Hitting the RESET button – Time for a new start!

Featured

This one of those posts that had to be written. It’s not my usual product review, feature design or anything intentionally inspirational. It’s more of a deceleration. After three years of working at Deutsche Bank, I have finally decided to take on an opportunity at a startup in NY (I’ll talk more about this in a bit) and today was my last day at work.

Starting with the traditional reflection, joining Deutsche Bank straight out of school, around 3 years ago was a decision I have no regrets about. At a time when the 2008 financial crisis had just shown it’s ugly head, securing a job, any job was a big deal; let alone at a top wall street bank. I had interned at Verizon the summer before and was hoping to interview with a few places when they came on campus. I remember the circumstance of my interview vividly. I wasn’t one of the first people selected to be interviewed on campus. I was waitlisted (yay?), which basically meant that if one of their first choices didn’t sign up and there was a slot available; I could take it. There I was hitting refresh on my browser every few seconds around midnight, hoping for an open slot. It finally loaded and what do you know, there were three open slots! But wait, I wasn’t able to login and resetting my password a few times didn’t help either. The slots were gone in a minute. Oh well, these things happen; I told myself.

Couple of weeks passed and around 30 odd people had been interviewed and close 20 had been invited to a “super day” at Deutsche Bank’s 60 Wall Street Office in a week’s time. In the mean time, I had tried and failed to secure anything else and was feeling a lot more miserable about having missed out on this opportunity than I did a fortnight ago. I decided to go to the campus career center to complain about the circumstances under which I had missed my interview and hopefully have them fix the problem to prevent other people from facing similar issues in the future. They refused to acknowledge any glitches and told me that I had probably messed up in some way. At this point, I had made up mind and written a quick email to the Deutsche Bank recruiter to let them know of what had happend. To my surprise, I head back from them soon and they wanted to scheule a phone interview with me.

The phone interview went well and I got a chance to go for the on-site interview with the rest of my friends. Here I had 3 interviews and was offered the position to joining their graduate training program within the next couple of days ! Life lesson learnt - perseverance and hustling always pay off!

The last 3 years at DB have been an awesome ride. Everything – from being in London with grads from all over the world, to starting my first full day by finidng out I would be sitting on the trading floor, to having to man up and take charge last year when a couple of my team mates left- has been amazing. I have managed to learn at each step and got to know some great people, that I will never forget. But now is the time to move on.

The itch started a few months ago. It all started with me going for a Tech Meetup in NY. This opened up a whole new world of meetups where people were sharing some interesting problems that they were trying to solve. Who knew there were so many interesting startups in NY? The NY startup community is a completely different world by itself. A world where people were working to build companies from the bottom up. A world where everyone knew everyone else and wants to help. Sillicon Valley will always be the mothership for any tech company, but I think New York or Silicon Alley has started creating it’s own identity and is providing the backdrop for some very innovative people to express their ideas. I think this post captures the essence of what I am talking about – Why Branch Is Moving Back To New York City.

Over the next few months, I found myself spending a couple of nights a week – just meeting people, listening to what people have to say about technology in New York, reading various blogs and just starting to think more activley about the products that I used on a day-day basis. I was encouraged to write about my ideas, and this partly led to a couple of entries in this blog. But, I wasn’t thinking about leaving. I liked what I did at work, and I was learning new things.

One thing I did realize when I went for these meetups – you will always get looked at a second longer when you mention that you work at a bank. Banks are seen as these evil money spending, no good-doing, talent stealing scums, that no one should want to be associated with! This came as quite a bit of a shock to me, since until now; I used to proudly proclaim working at a bank on Wall Street. Why wouldn’t I ? I might not be helping solve poverty or anything – but nor were these guys. I was working on real technology problems, just like the rest of the people around there. It just happened to be in a different sector. So, why the hate ?

Talking to more people over the next few months, I recognized that the people who I was referring to were people who wither had never worked at big corporations or tried and realized that the environment just wasn’t for them. Great. More power to you if you are smart enough to realize what you wanted to do, but I still see no reason to frown at the work other people do on a day to day basis. The top rated answer for the question “Why do startup employees leave for big brands?” on Quora (quick side note – If you haven’t heard of Quora, go check it out now! It’s an endless sink of knowledge!) provides some interesting insights. It talks about some of the benefits of working in larger organization and how it compares to working at a startup. I agree with most points. An experience in a large organization is what you make of it. If you want to learn and contribute – it doesn’t matter where you are. You will figure a way to make it happen. I like to think that I did.

So having said all of this, you may wonder why I am leaving Deutsche Bank to move to a startup? The move has more to do with where I want to be in a few years from now and how the opportunity that was presented to me, relates to it. I have always eventually wanted to start something by myself. Deutsche Bank was a great place to start my career. The support structure of the Graduate Training Program was invaluable in giving me the knowledge and confidence to execute large scale projects. I still think I would do exactly what I did three years ago, if I had to choose again. But now, the time is different. I want to be able to take a few more risks. Test myself in new waters. Not be comfortable. Make new mistakes and learn from the. Hence the change of scene.

When I was presented with the opportunity to join Intent Media as Partner Integration Engineer, I was looking to evaluate a couple of things – The most important factor, to me – always is people that I will be working with. Second is the challenges that they are trying to solve. I am at an early stage in my carrer and there is so much to learn. All I can do is surround myself with the smartest people accessible and hope to benefit from them. After a lot of consideration, I was convinced that this is the place for me. I hope I am right, but regardless – as Robert Cezar Matei says in the below Quora answer to the question -Did anyone decline an offer to work at Intsagram?

You can’t second-guess your decisions. You gather information, you think hard, you pick what feels right, then you walk into the future with serenity.

And that is exactly what I will be doing, come Monday.

