Radical Transparency

Wired writes:

Radical forms of transparency are now the norm at startups – and even some Fortune 500 companies. It is a strange and abrupt reversal of corporate values. Not long ago, the only public statements a company ever made were professionally written press releases and the rare, stage-managed speech by the CEO. Now firms spill information in torrents, posting internal memos and strategy goals, letting everyone from the top dog to shop-floor workers blog publicly about what their firm is doing right – and wrong. Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, dishes company dirt and apologizes to startups he’s accidentally screwed. Venture capitalists now demand that CEOs be fluent in blogspeak. In February, after JetBlue trapped passengers for hours in its storm-grounded planes and canceled 1,100 flights, CEO David Neeleman tried to deflect the blast of bad publicity by using YouTube to air his own blunt mea culpa. Microsoft, once a paragon of buttoned-down control, now posts uncensored internal videos – and encourages its engineers to blog freely about their projects (see page 140). The very process of developing ideas, products, and messages is changing – from musing about it in a room with your top people to throwing it out on the Web and asking the global smartmob for a little help.

Beating Google

Rich Skrenta provides some tips:

# A conventional attack against Google’s search product will fail. They are unassailable in their core domain. If you merely duplicate Google’s search engine, you will have nothing. A copy of their product with your brand has no pull against the original product with their brand.

# Duplicating Google’s engine is uninteresting anyway. The design and approach were begun a decade ago. You can do better now.

# You need both a great product and a strong new brand. Both are hard problems. The lack of either dooms the effort. “Strong new brand” specifically excludes “search.you.com”. The branding and positioning are half the battle.

Social Software

Dare Obasanjo writes: “Twitter isn’t like web servers or a blogging engine because Twitter is social software. Specifically, the value of Twitter to its users is less about its functionality and more about the fact that their friends use it. This is the same as it is for other kinds of social/communications software like Facebook or Windows Live Messenger. Features are what gets the initial users in the door but it’s the social network that keeps them there. This is a classic example of how social software is the new vendor lock-in.”

Free Ad-Supported Business Software

WSJ writes:

…”free” is beginning to prove a powerful draw for some technology managers who have decided to run business tasks like word-processing and network management on free Web-based services that come with ads.

The market for ad-supported software is still small, but it has drawn some big guns. Google and Microsoft Corp. each offer free and paid versions of their online-software services, respectively called Google Apps and Office Live, which businesses can use for tasks like making Web pages, using email and managing calendars. Google and Microsoft offer free versions of their services that show ads to users; Google’s ads appear only in the email service, while Microsoft’s ads appear alongside other online services. Users of both companies’ paid versions don’t see ads at all and get extra features like more storage and ramped-up support. Google says its Apps service has more than 100,000 organizations on its free and paid versions; Microsoft says more than 350,000 organizations are using Office Live.

One Device

WSJ discusses the idea of a single device that can do it all:

Two months ago, Steve Jobs stood onstage in San Francisco and walked the Apple faithful through a demonstration of the company’s forthcoming iPhone. He showed off its bright, beautiful touch-sensitive screen and bag of associated goodies, from a cool voicemail system to an attractive Web browser. It all looked so elegant and easy.

More important, it played to a fantasy that so many companies have long lusted to fulfill: the dream of One Device. What consumer, they figure, could resist a gadget that can combine the functions of a cellphone, personal digital assistant and digital music player?

TECH TALK: Creating Indias New Cities: Designer Cities

By Atanu Dey

Creating a compelling vision which has the power to inspire is the first step to economic growth and therefore towards development. We have to imagine the future state first before we can make it a reality. Imagine that instead of 600,000 tiny villages, the same 700 million people were living and working in cities. Imagine that we had 600 cities with around a million people each on average. Lets call these Designer Cities or DeCi (pronounced desi.)

I live in Nagpur DeCi, someone may say in the year 2020. What is it like? The population is about 1 million. Most people live in very tall high-rises, with the average residential building having around 40 stories, housing approximately 1,000 people. The footprint of the 1,000 buildings accommodating one million people occupies only 250 acres. That leaves a lot of area for parks, recreational areas, pedestrian areas, bicycle pathways and some wonderful wide tree covered roads.

By living in high density high-rises, we free up space within the city for lush greenery and roads for movement of goods and people. There are no traffic problems because of two factors. First, we have a compact and efficient city. The maximum commute is only 10 kilometers and that too on wide un-congested streets. You can use your bicycle if you dont wish to take the excellent light-rail free public transportation system. Of course, some people own cars but most dont because cars cost about five times what they used to cost. They figured out that internalizing the costs of the negative externalities of private cars gives socially optimal results.

The second reason for our lack of traffic problems is that the city was designed in such a way that it cuts down on needless moving about. The master plan was a marvel of urban planning. Over the centuries, people have learnt a lot about how cities work and how to design them so that they are aesthetically pleasing, comfortable for living and working in, and economically efficient. Most of what you need for daily living, you can get by just walking around. Shopping complexes are scattered all across the city, as are offices, schools, parks, entertainment facilities, gyms, medical facilities, and various public facilities.

Though compact, our city is not crowded at all. We have tons of open public spaces such as parks and swimming pools. Being compact, all our public utilities are very efficiently provided. From garbage disposal to recycling of water and waste everything has been carefully thought of. Nothing was ad hoc and haphazard as you had in your old cities. We have large artificial bodies of water where rain water is collected. These supply all water related services and water is efficiently recycled. The widespread availability of clean and free drinking water everywhere itself improved public health immensely.

Our city has the usual collection of offices and other service oriented workplaces within the city. But at the outskirts of the city, we have manufacturing facilities, farms, and other such facilities that dont have to be within the city. For example, our airport is outside the city but within reach of our fast light-rail system. Our main railway station is however underground at the city center. You can ride your bicycle did I mention the fine bike paths we have? to the train station, park it there, and take a high-speed train to the next DeCi about 100 kms away.

Strategically located outside our city is our pride and joy: the power plant. Using the best available technology and the most appropriate fuel, it generates all the electricity we use. And we use a lot of it. But the capacity planning is so good that we never have power shortages. We have power to run our factories, offices and homes. Of course, all our facilities are designed such that we make the most use of the free solar radiation. We use the latest advances in solar photovoltaics to meet our power needs to the extent it is dictated by economics.

How did all this happen? This sounds as if your DeCi represents not a dream but a nightmare right out of Central Planning. Tell me it aint so.

Tomorrow: Planning

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