Online page design tips

Eyetrack has some interesting research findings and tips on Article-Level Page Design:

  • When readers encountered a story with an introductory paragraph, 95 percent of them read all or part of the introductory paragraph.
  • Those who spent time carefully reading the introductory paragraph of a story on article-level pages typically spent little time with the full story. Those who gave the intro paragraphs little time usually spent even less time with the story text.
  • Shorter paragraphs encouraged testers to continue reading.
  • Story text in one-column format was read more extensively than story text presented in a “newspaper-like” multiple-column format.
  • Subheads in online stories had little affect on how much of the first or top portion of the story was read when the reader’s interest was strongest. However, subheads increased reading for “skimmers” and for those whose attention in a story was beginning to wane.
  • When readers got to an article-level page, they seemed to be there to view the text. Overall, participants’ eyes fixated on the story or other text elements before the accompanying image.

They also have detailed results on everything from eye-viewing patterns to headlines and font size. Useful resource!


Enabling ICT for Rural India

While looking at the proceedings of FIRe (Future in Review), found the web-page for Rafiq Dossani who is doing ground-breaking research on IT as it relates to South Asia, and India in particular. Here is an excerpt from the Executive Summary of the project Enabling ICT for Rural India:

Some findings from the review were expected, such as poor infrastructure, high deployment and maintenance costs and the lack of content for eGovernance. Some less expected findings are that eGovernance services are overwhelmingly the most needed; that content is largely irrelevant to needs (itself indicative of wider problems of user and operator capabilities); but that user interest rises significantly when services can be delivered regularly and efficiently; that NGOs play a key role in understanding user needs and increasing awareness; and, finally, that rural capacity is not being enhanced through ICT.

Some problems exist because the strengths of the different stakeholders are not being used optimally. Thus, NGOs, which are strongest in understanding user needs and in increasing awareness, have diverted considerable resources to accessing bandwidth and paying for kiosk infrastructure. Organizations that are village-focused have missed the opportunity of maximizing coverage through Internet-based provision. All providers must deal with infrastructure problems outside their control, such as power problems. Partnerships in content provision are rare though greatly needed.

Our proposal for a new ICT model is based on separating the infrastructure from content provision and recommending that deployment of the infrastructure upto the block level be provided by technology specialists using universal service obligation (USO) funds. We also recommend the establishment of a data center at the state level in order to use content more efficiently. These approaches recognize the public-good character of the technology infrastructure. The Ministry of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Institutions should create a framework of rules to enable state management of this process.

Finance outsourcing in the high-tech and electronics industries

Key Findings of an Accenture-sponsored survey conducted by the EIU looking into trends, risks and opportunities associated with finance outsourcing in the high-tech and electronics industries:

  • Finance is among the most outsourced functions.
  • Finance being outsourced by small and large firms at differing rates.
  • Executives are satisfied with outsourcing arrangements.
  • Barriers to increased finance outsourcing exist.

What are the primary benefits / objectives of outsourcing the Finance function?

  • sharper focus on core competencies
  • lower costs.

If you do not outsource finance and accounting functions but you do outsource in other areas of your business, please indicate why the finance function has not yet shifted to this model.
The finance functions are considered too critical tobe outsourced (54%)

What will be the primary drivers behind the increasing use of finance outsourcing in your industry?

  • Improved quality of service from outsourcing providers (46%)
  • Pressure on costs (49%)

In your own organisation, what are the barriers that stand in the way of a decision to outsource finance functions?

  • Desire for greater direct control of finance functions (68%)
  • Cultural resistance to change (42%)

In your view, what are the 3 primary risks associated with finance outsourcing?

  • Risk that quality of service is inadequate (63%)
  • Risk that in-house knowledge and expertise erodes beyond repair (42%)
  • Risk of breaches of data security (41%)

Shaping digital convergence through mergers & acquisitions

Useful EIU / PwC survey findings and report on the opportunities and the pitfalls involved in digital convergence and mergers and acquisitions (M&A). This is an exhaustive survey of 149 executives supplemented with over 30 in-depth interviews of industry veterans. Key takeaways:

