Lose-Lose Situation

That, I believe is what Hasbro and Scrabulous have gotten each other into. In case you guys have been tardy and not playing Scrabulous on Facebook, Scrabulous, a popular app on Facebook, modeled on Scrabble – the board game, has had to remove its application from the US and Canada, (for IP – the intellectual property kind, infringement) and Hasbro, who hold th rights for North Americsa,  has done enough successful PR to be seen as the evil corporate monster. I hope Mattel is listening, as its case is awaiting resolution, and will affect the rest of the world. This is a worthwhile read on the finer legal points in this case, in terms of the American Copyright law.

I’ve been an avid user of Scrabulous and even joined the petition to ‘help save scrabulous’, which has about 50,000 members. I did that, then, on an emotional appeal level, without getting it into the right and wrong. The Agarwala brothers, who own the application had maintained that their intention was not to make money. Maybe it wasn’t initially. But, later too? Funny, considering that Scrabulous, at its peak had about half a million users and was generating $25000 per week from advertising. Funny also, that they didn’t just take the first payment agreement option that Hasbro had proposed. (rumoured to be around $10 million)

All this triggered a few thoughts. The makers of Scrabulous would definitely have known that they were on slippery territory as far as IPR goes, why did they have to do it. Yes, they did the world a favour by recreating a favourite game, and if, having realised their error, they accepted the Hasbro offer, all would have ended well. But perhaps, our democracy has also left us with a legacy of disregard for the law, of forcing grays between right and wrong, and turning a blind eye.

For me, it also brought to light a not-so-great facet of the crowd driven, transparency seeking, web 2.0.  The founder of the group I’d mentioned earlier, a 15 year old, has collected a list of 1000 people who have promised never to buy a Scrabble board if Hasbro forced Scrabulous to close down. A guy who tried to start a discussion within the group on how Hasbro was right, got booed out of the place, with an allegation that he worked for Hasbro in some capacity. There was a scare that Hasbro’s official app on Facebook had been hacked. Hasbro might have acted in the most stupid manner possible on this issue, but they were in the right. So, the question is, in the ‘crowd controlled world’ we keep forecasting, if there’s enough of a crowd that believes in a certain thing, irrespective of whether its wrong, unethical, does it still get done?  Mob Justice, isn’t that the term? It reminds me of India’s democracy, where technically the people rule, but we all know how that’s working. So, if the crowd controls the world, who controls the crowd?

As for me, I’m out of the group help ‘save scrabulous’, and have already started a game with a friend on this new application, Wordscraper, from the makers of Scrabulous. It looks considerably different from Scrabble, but is as enjoyable as the original.

until next time,”with great power comes great responsibility”

PS: Pacman has been there before :)

I do?

“I am getting married”, she said. He wasn’t ready for dealing with this, their relationship wasn’t that defined yet. ”If that’s what you want.”, he managed. “..to you” she continued, “if that’s okay with you”. He wasn’t ready for dealing with this, their relationship wasn’t that defined yet. ”If that’s what you want.”, he managed.

until next time, decision makers

PS. Inspired by this

Mark Up Pricing?

It’s been just over a month since Facebook wrested the #1 position from MySpace in terms of unique visitors to the site. That’s in spite of being only about half of MySpace in terms of traffic and having to deal with Orkut in India, Brazil etc. This, plus the fact that Facebook’s international strategy of providing the same networking tool in other countries (the only occassional concession being language) is working better than MySpace’s game of ‘communities based on local culture’ in each country – check this out in  (in India’s case), made me do a double take when I read an article recently on how Facebook should seriously consider selling out now.

While there have been debates about MS valuing it at $15 billion, and I’d side with those who say that its a tag on the higher side, I really couldn’t agree on the selling off idea. The basic premise of the argument is that once the high school and college kids (the audience driving Facebook’s exponential growth) grow up, they’ll find better toys and shiny objects to play with, and will forget Facebook.

I’d have agreed with that, but or a few factors. For starters, the way Facebook is adapting. I’d written about the new design earlier, and how Facebook had kind of ditched the old social networking premise, and quickly changed to a Friendfeed/Twitter premise of conversations. That kind of flexibility, combined with the kind of apps that keep me engaged, should help Facebook remain relevant. What, for example, prevents them from doing a ‘Second Life’ twist if virtual worlds suddenly became an even bigger rage? The traffic and the apps, I’d think have a strong correlation which benefits Facebook. The more people use the site, the more developers would want to build apps there…

Another factor is that it still has miles to grow. It’s only #2 in the US, and in markets like India, where the internet itself hasn’t reached its potential, the kind of activity we’re seeing now is not even the tip of the the berg. And what’s the investment? Unlike MySpace, which has an office for India ops, Facebook just invests in Mark Zuckerberg’s flight tickets for his rare visits. (Its an interesting read..lol)

The third factor is Facebook Connect, which will allow the portability of our social identity on it. A ‘crude’ indicator of its impact would be how you can comment on this post and it would link to your Facebook profile. It means that Facebook knows and can keep track of the real you even outside the walled garden it used to be. And that, IMHO, combined with the MS association which keeps getting deeper, will really enable it to challenge Google and its plans for world domination.

