Friday, 4 February, 2011

The Bing vs Google Story: An interesting analogy

So its become quite fad these days - discussing the big controversy where Google alleges Bing of using Google search results to improve their own search service.

The Story
So to cut a long story short, Google believed Bing was secretly making use of their search results to improve its own service; and ran a 'sting operation' to prove this behavior. They created an artificial result for a search query ("hiybbprqag") that originally returned no results, and tweaked their index to return a hand crafted result that had no relationship to the original query.

A few days later, searches on Bing for the same keyword returned the same results that Google did (Here's the whole story). As expected, Google claims this is unethical behavior and would like this practice to stop.

Microsoft's Take
Microsoft responded quite strongly, stating that
"To be clear, we learn from all of our customers. What we saw in today’s story was a spy-novelesque stunt to generate extreme outliers in tail query ranking. It was a creative tactic by a competitor, and we’ll take it as a back-handed compliment. But it doesn’t accurately portray how we use opt-in customer data as one of many inputs to help improve our user experience."
- Harry Shum, Bing Corporate Vice President

Bing - a better way to Google?
But with all this controversy around, the popular opinion indeed is that Bing copies results from Google. This video on College Humor probably says it best:
"Bing helps you Google the best choice, faster. And shows related Googles right there on the results page. Bing knows what you like to Google."

An interesting Analogy
Here is an interesting analogy that I came across, of the events of this entire Bing-Google episode:
The Bing Cafe head chef is waiting at his usual bus stop and overhears someone saying
"Hey, I had unusual dish X with unusual ingredient Y last night, and it was pretty good."

But he doesn't think anything of it, because nobody ever asks for unusual dish X at the Bing Cafe.

Until one day, voila! Someone comes in and orders off-menu: dish X!

The chef has never made dish X before, but he remembers that unusual bus stop conversation and decides to try to make dish X with unusual ingredient Y.

And then the customer peels off his fake moustache and says
"Aha, gotcha! That was *our* idea, at the Google Deli across the street! *We* invented the idea of making dish X with Y!"

And he explains to his dining companion, the local restaurant reviewer, that they sent twenty people to the chef's bus stop to *deliberately* have conversations in front of him, and a whopping *7%* of the time, the chef later made dishes with the unusual ingredients they mentioned. And the local restaurant reviewer, who isn't entirely clear whether 7% of dishes ordered by 20 people is a big or small number, presses his editor to make this "scandal" a front-page story.

And the editor isn't good at math or ethics either, but it's a slow news day in their town, so voila: Front page news.

So then a reporter asks Bing Cafe chef about the article and he says
"Huh? That's ridiculous. I'm not reselling Google Deli food at the Bing Cafe."

And then he reads the article, and he says "You gotta be kidding me. The Google Deli has been deliberately sending spies to my bus stop?"

And the chef tries to respond, but hey, it turns out that today is the opening day of the "Whipped Cream Pie Convention", and soon there are pies flying through the air so that everyone is messy and nobody wins, except for the Keystone Kops Production Company, who have diligently filmed the whole thing for your internet viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, 20 April, 2010

The Nexus One, powered up and flying in Mumbai

It's been a while since I got the best gadget I've possessed so far.

I was drawn into an internal struggle between the iPhone 3GS and the N1. There are enough people on both sides over the net to confuse, so I looked down into the facts. Here's what tilted me in the favor of this marvelous piece:
  • Its got a bigger, brighter screen with a higher resolution than the iPhone. ("This is the best mobile phone display on the market today, blowing away the iPhone’s 480 x 320 display" - Techcrunch)

  • Its got multitasking built in bottom up.

  • 5 Megapixel cam with flash - much better picture quality than the 3.2 on iphone without a flash. I've seen both the pics now and can say for sure.

  • The dual microphone noise cancellation feature - silences out the background noise for crystal clear voice - to the other side of the line. iPhone users have always complained of poor call quality.

  • Better contact syncing over the net. Any of you change your phone numbers over facebook or twitter, and my phone will update itself in minutes. Ofcourse I can add additional numbers.

  • Google's own phone - much better and natve Gmail and Gtalk integration, smooth performance. (the best Gmail and gtalk app in the entire phone market)

  • Google Calendar synced in with full support for all features - multiple calendars, labels, tasks etc. iPhone had clumsy hacks to enable one or more of these.

