Subba’s Serendipitous moments

August 17, 2010

Google wants to find the next winner in search – Maybe Search 2.0!

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal published an interesting interview with Eric Schmidt – CEO of Google and a great tech visionary. Disclosure: I am a great admirer of Eric Schmidt.

The interview comes at an interesting juncture when Android seems to be on a roll powering 200,000 devices a daily and slated to be the dominant operating system on the mobile platform. Yet, of late, the media has been critical of Google, probably taking the cue from a weak stock price. Add to that the mindshare belongs now to Facebook.

Notwithstanding the negative media reports on Google, Eric in this interview shares several new insights about where Google is headed. Some of his insights and quotes are interesting:

Asked to comment on Android being given free as compared to the fat margins made by Apple he says:

"You get a billion people doing something, there’s lots of ways to make money. Absolutely, trust me. We’ll get lots of money for it."

"In general in technology," he says, "if you own a platform that’s valuable, you can monetize it." Example: Google is obliged to share with Apple search revenue generated by iPhone users. On Android, Google gets to keep 100%.”

That difference alone, says Mr. Schmidt, is more than enough to foot the bill for Android’s continued development.

Google’s real challenge though it dominates the search business:

The real challenge is one not yet on most investors’ minds: how to preserve Google’s franchise in Web advertising, the source of almost all its profits, when "search" is outmoded.

The day is coming when the Google search box—and the activity known as Googling—no longer will be at the center of our online lives. Then what? "We’re trying to figure out what the future of search is."

Now that’s what being visionary is all about – not reacting to Wall Street but figuring out the future before Wall Street has had the chance to position you. Maybe he’s taking the cue from Andy Grove’s philosophy of Only the paranoid survive.

 Google’s intriguing aspect of Search 2.0 can be summed neatly as he says:

"We know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are." Google also knows, to within a foot, where you are.

Mr. Schmidt leaves it to a listener to imagine the possibilities of this social search and what its implications could be. In fact, Google is acutely aware that we are on the cusp of a new phenomenon called “Social search” which may be powered by the Facebook phenomena.

Google the creator of targeted advertising believes that it will dominate the category raises the bar:

"The power of individual targeting—the technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them."

Finally, Eric presents the most intriguing and scary possibility of the future when he says:

"I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time," he says. He predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends’ social media sites.

"I mean we really have to think about these things as a society," he adds. "I’m not even talking about the really terrible stuff, terrorism and access to evil things."

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Commitments precede choices

Filed under: Business,Learning,Motivation,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 4:16 pm
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Clayton Christenson’s address to the graduating class of HBS 2010 had pearls of timeless wisdom. I summarized his address with some comments in my blog post here.

All his wisdom is predicated on one simple and basic premise – that we all know our life’s purpose is known to us apriori. Once that life purpose is known, allocating resources and making trade-off decisions should come about systematically. That’s a well planned life.

But what about situations and people when we do not have enough clarity on the life’s purpose. There is an alternative approach as David Brooks seems to write in this wonderful piece. Thanks to Anand Srinivasan who brought this to my attention.

The starting point here is that life cannot be planned and there are too many unknowns. It is an unknowable landscape with all its interesting twists and turns. Sometimes the life purpose eludes many of us. David calls this the Summoned Life approach.

Here commitments precede choices. Commitments to family, nation, faith, cause etc. These defy many of the standard business metrics like returns, cost-benefit analysis and so on. While we are a product of choices, our deep commitments serve as a useful compass to make the choices.

The person leading the Summoned Life starts with a very concrete situation and most times it starts off with a rude wakeup call.

“At this moment in my life, I am confronted with specific job opportunities and specific options. The important questions are: What are these circumstances summoning me to do? What is needed in this place? What is the most useful social role before me?

These are questions answered primarily by sensitive observation and situational awareness, not calculation and long-range planning.”

David puts this eloquently when he says: “For the person leading the Summoned Life, the individual is small and the context is large. Life comes to a point not when the individual project is complete but when the self dissolves into a larger purpose and cause.”

In the lives that I have observed, both the Well Planned life and the Summoned Life can co-exist peacefully but there is bound to be a creative tension between the two. In my own personal life, the Well Planned life helped me to stay on course and avoid distractions. It gave me anchor and rooted me in values and principles. Trade-off decisions came to me naturally and quickly and I rarely felt paralyzed. But occasionally the Summoned Life due to the situational awareness helped me fine tune the choices based on some of the deep commitments that I myself didn’t know that existed in my consciousness.

