TECH TALK: Apple iPhone: The Platform

MEX wrote about Apple’s Browser and the implications:

According to the information Apple released to developers attending its WWDC event, the iPhone browser will enable applications to run in a sandbox environment, through which they can interface with the integrated applications to access functions like phone calls, email messaging, mapping, contacts and calendar. In practice, this means browser-based applications will be able to offer features like click-to-call, storing event reminders in the local calendar or showing a location on the integrated map.

Developer reaction to this announcement has divided into two camps. On the one hand, some are hugely dissappointed Apple is not providing a public SDK for genuine native application development; on the other, there are those who are delighted Apple has chosen such an open development path and are excited by the possibility of being able to go direct to consumers without the delivery channel issues which continue to impair developers on most mobile platforms.

There is Apple with unprecedented hype around its iPhone launch and a vested interest in building a web-based media platform spanning desktop, living room and mobile. Then there is Nokia, the worlds largest handset manufacturer, which has publicly stated its commitment to becoming an internet company and is planning a 2008 re-organisation which will see its devices, software and services businesses merged into a single business unit. Coming in from the left field, you have Google and Adobe actively seeking to disenfranchise Microsoft from its dominance of the desktop by making the web the software platform of choice. And finally, there is an army of developers constantly innovating and pushing the boundaries of whats possible with web-based applications.

Robert Cringely wrote about Apples broader plans to turn the Safari into a platform:

Safari for Windows is part of a PLATFORM in the same sense that iTunes is part of the iPod platform or vice versa. In this case the platform in question is the iPhone and an as-yet unmentioned partner in that platform is Google.

The iPhone absolutely needs AJAX applications for the phone to be a success on AT&T’s EDGE network. By pushing more functional logic into the browser, the bandwidth consumed per http round-trip is significantly reduced, making the phone apps faster and helping to justify that big price tag. The problem with this is that AJAX apps don’t always work the same (or at all) on every browser. The iPhone has real browser support, which is good, but remember AJAX is based on JavaScript, which in this case is not so good. JavaScript isn’t statically typed and each browser has its own version of JavaScript. Developers are typically forced to hand-code different versions of their AJAX apps for different browsers. With the AJAX economy dictating that browsers with big market share like IE and Firefox get most of the effort, that leaves Safari as a second-class browser and, potentially, a liability for the iPhone.

Whaddayado? Introduce a Windows version of Safari, get a million people to download it in the first week, and scare developers into moving Safari customization higher on their AJAX priority list.

Where Google comes into this story is with the Google Web Toolkit (GWT), an open source compiler that compiles Java source code into optimized browser-specific JavaScript code. GWT makes writing AJAX apps like writing regular apps in the sense that developers can use many of the tools they are used to. And GWT adds the advantage that the GWT compiler handles all the problems of working with specific browsers.

So, get ready for the next revolution in mobile phones and computing!

Continue reading TECH TALK: Apple iPhone: The Platform

TECH TALK: Apple iPhone: Industry Impact

Om Malik wrote about how Apple’s iPhone will change the mobile business:

A true web applications platform for the mobile: Charles Ying thinks that Apple just reinvented the mobile applications platform. This isnt mobile Flash, mobile Java, or even the mobile Web. Its the real Web, the real deal, he writes.

Break the Wireless Walled Gardens iPhone is fully functional iPod, with full tracks of music. Do you need to download ring tones for $2.99 a pop, when you get a full song for a third of that price? Ditto for Wallpapers, and themes, and everything else that is being sold on the carrier deck.

Shift of control to the customers: If the embedded (Safari) browser if it performs the way as hyped by Jobs & Co., will give us the choice-control we have on the web. Search engines to web sites nothing will be determined by the wireless carriers who have thus far done nothing but create barriers between what we want, and giving us what they want to sell.

Slow demise of subsidized, boring phones filled with bloat ware: The introduction of the unlocked iPhone will do two things it would basically get US buyers savvy to the idea of buying full priced unlocked phones. Secondly, it is going to cause a behavior change – of buying phones instead of freebies.

Keep it simple or else: One of the lasting (at least for me) changes that iPhone will bring to the mobile market is simplification. Their new user interface is going to make complex mobile services relatively simple, and can have the same impact as Blackberry had on the corporate market.

Tomi Ahonen wrote:

I am certain that the mobile telecoms world will count its time in two Eras. The Era BI: time Before the iPhone, and the ERA AI: time After the iPhone.

