Monthly Archives: April 2009

Social Connectivity

Just yesterday, I read about AOL launching Social Thing for websites. Adding the service to your website gives you a navigation bar at the bottom of the page, users can sign in with their AIM/AOL/Bebo/ICQ ids and comment. They can also chat/IM, check out what their buddies are doing, and share stuff with them. According to Mashable, “Authentication goes through AOL’s Open Authentication API, which is being extended to include support for a single sign-on from Facebook, Google, Yahoo, OpenID and other services.”

As TechCrunch mentions in its article which talks about Facebook opening its stream API to developers, the conversation wars are heating up. Facebook Connect and its potential is something I’ve written about several times before. Broadly, as a site owner, the implementation of FB Connect allows me to broadcast my content to my Facebook audience, and if they comment using FB Connect, it gets added to their stream thus multiplying the reach. As a commenter, I can share my activities on other sites on my FB stream. The opening of the API enhances the potential for FB stream conversations to happen outside FB.

Meanwhile, a few days back, there was also a news about Twitter Connect. Obviously, since Twitter has very less profile data as compared to FB, it need not be seen as a competitor to FB Connect, but seen from a “conversation  platform choice” perspective, i’d say it still is. For those interested in how each of these Connect services work, this is an excellent detailed read.

And what Connect conversation can be complete without the omnipresent Google. Before we get to Friend Connect, a detour. Google recently decided to give us more control of how we would be seen in a search result page – Google Profiles will now be part of search results and we can edit it. In addition to regular data, you can showcase links to your profiles on services like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and so on. While Google claims its just responding to users’ needs, its obviously aimed at getting more user data. However, the profiles will only be shown at the bottom of the search pages, and will not ‘save’ you if you’ve been making news otherwise. :) I assumed that the Profiles so created would be in sync with what gets displayed on Google Friend Connect, but apparently its not so. But you can have a vanity url (google.com/profiles/your name) so long as its connected to your gmail id. You can get a detailed report on the new Profiles here.

Back to Google Friend Connect, once implemented on your site, it allows users to log in using GMail/Open ID/Yahoo/AIM . Users can comment, rate etc (depending on the gadgets you’ve added), engage with other users, and invite their friends from other networks to check out the site. There are many related things I am thinking of – will Profile and Friend Connect be made to work in sync, and is Google doing the opposite of what FB has done? FB created a social network first and then decided to connect other sites with it and thus enhance its own lifestream. With Google’s many services, it has a ‘disaggregated’ social network in place – YouTube/Picasa/Blogger/(even) Reader. At some point will Profile be just the equivalent of the ‘Info’ tab on Facebook and something like iGoogle (or God forbid Orkut) serve as the aggregator of one’s conversations across the web, not just across Google services, but the sites in which one logs in using Friend Connect. Google is always hungry for more data on users, so it can build more (and truth be told, sometimes better – like the proposed new Google News) products and get more data and obviously find more ways of making money.

Of the four, Facebook is now using its Connect on popular sites to add more layers to its existing user data  and increase the conversations on Facebook. The opening of the stream API should get us some interesting apps. We’ll have to see what AOL does with its new service, how it ties it with Bebo etc. Twitter Connect is in many ways a different animal altogether, its simplicity and existing third party applications throw open many possibilities (as always) The data just goes back to Twitter, and it can be argued both ways whether Twitter Connect can be used effectively to increase a site’s visibility in the open yet ‘noisy’ stream, but the commenting using Twitter login would be useful to quite a few people  (a wild thought – maybe Twitter should just buy Friendfeed and make that its base social network). Google Connect is easy to implement and interesting gadgets are sure to happen. The possibilities of aggregating  it into a network remain. Now I wonder if Microsoft will find new ways to connect, or will they just Vine? As for Yahoo, maybe they’ll connect with Microsoft finally!! What will be interesting is what handle you would use to connect.

until next time, connecting people ain’t just Nokia’s job no more

PS.  6 years of blogging. A week’s break. :)

The Real and the Virtual

He got married on April 24th 2003, to the woman he had loved for six years. He noted that somehow it all seemed to add up to 6. And so, on the sixth day he created ‘manuscrypts‘. From then on he was in seventh heaven. It’s been six years.
It would’ve ended there, but manuscrypts was tempted to finish his sixth year with sixty six words.

until next time, six degrees of separation :)

PS: Next post, in about 7 days. :)

Rambowed

I started reading a Pico Iyer book a few days back “Video night in Kathmandu”. I was hooked on from the first page because he started off with an icon from my childhood – Rambo :) Pico Iyer writes about how in the mid 80s Rambo took over Asia – China, Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, India lording over cinemas, inspiring local versions and becoming what the author calls (then) America’s single biggest export, and the most powerful force in Asia that autumn.

