Thursday, August 31, 2006

September 11 report in Graphics

If someone asked me “Would you read a detailed written report on what happened on September 11?” my answer would most likely be a flat “No!”.

I guess realized this and figured that the better way to make people aware of the entire bunch of incidents is to create a cartoon type report. Access the 9/11 report in Graphics here. It starts with a default chapter a day, but you can navigate to the start using the page controls.

Whatever the reason, the idea is impressive and the graphics enables a light, easy and refreshing read. [Not to take the seriousness off the whole thing!]

Take a look if you are curious or if you love cartoons.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Celebrating Firefox

Looks like I missed the 200 million download celebration of the (popular fast browser) Mozilla Firefox. It's never too late for an ardent fan to celebrate the milestone!

By the way, if you are a Firefox user, don't miss installing (It takes all of 5 seconds) the Tab Mix Plus add-on that could give enormous control over the tabs, recover sessions after a crash and save session histories.

It's also got progress meters for every tab and it's quite cool - could give all those IE users an inferiority complex! I'm making a special mention of this coz I know quite a lot of Firefox users and they always ask me what I installed to get the options that I've got. It's a must for Firefox, in my opinion.

Interesting trends - NRS 2006

The long awaited National Readership Survey 2006 (Key findings, as published by the Hindu) has finally been released. I always wait for the survey results to find about the interesting change in the trends – especially concerning internet usage, mobiles and newspapers. And trust me, the more you read it, the more it is insightful.

There are some interesting trends this year too.
The Internet as a medium seems to have paused on its growth trajectory. From 7.2 million users who logged in every week last year, the number has grown, though only to 9.4 million. As proportions, these represent 0.9% and 1.2% of India’s 12 years plus population.
What a disappointing country! 1.2% of the population accesses the net. Compare that with USA where 68% of the population accesses the net. Even the world average is somewhere around 10%. We are not clocking a tenth of the world’s average. Talk about being a developed country before 2010!

And, by the way, that explains the low blogging potential that I mentioned in my previous post.
Cinema has, on the surface, declined sharply from 51 million individuals going regularly to the movies (at least once a month) to 39 million. This has been the story for years now.
That’s a massive decline. Have people stopped going to cinema due to piracy? Or lack of good cinema? I’ll never be able to tell because I still go a movie a week!
The time spent reading has remained the same – at 39 minutes daily on an average per day over the last year. But there has been increase in urban India (from 41 to 44 minutes daily) and decrease in rural India (from 36 to 35 minutes daily).
I would love an explanation on what constitutes readership. 44 minutes daily as a urban national average seems too high. Would the common man spend this much time on reading?
The Times of India is the most read English Daily with 7.4 mn readers, but The Hindu has taken the second spot with 4.05 mn readers, pushing Hindustan Times, to the third spot with an estimated readership of 3.85 mn.
Not bad. I thought Hindu, which is my favorite newspaper, was constantly losing readership due to their ultra-conservative positioning – total lack of Page 3, glamour, celebrity, sex, gossip and other masala stuff, that seems to have made other newspapers a hit. Add to that the more recent competition from the likes of Deccan Chronicle. Not a bad performance at all.
Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh dominate the markets with TV reach of 76.2%, 76.2% and 78% respectively. These States also have high penetration of Cable & Satellite i.e. 60%, 53% and 59% respectively.
No wonder those creepy weepy late night soap operas are a major hit with household folks!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The mystique blog ranking

Blogstreet India, the directory of all blogs Indian, has gone for some changes in its look and probably the algorithm for calculating the blog rank.

And to my surprise, my blog has been ranked 21. [Their top 100 listed here]. Rank twenty one in a country of a billion people.

Before I fling my arms and throw up a party, I introspect. And in less than 10 seconds I figure that the ranking is ridiculous. But then, this also raises a lot of questions about blogging as a phenomenon in India.

