Sunday, March 30, 2008

Good Design Vs Good Coding

Do you do the design document before or after the coding cycle? Logically everyone would say that you have to do it before the coding cycle but the fact of the matter is that many people do it after the coding cycle. They finish the code and then feed the code into a tool that will draw a design diagram for them based on the code that was submitted to it. They then take that design diagram and write the design document based on that diagram.

Now if we compare this to the real world it would be like constructing your house by a bunch of brilliant architects each having his own idea of what he wants to do with the house and after each one of them says they are done you draw up the design based on what you see. Can you imagine what you would get? Thats exactly what happens in the software that is designed after it is built its just that everything is virtual and it is not as apparent as it is in a building but its pretty much the same. Hence having brilliant programmers does not help to come up with brilliant software if it does not have a brilliant design that is guiding them.

What are the reasons many of us do not design before we code? Some of them are
  • It is hard to design because software is an art and each task varies so you do not know how to do it till you start doing it.
  • What do i design? I know what I am going to build why waste time putting it down on paper.
  • Design is to be done only if you are going to hand over the coding to junior developers who do not have the experience to code something like this.
  • A design document is only to explain the system to the people maintaining the software it is not for us to do development.

I am sure there are many more reasons but let me now tell you why you need to have a good design

  • A good design is the glue that keeps the vision of all the brilliant developers in the same direction. It is the guiding force the leads them to where they want to take their brilliant product to.
  • It gives a consistency to what is being developed so that it can be maintained easily.
  • It identifies the flaws and the areas that can be potential bottlenecks early on so it can help the planners make more realistic plans.
  • You can validate a design with a third party before anything is built thus saving a lot of time.
  • It has been proven that with good design the amount of time spent coding and bug fixing comes down significantly.
  • With a good design document there is something to validate the code against while testing.

Let me now give you some of my answers to the reasons given by developers as to why they do design after development

  • If there are unknowns while doing the design create prototypes of what is to be developed. These are scaled down models of the actual stuff that will proove that the idea is implementable. It is like an architect building models of the house to show you what you are going to get. Architects also make scaled down models to prove some of the new designs.
  • The "cookie cutter" approach can be used and a sample of the replicable portions of the application can be developed. Architects do a sample house or a sample apartment in a building as a way to prove that the rest of the houses or apartments will look like this.

Design does take time and patience and there are times it gets stalled with little or no progress. You must be careful not to over architect the solution. There should be a moderator while doing design that always ensures that progress is being made and if there is a potential bottleneck that can delay the project necessary action should be taken to come up with alternative solutions or to consult outside experts. But think of it this way it is better to know of these problems in design rather than in coding.

On the whole good design gives you a lot of efficiencies in the other phases and it is a phase that should not be bypassed however experienced or competent one is.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Timing of New Tools and Techniques

Timing the introduction of new tools and techniques has to be done very carefully in a project or an organization. Introducing a new tool or technique into a project or organization and expecting magical results almost never happens. In fact almost in all cases there is an initial loss of productivity or quality.

The reason for this loss is due to the following
  • There is always a learning curve for the new tool or technique to be adopted.
  • Almost always the initial use of the tool or the technique is never the most optimised or best way to use it.
  • Sometimes a technique requires a mindset change and this mindset change takes time.
  • There will always be skeptics to anything new that is introduced and these skeptics can always bring the others down.

Does this mean that no new tools or techniques need to be introduced? Absolutely NOT. There is always a better way to do things and one should be continuously improving by introducing new and better tools and techniques but some precautions should be taken when introducing these tools or techniques. Some of these precautions are

  • Use a trial project to introduce a new tool or technique with clearly documented benefits and proof of success before rolling out in the rest of the organization.
  • Ensure that there are enough trained people who have experience in using the tool or technique.
  • Do not introduce the tool or technique in the later half of any project.
  • Ensure that there is adequate time allocated for the members of the project to get comfortable in using the tool or technique.
  • Adequate training should be provided to everyone that needs to use the tool or technique.
  • The top management should advocate the usage of the new tool or technique and should convince everyone that its the way forward.

If one does all of this then the organization will be continuously improving with the introduction of new tools and techniques.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Copying Vs Innovating

Seth Godin on his blog had an interesting post where he asks

Should you make stuff aimed at people who usually buy your product?
or
Should you make stuff aimed at people who rarely do?


