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              Showing posts with label Google. Show all posts
              Showing posts with label Google. Show all posts

              Monday, January 9, 2017

              A New Chapter In My Life; Google


              When I decided to leave SAP to take a short sabbatical I didn’t really know what to expect. Six months later I am happy to report that it was one of the best decisions I ever made. These were some of the best weeks and months of my life. After this short period of disconnecting to recharge and rejuvenate myself I am reconnecting to the professional world. I have accepted an offer with Google to lead the API Ecosystem for Google Cloud to help drive adoption and monetization of the Google Cloud portfolio of platform and products, at scale, by working with various partners as well as coordinating efforts internally at Google with product management and engineering.

              As I disconnected I felt the life slowed down and I had more time on hands and a fewer things to do. I met with many people during my sabbatical to learn from them and bounce off my thoughts. We tend to postpone taking certain decisions and don’t spend a lot of time thinking about many things in life, personal as well as professional, simply because we are compressed on time and each task, activity, or a decision only gets a fraction of overall available time we have. I tried hard not to work hard. Just slowing down and soaking it all in helped clear up many things. Taking time off also helped me prioritize what I really wanted to do. I am a big believer in unstructured free time where there is nothing planned ahead of time; wake up and take each day as it goes. I enjoyed doing mundane tasks and that took my attention off a typical rapid life of a technologist in the Silicon Valley. I would highly encourage you to take a short sabbatical in your career if the circumstances allow you to do so.

              To a lifelong learner and a “product" person nothing excites me more than immersing myself into breadth of possible opportunities at the intersection of technology and business to create meaningful impact at Google. I have always admired Google for its ability to take risk by going after some of the hardest problems that require massive scale, foster innovation, and embrace failure as part of its culture. I have always been impressed with the talent Google manages to hire and retain. I am looking forward to be surrounded by people much smarter than me and learn from them. It’s going to be an exciting ride!

              Wednesday, July 8, 2015

              The Discriminatory Dark Side Of Big Data


              It has happened again. Researchers have discovered that Google’s ad-targeting system is discriminatory. Male web users were more likely to be shown high paying executive ads compared to female visitors. The researchers have published a paper which was presented at the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium in Philadelphia.

              I had blogged about the dark side of Big Data almost two years back. Latanya Sweeney, a Harvard professor Googled her own name to find out an ad next to her name for a background check hinting that she was arrested. She dug deeper and concluded that so-called black-identifying names were significantly more likely to be the targets for such ads. She documented this in her paper, Discrimination in Online Ad Delivery. Google then denied AdWords being discriminatory in anyway and Google is denying to be discriminatory now.

              I want to believe Google. I don’t think Google believes they are discriminating. And, that’s the discriminatory dark side of Big Data. I have no intention to paint a gloomy picture and blame technology, but I find it scary to observe that technology is changing much faster than the ability of the brightest minds to comprehend the impact of it.

              A combination of massively parallel computing and sophisticated algorithms to leverage this parallelism as well as ability of algorithms to learn and adapt without any manual intervention to be more relevant, almost in real-time, are going to cause a lot more of such issues to surface. As a customer you simply don't know whether the products or services that you are offered or not at a certain price is based on any discriminatory practices. To complicate this further, in many cases, even companies don't know whether insights they derive from a vast amount of internal as well as external data are discriminatory or not. This is the dark side of Big Data.

              The challenge with Big Data is not Big Data itself but what companies could do with your data combined with any other data without your explicit understanding of how algorithms work. To prevent discriminatory practices, we see employment practices being audited to ensure equal opportunity and admissions to colleges audited to ensure fair admission process, but I don't see how anyone is going to audit these algorithms and data practices.

              Disruptive technology always surfaces socioeconomic issues that either didn't exist before or were not obvious and imminent. Some people get worked up because they don't quite understand how technology works. I still remember politicians trying to blame GMail for "reading" emails to show ads. I believe that Big Data is yet another such disruption that is going to cause similar issues and it is disappointing that nothing much has changed in the last two years.

              It has taken a while for the Internet companies to figure out how to safeguard our personal data and they are not even there, but their ability to control the way this data could get used is very questionable. Let’s not forget data does not discriminate, people do. We should not shy away from these issues but should collaboratively work hard to highlight and amplify what these issues might be and address them as opposed to blame technology to be evil.