  • According to Dow Jones CEO Richard Zannino, “I’ve done 20 or 30 M&A deals, and one thing I’ve learned is never to rely on revenue synergies, because they never seem to materialise. No matter how great the brands, no matter how great the match, you’re going to lose some revenue in the process.” For this reason, says Zannino, “I put more weight on cost synergies, and that’s what makes up for the lost revenue.”
  • Many executives prefer partnerships and alliances as a less risky way to explore unfamiliar terrain. But there are shortcomings, including an inability to control relationships, either with customers or even with other parties in the alliance or partnership. And risk aside, alliances and partnerships may also move too slowly to capitalise on fast-moving opportunities. By failing to place a significant bet, executives realise, their companies may fail to maximise the convergence payoff.
  • But for those organisations choosing the M&A path, the warnings from the research are clear. Be certain you’re pursuing a realistic strategy-and then compare the value of that strategy versus the acquisition price. Markets today are heating up and few if any strategies in the history of business have been pursued successfully at any price.
  • Which sectors do technology, media and telecom executives believe will become the overall winners in digital convergence?
    1. Entertainment content developers (42% respondents)
    2. Consumer electronics manufacturers (36%)
    3. Wireless operators and related service providers (30%)
  • As for the role of mergers and acquisitions amid the many likely success stories, the last word goes to a CFO from a large, US-based high-technology company: “We know a lot of companies are going to stumble badly, but a lot more are going to do really well. I’d have to say strategy is important, but in the end, it’s all in the execution. A great strategy, poorly executed, is a waste of everyone’s time and cash. But a decent acquisition, well executed, with loads of cost synergies, can generate enormous returns. So in M&A, all you need is a good idea-not even a great idea but a good one-coupled with great execution and you can achieve amazing results.”

Also, a useful side-bar on “How to make a strategic alliance work” on pg.21.

Interesting new additions to Google Labs

Google Notebook [via Free Hogg] attaches to your browser toolbar allowing you to:

  • Clip and collect information as you surf the web.
  • Organize your notes from the web page you’re on.
  • Access your notes from anywhere.
  • Make your notes public.

Google Trends [via] analyzes a portion of Google web searches to compute how many searches have been done for the term you enter relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. Also, when it detects a spike in the volume of news stories for that term, it labels the graph and displays the headline of an automatically selected Google News story written near the time of that spike. It also displays the top cities, regions, and languages for the term. Interesting tool for researchers!

Who says there’s an oil shortage?

The Economist says that bio-fuels like ethanol (made from sugarcane and corn) and bio-diesels like “BioWillie” (derived from a blend of vegetable oil) might come to the rescue of consumers and the environment and also help in reducing reliance on foreign oil. Especially of interest:

A recent bioengineering breakthrough means that it should soon be possible to convert plant products far more efficiently to ethanol. This lends promise to cellulosic ethanol—a product that can be made from agricultural “waste”, such as corn cobs or weeds, which is widely available. (Once corn kernels and sugar-cane sap have been taken away for sugar, they leave plenty of stalks and leaves behind.)

This could lead to a revolution in emerging economies where agricultural waste, grass and weeds could be used as a cheap source of indigenous fuel. Also see my earlier post about rural electrification.

As consumers, this is welcome news for us, once again proving that human ingenuity is capable of tackling natural shortages. As an investor, it puts forth questions on where to invest. Tomorrow, we’ll see how we can play the market in light of such developments.

Download movies to DVD

Just finished reading a Yahoo news story about how movie studios are finally offering download to DVD technology that will allow users to play downloaded movies on their TVs. As is usually the case, the Adult Film Industry is again taking the lead in this initiative – Vivid has signed up with CinemaNow to offer movies for download to DVD. CinemaNow already offers movies from major Hollywood studios as well but those are restricted to playing on the PC.

NYT also has an article: “Can TV’s and PC’s Live Together Happily Ever After?” where they analyze the 4 important roadblocks to this concept taking off:

  • limitations in broadband infrastructure
  • the degree of readiness among electronics makers to provide a product with mass appeal
  • the behavior of consumers and
  • the agenda of the players in the TV ecosystem.

The reality is that just as the MP3, i-Pod and i-Tunes trio dismantled the traditional way of music distribution, if the movie studios don’t figure out a way to offer movies for download, someone else will.

I can think of 2 ways that such movies can be distributed:

  • a commercial-free premium version which can be purchased/rented in the same way and for about the same price as a regular DVD.
  • an advertising-supported free version which would be supported by highly targeted ads which the viewer is obliged to watch. The studios would have the complete demographic details of the viewers and would place highly relevant ads. Viewers would have an “add to shopping cart” button on their remotes, thus queuing any items which they like for check-out after the movie completes. To take it a step further viewers would even be able to pause Top Gun and buy Tom Cruise’s aviator sunglasses (as forecasted brilliantly by Bill Gates 10 years back in his amazing book The Road Ahead)