Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Kolaveri Di school of product design.

Many of you are likely aware of a sensational video that went viral over the past month. Why this Kolaveri di?  has racked up more than 23 million views on YouTube, spawned multiple copy videos and parodies, was covered in Time Magazine and inspired Amitabh Bachchan, iconic Bollywood godfather, to meet Dhanush, the singer.

If you are not aware of this, you should watch it now. It is a very simple Tamglish (Tamil-English) song that speaks of the pain of love on a one-way street.

A friend condescended on Facebook that there’s nothing to it musically. Famous Indian lyricist Javed Akhtar trashed the song (he may prefer this (Bengali) classical version). Even Hitler had a fit of apoplectic rage (must must see, language no bar). My friend did not get it,  Javed did not get it and Hitler did not get it either :-)
"KOLAVARI-D". Every one is praising the robes but the emperor is naked. Tune ordinary, singing substandard. words an insult to sensibility" - Akhtar
I disagree with them all! Mein Gott! (I just got unfriended at Facebook :-))

It prompted me to think about why Kolaveri Di is good. It’s not just a viral video. I don’t write a blog post about every viral video I see. Kolaveri Di is not just a phenomenon! Kolaveri Di is a genuine consumer product. Let’s see what it teaches us musically about a great consumer product.

1. It appeals to the senses.  

Myspace and Orkut  lost out to Facebook because eventually, the products became noisy and garish and did not appeal to the senses at large. If the drums are too loud, or the guitar too distorted, it can hurt! There are many classical music pieces that are complex and involved, but they are not appealing. This brings to mind a must-see scene from Amadeus - Salieri on Mozart - everyone can remember Eine Kleine! I’m not saying Dhanush is Mozart (:-)), but everyone can remember Kolaveri.

2. It is simple.

Initially, I was highly sceptical about Twitter! How could a company provide long-term value with short 140-character messages! Back then, I was passionate about an idea that was  = Twitter + search + Flipboard. While compelling (as it still is today), it was hard for folks to grok.  While it turns out that the Twitter limit is beginning to hurt, and Facebook and Google Plus are marginalizing Twitter with rich features like Hangouts, Timeline, etc., Twitter demonstrated a key point of product design - people like simplicity. Google’s simple interface was critical to success. The iPhone’s single button was magic. Kolaveri Di is simple. Complexity is hard for consumers to consume, and can sometimes be downright ugly - sometimes,  classical music can be contrived and over-done. Sometimes simplicity is more important than power.

Microsoft and Intel can go blue in the face that Wintel is more powerful and flexible than the iPad (which is true) ... but we’re in the “post-PC” era folks! That's why Windows is going Metro! Sometimes simplicity is more important than power. As in this case!

3. It fits!

In good products, things fit! Legos! Redesigns for major products are hard, since they need to fit well, or people who use them will scream and shout. The button size, colors and the font size are important. Even though you have full-featured browsers on smartphones, you can have crappy experiences on some websites on your smartphones - the buttons are too small, you touch things that you don’t want to, etc.  

Kolaveri Di was conceived out of simplicity - dual-language, basic theme (one-way love affair!)  - and was built with rhythm at the core. What the musical snobs don’t get is that it is not the accented words, not the head-nodding beat, not the unconventional use of the Nadaswaram, not the languid voice, not the casual tune, and not the story that make it great. The secret is - they all fit perfectly! The colors complement each other! It’s great design!

The thing is this - once you sing it, and shake your head to it, you get why it’s more cute than when you heard it!

4. It is localized/internationalized.

Many products are english-only, or not localized for global use. Kolaveri-di was designed from the ground up to be multi-lingual, and has therefore transcended barriers - it’s a global product! You don’t need to know Tamil to enjoy this. Even the Queen "liked" it! You don’t need an understanding of the vocabulary - the song speaks of the pain of unrequited love, and the Scotch does the talking!

How many people in Japan are singing/dancing to Javed Akhtar’s songs?

5. It lends itself to repeat use

Movies are hard to see multiple times - only a few have that capacity. Music lends itself to repeated use. But ...I don't know about you, but I hate hearing the same song more than once on the same day - I feel cheated. Very few songs can be repeatedly heard on the same day without causing nausea! Lift Karadey ... Brick in the Wall ... Hotel California ... Money for Nothing ... Kolaveri Di

Yahoo! mail is so slow now, and keeps popping up the same IM request from some stranger, even after I say "don't". That's nauseating. I love Yahoo! but repeat use is getting harder. Facebook provides occasional delight - some old friend from decades ago to connect with. Repeat use is critical for product success!

