Google TV Apps Are Coming!!!

I hope Google gets it right. I’m at work right now and can’t watch any of the YouTube demos so I can only imagine what Google TV is all about from what I’m reading.

I imagine Google TV will expose an API with with developers can overlay text/images/animations on top of the playing video. The API will also allow read/write of metadata associated with the playing video.

What could a developer build with these capabilities?

Well imagine I’m videotaping a scene where some people with Android phones (GPS-enabled) happen to appear in the video. I upload the video and say someone named John is watching it on his Google TV. The video metadata reveals that several people had their Android phones and thus their GPS info was captured. John sees some text bubbles appear over these people. He clicks on any of them to reveal some shareable profile info about each person in the video. He decides to send a text message to one of them, without ever knowing that person’s true phone number. I can see why law enforcement would be very interested in an application like this.

All this is possible because the GPS of the video location and the GPS of the Android phones were in close vicinity at that time and place. Plus all this data is maintained and managed by Google.

Will Google OS Do This?

With all the recent hype about the Google OS news, I got to thinking about what a current OS is and does and what a Google OS might be able to do. There is a whole lot of talk about the competitive landscape this new OS will compete against. There are also discussions about its predicted efficiency and small footprint, and lots of comparisons against Windows.

My angle on this is a bit different than most. I am concerned about the ramifications of a completely new OS built from the ground-up and potentially being web-based. What would this mean to developers? What new types of applications might we see? What new OS features would this implement?

I recall a few years ago about a new directory structure Microsoft was working on (for their Longhorn project) that was based not on today’s flat file structure but rather on a relational database model. This got me thinking about how Google OS might implement the directory structure. I assume a directory structure will still be needed for downloading files and saving them somewhere. The OS of course would need to manage this directory structure, but does Google OS be able to resurrect and implement a relational database model? What does it mean to download and “save”?  Would “saving” be to the “cloud” or to the local client?

Let’s assume Google OS will indeed manage files but will do so in a “cloud”. So anytime a file is saved or retrieved the OS would be doing so from and to the cloud. On the backend, how could Google manage all this information? I think that would mean Google would need to allocate a relational database to this massive effort. In so doing the new Google OS, on any client machine, would in effect manage a directory structure based on relational database technology. The end user could therefore be able to transparently perform all sorts of queries against his data using a new interface, a super cousin of today’s windows explorer.

I haven’t revisited all the discussions that occurred when Microsoft first proposed this approach years ago, and I imagine there could be some incredible things that were mentioned and that can now be more easily implemented by the Google OS. Whenever I get a chance I will review some of these and add some more to the discussion.

[At this time I don’t have time to carry this discussion into the ramifications to developers and applications but I hope to return to this soon.]

I am no expert in OS technology, never having even enrolled in an OS course, so I invite someone out there to continue this discussion. Perhaps there is already a discussion about this somewhere, so please put a link in a comment here.

Ecommerce for Crowdsourced Products

I recently posted a comment on the article The 3 Stages of Ecommerce Tools that made me start thinking about this particular need I have. I am reposting that comment here and expanding it a bit. It will probably help you to read mentioned article prior to reading the rest of this post to give you the context of what I am talking about.

The above article mentions Etsy, which is a website of crowdsourced products for sale by micro-retailers (individuals). In my estimation, we should be seeing many more of these types of websites. Some may sell digital goods like music and graphics, while others may sell clothing designed and produced by individuals, like t-shirts, dresses, etc.

My question is, could Magento or another ecommerce solution be used to create an Etsy-like website? I’ve played around with Magento and I’ve realized that all the product details, like pics and attributes, must be entered by an admin(s). It does not lend itself to allowing its members to self-maintain their own set of products. “Members” in the Magento sense, are just shoppers and they can contribute reviews, ratings, etc. However, Magento “members” cannot upload their own products, not even as provisional products which would later be approved (moderated) by the admin.

Which ecommerce players do you think are leaning towards providing the solution for making these types of websites? I foresee, entrepreneurs like myself, wanting to build their own Etsy-like websites, but presently I do not find the solutions for these types of websites.

For now all they can do is to try to mesh social network software with ecommerce solutions in order to provide the ability for members to upload and sell their own products. Keep in mind a product’s details can include text, pics, audio and video, in addition to tags, reviews, ratings, etc. Social network solutions, like Dolphin, provide some of these features, while ecommerce solutions like Magento provide the other half of the puzzle, which includes such things as inventory management, shipping estimates, cross-selling etc.

