Friday, June 01, 2007

OLPC vs. Intel: The bitter battle for bringing computing to the bottom of pyramid

10 years from now, when they will be writing about how the poor of the world took up to computing, besides listing out who won and who lost, they will also write about how technology giants such as Microsoft and Intel left no stone unturned in making sure governments in developing nations gave short shrift to Nicholas Negroponte’s ambitious $100 one Laptop per child project.

The technology giants have huge PR machines working overtime to ensure that their brands are not consigned to irrelevancy (not in Intel’s case, for time being). They have contacts in almost all government arms in the third world countries. Hell, ministers vie with one another to be clicked with Bill Gates – Mr. Gates has become for Microsoft what the British Monarchy is for Britain – a traveling brand circus.

Officials of the OLPC project and others are persuading governments to ignore the OLPC and go in for their own solutions.

First Microsoft came up with the $3 Windows Lite package and now Intel has launched its own more expensive competitor to the OLPC, called the Classmate.

While the XO- 1 from OLPC is priced at $175, the Classmate is priced at $285.

It would help the OLPC's cause if charity organizations come forward to sponsor the XO-1, but it would appear that Bill Gates has the biggest charity organization going on, no points for guessing where the Bill Gates Foundation is going to put its money.

The features for XO-1 and Classmate (via The Guardian)

Operating system: Linux
Memory: 256MB RAM
Media: 1GB flash, USB and SD slots, built-in video camera
Processor: 435MHz AMD Geode
Screen: 7.5" low-power display
Wireless: 802.11b/g/s Wi-Fi, mesh networking
Today's price: $175

Operating system: Linux or Windows XP Embedded
Memory: 256MB RAM
Media: 2GB flash, built-in microphone
Processor: 900MHz Intel Celeron M
Screen: 7" display
Wireless: 802.11b/g Wi-Fi
Today's price: $285

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Can Blogging change the world?

The jury is out on that. Sure, Blogging has changed lives of bloggers. Some bloggers have broken out and become authoritative voices – these were mostly the early birds. Others have brought new issues on the table, breaking stories faster than the main stream media – Don Imus, Mel Gibson, IIPM (India), Gonzalez’s Attorney firings, these were blogger success stories.

Some bloggers have become successful online publishers – Calacanis, Denton, Om Malik, Rafat Ali, Arrington, Darren Rouse, John Chow…

Some use blogs to further their name brands – Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin…

What about others? Remember, there are 70 million blogs and about 5 million active bloggers around the world.

Can bloggers bring important issues out in the public?

Seth Finklestein argues that the very breadth and spread of the blogosphere is acting detrimental to more voices breaking out, for two reasons:

1. Too many voices – too much noise and making yourself heard, via the filters of search engines, social media is becoming harder and harder.

2. The gatekeepers: The wild mushroom nature of blogs meant that filters of all sorts started popping up everywhere – Techmeme, Digg, Search Engines, Technorati.

Admittedly, most of the content out there is not worth spreading, but some indeed is.

It is no wonder that many blogs are Gatekeepers themselves and attract special attention from Mainstream media.

Rightly, Seth suggests that if a site like BoingBoing raises an issue, it will get picked up by the New York Times, while smaller bloggers have been writing about it for years.

Many times, this has been the case that an issue pointed by a smaller blog doesn’t get promoted by Dig and other gatekeepers until Techcrunch or others cover it.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “If you want to change the world, first change yourself.”

That means, if you care about an issue, blog about it, sure.

However, do more than just blog – go outside, meet people, evangelize it, talk to others, organize events, take part in events, use other tools apart from blogging, catch the next wave of online innovation early ...

And one day, the world will hear you.

Then, you can set about changing the world.

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The blurring boundaries between the online and offline worlds

One of the charms of the early internet hype during the early 90s was the promise of virtual worlds in the cyberspace, which was for some time the hottest word around.

