Sunday, July 3, 2011

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Sexual Activity Tracked By Fitbit Shows Up In Google Search Results

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 09:02 AM PDT


Yikes. Users of fitness and calorie tracker Fitbit may need to be more careful when creating a profile on the site. The sexual activity of many of the users of the company’s tracker and online platform can be found in Google Search results, meaning that these users’ profiles are public and searchable. You can click here to access these results.

As you may know, the Fitbit Tracker is an compact wearable device that clips onto clothing or slips into a pocket and captures, through accelerometer technology, information about daily health activities, such as steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, exercise intensity levels and sleep quality. Users can also log nutrition, weight, additional activities (including sexual activity) and other health information on the site in order to gain a complete picture of their health.

So why are Fitbit users’ profiles able to be searchable in Google? It’s not really Fitbit’s fault. When you create a profile, the default privacy setting allows profiles to be found in search results (Google, Bing, etc). If you don’t unclick this setting, it will obviously make your profile public for anyone to find.

So these users may be unwittingly sharing their most intimate details (i.e. kissing, hugging and more) when recording their sexual activity to calculate how many calories they have burned in a given period of time.

Of course, sex does count as exercise, but you might want to think twice before recording it on Fitbit and making your profile open to the public (TMI, anyone?). And to mitigate this issue, perhaps Fitbit should change its privacy defaults.

Thanks to Andy Baio for the tip.



Google’s Six-Front War

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 06:57 AM PDT

Editor's note: Guest contributor Semil Shah is an entrepreneur interested in digital media, consumer internet, and social networks. He is based in Palo Alto and you can follow him on twitter @semilshah.

While the tech world is buzzing about the launch and implications of Google's new social network, Google+, it's worth noting that Google isn't just in a war with Facebook, it's at war with multiple companies across multiple industries. In fact, Google is fighting a multi-front war with a host of tech giants for control over some of the most valuable pieces of real estate in technology. Whether it's social, mobile, browsing, local, enterprise, or even search, Google is being attacked from all angles.  And make no mistake about it, they are fighting back and fighting back, hard. Entrepreneur-turned-venture capitalist Ben Horowitz laid the groundwork for this in his post Peacetime CEO / Wartime CEO, saying Larry Page "seems to have determined that Google is moving into war and he clearly intends to be a wartime CEO. This will be a profound change for Google and the entire high-tech industry." Horowitz is exactly right.

Before I investigate each battle front in the war, it's important to highlight the fact that perhaps no other tech company right now could withstand such a multifaceted attack, let alone be able to retaliate efficiently. Sure, Apple might get pushed around by Facebook, so it integrated Twitter into iOS5, and sure, Amazon and Apple have their own tussles over digital media and payments, but at the end of the day, Google is in this unique and potentially highly vulnerable position that will test the company's mettle and ability to not only reinvent itself, but also to perhaps strengthen its core. Let's take a quick look into the GooglePlex, which may now resemble more of a military complex, plotting out strategies and tactics for this war. Google must battle on at least six fronts simultaneously.

The Browser Front: Users have a choice between Internet Explorer (Microsoft), Firefox (Mozilla), Safari (Apple), and Google's offering, Chrome. The speculation is that Facebook is interested in a browser, too, since Mozilla co-founder Blake Ross is an employee, but that hasn't happened yet. More recently, the social browser RockMelt has captured some peoples' interests, and last week secured $30M in financing, adding Facebook board members Jim Breyer and Marc Andreessen to its board. Andreessen obviously knows a thing or two about browsers. Though most browsers enable users to power their search by Google as an option, Googe's Chrome offering isn't the lead browser by market share, and not even in second place.

The Mobile Front: Apple's iOS took the mobile world by storm in 2007 with the first iPhone. Then Google's Android operating system roared alongside it, turning into a freight train of downloads, as Bill Gurley said, only recently to be slowed by Apple's release of a phone with Verizon. While Android may have more installs, they don't have the developer community to build killer apps because the Android marketplace (both for hardware and firmware) is highly fragmented, whereas iOS is about symphonic convergence. All the along, there's been ample speculation about whether Facebook was building its own mobile phone device, or as the company has publicly hinted, how it would integrate social layers into different mobile operating systems and platforms.

