Monday, December 31, 2012

Closing 2012

2012 is about to become a page in history book.  Looking back at 2012, I am happy that I was able to maintain the Future of Social Network blog daily.  It was not easy to set aside time to read, decide what to write about, and write a blog each day.  If someone else were to suggest a year ago that I take on this challenge, I would have said that it was not for me.  There simply weren't enough hours in a day for me to read and write, I thought.

Having done it for 365 days in a row, I know now what it takes to do daily blog rain or shine.  But I still don't think that I will have enough time in a day to get it done.  Instead I now know it's about prioritizing my daily tasks so that I can carve out the time for reading and writing.

One thing that I learned in the process is that I need to focus on short-term milestones to achieve a long-term goal.  It may be daunting to visualize blogging every day for a year.  But it comes down to carving out the time to read and write.  Whether that happens in 24-hour cycle or 72-hour cycle depends on how I can schedule my time and stick to the schedule.  I have realized that as long as I can break my goal into small enough pieces, I can take incremental steps to get closer to making it happen.  When I have my head down plowing forward, all I have to focus on is the next milestone.

While I'm thankful for the 365 day streak, I have some regrets as well.  I wish I had spent more time listening to the readers.  One thing that I realized was that I do appreciate the readership from all of you.  If I write things for my own benefit only, I am not getting the full value out of putting it on Internet.  If it were to be available out in the open for everyone, it should be written in reader-friendly way so that as many people can benefit from my blog.  Although I was focused on my daily blogging milestones, I may not have been as diligent in making it readable and useful for all the readers.  I should have raised my head once in a while to adjust my goal.  (I'm taking a step to listen better.  Please fill out three quick questions to help me make this blog more useful to you.)

With these lessons, I am ready to close the year 2012.

Adieu 2012.  It's been good working with you.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dear readers, tell me something

Dear readers,

While surfing Chris Guillebeau's article 279 Days To Overnight Success, it suddenly dawned on me.  Although I was looking for your feedback, I have not stopped to ask for them.  I have been resorting to passively responding to comments that I receive occasionally.

Today, I want to take time to thank you for your readership and ask for your feedback.  I have put up a quick SurveyMonkey site page to ask three questions.  These three questions will help me make more useful Future of Social Network.

If you can take 5 minutes to answer them, it would make the best gift for me and for all the fellow readers of this blog.  You can answer them here.

I wish you the peaceful closing of 2012.  I also hope you have many opportunities to realizing your dream in 2013.

Thank you for your continued readership.  


-Jae Kim

Social network as context

After reading Josh Miller's post Tenth Grade Tech Trends, a few thoughts went through my mind.  First one was a validation that there will continue to be fragmented social networking services.  Second one was the reason for plethora of social networks had a lot to do with the context that users assign.  In other words the narrative that users tell their friends when describing how the network should be used.  I've been calling it context.  Third one was that even though existing social networks copy the feature set of a new network, it's difficult to break the mold established by user's earlier narrative.

Let me elaborate on each.

Friday, December 28, 2012

User Interface serves the purpose

While visiting my parents' place, I found the following label on a light switch by a walk-in closet door.

'Off' is not the up-position.

It made me pause.  Wait, is the light switch flipped so that up position is on and down position is off?  I opened the door and checked.  No, it was not.  Light was turned off.  Mother must have labeled it wrong.

When I was stepping out in the morning, I saw another light switch label by the side entrance to the garage.  It also had an incorrect label except that it's even bigger.

'Off' is definitely not the up-position.
Label maker must have something else in mind.

Why would Mother put wrong labels on the light switches?  Doesn't she know that up is on, down is off?

Grow [oneself and the team] every day

I believe everyone wants to get better at what they do.  I certainly want to get better at what I do.  I wager you do too.  When there is a friendly competition in the areas of our interest, we all love to measure how well we stack up against each other.  For a competition like this to work, there have to be well-defined rules, how scores are kept and when the game ends.

On my long drive down to my parents' place, I had a chance to listen to several podcasts around the topic of leadership and launching startup:
I was able to notice one recurring theme that stuck with me from the podcasts.  It's about the desire to get better at something.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Product Management: How to deal with competitors

Yesterday I shared my thought on kinds of competitors to watch out for.  I would continue that train of thought, and talk a little about how to deal with competitors.

