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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Monday, October 8, 2007

This is my last post on this blog. Radio Userland has served me well since I started blogging in 2003. I will post more details on the transition, at my new blog - for now I just wanted to make this announcement, and provide the new url and feeds.

New Blog URL - http://dinamehta.com/
Subscribe via RSS 2.0 - http://dinamehta.com/feed/
Subscribe via Atom - http://dinamehta.com/feed/atom/
Comments feed - http://dinamehta.com/comments/feed/

The new blog will also be called Conversations with Dina - it's just a new blogging platform - but the same old blog! I do hope you continue reading and feeding it.

My old blog will be archived at its old url (http://radio.weblogs.com/0121664/) and I will keep the archives going. Stuart, who has worked out the platform for Conversations with Dina on Wordpress has done some neato hacks - one that I love a lot is that the search function will not just search the new blog archives, but also my old Radio blog archives. And he has managed to transfer some of my posts over too. That's so cool!!! Lots more needs doing there ... and that will emerge I'm sure.



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Monday, June 18, 2007

The Indian Express reports that a couple of Israeli geeks have set up a low-cost wi-fi network in Dharamshala, spread over 70 acres, more than 7,000 ft above sea level.

"Thirty-eight-year old David's technological expertise and perhaps even nimble athleticism (courtesy his Mossad training) proved useful in setting up the network in the mountainous terrain. Antennae were erected in the most unlikely places (in one case the tower was painted with the insignia 'Om' and served as the spire of a local temple), the Linksys routers were re-engineered to make them power-efficient(most of them run on solar energy) and the towers were made "monkey resistant" after it was found that the primates found perverse pleasure in dangling from them.

Other "sabotage" bids were similarly thwarted. There was one last year in the form of a Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDSA) on the website of the Tibetan Technology Centre. Says Ginguld: "It is difficult to pinpoint who did it but it started after an extensive series of scans which happened somewhere in China. The same URLs were loaded to access the database repeatedly..." In a written reply to The Sunday Express, the Chinese Embassy said it was "unaware of any such thing".

Schools, hospitals and other NGOs have benefited immensely from the service, though the network's limited bandwidth means it is not accessible to individuals and laptop-carrying tourists. Says Dawa Tsering of the Tibetan Medical Institute: "Our earlier connection would break down frequently and wouldnít be repaired for long durations. The connectivity now is more or less uninterrupted." While the vision of BPO centres coming up in the region might be a bit too romantic, the network is being used to promote trade. Dolma Kyap of Norbulingka Art Institute says they offer Tibetan art works like Thangka painting and statutes for sale on the Net. But what Ginguld is particularly thrilled by is the sight of children using the network. "Computer labs in Indian schools have lots of computers but no internet connection, which is akin to having a sleek car without petrol. Today when I see 10-year-olds logging on to sites like hi5, chatting with people, I realise we are on the right path," he says."

Cool!



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Saturday, June 9, 2007

Refuses to block Orkut under political pressure!

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Peter informs the Blogger's Collective about a series of protests against the arrest of an art student and suspension of the dean of MS University all over the country.  Here are details on the incident. 

By now, you would have read, heard or seen the news of the arrest of a student, Chandra Mohan, and the suspension of the dean of Maharaja Sayajirao University's Fine Arts faculty in Baroda, Prof. Shivaji Panikker. (For those who haven't, please catch up through the press links below.)

A simultaneous all-India public protest will take place on 14th May, at 6 p.m.  The Mumbai protest wil be in front of Jehangir Art Gallery. Those attending are requested to wear black and/or white.

Protests in other cities:

Date and time for all: 14th May, 6p.m .
New Delhi - Rabindra Bhavan
Mumbai - Jehangir Gallery
Vishakapatnam - Faculty of Fine Arts, Andhra University
Cochin - Kashi Art CafÈ
Hyderabad - Fine Arts, S N School, University of Hyderabad
Bangalore - M G Road, opposite Gandhi statue
Santiniketan - Kala Bhavan
Guwahati - Press Club

Unfortunately, I'm in groups at that same time so won't be able to attend, but I urge those of you who are appalled at the incident to go there and lend your voice.  Even if you aren't technically an 'artist'.  This is yet another form of suppressing our freedom of expression, it is an assault on our creativity, another crude and vicious attempt at politics taking over our educational system - and we should fight against it. Am sick of all this moral policing - putting an art student in jail, charging him with non-bailable offenses - come on, we're going backwards here. Who decides what crosses the boundaries of "outrage" in all these moral policing cases like what happened recently with Orkut and blogs?  Why are those that attack an institute free? Do we take it all quietly?  And its so ironic really, when so many of our ancient temples, manuscripts, sculptures and paintings depict erotica  so overtly - even in the context of Hindu Gods and Goddesses which I have seen. 

I like Ranjit Hoskote's perspective on this:

"It appears that the champions of a resurgent Hindu identity are acutely embarrassed by the presence of the erotic at the centre of Hindu sacred art. As they may well be, for the roots of Hindutva do not lie in Hinduism. Rather, they lie in a crude mixture of German romanticism, Victorian puritanism and Nazi methodology.

What happens next? Will the champions of Hindutva go around the country destroying temple murals, breaking down monuments, and burning manuscripts and folios?"

