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Do You Know Who Owns Your Company?
Globalization a...

by kochikvp In reply to The Webquarters

<span style="font-size:130%;"><strong>Do You Know Who Owns Your Company?<br /></strong></span><em>Globalization and the Law of Unintended Consequences</em><br /><br />The acquisition of a British company by a Dubai-based company this month has US lawmakers in a tizzy. Why?<br /><br />The British company is the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (better known as P&O), which is being acquired by Dubai Ports World for $6.8 Billion. And no, the brouhaha has nothing to do with sentiment, although P&O is a hoary old company and one of the great names in shipping. It is because this acquisition will give DP World control over significant operations at six major US ports.<br /><br />A similar lather resulted when a Chinese company <a href="http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/archives/2005/08/on_chinese_owne_1.html">tried to buy </a>the US company Unocal recently. These are however cases where tracing true ownership was fairly straightforward. As globalization goes deeper, this is likely to change.<br /><br />This brings home the sobering lesson: In an increasingly globalized world, corporate ownership will get more and more opaque. Who knows who owns the company which is headquartered in a tax haven, and that just bought 3% of your equity?<br /><br />This is one more big challenge (not that they needed any more) for company promoters, regulators, shareholders, and anyone with a stake in good corporate governance.<p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://webquarters.blogspot.com/2006/02/do-you-know-who-owns-your-company.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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Google: Searching for More...
Can Google be more t...

by kochikvp In reply to The Webquarters

<div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<span style="font-size:130%;">
<strong>Google: Searching for More...<br />
</strong>
</span>
<em>Can Google be more than a one-trick pony?</em>
<br />
<br />Google is undoubtedly one of the most innovative companies around. However, despite several laudable initiatives, the company still remains woefully dependent on one source for its revenues - getting people to click on ads embedded in web pages.<br />
<br />I find such a business model less than inspiring - personally I have clicked on such embedded ads perhaps less than 10 times in the thousands of sites I have surfed. Why should I, when I know it will only open one more window on my already-cluttered desktop, sidetrack me from the task I was accessing the Web for in the first place, and probably only try to sell me something I don't really need?! To get me to set myself up like that, the ad would need to say or show something very alluring indeed - and that's not easy, given that the average embedded ad in a web page occupies perhaps a few square inches.<br />Print ads do not suffer from at least the first two of these drawbacks - the whole ad is already present right there on the page of the newspaper or magazine you're reading, and it can also be quite large, giving more play to the copywriter's creativity.<br />
<br />Besides, the click-thru revenue model is rife with fraud - people can spoof, use bots, etc. to artificially boost or skew such clickstream data. Google can - for no fault of its own - find its credibility undermined by such fraud. And the fraudsters, whoever they may be, are only likely to get better at it.<br />
<br />Tuesday's sell-off appears to confirm that the belief, widely held until a few months ago, that Google has huge upside was overblown.<br />
<br />Admittedly, Google has many aces up its <a href="http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/02/update-on-payments_24.html">sleeve</a>, but one only wishes they would convert these into actual revenue streams as fast as they can.</div><p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://webquarters.blogspot.com/2006/03/google-searching-for-more.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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A Virtuous "Cyc"le

