Friday, March 31, 2006

Business squared

Tampere (Finland) is my home city, a city of red brick factories and green parks with trees, and a river flowing through the center. There are wonderful cafes around the town, trendy new ones near the bigger department stores and the train station, ones where you can order a cappuccino and they actually understand what you're talking about.

There are others with a spirit of the city as it used to be, where you better just order a normal drip-coffee or risk being seen as an icky new-world metrosexual (if they knew what that was). Not that cafes or the city have anything to do with anything, except that I had some thoughts about the different levels of business while searching for some of those old-style cafes.

I saw an advertisement in some restaurants about a new type of service where you can order food to be delivered to you by a telephone call or a visit to a website. The thing is, the restaurants themselves are not providing this service, rather there is a company which will take your order and then order the food and bring it to you. In a sense they are providing food for their customers, as your order can be picked from a common menu, but yet they do not actually have to cook it themselves.

They found a way to take ordering home delivery of food into another level. Instead of providing one type of food and making it themselves, they can provide a more varied menu and provide a better service. There are other examples of this. Take used book stores. How to take that a level higher? Well, there is a company which has contacted many used book stores and provided them with custom software and instructions which enable them to easily sell their books in a common marketplace. Now customers can search which books they can find in many book stores, instead of just randomly browsing through one. Of course the biggest example would be Amazon Marketplace, where Amazon provides the book descriptions and images and sellers can offer those books for sale. For buyers, all the books for sale can be conveniently be found at the same location and Amazon is happy as they can get a cut from all the sales made by others.

Wouldn't you agree that there is something similar about these examples of book selling and with the food ordering service? All of these are instances of taking a common thing and raising it to a higher level. What other levels could there be? If you think of a restaurant, the problem that it is solving is providing people with something to eat. So instead of people making food for themselves, someone might decide to make food professionally for others and start to work in a restaurant as a cook. This would be going up a level. Let me indulge in a bit of pseudomathematical masturbation and call this level x.

There could be yet someone else, who would see that by hiring many people specialized in making and serving food, they could control the operation in an even higher level. Instead of making food as an employee in a restaurant, he could control the whole operation on a higher level, removing himself from the drudgery of actually chopping onions. He has reached x squared in his thinking. Well, I'm sure you're ahead of me here and know what I will say next, but I'll say it nevertheless. The example of the service which provides customers with food from restaurants through a common menu is taking this thinking to x cubed.

Be a clerk at a book shop - x, own a book shop x², start Amazon Marketplace -- x³.

I feel that Amazon Marketplace and the food delivery service are providing useful services. But there are cases when going up a level can be unnecessary. When making computer programs, some things can be done by using ready-made functions or classes arranged into libraries. This can make difficult things easy, like using the Google Maps API to get a map instead of making such a component yourself. Well, there are people who might say that they don't like how the API is and would rather create their own wrapper to it. To which I would say that this "higher level" is unnecessary and possibly even a hindrance.

Where am I going with this analogy? An example of an unnecessary level of abstraction in business would be real-estate agencies. They are providing a service which admittedly does take renting houses to a new level, since they can offer many options, but I feel that this level is now becoming obsolete. People are perfectly capable of communicating with each other effectively enough to make this intermediary unnecessary. A digital camera and a message board on the net is all that is needed. Perhaps the need for this level is still there, but at least it is shifting. By the way, someone came up with a way to take message boards up a level and has a website where people can easily create their own boards for free, of course with advertisements by you know who.

This is an exciting time. I feel that the boom is not over, or perhaps my mind has been irreversibly damaged by it or I am living in a state of denial. I still feel that there are possibilities to take things to the higher level, positions of useful intermediaries still waiting to be filled. And the scary thing is that once these positions are filled, it is often very difficult to change them. eBay has become the intermediary of used goods, and it would be very difficult for others to fill their position, as they have all the users. This is why Skype was sold for that ridiculous price, they have the userbase and competition would now be too difficult. It would not surprise me much to see eBay still being around after a hundred years. I cannot imagine mass desertion of deviantART (according to Big Boards they have 5 million members, same as the population of Finland) or Flickr either, a competing service would have to be significantly ahead in their execution for users to even consider such a thing.

There are still such spaces to be filled, businesses to be squared or even cubed. Whoever manages to fill those spaces properly may get a userbase who will stay faithful. This is especially true for anything with a social aspect -- eBay is all the more useful the more users they have. When the size of the userbase is essential to the usefulness of the service provided, it might be impossible for a competitor to take over. Can it really be true that with a few years of effort, eBay has secured themselves a place in cyberspace which will bring them enormous fortunes for all time ever after until the sun runs out of helium, or will the need for an intermediary shift?

