On Business Innovation for the “Bottom of the Pyramid”

main road in Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh
An article in the Red Herring on business opportunities in poor/developing/rural economies with some specific examples of “locally appropriate” products and services. C.K. Prahalad is heavily quoted, as usual.

“There are five billion people in developing countries that are currently underserved, but can’t wait to join the global economy,” says Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad, a University of Michigan professor and author of best-selling business books, including The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits.

Consumers “at the bottom of the pyramid”—as Mr. Prahalad refers to the poor—can’t afford the same products as Western consumers. On average, they earn less than $2 per day. Mr. Prahalad, considered one of the world’s most influential business thinkers, believes companies can make a profit targeting this market, if they make their advanced technology affordable.

Continue reading On Business Innovation for the “Bottom of the Pyramid”

Long Island-sized iceberg collision in Antarctica

The iceberg B15A is 71 miles long and has been adrift off Antarctica for a while. It finally bumped into the 43-mile-long Drygalski “tongue” of ice extending offshore from the “David” glacier yesterday. Satellite photo here.

Link via Metafilter

An image snapped by the European Space Agency’s Envisat satellite on 15 April shows a 5-km-long section of the ice tongue breaking off at its seaward end as the bottle-shaped iceberg brushes past.

B15-A is the largest remaining section of the large B15 iceberg which broke away from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000. Scientists have placed a Global Positioning System device on it to track its movements.

Are you a NeoCon?

Answer 10 questions and see if you’re an Isolationist, Liberal, Realist, or Neoconservative. (via Metafilter)

According to my responses, it thinks I’m a Realist:

Realists…

  • Are guided more by practical considerations than ideological vision
  • Believe US power is crucial to successful diplomacy – and vice versa
  • Don’t want US policy options unduly limited by world opinion or ethical considerations
  • Believe strong alliances are important to US interests
  • Weigh the political costs of foreign action
  • Believe foreign intervention must be dictated by compelling national interest
  • Historical realist: President Dwight D. Eisenhower
    Modern realist: Secretary of State Colin Powell

Not a perfect fit, but closer than the other categories. “Isolationist” seems to be the opposite of the work I’ve been doing for a while. I sometimes get labelled “Conservative” or “Liberal” depending on if I’m here in the Bay Area or visiting old friends back in Maine. There isn’t a category for “Idealistic Pragmatist”, so I guess that leaves me as a “Realist.”

Adobe Buys Macromedia – initial thoughts

This makes sense. Although Adobe and Macromedia have competed on the content creation front over the past years, starting out from the print world in Adobe’s case and the CD-ROM world in Macromedia’s case, this should allow the combined organization to focus on making the existing tools play better, and move on to the broader problem of document and information management.

Life will be just fine for the existing customer base of print and interactive developers, who will probably end up with a toolbox of Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Flash, InDesign, and Acrobat, each of which are great, even dominant, in their categories, have loyal user communities, and will become more useful as they become better integrated.

The more interesting question is the one the merger is predicated on, which is how to address the broader space of document workflow and information management.

Adobe has been training everyone to think of PDF as “electronic paper”, in that it behaves like a printed document with well defined, mostly fixed presentation of a text and graphics. This is mostly how it is used today, literally replacing paper documents in print-on-demand applications such as product literature, distribution of paper forms for health, government, and corporate applications, or formatted output of books and publications.

Macromedia Flash, on the other hand, is geared toward dynamic graphic presentation, and almost nothing is static, but it can and typically does retrieve new underlying content to be presented through the Flash software client. Complex multimedia presentations are routinely implemented in Flash, including entire web sites. Flash is a more a programmable content presentation system than anything else.

PDF excels at migrating a paper-based workflow model to an online environment, because it turns paper documents into something digital that can be moved around electronically. While paper isn’t going away for a long, long, time, if ever, the problem in the corporate / enterprise space is that we may be moving to an environment where we aren’t starting out with static data very often, and the document is coming from an array of content sources. This is an area where Flash might do well, if other approaches such as Ajax don’t solve enough of the problem.