6. It is marketed superbly.

A product needs to be known. All great products are marketed well - either by super ads - Apple - or by word of mouth / viral campaigns - Google, Facebook, Twitter. Viral happens! But you need to put something in the position to go viral. Launching the video was a masterstroke! Give credit, don’t begrudge the marketers. Remember, it’s not the marketing that caused the song to be great!

There are many products I’ve sampled once and will never taste again.

This product speaks sings for itself!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Issue with Offers

I have never before considered the possibility of providing screenshots of my personal email on my blog; I am now, unfortunately, able to do so. While this is just a sampler of my inbox, it is a reasonably fair representation of what I'd refer to as "Offer Overload". I am, of course, using the word "Offer" loosely, but you will see that both my personal accounts are, in disturbing manner, filled with offers - explicit - from "offer"/"deal" services, like LivingSocial and Google - and implicit - from services that I use or have used in the past. Sadly, also from sources I have no knowledge of ever having interacted with (spam). I don't remember signing up for LivingSocial, but there we are!

This is an issue with the offers model, or at least the model as it stands today, where a daily deal is sent (pushed) to someone's email. Coming at a time when Groupon just went public (issued at a premium, I might add), it is ironic that Amazon just figured that "Deal Fatigue" may be desensitizing users who get too many email offers, and may actually hurt customer relationships. Amazon recently started unsubscribing certain users from receiving offer emails.

Amazon has said that many of its customers had shown significant inactivity in using the daily deals e-mailers and thus, their un-subscription was justified. Amazon seemed concerned about its consumer relationships that span across more than a decade and thus, not bothering its users with unwanted emails was also hinted as a reason.

This does not mean that offers are not attractive, or not useful. Groupon is, in fact, amp'ing it up with Epic Deals this holiday season (what's more Epic than 90% off? (free?)). There's a human penchant for a good deal - something visceral that makes a deal too good to pass up, and therefore a deal to consummate. It is much like the addiction of going back to a social network and seeing "likes", "pluses" or comments on your post, despite knowing that  the visit  is likely unimportant, and will waste valuable time :-)

You'll notice an important change that happened with Facebook - we no longer receive emails when there's activity on our streams. Once there's an important and sticky engagement channel with the user, there's no need for a "reminder" channel, like email, which was really built for a different use. Facebook has earned daily engagement. I still get reminder activity emails from LinkedIn, which goes to show that LinkedIn has not been successful with sticky, daily engagement. LinkedIn is a successful networking tool when professional networking is required - it is an on-demand network, not a social network, as I see it.

The current offers model seems artificial - an "out-of-band" model - and will continue to be so, until it becomes integrated with a stickier model that filters out the irrelevant offers and shows me the right ones at the right time. Instead of impinging on my email-box,  it needs to be integrated at the point of intent, i.e., search, or within, say, my daily social network interactions, or when I watch TV. The "daily dose" services - Facebook, Google - can do this.   Maybe Amazon, if they can take over my regular online music/media needs, or even Yahoo! (did I just say that?) since it is still a destination site for millions!  LivingSocial and Groupon on their own (without sticky channels)??

Offers will eventually have to be made at a destination site/daily "portal" application, e.g., iTunes/Pandora, Flipboard, etc.,. Note that there's also a big difference between the Y! Mail splash page and the actual email stream. An offer needs to be like a relevant targeted ad.

I have already started ignoring all "offers" in my e-mailbox, despite the fact that some of them are great offers. Offer overload is resulting in Offer offload!

The question is, will I ever succeed in cleaning up my email stream from invasive offers?

Or is it time to wean myself off email?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Live your own life!

Two seemingly unrelated things happened yesterday ... 

First, I receive a phone call from my 16-year old son in the afternoon to inform me of the news that Steve Jobs had passed away. It was initially not on NYTimes, not on CNN, but I did see it on Twitter, and I finally believed that it was not a hoax. I was not surprised, given Steve’s failing health, but it was still a very empty moment. 