Well this is my take on it

If you do what your competitors don't have you are a pioneer. There is a high probability that it will fail but if it does succeed then you have higher returns. On the other hand if you choose to go with what your competitors have you are a copycat but you have a higher chance of making something that will succeed as it has already been tried before but the returns are obviously lower.

I once read that an entrepreneur is one who sees things that other people don't. They are people that can put order to the chaotic messages that they are being bombarded with and visualize something that no one else does. Putting these thoughts into practice is a lot harder and more risky but if successful higher are the rewards.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Managing risk for better estimates

Everyone who has given an estimate for a task knows that they are giving the estimate based on everything happening "normally". Normal means that there are no unplanned or unknown difficulties that arise. If one expects to be able to make a plan that takes into account all of these unplanned or unknown difficulties then it is impossible at the beginning or during the project to make an estimate that is accurate. This is possible only after the project is over and that is too late. So what does one do when faced with a situation such as this and needs to give an estimate with a reasonable level of accuracy.

The most important thing is to make a plan. Any plan. So when you start off the project you make the best possible plan that you can at that point of time. Once you make that plan ask yourself - "What are the items in this plan that can cause my estimate to go wrong?" Once you ask yourself this question you will be given some answers such as
  • We are doing this design for the first time we are not sure what difficulties there might be.
  • We do not know enough about this task to realistically give an estimate or to break it up into smaller tasks so that we can estimate it accurately.
  • We do not know how to do this task.
  • We do not have trained people to do this work.
  • People may quit the project and we won't have the right people or enough people to complete the project.

These are nothing but the risks to your project. So what you need to do is put a mitigation plan for each of these risks. The mitigation plans may go like this

  • For the design that is new lets build a Proof Of Concept that will make things clearer.
  • Talk to the client about the task that does not have clarity so that we can get a better understanding and give a better estimate.
  • For untrained resources or not knowing how to do something conduct a training program or employ someone who can help in showing how the task can be done.
  • For people that may move out of the project spend time in talking to them and motivating them.
As you can see each of the items in the mitigation plan are tasks by themselves that need to be given time estimates. So add all of these as tasks to your plan.

This plan now needs to be looked at on a periodic basis (usually I look at the plan on a weekly basis) and I check if I have more information to update the estimate or to elaborate the tasks some more and lets say I do have more information then I update the plan and ask myself the question again and update the plan based on the answers I get to my question. Thus I have a new plan.

This is a process that never ends until the project is closed. Hence managing risk is an integral part of ensuring that you meet your estimates.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Building the family website

My Dad's side of the family is quite a big family (My dad is one of 17 brothers and sisters) and I have 76 cousins and a lot of nephews and nieces and a few grand nephews and nieces too. So there was more than one reason in creating a family website. We were using a yahoo group to keep in touch and the website was a natural progression to that mailing list.



We have collected some very old photographs, some videos made by members of the family and books written by the family and have posted them here.

I have used PhpGedView as the family tree software. PhpGedView allows more than one person to edit the family tree at the same time and there are a lot of details that can be maintained for each member of the family. It is very straight forward to install. All you need is a web host that supports PHP.

I got the template for the website from Open source Web Design. You have a lot of nice templates here that can help you get the basic website design in place very quickly.

For digitizing the books written by members of the family I first scanned the books and then used Adobe Acrobat's optical character recognition software to create a PDF and then saved the PDF as a text document. We then formatted the text document into HTML files manually.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Offshoring to India

I was reading a post by Steve McConnell on his blog How to Scale Up Quickly and he commented

Trying to startup quickly by outsourcing is a dead end as far as I'm concerned, especially to India where turnover is so high. Offshore captives can work, but minimum workable size seems to be about 100 people, and it probably takes 2-3 years of ramp up to get to financial break even.

There are some points here that I agree with and some that I don't.

I agree with the fact that there is high turnover is true in a lot of organizations and yes it does effect a lot of projects. An industry average of 15-20% attrition is quite startling for the west to grapple with. Making a project succeed with this kind of turnover is also hard. Searching in Google will give you enough proof to substantiate this high figure. In order to complete a project it is important to have a consistent team right through the project.