Look at this blog or any news site as a very simple example. None of the articles posted are actually fixed documents, they’re all facets of an underlying database of content. Now think about the information handled in various corporate workflows. A lot of it already lives in an assortment of databases, some of them actual “databases”, but also many document files scattered across the hard drives of the company. A lot of documents floating around are really a sort of snapshot of a particular view of the underlying data at a point in time. Taken further, we get XML-based interactive documents such as Google Maps, or similar applications such as these demos at Laszlo Systems. It’s not a stretch to imagine existing blogging software wrapped around existing databases and data sources within an enterprise and publishing RSS feeds which are automatically aggregated into “workflow” documents, this is already starting to appear in bits and pieces.

Hardcopy output has a huge advantage in being persistent technology — we can be reasonably sure that the paper document can be read in 50 years, while the same can not be said about the PDF document on CD-ROM, DVD, or any other current storage media. But it also seems that a direction for “documents” will be towards presenting faceted views of the data content available to the publisher. PDF has the “paper” part covered. Flash is useless for “paper” but has a great installed base of dynamic presentation clients.

I would find it disconcerting if the “paper” PDF documents started updating themselves with much more than customer contact data or similar, and I don’t think I’d trust a Flash web site to give me the same content from one week to another. That might be just an age thing, since I’m used to “paper” behaving a particular way, which might change in the future.

Adobe has needed to do something on the enterprise side for years. After bringing in Macromedia, they’ll still need to find a way to address the content / information management side, but Flash seems like a better fit to interactive documents than retrofitting dynamic presentations into PDF.

Next, they need to link up with some content management / database / XML solutions that are both human-friendly and auditor-compliant.

updated 04-27-2005
comments at kottke.org
discussion at slashdot, followup discussion at slashdot

Flickr upgrades Pro accounts

This turned up in e-mail this evening, more reasons to like Flickr

You may have heard on the grapevine that we planned to
reward our dear Flickr members who bought a Pro Account in
the early days. Well, it’s true! And since you’re one of
those lovely people, here’s a little something to say YOU
ROCK!

1. Double what you paid for!
Your original 1 year pro account has been doubled to
2 years, and your new expiry date is Apr 8, 2007.

2. More capacity!
Now you can upload 2 GB per month.

3. 2 free Pro Accounts to give away to your friends!
This won’t be activated for a day or two, but when it
is, you’ll see a note on your home page telling you
what to do.

Thank you so much for putting your money where your mouth
is and supporting us, even while we’re in beta. Your
generosity and cold, hard cash helped us get where we are
today.

Kind regards,
The Flickreenies.

Big Sur Marathon 2005 – Taper Time

Yogi Berra once said that “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical”, which also applies well to marathons. It’s taper time, and we’re clearly working on the mental part of the game.

With seasonal allergies in full swing, I wake up feeling tired and groggy every morning, so it’s easy to be anxious about whether I’m in shape to run Big Sur, especially without the reassurance of completing a decent workout every day. This week I’ve been mostly doing short, easy 3-5 mile runs, vs the daily 9-13 mile runs I was getting in a few weeks ago, since part of the reason for tapering is to let the body recharge a bit. Unfortunately, while that’s good for the body, it’s tricky for the mental aspect of preparation. In my case, I know it can take up to an hour of easy running before I get comfortable, so between allergies and short runs, most of my workouts this week have left me feeling slightly uneasy. Today’s workout was a full hour, and felt awkward for the first 30 minutes but the last 3-4 miles clicked off cleanly at MP-to-LT paces, which makes me feel better for now.

