ಕ್ಲೂಜ್ ಕ್ರಾಫ್ಟ್ · क्लूज् क्राफ्ट
Kludge Kraft
By Elvis D'Souza.
Thoughts & Ramblings on Music, Startups, Technology & Life.
May 2015

Is Valuation everything?

It's very alluring to summarise an investment deal using a single number - valuation. Yes, when combined with money raised, it does help you get a fair sense what the deal might look like; but in such scenarios, more than ever, the devil is in the details. A single clause in the terms can completely change the value of the deal with no impact on the valuation figure.

heidiroizen:

Terms matter

Liquidation preferences, participation, ratchets – even the very term preferred shares (they are called ‘preferred’ for a reason) are things every entrepreneur needs to understand. Most terms are there because venture capitalists have created them, and they have created them because over time they have learned that terms are valuable ways to recover capital in downside outcomes and improve their share of the returns in moderate outcomes – which more than half the deals they do in normal markets will turn out to be…

March 2015

Net Neutrality (India) - a primer

"Free Zone", they said. In 2013. "Free search and free email"
"Sounds great! Anything free surely must be"
"Extra charges for VoIP…", they said. In 2014.
"… those internet companies are making all the money"
"No way", we said. "You don’t get to charge us more"
"But our cash cows… they’re dwindling. We make all this investment"
"Its not about the money, its about Net Neutrality. wink wink"
"Free Internet", they said. In 2015.
Free Wikipedia, free networking, free messaging.
Free Search, free cricket scores, free job search.
Free classifieds, free booking, free weather.
"Faaantastic", we said. "Never say no to Free"

The Internet may soon cease to be the sole network backing all our apps and products. Conditional Internet access by telecom providers in certain circles is giving rise to new types of networks. 

They run on IP—the protocol that powers the Internet—so they’re everywhere. No infrastructure change on the consumer’s end necessary. Your existing infrastructure (modems, routers) will continue to work without a hiccup.

They’re content aware. These networks can differentiate content by media types: Internet Telephony (VoIP), Text messaging (XMPP), Email (SMTP), Video (RTSP/DASH). They can differentiate traffic through domain names like facebook.com or netflix.com. They may also discriminate traffic through platform, hardware, user, geography etc.

They may enforce conditional access: Networks may specifically enforce access to only certain media types or may restrict traffic to certain internet properties.

They may introduce differential billing: Telecom providers may charge separately for in-app calling, for example, to compensate for lost revenue to lower data tariff.

They may be zero-rated: The traffic may be paid for by content creators, properties that you access, like how toll free 1800 numbers are paid for by the callee.

They may enforce differential speed limits. Videos from youtube may be throttled by networks until, say, youtube pays up.

The Internet does not discriminate traffic by media types or network participants. This property—Net Neutrality—is a key part of its growth as the single largest network that we’re all connected to. 

The non-neutral networks are rising to go after various goals.

Charity: Internet.org promoted by Facebook seeks to make certain websites accessible to people free of cost. The idea is to get more people to the internet and improve their quality of life by leveraging information access.

Promotion: Google introduced Free Zone, a network that provided free access to Google search, email and other Google properties.

Revenue: Airtel proposed special charges for VoIP calls made on their network citing their investments on infrastructure.

In February 2015, US FCC ruled against discriminating internet traffic, supporting net neutrality. The debate leading to this judgement took a vocal internet and politic populace and several months of time. In India, these networks are making preliminary strides. Debate has been limited to rallying against special charges by Airtel, which they promptly deferred till TRAI issues guidelines on the matter.

These developments are a big deal. Conditional and differential access brings in variability to an infrastructure piece we’ve managed to abstract out for consumers. They have the potential to introduce gatekeeping, economic exclusion, entry barriers on content creators and providers. 

We’ll see a lot of development in the months hereon involving TRAI, telecom companies and internet companies. Lets hope for greater public involvement in the process and a net-improvement in access and experience for the consumer. 

Further reading:

  1. John Oliver on Net Neutrality (Video)
  2. Medianama’s impressive coverage
  3. FCC Judgement (PDF)
December 2014
July 2014
June 2014

Little Acts of Kindness ft. Modern Consumer Apps

Gmail reminds you of missing attachments. Buffer replaces twitter handles with real names when tweets are shared on other networks. Some payment forms alert you of cards nearing expiry. Search for "golden ratio" , and google presents you with a calculator.

We’ve been enjoying these small but useful "acts of kindness".  I call them as such, because it is acts such as these that make software pleasant to deal with. The makers of such software care and think about their users, and take that extra step beyond what is necessary to improve user experience. Hence the Kindness. The effort involved in providing this experience is little, yet the impact is profound.

We’re experiencing a level up in this area. I’m getting to see many more acts of kindness around me. Here is a sample: 

If you’ve bought an SLR from Amazon, and look around for lens any time in the future, Amazon will inform you of its compatibility with your camera right on that page!

