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Archive for the ‘2cents’ Category

On Liberal Arts

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If it seems to you that I keep talking about my experience with the US Higher Education system, you will not be wrong. Past few posts have mostly been a retrospective look into my collegiate years in the United States in an effort to abstract out lessons that I have learned that could be valuable to international students who are interested in coming to the United States. As I have mentioned before, liberal arts education was a completely foreign concept to me when I was first applying to colleges in the United States. In this post, I will attempt to shed some more light on what it means to get a liberal arts education based on my own meandering experience.

A quick search for the term liberal arts education and you come across many links that explain the approach in great detail highlighting not only the characteristics of the approach but also how they can be beneficial to a student. Reading through these articles, you will quickly realize the power of this approach. The motivation behind developing a liberal arts approach to education stems from the fact that our surroundings are in a constant state of change. As human beings, we need to consistently adapt to new scenarios to ensure our survival and further our development as a generation of well rounded professionals. Therefore, the idea that someone should focus on a particular area of study and not even seek to an introduction to other disciplines seems short sighted. Liberal arts education centers around the idea of creating an intellectual and educational environment that fosters curiosity and exploration across different sects. It does not mean that as a student attending a liberal arts institution, you will not be able to concentrate on a particular field of study. I went to a liberal arts institution and spent most of my time studying Mathematics & Computer Science. To be honest, students who are passionate about a field and want to focus a good portion of their energy in delving deeper into the concepts are encouraged to do so through a plethora of independent studies & summer research opportunities.

I knew I wanted to study computer science and mathematics has always captured my interest so my major was pretty much decided. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I was initially looking into engineering programs. However, spending a semester in a liberal arts institution helped me understand the benefits of exploring areas such as philosophy, political science & economics. As the articles above illustrate, a liberal arts curriculum is designed to help you develop a holistic understanding of the world around you. As an example, taking classes across disciplines enables you to develop a great product with algorithms based on sound fundamentals of mathematics and implement it using the new computer language that you learnt in class. Introduction to economics you took last semester gives you the ability to come up with a good pricing strategy & the principles that you will learn in psych & the communication classes next semester will serve as a foundation for a rudimentary marketing strategy to increase your user base giving your product greater visibility in the market. This example might be oversimplified but it illustrates how you can connect the information you acquire across several disciplines in unique and meaningful ways.

Liberal arts education is a perfect vehicle to instill in us the idea of attacking a problem from different angles. An example that illustrates this core principle is an essay that I had to write for my application to Bennington College. It has been seven years so the details are a bit fuzzy but the exercise was to pick an object in the house and describe it from the vantage point of a physicist, a carpenter & I forget the third. At that point, I did not understand the purpose and inherent value of the question because I was still unclear on what liberal arts education is. However, looking back, I realize that exercise was a perfect way to introduce to the prospective students exactly how liberal arts institutions such as Bennington encourage you to analyze the same problem by looking at it from different perspectives. Considering the fact that the success of iPod & Nintendo Wii can be attributed more to a superb user experience brought about re-thinking how users use their product, you can see how a liberal arts background breeds the fundamental skills required for success.

The intention is not to teach the student how to do one particular thing well. Instead, the motivation is to help students develop the ability to become an independent learner. This approach is useful because it prepares us with the knowledge necessary to adapt to the changes that are constantly taking place around us. It also puts the responsibility on the student and makes for a much more independent and engaging educational experience. This is not just limited to picking your classes and majors but includes exploring specialized areas within the major  or combining the fundamentals of different fields in developing a research project or an independent study. The fact that liberal arts school allow you to carve out a personalized interdisciplinary college experience is truly awesome.

Liberal arts education is becoming increasingly important as the world becomes more and more interconnected. With the advancement in telecommunications and other technologies that bring the world to our fingrtips, a solid understanding of different cultures and the awareness of the differences in perspectives is integral to maintain good relationships with our fellow global citizens. Powered by the breadth of knowledge and an uncanny ability to research and learn new things, a professional with a liberal arts background is equipped with all the tools necessary to excel in such an environment. The smaller classes with a focus on discussions over monotonous lectures along with numerous extra-curricular activities provide students with a number of avenues to hone their intellectual and interpersonal skills. The community driven activities are also a great way to help the students understand how a little effort on their part can help the communities that they are part of in a meaningful way.

