Sumit Sharma

Archive for January 2010

What critics may be missing about the iPad

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One of the challenges in making the web a more effective place for us is to provide the ability for aggregators and providers of products and services (be it physical, content or a service) the oppurtunity to get to know us better, in order to best serve our needs in the most relevant way. This is something that I’ve been harping on about over the last 3months on this blog.

I think the iPad takes us a step closer in this effort… by putting the web browsing experience away from our laps and into our hands, without sacrificing on user experience, the iPad will remove this notion of needing the formality of a computer to browse the internet. Browsing the iPad will feel like reading a book, and the freedom that comes with that will impact our activity and browsing experience…we’ll be more likely to carry this iPad into obscure places of our house, and possibly multi-task while in the lounge, while cooking, while sitting on the couch …and its user interface will allow us to explore areas of the internet much more efficiently as well. If I’m sitting with the iPad in my hand, watching TV, and because I am using my fingers the rate of my browsing websites and catching links and contributing towards user generated content such as digg.com, delicious or facebook posts etc increases. As a result of the iPad, my mom, who is scared of computers because of all the pop ups that come with Internet Explorer, and because Microsoft provides a crap user experience in general, for whatever reason, at least when compared to Apple, will be able to freely browse the internet and discover a whole new world online – all without sitting on the computer desk and instead sitting on her favourite couch, or on her bed before sleeping – there is no way she would’ve have done that with a laptop …its just too formal and culturally she won’t be able to adjust her habits to freely using a laptop.

I think the iPad will usher in a pyschological shift towards browsing the internet, we’ll feel less bound and more prone to exploring more freely…while this may contribute towards lots of dust and clouding out what our real interests are, I believe our browsing patterns will normalize and over time we’ll have discovered passions and interests that will make our surfing experience much more enjoyable.

If you buy into my argument… this will enable more information about our activity to be recorded about us – which will enable the analytics engines to provide greater relevance to us. This may sound quite pie in the sky at the moment, and maybe I’m having a tough time putting it into words…but I do feel that the iPad will gradually enable us to break open some gates…lets see…

Written by Sumit

January 28, 2010 at 8:59 am

Social Networking: Why we don’t have a choice anymore

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Why should we participate in Social networks?
To all those people that balk on the thought of putting up an online profile, or don’t feel the need to become a member of a social network – do reconsider. Of course there is the argument of Personal branding which has become arguably becoming more important than ever. There is also the viewpoint catering towards the holistic benefit of developing a knowledge community and fostering collaboration through knowledge transfer and the like… (these two reasons, albeit crucial, are not what this post is about because there are countless articles out there explaining this)…rather, lets consider the notion of our general well being in terms of obtaining relevant data at the right place at the time time.This issue is not imminent, and will not catch us like a deer in headlights, but rather is analogous to a creeper shrub slowly, inconspicuously and very incrementally, crawling  before you know it, has intertwined itself around various loops and holes and become ingrained in everything around.

What do I mean by well-being on the internet? Simply put, it relates to the need to extract relevance and appropriate information for a more enjoyable, and valuable, user experience. User experience is going to be crucial for the future generations of net savvy users who already are more mature at their ages than when we were at their age. They know what they want and more importantly, they know what they don’t want – and they are blessed with intelligent gadgets that produce user-generated content on social networks and other such content portals and one of the trends already imminent is the accessibility of a plethora of obscure knowledge at their finger tips. This will lead towards the evolution of a wave of creating relevance so to speak because when a fire-hose is aimed at you and all you want is a simple shower, you’d want to filter the hose and get only a few streams of water. Relevance creation requires user participation and the more we participate the more effective your user experience will be.

Participation implies we become more active and share information – and since an argument can be made that social networking sites are increasingly becoming a central point of convergence for aggregating information about our lives, it makes most sense to at least start to become active on a social network. Think about it, Facebook integrates our social and extra curricular activity such as retail, fun, leisure etc – yes it isn’t perfect in that it doesn’t integrate our professional activity, nor does it know enough about our Amazon.com activity or Google searches etc, and of course with the nascence of the sensors in the physical world it doesn’t know about our physical activity – that said and granted, Facebook is still a more then better starting point to begin defining identity on the internet – this will enable the information aggregators and content sites to better filter information and data that is more relevant to us. This will go a long way in bringing a more effective, valuable and serendipitous user experience down our way.