  • Openness about the android platform and adobe's promise to release the latest flash for N1. (Didnt we know Steve Jobs thinks nobody uses flash or rather shouldnt? Everyone ofcourse uses quicktime instead).

  • The promise of Google voice coming to India sometime that will rid us or dependency on mobile carriers. Its already got the app running free in the US.

Tell me how much of that can you do with the iPhone? IMO the iPhone is a fancy iPod with a multimedia computing device and a phone app that serves to be a very highly regarded masterpiece of fashion jewelery in the tech genre.
I would very much like to own it, and when I feel the need for a fashion adornment I'll get one. With N1, I get a lot more power, flexibility and usability.

The Nexus One
Now that I've got the phone and have been using it for a while, I'm not disappointed at all.
the 1GHz snapdragon processor makes this phone run so fast, that experiencing lag is history. I don't think ill be able to adjust with any other phone after this.

The multitasking is smooth, contact syncing is intelligent and I've got lots of apps to do a lot of things.

The Advertised vs the Real
GPS navigation is surprisingly pretty accurate in mumbai - accurate upto 2 metres in the west and varies till around 50m in the east.

The push notifications are handy and realtime for Twitter, Gtalk, Facebook, SMSes and Emails.

The contact and sync is intelligent and automatically merges duplicates within the phonebook.
The profile pic is also autopicked from facebook / gtalk.

The picture quality is much better than any phone cam I've ever used. The gallery app autosyncs with picasa and shows up those albums beside the camera album.

The phone really is fast. It responds with every touch as fast as it can, except where network speed is a bottleneck.

Offline mode: I can continue to delete, read, write emails, calendar entries offline and they're synced up when the connection is made.

Voice search: voice recognition works 50% of the time for me when i spell it out slow. I guess it'll get better over time because the analysis is done over the net.

Here we dont have 3G yet, and I was doubtful about the EDGE speed and coverage. But the phone works, rather flies fantastic for its capabilities on the Vodafone EDGE network here. But it does lag bad enough to lose motivation when I try viewing youtube videos.
Vodafone has the largest coverage in this part of the country and hopefully with the 3G bidding that has begun, it should be launched by the year end.
Call quality is good and as I mentioned, maps and GPS location work just as advertised.

The few cons
A few minor cons that should look to get fixed:
  • Multi Touch and pinch-and-zoom work fine, but are not very smooth and sometimes jittery.

  • high battery usage. I've got learn the skill of turning on and off features as I need them to be able to use it for 24 hours without any recharge.

    Most of it is eaten by the display though.

    With maximum use (almost constant playing around), it burns out in 12 hours. using just call, sms, and email when necessary makes it last 40 hours without a recharge. so its a play between these limits.

    Here's a handy link for battery life on N1.
Haven't rooted the phone yet, and dont plan to until I'm bored of its present state. I'll go for the cyanogenmod route then.

Wednesday, 2 September, 2009

Good Web 2.0 Design Elements

In the recent days, ive had renewed interest in web 2.0 application development.

Web 2.0 is a vast domain, and a very important (and overemphasized, i must admit) aspect of it is design and layout. There have loads of gurus who've written about the new css standard and clean development methodology. In this post, I choose to document some of the killer tools that are helpful in adding the extra edge to a web 2.0 website with minimal effort.

First off, however, some highly irritating stuff that happens when you go into div alignment for tableless design is that sometimes float:right and float:left dont work correctly. At times they appear one below the other, and at times the outer parent div just doesnt expand to include the child div elements (imagine if you had a background image on the parent div that was supposed to strech all along). Quick fixes learnt after a lot of fishing through the web:
  • Make a div extend automatically to cover the child elements: use "overflow:visible" and "height:auto" on the parent div and watch it extend smoothly to cover all children inside. "overflow:auto" also works but visible is the safer choice. If you want fixed height and scroll bars on parent div in case the child overflows, use "height:100px; overflow:auto;"
  • To make sure ur parent div's width is enough to accommodate the child divs which are both floating left and right. instead of manually setting the parent width to greater than the maximum width of float:left and float:right children, a better way is to add a dummy element below all children (but inside the parent div) with a "clear:both" attribute. The dummy element could be a "br" or "div" or anything.
  • If you're in a situation where all children divs floating left or right, appear one below the other and not stacked side by side or horizontally as needed, you need to add "clear:none" to the style of the child divs.
And now we come to some excellent tools that can be used to enhance display

