Feedly

Since the beloved Google Reader died, I have been using feedly. It is amazing to see how quickly Feedly has been innovating so that the Google Reader immigrants are appeased. The first set of fixes gave an option to make the feed view much denser – much like the Google Reader. This must have made most of the immigrants happy. The next fix was to get the feed list to the left of the page – again to make it look very much like Google reader.

The latest fix that hit me today is the one that I am going to scream in joy about. This is not quite to mimic google reader, but something that has just been designed so tastefully.

I have the feed to be displayed as tiles. I click on the tiles and I get the article, and the escape and it shrinks back to the tile. I scroll down the page looking at the interesting tiles. And when the stories are over, what do I get?

feedly

That blows my mind. Yes, I am done with the feed. Click on the big grey check mark, and it becomes a beautiful green for a second, and feedly marked all the stories in the feed as read. And moves on to the next feed. Just beautiful. Thanks feedly.

 

LinkedIn Endorsements

It has been a while since LinkedIn rolled out its endorsement feature, and I hate it. Don’t get me wrong. I love LinkedIn, and a big fan of the service. It is one of the best professional networking sites.

My biggest cribs about the endorsement feature are:

  1. There are some people in my professional network whom I barely know. These guys are still important to me, and are present in my network for networking purposes. Example – several head-hunters and HR professionals. I do not want them endorsing my technical skills. I don’t mean disrespect to these people, but it dilutes the endorsement. I would rather have such an endorsement from (say) my manager (or ex-managers).
  2. The skill set basket is still very weak. As a computer science professional, I do not want to be endorsed for stuff like algorithms and data structures. These are fundamentals. I would rather be endorsed for something like C/C++ programming, or Program Management, or Building Teams, Technical Management.
  3. And do not force me by saying, “Mr. Foo has endorsed you, do you want to endorse him?”. I do not like being emotionally blackmailed. Some times, I do not want to return the favour. Especially when the favour was not asked for.

Perhaps, the above three points of feedback have been given to LinkedIn already, perhaps a thousand times, but the endorsement circus continues on.

As a Technical manager, and a computer science professional, I hate just talking about problems. Wherever I can, I give a couple of suggestions/fixes. My suggestions to fixing this ‘mess-up’ are:

LinkedIn, be the great professional service that you are. Retract the feature. There is nothing wrong in retracting. It only shows your commitment to customers.

  1. I do understand this is highly unlikely. If I can take the liberty of guessing the underlying power of endorsements, it is for the savvy recruiter to hunt for people with required skill sets (aka the skill sets that people have endorsed the candidate for). It also gives a nice indirect reference check.
  2.  Ask me, if I want to accept endorsements from your network. Give an option (in the header menu) to locate someone in my network and propose an endorsement. (Of course, as in (2), this endorsement would need to be ‘accepted’ by the recipient.) This would make the endorsement feature very similar to the ‘recommendation’ feature. In fact, it would give the lazy professional networker a lazy option to recommend someone.
  3. Create ‘proximity’ levels within my professional network – much like the ‘circles’ in the google+ network. And give me control on who goes into which level, and which levels I can accept endorsements from.

The one thing that you would notice common in all of my three suggestions are that, make the act of endorsing user-cognizant/user-initiated. This way, I have control over my endorsements, much like my recommendations.

Instagram Outrage

Today’s xkcd strip mirrors my feelings exactly about the recent Instagram outrage. Well, to be honest with you, I had some initial outrage too initially (though I do not really use the product), but just a little bit of thought changed my mind.

For people who do not know about Instagram and the recent outrage (first, please come out of the rock that you are hiding under – the world did not end!), let me summarize the issue and my two cents.

Instagram is a free iOS app/service which lets you take photographs using your iOS devices, apply some cool filters, and then stores these pictures for you. Filters are image processing effects – such as sephia, b/w, and more fancy ones — that you apply on your otherwise dull monotonous pictures of your flowers and feet, to make them pretty),It also, as is mandatory for any app these days, lets you share these pictures using twitter, facebook, and other social networking sites.

More recently they got acquired by facebook. These guys have not been making money for a while now. I guess Zuck was probably miffed and asked the Instagram team to ‘start thinking about $$’. Last week, these guys changed their terms and conditions, that starts to make them thinking about $$. They had some ambiguous terms which people misinterpreted as ‘Instagram will use your pictures in advertising, without having to tell you’. I am not quite sure about the legalese, but this caused quite a bit of bad PR. Instagram responded very quickly that they would change their T&C etc.

Ok, now my opinions/reactions.

My first disappointment was that, “how could a company in the social networking space – which is super focussed on consumers – do such a faux paus as to have an ambiguous T&C in the first place?”. The new era of apps and social networking is so much consumer faced that, consumer is not just God, but probably more than that. They have made and broken companies.

