WordCamp Europe Experience From An Indian Perspective

WordCamp is a culmination of monthly WordPress meetups into an annual event held across many cities in the world. WordCamp US and WordCamp Europe are special events that bring WordPress communities from various regions to one city to celebrate the spirit of WordPress.

WordCamp Europe 2016 held this time in Vienna was the largest WordCamp ever held with 1900+ attendees from more than 30+ countries. It moved from Seville to Vienna this year and it’s going to be held in Paris next year.

We haven’t had a WordCamp Bangalore yet, but I attended WordCamp Mumbai earlier this year. So I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from a WordCamp abroad.

As a first time attendee at an event like this, I had a few apprehensions and a tad anxious too.

Given that Vienna was a long flight from Bangalore, I decided to use the opportunity to visit family in neighbouring Switzerland and then get to Vienna a few days before the event.

Basel train station
Basel SBB – Train station

Took the chance to visit Art Basel as well when I was there https://goo.gl/photos/VAVkjMDRPiykeQFq6

View of Zurich from Uetilberg, the highest point.

While Switzerland was gloomy and sunny intermittently, Vienna was just hot. I met up with Akshat who also traveled from Bangalore at our Wombats hostel near Naschmarkt on 21st June.

The beautiful open space outside the venue
View from the hostel room window

He’s a veteran of sorts with attending these events and having already built good relationships within the community, I heeded his advice and got there early. And thanks to him, I made some new friends.

We walked around Stepehenplatz the first evening planning and setting up meetings with people. This was my 2nd visit to Vienna and so it wasn’t very difficult trying to navigate the city.

Picking up a local sim card with data for €15 was well worth it. Made it very easy for us to communicate and coordinate with others we were planning to meet.

Naschmarkt

Meeting people from so many different nationalities with unique backgrounds and outlook towards life was an enriching experience. It reminded me of the diversity of my own country. It warrants a separate post on the people I met and what I learned from them.

Leopold Museum was a great venue to interact with people.

Numerous conversations I had involved talking about culture, history and languages. Many were surprised to hear that we have  100+ languages in India and many more dialects.

I always take pleasure in explaining the subtleties and nuances of India. What you is generally get to read is an oversimplified and reductionist view. So, I hope every person I spoke to walked away feeling as enriched as I did, learning about another country and its people.

Tribe meetups and unconference was a great idea

The diversity of the attendees also meant you got to observe the different accents, cultural influences, language and interesting questions about India, although none as ignorant as these. 

There were a few that got asked often though. When I spoke about the WordPress agency and Design Studio I run, I was asked where I got all our clients from. I’m wondering if that was a polite way of asking “are you an outsourcing agency?” ? Or am I reading too much between the lines?

Many were surprised to know we worked mostly with local businesses and startups in Bangalore and how we transformed from a product to a WordPress agency.

Indian agencies really do have a bad reputation of spamming people and in some cases doing sub standard work. However, branding all Indian companies with the same brush would be a foolish thing to do. The image of an Indian company doing outsourcing work for dirt cheap seemed to be common.

So it was interesting to see some reactions when they heard our story and how we work. “Your English is very good”… I heard that a couple of times too. ?

One of the things I was curious about before coming was what language would people be most comfortable with. And from what I noticed, most folks had a good grasp of English and it seemed to be the primary language of choice.

This is intriguing because in India, with all our different languages, you notice something similar. At conferences, you will generally notice most talking in English, but observe more intently and you will hear Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and other regional languages being spoken among small groups.

I never got to ask this question, but I’m wondering what language is used in local WordPress meetups across different European countries.

India is like Europe in many ways and to me the diversity at this event symbolized what WordPress is all about. It was also great to see the numerous steps the organizers had taken to make this an inclusive event.

Remote work is an interesting trend I see more and more across companies. The big agencies at WCEU seemed to have embraced it. I haven’t seen much of this in India yet, but I encourage it within our company. I had an interesting chat with Tom Wilmots from Human Made about this. Another topic that deserves a separate blog post.

In the end, I must say that the volunteers and organizers of this event did a fabulous job.So, thank you for making my long trip a worthwhile one. It was a great learning experience.

Can Google Photos Replace Adobe Lightroom?

I’ve been using Google Photos since the Picasa Web days. From storing photos and albums it’s today turned into a smart photo library.