I hope that this post has been helpful in explaining what liberal arts education is. If you do not fully grasp the concept still, that’s okay. It is one of those things that is better understood when experienced first hand. I may have missed a few details in the post so if there are anything you feel I should include, please let me know through the comments and I will make necessary updates.

UPDATE: I have to thank the author of a wonderful blog on intercultural household for encouraging me to write on this topic.


Written by tundal45

November 18, 2009 at 1:16 pm

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Life of Pi

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I just completed reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I had been meaning to read this book because I had heard so much about it. I purchased it last winter with other books in this list thinking that there is no better time to get some reading done than cold winter days. However, I quickly got distracted with responsibilities and never got around to it. Recently, I decided that I would much rather read a book than flip though channels aimlessly. I am not saying I am abandoning TV. I am just trying to make better choices in terms of what I watch and not spend the entire weekend watching whatever is on for the sake of watching. Clearly, I digress.

So where were we? Oh yes, Life of Pi. To be honest, I do not know what to think of the book. Initially, I was angry at the main character, Pi Patel, because of his claim that zoo animals are just as happy, if not happier, within the confines of the zoo. I understand that there are ways where zoo animals can be given an environment that closely resembles their natural habitat. However, to claim that this simulated, confined environment is better did not sit right with me. It seemed that Pi, or the author, needed to read Ishmael before making that argument. I realized that the mild hangover I had might have something to do with my grumpiness and overall negative attitude towards the book. So I went to get coffee before reading further. The coffee seemed to do the trick because once I got back, the book seemed a lot less annoying. That’s a positive, right?

This is one of the few books that I have read in just a couple of days. I am not a reader by any stretch of the imagination. I never really read that many fiction or non-fiction growing up outside of what I needed to read for my classes. It was not until high school that I actually started reading few books here and there that I realized the impact a good book has on one’s perception of everything around them. And I started blabbering again.

Going back to the topic at hand, one thing that I find interesting in this book is the religious nature of the main character. What was interesting to me is that for someone who was a devout Hindu, Muslim & Christian at the same time, he never seemed to thank God for being alive with a tiger in the boat throughout his ordeal at sea. He always provided proper reasoning based on what he had learned as a zoo keeper’s son to explain why the tiger let him live. It was only when he saw nature in action, whether it be in the form of lightning storm or the marine life in the sea that he thought of God. To me it felt like he saw God as someone who is responsible for running all the different cycles and not the usual all loving God who shall come to save him like the mainstream religious crowd (not to mention he did not blame God for his plight either).

However, I still cannot decide how I feel about the book. Even though I read the book in just a couple of days, I think it was more because it was just a good story rather than the fact that I felt like I was growing as a person because of the abundance of wisdom throughout the book. Maybe it is just supposed to be a good story and that’s fine  but I was expecting the book that has won numerous accolades to have a little more impact on me than it actually did. It could be that I did not pay proper attention or somehow unconsciously tuned out all the lessons for whatever reasons but I do not feel like I have grown as a person after reading this book. As someone who does not read often, that is something I look for in a book. I want the books I read to make me see things in a different light or make me aware of something  that I did not know. I want reading to be a learning experience rather than just passive experience and unfortunately, Life of Pi did not rate too high for me in that scale.

Written by tundal45

November 17, 2009 at 1:23 pm

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America, F*** YEAH!

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I am sure that those who have watched the awesomeness that is Team America – World Police will have the song playing in their heads. Before you jump to the conclusion that I have turned into a patriotic American, I want to tell you that this post is about a different aspect of the United States that I have come to love: the higher education system.