Since I’m running less this week, I’m spending more time on planning. Today I’ve been debating which shoes to run in. I’m down to my last pair of Saucony Hurricane 5′s, which I have been alternating with the Asics GT-2100 for the past few months. The Hurricanes are a little heavier and provide more foot protection, and I’ve used them for thousands of miles of training, making them a safe choice. Unfortunately, they stopped making the 5′s over a year ago, I didn’t like the Hurricane 6, and haven’t had a chance to try the Hurricane 7′s yet. My current Hurricane 5′s are the last of the ones I stashed away when they were discontinued, and they’re at something like 300 miles, which is where I typically stop using them for long runs. They occasionally have some at Road Runner Sports, but not in my size lately.

The GT-2100′s have been working ok so far. They’re lighter than the Hurricanes, but aren’t “lightweight” like the New Balance NB900′s I got a while ago for shorter/faster workouts. I didn’t like the Kayano IX or the GT-2090 for some reason when I tried them a couple of years ago, but the GT-2100′s haven’t given me any discernable problems. My stride mechanics are substantially better, and I weigh less than when I started running, which makes the extra cushioning in the Hurricanes less critical now than back when I originally picked them. However, I can definitely tell that the GT-2100′s are less “cushy” after 13+ miles compared with the Hurricanes, not sure how they’ll feel after 26+. They feel a lot worse if my form gets sloppy, which is an incentive to pay attention.

I’m probably going with the GT-2100′s.

The Longest Mile

Just over a week left before the Big Sur Marathon, found this blog linked from the web site. Reading about these guys over at the the Monterey Herald makes me feel a little better about how this training cycle has been going.

The Longest Mile is an online diary following the triumphs and travails of Ken Ottmar and Jon Segal, two overweight, out-of-shape, newspaper desk jockeys training for the brutal Big Sur Marathon. Come and taste the pain.

Just looking at these guys makes my feet and knees ache. Hope they do ok next weekend, or at least avoid major injuries…

24 Wireless Networks – A Quick Survey out my window in Palo Alto

During lunch yesterday, I spent a few minutes with Netstumbler to test a simple cantenna intended for use for low cost rural community networks. I will write about the cantenna separately, it’s based on this design and provides around 8dB of gain. Even more valuable for a cluttered RF environment (such as around here), the directionality of the antenna reduces the noise floor substantially. With the directional antenna, the noise floor was around -88dBm, vs around -66dBm with the built-in omni.

An informal survey from my office (sitting in my chair with the antenna and revolving through 360 degrees a few times) turned up 24 access points, 11 of which were unsecured. I expected to pick up a few networks while pointing toward the window, but I was surprised at how many popped up while pointed through the opposite side of the building. It probably helps that I’m on the 2nd floor, but this was more than I expected. A similar experiment a couple of years ago turned up only 2 SSIDs, not including mine.

SSIDs picked up:

    143Rinconada, 2WIRE517, 2WIRE626, 2WIRE778, Alma Zone,
    Andrew's Network, bmillin, dolev, Home, Home,
    hughes-wi-fi, hughes-wi-fi, linksys, linksys, Linksys,
    linksys-g / Palo Alto, Linksys-PA, LR, NETGEAR, NETGEAR,
    settlers, spyfox, TASAR-HOME, zephyr

Perhaps I should see if anyone’s interested in setting up a bandwidth co-op, since Palo Alto Fiber-to-the-Home seems to be stalled. It’s sometimes frustrating to see how slow and expensive internet service is here by comparison with Korea, among other places.

Thoughts on Google Video Upload (Beta) Launch

Lots of interesting Google topics recently. Yesterday, Google launched Video Upload, inviting uploaded video to be indexed on Google in the future.

This is fundamentally different from Google Search as it exists today, in that

  • Content needs to be explicitly uploaded to Google vs being spidered automatically
  • All indexed content has a claimed owner (need a Gmail account to upload)
  • Licensing information is built into the search metadata at Google rather than at the source

It’s unclear to me whether Google becomes the primary content server or if only metadata is served to video search clients, leaving the actual content delivery to the owner. Although Google currently makes a cached copy of web content, today’s searches are normally directed to the source URL rather than being served from the Google cache. Turning the Google infrastructure into a global media server seems like a plausible direction to consider, though.

