Language Teaching

The Economist writes about how Skype, podcasts and broadband are transforming language teaching:

Tens of millions of people in 110 countries now download the free ChinesePod podcasts, Praxis’s flagship service, says Mr Carroll. About 250,000 listen regularly and several thousand pay for the premium services, which include individual Skype chats with teachers. A second service, SpanishSense, is out, and more will follow.

The customers are everywhere from Berkeley to Alaska and the Vatican. In the past, when language instructionalong with haircuts and massageswas a non-tradable sector of the economy, many people would not have found a native Mandarin speaker as a teacher in their town at all. Now they need only a broadband connection.

Danal and Mobile Payments

WSJ writes: “In South Korea, Danal’s popular service lets people charge such items, as well as tangible goods like books or cosmetics, directly to their mobile-phone bills using an authentication code they punch into their personal computer. They receive the code as a text message on their phone when they are ready to buy something online. There is no need to install special software on the phones. In heavily wired Korea, 70% of all digital content — valued at more than $1 billion last year — is charged directly to cellphone bills instead of traditional credit cards, the company says.”

In India, mchek, in which I have an investment, is also working in the mobile payments space.

Children of the Web

Business Week writes:

Flying blind is the unavoidable consequence of coming to terms with today’s most important demographic group: the tens of millions of digital elite who are in the vanguard of a fast-emerging global youth culture. Because of smartphones, blogs, instant messaging, Flickr, MySpace, Skype, YouTube, digg, and de.lic.ious, young people scattered all over are instantly aware of what’s happening to others like them everywhere else. This highly influential group, many of whom are also well-heeled, is sharing ideas and information across borders and driving demand for consumer electronics, entertainment, autos, food, and fashion. Think of it as a virtual melting pot. As the population of the young and Web-savvy grows into the hundreds of millions, the pot is going to boil. “This kind of globalization is happening. It’s still a young phenomenon, but it’s growing fast, and it’s going to take a lot of companies by surprise,” says Soumitra Dutta, a professor at graduate management school INSEAD in France.

We’re now at the busy crossroads where globalization meets Web 2.0. This presents both a challenge to the old ways of doing business and an opportunity to gain tremendous leverage via the right goods and services.

Facebook Apps

WSJ writes: “Facebook now offers more than 800 new services — from photo slideshows to online file storage — up from fewer than 100 a month ago. Meanwhile, those who are creating the Facebook services can access information about their customers and make money by selling related items and ads…Facebook is actually borrowing a tactic pioneered by Microsoft: Rather than building every piece of technology yourself, let others build on your “platform,” much the way Adobe Systems Inc., Intuit Inc. and others built software for Microsoft’s Windows operating system in the 1980s. Using this strategy, Facebook can nurture an ecosystem of developers who can create services far faster than Facebook could build them on its own.”

Identity System

Dave Winer writes: “The features of social networks are due to deconstruct into simple services that can be recombined by skilled users in an infinite number of ways. At the core of all of it is an identity system. So what is an identity system? Is there a good definition somewhere? How many features can you add before it becomes more than an identity system? This is important because in this area, it’s important to strip it down to its bare minimum, so that the first component of any network of people, events and resources can be maximally combined with features that depend on identity. The goal is to give the user the most options with the fewest identities.”

Weakening Network Effects?

Rich Skrenta writes:

In an environment where travel is free and instantaneous, you get flash mobs.

If a place is cool, or new, or interesting, you go there to check it out.

A place might be interesting simply because there are a lot of other people there at the moment. We’re instinctively drawn towards crowds. “Why are all those people gathered over there? I’ll check it out too.”

A swarm of bees clumped on a particular tree branch doesn’t mean that the branch is some magical bee-place with a lock-in for centuries.

Sure, maybe they stay there.

Or maybe the bees move to a new hive.

Targeted Online Marketing

WSJ writes:

“The future of digital media is less about distribution and more about understanding the audience’s interests and being able to project that anywhere,” says Bill Gossman, president and chief executive officer of independently owned behavioral-targeting firm Revenue Science.

Similar targeting is what made search-related advertising so popular: Advertisers could buy links to key search words so their ads show up only when people search for a particular term. This technique extends that concept to display, video or other “rich media” ads — such as animated characters dancing across a screen. Spending on behaviorally targeted ads in these categories reached $350 million in 2006, according to a recent analysis by eMarketer, which predicts the category could reach $1 billion in 2008 and then nearly quadruple to $3.8 billion by 2011.

New Social Media

Robert Scoble writes about Jaiku, Twitter, Facebook, Kyte and Plaxo. “Why am I using these services nearly every hour of my waking life? Because they are being talked about and I want to learn what is making people so passionate nearly everyone in the industry I meet either loves these things or despises them. It seems that every conversation lately is about one of these five services and how theyre potentially changing how we communicate with each other. Translation: theres a lot of hype here and were trying to figure out what they are good for and whether the hype is justified. In my opinion: it is.”

Advertising’s Evolution

Knowledge@Wharton writes:

As online and traditional forms of advertising evolve, new measurement techniques are likely to emerge.

According to Werbach, online advertising will at some point be able to more accurately measure what consumers do and what they value. “Online advertising has the potential to be radically more efficient, responsive, and measurable than traditional advertising, so ultimately it will be valued using different metrics. At the macro level, advertising will eventually track user attention, which means online advertising will grow substantially,” he says.

Although these new metrics are also likely to be applied to traditional media, Williams says these will be harder to track relative to Internet advertising.

New Devices

Forbes has an article by Elizabeth Corcoran:

A bevy of new devices are emerging, machines smaller than a laptop computer, bigger than a cellphone. Like variations of Darwin’s finches, each of these is evolving its own specialty:

–Steve Jobs’ iPhone will let you talk.

–“Mobile PCs,” based on Intel’s (nasdaq: INTC – news – people ) chips, will let you run the software written for PC on lightweight, portable machines.

–The “Foleo,” Palm’s (nasdaq: PALM – news – people ) new machine created by Palm Pilot and Treo inventor Jeff Hawkins, aims to be a “mobile companion” that sits somewhere between a PDA and a full-fledged laptop.

Each of these design efforts–and I’m sure there are scores more–are scratching away at the environment, trying to figure out what it will take to survive. What will consumers (and businesses) buy? At what price? With what usage caveats?