The MOST critical feature for an online retailer…

…is the humble wishlist. 

I’ve used Baazee.com, eBay, Indiatimes Shopping, Rediff, Indiaplaza, and multiple other random sites for one-off purchases. But one place I keep coming back to each time, again and again, is Flipkart. And it isn’t necessarily because of the prices or the range.

Take any standard online retailer.  Assume that the other basics are taken care of – secure payment gateways, logistics, a decent range, and good searchability is in place and equivalent for all.

The one with a wishlist feature is the one that wins out. Why? Because it’s not only your wishlist, it’s also your shopping list. Every time you finish reading the book / playing the game / watching the movie you bought on the last purchase, here’s where you’ll go back to. Every time you read a good review or receive a recommendation, you’ll look it up and add it – just for future reference. A couple of weeks later, you have a list of items that you’re not very sure where they came from – but you do know that at some point of time, you wanted to buy them. And you still can.

If the wishlist is socially shareable – I’m talking pre-birthday, pre-anniversary and pre-christmas type occasions – it makes gifting so much easier, and a much more rewarding experience. Sorry, but I’m a greedy bastard.  🙂

Items get added onto the wishlist after the search process, which differentiates it from any newsletter-based or deal-of-the-day type models. Those introduce you to items for the first time, after which you start the price-comparison checks. That works for totally unique items, one-offs you won’t find anywhere else. Commoditized items can’t work here.

Newsletters also have a slight trace of the snake-oil salesman; I may be paranoid, but if I see something at an amazing discount, my first reaction will be to wonder why. Nobody’s in the business of giving money away. Is it defective? Obsolete? Scratched? Pirated? etc. The wishlist, on the other hand, is above and beyond reproach, because you’ve put it together yourself. The items you added weeks ago may now be cheaper in a different listing, but what are the chances you’ll recheck before buying?

Ebay has a watchlist – but it gets purged with every relisting. will need to check the others.

Amazon has an awesome feature – the recommendations obviously, but most important, the ‘people who saw this also saw / bought’. Lets you leap from product to product, literally along a train of thought, always through things that you like, till you stumble upon the one you like enough to buy.

And for everyone else – especially the guys who hold inventory themselves – enable a wishlist. It’ll help.

Watching S M

Google Reader Logo

Sorry, guys – please note the complete absence of the ‘&’ between the letters. Better luck next time! 🙂

Experimenting around over the last week about what’s the best way to track social media, as an individual. Had an epiphany a little while back when I had 10+ tabs open, on 4 browsers, different sessions for different IDs on assorted social networks… and realized I’m going to need more. That’s just ridiculous.

Most of my activity on social networks and platforms consists of watching – so I started exploring what are the ways in which I can do this more efficiently, and finally, settled on a combination of Feedburner and Google Reader. Almost any dynamic content on the web can be converted to a feed, and Reader, while taking a little getting used to, is pretty good at organizing these. I initially thought it’ll just be a tool to collate updates, but it’s turning out to be more – by a simple process of narrowing down to specific sections in a site and creating feeds of those, you’re eliminating the need for the browsing through each one separately. Some of the good sites have been very intuitive with this, enabling feeds at just the right places (LinkedIn Q&A is a case in point.) The end result is actually redefining my browsing behavior.

Even my own content is easier to manage – I have 5 blogs, not to mention assorted other output in terms of photo uploads, tweets, video, etc. There were multiple blogrolls, subscriptions, follows, lists and favorites scattered through each of these. Now I can at least get it all in one place. It also leaves me free to block a lot of unnecessary updates on FB & Twitter, restoring some sanity to my timeline.

Make sure you go through your sharing settings on Reader once and understand them – a lot of what you watch you may not want to broadcast.

I realize this probably sounds very old hat – a lot of you will have been using Reader for years now – but in terms of the current issues over privacy, time lost in social media, information overload and drowning in a deluge of infojunk, if you haven’t used Reader till now, give it a shot. I really don’t see myself discarding this anytime soon.

The Dummies Guide to Tweeting


or, Everything You Wanted To Know About Twitter But Were Too Embarrassed To Ask

What is Twitter?
Start by reading this.