If you want to know more about Intent Media, I would suggest reading the below 3 articles-

  1. Why Expedia is showing ads for Priceline
  2. Intent Media: How ex-Travelocity transaction guys monetize non-bookers for OTAs
  3. How the US Online Advertising Market Can Grow by 1,000% in the Next 10 Years

I could’t be more excited about the new role. Hopefully it will be a blast and I’ll continue my learning. Either way, I’ll try and write an entry within the next month and talk a bit about some of the differences I see in my work and overall life, during this transition period.

Oh, and also FYI – We (this will take some getting used to!) are hiring! Check out the open positions at Intent Media here !

Foursquare Turns Three – A breakdown of some recent features + Suggestions for the future

Disclaimer – This post is in no way related to the blog that was posted with a similar topic on TechCrunch a couple of days after I started writing my post. Clearly, laziness got the better of me. The insights provided in that blog are great and I encourage you to read it. However, my post is a result of some long pending ideas and a small tribute to the three-year anniversary of a service that I love and use everyday.

Update – As correctly pointed out in the comments, foursquare day is 4/16 and not 4/4. I have changed this accordingly.

This post again comes after a long time, but truth be told; there are a whole bunch of posts where I started, wrote a bit and just never got around to finish completely. I promise to finish them and publish soon (if they still are relevant in these ever-changing interwebs). However, for this post; first and foremost, let me start this by congratulating foursquare; one of my favorite startups (for the work they do and the people in it), on completing an awesome 3 years. At the 3 year anniversary, I spent some time looking at the progress they have made over the past few years and what might lie ahead for them. I have also previously commented about some of the features that make foursquare the essential navigation tool in today’s world. I got a lot of “Oh, now I see what you mean when you keep asking me to use foursquare” type of reactions; which is always nice to hear ! This post will look at some of the latest innovations from the foursquare team and also highlight a couple of features that I think will be logical future step for this ever-evolving product. (If you are an avid user like me, maybe you want to skip the recent feature break-down and just scroll to the bottom of this post to see my ideas about new features ?)

I have spoken a few time on how the constant updates that the foursquare team does to it’s product, is highly admirable. Every time I listen to Dennis(Crowley) or Alex(Rainert) talk about their vision for the product, I am more convinced that foursquare will eventually become the one-stop-shop for exploring and navigating the real urban world. This quote from Tim Falls on Tumblr perfectly sums up my feelings about foursquare and it’s value.

i absolutely love the story behind foursquare. it’s an awesome app, yet it has had its fair share of critics from day one. and despite the doubters, the company keeps innovating, developing new features and improving on a product that has attracted millions of active users. in my opinion, foursquare will continue to prove the critics wrong, as their team continues to build a service that provides real value in a mobile, smart-phone connected world.

-timfalls

Out of the many updates that the Foursquare team has rolled out, here are the big ones and my 2 cents on each of them. I won’t get into the details since these have been well documented already. (check out the associated links for more details)

1) Lists on Mobile – The last time I wrote about foursquare, I mentioned how one of my favorite feature was the ability to create lists for things I wanted to do. I can create lists by myself, follow lists that others might have created or collaborate with my friends to create a weekend full of activities ! The biggest problem for me at that point, was that the only way to create these lists effectively; was to go on the web, and even then they would show up on my “to-do lists” on the phone (not the best way to navigate). A few months ago, the foursquare team finally brought lists to the mobile. This is great since, I can save any place I might discover; to an existing list or create a new one directly from my mobile. This post about using more of lists is worth a read.

Suggestions for lists - The only thing that I would like to see change with lists is how I can share them. Right now, I can share lists via twitter, facebook, email or text. The message that is sent via email or text is a link to my list on the web, and clicking on it brings up a full-blown web page that is not the easiest to navigate or follow. It would be great to send an in-app message. Let me share via foursquare and receive a notification in my notification center when someone does this. From here, I should be able to directly bring up the list and follow it, edit to create my own or make suggestions to it by searching for other places.

2) Radar – One of the biggest features that was launched post iOS 5 has been Radar. Radar is fantastic tool, that; when turned on; reminds you of some of the things around you that you might otherwise miss. The radar feature leverages iOS 5′s new “region monitoring” feature that allows it to monitor your location in the background much more effectively than the background location features that were introduced in iOS 4. Effectively, if I have a place that I might be following as a part of my lists, or if there is something interesting going on near me (3-4) of my friends are checked-in to the bar next to me, ill get notified ! I also got notifications reminding me to check in to places that I visit often, when I am around them and have not checked in. (This can be awesome or annoying depending on how you feel about checking-in everywhere you go.)

;

;

;

;

;

;

;

Disclaimer about Radar – This is great, but seeing the location icon always turned on makes me super paranoid about my already fickle iPhone battery life. I tried searching for some answers about this on Quora and found this post reassuring me a bit. I would also suggest checking out this FAQ abt radar if you are considering using it. (I have tried using it over a whole week and find that the alerts are non-intrusive; but I did see my battery drain just a tad more than usual)

3) Explore (On the Web and New Explore on Mobile) – Explore was where the magic of foursquare was unleashed for everyone. Being able to search for “pizza” around me, was what made me switch from yelp to foursquare for all my “exploration” needs. There was one drawback always though, I could only search for a specific radius around me and even though I could create lists, I could never pre-plan on the web. These two issues have both been addressed in the latest releases of foursquare.

Explore on the web is the perfect tool to look up places, add them to lists and load the lists on my phone for an entire day ! The fact that lists allows me to search by specific places or even search lists is great. (Pro Tip – Visiting a new part of the town or a new place ? Look for a list of things to do! So much easier than creating one. Copy and modify one if needed) .Another feature that was recently launched is the ability search any place on explore by defining a radius and looking for anything on the phone. The design of the new explore on mobile is something that I think a lot of apps will eventually copy and this article in fastcodedesign gives a good breakdown of why this might be a future for all location-based apps.