I do not agree with the fact that you need a minimum workable size of about 100 people, and it probably takes 2-3 years of ramp up to get to financial break even if one wants to go offshore. If you have a clear idea of what you want to use the offshore center for with clear and precise requirements and you work with a company with enough experience in handling offshore projects you can get a lot of stuff done at a very reasonable cost. If you are planning to move anything offshore setting up a captive unit is not the way forward. There are a lot of small and big players that will do services based work. It is good to go this route and I have seen a lot of small projects needing 2 - 10 people succeed.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Conceptualize, Build, Market, Sell

I have been toying around with various ideas for the last 3 years. I have conceptualized and built the following products but I have no idea how to market and sell these products. I feel that conceptualizing and building a product are the easiest parts of the whole cycle - the tougher parts are finding the buyers for the products and then convincing them to buy the product. A little bit about the products that I have built.

ourspace.in
This is an online web shop which we have customized to sell baby products. It is fully configurable right from setting up all the categories and sub categories of the products to adding the items and managing them. It has a shopping cart which is not yet hooked up to an online payment gateway but one can easily do that when the need arises. It has tons of other features such as
  • Discussion boards with customizable discussion topics
  • Picture Gallery
  • Refer-a-friend
  • Customizable Headline Display

The whole solution is built in ASP.Net and it can be customized for any shop to put their products online in less than 3 days. So with the cost of building an online presence with less than 10 dollars and a website that can show case your items in less than 3 days I think I have the positioning right but have no idea of how to market this.

Ecclesia Solutions
The christian church is a very organized unit. In order to manage the people who are registered with the church and to manage the donations and the religious services in the church we have built one windows based application.
This product can do the following
1) Add family details of a particular member of Parish
2) Search the records of family members and the sacraments details
3) Record sacraments - Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, Marriage and Death
4) Maintain records of income received in the form of Offering boxes, Subscriptions, Mass collections and Donations from the members
5) Set up general information about a particular Parish, Areas, Causes, Substations, Ministers, Offering box and Association
6) Management of Masses (Recurring and one off masses)
7) Reports about the Events held and the Donations given

It is easy to conceptualize and build something like this because you talk to someone out there and they tell you about the idea you get excited and after a bit of brainstorming you come up with the basic idea of what you want to build. I then usually use the ideas out of the brainstorming session to work with summer interns to build the product. Last year a group of interns blogged about their experiences. Well now that I have the products I have no idea what to do with them because I have no background in marketing and sales.

Friday, March 21, 2008

8 Attributes of a Leader

I looked up dictionary.com and found the following definition for who is a leader "a guiding and directing head". I then wondered if that is who is a leader what is it that makes a leader and I came up with the following attributes.

Goal

Every leader should have a goal. Without a goal the leader is rudderless. He has no direction. He should have a clear idea of what is it that needs to be achieved. With a goal in mind a leader should be able to chalk out a plan to achieve that goal.

Strategic Thinking

Thinking strategically is very important. A leader should be able to see things others don't. He should be able to visualize the path to the goal. This comes only on clarity of knowing what the goal is and understanding the path to the goal. There will be blind turns on the way to the goal but a leader should be one that identifies these turns and approaches them with proper risk measures and alternative routes. A leader should be able to think ahead of his team and guide them along the path.

Passion

A leader should follow the goal with passion. He should have the zeal to succeed and overcome all the obstacles. The goal will not be easy to achieve - it never is but with passion and dedication anything can be done.

Team Player

The team should believe in their leader. They should trust in the direction set by the leader and also believe that he is leading them in the right manner. A leader should on the other hand believe in their abilities and their skills and should be able to allocate the right task to the right person. Striving towards a goal is like a roller coaster there will be ups and downs. It is important for a leader to celebrate the ups with the team and lift the team up from the downs. He should be there with them at all times.

Belief

Having trust and belief in ones own ability and skill and also the ability and skill of his team is very important. Without belief comes self doubt and once this sets in it is hard to come out of it. You should have confidence in yourself and also that of your team that the goal can be achieved if you strive to achieve it.

Motivator

There will be times when the team is down and needs to be motivated. A leader should be one that can talk in a convincing manner and should be able to lift up the team to attack a problem with passion and zeal.

Knowledgeable

A leader should strive to gain as much knowledge as possible about the the goal that is to be met. He should be able to advise and guide his team. He should not stop studying or reading up. The day the team feels they know more than him a leader ceases to be one as they will no longer follow him and they will start going their own ways.

