Rohit Mishra

Thoughts which don’t fit in 140 characters.

Google’s New Social Network - Circles

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Google is launching a new social network - attempt number 4. Remember Orkut, Wave and Buzz. ReadWriteWeb reports

If what we’ve heard is correct, the service will offer photo, video and status message sharing. Everything users share on Circles will be shared only with the most appropriate circle of social contacts in their lives, not with all your contacts in bulk.

The new network will be called Circles. It is not a social network, but will work on top of existing social networks.

[caption id=“attachment_108” align=“aligncenter” width=“300” caption=“Tim O’Reilly’s deleted tweet on Google Circles”]Tim O'Reilly's deleted tweet on Google Circles[/caption]

Its core USP is supposed to be a method to identify a subset of your contacts with whom your status update, photo or video will be shared. It is unlikely that Google will leave it only on algorithms. They might use recommendation algorithms to suggest what your various circles might be - friend, workplace, family etc. But users don’t generally like to create lists - something that took Mark Zuckerberg by surprise. The problem of correctly identifying your various social circles and the privacy it gives is a real one - as danah boyd’s keynote at SXSW 2010 made clear. There are two problems with Google’s new effort though.

[caption id=“” align=“alignnone” width=“620” caption=“Google Me - Techcrunch”]Google Me[/caption]

ReadWriteWeb also reports that

In December a screenshot was leaked to TechCrunch showing a new toolbar item on called “Loop.” (Loop seems similar to Circles - I think Circles is better.) I believe that Circles will be a toolbar level service as well.

I was a staunch Firefox lover, until Chrome became just too good not to be used. Apart from better speed and stability, one of the major attractions of Chrome was its clean design which increased the screen real estate. Since then, every major browser has adopted a similar design. In other words, toolbars are dead. Google can integrate Circles on its own websites (as the above screenshot shows), but the main challenge will be in integrating it with 3rd - party websites.

Secondly, Paul Adams, the ex-Google researcher, on whose ideas Circles is apparently based, jumped to Facebook a while back. Facebook attacked the same problem with its new Groups. which work very well (apart from the email notification spam). When it comes to sharing things publicly, Twitter’s concept of one-directional follow is very good. _(For newbies, Twitter lets you follow people who don’t need to follow you back) _ Social used to be binary with Facebook and Twitter at opposite ends. But improvements like Facebook Groups, Facebook Pages and Twitter lists have addressed this problem significantly. It will be interesting to see what Google can offer.

Technology guru Tim O’Reilly  talked favorably of Google Circles on Twitter. He has since deleted his tweets. As far as I remember, he said

Google Circles is awesome. But it is only the tip of the iceberg.

Google has made it clear that they are not launching anything today at SXSW, which may explain why Tim O’Reilly deleted his tweets.

[caption id=“attachment_109” align=“aligncenter” width=“300” caption=“Google - Not launching anything new at SXSW ”]Google - Not launching anything new at SXSW [/caption]

Recharge It Now and Online Recharge Fraud

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If you have ever tried recharging your phone/DTH online, you are aware of this story. The operators themselves don’t have facilities to recharge. Tata Sky has a tough process as far as I remember. Airtel had a good partnership with M-Chek which allowed you to recharge your phone using a SIM-based application and your credit card. However, RBI/Indian banks got pissed off that Indians can have one proper way of online/mobile payments and introduced new rules that have basically made mobile transactions impossible.

On February 10, I wanted to make an online recharge. I googled for “airtel online recharge” and the third site is (The first two are links to airtel’s m-chek pages). Now anyone can tell me that this website looks unprofessional, but in the rush of the moment I didn’t notice it. I had heard about it on some other blogs and it had the mandatory Verisign secured logo. The transaction which used a Citibank payment gateway failed. That is nothing unusual. I got a mail shortly afterward from rechargeitnow

Dear Rohit,Thank you for using to recharge your Mobile/DTH service.

Due to some technical reasons we are unable to deliver recharge to your subscriber id XXXXXXXXXX . We regret the inconvenience caused to you.

We will process your transaction for a recharge or refund as per our refund policy. You will receive a mail intimation for the same.

In case of a refund, amount should reflect in your account within 8 working days.