4) Menus, Restaurant Prices and Timings – I have already said a few times, that I have made a very conscious effort to move away from Yelp for exploration, but I sometimes find myself going back to see what dishes to eat, how expensive the place and when it is open till. In integrating with SinglePlatform, foursquare has solved 2/3 of that problem – by bringing menus and pricing range to the mobile and web experience of foursquare. No longer, will you need to browse through reviews, launch the venue’s web only interface on a mobile, or switch between yelp and foursquare every time you have a friend who is strictly vegetarian or if you are not sure about the price of the restaurant. Juts launch the menu section and figure it out from within the app. ( check out Morgan Misen’s post about this feature to learn a bit more).Foursquare also has added timings, but these are available only onc the venue owner decides to populate them.

5) Foursquare Everywhere on the web ! – As more and more users start embracing foursquare, the number of brand curated content and the places where you see foursquare on the web will increase proportionately. As an evidence to the above statement, here is a look at how foursquare is growing its presence beyond the mobile – A recently launched feature (my favorite of the new lot) is the ability to take any place or list on the web and add it to a foursquare list. This includes installing a bookmarklet that allows you to do this.

Foursquare has also tied up with various publications to create recommendation lists that you can subscribe to. And to top it all off – you can also directly search for places on foursquare using the chrome address bar. Here is how.

Having looked at the some of the existing features, the future of foursquare is very exciting. Over the last two years, they have always tested and launched some great features at SXSW and though this year was not so much about making a bang, it was probably one of the most used apps at the event ! However, here are three features that will probably make their way to the user directly through foursquare or via a third party app that leverages the foursquare API; though I prefer the first option.

  • Future Check-ins/ User created events
  • Check-in with your food.
  • Events for small venues

Why do we need these features you ask ? Aren’t there already apps in the Market that perform these very functions ? There are, but at the end of the day foursquare has become a location-based platform and integrating these features with its app; makes them available to their huge user base, without the user’s having to use a different app for everything. Along with this, there is also the added advantage of gathering valuable relevance data with each check-in and leveraging this to further enhance the experience for the user.

For the below features, I’ll start by quickly explaining a few of the existing players and things that they do. We will then look at what these features should do and their benefits. Detailed feature breakdown will be available for you to view and use in the Trello boards that I have created. I will also provide some basic mockups of the initial flow of these features, explaining my vision. (I used Balsamiq for all my wireframes – if you do any wireframing, go get it now !)

Share what you are eating –

The first reaction I got when I mentioned this to someone was “Wait…why would I want to do that ? Share what I am eating ? What next ?” Clearly food is a sensitive topic for some, but it is as relevant as a picture , a status message attached to your location. With more and more sharing, reviews of restaurants and so on; sharing what you are eating at some place is just the next step. A few companies have already made a foray into this and have had a reasonable response. The biggest one is Foodspotting that encourages users to click pictures of things that they eat, allowing other users at the location to see them. A recent entry that has been gathering some traction is Forkly, which is indeed very well thought out and is vying to become “The Platform” for food. Unlike foodspotting, that forces you to take pictures of food, Forkly lets you choose a location, see if a dish exists, else add it and then rate it to share with your friends.

Forkly is great, however; I am not as passionate about explicitly launching another app to share a dish unless I want to explicitly leave a tip of some sort. Also, it is very hideous to add the right dish if it is not present. Forkly works off user-generated data. Foursquare, as mentioned ; already pulls menus for all dining places, and if it could leverage this to allow me to check-in with my food; I would do so ever so often; allowing my friends to learn more about my tastes and also coming to a place and learning more about the food there. This is how it would work -

I locate a venue, and it happens to be a dining place (Cool Bar as shown in the mockups below). When I view the venue, I can see the menu, tips etc or check in. While viewing the menu or checking in; I get prompted to select a dish or item with my check in so people can know what I am eating here. (French Fries !) I can also easily add a tip, hence making it much easier to leave tips. My friends can learn what I ate, when they come there and I can also maintain a list of what I eat where.The detailed list of features are available on this board. Feel free to add ideas or comment.

A basic flow of how this would work is shown below. (The screens are in order and the yellow highlight over an area indicates where a someone would possibly click. Also, click on the image to enlarge it!)

Small Venur created Events

Foursquare introduced events a while ago, and I was a happy customer since I had been talking about the need for foursquare supporting events for a long time. This is a great way to learn about what’s playing at stadiums, movie theaters, concert venues etc. However, one key use cases of events I see, and which is yet to be implemented; is allowing small venues like bars and comedy clubs to create events in order to attract customers and spread the word. There are different services like Plancast, EventBrite and Meetup that let me learn about conferences, talks, meetups that my friends are going to; but what about a local band playing at a bar ? This is where allowing small venues to create events has it benefits.