If you use Google Photos, you would’ve noticed the ‘Assistant’ automatically creating new variations of your images, animated versions and even making a movie out of your photos. 

Cheetah gif google photos animation
Cheetah GIF created from a burst of photos

I recently decided to experiment with my photography workflow by uploading images directly from my Fuji X100s to Google Photos. I expected to see a movie and some gif images show up.

But to my surprise I noticed HDR images it had created by merging 3 different exposures of the same scene I had shot. While the result was not perfect, I was amazed to the extent to which Google had invested in this product. 

HDR images google photos
HDR image of the underground train tunnel in Vienna
Pano image google photos
Pano image stitched from multiples images by Google Photos

If you haven’t tried the search feature, give it a shot and you will be surprised at the results. It searches using AI and will pick landscapes, snow, trees or whatever else you search for and can be found in your images. This is not simple file name or meta information search, but looking for those artifacts in the image itself.

None of these images have any description in the file name or album name that indicates rock climbing

After seeing these rather good HDR images created automatically, it got me thinking if in the future a product like this with AI, can replace Lightroom?

Old Town area of Vienna

What if it learned your photography and post processing style over time and applied that automatically to images? I would take that 9 out of 10 times, while still retaining the option of manually correcting images if required.

That kind of AI in photography and post processing specially, is not too far away. The Snapseed app and the Google Photos web app auto correct for horizontal alignment. Think of more such basic corrections that can be done without human intervention.

I’ve been using Lightroom for the longest time as it fits my post processing workflow perfectly. It’s a huge time saver, but if you’re a photographer, it can still suck a lot of your time. Heck, I have images waiting to be processed from as far back as two years.

For folks like me who don’t need Photoshop or too much of post processing, this automated processing of images could be great. We still have a long way to go of course before it can completely replace Lightroom, but would’ve thought all of this was possible a few years ago.

Why Requirements Gathering From Clients Can Be A Challenge?

If you’ve been in the client servicing business for any length of time, you would have seen the two-line requirements for projects from potential clients. And then followed by a request for a quote by the end of the day.

To respond the right way, we need to first understand the reason behind such client requests.

Here’s why I think most clients don’t give you a detailed requirement:

Once a client has identified the vendor, they believe their job is done. They do not understand the importance of their involvement. Clients need to set the vision that will drive the project.

Requirements for projects are ultimately driven by business goals. Without articulated business goals, there is no guiding principle for a website or any outsourced project. These business goals are then to be translated into corresponding website KPIs and CTA.

Most people don’t factor the planning time into the equation. A lot of projects don’t start on time as a result of this. At Pixelmattic, we insist on getting clarity in requirements and planning for the project before jumping in.

With no clear roles or stakeholders defined within the organization to handle the project, you either end up with too many decision makers or none. Web development is a collaborative process that requires client inputs at regular intervals. This is a major reason projects miss their deadlines.

It’s a big misconception that requirements for projects have to be technical in nature. They can be, but they don’t need to start out being technical. The job of a good consultant or business analyst is to convert business needs into technical requirements that a designer or developer can use.

There is so much emphasis, even if it’s for negotiation purposes, on adhering to tight timelines. This sometimes results in clients trying to micromanage or wanting status updates on an hourly or daily basis. Focus on execution and not enough on planning or requirements is an investment with diminishing returns.

I’ve seen many companies, eager to close the opportunity and jump right into project implementation, only to end up fire-fighting issues mid-way through the project. That’s doing a disservice to the client and your own business.

I address this by educating our customers during the initial planning conversations. Our blog posts on the Pixelmattic website  explain why it takes time to plan and what goes into planning for a website. This gets reinforced again through our email marketing campaigns.

Requirements elicitation is an art that requires patience and the ability to ask the right questions. The onus is on the vendor to probe and get all the details necessary for a successful execution of the project.

If you’re in a similar business, how do you tackle it?

 

 

Photo credit: theimagegroup / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

20 Growth Hacking Tools To Improve Your Digital Marketing

growth hacking tools

 

I attended a session on Growth Hacking at Social Media Week Bangalore. Deepan Siddhu shared a bunch of tools for growth hacking that I think can be very useful.

What is Growth Hacking?