              Photo courtesy: Kutrt Bauschardt

              Monday, March 31, 2014

              Amazon's Cloud Price Reduction, A Desire To Compete Hard And Move Up The Value Chain

              Recently Google slashed price for their cloud offering. Amazon, as expected, also announced their 42nd price reduction on their cloud offerings since its inception. Today, Microsoft also announced price reduction for their Azure offerings.

              Unlike many other people I don't necessarily see the price reduction by Amazon as waging a price war against the competition.

              Infrastructure as true commodity: IaaS is a very well understood category and Amazon, as a vendor, has strong desires to move up in the value chain. This can only happen if storage and computing become true commodity and customers value vendors based on what they can do on top of this commodity storage and computing. They become means to an end and not an end itself.

              Amazon is introducing many PaaS like services on top of EC2. For example, RedShift is the fastest growing service on EC2. These services create stickiness for customers to come back and try out and perhaps buy other services. These services also create a bigger demand for the underlying cloud platform. Retaining existing customers and acquiring new customers with as little barrier as possible are key components of this strategy.

              Reducing hardware cost: The hardware cost associated with computing and storage have gradually gone down. Speaking purely from financial perspective existing assets depreciate before they are taken out from service. Also, new hardware is going be cheaper than the old hardware (at the original cost). If you do pass on the cost advantage to your customers it should help you reduce price and compete at the same or a little less margin. However, hardware cost is a fraction of overall operations cost. In the short term, Amazon being a growth company will actually spend a lot more on CapEx and not just OpEx to invest and secure the future.

              Economies of scale: The cost to serve two computing units is not the sum of cost to serve two one computing units. There are many economies of scales in play such as increasing data-center utilization, investment in automation, and better instance management software. Confidence in predicting minimum base volume and reducing fluctuations also gives Amazon better predictability to manage elasticity. As the overall volume goes up the elasticity or the fluctuations as percentage of overall volume go down. On top of that offerings such as Reserved Instances also are a good predictor of future demand. Amazon views Reserved Instances as how banks view CDs but many customers are looking for a "re-finance" feature for these Reserved Instances when price drops. These economic and pricing implications are great to watch.

              To offer competitive pricing to win against  incumbents and make it almost impossible for new entrants to compete on the same terms is absolutely important but it would be foolish to assume it is the sole intent behind the price reduction.

              Photo courtesy: Flickr

              Thursday, March 31, 2011

              It's 1999 Again: The Bubble 2.0 And Talent Wars Of The Silicon Valley

              I have been living in the Silicon Valley for a while, and sure enough I haven't forgotten the dot com days. A few days back, on my way to the San Francisco airport, I saw a billboard by aol advertising that they are cool (again!). I also observed that parking lots alongside 101 weren't that empty. I told myself "man! this does feel like 1999".



              The smart people - entrepreneurs, VCs, and analysts - that I talk to, tell me that we're in a bubble. They call it Bubble 2.0. Perhaps, they're right. The company valuations are through the roof. Facebook is valued around $75 billion and Color, on the launch day, had $40 million in the bank. The angel, super angel, and incubator investment deal flow is bringing all the talent to the Valley and all these young smart entrepreneurs are working on some of the coolest things that I have ever seen. But, there's a talent side that I am worried about. What this influx of easy venture capital has ensued is companies waging talent wars. For companies such as Google, attracting and retaining talent has become very difficult. Facebook and Twitter are new Google and Quora is new Facebook. The talent acquisitions that worked in the past, such as Facebook acquiring Friendfeed, have started to fall apart since the founders realized that serial entrepreneurship is a much better option that allows them to control their destiny against trusting someone else's innovation engine.



              I like the creative ways in which the start-ups try to attract the talent. When Google launched a sting operation against bing, they took the honeypot keyword "hiybbprqag" used in the sting operation to register the domain http://www.hiybbprqag.com and redirected it to the Google Jobs page. They received a few thousand resumes that week. I am seeing more and more creative techniques that the companies use to attract talent. The value proposition for a killer designer or a super-geek programmer to work for you has to extend beyond the basics in the valley. This is especially true under current circumstances where there is a stunningly short supply of designers and developers in the Valley.



