Archive for February, 2007

Will you bet on Local Search ?

Written by: Vivek Garg

On Feb 26th, 2007

Local search has been a very interesting challenge and alot of old and new companies are taking a stab. Lets look at this entire continuum and where each player sits. Radical idea is to find information that is geo tagged. This information can be as granular as lat-long or as coarse as a city name. So when you setup a shop to solve local search, first question is how do you collect & tag this information? How do you present this informaton so that it creates the most wholesome experience? How do you make money from this high investment business?

You can start with smart-crawling the web. I call it smart crawling because you dont crawl everything like a general purpose search engine. You need to identify and extract local information given a webpage. Dedupe listings that occurs on multiple pages. Lets says you write a kickass neural network that labels & classify this information. How does it know which one is real address? How do you verify the information you have is correct? You start thinking about this and realize that there are directory listing services that is accumulating such information forever. So you get feeds from yellow pages. There is a problem of matching different feed formats along with crawled information. This is where most of the current search engines are today. Google/Yahoo/Live/Guruji can do “crawl + feeds” using existing infrastructure.

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tolmolbol – newest entrant in your local community

Written by: Vivek Garg

On Feb 25th, 2007

We recently spoke to tolmolbol, one of the newer players in India trying to make a mark in online local community/search space. This space is already crowded with the names like Ilaaka, Burrp, Onyomo, Sulekha. Ourcity and Guruji. Not to forget Google, Yahoo and Live search are/will be joining this game in India. This space now officially qualifies for “Indian fragmentation syndrome” similar to travel & DVD rental. Opportunity is there but not enough to attract a national play. Lot of smaller companies will trail the blaze and accumulate disjoint information about various localities in India. This should eventually get consolidated and customers are going to be benefitted with yet another addition. Here is tolmolbol (this name reminds me of tol-mol-ke-bol – the famous game show based on Monty hall problem), but that is just me.

1. What motivated you to start this venture?

The biggest motivation for starting tolmolbol stemmed from our frustration with not being able to find and locate dependable information about our localities. We couldn’t find a single online resource that provided a directory of local businesses and services across Indian cities. There was no platform at a national level for Indians to collectively voice their opinions about local businesses. And we were fed up with experiencing first-hand the indifferent attitude of service providers towards customers. Furthermore, there was no single portal for the entire neighborhood where members of the community could share tips, post classifieds, communicate events, meet interesting people in their vicinity or leverage the knowledge of their local social networks. tolmolbol is the outcome of our effort to address all of these problems.

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The great Indian blogosphere – a business opportunity?

Written by: Madhur

On Feb 20th, 2007

There has been quite a bit of talk in the mainstream media as well as in the blogosphere about the blogging phenomenon in India. If the numbers are to be believed, they are quite significant. 35% of the entire Internet users expressing themselves through blogs! Not a bad number to start with. Also considering that China is much ahead at 77% as well as the fact that number of Internet users in India is set to explode in the next few years, the bloggers and readers represent quite an attractive segment to me.

Now the question is whether there exists an unsolved problem in this domain? Look at this virtual world where all these bloggers live in – the Indian blogosphere. Now think of ways how people explore this world. There are some tools such as blog aggregators, a few scattered blog directories, some search engines, but nothing really compelling. I find it difficult to discover new interesting Indian blogs. There is no way good way for me to search the Indian blogosphere. No good way to find what others are reading.

Here’s a solution – think of technorati with a dash of mybloglog with India focus. Following is what it would do:

Top blog lists: Indibloggies is doing a good job in bringing top blogs to the fore on an annual basis, but keeping track of them on an ongoing basis (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) would require algorithmic means like technorati employs – based on how frequently a particular blog is linked, how many daily subscribers, how many readers mark the blog as their favorite, etc.

Discovery of new and interesting blogs: Once you have an active technorati like community, blogs can be discovered based on categories, tags, what people are commenting on etc. Services like Desipundit and Blogbharti are doing a great job in surfacing great content from across the Indian blogosphere, but making it scalable for really catching all the little blogs everywhere would again require a combination of community activity and algorithmic ways of doing this.

