China Profiles

In a story entitled China Juggles Conflicting Pressures of Society in Transition, the New York Times gives a glimpse of Chinese society by profiling six people: “The six people most forthcoming and the most representative of a large segment of Chinese society were selected for profiles. Each of them stands at the high end of his or her respective group. Li Yongrong, a farmer, has a home telephone and owns a small truck, making him a rich man among his peers. Chen Qun, a migrant worker in southern China’s Shenzhen special economic zone, earns far more by working far less than many of the factory workers that fill the workshops of China’s coastal export belt.” [via Frank Yu’s Brand Recon]

Grid Computing

Wired reports on the fifth Global Grid Forum, held recently in Edinburgh:

Most of the excitement centers on the integration of grid computing and Web services: The Web provides the service, and the grid offers the processing punch to deliver it. The GGF is finalizing the Open Grid Services Architecture (OGSA) to deliver that integration.

“OGSA is very like TCP/IP. It won’t create any applications in itself but it will create a binding set of standards for services across the grid. It’s almost like the operating system for the grid,” says Tom Hawk, general manager, grid computing with IBM.

It is an advance that will be signaled by major improvements in services, speed and security of the Internet, but it will remain otherwise invisible to the users themselves.

Take single sign-on, for example, where a user signs-on once per session, and a separate site takes care of all the authentication and verification, delivering an OK signal to any sites the user visits.

Grid computing will allow a much higher degree of security for more speed, with the security processing handled by the wider grid rather than the already stressed-out home PC.

Gaming is another area where grid and Web services integration will create a new Internet on steroids. Right now, Sony and Microsoft are looking at distributed gaming, while is another project developing massive multiplayer games using grid computing. A grid game developer’s kit is available at its website.

I’ll be writing later in my Tech Talk series about Grid Computing as one of the Tech’s 10X Tsunamis.

Enterprise Enabling Technologies lists the enabling technologies, as identified by AMR:
– application servers
– business-to-business (B2B) exchange platforms
– business intelligence (BI)/analytics
– enterprise security
– integration, business process management (BPM)
– systems management
– wireless application platforms

Had read in a separate article in BCR about the four building blocks for corporate networks: VPNs, VoIP, Wireless and Web Services.

Hisaab for MicroFinance

iNomy has an interesting story on the efforts to create accouting software for MicroFinance. Writes Frederick Noronha:

Micro-finance, one attempt to get the poor to help themselves by collecting small sums of money and loaning it between themselves, is to get a leg-up from IT if Parikh and his team have their way.

Their new software is getting finalized to make it easy for simple villagers to undertake more complex financial transactions. It’s called Hisaab (meaning, ‘accounts’).

Recycling Cellphones

Writes Business Week:

Seth Heine started a company called CollectiveGood, which gathered used and discarded cell phones, either for sale abroad or for parts. Over the past 18 months, CollectiveGood has sold the majority of the 15,000 phones collected through his program to carriers Latin America and the Caribbean.

The margins on such sales are small. After spending from $1 to $2 on sorting, refurbishing, and shipping, CollectiveGood typically sells to foreign service providers for about $20 per unit, — making a $2-per-unit profit. The carriers then resell the phones to their customers for $25 to $30, Heine explains. That represents a 70% to 90% discount on the typical cost of a new cell phone.

The recycling concept is what I’ve been talking about in the Thin Client-Thick Server idea. Get used PCs from the developed world and resell them in the emerging markets to bring down the cost of the PC to USD 100.

Emergic Update

The big development of last week was thinking through the Information Refinery (IR) concept, which will now serve as the framework on which much of the software will be built. The TC-TS can be thought of as the underlying infrastructure on which the IR will be built. The two are like the equivalent of an enterprise Windows and Office. We still need to detail out the architecture in much more detail, but for the first time, we now have a vision which integrates the world of blogs, RSS syndication, events and enterprise software.

BlogStreet: We will be putting out the beta in the next few days. It will have a blog neighbourhood analyser and a listing of the top 500 blogs. We’ve also created a service wherein anyone can request the related blogs given a blog URL. Quite useful – made me aware of some more blogs which I should be reading regularly!