From June all reviewers around the world will compare all new high-end phones with the iPhone. How near do they arrive in being “almost as good as the iPhone”. This is the phrase we will see in most reviews of smartphones. And the yardstick in usability will from now on – and my prediction is that for the fore-seeable future of mobile phones – the latest iPhone. A clear watershed moment in the industry. For the first time a major handset device which was designed from the start to be both a multipurpose smartphone and yet easy to use.

The second and much greater impact is the mobile internet, or the value-add services industry of mobile telecoms…It has been a lopsided battle, when most early internet-capable phones were monochrome WAP phones or modest speed GPRS phones with still tiny colour screens. Now we get the glorious sharp 3.5″ iPhone screen and its powerful web access software. It was easy to suggest a laptop with a WiFi or WiMax access card would “forever” trump a 2″ tiny pocket screen of an early 2.5G or 3G phone. Now we get the big screen iPhone and suddenly the pocket internet seems very plausible. And even at 500 dollars (subsidised) the iPhone costs half that of a laptop. Do we really need a new computer. If all we need is e-mail and music and uploading some pictures to Flickr or Myspace, isn’t an iPhone enough?

Yes the iPhone is a radical device and yes, we need the American IT and media and adveritsing industries to wake up to mobile phones. And yes, the iPhone will bring valuable goals for all user interface design in mobile telecoms, both for handset makers and mobile operators. But all invention didn’t happen at Apple or be caused by the iPhone.

But the level of the noise around mobile will double in June. Very many big guns will join the game. That is good. And it will be a change from an old Era, where handset makers like Nokia and Motorola ran the show with the major mobile operators (carriers). Now media giants will join in, as will major IT players and internet companies.

AT&T too is expected to benefit from being the exclusive partner for iPhone. The New York Times wrote:

It is a testament to the power of Apples brand name and reputation that many consumers appear to be giving it a chance to redefine phones as the iPod did music players. AT&T said 1.1 million potential customers had signed up on the companys Web site asking to be contacted when the phone is for sale.

Steven P. Jobs, Apples chief executive, has said that he expects Apple to sell 10 million iPhones by the end of 2008. That projection could include sales outside the United States, but Apple has not yet announced any deals with foreign carriers.

For AT&T the iPhone launch is bigger than the launch of a new device, Mr. Hodulik said. Its something more strategic. Its about moving the whole brand.

Tomorrow: The Platform

Continue reading TECH TALK: Apple iPhone: Industry Impact

TECH TALK: Apple iPhone: Competition and Need

Walter Mossberg wrote about two alternatives Blackberry’s Curve and the Nokia N95.

The new BlackBerry Curve 8300, sold by AT&T, is sort of a cross between the maker’s low-end consumer-oriented Pearl and its larger, more traditional models like the 8800 series. It costs $199 after rebate, with a two-year contract.

The Nokia N95…[which costs $749]….lacks a full keyboard, physical or virtual and its email is primitive, but that’s not its main purpose. This device is the best combination of a camera and a phone I’ve ever tested, and includes a long list of other media features.

For $749, you could buy the Curve and a very nice digital camera. But the N95 is for photo enthusiasts who want an all-in-one device. The Curve is a more mainstream smart phone that aims for a balance of features at a low price.

Paul Kedrosky wrote in April why he thinks we need the iPhone:

Mobile browers are awful. The Treo isn’t bad, and it’s the best of the above three, but the Samsung and Blackberrry browsers should be outlawed. They are that bad. They are so bad that Blackberry users’ opinions about mobile services, mobile startups, etc. should be summarily dismissed.
iPhone: Browser is reputedly very good.

Touch screens rule. Once you’ve gone touch you’ll never go back. Treo has it, Blackberry doesn’t, and it drives me nuts. Trying to use a thumb wheel to touch a specific screen element is like dancing about architecture. It’s briefly mildly entertaining, but ultimately stupid.
iPhone: Touchscreen. ‘Nuff said.

Big screens rule. The Samsung screen is teensy and irritating. The Blackberry and Treo screens are bigger and better, but I want more. I hate having online real estate so crunched. It feels so … 640×480.
iPhone: Big, bright mofo screen.

Information Week writes about the browsing experience:

Forget the fact that the ultra-high-speed surfing shown on the first crop of iPhone TV commercials is a crock. Forget, too, that the main technical impediment to fast smartphone browsing isn’t software — it’s the carrier networks. (Many of the carriers are putting higher-speed networks in place, though for the iPhone only AT&T is of concern.)