This also seems to lay the groundwork for something like an Apple iTunes Store for video and other media, with content from both individuals and commercial organizations.

More details on the Google Video Upload FAQ

What is Google Video?

Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Currently, Google Video lets you search a growing archive of televised content — everything from sports events to dinosaur documentaries to news programs. In addition to televised content, we’re now accepting video from anyone who wants to upload content to us. Uploaded content will not be immediately available to users searching Google Video as this is just the submission stage of the program. But (if you’ll pardon the pun) stay tuned.

What is the Google Video upload program?

The upload program lets you submit videos electronically to Google Video, as long as you own the necessary rights (including copyrights, trademarks, rights of publicity, and any other relevant rights for your content). Just sign up for an account and use our upload tool to send your videos to Google. The program is still in beta so you won’t see your videos live on Google Video immediately.

To make sure that your video is submitted properly, please read below about preferred file formats and our approval process. Videos may not go live if they’re not approved or if we’re unable to accept the format.

Initial thoughts on contributing video:

  • From a commercial point of view, searchable video would be a great benefit, provided you didn’t lose control of the content.
  • From an individual artist’s point of view, this would be a huge win, since there are so few distribution mechanisms for short films and multimedia projects.
  • From a casual user’s (family videos) point of view, I’m a little unclear. There are clearly people happy to have their entire life published to the world in perpituity, but I suspect this is the minority. For my own photos and videos I’d like to be able to search, but not to have the content accessible to the world at large. So a personal version of this might be useful.

Comments at Slashdot, BoingBoing

JibbaJabba – FlikrGraph Search

This is a cool search/navigation application for Flickr, complete with entertaining animation.
(via del.icio.us)

Geoff Moore talk on Open Source at OSBC

Here are some notes from Geoffrey Moore’s talk at OSBC last week on Ross Mayfield’s Weblog.

Commoditization takes all the earnings of the industry down. Managing core and context is center stage. Core is what you choose to be different about. If you are Dominos, the Pizza is context, 30 minutes is core. If you are Chuck E Cheese the Pizza is context and the animals are core. Tiger Woods competitive capabilities are core, the rest is context — focus on the game! What ever you have that is core, however, becomes context over time.

We are horrible at managing less differentiated goods. Scarce resources get tied up in context. Context build-up: what once made them great now leads to weakened competitive performance and lower returns on invested capital. Need more healthy processes to extract resources from the context to the core.

Open source’s most important role is to commoditi[ze] context [and] processes so people can extract them and re-purpose them for the core.

“What ever you have that is core, however, becomes context over time. ” The really hard part for a lot of interesting ideas at the moment, is that many of them are absorbed into the open source “context” before they have a chance to be a profitable “core” aspect of a business, with a differentiated lifetime of only weeks or days before needing a new innovation to add to their “core” proposition.

Look at what Redfin has been working on (real estate listings with maps and photos), vs something like Craigslist on Google Maps. This is either a great opportunity for folks like Redfin, or a major headache.

Interview with Barry Schwartz on The Paradox of Choice

Came across an interview with Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice.

Excerpt from the interview:

Q – What can customers do to avoid the paradox of choice?

Most importantly, learn that “good enough is good enough.” It’s what I call “satisficing” in the book. You don’t need the best; probably never do. On rare occasions it’s worth struggling to find the best. But generally it makes life simpler if you settle with “good enough.” You don’t have to make an exhaustive search – just until you find something that meets your standards, which could be high. But the only way to find the absolute best is to look at ALL the possibilities. And in that case you’ll either give up, or if you choose one, you’ll be nagged by the possibility that you may have found something better. We have evidence about this, by the way. People who are out to find the very best job (“maximizers”) feel worse than people who settle for good enough. We’ve tracked them through and after college. Maximizers did better financially – they found starting salaries that paid $7,000 more than satisficers’ starting salary. But by every other measure – depression, stress, anxiety, satisfaction with their job – maximizers felt worse.

Continue reading Interview with Barry Schwartz on The Paradox of Choice

Zopa – eBay for money?