Photo display cloud:
Photo display: adding a photo display widget that looks like a nice photo cloud. Its released under GPL so you can tinker around as well. <link>

Roy tanck, the original author of this tool, also has a flickr/picasa tool that will import pics for display directly from the flickr / picasa rss for the photos you want to display. But he has decided to keep that project under closed control and hosted on a cloud platform. If you intend to use that, you will have to import the plugin directly from where he has hosted it and provide it with the necessary rss url to load the photos. I personally prefer to use the GPL version as I can download and set it up on my webserver without hassles and can also customize it the way I want. Btw, the flickr / picasa widget details can be found here: <link1, link2>

Word Cloud

A word cloud can be a good way of displaying a set of concepts and not having to clutter up the screen with rows and columns of data at the same time. Not to mention the way it catches your eye as an innovative mode of information display. Originally developed to display a tag cloud on a wordpress blog, it has evolved to support every major blogging software (including blogger and movable type) and now its also available for standalone integration into web pages. You just need to embed the swf and set the flashvars with the data in the correct xml format, and you're done. Of course there are loads of customizations for color combinations and background image etc, but all that is here in the documentation: <link>. You might also want to consider this funky interface if you're looking for something out of the ordinary.


If you'd ask me for a single best tool to pick out of the lot for web 2.0 usability, It would be Jquery. It makes very complicated things very easy to do, if you know the underlying concept and want to cut the chase to get what you want the way you want it without hassles. Most of the plugins and display tools that dont rely on flash, depend on jquery. I dont think I need say more. <link>

Tabbed interface

A handy tabbed interface for use on web pages. There are many available, but I personally liked the feel and usability of this one. You can obviously change the color and border styles.
Here's the link: <link>
There are two good fixes in the comments, one for adding a fade style between change of tabs submitted by Andrew Strachan. Additionally, if you want to fix the lack of support for nested div tags within the master tabs, you need to modify the javascript to as follows:

$(’#tabs div’).hide(); // Hide all divs
$(’#tabs div:first’).show(); // Show the first div
$(’#tabs div:first div’).show(); // Show the nested divs
// Set the class of the first link to active
$(’#tabs ul li:first’).addClass(’active’);
$(’#tabs ul li a’).click(function(){ //When any link is clicked
// Remove active class from all links
$(’#tabs ul li’).removeClass(’active’);
//Set clicked link class to active
// Set variable currentTab to value of href attribute of
// clicked link
var currentTab = $(this).attr(’href’);
$(’#tabs div’).hide(); // Hide all divs
$(currentTab).show(); // Show div with id equal to variable
// currentTab
$(currentTab + ” div”).show(); // Show nested divs
return false;

EDIT: I'll add to this list more tools that I feel are decent enough to keep in my web 2.0 collection.

Tuesday, 16 June, 2009

Think again... And decide

Its been quite a while that I've put in anything new here. Ofcourse, as busy as the month(s) have been, it wouldnt all account for this delay as much as a lack of an interesting topic and procrastination. In this post, I decide to bore you with a review of an interesting book that I decided to read the last week.

I just finished reading "Think Again: Why Good Leaders make bad decisions and how to keep it from happening to you". It documents a lot of interesting work done by the authors Finkelstein, Whitehead and Campbell (you can get it here). Finkelstein has been an authority on strategy, leadership and warning signs for corporate disasters; but I didnt know that when I picked this up from my neighbouring colleague at work.

The book has interesting material on how our brain processes information to arrive at decisions and just so that all this doesnt sound too far-fetched, the book is abundant with ample examples to verify each of its findings. Ofcourse the foundation of all of it is that we learn from experience how to handle situations and this experience teaches us to make prudent decisions as we get more and more experienced. However such experiences, the authors have shown very successfully, can also prejudice rather than enlighten and hence bias us towards wrongful decisions that may seem perfectly correct at the time they were made.

They have analyzed a large collection of decisions made by influential people over the past few decades to arrive on bechmarks that qualify good decisions from bad ones. Every decision has an inherent risk factor and no matter how good it may be at the time, they might turn out badly in future: some people may just be plainly unlucky. The authors have done well not to include such decisions, but to limit their research to those that were flawed at the time they were made and could (rather should) have been averted if possible.

