Counterculture in India — Music

“Fuck you, I wont do what you tell me” – Killing in the name of by Rage Against The Machine

Rock music as counterculture

Jazz, swing, rock and roll, grunge, Hip Hop and now Indie music – all have emerged as countercultures. The popular phrase “Rock and Roll is dead” came into prominence when the labels picked it up, packaged and pushed it – it became a part of mainstream culture, and thus signaling its own demise with overkill. Hell, that’s happened even with Bhangra music – the moment every second song became Bhangra, its popularity waned, barring the occasional hit.

In India, Rock music never really became mainstream, and still survives without much label support…given the blinkers that mainstream labels don, it’s likely that rock wont have mass appeal since it is primarily in English. Sure, Pakistani bands are popular here, and a at least one band has experimented with death metal in Hindi, but the labels haven’t yet created an Indian rock band. It’s likely that rock music, and its appeal of not being what your chaiwallah or panwallah blares on radio all the time, will last. As a friend once said to me: India’s the only country in the world where Guns N Roses is still popular. There are radio stations that have experimented with rock music in the past – I remember that Times FM, when it launched in Delhi in the early/mid nineties, mostly aired rock music. Current radio stations, bogged down by dictats from advertisers, and now a ratings system, have almost all gone the mass way.

In a way, that works for Rock. Kids want that kind of unfamiliarity – for their moms to go “what’s that noise?”…or their dads to barge into the room, like in the video for Michael Jacksons Black or White — that’s where the fascination begins. I think hip-hop is also gaining in popularity – and there are Indian “wiggers” (biggers?) who some of us find amusing. Each generation will have its own counterculture, and I guess there must be music today that I’m not familiar with (I don’t like hip-hop) that’s counter-to-my-culture.

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Counterculture often has political significance, and I’m focusing more on media countercultures. Of course, this is an aggregation of random thoughts that have ocurred to me over the past few months, so feel free to dispute any or all of this. Preferably, tear it to shreds with counter arguments.

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Repetitive Strain Injury…

One of my teachers from college is suffering from a Repetitive Strain Injury courtesy having worked on the PC, on her PHD thesis, for around 10-12 hours a day. It’s the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which is a little scary cause there’s no cure for it. Take a look at the Wikipedia list for prevention, here.
Over the last month or so, I’ve been rather overworked, and had a minor burnout, following which I took the last weekend off (though I did listen to Digital Media podcasts from the MIT CMS throughout Sunday, just for fun…not really work, though there are those who disagree).

I’ve installed Workrave, which is turning out to be quite useful. It reminds me to take time off (from 15 seconds to 5 minutes), and suggests some exercises that I can do for prevention of RSI. For the five minutes break, once you choose to take it, it blocks input to your PC, though you can postpone the break. It also keeps a tab on how much time you’ve spent not using the keyboard or the mouse…Let’s see how long I use it, though. Suggests Wikipedia: Make sure to heed the reminders. If you do not, you may regret it later. A few exercises at YouTube.

Repetitive strain injuries could be a serious problem in the coming years unless people shift to voice inputs (bandwidth will probably have something to do with it, and the cost of, perhaps, a voice or a video SMS).

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Pepe’s Dhoom-2 Collection; And when you should probably lie to me

One mistake that I make when commenting on business, particularly advertising and marketing, is that I am often self-referential. If I don’t like something, I tend to believe that not many people will, because “they’re a sensible lot”. That’s myopic, and I realized this a week or so ago, at a Pepe Jeans store:

On noticing the Pepe Jeans’ Dhoom 2 collection at a store in CP, I thought I’d ask the store owner about the offtakes. A segment of the left wall (not particularly noticeable though) had been dedicated to the collection. Above the racks was a large POP banner of the movie, and a cut-out (which I hadn’t noticed on the way in – banner blindness, for sure) had been placed in the display window next to the entrance. The offtakes? Fantastic, he said. Young people are walking into the store and asking for what Hritik Roshan wore in this-scene or that-scene and buying. The same with Aishwarya Rai and Bipasha Basu for girls.