This Feature allows small Venus, like bars, restaurants etc; to create events and advertise them to users when they check-in at the place. Users can use this to learn more about the place and use it to plan activities in the future. Simple use case, I come to my favorite Cool Bar and see that there is a band playing at this bar (3 Monkeys). I check in with this event, hence automatically letting my friends know that there is a great band playing here. I love this bar and want to know what other events are happening here; which is what I can see in upcoming events. I can save this event as a future check in (more on this feature below), share it with my friends and maintain a list of all events I want to go to. I can be reminded of this event, and choose to subscribe to events from this venue; hence increasing interaction with this venue; benefiting both the merchant and the user. (As someone points out on my Quora post, though rather crudely; music events in foursquare are powered by SongKick and one can easily events to venues as they please; I still see an added value of doing this through the venue owner’s page). Details of feature are in this board. Mock-ups can be found below -

Future Check Ins/Plan a Check In

With SXSW just having passed, there was a whole army of location-based apps designed to do a ton of things – with the highlight (yep, pun intended) being on serendipitous discovery of people with common Facebook interest, LinkedIn connections and so on. That is all great, but what about all the times when I want to plan a small get together with some close friends? Simple use case being I’m at a game and want to meet up with some friends for drinks after at the only one and only Cool Bar. Sure I can send them an email, I can also just send them a link to the place via Google Maps, Yelp or even Foursquare ? Facebook Event or Google Calendar anyone? Why not leverage a great navigation tool that I use for everything else; to also make plans with my friends. I would love for foursquare to let me plan my basic events and get-togethers. The only company that comes close to doing this as far as I know is, European based startup called Hangout. But then again, I am forced to use a different platform, I can share events with the public via Twitter or Facebook but not with a set of specific friends.

Continuing with our Cool Bar example from above, I can choose to check in now at a venue or Plan a Check In. This allows me to pick a date and time; and invite specific friends or share the event with everyone. My friends who get invited to this can accept or decline. Once accepted, the Planned meeting shows up in my Planned Check Ins List, and I can be notified of the event via foursquare or iCal. Below is the design, for what I think the foursquare implementation should look like. Detailed features, as usual; can be found via this board.

Final Thoughts

I realize that this blog is a bit long, but this is something that I have been thinking for a while and I am glad I have managed to overcome my laziness and actually pen this out. Trello and Balsamiq are great tools that I had been dying to use; and this blog post gave me a perfect opportunity to use them. I used the trial version of Balsamiq and might just shell out the cash for the paid version so I can continue experimenting with some designs for potential features. Trello is an app I see myself using for simple workflows. Boards, lists etc are a very well though out implementation and would be perfect for any Agile team.

Foursquare itself has evolved more since I first started writing this post. Naveen Selvaduri is no longer a part of the team and with Foursquare making move from Google maps to Open Street Maps on the web, it will be interesting to see how things evolve. Foursquare, as I understand now; uses the following mapping solutions – Google Maps on the iPhone, Open Street Maps on the web and Bing Maps on Foursquare posts on Facebook (though the overall display of foursquare posts is so much better on Facebook now). Will this fragmentation be noticeable to users in any way ? How will this adaptation impact the growth of Open Street Maps? (Maybe Open Street Maps’ growth as result of Google Maps’ change in pricing policy is a good topic for my next post ?) Foursquare itself is a repository of crowd-sourced data, so I don’t see how Open Street Maps could not benefit from this partnership. Regardless, I can’t wait to see how Foursquare further enhances my city navigation experience. Hopefully, the next blog post is a lot sooner. Until then, Happy Birthday Fourquare and may everyone continue to “explore” !

PS – Foursquare Day is coming up on 16th April ! (4 squared – get it ?). There will be meetups and events throughout the globe for it’s celebration. I will be attending the Foursquare day meetup in NYC, so give me a shout if you do decide to drop by. For the rest of you, find out more about events near your area here.

Happy New Year !!

Oh well, here we are. At the end of the year. Yet another one. I know I should have probably been writing more often on this blog. I know I should have probably done a whole bunch more than I did overall this year, but here we are again – reflecting on the last year, being thankful for things and making our share of resolutions for the next one. Here are mine.

As we approach the new year, the one where we are all apparently doomed to die (roll eyes), the last year was not very dramatic at all. The year started off with a crazy new year party, the usual set of resolutions and a ton of nervous uncertainty about my work (I was starting in a new role), Looking back, things went okay. Just okay. I did my usual bit of working hard and trying to juggle other things while doing so. I also went back home and spent time with family and friends for a month. I opened my eyes to a whole bunch of things that people around me are doing, met many new people and realized a few important things about myself. But, as I now reflect on the last year and what it represents to me – I am a bit lost.

I don’t mean to sound dramatic or anything, but I believe that at the end of each significant time frame, we should be able to list some of our accomplishments for that time. It might be tiny, minuscule even; but there needs to be that one thing that you are proud of, something that you can tell people when they ask you “So, what were you up to in 2011 ?”.. and you don’t draw a blank like I am now. Many of my friends got married, some quit their jobs and started new ones, some graduated, some travelled to various places and accomplished things that I can only dream of. For them, this year will be a year to remember.

Believe me, I am thankful everything I have – a great family, a good job, some awesome friends who make life a stroll, the chance to work day in and day out in the greatest city of all. I love it. I love it all, but then again I don’t think I am doing enough. Not taking enough chances, not making enough of a difference. So, today when I am about to head out to celebrate the last year with my friends and ring in a new one, I make one resolution – At this time next year, there will be at least one thing that I will be proud of, at least one thing that will have defined 2012 for me. I read the below paragraph today on Sharon Vakin’s status and I think this defines what I hope to achieve out of 2012 better than I ever could -

This is how I’ll tackle 2012, and I wish the same for you: “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” Neil Gaiman

On that note,here is wishing all of you a very happy new year. Congratulations for everything you have done this year and let’s make sure that the next year is an even more awesome one! We have a whole 365 days to make it count after all… !

How will you #LiveLikeSteve ?

It has been a long time since I wrote the last post on this blog, but hopefully that was a one-off situation that will not be repeated. For now, what this means is that the “Beta” tag on my blog will stay on for a bit more atleast – until I can prove my consistency and seriousness about maintaining an up to date blog on a regular basis.

A lot has happened in the tech world during this time – iOS 5 was announced and released, iPhone 4s was released- accompanied by Siri, Zukenberg took stage on f8 and announced facebook timeline, Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich was announced, TechCrunch momentarily left tech reporting to play out a badly written soap opera and we lost a leader in Steve Jobs. While there are thousands of articles and millions of words written about all of these, and even though it comes very late; I am going to dedicate this small blog-post to Steve Jobs.

