Monday, July 12, 2010


The revolution of our times- Long distance love.
Poetic yearning finds taut expression through SMSes. Phone calls are serenades, with lyrics dreamt in furtive chat sessions.

Emails are mementos. To be read and re-read. With a tear or a smile.

You experience saudade.
You live it.

Simply put, "see-your-face-every day" love is boring.

Rather bourgeois, no?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mobile Advertising- Does the customer have a choice?

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be a part of the live blogging team at the Internet and Mobile Association of India's (IAMAI) 2nd Annual Mobile Advertising conference. The conference was a useful platform to bring together players in the internet and mobile business and brainstorm about how to optimize the use of the mobile phone as an advertising platform.
In the Indian market, with mobile phones being such an ubiquitous medium, and in some regions of the country offering more penetration than TV and the internet, the potential for advertisers to reach a large, dispersed and diverse audience is  immense. Being such a personal medium, users carry the phone around everywhere, and advertising messages have the potential to be more targeted, personalized and relevant to the consumer if advertisers are able to arrive at the right formula.

Some experts talked about how information about consumers through using social networks, subscriber information from network operators, mobile usage patterns as well as information from ISPs is easily accessible to profile the consumer and track their interests, spending patterns and even location. (The amount of information telecom operators have about us painted quite a scary picture!)
There were debates about how to deliver mobile advertising through creative campaigns, where industry experts pointed out the need to make mobile advertising more than just voice and data SMS blasts and saw the need for creative advertising agencies to enter this space. Others saw the need for information/ content relevant to the user to be available to download to make the medium most effective.

In all these debates, what seemed to be missing was the voice of the customer. In information age where consumers are bombarded with content and messages from different sources, should advertising on the mobile phone be optional? Is it even effective?
Arun Bhati from Ericsson raised an interesting debate at the end of a day of brainstorming about optimizing the revenue potential of mobile advertising. Citing the results of Ericsson's study on user attitudes  towards mobile advertising, he claimed that users were more satisfied when they had the control over the timing of the ad, and its content."Opt-in" services helped telco operators build a better profile.

This set off an interesting debate in the audience.
On one hand, the mobile was a medium, just  like the newspaper and the TV.  So, just as in the case of newspapers and TV, subscription to the medium meant consent to subscription to ads.
The other side of the debate ran as follows- the cost one pays in terms of a cable fee or a newspaper cost, being so low, meant naturally that the content publisher/ broadcaster, had to make up their costs through advertising. Using the same logic in the new media, Google offers its search service for free, therefore, is entitled to meet its costs through internet advertising.
But in the case of ads on mobiles, we already pay a heavy cost towards a) purchasing a handset b) subscribing to a network c) monthly usage charges. Therefore, why should telcos/ content providers be entitled to additional revenue through advertising?

Another debate ran as such- the mobile phone is carried around by the owner almost 24/7, making it a very personal medium- more so than the TV, newspapers, and the internet. Being such a personal medium, users consider mobile advertisements intrusive when they receive messages that they have not asked for. Therefore, it does more diservice than benefit for the brand when it pushes messages through the mobile.

All very interesting points. For sure, where a quick buck can be made, advertisers will jump in. But the most effective formula that takes into account consideration for the consumer's privacy, offering the best content to users and the most equitable revenue model between operators, content providers and advertising agencies, is yet to emerge..

What's your take?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The crinkle on your nose

What bothers me increasingly about the Internet is my ever-increasing impatience. 

There's a promise of an unending stream of stories to be read, and I find myself being occupied by that promise rather than the story at hand. Attention deficit is multiplied by a factor of the number of windows open and spurred on by the insistent pop-us and tantalizing hooks which every story seems to have.

And hooks that tempt you to bite the story are essential, if you want to be read, in a world where every click opens an interesting tale. I unfortunately don't possess that skill.

I suck at flash fiction. I have tried writing it, but I don't have the succint grace that it demands. Rather, my mode of writing would have fit into the days when you didn't need to write an opening paragraph with 10 action verbs to get some response. Or a three word exclamation of a sentence that  is worthy of a retweet.

Maybe it is like a friend said: If you cannot tell me your idea in a 100 pages, I don't want to read your book. And what the world seems to say: If you cannot tell me your idea in 140 characters, I don't want to hear it.

