Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Spero Ventures. Early LinkedIn, Twitter. These are my thoughts on tech, brand, marketing and community.

Why Instapaper should be afraid of Pocket

I’ve been using Instapaper for a while now, except for one short-lived attempt at trying out the gorgeous Readability app. I’d since then returned to Instapaper whose genius is just being there for you – wherever and however you access the web – making it the easiest way to save news and text content for reading later.

Enter Pocket.

Pocket is to Instapaper what the iPad is to the Kindle. Both of them have their own virtues. Both of them do what they’re good at very well, but unlike the Kindle whose biggest strength in my opinion is the ability to read any book glare-free on a digital surface that’s closest to paper, Instapaper plays in a mostly iPad world.

So, why should Instapaper care about Pocket

  • The barrier to switching apps is minimal

As I’d mentioned earlier, this was my 2nd attempt at switching from Instapaper to another site, despite both loving the utility of the product and saving thousands of articles on the app (more on that in just a second).

But, it was trivial for me to pick just the 10 most interesting articles to transfer over to Pocket. For the most part their save-to-read-later actions are similar, Instapaper wins in Safari while Pocket requires you to email the article to save for later. But, I digress… Switching over was not a problem at all and one of the main reasons I didn’t feel the pain of switching was that most of the articles I save for later are ephemeral in nature and don’t matter much anymore. The ones that really mattered were @longreads from various magazine articles that I hadn’t read because there wasn’t an easy way to pick the most interesting ones among hundreds (I save hundreds) on Instapaper.

  • Pictures helps you prioritize reading or viewing

Speaking of prioritizing which articles to read; when you’ve saved tons of articles to read later, and believe me you will when you are accustomed to clicking read-later links whenever you stumble upon something, chances are you’ve got so many posts that at times you just give up on reading them.

The Instapaper look

On using Pocket I realize a great way to pick articles to read is to sift through this content visually, which makes it easier to pick the article du jour that you feel like reading at that moment. Oddly enough I find myself reading more content on Pocket because of this one reason.

All articles; articles, pics and videos are displayed here.

Plus, since there’s an easy way to sort through videos Pocket makes it a one-stop shop for most multimedia content as well.

  • iOS world of Multimedia

You may think it’s not a big deal right now but in a world that’s increasingly gravitating towards videos consumed through your iPad on your couch at home, Pocket’s filling an important need. The reason this assumed even more significance for me is that I also do have Apple TV and so throwing content I find on my iPad over to the television screen is now such a favorite habit of mine, that I find Pocket’s ability to gather all those interviews I’ve been intending to watch on the web throughout the day truly changes the way you consume content on your Apple TV.

The videos only tab in Pocket

Granted, it’s gonna take a deep-rooted change in people’s habit to start using these read later apps, but I think the impending Apple TV revolution (I’m talking about the real TV Apple’s working on) affords Pocket the chance to really go mainstream while Instapaper will remain the amazing utility that it currently is to readers everywhere.

What problem does Pocket solve?

Pocket’s competitive advantage comes from an increasingly iPad fueled world of multimedia content. While Instapaper essentially became my TiVo of news, Pocket has now become my online TiVo, whether it’s News, online video content whether it’s YouTube or Vimeo or even twitpics for that matter (though I rarely use it to view pics later).

Individual Video page

By becoming the one-stop shop for all content, Pocket gives you fewer reasons to try out or stick with Instapaper, as awesome as it is, which is why I think Marco should be concerned right now. Who knows? At some point he may release the “Kindle Fire” version of Instapaper.

Do you use Read Later apps on either your browser or phone? I’m curious to hear what your thoughts are on Pocket? Leave a comment or tweet me @mariosundar.

Filed under: Miscellaneous, , , , , , ,

Tech News, Interrupted…

Tech News, Interrupted…

Anil Dash takes the tech media to task for thinking less and linking more. Frankly, I don’t see this situation changing anytime soon given the link economy we live in (Thanks, @Huffingtonpost! I recommend checking out their “Most Popular” widget to understand the “State of the Media” today.) 

Lots of linking with just the barest amount of original reporting, which is actually a fairly efficient way of getting a story out. But while I admire many of the smart people who work at a lot of these outlets, apparently no one who was linking to this story has more than the slightest bit of knowledge about the discipline they were covering.

That said, I do think there’s room here for tech world’s very own Jon Stewart (Dan Lyons?) or Charlie Rose (Sarah Lacy?) who cater to that thoughtful demographic but building that audience ain’t easy. Thoughts? 