by kochikvp In reply to The Webquarters

<div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<em>How Common Sense is Uncommon, and Why Computers Need it Badly</em>
<br />
<div align="justify">
<br />When I first learnt about computers in college in 1982, it seemed logical to me that computers must have common sense. However, that turned out to be far from true. I was astounded at the level of detail that a computer programmer must get down to, in writing a program to solve even the most trivial problem. While things have improved in the intervening two-and-a-half decades, programming computers to solve problems remains a task for people with specialized knowledge, and so-called 'High-level' programming languages remain far, far less sophisticated than natural languages.<br />
<br />That state of affairs, however, is not due to lack of effort by the Computer Science research community. Much work has focused on Natural-language (NL) processing, or figuring out how to make computers smart enough to allow humans to interact with them as though they were other people. This may sound easy enough, but has turned out to be stupefyingly complex - for example, there probably isn't a computer in the world today that could read and understand the previous sentence (<span style="font-size:85%;">the greatest difficulty it would find would be to understand that the word "they" in that sentence refers to computers, and not humans, which is the immediately preceding noun in that sentence!</span&gt.<br />
<br />NL processing is crucial if we are to ever make computers truly easier for humans to use, in applications ranging from teaching kids to making cars easier to drive.<br />
<br />It is thus that the story of <a href="http://www.cyc.com">Cyc</a>, a brainchild of former Stanford Professor Michael Lenat, is staggering. This project has soldiered on for two whole decades in search of the laudable goal of imparting common sense to computers. An excerpt from their site: </div>
<div align="justify" />
<div align="justify">
<blockquote>
<div align="justify">"Natural-language (NL) processing is among the most studied -- and most intractable -- challenges of software engineering. Consider the following pair of sentences: </div>
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<div align="justify" />
<div align="justify" />
<div align="justify">
<em />
</div>
<div align="justify">
<em>Fred saw the plane flying over Zurich. </em>
</div>
<div align="justify">
<em>Fred saw the mountains flying over Zurich. </em>
</div>
<div align="justify" />
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<div align="justify">Humans have little difficulty in recognizing that in the first sentence, "flying" probably refers to the plane, while in the second sentence, "flying" almost certainly refers to Fred. Traditional NL systems will have difficulty resolving this syntactic ambiguity, but because Cyc knows that planes fly and mountains do not, it will be able to reject nonsensical interpretations. It's difficult to see how this could be done without relying on a large database of common sense."</div>
</blockquote>
</div>
<div align="justify">Cyc has two things: a Knowledge Base (KB), which consists of what Cyc "knows", and an Inference Engine(IE), which Cyc uses to make sense of what it knows. The Cyc KB contains nearly two hundred thousand terms and several hundred thousand assertions, or rules, connecting these terms. New assertions are continually added to the KB by human workers. The whole project is still far from achieving it's goal, but it's making progress. </div>
<div align="justify"> </div>
<div align="justify">MIT's <a href="http://www.openmind.org">Open Mind Project</a> is another example of an initiative directed towards making computers understand things that human beings take for granted. </div>
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<div align="justify">It has been said that common sense is uncommon (even among humans). But that is no excuse for computers not to have plenty of it. Maybe one of these days, we'll actually see a computer that talks - and listens to - common sense!</div>
</div><p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://webquarters.blogspot.com/2006/05/virtuous-cycle_18.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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The Rise and Rise of Social Computing

by kochikvp In reply to The Webquarters

<div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<em>Power to the people<br />
</em>
<br />Social Computing is the name given to a slew of technologies that collectively allow people to pool their knowledge, keep in touch with and interact better with others who belong to their community. Two key principles of social computing (or social software) are that it is highly <em>participatory</em>, and it is <em>evolutionary </em>? which taken together mean content that constantly moves in such a direction as to better reflect the knowledge, beliefs, opinions and /or aspirations of a community. Wikis, blogs, sites that allow sharing such as flickr.com, networking sites such as ryze.com and linkedin.com, and sites that allow more complex social interactions, such as myspace.com are increasingly being seen as the 'Killer-app' of Web 2.0, much as email - itself a key enabler of social computing - was to the original Web.<br />
<br />The stellar rise in the popularity of email in the 90s (the number of users skyrocketed from a few thousand at the beginning of that decade, to several hundred million at the end of it) clearly provides a pointer to the potential that social computing has - people are ever eager to take up technologies that will help them meet their social needs better.<br />
<br />Another sign of coming of age of a new technology bubbling up from the masses is large corporations taking note of that technology. And sure enough, <a href="http://yahoo.com">Yahoo </a>is doing its bit on the social computing front, having acquired sites such as del.ici.ous. Now, the real big 'un is weighing in. Says <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/may2006/tc20060517_338472.htm?campaign_id=nws_insdr_may19&link_position=link13">Business Week</a>,<br />
<br />
<blockquote>
<p>"Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server 2007, due in October, will include a new technology called Knowledge Network, designed to help co-workers find colleagues with the expertise they need. For workers who opt in, Knowledge Network automatically scans their contact lists, e-mails, and e-mail distribution lists to create a profile. That way, co-workers can search for expertise among their colleagues to gain specific knowledge that can help with business decision-making". </p>
<p />
</blockquote>This of course, is nothing new to the Knowledge Management (KM) fraternity, which has always striven to support people-to-people sharing techologies. Sure enough, a lot of what has been learnt and practised by KM thinkers and practitioners over the past few years is finding expression now in the traction that social computing is getting. So, it's no surprise that the Economist Intelligence Unit, in its <a href="www.eiu.com/foresight2020">report</a>, <em>Foresight 2020: Economic, Industrial and Corporate Trends </em>identifies Knowledge Management as one of the 5 trends that will shape the world of business and economy in the coming 15 years.<br />
<br />In sum, all of this goes to show that technology is making progress towards meeting its <a href="http://webquarters.blogspot.com/2006/03/wisdom-of-wiki-whats-secret-of.html">basic premise</a>, which is more power to the people!</div><p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://webquarters.blogspot.com/2006/05/rise-and-rise-of-social-computing.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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The Late Lamented Serendipity?

