Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Orkut Flaw

Orkut, the premier online social networking software, has a serious flaw. While trying to update my profile photo, I discovered that there was no way to delete the previous profile photo. The only way to change the picture was to upload a new one. Hence, replacing the older one.

So what happens to the old picture? Surely, implementing a delete algorithm is not difficult and requires a few lines of code. Clearly, it is far less expensive than other routines such as uploading a photo or managing communities. So why has orkut left out the delete facility from profile photos section?

I could, ofcourse, only come up with a cynical answer - orkut does not want to miss out on any data which could later be sold. So make sure you people only upload a photo that you know you could share with others. Apparently, if you do upload a non-sharable photo, you are up at a loss when you try to delete it.

Is it a bug or a deliberate move to archive all the data?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act is probably the biggest hindrance to e-government efforts in Pakistan. As of now, anything declared as classified by the federal government is considered out of bounds. Technically, this means each and every piece of information could be excluded from public scrutiny. It does not take a lawyer to figure out how such vague laws could be misused.

The e-government efforts seem like a mere icing on the cake to me. Even though they do not lack substance are generally being implemented using sound technological solutions, their implementation is still questionable -if not objectionable. For one, technology does not promise a 100 percent solution to our democratic woes. As technology rules go : it is 20 percent about the technology and 80 percent about the people and processes. Hence, we would not accomplish much if the same indifferent and callous attitudes are remained intact. Character building and personality rejuvenation are needed before any more investments in e-government solutions.


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Corporate Blogging and Financial Treatment

Blogs are proving to be an excellent communications tool. By forging one-to-one relationships with customers, organizations have discovered a new medium to retain the customers. Organizational theories have confirmed that retention is more financially feasible than exploring newer ones. This is claim is backed by research and known to all executives.

Uusing a blog often signifies the redefinition of corporate strategies that are targeted at the customers. As such, some changes in financial statements are quite obvious. If a corporation does decide to use a blog to further its goals, should such proceedings be recorded as an expense (recorded in an income statement, or an asset (recorded in the balance sheet)?

Clearly, blogs provide some tangible as well as intangible benefits. Most tangible benefits (such as profit) are long term, while intangible benefits (goodwill, customer satisfaction, retention, valuable feedback for pennies) could usually be seen in shorter-terms. Note that the defintion of long and short term varies. For this post, readers could consider a period longer than a year as long term, and anything less as a short term. If these benefits could be realized, recording blogs as an investment in an asset seems obvious.

On the other hand, blogs incur expense. These expenses are usually rather insignificant - even less than the petty cash expenses in some cases.

To have a better idea of what I mean, please examine the following treatments. The first image is where the blog is recorded as an expense. The second image shows treatment as an asset.

It is clear that blogging should be treated, if at all, as an investment in an asset. It is an investment that paysoff in the long run. Whether it should be classified under current or fixed assets depends on how quick the blogging mechanism is at generating cash for the organization. Managers can still use conventional risk evaluation and feasibility techniques such as NPV, IRR or Payback Period to determine the relationship between the cost and the eventual ROI. In the case of blogs, the initial outlay is quite insignificant, unless equipment such as server machines and a custom-built blog software are purchased.

Note: If a business blog is setup by a sole propreitor (or a small partnership), it could also be recorded on the Statement of Owner's Equity - rather than an income statement or a balancesheet. This does not seem to be practical, however, in the case of corporations.

Whether blogging should be recorded as an expense or as an investment is largely a matter of choice for organizations. There is no fixed rule. Factors such as the organizational committment to technology, financial executives' knowledge of IT, IT department's willingness to convey the potential blogging benefits are just some of the many that may lead to the adoption of one method over the other. However, a blog is surely an investment. As such, the responsibility lies with the CIO and the IT department to proof this. Proving this would also lead to the justification for the IT department's existence and encourage more resource allocations to the department.

I would appreciate comments from all the readers about this post. Please do forward your suggestions, criticism (negative criticism is more than welcome), and any errors in the templates of the financial statements shown. Thank you.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Virtual Psychology

Virtual World requires a whole new branch in psychology that deals with issues of

- Internet addiction
- Personality changes in chat rooms
- Virtual needs of today's net users
- Human emotional needs and desires and how these are fulfilled virtually (love, sex, belongingness, friends, recognition)
- Net related stress, hypertension, fear, anxiety

My goal in this and many of the later posts would be to explore the existing human development and behavioral theories and modifying them to fit the virtual user.

Internet addictionA lot has been said about addiction to the Net. However, most studies have failed to accurately determine its causes. I think Internet addiction is a rather inappropriate term to describe a phenomenon that is quickly penetrating our real lives. Why is the 24/7 use of Internet considered an addiction, when the same does not hold true in the real world? If someone is heavily social, has a lot of friends, goes out a long, hangs out often, why is this 24/7 indulgence in the real world considered appropriate?

The way I see it, there is no such thing as Internet addiction because sooner than later, the Internet would be all over our lives. It would dominate each and every activity that we do, and change the modus operandi of carrying out chores. In the past, the distinction between the real and the virtual was far too great and Internet addiction might have been a problem. Today, it is just the reverse. If you are not wired, that is a bigger problem.

