Reading beyond the obvious

As a regular user of Google Reader, I was happy to see that a couple of weeks back, Google deemed it important enough to carry out a few changes – a ‘like’ button, the ability to follow specific people (using Reader Search), and friend groups (with customisation options of who sees what content). The public nature of the ‘Like’ button meant that sharing on reader got a lot more social, though it had its share of detractors too.  Many complained about not wanting to see “likes from the unwashed masses”, Google corrected it by adding an option in the Settings, so that if you so desired, you could only see the ‘Likes’ by people you followed.

As a regular user, I’d say that people who give only partial feeds stand to lose out a bit on the ‘Like’ part. It would also be great if the time lag between publishing and the post appearing on Reader could be reduced. As a publisher, I wish Google would tie these social features in Reader with Google Analytics, so that I can know who shared/liked my posts. One way to know the number of ‘like’ is to subscribe to your own blog, but I’m sure that Google can make it easier if they want. Then maybe a plugin that can show these details on my post (at the site). Much like the Tweetmeme plugin I have installed on my other blog.  Speaking of Tweetmeme, according to Venture Beat, the button is now shown more than 50 million times a day across the web. It has its share of competitors, and is even threatening to sue one.

That number gives a rough idea of why Google want a piece of the sharing pie. In fact, this chart, created by AddtoAny (the same guys who gave us that awesome widget at the bottom of my posts) shows how sharing happens on the web. Facebook leads, followed by email and Twitter. Google, though dominant in search, would be looking closely at specific competition – the Yahoo-MS deal and how Bing’s interesting games shape up. But more importantly, it also has to keep an eye on how generic search and sharing (social) are changing and shaping each others’ future. Twitter just got itself a new homepage, and ““Share and discover what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world”  clearly shows the intent. I thought it even answered, to a certain extent, the oft heard question – “But what do i do on Twitter”. Call it discovery/recommendation/trend, but it is just a different perspective on search. And its not just Twitter, Friendfeed recently added a feature – ‘recommend friends’. No, silly, not the Orkut/LinkedIn type, if you feel your subscriber would also like the feed of someone you subscribe to, you can share it easily. Though its nothing radical, its helpful for new folk.

The Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey shows recommendations (from known people) as the most trusted source of advertising, at 90% and consumer opinions posted online at 70% next. Among Indian audience, recommendations top, but editorial is placed second. A post on Six Pixels of Separation blog talks about how the next ‘Google’ will be a referral engine, which ranks website not basis text optimisation, but basis what people have said and done there, and how the information there has been used by people. But there are challenges there too as such a system needs to incorporate relevance, immediacy, trustworthiness and have an interface that will display it in the most intuitive, easy manner possible. This post on RWW discusses the concept of Social Relevancy Rank, with five layers, where search results on streams (like Twitter, which already have real time) will be arranged basis relevance to your social graph. Friendfeed does this and provides more options in Advanced Search. The post also suggests ‘friends of friends’ as the next layer of results, and a concept of ‘taste neighbours’ (a mining of ‘people who liked this also liked’) after that. The last two layers are made of influencers and the crowd aggregate. In fact, I thought, maybe a possible visualisation would be to actually have all five layers arranged vertically side-by-side and a thumbs up/down button by the side of each search result, so that each user can contribute to filtering. Is this a perfect method? No, but then neither is Google’s Page Rank, as the author says. Which perhaps is why Google, while it is master of the algorithmic search, needs to experiment with Reader and see if it can create a social layer on top of its Page Rank search system. A new system that also incorporates the data from likes and shares beyond the optimised keywords, and is able to operate in real time too. Possible? That would be fun, and would even take Ad Sense to a whole new level. :)

So what does this mean for brand and marketing? Beyond mastering the algorithm, optimising all the queries, mining all the data and connecting it, how does differentiation happen, other than the obvious product possibilities? This very interesting article (via @vijaysankaran) discusses the battle between art and algorithm. Amidst the quest for perfect targeting, and the smoothing out of our search experience, we might be losing out on serendipity. The  author goes on to say that in this ‘end of surprise’ is the opportunity for marketing – to deliver revelation along with relevance. The perfect  of left brain analytics and right brained creativity and emotions, which seemed to have been lost somewhere in between.

until next time, search and socialise :)

Bridge over troubled water

In ‘Tin Fish‘, there is a wonderful speech given by the school captain, which goes (edited a bit)

…..I am not what I’d have liked to be. The school is aiming to prepare me for others. I want to be for myself. But it is growing increasingly difficult for me to prepare myself for myself as my expectations grow greater. A reformed, open-hearted school can help me. Till then, I shall stand on the beaches, look towards the sea and wait for a solution to be washed ashore.