I have got pretty used to failed transactions and this was nothing new. I waited for 14 days, and nothing happened. So on February 24th, I went to their website where they had an “Escalate Complaint” option, which you can use only after the 8-day period. I again got an e-mail from them:

Hi Rohit Mishra

This is to confirm that we have received your ‘escalation’ request as per the following details-

Track Id: xxxxxxxxxx Name: Rohit Mishra Email: Mobile No/DTH Subscriber ID recharged: xxxxxxxxx Date of transaction: 2011-02-10

Escalation Team at will provide you a resolution as per process detailed below:

  1. Your pending complaint will be resolved and a mail sent to you within 2 working days (excluding Sundays & holidays)

  2. If a clarification is required, you will receive a call or a mail from our support team within 2 working days on your registered mobile or email id.


Escalation Team

Its been another 10 days and still I have heard nothing from them. Strangely, their entire website doesn’t have one contact number. I have sent them another mail, but I am pretty sure I have lost my money. It is not only infuriating on a personal level, but what bothers me also is that fraudulent websites like rechargeitnow lower customer confidence in online transactions even more, making it difficult for all the other clean players too.

Share this post on Twitter/FB so that your acquaintances don’t fall prey to this fraud website.

_Update : _ I finally got my refund on March 19. In the age of real-time web, taking 45 days to reverse a transaction that rechargeitnow knew of has gone wrong is unacceptable. I hope someone from their website reads this post and improves their refund mechanism. All the best to them.

A Ride Through Windows History

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There is an interesting video doing the rounds where a smart and dedicated Windows fan installs all major releases of Windows from 1.0 to Windows 7. Like every geek, I have had my fair share of Windows installation stories. The first computer I used was in my school CS lab which ran Windows 95. We used to make various programs in Logo). I was hyper-excited when we got our 1st computer at home in 2001. It had a Pentium III processor with 64 MB RAM with a HP DeskJet printer. Using extremely slow dial-up internet, listening to music on Winamp or Jet Audio and  playing Road Rash was all I used to do. That desktop used to hang a lot probably due to a mix of all the pirated games I used to run combined with the extreme heat in Muzaffarpur, a small city in North Bihar where I used I do live. Getting the computer ‘to hang’ must be on top among all the reasons I have ever been scolded for. It was only a few years later that I realized that the smart-talking guy who used to repair our computer was charging us big bucks for merely reinstalling Windows. When my brother moved to college, he bought a desktop machine which had heavenly specs at least for me - Pentium 4, 2 GB RAM, DVD writer … I was so jealous. No matter what I tried, my home system won’t run XP  as XP had considerably higher hardware requirements. It was only when my brother got fed up of his fabulous system and sent it to home,  that I was able to use XP. My love and hate relationship with my computers continued till I got my current laptop an year and half back - a Dell XPS M1530. I do know one thing, the relationship between a geek and his machine is very special. Probably when I have my own car or bike, it will be similar, but I don’t think it is going to match what I have with this Dell.

The Windows Installation Video :

Scribd Shows How Not to Do Facebook Instant Personalization

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Scribd - the popular document sharing website is listed as one of the partner site on Facebook’s Instant Personalization page. Instant personalization is a great concept which allows a website to use your public information shared on Facebook  to serve a more personal experience on the other websites. The problem is in execution which I realized a few days back.

When I landed on, an Instant Personalization notice greeted me from top of the page. As far as I remember, it was an opt-out notice. After a few minutes, I decided to download a document. Scribd wanted me to upload one before I could download something. [Weird policy] I decided to do it through my regular account. The username shown to me was rohit_mishra_35. I logged out and logged in back from my movingahead account. When I tried connecting my movingahead account with facebook, I was greeted by this message :

The Scribd account rohit_mishra_35 is already linked with your Facebook account and was created through Facebook Connect. If we unlink your Facebook account from rohit_mishra_35, you will no longer be able to access that account.

Please login to rohit_mishra_35 using Facebook Connect and set a password for that account. Then, you will be able to unlink your Facebook account, and link it to the currently logged in account movingahead.

[caption id=“attachment_102” align=“alignleft” width=“717” caption=“Scribd fb Instant Personalization”]Scribd fb Instant Personalization[/caption]

I probably made a mistake somewhere which led to this situation. However, I believe that Scribd should have asked me whether I already have a Scribd username before assigning me one based on Instant Personalization. If a website is using usernames, as Scribd does, I believe they are much better off using Facebook Login/Connect.

IP is suited for sites that are ready to completely depend on Facebook Login and not use their own usernames.

