Archives for April 2012

Google Drive? Drive on

 

Google Logo

Am sure at least some of you have been eyeing Google Drive, so thought I would remind you of the recent changes Google made in their TOS and show you a recent post I came across. This is important, so read on.

First is the Google TOS, go on read it. It is not as bad as the legal documents enterprises usually cook up in their cauldrons, this is relatively mild. If legalese is not your thing, then allow me to highlight the terms that gets me concerned.

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.

Ah…do you see the dark clouds yet? Wondering what lurks right behind it? Wait no more, read the next quote.

This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services.

Now to the second item, the blog post I mentioned at the start. A computer scientist ends up getting a $1000 bill from Amazon WebServices. Reason? There were numerous GET requests to large number of objects in his S3 bucket. Large enough requests to be charged $1000 for a month. Guess what caused it, He was storing a bunch of these URLs on his Google Spreadsheet, which got crawled by Google. Read the whole post, useful to understand how Amazon S3 did not raise an alarm at the unusual number of requests, why this was not Google crawler but a service called FeedFetcher from Google and why Google’s privacy policy prevented this “crawl” from being cached.

To summarize, a document you created using Google Docs/Spreadsheet had a URL, which was not public, got crawled repeatedly. Am not sure about you but I typically like my documents unindexed unless I explicitly make them public and expect them to be indexed. Integrated experience is good until I am forced to integrate within an ecosystem with unintended consequences. Lesson here is this, provide integrated experiences but ensure you align to customer expectations of service boundaries, or inform the customer upfront about consequences so they can take an informed decision. Its hard to retain this balance and completeness, but should be worth pursuing.

I am sticking with DropBox and SkyDrive, until even they have this bright idea of offering integrated experiences.

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Why Samsung/Android Will Never Get Another Dime From Me

Android - No dime from me

Android - No dime from me

(Rant Alert. Keep away if you wish!)

I hate Samsung Mobiles and Android. I hate them with an unparalleled intensity. Btw, I pre-ordered and bought a Samsung Galaxy S2, SGS2, believing it would ‘truly’ be the phone that proves Apple iOS had legitimate competition.

Before you ask, I am an Apple fan but never owned an iPhone myself. I have owned Nokia, BlackBerry and Motorola so far. Apple phones have always been rather expensive in India, so have admired them from afar. You would think with Nokia, Blackberry and Motorola as yardsticks for quality Samsung and Google would have no issue in making a customer happy. Tough luck, these fellows have no bloody clue on what makes a consumer device tick.

Just so we are objective in our hatred, here are some points:

Multi-tasking: The very first joke that hit me. After a full first charge done overnight, I used the phone from 8am and the damn thing lasted until 1 or 2pm, just by using the built-in apps. I used them slightly more than normal because it was a new device and I was eager to play. Pathetic power management was my impression on the first day of use. Nah, make piss-poor power management. Am sure at least few engineers behind Android knew multi-tasking would suck the battery’s soul and spit it into dark places. But guess multi-tasking was a marketing differentiator against Apple and the morons used it.

First App: Which led me to Google for options. I found that using a product like Advanced Task Killer helps power management. I hope you get the irony of this. My first f**cking app is “Advanced Task Killer” on Samsung, can you f**cking believe that? Anyway gentlemen, I did that and power management got vastly better..if I constantly killed apps that run in the background. Reminded me of using TaskManager on Windows to speed up my PC.

App Launch Experience: I got the standard list of apps Samsung ships with its version of Android. Eagerly I opened the pre-installed apps one by one. Every time I did that I had to accept Terms and Conditions..for every bloody app. I did not bother to understand whether it was for every app or every publisher or some other criteria. For all apps on the home page I had to accept conditions. What the f**k were they thinking?!!

Built-in Apps: The Google native apps were tolerable but none, absolutely none, of the built in apps put a smile on my face or helped accomplish my task without wincing. Let me highlight another gem, on the home screen the following apps were pre-installed – Voice Command, Voice Recorder, Voice Talk and Voice Search. Am sure if you thought about it deeply you might figure out what each of them did..but are you so jobless? Was there no person at Samsung to spot this?

Heating Problems: This phone heats up without apparent reasons, like a teenager who needs no specific reasons to feel horny. And I have given up trying to figure out the causes, just as I would think of a raving, slobbering, drunk on the street. It just is, best to ignore.