Where Jobs has it right is that we all want an alternative to the excruciatingly slow loads we have to deal with today, on our BlackBerrys and other smartphones. Jobs is correct in implicitly recognizing that lighter, WAP-style Web pages aren’t really what users want. They don’t deliver complete enough content, nor do they do enough of an end-around to the slow-loading issue to matter.

So, notwithstanding all my iPhone bashing, Jobs’s vision that browsing on your mobile device should be no different than it is on your PC is absolutely on target.

Tomorrow: Industry Impact

Continue reading TECH TALK: Apple iPhone: Competition and Need

TECH TALK: Apple iPhone: Features (Part 2)

Among other things, the iPhone also has Apple’s Safari browser, which will make for an excellent Internet browsing experience. Not to mention that the phone runs the OS X operating system. As Lev Grossman wrote in Time in January: They began by melting the face off a video iPod. No clickwheel, no keypad. They sheared off the entire front and replaced it with a huge, bright, vivid screen–that touch screen Jobs got so excited about a few paragraphs ago. When you need to dial, it shows you a keypad; when you need other buttons, the screen serves them up. When you want to watch a video, the buttons disappear. Suddenly, the interface isn’t fixed and rigid, it’s fluid and molten. Software replaces hardware…Into that iPod they stuffed a working version of Apple’s operating system, OS X, so that the phone could handle real, nontoy applications like Web browsers and e-mail clients. They put in a cell antenna and two more antennas for wi-fi and Bluetooth, plus a bunch of sensors, so that the phone knows how bright its screen should be and whether it should display vertically or horizontally, and when it should turn off the touch screen so that you don’t accidentally operate it with your ear.

PC Magazine has a detailed analysis of tie iPhone features with other smartphones. The iPhone occupies a unique place in the wireless market, straddling the line between smartphones, feature phones, and portable media players. In some cases, it exceeds the capabilities of all of these devices, while it lags behind in others. Will Apple’s magic combination of killer design, features, and a revolutionary touch interface be enough to match its enormous hype? We’re only a week away from finding out.

New York Magazine wrote:

It took half an hour, no more than that, after Jobs unveiled his gleaming new toy for the bloggers to dub it the Jesus Phone. Here was the gizmo wed all been pining for lo these many years: a music player, camera, e-mail tool, Web browser, and cell phone, all rolled into one impossibly seductive package. After watching Jobs enact the ta-da moment with typical brioI didnt sleep a wink last nighteven cynical observers were smitten. What a weird fucking day Tuesday was, Josh Quittner, the editor of Business 2.0, remarked. It was as if we were all participating in a shared consensual hallucination All these supposedly hard-bitten tech reporters wandering around like they were getting laid for the first time.

The panting over the Jesus Phone must have satisfied Jobs no end: Every product he crafts he regards as a sacred object, the primary aspiration of which is to incite naked lust. And in the months since then, the breathing has only gotten heavier. At the launch, the sales goals Jobs set forth were demure: 1 percent of the world market, about 10 million units, by the end of 2008. But industry analysts are less bashful. Piper Jaffrays Gene Munster forecasts sales of 15.6 million units in that timeand 45 million in 2009. Apple has been so good at executing these different multimedia elements with the Mac and iPod that they might be able to take over with their phone, says a London-based telecom investor. Nokia and the rest of those guys are absolutely shitting themselves.

Jobs has done little to dampen either the giddiness or the panic. Its the best iPod weve ever made, he says of the iPhone. Its an incredibly great cell phone And its the Internet in your pocket for really the first time. If it was any one of those three, it would be successful but its all three!

Tomorrow: Competition and Need

Continue reading TECH TALK: Apple iPhone: Features (Part 2)

TECH TALK: Apple iPhone: Features

As Apple prepares to release its iPhone with AT&T later this week in the US, the expectations are that the mobile industry is set to be changed. The expectations surrounding the release of the iPhone have been sky high ever since Steve Jobs made the announcement earlier in the year, even though it has widely anticipated that Apple would launch a mobile phone. (Engadget covered the January announcement of the iPhone.)

So, what is it about the iPhone that, despite its $500 price and locked down status, makes it such a desirable device? Let’s start with the features, as outlined on Apple’s iPhone page. iPhone is a revolutionary new mobile phone that allows you to make a call by simply tapping a name or number in your address book, a favorites list, or a call log. It also automatically syncs all your contacts from a PC, Mac, or Internet service. And it lets you select and listen to voicemail messages in whatever order you want just like email.

