Role Playing and Entrepreneurship

In your mind, you may be living a certain age, but in community, you are forced to live in your physical age. In society, we not only live in our physical age, but also in different roles at different stages of life. You are not an “adult” yet when you are a “student”, expected to respect the “teacher”. In your first job, you learn to play the role of the “employee”, who’s a “team player” and to respect the “boss”. On the personal front, you start as a “son/daughter”, graduate to later roles of “boyfriend/girlfriend” and “husband/wife”.

Society is structured around roles, as if it were a taxonomy classifying individuals. There are a few people who don’t fit comfortably into these role slots. They struggle with role-playing of any kind and choose instead to live their lives just as they are, what they think, and what they wish. It takes gargantuan effort. It often means being obsessed with a lifelong goal, an ideology, or a dream towards which no obstacle seems insurmountable. These people turn out to be the ones we watch movies about or read about in history books. Their achievement is stupendous, glorified, and history judges them as pillars who catapulted society ahead in time. The Abraham Lincolns and Martin Luther Kings, the Stephen Hawkings and John Nashes.

Achievement of any significance seems to require superhuman effort that involves the refusal to play roles and the courage to withstand attacks and confrontations from the community. Why have we, as humans, created such an almost insurmountable barrier in the way of significant, meaningful achievement?

What about those who’re not heroic in any way, but are just struggling in their refusal to play roles while living within the community? They are in the millions but nobody talks about them, nobody writes books or makes movies about them. They often have a dream, they often have disruptive ideas that can change human society forever. They face seemingly insurmountable challenges, but lack the heroic strength to surmount them. They pay a heavy price for the disparity between what society expects of them and what they themselves wish to create.

They dance to the rhythm of a different beat, one that society isn’t able to hear yet. They imagine possibilities the community has not thought about yet. Their ideas are ahead of society, and they are mostly alone facing rejection because of not successfully playing the roles society expects of them. They are often unsuccessful students or failed husbands, women who don’t want to be mothers or professionals who don’t want to be employees. They are alone, just themselves. With an idea.

They are the startup entrepreneurs of today.

Only a very select few of them go on to make million dollar deals and come into the spotlight. Society rewards them suitably in several ways. The majority of them suffer their pain silently, struggle in invisibility, cling to anything that reinforces their belief in themselves, and mostly live in obscurity. The difference between the chosen few and the majority is not really as great as society seems to think.

This post is to salute the silent majority. As we begin 2014, I urge readers of my blog to join me to be more empathetic to startup entrepreneurs, attempt to listen to the beat they dance to, expand our vision to perceive their dream. Here’s wishing a great new year to all startup entrepreneurs!

Posted in Personal | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Art of the Footnote in Tech Blogging

If you are a relatively obscure blogger like me, you certainly don’t need footnotes in your posts. On the other hand, if your blog has a sizeable readership, using footnotes can elevate the perceived depth of your posts to a great extent.

Footnotes and endnotes have a scholarly feel since they are mostly used in academic research papers. In this context, there is a difference between footnotes and endnotes:

Footnotes are notes at the foot of the page while endnotes are collected under a separate heading at the end of a chapter, volume, or entire work. Unlike footnotes, endnotes have the advantage of not affecting the layout of the main text, but may cause inconvenience to readers who have to move back and forth between the main text and the endnotes.

This difference is irrelevant while blogging, because your blog post may be a chapter, a volume, an entire work, or just a few paragraphs, but it still exists only on one page (unless you’re writing on a well-known tech blog that needs pagination to increase time-spent-on-site). Your reader just has to scroll down, scroll down, scroll down, to read your footnote and scroll up, scroll up, scroll up, to come back to what you were saying.

Is the footnote, then, worth it, despite the inconvenience caused to the reader? As stated before, if your blog has an established readership, yes indeed. Your readers have been drifting in the desert, sweating under the hot sun, yearning for drips of your wisdom, since your last blog post. Every word you write is nectar that soothes their dehydrated souls. Midway between taking large gulps of your main text, scroll down to read the footnote and scroll back up? Heck, they’ll even zoom in to read your footnote in large print, in case you publish footnotes in a smaller font. Your readers attain a greater sense of fulfillment after having done this exercise, just like monks or pilgrims reaching a monastery or temple atop the mountain.

It doesn’t matter much whether your main text adequately justifies a footnote. If you are at a complete loss where to add a footnote, just pluck one sentence from your main text and make it a footnote. Your readers won’t notice you’ve done such an abominable thing, rather, this will enhance the perceived intellectual level of your writing.

In case you clicked on the one link in this post above to Wikipedia, you would have noticed that footnotes and endnotes exist in human knowledge under the category of typography. Typography is art and design and elegance; your readers will feel stupid if they don’t know anything about it. Which is another way to project that you are a connoisseur. This is another way footnotes elevate your writing and, ultimately, your online image.

Since my simple writing doesn’t need them, comments on this post are considered footnotes. Add yours!

Posted in Miscellaneous | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Building A Windows 8 PC With Intel Haswell

Neither can we assemble a smartphone, nor can we configure the components of our tablet. But you still can custom build and configure your own desktop PC. This post is to celebrate the joy of configuring a new PC, written for non-technical users.

Background

Since I started using PCs in the late 1980s with DOS, I have used custom built PCs. I have never purchased branded PCs, nor used a Mac Pro. I get a deep fulfillment from configuring my own PC.