This is all in an effort to satisfy the need to set context in the internet… and context doesn’t grow on trees. Being able to effectively define context is an immense effort, though not impossible – it takes a few really smart product managers well versed in marketing, human psychology and in possession of sharp business acumen to define a context function. There are many variables in this function and it will be challenging to define them: to start with we can define location, time, web activity history as a few to start with and coupling this with our social networks’ activities could be very useful. The key is for us to contribute and become active – there is only so much context we can put on the web without contributing and for that, social networking will evolve form being a fun, cool tool to stay in touch and meet people to actually being an important conduit of our information. I’m sure folks at Facebook are already well into this issue …

Written by Sumit

January 26, 2010 at 8:16 am

Facebook Ads: wow, seriously guys we need to talk….

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Today, all the ads that arise on the right hand side pane of my FB page are highly irrelevant to me. “Engineering Mgmt at Duke University” – now why  would I be interested in engineering management at Duke University?

I’d like a private one on one with FB, a rant if you will, to tell a few reasons, that come to my mind immediately, why Facebook should know better than to put up such an irrelevant ad:
1. I haven’t done anything since 2001 remotely connected to Mechanical Engineering, which was my major, and you know that because I have my career information up. You should know the nature of companies I’ve put up, and if they employed the right analytics to figure out the functions in my companies it would be a different story.
2. Duke? Why would I uproot myself to go to Carolina out of all places when it is clear that I’m a West Coast person. Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco – at least recommend a program in the bay area or in the west coast…
3. I’m going to Vegas today, and I’m online at 7am to research a few items for my daughter and nanny to occupy themselves in while my wife and I are having fun – how about considering that?! There is no excuse: You know I’m going to Vegas, its my 2nd last wall post less then 24hrs ago, you know I have a daughter and you know we have a nanny looking after my daughter because thats what my wife has been talking to her friends about on her wall.

Facebook should, instead, advertise things that are meaningful to me. For instance, I have mentioned I enjoy following Liverpool FC and the Vancouver Canucks in my profile – advertise stuff related to that. How about the fact that I posted my trip plans to Vegas this weekend – perfect time to put a Vegas related ad. How about noticing the fact that I’m blogging about Social Media and Web stuff on WordPress. If only WordPress had shared its API with LinkedIn and Facebook. Same thing with Youtube? I enjoy watching comedy videos, how about ads about that?

Here is where FB needs to improve:

1. Put some more creativity into what is driving your analytics: Analytics is one thing – you can have the best number crunching capabilities – which they probably do – but if you don’t have the right direction, insight and strategic vision then whats the point?  How hard is it to understand context when placing ads? Establishing context is infinitely complex, however there are a few ways you can start to do it: Examine recent wall posts, take my information seriously (career, interests, movies, music etc)

2. collaborate with other popular entities such as Twitter to learn more about me. The very fact that FB is trying to advertise about career related goals begets why LinkedIn and Facebook need each other. They complement each other and provide a platform for more educated guesses.

3. Stop taking short cuts to get to know me and my needs. IF you really want meaningful user experiences then quit selling out for quick money. Put some energy, sweat and blood – it will pay off one day. Trust me, the moment I feel that there is another social network out there that does something more than just connect me with people, a majority of whom, are quite irrelevant to me anyways (no offense to all my FB friends but those that are truly relevant to me make up less then a third of my friends), I’ll switch in a jiffy. And I also don’t feel that switching costs are going to be that high – interoperability is going to be the name of the game, a wave of pseudo-consolidation will be happening left right and center because the customer will demand more value out of social networks, and value will arise from breadth of data, let me be clear, not amount of data, but breadth of data. Is there an aggregation entity that knows what I’m up to in LinkedIn, Facebook, Digg, Twitter, Amazon.com and Yelp? Imagine the possibilities that could arise if there was an application that presented several possibilities in the form of products, career options and content recommendations. So coming back to my point of the need for FB to get it right and how they’ll need to avoid shortcuts and actually put some effort in…what exactly do I have in mind…how about using the Music Genome Project’s efforts and intention as an example. Imagine if FB lead an initiative to construct genes of various entities, all in an effort to better understand our actions, why we do stuff and characteristics of us and the various products and services we access.

