Posts Tagged ‘internet’

That’s basically the point I make on my most recent/first publication on LinkedIn.

I reproduce it here, just in case I ever decide to disappear from every social media, this will still be the surviving repository of my work and attempts to find some missing meanings.

And this piece is all about trying to redefine meanings, thus this is the perfect place to echo it.

Journos, why don’t we reset our concepts and redraw our boundaries?

linkedin post 1As a freelance reporter for AmericaEconomia’s MBA & Executive Education site, I frequently get in conflict with AETecno‘s team of journalists.

Why would someone who covers business education crash against IT reporters? That’s the logic question, which must be popping up in your minds right now. It’s a very good question indeed, so I want to address it here.

First, MBA & ExEd site does not exclusively publishes news and articles about what’s going on in the global landscape of B-Schools. We also report on management, marketing trends, leadership, CSR, sustainability and entrepreneurship… Mostly, when I pitch stories that would fall under the “entrepreneurship” umbrella, very often I’m heading straight to the source of conflict, that Golden Apple of Discord at AmericaEconomia‘s newsroom.

Think about the concept of “Entrepreneurship”. At least today, it is inextricably related to this Start-Ups Renaissance phenomenon that we are witnessing all over the world. Now try to remember ten start-ups you know, either because you use their apps or services, or because some media outlet has featured it. How many of them are basically tech start-ups? Can you mention ONE with no connection whatsoever to technology?

Something I’ve found out while learning about entrepreneurship, in meeting with entrepreneurs and after writing profiles about vibrant, influential and disruptive start-ups, it’s that almost all of them are using technology to some extent -if they are not entirely based on technology. Hence the conflict arises: am I stepping into AETecno’s sacred territory, or am I entitled to cover the topic for MBA & ExEd?

In general, I think the outcome of those “fights” fairly splits between both sites in the newsroom. We win in MBA as many times as we lose againt AETecno, over the right to report on these issues. It doesn’t really matter as long as it is not the main concern of this post.

My question is the same I asked a couple of days ago to a clever guy that has become a friendly consultant for me, since we collaborated for another story a while ago. I asked Miklos Grof, Fundacity‘s CEO and co-founder, if he agreed with “including AirBnB and Uber in the ‘technology companies’ category”. I had heard this statement from SkillBridge‘s CEO Rajeev Jeyakumar while I was interviewing him to find out how can SkillBridge.co, as an online platform, bring more efficiency to the way companies find and hire the ideal consultant for a project. (More on this on my next publication on AmericaEconomia -wink).Journalism-for-Techies3

So I consulted Miklos because Fundacity is described as an online platform (check) that can bring efficiency (check) to the process of venture capitalists and other investors finding and selecting (check) “the start-ups that can be the next big thing”. His answer came quickly to take me closer to dangerous waters: “I think ‘technology company’ is a broad bracket which these companies for sure fall under”.

But fortunately he followed with an argument that gave me some room to argue my right to the SkillBridge story: “It is confusing, because ‘technology company’ means literally anything from bio-tech to mobile apps like Yo. The truth is that several market tags apply to these companies. For Uber can be ‘Transportation’, ‘Mobile’ and ‘Technology’. I would say Uber is a tech company aimed at transportation delivering a mobile solution. What do you think?

Well, up to that moment, I really pictured as technology companies those corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Lenovo or IBM, all of which make revenues out of innovating, producing and commercializing technological products or solutions.

However, I believe I had a sort of Epiphany at that point, thanks to Miklos. I replied back that these were confusing times, because everything is changing so fast, that we can’t keep track of all transformations, which are impacting our understanding of whatever used to be a solid, established kind of knowledge.

It’s true, it seems difficult to consider Uber as a transportation company, because in our minds we think of that term connected to “freights and lorries”, as Miklos pointed out. But how will kids understand “transportation” and label “transportation companies” when they will get to run the show?

