Friday, November 19, 2010

Circles and Dunbar's Number

I honestly dont know how I reached 1000+ Facebook friends but if I would recount a previous conversation with a friend, I realized that I have been too involved with so much things in my life that eventually led me to have different circles of friends. The conversation was actually about how problematic a wedding would be if considering that one should invite different people from different circles.

I came studied gradeschool in San Beda Alabang (formerly known as St. Benedict College which was formerly known as Benedictine Abbey School --Hopefully thats the last name change they'd do) and then moved to Don Bosco Technical Institute Makati. I headed to De La Salle University (then Manila) for college and continued for graduate studies. I've been involved with several groups of people, like our local country club swimming team which really felt like a close knit family and there's also FORMDEV from college and the Nettrekker people whom I met during the times I was running a private game server. Meeting people feels great, its like starting to read a new book and you discover something great. But not all people are like that, some people are hard deal with, some people are really annoying and more often than not, it take great effort not to be rude to them by shutting them off completely.

In a discussion with Arun last night, he was saying that there was a study which said that a person cannot really have more than 150 real life friends (on an average) the type of friends who you feel comfortable with. He explained that those friends are the ones that you wouldn't be ashamed of talking to or catching up with, lets say, if you two meet in a foreign country. After Googling for several minutes and verifying sources, I came to know that it was called the Dunbar's Number. With my pending trip to LA this Christmas, my sister was really pushing me to go to San Francisco and just save the trip to the east coast next year. Mike was offering me to crash on their house in Tampa which I'm still considering though tickets from the west to the east is still a bit too steep for me. Dunbar's number came to mind.

As I got an email from my sister today that she was really rooting for me to head to San Francisco (because its cheap and its near), she suggested that I contact two people, old friends of ours and ask if I could crash a day or two. Ive thought of what Arun said last night and maybe my hesitation was because, even though I've spent time with those two, I feel like the closeness was more of being an acquaintance rather than being a close friend. Ironically, considering that the two are old friends I had compared to Mike who I knew for like what, hmmm 3 or 4 years? If I only had the funds I wouldn't have hesitated flying in to Tampa to visit a good friend and his dog. Come to think of it, he owes me tickets to the screening of Tron Legacy.

On a side note, I think it was my first experience to be unfriended by someone who I think is a really nice friend. You know, the type who you could have a nice conversation with and all. I actually don't know the reason why (though I think I might have an idea), I respect that persons decision even if it is unsaid. Sometimes we cant control people who walks into our lives and the ones that walks out. In the end, I think the most important thing to remember is the quality of the time spent with that person rather than the length of being friends.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Web Service Foul

To those who have been my friends since time immemorial, you would have realized that I have been blog hopping since the time I started writing. From my self made blog page back in 2003, to my LiveJournal account, to my scattered secret blogs, of blogs composed of letters to someone and of blogs dumped in Friendster and then everything dumped back into my again self made repository of writing. Everything from 2003 to 2006 has been archived there.

After a while, I then settled down to the then famous Multiply site where I had a bunch of pictures shared to friends and mostly blog posts both private and public. September 9, 2006 was my first ever entry in my Multiply site which overlaps with the Friendster blog which is already at my archive site. The last post there was dated October 18, 2006.

Before Google's minimalistic approach to things came into light, most web applications or most of the websites have one gauge in measuring effectivity: site traffic. Websites back then such as Yahoo pegs its high traffic from users who gets stuck in its endless maze of information shunned in front of your face as if a helpless baby fed a large piece of steak. Come on, look at it.. They say that everything is in your fingertips, but then again, those information are most of the time irrelevant and is just one big clutter.

These websites has this diabolical motto: keep the user in the website. Looking at it on a financial perspective, its a goldmine for advertisers. Helpless users stuck digging for useless search results, being fed with bits of teaser information, sports headlines which leads them to another site again, full of bits of information which leads you to things you never knew existed. This evil mantra of keeping users in the site led to more usability problems and more frustrated users.

Before I get back to my point, I will present to you one perfect example. Yahoo! Mail. Since the beginning of my internet days, i've been using Yahoo! Mail for my personal communications. I could recall that my oldest mail was from around 2002. In essence, I was stuck for years with the service and even if I wanted to move I couldn't back up my mail. Yahoo! was cunning enough to prevent people from using mail clients such as Outlook (at that time was the famous client) to download my mail using POP. You would have to pay for that additional service to use other mail clients. I assume for the simple reason that if people dont use their webmail client, who will view their lousy ass, huge and annoying ads? Less ad views, less profit. Simple math. Again, keep the users from opting out. Damn evil.

But then again, due to competition, Yahoo! was pressured to 'open up' a bit through the iPhone's add email functionality and now GMail allows importing mail from Yahoo! accounts.

This type of mentality harms the users. Web services should give the users the option to migrate or opt out of their service and rightfully keep their data. Now, this is my biggest problem. Multiply uses the same diabolically evil techniques to keep their cashflow cart running.