4. Related to my third point:
Understand what time of the day it is – would I seriously be interested in Engineering management at 7am on a Saturday morning, the morning I’m going to Vegas!?!? My broad point here is that there is much more to context

If facebook made some more effort in the right areas, I’m sure things would be less frustrating for users like me who want some relevance in what is presented. I’m sure that, if not now, if not soon, it will eventually happen – that users will being to demand more quality and relevance…a more favourable return on attention.

Written by Sumit

January 20, 2010 at 8:19 am

The need to move beyond our Social Graph…

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What are friends? People we have something in common with? What explains why we’re always looking for someone else to satisfy our taste for company? Are our current group of peers enough or are we always open to meeting new people in the hope that we’ll enjoy an even stronger bond as compared to our current relationships? I believe this to be the case. At some level, we’re always looking for that “better” friend/associate/co-worker/manager/peer/team-mate and so on. Of course, depending on the context of the situation, how hard we’re looking for that new next best thing, and how far we’re willing to go to find it will vary. There are other social, cultural and professional norms and constraints that we need to abide by, else this world won’t be too different from Aldus Huxley’s brave new world of ‘free free free’.

That said, perhaps we need to take a step back and really think about all this hype around the power of our social graph, and how by analyzing data and trends from this we can find more relevant things to us. That’s what Facebook is betting on – that by crunching data produced from our respective social graphs, they’ll be better placed to recommend or even predict what they think we’d like the most. I don’t think this is the right strategy, at least not now and as long as my assumption in the first paragraph is true – that we’re always looking and searching.

Perhaps, our social graph will reach a state of equilibrium where our friends are truly people we want to be friends with, and are satisfied with. Or perhaps, the sheer number of friends in our social graph is so vast that it captures an extremely statistically significant point of view/recommendation or opinion. This is of course assumes that this statistically significant set of data does apply to us – or – that we are conformists to this notion of society. What if some of us are outliers? – will the yelps of this world mean nothing to us? OR should the yelps of this world be smart enough to know we’re outliers…

I’ve just highlighted two ends of the spectrum: you’re either a conformist or not. Of course, for most of us, myself included, we are placed along the spectrum and probably dynamically shift to and fro depending on many variables not limited to time, location, mood and who we’re with. The key then, is not to directly place our bets on our social graph, but to place our bets in discovering who we are and using that to work forward. My point is this: working backwards from our social graph may not be the best solution in the long term. Of course, we’re limited by technology, analytical capabilities and limitations in data so we’ll take whatever short term solutions/efforts we can grab our hands on….but lets continue to work towards a more pure solution shall we?

Written by Sumit

January 18, 2010 at 11:58 pm

How the online music sellers really need to operate…

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Apple and other retailers have much to learn from the music genome project: mapping DNA of products (in this case, music) to users’ characteristics. Imagine if iTunes acquired Pandora, how crazy would that be? We’d get recommendations on what to buy in a much more powerful way. Now combine this with Shazam…
Shazam is like an augmented reality app that literally brings music track names to your finger tips. Imagine if iTunes leveraged this knowledge…this is as close as it gets to real time mind reading for music. Now, couple this with the time of the day, my location and voila – you’ve got some pretty damn good context to what I like…now Shazam…expand your business to provide me a pandora like functionality and give me recommendations…

Written by Sumit

January 10, 2010 at 10:42 pm

How relevant are our Social Networks?

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Is it possible to start afresh on Facebook? We all have phases in our life for which Facebook was used. A few years ago I used it to stay in touch with high school friends, most of whom have little or no professional relevance. The last time I posted something professionally interesting, a friend of mine replied: “Hey Sumit stop posting complex stuff, no one gets it” – he was being sarcastic of course but there is an element of truth in it.