As we enter a world where technology -whether IT or any other kind of tech- intervenes and mediates almost every action, work, and outcome, it is going to be more difficult to separate technology from any other market, labor, or human area of action and interest. As almost every activity, and entire industries, are pulled into the digital age, as Rajeev told me, when will come the moment when we can all agree that everything is about technology? Therefore nothing is it really? When will we agree to sort things out using other features to segment our understanding of things, yet again?

We are long established in a world ruled by the Internet of Information and Data. Now I’ve been listening more frequently to gurus referring to a very real future with an expanding Internet of Things, even an Internet of Energy… in connection to concepts such as the shared economy…

When that moment finally arrives, I will be a happier journalist, with less chance to get into conflicts with my colleagues from AETecno.

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In the Memory of Amanda, René, Ying…

Two strangers, many years ago

Two strangers, many years ago

I don’t know who those two girls are. By the look of the frames, they must be full grown up women by now. They could be mothers, or even grandmothers. One of them could be even dead for all I know.

I have found those pics in an open group in Facebook. Not just any group. A group that is named after my old high school, where I spent three years, between 14-17. So, that makes me feel a bit entitled to kind of steal the photos. Although, to be clear, I haven’t claimed any membership to that group.

I’m using these pictures that belong to perfect strangers to make a point: Internet, and very particularly social media, keep a sort of cruel memory.

At age 32, the notion that we are all mortals already struck me many years ago. I have lost some family. I have lost some friends.

But my grandparents weren’t Millennials, they had no Facebook Walls or LinkedIn Profiles or Skype accounts. However, my friends who are not here anymore, they did. Every year, for every new birthday, Skype sends a notification, Facebook shows a reminder, LinkedIn advices to say happy birthday and reconnect. Every new time, I dismiss those warnings feeling somehow sad.

I could “unfriend” them, or block them, or filter them from my feeds. I have considered it, but I am not capable. It feels like I could be offending them -or the memories that I have from them. So what I do is to click on their names and visit their profiles.

I read again the farewell messages. I scroll down to find their last post. I see some pictures where we are both tagged… And again I find myself wondering what if… they hadn’t gone. Where would they be, what would they be doing, whether we would still be friends.

It feels like they haven’t gone yet, not entirely, or maybe they’re back for a moment. Their ghosts linger in the Web. And I cry, just a little, just a shy tear.

Florence, 2010. With Ying and Gayatri, view from San Miniato al Monte

Florence, 2010. With Ying and Gayatri, view from San Miniato al Monte

shipping-airplaneUna pregunta frecuente para quienes tienen planes de abrir un nuevo negocio es dónde encontrar el nicho apropiado, la oportunidad de un mercado en crecimiento que impulse la escalada de la joven empresa. Pues la posibilidad puede encontrarse latente en el universo del comercio transfronterizo electrónico, que en 2013 movió alrededor de US$ 105 mil millones.

El pasado octubre, Paypal presentó un estudio donde se condensan las principales tendencias del comercio electrónico mundial. Entre las más atractivas proyecciones está que 2014 debe traer un crecimiento de 14% a este tipo de comercio. Para 2018, se espera alcance el valor de US$ 307 mil millones. El gigante de las finanzas digitales se alió a Nielsen y Radius para indagar sobre las preferencias de los consumidores, la direccionalidad del flujo de las mercancías, los retos que se imponen y las estrategias de los mejores jugadores.

Se observó, por ejemplo, que los artículos de ropa, calzado y accesorios son la diana del mayor volumen de compras online con un valor de US$ 12,6 mil millones, por delante de artículos de belleza, electrónica personal, computadoras y joyería. En América Latina los compradores más activos son los brasileños, quienes gastan sobre todo en artículos electrónicos. A nivel mundial, los estadounidenses, chinos y alemanes compran más productos de salud y belleza mientras que los británicos y australianos optan por boletos de avión.

El reporte dedicó especial atención a cómo están aprovechando las empresas latinas la apertura a un mercado global. Se ha demostrado que tanto compañías grandes como pequeñas pueden competir con semejantes oportunidades en la plataforma web, donde inventiva, eficiencia y visión pueden ser significar la diferencia para lograr el éxito.