As of this writing, I currently have 503 blog posts in my Multiply account. Multiply, being really nice people doesnt offer any exporting function to save your blog to either text or XML. Blogger has that feature, WordPress has that feature, LJ has it.. Why cant Multiply have that damn export feature?

Their RSS feed is just a bunch of compilation of the first few statements of your post. None of it really wouldnt help that much.

And after looking for ideas or plug-ins to manage that. Some idiot just doesnt understand the difference between cross posting and exporting. Seriously, you dont need to parade that you could cross post your new entries to another blog. Some people just dont read.

So in essence. Thanks to Multiply and their foul play for its millions of users, you really cant leave.

Maybe Hotel California is a fitting song to a very nice service from our friends from Multiply.

"You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave."

Cheers to copying and pasting old blog entries. Heck, maybe I would just code a decent parser for this stupid service.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Small Things

I've been having a lot of inflow of ideas recently. I'd also be helping a friend develop his existing system into a web based one. I think this is a good time for me to get back to coding and learning about new things since most of the ideas would require Facebook integration and Google APIs in development. Perhaps I could shoot in a little overview on the projects and track them from time to time and see which ideas are progressing.

Quotes - I have this thing for saving quotations and back then I had a local site which I store my favorite quotes but I think there's a better way of storing and sharing quotes. I've checked out some sites which does quote saving and sharing like but it lacks a certain function I need like importing quotes from e-readers like the Kindle or the iBooks app. They say that they have a plug-in for highlighting quotes and saving it but on my previous examination of the service it still lacks a lot of features. One annoying thing though is its banning of curse words. I often put to quote barkada conversations which, really has a lot of swear words. It also lacks privacy settings and the whole site assumes that all of your quotes are public. Quote saving using asks a lot of inputs but basically just needs two. UI design of that does not say that there are only required fields and others are optional. Persons quoted also doesn't appear as you type the author, I think that is really helpful to omit redundancies in spelling of the name and further on improve search since entries like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and A. Saint-Exupéry and Saint-Exupéry existing on the database all at the same time. Sign up could also be more convenient by integrating to other SSO services like FB. has a nice site which, in just one click, could sign you up to their service.

Gig Finder - Ever had that nights when you and some friends want to watch a gig of some band, lets say, Sugarfree and doesnt really know where they're playing? I had that problems. Ever asked yourself what local bars are in your area and want to check who's playing where? I had that problems. So, maybe this could at least help the local (and hopefully global) gig industry to provide a simple web (or mobile) application people could use to find gigs near their location or query the web on who's playing where. I think it would come in pretty handy for gig hoppers out there.

Enrollment Scheduler - A friend of mine did a nice little Java application which lets you schedule the classes you will take and the breaks you have and could cycle different sections depending on the professor or the schedule you like. Its a very promising app though it would be better if it was a web app. Maybe after we've discussed what needs to be done to convert it into a web app, we could polish it with a more intuitive GUI and make it more easier to use. More info regarding this project could be found at .. I really hope that this thing existed while I was in college. I kinda hated the thought of 3 or 4 hour breaks during my day.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Value of an Idea

Several months ago, me and some friends were talking about Chatroulette and how frustrating it is that, we never thought about doing something so damn simple. A friend ranted that it was just some dumb randomizing algorithm then outputs two different people with their webcams on. Around that time, the founder of Chatroulette was already headed for New York to meet with investors or with people interested in buying his company.

Fast forward to several weeks back, I met with two other people who wanted to throw in some ideas at the table and start brainstorming and getting feedbacks from each other on how to proceed with the idea.. We all said our take regarding each others idea and decided on how we should proceed. Fast forward to today, I received an SMS from one of the two which reads that his idea was already launched by some local company. At first I shurgged the thought and told myself "Hey, whats the worse that could happen? They probably built some sucky product that would probably just wither and die after a few weeks." As I got to the office and checked my mail, I read something about that site and when I checked.. I clicked the link and at one glance.. My head was like.. "Oh shit."

Its not the first time these things happened to me, or my friends. We have these great ideas which eventually loses steam after encountering roadblocks or after consulting with other people who greatly discouraged our way of thinking about the project. Being in the field of I.T., these ideas, given the right people could be easily done by someone or a group with the right amount of motivation. At the end of the day, being at the losing end, I guess we could all say what my friend replied to my email awhile ago: "I feel agitated and amused all at the same time."

Perhaps, to those who have great ideas and wants to make it happen, I would like to share some thoughts which some might, or might not agree with. Having several of my ideas screwed over because I was too slow to act, maybe others would benefit from the things I'd share below.

Importance of your idea

Most of good ideas come from either a need or a want. You know those times when you come across those minor annoyances and thought to yourself, "Maybe theres a better way to do this" or "Probably if they changed that, they could get more people." If your suggestion or idea could be implemented with the right people, then pursue it quickly.

