Friday, February 20, 2009

Competition of the future & the American education system

A few months ago, I sat down with friends over dinner and engaged in a passionate argument about the education system in America. I argued on the side that the times were changing and what had worked in America until now was not going to work in the future. I said that America is woefully behind on education in math and science and that the future belonged to kids who excel in math and science. The next generation of world leaders in both private and public sectors would come from countries that pushed math and science vigorously.

My friends argued that America has a more holistic education system and that it prepares kids to be more creative and artistic. They argued that they would want their kids to pursue their dreams and also consider becoming artists or go into other fields that don't necessarily need math and science. These career paths as opposed to scientists and doctors, the fields which require intense math and science reading.

I argued that it does not matter what fields people go to, but quickness of math and a higher than general knowledge of science are essential components of the next generation of workers. My argument was that it has become imperative that knowledge in these fields is now essential as the global workforce is a lot smarter and individuals have to deal with a more business savvy approach to everyday life. The discussion continued into the wee hours of the dawn, but many did not make an effort to view the scene from my point.

I talked about the documentary "2 Million Minutes", which hopefully will give them some more food for thought about the discussions we had.

I just found this other data point today and it was quite revealing in terms of some of the metrics. I hope you view this as well.

In ending, I just want to say that public school systems in America in general are doing what they can to prepare the next generation of kids, given the fiscal constraints that they work with. However, it is upto the parents to guide their children and help them succeed given the new reality.

Friday, February 6, 2009

What is Social Communications and how to leverage it?

Have you wondered what is Social Media and what it offers? Who should use it and whether this new medium can be leveraged by companies, entrepreneurs and others alike? If you did, you should plan on attending the one day "Social Communications Summit" being held in New York City, on Feb 10th. Jeff Pulver, producer of this summit, wrote "We are living in a time where our phones have become Social Communication devices and that presence is quickly becoming a trigger point for communication".

As a society, we are becoming more and more connected and mobile, able to do things while being mobile. Personal Presence is still evolving as we speak. This evolution of presence, Pulver states "has huge implications for advertising, media and telecom". For me personally, as a Co-Founder of MOBOW, a startup developing products in the mobile presence arena , this aspect of presence made this summit a must attend.

The summit is interesting because it offers a preliminary glimpse as to how the various aspects of social media will play out. Pulver has invited members from the Media, Internet, Communications and Entertainment industries as speakers. I am personally interested in understanding the Investment appetite in this area, Effect of social communication on media and enterprise adoption as well.

Investment: Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures and an early investor in Twitter is one of the speakers. I am interested in his outlook on investment in mobile in general , and also in this area of social communications. I hope to be able to understand the implications of micro-social expression as he sees it in the enterprise arena. Twitter has been a great consumer application with lots of users and large scale adoption. I myself am a ardent fan of twitter. However , enterprise adoption of twitter-like applications are facing an uphill battle. I believe that's due to the fact that many users in large companies already work in small teams and creation/maintenance of a shared micro expression feed to expressly state what they are working on is seen as a waste of time. I believe that applications that address "goal/task oriented micro expression" with ties into existing content creation mechanisms, along with an identity/contact/group management component to identify relevant participants and smooth mobile content delivery are the keys to success in this emerging nexus between adoption of social media and the reluctant enterprise arena.

Effect on Media: David Kirkpatrick (Senior Editor - Fortune Magazine) recently interviewed Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook) on stage at DLD09. David is currently writing a book about "The Facebook Effect" . It would be interesting to hear what David has to share from DLD09 regarding Facebook. Apparently Facebook's Connect will be a big focus for FB in 2009. This ties in well with Jeff Pulver's talk at the #soc09, the theme of which is "Connected Culture".

Some of the other interesting speakers are Jeff Jarvis who wrote "What would Google do". He recently spoke about the "Life is a beta" culture about how Google produces products. I have heard him speak at the NY tech meetup and he was also on the Brian Lehrer show today (Feb 6th 2009). While his fascination for Google and the way they do business or product development will be interesting to hear, I would also like to see him address how Social Communications in the realm of "Let your customers decide features", will be adopted by Enterprise Companies, particularly those apprehensive about IP protection.

Engaging Social Media for marketing: Marketing campaigns have to be carefully plotted out. Clueless campaings can face backlash especially by the watchful eyes and ears of the powerful group of Mommy-Bloggers. As many of us know, a small but vociferous self-professed "Motrin Moms", derailed an entire Johnson & Johnson Motrin television and print campaign. The campaign was met with such resistance by the likes of Katja Presnal that eventually executives apologized publicly for allegedly being insensitive and pulled the entire campaign. This incident was a little unsettling for marketers, because it proved that in this day and age of Facebook, twitter and other means of expression (where people have a huge following), news, especially one that angers a subset of the population travels fast. Has this caused companies like J&J to be reluctant to leverage Social Media or should they actually work with focus groups, before releasing campaigns publicly?

There are other tracks which discuss music, and entertainment especially as it applies to social gaming. Overall, I think that the Social Communication conference is a great opportunity for evaluating new means of communication, leveraging presence in a relevant way, advertising, investment and other opportunities in this area. Come, mingle and be a part of the new Social media revolution.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
- Thomas Jefferson

The past year has been monumentally destructive for the equity markets. Financial companies and credit worldwide have nearly been crippled. Fear has invaded the markets and there is no sense in some of the characteristics exhibited by individual investors. I sometimes sit back and wonder in awe the global effect that this economic slowdown has had. Millions of people worldwide are facing unemployment and here in the US, President Obama faces a monstrous task of injecting confidence and rebuilding the US economy.

As I sit back and think about the events of the past year, I am seeing a silver lining in all the doom and gloom of the market and the economy. The very fact that the plug was pulled from those irrelevant lofty valuations caused the excesses of the market eco-system to come out of the woodwork. What this has done is to out the nefarious schemes of people like Bernie Madoff (U.S) and Ramalinga Raju (Indian software giant Satyam Computer Services). The markets had started to flatten and slide by late 2007 and it took almost a year of falling values to trickle down to the point where the schemes laid out by these men unraveled. A lot of people have lost their entire life savings due to these alleged ponzi schemes. It is a sad thing, but in a way this downturn caused more schemes and crimes from being perpetrated. I sincerely hope that all of the illegal schemes will be revealed before the next uptick in the markets and the economy. I say this because when the markets are good and generally rising, dirt can get swept up under the rug, excesses get ignored and thievery can be hidden.

The incoming president’s cabinet members had some issues as well. Timothy geithner and Tom Daschle had unpaid taxes. Would they have paid it if it were not for the promising roles that they were about to undertake? Why did the IRS not catch them or audit them. Tom Daschle had not paid taxes to the tune of over a 100,000 dollars (Late Breaking news as I am writing this, Daschle has withdrawn). These people only chose to pay after the vetting process for the cabinet posts.

In the same way, why did the SEC choose to go after Martha Stewart and prosecute her for a pity-some gain on insider trading charges, when many others got off easy? The question here is, "Was the SEC asleep at the wheel when Madoff was concocting income statements?". Doesn’t the SEC actually do a random check of claim of trades executed as a means to verify the authenticity of income via equity trading?

Thomas Jefferson said that the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. In much the same way, the needs, greed and excesses of society must be shed from time to time. Unfortunately the patriots pay (lose money), but the tyrants are revealed. Hopefully justice will prevail.

* Note: As the American way goes, at the time of this writing those parties that stand accused of crimes. are all innocent until proven guilty (with exceptions).