Monthly Archives: November 2012

Leaders in Big Data

Learn what experts think about big data
From Google Tech Talks: Discussing the evolution, current opportunities and future trends in big data.

Moderator: Hal Varian,  Chief Economist at Google.
Theo Vassilakis, Principal Engineer/Engineering Director at Google
Gustav Horn, Senior Global Consulting Engineer, Hadoop at NetApp
Charles Fan, Senior Vice President at VMware in strategic R&D

Quick Notes from the panel

What’s big data in short?
Unlimited huge amount of unstructured data captured in real time, from which you can get meaningful answers fast.

The promise:
Never delete data again. Keep it all as it comes. Simply focus on asking the right question to get answers.

An example:
In Healthcare, you could store the complete human genome of all cancer patients combined with other possible relevant patient info (habits, living conditions, etc) throughout their lives. The correlation of such a massive dataset would provide wonderful insight with the right analytics.

More and more devices, more servers, cameras, sensors, etc. Big Data techniques allow now to economically store all that info. And Mapreduce techniques allows you to query and analyse those huge amounts of unstructured data and get meaningful results.

Open source give people the choice. Hadoop is becoming defacto standard for data storage and data management. It is enabling disparate datasets from unrelated systems to be dumped into a Hadoop cluster. That enables to look for correlations between them. (xml, csv… there will be chaos for a little while)

We are getting better natural language programming. That means more and more of natural language logic and less programming.

Four layers of functionality in Big Data:

  • applications
  • analytics
  • management: query engines
  • data infrastructure: data storage

Lower layers standardize earlier. A common standard will emerge.

The biggest problem  for enterprises
A big problem of companies today is the number of heterogeneous databases with different formats. Connecting them to Hadoop is the key, but vendors will need to provide connectors, which do not help their business of selling licenses.
Google has some advantage compared to a normal enterprise, as in Google all their data is standardized.

For some, a bigger problem for enterprises is knowing what to do with so much data. Experimentation is key to mine and find meaningful insights.

Is the #1 problem the amount of data? or not to know how to use that data?

Model for hardware infrastructure : buy or lease in the cloud?
There is a place for both. Cloud is a good place to get started.

Will SQL become obsolete by languages like NoSQL?
People using NoSQL are looking for more flexible, easier schemas. It relaxes the requirements for the database. Many developers are embracing them, but there is no clear winner yet.
The good about NoSQL is that is a declarative language. It doesn’t state how to do it, just what you want to get.
But SQL will be around for a long time, even if just for legacy databases.

In summary, Big Data will:

  • provide answers fast
  • get infinite in volume and size
  • never forget anything

My  two-cents after listening to the experts: a definition of Big Data in five words.

“Manage infinite data. Get answers.”

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How is ITU different from a dinosaur?

Tyrannosaurus rex, Palais de la Découverte, Paris

Tyrannosaurus rex, Palais de la Découverte, Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How is ITU different from a dinosaur?
Answer: ITU is not extinct yet.
On the rest, they are the same: Fossilized, old, heavy, slow.

We don’t know if dinosaurs noticed the meteorite that disrupted their world and, some say, led them to extinction.

What we know is that ITU don’t want to notice the meteorite that is leading them to irrelevance: the Internet.

These persistent attempts are just evidence that this breed of dinosaurs, with their pea-sized brains, hasn’t figured out that they are dead yet, because the signal hasn’t traveled up their long necks.
— Vint Cerf

#FreeAndOpen Take Action

It’s time that an organization like ITU, that has done so much for the development of telecom over almost 150 years, adapts to a new world, where they no longer have the control. Else they will end like dinosaurs, extinct.

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Is this the End of the Smartphone Era?

When Nicholas Carlson wrote that the end of the smartphone era is coming, he overstated the comment I made to his post the day before. He had asked his readers whether Sailfish OS was the next big platform. I answered:

DOA. I bet the next big platform won’t look like a phone.

That sparked Nicholas’ imagination and the next day he came with his post: The end of the smartphone era is coming.

Is this the end of the Smartphone era?

Of course not. The point is not that the smartphone era is close to its end. The point is that to disrupt a market taken by iOS and Android, you’d better come with something radically different. Else you have no chance. If you are able to wow consumers into a new platform, it won’t be a phone.

The next platform will not look like a phone.