If you’ve received a flight ticket to your mailbox, Google - via a service called Now - will help you with additional information: notifications of delay in flight schedule, and reminders for you to leave home at the right time taking into account traffic delays.

Modern consumer apps are leveraging your past interactions with them to improve your experience in the present, or "in context" - using purchase history to help you pick the right lens, email history to help you catch your flight on time. 

This is a space that is evolving fast, a space that is dear to me, and I hope we’ll see a lot of software makers take cue and give their users little moments of joy.

June 2014

How many chat apps do you have?

I’ve been popping this question to people lately. After all, mobile startups today are constantly in hunt of coveted consumer attention and engagement. Some of my observations:

Everyone has Whatsapp. Everyone. Among the people I’ve met, of course. Facebook comes a close second. The variance of the third most common chat app is just huge! WeChat, Line and Viber have been pumping dollars into advertising. So I get to hear a lot about them. The PC/Blackberry generation talks about Skype and BBM. And there’s always that one app you’ve never heard about. 

Calls, Email, SMS and IM have been the popular ways of reaching out. Following the wonderful days of federated IM, we’re looking at an explosion in the number of chat apps.

The barrier to making one is very low. IO focused technology is on the rise. The network effect is a crucial aspect at play - a chat app is only useful if your friends are on it. Emerging markets are just getting connected to technology via mobile, and tapping attention from them is crucial. Not to mention, when it comes to data, this is as personal and revealing as it gets, despite the amount of noise. So good business models are a given.

With all of these aspects falling into place, with some capital, a few good engineers and marketers, building the next big communication platform has been pursued by many. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, and if we’ll still have tens or perhaps hundreds of ways to get in touch…

martinvarsavsky:

Before you would call people but now to stay in touch you can still call, email, SMS, FB, Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, Hangout, Voxer, Line, Twitter, Instagram, Telegram, Path, FaceTime, GroupMe, BBM, Snapchat…and I am probably forgetting other ways to get in touch!

June 2014

The Human Effect: When a human replaces a bot on Twitter

140 characters is what is more than sufficient for humans to identify humans vs bots. NPR's socialmediadesk experimented with replacing the bot on twitter with tweets from humans. 

A bot would presumably use the title of the content itself, whereas humans can be more creative. Along with the regular twitter tricks (like tweeting the same article out multiple times), folks at NPR tweeted questions, promoted discussions, retweeted replies, dug up interesting archived content. 

The result? 45% increase in engagement, surge in clicks and number of new followers! 

socialmediadesk:

Last week, we experimented with sending tweets from humans instead of robots on the NPR news twitter account. 

When did we tweet?

We turned off the automated tweets during business hours and created the tweets ourselves. Monday through Wednesday we tweeted approximately every 8-10 minutes. Thursday and Friday we tweeted approximately every 20 minutes. 

More >

May 2014

International borders & Straight lines

Straight lines on a map are fascinating. They exist mostly due to the lack of geographical impediments like mountains and water bodies. That and agreement among governments.

Other borders are very likely to be composed of straight lines as well, just that the lines extend for at best a few kilometres. On a grand scale (a map), they look irregular. 

vizual-statistix visualizes International borders per their orientation. The impact of colonization split on Africa is clear. The linear weight attached to the length of the borders mean America has a lot of straight lines too. Europe, and moreso Asia have borders that are all over the place.

May 2014

Indentation

I’ve always been a fan of indentation. Those flower brackets (or braces) all over my code make me cringe. Indentation is good practice anyways - that they can also indicate bounds for scope, is fantastic!

It’s not the punctuation - I’m not a fan of the ‘begin’s and 'end’s either. They’re okay for a single level of indentation, but things get quite messy with multiple levels. Which reminds me… people always demonstrate how indentations can cause trouble with code that has 6 levels of indentation, or with code blocks that are (ridiculously) long. And thats the best part! Both large number of levels and long code blocks are indicators of non-ideal code. They’re difficult to read and maintain.

I like to use 4 SPACEs (never TABs), and appreciate when editors and IDEs handle most of it for me. No noise from unnecessary punctuation or keywords, and code that reads exactly what its supposed to do is always good to have!

And finally, the koan that inspired this post

makerskoans:

Master Evgeny was wandering amongst the throngs of Makers, prostrated in code and prayer, when he spotted the following on a novice’s screen…

More >

May 2014

Google is Breaking the Internet

Webmasters adding links, some of them "unnatural" and search engines fighting this "linkspam" has triggered an interesting discussion regarding "breaking the internet" starting with the OP and then on Hacker News.

For the most part, the SEO/Search engine wars stay between them. This case is different. Webmasters get punished, and out go hundreds of emails to other innocent webmasters and publishers for "link cleanup".

It’ll be interesting to see how this will unfold over time.

jeremypalmer:

I received an interesting email the other day from a company we linked to from one of our websites.

