iPad + Bluetooth keyboard aggravations – feature requests for the Apple team

Yet another flight to India (we have a new team in Bangalore), yet another chance to try the iPad/Keyboard solution I’ve written about.  So far, it’s working out great!

This is quickly going from hypothesis to prototype to full-blown implementation, but there are some rough edges that Apple could help smoothen out.

Navigation aggravation

Most of these annoyances relate to navigating the iPad via the bluetooth keyboard. The Cmd-key doesn’t really exist on the iPad, and so don’t most of the shortcuts related to that key. Specifically, if the following keystrokes existed in the Mail app, I’d be a happy panda:

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5 reasons Kenshoo won’t be sold anywhere close to $400mil

Reports are rolling in that Kenshoo is being shopped around for an acquisition. They seem to want $300-$400mil, while potential acquirers (like Google) are valuing them around $78mil. I can’t speak to the credibility of these reports, but I agree! Kenshoo must think it’s worth $350mil, but their actual worth is close to $75mil.

Here are 5 reasons I think Kenshoo is more likely to be sold for ~$150mil to IBM or SAS, rather than for $350mil to a high-tech buyer like Google or Yahoo.

#1: Kenshoo’s product won’t fit well inside Google or Bing

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A layperson’s explanation of rel=nofollow: Twitter’s stuck, but Google’s being coy

While Google has the full right to build a product that serves its business interests, it’s intellectually dishonest to imply, via technical jargon, that it’s somehow Twitter’s fault that their links don’t show up in Google’s ‘social’ search.

I haven’t (yet) seen a good layperson explanation of what all this ‘rel=nofollow’ business is, so I’ll start with some background. Feel free to skip to the end if you’re an SEO expert 😉

So, what’s this rel=nofollow thing? (aka, what’s Google talking about?)

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Samsung to announce Swipeit, an Apple Airplay competitor, at CES 2012

On January 9, 2012, Samsung will announce their Apple Airplay competitor – the Samsung SwipeItat CES. SwipeIt works exactly like the Apple’s AirPlay. Watching a video on your smartphone and want to see it on the big screen? Just click a button and the video starts playing on your TV.

Samsung started pushing this application out to their internet-connected TVs on Jan 1, and increased the intensity this weekend, presumably to reach full coverage by the time CES hits monday.

Samsung's SwipeIt application is being pushed to all 2011 Samsung Smart TVs

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Pet peeve: partially linked words in blog posts – here’s why they happen

Here’s a strange phenomenon. Across countless blogs, you’ll find hyperlinks on partial words. Here’s an example – notice how the hyperlink starts after the character ‘p’ in the word ‘press’:

This is not uncommon, I’ve seen it quite a few times on many blogs. Why does it happen?

It turns out to be a bug in certain versions of WYSIWYG editors, where double-click-and-extend-selection doesn’t work quite as expected. Most bloggers will notice and fix this (and curse the editor in the process), but often they miss it – presumably when they’re in a hurry.

We need a name for this – I’m partial to ‘partial links’. Have you seen these before? Post a comment if you spot one!


Coming soon: Siri and Spotlight search for iOS Apps

(Side-note: I’ve been interested in writing this post for about two years now. Every few months I feel I should write it before Apple actually ships such a feature. Finally the post’s done!)

How does iOS reduce its dependence on web search from Google or Bing? Simple, syndicate Spotlight searches to installed apps.

Introducing Spotlight for Apps

Imagine if every iOS app could implement a ‘search’ capability, that would be exposed to the iOS search subsystem. This search could be over local data, e.g. Address Book-like applications; over remote data, e.g. Wikipedia; or over either, e.g. Mail.

Your favorite content sources (like Yelp), content aggregators (like Flipboard or New York Times) and even crowdsourced information aggregators (like, hey, Twitter and Facebook) already reside as apps on your iOS device. Any search you’re interested in doing would hit these apps first – and would probably show the information you care for right at the top.

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Amazon’s sneaky trick for instantaneous search results

Ever wonder why Amazon search results seem to load so fast? Turns out they are employing a cute trick when loading paginated results. Now, this technique is probably patented up the wazoo… so, use at your own risk!

Simply put, each results page contains data for more results than are displayed; so when the user presses next, the ‘extra’ results get shown immediately, and an AJAX call is then dispatched to load the rest. As a result, the user feels as if the search results appeared instantaneously.

Note how the first image requested for the second page of search results is for result #16, not for result #13.

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Google’s shipping program for retailers – it’s all about offline conversions

Surprised by Google’s move to offer quick shipping for retailers? Don’t be. This is all about getting offline conversion data.

