Its ironic that I have to start the post this way, but

Disclosure: I work with The Times Group :)

There was some amount of Twitter buzz a couple of days ago on the article carried in the (city edition) Times about Arindam C’s new book selling a lakh of copies in 10 days. This also appeared in a post at “Don’t trust the Indian media”, in the context of ‘paid-for news’. The post dealt with the TV medium primarily, but also noted that in the coming years, consumption will be not be medium specific.

Like I’ve written before in the context of content marketing, the key factor, irrespective of platform, amidst the changing nature of advertisers, publishers and consumers and the relationships between  them is trust.  In a sense regular advertising is also paid-for news, but its form is such that one immediately knows its paid for. With the influx of advertorials and paid-for news, the lines began to blur fast, with  credibility beginning to suffer.

In an increasingly user generated environment (almost all of social media is just that) advertisers (brands) now have a way to source positive content without paying obscene amounts for it. They can find relevant spokespersons who have their niche, but contextually relevant fan following. Of course, on the flip side, finding them is still a task. But they already have a name for it – ‘social influencer relationship management’ :D The other point is that even the nature of sharing – blogs/microblogs/statuses are in a constant state of flux. Meanwhile, like Shefaly pointed out in the comments, it is still relatively easy to get away with non-disclosure on the web.

But despite all that, and the fact that I believe in the loop of objective-> idea/strategy-> medium, I’d say that the web is more advanced than other media in terms of content marketing, primarily because user generated content, and discontent, has been an integral part of its evolution. Users, potential users, all talk to each other, and trust evolves. A crowd is involved, conversations happen. Also, with more and more lives being lived with an audience in mind, and people becoming conscious of how they’re perceived online, hopefully it will ‘become too costly to be evil’ (non disclosure)

And that’s why its erm, refreshing, when I see brands making a strategic commitment to the digital space. Pepsi recently junked Super Bowl for the first time in 23 years and has included $20 million in grants for the Pepsi Refresh Project. Some say, its a risk, but to me its about as risky as putting a 30 sec ad that might get trashed. Moreover, its not an isolated thing. I recently read about Pepsi using Foursquare to fund a youth mentoring program called Camp Interactive, which helps youth explore technology and environment. Consistent efforts like this will get them unpaid editorial space and buzz at least in the online space.

Closer home, Nokia is using a digital dominated strategy for N97, in its first 4 months of launch. I liked it because of the reasons stated – “Digital media blends very well with the product features of N97 Mini. Also, the audience to be targeted is all available online.” That sounds like its reasoned out well, though I’d also like to see a similar approach to execution too. There are a couple of things I am hoping for in addition to the obligatory display advertising – that Nokia not make this a short term venture, because though this product might become non priority for them in a few months, the poor sod who bought it will still want to connect with them online. The second hope is that they experiment with content marketing, and go a little beyond the ‘over-the-counter’ blogger outreach stuff.

In the case of Pepsi, its a concept, an idea. In the case of Nokia, they have a product based strategy. In both cases, there is a potential for natural buzz, which to me is the way it should be. Buzz should be a result of a good product/strategy, too many time it IS the strategy, and that is what has caused things like ‘paid-for content’. The bigger hope in all this, of course,  is that an increasing commitment to the evolving digital space will force advertisers and brands to be on the ball, and in that, a better mindset will evolve, one that believes in a two way communication approach, as opposed to blind advertising and paid-for content.

Its interesting that on one hand, networks, brands and individuals are trying to carve out a niche based on trust, using digital media for reach, and on the other hand, we have the news media, the original custodians of trust,  despite guilt , oops,  guild feelings, using their massive reach to push one way communication.

until next time, news making

PS: See you in a fortnight :)

Time Off

In an earlier post – “Brood Mode“, I’d written about expectations, and how sometimes, they cannot be met. In the context of that post, Austere had commented thus “Is it the instant-ness demanded of the response that puts one’s brain to a side?” I messaged her on Twitter, that ‘the time construct’ was something I’d planned to write on next.

Our response time has been shrinking on a continuous basis, twitter, FB etc are a manifestation of that – real time, but the changes have been happening much before that, probably with every advancement we made, not just in communication, but even things like transportation. So, the thought is, if we had more time on our hands, would we be behaving differently with people?

