Nostalgia, FLS and Social Media pet peeves

So, I’m feeling nostalgic about my online content creation experience for two reasons. First: a couple of days ago, I met the guy who facilitated online content creation for me and had a long discussion on new media – what was, is and will be – apart from what almost everyone is doing wrong now. Second: I’ve been named Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ (as have you, I hope)…and I read this. If you’re reading this, consider youself tagged and do post about how you started creating content online.

March 2000, I chanced upon a small paragraph in Mid Day, about a youth community called freshlimesoda.com. I went, I saw, I thought it was all hype. A few months later, I revisited, this time posting anonymously as Alter Ego, and was hooked within a few days. I posted my first column there, apart from articles and, of course, my first short story. From then on, till the site shut down, I must have visited it at least every day (sometimes four-five times a day, at a cybercafe). Till date, no community has measured up in terms of intellectual stimulation, level of debate and fun.

I created my own website, and someone found it, liked it and wrote about it on a little known community at Khwab, which is where I was introduced to blogging. This wont work,blogging is too small, said the skeptic in me after I had registered my own blogspot blog (and revived later). I designed a new site in 2003 and included a blog, which soon became the only part of the site to be updated. And I was hooked on to blogging. Now, my latest online home(s) are blogs – here and here.

(Update: Can’t believe I forgot to mention Motif, which Jay and I, alongwith Rahul and Aakanksha ran for a year and a half. For a while there, I was in a zone, writing a story a fortnight…sometimes more. We struggled with it, but got a lot of support from the friends we had, and the friends we made. Eventually, the lack of a business model killed it, which is why I remain skeptical about Web 2.0. The business model needs to be in place before you seek traction…)

That takes me back to what I had discussed with Parmesh about recent developments in Social Media in India:

– No community, none at all, gives young people the respect they deserve. That ‘What’s hot, what’s not’ idiocy has just been transferred from offline to online. To quite an extent, that is what is pushing them to join social networking and blogs. On all other media, all that they get is patronization by marketers who have forgotten what it was like for them when they were teenagers. Parmesh was way ahead of his time with that idea. I think FLS used to get 30,000 hits a week in 2000-2001…

– Not many Indian social media sites focus on the users, which is the biggest marketing mistake possible. Most focus entirely on the product and copy-paste a successful international idea. Some think users can be bribed or enticed by offering money, or pushing their product in their face.

– Almost all Indian social media websites ignore the offline aspect of user experience…of being faciliatators. (Update: ) …unless they’re an event site.
I’m going to elaborate on all of these points one by one, with personal examples…possibly at ContentSutra if we think it fits the mandate.

Also, if you’re a Limer – Parmesh and I talked about a Freshlimesoda.com reunion for when I’m in Bombay next month (for this very promising conference). Leave a message/send me a mail/SMS or call me at +91-98103-10053, if you’re game.

Confirmed (so far): Alter Ego, Parmesh, AdityaM, DiviM, Mirth, Drumster, Pre, Tink, nosferatu, Neha.

Update: Spoke to KC today, after almost a year, to tell him about the get-together. Realized then that it’s almost five years to the day that we had our Delhi offliner…thirteen people had attended. Pooja, Vikram and Zenwark had come down to Delhi from Gwalior, and Astleviz and deda1us from Jodhpur for the offliner. Photos from Delhi and Bombay offliners here.

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On User Generated Content

[youtube]yis7DTXe03M[/youtube]

Laughter, like yawning, is infectious. I’m not sure of when this was rolled out, but I recently noticed a potent YouTube feature that allows users to post video responses to videos at YouTube. At present, there are 783,938 views and 27 video responses to the above video (some reponses in the sidebar here). Once this becomes popular, I suppose YouTube will start listing posts with max responses as well. I’ve written, in the past, about the Coke & Mentos viral, which I came across on Arun Katiyar’s blog. At MIPCOM this year, it was said that the viral got an estimated $10 mil worth of free advertising for Mentos. Also see this.

Different people define Web 2.0 in their own way, but I tend to think of it as the participatory business model. The aforementioned feature takes participation to a whole new level and it will be interesting to see how it develops. The Coke & Mentos viral and its success is a sure sign of things to come because it forces its way through the clutter like nothing else. How many advertising agencies could have thought this up?

