Friday, May 25, 2007

Google’s biggest fear: Googlers

Consider this the sequel to my earlier post about 10 things that ex-Googlers could do.

Sometime back, CNN Money carried out a story about many Google employees deciding to sell their Google options, cashing out while the going was good.

Robert Cringely writes about the dangers (For Google) of Google’s much-hyped 20% time – the freedom given to Google’s employees to spend 20% of their time on working on new ideas.

Robert says out of 4000 or more probable new ideas that the Googlers come up with, in the end Google can’t take more than 10 new projects in a year, if it has to really make a good effort at successful execution.

Then there is the hurting reality, plaguing many Googlers that their company is still a one trick pony – Search Giant to Ad Giant.

How many more innovations still left in the giant?

What about the discarded 3990 (or more, or less) discarded ideas?

Let is put aside the pride of those bright PHDs, MBAs, for a while.

How long are Googlers going to be satisfied frolicking in the cool Googleplex ( great PR point) and bragging to others they aced 20 interview sessions (PR point#2) before they got in?

Someday I would like to learn in detail what exactly those thousands of the ‘nerd and the nerdiest’ do at Google, Microsoft or Yahoo?

What does that entire IQ go into?

However, that is another story, to be explored another time.

Robert talks about the possibility of frustrated Googlers, whose ideas have been discarded, leaving the company, selling their options and investing the money into a startup centered on their idea.

The possibility that their startup might be bought up by a giant, including Google, is full of delicious ironies, indeed.

Googlers leaving Google to start their own is not a fantasy.

Someday, business professors might call the phenomenon, ‘Creative Destruction, Google Style’.

Or 'How the Giant was beaten by his own'.
One of these companies might beat Google at their own, coming up with the next disruptive innovation to beat.

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Blogging with care

Blogging can be an unsafe options for many of you.
I can vouch for this truism.
My recent personal experience has shown that if you speak out, you are in for it.

The BBC writes, quoting a study of 2000 bloggers done by Human resources Company Croner, where 39% said that they made harmful comments in their posts - including derogatory or damaging details about their workplace, boss or colleagues, and this could be harmful for their careers.

This was also one reason why in a recent McKinsey study, many companies said they were afraid of employees using web 2.0 tools such as Blogs, Wikis and others because they were afraid of the matter being posted online.

I was the editor at a blog network in India, starting with its inception and I left after 14 months, bored with the editing basically rewritten stuff. There was no sign of the promised land of informed online opinion.

I mentioned this in passing in one of my posts, my ex-CEO read this (lesson: people are watching you online), and duly he dissed my work experience when a recruiter got in touch with him for verification.

For many, speaking out is no fun.

The blogosphere is a two-faced sword.
When someone advises you to have a voice online, she probably meant having a filtered, edited voice.


Reasons why micropayments aren’t working today

Micropayment was once a hot topic, trumped by Usability Guru Jacob Nielsen, attracting scores of entrepreneurs to the fold, many of whose startups have folded up their tents and moved.

The case for Micropayments paints a promising future for online content providers - where you get paid for every item you create online – news article, photo, so on.

However, soon companies found out that users could never close on to the awkward user experience.
As Clay Shirky puts it , ‘The very micro-ness of micropayments makes them confusing.’

The Granularity problem
The major micropayment-like success was iTunes but it wasn’t micropayment, at 99 cents a song it was much bigger than 20-25 cents micropayment range.

Pay-per-view problem
Some have pointed out that the pay-per-view type of model works with bigger payment slabs, in select industries such as sports, porn, movie maybe), not for news articles and its variants.

Besides, Users like flat fee models, as the success of mobile consumer plans show.

Distribution problem
Credit card players dominate online and users have got used to them, however usurious the practice may be. Most Micropayment startups had their own system, ending up creating a confusing multitude of choices, no one shining out in particular.

Debit cards are catching on, but not fast enough.

Maybe someday a smart Debit Card will launch a 'micropayment variant additional card ' with money stored in multiples of only $100, which users can spend, send like Paypal, store the value on their mobile SIM card…send it as SMS...the possibility is there.

The biggest reason why Micropayments don't work today
IMHO, User-Generated Content is the biggest reason why micropayments aren’t working today.

Say, I write an essay, what is the guarantee that similar ideas haven’t been done by any one of the active 5 million bloggers?

For every eBook on blogging, there are 1000 free ebooks on blogging.

The New York Times writes a big piece on Global Warming, chances are a blogger might pick on the idea and write a piece.

There is just too much competition.
Newspapers will tell you – they are terrified with the frightening array of alternatives available online.

