Friday, November 17, 2006

SDU's role as Cupid comes to an end

In today's ST:

SDU's role as Cupid comes to an end
Govt matchmaker to hand reins to private agencies; it will accredit them

TWENTY two years, 42,400 successfully hitched singles - and a heap of scorn and bad jokes along the way.

Now, the Government's Cupid for graduate singles, the Social Development Unit (SDU), is hanging up its quiver and leaving matchmaking to the private sector.

It will not, however, quit the scene totally.

In an about-face from its early days - when the mere mention of it elicited a nudge and a wink, and when wags said its acronym stood for Single, Desperate and Ugly - the SDU brand now has cachet.

So its new focus will be on giving its stamp of approval to dating agencies and professional matchmakers, and on funding private-sector agencies and projects which promote dating.

The change in direction is perhaps a result of the national icon's acknowledgement that it has been unable to shake off its image as a state-controlled dating agency, and that private businesses will be better at helping the nation's singles pair up.

Yesterday, Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon, Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports, under which SDU falls, said: 'We believe that the private sector is more creative and innovative. We hope it will play a bigger role in organising social interaction activities and offering dating services for singles.'

While SDU and its sister Social Development Service (SDS) for non-graduates had done well, 'there will always be singles who prefer a private set-up', she added. For the SDS, specially selected grassroots leaders will be appointed to take over the organisation of matchmaking activities.

Hahaha! Guess what! This news confirms what we all knew all along: the government cannot make it when it comes to match make couples!!!

This is an explicit admission that the govt's social engineering policies and attempts at getting Singaporeans to make love have been a failure.

Well, I'm glad I threw away all those SDU packets that they've annoyingly sent into my mailbox for the past couple of years... I don't need you stupid govt to tell me to date and to find a mate.

Expect to see more failed government initiatives being outsourced to the private sector. Why? Because the government cannot make it when it comes to things like this! Social engineering is a deluded policy set up by LKY and that is bound to fail, because the forces of nature are more powerful than any state administrator.

Seriously, isn't this obvious?

'there will always be singles who prefer a private set-up'

Anybody who has ever had any date knows that they don't like to have Daddy and Mummy watching over their shoulder. Except perhaps Lee Hsien Loong who has had Daddy to tell him who to date and who not to date - he and his wife Ho Ching are the ultimate engineered couple. But they don't seem very lovey dovey do they?

Well, most Singaporeans are not like him and are able to make their own decisions when it comes to choosing a mate. And I think they're a lot more romantic in their approach to love than the Lee family 'marry a woman who's more capable than you' utilitarian-logic approach.

Singapore does not need the Lee philosophy to dating. And this move by SDU proves it!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Singapore vs Hong Kong vs Shanghai as Financial Hub

Singapore makes a lot of noise about being a competitive financial centre - particularly a private banking hub with Swiss standard of private banking. But it seems that all the money is going to Hong Kong.

With the rapid growth of China, and multiple Chinese mega corporations having their IPOs lately, and the stumbling of Shanghai with huge instances of corruption (the former Shanghai governor was fired earlier this year for corruption), Hong Kong is emerging as the true financial centre of China.

Singapore, in comparison, picks up all the small bits and pieces with IPOs of small industrial Chinese companies with poor competitive positions.

A latest Knowledge@Wharton article confirms this:

"Most of the listed companies are state-owned. If you are a state-owned company listed in Shanghai you can't give your executives or directors [stock] options," Meyer says. "The Shanghai stock market has been on a long downhill slope for some time ... it also almost looks as if China has outsourced its capital markets to Hong Kong." He notes that the amount of capital raised on the Hong Kong stock exchange in the first half of 2006 -- fueled by Chinese company listings -- was greater than the amount raised in New York.
Hong Kong is effectively establishing itself as the New York of China - and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange is becoming the New York Stock Exchange of the East.


...Beijing also has learned in the last decade that "Hong Kong is a window to the rest of the world.... There is an advantage to keeping Hong Kong prosperous and not overshadowing it." Hong Kong has a deep talent pool of lawyers, accountants, traders, analysts and economists that can't be easily replicated in Shanghai, he adds.

And it also can't be easily replicated in Singapore. Despite Singapore's moves to be an private banking hub, the real bulk of the banking and financial services in Asia is going to be conducted in Hong Kong.

