C.K. Prahalad is a renowned corporate strategist as well as chairman and cofounder of San Diego-based Praja, which specializes in finding new ways to experience content on any Web-enabled device. He’s written extensively on core competency and global strategy.
CIO: If, as you say, the document-oriented Web has reached its ultimate usefulness, where should the Internet go from here?
Prahalad: If we want more people to use the power of the Internet, we have to move away from an information-oriented view of the Web into an experience-oriented view. That’s a tremendous opportunity for collaboration and for connecting people across cultures. [But] if you want to provide experience, how you present information is quite critical. For instance, [Praja provided the technology to host] a Russia-U.S. Internet Physics Olympiad among students in Seattle, San Diego, St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk, a town in Siberia. Teams of both U.S. and Russian students competed with each other under time pressure. We presented the questions in both languages. [To transcend language,] we made sure that the students could also see a [streaming] video of the experiment. And we had backups to account for the differing technical infrastructures. This approach is going to create a very different world where connectivity has real meaning.
Aren’t globalized websites already bridging the language and culture gap?
Just translating the Web into multiple languages is not enough. [It] still assumes that people who are using it are very literate. How do you get people who cannot read to participate? People think beyond just keywords, yet databases, websites and search engines are structured only that way. For example, instead of typing in a keyword for location, can we use a map, which is much more universal? We need to go from just the ability to search for information to the creation of knowledge and insight that people can act on.
What are some challenges and drawbacks to this paradigm shift?
The first challenge is to make the Internet device-independent and accessible to those with broadband access or in remote places with only handheld devices. Second, the interface has to be extremely user-friendly. We should be able to look at complex issues in an easily visualized form so that [users] don’t have be highly trained. Third, we need to get a universal, iconic interface such as the signs you see in airports so that people do not have to know any specific language. It is going to take some effort and a lot of evangelizing before the shift from an information-oriented view of the Web to an experience-oriented view is widely accepted.