Monthly Archives: December 2008

2009, I opine

And so its two thousand and nine

I hope and pray that here ends the decline

And everything turns out just fine

Meanwhile, here’s that annual list of mine :)

Heath Ledger will get the Oscar for The Dark Knight. (Yes, why so serious? So lets try to put a smile on your face)

Aamir Khan will be gifted a better mobile from Samsung, so that he doesnt have to write numbers on himself.

Pakistan will adopt Pratibha Patil and rename themselves Patilstan.

Petrol prices will go down so much that even discussing it would be considered crude.

Yahoo’s hunt for a CEO will become the most popular reality show in history, thereby changing their fortunes.

Navnirman Sena will be part of Chandrayaan 2 and be rechristened Moon Navnirman Sena

Election 2009 : Politicians :: Ice Age : Dinosaurs

Wall Street will be revived, thanks to Obama’s new campaign ‘Exchange We Need’

Yuvvraaj..Yaadein.. Subhash Ghai’s scripts with a Y.. hope he’ll refrain

Ekta Kapoor’s new show titled ‘Kkyunki Kkutte bhi Insaan hain’ starring Achutanandan will be a huge hit.

Abhishek Bachchan will be locked up inside Bigg Boss 3 and made to watch Drona everyday!!

RGV’s third edition of the Sarkaar trilogy after Sarkaar Raj will be titled Sarkar Taj, which has nothing to do with anything, he’ll insist..

and if you’re still here, and are up to more torture, you might want to check out the lists from 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

until next time, same place, next year :)

Shaantam

A thought that I’ve received for the second time – the first time was during a yoga class, and this time, it was thanks to the book I just finished reading – ‘Mistress’, by Anita Nair, as one of the navarasas that come into play in dance art forms – in this case Kathakali.

Detachment. Freedom. An absence of desire. A coming to terms with life. When all is done, that is all we all aspire to. Shaantam.

Now, I’ll not be presumptuous and claim that it applies to all, but it definitely does to me. For a while now, even before learning to articulate it, that has been a task I’d set for myself. The rough aim for me was to be comfortable with myself, and be as emotionless as possible with the judgments of others on my self and actions. I’ve had more failures than successes, but I’m learning. Learning that this state has to be acquired over a period of time. Learning that it can be done only in stages because there are things that one has to do to merely sustain the self in this world. Learning that there are responsibilities. Learning that there’s a time for everything, even for coming to terms with life.

But for me, the revelation to me in that explanation was the word ‘absence’, while most of  my thoughts and actions had been done to suppress. There is a huge difference.

The cold and cough that has been plaguing me for the last week made me go for an antibiotic. While it did its work on the trouble makers, the side effect was that my taste buds were rendered inactive. So, though I had a great dinner on Saturday, the desire that used to precede the regular weekend dinners was conspicuous by its absence. I read it as another signal – that the absence of desire is not to be achieved by frontal assaults meant to suppress it. That does more harm than good. The absence is merely a side effect of something far larger in scale, changes in the greater canvass of life, a gradual cleansing process. I shall start again. :)

until next time, merry xmas, and I shall see you next on the first day of the new year

BoT – Brands on Twitter

A few days back, there were a couple of very interesting posts on Mashable – on the topic of whether brands belong to Twitter- one post against, and a couple of days later, a rebuttal. The first post first suggests a fee for brands to be part of Twitter, and then says that they should be banned altogether since it would be against the spirit of Twitter. It finally advocates the use of personalities, since people like to talk to people. The second post, while agreeing that spam accounts are generally disliked, states that brands can have personalities too, and gives some great examples, and tips for brands on Twitetiquette.

I thought these posts and the issue of bloggers being paid to write posts about brands (which surfaces when we are sufficiently bored of doing this guy’s job of finding revenue models for social media) were two sides of the same coin. The issue of trust is being tackled from two sides.

