The flip side of convenience

(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)
(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)

I had earlier written about how hyperlocal grocery delivery folks were affecting the ‘other folks’ who were actually shopping in the super markets. Some of these ‘delivery’ experts were super aggressive in picking up items before us and were trying to beat the lines etc. So while folks who found it convenient to order through them, there were some inconvenience to the others who actually did shop physically.

While one might think that this is an isolated industry and incident, two similar incidents happened to me recently involving two separate companies/industries.

Food delivery: Last week, I stopped by Taco Bell (Sony world, Koramangala, if you must know), to pick up something on the go. I had ordered from the cashiers. There was hardly any crowd. But I waited for a good 15 minutes, because there were three swiggy orders queued up asynchronously in front of me. Yesterday we went to Anand Sweets (Purani Dilli, Koramangala 5th block, again, if you must know :)). We went to eat in. We had ordered just chaat. The food pick up here is by token. I was token number 52, and the running number was 49. Usually, this would have been about 5 mins, but again, it took me a good 20 minutes. Why? Two swiggy ordes again. And again, because it was delivery, it took time to pack. And to ‘beat’ the minimum order for free delivery threshold, folks typically order more. Boom. Double Whammy.

Radio cabs: Today evening, a radio cab almost ran into me. Why? He was busy trying to talk to a customer on the phone trying to understand where to pick him up, look up the same on his map on the phone app, and steer the dang car. Quite naturally, he was doing all three actions sub-optimally.

So now what? Now I am not being the luddite cribbing against technology advances. All I am saying is, are these companies thinking enough about this problem. Should the companies care only about their direct customer satisfaction? Or should they also look at their impact on society, as a bigger picture.

I am sure there are solutions. For the radio cabs problem, this is a solved problem in the US. The geo- problem is solved beautifully there. You call, and the uber is in front of you. No hailing. No telling landmarks. Nothing. I am sure our guys can improve this too.

As for the food delivery problem, one thing that I noticed was that, the guys started preparing the food only after the guy came to the restaurant, while they actually had gotten the order much earlier. Could they do some form of predictive start? I, as a consumer, know where the delivery guy is and how close he is to reaching the restaurant. Can’t swiggy share this out to the restaurant also?

What does everyone think?

IoT in the Kitchen?

This idea just struck me today evening. This is in close heels to the IoT usage with the gas cylinder post that I had done a few weeks ago.

Problem to be solved: Get an accurate state of groceries that is stocked in the kitchen and potentially order them (online?). This is a very common task that is done on a fairly regular basis in most households (typically on the day when ‘monthly shopping’ is done,

Initial setup/infrastructure:

  • All grocery items to be stocked in identical pre-calibrated clear jars.
  • Item stored in the jar is bar-coded.
  • Threshold for ordering is to be set initially – by a sticker or using marker pens.

kitchen_iot

UX:

  • User invokes a smart phone app.
  • Snaps a picture of the shelf with the stacked clear containers.
  • App automatically figures out the jars with groceries lesser than the threshold set by the user.
  • The details of what is stored in the jar is obtained from the bar code.
  • User either adds the list of items to buy to his to-do list (Google keep? Wunderlist?) – or – directly adds it to his grocery list on the Bigbasket app.

Bigbasket? Zopnow? Anybody listening?

UX review of Instamojo website – part 2

Creating a payment link (continued)

After you have dragged and dropped the digital goods, it would be nice if you could say that, upload would happen later. Since I did not see any upload status scroll, I assumed, but in perfect design, nothing should be left for assumption.

When uploading a preview image, can you probably preview the image immediately – like you did for the PAN card upload? That would be nicer. Else, the same ambiguity/assumption as previous point happens here also.

insta14

I tried making it pay what you want and wanted to put a base price of Rs.5. I got the below. Firstly, I do not understand why the Rs.9 restriction. Secondly base_price seems to be the variable name. You should make it Base price.

insta15

I wanted to do the “Pay What you Want” model. And below is how it looks. It is not immediately apparent to my customer (who want to buy the book) as to what “minimum Rs.10 is”. Is there any way you can indicate what the publisher means by “Pay what you want”? Perhaps by putting a note below the “pay button” saying – “The seller has indicated this to be a ‘Pay what you want’. The seller can pay how much ever he/she wishes to pay over the base price indicated above”.

insta16

I tried finishing up my profile, and I added my photo to my profile. Again, I wish you could immediately preview the pic.

insta17

And oh, after a while, after I finished typing up my bio etc, I got the below. Looks like you were uploading the photo in the background – which is good – but it would be nice if I get some indication as a user.

insta18

Love love love the analytics page. Super awesome. One small pet peeve – please please give me a refresh button. I do not want to refresh my page each time I want to see. I usually have all my analytics page open. And want to be able to refresh on demand.

