Saturday, November 17, 2012


Long overdue and one of the oldest items on my to-do list was moving this blog. 
You can now read what I write at

If you had subscribed to the feed, it should automatically update.

Monday, June 25, 2012

hold your funny

Why is there so much pressure to be funny?

Yesterday we entered the elevator at home, and there was another couple in there. The man was making some remark about how the elevator is temperamental about opening and closing its doors, and we acknowledged him with a slight chuckle. That must have triggered something because they launched into this tirade about the elevator. Especially the walls - which have been recently swapped out from a nice upholstered one to steel - how they are like cheese graters (which is perhaps a valid metaphor). And it's not just a remark; this is full-fledged stand-up action with the woman turning to the wall and heaving mightily trying to grate a massive wheel of imaginary cheese against the poor wall.

Ha ha ha. Not.

Perhaps the recent urge to let loose your inner comic is driven by the Facebook culture of getting more likes and comments and shares on something that's funny. Perhaps it's because it's easier to be on the side of funny and ignore everything else. One of these days society is going to swallow itself up in a binge of funny banalities and have nothing else to say any more.

Be grim.

Friday, June 22, 2012

yet another two kinds of people

a) Those that talk to you as though you had the IQ of a newt, and 
b) Those that give you the benefit of doubt, and assume that you are at least as intelligent, if not knowledgeable, as them.

This is one lens to apply to any conversation within the first few seconds, and watch how the parties behave. If you are one of (a), try shifting to (b) and see how amazingly you can make people resonate to what you're saying.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

madness is key

By about forty-five thousand years ago, modern humans had already reached Australia, a journey that, even mid-ice age, meant crossing open water. Archaic humans like Homo Erectus "spread like many other mammals in the Old World", Pääbo told me. "They never came to Madagascar, never to Australia. Neither did Neanderthals. It's only fully modern humans who start this thing of venturing out on the ocean where you don't see land. Part of that is technology, of course; you have to have ships to do it. But there is also, I like to think or say, some madness there. You know? How many people must have sailed out and vanished on the Pacific before you found Easter Island? I mean, it's ridiculous. And why do you do that? Is it for the glory? For immortality? For curiosity? And now we go to Mars. We never stop."

"We are crazy in some way. What drives it? That would be really cool to know."

(From a New Yorker story about research to find the genetic mutation that makes us different from our ancestors)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

convince or confuse pricing

If your pricing model cannot convince prospective customers, do you go ahead and confuse them? It is odd that payment products, of all products, do this.

The back-story to this post is that my television refused to power on and I called in a local mechanic to take a look. While paying him in cash, I started chatting with him about his business, payments in particular. It turns out that most of his revenue is from house visits, and he only accepts cash. No customer has problem paying in cash. And he doesn't use any of the new technology to swipe credit cards on a phone to accept payments because they are very expensive.

So I went and checked out some payment products for credit cards, and their pricing:

1. Intuit's Payment Terminal

2. Intuit's Go Payment for Mobiles

3. Square for iPhone* (they recently eliminated all fees)

Now, I'm sure these companies have some really smart people to include all their intrinsic and extrinsic costs and model fraud risk into their pricing. But this is overly complex for a small business owner trying to figure out if he/she should pay for the product. At the very least you need to give your customers a pricing calculator and some example scenarios to get them started.

The best thing is to eliminate multiple layers in this pricing structure.

If your customer is another business, you want their costs to be variable. Charge them a flat rate (a percentage is best, but a fixed amount might suffice) per transaction, for all transactions. Get your smart pricing team to figure out the optimum rate to charge based on your costs and to maximize your revenue, but DO NOT offload the calculation to the customers.

If your customer is an end consumer, a fee per transaction leads to a decision point at every such transaction: "Do I want to conduct this transaction using Intuit Go Payment and thus pay an additional fee again?" kind of questions. An up-front charge might be too large an investment. In this case, a periodic fee would work best. The consumer's total cost is spread across time, and yet, not too frequent or dependent on any other event (the transaction, in this case). Every time a customer has to take out his wallet and pay, is a hurdle that the Product Marketer needs to cross.

