Monthly Archives: August 2012

Social grows up to be media

On the first page of BG Verghese’ “First Draft”, he talks of The Times front page on the day he was born -21 June 1927. The paper was priced at one anna and “only carried advertisements on its cover page as was the general practice.” This was how traditional media companies had always worked. They had probably begun as journals, and later had sponsored information. (ads) In an era of information scarcity, this was probably required and appreciated. Even if they were not, the complaints would spread only as WOM. More importantly, while they took money from readers, their real survival (generalising) depended on advertisers. In the case of radio and television, it is even more evident. Then came the internet, and a story that has oft been repeated. We’re not going there.

Though from email to BBS to Geocities to Friendster and beyond, everything can be considered social media, it began for me in the form of blogs (in 2003) became social networking via Orkut and really took flight with Twitter (May) and Facebook (July) in 2007. By this time, ads had begun to be ‘noise’ as media platforms proliferated. Twitter as well as FB served different purposes. As the cliche goes, “On Facebook, you connected with people you went to school with, and on Twitter, with people who you wished you went to school with.” In fact, such was my affection for Twitter that I even walked the talk. :)

Why this long winded narration now? Because what I’d considered social is now very clearly becoming media that happens to have a social past. Facebook’s Promoted Posts will now reach people who have not Liked the brands as well, and it is working on measurement systems that resemble GRPs. From its options – a real time cloud API company and a media company, Twitter has clearly chosen. It has now started throttling the third party apps that made it the rockstar it now is. In their chosen line, this is an inevitable step to protect the ‘value’ it sells. Promoted tweets can now be targeted on the basis of interest.

The disappointment, even if I reconcile myself to the fact that social is media, is the extent of evolution, or rather, the lack of it. Of the two, I have better hopes for Facebook now. Mark Zuck, despite the IPO, still controls it and from whatever he has spoken thus far, it seems this is not just a business for him, and though the ‘Promoted’ stuff on Facebook has now taken centre stage, the potential of the Open Graph remains and if it does evolve (as mentioned in an earlier post – last paragraph) it will continue to be interesting. Twitter? Oh well, Google’s AdWords is a megabucks one-trick, and it has Android. In the Google-like path it has chosen for itself, I can only hope that Twitter has a vision beyond being “sponsored”. If there is anything that media history has taught us, it is that irrelevance is just one service away.

until next time, growing pains

A momentous truth

Joydeep Roy Bhattacharya’s “The Storyteller of Marrakesh” is not among my favourites, mostly because it didn’t deliver what I look for in  a work of fiction. But I’m a fan of it for a different reason – there is prose in it that will haunt me for a long time.

The book’s narrator begins the tale with the statement that there is no truth, because the moment it is revealed, it is transformed into one of many possible opinions. A few pages later, he says “Our imagination spins dreams; memory hides in them. Memory releases longing; the imagination waters the rivers with rain. They feed each other.

In terms of memory augmentation, despite the best documentation, I’ve felt many times that there are moments that have not been captured fully, or perhaps not captured enough at all. A presence that is felt, but cannot be captured. It is humbling to realise that acts which we lay importance to, moments which we considered precious, will be forgotten altogether or remembered in a different way from what actually happened, not just by others, but by us too.

Much later in the book, a character shares a wonderful story, “This professor while addressing a large audience on the subject of beauty, asked that a piece of ambergris be passed from hand to hand until, by the time it reached the last person at the back of the massive hall, it had crumbled away to nothing. But the entire hall smelled of ambergris, and every person there had been touched by its essence. The professor concluded his lecture at that point, stating that he had nothing more to say on the nature of beauty.”

..of life, I would say. The smell of ambergris would drift between memory and imagination. If someone found words to describe it, it would exist in the imagination of the reader, but probably in a much different form than it actually was. The moment was the truth, everything else would be an opinion.

until next time, truth be told…

The Catcher In The Rye

JD Salinger

Its perhaps a book that I should’ve read a decade and a half back, only because I could’ve related more then to the angst that permeates it. The timeframe and the narrative style would make the work seem small in scope – the book is set in about three days (not counting the recollections) and is told from the point of view of a teenage boy, who has just been expelled from his school (not for the first time) and instead of going home, spends the next few nights in a seedy hotel.
But what makes this book unique is Holden Caulfield’s (the protagonist and narrator) way of distilling the thoughts and emotions of a teenager and making you feel for him. Indeed, there are many moments in the book that made me feel infinitely sad, though the ending seems to indicate that this is only a phase in life.
The title is based on Holden’s mishearing of a poem by Robert Burns – Comin’ Through The Rye. Holden creates a fantasy on it – with himself being the guardian of kids who are playing in a rye field on the edge of a cliff, entrusted with the task of saving them if they are in danger of falling off.
His attitude towards children – his sister Phoebe in specific, and adults would seem to indicate that he understands that at some point, kids will lose the qualities he likes them for (which are missing in adults) and he wants to be the heroic figure to prevent this from happening. A turning point in this role is his conversation with an English teacher of his – Mr.Antolini, who says that the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for a cause while an immature man would die nobly for it. Later Holden gives Phoebe his hunting hat, probably the symbol of his catcher identity.
Its probably a book you need to be patient with (though its only about 190 pages) since (I felt) its only towards the end that Holden really manages to suck you into the idea of the book.