In the case of brands being on Twitter, the argument is that faceless brands cannot be authentic or transparent like a real person. How can we trust such an entity? In the case of bloggers who are paid to write posts about brands, the argument is that if they are paid for it, how can we trust the veracity of what they’ve written?

In both the cases, the answer will emerge by itself, in time. If brands use this as a one way communication medium, to just broadcast, without having interesting conversations or adding value for the audience, the crowd will treat it as a broadcaster and move away, unless there is some really awesome content being shared all the while. If bloggers make up stuff about a brand, and transmit it to their readers, the crowd will remember not to trust them the next time.

A bit more on the topic of brands on Twitter, since its debatable whether the brand should be itself, or have a spokesperson who represents it. Its understood that behind every brand (not including spam accounts) on Twitter, is a human being, even he is one that first configured Twitterfeed to send out ‘auto tweets’. So, I am guessing that what would’ve happened more often than not, is that an individual came on to twitter, discovered how cool it was, and then decided that it was a great place for his organisation/brand to communicate to the outside world, which contains his consumers and potential consumers. A chance for the brand to talk about itself, and hear from consumers what they had to say.

The individual would already have an equity on Twitter, and would enjoy the trust of those who follow him. Considering how a blogger who writes a paid-for-post (even with disclosure) is almost crucified, it is understandable if he wouldn’t want to mix his own equity with that of the brand’s equity, especially when there is every chance that the organisation may not have a policy on social media, and he wouldn’t be getting paid like the celebrity blogger. Also he doesn’t even know how long he would be with the organisation. Lastly, by mixing a personal account with a brand, the person might be constrained to speak of things in context with what the organisation does.

Keeping all this in mind, I’d have liked to say that brands belong on Twitter, as brands. After all, we already have people building personal brands. In fact, organisations should perhaps look at multi functional teams which can communicate with consumers on different aspects with authority and domain knowledge, so that over a period of time, they can re-create the credibility they enjoy in the real world, in the digital world too. This post, however, gives some great points on why the logo should be replaced by a public face.

In summation, though, I’d have to say that as always with any strategy, it’d have to boil down to intent. As this wonderful post correctly says, “The beauty of Twitter is that it is what you make of it, and you can make so many things of it”. What do you think?

until next time, brands are limitless characters?

PS. … and in this season of giving, here are 2 good resources I’d like to share with you

In return, i’d request you to give a few minutes of your time and participate in the Exchange4Media.com & Blogworks.in Blog & Social Media survey.

Merry Christmas everyone, have a great 2009, and I’ll see you next year . :)

Boca Grande

..which means ‘The Big Mouth’ in Spanish. It belongs to the same group that owns Java City, and describes itself as the reality version of something like Facebook. In terms of ambience and attitude, it definitely works (although the demographics would mean that we were the oldies crowd :) )

Boca Grande is located on 80 ft Road, Koramangala, the road that goes from National Games Village to Forum. When coming from MG Road side, take a left after Forum, and you’ll have it on the left, after Mocha, opposite the Indian Heritage Academy. Deez, my chocoblog pal, had mentioned it first quite sometime back, and we managed a few dessert visits before this one. We got in by around 7.45, and the first floor was almost full, which meant that we didn’t get any of those window seats we were hoping for, but the crowd thinned by around 9, when we left. The place serves continental, but what makes it special is the humongous choice of desserts, and ice cream concoctions.

We started with a broccoli, corn and chicken soup, which was made even more tasty by the nippy Bangalore weather. I’d have liked it a bit thicker though. Before I forget, needs to be mentioned that there is enough choice for ‘herbivores’ too. Yes, I would be classified as Omnivore too, according to the menu card :)

Next, we ordered a Chicken Cordon Bleu with in-house BG sauce – that’s “chicken breast stuffed with chicken sausage and italian mozzarella cheese, grilled, accompanied with herbed mashed potato”. That description sets some high expectations, and boy, does it deliver!!  The sauce deserves a special mention since that’s what takes this perfectly grilled dish to a much higher plane. We then had a Grande’s pizza, which has “smoked chicken, chicken ham, chicken tikka, chicken salami, lamb pepperoni, lots of herbs n lots of cheese.” It did have all of that, but it didn’t quite reach the stellar status that the previous dish had. I felt that it wasn’t really value for money, but with the ingredients, the price is perhaps justified. I’d suggest that you skip the pizzas.

