Saturday, December 20, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
ClickDiagnostics and Ken Morse were featured on Fox News recently. One frequent question is how Moca is different than ClickDiagnostics. The answer is pretty straightforward - ClickDiagnostics is a business model, and Moca is an open source software project. In fact, we would welcome ClickDiagnostics using Moca if it meets their needs for a specific deployment scenario. I have a strong belief that especially in the developing world, open source solutions like Moca and OpenMRS are needed to scale cost-effective solutions. However, we need thousands of companies like ClickDiagnostics, plus NGOs, governments and social entrepreneurs doing the work on the ground to make it happen.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Friday, December 12, 2008
Social Entrepreneurship Update: MassWrestling.com, Mass Development Association of Dar Es Salaam, Olive Arbor and Moca Mobile
MassWrestling is an interesting study in community based websites. It really was Web 2.0 before Web 2.0 existed. Not a lot of people wrestle in New England relative to the rest of the country. And not a lot of people wrestle in this country relative to the number who play other sports. But those who do are passionate, and I was lucky to tap into such a community.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Airlines: “We’re a stupid industry led by stupid people.” –Gordon Bethune, former CEO of Continental Airlines
When I flew out to Utah this weekend, I fully intended to bring my own skis until I remember the new $50 charge each way for a 2nd piece of luggage. Since it was going to cost $50 or so to rent skis for a couple days, and it’s annoying to lug those things around anyhow, I just left them at home. I suppose Delta’s restrictions worked for this flight – it was lighted by the weight of my skis and poles. The downside: I will try like hell not to fly Delta unless completely necessary. It’s a weird policy, one that hurts more price sensitive leisure travelers more than business travelers, who tend to just have one bag.
The flight was also delayed by a couple minutes by a guy late getting on the plane who was trying to stuff a bag that was way too big for the overhead compartment. Everyone should be prepared for a lot of this crap on Delta flights, especially as people who don't know about the charge learn about it on the spot at airports. And you can't really blame people - pay an extra $50 or try to stuff the bag into overhead?
Also, I just packed one gigantic bag (we call it Big Silver) and stuffed it right to 50 pounds (on the button). I think the tariff would make more sense if it was by weight.
Ski rentals and moral hazard: It was $2 additional at the Canyons for insurance on my ski rental. Let’s just say that once I paid the $2, I skied in a way that I certainly wouldn’t on my own skis. I’ll suggest that the Canyons and other ski resorts do something like $2 and even a tiny deductible. Even if it were $5 or $10 I wouldn’t have been skiing off trails like a maniac because I would have had just a bit of skin the game.
Another idea that I came up with was to put really slow finish or wax on rental skis to reduce liability. Speed kills, causing more frequent and more serious injuries on the slopes. Also, $10 for a helmet rental seems a bit excessive. I wonder if their monopoly pricing model factors in liability reduction. There was no option to bundle in the helmet, which seems like it would be a good strategy
Gary Loveman, the CEO of Harrah’s was pretty emphatic when he visited our Economics of Information class that the ski industry was one industry that could benefit massively from information analytics and improved pricing strategies. It certainly seems like that’s the case. It’s astonishing how much information they could collect at the rental desk, but just don’t.
Another reason the iPhone is amazing: sitting on the ski lift on a 45 degree day at Snowbird with one glove off, studying a PDF document with notes for my Industrial Economics final. I’m not sure this is how Dick Schmalensee would have suggested I study for his exam, but it was way more fun that locking myself in Dewey.
On a side note, check out this article my colleague Mike Atlas sent me about a life saving amputation using details sent via text message. More about Mike and the amazing work he has done for MassWrestling.com in the next social entrepreneurship update.
A few other good links:
Depressing way to look at how bad stocks have performed this year versus other years in history.
Balloting is open in the USAID Development 2.0 Challenge and Moca Mobile is a competitor. It would be much appreciated if you would vote for us here!
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
I made it over briefly to the Innovation for Global Health at Harvard today today where I chose the Water Quality and Global Health breakout session lead by Dr. Colleen Hansel and Dr. Mark Koopman. It was very interesting discussion that raised a couple of interesting questions. One particularly salient one is that water quality seems to have dropped off the map as a major issue for social and developmental entrepreneurs.
Collen and Mark started off talking about an interesting case that I didn't know about. Apparently, in the 1970s, the World Health Organization drilled wells all over Bangladesh to tap groundwater. It turned out the water table in Bangladesh has naturally occurring arsenic, leading to the biggest mass poisoning in history. Oops.
Water can of course be contaminated by many things - micro-organisms, metals, industrial bi-products, etc. One especially interesting one discussed was pharmaceuticals - especially anti-biotics, which causes an increase in antibiotic resistant germs. The problem is, there isn't one single test for all these things, and they all require different remediation techniques.