I think User Generated Content (UGC) is going to give large movie studios sleepless nights (if it isn’t already), much like what Wikipedia, Dictionary.com and wordweb must have done to publishers. UGC is going to beat the crap out of ‘created for new media’ initiatives by studios; two in India that I am aware of are by Kaleidoscope Entertainment and, more recently, by Rajshri Media. I’ve seen a preview of Seedhe Siddhu Se by Kaleidoscope, and I found it boring and amateurish. Rajshri’s mobile content plans are still in the works, though. While I agree with the assessment that all media will exist simultaneously, I do believe that digital content will take over the world simply because of lower distribution costs and instant gratification. When advertising is going to be spread across all available channels, it will be spread thin and therefore the weaker players will struggle and probably be bought over.
Update: Hungama Mobile and Dev Benegal’s 24×7 Making Movies held a contest last month. They gave 35 selected contestants a video camera, and 24 hours to shoot a movie. That content is intended to be sold online and made available for download on the mobile. Benegal acts as the filter for UGC, and Hungama the distributor. Interesting way of monetizing UGC…

UGC isn’t constrained by budgets and issues of scripts, and there’s a greater creative pool in case of UGC; isn’t Reality TV bigger than anything else on TV right now? And what about Bus Uncle (the angry old man?):
[youtube]EsYRQkmVifg[/youtube]

(Note: abusive language)

“The famous quotes of Bus Uncle are now frequently used, mimicked, and parodied in Hong Kong, particularly by teenagers. The catchphrases also appear on Internet forums, posters, and radio programmes. Various “remixes” and parodies have been created, including versions tuned to Cantonese pop songs, “reenactments” of the incident with video game characters, composite pictures, and movie posters.” – [Wikipedia]

Aggregators of quality UGC will probably do better than hosts of such content themselves. You might actually find studios scouting for quality UGC and buying rights to show on TV. Cause that’s one medium that has sold out (mostly) and people accept that and still watch it. Who’s game for creating a marketplace for such content?

Credibility of the medium is a big issue, though – the reality being reflected in this content is what catches peoples attention. If someone makes an ass of himself because it’s in a script, people might not buy it anymore. But if an ass (not what you’re thinking) is on screen, it’s a lot more amusing. But if tries to fool all the people, it won’t last long and the condemnation is swift and vicious. That will keep people honest, I think, but the A-listers will have to be careful about their slants. Some useful links:

WOMMA Ethical Blogger Contact Guidelines, via Verbum. More importantly, read about the Edelman-Walmart controversy (I’ve not been able to track it)

For mobile content in India, the floodgates opened with the infamous MMS that was passed around from phone to phone via Bluetooth – I’m sure it created a huge market for mobile phones with cameras, and people began exchanging photos and videos. The mobile is more potent because one can post immediately, but there are issues of access availability and cost. A convergent device and a device independent network with mobile access will solve that problem eventually. The real problem, and I’m sure there are lots of people trying to figure this out – is how long can this last? Why? Because:

– The system is (mostly) unmoderated and completely unpredictable
– Any marketing gimmick that tries to hoodwink the masses will eventually be spotted by a merciless audience
– Push wont be as effective, but can survive if it is obvious as a push initiative.
– A pull, if not a viral but a search-dependent pull, will be painstakingly slow (but often worth it)
– Defining context that sells for contextual advertising for video content is going to be difficult

Anyhoo, more on UGC when I think of something else.

Update: Context and editorial sensibility are going to be key: some of what I said in this post and the one you’re reading has been ratified: Michael Eisner said something similar at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, and here’s Sramana Mitra on context becoming important. 🙂

And here’s Rafat on context and aggregation being King (and not content).

Also, a slightly different version crossposted at ContentSutra. Seems it’s been well received. 🙂

A disclaimer: I’ve linked to posts at paidContent and ContentSutra, which are owned by Content Next Media; I write for Content Next Media.

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More Blog Pimping

Shyam writes about a comment pimping Jhanki.com. I deleted the comment pimping ilaaka.com and onyomo.com here at MixedBag. Blogger didn’t stop it, but at ContentSutra, the Akismet spam plugin caught the post and put it where it belongs – in the Spam section, alongwith comments advertising weight loss phentermine, valium and other strange things.

