Blogfather Speaks

There is a lot of talk about blogging, that it is coming to an end and what might happen to it. Earlier this week, The New York Times said it was doing away with blogs and reporters were bloggers. The big media, and most have always confused blogs and blogging with a system of publishing. It is more of a philosophy, a sensibility and a point of view/lens into the world, as I have written in the past on number of occasions.

Mathew Ingram, who like me is an old school blogger, has weighed in on the matter over at Gigaom and points out that just as newspapers absorbed their digital efforts into editorial operations, they essentially killed any possibility of reinvention for the digital future. And with blogs being absorbed into the main editorial, the Times is killing the soul of blogging. Today, Dave Winer, who I affectionately call Blog father, sums it up:

Before Google Reader and Twitter it was a mix of short title-less items, and longer essays, some with comments others without. Look at the archive page for March 2001 for an idea. (I picked that month at random.) …… Blogging started as a very irreverent thing. If it’s going to be anything as we go forward, we have to stop caring what other entities think we are and focus on what we think we are.

Blogs are our digital homesteads and will also mean more to an individual that to a big business/editorial operation.

Update: As Dave had said back in the early days of news-oriented blogs, “Blogging doesn’t eliminate what reporters do, but it changes it. The Times never had blogs. It would have been wonderful if they had, but they merely used blogging software in their editorial process. “

Smart watches, Smart but….

When it comes to wearing anything on my self — wrist, face, feet — the aesthetics play an equally if not more important of a role in making my final decisions. I look for a perfect balance of form, function and quality of craftsmanship in my shoes, bags, optical frames and watches. 

Watches in particular are more of an emotional and aesthetic choice. That is why I am underwhelmed by the growing number of smart watches which are coming to market. Yesterday, at Google I/O Google announced Android Wear, a variant of its Android OS targeting the devices like the newly announced watches. I checked them out and admittedly they are much better than some of the earlier efforts. The design elements of the Android Wear are also pretty good — except they don’t make me feel anything. 

I like the concept but not the execution of the early attempts at smart watches. The problem with these early variants of smart watches is that to me they feel very like a variant of the smartphones. They are trying to cram too much functionality into such a small visual real estate, instead of nailing down a handful of key functions. From that perspective, I think WiThings’ new watch Activite. It is elegant and is focused on a handful of functions. More importantly, it looks like a watch, so it solves the mental hurdle we have towards trying watches with weird designs. 

The New York Times fashion editor Vanessa Friedman was on the money in her assessment of the two newly announced Android Wear watches, the LG G and Samsung Gear Live:

neither does what the best design does, which is make you rethink all your old assumptions about the form (see: Chanel’s boucle jacket, which gave sartorial armor the ease of a cardigan; Armani’s deconstructed suit, which gave form to the idea of “soft power”; Prada’s black nylon backpack, which elevated the mundane, for example).

In fact, the watches do the opposite: they re-enforce all our old assumptions about the form, which is that you take your phone screen, make it small and stick it on your wrist. All I can think when I see them is: “Beam me up, Scotty!” And where’s the joy — or the desire — in that?

So while these smart watches may appeal to the kind of consumer who likes the latest in gear, they definitely have not bridged the fashion gap, and bridging the fashion gap is part of what makes the difference between a niche product and a must-have. 

Yves Behar, currently one of the top designers in the world had once said, “Watches are a great way to think about how products should be designed to last” and he  pointed out that things we wear “have to withstand constraints of life – water, dust, scratches” and that the wearable computing has to over come that challenge. When I think about future smart watches, I think about elegance and aesthetics of a fashion/stylish product that is married to notifications-oriented core functionality. It is a hard balance to achieve. Pebble is version 0.1 of the concept, but I think it would need someone like Swatch to turn it into a must-have product. And when it comes to Apple & its iWatch, the bar is even higher!

Sundar’s Stage

At Google I/O last year, I called Sundar the most underrated executive and CEO material via a tweet. Glad that the world has finally start to recognize Sundar. BusinessWeek magazine’s Brad Stone profiles Sundar Pichai, who is apparently Google CEO Larry Page’s goto guy and the second most important executive at the company. Sundar is going to be center stage at Google I/O keynote tomorrow and will outline his vision of Android OS and it’s various mutations.

Over past few years, I have had an opportunity to interview Sundar on a handful of occasions — always at Gigaom events. In addition I have had some conversations with him about ChromeOS at various Google events. Though I don’t claim to know him well, I think Brad has done a good job of capturing the essence of Sundar, at least from a professional perspective. I don’t think we ever get to learn about the real personal side of executives.

Sundar, has a couple of things that are sorely missing in Google founders — empathy and a sense of humanity that the company will need as it starts to embed itself into personal lives of people. Whether it is being privy to our private video moments (via Dropcam) or knowing about when we come and go (Nest) from our homes to where we go (via Android OS), Google is going to become a fearful presence in our lives, world’s first surveillance giant. 