Google knows it and that’s why they lead the pack to explore what the next step will be. Google Glass is the most visible example. Watches and other wearable computer gadgets will surely spark your imagination. You could argue those things are not new, but hey the Tablet was not a new concept and it was not a reality until Apple made it happen. Glass today is not compelling enough, but if they fix a few things, I would bet it will. Maybe that’s why Microsoft reportedly issued a patent application for a similar concept.

The platform that ends the smartphone era is still unknown. For sure, it’s more likely to look like Glass that than a phone.

If you were wondering to wait until next Xmas to renew your smartphone, no need to.

How different you have to be to beat iOS and Android?

Samsung Note was a perfect example of how to make something different from the iPhone riding on the wave that people talk less and less and write, read, listen, watch or take pictures much more.

Amazon was disruptive in the business model. They sell the Kindle Fire at a loss, because they are in the content distribution business.

But Windows Phone and Blackberry. Sorry guys, so far you are just changing colors, and have no chance unless you come with something that breaks the rules again. Maybe RIM could keep exploring keyboard and variants: Many of us still complain about typing on an iPhone compared to how good it was to type on a Blackberry.

Any other new platform like Meego/Sailfish cannot just bet on being more open than Android. Android is open enough. But hey it is good for us consumers that someone keeps Google honest in not being evil.

How did disruption look in the past?

During years, Nokia kept doing telephones with a dial pad, despite you make most calls from your address books, and despite the huge growth of texting. RIM, Microsoft PDA-phones had already moved a step forward, though it was Apple who reinvented the phone.

The iPhone was a totally disrupting concept with a ‘wowing’ UI and a breakthrough decent mobile internet experience, that had nothing to do with horrendous WAP or Brew.

In short: The end of the smartphone era is not coming (soon)

You are happy with your iPhone or your Galaxy, and just wonder whether this is the end of the smartphone era. It is not.


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7 ways to find your startup idea


A few days ago, Paul Graham posted one of his famous essays, How to Get Startup Ideas. You won’t find a better piece of advice on generating your idea for your startup. It is a long essay but worth reading.

Here you have a summary of key seven take-aways:

1. Look for problems that people care
Fixing a problem YOU have, is the best way to ensure that the problem really exists.
Made-Up Startup ideas usually focus on problems nobody actually cares.

At YC we call these “made-up” or “sitcom” startup ideas. Imagine one of the characters on a TV show was starting a startup. The writers would have to invent something for it to do. But coming up with good startup ideas is hard. It’s not something you can do for the asking. So (unless they got amazingly lucky) the writers would come up with an idea that sounded plausible, but was actually bad.

2. Who are the people that really need what you are making?
You have better chances if you focus on something a small number of people want a large amount. In made-up startup ideas usually lots of people are middy interested.

When you have an idea for a startup, ask yourself: who wants this right now? Who wants this so much that they’ll use it even when it’s a crappy version one made by a two-person startup they’ve never heard of? If you can’t answer that, the idea is probably bad.

3. Be at the leading edge of a field — “Live in the future”
A good idea will come as the result of some external stimulus hitting a prepared mind. To have good startup ideas you have to become the sort of person who has them.  “If you’re at the leading edge of a field that’s changing fast, when you have a hunch that something is worth doing, you’re more likely to be right.”

The verb you want to be using with respect to startup ideas is not “think up” but “notice.” At YC we call ideas that grow naturally out of the founders’ own experiences “organic” startup ideas. The most successful startups almost all begin this way.

Paul Buchheit says that people at the leading edge of a rapidly changing field “live in the future.”

4. Build what seems interesting
To ‘notice’ a good idea you need to give yourself some time. You have control over the rate at which you become a prepared mind, but you have less control over the stimuli that will spark your idea.

Just as trying to think up startup ideas tends to produce bad ones, working on things that could be dismissed as “toys” often produces good ones. […] if you’re living in the future and you build something cool that users love, it may matter more than outsiders think. Microcomputers seemed like toys when Apple and Microsoft started working on them.

5. Clash of domains is a fruitful source of ideas.
If you are a software expert and start learning about some other field, you’ll probably see problems you can fix programming.

…if you’re a CS major and you want to start a startup, instead of taking a class on entrepreneurship you’re better off taking a class on, say, genetics. Or better still, go work for a biotech company.

6. Better a good idea with competitors than a bad one without.

You don’t need to worry about entering a “crowded market” so long as you have a thesis about what everyone else in it is overlooking.

Because a good idea should seem obvious, when you have one you’ll tend to feel that you’re late […] Worrying that you’re late is one of the signs of a good idea.