Tesoro en el ciberespacio ecommerce-shopping-cart

La parte del estudio elaborada por Radius compiló datos de 400 compañías exportadoras en América Latina, entre las cuales se halló que las exportaciones en línea conforman el 25% o más de sus ventas al extranjero, llegan a obtener 40% de sus ingresos totales por esta vía y dos terceras partes de esos ingresos se logran por ventas hechas fuera de América Latina. Con todo, llama la atención que las ventas a países vecinos en América Latina (36%) superaron en porcentaje a las hechas a Norteamérica (34%) y Europa (15%), las cuales estuvieron muy parejas con el volumen que se movió hacia Asia (), Medio Oriente y África (12%).

En cuanto al uso de mercados virtuales como canales de distribución, Brasil se muestra con el liderazgo en el continente (64%), seguido por Argentina y Colombia (48%). Perú queda rezagado (20%), pero con perspectivas de mostrar el mayor potencial de crecimiento. Ahora bien, en lo concerniente al porcentaje de ingresos resultante de las exportaciones online, Costa Rica lleva la delantera con 49%, seguida por Argentina (48%) y Brasil (41%).

En su reflexión sobre el impacto positivo que esta variante de comercio puede traer a los países de la región, José Fernández da Ponte, director de comercio internacional de Paypal para América Latina, advertía que aún “parte de las compañías no son conscientes, es lo que nos motivó a realizar esta parte del estudio, poner en la mesa cifras y datos que no son fácilmente accesibles de otra manera porque son parte de investigación propietaria. Hemos visto la importancia de crear demanda a través de mercados y marketing social, la relevancia de los dispositivos móviles sobre todo de cara al futuro. Esperamos que se generen empleos de forma sustancial. Nuestros resultados ilustran que la opción de los comercios de exportar fuera de sus fronteras es brutal”.

Por supuesto que se presentan obstáculos a superar. Más de la mitad de las empresas coinciden en que lo más complicado es identificar quiénes potencialmente pueden ser los compradores internacionales, es decir, encontrar dónde está la demanda concreta que satisfacer. A reglón seguido aparecen las inquietudes por la seguridad y el fraude electrónico. Sin dudas el tema del robo de identidades, y caer en la trampa de sitios fantasmas es un elemento que detiene muchas veces el impulso de compra. En tercer lugar, las empresas latinas apuntaron al manejo de múltiples divisas como otra fuente de inconvenientes a la hora de lidiar con el comercio transfronterizo electrónico.

Por eso es interesante ver el trabajo de compañías que han demostrado saber jugar con ventaja. Entre las ganadoras se incluye la costarricense Café Britt. Su manager de ventas Adriana Echandi comenta que la empresa comenzó hace 12 años a concentrarse en llegar a un cliente extranjero que llegaba al país como turista, “pusimos tiendas físicas en aeropuertos y lugares de alto volumen de turismo, así ofrecíamos una experiencia memorable del lugar de origen, pero cuando el cliente quería evocar ese momento, o comprar el café para regalar, usamos el sitio web para facilitar las ventas electrónicas. Con los años nos hemos servido de otros canales y estrategias para vincularnos a través de los social media”.

Pablo Vargas, CEO de Café Britt señala que en su experiencia, “las regulaciones financieras no han sido el factor limitante para las transacciones transfronterizas, sino en mayor medida la confiabilidad de los sistemas de entrega y sus costos. Pero en este sentido las tarjetas de crédito y los operadores de sistemas de pago han facilitado los pagos en distintas monedas”.

En el caso de la chilena LAN, su ventaja competitiva ha emergido de la coherencia entre los canales de comercialización, según dice Alex Bucheli, senior manager de ventas directas y digitales de la aerolínea chilena. “En el mundo de los viajes y la venta de boletas, muchos pasajeros usan múltiples canales, la sinergia y la identificación entre los canales es muy importante. Además, hemos buscado otros caminos como la asociación con actores importantes en mercados extranjeros, donde no somos tan conocidos. Otra cosa ha sido facilitar soluciones de venta, como por ejemplo sucede con la herramienta Bill Me Later que ofrece Paypal, que es muy útil para relacionarnos con compradores de la región con afinidad cultural por pagar a plazos”.

