Subba’s Serendipitous moments

August 28, 2010

Another evidence that social phenomenon is growing!

Filed under: Business,Innovation,Strategy — Subbaraman Iyer @ 6:26 pm
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I have been saying everywhere that social is driving business and sharing is the new currency. The evidence is daunting and the photo medium is compelling.

Facebook reports that Facebook photos became the harbinger for everything social. The photo product that we have is maybe five or six times more used than every other product on the web — combined,” Mark Zuckerberg stated at a developer garage event. This is despite the fact that they didn’t have all of the features that their competitors did when they launched the photos section. For example, they didn’t have high-resolution photos and you couldn’t print them. But one thing they did have was the social element — and this changed everything.

Because of the social element, every vertical would be transformed. I agree completely and I wrote about it here , here and here.

 

August 17, 2010

Google wants to find the next winner in search – Maybe Search 2.0!

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal published an interesting interview with Eric Schmidt – CEO of Google and a great tech visionary. Disclosure: I am a great admirer of Eric Schmidt.

The interview comes at an interesting juncture when Android seems to be on a roll powering 200,000 devices a daily and slated to be the dominant operating system on the mobile platform. Yet, of late, the media has been critical of Google, probably taking the cue from a weak stock price. Add to that the mindshare belongs now to Facebook.

Notwithstanding the negative media reports on Google, Eric in this interview shares several new insights about where Google is headed. Some of his insights and quotes are interesting:

Asked to comment on Android being given free as compared to the fat margins made by Apple he says:

"You get a billion people doing something, there’s lots of ways to make money. Absolutely, trust me. We’ll get lots of money for it."

"In general in technology," he says, "if you own a platform that’s valuable, you can monetize it." Example: Google is obliged to share with Apple search revenue generated by iPhone users. On Android, Google gets to keep 100%.”

That difference alone, says Mr. Schmidt, is more than enough to foot the bill for Android’s continued development.

Google’s real challenge though it dominates the search business:

The real challenge is one not yet on most investors’ minds: how to preserve Google’s franchise in Web advertising, the source of almost all its profits, when "search" is outmoded.

The day is coming when the Google search box—and the activity known as Googling—no longer will be at the center of our online lives. Then what? "We’re trying to figure out what the future of search is."

Now that’s what being visionary is all about – not reacting to Wall Street but figuring out the future before Wall Street has had the chance to position you. Maybe he’s taking the cue from Andy Grove’s philosophy of Only the paranoid survive.

 Google’s intriguing aspect of Search 2.0 can be summed neatly as he says:

"We know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are." Google also knows, to within a foot, where you are.

Mr. Schmidt leaves it to a listener to imagine the possibilities of this social search and what its implications could be. In fact, Google is acutely aware that we are on the cusp of a new phenomenon called “Social search” which may be powered by the Facebook phenomena.

Google the creator of targeted advertising believes that it will dominate the category raises the bar:

"The power of individual targeting—the technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them."

Finally, Eric presents the most intriguing and scary possibility of the future when he says:

"I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time," he says. He predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends’ social media sites.

"I mean we really have to think about these things as a society," he adds. "I’m not even talking about the really terrible stuff, terrorism and access to evil things."

July 15, 2010

Facebook addiction

Filed under: Blogroll,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 3:20 pm
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The 76-year-old woman walked down the hallway of Clearview Addictions
Clinic, searching for the right department. She passed signs for the
"Heroin Addiction Department (HAD)," the "Smoking Addiction Department
(SAD)" and the "Bingo Addiction Department (BAD)." Then she spotted
the department she was looking for: "Facebook Addiction Department
(FAD)."

It was the busiest department in the clinic, with about three dozen
people filling the waiting room, most of them staring blankly into
their Blackberries and iPhones. A middle-aged man with unkempt hair
was pacing the room, muttering, "I need to milk my cows. I need to
milk my cows."

A twenty-something man was prone on the floor, his face buried in his
hands, while a curly-haired woman comforted him.
"Don’t worry. It’ll be all right."
"I just don’t understand it. I thought my update was LOL-worthy, but
none of my friends even clicked the ‘like’
button."
"How long has it been?"
"Almost five minutes. That’s like five months in the real world."

The 76-year-old woman waited until her name was called, then followed
the receptionist into the office of Alfred Zulu, Facebook Addiction
Counselor.