Prior to this, I posted about my life as an international student in the United States where one of my friend brought up a really interesting point in the comments section. She pointed out that unlike my problem of having no options but to fight it out, her friends were overwhelmed with options. She was obviously talking about the plethora of options in terms of classes to choose & activities to participate in. In my excitement to shed a light on my struggles as an international student, I completely lost sight of highlighting the positives that are related to academics.You might recall I mentioned how I got to love liberal arts and how I was unaware of what it meant before coming to the United States. However, my friend’s comment made me think about why I wanted to come to the United States in the first place.

I was in 8th grade when my cousin started applying to schools in the United States. Up until that point, the idea of going to a completely different country was not something I entertained. It was not until my cousin started looking into schools in the United States that I even realized that as an option. I remember reading through the brochures that he used to get and being surprised at how much flexibility a student has to carve out the academic experience that they want. “Personalized education, what a novel idea!”, I thought. However, that was all it was at that point, a cool & progressive approach to education.

It was not until 11th grade that I started considering coming to the United States for my undergraduate. In Nepal, after 10th grade, you go to “college” for your 11th & 12th grade. However, there is a significant gap in the level of difficulty between 10th & 11th grade. Furthermore, the class size is generally bigger and the curriculum is very outdated and in dire need of a reform. Since I went to one of the better institutions, I was surrounded by really smart individuals, most of them proficient in the art of grasping abstract concepts as well as memorizing them. I was not so special in that I thrived on learning through class discussions and relied heavily on the teacher. Rote learning was not my cup of tea and it was tougher for me to grasp a concept unless I had someone explain it to me. To make matters worse, there were very few teachers whose approach matched with my style of learning. Soon it became clear that I will not be able to develop in such a environment.

Another major factor for me to want to come to the United States was the opportunity to be independent. With my parents there to take care of me, I was starting to take things for granted. This was another reason why my academics suffered in 11th & 12th grade. I just stopped caring and not appreciating the opportunity that I had. The only way I saw how to fix that was by coming to the United States where I had to figure out things on my own. I knew it was going to be a challenge but I also knew that I will come out of the experience as a better individual. However, little did I know how much more I was going to learn from the experience.

It was not until I got to the United States did I realize the true power of personalizing my educational experience. With majors & electives of my choosing and projects that allowed me to delve in the areas that I was interested in, the opportunities were truly limitless. Another important part of the experience was the value of being an active member of the campus community. It is pretty common, especially among international students, to be content with getting good grades and focus only on activities that somehow relate to them landing a dream job upon graduation. I say this because I used to think along the same lines. It was during my junior year when I helped organize a jazz concert with a professor to raise money for Tsunami victims did I realize that a tiny effort on my part could serve a better purpose than just being  a resume builder. As an international house coordinator my senior year, I got a chance to help incoming international students find their place in the community as well as help the American students develop better understanding of all the cultures represented through cultural events. Being involved on campus was a great way to develop skills I would have not been able to acquire from the classroom setting.

Looking back, I realize that I was lucky to have been able to get everything and more out of my collegiate experience in the United States. It was definitely tough and there were times I wish I had it a little easier but in the end, it was worth all the blood, sweat & tears. More importantly, I realize that since I came for the right reasons, they always helped me make rational decision and remain focused on learning, whether it be in the classroom or outside.

Written by tundal45

November 13, 2009 at 3:24 am

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Life as an International Student

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I was just reading a blog post my friend wrote about education abroad and I realized how I have always wanted to write about what I have learned as an International Student in the United States. This is that post.

I came to the United States Fall of 2002 as an International Student at Hanover College in Hanover, IN. At that time, I had no understanding what liberal arts education meant even though I had applied to several liberal arts schools. In fact, I was never really forced to think about what liberal arts means & why I wanted to attend a liberal arts institution until I applied to St. Lawrence University as a transfer student. Like most students from a developing nation, my intention was to transfer to an engineering school so I can become an engineer. All that changed when I took my first few requirement classes. I started to realize that while I loved solving math problems & writing programs, I also loved to talk about our purpose in this world, the recent political developments in South Asia, how capitalism & globalization affect the world that we live in and bunch of other things that I had not realized I was interested in until I was exposed to them. It was then that I understood what it took to be a well rounded individual and how a liberal arts education helps one to achieve that goal.

