At the intersection of technology, finance and the Pacific Rim.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Natural Language

Last week we discussed voice recognition, with a key point being that this technology has been in development for decades and is showing signs of increasing life. Natural language is another one of those technologies that has had a similar path....long road......little return. So I read with interest how natural language is being used in web apps. Note that natural language or what people today are calling semantic applications seeks for the system to understand more deeply what the user is saying--to understand the difference between "I blew", "I am blue" (as in sad) and "I am blue" (as in the color). With this understanding computers can then respond more precisely to user needs/requests. For a look at these applications, Read Write, a leading IT blog put together a list of 10 such applications now available on the web. RWW writes:

"Tripit is an app that manages your travel planning. With TripIt, you forward incoming bookings to and the system manages the rest. TripIt is one of those apps that amazes people when they first use it. Its challenge now is to grab a foothold among mainstream users"

I tried it out and was pretty amazed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


For the past few months we have discussed the functionality of products and services and the fact that Company have a job that they must fulfill for their customers. For Google, what is that job? David Carr, writing in the Intl Herald Tribune, takes the example of Video Chat and many of its small services:

Take video chat. Many other companies would take that kind of quantum leap and shout it from the rooftops, but Google just did a smallish blog post about the new feature and left it at that.

"We do have a philosophy that our products should speak for themselves. We tend not to make a lot of noise," said Jeff Huber, senior vice president for engineering at Google.

As always with Google, the price point is appealing: zero, if you don't count the amount of personal data that I am trading for all that utility. With Google, it is always simple, and any engineer will tell you that simple is hard. There had been a lot of talk within Google about creating video chat as a PC-only application, a much easier endeavor for the company, but it would not have been simple for the consumer.

If Google owns me, it's probably because I am in favor of what works. "I'm glad to hear it," said Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, who was in New York last week. "We want a little bit of Google in many parts of your life." (Bold lettering is my own)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Voice Recognition

Last week we discussed Google's entry into voice recognition. The NY Times Columnist, John Markoff, had this to say:

Everyone agrees that in mobile applications, speech is the obvious user interface. Whether it’s on a BlackBerry, an Android phone or an iPhone, typing will always be error-prone and frustrating.
If one company makes a major breakthrough in voice, it is potentially a major threat to its rivals, because a “speech interface” could potentially allow one company to simply take over a handheld device developed by another company.

For some time we seem to have been stuck at the stage where speech recognition works, but just sort of. Perhaps we are at a moment like the one when A.T.M.’s were first introduced. At first most people said they preferred interacting with a human bank teller. Then, overnight it seemed, everyone realized that the bank teller relationship wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Now most of us never set foot inside a bank. How long before people find that it is more efficient to deal with a robot on the phone than a human?

Next Gen Advertising

I am reading interviews w leading advertising execs on the next generation advertising. For the full interview, go here. I am posting a few snippets below.

Robert Rasmussen: A brand could tell people what was cool because there was less freedom of choice in media. A brand could say, “This is the latest thing, and everybody’s doing it,” and if the message was persuasive enough, you might believe it. Now you can check on that on the Internet and see whether everybody actually is doing it. Brands have become transparent, and that’s changed the tone of advertising. Now you have to try to be more authentic — even if it’s just authentically acknowledging that what you’re doing is advertising.

Bastholm: EA Sports, the video-game company, is a good example. On YouTube, someone posted a clip of himself playing the company’s Tiger Woods golf game. He put it up as a joke, laughing at EA Sports, because he had discovered a glitch in the programming that allowed Tiger to walk right out onto a pond next to the golf course and shoot his ball from there. So the company saw the video, and in response, it uploaded this ad to YouTube that said: “It’s not a glitch. He’s just that good.” The ad showed the real Tiger, in live action, actually walk on water and shoot a ball. That’s a great example of responding to how consumers interact with your brand.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Esther Dyson

Esther Dyson is known as one of those "wise" persons in the technology area--focusing much of her attention not on technology itself, but the social impact of technology--i.e., how technology affects how we relate to each other as human beings. She is a deep thinker and successful investor. She has invested recently in a company called 23andme ( and when I went to the site I had one of those "Oh my God" moments.

She is interviewed by a journalist and a video is here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Consumer Electronics

We all know, having studied Sony, that consumer electronics is a tough place to make money; and also maybe tough to come out with something new? Think again. This post in the NY Times reviewed the latest HD videocam:

"So when Pure Digital says that its new 3.3-ounce Flip Mino HD ($230) is the world’s smallest, lightest and least-expensive high-definition camcorder, attention must be paid. That’s three superlatives in one. "

And the article further states:

"Today, according to Pure Digital, the Flip has, if you can believe it, 30 percent of the camcorder market."