En la misma línea de ofrecer al cliente una experiencia integrada, y abrir las posibilidades de acceso a productos y servicios desde varias plataformas, Da Ponte explica los proyectos de desarrollo de su compañía. “La visión a nivel general es que los medios financieros del individuo estarán en la nube y por eso él o ella deben poder acceder a estos en la forma que prefieran, y siempre con seguridad”.

Ciertamente, ya se nota el aumento contundente en el uso de tablets y smartphones como instrumentos de compra, tendencia que de hecho apunta al incremento. Da Ponte indica que a pesar de las diferencias particulares entre los países, las pautas generales son las mismas, “parte de lo que refleja el estudio es que el futuro es global y móvil. Hasta 30% de la actividad de exportación va a compradores que realizan la transacción desde un dispositivo móvil. Por eso nuestro esquema de innovación y desarrollo de producto gira en torno a dispositivos móviles y diseñamos primero pensando en smartphones y tablets”.

Echandi explica que las acciones en Café Britt siguen una ruta parecida a la delineada por Da Ponte. “Luego que desarrollamos un App, nos hemos dado cuenta que el 87% de las compras se hacen a través de tablets, no necesariamente por teléfono. Estamos haciendo cambios para que este proceso de compra sea más eficiente, más sencillo y amigable para el consumidor, que permita adecuarnos al lugar donde están y ofrecerles envío gratis y productos extra”.

Un aspecto al que las empresas siempre deben prestar especial atención, sea que practiquen su negocio en la red o fuera de esta, es satisfacer las expectativas de los consumidores. Desde este punto de vista, Michelle Magallon directora de marketing de la sede de Aeropost en Costa Rica, resume que dentro del comercio electrónico, esto significa que “la preocupación de los consumidores que quieren comprar en el extranjero es que lo adquirido llegue a casa de modo viable, seguro y a un costo que no sorprenda”. Entonces las empresas que exporten al extranjero vía ventas online, deben priorizar que sus entregas cumplan la promesa hecha al momento de la venta.

Magallon continúa por recalcar en el tema de la confianza y la seguridad como punto clave de generar un público fiel a la empresa, “cuando el cliente cruza la barrera de poner los datos de su tarjeta de crédito en un sitio web, espera sobre todo sentirse protegido y sus finanzas a salvo, por eso es importante invertir en seguridad informática y buscar alianzas que puedan proveer mejores mecanismos en este sentido. Ahora, un cliente satisfecho que hace sus compras digitalmente, tiene más propensión a repetir la experiencia. Hemos visto que en el primer año, los clientes compran un promedio de nueve veces con nosotros, y al año siguiente duplican las compras”.

Magallon comenta que antes de insertarse en el universo de las ventas online, se dio cuenta de que sólo llegaba a la punta del iceberg, sólo a una fracción del mercado. Implementar la solución electrónica incrementó exponencialmente la exposición de la compañía a un mercado global.

Since I left Cuba, one of the biggest challenges has been trying to explain Cuba to non-Cubans. No wonder it’s hard, everybody seems to have strong opinions on Cuba, whether or not based on facts, whether or not they have ever been in the island. Heck, not even Cubans agree on how we see and think about Cuba!

Yet, not even a single time I left those questions answered, even though I never succeeded to provide full understanding on any issue. It was always having to answer another question after half an answer, and so on…

But this wasn’t nearly as frustrating as trying to explain my disdain for news coverage about Cuban topics and events. It is difficult, not to say almost impossible, to produce good, fair, balanced and accurate investigative journalism in the island, at least when it comes to tackle the most relevant issues, the taboo issues. Those same issues, when covered by foreigners, tend to be a joke, because they simply don’t understand.