Enjoy what you are doing

Enjoying what one is doing is very important. A leader should not think that what they are doing is a burden. They should enjoy what they are doing and only then will they be able to spread the same cheer to the team. Not enjoying what one is doing is a big dampener and will very easily bring the whole team down.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A joke called "National Do Not Call Registry"

The Do Not Call Registry of TRAI is a farce. Registering with this registry does not seem to have any effect on the number of calls that you receive from Tele Marketers. If you go to their website http://ndncregistry.gov.in/ndncregistry/index.jsp they have a section called Information For Subscribers and inside that How to File Complaints. If you get very excited on seeing that don't, in that page this is what is written

"Subscriber may make complaints if he receives Unsolicited Commercial Communication(UCC) even after 45 days of successful inclusion of his number, he may complain the same to his Telecom service provider. Please contact your telecom service provider for more Details."


If you click on the Details link it will take you to a document that has the contact numbers of all the telecom service providers.

Yesterdays newspaper had the following headline


And I have one basic doubt in the whole process working and that is

If the person who you have to complaint to is the telecom operator and thats the same person that is to be paying the penalty why would that person even bother to acknowledge the complaint.

Assuming that in this Utopian world that will happen I still have the following questions that I have not got answers from either the TRAI or the Telecom Operator
  • What is the format of the complaint?
  • What is the proof that is needed to file the complaint?
  • What is the acknowledgment that the complaint has been accepted?
  • Who is the arbitrator for the complaint?
  • How long will the complaint be resolved in?
It looks like a lot of people out there are looking for answers lets hope something comes out of all of this and we are saved from the plague of tele-marketers. Here are some links to others that are facing the same problem

No end to nuisance calls
India’s Do Not Call Registry: A Failure
The 'Do Not Call' registry farce

H1B Visas on SAP Street

I was just about to drive into "SAP Street" in Hyderabad when a banner caught my attention. The banner said "IT Professionals Processing of H1B for job opportunities in US Limited Period Left". I have seen a lot of banners proclaiming that they can train you in anything under the sun but this is the first time that I saw a banner that can get you a job in the US and also get your H1B visa. Well as they say pretty much anything can be done on "SAP Street" from completed project reports that can be submitted as assignments, fake experience letters, Microsoft and other certification exams that can be written in proxy and many more activities that make the birth place of the IT industry in Hyderabad infamous.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

White goods and 0% finance

About a year ago I went to buy an LCD TV and was made the following offer.

"You do not need to pay all the money for the TV upfront. The price that you negotiate for the TV will be divided into 10 installments. 2 installments need to be paid as a down payment and the remaining 8 installments can be paid over the next 8 months and if all the installments are paid promptly then you will be returned the last installment"

This offer seemed absolutely wonderful for the following reasons
  • I do not need to come up with all the money immediately
  • I get money back at the end of it
  • I can actually do stuff with the money that I was planning to pay for the TV with like earn some additional interest on it

So with a little skepticism I took up the offer with Citi Financial and after some verification and some proofs that they demanded I got an LCD TV with just 1/5th of the cost of it out of my bank account. They promptly deducted the money over the next few months and I was presently surprised when I got a cheque with the last installment refunding it back to me with no follow up from my side.

I am not sure where the financial companies gain out of this whole deal as I have not paid them a dime. My thinking is that the white goods manufacturers are paying the finance company something as they are able to push high value items at an affordable rate. White goods manufacturers have an advantage doing this as they get rid of their stock and are also convincing border line buyers as they reduce the burden of a one time payment.

I just did the same thing for the air conditioner that I just bought and the strategy that I followed was as follows. Go into different shops as if you are going to pay by cash and negotiate the best deal possible. Once all the negotiations are over ask the sales person if there is a finance option available and he will introduce you to the credit finance guys. When I bought the LCD TV I was introduced to Citi Financial and for the AC I was introduced to ICICI. The other thing to look out for is that different financial companies have different schemes so you may want to ask them what are the options available. During the purchase of my LCD TV there were 2 options available for me.

Another benefit that I see is that when and if we do get into serious credit rating in India going for such schemes will improve your credit rating with no expense from your side. This basically shows that if someone gives you money they can have some amount of comfort feeling that they will get their money back as you have a history of taking credit and repaying it on time.

One note of caution is that these finance schemes will tempt you to spend beyond your means. The thumb rule that I follow just as in a credit card expense is that if you cannot afford paying for it upfront do not buy it. The credit card or any such finance options should be used only to spread out the money flow but not to make you go overboard.