Digital Dashboard: We will be launching blogging internally within our company using MovableType. People will be able to set up private, group and public blogs. This will also have the RSS aggregator.

Going ahead, the two projects will be merged into what we will call the IRI (Information Refinery Infrastuture) – will see if I can come up with a better name!

One of the early tasks will be to create an RSS-ifier, which given a URL gives the RSS feed. This is important because when we need to get content for people to read and post into the RSS aggregator. There are many sites which do not produce an RSS feed. We will use some of the proglet ideas which we have used earlier to get blogrolls and related blogs for screen scraping to get the headlines from a page. Also this week, need to put together the roadmap for developing the IRI, especially the architecture.

Thin Client-Thick Server: We managed to get Tally to run on the Linux Thick Server. It is a round-about way, but at least we were able to do it. This came up because without Tally it would have been difficult to get people to use the Thin Clients in many companies. With this, we can now deploy the TC-TS at our first external location this week. We’ve also formed a Productisation group to bridge the TC-TS engineering efforts and the market needs.

Enterprise Software: We’ve decided to do an internal application which is on the lines of a client information system (outlined in the IR post). To begin with, we will integrate information from accouting, marketing and support on a single page per client. This will use the blog and digital dashboard base. We may also use one of the commercial application servers (probably Weblogic) initially for development, and then later switch to JBoss.

Going ahead, we will thus have 3 product development groups: the TC-TS as it exists now, IRI and the Enterprise Apps. Will fine-tune this in the coming week. Am also thinking of setting up a small RD team which looks at some new ideas like 802.11b.

Incremental Information

There’s a lot of information out there – we all know that. When managing a business, it is especially important to keep track of all that is going on. This means visiting many sites regularly, reading a lot, talking to people, subscribing to various newsletters, searching in Google, cutting and filing articles, etc. There is still no easy consolidated way to get all the information that we would be interested in.

Perhaps this can change. My weblog over the past two-and-half-months has now captured a lot of my interest areas. I have told my blog all that I like, including links, quotes and comments. So, can this be used as a mechanism to get me other related information – old and new?

For example, suppose with every post I give a phrase (which could be the title) which describes the post. I can use the Google API to do a search and show related posts – we do this now using the GoogleBox. But this is static in time – it does not change or alert me to changes in the search results.

What I’d like is that with every post, I want to create a search option which showsme the top 10-20 searches on Google and links to my own previous posts. The Google search should be run every so often and if a new item comes up in the search, I should be alerted. This way, at least I am able to continually track what I have written about, which would mirror my interest areas.

This also helps chain posts together. After adding all my previous Tech Talks, there are now over 800 posts in this weblog. Today, they stand alone – linked only through the Tech Talk category page, Search and the Prev-Next option. They need to get connected among each other.

What this will do is to create a “network” of my thoughts. There will be hubs and clusters of ideas. It would be good to see how this changes over time. This can now also be used to connect me to others with similar thinking. And through the blogs of these other people, it will perhaps open up new ideas for me. Which is what I really want to do when I am doing all the reading and thinking.

In essence, we are looking at a way to connect to the incremental information that is being produced, so I can stay in touch with recent developments. The danger otherwise is that the thinking will age since I am only able to track a few interest areas. Google and blogs with some additional monitoring software can help make this a reality.

Also see:
A Personal Knowledge Management System
Google + Blog = Personal KMS

TECH TALK: Tech’s 10X Tsunamis: Web Services: Lego Software

First Google, and now Amazon. Both have turned themselves into programmable modules. Google released its Google API in April and recently, Amazon came up with its Web Services API. These are the two most public manifestations of the change that is going on as websites turn themselves into programmable components, using XML and SOAP standards. This is the world of Lego-like software, where it becomes possible to build complex software applications from simpler building blocks which exist across the network.

Web Services (comprising the protocol quartet of XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI) have been the talk of the software industry for quite some time. All the leading software players have pinned their hope on Web Services, and it now seems justified.

