Ending the year happy!

A smiley by Pumbaa, drawn using a text editor.
Image via Wikipedia

End of the year is a time to reflect on, its the same for me. 2008 has been a big year for me:

  • Married toย  my girlfriend
  • Quit my job
  • Moved countries
  • Started to work on my passion full time.
  • Setup a home ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Rejuvenated my twitter / crossed 1300 tweetsย  & 300 subscribers
  • Most importantly consolidated my blog & actively started blogging again

2009 is going to an exciting year with loads of challenges but 2008 has definitely made me a happier man.

I would like 2009 to be year where I lived every day happily & accomplished the goals I set for myself!

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Open Coffee Club Bangalore – December Event

Open Coffee Club is a club for fostering entrepreneurship. The Bangalore chapter was founded in mid 2007. I have been wanting to make it to the meeting for the last 2 months but the event always clashed with other events. This time around thanks to a twitter message, I was able to make it. Twitter has changed the way I live my life.ย  As someone wh

o had done the rounds at most entrepreneurial setups in India (barring a few), I went in with very few expectations. Most of these events when they started had very good quality & less quantity (back in 2006/2007) but my experience in 2008 has been vice versa, too many events no good quality. So my expectations were fairly low.The buzz around around OCC did peak my curiousity.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Amarinder Singh, the host of the event ushering in people. As people started trickling in there was a casual atmosphere set in.

Introductions:

We did a round of introductions which was very interactive. A happy medium between a structured & a casual “lets just chat up” discussion. It actually brought out a few things that wouldn’t come up during a conversation or lets catch up environment & it was more engaging. This event had a lot of newbies like myself which was refreshing. I didn’t get to see the same old faces that one normally sees at these events.

A common theme arose during these discussions – the passion to create something was oozing from everyone sitting in the room. Something that you often don’t see at these events. It was also nice to see people from different backgrounds be part of the discussion (Accountants, NGO, education, chip design to name a few). It made me think more about the fundamentals of creating a business. We often live in a bubble of creating a service for the tech savvy but spending time with “normal” folks did make a difference.

There were many entrepreneurial stories that came out during the round of introductions. One story stood out! Here was a college graduate who had the idea of doing something in the education space. Around the time he was graduating he decides to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. He approaches his father for a sum of 50,000 Rs (Approx 1000$). His father advises his against the decision and asks him to get a job. This gentleman decides to take the plunge anyways by selling his mobile phone, laptop & his motorcycle.

Call it audacious, stupidity or fool hardy, but you have to give this man his due for the risk that he had decided to take. As they say entrepreneurship is for fools! In an environment where working for a big conglomerate or a MNC (multi national company) is the norm of life, such acts need to be lauded! I still get looked upon at times as a fool for taking the plunge to be an entrepreneur, but it is not something that most people would understand. In my mind staying in a job is a risk in itself. I forget his name/website, if someone knows please leave a comment, lets promote his cause.

TiE– Event discussion:

A good number of them had attended the TiE Summit in bangalore. A quick discussion ensued about the event itself, the reactions were mixed. A few complained that the event was catered to the big/medium players while a woman was thrilled that she found 2 new customers. I for one decided against paying the 6000Rs (125$) for the event because it wasn’t the right time for me to attend it. It is nice to see TiE promoting entrepreneurship in bangalore, the one feedback/suggestion from this group was to cater it more to the grass routes. There aren’t too many events in this part of the world to deal with entrepreneurship at the grass routes, if there were more than there would more enterprising ideas being executed.

Other discussions:

There were a couple of followup discussions about interviewing entrepreneurs and learning from their lessons learned. Another discussion was catered towards marketing & market research.

I was happy to see the event open up to networking as I wanted to catch up with other entrepreneurs & talk about their experiences. One good lead did emerge from the event ๐Ÿ˜‰

All in all kudos to Vaibhav/Amarinder to have taken the initiative forward.