What then is the nature of relationships built on knowing someone when their thoughts and ideas have to fit into the tyranny of 140 characters? How well do you know someone through endless streams of updates on what quizzes they took or cryptic mood messages that's meant as a filler in a conversation, not the conversation itself. 

In other words, what kind of a bond do you create through staccato conversations and sporadic updates?

My relationships with people are different now. Rather, they fall neatly into two categories, I think. One is the people I have known through flesh and blood. I have seen the crinkle on their nose and the way they smile and how they react.

The other is a mental persona I have of people. Say, an avatar that takes shape inside my head.

He's the monosyllabic guy who would sit in a corner and keep looking at me through his glasses and I would wonder what he is thinking. He is the one who would let me speak first and respond later, so that he always knows when I am making a fool of myself. She is the one who would tell me about her life such that I feel I have seen the crinkle on her nose and I am probably just a username in her head. He is the eternal flirt whose every sentence has to have another import. He is the humourist -- I have to be on the lookout for a joke in the third line.

Probably, these are the same thoughts I would have if I met them, but I have never met them, and in all probability will never meet them. I know them as a username and with their photographs online I have an idea of them, an image built of conversations, 55 lines stored in my chat history.

From the time I started chatting with strangers in a platform created by Channel V some 10 years ago, I have come a long way. I now talk to more strangers than I do to people I know. Yet, with some strangers, there is a relationship. Sometimes it is an instant connect or sometimes there's a nagging discomfort that I can never shrug off.

So what is this instinct that comes to guide me in these virtual relationships? 

When I was recently chatting with someone, he thought I was upset over something he said. "Terse" reply was the word he used to describe my response. Unless butteressed by a smiley, the reply sounded terse, he said. I could have been reaching out for a cup of  coffee with one hand and could have typed with two fingers, but that pause and brief response sent a signal full of information. And I have to punctuate it with an emoticon, italics or a bolded typeface, or snarky words to simulate a crinkled nose. 

There's a different language I need to master, which has its own nuances and subtexts and the instinct continues to be ineffable and changes with every interaction.

Nowadays, one chat conversation is all it takes to make people whole in my head. What does that mean for my real world relationships? Can I form bonds with just 55 lines of conversation? Would I be compelled to dig deeper over mugs of steaming coffee or would I just add them on Twitter?

(After having begun writng this, I think the first part of my piece here is similar to is Google making us stupid by Nicholas Carr. V. Interesting piece, and a must read. )

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Google Books II - Printing Press’ Couture for Digital Technology?

The fundamental problem is that a printing press vintage law is being pushed and prodded in an attempt to dress internet technologies. Copyright law was conceptualized in 1709 for the express purpose of tackling the then technological advance - printing press invention and not the technological possibilities opened up by digital advances.

This pivotal flaw is exposed when the parties appear to be talking past each other on whether the Settlement is legal as per Copyright law (or is ultra vires for illegally attempting to exceed permissions granted by law via a private contractual arrangement.)

Google argues that it is within legal parameters as it will not be making available whole books for user access but ‘snippets.’ On this basis, Google refutes the infringement allegation taking cover from permitted ‘fair use.’ Google argued that merely showing snippets could hardly be construed as copying and distributing whole books (and reducing book sales.)

Whereas the DoJ’s chooses an altogether different tack; argues the main infringement issue here is not one of degree/snippets and fair use but rather is that the settlement attempts to reverse copyright law. The core principle of the Copyright Act is that copyright owners generally control whether and how to exploit their works during the term of copyright. (
DoJ filing, Feb 4, 2010, (DoJ filing, henceforth) p.2 ) Thus, the copyright default rule of prior permission from owner will be rendered in reverse by the Settlement mechanism, which establishes the opposite formula "assumed in unless expressly ‘opted-out’ in time."

Simply put, the Settlement will ensure the consent of the rights-holder (author or publisher, as the case may be) is a given, unless the rights-holder chooses to "opt out" of licensing his works to Google explicitly.