I have been a PC person most of my life and while I have had an iPhone for the past 3 years and ipods before that, it is only recently that I bought a Mac and I have to say that absolutely love it and completely understand why owning a mac is an experience ! No, my life was not incomplete without Apple products, and yes; I can live without them; but over the years, Apple; through Steve Jobs have managed to create technology that goes beyond performing core functions and creates an “experience” for the user. Regardless of who you are and if you have love or hate Apple and Steve Jobs, you have to acknowledge and admire his sheer determination towards innovation and excellence. This innovative spirit and the ability to constantly create new products that become essential to how we do things on a day-day basis, are something that will always set him apart form the rest of the technology greats of our generation. Steve Jobs might have gone, but his legacy and inspiration will continue for years to come. I personally believe that the most important lesson that one can learn from him is to never accept failure under any circumstances.

Steve Jobs has touched many lives in some way or the other and inspired a whole generation of entrepreneurs who dare to dream because of him, and hence it was no surprise when the internet was flooded with memorials for him after his death. Amongst this sea of Steve Jobs related media, one post stood out for me – #LiveLikeSteve by Hunter Walk of Google, on TechCrunch. He talks about how just posting about how Steve Jobs’ passing is more than a chance to update our facebook status or post a video about him, but is chance to change our lives. Instead of trying to explain this, I am going to post a paragraph from his post that explains his idea -

“The goal is not for each of us to BE Steve Jobs – “your time is limited. don’t waste it living someone else’s life” was his own advice to Stanford graduates in 2005 – but rather how we can apply his aspirations to our own existence. So let’s spend the next few days publicly declaring what we are going to do to #LiveLikeSteve. Take to Google+, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or your community of choice. Put yourself out there and make a commitment. Hashtag it #LiveLikeSteve so we can all be inspired by you. And when you follow-through you won’t just be celebrating the life of an amazing man, you’ll be making yourself and the world a better place. Let’s make that Jobs’ final gift to us.”

Keeping this in mind, this is how I plan to #LiveLikeSteve – I am going to try and design/build something in the next year. It does not have to be a complete product, maybe even just a spec or a prototype – but something that I am passionate about and believe in. I will spend more time meeting practicing entrepreneurs and learn from them.  I will strive to make more time for my interests and not treat day-day work as an excuse to neglect them. Most of all, I will learn to never be too comfortable or settle; because this can only mean that I am not trying new things and learning.

Are you going to be someone who just talks about Steve Jobs or will you choose to #LiveLikeSteve ?

ps – Steve’s biography that has been in works for a while, finally comes out on October 24th. You can pre-order it here.

9/11: Inspire

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of that fateful day when the lives and dreams of many came crumbling down and left a nation shocked and afraid. I was in 11th grade in India, and while I might have been too young and too far away to understand the true impact of such an event, the scenes of the burning towers on my television are something I can never get out of my head. As someone who had aspirations to come to the US to study, I had never imagined that I would end up working at a bank on Wall Street, a few hundred yards away from the very site that was destroyed exactly this time a decade ago.

As clichéd as it may sound, inspite of the wars, financial crisis and the other horrors that 9/11 may have caused; there are always stories that rise above the pain to inspire. From brave fire-fighters who helped pull out people from the debris on the day to strangers who went out of their way to comfort families who lost their loved ones; these are the examples that people need to remember and take forward. As someone who works in technology, there are a couple of things in the tech world that have moved me this week.

The first one is the blog posted by Scott Heiferman of meetup.com. It is truly inspiring to see how events from 10 years ago sparked one of the best ideas in the last few years. In a world where everyone seems to be spending more time online, meetup.com has managed to get people off the internet, out into the world and meet with each other. The other one is that of Brian August. I came across his story at the NY Tech Meetup last month. When he first came on stage and started talking about what he was trying to do, I was a bit apprehensive about how many people would be able to relate to him; but the more I think about it, the more I have come to realize how much the towers meant to some people. Brian is a life-long New Yorker and the towers were a fundamental part of his day-day life in this great city. He has a real passion for the towers and this has led him to putting his heart and soul to create 110 Stories. This is an app that allows users to orient their phones towards the towers, augments a pencil-like outline at the actual location of the towers and lets users share personal stories about their experiences with the twin towers. It is interesting to see what the towers meant to different people from various locations in the city.

The hole that was left by the towers, has been filled today by a beautiful memorial and the freedom towers are taking shape as we speak. As they say, there are no tragedies, only experiences. What we make of these experiences and how we emerge beyond them defines who we are. New York has united over this incident and people have come out stronger and closer to each other. So on this day, as we take time out to remember those who were lost and reflect on the last ten years, let’s also think of those who have managed to inspire others through this and learn from them.

foursquare evolves – why you need to join the party now..!

I recently started writing this blog and the response to my first post was pretty good. It was obviously not the most talked about blog in the tech circles, far from it; but I did get over a hundred views and a lot of people reached out to me encouraging me to continue writing more. Hence, over the last couple of weeks, I have been mulling over a few ideas that seemed worth talking about. But, late last Thursday night; I was browsing through Quora and happened to come across this question on the foursquare page - What value do users get from foursquare? As an avid foursquare user who has been using the product for a while, this prompted me to answer the question and also provided the perfect topic for this post.

foursquare, as I mentioned in my last post; is a location-based service that allows users to check-in to locations and share these locations with friends. Though, since its early beginnings a couple of years ago; foursquare for me, has evolved from a simple check in based service to so much more. When it started off, I used it as a way to catalog all the places that I had been to and share some of the cool places with my friends on foursquare and other social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

The foursquare team, over the past year has done a fantastic job of taking a product and make it ubiquitous to anything that I do location wise in the real world. I update my status and share pictures now mostly via foursquare since it adds so much more context to everything. The fact that I add people on my foursquare friends list only if I am comfortable sharing my location with, means that foursuare has now become a more refined and personal social network than Facebook or Twitter for me.