The findings result in four sources of errors that include
  • Misleading Experiences: past experiences that seem similar to the current situation but are actually not because we have underestimated a vital difference between the two scenarios
  • Misleading Prejudgments: Experience has a strange way of teaching us to think less and less as we gain more and more experience. It seems to become "obvious" to us what the course of action should be without thinking over it. This occurs due to heuristics that are developed and strengthened with age. Most often these heuristics or biases have strange ways of defying reason.
  • Inapproprate Self-Interest: Every one is selfish. Even those who claim they arent, are selfish for the appreciations that their perceived selflessness would generate. Ofcourse there are exceptions, but one of the major factors blinding us from making objective decisions is an inappropriate self-interest. Sometimese actions in this direction actually work against self interest if thought out carefully. Case in point: in a survey where a random collection of people of people were asked "If you were sued by someone else and they lost the case, should he/she pay your legal costs?", 85% people answered yes. But when asked "If you sue someone and you lost the case, should you pay his/her legal costs?", only 44% answered yes. It is evident that the influence of self interest clouded the objectivity in the decision that was made.
  • Inappropriate attachments: emotional or other attachments have a way of clouding the judgement with irrational thinking.
Ofcourse there are many other factors that come into play, the most insightful of them being short-term returns which our brain weighs more heavily than a long term return, especially when it comes to matters involving money.

Three good cases in point which I quote from the book:

The Iraq decision and Tony Blair:
Prior to the iraq decision, Tony Blair had 3 relevant but potentially misleading experiences: in the Balkans, in Sierra Leone, and in Afghanistan. In all 3 cases, military intervention or a credible threat of military intervention succeeded or appeared to succeed in resolving the situation. Eg: Tony Blair personally pursuaded a reluctant President Clinton to threaten the Serbian leader, Milosevic, with military invasion if he did not back down over Kosovo. The threat worked. Milosevic backed down and was then overthrown in an internal political coup. The poliy of making a credible threat of military intervention worked. These earlier experiences ecouraged Blair to support military intervention in Iraq. He was certainly more enthusiastic than the British foreign secretary or the chancellor of the exchequer, neither of whom had such personal involvement in these earlier events. Ofcourse, these earlier experiences may not have been misleading, they just turned out to be so because the situation in Iraq was different in some important ways. Most prominently, Iraq was a fractured society which had only been held together by brutal force.
The Bay of Pigs, kennedy and Cuba:
One of the first decisions Kennedy made when he became president was to overthrow Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba. The plan, developed by the CIA called for an invasion by cuban exiles, with US military support including air cover and paratroopers to secure the approaches to the landing beaches. The forces were meant to join up with other cubans opposed to castro. Kennedy wanted the US involvement to be "deniable", and he insisted that operation be undertaken entirely by cubans and landing take place at night in an area with little opposition. The only option was the Bay of Pigs. The operations was launched in April 1961. It was a disaster. The plan had been leaked, and Castro's forces quickly closed in, preventing the invaders from leaving the beaches. Despite US airstrikes, all rebels were captured or killed in 3 days time. Kennedy was forced to negotiate for the release of survivors and it was a political setback. So what was wrong in the decision? The list is long. Kennedy's plan was based on his prejudgment that visible US involvement was unacceptable. His changes made for political reasons and without advice of generals condemned the operation militarily. In addition to that, there was an element of self interest in his decision to go ahead with the plan. While he had personal misgivings about the whole enterprise, kennedy was under domestic political pressure to do something about cuba and was accused by opponents of being weak.

Russian Investment:
A large UK chemical company was considering a major investment in Russia. The chairman was concerned that the CEO and the regional management team had become overcommitted to the project. In this case, the chairman had not done a formal red flags analysis, but if he had, he might have been concerned about prejudgments. For example, he was concerned that local managers had presumed that the market was attractive. He was also concerned about attachments. The local managers had close and difficult to unwind relationships with local partners. the chairman also recognized that his own thinking could be biased. He had previous experience of losing money in Russia and had recently been briefed about deteriorating relationships between Russia and the UK. What later happened as a result of many meetings and exercises, was that the investment plan was wisely dropped.

