Crowdsourced Startups

To confess, the thought originated more from a textual perspective than a conceptual one. But it made me think, and so I shared it on twitter a couple of days back – “do many startups fail because they start up? would it be better if they start down and work their way up?” While I’ll not get judgmental about startups, their reasons for existence and what they strive for, I’ll just stick my neck out for a second and say that the BOSS (Build, Operate, Sell Stake) model is probably the most popular. I wonder if that says anything about the intent.

Meanwhile, that tweet and Rang De, about which i had written recently (and have promised to try out in the near future) made me think whether a crowd sourced investment model is possible for start ups. Its a well known fact that Venture Capitalists and angel investors have their own criteria for judging startups and investing in them. So some startups get funded, some don’t. But what if I, as a user believe in the concept of a start up and am willing to invest in it? Now, as an individual, I will not have the million $ funding the start up needs for its expansion, but what about a large bunch of individuals like me? Individuals who could invest 5-6 figure sums and could possibly earn some good returns if the idea succeeds. Build in tagging, communities, and a Digg like rating structure and perhaps the VC type of investors could start using this to gauge the popularity potential of a start up. What if the powers of social media can be applied by those who use it most to  encourage the entities that want to build businesses out of it?

There are two things that would be important to address – one is the legal and regulatory aspect – whether such a structure can exist, and the other is the trust factor -we shouldn’t have a potential startup running away with the money. But with all the hype about web 2.0 and trust being an important part of it, if we can’t ensure that, perhaps we’re all going wrong somewhere.

until next time, what is the massive loophole you see in this?

Sick of puns

She considered slapping him for his statement. Under any other circumstances, what he’d said would amount to a compliment, but not now. In her present condition, considering her dishevelled looks, and most importantly, knowing him, she was sure he’d used the words ‘You’re looking hep’ as a pun on her hepatitis. He pleaded not guilty.

until next time, hep it is not :|

Social Factories

What self respecting social media blog could let the Facebook redesign slip by without a post dedicated to it. Now is a good time considering that Mark Zuck has deemed that we shut down our silly protests and just accept his virtual reality. Inspite of short term solutions offered, well meaning advice, and groups consisting of millions of supporters, Facebook was unruffled, plodded on with migrating everyone to the new design, and was perhaps quite sure of the premise that there wouldn’t be an exodus of users because of a design change. I, for one, am not unhappy with the new design, since functionality has been improved (for me) but at the cost of a relatively (since Fb was never known to be easy) ‘cosier’ design. I also thought that apps suffer a lot since they are relegated to a separate tab, and are not automatically seen when i visit a person’s profile. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.

I was quite intrigued by Startup meme’s smart comparison of the new Facebook design and Vista, and possible strategic implications. The possibility of Microsoft’s increasing interest was further fueled by a TechCrunch article I read recently. It raises a good point of how, to a functionally conscious generation, Windows and Office might be dispensable, in favour of the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn etc. With the rise of collaborative tools, and cloud computing in the horizon, this might be bad news for Microsoft, especially since the success of Windows and Office has always been taken for granted. In such a scenario, a Facebook collaboration (and perhaps acquisition later) makes a lot of sense. After all, Facebook is trying to become a web OS, as this post suggests. Its a great read and goes on to wonder where the Facebook browser is. But to get back, all this means Facebook would open up a crucial second front for MS. 

The interesting part for me is who will influence whom more. Microsoft, to me, has been an old style capitalist product company which just sends out factory made stuff without listening to consumers, while Facebook, notwithstanding its latest design move, is a ‘social’ service that listens to consumers. Hey, Mark Zuck did write a post to address the plebeians, and as Mashable points out, 4 out of his 6 posts has been to address user concerns. But with 1% MS in its lifestream, Facebook quite firmly put down the user created anti new design rebellion, I wonder if its a change in attitude we witnessed. If MS influences Facebook than vice versa, it could be fatal to both. Or perhaps Mark Zuck is just promoting this movie, just like this Facebook app does. ;)  Speaking of Facebook apps, a new one – Rock the Vote, allows Facebook members to register their names in the voting list, online. (via Startup Meme)

While on social media and design, there’s been some activity happening on Friendfeed too, they released a new beta version recently, changed the design, and after listening to user feedback, made additional tweaks which were appreciated. The new beta had shifted the navigation structure from the top to the right, and made provisions to organize friends into different groups. Two additional features are photo hosting, and allowing users to view the FriendFeed stream of other users easily from the interface. Following user feedback, the navigation bar was moved to the left. But I think the best addition would be the grouping of same stories. What used to happen was thats everal people used to share the same story when it broke, now the first share will be shown with the option below to check out who else shared the same. The options below is for all services – a tweet, a delicious share, a google reader share would all be displayed. This would go a long way in reducing what makes up a large portion of ‘noise’. Nice to see good changes and the importance they are giving to user feedback.