In eCommerce, almost all optimization is done with actual conversions in mind (Companies like Lexity also use funnel metrics, but that’s uncommon). When Google Product Search lists products from large retailers, they are unable to get this information – all they know is that someone clicked off from their site to go to, say, Macy’s – they have no idea if an actual conversion took place.

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The ‘Coffee Break’ design philosophy: UI for Small Businesses

At Lexity, we’ve spent years talking with small businesses, understanding how they run their businesses. These lessons have been valuable to us in building our Advertising on Autopilot solution, and are instructive for all startups building tools and services for this market. In this occasional blog series, I’ll talk about a few of these lessons.

TL;DR: SMB products should be built such that your users can interact with it on their mobile devices, in 15-minute chunks of time.

The Time Fragmentation Problem

Inbox Overload a problem for ya? Try being in a small businessperson’s shoes for a day.

SMB managers are typically slammed with a hundred things vying for their attention. Most of these, unfortunately, are time-critical; so tackling them one at a time isn’t an option. Managers spend all day working on many things in parallel. With multitasking a given, most tasks get less than 15 minutes of their attention at a time – if they’re lucky!

This means any product built for SMBs needs to account for this time fragmentation problem.

No more than a Coffee Break

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Google takes its first step in competing with Alibaba

Is there any other way to interpret this ‘test’?

Google launches Google Supplier Director Beta to connect companies with suppliers in China

Alibaba’s core business is all about B2B commerce, especially China-based B2B commerce. Given how aggressive Google has recently been about shutting down businesses that are not core to its long-term strategy, it’s instructive to note that this project got greenlighted.

It’s perfectly within their MO, of course – build a basic version of a competitor’s core product, and make it free. Have they bit more than they can chew this time? Is this really just a test? Time will tell.


Siri-based map navigation is coming soon

Typical car travel is a two-person activity – one to steer, and another to navigate. Sure, you can make-do with just one person fumbling with a GPS devices while trying to drive. But imagine a future where Siri becomes that navigator – skillful, omniscient, helpful and entirely hands-off.

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Siri causes rare Apple regression in functionality, but it’s all good, people.

With Siri, Apple has moved the on-device voice recognition engine, called Voice Control,

firmly to the cloud. This means that the universal ability Apple used to have, whether you had data connectivity or not, to call friends and family by talking to the phone, is no longer there.

Is this a bad regression?

On the face of it, this is a tremendous regression – you now have to ‘pay’ to use a capability that was previously ‘free’ – either through the use of data minutes, or through a WiFi connection of sorts.

In addition, even with fast 3G connections, the latency to call someone in the addressbook is very noticeable now, with a round-trip conversation with a cloud-hosted Siri required, before a simple call can be made.

Or a masterstroke to get a free ‘Gold Set’ data?

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2 quick observation using Siri with an Indian accent

Understanding non-American accents

Why the focus on ‘Indian’? Well, by far the biggest issue for me was in getting Siri to understand my accent. People who know me claim that I don’t have that thick an accent, but that’s not what Siri ‘tells’ me.

On the plus side, Siri is subtly training me to have a more ‘American’ voice. She highlights words she has trouble understanding in blue, so you can quickly figure out what words one is consistently mispronouncing, or pronouncing with a thick accent. ‘Paragon’ was totally off, for instance!

Your wish is my command – but be QUICK

It’s almost impossible to dictate text messages through Siri – at least for me. I tend to pause just a little too long between sentences, and Siri needs you to know exactly what you want to say before you start dictating.

In fact, I ended up using Voice Notes to record quick notes for myself, when I’d have preferred to dictate them through Siri. On the plus side, you can use earphone controls to record/pause Voice Notes, for some quick eyes-on-the-road note taking.

Ethnic language models

The language models need more work, and I won’t be surprised if there are people hard at work creating ethnicity-oriented speech models. Guessing the ethnicity shouldn’t be that hard to do, given all the clues Apple has – the name of the person, their entire addressbook, and recorded voice samples. These samples can be compared to aggregate training data collected from virtually every country on the planet.

The holy grail, of course, would be a trained model on a per-person basis, but I wonder if they have the compute resources and data volume, on a per-person basis, to make that happen effectively.

To the future!

Email signatures and Simple pleasures

Want to know what thrills me?

This small thing – my current email signature is the same width in both rich text and fixed-width:

Founder/CEO, Lexity.  Advertising on Autopilot
lexity.com  (408) 555-9694  twitter.com/akumar


Founder/CEO, Lexity.  Advertising on Autopilot
lexity.com  (408) 555-9694  twitter.com/akumar

Thank god for simple pleasures, right?


