Being an Entrepreneur

Last few months have been pretty significant for me. I have changed directions in my career. I am now an entrepreneur. It is exciting. But it requires a lot of discipline. When you work for an organization, organization provides some structure. There are company’s goals, department goals and your boss’s goals and then your goals. Now I am the company , the department, the boss and the worker.

Being an entrepreneur is exciting because now I can work on my vision. My time, skills, experience and hard work are being spent implementing my vision and making my clients successful.

Our first product AgileWrap – Agile Software Project Management Tool is getting excellent reviews from our customers and users. Check it out.

SocialVibe.com – Check it out

Get sponsored by your favorite brands. Use your popularity in social networks like Myspace and Facebook to promote these brands.

In return, SocialVibe donates to your favorite charity or cause and you can earn rewards for yourself.

And all this is easy and fun using www.SocialVibe.com. And it is by my former colleagues from Yahoo.

As far as I know, MySpace and Facebook do not allow javascript (like those from Adsense and YPN) to be posted on users pages. SocialVibe gives you cool looking flash widgets to put on your page. Check it out.
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How do we help you find the things you had no idea you’re looking for?

WSJ recently published a very interesting article – We Know What You Ought
To Be Watching This Summer
– on how insights gained from data and consumer activity can be very effectively used to make recommendations.

Interesting quote from the article – “How do we help you find the things you had no idea you’re looking for?” expresses a data mining application so nicely.

In another quote from this article,
“The point is to come up with recommendations that “may be non-intuitive but surprisingly enjoyable nonetheless,” says a spokesman. Since adding the software, Blockbuster says it has lost fewer customers, in percentage terms, to rival services, and the number of movies in the average customer’s “to watch” list has grown by almost 50%.”

This shows how effective these systems are in improving sales and customer retention.

Data Mining Demystified – I

Based on past sales, viewing history and customer profile, which item is the consumer most likely to buy next? (Netflix, Amazon)

Which advertisement should be displayed on web page to maximize the chances of user clicking it? (Internet advertisers like Google and Yahoo)

What is the value of a house based on historical sales data and other economic factors? (real estate sites like Zillow)

Is this transaction on credit card possibly fraudulent? (Credit card companies like American Express)

Knowing answers to questions like these and discovering this information about your business can be a huge competitive advantage.

Data mining processes and techniques can answers these questions and discover hidden patterns in your business data.

Many companies realize the strategic importance and competitive advantage of data mining. Yahoo has world renowned data mining expert Dr. Usama Fayyed as it Chief Data Officer.

What is Data mining?

Data mining refers to the process of finding interesting patterns in data that are not explicitly part of the data (Witten & Frank, 2005).

Other good definition is – Data mining is process of automatically discovering useful information in large data repositories (Tan, Steinbach, Kumar).

Data being mined is not collected specifically for purpose of answering questions which data mining answers. Data could be in logs, data warehouses, credit card and retail transactions, text document, web pages, financial systems etc. It is any data which is being stored by companies to run its business. Data mining techniques and processes discover unexpected, valuable and interesting patterns and insights in this data.

Data mining operates on data that is usually large, has high number of dimensions and may or may not be structured. Data mining uses techniques from many disciplines – statistics, AI, machine learning. And very interestingly, when you use data mining you may not know what you are really looking for. Valuable insights come as a surprise.

How is data mining different from query/reporting and OLAP?

You can distinguish between query, OLAP and data mining by kind of questions being asked.

Let us take an example of a national grocery store chain. It want to know what was the sale of diapers last quarter. It can run a query on it is sales database and get the answer.

Now let us say the grocery store chain wants know – How did the sales of diapers vary quarter over quarter for each region in last year? One way is to run a query over its sales transaction database. This query will take a huge amount of time and resources and can slow down the transactional database. A better way would be to use OLAP query over a sales data mart. OLAP stands for online analytical processing and provides analysis of data, trends and forecasts based on the trend.

Now store wants to know customers who buy diapers what else do they buy at the same time. This is where data mining comes in – discovering hidden patterns in data and predicting based on those patterns. Grocery chain did data mining of its data and found that men who buy diapers on Friday or during weekend also buy beer. Putting beer aisle on near the diaper aisle increased the beer sale. This example is actually a famous legend in data mining circles and well illustrates the power of data mining.