That's a pretty incredible market share. The website for this Company is:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Voice Recognition Software

One theme of the class has been the user experience which forms the core of the value proposition in any business model. For devices, the importance of the user interface--how the user interacts with the device is critical. NY Times reports on Google's voice recognition software for mobile:

"The service can be used to get restaurant recommendations and driving directions, look up contacts in the iPhone’s address book or just settle arguments in bars. The query “What is the best pizza restaurant in Noe Valley?” returns a list of three restaurants in that San Francisco neighborhood, each with starred reviews from Google users and links to click for phone numbers and directions."

Note that it appears this software will come first on i-phone and then later with Android.

Friday, November 14, 2008

We learned about Netflix in the prior posting when we were talking about innovation and organization. Reed Hastings, CEO, was speaking of Web TV recently in the following way:

The vision of the video industry is a simple one: to let you watch whatever you want, whenever you want, and wherever you want, and to help you discover what else you might want to watch.
"In terms of what you want to watch, we may be 15 percent of the way there, but this will grow with time" said Hastings. "When you want to watch is covered 100 percent, but when it comes to where you want to watch we're still limited to the laptop," the preference of course is the big screen. Finally, when it comes to discovery, Hastings said we're at 25 percent. To move ahead, we need a general standard, Hastings explained, a standard that we can publish to and a standard that all devices can support, the only problem with standards, he pointed out, is that they can take several decades to be implemented. According to Hastings, the simplest solution is to have the Web as a standard with browsers built into televisions. It will require only three components: broadband, a high definition screen and a remote. But, not any remote

This point goes back to the original discussion we had on IP TV--can we really expect the telcos to make a business out of the web--i.e., is telecom going to use video web to deliver a new revenue stream, or is Web TV going to use the telecom pipes to create a video based internet?

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Last week we discussed about Cringely's view of Windows Mobile. For further evidence of how it is slipping (and Apple is rising), Gizmodo has this to report:

Apple, just a year and a half into the smartphone business, now has a higher marketshare than Canadian giant Research in Motion, and is second place only to Nokia. Apple's 17.3% share is just barely beating out RIM's 15.2%, and of course is nowhere near Nokia's 38.9%, but it's just one more sign of how important the iPhone really is. The iPhone 3G's launch throughout the rest of the world has had a huge effect on sales, and the phone has sold nearly 7 million since its July 11 debut. Apple's share of the entire cell phone market is now 2.3%, a pretty respectable number, and has pushed Microsoft's ailing Windows Mobile platform off the medal platform into 4th place.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Last week we were discussing HTC, the mobile phone company that is basically a Chinese company headquartered in Taiwan. I was taken aback by the comment "So what are we supposed to do? Learn Chinese?" It was a very good comment--one that suggests that identifying a problem is the easy part and coming up with a solution is something different. Critics who can see problems are a dime a dozen.

And unfortunately, I have no answer except "innovation"--staying one step ahead until China (inevitably) becomes higher cost and the arbitrage of labor cost even out. And sometimes this innovation comes from the outside--take Netflix. I saw a program on CNBC that discussed Netflix--this is a company people had a hard time understanding. They deliver video DVDs through the mail and took off (see the impressive growth here). Many people's first reaction (including mine) was "what kind of business is this?", "how can they possibly be successful?"
And the reason was that such people (including me) did not understand the business--the fact that there was a real demand for people to see "niche" video DVDs that suited their individual taste.

And the key to meeting this demand was not the US Postal system; rather it was the recommendation engine--you ordered the movies online and if you picked out "Titanic" it would also recommend that some other heart throbbing movies for you to choose, if you picked Frankenstein they would recommend the latest Dracula or other monster movies to also rent. And there were Indian, Chinese, Korean, Latino and many other such movies. It was the recommendation engine that formed the heart of the company--60% of the DVDs rented came from this recommendation system.

You would think that a company would go to all strides to protect their "crown jewels". Just the opposite--they opened their system up, made all of the data related to their recommendation engine available online--and offered USD 1 Million to any person or team that could improve their recommendation software by 10%. Today there are over 20,000 people working part-time on this project. None have yet reached the 10% target, but some are getting close--see the leader board here. When this was announced in November 2006, some called it a publicity stunt--but to have 20K people working to improve your software (all presumably on their free time) would cost how much? Innovation does not come from great technical advances--as said before there is innovation in technology and design of product, innovation in channels and also innovation in organization--or in this case--no organization.