Tuesday, December 16, 2008

National Public Internet

Here's my submission to Google's Project 10 to the 100th. The idea is presented by answering a series of questions (bolded below) from Google.

National Public Internet

What one sentence best describes your idea? (maximum 150 characters)

Internet connectivity as free, as ubiquitous and easy as FM radio.

Describe your idea in more depth. (maximum 300 words)

Internet for Everyone from National Public Internet (NPI).

The future of the Internet is that basic wireless connectivity will be as free (of cost), ubiquitous and easily available as FM radio. This will co-exist with a paid tier of premium Internet service that offers ultra high speed connectivity. But the basic service will be free. Just as FM radio is free and easily available, where as premium video channels on cable cost some money.

The project aims to:
  1. Create a non-profit nationwide Internet service provider organization (called NPI), analogous to the non-profit public radio company NPR. It is very important to conceive and run this as a non-profit organization.
  2. A nationwide network infrastructure on which to provide the basic free wireless Internet service to everybody.
Why non-profit?

The focus and energies of NPI should be on smoothly running an extremely important and vital nationwide network infrastructure to provide free wireless Internet. The focus should never be distracted or biased by profit-making considerations or for creating shareholder wealth. The organization should be strictly independent of any profit-making corporation. It should also be independent of incumbent profit-making internet service provider companies, including cable and telecoms.

The organizational structure for NPI would be inspired by and based on the NPR model of city-level stations working together to provide nationwide coverage of high quality programming.

Network Infrastructure

NPI should be the preferred model for providing internet service on the White Space spectrum. It should directly connect to the Internet Backbone. It won't be dependent on incumbent telecoms. At the city-level, the main vehicle for the Internet signals could be the ‘white space’ spectrum. At the local block-level, there could be repeater routers deployed, as required.

What problem or issue does your idea address? (maximum 150 words)
  1. Inadequate Internet connectivity in general. Extremely poor wireless Internet connectivity in particular.
  2. Internet connectivity not managed and provided as a nationwide public resource like roads and highways, accessible and useful to everybody for free.

If your idea were to become a reality, who would benefit the most and how? (maximum 150 words)
  1. EVERYBODY in the country would benefit from significantly increased connectivity for learning, information access and communication.
  2. Emergency responders and service providers.
  3. Model could be replicated in other countries with poor Internet connectivity.

What are the initial steps required to get this idea off the ground? (maximum 150 words)
  1. Build a campus-wide or city-wide network as a proof of concept for the specific design and technology to be used by NPI.
  2. Design the organizational structure and start building out.

Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure it? (maximum 150 words)

If basic wireless Internet connectivity is available for free and easily to everybody and in every place where FM radio signals are available, this project is a success.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Google should have made its own gPhone first

I published this post first on AndroidGuys.

If you have spent time in the dating game, you know the harsh reality: it is usually better when you are being wooed by someone, than it is when you are running after them. When you are the one who is trying to win over someone, no matter how great your qualities and offerings, they may act reluctant, express doubts, second guess your motives and in the end, not accept you at all. On the other hand, when someone is wooing you, even if they know your negative qualities and idiosyncrasies, even if you act all pricey, they might still brush those aside and pursue you; they will be happy to accept you as you are and make a good life with that.

Reading about Google working with handset makers and carriers, I get the impression that Google is wooing a bunch of Reluctant Rebeccas who are demanding much and not making it easy for Google. The angst of a hassled suitor is best expressed by Google's director of mobile platforms, Andy Rubin: "This is where the pain happens," he says. "We are very, very close."

Very close, but no cigar... yet.

Imagine how much better it would have been if things were the opposite: if all the carriers and handset makers were lining up at Google's gates because they were desperate to have this great new awesome that Google had built. Even if they had to a pay high price for it.

Google should have built The gPhone first. It should have worked with one handset maker, in secret (with occasional leaks to the "person familiar with the matter", of course!), to build the most awesome piece of mobile hardware. And, instead of spending time and resources to build and manage a reluctant alliance, Google should have concentrated all its own energies on doing what it does best: make innovative software with a revolutionary, irresistible UI.