Having been around my parents who took care of me, this was the first time I was outside of my comfort zone. I was fairly certain that I was going to cry myself to sleep every night and be homesick all the time. You see, while I had prepared myself to face the world independently, I had very little idea of how to tackle different things life throws at you until I got here. I always felt that the application process kind of served as an introduction to life in the United States because I had to go out & seek a lot of information & figure out the whole process on my own. That experience made it somewhat easy to transition to American Student life & helped me seek out people & information relevant to multiple issues an international student faces in the first week ranging from registering for classes to finding a job on campus so you can have spending money (or in my case money to pay for tuition).

I realized early on that most people around you are just as scared to talk to you as you are to talk to them. However, if you take that first step to go out and start a conversation, it becomes that much easier to connect with other students. It is especially tough for International Students because its very easy to just hang out with other international kids. Taking the initiative and breaking that initial barrier did  a world of good to me not just in terms of making friends but also in terms of being immersed into the American culture. After all, I was studying abroad and the cultural exchange, as ignored as it was in the original decision making process of coming to the United States, has been an important (and pleasant) side effect.

A quick way to figure things out, as I learned first hand, was not having any options. For example, I did not know how to go about finding a job on campus my first week. However, I no longer had the option of going back to my parents or anyone else for that matter. There was no option but to find a job. The thing is that when you are forced to find an answer, you find a way to get that answer. I used to panic pretty easily when put in pressure situations like that (and I still do to a certain degree) but between finding a job to pay for school, figuring out a way to transfer to a better school with a stronger financial aid package & navigating the tough job market as an unemployed recent graduate, I have become confident that no matter how much of a curve ball life throws at me, I will find a way to get a hit and get on base. I don’t think I would have been able to develop that level of confidence had I not faced so many curve balls. The only thing that’s different from baseball is that in real life, there are no batting practices.

With that said, I want to emphasize that it is not easy being an international student in the United States, especially when you are trying to pay for your school. Financial challenges will be a norm and strict budgeting discipline is a must. Things are not going to fall in place and sometimes it feels like no matter what you do, you are doomed. Its those moments that you need to search for perseverance within yourself & fight the urge to give up. Not everyone is prepared to take on this challenge and, as a result, not everyone survives the challenges an American collegiate life throws at an International Student. However, if you are successful, you are guaranteed to come out of the experience a richer, more confident individual who is that much more prepared to take on life by the horns.

Written by tundal45

November 9, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Kathmandu as a startup hub for Nepal: The possibilities and the obstacles

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Recently, I came across Socialect, a tech startup that has taken bootstrapping to the next level by moving its operations to Kathmandu, Nepal. You can think of Socialect as CitySearch where users enjoy the power to update the contents. And for that extra bit of coolness, everything is geotagged. Oh, and once you find what you want, you can then send the info to your mobile phone. It’s this kind of well thought out design and features that has already got some people talking.

Actually, I need to step back. I would not have been introduced to Socialect if it was not for Freddie Benjamin who came across the site and loved it so much that he could not stop tweeting about it. When I checked out the site, I too was impressed with the features. Sure the site lacks in data but that is the case with any startup, especially one like socialect that depends on the userbase to generate content.

However, that was not what kept my attention on the site. What I found interesting was the post by Akshay Sthapit, the CTO for Socialect. In his post, he explains the reasons why he chose Kathmandu as the operating hub. He further elaborates why he thinks Kathmandu has what it takes to be a great place for tech startups. His reasoning is that if you are anywhere in the United States, the living expenses are going to be much higher than that in Nepal. So Kathmandu, as a major city in Nepal with all the resources that one may need, can be a great place to make the limited capital a founder of a startup has and make it stretch much further.