Wikipedia has more: The iPhone’s functions include those of a camera phone, a multimedia player, mobile phone, and Internet services like e-mail, text messaging, web browsing, Visual Voicemail and wireless connectivity. iPhone input is accomplished via touchscreen with virtual keyboard and buttons. The iPhone is a quad-band GSM phone, though Jobs mentioned in his keynote that Apple has a “plan to make 3G phones” in the future. Apple has filed more than 200 patents related to the technology behind the iPhone…The iPhone will be available from the Apple Store and from AT&T Mobility, formerly Cingular Wireless, with a price of US$499 for the 4 GB model and US$599 for the 8 GB model, based on a two-year service contract. Apple intends to make the phone available in Europe in Q4 2007 and in Asia in 2008.

One of the first things that strikes you about the iPhone is that there is no keyboard. Wikipedia writes:

The 3.5 inch (8.9 cm) liquid crystal display (320480 px at 160 ppi) HVGA touch screen topped with optical-quality glass is specifically created for use with a finger, or multiple fingers for multi-touch sensing. No stylus is needed, nor can one be used, as the touch screen requires bare skin to operate.

For text input, the device implements a virtual keyboard on the touchscreen. It has automatic spell checking, predictive word capabilities, and a dynamic dictionary that learns new words. Notably, the predictive word capabilities have been integrated with the dynamic virtual keyboard so that users will not have to be extremely accurate when typing i.e. touching the edges of the desired letter or nearby letters on the keyboard will be predictively corrected when possible. Additionally, an optional landscape mode for text entry with the virtual keyboard has been mentioned by Apple executives as a possibility for iPhone, but Apple has not yet come to a final decision as to its inclusion in the shipping version of iPhone. A possible advantage of landscape text entry would be the availability of larger keys to ease text entry, especially for individuals with larger fingers.

Tomorrow: Features (continued)

TECH TALK: Good Books: The Ghost Map (Part 2)

Jason Kottke wrote in a review of the book on his blog:

The Ghost Map is a book about:
– a bacterium
– the human body
– a geographical map
– a man
– a working friendship
– a household
– a city government
– a neighborhood
– a waste management system1
– an epidemic
– a city
– human civilization

You hooked yet? Well, you should be. As the narrative unfolds around the 1854 London cholera epidemic, author Steven Johnson weaves all of these social, geographical, and biological structures/webs/networks into a scientific parable for the contemporary world. The book is at its best when it zooms among these different scales in a Powers of Ten-like fashion (something Johnson calls The Long Zoom), demonstrating the interplay between them: the way the geography of a neighborhood affected the spread of a virus, how ideas spreading within a social context are like an epidemic, or the comparison between the organism of the city and the geography of a bacterial colony within the human colon. None of this is surprising if you’ve read anything about emergence, complexity, or social scale invariance, but Johnson effectively demonstrates how tightly coupled the development of (as well as our understanding of) viral epidemics and large cities were across all of these scales.

The New York Times wrote in a review:

Theres a great story here, one of the signal episodes in the history of medical science, and Johnson recounts it well. It centers, figuratively and literally, on the infamous Broad Street pump. That pump, which was public, free and previously considered a safe source of drinking water, drew from a well beneath Golden Square, home to some of Londons poorest and most overcrowded people. In the last week of August 1854, many residents of Golden Square suddenly took sick and began dying. Their symptoms included upset stomach, vomiting, gut cramps, diarrhea and racking thirst. Whatever the cause, it was fast fast to kill (sometimes within 12 hours of onset) and fast in spreading to new victims. Hundreds of residents had been seized by the disease within a few hours of one another, in many cases entire families, left to tend for themselves in dark, suffocating rooms, Johnson writes. Seventy fatalities occurred in a 24-hour period, most within five square blocks, and hundreds more people were in danger. You could see the dead being wheeled down the street by the cartload.

Johnson goes beyond the immediate details of the 1854 epidemic to consider such related matters as the history of toilets, the upgrading of Londons sewer system, the importance of population density for a disease that travels in human excrement, and the positive as well as negative aspects of urbanization itself. Never before Victorian London, Johnson reminds us, had 2.4 million primates of any species lived together within a 30-mile perimeter.
By solving the cholera mystery, Johnson asserts, John Snow and Henry Whitehead helped make the world safe for big cities. And cities are where the action is (he really does use that phrase, alas), being centers of opportunity, tolerance, wealth creation, social networking, health, population control and creativity.