I could identify totally with this. I still remember the trips to Guruvayur, the famous temple town in Kerala. No, I haven’t totally lost it. You see, the rest of the family went to Guruvayur with spirituality in mind, but for me, it was mostly materialistic, the kind of simple joy that a typical 7 year old finds in staying in a hotel for a few days, having ‘non home’ food three times a day, and most importantly, after convincing everyone on how intact his spiritual outlook is, manages to charm his way into getting himself a few toys. The strange thing was, the toy shops that abounded around the temple had some excellent collection of superhero stickers, labels for notebooks and various knick knacks that I could never find in Cochin. So I always made it a point to devote a lot of time to checking out the stuff on display before I made a purchase.

[Aside: I also remember buying my first and only guitar there - a plastic contraption with Rishi Kapoor and Karz on the packaging]

And that’s how I found a toy set that enthralled me for (I think) at least a year. It was a Rambo kit! And in the days that followed, several citizens of a certain university campus in Cochin claimed to see a creature that suddenly sprang out of the bushes and from behind the acacia trees, dressed in (what were formerly decent) t shirts and trousers, with dark green crayon marks on them, similar to the ones on the face, with a cloth around his head and carrying plastic bows, and arrows that stuck to conducive walls using vacuum, and with a plastic gun and a sheathed plastic knife inserted into the trouser loops. The outdoor covert operations lasted only a few days, since, after scaring an old woman, the creature was captured, hauled (bawling) to his mom’s presence and subjected to severe interrogation, and mild physical punishment which resulted in more bawling, and confiscation of weapons. The weapons were returned the next day, but the theatre of overt operations was restricted to indoors. More than a couple of decades later, these memories came storming back when I read the book, and as though the cosmos was conspiring, I got to know that Rambo (Part 4) was premiering that night on television.

But though he had conquered enemies in Vietnam and Afghanistan, Rambo was yet to face an Asian force, that having been born in the late 70s, would prove a formidable opponent to the aged warrior – D, no, not the one with the shades and company, but my wife. Yes, you could  argue that she has shady company too, but I shall ignore that for now. And that was how Rambo lost his first battle, as D refused to  even entertain the thought of watching the movie, and an agitated fan helplessly watched Cloverfield on another channel. D had drawn first blood!! Maybe I should practice my bawling.

until next time, marital laws!!

Social Media – beyond strategy

Unilever CMO Simon Clift, at Ad Age’s Digital Conference, spoke about the increasing role of social media in brand management, and said that the internet allows consumers to hijack conversations inspite of the huge money spent on advertising. From Unilever’s experience with Dove also comes the understanding that its not just the communicated parts of a brand that comes under scrutiny, but also the corporate’s entire set of credos – sweatshops, impact on environment are a few things he mentioned. Unilever has prominent corporate signatures in its advertising in UK. He also spoke about the increasing penetration of mobiles, of “marketing program with social benefits”, and a product centric approach.

In essence, it reiterates the decline of one way communication, consumer participation, of brands being ‘deeper’ than the marketing that is done for them. But it was good to hear it from a leading FMCG corporate. The most interesting part of the article for me, however, was this, from the author of the post

Social media is not a strategy. You need to understand it, and you’ll need to deploy it as a tactic. But remember that the social graph just makes it even more important that you have a good product. Put another way: The volume and quality of your earned media will be directly proportional to the impact and quality of your product and ideas.

I think that nails it. All this while I was considering social media as strategy. Now I think its more than that – its something that will make the organisation really focus on what they’re delivering to their consumers, how they are doing it – not just from a delivery platform/operations pov, but also from how socially and environmentally conscious and responsible they have been. In Mr.Clift’s words “enlightened self interest”. The ways and means of communication – brand advertising, promotions, PR etc, will follow much later.

