During the last couple of decades, we have been introduced to technological innovations and tools that help us deal with daily activities much more easily and effectively. The way we shop and communicate with each other, consume information, travel, and pay bills has changed dramatically since the introduction of the Internet. Notwithstanding these innovations, when it comes to political elections we are stuck with the old-fashioned paper ballot system.

Internet voting would have eliminated problems related to distance and accessibility, allowing every eligible citizen to vote, regardless of their location at the moment. It would have also eliminated long queues and save time at polling stations, which eventually would have caused a meaningful increase in voter turnout. Moreover, Internet voting would have drastically reduced election expenses, which governments could direct toward education or investments in healthcare.

If we look at election procedures through the perspective of the younger generation, the entire process that involves physical voting ballots in school buildings looks unattractive and outdated. How can we expect the youth to show up at voting centers, stay in line for some time, and mark the name of certain politicians or political parties if they do almost everything with the involvement of digital tools?

So, after thinking about the aforementioned positive effects, it is quite logical to ask, “If we trust the Internet when we do money transactions, then what stops us from implementing voting over the Internet?” The answer is pretty obvious when we think deeper about online business and the philosophy of elections.

First, online transactions are not as safe as we think. Well, it is notably safer for consumers, but for merchants and financial institutions that are involved in e-commerce, it is quite risky and they lose billions of dollars every year. The reason why we have the perception that it is safe to spend money online is that these institutions never held consumers responsible for loses, and reimburse clients if losses occur.

Secondly, even though it sounds rational to compare e-commerce with the online voting, the procedures and requirements are significantly different, mainly in issues related to security, anonymity and verifiability.

Security. Losses from online transaction fraud could be acceptable for merchants, if they compare it with their overall profits. It is okay for them to have a few cases of theft amid thousands of transactions. However, it is not an acceptable ratio for elections, given how often candidates win with tiny margins.

Anonymity. It is a vital part of all political elections. Voting should be done anonymously, which prevents voters from being pressured and influenced before, during and after the elections. It turns out that nowadays, it is very difficult to build a system that will satisfy both the security and anonymity requirements of elections. Basically the more secure the system is, the easier it is to figure out who voted for whom.

Verifiability. Although the paper ballots look outdated, they are being used as physical proof that indicates that a “certain number of people in certain district voted for a certain political party or a candidate.” Is there any other way to verify votes after online voting, given that we also need to maintain anonymity of each voter? Experts say, “None so far.”

Essentially, online voting requires technology and security measures that we do not currently possess. But hopefully in the near future innovations that are being developed by businesses will respond to the security, anonymity and verifiability requirements of political elections, which will eventually help democratize the democracy.

Note: There are several countries, including the U.S. and U.K. that have been conducting experiments with online election at the local level. However, so far Estonia (the country where the Skype was built) is the only country that is conducting online voting countrywide. Unfortunately, the experts group that monitors online elections in Estonia found serious problems that basically question the legitimacy of online voting. 


1. De Castella, Tom. “Election 2015: How feasible would it be to introduce online voting?” BBC. April 27, 2015
2. Gross, Doug. “Why can’t Americans vote online?” CNN. November 8, 2011
3. Cameron, Dell. “Online voting is many years away, thanks to widespread security concerns.” The Daily Dot. Jul 13, 2015
4. Duncan, Geoff. “It’s the 21st century! Why aren’t we voting online yet?” Digital Trends. November 5, 2012
5. Charlton, Alistair. “Election 2015: Why can’t we vote online?” International Business Times. April 17, 2015
6. Talbot, David. “Why You Can’t Vote Online. Fundamental security problems aren’t solved, computing experts warn.” MIT Technology Review. November 5, 2012
7. Arthur, Charles. “Estonian e-voting shouldn’t be used in European elections, say security experts.” The Guardian. May 12, 2014
8. Kobie, Nicole. “Why electronic voting isn’t secure – but may be safe enough.” The Guardian. March 30, 2015
9. Jefferson, David. “If I Can Shop and Bank Online, Why Can’t I Vote Online?” Verified Voting.

By: Vugar Salamli

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Apps: The End of Browsing Freedom

Have no fear, apps are here!

Searching for an obscure website on Google will soon be part of the past. Studies show we are moving towards a world of mobile Internet. Mobile data—going through smartphones and tablets—is shifting from browsers to apps. Soon, apps will dominate Internet traffic…but don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at the data.