I will end this on a bit lighter note. If you think up from the business cubed to taking it to the power of four, what do you get? Lawyers and investment bankers, helping people like me who are utterly convinced of the unique possibilities of the Internet age lose all their money trying to become the next big thing. How about business taken to the power of five? Monks. No, really. They have realized that all this talk over achieving fortunes is nonsense, that really it is better to forget about wanting anything in the first place. Jules became such a monk in Pulp Fiction. At level six we have god, for whom the whole question of wanting is irrelevant as anything can be created and nothing is needed.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Japanese ninja cockroaches

Warning: you will be grossed out. The first Japanese cockroaches I experienced in our western-style apartment (no tatami mats) taught me to respect these beings, even if they are just insects they are incredibly skilled superinsects at that. I believe each skill deserves to be studied and worshipped in turn in an orderly fashion.

Menacing appearance

They look so ugly and repulsive that if cockroaches made music, thousands of Kiss fans all over the world would jump ship and buy their records. This is a skill, because it is an effective deterrent to us evil humans trying to disturb their peace. I however have gotten quite used to them, they may be as long as my finger with their long black waving antennas but I refuse to be terrorized. They might intend to frighten me into chaos and retreat. But they have failed; I am strong.

Supersonic speed

Pop quiz: what is black, but moves like a lightning? One thing I couldn't read in a book was how fast they are, I mean you'd expect a creature this clumsy in appearance and so large to move at a bit more leisurely pace but oh no, dead wrong, when they move it's like zzzZZZAP. They are one of the few creatures on earth that can move faster than light speed, creating an appearance of several of them as light of the creature in its new location reaches your eyes while the creature is also being perceived in its old location simultaneously (see Picard Maneuver). Or maybe there just are many of them.

Advanced hiding skill

I had been chasing one around the room and managed to corner it into a metal box which had only a few items in it. I pushed the items to the other side of the box and expected what's left to be the cockyroachy thing I was looking for. No such luck. So I start looking at the items I pushed to the side, then remove the items one by one. As there are only two smallish items left I start to believe that the insect must have escaped. Nevertheless I continue to remove the remaining items and what do you know, it was hiding cleverly behind one of them!

Another incredible thing about cockroaches is their ability to fit through incredibly small spaces. I mean for a creature of their size it's not something you would expect. Case in point -- I am chasing a particularly nasty one around our loft and finally have it in a corner where it clearly has no place to escape anywhere. What happened next I could hardly believe, IT PASSED THROUGH THE WALL. Whooo... creepy. On closer inspection there was a tiny little space between two planks of wood but not such that I would have expected anything to be able to pass through. This infinitesimal crack (even if you added an infinite amount of these cracks together, I doubt it would make an actual crack) has since been filled in my neverending attempt to extinguish the stream of these spawns of satan.

Unmatched strength and bravery

I believe this little story will illustrate this well enough. I think this was actually the very first cockroach I ever killed. I had tried to capture it with all kinds of clever methods, without any success. Then suddenly in midrun it flips over. Then while waving its little legs hopelessly it just stays still, since its on its back, on its black shell. Rather than calling it quits and giving mercy, I decide to kill it. I put a newspaper over it and stomp it with my foot. Dead? Nope. I stomp it again. I lift over the newspaper and see it split into two pieces with some internal organs spilled on the floor. Success!

I approach it in order to throw the pieces away, but what happened next I could hardly begin to believe. The thing started moving. It's in two pieces, but it moves! It moves with a purpose, it starts escaping, quite slowly, but it attempts escape. While it's doing this, it's DRAGGING ITS INTERNAL ORGANS BEHIND, which is the reason why this attempted escape is quite slow. I mean come on, it's against the rules of the universe to continue moving when you are in more than one piece with your internals hanging out! They certainly have sisu (Finnish concept of not giving up and fighting 'till the bitter end).

Well, this concludes my little treatise on this wonder of nature. I hope you found it both educational and amusing. Thank you.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Net citation collection

Found a really neat site today, Citation from them: "At any rate after seeing many of the social bookmarking sites pop up I decided to throw some code at an attempt to take my quotes (and those of my friends) online in a searchable and shareable way... was born!"

Citation from me: "Why didn't I think of that!?"

Citation from Jung: "The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves."

Reason for Pirate Bay being down

The Pirate Bay, the ultimate place for finding links to torrents (such as Linux distributions), seems to be down now. I heard their search engine is just broken, so it will be back soon. Message from them: "thepiratebay is down - we work on it, so be cool :)"

Update: They installed new hardware.

Another thing. I posted about my reload compo before. Well, I had to take that compo down. I always did feel that it was a borderline case that Google might not like so much, but now I noticed that there is a part in their ToS which forbids giving incentives for ANY activity on a page. I was never giving incentives for searching and certainly not for clicking on ads, but I WAS giving incentives for visiting the page, therefore it appears I should not have the search box there and I decided to shut the site down.