Let Users Control Data and Processes

Phil Wainewright writes:

One of the myths about ASPs has always been that they’ll fail because people won’t want to entrust their data to a third party. This has always been an absurd myth — by the same logic, businesses should keep all their cash on-site rather than having banks manage it, which of course would be ridiculous. But the focus on data has always been missing the point anyway. It’s not the data itself, it’s what you do with it that matters. Process is the thing that businesses don’t want to have third parties in control of. And the irony of course is that traditional software is suffering a backlash precisely because it forces companies to yield up control of their process automation to software vendors and their systems integrator collaborators.

What Jon pointed out was that the latest generation of online web services providers are leaving users in control of both data and process. We’re talking about software providers that don’t even need you to give you their data. They simply add process to it by interacting with it, and if users decide to discontinue those processes, they simply withdraw their interaction.

This a great example of how far out of the box people are going to have to think to really take advantage of service-oriented architectures. As Jon points out, even a leading light of the online services revolution like Amazon hasn’t fully got it, because it still tries to own user reviews rather than simply linking to them in some kind of value-added aggregation or syndication model.

Greg Gianforte, the CEO of CRM provider RightNow Technologies, likes to say that we’re just at the beginning of several decades of exploitation of the software services model. Jon Udell’s examples of next-generation infoware are a great illustration of just how far we still have to travel.

Intel’s WiMax View

Intel Technology Journal has an issue dedicated to WiMax. Here is how it sees the likely deployment scenario:

Service providers will operate WiMAX on licensed and unlicensed frequencies. The technology enables long distance wireless connections with speeds up to 75 megabits per second. (However, network planning assumes a WiMAX base station installation will cover the same area as cellular base stations do today.) Wireless WANs based on WiMAX technology cover a much greater distance than Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN), connecting buildings to one another over a broad geographic area. WiMAX can be used for a number of applications, including “last mile” broadband connections, hotspot and cellular backhaul, and high-speed enterprise connectivity for businesses.

Intel sees WiMAX deploying in three phases: the first phase of WiMAX technology (based on IEEE 802.16-2004) will provide fixed wireless connections via outdoor antennas in the first half of 2005. Outdoor fixed wireless can be used for high-throughput enterprise connections (T1/E1 class services), hotspot and cellular network backhaul, and premium residential services.

In the second half of 2005, WiMAX will be available for indoor installation, with smaller antennas similar to 802.11-based WLAN access points today. In this fixed indoor model, WiMAX will be available for use in wide consumer residential broadband deployments, as these devices become “user installable,” lowering installation costs for carriers.

By 2006, technology based on the IEEE 802.16e standards will be integrated into portable computers to support movement between WiMAX service areas. This allows for portable and mobile applications and services. In the future, WiMAX capabilities will even be integrated into mobile handsets.

Broadband Gaming

[via Rafat Ali] Communications Engineering & Design writes:

When it comes to broadband gaming, it looks like the cable industry will be playing for keeps.

And why not? Its pretty much consensus among industry analysts that the online gaming market will blow up (in a good way) over the coming years.

Accounting for $353 million in subscriptions and sales revenue in 2003, the market will triple to more than $1 billion by 2008, forecasts the Yankee Group, in a recent study. Throw in advertising revenue and the figure could approach $4 billion, says research firm InStat/MDR, a sister company to CED.

Thats hefty growth for a sector thats quickly shedding its label as a niche market, and its no surprise that cable operators are positioning themselves to grab a piece of that pie. Armed with high-speed pipes and a gaming-friendly PacketCable Multimedia (PCMM) architecture looming on the horizon, its fair to say that cable definitely has gaming on the agenda.