July 19, 2010

Google’s App Inventor – philosophically different, pragmatically questionable

Filed under: Business,Competition,Innovation,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 5:37 pm
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Like many things that come out of Google’s stable, the Android App Inventor is a radical departure from the conventional. It is philosophically aligned to the Google philosophy of open innovation, crowdsourcing and empowering the user. It is a new SDK for the Android platform where there is no programming involved. It is entirely visual in approach and any user can build any application that he wants. The intent is for the user to write an application without being a software developer of sorts.

Google has perhaps decided that it cannot compete with the iPhone’s App store which currently has over 200,000 applications and a complete new ecosystem. Hence it has taken a radically different approach.

One more step in the paradigm shifts between Google and Apple. The earlier ones are written about here.

Apple has created the perfect user experience and the walled garden approach which has it’s detractors. Google has conceded that it can’t create a better user experience. Hence rather than struggle, it has taken the diametrically opposite approach. Any user who creates his own experience by writing his own application is likely to love his own experience, rather than settle for the user experience created by a software developer seems to be the underlying premise. It is thus enabling people to be creative and hence promises to be a platform for the millions, rather than just a platform for the few software developers. Google this enables creativity at an individual level.

Hence it is a philosophically a compelling value proposition. Will it be pragmatic?

All of us know that while we would like to be creative and eat our own dog food, we are also consumers and want the right application with the best user experience. As a consumer it will be more easy to buy and use and not to create and use. The process of creation also involves a lot of trial and error and more importantly failures. How long would someone persevere with the creation process when they see their friend find the right and cool application and using it is also another big issue.

My current conclusion is that while I am all for Google enabling creativity, it may not be a successful strategy.

July 16, 2010

It’s not what you think, but how you think that matters!

 

Clayton Christensen the celebrated Harvard Professor and the guru on innovation speaks to the HBS graduating class of 2010 on how to apply management lessons to personal lives. It is not just an inspiring read, but an instructive read for everyone.

After a preliminary introduction where he establishes with amazing conviction the 30 minute conversation that he had with Andy Grove which led to the development of Celeron, he gives 6 key lessons which should be applicable to all of us.

Create a strategy for your life:

“I promise my students that if they take the time to figure out their life purpose, they’ll look back on it as the most important thing they discovered at HBS. If they don’t figure it out, they will just sail off without a rudder and get buffeted in the very rough seas of life. Clarity about their purpose will trump knowledge of activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence, disruptive innovation, the four Ps, and the five forces”. In my view, the pursuit of purpose surpasses all other pursuits. I learnt this quite late in life.

Allocate your resources:

“People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to under invest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.

If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most”.

Create a culture:

Knowing what tools to wield to elicit the needed cooperation is a critical managerial skill.

Families have cultures, just as companies do. Those cultures can be built consciously or evolve inadvertently.

If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won’t magically materialize in high school. You have to design them into your family’s culture—and you have to think about this very early on. Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.

Avoid the “marginal costs mistake:

It’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place.

Remember the importance of humility:

If your attitude is that only smarter people have something to teach you, your learning opportunities will be very limited. But if you have a humble eagerness to learn something from everybody, your learning opportunities will be unlimited. Generally, you can be humble only if you feel really good about yourself—and you want to help those around you feel really good about themselves, too.

Choose the right yardstick:

Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.

My own mid life realizations and some of the life lessons have been written here.

Well, I would strongly recommend that you read his entire lecture as he backs up the brilliant instructions with observations and decisions that he made in his personal life. The entire lecture can be found here.

July 15, 2010

Facebook addiction

Filed under: Blogroll,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 3:20 pm
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The 76-year-old woman walked down the hallway of Clearview Addictions
Clinic, searching for the right department. She passed signs for the
"Heroin Addiction Department (HAD)," the "Smoking Addiction Department
(SAD)" and the "Bingo Addiction Department (BAD)." Then she spotted
the department she was looking for: "Facebook Addiction Department
(FAD)."

It was the busiest department in the clinic, with about three dozen
people filling the waiting room, most of them staring blankly into
their Blackberries and iPhones. A middle-aged man with unkempt hair
was pacing the room, muttering, "I need to milk my cows. I need to
milk my cows."

A twenty-something man was prone on the floor, his face buried in his
hands, while a curly-haired woman comforted him.
"Don’t worry. It’ll be all right."
"I just don’t understand it. I thought my update was LOL-worthy, but
none of my friends even clicked the ‘like’
button."
"How long has it been?"
"Almost five minutes. That’s like five months in the real world."

The 76-year-old woman waited until her name was called, then followed
the receptionist into the office of Alfred Zulu, Facebook Addiction
Counselor.