The DoJ argues that the ‘Opt-Out’ is an insufficient safeguard: The Amended Settlement Agreement (ASA) "provisions that afford class members an on-going ability to decline to participate in these various business opportunities reduce, but do not eliminate, the conflict between the ASA’s broad grant of rights to Google and the Copyright Act’s default rule barring use of copyrighted works without the copyright holder’s permission. Rightsholders that have not already opted out by the January 29, 2010 deadline are bound by the terms of the ASA. See Nov. 19, 2009 Order at 5.

Thereafter, to stop Google from utilizing their works in any of its business ventures, rightsholders must list their works with the Registry and direct which revenue models should be extinguished on a work-by-work basis. After March 9, 2010, rightsholders cannot have a previously-scanned book deleted from the research corpus. ASA 1.126, 3.5 (a) (iii). Consequently, rightsholders that have not already opted out will have released Google for any copyright infringement liability arising out of Google’s use up to the time each rightsholders registers and instructs Google to discontinue use. ASA 10.2(a),(b). Those rightsholders also are subject to the ASA’s provisions that provide Google with certain protections, including mandatory ADR to resolve disputes over its use of a copyrighted work. ASA 9.1(a)." (
DoJ filing, p.14)

Fair Procedure Fulcrum
A critical justice issue that is required to be decided (even before permitting ripening into a fulsome scrutiny on merits) is whether the procedures are fair and adequately represent parties.

a. Since this suit will determine the rights outcome for absent class members (un-impleaded publishers and authors), whether such absent members have been adequately represented even if their particular facts are very different from the present suit?

b. While courts do have flexibility to approve enforceable settlements, this flexibility must not be used to usurp the legislative function, or to permit parties to use the courts as mere recorders of private contractual arrangements. (See p.5-6 of
DoJ Filing)

Anti-trust Concerns
The DoJ fears the settlement will grant rights that ‘in turn, confer significant and possibly anticompetitive advantages on a single entity – Google. Under the ASA as proposed, Google would remain the only competitor in the digital marketplace with the rights to distribute and otherwise exploit a vast array of works in multiple formats.’

a. The settlement will enable Google, and no other entity, to compete in a marketplace that the parties seek to create. There is no way Google’s competitors would be able to obtain comparable rights independently. (See p.21 of
DoJ Filing) For eg: Amazon, its chief rival has only managed to obtain 3 million titles since 2002 whereas allowing Google to straight away supply tens of millions of books en masse by a settlement prompted by a class action suit for copyright infringement would evidently hardly be worthy of legal blessings!

b. The Settlement would thus be arguably providing Google with unrivalled market power in upstream book market without any countervailing competition. (For lack of checks and other competitors argument, see p. 22 of
DoJ Filing) Especially since other distributors cannot benefit from the accord (only Google would be allowed to scan and digitize the books), and Google’s competitors will face an infringement suit if they did so, the Settlement would provide Google with an even greater blanket of security as to its exclusivity. (See Attachment A to the ASA, and p.21-22, DoJ Filing)

c. The settlement will further entrench Google in online search business, where it already holds a dominant market share. Given Google’s position in search markets, the unrestricted use of digitized text will further strengthen its dominant position. According to Action on Authors' Rights group, "the Settlement would permit a single corporation to gain an anti-competitive chokehold on the emerging digital market".

d. The proposed Settlement also restricts price competition among authors and publishers, adding to antitrust concerns. The horizontal agreements among authors and publishers may be subject to antitrust scrutiny, several grounds of which remain unaddressed in the ASA as per the DoJ. (See p. 16-20 of
DoJ Filing).

Problematic Nucleus
This Settlement issue exemplifies the critical problem of essaying to utilize a legislation intended to deal with Gutenberg’s invention for the digital world. The Copyright laws created to tackle printing press and still the primary law in effect will not permit such exploitation of work without prior permission of rightsholders. However, rights clearance may be practically impossible since even if they can be located, it may be unclear whether authors or publishers won the digital licensing rights. ‘This is especially likely where publication predated, and contracts did not anticipate, the digital era. Finally, there are no major licensing systems in place by which good faith users can efficient secure permission from and render payment to rightsholders.’ (See p.3 of
DoJ Filing,)

This issue can no longer be put off as it will determine whether the public will get the full benefit of digital technologies for future creativity and innovation. The above realities impede large scale digitization projects, thereby denying the public the full corpus of 20th century books. This remains the ultimate prize; a worthy goal to ensure that we cleave past arguments on both sides (as Google and Amazon etc. on each side seek to further their corporate advantages through the suit, a perfectly legal goal, it must be emphasized) and focus on a solution that will enable public access to the whole innovation and creative work of the past – simultaneously, ensuring past creators are not brushed aside by individual corporate interest in the name of the greater common good.