Growth Hacking is a combination of methods, tools and best practices to achieve a singular goal – Growth! This is particularly useful for startups. Companies like Dropbox, AirBnB, and Quora have used these tactics to achieve spectacular growth.

Here is a detailed explanation to Growth Hacking by Neil Patel.

growth hacking tools definition neil patel

 

Growth Hacking Tools to jumpstart your customer acquisition:

1. Unbounce

unbounce growth hacking tools

 

2. Instapage

growth hacking tools

 

3. SendGrid

growth hacking tools

 

4. Intercom

growth hacking tools

 

5. Olark

growth hacking tools

 

6. Typeform

growth hacking tools

 

7. Sniply

growth hacking tools

 

8. SessionCam

growth hacking tools

 

9. Zapier

growth hacking tools

 

10. Clicktotweet

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 10.05.59 pm

 

11. Pay With A Tweet

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 10.05.44 pm

 

 

15. Optimizely

optimizely growth hacking tools

 

16. Colibri.io

colibri growth hacking tools

 

17. Sumome Highlighter

sumome highlighter growth hacking tools

 

18. Outbrain

outbrain growth hacking tools retargeting

 

19. Headline Analyzer

headline analyzer growth hacking tools

 

20. Hello Bar

hello bar growth hacking analyzer

 

5 mistakes in content marketing from a previous experience

content marketing blogging

Sometime last year, I came up with an idea of starting a company blog. I set up a folder on Google Drive, asked the team members to contribute ideas and assigned topics based on the person’s interest or line of work.

We managed to write a few blog posts over 2 months and then completely forgot about it. There were a number of faults with the way it was planned and executed.

More recently, I’ve been researching and learning about Content Marketing from a more strategic perspective. I’ve realized from my own previous experiences with the company blog and this personal blog, that a few things seem obvious on hindsight.

So, here are the 5 mistakes in content marketing from my previous experiences:

1. Create content. Web traffic will follow.

When you set out to create content, in most cases a blog, you tend to think that visitors will flock to your site or blog, engage with it and it will go viral. The reality is far from it. It is hard work not only creating content, but attracting the attention of the visitors and retaining their interest while they’re on your site.

It helps to think of ways to market your content and not focus just on creating it.

2. Execute without a strategic plan

A recent study indicated that most people write blogs and create content without a plan in place (Only 44% of marketers have a documented strategy).Without a documented plan or strategy, the chances of failure are that much higher.

When you take the time to put a schedule and an action plan in place, the chances of you or your team following it are higher.

If you use WordPress as a blogging platform, you can use this plugin to help you plan.

3. Expect immediate results

Similar to #1, a lot of people will expect to see an immediate impact on their bottom lines. This could be attributed to outbound marketing influences and thinking, where you push out messages and expect instant results.

I suppose one of the reasons we gave up was not seeing a spike in graphs. People are generally used to seeing those after running expensive ad campaigns. Our failure contributes to this statistic – 95% of blogs are abandoned.

Another reason is not taking into consideration the effort each blog post takes and/or creating time in your schedule to do this consistently. 54% of the bloggers spends less than two hours on average per blog post. On the other hand, pro bloggers at Copyblogger spend 5-7 hours researching, writing and editing for every blog post.

4. Talk about yourself and what you do.

Such an easy trap to fall into. When you launch a product/service, all you want to do is talk about how great it is and all the endless features it offers.

But all that people want to know is if your product/service is solving any of their problems.

Utility X Inspiration X Empathy = Quality Content

Content has no utility to the reader if you are not trying to address her interests or problems.

5. Not measure or track data systematically.

If you can’t measure the value of what you are creating, there is no feedback to change or improve. It is vital to have some sort of system in place to track your metrics. Google Analytics is only the first step.

If you’re using blogging as a strategy in a B2B context, then you probably have to look at mapping customer’s buying process to your content strategy. Joe Puliizi calls it the Content Segmentation Grid.

Content Marketing tool
Content Segmentation Grid with Buying Cycle

 

If you want avoid these 5 mistakes in content marketing, have a plan!

Trying to cultivate a blogging culture within a company can be a difficult task. Sumeet, who is a great storyteller and blogger, recently wrote about his learnings from running a blogging competition at ThoughtWorks and gamifying that experience. You should definitely give it a read.

What has been your experience with blogging for your company or personally? How do you maintain that consistency?

