Thursday, May 28, 2009

Functionality is NOT the king!

I was thinking, what makes a product a hands down market leader and an also-ran. One thing I realised was that functionality is not the only criteria. If it were the same, FriendFeed would be much bigger than Twitter. Or for that matter, LinkedIn wouldn't be the market leader either. Or Google might have been oust by one of the many search engines that came up after it.
Same is true for mobile phones too. If functionality was the only criteria, the lot of "prettier" phones would have been replaced by the more "functional" ones. iPhone might just have gone extinct if it were only to be compared on functionalities with the blackberries. I had read somewhere that SAP proudly stated that they never show the product during the selling stage. Reason - because "nobody ever got sacked for buying SAP " !

The race for functionality is never ending. You could go on adding features to your product. It will never reach the marketing stage in this way. Functionality is not the main thing and the marketing people know it too! The product has to be only "good enough" on functionality. The rest is about the acceptability, portability and the perception. "If the whole industry uses SAP, then it must be good enough". "All my friends use Twitter, I don't want to use something else."

If it is all about functionality then it is an argument about diminishing returns, marginal differences and small variations. And often this is not nearly enough to win a client, cause a revolution, or shift opinions.

Frankly, as long as our needs (present, and foreseeable in the near future) are met, do we really care what more is on offer? After this point, perception takes over. If something is viewed as the "poor man's cow", it will not be bought by someone who wants to project a rich image. If google is the in-thing, why would someone use AOL?

The next thing is the change. The trouble of moving from one product to another. People love familiarity. Getting people to switch without showing them the huge advantages is not going to work. That's the reason that analysts claim that despite Wolfram Alpha's great features, it might not be able to overtake google. For the cost and disruptions would be too huge given the present slight edge in functionality.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Suicide Vs Murder

Of late, I have been having many murderous thoughts. And I really dont know how to get rid of them. So this post, so that I can vent out the thoughts.

I remember having discussions with my friends about whether or not one should commit suicide in the event of insurmountable difficulties. I held the view that one should rather murder than commit suicide. But now I see why people choose suicide over murder.

So what is it that invokes suicidal thoughts in humans? When a person is subjected to double talk - when on the surface everything seems very friendly and cordial but dig just a little bit and the irony glares on your face. In such a situation, the person might find it disturbing to kill someone who has been so friendly. But the person is being subjected to utter frustration of not doing anything and no one being able to tell him why. In such a situation, where the guilt of killing someone else is substantial but the person finds himself in an situation frustrating to death - the person can find suicide a better option.

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The next big thing on the net

Someone directed me to a link to the new project by Wolfram people called Wolfram Alpha saying that it was the next big thing on the net. My initial reaction to the claim was - "Ah, yet another big claimer!"

But 5 minutes into the site, and I was taken over by it. This project seeks to integrate all knowledge into one. You can put in any query and it gives you the "right" results. Much unlike Google, which directs you to further sites that might or might not (though they generally do) contain relevant information - Alpha gives you numbers and statistics about anything that can be represented by numbers. Like you could key in GDP of South Africa - And know all that you wanted to know in terms of numbers. Likewise if you key in "GE" in the stocks section, you could see how the trend for GE stocks has been for the last 1 week, 1 month, 1 year and 5 years! besides it shows you its market capitalization and the beta. If you search for AIDS deaths, then you get statistics for deaths across the world.

This thing could indeed become the next big thing in the net!

PS- The afore mentioned friend was Abhishek Gandhi, fondly(?) known as Tool here at IITM. He claims his connect to the first family of the country, but we are all too used to people who fake surnames to gather mileage !

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Of modelling Human beings and pseudo random number generators

While have a chat with my friend Abhishek over my previous post on irrational behavior of humans, I started thinking on how and if humans can be represented by random numbers (Afterall each one us is unique and essentially random).

I believe (as do a lot of evolutionary scientists) that our reaction to any stimulus depends on a lot of factors, like the genes we carry, the natural environment we have lived in, the kind of thoughts we have, our experiences, stimuli from the recent past etc. Evidently, there are far too many variables that can affect our decisions.

