Friday, January 11, 2008

What does India need most: $100 Computer or Rs. 1 lac car?

Consider this, if you will: Poor Indian Students with brand new $100 Portable Computers, pre-loaded with Full Wikipedia versions in local language (and specially configured for all study levels), and an assortment of other best of breed teaching materials.

Runs on: hand cranked power, and other energy sources

On the other hand, you have this palpably teary spectacle of "Maa, mere paas Car hai", where Indians, old and Young who could never travel in a car before, getting themselves the Rs. 1 lac car at an installment of Rs. 50 a day (this one is from a newspaper headline), packing up India's already receding city road space.

Runs on: Imported petroleum at $100+ a barrel (and counting) giving you 20 kilometers to a litre. The average motorcycle the Nano aims to replace gives 70 kilometers to a litre.

Between a Low Cost Education/Educational Tool vs. a Low Cost Energy Guzzler, the choice is not as easy as choosing a mobile phone for Rs. 500.

Our education budget is around Rs. 3500 ($80) per student per year, so we can think about giving away or subsidizing the cheap computer.

Sadly, guided by the twisted logic that giving students cheap PCs would take away the ministers' power to doctor curriculum, the Government of India was circumspect towards the OLPC, and one suspects the influence of Microsoft's huge PR and lobbying machine working full time against the $100 machine as well. Big companies don't find disruptive technologies eating away their easy lunches.

In comparison, the Tata Nano has had a promising start, having already fueled a race to build small cars. Baja Auto is planning to graduate to Four-wheeler from its famed and highly practical three-wheeled auto rickshaws. Even the Pakistanis have moved in with the Sitara from Habib motors.

The media has been kind to the Nano. Nano made the front page on all newspapers, understandably so - the back page of most papers carried full page ads for the car.

When the Tatas launched their first car Indica, there was similar noise, but few talk about the car nowadays, what with its high maintenance cost and unpromising looks.

The Nano looks like an Electric car and it would be better if they launched an electric version, which would have pleased the environmentalists immensely.

On the TV news channels, they made sure that there were few environmentalists on the panels. The anchors dutifully made the noble pro-environment chitchat while the panelists were guys from the Tata Company, and Editors of Auto magazines who forgot they were journalists, acting like Fan boys for Ratan Tata.

People invoke pride when talking about Nano and they might be justified. But, pride and nationalism often go hand in hand in this country.

Supporters of the Nano say that the Lower middle Class people and the young need cheap four wheeler but what we need may not necessarily be good for all of us.

More than a people's car (we already had one when Maruti 800 was launched in the 20th century), we a need a People's Transport Vehicle.

We need highly, fuel-efficient, light, world-class rapid bus transport systems.

We need cheap, connected computers so that we can give our students easy access to the best thinking in the world, which will ignite creative minds to come up with things that are way, way cooler than Tata's Nano.

P.S.: Mary Lou Jepsen, the Scientist who worked on the OLPC program has started her own cheap PC project, this time aiming for $75 PCs. Perhaps, this time, the Indian Government, and the Indian Media will pay attention.

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What a Web 2.0 user said to the machine: I own the data (you don't)

Given below, is an outline of a letter sent by a disgusted user of web 2.0 of sites like Facebook to the service:

"Look, mister, first you got me in, promising lost of fun things to do.
And Fun I have had, having poked 10,000 people so far.

But the fun ends now. To start, by default, the power to pull off my data should rest with me.
The power to make friends, allow spam... stays with me.

If you don't allow me to remove all of data whenever I please, then you are the giant machine/matrix/whatever they have been talking about in the movies.

What insults me more is that you go behind my back, making deals with others services that hold users data, and God knows what surgery you are going to do with my data.

If you want me to connect with users of other services, at least first ask me how I want to go about it.

And while we are at sharing data, why don't you create a simple jabber-like open protocol letting web 2.0 users connect each other, without us worrying who see what?