This case of course brings to the fore that Printing Press Couture hardly maketh for prĂȘt-a-porter for digital technologies.

- Aarthi S. Anand and VJ

Google Books I - To Settle or Not To: That is the Question

Today is a critical day for Google, seemingly controversy’s favorite online child these days - from China to EU to Buzz’s privacy violation; most importantly, Google will be defending its Book Settlement case, and participating in the Fairness Hearing today. This suit begun in 2005 will have far reaching consequences for Google and tremendous impact on all of us since it is about content control; directly impact the Indian publishing industry as well.

What is ‘Google Books’?
Google Books is an ambitious initiative intended to scan, digitize and create a repository of all published books and make them available online.
This project will provide the public benefit of digital access to all works published so far; Google in turn will gain an indomitable advantage in the book search market and its algorithms will have a huge first mover advantage over enormous content.

Google announced partnerships with key public and University libraries, from Stanford to Oxford for its goal of making over 15 million books available under this initiative.

Google Books – with over seven million books scanned so far – was hailed for facilitating phenomenal reader access (especially, to rare and out-of-publication or orphaned books, where authors’ heirs are no longer traceable etc.) (For Pro-views, click here

Copyright & Term
A vast number of these books were however not legally permitted to be copied, distributed etc. protected as they were by copyright. Copyright is the set of
exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work and copyright lasts for a certain time period after which the work is said to enter the public domain.

Copyright term varies depending upon country of first publication, and generally extends for a period after the author’s life. In other words, author’s lifetime + 60 years in India for instance. (See Sec.22 of the Copyright Act (PDF version).
For other countries, click here.)

Publishers’ Suits
Thus, world over, Publishers & Author Guilds were up in arms against Google Books arguing that it infringed their copyright and straight away reduced their profits. Simply put, if free of charge portions were available, could be searched, read and used, how many would pay publishers to purchase books?

The Author’s Guild and several Publishers filed class action and civil suits for failure to respect
copyrights and to properly compensate authors and publishers. (Authors Guild v Google: HTML version, PDF version and McGraw Hill v. Google, SD. N.Y. Case No. 05-CV-8881-JES. PDF version. Google’s responses are also available at Litigation History)

In the Settlement Ring: Round 1
The parties began negotiating toward a settlement, and initially, in 2008 proposed (a) establishment of a non-profit body for managing the revenues that Google would pay into it (generated from ad revenues from the registry) and (b) to only include in-print books after obtaining permission from publishers and authors.

For books already digitized, Google would provide for $ 60 compensation per principal work etc., which would be paid out of the initial $ 45 million fund that Google would set up (under the non-profit body.) (See Art II, 2.1(B) of Settlement Agreement proposed. The PDF versions of summary and full proposal are available online

The Settlement Agreement proposed would become binding, enforceable only by court order, prior to which objections from interested parties etc. would be heard. During this phase, the US Dept of Justice (DOJ) provided several objections to the settlement including those received from several other national governments and affected foreign publishers.

Non-US Publishers’ Objection – Round 2
Several countries, especially France, Germany etc. objected to being extraneously subject to the settlement agreement entered into by US publishers/author guilds and Google. In Nov’08, the Settlement proposed was amended to exclude works published in all other countries save UK, Canada and Australia (whose publishers were impleaded and were represented in the suit.) (The summary of revisions is available online)

Feb 2010 Update - DoJ Objections
While appreciating the foreign work exclusion, the DoJ indicated that the revisions remained inadequate and objected that the Settlement proposed violates (a) copyright laws, (b) antitrust laws, and (c) is an incorrect usage of class action suits.