I am not a hardware expert who can assemble PC components himself, so I get a hardware engineer to do that. I love the flexibility of being able to selectively upgrade a specific component, and get the hardware engineer to ‘buy back’ the older component for him to sell in the local market. This enables one to always have the latest and best PC components without having to wait several years to get a new PC. Running low on storage? Replace your HDD with twice the capacity. Need a bigger monitor? Replace it. Want better graphics performance? Upgrade your graphics card.

When I started researching online about upgrading to Intel Haswell, I read through zillions of posts:

  • Articles for dummies that did not have enough technical depth
  • Articles that were presumably intended for mainstream users but assumed basic knowledge of motherboards, PC components, and how one goes about assembling a PC
  • Articles that were highly technical, too intimidating for average users, discussing evolution of Intel architecture of Ivy Bridge vs. Haswell, chipset comparisons, etc.

Hence this guide for regular, mainstream users like me.

Getting Started

To begin configuring your new PC, choose in this order:

  1. CPU
  2. Chipset
  3. Motherboard
  4. Storage: RAM, SSD/HDD, Optical Drive
  5. Graphics Card
  6. Cabinet and Power Supply
  7. Peripherals: Monitor(s), Keyboard, Mouse, Speakers

The sequence is important as each step depends on the previous one.

CPU

Intel CPUs come in 3 variants: the i7, i5, and i3. The i7 is the most powerful, i3 the least.badge-4th-gen-core-i5.png.rendition.cq5dam.thumbnail.128.128

If you compile software, do video processing, render complex graphics, or are a heavy gamer, you need the i7. For mainstream PC usage, the i5 is more than adequate. Don’t overestimate the role of the CPU: for generic PC usage not involving those described earlier, an i7 would be indistinguishable from an i5. It is wiser to spend the differential cost in other components to make your PC ‘faster’.

Intel GENERATIONS: Ivy Bridge vs. Haswell

Ivy Bridge was Intel’s 3rd generation, Haswell is Intel’s latest 4th generation. Do you need Haswell for your desktop PC? Does Haswell bring significant advantages to desktop or is it only an enhancement for mobile? You can spend days researching this. A 3rd generation i7 will still deliver higher performance than a 4th generation i5.

For me, the decision is simple. If Intel will support 3rd generation for X years in the future, it will support the 4th generation for X+Z years in the future.

If the ‘support in future’ aspect doesn’t matter much, here’s the lowdown: Yes, Haswell has several enhancements for the desktop too, and it is worth using Haswell for desktop PCs rather than Ivy Bridge.

CPU OVERCLOCKING: THE ‘K’ FACTOR

Overclocking is driving your car at a higher speed than its max speed limit.

If you are reading this guide, you are probably a mainstream user like me. I don’t overclock, which keeps things pretty simple.

Each Intel CPU comes with a ‘K’ variant that allows hard-core gamers to overclock them. If you are not going to overclock your CPU, you do not need to buy the ‘K’ model, which costs more.

CHIPSET

If the CPU is the queen bee, the Chipset is the army of worker bees that produce the computing juice – the honey – of your PC. You don’t buy a Chipset. You buy motherboards that are based on chipsets. Before you decide which motherboard you buy, you need to choose a chipset.

There are two options in Haswell for consumers: the Z87 and H87.

You need the Z87 Chipset if you are going to overclock OR are going to use multiple graphic cards. For everyone else, the H87 is adequate.

The Z87 chipset is geared for enthusiasts, while H87 is for mainstream users. Motherboard manufacturers embellish Z87 motherboards with bells and whistles, while keeping H87 motherboards limited to typical usage requirements.

You can use a Z87 chipset motherboard with an i5, or a H87 chipset motherboard with an i7, so choose your CPU, Chipset, Motherboard as per your needs.

To reiterate, if you don’t compile software, create video, render artistic or architectural drawings, or play Call of Duty/Battlefield/Total War kind of games, then the i5-H87 combination is good enough.

MOTHERBOARD

Once you have chosen your CPU and Chipset, you can select your motherboard based on that chipset from the the various vendors: Intel, Asus, Gigabyte, ASRock, MSI. Your CPU determines the ‘Socket Type’, and specific motherboards are designed for specific socket types. Intel Haswell CPUs use the ‘LGA 1150’ socket type, which is what you need to specify when searching for a motherboard.

SIZE (FORM FACTOR): MICRO-ATX/MINI-ATX/ATX

Motherboards come in different sizes, and the size of your PC Cabinet will depend on your Gigabyte 8013_mmotherboard size. Micro-ATX is the smallest, Mini-ATX is medium, ATX is full size. For mainstream users, micro/mini ATX are adequate.

Here are some factors to consider when choosing a motherboard:

  • Get a Motherboard with UEFI Bios. These are new GUI based, mouse-supported BIOSes, unlike primitive DOS-era BIOSes.
  • Do you need WiFi/Bluetooth on the motherboard? (Useful for wireless keyboard/mouse)
  • What kind of audio output do you need? Stereo or 5.1 surround sound?
  • Multi-monitor support, if you are going to use multiple monitors. Monitor interface – HDMI/DVI/VGA? VGA is outdated, newer monitors have HDMI/DVI both of which are equally good.
  • Do you want to be able to charge your smartphone/iPod over USB even when your PC is in standby?
  • For mainstream users who use a single graphic card, this is not important, but if you may use multiple graphic cards in the future, does your motherboard support it? AMD uses Crossfire, Nvidia uses SLI. Check what the motherboard supports.

