in observations, social networks

Instagram is not Facebook, and yet…

Instagram is not Facebook. It’s not a network of friends. The accounts you follow on there are a personal choice instead of a network effect of friends and acquaintances you meet in the real world (there are those too, but are they the majority?). Yet Instagram pushes the same crap as Facebook – “follow this account because someone you follow does”.

Why? Don’t the Product Managers understand the fundamentals of social networks? Or are they just hell bent on destroying value?

Companies, when they perform an acquisition, usually focus on recouping the cost of the acquisition. Or they want to build value by merging the brands.

Clearly, Facebook doesn’t care about the money. It’s pocket change for them. They are immune in terms of money. They aren’t immune in terms of user growth.

The only thing they care about is destroying competition. What’s sad is that they don’t realize that Instagram and WhatsApp are not rivals any more. They’re property. It’s always good to invest in and improve property.

This would be like Facebook purposely degrading their Android apps just to drive people insane and see what happens.

Oh, wait…

Zelle and the Hulus of the World

During a recent conversation with a friend, I realized something – there are a lot of services and companies out there that are the byproducts of conglomerates, and since these are not standalone services fighting for their customers, but rather are meant only to enhance their parental companies’ value, these companies/services suffer enormously, and so do we, as their customers.

Two such services are Zelle and Hulu.

Zelle is a owned by a series of banks, two of which I have accounts in. When I had Zelle setup with only one bank, life was fine. I had my phone number and email ID attached to the same account. But when I tried to setup Zelle with the other bank account, I had to jump through a few hoops to basically disconnect Zelle from the first account, then connect just one of the IDs to each account. Now if you want to send me money, depending on whether you send it to my email, or my phone number, it lands up in different bank accounts.

My friend thinks this is normal. After all, how would Zelle know which account I want the money to arrive in, if there’s only one ID (either email or phone number)?

If you look at other competing services, like Paypal, SquareCash, Apple Pay, and that other service that I won’t name because it can burn in hell, you’ll notice a trend – all of these services hold your money in an account for you, till you’re ready to take it out and put it in a bank account. During the period your money sits in these accounts, the companies earn interest on that cash, which they count as profit. Further, if you want to take your money out faster, or if you want to use your credit card, or if you want to use these services for business purposes, they charge you a few percentage points, which are further profit for them.

All of this money serves to add value to the company itself. It drives further growth, or just drive stockholder value. If you compare that with Zelle, you’d notice that Zelle doesn’t charge you money to get your money faster, doesn’t make you wait to get to your funds, and generally, doesn’t care for any interest it might be able to get from your money. So much so that Zelle’s website doesn’t even have a signup page. You can’t interact with the service directly, only through your respective banks!

There are pros and cons to Zelle.

Let’s look at Hulu. It started as a joint venture between some TV networks. It’s main competitor is Netflix, and for the longest time, I hated Hulu, but kept it around as a necessity – my wife is hooked on to Grey’s Anatomy. Recently, I decided that it doesn’t make sense to keep the service active year-round. Instead, we’ll get it every time the new season comes along.

Hulu’s got issues. Since it’s corporate overlords run all over it, Hulu can’t remove ads from their shows. Even though we paid for the Plus plan, we would still see ads for Grey’s Anatomy, because the network behind it has deigned it to be so. Content on Hulu doesn’t remain forever, so much so that episodes disappear at a pace so that you can’t really binge watch things.

All of this is to the detriment of Hulu.

It has it’s pros – for us cordcutters, there’s no reason to even think about wanting cable, since we can watch the latest episodes on Hulu. Due to it’s ownership, the TV Networks are somewhat obligated to bend over backwards to provide content to Hulu. This is certainly showing up to be a problem for Netflix, who is losing content faster than Softbank is losing credibility. But for Hulu, this is just fine.

Again, there are pros and cons to Hulu.

