Social Nextworks

The impending death of Orkut (2004-2014) made me think of the evolution of social networking and its transience. Orkut lived ‘only’ for 10.5 years, and this is despite being part of Google, though some would call that a disadvantage. Facebook  has been around for the same time, and the fact that it is a force to reckon with is a testament of its understanding of this transience. It also explains the acquisition of Instagram, Whatsapp and the attempt on Snapchat.

However, I recently realised that I am probably more active on Whatsapp, Instagram and Pinterest than Facebook and Twitter. I am also reasonably active on Secret. That made me dig a bit deeper.

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What is changing? From my observations, there are at least two factors that are driving the change.

Perspectives on connectivity: The early era was fueled by the need to connect. Facebook is soaring well beyond a billion users, and its longevity is (also) because the need still exists. It continues to look for better ways to do this, manifested through front end and back end changes. But despite this, and my own curation of my newsfeed by sending signals to Facebook, I am regularly overwhelmed by the volume. This goes for Twitter too. Personally, I have treated these platforms as a means of self expression. I would also like to choose the people whose perspectives I want, and who are entitled to a judgment, if any. But that’s not so easily done on popular platforms.

That’s when I start to look at the many ways to handle this – from social networks to messaging apps. I could go to where the crowds are relatively less and/or are more ‘focused’ – by domain or use cases, (LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram) I could interact with smaller groups, (WhatsApp) use ephemerality (Snapchat) or be anonymous (Secret) As I mentioned, at least three of these work for me. A wonderful nuance I caught in Mitch Joel ‘s prophetic ‘The Next Big Thing Online Could Well Be Anonymity‘, is that it may not just be ‘something to hide’ that makes some prefer anonymity, but it could also be so that ‘who they are will not become a focal point within that discussion’. Anonymity on the web is not new, but many of its enablers are.

Devices: The networks of an earlier era (eg.Facebook) were made for desktop and had to adapt for mobile. On the other hand, Instagram, Whatsapp, Secret, Snapchat etc are mobile natives. Given the increasing ubiquity of smartphones, their growth is not surprising.

What are the possible business models and what’s a brand to do? As more and more users flock to these new platforms, they would need to mature, with business models which could mean associations with brands – the journey from social network to social media.

Instagram and Pinterest are already social media, making advertising at least one of their revenue sources. WhatsApp does not like advertising and already makes money on downloads. Its competitors like Line, KakaoTalk, WeChat etc, however, have found various other means - virtual items, (stickers, in app purchases in free video games) promotional messages, baby steps in electronic payment handling fees, and interesting tie-ups. Snapchat already has many marketers on it and is likely to offer promotion options too, probably tied to a time bound event.

Secret has a lot of negativity surrounding it – s3x talk and startup malice and being just a fad – and there are comparisons to Formspring and its demise despite funding. But beyond advertising and in app puchases, maybe, there’s also potential for insights on a brand and its use cases? Things that cannot be found on indexed platforms. Also, Whisper already has a content deal with Buzzfeed.

Analytics for such platforms haven’t even really begun yet, but it can’t be far away. But more importantly, all of these platforms are potential enablers for a brand to take forward its narrative and become relevant to its users. It continues to be about storytelling, and digital.

Mother Cluckers

12th Main Indiranagar now rivals Koramangala in terms of cuisine diversity! Mother Cluckers belongs to the Plan B family and pretty much rules the roost in terms of popularity in the area. (map) I was told that finding a table among the dozen options available would be near impossible. But we were early cluckers and got a spot, near the ‘hippie entrance’. In about half an hour, the place was packed. Not surprising, since it’s not a really large space. In case you don’t get lucky, take your drink and spend some time in the smoking zone beside the entrance. They have made the most of the space – rustic brick walls adorned with plaques and posters that sum up the commitment to clucking good food. The glasses, tissues and even the menu show the lineage quite clearly – Plan B. The dim lighting (though they have done a fantastic job of ensuring tables are well lit) and a general informal ambiance and decor make it a perfect spot to unwind in the evening. That’s despite the mildly uncomfortable wooden park bench seating. The music went everywhere from ‘Walk of Life’ to ‘Summertime Sadness’, and the decibel levels don’t really encourage a lot of clucking.