STORAGE

Minimum 4GB RAM, recommend 8GB RAM. Use DDR3 RAM, which is much faster than DDR2. The frequency of the RAM (1333/1660) doesn’t matter much.

A SSD for Windows 8 and Programs, a HDD for data. The SSD is the behind-the-scenes component that makes your PC ‘appear faster’.samsung-480-pro-256gb-640x364

A 128GB SSD is sufficient for Windows 8, MS Office, and browser, utility and multimedia apps. Spend what you saved by not purchasing an i7 CPU or a ‘K’ variant in buying an SSD. The performance enhancement in terms of user experience is well worth it.

Get a DVD Drive as an alternate boot option, install various software, or watch movies or play audio CDs, only if you wish.

SATA

The SATA (Serial ATA ) interface on your motherboard is where data transfer takes place between your storage devices (SDD/HDD/Optical Drive) and motherboard.

Older motherboards only used SATA 2.0, meaning max data transfer speed of 3 Gbps. SSDs and HDDs are now capable of 6 Gbps, which needs SATA 3.0. Your H87/Z87 motherboard will support SATA 3.0, make sure you use those for connecting your SSD & HDD.

GRAPHICS CARD

Your onboard (included as part of the Intel Chipset on your motherboard) Intel Graphics is not good enough. You need a separate graphics card. This is a complex choice, about which you can spend months just researching online articles. Here’s the lowdown:

  • There are Nvidia (GeForce GTX) and AMD (Radeon HD) cards, both are equally good.
  • Higher numbers of graphic cards mean more advanced.
  • Choose a graphic card that uses GDDR5 memory.

Choose the best between (AMD) Radeon HD and (Nvidia) GeForce GTX Series that you can afford.

CABINET And POWER SUPPLY

The form-factor of your chosen motherboard (micro/mini/ATX) determines what size of cabinet you need. Choose a cabinet that has an intake fan and an exhaust fan, so as to have sufficient cooling capacity to dissipate heat from your internal PC components.

Power Supplies for regular PCs are 500W. With a modern graphics card, get a 600W power supply to be on the safer side.

PERIPHERALS

Newer wireless keyboard/mouse combos come in WiFi/Bluetooth variants. I have not had a good experience with wireless keyboards or mice, and the most frustrating aspect of them is to regularly keep changing their batteries. So, I keep using old-fashioned wired keyboard and mouse. Feel free to use wireless keyboard/mice if you want flexibility of moving your keyboard around and don’t mind changing batteries regularly.

Microsoft now has the Ergonomic Sculpt Keyboard. It doesn’t have a wired option, so I stuck with the antiquated Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 2000. The height of ergonomic keyboards is much greater than regular ones, so make sure your desktop keyboard tray accommodates them.

The Monitor selection depends on your requirements. This is what you stare at all the while you use your desktop PC. Factors to consider:

  • Size and Max Resolution
  • Aspect Ratio: Square (4:3) or Wide (16:9)
  • Touchscreen for Windows 8?
  • Prefer LED backlight LCD
  • For fastest response time, opt for a TN panel monitor. For most accurate color reproduction and widest viewing angles, choose an IPS monitor. VA panel based monitors strike a balance between these two.
  • Additional USB ports in the monitor?
  • Adjustability – the tilt, swivel, height adjustability of the monitor
  • Speakers in monitor or separate?

Depending on your requirements, you can opt for a simple stereo speaker setup, in-built monitor with speakers, or a 5.1 surround sound system.

WINDOWS 8 INSTALLATION

Clean install Windows 8 on your SSD using this guide. You can clean install Windows 8 even with an upgrade license. I use 64-bit Windows 8 Pro.

MBR/GPT: SHOULD YOU CARE?

Use standard MBR install. You don’t even need to know about MBR/GPT options as a mainstream user, just go ahead with regular install. GPT is for technical users who want to cut a few more milliseconds from their boot time in return for which they’re willing to spend days troubleshooting.

WINDOWS UPDATE

Do *not* set Windows Update to Automatic mode. I went through a nightmare after a clean Windows 8 install with automatic updates. Some updates failed, restart tried to undo the updates, I tried the new ‘Refresh PC’ option and ended up with an unstable, corrupted setup that I needlessly spent multiple days troubleshooting, only to resort to a clean install again starting from square one after frustrated attempts.

Windows 8 uses stubs and does not include full components for the .Net 3.5 framework. Install the full .Net 3.5 framework from Control Panel –> Add/Remove Windows 8 Features before you install any Windows Updates.

When installing Windows Updates, do it in batches. There are “Updates for Windows x64”, “Security Updates for Windows x64” and “Security Updates for .NET Framework”. Install a common batch, restart, then install the next batch.