Hmm. Analytics and Advanced Analytics are the same?? They atleast seem to lead to the same page.

insta19

UX flow issue leading into the app store

Before I click on the app store

insta20

I now click on App store

insta21

Ideally by now, the Advanced Analytics should be ‘de-highlighted’ and App Store should be highlighted and some form of a landing page for app store should have come in the main body frame. However, you see above that two selections are highlighted and the previous (stale?) selection is still active on the right main body panel.

I went into the app store, and I see a bunch of apps there already. One big UI nitpick I have. The cards should all be same size and aligned. insta22

And in general, I feel that the apps concept seems to be a little more of an advanced concept. And perhaps you should have a separate tutorial/documentation for this. Could not find it on the site.

* All of these are on Firefox latest version on Windows.

 

 

Tech Enabled Restaurant Experience

There are two segments to this post. First is a fictitious sequence of events in a tech enabled restaurant, that I would like to see. The second is my take on how there exists bits and pieces of this experience, but not quite the entire flow yet.

  • We walk into a restaurant. Greeted by the Maitre’D and guided to a table.
  • Waiter heads over to our table and hands us a tablet and gives us general instructions on how to use it.

ipad1

ipad2

  • Once the orders are punched in, and ‘Done’ has been clicked, the waiter comes and takes away the tablet.
  • When the food is ready, the waiter brings in the food and he exactly knows which food goes where (because he can find out from the backend version of the app)
  • After the meal, the waiter brings back the tab, where the app can either take payments by splitting the bill or one person pays the bill. The payment can be done through any of the existing online payment mechanisms or by cash.
  • Folks tip the waiter for the service and leave.

A few observations/opinions about the above experience.

  • To my knowledge, the above ordering experience is not yet present in any app/service. A slightly manual version of this exists in some restaurants. The waiter have the tablet with them and punch in the order as the guest rattles out what he/she wants.But even here, I am not sure, if the app that they use help the waiter by table position. It probably takes the order for everyone together.
  • This would improve waiter productivity immensely. Apart from the time it takes for the food to be prepared, the biggest bottleneck is the order-reciting part to the waiter.
  • A related productivity benefit is the billing part. The order is directly translated to the receipt. It results in exponential productivity improvement especially when the guests would like to split the bill.
  • With the whole tech experience, it is only natural to complete the payment also through an online gateway such as PayTM or PayU or Instamojo.
  • A side feature that could be built in from the restaurant side is the capability to get very focussed reviews from the guest (eg. how was the paneer tikka?) or getting feedback on a new menu etc.

Mock-ups courtesy the awesome online tool – moqups.com

Web Icons and Cognitive Dissonance

According to wikipedia,

Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

In simpler terms, it means, a visualization that is used to mean something is used to trick your mind into agreeing to something which is exactly the opposite. I found a perfect example today morning, and hence this post.

2015-04-24 06_39_27-airtel

See the battery icon on the far left. What does that signify? Does that not trick your mind into believing that your battery is running low? Whatever you are being measured and told, it means you are running out of that quantity. In this case, it is the amount of high speed bandwidth that I have remaining in this month (before I slip into FUP hell).

But look at the numbers. I actually have enough. Well, more than enough. I have 64 GB out of my 80 GB quota. This is the airtel smartbytes page where airtel wants you to buy bandwidth packs to replenish your diminishing high speed bandwidth.

This, my friends, is cognitive dissonance.

On adapting successful UX methods

I notice User Experience (UX) differences and how they affect my productivity. I love products who focus on great UX. I love products who continually evolve their UX to become better and better. You know what I love even more – products who recognize good UX behaviors and adapt it to their own. And I recently came across a fine example of the latter – Twitter.

Screenshot_2015-04-16-11-37-48

This is the android twitter app. Do you see the “New Tweets” button at the top. This is very new. Facebook has had this for ages (it is called “New Stories” and it the button has a more oval structure to it). Clicking on the “New Tweets” button lets you know that there are new tweets and that you can click on that to scroll up to the latest tweets. This also saves you a pull down gesture, which is kind-of hard to do if you are holding and operating your phone with one hand (which is a pretty common use case).