It may not be easy to come up with a single fee structure for all customers, so product marketers often sell "bundles" where different amounts of the same thing are priced differently. This is a slippery slope and it is best to avoid differential pricing unless there is a difference in the value-add provided by different bundles. A completely variable price model (e.g. fee per transaction) would be more preferable in that case.

A last thing to keep in mind while pricing - what other comparative models exist? Customers are sure to compare your prices with someone else's, and that should be easy to do. If your pricing model is radically different, give your customers tools to easily work out a comparison.

* Since my chat with the TV repair man and drafting up this post, Square has removed all fees for transactions. This is the most customer friendly, but may not always be viable. In this case, they are definitely changing the game, and I hope their model wins.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you have anything to say, please leave a comment.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

the true story of Christmas

A very interesting documentary on how the tradition of Christmas evolved over thousands of years into what it is now.

Even more interesting is that financial analysts say the retail industry has picked up this shopping season primarily because people are tired of being in an economic recession and have a deep need to celebrate something. Perhaps it is our annual coming full circle, more so this year, to the real origins of this winter-time festival.

Watch it on YouTube:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

facebook and twitter analytics

I wonder why neither Facebook nor Twitter is sharing analytics data for a Facebook Page or Twitter Page - they have become destinations in themselves and brands would surely be willing to pay to see user behavior on these pages.

One reason to not share this data could be that brands would start asking for more freedom with page layout and content. A way around this would be define and provide new "social media metrics" centered around the structure of the Facebook or Twitter page rather than providing either basic clickstream data or standard web analytics metrics.

Some data I would like to see:

  1. Max/Average reach of my tweets - number of hops in my network the tweet percolates to.

  2. Content (tweets or facebook posts) that leads to people following me or liking my page.

  3. Content that gets re-tweeted, replied to, liked or re-shared the most.

  4. What %-age and section of my network interacts with me the most. Which of my immediate network connects me to the rest of them? How does this change over time?

  5. Interest churn period: average length of time people follow me for.

  6. Interest churn: ratio of number of new followers to number of lost followers in a given period.

  7. Conversion data for the new funnel where you are trying to convert: people outside your network to followers/fans to clicking on your links to "liking" your content to replying/commenting to re-tweeting/re-sharing.

  8. Distribution of number of people followed by those who follow you - the ideal would be a bell curve - users following too few people or too many people are either not going to be listening at all or listening to too much noise.
Next up might be allowing A/B testing on FB/TW pages and updates. But that seems a little distant at the moment. :)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

where you are

Some food for thought about ad targeting:

I'm vising, which is a local website about events/food/news in the Mission district in San Francisco, from Seattle. Groupon shows me a Seattle ad.

In this case, should the ad have been targeted based on where I'm coming from, or based on the page context, given the strong location signal present in the context?

Targeting systems do wrong in not considering geo-location as a signal derived from different sources of information present across behavior and context (and device GPS), but only using it as a simple IP-based filter.

Monday, August 30, 2010

for retargeting

It takes The New York Times one article to set the world abuzz (and a-twitter!) with how creepy re-targeting is and how it freaks people out and how advertising is evil.

The fire was started by a story on Ad Age about how one person saw the same pair of pants being advertised on every website they visited, leading to claims of being "stalked by advertising".

Interestingly enough, in both stories the only examples being mentioned are ads by Zappos. Which makes me to suspect someone helping Zappos with their advertising didn't get their Frequency Capping right. And that leads me right to my main point: what re-targeting has got going for itself:

1. Frequency Capping
Frequency Capping is a maximum limit to how many times a user may be shown a particular ad. Even when ads are not re-targeted, it is a well-known (and measured) fact that user interest - and hence the effectiveness of an ad - drops considerably if a user is shown the same ad over and over again. Typically, the same ad is not shown to a user more than 3 to 5 times in a 24-hour period. There is more ROI in showing another relevant ad to the user.

With re-targeting, frequency capping is in effect across websites. So users will see the same ad even fewer number of times - because the same frequency cap is in effect across multiple sites that the user is browsing to, rather than allowing a max of 3 ad views on every individual site. Similar to Frequency Capping is another concept called Recency where users are not shown the same ad in quick succession. For the same reasons.