The Search Front: Whether we're on the desktop/laptop, a tablet, or a phone, Google wants to be powering our search, and this is where they dominate, though Microsoft's Bing has been able to acquire an impressive number of clicks. While everything is fine today, there are some troubling warning signs. On desktops and laptops, people will continue to use a variety of browsers, though they end up spending a lot of time on Facebook, which scares Google because of the trend of people moving slowly from search to discovery. This, however, won’t shift overnight. For mobile devices, it's trickier. Most iOS users navigate the web either through Apple's own browser, Safari, and can have it search by Google. On Android-powered tablets and phones, Google controls more of the user-experience, including search, navigation, and application integration. While this is going on, users are trying their hand at realtime search on Twitter or BackType, looking for content directly within Quora, or using Blekko’s hashtags to better cut through and sort the web.

The Local Front: When users search for things on Google and click through, Google gets a little cut of that click. It knows how to drive traffic online and be paid handsomely for it. Driving and directing traffic that originates online into the real world, however, is a different story. As Steve Cheney elegantly stated, when we search online for places to go and then end up there in real life, the place itself does not have a clear sense of what drove them there. This is why the Daily Deals space is so red-hot and competitive, as it helps to close this major, valuable loop. If you search for a restaurant via OpenTable and make a reservation, the merchant knows exactly what drove you to the door. That's why Yelp, which only used to provide reviews, offered the ability to check-in for credit after Foursquare built up a head of steam. The opportunity here is so complex yet fragmented that it drove Google to offer $6B for Groupon just six months ago. In local, Google is competing against Groupon, but also Amazon (which has a stake in LivingSocial), and a host of smaller (Loopt) and forthcoming deals companies will continue to roll out. This is just the beginning.

The Social Front: Yes, again, Google is fighting a war with Facebook. That much is obvious. What's less obvious is how other social networks have been able to capture bits and pieces of our identities, leaving Google without any information of who we are. Users have been pumping personal content into blogs like Tumblr, networks like LinkedIn, and even asking search-related questions on Quora. Although we may all predominantly search via Google, the company is struggling in the social field. That is why Larry Page stepped in as CEO, why he tied bonuses to social, and why Google+ is their social sword and shield to fight back and capture user data, despite it being late in the game. Strategically speaking, even if Google+ doesn’t hold or catch fire, it will probably cause its rivals to pause for a moment and consider a range of short- and long-term implications.

The Enterprise Front: If you think the browser, mobile, social, local, and search isn't enough, check out Google's combatants in enterprise—just some names like Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, and VMware, among others. Google's App Engine could go up against AWS, though that doesn't seem likely. Google competes with IBM and Oracle on enterprise search (such as OmniFind) and email and work collaboration tools (Lotus). Google's Chromebooks are seen as a potential entry point into enterprise computing, going up against hardware giants like HP, Dell, and Lenovo. Furthermore, Google may be trying to push Android into the enterprise, which would apply even more pressure on Research in Motion. There's VMware, which offers Zimbra, PaaS, and presentation tools, to name a few. And, of course, there’s Microsoft, which competes with Google for a wide range of productivity applications. For all of Google's consumer-facing brands and applications, its strength in enterprise sometimes is underestimated despite the fact that they currently hold many excellent positions.

It's easy to pile on Google given their size, their wallet, and their global influence and impact. They are the goliath, and have been for many years, and are now facing many challenging tests, all at the same time. And while it's a fun parlor game to sit around and pontificate about how Google's reign might be over or how slow GMail loads, the reality is that no other company could compete legitimately on so many different battlefronts against so many different competitors. There's no way Google can win each battle, and they must know that, but they will win some, and it will be fascinating to see how the company both adapts and stays the course along the way. Google is not going to go down without a fight, and it could take another decade for all of these battles to play out. The company has some of the world's brightest engineers, a stockpile of cash, and incredible consumer Internet mind share, worldwide. Sit tight.