The safeguards that the authors suggest against bad decisions are Monitoring, Group debates and discussion (there is minimal probability that a bias or prejudice shared by one will be shared by many others, unless it it worthy of an impact in the decision process), data and experience (as against intuition and heuristics) and continous governance.

It has been an enlightening book to read.

Thursday, 26 March, 2009

The Dream Gadget that we all really want

Its been a long while and I realized that a post is long due; its been quite a hectic week with a lot of things moving in progression and some things losing out to the more prioritized  set of tasks. 

What got me intrigued about the gadget that we as users really want is this post by techcrunch. Arrington believes that if you build features that users want, you will never succeed. And that the walkman would never have been made if this were so. The porsche would have been a volvo with user demanded features and horse would have been a camel. I beg to differ and disagree.

The fundamental assumption I'd like to make here is that users are dumb. Yes, marketers would disagree, and users and developers would all go up in arms with the defense "the user is king". But if you notice, just about carefully enough, you will see that the user has certain wants and desires that s/he wants fulfilled; but doesnt know how to go about getting them. 
The Xerox machine was never demanded by the users, It literally came into the market and begged everyone to realize that they want it. 
Ditto with the ipod. Any many many other products.
The features that users ask for result from their deductions about how to satisfy their wants and desires. And most often than not, these deductions are wrong; and that is why the user is "dumb". If I as a user am uncomfortable in my sitting posture in a porsche and demand more leg space, the designers should be able to see through my discomfort and maybe design an ergonomic or higher seat rather than conceding my demand of more leg space, and other features that would take the porsche to being a volvo.

The point I'm trying to make is that user feedback does matter. But not at superficial level or face value. It matters one further level away. User feedback about features should *ideally* reveal what they really want. And smart organizations would focus on serving those wants / needs / desires rather than blandly conceding to the features that the user demands. (or denying them the way Arrington has argued).

As for the title of this post. Before I talk about the gadget I really want, lets talk about the why I would want something like that. 
  • I have a PC which is powerful but its bulky and un-portable.
  • I have a laptop but thats bulky too and I'd like to have a simple, fast laptop with a touchscreen interface to browse the net, read ebooks (like kindle), keep me updated with feeds.
  • I've seen the tablet, but its too cumbersome and expensive. I want reduced specs and usability.
  • I want something light and portable that i can carry around anywhere. Imagine watching TV on the sofa and querying for the latest discounts on the advertisement you just saw on TV.  or maybe read about the reviews of a move that will feature in another 5 minutes. Or maybe verify the facts that Bush / Obama / other leaders are talking about in a live speech; maybe live blog about it?
  • It should look nice and trendy and be usable and fast and sleek at the same time.
As said in the first post on crunchpad:
I want a dead simple and dirt cheap touch screen web tablet to surf the web. Nothing fancy like the Dell latitude XT, which costs $2,500. Just a Macbook Air-thin touch screen machine that runs Firefox and possibly Skype on top of a Linux kernel. It doesn’t exist today, and as far as we can tell no one is creating one.

Techcrunch went about its own task of making one such gadget. Here is Prototype A and Prototype B. A screen picture:

There are no plans of going into production yet, so lets put this aside as a mere hobby project.
Moroever, it seems a trifle too thick (and maybe bulky?)

Cost: 200$.

Recently I came accross Touchbook.
Until now, all netbooks were engineered the same way: Power-hungry Intel Atom, ugly case, and outdated 90's OS. Our goal: To achieve a breakthrough in both architecture and design. The result: a revolutionary device that works as both a netbook and a standalone tablet thanks to a detachable keyboard and a 3D touchscreen user interface.

Some highlights:
  • Like a cellphone, it is always-on, so there is no need to reboot each time. And without noisy fans and disk drives, it's completely silent, so it won't intrude on your inner space.
  • The Touch Book OS has two modes: one for use with keyboard and touchpad, and one for use as a standalone touchscreen tablet. The innovative 3D interface is easy to use and does not require a stylus or a skinny pinky.
  • The Touch Book also includes Mozilla's upcoming mobile browser, code-named Fennec, which was designed with touchscreens in mind.
  • 400$
  • The best one in my opinion
A device that is between a phone and a laptop, one notch above a PDA. 