Blog search: If all the Indian blogs give a ping shot to this service, the blogs can be indexed and effectively searched with Google Blogsearch like service, focused on Indian blogs. We have ourselves created a Google customized search engine to do our research for posts – try out the search box on the top right corner (make sure to select the radio button to “iLeher trusted sources”).

Integration with news: One of the very widespread patterns in the blogosphere is someone (mainstream media or one of the blogs) breaks the news and others write their opinions on that topic. Wouldn’t it be nice if you can see listings of top news everyday and see what bloggers are talking about those news items?

What are your thoughts? How do you navigate through the Indian ocean of blogs? Would you like to see an Indian technorati?

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A Remote Retail Business – guest post by Sanjay Mehta of Homeindia.com

Written by: Madhur

On Feb 15th, 2007

In this guest post written by Mr. Sanjay Mehta – the president of Homeindia.com, he shares his experiences and insights from doing online retail business geared towards Indian customers. He describes Homeindia’s journey over the period of last 7 years, that has seen it all – the start, the boom, the bust and today’s rising wave. The article presents excellent all-rounded points on various business aspects including but not limited to product positioning, customer focus and sailing through the highs and lows of economic conditions. Needless to say, the article has lots to take home for entrepreneurs in the Indian Internet space. Many thanks to Sanjay for sharing this with our readers. Feel free to present your thoughts and even ask questions to Sanjay, if you have any. [If you have a story to share which fits the theme of iLeher and would like to publish, please contact madhur at iLeher dot com]

Here goes the story in his own words:

When you think retail, you think walk-in, you think proximity. And yet, we are running a retail business where we are thousands of miles away from our nearest customer!

Yes, I refer to our e-retail business, running at Homeindia.com, where we have focused exclusively on customers outside of India. Even today, nearly 7 years after starting this business, it fascinates me that sitting in a small office in Lower Parel, Mumbai, we are selling ethnic Indian products to customers located in far flung areas, all over the world.

We evolved into this. Starting from a pioneering, first of its kind web-to-snail-mail service (“Online Post”) that we launched in 1998, then extending to other services for NRIs, and then to a gifting service for NRIs, and finally evolving into this present state of an e-retailer, catering to NRIs and non-Indians, outside India.

I thank Madhur for inviting me to make this guest posting, and I take the opportunity to share some stray thoughts emerging out of the learnings of our journey of the last 6-7 years:

1. While we could have opened up our store to the Indian customer, it is clear that the customer in India is very different from the customer outside India. A single brand, a single URL will be hard pressed to do justice to both of these customer types, at the same time. From merchandising, to presentation, to pricing, and to the key value proposition offered, these will be entirely different for the two customer types. Even the quality of service that one needs to give to the customer, and which one can afford to give to the customer, varies a lot, between these two markets. As an organization also, this means two different cultures or attitudes, which cannot co-exist easily. So where we see many others attempting to address both of these markets simultaneously, it is our firm belief that we need to be focused to a market, and ensure that we have the best offering for that market.

2. Back in 1998-99, the decision to go NRI or India, was a simple one. There was no serious user base or market in India, and the NRI space certainly appeared far more attractive. Today, one may actually sit back and think – where should one rather be. And of course, each one will come to their own conclusion. For us, it still remains a relatively simple question to answer. The Indian consumer still has a distance to go before he embraces online shopping, especially for products that are otherwise in easy reach of his, in the offline world. There will be some early adaptors, and there will be specific unique product niches, where traction will happen. However on a mass acceptance front, I believe, it is still a while away. On the other hand, the market outside India has got only more attractive. In addition to the NRI, we see an increasing interest in things Indian, from foreigners – Americans, Europeans, etc. With the increasing interest in India, there is an increasing interest in things Indian. And while finding the specific customer/s for Indian products in the large global population may be like finding needles in a haystack, yet, once found, these needles are made of gold and diamond tipped – essentially in terms of what they buy, the transaction size, etc. So the search is worth the while!

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NetTV and NetPC: The harbingers of a new era?

Written by: Abhinav

On Feb 12th, 2007

[via Atanu]

Internet is still a niche market segment in India, a point borne out by the numbers. Anand Sridharan, in his analysis of the current state of the Internet in India, captures the reasons behind it and also takes a look ahead as to what it takes to increase the usage of Internet in India.
It is well understood that if the Internet economy is to really take off in India, it has to reach down from the upper (and upper-middle class sections) and penetrate the lower middle class. This is the population segment that the mobile phone market has been able to penetrate and consequently made India one of the fastest growing mobile markets in the world!

