Reading roundup for Sun Sep 12: the RSS reader is dead – again, thoughts on opposing net neutrality, an IIMK startup, a remarkable life and more

In tech, we read another article about the irrelevance of the RSS feed reader. Comically, to bolster its case, it cites another article from 2006 that also pronounced the RSS reader dead. Google Reader was a wonderful idea to begin with, and it became a daily destination when it introduced shared items, followers, likes, comments and the whenever-you’re-bored ‘Explore’ tab for posts you’re likely to be interested in.

Reader really became a community thing with Buzz. Your friends’ shared items now showed up in your Buzz stream and you could like, comment and reply right there, a la Facebook. Twitter just isn’t that social, and you just can’t cover as many sources with Facebook as with Reader. My network is hardly a statistically significant sample, but there are many times as many friends on Reader/Buzz now than that article in 2006.

Also, we read an argument about why the US Government’s current net neutrality proposal is – contrary to most new coverage – actually anti-business. (“… the FCC has crafted a brand new concept of non-discrimination. Non-discrimination under the FCC’s net neutrality proposal means that ISPs cannot offer enhanced services beyond the plain-vanilla access service to content providers at any price”) In other words, under this regulation, ISPs are condemned to become dumb pipes, able to differentiate purely on the basis of local availability and price, in a race-to-the-bottom.

I’ve always opposed net neutrality regulation; that the FCC instead ought to put into place incentives to ensure choice, to grow the pie instead of distributing the pie that exists today (as an aside, I use the same analogy as the definitive difference between capitalism and socialism). There’s no problem in having a particular brand of anti-virus pre-installed on my new computer, or a particular search engine set as default on my browser, or a particular portal being loaded in a browser window every time I connect to my broadband network, or a my broadband provider choosing not to distribute an dialler for OS X. Non-neutrality, or preferential treatment is *everywhere*, and broadly acceptable.

If I were to be offered a monthly plan that would offer faster and cheaper access to Google’s bouquet of services (search, mail, reader, news, chat, maps, photos) and none at all to Yahoo’s andor Microsoft’s sites, I’d gladly take it. (I’d need to migrate all my photos from Flickr to Picasa and import my old bookmarks into Google Bookmarks). Under the current proposal, it appears that ISPs would be forbidden from even offering a plan like this. Instead, the FCC ought to ensure that for the same geography, customers have alternate plans and at least one alternative that – at whatever price – offers a completely neutral plan. If that requires the Government to setup its own ISP, so be it. (This last point is the same as the “public option” for health care that the Obama administration had proposed).

Finally, a musing about why more ‘social’ startups don’t start from your most important social network – your mobile address book. (“Why are so many startups content to build on top of the Facebook or Twitter social graph, when a lot of them can access your actual social graph in your mobile contact book?”) I’ve wondered about this several times, and tried to imagine a startup whose pitch could be “let us mine your address book, your message history, call logs, mobile email and let you know whom you interact with when for what, and you can choose whom to leave out (boss, or people you may not want other people to know of). Then we can layer location, social network data and the like on top and actually suggest future interactions, activities, places and purchases for each of them.”

In non-tech, the Economic Times profiled a startup – founded by two of my immediate seniors at IIM Kozhikode – that’s quite a success, at a turnover of INR 2 crore. His first email to the IIMK alumni group about this ventures this March began “I am from the Class of 2007 @ IIM K. I, along with a batch mate of mine(Venkata Raghulan), started an educational services venture called FACE – Focus Academy for Career Enhancement… we sign-up MoUs with educational institutions and offer Career Grooming services…” From what I could gather from the report, it’s come a long way since.

Finally, we re-read this article from the Study Hacks blog that argues that to lead a truly remarkable life, (do something meaningful and enjoyable on a flexible work schedule that gives you enough compensation), you MUST be able to offer something rare and valuable.

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