"Please have a seat, Edna," he said with a warm smile. "And tell me
how it all started."
"Well, it’s all my grandson’s fault. He sent me an invitation to join
Facebook. I had never heard of Facebook before, but I thought it was
something for me, because I usually have my face in a book."
"How soon were you hooked?"
"Faster than you can say ‘create a profile.’ I found myself on
Facebook at least eight times each day — and more times at night.
Sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night to check it, just in
case there was an update from one of my new friends in India. My
husband didn’t like that. He said that friendship is a precious thing
and should never be outsourced."

"What do you like most about Facebook?"
"It makes me feel like I have a life. In the real world, I have only
five or six friends, but on Facebook, I have 674.
I’m even friends with Juan Carlos Montoya."
"Who’s he?"
"I don’t know, but he’s got 4,000 friends, so he must be famous."
"Facebook has helped you make some connections, I see."
"Oh yes. I’ve even connected with some of the gals from high school —
I still call them ‘gals.’ I hadn’t heard from some of them in ages, so
it was exciting to look at their profiles and figure out who’s
retired, who’s still working, and who’s had some work done. I love
browsing their photos and reading their updates. I know where they’ve
been on vacation, which movies they’ve watched, and whether they hang
their toilet paper over or under. I’ve also been playing a game with
some of them."
"Let me guess. Farmville?"
"No, Mafia Wars. I’m a Hitman. No one messes with Edna."
"Wouldn’t you rather meet some of your friends in person?"
"No, not really. It’s so much easier on Facebook. We don’t need to
gussy ourselves up. We don’t need to take baths or wear perfume or use
mouthwash. That’s the best thing about Facebook — you can’t smell
anyone. Everyone is attractive, because everyone has picked a good
profile pic. One of the gals is using a profile pic that was taken,
I’m pretty certain, during the Eisenhower Administration. "

"What pic are you using?"
"Well, I spent five hours searching for a profile pic, but couldn’t
find one I really liked. So I decided to visit the local beauty
salon."
"To make yourself look prettier?"
"No, to take a pic of one of the young ladies there. That’s what I’m using."
"Didn’t your friends notice that you look different?"
"Some of them did, but I just told them I’ve been doing lots of yoga."
"When did you realize that your Facebooking might be a problem?"
"I realized it last Sunday night, when I was on Facebook and saw a
message on my wall from my husband: ‘I moved out of the house five
days ago. Just thought you should know.’"
"What did you do?"
"What else? I unfriended him of course!"

April 26, 2010

The push and pull models – Not business models, but a mindset!

Filed under: Business,Innovation,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 6:08 pm
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A good friend of mine who is a regular reader of my blog and keeps asking me what’s serendipity got to do with what I write sent me the blog post which published extracts of the new book by John Seely Brown and John Hagel III titled The Power of Pull. The extract mentions the role of serendipity in creating new paradigms;which was one of the reasons why the blog post was sent to me.

I have been mulling over the push and pull models for several years. Apart from what is mentioned in the blog post, I reckon the following:

A push based thinking is at best an eclectic  mix of intellectual sloth and arrogance. It starts with the premise that the “pusher” knows what it is in the best interest for the recipient. Push further accentuates the efficiency syndrome and believes that the right mechanisms and triggers will ensure success. It invariably tends to replicate the past, making just minor tweaks to current environment. The more different the reality, the greater is the research and more diligent is the design of the mechanisms and “push” messages. The arrogance of the past success ensures that they remain in continuous denial about the new world and push outmoded things with greater vigor. The perpetuation of the past is sadly created by the elite at the top who often believe that they are the sole owners and arbiters of the reality. The role of conceiving and creating new offerings gets considerably devalued over time. Tactical thinking gains ascendancy often at the cost of strategic thinking and innovative approaches. Such thinking has led to a slow but sure decline and eventual death unless a radical thinking ensues.

A pull based thinking on the other hand forces people to be humble as they necessarily have to be clued to the environment and listen constantly. A pull based thinking essentially harnesses the power of many different entities and creates possibilities and scenarios that were not conceivable in the first place. It does create chaos and confusion, but slowly there’s a defining fluidity which lends itself to constant learning and innovation. Further a force of serendipity acts as a regular glue helping people make connections and improvisation. It is an open mindset that constantly calibrates itself.

Tell me a successful innovation or a major breakthrough and I can demonstrate how pull based thinking contributed to the phenomenon.

Sharing has becoming second nature (thanks to social networking and Facebook) in the world that we live in. Facebook’s open graph in fact is perhaps the biggest opportunity for pull based thinkers and marketers as they can participate in the conversation. It will force people to conceive not just value propositions but every attractive value propositions as they compete for attention in a rapidly attention deficit mental state. The digital native should have had a natural advantage here. Yet most digital natives are content with pulling data and information from the Web and not creating value out of them. Worse still, many impose their own pull based thinking into this push based environment and are none the wiser.