Second, I went to my son’s school for an orientation on college admissions - how my 16-year old will select his college. As I sat there, noting that one of the parents was making notes on an iPad, it struck me that in a very short time, my son would leave home for college. Time has flown - our time with our loved ones is very limited. 

This morning, on my ride in to work, I saw this Tweet from a former colleague of mine that gave me pause:

Steve Jobs passed at 56. Far too young. He fought pancreatic cancer, had a liver transplant. Individually, he had a very interesting life. Professionally, he had a hugely successful life. Every luminary thought so. He’s left legacy - in multiple fields - computers, movies, music, phones... - technologically, anyone would love to be in his shoes. 

I lost my father earlier this year. He would have turned 84 this month. A good long life. He was diagnosed with liver cancer in early June and passed away a mere 6 weeks later. He left a different kind of legacy - a different kind of field. He was responsible for building a couple of parks in Bangalore that many people still enjoy everyday. 

Many of us are people with no legacy - not big, not little, nothing of note … When I go, there’ll be a few pages that may live on for a while until someone blocks them due to inactivity. Yes, it’s easy to wax eloquent about our accomplishments, but only a few people really matter have enduring legacies. (Correction 10/08 - based on a comment that not only a few people matter)

The question I asked myself today is - “What’s important to people?” Would I trade off 30 years of life for the ultimate glory of being an icon, an innovator, an almost-Edison? Would I rather be rich, successful and famous or would I trade that in to be able to live long enough to be able to see my sons graduate from college, get their first jobs, marry, .... Given a choice, would I trade off anything for living long enough to see my sons’ sons? 

I guess Steve himself said this best (watch this if you have not) - we don’t have a choice about death, and “death is the single-best invention of life - life’s change agent” - so we do the best we can to follow our dreams and live our own lives. 
Your time is limited... so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. 
As technologists, as consumers, we will all miss Steve Jobs. 

As a son, I really miss my dad! Especially today.

Friday, September 30, 2011

High tech gets the boot!

My first “paid job” entailed writing software for one of the professors in the physical education department at Rice University. We did custom athletic modeling and animation using stick figures and motion vectors. There was not much available out-of-the-box then. I wrote programs on the Mac using Lightspeed Pascal, if I remember correctly. Interesting stuff. We actually presented this work at the AAHPERD conference in New Orleans! It may have even been my first publication! 
I don’t remember how much I was paid, but I also bought that professor’s car later - my first car - a yellowTotota Corolla SR-5 hatchback that I called “Porsche 0.1” since it had one tenth the pickup of a Porsche - that's a motion vector for you!! Today, I see news about this really hi-tech Adidas soccer cleat that automatically records the motion stats of the athlete - speed, sprint times, distance, stride rates, ... - allowing coaches and athletes, and, of course, websites, fantasy leagues and commentators, to speak volumes of sports data!
These stats are important. Critical, in fact. Yesterday, I watched Barcelona win a Champions League fixture 5 - 0, and the stats (passes attempted - >700, passes completed ~87%) clearly represent Barca's total domination and the reasoning for the crushing win! More impressive, see the 10 stats with which Barcelona dominated Manchester United during the last Champions League final. 108 kms. run!! This entire story - the set of stats - could be automatically compiled for every game if they used the magic Adizero Mycoach (or equivalent) soccer cleats! That’s an activity stream for you! Remember, though, that there’s only one stat that really matters! How many times did the ball get in the net?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Single source, not open source!

Over the last couple of years, I’ve canceled unused credit cards and consolidated accounts, to try and simplify life. It’s good to have online banking, bill pay, mortgage and brokerage under one account. I’d like to eventually move various 401ks (multiple jobs) to this account if I can. Multiple bank accounts don't make sense especially when there’s not much to bank :-). I’m gravitating to a single source. Park this thought!

We all know that despite all the great things said about it, open source is not necessarily better, or a de-facto winner. Linux had little success vs. Windows, Facebook is thriving in the walled garden, Blackberry had a berry successful run, and Google and Bing are not looking to open source their search algorithms. Android has had some success wrt. iOS, but iOS is still a formidable force and it is as proprietary as you get. Jedi!!

