My online presence

Aside from my blog, I maintain a few other sites:

Aside from that I have profiles on a whole bunch of sites:


Google +


View Jilles Van Gurp's profile on LinkedIn


I’m AzkaarAli on Twitter

Aside from all this stuff you are likely to find me in various forums where I usually use my own name instead of some alias. I used to just claim the username Azkaarali/Azkaar Ali on most sites but it seems that despite the fact that I never met a single person with the same name, several do exist on the internet. .I’ve been online for over ten years now and that kind of leaves a trace in some unlikely places. Some of the things I wrote in the past look silly or stupid when I read them now but I have a simple principle that if I’m not willing to put my name under it, I probably should not be writing it in the first place. It’s one of the few principles I apply more or less consistently, the other one being that I have no principles (which I apply much less consistently).


Apple:World’s Most Valuable Brand

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

A new survey on the value of brands has placed Apple as the world’s most valuable brand, ending Google’s four-year reign at the top of the list. The ‘Brandz’ survey, done by global brands agency Millward Brown, found that the Apple brand is worth an estimated $153 billion, which was an 84% increase from last years survey.

Global brands director of Millward Brown, Peter Walshe, said that Apple’s pointed to a number of factors that has led to Apple’s rapid rise in brand valuation. He said that their meticulous attention detail and presence in corporate environment were two of the reasons that they have behaved differently to other consumer electronics manufacturers and went on to say:

Apple is breaking the rules in terms of its pricing model. It’s doing what luxury brands do, where the higher price the brand is, the more it seems to underpin and reinforce the desire. Obviously, it has to be allied to great products and a great experience, and Apple has nurtured that.

Technology and telecommunications companies generally dominated the list, with Apple (1), Google (2), IBM (3), Microsoft (5), AT&T (7) and China Mobile (9) holding six of the top 10 spots, sharing it with the old-heavyweight brands of Coca-Cola (6) and McDonalds (4). Meanwhile Facebook entered the top 100 at number 35 this year, with a valuation of $19.1 billion.

The survey is done by Millward Brown essentially observing the value that the companies put on their own brands in their earnings reports and analysing it in conjunction with the results of a survey of more than 2 million consumers.

The World’s Most Valuable Brands

I bet you use multiple products from some of these companies every day:

No. 1: Apple

Brand value: $57.4 billion

No. 2: Microsoft

Brand value: $56.6 billion

No. 3: Coca-Cola

Brand value: $55.4 billion

No. 4: IBM

Brand value: $43 billion

No. 5: Google

Brand value: $39.7 billion

No. 6: McDonald’s

Brand value: $35.9 billion

No. 7: General Electric

Brand value: $33.7 billion

No. 8: Marlboro

Brand value: $29.1 billion

No. 9: Intel

Brand value: $28.6 billion

No. 10: Nokia

Brand value: $27.4 billion

Get the details from Top Brands

New Gmail Design Leaked

A version of Gmail used by Google employees has been revealed in a screenshot included with a Chromium OS bug report, and the image reveals more than a half dozen changes to the Gmail most of us are using today.

Savvy Gmail users immediately picked apart the screenshot looking for new features and interesting changes. Most notably, Mail, Contacts and Tasks have all been featured in the top left as the three pillars of the user experience. Right below those, you can see that “Compose Mail” is now an actual button, not just a text link. That’s simply an aesthetic change, but it’s an interesting choice regardless.

Following that theme, there are no longer text links to actions such as “Select All” or “Select None” — those appear to now exist under a textless drop-down box above the Inbox. Drop-down boxes are ubiquitous in general, actually. Note that the e-mail address at the top menu is accompanied by a drop-down box — could that be the Gmail account switcher that Google promised?

Look in the chat window and you’ll see a new “Call Phone” button. That might be Google Voice  integration. You’ll also see two little buttons in the top-right corner of the Google Talk window; one of those could be a rejiggered settings menu, but it’s hard to tell for sure.

Google Earth Now Displays Real-Time Rain and Snow

The latest version of Google’sGoogle 3D map application, Google EarthGoogle Earth, now has the ability to display real-time rain and snow in certain parts of the world.

To see it, you must first enable the clouds layer, and then zoom in to a location where it’s raining or snowing. Google Earth displays rain and snow only in certain parts of North America and Europe; to see where exactly the new feature is available, enable the radar layer.

The weather simulation adds another layer of coolness to the already mesmerizing Google Earth application. Since it displays rain and snow in real time, the feature can actually be useful as a precise visualization of what weather is like in a certain place. It may, however, render all of those weather-related chats you have with friends and relatives over the phone even more meaningless.

Unfortunately, there’s no word on when this feature might be enabled in other parts of the world.

Google before you Tweet?

One of my friend sent me this link a few days ago. I wish I had checked it out sooner. As far as I can tell it was originally posted here, though it was sent to me via

This poster is reminiscent of an SAT analogies question. Google before you _______: Think before you Speak. But is this true? Is Googling really the new thinking? Is Tweeting the new speaking? Besides the obvious change from a non-digital form of the action, we’ve replaced thinking and speaking with brand names. As much as I love Google and Twitter, they are companies. Thinking and speaking are my own creation, yes, defined by a word, but at least I don’t have to follow it with a (r) or ™ sign. Or pay royalties. But this might just be a mountain out of a mole-hill. After all, when I sneeze, I ask for a Kleenex.

There is the obvious applicability to personal branding. Tweeting is very public, like many forms of speaking, particularly when gabbing with the rumor-spreaders at work. Rumor-spreaders probably love Twitter, too, since it makes it easier to share the gossip. Only unlike just thinking before you speak, we now have lots of tools to be sure that not only is the information we’re sharing accurate, it is applicable. For instance, before posting this blog, I Googled the phrase “Google before you Tweet” and discovered that most of the mentions of this poster on the first few pages of results are just that, an image of the poster with little or no comment or analytical response.