“Yeah, right!” you’d think. “That’s just plain PR speak. No one’s really buying this stuff.”

And then someone walks up to us and quietly (embarrassed?) asks for a particular jacket that Hritik wore in some specific scene. Pepe’s done a smart thing – the collection is straight out of the movie and they’ve printed a catalogue with stills where the actors are wearing these clothes. Three pieces of clothing were picked up while I was there for around 15 minutes. At the checkout counter, strangely enough – in a bowl – accessories from Dhoom 2 were kept for impulse purchases. Someone picked up a bandana with a flowery design.

Hence, I now accept that there are people who are star-struck, and user preferences can never really be based on a specific way of thinking. Even Rakhi Sawant has a fan :P. People do have idols whom they want to emulate…My nephew was very protective of his Kkrish jacket and rubber mask. I might think that almost everything on TV is stupid (apart from the History Channel, Discovery Travel & Living, CNBC-TV18, Zee Cafe, Zee Studio and a couple of others), and talk about the youth slowly switching to the Internet because prime-time soaps are stupid, and news is blatantly sensationalized – but there are who are lapping all of this up, and will still want passive entertainment instead of having to choose what to watch/do online.

Individual differences. So what do you do? Find common preferences, a niche perhaps, to target them. And ensure that while you cater to one groups preferences, you don’t piss off another with a drastic shift in TG. People switch very quickly. Speaking of clothing, when it was launched in India, Givo was a high-end brand. Floundering now, from what I hear.

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Of course, it’s not that I’m not star-struck…Please note that if you have exclusive invites for lectures by Joseph Stiglitz, George Soros and Amartya Sen, in Delhi, and you decide not to go – please don’t say something like “Nix, those invites just went waste…I couldn’t go and I was thinking – Damn, who should I give these to?”
I suggest you lie and tell me you gave them to your dad or girlfriend, or sold them. Just don’t tell me they went waste. And don’t blame me to attempting to strangle you at a bookstore in CP.

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The Delhi Metro – some trends, and some opportunities for marketers

“The next station is Chandni Chowk. This station is brought to you by Shanti Prasad Hirachand Jewellers.”

You could be hearing this a few years from now, on your way to Connaught Place from Kashmere Gate, improbable though it may seem. By the time Phase II of the Delhi Metro project is completed, there will be 120 stations, stretching more than 140 km across Delhi and NCR. At each of these stations, and indeed near them, will lie opportunities for marketers.

The crowds are already there –

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These are old photos. At nodal stations like those at Rajiv Chowk and Kashmere Gate, the crowds are similar to those at local train stations in Bombay. My sister, on her way back from work a couple of weeks ago, got stuck at Rajiv Chowk, as train after train arrived full from Central Secretariat. The Delhi Metro currently transports 4.6 lakh commuters every day. Once Phase II is completed by 2010, this could go up to 10 lakh and above. On the platforms, since commuters at some stations have to wait for three or four trains before they can push their way in, advertisers have around 15-20 minutes to communicate with them.

It’s not as if the DMRC is oblivious to alternative revenue streams: At all metro stations there are advertising panels, product display spaces and commercial establishments. At some point in time last year, I read about the Metro becoming a spot for young couples to spend time together, but the police at the stations began picking on them. Cafe Coffee Day probably spotted an opportunity there and opened a cafe inside the Rajiv Chowk station.

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Rajiv Chowk also houses a book and magazine shop from the India Today group. The station at Tis Hazari has a large Maruti showroom owned by Rana Motors (where we got our WagonR from), as well as a Spenser Hyper Market. Speaking of supermarkets, the station at Netaji Subhash Place has a Big Bazaar, apart from several other commercial establishments in and around it. The Kashmere Gate station has McDonald’s and Domino’s outlets. Outside the much smaller station at Rajouri Garden, the City Square Mall is brimming with activity, particularly on weekends.

