Friday, February 24, 2012

The absurdity of paid tweeters

Over the past few weeks, we have seen a slew of allegations related to paid tweeters. Ironically, they come from those who make a living out of “delivering news”. And they accuse tweeters for whom twitter is at best a hobby. The accusers are usually journo-tycoons and worth more than the average tweeter, by an exponential margin. So, coming from journo-tycoons who make their crores out of delivering news to some random tweeters who dont agree with their views, this is a bit too much.

 But let us try and examine this in a little more detail. Check out the Alexa ranking for the top sites visited out of India. Meanwhile, the list of the top 100 tweeters from India is here.

In general if you see, media sites corner a bulk of the page views on the net (well, they should, they have all the news) apart from the usual junk on the net. And on twitter, some of their leading lights have a huge number of followers - much more than the average hobbyist tweeter.

A few years ago, one of the biggest media houses in India came up with an idea known as Private Treaty – where they took a stake in a company and paid for that by news and advertisements. Now that was a unique idea in itself – we wont go into the good and bad aspects of it – we leave it for you, intelligent reader to decide. But the fact that they saw a market there and were able to tap into it is a testament to the fact that people are willing to pay for positive coverage.

So, if you are a politician or a business house or somebody who wants a nice mention in the media – who would you go to? Tweeters or the big swinging dick media guys? Obviously, the latter. And with good reason. Thats where you get more bang for your buck. And do remember Page 3 – a "feature" in most newspapers and surely there is an equivalent on TV as well.

If you go to an individual tweeter – how many followers will he or she have? About a handful? A few hundreds, a few thousands? And why are these guys tweeting? Because they make money tweeting? Or because they tweet what they are passionate about? Collectively, they are a force, but individually not worth too much.

Therefore, the so called “paymaster” of tweeter is fighting a losing battle by "paying" tweeters and how much will they pay? Influential tweeters wont accept money and non influential tweeters wont be paid. Yes, please, do a sting operation by asking some of them if they will tweet for money. If they don’t expose you on twitter the very same minute, consider yourself lucky.  (Last heard a prominent media baron did ask a prominent senior Bollywood star to tweet about their programs and the star blogged their exchange- so much for paid tweeter abuses from journo tycoons.)

So, why are journo tycoons pissed off with tweeters? Because they ask questions and our mike pointing, finger wagging journo tycoons aint used to that! They are not used to being questioned at all. Over the last 40 odd years, media has been feeding us, the viewers their view. Tweeters stand in their way by putting their pov which may be diametrically opposite to what the media wants to tell you and twitter being an open platform, the celebrity is equal to the man on the street with a twitter connection. Tweeters point out the hypocrisy of our media that changes colours faster than a disco chameleon. Tweeters have also made media apologise (while media threatens to sue in return) for faking tweets and being abusive or ignorant among other things. They also, at times, point to the hand in glove association that is the liberal leftist politician-media complex in India which make our media barons very insecure on the internet - which threatens to end their dominance of news and influence. Hence this latest attempt to malign tweeters. But then, like other social media and the internet in general, twitter is something that cannot be controlled - unless there is a censor board kind of thing (which our dear uncorrupt angelic government is planning, btw).

 The next time you hear about paid tweeters and paid media do ask them who takes sponsorships and ads and who does not and there might lie your answer on who is "paid" and who is not.

(A truncated version of this was X-posted on CRI)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Prime Time

I recently read Daniel Kahnemanns excellent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. I highly recommend the book to everyone. And one word from that book has stuck in my mind. The word is Priming. Any wonder that it is called, Prime Time? Those screaming headlines, those rushing tickers, those screeching anchors, those breaking news callouts all work with a single purpose – your mind. They are priming your mind. Let us try this simple exercise!

Think about it. Which politician would you associate these words with? Youthful, charisma, hardworking, charming, friendly, hope, change? I can see your brain cells running to the right answer.

The man in question has done no wrong. He has submerged himself into the crowds, done a lot of hardwork and even today is Indias best chance for a Prime Minister (they tell you), despite not having governed anything more than ones own dinner plate. No questions about merit, no questions about suitability, nothing is ever asked of him. I don’t even remember if he ever gave an interview to any TV channel. But that’s not required. Watch those words above, those adjectives. The adjectives that neatly associate his name with "dripping goodness". His images are plastered with a lot of Indias successes. Some TV channels put him up nicely when India won the world cup. Images of his are always where he waves to crowds, smiles. That way, they have, softly, subtly associated those successes in your mind with him.

And the answer to my question. I leave you to guess. It is unlikely that you will get it wrong. If you got that right, you have been primed, rather beautifully.