When anyone mentions someone else as a competitor, find out everything about them.  Who is working on it, what their product does, what their product does not do, and what customers are saying about them.  Most importantly the one thing that you want to find out is their message to customers, that is, their customer pitch.

The reason why the pitch is important is because chances are the competitor may not be solving the problem that you are going after.  Even when people approach the same problem, the ways we solve them are almost always not identical.  And our approach often changes.  Remember that most startups have at least a couple of pivots to find their product market fit.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Product Management: Fear the unknown competitors

After reading Ben Parr's piece Why startups shouldn't be afraid of Facebook cloning them, I thought about the topic a little bit.  I agree with Parr's observation.  Facebook jumping in and cloning the app should not be a death sentence to a startup.  If anything, it should be seen as a validation that the idea is interesting and there is that much more potential for the market.

The reason is multiple fold.  The main one is that a big company like Facebook will not focus on single application idea because it's just too small and unproven to move Facebook's needle.  It means two things.  One, Facebook has other bread-earning business that they cannot let go, and two, although Facebook touts moving fast and breaking things, it is not going to be as fast as the laser-focused startup of a single team.

Facebook Poke is not the death sentence for Snapchat.
Snapchat should focus on its customers and building its roadmap.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I have a lot to be thankful for this year.  We welcomed a new member of our family, a lovely little girl named Abigail earlier this year.  I have a healthy three-year-old boy, Tobias.  I have a fantastic mother-in-law who's been helping us smooth out all the unexpected turns in our lives.  And the most importantly, I have have a beautiful wife who is thoughtful and wonderfully supportive of me.  Without her help, I would not have been able to continue blogging this year.

When I sit down and think about all the things that I have done, it is really true that I owe everything that I have to wonderful people around me who have been helping me every step of the way.

I want to thank them for what they have done for me.  I also want to thank everyone who gave me encouraging words along the way.

So let me wish everyone merry Christmas.  Have a very merry Christmas.  I hope you can find something that you can be thankful for this holiday season.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Aatish Bhatia: Empirical Zeal

Aatish Bhatia is a graduate student at Rutgers University.  He also maintains a science blog called Empirical Zeal.  I stumbled upon his blog last week, and found his writing style to be very enjoyable to read.  He has a way of telling story with related scientific background.

It turns out that I was not alone finding his blog very valuable.  He received many accolades from science writers and bloggers since he uploaded his first article back in April 2011.

I highly recommend his blog entries.  They are fun to read because it starts from a common scenario and drills into scientific reasoning.
Imagine teaching Physics and Chemistry to children in this way.  First telling them about the problem, and working out solutions with them collaboratively.  It would not only make the class material more interesting, but foster their creative thinking to come up with their own solutions.

I applaud Bhatia for writing these pieces to make the science more approachable for many.  I certainly wished that I had learned from someone like him when I was in school.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Optimism and persistence

I believe there are two key characters that everyone needs to do a startup.  They are optimism and persistence.  Optimism because you have to have the hope to continue pushing toward your goal, and persistence because it will take a long time before you can start seeing your goal realized.

When I hear people talk about someone else's success, there are always long periods when someone had to endure the pessimism from many and self-doubt.  To be great at something, we all have to be eternally optimistic, and have persistence to keep at it.  Although optimism and persistence are not guarantee, they are necessary to achieve a greatness.

If you believe this premise as I do, then you will notice something.  We have to choose to do something that we believe in.

Without a firm belief, it is too easy to call it quit when going gets tough.  You may feel that there are other things that you could be doing.  You may question whether what you are doing is worthwhile to devote your life.  Unless you have the unshakable belief, it is impossible to persevere through all ups and downs of building something new.

To get optimism and persistence, first find a cause that you believe in.  Something that won't change and something that you cannot let go.  Then think of how you can get closer to that goal and apply your optimism and persistence toward realizing that step.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Will Facebook $1 message work?

Facebook has been undergoing transformation.  Transformation from privately held company to publicly traded company.  It also means going from get-bigger-user-base game to start-making-money game.  Facebook seems to be on a roll to churn out a new monetization idea every other week.  This week it is to pay $1 dollar to deliver a message to anyone in their inbox, even if they are not in your social graph (not counting the failed attempt to revise Instagram TOU).