With massive IPOs, it only makes sense for fund managers and investment bankers to headquarter in Hong Kong where they can get access to the best companies. It doesn't make sense for fund managers to stay in Singapore, away from the action in Hong Kong.

And what about the argument that Singapore has a much cleaner environment and that Hong Kong is polluted and drives away talent? Well, Hong Kong is realising this and cleaning up its environment:

Environmental officials in Hong Kong have begun working more closely with mainland Chinese authorities and are posting pollution data on public access web sites. They have also sharply criticized Exxon Mobil for failing to install equipment to clean the smoke from dirty coal-burning electric units that supply Hong Kong with electricity.

"This is part of economic development," Rowse says. "Forty years ago, there were oxygen tanks on the streets in Tokyo. They cleaned it up." Hong Kong can't point its finger at China for air pollution "because much of it is coming from Hong Kong-owned factories. We're not innocent here." As for the threat of pollution to the city's growth, "Individual executives are very critical of the air, but the companies still know they have to be in Hong Kong to earn a profit."

The smog presents a temporary disadvantage to Hong Kong because employees don't want their families to have to breathe in polluted air. But with a strong resolve to clean up the air, Hong Kong should be able to fix this problem. Once it does it, its underlying structural advantages will establish Hong Kong as the financial centre of the East.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Some confusion over your philosophy, PAP?

"I believe at the end of the day, it is possible to create a society which is both competitive and compassionate"
-Vivian Balakrishnan

"...a well-educated university graduate who works for a multinational company should not be bemoaning about the Government and get on with the challenges in life. ... Some people cannot take the brutal truth"
-Wee Siew Kim

How ironic that just after Wee Siew Kim and his daughter establish that they are 'elite' and 'uncaring', Balakrishnan stands up in parliament to claim that the govt is building a 'compassionate' society.

Well they better start with their own MPs. Making such statements in parliament while your own party members make insensitive, uncaring and uncompassionate comments reeks of hypocrisy and is unacceptable for ministers and MPs who are amongst the highest paid in the world.

PAP, prove yourselves with actions, not empty words.

Building an Inclusive Society in Singapore

Indranee Rajah brought up several good points about groups of Singaporeans "not feeling included."

1. Those who drop of school at a young age and find it difficult to integrate into society because they cannot get into skills upgrading courses e.g. courses which require 'O'-levels are not accessible to those without the academic qualification - someone with relevant work skills and experience cannot attend a course which he/she is skilled or experienced in.

Her proposal was to remove this 'O'-level barrier for such courses, and to take into account relevant work experience.

2. Singaporeans (mostly males) with foreign spouses who cannot purchase a flat because the spouse is a foreigner - because policy makes it difficult for them to get a secure roof over their heads. So these Singaporeans find it difficult to settle down and have a family and... make babies.

Solution: Don't disallow them to rent the hdb flats altogether

3. Single unwed mothers who are not allowed to rent HDB flats - an outdated policy. MND does not want to encourage them to have babies out of wedlock.

Solution: Get the mother and child in a stable environment where the child can be educated and where the mother does not have to worry about extraneous circumstances

4. Can only rent if 2 singles above 35 - elderly's friends pass away and they cannot rent flat.

Solution: find rental housing for the elderly - integrate the elderly into the rest of society where there are young people etc.

All solutions proposed by Indranee are good ones, but there are deeper underlying structural problems with society and government that need to be addressed:

A. The first issue brought up about the O-level barrier is symptomatic of a society that has a myopic definition of talent and skills and only recognises academic performance, not practical life skills and other talents which are just as crucial to the functioning of a balanced society as are academic skills. In fact, given that the education system mostly focuses on dumb memorisation and rote learning, I would argue that those who have dropped out of school and have acquired real work experience and skills e.g. mechanics, cooks etc. have made better use of their time outside the education system than within it.

The focus on academic skills is simply too narrow minded and fails to take into take account multiple intelligences (musical, artistic, athletic, technical etc.) that make up a diverse humanity and that can contribute to the building of a richer society than a unidimensional one that is absurdly skewed towards 'scholars.'

It is this mindset that permeates the Singaporean psyche that needs to be purged and destroyed - and it is this mindset that is the real problem.

B. Issues 2,3, and 4 are HDB problems, and Indranee's proposed solutions are good, but they are only short term problems that, once again, attack the symptoms, not the underlying problems.

