signals of noise

Category: new ideas

Annoyances and Ideas: Facebook Photo Tags

Ridiculous photo tagsPhoto tagging was Facebook’s breakthrough innovation. It made the network more social or so to say. And now it is, at least for me, one of the biggest annoyances.

If people were being tagged in photos in which they were really present – surely that was and is the idea – I would not have any problem. But the number of photos of cakes, cartoons, calendars, caricatures, screenshots and <fill-your-most-ridiculous-photo-idea-here> that are being tagged and appearing on my stream is making me a little irritated. (Actually a lot.)

What can Facebook do to help me out? Well, they already have a face recognition software that auto-suggests faces to tag (to the chagrin of a lot of people if I may add). They could use that to allow tagging photos that truly have human faces. Then count the number of human faces and limit the number of tags. If still people want to tag ridiculous photos have them do it via photo caption tagging. It is much better. And this would make things much better.

Another thing Facebook should do is to not allow apps to tag photos of anyone unless that person is also using that app. (Since most ridiculous tagged photos are generated by apps.) Not such a hard concept to imagine since this is the fundamental way in which Facebook functions – symmetric relationships.

ps: That is an example of the kind of photos I am talking about.

Annoyances and Ideas: Bank ATMs

Bank ATMs are one of the single most important pieces of technology we use very frequently. Especially in a country like India where cash is still the most common mode of payments for transactions. Yet the experience of using them is nothing short of apalling.

The user experience can be improved so much that a blog post may be too short to list all of them, but I will try.

Interface inconsistencies

Forget about different banks having different user interfaces, same banks have different interfaces. Sometimes two terminals kept side-by-side will be different. This is up to the banks to manage. But assuming the involved capital expenditure to ensure consistency in the face of changing technology, I am willing to live with this.

Lack of Information

This is the single biggest problem with all ATM machines. They are too parsimonious with information. They will never tell you what denominations are available (Rs. 100/500/100) until you have the cash in hand and feeling stupid about how to pay the autowalla with the Rs. 1000 note the ATM has just handed you. Or when you try to withdraw Rs. 400 just to be sure to avoid the problem of big notes the ATM bluntly refuses to oblige without giving a satisfactory reason.

Other times the refusal may be due to lack of sufficient funds or you hitting the withdrawal limit for the day. But the ATM does not care to inform you the reason while declining to give the money. It shouldn’t be a great effort on the part of the software tell me up front what denominations it has, what is my account balance and how much withdrawal power I have remaining for the day.

Ask for Unnecessary Information

While being extremely frugal with providing information, ATMs are very eager to ask for unnecessary information. Every ATM will ask me whether I want to withdraw the money from my ‘savings’ account or my ‘current’ account. I would expect it to be the ATMs business to know that I DON’T have a ‘current’ account.

Are these things very difficult to implement? No. But they are still there as a result of bad user experience design.

[image: Flickr/Z17R0]

Annoyances and Ideas: Facebook Status Edits

Status update editing is missing in FacebookThis is one thing that while not needed very often can become very frustrating when needed. For example, if you got a fact wrong, or a spelling error, or a grammatical error. May be even updating with new information.

To do this right now we have to delete the message and repost it. But what if we already have a conversation going? Yeah, we lose that conversation as we start over.

Wouldn’t it be better if we just had an ‘edit’ button to do these easily?

PS: This is also a case with Twitter, but then since there are no attached conversations there, it is fine to delete and retweet.

Annoyances and Ideas: Airlines Food Carts

More options to pre-order food could make flights more convenient.Food carts on low-cost airlines. Not everyone is going to have a meal but the crew must take it around. This creates a great inconvenience for passengers who might want to sleep (in early morning flights) and for those who want to hit the rest rooms. Especially for those stuck between two of these carts.

Most airlines today allow booking a meal while making the reservation (albeit only if you are going through their own reservation system). It is convenient for meal time flights (early morning, afternoon and late night. They should extend this to the check-in counter. Order a meal during check in. Or even have that option in the kiosks for check-in. Then the airlines deliver the food directly to those who have already placed an order. No carts involved. For the rest of the passengers make it on demand.

The downside for the airlines is they lose impulsive purchases. But I feel making the decision at the check-in counter may prove to be more impulsive. You have less time there and queue waiting behind. Ultimately it will be more convenient for the customers.