Internet Traffic is Going Mobile

According to Cisco’s Virtual Networking Index Study:

“Last year’s mobile data traffic was nearly 30 times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000.”

 In 2014, the number of mobile devices and connections reached 7.4 billion. Today, there are more mobile connected devices than people on Earth.

Global Mobile Devices and Connections Growth

Source: Cisco VNI Mobile, 2015


Apps are Dominating Mobile Internet

 In the figure above, we see that laptops are on the decline, while smartphone growth is exploding. Now that we know mobile devices appear to be the dominant form of accessing the Internet in the foreseeable future, let’s take a look at mobile Internet traffic trends.

Data from Nielsen shows that apps account for 89% of media consumption on smartphones, while only 11% goes through mobile browsers.

Source: Smart Insights, 2012

Implications of an App-Centered World

We’ve seen the exponential growth of mobile devices compared to traditional laptops and how Internet traffic on these mobile devices is primarily via apps. With these trends pointing to a future dominated by mobile applications, it’s hard not to ponder how that will impact larger technological trends.

The following are my 3 predictions for the future of an app-dominated Internet:

  1. Smart watches, phones, cars, TVs, and houses will tip the scale towards an app-only experience. With all computing devices running apps, operating systems will focus on integrated applications that don’t require a browser. Microsoft and Apple will push hard to cut Google’s search out of the user experience by redirecting traffic through apps with functions such as voice control/Siri. Eventually, developers will focus on apps rather than standalone websites.
  2. Governments will push to end “free browsing” in order to stop illegal activity, copyright infringement, and child pornography. With all traffic moving through apps, content can be more easily monitored and blocked.
  3. With all Internet activity directed through apps, the stage will be set for world domination by artificial intelligence robots. All hail Siri.

By: George Gonzalez

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In his January 2014 NY Times article, Marc Andreessen, co-founder of VC firm Andreessen-Horowitz and widely recognized as a key figure in Silicon Valley, stated that “Bitcoin offers a sweeping vista of opportunity to reimagine how the financial system can and should work in the Internet era, and a catalyst to reshape that system in ways that are more powerful for individuals and business alike”1. Andreessen backed his vision by making substantial investments (~$50 million) in Bitcoin related startups2.

Despite strong support by Industry experts like Andreessen and an almost linear growth in number of Bitcoins in circulation (~13.5m in November 2014)3, Bitcoin environment is struggling to overcome negative media and consumer perception, and has been unable to reach consumer and merchant adoption levels many expected when Satoshi Nakamoto published a  paper laying the underlying framework for Bitcoin infrastructure over 6 years ago.

So is Bitcoin just a fad, or is it truly the most exciting technical innovation since the Internet? I would argue it’s the latter, and my reasoning is based on the following overarching principles:

1. Greenfield technology adoption is never smooth

Technology adoption often involves a similar, repetitive pattern. A mysterious new technology emerges, seemingly out of nowhere. Early adopters and tech enthusiasts who see potential in it become completely obsessed and start painting a vision of a new world order where things are done differently. Establishment elites like media, government regulators, and incumbent players who are threatened by this potential disruption heap contempt and scorn on the technology.  Gradually, the technology evolves beyond its intended use case and starts to gain mainstream adoption. Eventually, it permeates into our day to day lives and we wonder why this wonderful potential wasn’t completely obvious from the start.

This cycle happened with Personal Computer in the 1970s, Internet in 1990s, digital content distribution in 2000s, and now Bitcoin in 2014. Remember the first time you logged into the Internet – did you truly envision the profound effect it would have in your life, or did you dismiss it as just another novel technology? Or the first time you sent an email – did you predict that the technology would fundamentally change the way people work and communicate all around the world?

For majority of the folks the answer is no – a revolutionary technology faces major barriers to adoption at the onset from consumers unwilling to change instilled behavior, and from incumbent companies with deep-rooted business models. Bitcoin is fighting the same uphill battle right now, but I compare this to users using dial-up for the first time who were not able to unravel Internet’s true potential.

2. New technology tends to emerge as an improved replacement, but what about the unknown use cases?

Thinking back to the early days of the Internet, the most common use cases were just replicating what happened in the offline world. For example, early Internet startups like Craigslist took the newspaper classified model and put it on online. It took a while for companies like Wikipedia to emerge, that enabled distributed collaboration – a use case made possible only by the Internet.

