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For some, the experiment paid off

For some, the experiment paid off. Sabeer Bhatia, an India-born entrepreneur who, after a stint at Apple and the start-up company Firepower Systems, co-founded Hotmail with a former colleague and then went on to sell his business – one of the first web-based email systems, distinguished by its groundbreaking decision not to charge users for the service – for $400m [£253.8m] on his 29th birthday. For others, it didn't. When turned to bust it did so in now-notorious style: after eating through $135m of venture capital in the first 18 months, and amid tales of Gatsby-esque spending on the part of the fashion e-tailer's Swedish founders, the firm was declared bankrupt, leaving more than 400 contractors and staff redundant.

It might have been dismissed as a one-off, the sudden dissolution of riches a kind of modern morality tale of excess. But it wasn't. The world of the web millionaire continued to grow and, a decade on, stories of bright ideas leading to great riches abound. YouTube received its unceremonious baptism in 2005 when three PayPal employees uploaded a video of a trip to the zoo. All pixelated footage and bumbling narration ("the cool thing about elephants is that they have really really, really, really long ... um ... trunks."), it was the video that launched countless others. Now more than two billion are watched every day and it was the promise of viewing figures like these that saw Google snap up the company for $1.65bn just 18 months after it first launched. Shortly before YouTube's birth, in what is now internet legend, a Harvard student named Mark Zuckerberg had launched (later, from his dorm room. These days he can be found conversing with Prime Ministers via video link, and is personally worth an estimated $4bn.

Crucially, these were a different breed of dotcoms, distinguished from the ill-fated experiments of the Nineties by their durability. Founders got rich quick and stayed it. The relative security of these operations – not to mention the sums they have earned their creators – has revived the idea that the internet is paved with gold. Nowadays, every Tom, Dick, and Harry can (or thinks they can) have a go. Enter the words "internet millionaire" into Google, and you are directed to endless ranks of advice-peddling websites claiming to have the answer, whether it assumes the form of five secrets of successful e-trepreneurs or 50 (are all of these sites run by millionaires? Is setting one up the answer?). The same is true in the bookstore: shelves heave under the weight of advice manuals. But to what avail? Online Marketing Services Provider.

As founder of the online auction site QXL, Tim Jackson rode the first wave of dotcoms with mixed success (the business had the dubious honour of admittance to the so-called "99 per cent club" of businesses that lost 99 per cent of their value when the dotcom bubble burst, though it eventually recovered) and is now involved in competitions site Miss Win It.

"The internet changes the business game," he argues. "It offers the chance to access people without much material machinery, so that start up costs are lower. It also makes it easier for people to access you. You have scale, reach and speed as well as reduced costs." It's no wonder the net is an attractive prospect for entrepreneurs, particularly those of the ordinary "civilian" variety, who might not have much capital behind them.

What's more, despite the explosion of ideas that we have already seen, the market is unlikely to saturate. Far from it: one of the defining characteristics of online entrepreneurship is the role of market creation. Some successful start-ups meet needs. Far more, though, create them, carving out their own market in the process. Jackson's Miss Win It colleague is Ramsey Khoury, a seasoned web developer and founder of the digital consultancy Head London. Along with his business partner Kate Amarnani, he came up with the concept of the "competition creation and information" site when talking about promotion space. "It's almost a non-existent market," he said. "You find a new market driven by the experiences you can offer."

For the present, then, the future of the online goldmine looks secure. Indeed, technologies have so improved that establishing your brand is easier than ever. Malcolm Graham is chief executive of the web development firm LimeTree Online. Having watched the changing conditions over the last 15 years, he is confident there has never been a better time for investment. "It's a great time. A lot of ideas have been explored but there's still plenty of opportunity. The technology is stable now, which was a major problem with the 1990s. The skills are out there and readily available, which makes staffing your business easier."

Naturally, not every online chancer is guaranteed a hit. As Khoury puts it: "There is a lot of noise on the web." Success depends upon the ability to retain relevance, be that by smoothing the path to your company's door, boosting your company's online profile, or maintaining an active relationship with your customers. Direct Marketing Services Provider.