In my next blog on the data mining, I will explain data mining processes and techniques with a real world example.

FaceBook buys Parakey

Parakey is a WebOs startup started by Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt.

What is Parakey? (from Parakey’s website)

Parakey is a platform for building applications that merge the best of the desktop and the Web. Like desktop applications, these applications work offline, offer more privacy than pure websites, run quickly, and integrate with your computer and its devices. But like Web applications, they are also more creative, visually alluring, accessible from anywhere and potentially accessible by anyone. In short, Parakey apps are designed to be both useful and social, a combination that is too rare today.

What is WebOS (Better word would be Web Desktop)

WebOs allows user to work seamlessly offline and online. You can work offline and whenever the computer you are working on connects to internet, all your work – documents, spreadsheets, transactions, emails, photos etc. get uploaded to the web and downloaded to your current and other devices. You do not have to remember to upload/download. Nor do you need to use special softwares for each application to synchronize with web and your other devices. WebOs takes care of it.

A detailed definition of WebOs can be found here.

There many other WebOs startups. Most popular being YouOs and Xin . There are other products which have the similar features like Google Desktop, Firefox 3 offline and development tools like Adobe’s Apollo.

Here is a good Adobe Apollo Ebay Demo which shows usefulness of this kind of computing.

Next Generation Web

World wide web has come far from where it started its journey in late 1980′s as a system to share data and share research papers without need to have access to common computers.

Powered by Internet technologies and ever increasing bandwidth and cheaper and more powerful computing power and storage, it still fulfills its original purpose – to share information.

But rather than a just a repository of hyperlinked documents it was once, it has taken a life of its own and become a daily part of life of billions of people.

It powers commerce. Connects people. Distributes Media.

It is TV, it is radio, it is newspaper, it is magazine, it is on demand and it is everywhere.

I can buy, sell and advertise on web. I can book travel. Do banking transactions and see my statements. Pay bills. Trade stocks. Find nearest pizza shop. See my calender.
Connect to and chat with like minded people. Blog my thoughts. It is a virtual place where I meet my friends and make new friends. Plan an event and invite people. Share my memories with friends and family. Get help and advise. Raise money and find volunteer for social causes. I can collaborate on web. It is interactive and it is fast.

So what is missing?
It is too general. It is hard to personalize. Services are not connected. Very scattered. It has a lot of information but does not aggregate information and present it in a form which is useful. It does not remember. It is not intelligent. It does not anticipate my needs. Its success has become its challenge. Too much data. It is safe and it is not safe. It is very hard to regulate and we do not want to regulate it. It has lot of stuff which I do not want my kids to see or even myself to see.

It was not intended to be all these.

But now the participants (not users or readers anymore) in Web want it. The next evolution of the web.

Next generation web will be what it is currently and more. It will be

  • Web as a platform and web as services and people weaving those services to build something more useful than its parts.
  • Semantic web – Something that not only humans but machines can understand and provide humans and other machines value added services.
  • Intelligent data mining and predictive engines running on Google’s and Yahoo’s vast databases. Powering search and personalization. Predicting your needs.
  • Web connected to computers, homes, appliances, mobile and wearable devices.

A truly interconnected world.

Desk top and bump top

In one of my earlier posts I want my desktop…, I said that antiquated metaphors and ways of organizing things in digital space need to change. And that we need to look back to nature and world around us.

I also mentioned that some of the things I would like to see

  • Heaps of items with ability to search and sort through them. A heap of music albums, a heap of comics , a heap of jokes, a heap of news clippings , a heap of my writings…neatly stacked on the corner of computer screen. May be not neatly. Stacked in shelves…
  • A safe box with lock on my computer. Whatever I put in gets encrypted.
  • A box or envelop in which I can just throw in things.

I am delighted to see part of this vision being realized in this TED talk by Anand Agarawala. Very very neat.

New Technologies and programming languages for next decade

Every 8-10 years or so I learn new programming language and technology. Why 8-10 years? I generally found that is the cycle in which some new exciting innovation happens. Once some innovative technology comes out , then next 10 years is spent bringing that innovation to mainstream.