Sunshine in Florida

It was December 2008. Lehman’s Brothers had shut, the markets had turned upside down, and I had just graduated with my Masters degree. And I needed a vacation.

A few friends from school decided to go on a week long trip to the sunshine state of Florida. When we landed there, I was reminded of the Bangalore weather; it was sunny, yet pleasant. NY, on the other hand, was freezing.

Our first stop was Weston, Florida, a posh neighbourhood with million dollar mansions overlooking a golf course and a lake.

view from the villa

The next day we drove to Tampa. The drive was fabulous with lush grasslands (Everglades) on either side and a bolt straight road cutting through them. I wish I had good pictures to share from that drive. The grasslands are a sight of beauty.

We spent the whole of the next day at the Busch Gardens Theme Park. The highlight of the day was going on a crazy rollercoaster called the Sheikra. The ride starts like any other roller coaster, but then you are taken vertically up, inch-by-inch, to a height of 200 feet, stopped right at the top and turned looking straight down a 90 foot drop. Before you know it, you are hurtling down at 110 km/h. You experience forces of up to 3.5G on some turns. It finally ends in a flourish with a splash of water. You walk out feeling buzzed. Some experience!! If only I had a Go Pro. 🙂

The scariest part of the rollercoaster was this… (watch the entire sequence here)

ShieKra - from drop to splash sequence

The theme was Africa, so they had some animals too.

Busch Gardens_Bird park - Flamingoes

You can see more pictures from Busch Gardens here. I must warn you, these were early days in my photography obsession.

The next couple of days were spent in Orlando at the Universal Studios, Islands Of Adventure and Seaworld. This trip was the first time I experienced rollercoasters, the real ones, not the Funworld type. By the end of the trip, I was addicted to the adrenalin rush. We ran from ride to ride to cover as many as we could in a day. On all days we were literally the last people to leave the theme park. In fact, on one particular day, we had the security escort us out. 🙂

City of Blinding Lights*226*

Seaworld_*1*

Wild Ride - 2

You can see a few more pictures from these theme parks here – Seaworld, IOA, Universal

Before we flew back to NJ out of Miami, we spent the last day and a half there. The best memory I have of that is sitting on South Beach Miami watchtowers at night and sipping beer.

South Beach Miami               *173*

Miami night

I’ll force you to see a few more pictures before you go. 🙂

Hampi Time Travel

Hampi was on my list of places to visit for a long time. I never found the time or the company to go with. And then out of the blue, I managed to find both. The latter turned out to be quite a find 🙂 (for those who know the story).

Hampi is a mesmerising place if you’re a lover of history and culture. Now, a small village, but a thriving metropolis during the rule of the Vijayanagara Empire in the 15th century, it is one of the few relatively well-preserved historical sites in India. Like most thriving cities, it finds itself on the banks of the Tungabhadra river.

While most of the remaining structures can be traced back to the Vijayanagara Empire, some predate to as far back as 1CE. Jain temples found in this region are also traced back to a pre-Vijayanagara period.

Ganigitti Jaina Temple

Hampi can be reached by road via three major routes from Bangalore – Chitradurga/Hospet, Hiriyur/Bellary and Anantpur/Bellary. The Hiriyur-Bellary Road is probably the most scenic, and with hardly any traffic, it’s a pleasure to drive on this stretch. As you near Hospet, be prepared for crater-sized potholes and heavy truck traffic.

Scenic views along Hiriyur-Bellary highway

hampi
Black Shouldered Kite

A city of this size with seven layers of fortifications (of which only the innermost is well preserved), seems to have been a well-planned and constructed settlement. An ancient gateway that served as a toll gate in those days still stands strong. Talarighatta Gate, meaning toll gate, was one of the primary entrance points to the urban centre of this sprawling 15th-century metropolis. The road from here also leads to what is probably the most famous site in Hampi, the Vijaya Vittala Temple Complex.

Talarighatta Gate, Hampi

The image below if of one of the three massive gateways to the Vijaya Vittala Temple. Archaeological Survey Of India has banned the movement of private vehicles around this area. They have shuttles (electric vehicles) driven by women (+1 for women’s empowerment) that will get you to the main site and back to the parking lot.