The novel is set in a boarding school in Rajasthan, deals with peer and parental pressure, and has the chaotic politics of the 70s as the backdrop. As a late 70s born, I could identify with the book because though the cultural icons had changed (rock bands/actresses etc) societal changes seemed to have moved at a much slower pace. The value and belief systems as well as the prejudices – caste, religion, income are a part of the 80s too.

I could also identify with the above excerpt on two counts. ‘Preparing me for others’ ..the pressure to conform – on the kind of education one should have, the kind of career one chose, the kind of person one could get married to, one’s conduct with family, boss, and one’s behaviour in society in general, all had their own sets of conformity. ‘Prepare myself for myself’..when I wrote this post sometime back, I had mentioned the conformity that the blog imposes on the blogger, it is something that happens in real life too – we create an image of ourselves, consciously or more likely, sub consciously, and try to stick to it. In either case, more often than not, objectivity will be lost.

Sometime back, I also came across this wonderful piece in the New York magazine, titled ‘Say Everything’. It talks about how as the young population gets increasingly used to the net, there are many among them, for whom, sharing their ‘stuff’ online is the natural way to be, and for whom, privacy has an entirely different definition. In fact they consider the extreme caution of the earlier net generation to be narcissistic and are prepared for the implications that the shared stuff might have on their lives decades later. The author sees this as the biggest generation gap in a long time, perhaps since the hippie generation. She even wonders whether in this era of surveillance cameras and tracked card transactions, their belief that privacy is an illusion might be the sane approach. The article outlines a series of changes that are happening with this generation -  “they think of themselves as having an audience, they have archived their adolescence, their skin is thicker than ours”

Now, one could say that they are conforming to an online audience (like my blog example), but as the author points out, over a period of time, will this generation, which has been growing up with the net, move towards such degrees of comfort that they are totally un-self conscious? And perhaps, to quote the extreme example used by the author, a Paris Hilton level where what could have been the worst humiliation possible, was used as a stepping stone for fame? A generation so transparent that any ‘forced’ conformity would be easily detected and would be undesired. And moving on, to use the words I had seen in a totally different context (link), would transparency be (or subsume) objectivity?

At this stage, we are of course, smack in the middle of these changes, but unlike the above generation, technology (more specifically, the web) entered our lives relatively much later. We perhaps have the baggage of not just peers/parents/society but also the ones we have created for ourselves earlier on in our lives. We might struggle to adjust, but yet we are perhaps the bridge generation, across the cultural changes wrought by the www or even liberalisation (in India). Did every generation have to play similar roles? :)

until next time, stage fright

Popsies

Popsies had been figuring a lot in conversations these days, so when we got in the mood for some Chinese food for lunch, we decided to ditch our incumbent favourite – China Pearl, and try out Popsies, which it seems, has been around in Koramangala, since forever. (hangs head down in shame, loss of face at not discovering joint in own backyard). Here’s a map that will tell you exactly how to get there. Its just off the one way leading from the Intermediate Ring Road towards Empire, JNC, William Penn etc. On that road, take a left after Empire (opp Chung Wah), and you’ll find Popsies on your right. Parking on that road is iffy, so you can use the parking lot right next to Empire.

An inconspicuous door leads you into the lively place that, I think, would always be teeming with the college crowd. It was, when we went in, but thankfully, we just about managed to get a table. The seating is quite comfortable, though, on a neatness scale, the place would only be just above average. There’s a whole lot of bamboo in the decor, and the arrangements are such that each table is quite unobtrusive.

The menu has quite a lot of options – appetizers (only chicken and fish though), soups (veg and chicken mostly), rolls and wanton, momos; veg, chicken and seafood (fish, crab, prawn) options for the main course and a flood of chopsuey, rice and noodles.