And now for the main course – desserts :D My respiratory system troubles meant that I couldn’t afford anything cold, so I ordered a crepes – Choco Banana Cocoa Extravaganza – “a tempting mix that literally melts in your mouth”, and that was exactly what it did – those large crepes with chocolate flowing all around. There’s a Belgian chocolate dish that takes half an hour to make, that’s what I’ll go for next time. D ordered a chocolate ice cream sandwich, turned out that it wasn’t available, so she settled for a Chok Late – “choco roco, chocolate chips and vanilla ice cream blended with black forest pastry, chocolate crispies, hot and cold chocolate and nuts”. Well, settled for would be a wrong term, because she really settled into it, and wanted to be carried home after she was through with it. :)

All of the above, including a service charge cost us just over Rs.750. The service, though a bit tardy to start with, got better. It must’ve been the crowd or the general mood of the place – hang out and chill.

Boca Grande, 8th Block, 80ft road, Koramangala. Ph:41105183/41110889

Menu and Photos at Zomato

The Sari Shop

Rupa Bajwa

Rupa Bajwa makes her debut with a haunting story set in Amritsar. It is a quintessential Indian story, but one that diverges from the usual existential woe stories of the Indian middle class.
This one goes a bit lower, in terms of the protagonist – a sari shop assistant, and through his eyes paints a miniature picture of ‘the other india’. In spite of a troubled childhood, he lives an uncomplicated home-shop-home life, until one trip outside this routine, changes his outlook. Thus begins a journey – a search for a meaningful existence, which brings with it an empathy for others.
Juxtaposed with him, is another character, who hasn’t had a great childhood herself, and manages to fall deeper into the morass of her life, when she tries to rebel against the unfairness of it all. Their meeting brings about the next turning point in the story.
Throughout the story there are several instances that show the superficiality of the people around him, especially the upper classes, and their innate selfishness. The climax has been treated extremely well – closing the door to the larger world. Tragic, but realistic. And it is perhaps that streak of realism that runs through the book, that forces the reader to feel for the characters, and their pain.
Meanwhile, I think the author has managed to be a part of the novel too, literally, through the character of Rina Kapoor. (at least in part)
A very good read, especially if you’re into Indian fiction.

Connecting people

It might be time for Nokia to rethink that line, thanks to the following recent launches- Google Friend Connect and Facebook Connect, both of which offer data portability across sites which have implemented the services. It got me thinking about online identities. Before we get to that, a bit of introduction.

Facebook Connect, when implemented on a website allows any user to log in using their Facebook credentials and use that identity to comment etc, and also transmits these activities back to Facebook. FB seems to have focused on popular web services like Digg, Hulu, among others, and a couple of entities that got me interested in the deal – Disqus (soon) and Twitter. It perhaps hopes to use their massive user base, to popularise itself. On the other hand, Google  seems to be have the average blogger in mind, and has tied up with Yahoo, AIM, Open Id and now Twitter to have a common login across websites that have implemented Google Friend Connect. A good comparison can be found here.