Let us try this one more time. Which party would you associate the word “communal” with? And which specific young leader in that party had delivered a "communal" speech last year? You will do very well to remember this - in fact it is unlikely that you would have fortotten. But the fact that Congress (and senior leaders) has got away with "communal" utterances throughout the run up to the UP elections is carefully masked and not given a great amount of "prime time". And a senior leader of the party has indulged in scurrilous allegations throughout is forgotten. And this includes the gentleman far above above who has promised a religious quota in the country. And visited madrasas asking for votes. But, no, none of these acts are communal. Only the BJP is communal, right? And of course, one (or two) particular gentleman remains the fall guy. Of course, you may also remember that a certain Swamy wrote a communal article, right? Of course you do. Because these are highlighted. You my dear friend, have been primed to believe in what the friendly media wants you to believe. Whether you like it or not, this is happening.

Let us see this once again. Which political party would you associate the word “Scam” with? Answer: All political parties. Yes, despite the fact the most corrupt government ever in the history of India is presently ruling us. It has a clutch of its ministers in jail or just released with a few others under trial for various scams. And the party which heads the current government is the Congress. But it is highly unlikely that those words will ever be associated with the Congress. Hence, scams are always associated with UPA or “politicians” in general or to the sundry tails that wag the dog that is the UPA, but the goodness only belongs to Congress. And of course, you would surely know that Karnataka is among the most scammed of states, right? Despite the fact that atleast one Congress Chief Minister has been indicted by her own Lokayukta and they have conveniently rejected that report. Yes, yes, I can see names ringing in your head. But that last chief minister? Who is that? You wont know, right. But the first one, of course, everybody knows him.
Be careful and wary of those adjectives that are associated with a name. Let us try this. When I say, integrity, who comes to your mind? Surely, you remember Manmohan Singh. But does the name LK Advani (who is spotless clean and integrity rolled into one) come to mind immediately? And why does it not? And why is that you have not yet thought of Narendra Modi as the cleanest politician running the cleanest, most progressive government in Independent India? And that is a story that Atanu Dey tells so beautifully.
Priming, ladies and gentlemen is what your media does to you every single day. Missed prime time? Dont worry, your mind just missed a dose of the strong medicine.

(X Posted on CRI)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Of instituitions and inspiration

APJ Abdul Kalam was perhaps the most inspirational Presidential appointment of this country in this generation. From someone who was faraway, Kalam brought the Presidential chair closer to the people, he showed them the human element. He met people, he inspired them, he wrote books, he spoke well and most of all maintained and exponentially increased the dignity of the chair he occupied. For the first time ever a President shared is vision in such a simple manner so as to light up the eyes and mind of those who heard him. His books continue to be best sellers and many people I met, children I knew all loved the erudite “missile-man” President who was at home with people.

And then the Congress had a glorious chance to go a step better. And what they did after that need not be said; you got my hint I suppose. They transformed the chair into a chair for loyalists of the party – in the one chance they had. And the next chance, going by the grapevine, does not seem to be going in a radically different direction.

Their record of appointment of the CEC also is not a record worth noting – the least of them being the appointment of Navin Chawla. The said person’s only meritorious accomplishment is finding a mention in the Shah Commission report, ““unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others”. The outgoing CEC had sent in a note of dissent on his appointment and that was conveniently ignored by the government. Post Chawla, the current incumbent has, like all Congress appointees, stuck to the Congress interest firmly. The most recent decision was the ruckus regarding covering pachyderm statues in Noida, ostensibly because it harms voters to see elephant statues and the statues of their Chief Ministers.

And then we move onto the CVC - The Central Vigilance Commissioner, where the least ask was to appoint an upright officer. The government chose PJ Thomas (despite a dissenting note from the Leader of the Opposition) and had egg on its face since the case went all the way upto the Supreme Court. The SC ruled that his appointment itself was illegal.

The Congress record of appointing governors has also been less than exemplary – and they have used loyalty over merit every single time. Karnataka’s current governor was a law minister and has always been more than eager to interfere in what can be called matters of governance. One Andhra Pradesh governor, an ageing Congress politician was also booted out after being seen on live on TV in a not so uncompromising position.

The CBI and the IT Department are long been handmaidens of the ruling party. Their current use is restricted to conducting raids on opposition supporters. Either the raids begin when the person moves out of Congress or is about to and miraculously the raids stop when the person switches allegiances back. Just a few days ago, there were raids on a Mr. Ponty Chadda supposedly close to BSP Chief Mayawati, who suddenly became an outlaw and invited the ire of these departments. A few months ago, it was the turn of Jagan Reddy, son of Congress favourite chief minister YSR of Andhra Pradesh. The CM was the blue eyed boy and the moment his son shifted allegiances, he invited the wrath of the CBI. Not to forget the government’s top law officer asking the CBI to close the case on ally Mulayam Singh’s disproportionate assets case.