That was all marketing speak. At the end of it all, everything is just data, stored in files in ones and zeros on connected servers around the world. If you believed the experts and the hype masters, it would have been possible to totally immerse yourself into the computer, getting in and out at will, like that Fat Albert movie.

The BBC reports about Google Gear, an initiative to make it easier for web users to use their favorite online applications including e-mail, word processing and calendars offline, without requiring a net connection.

Firefox and Adobe are in the forefront of this offline computing movement.
Then there is Webaroo, promising to provide offline versions of essential web data, mainly the reference web.

In the second piece of related news, a court in Pennsylvania has denied two requests by Linden Lab, the owner of Second Life, in the Bragg v. Linden case, which may help users get more power in so-called Online ‘worlds’.

Instead of cybernetically connected with other things and beings, what Second Life worlds deliver are rough sketches of people and 2-D drawings. As Tim Faulkner says, it is important to regulate what goes on in the name of virtual life in entities such as Second Life - ‘pyramid schemes, faulty valuations, and unreal exchange rates' – human nature is the same everywhere.

The bottom-line: behind every online world, there is server holding your data and this data has ramifications in your real life.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Startup Search: what Mahalo couldn’t do?

While Mahalo is in the consumer search space, Startup Search was launched to help people track minute detail about any startup online.

Niall Kennedy describes the Startup Search model as Directory cum Analytics tool.

Startup Search goes one up on the spammy About us service tracking online startups, their offerings (products & services), management and employees, investors, success of each offering – aggregating all publicly available data including search and page view metrics.

It seems to delver all that a niche service needs.

If only Mahalo had started focusing on a niche – for example, a human-powered search for all celeb scandals.

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Mahalo, Squidoo, Hubpages…what’s the difference?

Jason Calacanis has launched the alpha version of his so-called Human-powered search engine called Mahalo.

Calacanis has employed 40 editors/guides who have so far created 4000 result pages. Calacanis has long-range plans- Mahalo will cover 25,000 popular search topics by the end of 2008.

What’s new with Mahalo?
IMHO, nothing.

In fact, Calanacis’s new startup seems to be following the lead of Seth Godin’s Squidoo Lens, where people aggregate links on a given topic and Squidoo shares any ad revenue with the Lens creators.

Another similar model is that of Hubpages, which runs along Squidoo’s type.

Bloggers often use aggregation to create attractive pages. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone started aggregating all these pages, sharing revenue with bloggers.’s guides are doing similar things, only differences being the amount of ‘original content’ the guides add, for a share of advertising revenue.

Answer services Yahoo answers and Chacha cover similar territory.

Wikipedia doesn’t particularly aim to cover all popular search terms and I suspect Calacanis is aiming to tie up with Google a couple of years down the line, if Google is thinking of reducing its reliance on Wikipedia results (or, is it the other way around?)

Then there is the social search aspect pioneered by the likes of Swicki which has covered more than 50,000 topics, the data being submitted and shared by all members rather than select guides.

Rollyo is a variant on social search, basically getting you to create your own search engine.
Google also allows users to create their own search engines- searching only a select list of sites - and sharing adsense revenues with users.

There is just so many options available to web users nowadays.

By the way, I am not sure what the 100 or so guides as planned by Calacanis will do during their work time – you can create 50 result pages easy per day, amounting to at least 12000 pages in a year.

I won’t be surprised if you find these guides being SEO experts as well, working hard at rankings for their result pages –the human-powered search engine needs Google’s adsense to thrive.

The present DMOZ directory-like look of the front page is useful but a separate Tag cloud will come in handy.

The future for Mahalo depends on smarts applied by the crafty Calacanis, who says he has enough funds to run Mahalo for 5 years.

By then, the web 2.0 bubble will be burst – but then there is nothing Web 2.0 ish in Mahalo.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How the internet can change politics

Jonathan Freedland has written a timely article in The Guardian about the revolutionary effects of the internet on politics and democracy and asks whether web tools can actually better democracy or stifle it.