Photo credit: Flickr/hellosputnik



The Declaration of Insurance Independence

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 06:00 AM PDT

Dave Chase is the founder and CEO of Avado, a TechCrunch Disrupt NYC finalist. Previously he was a management consultant for Accenture's healthcare practice and was the founder of Microsoft's Health business. This is Part I of a two-part post. You can follow him on Twitter @chasedave.

The scale of the Do-it-Yourself (DIY) Health Reform movement is dramatically bigger than I realized when writing about how that movement could affect the Talent Wars taking place in the tech community. So much so that I’m convinced we’re on the cusp of the third, and by far the biggest, major wave of Health IT. The first wave was the introduction of mainframe/minicomputer based departmental solutions. The second wave was characterized by client-server systems and a greater degree of integration across the healthcare enterprise, though still limited between healthcare organizations.

Neither of the first two waves dramatically altered the landscape for healthcare. In contrast, the third wave will fundamentally alter the competitive landscape. Healthcare’s hyperinflation has ignited the DIY Health Reformers to declare what amounts to a Declaration of Insurance Independence. While the reformers recognize insurance plays a vital role for managing high risk events (house fire, car accident, cancer), the fee-for-service model underlying insurance in day-to-day healthcare has created what translates into a 40% “insurance bureaucrat tax” that they want freedom from.

Protesting Healthcare Taxation With Bureaucratization

The summary of the Declaration of Insurance Independence is as follows:

Healthcare's perverse incentives and an accompanying stifling bureaucracy driven by encumbering day-to-day healthcare with insurance has caused hyperinflation that is crushing family, employer and government budgets and holding back job growth. This must be stopped. Citizens and healthcare providers are doing exactly that, however counter-productive insurance regulations are impairing the ability to expand upon health plans shown to reduce costs by 40% or more.

We, therefore, declare that:

  • the United States are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent of insurance and self-sufficient in accessing day-to-day healthcare;
  • that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to insurance bureaucracy;
  • and that all insurance connections involving the purchase of day-to-day healthcare, are and ought to be totally dissolved;
  • as Free and Independent States they have full Power to explore the range of more effective ways of accessing day-to-day healthcare, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

New Care & Payment Models Spurring New Health IT Categories

The exciting thing for the tech community is it will transform a moribund sector of technology (Health IT) by catalyzing entire new categories of software required by the new care and payment models that the DIY Health Reformers are aggressively pursuing. At the time I wrote the DIY Health Reform piece, I was aware of some of the innovative new models and organizations. I’ve since learned of far more and that is amplified by traditional powerhouses in Insurance and Pharma establishing new divisions to pursue the fundamentally altered landscape (e.g., insurance companies setting up multiple lines of business that are non-insurance offerings focused on wellness; 97 new initiatives in the Pharma industry in 2010 to pursue what they call “Pharma 3.0″ which is focused on outcomes rather than pills).

Interestingly, I learned that at least one of the biggest insurance companies is already doing what was laid out in the DIY Health Reform piece. That is, for the insurance company’s employees they use health insurance what it’s best for — covering rare items that don’t happen to most people — while complementing that with a Health Savings/Reimbursement Account that uses pre-tax dollars to pay for day-to-day healthcare items. Progressively, employees learn the paradox of healthcare — spending more on healthcare often leads to worse outcomes.

Cautionary Tales For Healthcare Companies from Telco and Newspaper Industry

Just as mobile technologies have fundamentally reshaped the telecommunications industry, there'll be an equally radical transformation of healthcare. Legacy Telcos had to fundamentally transform themselves. Those that didn't became an artifact of history. With the transformed healthcare ecosystem, there are requirements for entirely new categories of software that a new generation of startups will develop. By definition, current Health IT is designed for the legacy care and payment models and thus don’t effectively support the new models.

The new models have demonstrated compelling results unheard of in healthcare where health outcomes are improving while costs are being dramatically reduced. One can't help but be optimistic when studying the results of Patient-Centered Medical Homes (PCMH). For example, there’s been a 40-80% reduction in the most expensive facets of healthcare (surgical, specialist & ER visits) in one group of 3,000+ patients that mirrored the population as a whole. Further, a pilot program in Ohio with Medicaid diabetics that scaled could save Ohio $500 million annually. Or consider the case of Denmark that was the first country to broadly adopt the PCMH model. It's been so successful, they have reduced the number of hospitals in that country by over 50% and are projecting another 40% reduction as they simply don't need that many hospitals anymore.

