A regular cat and mouse story

The young today are increasingly wary about existing notions of housing, loans, marriage, etc. They are worried that governments and corporations are snooping in their messages and intercepting their dick pics. They prefer opting for solutions that are less attaching than the earlier generations. That means they live in the present and don’t want to worry about the future. The generation I belong to tries to straddle both this world and the older one awkwardly.

Snapchat was born of the phenomenon of impermanence and paranoia that is very characteristic of this younger generation. No one would have sold me on the idea that a company centred around ‘you sending a photo to your friend and it disappears after 10 seconds’ would some day be a multibillion dollar enterprise(nor would I have thought that a website to pin your ideas visually would be valued in the billions but that’s another story). But this somehow clicked, along with products like Secret, with the high school crowd and soon everyone was clamouring to see what the hype was all about and adding to Snap’s valuation. But then the question about why they would stay and not move on to yet another app became Snap’s existential crisis.

Today, I believe with ‘big data’ being thrown around, our behaviour has begun to shape technology. Once a product achieves product-market fit, a company is able to understand the needs of its users and cater to it in ways not previously possible. Netflix for example provides what kind of topics their users watch to production houses so that they can produce more watchable content. Quality content means returning users means $$$. For Snap, the primary idea was about sharing that single snap with your friend. What started with a single snap, then became a series of snaps which were called ‘Stories’. These however rarely had a coherent narrative. Snap opened up corporates to create their own stories which you would rather associate as ‘perishable magazines’. They are beautiful. They blend eccentricity with news, memes with opinions, silly videos with reviews. This kaleidoscopic capsules is what takes me back to Snap. I might not have snapped everyday but I will go back to see what topics are being talked about today. I find this more useful than any other source of news at the moment and boy, are they monetisable. To further increase their domination, they have started making the product more ‘affordable’ to older users.

This is the second thing that influences product evolution – monetary valuation. Companies are constantly trying to increase this to be able to survive. This probably is what motivated to create something called ‘Memories’(image data) which directly attacked Facebook and Facebook responded quickly enough with its own version of stories on Instagram. Instagram has been racking its head to figure out a monetisation strategy and earlier this year started pushing sponsored posts on the timeline which were not received very well. I assume Snap’s stories monetisation capacity pushed Facebook to create its’ own Stories. Instagram’s stories are not so rigid as Snap’s. They let you create curated sneak peeks into your life and skilled creatives can leverage this medium to great heights. That’s the reason why they are not rigid. Unlike Snap only opening up this customisation of stories to corporates, Instagram seeks to attract lot of people to utilise this medium. This is also similar to Apple opening up Siri to corporates vs Google keeping Google Now integration based on corporate tie-ups. More people = more eyeballs for advertisements = more commission.

Facebook has in the past decade been great at getting people onboard unlike any other digital product before it but it realised the need to diversify when it saw its numbers dropping. Facebook’s attempts in product engagement and monetisation have been criticised for lack of empathy. It’s Basics program was ridiculed and abused by its users. It’s become yesterday’s Google which in turn has become day before yesterday’s Microsoft. But it’s got a few aces up its sleeve; Oculus(wont get into it) and Messenger. Both of these are being written as platforms. I presume that the threat from WeChat was what prompted Facebook to pivot Messenger to a platform. Along with WhatsApp in its kitty, Facebook has achieved dominance in today’s western messaging culture but I feel it is not in complete control of what its governing over. Messaging is important because of its access to users. Your phone space is sacred and you decide what apps reside there and messaging apps have the highest importance in this regard. So converting them into platforms become the de-facto next move for companies. The rise of chatbots is for this reason. I do not want to say that chatbots are the next big thing rather I believe AI is the next big thing. Chatbots are just a means of expression of the platform. Notifications came before them and there will be other expressions to come. So with just a messaging app you will be able to access various services without installing apps – a platform inside a platform. Will it give rise to more platforms inside these? only time will tell. 