A few suggestions to these guys as always ๐Ÿ˜‰
– standardize where the next event announcement is made. The OCC blog did not have an update!
– create a OCC twitter account
– I know diluting the mailing list is not something that the community wants but let the crowd take care of it or have a policy of kicking out people! Otherwise you are going to miss out on a few good ones joining the community. Its the community that stands to lose!

Location:

The event was at ZOE, a mediterranean restaurant that opened recently in Indiranagar that is nicely tucked in from the main road.Kudos to the person who chose Zoe, the ambience was really nice that I decided to take my wife for dinner in the evening. The food was even better!

Conclusions:

If you are an entrepreneur with a new company or a wanna be entrepreneur then this is the place to be. Don’t worry about the Venture capitalists or a demo conference, this is where the action is. You will always get a chance to meet, greet & demo your products but there is no replacement for learning from other who have broken their knuckles time & again to climb the ladder. I will be back for sure.

This is where the ants go to work!

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What are barcamps & what can one expect from it?

Barcamp Bangalore 2
Image by quadmod via Flickr

BarcampKolkata is scheduled to take place on the 3rd of January, 2009 & the organizers requested that I blog about my prior experiences at other barcamp events.

First off, its heartening to note that the barcamp movement has spread to east of India, kudos to the organizers for bringing it to the east! I have personal affinity towards the east & have pleasant memories as I lived in assam for 3 years in the 80s and I loved it so much that I decided to visit the east 2 years ago. The east was/is largely unaffected by the expansion that the rest of the India has seen which has its ups & downs. I hope events like these brings betterment to the people of the east, they need it! So Lets talk about barcamp!

So what is a Barcamp?

The common answer that you will hear is that it is an “un-conference”. To me, it is an gathering of people passionate about technology that are looking to exchange ideas & connect with people. The gathering is loosely structured so as to encourage ideas & discourse.

Ok.. How is different from any other conference that is organized?

The typical conference that you might have attended is usually very structured with a set agenda, a whole bunch of expert panelists or speakers and an audience that is there to absorb & be a passive participant. Usually there is also a fee associated with such conferences.

Barcamp on the other hand is anything but a structured conference & there is no fee associated with attending a Barcamp. All participants are expected to be active participants.

Hmm .. Didn’t you mention that is loosely structured?

Yes, it is loosely structured in the sense that the venue, theme & some of the topics are decided by the community. Here is how a typically Barcamp is organized:

  • Usually a bunch of folks get together & decide to organize one
  • Organizing community decides on a place, time & duration of the event among other things. This is primarily dependent on finding the space & sponsors.
  • They set up a wiki page and put their names in.
  • The word is spread and the community then add their names as participants & topics that they would like talk about to the wiki.

Interesting .. What kind of topics are discussed?

Any thing under the sun, but it is advisable that you cater it to the theme if possible. A quick look at the attendance will give you a flavor of the topics that might interest an audience. Here are some of the sessions that I have been part of

Can I be an active participant without presenting on a topic at the event?

Absolutely! Be part of the organizing team, help with the logistics (food/accommodation/etc), actively spread the word (blog/microblog/post pictures & videos) before/during & after the event. barcampChennai still was one of the best live blogged Barcamp that I have attended to date in-spite of the being the first Barcamp in India.

Great, Do I have be a geek to attend a barcamp?

Nope but you will find a whole bunch of them at barcamp. So it definitely helps if you can interact with geeks ๐Ÿ˜‰

What do I get by attend a barcamp event?

When a bunch of smart & passionate people gather at an event, sparks are ignited, ideas flow! One always walks away with more than he/she came into the event. But make sure you contribute as much as you soak in.

At the end of the day its about the community, barcamps foster it!

BarcampChennai fostered so many other events – Proto.in (India’s premier DEMO event for startups) is one good example.

BarcampBangalore was so successful that there were 7 editions in the span of 2+ years.

Any tips for organizing a barcamp based on your experiences?

