Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Indian Superpower has no clothes

Economist Kaushik Basu points four of his main concerns about India, in an Interview given to the new business paper, Mint:

1. Poverty
2. Farmers’ suicides ( & unregulated local lenders)
3. Do the masses really think they have a stake in India’s growth? (re: what do they think about the SEZs, toll highways, shining private townships, etc?)
4. Can Disparity in development be a threat to the unity and diversity of this nation?

An article in a recent issue of Fortune gives some troubling figures:

• 47 percent of Indian children under the age of five are either malnourished or stunted.
• The adult literacy rate is 61 percent (behind Rwanda and barely ahead of Sudan). Even this is probably overstated, as people are deemed literate who can do little more than sign their name.
• Only 10 percent of the entire Indian labor force works in the formal economy; of these fewer than half are in the private sector.
• The enrollment of six-to-15-year-olds in school has actually declined in the last year. About 40 million children who are supposed to be in school are not.
• About a fifth of the population is chronically hungry; about half of the world's hungry live in India.
• More than a quarter of the India population lives on less than a dollar a day.
• India has more people with HIV than any other country.
(Sources: UNDP, Unicef, World Food Program; Edward Luce)

The Economist Magazine has often criticized India’s current development patterns.

A look at some articles from The Economist, all of which are accessible only to paying subscribers, but you get the idea from the summaries.

V.S. Naipaul once wrote about our gift of ignoring things, citing how nonchalant we are about seeing people defecating by the roadside.

It is a fantastic gift, which makes us with well paying jobs and clean houses to say, "All the poor man wants is food, nothing more...".

We forget the poor man has eyes and ears too.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The End of The Web Revolution

The last two years have been great: blogging came into its own; web 2.0 got currency as a catchphrase for enhanced 2-way conversation. We spent these two years reading all those blogs teeming with opinion & analysis, Paris Hilton’s coverage, amidst an ocean of rewriting that most of blogosphere may be.

Nevertheless, those were exciting times.
Times when Blog Networks rose trying to challenge the might of mainstream media.

For some 3 seconds of fame, I am very much inclined to proclaim this idea that the web revolution is dead, but I know readers will quickly pick on my pompous inclinations in trying to join the rarified ranks where Nicholas Carr (End of IT) and Francis Fukuyama (End of History).

2006 saw the same boom in startups that we saw back in the rarified 90s.
Blogs like Techcrunch rose to become new media powerhouses covering the latest widget and tool developer.

Now, I guess we are back to the post-boom period - a time to take stock, to consolidate.
Companies with a long turn view will be making applications more productive.

We have supposedly arrived at a phase, which Gartner's famous hype report describes as a trough of disillusionment. When widgets become the epitome of ‘cool’, bad times are not far off.

So, where do we stand now?

Social Networking: Despite all that spam, who is challenging Myspace? I hear it may be the ninth biggest economy in the world. Which is the next Facebook?

Search: Google, Google, Google. TINA rules – there is no alternative. Google will spend rest of the year consolidating and trying to make inroads into China, finally putting a proper local management team. Expect less 20% time usage and more 80% fine-tuning. The future of search, experts say, is in Local+Mobile+Classifieds. Who is doing anything about that?

Blog Networks: Will they be standalone properties 2 years down the line? Alternatively, will mainstream brands buy them ou? AOL already has bought Weblogsinc and is shutting down some blogs.

Blogging/Videoblogging: Where is the next Perezhilton? The next Amanda Congdon, except from the in-vogue ZeFrank? By the way, did you know that according to a study by PQmedia, blog advertising accounted for $16.6 million in 2005 and would climb to $120 million only in 2010? Hmm…I wonder what those millions and millions of blogs (as per Technorati) are doing and isn’t bog riches a huge linkbait effort by those in the SEO industry?

Social News: Despite charges of cabals and gaming, Digg appears to be caught in its own inexorable cycle – it can never free itself from those top users. I feel pity for those thousands of undigged blips I see on Digg on a daily basis, surrounded by 4-6 bigger blips. Such a wastage of writing talent makes you feel sad.

Local Sites: Upheavals at Backfence was a tipping point. What happened to Calacanis’s much-hyped local blogs? Apart from a few working examples, local sites have still to show any promise.

Newspapers: Everyone is after the same the same 14-35, mostly YTM demographic – lots of sports, celebrity, sex, gadget and chit chat focus (including Digg), forgetting that there is a market for serious analysis, as shown by the success of Economist and Wall Street Journal.

Yahoo: Despite focusing on making its paid search work properly, it instead focuses on creating feed mashups. Leave that to the small fry. Decide whether you want to be a traditional media brand or an aggregator like Google.

Apple & Microsoft: While the previous came up with a vaporware whose potential is still uncalculated, the desktop giant comes up with a new PC OS, backed by an ad campaign whose slogan is ‘WOW’. Wow indeed, how did it come to this? Steve Jobs’ call for doing away with DRM is nothing heroic; it just makes business sense for Apple, that is all.

Untouched Web 2.0 verticals: Mike Arrington did stories on web 2.0 verticals he would like Entrepreneurs to address. Wonder what happened to that. More here.

I used to collect useful stories and links from Techmeme, Digg,
Of late, the number of interesting things to read about technology applications is decreasing, which disheartens me.

Earlier, I wrote for tempering our expectations from Web 2.0, but at least those were interesting times.

End of the web revolution, then?

Nah. I was just hyperventilating. I was getting bored.
There was nothing new to write this whole week.

There are many more IPs to connect and many IDs to interconnect before the Matrix takes over.
Long live the revolution.

Monday, February 05, 2007

What’s next in mobiles

It is not the iPhone and it is more than mobile search.

I am talking about freedom from the mobile operators. Mobile operators are equivalent of the Internet service providers cum telcos cum portals. They determine the data and the user experience of mobile users.

Net neutrality is an alien concept in the monopolistic environment of mobile telephony. The operator takes a cut of almost all content that flows in and out.

Now, here comes news that some of the world’s largest mobile phone networks such as O2 and Vodaphone in Europe plan to create their own search engine to shut out Google or Yahoo, or they may use of the two giant’s services.

I wonder when some smart guy out there will come up with an easy (almost all breakthroughs are simple and easy) alternative for us and free us from providers who seem hell-bent on locking down our choices.

I am no expert. However, some technologies that can help:

- Cheaper, widespread, Wimax networks.
- Mobile VoIP based on P2P principles
- Bluetooth (for example, Bluetooth enable servers at ATM like kiosks from where users can download data, etc.)
- P2P networks
- Secure Mobile data points
- Open mobile phones like TuxPhone, Moco

Hardware and software for above technologies are getting cheaper by the day.

Maybe, we can have free mobile services in the above scenario supported by advertising.

It is time for some disruptive action in the mobile business, making freedom from the carriers a reality sooner than we thought.