A lazy, cool Sunday afternoon, so we had to start with a soup. We asked for a thick soup and the Manchow was suggested. It turned out to be piping hot and extremely good. The place is best known for the momos, so we asked for a  portion of Steamed Szechwan Chicken Momos. Once again, luckily, a good choice, though D liked it more than i did. One portion has 10 large pieces, so might want to finish this before you order the main course. :)

For the main course, we ordered a Chilly fish (with gravy), Chicken butter garlic fried noodles, and influenced by the decor, a Chicken mixed veg mushroom and bamboo shoot gravy. Though the portions were really XL, the quality of food was not that great. The best of the lot was definitely the chilly fish. I wouldn’t recommend the chicken gravy, unless you’re a fan of blandness. The experiment I did with the chillies in vinegar worked moderately well, though. The fried noodles didn’t have that liberal dose of butter that we’re normally used to.

All of the above cost us just less than Rs.400. In terms of quantity – value for money, its difficult to beat this place. The soup, the momos and the chilly fish were quite good, but the other two dishes didn’t really deliver.

Popsies, No: 11, Industrial Layout, Koramangala. Ph: 65659336

Brands – Maturity, Transparency, Objectivity

On the day that gay sex was made legal in India, I had wondered aloud on Twitter, whether condom brands like KS, Moods or even a deo brand like Axe – whose communication is all about attracting people (the female gender so far, since its a deo for men) – would use the occasion to provide a bit of a twist in their standard advertisements. As expected, none of them did. Which led me to wonder on the maturity of audiences and those of brands. (‘maturity’ for the lack of a better word, a more elaborate description follows)

From an experience in an earlier place of work, when we had played on the visuals of Sai Baba and Jimi Hendrix and talked about music and religion, I have seen the fear that marketers have about how the consumer will react to a communication that could be taken as offbeat. In the case above, one could argue about hurting sentiments of followers (Sai Baba’s, according to the client, Hendrix’, worried the copywriter :D ), but there really wasn’t anything derogatory. Now that may be a subjective reaction, so let’s go back to the initial example. I’m reasonably sure that even if KS/Moods/Axe had thought of this, they might have decided not to pursue it.

Is that because of a simple positioning mismatch that they perceive, or is it a fear to push the boundaries, of what they perceive as acceptable to their audience? Something that goes against the image they have created. But, as we keep discussing here, consumers are moving on. They talk to each other, and share their experiences about the brand, which may or may not work in advantage of the brand.

Meanwhile, I recently read an article in the New York magazine, which got me thinking quite a bit on this subject. The article was titled ‘Say Everything‘, and talked about what the author perceived to be the largest generation gap since the hippie generation. While the extreme scenarios outlined in the article- of the kind of photos and complete transparency, of thinking of themselves as having an audience, of archiving their adolescence, of having a thicker skin than earlier generations- may not be what the average youth indulges in in his community, it does point to a generation which is growing increasingly uninhibited with sharing more and more of themselves with others on the net. The author points out that with surveillance cameras, transaction tracking etc becoming the norm, this complete transparency approach might be a saner route.

In fact aren’t FB/Twitter status updates, and even online journals that many in my generation indulge in, also cases of living for an audience? The details of what they share might vary when compared to a younger user set, but this seems to be a trend that may not be scaled back, and in all possibilities, would increase. With the social tools that keep improving the ways to communicate, and share, can brands afford to cling to the kind of communication that they are used to delivering to the audience?

In another article I read, YouTube blogger Kristina Horner, who was criticised for working with Ford Fiesta, makes a wonderfully simple, yet passionate argument that for “both bloggers and brands to be successful they need to accept that traditional advertising is not-effective (and even rejected) and that publishers like Kristina can find a win-win situation where a brand supports their work without compromise.”

Would being completely transparent (yes, that is a bit of a redundancy, i guess) ensure that brands get a fair deal from the people they communicate to? Like I read in another context, would transparency fulfill the function that objectivity is supposed to?  But as always, transparency is not something that can operate only in communication, it moves to product, and many other functions within the organisation. So, as more and more consumers realise what Kristina has articulated so well, shouldn’t brands also take some initiative in changing themselves, and collaborating with their consumers?  That would take some maturity, i guess. :)

until next time, audible audiences

PS. For those missing the Tool Aid that is the blog’s staple diet, here are a few interesting reads

The Sysomos in depth Twitter study that places India in the top 10 countries in which Twitter has been growing.