One gigantic menu, one side of which is occupied by solids, and the other by liquids. The focus is clearly on bites that can go with drinks, which does make eminent sense given the place’ intent. We decided to test out the standard stuff before the specials. The Long Island, despite not skimping in alcohol, fell rather flat. The Caipirovska didn’t have as many illustrious ingredients, but was a much better drink – smooth and refreshing. The obvious choice for me, from the house specials, was Chutney Mary – a mix of vodka, guava juice, and spices. I suspect the ‘spices’ were chaat masala, but the drink is fantastic, if you’re the kind who doesn’t mind the drink being ‘hot’. Also, it does set the tone for the food. From “The Clucker’s Arsenal”, we asked for the Fiery Clucker, boneless chicken, grilled and marinated. Tasty enough, but surprisingly, despite the name, it turned out to be relatively less spicy than the other starters we tried. The Chilli Fried Pork, on the other hand, did live up to its name, and is only for those who can handle the heat! The Beef Chili Cheese Fries occupied the middle ground, with the cheese tempering the spiciness of the beef. The bacon with sausage, was exactly like all things that have bacon – great! The crunchy prawns were true to the name, and though the batter was bland, the mildly pungent dip made up for it. It was also a good respite from the spice assault! This is not really the best place for herbivores, but the Stuffed Mushrooms are totally worth a try, thanks to the delicious cheese and spinach stuffing.

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The mains options consist of burgers and a reasonable selection of other dishes. We started with the Pandi Burger, probably the most unique one in the list. Instead of the patty, there’s spicy Coorg pork, with a zesty tang to it. They have a crab burger as well, in case you prefer a sea adventure. The Smoked Spare Ribs is another dish that stands out from among the spice crowd! The marinade is sweet and only mildly spicy, with well cooked meat. Yet again, there was a pleasant veg surprise, this time in the form of Baked Eggplant, with a healthy dose of cheese and a tasty sauce.

The menu doesn’t display desserts, so we had given up hope, until one of us noticed the board outside with four options! We chose the Banoffee pie and a Chocolate cheesecake. It’s counterintuitive to go to a pub for desserts, but you’d be forgiven in this case. Spectacular stuff and a sweet mother clucking end to a meal!

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A meal for two would cost around Rs.1500 (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) – a couple of cocktails, a non veg starter, a main course dish and a dessert. There are only two things that can bring tears to your eyes – your preference for veg dishes (if any), and the spice levels in pretty much all the dishes. If you’re fine with that, and a hoarse voice that comes from shouting over the music, you’ll completely enjoy the place. The place is built for carnivores who enjoy their drinks. The rest of the world would unfortunately have to go cluck itself.

Mother Cluckers Bar, 957, 12th Main, HAL 2nd Stage, Indiranagar Ph: 9886092625

The legacy need

The last two books I read had only a faint connection. One was historical fiction and the other was a memoir. The first – “A Spoke in the wheel” by Amita Kanekar – is a take on Buddha and his teachings by a monk three hundred years after the Buddha’s death when his teachings have begun their journey into religion, the emperor Asoka being the key catalyst. The second – “City of Djinns” By William Dalrymple is his discovery of Delhi – past and present – in a year that he spent in the city in the early 90s. The connection, as you might have guessed, is historical narrative.

It is natural to think that there is a huge difference in a work of fiction and a more research and experience led memoir, but the point of the post is that with time, it is difficult to establish that. In the book on the Buddha, the monk chronicling his life and teachings is irritated by the supernatural abilities being attributed to him. But we do know that many people believe in it now and even consider him as one among the avatars of Vishnu. On a related note, William Dalrymple delivered a body blow to my notions of the Mahabharata era when his conversation with an archaeologist constituted a distinct possibility that the war was fought with sticks and stones and probably a bit of metal! (the proof being excavations around what is considered one of the earliest versions of Delhi – Indraprastha) I am a huge fan of Hindu mythology and it has fascinated me from as long as I can remember. I truly believed that they had happened in some form, but the archaeologist is clear that most descriptions in the epic would fall under ‘poetic license’!