If cheap (“Made for India”) handsets and ever-reducing call charges have made the mobile ubiquitous in India, can the Internet (and computing) industry in India ride on the equivalent – cheap computers and affordable internet access? Novatium, a Chennai-based company co-founded by Rajesh Jain and Ashok Jhunjhunwala, seems to think so. Novatium which aims to provide “Computing for the next billion” uses thin computing to reduce costs for end-users. Thin computing, in Novatium’s own words, is “the process by which the complex computing tasks move to a central server (s) and the client desktop is relatively simple to just access what is being processed. The client desktop also becomes the interface between the human and the complex processor of the server. Some of the immediate benefits that this process delivers is a hugely manageable, secure and optimized computing setup”

MSNBC/Newsweek features Novatium.

What do you think? Is this the way computing will reach the next billion? Does Novatium have what it takes?

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State of online audio streaming

Written by: Madhur

On Feb 7th, 2007

DesiHits recently made waves by raising first round of funding from Draper Fisher Jurvetson ventures. Goes to demonstrate the potential that the online audio/video streaming has and yet I didn’t know of too many serious players that are hugely popular yet. Of course there are old players Raaga and MusicIndiaOnline which have been around for quite some time and have a considerable user base and traffic, but they just seem to be too busy making money off of those popups and banner ads and audio ads. There’s been hardly any innovation (not even in the look ‘n feel!) in these sites. So I went hunting for the new generation of players that are trying to make their mark in this space and here are the findings. As you would expect, I could find sites not only in the category of streaming bollywood music, but also sites that provide cool ways of finding and discovering new music. I am only covering audio sites here – video would be a whole new post.

Streaming music: Dhingana is a new generation online music streaming site. Basic concept is same as Raaga, but has much better quality of songs and provides enhanced functionalities for searching and sharing.

Music search: Sangeetix leverages the already existing music files and podcasts on the Internet by indexing them and provides the users the capability to search all those files.

New music discovery: Radioverve, JhankarBeats help you find the works of upcoming musicians and artists. Consistent with the Web2.0 trend, there’s also a social networking portal centered around audio/video sharing called SaffronConnect.

Podcasts: This phenomenon is catching up very fast in India. The list of players is increasing everyday, some of the major ones being Podtech India (tech podcasts), Indicast (general news), PodMasti (bollywood talk), Podbazaar (news and entertainment), Kamla Bhatt show (life, people, ideas), etc. Here is a review of some of these podcasting sites.

Conclusion: There’s quite a few upcoming players covering a variety of activities around online streaming music. The good thing going for these players is that even though the brandband penetration is still very low, the NRI market is quite large. So if they consistently provide good service and keep innovating, at least some of them can make it big, when broadband hits the critical mass in India. One service that I would have loved, but couldn’t find was to listen to some of the local FM radio channels like RadioMirchi, RadioCity etc. on the Internet. Seems like Indiatimes would be a logical site that could provide this? Also on a side note, Rediff closed their Internet radio station that it used to have a while back. Wonder what could be the reason for that?

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Makeover

Written by: Madhur

On Feb 5th, 2007

It’s a material world, appearance is everything. In this world of web2.0 you cannot have a site that doesn’t have AJAX. Wait, we are not big proponents of any of these beliefs. We just thought it was time we moved on from using one of the default WordPress themes and created a unique identity of our own. So here we are – check out the new design and layout.

Of course let us know if you think we can do anything more to make the appearance, usability, navigation or ability to find stuff better. Oh and while on feedback topic, also let us know if you have any on the content. As mentioned in the About page, we like to focus more on analysis type posts rather than covering news/developments in the industry. What do YOU like to see here? What have been some of your favorite posts? Anything you would like to see that we haven’t been covering?

Lastly and most importantly, many thanks to V.V.K. Chandra of BrightEye, who helped us with the design and implementation of this new look and feel. Kudos to all his creative ideas, implementation skills, and the patience he kept while doing numerous iterations on the design.

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