Gather up the people who you think could help you with your idea and once you get the thing running, even at the bare minimum, provide a disclosure with one of Google's favorite word: "Beta". But remember to keep building until its like what you've initially imagined (but don't stop there --read on below). Its really important to have the right people with the right attitude to work with you, getting the wrong people who lacks the drive or motivation to finish what your group has started will just drag your little project a bit longer. Dragging it longer means a bigger window for your competition to either get wind of your idea and launch a quick release and in the end, you just wasted time developing your idea.

Know when to reinvent the wheel

Competing with an existing product or service is not always a bad idea. When Google started, there was already Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, Alta Vista, and all those other search engines. When Facebook started, there was Friendster, MySpace, Multiply and other social networking sites. Being innovative doesnt necessarilly mean being the first. Sergey and Larry knew that the old wheel (other search engines) lacked accuracy, slow, very much cluttered, and most of the time returned irrelevant results. Zuck knew that the old wheel (other social networking sites) lacked the ability to let other people know what you're currently doing, or share a cool site you came across. Case in point, they reinvented the wheel because the old wheels suck. The old wheel sucked bigtime.

Dont be afraid to take on existing products or services as long as you analyze who or what you're competing with. If you know that a certain product or service lacks the thing your product or service has, then its a good direction to take.

Know when NOT to reinvent the wheel

You know you're taking the wrong path when you realize that your idea is just like the other 1,000,000 other product or service you have seen. Trust me, I already encountered people who like, want to create an instant messaging client because the existing instant messaging clients has an ugly name. And sometimes, their idea is suckier than whats already in the market. We all have bad ideas, sometimes, it just takes common sense to know that its really bad.

Perhaps a good example on when NOT to reinvent the wheel is developing a blogsite. Back when I was in starting college, I wanted a blog site which I could fully customize. I know a bit of PHP and some HTML which I could use to create my own blogsite from scratch. Whats my premise in doing this? I was silly to think back then that (at that time the "in" thing was LiveJournal)  LiveJournal would just suddenly declare bankruptcy and close down along with all my memories (blog entries) with it. I was so paranoid that LJ would just pop out of existence after a decade or so, that I did create a blogsite from scratch. I was also worried about the time when internet was not available, that if I keep my own blog locally, I could update anytime and just upload when I have a connection. Boy I was DAMN WRONG. Right now, that self made blog has entries from the year 2003 to 2006 and I would take time to move the entries bit by bit to a new home in Blogger.

Another good example on how NOT to reinvent the wheel is with those quick and dirty website requirements which non-technical people could use. I've learned to appreciate those pre-packaged content management systems (CMS) available for download because of the work I've done years back. Back then, my boss would want a simple site which someone without programming background could update easily. I normally would say that I'd code a login page, an add news page, a page which displays the updates, setup a database, etc. and would take roughly two weeks addressing the need. I started to appreciate CMS when those 'microsite' requests got a bit more frequent, and when I mean frequent its in every month or so.

I always hated the thought of reading other people's code, but learning the back end of Joomla, even if the requirements for microsites pile up, I could easily mass deploy Joomla sites and just customize to fit the needs of the people who would use it. Sometimes, even the features they need comes in installable modules. Now, using those CMS, it doesnt break my heart to know that apparently the site they wanted didnt get as much hype as they expected. Imagine working your ass off for 2 or so weeks just to know that the site you made was never used. Ouch.

A good idea never finishes

Sometimes, being the cool one who gets your idea to the market and being used (or bought --for consumer goods) by lots of people doesnt mean you should sit idly with your laurels and all that. Always remember that a good idea never finishes, it grows. There is always room for improvement. Dont be afraid of competition, rather make it a drive to improve your idea.

Maybe looking at the other side of the fence, like Yahoo and Friendster we could learn from their mistakes that even the smallest idea from an unlikely competitor could steal your current glory. In this example, Sergey and Larry are just two insane graduate students who want to improve the quality of search. Mark Zuckerberg was just a college student who started a university wide social network. If I were Yahoo or Friendster, at that time, I would either buy what their developing or improve on my services that would trample their puny existence into oblivion. Look at Google and Facebook now, continually improving on their core competencies. Though Google had a different thing in mind, before something explodes into something big, they assimilate that company along with its idea.

Be careful who you trust

Having an idea in mind, one could get so excited that that person starts telling other people about his or her idea. Most of the times (my apologies for being so pessimistic), it does more harm than good. Its always good to have those people who could give you inputs about the ideas you have in mind, but you should keep in mind that these people could steal your ideas anytime. This is not uncommon in the tech industry. Remember when Steve Jobs was invited to Xerox PARC head quarters? He saw that the graphical user interface (GUI) was the next revolution in computing. Steve knew that the executive at Xerox PARC can't see the potential in the things being developed under their noses, so what did he do? He stole the idea and put it in his product. Bill Gates and his boys did not write DOS, they bought it from some poor dude for $50,000 in 1981 which was told that Bill and his boys would just 'play with it.' Probably in a more recent example, most of you probably watched Social Network,  and yes Zuck stole the idea. As Steve says: (as quoted from Picasso) "Good artists copy great artists steal."

Be careful kids, its a jungle out there.