Monday, March 17, 2008

WiMax finally works for me

We applied more than a month and a half ago for a WiMax internet connection from Reliance and it finally got installed on Saturday. The technician arrived with all his equipment which consisted of a square dish, a small modem and a whole load of wire. They walked around the roof for about 10 min with the dish connected to the laptop and were able to identify the best location to place the dish from where they were able to get the optimum signal. Once they had the dish setup they took about an hour and half to get the connection setup and then finally after about 3 hours they had the WiMax working.

It has been working pretty well ever since it has been installed. Currently I have a 150 Kbps unlimited connection that gets a new IP each time I connect. I need to now change that to a new option where they provide a wireless router so that I can really blog from anywhere in my house.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Serious blogging obsesses you

When I started blogging I used to only write what I liked writing about, wrote articles when I had the time and then once in a while checked how many visitors I had on Google Analytics. Then I started writing a little more frequently and since I had a lot of content initially the posts came thick and fast. Along with the posts came some amount of fame (with no fortune :( unfortunately) which brought the traffic then I started getting obsessed about the number of visitors that came (checking atleast once a day), what were they reading, where did they come from, how long did they spend on my site. I then started worrying about the numbers and with that I started to wonder how do I keep the visitors longer on my site, how do I keep them engaged, how do I show them my really good posts, how do I get them new content day after day, what is it that brings them to my site and so on.

As you can see it can so easily turn from a harmless fun activity to something very obsessive bordering on addiction. The only difference between this and addiction is that when you hit this kind of a phase there are more lows than highs.

I wonder if it is the same for all the other bloggers out there. Do you just blog about what ever comes to your mind ? Do you plan what you are going to blog about ? Do you set yourself targets ?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pictures from Lahari

In the post Cricket Ground : Lahari Resorts I gave details about the cricket ground in Lahari Resorts. Below are pictures of some of the other facilities that are available in the resort.










Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Life revolves around fear

A few days ago one of my colleagues told me "Fear is a great motivator" and that got me thinking. Our life revolves around fear. From the time we are kids we are told about the "Budda-Man" who will take you away if we are not good, you won't become strong if you do not eat and many more like that. As you grow up it is the fear of exams that forces you to study and learn and then once you get into work it is the fear of reviews and appraisals that force you to work harder and put in your best.

I found this very interesting as we start with the fear of god and then move on to the fear of society to the fear of failure as an individual that keeps motivating us to give our best. There are also a lot of products that are sold to us by creating a fear some examples of this are insurance products (fear of death), dietary products (fear of becoming fat and ugly), cholesterol reducing products (fear of heart attacks) and so on. As you can see a lot of our life revolves around fear.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

2 column to 3 column layout

Having been seriously blogging for about 3 months now that is at least one post a day I have realised that there are limitations to the 2 column layout that most blogger blogs have. Some of the limitations of two column layouts are
  • You have only limited space to tell the reader everything you want to tell. For example if you put labels and archive you don't have very much more prime real estate on top of the screen to put anything else.
  • You have limited space to put ads on your blog. You have to either put it in your post or you need your ad to occupy the prime real estate on top of the screen making it look like all you are interested in is advertising.

I am not sure why blogger has only 2 column layouts as default layouts. They are not really providing variety to the blogger out there other than in colors and styles. If you look at all the bloggers who are serious bloggers like Amit, Darren and Abhinav all have 3 column or more layouts.

What I have realised is that readers basically read a blog in a top down fashion. They first go top down on the main post column and then they move to the other columns looking for more to engage themselves. So you need to have good stuff on the tops of your columns to keep them engaged. If you have only 2 columns then you are limiting yourself in keeping your readers engaged.

As I am moving from a 2 column layout to a 3 column layout you may realise some broken or ugly looking sections so please bear with me. I would like suggestions and criticism as i move from my older layout to the newer one. So feel free to leave your feedback.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Kids have a way of reminding us

I was watching television late at night on Friday and my daughter came and told me "Papa the police man will come and catch you if you do not go to sleep" and forced me to switch off the TV and go to sleep. This is the line that I used on her to get her to stop watching TV and to go to sleep. What I found very interesting is how she has figured out that, things that apply to her apply to others too.

