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Crowd Sourcing India Internet Mapping Mobile Web 2.0

Social Mobile Mapping (Mapiki)

With Google’s release of Google Maps for Australia, I am hoping Google Maps India isn’t going to be that far away. Being a complete outsider to Indian roads and traffic, it would be a very welcome addition to our list of expat related sites and tools that we’ll be relying on after we move to India.

I know the challenges of putting together Google Maps in a place like India. I’ve been to the tiny little alleys that are at least 400 or 500 years old. I’ve also been to what was farmland 6 months ago and today is a luxury residential development outside Bangalore. In a country where the streets are thousands of years old and where farmland and undeveloped land is changing so rapidly, it will be an immense task to keep the data updated. However, could this be the perfect place for an experiment in Social Mobile Mapping or Mapiki? This is the term that I’m going to use for what I think could be a tremendous addition to the social web.

Imagine an application that will redraw maps based on GPS transmitters and SMS text messages, submitted by none other than the users of the mapping application. In a place like India, a rikshaw driver can pull out his mobile and type in a message and sms it to a service that will instantly display on the map the changes reflected by the rikshaw driver. Of course, this can be gamed but so can Wikis. The question is, can the wisdom of crowds provide cleaner more accurate mapping information just like it has helped to create Wikipedia?

For now, however, at least I can get driving directions in New Delhi.

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India

A Passage to India

Emblem of India
Nusair asked that I start blogging about my experience in India over the next few weeks. I have toyed with the idea of doing a podcast and/or blog of my travels and of the whole process of doing a startup. I arrived in India in the beginning of last week. I’m here to determine what the Indian consumer Internet industry looks like with the hope of starting a company to service this industry in India. This is my inaugural post on my Passage to India.

I have started exploring what kind of startup infrastructure exists in places like Bangalore, New Delhi, Kolkata (Calcutta), Mumbai (Bombay), and Chennai. I will be examining Bangalore and New Delhi up close and personal but for the moment, I’ve decided not to look at the other three places, partly because of high churn and burn rates, as well as personal factors leading me towards Delhi and Bangalore.

Bangalore is probably the worst (for tech companies) when it comes to high turnover but it appears to have the highest concentration of talent, with the possible exception of Hyderabad. New Delhi isn’t quite known as a technology hub and it is quite a bit more expensive that places like Kolkata. Mumbai isn’t quite the best place for a technology company, in my very humble opinion. Mumbai is run my financial institutions, much like New York City. All these institutions pay well and hire up any potential engineering talent. This engineering talent, along with people with financial experience jump jobs every 3 – 9 months for sunstantial salary increases. I’ve seen this immense turnover at a previous company I was at. Though, my area wasn’t impacted by the high turnover, the company and customer service was being hurt very badly.

Kolkata is much less expensive than New Delhi, Bangalore, or Mumbai. However, it also has a very small talent pool relative to the other cities and many engineers in Kolkata see a technology job there as a stepping stone to a “real” engineering job in Bangalore, Hyderabad or Chennai. This, obviously, isn’t always the case but it is quite common.

Over the next few weeks, I will be detailing thoughts, insights, and questions that I am facing and dealing with in determining whether India is the place for a consumer Internet application or should I heed the advice of others…. “Go West Young Man…”

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India

Internet Access in India and the Nokia E61

A little background on how I was led to the Nokia E61. Back in April, I had picked up a Motorola SLVR L7 and have been pretty happy listening to my favorite podcasts on it.

A few weeks ago, I decided that I was going to be taking a trip to India and needed Internet connectivity consistently. I tried finding out from people in India, websites, and well known blogs like GigaOM on the best method of WiFi connectivity in multiple cities like Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, and Delhi. Most places I didn’t even get a reply from but a few people in India told me that WiFi hotsopts aren’t as prevalent as the ubiquitious T-Mobile hotspots at Starbucks in the US. For example, Tata Indicom (in collaboration with VSNL) has a Wifi service but from their website, I can only find one or two hotspots in most major cities ( Mumbai and Bangalore are exceptions – both have many access points ).

I soon realized that my best chance of having some kind of consistent Internet access was using mobile phone technology. Many people recommended Reliance Infocomm.

Reliance is a CDMA based mobile phone service offered through most of India. Reliance has been a very cost effective alternative to the GSM based technology that has been most prevalent in India ( Read some reviews on Reliance Infocomm ). My problem was that I would have to buy a CDMA phone ( or rent ) that I would use whil I was there. I couldn’t use the phone back in the states or really any other part of the world that I would travel to. As you can imagine, I wasn’t thrilled at wasting the money on a phone that I would use for a very short time.