Entrance to the Vitthala Temple

Once you’re in, you will notice many temples and courtyards around you. The one  structure, that grabs everyone’s attention is the famous Stone Chariot.

Vittala Temple

Temple with the musical pillars

Stone Chariot

It might look like a monolithic structure, but it isn’t. Since the chariot couldn’t be moved, it’s wheels were spun and you can notice the wear and tear. [Some interesting facts about this iconic structure in Hampi http://hampi.in/stone-chariot]

You will find intricate carvings on stones everywhere you look. Stories from the Ramayana and depictions of Chinese travelers who visited Hampi during its heydays can be seen in many places.

As you walk around and absorb the beauty of this place, you will also notice the artistic talent, architectural vision and clever use of the structures. The first picture in the collage below is a blueprint/miniature model of the temple behind it. The bottom right picture is an example of rainwater harvesting. The fine holes drilled into the stone is for water to drip and collect below.

Another example is how they provided slits in the roof for the light to come through and reflect off the water below to light up the interiors. All we can come up with these days, are energy inefficient glass-fronted buildings.

Away from this temple complex is another area of well-preserved structures where you’ll find bathhouses, last remains of the fortification, a destroyed Queen’s palace and much more.

On the second and last day of our trip, we visited the most religious and famous temple in Hampi. Virupaksha temple located in the old town of Hampi is considered the most sacred of temples there. The large gateway (Gopura), a nine-storeyed structure, is the main entrance that leads into the courtyard and the temple.

The area facing the temple is the bazaar which until recently was still being used by squatters. Thankfully they’ve been evicted and hopefully it will be restored soon from whatever damage it might have suffered.

If you’re looking for other activities besides visiting places mentioned above, Hampi also offers lots of trekking and rock climbing opportunities. A short trek from this place (http://goo.gl/yG9ulX) took us to the view below. The stones arranged like little pyramids can be seen all over this place. A local we spoke to at the temple below,  who came with us on the trek, told us these were created by folks who come up here to make a wish.

 

If you live in Bangalore and looking for a quick weekend trip, Hampi is one of the best places you can go to. The trip turned out to be a memorable one for many reasons.

Have you been to Hampi?  I’d love to know what your experience of the place was like.

Monsoon Drive Experience

What started off on a whim on Twitter after seeing Abhinav’s blog post turned into a conversation and eventually a plan was made over a beer at Toit. I’d always dreamed of driving along the Indian coast, specially after my experience of driving from SF to LA along US 1. The monsoon was just the perfect time for such a drive.

2013-12-12_0016

2013-12-12_0014

Day 1 – Nagarhole, Kalpetta

I picked up Abhinav from his place and we left Bangalore by 7am. We drove through the lush green Nagarhole forest and stopped every time we spotted any wildlife. The moment we crossed into Kerala, the roads got even better. As we approached Kalpetta, the winding roads, perfectly laid and painted, were an absolute pleasure to drive on. We stayed at a homestay called Four Seasons run by a lovely lady and explored a few places around Kalpetta that day like the Pookode lake.

Entering Nagarhole #monsoondrive

A post shared by Sandeep (@sandeepkelvadi) on

Shot on Nexus 4 – First drops of rain

 

Shot on Nexus 4
Shot on Nexus 4 – Pookode Lake, Kalpetta, Kerala

 

Shot on Nexus 4 - Sipping on hot coffee while it pours in the background. Pookode lake
Shot on Nexus 4 – Sipping on hot coffee while it pours in the background. Pookode lake

 

Shot on Nexus 4 - Winding roads in Wayanad
Shot on Nexus 4 – Winding roads in Wayanad

 

Day 2 – Kalpetta, Kannur

The day began with some lovely Appam and bird watching. Sat in the balcony watching the 15 minute cycle of rain and birds flitting from one tree to another. After checking out from our homestay, we drove to Chembra peak. It was a long drive up to the top, or rather the base. Winding roads, incessant rains and lush green tea estates presented us with numerous photo ops. We stopped at a couple of places on our way up. The walk from the parking to the watchtower was incredible. The panoramic view of the valleys and hills around was breathtaking. We decided to spend some time and shoot a few time-lapse sequences of the clouds drifting over the hills.

