Lost Universes

Sometime back, I got an email forward – A Violinist in the Metro, about the world famous musician Joshua Bell, who, in 45 minutes, played 6 Bach pieces, with a violin worth $3.5 million, at a metro station in Washington, and collected $32 for the effort. A couple of days back, he had sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats had averaged $100. The incident was a social experiment by Washington Post to check out whether we perceive beauty in a commonplace environment and whether we stop to appreciate it. The findings are a testament of the fast paced life we live, and the things we miss out on.

But a few other facts in this incident interested me. For one, the crowd segment that paid the most attention to the musician were children. Their parents had to forcibly tug them away. Even if we are cynical and claim that its just curiosity, and not an appreciation of music, I still wonder about our life graph, and the part where we lose our innate curiosity. And its not just curiosity, its innocence, its a lot of other things that we lose on the way.

When I meet friends from school or college, I sense they’ve changed, and so have I. Attitudes,mindsets, behaviour, all transforming themselves according to the experiences that life throws at us. And because of this, I am not able to relate to them the way I used to at an earlier point in time. A part of me that is perhaps lost forever. Even if I tried to re create it, it would be resisted by the current me.

The other portion in the incident that interested me was that after the performance, there was no applause or recognition. People just moved on, oblivious to the phenomenon they didn’t perceive. I wonder if Joshua Bell was disappointed. Perhaps, if you’re a musician of that caliber, you would have passed the stage where you needed a stamp of approval. Or is he just like me? An unconfident performer of life, who looks around apologetically if he has upset any balance. Perhaps if i could perform like a carefree child, I could get back the curiosity and the other things that I’ve lost.

This stream of consciousness reminded me of something I’d read about in the novel Space – a space shuttle’s flight. As it ascends into space, at different levels it discards different parts, parts that were useful to get it to that point, but useless after they’ve served this utility. And after completing the mission that it was sent for, it blazes a path back through the atmosphere, burning all except its core. It lands in a place far away from the place of its origin, and time has passed while all this is happening. In a strange way, it reminded me of the way lives are lived – at massive speeds, too fast to notice the beauty of the vast expanses of space around, to achieve something which is relevant only in a very small context, burning up with the hope that all that is being done is worthwhile, and perhaps in a lost, melancholic way, deciding that since anyway the life is to be lived, might as well live it with a mission, however inadequate it seems.

until next time, touchdown

Crowd Control by the crowd

Its rightly said that however thinly you slice the bread, there will always be two sides. Sometimes the very features that makes me love the social web – sharing and transparency, are not treated with the respect they deserve. Or, to be more specific, the crowd is not able to react maturely when someone is being transparent, or sharing something innocuous, or just doing his job. I remembering touching upon mob justice in the case of the Hasbro vs Scrabulous issue too.

Since then there have been several instances of what Jason Calacanis might describe as the ‘madness of the mobs‘. From Hotmail users fighting against the new design, virtual protests and self immolations on Second Life against a steep purchase and maintenance fee increase, to relatively harmless breast beating on Twitter and Facebook, there has been a lot of action happening all around.

A few recent incidents have made me look at the otherwise wonderful features of the social web in a negative light again. Rex Hammock recently wrote about a Dilbert strip in which its creator Scott Adams did a bit of ‘in house’ product placing – for DilbertFiles.com, an online sharing and file storage service that was the result of a deal between Adams and Sendyourfiles.com, which Adams had explained on his blog. In fact he also points out that

As the number of traditional newspapers continues to shrink, this is the sort of thing that will help keep Dilbert free online.

But several readers took exception calling it a ‘shameless plug’ and ‘unethical’. Thankfully there were many in the crowd who were objective enough to see it as ‘lame but not ethical’, and several others who found it interesting, and a great way of promoting the service. I, for one, thought it was some neat ‘brand integration’. The debate is now over, i guess, and Scott Adams made some candid, cool closing remarks on the issue. You can read them here.

