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Feelings, Nothing But These Funny Feelings!

by Sachin Balagopalan on August 30, 2009 · 1 comment

Next time you Tweet or post something to your Facebook status, beware! There is a good chance that piece of data is mined and run through a series of complex algorithms. Your feelings, opinions and sentiments could be interpreted by services that track human emotions, perhaps inaccurately for the purpose of determining “the bottom line” especially for companies tracking their product lines.

This NYT article says …

An emerging field known as sentiment analysis is taking shape around one of the computer world’s unexplored frontiers: translating the vagaries of human emotion into hard data.

This is more than just an interesting programming exercise. For many businesses, online opinion has turned into a kind of virtual currency that can make or break a product in the marketplace.

There are already a few services out there, like Tweetfeel and Twitrratr that track peoples opinions. However none of them 100% accurate. Interpreting a string of text and discerning human emotion conveyed in the string is a daunting task and an imperfect science to say the least. The algorithms typically look for keywords in a text string and assign them a positive or negative sentiment. The challenge however is accurately figuring out the human emotion associated with a series of words in a string. “Eating a handful of blue M&M’s made me hungry for more”. The word “hungry” is often interpreted as a negative sentiment. However in this context it’s clearly meant to be positive at least for the company making M&M’s (not necessarily for one’s waistline :) ). When this string is analyzed by an algorithm the data could be misrepresented and in the final analysis interpreted as “blue M&M’s are not very popular with consumers”.

While a lot of emphasis is given to algorithms and how sophisticated they are it’s hard not to ignore the fact that it’s the data that really drives the innovation. Recognizing and identifying untapped data sources is key and with the increasing use of social networks there is an amazing volume of data available. As companies like Facebook and Twitter open up their data thru API’s I think we’re going to see more and more of these Artificial Intelligence type applications and services popping up all over the place.

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Microsoft is a software company?

by Sachin Balagopalan on July 26, 2009 · 1 comment

Microsoft’s recent announcement it was going to open retail stores next to Apple’s have some of us wondering what exactly are they going to be selling? Zune, Xbox, third party products? Then again the bigger question is WHY?  Isn’t Microsoft really a software company?  Windows, Word, Excel, Powerpoint!

John Dvorak, MarketWatch’s tech writer has a pretty interesting post where he predicts the company might be in actual decline. His prediction is probably based on Microsoft’s recent earnings report, showing revenues down 17% year-over-year in the same quarter. The reason, he says, is that Microsoft has been distracted over the years by the success of other tech companies in totally unrelated areas often forgetting that it’s a software company whose success was built on operating systems and applications.

This company cannot keep its eye on the ball because there are too many shiny objects to distract it.

… he then goes on to check off 10 “shiny objects” Microsoft has tried to go after … quote:

  • Years ago in the pre-Internet era, AOL was the talk of the town, so Microsoft had to copy it with MSN. No money was made; no strategic advantage was gained.
  • Netscape was the rage for a while, so Microsoft threw together a browser and got in that business. The browser was given away for free. No money was made; the strategy got the company in trouble with government trustbusters.
  • During the early days of the Internet, new online publications appeared. Microsoft decided to become a publisher too, rolling out a slew of online properties including a computer magazine and a women’s magazine. They were all folded.
  • Computer books became popular; Microsoft began Microsoft Press. After an early splash and success, the company soon lost interest and the division now languishes.
  • Teddy Ruxpin became a hot toy. Microsoft rolled out a couple of robotic plush toys, including the creepy Barney the Dinosaur who sang “I love you and you love me.” The company soon lost interest and dropped the whole thing.
  • AOL-TV appeared, along with other device-centric TV-delivery mechanisms in the 1990s. Microsoft created a Microsoft-TV division as well as a device. It soon lost interest.
  • Adobe Photoshop became a huge success, so Microsoft hired Alvy Ray Smith to develop photo-editing software. Smith quit when the company lost interest in the idea.
  • Yahoo and Google showed that a search engine could be a money maker, so Microsoft copied that idea; it now has Bing.
  • Cloud applications are currently trendy, along with notions about software as a service. Microsoft decides to go into that business.
  • The Apple rolled out a MP3 player, the iPod. Microsoft came up with its own MP3 player, the Zune. The company also says it wants to stream music.

He may have a point! Focus on the core competencenties instead of being all over the map.

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Google Chrome OS: It’s Official!

by Sachin Balagopalan on July 8, 2009 · 2 comments

While rumors of a Chrome-centric OS have been floating around for sometime, Google made it official today by announcing on their blog “a new project that’s a natural extension of Google Chrome — the Google Chrome Operating System”. In other words the Google Chrome OS is a reality and we will start seeing it on netbooks sometime next year. Although the announcement was six short paragraphs there’s quite a bit to digest.

… the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web. So today, we’re announcing a new project that’s a natural extension of Google Chrome — the Google Chrome Operating System. It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be.

“What operating systems should be” versus what they are now pretty much sums it all up. I mean how many of us are sick and tired of waiting for Windows (and all it’s services) to load every morning when we turn on our laptops? It also says a lot about the direction Google is taking with this project. Cloud anyone :) ? The focus is to take the user directly to the browser within a few seconds of turning on the computer. All your apps and data will be “expected” to live somewhere on a cloud and will be accessible from anywhere and on any computer. This might initially not bode well for some users because not all apps live well on a browser - at the moment anyway. Case in point, presentation software like Microsoft’s PowerPoint. Initially users may be forced to use Google Apps and it may perhaps be of strategical importance for Google!

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

From a technical standpoint the only services the client will need to load are the browser and the network stack and you’re pretty much ready to rock. Since all the data resides somewhere on the cloud security is virtually non-existent on the client machine.

So where does Android fit into all this?

Google Chrome OS is a new project, separate from Android. Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems. While there are areas where Google Chrome OS and Android overlap, we believe choice will drive innovation for the benefit of everyone, including Google.

I have a feeling at some point the two projects will converge and we’ll probably see a derivative of Google Chrome OS running the phones and set-top boxes a la Apple and OS X.

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iPod Video is Next …

by Sachin Balagopalan on July 6, 2009 · 1 comment

Those of us who own an iPhone 3Gs are no doubt impressed with the video capabilities of the device. Not only has it been a long time coming but it closes the loop and makes the iPhone “complete” so to speak. The video capability is actually quite useful because not only can you shoot near HD quality videos, but it also comes with basic editing software. You can drag your finger across the video timeline and trim the section before you upload it to YouTube or email it. The new version of the Facebook iPhone app will also allow video uploads which further enhances the usefulness of video recording and sharing. Like GPS and location based apps we’re probably going to see a proliferation of apps involving videos hit the app store.

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Transition to DTV - A Y2K Moment!

by Sachin Balagopalan on June 12, 2009 · 1 comment

The long and tedious transition from analog to digital signal is thankfully over as television stations across the United States powered down their analog signals today. All the hoopla leading to this day reminded me of the Y2K debacle leading up to the millennium. One saw a resurgence of COBOL and FORTRAN programmers, some of them called out of retirement to fix the “date problem” in legacy code. Just as it was back then on 01/01/00,  today was apparently a tense day as this NYT post reports …

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