We then went to Banasurasagar Dam after lunch at CFC –  Crispy Fried Chicken. A km of walk in the rain from the parking area to the dam, just like the previous place, was fun. It is the 2nd largest earth dam in Asia. Didn’t get too much of an opportunity to do time lapses as it poured every few minutes and by the time we left, it was around 5pm.

Our next destination was Kannur. The roads again were brilliant for the most part, while some parts were waterlogged. Every small town seemed to have a mandatory mosque and/or church. Drive in the ghats was brilliant as the roads were superb. Once it got dark, and we moved away from the Ghats, the roads got patchy in some places, the traffic slowed us down and night driving tired me out. After having reached Kannur, I was hoping to get to our place, recommended by our previous host, and crash immediately. But it took us an eternity to find the place. We finally managed to reach by 10, had dinner and watched torrential downpour and heavy winds blowing in from the sea, until midnight.

Tea estates around the Chembra peak area
Tea estates around the Chembra peak area

 

Stream

 

 

Crispy Fried Chicken. They have branches!
Crispy Fried Chicken. They have branches!

 

Shot on Nexus 4 - Vertical panorama of the Banasura Sagar Dam.
Shot on Nexus 4 – Vertical panorama of the Banasura Sagar Dam.

 

 

Day 3 – Kannur, Muzhapilangad beach, Bekal fort

After breakfast, a cold water shower, and a passing storm captured on time lapse, we headed up towards Marvanthe in Karnataka. Our first stop was Muzhapilangad, Asia’s 2nd largest drive beach, a good 5kms stretch on which you can drive. I’d never done anything like this before, and it was quite an experience. As we were driving up and down the beach we could see a massive storm approaching the land and the waves got closer and closer and at one point going under the car. I managed to tear my flip flops from one of the receding waves while we were on the beach and I’d managed to soak my shoes on the first day, not a smart thing to do by not carrying weather proof shoes. I was now without any footwear and had to drive barefoot for a little while. Our next stop wasn’t a planned one but turned out to be fun.

We decided to stop at Bekal fort (you might recognize this place from Mani Ratnam’s Bombay). We walked up a watchtower hoping to get a good view of the coastline and the fort. Looking at the clouds we estimated it would take another 15 minutes for the rain clouds to pass over us, enough time to go check out the next couple of viewing spots. The next thing we know we’re stuck on this tower with blistering winds and heavy downpour for 10 minutes. I had to hurriedly put everything underneath the rain jacket and take shelter behind the wall from those winds. We were crouched behind the wall into a ball waiting for the rains to stop. When the rain gods were done I was soaked. Thankfully the camera and other things remained dry. When it subsided, we walked through the rest of the fort. Even if we had time we couldn’t have gone down to the beach below the fort because of the high tide.

It was 6pm by the time we left Bekal, and we reached Mangalore in 2 hours. Refueled the car and our stomachs and decided to push on through to reach Marvanthe. Driving on a single lane highway with buses using 6 headlights, all on high beam, can make it very difficult to drive. We finally got to our destination by 11pm with Abhinav taking over the wheel after dinner. Thankfully it wasn’t too hard to find unlike the last place. The roads weren’t as good as they were on day 1, but Kerala still had better roads overall. Almost every town/village we passed through in Kerala had to have a mandatory mosque and church. Also, kids on the street play football! Didn’t see a single cricket game that you generally see when you drive through the other parts of the country.

Waking up to this view in Kannur
Waking up to this view in Kannur
Our resort/homestay was right on the beach
Our resort/homestay was right on the beach in Kannur

 

Muzhapilangad beach
Shot on Nexus 4 – Kerala countryside

 

Looking through fort wall into the sea at Bekal Fort

 

Day 4 – Marvanthe, Karwar

Spent the first half of the day lazying and walking around on the beach & the resort. The sea was rough to get in, but we kept ourselves busy with our cameras. The rain storms kept coming every hour. By the time we left the waves had reached the gate of the resort. The drive started after lunch. A stretch of about a km of the national highway runs right next to the sea, with fresh water running on the right, possibly the only such sight on a national highway in India. The roads were again surprisingly very good, except for about 10 km of bad stretch. It poured nonstop all the way upto karwar incredibly. The roads leading into Karwar are beautiful. Hills in the backdrop, tributaries running into the ocean on your left and lush green paddy fields at the foothills. The place we found while doing a quick search on our way turned out to be quite nice. It was located on a hill overlooking the Kali river bridge and the estuary.