SUMMARY AND RESULTS WITH MY CONFIG

I built my new PC with the following:

  • CPU: Intel i5 4670 3.4 GHz
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte H87M-D3H
  • RAM: 8 GB Corsair DDR3 1600Mhz
  • SSD: Samsung 256GB 840 Pro
  • Other Storage: 1 TB HDD + (reused) Sony Optical DVD Drive
  • Graphics Card: MSI N660-2GD5/OC (GeForce GTX 660)
  • Monitors: Old Dell 24” U2410 + New Dell 21.5” S2240L
  • Cooler Master HAF 912 Cabinet
  • Cooler Master 600W Power Supply

PERFORMANCE RESULTS

  • Windows 8 Experience Index 7.8
  • Installed Apps on SSD: Chrome, Firefox,  Opera, MS Office Word & Excel, Skype (desktop), SkyDrive (desktop), 7-Zip, CCleaner, Silverlight, Textpad 5, Twitter, MediaMonkey, VLC
  • SSD Space: 40GB used, 190GB free.
  • Boot up from cold start with all 3rd party services running: 15 seconds
Posted in How To | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Social Media Makes Brands Care More About Their Brand Than Their Customers

There are specialized conferences on ‘social media marketing’. There are zillions of presentations providing ‘insight’ into how to manage your brand in social media. There are panel discussions to debate how to do it best. There are revered international gurus trotting the globe preaching how to ‘maximize ROI’ to the rapt attention of zillions of social media marketers.

There are seminars on ‘how to target influencers’ that are attended by amateur social media experts, not by influencers. (No, ‘amateur social media expert’ is not an oxymoron, there is no ‘social media amateur’.) There are blog posts from experts sharing wisdom on ‘how to listen to your customers’ that are read, discussed, and shared by…social media experts.

The one conspicuous element missing in this grand, gigantic, navel-gazing enterprise is the actual customer.

I will share three examples of my recent interactions with leading Indian brands to support the hypotheses in the title of this post. The intention is not to rant against these three in particular, there is ample evidence to show that their competitors fare no better.

ICICI Bank

After several terrible experiences of customer service with ICICI Bank, I finally tweeted about it. ICICI Bank Cares was quick to respond:

If only they had been as responsive when actually servicing me as a customer when I was visiting their branch to close all my accounts and severe my 16 year relationship with them!

Fact: A brand only appears to care when you, the customer, complains about it in social media, not when you are ‘just a customer’ in their branch or shop.

Vodafone

After using a Vodafone 3G MiFi in conjunction with my 2G phone and iPad, I finally decided to chuck my MiFi and upgrade my phone to 3G, also changing my phone service provider from Airtel to Vodafone. As an existing MiFi customer, one would think Vodafone should have been glad to extend my relationship with them.

No. The process of closing my MiFi account and opening a new 3G phone account did not take into account the fact that I was the same customer who is closing one account and opening another! I had to submit all my identity/address proofs, though I was already an existing customer, for the new account, while also having to resubmit my identity/address proofs just to close the old account.

From Vodafone’s perspective, it was as if one customer had closed a MiFi account, while another customer had started a new 3G account. I found this quite amusing.

Until I started receiving calls from Vodafone saying my MiFi account bills were unpaid.

These calls did not come on my new Vodafone phone, as they had no clue that this old MiFi customer now had a new Vodafone mobile, they came on my landline phone that I had supplied as an alternate contact number when I got my MiFi. After explaining to them that I had closed my MiFi account, they insisted that it was not closed and that I should pay the outstanding bills.

These calls continued despite vociferous arguments and rebuttals. They insisted that not only had I not closed my account, I had neither surrendered the MiFi device nor the SIM card in it. When visiting the store, I had not only carried the device and the SIM, I had repacked all of it inside their original shipping box, including the manual booklet, only to be told that they did not need all that at all. They just wanted identity/address proofs.

All this while, as a new Vodafone 3G phone customer, I was being happily serviced by them by their social media experts:

This was when their debt collector finally landed on my doorstep threatening me to pay my outstanding MiFi bill or else. I showed him my receipt of the closure of my MiFi account, after which they stopped harassing me.

I intentionally did not tweet about the MiFi episode, as I wanted to check how customers are serviced if social media is not involved in the picture. I was also amused with the schizophrenic experience of acting as if I were two different customers of Vodafone, one who is a new, happy 3G customer and another who is a rogue, non-bill-paying customer.

Fact: There was no relationship with the brand as a customer. Identity and address proofs are associated not with a person, they are associated only with an account.

Fact: Social media interactions led to a happy 3G phone customer.

Fact: No criticism on social media about 3G MiFi led to debt collector at doorstep.

Flipkart

I had been a happy Flipkart customer since 2010, always impressed by their customer service, their backend infrastructure, their transparency in order tracking, and their strive to delight the customer. Until my latest experience, where one of my orders has been delayed.

It is not the delay that has disappointed me as a customer. My PC motherboard order on 1st Aug still shows:

Flipkart Orders

As of this writing on Sat, 10th August, Flipkart still says I should be expecting delivery today:

Flipkart Order Status

On Thu, 8th Aug, I tweeted:

After a few minutes, I get a call from Flipkart. After hello, etc.:

<Flipkart Rep> Sir, this is about your tweet about Flipkart

<Me> Yes?

<Flipkart Rep> I see it is about a Gigabyte Motherboard. It seems there is a problem with your order. We apologize for the inconvenience it has caused you. We will look into it and get back to you shortly.

<Me> Thank you. You see, I had planned for my PC assembly to be done this weekend, everything else – the cabinet, power supply, SSD, RAM, graphic card – everything is here but without the motherboard what can we assemble?

<Flipkart Rep> Yes, yes, we apologize for the inconvenience and will get back to you shortly.

<Me> When will you get back to me?

<Flipkart Rep> Umm….give us at least 24 hours.

<Me> OK, thank you.

I was satisfied with their response:

While waiting for an update, I could not help wondering:

You would expect that after so much brouhaha, Flipkart would finally wake up and provide me with updates. No.