Hence I am tempted to conclude that notwithstanding the environment it is one’s thinking model that needs examination and scrutiny.

While the sort of pull based thinking described above is externally directed, there is an internally directed pull based thinking that is equally potent. It transforms passive observers and learners into performers. I have often noticed that pull based thinkers are natural performers as they constantly attempt to pull new information, concepts and thinking into something meaningful to them. All that is needed is persistence, the willingness to experiment and occasionally fail and constantly call upon themselves to be curious and seek out new things.

April 22, 2010

Facebook wants to be the Internet

Filed under: Business,Competition,Leadership,Strategy — Subbaraman Iyer @ 12:01 pm
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Facebook’s f8 conference yesterday is a significant event. The Facebook juggernaut seems unstoppable. It will go down in history when Facebook revealed its intent to revolutionize not just the Internet, but act as the default Internet.

Facebook launched 3 major “features”, all of which may seem pretty much innocuous but that could have a dramatic and profound impact. Though I had referred to some of the implications in my talk on How Facebook will impact us and Why CIOs should meet the Facebook at the CIO conference in Singapore, I didn’t expect it would come to us so soon.

Becoming social is default: Facebook repackaged the Social graph as Open graph. With this it is not only possible to see social connections between people, but also connect people with the interests – be it books, movies, places, brands and the list is endless. As Mark Zuckerberg  said: “The web can can become a series of personally and semantically meaningful connections”. There’s nothing more sticky in the world than a Social graph.

This will surely accelerate the move to search becoming more social. I am quite sure that the “social search” phenomenon will be something that will gain preference over the normal search in many product categories. Businesses and brands will perhaps consider shifting marketing campaigns to leverage this in lieu of the traditional web page.

As a corollary, the Web which has been defined by hyperlinks (which Google exploited to its advantage), will gradually morph into social connections – with likes, dislikes, interests, behavioral patterns etc. that could become increasingly machine readable and all social interactions get assembled in a large database which Facebook can exploit.

Social plugins:The social plugins may be viewed as mere widgets, but again the impact is far reaching. The LIKE button offers not just “instant personalization” but enables to create a persistent and continuous relationship with the entity – be it a book, music album, food, almost anything. It feeds into the Open graph seamlessly. Any user who searches for the book will immediately bring it to the Open graph from Facebook’s search engine and with another click can take it to any book site.

Mark mentioned in his address that he expects to have 1 billion LIKES within 24 hours of the launch.  Quite possible given that Facebook now has over 30 major partners like CNN, ESPN, IMDb and others. With about 30 billion LIKES a month, in addition to over over 25 billion shares a month (without LIKES), Facebook will become the largest sharing site in the world.

The social plugins will be the much needed catalyst for viral marketing or buzz marketing. Nothing else comes close. It will take a while before marketers learn to exploit this, but the tools are already there.

There are other features targeted a t developers and its implications will become clearer soon.

Other interesting developments:

Growing numbers:Facebook is approaching 500 million subscribers and close to 100 million subscribers access this through the mobile. In fact my view is that the killer application for the smartphone is Facebook quite serendipitiously. The Facebook Connect itself has close to 100 million. With the social plugins and open graph, Facebook Connect has become unassailable.

Microsoft alliance:One clear application that may not strictly qualify as social plugin, could be Microsoft’s Docs.com which enables users to share, edit, view web based documents with their Facebook’s friends. Obviously this is a frontal attack on Google Docs.

The implications of Facebook’s initiatives promise both unparalleled benefit and great risk depending on one’s worldview. While on the one hand it will make sharing and connecting a snap, it will enable Facebook to own every activity on the Internet. If people were scared of Google’s power and influence, Facebook takes this fear to new heights – it will become the Web itself from the big glue that tied the Web itself.

In that role, Facebook will have to be the most trusted entity in the world. It is awesome but on second thoughts leaves me scared.

February 10, 2010

Google puts Buzz in the Gmail

Filed under: Business,Competition,Strategy — Subbaraman Iyer @ 11:47 am
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image

Google woke up to the Facebook and the Twitter challenge. Finally.

Google Buzz is the latest product from the Google family and its best attempt to build a social network after the early attempts like Orkut and Open Social saw marginal success.