I know there is a Drupal extension for Magento, but I don’t know enough about Drupal to know for sure if this is what I need. It would be interesting to hear from anyone with any thoughts on using this Drupal extension for Magento.

As I write this posting, I just realized I should google “Etsy clone” or something of that nature (such as Zazzle) to location software I can try. I hope I find something soon because I urgently need to get my project going soon. By the way, Rob from Foodzie.com has kindly offered to give me some leads. Thank you! Please check out their wonderful site Foodzie.com. It looks like they may have explored this same need and implemented a solution.

I just found the blog post The elusive Opensource E-Commerce Holy Grail: Multi-Site, Multi-Store with many comments that could be useful to uncover the mystery.

What If Obopay Cannot Provide An API?

In my previous post Obopay For Businesses I talk about why online merchants need an API to interface with Obopay. In Why Micro-Retailers Need Mobile Payment Systems I also talk about why I believe mobile payment systems are going to flourish on a global scale.

My question now is what if I cannot get the help from Obopay that I seek? Will I turn to another mobile payment system? Well, I am fond of Obopay. I like their website. I have seen a video interview of CEO Carol Realini and she is very likeable. It seems they have a very noble motivation for providing this service, to reach the unbanked and enable them to participate in the global online economy. Whatever reason for not being able to help me, I do not think they willfully want to burst my bubble. They may be too busy or focused on another aspect on which they forecast the most growth.

Anyway, if I stuck with this provider for mobile payments, what could I do to automate the payment process so that I would not need to manually login to Obopay or manually send out text messages? The answer is a GSM modem attached to my server.

A GSM modem uses a SIM card and a real cellular service provider tied to the SIM card. It can function like a normal cellphone but in addition can be automated, since it is hooked up to a server running custom software. In my case I am interested in automating the text messaging to and from Obopay.

So here is the scenario. A buyer sends an Obopay payment to the cellphone number associated with my GSM modem. Obopay sends a notice (in the form of a text message) of the payment to my GSM modem. My GSM modem forwards this information to my custom software for recording and order fulfillment.

When a buyer receives the goods, the buyer notifies my system to release the funds to the seller. My custom software then uses the GSM modem to send an Obopay pament (in the form of a text message) to the seller. This completes the loop from buyer to seller.

Now my problem is finding the right GSM modem and getting someone to program the custom software. The other problem I might face is ascertaining Obopay will allow this commercial use of their system. I am confident they would because I would be promoting the use of their system. I would publicly promote Obopay on my website as a way to build user trust in my preferred payment system.

Why Micro-Retailers Need Mobile Payment Systems

A micro-retailer is an individual who intends to sell goods directly to consumers with few or no middlemen. A typical micro-retailer uses a third party website to host the catalog of his goods, such as eBay, Etsy, CafePress, Zazzle, etc. Many typical micro-retailers are based in low-income countries where the actual manufacturing of the goods happens. These micro-retailers therefore have access to many products at wholesale prices. Some of them even have the skills and materials to produce the products themselves. Fast Company wrote an excellent story about micro-retailers.

It is interesting to note many of these countries have poor banking systems and many people do not have bank accounts. So this begs the question, how can more individuals in these countries participate in micro-retailing when they do not have an account from which to deposit or withdraw money?

Enter modern mobile payment systems, such as MoneyExchange and Obopay, among many new ones popping up all the time. They offer services by which any seller or buyer can bypass the need for having a bank account. Here is what I understand about them.

An individual creates an online account at one of these services. Funds can be deposited to this account through normal means such as money transfers from banks, credit cards, etc. An individual without a bank account or credit card would pay for an ATM card at a local convenience store with cash. The ATM card is linked to this individual’s online account. Subsequently, the individual can deposit more money into the same ATM card. Money withdrawals happen at the ATM machines.

So the online account and the ATM card work hand-in-hand. When someone deposits or withdraws money to the online account, the same is reflected on the ATM card, and vice-versa.

Real transactions happen when one online account holder transfers money to another online account holder. In these mobile payment systems, these transactions are initiated on a mobile phone, typically via text messaging.

So why do micro-retailers need mobile payment systems? Because they typically live in countries with no banking systems. These are the micro-retailers who have been untapped. They have access to raw materials and manufactured goods at or below wholesale prices. I would love to buy more goods from these people because they could save me money. I don’t want to pay the middlemen any more than I need to.