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How the Columbia School of Journalism gets Social

I had an opportunity to grab lunch with Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia School of Journalism’s digital media professor and Dean of Students, over a week ago when he was in town for a conference.

Keeping in mind my recent resolution, I feel it’s apropos to share a quick little video interview I filmed while I chatted up Sree at San Francisco’s picturesque and historic Fairmont Hotel.

Journalism is in the throes of a severe recession. That topic by itself is worthy of a post but this post is about institutions like the Columbia School of Journalism that continue to evolve and train the next generation of journalists. Sree, not only epitomizes what the school stands for but also practices the social media he preaches.

Here’s our brief 3 minute chat.

I’ll continue to bring you snippets of my conversations with interesting social media voices in this segment. Stay tuned.

If you found this interesting you may want to follow:

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Beating Blogger’s Block

I started blogging years ago. Nearly 6 years ago.

It has unquestionably changed my life and my career in the years since. But, I don’t do it anymore. At least not with the passion that I originally started blogging with and that bothers me.

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I’ve written over a thousand blog posts since then but here on my personal blog it just doesn’t feel fresh, fun or exciting anymore as it was during those early days.

What went wrong

1. I blog for a living. Here a blog, there a blog, just too many blogs. 

2. It’s been an interesting roller coaster of a year (to say the least)  

3. Twitter killed Blogging for most of us

Why this bothers me 

Blogging is a really good indicator to identify how passionate you are on your favorite topics.When I started blogging I’d spend hours after work writing about topics I love. It’s that passion that slowly helped me find social media and LinkedIn way back when. And, so when I find myself not blogging actively anymore it bugs me.

I don’t want that and I need to change things up. I need to blog. And, I need to start today.

What’s next? 

The blog definitely needs more regular, interesting content and I’m gonna make an extra-effort to do exactly that. Oddly enough, there’s far more interesting stuff happening today in social media than there was a few years ago; so much so that there’s tons of noise and hopefully the content I create here will cut through that noise.

Over the next few weeks you’re going to see content that will focus on three key attributes.

1. People: Meet professionals whose work I admire. Capture that on the blog. 

I meet tons of interesting folks in the social media space whose work I find relentlessly fascinating. Expect to hear more about them on the blog as I get them to share lessons learned while working on real world projects in social media, whether it’s in PR, Marketing or Journalism.

2. Always unique, always differentiated. 

Using Quora for the first time was a huge aha moment that reminded me of my initial experience blogging. What Quora does best was provide a platform for sharing what you’re good at while bringing you an audience of interesting people in that space who’d love to hear from you. That’s what a good blog is supposed to be while giving you the control over every aspect of content and design.

So, you’re gonna see a slew of content that I can provide unique insight into and hopefully we can reach many more readers like you who will find that content useful. All I’d ask is for you guys is to share posts that you find useful, when you find em useful.

3. Give more than you get

In the past, there have been days where I’d put together a hastily scribbled post just because I’d want to get to my quota of one post a day. Now, granted this is a part of the Writer’s Block that hastened the slow-down of my blogging, but as I look around I see a a few awesome bloggers who generate a ton of quality content on a regular basis. And, I know it’s doable.

Blogs that I love reading on Flipboard. Blogs from my good friends, for example, Jeremiah who has been churning out some stellar content for years or Adam who more recently has been kicking but with some super insightful posts these past few days.

It’s time for me to get back to blogging…

Filed under: Best-of, Miscellaneous, ,

Grab a glass of ice water in Outlook Hell

I assure you I won’t begin every post of mine with a Steve Jobs quote. Only whenever appropriate. Mossberg relates this classic anecdote where Jobs famously quipped that iTunes on Windows PC was “like giving a glass of ice water to someone in Hell.

TouchBase and Calvetica: The 2 iPhone Calendar apps that saved me from Calendar Hell

Alas, Mac desktop users are stuck with the reverse problem – serving poutine at Four Seasons – also known as a clunky, bloated Outlook that aims to embarrass the user and make it terribly hard to gain any utility from it.

But, this past week, I stumbled upon 3 great Mac calendar apps (2 on the iPhone and one on the desktop) that take the sting away from Outlook (keeping it safely in the background) while surfacing key functionality where needed, when needed.

1. Why Calvetica? (Yes, it’s $0.99 and is so worth it; so pony up)

Cos simple’s always better than complex.

If Apple had spent sufficient time designing a calendar app this is what they’d have ended up with instead of the underwhelming Mac calendar app. The app looks gorgeous (think Helvetica) but more importantly it reduces the number of clicks to get to important parts of the calendar as well as to visualize your calendar. Plus, it does a neat sync with Exchange.

