The downside of a “smarter” life

February 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Note: This post is more personal and reflective than my usual ones. If that is not what you are looking for, skip this post and do come back for the next one which is will be more in line with my usual posts.

As most of my readers and friends know, I am a gadget freak who loves to surround himself with the best. In addition, I love to keep myself in the know of all things tech (and hence the blog). I have and love my iPhone 3GS and use all  the cool apps on my smartphone. I have enough and more to keep me occupied- online or offline until the battery runs out. And I am starting to pay the price for all this. You might wonder what and if there is a downside to such an up-to-the minute data filled life. Yes, there is.

As my apps have increased, so has my time on my smartphone. And this has taken a toll on my eyes. They hurt by the end of the day. Even when I was hooked for 8 hours on my computer in the past, they didn’t hurt quite as much. Now it does. The small screen kills. Really. Every second I think I am free, I am gazing on my Twitter feeds or reading about the latest Android superphone on Engadget. I am pretty sure my face-contact time in elevators and corridors is starting to drop. Not to mention the time at home where the laptop barely gets any time unless its for serious work. I am not alone. I just finally admitted to it. I am sure many of you are going through a similar experience or see others in the same place. At least I dont read my emails at traffic lights. Something I see so much in the Bay Area signals every day. I hope people realize that there is a downside to the content and information overload at our fingertips before its too late.

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step. The next is to take concrete steps to fix it. I plan on dramatically reducing my app time to a fixed duration every day. In addition, the daisy-chained-apps (as I call the ones which have embedded links leading you to other web pages) will not get any face time but for lunch and later in the evening. The phone will remain in the pocket while in the car and I plan on greeting every single person I see in the corridor and in the elevator. I fully believe the problem is under control and hope to be my pre-smartphone self very soon.

I dont believe that smartphones are to be blamed for where we are today. Its a combination of high speed cellular networks, affordable data connections, affordable and well designed mobile devices and our thirst for knowledge that has caused us to be where we are. Its all good as long as there are limits to the consumption. So instead of taking the dramatic step of downsizing to a feature phone, I will work on my ability to limit my use of my smart phone.

I apologize for the rare personal post here. I truly believe a lot of us are facing a similar problem and I wanted to use this forum to illustrate it. Ill be back to my usual posts with the next one. If you think you have some ideas to combat a situation like these, please feel free to share it for other readers.


Twitter is not all about tweeting

September 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

First off, I wanted to apologize to my regular readers (turns out surprisingly that there are a handful) for the month long absence from blogging. Tennis and family took all my spare time (and that’s a good thing) but as always, technology made its way back into the system. My company released the newest version of its product, the Kindle 3(we dont refer to it as Kindle 3- just the Kindle) to great success and acclaim. I am now a true e-book reader convert. It bothers me when books are not yet available on the Kindle and I cant stay away from my Kindle beyond a day. I love the way it makes the book discovering and purchasing process so simple yet takes nothing away from the book reading experience which to me is religion. So my shameless plug starts and ends here- Try a Kindle, just once.

On to the topic of this post, Twitter. As Twitter is announcing some new and exciting things as I type, I wanted to respond to a very common question I get from friends, colleagues and casual acquaintances. What is the point of Twitter and why should I care about someone’s 140 character rants?. First and foremost, Twitter is not just about tweeting. You could just go to and monitor trending topics. No account needed whatsoever. You could have any one of the dozen’s of Twitter apps and do the same on your smart phone (personal recommendations for Twitter Apps: Twitterific, Official Twitter app and Tweetdeck) and just follow trending or topics of interest. By creating a Twitter account, you can start following people, websites, blogs and newspapers so you are on the know as things happen. Again, you dont have to tweet to have an account. And herein lies the beauty of this service. You get this aggregator service (not very different from your RSS feeds but still different) that collects both news and opinions, none longer than 140 characters for your quick consumption.This makes it almost a Google Reader ultralite but with the same punch. Everyone and every business or business person making it big or hoping to do so is on Twitter.

Twitter has become my go to destination for topics of interest- both news and opinion. For breaking news, there is CNN. For movies there is the indefatigable Roger Ebert (his tweets alone are worth logging into Twitter). For sports, every sportswriter and beat writer is on twitter not to mention every ESPN and SI journalist. Peter King of SI is always on for NFL. All popular tech blogs have a twitter presence (gdgt/ engadget/ mashable/ techcrunch/…/…).

So I hope I convinced that cynic in you to give Twitter a shot. When all the news from Twitter’s press conference is digested, I will update the post accordingly.

Social Network Integration may not be for everyone.

July 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Let me preface this by saying I enjoy Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook allows me to share personal moments with family and friends, LinkedIn allows me to keep in touch with my professional colleagues – past and present, and Twitter gets me the news as it happens. That said, I would like to keep them separate. Individually, they are awesome. Together, they could cause a lot of confusion and pain and potentially scary situations.

Last fall with Facebook on the cusp of global domination, the Facebook single sign-on program started expanding to cover all other aspects of our internet life. The purported motive was to allow a single sign in access to all websites of interest. Soon enough, websites were supporting the Facebook single sign on method. Little did everyone realize that Facebook now had access to parts of our life that were until then, ours.