Designing for varying attention spans (lessons from the Lexity launch)

When we relaunched Lexity recently, we got tremendous kudos for the new site design. ‘Sexy’, we heard. ‘Beautiful’ was a common refrain. ‘Effective’ too!

Well, we’re definitely very happy with the feedback so far – and I wanted to talk a bit about the thinking behind the rework.

When I first started fundraising for Lexity, I got sage advice to write the elevator pitch out in three different lengths –

  • 3 words (or 1 line) – for a quick soundbite
  • 1 paragraph – for a quick introduction at an event/party
  • 3 paragraphs – to use in an email introduction
This turns out to be excellent advice for more than just fundraising. Attention spans vary from person-to-person, even from time-to-time for the same person, so it’s always a good idea to thoughtfully design the delivery of your message, to suit your audience and their attention spans.

Applications to site design 

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Are you Siri-ous? Siri is just a toy, and that’s OK.

Chris Dixon wrote a great post in Jan '10 called 'The next big thing will start off looking like a toy' (http://cdixon.org/2010/01/03/the…). Siri is a great example of this.

The leading indicator that Siri will be amazingly successful is that people are having fun with it – and it's not breaking.

Let's take the simple use case of 'Hey Siri, tell me a joke.' Consistently answering this with a humorous response requires

  • Speech recognition (or at least noise-free recording)
  • Cloud-based interpretation and response
  • Believable text-to-speech

(The last one is very important, by the way. Apple has spent decades getting text-to-speech right, complete with stresses, tones and nuances (har har). This is paying rich dividends now)

Each time someone demoes the 5 funny Siri use-cases to their friends, the system becomes smarter, but more importantly, the technology gets humanized. More people will use it because it's like a toy.

In fact, I don't have an iPhone 4S right now. Guess what – I've started using the clunky Voice Control on my iPhone 3GS these days, because I somehow trust it'll work now. And it does!

Also in Jan '10, Fred Wilson wrote a dictated blog post using an Android phone (http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2010/01/…). I'm sure he, and other long-time android users all over, are looking at iPhone users quizzically, and wondering what the fuss is. After all, isn't this merely Voice Control plus some Text-to-Speech thrown in?

The difference is – Android's voice capabilities were a feature, Siri is a toy. And that makes all the difference.


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S is for ‘Second Wave’. or, Early adopters don’t buy S-series iPhones

There are two types of people. Those that buy Model Number iPhones, and those that buy S series iPhones. (tweet this: http://j.mp/nY0qE8)

This being Apple, it's easy to attribute to stratagem what's probably just a coincidence – but it's quite convenient how this has worked out in recent years. A new iPhone model gets launched, and the early adopters switch to it, come hell or high water (read: angry wife or contract breakage fees).

The late majority, however, choose to wait and see. Next year, the S model gets launched, and it's time for them to move.

Conveniently, typical cellphone contracts last 2 years – a perfect cycle for both the tame early adopters, as well as the last majority.

It couldn't have been designed better if it had been Designed by Apple in California. Oh wait…

Thanks to Kent Brewster for making this idle thought post-worthy.


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Why node.js gives me Inktomi flashbacks (event-driven programming FTW)

Event-driven systems, written carefully, and running on capable hardware, are hard to beat on performance metrics. This is why node.js is so popular these days.

Interestingly, this was the programming model used by the Inktomi Traffic Server (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tra…), which smoked all competitive benchmarks for proxy servers when it ruled the roost during the last dot-com boom.

But what a difference a decade makes.

Building an event-driven infrastructure is hard

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Part 2: So you want to work for a Startup? (Questions to Ask)

In my last post (So You Want to Work for a Startup! (Questions to ask)), I talked about a few early startup milestones that you, a prospective employee at a startup, should know about. I covered the following milestones:

  1. Corporate vision defined
  2. Initial product focus defined
  3. Potential customers interviewed
  4. First prototype built
  5. Feedback from prototype incorporated

In this post, I’ll talk about the next few milestones any startup should be meeting, and, as a prospective employer, should be able to answer questions about. As before, I focus on a certain category of SaaS businesses, but the general principles apply broadly.

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Startups are not a career.

Chris Dixon claims in a tweet: "influx of new entrepreneurs: startups are a career, not a one off. plan to stick around when startups aren't cool again and you'll do well."

While I'm sure he means well, I reject his fundamental hypothesis. Startups are not a career. In fact, startups are merely a way to prove hypotheses. Even the so-called 'startup types' or 'serial entrepreneurs' are known not for the many startups in their careers, but for the companies that are no longer startups – that graduated to becoming 'real companies'.

In other words, the entrepreneurs I respect are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, David Filo and Sergey Brin – not the ones that have resumes that read – "Founded 5+ companies with 2+ exits in 2 years"

What about you?

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