And though I was mildly irritated by their inclination towards the BOSS (Build Operate Sell Stake) way, I remain a huge Facebook fan, as the tags on your right would prove, and still believe that Facebook’s biggest success is that, at a basic level, it allows me to connect with people, on the multiple interest points that i share with them, from Bollywood to F1 and quite a few others, and after they’re done with sending me virtual beers and throwing sheep at me, we can really sit down and have some great interactions on things we are interested in.

until next time, break the walls down

Comic Trip

Towards the end of last year, there was some frenetic activity in the Indian comic space. Since Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle are among the wonderful things that are an intrinsic part of my childhood memories, I thought a post on the same has been due for a long time now. And the news that Chandamama has launched language versions was a good trigger. Chandamama had done a relaunch of the site sometime in December last year. I remember this interview from around that time, when the CEO spoke about the different platforms they were targeting – print, radio, mobiles, movies, television and online.

I think it was around the same time that ACK media picked up the controlling stake in Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle. I thought Tinkle’s site was a fine effort, where kids can create avatars, play games, solve puzzles and crosswords, exchange cards. They even have a reward scheme for these activities which can be redeemed at the Tinkle Bazaar. While on that, i’d rate Chandamama’s website efforts fairly lower than that of Tinkle, but I’m sure they will improve. ACK Media has also acquired Karadi tales, which has some very good audio-video content.

I believe that both have a very strong future. (where exactly does Virgin Comics fit into all this?) Meanwhile, these brands are a part of every (current) late 20- late 30 year old’s childhood. They have a massive equity and trust factor among this generation. What I am intrigued by, however is how the communication for such brands will work. Who are the real target audience here? Mummy and Papa, who still remember Suppandi, Shikari Shambhu & co or the kids who, in the long term will be the final consumers. (after people like me finish a few rounds of nostalgia :) ).Will my generation be used as a bridge to connect with the future generations? A sort of ‘mere zamaane main baap ke zamaane ke comics’. And that’s where my query lies.

While, during my childhood, these brands were built quite easily, thanks to lesser clutter and because the respect for the printed word was unchallenged, times have changed. Attention spans have now diminished to 140 characters ;) . Competition is no longer just the printed word, but niche television channels and perhaps in a generic space, even something as out-of-the-radar as say, a McDonalds? After all, we are talking about the mindshare of the kid and the wallet share of the parents. So who will these entities speak to – ask parents to connect their kids to their favourite childhood characters, or directly to the kids?  Are these communication lines mutually exclusive, would kids not want to be interested in their parents’ childhood friends? Also, will the characters that we enjoyed satisfy the needs of today’s generation or will they be buried by an XBox or a Playstation. The answer, I guess, is in making these relevant to today’s kids. I also think, that, rather than try to build from print up, it might be worthwhile to try building the characters on say, television, and animated movies, a sort of re-creating the brand for a new generation on platforms that they are comfortable with, and then loop it back to the basic print medium.

The timing is a bit late, since characters from CN and Pogo have already made their presence felt in the Indian kid’s psyche (judging from the merchandise i see, and the kids’ craze for them), but  still salvageable. From a business sense (in addition to subscription), these entities, once successful will easily find their way into the budgets of all kid brands, which makes it all the more important to build strong brand equity among the current generation. This is a good read on the subject. Speaking of comics, check out this viral from makaan, it’s in context.

It is often said that the brands which tell the best stories win, there’s definitely no derath of stories, far as these brands are concerned. ;)

until next time, stop kidding around :)

Update 06/08/08 – ACK planning a website.

Welcome to the Dark Site

The story of the day has been Cuil (pronounced Cool), a new search engine. So, what was so special about this that everyone sat up and took notice? Well, for starters, it has to do with the starters. (okay, bad one) – ex-google personnel. In addition, it boasts of indexing 120 billion pages, a semi-semantic approach to search (understands connection between words and will help throw up better results thanks to better page ranking) and it does not store IP addresses. While I’m not averse to doing a complete review, I think there are those who are better qualified for that, this one is quite a sharp and comprehensive piece, and has amazing links too. And this, is a riot!! :)

All I’ll say is that the number of indexed pages is not exactly the benefit I’m looking for as a user, the relevance of the results is. And when a search engine learns to beat Google on that, and consistently, we’ll talk. I tried various searches on Cuil, and while the display is arguably better (since it shows more details and lets me know if thats the page I was looking for), the results, unfortunately are no match for Google. I liked the energy saving (?) black touch though, visually, puts it bang opposite Google’s white. :)

On a sidenote, if you’re interested in looking at cluster based search engines, give Clusty a spin, and do me a favour, check out the others in this list too, and we can compare notes :)

Also, I’d like to think that a one-up on search is also not enough to be a google killer. Google is so entrenched in the way we operate these days, that even starting a mindshare battle would be an uphill climb.

