Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Right Action at the Right time?

Some of you might have heard about Diaspora – the privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network ( Did the founders of Diaspora do the right action at the time, then?

Back in April, Four NYU students posted a project on kickstarter claiming to build an open source facebook. (This was around the time when there was a lot of anti-facebook sentiment floating around in the press with regard to user privacy and how facebook handles it. These students wanted to raise $10000 for their project but with the help of media PR raised $20000 from 6500 backers. Note that these were pure donations with no strings attached ( Talk about luck or right action at the right time or whatever - the diaspora guys have it. They were then invited to San Fransisco by Pivotal Labs (who provided free office space to them).

Can this be called "right action at the right time"? Because the diaspora founders proposed this idea and started fundraising at the right moment, when there was an anti-facebook sentiment floating around!!!

Of course, one may call this pure luck or what media PR can do for any idea...

Today the diaspora team has released the code for the first open source version of their social network. They plan to launch the alpha version of the social network in october. You can learn more about Diaspora's philosophy and how they plan to be different from facebook from

Diaspora is Up - wait... not quite yet!

I spent some time this evening playing with Diaspora installation from their source code (from (for those of you, who have not heard about diaspora read this before continuing) and I was successful in getting diaspora up and running on my system in about half hour.

Here is what the diaspora team claims to be implemented in their blog ( and I have embedded my comments (in italics) next to each claim

# Share status messages and photos privately and in near real time with your friends through “aspects”. - Does not seem to work

# Friend people across the Internet no matter where Diaspora seed is located. - Does not seem to work

# Manage friends using “aspects” - Works partly (I can move friends between aspects/groups)

# Upload of photos and albums - Creation of albums work and upload of photos does not seem to work (I tried with png and jpg file formats)

# All traffic is signed and encrypted (except photos, for now). - Yeh, looks like they have this

With regard to their source code, I think its pretty neat that they are using good coding practices and using rails 3 and mongoDB, which is the cutting edge.

Diaspora seems to look like a facebook copy except for the colors.

Diaspora also has this feature called Aspects, which is like Groups. Imagine you creating groups on Facebook and adding friends to different groups on facebook (this feature is currently available in facebook).

Diaspora allows sharing of updates only to specific groups. In other words, say you share an update with the group (or per Diaspora, its 'aspect'), only people in that group see that update. I m not sure if facebook has this feature. But if facebook decide to implement this feature, they can do it pretty easily.

Based on my experience in following Diaspora so far and looking at their technology, I think its far from being a facebook killer primarily because there is no compelling reason for the 500 million folks to leave facebook and use Diaspora other than the anti-facebook sentiment wave that's going on now.

Friday, May 14, 2010

5 reasons to use Twitter

- Get real time information on the things going on right now. For example when Michael Jackson died, the news propagated on twitter much quicker than the traditional news media.

- If you follow some key people (or leaders) in your field of interest (be it web or sports or medicine or whatever), you may get all the interesting ideas that they share with the rest of the world at your finger tips. Twitter is becoming the new blog for these people to share ideas. Sometimes by following the people in your network, you get to know what they are upto in realtime.

- Establish thought leadership through micro-blogging. Say you want to be a leader in your field, you need establish that by some means. Perhaps people have been doing that by writing books, giving speeches, writing blogs. But all those take more time out of your already busy schedule. Through twitter, you can microblog and share your thoughts rightaway with just 140 characters.

- Twitter is a information or news aggregator or the next generation RSS feeds of your favorite news websites. Every morning instead of going to techcrunch, mashable, slashdot to get technology news, just follow them on twitter.

- Since no tweet is more than 140 characters, its easy to skim through 100s of tweets in a few minutes and pick the interesting ones and dive into the details. Its like reading the headlines of all the news articles

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Minimum Viable Product - Automate only when needed (especially for Market Place Businesses)

These days, most entrepreneurs seem to like to start a marketplace business on the web. (A marketplace is something which connects "people who need" with "people who have" or in other words buyers with sellers).

Recently I have been talking to a lot of people from the entrepreneurial community who are bootstrapping some kind of a marketplace business and one interesting fact I observe is that most of these web entrepreneurs (90% of whom are also creative non technical entrepreneurs) seem to be in the mindset of building a web application of their ideas rightaway with all the features. People seem to have forgotten what a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) needs to be.

I agree that these days building a dynamic web application is so cheap, but still are we not forgetting something here? Isn't the fundamentals of bootstrap or lean startup is to demo, sell and build?