What I’ve noticed is that these companies and services that get formed by joint ventures are often stuck in limbo. They’re dependent on their overlords to approve new features and services for their customers, are often not able to compete with their independent competitors at the same pace as the market innovates, and often end up getting the brunt for mistakes their ‘bosses’ make.

Do the pros outweigh the cons? I’m not sure. I’m going to be a seasonal Hulu subscriber. I’m not going to not use Zelle if my friends aren’t going to.

But these services will remain, till they have a critical mass. They will be the common denominator and the fallback. I guess that for those purposes, they’re fine where they are?

Are there any other such joint venture services that you can point me to?

My year in Spotify

I finally opened Spotify’s annual wrap-up (with the decade wrap-up included in it) and it was interesting to see the results.

First of all, I listened to half the music this year than last year. 2018 was when I started listening to music regularly, while working, traveling, and relaxing, and so I heard about thirteen thousand minutes of music on Spotify. But in 2019, that number dropped to half, because we got the family subscription of YouTube Red and a lot of music is only available as music videos on YouTube. I don’t know the numbers of YouTube, but it sure felt like half the time I was jumping on to that because the song wasn’t available in Spotify.

My decade’s favorite artist was Nucleya, who was not even on my radar before 2015. His album Bass Rani, and specifically the song Laung Gawacha with Avneet Khurmi, is just sublime! The next favorite was Lucky Ali, who has been my anchor since college. But this last decade, I’ve discovered American music too, so Sweater Weather shows up on my decade’s favorites list.

Coming to 2019, the year belongs squarely to Diljit Dosanjh. He’s one of those artists who keeps working, keeps releasing, and shows up everywhere. He’s like the Akshay Kumar of Punjabi music. He’ll have fun, make money, make his mark and act a little along the way (looking forward to their collab in Good Newwz). And the song of his that I heard the most wasn’t even released in 2019. It’s Laembadgini, from 2016. Some songs you just discover a little late.

The second song is Blackway and Black Caviar’s “What’s Up Danger”. It is just one of those perfect, pumpy songs that get you into a mood to get kicking! I heard it in “Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse” and I don’t think I’ve seen a more quirky, fun movie in a while. I had sworn off Spiderman movies after the first franchise got over, because I don’t believe that economics should be driving art of this kind. But this movie is an excellent exception. And the song that encapsulates it is perfect too.

The third one is Je T’aime by Sugi.wa and I gotta say, while the year was Diljit’s on the Punjabi music front, I also discovered a completely different genre that felt like a warm blanket and hot cocoa on a snowy day – chillhop. I’m not a big fan of listening to music while working, but chillhop just sets the mood right! I’ve even heard chillhop to relax, though less so. I think sugi.wa might be the greatest artist in that scene, and Je T’aime is one of the very best chillhop music I’ve heard.

Another thing I noticed on that list is that a lot more music came from TV than I’d assume. Game of Thrones’ Jenny of Oldstones and Sacred Games’ Kaam 25 both are high on my 2019 list, and rightly so. Jenny… is haunting and a sad reminder of what happened in that show. Kaam 25 is an anthem, maybe of an entire generation.

I also realize that we discover a few gems through Shazam too. Bad Karma by Alex Thesleff was one such. Lehanga by Jass Manak, which will no doubt show up in next year’s list, was also something I discovered randomly.

Check out the entire list here, dear reader –

Comments? Judgement? Pass it into the box below!

A few thoughts on food

Broccoli

During a conversation with my Mom, I realized that it is often a trend that the local food source is considered less nutritious than something from outside and far away.

For example, in India, the trend is that Broccoli from outside is more nutritious and less harmful than cauliflower.

In some sense, this is going to be true – anything that is mass grown will have less nutrients than something that is grown in small batches, in an organic manner, and from a nutritious variety.