This rule, however, gets broken from time to time. Eventually, some clever articles and analysis pop up on the Web or some traditional media. That’s what I will try to do from now on. I will try to find and gather those pieces of good journalism here on this blog. I can’t tell how frequently I’ll be able to deliver, because that will mainly depend on someone else’s good job.

This first roundup:

Sueño con serpientes de mar, by Fernando Ravsberg, BBC. It covers the issue of the internet cable that was brought from Venezuela to Cuba. It sheds light on expenses, official testimonies, chronology, future perspectives, from a fairly balanced point of view.

Nip and tuck in, by The Economist. I know, this is a kind of old article, but I’ve just found it and believe it’s still relevant, interesting, and it brings to the table the issue of the Business of Medicine in Cuba, in terms of training foreign medicine students, and sending doctors abroad to sell services. Worthy reading.

Castro, Obama y la papa caliente, by Ángel Ricardo Martínez, La Prensa. The article covers another controversial issue that has been discussed in the media lately: the migration reforms in Cuba. The writer made his homework researching the facts -though sometimes the analysis misses the knowledge of the inside eye- and raises a few valid points for the future, such as what influence could this reform bring to the Cuban Adjustment Law in the USA, considering the law allows Cubans to go out for two years without missing their citizens’ rights, while in the USA they can get the residency after waiting a year.

From now on, I’ll try to do this fairly often. So, if you find aything relevant, that you may think it’s worthy, share it with me so I can add it here… or break your bubble and dismiss it.

© EFE

© EFE

Ok. Maybe it’s time for me to address the issue of the Internet cable that it’s supposed to come from Venezuela to Cuba and would improve the Island’s connectivity. Some of my friends have been asking me pretty much the same question because of the media fuzz that has been going on lately over this subject.

The tale of this cable can be tracked at least back to 2007, mid July, when this news item was published by Cubadebate: “El cable submarino Cuba-Venezuela: resumen de mentiras sobre Internet en el diario La Vanguardia” (The submarine cable between Cuba-Venezuela: summary of lies about Internet published by La Vanguardia). This article began by saying that “In a short time a cable will be laid between Cuba and Venezuela to improve Internet access in Cuba and other Caribbean countries”. “In a short time”, I find that combination of words very ammusing.

So, some 5 and a half years later, the cable has not changed the internet experience in Cuba, despite the 70 millions dollars spent on the project. Somehow I can find this piece of info even more ammusing. In fact, I remember that by 2011 there was a popular joke in Cuba, telling that sharks had eaten the cable.

So, the cable was supposed to go from La Guaira in Venezuela to Santiago de Cuba, a distance of more than 600 km.

So, would access to Internet improve in Cuba? Would it be easier for Cubans to surf the Web and access multiple news media and social media and all other Internet sites? My answer is: I don’t think so. But let’s break my argument into pieces.

Disclaimer: I have not reported this issue by myself. So I can’t vouch 100% for the accuracy of these data -but quite honestly, could I fully vouch for it even if I have talked to the sources myself? Sources can lie or hide facts too. I’m only looking around the web the kind of info and data I consider reliable, which is mostly published on alternative small news media, in Spanish, so English speakers tend to not be aware of. My main source is this article by Arián Jesús Pérez, “La historia de un cable contada por Cubadebate“, which I find to be a good journalistic work, well researched and written, and reliable.

The current landscape: with or without cable:

Cuba’s access to Internet relies on satellite connection. I’m not sure which satellite, and how much the USA embargo has to do with the current situation, but I know the facts: Internet in Cuba is insanely slow. I’m not certain about the technicalities, how many gigas or megas, but I know it is so slow that no foreigner can even imagine! Just try to remember your experience with the slowest Internet ever, then multiply it by a hundred, then by a thousand, and reality might even hit you on the nose if you happen to be in Cuba trying to search the Web or access your email. Trust me, it’s beyond your wildest dreams.

Who’s allowed to access? To give you an idea, this is some official data from 2010 – the most updated data available- that can be found on the (Cuban) National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) website.