The Razorfish Social Influence Marketing report.

The Wetpaint/ Altimeter list of the world’s most engaging brands, and how there might be a link between engagement and financial performance

A bridge across time

As I sat in the cafe, I occasionally turned around to watch the Metro construction. Vehicles and pedestrians jostled for space on the ever declining width of MG Road. Just before I got into the cafe, I was part of the crowd – most of which was cursing the mess that the construction was creating, not just then, but in many people’s daily routines, thanks to the regular traffic blocks and detours required.

Detours. I had had a conversation with a friend a couple of days back on how, if I had the perspectives I had now, 5 years back, I might have done things differently then. I might have re-prioritised – things that I wanted to do, goals I set for myself, person I wanted to be,and so on. I said that blessed are those who can turn back, take a look and say that they wouldn’t have done things differently. I honestly can’t. Specific regrets I may not have, but a different set of perspectives, I wouldn’t have minded.

The friend maintains that whatever path one takes, it would be impossible not to have some regret or the other. I can’t say I disagree. But i do maintain that it is possible to minimise. Does that mean that I am not happy now? Of course I am. But to paraphrase the tee that I keep mentioning says, it ain’t about the destination, its about the journey. The possibility of regret minimisation comes from a belief that if you are doing what you are meant to do, then everything else would fall into place. A faith.

Faith. The book that I finished later that day had a theme that mixed faith, quantum physics and parallel universes. It had people with different levels of abilities regarding the different universes. One could sense it, one could travel through it, observing, without being able to alter anything, one could transfer objects through it without knowing where they went, and finally one who could travel through it and control it far better than all the above. It talks about every day being a momentous day when we make choices, which creates ripples across other people’s lives (like a butterfly effect on human destinies). It talks about destiny giving you a chance to set it right again. It takes the analogy of an oak tree for a human life. Too many right choices and you’ll have a trunk with a few branches, risks never taken, adventures never had, a life less lived. Too many wrong choices and you’ll have a gnarled tree, fruits never enjoyed, an existence too scarred, a life too consumed to be enjoyed.

We would like a balance. The friend has made peace with the self on this matter. I need to work on it a bit more, and ensure that I don’t read this post years a few years later and say Oops, I did it again.

Maybe years later, a new generation would thank the decision maker for the metro. Or perhaps they would curse it for being built for a lesser capacity than it should have been. Time, and context, that would form the perspective. Perhaps its too much to wish for the perspective and the destination before the time has been traveled through, step by step, baggage by baggage.

until next time, step up :)

My Friend Sancho

Amit Varma

‘My friend Sancho’ is the debut novel of Amit Varma, made famous by the blog ‘India Uncut’, which incidentally, is given quite a few plugs in the book. A blogger’s work – that explains why i picked it up. :)
The book revolves around Abir, a journalist on the crime beat, who happens to be around during a police shootout, when he was only expecting to cover a routine arrest. It gets more complicated when he is asked to do a story on the victim, which leads to his friendship with Muneeza (Sancho), the victim’s daughter, who is sure that her father was innocent, and is unaware that Abir was present at the scene.
Whether the book delivers or not depends on what you expect out of it. If you are looking for profundity that would make you contemplate the vagaries of the universe, you’d be better off looking elsewhere. But if you’re just looking for a light read, and a protagonist whom you’d find easy to relate to (net surfing, wise cracking guy who is still not sure what to do with his life) then you wouldn’t mind this book.
I did expect the humour quotient to be higher than delivered, but it’s still not bad. The lizard, though it only has a ‘special appearance’ is entertaining. I also quite liked the way the story ended.

Aggregation and Segregation

The ‘Morgan Stanley report‘, compiled by their 15 year old intern- on how teens (UK ) consume media- released a few days ago, got less than an enthusiastic response on the web, in spite of (or because?) their introduction stating that they don’t ‘claim representation or statistical accuracy’.