No update even after 24 hrs had elapsed. I had to resort to complaining on social media again:

After this tweet at 7PM, I got a call at 8PM:

<Flipkart Rep> Sir, this is about your tweet about Flipkart

<Me> Yes?

<Flipkart Rep> Sir, we have investigated about your order. I can tell you that we have confirmed with the seller and your order will arrive at our Delhi warehouse only on Monday. It will then be shipped to you in 2-3 business days. We apologize for the inconvenience. Is that fine?

<Me> Is that fine?! No, it certainly is not fine.

<Flipkart Rep> Sir, we are sorry for the distress this has caused you and we’re sorry about the delay. Can you please confirm?

<Me> Confirm? Confirm what?

<Flipkart Rep> Sir, we will have the ordered piece at our Delhi warehouse on Monday, latest by Tuesday, and I assure you it will be delivered within 2-3 business days.

<Me> Yes, I got that. But what should I confirm? Do I have any choice? Do I have any option that you are asking me to confirm? I have no choice in the matter except to wait. And it is certainly not fine because you were expected to give me an update within 24 hours and you did not.

<Flipkart Rep> What?

<Me> You called me yesterday and promised me with an update within 24 hours. You did not. It seems you only act reactively whenever a customer tweets negatively about you. You do not act proactively to satisfy customers anymore. This is my feedback and I hope you take it to your superiors.

<Flipkart Rep> I apologize Sir and I will take this feedback. I am sorry for the distress this has caused you. Is there anything else I can help you with?

As noted above, the Flipkart website still says I should be expecting my order today.

Fact: Customer Support Representatives are trained to only utter boiler plate phrases.

Fact: Flipkart does not have any internal alert system to identify delayed orders. Which means they don’t care about delayed orders.

Fact: Flipkart will immediately respond if you complain on social media.

Fact: Flipkart reps are brazen enough to say in the introduction that their calls are about your tweet, not about your delayed order.

Fact: I would have been a disappointed but not antagonized customer if only Flipkart would have updated me with the status of my order transparently on their site or on phone in a proactive manner.

Flipkart Update

After making me wait for 12 days, Flipkart today cancelled my order.

Conclusion

I think my hypotheses in the title needs no more proof. A brand responds when you complain about it in social media, but that response ultimately matters little, because the intention behind it is to protect the brand, not to serve the customer. Navel-gazing in action.

Brands do not listen.

Brands only react to negative mentions in social media. Perhaps that is what the gigantic navel-gazing enterprise is all about: how to just appear to be delighting your customers without actually servicing them in any real sense.

Posted in Social Web | Tagged , | 11 Comments

PR Strategies & Resources for Indian Consumer Startups

Every other day, I get LinkedIn messages, Facebook requests, emails, and Twitter mentions from sincere entrepreneurs or PR professionals about featuring their startup on Techmeme. I cannot possibly continue to respond to each one individually, hence this post for reference.

Before you start reaching out to premier tech sites about coverage for your startup, clarify your immediate goals for the PR exercise:

  • Are you at the stage where your internal team is finished with its dogfooding and now are looking for more users to alpha-test your service?
  • Are you done with alpha-testing and looking to expand your userbase for a wider beta-test to test capacity planning and gather more real-world feedback?
  • Do you have a 100k+ userbase and are looking for VC funding?

Different requirements need different PR strategies.

Social Media

A website, a blog, a Facebook Page and a Twitter account can be your first PR step to expand from internal dogfooding to limited alpha-testing. Some startups expand even more to a wider beta test using just social media.

Spread word of mouth through social media, and you will find there are many tech enthusiasts, early adopters, and influencers out there willing to try out anything new. Early adopters and influencers often give you early feedback that is critical to aligning your product to actual user needs, and this is best done before you think of PR.

At the same time, your social media presence should adequately and appropriately respond to all user feedback. Whether it is the Twitter mentions, Facebook comments or comments on your blog posts, each and every one is a potential influencer and you should be there to listen and respond.

Technology Blogs Focused On India

For reaching a wider userbase for expanded beta-testing, you can reach out to quite a few tech blogs that cover Indian startups. It is better to do this on your own, without any need for a PR agency. Here are some blogs that are interested in covering Indian startups:

Once you get such coverage, you will probably need a dedicated person to handle your social media presence, which remains a priority.

Premier Tech Blogs

When you are ready to expand full-steam and are looking for the best online coverage out there, you need to be featured on TechCrunch, Mashable, etc. For some tips on this, read this Quora thread.

General Tips

  • Develop relationships with bloggers & journalists who cover your space. Read Chris Dixon’s tips for interacting with press. You should be following journalists, bloggers, investors, VCs, editors on Twitter and participate in the conversation.
  • Plan PR for major events in your lifecycle – Beta Testing, Series A, and so on.
  • Do you need / should you hire an external PR firm? Here are some good benchmarks from Mahesh Murthy to consider when making that vital decision.

Other Resources

I hope this post helps Indian entrepreneurs in their marketing efforts. There is no short-cut to PR, it is a time-intensive effort that takes a lot of planning and effort.

If you are in a profession where you facilitate PR for startups and would like to be mentioned/listed here, please leave a comment and I will do the needful after review.

Oh and by the way, Techmeme is not a content-producer, but an aggregator. Techmeme doesn’t cover all the startups that are covered by the premier tech blogs, either.