My principal point here is that, if you recognize a good UX mechanism, it is my personal believe that, there is nothing wrong in adapting the mechanism to your product (unless it is patented ofcourse). It helps standardize UX across classes of apps. There is also a sense of sharing between the companies. I am sure FB spent quite a bit of UX effort coming up with their equivalent.

Request: As always, I have one request, which I am sure Twitter will not see, but that is fine, I will indulge myself. I would love to see the “New Tweets” button enhanced with the number of new tweets  – example – “132 New Tweets”. Twitter has the underlying algorithms for this, since it is present in their webapp.

Internet Nostalgia

The year is 1995. It is past 9PM. Our typical tam-brahm household in Chennai has started ramping down for the day. Mom is clearing the kitchen and setting up for next day. Dad is finishing up watching the long form news (yes, the DD news that aired between 8:30-9PM ; there was a short form news between 730-745PM). I am generally vetti (vella, jobless, whatever) – a generally acceptable state for an engineering student in my second year of college.

I may look vetti, but excitement inside me is rising. The time is approaching. Half hour more. You ask for what? I will tell you what. INTERNET TIME.

I finish up my nightly glass of milk and run to my dads computer – a clunky X86/486. Dad had always been up-to-date on computers. For formality sakes, I run up to each family member in the family and tell them I am ‘going to the internet’ – not because they will miss me, but when I am ‘in there’, there will be no phones that will come in. *Pause for dramatic effect*. Yes, no incoming phone calls. And there was only one phone in the house – no mobiles then. So I basically cut off the primary communication channel to the home. On hindsight, I am thankful for family to have even let me do that!. Wow thats huge. If my son tells me, he is going to muck with my internet for a school project, I am not sure if I would be OK with that. (I would probably get him another Docomo stick or get myself one).

But I digress. I switch on the computer. (Yes, those were times when you switched on your computers only when you needed them). We had a choice. You could use the VSNL dialler or if you are adventurous, you can open up Windows Hyperterminal and could control the modem using the ATDT commands. The Zyxel modem used to be pretty much the same size as our cable modems now. I guess that has not really changed much.

Tariff:

vsnl

Dang. It was expensive. I had a student account. 500 bucks a year. And I got a low speed terminal access account. My email was gcmouli@giasmda.vsnl.net.in. GIAS was the Gateway Internet Access Service. The only window from India to the world.

vsnl3

You get this screen and you fistpump. You made it. There were a fixed number of dial-up connections that could be opened up. So you keep trying. Most used keys were up-arrow and enter. Repeating the ATDT for redial. And then you would hear the screeching noise of the modem and then the busy tone. Up-arrow and enter. More screeching. And then you hear a different screeching sound. And a dramatic pause later, NO CARRIER. Dang. Up-arrow and return. Now you see why, when you see the above screen, you fistpump.

After we got into the internet, we had a grand list of 10 things you could do.

vsnl4

Three of them were most popular. Email. Lynx. UNIX prompt. And you typically went to the UNIX prompt to fire up IRC and chat with folks. There used to be a Madras Chat Room. There used to be a room with SVCE (our college) folks. Fun Fun.

But yeah, we got only a terminal.

And then entered Ranga, who wrote a software called BlueSpec (I think – dont fully remember the name of the software!), which could bring up a TCP-IP connection interface (that is what we used to call an internet with pictures :)) with a shell connection. You downloaded Mozilla (or got it from the free CD in PC Quest – remember??). You fired up BlueSpec only if you wanted to see pictures. It used to be terribly slow though. The shell connection was faster. So lynx it was. A site was considered good if it opened up clean in text and in a browser. That was the ‘responsive’ design of yesterday.

And then you would continuously be looking at the clock. You also had a limited number of hours – remember – 500 hours per year. So an hour a day would be comfortable – so that some time is remaining for ’emergency’ internet times.

Those were the days. Good days. Nostalgia.

All screenshots courtesy: (http://guide2net.net/bookweb/dnload/guide.pdf)

Reimagining India – Eric Schmidt

The last segment is priceless. And I quote here:

India’s impact

India has had a big impact. Sun Microsystems was founded by someone who’d been to an IT university in India. And here in Silicon Valley, there is evidence that 40 percent of the entrepreneurs are Indian foreign born. So it gives you a sense of the scale and reach of Indian entrepreneurs outside of the country. So the problem is not the Indians, the problem is the country. And the country appears to be relatively dysfunctional politically, and has some corruption issues. You can see the potential when the Indians come here. Imagine if they were there and they were doing the same things with the same kind of structure. They’d change the world.