While newspapers and radio find least favour with the teen crowd, with TV interest waning (except for spikes – sports/ specific shows), even the star on the horizon – Twitter is not spared their inattention, but Facebook, YouTube, and even Google are mentioned as regularly used services. Mobiles are used for talking and texting, and sharing files via bluetooth. (via RWW and TechCrunch) The report is based on anecdotal evidence (not statistical), so its no surprise that its been ripped on many sites. As TC mentions, probably the idea was only to spark off a debate, and not to showcase it as conclusive insights. It still shows how there is clearly not much data available on this age group, so anything goes.

But I do remember a research published by Nielsen sometime back on how teens use media (US). According to that report, TV usage has gone up in this age group, teens spend less than half the time adults do on the internet, a quarter of them read a newspaper and texting is huge. In both reports, the relative unimportance of the internet is a revelation, especially when it is seen by many as THE medium that’s popular in this age group. As per a 16 year old’s post on TC, (this is anecdotal too :) ) the other point to note is that the walled garden nature of Facebook is actually seen in positive light by this group. Twitter’s relative openness means that they have lesser control on who sees their status updates. The other factor is that they don’t want to waste money texting messages to Twitter, when they’d rather text their specific friends.

So there are similarities within the age group and there are differences too. This is not the first ‘generation’ study out there. I remember reading at least a couple of comparative studies on how different generations use the net, or technology per se, and there again were trends. There were also quite a few articles on Gen Y (those born between 1980 – 95) – their top social networks (take a look, you’ll find very interesting sites, which you might not have heard about before) , how marketers goof up when targeting them, and a favourite post (and video – The Lost Generation. yes i know it is inspired :| ) of mine that talks about the motivations of different generations.

Trendwatching had the concept of Generation G ( G for generosity), with the trend drivers of recession and consumer disgust, longing for institutions that care, and giving being the new taking, and sharing being the new giving. It also gives ways in which corporates can join this generation, and talks about joining being a fundamental requirement if they wanted to stay relevant to this generation.

The Morgan Stanley report and the backlash that followed made me wonder as to how, even as we admit that there is indeed media fragmentation and user fragmentation, realise that a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not work, and that digital media gives users so much of content that there is choices galore and something for every niche, we still try to figure out broad patterns to carry out segmentation, and create some structure around all the crowds that inhabit all the spaces – real and virtual. We even call it social media so that we can put it under one umbrella and make a single plan for all the sites that come under it. Is it because marketers are afraid that dealing with an unstructured audience means fresher, better ideas all the while, without easy ways of targeting, without ready made templates and without real knowledge of how it will all end up?

I also wonder whether this is a transition phase when new media are evolving, along with new communication protocols, or is this the way it is going to be from now on – a thoroughly fragmented audience which cannot be fitted into any stereotype – not even as Gen Y Facebook users? As the costs of distribution become lower thanks to multiple platforms/channels with fewer audiences and reversals of content demand-supply chains, will the spend actually be on the creation of multiple kinds of communication that will be designed with a tiny audience in mind, and the content creators could be anyone – a brand manager/ creative agency/ consumer or a combination, and the activities of a brand are as unstructured as the real time arena it operates in? Do you think it would ever come to that, or is this just the chaos in between while we figure out new ways of sorting consumers for new forms of media?

until next time, agents of chaos :)

PS. While on generations, read yet another great post from Umair Haque – the Generation M manifesto

Imago

That I worship Bill Watterson and simply adore Calvin & Hobbes is not a secret. In fact, it mostly irritates people when i quote from that unique mix of humour/sarcasm/wit and profundity. But no, this is not a gushing post. A few days back, when a friend was talking about her kids, I told her to be thankful that they weren’t like Calvin. She said one of them does have imaginary friends. I am not sure about kids these days, but I simply cannot remember any imaginary friends I might have had in my childhood. To be very fair to everyone concerned, I am quite befuddled even when it comes to recognising real friends of that era and erm, a few eras later too.