Meanwhile, the Marketing Pilgrim asks an interesting question – does social media really have the pulse of the people? It cites the Johnson & Johnson Motrin ads that had raised the hackles of mom bloggers a while ago, and caused them to remove the ad. Apparently a research was done later that threw up some interesting stats – 90% of women had never seen the ad, and when they did see it, 45% liked it. It also speaks of the Skittles – Twitter experiment, and a research in which only 6% of 300 people sampled had heard about it. Those on Twitter would’ve heard about both these, but the Pilgrim asks whether these voices resemble those outside at all, and how much of influence do they have outside.

I, for one, still think social media is a good microcosm of the real world. It does give varied perspectives, and the key is in evaluating the perspectives, digging further where required, and deciding on a course of action that fits larger objectives, and not knee jerk reactions. Wonder if there would have been different results if J&J and Skittles had attempted to carry the community along in their efforts.

But the bigger opportunity, I have always felt is that it allows brands to experiment with segmentation. On one hand, the net allows extremely targeted communication to a core segment, and on the other hand, cheaper distribution allows the brand to also communicate with different segments of the long tail of consumers. It means that brands can play different roles according to the consumer’s interests, and varying with the context, by tweaking its communication, even while sticking to its core objectives. There are new monitoring tools being developed that will aid of this.

Most importantly, it allows brands to find evangelists in each segment and work with them to improve and communicate. Consumers who find a product interesting and appealing will communicate it on their own, adding their perspective and giving a human touch of ‘interestingness’. I’m increasingly seeing posts about marketing ideas that have differed from the norm – Penguin India’s ‘Blog a Penguin India Classic’, which I wouldn’t know about if Karthik didn’t mention it on Twitter or his blog (though I do think they could’ve done it better by using social reading lists like Visual Bookshelf – on Facebook as an app too, Shelfari etc to reach Penguin readers – can easily find that through book titles), product placement ideas for Nestle evolving from the “Mad Men” on Twitter. Cisco’s comic book experiments via Chris Brogan’s post (Webex in Marvel Comics), and Kara Swisher on All Things Digital ( The Realm, an entire comic series). All appealed to me as a marketer, and one as a bibliophile too. Social media is not one thing – the channels vary in audience, kinds of interaction etc – Facebook, Twitter, You Tube all allow new ideas ( I thought Volvo’s Twitter stream inside a YouTube banner ad was very interesting) and fresh engagement rules, and ways to break advertising and brand communication stereotypes.

I wonder about the role of strategy in a social media landscape where many things are still unfamiliar. The standards, processes and even objectives are in most cases, hazy, and evolution is happening on a regular basis. In such a scenario, perhaps organisations should first take a long look at themselves and their customers – current and potential, and start by setting goals that go beyond social media.

until next time, lab time

Bonus Reads: Social Media tools popular among marketers (via Digital Inspiration)

Laa Jawaab

A recent addition to Indiranagar’s North Indian dine out options, this restaurant is on CMH Road – the non metro side. :) When coming from the Koramangala direction – on 100 ft Road, take a right turn at the CMH Road- 100 ft Road junction, you’ll find the restaurant on the right, opposite ICICI bank, just before Fabindia. Valet parking is available for 4 wheelers and there’s a 2 wheeler parking right across the road.

The restaurant is on the first floor, describes itself as ‘swaad ka khazana’, and has two sections, one has a regular restaurant seating, and the other is more of a lounge section. (though they don’t seem to have a liquor license yet) We’d reserved in advance, but found it wasn’t required, especially if you land up before 8. There are a couple of nice 2-seat options, which give you a view of CMH Road. The ambience is otherwise pretty ordinary, with piped instrumental hindi music. The menu is shaped like a pankha (fan) and offers standard Delhi/North Indian cuisine.

There were only the regular shorba options, but quite a few starter options (veg and non veg – including 2-3 sea food options), so we ordered a starter – Gilawati Kabab, which was described as “a unique mouth watering lamb kabab with the distinct flavours of Lucknow”. I liked the way it was served – on a tiny paratha, but the taste was skewed towards one flavor – nutmeg, says D. That took away from what would otherwise have been quite a good dish.

