Archives For April 2015

Those who have worked with me so far know me as a core technology person. From my days in networking, developing solutions for Internet mobility, security and multicast to my recent years in context aware computing, I have spanned several layers of the stack, but all within what would be considered technology.

Technology to Apps

Some 10 years ago, my focus may have fit squarely into the Technology Box. Even when I was working on peer-to-peer discovery solutions (way before IoT was a buzzword), my focus already spilled out of the Technology box into the Applications Box. If we didn’t build a vertical to demonstrate the technology, the value of the technology was only so much (no one wants middleware for sake of middleware!).

But in the last 6 or so years that I’ve been living and breathing context aware computing, things have dramatically been different.  I’ve been obsessing over both hardware and apps, one more visibly than the other.  My friends at Google would know me as a hybrid hardware-technologist – they’ve seen me champion the always-on aspect of context.  As I wrote earlier, I strongly believe that the next big revolution in context will involve hardware!

What about apps, you ask. My obsession over apps started about 10 years ago and progressively reached a high and has stayed there over the last 5 years. To really get into this, let’s talk about context. I also wrote earlier about the evading business case for context.  As I thought deeper and deeper about the technology around context and how all that comes together, the most disturbing question that lingered was “what is the killer app for context”?  Location was lucky to have (outdoor) navigation as the killer use case, but other forms of context aren’t as lucky.  Other than all the fundamental issues around bringing contextual personalization mainstream, context enthusiasts find it hard to grapple with the fact that there is no killer use case. Period.

So, does that mean context is useless and that we should stop working on it?  Of course not!  Assisting you with the right information at the right time, managing your notifications or allowing you to measure your fitness activity are all real things.  It is inconceivable that information will continue to grow at the pace it is growing, without a gate that is contextual!

Information-Filtered-Context

There is one key realization about context, which is really essential to parse – this is nearly impossible to bring to life at scale without being conceived, developed and introduced alongside applications.  This is because algorithms and user inputs need to stay side by side for the magic to come together.  And users don’t dwell in technology, they dwell in apps!

After working with this realization for a few years now, I’ve set out to bring personalization (via many things including context) to social commerce.  It is an area where behavior analysis and context have a clear place and are yet under utilized at the moment.  What we build in terms of personalization is yet to come, but the first step towards that is to bring the users together on a deeply engaging platform.  My partners and I are uncomfortably excited about what’s coming – more excited than anything we’ve done before! Stay tuned!

Google

Two weeks ago, I walked out of Google with mixed feelings and a heavy heart.  I was leaving behind a team I built and multiple projects I created – things that I was still extremely passionate about, and things that would come to life in a big way in the near future.  I left behind the opportunity to build one of the largest contextual platforms that history will likely see for many years to come.  It was no easy decision.  As I walk into my third week as an entrepreneur, I am still debating if I should let my Google Now just figure out on its own that it should change its notion of what my work is or actively go tell it that it shouldn’t really show me traffic to the Googleplex now!

As all good things go, my ~3 years at Google went by fast. It is the shortest job I’ve held so far and it’s probably the one that taught me the most.  Everything you hear is true – the people are brilliant, the environment is fast paced (Android, mind you, will give a startup a run for its money, in terms of pace!), the food is yum and the bikes are a nice touch!  This is what really makes it challenging to not be at Google once you’ve been at Google!

That said, I had to go pursue a dream.  One of building something from scratch and taking it through its entire lifecycle! When you build something and see that in the hands of hundreds of millions of users, it is a unique feeling – and Google can bring you that.  But, knowing that when you take your feature live, you will wake up to hundreds of millions of users using what you created is, well, also a bit of cheating.  You are riding on an established success that is hard to come by!  Google has its own challenges – not everything built at Google scores super high on user engagement – but, there is no denying that they have an unfair advantage when it comes to user adoption!

I had to embark on this journey to figure out how far I can build something from scratch that did not have that unfair advantage! With an amazing team, I’m setting out to build the next generation experience of styling with friends!  More about that in a few days – but for now, I’m going to let Google Now take its own course in figuring things out :)!