Bottom-line: I don't care on whose server farm my data is, the control stays with me. I will decide whom should I allow to scrape, import or mash my data.

This is my life's details we are talking about here.

You just focus on the advertising side and how to make your service better.

I like your service. But don't be evil.


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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Useless word of the day: Data Portability

Reading this in the otherwise dull Readwriteweb blog, I had a mini-fit upon reading these fanboy-worthy words about recent developments regarding something called Data Portability:
If these industry titans can put aside their rivalry and work together - magic could happen.

I double checked whether I was on the right blog and not on some mainstream media site, where tech articles are exercises in Rabid Puffery.

To the uninitiated, Data Portability is the possibility of users being able to 'access their friends and media across all the applications, social networking sites and widgets that implement the design into their systems.'

Mobile Number Portability is more interesting and has its uses.

Apparently Google, Facebook and Plaxo have come together to work on sharing data and modifying the walled gardens in future.

They had me with 'End of walled gardens'.

On the business side of it, I don't suppose each party will assign equal importance to each other's data. For example, some Facebook profiles will be useful for Google (e.g. the students) and Facebook will like Gmail's data - in either case, I don't think it is going be a cake walk for any of the parties involved.

For a long time, Google, Facebook and Plaxo (and all who join later) will squabble over 'who's data is worthiest' , trying to pouch whatever advantage is to be had, before one of bigger player breaks away.

This heralds the beginning of the machines' takeover: the idea of Facebook going for my Google profile, the files stored in Gmail, and my ego surfing history makes me rethink dinner.

The age of machines is upon us and it wants all my data under one roof.

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7 things Small Bloggers wished Ego bloggers knew

1. Yes Virginia, there is a caste system in the Blogosphere.
We also know some bloggers have what we call in India as 'Setting'. At the recently held CES, some bloggers got a PRESS pass, entitling to certain privileges while others got a 'Blogger' pass. Some people who got the PRESS pass don't even cover tech issue on a day-to-day basis. One of them runs a Link Aggregator network masquerading as a Search engine.

2. The Lazysphere is another name for a band of desperate so-called Ego Bloggers who are frustrated that are not so IN as before.
One quality Ego Bloggers do actually possess : Shamelessness. We small bloggers can only marvel at the courage of all who call us names despite all our links that made them what they are today.

3. Small Bloggers are not lazy bastards, content to play in the Echo Chamber.
Don't confuse us with the SEO-savvy guy out to make a buck or two.

The Quality of blogging has gone up - the good ones among us are graduating to serious writing gigs.
We know our blogging can be our ticket to other good stuff in life.

It may surprise you but not every tech blogger aspires to be a rewriter of Techmeme and Engadget stories.

Looking at this Ego Blogger's ingratiating list of Bloggers worth a read, I can't but understand why he complains he wants us to do Deep blogging (another calling card of Ego bloggers: coining terms).

Tip for the Ego Blogger: Get out of the Ego Chamber and expand your reading list. If all else fails, read

4. Not every blogger writes to get onto Techmeme.
Where is the incentive? Take my example. When the automated agent from Techmeme deems my post worthy, I get no more than 5 additional pageviews. Others may be getting more. Blog writing doesn't pay for the coffee I had while writing the post.

I write my post because I like writing, not that I am great shakes at it but I sure hope to be a better writer, in say, 100 years.

5. The A-listers are not so funny any more.
The last time these guys were interesting was back in 2005. They no longer write posts about the ins and outs of new media startups.

They are all now slaves of very aggregators they helped promote - Digg, Techmeme, Technorati Top 100, Techmeme leader board.

Heavily addicted to the 'Number of posts a day' metric, these guys have moved on to running blogging empires, mediocre video/podcast shows, and assorted other career progressions. Where is the time to be funny when you can't have enough of spying on and dissing the owner of the rival blog network?

If it is funny and truth about web 2.0 that you want, is the place to go.