Now everybody wants to be a part of the social network paradigm. Twitter and LinkedIn also wanted a piece of the action and soon enough there was social integration left, right and center. To be fair, all of these are options one can disable but the lure is still there for unsuspecting public to want to link up their private lives with their work and their public interests.  Everybody from Microsoft to Google to Facebook to LinkedIn to Yahoo/Twitter is pushing for it.

There is a lot at stake here starting with the user’s data and preferences. By integrating your social lives, these networks have access to everything about you ranging from your favorite restaurant to your best friends to where you work to your past employers to your son’s school. By hooking all these up in one place, we are exposing ourselves to huge ramifications if this data were to be shared with the wrong audiences or worse still- be hacked.

Microsoft just announced their Outlook connector which integrates your Outlook Inbox with your Facebook friends. Just imagine the kind of ways things could go wrong. With that thought, Ill end this post. If this topic interests you, there is an excellent (but long) Slideshare presentation titled the Real Life Social Network, from a developer at Google talking about the future of social networking. Note that Google has an active role in this so read about it with that perspective.

One more Facebook post- Zynga partnership and Facebook 0

May 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

I promise I’ll take a break from posting about Facebook after this one.

Two different pieces of news caught my eye and I wanted to share them here. The first one concerns Facebook and Zynga, the topic of an earlier blog post. Speculation was rife that Zynga was planning on starting its own game network dubbed Zynga Live. The fallout was being attributed to notifications, royalties and what not. Surprising one and all, and taking the most obvious route for both parties concerned, the two giants patched up and signed a five year agreement today.

What does it mean for Facebook?

Facebook will continue to draw all those casual social gamers that are hooked on Zynga published games (all 300 million of them). They will also start earning royalties (rumored to be 30%) on in-game micro-transactions when a user wants to buy the latest super fertilizer for their farms. A definite win for Facebook. If Zynga had left, not only would Facebook have lost some users at this critical time for the company, it would have also lost some credibility with other social game developers using its platform.

What does it mean for Zynga?

When the problems between Zynga and Facebook surfaced, there was a lot of speculation about the future success for the game company since much of its growth has been attributed to Facebook. Zynga definitely had a lot more to lose than Facebook if it left the latter. The deal means that there will be a drop in revenue for Zynga as Facebook will now claim its royalty share but it can count on more users to beef up the bottom line. The deal definitely means more to Zynga than Facebook and in a sense this deal was a very smart and practical move for them.

What does it mean for the users?

More games, more notifications, more addictive hours. What else did you expect?. A Treasure?

On a completely unrelated note, Facebook announced the launch of Facebook zero, a data charge free version of the social network for mobile users in emerging markets. This is definitely a good move whereby Facebook can rack up more users more page hits to garner more ad dollars. Further more importantly, it also gets them more user data for whatever they choose to do with it. It will be interesting to see the uptake in the coming months, but I expect it to be huge in India which already boasts a big Facebook user base. This might warrant a new post sometime in the coming months.

The Future of Facebook

May 13, 2010 § 1 Comment

Facebook is at the thick of things again and for all the wrong reasons. From Zuckerberg’s past to the Zynga brouhaha, every bit of news about Facebook these days is negative. Now, with the privacy issues getting so much attention, it is time to examine it in more detail. For a objective timeline depicting the changes to Facebook’s privacy policy, see this excellent compilation by Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Two recommended readings on the topic are here and here. It has become so big that Facebook is rumored to be holding an all hands meeting to address the firestorm. Now there is talk of a new wave of Facebook deactivations [1] [2][3] that is starting to make it trendy to quit Facebook. Big and influential blogs are calling for users to quit Facebook [1][2][3]. And did I mention about privacy groups and senators gunning for Facebook. To complete the circle of defamy, there is now a high profile trendy open source alternative to Facebook that is getting a lot of attention called Diaspora.

Now admitted that this could all be dismissed as growing pains for one of the biggest Web sites (if not The Biggest) in the world. Didn’t Microsoft and Google have to go through similar pains in the form of antitrust filings and privacy violation accusations. The Google Buzz privacy issues are still raw in our minds. But this time it seems like there is a growing problem with the ever changing, ever complicated privacy policies of Facebook. As time goes by, it seems like more and more information is being made public by default and it is also getting harder and harder to keep things private.

So where does it leave us?. Out in the open as always. Privacy as a necessity is dead. It seems to be getting more and more optional by the day. To quote Mark Zuckerberg, “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.” . He may be singled out for the scope of this article and in view of the current situation but his opinion is really no different from most Web 2.0 companies. The consumer, your, data is no longer yours and it is extremely valuable.

So what can we do?. For starters, revisit our Facebook privacy settings and tweak it to our personal choice. It would also help visiting the page every once in a while to keep pace with policy changes which are forever changing. It would also help to manage what is being shared in Facebook. I am guilty of sharing more than I should and I have started making remedial changes. Facebook is awesome when it comes to sharing photos and thoughts and links and ideas with friends and family. The only problem is there are far more people watching than you think or want to. Think about it.

Update: Now WSJ has an article saying that “how to delete Facebook account” is starting to trend high in Google Search.

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