The details of the comment:

Name: rajeev | E-mail: allpropellers@gmail.com | URI: http://www.ilaaka.com | IP: 61.17.76.30 | Date: October 5, 2006

Hi,

Nice blog!

Why don�t you consider writing about some of the new �India 2.0� sites that are creating a little buzz as well?

Eg: www.ilaaka.com

www.onyomo.com

Thanks!

Rajeev

A Google search reveals that your friend Rajeev has been quite active. He’s also got a blog here.

I’ve given ilaaka.com some feedback. If you’ve been spammed, you should too.

There’s also a possibility that since this means of promotion is counter-productive, this “Rajeev”could be ilaaka or onyomo’s competitor. Unlikely, but possible.

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On how Orkut became a rage in India

Note: This is my last blog post here for the next six days. There’s already lots that I want to/have to/been asked to blog, so kindly bare…erm…bear with me.

Around three months ago, I got an email from Orkut; someone I hadn’t heard from for almost a year had sent a private message. I responded, and added a “switch to mail” line at the end of the email. I got another private message in response.

That has been my problem with Orkut – I have to log in to read messages, but at the same time, the wait is enticing, in a strange way. As the suspense builds, one feels almost compelled to respond – even if it is to just subject others to the same kind of suspense. That’s silly, I know, and my messages almost always are silly: that now famous evil grin is plastered across my face whenever I send a message via Orkut.

Ajit Balakrishnan, CEO and founder of Rediff, at the TiE-ISB Connect summit which is being covered by Rajat Gupta for ContentSutra, said that he really has no clue about what works for sites featuring user generated content, and what doesn’t. There are several sites with user generated content (I prefer to use the term ‘participative business model’ for Web 2.0) which don’t get the traffic or business. One can blame the lack of marketing for the same, but that isn’t always the case. Different tipping points for different successes.

So, what worked for Orkut in India?

I think it was the integration with Google Accounts, which served as a reminder that – Hey! You’d registered here.

Lots of people I know tend to sign up with social/business networking websites, and then forget about them. I signed up at Orkut, Everyone’s Connected and Hi5 (and maybe others) when was invited, only to see what they were all about.

With the reminder, and aided by the GMail sign in, lots of people might have gone for a second look, all around the same time. They must have messaged old pals, and all of a sudden, the number of conversations taking place would have shot up. The word of mouth followed, and Orkut usage in India increased.

The Google Account integration took place around a year ago, and one began hearing about Orkut becoming popular around eight months ago.

One thing to note about the Orkut reminder mail is that unlike Ryze or Everyone’s Connected, one doesn’t get frequent reminders from Orkut. So, a once in a year system message from Orkut gets noticed while a weekly message from Ryze gets deleted. People noticed that mail, read it, and visited Orkut to give it a second shot.

Agree/disagree? Let me know.

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Blogger Beta Problem

I have a problem with Blogger Beta – the integration with Google accounts sucks.

Mixed Bag (this blog) has not yet switched over to Blogger Beta; in fact, if I have to redo the entire design, I’m not too keen. Ankit looks like he had to do away with his excellent design, and settle for an all black look.

Every time I go to www.blogger.com while I’m signed into my gmail account, I’m signed into Blogger with my gmail ID. When I choose to sign into Blogger, for posting on Mixed Bag, I get signed out of Gmail. I can’t believe Google didn’t foresee this problem, or aren’t aware of it.

Many people post on multiple blogs, including collablogs, so this very irritating.

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The Future of Social Networking Sites

I might as well go public with my views on this, since I’ve been talking about it offline for a few weeks now…you’ve probably read someone else who’s said the same thing, but I haven’t come across anyone yet. Here goes…

Social Networking and “Web 2.0” sites are in vogue. The attention isn’t unjustified because of the following reasons:

  1. Web 2.0 sites involve the users, who help it grow
  2. Credibility gets transferred from the users to the site, and word-of-mouth is the chosen mode of promotion
  3. Because of relatively greater involvement, these sites have greater advertising potential, as well as (usually) more demographic data to support advertising allocation.
  4. Web 2.0 sites are addictive. Period.