6. Don't get mad now that we won't take your bull shit anymore.
Us small bloggers can now easily identify the PR flack masquerading as pushers of Cool, the former Big Company blogger who will go to any lengths to promote his valley-constricted media ambitions, and the blogger who has run of genuine story ideas.

Besides, commenting on your blog posts is no more the fun-filled intellectual exercise it used to before.

7. We don't want to be Ego Bloggers like you.
We want to cover serious stories. We know few will read our take on the record industry's latest stance of CD-ripping, but we would like to write these stories anyway and see where it takes us.

At least, we weren't some distant Sun's Earth.

How to be an Ego Blogger

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How Kevin Rose has set a bad precedent for new media moguls

In the age of old media in the year 100 BC, newspapers used to endorse presidential candidates and assorted other political wannabes. They still do.

Showing us that New Media Moguls of the 21st century have the kevlar-plated souls of Old Media moguls, Kevin Rose of Digg fame has made his choice: Ron Paul (Republican) and Barrack Obama (Democrat).

On one hand, this is nothing.

But, tell me: which newspaper owner (Digg is no newspaper, but some idiots think it is) can boast to have a rabid fan following of 1 million geeks and counting?

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Web 2.0 aka Big Brother aka HAL aka the Matrix aka Terminator10: Currently living in San Francisco

Somebody should tell Nicholas Carr to take it easy. The champion contrarian, call him the Howard Beal of the web 2.0 era, loves to give heartburn to the web 2.0 sales people pushing snakoil, most of whom can be found on Techmeme/Techcrunch on a daily basis.

Carr has a book to sell (The Big Switch), so many will accuse him of fear-mongering when he gives out interviews prophesizing the rise of the machines who will slowly take control of our information. Nick Carr also wrote the book Bill Gates hated the most, 'The End of IT', where he predicted the downfall of humongous IT departments at big businesses, as computing slowly but surely becomes a commodity. Now, he has turned his attention towards a scenario where net access is a commodity.

Carr says that connected computers may liberate us but they are also ‘technologies of control’.

Web2.0 is about the data we put online: Blogs, wikis, social networking profiles and activities, comments, pictures, videos, audio, search history, ratings, resumes, important documents on free hosted services…

Most of the big web 2.0 services are headquartered in San Francisco. The smart scientists who are working for Google, developing the cloud, live in a city that also happens to be the home of the Zodiac Killer. In future, they will write about how the machines rose in 'Frisco.

According to Nick's apocalyptic vision, the Net will be our hard drive and people other than us will have control over all our data, rants included. Let us see how.

Using Web 2.0 tools, we frequently shout at authority through our blogs. We tell our bosses to go to hell via a blog comment, our Prime Minister to have a spine through a Youtube mashup, diss our colleague with a podcast and have 5000 friends on Facebook without having any friends in real life.

While we are doing all this, the machine is watching us 24 * 7.
It is watching us so that in future, it may out-think us.

And all this time, I was all gung-ho, having just read that erstwhile web 2.0 blowhard real estate mogul Sam Zell was getting into blogging.

Are web 2.0 users creating a Matrix, which in future will consider them as ‘mere nodes’ ?
The Facebook User #1234567980, aka pramitsingh2275, who can’t do what he pleases with his data and service he helped build.

Our apocalyptic web 2.0 led future is closely linked to the fates of Facebook Beacon, the Walled Garden mentality of social networks and Google’s continuing dominance in the Search business.

If these three go down, our chances of survival go up.

In his new book, "Love and Sex With Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships," Artificial intelligence expert David Levy says that in future we will have sex with human like sexbots, geeks are already salivating at prospect of having their own Number Sixes.

That was the happy part of our future. The unhappy part:
What do we do with web 2.0 before it morphs into an all-controlling machine?

The premise of “The Ring” movies was that movies can kill you – the images may get out from the screen and do things to you. A new movie “Untraceable” suggests that the Internet may kill you – a murder is being livestreamed and an increase in internet traffic speeds up the death of the victim.