By Stifling, I think Jonathan means suffocating irritants such as Madness of crowd, Digg crowd, and abusive bloggers among other enemies of the useful web.

Writing about the challenges before the modern but always calculating politician, Jonathan concludes that,
the changes now in train could go either way, expanding democracy or contracting it.

Read the whole article here

Related Mediavidea articles

6 requirements for a Tech President

How Web 2.0 can change Politics

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Web 2.0 and Women: The web 2.0 gap and beyond

I wonder if anyone has done a survey of how women use web 2.0 web sites.
How do the Web 2.0 big hitters Digg,, Wikipedia, Myspace fare?

I can only vouch for Digg as being male-centric in a big way.

Penelope Trunk has written about the web 2.0 gap, pointing out that as much of marketing and PR work goes online, companies need less and less of the pretty, savvy and emotionally intelligent women in those functions.

There are a few outposts of Web 2.0 for women and by women, including Blogher and Emomsathome that are in the Vanguard of creating communities of female bloggers but I guess that is it.

Penelope raises an important question about the usefulness of Technorati.

She says bloggers often write for the online currency of links so that they are ranked well on Technorati and on other Search engines, the chances of blog focused at issues surrounding people who don’t blog themselves are slim.

We need to discuss these issues as they affect the quality of UGC (user generated information) online – beyond the reference web and batches of sensible comments here and there, there is much profane and inane stuff online. We need the moderating influence of a woman.

IMHO, the Web 2.0 gap is an emerging hot topic and it embraces a wider range of topics.
The women web 2.0 gap is a start.

How about web 2.0 gap in the enterprise?

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Monday, May 28, 2007

The dark side of adsense

The New York Times has done a story on companies that own vacant web sites with generic names, and which are earning obscene amounts of money from advertising including adsense.

Called the direct navigation market, this maze of vacant shopfronts with generic names as (and as many variants possible), did a business of more than $800 million in advertising in 2006 and is slated to earn $1.1 billion through advertising support from Google and Yahoo.

The NYT story says about these domain squatters plan to add content in alliance with relevant sites and I wonder what Google has to say about duplicate content.

Last year, Google’s revenue was $10.604 billion.

One company, NameMedia owns more than 725,000 Web sites.
Moreover, some of these companies may go for IPOs as well - yes indeed, things are that good.

But, this is as serious as spam blogs.

In case of spam blogs, genuine content owners suffer, and with direct navigation advertising, advertisers have to deal with yet another gatekeeper.

Consider these facts about Adsense:
1. Adsense is not effective on quality columns, opinion pieces, and long investigative pieces.
To make adsense work, you will have to have a single focus blog, meaning one blog per topic, making lives of good writers really difficult.

The hugely popular Guy Kawasaki (How to Save the world) blog did not make Guy a rich guy and Guy is a savvy self-promoter.

2. Adsense enriches spammers and rewriters more than anybody else – watch the spread of gadget and gossip blogs.

3. Clickability is a curse, seducing site owners to create sites tailored for the old, kids and newbies – designing pages in a way that makes it hard for unoriented people to distinguish between content and advertising.

It leads you believe that Google’s ‘Don’t evil’ is a smart PR slogan, and nothing more.

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Why Facebook alongwith Social Networking will die in few years

Demography and common sense convince me to think that perhaps this social networking theme song has completed its run time and is nothing more than glorified walled gardens that make big news when they graciously open themselves up for mods and widgets among other things.

I see that today’s Techmeme is dominated by an assortment of articles written by Venture Capitalists who seem to be competing for a piece of Facebook’s on-off IPO/buyout business.

Josh compares Facebook with Myspace, judging Myspace to be on its way out, ‘the next Prodigy’ if you will.

Hmm…I am no VC but it is amusing that Josh quotes Newsweek dubbing 2007 as the “year of the budget”
– since when does an ‘in the doldrums’ news weekly become a paragon of future wise. Next time I hear one of these weeklies coining a “Man/thing of the year”, “Year of the man/thing”, “Most powerful people” and assorted yuckies, I am finally convinced that no one can do anything to change the world.