For $1, Facebook will suspend the social graph messaging rule, and allow anyone to send direct message to my inbox.  Before we jump to a conclusion that Facebook have set out to sell the user data for the highest bidder, let's see how it might work.

$1 message means people like Zuckerberg will have lot more spams in their inbox.
That may work for Zuckerberg, but not for other high profile users.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Product Management: Make the loop faster

One thing that I learned as a coder was to shorten the feedback loop.  When I write code, I want to write a bit of code, test, fix, check and repeat.  One cycle is a loop.  I found that the faster I can make the loop more productive I became.

For instance, if I spend 10 mins writing code, 5 mins to compile, 5 mins to set up the test system and another 10 minutes to verify the change, I would figure out how to reduce compilation time, set up time and testing time.  Instead of waiting 20 minutes to test 10 minutes of code, I know I could just about double the productivity by reducing that 20 minutes down to 5 minutes, and packing in another 10 minutes of coding and 5 minutes for validation.

Programmers, don't let compiling interrupt the development cycle.
Product managers, don't wait for product feedback; get ready to go find them.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Product Idea: Email to collaboration

I get 140 - 160 emails a day.  Most emails have multiple recipients.  Rarely I get an email that is addressed just to me.  Only automatic alerts are sent just to me.  Others have often a dozen recipients.  What's interesting is that recipient list gets longer as the email thread drags on.

I'm sure that you've seen many.  Someone sends you an email.  You respond and copy someone who might know the answer.  Recipient starts copying someone who might add to the conversation.  Each time new recipients are added, the email thread gets longer.  Message gets buried.  Dozens of emails are littered across many individual inboxes.

We already know how to fix this.  Answer is to use a collaboration system.  Instead of attaching Word doc with edits, sending a pointer to the central collaboration server where the up-to-date version is hosted is the answer.  And it works well when collaboration happens with well defined task.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Instagram needs to make money

It's no secret that Instagram has been moving closer to seriously exploring the ways to generate revenue.  Ever since Instagram has been acquired by Facebook just on its way to going IPO, Instagram went from a 2-year-old company without any revenue stream to publicly traded company over a weekend.  Undoubtedly Instagram must be getting lot of pressure within Facebook to justify its $1 billion price tag by creating potential return on investment.

So it is understandable to see Kevin Systrom putting out a very aggressive Terms of Use (TOU) revision to users.  The language in the TOU suggested that Instagram can not only feature ads that are not marked as ads, but also can sell the right to use user's photos to third party sites.  Now Instagram user community has protested to the new terms, Systrom wrote a blog post backing down on selling the user's photos.  But it still retained a right to feature ads without clearly marking them as ads.

A photo of Instagram's TOU with Instagram's Earlybird filter.
I don't think I have to worry about my privacy on that one.

Here is a fact.  Instagram needs to figure out make money, and do it fast.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Useful API design best practice

I've been thinking a lot about API.  API is at the intersection of SaaS, consumerization of IT and applications.  As more software moves to services on the cloud, it's becoming increasingly important to interface with the hosted services.  

Analogy that I have in mind is Lego blocks.  Just as Lego blocks can be stacked to create interesting things, APIs can be chained together or nested to create interesting applications.  littleBits is a good example of mixing these two metaphors into actual product.

While researching to get quickly up to speed with the best design practice for REST API, I found the Web API Design PDF written by Brian Mulloy to be very valuable.  Mulloy shares his practical recommendation of how to design Web API.  They are immediately actionable, and makes sense overall.

Practical guide to designing easy to use Web API
by Brian Mulloy can be downloaded from this link.
Image Source:

Good API should make it easy to develop with API reference guide.  Great API should make the API intuitive enough so that developers can browse the guide once and start using it.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Peter Bregman: How to manage yourself

Peter Bregman is a leadership consultant who writes about how to manage oneself.  He has written a couple of books on business leadership, and speaks to executives in coaching how to be more productive.

