Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Posts Tagged ‘internet

There was sometime back when was doing a rough math on how many live camera streams there are. There are some that are pointed towards the “habitat” of the Loch Ness Monster, there are enough live traffic camera, and plenty of them pointed towards a birds nest or so. And if you take the example of Justin.tv (which seems to be inspired by The Truman Show), even people are willing to play their part in all this.

Ofcourse all of this is a one way broadcast. Apart from adult sites which are apparently making their niche through two way interaction, there is not much that is happening in this space.

Is there any of that, that can be adapted into the “green” scenario? A couple of light bulbs went on and off and here’s the thought (or Idea):

MMORPG
The forest department today plans thousands of saplings every year on barren lands to convert them into lush green forests, but the biggest problem with it has been the case of watering them. There is not enough manpower to do those menial tasks – at the salary that the govt is providing – and there is also the issue of accountability where all the saplings near the roadside stand straight and well watered, but the ones in the interior die away because laziness kicks in for most of these workers. They are not to be blamed either when the scorching sun is merciless on them and they are poorly prepped for all that.

The idea is to basically plant all the saplings as the forest department does and then have water drums which can be filled periodically with water from trucks (much simpler task). The pipes to the saplings will be set on drip irrigation and there will be a soil moisture sensor in the soil which measures if there is water or not. Set a Camera that overlooks this area, connect it to the Internet and create a frontend to a MMORPG (Massively Multi-user Online Role Playing Game). If that’s too much of an acronym, think Second Life. People can “adopt” grids of these fields and take care of them. All they have to do is, once the soil moisture turns a bit low, hit the buttons that will start the drip irrigation and stop them when the moisture level is optimal.

There are already countless number of such “events” that happen in Second Life, where if one plants a sapling in the virtual world, an organization instead plants one in the real world somewhere. This would just be an extension of that.

Now, technically you can take this to the next level. Think of all the Wild Life Sanctuaries. The biggest problem today is Poachers (I am still worried if I have to show stuffed toys of Tigers as our National Animal to my kids someday), and the forest officers are not nearly paid enough to scout the areas – and they are very ill armed to protect themselves from these animals as well. What if we could setup a range of Wifi cameras, stream the videos and let people monitor them. I’m sure there are enough animal activists around the world that some might even take it up while we sleep. All they would have to do is to hit a button which will alert the officer if a Poacher is spotted. And give the front end the control to click a snap if they want to document something and we might capture poachers and exotic wildlife as souvenirs.

I think finally, and its about time that the conscious of having to go green is kicking in. And we are gonna have to do everything – not just to sustain – but positively influence this planet to make it sustainable and even stay on the existential path. Maybe entrepreneurship, technology and the enthusiasm of the global audience can create a network of Global Watchers, to take care of the assets around us – All this while getting to “play” their roles.

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Social Networks are the way to the future. Ah, I can see people getting ready with pitchforks to nail me to the wall, but lets hear this out.

There is this basic ideology. The paradox of the masses. Whenever at any given network the number of members become too huge, the system starts to break down. It happened with all other social networks, it happened with the internet before that, it happened with ICQ, it happened with Orkut, and it will happen with Facebook. Lets take the case of Orkut, and with a much more real life example to follow it. Orkut was great till it was reference based, and then case the day when it was opened up to everyone and then the masses came in and so did the “frandship” requests. Long story short, I deleted my account in Orkut and am hiding in Facebook till that eventual doom also arrives at the door step of Facebook.

I think this is the logical thing that is going to happen to facebook. Imagine that you are part of an elite club such as the Lion’s club (if it is elite enough) or lets take the Madras Club (known for its elitism) and you were part of the elite 50 and you knew everyone who was part of the club. Most of the members in that club enjoy that lifestyle and keep it closed for the very nature that they dont want to democratize it. Lets say that they do, what is going to happen is that there will be 300+ people flowing in, soon you realize that you dont very much “belong”.

In the first order of things of all creatures, the necessity to belong is a crucial one. When that starts to erode, everything starts to fall apart. In my visual imagination, its like a tower that rises and rises, till it eventually starts to crumble under its own weight and falls apart, that smaller networks start to arise out of the ashes of the parent.

All this is to state one thing. The future of social networks is one where there will be niche verticals that will get created for various things. Imagine meetups with a social networking aspect and that is what will happen. Now this is happening in some level with Ning . But the issue with Ning is two fold. One it cant get out of the domain name of Ning.com (which can be easily fixed), and the other is the fact that I need to recreate the membership everytime. What if I create a new “community” pretty much like what we do inside orkut or Facebook, but outside of the walled garden?

So the future is pretty much a case where there will be skeleton frameworks available so that one can give it the look, and theme it to what they want, all the way from Mac Cultists, to Cricket Fans to whatever one fancies, and the social linkages will be drawn out of Opensocial. Using the linkages one can easily pass on how one’s friend is part of a new network and can draw out a larger easily accessible audience for each of these interest groups.