"User experience is key," says Khoury. "You need to make things simple for people." That might be by ensuring people know where to find your web page, or designing the page to be as straightforward and clear as possible. Certainly, the latter is crucial. The clean layout of Facebook is credited for luring users away from MySpace and allowing the younger upstart to overtake its more established rival, a cycle that has continued with the runaway success of the even more simple Twitter. "You need to get an understanding for your audience and you need to build a dialogue allowing for feedback," he adds. "Social networking is great. For Miss Win It, much of our audience is on Facebook for instance."

Much of this, of course, is basic business sense. If customer relations is a key component of success, well, 'twas ever thus. Since the series began five years ago, Dragon's Den has welcomed a steady stream of would-be web sensations. But, the criteria on which they are judged differs little from the standards set for other, more traditional offerings. "When I look to invest I don't just invest in the product," says James Caan. "I invest in the people. If the individual or team have the motivation and passion for what they are doing, then ultimately the business is more likely to be successful – regardless of whether it's online or offline."

The same could be said of growth management. In the same way that a shopkeeper or restaurant owner who tries to take over the high street before their first outlet has made a profit could be setting themselves up for failure, web developers who aim immediately for world domination are liable – just like – to collapse in on themselves. No one was more wary of this than Nathalie Massenet who, just a month after the infamous clothing store liquidated, turned an almost identical concept into realty – and, in turn, into one of the most significant, seminal, successes of the digital age. She launched Net-a-Porter in June 2000, the wreckage of the bust still scattered around her. Founded in a tiny flat in Chelsea, the online department store employed only 15 people and kept borrowing costs at a minimum. "Initially we were really held back by how much we could buy," Massenet has said. "Because we had no money to buy product."

Web success, then, is part technological savvy, part old-fashioned nous. The pioneers of the early Noughties may have nabbed their spot in the history books, but the trail that they blazed is a long way from being worn down. The web remains an accessible arena for entrepreneurship, and things look likely to stay that way. Indeed, the advent of the smart phone has opened up a new gap in the development market – in the form phone applications – and has opened up a new audience in the form of the phone-carrying populations of Asia and Africa. For the time being, the second dotcom bubble appears a long way from bursting.

Applications pending

Are smartphone applications a goldmine in the making? It's not yet clear. Certainly, apps have become a phenomenon in their own right. Before they existed, it was near-impossible for independent software programmers to gain wide exposure and the profits that come with it; now Apple, Android, BlackBerry and Nokia boast app stores that provide a platform for freelance developers. In June, the five-billionth app download was made on Apple's store and more than 225,000 apps are available there. There are also dotcom-style tales of great wealth being won. Last year, engineer Ethan Nicholas developed the tank artillery game iShoot, leaving his day job shortly after. When the game was at number one in the sales chart, he made $37,000 [£23,400] a day. Still, some are sceptical of their potential. "In general terms, I think talk of get-rich-quick is a bit sensational," says Tim Jackson, founder of the online auction site, QXL. "Developers get a lot of coverage but if you look at many of them, the potential for money-making is limited." Strict rules about pricing, content and revenues also make the app market a restrictive place to make a fortune. Media Marketing Agency.

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But as I walked around the SpeechTek 2010 conference last week

When you think speech technology, odds are you think of HAL from 2001, or perhaps, more generously, R2-D2 and C3PO from the Star Wars movies. And of course, that level of speech recognition is still a long way off.

But as I walked around the SpeechTek 2010 conference last week, I was again reminded that speech recognition may not be at that level, but it's certainly good enough for a lot of applications today, and it's being readied for even more uses in the near future.

We often think of speech recognition in terms of applications like Dragon Naturally Speaking, but the biggest use for speech recognition today seems to be in the call center, with interactive voice response (IVR) systems handling and routing simple queries, and analytics software helping companies search through their records looking for patterns. If you've ever heard "this call may be recorded for quality purposes," odds are some software with speech recognition is involved. And I know that most times I call my bank or credit card company, I go through an IVR system before I get to the right person. Indeed, the fact that the conference was held in conjunction with the CRM Evolution conference aimed at call centers is an indication that such applications still dominate the market.

All sorts of firms produce products that serve different parts of the market, with Nuance (which makes Dragon), Microsoft (through its TellMe Brand), and Loquendo probably the best known providers of the engines themselves.