In short, the email was a request to remove links from our site to their site. We linked to this company on our own accord, with no prior solicitation, because we felt it would be useful to…

January 2012
January 2012
January 2012
August 2011
January 2009

Leveraging the Internet infrastructure

They say a year in the Internet business is like a dog year.. equivalent to seven years in a regular person’s life. In other words, it’s evolving fast and faster. ~Vinton Cerf

We all use web browsers (Firefox/ Internet Explorer/ Google Chrome/ ...); and our use of the browser has skyrocketed in the last few years...

From being a software-for-the-geeks to a layman’s most useful tool on a computing machine, the web browser has come a long way. With better & better javascript interpreters, web browsers have been increasingly used as a medium to host full-fledged applications. GMail (and now, the other prominent ones), Outlook Web Access, Google Docs are some of the several applications on the web, that replace traditional desktop applications.

Clearly, this trend is leading us somewhere. Perhaps a web operating system; wherein: all our machine will have, is a web browser. Our applications & data will be hosted on the cloud; and a pay-for-use business model may be embraced.

Apart from these RIAs (Rich Internet Applications), an increasing number of systems are using the Internet as an integral part of their applications. With distributed computing, decentralized (and distributed) databases, IPv6 and the 4G telecom standard (the all-IP network), the Internet is getting importance like never before.

I started with HTML, Javascript & CSS in 2003, PHP/MySQL in 2007, and now work with Python-Django /PostgreSQL for serverside and Jquery or Qooxdoo for client side scripting. I have developed several (order of tens, lost count :P) production websites/webapps all along.

My first website was hosted on Yahoo! Geocities. After several free webhosts, I finally have my own web infrastructure in place. I have also deployed some experimental stuff on Google App Engine and look forward to trying Amazon’s Web Services soon.

I am looking at using the powerful Internet infrastructure to automate processes in our life to make things easier. Building systems to automate processes at educational institutions has been my prime focus for some time now.

January 2009

Using statistical models to understand natural languages

If you want to tell the untold stories, if you want to give voice to the voiceless, you’ve got to find a language. ~Salman Rushdie

A set of symbols; so powerful, that we can use their permutations to communicate (and even store) our ideas & feelings...

Human beings use language for communication among one another; so do other animals... A human can talk to a machine, using language. The difference lies in structure. The machine requires that the human use a structured and unambiguous language. Natural Languages (like English, Hindi, Kannada...), however, lack structure and are ambiguous. The lack of structure that makes natural language so powerful, makes a machine incapable of understanding languages!

Significant effort has gone into defining the rules of natural language, trying to capture the embedded information. While this approach of defining rules has worked reasonably well for several applications, it lacks scale and fails to handle the evolving nature of language.

Recently, statistical models have been increasingly used, to model languages and better what the rule-based systems achieved. This has been working reasonably well so far; a major portion of the knowledge space though, remains unexplored.

I started with a use-case of a sentence level meaning comparision in 2008; built language models, classifiers and HMM taggers in 2009. I interned with a reputed research lab in 2010, where I worked on an application of Indic Transliteration . I primarily work on English, ocassionally on Hindi, wish to work on Kannada

Though I have spent quite some time on Language Processing, I do enjoy modeling situations that are more structured. Some call this Machine Learning. The only difference here, is that the data you are working on, is not natural language. It might be a database, or just a sequence of a defined set of symbols (like pixels or genes). The math behind the modeling remains the same.

Finding structure in seemingly random things in real world is something I’ve enjoyed in my experiences with languages and other structured data I have worked on. I hope to do a lot more of this in the days to come.

January 2009

Making websites accessible and aesthetically appealing

Design is the method of putting form and content together. Design, just as art, has multiple definitions; there is no single definition. Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated. ~Paul Rand

Design lets you set your mind free. All you need is a pencil and a paper. I spend a significant part of my college hours (the boring lecture hours) with a pen, trying to get (useless) stuff on paper. While most of what comes out is useless, it does at times help come up with new and valuable ideas!

Now that we have evolved software for graphics design, like Adobe Photoshop and Corel Draw, designing has become a lot more easier. Of course, there is the loss of flexibility but with pen tablets and the likes coming in, you can’t complaint about that either...

On a side note, the flexibility-on-paper can also be applied to programming languages! People call Javascript, a poorly designed language. It does have quite a few design errors, but we fail to look at the expressive power that Javascript places in our hands. With functions as first class objects, and support for closure, it is like a blank paper. You decide what you want to do with it!

Apart from 2D Graphics -- the one I generally deal with -- there is a good amount of work done in 3D Graphics as well. Software like 3ds Max, Blender, Maya help create stunning 3D models and animations.

I started with graphics design in 2005. I have gradually improved my skills since then. My main focus remains 2D design and more often than not, I work on Adobe Photoshop. I did design for my college magazine, Éclat in 2008 and 2009...

For me, graphics design is a supplement to my web development projects. A good UI makes people appreciate your work better! Its worse sometimes; when all that matters is your UI... My design is usually non-funky, neat and simplistic (imho). Also, I adhere to W3C web design standards as far as possible (yes, that was a disclaimer). Nevertheless, Graphics design remains something I love to do.