“People are good and trustworthy and generally just concerned with getting through the day,” Newmark says. If most people are good and their needs are simple, all you have to do to serve them well is build a minimal infrastructure allowing them to get together and work things out for themselves. Any additional features are almost certainly superfluous and could even be damaging.”

Craig Newmark (of CraigsList fame)

So what are there real needs?

I’m trying to (naively?) boil down all the successful software, websites and web applications out there and see if it can be mapped into as few categories as possible:

  1. Communication (Social networks, Basecamp, etc.)
  2. Organization (Google Docs, Flickr, Backpack, etc.)
  3. Information (Content websites, News websites, Search engines, etc.)
  4. Entertainment (YouTube, Nautanki.tv, Blogs/Journals/Twitter, etc.)
  5. E-Commerce (Amazon, Paypal, etc.) (Category added thanks to Ankesh)

Note that the website that you use may fit into different categories in different circumstances.

The idea is to not search for a comprehensive or accurate classification.

The idea is: If you brainstorm an idea or come across someone else’s idea, can you trace it back to one of these categories? If yes, what does it mean? If no, what does it mean?

Is this a useful angle to evaluate an idea, or not?

I think of this weblog as a small place for me to write. The reason I write is because I have this innate implicit belief that I learn only by teaching. In hindsight, that’s why I wrote those books and that’s why I keep writing in this space.

The “head fake” is that if I don’t have something interesting to write once in a while, it means I’m not doing anything creative or worthwhile in my life. And as a wise man once said “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”

There are four reasons why I believe that my weblog has actually been useful or at least interesting to other people.

First was finding out that it was ranked No. 6 in India according to Indiblogger ranking (as of July 23, 2009). I never imagined this writing space to be part of any listing mostly because I don’t write about a niche topic or write about news or tech tips, which are the recipes for a popular website. My interest was in only writing some of my own thoughts, not talking about what others are doing.

Second was finding out that it was ranked No. 5 in India according to Invesp Ultimate BlogRank listing (as of August 17, 2009). And this was ahead of veteran/famous people like Rajesh Jain, FoneArena and others. I was quite surprised.

invesp listing snapshot on August 17, 2009

When I expressed this on twitter, two of my good friends replied saying I shouldn’t be surprised…

@t3rmin4t0r reply

@vinayakh reply

(I hope they don’t mind me quoting them, I wanted to record this just to prove I’m not making this up ;-))

That kind of made me believe that this blog is actually bigger than I tend to think about it. But don’t worry, I’m not going to let it get to my head. Nothing’s going to change. I will continue to write about my observations and this just happens to be one of them :)

I thought I’d jot down some of the writing principles that I’ve absorbed over the years, for those who have asked me this question before:

  • “Blog about your passions. Don’t blog about what you think your audience wants. Post because you have something you are dying to write about.” — Mark Cuban
  • “One doesn’t make art for other people, even though I am very concerned with the viewer.” — Anish Kapoor
  • “I love encouraging people to live a little more consciously. I like challenging people to consider different perspectives. I know that many people think such pursuits are lame, naive, or pointless. I don’t care. This path inspires me. The more I think about it, the better I feel. It wouldn’t matter if the whole world disagreed with me.” — Steve Pavlina
  • The point is not to show up on a list, the point is to start a conversation that spreads, to share ideas and to chronicle your thinking. That’s the work of an author. — Seth Godin
  • Thoughtful comments and feedback are what keeps me still writing, such as those comments by Sridhar Ratna and others, although I usually don’t have something clever to say to continue the conversation, I just listen to others’ perspectives and learn. Intellectual stimulation is/should be one of the basic necessities in life.
  • Every post has to be consistent and of the highest quality (learned this the hard way) — Darren Rowse
  • Have a regular posting habit as much as possible — Darren Rowse
  • 69 Questions to Ask to Review Your Blog — Darren Rowse
  • Don’t write about anything that you wouldn’t discuss with a room full of people.

Thanks for reading.

I was reading the The Favorite iPhone Apps of Five Geek Rock Stars and did not find it useful, because it was mostly about games or things that apply to people only in USA. So I was wondering if I had my own list.

Stanza

My most favorite application is the Stanza app for reading ebooks.

It’s because of Stanza that I actually started to read more! Mostly because I can read a book anywhere and any time I want to. I also discovered some great books such as Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse because I could explore and download in a few clicks.

Maps built-in application

Google started giving driving directions in India a few months back and it rocks!

