1. Give Yourself Time to Think

    Giving yourself allotted time to think without distractions is essential for your own productivity and personal well being. This could take the form of sitting down with a pen and paper, or taking a long walk, or swimming -  it should be a planned time when your mind is not occupied with any complex task.

    For me, I get this daily, for about an hour on the train going to and from work. And on Saturday mornings, I’ve recently taken to long walks throughout Brooklyn, after a morning run.

    Having a clear mind allows you to make decisions with the proper perspective.

    If you view yourself as an innovator, then this is essential - how can you navigate uncharted paths if you can’t clearly visualize your trajectory?

    Give yourself time to think.

    // See further discussion of this post on Hacker News.

     


  2. The “interest graph” is coming…

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    The interest graph represents the next frontier in “social.”

    Contrary to the social graph, which can be used to make inferences based on your social connections, the interest graph maps tastes, creating a network of people who share interests, but don’t necessarily know each other. Based on data such as: likes, follows, purchases, engagement behaviors, explicit and implicit interests, etc, the interest graph can provide unique insights into individual consumer preferences and behaviors, allowing for experiences that are increasingly personalized and relevant for consumers.

    This is already happening! - to some degree. For example, Quora presents content to you based on topics that you have followed, and the interactions of people you are following. It quickly provides you with a custom tailored experience, with ample content discovery opportunities.

    But content discovery is just the first step.

    The next step is a deliberate effort to connect people with people, (rather than content) using the interest graph.

    While “content” may be the conduit for connectivity, the ultimate goal (in my mind) is using interests to catalyze intimate human interactions.

    This is where I see YouNow going - using the interest graph and tags to bring together likeminded people & facilitate real-time interaction experiences. More to come on this…

    What are your thoughts on the interest graph? 
     


  3. 3 Lessons From Snapchat: Get People To Share Your Product

    I have been talking about Snapchat a lot lately, and with good reason. Their recent growth  is proving that they are doing something right - at the very least they are getting people to use the service and invite their friends.

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    So what can we learn about how to increase a product’s virality from Snapchat?

    1. Make it clear WHY users should invite their friends
    Snapchat elucidates that users should get their friends on the service quite easily - in fact it is central to using the service. Since the photos self-destruct, it is in the users best interest to get more friends on Snapchat, so they can have more content to consume. This creates a hyper-desire to get more people on the service, (even greater than what is typical for products with network effects) since users are not collecting photos, but simply experiencing them.

    2. Make it easy to connect with friends ALREADY using the product
    Since the user understands that Snapchat will be more fun with friends, she is obliged to add her friends who are already on snapchat. Snapchat makes this easy, by importing the user’s contacts, showing clearly which friends are on the service. When the user adds their friends, it drives further engagement, accelerating the viral loop.

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    3. Provide a simple way to invite friends NOT using the product
    So if my first experience was good, but I understand that I need more interactions to make my experience better, then the natural next step is to invite my friends who aren’t on Snapchat - whether by direct invite via Snapchat, or by word of mouth recommendation.

    Snapchat includes in the friends list not only the friends using Snapchat, but also those who are not currently using the service. This makes it easy to invite friends, and also reemphasizes the fact that the user should again reach out to their friends to get the maximum benefit on Snapchat.

    At YouNow we are working to optimize our viral loop, and so I plan to take these quick learnings and apply them. Is there anything else to learn about virality from Snapchat?

     


  4. Why I Love Snapchat

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    I’ve been using Snapchat a lot lately. I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it’s a compelling product for a number of reasons.

    I’ve noticed recently that what has really captured my heart about Snapchat, is that it allows me to find real world canvases on which I can paint my imaginations, and quickly share them with my friends. For example, I’ll draw a genie emanating from a bottle in a water advertisement… or a playfully menacing Godzilla frolicking among NYC skyscrapers.

    I think one of the hallmarks of a good consumer product, is its ability to instill a sense of ownership and freedom in the user while still providing the proper constraints necessary to make the product simple and intuitive.

    Have any of you used Snapchat? I’d love to know your thoughts.

    And of course, please friend me on Snapchat! doriandargan

     


  5. Act Like an Owner

    Working at a startup really teaches you how to produce quality work out of nothing. Rather than inheriting proven systems, best practices, and tools to help you be efficient, you have to build these structures yourself, extract key learnings from your work, and above all, execute. 

    And because solving problems out of thin air, and thinking on one’s feet 24/7 isn’t natural for most, you may find it difficult to be productive when you’re given huge problems with very little structure. Even in highly structured situations, it can be hard to consistently perform at the level it takes to really “knock it out the park.”