Freedom of choice with no real allegiance is the core value at the centre of this and the millennial’s use of products like Snapchat. This freedom was what the World wide web was all about. Powered by domains, it gave users endless opportunity to setup virtual shops that broke the access barrier that the physical shops had but retained other problems like how do you find these shops? That’s what gave rise to digital advertisements and that’s what churns the wheels of our digital products. This promise of everyday ubiquity is the new dream of capitalism and this is why the greatest minds of this era are indeed trying to get people to watch ads.

#GSJBLR13: Experiences

I was apprehensive about whether I should register for the Global Service Jam 13. The Semester was ending and lot of work was yet to be done, there was also Open Data Meet happening at Bangalore and a whole plethora of other events. After attending the past 2 Yahoo hackathons, I was curious about how a design jam would be like and that was the sole reason that I opted to Jam.

Day 1:

We hurried from our workshop with Prof Vinod Vidwans to the Thoughtworks office at the other side of town. Being an NID-ian you never end up being a stranger at such events, but the problem was also that you had to team up with people you did not know.

Me and Noopur wrote down our names under the ‘Others’ category so that we would end up in teams without friends.

Team introduction followed, the theme was released.

Team ‘@loo k7’ was born after discussion with the team.

Then the brainstorming began, it was not easy.

By 9pm, we had settled on a general, still very open ended, idea/concept.

Day 2:

Saturday began lazily as the team drifted in.

A lot of debate about how to proceed happened with a mentor chipping in his 2 cents.

With a brief outline of the research questions made, we were off into the wilderness to get answers from users.

Back after the research, we sat down to consolidate and were faced with a problem that we could not solve.

Talking with people led us to change our output  idea in a tangential way.

The talks followed.

Post talks we decided on the tangential idea which seemed logical.

Day 3:

We were back but we were only 6 now.

Our tangent idea was thrown out after a discussion with one mentor.

We understood how to create a business plan and after a talk with an expert on the subject were on our way to building the service.

Somehow we ended up finishing the pitch and presented to our jury.

We didn’t make it through but I did quite a bit from the whole experience.

Jams are different from hackathons primarily because here the team’s ideation and the research help you come up with the output. Having a well balanced team is essential for the product to be good. I did meet some awesome people and the event was organised well. And NO I am not going to upload the end presentation here because it kinda sucked but I shall leave you all with a harlem shake video at the jam.

Lost in Translation

In the past few days there have been quite a few project related discussions. Most of the things are hazy and discussions are started to clear things up. But i have realized that i have started talking rubbish and jumping to conclusions without understanding the bigger picture. I should be knowing better but i am still doing this. There is so much ambiguity that its better if i dont add any more of mine.

Communication is essential. I always felt i had above average communication skills but its increasingly becoming clear that having good skills is not good enough. I fumble everyday trying to make people around me understand what i am trying to tell them.

Language is a universal problem. This Mexican colleague of mine, Marcos, mentioned about how when everyone talks in Hindi, he just sits and tries to piece together the conversation and i identified with him. Our stint at Chennai has often put us in such situations where we are just extras in a conversation/discussion. He also mentioned an incident where a friend of his who doesnt know Spanish ended up in a Spanish speaking country and faced a similar problem where everyone spoke in Spanish and he never understood anything 😀

F14 >> F16

9 months, our gestation period, we spent at F14. Easily they are some of the best days of my life. Had the best room mates i could ask for. In February i was glad that we moved to a more spacious place than our erstwhile S2. F14 was a big upgrade from our previous place; a fully furnished 2 BHK. It was part of the trio of flats that the 12 of us had bought. Life was good.

Then the transfers started. The first flat was left within a month as the rent was unaffordable for 2 people to handle. The girls left F12.

Fast forward to October 2011. Karthik and Raison left the company for greener pastures and Rathan got transfered to Bangalore. That left me as the last man standing at F14. With Girish gone, Ive now moved to F16; the last flat of the three we had.

 

Dont Give Up!

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to write bad songs. There’s a lot of people who don’t want to finish songs because they don’t think they’re any good. Well they’re not good enough. Write it!  I want you to write me the worst songs you could possible write me because you won’t write bad songs. You’re thinking they’re bad so you don’t have to finish it. That’s what I really think it is. Well it’s all right. Well, how do you know? It’s not done!”

– John Mayer

Sources: Berklee Blogs The Hacker News article and the page.