It made me wonder if there would be any difference between the two books say, a hundred years from now. It is possible they might exchange roles. It is also possible that they both are treated as fiction, or as factual pieces of work. I think all scenarios are possible because at the time of chronicling something, we believe that its factuality would be transmitted across time. And yet, we could debate the Mahabharata’s historical authenticity and Buddha’s superpowers both ways! So think about it, the same thing could happen to the information we store now as well. Thanks to digitisation, more data is being created in this world than ever before and (arguably) every point made has a counterpoint. There are no objective annotations because even the original construction is a product of biases, interpretations, perspectives and so on.

That brings me to legacy, something a lot of us care about. From children to business empires to art to helping others, there are many avenues. However, I think that unless there is documentation, the chances of a legacy lasting beyond a few generations is questionable. For example, Dalrymple finds the last line of direct Mughal descendants and their knowledge of their ancestors is limited to a few generations before them. The futurist in me does fantasise about a global neural network and consciousness that connects all of humanity and has sufficient storage to instantly collect, catalog and annotate all ‘memories’  in as objective a state as possible for later generations to study them.

But meanwhile, even as I dissect my baggage of the past, I am now forced to consider my need for leaving a legacy – something behind that will represent me when I’m gone.  After all of the above, how relevant is that need? Isn’t it just a demand made by the ego, a story we create for ourselves? Something to continue the narrative of our lives? We do talk a lot about letting go of the baggage of the past, but isn’t legacy also a baggage? A baggage of our future? If we let go of that, how different would our thoughts and deeds be? Understanding that is probably the key to living in the moment. I could easily twist my favourite cricketer-gentleman’s words for this context- He’s not concerned about his legacy, he’s concerned about what actually makes him come alive in the first place, which is that love of life, the desire to live completely.

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until next time, present participant

First Draft: Witness To The Making Of Modern India

B.G. Verghese

BG Verghese’ “First Draft” is part memoir, part history and covers many decades in its wide sweep. From the description of the Times on the day of his birth (21/06/1927) until his assessment of the challenges facing the nation in 2010, the book is his perspective on the events he has witnessed and many a time, been part of. Sometimes it is tinged with nostalgia – his description of the Doon School for instance, and at other times, it is an objective view of the various decisions and circumstances that have shaped India.

From national milestones like the first elections (described so we get an idea of the herculean task it was in an era that didn’t have the communication infrastructure we see now) and the construction of the steel plants and dams and IITs,IIMs we see around now, to humanity’s collective achievements such as Neil Armstrong on the moon (even as a villager adamantly states that it is just impossible) we get a first hand view of things we now acknowledge as history and landmarks. Relationships with the US, USSR as well as neighbouring countries and the wars fought with the latter, including an analysis of the things we did right/wrong all appear, mostly in chronological order. Also adding texture to the narrative are anecdotes of Prime Ministers, most significantly Indira Gandhi. The formation of AIR and Doordarshan, nuclear tests, the political battles within the Congress, formation of other parties, JP’s work, the rise of Naxalism, Operation Bluestar, Sanjay Gandhi’s bizarre schemes, the Emergency, the death of Mrs.Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi’s baby steps into politics and the paradigm shifts he kickstarted, communal riots, the formation of LTTE, the Bhopal tragedy, VP Singh and Mandal and Bofors, BJP and Ramjanmabhoomi, the chronic Kashmir issue all gives one a feel of time travel.

There is massive ground covered – nuclear policy, social-economics, geo-political relationships, the functioning of media houses etc in addition to his views on public service broadcasting, policies for the North East, industrialisation, water and so on. As an editor and someone who has worked with the government, and as part of external agencies, fact finding committees and so on, the author is well placed to deliver an incisive view of history as it was being made and with the advantage of hindsight. (now) Barring a meagre few pats on the back and digressions, he does provide a decent and objective look. It is quite a humbling feeling to ‘watch’ as generations of politicians and institutions almost flash by and one finds some pattern in the fuzziness seen around – the reason for the way we are, as a country. It is also heartening to see that patriotism aside, the author feels that we are on an ascendant. Despite some patches that are specific in nature (towards the last 100 pages) and tend to be discourses, this is a great read for anyone interested in modern history.

