Archives For December 2013

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For lazy procrastinators like me, there is online shopping and same day delivery.  Sometimes I wish I could get help picking things – and that’s exactly why I’m excited about Vue – an app that is coming soon to address the shoppers dilemma and bridge this gap! 

I’m a last minute shopper.  Well, I do everything at the last minute – more or less.  My to-do list is forever overflowing and there is a constant need to prioritize the top most bleeding needs.  I’m sure many moms with a full time job can relate to this. This year, I’ve exceeded my own expectations (of procrastination, just to be clear of what we are talking about here)!  Not only have I not shopped at all yet, I have not even made a list yet (gasp!).  The rest of the days leading up to Christmas look daunting to me.

About a couple of years ago, I signed up for Amazon Prime.  And I haven’t looked back.  I have been an online shopper much prior to that, but becoming a Prime member took it to another level.  I have not yet shopped for groceries online (I know I’m not an early adopter there), but only because it is difficult to find some of the Indian groceries for reasonable prices online that I could try out.  But, I’d do anything to avoid having to go to the store.  Occasionally I miss being able to feel fabric and look at variety – but, I have such little time that I’d rather do something else with my time than be in a store.

Online shopping is great, but then I struggle with choices.  I keep looking at images from various angles and wondering if a piece of clothing is going to look good.  3D models and high quality images have certainly made the experience quite good, but I still miss being able to ask a human what they think about a product.  I visited H&M the day before thanksgiving (the new start of Black Friday) and as I rushed to pick up some pants in the 10 minutes I had, I got tips from a fellow shopper on some amazing deals on cool sweaters. As I picked it up and thought about it, she also helped me decide what colors looked best!  So, that’s the real insight I miss out on by shopping online!

But, the app world has seen some efforts to the rescue on this front in recent times – apps like Polar allow users to solicit opinions from other users. It has been moderately useful, although I think something with a more dedicated approach to helping people shop would serve better.  On that note, some friends have been working towards an Android app called Vue – that is designed to solve the shopper’s dilemma in exactly this dimension.  I’ve been previewing it and I’m very excited about it!  When I combine online shopping with a way to share opinions, I’d be set for a while!  Until I desperately want perfection in that augmented reality means of virtually trying things on…

Now, off to my to-do list so I don’t make Santa look bad to my kids!

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The Internet has made the world a global village. One where it matters no more where you live to be connected with people.  It takes less time to share your thoughts with people that are with you digitally than those that you may run into physically. Location based personalization aside, everyone around the world can read the same news, get the same results when they search on a topic, see the same updates on Facebook and so on.  What exactly is this doing to our diversity?

Eli Parser discusses Filter Bubbles in his TED Talk and discusses how the Internet may be killing our diversity in opinions. The more a page gets viewed, the higher its rank gets; the higher its rank, the earlier it appears in search results; the earlier it appears, the more it gets viewed – this certainly can be a diversity killer.  This is more of an issue with social opinions and content – nobody wants to be that guy (gal) that stands out with a controversial opinion.  I do wonder about just how much Quora’s algorithms are able to extract and get visibility to the under-viewed and yet good content.  The reality is that the more upvotes an answer gets, it is likely to continue getting more upvotes in future.  Facebook and G+ are no exceptions. Our friends’ likes on a picture make us want to stop and look at it – and more often than not, we may end up liking it too.

Let’s look at the physical world here.  This phenomenon was certainly always present, but it was localized.  The Internet has taken a local phenomenon and made it global.  Is this a problem?  In more dimensions that we can imagine, this is generally a good thing.  It has reconnected us with lost friends and has made the world a smaller place.  But the culprit here seems to be the increasing consumption of content online.  We used to have several sources of content in the past – newspapers, magazines, television, etc. Increasingly, it is all converging to be online.  Our ranking algorithm was previously via word-of-mouth recommendations.  A friend asked us to check something out – in the process, we found something else and asked someone to check that out.  There was scope for interesting discovery.  We talked about opinions in smaller circles – there was room for potentially having varied opinions and not being the loner.

Now we are online and our opinions are too. When we say something, it is visible to a large audience, all at once (unless you have extraordinary patience to compartmentalize your audience).

Are we slowly killing the power of having different points of view?  If we are, that would also kill creativity and it will become a threat to innovation. Before that happens, our algorithms need to start having a measure of interesting and good that is independent of likes/views/votes so that we can take the road less traveled sometimes.