As a blogger, Facebook Connect seems to be a more difficult thing to set up, but implementation in individual blogs will be helped by the plugins (esp on WordPress). I’m wondering whether FB will try to seed this service through the Blog Networks app that’s quite popular there. FB Connect does offer great advantages thanks to the social connect that is brought about by the usage details being transmitted back to Facebook.   So if I had installed FB Connect on this site, and you had used your FB id to login and comment, the fact that you’d commented would be shown on your newsfeed on FB, thereby giving that extra exposure to this site. Although Facebook assures data security and privacy, it does seem a little like opening your FB account to the world, since a lot of profile details will get displayed when you use the FB Connect service. The other question I have is whether these activities become the property of Facebook by virtue of appearing in the newsfeed? (I remember the old controversy on ownership of content uploaded on FB)

Google Friend Connect seems to be quite easy to set up, and in that sense makes it simpler for a regular blogger to adopt it. The snag is that inspite of the Invite option, I don’t get much additional exposure since the usage information doesn’t get reflected anywhere (not even Orkut). I wonder if Google will have a one click installation of the service in the next version of Blogger. I am also thinking about where Ad Sense will be made to fit into all this.

And now to the identity part. I blog as manuscrypts, a handle that I have used for more than 5.5 years now. For most of those years, the real me could only be pieced together from various posts I’d written. With the increasing usage of social/business networking services like Facebook and LinkedIn, my real world identity is not exactly a secret now. If i choose to comment on any blog using FB/Google Friend Connect, it has to be using the ‘real identity’, unless I create profiles only for my virtual self. :)

On one hand, a portable identity across the web, and the advantages it offers are tempting, on the other hand I’m not sure whether I want all these networks to be talking to each other – when I comment on a social media site, I wouldn’t want the other users of the site to see my tagged photos on FB.  So far, I’d controlled what information about me goes to a contact, depending on his/her relationship with me. Different amounts of data for different levels of friendship. Yes, my profile is open on FB, but I don’t advertise it outside. That will not be the case if I use FB Connect. More importantly, I don’t want an entity like Google (which invokes paranoia in me) to know everything about me. The sad part is that I dont think an increase in transparency will improve personal integrity, tolerance etc, but that’s a different debate altogether.

Me? I’ll wait a while before I encourage the use of either service on this site, who knows, maybe a LinkedIn Connect might come about. For now, let me try this app, that adds a twitter identity to my commenting system. :)

until next time, connect :)

Faces in the crowd

The thought started with a tweet of mine sometime back- “if some of my twitter friends lived geographically closer, my real social life would rock too :|” At least one blogger and now microblogger seemed to think so too. Why Twitter friends? Because on Facebook, and earlier Orkut, its mostly reunions or keeping in touch with those you already know. They are what i call contextual friends – made by us at some point in time at school, college or at some workplace. Their relevancy decreases with time and space. Yes, that is generalisation, and I do have a way of coldly analysing it. Humour me :)

Blogging and Twitter work in a different way. You guys read this blog because you like the content, or you have to laugh twice a week at how a guy exhibits his lack of writing skills so blatantly to the world. Anyway, the majority of you do not know me from reality. Now increase and decrease the number of characters (people and letters respectively ;) ) and you get Twitter. So in the case of blogs and twitter, you first get to know people virtually, and if all works well, you perhaps might meet up really. Now, in my case, except for a few meetings (that i can count on one hand) and one blog meet (which reaffirmed that I shouldn’t be attending them) I have kept my anti social record quite clean. :D

But the Twitter statement came because I’ve come across at least a couple of people on Twitter, with whom i have vibed splendidly. While it started off in my characteristic guarded manner, over a period of time, I’ve been able to be truly me, and not do anything for acceptability, with them.

Let me elaborate a bit on this. In reality, we befriend people with whom we have a few things in common. There are some traits of theirs which we don’t particularly like, but since the net takeout is positive, we continue the relationship. Some of us, knowing that others dont like a particular trait, play it down in front of them, to be more acceptable. This is something I’ve grown to hate, and which along with my occasional penchant for “Hey, spade”/switching off, would partially explain the decrease in my real social activities.