Someday, Newspapers may solicit contributions via micropayments to fund a promising investigative story, in the manner pioneered by New Assignment.

Nick Douglas at Valleywag has for a change departed from his usual style of criticizing the web monoliths and has written a timely article on the failure of the so-called 'smart set' in the Silicon Valley to see beyond the tiring buzzwords of social networking, web 2.0 and others, asking why aren’t those self-centered geeks inventing new things – a better Micropayment is one of the ideas waiting in the wings. Read his post here.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

How far blogs have come: Autoblog giving SUV as a prize

Sometime back I asked whether a multi-staffed, round the clock blog such as Engadget was really a blog, and I meant that successful publishers are only using blogs as easy-to-use publishing tools, in the process getting rubbed by the ‘blogging is cool’ shine.

Now, there is news that Autoblog, another blog owned by AOL/Webslogsinc is giving away a $29000 SUV, the 2007 Dodge Nitro R/T as a prize.

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Back to the future: when Mobile Operators turned into ISPs

I knew mobile data is big. How big it really is I did not know till today when I read in the Guardian that mobile content is worth more than web content.

Informa calculates that content on mobile networks brought in $31 billion against $25 billion worth of business done on the web.

While porn and gambling accounted for a big part of online revenues, the mobile content business is dominated by five content groups: music, infotainment, images, videogames and web browsing.

Reading this many of you might think:
well then, what are we doing writing rambling articles online, that anyway few people read?

However, I don’t think mobile content will always be a Paid For business.

A crazy mix of technologies are on the horizon – wifi, wimax, Bluetooth, VoIP, P2P, and others – and some technologies that are yet to come that will one day turn Mobile providers from the dour gatekeepers of today to building supers of future, just like the ISPs of tomorrow.

In 10 years, the cellphone has become a ubiquitous tool, even found in the hands of those film extras in awful commercials. In 10 years’ time, people will have found a way out of the clutches of the Mobile service providers.

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7 signposts on the slippery path from Googlehood to Microsofthood

Let’s have a quick walk across the path where only giants roam, observing the tipping points related to Google’s increasingly Microsoft-like behavior in the month of May alone.

You will notice how similar Google is to old man Microsoft, thrusting its unprecedented monopoly upon web site owners and users alike, often choosing to act when it suits the company, and in the process loosing much of its freely earned Public Relations brownie points:

1. Google experimenting with Universal Search: what’s great about it? Altavista tried it in the 90s.
2. Google’s Hot Trends page: Of no use except to spammers.
3. Google deciding to ‘ban’ made for adsense publishers: what took them so long? What about those typo domain squatters?
4. The new Google toolbar on new Dell computers which users find extremely hard to turn off.

The next tipping points are from the Zdnet blog, which quotes Robert McLaws’s Microsoft Litmus test: "When looking at any new Google venture, swap out the word ‘Google” with ‘Microsoft’ and ask yourself if you’re still OK with what’s happening.”

5. Google invests $3.2 million in 23andMe, a startup founded by the wife of one of Google’s founders: it matches levels of nepotism rarely seen outside the great country of India.

6. Google bars other vendors from attending its customer seminars.

7. Google requests its employees refrain from wearing t-shirts from any of its competitors.

With Google, the Silicon Valley has come to believe it is indeed good, unlike the giant from Redmond.

Shiny, creative, bright and deluded people all - suffering from a severe case of California Gold Rushitis.

This is lot a like what the Guys in Hollywood think when they host a party for Obama, pronouncing their political affiliations from the Oscars or going along on U.N. sponsored free tours to Africa as Goodwill ambassadors when work is no more forthcoming.

Slowly, it is dawning upon many of us that Google is just another ruthless company competing in a ruthless winner-takes-all market, where ‘don’t be evil’ often means ‘don’t be stupid’.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Enterprise 2.0: Boo Hoo?

Tom Davenport throws a bucket of ice cold water on the hot web 2.0 topic of the moment – Enterprise 2.0, which broadly denotes using web 2.0 tools including blogs, tags, wikis, voting/rating, commenting within the confines of the modern corporation.

Tom’s argument brings me back to the early 90s when much was being made about how technology could transform organizations – flat structures over vertical, teleworking, openness and on and on…until Enron happened which proved that Human nature trumped technology time and time again.

Tom says,

Enterprise 2.0 software and the Internet won't make organizational hierarchy and politics go away. They won't make the ideas of the front-line worker in corporations as influential as those of the CEO. Most of the barriers that prevent knowledge from flowing freely in organizations – power differentials, lack of trust, missing incentives, unsupportive cultures, and the general busyness of employees today – won't be addressed or substantially changed by technology alone.

