Bus. Std: The A, B, C of Blogs

My latest column in Business Standard:

What are blogs and why are they becoming hot now? Why should you consider reading blogs or even doing your own? [This story is organised as a blog. So start reading the last entry first because blogs are published in reverse chronological fashion, with the newest entries at the top.]

Friday, May 13: Here are some blogging tips.

  • Blog daily. A good starting point is the BlogStreet list of the top 100 Indian blogs at http://india.blogstreet.com/top100.html. Blogging has to become part of the day’s routine. Things have to become habits – for both readers and writers.

  • Read widely. One may not understand everything, but over time, one gets the lay of the land. Maps start forming. Stories acquire a context. And over time, the linkages between developments start becoming apparent.

  • Think aloud. The one thing I decided when I started blogging is that I would write what I thought.

  • Start. Even when I feel I may not something to say, sitting in front of the computer changes everything. The words just come.

    Thursday, May 12: How do you start blogging?

    To get started, you can use any of the free blogging platforms available via Google (Blogger.com), Rediff, Sify or IndiaTimes. Once you are sure you want to do it, you could try a more advanced blogging platforms like TypePad (costs $5-15 per month). If you have your own server to host the blogging software, you could use WordPress (open-source) or MovableType (free for non-commercial use).

    An RSS Aggregator would be a good tool to complement the blogging platform. It offers an alternative to going to various blogs. Instead, it aggregates the output of various blogs (keeping track of when the blogs are updated) and shows you all the fresh items in a browser or a special client. Bloglines and Rojo are web-based aggregators. NewsGator is an Outlook-based aggregator.

    There are plenty of services becoming available for bloggers and readers. Our Blogstreet ranks top blogs along with their neighbours (other related blogs), and has a set of useful RSS utilities. Three other RSS-based search and notification services that you may find useful are Feedster, Technorati and PubSub.

    Wednesday, May 11: Why blog?

    Let me talk about my experience. Recently, I completed three years of blogging at http://www.emergic.org, which mainly discusses emerging technologies, enterprises and markets (though I do have the occasional personal post). I take items that I think are interesting, abstract a part of the text from the original story and link to it from the blog. This has a dual purpose: it helps me find interesting items easily later, and I serve as a human filter (or aggregator) for a small part of the content web. At times, I will add a small commentary to the post, adding my unique perspective on what Ive read.

    For me, the blog has become an ideas refinery. I learn a lot from reading what others write. Much like the open-source software community shares and gives back, the blog is my way of contributing back into the ideas community in my own small way by not just taking the time (a precious resource for all of us) to link and write, but also by discussing the ideas that I am thinking about. The blog is a mirror of my mind. The comments I receive from many of the readers (and other bloggers) helps in real-time refining and getting the best out from a community smarter than any single individual.

    One of the by-products of blogging has been the new friends that Ive made and people Ive met. The blog is a non-linear way to make connections we can only meet so many people you can meet in person, but via the blog we can build an exponentially increasing network. For me, the blog and its readers are the social network.

    Tuesday, May 10: What are blogs?

    Blogs (also called web logs) are journals, personal diaries. They have postings at varying intervals, usually by a single individual, in the form of text, images, and other data forms, arranged in reverse chronological order and accessible with a Web browser.

    In the early days of the Internet, setting up individual home pages was seen as a big deal. But these pages were hard to update once created. Blogs are all about updates. Publishing for individuals on the web has become easy and one of the by-products of that is the emergence of millions of personal pages talking about everything from what their authors did during the day or running commentaries on specialised topics. Blogs are the opposite of mainstream media. If media as we know it is about a few publishing for many, blogs are about many publishing for few.

    Monday, May 9: Blogs are hot.

    Business Week had this to say in its cover story entitled Blogs will change your Business in the May 2 issue: [Blogs] represent power. Look at it this way: In the age of mass media, publications like ours print the news. Sources try to get quoted, but the decision is ours. Ditto with letters to the editor. Now instead of just speaking through us, they can blog. And if they master the ins and outs of this new art — like how to get other bloggers to link to them — they reach a huge audience. This is just the beginning. Many of the same folks who developed blogs are busy adding features so that bloggers can start up music and video channels and team up on editorial projects. The divide between the publishers and the public is collapsing. This turns mass media upside down. It creates media of the masses.