Does almost everything on the checklist:
  • Memo - one of the core functions, vector-based memo engine, advanced technology that mimics the "same feeling of writing on paper," auto-save, detailed drawings
  • Schedule - calendar, appointments, to do list
  • Name Card - individual contact cards using photos taken with built-in camera
  • Camera - still images (JPG) and video recording (AVI)
  • Life - community feature, daily contests for mintpad users to enter
  • Blog - community feature, create your own and view others' "mint blogs"
  • Book Store - community feature, create and share content published as "books"
  • Chatting - real-time memo exchange, chatrooms, WiFi and ad hoc connections
  • Music - standard music functions (APE, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, WMA)
  • Video - internet streaming TV, standard video functions (DiVX, MPEG-4, WMV, XviD)
  • Pictures - photo album, slideshow, up to 2048 x 2048 resolution
  • Recording - voice recording (WMA)
  • Internet - "high-speed full browsing with Flash support" (according to product brochure)
  • 160$

There are couple others trying to build a similar product. the Kindle itself does pretty well on few fronts though falls back on features and capabilities. Apple is roumored to be doing something with touchscreens lately. But as of now the touchbook seems to be the best of the lot.

Only time will tell which of the gadgets takes a lead and provides what we truly want.

Friday, 6 March, 2009

Social Media and Microblogging Roundup: What do you do with it?

We've all heard of the buzz around social media and the hype around the likes of twitter, facebook etc. OK, you've got yourself a twitter account. But what next?

Twitter is not just the next "cool" or "trendy" thing that exists just for you to join and brag about to others. Its more of a connecting tool, where you can share views with others, just like facebook; though twitter is not as much of a sharing tool as a "shout" tool: You're shouting out to the world and you know there are people listening. What you talk about is also a matter of choice and opinion, It could be what you're doing now (status updates), what you think about things (views, opinions) or News (Like the recent earthquake). And how much blogs influence what web surfers buy on the net is not so well understood, but social media is impacting this very quickly. But this is not all. If you're a company or a brand, you can get to build a whole personality around yourself to interact and listen with customers / prospective clients,  general public. The interactive nature of the system makes it much more effective at what marketing is all about: engaging the user.

  • Why brands absolutely DO belong to twitter by mashable discusses exactly this.  Its fun to note the ideas they provide if companies like coca cola were to ever have a twitter profile:
    "Coca Cola has millions of ways to go with this, from showing old ads, to trivia to history and answering questions about the product. I see many ways that staple brands—ones that people would think would be boring online—can be exciting. Not all brands need to reinvent the wheel with their own Social Networking sites. Some of the best tools like Twitter are out there for free to let people know all this great stuff about you."

  • For brands and businesses / organizations who want to project themselves using the new social media technologies, mashable has its own list of Top 10 Reputation Tracking Tools Worth Paying For. They charge a small fee to analyse the company profile and tell you what people think of them and other analytics including brand personality and keyword based searches. Ofcourse, if you want some free tools, there is a short list of them although not all that fancy and maybe requires a bit of effort. An interesting service is filtrbox which does a host of activities related to brand monitoring, but the service seems a bit cluttered in some places, too naive in other places and in general shows a lack of focus IMO. Although these tools (like MyReputation) are centered around SEO, they do have the focus around brand building and engaging with the users / customers / clients.  Buzzlogic comes very close to this goal.
    I feel this space is still naive and needs lot more innovation to deliver valued services.

  • For other organizations who have no clue about what they need to do once they've gotten into social media / microblogging, there are these handy "How to Develop a Social Media Plan for Your Business in 5 Steps" which btw apply to individuals as well, because as Reid Hoffman puts it, you are the entrepreneur of a small business: the business of your career.

  • In case you're an artist or a designer, you might be interested in twitter tips for artists.

Once you've got yourself into the social media space and have become active, there are these handy tools that you can engage in, either for pure fun or for real analysis:
  • Yacktrack allows you to track conversations accross blogs, bookmarking sites, microblogging sites depending on keywords you provide.
  • Socialmention is a realtime search aggregator that searches through blogs , microblogs and other social media networks for the keywords you provide (it uses other search services like google blogsearch, technorati search, twitter search etc behind the scenes).
  • Twinfluence shows you how much of an influence you have over your network and your second level network. some consider it as a metric of popularity or authority, others see it as a metric of reach or visibility (of yourself as an individual or a brand)
  • Twitter-friends is the best tool according to me. It shows you all kinds of statistics / graphs of your social network, activity, replies, messages etc. And it doesnt require a twitter login, so you can explore safely.
  • Twittercounter is a tool that shows you how many people follow you and how this number changed over time, along with a graph. Interesting for analysis.
  • Tweetoclock lets you find out what is the best time to tweet someone or when they're most active.
There are many other tools that I havent yet come accross (or just arent all that interesting to note!). I'll add them here when I do. 
All these signify that user generated content is not limited to what we have seen so far. The level of interactivity is just beginning to showcase itself, there is a long way to go.