[image: flickr/Augapfel]

Open Access Government: via API

Open access to government data could create new opportunities and give new insights

The Indian Government has scores of ministries, hundreds of departments under those ministries and dozens of institutional watchdogs associated to these departments which are either governed by the constitution or independent. And all of them have access to tons of data.

Census and educational data with the HRD ministry. Economic and financial data with the Finance ministry and the RBI. Industrial data with CII and FICCI and the industry ministry. Telecom data with DoT and TRAI. Agriculture and farm data, weather data and any number of others you can imagine.

But most of it is inaccessible to us, the general public. Even when it may be it is just an excel dump that is mostly anachronistic and unusable. But if all these data sources could be opened up to enterprising developers via an API or even just as feeds that auto updates as more and more data become available, the possibilities could be endless.

Open access to government data would allow developers to use it to create applications that can then be accessed by us to understand the state of the nation. It could help economists and statisticians predict future trends and understand correlations between seemingly disparate sets of data.

I am not suggesting this doesn’t happen today. Probably it does. But I am seriously doubtful whether this happens in the cross departmental way I am suggesting. Further, there is only so much that can be done by in-house experts. And since this is the state machinery we are talking about there has to be some level of doubt whether anything gets done at all.

But if this kind of data is publicly available it will surely get done. Further it could also become a source of revenue for the government if they take a cut from all commercial uses of the API. And I can imagine a lot of corporations, big and small, willing to pay to get to the data they want.

Admittedly this is not a easy task to handle. But someone like Nandan Nilekani could be appointed to manage the project. Is this is a realistic idea? Can opening up access to government data be beneficial to the society?

[image:Flickr/Jer Thorp]

Where do good ideas come from?

In this wonderful TED talk Steven Johnson argues that ideas rarely ever originate as an independent event. It is not “flash in the pan”, “stroke of genius” or a “eureka moment”. He argues that ideas originate as networks. Like in coffee shops across the world, in temple complexes of the ancient world and open forums. May be even corporate meeting rooms unless burdened by the weight of pre-defined agendas.

Steven Johnson: Where good ideas come from

Towards the end of the speech he gives and excellent example of ideas develop slowly over time and under influence of the surrounding environment. It is really fascinating to learn how the birth of the GPS originated from an effort to track Sputnik signals.

“Chance favors the connected minds”

Why India Should Strive to Remain a Developing Nation

Power of IdeasToday I had the great opportunity to attend a talk by Fredrik Härén. If you haven’t heard about him (I hadn’t either) check here. He is first of all a great speaker. Had the right quantity of quality humor throughout his talk.

Fredrik is what could be called a ‘creativity guru’. And he spoke about ideas, germination of ideas and creativity. His point is that all ideas are basically an amalgamation of existing knowledge and information in a way that has never been done before. Every great idea that you can think of follows this simple principle. And he used quotes from two creative geniuses to make the point.

Isaac Newton famously remarked in a letter to his rival Robert Hooke dated February 5, 1676 that:

What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, and especially in taking the colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

Good artists copy; great artists steal – Pablo Picasso

There you have the source of all great ideas.

However, the most interesting point in Fredrik’s speech was his thoughts on the developing nations of the world having a comparative advantage over the developed nations in the field of creativity. His main argument was that developed nations, by declaring themselves developed had given in to the notion of everything that can be created has been. But developing nations are not bound by that thought. There is always scope for improvement.

And this got me thinking about the post I wrote yesterday on making public transport better. When I was in Germany I raved about their public transport system. All their bus stops, underground and tram stations had a published time table which the concerned transport met with absolute accuracy. So I knew exactly when I had to leave my apartment to reach the station so that I did not have to wait for too long. Now if I was still in Germany I would never have had that idea.

You get the point? So we should all, as Fredrik said, remain developing for the rest of our lives.

What are your thoughts on this? Is Fredrik assuming too much? And before I leave a question for all to test your creativity quotient. Leave your answers in the comments please. If you were given an extra pair of eyes, where would you have them?

[image: Flickr/a_whisper_of_unremitting_demand]

Reduce Travel Time Using the Internet of Things

Internet of ThingsMy wife takes public transport to office everyday and more often than not she has to wait at the bus stand for more than 10 minutes. Sometimes close to 30 minutes.

There are times I need a taxi on demand (autos are not the best option, sometimes not even economical, always). But I have to call up the call center, wait in a queue and then place a request (which again is not an easy task always).

Clearly there is a lot of productive time being lost in one case and unnecessary delay in the other. But can’t this be made more efficient? Can’t the experience of using public transport and a taxi service be made better?