When I was chatting with Meeta recently, we started discussing this, in the context of relationships with people. It started with me saying that the traffic during the daily commute to work, made me forget all the rules I make for myself, because with all the lane cutting and parking woes, its easily a scenario in which you’re either aggressive or you end up on the road, literally. So I wondered if it would be different if there were no time constraints.

Despite only a superficial similarity, I was reminded of another construct – money. What started out as a tool of convenience has enslaved many and managed to dictate their actions. Much like the things we create to crunch time. The similarity ended there. Time is not money. Quite obviously, time exists with or without us, though the latter can force one to ask “Who does it exist for then? So let me put it this way, it is a construct that’s still not fully understood, whereas we made the money construct. But for the fun of it, imagine what you would’ve done if your life wasn’t dictated by time. What if you had all the time in the world. Would you be a different person? Would you behave differently with people?

As it regularly happens these days with me- by sheer coincidence, the day after I had this discussion with Meeta, I came across this work from Hugh MacLeod, which puts it so well


until next time, timed out for a fortnight :)

First Proof 2: The Penguin Book of New Writing

The second edition of Penguin’s annual anthology, this one has poetry in addition to fiction and non-fiction.
There are 11 works of non fiction, though some of them, I thought, would have made more sense in the fiction set!! My favourite would have to be Arunava Sinha’s “Apna Desh, Apna Blog”, the evolution of a blog and the blogger, more so because I could easily identify with it. His wit is evident not just from the piece, but also in the ‘Notes on contributors’. Dilip D’Souza’s “Night in the city”, ‘an ordinary Bombay story’ is also a good read, that reflects not just contemporary society, but also its sense of law and justice.

“Roy’s quest”, by Samrat Choudhury is a cute read about a schoolboy’s crush. “Family”, by Salman Haidar and “Delhi’s last conquerors”, by Ranjana Sengupta give us great glimpses of history.

A dozen works of fiction, and picking a favourite in this section is more difficult. So we’ll go in the order of appearance. “Karim”, by Anushka Ravishankar is an excellent take on organised religion, and its effects on daily lives, as seen from a child’s perspective. “An Indian Porn director’s speech to his hesitant leading lady”, by Altaf Tyrewala is bizarrely hilarious. “Luck” by Dhruba Hazarika is also an interesting read about a pigeon called Luck and the changes it brings about in its owner’s life. “Stupid”, by Sonia Faleiro is another good read with a neat pragmatic/cynical/sad ending.

If I had to choose a favourite, it would be C.Sriram’s “A matter of faith”, which deals with the mystery of existence, and how we adapt it in accordance with our own needs. “Mrs. Anand”, by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a touching piece that captures the different roles that a woman plays in a family and society, the losses she quietly accepts, and the brief moments of understanding from another person that allows her to give in to her grief and shed a few tears. The last work of fiction is from Kanishk Tharoor (yep, not a very common surname :) ), its interesting in a unique way.

You’ll have to look elsewhere for the poetry review, because that’s something I’ve never been able to relate to.

Trust & Context

The Tiger Woods saga continues. And though I have had fun (like this) at his and Accenture’s expense, the entire series of events did make me wonder again on endorsements, especially after Accenture dropped Woods. The topic of endorsements is something I have written about earlier too – of how blogging/tweeting ambassadors would react to uncomfortable questions about their brands (Big B – Cadbury’s worms), and the effect of celebrity micro-bloggers even on brands they don’t endorse. But this is on a slightly different note.

“As perhaps the world’s ultimate symbol of high performance, he serves as a metaphor for our commitment to helping companies become high-performance businesses.”, the Accenture site had said earlier. Like we discussed on Twitter, a lot of the audience are not just fans of a celebrity’s attributes, but even assume that he is equally good or flawless in every other facet of his life/character too. Its perhaps a wrong expectation, not just from the audience, but from brands too. (high performance on the course) Lack of context.

That brings me to the subject of the connections we make on social sites, most notably Twitter, because (for me) only a small percentage of following/followers are made of people who we knew from before. The connections, while they may evolve into relationships later, are built on trust, developed over time and actions, and in my case have a contextual nature to it too. I rely on specific people for expertise on specific matters. I am guessing many others do too, many Twitter lists are a manifestation of that. The recommendation economy, consumer ambassadors, and micro ambassadors posts I have written earlier are variations of the same premise of trust.