Both Nuance and Microsoft have widened their offerings in recent years through acquisitions.

Microsoft's Grant Shirk, director of industry solutions, says the company is focusing on a "cloud-based platform" for speech, with its products used by companies such as Fidelity, UPS, and Avis. Online Marketing Services Provider.

But in the long run, it views speech as part of a "natural UI" that will combine speech, touch, and gesture recognition. Indeed, in a keynote speech at the conference, Microsoft Speech General Manager Zig Serafin talked about the transition to the "natural UI era"

For instance, Microsoft has integrated speech and gesture recognition into its Kinect for the Xbox; and speech and touch features together for Windows Phone 7. Indeed, Shirk gave me a great demonstration of using speech on a Windows Phone 7 device. You just press and hold the center button on the bottom of the phone, and you can say things like "Start Outlook." You can go into Bing and say things like "Find Italian Restaurants near me." Or just say the name of an airline and flight, and get the status.

The TellMe technology is part of the speech recognition that is already embedded in Windows 7, but in many ways, this technology seems to be moving beyond such obvious dictation, Shirk said. For instance, he noted how a new Voice Mail Preview function could transcribe voice messages and put the text into your e-mail inbox, with the person leaving the message not even knowing it.

Improvements in the technology are based in part on getting more samples, and in building the usage of existing products so that developers can gather more data. The company is also interested in building in semantic intent and context, so that such software does a better job in understanding what you mean, building on tools like the Powerset engine Microsoft recently acquired. The goal is to "stop transcribing and start understanding."

Nuance may be best known for Dragon Naturally Speaking -- still the best-selling dictation program, and one that keeps improving. But it also makes a wide variety of products aimed at other speech applications, which are often used in the telecommunications and financial services industries, including an on-demand version it recently acquired with BeVocal. The company says it has over 4000 deployments of customer care applications.

Laura Marino, senior director of product management, said the company is particularly looking at improving the grammar of a conversation, making software that is a "smart listener." She noted that such "adaptive grammar" makes it easier for the software to understand what someone means in a conversation. Direct Marketing Services Provider.

Another area of research, she said, was "dialog strategies", making the applications more conversational: asking questions and responding to them. The company also talked about "natural languages" and is working on making the next generation of such applications closer to talking to a live agent. She noted how many people prefer going to an ATM rather than to a teller, so making such "self-service" applications work even better is a key focus.

Of course, the company is also looking to build on its wide variety of applications, with Dena Skrbina, senior director of solutions marketing,telling me that consumer speech applications were driving improvements in IVR speech, and vice versa. She said the use is broadening beyond customer care applications; to full problem-solving solutions, including such things as outbound messages, in systems that notify customers of changes or alerts via SMS, e-mail, or voice calls.

For instance, the company offers a visual display system that combines speech and visual displays for phone companies, so you can easily navigate your bill. One such system, Dena said, has sent more than 12 million alerts. The company counts Metro PCS and T-Mobile among its customers. Media Marketing Agency.

Personally, I've noticed a great deal of improvement in speech over the past few years, from dictation programs to mobile search to IVR solutions. And while no IVR system is as good as talking to a real live person, there are plenty of times when I'd rather get a quick answer over an IVR system than wait on hold for a live agent. Voice recognition has come a long way, but of course, it's still nowhere near as good as it looks in the movies.

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The middle class tends to be very radical

The rise of middle class, which is projected by Morgan Stanley to reach 300 million, or 40% of the Chinese population by 2020, can be challenging for the Chinese government.

"The middle class tends to be very radical, in terms of free thinking and being very global," said Handel Jones, founder and CEO of International Business Strategies, Inc. "They also tend to have mobility," he added.

"So what you have to do in China is build the middle class so they will consume more products. But you still have to produce more than you consume in order to export. So you should balance for now," Jones told IBTimes in a phone interview.

Besides, moving people daily to deploy them as labor is another pressing issue as the big cities are very crowded, like in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

Jones, who has been involved with Chinese governments and state-owned and private businesses for more than 30 years, noted that "What China is doing is building fast railways. You can move by railroad from shanghai to Beijing in 2-3 hours. They have a lot of flexibility for people moving around." He noted that China also has to provide other supporting systems including the huge educational systems and good medical services.