Here is my idea.

The taxi service, bus company or, for that matter, any form of public transport uses a GPS enabled device to continuously broadcast their positions and availability. This is already being done by some taxi services I believe.

The company (taxi service or bus or any other competent developer) creates a mobile app that allows me to subscribe to any of these transport services and check the nearest available transport option via a GPS enabled phone or via GPRS with a Google Maps API integration (assuming it is possible) or via mobile tower location. One caveat is that the app always seeks the location of the transport option to calculate the time for privacy concerns.

No more long waiting times. My wife checks exactly when the bus arrives and leaves home accordingly. I can request for a taxi and the nearest available taxi responds to my request. My wife can configure the time it takes to reach the nearest bus stop and subscribe to PUSH alerts and the app automatically notifies her the right time to leave home.

Of course the bus also needs to know the location of all bus stops en route so that the app is able to identify the nearest bus stop. But, hey, this is the Internet of Things.

Where is India’s Foursquare?

Foursquare location serviceLocation is a big thing today. Be it Foursquare check-ins, hyperlocal content, Twitter location API. Foursquare just completed a $20 million round from Andreessen Horowitz valuing it at $95 million. And that is based just on the possibilities of location. No proven revenue sources yet. But the potential is there.

But I did not start writing this post to underscore the ‘value’ of Foursquare or Location Based Services (LBS). I was more like thinking, where is India’s Foursquare?

LBS like Foursquare and Gowalla are very focused on smartphone users. However smartphone users form a very small fraction of the Indian mobile user (just 5% according to some estimates). Add to that the relatively high data charges and the average monthly mobile bill of just $5.

There is very little traction a smartphone based location service can gain.

But there is something in which Indians excel. SMS. An average Indian sends 29 SMSs per month (TRAI data). So there is huge opportunity to tap in this area to overcome the absence of smartphones in India.

The only form of location based mobile marketing in India is currently opt-in bluetooth based promotions at some malls (e.g. Forum mall in Bangalore). But as far as SMS marketing goes, it is only and mostly spam.

According to the the Mobile Market Report SMS Usage In Urban India about 51% mobile users received SMS marketing messages of some sort with a 2/3rds of users taking no action. Essentially deleting the message. Just 11% make a purchase.

But all this is primarily because of the amount of irrelevant messaging being pushed to our phones. The conversion rates can be easily increased if the Airtels and Vodafones of the world brought in the location angle.

SMS as a marketing channel is underutilizedIt should not be too difficult to figure out the location of a subscriber based on the nearest mobile tower. And then if they can push out local offers, coupons, etc. from local businesses, my guess is that it would increase conversion. Even if the technology does not exist today it is definitely in the interest of the service providers to work towards this end. It will open up a new source of revenue for them. Which cannot be a bad thing considering the squeezed margins in the overcrowded space today.

Does technology to support this kind of technology exist today? If not, how difficult is it to implement it? More importantly, can this work? Let me know your thoughts.

Update: Just came across this article. There definitely seems to be a market for location based text marketing.

[image: Flickr/Dennis Crowley and Flickr/Katie Lips]

An Augmented Shopping Experience

Ever been to a retailer with a shopping list? Bet you have. Ever found it difficult to find an item – either because you simply did not know where to look or because its location changed since your last visit? Yup.

This has happened to me quite a few times. And the only solution is to ask someone in the store.

What if you are in a hurry? You would possibly leave to try another store or come back later. Unwanted hassles for the customer. Lost revenues for the retailer. Maybe a lost customer.

Here’s what the retailer could do. Make a mobile app. Link it to their inventory database. Add an additional column for location of the item within the store. Expose the database through a search interface in the app.

Make it a augmented reality app. Allow the user to search for an item and ‘show‘ her the location of the item in the store.

Better. Add locations of complementary items and make real-time offers.

Make the app better by linking the user identity to the point-of-sales database. When the shopper is not using the app to search for a product give her offers that she would like. Leverage point-of-sales analytics to decide the offer. And use the app to lead the shopper to the deal.

Here is the app search interface available to the user.

Product search interface of the application

This is where the user searches for the product of her choice.

And this is how the results are presented to the user.

Product location and offer information with augmented reality

This is how the user is presented with the search results.

What do you think? Would it be a useful app? Leave your thoughts and comments.

[iphone image: Mondotechblog]

[store layout image: Wikipedia]

Copyright © 2014 signals of noise

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