Friday, March 30, 2007

Can we rebuild it? Can we make it stronger?

Someone asked me for ideas on how to use technology to make the world better. Whoa. Changing the world is a lot easier than making it a better place. It takes historians decades to begin to decipher the lasting effects of historical forces. Lenin cared greatly about his fellow man, and the fruits of his intellect were poison. A vicious brute can cause a long term swing in the opposite direction when the world is disgusted by his ego and cruelty.

Trying to guess what will "make the world a better place" is probably a lot like flipping a coin. However my best suggestion would be helping to educate intelligent poor children anywhere in the world. Technology can help with this. A cheap used computer with a monitor and an Internet connection costs about $250 plus $100 a year. It is an encyclopedia of great power and allows a bright young person to learn anything. Check out the link below - it is MIT's OLPC (one laptop per child) media lab initiative. I believe it is the most important thing we can do to improve the world.

If you were hoping to create an idea yourself, I would ask you this: why? Smarter and more caring people than us have started thouands of great projects. It is a truer and better thing to help them than to waste time reinventing a poorer wheel. Helping severly impoverished people live longer without helping them educate their children is meaningless. Teach a person to read...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

There has been a lot of talk about this next recession.

Maybe too much talk. Predicting a recession is very difficult in any environment, let alone one with two huge and rising stars (India and China). Over time, people that base their investment strategy on the constant belief that a recession is imminent will not perform as those that bet on growth. Doomsday preaching is more a personality characteristic than a sincere prediction. We get upset when someone that says things are about to melt down turns out to be right, the market drops 14% and then is stagnant for a year...but the truth is that same guy missed out on 10 years of groth at 9% a year to be right that once.

Predicting inflation is easier. I believe that since the early 80s inflation in the west has been low because we have imported more and more core products from low cost overseas producers every year while raw materials prices were also stable. In the last couple of years, there has been a huge and rapid rise in raw materials costs, and we already import almost all manufactured goods (there is no more cost savings to be had from increasing imports). Also, labor and production costs are starting to rise in China and India. Energy, which is a cost input to almost every product, is going to get more costly.

I am fairly certain that the Chinese economy is bubbling in a few areas, notably including real estate and public equity markets (the PEs are ridiculous and expect unsustainable growth, and in real estate the rental to price ratios are about half of what they are in the U.S.). I don't think their recession will spill over much to the U.S. when they correct, but it could cause them to draw down foreign reserves, which will flood the bond markets a bit - driving down bond prices, and driving up interest rates.

So long and short, no significant global recession is always the smarter bet, but you can expect higher inflation over the next 5-10 years. I am not comfortable predicting how much higher.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Evil. Pure evil. Muahahahaha. Sarah Lacy on Linkedin asked the question, "Is the Internet an inherently good force in the world, evil force or neither? The other day I overheard a guy saying he thought the Internet should be banned. I gasped and asked why and he said he thought it had not only done nothing to help humanity, it had actually set us back. what do you think? "

Well Sarah, here is what I think. A medium of communication is no more good or evil than a mirror is beautiful or ugly. It is a tool, and the ends to which it is manipulated reflects the purposes of the user. The Internet is used by many people for many different things.

I would venture that the most profound effects have been; 1) an increase in the rate of dissemination of information, 2) a decrease in the cost of research, and 3) a decrease in the difficulty of organizing people.

After at least 40,000 years of human culture we have only been able to use electronic communications for about a hundred. I seriously doubt that we were close to a societal equilibrium from the technological changes telephone and radio introduced even before the Internet came along. Many of the global sociopolitical changes that we talk about today were already happening before the Internet gained wide acceptance.

The long and short of it? Too damned early to say. It would be like saying that it will be a bad market day after the first trade of the opening bell.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Think you could be baptized in Second Life? If God made everything, I guess he made virtual water too. Sorry for the grabby introduction - I'm not sure anyone would read this if it didn't start off sounding sexier than it is. Now that you have torn off the wrapping paper...

I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn, and I recently responded to a question from someone there. He asked if there are any real business opportunities in Second Life (SL). If you don’t know what it is, check out before you read on.

Most of what the other folks have discussed has centered on SL itself. I would like to bring a slightly different perspective. I believe there is no doubt whatsoever that SL-like environments will become very important components of the global economy *eventually*. Eventually could be 10 years, 20, 30...who knows. But way before they become a critical part of everything, they will continue to occupy a growing segment of the gaming industry.

The problem in trying to build a business or business opportunities around the trend is that "SL-like" environments does not guarantee by any means that SL will even be part of the industry when it takes off. There are many powerful firms with more resources and experience in 3D, massively multiplayer games, gaming hardware, marketing, etc.

If you think back on the last few quantum shifts in communications and computer technology (the Transistor, Graphical User Interfaces, Digital Cell technology, the graphical web browser, etc.) you will find that it is very common for innovators to fail commercially. They just prove there is traction, and someone better financed comes in with big tech and marketing resources and grabs the ball.

If you accept this reasoning, I think the best way to play it is to write tools for use in SL-like environments that do not commit you to SL itself but that enhance the user experience. I would suggest community-based applications for sharing and selling 3D objects, creating object and texture repositories, networking, data mining, marketing, etc.

During the .com bubble, things were all about technology until the technology started to coalesce, then it was all about content (and still is). I think this will be true of the technology around 3D immersive environments as well. Content is what the big boys need when they want to build competitive systems quickly. It is gold, and the only folks that have it are the ones that spent the last few years building it.

If you are intent on being an early mover, my advice is to look at what succeeded in the last decade in terms of Internet enhancements, and find analogies in the networked 3D world.