1) Flawed rank engine: There is no single ‘good’ ranking engine for Indian blogs. I’ve thought long and hard about it, but haven’t figured the algorithm used by Blogstreet to rank Indian blogs. It was traditionally done by calculating the number of other websites that linked to each blog (called blogrolling) but not any more. I suspect it could now be a mixture of blogroll count and Google Page Rank, but even that doesn’t justify lower ranks to some of the more popular and quality blogs. Only a single digit number (or whereabouts) of Indian blogs actually have a Google Page Rank of 6 (Mine being 5).

Additionally, this engine doesn’t check for dead blogs. A lot of the blogs listed under the top 100 category are dead, some of them being even in top 20. If a ranking engine doesn’t add this into the algorithm, I don’t know what to say. In any case, the algorithm is flawed.

2) Few Indian bloggers: There are not many bloggers in India. Different estimates suggest anywhere about 100,000 blogs but I’m not sure how many of them are readable, public and worth a visit.
Over the couple of years, I’ve come to realize that blogging needs a flair and love for writing and, most importantly, dedication. The other important factor is readership. It’s a vicious circle. You don’t get motivated without readership, and you don’t get readership without good posts. Most – almost 95% - of the people I know started blogging and let it go due to lack of the one of these.

3) Few Indian blog readers: What’s really surprising is why even the number of people who read blogs is far and few in our country. Despite being an IT giant and a good number of people – running into millions – with good exposure to the internet, blogging and blog reading in India is restricted to an extremely small bunch. Guess there’s miles to go for this to change.

All said, I just hope the people who blog now don’t fade into oblivion.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Wish ATMs were this funny!

Wish all ATMs were this funny: Link. (via Indiauncut)

Actually, I don't think it's so difficult making funny statements in ATMs. Instead of the "OK" and "Cancel" and "Confirm" kind of bland messages, we could have "Let's do this" and "Repeat this damn thing" and "Dude/Babe, you sure?".

I ain't sure how many would appreciate this, though. Don't miss that link!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Marketing, the Nazi way

The guys who started the eating joint, Hitler's Cross, in Mumbai, that's caused so much of buzz all over the world, is either a genius or a nincompoop, but I seriously think it's the former. Either way, it's something to open a store in a ramshackle part of the city and make a story out of it that becomes a part of front page national news for consecutive days. And it’s certainly a great achievement to make it a part of 'Most E-mailed' stories of the International BBC news.

I suspect the owner took a lot of insights from the recent (if the past 2 years is recent enough) success of controversial 'phenomenon' like 'The Da Vinci Code'. The message in the success of the 'The Da vinci Code' was simple: Weave together a good story AND add a controversial element to it. It works magic. Too many people have tried weaving a good story alone. Too many have tried creating controversy. But not many tried both together. It's probably a vital lesson in marketing. The story of the supposed super-model (as newspapers have started claiming these days) - Raaki Sawant – is not very dissimilar. It's a classic story of a single kiss (a peck, to be precise!) transforming a no-one into a super-model. I mean, what more would you ask for if you were a model.

It's again not very different in the case of Hitler's Cross. Of course, the joint can't become 'The Da Vinci Code' type phenomenon simply because the scale is too small. But the joint has probably achieved more publicity than what the owner ever wanted. The reaction from the Indian Jew community was very, very predictable. Everything boils down to a simple cost vs. benefit equation. The cost of doing the controversial thing is to alienate the small Jewish population in Bombay (which is around 5000 people), while the benefit could be to make front page news of national dailies and rouse interest among the crowd that craves to be 'alternate', ones who love to 'break the rules'. Other Jews around the world who’ve led the cry are not customers anyway. I think it’s easy to see that the benefit FAR overshadows the cost.

Whether I go to the joint or not is really irrelevant here because I KNOW a lot of people are going to visit it. So, is the owner an 'ignorant' one as claimed by the Indian Jewish community and the media? I really, really don't think so. It’s quite the contrary.