For those who aren't aware of the incident, Amit, who believes
"isnít a Hindu then entitled to say that his religious feelings are offended by Hindutva? Huh? points to many resources on this matter in a blog post so aptly titled Fascism in Baroda:

"The matter is being followed at Art Concerns, who have a detailed chronology of events up here. Do also read what Ranjit Hoskote, Gulammohammed Sheikh and Johny ML have to say, as well as this piece by Abhijeet Tamhane. Peter Griffin has more links here, as well as details of a public protest I intend to be part of in Mumbai."


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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The view from my new place - is on the 16th floor and I have spent all afternoon looking out at city life. I had to drown the sounds of construction and traffic out though - Glenn Frey did well with Strange Weather!

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ate Poorthuis is a student at the University of Amsterdam, and is writing a thesis on the creative class in Mumbai. He wrote to me yesterday, in an email asking for help on a survey for Mumbaikars (I still prefer the term Bombayites :)). It piqued my interest for two reasons .. why his interest in and selection of Mumbai ... and I remembered listening to Richard Florida talk about the The Rise of the Creative Class, at Pop!Tech way back in 2004. He has subsequently written The Flight of the Creative Class. Here's an IT Conversations podcast of his talk at Pop!Tech.

"My name is Ate Poorthuis. I am currently writing my bachelor thesis at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I am writing this thesis on the creative class in Mumbai. In the last few years there has been a lot of academic writing on creative cities and the creative class. The definition of creative class in this context is very broad: it ranges from architects, artists, teachers and writers to managers, programmers, researchers and journalists.

It struck me that all research in this field is based on people and cities in North-America and Europe. That is why I decided to write my thesis on Mumbai. I cannot believe that Mumbai, with its artists, Bollywood, nightlife, university and IT-industry, is not included in any research on the creative class. With this thesis I want to shine some new light on the subject and I hope to provide another perspective for the academic field.

Since you belong to the creative class I want to invite you to participate in a web survey. The survey takes only 10 to 15 minutes to complete and can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection. The survey is completely anonymous. Your e-mail address is not stored within this survey and cannot be linked to your responses in any way. You can begin with the survey by just clicking on the link below. I will be very thankful for your time and effort.

The survey can be found on: www.creativemumbai.com/survey/index.php?sid=2

If you have any further questions or are just interested in my research, just send me an e-mail or have a look at www.creativemumbai.com. Also, feel free to blog about this research on your weblog and please do not hesitate to forward this e-mail to anyone that might be interested."

Mumbaikars .. or Bombayites .. whichever term rings better with you, do spread the word and take the survey .. it made me reflect on why I love this city with all of its 20 million people and why I believe there is no place like this anywhere on earth, no matter what some people say by calling it the least courteous city !


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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Oh in my earlier ranting, I forgot to mention, go on to the 50 million missing page at Flickr if you don't mind having to go through the process of logging in using your Yahoo id. Its a neat way to share your empathy with and register your protest against this human injustice.

"About 50 million women are currently missing from India's population. Through rampant feticide, infanticide, and the murder of young women by their husbands and inlaws for dowry, India has managed to invert its population ratio from 10:9, women to men, as is normal for any population, to 9:10. Further more India has also warped the gender ratio for 1/5 of the entire human population.

It is the HOPE of this website to have as many possible of the 50 million missing represented by a photograph. These can be of Indian women or girls, of any age, and community represented as portraits or shown as engaged in various activities -- which is life. It would help very much if there is a small personal commentary with the photo about the girl or woman so we can reverse the process of dehumanizing Indian women. This is India's silent genocide -- and it is time for it to stop."



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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Buying a house in Mumbai is sooooo frustrating. I have been looking for a two-bedroom place in a specific area of the city (Worli-Mahim) for the last 8 months. I've been looking at both old apartments and some in new buildings that are mushrooming all around the city. I like the old apartments because they are more spacious and have higher ceilings. The new buildings come with more 'fittings' and some of them can be quite nice - but you feel really cheated on the super built-up area rates they charge you, which can, in some cases be upto 45% of the carpet area of the flat. So you have to really compromise on the living area in the flat, and are paying so much more needlessly.

This is such a disorganized sector - there are brokers and sub-brokers - anyone can become a broker and you don't need to be affiliated with a firm. They ask for anywhere between 1-2% of the sale or purchase and this is 'bargainable'. Very often, they haven't seen the place they are showing you, and this results in tremendous wastage of time. Because I am a woman and I don't have a big firm attached to my name, they assume time is of no essence to me - and fix and change appointments at their whims and fancy. And prices they quote always seem to be 'negotiable'. If I ask to examine papers for the apartment they tell you its all ok.

I have come so close to buying something at least thrice - then it all falls through for reasons completely out of my control. In one case, I paid up a token amount of Rs.100,000 and had to get it back because on examining the papers the housing society had not given the owner an NOC to sell. When I ask for the papers in advance, they say papers can be handed over only after you have paid up the token amount. Thanks to my sister who is a corporate banker and deals with this sort of thing professionally, we had a handwritten, signed memo with the owner, and I was able to get the token amount back.

Another apartment fell through at the negotiation stage, where the owner wanted over 40% of the amount in cash as against cheque payment - to cut down on stamp duty, registration and most importantly capital gains. And I thought the days of paying out black money are gone, since the IT department has become so much more vigilant.

I wish there were some standards here!

