roughly edged ideas about building stuff

some stories are never told…because no one asks

Posted by suneelgupta on April 21, 2009

Tonight, Sanjay and I launch the Kahani Movement, a social network aimed at capturing stories from South Asians that immigrated to the United States, and giving these stories a platform to be heard.

After fleeing the bloodshed of India and Pakistan’s partition, my mom, as a child refugee, decided she would one day be an engineer for Ford Motor Company. She worked her way from impoverished areas of Gujurat to Frankfurt, Germany, where she eventually saved enough for the journey to Detroit in 1963. After being turned away several times, she finally convinced a hiring manager at Ford to give her 15 minutes. He began the conversation by saying “We don’t have any female engineers on staff,” to which she replied: “If you don’t begin with me, you may never have that benefit.”And that is how Damyanti “Rani” Gupta became Ford’s first female engineer.

Every family has a story that is worth preserving. This is why tonight my brother Sanjay and I are launching the Kahani Movement, an open-source film project focused on telling stories from South Asians that immigrated to the United States, during the opening ceremony of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. We began Kahani, which means “story” in Hindi, with three goals in mind:

1. Assemble a well-organized archive of content that helps current and future generations better understand the South Asian immigration experience. I believe that second-generation immigrants reach a point in their lives when they begin to truly appreciate their parents’ story. When that switch flips, we want people to document their discoveries. Specifically, we want second-generation South Asians to pick up camera, interview their parents, and upload these stories to

2. Empower the Kahani community to collaborative creatively. Simon Beaufoy was inspired to write Slumdog Millionaire after reading the novel, Q&A. Similarly, Kahani Movement inspires community members to add their content under a Creative Commons license and remix the community’s content to tell the the South Asian immigration story in new, imaginative ways.

3. Inspire others outside of the South Asian community to create their own Kahani Movement. Every community has powerful stories that are worth preserving. An important goal for Kahani is to lower the barrier to capturing these stories by creating a digital model that is easy to replicate.

In about an hour, Sanjay, Leena, and I will be driving to the Arclight Cinema to unveil the Kahani Movement vision to an audience of over 500 people. I’m anxious for a few reasons. Kahani is special to me personally on different levels. Kahani has changed the way I look at storytelling and made me realize the amount of influence a well-told story can have. It has given me the opportunity to blend my interest in tech with a longstanding passion for film, which never quite left me since the day I stayed up way past my bedtime to watch “the Graduate”. It has brought me closer to my parents, and given me the opportunity to collaborate with my big brother, my best friend and greatest mentor. If my mother were here with me in L.A., she’d sense my anxiousness. She would sit me down and tell me a story about how she was nervous walking into an all-boys engineering school in India. I miss that story.


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Nineteen Degrees of Happiness

Posted by suneelgupta on January 28, 2009

I’m eight days late posting about our trip to D.C. To make up for it, I pulled together some video from inauguration. Since everyone has already seen much higher-quality footage of the actual ceremony, here is a condensed version of our 3-hour journey to travel 2 miles to the Capitol. It was nineteen degrees. It was packed. And everyone was happy.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Nineteen Degrees of Happiness on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod

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introducing the obama innovation network

Posted by suneelgupta on January 17, 2009

The Davos Debates ask for video submissions to the question: “Will the Obama Administration improve the state of the world in 2009?” Leena and I treated ourselves to a Flip camcorder over the holidays and decided to put it to use. Our answer proposes that the 44th president discover and empower new ideas by creating the “Obama Innovation Network”. Lots of specifics to be worked out, but check it out and let me know what you think:

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brilliant disguises

Posted by suneelgupta on December 14, 2008

“We have a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”

Tom Friedman’s latest book (hot, flat, and crowded) reminded me of this quote. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure who coined the phrase (some say Lee Iacoca), but it’s relevant to nearly every important challenge the incoming White House will tackle. The questions are 1) how do we uncover the opportunities that are hidden behind complex problems?, and 2) how do we break seemingly insoluble problems into manageable components…and solve?

Lots of thinking to be done here, but the White House would be remiss if it didn’t source the public for answers to these important questions. People like Mark Surman and Vivek Kundra have been advocating and implementing game-changing ideas on how to partner with the public to solve problems at the municipal level.

Rather than attempting to spin out brand new ideas, the White House should first take a critical look at smaller existing initiatives like these to figure out 1) what has and hasn’t worked, and 2) how we can scale proven ideas to the federal level. With the help of an energized public, problems become opportunities and insurmountable challenges become specific, shared goals.

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should Mozilla empower movements?

Posted by suneelgupta on November 11, 2008

In my last post (build your movement here), I thought out loud about Mozilla creating a “Movement Suite”, which would offer a set of applications to empower any group looking to build or expand a movement. In his reply, Mark Surman correctly pointed out that existing sites, such as Social Source Commons, have similar offerings. So there are two issues here: 1) whether Mozilla can make a meaningful contribution in the movement empowerment space; and 2) whether Mozilla would be competing with existing sites if it made this contribution.