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The Change Imperative

Ever since I first wrote about institutional realignment, I have been more conscious of it and its implications on our lives. To a certain extent, even paranoid, because of the pace of change. Ray Kurzweil is hard at work to make himself immortal, and believes we should get really close by the 2030s. He has been right before on many things of this nature. Moore’s law, digitisation and everything related are also getting us really close to the singularity. I am reasonably convinced that I will see both in my lifetime. If you live to be 200 and have robots smarter than you around, what does that do to education, money, marriage, work and pretty much everything that constitutes life? On the flip side, natural resources are running out, and I can see the complications already. It’s not a good sight, or experience!

I am finding it impossible to wrap my head around what all of  this would mean to our concept of life. In the meanwhile, I do know that everything is changing at breakneck speed, and in order to survive, we need to be cognizant of things that can impact our lives – as individuals, and as organisations.  I have deliberately avoided the word ‘disruption’ because it gives me a sense of suddenness and it is a furiously debated topic these days. Rather, to quote John Green (said in another context) I think we’re in the first state of “Slowly, and then all at once”.  This, is my take on ‘Change’.

(Thanks Nikhil for helping on a couple of alphabets and Amit for Unsplash, the source of many images used)

 

The Local

Originally appeared in Bangalore Mirror.

If, in Koramangala, Jimi doesn’t give you enough of a high, perhaps you should try a stairway to heaven, led by messaging on a steep flight of stairs. Subtext apart, there’s a new watering hole in this part of town, or rather, a ‘terrace drinkery’, that goes by the name of ‘The Local’. (map) The logo sets the tone quite clearly – it is inspired by a bottle cap. If that doesn’t bring a smile to your face, perhaps the messaging on the stairs will. It’s too long to recount in entirety, but the message is that this is a place that celebrates the ordinary, and all the kinds that make up a great hangout. The talk is easily backed up by the relaxed ambiance. Quirky is going mainstream, but The Local’s décor is certainly a candidate for tastefulness. An assortment of seating options – indoors and al fresco, featuring a motley group of chairs, stone benches, and surprisingly, greenery in the heart of Koramangala! Add to this, beer served in ceramic mugs, the little blackboard menus, offers like Tap Tuesdays and Tequila Thursdays, it’s easy to imagine an evening spent lazing around. And then there’s the music! We started the evening with classics – As Time Goes by, Uptown Girl and so on, quickly moved on to New York City Speed and such, and ended the night with everything kids listen to these days!

When the drinks menu occupies as much space as the food on the menu, it does seem like a good start. It gets better when you figure that they actually do have the stuff. There’s no end to the number of pubs which have Hoegaarden and Asahi on the menu, and on the menu only! However, their in-house specials are nothing out of the ordinary. We asked for a Strawberry Margarita and it arrived in the form of a Strawberry Martini! Someone at the bar was definitely having a few *hic* cups. They did offer to replace it though, after we pointed it out. The starters took a long while to arrive. The Veg platter which had Paneer Tikka, mushrooms, cauliflower and Basil Haryali Kababs. The last was an easy winner, since the tikka was only average, the mushrooms rather insipid and the cauliflower suffered from a mustard overdose.

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The good news had been that the Chilli Beef had arrived first, the bad news was that it forgot to cook itself! That was unfortunate because the flavours were really good. The Portuguese Patra in name and appearance was similar to the Parsi Patra ni Machchi, but this one had a chicken version too. Wrapped in banana leaves, this was easily our favourite starter and was well complemented by the peanut based dip.

The main course options consisted of burgers, sandwiches, pizzas, pasta and a few steaks. We began with the Meat Lovers Pizza, which was a chicken, pork and cheese extravaganza. They did play their parts well, but the pizza itself was burnt. The BELT was our favourite mains dish, the acronym (and the dish) being made up of bacon, egg, lettuce and tomato. Despite the ingredients, the sandwich was light, with subtle flavours. The Penne Alfredo (we had the veg version) was only average though the cream sauce promised much. The Italian Stuffed Bell Peppers sounded quite interesting – bell peppers stuffed with cheesy rice, served with baked apple and red wine sauce. It looked quite the belle too, red and green bell peppers looking pretty in the company of the apple. But looks proved deceptive, the dish wasn’t great, the barely cooked rice being the chief culprit! We were in the mood for desserts, but they didn’t exist!