Of course, this option is much more suitable for someone who is familiar with that part of the world so this solution may not work for everyone. However, his post was geared for other Nepalese programmers and entrepreneurs like himself who would like to enjoy the lifestyle one enjoys in Nepal while still having access to opportunities that the world has to offer.

This was very interesting for me as I often think about how I can pave a path back to Nepal in the future. However, unlike Sthapit, I get easily discouraged by the adversities that one has to reconcile in Nepal in addition to the ones startups everywhere face. I discuss these adversities below.

  • 12 Hour Power Cuts: While Nepal is second only to Brazil in its potential for generating Hydro Electric Power, lack of proper infrastructure, leadership, and plethora of other factors mean that there is only enough electricity to power the capital for half a day everyday.
  • Political Instability: All you have to do is search #nepalcrisis on Twitter and you will see the live outcry from Nepalese all over the world describing their frustration over how the country can never dig itself out of the political stalemate. Political turmoil has been an issue for Nepal since People’s movement for Democracy back in 1990 and the situation continues to worsen as the country struggles to find proper leadership focuses on helping the nation and its citizens rather than constantly fight among each other for power (not to mention their cut of corruption money).
  • Lack of Talent Pool: With majority of the nation’s youth already in or looking to move to the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and other western nations for better opportunities, finding (and retaining) talented individuals has been a problem for companies in Nepal. I interned at Mercantile Communications in 2004 and the Manager of the e-Commerce department told me then that the company stopped hiring engineers and started hiring people who completed some programming course for most of their basic programming needs as most of the engineers they hired would leave the company within 6 months for academic or professional opportunities outside Nepal. Founders of other established businesses that I have had the opportunity to interact with have also shared similar frustrations.
  • Extortion Racket: It is not unusual for people representing different groups, especially groups related to the Maoists but not limited to them, to come to your home or the place of your business and demand that you “donate” to their organization. There is absolutely nothing that one can do in such a situation but to meet their demands unless the person is willing to face the consequences. There are also some cases where these groups will force you to hire/retain an employee whose only qualification is his connections with the group.
  • Inefficient/Slow Government Agencies: People who think that the government agencies in the United States respond slowly are in for a treat if they ever have to deal with government officials from Nepal. While the office hours are from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, work does not begin until 11:00 AM (sometimes even later) and very rarely continues after 3:00 PM. It is not unusual that you have to provide “additional incentive” to the government official looking at your file/request. Furthermore, it is not at all surprising that you are sent on a wild goose chase to get one simple signature. One has to be really patient, thick skinned and prepared to succumb to any demand to be able to get any stuff done with the government agencies.

Sthapit is aware of these issues and talks about them in his post. However, the only issue that he addresses is that of the power cuts (He notes that the cost of a backup generator or battery to power your developer machine is still much lower than the living costs in the US). As per the server that hosts your awesome application, he mentions plethora of cloud computing services to hint that startups have the option to use these cloud using services from one of the many companies that are based around the world where persistent power supply is not a luxury.

Freddie, in his post, does a good job in shedding some light on the talent pool aspect. He suggests that there is talent in Nepal but what is lacking are incentives for most people to truly express themselves and bring out their full potential. He thinks, and I agree, that given proper incentives and stake in the success of the company, there still is a good talent pool available in Nepal. The only hurdle is to make sure that they are given enough incentive so that they do not need to look for “better” options outside of Nepal.

The big issue here, that niether Sthapit nor Freddie address, is that the political turmoil, uncertainty and complete lack of security (financial as well as personal) within the country are a huge factor that make people want to leave. As Sthapit points out, getting oneself out of the herd mentality is crucial. This is not just true for the founders to see the hidden potential but also for the employees to understand what their future could hold for them if they ride out the storm.