Until the customer is king..

Instagram just released v3.0. One of the biggest changes in this version is the introduction of Photo Maps, which quite obviously, plots your photos on a map. The default is opt-in, not opt-out, though they’ve done their bit to give the user control over data.  I updated despite reading this Wired article on the privacy implications and the bug that briefly exposed private photos!

I’d written my first post that referred to Big Data recently, and the day after that, I read this very interesting post that talked about various applications including an algorithm that can identify cities based on their unique architectural elements and other distinguising characteristics. But a few weeks earlier, WSJ had an interesting post that talked of how large corporations see big data as a means to get personal with customers using information gathered by placing tracking files in people’s browsers and smartphone apps without their knowledge—so they can be stalked wherever they go, with their “experiences” on commercial websites “personalized” for them. The post describes not just its real world analogies but practices as well, and predicts a future where the user will declare your own policies, preferences and terms of engagement—and do it in ways that can be automated both for you and the companies you engage. An entire ecosystem across apps and corporations built in a consumer centric fashion.

But as the post itself admits, the move toward individual empowerment is a long, gradual revolution. Until then, we need to define our own limits of sharing, fully understanding that it is a give and take. Not just what and where, but whom too – since all it takes a RT or a ‘Share – Public’ for something shared in a close circle to go public. How much of privacy would I give up to open myself to opportunities, or get an experience that is tailored to my needs and convenience. On the other side, a modern corporation needs to understand the choice the consumer is making and use the information to not just provide genuine value, but also make it easier for both entities to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape.

until next time, kingmakers

The masks we wear

In TDKR, there is an interesting conversation between John Blake and Bruce Wayne, during which the former says that he knows Bruce is the Batman. He then talks of how he does not remember his mother’s death, but remembers his father’s murder well, and that the anger stayed with him. People understand, he says, but they don’t really know. They understand for a while, and they expected him to move on, to let go of the anger.  But he couldn’t do it, and when people realised that, he was sent to therapy and foster homes.

He realised in time that for people to accept him, he would need to wear a mask that would hide his anger. He reveals that when Bruce visited the boys’ home he lived at years back, he immediately recognised that Bruce was Batman, because he himself wore a mask.

Thanks to various experiences, I think all of us wear masks. Some of them are not because of experience, but for acceptance among others. Either ways, it works as a coping mechanism, and depending on our skills, at various levels of invisibility to those around us. Sometimes we are conscious of the mask and try to reach a place where we can live without them, by becoming strong enough to either face the past or deal with ‘acceptance’ on our own terms. Yet, despite those efforts, many a time, circumstances are such that the mask becomes the man, consciously or unconsciously. Whether or not that is a good thing is completely context dependent.

But sometimes we are able to move on, just as Bruce was, embracing aspects of the Batman mask into his own personality. Or maybe it’s the other way – Bruce being a mask that the ‘true’ Batman personality wore. :)

until next time, masker aid

Chianti

D’s organisational duties and my laziness conspired to make sure that we had a ‘home’ match. Thanks to Zomato, we came to know about Chianti. It’s on the road that goes from Sukh Sagar on 100 feet Road in Koramangala towards Jyoti Nivas. (map) You can’t miss the orange sign on the left. This, I thought, is probably how Nepal feels like – India  (Sukh Sagar) towards its south and China to the north (Beijing Bites, Mainland China) They have valet parking and two-wheelers can go underground.

