Following on from Jack Ma’s comments on why Google (and others) haven’t cracked the Chinese market comes the news that Google isn’t giving up: it is launching two services – an Answers service and a social networking site. These go directly up against offerings by Baidu, the leading Chinese search engine.
Things are slightly different on this side of the globe. They recently bought up a company called Grand Central, which gave you one phone number to replace all others (home / mobile / work etc), and now several hundred of the numbers have been turned off at short notice. Google Video has been shutdown, with the prospect that the videos would no longer play. The company has now realised that it handled the situation badly and has made some concessions.
I guess you can’t guarantee that any service will be around forever, even from the most established companies, especially in the age of the perpetual beta.
Some British ISPs have said that the BBC’s new iPlayer service (which allows you to download programmes from the last seven days and watch them on your computer) would place a big strain on their networks and they would have to consider limiting the bandwidth for the service. This and other video on demand systems would push up ISPs’ costs, which means prices for consumers would have to rise. The BBC article below does a good job of summarizing the details (nicely balanced considering…) You can rush to judgement and say that ISPs should invest the money to support this level of use, but others point out that the financial health of ISPs (in Europe at least) is not that great (see Jupiter Research.)
The idea of ISPs determining what content can be viewed, when and by whom is covered by the “network neutrality” debate. The Web 2.0 conference held a conversation between two heavyweights in the field. It’s an intelligent discussion but the claws still come out, giving a good insight into the issues and depth of feeling involved.
Some great articles in the August issue of Wired magazine. This one is particularly poignant. This is the story of the disappearance at sea of Jim Gray, a legendary programmer (although I didn’t know the name) whose boat simply vanished without trace. He is deeply respected in technological circles but all efforts to find him have come to nothing despite having limitless money, cutting edge technology and a horde of volunteers. The computer industry has lost one of its own and the trail has gone cold. Hugely sad.
Following on from Jack Ma’s comments about the failure of Google, Yahoo and Ebay in China, here’s a piece from Fortune magazine on how Microsoft has fared. Spooky how things come together… The secret to success seems to be working closely with the Chinese government and putting your principles on hold when it comes to human rights and freedom of speech. When asked about these, Bill Gates responds:
“I don’t think I want to give an answer to that”
He knows he is about the only person in the tech industry who could get away with not giving an answer. The unspoken truth for businesses is that when there is so much at stake financially, you can choose to turn a blind eye to anything if it works in your favour. It sounds like Bill’s conscience is telling him that it is better to give no answer at all than give some half-arsed excuse. Anyway, that’s what employees are for…
- Fortune: How Microsoft conquered China
Google has said that would be willing to take part in an auction for part of the US radio spectrum. I’m trying to get my head around quite what this means. This is what I’ve gathered so far:
- This is spectrum freed up when US TV channels go digital in 2009
- The spectrum is great for wireless broadband as it can carry information a long distance and goes easily through walls and most other obstacles. A lot better than WiFi or WiMax networks
- Long distance signals mean it will be cheaper to build a network
- Google has set some conditions but is willing to bid $4.6bn
- Normally these auctions are limited to the large telecoms companies and it will be a long time till the next opportunity arises
- Google says any mobile handset or wireless-enabled device should be able to connect to the network (ie no more tying a model of handset to a specific network – example: in the US, the Apple iPhone is only available on the AT&T network and anyone wanting an iPhone would have to change contract to AT&T if they currently use another network)
- Other devices include: laptops, media players, games consoles and more
- People could access Google Apps and Google could send highly targeted ads (= more revenue for Google)
- There will be lots of arguments
- It will be a good few years yet before any of this becomes a reality
- We can all then lend Google some spare change to do the same in Europe
Then there are the rumours of a Google mobile phone due by the end of the year…
- Wired: It’s Silicon Valley vs. Telcos in Battle for Wireless Spectrum
- Google: Our commitment to open broadband platforms
- GigaOM: AT&T Responds to Google Bid
- Washington Post: FCC to Rule on Wireless Auction
- Business Week: Beachfront Wireless (reaction to FCC decision – Google didn’t get all it asked for)
Update (9 August): John Battelle, who has spoken to Google’s CEO on more than one occasion, pours scorn on the idea of a GPhone:
“What the hell kind of journalism is this?…I dislike this kind of speculative journalism. It’s just hype.”
