Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Speedtile Shared Bookmarks

Speedtile LogoI often get asked by my students about my favorite search engines, my favorite help sites, my favorite e-commerce information pages etc. - so, I thought this might be an opportunity to share my bookmarks with not only my students – but the world at large.

In searching for a good bookmarking service, I came across – a visual bookmarking service which is just freaking awesome! and with its firefox plugin, all I need to do is right click the web page I want to bookmark, and its done (as long as I’m logged into my speedtile account). For those who haven’t used Speedtile before, I really encourage you to give it a try. You can organize your bookmarks in different categories (structured as tabs on the website) and decide which specific ones you’d like to share by simply dragging and dropping the snapshots into the shared tab.In your profile, you can also select a label which will be used to personalize the URL for your shared bookmarks. In my case, I created two accounts – one to share my search engine and help sites bookmarks, and the other to share my ecommerce bookmarks.

The respective URLs are as follows:

The other good thing about speedtile is their fast and easy sign-up/registration process. I can’t remember the last time I gave out information only relevant to the service I’m signing up for. The registration form only asks for an email address and a password ! yeap… that’s it – check it out for yourself.

So check out speedtile, and check out my shared bookmarks at the URLs above. Let me know if I missed anything big from these bookmarks. I suspect I’ll be updating these on a regular basis.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

CanPages brings Street View to Canada - Move over Google!

CanPagesLike many other people I know, I’ve been waiting anxiously for Google Street View to be launched in Canada. It seems that Google has had some difficulty in complying with the federal privacy legislation in Canada, and that’s the primary reason why the service hasn’t made it here just yet.

The main issue here is the high-resolution personal images and other identifiable information (e.g. car license plates) that have sometimes accompanied Google’s street view in the other countries where it was launched previously (including U.S., U.K. and France). Collecting personal images without the explicit consent of the people in those images is a prohibited practice under Canada’s Personal Inform
ation Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

So while Google is getting ready to start filming Canadian cities, Canadians have another alternative to check out. We now have our own Street View equivalent in some cities - thanks to the partnership between the British Columbia-based yellow pages directory service provider, and San Francisco-based MapJack.

By my own initial assessment, the street view service offered by CanPages is a strong contender for Google Street View. In fact, I’ve seen features in that I haven’t seen in Google Street View – e.g. high resolution full screen mode, pedestrian pathway views, image configuration, and did I mention pedestrian pathway views. The virtual 360 degree panning works pretty well too.

The service has been launched in Vancouver and some other parts of British Columbia, perhaps rightly so, given the timeline for the Winter Olympics in 2010. I suspect the service will be a hit with the tourists!

To check out the various features myself, I decided to virtual walk the part of the city that I’m most familiar with from my last visit to Vancouver. Since the service is primarily a yellow pages service, I had to supply a business name or a landmark to get started, and I searched for the Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel in Vancouver where I’ve stayed previously. Once the listing was displayed, I clicked on the Street View option and panned 180 degrees to get to the front view of the hotel building (see screenshot below).

Notice the various visual aids such as zoom, pan, and full-screen options, as well as the inline blue dots where more views of the street are available. Also, a small cartoon figure (let's call him virtual voyager) appears on the street map for orientation and reference (pretty cool!).

Here’s a screenshot of the full-screen view (size reduced for posting here of course). It truly allows users to immerse themselves into the cityscape.

In terms of its business model, the new Street View offering is aligned with CanPages’ yellow pages service, as it provides advertisers – especially local businesses an innovative means of reaching the website's visitors. Specifically, when a user clicks on a storefront in Street View, he/she will get to see a local profile of the business, and possibly other relevant links to video advertisements, website URL, and general information such as hours of operation or restaurant menus in the case of food service locations.

Overall, I think it’s a sound business offering as it comprises enough originality to spark end-user interest and also presents long-term functional value to the consumer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

B-school Bashing in Overdrive!

It seems like B-School are being bashed left right and center this past week, and MBA programs are being blamed for the current financial mess that we’re in. I’ve also read various opinion editorial pieces and heard interviews of faculty members who have commented on the role business schools have played directlyor indirectly in leading to the current financial mess. Notably, the academics who’re chiming in have been from all tiers of schools… from Harvard to Stanford to McGill to Dalhousie.