When I look at entities like newspapers, which were built on a trust model, I wonder how the newly formed trust relationships will shape up. Newspapers and later other platforms owned the power of dissemination..distribution. The net disrupted that. In the age of unlimited content and trust agents, the new networks start playing crucial roles in trust relationships. And that is why, the ‘url shortener’ war that is in its early stages now – Facebook, Google, interests me.  Reach, trust and context. Who will you trust all your data with? How much of data mining can be done with the links we share and consume, and how much context can be gleaned from it? Which network gives you the maximum reach? While FB and Google can integrate with their own networks, is Twitter’s default shortener, and for now, it is doing things to maintain its lead.

And its not just this. These days I’m seeing more and more manifestations of power play around me – among people, organisations, communities. When Twitter plans to add ‘contributors’ to business accounts, and allow multiple users to be identified in a single handle, it means that the different people will have different levels of trust from their audience, it would also allow context. But when Marissa Mayer describes Google as “omnivorous” in its quest for indexing data, and when Facebook changes its privacy stance, I wonder whether a trust economy built among individuals and relying on networks for the reach, will get overshadowed by the networks themselves, and the way they use our data.

Tiger Woods might have been used by advertisers out of context with his permission. With unlimited data on you and fuzzy privacy settings, will you, without your knowledge, become a micro ambassador for something you have no expertise in, and thereby erode your trustworthiness? Silicon India profiles, Facebook Ads stating X friend has used an application, random RTs…..Paranoid? perhaps, but then, we share so much online, that maybe I can justify it. :)

until next time, deprived of privacy

Blocking Crowds

Even if you’re not really a 140 type character, you’d have heard about the CBI – Chetan Bhagat Incident, that is. But if you haven’t, not to worry much, we have a link, starring our very own celebrity blogger Nikhil Narayanan, who created the hashtag that led to the deluge. Considering Nikhil’s proximity to another author (turned politician) we’re also probing into other possible links with the external affairs ministry. But that’s for later. :p

In essence, what started as a debate on piracy – books, not Somalian warships and blockades- led to Chetan Bhagat blocking a couple of twitterers, and the phase that launched at least a few hundred tweets, each a warship using variations of the word ‘block’. Samples can be found here, and my contributions here. My friend Vimoh (as usual) wrote a very objective post on the entire episode, capturing life on Twitter and the presence of celebrities on Twitter very well. Chetan Bhagat can take solace in the fact that his desired aim of uniting India (as stated in 2 States) did happen on Twitter, with very few exceptions. My stated aim of Chasten Bhagat also happened. I think he now understands how the ’2.0 state’ works, since a couple of days later, we found him very sportingly, making a dig at the incident – “wife screamed at me this morning for no reason. felt like blocking her.” Now that’s cool. :)

Some perspectives.I’ve blocked people on Twitter too (I still feel bad about those nice girls who sent me what they must’ve thought were useful links), but not after warnings in the public stream. Like I commented on twitter, The Comic Project said it best here, ” If you want to block, block; don’t talk” . In the same article, Surekha also pointed out that though it began as fun, it quickly spiraled into a mob. Something that Nithin, who proved to be a very good voice of reason, had pointed out just when the spiraling started. The ironic part is that I’d have missed out on all of this if Surekha hadn’t popped up on a chat window and told me something was brewing. (Fault attribution check :p)  And though I usually avoid hashtags, a window of wordplay opportunity I couldn’t miss. So i dived right in, ignoring the standard operating procedure of checking out origins. Big mistake, no pun intended. :|

I hate mobs, and on the other blog, it is a subject that keeps appearing every now and then. So it sucks to have been part of one. In a post from long ago – 5 years back, titled “Communities and echo chambers“, Dave Winer commented “Your “friends” are an angry controlling abusive mob. …… If friendship is just that, people being friendly and supportive, great. But if it’s really defining who it’s okay to attack, then it’s not friendship.” I perhaps cannot define the relationships on twitter (always) as ‘friendship’, but as I become part of communities on various kinds of social networks on the web, it becomes all the more important to keep a check on the ‘belonging’ craving. Its a lesson learnt.