Posted in How To | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Notes on Switching from Android to Windows Phone

I had discussed my deliberations when upgrading my smartphone on whether to switch from Android to Windows Phone. I did, and here is the promised follow-up.

Nokia Lumia 920 Handset

With many excellent in-depth reviews online, there is no need for me to delve deeply here.

  • Excellent display, great camera, is fast and responsive. Everything you would expect from a flagship smartphone.
  • Not very happy with battery life. I had expected slightly longer life, when using with WiFi & 3G. But the Battery Saver feature is great and alleviates any serious concerns.
  • I will not recommend the 920 for anyone with small hands. It can get tough using with one hand and reaching all parts of the screen.

Sample Photos with Lumia 920

Windows Phone 8

I am in love with WP8. The approach to WP8 is fresh and innovative, a completely different experience than both iOS and Android which both feel more alike than different once you switch to WP8. The tile based home screen is thoroughly customizable. The iOS6 interface on my iPad now feels stale. There is no equivalent in iOS/Android of the sizing capability of live tiles. The home screen is prime real estate in any smartphone and the ability to size tiles according to your needs feels like WP8 really values your preferences.

I do not miss a centralized notification center some have discussed. Because I am an atypical smartphone user, I have not missed any apps in WP8. My basic social networking, navigation, kids gaming and other such needs are more than adequately fulfilled.

Outlook.com vs Gmail

I am very happy with Outlook.com. My Gmail has become virtually unusable because 70% of it is intended for other people, that gets delivered to me thanks to Gmail’s policies. I cannot even filter such emails because many of them are from service providers, banks, utilities, etc. that I myself also use. A unique, great feature of Outlook.com is the ability to create aliases. Now, I use a different alias when signing up for new social sites, a different alias for my finance related matters, a different one for online e-commerce and so on. This enhances my overall email management as my “true” email address is almost never shared with any site. If any of these aliases starts receiving spam, it will help me identify the rogue and also help take corrective action easily.

SkyDrive Integration

This is the star jewel of the Microsoft ecosystem. It just works smoothly, in the background. I have access to my photos, videos, documents on my phone, desktops & laptop, iPad, etc. anywhere, all the time. Just as an example, the ability to view and update an Excel sheet of some financial estimates while on the road has been a life-saver.

Thanks to being an early adopter, I have 25GB of free SkyDrive space, and have never needed to use DropBox.

Search

I miss Google search on the phone. I am not impressed with Bing search so far. I am not sure if this is because Google knows me for a long time and delivers personalized results that it knows are more relevant to me, something that Bing may eventually do after some time.

Maps

I was blown away by Nokia’s maps and turn-by-turn voice navigation in my 2nd-tier city of Pune, India. They’ve worked exceedingly well, every single time, and I think they are actually better than Google Maps.

PC Integration

Moving photos, videos, documents between PCs and my phone has never been easier. SkyDrive fulfills most needs, and even without it, the process of importing or transferring media and documents between PCs and the phone has never been easier.

Summary

Apart from Google Search, I am happy with my switch to Windows Phone. So much, that my better half now has a Lumia 620 of her own! :) But, as I always say, looking for the ‘perfect’ smartphone is like searching for the ‘perfect’ better half. Everyone’s needs are different so what satisfies me may not necessarily be right for you. I hope this post gives an idea of some of strengths and weaknesses of Windows Phone.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

The Illusory Holy Grail of Online Social Networking

A few days back, I wrote about using a process for cleaning up my Facebook relationships. After this clean up process, my Facebook feed is now so much more relevant, and thus meaningful. If you think this is an isolated incident in my case, it is not, read this for example.

As social networks like Facebook try to increase the density of their social graph, they risk crossing the boundaries of irrelevance. Social graphs have an innate limit offline; attempts to expand it online beyond certain human interest levels will irretrievably deteriorate the online experience. I believe that is what is happening in the case of Facebook.

Facebook promotes itself as the platform to connect with everything and anybody you know, anything you liked in the past, anyone you just met, something you liked in your teenage years, folks you knew in your school years, passions you developed as part of growing up, all of your ex-colleagues from all of the different jobs in your career, music, movies, and books which not only you like, but everyone you are connected to you as “Friends” like, not only what all of your relatives like but their friends too, which of your friends are where at this moment in time, what someone is listening to, what someone is reading and so on and so forth.

In short, Facebook promotes itself as a platform to get “connected” to everything that has ever been or is at present, not only a part of your life but also what is a part of all of your “Friends” (while the concept of  “Friends” is extended to not only past long ago friends, colleagues who were never friends, friends of friends, etc.).

The end result is a cacophony of infinite proportions, more harsh than the dissonance in Stravinsky’s  The Rite of the Spring. In its quest to become an inseparable part of your existence, Facebook risks becoming like the air we breathe – everything to everyone, yet not a single memorable thing to anyone. In my case, what it led to is a complete disillusionment.

What are the best means for such social networks to regain a high engagement level? That is the holy grail of online networking – a harmonious marriage of social (personal + professional) and interest graphs. We do not even know whether this holy grail exists, or can ever exist, as one and only one network – it may very well exist as a multiplicity of networks.

LinkedIn knows it has captured the core of the professional network and we observe it remains within its focus area, unlike Facebook that seems to spread like a weed. Facebook’s ambitions, without focus, loom toward irrelevance and are a danger to itself.