So what do I think? I think that the point Sthapit makes about low living cost is an excellent one and something that I had not thought of until I read his post. It is clear that Kathmandu is a great place if you are thinking purely in terms of cutting costs. Don’t get me wrong. Neither me nor Sthapit are under the illusion that Kathmandu is replacing Silicon Valley. However, Sthapit points out that the city has all the makings of a good hub for LILOs. Power cuts are also not that big of a deal with proper backup power sources. In fact, Sthapit raises an interesting point about how power cuts makes him more aware of his consumption habits. Freddie’s two cents on giving employees proper incentives and the opportunity to express themselves by giving them an environment where they can get their creative juices flowing is a great solution to tap into the talent pool currently stuck in dead end jobs. Based on my conversation with Sthapit, I think there is very little need to work with the government agencies. Therefore, their slowness becomes irrelevant for the most part.

However, we are still left with two big problems: Political Instability & Extortion Racket. The very idea that anyone can come to me and make ridiculous demand and I have to comply, irrespective of how ridiculous the demands may be, is something that I personally cannot look past. There is no guarantee that the result of your hard work has to be shared with people who had nothing to do with your success. Add to that the uncertainty that violence can erupt any second and the nation could go back to civil war because some politician was not too happy about his needs not being met.

I certainly admire the optimism that Sthapit, Freddie and others who responded to the original post on Socialect demonstrate and I really hope that the situation gets better in Nepal, not just within the context of tech startups but as a whole for the country and its citizens. However, with the current state of the nation, it will take someone who is as daring as Sthapit to ignore all the obstacles that lay around him. I wish him and all the entrepreneurs who share his vision and optimism all the best. May their vision and leadership build the much needed foundation that will help Nepal survive the current storm.

UPDATE 1: I want to be clear in regards to my statement about this being more relevant to Nepalese entrepreneurs/programmers. I am not saying this option is limited to Nepalese. Sthapit, in a discussion after the first draft of this post, was quick to point out that there is a Canadian startup that is based in Kathmandu that is doing very well despite the poor global economic outlook because they were able to cut costs by moving operations to Nepal. My point with that was that it is much easier for someone who already is familiar of how everything works in Nepal as opposed to someone from a developed part of the world whose expectations might be a lot different than those of us. However, Sthapit was also able to inform me that it is not as difficult for someone unfamiliar to the region and cites the story of the CEO of the Canadian startup who came to Nepal only 9 months ago and have managed to do just fine with only few minor difficulties.

Written by tundal45

May 4, 2009 at 11:41 pm

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Why I love NPR

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I was introduced to public radio when I was working at Cambridge around the summer of 2006. WBUR, the local NPR station was my companion everyday during my bus rides to and from work. I was a recent graduate new to the working world who thought it was high time I made an honest effort in being aware of what’s happening in the world that surrounded me. Since then, NPR has become a great source of information, entertainment and enhanced my overall awareness of the world around me.

Despite being a regular listener, I had not really thought of the reasons why I liked NPR so much until I heard a recent episode of a On Point with Tom Ashbrook, one of the many shows that I listen to on a regular basis. The guest on that show was NPR’s CEO, Vivian Schiller who talked about the popularity of NPR and the whole public radio experience. The show shed some light on NPR’s success which is especially impressive in the current times when newspapers are struggling to survive. Listeners called in to share their NPR experience and give ideas on how to make the listener experience even better.

It is fairly evident that NPR is popular, both based on the listener comments on the show’s website and elsewhere. Some love it because it brings them comprehensive coverage of news and other stories. Others like it because it brings a smile to their faces. Then there are a few who like its specific coverage of areas that they care most about. Rarely you will find some that are shallow and like NPR because they think its cool (I hope this is a small group of people).

The reason I love NPR is a combination of all of the above (except for “I like it coz it makes me look cool”). I love the in depth coverage of the latest news stories pertaining to anything from pressing world issues to local news. I rely on their analysis of the financial markets and economy because I have limited time and capacity to understand all the moving pieces on my own. They are there right when I am looking for some laughs on the weekends or when I want to look beyond the news and get to know the people that are affected by it and their stories. Then there are shows like On Point and Fresh Air that look at everything under the sun and create an amazing learning (and entertaining) experience for the listener. Most of all, I love NPR because they have managed to adapt to changing times when most other news sources and television networks have struggled to do so.