It appears then, that it is the strength of the ecosystem that drives success. IBM provided the entire banking stack and still milks the banking sector. IBM also provides a one-stop shop for all enterprise needs - databases, servers, biz applications, services. Apple has the whole stack -  OS, applications, app store, music, content, technology, ads. - the only big thing really missing is search. Google has brought together email, documents, spreadsheets with a powerful search platform as the core of your Internet existence and is now socializing these. Yahoo! had it all, until it dropped search on the floor and is now trying to pick itself up. Facebook, via its social platform, ownership of your profile, and communications stack is filling out the pieces of the ecosystem - Bing is temporarily serving its search needs.

The other player that just made a major play today - Amazon.

Today was an interesting day, as it seemed to indicate that the only players left standing at the end of the day will be the ones who can provide a significant bundle of value. Until there’s enough moss on the rolling stone, it will stay a hit single. Twitter is a hit single, being overwhelmed by FaceBook and (maybe) Google+, and may need to find a home soon. eBay will find it harder and harder to provide more value than Amazon. Flickr has been passed by Facebook. Netflix and HP just shot themselves in the foot last week. LinkedIn can be subsumed by Facebook Timeline, and become a one-trick pony - a recruiting tool. Hulu better get acquired quickly.

Today was an interesting day. Amazon may not be challenging the iPad with the Kindle Fire, but it is providing a rich system now - proxy-smart Silk browser, ecommerce, platform, cloud, your credit card, your buying patterns, your books, magazines, and last, but not least, movies. What’s missing? Search and the Phone!

Cable companies own a reasonable bundle, but they’re losing the content game, causing them to start responding to customer requests to provide the right content at the right price. Netflix figured out the distriution to devices, consoles, web-connected TVs and had a headstart on online premium content, but that’s tenuous now, as it loses content deals, and pisses off customers. No browser, no books, no commerce, no search - it could just be a one-trick pony, relegated lower than even Comcast - which now owns my phone, cable and Internet access. If Amazon can provide me a better movie library, I’d be happy to consider ousting Netflix.

I want to simplify - pay fewer bills, worry about less things, make life simpler. It comes from maturing (also called growing older). I no longer use vi and emacs, no longer write shell scripts (I don’t think I can anymore :-)). I’m a consumer now, and prefer to cut-n-paste, drag-n-drop, blog and Like. +1 that!

I am a consumer. I don’t care about open source. I want single source!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Human Element

Last week, for those of you who care, there’s been a big brouhaha about conflicts of interest at TechCrunch, a group of self-proclaimed awesome journalists with ethical standards that can weather all sorts of conflicts of interest. Let’s not forget one-sided coverage on the CrunchPad, publication of confidential Twitter docs, washing dirty linen in public (expletives and all...), etc. You decide. But, read on ...

Also last week, I had a massive hour+-long “debate” with my teenage son about whether humans are just animals.

We covered various dimensions, such as DNA makeup, intelligence, thought, art, conceptualization, and at what point an “animal” starts on a journey to enlightenment that differentiates it in a magical new dimension.

Needless to say, neither of us gave in, and, while the rest of the family thought we were going to kill each other, no one won the “debate”. (Of course, I was right!)

Well, I should go back and start a new debate - are computers just as good as humans (and thus, just another kind of organism, or maybe even superior “beings”! :-))

Ever since people replaced people with machines, and people improved their creations, and made machines more and more in their own likeness, the barriers between the carbon-based life form, and a silicon-based life form are being eroded!

Deep Blue - Kasparov was one nail in the coffin. Wikipedia being the de facto compendium of information, Google instantly answering all the questions you may have, Wolfram Alpha solving math problems, Facebook obsoleting the need to meet anyone, and Watson effectively reaching the 3-second trigger barrier to beat the best Jeopardy organisms in the Universe -- have all but sealed the coffin.

Today, Dr. Watson just replaced some M.D. person in order to improve the consistency of diagnosis of the ailing human condition!

Also today comes the news that computers can write better than (or as well as) journalists, setting them up well on their way to the next Pulitzer (after having already waltzed their way to moviemaking history). Computers seem to have discovered the human element!

This is very timely :-) Let’s just replace TechCrunch’s “journalists” with Narrative Science bots, and see if it makes a difference!!

It’ll create a conflict of great interest!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hyperlinks, relationships and expectations

It has been exactly a month since my father passed away. I did not lose my father ... in some ways, I found him. We received amazing support during the last couple of months, and I’ve been thinking about the relationships we nurture.

