Sunday, April 10, 2011

My Ans to Robert Scoble Google's social strategy aricle

Here is the link to the article

And here is the comment i made there

Rob I think you are right on Google. In fact what you suggest Google give me tools how to waste time like what my friends are wasting time watching is one of the few strategies Google has to implement. It is a must for next fight in social networks. And its just one of the things that will come handy to Google to fight Facebook.

But then there are some things which I call "Users data generated for User" - Not my friends data but my own data generated and presented to me in such a way that i like to see it. This is something I think will be sticking point for any "social network". For example I am a believer twitter is very much like MySpace right now before Facebook. It is huge because of viral effect. But there is no sticking point. Facebook came up with a better interface and design and my social graph moved on and so did I. Twitter I feel there is no sticking point. Its just waiting for another and better twitter to come and take its position. My own data would prevent me from hopping from one site to another as i would not want to build up new data again and again. So it will pull back my social graph from moving. Google if implements something along those lines would be able to check in Facebook's growth. But If Facebook implements that, it will be even more difficult for Google to kill it.

Also talking about Google's culture, I have always felt Google has a very arrogant attitude towards the users and think whatever they think is right. Like Buzz, they created so much of privacy issue that users didn't stick on. Facebook privacy issue has been a problem but it wasn't adding people to friends list on its own. Plus i can email a million people but they are not my friends so importing that was horrible. Then there was Gmail folder and label thing. They eventually got folder but initially it was only label.
Also Ive heard lot of horrible stories around hiring product guys at Google for whom the founders have little respect which makes everyone in charge very technical and thus everyone thinking on same plane.
Also, Google should have offered Zynga lot of money when there were difference between Facebook and Zynga last year. Zynga still being there on Facebook makes Zynga stronger but it makes strong Facebook more like invincible.

Anyhow coming back to Google's future in social strategy, I think Google needs to have:

- At least one landing page for social (Buzz inside of Gmail creates fear and hate than love)
- Something different and more than Facebook (Like Users data for User to play with) (along with Facebook stuff if Google is desperate)
- Target to kill twitter as its very much like Myspace before Facebook and replace with Google's twitter. Maybe part of Google's Social Landing Page
- Strategies like +1 should be launched along with other social strategies else if there is a viral effect with something like this dies down by the time the next product is launched.
- Tells me how to waste my time better
- Ease of using "My Internet Identities"
- Add my non social identity/tools to social landing page

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bebo, Freindster, Orkut, Myspace... Will Twitter be next?

All these great companies that have been huge at one or the other point when started going down never looked up again. Same was the case when they were small and growing... they never looked down.

I think the problem with all these companies is the word "Viral". Viral affect does make these companies huge in no time. My friend uses the website, so does another friend. They have their updates on these websites. I am thus compelled to start using it. I start using it so does my friend so does his friend. End result we have a huge company thinking it is a giant thanks to the viral effect.

These companies think viral is the only reason they are where they are, so they try to focus on communication. Communication with friends, groups etc... which is right.
So you have messages, friend feed, IM, groups and other applications.

Now comes another social network which does the things a little better and one of my friend moves to start using it. He starts liking it and starts maintaining his profiles on both the websites. He gets tired of doing that and he chooses to maintain it on the better of the two. His social graph starts following it. And slowly the older network starts loosing footing and panics.

The older network thinks the interface of new network is good thats why users are leaving which is about right. Panic and firing and new design and new look. But here is the problem. You are the same old brand. Users were with you once so they have an older image and clunky one (Not your fault you were the older one, the new network had the opportunity to make it better). Secondly its hard to recreate the "Viral" effect for an older brand. The result is Myspace, Bebo, Orkut...

Current Networks

Facebook: Facebook is acting very smart. It has learn't from Myspace mistake and is making users stick not because of social graph but opening other applications on its platform. Now if i use an application on Facebook, other than social graph I have other compelling reasons to continue going to Facebook. So its not hard for me to maintain my double profiles even if my social graph moves on.