There’s a striking parallel with the newspaper industry during the rise of the Internet in the late 90′s. While they should have been aggressively transforming themselves into modern digital media enterprises, many were investing in new capital infrastructure such as printing plants. Just as printing presses and delivery infrastructure are the most expensive way to deliver media to consumers, the current “arms race” of building new hospitals and healthcare facilities is the most expensive way to deliver healthcare.

The newspapers saw digital as an adjunct sidelight to their core business rather than the future.  Likewise many health systems are taking steps such as acquiring medical practices and bolting on so-called “patient portals” primarily to support/defend their acute care facilities instead of as a fundamental rethinking of what value they bring to the community. If ever there was an industry that should understand that it’s far more effective to treat the underlying “disease/condition” than to treat the “symptom,” it should be healthcare. For a chuckle, watch videos of how air travel or a coffee shop would work if they were like healthcare to see how absurd the legacy model is working in healthcare. Fortunately, the innovators are rethinking, rather than tweaking healthcare delivery.

In Part 2, I will outline the following:

    • Convergence of Factors Driving Industry Disruption
    • More Time Spent with Patients Translates to Better Health Outcomes and Less Time & Money Wasted
    • Implications of Government-driven Health Reform
    • Time for Health IT Entrepreneurs/Investors to Jump Back in the Water



Google’s “Pi” In The Face

Posted: 02 Jul 2011 09:36 PM PDT

As we’re all well aware by now, Google did not win the rights to the 6,000+ Nortel wireless and mobile patents. Instead, a consortium featuring many of their main rivals did. That has to sting. But as more details emerge about the auction itself, it sure looks as if Google wasn’t taking the entire thing too seriously. And that’s too bad. Because Android may be royally screwed without those patents.

Specifically, Nadia Damouni of Reuters reports today that following their initial “stalking horse” bid to get the ball rolling, Google put forth bids of $1,902,160,540, $2,614,972,128 — and $3.14159 billion. If those numbers look familiar, it’s because you’re a nerd. Brun’s constant, Meissel-Mertens constant, and yes, Pi. That’s how Google was bidding on perhaps the most important auction they’ve ever been involved in.

Not surprisingly, those on the other end of the auction had no clue what Google was doing. And found their behavior erratic and odd.

“Google was bidding with numbers that were not even numbers,” sources told Reuters. “Either they were supremely confident or they were bored,” the same source said. This led Reuters to report:

It was not clear what strategy Google was employing, whether it wanted to confuse rival bidders, intimidate them, or simply express the irreverence that is part and parcel of its corporate persona. Whatever its reasons, Google’s shenanigans did not work.

No, they did not. And now the company looks like huge asses in retrospect.

It would have been one thing if Google had done this during the Spectrum auction in 2008 — which they never intended to win. They simply wanted to push the bidding high enough to ensure that the government would enforce the open rules on the sold spectrum (which Verizon ended up winning the biggest chunk of). But with the Nortel patents, Google absolutely did want to win. And many within the company expected to. Perhaps that led to this over-confidence and jackassery.

Sure, in hindsight you could say that Google wasn’t going to win anyway — Reuters also reports that Google was only willing to go as high as $4 billion and the winning bid ended up being $4.5 billion. But again, they did not know that at the time. They thought they were going to win and apparently thought they could have some fun in the process. Meanwhile, according to Reuters’ sources, they found this behavior aloof and off-putting. It certainly did not help Google’s case.

Nortel was undoubtedly happy to declare the consortium featuring Apple, Microsoft, RIM, and others as the winner — even though they had to know this result will come under much more scrutiny (and as such, take much more time to close) than if Google had won.

Sadly, this behavior seems to follow the recent M.O. of Google. They walk into situations with extreme confidence when they shouldn’t, then they seem surprised when things unravel. Where are those music deals promised over a year ago? How about the television content deals for Google TV? The list goes on. As I wrote over six months ago, Google appears to be living in a dream world — and they’re edging dangerously close to limbo.