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For about Rs.1800, you could share a couple of drinks, two non veg starters, and a main course dish. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) The Local makes no pretence to being a fine dining destination, and bills itself as a ‘my kind of place, come as you are’ hangout. The décor, music and the general buzz manages to do that quite well, but it has a long way to go in terms of the quality of food served. If the general idea is only to lounge around in Koramangala with beer and sides, and in a relaxed atmosphere, you won’t be disappointed. But if the expectation is more than casual ‘drinkery’, then the terrace might fall short.

The Local, 467, 80ft Road, 6th block, Koramangala, Ph: 2550 5119

One off a kind rating

(‘off’ is intentional. Thanks)

A while back, in ‘The Currency of Relationships‘, I’d written this - But there is no standard currency in relationships, and my lesson from this experience is to not to take for granted that my approach is the one that works for people at the receiving end. I should spend some time first in understanding expectations, and then meeting them. Recently, a little incident on Facebook reminded me of this. But first, a step back.

Don’t laugh, but I think of myself as a kind person. This is a recent phenomenon, and one that finds a parallel in my struggles with being judgmental, though I have had more success on that front. Together, a reasonable (and sarcastic) wit, a tendency to see things from a skewed perspective and more often than not, the propensity to see humour in the worst of (others’) circumstances, have made being kind a very difficult task.  I rib people all the while, and am probably the poster guy for “People who don’t know me think I’m quiet, people who do wish I was.” It is very rarely that my intent is to hurt, I try to be mindful of all my words and actions, and that is what has probably created my own perception of the self as a kind one.

kindnessAs with all perceptions, this one too built on itself. Maybe that is why I was quite surprised when a share on Facebook (the message being the same as what you see on the left – via)  - something I believe in and try to practice – elicited one response that I was in no place to ‘preach’ this. It made me think about my self perception, and reminded me of currencies. I also gained a few perspectives – common, yet usually forgotten. (Thanks N)

One is that my words and actions have effects that I might be completely unaware of. This is not a new understanding. In fact, for a while – a couple of years ago probably- when I became aware that my words could hurt, I willfully restrained myself from saying a lot of things I came up with! I realised that it might get laughs and LOLs but I might hurt someone too. (even if that may not have been my intent) But then I realised I was just being miserable and at least with friends, I let go, thinking that I didn’t have to prove the lack of malice. The fact that I was ribbed back by many only reinforced this. My credo since then has been based on “how would I feel if I were at the receiving end?”  But maybe that is a flawed approach. After all, what gives me the right to say when a person should feel hurt and when not. I plan to be a little more careful, and if you’re a friend and reading this, give me a heads up when you think I’m going overboard. :)

The second perspective was that it is probably my ego that wants others to perceive me as kind. If I trust the objectivity of my own moral compass, I wouldn’t need a reinforcement. I should also maybe realise that I can’t have the laughs and the label.

The third perspective came from looking at kindness itself. You might say it’s semantics but I noticed that there is a difference between kindness and compassion. Arguably, compassion is about how you feel, and kindness is about what you do. I can instinctively see that on a relative scale, I am more compassionate than kind. No, this is not me asking for a new label. Both deal with empathy and understanding, but maybe compassion is only the first step to kindness.

Meanwhile, my new ‘social’ plaything ‘Secret‘ is a good reminder. Its prompt when I have to comment on a post is ‘Say something kind’. Sometimes I can, and at other times, I keep quiet. :)

until next time, a different kind

Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata

Devdutt Pattanaik 

I consider myself more well-versed with the Mahabharata than the average person, because of my interest in Hindu mythology and the amount of reading I’ve done on the subject. But I’m really glad I read this, not just because of the small details I learned about (I counted 6 things I hadn’t known about – Sahadeva’s precognition gained by eating Pandu’s flesh, Draupadi cursing dogs to copulate in public for stealing Yudhishtira’s slippers, Vibhishana being present at Draupadi’s swayamwar, a couple of stories on why Krishna stepped in to protect Draupadi when Dusshasana tried to disrobe her, why Shakuni did his best to ensure the destruction of the Kuru clan, Draupadi’s regret over Karna and at least a couple more interesting tidbits) but because of the wonderful lessons it provides. The author also mentions several variations of the tale, regional renditions and folk variations adding layers to the original story. Even as one feels the familiarity thanks to the places (which still exist) mentioned and can identify with the experiences and tribulations of the mortal characters, there is also an awe created by the elements of divinity.