These problems arise because the government has this 'daddy knows best' attitude that is downright condescending, and often, completely wrong. It comes from misguided attitude that the government can socially engineer Singapore society into a utopia without single mothers and where the elderly find friends easily and where singaporeans only marry singaporeans.

What needs to be fixed is this arrogant attitude of the ministers who think they know everything, when in fact they only create more problems in the social fabric of singapore with their dysfunctional policies. Somebody needs to teach these people that the forces of nature are larger and more powerful than them and their arrogant 'philosopher king' attitude should be trashed. Lee Kuan Yew is one person in particular who harbours this attitude and the fastest way to see change in parliament is to kick the bugger out.

A longer term solution is to just abolish these stupid social engineering policies and just let nature take its course. The private sector and a free market can do fine to accomodate single mothers, foreign spouses, and the elderly. It does not need egotistical bureaucrats to mess things up - many of the problems Singapore faces could have been avoided if not for the meddling hand of the government.

All in all the government needs to be weakened and the private sector needs to get stronger. It is time for change to get under way.

And as can clearly be seen, the PAP's vision of a society where 'nobody is left behind' is so flawed, it's almost delusional. these groups of people are just a small number of the numerous groups are being left behind and Lee Hsien Loong had better get cracking on these problems in order to justify his cabinet's multi-million dollar salaries.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Economics of Online Publishing


Fragmented Industry

The blogging landscape is highly fragmented. The exceptionally low barriers to entry allow many individual bloggers to set up their own websites and start publishing straight away - this acts as a major deterrant against 'industry domination' or 'monopolisation of talent' that may be attempted by any individual website.

Furthermore, the multitude of topics that are available for blogging make it extremely difficult for any individual blogger or group of bloggers to be all things to all people. Instead, individual bloggers are given the opportunity to specialise in what they know best for their own tailored audience.

Blogging Strategy

With this in mind, the best thing bloggers can do is to try to specialise in specific topics and create their own niche. They have to differentiate themselves from others and have a unique blogging proposition (UBP). Those who are able to do so create a unique brand and following of readers which are able to tell the difference between a certain blog and other different blogs.

Successful blogs differentiate by
  • tone of writing
  • specialising in topic
  • specialising in writing for a particular audience
  • have a unique way of differentiating their content from other blogs

Strategic Traps

Trying to dominate the blogging landscape is a sure recipe for failure. This is because the underlying structure of a fragmented industry makes seeking dominance futile, unless the structure can be fundamentally changed. The low (virtually non-existent) barriers to entry into blogging make this an unlikely proposition. Trying to be all things to all people maximises the vulnerability of a website to the competitive forces of other bloggers who are able to specialise and focus and produce content in specific niches, much better than a website which tries to dominate, can.

Hence, blogs or other websites which try to create a 'one-stop shop' or to be all things to all people are almost doomed for disaster. Take for example this website which is trying to be a centre for opinion and commentary - it is fighting a steep uphill battle against the fragmented nature of online publishing and looks set to struggle unless it changes its strategy to address the fragmented nature of online publishing.

B. News Operations

Unlike blogging, news operations are not highly fragmented. This is because it takes massive investments and a large managerial effort to produce a coordinated news production operation. Websites like the and build off the platform which consists of a global staff of journalists and news production crew. The large economies of scale make news production operations a naturally consolidated industry - it is important to distinguish this feature from the blogging industry.

C. Online Magazines

Online magazines are somewhere in between the large scale news operations and the small scale fragmented blogging landscape. And because they are somewhere in the middle, the face both competitive forces from individual bloggers and the large scale news operations - online magazines have to clearly differentiate themselves in order to survive.

This can be accomplished when a group of writers with a common goal, and unified editorial style - band together. This can form operations like 'group blogs' which are clearly centered around particular topics, like this website. A set of common minds with a clear niche can succeed, without falling into the trap of trying to 'dominate' or to be a 'one-stop shop.' Successful group blogs can continue the evolution into online magazines where they can start to derive the benefits of scale economies, learning curves, and managerial efficiencies.

D. Conclusion

So, which category does your website fall into? Take heed of the strategic landscape and pitfalls, and take the write strategy to online publishing. And if you do so, you should find your hits rising rapidly, along with all the benefits that entails.

This essay is also published at SGE