There are some portions of the interview which  may seem condescending towards India – for some viewers. But if you look at it objectively, it is the truth. For example, where he talks about the state of the broadband in the US vs India.

There are some great observations as well – for example, the potential of 4G LTE to disrupt the internet space. I think he is right. It is difficult to improve something as physical as broadband infrastructure. However, the cell phone telephony infrastructure is already there.

Similarly is the alternative of improving on wifi hotspots. This way the high data rates are avoided.

Source: mckinsey.com

 

10 things you should never put in your resume

Disclaimer: This list applies only to resumes that you send to technology companies.

  1. No Superlative adjectives about your capabilities. No “superior knowledge of OOD”, or “exemplary customer orientation”. This sets a very high expectation, and even a very small flaw in your interview or phone screen, can make your resume look inaccurate.
  2. Do not convert educational grading systems. If you are in India, and your university marks were in %, put it that way. No need to convert to 4.0 system. If you were in IIT, there is no need to convert to a percentile system. You are just confusing the reader.
  3. Do not put in qualities that you are expected to have as part of any job. Example – “Been an integral part of every team I have been in.” This is understood.
  4. No jargon and defenitely no abbreviations. I do not know what SCCM protocol is, if I am not in the same industry.
  5. Defenitely no fluff. Put in only things that you know. If you have have cursory knowledge say so. I actually appreciate that more. I like resumes which say “Expert knowledge in foo; working knowledge of foo2; and cursory knowledge of foo3.” This makes me believe in you.
  6. Do not make me search for vital information. The first page should have everything that I need to know. If I am interested, I would need to flip the page.
  7. Please dont end the resume with Date of birth, Marital Status, Mother Tongue, and finally a statement stating all of the above is true to the best of your knowledge. This may be required for a Govt job, but not in an IT company.
  8. No photos. No clipart. No images.
  9. Do not put in too many fancy fonts. I like an uniform font through the resume. And no fancy fonts. Plain Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri/Cambria. Font size atleast 10 point.
  10. No references to internal technology and algorithms. This makes me wary of how well you respect your Intellectual Property of your current company. If you are loose there, so will you be in my company if I hire you.

Disclaimer2: The opinions in this blog post are strictly mine and have no relation to that of my employer.

Right after the acquisition …

I was reading this great article from an ex-Flickr employee on how Tumblr (and its employees) should ride the acquisition wave. In specific, I think some of these points are awesome, immaterial of the current scenario (Tumblr + Y!). These are applicable in almost all big company buys smaller company scenarios. I am reproducing the four points below with some of my observations that I went through during the one acquisition I went through and a few which I have closely seen happen.

Don’t pretend it’s not happening or that it doesn’t matter.

Totally nailed it. It matters. You need to soak it in. You need to absorb in some of the acquiring company’s culture. Make new friends. Get some folks with whom you can gut-check processes. Most importantly, make friends with the non-tech crowd at the bigger company – HR, Finance, Facilities. You will soon realize you would need their help. And help is so much easier to get if you are on their side.

Don’t forget you’re awesome.

You got acquired because the parent company felt that either your technology is awesome, or your talent is awesome. Either ways, you are important to them. Acknowledge that. Dont succumb to giving up everything. A good merger/acquisition is a layer-by-layer mixing of what is best for the joined entity. Do not give up silly little traditions when you were smaller. At the same time, embrace larger cultural practices from the bigger company.

Plan for the Bear Hug.

I think the original article nails this one beautifully. In the initial stages, everyone will jump in and give you ideas. Embrace this togetherness, but have a point-contact for traiging these requests. Else you will get in to a rat hole.

Think bigger.

Now you can. You can think beyond the local market. You can think beyond the handful of customers you have now. You can think beyond restraining marketing budgets. You can ask for help in designing UI. You can ask for data. You can do so much more if you start thinking bigger.

Know how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Now this is one thing, that I have seen happening right in front. After the acquisition happens, there are a certain set of things that happen either due to standardization (example in the article is moving to a common data center, which happens everywhere now), or something that resulted from you thinking bigger. Some things might seem easier when doing it on a larger scale, but along with, comes a ton of headache. Localization, internationalization, local laws, patent disclosures. And I fully agree with the advise in the article about – “Dont be afraid to get a gut-check from someone in the parent company.” These headaches have a thing for magically appearing only  mid way through the project.

Read the original article here.