Slumdog Millionaire: Brilliant yet flawed

Finally watched Slumdog Millionaire. Really enjoyed it – it was an energetic, well directed journey. The child actors especially played their roles brilliantly and made you love them.

The flawed aspect was the over dramatization of slum life. Jamal as a child encountered pretty much every bad thing you hear about slums (riots, child beggar exploitation, prostitution, slum lords). You could see how the movie was catering to Western audiences, to every stereotype about India – you could see the calculation that for an Indian movie to do well in the west, it has to tell a certain story. (Its not a coincidence that the after Salaam Bombay (which is also about life in slums), this is the next movie about India to break out into the world stage.)

It did break out of that mold somewhat after the middle when the focus was on Jamaal’s life as a young man, with life as a chaiwala in the call center. I think the first half of the movie could have been been much less dramatic and still managed to get across the range of life experiences picked up by this child from the slums.

But in spite of the pandering, the movie had a certain joi de vivre. Every moment of the movie was enjoyable. The music (by AR Rahman) was brilliant. India has been in love with his music for many years now, but this is his entry to the world stage. Overall, a lovely movie, less pandering next time please.

Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge

I bought a new bike two weeks ago. Its a hybrid Trek and I am loving it. We started biking to work (except for early morning meetings – I need every minute on those days).

Last weekend we rode our bikes to Ocean Beach. We took the Wiggle (a non hilly route to get from Duboce to Panhandle through Lower Haight – and I learnt that its a San Francisco biking landmark), through the Golden Gate to Ocean Beach and back.

This week was more adventuerous – we rode our bikes through Soma, Embarcadero, Marina and across the Golden Gate Bridge. We were exhausted by the time we got there, so we biked to the Sausalito Ferry and took that back (map of route embedded below).

Today, I have aches and pains all over. But it was exhilarating biking across the city along the water (I enjoyed that more than the Golden Gate Bridge). I do need to get better at biking over hills though.

Startups are hard. Putting your body under some stress during the weekend – the way your mind is stressed over the week – is a good way to restore balance. As I keep reminding myself, startups are a marathon, not a sprint.

Blogging on the weekends

I have been missing blogging. Someone pointed out that my last post was Nov last year. Thats too long ago. But I also know that I don’t have a moment during the week to blog. Twitter is about all I have time for during week.

So from now on, I am going to become a weekend blogger. Will try to do at least one post every weekend. (this one does not count).

And Happy 2009!

At Web 2.0 Summit

Its been a while since I was at a conference (startups often get you into hibernation mode). But I am really enjoying Web 2.0 Summit. I participated in Guy Kawasaki’s TechHunch Thrifty panel (Guy comes up with the best names). He invited a bunch of startups (Disqus, RescueTime, InfinityBox, Posterous, PollsEverywhere, MightyQuiz and SlideShare) who started with little or no funding. It was a fun panel. I enjoying demoing SlideShare and seems like at least a few of you enjoyed the demo.

Now at Incubator 2.0 panel.

If you use SlideShare and have a question, comment, idea, please come by and say hi.

Why the LinkedIn platform is important

Last week LinkedIn launched their platform with several apps including SlideShare. Several bloggers wrote about the business oriented nature of the apps, and that you cannot throw sheep ! But there are reasons the platform is important going beyond the lack of sheep.

1) Its the first business oriented social network that is embracing a platform approach. This is the first time that business users have access to other types of apps that are relevant to them.

2) Its the biggest platform built on Open Social. Its an important endorsement for OpenSocial. I predict that we will see more platforms using it in the next few months.

3) It incorporates the lessons learned from other platforms including Facebook. The most noticeable thing about the LInkedIn platform is that they have worked hard to remain true to the core goal of LinkedIn (utility for professionals), and not let the apps take over the user experience of LinkedIn.

This is both reflected in the choice of business oriented apps (wordpress, movabletype, slideshare, huddle, google apps). And in the way that apps work on the site.

We experienced this again and again in the months of working together with LinkedIn for the SlideShare app. LinkedIn understands the rhythm and cadence of the LinkedIn site. They worked hard with the apps to make sure they added functionality, but did not fundamentally change that user experience.

I strongly agree with this approach. Looking back on the timeline for the Facebook platform, its clear that for a period of time, Facebook lost control of their end user experience. The apps were in your face (several were extremely spammy). When you have thousands of apps doing this, then pretty soon the social space itself changes. This is why Facebook had to do something as drastic as putting all the apps in a separate Boxes tab cutting traffic to the apps in half.

Social networks have a delicate balance, there is a rhythm to the social activity. There are channels for communication between users, and different channels are used in different ways, with different frequency. You cannot suddenly change this. Instead you have to understand what the rhythm of communication is, what users value about the experience on the site and make sure that does not completely change, even while apps are added to the site.

It will be interesting to see how the platform evolves in the months ahead. But I think LinkedIn gets this and am very bullish about the platform.

Shifting laptops when your data is in the cloud

Last week I shifted to a new laptop (a thinkpad X Series) with Windows Vista. I was dreading shifting computers in general and shifting to Vista in particular. But it turned out to be my easiest move ever.