But I wonder about the character of these childhood imaginary friends, and why they exist. Is it loneliness? Considering the minimal baggage that we have at that young age, are they confidants of doubts and thoughts that we think we can’t share with others, even if they are of the same age? Calvin has his club, theories about society and education, ‘scientific experiments’ etc which he shared with Hobbes. Is it because he felt that he would be laughed at, if he shared them with others?  Hobbes usually attempts to give him a more mature perspective on all the stuff he discusses. I’d like to ask the kids with imaginary friends about the conversations. :)

Maybe, as we grow up, our baggage grows and as we conform to the norms around us, we figure out that imaginary friends have to go? Or it is perhaps a need that gets filled or forgotten about amongst other priorities, as we acquire new real people – friends, relatives or any other relationships along the way, and maybe figure out that we can share different things with different people, and not have to reveal ourselves totally to everyone? And that takes away the reason for having an imaginary friend to whom we confide all?

Real people bring their own baggage, they perhaps shield us a bit, and tell us things that we want to hear. They perhaps validate our beliefs and thoughts and inferences, either because they don’t want to be the people who deliver the bad news or they don’t care enough. Of course, I am not taking away anything from the good friends that we manage to get, if we are lucky enough – the conscience keepers. But they’re human too, and their objectivity would waver, they’d have their biases. Perhaps, we should build an imaginary friend all over again, our own objective self, one which can show our own prejudices without fear of retribution.

until next time, object of my imaginary attention :)

Cafe Pascucci

As Namma Metro construction turns MG Road into what seems like the aftermath of a Transformers All Spark brawl, and as pedestrians and motorists battle it out for control of the footpath, we decided to wake up and smell the coffee. Okay, there was a significant delay between the two, but Cafe Pascucci (part of an international chain) which opened shop right in the heart of the battlefield, between the HP petrol pump and Prasiddhi silks, (just before Brigade Road when coming from the Trinity Circle direction) was where we landed up on Saturday night. Parking? Don’t you get it? MG Road as you know it, is gone. So, try parking at Bangalore Central/Brigade Road and walk it up.

So we stepped off the chaos and entered this lively cafe, which was almost full at 7.45. But we managed to get a decent table. The music was loud enough to drown the memories of the world outside, though the tracks were a few years old. The ambience is absolutely great, well lit, with comfortable seating, a great place to hang about, and if you get one of the two seating options facing MG Road, you can have a great time watching the world go by.

For all you coffee lovers out there, there is a separate menu card only for that!! But before we get there, the food. Italian is the cuisine, and there’s a decent spread, if not elaborate. There are about half a dozen appetisers, ranging from Rs.45-65, both veg and non veg, with add on options of olives, cheese, chicken stuffing etc, for prices ranging from Rs. 15- 30. There are also an equal number of salads, but mostly veg, ranging from Rs 75-150.

For the main course, you can choose from pasta – penne/fusilli (Rs. 75), and then add your choice of sauce (Rs.25), add a couple of extras from a choice of 8 for Rs.25 (mushroom, broccoli etc)  and chicken/smoked chicken sausage for Rs. 35. If this doesnt work for you, you could try a Gnocchi di spinaci, risotto (with veg/chicken add ons) or spaghetti, all of which range from rs.125 – 150. There are also sandwiches – you can choose your bread (regular or multi grain) at Rs.55/60, spread and fillings which are priced from Rs.20-40. You could also try out Piadine (an Italian bread).

We chose to start with a Fresh herb crumbed chicken with cheese and paprika dip. The portion had six pieces, so quite good on the quantity front, but was a bit salty. The dip was just about good. For the main course, D ordered Spaghetti Meatballs, and I chose Fusilli with creamy sauce, mushrooms, parmesan and smoked chicken sausages. Both the dishes were very good, though the garlic bread they gave along with the dishes were too crusty. Though we had read in some reviews that the quantity was very less, we felt that, for the price, they were quite decent sized portions. We could be biased because they left enough space for dessert ;) The only cause for complaint was that, in spite of specifically asking for the main course to be brought only after we finished the starter, all the 3 dishes were brought together. Thankfully, the main course stuff was really hot, so no real heartburn.

And now, a preview of coffee heaven. A dozen different kinds of espresso, a similar number of capuccinos, half that number of hot chocolate versions, and soft drink/juices- including a bottled coffee soda, five kinds of filter coffee, from different parts of the globe, 13 kinds of iced coffee, ten kinds of teas, a dozen different ice cream combinations almost all of them operating in exquisite combinations of chocolate, coffee, whipped cream, chocolate sauce etc. You get the idea!! No, actually you can’t. Not until you see those photos, which I thought was sadistic, because whatever you choose, you will always miss the others that reached the final round!! After excruciating elimination rounds, I settled for an African Nera – made of chocolate ice cream, coffe ice cream, espresso coffee, dark crema confuso coffee cream, chcolate sauce and cremino chocolate. D chose a Yogurt Cappuccino fruit, made of gold espresso, light yogurt mousse, and fruit. My loud slurps towards the end were a testament to my deep appreciation.