    If there’s any piece of advice I’d give, it would be to act like an owner. Think: “if this was my company/team/business unit, what would I do to ensure that is succeeds?” It’s a sure-fire way to become instantly more valuable to your team, and perform at the level of excellence that will ultimately advance your professional goals.

    Here are a few ways to “act like an owner”:

    1. Own Your Domain

    Be indispensable in a vitally important part of your business or team. If you have been tasked with a particular task, OWN that space. Be an expert. If you handle your company’s web presence, then do what it takes to become a social media guru, and the go-to person for your team. 

    NOTE: this doesn’t mean you are limited to only your expertise, and can’t contribute in other areas where your team needs help. In fact, you should be a pioneer and expand your domain.

    Which leads me to my next point…

    2. Find Voids, and Fill Them

    When you are working in situations with high uncertainty and little structure, there are bound to be gaping holes in your team’s approach or product.  Discover where your team is deficient, and propose solutions to your problems - and be prepared to lead the implementation yourself. 

    Be proactive: consider how you can best help your team, and then execute it.

    3. Work Sustainably

    Create an infrastructure which helps your team/product/company to continue on sustainably. An owner doesn’t build a company just so that it can come crashing down. Entrepreneurs, while perhaps motivated by the reward of an exit, build a company because they want to see it continue on to create value. The same concept can be applied to your work, (since you are acting like an owner) but on a smaller, more manageable scale. 

    For example, if you have a task that you do repeatedly, find a way to automate it and do more with less work. Not only does this make you more efficient, and will free you up to fill voids and expand your territory, but it will also ensure that others can also build upon your work.

    When you begin to think of yourself as an “owner,” your approach and work product begins to change drastically, making you much more productive & helpful to your team. Do you have any experience with being effective in situations of huge uncertainty and a lack of structure? I’d love to hear your advice.

     


  6. Life Hack: Build the Right Habits

    Habits are incredibly powerful in determining our productivity levels, professional success, personal health, values, and more. And how “good” or “bad” they are is really shaped by the behaviors we exhibit. Therefore, by understanding that we as humans naturally create habits, and that habits are incredibly formative in your development as a person, you can mold yourself into the person you wish to be, simply by building the right habits.

    Habits are powerful - how?
    The behaviors you exhibit on a regular basis define who you are. While we all have conceptions of who we’d like to be, the truth is that we are the person we consistently perpetuate day after day. This is why it’s important to be aware of how powerful your habits are, because they determine who you are in reality.  In order to improve and achieve the goals you have set for yourself, you need to change your behaviors consistently.

    If you work out fervently, you will likely be in good shape. If you practice the guitar daily, you become more skilled and familiar with the instrument. If you read frequently, you will become more knowledgable and a better reader. Conversely, if you sit on the couch and watch 5 hours of television and eat potato chips every day, you are priming yourself to be unhealthy. It’s important to recognize that our habits are not the exception, but our behavioral norm - this is why they define who we are.

    Pretty simple & straightforward.

    How do habits form, and what are the implications?
    As humans, we become easily accustomed to doing things the way we’ve been doing them, and our minds/bodies work together to build habits for efficiency’s sake. It becomes natural to repeat the same behaviors, and essentially we become good at doing them - with less effort. So to get the most out of our natural human inclination to create habits, the idea is to limit destructive behaviors & consistently practice constructive behaviors. 

    There is a positive feedback loop that good habits create. By executing constructive behaviors, and developing good habits, you build skill. Additionally, you are creating a momentum of continued positive behaviors, allowing you to consistently take advantage of the skills you are building. Building excellence in anything is a combination of those two things: developing skills and exhibiting behavior that makes the most of that skill. 

    I’m using habit to improve my productivity, problem-solving insight, and physical fitness. I encourage you to discipline yourself to build the right habits that will help you achieve your goals.

    - Dorian Dargan

     


  7. Let’s Focus on Moments, Not Memories.

    Facebook introduced an app called “Poke" yesterday. "Poke," which seems to be a clone of Snapchat, lets you nudge your friends by sending them a poke, message, picture or a video - the catch is that the content only lasts for matter of seconds. There is no archiving of the event: simply a record that it happened in a blank activity feed.

    What I like about Snapchat (& Poke) is that I am able to share a fleeting moment with a friend that can never be revisited, yet the very existence of that moment adds nuance to my relationship with that person.  For example, I caught Godzilla chillin’ in midtown (see picture above) sent it to my friends on Snapchat. 

    The emergence of this trend of instantaneous feedback & the consumption of ephemeral moments is something that I have been thinking about for the last few months. Naturally, I’ve been considering its implications for YouNow, the live video social network I’m working on. 

