Sep 082015
Girl with mobile phone using the camera

Can groups and communities build their own internet connected networks? The Mother Jones website describes how in Athens some neighbourhoods are doing exactly that.

Many of the new communications applications are enabling adhoc networks between smartphones and other devices. In times of civil emergencies and natural disasters, those networks may well turn out to be more reliable than the telecommunications networks.

With the various mesh technologies available, we’re seeing another way people can go ‘off the grid’ which will change many of the existing business models of many industries and possibly empower communities in unexpected ways.

Sep 072015

It’s not unfair to call many of the apps disrupting today’s industries as being the result of ‘first world problems’.

Uber was born out of founders Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick difficulty in hailing Parisian cabs while AirBnB came from Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky’s struggles with San Francisco rents.

Now as smartphones and mobile internet starts to become available to those in less wealthy parts of the world, we’re seeing how these concepts can be applied to problems more widespread.

A good example of this is the project to map Nairobi’s matatu minibus network where researchers used smartphones to create a picture of the city’s seemingly chaotic system of privately owned vehicles.

With some modifications, the data can be fed into Google’s transit map format that allows the routes to found on Google Maps.

The next logical step for this is for entrepreneurs, possibly even Uber, to entice matatu operators to use Uber like apps to track the location of minibuses and give passengers better payment options. It’s quite possible we’re seeing the start of an evolution into a new type of transit network using independent, privately owned vehicles bound together by an app based platform offering city wide public transport.

Similarly, in Cuba the room sharing service AirBnB is seeing the country’s informal private accommodation market as being an opportunity not only to expand its market but to help the country deal with the massive influx of US tourists now relations with the two countries have been normalised.

While the disruption to established markets from these new services has been huge, it may be the biggest effects are in developing countries where the economy and governments have reached the stage of development where powerful regulators work with incumbents to stymie competition.

In which case, today’s developing nations will see very different structures in their industries to those in the developed west that were built around 19th and 20th century technologies.

Image “A matatu” by Jociku – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons – 

Aug 282015
Air New Zealand Boeing 777-300

Possibly the holy grail of business is to find a product that your customers will pay almost anything for.

In flight Wi-Fi service provider GoGo may be close to achieving that with a product that business customers depend upon. The New York Times describes how the company has found it can use dynamic pricing to customise its prices for each flight.

One of the limitations GoGo faces is the connections between the aircraft and the ground stations is narrow so a plane full of bandwidth hungry travellers will quickly bring everyone’s service to a crawl.

To overcome this – and to make more money – the service has developed algorithms to anticipate the demand on each flight and then customise the charges to suit.

In many respects what we’re seeing with GoGo is similar to services like Uber where fast, intelligent systems can analyse traffic patterns and use the predicted demand to set prices. It’s the ultimate demand driven economy.

Over time, this model is going to flow out across many industries – the airline industry leads the way in pricing around demand management – and consumers need to get used to the idea of a fixed price tag being a quaint memory.


Aug 272015

If you’re in the ABC Canberra area at 4.05pm, I’ll be talking about this with Adam Shirley. Listen live here.

One of the most frustrating statements in modern business is “you’ll have to send a fax.”

Facsimile machines, once the pinnacle of 1980s business communications although they were first invented in 1843, started to die once the internet became common and email became the dominant messaging system.

Once dial up modems started becoming standard on computers, receiving faxes electronically became feasible and for while businesses struggled with the notoriously unreliable software to receive facsimile messages without the hassle of paper.

Eventually however they passed away as most business found there was no need for faxes and anything requiring a signature could be electronically signed or a scan of the original document sent.

Some industries and sectors – particularly the legal world and some government agencies – still hold out the need to send an ‘original’ by fax, party under the fallacy a facsimile copy is more secure, reliable and legally more valid than an email or electronically lodged document.

During the ABC Canberra program one listener pointed out the medical industry is dependent upon the older technologies, “we couldn’t operate without them” she told the producers. In a time of connected medical equipment and electronic data interchange, the medical industry has little justification in using outdated manual methods but habits die hard in a very conservative industry.

None of the myths around the reliability of fax are true and the reality is details sent by fax are just as easily intercepted by nefarious employees or third parties as emails. In many respects a fax is less secure than electronically interchanged data.

If you do have the need to send or receive a fax though all is not lost, services like eFax will still send or receive messages and then, ironically, email them onto you.

However there is a downside with these services, as one harried PA whose organisation still receives faxes due to its dealings with the legal profession described, the vast bulk of messages they receive are junk messages mainly offering cheap deals on office supplies.

The fax machine is another example of a transition effect where a stop gap product was effective for a short period as businesses adapted to new technologies, the SMS is going through a similar process now. Neither will be the last example of this.

Aug 202015

One of the defining features of the next decade’s successful businesses is how they manage data. No company has a greater challenge in dealing with information than Google.

In a feature tracking Google’s evolving data centres, Techcrunch describes how the company has dealt with the challenge of being the web’s repository.

The challenge has been huge, Google’s current Jupiter network delivers a petabit each second, a hundred times more capacity than its first-generation network and in 2005.

Google boasts 10,000 of their servers are capable of reading all of the scanned data in the Library of Congress in less than a tenth of a second.

While most businesses won’t need that sort of capacity in the near future, the exponential growth Google has dealt with is the same issue facing most managers and business owners as more devices, staff and customers become connected.

For most organisations, dealing with that dramatic growth is almost impossible and this is why automated services running on the cloud will become even more a part of daily working life. Those services will be running on the technology Google is developing today.




Aug 072015
the web is new neon sign

Michael Rubenstein, President of AppNexus is the first interview for a while on the Decoding the New Economy channel.

Rubenstein joined AppNexus as employee number 18 in 2009 and has been part of the company’s growth from a small startup to a global technology company with a workforce of 1,000 professionals.

AppNexus is one of the new wave of companies managing and programming online advertising, helping advertisers and publishers target their products better while giving ad tech companies deeper insights and data.

In this interview, Rubenstein discusses some of the forces changing global advertising along with the challenges of dealing with a high growth business.

Apologies for the bad hair on my part.

Aug 052015

“The days of getting a PhD to get your businesses online are over” declared James Carroll, GoDaddy’s International Executive Vice President last week on a visit to Sydney.

GoDaddy is the world’s biggest internet domain name registration service and Carroll was in Australia to promote the expansion of the company’s local operations.

Australia’s a prime target for the company with nearly half the nation’s two million businesses not having a web presence. “I think there’s an awareness issue about the skill that are needed to get online,” says Carroll.

GoDaddy’s Australia and New Zealand country manager Tara Commerford suggested two reasons why small businesses aren’t going online, “I think it’s lack of awareness and people don’t know how to do it”.

Commerford suggests that simplified online tools are making it easier along with the easy access to other platforms like social media and location online services.

The problem though is these tools are not new, this blog has been discussing how companies need to get online for years and yet the proportion of small businesses getting a web presence has remained fixed around the fifty percent mark.

One of the barriers to getting online is confusion and the new top level domains haven’t helped this by muddying the message about which domains they should be registering under. This is only increasing the fear among small business owners that going online is complex, expensive and risky.

It’s understandable that domain registrars like GoDaddy would push the new domains given the industry’s low margins and need for scale, but that’s not the problem for smaller operators.

The problem for small businesses is getting the basics right with with a mobile friendly website, particularly for hospitality and tourism operators. Having the right domain name is an important first start of an important journey for most businesses.