until next time, mob bile…

PS. But all that doesn’t stop me from an occasional dig – like yesterday, when I suggested a brand ambassador for Haagen Dazs, after their franchisee in Delhi did a unique preview – for those with international passports only. To an extent, the mob was in action yesterday too :)

Anupam’s Coast II Coast

The coast line of restaurants is far from receding in Koramangala, but since we’ve exhausted most of the coastal food options in Koramangala, and this one stuck out like a sore thumb, we decided to drop in here. Its on the same road as the Kormangala Club. Here’s the ‘how to get there‘ part. This road spoils you with options now with Imperial, Kubay, Hyderabad House, Bhojohori Manna, Heritage of Bengal and Chinese Cottage, all in the space of 100m. We’ll be making more trips here. Anyway, since we’d pre-decided that we would be dining here, we managed to resist the other temptations. The ambiance is decent, with comfortable seating.

The menu has about 6 pages, with just about one page devoted to the ‘authentic coastal cuisine’. Hmm. The rest of the menu consists of the regular Chinese and North indian options. So, in addition to the few coastal cuisine starters (veg – Rs.75 -120, and non veg – Rs.90-300) , you also have Chinese options like drumsticks, Shanghai etc in veg (Rs.90-100)and non veg(Chicken Rs.120-130, Seafood – Rs.90-120). For the soup kind, again, there are veg  and non veg options (Chicken and seafood) with representation from multiple cuisines – Manchow, Cream of Chicken and even Shorba. (Rs. 65- 115). They also have thali options for lunch.

For the main course, there are quite a few coastal cuisine options – very few in veg, but better in non veg – Sukka, Kundapuri, Ghee Roast in chicken and mutton (Rs.90-270) and seafood (prawns, crab, different kinds of fish – Rs.120 upwards, depending on the size of the fish). In addition to this, you have a few pages of Chinese and North indian options (Rs.110-140 range) with dry, gravy items and noodles/paratha etc.

So, we started with a Cream of Chicken. Okay, before you snicker, it was raining outside, and we couldn’t find a coastal cuisine equivalent. The soup turned out to be quite decent, though more cornflour than cream, but then, from experience, they aren’t the only ones guilty of this. Next we had a Marvai Chilly. That’s shellfish and you have to fish a lot to get the little pieces of flesh, but it was done quite well. Mind your tongue, while eating, that is.

For the main course, we ordered a half plate of chicken ghee roast, a fish curry (anjal – kingfish) and appams to go along with it. You could also try neer dosa or pundi (rice dumplings) though we didn’t read good reviews of the former for this place. The fish curry, though well made, obviously makes a better combination with the rice. The ghee roast was quite good, though the ghee only made a Bollywood like special appearance, but the masala made sure we didn’t miss it much. The appams were also very well made. In essence, can’t complain about the food.

All of the above cost us just less than Rs.600. So its quite okay on the value-for-money, quantity and service parameters as well, though the last one is a very no-nonsense, matter-of-fact approach. The coast is clear, so check it out. Bwahaha. In my favor, I resisted so far. :D

Anupam’s Coast II Coast, 113, 6th Cross, 6th Block, Koramangala Club Road. Ph: 41460666, 41460555

Brood Mode

[The title, while in context, is also a Hi to an old blog pal]

The last week of November gave me a chance to engage in one of my favourite pastimes – people watching. No, I wasn’t stalking anyone, it was just that I got a chance to watch more and diverse masses (different occasions) of humanity than my regular outings.

So gawk I did, at famed dancers, musicians and celebrities, at their tantrum-throwing best, egos in full display. I watched people standing in long queues, eager for a glimpse of them, so eager that they were ready to trample the folks ahead of them, or cheat the line. Even after they sat down, they changed chair locations and occupied empty aisles that had been kept for easier crowd movement, angering those behind. I also had an argument with a guy who had a differently abled child, clearly in no state to enjoy the show. He had a regular pass, but said the child’s condition warranted his family being shifted to the VIP class. He said he was from the army, and when I refused entry into the VIP class, he questioned my humanity. I bit back a comment about what business he had bringing that child to a  free entry event, which was bound to have unruly crowds, and how human he was while doing his duty at the border. I observed acquaintances at work taking advantage of the trust I had in them. In essence I watched a lot and learned a lot, again, on human behaviour, and myself.