The DoJ’s argument may be summed up as:
The Settlement “is an attempt to use the class action mechanism to implement forward looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the Court in this litigation.” (DoJ Filing, Feb 4, 2010, p 2) But however, if the Court does conclude that Class Representatives may grant such wide ranging rights for forward looking business arrangements of the entire class, the court should consider additional safeguards. (See DoJ Filing, Feb 4, 2010, p23-25))

- VJ and Aarthi S Anand

Sunday, February 14, 2010

V Day, AD 2842

Beep! A message flashes on the screen of her watch. 'Amit in', it reads. A quick smile on her face and the next instant, she's sitting in front of a screen, looking at a face which can't hide its joy. He belongs to the last generation on Earth, she belongs to the first generation on Mars.

He's a clone and she was prepared for life in an artificial womb. The third world war in 2750 almost exterminated all forms of life. Some survived, thanks to the incredible developments in technology. However, they found that the nuclear radiation has so affected the planet that it would be capable of supporting life for a maximum of 150 more years only. So, man found a quick abode in the neighbourhood - Mars. By 2800, Mars had as much population as Earth had. In another two years, all people on Earth will move to Mars.

Chat is the language they communicate in. What started off only as a jargon - used mostly by those who were either lazy or busy or simply bad at English - became so powerful that it eventually came to be recognised as a language. By 2500, English had to relinquish its position and settle for the second place. Derived from English, the fundamental principle of Chat language is : 'Every word should be used in its shortest possible form.'

With an unfading smile, she raises her eyebrows. 'hw r u?' flashes on his screen. Technology has simplified everything. One just has to think, and the bio-electronic micro chip - inserted into each one soon after he/she is born - decodes the 'cognito maps' into images and text and transfers to MPCA (read Multi-Purpose Convertor Application), which does the rest. Now, Intel is really 'inside'. 'fn, ty. wsh u a hpy v d'y. [:+:]' (Chat to English dictionary says it means : fine, thank you. wish you a happy valentine's day. hugs and kisses), he sends. WWW has become obsolete. Instead, they have IPW (Inter-Planetary Web).

Huge loss of human life during the third world war marked the end of most religions and Gods. Two new religions - tribes is more apt - formed between those whoever few have survived - Webbies I and Webbies II. For Webbies I, virtual world is the only reality and man - being the creator of the virtual world - is God. These mostly comprise those who were infants during war and those who were born after war. Webbies II believe there's a world beyond web and a being greater than man.

Cupid is one of those Gods lucky enough to survive war. He, however, has some problems with majority of the population being clones. Amit sends a gift, a 3D capsule shaped figure. The common cache, following OINO [Once In Never Out] logic, stores the gift. But what kind of gift is it? Every capsule carries with it the information of the sender, and it assumes shapes depending on the imagination of the viewer. So, it could become a car, a flower, a waterfall, etc. It's all WYIIWYS [ What You Imagine Is What You See] at work!

Asha is quite pleased. Amit cannot wait to take her out, and speaks out, 'Where shall we go?' His grandfather, a staunch Webby I, sitting at a distance is angry with the 'deviation from tradition' of his grandson. For Webbies I, all communication should be in Chat and through web. A restaurant designer window pops up on her screen and within a minute the virtual restaurant is ready.

Only he and she, and nobody else. Flowers, music, dance, hugs, kisses, and they spend the day happily. The penultimate Valentine's day on Earth.

After two years all people on Earth moved to Mars. Cupid had no problems in adapting to the new environment. And Amit and Asha lived happily ever after. No prizes for guessing where they went for honeymoon.

Long live Valentine's, er... V d'y!

On a lighter note..

As technology becomes so much a part of our lives, its hard to draw the distinctions between the real and the virtual worlds...

Caveat Job-seekers - Online Scams!

Remember stretching the grad student budget through ‘amazing deals’ on Craig’s List & coupon websites - lamps for $5, tv for $15 or NBA tix. And equally, through internet advertising alone, I have successfully hosted many an annual fireside sale. How many of our job searches, appts etc. were located via the internet?

Viewing it all as a grand adventure most of us today switch jobs and countries at the drop of hat (unlike our parents and grand-parents.) Aided tremendously by the internet, we operate our finances & investments, negotiate job offers, apartments, buying and selling cars, furniture & flight tickets - with just a few clicks.

How many of the people we email as we hunt for jobs or appts on Craig’s List, have we previously known? The phenomenal Online Market Place – efficient and brilliantly connected.