Early 90′s when I started my software career, I learned Oracle DB, SQL, C, C++, Awk, Shell, OO design (Booch, Rumbaugh) and Relational DB design. I designed and built many enterprise systems for banks, transportation and retail companies across the world ( India, UK, Japan, US and UAE).

Then in 1998 -I moved into internet technologies, java, UML, XML, design patterns and data warehousing. Build many web based , n tier systems and data warehouses for companies like Webvan, Netscape, Intuit , Countrywide and Yahoo.

Now it is 2007 – Time again to pick up something new.

But question is what -

AI and Machine learning – I dabbled with intelligent agents and developed rules engines in 2002 and 2003. I think now is the time , I take a look again at this field.

Multi media technologies – Given the popularity of mutlimedia – Pictures, Video, Sound becuase of ever increasing bandwidth and people.Mobile – That is where is the future is and for that matter present too. Mobile and wireless growth in countries like India and China is phenomenal.

Flex from Adobe looks very promising. Flex offers an easy, high productivity programming interface to flash rich web based UI development. And no need to worry about the browser incompatibilities. Supports easy integration of multimedia. Exactly what a primarily back-end technology expert like me needs.

Python – not because it is new or revolutionary, but because I need something to do scripting. AWK is obselete and PERL is poorly designed langauge. Python is much more maintainable than it is cousin Perl.

Grid Computing – Amazon, Google, Yahoo, Oracle are all into it in big way. Open source Hadoop. GFS from Google.

…and then there is always almost ready almost there,

Semantic Web – May be its prime time is coming. I have been reading and playing with this since 2002.

Why did not I include Ajax? Ajax is more of a buzzword rather than a technology or progarmming paradigm. It is just a neat programming trick, a technique at best. Large bandwidth made it possible and Google popularized it by doing some neat stuff. It is already way overused. Of course you can always count on consultants to brand it, write books and give seminars on it and make money out of it. I will include it in my future blog – how to make money out of nothing in technology.

and thats a lot and I am sure there is more that I am missing.

I want my desktop and my front page.

Rather than have computer maker dictate how vsiual space on my computer should be organized, I should have flexibility to design my computer’s visual space the way I want. The way I organize physical space around me which I can control. The way I organize things at my home.

Designing user friendly and intuitive interfaces is very difficult. Some of the the difficulty comes from finding and using correct metaphors and some difficulty comes from designing something that works for all .

Take two common metaphors files and folders – metaphors computers borrowed from the physical office organization. Probably at that time, no one thought that computers will be ever used at home.

Neither of these metaphors are very intuitive to me as I hardly ever used files and folders outside of computers. A file/item can belong in multiple categories or multiple folders. A file/item may not fit neatly into any one folder. One solution is tagging files with multiple tags. (Creating links is another geeky solution).

I should have the flexibility to use the metaphors that make sense to me in my culture and with my background and my profession.

Like …

  • Heaps of items with ability to search and sort through them. A heap of music albums, a heap of comics , a heap of jokes, a heap of news clippings , a heap of my writings…neatly stacked on the corner of computer screen. May be not neatly. Stacked in shelves…
  • A safe box with lock on my computer. Whatever I put in gets encrypted.
  • A box or envelop in which I can just throw in things.

We need to look at nature on how it designs things…and look around us on what really works best for us…

http://www.ted.com/tedtalks/tedtalksplayer.cfm?key=r_lovegrove

UI will go through a major change in near future. Mouse will disappear, keyboard will become less prevalent. that should help. another video from TED…

http://www.ted.com/tedtalks/tedtalksplayer.cfm?key=j_han

( First saw this video on Dr. Ramesh Jain’s blog)

Examples of one design to fit all are windows desktop, and portal (front) pages of Yahoo, MSN and AOL. One design and one content for all.

I should be able to choose what I want to see there and organize it the way I prefer.

I want my desktop and my front page.

Great video on what is web 2.0

Even though most readers of this bog already know what is web 2.0

Came across this video recently. Really liked the way it is done. Enjoy.
Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us. It is by Michael Wesch, Assistant PRofessor at Kansas State University.