The idea I would like to convey here is "Automate only when needed...Do it first manually and understand the pain points. Your MVP (Minimum Viable Product) need not have automation".

To explain this, I would like to give you a simple example of a idea of building a web startup like Craigslist (again a marketplace business) where people post items for sale and connects buyers with sellers. This is how I would bootstrap this marketplace business:

(1) Create a simple static website which looks like the listing page of the marketplace where you list the items posted by the sellers. You can use drag and drop websites like weebly or snappages to create this listing page or even it could be as simple as a wordpress blog.

I know the question that pops up in your head: But I need a user login mechanism to allow my sellers to post their items. Well do we really need this? I mean, do we really need this now? Isn't that just automation.

First test the concept manually. See who are your potential customers and if they are willing to pay for your service.

(2) Just have a button next to every listing on the static listing web page created in step (1) and attach the button to a static html form which allows the seller to type information about their item for sale and upon hitting submit, the form contents are emailed to the entrepreneur. You can use form builders like wufoo to do this.

(3) Now at the backend, manually look through the emails and the entrepreneur connects the sellers with potential buyers.

The idea is to do all this connecting sellers-with-buyers manually behind the scenes so that neither of them know that this process is being done manually. All they know is that the website is damn slow in providing responses. But hey, if you connect the sellers with the buyers and if they are happy, they will come back to your website. Remember, your business is not the website but the service of connecting buyers-with-sellers.

At a point where you really start feeling the pain of the manual process, then start working on automating it.

Even better if applicable sometimes just carry out the whole process through email conversations (ignoring steps 1 to 3 altogether).

In the process of doing it manually, you build relationships with customers, understand the pain points which need to be automated and best of all you spend less money/time validating your idea. If you don't get traction of your idea when you did it manually, find whats the problem with the idea/execution. Don't focus on automating the concept.

Always remember to take the right action at the right time.

The ideas I have mentioned here could be extended or applicable to any kind of startup.

Related Posts

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Waterfall or Scrum???

Some thoughts to help folks decide on Waterfall or Scrum for their project management:

Waterfall method of project management/development involves well defining the problem statement, followed by requirements analysis, design (architecture) followed by implementation.

On the other hand, Scrum based Agile development involves not spending much time in planning or trying to get the overall big picture or defining the overall architecture in precise terms. Agile methods are Lightweight and are considered to be people-based rather than plan-based.

Few characteristics of Scrum process are the following:
- Self-organizing teams
- Product progresses in a series of week-long or month-long sprints
- Problems are solved only for that specific sprint.
- Team is fully shielded from external influences so that they can concentrate on development (no more regular meetings)
- No status reports but a short Scrum meeting daily where team members meet face2face and give their verbal status reports and scrum master tracks the project (this is not a problem solving session)
- Highly skilled team members in their respective areas

Few advantages of Scrum are:
- Completely developed and tested features in short duration
- Simplicity of the process
- Self-organizing
- each team member carries a lot of responsibility
- combination with extreme programming

Now lets talk about the disadvantages of Scrum:
- Undisciplined hacking (no written documentation) (which can be somewhat mitigated by modular programming)
- Since Agile crucifix relies on solving today's problems first, there is no clear big picture of the problem/solution at any point and this could involve a lot of refactoring every time. This might also lead to a compromised or hacked solution or redefinition of problem statement many times to meet the implementation needs.
- Knowledge monopolies - This is because of the absence of documentation and only few people in the organization would know anything and everything about the solution. If they leave there might come a situation where the solution need to be re-written. This could lead to dictators. On the other hand, this is what human psychology wants because this leads to job security =).
- Experienced folks or talented young development staff may not be interested in working because the dictators could be hoarding uninteresting tasks to the team members most times.
- No proper resource management which leads to compromising on the skills of the team members: Since SCRUMs or Agile rely on short sprints, things are not planned beyond the sprint term and when a need arises and if the resource isnt available for that need, its not always easy to find a resource.
- Team members may not have the big picture and direction in their career in the long term as they proceed along the Scrum methods..
- Customers get fed up with never-ending, continuously changing solution.

I m not against agile methods or Scrum methods... What I think is best is a mix of waterfall and agile scrum methods where waterfall is utilized in identified in problem statement, architecture definition and design definition AND Agile SCRUM method is utilized in Implementation and product releases.

Or, one could always adopt their own rules which are nimble and agile .... There are no rules... All rules are meant to be broken..