              The talent war is for real. It's easy to get money and get started on an idea, but a real success requires a great team composition that is not easy to achieve. But, that's the reality of the start-up world and we should recognize that the people are even more important than ever before. If you think retaining talent was hard, gaining talent is much harder. I also foresee that these new millionaires will most likely angel invest their money into new start-ups. This floodgate will result into more start-ups competing for talent and possibly with the marketing budget of the incumbents. But, then, if we believe, it's a bubble, it gotta burst one day, and when that happens, it won't be pretty.

              Tuesday, February 9, 2010

              Google Buzz Is New Black - Solving A Problem That Google Wave Could Not


              Today Google announced Google Buzz. Watch the video:



              The chart below shows the spectacular adoption failure of Google Wave as a standalone product. This was predicted by a lot of people including myself. As Anil Dash puts it Google Wave does not help solve a "weekend-sized problem".



              Besides the obvious complex technical challenges there are three distinct adoption barriers with Google Wave and Google Buzz has capability to overcome those:

              Inseparable container, content, and collaboration: Changing people's behavior is much more difficult than inventing or innovating a killer technology. Most of the people still prefer to keep the collaboration persisted separately from the content or not persisted at all. Single task systems such as email, Wiki, and instant messaging are very effective because they do one and only thing really well without any confusion. Google Wave is a strong container on which Google or others can build collaboration capability but not giving an option to users to keep the content separate from the collaboration leads to confusion and becomes an adoption barrier. 

              Google Buzz certainly seems to solve this problem by piggybacking on existing system that people are already familiar with - email. Google Buzz is an opt-in system where the users can extend and enrich their experience against using a completely different tool. 

              Missing clear value proposition: Google Wave is clearly a swiss knife with the open APIs for the developers to create killer applications. So far the applications that leverages Google Wave components are niche and solve very specific expert system problems. This dilutes the overall value proposition of a standalone tool. 

              Google Buzz is designed to solve a problem in a well-defined "social" category. People are already using other social tools and Google Buzz needs to highlight the value proposition by integrating the social experience in a tool that has very clear value proposition unlike Google Wave which tried to re-create the value proposition. Google Buzz assists users automatically by finding and showing pictures, videos, status updates etc. and does not expect users to go through a lengthy set up process.

              Lack of a killer native mobile application: This is an obvious one. Google Wave does work on iPhone and on some other phones but it is not native and the experience is clunky at best. When you develop a new tool how about actually leveraging a mobile platform rather than simple porting it. A phone gives you a lot more beyond a simple operating system to run your application on. 

              Google recognized this and Google Buzz is going to be mobile-enabled from day one that leverages location-awareness amongst other things. I hope that the mobile experience is not same as the web experience and actually makes people want to use it on the phone.

              You could argue that why Google Buzz is going to be different since Google did have a chocolate box variety tools before Google Buzz - Latitude, Profile, Gmail, Wave and so on. I believe that it is all about the right experience that matches the consumers' needs in their preferred environment and not a piece of technology that solves a standalone problem. If done right Google Buzz does have potential to give Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Gowalla run for money.

              Saturday, October 31, 2009

              Google Does Not Have Innovator's Dilemma

              I asked a question to myself: "Why has Google been incredibly successful in defending and growing its core as well as introducing non-core disruptive innovations?". To answer my own question I ran down Google's innovation strategy through Clayton Christensen's concepts and framework as described in his book "Seeing What's Next". Here is the analysis:

              Google's latest disruptive innovation is the introduction of free GPS on the Android phone. This has grave implications for Garmin. To put this innovation in the context it is a "sword and shield" style entrant strategy to beat an incumbent by serving the "overshot customers". The overshot customers are the ones who would stop paying for further improvements in performance that historically had merited attractive price premium. Google used its asymmetric skills and motivation - Android OS, mapping data, and no direct revenue expectations - as a shield to enter into the "GPS Market" to serve these overshot customers. Google later turned its shield into a "sword" strategy by disinteremediating the map providers and incentivizing the carriers with a revenue-share agreement.