Why people or strip dance at funerals

Slightly unlike the other posts in my blog, but this question has been lingering for quite a long time now. Although I personally haven't witnessed people dancing (called 'Dappankuthu', in TamilNadu, India), I've seen just too many films to ignore it as a figment of a movie director's imagination. The point is: people do dance during funerals. But why?

My question was: Isn't dancing supposed to be a 'fun' thing, lightening up the mood et al? Why would anyone want to do it during a funeral when you are supposed to mourn?

I think we could deduct some answers from the Chinese phenomenon. According to this BBC article, funerals in many Chinese villages are still accompanied not with dancing but with striptease. (yeah, you read that right!). According to the Chinese tradition, a good turnout for a funeral indicates that the person who died is a big-shot in the society or something and hence a striptease is organized to increase the people turnout. Incredible but true. Guess it can happen only in China.

I guess the phenomenon is similar to India. The Wikipedia article says the dance is performed in India to relieve emotional stress of the dead one.
During funerals, it is performed in all parts of Tamilnadu to pacify a departed soul when his/her funeral procession is taking place, therefore it also has the name 'Savoo Koothu' Which literally means 'Death Dance', most commonly accompanied by instruments specific to this type of dance.
I would imagine there is another reason since a bunch of hired guys (experts, if you will) always do these jobs. Although people might not turn out to watch the dance during the funeral, I think a dance accompanied with loud music creates quite a lot of ruffle in the surrounding to indicate that something is going on and to create awareness about the incident. This might have been especially applicable in old times when people lived in small villages and such an event accompanied with loud noise could be something for an entire village.

I think it might be a bit stupid to even think about all this, but why leave a ‘Why’ question unanswered? By the way, is there a link containing explanations for Indian cultural nuances anywhere on the web? Stuff that could answer long held traditions such as these that are inexplicable on first thought?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Spate of divine incidents

For once, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to laugh at the sequence of incidents that were telecasted in past ¾ days or to cry because lot of my country men have suddenly become dumb or to be angry at news channels that are hell bent on blowing trivial things out of proportion.

Picture all these three incidents:

1) A boy falls inside a pit in a remote village and its national news for two whole days.
2) Some dumb fellas start drinking water in a beach when salinity of the water reduces, and that's national news for one whole day.
3) Some not-so-rational pilgrims think idols are drinking milk and that's part of headlines and ‘breaking’ news.

I'm again not sure what should actually break – viewer’s heads or the news. If every news clip is of ‘breaking’ category, I think I'm going to wait and listen to news that's not breaking. Or there should be fundamental change in the school textbooks to define the new meaning of ‘breaking’ news.

My guess is a lot of people in the bloggerdom have already commented on it, but I haven’t read blogs lately. But think about it. Agreed that there has to be sympathy on a small boy who fell inside a pit, but is that national news for two whole days? Stuff that millions and millions of people have to watch for 48 hours? News channels are purely commercial and I understand that they got to show stuff - at least once in a while - that people like to watch. And this boy-inside-pit is certainly a sympathy evoking what-people-like-to-watch stuff. But does it warrant it to be telecast to all the millions of people?

Again, move on to the water turning sweet incident. It's clear that bits and pieces of drainage that mixed with the sea water caused some chemical reactions and reduced the salinity of the beach water. Some dumb fellas apparently thought it was a miracle or some divine interventions. Which is fine since not everyone is rational and educated and clear-headed. But how in heaven’s name can news channels make news of this incident and blow it out of proportion? Watching the episode, I got the idea that the whole of Mumbai was drinking that water until I called up a couple of my friends to verify if they are home. How relieving it was to find them home!

I can't but wonder about the difference in professionalism between the news delivery of the other English news channels around the world and ours. Every channel needs to show bits and pieces of what people want to see, but have journalistic standards fallen to absolutely low levels? It’s all the more irritating to watch all the channels showing the same stuff. Call it herd mentality or commercial mentality, it just doesn’t add up.

I can't say what my feeling at the moment is, but I'm sure my time spent of Indian English news channels is going to take a hit.