Meanwhile, Google has also been poking its nose in Wikipedia territory, with the launch of Knol. Though its been said that its more similar to Squidoo, the broad territory remains the same. But unlike wikipedia, where there is one entry per subject and users add/delete/edit, there can be several ‘Knol’ s on each subject, and creators can earn revenue, courtesy Ad Sense. The final authority for accepting changes on his Knol rests with the creator.

I, for one, shall stay with wikipedia, because Google these days is overwhelming me, and making me quite afraid of its monopolistic potential on the web. Imagine the kind of grip they would have over users, when say, it decides to throw Knol results above wikipedia results. Decides to put knol widgets inside orkut, blogger, youtube, lively and so on? All of them with relevant Ad Sense banners, which help users to make money. Yes, there might be better products out there in each of those verticals I’ve mentioned, but who can challenge them on an integrated bouquet?

In such a scenario, Google may not be able to resist the temptations of the Dark Side.

until next time, don’t be evil ;)

Mocha

And, at long last, we finally landed up at Mocha on Lavelle Road. Keep going down Lavelle Road (from MG Road) and this is about 50 m after the Walton/Lavelle/Vittal Mallya junction, just before Java City. We got in by about 7.45, and the place was already fairly crowded. We sat indoors, but there’re also some very good outdoor seating options.

Disclaimer: There’s a bit of anarchy in the ordering sequence.  At this place, we order the shake first, and then decide what to eat. It has nothing to do with The Joker. Blame it on the chocolate.:)

So, we first ordered a Dutch truffle cake shake. The menu said it was a chocolate shake so sinful you might want to go for a confession. I confess they were right. The quality and the quantity. It must be said that we arrived on this particular choice after much debate all thanks to the exhaustive options available.

To fill up the rest of our collective tummies, we ordered a Country Roast Chicken Panino and a Blackened Balti Chicken Crustini. The former is wildfire roasted chicken and slaw served with fresh basil presto, and the latter is chicken and peppers cooked in balti spice. While we were slightly concerned about Balti, it turned out to be just fine. :) However, we found that these two, while not lacking in taste or flavours, we e not sufficient to leave us satiated. So, again, afer much debate, we decided against having dessert (thanks to familiarity with the humongous portions that are served here) and ordered one more snack – Pollo con Aioli, which is marinated chicken with Aioli. No, we had no clue on who (er, what) Aioli was. :) It tasted a bit like corn, and a bit like the soggy peanuts we sometimes have, but overall was a bit bland. The saving grace was the sauce they gave with it. On hindsight, we really should’ve been gluttonous and gone for that ‘That Chocolate Thing’. For now, all we’re left with is its description – rich gooey flourless chocolate cake layered with dark chocolate ganache served with chocolate ice cream. Sigh, next time, definitely.

All of this cost us just below Rs.600. Thats one of the good things about Mocha. It allows you to sample a lot of things, and still leaves enough room and dough for chocolate ;)

Mocha 080 65357111 , 080 65357222

PS. You can also check out the review of the other Mocha in Bangalore, here.

Menu and Photos at Zomato

Bang Allure

She was tired of this place. Yesterday, an announcement about more power cuts. Great, no lights. And what was with the city today? Why was there such an eerie silence around? Great, no sound too. God, was some light and sound too much to ask for in a metro?  That was when the bomb exploded.

until next time, careful what you wish for

Brand Manager 2.0

Disclaimer: I promise to work on the 2.0 fetish -#7 here

I’ve always been a fan of this thought – ‘the tyranny of the big idea‘. This is also a great read on the same subject. The one line take-out would be that in the presence of the big idea, smaller ideas which might have had the potential to make the brand more interesting would get lost. I can safely say that I’ve seen this happen, with smaller, but good ideas being thrown into the bin because of the lack of sync with the prevalent communication theme. While these posts are around a couple of years old, in a world where conversations are becoming more important, the relevance of the thought remains as much as before, in fact more important.

So, continuing from yesterday’s post, ideas being non-commodities, it’d actually make more sense for brands to have the idea-buckets that the posts speak of. Which leads me to this post, which mentions that “a brand can, and should have more than one one proposition for itself.” For those who believe in the inflexibility of positioning, this would be difficult to swallow. But look at it this way, on any given day a technological or even an environmental change could deem your entire communication premise infeasible. Theory, huh? Okay, another perspective, what’s google to you? Search engine? Mail? IM? Office Tool? Communities? …. You get the picture? Meanwhile, the thing I’ve been wondering is, in this new way of brand diversification, how different should the different propositions of a brand be? Do they have to be related to each other so that the strengths of one can be used to help the other? Or can they be like Big Adda and Big FM and Big Flix, seemingly unrelated? And the last question, as audiences become more fragmented and individual niches become too small to monetise each separately, would it force brands to become aggregates of several similar niches along the long tail?