And that brings us to the Army. The latest controversy regarding the army chiefs age was needless. And we are not done yet.

The curious case of Madhavan Nair ex-chairman of ISRO who finds himself a scapegoat alongwith 3 scientists is too recent to be forgotten. The Antrix-Devas deal in question in which government finds itself in a soup was carried out as per procedure keeping the government in the loop as per Madhavan Nair. And yet, he is the fall guy. He has demanded that the reports of committees on the deal be made public. Given the record of the government, I am inclined to believe Madhavan Nair more than anybody in the government.

And thus continues the Congress saga of denigrating institutions. These institutions which were created to keep the government in check are slowly but surely being checkmated with political appointments. A final word on the Lokpal – whose fate is in limbo currently. What is the guarantee that this government will make a mockery of a position like this as well? Given that the CEC is also a constitutional body but nicely malleable to the whims and fancies of you know who?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pyaar ge...

Pretty cool song - catchy, tuneful and very well picturised! Song from Govindaaya Namaha. Had heard it in a bus for the first time and had no idea what it was - was a cool song I thought. Much later, surfing around, I found that at least one "popular" blog has put out a post stating, it thinks it is "offensive", but perhaps wants others to view it as "offensive". The youtube video has garnered a huge number of views though!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Vision for Bangalore

Bangalore, a city like no other in India.  A city of gardens, of lakes, of pleasant weather, of morning mist in winter, of bearable summers, of tender rain. At a height of 949 metres above sea level is a great city to be in. I have a vision for Bangalore. And part of the thought came from here.

Bangalore is a smallish city. And almost circular. It is surely smaller than gigantic Delhi and shorter than linear Mumbai. It is not as crowded as Kolkata or Hyderabad nor as hot as Chennai. The weather here is amazingly conducive to walking and cycling. My Bangalore should take advantage of all the good things that the city has...

Give us a Bangalore with a city center or many city centers free of vehicles. Give us a Bangalore where we can sit on a bench and just enjoy the weather. Give us a Bangalore that slows down time. Give us a Bangalore where we can enjoy the famous Bangalore kaapi sitting out in the warm sun. Where we can set our easels and paint a picture of the city!

Give us a Bangalore where we can walk freely. Walk under the shades of numerous trees. Walk in parks. Walk alongside lakes. Walk to work and walk back. Give us a Bangalore that is pedestrian friendly. Where there are skywalks alongside or above the underpasses. Skywalks that let us get off the Metro and walk where we want to. Give us skywalks covered with creepers and let us all walk – without a care that the next car coming down the lane will run over us. Give us skywalks and pedestrian paths where children can walk freely and enjoy their city –a  city blessed by nature. 

Give us a Bangalore where I can hear the sparrows. Give us a Bangalore where we can feel the rain on my face. Give us a Bangalore which harvests its water and lets clear water flow into its lakes. Give us a Bangalore that recycles its waste and leads the way in sustainable living.

Give us a green Bangalore – green with trees above and a sustainable city. Give us a Bangalore that has cycle paths all around the city. Much of the commute today is well within 10-12 kilometers – easily bicyclable for the average Venkatesh. Bangalore does not need these many cars. Not in this city. Give us bicycle parks around the city.

And yes, while you are at it, take away the dust, the pollution and the traffic jams…(and much of what is written above, will incidentally result in that as well)

BBMP, are you listening?

PS: Note that I am not against development or road widening project or the Metro, nor do I aspire to take Bangalore to the stone ages. I would like the city to have more skywalks while the development continues. I would like cycle lanes to be built alongside the roads while we are at it. I would like the city to take into account pedestrians as well while planning for the excessive number of motor vehicles in the city. Anyway...

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

So, why open a store

The internet is perhaps the best way to tap into the long tail of the worlds consumer necessities, then why bother with a store? Well, yes, for sure, there is enough life in stores to run another 25-30 years, but having said that, there is perhaps a better way to doing things - as I wrote in my previous post. But are there reasons why someone might want to open a store?

For one, if you want to connect with some of the buyers or create a brand by locating yourself in a specific area of the city - it might be worth it.