    We (YouNow) don’t do archiving well, because we haven’t focused on it. I think this is a good thing. Instead, YouNow’s value comes from real-time feedback of a live experience. 

    We’ve seen users searching for archived content (especially with people coming from YouTube), as there is a natural human desire to “see what you missed” when someone was live or had a “show”. But I think removing archived content, while perhaps counterintuitive,  could be the right approach, as it makes watching/doing a live broadcast an exclusive experience. It also attunes users to other interesting content that may be happening on YouNow.

    I have a few ideas on how to make this work, by still providing a way for users to capture the most interesting and exciting moments of a live broadcast. But first, I’d like to hear your thoughts. 

    How would you propose that we allow our users to capture live experiences, without archiving the video? 

     


  8. What can LEGO teach us about making good products?

    Since my childhood, I have been enamored of LEGO products. The iconic construction toys were instrumental in development of my identity as a “maker”, and have fundamentally shaped the way I see the world.  I would lock myself in a room for hours and build vast civilizations. Things I read in books, historical events, space travel, medieval kingdoms - all became real to me.  I built anything that I could imagine. 

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    Besides inspiring generations of makers, LEGO’s superbly built products have allowed the company to build a powerful business dynasty. In 2011, LEGO grossed ~$3.5 billion in revenue, while their closest competitor, Mega Bloks made $0.4 billion. And despite selling their products at a significant premium to other imitation products, LEGO takes ~70% of the construction toy market. 

    After 80 years of toy manufacturing, LEGO continues to build lasting products that are made memorable by their characteristics. They are:

    1. User Friendly. LEGOs are intuitively easy to use. In essence, they are simple interlocking plastic bricks, each piece deliberately made to fit together with other bricks. A customer can open a box and start putting pieces together immediately, or follow detailed instructions to build a design that LEGO has suggested.

    2. Well Made. LEGO goes to great lengths to manufacture & package their products with perfection. They have calculated the ideal “clutch power” (the amount of force it takes to separate two bricks), making their products functionally sound and useable. And each brick type is uniquely labeled, so that should a brick ever become loose or not fit properly, it can be immediately identified and discontinued. 

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    3. Useful & versatile. People of all ages use LEGOs to learn from, to play with, to create and in turn share their creativity. The toys are exceedingly valuable for their repeat use, as kids (and adults!) will use them again and again, deconstructing and rebuilding as they imagine new combinations of pieces and creative possibilities.

    4. Full of personality.  Despite their simplicity and structured form, LEGO products are infused with personality. Boldly colorful pieces, diverse mini-figures and multiple accessories provide the user a remarkable palate for imaginative storytelling. And while LEGO has generated many unique character series of their own, they also license various movie franchises, (Star Wars, Harry Potter, and more) bringing additional creative masterpieces into the LEGO world. 

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    Much like Apple, LEGO has inspired subcultures of die hard customers who identify strongly with the brand by creating quality products with an enjoyable user experience. In my opinion, they provide a strong example of consistently making an excellent product.

    Have you ever played with LEGO bricks / minifigures? What has your experience been? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

     


  9. Why Computer Keyboards Are Dying

    Lately I have been considering what a next-level computing experience looks like (an integrated hardware & software solution). I’ve been imagining the role of gestural mapping, holograms & 3d space, all of which I will likely discuss in more depth at some point. But before we get to the fancy stuff, there is one aspect of the “navigation” experience that is ripe for innovation - and that is the computer keyboard.

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    1. What’s wrong with the current keyboard, you ask?

         a. Ergonomics. We as humans are spending increased time in front of a computer screen, for both leisure & work. Intense, lengthy keyboard typing episodes can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, among other problems like bad posture. Many alternative “more ergonomic” alternatives have been designed and manufactured, but because I don’t see them widely used by consumers, or bundled by bigger players, their impact is not significant enough.
         b. Inefficiency: unused keys / key combinations. The Pareto Principle (aka the “80-20 rule”) states that, “for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes”.   This logic holds true in the case of the keyboard - as most people do not use all the keys/key combinations available to them. 20% of the keys do 80% of the damage. A simpler keyboard leaves less room for confusion, opening up the door for more intuitive experiences. 
         c. Diverging consumer behaviors & use cases. Keyboards are really useful for some digital activities, and not as crucial for others.  For certain activities, like programming, heavy word processing, etc, a keyboard is a must. However, consumer behavior is rapidly changing, and activities like game-playing, browsing, video watching, shopping & searching don’t require much typing at all. For these uses, a simple trackpad or touch screen, with optional typing capabilities suffices. Think tablets.