But how can you say that the broccoli you procure is going to be nutritious, let alone more nutritious than what you already consume? After all, it’s most likely imported from elsewhere. If it’s an export product, specially one that is in vogue, farms are mass producing it elsewhere. So all you’re doing is replacing one mass produced, less nutritious food item with another, and having to change dietary habits and dish recipes to accommodate this new food item.

What’s the solution? Perhaps it is to buy small batch, locally grown food. Perhaps it is to institute a habit to look for nutrition information, or to talk to a nutritionist and figure out what your personal needs are.

All of these are expensive solutions. Organic food is often simply labeled as such to drive up the price, and there’s only so much you can mistrust your local supermarket or vegetable seller, and only so far you can go to get authentically good food.

The n minus one method of eating out

I realized something the other day – whenever we go out to eat, we tend to order just about the same number of dishes as the number of people. It’s not an exact science, but if you’re eating fast food or food court type meals you’ll do this. If you’re ordering a la carte at an Indian restaurant, YMMV.

This is common for more affluent folk. What’s also true is that most of the time, you’ll be ordering rich food that you’ll not be able to finish. A common thing to do then, is to either leave it at the table (a very Western habit) or get it packed.

Well, here’s an alternative – order less. Just one less dish than the number of people at the table. And if you end up finishing it all, you can either order a starter dish, or a dessert. Most restaurants would kill to get customers that order desserts, because generally desserts are more expensive than other food, which translates to more profits.

But for you, it wouldn’t matter. Instead of ordering a whole entree, or another dosa, you can get a nice sweet dish at the end of the meal, or even save the money you would have wasted. Most of the time you’ll be too full from the n-1 dishes themselves.

I considered letting the whole idea of blogging go. But that felt so incredibly sad to me.

Starting Anew

I haven’t had time over these past few weeks to put down my thoughts for the end of the decade (and won’t get time before the year ends either). But that’s ok. Sometimes it’s ok to just live your thoughts instead of putting them on paper.

Nice research you got there. Be a shame if someone from the media tried to conclude it.

News media consistently gets research paper conclusions wrong, sensationalizing mundane results by focusing on edge cases or ignoring the fine print.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to get an AI to sum these papers up and see what it comes up with?

Of course, seed data should come from conclusions by both media and scientists themselves, as well as some laypersons to balance things.

On the default post category in your WordPress blog

For the longest time, my ‘default post category’ in WordPress has been ‘tech’ – a decision I made when I started writing more about my software work and ideas than anything else.

I realize now that that was a mistake. The default category should be general, so that when one starts writing, the immediate bent should not be towards technology but rather life.

It also allows me to permit myself to quickly open my blog and just post a photo. This is something I do not do, but want to.

So here it goes. Now the default category is set to general.

Who cares for you on the Internet?

I saw a post about VSCO on Colin Devroe’s Blog and it got me thinking about how awesome it is that services like VSCO and MicroBlog are finally dropping chasing mainstream social networks and just going their way. They proudly proclaim that if you want better social networks, more support, and good features, please pay up.

It’s not just where innovation will happen, but also where users will be happier and developers more satisfied. There is always the threat of the whims of the developers taking over the wishes of the users, but it’s not as if Google, Facebook, and Twitter have helplines you can call to give suggestions and understand their policies. So it’s either the whims of large corporations with strange and often lopsided goals or the whims of people more closer to earth.

It’s also in line with the trends of newsletters and blogs going paid, and Patreon taking over the creative process. All of this shows these segments maturing.

It’s like with forums on the previous iteration of the Internet – first they started off with free and then became paid and closed and in many ways, that was great.

People often look at the iOS App Store as a success story when it went from free apps to paid, to freemium, to ad-based, to finally subscriptions. It’s not just that subscriptions are more sustainable, but that they mean that the people on the other end are more cognizant of your time and value.

Money changing hands somehow adds value to the relationship online. This is good. But it’s not just that. It’s also about these little players just giving up on the constantly changing aims of big players and signaling to users – “they don’t have their best interests in mind; we do. We care, they don’t. Who would you rather be with?”