"What China has to do in 30 to 50 years is what takes other countries 100 or 200 years," Jones said.

Challenges abroad

"Due to fears of no longer being No. 1, there could be more criticism of business practices in China such as human rights," said Ted Sun, an international professor and expert based in the U.S. "Such judgment based on their value system should not interfere with China's development and modernization as a nation." Online Marketing Services Provider.

Other experts also agree with Sun.

"China's rapid ascent to the position of second largest economy-on its way to becoming the number one largest economy- should mark a turning point in US-Chinese business relations," noted Robert Vambery, Professor of International Business and Marketing at Pace University.

China may also feel more pressure from the international community on the issues of climate change.

"The Chinese government should be concerned of climate change issue because they do very little..." Vambery said. "My feeling is that they didn't do enough because they do not believe that the climate change was man-made, and therefore they did not believe that China should make climate sacrifices towards the climate change."

Winners and losers in the rise of the dragon

"The formal assumption of the No. 2 spot itself is really only psychologically significant to Japan, although they've known for a while that it was pending," says Larry Harding, founder and president of High Street Partners Inc., an Annapolis- based firm that offers international business services.

"In Japan, China's ascendancy, coupled with the aging of their population, presents very big challenges," Harding told IBTimes in an email interview. According to Harding, Japan has yet to really come out of their "lost decade", and seem to still be working to re-establish their footing, which is proven by their messy politics for the last five years.

"The influence for the rest of the world from the rise of China is already very, very significant," Harding said."There are too many examples to list, but one interesting aspect has been the worldwide rise in oil and commodities prices, as China's thirst continues to explode. This is great news for places like Africa. Direct Marketing Services Provider.

"For the U.S., the rise of China has been felt in the rust belt as manufacturing jobs move offshore.

Is GDP everything for China?

"China may be the second largest economy in terms of GDP, but that makes the fact that China's per capita income is 10 times smaller than Japan and the United States," Kevin Gallagher, professor of International Relations at Boston University, told IBTimes.

China's Gross Domestic Growth (GDP) in 2009 stood at $4.9 trillion and the per capita GDP was just $3,700, far behind developed countries.

"What's more, China is still home to one hundred million poor people and it is fast becoming one of the most unequal societies in the world," Gallagher added.

Gallagher noted that in 1978 China's Gini coefficient was 0.18 and is now approaching 0.50 and rivaling the most unequal places in the world like Brazil and Mexico.

The Gini coefficient is a measure of the inequality of a distribution, a value of 0 expressing total equality and a value of 1 maximal inequality.

Though GDP may not be everything for China, the Chinese people can also benefit from the overall growth of the Dragon's economy.
According to Professor Gallagher at Boston University, China's economic status will give the Chinese "tremendous bargaining power at the WTO and elsewhere".

"China will demand more respect amongst the global business environment and command more 'say' in the various global organizations such as the UN and WTO," said Ted Sun,an international professor and expert based in the U.S..

Moreover, China may gradually change the current situation that America has the ultimate veto power with organizations like the United Nations and also provides the majority of the funding, Sun said.

"If a decision is not liked by the Americans, they can stop it from happening, even if many other countries are for the decision," Sun told IBTimes in an email interview. "With China's economic powers, they can balance the power of the Americans and perhaps play the world leader in making solid decisions in the future," he concludes.

China has already used its economic power to leverage access to new technology and know-how, according to Professor Gallagher at Boston University. Media Marketing Agency.

"We'll see what is next," Gallagher said.

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Mid Ohio is a very familiar track for Raphael Matos

Mid Ohio is a very familiar track for Raphael Matos. The 28-year old Brazilian has raced there seven times and has claimed three victories in three different series - once in Formula Dodge, once in Star Mazda and once in Firestone Indy Lights. He finished ninth in his IZOD IndyCar debut last year. Matos went wire to wire in the first of two Firestone Indy Lights races there in 2008. He captured the pole and led all 40 laps in securing his third win of the 2008 season. The second race was marred by rain and Matos, who started fourth, crashed late to finish 18th.