1. Can Mozilla make meaningful contributions to a crowded space of sites that offer a central point for movements to build their toolkits? My sense is that we can for two reasons. First, the Mozilla add-ons site, which would be a natural place for a “movement suite” to live, has the traffic to ramp adoption of movement applications better than any other mission-based site I’m aware of. According to, is the 797th most popular online site (over the past 3 months) and nearly 85% of that traffic directs itself to the add-ons site. The ramp is further illustrated by the following chart, which compares traffic with that of, a fantastic and relatively well-known resource for movement builders. and Traffic

The second, and more important reason, is that Mozilla has enough trust to ramp a movement suite. A high traffic applications site doesn’t have impact if a user doesn’t trust it enough to proceed with a download. At the beginning of the year, Ken Kovash at Mozilla announced that 600 million add-ons had been downloaded from This is a positive sign of trust.

2. Would Mozilla be competing with existing sites like Social Source and Tech Soup if it decided to help empower movements? I don’t think it would. The primary objective of a “movement suite” is not to build, but to gather existing applications into a central point. Mozilla’s add-ons site currently hosts over 6,000 add-ons, the overwhelming majority of which were not built internally. To create a movement suite, Mozilla might pick the best 8-10 applications for movement building and package them, like Linked In did with its application suite. If other non-profit sites share our vision to empower movements by guiding them to the right tools, then we would be supporting their mission, not competing against it.

Furthermore, a movement suite might actually include tools built by other movement enablers. Mozilla’s objective would be to promote these tools widely so that more movements have the tools they need to operate effectively.

Lots of wrinkles and further thought needed here. First, we need to continue to build our list of applications that would go into the suite (eg, what does a group need to build a movement effectively?). Second, we need to determine a fair way to select the best applications that achieve these objectives amongst over 6,000 add-ons that live on the site. Third, we need to figure out a way to push the movement suite to those who need it the most – other than promoting it on the add-ons site.

I continue to seek advice, and have learned a lot over the past few days from Nicholas Reville at the Participatory Culture Foundation as well as Atul Varma and Paul Kim at Mozilla. These conversations are helping me to move past the “why” and on to the “how”.

Posted in Movement, Mozilla, Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

build your movement here

Posted by suneelgupta on November 5, 2008

At MozCamp Europe, where I met many members of the Firefox community, it became clear to me that Mozilla hasn’t just built a product…it has built a movement. I wonder if the next step is to help others build theirs.

LinkedIn recently created a suite of applications to enable its users to have a stronger professional web presence. The question is whether Mozilla should create a similar suite of applications to strengthen web capabilities for movements and if so, what kinds of tools should be included in the suite?


My sense is that developing a “Movement Suite” makes sense for three reasons. First, in recent weeks, we have started to think hard about how to engage a broader public.  One clear way to accomplish this is to support a long tail of missions that need to leverage the web to accomplish their goals. Second, Firefox-based movements would organically attract and retain new people to the user community. Third, making the web a better tool for social good aligns with Mozilla’s overall mission to make the web a healthier place.

If we agree that this makes sense, then let’s think about the type of tools a Movement Suite would include.  Atul Varma and I brainstormed about this for a bit and developed some initial thoughts:

1. A mass-mailing tool for email campaigns. For example, a Mail Chimp type tool to help movements design compelling emails and distribute them at scale.

2. A discussion tool to promote ideas and encourage discussion. Atul pointed out that of the 15 candidates that recently for the San Francisco Board of Education, only 7 of them set up websites, and only 1 of those 7 had a campaign blog.

3. A concept sharing tool to help collaborate on vision. For example, LinkedIn included Slide Share in their application suite and we could consider including a similar tool.

Those are just some initial thoughts and this list needs expansion. If you wanted to start a new movement today, what types of tools would you need to get it off the ground quickly?

Posted in Movement, Mozilla | 5 Comments »

Great Day to Be an Idealist

Posted by suneelgupta on November 5, 2008

The world is inundated with posts about what an incredible moment this is for our country, so I won’t attempt to add any distinction to the narrative. Instead, I’m going out to celebrate. All too often, I find myself out-articulated by people younger than me. This is no exception:

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A Fine Balance

Posted by suneelgupta on November 5, 2008

Mozilla is a culture of balance. Every day, the people here collaborate to strike a balance between growth and patience; between innovating and quickly following; between scale and perfection; between pragmatism and idealism; between chaos and order; and between mission and sustainability.

I began a career with Mozilla a month ago and find myself thinking back to the first time a friend told me about Mozilla. It was November 2004 and I had just wrapped up 10 months of hard, but failed, campaigning to bring change to the Oval Office.

From an internet café in Bombay – and in a self-righteous state of mind – I IM’d a friend: “I worry that people don’t question the status quo”, to which he responded: “you should check out the dudes at Firefox”.

It means a lot to be here, and my goals are pretty clear: 1) help move Mozilla’s mission forward in a meaningful way, 2) be a strong operator, and 3) do my best not to disrupt the balance.

This is my first post, and I’ll be trying to share thoughts as often as possible. My hope is that you’ll consider them, and tell me why you agree or disagree.

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