A final word from Fred Wilson:

Woven into the story is a textbook on cholera, microbes, biology, society, urbanization, epidemics, sewers and cesspools, and much more.

It is the way I love to learn. by stories that mean something as opposed to dry textbooks or lectures that put me to sleep.

If you are fascinated by technology and its impact on society, you should read this book.

Continue reading TECH TALK: Good Books: The Ghost Map (Part 2)

TECH TALK: Good Books: The Ghost Map

Steven Johnson’s book Emergence was one of the inspirations for this blog’s title. His newest book is The Ghost Map. It is about the 1854 cholera epidemic in London. This is what Publisher’s Weekly wrote: In August 28, 1854, working-class Londoner Sarah Lewis tossed a bucket of soiled water into the cesspool of her squalid apartment building and triggered the deadliest outbreak of cholera in the city’s history. In this tightly written page-turner, Johnson uses his considerable skill to craft a story of suffering, perseverance and redemption that echoes to the present day. Describing a city and culture experiencing explosive growth, with its attendant promise and difficulty, Johnson builds the story around physician John Snow. In the face of a horrifying epidemic, Snow (pioneering developer of surgical anesthesia) posited the then radical theory that cholera was spread through contaminated water rather than through miasma, or smells in the air. Against considerable resistance from the medical and bureaucratic establishment, Snow persisted and, with hard work and groundbreaking research, helped to bring about a fundamental change in our understanding of disease and its spread. Johnson weaves in overlapping ideas about the growth of civilization, the organization of cities, and evolution to thrilling effect. From Snow’s discovery of patient zero to Johnson’s compelling argument for and celebration of cities, this makes for an illuminating and satisfying read.

Here is what Steven Johnson wrote after finishing the first draft of the book:

This book has a single, sustained narrative line running through it, a first for me. It’s the story of the Broad Street cholera outbreak that took place in London in September of 1854. The outbreak itself was arguably the deadliest in London’s history — it literally decimated the western side of Soho, killing more than ten percent of the population there in a matter of eight days — but it is most famous for the map that the physician and epidemiologist John Snow made of the outbreak, a map that eventually helped convince the world that cholera was in fact a waterborne illness, and not transmitted via the air as the then-dominant miasma theory maintained.

In many ways, the story of Broad Street is all about the triumph of a certain kind of urbanism in the face of great adversity, the power of dense cities to create solutions to problems that they themselves have brought about. So many of the issues that define the modern world today — the runaway growth of megacities, environmental crises, fears of apocalyptic epidemics, digital mapping, the need for clean water, urban terror, the rise of amateur expertise — are there, in embryo, in the Broad Street outbreak.

So The Ghost Map is in part a disease thriller, with some genuinely spooky and unsettling narrative turns. But it also widens its focus to tell the history of London’s sewer system, the evolutionary history of bacteria, the biological and cultural roots of the miasma theory, the bizarre waste management techniques of Victorian society, and so on. It is the story of ten days in London in 1854, but it’s also an attempt to tell that story at three different scales of experience: from the point of view of the humans living through it, but also from the point of view of the cholera itself, and the city.

Tomorrow: The Ghost Map (continued)

Continue reading TECH TALK: Good Books: The Ghost Map

TECH TALK: Good Books: Everything is Miscellaneous (Part 2)

Cory Doctorow wrote in a review of the book:

David Weinberger’s “Everything is Miscellaneous” is the kind of book that binds together innumerable miscellaneous threads and makes something new, coherent, and incontrovertible out of them. Weinberger’s thesis is this: historically, we’ve divided the world into categories, topics, and hierarchies because physical objects need to be in one place or another, they can’t be in all the places they might belong. Computers and the Internet turn this on its head: because a computer can “put things” in as many categories as they need to be in, because individuals can classify knowledge, tasks, and objects idiosyncratically, the hierarchy is revealed for what it always was, a convenient expedient masquerading as the True Shape of the Universe.

