Monthly Archives: February 2009

The man.. the machine

A while ago, I’d written about my fascination for lifestreaming, and the role it could play in storing our memories and giving it context. In fact memories and the possibility of losing them have always been food for thought for me.  One memory from a long time back, when I was an avid reader of Doctor Who books,  is of one of the Doctor’s villain sets – Cybermen – a fictional race of cyborgs. From Wikipedia

Cybermen were originally a wholly organic species of humanoids originating on Earth’s twin planet Mondas that began to implant more and more artificial parts into their bodies as a means of self-preservation. This led to the race becoming coldly logical and calculating, with emotions usually only shown when naked aggression was called for.

The connection. I saw an article recently on what has been called Homo Evolutis (original video here). Human beings have been the dominant species on the planet for a short while now, and as the author explains, there’s no guarantee that the current situation is a stable one. And in this context is seen the beginnings of speciation, in broad terms the evolution of our own species.

The author talks about three different tracks of speciation -prosthetics (from limbs to hearing aids and beyond), stem cell and tissue engineering (where we are reaching a stage when a single cell can be rebooted back to its original factory settings and can rebuild any part of our body,  and lastly, a track to improve the brain. The author says that the last track will be the slowest to evolve, but the one with the maximum impact.

And these tracks would create a new race or races- in fact a prosthetic body part, a plastic surgery etc are all the common manifestations of this process. As technology becomes more advanced, it will become affordable to a lot more people. From a physical perspective, who wouldn’t like body parts whose wear and tear can be controlled, an end to pain and suffering. And it doesn’t stop there, because we’d like to have the best physical abilities that any species has in terms of moving, seeing, hearing, strength etc. From the mind’s perspective, an organ that could upgrade itself to store more, to experience more, to work faster, to be more accurate. And it doesn’t stop there – reading others’ minds, telepathy…

We will see the beginning of all this in our lifetime. The progress might be slow, so slow that perhaps later generations wouldn’t realise how we’d lived without most of the artificial things that they would be taking for granted. How would this affect the experiences of life that we go through now – joy, sorrow, pain, ecstasy, spirituality?  How long before what we call human would give way to a being that would probably exist forever, possibly without living? Will they even realise it when it happens?

until next time, a man made man….

Product Life Cycle and Consumer Life Cycles

One of the social web’s by products er, products, are “shiny new objects”. (new services that launch and send us enthusiasts into a tizzy. All the web 2.0 greats were shiny new objects at some point in time)  There were a couple of wonderful posts I read in this context. The first is Rex Hammock’s excellent post on how we obsess over these for sometime, and then move on. Yes, I know you know that, but its the next part that’s interesting.

Then one day about three years later, you notice people who aren’t obsessed with shiny new objects are talking about something four-or-five shiny new objects ago and you wonder: Why is everyone obsessed with this?

This happens to me occasionally, the latest example being a few guys tweeting about the Baba Ramdev- Chrome ad that was circulated around quite a few months back.

The second post was great, right from the title – The Loneliness of the Early Adopter, and when i shared it on Friendfeed, at least a couple of guys liked it. I confess I’m more at the borderline of early majority and early adopter, (refer this ) but I could empathise with a lot of that post.

Now, a long way back, Jeremiah had an awesome post on Applying a social computing strategy to the entire product lifecycle. As the title suggests, its about listening to consumers, collaborating on product development, filtering out the right consumers, learning from them and supporting them and in essence, utilising the social web in all parts of the PLC. Here’s another great post in Social Media Explorer on the same theme.

Twitter and more so Friendfeed (as this Mashable article explains) and Facebook (commenting on status and other elements of the newsfeed, the ‘Like’ feature) are great examples of how the product/service is evolving with the consumer and his preferences. Increasingly consumers are ‘creating’ a use or finding a way to fulfill a need gap from a basic service.