Turtle Bay Beach Resort, Marvanthe
Shot on Nexus 4 – Turtle Bay Beach Resort, Marvanthe

 

Marvanthe Beach
Shot on Nexus 4- Marvanthe Beach

 

Marvanthe again!
Shot on Nexus 4 – Marvanthe again!

 

Packed up for the monsoon. Marvanthe, Karnataka
Shot on Nexus 4- Packed up for the monsoon. Marvanthe, Karnataka

 

Day 5 – Karwar, Hubli, Bangalore

I woke up very early to see if I could get some good shots of the bridge from our balcony. It was amazing to watch the rain clouds drift in from the sea and the bridge disappear almost completely in that heavy downpour. Since the place we were staying at was an old fort located on a hill, it had a good view of the surrounding areas. We went to one such viewpoint and managed a few shots before it started to pour again.

By now it was time to get ready and leave. We had our breakfast and decided to drive 10 kms further north and cross into Goa, for two reasons: We could tick off Goa on the list and most importantly to refuel at a whopping Rs.54.83 per litre. On our way back passing through Karwar we stopped for a quick walk through a warship memorial. The road to Hubli where we planned to have lunch, was again to my surprise, fantastic. After lunch, it was the straight line stretches of NH4 and we began to see some blue sky for the first time in 5 days.

 

Kali River Bridge, Karwar. That's not mist! It's the rain storm moving inland from the sea.
Shot on Nexus 4- Kali River Bridge, Karwar. That’s not mist! It’s the rain storm moving inland from the sea.
View of the bridge after the storm passed. Karwar
Shot on Nexus 4 – View of the bridge after the storm passed. Karwar
Navy Warship Museum, Karwar

 

Inside the warship engine room. Karwar
Shot on Nexus 4- Inside the warship engine room. Karwar
Next time I go to Goa, I'm going to bring back fuel in Fenny bottles.
Next time I go to Goa, I’m going to bring back fuel in Fenny bottles.

As you would’ve noticed by now, a lot of images on this trip were taken on my phone (Google Nexus 4, with the help of gorillapod and some photojojo lenses). It acted as my secondary camera during the trip and I was quite amazed at how well it could capture images. Chase Jarvis is right when he says “The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You.” Abhinav and me also took quite a few timelapse sequences during the trip. I stiched some of it together and made a video out of it. Take a look!

And here’s Abhinav’s video from the trip

 

 

 

 

Designing a better user experience for products

Build a product and the users will come they say. Sadly, that statement is deceiving. The users might come as a result of a marketing blitz, but for them to stay on and use the product and recommend it to others, they need to enjoy using the product.

Gamification beyond points, badges & awards

When designing a system, consider the social engagement verbs that you want to use to describe desired user behaviors. It is known that male users prefer competition, while female users like to collaborate. So identify your target audience, list the actions you want them to perform and then design features or flows around it.

Do you want the user to ‘Express’, ‘Compete’, ‘Explore’ or ‘Collaborate’?

Product Usage Lifecycle

Product Usage Lifecycle is another important aspect to consider while designing the system. What actions do you want the users to perform at the onboarding stage will be different from ongoing use and the passionate use phase. Needs of the users at each stage are different and therefore your goal must accordingly change as well.

Our approach when building products and adding features is to first look at Benefits, Ease of Use and then maybe the Positive Emotion it evokes. What if we turned that around? How about building virality into the product by delighting customers when they use your product? You’d save a few marketing dollars for sure. Intuit uses this approach to build their products. (Design for Delight)

Coming back to gamification, progress mechanics that involve points, badges, & leaderboards is the last step in game design. Having built a gamified product, I can tell you this is the easiest step, and therefore very tempting to do it first. Even here, one can dig deeper behind what I call the 1st layer of gamification, to identify patterns for reward schedules that tap into intrinsic motivation.

Another game design concept is the use of the MDA Framework  – Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics. Keep an eye on how much importance you pay to each and in what order.

Gamification, unfortunately is a much-abused word that has to come to signify trivial use of points, awards & badges. Gamification done right will provide better user engagement at every phase of product use. But it is also tougher and intellectually more challenging.

Amy Jo Kim and Jane McGonigal are two game designers you must follow if you’re interested in applications of game design.