              On the other hand Google's core search technology and GMail are a couple of examples of "incremental to radical" sustaining innovations where Google went after the "undershot customers". The undershot customers are the ones who consume a product but are frustrated with its limitations and are willingly to switch if a better solution exists. The search engines and the web-based email solutions existed before Google introduced its own solutions. GMail delighted the users who were frustrated with their limited email quota and the search engine used better indexing and relevancy algorithms to improve the search experience. I find it remarkable that Google does not appear to be distracted by the competitors such as Microsoft who is targeting Google's core with Bing. Google continued a slow and steady investment into its sustainable innovation to maintain the revenue stream out of its core business. These investments include the next generation search platform Caffeine, social search, profiles, GMail labs etc.

              Where most of the companies inevitably fail Google succeeded by spending (a lot of) money on lower-end disruptive innovations against "cramming" their sustaining innovation. Google even adopted this strategy internally to deal with the dilemma between its sustaining and disruptive innovations. One would think that the natural starting point for Google Wave would be the GMail team but it's not true. In fact my friends who work for Google tell me that the GMail team was shocked and surprised when they found out that some other team built Google Wave. Adding wave-like functionality in the email would have been cramming the sustaining innovation but innovating outside of email has potential to serve a variety of undershot and overshot customers in unexpected ways. This was indeed a clever strategy.

              So, what's next?

              If I were AT&T I would pay very close attention to Google's every single move. Let's just cover the obvious numbers. The number of smartphone units sold this year surpassed the number of laptops sold and the smartphone revenue is expected to surpass the laptop revenue in 2012. Comcast grew their phone subscribers eight-fold with the current number exceeding 7 million. Google Voice has over 1.4 million users of which 570,000 use it seven days a week. Even though Google does not like its phone bill Google seems to be committed to make Google Voice work. This could allow Google to serve a new class of overshot customers that has a little or no need of land line, desire to stay always-connected, and hungry for realtime content and conversations. Time after time Google has shown that it can disintermediate players along its value chain. It happened to NavTeq and Tele Atlas and it is happening to other players with Google Power Meter and Chrome.

              Many people argue that Chrome OS is more disruptive. I beg to differ. I believe that Chrome OS does not have near term disruption trajectory. Being wary of hindsight bias, I would go back to the disruptive innovation theory and argue that Chrome OS is designed for the undershot customers that are frustrated with other market solutions at the same level. For the vast majority of the customers it does not matter. If Google does have a grand business plan around Chrome OS it certainly will take a lot of time, resources, and money before they see any traction. I see the telco disruption happening much sooner since it serves the overshot customers. I won't be surprised if Google puts a final nail in telco's coffin and redefines the telephony.

              Sunday, May 31, 2009

              Calculating ROI Of Enterprise 2.0 Is Calculating The Cost Of A Lost Opportunity

              I get this asked a lot – How do I calculate ROI of Enterprise 2.0? Bruce Schneier says, “Security is not an investment that provides a return, like a new factory or a financial instrument. It's an expense that, hopefully, pays for itself in cost savings. Security is about loss prevention, not about earnings. The term just doesn't make sense in this context.”. Similarly thinking of Enterprise 2.0 as an “investment” looking for a return does not make any sense. At best it is the cost of a lost opportunity.

              If you are a CIO looking for a detailed ROI metrics or a simple checklist for Enterprise 2.0 you are probably out of luck. However you could adopt a two-pronged approach. Convince the business that the organization needs Enterprise 2.0 by showing whatever resonates with them e.g. sharing files help reduce email quota, Wiki makes people productive by X percentage, giving them a copy of The Future of Management by Gary Hamel etc. Once you do get a green signal for Enterprise 2.0 deployment, please, don’t be prescriptive to frame the problem or the solution. Instead simply provide the tools at grassroots and let people run with these tools.

              For any collaboration, productivity, and social networking tools there is content and there is context that significantly depends upon the individuals that use these tools. For example some people prefer to be human-centric against artifact-centric. Some start interacting and collaborating with other people before exchanging the artifacts and there are others that prefer collaboration that is primarily an artifact-driven. Most of the tools mandate that users make an upfront choice. Even worse the IT makes the decision for them when they decide to purchase a specific tool assuming how people might want to work. This is the reason I like Google Wave since it does not make any assumptions on how people may want to use it. In fact it allows people to weave across people and artifacts seamlessly.

