Talk at Yahoo research tomorrow: The perils of popularity

I am giving a talk tomorrow at Yahoo Research Labs titled “The perils of popularity“. There has been a lot of excitement about how web-based social systems harness the wisdom of crowds. I want to challenge that notion. I also want to challenge some of Chris Anderson’s assertions about the long tail. Anderson contends that with the democratization of the tools of production and distribution and ability to reach niches with tools like Netflix and Google, the era of hits and manufactured pop is over. I think that the mechanism for creating hits is shifting from studios to the large scale social systems like YouTube and the rules for how content rises to the top. Instead of manufactured pop like N Sync, we have hits from teams like lonelygirl who best understand how to use that medium.

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Following a mashup to its roots: Shift Happens

In following the RSS feed about the SlideShare contest winners, I realized that the winning slideshow is a mashup and started following it to its roots. The winner jbrenman clearly acknowledged that his contest entry is a stylistic rendition of Karl Fisch’s original presentation, so I had always known that. But as is the case with many mashups, I had not spent time tracking the creation to the original. As I started following links, I learnt that Karl Fisch is a teacher who created the original Shift happens powerpoint. Generously, he shared both the original powerpoint file and the mp3 that goes alongwith. In his blog, he also talks about how he came to create the presentation to get the faculty thinking about this new world that their students are entering. (Shift happens is about the paradigm shift in America’s changing role in the world). He also discusses the statistics that he cites in the presentation (acknowledging that his presentation itself is a mashup of ideas and statistics from many sources).

This is fascinating. I could go on stepping back in tracing these ideas. So who is the original creator? Is there an original creator? Is the question even relevant?

Thanks to Karl for sharing. Your presentation rocks (here is a link to his original ppt file). Thanks jbrenman for your stylistic interpretation. Its brilliant (embedded below).

This adds to my belief that powerpoint is the ultimate mashup medium. If you think about it, most presentations are mashups – a collection of facts, opinions and pictures put together under the creative lens of an individual.

Upcoming talk at UC Berkeley: Fast, cheap and somewhat in control: Lessons from the design of SlideShare

Next week, I will be giving a talk at the Information School, UC Berkeley about the design of SlideShare. This will be for Marti Hearst’s UI Design class at the I. The talk is really about a 360 degree view of design that I got as I have moved from academic to consulting to entrepreneurship. The title and abstract is below.

Fast, cheap and somewhat in control: Lessons from the design of SlideShare

In the last five years, Rashmi has approached design as an academic researcher looking for statistical patterns that distinguish successful design, a user experience consultant solving design problems for large companies, a creator of a game-like software for design research. Now, in her current incarnation she balances design among business concerns while leading a small, bootstrapped startup. In this talk, she will share 10 lessons learned from the design of SlideShare, why Web 2.0 companies don’t do user research (or do they), how the Beta launch can be considered a user probe, how personas are not needed when you know your users by name, the importance of technical simplicity and how designers need to avoid thinking too much and start taking risks.

Slideshare is in Business Week!!!

Business WeekThey had interviewed Jon some time back, so we were expecting it. But its still great knowing that mainstream media are starting to write about the “dinky little startup” as Nicholas Carr called us. We also crossed a major milestone in terms of site statistics today (cannot share the figures yet!), but it was pretty exciting for us.

I am not in the US right now, so cannot get hold of a copy of Business Week easily (its in the Dec 18th edition) – but I did fork over $45.97 to buy an online subscription to look at the article. This is what they wrote.

Have I Got A PowerPoint For You (Business Week, Dec 18th)
In the beginning, there was MP3 sharing. Then came friend sharing (MySpace), photo sharing (Flickr), and video sharing (YouTube). Now it has come to this: PowerPoint slide sharing. offers a place to upload, view, and search for PowerPoint presentations. And since opening up its beta site in October, it has received tens of thousands of files…

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The social life of powerpoint

A few years before he wrote Blink, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article about the social life of paper [Gladwell, 2002]. Published in the New Yorker, the article argued that paper enables a certain kind of cognitive thinking and social process. This is because paper has a set of affordances that facilitate such social and cognitive behavior. For example, paper is tangible – we can pick up a document and flip through it at our own pace. Bits of paper can be arranged spatially to mean something (e.g., the piles on my desk). Paper can be annotated. I recognize what Gladwell is saying on a personal level. My desk is full of piles that go away only to make way for other piles.

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Uzanto Open House in Delhi on Dec 1st

Its kind of a last minute thing. Pretty much the entire Uzanto / Slideshare team is together in Delhi right now. As many of you know, that’s out of the ordinary for us. Generally, we are a distributed team based in two continents. Apart from that, its the beginning of the holiday season. The weather is beautiful in Delhi nowadays. And there are many other reasons to get together with friends… So come by for an informal evening of food, drinks and socializing. This will be between 6 and 9 PM at the Uzanto offices in South Delhi. If you read this blog and are in Delhi, then we would love to meet you. If you are involved with the geek scene in Delhi / care about design/usability, then come by. Just add yourself to the wiki so that we know how much food to order.

Slideshare now open to all!

Two days ago, we passed one of our major milestones: Slideshare is out of the invite-only phase. You can view, share slideshows without needing a login. You do need a login for uploading, but you can sign up anytime – you no longer need an invitation to the system.

We have geared up for this – servers have been added to the cluster. So, bring out those rusty old presentations and give them a new lease of life.

Several people have emailed us asking about Keynote imports. Thats something we are looking into. Audio is another thing that is we have heard a lot about – and we are considering.

In the meantime, I continue to be amazed by the types of content that keeps pouring into Slideshare. Here are some examples: a teacher who uploaded her lecture. The Dreamforce conference that shared 50 presentations. Ministers sharing sermons. Photographers sharing beautiful pictures. Cartoonists uploading cartoons that work in a slideshow format.

Two weeks of Slideshare

Its been just about two weeks of Slideshare and it would not be an exaggeration to say that my life has been changed forever. Tending to a new application is like having a baby. You enjoy all the things it does, worry about it if its quiet for a while and bore friends by talking about it too much. Most of all I have been enjoying the variety of content that pops up on Slideshare. Here is a French slideshow titled: Logistique Asiatique that I enjoyed recently.

Looking for a few good developers to work on Slideshare

slideshare logoWe are looking for a few good hackers to work on Slideshare. You can find out more about the positions on the Slideshare blog. The Uzanto team is a tightly knit team of developers & designers in US (Mountain View & New Delhi). Slideshare is built with Ruby on Rails – Setup consists of Ruby, Rails, MySQL, lighttpd/mongrel, Pound, FreeBSD, and Debian. We are looking for Developers and a Sys Admin. We are looking for bright, enthusiastic people who get the web. We care less about your formal schooling – we care more about your being great at what you do, and being passionate about it. We are a small team and each team member is responsible for core parts of the application.

We just launched SlideShare last week and are blown away by the response! We have a lot planned ahead, so be prepared for a fun, wild ride. Apply if enjoy excitement! Interested? Email me at rashmi AT

(If you know someone else who might fit into these roles, please forward the information).