– Amount of personal computers per 1000 inhabitants: 64

– Internet users per 1000 inhabitants: 159

cable-submarino-4-580x870In fact, Internet access in Cuba is mostly granted at the institutional level, to some universities, scientific research facilities, news media, some cultural organizations, goverment facilities… Still, a lot of this places enable a controlled access to the Web, so there are a number of sites that are blocked.

Yes, apparently the cable would improve connectivity, which should make things easier and cheaper. However… -when it’s about Cuba, always wait a “however”.

Funny facts about the cable… mostly technical:

Where to begin… Let’s start with capacity.

Venezuelan Science and Tecnology Minister Jorge Arreaza described the cable like having “986 km and a capacity of 640 gigabytes”, according to Martinoticias on May 25, 2012 (I don’t trust a lot this news site because it’s located in Miami, and Cubans there are anything but impartial, but let’s believe the accuracy of quotes). Meanwhile, by January 22, 2011, Cubadebate informed that according to Ricardo Menéndez, the former Venezuelan Science and Tecnology Minister, before Arreaza, atributed to the cable “320 gigabytes and 1.600 km”.

These are only two sources, I’m almost positive I could find a third version, but I don’t want to waste my time. I just gave you the overall picture.

Second, the cable didn’t arrive now. It arrived to Cuba in 2011! Check this TeleSur clip if you can understand some Spanish.

So what happened?

By May 2012, Venezuela was claiming that the cable was fully operational on their side. However, problems with Internet persisted in the Island so Venezuela blamed Cuba for the lousy situation of connectivity. According Arreaza, “any inconvenient concerning Internet in Cuba should be a sovereign matter of the Cuban government”. Wow, I bet this quote wasn’t used by Cuban media. But again, I don’t fully trust this Martinoticias either.

The the 1 million dollar question: Why?

Sad facts about the cable… mostly political:

Arián gathered an interesting set of news covering the issue. He refers to an article published by Cubadebate on January 201o, where the former vice minister of Information and Communications in Cuba, Ramón Linares Torres, had declared something that could help our understanding: “these initiatives [such as the cable] will provide a better quality for infocommunications, but it doesn’t necessarily imply its extension”.

For me, this is a dark and vague statement. My take away is that Linares was suggesting that those with access, could get a faster internet, but there weren’t plans to amplify the number of users.

Arián raised some interesting and valuable questions, with so far no definitive or accurate answer. These are some of them:

  • Did the cable really cost almost 70 millions?
  • Would it actually improve connectivity 3000 times?
  • What has to do or how is connected the US embargo to the failure of the cable?
  • Has Cuba officially set as a policy the social use of Internet, prioritizing universities, cultural and health centers, news media and more than 600 “Joven Club de Computación”?
  • Would the cable imply a huge hope to connectivity? Would it improve the quality of the Internet experience? And eventually, would it allow to extend the service to regular Cuban households?
  • Is or is it not Cuba an enemy of the Internet?
  • Would the cable actually cheapen the cost of Internet y telecommunications?
  • Finally, why hasn’t the Cuban Media fully covered in detail this issue which is indeed highly relevant for Cubans?

Finally, why is today everybody talking about this again?

Well recently on January 2013 AP was informing that the cable had finally started to be used in Cuba on January 14th (here in English on The Daily Beast).  According sources -always unnamed sources- from ETECSA, Cuba’s telecom monopoly, “the country’s first hard-wired fiber-optic Internet cable has been activated, (…) still in the testing stage and won’t mean an instant access increase”.

My take away, my answer, is that no matter the status of the cable, regular Cubans won’t be able to access the Web without restrictions, at least not on the foreseeable future. Well, look at the Arab spring… And then, it’s true that some bloggers are using the internet to communicate alternative or opposing ideas other than the government’s points of view. But most of them are unknown inside the Island. What would happen if they were known?

I do not think access to Internet will be available for the ordinary citizen in Cuba, not tomorrow, not this year at least. I wish though that reality would prove me wrong.