The evolution of foursquare has been remarkable and is best shown by this graphic of its app from inception to today. This was posted recently by Mari Sheibley (Lead Designer at foursquare) on her blog -

All I can say is “wow !”. foursquare has come a long way…

The recent enhancements that foursquare has made over the last month or so have clear and tangible value for the foursquare users. Here is my breakdown of the significant ones, what works and what can be improved on -

Explore - Having been someone who used Yelp extensively for as long as I remember, to make decisions about where to eat and what to do; the explore feature has managed to make me rely more closely on where my immediate friends (recommendations are based on you history and where your friends have been) or what is trending at that given time to make those very decisions now.

The explore feature lets me search for different things like food, nightlife etc and narrow down these results based on distance etc. I can definitely see this being a popular web app on the lines of yelp. It would be great to be able to enter a zip code on a web page and look at some of the popular places amongst my friends and check out their reviews etc. This will also provide foursquare with a good monetization opportunity through ads and sponsored links here.

Deals - With the number of daily deals sites growing at alarming rates, it has become increasingly difficult to track everything on a daily basis and plan accordingly. The foursquare model of alerting me (via the all new notifications tray !) about possible deals at places that are in my to do list and places that I check-in to works great and makes things so much simpler. This is in addition to the deals that various merchants create, which can be unlocked based on certain parameters related to check-ins.

Brand Collaborations – foursquare has been actively collaborating with various brands to create unique benefits for its user base. The partnership with American Express is a great example of this. Users don’t have to worry about unlocking deals, showing the “coupon” to the merchant etc. When you link your foursquare account to your American Express card and check-in at a place that is participating in the American Express promotion, you just make a valid purchase and the benefits get credited straight back into your Amex account. With more and more merchants realizing the importance of connecting with users in the real world, the number of brand collaborations will increase, and with that – the “value” for the users will increase too.

Lists - One of the more recent product enhancements by the foursquare team, this is a great tool to create lists based on various locations/categories. It is a great way to find spots that you might have otherwise missed. Users can create lists by themselves or collaborate with friends too. One can create lists for anything ranging from “Best burger joints in NYC” to “Must see places in France”. You can search for these lists on the foursquare web page and if you decide to follow a list, then the venues of this list automatically show up on your to-do list on the phone. The possibilities of recommendations for things to do using this are endless ! (Check out this list that I a made for things to do in Downtown NYC).

One of the things I would like to see with regard to lists, is the ability to create them using the mobile app too. I tend to add things to my “to-do” list and it would be nice to be able to add it to a list from the go. Also, it would be great if the lists showed up in an aggregated manner in the app instead of just showing up as a whole bunch of “to-dos” with a list name shown below.

Events - This is one of the most interesting features to be launched on foursquare in my opinion. As someone who has seen this as a natural addition to venues, I see events allowing users to add more relevance to any check-in. Instead of checking into a movie theater, I can now checking to a movie within that theater too. This also allows me to get more insight into what my friends are doing and maybe make better decisions based on that. foursquare is also collaborating with sports giants like ESPN and ticketing agencies to make it easier for users to find sports events and buy tickets to events.

Events are controlled and limited to certain venues as of now, but when they do become more widespread and maybe start showing up in my explore feed, my overall experience of planning for a show on any given day will change drastically. Just imagine the possibilities of checking into a bar and being able to find out about an event that is happening – a band playing maybe – next week. It would be a  great feature for both users and venue owners.

foursquare has been innovating its product constantly and with the number of users increasing everyday globally, the amount of data available for foursquare to work with is increasing too. By ensuring that they build a stellar API and allow other companies to innovate on top of this, foursquare has ensured that it becomes integral part of anything that has any location based check-in service. Check out some of these great apps that have been built using the foursquare API. All this and more will only improve the product and the user experience going forward. So… What are you waiting for ? Get foursquare and start checking-in.. !

ps – I recently found out another great use case for foursquare – disaster alerting.

It was a weekday afternoon and I was at work, sitting in a training class in the basement of a 47 floor building…little did I know that the buildings above me were shaking with an earthquake. All of sudden, I see a notification on my iPhone about a friend checking into “Earthquakeopocalypse” and I thing to myself… “WHAT??!!”… looking into this, I realized that there had just been a minor earthquake in NYC. A full two minutes after, people in the class start getting texts from their friends about this ! This “venue” had people checking in faster than anything ever before on foursquare. Another example of foursquare coming to the rescue was when WSJ created a list of the NYC Evacuation Centers during Hurricane Irene.

Maybe the foursquare team will find ways to leverage its platforms to help people during disasters ? The possibilities are endless….

Google+ and it’s place in my social ecosystem

A little over a month ago Google finally launched its much anticipated Social Networking service – The Google+ Project.  Considering the fact that Google was the most popular page on the web for most of the last decade, it must have been a major blow to take when it was announced that Facebook had become the most popular page on the internet in 2010. Having made multiple failed attempts over the last few years with projects like Google Buzz, Orkut (whoever remembers that one !!) and Wave ; Google was in good position to have evaluated its mistakes and learnt from the strengths of its biggest competitor – Facebook.

As google does with most of its services, it decided to launch Google+ in an invitation only beta mode. Having requested my invitation quite some time in advance, I was really disappointed to not be a part of the “elite” few that had been chosen to try out this service first hand. After spending the first couple of days scavenging the web and twitter for reviews, I finally managed to score an invitation via a friend (thanks again Bill !) who had posted about his initial impressions of Google+ on Facebook(yes, I do see the irony of it).

