, they could signal a fire as well as show its location. They could also act as a security system or provide internet connectivity to other things in the building.

Answers on Mobile

MEX writes:

I find the most effective way to obtain the information I want in the mobile environment is through 82ASK. It involves no graphics or Java downloads and is available on even the most basic mobile handsets. You simply text your question to 82275 (in the UK) and they send you back an answer.

Each question costs GBP 1.00 and it can take several minutes for an answer to arrive, but the experience is superior for several reasons. Firstly, the answer is almost always exactly what youre looking for and, secondly, the time delay is asynchronous. The interaction method of SMS is perfect for the mobile environment, because you can quickly input a question and then put your phone away and forget about it until it beeps to alert you to the answer. When you’re walking down a street or standing on a train, this is a much better way to request information than the synchronous continuity of the browser environment.

Twitter Tutorial

From Robin Good. “Love it or hate it Twitter is a force to be reckoned with, and provides a great many opportunities beyond simply telling the world what you ate for breakfast. By making it easy for people to send out short (140 characters or less) messages to their personal webpage, friends and followers, and even the Twitter community at large, the service makes for a compelling way to get the word out fast.”

David Chartier writes about how to moentise Twitter.

Incubator as Co-operative

GigaOM writes about HitForge:

HitForge is an entrepreneur cooperative composed of independent small teams, where people can apply with their ideas, join the team, and see their idea go from idea to product in a few weeks, largely with help of an offshore engineering team.

If it works, then the product is turned into a company. If it doesnt work, the product is killed, and the team moves onto something new. HitForge is out of a few thousand dollars. The team whose product got killed still gets to share in the hits that come out of the cooperative, Ravikant says.

Mobile Business Models

Telecom Asia writes:

The mobile world has divided into two camps: on the one side are the industry elders struggling with a lack of fresh customers, and the headache of how to get more out of existing one. On the other side are the emerging market operators, whose biggest problem is rolling out networks fast enough.

Analysts believe the ecosystem and the overarching business model is where mobile’s problems lie.

My view on the article: India can be thought of as two markets — Mature (Urban) and New (Rural). This is akin to how Vodafone probably views the world — Mature (Developed Countries) and New (Emerging Markets). In Mature markets, the focus needs to shift to Services. For New markets, the focus has to be on Devices and Voice. So, in India, the “i-mode” equivalent with its Internet-like business models needs to be the focus for the Mature markets. The ARPU ratios will be something like this (in my opinion): Developed Mature will be 4x of Emerging Market Urban, which will be 4x of Emerging Market Rural.

SMSing

Tomi Ahonen writes a letter to American executives to start SMSing. “I have the biggest key to your professional success, if you are an American executive today. Join Generation-C (Community Generation). Then the defining ability is not that you can Google, or set up a profile in Myspace or LinkeIn, or create an avatar in Second Life create user-generated content. No. Like we wrote in our book, the defining characteristic of Gen-C is addiction to SMS text messaging.”

iPhone vs Other Mobiles

Paul Kedrosky outlines five reasons why he thinks iPhone will win. Among them:

* Mobile browers are awful. The Treo isn’t bad, and it’s the best of the above three, but the Samsung and Blackberrry browsers should be outlawed. They are that bad. They are so bad that Blackberry users’ opinions about mobile services, mobile startups, etc. should be summarily dismissed.

iPhone: Browser is reputedly very good.

* Mobile interfaces are thoughtless. The bizarro combination of escape key and menu key on the Blackberry — neither of which are labeled in a way that gives any indication what they do — is maddening. Controls are highly modal, which means something that works one way in one app works totally differently in another. A little thoughtful UI design would transform the market in a heartbeat.

iPhone: You can accuse Apple of many things, but thoughtless interfaces aren’t one of them.

TECH TALK: Reflections from a Dubai Trip: A Choice Not Made

Brain-dead thinking is not just the prerogative of the people in power in the government. Consider the admissions process for Cathedral and John Connon School in Mumbai. Cathedral is, arguably, one of the best schools in Mumbai. So, to get admission for a five-year-old, one has to apply when the child is a one-year-old. There is a small window after the child turns one during when the parents are expected to submit the application. Think about it again: the application needs to be made four years before admission.

I realised this a couple of months late. I went to the school last year (I think it was in September) when I should have gone in May or so for admission for Abhishek (who had just turned one in April) in 2010 or thereabouts give or take a year. I was denied entry by the watchman saying the time for collecting the form had passed. I asked to speak to someone appropriate so I could explain that I had not realised that forms needed to be submitted so many years in advance. But there was no way they would let me in.

Thats not all. The watchman also told me of a workaround. All I had to do was to submit a letter stating that I was not in Mumbai during that period (with some documentary evidence, presumably) and I would then be able to get the form. Presumably, I was not the first person they were giving this unsolicited advice to.

As I walked away from the school that morning, I could not but be disappointed by the experience school which has given some of the citys finest alumni. How could I look Abhishek in the eye and tell him that I lied to try and get him into a school? And why should one have to get to that? Because of a brain-dead admissions process created presumably when one had to wait a decade to get a telephone connection.

The India that we want to build is being corroded by ourselves. We can bask in the glory of the 9% growth rate, the rising Sensex, the $200 billion forex reserves, the glitzy malls coming up all around. Or we can, as a society, start and fix whats wrong at the grassroots in our neighbourhood which is really the core for a Sustainable and Livable India of tomorrow. For now, most of us arent even thinking of the second option.

Personalised Search

WSJ writes:

Search engines have long generated the same results for queries whether the person searching was a mom, mathematician or movie star. Now, who you are and what you’re interested in is starting to affect the outcome of your search.

Google Inc. and a wide range of start-ups are trying to translate factors like where you live, the ads you click on and the types of restaurants you search for into more-relevant search results. A chef who searched for “beef,” for example, might be more likely to find recipes than encyclopedia entries about livestock. And a film buff who searched for a new movie might see detailed articles about the making of the film, rather than ticket-buying sites.

Microsoft and Barcodes

The Pondering Primate writes:

Microsoft, using a mobile phone, is actually starting to link objects in the physical world, to the Internet.

In the last few months Microsoft has introduced a:
speech recogntion browser
1d barcode scanner
2d barcode scanner
mobile image recognition engine and an
RFID browser

Is Microsoft developing the operating system for the “Internet of Things”?

India in 2040

An excerpt from Ajit Balakrishnan’s convocation speech at IIM-C:

By [2040], some say, India’s GDP in US$ terms will exceed not only the European countries and Japan but also, perhaps, the United States.

But what these reports also say, and this part is often overlooked, is that in 2040, India’s per capita GDP will be just 15% of that of the United States and a third of that of even Russia.

Another way of putting it is that even thirty five years from now, the average Indian will earn just Rs 5,000 a month. On this income he will have to feed and educate his children, look after their healthcare needs, afford entertainment and life insurance.

This means he must have a place to stay with clean water supply at, say, Rs 200 per month [18], uninterrupted electric power, perhaps at 50 paise per unit at the consumer level, medical insurance at, say, Rs 10 per person per month and life insurance perhaps at Rs 5 per person per month.