The question is, who is the consumer? I’m trying to juxtapose the Product life cycle with a consumer life cycle. Are the tastes and preferences of the early adopters markedly different from that of the late majority? As the adoption of various social media services rapidly increases, who would a service target, and will it be at the cost of another segment? Different consumers, located at different points on the Roger’s bell curve will use the service at the same time. How can these possibly different sets of expectations be met? Will there be variations of the same service for different categories of users? I don’t see the issue being addressed a lot now, that possibly explains why a lot of people leave say, Twitter after a few tweets/days since they can’t figure out what’s happening? Would a ‘nOOb version’ have helped? Social media is about customisation too, and this might be something that needs to be answered soon, as these services become mass.

until next time, handling a cycle on a curve :)

Class Act

“I’ll be gentle, it won’t hurt”, he promised. She was apprehensive, she hardly knew him. Noticing this, he added, “I know it takes time to trust someone new, so let’s start slowly and talk as we go along.” As her muscles expanded and contracted, she still wasn’t sure whether to trust the new yoga instructor.

until next time, breathe out ;)

Paper Money

There was a wonderful post in the Edelman Digital blog titled ‘The Last Newspaper‘. An insightful, well balanced and objective take on stories and content which perhaps captures the newspaper and web relationship best. From the post

Stories are personal and transformational. Stories have definition and character. Stories are history personified.

But content is cold, distant. Content is a commodity – a finite consumable of fleeting value. Content is artificial intelligence.

Quite a paradox for brands that handle stories, when we consider that brands that tell the most interesting stories are loved by consumers. Taking it to a not-so-appealing premise was this question that was asked on Friendfeed recently, by Adam Lasnik.

“I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the growing sensationalism in online “journalism.” Will the pursuit of pageviews ultimately trump integrity and thoughtfulness? I’m seriously worried.”

When news becomes a commodity, publishers have to find a way to make theirs look more appealing than someone else’s. This is an unfortunate but inevitable by product.

Publishers. On one side, we have Kindle 2, and its competitors (via @chupchap) work on an alternate platform for news delivery, and on the other, we have The Printed Blog rolling out a printed newspaper. Meanwhile, we  have Japanese newspapers collaborating for an iphone app. We also have an entity like NYT, which carries an op-ed article stating that perhaps non-profit, endowment based system is the way forward for newspapers, but is still the world’s best newspaper website taking radical steps to figure out ways to evolve, basis the understanding that newspapers are perhaps not the preferred means of delivery anymore – an API which offers developers access to 2.8 million articles from NYT, and another that gives developers data on the sharing and reading habits of Times People’s registered users. In essence, from a newspaper or even a news website, it transforms itself into a platform on which users and developers can use this mound of information for various purposes, and the possibility of linking it all together semantically. In context, an article from over 2 years back, still relevant.

Closer to home, the top Indian newspapers are still grappling with the issue of how to handle themselves on the web. That’s not to say that some publications aren’t trying. HT, for example, has started blogs recently. Now you could turn around and say that’s basic, but that’s the state of Indian print media for you. Future revenue models are not even being thought of in most places. From their three main sources of revenue – subscription, stand sales and advertising, the first two are at best on plateaus and the last is suffering, largely due to recession. Recently, there was even a delegation of publication owners that approached the government for help!! Maybe they should be doing this instead – collaborative link journalism by Publish2. Vernacular papers are in better shape. But for English newspapers, i really don’t know what’s a better time to start thinking about future revenue.

In that context, this post correctly states that micropayments for news (here’s a rebuttal too)  is not an option. Some revenue could be possible by making some parts of the content paid for, as the NYT is planning, but that still cannot be the main source of revenue. I am wondering how well a subscription model based on a different platform (mobile) could work. The news alerts on SMS are only the tip. While GPRS penetration is not exactly astounding, it is bound to grow especially in the segment that the English newspapers operate in, so perhaps it is a path to be explored. Locality based, contextual advertising could be fun.

Newspapers, especially in India, would do well to heed a great piece of advice that I got from this post on brands, and the need for evolution. (via Gabriel Rossi)

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” William Pollard

Its not merely a change in delivery platform or an API that makes the move by NYT so radical. Its the mindset change, and until Indian newspapers realise that, no efforts will make long term sense. For now, they are smug in treating only other newspapers as competition, not even considering the possibility of an entire army of vertical-specialised content providers who now have digital media which gives them advantages like never before, to generate and distribute content.

until next time, paper tigers…

PS. This – Google buying a paper mill and converting it into a data centre, I thought, was very symbolic.