Once I did have the invite, setting up my account was relatively simple and easy. After a few clicks, I was brought to the landing page. My first thought when I was at the landing page was – “wow…this looks relatively familiar and intuitive”, which is always a great thing for a user to be thinking when they land on any new website. The fact that this familiarity might have something to do with the fact that the interface looked very “Facebookish” is a whole different discussion.

Now I can get into the details of Google+ and do a complete site review but since its launch, it has been dissected in every possible way by many of the top tech journalists (you can find a few good ones here). This post is about Google+’s place in my social ecosystem or the lack thereof. Over the past couple of years, I have spent a substantial amount of time carefully selecting different tools for me to effectively manage my social world. I believe that there are a 10 key points that anyone should consider when they are deciding to adapt a particular tool/platform for their social needs -

  1. What unique feature does this platform provide?
  2. Does it help me solve a problem or connect to people that I would not connect to ?
  3. Who will be my audience when I publish via this platform ?
  4. Does the target audience match the content I intend to post on this platform ?
  5. How does this platform interact with the other social/non-social platforms that I have chosen?
  6. Is there a platform out there that does the same things and offer some other advantages on top of it ?
  7. When will I be using this ?
  8. Will I use this via my computer or mobile ?
  9. Does it have a mobile platform ? Is it an app or a website ? Is it easy to use ?
  10. How are the privacy features on this platform ? Can I decide who sees what ?

I primarily use most social media via my iPhone. Keeping this and the above points in mind, the Social folder on my iPhone looks like below -

Most of these applications are well known, some not so much. Lets take a quick look at how I use each one and how they interact with each other  -

Facebook – I don’t think I need to say much here. Everyone who is anyone is on Facebook. This is where I connect with people from school, work(to a cretain extent), family(oh boy!) and all my friends…close or not ! Some might just message me on my birthday but still get to see all my posts and pictures. Facebook also recently introduced the ability to make video calls and also announced a dedicated messaging app. I have used both of them but don’t see myself using them frequently just yet.

TwitterThis is probably the most interesting of all my social apps. I follow some great people and its timeline acts as the best news source for my needs. Wether its technology, soccer, humor or anything else – I get to choose who I want to listen to and the same goes the other way. You don’t like what I have to say ? Getting rid of me is as easy as clicking on “unfollow”. This also serves as my rant space. I don’t really care as to who is reading/commenting/liking what I have to say. On Twitter, I just say things because I want to. I had linked my Twitter to my Facebook for a short period of time but decided that the content/audience for each was different and they are best kept separate. With the next version of iOS bringing deeper Twitter integration, things are only going to get beter.

Foursquare - This my primary location based checkin service. As someone who started using this a while ago, I used to get a lot of misery from my friends about what the whole point of this was. For me – it was a combination of the game aspect (you get points/badges for checking in to different places and you also compete for the mayorship of different places) and a way to catalog & share some of the cool places that I visit. Over time, it has evolved into so much more though. I now use it to find places to eat/do using where my friends might have been, upload photos of a place, read what people have to say about the place, find deals, etc. This has now become a more exclusive social network because I only add people that I am comfortable sharing my real-time location with. Foursquare also lets me push my checkins to Facebook or Twitter when I wish to (this is key !) . So, instead of going to each of the above platforms to tell people I am at this great concert and post a picture of it; I check in to Foursquare and let it do that job for me !

Some might say that Facebook places offer a similar check in service but once you use Foursquare, you realize it’s not just about checking in.

LinkedinThis is a platform that is very different form the others. This is where I maintain my professional contacts, people I work, network and collaborate with. There is not much of a need for this to be compatible with my other social networks (though it is). For obvious reasons, I dont need to share my Linkedin information on anything and vice-versa. The Linkedin iPhone app was updated recently and is definitely a huge improvement over its previous version.

TumblrTumblr is my micro-blogging platform. This is where I post things that I click, like, share links & videos, etc. The number of pictures/links/videos that I post directly to Facebook/Twitter has gone down drastically and thats all thanks to Tumblr. My Tumblr is synced with my both these platforms and hence anything I post on tumblr automatically gets pushed to Facebook & Twitter while also maintaining a nicely formatted blog of everything that I share. I also have statcounter for tumblr installed that lets me monitor the stats around my posts if I choose to. My tublr feed is a very selective collection of few people’s tumbelogs that I read on a regular basis.

Instagram – Instagram allows me to take/enhance pictures on my iphone and share them. I can do this via all the above platforms but the pictures on Instagram look so much better. I can share to Twitter, Facebook and a host of applications from here, but I make it a point to share my Instagrams only to tumblr and Foursquare. This way, my tumblr pushes to Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare checks me in to the location and adds a picture that can be viewed by others who check in to this place. Like tumblr, I aslo follow a few selected people on Instagram. Instagram does not have a website feed and hence my tumbelog acts as the perfect substitute.

Meetup -  Meetup is my escape from the online world to go meet some real people who share some common interests with me. The Meetup app allows me to find groups and events that are created by people catering to a specific interest. I dont talk to them via this app – I go out and meet them at an event. I have managed to meet and network some very interesting people via this. Meetup does integrate with my Facebook and Twitter by letting me post interesting meetups on them but thats the extent of it.

Bump -Bump is a great way to share/sync photos, music, apps etc with people you meet by physically “bumping” your phones. This is great to share things with friends when you don’t want to go through the hassle of emailing individual files. The best feature of Bump though is its ability to Bump phones withe someone you just meet and automatically connecting you on social networks of your choice as shown below.