I really had my heart set on the last apartment that fell through. I'm buying the place on my maiden name which is a typical Parsi surname - Dastur. When the owner heard that, he immediately said "sorry madam we only allow strict vegetarians in". I'd been rejected for one flat for this very reason earlier, and it happened again. It reminded me of the British Raj, when there were signs outside clubs, hotels and restaurants which read something like - 'Dogs and Indians not allowed'. Only in this case, I feel discriminated against by my own people. I'm made to feel like a pariah simply because I eat meat. This is really ridiculous.

I feel for the Muslims in our country too - in many buildings I visited, I was told by the society members and brokers in a tone meant to make me heave a sigh of relief, that Muslims weren't permitted to buy.

While I can still handle the inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the buying process, this discrimination really sucks. Any ideas on whether any sort of action can be taken against it? Would love to hear your views.



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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Some blogging trends in India .. based on a study 'Blogging India: An MSN and Windows Live Report'

"A desire for self-improvement and personal development is found to be a key driver of India's blogosphere with a large majority of online users reading blogs to stay informed about world events. They enjoy reading about technology the most, followed closely by news and education. Elsewhere, technology content ranks low.

These findings suggest that blogging in India could become the "new fourth estate" with close to half the respondents believing that blogging content is as trustworthy as those of regular media outlets such as newspapers, radio and TV."

Some statistics are available here. And the Economic Times has more.

- 14% of internet users actively blog
- 39% are aware of blogs

- over 75% of all bloggers are men
- 85% are below the age of 35
- 49% said they read blogs to be entertained
- 50% found blogs by business leaders interesting
- in contrast, 24% found politicians' blogs interesting
- 58% started their blog to express themselves, while 40% to entertain others
- Half of all blogs receive 10 visitors or less per week
- 90% of bloggers spend up to 5 hours per week reading blogs or updating their own blogs

Am not sure how the research was conducted, but the article seems to suggest it is based on a survey among over 1000 visitors to the MSN India portal. This is by no means representative blogosphere in India - not many bloggers I know think highly of MSN or go to the portal at all.

Does anyone have access to the entire report and can you share it?

We really do need some good demographic and behavioural statistics on blogging and online social networking in India.

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A picture named 7610 black.jpgWhile on mobile phones, just last month, I got the cover for my Nokia 7610 changed - my three year old white cover was badly bruised. I was in Delhi and went to a small shop which had all the latest models of phones. That's where I got a good look at the N73. I also looked at the N93 - it is a very clunky phone.

Anyway, back to the new cover - the shop owner first showed me a black case with a really good-looking blue streak on it for Rs.350 (about 8 USD). Despite much tugging and pushing, it did not fit well. I was quite surprised with what he did next - he took out a brand new 7610 box - it was sealed - he opened the seal - took off the casing of the phone, and gave it to me. I had to pay double the price of course, as it is an 'original' in his words. When I asked him how he would sell that phone, he said no worries, he'd fit another cover on it. Am sure he'd sell that one as the 'original' too!!!

And a bonus offer for me - he wanted to buy back my phone which is now almost three years old for Rs.6000 (approx 135 USD). Not bad .. I should have taken him up on it - little did I know I'd get the N73 so soon!

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Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Was passing by one of the busiest 'walls' in Bombay today .. and couldn't resist this picture. Any guesses on the product? No pink prizes ange :)


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Tuesday, November 7, 2006

There was a short segment on India This Week on NDTV's 24/7 on Sunday which briefly touched upon the controversy surrounding the issuing of a notice by the State Government of Maharashta against an Orkut community. It wasn't much of an analysis as I had expected - some Orkut members talking of how and why they use it - too short a segment for anyone to really comprehend what was going on. I told my mum to watch it since I was appearing briefly .. her response after ... "I didn't understand a word!". So much for mainstream media picking up on issues!

What makes me a little mad is this writeup on the segment where they've quoted me as having said:

""Instead of paranoia, we need greater awareness for young people, and more effective legal measures for cyber crime," said Dina Mehta, new media researcher."

When actually, I said quite the contrary .. I spoke about what social networks are, a bit on how they have evolved, why folks use them and what value they bring, and on the the issue of 'moral policing' and banning communities. My take was very clearly that usually, these communities are self-correcting and you have the choice to select who you want to interact with, and what community you wish to take part in. If something or someone upsets you, you can counter it by debate and dialogue or report them in most of these communities, some have recommendations and user-ranking systems as well, and in that, they are self-correcting. So there is no need to police them -  how can you - are we policed thus in our physical worlds?

Moreover, the powers that issue these orders are naive to think that closing down a community will shut down voices on the internet.... they will spring up elsewhere on the web. If we are talking of moving to a networked world, with broadband plans and bringing access to the internet to many more people, how can we talk of this sort of censorship. My final comment was that those with authority to ban and censor have no understanding of how social the internet has become. They need to get in there, wet their hands, play .. only then can they truly understand how these newer social systems and norms of engagement actually work. Action then will be more informed as a result.

A no-brainer really.



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Saturday, October 21, 2006

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Like Peter, wishing you and yours a very Happy Diwali and Eid Mubarak. It is a long weekend here .. everything's closed until Wednesday which is Eid.  Am off to Khandala for a quiet break.  Diwali for us is a small puja on Dhanteras at home, lighting a few diyas, hanging a garland outside our door and distributing sweets and gifts to our close family members.  Then ... a mad dash out of town for a quiet getaway.