              When Google Wave was announced Google spent most of the time demonstrating what it does and spent very little time showing what problems it is designed to solve. They received quite a criticism for that. Many designers questioned Google whether they really know if people want to work this way. Some bloggers called it an act of breathtaking arrogance of blowing off potential competition and touting tech buzzwords. I believe they all are missing the point. Google Wave has broken the grid that the designers are very protective about and has empowered people to stretch their imagination to make mental connections about how this tool might meet their needs that no other tool has met so far.

              Would you still ask what’s the ROI?

              Saturday, June 9, 2007

              Apple and Google alliance

              Few bloggers have picked up this Wired's post on a speculation of Steve Jobs announcing a possible alliance between Apple and Google. Interesting - that's all I can say. The post has a quote from Eric Schmidt that Apple actually gets the design but does not have the necessary computing infrastructure. I agree. Apple is a company that delivers innovation with heavy focus on design (of all kinds) where as Google has brought in simplicity and agility by nailing down few very simply problems with state of the art technology innovation. Google certainly does not have bad design but Google has a long way to go and has plenty of opportunities when it comes to interaction or visual (sensory) design. I was told that the person who leads the user experience efforts at Google has "office hours" during which developers can (and do) drop in and expect that person to solve design problems. This was quite a challenge for that person since the design process does not quite work that way. On the other hand, design is one of the biggest strength that Apple has and given the computing resources Apple can do miracles. I don't think it is about or limited to .Mac. iTunes can have a great story if offered on Google's cloud since it could have great sharing and preview potential with Google's cloud. Apple did have issues with iTunes after last Christmas when people started using their iTunes gift cards to buy music and the store could not handle those concurrent users. It was a true load test and iTunes did not do well. Imagine the same scenario - iTunes running on Google's cloud and tightly integrated with AdSense. YouTube is a great platform for video syndication with a community angle. Apple does have community but the syndication is limited to downloading and does not have sharing semantics. Having said this despite of these product synergies an alliance cannot be successful unless it can offer a tangible business value. But hey, this is a speculation, isn't it?

              Friday, June 1, 2007

              Moore's law for software

              Software design has strange relationship with the computing resources. If the resources are low it is difficult to design and if the resources are in abundance it is a challenge to utilize them. It is rather odd to ask the designers and developers to have , but this is true and it is happening.

              The immense computing resources have opened up a lot of opportunities for the designers and developers to design agile and highly interactive web interfaces by tapping into this computing cloud. Effective resource utilization by software is by far lagging the fast growing computing resources. Google has successfully demonstrated a link between the humongous cloud infrastructure and the applications that effectively use these resources. Gmail and Google Maps are examples of agile and highly interactive interfaces that consumes heavy resources. Google's
              MapReduce is an example of effective utilization of the computing resources by designing the search to use heavy parallelization. One of the challenges that designers face these days is to be able construct an application from an interaction perspective such that it can actually use the available resources effectively to provide better use experience. Traditionally the performance tuning is all about fixing software to perform faster without adding extra computing resources. The designers and developers now have a challenge to actually use the resources. The cloud computing is going to be more and more relevant as various organizations catch up on Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0. Google, Yahoo, Salesforce, and Microsoft are betting on their huge infrastructure that can deliver the juice required for their applications. Cloud computing is not just about hardware - it is about the scale of computing and the infrastructure that is required to get to that scale such as physical location, energy and cooling requirements, dark fiber etc.

              Not every single piece of code in software can be parallelized. Developers hit a set of serial tasks in the code flow for many dynamic conditions. Semantic search is a classic example that has many challenges to use parallel computing resources since you do end up serializing certain tasks due to the dynamic nature of many semantic search engines and their abilities of natural language processing. Cognitive algorithms are not the same as statistical or relevancy algorithms and require a radically different design approach to effectively utilize the available resources.

              Intel has been pushing the industry to improve performance on its multi core CPU . Microsoft recently announced an initiative to redesign the next Windows for multiple cores. The design is not just about one, two, or three cores. The resources are going to increase at much faster pace and software designers and developers are late to react and follow this massive computing. Computing in a cloud requires a completely different kind of approach in software design and there are some great opportunities to innovate around it.
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