To me Google Buzz looks like FriendFeed 2.0 (Facebook acquired FriendFeed last year) with its stream of updates, pictures, links from one’s friends. The biggest advantage that Google has in launching Buzz is that this is built into the Gmail application which already has over 175 million users. And Buzz is available on the iPhone and the Android as well.

Google is giving a lot of granular controls but the default social graph is based on the Gmail settings (mail recipients and senders of mail). Whether they indeed are actually the desired social graph for someone is something that I am not sure. For me, it surely is not!

Will Google win against Twitter with the Buzz? Twitter is simple and the tweets go to all the people who follow the tweet sender. “Buzzing” is not. There is a public and private buzz and this could make it complicated.

At first glance Google Buzz has a few advantages: It combines the best from Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook Connect, Flickr and a few others. It has nice email integration as they show up in the Inbox and as a tab within Gmail. It highlights items that friends like and share. You can read about the functionality here

The key challenge is how will Google square off against Facebook when Facebook introduces email. And whether Google Buzz will integrate with Facebook connect.

That will be interesting to watch!

September 30, 2009

Vodafone takes the battle to the mobile phone vendors

A few months back one of analyst friends asked me whether it is possible for the mobile service provider to create their own App Stores and be successful. My opinion to him was they can do it or rather they should do it, else they have not even joined the battle for customer loyalty. The talk turned to Singtel which is one of the largest operator based out of Singapore and it has a global presence due to its joint ventures and acquisitions in many countries. I remember telling him that it should be one of the large operators who will have the reason to do it.

Now Vodafone has done it. Vodafone 360 is a mobile web service that provides music downloads, integration with Facebook and Twitter, and supports several handsets. In a way it is competing with Apple’s App Store, Nokia’s Ovi and other App Stores created by the mobile phone vendors.

Now Vodafone’s Telco 2.0 model (called efficient pipes) is nothing new. A lot of mobile service providers thought about that but shied away from taking the plunge. Now Vodaphone which has over 300 million consumers in over 30 countries has taken the challenge.

As Apple and Nokia increase their emphasis on the App Store and have made a success of it (Apple’s App Store’s success is chronicled here), the mobile service providers can’t afford to be silent spectators.

But whether the service providers with their current competencies would have the ability to build an App store and an application eco-system is a big question.

August 11, 2009

Mobile phones serve as catalysts for social media.

The mobile data services market is on an unprecedented roll. For the first time, wireless data revenue in the U.S. passed $10 billion in Q1 2009. Wireless data revenue in the U.S. itself maybe $42 billion by 2009 as per the respected analyst — Chetan Sharma who has provided details in his market update. The U.S. is now is the largest mobile data market, ahead of Japan and China. Verizon’s data revenues are close to $4 billion, just shy of NTT DoCoMo’s. The top four U.S. carriers figure among the top 10 global operators by way of mobile data service revenues.

I was curious to find out what could have led to the phenomenal surge. While there could be a few factors, in my view the single largest contributor has been the growth of social media. Let me explain:

As more and more people sign on to social networking platforms like Facebook, there is a compelling desire to share and be part of the communication. This naturally implies that more people are signing up for the mobile data plans which are far more profitable for operators. The key catalyst that contributes both to the social media and to the operator’s profit pool happens to be the ubiquitous mobile phone.

A simple, easy to use browser and a good camera on the phone is all that is needed. When the smart phone was invented, I bet no one saw this as a potential application. The iPhone showed what is possible and soon a variety of devices has made access to social media quite easy.

Now, mobile operators for a long time have tried to offer a variety of applications, but barring a few none took off. This only goes to show that managing a network and managing a application portfolio calls for different competencies. And suddenly when one was least expecting, there’s a big surge in mobile data services.

INQ Mobile — owned by Hutchinson Whampoa has launched a Facebook phone. In Hong Kong, where the INQ1 launched back in March, nearly 50 percent of its owners regularly use data services on a level that is four times higher than the typical 3G user base. Facebook usage is also 3-4 times higher than the average on other 3G devices on the 3 Hong Kong network, the company said. Soon we may have a Twitter phone as well.

So, we are back to where it all started: Carriers have become dumb pipes and the innovation is happening around the ends of the pipes — at the device level and at the application level.

So, like I normally say about innovation, the unintended effects of an innovation caused by seemingly disparate tributaries often causes a flood in an area that we least expected to happen.

July 6, 2009

Understanding competition — the Bill Gates way

I thought that I had analyzed the levels and degrees of competition fairly comprehensively. In fact, I have used that as an organizing framework to understand competitive advantage.