A picture named crackers.jpgIt has been quite quiet this Diwali in Mumbai.  When I was growing up, there would be firecrackers .. the noisier the better for those indulging in a vulgar display of burning wealth... all through the week running up to Diwali.  Tadafadis - those long strips of really annoying and noisy bombs would be lined up on the roads and go off for 10 minutes continuously .. this would go on all evening and night.  The next morning, the roads were littered with varied debris.

On the other hand, traffic this week has been just crazy,  and the shops really full.  Interestingly, online shopping has grown 100% over last year, this Diwali. 





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"A new report from the firm says the portion of low-cost handsets with basic cameras is high enough that, during the next 10 years, "hundreds of millions" of Chinese and Indians not only will have their first phone experience via a wireless handset, but also their first camera experience." TelecomWeb.

This is so true .. it is amazing how often you see youngsters particularly taking quick pictures with their cam phones and sending them to friends via SMS and bluetooth. Stuart, in a series of observations on India, shares his experiences observing camera phone usage in India:

"Now imagine a world where no one growing up had a camera. Where photos were taken at a wedding, relegated to studio shots for the rich, or Bollywood snaps appearing in the press. In a gross generalization, photography in India was 50 or 60 years behind the rest of the world until the mobile phone arrived."

"....Each time I frequent one I'm always seeing people taking pictures. They pass the phone around. They take them with each other's phones. They display a real delight of just discovering photography and they just keep on snapping. Camera phones will impact society differently here. There was no progression from a camera. The mobile phone for many, is their first camera. They never learned to shoot with film or the constraints and expense of film. They never looked through a viewfinder. Photography for them starts on a device that is better at shorter distances. They are learning photography in a digital age. As a result India is about to experience an outpouring of imagery."

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

A great transformation story - For India's Traditional Fishermen, Cellphones Deliver a Sea Change.- by Kevin Sullivan at the Washington Post. [link via Bala Pitchandi]

Two excerpts:

"Rajan said that before he got his first cellphone a few years ago, he used to arrive at port with a load of fish and hope for the best. The wholesaler on the dock knew that Rajan's un-iced catch wouldn't last long in the fiery Indian sun. So, Rajan said, he was forced to take whatever price was offered -- without having any idea whether dealers in the next port were offering twice as much. Now he calls several ports while he's still at sea to find the best prices, playing the dealers against one another to drive up the price.

New Balance of Power


Rajan said the dealers don't necessarily like the new balance of power, but they are paying better prices to him and thousands of other fishermen who work this lush stretch of coastline. "They are forced to give us more money because there is competition," said Rajan, who estimated that his income has at least tripled to an average of $150 a month since 2000, when cellphones began booming in India. He said he is providing for his family in ways that his fisherman father never could, including a house with electricity and a television."

and:

"Rajan's phone rang a half-dozen times in a half-hour, with calls from dealers in different ports, buyers and other boat captains. Rajan talked quickly and kept hauling. When most of the net was in, the crew used small nets to scoop the fish from the water and dump them into the 45-foot open boat that is towed behind the Andavan.

By 3 p.m., the open boat was loaded with fish and the Andavan turned toward port, an hour away. Standing on the deck soaked with sweat, Rajan started returning phone calls. He dialed the number of the wholesale agent at his home port, who offered about $13 for each 110-pound box of fish -- about 12 cents a pound.

Rajan agreed to the deal. He said if his load had been bigger and it had been earlier in the day, he would have called around to check prices at other ports. But he said for a smallish load late in the day, the first price offered was fair. And he said the dealer was forced to offer a decent price, knowing that Rajan could still go elsewhere. As insurance, Rajan returned the call of the other dealer who had called him, just to keep good relations for another day.

Rajan said that without his phone, his catch might have gone to waste. Because he called ahead to the port, buyers there knew that he was coming, what kind of fish he had and the size of his catch. In the past, Rajan said, he would sometimes arrive at port late in the day only to find that all the buyers had gone home, unaware that another boat was coming. His catch would go unsold, and he and his crew would go unpaid."

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

From agencyfaqs! - I-Cube,2006 a report on Internet in India is out. The survey was conducted by IAMAI and IMRB International.

"It states that 32 per cent of the active users of the Internet in India rely on it as a primary source of information and research. In 2001, when e-mail and chat were the significant drivers of the Internet, this figure was only 20 per cent. The survey was conducted for the current fiscal amongst 16,500 households covering 65,000 individuals across 26 major metros and small towns in India, with an additional coverage of 10,000 businesses and 250 cyber cafÈ owners. The active users here are those who access the Internet at least once a month."

From the IAMAI press release

  • The survey reveals that there are 37 million Internet users in India, 23 million of them active users. Ever user category is defined as someone who has used the Internet at least once

  • This escalation in the number of active Internet users can be seen as a consequence of the new innovations that have taken place in the content space in recent times, in the form of online ticketing, weblogs, product information and preview sites

  • 11.6 million e-mail users out of the 13.2 Million Active Internet Users in the 26 surveyed cities
  • 2.4 million E-Commerce users and around 7.5 Million Chat users in the 26 cities as of March 2006
  • 32% of the active internet users use search as their primary application
  • The glamour of chat seems to be fading away even amongst the College Going segment, with Information search emerging as the 2nd most prominent reason for surfing Internet
Contentsutra has uploaded a couple of the charts from the report .. here's one that shows internet usage by demographics [chart from the post linked earlier] where there seems to be an inverse correlation between age and email usage:

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The numbers are still small .. despite our much-touted 200 million middle class in India, only 23 million active users in India! And penetration country-wide (rural and urban) is really low at 3.2% in 2006:

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Look at this for comparison - now 91 million mobile phone subscribers and 5.9 mln new mobile subscribers in India in August 2006 according to ZDNet's Research -- India has become the fastest-growing cellular market in the world, adding a net 5.9 mln cellular subscribers in August 2006, according to the Cellular Operators Association of India. The gain outstripped Chinaís increase of 5.19 mln subscribers.