In reality its very difficult to tap people on their back, ask them ‘hey, are you interested in bollywood, F1, spirituality, music….and subscribe to certain views’ and then have sensible discussions, where we can even agree to disagree. I think virtuality makes it easier, but the snag then, is geography. The other snag is that it will push me deeper into the anti social shell, because now I know kindred souls exist, albeit far away.

until next time, i still agree to a bit of socialism though :)

Minding Languages

A few days back, Ajit Balakrishnan, CEO of Rediff.com, stated that there is no evidence from the last ten years of the internet business that users want online content in Indian languages. He cited the example of Rediffmail, which is available in 11 languages, but apparently, users prefer English 99% of the time. He further said that most young people were using internet to send messages, download music, view pictures or videos, none of which is particularly language related, and that virtually 90 per cent of the content is not text based. It sparked off an interesting set of comments, and a response post from BG Mahesh, CEO of OneIndia.

While I perhaps agree that extrapolating language mail use to the entire language content need of a population may not be very accurate, I’d still have to say it is a kind of dipstick. I remember using Rediffmail in malayalam, having some fun with it, much like Google News in Malayalam, and then promptly forgetting about in a few days, and going back to the English content that i regularly use. (No, I’m not saying that I represent the language content need of the average Indian net user. :) )

Meanwhile Mahesh’s post raises at least a couple of great points – “users wanted to ‘read’ our content and very few wanted to write in the language”, and whether UGC should be the yardstick for measuring the need of language content. I would relate to that, to an extent.

I’ll just try to recount a few experiences on the consumption of language content. I subscribe to Malayala Manorama at home, but don’t read it online. I used to follow a couple of Malayalam blogs, until a few months back. I am quite a heavy net user, and my content needs are more than satisfied by the English stuff available on the net. At this point, I cannot think of a kind of content that’d enthuse me to consistently consume it in a language  other than English. Another interesting thing I’ve come across in bangalore, is the amount of people who speak fluent Kannada, but can’t read or write it. It is in two digits, but I can’t be sure its a representative sample.

Judging from the JuxtConsult 2008 India Online report, India has 40 million urban users and 9 million rural users, and the top 5 activities are Email, Job Search, Chat, News and Sports. It also states that

Users of ‘vernacular language’ websites are up to 34% from last year’s 12%, (although 28% prefer English as the language of reading online, only 34% users are visiting vernacular websites regularly, indicating the lack of content online)

I think that the average urban user would be keen on using English (he’s either comfortable with it, or aspires to be) Even with increased penetration into rural areas, the mindset that ‘English is the path to advancement’, which I have seen around me a lot, might make English a preferred language, more than the regularly spoken one. Also, unlike print, and television, which are more passive media (read/ remote click), the net is a more active medium, because it requires some navigation for the user to make full use of it. (links/downloads etc) I think its fair to assume that the width and depth of content available in English will always be more than that of other languages. It might have helped if India had one language, but it does not. Does that mean that there is no market for language? There is a market, which is why Google (including search and Orkut), MSN etc as well as Rediff, OneIndia etc are in the space, and a banking entity like Barclays offers its website in Hindi, but I doubt that it will ever explode or be the driver for growth or be the major beneficiary of the internet’s rural penetration (when that happens). I have a feeling that the catch 22 situation will last – not enough users to warrant content and not enough content to warrant usage.

until next time, I could also end up eating my words…. in malayalam :D

PS. Interesting Update (via Medianama) – Rediff to communicate in 22 Indic languages. Ahem!!

Religiously following….

I’ve always maintained that even religion should have a shelf life. This comes from a belief that religions were created at different times, basis the prevalent culture, accommodating the scenarios- natural and human created, and lifestyles in those times. The teachings were aimed at a more meaningful existence for fellow human beings, considering their existence then. Religion is a function of time and times.

However, we seem to have held on to the words, more than the spirit, and thus perhaps failed to internalise the messages that are built into the texts. That could be the reason for the strife around us.

