Category Archives: industry

Is it the time to lobby?

It’s been quiet on this blog for a while, so I decided to share an observation based on some conversations I recently had at one of the Internet governance meetings.  The conversations were about ICT companies and the point was that while Western companies are extremely enthusiastic about emerging markets, they do not consider their regulatory systems with the same rigor as they do in the developed world.  In other words, while in the developed countries these companies invest considerable resources in working with the governments and lobbying, in the developing countries their efforts are primarily in marketing.  Even when they do work with governments, it is mostly done through the marketing departments where the governments are viewed primarily as costumers, less as regulators.

I heard similar observations from a number of industry players and also from a government official.  I listened and “filed” these observations, but they were  brought back to life with the recent explosion of the BlackBerry story.  You may know that the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and now also India and a number of other countries, are threatening to ban BlackBerry unless RIM allows them access to the encrypted email data of BlackBerry users, stored on the company’s servers.  India gave RIM an ultimatum until the end of the month to comply and the rumor is that the Indian government has similar plans for Google, Skype, and perhaps others.

I wonder how did RIM find itself in such a situation?  Will other global technological companies find themselves in a similar situation soon too?  Peter Svensson writes in Washington Post today:

“Threats by the governments of India, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to shut down BlackBerry’s corporate e-mail services reflect unease about a technology that the U.S. government also took a while to accept.  The foreign governments are essentially a decade behind in coming to terms with encryption, a technology that’s fundamental to the Internet as a medium of commerce. (…) RIM, the company behind the BlackBerry, doesn’t have years to wait for foreign governments to adopt the more relaxed U.S. stance toward encryption.”

I assume Svensson is right about his historical perspective; after all, writing about this is his bread an butter.  At the same time, given that all the governments currently having an issue with BlackBerry are in developing countries, I think he is missing the point made by the people I talked to about the Western companies’ attitudes to the emerging markets’ governments.

It did not take the US government years to figure out its stand on encryption on its own.  On the contrary, this position is a result of years of dialogue, argument, and debates between the government and the various interest groups, primarily the industry, through its lobbying activities, and the civil society.  We can see a similar discussion taking place these days around the issue of net neutrality.

It seems to me that until the RIMs, Googles, and Skypes of this world won’t take the regulators in the developing world as seriously as they take the governments back home, we will continue seeing more “BlackBerry” cases.  Until the multinational MICT companies will not engage in a meaningful  way with the local governments in the emerging markets, the barriers to their activities there will continue growing and become more sophisticated, especially when it comes to such a politicized area as information.

So, I wonder if it is the time for these companies to start lobbying in the developing world just the way they are lobbying here.  While I am aware of the potentially harmful influences of lobbying, it is an integral part of the policymaking mechanism and, for better or worse, it also has an educational impact on the policymakers.  At the end of the day, usually those are the governments that are catching up with technology, while the industry is ahead of the curve.

What do you think?  Is it the time to lobby?

The “Like” button dissonance

facebook_like_buttonThe recent change of privacy controls on Facebook and the introduction of a global “Like” button are steering a lot of discussion all over the internet.  My friend Lokman has already left Facebook all together and keep hearing about “Leave Facebook Day” planned for May 21.

Many people, including those in major outlets are voicing their criticism of the erosion of privacy and introduction of the inverse Beakon.  For example, the Washington Post ran a number of articles on this subject and is reporting on a bill for privacy online being drafted following this outcry, ars technica writes about complains filed against Facebook at the FTC, Huffington Post posted some visualizations of how more and more of our information is exposed to more and more people on Facebook, and the Wired has recently posted a very opinionated piece from Ryan Singer criticizing Facebook’s behavior and calling for an alternative.  What I find amusing in this situation is that all these major outlets (and many others) have wholeheartedly adopted the universal “Like” feature and other Facebook gadgets.  When you come to read their articles, you are welcomed by familiar faces of your friends through some Facebook social feature.

To me it creates a dissonance.

I realize that in many cases these are journalists reporting on a piece of technology-related news and I realize that the opinions of the columnists belong to them and not necessarily to the news outlet. I also realize that the news outlets are involved in financial survival battle and using Facebook advertising and social platform may be an opportunity.  I even appreciate the fact these discussions are taking place and that the mainstream media, the blogosphere, and  even Facebook itself are hosting this debate.  Nevertheless, when I see that Ryan Singer’s super critical piece has two “Like” buttons and almost 3500 likes on Facebook, I understand why over at Facebook they feel so confident and comfortable messing with the privacy of their users.