Now comes the fancy bit. Each of the these verticals will need to be monetized to be sustainable. And just as facebook has Beacon, there is a need for a Unplugged beacon which can power these networks and make these initiatives sustainable. Given that they will be such a niche target area, getting an audience of say 40,000 – 60,000 for each genre would be fairly simple and would make for a very focused approach for these marketers and advertisers. There will be new ways and means of delivering the content, message and engaging those audiences.

There is most certainly an opportunity to tap here, especially as we start to see eCommerce on the rise in emerging markets with such staggering numbers.

You know, for the sheer amount of noise and echo that used to be carried around under the tag of “Long Tail”, things have mellowed down quite a bit lately. But I think there is an increasing awareness among internet startups on the 3P model (Product x Price = Profit) which is looking at means of revenues beyond just Advertising. Not all services can be free. It simply cant be so. While providing the service for Free to the end-user and charging someone else is one model, its just that – just one of the models.

Unlimited creation, creates unlimited consumption. That was what was spoken about the Long tail. If we have to cut through the middle and divide the “people” of the long tail, they are essentially the 80% of the people who arent contributing to the top of the pyramid. They are producing content which is probably not upto par yet. They are major consumers of alternate products. They have their own way of doing things – cult / opensource etc etc.

All of these are opportunities to monetize, while you are serving this segment.

Point #1: Consumers are the ones who really benefit from the Long tail.

Search Youtube for just about anything and you would find it. Because the range of production is so vast, any consumer has the option to consume what he wants. Look at blogs. There are blogs ranging in the millions out there which amount to a significant chunk of content that is getting churned out – including this very one. Anyone who is looking for stuff to read, has plenty of options. The concept of the “long tail” greatly favors the consumers in terms of options, and drowns the producers taking away attention.

Point #2: Consumer options, dont translate to revenues.

So what if there are 250 million blogs out there? Most blogs dont even get a single person visiting them. So from a producer perspective, the long tail does not benefit by much, if it has to be for monetization.

Point #3: There is plenty of hope.

If there are 80% of the folks within the long tail who are “producers”, its actually very very good news, and the best chance for monetization. The rule is simple. Anyone who can help any segment of this 80% – higher or lower, to “professionalize” their service to move into the higher 20% and make more money, will be more than happy to depart from some of that revenue as service fee to you. So build a product or service that enables these masses to make money, and out of that money, take what is yours.

Thats a reason why salesforce.com makes sense.

More to follow on this.

PS: Do a search on “The long tail” and you will realize that the long tail concept applies to everything from digital media, to internet voice applications, to the sale of wallpapers, to chip making companies, etc etc etc. The applications are wide as the options in the long tail itself.

Attending Proto.in Delhi
From an event planning perspective, the first and foremost major milestones are the dates and the venue. We’ve just about finalized them. We had played a bit of a gamble announcing the dates first and then looking for the venue, but as luck should have it, we’ve managed within the same timelines and have tentatively finalized on it.

Dates: July 18th and 19th 2008.
Venue: IIT Delhi, Delhi.

Do keep an eye on the blog and sign up for the mailing list to stay up-to-date on whats being planned for this edition of Proto.in. We made a promise that for every edition of Proto.in, rather than coming together and group whining about what all is wrong for the startups in India, we’d make an attempt to solve them. The Startup Lunch initiative was one such effort to solve the hiring problem that Startups were facing – and its been extremely well received. We have a slew of such initiatives under wraps which we will be launching in every consecutive editions, and obviously the Proto.in companies will be given priority for each of these services – as much as they are open to all, as of now. If you wanted to know, that’s one more reason to head to the nomination page and to submit your company profile, if you are a technology product based Indian startup.

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Once a while I actually go on crazy cruise mode and just randomly search for keywords that strike my fancy, hoping to come across a blog or a news article that catches my interest. Its an excercise to get out of the “echo cloud” which happens quite often when you keep listening to the same set of bloggers and writers. I don’t blame them. When all of Paulo Coelho’s book start to sound the same after reading two of his series, I am not surprised that it becomes a case with most bloggers.

So coming back to the point.

While one such exercise, I am across a post from a blog that I used to follow once: Venture Explorer. There was a post on how in this day and age, every startup from day one has to focus on the global market place and do competitive analysis, and potential market analysis of the globe as a whole from day one. That was a pretty interesting read to say the least.

While my trip to delhi this weekend, I met up with quite a bit of folks, and some old time friends that I haven’t had a chance to catch up with lately. So while during one of the dinner meets with someone who is running a fairly successful – actually very successful – internet service, he mentioned how for the past four days his service is under DDoS attacks from China, because them not liking some content which is up on the site. The attacks are apparently causing some slight issues and troubles with the hosting provider who is just plain simply confused at the scale and frequency of the attack which doesnt seem to stop.

Now I am wondering as to what is the solution for such a thing. Globally speaking, the likes of Microsoft, Yahoo and Google have succumbed to the demands of the Chinese government and have let them have their say in whatever these guys do. The Indian government repeatedly gets hacked by chinese hackers who deface government sites, and we are still working on the security protocols to keep them out. And to effectively fight back against these attacks, you need some pretty heavy weight hardware to defend yourself – something that startups don’t have. I mean, if MS, and Google who do have the muscle in terms of popularity, their stance, and technology don’t stand up, what chance does a startup have?