First and foremost, is Henry Mintzberg and his article in the Globe & Mail where he refers to the current financial crisis as a “monumental failure of management”, and points to management education as a major contributing factor. It wasn’t surprising to read his column since he has always been a detractor of traditional MBA programs citing that the MBA approach to a management education is fatally flawed, and as an answer to this problem, he co-founded the International Masters Program in Practicing Management (IMPM)

Mintzberg’s opinion about b-schools producing graduates who have an “excessively analytical, detached style of management” is shared by Peggy Cunningham, who is the new director of the School of Business Administration at Dalhousie University, and is currently involved with restructuring the the school’s business programs around the core concept of responsible leadership. In her interview to the Globe & Mail,
she says that it’s the excessive focus on individual success and obsession with corporate competition that makes people forget about social accountability.

In both these discussions, focus on individualism has emerged as a common theme that can be identified as a root cause for the current mess, and I started to wonder whether individualism is really to blame here! I believe that it’s important to differentiate between individualism and self-centeredness. It is my contention that individualism isn’t necessarily a bad thing – afterall, it is our individualism that gets us to be self-reliant, remain active, competitive, and independent to be able to look after ourselves and our families. The problem arises when individualism gets overridden by self-centeredness and that’s what leads one to ignore or overlook values of social and moral consciousness, and ultimately causes irresponsible economic behaviour.

Coming to the issue of business schools, while it’s easy to point fingers at them, I personally don’t think the blame wholly lies there. In this podcast, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Unversity’s Graduate School of Business talks about b-schools and how what is taught in management programs is really only a small part of the problem.

I personally believe that there are things that b-schools need to do better - especially in instances where there has been an unbalanced and unhealthy focus on financial engineering and novel modeling techniques… but I also believe the current financial mess has a lot to do with common sense management or lack thereof. Common sense cannot be taught in business schools, and someone doesn’t need an MBA to figure out that overly and recurrently leveraged portfolios and risky derivates will probably lead to disastrous consequences.

On the one hand, it may the "Quants" in the firm who used imprudent innovative techniques for risk assessment, but it was the decision makers who went along without taking the time to understand the assumptions or dynamics of such novel mechanisms.

Contrary to what common sense would dictate, in their pursuit of exotic financial instruments, the Quants put too much faith in mathematical risk models and in the process, they forgot that financial models are just that – models! They’re meant to be used as maps and not bibles.

This is not to say that B-schools don’t need to change – many would need to re-evaluate their programs and curricula and incorporate business ethics more seriously than they have before. I know that for most schools seeking accreditation through AACSB or EQUIS, this is a requirement, but I suspect that many schools still treat the subject of ethics as a snippet in their course discussions.

In devising a new way forward, management schools need to make sure that students have a naive faith in free market, and they also understand that business ethics is not to be a taken as a moving target and that there’s no harm in bending the rules to suit one’s own personal interests. Secondly, for schools focusing more on the technical aspects of financial engineering, and risk management, they need to strike a balance between short-term gains, social accountability, and long-term sustainability.

Hand-in-hand, our overall business culture also needs a massive overhaul – afterall, management schools are a reflection of current organizational customs and conventions, and most practices that get communicated at schools make their way into the books and syllabi through the industry. Investors demanding higher returns and rewarding managers for short term performance need to look at the bigger picture. The question of proper performance incentives needs to be revisited, as managers becoming shareholders in the company doesn’t seem to be the be all and end all approach for getting managers to perform in the best interests of the firm. The decline of regulatory oversight is another issue that deserves a closer look

To end my diatribe, I agree with Jeffrey Pfeffer when he says that B-Schools don’t really shape the world as much as they reflect the broader societal trends and the ideology of the world they exist in, and to lay the blame entirely on them is being over-simplistic and overly reductionist.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Free Google Mobile Phone Services