In recent news, HP decided to drop Palm, and Cisco got rid of Flip. These were reasonably short-term relationships - you’d think they’d at least need some time to evaluate the relationships. Nope! These are corporate relationships. These are relationships with expectations! If one doesn’t meet the expectations, the relationship is in jeopardy.

Some relationships are like hyperlinks - they only go one way! Other relationships can be two-way streets, but sometimes there are only homes on one side of the street. Yet others are two-way, but there are expectations on both sides, like a toll you have to pay to enter the street. Try mapping these relationships to those in Twitter, LinkedIn, FaceBook and Google+.

A few relationships mature over time so that they are not only two-way, but more importantly, have few expectations on both sides. You can (almost) take them for granted. My relationship with my father was like this - at least that’s how I perceived it. Maybe he had expectations that I was not living up to, but I did not know of them.

Over the last couple of months, some relationships stood out. The support I received from some of my friends was amazing; there were people I could count on, and although I did not have any expectations, they came through in surprising ways. I did not expect a friend to visit my father in the hospital  the day I informed him of my upcoming trip to Bangalore due to my dad’s illness - he was there, representing me when I was still in San Jose. I did not expect a friend to travel from a different city for just a day to see me and my father - he did! I did not expect a friend to travel from a different city and stand by my side on the day my father passed - but he was there for me without my asking! I did not expect a friend to stay for 4 hours with my sister at the airport because she was unwell, but he did and I am not surprised. I did not expect a friend to offer me his driver when I needed him, but he did. These were all friends who I’d not spoken to for months. I did not expect that a friend visiting Bangalore from the Bay Area (traveling back the following day) would take the time to come be with us during the ceremony - she did, representing all our Bay Area friends.

These actions were unexpected, but they mattered!

The truth about relationships is that when you have expectations, it is extremely easy to fall short, disappoint, and devastate. Many marriages fall apart because of this, although, in many cases, these expectations can be tempered. The importance of the relationship needs to trump the expectations. Parental relationships are full of expectations, and many of them are justified.

Strong relationships evolve, and they shed expectations as and when, in some strange sense, those expectations are met. So, meet those early expectations, and scratch them off the list ... or choose not to nurture those relationships.

Remember, the world doesn’t just work like hyperlinks!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Why can’t we all just get along intellectually?

I guess the natural instincts that go to work for an individual (envy, greed, self-preservation, ambition, etc.) also go to work for entities and institutions that are created by and composed of individuals - the hive mind is an extension of the mind?

I found it concurrently amusing and depressing when I saw the following contiguous pixels on a screen when visiting a site to read news about the Google Motorola deal.

In one pixel-swoop (a) Oracle is suing Google (b) Motorola is suing Apple (c) Porn star sues the TSA and (d) Apple sues a teenager!

A little more poking around the same site, and I uncover the following articles, all published on the same day:
It’s all about the patents! There’s often a specific patent or two that are immensely valuable (though sometimes, seemingly trivial to even be worthwhile), but these days, it is the arsenal of patents - called the patent portfolio - that really projects the power! IBM is the master of wielding this power.

Really interesting, how a few words on a piece of paper can be used to stop a specific activity, or seriously hobble it, and how, even when there seems to be fairness in placing these speedbumps to innovation or human endeavor, certain “settlements” can themselves look unjust when using a different lens/timeline. I’m sure the Winklevoss twins are kicking themselves for having “settled” with Facebook, and Yahoo! cannot, I imagine, forgive itself for having settled with Google for a rearview-paltry $400M (or thereabouts) for the Overture ads patent.

Aah … intellectual property!! I have an interesting personal patent-defense-related story, but I’ll leave that out for now...

I wonder how much my diversified patent portfolio is worth! $10? $200? Of course, I can’t make any money from it :-)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The sandwiched generation. The best generation!

Cucumber-Mint - the tastiest sandwich in the world!
Last week, we were at the Bellarmine Speech and Debate team banquet, where we heard a great student speech, in which Mr. Rogers (of the TV show) asks each member of his audience to take a few silent moments to remember who made them the special (imperfect, but unique) person they are.

I remembered my parents, who are responsible for who I am and where I am today.

Being in Silicon Valley during the most vibrant technology era in humanity offers us absolutely unique perspectives and opportunities, while also throwing challenges our way as first generation immigrants from a distant place.