Consmer Trends:
Revenue models vary. There’re a large number of Web 2.0 sites around, particularly in the social networking space. Consumers will display the following trends, particularly in the social networking space:

  1. For general purpose social networking, they will flock to the larger sites. I mean – how many social networking sites would you like to be a part of?
  2. From these will develop social networking sites based on the policy of exclusion because it won’t be possible to compete with the big guys in the general social networking space. Exclusion will be either by:
    • Segmentation on a monetary basis – VIP rooms, Super Deluxe packages etc.
    • Segmentation based on other critera – Occupation; Specific facility provided by a site (like freelance work, event info etc); Specific interests like art, cars or movies; Sexual Preferences etc.

Again – how many social networking sites would you like to be a part of? Point two above relates primarily to segmentation, which is a direct consequence of growth where no one really wants to be a me-too site. The more the number of sites, the greater their need for differentiation, (update:) hence the development of other Web 2.0 sites that don’t rely on social networking. However, there’s always the threat of successful social networking sites (particularly Orkut) of providing additional facilities to their users.

Eventually, because several sites are in direct competition, consolidation is bound to take place. Niche advertising revenue split across five sites doesn’t help any. So, for example, four mobile development social networking sites on Windows, Symbian, J2ME and Palm OS might join together to form a mobile enthusiasts Web 2.0 group.

In the end, only large general players like Orkut and Hi5 will remain, or focused, smaller, exclusive and consolidated groups like a Carpentars United (silly example, but you get what I mean).

Anyway – this is just a theory, and is open to questioning, discussion and ridicude. I’m thinking of starting a little blog that reviews my favourite online businesses to help improve my understanding of the online space…

Update:

  • wrt software development, Narayan Murthy says that there’s opportunity in niche, because one can’t compete against those with financial muscle. For the social n/w space, I’ve observed a similar trend (but for different reasons) in point 2 of consumer trends (above).
  • Business 2.0 gives you a Web 2.0 tour. Nice. Note that very few of the sites featured are social networking sites…
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Blocked again…

My access to blogspot blocks is blocked. Since I’m able to access blogs via proxy-sites, it seems that the blog block has been reinstated. I’m on MTNL Delhi. A few mails have already been posted on Bloggers Collective. In case your access is blocked, go to the Bloggers Collective Wiki for assistance.

Some pakistani bloggers had warned us not to be too gung ho, since this decision to allow access could be reversed any time, without provocation or reason. Most of us, I guess, were as cynical of this, as we had been when we had first heard the news of acess to blogs in Pakistan being blocked.

Yesterday, a news channel carried news of a blog that encourages suicide. I’m told that someone in the report said that these type of blogs ought to be banned. Hope the gourment hasn’t taken up that offer. My views on all forms of censorship are here.

I’ve already shot off a mail to an MTNL engineer (we exchanged mails during the last block), and lets see what he has to say, if anything at all. Expect updates.

Update: The gentleman from MTNL sounded worried about this issue. He’s assured me that he’ll look into the matter, and emphasised that the problem could either be from Reliance. He asked for tracerts. I’ve sent them across. According to codey, this looks like a VSNL problem.

Update 2:
Shyam confirms that this is a VSNL problem, which gets its connection via Reliance. Airtel gets its connection via Singtel, and seems to be working fine.

Update 3: Able to access blogs now. That was quick.

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NDTV Blogs go live

post page at NDTV Blogs

NDTV’s response to CNN-IBN’s blog initiative, has gone live a few hours ago. Observations:

* Blogs on a domain separate from NDTV.com: In an attempt to get ahead of IBNLive which had initially intended to allow users to post, NDTV allows you to register and host your blog at www.ndtvblogs.com. In my opinion, that’s a mistake because the nature of the blogger is that he wants to own his space. He might want contribute to the media, call himself a part of the new media, but he wants to own his space. I’m not shifting bag and baggage to NDTV or IBN, just because it gives me greater visibility, and sacrifice the freedom to post stupid posts. My space will be mine, and I don’t want to have to sign into two blog sites and post.

I liked the IBN Your Voice concept (now in hibernation) better, but that’s probably a real pain to update because it means having to read a lot of blogs.

* Tagging and Advertising: the link at top lists tags/categories. These lead to a page with aggregated posts (ala Technorati). That means that better targeting for Google Adwords (once they’re implemented), and hence possibly greater revenue, or even tieups. The advertising model seems, on the face of it, to be well thought out. Try Asbestos as a category sometime. *grin*

Add RSS feeds to tags, and you’re good to go (IBNLive listening?)