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

6 traits of a good job

Here are 6 traits you need to look for in the good job. Just like employers interview employees, the employees should also interview their employer before taking up a job offer:
1) First Class Boss: Everyone's got a boss. The first and foremost thing one should look on a job offer is their boss. This should be one's motivation to work in the first place. The Boss should trust the employee and the employee should trust the Boss. The boss should also demonstrate good qualities of a leader because only if the boss is a great leader, employees can grow!

2) Knowledgeable Mentor: Sometimes, mentor and boss are the same and sometimes they are not. The mentor is someone who is a good teacher.

3) Friendly Peers: This is what will motivate you to go to work every day. These are people who we hang out (work) with daily. Trust is an important factor here. You should also look forward to be learning from your peers and your peers should be learning something from you. Your peers should respect you and you should respect them. Your peers at work should be really your friends and your team should be like your family.

4) Work Fitting in the big picture: This is the work you do on a daily basis for which you get paid $$$$s. What is the big picture and how well the daily tasks fit in your overall career strategy or passion.

5) Work life Balance: Life without balance is just like a machine.. After all why do we work? To live a better life.. So if there is no time for fun, whats the point of working. Hence, work life balance is very important.

6) Stability in Organization: If your company is on the verge of bankruptcy, then you are better off looking for another job... Again this comment should be taken with a grain of salt. Your boss,mentors,peers and work play a major part here. More than these, its your loyalty which plays a bigger part.

Bottom line, you should love what you do. It should be more than just for money and it should fit in your overall agenda in life.

Feel free to post your comments on the above thoughts...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Steps in designing user interfaces for the web

In my experience on designing user interfaces for the web, I generally follow the following steps:

1) First I do story boarding (on a white board or piece of paper) with my concept. Say its a website, I try to draw every single page and all the features and icons (the icons wont look good here but this is just to brainstorm). Before implementing any idea, I try to form a user-group (group consisting of my friends and maybe even potential customers). If I don't know who exactly the customers are, this is the step I try to find them. After all, if there are no customers who might pay for our product, then whats the point of doing it.. =) . I show them the storyboard (paper/pencil mockups) and ask for their suggestions. I don't necessarily change my design to cater all the suggestions but I atleast note them down. This step helps me to flush out any obvious holes in the design.

2) Then, I do some basic wireframing (I have found to be the best wireframing tool) so that the paper/pencil drawings are captured digitally. The advantage of using wireframing tools is that it helps me get two steps closer to reality. After creating the wireframe, I ask for inputs from my user group.

3) Then, I grab icons and interfaces from the web (close enough to what I envision my user interface is going to be) and create a photoshop mashup. I dont design the icons/fonts/interfaces from scratch but just create a mashup using whats existing. Sometimes I just copy bits and pieces from existing designs.. Isn't there a saying "Good artists design, great artists steal =). This photoshop mashup would have colors/fonts/icons/layout, very close to how its going to implemented. I m not a guru in photoshop, so I get help from friends of mine who know photoshop or sometimes I even go and hire a cheap photoshop designer and I sit with him to transfer the ideas in my mind to photoshop. I show the final photoshop design of all the pages to the user/customer group and get their opinions. If I m not satisfied with a particular color/font/icon/layout, its easy to change them at this step. Now I m one step closer to the final product. I freeze the design/layout/font/colors/icons at this step.

4) Now that I have frozen the design/layout/font/colors/icons, I go ahead and implement them (code them).

Infact I would recommend you to skim through this blog post I wrote a while ago for non-technical entrepreneurs to help them build websites to sell their products.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

ipad versus ipod touch/iphone .. a bigger display.. thats it!

Apple's Ipad looks very cool but personally I m very disappointed with the ipad and here why:

Yes, it runs on apple's own A4 1 GHz processor probably based on ARM (they probably wanted to maintain more secrecy with their devices this way) but the device is nothing but an itouch/iphone with a bigger display. It only runs the same OS as the iphone/ipod touch.

No webcam (cant do video chats), No flash support and No multitasking (cant have two apps open/running at the same time. Almost every smartphone that has come after the iphone supports multitasking. Say for example you want browse or read books but keep skype or IM open in the background, can do that without multitasking?). Netbooks have webcam, have flash support and can do multitasking. And I don't agree with apple's statements that netbooks are slow (netbooks have the same old boring user interface - yes I agree with that).

I like the one touch power feature of the ipad similar to the iphone (which netbooks lack).