Absolutely! Here are few that come to mind:

  • Make sure your decide on the barcamp tag (Ex: barcampBLR) & make sure its unique
  • Please make sure the community recognizes this tag & uses it
  • Remember that the event is followed a bigger audience on the web, so do everything to make sure they get updates – be it pictures, video, twitter, etc
  • The event doesn’t end when the barcamp ends, the best part of a barcamp is the conversation(s) that happen after the event
  • Put up a board with the rooms & session timings and have post-its/markers for presenters to post their sessions.
    Encourage people to host impromptu sessions (they are some of the best)
  • Be flexible & accommodating! If you have a session that colliding with someone else consider moving things around.
  • DO NOT LET A COMPANY OR INDIVIDUAL HIJACK THE EVENT. Its about the community.

At the end of the day like anything else its the connections & the bonds that you build that you will remember & cherish!

I can personally endorse barcamps, it has helped me my company get traction & the community has been fantastic!


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Twitter reaches an inflection point!

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

As I woke up to the news that twitter has launched its people search I was pretty excited. Kudos to twitter for stablizing twitter and finally launching feaures. They were taking shit for trying to stabilize!

John Battele seems to think that this will help reach its inflection point! Well after trying the feature I believe it already has! I found around 30 connections of mine already part of twitter. People from unexpected quaters like my ex-bosses to people who rarely use technology. A varied audience. I would not have expected these people to visit twitter.com let alone joining it! This lets me to believe that people have already taken notice of twitter.

While I like the feature and how fast it was I think there is room for improvement. Of the 30+ connections that I found, I only added 2! I had already sent connection requests to a couple. And after carefully checking each connection out, I realized that a bulk of them either didnt have status updates and not too many followers. I hope twitter introduces a feature to filter active/inactive users based on some criteria. Also given the fact there are people from different walks of life on twitter, it is time for twitter to support groups!

But this experience of mine leads me to believe that there is credibility in the report that 30% of the users are new or unengaged(Twitter grader put up). In my experience it seems to be higher! Its close to 65%. I am sure that in the coming months social pressures would reduce that number as more people get engaged.

Twitter is going through what blogging went thru in 2005. Back in 2002 when I started blogging the conversation was intimate and intense! I was smitten to blogging back then because ideas flowed in. but as the conversation dilute due to noise level in blogging the conversation became less exciting for me. This led me and other people to blog infrequently and move onto other platforms. Twitter being one of them. Will the same happen to twitter? Will people move to friendfeed?

The conversation will always happen, the question is which medium will they exist on. The big difference between twitter and blogging is the ease in which one subscribes and unsubscribes. With blogging subscribe/unsubscribe took a lot of effort and you need to be infront of a computer. With twitter its much easier & its possible to do the same on a mobile phone. This should reduce the impact of people wanting to move out. But twitter has the subscription spam associated with it & for open messaging platform that is prone to abuse. I find value in knowing who subscribed me and hence I get a notification whenever someone subscribes. Twitter recently suspended a whole bunch of accounts reducing my follower count by 10%. This problem would magnify when new users come in. Fortunately spammers have not abused the open msging interface (@userid). Once they start doing that .. we are in for a lot of trouble!

I will keenly watch how twitter evolves over the next few months but the conversation right now is pretty engaging and exciting ๐Ÿ™‚ What do you think? Leave a comment here or continue the conversation on twitter here

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Intelligent Web! Time for Web20 services to give dividend!

Now that a majority of folks have come to the conclusion that Web 2.0 is in the final chapter (whether or not I agree with it is an entirely new post), the discussion has started to heat up towards the the next big thing. Some call it the data web, the semantic web or web30. Web20 was about harness the crowd (the wisdom of the crowds) and gaining from the cream of the data. To me the next big thing is the what I call the Intelligent Web. Any service that intelligently mines the data that we have collected so far and acts intelligently (algorithmically) to provide value.

