« Posts tagged TechBlabber

You should always be in control…

Except when we choose not to.

Path should be private

As pointed out by a friend, the above is from Path’s website (From the About page, at the time of writing). Everything on Path is private and you are always in control. Except when the “industry norm” is to steal your data, then everything is justifiable.

I am certain that Path had the best of the intentions when they were doing this, and I strongly believe they were not going to misuse the data. However the problem is that this never crossed their mind, that what they were doing was wrong, irrespective of the industry norms, or developer guidelines. Perhaps its our attitude to build products first, and privacy later? Or perhaps our casualness on the data we share?

Stop or I will add you on Facebook!

Michael Arrington recently posted this neat article on his blog. While I don’t disagree with him, do you really think it is possible to delete 400 out of your 600 “friends”? I think the problem comes from the fact that Facebook is a collection of people we know, but we want it to be a network of friends. It’s a very cool way of socially organizing all your contacts, but this comes at the cost of watering your true “social network”.

Facebook is the equivalent of meeting someone and giving them your business card, except now the business card contains the access code to your house. So there are basically the following options:

  • Stop handing out business cards to most people.
  • Hand out cards to almost everyone, and complain about how too many people are up in your business.
  • Complain that the business card maker needs to have some easy way to choose who gets what.

This is basically what is happening right now. Now lets take case 1. You meet someone at a conference. You chat for 5 minutes. Do you tell them that they are not close enough to get your business card? Probably not, right? A very good example is Path. You are sitting with a colleague and chatting about technology. Now they add you on Path as you show them this cool new app. Do you tell them, this is restricted to your friends/family? There is no real way of declining this socially. What we need is circles much like we have in real life (and no I am not saying that Google+ circles are the right way or anything like that). In real life you call a bunch of friends to chill. Not every time you invite everyone. But that doesn’t mean they don’t belong in your network.

A contrast to that is twitter, which is completely public (and I actually consider my website/blog + Twitter as my business card). You can either have a completely closed network, or a completely public one. You can not have a semi private network like Facebook, and then tell people they are do not belong in it. Rather much like real life, give me control on what goes where. In real life I use my cell phone to call everyone, but I don’t need to tell everyone the exact same thing, when I call them.

I hope our social networks will get smarter, and realize that not everyone is equal to us. At the same time, I don’t wanna use 50 different networks for different types of people/activities.

Is there a thing called as a Designer Co-founder?

Or do you always hack on your own, until you are ready for getting a paid employee?

These days you cant really have an app, which does not have good design aesthetics. With enough startups relying solely on great interface design and user experience (or more so on them than actual innovation), I just find it surprising that there are so few startups where any of the founders/co-founders are designers. Perhaps I dont know enough of these startups, or maybe most of them are not mainstream, but either ways you dont seem to find enough UI designer as founders.

This comes to me as a surprise because there are enough startups with non technical founders. Wouldn’t having a great designer as a cofounder be more lucrative that a business contact, especially for a user facing startup? I mean unless you are already rich, you probably won’t be able to afford a designer right off the bat. And a great UI can be game changing. Given all the creativity that these designers bring to the table (coupled with flawless execution and integration from engineers), I would believe that more of them would be ready to start something of their own.

Is this because of how engineers and designers look at problems? This might be going down a completely wrong track, but engineers look at problems in a much different fashion than a designer. Perhaps as an engineer you are sitting at this vantage point, where you can see more scope for innovation and change. You are exposed to more problems, and have the skill set to figure out what can/needs to be changed/created. Or is because engineers are used to all the pain that involves getting a company to bootstrap?

Either ways, I strongly think that engineering and design complement each other really well, and put together right from the beginning make a huge difference. I think we really need to stop thinking of design as an after thought. For the same reason, I always wonder if we should even be segregating engineering from engineering with a good design?

In any case as engineers, till the time we can not afford a designer, we will hack together whatever we can.

A Singly view of my data

I don’t know when we will understand this, but the social web is not about checking into places, or posting photos and tagging people. It is not about us sharing our information via our blog, or doing micro updates on twitter. It really doesn’t matter if I use Flickr or Instagram, or Google+ or Facebook. What is more important is the actual interaction we have on a day-to-day basis, be it in the real world or the virtual.

Life is just a collection of experiences that we create, or share with people around us. Different people use different “social” services to serve their purpose towards this end. And to tell the truth, we actually need different services at different times. However that leads to a lot of fragmentation of our personal data. Right now a large chunk of my thoughts are scattered around on Facebook and twitter updates. Similarly Picasa has all the photos that I take from my Android phone, while there are more that are posted by my friends on Facebook and Flickr. This makes it a mess to actually see what content do I really create, get linked to or ingest. And the problem doesn’t just stop there. It is a pain for me to even put the various blocks together. There is no real bridge between these disconnected services. This hurdle is also felt when developing any application that consumes this data (don’t even get me started on actually creating this data). How many websites have you visited recently which didn’t ask you to sign in on at least two of these social services?

This also makes development a challenge. Recently when I was trying to write a simple service to analyze my geo presence based on data online, I found that I had to write code to query at least 4 services to get an accurate answer. Shouldn’t we be making this easier? On thursday I was down at Singly office in the mission for a small Create-a-thon. The plan was to hack till midnight, and welcome 11/11/11. I thought why not? I had read a little about them online and the Locker Project and I thought they were on the right track. Singly provides a unified APIs to query our personal data.