TECH TALK: The Network Computer: Ellisons Ideas

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison first touted the idea of a network computer as early as 1995. Ellison introduced his vision of the network computer, a small, inexpensive device that makes it easy to run applications that access information via the Internet.
Wally Bock takes up the story:

The reasons were obvious, at least to [Ellison]. PCs had gotten too complicated, he said. And besides, every fifteen years or so there’s a new revolutionary product in the computing business that replaces what went before.
Network Computers were supposed to be slimmed down versions of Personal Computers. They might have a screen, a microprocessor, some memory chips, a keyboard and a mouse. The most important component would be the network connection.

That magic part would connect the Network Computer to the Net. There would only be rudimentary software and memory on the Network Computer. Most software and serious memory would be out there on the Net where it could be easily maintained. The system would run on Java and use Oracle databases. Microsoft software would be nowhere in sight.

The idea caught on with the industry insiders, journalists, venture capitalists and other trumpeters of the great Internet Bubble. In mid-1996, Business Week devoted a Special Report to Network Computer.

By then there was a price target, $500 and all kinds of companies were lining up to make products that would capitalize on this powerful Network Computer trend. Bandai, a Japanese company, announced that it would soon be selling a $600 Network Computer in the US. Apple had designed one called the Pippin.

There were only two figures in the computer business who didn’t share the enthusiasm for the Network Computer concept. Andy Grove of Intel hedged his bets by having teams work on projects that would set Intel up to be a player if Ellison was right. Bill Gates set Microsoft on a path of developing its own solutions.

Larry Ellison said that Network Computers would be widely available in 1996 but by mid-1997 that hadn’t happened. Gateway had released a Network Computer in May but that was about it. Still, no lesser authority figure than the Economist was saying that “there is broad agreement that NCs are indeed the future.”

Not much more happened in 1997 but in 1998 the Economist was still predicting that the PC would be “entering its twilight years by the beginning of the millennium.” The idea of the Network Computer as an “information appliance” had caught on and there were predictions that the folks who would really shift the Network Computer revolution into high gear would be companies like Sony.

Well, as it turned out, network computers didnt really happen. But the idea refuses to die. Ellison resurrected the idea. In November 1999, this is what News.com wrote:

Though hotly debated in computer industry circles in 1996 and 1997, the network computing concept failed to gain a market foothold, in part because PC prices suddenly fell to historic lows–lessening the need for new, low-cost systems. When Ellison and others first began touting the network computer, traditional “standalone” desktops typically cost well over $1,500. Today prices begin around $400.

But as prices dropped, people seemed to conclude that controlling sophisticated software applications is less important than using the Internet. Home consumers in particular often rely on so-called Web-based applications such as Hotmail, and Internet-based corporate networks are commonplace.

PC makers and electronics companies have accordingly turned their sights toward manufacturing easy-to-use “information appliances” that deliver email and Web access. Thus the network computer, one of the first devices to contemplate doing away with personal hard drives and relying on network storage instead, could be positioned for a comeback–even if questions about the server end of the equation remain.

Ellison, the flamboyant head of the world’s leading database maker, said Wall Street’s reaction to Liberate [which was earlier called Network Computer] endorses his vision of “thin client” devices such as network computers, telephones and palm-size devices that work with applications from central computers.

“The personal computer is a ridiculous device,” Ellison said, arguing that while information appliances won’t obviate the need for PCs, the latter have hidden costs, create more labor for corporate information technology departments and don’t make sense for many users with scaled-down PC needs.

So, what exactly went wrong with the Network Computer?

Tomorrow: What Went Wrong

Continue reading TECH TALK: The Network Computer: Ellisons Ideas

Future of Search Marketing

Gord Hotchkiss looks ahead to the future of search and search marketing. Among the search trends: localisation, personalisation, integration with the desktop, unwiring, and expansion of search indexes.

In the midst of writing this article, I was called by a fund manager for a major mutual fund that has some investments in the Industry. She asked me if I believed search advertising revenues would flat line and maybe even start dropping in the near future.

I said that it’s possible that revenue produced by existing business models could slow from their previous meteoric rise, but I wouldn’t ever see them decreasing. As keyword inventories get tapped and bid prices find their natural ceilings, we have to see revenue growth slow.