The other incident that caught my attention was the case of James Andrews (@keyinfluencer on Twitter). Here are the details. In short, this is what happened. James Andrews, from a company called Ketchum, in Atlanta flew to Memphis to visit FedEx, one of his agency’s biggest clients, to talk to their corporate communication team about social media. Being a regular Twitter user, he tweeted on landing

“True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here.’”

Instead of the lil argument that would’ve happened on Twitter over this, it became a classic ‘tempest in a tea cup’, when a person from the Fedex Corporate Communication Group took this up and sent a mail to Andrews. And thus it became a story of the agency guy (Andrews) talking ill of his client’s city. (the entire mail can be read in the link I shared earlier) All the poor man did was give a personal opinion about the place he landed in. That is a crime in social media, according to a few social media storm troopers. Suddenly, there are statements to be made, the agency has to apologise on behalf of Andrews. I say, FedEx, thats #FAIL. Kudos to Funkidivagirl for defending her husband so eloquently, and putting things in perspective.

Both the situations made me think of expectations. Scott Adams is perhaps thinking of greater good (keeping the online strip free) when he makes a deal like this. He even explains the reasons on his blog. He doesn’t have to. And the crowd, or at least a part of it, loses it. James Andrews tweets personal views about a nameless place  (Fed Ex’ reaction ensures everyone knows about Memphis now) and his agency and work are judged based on that!! We’re supposed to be careful of what we tweet.

The last and most recent incident is the worst, because unlike the other two, this one’s effect was real and physical!! And at the receiving end was none other than Tech Crunch’s Michael Arrington. As he was leaving a conference, someone walked up to him and spat on his face. The pain in his words are unmistakable as he relates the incident. It doesn’t matter whether you agree, disagree, love or despise TechCrunch or Arrington, but their contribution to the web and startups transcends that, and cannot be denied. If this has to do with what he writes about as part of his job, this is a despicable reaction. I, for one, would really want to know what provoked such an act.

We expect transparency, honesty and sharing in the social web.  But are we always ready to handle it maturely when its given to us? Yes, brands and people have a responsibility towards us, but shouldn’t that be reciprocated by us too? By having unreasonable expectations from brands and people, especially in a scenario where the rules of engagement are only beginning to be formed, are we forcing these entities to stop sharing and stop being transparent? As RWW correctly notes,

Whether you believe in monitoring yourself online or not, don’t forget the point of the social Web: to get to know other like minded people, share resources, have fun, and leave the place a little nicer than you found it.

Let’s have some of this spirit back, and show some maturity not only when we share or tweet or try to engage an audience as a brand/PR person, but also as a reader, when we consume this content. After all we are human, and I like to think that with web 2.0, we’re on our way to making this cold machine driven entity called internet , human. Lets not make the reverse happen.

until next time, you have the right to remain silent, sometimes the duty too..

PS. but you should comment ;)

Back to Yoga

He’d been doing Yoga for a while now. And while it was going quite well, there was one posture he was asked to do everyday, but could somehow never manage. After some deliberation, he figured out the reason. He realised that the problem wasn’t physical, it was more psychological. He really couldn’t bend over backwards.

until next time, yoga builds character ;)

The Long Tail of Caves

I read about the Jaipur Lit Fest, only thanks to a tweet from prolificd/roshnimo, this despite the fact that I fancy myself to be quite a voracious bibliophile. So, I wouldnt have been surprised to be asked ‘Have you been living in a cave?’.

I blame it on the information overload, and wonder if we have reached full circle. Once upon a time, the means of communication was so minimal that most people lived their lives without most of the information they’d have liked to have. These days, its the other extreme of communication means, but the effect is the same. Even if I have an interest for something, I might end up missing the information, simply because of the large amounts of data I’m plowing through in terms of Twitter, blogs, Facebook, news sites and so on. Don’t even think of saying noise, or filter. There are limits and it doesnt help if you have interests in the social web, Bollywood, puns, books, Formula 1 and so on.

The more interest I have in different verticals, and the more conversations I have in any one of these, I expose myself to being in a ‘cave’. Different people based on their interest areas and levels of interest, would thus create a hmm, long tail of caves!!