The only problem for Facebook is the applications are designed such that its easy to plug them in on other platforms. So if the social graph does move on i might be willing to add those applications on other platforms and move from Facebook. Facebook is so huge right now that its not easy to remove it from its numeruno position but its not something that cant be done.

Twitter: Twitter I am not sure is supporting any other applications other than tweets and maybe login authentications. The problem for twitter is exactly same as Myspace and all the other doomed social networks. They need to focus on not only growing but monetize. There is no focus on sustainability. What if another network comes and says you can tweet 200 characters because users are sick of 140 characters and users move to that network. Maybe other network says we will just do 100 characters and we have designed a nice way to say more in fewer words similar to url shortner.


While growing itself companies should start looking into solutions how to make user come to their website not just for social feed of pics, news, events. But just for user himself. And that too with applications that are either not quick/easy to develop or port. The Viral word is good to grow but sustaining user is not viral. It has to do more than that. Facebook seems to be safe for now but Twitter is definitely in a bigger danger and it should act now.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Working for a start Up

I have been observing a trend when I talk to people about my working hours is this is not sustainable. They tell me, sooner or later the people at my company will burn out and drop out. They tell me this is not how start ups work. They tell me there is process that should be followed. I don't have the numbers how many of them actually themselves worked at a start up. Much of my discussion is with people who are working for a huge giant or online discussions/comments on others blogs.

For me, I think in building a company there is blood and sweat..quite literally.

I have worked for 3 companies in past 5 years. All three work in the start up mode. Been able to work at the first two companies for one full year each are my biggest achievements of my life. Those companies worked on GE model of shunning the bottom 20% employees every quarter. And 14-16 hours days were not the long days but normal days. My current company, sometimes has 14-16 hours days or even longer. We've had our weeks when no one in the team had more than 4-5 hours sleep in a 24 hour cycle. Working at these companies gave me quite useful lessons:

If the company gets your laundry done and/or provides you with food, do not work at that company.

Other lesson or realization, the important one was if needed, I can work for 2 weeks with only 40 hours of sleep or I can work straight 50 hours without sleeping.
The lesson learnt was I can work hard and that gives me self confidence. Plus starting my career like that has put in some kind of mental acceptance in my mind that start ups do such heroics time to time.

Often in discussions, my efficiency during those 50 hours stretches comes up. People do not realize that if someone is working so long at a stretch, it has to be under so much pressure that efficiency is bound to go up. So if i was at 50% after my 30 hour, because of that pressure, it would have not fallen below 50%.

Please keep in mind that attrition in start ups is very high. So 4-5 years at these companies is like eternity and I am about to reach my eternity years at my current company. But, With all the long hours and pressure, the question of sustainability comes up. In all my companies we've had good number of people who were in their eternity years and still enjoyed working at those places. Thus making me conclude it is after all sustainable. Though you will get people who will not be able to work as long as you can and they will bow out sooner or later. My advice to those guys is "DO NOT JOIN A START UP". Recently a guy quit at our company because of too much work. And what he did he went to another start up. He came to us from another start up because of too much work. He is an intelligent guy and super smart. But if he doesn't want to work in such a company, why he joins them.

My experience tells me, you will get superstars who are very smart and will not burn out but excel at start ups given an opportunity. My experience tells me, one needs to identify himself what kind of culture he likes and join the company accordingly.

Maybe when I am in my 40's I would want to work 9-5 with tons of coffee breaks and long lunches in between. But for now I am very happy I started my career at companies where people around me work so hard.

I should say, I am not advocating long hours for start ups and all the companies try hard improving the process and hiring etc, but with budget constraint and goals of the company sometimes those processes and better practices are put on hold and you do have to work so hard. My current company, we try to follow process and have life along with work but we do have our all nighters time to time.

So when you join a company make sure you know what you are joining and you are comfortable with.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ruby On Rails Or Java/J2EE

Choosing the development technology is a very important decision for any company Big or Small. For a Big Company, most of the times speed of development is not an issue. They normally want reliability of their programs. For Start Ups Normally it is getting the product out ASAP and most of the times its the Microsoft model...throw it out and then keep on fixing it.