For the main course, we ordered a Paneer Lababdar – “cottage cheese simmered in an onion and tomato gravy”, and a Murgh Methi Malai – “chunks of chicken with fenugreek and cream”, and to go along with that, an onion kulcha, a khaas amritsari kulcha and later, a plain naan. There was an interesting fish dish, (in addition to a couple of regular gravy options) with spinach and mint, but we decided to play safe. The paneer dish was quite ordinary, though spicy, and seemed quite lumpy to me, maybe because I was expecting a uniformly thick gravy. The chicken dish has a creamy white gravy, and an excellent one at that. This one I recommend. The portions are quite large and easily sufficient for two people. Both the kulchas were well done, the Amritsari kulcha is slightly spicy and has a stuffing (potato/onion). The dessert options were the regular suspects, except one – Paan Ice Cream, which I would’ve tried if I wasn’t so stuffed.All of the above cost us just over Rs.850, so its a bit on the expensive side.

In essence, nothing extraordinary, but if you’re around Indiranagar, and are in the mood for North Indian food, you could check it out.

Laa Jawaab, #516, 1st Floor, opp ICICI bank, CMH Road, Indiranagar. Ph: 42173232/42183232. [i can’t understand people who communicate their website url just to show a parked domain

Driven to it..

The driver ahead, talking on the mobile,  was disrupting traffic…irritating him. And then he saw the sticker. At the junction, he knocked on the window and said “Thanks for the warning sticker, ma’am, but your responsibility doesn’t end there. You should also realize that the baby on board is too immature to drive you around”

until next time, hit and run

Google noose?

The A.P. will work with portals and other partners who legally license our content and will seek legal and legislative remedies against those who don’t. We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories.”

That’s what Associated Press Chairman William Dean Singleton said, in what is obviously a salvo against news aggregating services like Google. The ‘misguided legal theories’ here refer to the ‘fair use’  legal doctrine that news aggregators and search services have been using to use snippets of articles. AP’s concern is that many of these services have been making revenues out of packaging these stories. Also, while AP does have deals with Google and several other engines for some of their content, apparently search throws up material not covered by these agreements.

Interesting to note that AP had sued MoreOver (Verisign) for snippeting and linking to its news, and Google had signed a deal with AP 2 weeks prior to that. That case was settled, though I have not yet been able to get details. AP now has plans to launch own news site – a “new search pages that point users to the latest and most authoritative sources of breaking news”.  It suggests a system to track content – one that would create, in effect, “fingerprints” of content that could track usage and links. Journalism Online is another entity that wants to help newspapers and magazines charge for their content online.You can read the interview with Steven Brill, who has started it with two others, here.

Google’s contention is that they’re directing a lot of traffic to the news sites, and any newspaper that doesn’t want to be part of Google News can do just that. Scott Karp says at Publishing 2.0, Google has played to its strength and wrested control of the distribution of news. Interesting comments too. Google allowed users to find content that they wanted, and became the start page when people wanted to find something on the web. That’s something media companies still aren’t doing right, and in between, Google managed to push in the ads, and make a few dollars. Erick Schonfeld, at TechCrunch has an interesting take on this – he points out that (in the US) Google News is behind Yahoo News as well as the sites of the NYT, and Google is actually exposing news, and helping other sites make money too. He argues that while Google does play a part in getting traffic to sites, ultimately it is the content that gets readers and sets the price. Jackie Hai explains how the “The AP syndication model works in an economy of information scarcity, whereas the web represents an economy of abundance.” I recently read about Google Web Elements, which allows Google products to be added to any website. That includes Google News and takes distribution to a whole new level.

Though the AP issue is mostly an American one, there are similar sentiments being echoed in Europe too. According to NYT, Belgian Danish and British newspapers want Google to reach agreements with them before using their content. Though each country will have its own dynamics as far as news distribution and maturity of media platform goes, these cases are sure to set precedents.

The media landscape is changing. Its not just that old media is changing rules to figure out revenue models. Its about an airline becoming a content ‘publisher‘, individuals becoming advertising mediums, services like TwitterGrep popping up to utilise the instancy of Twitter… and so on. As Jackie Hai mentioned in his article, the participatory web has blurred the lines between content producer, distributor and consumer. We play all three at different times.