If you update your status message – on anything – with any regularity, you’re already a basic twitterer. Twitter is a place where all communication is a nice, super-short update on what you’re up to. You add friends (followers) who get your updates (tweets) and you get theirs, if you follow them.

At least, that what it used to be.

Status messages evolved – letting you post links, pictures, videos… and so did Twitter. You can post all this, too, in addition to the messages.

And then it evolved some more.

Unlike a social network, the only thing any follower knows about you is what you post as a tweet, and maybe some other basic info. This means you can have thousands, millions of followers, ALL of whom you can send a message with a single click. And because you don’t necessarily have to follow them, unlike a Facebook or a Gtalk where it’s a 2-way street, lots of people started adding followers.

People follow twitterers who put up interesting comments. Jokes. Useful links. News updates.
And suddenly, Twitter took on a whole new character. It became a place where you could get useful information fastest. You’re following people who post interesting (at least, to you) stuff; so, naturally, you already have something in common. When one of those people comes across something interesting, posting is easy. And you receive it immediately. It’s direct, one-to-one. It’s a personalized broadcast.
People tweet. Companies tweet. News channels tweet. Celebs tweet.
It’s completely open. You can become the broadcaster, too, instead of the reader. You can be a tweeter that many more will follow, if you’re interesting enough to them.

Getting started with Twitter
Go to www.twitter.com
Register.
That’s it. Start tweeting.

At first, you’re just a lonely voice. Find friends. Follow them, get them to follow you back. Stay updated on what’s happening with their lives.
Bo-ring.
So next step. Start following famous people. People that you otherwise read about. Hear about.
Information overload. Too many tweets coming in too fast.
Clean up. Sort. Follow only the interesting people. Useful people.

Here’s where it gets interesting.
Retweets.
A retweet is simply a cut-copy-paste of something interesting you heard, which you’re resending out again. You might be the only guy in your group following that source you got the info from; and by retweeting, everyone in your group gets to hear the news. Some of them find it interesting, so they start following that guy.
(etiquette: when retweeting, just add ‘RT @username’ of the guy you got the link / info from.)
That guy now has followers he otherwise wouldn’t have reached. And if you’re an interesting twitterer, the same applies to you. Be interesting. An audience will come.

How do you get people to retweet you?
Be interesting. Be useful. Talk about stuff that at least somebody will like. And be short. You still need to be less that 140 characters, including the retweet credit.
And read this.
Plus, there’s replies, direct messages… you can have a full-scale conversation.

But there’s other, faster ways to get intereting info. Hashtags.
#tags are little bits of what looks like code that you see sometimes in tweets – eg, #iranelection. What is it?
It’s just that – a tag. An identifier. A label attached to a particular activity. #iranelection is a tag people apply to whatever news / info / links they’re tweeting about, if it’s about the Iran election.
Some #tags are super-popular in their group. And if you want to know about what’s happening in the Iran election, just search for that #tag – and get to see all the tweets made with it. Some of them might come from people you want to start following. A lot of active, popular twitter conversations have #tags; it just takes some searching and general awareness to find out what they are.

So, what are the popular #tags?
Or, to put it another way, what is the twitterati twittering about?
Try retweetradar.
It’s a brilliant snapshot of trends – not just twitter trends, but literally breaking trends. Live, as they happen.
Also try Retweetist, and Tweetmeme.
And finally, read this. And keep exploring!

If you’ve done all this, you’re well on your way to being an advanced user. But you have got to break free of that clumsy web interface, having to type the codes / identifiers / tags… get yourself a dedicated twitter app. There’s hundreds out there, available for free, but some of the better ones –
Tweetdeck and Seesmic

Did you know about some of the other cool stuff?

Share pics with Twitpic.
See how your followers are spread out with Foller.me
Track your popularity with Twittercounter, and compare yourself to others.
Check your influence and say in the twittersphere with Twitalyzer.

And finally… you are one of the twitterati. You’re in the club.

But, for those times when you still need to do a quick lookup… Time for the final bookmark. (and I mean it, you need to bookmark this)

The Twitter Guidebook

And if you found this interesting, there’s more coming… just –
follow me

What do your friends say about you?