There is a need for improved diagnostics and remediation, but innovation seems to be incremental in this space rather than rapid as we see in other areas of developmental entrepreneurship. While people like Colleen and Mark have some very neat technologies they are developing, there is not the same snowball that we see with other areas like mobile phones or microfinance.
Colleen and Mark asked for ways to get people interested in the issues. Short of the inevitable war over water rights or new Bond movie stimulating interest, a couple interesting ideas were generated. One of the problems is that water quality is a fragmented problem - there are lots of problems with water (from the pollutants to access to drought to sanitation issues), not one major one to deal with. People interested in various issues invariably intersect with it because of the tie-in with health. For instance, Grameen Bank insists on recipients of their loans boiling their water and creating latrines before being eligible for loans - the decreased rate of health problems increases the likelihood the micro-loan will be re-paid.
I thought that an X-Prize for water diagnostics and purification might be of interest. Colleen even suggested so much that if they could miniaturize a Raman spectrometer and reduce the cost, that would be close an acceptable solution for the diagnostic side. Essentially, an X-Prize would help frame the problem in a compelling way and make it an exciting one for innovators to try to solve.
In any case, a very worthwhile afternoon spent talking about an issue I profess to know little about except for the times my dalliances in corporate social responsibility and global health have inevitably run into issues related to the management of precious resources like water.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Here's a deck I put together on mobile network operators and what I believe their strategies to avoid the fate of the ISPs suffered in becoming dumb pipes.
Ted Chan - Mobile Network Operators and the Future of the Mobile Internet
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Businesses with Variability: In modeling businesses that do have variations, there will be gamut of profiles. Obviously, a relatively established business will differ from a new business (for example, venture backed startup). In stochastic modeling, the potential large variation in demand that goes hand-in-hand with some of the dynamics of the Internet must be taken into account.
Constant Demand Profiles: A substantial portion of the demand for computing services will have constant demand profiles without the peaks and valleys of typical business users. These users include bioinformatics processing and other scientific simulations that will run around the clock. Sellers of utility computing services would do well to segment these customers out and offer them lower prices. First off, since their demand is easily forecast and stable, the value proposition of being able to smooth out demand peaks does not apply to these customers. As such, their willingness to pay should be lower per unit of computing power. They will still benefits shorter time to deployment, disaster recovery and other benefits of utility computing. These customers offer a significant potential advantage for utility computing vendors – they will provide consistent utilization at lower demand times of the day and year. In many cases, they may be able to shift their usage to maximize capacity utilization (for example, some customers may need X units per day performed and are indifferent to whether that is one processing node running all day or a number of them running in parallel during off peak hours.
Pricing for Utility Computing
Pricing for utility computing services will be challenging in a number of ways, particularly as the service matures. In traditional pricing models, demand is forecast, the cost of meeting that demand at an optimal level is gathered, and a certain markup is applied. (Hall and Hitch, 1939; Paleologo, 2004) Demand will initially be difficult to forecast, and it will take times for economies of scale and demand smoothing from having large quantities of customers to be realized.
G.A. Paleologo suggests a pricing-at-risk methodology. This model leverages stochastic modeling of the uncertain parameters involved in forecasting demand, utilization and adoption. Such a model would allow for a best and worst case scenario and run optimization models for the scenarios in between. The result will be a probability curve. Varying the price as the independent variable and using Net Present Value as the dependent gives a picture of how various scenarios would play out. The tricky part of this is that the elasticity of demand is not well understood. Paleologo’s model assumes a monopoly situation – we know that this will not be the case in the utility computing space.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Here's a presentation that I recently gave about a paper written by Indrani Medhi, Aman Sagar and Kentaro Toyama about how to build text-free interfaces for illiterate and semi-literate users. This paper is valuable for folks like myself who are thinking about how to build systems and processes in the developing world where literacy rates are poor.
"Text-Free User Interfaces for Illiterate and Semi-Illiterate Users" from Nicole Prowell on Vimeo.
Text Free Interfaces for Semi-Literate Users
the only reliable solution is to test your interface with the actual end user.11:23 AM Oct 20th from web
matrices and spreadsheets are hard to understand by other cultures. 11:21 AM Oct 20th from web
Programming is inherently text based. However, digital tools, or applications, are not. 11:18 AM Oct 20th from web
Ted claims that literacy rates in Africa are less than 60%. It makes sense.11:16 AM Oct 20th from web
entiendes español? 11:16 AM Oct 20th from web
do you write from right to left or from left to right? 11:15 AM Oct 20th from web
text free user interfaces for illiterate users. 11:15 AM Oct 20th from web
Ted's point is that visual metaphors are context dependent in terms of cultural background. Usability then is not an universal practice. 11:14 AM Oct 20th from web
"Thumbs up" is an obscenity in Iran. 11:13 AM Oct 20th from web
Ted Chan is asking us about what the "thumbs up" mean. 11:13 AM Oct 20thfrom web