In India, e-business has lagged primarily because of the lack of an Internet infrastructure in the country. There are signs that this is going to change in the near-term as cheaper computers combined with affordable always-on broadband connections will bring more consumers and businesses online. Indias current base of 17 million users is expected to grow rapidly and touch 60-100 million in the next 3 years. Add to this the rapidly growing mobile users (already at 35 million) and India could be set for a boom in e-commerce in the coming years. A harbinger of this was the recent entry of eBay into India via the acquisition of Baazee.com for $50 million. Given this context, there are two platforms which can help dramatically accelerate e-business in India: the creation of an SME Trade Information Marketplace (STIM) and PIN-News.
STIM is about helping small- and medium-sized enterprises build and maintain an online presence, and connect with each other. By using two-way publish-subscribe technologies (wikis, weblogs, RSS aggregators), it will become much easier for SMEs to get out of the marketing trap that they find themselves in and grow their business. Each business needs to have an online presence comprising of four components: an About Us page in the form of a wiki which can be easily edited, a Whats New page which has the new developments at the company both on the buy and sell side, a meta information page which gives contact and industry information and can be used by search engines to filter results, and a set of subscriptions based on keywords or topics which deliver the relevant updates from other SMEs, thus helping connect one business to other based on interest.
PIN-News is about building a bottom-up community information system. It is built around PIN codes. Neighbourhood events can be posted on to specific pages, organised in a weblog-format. By using standardized forms to do the post, it is possible to capture the information in XML format and use a matching engine to send out alerts to people. For example, if I am interested in book exhibitions or special offers, I can set up an alert on a few PIN codes around my home and workplace. When the book shops in the area do their updates (as part of STIM), I can be immediately alerted. PIN-News thus fills the gap in communicating dynamic information to people who are most likely to benefit from it.
Taken together, STIM and PIN-News can help make the Internet a utility in the lives of Indians and give the ones who do not have access a reason to get connected. It leverages the fact that much of our lives is spent in neighbourhoods and yet we know so little about it because our current media cannot get narrow enough to cost-effectively reach us. This is where the Internet and electronic information marketplaces can make a difference.
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