I also wonder whether they've covered social media .. if free flow of information and exchange is going to be a strong part of innovation in India, social media has to be a part of it.Mohan Krishnan from IMRB says:

"There will be a change in the Internet dynamics. Applications like P2P, preview sites, streaming video and radio, as well as localisation of content, will outgrow e-mail and chat. Hence, innovative applications, making a user's experience simpler and fulfilling, will be required to sustain the growth of the number of Internet users."

Which makes me wonder ... what figures do they have about blogs and social networks if at all? Several people from the corporate world (read Ad Agencies, PR firms, even traditional FMCG companies) have asked me for statistics on blogs in India .. the fact is there really aren't any that are of any use. Some figures I have seen don't make much sense somehow.

I think its time an agency like IMRB looked at doing a large-scale survey on blogs and online social networking habits in India, and followed some of the great data generation practices employed by companies like Pew who shares reports and pdfs of questionnaires online. Why I feel its time for this is while there is much talk about blogs in India today, in corporate circles, in mainstream media - and people really are curious about this relatively new media. The sense I get is they are excited about the medium but dont understand it very well .. and few are willing to take that leap of faith without the numbers.

Some stuff that might be useful from the viewpoint of a company who is considering setting up blogs either a corporate blog, or blogs for brands, or then considering the potential to use the power of word of mouth (and pay for it :)) :

  • census of blogs in India - how many are there, drop out rates, active blogs, benchmarks for defining this space for future tracking, etc
  • demographics of blogs and bloggers - what demographic groups are blogging more, across states and cities, age, gender, lifestage, socio-economic status, income,
  • blog habits and practices - methods of blogging, connectivity, tools and content, extent and frequency of posting to and reading blogs,
  • blog ecosystems - usage data for feed readers, etc
  • extent of audio-video usage - producing content and consuming content
  • segmentation of bloggers and those on social networks - demographics/user archetypes/interests/topics
  • monetization of blogs - ROI on blogging and social networking (look at this attempt to calculate return on investment - ROI on blogging - link via email from Peter)
  • community/collaborative blogs
What other data would you like to see on the Indian blogosphere and social media scene?

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Monday, October 9, 2006

WATblog has a neat write-up on India Web 2.0 sites and companies in their many part series covering social networking, social bookmarking, video sharing, picture sharing, social sharing, events sharing, media or file sharing.

Parts 1-4
Part 5

Other reading/resources on India Web 2.0:

  • Amit Ranjan of Webyantra consistently presents really excellent reviews of Indian Web 2.0 sites
"To summarize - Orkut.com is the most impressive social network in the Indian market currently. With the arrival of Jhoom, Minglebox and Yaari - Orkut is most certain to lose out on its market share as the other 3 will capitalize on their Indian presence and more 'Indianized' marketing. Itís very difficult to choose one over the other amongst Yaari, Jhoom and Minglebox currently - the one with the better clarity, UI, marketing and passion will win. I wont give much of a chance to Fropper despite its marketing muscle - any site that canít think of making money other than charging their users for the basic use, when others are giving it for free does not even deserve to win"

Indians on Orkut are thriving .. I get atleast 6-10 invites to be friend every day, and its almost beginning to feel like spam! Interestingly, I was recently faciliatating an ideation workshop with a traditional FMCG multinational and its ad agency, and at lunch, many of the executives there were talking of 'Orkutting'.
  • Contentsutra among other digital media news, does reviews on new social media sites from India
  • Amit Agarwal at Digital Inspiration keeps an eye on all the developments worldwide in this area - here's one example where he shares a portrait of his son, Google using "Museumr - a Flickr Toy where you pass the URL of the Flickr picture or any photo on the web, choose a Museum Gallery style and the application will create an awesome piece of art displayed in a real museum gallery complete with admiring visitors".
Here's a Flickr Image I've uploaded on Indian Web 2.0 Logos ... inspired by Stabilo Boss's global Web 2.0 logo image. There's a Chinese Web 2.0 logo collection too.

Do let me know if I've missed out Web 2.0 companies/sites in the India logos collection!

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Update: changed the logos a little taking in some recos from my geeky friends.
Any more suggestions?
Update 2:  Read/Write Web has a list of Top Web Applications from India,  compiled by Neeraj  Kumar.

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Sunday, October 8, 2006

"Citizens in Nagpur almost never visit the police station, thanks to Yashasvi Yadav's online complaints system", reports Danish Khan in the Mumbai Mirror, in an article and interview with the Superintendent of Police, Nagpur District, titled Gunning for the Web. Mr. Yadav is the recipient of the IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award for innovative policing this year.