I’m getting by now by paying special attention to those whom I trust, in specific fields, to give me the latest, valid information. A sort of virtual look out. But I’m hoping for a better solution, like say, a few vertical networks?

until next time, wassup? :)

Tweets w00t

I’ve never plugged plugins before, but in this case, I’ll gladly make an exception, because its so damn useful. Quite a while back, after installing the friendfeed plugin, I remember asking on Friendfeed whether there was a WordPress Plugin that could pull in any sharing of a blog post. Think of the trackbacks we have for blogs, and then imagine if we had a similar mechanism for Twitter, Google Reader, Delicious or any of the sites we share stuff on.

Mashable wrote sometime back about the concept of Tweetbacks, and thanks to the magical way in which web 2.0 operates, the bridge from fantasy to reality was quickly created, and the WP Plugin creation was called yes, Tweetbacks. Dan Zarrella, you’ve heard this before, you’re awesome. :)

I’d recommend it strongly to all those bloggers who are familiar with Twitter (actually even those who aren’t) and would like to see who’s sharing your post there. Its an absolutely hassle free plugin- easy to install and adds another dimension to connecting with people and conversations. And now, Dan has built another plugin called Tweetsuite, which adds a load of functionalities. Testing it out now. Suggest you do too.

until next time, hoping for a Reader and delicious plugin :)

Soo Ra Sang

No, its not about someone singing, this is a wonderful Korean restaurant in Bangalore. We reserved in advance, and that turned out to be a good thing. Its not exactly in a location where you might chance upon it. When coming from the Koramangala/MG Road/Indiranagar direction get on to Airport Road, and at the first signal after Manipal Hospital, take a right turn (that’s Wind Tunnel Road). You won’t see it for quite a while, so disregard the voice within you (and behind you or by your side) that says you’re lost. After a while, you’ll have Omega Healthcare on the left, Soo Ra Sang is about 3 plots after that. Parking is not too much of a problem.

The restaurant is on the fourth floor, with the first 3 floors occupied by the hotel. There’s this note stuck inside the lift which warns you of dire consequences if you don’t follow the instructions on it, but they were simple enough, and we survived. The roof top location gives  a wonderful view of Bangalore. There are about seven tables, some of which have a floor mat seating, but they were occupied, so we had to make do with regular seating, but it offered us a great view. The ambience is very cosy, makes you feel completely at home. There was also some nice Korean music in the background. Perfect setting. :)

The menu has five sections – Chicken, Seafood, Pork, Beef and Veg. From a few reviews I’d read, i’d decided I’d either have beef or pork, but I chickened out in the end. We got a lot of help from the person in charge of our table, and it was a good coincidence that he suggested the same dishes we’d considered. So D ordered a Dol Soth Bee Bim Bob (no we didn’t say it, we mumbled the number associated with it on the menu). That’s stone pot rice with vegetables and chicken mince. I got the An Dong Cim Dak, which is chicken and soya sauce with green chillies, noodles and vegetables.

We were given a bottle with some flavored water, and were told that it was sweet corn based. Its served chilled, and is quite refreshing once you get used to the taste. We then got a starter with some nice chilly sauce . Its a pancake (Maida based with vegetables, I think the generic name is ‘Jeon’). And then came the main course. In what can be compared to a Kerala sadya experience, we had about 10 plates placed in front of us with small portions of some vegetables, some plain bolied, and some with unique flavors. radish, potato, beans, brinjal, zucchini, Chinese Cabbage, among other things. These serve as accompaniments, we were told, and if we liked, we could get more. :)

D’s dish was served in a stone pot, and was expertly mixed for her by the person who served it. Mine looked less fashionable, but I got a small bowl of rice, so there! while the former did remind us a bit of of Chinese food, the latter was completely different from anything I’ve tasted, and awesomely spicy. I guess that was the reason for the bowl of rice, it helps :)

The meal ended with a Korean version of dessert. Its served in little cups and is cinnamon based. It’s served cool, but ends up cooling your insides much more. It seems to be a version of Su Jung Gwa. Not exactly the chocolate stuff I’m an addict of, but delicious.