So is there a way to this apparent madness ? Can we call these effects totally random? Abhishek sure seems to think so. But I doubt it. If everyone had totally random characteristics, then we would have had a zero (neutral) average reaction to any stimulus. But, on the contrary, masses behave more in unison. So the seemingly random "personality trait numbers" have a non-zero mean. But this mean can only be seen in a "large enough" group.

So can traits of human beings be thought of as being generated by a pseudo-random number generator? After all, these can have a mean, are random for all practical purposes but everyone knows that these have been derived from some determinstic method. I really dont know. But the idea itself seemed too good not to be posted

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Irrational Pessimism

One of my close friends has written about irrational pessimism driving the economy down. Though I would like to take partial credit for injecting the thought into his head. He mainly talks about how people behave irrationally and how it affects markets.

My point-of-view is that people go with their animal instincts much more than their deterministic models. When someone senses danger, his/her reaction gets biased (for most people towards damage control and for a few others, towards risk taking). This precise difference in the nature and the magnitude of bias makes each one of us unique - and a pain for the economists to model.

If the economists also include this feature into the decision model (As the behavioral economics guys have been saying for sometime now ), then they wont be caught in awkward situations where the masses behave in a manner completely different from what they predict.

People don't always make choices based on their precise calculation of the odds. They go with what the feel is right - and the fact that most things can not be put in numbers directly also means that in translating things to numerical terms itself brings in the bias that the numerical analysis sought to avoid. Maybe the next step would be to model people based on a the major bias that they have - maybe conduct a survey and see in which direction and how much are people biased. And then predict things - that would certainly do a better job than what it does right now.

PS- (kidding alert )Irrational pessimism is the kind which can not be put in the form of p/q where p and q are integers and q is not 0. (/kidding alert)

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Thursday, May 7, 2009


I have written a lot about my Reliance intern but not about my other internship at ITC. I worked on improving the energy efficiency in their manufacturing unit at Munger cigarette factory.

Right now I am interning at IBM, Banglore. I will be working on verification of chips. I have just started out, so dont really know whats in store. Will keep you guys posted.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

The top 10 reasons due to which Sun failed

Sun Microsystems - once upon a time a $200 billion company and the owners of Java was bought out by Oracle for $7.4 billion a few days back.

Dan Baigent, was a senior director at Sun microsystems when the company got acquired. He started out to write the top ten reasons why Sun failed. Unfortunately he could write only 3. The company cracked down on it and took the posts off. However, the good (?) google is here to help us.
It has stored a cache of those pages.

The top 10 reasons why Sun failed to leverage its market potential. (Only #10, 9 and 8 are there, Dan never got to write more than that.)

The #10 Reason that Sun is Setting: We failed to understand the x86 Market - "We approached the market in the only way we knew how - as an extension of our high-end, low-volume, high-value approach to network computing. And not just in terms of product features and capabilities, but in terms of sales, partnerships, channel programs and supply chain management."

The #9 Reason that Sun is Setting: Messing with the Java Brand - "numerous attempts by well-meaning marketing folks at Sun to try exploit the value of the Java brand itself and how that ultimately reduced the very value they tried to exploit. To some degree, this is as much about the lack of value in the Sun brand (at least outside our loyal customer base) as it is about Java" ".... and the changing of our stock symbol to JAVA . (It) was a sad attempt to make Sun's stock more recognizable on Wall Street, as if that's what we created the Java brand for."

The #8 Reason that Sun is Setting: Fumbling Jini - "The real problem was that the engineers had built this technology using the latest Java platform...When launched, Jini could not run in anything smaller than a device with 64MB of memory and a Pentium-class processor.... Meanwhile, Marketing and PR were off describing uses of the technology that were all about small devices (cameras, printers, cell phones, etc.) that were completely unable to run RMI, nonetheless the Jini on which it was built. Jini should have been first-and-foremost about distributed computing. ... worse still, we left the door so wide open on distributed computing that Microsoft and others were able to walk through it."

Probably Sun does not believe in learning from mistakes or worse, thinks that letting the mistakes out in the open could mean lower respect for the brand image. The only way that is possible is when while knowing your mistakes, you still go on commiting them.

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