App Store: This deserves its own post. The Android App Store, or Google Play, is the very antithesis of “play”. It is a murky cesspool, notwithstanding the shiny veneer that confronts you when you launch it. Peer a tad closer and you will see clones of popular apps, apps that don’t elicit confidence that your private data will be treated with care, app equivalent of the Nigerian inheritance scam mails and more.

And so far I have not mustered enough recklessness to give Google my credit card details, so never bought a paid app. Before you think am a technical noob, I regularly buy my books/ebooks online via Amazon or Flipkart. On my iPad, of the 176 apps almost 35-40% are paid apps. Least expensive must be the 99cents ones, and most expensive one must be the WSJ subscription and AppCooker. That is just on my mobile devices, on the Mac I have bought Scrivener, OmniGraffle and more. Bottom line, as a software guy I love to pay developers for their work and don’t mind putting up the cash. The Android ecosystem(Google Play, Android, Samsung) just does not inspire that confidence in me, nor delight me enough to overcome perceptions of the ecosystem.

PC Sync: Samsung supplies a software called Kies to play the role of iTunes for iOS devices. It would be no exaggeration to state Kies is easily the most effed up piece of software thrust upon a hapless mankind. I truly have no words to describe how awful it is. The syncing mechanism is not reliable, when it actually manages to work. Inspite of constant updates, it has stayed as half-assed as when it was born. The firmware upgrade process is a joke, the OS upgrade is yet to arrive, the syncing works sometimes..in short, useless.

To Android fans: Sorry, you might have your reasons to love your variant of the mess that is Android. Hackability is a important but not in a consumer device. The ecosystem just does not attract the kind of mindsets and cultures that go into making beautiful and affordable experiences. Apps like Instagram for Android are exceptions to what prevails normally.

Conclusion: I bought a brick with my hard-earned money and deeply regret buying Samsung Galaxy S2. The issue is not with this device alone but the entire ecosystem and the kind of software providers and mindset it attracts. Am putting up this post so it can help people who are considering Galaxy Note, Galaxy S3 and other locust-like swarm of Android variants that are waiting to feed on our money and our patience. Not a dime more from me Google/Android/Samsung, I did pay a big price and trusted you to build something worthy. And you let me down big time.

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Don via Compfight
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Org Charts – Truth as strange as fiction

Am sure you all have seen Valve’s Employee Handbook that floated around online last week. Read the whole thing its worth your time. What drew my attention was the org chart, as envisioned by Valve’s employees.

Valve OrgChart - Envisioned by Employees

Funny as it is, read through the handbook to see how this seeming chaos is actually implemented. The audacity of Valve’s leadership to conceive, and attempt to realize, such a culture is commendable. This reminded me of another series of mock/humorous Org Charts that was on the Internet few months ago.

Apple Google Org Charts Manu

See the irony? The above picture is an external observer’s humorous take on how these companies(Microsoft, Apple, Amazon etc.) are structured. And the Valve example has a similar clustering/connectedness profile. Truth, gentlemen, is at least as strange as fiction!

To Exist Digitally

Lonely Tree

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: sant.o via Compfight

If you cannot point to something digitally, does it really exist? Craig Mod asks this somewhat rhetorical but pertinent question. The specific context was an interview with Haruki Murakami and the desire to point to interesting quotes therein.

Craig goes on to answer the question, saying:

To not exist means in part to be offline…To not exist digitally means to be walled off. Silo’d. Unpointable…Unnetworked (even if it’s on the network). It’s means to not be part of that growing corpus.

What I find interesting is the notion of Unpointable and Unnetworked, the former easy to understand and the latter difficult to follow through properly.

Unnetworked is the baby step taken by the real-world towards a digital world, where the information is present online but not part of a corpus.

Unnetworked is Unfindable, which effectively renders the artifact invisible.

Unnetworked is Unpointable, not amenable to be linked to.

For example every digital document produced by tools of the PC world, like Word/Excel/PDF is unlinkable. Or take proprietary professional content sets sold with a sprinkling of metadata thrown in. All unlinkable.

Am willing to bet that an ecosystem that survives on being unlinkable will slowly diminish in relevance and business value. Whether it is a corporate strategy that relies on exclusive access to proprietary information, or document formats of the PC world engineered for being printed on paper, or any tool that produces information that cannot be linked to will and should go away.

What is your take, is Unlinkable as big a deal as I think it is?