Since the begin of the web there has always been a tussle between the algorithms and the people & the pendulum swings from one side to the other depending on the scenario of the time. We saw it swing back to the people with techmeme’s announcement that they will employ editor(s). Web20 was the power of the people (techmeme was an exception ๐Ÿ˜‰ if you compare it to the darlings of the web20 world – digg, flickr, delicious etc. ).

During the next web – the intelligent web , the pendulum will shift to the algorithms!

Here are some services that are already out there are available out there that provide value to me today: Picasa & Shazam. These two services are a sign of things to come..

Shazam is a application that I use on my iPhone. It listens to a music clipping and identifies the song/track for me. It is particularly useful when one is out shopping with their significant other ๐Ÿ˜‰ It works pretty well and helps me expand my music horizons and recapture old music that I have lost track off. It identifies the track using finger printing technology based on its 8 million song database (which seems to be expanding). This is a prime example of harnessing the power of the data.

Picasa: I used to be early adopter of flickr and I am still a paying user of flickr, but the service has not improved much since it launched (yes they launched video & have geo support! I love the work that they are doing to identify regions using data collected,) but nothing that would make life easier to an end user. Might need another post about how yahoo screwed up an opportunity to integrate and innovate with flickr & delicous. In comparison google launches services and starts to integrate them wonderfully (An antitrust suit might follow in a few years! Mark my words). I am digressing

Picasa recently launched facial recognition and does a fabulous job. The icing on the cake is the speed in which it does it. No wait for hours to identify faces, no dump assumptions and wrong tagging. It takes a little effort to tag the pictures for people’s faces but its provides immediate value! Heres how: When recognizing a face you can tag it to an existing contact or create a new contact. Seamless integration! This makes sure that I dont miss contacts my address book. Simple intelligence that changes my life! So much so that it is compelling me to think about moving from flickr.

What if Google took this to the next level and based on the number of pictures identified per person determined my closet contacts. Case in point, I hang out with my brother a lot and my uncles a lot lesser. It already does something similar with gmail (most contacted people). Now what if you combined the two together? Loads of value! But the scary part is I dont want google to know too much about me! This is where the anti trust angle comes into play. It would make a whole lot of sense if I could connect this to my plaxo address book!

It is time for web20 services to start mining the data that they already have and providing specific value back to the user. You are taken my data now give me back information. Not the bare basic stuff! Give me data that I can use elsewhere! Flickr give my the places I have visited most with lat/long. Delicous give an APML file with my favorite tags! Give me information or you are going to perish.

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Drinking club with the running problem ;)

Half Ass Hash - 2/23/08 - #1
Image by espanol via Flickr

I have been getting out of shape and my wife has been looking to explore new avenues to meet people. So at the recommendation of my cousin we decided to try hashing (AKA Hash house harriers).ย  Here is quick overview of what wikipedia says about Hashing

The Hash House Harriers (abbreviated to HHH, H3, or referred to simply as Hashing) is an international group of non-competitive running, social, and drinking clubs. An event organized by a club is known as a Hash or Hash Run, with participants calling themselves Hashers.

We ended up driving to Hennur Rd for Run 400+ (Forget the number) at 4PM on a Sunday afternoon. This group meets once in two weeks for a hash run/event. We ended up there without any expectation other than it was a good run. We found the crowd to be fun! Met a people from varied backgrounds: An Ex-US Navy on assignment, expats, french citizens. We paid 100Rs to join the club for the year. (Very nominal).

The group is divided into two: the walkers & the runners. We decided to run. Here is how it works:

A group scouts the area the previous day and lays the trail (with white powder marks). The trail often includes false trails, short cuts, dead ends, and splits. These features are designed to keep the pack together regardless of fitness level or running speed, as front-runners are forced to slow down to find the “true” trail, allowing stragglers to catch up.