In software we have a term called "Eating one's own dog food" which wikipedia defines as "To say that a company eats its own dog food means that it uses the products that it makes." In the same way the rules that you make for others applies to yourself too and in the uncomplicated mind of my daughter this seems like something basic.

When one makes rules it is good to use it on oneself to understand the effect and the benefit of the rule. The rule should apply to you as much as it applies to everyone else. It is a proven management philosophy that in flat organizations where everyone is equal and the same rules apply to all are very successful. Each one plays a role in the organization and as long as all the roles are played competently things will get done.

The lesson I am trying to drive here is that if you make rules for others be ready to follow the rules yourself. If you are trying to impose a restriction on someone else be ready to apply the same restriction to yourself. If you can do this then you will never have any problem in administering or controlling situations that arise out of implementing a rule or a restriction.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

First time blues

I was playing with my daughter yesterday and I asked her to sing a new nursery rhyme with me and she told me "I cannot do it papa because it is difficult". Two phrases in that sentence caught my attention "cannot do it" and "difficult". Which made me wonder, when is it in life do we learn to say that we cannot do things because it is difficult.

There are so many things that I remember finding difficult to do and wanting to give up but I had the right support system around me that persisted with me to continue trying or the circumstance at that point of time forced me to learn it. I was then able to overcome the initial hardships to be able to enjoy it now.

One example is driving the car. I always had this fear to drive on Indian roads but the circumstance of needing a car with a blossoming family forced me to learn to drive and take the car out. It was very hard initially but I enjoy driving now.

The earliest memory that I have of something that I found difficult was to ride the bicycle. Even though I had a cycle when I was about 7 or 8 I never rode it for nearly 3 years till one day my friends persisted with me and ran around me and cheered and lifted me up each time I fell down. It was in the course of one morning I learnt to ride the cycle and after that I used to enjoy taking long cycle rides out into the country side.

I have realized that like this there are a lot of things that seem so hard to do the first time we try it out and want to give up and I think the reasons for that are
  • The fear of the unknown - you never know what lies around the bend
  • The fear of getting hurt - physically and/or emotionally
  • The intimidation of the learning that needs to be done to accomplish the task
  • The fear of failure
  • The fear that one is not equipped either mentally or physically to handle the task
There is always a point where these fears build up before you have to execute the action that is causing these fears and the key is that once you make the decision to start doing something you have to give it your all and in time you will realize if the fears are real or they are illusionary and you can very quickly decide if you want to continue or not.

If you are in a position of leadership it will be very important to provide the support system and the encouragement to people that need it. So as you can see it works both ways when you are a leader or a guide - you need the encouragement and the support and you also need to give it to others for it is when you overcome these fears that you reap the rewards of the action.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Listing on blog catalogues does pay off

In an earlier post "Advertising my blog" I was cribbing about listing my blog in blog directories and how even though I listed on them for quite some time I did not manage to get any traffic and got frustrated. Things suddenly changed after a post written by me listed on problogger.net. Suddenly I had visitors in the hundreds visit my blog and that automatically pushed up my blog in all the blog catalogues and immediately my blog started getting traffic from all the blog catalogues. Suddenly I have had a spurt of visitors from an average of about 30 per day to now a number that is closer to 100.

So listing on blog catalogues does pay off if you can manage to get noticed by one of the bigger sites which can drive traffic to your blog. Increasing traffic to your blog is all about patience and perseverance. If you keep giving quality content and list on the catalogues and one day of fame will push you up in all the catalogues and you will be suddenly recognised.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Earning money by giving it free

You hear a lot of it in the software world free unlimited mail, free chat service, free software and so on. You start to wonder who is paying for all the servers that are running this software or who is paying for all the people that developed this service or who is paying for all the marketing that these services are doing (like the ads for ibibo, indiatimes mail, rediff mail on Indian television).

All of this may be free to use as a direct service but if you look more closely you start to wonder is it really free, because all of these companies are earning money is some manner to pay for running their business. Let us take an example of all the Google products. They are all free to use for most of the features that they offer. But Google earns a lot of revenue in the following ways and there are many more
  • It charges the advertisers through the AdWords program to put their ads on every single product that they have. Google supposedly earns 16 dollars per user through advertising and even a 1 dollar increase will increase Google revenues by 400 million dollars.
  • It charges you for more advanced uses of their mailing application through Google apps if you want to setup email on a custom domain. They give you some of it for free to whet your appetite and then they start charging you a nominal charge. All of this is piggy backing on what they are giving for free through Gmail, Google docs and so on.
  • You can buy a Google custom search server to meet all of your search needs.