Posted in Social Web | 1 Comment

An Experimental Facebook Friend Cleanup Algo

I had over 500 so-called Facebook friends, and I realized that I was getting more and more uncomfortable sharing something with all “Friends”. This led to creation of custom Facebook lists, and choosing lists to share every update. What ensued is the headache of keeping all the lists updated. I needed to simplify things.

Everyone has different ways of using Facebook and neither one of them is right or wrong. I just had to decide how I am going to use Facebook, in the way it makes it useful for me. Thus, I ended up with this process:

  • If not recently added,
  • If not a blood-relative,
  • If ex-colleague connected on LinkedIn but not a personal friend,
  • If never met in real life or never want to meet in real life in the future,
  • If “See Friendship” shows no other interactions besides “Happy Birthday” for over 3 years,
  • If profile and timeline photos do not include a single personal photo,
  • Unfriend.

This is a human process, so the algorithmic AND/OR are unnecessary. It seems to work so far, I am already down to <400.

Posted in Social Web | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Switching from Google Android to Windows Phone 8?

I have been a happy Android user since I bought the HTC Hero in late 2009, and it is now time for me to upgrade. I am considering switching to Windows Phone 8 and this post is to gather my thoughts as I evaluate a potential switch. I am a very atypical smartphone user, hence my considerations may not match most users’ needs.

To begin with, why not the iPhone 5? I already use iOS 6 on my iPad where I can enjoy the flowers in the garden. If I can have the best of multiple worlds, why not? For purposes of this post, I am contrasting the LG Nexus 4 with the Nokia Lumia 920 as they are the newest flagship phones on the two platforms. Lastly, this is the first time I am writing about gadgets on this blog or anywhere, so mea culpa for any errors!

Philosophy & Requirements

I prefer to own my core data – documents, contacts, music, photos, etc. – so that I can choose to use it in any different service as and when I like. This is not always possible, but I try and hence I’ve primarily stuck to Google or local storage. I use Gmail (separate personal & professional GApps), Google Search, Chrome, Google Reader. I also have my music library in Google Music, which is locally in an iTunes-format library.

I use a Windows 8 desktop PC, use MS Office on it for all my documents, have 25GB of unused SkyDrive, will likely get an XBox after some months. My iPad has my eBook collection, and usage is mostly restricted to reading, gaming, and other fun/education/reference apps. I am also in the process of setting up a 7.1 home theatre, for which I am choosing a Marantz that would be both AirPlay as well as DLNA compatible, besides a DLNA-compatible AC Ryan PlayOn HD media box.

I spend all my weekdays online, working from home, on my PC. I spend time away from home only on weekends, when I like to be and largely am, offline. Holiday travel is few times a year. Thus my atypical smartphone requirements, in order of priority, are:

  • Voice calls and text (70% of which are spam)
  • Basic email & social networking
  • Unified cloud-based contact management
  • Good, easy-to-use camera, selectively share photos to Facebook, Twitter, Google+
  • Navigation when I’m on the road
  • Easy, cloud-based note-taking
  • Kid-friendly
  • Stream photos/music to home theater / act as remote control
  • Cloud access to key documents
  • Expect good usage for at least 3-4 years with latest updates

Pros & Cons of Android / Windows Phone 8

After remaining stuck with Android 2.2 on my HTC Hero, the latest Jelly Bean on the Nexus 4 is very enticing indeed. A quick summary of Android advantages

  • My comfort factor with Android, especially the tight integration with all of Google
  • Extreme Customization (I love being able to tinker with different ROMs), keyboards, backgrounds, etc.
  • Number of apps (Besides all the popular apps, I need apps to block/identify spam calls/texts)
  • Google Now, new Camera app, Photo Sphere

Given these, why am I considering Windows Phone 8? I am an early-adopter who likes to try new things.

  • Live Tiles, People Hub, etc. are a whole new perspective different from the app-centric model of iOS/Android and I’m enticed
  • Better integration with my Windows 8 PC, and future XBox
  • Better integration my Office Documents, better usage of SkyDrive across PC & phone, and OneNote
  • Kid-friendly. My 6 yr old plays a lot with my iPad but never with my Android without supervision.
  • 60% of my Gmail is spam, and it is getting increasingly difficult to control spam in Gmail
  • I can use Outlook email with both my phone & my Win 8 PC
  • Use new cloud-based contact management system integrated with Email, Facebook, Phone Numbers, Twitter, and Gmail (at least so far)

Nexus 4 vs. Lumia 920 and Regional Factors

  • LTE support is largely irrelevant in India
  • Google/LG support in India is largely unproven, while though Nokia has huge base in India, Microsoft hasn’t rolled out WP8 updates as quickly
  • Nexus 4 not yet launched in India, worldwide availability issues, Lumia 920 launched officially in India
  • Storage on Nexus 4 is 16 GB vs. 32 GB on Lumia 920 (neither support external storage)
  • Nexus 4 has DLNA, Lumia 920 to get a DLNA app in future
  • Nexus 4 is light, Lumia 920 is a monster
  • Nexus 4 expected to be cheaper than Lumia 920
  • Both have Cameras that have few pros and few cons in overall performance & usability so it’s a non-factor
  • Navigation with Google Maps & Nokia Drive excellent on both so it’s a non-factor

Have I missed anything important?