Recently a friend of mine sent me an excerpts of an interview with Bill Gates when he was still the CEO of Microsoft which makes interesting reading.

Flying on the Delta Shuttle with Bill Gates 12 years ago, Richard Karlgaard– the Editor of Forbes asked Bill, “What Microsoft competitor worries you most?”

“Goldman Sachs.” Richard gave Gates a startled look. Was Microsoft about to try the investment banking business? “Software,” he said, “is an IQ business. Microsoft must win the IQ war, or we won’t have a future. I don’t worry about Lotus or IBM, because the smartest guys would rather come to work for Microsoft. Our competitors for IQ are investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.”

Getting the brightest bulbs to work at Microsoft has always been his obsession. It’s paid off. But what about now?

The best and the brightest want to work for companies like Google and Facebook. Microsoft seems to be losing the talent war. And does that explain why Microsoft has not made any ground shifting move in recent years yielding that terrain to Google and others?

Microsoft is caught in a classic dilemma of its own making. Its major revenue and profit streams continue to be Windows and Office which needs to be defended at all costs against young new attackers. Now will the smartest guys want to work for a organization where they would have to defend legacy or want to take a crack at changing the world?

The answer is obvious.

Unless you are a Singapore government scholar who has no choice but to work in the Singapore civil service because of the scholarship bond that you sign when you are 18 years old.

May 20, 2009

Can a Susan Boyle happen in East Asia?

My learned friend Ananth put this question to his email group. His precise question was: Can Susan Boyle, (58 million views on YouTube), Julian Smith and Diversity happen spontaneously / organically in East Asian societies?

Here’s my answer to him and I just thought I would post it here as well:

I don’t think it can happen spontaneously / organically in East Asian societies. Let me try to deal at 2 levels: — The nature of East Asian society and the issue of culture and specifically creativity.

For such things to happen, society needs to be a genuine melting pot. East Asia may have immigrants, but the practice of assimilation and morphing of identities is only residual. Cultural pluralism may exist on the surface, but politicians and institutions have often curbed growth because they felt the need to retain control or sometimes even believed that they need to architect society, and hence have never allowed cross-cultural pollination to take place freely. Hegemonic practices have often imposed covert forces on the sections of society which have lived on the edge and tried to dominate them. In Western societies there is a not merely an appreciation of diversity, but a collective conscious to make it inclusive.

Now one aspect of spontaneity and organic growth is that it should be possible to have keen debate, not dumb reverence for just great personalities; historical consciousness and self-reflection not adherence to supposedly timeless values; and a continual expansion of a societal canon to match a necessarily unsettled sense of who we are and what we care about. East Asian societies in its singular adherence to Confucian thinking has led to creating a hierarchical and often authoritarian social constructs which has curbed spontaneity. Now add to that, the sheer fixation on commerce and materialism becoming a prime pursuit, it is natural to see less emphasis on experimentation and spontaneity.

Culture is not a package of knowledge, attitudes and customs which can be parceled up, handed over to the child and then passed on intact to the next generation as seem to be the general thinking in East Asia. It has to take deep roots and often allowed to find its own flow.

There is a dialectic between culture and learning which in turn is a manifestation of spontaneity and growth. Creativity thrives when the social substratum has been enriched with diverse experiences and perspectives. And such diversities occasionally produce creative conflicts. East Asian societies have often shunned anything that could even remotely produce a conflict and placed a (undue) premium on compliance.

Now coming more specifically to creative minds (the Susan Boyle of the world), immersion in an environment of cultural ferment is more likely to fuel the selection process. Pablo Picasso is a case in point. He borrowed, stole, and assimilated his way and produced over 20,000 works of art in varying styles because there was a deep cultural ferment during his time. Being surrounded to by contemporary creators often inspires even marginally talented people to attain heights well above what they could possibly achieve in isolation. The individual genius often flowers through cultural interaction.

Creative people by their innate nature often tend to have wider interests and are open to more varied influence. They thrive on ambiguity and have varied interests. They are non conforming and independent minded. They have the capacity to expose themselves to a full range of cultural variants available in their milieu and then choose to adopt a unique subset that develops their talent. In East Asia such creative people do not have much opportunity and hence even if there existed such people, they tend to migrate to environments where their nature is better appreciated.

People have often asked me both seriously and causally about whether India or China can produce the next Google or Facebook. My answer is the same — The chances are very low, because while Indians or Chinese may be smart engineers; the kind of business thinking that needs to envision something novel is not there.

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