Meanwhile, all of the above cost us Rs.750. The 2 dishes are charged at Rs.375 each, so the starter and the dessert are part of the deal. Each dish on the menu is a meal by itself. The portions are quite sufficient, though i was tempted to ask for a refill of the dessert. Should have.I think the food is authentic, because all the other tables were occupied by Koreans, and they all looked very happy with the food. The service is extremely good. There’s hardly any time between the ordering and the serving. I think they serve some alcohol, since I saw a few KFs, and what looked like some bottled Korean liquor.

Overall, a great experience, though next time, I’d like to try the floor mat, and one of them barbecues on the table. They looked delicious. You really must try it out.

Su Kh Gua Ran Teed. :D

Soo Ra Sang, 35, RK Arcade, NAL Wind Tunnel Road, Murugeshpalya, Bangalore Ph: 080 41303435

Photos at Zomato

PS. In the bike parking space, there was an old signage, which reminded us that Soo Ra Sang used to be in Koramangala, when we had moved to Bangalore. :)

The Red Carpet

Lavanya Sankaran

The Red Carpet is a collection of short stories – eight of them, a slice of life of a generation in transit, with its amazing contradictions, all set in Bangalore. Though the different stories are not connected with each other, the characters in most of them (if not all) are recurrent, though not in an obvious way, and usually remain inconspicuous in the stories where they are not the lead characters. Many of the stories feature characters who differ vastly from each other- either by age, or social class, or mindset, but who, despite these contrasts, are still able to connect at some point. Bangalore offers a perfect setting, since it’s a city that has absolutely transformed itself in a short of period of time. But its not exactly a key character in any of the stories, merely serves as a backdrop. Also, don’t expect any Archer like twists in any of the stories. They just flow, and are reasonably good reads. Meanwhile, I’m extremely curious to figure out if the story after which the book is titled (The Red Carpet) has more of the author in itself compared to the others. My favourite happens to be ‘Mysore Coffee’.

Citing personal reasons…

Brants has been on rented accomodation, even after the shift from wordpress to the self hosted domain, because, well, manuscrypts was always a personal blog. And an extension of that just wasnt enough for Brants. Thats how we now have a new domain for brants, all for itself. Brants has kindly allowed the usage of its owner’s name as the url … so, welcome to www.manuprasad.com/blog . Please take a look around, check out the 2.0 version of the logo, courtesy @chupchap,  and do leave your comments. :)

Shall change the feed location by Monday Have already changed the feed location, so all those who subscribe shouldn’t feel the take off and touchdown at all.

until next time, next is a page called home :)

The egoism that lurks…

Sometime back, our yoga instructor spoke to us about the importance of forgiving. While most of it I agreed with, there was one part where I thought i’d a different point of view. She said that forgiving was possible only if the ego had been eliminated (for all practical purposes). My point of view (which unfortunately i didnt have time to express) was that ego was inherent in forgiving, showing that the forgiver is in a higher plane than the one forgiven. But I am assuming that the teaching was fine, there must be a kind of forgiving I am not aware of…yet.

The same kind of thoughts assailed me, when i read this post by mathatheist, where she wrote about charity. (you must subscribe to her daily musings, a wonderful read everyday) She wrote about the need for love (as opposed to pity) in charity. I am in agreement with the role of intent in everything that we do. Intent is what will drive everything else. To be fair to self, I have negligible thoughts of pity in any act of charity. The way i have driven it away is via a simple thought – I imagine someone I love, struck with a fate that the beneficiary has, and compassion replaces pity. I believe there’s a difference between the two. But the compassion is tinged with an enemy that is not so easy to dispose of – the ego. It shows its presence with a smirk and an unhealthy, unnecessary reminder to myself that I’m in a position to donate something (however insignificant it might be) for a cause. But I am assuming that the acts are fine, here must be a state of compassion without the ego, that I am not aware of…yet

until next time, to land the ego….