I have had experience of building applications in both the languages i.e Ruby On Rails (RoR) and Java/J2EE. Infact developed very similar applications using both the technologies. I have had good and bad experience with both the languages.

1) Finding Resources who can work on Java/J2EE: Believe it or not, this is one of the biggest advantage of using an Old and popular technology. You get lot of seasoned resources. Finding resources for Ruby On Rails especially in Los Angeles is not easy.

2) Java/J2EE not being as dynamic as ruby has its own advantages as well. Compile time errors will throw errors for you right away if you misstyped a variable in your code that will be executed once in a year. Unless you have a test case for that piece, your code is set to break for that one day.

This is the biggest irony for RoR. RoR is preffered for its speed of development.And you can develop as fast. But then because of its dynamic nature, for RoR to be bug free, developer needs to have extensive test cases built. Thus slowing the release to production. Though if your product is not very complex and not many cases and ifs and thens, then it might not hurt you.

3) Performance: Java/J2EE performance wise is so much better. Wonder why twitter fails so much whereas other websites that use traditional Java/J2EE or C#/ASP.Net or
C++ websites even with similar or more traffic do not fail so often. Performance.

4) Finding solutions to problems online: Since Java has been in use for so long, problem you are facing today, chance are someone else faced it before and solved it and documented the solution.

5) Technologies are designed with Java/.Net in mind: Certain technologies do not have any RoR support. Many technologies are building support for RoR currently thus not everything out there is as reliable.

6) With all its disadvantages, RoR has its advantage, speed of development. For small changes no builds required, no server restarts required. Plus all that magic that Rails provides, it does help to improve the speed.

7) RoR is fairly easy to master and start working on.

8) The console of RoR helps you debug so many issues so quickly and effeciently.

With that comparison, i am very confused what technology i want to go with. I am working on product and it is taking lot of my time to refine and refine. Plus my job is becoming much more demanding. So i am seeking help of a strong technical guy. But i want to be part of technology as well so i will be choosing from either of the two languages. I need to decide which one and will look out for the technology partner in that field. I would also love to talk to people who are expert in both and have a very good Web 2.0 experience. People please be free to contact me incase you are strong in these fields and interested in a start up life and want to start something from scratch. Incase you are based in Los Angeles or in vicinity, even better.

Regarding DB, i think to begin with i will need to go with MySql for the time being but i might opt for Oracle eventually. Oracle is so smooth and so reliable. There is no confusion other than price.

I think in the long run Java + oracle is a very deadly combination but to begin with and to give the company a standing, Ruby with MySql might not be a bad idea either. People please try to convince me otherwise.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Frequent Late Night Releases And Telecommuting

My current company has public facing web applications and we generally tend to release stuff when not many users are online. So it mostly ends up being late night bug squashing and release parties. I so much wish I or the company in general could improve upon the process but eventually it ends up being around that time. I have not had a chance to take a deeper look why but no matter what we do there are certain things that have to be done and the process just gets stretched. Backup's, release, servers the usual the production sanity tests...

So the whole process does take long and if there is a bottleneck on release date (which often is the case) then its even longer. Plus given the time constraint, we cannot start deployment earlier in the day.

Though in general i am a back end person and i am luckier then other folks in the sense that i can checkin my code and get away earlier at times, but the thing is i wonder what is the process employed by companies to do releases. Do you guys also have late night release parties?

On this note one thing i do want to bring up which my company has done so good upon. Use of online collabration tools. Back in the days for the release the party used to be as short as 4 hours to lasting 2 days and i spent all that time sometime not sleeping for 2 days sometime sleeping on the office floor.

We still have some long release sessions when we are fighting the deadlines, but atleast i do not have to sleep on the office floor. Most of us work from home during the release sessions and we all have learnt using online tools lot more effeciently.
So now we do not have to be physically present at one place i.e the office.

This has certainly reduced the amount of burn out you have and you can work on things when you are not needed. Plus being in front of the family, reduces the complaints as well :).