How can you manage to give something free and still earn money? The answer to this question lies in the number of users out there. Let us say you have a simple website that offers a simple service and this service has a 100 users. Let us assume you have developed everything yourself and manage it yourself since it is a simple service. Your setup cost is about 10 dollars and your monthly cost on maintaining this another 10 dollars. Now that you have a 100 users you can split this cost over the 100 users which works out to 10 cents per user. If you have ads on this service and the ads are appropriate and meaningful you get your users to click you will start to make a profit. You then make a toolbar that offers your service directly off the web browser and you integrate it with the Google toolbar and ask your 100 users to install it each time they use the Google search on it you earn some revenue (that's how firefox earns millions of dollars apparently - each time you search using that nice looking text box on the top right hand corner of the Firefox browser - firefox earns money). As you can see that this simple service that you offered for free started bringing in revenue.

So free does not mean you cannot make money. You have to think differently. You have to think in terms of 10's of 1000's of users using your service. You need to think like a television or radio broadcaster that is selling ads to its users. You need to think about fixed cost being split over 10's of 1000's of users repeatedly using your software regularly and bringing in recurring revenue. When you can grasp all of this you can start to give away things free and earn revenue.

The toughest part is finding the users to use this service and Google is a master at that. Each one of their services has users in the millions. Hence it is not surprising that it is the number 1 company in this space with no one even close to them.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Team Blogs

I have been getting quite a few requests asking whether I would be interested in teaming up in order to write a blog. In this article I would like to write about what I consider a blog to be and the reasons as to why I will not do team blogs.

I consider a blog to be a personal expression of ones ideas and views. It has a style and a view that is very individualistic. It is a diary that is public. It gives you an insight into the ideas and thoughts of a person. What I have realised over time is that when you read a blog you either love a blog or you hate a blog. There is no middle ground. I have also realised that there are blogs where there is a lot of information but you just don't like the blog because of the style in which the post is written. So writing blogs is very individualistic and on the other hand reading blogs is also very individualistic.

Coming to team blogs I wanted to do one too just like everyone else and the reason I wanted to do it is for the selfish reason that there will be more posts and I do not need to do all the hard work of coming up with posts. Finding the content of posts and writing one each day can be hard work and after a while it can get a bit frustrating. In a team if not you someone else will come up with a post. This is the sole reason I wanted to do team blogs and I have even asked a few to do it with me but I am thankful to them to having said no because i realised the following.

1. You and the people you team up with have to think on the same length and all of you must be equally passionate about what you'll are blogging about. What ever you may say this can be hard to achieve especially if you'll are not going to see each other even once in a while. And when you consider that the two of you were strangers till you met via the blog it makes it all the more tougher.

2. How do you divide the revenue that you earn among all the members of your blog. Money is always a tricky issue. What if there are posts from one author that brings in more traffic than the posts of the other authors ? Should the author bringing in more traffic be compensated more ?

3. A blog has a life it has a style and people stick to the blog because they can relate to the style as much as the content - in a blog you talk to the person on a personal level - if multiple people are blogging then that can dilute the style and the content.

4. How do you ensure consistency and depth of each post that is put up by each of the team members - this can lead to a lot of issues.Who decides on what to post about - you should make sure that you'll do not post on the same subject.

5. Other than posting who does the system admin work and the marketing which is as big a task as the posting itself if not bigger.

Partnerships are always hard and without clear agreements partnerships are bound to fail. When it comes to blogging that is a very personal expression and partnerships can be even harder.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

India steps back

After listening to the budget proposals on the waiver of the farmer loans the first thing that came to my mind is that we are stepping backwards. The issue I have is not about the money being spent but on what it is being spent. In this post I will try to elaborate as to why I have such strong views on this subject.

Spending 650 billion rupees (65,000 crores) for no change
The farmer whose loan is written off will anyway have no money again even after his loan is written off. He still has to borrow the next year to grow his crop. With no change in the environment surrounding his current situation which put him in this position in the first place what's stopping him from ending up where he is again two or three years down the line. So we are spending all this money in writing off his debt but it will not change anything. He will be in debt very soon again as he has no money in his hand.