But then I started talking about some of the potential of search that I’ve laid out in this article. We have to understand that this channel will evolve into an integrated and fundamental function of being online. It will be at the base of all we do. And the opportunities to deliver relevant, targeted marketing messages to highly motivated consumers will grow exponentially.

Will search marketing be the same as it is today? No. Will it be as straight forward? No. Will it cross over into other channels to a greater extent? Yes. Will there be money in it? Yesbillions and billions. Do Search Marketers have a challenge ahead of them? You have no idea how big a challenge!

Change will be the imperative for the industry. The search marketers who survive and prosper will be the ones who anticipate, pursue and embrace change. The pace of change in search will accelerate in direct relation to the amount of money invested. Microsoft’s entry into search is only the beginning. As search moves to the center of the online experience through the convergence of new search functionality, it will create a white hot tornado of demand. New technology will appear, be assimilated and become the new standard at a dizzying rate. The marketing potential of search will also move at a breakneck pace.

The largest search technology players will be investing huge amounts in monetizing this potential. They will be joined by a long line of partners waiting to jump on the rapidly moving bandwagon. Finally, we’ll see large portions of traditional marketing budgets being directed to the new online Chimera which has partially evolved from the search we once knew.

As with any situation that involves accelerated change, uncertainty and discontinuous innovation, there will be a huge demand for visionary practitioners to help navigate through this change. The brightest and best search marketers will accept this role and work to help advertisers plug into the new possibilities. It will take time for seamless solutions to catch up with the innovations and until then, it will be up to search marketing professionals to bridge the gaps. To do this, the search technology providers will finally, for once and for all, bury the hatchet and embrace search marketing vendors as their partners in the industry. They’ll have no choice. They won’t have enough feet on the street to help introduce the channel to all the potential advertisers and explain the intricacies. The potential for search marketing companies is huge, but so is the challenge.

Esther Dyson invests in Flickr

Esther Dyson writes:

As many people are discovering, writing blogs is hard work – sometimes almost as hard as reading them! Photos are much quicker, and almost anyone can do a decent photo – at least of/for friends. and now that it’s easy to post by mail, and everyone has a digital camera or camera phone, these services are becoming great ways to sell value-added storage.

My own experience is that it’s quite addictive, and Flickr has a rich but natural-feeling set of social protocols. Each time you go to your home page you see a new set of photos (unless your friends are really slacking on the job and haven’t produced any new photos). You can comment on your friends’ photos and they on yours, send messages, set up groups for friends and group albums for events and so on, but there’s less of the me-me-me feel you get on, say, Friendster, and more of the I-see feel you get from blogs (but without so many words, lucid or otherwise).

Microsoft’s New Set-Top Box

New s.com provides an overview:

On the outside, it’s slick, with new video-playback and photo-viewing programs, and a custom version of Internet Explorer 6 designed to make Web browsing on the television a far less painful process. On the inside, it’s a Windows CE-based product with a 733MHz Celeron–slow by PC standards but downright zippy in the world of set-top boxes.

Microsoft will sell the $199 device in two ways–as a dial-up product for technology newbies with $21.95 monthly service; and as an additional way for broadband homes to view the Web for $9.95 using the existing Internet connection. Newbies, who have historically been the bulk of MSN TV subscribers, are likely to be the majority of initial customers, said MSN TV General Manager Sam Klepper.

“We think over time, broadband (subscribers) will be half or more,” Klepper said in an interview at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus here.

Many of the new features are aimed at those customers, including the ability to play music or movies stored on a PC in another room. The device can connect via wired or 802.11b wireless networks, though Microsoft plans to add support for faster 802.11g wireless networking in mid-November. Customers will get 2GB of e-mail space for their primary account and 250MB for up to 11 additional accounts.