Today, I’m going off tech for a bit. Slightly. 🙂

Check out Facebook Social Graphs. What this nifty little tool does is map your connections in a visual graph, using a specific formula. (Basically, a spring-electrical model. Each connection is a charged particle, repelling everyone away from himself, and is connected with a spring, pulling together. This forces the connections to form clusters, with large interconnected groups bunched up together, and independent loners pushed far outwards. The individual clusters will also repel each other, moving into clear ‘continents’. See here for more details on the model)
This creates an interesting theory – that the pattern of cluster formation can be used to predict user personality and possibly career success. (via Pluggd.in)

My Social Graph

I’ll take it a step further – it can be used to predict a bit more about people.

Some scenarios.
(This is pure thought exercise, and shouldn’t be taken in any way as definitive or a point of authority. I’m also looking forward to inputs and feedback if you agree / disagree / thought of something new)

Isolated, scattered islands
Lonely. Not many friends, and the few he has, are not giving him access to their extended groups.

1 single supercontinent
All this guy’s friends know each other. Can happen if he’s from a very close-knit group. Either just created a profile (where the closest guys are added first, all his batchmates, for example) or comes from a very niche industry where people move around, know each other, and are interconnected. Family is not on his friend list. Probably single. Geographically limited.

Large cluster with few isolated islands
He’s getting out there. Meeting friends of friends. But most of his life still revolves around a single activity – either work, or college. Could be running a club, with some new people joining all the time.

2 clear groups
Probably recently married, so his significant other’s group and family is added on. Looks like an arranged marriage. Wife doesn’t know most of his friends. Natural progression would be for the two groups to gradually start merging. Schizophrenic? Work and friends networks only?

2 clear groups, each with it’s own satellites
Living 2 lives. Home and Away. This guy can have an affair and get away with it, nobody from the two spheres knows anyone from the other. Will also tend to be stressed as each group puts wildly conflicting demands on his time and attention.

Multiple groups, all separated
Social butterfly. Likes to do lots of things, meets with people from various fields. Has active social life, with several groups of friends for different activities. Will come across as a well-rounded personality.

Archipelago: Lots of isolated, scattered islands
Still meets lots of people, and is on good terms with them, but they don’t know each other and each one is a closed door, not giving access to additional groups; Sounds like sales, or consulting. He needs to get past those individual islands and start making each into a cluster. May also be a high-level person, CEO-type, who has to restrict the number of people who have access, but needs to keep the key people in; or a celebrity profile. The next step would be –

Medium cluster, lots of islands
The core group is of the people in the industry, key resources who know each other; others are all the one-point contacts who are still important but not important enough to warrant inclusion of their individual networks.

Lots of medium clusters
Clearly differentiated spheres of life. Work, play, home, family. Maybe side jobs, freelancing.

Lots of medium clusters, so close together to look like a giant cluster
Good life, but now it’s advanced to the point that several people in each cluster know people from other clusters. This guy has good social skills, and mixes his friends. Advanced user, has been online a while.

Ending thought – this is not particularly informative or useful as an article, but once you try it out, you get a realization that even relatively unexpected bits of data – like do your friends know each other or not – can actually be mined now to create a meaningful result. I, personally, was quite surprised at some of the connections that emerged – people I didn’t think were surprisingly well-entrenched amongst my friends – and others, that I thought were part of my core group turned out to be surprisingly far out on the periphery.

At the very least, it makes planning the guest list for the next party easier. 😉

Do you need to be on another social network?

Got this one from Manu – Vyoom.com.

At first glance, it’s one more social network. It has status updates, friend lists, photo albums, file sharing, link sharing… what really distinguishes it from the others seemed to be 2 features.
1. Private and Public streams. One for your friends, one for everyone on Vyoom.
2. Rewards for everything you do, redeemable for a good collection of cool stuff. Really good, cool stuff.

Public and Private streams – I don’t get it. If you’re a public figure and want the whole world to follow you… use Twitter. If you just want friends to see you… use Facebook. The twin feeds don’t make immediate sense.