Agricultural Infrastructure is the problem
The reasons the farmers are in the situation they are in is because of the infrastructure that they have at their disposal. Many of them still till their land using bullocks and a plough. They use substandard seeds. They do not have consistent water supply. They do not get adequate compensation for the crop that they grow. They do not have access to technology that can improve their crops. They do not have a good supply chain that will get their produce where it is needed most and a good price for it. If these are put in place I do not think the real farmer needs such write-offs.

Rewarding the defaulters
The ones that have not paid back the loans are the ones that are being rewarded. How do you know that these people are not wilful or habitual defaulters? We are rewarding those farmers that made mistakes and the ones paying for it are the farmers that are being truthful and paying for the defaulters mistakes through the taxes they pay (if they pay any). What about the ones whose property has already been attached by the bank and sold to recover the money loaned. What do we do for them ? I think this is highly unfair.

What is stopping them from doing this again?
This is the third time we are doing this. Don't we learn any lessons. Has it stopped them from defaulting on their loans? What is stopping them from doing it again? And the answer to all of this is a resounding "NO", "NO" and "Nothing". So are we moving forward in an environment where "India Shining" is being talked about and the answer again is "NO" as we are not benefiting anyone by doing this.

This decision by the finance minister is completely politically motivated - there seems to be absolutely no meaning in developmental terms in order to do this. Development takes time and effort to show results - this does not. Development is a long term gain - this is a short term gain. Given that elections have to get done in another year - it does not take a genius to figure out why a political party goes for something that gives it short term gain rather than long term gain. On the other hand development creates something for our future, hand outs rob us of our future. So giving the farmers this handout is sure to rob us of a lot of things that we could have done with that same money to improve our farmers environment and hence our country.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Featuring in the newspaper

The Indiblogger meet sure seemed to have upped my popularity. It all started with a phone call from Ishita from Deccan Chronicle about my views on blogging and why I blog and after a 5 minute conversation with Mona and myself she seemed satisfied with the information that she had and before we could ask her anything more she hung up. On opening today mornings paper I was surprised to find this

Then there are blogs that will guide you about the basic things like how to apply for a passport, create a website, good places to hang out in a city, as CTO of Infornia.com, Sudeep D’Souza does. Sudeep’s wife, Mona, is also a serious blogger. “I have a baby product company and though we don’t use my blog to promote the company as yet, we give reviews on different baby products available in the market. We make independent comments and also invite parents to give their feedback.”

On closer examination they got my organization wrong - it should have been inforica.com and I have been told that it would be corrected.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hyderabad Indiblogger Meet

After a 15 KM drive to the Microsoft Campus in Gachbowli and then the half-a-kilometer trek uphill in the hot afternoon sun from Gate 5 to Gate 3 of the Microsoft Campus on the road which has tons of construction trucks plying (there is no side walk on the road) and after negotiating all the security formalities to enter the campus we finally arrived at the hall.

There were only about 10 of us even though 75 or so registered on the website but in the next 30 min or so the hall was packed with more than a 100 blogger/wannabe bloggers. Having never been to a blogging meet and it was the same for many of those that came the introverted nature of Indians came out and everyone stuck to their own groups.

The meet started with introductions from Balaji who organized the meet and Renie from Indiblogger about Indiblogger and then they had the "1 min of fame" ice-breaking session where each one had to introduce themselves and their blog and we quickly realized that there was a good mix from students to business men from the young to the middle aged, bloggers with varied interests from mosquitoes to psychology to recruiters to people who blog about everything and anything. It was a wonderfully funny and interesting session.

Microsoft then ensured that all our hunger pangs were satisfied before they started with their session on Windows Live Writer. The discussion very quickly turned technical and the Indiblogger team had to step in to moderate it to save all the non-technical bloggers which was quite a sizable number.

Once the session was over we bid adieu exchanging business cards and URLs and then we had to go through the ordeal of exiting the campus - signing out in 2 places, trek in the dark from gate 3 back to gate 5 and then the long drive home but at least this time I had 4 fellow bloggers to keep me company and we just continued the discussion in the car.

On the whole it was nice to meet many of the people who commented on my blog and make new friendships and relationships. Hoping that there will be more meets like this in the future to build the blogging community in India that is sure to explode onto the world stage. Thank you Indiblogger, Balaji and all the folks from Microsoft for making this meet happen.