Most of the stuff they demoed yesterday on the ipad were just software (everything could have been a app on the iphone/itouch). The app store for books (ibooks) .. cmon is that a breakthrough? Why is it better than the kindle? Maybe people would still buy this ipad just because its got the apple logo.. As one of my friends pointed out yesterday, maybe apple can sell ice to the eskimos.

Overall, the ipad did not keep up to the hype. Apple spent more than an year working on the ipad and all they could do was just a bigger screen (ofcourse they are trailblazing their own A4 processor for the first time on their ipad.. Probably soon, the iphones would follow this trend). In all honesty, they could have powered their ipad with Intel's ATOM, this way its X86 and could have easily run their regular mac OX or a lighter version of mac OS.

To the many folks who know me as someone who iconizes Steve Jobs, that has not changed a bit with the release of the ipad. If the news of the tablet was not floating around, probably what apple delivered yesterday would have be mind blowing.. The media kind of played a big part in screwing up that image. Apple competitors - you have got a second chance to beat apple.. Now don't don't screw up again.

I was following this live blog by endgadget yesterday from the apple's ipad event:

Here is another Apple iPad launch day roundup: everything you need to know

Here is another good collection of ipad related news on the web:

My friend Patrick wanted me to post this really cool video with Hitler and ipad on my blog :

In the end, there was so much hype going on and people like me expected a bit more from Steve Jobs.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

17 features the apple tablet could have

17 features the apple tablet could have: (this list is based on my thoughts as well as what I have read on the web so far and inputs from my friends) (will be adding more features as it pops up in my mind till tomorrow morning =) )
- ereader
- games 
- video/movie player
- web cam
- multitouch
- regular iPhone apps
- app store for books, magazines, newspapers
- light version of mac OS
- USB / FireWire port similar to macbook??? (my colleague/friend Dave's maybe prediction)
- wireless
- 3G or 4G
- Expandable memory??? (my colleague/friend Dave's maybe prediction)
- 3D graphics
- Handwriting recognition
- speech recognition    
- Virtual keyboard
- real keyboard (probably sliding keyboard)???

Monday, January 25, 2010

What will be the apple tablet be like?

As the day of the apple tablet release is nearing, there are so many rumours floating about what the tablet would be and what it's core functionality would be. I thought let me document my thoughts too before the device arrives so that I can brag if my thoughts become true.

The apple tablet could be like Lenovo's hybrid laptop/tablet or a hybrid handheld/tablet. Or it could be like MSI's laptop where the keyboard area is replaced with another display for ebook reading with an option to load a virtual keyboard if needed (this virtual keyboard area could just used a e-ink based display to save power consumption).

My most probable guess is that the apple tablet will be an iPhone with a bigger screen and better processor and more memory/storage, better graphics card with 3D support for better gaming experience. It will have all of the features of an iPhone like multitouch, GPS, WIFi, one touch power on, etc. The operating system will be a hybrid of a mac OS (which means you can install any application, like flash for example) and iphone OS. It will have ability to run all of the existing  iphone apps. It would also serve as an ereader for books, magazines and newspapers and even for textbooks (which the college crowd would love). It would have better handwriting recognition and also maybe better voice recognition. It better have some kind of an embedded webcam so that it enables users to do video chat and maybe even take pictures if needed. It would be better if the tablet also has USB or firewire ports just like a macbook.

With respect to the ereader functionality, the question that still ponders me is that whether would that be just yet another app on the app store or would it have an e-ink mechanism (static display without need for screen refresh) to save power consumption (the device could also have the regular LCD display mechanism when not used for reading books). Another question that ponders my mind is whether iTunes will start selling magazines, newspapers and ebooks (or even chapters of books) just like songs? News Corp's Rupert Murdoch would love the idea if iTunes enables newspaper companies to sell Content.

With respect to enabling better gaming experience, another question I have is whether the tablet will have enhanced hardware improvements (maybe an attached game controllers which just slide from the side? (so that it feels like holding a gameboy while playing games) or maybe 3D or even holographic display makes sense for gaming and maybe even for watching movies) or would it just be the kick ass software that would make the tablet THE gaming device. Because rumors are that it could have both.

