Swaroop C H

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Web Innovation 2007 Day 1

19 Dec 2007

Yesterday, I attended Day 1 of the Web Innovation 2007 conference.

The first half of the day was quite useful, but the latter half turned out to be pure marketing pitches by the sponsors.

WebInnovation 2007 Conference

First and foremost, I think the title of the conference is a misnomer. Although it says "Web Innovation 2007: The Nextgen Web Technology Revolution: 2.0 & Beyond", it should have been "Web 2.0 : How can India catch up" - the discussions were really about the 'current' situation of things rather than 'innovation' or 'future'. By 'current' I mean, the internet products and services market in the western world and how India can catch up.

The No.1 and possibly only gripe that most speakers mentioned which is a barrier for internet and Web 2.0 to become omnipresent is that broadband connectivity is pitiful in India.

I agree to this as far as locality reach, reliability, and pricing is concerned. However, let's compare it to mobile phones which is the second-most discussed topic, on how it is booming and all that. Why did mobile phones take off and not broadband? I think it's because mobile phones had a killer application - communication. That too, communication any time, anywhere.

Similarly, let's take the case of computers in many shops and distributors - accounting solutions whether it is by the local software shop or well-known ones like Tally, they bought computers just so that they can use these software. Just like Lotus 1-2-3 for Apple Mac I in the history of computers.

Unless we have killer applications that people in India want to use, why would anyone want to buy a computer or a broadband connection? And if there are killer applications, won't there be demand for broadband connections, and won't supply follow? Just like the mobile telephony market today?

Maybe I'm completely off on this one, but I still don't yet see killer applications on the web today for the common man in India, let alone Web 2.0-style applications. Forget common man, how about the educational aspects of things, if there are products and services that can be beneficial to school and college students, that alone is a big deal. As B V Naidu (one of the advisors in the Karnataka IT committee) said, 54% of the Indian population is below 20 years!

Naidu also mentioned that there are 7 million new phones being bought every month, you won't find such a high number anywhere else in the world. Yet, there are a meagre 1.6 million mobile internet users. Again, what are the killer applications for them? At least, I never felt the need for internet on my mobile phone. (As an aside, getting it working for the first time is a pain which is another major factor).

Kiruba Shankar (of Kiruba.com fame) was the moderator for a panel discussion on what is Web 2.0. The panel gave analogies, for example, Mohit (Times Internet) said it is a two-way street and KK (MindTree) says it is "content + commerce + community + context + personalization + vertical search." Phew.

Jaspreet (MSN) asked Kiruba on what was the name of his upcoming book and Kiruba replied saying "Unconferences: Where the audience is more intelligent than the speaker". Jaspreet gave a "right" nod and was about to hand over the mic to the next speaker... But he stopped to say that the difference with Web 2.0-style applications, people are converted from an object to a subject.

Dr. Madan (Frost & Sullivan) gave some of the best insights, such as that most successful Web 2.0 ventures appear to appropriate social welfare without looking illicit and have three factors : 1. Resources for something, 2. Branding, 3. Institutionalization by externalizing.

Kiruba, being an unconference guy, got the audience to interact and there were some useful discussions such as "Are people making money?" which had a huge range of answers. Dr. Madan said if you expect your website to survive on advertisements, don't expect revenue for the first 18 months. That too, only Singapore has a 3% success rate on ad-supported websites, other APAC countries don't have a single success! He went on to recommend that don't be just an infomediary, but be transactional, make meaningful communities and lock-in users (in a good way).

Then, there was the question of what can go wrong in India, and KK said that Indian mindset of one-upmanship, diversity of languages, and lack of community ability to create engaging content are some factors. Dr. Madan said sociologists categorize Indians as users, not contributors, most communities that are successful are transactional, and don't expect community contribution in India.

What I liked about the panel session was seeing how these people high up in the decision-making process think about these issues and go about working around them or towards them. And they're very frank in their opinion and make no bones about saying which situations are bad and which are not.

There was more of the Web 2.0 explanations (user-generated content vs published content, text vs visual, contextual, social networking, interactive, personalization, ad-funded business models) which went on ad-nauseum, but I'm trying to put my thoughts here on the more non-obvious things. Not to take those things lightly but executing the above concepts/aspects is very hard and getting it to click is very situation- and community-specific, so no point in discussing about it.

This is the part where I got tired of writing, so I'm going to just transcribe my notes from paper, on the sessions that I attended:



Swaroop says:

@Pramod: I never knew why YouTube is so popular until you mentioned this and a couple of friends showed how they use YouTube for entertainment.

Gowri says:

Great post! One thing I have always wondered is the way we have tried broadband adoption. Currently most broadband is from phone/mobile carriers via phone lines. If you think about it in terms of penetration, cable TV probably has the highest penetration than any other technology in the country. Most houses (atleast in the urban and many rural parts) have a TV and a cable connection. Given that, cable modem and internet via cable seems to me the easiest way to get connectivity to the population. The wiring is in place, the channel/distributor (cable operators) is there, payment gateway (cable operators collecting cable TV subscription from households) is in place. But broadband via cable is virtually non-existant. Part of the reason could be a govt and licensing thing - the cable and media operators need to get a broadband license, but I cant believe that being a big hurdle.

For mainstream adoption of the net, agree that applications and content that are built for local needs are a absolute necessity, along with seamless local language support. Along with eduction, entertainment and communication mentioned in your post, I think finance is also a very viable area. Net-Banking is still used only by net-saavy people. Banks need to reach out the masses and make it easy for them to do transactions in the local language without a high technology barrier. Personal finance and small business accounting is also an attractive area, given that every household has difficult managing their finances and the vast number of small businesses (including mom and pop shops) all over the country.

BTW, where do you get information about such conferences? I would have loved to attend this one.

Pramod Biligiri says:

I wonder if YouTube can be a killer app? But for that you need lots more bandwidth :(

I have high hopes for Internet radio too.

Swaroop says:

@Gowri: Yes, broadband really is a sad situation today. I'm transitioning between two broadband providers and as of now, I'm having both services, and both have very frequent downtimes! Sify has broadband via cable, and BSNL is using their phone line connections, not sure about others.

I agree, finance is an important category, it is yet to be tapped. Perhaps, better financial planning can help the nouveau riche IT people as well as the common man, but there are lot of advances to be made first, for example, broadband and internet should become commonplace enough for people to trust their financial data to a third-party!

I remember reading about the conference first in my feed aggregator, but can't seem to find the channel where I read it :)


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