So the Zappos ad that has everyone cringing should never have been so frequent or so pervasive had their advertising partners got their frequency caps right (but that's my guess).

2. Behavioral Targeting
Re-targeting is a kind of behavioral targeting, different from using the context of the webpage you are browsing to determine what you might be interested in. It enables advertisers to push content to me that is relevant to me. Wouldn't you rather see ads for the kind of clothing you were browsing yesterday than for weight loss pills or home loans that you don't want? Also, contrary to popular misconception, instead of generating ads for the same product you have been looking at, re-targeting typically works at a product-category level where you would see ads for a variety of athletic shoes after having viewed a pair of ASICS Gel Kayano. Which certainly adds to the informational quality of advertising.

Think of re-targeting as being smarter about remembering some of the contextual information that was thus far being used only once to generate ads for you.

3. Nascent technology
Re-targeting and other kinds of behavioral targeting is pretty nascent and advertisers and advertising networks are experimenting to find out what works and what doesn't. Given the what is at stake - billions of advertising dollars as well as user experience - the only option is to find a win-win for both advertisers and users. Ads will only get more useful.

Regulation isn't required here; freedom to innovate is.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

gmail telephony

It is nice to be able to call a telephone from your browser, without any special application or having to register with a SIP service. This is what GMail/Google Chat now allows you to do. "Nice" adequately describes this feature.

The transformation from "nice" to "wow" would happen if I could call someone on their phones using their email address without knowing or caring about their phone numbers, if I could turn off receiving calls when I wasn't online, if I could conference in other people while on a call with someone by just dragging and dropping contacts in my browser....

Saturday, August 28, 2010

language and thought

I've always wondered what language I think in, having been bilingual from a very early age, but much as I tried to "observe" my thought, I never could figure that out. I suspect I don't think in a language as much as in abstract concepts I am familiar with.

But here is something that says even those concepts could be influenced by my mother tongue:

Can you see how english (and even hindi) refers to my native language as "mother tongue", thus imparting a greater, nurturing quality to a language, making the concept of language more than just a means of communication?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

innovation at nike

I'm reading about Nike's CEO Mark Parker and how he created the Nike Air line of shoes, saving the company and the brand:

I remember Nike Air shoes were really big (in terms of ads - not many could afford them) in India in the early 90s, and I remember longing for those Rs. 2000 worth shoes when the average Nike sneaker probably came for a fourth or a third of that. It is nice to understand, years later, what went into those shoes and what they meant for one of the largest innovators in the world.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

somethings about search

Web search has been a game changer in many ways. One of those ways is making users habituated to finding what they need, when they need it. Search has obviated the need to keep track of stuff on the internet anymore. What's more, users have come to expect search to work really, really well.

So when it doesn't, and people can't find what they thought was there, it becomes a matter of trust. That just the search part might be broken is not the first thing that they think: is the website just losing data?

If the internet were to be considered information organized as a tree, it would be two levels deep, with a search function as the root node.

Besides being a gateway to information, search is also the most natural way (as yet) users interact with computers - they type exactly what they are looking for. This is valuable information to gain insight about your users' intent.

If you are a website, are you letting users search? And, more importantly, search well?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

lean back and consider

John Battelle hits the nail on the head when he says news coverage in the tech industry is an "endless cycle of post and spin" when what is really needed is "leaning back and considering".

News coverage - and I am broadening the scope from just the tech industry to all news - can be split into two: (1) Facts, and (2) Opinion & Analysis.

Facts need to be comprehensive, correct, terse, and instantaneous. And not repeated.

Opinion and analysis add value by providing insight not immediately obvious at the fact. Balanced arguments and structured thought take some time to produce and consumers are willing to wait for this.

I think news coverage will increasingly polarize into these two kinds.

140 characters are enough to bring you facts, and consumers don't mind these facts being pushed to you constantly, throughout the day. When it comes to detailed analysis, consumers are going to be more selective, and open to engaging more closely through comments and "likes" and "shares". Also, the former is more of a commodity, while the latter is where experts and niches can be found.