On later hindsight, I am realizing two things:

In this era of social networking and ecommerce companies, the companies that do survive are the companies who fail fast, and recover fast. The fact that Instagram responded shows promise. They HAD to take some risks to do some internal stuff to start making money. And to survive they had better make money. Having been a part of an ecommerce company for about a year, I can vouch for the fail fast-recover fast method. It is the only thing that works.

Secondly, why are consumers suddenly so worried about T&Cs. Had anyone ever read the T&C when they signed up for Instagram? GMail? Or for that matter, any online service?

Next->Next->Continue->PageDown->PageDown->Finish->Congrats, you are done.

All my sign-ins have been like the above. The whole bad PR is because of another new phenomenon – Large Herds. The Herd mentality has been studied for quite a while now, and it is typical human behavior. But with the advent of large scale social networking, the herd sizes are magnified, several fold. So if TechCrunch says something, or John Gruber says something, or if @AtulChitnis retweets something, it becomes h.u.g.e.

So in conclusion, what happened to Instagram is not something alarming at all. This is what is going to be the future of QA. This is how product testing is going to happen. What used to happen within a enterprise software company when a Priority-Zero (P0) customer bug came in, just happened in a social networking company. Do not get alarmed, and get back to your work. If you have faith in that company (as in, you have an account with them), they will fix the bug. If not, this will ensure a new start-up founds itself with that limitation removed and an easy move-your-data-easily-to-me process.

Fitiquette

Read about this site on techcrunch. They just launched during their recent Disrupt event. I think its a great idea. There have been web sites where you can see digital mannequins donning clothes. But this site takes it one step further. It lets you customize the mannequin with your measurements. And then add on clothes. This is the one thing that was missing in online shopping sites so far. Folks who have a fit body do not need to worry about ordering from online sites. They typically would know their sizes (small, medium, large), or by their shirt sizes (39, 40, 42..), or trouser hip sizes (29,30,…). But for the larger majority of us, who are not *ahem* quite the perfect ‘mannequin’, we would like to know how a medium size from a certain brand and a certain fits me. Does it fall too short? Does it have too long sleeves? Does it make me look too short? Most of us have these reservations. And hence we like to go stores and try them on inside the mirrored trial rooms.

If it is what I read what it is, fitiquette solves this problem 100%. Lets you don clothes on a customized mannequin, and lets you view the mannequin in different angles, and pretty much do a virtual trial room experience.

Nice. Hope these guys make it big. Great going. After quite a while, I am seeing a startup solving a real world problem.

[fitiquette]

Facebook to buy Instagram

Facebook has concluded a deal to buy out Instagram for close to a billion dollars in cash and stock. That is a pretty big deal, considering Instagram is a fairly young company. There are some folks in the internet who are saying that Facebook is the new Google, and will swallow up any new good technology that crops up. And there are a few which say that the true reason is ‘fear’. I agree with the latter. I believe trends were beginning to show that, people were beginning to start sharing info about their lives and other things more over instagram photos than sharing updates on FB. I am sure that must have made FB jittery.

Apparently, as a first time ever, Facebook is going to let Instagram function the same way as it is, rather than integrating into FB. And that is one thing that I just do not believe. I have gone through 2 acquisitions, and seen a half a dozen in the EDA industry (where consolidation happens pretty commonly). This ‘show’ of ‘trust’ in letting the new company function as it is, does not last long. Let us see how long they remain independent. I am sure Instagram will get stuffed in the timeline somewhere, very soon.

Pure Loyalty – Mobile Cloak Room

Where there is a need, there will be a service-based-startup. That seems to be the motto these days. Wow. After a recent ruling that Cellphones, PDAs, Tablets etc would not be allowed inside public schools, a company named Pure Loyalty LLC is making news by filling a gap. These guys come and park a van outside the school, and provide a mobile cloak room. With more and more students having access to tablets and smart phones, a place to reliably deposit these ‘expensive’ electronic gadgets is a great idea. Pure Loyalty keeps track by using smart ID cards.

Call me a bad guy, but I am waiting for the acid test. I am waiting for the couple of incidents, where the smart cards are stolen, and some thing bad happens. If the company has ways to handle such an incident, they will definitely survive. Even if they dont, if they quickly get their heads together and create one, they still stand a chance (like airbnb did). If not, we will have to wait and see.

(image source by Dean Terry)

Brightfarms – Agricultural startup!

Yup. I did say agricultural startup. This is just awesome. I missed where I got this nugget from (probably from Inc ). The article quoted that, each time you buy lettuce or tomatoes on the east coast, it has been sitting in a refrigerated truck for a week – since it had to come either from Mexico or from the west coast. So a bunch of enterpreneaurs have started this awesome company – Bright Farms, where they have greenhouses on the terrace of large super markets. So the fresh produce that you get is literally as fresh as it can get. This is a win-win project, and a new dimension in start-ups. From their website, it says, they are now building a prototype in collaboration with a WholeFoods store. Lets see how this one goes.

Image courtesy: Bright Farms LLC