Update on 5 Oct, 2012 : Still on Mac applications, but now using the free email mailbox option of my domain registrar Gandi.net + local Thunderbird email folders instead of Rackspace Email. Desktop apps are better for frequently used stuff. No matter how many times web apps lure me into “available everywhere” + “mobile syncing” feature. For example, the Brief addon for Firefox is so much more responsive and pleasant to use than Google Reader, although Google Reader’s advantage is that it works on mobile as well. I spend too much time with my mobile phone anyway, so it’s a good way to dis-incentivize me from using that screen.

¬†Update on 13 Jan, 2012: Most of my online services has been replaced by good Mac applications + Dropbox. I have moved away from Zoho services because their UI tended to be quite buggy, and using the browser’s “live bookmarks” feature as the RSS reader. The main things I’m still dependent on Google for is Feedburner (because it is the standard for RSS reader count) and Google Analytics (again, the standard for analytics).

Update on 30 Jul, 2011: I have switched to another paid option now – Rackspace Email.

Update on 24 Apr, 2011: I was using Zoho Mail exclusively for a long time, but I got tired of my email landing in spam folders of Yahoo! Mail and Gmail users. Going back to Yahoo! Mail was not an option (IMAP support is only in an expensive paid option and I don’t like the Yahoo! Mail UI any more), so the Hobson’s choice was to get back to Gmail. Sigh.


100% Google Free!A series of incidents and thoughts led me to try an experiment – to be “100% Google Free”. This turned out to be a lot harder than I thought, and ended up admiring Google a lot, and at the same time, worried and curious about what they do with all that data they have.

First things first, since I no longer use Google’s Feedburner, please kindly update your RSS readers to use http://www.swaroopch.com/feed/ instead of the earlier Feedburner link. For those 140+ people who are subscribed via email, I have migrated to MailChimp (emails were also being sent by Feedburner earlier), so emails will continue to be delivered to you from this post onwards. You can subscribe or unsubscribe for email delivery on this page.

Back to the main topic… there were a few reasons that led me to this experiment:

Phew. I think those were enough reasons to move away from Google, at least for a while.

And, boy, it has been tough. Let’s face it, it’s hard for companies to beat Google when Google makes slick products and gives it away for free.

Here is what my transition looks like:

  1. Search – The funny thing is I used Google Search only in 2004-2005, started using Yahoo! Search since 2006, and have moved to Bing exclusively since the past 6 months. (free)
  2. Analytics – Moved to Mint ($30) + Piwik (open source)
  3. Reader – Moved to Tiny Tiny RSS (open source)
  4. Feedburner – Moved to the default WordPress feed link + MailChimp for emails (freemium)
  5. Google Apps – Moved to Zoho for Business ($5 per month)
  6. Docs – Moved to Zoho Docs which turned out to be way more powerful (free)
  7. GTalk – Stopped using IM, it was a distraction anyway. (zero)
  8. Contacts – Exported from Google, stored only on iPhone (free)
  9. Calendar – Zoho Calendar (free)
  10. Google Groups – subscribe to RSS feeds of the group (free)
  11. Maps – Since the map application on iPhone uses Google Maps, no alternative
  12. Google Alerts – no alternative
  13. Google Adsense – This is still a todo item, haven’t looked into it yet. I have heard about Komli, Chitika, etc. but yet to investigate.
  14. Phone – My next phone is probably going to be an Android phone, looks like there is no alternative (I’m tired of having to use Windows just for iTunes, only because I have an iPhone)

As I’m sure you have deciphered, this took some installation of server-side software and some money to make this transition. These were the best alternatives that I came across that suited me.

So far I’ve been very happy about this experiment, because I got to discover and try out new tools and realized that there is so much more cool functionality available out there that I would have never discovered otherwise!

And at the same time, I admire Google even more now (from a startupper’s perspective) because they discovered a business model because of which they are able to give away so much functionality for free, and hence brought more people online.

Update: Thanks to Helen (in the comments below), got to know that Leo Babauta (Zen Habits) wrote about the exact same topic just 2 days ago. Good to know that I’m not alone in my concern!

I had an itch – I wished there was a simple way of deciding whether to buy a book and where to buy a book. So I created http://isbn.net.in

isbn.net.in

The initial idea I had was to make a bookmarklet that will do everything – it will figure out the unique book number (the ISBN) from the current book page (whether a publisher’s site or any ecommerce site), and then search on all the potential Indian online book stores. I then realized that you can’t fetch from other domains because of the same-domain policy of AJAX (I could’ve used YQL or something like that, but I felt it was a slippery slope).

So I had to create a web backend that will do the searching on behalf of the bookmarklet and changed the idea to simply show a jQueryUI dialog showing the sorted list of prices.

Then I chanced upon http://isbn.nu and immediately said to myself: “I want that with Indian prices”. Since I was half-way there already, it took a few additional steps of buying a good domain name and configuring to use the simple URL format they used.

There was one major problem with the bookmarklet – on sites which already have jQuery, it used to conflict, and although jQuery itself can live with multiple versions side-by-side, I could never figure out if jQueryUI was loaded properly or not. I tried various things but had to give up in vain.

Finally, I decided the pop-up overlay thing was not important, and the bookmarklet can just simply take you to the correct isbn.net.in page directly.

So the “where” part of the question was answered.

I still had to answer the “whether” part of the question – that’s when a friend told me about Amazon ECS using which I was able to get the very useful Amazon ratings. Then I was able to get the image of the cover of the book and other details.

Then I came across bookseer.com which makes great book recommendations, so I included an automatic link to that on the book page.

So, after much ado, I present http://isbn.net.in to you. All the instructions are on the homepage.

If you have any feedback, please read the disclaimers on the homepage and the About page, and then send me feedback.

Implementation was a lot of fun – I used Ruby, Sinatra, HAML, Mechanize, amazon-ecs, jQuery, Blueprint CSS. It was the first time I had really used any of these.

Disclaimer: I created isbn.net.in because I needed a tool like this. This has nothing to do whatsoever with my employer. It is just a personal side-project.

Updates on Praise, Feedback and New Feature: See isbn.net.in updates article.

I’ve been pondering over the myriad of startups and ideas that have been in the fore recently (in my twitter stream). I have a new theory that has been developing in my mind for quite a while:

A founder has to do only two things right: invention and marketing. For the rest, he can attract/find people to fill the gaps.

Now, don’t jump the gun and start attacking me. Think about it for a minute (and then attack).

By invention, I mean making new things happen – whether it is product or process. Doing things differently to make new useful things. In the experimentation, eventually, there will be one idea that can go big.

By marketing, I actually mean “customer development” (as Manu pointed out in the comments). I mean the founder has to know how to sell. This means he/she should be eager to talk to customers, understand the real problems, understand whether his/her solution actually solves their problems or not, and simultaneously improve/talk/market/make happen whatever it takes to sell that product or service. [1]

When someone who can do these two things well, they eventually stumble upon a good useful idea, and it can take off.

Case in point, the cliched examples – Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. They all started as something interesting and eventually found or will find business models. The point is that the founders of Google knew they had something good, but they brought in Eric Schmidt as CEO because he knows how to run a tech company, i.e., they found someone who can help them fill in the missing parts.

On the extreme side, Airtel outsources most of its operations, but retains the core of maintaining a good network, and (1) coming up with new products and (2) marketing them.

Again, this is just a theory that has been developing in my head. Don’t know if it holds true. Thoughts?

[1] I am also looking at this as a proxy for a person who understands that the business side of things is far more overwhelming than the technical side of things. As Manu would say quotes, don’t use coding as a procrastination tool.