  • Handhelds Strike Back

    WSJ writes:

    In what gadget makers say is the latest sign of progress, you now can make your calendar appointments and watch hours of home movies on the very same device.

    Hand-held electronic organizers were conceived as simple tools to keep track of personal appointments and contacts. During the next few months, though, a crop of new devices will hit the market that can store hundreds of digital photos, thousands of emails and several hours worth of your home movies.

    palmOne Inc. [has unveiled] the LifeDrive, a $499 device that comes with four gigabytes of storage — more than four times the amount in previous palmOne hand-helds. It enables users to view hours of video and play hundreds of songs, and comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for transferring photos and other files from the device to a personal computer wirelessly.

    The biggest difference between the latest batch of devices and their predecessors is the storage capacity. While previous hand-held devices relied on memory chips, the new gadgets use small hard drives for storage. That is the same component found in Apple Computer Inc.’s iPod digital-music player. Hard drives allow for far more digital content — such as 2.5 hours of video, 300 digital photos and a year’s worth of emails — to be carried in a relatively small product.

    MAIT Report for Indian IT

    MAIT has released a report on improving PC penetration, internet and domestic software in India.

    The committee has delineated a vision for India, which encompasses to increase the pace of IT penetration in the country and achieve the levels prevailing in China, in the next three to four years. India, by 2008, should achieve a PC penetration of 65 per 1,000 from the existing 14 per 1,000; internet penetration of 40 per 1,000 from existing 5 per 1,000 (number of subscribers); the domestic software industry, including the local language applications and content industry, to grow seven-fold from existing about USD 4 billion (Rs. 1,900 crores) to USD 28 billion (Rs.13,300 crores); all villages to be made online for agricultural, healthcare and education services; and IT should contribute significantly to the growth of the national GDP.

    The report with an objective of increasing the IT penetration in India by creating an environment that encourages the domestic development of the entire IT virtuous cycle and eventually leading to attracting investments in IT manufacturing, has recommended launch of several mission mode projects such as IT enabled teaching and IT teaching in education; IT deployment for economic development in rural India; Telemedicine; affordable computing for homes and SMBs; e-governance; joint industry-government IT usage promotion program and a roadmap for attracting IT manufacturing investments in the country eventually leading to not only a vibrant domestic manufacturing industry but also substantial exports. The report stresses on the urgent need to implement the recommendations and the mission mode projects, as they are critical not only for national development, but also essential to reach the target levels of IT penetration in the country. Also, the recommendations are interlinked and the desired multiplier affect can be had only once these are implemented in totality, in a synchronised fashion.

    Mobile Network Gaming

    WSJ writes:

    Although the market is still small and fraught with technical hurdles, game makers see networked portable devices as a vital way to expand online game playing beyond the home. Interest has soared this year, sparked in part by the introduction of new, Wi-Fi-capable hand-held game machines from Sony Corp. and Nintendo Co. Both companies are talking up new networked titles for their devices this week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, videogame show in Los Angeles.

    Japan’s cellphone gamers compare scores in soccer matches and mate each others’ thoroughbreds in racehorse games. Cellular carriers have teamed up with game makers including Tokyo-based G-mode Co. to offer head-to-head play for everything from Othello to a Japanese version of rock-paper-scissors.

    Now, networked mobile gaming, while still small, is also picking up in the U.S. Carriers such as Sprint Corp. have sites where users can download multiplayer versions of single-player classics like cellphone poker. Sorrent, of San Mateo, Calif., offers the Daily Puzzle, where users can download a series of brainteasers and get statistics showing how their answers compared with those of other players.