The excellent illustrations and the simple yet elegant and evocative storytelling took me back to a time when I first started hearing these stories – childhood. So vivid is the prose that one can easily create visualisations of the events. The explanation of events are done on many planes – rational, metaphysical, spiritual, bringing a lot of clarity to the complex tale. The concepts of dharma and justice are explained beautifully and even as the Pandavas grow their perspective during their exile and their pride, anger etc get tempered before and after the war, there is tremendous learning for the reader too. It is easy to understand why this is indeed considered the greatest story ever told, and continues to be relevant through ages. The original tale is epic, and so is this narration. Very highly recommended.

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A response to Facebook’s shrinking organic reach

Facebook’s plummeting organic reach has prompted several questions on whether it makes sense to continue investing in a presence on the platform. The short answer is still yes, and while I have never been a fan of Like acquisition, the platform continues to offer several avenues to help brands meet business outcomes. But marketers must learn from this episode, understand that Facebook and most other social platforms are fundamentally leased media and not owned, and be more cognizant of the landscape inside and outside Facebook in order to address business objectives better.

Rather than going for my standard long form text, I thought I’d play it differently and take the help of my favourite pop culture phenomena in the process. The disclaimer is that this is meant to be a primer on how to tackle this issue rather than a comprehensive silver bullet.

until next time, Like? ;)

The Island

No, not a fancy one, just the one on 80ft Road, Indiranagar. It’s been around for a while, but we never managed to get there. (map) It shares the building with Oye Amritsar, and the ‘dangerous’ design of walking paths with Banana Beach, Koramangala. But despite that, we liked the decor – the space is well utilised, and full of non-intrusive spaces for different sized groups, thanks to multiple sections. The music goes around in loops but doesn’t really do any damage. On a Saturday night, it was a mixed crowd of PYTs and grown ups like us. ;) We had reserved in advance, and that might be a good idea for you as well.

The menu has much to offer and is what you’d call ‘lounge cuisine’ – Mediterranean, Continental, American, and a smattering of Oriental and Mexican. We asked for a couple of martinis – Chocolate, and Pineapple Coconut, and though the ingredients in both were standard favourites, and they were generous with the alcohol, they just didn’t work. The appetiser – Spicy Cilantro Chili Chicken was much better fare, and in addition to the moderately spicy chicken, it also had this amazing dip – mint was definitely in it, and a fruit – we’re still not sure if it was passion fruit or pear or..

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We had ordered a Filipino soup (Chicken) which they had to be reminded about! When we finally got it, we pointed out that we had ordered a by-two. It seemed we were apparently the first at The Island to order a soup in that form, because the person who brought the soup asked us what it was! Good start to the trolling! The soup itself was not bad, more like a stew than a soup – thick, thanks to the barley. We had to debate quite a bit for the main course, and finally decided on a pizza over several other contestants. The Chicken Cravers with chicken sausages, spicy chicken salami, roast chicken, and Mozzarella among other things, was quite tasty and filling! That meant that we had to skip the second dish we’d wanted, and go straight to desserts. I signaled to the troll for the menu and he brought me the bill! :| Thankfully, the Chocolate Extravaganza was exactly that, and we were pleasantly surprised at the sheer size of it! Lots and lots of spongy, moist chocolate to end the meal on a high!

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The bill came to slightly over Rs.2200, and most of it was courtesy the alcohol. The service   is not the best I’ve seen, but food is decent and the place has a soothing ambiance, so we’ll probably drop in a second time.

The Island,  Plot No.3, 80 Feet Road, Off 2nd Main Rd, Beside FCML Shop, Near Columbia Asia Hospital, 1st Stage, Indira Nagar Ph: 41261114