We have had thrillers based on our usage of the telephone and mobile before.
At least, telephones and mobiles do not capture our talks and SMSes, that too by default.

What are the harms of having our data up in the cloud?
The web 2.0 machine gave us the choice of having two-way conversations, much to the chagrin of newspaper owners and media bosses. But, there are the downsides.

There have been downsides with any piece of technology before, which have now been amplified in this age of War on Terror (which is not even a noun, as Jon Stewart reminded us).

But the Data Cloud is not as tangible (and easily targeted, through or collective power) as governments of the world.

Carr says ‘We're transferring our intelligence into the machine, and the machine is transferring its way of thinking into us.’

This massively paralleled machine is mining and analyzing our data while we upload the latest pics from the holiday. Soon after, we become downloadable entities.

We become part of a data matrix ruled by the holy trinity of M/s Brin, Page and Zuckerberg.
Hell, I am sounding like a Nick Carr Fan Boy.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

What kids don’t tell us about the future of news media

Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist in San Francisco, studies his three kids’ media diet as a micro sampling of the habits of the Always On Generation and comes out with predictable conclusions:

the net and video games rule, social networking is the new IM, people still read (case in point: you)…

If you are into Venture Capital or if you want to start a mee-too media company, then maybe, Fred’s article may interest you. After all, we all like to like to know about the likes and dislikes of that hard-to-please demographic which reside in and around San Francisco (one of the so-called Twin Capitals of the Blogosphere) – they are rich and have the time to spare to preside as the tech tastemakers for this world.

Fred notes that his kids are not much into newspapers, preferring websites for updates. This too is old hat. But, must we follow kids’ news reading preferences to predict the future for newspapers?

A future that is already taking place everywhere on the internet – free news websites, salubrious celebrity/sensation/gadget coverage are the way to go.

Even my brother is talking about starting his own spam blog network.

The average lifespan of an online news story is said to be 32 hours or something. That is more than thirty two times the attention time of an average kid. When we were kids, we scanned the front page and quickly moved to the sports pages near the end followed by bollywood startlets on the back page. As I grow older, I started reading the Op-ed pages and the syndicated columns. I am still improving the quality of my reading list for any given day.

I am 100% positive Fred's kids will have an even more extensive media diet than mine when they grow up and will eventually discover that playing video games and passing time Facebook doesn't seem so hot anymore.

The Internet pulled me out of the proverbial frog's well and I like that I am not paying for my access to the latest issue of The New York Times Magazine, but I wonder how long this free run would last. My free access to the NYT magazine is subsidized mainly by the ad-rich print version, and in a minor part by online advertising.

How long will this state of subsidy last? How long will the New York Times last in its present form?

Despite the low-cost nature of online publishing, I doubt whether anyone can start an online publication of the NYT Mag's quality from scratch and survive without long term funding strategy.

Nick Denton has come closest to creating a respectable online publishing empire with his Gawker network, but where are the long form stories ? Being Snarky doesn't cut it.

Coming back to Fred's point: A world full of adults with the attention span and habits of kids is good news for marketers of things that let us deal with our boredom.

But, we also need things that help us understand our world better. Nothing does that better than good journalism.

A study in 2007 pointed out that people do read long articles on the internet. Long pieces of investigative journalism, good feature writing (thank you New Yorker) will always have their say.

To know about the future of news, two important questions need answers:

1. Which news model must we follow?
NYT (free), WSJ? Economist (paid), Guardian (trust)

2. How do we make people pay for news?
Free paper (aggregated wire feeds, tips and tricks, and lots of ads) and the paid version (bigger stories, analysis)

Sadly, investors don’t seem interested in these tough questions. What the news business urgently needs now is investors who are willing to go beyond investing in oddities like and work with those in the News business to create New Brands of the Internet Era.

Till now, all I have seen on this front are 101 Social News startups.
Maybe more...Come on, think hard.

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