Corante has a podcast interview with the founders of Zopa. The idea is to build an eBay-style marketplace for individuals to participate in lending and borrowing, using eBay-style reputation scoring.

Some of this seems like a good idea, possibly in matching up people who want to provide funds to communities that don’t have a pool of loans available to them, but would otherwise be a reasonable credit risk. (Something like Grameen Bank’s microcredit program.)

For other situations, this seems likely to end up with many of the same reputation-gaming problems that turned up on eBay. From a risk-management viewpoint, it might be useful to find a way to build credit pools rather than individual loans. This is essentially what the banks do already, but the reputation scoring system might allow a better handle on the creditworthiness of the borrowers, and turn the individual loans into a portfolio, so a bad loan doesn’t become a disaster for the creditor.

There does seem to be a need for something in this space. The ongoing consolidation of banks in the US has generally eliminated local control of most banks, meaning that individual branches don’t usually know their customers well enough to know if they would be a good credit, other than looking at a credit score, and don’t usually have the discretion or interest in making a loan to someone that doesn’t exactly fit their loan profile. If you want to do something creative, you probably need to work with a private banker, or have wealthy friends.

This might also provide a mechanism to form relatively small pools of capital for niche markets. An eBay-style model implies a huge amount of effort on the part of the participants, compared with what consumer banks would typically do. This might make smaller loans more interesting. Otherwise, why not stick with writing super jumbo mortgages at $1 million each for the same amount of work.

Google Hacking for Penetration Testers

Google Hacking for Penetration Testers (Review at Slashdot)

author Johnny Long pages 448 publisher Syngress reviewer Corey Nachreiner ISBN 1931836361
summary Google’s dark and dork sides exposed; despite the title, useful for everyone who’d like to get the most out of google

Most Web surfers don’t realize the sheer amount of extremely sensitive information available for the harvesting on the Internet. In that sense, Google Hacking is eye-popping. Do you want to find misconfigured Web servers that publicly list their directory contents? A quick Google search does the trick. Or, suppose you found some new exploit code that only works against a particular version of IIS 5.0. Submit a quick Google query for a helpful list of possible targets. Do you want to harvest user logins, passwords (for example, mySQL passwords in a connect.inc file), credit card numbers, social security numbers or any other potentially damaging tidbit that Web users and administrators accidentally leak onto the Internet? Google Hacking shows you how, with highly refined searches gleaned from the community contributing to the Google Hacking database (GHDB) found on Long’s Web site.

Haven’t read this particular one, but it sounds fun. There are a bunch of these books and articles on interesting uses for Google and other web services coming out lately. I’m still trying to stay mostly in book-reduction mode, having donated 90+ boxes of books to the library last year to clear out some space.

Plumpy’nut – peanut butter based milk replacement for developing and rural communities

Today’s Wall Street Journal had a front page feature about a peanut-based nutrition paste called Plumpy’Nut, manufactured by a company called Nutriset, in France.

Its name is Plumpy’nut, and as its use becomes more widespread, this whimsical-sounding product is helping transform the treatment of malnutrition in children. Each packet, the size of a small juice pouch, weighs less than 100 grams, but packs 500 calories. After several weeks on a diet of Plumpy’nut –brought to the camp by Save the Children, a U.S. aid organization — Sadi was able to stand and walk again. When she spied the silver-and-red packet in her mother’s hand, she said “Plumpy,” stepping forward on wobbly legs and reaching out her hands.

The product is similar to peanut butter or Nutella (a hazelnut spread, popular in Europe), but incorporates a nutrient mix based on previous recommendations for powdered milk. The problem with powdered milk is the absence of sanitary water supplies to mix the powder with. This means that infants and children receiving powdered milk generally need to stay at or near a health center of some sort, rather than at home.

The peanut butter-based product comes in packets, which can be stored (like peanut butter) without special handling, and can be consumed directly, rather than needing to be mixed with water. Even better, the children like it, so it’s easy to get them to eat it.