On the other hand, unlike our parents we couldn’t definitely say that people and things are what they claimed to be – the cons of our salient Online life. We all do quickly develop common (online) sense much like our real world road-sense. Google when in doubt, scrap ‘friends’ networks to figure out the how tos of the local city, and due diligence to avoid local appt scams etc. Completely blasĂ©, we trash online fraud mails, (Nigerian bank, UK lottery) without a glance.

Fraud Offers – Sophisticated + Contracts
But the latest avatars of online scams are keeping up with the uber-worldly, globe trotting young gen. Recently, a friend forwarded me an employment contract and job offer that he had received for an engineer’s position in the UK.

Along with the offer letter was an eight page full-fledged contract (including, complete terms and conditions, termination grounds, perquisites, remuneration etc.) The generous offer – (a) included pay commensurate with a Canary Wharf banker or attorney, (b) perquisites such as a four bedroom apartment, annual roundtrip tix to home country etc. (un-UK practices)

This employment contract strong resembles ‘real’ ones. It included employment duties, terms, boilerplate clauses. My friend was only required to furnish an "affidavit of guarantee" through a UK attorney within the next month (so that the Employer could obtain a "free visa.") (Affidavits are verified, sworn statements employed in different commercial transactions.

The Employer had even recommended the attorney for the purpose (and provided full contact details.) The contract assured that my friend would be reimbursed the affidavit costs upon joining. (For contract detail level and scam sophistication, see

The top results of an online search for "Affidavit of Guarantee" speaks eloquently - ONLINE SCAM! Frauds pose as employers + attorneys & defraud job-seekers (Rs. 1 lakh (£792+) for such false ‘affidavits’) The fraud-alerts even rank higher than the original Govt. sites (containing these forms!)

Alarm Bells Check-list

  • Offers without interviews or background checks of the employee (Even if that could be put down as not the best legal standard of work, employment without any interviews is very odd – Especially, in the UK. anti-terrorism and money-laundering compliance requirements.
  • Without interviews and background checks, how would the Co. ascertain the candidate is indeed an engineer (with the technical qualifications needed) and not a rickshaw puller and/or Osama Bin Laden.
  • Requiring you to make any advance payments (even if reimbursable).
  • Fictitious "free employment visa" channel.
  • Affidavits of Guarantee from employees – not allowed under UK Employment Visa rules.
  • Atypical terms for UK jobs (housing, annual flight tix, high pay).
  • British Crown Courts deal with criminal trials, not visas. The British High Commission in India would be the only appropriate Govt. body for you to deal with (if at all.) (See
  • Tel nos: +4470 numbers listed on the letter/contract are numbers that will get rerouted to outside the UK or are mobile nos. UK Landlines begin with +441 or +442.
  • Misleading use of well-known company names. Scamsters, for obvious reasons, use names of well-known companies (top banks - UBS, DB, hotels – Hilton, automobile – Honda, electronic – Samsung, hospitals etc.) to defraud prospective job-seekers.

Apparently, scamsters trawl online job portals, access profile info., email addresses and mass produce these letters for us. How easy! Recession providing for particularly conducive conditions for scamsters!

So, vagabonds & nomads beware of new online scam avatars - Affidavit of guarantee/visa fees for jobs, and Parisian key deposits.

Doesn’t it remind you of Mohan/S Ve Shekar in Sahadevan Mahadevan walking on dusty Cochin streets (past Malayalam signs) dressed in full Sheikh outfits believing they had been dropped at Dubai by the scam agent-boatman!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Social media 'expert'? Who?

Recently, I heard quite a few sniggers when someone called themselves a ‘social media expert’. This post is an attempt to understand those sniggers.

Who is an expert?

An 'expert' evokes imagery of someone who has had considerable expertise in a particular subject. That expertise could be achieved by formal education, or informal education. In other words, you either get a degree, or you slog it out alone for a quite some time.

Having set this context, let's understand this social media 'expert'.

For starters, there is no formal degree available on social media. Let me qualify that statement. Some Universities have started courses. For instance
Media Effects Research Laboratory of Penn State Univ aims to understand the cognitive and behavioral measures to interacting with websites. They are in unchartered territory -- definitely exciting for research. But are they producing 'experts' in social media? I would doubt it.