The Egg Factory

The name’s an attention grabber. And so it was that we decided to drop in on a lazy Sunday. You can find it off St.Marks Road – the part that goes towards Residency Road. Soon after you take a left from Museum Road, you can see it on the right, packed inside a tiny lane. (after the petrol pump, and a ramshackle plot).

The ambience has a wooden-metallic grunge look that goes well with the factory name.  The  “Damp Wall. Please do not lean” is a good touch. “The logo is inspired by the Maori symbol “Koru”, which represents renewed energy and new beginnings. The name and the logo is a symbolic adaptation of the meaning, and that of the humble egg.”  The menu is a great piece of work, and shows that that they take the egg part of their name (and positioning) very seriously. Its a spoof on the foldable user manuals that come with consumer durables (including the multiple languages). It is an absolute pun fest with eggxpectations, egghilarative snacks, eggxotica, eggsamplers. eggciting combos all making appearances. So you can see why I didn’t need any egging on to take an instant liking to the place. ;)

We started with an Egg Pasta Frittata and an Eggs Florentine. The frittata is a “hearty meal of penne in frittata and baked with cream and parmesan”, and is served with garlic bread. I’d read reviews that it was awesome, but it was just about okay. The Florentine, which is “soft boiled eggs on a bed of spinach and a creamy sauce and topped with parmesan” was a much better dish. Both are served with garlic bread (which they didn’t have, so we were given  bread toast, and they used sweet bread, hmm)  If you’re not really hungry, the portions are quite sufficient, and make a good snack, but if you’re out to gorge, then you’d want a second course, like us :D

I wanted an Arroz Con Huevos, a mexican dish, which looked spicy (from the menu) but it wasn’t available. So we went for an Egg Cannelloni Alforno, a “tube pasta stuffed with eggs, mushroom and red pepper” and a Polish omelette. The Alforno is excellent and had a distinct tangy flavor that was a welcome relief. They seem to have a slight geography problem since we got an Irish omellete – has potatoes flavoured with chives and lemon juice. The latter is served with toast, butter and jam. We ended with a bread custard, that was one of the desserts of the day, and was quite okay. (the ones who came in earlier finished the caramel custard).

They seem to have discontinued several of the menu items – paratha curry, rice curry and chinese combos, wraps, subs and crostinis, wonder why. There is a ‘Manipal connection’ part of the menu which reminded me of college life. :) Meanwhile, for the health conscious, you can have all the stuff, with only the egg white, for an extra Rs.10 per item. All of the above cost us Rs.450, an absolute value for money outing, and one that we thoroughly enjoyed.

The Egg factory, Ground Floor, White House, St.Marks Road. Ph:42110041

Menu and Photos at Zomato

Keep Walking

A long time back, almost 4 years ago, after seeing Farhan Akhtar’s Lakshya, I’d written about meaning, and purpose, and its relevance in an individual’s life. I guess, as I moved on in life, and feared that time is running out for something, the search for this purpose became more frantic, until I tried to see it in everything that happened to me, and around me. I tried to look at what others were doing, trying to find some parameter of reference. But even if it did exist, it doesn’t seem to be easy to find, and that’s a despairing thought.

And then, sometime back, this wonderful person shared these lines with me

“For years, copying other people,
I tried to know myself.
From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.
Unable to see, I heard my name being called.
Then I walked outside.”
…… Rumi

And then, I found some more food for thought in Hermann Hesse’ “Siddhartha”. A conversation about searching and finding and the difference between the two approaches. Yes, these seem to be two different approaches, and I thought one was the result of the other. :)

Searching means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.

When a person searches for something, even something that he defines as a purpose, he focuses on that so much that he is usually oblivious of everything else. It becomes an obsession.