Windows Phone 8 Adoption Hurdles

Mainstream Indian reviews advise against it, especially the software. There is a price to pay for being an early adopter, but almost every long-term user of Windows Phone 8 I have interacted with is passionate about it. In shifting from a Google-centric Android universe to Windows Phone 8, here are the challenges I will face:

  • Updating my new personal Outlook address on all 3rd party sites and services that are important (this is one-time, but a very big deal)
  • Painstakingly organizing my new contact hub in the Windows world
  • Miss the excellent universal Notification Center in Android
  • Hunt for replacement apps where possible, live without one if there isn’t any
  • Relinquish my history and personalized maps with Google, make a fresh start with Nokia
  • Import/Integrate my local music library with that of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8
  • Pay a high price for a heavy-weight monster of a phone
  • No support for multiple Twitter accounts in People Hub
  • Lose patience waiting for latest updates (also somewhat true of Android in India)

Any items I have missed?

Summary

I have not committed myself either way at present. This post was a starting point to organize my thoughts on the subject. Also, regional factors are sometimes critically important while choosing a gadget, something you don’t find in the US-based top gadget site reviews, which entails one to evaluate relevant factors oneself. There may be other Indian early-adopters considering a similar switch, for whom I hope that this post would be useful.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , , | 25 Comments

The Disillusionment of Social Networks

  • I logged into Facebook after several months and the first thing I see is <insert what you consider to be crap here>, so I am quitting.
  • Seriously, is there anyone really, I mean, really, using Google Plus?
  • Facebook is a smart network for simple people, Twitter is a simple network for smart people.
  • I am quitting blogging because blogging is dead.
  • Quora is the new Orkut.
  • There is no better network than GoodReads, it’s where I am most enriched.
  • Sometimes, I think everyone using LinkedIn actively is either in HR or jobless.
  • Why are people not sharing their true selves on Facebook anymore? The network is degenerating.
  • I rarely use Twitter these days. There’s nothing interesting happening there other than the mediocrity of influencers and marketers, no intelligent conversations.
  • I’m afraid I must say that I spend most of my time on Google Plus, it is where I find the most enriching content.
  • After my experience with Shelfari, I’m not going to waste time on any other network about book-reading.
  • The only place where I share my most private stuff is Facebook.
  • I do not use social networks as frequently as I blog. I love my blog because I own my content, it is permanent, and I find great like-minded people through blogging.
  • Quora seems to have become the go-to place for anything interesting.
  • Seeing that LinkedIn is fast becoming the professional’s first choice for conversations now.

Seem familiar? Such observations have become commonplace and pervasive across networks. I find their inherent disparity quite fascinating.

A social network is not the same for everyone by definition, because your experience of it is dependent on who you are connecting with on that network. Is our experience of a social network it’s defining characteristic? No.

Why then do we characterize social networks in such broad brush strokes when what we are really characterizing is the people who we, by our own choice, are connecting with on that network?

All social networks use some kind of relevance algorithms to try to engage us in what may interest us the most. These algorithms are just that – algorithms, not humans. The lesser we use any network, the lesser we choose whom to connect with or not on that network, the lesser we configure it to our preference, the lesser it’s algorithm knows what we are really interested in, and the more it becomes irrelevant and useless to us. And then we are disillusioned with it.

I have repeatedly succumbed to this mode of thinking. What ensues is that I continue to stick with the networks I find most interesting and comfortable, reducing my participation in other networks. What is the end result? There are passionate and thriving communities on several networks, but I engage in only a handful of them. I do not gain anything by deriding those other networks, I only lose.

I realized that I can rediscover the beauty and diversity of the social web if I let go of this handicap.

Rethink/Tips

Here are some tips that I found helped me:

  • Continuously update who I’m following on all networks. Laziness in curating my social graph leads to irrelevance. This also includes actively finding new people to follow.
  • Don’t be negative. Unless I’m an opinionated tech blogger focused on page views and committed to supporting one company while deriding other companies, I’ve got nothing to lose by engaging on social platforms created by various companies. Whether I prefer iOS devices or Android ones has got nothing to do with what I think of Google Plus. If I think Google is evil and out to destroy my privacy, I should not be on Facebook either and probably not on any other social network.
  • Blogging is dead. Nobody comments on my blog posts, so I’m quitting blogging because blogging is dead. Rethink. Disqus had 500 million unique visitors last year, 35 million of whom are actively engaging in comments on blogs. Disqus is a social network in itself.
  • When I am disenchanted about what my chosen friends share, it is not a problem of the social network, this is just how people are, and maybe I need to introspect about my expectations of people. Do I really wish people to “slot” what they share on public social networks in defined categories? If so, I’m not being realistic.
  • The next time you’re about to say “XYZ <the social network of your choice> has lately become <adjective of your choice>, instead say, XYZ has become <same adjective> to me, because <results from your introspection here>.
  • Own your data. This is extremely vital and unfortunately, not possible in some cases. Companies and their online platforms rise and fall, and your precious data goes down the drain along with them. Keep copies of your blog posts, photos, reviews, tweets, videos, comments, and everything else. Blogger/Facebook Timeline/GoodReads/Flickr/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest/etc. are here today, but none may exist 30 years from now. Liberate your data from the chains of these services so that your precious data remains portable. Act now to avoid disillusionment later.

Conclusion

From Paul Sawyers at The Next Web:

Social networks only work when people use the same ones. In other words, they naturally lend themselves to being monopolized…The Internet isn’t a monopoly though. It’s an oligopoly consisting of multiple monopolies.

It is for us to choose whether we allow ourselves to get victimized by a monopoly or choose to enjoy the oligopoly.

Posted in Social Web | Tagged | 15 Comments