 

Nexus 4 review and recent smartphone trends

After a painful wait I finally managed to get my hands on the nexus 4. It’s been over a month now with the phone and I think I’ve spent enough time on it to write my review. The phone has still not launched officially in India last I checked. It’s no surprise then to hear stories of people returning from the US carrying up to 10 nexus4 phones on them. Google Play Store in India has seen a lot of activity in recent months. I’m surprised they haven’t managed to bring the phone to India yet.

Bigger the better? Nexus4 sports a 4.7″ IPS display that is bright, sharp and very readable in sunlight. While the screen looks great, my gripe is with the screen size. Samsung started this ridiculous trend of creating bigger sized devices with every new release. They’ve reached 6″ now. Unbelievable! They’ve got devices covering the entire range from 3″ to 10″. This madness needs to stop. For people like me who prefer to use the phone with just one hand on most occasions , the big screen size makes it practically impossible to use, without dropping it a few times. The ideal form factor for me is a phone that can be held with one hand and where the thumb can reach the diagonally opposite top corner of the screen comfortably. Nexus One had a beautiful form factor and fit perfectly in your hand.

 

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Use and throw – The release cycles for new products seem to be shrinking while the ‘features’ on the phone always seem to be growing; battery life still remains quite average. Another trend you now see is to seal the batteries. Shorter product lifespan, arguably less durable devices which seem to get outdated far sooner than before plays into the hands of the manufacturers.

The nexus devices have gathered a fan following, and I’m one of them. When you package premium hardware, with the latest version of android (minus all the UI layers 3rd party manufacturers put on top of it) and offer it at a very reasonable price, it makes for an impressive offering.

When you compare this phone with some of the competitors, it feels more premium, with a unique design pattern covered by a glass panel at the back. It definitely stands out when you compare it to the plastic shells Samsung puts out.

So what’s good about the nexus4?

There’s more juice in this phone than you can handle. 2GB of RAM with 1.5 Ghz quad core processor makes this phone fly. You can have a ton of apps running in the background and continue to use the phone without a stutter.

Jelly Bean 4.2.2 stock is smooth. Butter smooth! Android still has some way to go with the UI, but they’ve done a heck of a lot in the last few releases. The biggest advantage of this phone, or any nexus device, has got to be the updates. In most cases you will be the first one to receive it. Otherwise, for most android phones, it’s a frustrating wait to receive it or in some cases not receive any update at all.

Google Now is great. It is something I’ve come to use quite often. So it’s certainly not a gimmicky feature you would find on other phones that sound cool, but is of no practical use. I think it’s only going to get more intelligent, and will become the go to Google feature on any android phone in the future, just like Google search on your desktop.

All this awesomeness for only $299 for the 8GB version or $349 for the 16GB version! There is no phone currently available in the market that offers this level of quality and performance at such a low price point. If you’re on the lookout for an android phone with a mid size budget, this has got to be your #1 option.

What could’ve been better?

Camera on this phone is slightly above average. For a flagship phone I expected the camera to be fantastic, which it is not. It does take decent pictures in good light conditions, and there’s no denying that. There is a bug with focussing though that I’m hoping gets fixed in the next update. Camera app comes with a built-in panoramic and sphere capture modes which allow you to take interesting photos. Recent pics on this blog are from my nexus 4.  A little disappointed with the camera at the end of the day.

The battery lasts a day with average usage which we’ve come to expect with smartphones these days. Anything longer is a bonus. I get about 16-18 hours with regular usage. The negative is that phone comes with a non removable battery.

Speaker is on the back panel and is placed flush with the surface. So if the phone is resting on a flat surface almost 70% of the volume is blocked when your phone rings. This is a design flaw in my opinion. However, if you decide to use the bumper case, the phone doesn’t sit flush on the surface and you can hear the ring better.

Contacts sync with google works reasonably well. I’ve had duplication issues before while syncing. Best way to manage your contacts is to login to a computer and fix all contacts yourself by purging & merging. Don’t try and do that on the phone. It’s far easier to do on the web. While the contacts sync with Google well, it seems Google is hell bent on pushing G+ everywhere. So I was surprised to see FB and Twitter contacts sync not supported anymore.

I hope Google anticipates the demand accurately and plans accordingly for their next Nexus device.