It’s a powerful idea: from org charts to science, from music to retail theory, from government to education, every field of human endeavor is tinged with hierarchy, and every hierarchy is under assault from the Internet. One impact of this change is that it reveals the biases lurking underneath the editorial carvery of our systems. From the Dewey Decimal system’s laughable clunkers (mentalist bunkum gets its own category, but Islam has to share a decimal with a couple competing “Eastern” faiths) to the Britannica’s paring away at “old” biographies to make way for the new, Weinberger makes a compelling case for a new kind of knowledge that more faithfully represents the messy, glorious hairball of the real world.

Weinberger’s conversational style, excellent examples, and extensive legwork (the places he visits and people he interviews can best be described as wonderfully miscellaneous) give this the hallmarks of an instant classic. And unlike many business/tech books, whose simple thesis could be stated in a single New Yorker article, but which are nevertheless expanded to book-length for commercial reasons, every chapter in Everything is Miscellaneous brings new insight to the subject. This is a hell of a book.

Here is an excerpt from the book’s prologue:

The alternative universe exists. Every day, more of our life is lived there. Its called the digital world.

Instead of atoms that take up room, its made of bits.

Instead of making us walk long aisles, in the digital world everything is only a few clicks away.

Instead of having to be the same way for all people, it can instantly rearrange itself for each person and each persons current task.

Instead of being limited by space and operational simplicity in the number of items it can stock, the digital world can include every item and variation the buyers at Staples could possibly want.

Instead of items being placed in one area of the store, or occasionally in two, they can be classified in every different category in which users might conceivably expect to find them.

Instead of living in the neat, ordered shelves we find in the Prototype Labs, items can be jumbled digitally and sorted out only when and how a user wants to look for them.

Those differences are significant. But theyre just the starting point. For something much larger is at stake than how we lay out our stores. The physical limitations that silently guide the organization of an office supply store also guide how we organize our businesses, our government, our schools. They have guidedand limitedhow we organize knowledge itself. From management structures to encyclopedias, to the courses of study we put our children through, to the way we decide whats worth believing, we have organized our ideas with principles designed for use in a world limited by the laws of physics.

Suppose that now, for the first time in history, we are able to arrange our concepts without the silent limitations of the physical. How might our ideas, organizations, and knowledge itself change?

As we invent new principles of organization that make sense in a world of knowledge freed from physical constraints, information doesnt just want to be free. It wants to be miscellaneous.

Tomorrow: The Ghost Map

Continue reading TECH TALK: Good Books: Everything is Miscellaneous (Part 2)

TECH TALK: Good Books: Everything is Miscellaneous

I have followed David Weinberger’s blog for a long time. So, it was natural to want to read his new book Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. David’s two previous books include The Cluetrain Manifesto (as co-author) and Small Pieces Loosely Joined.

From the book’s inside flap:

Human beings are information omnivores: we are constantly collecting, labeling, and organizing data. But today, the shift from the physical to the digital is mixing, burning, and ripping our lives apart. In the past, everything had its one place–the physical world demanded it–but now everything has its places: multiple categories, multiple shelves. Simply put, everything is suddenly miscellaneous.

In Everything Is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger charts the new principles of digital order that are remaking business, education, politics, science, and culture. In his rollicking tour of the rise of the miscellaneous, he examines why the Dewey decimal system is stretched to the breaking point, how Rand McNally decides what information not to include in a physical map (and why Google Earth is winning that battle), how Staples stores emulate online shopping to increase sales, why your childrens teachers will stop having them memorize facts, and how the shift to digital music stands as the model for the future in virtually every industry. Finally, he shows how by “going miscellaneous,” anyone can reap rewards from the deluge of information in modern work and life.

From A to Z, Everything Is Miscellaneous will completely reshape the way you think–and what you know–about the world.

This is what David wrote in an essay on Amazon:

As businesses go miscellaneous, information gets chopped into smaller and smaller pieces. But it also escapes its leash–adding to a pile that can be sorted and arranged by anyone with a Web browser and a Net connection. In fact, information exhibits bird-like “flocking behavior,” joining with other information that adds value to it, creating swarms that help customers and, ultimately, the businesses from which the information initially escaped.

For example, is a customer review site founded in 2005 by entrepreneur Doug Baker. The site provides reviews for everything from computers and MP3 players to coffee makers and baby strollers. But why do we need another place for reviews? If youre using the Web to research what digital camera to buy for your father-in-law, you probably feel there are far too many sites out there already. By the time you have scrolled through one stores customer reviews for each candidate camera and then cross-referenced the positive and the negative with the expert reviews at each of your bookmarked consumer magazines, you have to start the process again just to remember what people said. Wize in fact aims at exactly that problem. It pulls together reviews from many outside sources and aggregates them into three piles: user reviews, expert reviews (with links to the online publications), and the general “buzz.” (For shoppers looking for a quick read on a product, Wize assigns an overall ranking.) When Wize reports that 97 percent of users love the Nikon D200 camera, it includes links to the online stores where the user reviews are posted, so customers are driven back to the businesses to spend their money.