And what do you think?

Demand for internationalized domain names

Once a year or so ICANN holds a conference called ICANN Studienkreis.  This is another forum where one can get updated with various ongoing internet governance topics.  The last meeting took place earlier this week in Barcelona, but unfortunately there was no streaming of the event and I could not find any records or transcripts from it.  The only available record is the agenda with links to a number of PDFs of various presentation.  These are of course not very informative, but there is still something we can learn from them.

One presentation that caught my attention was by Andrey Kolesnikov from the Russian Coordination Centre for TLD.ru, which he gave in a session on internationlized domain names (PDF).  It caught my attention because I got recently interested in the debate surrounding this topic and hoped to learn about how things are going in countries that have already applied for a localized top level domains (other presenters on the panel were from Egypt and China). There is only so much one can learn from just looking at PPT slides, but here is an attempt.

Russia is the only country I know of that has already auctioned localized domain names, even though the approval of the top level domain in Cyrillic is still in the works.   As such, Kolesnikov was in a position to shed some light on the actual demand for localized domain names, as opposed to arguments about their great potential.  And if I read his slides correctly, I think he did.  Here is what he has to show:

RussianIDNdemand2010

The early registration process, or the “sunrise” period, is still going on, but these numbers are interesting.   There are currently over 369K domain names registered in Russia and according to Coordination Centre for TLD.ru, there are over 2.6 million domains registered under the .ru top level domain (RU).  In other words. we can see that the trademark holders and Russian domainers are either careful with grabbing this opportunity or skeptical of the entire enterprise.  Of course this is a very early stage in the process, but if it is indicative of a trend, than at least in the case of Russia, the skeptics might have a point.  Of course the situation may be different in other parts of the world and in other cultures, but Russian industry does not seem to be too excited.

Am I overanalyzing this?  Am I taking these number out of context?  What do you think?

The Israeli TV industry: Some numbers

Israel is debating another reform in its broadcast TV industry, which allows an interesting peek on the numbers constructing the Israeli media market.

Currently there two private broadcast TV channels in Israel, which are supported through advertising (there is a government supported public channel as well).  Channel 2 started operating commercially in 1993 and Channel 10 joined the competition in 2002.  Both channels are operated through permits, which means that they have to be renewed every few years, which in turn is supposed to give the public body that monitors these channels, the Second Authority, the leverage to make demands for quality content.

One can debate whether or not the Authority is successful in imposing content quality standards, but the reform is aimed at moving from the permit regime to a license regime.  According to those pushing for the reform, this will allow to introduce another player to the Israeli broadcasting media market.  Since such a shift requires amending the law, the story starts with discussions in the Economic Committee of Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.

So, what can we learn from these debates?

  • According to Menashe Samir, the CEO of the Second Authority, the annual income of the commercial broadcasting TV stands on NIS 1.2 billion (around US $320 million), while operating a channel costs about NIS 400 million (around US $70 million).  Eran Pollack, from the Ministry of Finance, provided some more specific data, saying that in 2008 the commercial broadcasting channels had incomes of NIS 700 million for Channel 2 (US $187 million) and NIS 400 million for Channel 10 (US $107 million).
  • Eran Polack also said that in 2008 the overall TV industry in Israel had an income of approximately NIS 5.5. billion (US $1.47 billion).   The break down is really interesting.  The commercial broadcasting TV channels account only for a small portion of that pie; the Israeli cable and satellite TV providers account for almost two thirds of it.   HOT, the cable company had an income of NIS 2.085 billion (US $559 million) in 2008, and YES, the satellite company had an income of NIS 1.415 billion (US %378 million).  Also, the public channel accounted for about NIS 350 million of income (US $94 million).
  • As to the viewers, according to Yehuda Saban from the budget department, an average Israeli views 225 minutes of TV a day – over 3 and a half hours.  Children watch TV even more than that.  All this in spite of the fact that the costs of cable/satellite TV in Israel are relatively high; at the bottom 20% of the income group, people spend as much as 1.2% of their monthly income on TV.

It is f course also interesting to see how both supporters and opponents of the reform justify their positions through claims for greater societal benefit, but I won’t torture you with this now :)

Google is a media company

I was listening to a recent conversation between Siva Vaidhyanathan, the author of “Googalization of Everything” and Matt Brittin, the newly appointed CEO of Google UK.