The post also has some interesting comments by other readers about just what makes a mobile phone a “Google phone.”
Sometimes there are small events that make you look at things differently – this short conversation has added a new dimension to how I look at the internet. I’d heard of Jack Ma and knew that he had a big internet presence in China but this was the first time I had any real exposure to him.This talk gives you an insight into why the biggest US internet companies (Google, Yahoo, Ebay) have failed when they tried to crack the Chinese market. Ma comes across as a quietly spoken but highly determined and straight-talking businessman who approaches these companies from a different perspective to the rest of us in the West. His company, Alibaba, dominates in China, offering a business to business marketplace and services that rival PayPal and Ebay. It is said that Ebay’s purchase of Skype was directly inspired by what Ma’s company was doing. His opinions on Yahoo! are particularly forthright given that Yahoo! invested $1bn in his company, giving it a 40% share (Ma still seems to have come out on top, un-fazed by the scale of the deal.) . His views on his company’s relations with the Chinese government and accusations of censorship are frank and highlight cultural differences between China and the West. His sights are now firmly set on internet search (the reason for the Yahoo! deal) and global expansion – and he finishes with a very telling statement.
If you’re not intrigued by now, you really should be. If you don’t take this man into account when thinking about the fight for dominance of the internet space then you are missing part of the overall picture.
This year’s Web 2.0 Summit is in October, but the site has a link to a series of conversations that happened at last year’s event. There are a number of conversations available for download with some of the most important people in the internet industry. I’ll be highlighting those I think are the most interesting, but from what I’ve heard so far they will all be worth a listen.
I’ve just finished this book, and I must say that it was a lot better than expected – it is not a dry, sterile read. I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm the authors inject and the scope of examples they used. Although I haven’t reviewed the other books I’ve mentioned, it is clear that there is a fair amount of overlap in some of the areas and some of the examples given – however, when dealing with an industry that is just starting to mature this is only to be expected.
Backing up their ideas, they are particularly strong when looking at Wikipedia and Amazon. In fact, the Amazon section is very good indeed, explaining how affiliate programs and market places work – the company gets real benefits from allowing others to plug into their system. Google Maps is also explored (forgive the pun) in-depth, looking at how people combine it to create useful mashups. There are advantages (promotes innovation) and disadvantages (anyone can create a competing service as they have the same access to information as the trailblazer.) It becomes apparent that there is not one solution that will work for everyone. It is for businesses to decide the level of openness and collaboration – too little and you won’t reap all the benefits, too much and you risk losing the “secret sauce” that makes your product unique.
Much to its credit, the book then ventures off into areas that have not been covered elsewhere. Science and research are one of the areas looked at to determine the advantages brought by increased peer review. The open source Linux operating system, social networking, the Chinese motorcycle industry (?!), car and aeroplane manufacturers are examined. Finally, there is a look at how working practices in companies will have to change, new ways of sharing information and the implications for how an agile company will be structured.
Sounds like heavy stuff but it isn’t – even if you already have an intimate knowledge of Chinese two-wheeled vehicle makers and their remarkable impact on the market share of incumbent Japanese producers in Vietnam – you are bound to learn something and it will give you plenty to think about.
One of the main reasons for having this blog is to look at the current state of the internet – the last few years have seen the nature of the internet change, becoming a greater force than ever before in everybody’s everyday life. The powerhouse companies are facing off to grab the biggest possible slice of the social and technological pie – and it’s highly interesting trying to keep up.
There are four books that have helped give me an understanding of what is going on (and where things are going):
- The World is Flat – Thomas Friedman
- The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture – John Battelle
- The Long Tail: How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand – Chris Anderson
- Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything – Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams
There are plenty of other books out there but these are the best I’ve found and all are worth reading. Reviews will come soon…