I cant wait to see if apple comes up with a novel user input mechanism or interface, which just blows our mind (similar to how the multitouch on the iPhone blew our mind when it was released). Would the tablet have a scroller wheel on the sides (similar to a blackberry) for easily traversing between apps,content, etc? One million dollar question I have is whether the tablet would have some significant hardware improvement over the iphone/macbook or would it be some bad ass software on the tablet that would blow our mind (because most of the innovations mentioned above could be just as well done in software without any hardware improvement)....we shall know in 2 days.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas - CES 2010 postmortem

I m kind of disappointed by this year's ces compared to last year's. During last year's CES, LED TVs were new and they were kind of like becoming the new LCDs. 3D technology were coming to the home  in the form of 3D TVs. This year I went to CES in hopes to see more tablets, the new halo market created by the buzz of apple tablet, which is slated to release in the end of January. To my disappointment, I did not see too many tablets, which I thought would replace the current netbooks.  

At CES 2010, the main attractions were 3D TVs (like last year), Ereaders/ebooks (I m yet to see a clear distinction between the two), netbooks, iPhone accesories (this was by far one of the most innovative areas), wireless charging technologies (like last year).

Apple was all over the place at CES. Infact apple Inc. did not even have a booth at CES (apple stopped coming to CES long time ago, since they started their own macworld to release their products. Probably CES was too inexpensive for the release their products). There was a big area called ilounge at the LVCC north hall where almost every exhibit was an iPhone accessory. Among iPhone accesories, there were iPhone covers with solar charging pads at the back of the cover, USB battery packs, iPhone covers with embedded battery packs, wireless charging stations, kinetic chargers, acoustic headphones, to name a few. Most of these were present at last CES too but the number of companies investing in selling iPhone accesories truly amazed me. 

There was a section with mobile apps exhibits but none of the apps impressed me. Every app in this section had some form of hyperlocal thing in them. Most of them were iPhone apps with a few apps for blackberry and very few supporting android platform as well. CES even had a apps for innovation contest for mobile apps. One mobile app worth mentioning is this YourApps / premierappshop ( This one seems to be an alternative app store for apple iPhone & doesn't need apps to go through apple's app approval process. From what I understand I think it uses the bookmark feature of the iPhone's safari browser.  

Among netbooks, the most innovative ones, worth mentioning are a keyboard-less netbook design by MSI with dual screens with the second screen acting also as a virtual keyboard and the hybrid tablet laptop (where the tablet can be detached if needed) by Lenovo. 

There were ereaders all over the place at this year's CES (I wouldn't call them an innovation because ereaders are not something new, they are just now becoming a commodity). Every ereader was the same and the only difference between the kindle and the ereaders at ces is that the non-kindle ones can read more ebook formats. To me that's not an innovation. Marvel technologies had this ereader with dual screen, one powered by TfT and another one by eink, so that one could use the ereader as a ebook and a netbook. The main advantage that kindle has over these ereaders is the price point of kindle.

There were quite a few companies demonstrating wireless charging power stations. I think most or all of these use electromagnetic induction way of power transfer for charging. On the mobile accesories side, there were companies retailing wireless charging pads for iPhones and blackberries. These charging pads are priced around $100. Futon Innovation stole the pride by showcasing wireless power charging proof of concept at office, homes and even inside cars. One thing all these wireless charging technologies require is to place the device to be charged in very close proximity to the charging source (by this I mean you have literally place the device on a charging surface). The only advantage of these present day wireless charging technologies is that they replace the power cables. Today, to transfer data, we dont require cables anyway. Maybe these technologies are good for office environment, but not for regular consumer use. Someday in the near future, I hope to see a way of charging my iPhone from my hand through an app. I guess I m asking for too much.

There's nothing much to write about TV technologies, except that every manufacture on the floor has a 3D TV now. Too bad these still require glasses. Even content providers are planning launch 3D content sometime this year. Direct TV is leading the herd. Yes, we can watch ESPN on 3D soon. There's an estimate of around 50 3D movies to be made this year.

On the handheld side, every phone manufacture (nokia, RIMM, samgsung,motorola) have new additions. To me, every handheld looked like nothing but an iPhone clone. Being an apple evangelist, I might be a bit biased in my opinion, so I m not going to comment on the handhelds, except that each of these handheld had their own app store. I m thinking whether having an app store per handheld is the right business model or whether the app stores should be carrier specific, but I guess that's not question that's going to be answered in the near future.

Last but not least, intel demonstrated that every device is going to be powered by a computer in the future. I think it's not too ambitious. Intel's recent core i5 and i7 processors on 32 nanometer technology is brilliant. On the mobile front, intel has a new app store called the AppUp center to enable people write apps for netbooks.      

More details about CES products with pictures and videos to follow in a followup blog post.