Last year, making his IndyCar debut in Mid Ohio, Matos turned in a solid performance on a hot and humid day to finish ninth in the Honda Indy 200. It was the first of four consecutive top 10 finishes and pushed him back into the lead in the Rookie of the Year race, a lead he would not relinquish. After a strong showing in the first half of the opening qualifying session (P4), the car unexpectedly struggled on red tires during the second half and finished 15th. But his race performance was as different as the weather from one day to the next. After a cool, rainy qualifying day Saturday, race day was 91 degrees and humid. Couple the conditions with a challenging course and the drivers shed a few pounds during the two-hour race. Despite the low starting position, Matos put together a strong opening stint and climbed as high as sixth. He remained in the top 10 for the rest of the race.

"I really like Mid Ohio. It really suits my driving style. It has some hard breaking and some fast flowing corners and I like that and I've won there before. It's much closer to Watkins Glen than any other track and we had a good car at Watkins Glen. I am hoping we can get the same kind of performance in Ohio."

IZOD IndyCar drivers are going through their most physical stretch of the season with five consecutive road/street course races, including Edmonton, the most demanding of them all. Mid Ohio is another physical track that can add more demands when the weather gets hot and humid, like in 2009, Matos' rookie season. "I definitely learned more about what the track is like when the conditions change," Matos said of his rookie appearance. "I was also reminded how physical it is. It's much more physical in an IndyCar."

While the drivers endure this physical stretch in the schedule, they also must try to maintain their training routines while on the move. "For these kinds of races you have to maintain your strength, especially in your shoulders, neck and arms and you have to keep it up even you're traveling," Matos said. "I try to do as much of my routine as I can, but nothing beats driving the car. So the test last week really helped and I'll go to the gokart track too to keep it up."

The de Ferran Dragon Racing team has now tested twice at Mid Ohio in the last month. They were on track June 30 to better prepare for Watkins Glen and begin building the baseline for this weekend's Honda Indy 200. They were back on track last week. "The track was better the second time we tested because there were more cars running," Matos said. "It was much close to race conditions in terms of grip. It's nice to have a fast car, but we do know the conditions will change on race weekend." Online Marketing Services Provider.

It was August 7, 2009 in Mid Ohio when Gil de Ferran announced his retirement as a driver to pursue his dream of becoming an IndyCar team owner. One year later the dream has come true, as de Ferran returns to Lexington, OH as the managing partner and team president of de Ferran Dragon Racing. De Ferran's retirement from the cockpit was made in style, coming immediately after he won the Mid Ohio ALMS race, his fourth win of the season and third in a row. He and Simon Pagenaud posted five wins during the 2009 season.

"Last year seems like a century away. So much has happened since Mid Ohio 2009 that I really have to jog my memory. Regardless, Mid Ohio will always be a special place for me where I had some very special memories as a driver and as an owner. But this is the past, it would be great to continue to build on our recent results and do well in Ohio."

Davey Hamilton will return to the cockpit of the #21 HP de Ferran Dragon car in Chicago. He was scheduled to race three races, including Texas, but that plan was altered following Indianapolis. "It was always on the cards that Davey would drive again for us this season," de Ferran said. "Obviously, he was scheduled to run in Texas, but the accidents in Indy ruined that plan, now we will have him in Chicago. He really helped us a lot in Indy and I am sure the same will be true in Chicago. I wish we could run two cars full-time as this is very important to a team's competitiveness with the current testing restrictions." Direct Marketing Services Provider.

"It has certainly been a honor to serve as part of the ICONIC committee. There are many factors that play a part in the success of a racing series, some technical, some not. But in my mind, being a part of the group that determined what the cars and engines in IndyCar are going to look like for the foreseeable future has been a very exciting. Obviously it was a task that carried a great deal of responsibility, I was always very conscious of that and aware of the importance of many of the decisions the committee was making."


"What I hope is that the new generation of cars help enhance traditional brand values of IndyCar racing of extreme speed, innovation and tough and tight competition. I also hope this new generation of cars becomes a factor to help the sport grow and gain more fans. I am very excited about the series and I do believe it is going into a great phase. The grids are full, IZOD is proving to be a great title sponsor, we just need to continue to deliver great races, hopefully with car number 2 closer to the front!" Media Marketing Agency.

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