Here are some interesting blog posts from his website:
He also appeared on TEDxMillRiver event discussing business leadership through admitting "I don't know."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Crazy ideas of how to deal with gun safety

Like all parents who heard the tragic news of Sandy Hook massacre I felt saddened.  I felt saddened because I have two kids of my own and I couldn't explain why tragedy like this happens repeatedly in our society.  We are collectively allowing this lack of gun safety issue fester without any meaningful check and balance.

I also felt helpless to make any change.  What can I do as a citizen to make an impact to change?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Product Management: Speed shows the focus

I am a slow follower when it comes to technology.  I don't go out and get the latest gadget.  I usually wait until it becomes v2, ask around friends, do some research.  When the technology has clear benefit then I jump on board.  By the time I make the decision, I'm usually the last one to join the group.

So it's understandable that I still use my Windows.  I do most of my work on Windows machine that I had for the last 3 years.  My most frequently used applications are

  1. Outlook
  2. Skype
  3. Chrome
  4. IE
  5. PowerPoint
  6. Word
  7. Excel
  8. Windows Explorer
  9. Notepad
When I boot up my laptop, they probably get opened in that order.

Fade out of friction-less sharing

Guardian is quietly shutting down its Facebook social reader app.  If you remember, social reader app is the app that shares what you are reading with your friends automatically.  It's akin to tracking every article that you read through social reader app, and publishing the log to all your friends.  When it first started, I posted my criticism about this "friction-less sharing."

After about a year of experimenting, Guardian is ending the social reader app program.  The reason is obvious.  As GigaOM reported, it's because Guardian realized that 1) they didn't control how their content was delivered to their end users, and 2) user experience happened all within Facebook even when user is reading a Guardian content.

At one point Facebook social reader was generating more referral than Google.

And it came crashing down when Facebook stopped showing
the spammy social reading posts on our news feed.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My day on mobile

For the last two days, I have been at offsite away from my desk.  It's times like that when I realize how much more I have become dependent on mobile phone.  Now I have been so used to getting access to information on my fingertip, it is to the point where I cannot imagine walking around without my iPhone.  It almost feels like when I first started to realize computer is useless unless it's connected to Internet.

Connected devices are allowing me to respond to requests at any time.  It also keeps me online so that anyone can reach me at any time.

Let me share the several use cases of my iPhone just today:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Product Management: Synchronizing the team

It is very important to synchronize the focus across the entire organization.  One example of focus is perfecting a product pitch.  A good should include what the product does, how it is different from others, and why customers should use the product.  Imagine everyone in the organization being able to deliver the consistent pitch with their own voice and passion.  That will be very powerful, and unfortunately it is an untapped potential for the most organizations.

As a product manager, we think a lot about creating the perfect product pitch.  But if the perfected pitch is not echoed across the sales team and sales engineering team, no nicely tuned product pitch will do any good.  In order to realize the benefit, the product core team must ensure that the consistent message is used to pitch the product regardless who it is giving the pitch.

This is true for corporate value as well.  When the value is synchronized, the power of value statement gets multiplied by getting reinforced by everyone in the organization.  This is exactly the reason why Zappos was so successful with its laser-focus on customer satisfaction to make every shoppers into life-time customers.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why equity works in learning

I am very interested in process of learning.  I believe the only way to be truly relevant in changing work environment is to learn new things.  Not being afraid of making a mistake and learning from trial and error are essential tools for learning anything fast.  Once we give high cost to failure, we are effectively discouraging learning from taking place.

When I watch my 3 year old son, that's what I see.  He's not afraid of making a mistake.  One good example is that he repeats anything that hears whether it makes sense or not.  Often he picks up some foreign language and utters out his best impression of what he just heard.  When that happens, instead of him, I am the one who feel the need to explain the situation to onlookers.  My son, on the other hand, does not care whether someone is overhearing or not.  He just does it.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Derek Sivers: Don't be afraid of failing (and learning)

Derek Sivers sold his CD Baby business in 2009 and set up a trust fund with his $22 million cash profit to return everything back to music education when he dies.  He has been sharing his insights that he learned over the years while running CD Baby amid competition from Amazon and other startups.  His 8-piece talk on YouTube titled Uncommon Sense covers the highlights of his lessons including some practical tips to humanize the business (see the part 8 of 8).