Then there is Paul Kedrosky who calls Facebook Microsoft Office of the social apps.
So, that is how plugins will change the world.
I did not know it was easy as that. I guess then I must not wait for Firefox 3.0 comes and get myself a Facebook account and change my life.

After a long time, I see Paul Allen who is gushing like a Beatles fan, predicting Facebook will become the largest social network in the world.

Yes, a network of spam and ghost pages.

A major assumption people make about Social Networks is that people will always like to be on the same page online, while they work, entertain themselves, and so on.

That pretty much sounds like a TV broadcaster’s wet dream.

People grow up, their habits change, and new people come in their lives … things happen.
Is it any surprise that Facebook is attracting older people, most of whom I am sure have been attracted by the promise of encountering interesting things online?

Ironically, Josh also wrote about “Catch & release/Catch & keep business models".
In short, sites like Classmates are Catch & release – getting users to register, and that is it. Come when you feel like.

On the other hand, Facebook 'practices' Catch and Keep – registering users and getting them to come often to the site and interact”.

Which is well and fine, but apart from full-time marketers and self-promoters, I don’t see people who registered at Facebook when in college, returning to the site when they are older, kids and all – maybe, once in a while.

Take my Yahoo groups of my classmates – the interaction has trickled down to once in 2 months while it was daily 3 years ago.

Life happens, Things happen.

I still don’t get Widgets.

For me they are intruding, they slow the browser and somebody please tell me how the widget creator aims to make any money.

What happens if the Widget creator withdraws her code, disappointed by the returns on her labor?

The supposedly hip Web 2.0 crowd doesn’t get usability guru Jacob Nielsen but I still subscribe to his ‘keep the web simple’ philosophy. Widgets make the web unclean, however fanciful they might appear to some.

I haven’t used Facebook but I hear it is clean, more organized than Myspace.
So, isn’t it ironic that using Widgets make Facebook pages look as chaotic as those frequently rubbished Myspace pages?

The Facebook platform is nowhere as exciting as the ecosystems of Start Pages such as Netvibes.
I am assuming Facebook wants to be a Start page as well.

A reason why I think social networking will die (stagnate is a politer term) is because I suppose every site can be a social network – Digg is a social network, so is, so is your humble blog.

For me, my Gmail account is my Social network, the embed chat function ensures I am in touch with my work friends (among others) during work time.

In this scenario, going to a glorified walled garden is as appealing as using the new Yahoo Mail update.

Portals are gone.

I believe in the deportalization theory of the internet, where you can access your favorite stuff on the internet across a variety of online destinations- in other words, your data is easily portable and accessible, no matter on what site you are- an Open Future worth promoting.

Lastly, I think people are hyping Facebook because of the tragic Virginia Tech shooting, where News Organizations perhaps for the first time felt what losing power really means - having to compete with students for access to scoops.

Discounting the serendipity of events, and the bystander theory of history, cheerleaders believe only a Facebook can be a champion of citizen publishers, which is a stupid thing to do.

End of rant.
Back to work for me.

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Defeating Google: a reality check

Dashing my vain hopes of igniting the rebellious gene in Googlers, Paul Montgomery pours a bucketful of cold water with some hard-hitting truisms.

Paul says that while Microsoft Windows was usurped by TCP/IP…Google will be usurped by any open source protocol that betters the ‘Google OS’. His money is on a P2P models including Bittorrent.

About Googlers going on to defeat Google- chances are extremely slim.

The big corporations tie down their employees’ wings by non compete agreements.
Besides, Google owes the IP to any idea coming from the 20% time.

Knowing the reality, I would still like to believe that an extremely smart big company man will outsmart the Company, ultimately defeating it.

Tip to Googlers:
Work double time during the 20% time. Come up with two ideas – one for the company, the better one for yourself.