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”

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

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.

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

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
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.

HP buys Snapfish

From the HP web site.

Snapfish’s expertise in online photo services, coupled with HP’s worldwide customer reach, will rapidly enhance HP’s ability to capitalize on the growing market for online photo printing.

Snapfish offers high-quality photo products and services. These include free online photo sharing, photo storage and management, free editing tools and software, online print ordering, wireless imaging services for camera phone and color handset users, and more than 70 personalized photo products, such as calendars, mousepads and the like.

Snapfish also provides infrastructure services to leading retailers, internet service providers and wireless carriers, allowing them to offer these same products and services to their own consumers.

“Bringing Snapfish into HP’s digital photography portfolio is a strategic move for both companies,” said Larry Lesley, senior vice president, Consumer Imaging and Printing, HP. “By offering a superior online photo service through Snapfish, we will be able to offer the home photographer greater choice when deciding exactly how, when and where they share, store and print their photos.”

Snapfish has more than 13 million registered members and is growing at a rate of more than 500,000 members per month due in part to high customer satisfaction – 90 percent of Snapfish’s customers have recommended the service to others.

Hope they get around to migrating the data over from HP Photo. I still have a couple of test accounts left over there from it was Cartogra.

Update – from News.com:

HP plans, for customers who approve it, to move those using its current HPphoto.com service over to Snapfish. That service has 1.5 million customers, who mostly use the service to store their photos. Snapfish rival Shutterfly is the default printing option from within HPphoto.com.

I’ll have to go dig up my photos of Cartogra-man sometime.

Yahoo Tech Buzz Market

Yahoo is running a simulated market for predicting interest and general sentiment about technology products and trends, such as IE vs Firefox, blogging, etc. There’s even a modest prize (Mac Mini) for the best forecasting performance during March – July 2005.

The Tech Buzz Game is a fantasy prediction market for high-tech products, concepts, and trends As a player, your goal is to predict how popular various technologies will be in the future. Popularity or buzz is measured by Yahoo! Search frequency over time.

Predictions are made by buying virtual stock in the products or technologies you believe will succeed, and selling stock in the technologies you think will flop. In other words, you “put your play money where your mouth is.”

I like market-based approaches like this, although the challenge is in drawing a sufficiently diversified base of participants to draw on different information sources and make the market “liquid” enough, vs getting a lot of people who think the same way.

Yahoo buys Flickr

Lots of rumors for a while, official announcement today. I was sort of hoping for Google to buy Flickr to combine with Blogger, Picasa, Maps, etc. Yahoo seems to layer on a lot of cross promotion on their web properties, and also seems to provide less enthusiastic support for web services interfaces for 3rd party applications.

Flickr blog

Business Week online

Comments at the Flickr user board

Update – March 23, 2005
Here’s an article at News.com with a good overview of why user content tagging is significant. It’s sometimes difficult to explain the potential effect of user tagging to people who haven’t seen or used any of the pieces, and this might be a good introduction for them.

Terrorists thinking about Bangalore IT companies?

This came across my desk this morning:

From EE Times:

India software firms on terrorist radar

BANGALORE, India — Police in India’s capital New Delhi who shot and killed three terrorists on Saturday night said that some of Bangalore’s software firms had been targeted by the slain terrorists.

According to a top police officer in New Delhi on Sunday, the terrorists had visited Bangalore in December and surveyed the locations of many software firms here. The police gathered this information from a diary seized from two captured associates of the slain terrorists. A military training academy was also a target, police said.

From Computerworld:

Documents seized from three members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorist group killed in an encounter with police on Saturday revealed that they planned to carry out suicide attacks on software companies in Bangalore, Karnal Singh, joint commissioner of police in Delhi, told reporters.

Items recovered during the capture include: maps of call centers in Bangalore, 100 kilos of dynamite, 10.5 kilos of RDX explosive, 450 detonators, three AK-56 rifles and a satellite phone.

It’s interesting to compare news coverage for this story. I don’t think it made it at all into the SJ Mercury News this morning. The US technology trade press ran this with a focus on outsourcing and IT operations in Bangalore, while the Indian news articles seem to mostly focus on the ongoing problems with domestic terrorism by the Lashkar-e-Toiba organization.

More at ExpressIndia, sify.com, and Times of India.

Life at HP under Carly

A former Imaging Systems Lab engineer’s view of life at HP Laboratories under Carly in Technology Review.

I remember the first time she walked into the Hewlett-Packard labs. She said that our new company slogan was “Invent.” Then she told us that the technology industry would never again be as exciting and profitable as it was in the ’90s. That we’d all need to grow up now and face that fact.

I knew from that moment that HP’s best days were behind us.
Continue reading Life at HP under Carly

Carly is gone!

Press release at HP.com
Hewlett-Packard Fires Fiorina (TheStreet.com)

HP’s CEO Carly Fiorina Steps Down (Forbes.com)

Korea Free Economic Zone

came across this in December 2004 Technology Review.
There are actually 3 different development zones, one near Incheon, Busan/Jinhae, and Gwangyangman.

Still interested in coming up with something interesting to do in Korea.

Online Currency Trading at oanda.com

Although there are a lot of online brokerages, there aren’t a lot of easy ways to trade foreign currency. I came across this last summer in an article in Barrons.


Update 09-22-2005 21:16 PDT: profile of Oanda.com at alarm:clock

Build-Your-Own Branded Logo Merchandise Online


This might be useful for building a “gift shop” for Kuppam or similar projects. Perhaps the women’s jewelry activity could do something with this.

Also Anu Radha or someone should follow up on the Amazon listing for the Kuppam coffee table book.

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