The next question is: how does one tie their online catalogs with these new mobile payment systems? An online shopper would see the option to pay by mobile, during the checkout process. Perhaps at that point the shopper would be given a unique code and total amount to enter into the text messaging going to the payment system. The system would immediately respond with a confirmation payment code to enter into the website to complete the checkout process.

Do today’s mobile payment systems support this kind of interaction? I hope they do very soon because I have an immediate need for this to occur. I truly believe mobile payment systems are going to be popular on a global scale, especially because they bypass the limitations of today’s banking systems. I welcome your remarks on this very much.

Summary of Immediate Needs

Here is a short list of some things I need as soon as possible. This is just a brief description of each need, and I intend to expound on these in later posts. For the moment, I only have time to offer you a small glimpse into some of my immediate needs.

Escrow Service
First of all, I am looking to find a very inexpensive escrow service with an API so I can tie it into my site and the whole thing will therefore feel seamless to the end user. I have been looking into present escrow services and other online payment systems, such as MoneyBookers, 2Checkout, PayPal, etc. I think the least expensive is about $5.00 for the range of dollar transaction I anticipate. However, there are additional fees and the sum total of using these services will discourage my users from participating with these escrow services.

Very briefly, I need an escrow service to alleviate the concerns of both buyers and sellers. When a buyer is interested in obtaining what the seller has, then the buyer uploads the total dollar amount to the escrow service. The seller can then see the funds are available and will therefore ship the product to the buyer. When the buyer receives the goods, the buyer releases the funds to the seller. In a subsequent post, I will touch on why I think escrow services will be much more important to a global economy.

Again, I need an inexpensive escrow service. Ideally, the cost of using the service should only be a few cents, under a dollar. In the end, this would be a very lucrative service because I envision transactions by the millions. I should also be able to integrate the service into my website with very little hassle. An API would be ideal.


SMS Gateway
Second, I need a cheaper global SMS gateway provider with an API. I am currently using ClickATell.com but their SMS credits costs me $0.06. When I do the numbers, this does not give me enough profit for the type of SMS service I have for my end users. I have been exploring other alternatives. One is to use a GSM modem or a CDMA modem hooked up to my server. The modem would contain the SIM card from my cellphone and I would pay my cellular service provider for the SMS credits, preferably under a text messaging plan. I have not tried this approach and am wondering if anyone can offer some advice.

I suspect SMS is very cheap but the current SMS providers have a monopoly on the pricing. I have seen various services and some upcoming ones, that offer some kind of service based on very cheap SMS rates. Some are Joopz.com, MindCaller.com, Group2Call.com.

If you have been keeping up with some trends, you may know SMS messaging is getting more popular around the world. Gen-Y is also using it as second nature. It is therefore obvious SMS will play an even more important role in the very near future.


Tag Clouds
Third, I need a very easy way to add tag clouds to my site. I have seen some really cool ways to add user comments and ratings to sites, and most of these are free. Some are js-kit.com, Disqus.com, SezWho.com, PowerReviews.com, and BazaarVoice.com. It is really easy to integrate any of these by just adding a few lines of javascript code to your site.

I envision I should be able to do the same with tagclouds. Of course, the service would need to collect data from my site and perform some kind of data aggregations before being able to present tagclouds. This is where I see RSS could provide this kind of data and meta-data. Everytime something changes on my site, the RSS feed would show the update and the tagcloud service could collect this new data. I will have more about how this kind of service could work.

Who am I and what are tech needs?

I work fulltime as a web developer for a major bank. I am a member of a small team that does all this bank’s  online banking programming. On the side, I work on my own personal programming projects. As I program, I come across pieces of functionality I cannot do myself because of resources or because I am not interested in getting myself into that type of technology.

These days there is so much technology out there that it’s really hard for any individual to know what is out there. That is my problem, so I have started this blog. I hope by exposing my needs, someone out there can help me find what I am looking for, if it exists. Otherwise, perhaps some of you will have an interest in some of these needs to go out and develop it yourselves for a possible profit as a solution to others with the same need.

While I have another blog at fidelguajardo.blogspot.com in which I list many technologies of interests to me, I think the wordpress format allows me to get much more feedback from readers. I am therefore choosing to express my needs here, but will nonetheless maintain my other blog as well.

Thank you ahead of time for taking the time to browse through my blog. I hope we can connect on some project together. When I have a technology need, I am so willing to pay for what I need or to work together to profit each other. Good luck to you!