Update: Found a lot more new stuff since I wrote this post. Here's an update -

Favourite (and good) Twitter Client tools for desktop
  • Tweetdeck - "The default columns can contain All Tweets from your timeline, @replies directed to you and direct messages. The GROUP, SEARCH and REPLIES buttons then allow the user to make up additional columns populated from the live tweet information. "
  • Feedalizr- "Feedalizr is becoming a way for you to “re-mix” the web and we notice that lots of our users are using the product in the discovery of serendipitous content. Not so much reporting to each other about what they had for breakfast…  This is largely a function of  how twitter/friendfeed are evolving. I think the facebook status update makes feedalizr the must have web 2.0 killer app (if I may say so myself - and you guys can flame me cause I am wearing kevlar !)." by John Kotsaftis
  • Twhirl - Very similar to TweetDeck though slightly less in features.

Some new (and amazing tools) for twitter users:
  • TweetBurner - Heard of feedburner? This does the same for tweets. You can check out which of your links were clicked how often and manage many other things.
  • TweetTimer - Need to be reminded of something at some time? Just follow timer and send a message in the format mentioned here
  • TweetBeep - Twitter alerts by email. (for eg, if anyone tweets your name or id, you get notified).
  • Quitter - Tells you who stopped following you, and the most likely tweet that lead to that unfollowing. Pretty cool.
  • TweetLater - lets you time tweets, so that you can tweet them later.

Reid Hoffman: "Every individual is now an Entrepreneur"

Reid Hoffman shares his views on the his investment successes and most particularly in the vision that he has for web 2.0's next generation user interactivity. This is the charlie rose show featuring him:
An interesting viewpoint and a quote that redefines the difference between individuals today compared to the generation before:
"I actually think every individual is now an entrepreneur, whether they recognize it or not. Because it used to be that you got a job at one company and you were there 20, 30, 40, years. That’s been dead for decades. That’s even dying in Japan. The salary man no longer even exists in Japan. Average job length is two to four years. That makes you a small business. You are the entrepreneur of your own small business. How do you get to your next gig? How do you do your career progression? All these things now fall on the individual shoulders. And so, they’re essentially an entrepreneur. Now, they’re not an entrepreneur a la, I’ll go create, you know, Google, LinkedIn, a business. They’re entrepreneurs in terms of the business of themselves and how they drive that. So it’s how they get, like, their next job opportunity, how they get a promotion. All of that stuff comes from how they manage the network around them. Which is, by the way, what gave me the idea for LinkedIn."
On Risk and investment:
"I think that one of the key things — the reason why I think risk tolerance is important is because what happens is people delude themselves they’re not taking risks. They say, oh, I’m going to get a job at, you know, Hewlett-Packard or I’m going to get a job — and that’s not risky. Well, look at current economic climates. Everything in life has some risk, and what you have to actually learn to do is how to navigate it. And people who take risk intelligently can usually actually make a lot more progress than people who don’t.
(On Bad risk:) Yes. Well, there’s a huge difference between intelligent risk taking and stupid risk taking. Now, the trick is to know the difference.
I mean, this is actually one of the things that makes me mildly nervous even on the stimulus package, because if you think about, well, our problem is leverage. What is the stimulus package? Borrow money, spend it.
So I think it’s really…
Well, and therefore, I think to do it successfully, you actually have to make sure that the stimulus that you’re spending it in is actually creating sustainable jobs. So I’m a huge believer in the way that you actually get out of these economic downturns is through entrepreneurship, because that creates new kinds of jobs that actually have longevity and strength to them.
If you’re investing in an industry that has, for example, known problems, you’re just delaying the problem. That’s not necessarily a good thing."

Techcrunch has covered the interview excerpts here.