I dug around on the web a bit and took a look at some more of the mobile carriers in India. Hutch, Bharti Airtel, are two of the larger national carriers that I came across. If you think mobile plans and prepaid plans in the US require a PhD to understand, well, you haven’t looked at the possibilities from Indian mobile carriers. To understand the most cost effective postpaid or prepaid plan you will need a team of Internatioanl PhDs. Here are the prepaid plans available on Hutch ( you’ll need to look at all the possible offers as well to really understand what is best for you ) and Bharti Airtel.

For voice, I think that Bharti Airtel has a better offering. However, BA has no EDGE access. They are using straight GPRS from what I can see on their website. They have a nicely laid out map of all their value added services.

Bharti Airtel Value Added Services

Hutch on the other hand, has slightly higher calling rates but offers EDGE access either using an EDGE PCMCIA card in your laptop, or via your phone. This sounds like it could suit my needs pretty well, at least until I figure out a high speed alternative for using my MacBook while traveling. Hutch EDGE Screenshot

I continued looking at other services like MTNL’s Dolphin, SPICE and IDEA but it appeared that SPICE and IDEA were very limited in network coverage and MTNL’s Dolphin service and charge description was so difficult to follow, I just gave up.

Now, I’m back to Hutch and Bharti as my two primary phone and Internet carriers during my travel. I have a sleek, sexy Motorola SLVR L7 that has Bluetooth, synchs up very nicely with my MacBook, though I still haven’t figured out exactly how to use it as a bluetooth modem. The SLVR, unfortunately, doesn’t have EDGE support so my speeds in India are going to be miserably slow. Not to mention, I will have to carry around my MacBook everywhere I go. I decided to look into a smart phone that has bluetooth and EDGE support. It would be nice to have WiFi along with UMTS and HSDPA but my options are very limited. I was, therefore, looking for a phone with the following functions:

  • Quad Band (850/900/1800/1900) GSM for global connectivity
  • Uncrippled Bluetooth
  • QWERTY Keyboard
  • EDGE/GPRS Support
  • 802.11b/g WiFi
  • Replaceable Storage – Secure Digital/MiniSD/MicroSD
  • Expandable through thirdparty applications
  • IMAP/POP3 Support

Things that would be nice to have:

  • 1MP or better camera
  • Video Camera
  • MP3 Player
  • MP3 Player that synchs up with iTunes
  • Lightweight and Slim form factor

I tried using the Treo 650 over a year ago and hated the phone. It’s bluetooth was horrible and they keyboard was so small, it was impossible to really type effectively on it. The Treo 700/750 hasn’t been widely available for GSM yet so I kept looking to the most obvious choice, Blackberry. I wasn’t thrilled about spending the monthly Blackberry connection fee that most carriers charge. The fee to use your Blackberry is typically much higher than just having unlimited GPRS/EDGE access. I kept looking around and came across the Nokia E61. The phone had most of what I wanted but it wasn’t yet released in the US. I looked around on eBay and found a store near by that had the phone for $350 all in. I picked up a Nokia E61 a few days before Labor Day and have been playing with it for the last three weeks.

I will provide an overview of my experience with the Nokia E61 in a separate post.

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Misc.

Business Plan Archive

I just came across the Business Plan Archive while reading a post on VentureWoods. The Business Plan Archive is a research organization that’s loking to preserve business plans and other business documents from the Web 1.0 era. Very interesting site with lots of very valuable information. Take a look.

In partnership with the Library of Congress, the Center for History and New Media, and the University of Maryland Libraries, the Archive collects and preserves business plans and related planning documents from the Birth of the Dot Com Era so that future generations will be able to learn from this remarkable episode in the history of technology and entrepreneurship.

Business Plan Archive

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Misc.

Diigo and Internet Research

I’ve been using Diigo and the Diigo toolbar for a week or so now and so far, I really like it. I first heard about Diigo over at TechCrunch.

Diigo is at a very basic level, another bookmarking site. However, Diigo offers a way to easily annotate comments or notes to a bookmark and share it with others not only from the Diigo site but also via email.

The Diigo toolbar even integrates with other social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us and Shadows to allow a synchronized posting of bookmarks across all these services by tagging it and annotating it just once, in Diigo.

Diigo allowed me to easily import all my del.icio.us bookmarks and start seeing public annotations that others have made regarding my bookmarks. My biggest gripe about Diigo so far is that it isn’t easy to delete a tag. I have a bunch of del.icio.us specific tags “for:<username>” that I want to remove without removing the bookmark itself. Following Diigo’s directions allows me to rename these tags but not easily delete them.

Other than this one issue, Diigo works really well for sharing research, bookmarks, and even blogging about other sites. Check it out!

Edit & Delete Tags

http://www.diigo.com/help/tagging/3

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