We are back to the old Human nature question, again.
Back to the psychologists and philosophers, as well, perhaps?

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Google Hot Tends: for whose benefit?

As usual, Google’s newest toy is its Hot Trends page, breaking from the Zeitgeist page that showed top searches for a month and which was mostly dominated by the likes of Britney and Paris.

The Hot Trends lists the top 100 break out searches of each day. More importantly, these are not the top searches as mentioned on the Zeitgeist pages. This is also nowhere near Wordtracker’s top keywords list, only containing search terms that deviate most from their normal search pattern.

From a news point of view, the Hot Trends page does not provide much value and is same as Wikipedia 100.

I checked the top news keywords in Google news and they do not obviously reflect in the Hot Trends page.

However, you cannot discount the value of the Hot Trends page to spammers, rewriters, made for adsense players around the world.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Today's Idea: Outsourcing publishing industry CEOs to India

It is easy being cynical about the state of the Publishing business in the United States.

Commenting on the recent decision taken by, a local news site, to outsource the reporting work to two journalists in India for a fraction of the journalists’ salary in the U.S. (2 for $20,000 or so) Barbara Ehrenreich says:
No, I don't resent the Indians for moving in on the kind of work I do. I just wish the next time some managers get the idea of cost-saving through outsourcing they'd go for the CEO's job. That's where the big bucks are, and there's no reason to think a Chinese or Indian person couldn't do a CEO's work, whatever it may be, perfectly adequately, and at less than a tenth of the price.

Barbara's idea appear a good option when you have a struggling print business such as Time throwing a party just when it is laying off many workers.

The Indian print industry is the midst of a boom, which will last another 10 years, when there will hopefully be a broadband connection to every home.

There will be plenty of long tail publishers here who would jump at chance to make some dollar moolah.

We may not be top chops in content but we are good managers, making do with whatever resources we got - some sentimentalists call it the Pioneer spirit, and I can hear some snickers out there.

Besides, no one is as cussed about paying people than your average Indian businessman, especially the publisher.

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6 requirements for a Tech President

Looking from India, which has long been ruled by geriatric guys in their seventies, unaware of how technology can improve lives of people (apart from the ubiquitous cellphone) and how bad Global Warming really is, it is amusing to know about the 6 requirements of a Techie President for America as listed by Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, who also founded the Personal Democracy Forum.

It is amusing because here most people draw a blank when asked about Youtube style of politics, for example.

The six requirements are as follows:
1. Declare the Internet a public good.
2. Commit to providing affordable high-speed wireless Internet access nationwide, along with protecting and expanding unlicensed spectrum for public use, and make the Internet a reliable part of our infrastructure….
3. Declare a “Net Neutrality” standard forbidding Internet service providers from discriminating among content based on origin, application or type.
4. Instead of “No Child Left Behind,” our goal should be “Every Child Connected.”
5. Commit to building a Connected Democracy where it becomes commonplace for local as well as national government proceedings to be heard by anyone any time and over time.
6. Create a National Tech Corps

Via Buzzmachine


Monday, May 21, 2007

What would we do without the News Indexes?

Goggle’s rumored deal with some large British news groups to formally license content for Google news ala Yahoo news (mostly from AP) has 3 main implications if true:

1. Is this the end for aggregators such as Goggle news, Digg (news link + comments), Techmeme (ranked news link plus summaries) and other players, meaning that ‘Fair use’ argument won’t cut any more?

I doubt it happening in the United States and elsewhere. On the other hand, Europe is more conservative vis-à-vis Fair use.

Links are the currencies of the internet. Enough said. Currencies don’t belong in dark, bottomless pits.

2. Let’s take it the other way. It is the media sites which profit from traffic from Google news and other aggregators, in one way or another. How will they pay the aggregators for all the traffic and have they ever paid for the traffic?

3. What is with the large news sites?
Do they hold a monopoly for quality news articles?

I observed myself using Google news searching for the latest on American Idol – a long list of stories comes up and I scan the headlines and excerpts, clicking on the story I find most alluring.

Did I look at whether it is NYT story? No, I didn't.
As Akbar the Great used to say, 'it is only incidental that I am a Muslim.
Get the drift?

Many small sites and blogs have made name for themselves through Google news.

It is hubris from main media too, thinking only they can carry great stories online, where only the best headline gets the click.

Techmeme is a shiny example as being an aggregator supporting an albeit select (1000?) group of blogs and the blogs are not complaining for the link and excerpt.

Time for the thick headed to admit that they fear competition from smaller web sites and blogs – fearing their expensive (per post basis) story not shining out in a list of 1000 similar stories.