The fast runners (Hares) end up running ahead scouting for the trail and making sure the right is found (often end up in dead trails). The terms to know when you end up hashing are

“Are You?” ย ย ย  Question shouted by the pack to FRBs, meaning “Are you on the trail?”

On On ย ย ย  Shouted by FRBs or hounds to indicate they’re on trail, sometimes used only to indicate true trail; trail mark indicating true trail

Our run was about 10 kilometers, through farms, so called trails and villages. The villagers must have been looking at us thinking, “what about bunch of weirdos!”.ย  I feel flat on face once, had my legged scratched all over (make sure you dont wear shorts). Worn out shoes are a must! We even had a pit stop for water.

After the run we were catching up with folks and the group gathered for the Circle

Most hash events end with a group gathering known as the Circle. Led by kennel leadership, the Circle provides a time to socialize, sing drinking songs, recognize individuals, formally name members, or inform the group of pertinent news or upcoming events.

Circles may be led by the Kennel Grandmaster, the group’s Religious Adviser, or by a committee.

We were the virgins (Aka newbies) and hence we had to sit on big block of ice and drink the beer up while the circle sings. I was punishing for wearing a so called “new shoe”! (some dude got a hold of me cuz I threatened to get him on the ice next time around). Its referred as a Down-Down:

A Down-Down is a means of punishing, rewarding, or merely recognizing an individual for any action or behavior according to the customs or whims of the group. Generally, the individual in question is asked to consume without pause the contents of his or her cup or mug, or risk pouring the remaining contents on his or her head. Individuals may be recognized for outstanding service, or for their status as a visitor or newcomer. Down-Downs also serve as punishment for misdemeanors real, imagined, or blatantly made up. Such transgressions may include: wearing new shoes to an event, pointing with a finger, or the use of real names.

All in all the event was a hoot! Just need to have a dry sense of humor and be ready to run in some rough terrain. If you are looking for something fun to do in Bangalore or any part of the world where there is a hash join in ๐Ÿ˜‰ It helps if you are drunk! LOL

Here are links that you would find useful:

http://www.gthhh.com/

http://www.bangalorehash.com/

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Developing for the other world

Most Webservices that are catered to the “always on” mentality. While that is certainly true in the USA and other european countries it is certainly not true even for the best in places like India. Electricity is still not “always on”. It can be “mostly on” at best! I live in an apartment where if electricity goes I’m covered for 16 hours so my electricity is “almost always on”, but that is not true for the rest of the country!

Internet in this part of the world is again “mostly on”, server outages happen often and is unavailable for hours together! Bandwidth is metered if ur on a 1mbps connection, slower connections however have the unlimited option. Internet is still expensive in this country I pay about 3000Rs / 75$ per month for 10gb. So CNN pls think again before u automatically start playing a video on money.com! You just lost me! Broadband still accounts for 10% of the internet population in India. Think about the rest of country!

Mobile is “always on” in India my phone is connected for unlimited bandwidth for 400Rs / 8$ a month! The speed isn’t too great but gets the job done. A mobile phone is so vital in this country that coffee shops are providing cell phone charging ports while u sip ur latte!

Given the importance of mobile and “mostly on” Internet access the “cloud” becomes vital in this part of the world! I am willing to bet that most broadband users in this country carry high end mobile phones with GPRS which means there is good probability that they would be willing to pay a nominal fee for accessing their data! Gives micropayments a whole new meaning! Apple lost a tremendrous opportunity when it screwed up it launch by pricing the phone higher than the US market! What were they thinking! Nokia has
Made major in roads here bcos they understand the local market!

3G is scheduled to launch next year (hopefully) and if priced right the adoption levels would be crazy! Mobile operators, cell phone makers, VAS providers are going to make a killing!

So if u have webservice that has an international audience keep this in mind , you will audience will be loyal and happy ๐Ÿ™‚ but mostly done right the oppurtunity to make money!

Gotta go charge my phone .. Cheers!

I am writing this post on my iPhone while Internet and electricity is down :
๐Ÿ˜‰