I like Sivers' advice because they are very practical.  He connects his earlier attempt at launching his music career with running CD Baby experience to discuss some important lessons that we can all learn from:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Think again; you are replaceable

It may be a shocker for any star player.  But here is the truth.  
You are replaceable.  
By believing and acting like you are not, you are not only failing to perform at your peak, but also doing a disservice to your team by putting your ego ahead of team's objective.

Everyone is prone to make this mistake.  The more talented and dedicated the person is, the more likely he is to fall into this trap.  I admit that I was totally one of the victims.

It's true that you are unique as individual,
but your contribution is replaceable at work.
Act accordingly.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

California makes good on its mobile privacy warning

California sued Delta Airline for not displaying privacy policy on its mobile app.  Delta had 30 days to act, and  according to California Attorney General Kamala Harris they failed to act within the deadline.

When the first warning was issued against Delta, United, and Opentable mobile apps back in end of October, I looked at their iPhone apps.  Back then, none of them had the privacy notice pointer from the App Store.

When I checked the Delta app (Fly Delta) today, they fixed the privacy link on their app listing page.  No more broken link.  It was pointing to its online privacy policy page.

So I decided to download Fly Delta app and found out what triggered the lawsuit.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Users are not buyers

I work in enterprise software business.  So I know a thing or two about peculiarity of enterprise software industry.  

One thing that distorts the enterprise software market is the fact that buyers are not the users.  Because those who sign the check are not the users (although it's changing somewhat due to BYOD and Consumerization of IT, it still remains as more common way of software procurement), there are all kinds of distortion in the market.  In enterprise software world, there are many instances where customers pay for licenses not because they like the product, but because it's a product that they know and fear.

Software product does not win by its merit alone.  It wins because of disciplined sales team and great team work in addition to a good product.  But it keeps the users because buyers are often reluctant to migrate out of the current system, or even worse vendors don't make it easy to migrate to other solutions.

But consumer space is a lot different.  Everyone makes their own choice.  When we don't like the choice, we don't hesitate to look for other alternatives or hack our own solution to solve the problem.  Each user is the buyer.

It should be funny, then, to notice the similarities between social networking sites and enterprise software products.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Job market is changing

In case you have not heard, the job market is changing.  And it's changing in a way that further separates those with relevant experiences and drive from those without.

Job market where students go to college, get a diploma, interview and find a decent paying job is the one that we have known.  Many still get entry jobs this way after competitive interviewing process just to get a career started.  Sometimes graduates are not as lucky to find even opening, and have to resort to applying for any job that pays the bill.

But on the other side of fence, I see a new breed of workers.  They are highly entrepreneurial.  They start their own project, find a work that they find meaning, and pursue them for their passion.  They are highly connected, thanks to social media sites.  Because of that they also tend to be highly mobile and sought after by multiple employers.

When I take a look at Hacker News site, I see many people of this new breed.  Then I wonder why there are so many of these new breed that I can see.

I can think of a few reasons:

Nielsen: Social Media Report 2012

Nielsen has recently made their Social Media Report 2012 public.  It has some interesting trends and shows how social media is taking deeper roots among the American people.




Sunday, December 2, 2012

Kenneth Reitz: APIs for human

Kenneth Reitz is the author of open source project called Requests: HTTP for Humans in Python.  He has been advocating about writing minimalistic README-driven API built for human.

His main thesis is that all software projects, even if internal, should be treated as open source projects with rich documentation and clear separation from the outside layers.  In order to make every module separate, each implementation should start with clear definition of what problem it is solving.  It also forces programmers to think about how it should interface with customers, including developers in case of API.  Interfaces should be minimal, lack of clutters hiding unnecessary details.  Often these details are the results of closely modeling the implementation layers instead of focusing on usability of interface.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Product Management: Hiring

One of the most important things that you must do as a leader is to hire the right person.  When expanding the team, you need someone who can be trusted and be another life jacket instead of a boat anchor.  It's especially true when you are hiring a product manager.  Product management role is where marketing, designing, engineering, shipping, selling and supporting all come together.  If you have a misfire in product management, chance of product success rapidly falls to nil.


I wanted to share three links that I found interesting on this topic.