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Alexa App Ideas

Posted on Thursday, Dec 15th 2005

The Alexa announcement from Amazon has generated a lot of buzz and discussion.

Without getting into the argument of whether this will affect Google, Yahoo or Microsoft’s Search Businesses, I do want to write about the impact of isolating the “engine” out, so that developers all around the world can create applications on it. If there is developer uptake, then it would be safe to assume that Google, Yahoo and Microsoft will follow suit, and also open up their engines to the developer community.

I have always been a big fan of application-specific search engines, whereby, you can constrain the domain of the search, manage the taxonomies of the results, and synthesize information into digestable formats. Today, I submit, that Google is not very “digestable” except for very simple searches.

Okay, example. I spent a few years of my life on a Search Engine application called Prospectminer. Our positioning was An Application for Sales Lead Generation and Qualification. This application had a built in crawler that could search the web for B-to-B sales leads (Suspects, not Prospects or Leads, really), and facilitate the qualification process.

If I were designing this application today, I would probably use an engine such as Alexa (or Google, if they opened it up), and offer it as a web service. We were working on the project in 1998, before the era of web services. We had all sorts of Prospecting tricks programmed into this app, and used learning algorithms and NLP algorithms to augment the pure web crawling that a crawler would achieve.

I would like to hear from other readers who have ideas for / experience with such applications. I believe, the developer community ought to be able to do a lot of very creative and interesting things with such an engine, and some of these ideas could be viable new businesses.

I will suggest some other such apps to try your hands at, if you wish as well …

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Sneak Preview into the Future

Posted on Wednesday, Dec 14th 2005

Best Buy has introduced Geek Squad, a technical support service for their customers.

This is a harbinger of what’s to come.

I have been on the phone with a Linksys agent for the past 3 hours trying to configure our fourth computer onto the wireless network in the house. To describe this as a royal pain, would be a gross understatement. We’re not done, now I have to get on the phone with Dell, to debug how the TCP/IP got mucked up.

I want a Geek Squad guy on house call to show up here right now and deal with this nonsense. And if you consider the fact that I am a Computer Scientist, how do mere mortals feel?

How, I keep asking, how, just how, would home networking attain ubiquity?

Best Buy doesn’t break out its service revenue, which includes the Geek Squad and the installation of home theaters, appliances, vehicle audio and video equipment and service centers. The Geek Squad’s computer-support service dovetails perfectly with Best Buy’s strategy of being customer-oriented.

Customers absolutely need it!

NOW.

Mobile TV Module from Philips

Posted on Monday, Dec 12th 2005

This year, Philips has been bumped off the top 10 global semiconductor vendors list. They need a break-out strategy. The bet is on a $10-$12 Mobile TV module for the US market, hoping that Mobile TV will be a standard feature in 10%-20% of the cellular phones by 2008 (1.2 Billion Handsets).

Philips has been sampling the system-in-package (SIP) device since the summer to the top six mobile handset vendors. TI and ST have plans of releasing Mobile TV modules as well, but Philips’ product is the only one currently in the market. A single package solution from one supplier is attractive to handset vendors, because it offers better logistics.

Low power operation is also a key requirement for TV-on-mobile solutions. The Philips SIP, together with the TV tuner and the demodulator, consumes less than 50 mW of power in DVB-H mode, consuming 300 mW in continuous mode. It currently comes in a small module package measuring 15 by 25 by 2 mm, shrinking next year to 9 by 9 by 2 mm.

DVB-H is not the only mobile TV broadcast standard being pitched to the cell phone industry in the U.S. Qualcomm, promoting its proprietary mobile TV technology called MediaFLO, announced that Verizon will provide real-time mobile video over the MediaFLO multicasting network.

How quickly mobile TV services catch on as a popular feature remains to be seen, but mobile content is getting a lot of attention in the venture circles as well.

Besides, in every dimension of the digital content industry, there are changes happening, and it is perfectly legitimate for Philips to hope that some of these trends will come in their direction. After all, Samsung, Intel, AMD (via Spansion), & Hynix have all gained tremendously from the iPod driven demand for Flash Memory.

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Tea, the new Coffee

Posted on Saturday, Dec 10th 2005

Starbucks won America’s heart over the last 15 years.

These days, however, I see a new breed of venues that catch my attention. This week, Anneke invited me to Samovar Tea Lounge @ Sanchez and 18th, in San Francisco. Great ambience, a nice selection of specialty teas from Darjeelings to Assams to Oolongs to Green Teas to Herbals … Last weekend, we stopped by at Teavana, a new Tea & Tea Accessories store at Stanford Shopping Center. Then there is www.specialteas.com on the web.