The new box, which is being made by Thomson and sold under the RCA brand, will be shipped to stores starting next week. The product has no hard drive, but it has enough flash memory to store some data, including 100 compressed photos that can be used as part of a slide show.

Web Services and Network Computing

Headshift’s Lee discusses the “number of interesting observations made lately about the ways in which web services are starting to move us towards a world of accessible distributed computing” and writes:

Microsoft, arguably the biggest barrier to progress in this direction, is facing big threats on several fronts. On one hand, Apple PCs and music devices are setting new standards in terms of usability and design, and OSX “Tiger” promises much of the functionality that Microsoft has announced and then retracted from the development of its next generation Longhorn system. At the same time, the Apple threat is linked with the more general Linux and Open source threat that Microsoft has faced for some time, because OSX is Unix-based. But while the consumer end of their market is vulnerable, the concept of a Google OS is a more fundamental danger to the Windows cash cow that Microsoft is based upon. A distributed system powered by Google’s computing and search power, but which is run through a browser and Web services, could simply render Windows obsolete.

Web services are often referred to as the “plumbing” that joins together distributed applications, and without it, we can’t do much of course; but we also need to think long and hard about how we implement these applications.

Comcast CEO Interview

[via Rafat Ali] WSJ has an interview with Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast:

Our desire is to reach out to content companies whether we are an owner or a partner or a purchaser. Right now, we are the world’s largest purchaser of programming content, about $4 billion a year. We think a lot of customers will want to store that content on a box in their house — their digital-video recorder. But most customers will want much more content than the 100 to 200 hours you can store on a box. If you could access 10,000 hours, maybe someday you’ll be able to access 30,000 hours or virtually unlimited content. That would be nirvana.

We’ve been saying for the last five years we wanted to turn Comcast into a new-products company. In the next couple months and years we’re going to have digital-video recorders and voice-over-IP phones. We already have high-definition television and video on-demand. We’re also already planning on the next suite of products: videophones, video chat, interactive television, Internet search capabilities and interactive advertising.

We’re approaching seven million users on Comcast’s high speed Internet service… We also have video on-demand and a very exciting arrangement with Sony and MGM to get lots of movies and a deal with the NFL. In fact, we think eventually 10,000 hours will be available on demand. And if you then overlay that with access to the Internet, there is virtually unlimited content that consumers will be able to access on a television, a PC and perhaps on a mobile device. There is constantly going to be a need to make it easy for consumers to access what they want when they want it. Call it a search engine. Call it a portal. Call it an on-screen guide or navigation device.

Cellphones in India

WSJ writes:

Companies are jostling to capture a bigger piece of one of the world’s fastest-growing markets — just this month, many of India’s cellphone companies slashed rates by more than 50%. With lower rates and new handsets priced at less than $50, a cellphone is within reach of millions of middle-class Indians.

Cellphone-service providers in India, including Hutchison Essar Telecom Ltd., Reliance Infocomm Ltd. and Tata Teleservices Ltd., will be adding two million subscribers a month for the foreseeable future, analysts say. That likely will lift the number of cellphones in India past the number of fixed-line phones before year end.

The growth and increasing competition show that cellphone companies — as well as international handset makers such as Nokia Corp. and equipment makers such as Nortel Networks Corp. — recognize India is at last a market worth fighting for. As more Indians go mobile, total cellphone revenue will double this year to almost $6 billion and double again over the next two years, analysts say.

With lower rates, the average revenue per subscriber per month has fallen more than 15% this year to less than $10. The secret to survival in this market, analysts say, is offsetting the decline by finding ways to get Indians to spend more money on data services. Indians can use their phones to download pictures or songs from their favorite films or get video clips of cricket matches. In the Punjab, India’s bread basket, wheat farmers can look up local and international prices, while fishermen in southern Kerala can check the different prices for their catch at each port before deciding where to dock. While data services account for about 5% of cellphone revenue, they will make up more than 20% by 2008, Ms. Desai of Gartner says.