You can’t overstate how important these patents would have been to Google. In the patent space, Google is a very weak player. This has allowed others like Microsoft and Oracle to go after them and/or their partners (for Android). While no one expected Google to go after other companies with these patents, they would have served as a huge deterrent. As in, don’t sue me for this, because I can sue you for that. Instead, their enemies have more nuclear weapons pointed at them now.

Well, presumably. Google’s next course of action is undoubtedly going to be to lobby the governments in both the U.S. and Canada to reject this deal. Or at the very least, they’ll want a lot of restrictions in place. In other words, Google is going to have to get serious. You know, like how they should have been acting during the auction itself.

[image: flickr/gregoconnell]



When Google Circles Collide

Posted: 02 Jul 2011 08:22 PM PDT

Editor's note: Guest writer Rocky Agrawal  blogs at reDesign and Tweets @rakeshlobster.

I like to create. You can find content I’ve created on my own blogs, TechCrunch, Facebook, Twitter, flickr, Quora, EveryTrail, Namesake, Yelp, foursquare, YouTube, disqus, KindleFlyerTalk, and now Google+. I create more content than the vast majority of Internet users.

I actively think about how to create content and the right audiences for it. When I’m hiking, I take pictures of trailheads, forks and other things that are visually uninteresting. I also carry a GPS with me so I can precisely geotag each picture. I do it because it’s valuable to an EveryTrail user in determining how to hike the trail. When I upload the pictures from the hike to Facebook, those waypoint pictures aren’t included. Yes, I’m a dork.

Given the level of control that Google+ is offering, I should be thrilled with this great new tool. But I’m not.

It solves the wrong problem, particularly with Google Circles, the Google+ feature that lets you share different things with different groups of people. And it doesn’t do anything to solve the biggest problem with social networks today: increasing the signal to noise ratio.

Reaching the right audience

Google is absolutely right when it says that there are multiple circles in people’s lives. There are certainly many in mine. The way I’ve solved it to date is to just use different social networks for different social circles. I’m careful about who I accept into different groups. For example:

  • Facebook. Generally I have to have met you in person and would consider a friend in a broad definition of the word. This includes random friends, co-workers past and present, classmates, friends-of-friends. I don’t accept friend requests from strangers or people I have only met once at a conference.
  • Twitter. Obviously anyone is welcome to follow me. I will follow people who engage in topics I care about.
  • foursquare. I limit foursquare friends to people who I have met and I’m likely to spend time with. Of my friends on Facebook who are also on foursquare, I’m only foursquare friends with half of them.
  • LinkedIn. All about search for a job, business development and recruiting people. I accept LinkedIn requests from people I’ve worked with, partner companies, people I meet at conferences, etc.

This separation also makes it much easier for me to ensure that content doesn’t get shared to inappropriate audiences. I don’t have to worry about flubbing a privacy setting. I also don’t have to worry about flooding my friends with irrelevant content. Most of the content from the Groupon series, for example, hasn’t been posted to my Facebook because my non-Internet friends couldn’t care less about it. I know if I post on Twitter, it is going to be shared with the world.

I could segment the content within Google+. For each post, I could say include circles “Business”, “Internet famous” and exclude “Personal friends”. But that requires a lot more thinking than just going to Twitter for business stuff or Facebook for personal stuff.

When people compare Circles with Facebook, they often think of lists. (Which almost no one uses.) But they forget about networks, which cover the most important use cases for segmenting people. School and work are two of the biggest buckets. If I want to share things with just the Northwestern network on Facebook, that’s a piece of cake. As a bonus, I didn’t have to put those people into buckets.

For people who care about the segmentation that Google+ offers, they are already doing it using different networks.

Specialized networks like EveryTrail provide interesting tools for visualizing data. I love this visualization of a trip I took from Portland to Juneau. Google+ doesn’t eliminate the need for vertical tools like this.

Platforms like Quora, Namesake and the disqus blog network enable me to reach wider audiences. Google+ doesn’t aggregate audiences for me around topics.