"Please have a seat, Edna," he said with a warm smile. "And tell me
how it all started."
"Well, it’s all my grandson’s fault. He sent me an invitation to join
Facebook. I had never heard of Facebook before, but I thought it was
something for me, because I usually have my face in a book."
"How soon were you hooked?"
"Faster than you can say ‘create a profile.’ I found myself on
Facebook at least eight times each day — and more times at night.
Sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night to check it, just in
case there was an update from one of my new friends in India. My
husband didn’t like that. He said that friendship is a precious thing
and should never be outsourced."

"What do you like most about Facebook?"
"It makes me feel like I have a life. In the real world, I have only
five or six friends, but on Facebook, I have 674.
I’m even friends with Juan Carlos Montoya."
"Who’s he?"
"I don’t know, but he’s got 4,000 friends, so he must be famous."
"Facebook has helped you make some connections, I see."
"Oh yes. I’ve even connected with some of the gals from high school —
I still call them ‘gals.’ I hadn’t heard from some of them in ages, so
it was exciting to look at their profiles and figure out who’s
retired, who’s still working, and who’s had some work done. I love
browsing their photos and reading their updates. I know where they’ve
been on vacation, which movies they’ve watched, and whether they hang
their toilet paper over or under. I’ve also been playing a game with
some of them."
"Let me guess. Farmville?"
"No, Mafia Wars. I’m a Hitman. No one messes with Edna."
"Wouldn’t you rather meet some of your friends in person?"
"No, not really. It’s so much easier on Facebook. We don’t need to
gussy ourselves up. We don’t need to take baths or wear perfume or use
mouthwash. That’s the best thing about Facebook — you can’t smell
anyone. Everyone is attractive, because everyone has picked a good
profile pic. One of the gals is using a profile pic that was taken,
I’m pretty certain, during the Eisenhower Administration. "

"What pic are you using?"
"Well, I spent five hours searching for a profile pic, but couldn’t
find one I really liked. So I decided to visit the local beauty
salon."
"To make yourself look prettier?"
"No, to take a pic of one of the young ladies there. That’s what I’m using."
"Didn’t your friends notice that you look different?"
"Some of them did, but I just told them I’ve been doing lots of yoga."
"When did you realize that your Facebooking might be a problem?"
"I realized it last Sunday night, when I was on Facebook and saw a
message on my wall from my husband: ‘I moved out of the house five
days ago. Just thought you should know.’"
"What did you do?"
"What else? I unfriended him of course!"

We are a product of our choices!

Filed under: Business,Inspiration,Learning,Perspective,Winning — Subbaraman Iyer @ 3:13 pm
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Jeff Bezos of Amazon (someone whom I have admired deeply) puts this simple truth amazingly well in his 2010 Baccalaureate remarks at Princeton University. The complete address can be read here.

Jeff brings out the distinction between gifts and choices. He says: “Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.” How true!

The tragedy for most people in the world is that they are blissfully unaware of the choices that they have! It becomes far more tragic when they ignore or dismiss the choices presented to them. Clearly the choose to wallow in their misery. The defining argument they give is what if the choice was wrong! Jeff handles this possible question again very well.

To me, maturity is not a function of age or even intelligence. It is the element when they become aware of their choices and making the right choice.

July 6, 2010

Google goes vertical to thwart Bing

 

In a very typical low key move Google acquired ITA Software, a 14-year-old company that makes software that organizes flight and pricing information, for $700 million in cash.

The significance of this acquisition is far reaching. With this, Google now becomes the critical intermediary between the provider of flight and pricing information and all their users including all the travel websites, airline websites and travel search engines. With this acquisition, Google now does not want to just send the search to another website, but also want to process the information for you in a meaningful and relevant way by organizing results (by giving flight options, price options etc.) As it goes into the “deeper search” and organizing information, it inevitably marginalizes the value being created by other travel web sites and travel search engines.

From here, Google could pursue 2 clear directions:

  1. It could become a travel portal itself, which is unlikely since it could attract regulatory action because ITA Software is being used by airlines and travel portals. It may not want to be seen as a “Big Bully”.
  2. It could add a new revenue stream to its well known advertising business – moving from cost per click (CPC) to cost per action (CPA) which definitely will be premium priced.

One thing is certain though: Bing (Microsoft’s search engine) which was headed in the area of vertical search will face more competition.

I believe that this acquisition is merely the beginning. Google can easily replicate the vertical search model in many areas including real estate, automobiles and other areas where the current Google search doesn’t give relevant results and where the potential for CPA exists.