Entrepreneur Magazine recently did a story on some of the hottest business ideas for small businesses, and Tea was at the top of that list.

Incidentally, we’re spending new years in a tea estate near Darjeeling, in the Himalayan foothills this year!

Well, what are you waiting for?

Howard Schultz built his coffee empire. Tea is all yours!

Jamdat Dollars and Cents

Posted on Thursday, Dec 8th 2005

Electronic Arts, the largest PC games producer has just announced that it will acquire Jamdat, the leader in Mobile games for $680 Million.

Big price tag, endorsing the fastest growing segment of the gaming industry.

Jamdat’s revenue run rate will probably be about $75-$85 Million this year, assessing from their $54.6 Million cumulative revenues for the 3 quarters YTD. The premium that the market places on the deal is entirely due to strong growth rates (36-month growth rate of 240%; 12-month growth rate of 120%). In comparison, Electronic Arts has a 12-month growth rate of a meagre 5.8%.

Jamdat’s margins, however, are thin. Mobile game production is a very expensive process, with QA cycles that require testing on zillions of platforms. This is where, Vivek Paul, former Wipro chief who has joined EA’s broad this year, could add a lot of value. While it is very difficult to create original content for the US / European markets from India, testing for platform compatibility is a no-brainer for off-shoring economics.

Jamdat (JMDT) went public about a year back, in October 2004. Amongst last year’s IPO’s, another prime acquisition candidate is Blue Nile (NILE).

But ofcourse!

Posted on Thursday, Dec 8th 2005

Yahoo announces VoIP service a la Skype at 50% less (1c a minute) … and with their IM penetration, Carrier relationships, etc., sits in a much better strategic position to capitalize on the market opportunity than eBAY. Rajiv Dutta just made a bad career move out of the CFO job at eBAY, to take on the role of President of Skype, based in Luxembourg.

Yes, eBAY needed / needs a breakout strategy, but buying Skype just wasn’t it.

It is supremely important, however, for eBAY to figure out what that strategy is, ASAP.

Hint: I would look for data mining talents and see what kinds of data-related services the market has appetite for.

My readers, what ideas do you have??

India Scorecard

Posted on Wednesday, Dec 7th 2005

Money is just flowing in. A Billion from Intel, a Billion from Cisco, $1.7 Billion from Microsoft, an ICICI public issue or $1.5 Billion to support the Indian credit bonanza …

For a long, long time, Indians, especially middle class Indians looked at America as salvation. Somehow, they would manage to move to the US, get a job, and life would be hunky dory.

Times have changed, and today, middle class Indians in the midst of this enormous economic boom in India, especially in high-tech, often have better quality of life and easier access to employment than their counterparts in the US, who are living under the threat of outsourcing and offshoring.

With this as the back-drop, recently, my childhood friend Nilanjana, who is now a doctor in the UK, went to launch a mentoring program for the students of our high school in Calcutta. She was surprized by the questions from the kids … as if, nothing has changed, and they still think that America offers that cherished milk and honey, and somehow, somehow, if they can manage to go to America, and settle down, then all will be well.

I don’t read Indian newspapers on a regular basis. This has made me wonder, however, what ideas today’s Indian teenagers are growing up with! Does the Media not report on what is happening? Do their parents / teachers not interpret and explain the world they are about to step into? Or worse yet, do the parents / teachers not understand the implications of the global power shift and economic load balancing in the works?

I know I have readers in India. I would love to hear from you on this topic. Please write.

Wild Words

Posted on Sunday, Dec 4th 2005

Yesterday, as we were walking into Kepler’s book store in Menlo Park, Peter Roizen called us to have a look at his new game, WildWords.

For those who have been addicted to Scrabble, especially to making 7-letter words and getting those extra 50 bonus points, Wildwords is a spin on creating longer, more creative words on a scrabblesque Board.

And for those looking to teach their kids to expand their vocabulary beyond “DOG”, “ZOO”, and “QUIZ” – Wildwords could be a fun Chr*tmas gift for the entire family.

Unlike its rival, Scrabble(R), WildWords allows any word in English, no matter how long, to be played. Special wild tiles marked with an asterisk can be used to represent one or more letters in a series. Thus the play of “POL*IAN” could be the word “POLITICIAN.” Special wild squares on the board also convert regular letter tiles into wild tiles. And, wild tiles already on the board may be given new meanings in subsequent plays. “The result is a very open and creative game,” according to Roizen. “The game is most enjoyed by persons with a good vocabulary and an imaginative mind.” Roizen surely has both in spades.

About 2,500 copies have sold so far.

“These days everything is for dummies or complete idiots,” says Roizen. “Isn’t it time someone created a product for people who enjoy using their brains?”

Ouch, Peter!