Coming back to my starting point. Late night stretched release parties, i would love some input from others how do they handle those sessions and if there are some good tricks that can be shared.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


The most important part of a start up is its IP. The idea that differentiates it from other companies. It is very easy to assume that your idea is amazing. But the biggest problem is writing that on the paper.

I have been writing the product spec and it was painful initially. To write down the thoughts on paper initially was tough. I started writing down all my thoughts under different headings i need. The iteration 1 of the spec writing was difficult.
I didnt know how exactly to describe myself on paper. But then eventually i was able to write down the major product guideline. The only problem i really faced was for one part of the product where i will need to sit with some Natural Language Processing and Artificial Intelligence guy. I know what i need as the end product but writing on paper was tough without discussing with the right person.

I actually dont really need that part of Natural Language processing. But if i dont do it then many other players will add the product i am designing to their site. They will copy my stuff. NLP will give my product an edge and thus protect the product. It would be hard for others if i give users something really cool which is hard to replicate...sounds like google.

Anyhow i was able to write the whole document and i was very happy with the result.
I kept that document intact and made a version 2 of the spec and was able to refine it so much better that now if i give that document to anyone he should be able to understand it without me talking about it.

Writing version 2 was fairly easy since i already wrote the guideline before. I was also able to remove the overlaps or sometimes add overlaps between two aspects of the product if it seemed necessary.

I still need a version 3 which will basically be with priorities in the product. I also need to look into all the social media plugins i will need to get developed. All that is not yet part of the spec. I dont think i am going to have mock ups.

I have also started working on getting co-founders. I hope to get the whole stuff going i.e getting the final blue print of product, having co-founders on board and basic code done by mid to end of July. This is going to be challenging with my day job getting very demanding (thats why just one blog post this week) but should be fun.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

An Amazing Opportunity

With Zynga and Facebook fighting away, there is an amazing opportunity for many companies including Yahoo and Google. Yahoo spent nearly $75M - $100M last year on its marketing campaign. Google is trying really really hard to contain Facebook. It tried "Google Buzz". Yahoo is trying to buy Foursquare for 100M-125M.

I believe "The Giants" should try to rope in Zynga on favorable terms to Zynga by pledging decent promised revenue. 10M-20M or maybe more is not much of a money for google and it should make things like virtual game currency up to certain level free if the game is played on their websites. Also, another way of bringing users to their platform would be give good virtual money if you play game on these websites and have newly connected friends out here like for every 10 friends you connect here on this new platform, you get virtual game currency.

Its a win - win situation for all the entities involved:

Zynga: Zynga on its terms one of them being user can play the game on any website be it Yoville, Yahoo, Google. It can partner with these websites and be promised of decent revenue. Also, Zynga should start its own social networking version. But gaming should be its own focus to begin with.

Google/Yahoo: Social Networking currently is in a stage where its all about your connections. If many of your friends are active on other network, you will be forced to move to other network. The advantage the giants have is their already huge user base. The positive they get out by partnering with Zynga is they can promote their own network and reduce the clout that Facebook is trying to achieve.

The biggest looser because of the fallout will be Facebook. Its trying to bully the users and is already getting negative publicity for its privacy settings. Secondly by bullying its biggest partner it might scare away the other partners. Because of its size this might not be significant in the long run and odds are still in favor of Facebook, but this is a good time for rivals to give a shot.

The weakness that Facebook has which pretty much every other social network has currently is every where its all about users connections and their updates and their generated content. If a social network against it nature makes itself about users own content in addition to the social content, users would be hard pressed not to leave even if they want to. Because even if one of the friend gets on another network but all the user generated content is on this current network and user likes to see it in one or the other form he would be forced to stay on this network. Same with all of his connections and their connections... virally it becomes tough for anyone to leave the network. This is still not an issue. I used Orkut then myspace then facebook. I can move to next one pretty soon. Thats why we see twitter becoming so huge even after Facebook came along. The question here is what is user content... I think thats the next big thing industry should be moving to.
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