They also have a more robust calendaring 2.0 version (that includes task management) for $2.99 that I wouldn’t recommend. This app tends to look a tad more noisy than the classic version and lacks its minimalist tendencies.

2. Why TouchBase? (Another $0.99 well spent)

When one click is always better than two, or three, or more.

Of what use is a calendar app when it takes forever to say, inform your fellow meeting attendees that you’re late for a meeting or to postpone it. Plus, it takes forever to find the address where your meeting’s taking place and I could go on.

TouchBase’s strength is the same as Calvetica – great design that surfaces to your finger tips, the most important relevant information around  a meeting intelligently. For e.g.

First off it creates these simple visually simple cue cards that pull all the relevant information for a meeting (including participant’s contact – phone and email addresses provided your address book has them). The best part of this is the “I’m here late” or “I’m running late by…” tabs that makes sending out a SMS or email to participants a one click process.

I just used it earlier today to save me a few minutes of frantic back-and-forth with my calendar and email when all I needed was to click once, and send auto-formatted SMS or email to say I was running late and bam! it was sent.

3. Why Fantastical? (a pricey desktop calendaring app at $19.99)

When you just wanna type in a calendar event that gets added magically to Exchange or iCal. 

Now, the missing piece of the calendar puzzle is Microsoft Outlook on a Mac laptop, the bull in a china shop. Plus, it’s always a few clicks away to create a calendar event, moving away from your current application, getting to the calendar tab, opening an entry and awkwardly adding multiple details for an event, finding the right time before sending out.

What if you could open up a calendar entry from a keyboard entry no matter where you’re at. The best part of this app is yet to come – natural language recognition, like Siri. So just hit – “Project meeting with Ed and John from 2 to 2:30 today at Boardroom” and it applies all the criteria to your calendar invite right from your Mac Menu bar. Love it. So much.

And the fact that it adds a neat calendar to the Mac menu bar (which unfortunately lacks one) is the icing on the cake. Either way, the above 3 apps or maybe 2 (#2 and 3) finally provide a glass of refreshing ice water in a calendar hell. BTW, if you’ve any suggestions for similar Mac apps (desktop or iPhone), leave a comment.


Filed under: Miscellaneous

Are you in Social Media? Come, join our LinkedIn group!

As LinkedIn’s social media guy for the past nearly five years, I’ve had an opportunity to talk to tons of folks at similar roles at companies big and small. Many of these conversations yield valuable insights into running social media programs but they never gets shared with the larger community who’ll find that super-useful.

With that goal in mind, a few of us folks, have created a group on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn group for Social Media practitioners


The Group Goal:

  1. Learning is good, Sharing is better: We wanted to get social media managers at companies sharing the lessons they’ve learned doing social media with the broader community
  2. More signal, less noise: No matter where you go as a social media manager you find groups with thousands of members who may or may not be working on social media projects. There’s a ton of noise out there that we’d like to avoid.
  3. Real social media expertise: There is a dearth of real knowledge on how social media is implemented by companies. And, companies are still grappling with questions after they have jumped onto the bandwagon. The group hopes to share some real-world wins with companies.

We had an original goal of hitting 50 group members in the first few weeks and and we have more requests than we can handle. And, we hope to grow the group purely through good old word of mouth. So, if you know someone who is implementing social media at companies or small businesses, you may wanna share this group with them.

What is the group mix? 

To achieve our goal of surfacing real world examples and helping the social media community, we aim to grow the membership along three broad categories. If you’re in the space, you’ll probably recognize a lot of the folks mentioned below. Here are some examples of the social media folks (areas as broad as community, marketing, PR at companies) you’ll find in our group today.

I. Companies, Startups, and Universities 

  1. Lionel from Dell
  2. Tom from Kodak
  3. Sonal at Xerox PARC
  4. Esteban at Samsung
  5. James from Genentech
  6. Ian from Stanford University
  7. Christopher at AT&T
  8. Umang from Microsoft
  9. Ryan at NBC
  10. Vanessa from Hilton …

II. Social Platforms 

  1. Yours truly at LinkedIn
  2. Karen from Twitter (just started at Twitter this week)
  3. Ramya at YouTube News and Politics
  4. Oliver from Google

I’ve also invited the social / community folks from Google, and Google+, but they are yet to join. I’m not sure who currently runs Facebook’s blog (social and community efforts) let me know or ping them with the group link. Or, just leave a comment.