And this last point is most important - especially for marketing and monetizing strategies of news organizations, small and large. There definitely are opportunities.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

on privacy

This is the first in a series of posts about my thoughts on end-user privacy on the internet.

Did you know that websites you visit sell your browsing history information to companies that aggregate this information from many users and sell it to advertisers? BlueKai is one such company. Go here to see what information it has about your browsing behaviour. eXelate Media is another example of such "behavioural data providers". Most online advertising networks do this, but keep the data within their network, for use by their own partners/advertisers, instead of making it commercially available.

The NAI makes all member companies (most companies involved in online advertising are members) provide an opt-out mechanism to users. For example, Google's opt-out page is here: However, most users are not even aware of how much information is being tracked, much less how they can avoid being tracked.

Deleting cookies is often stated as a way to maintain privacy. However, there are these crumbs called Locally Shared Objects, provided by Flash, and supported by any Flash-enabled browser, that allow a website to store any data in your browser. They are very similar to cookies in that only the website that creates a particular LSO can access that LSO. However, they cannot be deleted from your browser. Adobe provides a Global Settings Manager on its website to manage the Flash component in your browser. Go there and see which websites have stored LSOs on your computer. Very often, LSOs are used to replicate cookie information, and deleted cookies can be restored from these LSOs. So even if you delete cookies, websites can identify you again. In fact, they can even tell if you deleted cookies.

Facebook's Instant Personalization is not the first to enable tracking of your browsing behaviour across websites and allowing websites to use that data. But they are doing it in the most transparent manner, sparking off the debate that is essential to figuring out the right+acceptable way to go about this, and taking all the flak for doing so.

The existence and protection of privacy has implications of systemic proportions on the ethos of the internet, and should not be taken lightly by only economic or political consideration. More on this in another post.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

on Meg Whitman's gubernatorial ideas

Meg Whitman spoke at the Commonwealth Club a few weeks ago, speaking about her ideas for California were she to be elected Governor.

She spoke about about the required operational efficiency in governance, providing various examples of how money could be saved. She spoke about her experiences with the government while running eBay in the Silicon Valley and how the government needs to be more business-friendly: about how technology jobs are being lost to other states and what California can do to win them back.

All in all, she seemed ready to govern Silicon Valley, but perhaps not yet California.

Which is not to say her ideas were not substantial or consequential. When it comes operations, states would do well to hire business people. And from this particular speech, I think Ms. Whitman might turn out to be a great COO for California.

You can find the talk here in the Commonwealth Club archives.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

games outside of games

With so much being said about Game Mechanics and how it can drive people's behaviour, I wonder if there is a breaking point to it.

One article on CNN talks about toothbrushes telling some website on the internet how often you brush and rewarding you on that basis. I already see too many people fretting about credit card reward points and micro-optimizing their rewards to the cent. If such fake rewards take over our daily lives, one of two things will happen: we will become immune to the concept of rewards and competition; or we will become so engrossed with competing in every single activity that fun and utility both will become meaningless, giving way to a perpetual vanity.

p.s.: Apparently, FourSquare usage (which is a classic use-case of game mechanics) goes from curiosity to addiction to apathy. If true, it might be an indicator.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

touch and gestures

While the use of touch and gestures cannot be over-rated when it comes to human interactions, the recent gadget-makers seem to have some fundamentals wrong.

Touch is an "input" mechanism, as it were, for people, not machines! Putting your finger to cold glass and pretending it is touching a button drawn on the glass is not good user experience. It may be state-of-the-art technology, but the state-of-the-art needs to catch up with convenience quickly. If you've ever tried taking a picture with the camera on the iPhone, you'll know what I mean.

Swiping your hand or finger across a screen does sound like sci-fi made real, but it does not beat the convenience of pressing (or "touching") a button to turn a page. Sure, swiping seems to be a natural gesture, but representative gestures that require less movement, less concentration or allow for parallel activity (like eating, holding a phone to one's ear, etc.) add significant value. It is easier to press the eject button for a CD tray than to tug on it as a signal. In the same way, it is easier to zoom with a lever than to "pinch" the screen. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to drive a car if you had to turn your head to turn the car?