by kochikvp In reply to The Webquarters

<div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<em>Reports that the internet has killed serendipity are greatly exaggerated</em>
<br />
<br />A vigorous debate* has been sparked by an <a href="http://www.sptimes.com/2006/03/26/news_pf/Perspective/The_endangered_joy_of.shtml">op-ed article </a>written by Dr. William McKeen, a University of Florida Professor of Journalism, which in essence argues that the internet has made information so easy to find that the joy of stumbling on information that you didn't know existed has been killed off.<br />
<br />I recommend the following to anybody who thinks the internet has consigned serendipity** to the dustbin: next time you visit any website, just look around at the various links on whichever page you are on. You are certain to see at least one or two links that, while being unrelated to your current search, look like they may offer something interesting enough to check out. Use the "Open link in new window" feature to open the page to which that link leads without distracting you from whatever topic you are currently trying to get information on. Later on, when you have some leisure on your hands, you can go back to these windows lying open on your desktop and read those pages. I do this all the time, and because of this, end up getting information on far more topics from each surfing session than I ever set out to get. Long live Serendipity.<br />
<br />Nevertheless, the perception that serendipity has lost out in the internet age has, in my opinion, some basis. The reasons have to do with both technology and mindset:<br />
<br />1. Low bandwidth ensures that the cost of "internet digression" such as the above is often prohibitive.<br />2. Newer web access devices such as handhelds, mobile phones, etc. suffer from limitations that make it difficult to digress in the above manner.<br />3. Above all, the attention deficit nature of our society ensures that we just <em>do not want</em> to digress as above. In the old days when we used to visit libraries to dig for information, we were just more willing to allow ourselves to digress. And that is the real reason for the perceived loss of serendipity.<br />
<br />As with many other developments - technological or otherwise - that we regard as the bane of society, it is not so much that things around us have changed - it is that <em>we </em>have changed!<br />__________________________________________<br />
<span style="font-size:85%;">* See, for example, </span>
<a href="http://www.roughtype.com/">
<span style="font-size:85%;">Nicholas Carr's blog</span>
</a>
<br />
<br />
<span style="font-size:85%;">** Incidentally, the word serendipity comes from an old name for the island of Sri Lanka, <em>
<a href="http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=serendipity">Serendip</a>
</em>.</span>
</div><p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://webquarters.blogspot.com/2006/06/late-lamented-serendipity.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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YAPOO (Yet Another Premature and Obnoxious Obituary)