The measures that newspapers have or are making to earn revenues on the web seem to be insufficient. That includes online advertising, micro payments etc. I increasingly feel that a repair might not be enough. Perhaps a complete overhaul is the ask. The fingerprinting does spark a thought about the role of individual journalists, and the importance they should have in the new system. The web is increasingly becoming a relationship based medium where personal equity and trust are currencies. Perhaps the corporate newspaper needs to be replaced with a more human and humane network, perhaps it should create a core competency on the web in specific news sections – these could be geography based, maybe there is an opportunity for an aggregator in the challenges of hyperlocal news.  Perhaps it can even be category or genre based. Traditional concepts, but built with a social web perspective. Perhaps they should build a legion of citizen reporters who are paid according to the quality of their contributions . After all there is always a need for quality driven and trustworthy news and analysis. The need remains, but the readers’ wants of delivery platform, timing etc have changed.

The recent (and sometimes) drastic measures taken by Indian newspapers shows that its not as impervious as it was considered. That gives more reason to prepare for a changing landscape. To start figuring out consumption patterns ,  multimedia possibilities, cost implications, distribution dynamics and revenue streams on digital platforms. Maybe they’re all waiting for PTI to fight Google, or is it Yahoo Buzz :|

until next time, a new sprint

A plus cases on Twitter

Last week, @aplusk beat @CNNbrk in the race for one million followers. In plain English, Ashton Kutcher, an actor, challenged CNN on Larry King Live – who would get to a million followers first – to prove a point that an individual could have a reach equal to a large network on Twitter. Twitter joined in the fun, because unlike the norm, users couldn’t unfollow either of the parties, of course smart tweeps found a way out anyway.  Point taken, AsKu, though the irony was that until a  week back, the CNN account was not run by them, though for sometime they’ve been managing the account through the person who created it.

For more than two years, the CNNBrk account (for breaking news) had been created, maintained and run by a 25-year-old British Web developer who just wanted a way to beam short news alerts to his cellphone.

And that’s the beauty of this user driven service. Something that I fear might change with the ‘mainstream’ spotlight and the rush of real celebrities. Its only a matter of time before a new celebrity thinks of a new stunt. But it is to be noted that  Kutcher is donating 10000 mosquito nets worth $100000 to a charity. In fact, one week before that, I’d read about Hugh Jackman’s donating AUS $100,000 to charity via Twitter, the charity to be selected via Twitter pitches.

Now, I’ve always maintained that users should figure their own comfort levels and use the service accordingly. But I also feel that a sudden influx of people with no intent other than rooting for a celebrity might be the kind of inorganic growth that will work against the service and its more regular users. This could range from a disruption of the service due to the load to a change in the ‘culture’ of the service.

Kutcher’s point was about getting a reach higher than a media giant. I’ve always had a problem with numbers – followers, updates etc as a means of measurement on Twitter. I find it a paradox for a place which became popular because of a qualitative measure – conversations. CNN will deliver breaking news regularly, and (as someone suggested on Twitter) Kutcher followers will just have to wait for those occasional Demi photos. Reach has been an index to sell traditional media space, is that the benchmark Twitter wants to take forward?

There was a very interesting post on Tech Crunch on whether Twitter should remove its follower count. Like I tweeted, I’d agree. Once upon a time, it was a medium to share an instant – something you thought/read/saw/felt to make others smile/think/share their own expressions. With growth came the ‘how a tweet might cost you a job’ and ‘5 ways to increase sales with Twitter’ theses, and the instant was lost. Perhaps you will ignore that as a subjective grumble. But think of the times you see the ‘need 5 more followers to get 500. please RT’ and what you feel then. What happens when that’s the norm and the service changes to accommodate and encourage that culture because that’s what helps them make money. [Note: I'd love for Twitter to make money, but I'm sure they'll find better ways]

While on celebrities and Twitter, closer home Gul Panag has been quite active on Twitter the last few days. The Twitterverse has had its share of imposters and has been trying to ensure there’s no ‘identity crisis’ this time, so much that poor GulP might have one soon. This tweet of hers caught my attention. (Oh, okay the dimples too!!)

gulp1

Spicy Jet news. Poor them. It reminded me of a post I’d written sometime back on ‘Social Ambassadors‘ – what would happen when the transparency of social media met celebrity bloggers? In this case, micro bloggers. In fact, micro blogging is even more ‘dangerous’ since the interaction is real time, and not like a PR draft that can be posted on ths site, and replies given in a few hours or even days. This becomes all the more important if celebrities use social media as a personal broadcast medium to their fans. Of course, brands can use the media to their benefit too – for example, create conversations between celebrities (a Twitter conversation between Aamir and Gul basis their Tata Sky TVC would be fun), use celebrities to communicate beyond the obvious advertisement etc.