Now, let’s look at points in more detail.
Say, I want the Wii, 3 million points. when I sign up, I get a big bonus – 75,000 points. Another whole bunch of points comes from creating wishlists, uploading photos, links, etc… 5000 points. Another 600 for completing profile. I have at least 200 friends that I’m pretty sure I can get aboard, so @5000 points per friend, that’s a million points. Say, another 50,000 for some twitter followers.
Sounds good so far? That’s 1.13 million points already, in just a few days. A third of the way! Doing pretty well, I say!

Not so fast, sunshine.

These are one-time-only points. You do it once, can’t do it again. The rest comes from being active on the site – 5 points per activity. (There’s also points for replying, but it’s not mentioned how many, so I ignore it for now)
On an average, I update my facebook status 3 times a day; which means, on Vyoom, 450 points per month. I need to make another 1.9 million points.
Dude, it’ll take me 346 years to get that Wii!!
Unless I’m making some major miscalculations. Which seems likely. Maybe all the other activities can be done every month, except the profile completion and signup. And, say, I add 10 friends every month. Won’t make me too popular, but what the hell.
The score is now 2.8 years, at average activity levels.
One the other hand… If I freelance 6 articles, each an hour to write, then I can make the money I need to buy it retail. In a day.

Let’s look at a larger issue now. Assuming I can sustain that kind of an activity, what do I really get out of signing up?

Vyoom is brand new. There is no clear USP yet. It’s not business like LinkedIn or timepass like Facebook. There’s no potential large audience like Myspace. It’s not even region-specific (yet) like Orkut or Friendster. Everyone had a Yahoo! id because of Y!Messenger until Gtalk came along… which worked because Gmail had already replaced all other mail services, and everyone had a Gmail id.
The features aren’t very killer, or even startlingly new. FB changed the game with live feeds. Orkut got ahead because ‘everyone was on Orkut’ at least for a while. Everyone else had some first-mover advantage until the feature got incorporated by a bigger site.
So, there’s no reason to be on this parallely to any others.

Why do we come on social networks? In the end, if you get right down to it, it’s because a) someone we wanted to meet was on it, or b) we thought someone we would like meeting would be on it. That’s hygiene. Features are just keepers. And every network gets to be more and more a part of you, as you use it; your history, your friend circle, your interactions, links outside… Moving is progressively more difficult. Try changing your personal email id, or your cellphone  number. It’s possible, but very painfully inconvenient, in most cases. The only reason that would justify a move is the original reason we joined is now gone to somewhere else – which explains the mass Orkut exodus to FB.
So, there’s no reason to replace your existing networks with this.

So why shift?

[Update –
Had a comment from Zane which pointed out some areas I might have missed out, so felt it’s only fair to add on some updates. Read the comments for more details, but here’s 2 that immediately caught my eye –
Realtime streams – which means Vyoom also combines the features of an Instant Messenger.
Page customization, so you can organize everything you get to know about a little better. Something Facebook sorely needs.
I’m still not too sure about the points system, but maybe I’m an atypical user, or Vyoom might update points gathering systems in future to get what you need faster. A free Wii for a year of regular usage is a good incentive regardless.
Still leaves the primary question open – which I guess nobody can really answer – is why change social networks. Orkutters had the same issue with FB, until enough people migrated; once everyone’s on Vyoom, and using it regularly, you would too.
The nearest comparison I can see coming up is
Google Wave, which is supposed to include Realtime conversations (among many other things). The advantage, of course, they will have is that integrating with Gmail and Gtalk will be a matter of course – putting a significant number of your people already in the network.]

Taking the Red Pill: Wake up to Social Media

Taking the Red Pill

Is social media the magic pill to cure all your marketing ills? What pills are YOU on?
Wake up!

Read this. It’s a collection of some really interesting, eye-opening, hard-hitting posts.

Okay, read it in a bit.