Which Phone Do You Use ?

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There is an interesting discussion happening on Hacker News on whether Nokia made the right decision by hooking up with Microsoft as their partner for their future smartphones. I thought this is a right moment to analyze what phone people are really using.

[polldaddy poll=“4538597”]

If you are not sure which OS your phone has, try googling your phone’s model name and number.

What do you think is the future of smartphones ? Which platform will come out on top ? Share your views in the comments.

7 Websites Student Must Start Using in the New Year

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I often get asked how I manage to spend so much time online. I mostly frequent the below-mentioned sites which bring the best of web to you.

  1.  Twitter

You may have a dormant Twitter account or you may be actively following your favorite actor and singer. But, there is more to Twitter. Infinitely more. Twitter is the new RSS Reader. A place where you can get all the interesting things, you want to read and see. Twitter now allows you to specify your interests and shows relevant accounts when you sign up. Let Twitter sink in. At first, it looks like a never-ending stream of incoherent chatter, but you will find great value in this chatter. You can make lists of your favorite tweeps on different topics, and follow lists made by others. I save my expense on newspaper by reading news from Twitter [news list] and follow all the latest development in technology by this list. You can find me on Twitter @movingahead

[caption id=“attachment_89” align=“aligncenter” width=“614” caption=“Twitter”]Twitter[/caption]

  1. Quora

Quora is the best QnA site on the web right now. Founded by ex-Facebook CTO Adam D’Angelo, Quora lets you ask questions, auto-tags them and shows them to persons who have relevant interests. If you are interested in computing, you will find an amazing community here. The best part about Quora is that instead of people giving their views, there are people who will share their actual experience with you here.

Similar Sites: Aardvark

[caption id=“attachment_90” align=“aligncenter” width=“614” caption=“Quora”]Quora[/caption]

  1. YouTube EDU

This is the little-known part of YouTube. YouTube has a program for universities where they allow universities to upload their full lectures on YouTube. You can find plenty of lectures from your favorite universities here.

Similar Sites: Khan Academy, iTunes U

[caption id=“attachment_91” align=“aligncenter” width=“614” caption=“YouTube EDU”]YouTube EDU[/caption]

  1. New York Times

If you want to keep a tap with the outer world, there is no better place than NYT. It carries great stories from all over the world. NYT also has an awesome Chrome App which shows the future of newspapers literally,

Similar Sites: The Economist, Guardian

[caption id=“attachment_92” align=“aligncenter” width=“614” caption=“New York Times - Chrome App”]New York Times - Chrome App[/caption]

  1. allows you to listen to your favorite tracks off the web. The great thing about is its scrobbler which is a plugin for your favorite music player. It captures the tracks that you listen to on your computer/phone and then suggests music you will like when you goto

Similar Sites: Spotify, Pandora

Both Spotify and Pandora are not available in India at the moment.

[caption id=“attachment_93” align=“aligncenter” width=“614” caption=“”][/caption]

_ _

  1. Stackoverflow

Stackoverflow is a QnA site for programming questions only. If you run into a bug or can’t figure out the approach to a particular programming problem, this is the best place to visit, Probably, the question that you have in mind would already have been asked before, so do search before asking a question on the site. And as you will find on stackoverflow, no question is trivial.

[caption id=“attachment_94” align=“aligncenter” width=“614” caption=“Stackoverflow”]Stackoverflow[/caption]

  1. Apture

This is not a website, but a Chrome extension. But it deserves a mention here. Apture allows you to highlight a word, and on press of a button, you get a short description of the highlighted text [mostly from Wikipedia], and search results, images, and videos. You won’t find it convincing, unless you try it out once.

[caption id=“attachment_95” align=“aligncenter” width=“614” caption=“Apture Highlights”]Apture Highlights[/caption]

We Need a Windows App Store

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I had been planning to write about a Windows App Store. Meanwhile, Apple announced a Mac App Store for Lion - the next edition of OS X.

[blackbirdpie id=“27962126898”]

For all the excitement that follows an Apple announcement, the reality is that Macs make only 10 % of the desktop/laptop market worldwide. I want a similar announcement from Microsoft for Windows. Microsoft has recovered a lot from the Windows Vista days when every possible thing was going wrong for the company. Windows 7 has been a great success,) Bing is gaining mind share and Windows Phone 7 has had a decent launch. XBox Kinect has no competition. (Sony dismissed controller-free gaming as an unsatisfactory experience. Sony once dismissed iPods too when the whole world was hooked to Walkmans.) But its Apple which seems set to re-invent desktop, the way it revolutionized mobiles. They have already brought multi-touch to PCs with the Magic Trackpad and I believe sooner or later we will see touch iMacs. The game is in Microsoft’s half to respond to the challenge.