While I found the overall conversation interesting, one particular phrase caught my attention.  When he was defending Google against allegation of being parasitic (i.e. they do not produce content, but only provide access to it), Matt Brittin said that it is an: “easy criticism to level, particularly in a really tough downturn, which is affecting media companies all over the world including Google” (emphasis added).

Of course this is not a trend (yet?), but I find it really interesting that Google high-level executive  talks about the company in terms of media.  I think it further contributes to our growing realization that information and communication technologies (ICTs) as social factors are becomming more and more amalgamted with content.  This is a really interesting contribution to the argument that it is important to consider content related aspects when we talk about technology or in other words that we are talking about media, information, and communication technology (MICT) and not just ICT.

Just a note I wonted to take and to share.

… and even harder…

Now it looks like Gmail is getting folders (via VentureBeat).   They call them “multiple inboxes”, but, unless i am missing something, it is just a smarter way of working with folders – you can view a number of them open at the same time.  I was missing some combination of folders and labels in Gmail, so I think it is a positive development.  Combined with an option of working in an offline mode, it makes it more and more attractive.

I wonder though, with the offline mode, is it now possible to backup Gmail the same way one could back-up an Outlook PST file?  Also, what about Google calendar?  Is there an offline mode of working with it too?  Coming soon?  Could be great!

Can’t… resist… Google… can’t… resist…

I think I’ve been somewhat hypocritical about Google.  On the one hand, since I started blogging, I voiced occasional criticism of Google, concern about it collecting all this information about us, and the fact that its search algorithm is turning into a lens through which we comprehend reality.  On the other hand, I am using many of Google’s services, because, what can you do, they create great products.  The result of this self search – I am not really doing what I preach.

I tried to think about all the Google products I use (from the most to the least used I think)…  Google, Gmail, Reader, Picasa, Youtube, Google docs, Google Calendar, G-Talk, Google Analytics… so whom am I kidding about being a careful user of Google’s products?  Just about a year ago, II used to log off my Google account when I did not need it, but I noticed that I am not doing it anymore.  So maybe it is time to stop pretending and simply embrace it?

What would it mean for me to embrace it?  I guess it would mainly mean dropping some of my clients and switching completely to Google application.  Today, I use Gmail with MS Outlook client and I refer to Google calendar or Google docs only for group projects.  “Embracing” would probably mean skipping MS Outlook and relying solely on the web applications.  I think I would also start using i-Google.

My main concern in this case is backup.  A while ago, I had a very unpleasant encounter with Google, when I got locked out of my Gmail account for almost a week.  There was nobody to talk to, because Google does not have a costumer support in a traditional sense and was really bad with getting back on the service requests submitted through its online support.  If that happens when Google is my main organizational tool, I will be in big trouble.  But maybe there are backup solutions that I am not aware of?

What do you think?

Paying to socialize?

Tech.blorge, one of the blogs on my RSS feeds, recently published an entry titled “Would you pay to use Facebook“.  They are echoing some of the ideas raised as a reaction to rumors that Facebook, which raised half a billion dollars less than two years ago, is running out of cash.  One of these ideas is subscription-based Facebook, meaning you will have to pay for accessing the website.

Right now this sounds more like a speculation, but it looks like the Russian social networking websites are actually experimenting with the subscription-based models.  I wrote in the past about the various ways Odnoklassniki.ru is monetizing on the social aspects of online social networks.  Recently, my father pointed out an item (RU) in the one of the Russian-language new websites, which states that Odnoklassniki is now requesting payment from new users asking to register.  According to this article, the registration now will cost between $1-2.  Those who choose not to pay will not be able to view other people’s profiles, contact other users, etc.  In other words the free registration is lacking any of the “social” elements, which is the main reason for people to join.

I looked a little bit around and there are more news items about that move in RuNet.  The official rationale stated by the Odnoklassniki management is that the paid registration is aimed at combatting spammers, who tend to open numerous accounts and use them for promotion of their products.  Some of the critics disagree (RU), suggesting this is just a way for Odnoklassniki to force the spammers to share their profits from the network.

In any case, it will be interesting to see whether or not the paid registration model will turn out to be sustainable.  Probably Facebook crew and others will be watching as they think about their next move. In the meantime, I do wonder if you would pay to socialize online?