Lenka is a good app for taking B&W photos

When visiting Paris earlier this month, like I usually do, I spent an evening with photographer-artist Kevin Abosch and his family. Kevin has become a dear friend over past couple of years. Kevin very well knows that I love taking photos with my iPhone and I actually have been trying to take more black-and-white photos. During the course of festivities, Kevin installed an app on my iPhone — Lenka App.

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What Facebook and P&G have in common?

Facebook’s Creative Labs seems to be busy — a new variation of its Paper app and latest Snapchat challenger, Slingshot are latest among the many experiments that world’s largest social platform tries to define its future. In the July/August 2014 issue, Fast Company magazine, talks about co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s “Facebook everywhere” strategy. 

The article only reinforces my recent conclusion that the future of 10-year-old Facebook was similar to the strategy adopted by 175-year old Proctor and Gamble. I came to that conclusion, when I read Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg describe his plans for the future in a recent interview with The New York Times.

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Why NYTimes’ Vanessa Friedman is the best fashion writer today

The vagaries of my day job — that is being immersed in technology and its business — means that I need to find things that are different and eclectic, both from a cultural and a sociological standpoint. And fashion (or style) often is my refuge from the banalities of dumb apps like Yo.

Wait a minute — but isn’t fashion banal? Of course it is. I am too old for most of it anyway. And too heavy to fit into anything made by the new designers. But that doest mean I can’t find joy and excitement in the creative expression. What makes it even more exciting is when someone really smart writes about fashion, design and style in an eloquent and intelligent manner. 

Suzy Menkes was one of those writers and I read her for decades. Literally, she was the sole reason I would read the International Herald Tribune (later renamed The International New York Times.) Of course, there is blunt and bold Cathy Horn, who was with the New York Times. Horn has stepped out of the limelight due to personal reasons. Replacing Horn and Menkes is Vanessa Friedman, who joined The New York Times (as chief fashion critic and fashion director) from the Financial Times.  She made an impression when I saw the video of her speaking at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit

Today fashion is disposable – and it is supposed to be. And it seems to me that should be unsustainable. Because what the situation we are in now — more and more and faster and faster — sounds like, more than anything, is a runaway train. And you know what happens to runaway trains: they crash.

The manifesto resonated with me because I too worry about our culture’s incessant desire to own more and more. Only a few years ago I realized, more is just more and since then have been reshaping my life, trying to get over what is rampant materialism. And because of that shared sensibility, Friedman became someone to follow.

Later, in an interview with Style.com, she said, “if you’re not willing to say when something is bad or a mistake, then when you say it’s good it means nothing.” When I read that, I was filled with joy, because you know, honesty is rapidly diminishing commodity in this social media dominated world, where everyone is marketing something. As someone who has followed that mantra, I know it isn’t an easy path to follow. Companies don’t return your calls, you are locked out of news flow and you obviously hurt feelings. And if you think it is bad in technology industry, I can guarantee that fashion industry is full of more venal folks who often doubt their own shadow. In the very same Style.com interview she said, 

Twitter to me is a conversation. If I want to write a 1,000-word review, I’m not going to do it on Twitter, and hopefully it can’t be condensed into 140 characters. If it can, then maybe I should think more about what I’m writing. The important thing is really to differentiate between a blog and a tweet and a column or review. 

I wish many of the writers in the technology industry have that kind of clarity. Friedman (unlike that other Friedman at the Times) has turned out to be everything I had expected and more. In a world of vapid and somewhat frivolous writing and pretty photos, she provides a grown-up take on the business of fashion. She is a breath of fresh air, as she stays aways from platitudes and is as real as a fashion critic can get.  She treats fashion business like a grown up (thanks to those years at the FT) and provides context that comes from being around for a while. 

She even weighed in on Amazon’s new phone as a fashion accessory and frankly, she got it better than most of us in techlandia. Finally, someone at The New York Times understands SEO, trends and keywords and the importance of being au courant? She even wrote about Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s kurta and the fashion craze it has unleashed. For heavens sake, this is the Times and they are often the last ones to notice such things. 

What makes her a must read for me is that she understands the growing importance of ecommerce, social media and how we are influenced in today’s hyperactive society. Her piece about selfies and commerce is a good example of her clue fulness. The intelligence she brings to the job makes are different from two other fashion writers I admire, Menkes and Horn. The Times scored a whole-in-one (pun intended) when they hired her. I am glad they did — I can’t wait to read what she writes next. 

Update: Refinery 29 has published an interview Vanessa and here is this one comment from the interview which is something media folks covering all sectors need to remember.

This might seem like a weird question, but do you consider yourself an outsider when it comes to reporting in the fashion industry, or do you feel like you’re very much part of the club?
“I’m not part of the fashion industry; I’m part of the media industry. I’m a journalist; I’m not a fashion person. So, certainly by that definition, I am an outsider. And, I think that’s important, actually. I don’t think you can really see anything with clarity if you are part of it.”

Predictions are a risky business

 The recent takedown of Uber and questions about its future by a famous finance professor reminded me that predicting the future is a risky business. As someone who has been wrong often, I can say one thing for sure: hindsight reminds you of your follies every day.

Continue reading on Gigaom.com.

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