As a content creator, my reward is the interactions I have with people who consume my content. I’ve written more about Google+ on Twitter and in this post than on Google+ because people are reading it on these platforms. Until I have an audience on Google+, there’s no reason for me to post there. (Especially because people who are there already follow me on other channels and would then see duplicate content.) But if I don’t post there, I probably won’t build an audience.

Worlds collide

The physical world has different environments. We hang out with our friends at bars and restaurants. We hear Important People speak in lecture halls and auditoriums. To a large extent, these kinds of distinctions remain in the online world. Facebook is the neighborhood bar and restaurant. It’s built on reciprocal relationships. Twitter is the lecture hall. It’s primarily focused on asymmetric relationships. Twitter has even acknowledged that it’s OK to view it as a publication medium instead of a communication medium.

That’s why it’s discombobulating to see these come together in Google+. I’ll see a message about my friend Wanita’s travel plans next to pictures from Larry Page’s Alaskan kiteboarding adventure. If I comment on Nita’s travel plans, I’m confident I’ll get a response. That’s not nearly as likely if I comment on Larry’s trip. (For those that don’t know, Larry and I were in the same high school class — we used to debate Amiga vs. Mac and talk about googol.) I can’t think of many real world equivalents where you have such disparities in relationships next to each other. It’s jarring going back and forth between these worlds.

Anybody knows, you gotta keep your worlds apart. — George Costanza

Search, not sort

Google has taught us to be lazy.

Before search became prevalent, I manually maintained a list of bookmarks. These were categorized and I spent a lot of time on it. With the rise of Google, I hardly use bookmarks. The top query terms on any search engine are inevitably terms like “ebay,” “amazon,” and “facebook” as people have relied on search to do all the work. You don’t even have to know how to spell. I blame Google for my inability to spell Albuqerque, despite several recent trips there.

Before Gmail, I would diligently categorize my email. It was the only way I had any shot at finding something when I needed it. Now if I’m looking for the receipt for my camera, I just type “Amazon Nikon” into Gmail search. The same applies for contacts. My phone number and other contact information is on the bottom of most emails I send. If someone wants to reach out, all they have to do is search for a recent message.

Gmail’s slogan was “search, not sort.”

Now Google is telling us that in order to make the most of its new product, we have to manually sort our friends into buckets from the beginning. The algorithmic magic  that Google is known for doesn’t apply here. (I’m sure this is in part the result of Google’s Buzz and StreetView privacy fiascos.)

There are ways to automatically bucket people without the privacy concerns. If someone has already gone through the trouble of categorizing contacts in Gmail (as this dork has), those should be applied as circles when a contact is added to Google+. If Google is making suggestions based on connected profiles (such as Twitter or Quora), those source names should also be applied as circles.

The unsolved social network problem

The biggest unsolved problem in social networking remains unsolved with Google+: separating signal from noise. Twitter, it seems, doesn’t even want to try. The timeline is as dumb as it has been since the beginning, a reverse chron firehose of information. Facebook’s feed has improved over the years, but a friend in New Jersey trying to get rid of a bookshelf is just not relevant.

The lack of quality tools for generating signal out of these feeds is inhibiting the creation of content. People are multidimensional and manual segmentation at the person level isn’t enough. I create content about a lot of things, including social networking, mobile, daily deals, my travel, my reading and more. But as I was reading Onward, I shared less than I would have because I didn’t want to flood people’s streams. If I annoy people, they have a blunt tool to fix it: unsubscribe entirely. So I mitigate my posting.

One person I follow on Twitter actually tags most of his posts. I’m interested in his content on tech, business and aviation. But I couldn’t care less about his Chicago tweets. So far, I haven’t seen a tool that would learn that and automatically skip them.

Separating signal from noise and ranking disparate pieces of content is a problem that is squarely in Google’s wheelhouse. The only company I’ve seen that has done a good job at amplifying signal is Quora.

What Problem Does Google+ Solve?

My first rule of product design is that people are lazy, vain and selfish. Google+ clearly fails the first test.

Google+ is an ambitious, competent product. If it had launched 3 or 4 years ago, I would have been a big fan. There are aspects that I really like, such as the photo viewer and hangouts.

But those aren’t enough. Google is in the same position in the social networking game as others are in the search space. There are brand and network effects at play. In order to gain traction, it can’t be marginally better. It has to be massively better.