Simply put, professionals sporting degrees in social media can be found only in the future. Note the shift in terms – from expert to professional.

The rise of the professional, versus an amateur who is an enthusiast in a subject, is a recent phenomenon.

By the early years of the twentieth century sciences had become professionalized, says Jeff Howe in his book
Crowdsourcing (p33). Till then, the ‘amateurs’ had ruled the roost. For instance, Francis Bacon was an amateur interested in science, and a professional politician. As in, he didn’t possess a degree but was still considered an authority.

What we are talking about here is the process of institutionalization of knowledge. Because of it, we as a society grant respect to knowledge attained from institutions.

In the case of social networks, we have an interesting situation where these institutions don't have a clue. So, what happens then?

Here comes the 'amateur' social networker. She has a mix of empirical knowledge and basic intelligence that these people rely on to draw value out of social networks.

Crib revisited

Coming back to my crib, these 'amateur social networkers' are calling themselves experts, trying to draw a veil of respectability from a term associated with the non-networked world. Whereas, my contention is they have to be understood as amateurs, because that is what is possible given the nouveau nature of the field. Any claim of 'expertise', as is understood by a world still dealing with institutionalized knowledge, is silly.

But then these amateurs have to be reckoned with. I am not talking about an ill-informed dabbler whose aim is to ride the wave and make a quick buck. Instead, I am talking about those whose interest-level spurs them to learn about technology, social science, cognitive behavior, and everything else that is needed for a multi-disciplinary subject such as social networks. And these amateurs will inform the future body of knowledge concerning social networks.

How will that future look?

Will that knowledge be institutionalized? Maybe by then Institutions will cease to matter. Why? Because the world of institutionalized knowledge is threatened by the Internet. When I can learn through the Internet, why do I need to go to a University? For instance, I was mulling over the idea of higher studies, and found that there was no course that catered to all the areas I am interested in. So I decided to make my own curriculum using knowledge online. Taking this one step forward, tomorrow if I can assure an employer that my knowledge can be useful, I would have made redundant even the 'Degree' function of the University.

Would I be considered an ‘expert’ or an ‘amateur’? The answers are muddled, because both are terms in transition.

Photo credit: Martin Ringlein (username: mringlein in Flickr. Photo under an attribute, share-alike, no-derivative, non-commercial CC license)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dancing to Himalayan Peaks

Dancing Bharatanatyam for over 34 years, 21 years as a professional, I led a very active, athletic life. Ill with Chikkunguniya, a potentially dehabilitating joint infection (like severe arthritis), I was down - both physically and mentally. The disease put my life completely off track. I could not even get up from the bed on my own; carrying a milk packet or walking up a staircase was infinitely challenging. Dancing or trekking was a definite pipe-dream. After almost 9 months, I beat this disease through Yoga.

I began to walk and slowly, started jogging, but not dance. Rather I didn’t want to dance. I was so attached to bharatanatyam that I hated it - as not dancing in these past months had been so painful. Once I was physically better, I went for a trek with my brother’s family to Coorg. And in May 2007, several of us with the help of Chandrasang Foundation planned a trek in the Himalayas - from Gangotri to Baby Shivling via Tapovan and back.

8 days in the serene Himalayas - the ‘heaven on earth’. The deeper you trek inside the Himalayas, she reveals more of her beauty to you. Layers and layers of mountains sketched and colored by the Supreme keeps opening in front of our eyes. At Tapovan, when I saw the gorgeous Bhagirathi peaks on one side, majestic Shivling Peak on the other side and the crystal clear stream flowing in between, in the presence of the power of nature, I felt the power of the Almighty. I used to feel the presence of that power when I danced and had missed it since.

The Himalayas gave me so much of joy that dance seemed inconsequential in comparison. It slowly brought detachment to dance. For the first time, I could imagine a life – happy & constructive, even without dancing.

Shortly after, I googled Chennai Trekkers and discovered CTC, the Chennai Trekkers Club. My husband, Ramprasadh & I, signed up for our first CTC trek in Aug 2008. CTC not only registers members entirely through online forms, but also organizes its treks harnessing internet technologies. The internet vastly increases our ability to pursue our hobbies and interests – as seen never before.