Humans have been using instruments even before the Stone Age. That means millions of years of conditioning to get comfortable with temporary extensions to our appendages - from knives to wrenches to racquets and even toothbrushes! It is much easier to draw with a stylus than a finger, whether on paper or an electronic screen, and many people prefer using a mouse with their laptops to the touchpad that comes with it. The next generational devices seem to ignore, even deride, the use of additional instruments, and that will be a handicap for users.

When it come to user experience, convenience is a much longer lasting advantage than novelty.

I am not being a Luddite - it is not the technology I criticize, but its experience: the application and messaging.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Some months ago I got interested in mining some Twitter data and played with their API and started following @TwitterAPI. Not much came out of it, except that I would get a few updates a week regularly about their API. Which seems to have progressed quite a bit while their website is still much the same. I decided to take a closer look.

It isn't hard to get data from Twitter. Kudos to them for that. Here's an interesting representation of the data I got about the different Twitter clients being used. The numbers are the percentage of times that client was used in a sample of public tweets taken over 6 days. Hover over the circles to see the data, or click on a row in the table on the left to see the corresponding circle in the chart.

(Feedreader users, you may have to click through to check out this graphic. All: I apologize for making you run a Java applet but this tool from IBM was perfect and I couldn't find anything in Javascript or Flash that had all this functionality)

48% of tweets are from the web. Which means the website. About half of that are from regular clients. From the looks of it, I guess about 8% are from the mobile. And the rest are from other web applications trying to get users to popularize their own content like tweeting about a video from YouTube or your scores from an online game, connecting your Tumblr (or blog/rss feed) to your Twitter account so updates get tweeted automatically, tweeting your Facebook or LinkedIn status automatically either through these sites or through an aggregator service like, etc.

So clearly, using Twitter for a viral effect is a popular use case - somewhat like the Facebook News Feed or FriendFeed. If you look closely at the various clients there, there are so many web apps are trying to get hooked into the users' Twitter accounts. And an API for that purpose makes a lot of sense.

Twitter lends itself naturally to mobile use, and I suspect Twitter has a higher proportion of its usage on the mobile than most other web apps. But the big question mark here is the Twitter website. So many people are still using the website. Why isn't Twitter doing something about that? Most Twitter clients offer much richer functionality than their site.

Firstly, by making the site a proper destination, Twitter will have a lot more data about user behaviour. Right now it is probably highly fragmented across the various clients. Secondly, being a destination is very useful when you want to experiment with features and see how users respond to them. As a semi-functional website, or a fully functional platform, they are removing themselves from the users, forgetting that a lot of the Twitter protocol (@ replies and RT's, for example) was invented by users. Thirdly, Twitter has given up control of content to clients. Which are not doing even a half-decent job. Sure, they have gotten better at spam filtering, but with millions of tweets a day, and hundreds of thousands of conversations, they can filter a lot more than just spam. Filter and collaboratively filter. And best way to bring this data to users is they were a destination. Lastly, there is a huge monetization opportunity in being the destination. And I don't mean ads. I am referring to Twitter as an incredible proven ability to enable conversations between businesses and their customers, regardless of whether the business is a 1-man show or a faceless corporation. Conversations are very underrated - in marketing, product design, in product support and this is where Twitter's real potential lies - in enabling multiple paradigm shifts, rather than being one.

Please go reclaim your website, Twitter.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


I was listening to a debate on whether America is responsible for Mexico's drug wars and at the end of the debate, each speaker was called to summarize his or her position. Having grown with debating a prominent activity at school, I was surprised to see people like CNN show hosts and Congressmen fail to summarize. There was one anecdote in support of the main argument, one gentleman went so far as to even concede some of his points to another and the others just used their summarizing time to extend their arguments, not to wrap up.

This was a couple of days ago.

Today, interestingly, I read about someone else lamenting good conclusions - in the State of the Union, and other presidential speeches. James Fallows objects to Obama (and other presidents) using "God bless you all; God bless the United States of America" to end their speeches. It started with Ronald Reagan and all presidents since have used to say "this speech is over". Before Reagan, they would end their speeches with a more natural conclusion.

Read Fallows' take about this on his blog. He also has the recent State of the Union address with his annotations, which are quite interesting.