A friend asked me what problem Google+ solved. The only answer I could come up with was the problem that Google didn’t buy Twitter 3 years ago.



The Phoenix And The Dragon

Posted: 02 Jul 2011 12:30 PM PDT

I’m in India. It’s a glorious mess. The streets of Delhi remain a seething, endless vortex of chaos, as they were when I last visited eleven years ago, but nowadays, gleaming new highways, shopping malls, and five-star hotels rise above them. The sleek and efficient new metro system carries millions of people a day, but leaks in the monsoon rains. The suburb of Gurgaon looks completely First World, equal parts office towers, shopping centres, luxury gated residental enclaves, and golf courses, but as the New York Times recently reported, it does not have “a functioning citywide sewer or drainage system; reliable electricity or water; and public sidewalks, adequate parking, decent roads or any citywide system of public transportation.” Meanwhile, the government is reeling with corruption scandals, including last year’s Commonwealth Games debacle and a whopping $40 billion worth of mis-auctioned 2G spectrum.

The central question of our time is whether this will be China’s century or India’s. (Assuming that the notion of nation-states survives, which seems likely, there aren’t really any other contenders; China and India contain nearly half of humanity, and both are well on their way to economic superpower.) I admit that right now it might not seem much of a contest. China is more populous, already a decade ahead of India in terms of economic development, growing faster, and—measured by patents—far more innovative. In China, achievements are accomplished at the behest of the government; in India, things somehow manage to get done despite the government.

But I think that’s an advantage. I don’t believe patent applications measure real innovation. I think India is more innovative, and that it will ultimately win the economic race, not just despite the Indian authorities’ habit of incompetent self-destruction, but because of it. There’s an essay by Eric Raymond, called The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which is famous in the software world. It compares and contrasts two models of software development; the top-down “cathedral” model of eg GCC, and the chaotic—sometimes verging on anarchic—bottom-down “bazaar” model of eg Linux. I think there are parallels between software development and economic development, and that China is a cathedral (or maybe even a closed-source Microsoft) whereas India is a bazaar. And in the software world, eventually, the bazaar won.

Consider corruption. It’s the scourge of both nations. I’ve already cited a few of India’s greatest hits. China too is plagued by almost weekly corruption scandals; recently, after it emerged that its railway minister was on the take, it slowed its brand-new high-speed train network in the name of safety; and the accounting of internationally listed Chinese firms has recently been seriously questioned. The response in both nations has been a variation of “yes, government corruption is a real problem, but don’t worry, we in the government are going to root it out!” Unsurprisingly many are less than convinced.

But India has an anti-corruption weapon that China doesn’t—indeed, one that would probably be banned if it were to gain traction in China. I give you ipaidabribe.com, an open, crowdsourced corruption-reporting service. I’ve been calling for just such a thing for some years now. Corruption is the enemy of development; transparency is the enemy of corruption; and China isn’t just opaque, it’s opaque by design. Advantage India; and it’s only one such of many. The Chinese dragon has a huge head start over the Indian phoenix, but it says here that in the end the latter will win, because as the software world already knows, the cathedral is inherently inferior to the bazaar.



Gillmor Gang 7.2.11 (TCTV)

Posted: 02 Jul 2011 10:00 AM PDT

The Gillmor Gang — Robert Scoble, John Borthwick, Kevin Marks, and Steve Gillmor — joined the Circle Game as channelled by Joni Mitchell and Tom Rush. Google + seems to be a hit, which means it is soon to reach the critical mass where all social software must graduate from high school to beyond. For now, the service appears like a broader reimplementation of Friendfeed, which some of us felt was truncated not by the users but by the Facebook acquisition. In other words, for some that reinvention is a good thing.

For @borthwick, the project is a substantial undertaking for a company we’ve been trivializing in recent months along with its stock price. For @scobleizer, it means the battle between reach and rich, this time in social circles as Google defines graphs. For @kevinmarks, plenty of work ahead but a strong effort. For @stevegillmor, well, you’ll have to watch the show. But a hint: +1s to Twitter, FaceTime, and whoever makes new mistakes fast.



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