Being a first generation immigrant, we’re caught in a middle ground between who we are and who we (really) are. Or who we were and who we are. Or who we are and who we’re going to be. I’ve just crossed over in terms of spending more of my life in the US than in India. India still means a lot to me, but in day-to-day happenings, e.g., elections, business changes, etc., I’m not impacted - it’s not personal any more. My roots are there, my life is here, my parents there, my children here, my heart wanders there, my mind stays here. My citizenship has flipped, but my accent hasn’t. Proud of India’s accomplishments, derisive of the system, politics and corruption, yet hopeful of what India will become.

We’re bound by old traditions, but liberated by free thinking and the worlds we’ve been exposed to, starting with a liberal upbringing. Actually, it is not my son who is the American Born Confused Desi (ABCD) - I am the Indian Born Confused Indian-American!! The kids are actually reasonably clear in that their ties are just to us, not to a faraway country they were born in. I have half-baked ties to my relatives, even to those I was reasonably close with during my childhood. The kids have just a few clear relationships, and they seem pretty matter-of-fact about them.

My identity is like that blurred face in the airport scan. I feel like I’m on the Berlin wall, while someone’s pounding on both sides to bring it down - I don’t even know which side I’m going to land on. Maybe I don’t really care.

I’m the spicy mint chutney in a sandwich with wheat bread on one side and white on the other.

For my children, the extended family just got an order of magnitude smaller. They don’t enjoy the relationships that we’d have otherwise nurtured - their grandparents are not a strong force in their lives. Our family is so small out here! I have to PLAN to be with my parents!! That’s sad!

Now, for the good part!

There’s nothing like living in a sunny part of the world with the best technology minds in the world (yes - most of them are indeed working on making you click more on ads :-)). Technology is moving so fast that I’m almost obsolete before I write my next blog post! We’re not just consumers in this new connected world, we’re the ones creating it!! That makes us a special generation!

The best part - I can enjoy gooseberries and mangoes as much as I do crunchy persimmons, and salt-rimmed margaritas and caipirinhas just as much as a masala-chai(at different times :-)), crepes as much as masala-dosas, kababs as much as sushi. That makes me a special generation.(I still don’t get sauerkraut and tripe!!) I no longer need to stare at someone because he or she is from a different place - I stare at myself in the mirror and wonder where I’m from.

I've taken salsa lessons, been a soccer coach to kids from all parts of the world, watch football and basketball (and the Sharks choke every year on ice in crystal clear HD). I can watch Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in concert, followed by U2 in a few weeks. I can appreciate ghazals and the magic of Bollywood music, while also tuning in to classic rock and rap and Lady Gaga and ... Friday(that's talent!) I can choose to ski or go the beach this weekend (or watch TV!). You can do some of these things, but not all of them unless you are in the right place, like Silicon Valley.

I can appreciate a variety of things, because of where I am, and the generation I belong to. The next generation will never understand the magic of Kishore Kumar or Jagjit Singh. My kids have lost the ability to relate to good Bangla folk music, or even western music from the 80s and 90s (Michael Jackson?). I don't believe this is just a generational thing, it is a timing issue - we’re the right generation. The next generation will not appreciate the automatic respect we have for the earlier generation - the appreciation of hard work and experience and integrity and loyalty. Ask yourself how long you’ll work for a single company!

Yes, each of us brings a uniqueness to the world, to the neighbo(u)rhood, as stated by Mr. Rogers. But our generation, and our first-generation status in the sunniest part of the world brings a certain uniqueness to our lives.

Am I a citizen of India? A citizen of the US? A citizen of Silicon Valley?

I am a citizen of the world!

Friday, April 29, 2011

It’s all about the farmers!

Flying out of Bangalore, Silicon Valley of India, last month, I saw patches of coconut trees and other patches of green around the airport. Farmers! Those of you who know India will realize that those fields are … history! The farmers who own that land probably have their uncles in the state government, and will make serious money selling their land to developers, or to the government over the next few years! For all we know, those acres were doled out to the right relatives by the politicians who knew where the airport was going to finally land!

Anyone who knows India knows how, over the years, it was the landowners (the zamindars!) exploited their way to riches and power. Although they did not pull the plough, they were in the position to sell the produce of the real-estate.

My parents' current flat in Bangalore is on land that was a paddy field when I used to go to high school. Paddy farmers moved up to real-estate farming, selling flats! It’s all about farming your real-estate!