Also, there’s lots of whitespace on the right (encircled in the image above), obviously for advertisements.

Tags/Categories aggregation page

* Post Moderation: So, I might get the opportunity to blog alongside Barkha Dutt (not that I want to), but my posts will be moderated. What are the moderation policies? Will I be allowed to diss NDTV on their blogs? Also, dont get fooled by the random posts that they have allowed. They’re just there because they need posts initially while they’re developing the portal.

* Dashboard Confusion: Click on ‘post’, and you’re taken to a page that asks you for Blog Title, not Post Title, and ‘Description’ instead of something like ‘Post Content’. So how many of those developing this have ever blogged?

Question – why not tie up with an experienced Blog host (if you want to go Indian) like Rediff to develop the same?

* Allows users to host multiple blogs

* Allows you to host 10240 kb of video/audio/photo, but – per post, per attachment or per blog? I don’t know. I got signed out automatically.

I’m not sure of what they’re banking on – getting new users to blog or making bloggers switch to NDTV Blogs? (I can imagine Vikram Chandra saying on TV that – now you can host your blog at NDTV Blogs and we will make sure it doesn’t get banned)

Anyway, this is cliche’d Web 2.0. A post on Web 2.0 and the crowded social networking website segment, next.

A different version crossposted at ContentSutra. My first there. 🙂

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How can a few people decide what we view online?

If news reports are to be believed, the list issued by the government contained those sites that they considered propagandist; some wrote against the Government, Islam and Christianity. Of these, four were blogspot blogs, and one was on typepad. That’s just five of 17 in this list (there are reports of others that have been blocked in the past) that made me, and the world, aware that access to sites was being controlled in India.

On the face of it, even a thousand is but a drop in an ocean of millions of websites, but it also seems to be a case of ‘Have power, will use’ – the list seems arbitrary since one is a blank blog, another aggregates news related to the word ‘Hindu’ and yet another is a blog with two harmless posts, both posted in 2004. The IT act has given the Ministry of Communications and CERT-IN the right to block access, hence they will do so. Of course, not many would have noticed this ban had it not been for incompetence across the board – the Indian ISP’s simply blocked domains instead of specific sites.

But there are positives to take from this problem – Bloggers have grouped to fight this gagging, and a massive information gathering and disseminating exercise was undertaken as ISP after ISP began blocking access. The biggest positive is that many bloggers have filed RTI petitions and asked for answers, and shall probably do so for other issues even after this is dead and buried. The veil of secrecy, the security blanket that the government hides beneath, has been lifted just that little bit more.

What this issue has also brought to the fore is the right of the government to curtail free speech, and whether citizens are to be viewed as individuals or groups. Should responsibility lie with those who make inciting speeches, or with those who believe them? In my opinion, and I may be in a minority here, all forms of propaganda, whether anti-national or anti-community is fine as long as individuals are held responsible for their actions.

Free speech allows for debate, and then the decisions are based on thinking and not mere impressions. How can a few hundred people in ministries and committees decide for us what we should view on the internet, what we read, or what we watch on TV? Should our access depend on the lowest common denominator, or should he/she be given the education and the right to decide? Or is our society collectively na�ve that we should allow it to remain ignorant and monitor their access?

There is a larger, fundamental issue at stake here – should retribution by the state be delivered unto a community or an individual? At the end of the day, you and I, not the community that we belong to, are responsible for our actions. How politicians view this reflects on the level of intelligence that they reason on.

Here’s a simple test to see where you stand on this issue; choose the option you think is right:

a) Some sites are propagandist; hence some sites need to be banned
b) Some sites are propagandist; hence all sites need to be banned
c) All sites are propagandist; hence some sites need to be banned
d) All sites are propagandist; hence all sites need to be banned
e) None of the above

Options ‘a’ and ‘d’ are logically proper, though I go with option ‘e’. What do you think and why? Also, try again after replacing the word ‘banned’ with ‘monitored’ in the above question.

[crossposted on IBNLive.com. To borrow a statement from a more prominent and popular blogger (the star of Everybody Knows Jai :P) – Line breaks not mine]

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