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Taste and Specification

Taste in product creation overlaps a lot with design: doing it well requires it to be valued, rewarded, and embedded in the company’s culture and upper leadership.

That is a quote from Marco Arment‘s post titled Time and Taste. An excellent post as usual from Marco, and I would like to elaborate on the taste aspect.

Specification is not the Product

Any product is always built to a specification. A 4-inch touch-sensitive screen, 1GB RAM, 8GB memory, expansion via SD card slots and so on. Yet the result, when one considers an Android phone, feels like something a one-eyed drunkard put together, after pondering nuances with co-drunkards in a noisy section of a 3rd world bazaar.

Yes it is manufactured to specification but the thing functions in a way that makes you feel disappointed every damn time. That experience betrays lack of taste at every point from, and between, producer to consumer. Of course there will be a market for poorly designed products/services. You could argue about affordability, demographic needs, wider price points and so on. But a producer of such tasteless goods is only a slightly refined version of crooks who steal from children.

Aesthetic Escapes Specification

What is taste? Hard to describe but taste can be i) an aesthetic sensibility ii) an outcome of a specific world-view or iii) result of a reasoned belief. Taste, like reasoning, is a skill of mental cognition. Everything needs to be actively thought about, critiqued and most important savored for what it is beyond its functionality .

Put simply, if specification is prose then taste would be poetry. A specification can never capture beauty and feeling.

Why should you care? Tasteful products have competitive differentiation built-in. Of course it requires an audience with taste. The challenge will be to identify this audience, if not to work towards educating and building up an audience with taste. That done, you don’t have to play the “price drop” game anymore. And taste is hard to copy too. Your competitor can steal a feature or your style but they can seldom be you or your product.

Where does taste stand in your scheme of things? Does your organization have it, encourage it?

How Would a Billion Dollars Sit on You?

instagram logo

Mike Krieger, co-Founder of Instagram, shares how their photo-sharing service was scaled to 30million users in under 2 years. The slide is at the bottom of this post too. What caught my eye though was the below quote on TechCrunch:

Considering his company was just bought for $1 billion, it’s a pretty remarkable effort, 185 slides in all.

Then it struck me, Instagram was acquired for a billion dollars less than a week back. And here is a co-founder sharing technical details of how the technical infrastructure was scaled. Not sure if it sank in for you but I spaced out for a few moments!

Imagine, you have many hundred million dollars on you, acquired by the largest social network on the planet, built the current hottest photo-sharing product and you talk technology to a bunch of geeks!

And no, the slide preparation might not have been delegated to a minion, there are only 13 employees!

Gentlemen, this is behavior worth emulating. Much much dollars have barely registered on Mike Krieger. And guess what I have seen people who fall for silly labels, who play power games for a tag worth nothing beyond corporate walls, or see themselves on pedestals for relatively small reasons. To be candid, I have fallen prey to this sometimes too, though I take care to remember where I started and come back to normalcy.

So, now to you. How would a billion dollars sit on you? Where does building things of lasting value sit in your priorities?

And yes, awesome tech details in the presentation, do not miss it.

(My colleague Jeethu brought this to my attention, a big thanks to him!)

Affiliation and Accomplishment

The shoe does not run

Runners run. Shoes dont.

Affiliation and Accomplishment, two entirely different concepts yet easy to confuse one for another.

An affiliation is a label, a marker of sorts. Usually granted to mark an accomplishment but not often as one would want.

The ones seeking shortcuts look for the affiliation first, accomplishment can be done later they think.

The wannabe runner who wears a Nike, does not magically become a runner who endures through physical and mental limits.

The one born into a priestly class, does not automatically become a man of luminous knowledge.

The professional desiring labels(Manager, AVP, VP, ‘anything pompous’), will realize gods of technology or strategy have not taken over his being.

The one who covets the label falls for the dumbest trick, a semantic sleight of hand.

Affiliation is sexy, it flaunts its labels like a super model would.

Accomplishment is work, it is sleepless nights, grease or ink tainted hands, aching wrists and bleary eyes.

Accomplishment is hard. It requires learning, thinking and doing. Over and over again.

Accomplishment is enduring. It survives opinions of lesser men, builds a lasting edifice.

How you are aligned now, whether to accomplishment or affiliation is not permanent either.

One has to choose to stay accomplished. One can choose to become accomplished.

Mere Affiliation is a bad place to be. Once you choose to fall for make believe you will fall for anything.

Photo Credit: lululemon athletica via Compfight