III. Events, Conferences and Media

  1. Kristie from Social Media Club
  2. Amalia from TNW
  3. Robyn from RWW, besides others…

This should give you an example of what to expect should you join the group and your peers you’ll find in the group.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to surface any shared learnings we have as a group that will benefit the larger community of social media practitioners.  So, come join us.

p.s. Wondering why we picked LinkedIn groups. I considered a broad range of options and LinkedIn was not only the ideal setting (given most social media managers at companies can be found on the platform) but it’s also a great way to check out their latest social media work (through their up-to-date LinkedIn profiles vs. using Google Groups for e.g. that’s more email based).

Are you in social media? Come join us!

Filed under: Best-of, Miscellaneous

What Would Steve Jobs Do?

The entire technology world has collectively mourned this past week, the recent passing away of Steve Jobs. There have been numerous eulogies (most of them very well written) but the most important ones will always remain the personal anecdotes about Jobs. I myself mourned his loss with this tribute, and readers of this blog and my tumblr have probably read the countless posts I’ve written on Jobs, his words, and his work.

What would Steve Jobs do?

What would Steve Jobs do?

But, I think it’s easy to deify the man with all those eulogies and forget what he really stood for. I though John Lilly from Greylock Partners really nailed it by putting things in the right perspective.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the outpouring of sentiment about people who want to be like Steve. There’s a sort of beatification going on that I think misses the point. He was never a nostalgic man at all, and I can’t help but feel like he would think this posthumous attention was, in a lot of ways, a waste — seems like he’d have wanted people to get back to inventing.

Amen to that. I think this echoes one of my favorite essays of all time – Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson – which Emerson begins with:

To believe in your own thought, to believe what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is genius. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton, is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought. A man, should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament from bards and sages.

So, what would Jobs do? John’s post, borrows from Naval’s tweet, summarizes thus:

Be yourself and work as hard as you can to bring wonderful things into the world. Figure out how you want to contribute and do that, in your own way, on your own terms, as hard as you can, as much as you can, as long as you can.

Oddly enough, that line reminds me of another line from Self Reliance and I think this is a great message to takeaway with us, as we aim to accomplish the best that we can, in our chosen lines of work — with passion, dedication and integrity.

Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place that providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating through all their being.

So, let’s get out there and kick some butt! And, really make a difference in our lives and that of the people around us. Thank You, Steve!


Filed under: Miscellaneous

America is to Apple as China is to…

These were some thoughts I shared on Quora recently on the topic of countries and brands, around the July 4th weekend. The question asked was around what it means for a country to have a brand and if so what brand was China’s? Inevitably my arguments revolved around (you guessed right): Apple.

To me, much like everyday brands associated with products, a country too has a brand value commensurate to the set of values associated to its core identity.

To me:

America is Apple. The monarchy can be represented by IBM, Microsoft and Google over the years.

China is Walmart.

For a brand to stand the test of time (in a world with choices), the brand proposition should be based on core values that are ideals people aspire towards, and are not necessarily product related nor can they be commoditized (think Xerox).

With regards to America and China: America’s brand value will always remain – freedom. Apple (under the guidance of Steve Jobs) ably portrayed themselves as the brand that stood for freedom against the tyranny of IBM.

Check out the quintessential 1984 Apple Ad (embedded above).

Apple had a shot at becoming the super-power only to see them relegated once again as a rebel force with Microsoft taking the crown. Even now (despite their leadership) they can still be portrayed as battling the institution called Google.

Apple’s brand values will always remain freedom, innovation, and design. And, if they steer clear of it, they’re bound to fail (as they did under a non-Jobs leadership).

On the other hand, as Ashton Lee explains in his answer to this question, China’s brand proposition today is of low cost, cheap goods, much like Walmart is today. These are not values that are necessary aspirational. That said, post-Olympics, the world has started perceiving China differently, and time will tell what direction their brand will evolve towards over time.

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Death, Taxes, and Murphy’s Law.

Updated with thoughtful comments from readers. Scroll down.

So, I was supposed to be in Austin today for my annual South by Southwest (SXSW) trek . But, given the certain constancy of Murphy’s Law, I find myself back in Toronto writing this blog post. Boy, what a day (and what a way) to cap a momentous week at work.

Earlier today, I found myself running to Gate No. 164 in Toronto International Airport after being detained for a random inspection at customs, which in my case, is regular enough at this point. Well, the last time I sat through one of these, it took me 15 minutes, but this time it took over an hour and as I sat waiting with a bunch of others, I noticed I had cut it too close this time.