CTC is a non-profit club run entirely by volunteer-members who organize full treks around Tamil Nadu on nearly every weekend. They do this in addition to their full-time day jobs - using tech tools, emails, mailing lists, online site,and calls! This includes, emails and online signup sheets for participating and organizing treks (divvying up responsibilities), full organization including plotting trek paths (GPS!), and post-trek shared experiences (and of any boots or cameras left at Tada or Nagala hills or cars.

The volunteer club consists of techies and other 20-30 something netizens – explains the net savviness of the complete operations. In their company, I started to feel young and energetic. And I haven’t looked back since.

In the over 15 treks in the last sixteen months, across various unknown trails, mountain peaks and crystal clear pools in the Nagala, Sahyadri and Venkateswara ranges, I have discovered, Nature is amazing. Nature is God.

Treks put life back into my life. Friendship and self - lost in deep jungles, sleeping under the open sky, I began rediscovering who I am and what I want.

And in May 2009 after completing a family trek in Gharwal Himalayas towards Bandhar poonch range with Chandra didi, winner of the Padmashree, Arjuna and National Adventure awards, I applied for the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) course. Even though Chandra didi had recommended that I sign-up for this course years earlier, I hadn’t done so. The upper age limit for the course was thirty-five and I had just turned forty. Seeing my passion for trekking and didi’s recommendation, NIM folks indicated they would accept me for the Oct Batch. So, I was rather dejected when, my application was rejected - Rectified after some effort. I then jumped headlong into the 3 month rigorous training prog.

Thus, at the age of forty, I began pursuing my dream of becoming a mountaineer – a journey whose first steps began with rediscovering an enthusiasm for life via treks, a new path made possible by technology.

The author, Indira Kadambi is a bharanatyam teacher, danseuse for over 34 years and aspiring Gregory Mallory in her second avatar.

Posted on behalf of Indira Kadambi.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I Tweet, Therefore I Am

It was the summer of 1995. My neighbour was moving to the U.S. To continue to be in touch and to get to know the news from the neighbourhood that he would soon leave, he gave me his new address. After writing the postal address in every detail, he explained the location in terms of geographical landmarks. Those were the days when email and Google were unknown, and partings were painstaking and mushy.

Cut to 2010. The neighbour visited India for a holiday. The day came when he was returning to the U.S. His seven-year-old son gave me his email address and his Facebook ID. These are the days when coordinates are mentioned in terms of the virtual world and one's location can be shown on Google Maps. With the integration of webcam features with chat, the other person is never far away. The maudlin romance of partings, then, has undergone a paradigm shift.

Not just partings, but everything else about human interaction has changed. Identities are defined by digital parameters, and being online is a personal statement of one's identity. If the photographs of your first day after birth are uploaded on Flickr, the video of your first rendition of rhyme is put up on YouTube. Blogs have replaced diaries and social networking sites have become virtual cafes. Postal addresses are redundant; email addresses do. If you are not online, you are as good as being non-existent. Communication is so dominated by the online medium that ignoring it is insensible.

While it facilitates faster, real-time communication among people across the globe, the online medium has become an easier and more appealing platform for human interaction. The U.S. president Barack Obama is doing a question-and-answer exercise with people on YouTube. So far as direct communication between a president and his people goes, this is the first of its kind. As it sets an example for other leaders and motivates them to try the strengths and features of the Web, it also sets new standards in effective governance.

Big B likes following the discussions on his blog, and Shashi Tharoor is a regular on Twitter. Grandparents pick up the nuances and tips of online communication to stay in touch with their grandchildren living in another country. Even as it has broken the barriers of privacy for celebrities, the celebrities themselves acknowledge the importance of being online and more reachable to the audiences.

From gossip to debates to campaigns, everything happens online. Psychologists evaluate one's personality on the basis of his presence on social networking sites. Aggregation of data from various search engines gives interesting insights about the sociological patterns of people belonging to different cultures. The virtual world, once a part of sci-fi literature, is now an inevitable and prominent reality and is the collective diary of human civilisation as it evolves further.

Move over the metaphysical statement, "I think, therefore I am". The new caption shall read: "I Tweet, therefore I am".

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