Surprisingly enough I haven’t come across many product display spaces at Metro Stations, and some remain empty, while others are still being constructed. At the Chawri Bazar and Barakhamba Road stations, the OOH display panels remain empty.

Displaypanel-empty
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Maruti, though, turned the Rajiv Chowk station into a display space by placing a flaming red Swift there for all to see.

When Phase III is completed 160 trains will be operational, and inside every one of these trains will lie opportunities for marketers. Panels seem to be the most common form of advertising, though I don’t think they get noticed much. There is substantial government advertising in the panels inside the trains – advocating the use of condoms and preaching the banishment of untouchability, among other social vices like smoking, Bollywood music and drugs.

publicservicepublicservice2

However, one does find commercial brands like the Creative Zen MP3 player, Bikanerwala, and Digjam Suitings, as well as several financial services, on the panels. On Saturday, on my way to the Prithvi Theatre festival, I boarded a train that had ads from Go Air on the panels throughout the train.

intrain2intrain

Outside the train, in the station, there are brightly lit panels such as those of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Bank of Baroda – target those waiting for the train at the platform.

instationtrainstops

At several nodal stations, one also comes across beverage stalls. The Coca Cola beverage stall at the Civil Lines station, however, shut down due to lack of business five-six months ago. There are still a couple of bottles behind the glass panes.

Back inside the train, the BIG FM experiment of advertising on handle straps has found takers and has been emulated – I recently noticed ads for Hariyali Chai on the straps of one train while traveling towards Vishwavidyalaya.

hangit2hangit4hangit3hangit5

The DMRC estimates that these straps alone can earn them additional revenue of Rs.30 lakh a year. Advertising to passengers on the Delhi Metro, however, goes beyond the train and the stations: I’m told that Hindustan Times has been distributing free newspapers outside the Vishwavidyalaya metro station. Also, while travelling on the elevated lines I have often noticed hoardings and painted ads buildings beside the tracks, much like one sees ads painted on buildings beside regular railway tracks. Do people notice them?

In fact, how much of all the advertising mentioned above do people take note of? Given the rush that people are in, the crowds on the platform and inside the train, as well as a trend of banner blindness, the advertising has to be disruptive in nature. Some thoughts and suggestions:

  1. For the crowds waiting for a train, particularly during peak hours, the banner ads should be entertaining – perhaps an LCD display or a TV – the kind out find outside the airport is a better idea. In the future, this could be linked to an adserver, and serve up specific ads for metro passengers at stations like Kashmere Gate, Rajiv Chowk and future nodal stations. I think the static ads are useless.
    Update (11th Dec 2006): Looks like someone agrees with me on this – the Indian Express reports that Incoda, which owns the rights for screening programmes on televisions inside Metro stations will begin screening 200 English documentary films on TV screens in the station. The duration of films will be five to 10 minutes. I expect there to be ads in-between films, or on the screen itself, though that isn’t mentioned in the report.
  2. No one takes note of panel ads inside the train, unless you’re interested in the kind of advertising on the metro, like I am. LCD/LED displays would again work better inside the train.
  3. In the morning, the train to Vishwavidyalaya carries a largely student population to the Delhi University, so there is opportunity there for targeting that segment with pamphlets, which could be handed out inside the train. At the same time, the trains towards Rajiv Chowk, Rajouri Garden and Netaji Subhash Place carry working professionals, and promotions could be planned to target them (though the trains are completely packed).
  4. Both stations and trains could be ideal for Bluecasting (Bluetooth advertising) particularly for sales promotions.
  5. The escalators are a little slow on their way up and usually packed at nodal stations (unlike the one in the image below – Chawri Bazar, 7am…too early). People usually are looking upwards – why not have a banner advertisement there?
    escalator
  6. Perhaps the most disruptive alternative is the sound system – one might ignore TV screens and LCD/LED displays, but announcements are hard to ignore in metro trains, however monotonous they may sound. I can imagine someone making an unscheduled stop at Kashmere Gate to grab a quick bite at McDonald’s at lunch time, just because of the announcement. In the evening, an announcement could remind those returning from work to watch a particular TV show once they reach home.
  7. The Metro smartcard could also be co-branded, and banks could tie-up for offering debit card services using the smartcards. Smartcards could also be used for special offers in collaboration with the DMRC. Or maybe use the metro for distribution:

    distribution

All of these, of course, are possibilities; the viability depends entirely on the DMRC and marketers. Personally, I’d not buy into or like any of these advertisements, but they might help make the Metro profitable sooner.

Oh, and two major sources of entertainment on the metro – Mobile games and FM radio on mobile handsets.

Note: Most of the content in this post was used to compose an article on branded spaces on the Delhi Metro for First Option. The last photo is without branding 😛 – an image of a metro station I found on Flickr:

This is on the Shahadra-Rithala line, where quite a few stations have tiled art. I’ll take some more pics of those.

Incidentally, I’m planning to buy a digital camera…budget is around Rs.15k. Any suggestions?

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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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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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Mayhem at TC

Naah, not what you’re thinking – Sunday’s gig at TC (Update: TC is Turquoise Cottage at Adchini…sorry Reeta :)) wasn’t called “Mayhem”. It just turned out to be the craziest f’in gig I’ve ever been to. I know, I know – I’d said that earlier about the Numero Uno Rock Out last year, but this just beat everything before it. The neckache from headbanging still persists, somewhat aggravated by yesterdays sneezefest…but, man – what a gig.

I reached TC around 9:10pm, and wasn’t let in while Levikitus was playing because – TC was full. And there were around 15 people waiting outside, and that grew to around 30 by half past nine. KK, at the door, thankfully let me and Shyam in. There was hardly any room for maneuvering inside, and we made our way close to a corner, beers in hand. Bhayanak Maut took stage, and at TC…at tiny little TC, packed to capacity, moshing began. Now, it’s a completely different scene at Hamsadwani in Pragati Maidan, where there’s enough space. In TC, something’s going to give. The speakers next to which Shyam and I were standing were the first to go. Then the speakers at the opposite end. A fight broke out later in the mosh, and was ended by the bouncers. After a couple of songs, the moshing resumed, prompted by Bhayanak Maut. I’ve moshed before, but this time, I chose to stand by the side. Given the number of people there, there was hardly any place to stand. Here’s a video, courtesy Shyam (clearer picture of moshing midway through the clip)

I’ll put up pics once they’re put up at RSJ.

Bhayanak Maut, as always, were tight – great bass, and occasionally some deep sounding lead (strange). I don’t care much for the growling (no singing), but it’s fun when heard live. The rhythm is just too powerful and bass gets you headbanging. Unfortunately, with my limited knowledge of death metal and related genres, I can’t tell you which songs were played.

The chap taking care of the speakers was a hilarious sideshow, as he struggled to keep four speakers piled on top of each other, together. The wires got pulled out, and then he struggled to get them in. He actually dozed off in the middle of a Bhayanak Maut song. Here’s a clip of him sitting on top of one set of speakers and holding on to another, during a Them Clones song.

Them Clones were on next, and I have to compliment Gucci for a stellar job on the bass, as well as Dev on drums. Prithwish seemed to lose his voice towards the end. They began with Zephyretta, and played some from their original set, and a few new songs too. Damn it, I don’t have those with me, and TC are taking too long to release their album. They played some RATM, as usual. The gig was sponsored by Yamaha – they had some bikes on display, and a projector that displayed an advert on a screen.

More gigs this month, including a big one at the end of the month at Hamsadwani that is free. Details here. I’m going for Zero this Saturday, so if you want to come along for a much much milder experience, let me know. I have one Zero album – Procrastination. Plan to buy Hook, which I’ve heard is great.

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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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