That really does not mean neglecting every responsibility. But it does mean that I do not automatically categorise experiences as good/bad, useful/not useful etc and be done with it. A mindset change from searching to finding will allow me to look at an experience as just that, and to treat it with more calmness. As one of my favourite tees says, “Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling”

I guess we all know it, we just need reminders ever so often, because we set goals which we think will ensure happiness… movie this weekend, vacation next month, party tonight…but are we really conscious about the  transient nature of that goal? I’m not going to stop any of it (except for the partying, I never did that anyway:) ), but I will be conscious of its relevance.. and irrelevance  :)

until next time, destination nowhere

More than fizz and froth

While the recession hits the economies worldwide, the cola giants have been trying their bubbly best to get the fizz back into the lives of their target audience, through hope and optimism campaigns.

Pepsi began proceedings with its new logo, accompanied by a tagline “Every generation refreshes the world”. You can catch an entire set of creatives in this New Year video. On an aside, the (yet to be proved conclusively) brief for this campaign has caused much amusement. You really have to take a look – it is bizarre and includes everything from gravitational pull and thr relativity of space-time to Mona Lisa and the Bible!! (via psfk) Meanwhile, Coke rolled out its ‘Open Happiness’ campaign a few weeks later, complete with a massive campaign and 2 new Super Bowl spots, prompting the question “Who smiled first“. The answer turned out to be Obama, but Pepsi claimed that finally Coke was following them. Coke pointed out that it had started using smiley logos six months back.

Critics have been skeptical about Coke moving away from the ‘Coke side of life’. Pepsi, they say, having always been a youthful brand has been able to bring out a more buoyant and less laboured campaign. In India, they’ve decided to be totally Youngistan, with SRK no longer a brand ambassador, leaving us stuck with Ranbir Kapoor’s adventures. Some respite recently from Dhoni and gang, with the baap connection.

Meanwhile, these campaigns also made me wonder whether typical mass media communication and feel good campaigns are indeed the way to connect during such troubled times,  more so when I read this article by Tom Martin in AdAge. It talks about “the simple human need to connect to others.”

And that brings me to a brilliant campaign I’ve seen (virtually) – froth brand this time, instead of fizz- Starbucks’ “I’m In” campaign, (in association with ‘Hands On Network’) “ an initiative to make it easy to participate in the President-elect’s call for national service.” The campaign allows a person to pledge five hours or more of community service toward a local volunteer opportunity of choice. It rewards the person with a free coffee. The goal is to raise pledges in excess of one million hours of service from all over the country. You can catch the results here. This is what is correctly described as ‘marketing with meaning‘ – which includes several facets – social, personal, storytelling, disruptive, responsible, each of which gives individuals different sets of incentives to be part of the campaign. Starbucks timed the campaign brilliantly – Obama’s inauguration week, and got itself an Oprah Effect. It has all the ingredients required to make a consumer want to be associated with the campaign, and has used the social web very well.

Now I’m not sure of Coke/Pepsi in the US have tangible renditions of the happiness theme on ground, but I know several campaigns in India which have paid lip service to excellent themes/ideas and have ended up looking superficial. In the times and circumstances we live in, there are excellent opportunities for brands to genuinely do good to society within the sphere of their category, and thereby increase their equity in the consumer’s mind.  (Jaago re is a great example) I wonder how many brands will see this.

until next time, a lot can happen over coffee :)

PS. While on fizzy stuff, did you hear about the RSS launching cow’s urine as a soft drink? Called gau-jal, its undergoing laboratory tests and would be launched “very soon, maybe by the end of this year”. Sumant suggests Mo (rarji) Desai in low riding jeans, basketball jersey and bling, as brand ambassador, and I suggested the tagline Pee yo! Wonder if Coke and Pepsi are pissed ;)

She’s just not that into you….

The moment he saw his ex-wife at the party, he cringed. A confrontation between ex-wife and current girlfriend could never end well. But even he hadn’t imagined the scale of disaster. The moment his girlfriend saw the other woman, she told him, “Honey, she’s so beautiful that I don’t think I can think straight anymore”

until next time, love is blind, among other things :)

For a few dollars more…

This won’t be the first time I’ve written about Twitter’s revenue model, and I suspect it won’t be the last. In fact, the last time I wrote about it, it was in the context of the deal that almost happened between Facebook and Twitter. Its been a couple of months, so I thought its a good time to check what both have been upto on the subject of revenues.