The Commissioner of Police has a neat message on the Nagpur Police website :
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I hope one day, this applies to filing FIRs (First Information Reports) too, which can be a really tedious process, and not always effective. Not so long ago, someone bumped into my car from the back, it was entirely his fault. It left a deep scratch on my bumper. If you've been to Mumbai you'll know that its rare to see a car without a scratch, and normally I'd have let it go, but for the fact that the driver of the other car got really aggressive with me and refused to give me his contact details. The local traffic cop refused to help too, allowing the owner of that car to drive off, saying I must go to the nearest police station, and lodge an FIR, if I wanted to get my insurance company to get the expenses from him. It took me 3 hours of waiting at the Gamdevi police station, before an officer attended my query, and another hour before he got all the tedious paper-work done. He didn't so much as glance at the damage on my car before writing out the report.

I wished then, that I could have done this via an online form.


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Much as I hate the politics of the government running Gujarat, it was interesting to read this article in The Sunday Express this morning - Gujarat cracks BPL (below-poverty-line) code, finds way to reach the poor directly.

The creation of a database of people Below-Poverty-Line has been created .. as a result its hands off for any interference from politicians and local authorities. Couldn't find a link to the database .. does anyone know the url? The list of schemes covered is here.

From the article:

"Thanks to a new delivery system developed by the Gujarat Rural Development Department, schemes meant for BPL and poor families are now reaching the people they are meant for. "From treating the schemes as 'quotas' or 'numbers', we are giving them 'faces'. And the faces belong to the poorest," Vipul Mitra, secretary rural development, says.

"Now, instead of the beneficiaries running from pillar to post to get the benefits, the taluka development officers go in search of them. That is because the system has already generated a list, identified the names of the most needy, with their addresses. The TDO has to go find them and give what is due to them," says Mitra. In the process, ministers, MLAs, local politicians, panchayat presidents and sarpanchs have been eliminated from the system."

On the database:

"The database is on the web and almost all districts and talukas of Gujarat now have access to the Internet. The State-Level Bankers Committee which has 5,000 branches of various banks has already adopted the system, using it to disburse government co-sponsored loans for both farm and non-farm activity. J M Patel, chief manager of State-level Bankers committee (SLBC), Gujarat, says: "It is a very realistic database that is 85 to 95 per cent correct."

Over three years, 68.65 lakh rural households in the 18,000 villages of Gujarat were surveyed by enumerators who gathered details of families without revealing the motive. Then, using a selection criteria of 13 parameters prepared by the Planning Commission and using a methodology decided by the Union Ministry of Rural Development, the households were graded.

Earlier, BPL lists were prepared using income as the main criteria. The Gujarat Government added more parameters to make it more comprehensive_average availability of normal clothing, two square meals a day, type of house, status of household labour force, type of indebtedness etc.

As per the 16-point parameters, families were graded_ a score of 16 points or less: very poor, 17 to 20: poor. When the list was finally ready this July, the Gujarat Government had a ready reckoner at hand: 18,706 households scored 5 or less (poorest of the poor), 1,73,388 households scored 10 or less, 8,50,413 households scored 15 or less and 10,93,534 scored 16 or less."

On how it can be free from political pressure:

"But complaints have started pouring in. An MLA who sent 200 applications of his supporters demanding benefits complained that only three persons he recommended were in the list of BPL or poor families. "He claimed our list is incorrect,í" says D M Baria, of Dangs DRDA. "But now we donít have to bend over backwards under political pressure. Whenever a politician calls me to recommend, I just show the list," he says."

Giving out money is hard. Money is power. It breeds corruption. It is why so many aid programmes fail. I hope this database ensures that the money goes to the right people. I hope.



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Sunday, August 27, 2006

I don't usually blog about movies, but this article in the Hindustan Times that shares reader responses to Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (KANK) (detailed story) roused my researcher instincts. The movie is the lives of Dev and Maya, who are both married to different people, who both yearn for something deeper and more meaningful, and for passion. They find each other, and as a result, it changes lives of all involved forever.

There's been a lot of media hype around the theme of extra-marital affairs in India as a result of the movie- while some (and that seems to be a minority) seem to feel there is no reason to stay in unhappy marriages, many others are of the opinin that it goes against our 'culture'. What intrigued me about the article in the Hindustan Times were two things. One, that those against the film tended to be from an older age segment, while those below 35 years felt it reflects trends in today's society. And two, on reading the quotes from readers there, my observation is that those who strongly raised their voice against the movie and also felt it was ahead of its times were mainly males, and those who feel that women are empowered now to decide whether they want to stay in a loveless marriage were females!!
[Disclaimer - this observation is based on just this one article]

"...A surfer named Deepak from Dubai wrote in to say: "KANK is a movie which not only undermines, but also insults Indian culture and values."

".....30-year-old Sabrina from Panaji sent us a very telling comment. She said: "I don't care for movies like KANK, especially if they come from a director like Karan Johar. But I can say this for sure: I would not hestitate for a second to walk out if my marriage is not working out. I am an individual with a life to lead, why should I waste it on a loveless relationship?"

"27-year-old Sangita, who wrote in from Arlington, Virginia, provided another interesting angle to this issue. She said: "This is a very complex issue. In the US for instance, women are a lot more empowered. They think of themselves as individuals and so don't hesitate to leave a marriage where there is no love or commitment. In India however, women don't think of themselves as an identity different from their husbands. So they suffer all marital discords and continue to be slaves to their negligent and uncaring husbands."

Art imitating life?



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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Rediff News has this article on the Honey Bee Network which is focussed on creativity and innovation at the grassroots level.