If you take any smartphone today, most of the apps have been made by independent developers - not huge corporations. This huge pool of developers is driving innovation on mobiles. The App Store also played a major role. By featuring popular apps on iTunes, it allowed even it allowed even those iPhone users who are not into the technical details to find the hottest app or game. The App Store became and still is the biggest strength of iOS. On the other hand, even Linux distributions like Ubuntu have had Software Stores and Package Managers which serve the same purpose. I believe that apps like Dropbox would have had a much bigger user base if we had a Windows App Store. The reason why so little innovation happens on the desktop is that there is very little opportunity for independent work to get the threshold attention needed for success. Computer Magazines like PC World run their own stores for Windows applications, but it is only the most enthusiastic user that goes to these sites. It is Microsoft’s responsibility and interest to see that the small developer also succeeds on Windows.

[caption id=“attachment_80” align=“alignright” width=“300” caption=“Ubuntu Software Center”]Ubuntu Software Center[/caption]

The other big advantage of an App Store is security and ease of use. Currently, it is a pain to update all the myriad applications on a Windows system. Poor quality apps are often the chief reason for a Windows system to crash or become sluggish.  It will be great if Microsoft can make all the apps installed on Windows to register with the App Store client even if they have been installed via other means. By doing that, they can prevent apps from interfering with each other - something which neither app developer can ensure. Malware apps once detected can be kept out of the ecosystem entirely. The third major advantage is that it will become incredibly easy for the same software to be installed across multiple PCs - enterprises are going to love this.

I am not in favor of a iOS like rigidity. Microsoft should follow the model of Android and Symbian where the advanced user has all the freedom that he wishes while the average user is prevented from installing unverified apps. The intention should be not to create an alternate revenue stream, but to ensure that users and developers can have a better experience. i don’t feel that developers will mind paying 15-25% of the app price in return of a larger user base. Software is a business of scale, not margins.

It is not that Microsoft has been unmindful of the benefits of an online store. As early as late 2008, Microsoft opened an online store to sell its products and games online. But it never extended the store to allow external developers to use the service. In the meanwhile, a lot of other app stores have come up which just goes to show that installing multiple apps on Windows is a problem yet to be solved. Intel has its own App Store and OEM’s like Acer are planning to launch their own.  Multiple app stores will only confuse the end-user and put additional stress on developers. I would like all my apps to come with me if I swap my Acer laptop for one from Dell. There is a strong feeling that Microsoft will launch its App Store with the next release of Windows, which CEO Steve Ballmer called their ‘riskiest product bet’. That might be too late. Windows 8 is expected to come in 2012. By that time, the Mac Store might become so big that Microsoft will again have to play the catch-up game.

App Stores have been unfairly characterized as being against the interests of developers. Its only Apple’s policies that have let people to make these assumption. We never hear any such complaint about the Android Market or the Ovi Store. Once App stores open for desktops, we might see new life being infused in these big beasts.

See the video where Ballmer says that the next Windows is their riskiest product.

Indian Govt. Arrests Researcher Studying Security of Electronic Voting Machines

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I have been circumspect of the claims that Electronic Voting Machines in India can be tampered. There is a general trend of not trusting electronic methods. At the same time, it is not wise to trust technology before testing it properly. I came across this post on the Freedom to Tinker blog hosted by Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy,

A group of 3 researchers had studied the Electronic Voting Machines used in Indian elections for security flaws. They found out that the machines can be easily tampered within minutes. Their findings will soon appear in ACM Computer and Communications Security conference in October.  After seeing the methods demonstrated by their team, I am convinced that we need a detailed technical study to understand the security of these machines.

Unfortunately, the Govt. and the Election Commission are not looking at the issue in a constructive manner. Yesterday, Hari Prasad, the Indian in the group of 3 researchers was arrested by police which wants information on who provided the EVM to the researchers. Instead of working along with the technical opportunity to identify and resolve problems in EVMs, the Govt. and Election Commission are trying to shoot the messenger.