Similarly with Bitcoin, initial use-cases just involve using it as a replacement of existing currency, for example, enabling Bitcoin holders to buy products on Overstock.com using Bitcoins instead of dollars. However, the true revolution will come when innovative companies start exploiting Bitcoin to serve use cases previously impossible. Here’s a brief list of potential use cases of Bitcoin that go beyond what traditional infrastructure can do:

a.Micropayments: Allow vendors to charge micropayments to the 8th decimal point without any transaction cost. For example, an online publication can charge users 0.5 cents to read an article, instead of having to leave money on the table by having the cheapest subscription model be around $20/month, as enabled by the existing credit card infrastructure.

b. Verification: the major innovation Satoshi Nakamoto contributed to was the public distributed ledger (also known as the block chain) – not a virtual currency. In addition to currency exchange, the block chain can be used to implement online verification systems. Imagine having your passport be stored online4, or being able to vote online using your unique blockchain ID – now that’s truly a game changer.

c. B2B transactions: Businesses all across the world transfer huge sums on money to other businesses using existing banking infrastructure, and have to take on exchange rate risk and pay transaction fees. For a company operating in a low margin business, the positive ramifications on the bottom-line of saving on the 1-2% transaction fees are massive!

3. Strong network effects

Bitcoin is a classic example of an ecosystem with extremely strong network effects. The more consumers and merchants start using Bitcoin, the more attractive it is for a new user to join the system. The same property also extends to Bitcoin miners and entrepreneurs building add-on services for the ecosystem, further consolidating its position as the premier online, distributed currency system.

In fact, I would argue that the lead and market share that Bitcoin has gained over its competitors in the past 6 years makes it extremely tough for a new competitor to displace it. The strong network effects can easily carry Bitcoin to dominating the online P2P cryptocurrency exchange space.

4. Reduction in transaction costs

Going back to the comparison to Internet – before widespread adoption of the Internet, there was a huge cost of publishing data or information to a user; and there were large incumbent gatekeepers like newspaper, radio stations, TV channels etc. Advent of Internet brought this cost down by order of magnitudes, and democratized information publishing to the point that anyone could publish information instantaneously at almost no cost. Bitcoin is doing exactly the same to the world of payments – whereas before large proprietary payments network charged fees to move currency around, now there are thousands of Bitcoin startups that can move payments for no additional fees.

Only time will tell if Bitcoin will get uniquely integrated in our society and have the same profound effect on our lives that Personal Computers and Internet have previously had. I truly believe that all the signs are pointing in the right direction!


1 – http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/why-bitcoin-matters/?_r=0

2 – http://www.coindesk.com/andreessen-horowitz-2-8-million-funding-tradeblock/

3 – https://blockchain.info/charts/total-bitcoins

4 – http://techcrunch.com/2014/10/31/your-next-passport-could-be-on-the-blockchain/


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I am taking a class called Business at the Base of the Pyramid, where we read cases about amazing companies that strive in countries and with populations that at first would appear to have limited attractiveness. When thinking about these people, mainly in developing economies, the thing that comes to mind is – what keeps them away from prosperity? Their prosperity would lead to more business to both new and existing companies, so that the whole cycle could be reverted into a virtuous and not a vicious one.

What happened to the promise that Internet would lead to the leapfrogging of these countries in terms of technology? And the promise that Internet would make them less poor (because information and communication would now come in an easier and less expensive way than cables, etc.)? How can these countries face decreased barriers to entry and try to develop businesses in the online space so that they too can reach all the population in a more efficient way?

According to some studies the world seems to be moving on the opposite direction: “Contrary to more optimistic utopian conceptions, the “digital divide” tends to be widening”. [1]

However, there might still be hope. Can the Internet be cheaply and easily spread throughout these countries so that the “Online Economy” would actually be the next hope for them (as opposed to some brick and mortar businesses, that they could leapfrog)? Some of these countries have incredibly low Internet penetration rates as we can see in the chart below – is this an opportunity to be tackled? [2]


Internet penetration (per 100 people)

Eastern and Southern Africa


Sub-Saharan Africa


Western and Central Africa


Most developed economies


Similarly, these are also the countries in the world that have some of the lowest adult literacy rates – can Internet bridge this gap? [3]