7. Don’t discard the unsexy and difficult
There are two filters you ned to turn off when noticing ideas: the unsexy filter and the schlep filter.

The unsexy filter is similar to the schlep filter, except it keeps you from working on problems you despise rather than ones you fear.

The seven points can be summed up in one recipe:

Live in the future and build what seems interesting.

What do you think of Paul Graham’s advice?

How does Disruption look like in Print Media

Not because you already anticipated it, it’s less of a dramatic picture. The chart from Statista shows the result of how technology reinvents industries.

In 2004, Google’s $3Bn business seemed nothing compared to a $70Bn industry. Only eight years later, Google is bigger than the entire Print Media business in US.

A single company — let’s call it the disruptor— is worth more than the entire industry it disrupts, in less than a decade!

Though it is the company that gets more attacks from the newspaper and magazine industry, Google was not the only one driving the change.

  • Some years ago when you wanted to sell a car or a house, there was one obvious place to advertise: Newspapers. Nowadays you would only think of eBay, Craigslist or Carlist.
  • Bloggers were the first to grab readers from traditional media, though Google Adsense dollars helped here.
  • Then came the big social media boom with Facebook and Twitter attracting eyeballs from other media.
  • And finally, also contributing to the decline in offline revenue, Print Media has gone online, though they have not been too enthusiastic about exchanging “paper ads dollars by online cents.”

Print and online magazine advertising spending in the U.S. from 2010 to 2016
You will find more statistics at Statista

After disruption, is the resulting market smaller or bigger?
U.S. Print Media went from a $72bn peak in 2006 to $42bn in 2011. Where has all that money gone? Online, right?

According to GroupM, online ad revenue in US in 2011 was $34.5Bn (*). You make the numbers and that means that the size of Print Media + Online combined add to $76Bn. Around same market size as in 2006.

Roughly, you could conclude the combined market of “disrupted + disrupting” has not de-materialized the industry.

Jobs: A collateral damage of disruption?
The most visible effect in jobs is the change in skills and preparation. New jobs online require more preparation than those in the old industry. And for sure they need different skills.

Disruption due to new technologies often creates inflation in preparation. The lowest rank worker in the new industry will require far more preparation than in the previous one. E.g. Less skilled jobs like printing operation or distribution are replaced by technology. If you are a junior journalist you are now in the lower ranks, in the sense that the jobs less skilled than yours are all replaced by technology. You need much more preparation to be a journalist than to be a guy in the distribution chain.

On the other hand, a system like Adsense enables a bigger crowd to benefit from advertising. Now if you are a junior journalist you can join the Long Tail of  bloggers and be self-employed. Online ads, combined with indie publishing, are the foundation of the Digital Renaissance we live in.

How does print media respond to that?
Sadly enough, we have the example of France, where print media lobbies politicians to tax the innovator, in order to protect the status quo and delay the inevitable. As RIAA already demonstrated in the music industry, trying to stop change with lawsuits is not the best way to deal with disruption.

* Google makes 95% of revenues from Ads and U.S. represents 46% of their worldwide business. As Google reportedly has 44% market share in U.S. online ads, numbers are consistent.
Global online advertisement spending in 2011
You will find more statistics at Statista

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Why a novel on startups?

I admit it. I read far more non-fiction than fiction. That doesn’t mean I have not read my own doses of Asimov, Crichton or Forsyth. So, why my first book is a novel?

On one side because it’s more fun. You are the Creator of the world in your story. It is not that you command what happens in the story (I couldn’t), but you do become the instrument through which characters come to life, and action happens.

On the other side, Asimov used to say that it is more difficult to write fiction than non-fiction. I hate to say I love challenges and that influenced me to pick the fiction path — not the less transited though.

But mainly writing fiction gives you the opportunity to have your characters argue on ideas which don’t have a simple answer. And this story gave the ‘guys’ the chance to talk about startups, about open source, about patent trolls, about new mobile app ideas and specially about what moves most entrepreneurs: the dream to change the world.

I couldn’t have talked about all those diverse points, and some more I made about human matters as love and finding yourself, without the excuse of Mike and his journey in Asia.

For me it was really fun to write. I hope it is as fun to read for you.

If that’s the case, let me know

A story about a dreamer that wants to change the world.
After joining a startup accelerator, Mike Marquez comes across an algorithm that can change music creation forever. But soon he will find he is working for the dark side.

The fist fiction work of Jose Miguel Cansado is now on Amazon.
You can get a free pdf sample here.