I missed my flight by 5 minutes.

Worse still, all the United Airlines personnel had left the building since it was the last United flight for the day (finding this out took me a half hour!). Equally odd was my experience of having to make a U-turn and walk straight through Canadian immigration (with my I-94 still stamped on my passport) since there were no available flights for tomorrow. And, the best part was I panicked that my checked-in luggage was now somewhere en route to Austin, Texas. Luckily, a half hour later I did find it at Carousel No. 13 (So, all was not lost).

Eh, well. I could go on. But, that’d defeat the point of this post.

Shit happens. But our response to it builds character.

I bet there are two schools of thought. One who assume that individuals with strength of character deal with tough situations with grace. But, I’m sure that’s not the way it works. Rather, it’s our response to such situations over time that helps build that strength of character. Now, I’m sure there are worse things than missing an international flight narrowly by a few minutes. But, trying to salvage some minimal goodness out of it and not focusing on the negativity is sure as heck harder than it seems.

It also reminded me of a wonderful anecdote narrated by Mayor Cory Booker when he spoke at LinkedIn earlier this week. This one too involved an airport and a flight. He talked about how he found his good luck at finding perfect seats on a flight turn into a nightmare, but the choice he made helped turn it around and make it a pleasant experience for him and the family seated right next to him. Sure, I ruined a good story (you’ve got to hear him speak). But, even when the tough situation just involves you, the choices we make helps save our day.

So, here’s what’s gonna happen. I’m gonna see my long-time-no-see friends, I was hoping to catch up with, on Sunday. And, there’s always another year, another South By Southwest. But, one thing’s for sure. I’m gonna use tomorrow in a productive fashion. Gonna get rid of my dumb phone that has been the bane of my existence, get my new iPhone, and get some blogging done.

Yes. If nothing else. The one good I can claim this resulted in, is get me to kick that writers-block squarely in the nuts. And, it’s back to blogging, baby.

Thanks for your thoughts and kind words! Here’s some:

Michael Lee Stallard


Paul Roetzer from PR 20/20

Those TabbedOut guys

Wade Burgess

Ben Wise

And, to my good friends and peers. See you on Sunday.


Filed under: Miscellaneous

How can I increase my productivity?

This post too has its origins on Quora, so I recommend you check out the other answers on the thread. And, if you like my answer, consider voting for it. But, I digress. Here are some tips on enhancing productivity.

I agree with a lot of salient points that Yishan Wong raises, esp. batched email / IM processing, but I guess it’s effectiveness also depends on what kind of role you find yourself. For someone in Public Relations that just may not work out.

That said, I think there’s one simple approach that hasn’t been explicitly called out, that could truly make a difference:

1. Singletasking:

I was alerted to this through a post from Caterina Fake (…). It’s worth repeating here.

  • Start work rightaway each morning
  • minimize interruptions, feed reading, chat / IM
  • maximize working on one thing at a time
  • use phone or in-person visit for roadblocks or questions (not chat)
  • send email anytime
  • check email only at 10am, 1pm, and 4pm
  • no email evenings or weekends
  • focus on 1 – 3 activities each day
  • stop work at 6pm no exceptions

Some of these remind me of Yishan’s tips. Also, if you’re brave enough to jettison email watching, I’d recommend saying so in your email signature in case people wonder why you haven’t responded yet. Again, depends on the precedent you’ve set.

2. Paper rocks!

I think just getting your tasks down on paper at the start of the day (maybe the prior day) helps keep in context the “why / high level picture” behind the numerous tasks you find yourselves doing each day.

Increasingly I’ve found Google Docs an effective replacement for my moleskine and saves me the trouble of figuring out a way to destroy the old notes. I break down my To-do page into the following cascaded task sets:

  • Whiteboard: As soon as I get to my desk each day, I write down the 3 – 5 urgent tasks I know I need to complete rightaway.
  • Today: Everything besides the 3 or 5 key tasks that also need to be complete today.
  • Next: This is unlikely to be complete today but needs to happen to achieve milestones for the next week. So, if for e.g. I need to make a decision on finding a web dev consultant by next week, I may need to fire off a bunch of emails with project requirements and that may need to happen tomorrow.
  • Weekend: Every once in a while, I remember something I need to buy at the groceries that I don’t want to lose track of. That goes here.

I also use separate browsers to compartmentalize my work units. Chrome full-screen for all google apps / work email, etc. and Firefox for all my browsing needs (as a blog editor, I need to do a ton of research online – Techmeme, etc).

Filed under: Miscellaneous