Heard of Kin? Microsoft’s phone launch and quick withdrawal

Filed under: Business,Competition,Uncategorized — Subbaraman Iyer @ 9:48 am
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Has anyone heard about Kin? Microsoft launched 2 mobile phones Kin One and Kin Two in an uncharacteristic low key manner and before even the word got out, it quickly withdrew the product barely 6 weeks after launch.

In the 6 weeks that the product existed, it sold 500 phones. Has anyone seen Microsoft do this with any of their products? Never !

The Kin failure is yet again one additional piece of evidence that Microsoft just doesn’t get it when it comes to consumer products other than the XBox. At least with Vista and Zune, Microsoft made some marketing efforts, but Kin got a quick burial.The courier PC which has been in development didn’t even make it to the store stupefied by iPad’s success.

Kin has an interesting past: In 2008, Microsoft had acquired a startup Danger  who has built a mobile phone software business. Around the same time, Google also acquired another mobile phone startup called Android. Incidentally both Danger and Android was founded by the same founder – Andy Rubin. While Microsoft floundered, Google’s Android sells more than 130,000 units per day.

This should lead Microsoft to make do some deep soul searching.

It is time that Microsoft wakes up to a new era. It continues to comfortably extract rent from the Windows/office franchise. I think the successes of the past is proving to be the brimstone around its neck. It also seems to have lost the war for talent and developers.

May 20, 2010

Can trauma be healed?

Filed under: Learning,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 11:39 am
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I would guess that all of us have at some or the other gone through traumatic incidents in our life. Much of that trauma continues to reside in our subconscious memories and continues to affect us in unknown ways.

The trauma could be a broken relationship, a major injustice, a heartbreaking death or anything to which you has not reconciled. The memories linger on for a long time. While we try to mask it intelligently or ignore it, they rear their ugly head at the most unexpected moments.

The question: how do you reconcile yourself to trauma especially if there’s someone responsible for causing them?

For years, I have been trying to find the tools to deal with trauma effectively as I believe it is the first step to heal myself.

Forgiveness is one surefire approach. It is a proactive approach, more effective than mere acceptance of the fact or trying to hide the event by putting on a mask. Yet forgiveness doesn’t come easy. No wonder, the capacity to forgive is considered to be a divine blessing.

I have always approached forgiveness through a rational prism. I was enthralled by Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation effort. It was an attempt to publicly air the feelings and experiences of victims of apartheid and for perpetuators of violence to also give testimony and request amnesty. The famous movie Forgiveness is a gripping tale of such an event and left an indelible mark on me.

More recently, I read an article (translated from the original Spanish to English) of an address by Perez Esquivel (Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1980) of his long years in prison where he was horribly tortured. He talked of doing "active goodness" – even to his torturers – which goes beyond forgiveness. He wrote that perhaps that’s the only solution to go beyond the "horrific" things that happened to him in prison.

Both Mandela and Perez are intellectuals and philosophers of a high order who could conceive and act on the higher order of things. Even Priyanka Vadra’s (daughter of assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi) visit to meet her father’s assassin in prison was praiseworthy and was covered in my blog here.

The point is: How does someone like me with less intelligence yet suffering from painful memories deal with that? That’s something that I have been looking for till someone sent me the story of Mama Wangele.

Mama Wangele, a poor and uneducated widow, lost her only son in the Rwandan Civil War. She lived on, unable to come to terms with her grief. She hated her son’s killers, yet she was powerless.

One day, a worn-out, one-legged child soldier knocked on her door and asked for food. By the tribal marks on his face, she recognized him to the enemy. She asked him coldly "Have you ever killed anyone?"

"Yes, many", he said.

Mama Wangele shut the door on this face and wept for her dead son. But something kept tugging at her heart. She followed this new stirring. She opened the door. She had no idea of what she was going to do. She saw the boy had gone a little distance.

"Mutabani" she called. The boy turned back and saw her. "Mutabani, come back."

The boy was surprised. She asked him to come in. She gave him some food and filled water in a tub for his bath. Then she brought out her son’s carefully preserved clothes and gave it to him.

"These are my son’s clothes. You can have them now, Mutabani," she said very quietly.

The boy looked at her with tears in his eyes. Had she really called him Mutabani? (Mutabani is the Lugunda equivalent of son). In that moment, she had forgiven her son’s killer. And, that was the beginning of healing.

After hearing this story, I wonder how does one create the stirring. Does it come naturally or is human intervention possible?

For years, I have wrestled with this question, till I decided to recommend the gratitude diary approach to someone who went through a life-scarring experience. A gratitude diary is a simple compendium of events and people to express gratitude. The power of gratitude is vast and untapped. It helps in tapping into the dormant good in everyone.