If you’re planning to go for lunch, they have a fixed menu combination – salad, pasta and dessert, at Rs.149 and 179 for veg and non veg respectively.

Our meal cost us just below Rs.600, absolutely good value for money. The coffee menu and I look forward to meeting each other again, several times. :)

Caffe Pascucci, United Mansions, 39, MG Road, Ph: 40912134

Revenge of the corporate website?

A few weeks back, there was a discussion on one of the LinkedIn groups I’m part of, on whether the corporate website is becoming irrelevant, and whether there was a tendency to make it more social. It was based on a post by Jeremiah Owyang a couple of years back, on how to evolve the corporate website. Coincidentally, I also caught a post by the Jeremiah on the same topic, a couple of weeks back, which talked about brand websites becoming aggregators of conversations happening around the web.

This is a topic I have written about earlier, but with the rapid progression of tools that have been happening in the last few months, this would be a good time to update.  The tools have been evolving – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, You Tube, and on each of them are built communities, which are finding newer ways and more mechanisms to express themselves on topics, and that includes brands. The aggregation is happening within the networks themselves, and there are ways to take the conversation outside the networks. I’d written last week about Facebook’s Live Stream Box last week, which allows updates to be streamed on external sites. Center Networks has an interesting post that talks about how Friendfeed can take over the forum/ bulletin board world. I also read about one of the pioneers in the user generated content space – MouthShut, planning to tap into the social media marketing to reach out to customers and giving free accounts to brands. On an aside, they are also planning to hire a couple of folks to handle this, so SMEs (Social Media Experts now ;) ) might want to check it out.

Meanwhile, AdAge has a very interesting post on how, even though Twitter and Facebook have grown as feedback and customer-service channels, the product review has also been growing in importance thanks to its more structured nature. The post also rightly points out that in addition to the listening skill, it is also important for brands to develop a culture that can respond to the feedback that’s now perhaps coming in torrents.

In my earlier post, I had wondered if the reason behind brands’ reluctance to join conversations on networks, and sticking to their own, often static websites, was because of their liking for control. The other reason I had thought of was the ability to ‘measure’. Things have moved on, and we now see many brands making Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. While many of us bemoan the lack of a concrete plan behind such efforts, it is still a step forward. Even the Skittles episode, which many people ridicule, was a significant experiment to me. They tried something, they learned, they moved on. Measurement is still a much debated subject in the social media space. There’s nothing stopping brands from utilising traditional measurable methods of web marketing and also having ‘unmeasurable’ conversations on the side.

If brand websites are guilty of missing the bus on involving existing/ potential consumers on their website when the conversations on social media platforms were still in a nascent stage, this perhaps is the time they can redeem themselves. Indeed, brands have started listening to, and acting on the basis of consumer feedback. As newer and better monitoring tools crop up on a regular basis, this is becoming easier. But for now, all these communities perhaps prefer the conversations to happen on the ‘unofficial networks’, as opposed to the corporate website.

Perhaps brands could try to figure out why that is so, this would help them evolve objectives and a strategy for the website. Going further, it would also give them an understanding of how they could tweak their internal structures to create sustainable processes that can tackle the challenges that an evolving web throws at them.  This is perhaps even an imperative if the mob justice I’d written about last week becomes a trend. But that would be a negative way of looking at it. An interactive website that (without bias) pulls in ‘relevant’ conversations from around the web and gives more perspective to their customers would be definitely appreciated. By treating consumer feedback with the respect it deserves, brands would not only be giving more credibility to their website, and increasing the number of conversations that happen there, but perhaps even creating evangelists who would help the brand by proactively giving it relevant feedback and even taking up for the brand in case of bad PR, or at the very least, considering issues objectively. But then this is as much a culture and process change as it is a web design change.

until next time, homepage with branch offices..