Starting off around half past seven, it didn’t take long before Simon and other folks at Singly had my account setup. They had a general theme of building a photo viewer, which could take photos from all your services (4Sq, Instagram, FB, and so on). However I was more interested in how I could use this data towards my personal project of analyzing my location, based on my online interactions. Despite them still being in an early phase of the places API, it didn’t take me long to see all the checkins from me and my friends, and actually start analyzing them for patterns. Before we hit midnight I was able to pull up a small application which could figure out the places I have been to recently, and an overlap between me and my friends. This was pretty cool, because this actually collated data across 4Sq and Facebook (I wish they had Google Places) and was pretty simple. Despite all the rough edges this actually made sense. Given all the development happening out there, why is there no single way of getting my personal information?

I also played around with their existing photo viewers, contacts and links interactions. I was actually surprised on how accurately they recovered all the links I saw through the day. Although I must say that was a lot of data but nevertheless it really was deduplicated and ready for me to crunch on. I didn’t have to worry about linking 10 different accounts (although I did have to do it once at Singly) in every app I write. While talking to folks @ Singly I realized that there were a lot of challenges in this data unification. I really appreciate the effort they were making, but I wish that a large part of this focus came from these big social networks to allow me to unify the access (and perhaps creation) of my personal data. I know it’s almost impossible to wish for open standards in this, but that would definitely make my life easier as a developer, and also allow people to focus on innovation and not data aggregation.

Integrate Google+ completely with Google Reader

So I was cribbing about how Google Reader is missing the G+ share feature on twitter, and viola, the button appears. I would love to think this happened because of my feedback, but then again it’s just wishful thinking.

Recently Google Reader has got a lot of flak from users complaining about the new look. There has been enough talk about the “new” Google reader, and I must say, that I have to write about it. I used to love Google Reader, and actually I still do. Google reader is simply the best web-based aggregator out there, in my opinion. Its simple, lightweight, and really good to keep a tab on everything.

However my problem with Google Reader is slightly different. I loved the small internal social community of google reader because it worked good enough for me. I have no problems moving that social integration to Google+, much like all other google products, but I think it should not come at a cost of lack of functionality. Earlier I could, in a straightforward way, see the articles my friends were sharing (again, sharing, not liking, +1ing or anything like that). I have said this so many times, sharing an article does not mean I am +1ing it! I may want to share the article with a group of people doesn’t mean I like it and/or support it. With the new reader its impossible to find out what are my friends reading without going over to Google+.

I see that this makes more people visit Google+ to check the updates, but I don’t understand why Google+ needs to be Facebook. For crying out loud, even in Facebook I can now see what my friends are reading without leaving the reader. Google doesn’t have to follow a Facebook model. I like google+ because it allows me to create a social app where it is, not by necessarily going back to plus.google.com. Similarly why is it so difficult to annotate articles with small icons showing friends who shared them? Why not allow me to see the articles that my friends have shared. For example when you are in Spotify, you can still see what your other friends top artists are. You don’t have to go back to facebook.com and figure it out.

This to me, seems like was a step back. I like the new look, and really like the homogeneous interface (although I wish there was a compact view, much the like one in Gmail) and the fact that they maintained the light weight interface. But I don’t think the UI benefits outweigh the integrated social activity. I am not even asking Google to restore the original social network of Google Reader, but just integrate Google+ social integration better so that it maintains the functionality provided by the original one!

Am I feeling lucky today?

n. pl. ser·en·dip·i·ties
  1. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.
  2. The fact or occurrence of such discoveries.
  3. An instance of making such a discovery.

It seems that our fortunate discoveries are becoming more and more accurate. Now we can get a very accurate fortunate suggestion on which restaurant we want to visit (hint, hint Alfred) based on what we like. Or we can find the most accurate music recommendations based on our social circles (AudioVroom). However whatever happened to those life changing experiences that one could not imagine on their own, or even think about trying ever?

Life never asks us for our tastes and preferences. It does not come up with another “recommendation” if we are not satisfied with our current situation. We are exposed to completely new experiences that we may or may not like. The main difference is that in real life we dont have a choice. If I am stuck in a lobby playing a piano composition in the background, I will have to listen to it. I can not skip it, or get recommendations for the next song based on my current interest in music. I might like it, or perhaps I wont. I dont have a choice. However this is not true when it comes to technology. If Pandora doesn’t play a song to my tastes, I am very quick in hitting the skip button. If an app doesn’t give me an accurate suggestion when I search for nearby Thai places, I will not use it again.

This is one of the biggest problems with recommendations through technology. They are bound to have a bigger focus on accuracy because the user wants only good experiences. True serendipity comes at a cost of bad experiences, which we as a consumer are not ready to take. The technology allows us to demand accuracy, and allows us to keep ourselves in our comfort zone of experiences. I can end up talking to a person who designs soup can labels in real life, but I wont probably end up at a similar event with them because our “interests” dont match. The amount of serendipity we can offer is limited by the amount of risk involved in the actual suggestion or decision. Till the time we learn how to package the bad with the good, we will end up serving more and more accurately tuned results, than just sheer luck.