Web Services takes an old idea (re-usable software components) and gives it a new, contemporary touch (built around standards, and available dynamically over the Internet). Web Services offer a way to connect enterprise applications in real-time, providing a solution to the notoriously difficult twin challenges of Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) and B2BAI (Business-to-Business Application Integration).

A formal definition of Web Services (Patricia Seybold Group):

A Web Service is a URL-addressable software resource that performs functions and provides answers. A Web Service is made by taking a set of software functionality and wrapping it up so that the services it performs are visible and accessible to other software applications. Web Services can request services from other Web Services, and they can expect to receive the results or responses from those requests. Web Services may interoperate in a loosely-coupled manner; they can request services across the Net and wait for a response. A Web Service can be discovered and leveraged by other Web Services, applications, clients, or agents. Web Services may be combined to create new services. And they may be recombined, swapped or substituted, or replaced at runtime.

A recent report on Web Services by Patricia Seybold Group states that companies are putting web services at the heart of their business processes:

Weve discovered that many of the earliest production implementations of Web Services are being used to support business customers and trading partners. So, instead of focusing first on internal application integration, forward-thinking companies are starting from the outside inleading with customer-connectivity.

Take, for example, Cisco Systems product configuration application. Since the mid-90s, Cisco has offered a Web-based configurator on its public Web site. And, for its largest business customers like ATT, SBC, and others, Cisco had to install and maintain a custom-configured version of that application on a server located within each major customers firewall. In early 2001, Cisco re-developed that product configurator as a Web Service. Now Cisco maintains a single Web-based application, which presents itself as a Web Service poking through each major accounts firewall, integrated into that accounts own procurement application. Heres another example: General Motors uses Web Services to make many of its operational applications available to its dealers personnel by integrating key functions, like credit approval, into the dealerships own applications.

Tomorrow: Web Services (continued)

eBay Book Review

David Gelernter reviews “The Perfect Store”,a book on eBay, and gives his opinion on the company and online auctions:

EBay has no inventory, doesn’t actually sell anything itself, but collects a commission on every sale. Obviously, this company is important. Some 75,000 Americans now run businesses entirely on eBay’s sites. EBay strides through the world economy like a movie star, surrounded by its horde of dependent businesses, its buyers, sellers, critics and rapturous fans.

But the story leaves you pondering. The Web supposedly began a new information age, but eBay brings nothing of its own to the table; it simply connects people. It uses cyberspace not as a library but as a giant switchboard. And this era of the Great Switchboard in the Sky has barely begun. When I said in a 1991 book that global electronic auctions were inevitable (one prophetic claim plus 75 cents will get you today’s newspaper), I meant four related activities: buyers bidding to get goods or services from a seller; sellers bidding to supply goods or services to a buyer. So far, eBay concentrates only on buyers bidding for goods, but the rest will follow. And it won’t stop there. People will consult the great cyberswitchboard to get a job or a mate or a life. (It’s already happening.)

EBay makes money by brokering deals. But what happens when buyers and sellers cut out the middleman and deal direct? At eBay you search for the item you want. But you can also search the Web as a whole. In the long run, we won’t need two separate levels of search. Eventually we will use the fabric of cyberspace itself, not eBay, as our switchboard.

Earlier post on Adam Cohen’s review of the book.

Slate on Web Services

Writes Slates, in an introductory article:

A Web service is just a special type of Web page, but instead of being formatted prettily for the human eye, the page is formatted for a computer to read. The technology makes it easy for some Web site developers (like Amazon’s) to produce such a page and for other developers (like me) to retrieve the information therein. Suddenly any Web site (including yours) can display up-to-the-minute information from Amazon or Google, whether it be “people who bought my book also bought ….” or “the top 10 news stories on the Web.”

Web services are like LEGOs: They snap together in almost limitless combinations. As the big sites bring their Web services on board it’s easy to imagine your home page summarizing the items you have for sale on eBay, displaying whether you’re available to chat via AOL or Yahoo!, and mapping the current location of the airplane you’re on via Expedia.

For the Web consumer, it will quickly become unremarkable to see information and services from many providers combined in imaginative and useful ways. Suddenly no Web site is an island, and maybe no toaster either.