Modeling information dissemination on Twitter in formal Networking terms

Information geeks all over are relying on Twitter to keep them informed about everything that’s relevant to them. Was there an earthquake? What do people think of Google’s Privacy changes? What are the most interesting facts about the Facebook S-1? Where did everyone go for dinner last night?

Assuming you follow people relevant to your interests, and given enough time, someone will push what you need to know, right into your Twitter stream.

How does this happen? After all, we check Twitter only a few times a day, and only consume tweets originating around that time. Why don’t we miss out on major news events or interesting information?

Twitter’s product conventions and user dynamics make it more than just a glorified soapbox for the masses – I think it can in fact be analyzed as a formal information dissemination network, with clear parallels to traditional Computer Networks.

Parallels with Computer Networks

The Universe keeps you informed…

Structurally, Twitter streams are just a list of tweets from people one follows, sorted by the time of creation. Conceptually, however, we could view this stream as a multiplexed stream of information about various topics; with each person one follows contributing to various topics simultaneously, and to different degrees.
For instance, a set of people being followed might be tweeting about SES, another commenting on a football match that’s going on, while yet another set could be discussing the Facebook S-1. Of course, the people in these sets might very well overlap, with each such person participating in multiple conversations at about the same time. All of these tweets intersperse, and a picture of various topics emerges simultaneously.

In some sense, the Universe is conspiring to inform and educate, even if the people one follows couldn’t care less about our intellectual growth.

…in Tweet-sized chunks that resemble IP packets…

Due to the 140-character constraint, tweeters comment on topics in tweet-sized chunks. While they might sometimes continue the same thought over multiple tweets, generally, each tweet stands alone. Each of these tweets can be considered a separate informational entity as it flows through the Twitter network, being shared, retweeted and commented on.

Just like in IP networks, each tweet is expendable, since the underlying network is understood to be lossy. In other words, any given tweet could potentially be viewed by no one, and that’s perfectly consistent with the expectations of the network.

…via people acting like repeaters and routers…

As people interact with tweets, they act like repeaters and routers. When one retweets, for example, we’re essentially rebroadcasting an informational ‘packet’ from one subnet (one comprised of the followers of the person you’re retweeting) to a different ‘subnet’, the one comprised of all your followers.

In addition, since the retweets don’t have to happen right at the instant of the initial tweet, a retweet increases the TTL, ie, ‘time-to-live’ of the initial tweet. For instance, a tweet might be posted at 9:05am. It gets retweeted by someone who checked Twitter at 10:30am. Now, this retweet might be seen by someone who first checks Twitter at 11:35am that day – even if they missed the initial tweet.

The more people you’re following that have related interests, the more likely this routing effect is likely to happen, so connecting to relevant routers (active twitter users within relevant domains) is critical.

…while handling nodes that are down…

With a large enough number of followers with related interests, there might be enough critical mass for interesting information to flow, even if some part of the network is sleeping, in a flight, or busy in meetings!

In other words, there would be packet loss, but if there are enough nodes in the network, information flow would not be significantly impeded.

…for a reasonably lossless delivery.

This is still a pretty lossy channel, but as information dissemination architectures go, it seems to me to be a fairly robust organically evolving system. It certainly seems to be working very well for me!

Twitter doesn’t have to be real-time for this to work

Interestingly,  in this postulation, Twitter’s being real-time  is incidental, just like the fact that IP is ‘real-time’ is incidental to TCP/IP. In fact, the existence of ‘IP over Avian Carriers‘ shows that real-time-ness isn’t critical to the design of networking protocols – that’s just a repercussion of using an underlying electromagnetic substrate where bits flow pretty fast.

More analysis needed

I might be imagining things, but there seems to be enough meat in here for a PhD or two. I just don’t know if it will be in the Computer Science department, or the Sociology department!

Or, I might be way off base. Please comment below!

Amit

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Photo edits made on iOS appear as reversible, non-destructive adjustments in Aperture | Finer Things in iOS

ApertureExpert.com noted a little while ago that edits made with iOS’s built-in photo tools appear as adjustments in Aperture. If you enable iCloud’s Photo Stream feature, any photos you edit in the Photos app will appear with the adjustments badge. In Aperture, you can hide and show the adjustments you made on iOS, or revert to the original photo entirely.

via Photo edits made on iOS appear as reversible, non-destructive adjustments in Aperture | Finer Things in iOS.

What makes startups work, or not work, in India? 5 founders share their secrets (highlights)

Lexity Labs started in Bangalore mid-2011, and we’ve been growing leaps and bounds since. It’s a core technology center for us – no outsourcing balderdash here – and we recruit top researchers and technologist from all over India.

To coincide with my visit to this office, Lexity organized two talks on entrepreneurship, in Delhi and Bangalore. The startup ecosystem in India is really taking off, and we are doing our part in helping it grow!