The challenge is for celebrities too. Perhaps it will also make celebrities more responsible when making endorsement choices. (It would be fun to ask SRK/Aamir why they switched soft drink brands in between.) Also, can celebrities retain their ‘interestingness’ when they are in touch with the fans all the time, unlike a traditional system when news about them was less abundant?

On an aside, when celebrities move to direct-to-crowd platforms, what happens to the go-between media for whom they were the news makers, and we were the news consumers? And what happens to the micro celebrities on Twitter? :)

until next time, when twitter streams meet mainstream

Moult

Two new malayalam movies watched in a fortnight. Nothing special in that, you’d think. What does make it special is that they brought back characters from the past.

“2 Harihar Nagar”, the official sequel to a movie, after 19 years, has four characters who’d set a benchmark in comedy at that time. [Priyadarshan, as he regularly does with decent Malayalam movies, screwed it up in Hindi as Dhol]  Handled by a capable director and an extremely good screenplay, these guys managed to pick up right where they left off. They had us in splits this time too, and add to that, sprinkles of nostalgia and some good suspense, this movie was a treat. It was amazing to watch their chemistry, intact, or perhaps rekindled, after so many years, more so, because their ‘image’ has changed quite some in the years that have passed. A couple of them play character and villain roles now, and popular ones at that; one had some time in the limelight, even being anointed the “common man’s hero”, before making an idiot of himself in inconsequential roles and TV shows, and the last flirts with the screen once in a while. But what we saw in the movie was a transformation, and a pleasant surprise.

“Sagar alias Jackie”, the director claims, is not a sequel to any film, but merely  uses the hero (and one more character) of an earlier one. On hindsight, that makes a damn good disclaimer. The original movie ‘Irupatham noottandu’, made in 1987, starring Mohanlal as an enigmatic ‘smuggler with a conscience’ , was one that in no small way contributed to his rising stature in the industry. Over the years he has proved his acting skills time and again, until recently. These days he is more of star, and scripts pander to this. He is easily the best actor I’ve seen, and though I used to be a fan of the superhuman avatar in the initial days, when it used to be backed by excellent screenplays, these days his roles are quite indistinguishable from each other. More stylised, this one proved to be the same fare, unfortunately.

Both scripts used the equity of iconic characters. While one set of actors broke their current moulds, and recaptured the feel of their original characters, another actor was caught in a mould and couldn’t come close to the original character. One could argue that the scripts made the difference, but maybe the difference was in acting, and one set proved better because they stayed true to character, and the portrayal automatically fell into place?

It made me think whether this also applies to us too. Over a period of time, do some of us get cast in a ‘have to be’ mould, arising from others’ and self expectations, or a ‘want to be’ mould because of our own aspirations? Do these moulds take us away from what we originally are, is there an original mould, and would reclaiming it and living with it give us the joy we seek? The choice is an intriguing one.

until next time, casting lots with the self

Video Night in Kathmandu

Pico Iyer

Set in the mid 80’s, Pico’s travel writing worked on two levels for me – one, in terms of his destinations, and the other, in terms of time. Right from the first page, with his interpretation of the Rambo phenomenon in Asia, his sharp wit makes this book a great read.
He uses individual characters in different places (India, China, Tibet, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, HongKong, Japan, Philippines) to describe the place’s character. In some cases, the stereotypes are reinforced, but in a lot of others, he manages to fit in and yet observe objectively.
He discusses the influence of the West on the East and tries to show each of the places he has visited have reacted to it – some by shunning it, some by completely absorbing it, and some by adapting it and making it their own.
I felt that throughout the book he stayed true to his observations, though the perspective was tinged with a favouritism for the east.