Sometimes, I wonder whether organisations, including social media ones, are just like a ‘famous people’ stereotype. Do they stop being friendly and have lesser conversations when they become famous?

until next time, when socialism turns to capitalism…..

The new brand ambassador – you

Sometime back, I saw a press release of an entity called AdBhai. It is positioned as a no-frills classifieds portal and according to the release, has implemented Google’s Friend Connect. It means that you can use your Orkut/GTalk id to post comments on the site, giving the entire thing a social twist.

I have come across quite a few interesting sites which link shopping to social media. There’s Tribe Smart, which allows you to make a profile and use crowd wisdom to know about the product. And its not just a product, it could be a website, a movie. In the process, you end up meeting people who share similar interests. Skimbit is a browser add on that allows you to make a project page you can configure, for your purchase, add products from different sites, and then allow others to rate these.  Another startup working on a plugin based model is Notches, which works on two fronts – allows product sites that tie up with it to add review buttons to its product pages, and users who have downloaded it can review any product from any website. (via Center Networks) Meanwhile, there’s a very interesting online music sale model at PopCuts, which rewards you for spotting trends early. You can buy a track, and when someone buys it from then on, you get a cut. A very cool idea, I thought, and would like to see how it pans out. Just like the earlier site, you start meeting people who rock to the same tune.

Mashable has written about a widget based service called TurnTo, which works on the concept of social shopping. Deviating from the path of the above two, this one lets you add people from your existing circle of friends. During TC 50, which I’d written about earlier, a couple of startups working in the social shopping/reccomendation space were showcased. One was GoodRec, which shows users reccomendations of restaurants, books, movies nightlife, and displays the location on a map. It allows you to make reccomendations, which can also be shared on Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed etc. According to StartupMeme, GoodRec scores over the existing player – Yelp, in terms of usability. Another player, who is into ‘social’ based decision making is CityVoter, which ‘allows insiders who know a city best to share their insight with information, ratings, and reviews on everyday decisions’.The other startup is GoodGuide, which aims to provide users with information on social, environmental, and health related aspects of consumer products. With people becoming increasingly aware and conscious of the environment and the impact of their lifestyle on it, this is a good space to be, especially because of the clutter of ‘green’ goods that have been hitting the market. You can read more details on them here.

WOM is no longer a buzzword, it has become a fact of life, if not in ‘low involvement’ categories, at least in ‘high involvement’ ones. Amazon has recently been using passionate Kindle users as brand ambassadors.We are on our way to what this post (quoting from a report) very correctly describes as an ‘influence economy’. As more and more users enter the social realms of Facebook, Twitter etc, their purchase decisions are becoming increasingly influenced by their social peer group. I come across this regularly on twitter – social based decisions on everything from restaurants to laptops and mobile phones. The post also gives a simple path for brands to get invloved in this process. But the essence is that brands need to be truthful, transparent, listen to their customers, be accessible, and most importantly, have a great product, for the reality is that communities cannot be bought. It has to be earned, and this post has a few tips on that. RWW has shared some data on super influencers, from a McCann study done  among 17,000 active internet users in 29 countries.

Though brands are only beginning to take consumer voices seriously, it is great to see market leaders like Unilever and P&G understanding the limitations of current consumer research procedures, and making efforts to embrace online buzz. Meanwhile, HUL has introduced the concept of a customer ombudsman in india. The ombudsman works on behalf of the consumer and will tackle all cases that cannot be dealt with by Lever Care. A wonderfully radical move, which shows why they are market leaders. Read all about it here.  While on the subject, there’s a company called BazaarVoice, which helps brands create business value out of the positive consumer PR they generate. As fanboy cults emerge on Facebook and impromptu brand wars (among consumers) occur on twitter, I think this space has great potential. Speaking of Facebook, they’re also using users as brand ambassadors in Germany. (via Tech Crunch)

until next a sociaholic shopaholic?

Ride with a view

The regular route that I take to the office, and one back. There are buildings, homes, people, shops, and trivia that I don’t notice when I pass them regularly every day. Its not that they’re not interesting, but somewhere down the line, they have become routine, a part of the landscape, something that I take for granted, without putting too much of thought into. It took an auto ride to make me see all this in a different light. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t riding.. I didn’t have to pay attention to the road, and had all the time to leisurely watch the scenes and the life unfolding in them.