I hope Hari is released soon and the research that this team has done will help the Election Commission to improve these machines.

Please raise your voice, share this information on Twitter and Facebook and build public support for Hari Prasad.

The video on Hari’s arrest:

Credit:  twitter/newsycombinator

Apple Kills the Mouse

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This is the new Apple Magic Trackpad. Its a game-changer.

PC users have been ogling at the multitouch capabilities of Macbook and Macbook Pros. The same capability, and maybe much more, will be available to iMac users. The trackbad is 80% bigger than on any Macbook pro. It supports pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scrolling, swipe windows etc. Keep it on the side of your wireless keyboard, and enjoy multitouch on your desktop. This basically makes your mouse redundant and useless, unless you are a designer or hardcore gamer. Priced at $69, expect the trackpad to soon become a default accessory with all iMacs. For the moment, Apple is still giving the Magic Mouse free with iMacs.

Apple has used its biggest strength – multi-touch to augment its desktop market-share. Right now, iMacs were the only Apple product that didn’t involve touch – The Magic Mouse doesn’t match touch on other devices. This may give desktops a re-birth. Right now, desktops are completely out of fashion. People buy laptops and never take it out of their homes. I believe the iMac and iPad combo will prove to be a better alternative to Macbook Pros.

Apple has now got a product in iMac which has no competition. Macbooks and MBPs have had the problem of not offering the same configuration as Windows based Dell and HP laptops. The lower configuration at the price-point turns off many people. But, the same doesn’t hold in desktops. Apple’s iMac offers a better configuration than Dell or HP desktops in the range of Rs. 70,000-80,000. Combine that with the fact that iMac is stunningly beautiful piece of hardware, and you have a winner.


I believe there must be an emergency meeting of Windows team after the magic Trackpad was announced. The trackpad is OS X only, and though there must be similar devices for Windows, unless Windows has in-built multi-touch support, it will lag behind.

Should Google Be Allowed to Favour Its Affiliate Services on Its Search Engine

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I just watched Tim O’Reilly’s keynote at the MySQL conference, in which he calls for an open data internet operating system. His basic premise is that different companies are cornering away the subsystems of the Internet Operating System – people, payment, search, location etc. He contends that some of these companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft have the capability to keep the complete information loop to themselves by acquiring all these subsystems.

I don’t personally see any company capable of serving all our information needs. Google appears to be a strong contender, but the fact that both Apple and Microsoft are working hard on establishing their shop on the information superhighway will keep Google in check. Apple’s acquisition of Siri – arguably the best mobile app in the world – may completely push Google out of the information loop on iOS products.

In a related event, I came across this New York Times editorial, that suggests that Google is unfairly propping up its own services like Google Maps and Youtube on Google search results – the gateway to web. It says

Still, the potential impact of Google’s algorithm on the Internet economy is such that it is worth exploring ways to ensure that the editorial policy guiding Google’s tweaks is solely intended to improve the quality of the results and not to help Google’s other businesses.

As much as I support fair competition, this is a disastrous proposition. Limiting any enterprise from using its own tools to support its own products goes completely against the free market policies we cherish. I will explain my view with a couple of examples.

Microsoft had antitrust regulators spanking it for including IE with Windows. They said that it was giving it an unfair edge over rival browsers like Netscape/Firefox and Opera. The move ultimately resulted in a specific European edition where users had to select a browser on the initial boot-up. Was it good? No, it was bad. An Operating System without a browser is like a door without a knob. It breaks the experience. Microsoft was within its rights to use its browser on its Operating System. I wonder why the same antitrust regulators don’t force browser selection options for iOS and Android now? There was a bigger fallout of this antitrust move. IE, which was the hotbed of browser development near the turn of the century was put on backburner and other browsers surged ahead in both popularity and usage. We would have had a much stronger web ecosystem if Microsoft would have kept innovating on browsers.

When you search for images on Google, does it point you to Picasa? No, it doesn’t because Google knows that Picasa doesn’t has strong enough userbase. Pushing Picasa results will mean inferior result quality – which might turn users to other services like Bing, This is the balance that choice brings to table. Google pushes Maps and Youtube results on its search only because they have the best results. They also push results from Twitter, a competitor in the social networking space, because it has got the best results.

I hope Governments worldwide keep themselves out of shaping technology decisions. The free markets can take much better care of it.

O’Reilly’s talk at the MySQL conference.