I have to admit that if it was not for the portability of NPR, I probably would not be able to listen to it as much as I do now (I listen to most of the show as podcasts). They understand that their listeners do not always have time to listen to the show when its aired on their local stations. So they have made majority of their shows available for users to listen whenever they can in the form of podcasts. They have also been able to adopt new media and interact with their listeners through Facebook & Twitter. I feel there is a lot companies can learn from NPR and its success on how to engage their audience and get valuable insight and feedback from them to enhance the customer experience.

But that is a conversation for some other time. In the meantime, I just want to share with everyone why I love NPR. If you are someone who listens to NPR and have stumbled across my blog, please feel free to share your reasons for loving/loathing NPR.

UPDATE: Just watched Ira Glass on Colbert Report and realized that PRI and NPR are competing companies. However, since my exposure to them is through NPR member stations and since these shows are part of NPR, this does not change anything that I mention above. I do want to give PRI the credit for bringing This American Life to its audience every weekend. I also would like to acknowledge that Marketplace is produced by American Public Media.

Written by tundal45

April 24, 2009 at 9:03 pm

No I do not want to be a fan of Mylie Cyrus!

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I am usually open to changes, sometimes even a little too eager to be an early adopter. I admire developers and companies that constantly revisit their design decisions and add features to increase usability of their product and enhance the user experience. Google, especially in case of GMail, has been the poster child of this style of development and Facebook has been an exemplary follower of this style. In few short years, Facebook has managed to not only generate a huge userbase but also has become a platform for businesses all over to reach out to their users and get valuable feedback.

However, not all changes have been welcome, especially when it comes to Facebook. Both of their layout change has resulted in a huge uproar from the user community. They were already treading on rough waters with the whole Terms of Use controversy but they managed to retract their steps and get the community involved.

While I have been critical, I have been in favor of most of the features that were added (I wish Facebook allowed me to link to a particular status like Twitter does so I can link instances here but you are going to have to take my word for it on this one). I have generally liked the layouts and have been tolerant of them mixing advertisements with highlights on the home page. However, they recently did something that has hit a nerve and I am not the only one.

Jo Lilore hits the nail on the head when he says “Facebook needs a User Experience intervention.” I understand that they are trying to attract businesses to use facebook as the platform of choice for their marketing and customer outreach campaigns, especially with Twitter’s popularity soaring among businesses. However, they are completely missing the point that businesses will not be there when all the users leave. For me, People you may know was a useful feature that helped me connect with old friends. It was not perfect by any means but the noise in the data was bearable. With the conversion into Suggestions, Facebook has made it almost impossible to find old friends among Mylie Cyrus, Jonas Brothers and any other sad excuse for a celebrity elevated to stardom by MTV, VH1, or any other channel with majority if viewrship going to teenagers.

It seems that Facebook is trying to capture any piece of the market that Twitter has won over and they are doing so at the user’s expense. Twitter is lightweight tool with an excellent API and while Facebook allows one to do much more than have live conversations, majority of businesses are interested in just these conversations (and conversations are where Twitter shines). While Facebook pages and application platform have been popular marketing platform for businesses, they are quickly realizing that they can engage with their audience in the same way with a lot less effort using Twitter.

The one thing that is going for Facebook is that it has a large user base and there are still quite a few people who do not “get” Twitter. However, if Facebook continues to annoy users by constantly “suggesting” what people/products/things they should be a fan, its userbase is going to plateau and the time that users spend on the site is going to go down.

UPDATE: There are a few things that Facebook could do where I think users would be ok with it marketing celebrities/products/services.It could give the user the option to hide the suggestions portion so that you no longer have to deal with it. However, this would be similar to TVs giving you the option to skip/hide commercials which we all know is not going to happen. The other option would be for Facebook to use a better algorithm where it uses information the user has provided to best guess who they might actually would be a fan of rather that just showing a slew of people loosely based on the fact that one of your facebook friends became a fan. I am sure they can do a better job than that. This is one way they can emulate Google.

Written by tundal45

April 18, 2009 at 2:45 pm

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