And that made me think whether the same applies to people too. The different people that we interact with, at work, at home. Over a period of time, do they become a routine in our lives? Unidimensional characters in our mind, who have been moulded by our own biases and subjective judgements, and so set in that mould, that we fail to see a human being with its own values, feelings, and a life that’s being lived in myriad interesting ways. Does our perspective become so set in its ways, that we take the people in our lives for granted. And we have to wait for life to give us an auto ride to make us see them from a different vantage point?

And then, what about people who always take auto rides? Do they manage to have a different perspective, but one that still gets set over a period of time? :)

until next time, look around

Yodel Tales

I’ve always wanted to catch a big web entity’s brand campaign. No, Zapak and Rediff are not included because those were more product feature led campaigns, mail or to a lesser extent-gaming (because that was more a concept). I did find a few instances of ambient advertising from Zapak interesting though. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of any rediff ads. It is disappointing because given Rediff’s eminent status among Indian sites, it would be great to see it create some brand ads based on the Indian internet scene, and to cement its position. Having said that, Rediff has created a lot of this equity already, so maybe they don’t feel a necessity.

So, I was happy to note that Yahoo is planning a campaign in India (via Ideasmarkit), though again, its product centric- Yahoo Search. You can catch the TVC here. The idea is to show that sometimes every second matters, and Yahoo Search gets you results faster. Taking this further, Yahoo hopes this will make the audience choose them as the start page. This move is understandable, in a market dominated by Google’s search. But I’d say that Yahoo could’ve thought of a much more creative way to say this, than making fun of a man’s speech defect (stammering)

That being said, Yahoo seems to be taking India very seriously, since they have even launched (in limited beta) a social network targeted at the college going audience in India – SpotM (via TechCrunch). It has SMS integration with anonymous chat that will let users correspond via SMS without revealing their phone number. The other key development is the testing (again limited beta) of a new front page. (via Contentsutra) I like the fact that Yahoo is acknowledging user needs – the fact that they are emphasising apps from Yahoo and from third parties, including a dashboard with a way to view email from multiple providers, also gives me a perspective on confidence in their own content and services. 

So I’ll have to wait to see that brand campaign. I would’ve loved to see the Yahoo purple campaign in India. The idea lends itself to a variety of activities, most notably on Flickr. I wonder though what’s the status on the city specific sites that Yahoo came up with sometime back. I, for one, thought it was a pretty neat idea. Let’s hope Yahoo hits a purple patch in India soon. :)

until next time, Y!

In Heat

She was quite hot. As he prepared himself for what could be a long night, he rubbished the theory that a married couple’s interest in each other waned over time. He still loved his wife as dearly as before. So he was quite worried when he found her hot. He looked around for the thermometer.

until next time, fever 

In the news

Sometime back, I’d written about the need for newspapers to give the digital medium a bit more consideration in their strategy. While India claims to buck the trend of falling newspaper subscriptions, I wonder how many economies have a thriving newspaper ‘raddi‘ market, the process through which the Indian household gains money by selling old newspapers as scrap.

A few days back, Google announced its efforts to bring old newspapers onto the internet. The Google News Archive is being expanded and will let you search newspaper archives from decades back. I did a few searches, and for now it only has the already digitized versions of newspapers (in India), its a long and arduous task, but well worthwhile for Google. Over time, they plan to blend these into Google search results also. 

Meanwhile, the latest group to join the anti Google-Yahoo bandwagon happen to be WAN (World Association of Newspapers) Their concern is that advertisers will increasingly migrate to Google from Yahoo when they see diminishing price advantages on the latter. (via Startup Meme) So the deal will give Google ‘super powers’ and weaken the competition in the search-ad market, since the two players had so far forced each other to give the best possible terms to publishers, like newspapers who offer display and search ads on their websites – a consortium of 200 US newspapers run Yahoo ads. 

So newspapers are afraid that their revenue from third party ads served by Google/Yahoo would reduce? To me, it looks like if they had developed better ways of selling their own ad space, maybe they wouldn’t be looking like a bunch of whining kids. It adds to my belief that newspapers refuse to treat the online medium with the respect it deserves, and only react when their turf/revenue gets affected. I recently read this post, which explains how, many newspapers and magazines employ their regular ‘interruption advertising model’ even on their websites. 

However, some top newspapers, are showing exactly why they are where they are. The NYT has an offer of a ‘print ad free with an online ad’. A daring reversal, that is perhaps aimed at switching the relative positions of print and digital, from a revenue perspective? The WSJ, has changed its design recently, and that includes adding a social network, the big deviation from normal procedure being that this one has paid access. While this might be considered not-so-smart in the era of free Facebook and LinkedIn networks, I think Mashable’s argument in favor of WSJ’s move has merit. The Time article also states that this might become available to non paying users as well, and there are plans to integrate it with existing social networks.  I think that if WSJ can back this move with some really good content that is flitered for its elite paying subscribers, this could be a long term winner.