Social Media is the hottest new buzzword in mainstream media. It went through that phase last year in digital. Marketing managers, GMs, AVPs, and CEOs everywhere are suddenly seeing these new words erupting like disease in their news… Dozens of words, each usually two syllables, capiTalization all over the place, oozing numbers like 2.0 and 3.0. Like a disease, they make them uncomfortable. They itch, they draw the eye, and while they fill them with discomfort, they also fill their minds with wild, fevered imaginings.
[Disclosure: I am a marketing manager]
And along comes the recently hired assistant manager, the agency guy, who not only knows what they mean, but refers to the people responsible on a first-name basis.
[Disclosure: I used to be the agency guy]
Marketing Manager takes him out for a smoke. Then a daru session at Janta Bar. And the next morning, the blazing new focus that will launch the company into the century after next is SOCIAL MEDIA.

But who’s going to do it?
A sudden flood of presentations from companies all formed exactly 8 months ago, all with the word ‘Google’ popping up latest by the third slide, and an impressively alphabet-soupy creds list.
Case studies. Average responses. Followers. Fans. Targeting. Response rates. Viral impacts. Success. Glory. Eternal Life and Nirvana.

Everything except that slightly shifty look in the eye, and the crossed fingers under the table. There’s two ways this will go from here.
1. The plan, after extensive quizzing (or even trials) delivers a grand total of five thousand visits and five hundred responses. Budgets are put back onto one more primetime 15-seconder and the Marketing Manager’s name goes onto the company’s Google Alert so they can pitch again the day he moves to another company.
2. The plan is launched with great fanfare. Dozens of part-timers and interns frantically participate in communities, share links to their friends, tweet, text, update status messages, forward mails, and refresh. The plan delivers, after 6 months, ten thousand views and one thousand responses. The Agency gets an award at another alphabet-soup convention. The ‘Some Of Our Clients’ slide gets updated.

Wake up!
Social Media is not magic. It’s also not an outsourced service. It’s something you own. It’s what you do. Not hire to have done. It’s the difference between hiring a maid to bring them back from school every day while you’re at work, and letting the same maid take them on a holiday in the new car.

It. Takes. Time.
It takes effort, energy, intelligence, and patience. It takes money to get people who have all four. It takes a long, slow, learning curve as you figure out what works and what doesn’t. It takes not only a village to raise a child, but also a decade. Remember that. You could clone, accelerate-grow and flash-imprint personalities instead of having kids, but you end up with an army of identical faces that tend to creep people out.
Using Social Media – to use another of the insanely colorful analogies that I enjoy doing – is like using a single sniper instead of carpet-bombing a city, which usually gets bad press. You can achieve what you want without any collateral damage, but it takes time to engineer.

Here’s a little clue about a lot of social media agencies. They don’t have one.
Most have got lucky with one thing that worked, and they’ve spent months trying to figure out how. The really successful ones did manage to figure it out. Then the cycle starts all over again with the next client, the next objective.

 They don’t know your brand, they don’t feel your brand. You are an ATM that someone left his card in. They will deliver mechanical activity, and not engage. They won’t converse. Why should they? It’s not their brand. It’s yours.

You’re the one who has to grow it, nurture it. They have to meet their revenue targets. They know that if they succeed too well, you will set up a SMO division, poach three of their best people, and cancel their contract. They have to deliver an average response to survive.
[Note: this is not a damnation of all social media agencies. Some of them do brilliant work, and if you know what you’re doing, they can give you insights and implement techniques that will rock. But they won’t do your work for you. Your brand. Your involvement.]

If you’re serious about Social Media, do it yourself. It involves technologies that were MADE to be used by untrained people. It’s not rocket science. Really. SMO and SEO guys wrap it in jargon to cover up exactly that. The sight of too many acronyms should fill you with suspicion, or even better, curiosity. Not fear. You can do it, and should.
But it’s a completely new way of doing things. Not just new media – a completely new paradigm. Make sure you’re ready.

The last word – Check out this report.  It has one key learning – the small business owners are more likely to use social media, and when they do, see better results.
It’s obvious. They’re not blowing money; they’re doing it themselves because it’s their business, and they love it. They want to see what everyone else thinks about it. They have a personal connect. They’re perfect for social media.

With that to think about, I now sign off. Thought for the day – the first steps if you start today.