Wize…[makes] money by selling advertising, but their value is in the way their sites aggregate the miscellaneous–letting lots of independent sources flock together, all in one place.

Were seeing the same trend in industry after industry, including music, travel, and the news media. Information gets released into the wild (sometimes against a companys will), where it joins up with other information, and the act of aggregating adds value. Companies lose some control, but they gain market presence and smarter customers. The companies that are succeeding in the new digital skies are the ones that allow their customers to add their own information and the aggregators to mix it up, because whether or not information wants to be free, it sure wants to flock.

Tomorrow: Everything is Miscellaneous (continued)

Continue reading TECH TALK: Good Books: Everything is Miscellaneous

TECH TALK: Good Books: The Dhandho Investor

I attended a talk by Mohnish Pabrai a few years ago in Mumbai. He spoke about his philosophy of investing, which has been heavily influenced by Warren Buffet. But there were also some unique perspectives that he had. Now, Mohnish has written a book that every investor and entrepreneur must read: The Dhandho Investor. The subtitle The Low-Risk Value Method to High Returns could as easily have been Heads I win, Tails I don’t lose much.

From the book’s inside flap:

All investors are told that if you want to earn high rates of returns, you must take on greater risk. Of course, the groundbreaking value investing strategies of Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett, and Charlie Munger have shown that it is indeed possible to keep risk to a minimum while still making a reasonable profit. The Dhandho method takes their successful approach to investing one step further and shows how you can actually maximize rewards while minimizing risk.

Dhandho (pronounced dhun-doe), literally translated, means “endeavors that create wealth.” In The Dhandho Investor, Mohnish Pabrai demonstrates how the powerful Dhandho capital allocation framework of India’s business-savvy Patels can be successfully applied and replicated by individual value investors in the stock market. The Patels, a small ethnic group from India, first began arriving in the United States in the 1970s as refugees with little education or capital. Today, they own over $40 billion in motel assets in the United States, pay over $725 million a year in taxes, and employ nearly a million people. How did this small, impoverished group come out of nowhere and end up accumulating such vast resources? The answer lies in their low-risk, high-return approach to business: Dhandho. This book will show you how to use that same technique to generate high returns in the stock market.

Pabrai’s hedge funds, Pabrai Investment Funds, have outperformed all of the major indices and over 99% of other managed funds. $100,000 invested with Pabrai in 1999 was worth over $659,000 by 2006an annualized return of over 28% after all fees and expenses. In this book, Pabrai distills the methods of Buffett, Graham, and Munger into a user-friendly approach applicable to individual investors. Combining their legendary investing wisdom with the business acumen of the Patels, Pabrai lays out the Dhandho framework in an easy-to-use format that will help any investor significantly improve on their results and soundly beat the marketsas well as most professionals.

BloggingStocks writes in a review:

The key concept to glean from this book is the difference between uncertainty and risk. According to Pabrai, most investors don’t understand the difference. Risk means the chance of a loss of capital. Uncertainty is the range of different outcomes. So a stock may have high uncertainty but may not be risky, if no one knows what will happen but the worst case scenario would not results in a huge loss. According to Pabrai, these investments provide the greatest opportunities for investors.

The Dhandho Investor is pretty lean for an investment book –183 pages with fairly large type. Consequently, it’s short on specifics. You won’t really learn about how to analyze stocks. But that’s fine. There are hundreds of books for that. But Monish Pabrai has presented a compelling way of looking at investing and decision-making in general, and reading this book will likely benefit any investor.

Here is an outline of Mohnish Pabrai’s Dhandho Framework which he discusses in detail in the book:

Invest in Existing Businesses
Invest in Simple Businesses
Invest in Distressed Businesses in Distressed Industries
Invest in Businesses with Durable Models
Few Bets, Big Bets, Infrequent Bets
Fixate on Arbitrage
Margin of Safety Always
Invest in Low-Risk, High-Uncertainty Businesses
Invest in the Copycats rather than the Innovators

Tomorrow: Everything is Miscellaneous

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