Which brings me to the point of my post. What does all this do to my role – that of a brand manager. The very fact that I’ve got my brand being different things to different people means that my audiences are differentiated and there’s probably no single animal out there who I could define as the brand’s audience. Its more a zoo. It also means that I’ve keep myself abreast of the conversations and the needs of different sets of people. That makes me more of a communities manager. Is this the natural evolution of the brand manager. Wait, that’s not all, I also have a human angle to this. When you’re dealing with communities, it works best if you are part of the audience itself in terms of interests. It  lends credence, and thus, in a way, the line between professional and personal interests start blurring. Which perhaps is a great thing, as more and more people get to do what they’d like to do. But given the fact that we’re still dealing with businesses and individuals here, how exactly can processes be evolved in this scenario, where there is so much of the individual in the brands he deals with? Bluntly, what happens when the person leaves, or something like this happens?

until next time, people management 2.0 ;)

PS. All ye bloggers, check this out, blogger accommodation (via Indianweb2)

The powers that be

Decision making is something we try to be good at, maybe it has something to do with the little bit of a control freak we have in all of us. And we judge some as good decision makers, and some as bad, not pausing to think that the seemingly good or bad decisions can be reversed so quickly by a twist of fate. Of course, there are some who would refuse to attribute even a small iota of it to fate, but then that’s an age old argument, so I’d not want to get in there now.

Meanwhile, though decisions affect any number of people from an individual to nations, depending on who takes them, I tend to believe that the control that we have been given seems to be reducing with each passing period. No, not as individuals, but as humanity in general.

Reading mythology, Indian and otherwise is taking its toll on me :) , so humour me. Every civilisation speaks of gifted individuals, and several of them who could cause epidemics, control the elements of nature, and change things in a way that would be inconceivable to us (that a human could do such things) Our mythology (which I believe to be history as opposed to myth) has a liberal splattering of sages who could give curses, heroes who could change the course of battles with a single weapon and so on.

Stories, you say, but do you think that at some point of time, a higher power trusted humans enough to give them the liberty and the ability to do such things, and because of what we have done to ourselves, it has been taken away from us?

until next time, fall from grace

Any Ideas?

Reading this post today, on how Tata Sky and Dish TV have both partnered with matrimony portals -Bharat Matrimony and Shaadi.com respectively, in the space of a single day, I realised how fickle competitive advantages really are. It also reminded me of a much debated post on Scobleizer yesterday on tech blogging, and where it’s at. While the initial premise of that post was how focus was now more on the biz part of it than the mutual discovery of stuff, it then moved on to fleeting attention spans and the quest for the latest shiny object on the www. And how every tech blog out there is trying to beat each other in reaching the latest news first.

Which essentially makes news the commodity and ways to reach the audience first the competitive advantage. Pretty much the same game as what our TV channels are upto these days. When I look around, i see commodities happening all around, to all sorts of product categories, and brands ending up aping each other so that they don’t miss the bus. So whether its reality shows or strange four letter acronyms for shampoos or features in mobile phones, remove the brand name and you won’t notice the difference. And to me, thats a problem, because in a commodity led culture, quantity led factors like volume, reach etc take precedence, mediocrity tends to become the norm, and no one thinks that they should figure out a better way to reach the consumer than the bus.

And that led me to think of ways and means of how brands can fight it. While I’ve been thinking of clear positioning as an obvious starter, I also realised there were some brands that not only created the big idea and ended up making a verb out of it – xerox, google, to name a couple, they were so radical either in thought or execution that they never actually positioned themselves. And before I go further, I apologise for taking you on this stream of consciousness trip. Now, not all brands can be lucky enough to get a not-easily-copiable idea or a drastic new way of executing it.

And that brought me to the potential of a brand which has taken a great first step in leveraging its brand name very well in the absolutely commoditised market of telecom- Idea. I’m sure you must’ve seen the TVC by now. While the campaign is indeed good, what I’m more impressed with is that now that they can actually focus on the innovative uses of utilising a mobile for the betterment of the individual and the society he lives in, and do a lifetime’s supply of campaigns, built around different ‘Idea’s. It offers a way to create a positioning that’s beyond communication. I think that this approach has the potential to build a superbrand. From a new media perspective, and considering that the mobile is almost ubiquitous now, think of the conversations that this could create, obviously around ideas.

That said, any ideas on how brands can beat commoditisation?

until next time, an idea and change