I asked this person who has suffered trauma to maintain a gratitude diary and make entries in it daily. The sheer thought process is elevating. I can’t say for sure, but the thawing process started. Slowly she managed to feel the reason to forgive. Just talking about the event, the perpetuator and the weight of her trauma was possible only because she could open her heart – thanks to the gratitude diary.

While most of us feel the need to heal ourselves, few accept the thesis that it is forgiveness that makes it possible. Most people see forgiving as a sign of weakness. We cling to our hostility and relive the trauma, keeping ourselves from healing. It is the rare person who understands the need to forgive, but waits eternally for the divine moment.

Forgiveness can come in a magical moment like that of Mama Wangela or through intellectual deliberation of a Perez Esquivel, but one has to be prepared for it. I believe having a gratitude diary makes us ready for that moment of realization.

May 3, 2010

The cloud adoption – at an inflexion point

Filed under: Uncategorized — Subbaraman Iyer @ 10:39 am

 

The cloud got a fillip with Netflix making a public announcement that it will move all of its web applications to Amazon.com. This came as a surprise, given that Netflix and Amazon could be potential competitors as they stream movies to people’s homes.

Given its critical dependence on internet infrastructure, it takes courage, foresight and risk for Netflix to abandon plans to build one’s data center and run that off the cloud operated  that too by a potential competitor. It implies that moving to the cloud is cost effective if one doesn’t have a data center already and do not want to manage the data center. So, the case of moving to the public cloud is strong in such cases

While Rackspace, GoGrid and other vendors are emerging as competitors, Amazon Web services is far ahead of the game. Since 2007, Amazon’s S3, the Simple Storage Service, and EC2, the Elastic Compute Cloud, Amazon has offered the  general-purpose cloud computing platform with a business model that made it attractive to developers large and small.

Recently Google showcased their Cloud offering in their much publicized Atmosphere event. Google reported that there are about 30 -50K signups per day for the Google applications which essentially reside on the cloud. In some analyst reports, I have seen this as counted as part of SaaS revenue stream and in some cases this gets categorized as Cloud revenues. All said, Google never sold the cloud, but the apps. It so happens that the apps are in the cloud.

Microsoft seems to be taking a leaf from the Salesforce.com’s playbook by building new applications on its Azure platform. Salesforce.com is the only enterprise apps player to move beyond software offered in a SaaS model and create a complete platform – Force.com which has over 100,000 applications.Though it is early days, Microsoft also seeks to do to the cloud what it did to desktop software for over 2 decades – by making applications run on Azure alone and harnessing the entire Microsoft developer community to build applications for the Azure platform. Surprisingly Microsoft’s first application on the Azure platform is an online collaboration suite and advertising tools for political campaign management.

So, the public cloud is beginning to gain some traction. It could very well be that it is the applications that is offered which could determine the future of the infrastructure (cloud) platform, for all players other than Amazon which has restricted itself to just offering development tools in addition to computing and storage.

As one can see, Google’s enterprise apps is  a case in point and Microsoft’s strategy reinforces the point.

If applications on the cloud becomes the raison d’etre for cloud adoption, the differentiation amongst cloud providers could very well be the data subsystems that they employ since it is not easy to deliver data at the speeds required by the applications. Storage and computation thus become starting points, not end offerings.

If the public cloud is now gaining traction, the private cloud lags behind despite all the vendor hype. The private cloud for most part is just repackaging  data center consolidation, server virtualization, IP  storage technologies to offer a more scalable infrastructure.

The private cloud still needs lots of CAPEX and infrastructure still remains a fixed cost, unlike the public cloud. It is still by and large inelastic. Moreover the private cloud will still be run by enterprises. Will large companies which have made significant investments in their own infrastructure move to a vendor cloud? VMWare after earning its spurs in the virtualization market is now trying to make it easy for applications to migrate between cloud providers, and creating an easy interface between private and public clouds. VMWare’s acquisition of Zimbra and Springsource is indicative of its intent to build a developer’s platform much like Azure or Force platform.

Despite all these developments many CIOs are wary of putting their entire software and business operations on a vendor’s data center. Looking beyond the hype, CIOs are likely to test the waters as privacy and compliance considerations weigh heavily on the CIO’s mind, not to speak about interoperability and performance issues. There is also a switching cost involved and if one runs an efficient virtualized infrastructure, there is no compelling reason to move to a vendor cloud. So, next time you hear private cloud, it is just that vendors are selling the same thing with a new approach. A case of selling old wine with a new label. We still have a long way to go.

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