Broadband Super Portal

DigitalJournal.com has an article by Chris Hogg:

Recently, Rogers Cable Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. unveiled what they call a new integrated broadband experience. Combining high-speed Internet with a large suite of services like news, music and videos, yahoo.rogers.com is designed to provide a media-intensive trip for Net addicts and media junkies.

The Rogers-Yahoo site features an email system with anti-virus and spam protection; 2 gigabytes of email storage; unlimited storage space for uploading photos; a messenger service; an intricate system of parental controls; and music, videos and games.

This incursion comes one month after Bell Canada introduced a similar co-branded Web portal, Sympatico.MSN.ca, with Microsoft Canada Co.

However, both these new portals dont come free: To use the yahoo.rogers.com portal, you must be a subscriber of Rogers high-speed Internet services to use the perks, and Sympatico.MSN.ca demands that users pay for premium services.

Looking beyond the fine print, it becomes obvious that these two converged giants are looking to capitalize on this growing Web trend, and are working to shape an if you build it, they will come corporate strategy. The creation of these two new portals also suggests a new generation is being born from the information superhighway.

In the early days of the Internet, consumer demand called for speed and a stable connection. Now, with broadband connections being far more common (especially in Canada), the name of the game has become content. The current generation downloads everything, so it was only a matter of time before corporate think tanks would start churning out ideas to capture this growing market.

Connected Information

[via Anish Sankhalia] Flemming Funch writes:

There’s an implicitly idea somewhere that data adds up to information. Which potentially might be structured into knowledge. And if you then really internalize it, it might become wisdom.

It is a questionable model. It assumes that the direction is from disjoined snippets of data towards something more integrated and useful. Who says it works like that? Nature doesn’t seem to me to work like that. There nothing quite equivalent to data out there. Nature includes lots of systems that have partipating elements that send messages to each other. A plant or animal that is trying to procreate often sends out millions of little seeds or pollen or eggs. And there are millions of ways they might get activated. DNA is certainly information, but it is replicated billions of times. There are billions of ways that DNA might hook up and produce the next generation. Billions of signals with certain receptors might be met with billions of possible counter-parts that have matching receptors. It certainly doesn’t depend on one little piece of information hidden once somewhere, which somebody has to remember to go look for.

That is where our informational systems tend to go wrong. We put something in some suitable place, and then one is just supposed to know where to find it. And, oh, one can make all sorts of reminders that makes it easier. Like, if on the web a piece of information is stored in some place, other sites can link to it, and people can make bookmarks, and they can write a little note for themselves to remember where it was. And you can go search in a search engine. And that helps, and somehow most things work out. But it still seems vastly inferior in some way to the relatively effortless manner information is used in the natural world. Our systems depend on somebody remembering what to look for, at the right time, and discovering the right context. It is very fragile.

Can’t it all connect better? Well, one possibility is a structured semantic web. If all information is meticulously categorized and related with all other information. Possibly in some huge all-encompassing hierarchy. I don’t know how likely or possible or even desirable that is. Another possibility is making everything easier to find, and to constantly look for matches for everything. That’s more like nature’s way, I think. You put everything that needs to be remembered out in loads of redundant copies. And then loads of little pieces are constantly looking for matches to what they’re looking for. You know, a Synchronicity Engine of some kind.

There’s still some major key missing, though. We need a paradigm shift that takes us from the overwhelming complexity of scattered information to a world where things might again be simple, but at a new level. You know, you’re hungry, there’s an apple on the tree in front of you, so you eat the apple, and you feel good. That kind of simplicity. You’re tired and you sleep. But while at the same time being globally connected with a vastly bigger network of people and information. Rediscover the simplicity in a higher order of complexity. I have no doubt that it is there. And if we don’t find it, it is probably because we still address information complexity the wrong way.

Rich Clients

Barry Briggs has a counterpoint on the rich web clients discussion that has been going on in the wake of Yahoo’s purchase of Oddpost and IBM buying Alphablox:

Many thought browser-based delivery was the wave of the future — zero-install, low TCO, blah, blah, blah. But here’s the deal, and unfortunately only a few of us recognized it then: nobody wants spreadsheets or for that matter, rich content creation apps generally, delivered in a browser! If you’re going to interact with a web page, we realized, you want — a purchase order or an expense report, or an approval form — not a blank spreadsheet!

You can see this even now: odds are you’re running Windows and IE, and I bet you’ve never run a spreadsheet ActiveX in your browser, even though there are lots of these available. Obviously it’s not exactly the same thing — ActiveX’s do get installed; the point however is that they can run in the browser window. You have to ask yourself: what’s the value of a blank spreadsheet inside my browser? Conversely: if desktop-apps-inside-browsers are so compelling — where are they?

On the other hand, you’ve almost certainly run pages that “calculate” — an custom intranet expense report app, or maybe Dell’s online configurator. You use your desktop spreadsheet app all the time — but you didn’t need it inside your browser. (Now where this gets really interesting is when you run the spreadsheet engine on the server — another one of my pet prototyping projects years and years ago — that’s a separate story though).

Unfortunately, IBM doesn’t seem to recognized any of this. Browsers and desktops are different; the apps that live on them conform to entirely different, and coequal, usage styles.