Adult literacy rate (%)

Western and Central Africa


Sub-Saharan Africa


Eastern and Southern Africa


Most developed economies


As I learn the subjects of these two courses, I wonder if they can be brought together so that the Online Economy can benefit from these markets and these huge developing countries can become more prosper in the future with the utilization and access to the online world…



[1] Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka , Kaushalesh Lal, Internet diffusion in sub-Saharan Africa: A cross-country analysis – Journal Telecommunications Policy, Volume 35, Issue 6, July 2011

[2] United Nations – United Data Website – Internet users by country http://data.un.org/Data.aspx?d=SOWC&f=inID:72

[3] United Nations – United Data Website – Adult Literacy Rate http://data.un.org/Data.aspx?d=SOWC&f=inID:74

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It is not news that the newspaper industry is being forced to migrate online as an increasing number of people consume content electronically – on computers, tablets or cellphones. The Wall Street Journal, the largest paid subscription news site onli

ne, is a case in point: it has 500,000 digital subscriptions as of March 2011, with 200,000 subscribers accessing content on mobile devices.[1] After email, reading news is the second-most popular activity on mobile devices.[2] While some (old-school) people still prefer a print newspaper, the ease of access of electronic content and the increasing penetration of smartphones and tablets makes it hard for news providers to ignore the online space.

In this shifting environment, there are many different online models that newspapers can choose to pursue. My post will describe the current landscape of the industry, and then discuss other approaches that they could take in order to continue mobilization and monetization.

Current landscape

A lot of news providers bundle their print and digital editions, but most stand-alone news websites fall into one of three categories:

1. Completely free content: These sites subsidize their costs with revenues from other sources, mostly through advertising. E.g. Huffington Post

2. Metered model: This is a hybrid approach between raising revenues from advertising and subscription fees. Some initial content is free (for instance, a certain number of articles), and the reader can then choose to subscribe to continue reading. E.g. New York Times

3. Pay wall model: A user cannot get any content online unless she pays for it. E.g. The Times (from the UK)

Most sites tend to be free, but some of the more popular ones are adopting the metered approach. With the free and metered models, the sites must attract traffic – this is usually done through search engines (visa Search Engine Optimization) and increasingly, through social media, especially Facebook and Twitter.

Where I think the industry will, or should, migrate to

1. Marquee writers as a way of attracting traffic: In some ways, news is becoming a commodity. A lot of completely free websites, such as Wikipedia, have (almost) real time updates of current events, so no user should be willing to pay for merely stating information. Readers do however, want to read engaging content and analysis, and the eventual winners in this industry will be the sites with marquee writers/columnists who people will pay to read. For instance, Thomas Friedman, or other political commentators, could pull in those readers who would otherwise get their news through completely free channels.

2. Moving to a freemium model i.e. monetize content: This would possibly replace the metered model, but instead of charging after an initial number of articles read, newspapers should charge for certain types of content. E.g. charge for a particular columnist’s columns, or detailed analyses of a presidential candidate’s debate performances.

3. Demonstrate advertising effectiveness i.e. improve the monetization of traffic: Within newspaper advertising expenditures, the online category is the only one to have a positive CAGR of 14% between 2003 and 2010; the other three categories (national, retail and classified) all showed a drop.[3] However, advertisers looking to advertise online have many other websites that they can use – newspaper websites need to either work directly with advertisers, or through ad networks to demonstrate their effectiveness at converting their traffic into paying users for the advertisers.

4. Segment the market: There is scope to segment customers based on the medium through which they access the content. Some newspapers such as The Guardian have started doing this already – access to content is free online, but a user needs to pay a monthly subscription for The Guardian’s iPhone application. While this may seem unfair at first, the newspaper should simply price based on a consumer’s willingness to pay: the iPhone user will probably pay for content, while a casual surfer may not be as willing to.


[1] Standard & Poor’s Publishing & Advertising Industry Survey, April 2012

[2] Sonderman, Jeff. “Pew: After email, getting news is the most popular activity on smartphones, tablets.” Poynter. October 1, 2012. Accessed on November 15, 2012. <http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/media-lab/mobile-media/189899/pew-after-email-getting-news-is-the-second-most-popular-activity-on-smartphone-tablets/>

[3] Standard & Poor’s Publishing & Advertising Industry Survey, April 2012

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