My network of Facebook friends aren’t relevant to my needs at this particular time and nor am I to theirs. How can I get connected to like minded people without intrusively getting in their faces? How can people be exposed to the hidden genius in all of us that has knowledge or some ideas that are waiting to create an epiphany in someone else’s mind? Perhaps, the 10-15 FB friends, who have potential of sharing my passion are too shy to comment on my wall post because they are conscious of who might be reading it? What can Facebook do to make it a safe environment to share information relevant to my preferences at this time?

This is a question that must be answered since currently its too much of a social platform for me – which is fine but my primary concern isn’t social network, but rather knowledge networking. I do hesitate in adding friends now because I want to foster a network that is relevant to my needs at this particular time – but why do I need to make this compromise? On the other hand, why can’t I respond to my 8 yr old nephews request to friend me without thinking of the repercussions of diluting the opportunities for me to post topics about the cloud, and in avoiding doing so diluting my relevant network?

Facebook needs to figure out a way to keep our micro networks separate. It is very true that my LinkedIn profile has more professionally meaningful connections then my Facebook account, whereas my twitter account has more star connections at the moment. I am following cool people, entrepreneurs and thinkers – why can’t I interact or friend them without intruding into their lives? In fact, I don’t want to intrude into their lives, I just want to have a forum where they can hear my point of view without worrying too much about its relevance. For example, there could be some base filters such as: education level, degree earned, conferences attended, magazines followed and professional network. Take my individual case: I have an undergrad degree from IIT, an MBA from Haas, I have attended several conferences over the last year and I frequently watch speeches, breakout sessions, keynotes and discussions on YouTube about technology trends. Based on these filters why shouldn’t I touch the edges of some of the networks of important people?
 The Return on Attention question, or at least the solution, needs to be constantly re-addressed.

Some people are currently relying on their own personal subjective filters – I vividly recall a conversation I was having with John Seely Brown where he mentioned that he only reads articles/posts forwarded to him from trusted associates, this is perfectly understandable and while in all probability it is conceivable that his associates will be sending him valuable information, he is missing out on that tail of serendipitous encounters that even he would perhaps value.
There needs to be an analytics engine that does this automatic filtering so that this high profile person does not miss out on this tail element in his network. Think of it as the notion that your company does not have the smartest people, no matter where you work: Google, Mckinsey, Genentech, Boeing, GE or P&G – there are always smart people outside which is why companies actively recruit outside of each other. Why can’t this be extended to professional networks, or even social networks?

The other day when I was riding the Caltrain in the San Francisco Bay Area, I heard 16yr old high school boys talking, one of them was a slightly geeky, plump boy – and he was with his cooler more trendy friends who all had attractive girlfriends. In response to the plump boy saying he wasn’t going to the prom because he didn’t have a date, one of the cool boys literally stood up and gave an impromptu pep talk to the plump kid about the value of confidence and pro-activeness in how we need to create opportunities for ourselves. I was truly amazed at the level of sophistication, maturity and camaraderie in that moment which I truly never would have expected from kids at that age. Perhaps they are outliers, or perhaps they are indicative of the level of maturity in kids today and how much quicker they are maturing. Based on this, could there be a an acceleration in the learning potential of the younger generation, and so it would be in my best interests as a young professional, or in seasoned professional’s interests to have such extraordinary boys’ perspectives – he surely provided me with a boost in confidence and such moments are indicative of the importance of the unexpected tail players in the edges of our networks. Creativity really lies at the edges of enterprises according to John Hagel so based on this it is important to continue on expanding our networks into unsuspecting tails such as that set of 16yr high school kids – 16yr olds aren’t what they used to be.

Written by Sumit

January 10, 2010 at 8:30 am

My resolution for 2010. Respecting time.

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What is time? It is opportunity. Every minute there is an oppurtunity waiting to be seized, to be created and to be nurtured. When I welcome the next year, what exactly does that mean? For me, it means that I shall be ready to seize oppurtunity when it counts…and shall do so through the following ways:
1. Meet more people
2. Stay curious, explore, explore and explore some more
3. Dive deeper into the Blogosphere – this where the wealth of knowledge is shifting towards
4. Re-connect with friends and family. Show them they matter to me.
5. Ask. Trust. Take risks. Believe. Receive.

Written by Sumit

January 1, 2010 at 1:01 am

Posted in Personal