Does a new time warrant a new religion? I don’t think so. In times when the mass shrinks and the individual and customisation rises, perhaps the opium of the masses needs to be re-looked at too.  I think spirituality and the connection to a higher force is a deeply personal thing, and should not be subject to the constraints of a religion. It should come from within rather than without, and I think such an understanding might lead to better lessons with a much longer shelf life. These lessons would make us better human beings, with a deeper understanding and compassion for everything around us, and therefore make the world a better place.

Religion is not the path to salvation. A life lived with a better understanding of the spirit of the messages in it, could be. What say you?

until next time, keep the faith

Talking Shop

My post last week- on the topic of communities that individuals will initiate or will be part of, also made me think of organisations and brands, and what communities they would start/be part of. To begin with, perhaps there would have to be forks in the road, which hopefully would merge again at some point of time. Paths to accommodate employees, potential employees, consumers, suppliers and so on.

If word of mouth is the primary marketing tool, it is important to get the organisation in order, and employees to believe in themselves and the place they work in, before transparency can be taken to the outside world. According to this RWW article, based on an Accenture report,  a large number of millenials (those born between 1977-97) expect their companies to accommodate their IT preferences, and if they don’t, they turn rogue and use technology that is unsupported and unsanctioned by their corporate IT departments. Social networks are great examples, according to the study, 59% use them inspite of their IT!!

I’d written on this subject earlier, highlighting a few tools, that could help bring transparency to the employee and potential employee facing part. Recently, I came across a few more things that would help in these efforts. SocialCast (via Startup Meme), which provides ‘simple, smart messaging for team communication’. Meetsee, “Your personal virtual office ..filled with rich ways to communicate, share content, collaborate on documents, and build rapport between remote co-workers”. I also read that LinkedIn has made portions of company profiles public. As of now, they have 160000 profiles. I quite liked the career path feature under ‘Related Companies’. (eg.Take a look at Amazon’s profile.) What I’d like to see is companies taking this as an opportunity to converse more than a one way communication. LinkedIn can actually make a premium service out of this. Companies could also start off with using some existing apps on LinkedIn like Company Buzz, presentation apps, Huddle and Polls, each of which could add dimensions to their LinkedIn presence.

On another front, brands are still grappling on how to utilise social media to reach out to their consumers. The question of where to have these conversations also still hangs. Both would obviously depend on the intent. Unfortunately, a lot of brands are seeing social media as just another broadcasting platform – a mentality of  ‘ah, the herd is on twitter, lets push the communication there’. Judging from the way the crowd responds to say (the most recent example) Ibibo, #FAIL.

Like I said, it boils down to intent – making better products, addressing customer issues, using customers for R&D and so on. Chris Brogan has a wonderful post on what he calls ‘cafe shaped conversations‘. It made me consider the perspective that its perhaps not meant for every brand/organisation. That while there are advantages, for these advantages to achieve a scale that makes it worthwhile, might take quite some time for some organisations, because they aren’t built that way (?)

But its also true that consumers don’t wait for the brand/company to start the conversation. And they like to band together. The communities at Facebook and Ning are great examples. I also came across a new site – Brand Adda, a community that revolves around brands, products and services. I first thought a 2.0 version of something like MouthShut but there new features added, which also allows for interaction initiated by the brand. Explained well in their FAQ. Perhaps they’re closer to GetSatisfaction. From a brand perspective, the conversation tools might be easier to handle than say, a SocialToo, which allows polls on Twitter. I’d like to see how this develops, since there’s definitely potential.

The tools, irrespective of which stakeholder they address, are becoming increasingly significant. According to a recent study by Forrester, the % of people who trust the company blog as a new source is at a low 16%, right at the bottom of the table. This, I agree, is not a reflection on the concept of blogging, but more on the intent of companies which in turn, is translated into the content they post on the blog. And the path – blogs, twitter, LinkedIn etc are quite inconsequential if the intent is not sorted out first.

until next time, connecting people…and companies..

PS. A good resource on social media. Go on, there are free e-books.