I used MozBackup to shift my web browser. Given how much time I spend on a web browser, this being seamless was a big deal.

Next, I transferred all the files from my current laptop onto a Maxtor backup drive. From the Maxtor drive I copied all files to the new laptop. This too about two hours.

We use Google Apps at SlideShare, so all my email and documents are in the cloud anyway. I still download all my email into Thunderbird so that I have an offline backup (just in case). Tomorrow I will use MozBackup to shift my Thunderbird profiles to the new laptop and start downloading email again.

Every one or two hours, I come across a software I need (e.g., Microsoft Office, Photoshop, ScreenPrint). One by one I am downloading / installing that on to my laptop.

First experiences with Vista – its quite nice. The visual look and feel is nicer than for my old XP. I am still not quite used to the way that navigation works in Vista (especially finding and adjusting look and feel of the computer). I like the windows sidebar and the RSS reader and photo slideshows going through my photographs.

Looking back, a lot of the pain in shifting computers used to be shifting files and settings. Now that so much of my data is in the cloud, that paid is dramatically reduced.

Stepping down as BayCHI program chair

For more than five years now, I have been co-Program Chair for BayCHI hosting a variety of speakers from Peter Norvig, Bill Scott, Tara Hunt, Tim Brown, Jakob Neilsen, Jared Spool and Jesse James Garrett. When I started I was a researcher at UC Berkeley. In between, I ran a consulting company that morphed into a product company (MindCanvas) that planted the seeds of SlideShare.

I have really enjoyed this tenure. So why am I leaving? Because SlideShare is growing and I don’t have time anymore. Running a startup takes everything you have and more. I am also focused on startup issues rather than HCI issues. Finally, six years is a long time to do anything and its time to give someone else a chance.

We are looking for a replacement for me who will be co-program chair along with Paul Sas (he is a great co-chair to work with!). I have also loved working with Stacie Hibino, Steve Williams, Nancy Frishberg and everyone else at BayCHI. Get in touch if you have past experience at organizing such events and want to get involved.

This was a long time in the coming. Several times I wanted to tell my BayCHI colleagues, but was not able to actually say I was leaving. This is one of several threads that I am closing now that SlideShare takes 120% of my time.

December 9th is my last program. I am still putting it together. Come by if you are in the area…

Upcoming’s disastrous switch from personal-social to general-social

Till a few months ago, Upcoming was one of the sites I visited daily. I went there to find what my friends are upto. I watched events even when I could not attend them (it was often an expression of my wish to be there more than anything else). Then one day Upcoming redesigned. They cleaned up their visual look and feel – no drastic changes, just minor changes. Nothing earth shattering.

For me the best part of Upcoming was being able to see what events my friends are going to. With their redesign, Upcoming decided to hide that behind two clicks. Now when you go to the site, I see whats popular in San Francisco, but I have to click to see what my friends are upto. Even on an events page, I can no longer easily see if any of my friends are going there. Instead I am shown the groups and tags. But I have to click to see who is attending.

Thats all it took to kill Upcoming for me. In my informal survey, many of my friends have stopped going there for the same reason.

I wonder what inspired this redesign. What was the goal here? To push the popular more than the personal? Had the team seen the stats? Had they talked to their users? Did they know how many people used it to keep track of friends events?

Such fundamental redesigns are often a bad idea. And the move from a personal-social is especially dangerous. If you are used to a service being all about you and your friends, then the general-popular feels like a real intrusion.

“Thirst” wins SlideShare’s World’s Best Presentation Contest

We declared the results of the second World’s Best Presentation Contest. Jeff Brenman (who also won the contest last year with Shift happens), walked away with this year’s top prize with Thirst. Other two winning presentations are Footnotes, a whimsical travelogoue told through shots of Melanie’s feet. And third prize is Zimbabwe in Crisis. We also have six category winners

Here is Jeff Brenman’s Thirst for your viewing pleasure.

VEOH decision about copyright

Its a good day for social media sites – a judge just threw out a case against Veoh (the video sharing site) and ruled that such sites are protected under the safe harbor law provided they do the below things. Copyright is a of concern to anyone running a social media site and this ruling is welcome. Copyright has not been a really big problem for SlideShare. We get the occasional DMCA and act on it immediately. Sometimes content uploaders are really upset when they approach us, but usually calm down after our swift response. We are lucky that the content owners in question are not the music companies!

TechCrunch’s analysis of the ruling is that as long as video sharing sites (and I am extending that to presentation sharing sites) do below, they are protected under safe harbord provision.

– Let users know that they should not upload copyrighted material. (we point this out)
-Act immediately DMCA takedown notices (we try to respond within 24 hours)
-Use technology to detect copyrighted material (we dont do that, but we do have community flagging mechanisms for pointing out copyrighted materials)
-Control infringing users, especially repeat offenders. (we do this)
-Most importantly, the court ruled that sites don’t need to check every video. This is important – there is no way we could check every file that is uploaded.
-Most of the content should be non-infringing (this is definitely true for us – we receive complaints for a very small proportion of content – much less than 1%)