by kochikvp In reply to The Webquarters

<div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<em>Premature Obituaries are flying thick and fast</em>
<br />
<em />
<br />The human race appears to have a peculiar fixation with proclamations of death (including its own - I recall at least a dozen predictions of the end of the world from the 1970s thru the 1990s - complete with precise date and time!).<br />
<br />I <a href="http://webquarters.blogspot.com/2006/06/late-lamented-serendipity.html">wrote </a>a couple of days ago about the premature reports of the death of serendipity. Well, the latest occupant of the deathbed appears to be the Wikipedia. Nicholas Carr <a href="http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2006/05/the_death_of_wi.php">writes</a>,<br />
<br />
<blockquote />
<span style="font-size:85%;">"</span>
<br />
<span style="font-size:85%;">Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that "anyone can edit," was a nice experiment in the "democratization" of publishing, but it didn't quite work out. Wikipedia is dead. There was a time when, indeed, pretty much anyone could edit pretty much anything on Wikipedia. A few months ago,... the Wikipedian powers-that-be abandoned the work's founding ideal of being the "ULTIMATE 'open' format" and tightened the restrictions on editing. The administrators adopted an "official policy" of what they called, in good Orwellian fashion, "semi-protection" to prevent "vandals" (also known as people) from messing with their open encyclopedia. The end came last Friday. That's when Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, proposed "that we eliminate the requirement that semi-protected articles have to announce themselves as such to the general public."</span>
<br />
<span style="font-size:85%;">"</span>
<br />
<br />This suggestion has, predictably enough, been widely and vociferously <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/techbeat/archives/2006/05/the_wikipedia_d.html">pilloried</a>. Let me share my view: As I wrote in the <a href="http://webquarters.blogspot.com/2006/03/wisdom-of-wiki-whats-secret-of.html">Wisdom of the Wiki</a>, it appears easy to scoff at the notion of an encyclopedia - which by definition is supposed to be the epitome of accuracy, authority, and accountability - that was created in such an apparently loose, disorganized and open manner, allowing any unschooled person with an internet connection to update it. However, amazing as it may seem, we must accept that the Wikipedia has come to be a truly reliable and authoritative source of knowledge - anyone who goes thru it in any degree of detail will be able to attest to that.<br />
<br />Thus, proclamations of its death, if any, must be done based on establishing that it no longer serves the purpose of providing a reliable reference source, or at least that it has abandoned the spirit of what constitutes a 'wiki'. Proclaiming its death based on a change in the administrative procedure that makes it somewhat less 'open' is, apart from being unnecessarily alarmist, completely unjustified, given that it continues to be as reliable as ever, and continues to be a wiki in spirit.<br />
<br />In addition, the change in administrative procedure is not surprising or unfamiliar to anyone who has created such a repository that depends on submissions from a large number of contributors: in the initial stages, the focus is on getting a large volume of content, and so you allow a very high degree of openness. As the volume of content builds up, the focus steadily shifts toward quality, and so you tighten the contribution mechanism. And that is what seems to be happening at the greatest Wiki of 'em all.</div><p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://webquarters.blogspot.com/2006/06/yapoo-yet-another-premature-and.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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Google and the Circle of Life

by kochikvp In reply to The Webquarters

<em>Exit Silicon Graphics, enter Google: And life goes on..</em><br /><br />Google's mystique only increases. Can you think of another company whose <em>headquarters</em> has been the subject of so much hype, speculation and rumor? If a latter-day, corporate version of historic Xanadu* exists, surely the storied <strong>Googleplex </strong>is a strong claimant for that title.<br /><br />Need evidence to believe? A Google search for "Googleplex" produces 900,000 hits. Time has recently done a photoessay on <a href="http://www.time.com/time/photoessays/2006/inside_google/">life in the Googleplex</a>**.<br /><br />And now comes a report that Google is building a hush-hush piece of its Googleplex on the windswept Oregon-Washington border. How hush-hush, you say? Reports the <a href="http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/06/13/business/search.php">IHT</a>,<br /><br /><blockquote><span style="font-size:85%;">The design and even the nature of the Google center in this industrial and agricultural outpost 80 miles east of Portland, Oregon, has been a closely guarded corporate secret. Many local officials in The Dalles, including the city attorney and the city manager, said they could not comment on<br />the Google data center project, referred to locally as Project 02, because they signed confidentiality agreements with the company last year.<br />"No one says the 'G' word," said Diane Sherwood, who, as executive director of the Port of Klickitat, Washington, directly across the river from The Dalles, is not bound by such agreements. "It's a little bit like 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named' in Harry Potter."</span> </span></blockquote><br /><p></p><p align="left">But one thing about the Googleplex struck me as a poignant irony: it leases buildings that are owned by, and formerly housed, that great Silicon Valley giant of yesteryear, Silicon Graphics. Now that SGI is in bankruptcy, Google is in the process of buying those buildings. Says the<br />San Jose <a href="http://sanjose.bizjournals.com/sanjose/stories/2006/06/12/daily47.html?surround=etf">Business Journal</a>:<br /></p><blockquote><span style="font-size:85%;">If SGI's bankruptcy goes through, Google expects the transaction to close no later than the end of June.</span><br /></blockquote><p align="left">The circle of life. Sigh.<br />__________________________</span></p><p><span style="font-size:85%;">* Xanadu was the fabled <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanadu">summer capital </a>of Kublai Khan, the wonders of which were extolled to Europeans by Western explorers such as Marco Polo</span></p><p><span style="font-size:85%;">** there is a "factory tour" of the plex among the superb set of Google videos linked from the Google blog <a href="http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/03/robots-and-writers-and-googlers-oh-my.html">here</a>. </span></p><p><span style="font-size:85%;"></span></p><p></p><p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://webquarters.blogspot.com/2006/06/google-and-circle-of-life.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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