RunKeeper

The ability to see your pace at exactly every moment during a run is very handy. And I don’t have to carry any extra device because I’m already carrying my iPhone which also happens to be my iPod which I listen to while running. And the best part of the RunKeeper Pro app is that it announces by voice the distance and speed every 5 minutes which gives me the boost I need if I slowed down.

RememberTheMilk and Evernote

The RememberTheMilk app is one of the slickest iPhone apps I’ve used, but I started making daily todo lists which is a bad idea, so I wanted to think in terms of notes instead of lists, so I started using the Evernote app which was exactly what I was looking for.

The best part about Evernote is that I always have a notepad to jot things down whenever I have a thought. And after I started using Evernote, I realized this happens more often than you think! And it has gotten more useful with the 3.0 version of the app. For example, imagine searching for notes by the location where you created the note! Or make voice notes. Or saving photos of an article in a magazine and searching for the text in that article inside Evernote. Or sending a link to Evernote via email. And so on.

There is also the official WordPress app for writing blog posts or tinkering with drafts.

MobileStudio and Dropbox

Whenever I need some files that I might need to use on-the-go, I transfer it via FTP to the MobileStudio app and then access it on my iPhone.

For example, in one incident, I was able to quickly open the tickets I had saved as a PDF on my phone since I didn’t have the actual printout.

Oh, and having Dropbox access online via the browser means I have all my files accessible any time.

TimeJot

See my earlier time tracking article.

tv.burrp.com

If you thought there was never interesting on TV, just visit tv.burrp.com and find out what’s on TV right now. It’s very very useful.

burrp.com

Find restaurants on-the-go. Once, a friend and myself were in Koramangala looking for a place to eat, and we discovered Fiorano Ristorante via burrp, and had nice authentic Italian food.

Reach people

I never have to worry about how to reach a person any more, I have all the methods – phone call, SMS, email, Skype, IM, Twitter. You name it, we got it.

TED Talks at night

It’s hard to turn off the music or movie and force myself to sleep. So I end up taking my iPhone to bed and watching a TED talk or two before sleeping.

Ambiance

There’s actually an app for listening to rain sounds or the crackling of a campfire or sounds of that sort. It comes in really handy when you just want to shut out all the noises outside and you’re not in a mood to listen to music. It gives you the background noise that you always wanted.

WordBook

Having a very handy dictionary on your fingertips is handy when you want to check if the word that you’re using means what you think it means.

Torch

Yeah, the Torch app comes in handy these days because of the frequent power cuts in Bengaluru.

Wishlist: ngpay

The one app that is missing on the iPhone is an ngpay app. I once called up their customer support and asked if they had plans for an iPhone app and they told me that “Sorry sir, the iPhone doesn’t support third-party applications.” I was speechless.

There’s an app for that

There are a lot of apps out there to use.

I’m just glad that I finally got a kinda-PDA device that I always wanted. Now I never get bored waiting for someone because I can actually spend that time finding out the latest news and I can check Wikipedia for the members of a rock band during a discussion with friends :)

Attention Span

I started using Twitter as an experiment, and it was the first and only social network I really participated in. It was great because I actually made new friends that I went on trips with, got the opportunity to follow the thoughts of interesting people, and whenever I was in a quandary, I just had to holler a question and would get plenty of answers and advice in return.

But I was uneasy because I was feeling jaded. I thought it was because of the typical “overdoing it” reason, but there was more to it. It was affecting my ability to think critically/deeply about a subject.

Why am I thinking so much about a social network? As David Allen once said, “Pay attention to what has your attention.” And clearly, Twitter had more of my attention than it should have.

Since my attention span was reducing from books to blogs and then blogs to tweets, I was being converted from “from a thinker to a clicker”.

So I’ve gone back and started reading books and paying more attention to offline friends. And I’m not alone on this, many people have expressed similar opinions.

Getting your Fix

I think of this situation as getting your fix. Think smoking vs. coffee. Both are stimulants. Both are legal. But since smoking actually affects others, people have to go outside to indulge in it. Hence, it is less convenient. Probably that’s why there are more people addicted to coffee. Because it is more convenient. There is a sufficient barrier to smoking. Even though this analogy may not be true, consider reading blog posts vs. reading books. There is a sufficient barrier of attention to the latter, that is why more people prefer reading blog posts. It is more convenient. The same for reading blogs vs. tweets. The latter is more convenient. Then, going down this path, your ability to think becomes restricted to 140 characters. Twitter gives you that instant high that you published or read something, which means you lose persistence which is required for longer reading, hence tend to think a lot less and quick wins prevent you from going after bigger wins.

