Month: September 2010

Personal Context: The Next Frontier

One of the downsides of so many people publishing so much of content (Blogs, Twitter, Microblogs, Flickr etc) is that keeping your head above all the noise has become an impossible task. The situation is so bad that often times the only recourse available is to shut off most of these channels. And this is a problem that will only get worse as the number of people who can produce content online is only going to keep growing.

Most of our current filtering mechanisms like aggregators and ranking systems work by applying the preferences of the many to the individual. This does allow for a dynamic data set compared to the static ones if you were to use the individual's sources as the data set being operated up on. But it also results in the dilution of context, leading to massive generalization and approximation.

The main reason why personal context is a non-starter in most cases is cost. It is simply way too expensive to index and group content on a per-user basis. One way to work around this is to offload the processing and storage to the end user, like what Mailbrowser has done. I have been an advocate of a hybrid model based on this for a while, but, unfortunately, I don't have the technical chops or the required infrastructure to build it.

This method also goes very much against the “cloud” school of thought. So you can't expect any of the existing big players to make much inroads into using this approach. But I do believe that we are reaching the limits of what a generalized context can provide. If you sit out the noise for a week, you will realize that there is little that you have missed and that the ROI on processing information churned out by existing filters is near zero.

Filed under: Internet, Social

Notes: September 23

Online Publishing

I have been watching the recent discussions on the existential crisis in media, aggregation and other related topics with interest. Not so long ago, I was part of the brigade whose primary responsibility was to publish content in various domains. And one thing I can say (this includes myself too) is that we really don't have much of a clue. Most of the current strategies can be roughly split into 1) Continue doing what has been done all the time and turn a blind eye to the elephant in the room 2) Try anything and everything, hope something sticks.

Everyone is constrained by the scale available in the publishing business, which means that even with a big money push, you can't flip it since there is a glass ceiling that you can't seem to break through. Even the cluster-of-verticals strategy is limited by cost. Just because content is abound does not mean that it is cheap to create, especially if you are focussed on quality. The numbers simply don't add up. What is then left is to explore brand new forms of advertising, which has shown some promise, but even that won't go too far before market saturation catches up with it.

The Instamedia story is pretty interesting on this front. If you take away the corporate speak, the company runs a set of vertical blogs and has a content publishing and monetization platform. But $10 million is still a pretty big round, which I think will compromise the company's approach to the business it is in. I know, there is the age-old wisdom about raising as much money when you can, but I do believe that the size of the round will create a lot of trouble for them. Businesses like Instamedia work only at a particular scale/burn rate. Mess around with the economics of it and you will see the model evaporate before you can spell the word.

Leadership

One lovely thing about the rags that cover the industry is that everyone is an expert in it. Companies are never built in a day, nor are they taken apart in a day. Both processes take periods of time that are much longer. In this context, I find all the rucks about whether Carol Bartz should be fired or retained to be quite funny. I can bet that 90% commenting with a great deal of expertise have never sat on the board of a company or been in a leadership position in a company that is even 1/1000th of Yahoo!'s scale.

I have no love lost for the big Y!. I find the company to be overstaffed, way too layered and stagnant. But, you need not always build a Twitter every year to to be a successful company and if the market valuation is the only benchmark you are going to use to see how successful a company is, I guess you would then term Microsoft as a pretty dismal player.

Filed under: Misc

Samsung Galaxy S, GTi9000

My trusted Nokia E71 sort of gave up on me about a month ago, which is never a great thing to happen while you are on the road. Since I was already on the lookout for a decent Android phone, I gave into the lure of extreme gadget lust and went for the latest Samsung Galaxy S GTi9000.

I was very skeptical about getting a touchscreen phone. I like buttons that I can feel and don't quite like the idea of tapping on a sheet of glass to type. It is just not my thing. A month on, I have grown used to typing on it. Swype has helped matters considerably, but the entire flick, pinch, tap routine is still a bit alien to me.

Android by itself is a major paradigm change for me. I am used to phones that do a few smart bits. Even though the E71 is a massive improvement on the earlier phones (you can watch videos, browse most parts of the net, use a Twitter client etc), Android is a world apart compared to that.

The first major change that stares you in the face is that being online and consuming data is not an add-on, but something that is at the core of the whole experience. Of course, it is very much possible to use Android without a data connection, but it is only less than half of what it is capable of when you don't use data on it.

The phone runs Eclair, which is Android 2.1, with update1 on it. The experience has been largely OK and feels more or less complete and consistent, but there is still room for a massive amount of improvement. And I am saying that without having used an iPhone in a while and I have not owned one either, ever.

The weakest point I feel in the whole Android game is not fragmentation. Apple has altered perceptions on this front a bit too far from reality. You can't control the entire ecosystem if you want massive scale. The “i” ecosystem is not about massive scale, it is a high margin play. Android is a different pony from that. So, if you are looking for the Apple experience on the Android, you are out of luck. If you are willing to put up with a few niggles here and there and a largely polished outcome, Android will do fine for you.

That said, the Android Market is one of the weakest links in the Android chain. It feels and works like having been designed and conceptualized by a 2-year-old. It really needs to be done better and I am surprised that Google has allowed it to languish like this. There is very much a lovely market opportunity for someone to start a “certified by xyz” marketplace, where every app is tested and rated. I would gladly pay for something like that and as Android takes on more market share, I can imagine a lot of others too would like that.

What I don't often understand are the constant flamewars between the Apple and Android fanatics. Both are phones/platforms that work well and have their respective strengths and weaknesses. The passion with which each of the groups go at each other really baffles me.

Filed under: Android, Misc, Mobile