With such exclusive focus, Google would have been ready to launch the gPhone this June or July. Imagine the launch where Google not only showed off an awesome, unlocked, full-featured, uncrippled phone, but also offered the open mobile platform Android for free to anyone who wants it, and announced the Android developer challenge! Now, that would have been a true 1-2-3 knockout punch from which that other locked-and-limited-but-shiny-and-popular phone coming out in July would have found hard to recover. Carriers would have lined up to get the gPhone on their networks ASAP. Handset makers would have lined up to get Android on their phones ASAP. Developers would have lined up to churn out apps for the original gPhone and all other Android phones ASAP. Happy customers the world over would have lined up to get the new gPhone ASAP. Really, can you imagine how all that would have played out? That would have shaken up the mobile world, alright!

Instead, what we have today is a situation where Google is scrambling hard to help T-Mobile launch the first Android phone before the end of the year. This is taking up enough of Google's resources that Sprint cites that as an excuse for not offering an Android Phone on its own network yet. Of course, Sprint has other excuses too: top management shuffling, plans to skip 3G and go straight to 4G with the Android phone, preference to offer its own branded services on the phone (read 'walled garden') rather than offer Google's built-in services. Sprint, purported founding member of the OHA, has made ambiguous and non-committal statements about Android from the very beginning. So, I am not surprised that they are not ready to offer an Android phone any time soon. In fact, I'm glad that Google is first working with T-Mobile, the carrier which cripples phones the least among all the popular US carriers.

Google should have learnt from its Gmail launch. Gmail is a complete email product, with innovative, unique features. It wow-ed the world when it was launched. Some Gmail features are so unique, almost no other email provider has replicated them or even offered them as options years after Gmail launched. Remember the days when people all over the world were desperate to get an invite to Gmail? Now imagine that Google never built Gmail, and instead built a plug-in to work with Outlook or Yahoo mail or any other email system, to bring the Gmail features like threaded conversations, labelled mails, hidden quoted text, etc. to your existing mail box. Google would have had to go through hard and frustrating times to get the plug-in to work with the numerous mail systems out there. Having done that, it would have been even more difficult to get the other email providers to offer this plug-in as an optional feature, if at all. Even if Google had offered the plug-in as an independent download, it would not be as ubiquitous and useful as Gmail is today.

Google's attempts to push Android on reluctant carriers and handset makers is akin to pushing a Gmail plug-in on existing email systems! Moreover, it makes you wonder what compromises and limitations Google might be building into Android in order to make it acceptable to the carriers. I'd like to believe that Google would not do that, but then I'd also have liked to believe that Google does not offer a self-censored search engine in China.

Anyway, what is done is done. For better or worse, Android is on the path it is on now. Nobody wishes for its success as much as we do. But it's still not too late for Google to make and market its own branded, full-featured and unlocked gPhone which can be held up as a standard for other phones to measure up to. Perhaps, they should partner with the struggling Motorola, which has put its best engineers to work on an Android phone, to make the ideal gPhone. An ideal gPhone would serve Google (and us, the mobile customers) very well. For one thing, it would show the world what Android can really do. And, it would prevent carriers from crippling other Android (and even non-Android) phones too much. Why would people buy a crippled phone if a full-featured one is available? And even if the carriers crippled their phones a little, they would be forced to offer something in exchange - like awesome hardware or innovative services or simply cheaper phones - to tempt customers to buy those phones. Would be a win-win for everybody.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Challenges of Mobile Advertising

Mobile phones are intensely personal devices we carry with us pretty much everywhere. As such, it is hard-to-resist medium for advertisers. However, this platform can be a double-edged sword. Mobile advertisements are perhaps the most intrusive form of marketing, just a rung below telemarketing calls. So, there is a high potential for turning off prospective customers.

In this post we will examine some of the challenges of advertising on the mobile phone.

Limited Screensizes

Unlike TVs and computers with ever increasing screen sizes, the size of mobile phone screens will always remain small. Every millimeter of space on that screen is valuable. There are no convenient side bars, header banners and footer spaces where ads can be shown without too much distraction from the main content. So, where to squeeze some ad space without encroaching on content and irritating the user? One way of increasing screen space on mobile phones is to make the entire face of the phone a screen, with a touch interface, like the popular iPhone.