And while all that’s been happening across the seas, Google’s relationship with local newspapers is different. It has come up with Google News in Malayalam, which indexes news from almost all leading offline and online sources, with Malayala Manorama conspicuous by its absence. Other languages are coming soon. (via Medianama

With digitising newspaers and local language news Google seems to be pushing from different directions. But, as these sites have shown in search, it is possible to best Google. For newspapers, its not just Google, there are different threats. For example, GateHouse Media is starting an online-only daily in Batavia, NY. They see tremendous opportunity for a local news and community site, since the leading local newspaper does not have content on its website. (via Publishing 2.0) This opportunity could exist in any place with good internet penetration and where the local newspaper hasn’t capitalised on that. On a sidenote, here’s a good post on how the traditional syndication means used by newspapers might expect a reversal soon. 

Newspapers really need to pull up their socks and figure out how the digital media figure in their strategy. Now, though I might get lynched for this, already Web18′s consolidated reach has beaten that of the Times Group (India’s largest media entity), on the internet. And in.com, the portal which I think would be their flagship property on the internet, is still in beta. Why is the Times Group, with the #1 selling English daily, #1 finance daily, several language dailies, TV channels, radio stations etc not India’s #1 website. I think its a mindset issue.  

I wonder, whether, with rising newsprint costs, and environmental concerns ( trees geting cut for newsprint), it might be a good idea for newspapers to start work on a Kindle like thing to distribute content, especially after I read this recent story on Kindle.

until next time, print this?

Tamarind

We’d not visited Tamarind for a while, though its quite nearby, and what better than a lazy Saturday to drop in? Its located on the Koramangala-Indiranagar intermediate ring road. When coming from Indirangar, you’ll see it on the right after the Sony World junction. Actually, the pub on the ground floor-Enigma is more visible. Tamarind is on the first floor.

Tamarind serves Chinese, Continental and North Indian, but we’ve always had only the last, perhaps because the market leaders in the other verticals have already been clearly defined :) The soup, of course, is an exception and we went with our favourite Cream of Chicken Soup. D claimed there was garlic in it, though I couldn’t sense it. I’m not too sure of this, since D was a bit woozy and even managed to pop the plastic sauce container like a champagne bottle.

For the main course we ordered a Fish Tikka Masala, which is “fish tikkas in tomato and onion gravy”, and (okay, I saw this one and though it left me speechless, I had to have it!!) Chicken Madrasy (sic), which is “chicken cooked in cardamom and coconut milk topped with cashew gravy topped with curry leaves”. We also ordered an onion kulcha and a roti to go along with it. The fish gravy was quite good, but a couple of the tikka pieces were a bit burnt. The chicken was certainly different with a distinct coconut milk flavor, which questioned its supposed Madras origins in favour of Kerala. The quantities of both were sufficient, but we had to order an extra Naan. Though there were quite a few dessert options, we were too stuffed.

The person who took our order was quite tardy, but the guy who served our table made up for it quite well. Tamarind also serves alcohol. A 330 ml Kingfisher costs Rs.85, that should give you an indication of the costs. Its quite a good place if you are a large group, I’ve never seen a place with so many seating options for large groups. I think they also have a roof top option.

All of the above cost us just above Rs.500, which was quite value-for-money, considering the quantity and quality.

Tamarind, #2, 100 ft Road, 5th Block, Koramangala Ph: 25633999

PS. Have installed a lifestream service, check it out here

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An End to Suffering

Pankaj Mishra

I’ve always been a fan of Pankaj Mishra’s melancholic way of writing, which just borders on cynicism. This book, while a study on the evolution of Buddhism, is also a travelogue of sorts. It even manages to touch upon the author’s personal growth – material and spiritual, and the gradual growth in his confidence, which was necessary for the book to be written.
It focuses a lot on Buddha’s teachings, the way it has been transformed in various regions and times in which it has been practised, and also manages an analysis of how it could still be pertinent in a world that has changed much, since the time he lived in. The book simplifies Buddhism to an extent, and while it cannot be a complete guide to the Buddha (that wasn’t the idea anyway), it does manage to chronicle the times that the Buddha lived in, and makes you curious enough not only to read up more on the subject, but also check out the works of David Hume, and Nietzsche, who have been extensively quoted.
A good start for those who seek to understand themselves.