If you know anything about parked domains, you know that it is big business, where the landlords of the domains make money off ads when people arrive at these sites from various referrers.

Have a good domain to sell? iCloud anyone? That’ll be $4.5 Million. Cash! The opportunists who buy up domain names are called cyber-squatters for a reason! The benefits of land-grabbing in the real virtual world.

Shelter in the past was where you lived - home - with a roof over your head. Today, it’s where you live on the web. This is why I pay more to my Internet provider than my utilities company! The expensive real estate is those pixels between the search box and the search results on Google, or the strip of ads on your Facebook page. There are always vendors hawking their wares where you live. They know you live there, and you’ll be back.

The smart farmer will figure out how to fertilize the land so the yield is higher. Plant strawberries with other trees and you’ll have more to sell at the famers market on Sunday. Plant richer ads on the web page that you’ll be at, and that’s fertilizer for the online world. Make your home an estate, where your friends can live, and there’s more fruit to be purchased! If you don’t have enough land for your friends’ (updates), you can always plant other fruit - some other lucrative offers.

It’s all about the fertile land. That’s where the trees grow (or buildings! if real-estate brings more than flowers or tomatoes - what the heck!). It’s where the famers go, where the market makers go, and the customers too. It’s no wonder that all the fishermen go to the fish market! You’d think they don’t want to sit next to each other and compete ... they do, since that's where the customers are!

It’s all about the right space. Let’s Face it! It isn’t My Space - it’s the landowners’ space!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Big company … small company?

My life in bags!!
Ok! So I’ve worked for several companies so far, and they range from big to tiny - conglomerates to mid-sized companies to startups. My roles have seen the gamut - from research to development to product management, driving vision to building prototypes, mulling architecture to evangelizing technology, coding JSPs to creating sites for internal communications, meeting customers to writing blog posts. Jack of all trades, master of some!

There’s been a common thread - the need to have impact - help move the needle of technology in some tangible way, or impact the search experience for users on the web or within the enterprise or try to create a new paradigm that changes how we work/play.

A question I'm asked is - which is better - large or small company? What are the pros and cons?

First, let me say that with every organization, there’s something to learn - what to do, and very often, what not to do. I try to take that with me wherever I go, so as I get older and wiser (dumber and less skilled?), these lessons can help me become more effective (tolerable?). Some things, I don’t seem to learn - like managing up! Maybe it’s not in my DNA. BTW - that’s a mandatory skill for success anywhere :-)

The biggest advantage to working for a big company is that you have access to contribute towards changing the world in a significant way, sometimes making tech. history. 

When you’re contributing (even in a miniscule way) for the world to watch IBM’s Deep Blue beat Kasparov, or serve the Olympics results on the web for the first time (Atlanta 1996), there’s no feeling like it! I still cherish those projects. Before the Olympics site went live, I remember personally bringing down to upgrade it  with our research software (Network Dispatcher(to prepare for the expected surge in referral traffic from the Olympics site) - 2 hours became 4 and I was sweating, since the web server logs were stalled instead of running like a torrent. The folks on the Watson team are feeling that exhilaration of the Jeopardy achievement now, and it will last them throughout their careers! The folks at Twitter and Facebook will forever cherish their role in the transformation of the middle east! 

When you launch a feature on Yahoo! or, you know that you’re impacting millions of people in a very real way. People think you have something to offer when you speak at conferences. You meet large customers - brands you hear about everyday. Your product is powering their websites and intranets, and you’re reaching into their everyday lives and touching their users. For me, it is deeply  gratifying to work on products that power or the NY Times or

Now - what about smaller companies? There’s a huge thing going for them - you own the destiny of the company. You’re not a cog in the wheel - you are the wheel! You are driving from idea to product, design and architecture, and you’re probably also the person selling the idea to your CEO/CTO and to your customers. You own the budget, you are responsible for delivery of product, and the primary owner of the health and happiness of your team.

In a startup, you are the company! You’re working on a mission, and sometimes, it is all-consuming. During the first phase of the company, once the core team is in place, all that matters is the product you are building - it is only after the first few months that mundane things like market conditions, market opportunities, burn rate (oops!), go to market strategy and the business model become top of mind. That adrenaline-pumping exhilaration is only possible in a startup. You’re doing the design, you’re doing the coding, you’re doing the data backup, you're writing the design docs and product documentation and your product is … finally … working!