Google Mobile Services LogoI recently offered a graduate seminar course on Mobile Commerce at the University of Ottawa, and it was pretty surprising to see how many mobile end-users still don’t use third party applications and services that exist outside the realm of their service provider’s portfolio. This end-user behavior is highly representative of the Canadian mobile services landscape where our industry structure is highly vertical and the service structure is highly integrated. In Canada, the operators exercise a lot of control over the entire mobile value chain. Companies like Rogers, Telus, and Bell provide services including voice, messaging, internet, and email functions as prepackaged bundles. The customers have little choice in selecting the specific modules that they might be more interested in. Furthermore, the mobile portals on handhelds are usually preconfigured to link to the service provider’s solutions, and do not offer other choices – even free service choices. Many students in my class hadn’t even heard of the following google services that are offered for free (barring the operator’s data transmission charages):

Google 411 (1-800-GOOG-411) Website Link
1-800-Goog-411 Logo
Google’s voice local search service for local businesses uses speech recognition technology to allow users to query for and connect to businesses. Users can search for businesses by name or category (which is a definite plus in comparison with the traditional 411 service offered by operators). The service then generates a list of businesses that match the user’s query, and allows the users to select an entry from the list. Following the selection, the user can either directly get connected to the business or ask for a text message to be sent with the relevant business details. For users with internet access and google maps, the service also accepts the “map it” voice command to show a map of
the business neighborhood.

So not only is the service free to use, but it has advanced features not available through the directory assistance service offered by many operators. For Canadian users, until we get something like, this is the next best thing – store 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) in your contact list and start using it !

Google SMS (46645) Website Link
Google SMS Logo
This is Google’s fast information response service (SMS number 46645), and it lets users send quick queries to Google via SMS and get back responses. Rather than using your data quota in accessing different search engines or websites, the service allows users to quickly get back the information they’re looking for. The service supports specific types of queries such as weather reports, movies, stock quotes, directions, and local businesses by name or category. See this page for examples of queries. To get started, you can try some queries on the online emulator provided here and get familiar with the results. Again, it's not just a free service, but something that’s much easier to use in comparison to its alternatives (e.g. browsing the internet on your handheld to get the information) – store 46645 in your contact list and start using it for SMS queries.

Do you know of any other useful free mobile phone services? If so, leave your comment below, or send me a note.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I-News? Sorry – Not Me

Old Printing PressThere’s no denying that traditional print newspapers are slowly becoming a thing of the past – but a “new” initiative by the MediaNews Group, the fourth-largest newspaper chain in the U.S., seems all primed to take us even more into the past… say around 1939.

According to a recent article in the NY Times, the MediaNews Group is planning to test market its new idea of having household readers print out their personalized newspapers at home using a proprietary printer. The company has trademarked the term Individuated News (I-News) to refer to the media-delivery system, and it will be testing these systems with the Los Angeles Daily News this coming summer.

Actually, this is not the first time such an experiment is being conducted. Check out this web page on Modern Mechanix - in 1939, radio fax units were tried out in homes to allow people to receive news through radio signals and have their bulletins printed at home on a continuous sheet of paper.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see this specific idea as a solution to the woes of the media empires trying to protect and hopefully boost their readership and revenue through innovative means. I suspect most of us would not want to have a printer at home dedicated to printing newspapers.

Amazon Kindle 2
Personally, I see the short to medium term future of newspaper readership in the use of portable electronic readers such as the Amazon Kindle and the Sony e-Book Reader devices. flip between articles, making it faster and easier to browse and read the morning paper. In fact, the Kindle already offers several user-friendly features for newspaper readers such as ta flip page modality for reading articles just like paper versions of news papers, and moreover, the ability to bookmark, clip and save articles for later reading. The truth is that online news readers have already adopted various technologies and practices to aggregate and personalize the news they want from multiple sources through customized news feeds, and if mobility and portability are really important to the readers, they can get the same feeds through portable reader devices. There is great potential for newspapers in the active matrix electronic paper displays (EPDs) technologies which are fast improving in their capabilities and will soon be able to provide good color reproduction functionalities. What I don’t get is why don’t the media giants invest more seriously in technology projects which would allow them to reposition themselves more effectively in the print media value chain. By occupying positions as content creators, publishers and technology providers, they’d have a better chance at sustaining themselves over the long-term. Also, given the rapid adoption of web 2.0 by organizations, news media companies can position themselves as distributors of trusted research content, and offer this content via syndicated streams through certified APIs, web services, and enterprise mashups.