Most of the problems that stem out of Internet addiction are only because of the Net's misuse. Employees spending too much time in chat rooms and children neglecting homework to get on the Net. Come to think of it, if we fail to act appropriately in the real world don't we find ourselves landing into trouble? For example, suppose a person steals - does he/she not get into trouble with the law? The same is the case with the Internet.

The future would further blur the distinction between the virtual and the real. The debate should not be about Internet addiction. Rather, we need to discuss how to make the transition from the real into the virtual as painless as possible. This transition is bound to happen - may be not in our life times, but it is a given. Might as well work to make it as transparent and convenient as humanly possible.

Another problem is the terminology used. The word addiction, itself, has a negative connotation. Such words should be ejected from the people's vocabulary.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

E-government is simply providing better services to the public using electronic means. By adding a layer between the government and the public, e-government can provide quality services that reach the maximum possible people. Have a look at the elementary model below that explains the concept of e-government.

The e-government layer in the preceding model could provide the benefits depicted in the model below:

The scope of e-government, initiated in October of 2002, is very vast. Around Rs.300 million were spent during the past year alone by the Sindh government on implementing various projects that would eventually lead to the realization of e-governance in Pakistan. The steps that I suggest are depicted below:

The first step is to create an awareness in the system. Arousing curiosity and confidence is mandatory for acceptance. We then move on to automation leading to the paper-less government office. The third step involves the delivery of information, downloadable forms, etc. All these steps have already been performed by the government and are represented with green numbers.

The steps represented by yellow numbers are being worked out, which are redundant in my opinion. More precisely, stage 4 is where the focus of our attention is at the moment. However, this focus is highly unfocused.


Stage 4 is where the e-governance would start to process transactions. For example, a citizen could apply for a passport online. However, such transactions require faith and confidence in the system, which is attainable only through mass awareness campaigns. Hence, stage 4 is closely linked to stage 1. Therefore, efforts should be made to create awareness before more money is spent on stage 4. It must also be remembered that formal education is not what would be needed to create confidence in e-government. The cost makes formal education beyond the reach of the majority in Pakistan. Hence, a cheap mode must be used to create awareness about the electronic system.

Have a look at Stages 6 and 7. Note that it is important that effective delivery must precede efficient delivery. Right must precede Timely to create confidence in the system.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Offshore Outsourcing Dead?

Are we about to face another war?

A war against outsourcing.

According to this article, the American job market is continuously experiencing a downward shift due to offshore outsourcing. A strategy shift at bringing down offshore outsourcing is a thorny idea for our region.

Read this article and tell me if you think offshore outsourcing could be used as a new weapon.


Thursday, January 06, 2005


Software Engineering is a continuous process that involves a series of steps. In a nutshell, an ideal software engineering approach starts by analyzing the problem and culminates at delivering a solution. This solution must be both technically and economically feasible.

Feasibility is like a coin. It has two faces: one deals with organizational variables such as profitability and Return on Investment (ROI), the other deals with the technical variables. The attainment of these feasibility benchmarks, thus, calls for engineers who are just as energetic and sympathetic towards business as they are about the technicalities.

Therefore, it does not come as a surprise when I come across job openings that require IT professionals with sound business skills. A recent job advertisement on the Business Channel required Computer Science graduates with strong Project Management skills. However, name me one higher education institution in Pakistan that provides such skills to its computer science graduates. Apart from some round-the-corner apartment institute, you would probably fail to come up with any such institution in Pakistan. It does not take a genius to figure out the ultimate consequences of such a disparity between job specification and higher education.

There are universities, such as the Hamdard University, offering courses in MIS that integrate the business with the computer studies. However, these are not Computer Science programs; Hamdard offers a BS degree in Business Informatics.

Obviously, such a scenario is not good for the economy.

What is the government doing about it?

Does Mr. Leghari (Awais Ahmed Khan) Minister for IT, have any idea?

What are the academics doing to correct this?

What are professional organizations such as PASHA and PSEB doing (other than attending seminars or hanging out with people from NASSCOM)?

Where are the software houses that are always shouting about the government's inflexibility while addressing their issues?

Where is the media when it comes to highlighting such problems?

Are there any students' organizations that are listening?

I guess no one's listening. They would have listened, if they had just taken some time out of their busy social schedules to think along these lines. Sadly, they never did and never do. Do I have any choice, but to be pessimist?

Monday, January 03, 2005

IT Growth Structure

Why have been Pakistani businesses slow to adopt IT despite tremendous benefits?

After thinking over it for some time, I came up with a growth structure that we have followed thus far. Apart from the inconsistent and derogatory policies, the growth structure that we followed is unsatisfactory. It is depicted below:

In such a structure, there is more supply than demand at the initial stages, thus leading to an economic in-equilibrium right at the inception. Because of an excess supply of IT services and professionals (without creating a demand at the upper tiers), businesses fail to deliver real value in the form of better goods and services.

On the other hand, the ideal growth structure would have been a start with awareness through education. Once there is enough quality education, professionals would penetrate the market and automate business processes to create value. At the last stage, businesses would electronically integrate to provide real value, while cutting costs by integrating with suppliers, distributors and customers.

The ideal growth is depicted below. Notice the low density of the lower tiers as compared to the upper tiers.

Let me know what you guys think about it?