"A bicycle that can peddle both on water and the road, a motorcycle used to pump out water from deep wells and a cellphone that can switch on electrical appliances within a specific radius! Self-taught mechanics in India are pioneering these and many more. With such inventions, self-taught mechanics or villagers with little or no formal education to their credit are transforming the limited opportunities available to them in remote and rural areas, say experts."Formal and informal science can be linked to create new innovations and transform the opportunities available in rural India," says Anil Gupta of the Indian Institute of Management, who has taken upon himself to collect and collate such traditional information scattered all over the country under his Honey Bee network."

You can search their innovation database for more grassroots innovations.

Om Malik makes a point about how technology cannot be an end in itself, in response to the media blitz around Nicholas Negroponte's 100-dollar laptop and the news item that a small village in India got itself a website.

"One gets fairly fed-up reading articles that tout such trivial things like getting a Web site as this great signpost of development or that (falsely) show technology as being the great equalizer and an end in itself. And at the risk of being considered partisan ó towards the Indian bureaucracy, Bill Gates and Intel all rolled into one ó I hold even Nicholas Negroponteís ìOne Laptop per Childî (OLPC) initiative guilty of overemphasizing technology as an end in itself. What is a kid who goes to a school with rampant teacher absenteeism, no infrastructure to speak of ñlike desks, fans or electricity to run those fans ñgoing to do with a laptop?"

And Atanu Dey has a requiem for the One Laptop Per Child project in India [link via Ethan] where he says:

"Spending a few hundred million dollars will help some children, and also enrich the manufacturers of the laptops (Chinese manufacturing), and all the middle-layers that will be invovled in the selling, maintenance, and support. Compare that to the alternative use of the same money.

Tens of millions of children donít go to school, and of the many who do, they end up in schools that lack blackboards and in some cases even chalk. Government schoolsóespecially in rural areasóare plagued with teacher absenteeism. The schools lack even the most rudimentary of facilities such as toilets (the lack of which is a major barrier to girl children.) Attention and funds need to be directed to those issues first before one starts buying laptops by the millions."

I think grassroots innovations are great when entry barriers to using them are low, and they tap real and relevant human needs that are culturally relevant and economically viable. Moreover, in the case of the Hansdehar website, its an experiment I'd love to follow, and see what transformations it makes in the lives of the villagers, whether it really gets picked up by other villages as a tool to better their lives, whether villages then will form communities and interact with each other in a manner that brings about social and economic change.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I've been helping organize content at BlogCamp India 2006. It's on September 9-10 in Chennai. Here's what its all about:

A picture named blogcamp india.gifBlogging is more than just a tool for online communication. For bloggers and blog readers, it represents a way of life where open communication, dialogue, feedback and collaboration enrich content, helping us forge professional and personal relationships. From encouraging government transparency, blogging about children, discussions on economics, sharing poetry and literature, ribtickling humour, online activism, movie reviews to Sunday musings, the tool has changed lives for all those who use it and rely on it for opinion, information, entertainment and business.

Because blogging has influenced each individual at so many different levels, the theme of the BlogCamp in Chennai is going to be "Living The Blog"

We hope to provide a forum where bloggers can share their stories and be inspired by innovative and successful blogging experiences. In the spirit of blogging and no barriers interaction, the two-day event will be in an "unconference mode". Participants will have the choice of simultaneous workshops and sessions that will be held in small groups and use relatively informal ways of engaging each other, in conversations around the various themes.

While Kiruba, Syed and their young team of Chennai bloggers have been doing a great job of getting the logistics out, creating a lot of buzz around the event, setting up the website and getting sponsors, Neha and I are working on the scheduling of sessions and content .. please do go over to this page and add/edit/modify things that make for a better event given the heterogeneity in the list of participants who are at different stages of blogging experience. Also, if there are topics you wish to cover, apart from the ones I am sharing below, do add them in here. It is really vital that every participant takes the onus of ensuring they get the opportunity to share and speak around their interest area -- so I urge those interested, even if you are planning to participate remotely, do do do go on over and make BlogCamp yours.

Some of the themes around which sessions will be slotted that have emerged so far are:

* Blogging and Governance - how blogs are being used to provide assistance during times of crisis, uncovering potential crimes, activities, taking on the government, etc.
* Blogging and Entrepreneurship - Many professionals are using blogs to change their world. Here we talk about how blogging can work towards career development and related areas. Also, professional blogging, where people are beginning to actually experience that blogs can pay!
* Corporate Blogging - Many corporates have started blogging, making them closer to customers. We ask you to share your stories on why you are incorporating blogs in your products and media strategies.
* Getting Geeky - the art and science of blogging - how to go about it, tips and tricks of trade and taking blogging to the next level. * Blogging and community - as a tool for action, collective or distributed, as a binding force, as a way for individuals to contribute, and to get back something.
* Blogging as New Media - as blogging goes mainstream, it complements journalism. Why traditional media should care about blogging as a form of citizen journalism.
* Blogging as a Hobby - how blogs help you in showcasing your talents and skills, in sharing your deep thoughts.