    Semantic Web

    Sunil Goyal explains: “On a simple note, Semantic Web wants to foster machine to machine communication to make more smart services available on the internet. Today’s web is meant primarily for humans. Any content or service provider on the internet provides an HTML web page to his/her service. Any user comes to the website, looks at the particular information and is done. HTML web pages can be as simple as a home page, a blog, news web site to an email service and as complex as an enterprise level ERP service.”

    Enterprise Software and Open-Source

    The CIO Weblog points to a presentation made by Larry Augustin, CEO of Medsphere.

    In the recent Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco, Larry Augustin, CEO of Medsphere, talked about four successful models, each representing a different application category: sugarCRM , Compiere , Asterisk , and VistA (the technology his company first deployed to the private sector) and looked at what they had in common to come up with six rules that identify a ripe opportunity for open source:

    * Look at heavy applications that are traditionally a big expense and take years to implement. These include, CRM, ERP, PBX, and EHR (electronic health records).

    * The presence of big proprietary traditional competitors with big upfront software licensing fees that make it hard to get started.

    * A large, enthusiastic free user base so you don’t have to spend a lot of time educating them and the market about what you are doing, giving you sales leverage.

    * An enthusiastic developer ecosystem–you have a community of people that participate in some way.

    * There is a big enterprise market opportunity: for healthcare, the market is to grow to $25B IT market by 2007.

    * You have a big under-penetrated SMB market opportunity.

    TECH TALK: The Coming Age of ASPs: Emerging Market Perspective

    What we have discussed so far have been arguments put forth from the developed market perspective. Let us now shift gears and consider the emerging markets and why Application Service Providers will have a key role to play as enterprises adopt IT.

    First, there is a growing recognition in the IT companies that the next untapped frontier for growth is in the emerging markets. As these countries develop and build their physical infrastructure, the digital infrastructure and information pipelines also need to be put in place. This is where time needs to be compressed and scale needs to achieved rapidly. Making business process portals which cater to the next enterprises is the fastest way to reach out in an environment where the alternate distribution channels are not fully formed.

    Second, there is an entire category of users who are completely underserved in these markets. I call them SMEEMs Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises in Emerging Markets. They have been largely unaffected by the Internet other than email usage and in some cases, a minor web presence. The software they use for their business remains almost identical to what they used five or more years ago. [In India, this is limited to mostly pirated copies of Microsofts Windows and Office, and Tally for accounting.] They are the weak links in the information value chain.

    Third, the growing availability of reliable and affordable broadband connections in emerging markets means that the Internet is now becoming an extension of the local network. People have become comfortable with using the Internet in their lives as consumers. Even in India, broadband connectivity is becoming available across the country through the phone companies and cable operators.

    Fourth, the dramatic growth in mobile phones has shown people the value of instant and always-available connectivity. Mobiles have hastened the pace of business people can call or SMS each other. In many ways, mobiles are becoming the computers of the East. But the mobiles have limitations and need to be complemented by desktop computers along with applications and services. The need for multi-device access will drive the shift from desktop-based and LAN-based computing to centralised computing platforms.

    Fifth, in the avatar as consumers, people have already started trusting their data to centralised services. Email service providers like Yahoo and Microsofts Hotmail are used by hundreds of millions of users. Various ecommerce providers have our credit card information. ASPs like Salesforce.com have also demonstrated that even businesses are willing to host sensitive customer data on central servers outside the firewall.

    Finally, there are a number of technologies like web services and Ajax which can serve as the foundation to create applications that are modular and integrated at the backend, and have rich user interface not traditionally associated with web-based programs. These may be old technologies, but they are being applied in new and innovative ways by companies who dont have a legacy to protect and sustain.

    The ASP ideas have tremendous potential in the context of building out the IT infrastructure in emerging markets. They are the only way to rapidly bridge the gulf that separates the SMEs from their larger brethren. Today, the lack of IT usage by SMEEMs poses a threat to efficiencies that companies need to generate across their value chain. So, how do we get the ASP model right this time around? Let us start by taking a closer look at the SMEEMs.

    Tomorrow: SMEEMs

    Continue reading TECH TALK: The Coming Age of ASPs: Emerging Market Perspective