Sonar – Sonar is a great new app that I came to know through TechCrunch Disrupt NY this year. They were one of the finalists and had a great approach to a simple problem. I use Foursquare to checkin and do other things, but how I can use it to find people I might be connected to via some friends when I am at a conference, a movie theater etc ? Sonar answers this by letting you know of just this when you checkin to a place and someone else that you are connected to via Facebook or Twitter via common friends checkins to the same place. You then have an option of sending them a message via Twitter.

Skype – Skype needs no explanations ! I use it to chat with people, make regular and video calls. Although Skype does offer facebook integration on some of its clients to view the Facebook feed etc but again this is not something I use.

Whatsapp – Whatsapp has become a rage for its ability to integrate various platforms (iOS, BlackBerry, Android and Symbian). This has made text messaging almost obslete since almost everyone has a smart phone. This app also facilitates sharing of conatcts, pictures, location and video. Another big plus is group chat. I have close friends in different regions of the world and we are on a constant group chat where people post things whenever they want. There is no integration with Facebook or Twitter, you need the other person’s phone number to add them but that’s just fine for the purpose of this app.

Meeboo – Meebo is my chat client that integrates all my chats into one place (2 Gtalk ids and 1 Facebook). I rarely use the Facebook/Gtalk clients and this does an adequate job of integrating the two and providing notifications in a non-obtrusive way.

Now, having looked at my “social-ecosystem”; lets take a look at some of the key features that Google+ has to offer and my thoughts on them -

Circles - Circles is  probably one of the best and most talked about features on Google+. It is a much more enhanced version of creating a Twitter List or Facebook Friend List/Groups. Google+ is like an integration of Facebook and Twitter, you can see extended posts from people but you dont need to be “friends” to be able to view their content. You just need to add them to your circles, like “following” someone on twitter; and they can do the same to you.

The process of creating Circles is very easy, since you just need to drag and drop friends into circles. One friend can be a part of more than one circle which is really useful. The problem here is that, although it is extremely easy to create circles, it is quite a bit of a task to organize all your contacts into distinct circles. You need to come up with a clear content posting strategy to make full use of circles. Facebook groups, although they have a limited functionality; serve the purpose for now.

Stream - There is nothing new here. This is probably the most “Facebookish” feature of it all. It is a stream of posts from people who I have added to my circles. I can choose to view content posted by everyone or by particular circles. Considering that at this point of time, I have 86 people in my circles; the fact that the last post was 3 days ago by MG Seigler, it is clear that at-least my immediate friends who I have cared to add on Google+ dont post actively on it. I can always find people who post things and follow them, but I already have my twitter and tumblr feeds for that. No one is posting to Google+ exclusively just yet.

Posting content to the stream is easy and very familiar. You can update type something and also attach a picture, video, link and share your location. Content can be posted exclusively to a one or more circles, extended circles or can be made public. Making content public enables it to be searchable on google search. The few times that I have posted to Google+, I have always struggled to figure out if I should select a few circles or all. This might have something to do with me not having a clear circle strategy. Posting any content on Google+ has to be done via Google+ only. This is a major issue since anything I share is usually shared on multiple platforms using one of the above mentioned applications. I see no reason yet to post the same content again on Google+ by navigating to it’s page or mobile app (yes, google+ has a mobile app which is pretty good.. I guess thats a plus) to post to a limited audience.

Hangouts  - Hangouts is Google+’s implementation of video chat with a twist. It tries to break away from the usual video chat functionality that Skype and Facebook have to offer. You can create a hangout and post it to one or more of your circles. People in this circle can see the hangout and choose to join if they want.

It also has a camera switching functionality that changes the camera to whoever is talking. This is all very interesting if all your friends are on Google+ all the time and the chances of people joining your hangouts are high. At this point of time, people are still using Facebook, Gtalk and Skype more than Google+ and hence my chances of using this feature are very low if any at all.

Sparks - Sparks aims to help you find content about stuff that you might be interested in by showing you articles, blog posts and videos about it. This uses Google’s +1 to help rank content that you might be interested in. I have a few interests setup but after observing the content that it served up to me, I feel like most of it is things that I have already seen either on my twitter or tumblr feed. It would be great if I could choose what sources the content is displayed from, but until then Twitter acts as a more trusted search for content related to my interests.

Huddle - Huddle is a group-texting mobile feature for the people in your circles. It is useful sometimes, but everyone who I talk to on a regular basis is on whatsapp and whatsapp has much better implementation of group chat with its added features of sharing more than just messages.

Photos & Games - I am combining some of the other features into this one point as there is not much to mention here. The Google+ photos stream is an exact photos implementation of the Facebook photos tab and has nothing new to offer. Games is similar to Facebook games too. I have never been a big fan of games on social networks and hence will probably never use it.

Conclusion

Google+ is a product that is very well thought of and executed. It has a clean interface, is easy to navigate and has some unique features. If you are looking for one product to do away with your need for twitter, facebook, tumblr, whatsapp and the rest – this might be for you based on the level of your usage levels, friends and a sacrifice of some of the functionalities that those individual apps have to provide.

However, for me; Google+ at this stage, falls short of being integrated into my social ecosystem. It has some great features like sparks and hangouts that I see myself using a bit, but its lack of integration with the other apps render its usefulness to limited at best. As more and more people start using Google+, maybe some of the other unique applications like Foursquare and tumblr will allow users to post to Google+ from their platform directly, increasing the content available on it and hence attracting even more users to it. Google+ does not provide me with content that is not available elsewhere or provide an audience for my content that I would not have. My friends and other contacts do not use this on a regular basis. All these factors combined result in me placing the the Google+ app on my phone in the “Other Social Applications” folder. Maybe I will move it to my primary social folder someday, but not yet.

PS – You might be wondering if I will be promoting this blog on Google+ or not. The answer to that is an emphatic YES. This is my first blog and I cannot afford to be picky with my audience just yet ! :)