Reduced Receive-only Attention Span

By its very nature the mobile phone is a device for active interaction, whether we are talking or messaging. On every other platform, be it print, TV, radio or the computer, the amount of time we spend in non-interactive, receive-only mode is much higher compared to the phone. Receive-only mode is when we are only reading / viewing / listening to something, as opposed to interacting with it by providing our own inputs. Most of today's ads are geared towards audiences who are in the receive-only mode. These are passive ads.

Mobile phones are used in receive-only mode, only for short durations when we are looking for specific information or when we are passing time when waiting for an appointment or to reach a destination, etc. This substantially reduced receive-only attention span of mobile phone users presents another challenge for presenting ads.

This issue can be addressed in a couple of ways: a) Provide content which encourages people to spend more time in receive-only mode on the phones. b) Come up with clever interactive ads / marketing campaigns. These are active ads which require the audiences to play with them or provide inputs.

The one thing you do not want to do is interrupt the user with an ad when they are in active interaction mode - be it communicating with somebody or looking up information.

Rewards for unsolicited ads

The state of mobile devices and connectivity today is that showing ads on the phone involves a cost to the end-user. The ads may drain more power from the phone's limited battery source and it may increase the data usage for which the user may be paying by volume. In addition, the user will also be paying with her/his personal time and attention, which s/he might consider to be even more valuable than the battery power or data usage costs. As such, users will be loathe to consume unsolicited ads on the phone without being rewarded in return with something more than the information presented in the ad. Such rewards could be free voice or data connectivity, free phones, etc. As the market matures, I'm sure marketers will think of other innovative rewards with which to win over customer's attentions.

The rewarding of users with free stuff in exchange for viewing ads happens more often than we realize. Eg: Programming on many TV netword channels are available to us for free viewing, subsidized by ads.

Solicited Ads or Ads as (Search) Results

The most effective presentment of ads is as a response to a user request or search. I am not talking of contextual ads shown alongside search results. These contextual ads are still unsolicited ads because they are shown without the user asking to see them. Suppose, the user is looking for a store or a business via a search service or directory calling service on the mobile phone. The service would then show mostly (or perhaps exclusively) businesses which have paid to be listed as results of that search. This, of course, goes against the principles of fair and unbiased search results and such a service cannot strictly be called a search service. Nevertheless, if the results are of high quality and relevancy, it will be used by the people. Just Dial in India is one such directory service which charges businesses to list them as search results.

Advertising on mobile phones is not an easy proposition due to the scarce screen space, reduced attention span of users and risks of antagonizing the user by being too intrusive, or worse, costing her/him time and money to merely view the ad. However, the rewards are enormously high for anyone who successfully cracks this puzzle as effectively as Google cracked the contextual ads puzzle.

In a future column, we will explore some of the possible options for displaying ads on a mobile screen with the least intrusion to the user.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year 2008 - Google Hindu Calendar updated

Update on 12/30/2009:
The Google Hindu Calendar linked and described in this post has been renamed as Google Hindu Calendar - MST, for Mountain Standard Timezone of USA.

If you have a Google account, you can add this Google Hindu Calendar - MST to your Google account using this link: Add Google Hindu Calendar.

To simply view the calendar in your web browser use this link: View Google Hindu Calendar. After viewing, if you want to add this Google Hindu Calendar - MST to your Google account, there is a button at the bottom-right corner of the screen.

For calendars of other timezones, visit this link: Google Hindu Calendar with Timezones.

Original Post below:
Wishing a very happy, healthy and successful new year to all my readers.

I have updated the Google Hindu Calendar with all the important Hindu festivals and events for 2008. In addition, this calendar includes the year and months from the Hindu calendar, new moon (amAvAsya), full moon (paurNami) and ekAdashi (11th day of the lunar fortnight) information.

If you have a Google account, you can add this Google Hindu Calendar to your personal Google Calendar using this link: Add Google Hindu Calendar.

To simply view the calendar in your web browser use this link: View Google Hindu Calendar.

If you find any errors or issues with the calendar, please leave a comment here.

Once again, best wishes for the new year.