PS. any Ayn Rand fan here? Egosim is an important part of her Objectivism philosophy, which i am otherwise a fan of :|

News out of the paper

Its not exactly breaking news that newspapers are almost in desperation mode now (no, don’t throw ink at me, this is in the US market context) to make sense of the wild wild web, as the very public who used to pay for the print editions now want it on the web, and more importantly for free. An issue that newspapers are still grappling with. So, with fears of revenue models collapsing, RSS feeds, PDF editions, user generated content, podcasts etc are now being force fed into print journalism regular usage. (How American Newspapers Used the Internet in 2008).

The point to note is that the internet with advertising as a revenue model is not going to be the salvation, web entities which rely on that are also going to be in trouble. There are some experiments happening in the news space online as well – News Mixer is a great example, it aggregates content and has integrated Facebook Connect for users to comment on stories. The integration eliminates anonymous handles and also means that it can highlight the views of your friends so that you can know what their take on a story is. (via RWW) A member of Yahoo’s BOSS team has found a great way to use Twitter’s search function and relevance (different tweets to the same story) for fresh news and come up Tweet News. Ice Rocket’s Big Buzz pulls different live sources (Twitter, Flickr, You Tube etc) on to a single page. (via Steve Rubel) In fact, I see the last one as a sort of threat for Google News – real time news, a scenario which can be extended into the larger context of Google Search soon, because I don’t think Google has cracked real time yet (from what I see around).

Meanwhile, hyper local entities are being created to fill the gaps being created by local newspapers shutting down. But while the monopolistic doyens are struggling, there is a paradox happening, new media empires might be getting created as web entities are making forays into print- The Printed Blog, is launching a twice-daily free print newspaper in cities across the US aggregating localized blog posts. (via Wired)

In fact, though the state of the Indian print media is not the same as in the US, the same phenomenon (web to print) is happening here too – Mutiny, which started in 2006, and wants to be India’s Huffington Post, launched its print edition a few months back. Burrp, which started with restaurant reviews, and later expanded into lifestyle events, and TV listings, apparently have a few print plans of their own.

So there must be potential  in the 2 cents of journalism (Seth Godin’s excellent post on the death of newspapers) even as there is the danger of ‘right now’ news. Seth Godin rightly says that “The web has excelled at breaking the world into the tiniest independent parts.” The challenge for newspapers will be to find the 2 cents that they can provide and people will pay for.

In India, low figures of net penetration mean that the US levels of ubiquitousness will take a while. But the mobile could be a bigger threat in the short and long term. Various players like SMSGupshup, MyToday, Mobme etc already offer subscription based services, though the source seems to be mainstream media sources. Newspapers have long relied on distribution might to thwart specific competition. But with a digital platform, that is nullified. From my consumption needs, the only thing I cant seem to find online are the hyperlocal news (that also includes local retail deals and discounts – eg. Springfield had a 60% off sale in bangalore last week, try searching for  it online). So far, in India, all the tiny independent parts that Godin has spoken of, haven’t been brought online. In that sense, the net’s utlity is incomplete in an Indian context. The real threat will start when that happens. With their huge network of reporters/other sources, is there a digital revenue model for newspapers in the real-time and/or hyperlocal news space?

The double whammy for newspapers is brought out due to the fact that advertising is the major revenue source for most newspapers in India. Most of the brand ads that I see in English dailies is targeting the young urban dweller. This segment is becoming increasingly net savvy, and I feel that brands will figure this out in the short term.

Vernacular dailies might be a better off in this regard, since even if net penetration in their major markets accelerates, (read about the government’s rural internet plans here – CSCs) vernacular content is not yet at challenging levels. (the IAMAI-IMRB report on rural and state of vernacular content in India). There is an opportunity for newspapers here, especially the vernacular ones and even those which can translate English content into vernacular.

until next time, selling news on platforms

PS. Toy for you -HP’s Tabbloid – start your own newspaper ;)