The product is apparently made in France for around 35 cents per packet before shipping. The WSJ article mentions that there is interest in setting up local producers in the areas that actually need these products. Not sure what’s involved in adding the nutrient mix (milk equivalent) to the peanut butter, but it seems like a great response to the absence of clean drinking water.

The founder, Michel Lescanne, was previously involved in work on theraputic milk-based products based on the F-75 and F-100 formulas from the World Health Organization, which address malnutrition in children, but aren’t easily distributed in the field (and apparently taste bad when mixed into chocolate bars).

Buzztracker.org – Mapping Google News

Buzztracker.org is another interesting tool for presenting mapped views of information, in this case Google News. Not plotted out on Google Maps, though. (Via Slashdot.)

Craigslist meets Google Maps



Here is another great proto-application by Paul Rademacher
based on Google Maps (via MetaFilter). It displays the filtered search results for housing ads on the map with clickable location markers. (Image, in case the site becomes inaccessible, it seems to be getting slow)

Having web service interfaces both open (documented, reachable) and free (without charge) is allowing a lot of previously impractical applications to bubble up from the combination of various services and software, plus relatively limited quantities of new code.

5 months post-LASIK, 20/20+

I had a another periodic post-surgery eye exam today. I keep meaning to collect and post my notes on my experience with wavefront LASIK, which I had done on both eyes last November. Starting out at 20/80+, I am consistently doing 20/20 to 20/15 on the vision chart and have essentially no discernable vision artifacts, and no problems with dry eyes.

In the meantime, I am happy to recommend my eye surgeon, Dr. Edward Manche at the Stanford Eye Laser Center. There are places that have trendier decor, and other places that are much cheaper, but he’s the guy with his name on a lot of the clinical trials for laser eye procedures and lives and breathes this stuff. As an added bonus for me, his office is 10 minutes from my home.

It’s not for everyone, but if you need a good laser vision surgeon, look him up.

Disclaimer: I have no afflilation with Dr. Manche or the Stanford Eye Laser Center other than as a happy client.

$62.25 to fill the tank!

It’s been around a month since the last time I filled the tank, since I don’t need to drive much and we’ve been away on vacation. The price of gasoline has gone up quite a bit in the meantime. $62.25 is a new personal high mark for a tank of gas, at least in the US. This would still be considerd a bargain in most countries.

The Arco gas station on El Camino Real in Palo Alto has prices of $2.56, $2.68, and $2.78 per gallon. This was mentioned on KCBS today as one of the lowest prices in the Bay Area.

This is a also a test post to see how things work with the (very low resolution) camera in my Nokia 6820 phone, and using Flickr.


Update 08-23-2005: See also Big tank, skinny wallet

Tech Review pulls articles on Carly Fiorina’s departure

Interesting…Technology Review has retracted the Carly’s Way and Carly’s Gone. HP Celebrates article as of April 7, 2005.

These articles were widely noted several weeks ago, including by me. At the time, I couldn’t come up with a guess about who the Hungarian-born imaging and printing person was, but I figured I hadn’t worked at HPL for some years now.

Carly’s Way
By As Told to Michelle Delio March 4, 2005
1 of 1
Retraction

Technology Review, Inc. cannot vouch for the accuracy of “Carly’s Way,” by Michelle Delio, published online on March 4, 2005. Nor can we stand by “Carly’s Gone. HP Celebrates,” also by Delio, published online on February 10, 2005. We regret publishing the stories.

Jason Pontin
Editor-in-Chief
Technology Review

Now I’m curious about the author, Michelle Delio. Did she manage to do a Jayson Blair? These articles weren’t exactly neutral, so the background story here has to be interesting…

Update: April 7, 2005
Found a some articles with a negative view on Michelle Delio at Free Republic, original sources here and here.
A more sympathetic opinion here.
Mainstream coverage from USA Today

Looks like the actual retraction came on or around March 22, about the time I started to unplug for vacation.

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