The problem with the shorter fix is that you will indulge in it more often and it will have lesser stimulation in the long run. Consider the difference between, say, having a 5-day 9-hour work week with 2-day weekends vs. having 6-hour work everyday with no weekend and no holidays. Which one would you prefer? This is how I argue that a book once in a while will give you more stimulation than a hundred tweets. For example, consider the signal-to-noise ratio – only tools like filtrr.com can filter out #ipl talk, etc. whereas a book would give a broad understanding about a particular subject. In the long run, it is more enriching to go deeper into subjects, not to be “restricted” to a buffet of subjects.

As a sort-of substitute for Twitter, I’ve shifted to a del.icio.us network. After all, most of Twitter is sharing links and delicious doesn’t have the downside of frivolous tweets. Also, delicious shows how many people have bookmarked a link giving another indicator whether something is worth reading or not, and even better, they are tagged appropriately so I immediately know the topic to expect for an article, instead of “This is cool <insert link>.”

The Attention Psychology

Let’s think about attention in terms of psychology, which I am trying to understand a little about from The Mouse Trap blog:

Maximizing utility

U = E x V (where U is utility of act; E is expectancy as to whether one would be able to carry the act and if so whether the act would result in desired outcome; and V is the Value (both subjective and objective) that one has assigned to the outcome.

Maximizing Predictability

While selecting an action we maximize reward and minimize punishment, basically we choose the maximal utility function; while choosing which stimuli to attend to we maximize our foreknowledge of the world and minimize surprises, basically we choose the maximal predictability function; we can even write an equivalent mathematical formula: Predictability P = E x R where P is the increase in predictability due to attending to stimulus 1 ; E is probability that stimulus 1 correctly leads to prediction of stimulus 2; and R is the Relevance of stimulus 2(information) to us. Thus the stimulus one would attend, is the one that leads to maximum gain in predictability. Also, similar to the general energy level of organism that would bias as to whether, and how much, the organism acts or not; there is a general arousal level of the organism that biases whether and how much it would attend to stimuli.

As per my understanding, the first part means that because we expect much utility about something, it’s perceived utility is higher, making it’s value higher. And because Twitter gives that dash of randomness that we desire, it’s utility is much higher than it really is.

The second part means that we want to know more about the world in order to have lesser surprises, and hence we tend to read more and more, especially if it is information that we perceive as relevant to us.

Bottom line: I question whether more and more information and more and more immediacy is really necessary/required for us?

Think of all the great things that have been achieved whether it is a motor engine or a music stereo, would it have been created if the to-be-creator was constantly distracted and with low attention span? Where is the time to get inspired if we’re always mentally tired?

Why Can’t We Concentrate?

I will finish up with excerpts from this excellent article on Salon called “Why Can’t We Concentrate?”:

(more…)

  1. Everything gets magnified. Whether it is minor differences or personal shortcomings or the multitasking required. What you think of as a small weakness, will become your biggest weakness. What you think of as a small strength, will be a very big strength.
  2. It is an emotional rollercoaster ride. You can never be prepared for it. But realize what you’re going through.
  3. Expect rejection. Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships, that is why good ideas are always initially resisted.
  4. Shut up, make a core working version first. And get people to use it, even if you have to beg or force people. And keep iterating. After the first few iterations, you will figure out what is the interesting part that makes it work for the user. Focus on that, not on the list of features. Otherwise, you’ll end up like Zahdoo.
  5. Have a plan in writing. Be clear starting from things like how long you can survive, open understanding of when each individual would want to quit, open understanding of why each person in this, etc. right up to imagining you’re going to be doing this for the next ten years, does your plan still remain the same?
  6. Short-term wins are important. Psychological boosts can keep your startup alive. Plan for short-term tangible goals. And keep iterating over your plan with weekly reviews. If you don’t see progress three weeks in a row, the alarm bells should be ringing.
  7. Always start with one person fully dedicated to the business side of things, especially a marketing/sales person or a product manager. Working part-time tech and part-time business is a disaster-in-the-making.
  8. When you’re making a six-month plan, understand what parts are on the critical path that will make or break your startup. And make sure things on that critical path are in your control. Pay attention to dependencies on outsiders, whether they are web designers or outsourcing companies.
  9. If you don’t have enough funds, find people who can fund you before you jump in, or start your own services/consultation business to keep the cash flow going. Otherwise, you’ll end up skydiving.
  10. Do not be wrapped inside your own bubble. Go out and talk to interesting people, find mentors, know what is happening in the field that you are working on. You have to know where dangers for your startup lurk, and you never know where unanticipated opportunities for your startup will come from.
  11. Bonus: If it’s a problem, it’s always a people problem. Learn to understanding each others’ psyche.