With a startup, you’re not meeting daily with the big name customers. In fact, you have to repeat your company name more than once when someone asks what you do at a party. You’re not being given the tour of the newsroom at the New York Times, or getting an inside view at a museum in Washington, and you’re not meeting a customer who (really) cannot tell you what their top secret (really!!) project is.

In the lobby of the New York Times
With a startup, you’re not getting bags and shirts that have the Olympics/FIFA logo on them.
One of the nicer shirts in my collection
But … given a choice ... give me the exhilaration of the startup!

Friday, February 25, 2011

The regimes of Silicon Valley

Disclaimer: Please don’t take any of this too literally, especially if you are an Apple Fanboy, a Google bot, an Android, a Netflixter, or a Motoroller - but do try to take it seriously...

This last week has seen a lot of activity in Middle Earth as Sauron has waged war with enslaved men, and elves; we’ve even seen some Orcs show up in Tahrir Square, on horses and camels, nonetheless, to try to quell the protests against tyranny.

While the attention of the world has been on the pyramids, and on the robed leadership in Libya pouring fireballs on protesting folk outside the ramparts of the city, more freedom protests are likely seething in the heart of Silicon Valley.

What protests, you ask? I tell...

Silicon Valley autocracies are being challenged, and they are responding in anger and vitriol, setting the stage for the common man to protest.

Challengers to the establishment are Xooming to the forefront, promising a Flashpoint of courage, but even as they mount the challenge, they are setting the stage for their own autocratic behavior! We’re informed that this freedom to Flash freely in society is likely not a right until the next spring! When will the proletariat be allowed to freely choose if and when they’d like to Flash? I should be allowed to Flash when I want to, should I not? This is the twenty-first, I say!! The Cult of Apple had one possible chink to their dominance, but who is the challenger? - is it the real democracy, or the army or the Muslim Brotherhood - who makes their own rules about how and when? Is that a lost opportunity to true freedom, a moment lost in history?

They say that Twitter and Facebook are leading the revolution in Middle Earth, but all of a sudden, I see some messages from my Faceful brotherhood are lost in the ether. A convenient way for me to be subdued... heh? Why did my Twitter updates to Facebook suddenly stop arriving? Why do I not see the updates from some friends that I was seeing last week? Did I ask for this filtering? “M’lord! I did not!” The Facebook autocracy has deemed this a good decision for the masses. My privacy - their call. My friends - they decide. My messages - they filter. My very own tweets - they hide! (I know not what I think any more, since I see none of my Tweets). My likes - they own! Which countries to free next? ...okay...I am getting carried away in my passion! But come, my’s time to awaken and take back our profiles - I’d like to break down my own wall!

Like Bahrain, Netflix is only giving us the cushion that progress is being made. Cut the cord, they say, and charge more for the DVD option. Yet, that umbilical is like a chain, for if you go to the library, there’s nothing there! Can I instantly watch? NO! If I need to watch something with the children, I have to get a DVD! Can I watch the latest and greatest freedom movie? No! I will have to wait for months. It is unbelievable that this regime claims streaming of information is in vogue. And Comcast!! Sometimes has the latest - but that’s a mercenary force, for I’m already paying them to get my television channels and they want me to pay more and more for my freedom! Shoot me down like a dog on the highway - for this is highway robbery. I may just fly to the Amazon for my breath of fresh air!

And if you like "On-Demand Media", the fruit of a free press, be prepared to separate the wheat from the chaff. Garbage in, garbage out, and propaganda is plentiful. And, of course, just like regimes can play what they really want on television or radio (revolution? what revolution?), the regimes can snuff out the Demand Media or Democratic Spam - choose your moniker. The interesting thing is that people can vote on what constitutes Democratic Spam (or crap) in order to make it less available to the masses. That’s the power of suggestive thought! For the people, by the people...And if you don’t like the regime ...Bing! and decide what you are going to do about it! The regimes are quite pleased to tell you who has more money in their accounts - some measure in Royal Pounds, the other in Tweets, and yet another in Likes! Those are our assets, gentle folk... remember that!

Regime change may just be easier than you may have thought before. All it takes is a Blog … a Tweet! You just need a few million to re-tweet! Get in line ...

But be warned, brothers of my protest army … Obama dines with the regimes!