There was a scare recently on how Facebook is going to make money by selling users’ data, but that turned out just to be misinterpreted statements, based on a demo that they did at Davos to show real time crowd insights, and had nothing to do with the Engagement Advertising model. Facebook has been growing very fast, (stats) and though this is claimed to be a demo, real time insights (permission based) from the exact target audience could indeed add a lot of value to brands, and any other entity that could be interested in data. Market research firms should actually be working with Facebook and starting to develop pools specific to their client’s audiences. With Facebook implementing the Friendfeed style ‘Like’ feature, the tools are becoming as simple as possible.

Meanwhile, I also wonder about the data that could come from the sites that have been tied through Facebook Connect, especially since there are some big names in their respective fields. This could reveal a lot more about the individual’s interests – basis his interaction with the other sites, and that data would be easier to handle since in many cases the site’s content would dictate the context, unlike the generic data that could be picked up on Facebook itself. This would be an interesting space to watch, and that’s an understatement.

A simple yet possibly history making story of how Twitter was made. And in another simple yet profound statement, Seth Godin described it as a protocol. And yet another good one which describes it as a social experiment. Which then raises the question of how a revenue model can be made for this protocol or experiment. As someone once said, “Twitter is what you make it to be”. There are pains too. Twitter’s humble origins and the scale envisioned may not have made a vision mandatory then, and there is also talk that Twitter could ‘go for years’ without earning, but to survive in the long term, Twitter does need a vision, one that’d then give some direction for its revenue model.

There have been many entities trying to use the stream for transmitting ads, adCause and TwitterHawk, being the latest, but honestly, it does seem like a force fit. But I’ll admit that the location+context based approach of TwitterHawk does seem very interesting. In fact, there have been many apps built around Twitter, some of which require the user to give the Twitter password to use the service, and there have been security problems thanks to that too. Hopefully that’ll get sorted out once OAuth is implemented, perhaps we’ll see a new generation of mashups too, leading Twitter towards a revenue model. Here are some very interesting thoughts on Twitter, including searching conversations based on category, and a marketplace around conversations and real products. Its interesting to note that brands have already begun experimenting with Twitter, and with tangible expectations, as the recent Dell promo of exclusive deals shows.  More likely to follow that model with the launch of TwtQpon. In this context, check out CheapTweet too. Meanwhile, here’s a good set of thoughts for Twitter revenue.

Twitter Contest-Denuology Entry94 Update

 

With enterprise versions (Yammer)and even college versions (Wiggio), Twitter needs to hurry, if it does not want to lose out segments altogether. This story about Twitter thinking about charging brands is turning out to be true. I can imagine those social media evangelists within organisations groaning already!! But all the best, and we await the Business Product Manager. :)

While Twitter scores on the real time aspect (my opinion since I use both) Facebook offers a lot more easily available data on an individual’s demographics, interests etc. The other parameter is that while Facebook is being adopted by the masses easily, Twitter does require a bit of getting used to. Facebook might have to sweat a bit to crack real time, and Twitter would have to do many things – consider scaling up groups to other regions, have better ways of segregating conversations and data mining.  But in the end, it all does seem to boil down to using real time information of potential/existing consumers, with precise demographics and interests based targeting.

We keep saying that social media and its tools are all about the human touch, and the personalisation. And brands utilising these platforms should understand that. I wonder if the same applies to revenue models too, and whether this extreme customisation will mean that both these networks will find it difficult to conceptualise and then implement, revenue templates, that will fit all.

until next time, money makes the social world go around :|

Headcount

A whole multitude of them were swept away in the deluge. Others calmly stayed rooted, with the serene acceptance of a ‘Here today, gone tomorrow’ philosophy. They didn’t seem bothered, he thought. But he couldn’t afford the complacency. After all, with the hair being lost every time he bathed, he was one who’d become bald!!

until next time, a hairy tale ending please?