After I shared the last post with her, Mo had asked me why I was brooding these days. While I told her that I was reserving flippancy, wit and wordplay for the 140 character world :D , I thought she did have a point. A later conversation with Surekha gave me some insight, when we talked about social media and specifically Twitter. I had thought that the seeming transparency of that world would imply more fairness in our transactions, acknowledgment of other people’s efforts and a refinement in the way we deal with people. But no, the talkers still rule, popularity contests abound, and the meek still wait to inherit. These days I can hear some of them grumbling too. :) On hindsight, this is the same mistake I’d made with blogging too. Something I thankfully corrected.

What’s the connection? Expectations. Of others and from others. From the celebrities, from the people who came to see them, from acquaintances, from relationships on the web and so on. On how they ought to behave and interact. Expectations I set based on my concept of fairness. “It’s not about what I want, it’s about what’s fair!”, Harvey had said, in The Dark Knight. But while I try to be as objective as I can, there is a limit to that too. When the expectations are not met, I get judgmental, which is not something I like to do. Let’s just say I then don’t meet my expectations of myself. :)

Earlier I used to be bitter about all this, and be rude to people, but now I just brood. I brood on how to get out of this cycle. How can I not expect, either from myself or from others, or ideally both. Does brooding help? No. Can I help it? No. Does that make me unhappy? No again, because like those processes that run in the background while I work on the computer, this is a question that’s being worked on too. :)   No, that doesn’t make it a pseud brood :p

And every now and then, I am reminded of the words of Harvey Dent Two-Face (again), as he flips the coin, and I wonder about the truth in them “The world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Fair.”

until next time, happy Dent? ;)

Cafe Thulp

When in the mood for a good ‘thulp’ (hog/binge), you could go to the innumerable Chinese or Mallu joints, but you wouldn’t get burgers and sandwiches there, and that’s why Cafe Thulp makes sense. So, now you know the why, here’s the how to get there.

We got there at just after 7.30, and easily found place, though it did get crowded by the time we left at about quarter to nine. Parking shouldn’t be too much of a problem. A bright, airy place with some good music in the background, and pleasant service. There is a peppiness about the decor – from the huge graffiti near the kitchen to the wordplay on the menu card, and the logo that is hard to miss.

We saw a ‘Tom Kha’ soup on the blackboard which displays the day’s special, and decided to try that out before the ‘Start me up’ part of the menu. The soup was slightly thinner than we’d have liked, but that doesn’t take away much from the fact that it was quite good. Okay, we mallus have a thing for coconut milk, but even considering that bias, the lemongrass, lime and galangal flavors, the chunky chicken pieces and the mushrooms make it a must try.

There are about 8 starters – veg, chicken and pork options, and a ‘Prawnic Healing’ too. We chose ‘Bird on a wire’, which is chicken satay with peanut sauce. The chicken satay was good – juicy and soft, and the peanut sauce, awesome. I wanted to try out the original hamburger – Moo (or one of its variations), but D bulldozed me on that decision, and so i let go with a meek boo. On the menu, there are veg and non veg sandwich options, a few salads, as well as some other entree dishes.

D ordered a El Pollo Loco, which is crispy fried chicken strips with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach, I was tempted by the dark side (the damn blackboard) and chose, of all things, a stir fried chicken, with cashews, served with fried rice. The former was served with a sauce I liked a lot because of its hmm, sharp taste, which provided a good contrast. Liked it when I ate it, but not after D told me the ingredients – green mango and papaya. I hate the latter, and now I don’t have a justification. Hmmph. The stir fried chicken was good, but I was feeling quite dumb for ordering it, since the menu has a huge skew towards burgers and sandwiches. Meanwhile, during the meal, I couldn’t take my mind of the average Malayali’s long association with beef, (including er, cattle class tweets). I was mooved enough to order ‘The Rocky Balboa’ to deliver the knockout punch. A philly sliced steak, with grilled onions, grilled green peppers, and cheese sauce. Excellent stuff. The bad news was that it left me with no space for either the coolers/smoothies/shakes or the chocolate cake. :\

All of the above cost us just less than Rs.750. Drop in here when in the mood for burgers, sandwiches and a cheery ambience.

Cafe Thulp, 998, 1st Main, 1st Block, Koramangala. Ph: 40933344, 40933355

Menu at Zomato