    2. So, why hasn’t there been more widespread innovation around the keyboard? 

         a. There is such a strong precedent set by the QWERTY keyboard, an old tradition began by the birth of the typewriter in the 19th century. It is such a force of nature, that throughout history multiple attempts to do away with QWERTY have failed. I mean, who wants to relearn how to type? Making changes to the arrangements of keys is not expedient for consumers, and thus, not easily adopted. By default, this tradition stifles innovation.

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         b. People like options. Despite the fact that there are some key strokes / combinations that I (as a consumer) hardly ever use, it is comforting to know that I have the option to use them, should I ever need them.
         c. Limited distribution opportunities.  While there is a market for computer peripherals, most consumers want things to be nicely packaged for them, preferring bundled solutions (laptops & desktop packages).  Big players are risk-averse, as introducing a radically different keyboard design into their bundled products could mean losing market share. A systemic resistance to change also makes it harder for smaller, more specialized computer peripheral players to gain a critical mass of users on new keyboard designs, thus perpetuating our problem. 

    3. How can we innovate?

    While typing every letter gives us more control, it is also time and work intensive. Finding a way to make consumers do less work when navigating (or typing) is a way to produce a better solution.  How can we guess what people are saying, and say it for them, reducing the work done by the consumer? Conceivably, this could be achieved by employing machine learning, and creating an integrated system that suggests to people what they are looking for, or completes unfinished or basic search queries. (think Siri)  

    Ideas for innovation:
    - reduce unnecessary key strokes
    - make keyboards more ergonomic (separation of keys, reoriented)
    - virtual keys, rather than physical (think touch screen)
    - can feet also be used? (like a piano foot pedal)
    - what role will gestures play in this? (both 2d and 3d space)

    Challenges:
    - How do we get people to adopt a new paradigm?
    - The physical & audible feedback of the keyboard is rewarding 
    - Who will be the first mover?

    Final Note:

    While the title of my essay may be “alarmist”, I AM NOT implying that computer keyboards will completely disappear. Rather, I see a bifurcation of the computer keyboard, separated by the functional roles it plays to different users. (this is essentially a continuation of the touch screen trend that has proliferated along with smartphones and tablets)

    If we can combine a simplistic interface with other technologies that allow consumers to do more with less work, I believe a sophisticated and innovative consumer keyboard is both possible and inevitable.

    Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

     


  10. Nostalgia & “Vintage” Technologies

    In the over-saturation of consumer technology & social media notifications, many people are finding themselves on digital sensory overload.  There is a perceptible desire to return to the simplicity of the past - back before cell phones were navigation devices, jukeboxes, gaming consoles, televisions AND computers all at once… but were bricks instead. 

    We used to keep physical photo albums. Now, we hoard hard drives & folders on Dropbox. Sure, we have Facebook albums and Instagram profiles… but what happened to scrap books and letters?

    These feelings of nostalgia have given birth to two notable trends:

    1. Physical experiences enhancing virtual experiences. (it used to be the other way around!)
    Machines were created to supplement what humans can physically do, and “digital” was born to augment the power of machines, thus further empowering mankind. But in our increasingly virtual world, people wish to experience something tangible and gratifyingly simple to ground their digital identities.

    Facebook recently launched Facebook Gifts, allowing users to send physical items to their friends. Now, a “happy birthday” on Facebook sounds a lot more enticing. And Mint Digital creates various products that generate physical mementos for digital interactions. For example, Stickygram takes your Instagram photos, turns them into magnets, and ships them to your house. And Olly releases fragrances when you receive social media notifications, while Polly gives you “sweets for retweets.” These products add emotional nuances to virtual experiences through simple sensory interactions.

    2. Use of "nostalgic design" tropes & skeuomorphs
    We as humans have always idealized the past, drawing inspiration from “retro” design and fashion. And as Moore’s law suggests, digital technology is improving exponentially, consistently exhibiting higher performance for less size and cost. So with consumer tech transforming so rapidly, it’s no wonder that people yearn for the objects of yesteryear - they are literally disappearing into thin air!

    Products like USB typewriters, iPhone docks with handset receivers, and “Noisy Typer" software feed this nostalgia by providing the mechanical weight & sounds of old technology. And modern web design is filled with skeuomorphs that use visual cues from older objects to suggest an application’s functionality. Have you noticed Apple’s heavy use of old school thermometers, calculators, microphones and virtual notebooks? Or perhaps seen products like Tomorrow.do, which mimic entire physical experiences virtually?

    Like wearing vintage-inspired clothing, or playing Super Nintendo… rocking with old stuff is just cool, and conceivably helps one to feel grounded in his or her history. However, the technologist in me can’t wait to see what new device will make the iPad mini feel like a Game Boy. 

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    Have you noticed these trends? Perhaps you’re experiencing sensory overload or technological nostalgia? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!