So yes, please Google your topic before you Tweet about it. Be sure that you don’t jump into the middle of a conversation without knowing the details. It helps to prevent you from looking the fool. But please remember that Googling is not thinking. Googling happens on your computer; thinking happens in your brain. Both are useful.

Is Google at Risk of Becoming the Next Microsoft?

Note: The following post is by Peter Sims, co-author of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership with Bill George. His next book, Little Bets, debuts with Simon & Schuster next spring, with previews on

In late April, JP Morgan invited me to a “thought leaders dinner” to discuss the latest goings on in Silicon Valley and digital media. In a private room at the swanky San Francisco restaurant Kokkari, there were about 20 of us seated around a long rectangular table, including venture capitalists from prominent firms, highly successful entrepreneurs, and a handful of people from J.P. Morgan, including Jimmy Lee, the firm’s well-known Vice Chairman, who sat at the head of the table. (I was, like Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham Crash Davis, “the player to be named later.”)

Anyhow, after about an hour and a few glasses wine, Jimmy raised the main question he was curious about: “I want to know from each of you: which company would you go long on and which would you short?” We could pick any timeframe. And, as it turned out, while the long picks varied widely from Amazon to Yahoo!, 12 of the 15 ‘thought leaders’ shorted Google. Jimmy was surprised, virtually astounded: “Wow!” he exclaimed, “You guys are really negative on Google, huh?”

I, too, was surprised. Google has been, after all, the most successful company in recent history (in terms of churning out growth and profits), led by Eric Schmidt, a well-respected CEO. And, we’ve seen book after book about why everyone should be more like Google. I admire Google, its people, and what they have been able to accomplish enormously. It’s astonishing. But the opinions in that room were not based on the company’s past performance. They were based on insights about Google’s future. Below are the reasons people cited for shorting the company (which, interestingly, were fairly diverse):

  • Google has experienced a severe talent drain over the past several years, losing some of its most entrepreneurial and innovative people. Although Google’s has high retention rates, Google’s talent challenge is not in terms of numbers, it’s the type of people who are leaving and why they are leaving. The talent drain from Google has been well documented. Venture capitalists in the room (without a vested interest in the companies) argued that Facebook and Zynga are currently considered hot places to work in Silicon Valley. Google has, for example, seen a stream of people leave for Facebook including, more recently, the likes of Erick Tseng, the senior product manager of Android, Google’s critically important mobile initiative.People close go Google say upward management is slowly replacing the company’s early culture of innovation. Entrepreneurial types and thought leaders who feel confined or unmotivated are moving. People will even say that it reminds them of Yahoo back in 2004-2005, not the meritocracy they once joined.
  • The company has run out of easy growth opportunities and must now find big chunks of new revenue. With the core search business maturing, Google increasingly seems to increasingly feel the need to make some “big bets.” That is a problem that maturing companies face that CEOs call “the tyranny of large numbers.” Even mobile search, which is seeing impressive growth numbers of a small base, is still too small to make a material difference for the company. The company is obviously trying like crazy to find growth pockets, knowing that mobile is a ways off. The recent $700 million ITA acquisition is a great case in point of how it is going to spread out some medium-sized to big-bets to see what sticks. That is, companies must find bigger and bigger chunks of revenue to maintain growth rates. This problem is documented well by innovation researchers Professor Clayton Christensen in The Innovators Solution, and Jim Collins in How the Mighty Fall.
  • The company lacks a coherent strategy, especially in mobile. As Schmidt and other Google execs have stated, mobile is core to future growth. A number of people around the table that night had unique insight into Google’s mobile efforts. They argued that growing nascent mobile revenues will take significant time, especially since there aren’t many sizable acquisition targets available in mobile after Google’s purchase of AdMob. Instead, the recent purchase of ITA Software was an indicator of how the company might make some medium to big bets to see what sticks.
  • It’s about people, people, people. Google’s engineering-dominated culture isn’t news to anyone. But As Peter Drucker opined in his landmark book Innovation and Entrepreneurship, “Successful innovators…look at figures, and they look at people.” The company has long recruited people who fit a very specific profile.

Product manager candidates, for example, are told they must have computer science degrees from top universities. But while Google’s core algorithm was a brilliant feat of engineering innovation, a growing chorus of voices question whether it can be sustained. That cookie-cutter approach to people misses important opportunities for diversity and creates glass ceilings for non-engineers, both of which stifle innovation. Cultural hubris, another pattern Jim Collins in particular raises, is of foremost concern. It is often said that at Google the engineers lead engineering, product, and even marketing decisions. But when the company has failed, such as with Google Wave or Google Radio, critics have questioned whether the company really understands people.

For these reasons and more, perhaps the question that “in the know” Silicon Valley observers are now increasingly asking is: Could Google be the next Microsoft? That is, much like Google revolutionized search, Microsoft was a pioneer with its market-dominating operating systems and Microsoft Office. But outside the Xbox, Microsoft has struggled severely to produce new innovations. Deeper cultural problems were hidden by amazing performance and success.

One thing is for certain: it’s a pivotal time in Google’s history. If the company does not put these types of issues on the table, the chorus of short sellers will increase. But with mountains of cash, access to great people and big problems, I see the moment as an opportunity. It’s a chance to reflect, ask some tough questions, openly discuss the challenges, and incorporate some fresh thinking and people, so that this great symbol of global innovation can evolve and grow.

What do you think—are you long or short? Is Google at risk of becoming the next Microsoft or on the verge of a creative explosion?