@ IIT Delhi – Rajul and Amit on Startups across the time/space continuum

Rajul Garg and I were roommates at IIT Delhi, and took different routes in our entrepreneurial journey. He’s now with Sunstone Business School, having started what’s now GlobalLogic right after school, in India; while I completed a masters program, and worked at a few different companies, before starting Lexity in the US.

We had a healthy audience, and covered a lot of topics. A few tidbits:

  • We discussed how there was a lot of investor interest in ecommerce startups in India last year, but there’s been more scrutiny of these businesses in the recent months.
  • What’s ‘hot’ in the startup zeitgeist really depends on, unfortunately, what the current hype cycle is. When outsourcing companies were growing leaps and bounds, a lot of startups popped up in that space. These days, the same story is being repeated in eCommerce.
  • Pivots are natural, and sometimes dramatic – one of Rajul’s companies went from a product company to a services company, while the other started as a services operation, and ended up building a product.
  • Mobile startups in India face the prospect of working with telco operators, know to be tough negotiators. You can control your destiny better with an app-oriented mobile startup, but distribution is still a tough problem.
  • Starting a company right out of school has the big advantage of a low burn rate – you can sustain yourself for much longer as you figure things out. Once you have a family, this becomes much harder to do (but not impossible).
  • Traditionally, India businesses have been averse to paying much for B2B products. As a result, B2B enterprise companies haven’t really taken off in India

@ Claytopia, Bangalore – Amiya, Anshuman and Amit on Building Startups

Founders of 3 hot startups – Zipdial (Amiya Pathak), MyGola (Anshuman Bapna) and Lexity (Amit) came together to chat in an intimate setting about what it really takes to do a startup, especially in India.

We had a very lively discussion with the audience – here are a few highlights.

  • When starting out, err on the side of sharing more, rather than less. Talking to people helps make ideas stronger, as each successive critique forces you to refine the idea further and solidify the pitch, feature, or product.
  • Valley-returned founders definitely miss the sense of urgency and excitement of Silicon Valley – simple things like overhearing other founders on Caltrain discussing their progress, and getting motivated by it.
  • Indian ‘jugaad’ is the name of the game – when faced with constant power cuts, MyGola packed up their bags and went to work out of Sri Lanka for a few weeks. Now, it’s an annual tradition!
  • All the founders acknowledged, to some surprise, that they always have a Plan B/Plan C tucked away in their back pockets. While you might be unflinchingly focussed on executing on Plan A, it’s also your responsibility to know what the various strategic options are, and keep them warm.
  • It’s natural, expected, and kinda important to take your time finding the right co-founders. You’re looking for someone with complementary skills, and make sure to ‘date’ for a reasonable period of time before committing.
  • Food – it’s important! Breaking bread together brings teams closer, and has all sorts of positive side-effects.
  • Startups often misdirect casual observers about what their most profitable products are, or downplay features that caused them to take off. In fact, often, the first products or features totally bomb.
  • Successful entrepreneurs in India don’t habitually share their stories, and every wave of startups has to learn from the same mistakes again and again. We agreed that talks like these are invaluable in spreading the knowledge and helping budding startups.

We really enjoyed sharing our experiences with entrepreneurs and students of the startup ecosystem. Stay tuned for more such talks in the future!

Amit – @akumar

Free idea for Apple: 3D VR video conferencing via a back-facing camera for the Macbook Pro

So here’s a germ of an idea. What if the Macbook Pros had a second camera, mounted right on the other side of the lid, across from the current camera?

Full-room video-conferencing

Let me set the scene for you. You’re at the office,  trying to setup an impromptu Skype conversation with your remote office (like ours, which you should join, by the way – it’s awesome). Let’s also assume you don’t have deep pockets, so you can’t afford to buy fancy high-end Cisco Telepresence products.

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8+1 principles that guide Lexity (aka, why we are the way we are)

We founded Lexity two years ago to build a different kind of an advertising/marketing company. While we’ve iterated our product, tried different pricing models, and watched experiments become full-fledged products in their own right – the core principles underlying Lexity haven’t changed.

We’re a fat startup – not measured by dollars in the bank (though we have a few), but by the grandness of the ambition, rigorous thought process, and relentless progress towards a clearly articulated goal. We believe that fundamental disruption in an industry as huge and well-established as advertising can’t come from feature companies (Dave McClure be damned).

In this post, I lay down some of our guiding principles – not only what we do, but as importantly, what we don’t do. All out in the open – for your feedback!

The complete list

  1. Small retailers first
  2. eCommerce first
  3. Simple, simple, simple
  4. Fair, affordable, upfront pricing
  5. Full transparency on ROI – and in real time
  6. Complete solutions for every ad channel
  7. Customized multi-channel marketing
  8. Relentless automation
  9. Bonus: Global ground-up

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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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