This is a troubling question though, and one that needs to be answered somehow. Maybe we need to put together our elite squad of hackers to fight back, should the need arise. Maybe. Maybe there are better and less complicated solutions.

There was this fabulous quote by the Executives of one of the major internet portals, must be either Rediff or Indiatimes, who mentioned that ‘E-commerce in India is nothing more than a payment gateway – as of now’. It’s a medium of payment, but the usage of the word “commerce” is a overkill for what really goes on.

All that said, there is most certainly a trend towards making more and more services available over the web – for sale and purchase by organizations and individuals, and we are yet to exploit that growing opportunity.

I have often heard this “imagination” being described when we talk about a next generation service. It goes as something like this – Imagine that you drive out and are in the middle of somewhere and do have sometime and feel like having a bite of pizza. You flip open your phone or tap the screen of your internet tablet, and search for “pizza” and the display shows you all the nearest pizza joints from where you are, along with some of the discounts that are happening, and also possibly the locations rated according to user reviews. You tap your selection and the device shows you the driving location to it, you mount it on the dashboard holder, and drive away till you reach the location.

That does sound quite magical doesn’t it? But it doesn’t work. Not yet and though there are quite a few ventures working on that space, someone is failing to see the ideation in its entirety and the system that has to be developed. I’m hoping this would help.

So lets start with what we have. There are plenty of services available today, which essentially provide lead generation tools. They are more focused on the businesses – since they are the ones who bring in the money, than the consumer who calls in and that partiality is so clearly visible. For example, lets say that I am stuck in the middle of a road with my car low on battery and I want to find a nearby store who can help charge my battery or maybe jumpstart the car engine, i flip up the mobile or internet tablet and go search for sites such as Sulekha or Justdial, or even perhaps Ask Laila, and enter the keywords battery recharge. Most of the time, the results that are given are pretty much the entire directory of every vendor out there who is a battery dealer. Should my query even mistakenly be forwarded to the vendors, I’d have a hell of a time holding on to my cellphone. My only option would be to give up the number and get another one cause thats how many calls I’d be getting from folks who are hoping that they got business. The scenario might not exactly roll out the same way, but I am sure you get the idea.

There are three key issues there.
1. Lack of Geotags which can identify where I am, and where the store is.
2. Lack of Specificity and the ability to get into further detail. It’s not just pizza, but I might be looking for pizza with a rare mix of mushroom and brinjal.
3. Lack of any information regarding availability.

What you need past this is essentially a system that can tie all of this together. Without these basic components, you still are nowhere close to having an entire system in place.

Geotags are crucial. Sridhar of Yulop is working on quite a bit of stuff related to this, and I am totally with his efforts. The ability to geotag cultural event locations, restaurants, temples, mosques, hotels, schools, colleges, hospitals and anyplace that could potentially be a “destination” is a very crucial aspect of this system. Avoiding the system from asking the question of “where are you now” is something that goes a long way. I am still amazed everytime I call the taxi company and they already know what my home and office location are, and they only ask me if the pick up is at home or at office. Now, that’s an experience that makes a difference.

Depth. And Availability. These two things are inherently connected. I want to know if something very specific that I am looking for is available. Not battery sales, but battery service would have brought down my queries significantly and that is crucial.
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Main Entry: Captcha
Function: Verb
Date: Quite recently.

1a. The modern way of torturing a poor netcitizen with the repeated function of eye squinting.

I’m sure all of you know what a captcha image is right? Well, for the uninitiated, its essentially those skewed letters which form letters of strings of numbers, that you have to squint at repeatedly and tilt your head from sideways to leeways, and even might have to invite your dog over and ask him if his black and white vision helps, to figure out what that letter is. It’s supposed to stop “spam bots” from getting to you.

As you can see, I am not very much a fan of that. Well, I say that there definitely better ways to do it.

What you are essentially looking for is a little bit of human intelligence and the ability to come up with a “smart” question, using a “stupid” computer so that the answer could determine whether the person or thing providing the input could be determined for intelligence. That’s pretty much the logic.

So is skewed text, and at times throwing random ink blots into the mix, the way to go about it?

There are already a few options being discussed about, out there at large, but here’s what i am thinking. Have you played the game of “pick the odd one out” ? That game certainly requires a bit of intelligence – atleast that of a five year old – yet doesn’t freckle your brains to come up with an answer. Plus its also a lot of fun. The beauty is that, you could make it as a silly and simple as the jackpot choices (where the choices are obviously different), or can make it a bit trickier with very similar looking options.

A small interactive widget which can randomize four of five images and perhaps ask the user to “pick the rabbit out of the horses”, with three horses and a rabbit lined up… wouldnt that be simpler, and serve the purpose?

For all the fuzz going on a with companies such as disqus, a team who can actually put together an embeddable widget to do an alternative captcha is worth mention of.

PS: Captcha “really” stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart


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