Once the sessions are more or less frozen, we'll set up a page there for volunteering to be Session Coordinators ... who will then take full responsibility for their session in terms of :
- who the speakers are
- how much time each one speaks
- coordinating with the speakers and scheduling the session
- how to engage others in the discussion
- tying back to the basic theme
- logistics and requirements
- assigning someone to whiteboard or blog or wikify all the discussions that ensued

Some folks have been pinging me for details on how to register, what it costs etc ... so here are some clarifications and pointers to relevant pages on the wiki. There should be a page up soon for recommended accomodation for those travelling to Chennai for the event. To register, go here and add your name. The cost is Rs.300 for both days (less than 7 USD). More details on who's attending, FAQs. A Flickr group has been set up too for BlogCamp06 - hope to see tons of photos from the event there!

Stuff that needs clarity and working on urgently:
  • The wiki is a little messy and disorganised - we need a wiki gardener ... Peter???
  • Outstation participants need help in figuring out accomodation options
  • How is the Rs.300 going to be collected? Will this be at the venue during registration?
  • What's the action on setting up a live audio stream or an IRC channel that will enable participation from those who can't physically be there?
Blogcamp
Blogcamp India


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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I discovered and enjoyed a series of qualitative user research reports by Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase, who takes some amazing photographs and blogs them with observations at Future Perfect. [link via Chetan Kunte via Adaptive Path]

Interesting to read about informal repair cultures in India and China ..

A picture named Nokia_RepairCultures_vFinal-thumb.jpg"What sets these locations apart from cities in more 'emerged' markets? Aside from the scale of what's on sale there is a thriving market for device repair services ranging from swapping out components to re-soldering circuit boards to reflashing phones in a language of your choice , naturally. Repairs are often carried out with little more than a screwdriver, a toothbrush (for cleaning contact points) the right knowledge and a flat surface to work on. Repair manuals (which appear to be reverse engineered) are available, written in Hindi, English and Chinese and can even be subscribed to, but there is little evidence of them being actively used. Instead many of the repairers rely on informal social networks to share knowledge on common faults, and repair techniques. It's often easier to peer over the shoulder of a neighbour than open the manual itself. Delhi has the distinction of also offering a wide variety of mobile phone repair courses at training institutes such as Britco and Bridco turning out a steady flow of mobile phone repair engineers. To round off the ecosystem wholesalers' offer all the tools required to set up and run a repair business from individual components and circuit board schematics to screwdrivers and software installers."

Not so different from what I had described in this series on culture of business in India.


And more - some observations and insights into non-literate communication practices - wow - this is a staggering fact -
"Everyday many of the 800 million non-literate people in the world use phones and mobile phones to communicate."

"We noted that textually non-literate users of public call offices often took a scrap of paper with a phone number scrawled on it to the owner and asked them to dial the number. This system is open to errors caused by inaccuracy, either because the number was not clearly transcribed, or simply because the paper on which the number was written was worn and faded from being carried.

User interface designers often talk about the user's mental model of a system, and how it maps to the reality of how a device actually functions. It is typical for designers to use metaphors such as the 'desktop' or 'soft keys' to support the building of an accurate model. Textually non-literate users will not have access to textual cues, so their mental model may well be poor. Whilst a poor mental model is not a problem within a limited range of (rote learned) tasks, if and when errors occur users may adopt the wrong strategies to correct the problem. Designers use a myriad of audio, visual and textual cues to support the user's understanding of how the mobile phone works. Literate persons are able to quickly absorb (and subsequently ignore) this textual information and apply the knowledge in practice. A positive outcome reinforces their understanding of how the system works and helps build an accurate mental model. Textually non-literate people are required to make assumptions for the textual prompts based on how the device responds to their actions. A plausibly positive result is sufficient to believe that is how the system works regardless of how well it maps to the actual system."

A picture named mobile-essentials-02-thumb.jpgThere's also a brief report on 'Mobile Essentials - Field Study and Concepting' (download paper, 0.4mb). The paper introduces three interrelated ways to understand human behaviour - centre of gravity, point of reflection and range of distribution.
"The second idea is the Point of Reflection - the moment when leaving a space when you pause current activities turn back into an environment and check you have the mobile essentials. Typically this involves looking at the Center of Gravity, sometimes tapping pockets, sometimes speaking aloud. Not seeing the objects where they are supposed to be (the Center of Gravity) can be a sign that they are already carried."

Great stuff ... and no wonder then that Nokia is always stretching the boundaries of mobile phone usage in India. All images here are from Nokia and Jan's blog ... thanks for sharing these reports and observations ... it is is not what most 'corporates'
believe in or do.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

I love blog comments ... there is this little argument happening at the comments to my earlier post on reflections around the Indian Government's censorship of blogs and websites. Soubhagya who keeps insisting that this is just a technical goof-up and let's not call it a ban, made me really think ... and thought I'd share my response to him with a few additions here:

I think you miss the bigger issue underlying this Soubhagya - which is about asking the Govt to be transparent about their actions - for all you know they are blocking lots of other websites too. That worries me. Is it ok for the govt to block or censor ANY website (and am making this issue broader than just blogs), without any explanations on why they were blocked, why they are a threat to national security?

Why they are blocking MY access to them? Or my right to read them? I have the right to question that. Would you like the Government to determine what you can and cannot access? What if they decide the internet is bad for you? Without any explanation and block your access to it? Would you sit back and take it?

Am glad you have commented at these sites - that's freedom of speech - just like you're able to comment here. You have every right to disagree with me, to say I am wrong. But you don't have the right to stop me saying what I want to say, or my access to sites I want to visit. That's what the government is trying to do - that's what this issue should be about.


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