How News Will Change

Om Malik writes: “Cheap cameras – both of camera phone and digicam variety, cheap hosting on the Internet, and always-on connectivity are going to change the concept of news, especially during in the wartime. If satellite television was the catalyst of capitalism change, always-on connectivity will change societies.”

[via Dan Gillmor] Separately, The Guardian writes about OhMyNews, a South Korean website that has let more than 30,000 citizens try their hand at journalism.

Microsoft’s Future

Barron’s writes that “[Microsoft’s] shares have rarely been cheaper or its outlook more promising” and discusses “why the titan of Techdom is primed to grow, and grow, and grow.”

Investors are missing the big picture. The stock, which dipped slightly Friday following a fourth-quarter earnings report that came up a penny shy of expectations, is trading at a near-historic low valuation. Investors are interpreting the software giant’s new plan to pay out a mountain of cash to shareholders as a signal that its days as a growth stock are over. But the opposite is true: Microsoft is gearing up for further revenue gains and accelerating profits. The company has never been better positioned, and the stock has rarely been more attractive.

The real story on margins in recent years has been the company’s strategic decision to spend heavily on new businesses, losing billions of dollars in the process. When you look at the numbers, however, and you find Microsoft is making fundamental progress in all of its new lines.

Thanks to the surge in Internet advertising, for instance, the ‘Net service MSN is now in the black, having just completed its first profitable year; it generated $121 million in operating income on $2.2 billion in revenues. Meanwhile, profits are surging at the company’s fast-growing server software unit, the third biggest slice of the company after the divisions that include Windows operating systems and Office business software. In fiscal 2004, the server business grew 19%, to $8.5 billion.

The back-office, enterprise-applications business, created essentially from nothing from the acquisitions of Navision and Great Plains software, has struggled, but it has pared losses and continues to generate strong revenue growth — 18% in fiscal 2004. While Microsoft continues to suffer losses on the Xbox game console — $1.2 billion in fiscal ’04 — a recent price cut sent unit volume soaring 27% in the fourth quarter, and the company is hard at work on a second-generation console, expected in 2005.

And while all this has been going on, the company has been cranking out the usual solid numbers from its core Windows and Office businesses. In fiscal 2004, both segments got a push from strong personal-computer sales. The company’s information-worker segment, which includes Office, increased revenues 17% last year, including 23% in the June quarter. And revenues for the operating-system business grew 11% for the year and 9% for the quarter.

Personal Information

Jon Udell has an idea: “Suppose we create an ecosystem in which users maintain public profiles, Web services dispense them, and applications talk to those services? Your profile would contain only the facts you want to publicly assert about yourself. No secrets, no trust. We don’t know how to solve the trust problem yet. While we’re sorting that out, maybe we ought to bootstrap the formats, protocols, and mechanisms that will have to support whatever trust solutions emerge.”

TECH TALK: Tech Trends: India Action: Replicate the Famous Five

If there are five devices that define the new world in the developed markets, they are Vonage VoIP box (and service) which uses the Internet to route calls and has dramatically cut the cost of phone service for Americans, TiVos personal video recorder which timeshifts television, Apples iPoD which delivers music wherever and whenever we want, the Treo 600 from PalmOne which is a smartphone, and Microsofts Xbox which is a gaming console. Can we create similar such devices for the Indian market?

Lets start with Vonage. VoIP can help cut costs of telephony further in India and give a big boost to the rollout of broadband networks. Theres plenty of backhaul fibre that exists in India. The challenge is in the last (or first) mile. That has still been the domain of the local phone company (primarily BSNL and MTNL). Telephony is where the money is today. By creating a box which can work with cable or DSL lines and route calls over the Internet, competitors get the necessary incentive to deploy networks with good revenue potential until the time that data services start picking up.

A TiVo-like device is bound to do well in India, given the craze for television and the evening soaps! Families will no longer have to make a choice on which programme they will have to watch. This device could also be used to deliver other digital content (education, for example). Again, it leverages the broadband infrastructure and provides services that people are likely to want to pay for.

Music is part and parcel of our life in India. Thanks to the movies, there is a song for every occasion. Music consumption is now largely limited to radio or television. The iPod-like device can now be used to deliver music on a handheld device. More importantly, it can create an additional revenue stream for the music companies.

The Treo 600 with its small keyboard (like the Blackberry) can be used as a computer-on-the move with a thin client interface. There is plenty of dead time that we face in India. A device that can become an adjunct to the computer, besides serving as a cellphone, can work wonders.

Gaming hasnt really taken off in India, even though India has the worlds largest youth population. Piracy has been a deterrent, along with the costs of gaming consoles and the games themselves. A device, which can complement an online gaming service and build aspects of the console into a residential gateway or a set-top box, can help launch a new industry.

There is another agenda in creating these devices. Along with low-cost thin clients, these five devices can spur the development of a local hardware industry. The key in all these cases is to have price points which are very affordable in the Indian context. By building two or three multi-purpose hardware platforms for consumer devices, India can start to define, rather than follow, the consumer market.

Tomorrow: Outsourcing

Continue reading TECH TALK: Tech Trends: India Action: Replicate the Famous Five