Tomorrow happened yesterday and you never noticed

This is a really old video, and I’m sure all of you would have seen it at some point. I thought it’ll be an interesting thing to re-look, and see just how right – and wrong – Robin Sloan & Matt Thompson were.
I suggest watching the video, if you haven’t seen it yet, before reading the rest. It’ll make more sense.

2004
Amazon.com – a store that can make suggestions
True. Most online retailers have some kind of a rating system, consumer-based. eBay and Amazon being the best examples.
Reason magazine sends subscribers a issue of mag with their house on the cover.
Sure. Absolutely possible, and if Google decides to do this, they can put a lot more than just where you live… But it’ll scare the pants off people. Maybe Time’s declaring You the Person of the Year  in 2006 was premature, for their hard copy version; if you’re a digital subscriber, it could actually have been you. With your ugly mug on the cover.

2006
Keyhole Google Earth. Google MapsLatitude. ’nuff said.
Google begins indexing and digitizing the world’s library
Google Books has happened. Yes, there were legal issues. Yes, the courts ruled in favor of Google.
Google Grid – in some form, already there. The network of Google-owned different apps – Picasa, Orkut, Youtube, Google Docs, Gmail, Gtalk, Blogger… not to forget Facebook, who does all this in one site via an open API for user-contributed applications…

2007
Newsbotster sorts news according to what each user’s friends and colleagues are reading.
Sounds familiar, all right… How much of your daily media is consumed via facebook recommends, posted links, items liked, forwards, videos posted, images tagged..?

2010
Googlezon’s bots pick up contextual cues… and serve up related content.
Adwords. Maybe not all content – yet – but advertising content is definitely contextual.
Fact-stripping robots are a violation of copyright law
Yes. This debate also happened with the Gutenberg Project (even though most of Gutenberg’s texts were not subject to copyright law), and Google Books (over a million scanned so far)

2014
Epic
Is anyone else seeing the similarity to Google Wave?
Everyone gets paid a tiny cut of Googlezon’s ad revenue
Adsense again. The entire SEM industry is based on this. The Long Tail has become a part of mainstream business lexicon.
Epic – at it’s worst, and for too many, Epic is a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow, and sensational. 
Think status messages, link shares, forwards, spam, comments and tweets? Don’t you curse the people who flood you with this useless flood of non-information, at least once a day?

There was an updated version called 2015, but it didn’t have the… purity of 2014. Apple, Picasa and podcasting were just bunged in as a perfunctionary mention. I’ll stick with the original.

In the end, it always comes back to organizing the information coming in, choosing who generates it. The same rating system that lets you pick a good seller or a good product, is equally extendable to choosing your media inputs. There are specialist websites, content creators, which are rated more highly than others; Often niche and superspecialized, but organizing those niches is going to be a basic survival trait of the human mind.
The ability to ‘Prioritize’ is already a survival and success trait; those of us who know what we’re looking for, have happier lives. The rest… lost in a swirling maelstorm of fluid, shifting information, prey to anomie and living in terror of change, finding solace in simplifiers – drugs, drink, repetitive rigid behavior… can you see it?
Good content gets the rating it deserves from people who recognize it. These people spread the word. Others who recognize that value consume the info as well. And that is social media at it’s best. Getting good info, on the subjects you want, from known, credited sources.

The darker side of the story –
Some organizations know more and more about us. Virtually everything there is to know about us. The amount of personal, private information we willingly entrust to strangers, is staggering. Our email exchanges, documents, what we look like, preferences, realtime locations, even psychological test results… If someone wanted to, could they misuse this data?
Theoretically, yes. Practically…
In 1999, the total sum of all human-created data from all history was about 12 exabytes.
On the 15th of June, 2009, 494 exabytes of data were being transmitted across the globe.
(1 exabyte = approximately 50,000 years of DVD-quality video.)

A human cannot keep up with this. A machine – not now. But Moore’s Law is likely to hold good for another 600 years; and while Skynet might happen before that, it’s going to have it’s hands more than full just trying to keep afloat on the exaflood.


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Sources: Mostly Wikipedia.

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