You can either watch the world go by or enjoy air conditioning. We chose the former, though the brick wall and the chandeliers inside looked very inviting. We were given a DIY Bruschetta (no, it’s not Mallu) on arrival, even as we checked the menu. In that order, we rubbed (on the bread) garlic, basil, (fold first) tomatoes, and then added salt and pepper and the olive oil, but they won’t chuck you out if you tried any other order. :)

 

On the paid part, we started with a Crema di Funghi and D used puppy eyes on the person who took the order, and asked for chicken to be added.  He seemed familiar, and it turned out that we had seen him at Fiorano. Same owner, apparently. Though we were told that the chicken would be added, the chicken didn’t get the memo. But the soup was thick and creamy and quite a good dish otherwise. A complimentary bread basket arrived too, and I quite liked the dip that they provided with it. For the main course, I tried to nudge D towards a thin crust pizza but she refused to bite. So we ended up with D’s Cannelloni (Beef Ragu version) and my Tagliatelle Prosciutto e Funghi. I ordered it partly because it reminded me of the Tattaglia family in The Godfather, who make attempts on Don Corleone’s life because he wouldn’t partner them in the heroin business, nor allow them to trade in it (hint hint) and partly because it had a creamy sauce and ham! D’s dish turned out to be a bit too tangy for her liking though she did like the Ricotta cheese and the overall taste. The other dish was heavy and a bit salty, though I loved the ham in it. We also had a Red Wine Sangria which we quite liked.

 

The service is friendly, but are a bit over eager in asking for our opinions. (not the person who took our order) The meal cost us Rs. 1548 inclusive of charges and tax. Considering the location and the cuisine, I’d say it’s fair. It’s not the place you go to if you’re in a hurry. Sit back, enjoy the food and the wine, and watch the world go by.

Chianti Ristorante & Wine Bar, #12, 5th A Block, Koramangala, Ph: 41132021/4

The path to mediocrity

Seth Godin wrote a post on the masses vs great design, and how the brands we love refuse to become democracies. Yet, on an everyday basis, and across product offerings – from web design to entertainment, I see brands clearly pandering to the ‘masses’. And they’re not going to disappear in at least the medium term, because they spend resources in wooing and keeping consumers, though these consumers are hardly ‘loyal’. The undemocratic approach that Godin mentions is for the rare breed of confident, gritty, focused brands which have answered their why, what, how and when very well.

On HBR Blogs, I found an article by Bill Taylor – “Bad Service can be good business” a very interesting read. It showed two different scenarios where the headline is applicable -companies who try to keep the costs down to the barest minimum and charge a premium for anything but the basic (the author quotes Ryanair as an example) and companies whose offerings are so compelling, and whose reach is so vast, that making the investments required to deliver high-touch service would be making a big strategic mistake. He cites new media companies like Facebook, Twitter etc as examples.

Most of the companies I was referring to in the first paragraph are trying to be one of the above. But they play an in-between game, starting at some point and thinking that they’ll figure out a way to get to their destination. But IMO, it can’t happen that way, because once you set expectations, you fall into the ‘trap’ of fulfilling them, without really figuring what your brand stands for. You’re forced to play the reactive game, watching your competitive landscape and fencing with them. As you progress, you’re drawn further away from the active game of pursuing a goal with focus. The trap, hence, is mediocrity, and it is surprising to see it these days because the web and social platforms specifically are a great way to find that slice of audience which will give the brand a chance to deliver that focused product/service. I’m not talking of superficiality here, but the DNA of the brand, and the organisation, the strand around which everything is built. I’m also not saying that all mass brands are mediocre. In the purpose that they have defined for their brand, Ryanair is anything but mediocre. Despite the seeming difference in the two scenarios from earlier, they are bound by a commonality – clarity of thought, which inspires clarity in everything that the brand does.

until next time, clear blue ocean

Naming exercise

The alarm rang, as it did, usually. He snoozed, stretching his sleep time a bit. But he knew he would have to get up soon. He was already late for his other kind of stretching. That’s when he figured the alternate reason for the name of the new concept they had come up with – Yogalates!

PS: Yes yes, pronunciation, I know!

A Silence of Desire

Kamala Markandaya

‘A Silence of Desire’ is seemingly about the turmoils in the life of a government clerk, after his routine is shattered one day when he finds his wife missing when he returns home from work. Furthermore, he also realises later that the reason she had given for her absence was not the truth. He suspects his wife of infidelity. Much flustered, and not helped by the discussions happening in his office on the social mores of womenfolk, he follows her and finds out something, which to him becomes a more painful thing to bear than what he had initially suspected his wife of. His structured life then goes through a turbulence, as his personal problems begins to affect his work, and even his character undergoes a change.

What makes the book interesting is how the author uses the family to show the upheaval that happened in Indian society after the British left. The spirituality and faith of the traditional Indian housewife collides with the scientific and rational mindset of her British trained husband. The father is disturbed that his teenaged daughter would go to the ‘milk bar’ with a male friend, even if its in a group. There is even some reference to the conflict between north and south indian civil servants because of their varying approach to problems and fellow workers.

Even as the author manages to create a microcosm of the changes that were sweeping Indian society, her narrative and prose manage to bring out the human aspect in a very convincing manner.