And then again, if you have a better sourcing strategy, it is a great idea to have a store – where customers can come and browse through your collection. (For example, the well known Sanskriti stores in Ahmedabad is a great example of a need for a store). This is true for anything. Whether it is toys, clothes, handicrafts – anything. If you are selling what the guy next door is selling, why bother? Sure, you offer a differential service, but then I would rather walk into a faceless mall and buy what I want without even having to interact! So, service as a differential is a short term strategy, in my view, unless it goes beyond that into something else (what - I cant imagine for now).

Another example, if you are into selling an experience – not just a product – like perhaps games – then it is a great idea to have a store where people come in and play the game and like the experience and want to take it home. Play games, play Lego, play games in Multiplayer mode for example, see others play etc.

Therefore, the differentiator has to be a combination of service, product and experience!

Unless you are offering any of the above, there is no real reason to open yet another new store. And even as I see it, there are so many opportunities in India (or Bangalore or Mumbai or anywhere) itself to open and close many stores!       

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Old leader, old ideas

One of the things that defines a leader is his or her ability to create and convey a vision.  First, the vision has to be pathbreaking and second, it has to be simple at the same time. Next comes an uncanny ability to articulate it. They keep their focus on those one or two key messages every single time. And when they talk about it, you know it is theirs, straight from the heart. 

Rahul Gandhi has been marketed to the minions as the "new leader" for a few elections now. He is the choice just around the corner for his cheerleaders in the party and the media and the invisible hand for many of the good things that happen in the government.

Depending on when you read articles of his likely ascendancy, there are paeans sung to the organizational change he is trying to bring into Congress. At other times we are offered shades of hope. Sincerity is highlighted at other times. He is supposed to be the glue that keeps many arms of the Congress together. He is really supposed to be the change we (and possibly he) are waiting for. 

His speeches though offer very little insight, beyond the bromide of "two Indias" and "I am your sipahi in Delhi" (whatever that means). His interactions have been rare and frankly, quite, unimpressive. 

But the definitive test of a new leader is their ideation and articulation. What are the fresh ideas a leader brings onto the table? Or talks about? Or promises? Or has delivered upon?

And then we see Rahul (and his sibling Priyanka) campaign in UP. What do they do? First they talk of creating divisions after divisions in the form of quotas. They attack the existing government without having anything to show at the centre where his party is heading a government for the better part of the last 10 years. He has no answers for the large scale corruption which is a feature of this government. They talk of doles and subsidies. Rahul visits Madrasas as part of his campaign instead of outlining to the electorate his vision for the country or state. Where is the leadership in this? His leadership team as part of the campaign makes vicious promises and all he has to offer for such faux pas (if they were indeed) is a weak, "personal view".

And his sibling, curls her hair, wears a sari ostensibly to look like her grandmother and a former Prime Minister of India - Indira Gandhi. And when the Congress mouths slogans of Garibi Hatao (Indiras famous slogan in the 70s), the media sings praises of her looks and the voters are expected to vote en masse to herald the return of Indira Gandhi.

One of the fundamental tenets of leadership is to “be yourself”, however raw, however naive. If you cant think for yourself, surely never imitate someone else. Thats a basic rule of leadership - except if you are in a communist country like North Korea where apparently the incumbent Kim Jong Un underwent plastic surgery to resemble Kim Jong Il.

And while you there proving to be a leader - do pause to remember that anybody who has risen to leadership has always risen to leadership unifying people for a cause. Think any leader, and you will find this to be true.

Mr. Rahul Gandhi, you are supposed to be a young, educated, politician. And apparently many people look up to you. And when they do look up, what do they see? No vision, no inspiration, but a singular mission to convert certain people to vote for you on the basis of vacuous promises. What, exactly is your stand on corruption? What exactly is your stand on governance?
Is that what leadership is all about? Pitting community against community? Pitting religion against religion? If so, the English were doing very well. Sure the others are doing that, but you are supposed to be our next big hope? Surely, you can do better?

And a final note, when Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister, nobody can argue that his mind was not in the right place. While he did make a few missteps, his vision for India was very clear. He wanted India to be technologically advanced. He employed technocrats (famously Sam Pitroda) to help put his vision into action. Things did not really pan out as he had planned, but atleast we knew he was trying from his heart.
And as it happens with dynastic politics, change is always a generation or a sibling away and it is a pretty easy way to market it to ignoramuses.

Once upon an industrial economy

Yet another new store has opened in the neighbourhood. It has been crafted with a lot of love. However, the thought of Swami Aiyars recent article stuck in my mind. Are retail stores really the hangovers of the industrial economy?

When you think of it, it does seem to be so. The whole idea of having physical stores is that they are the intermediary from the factory to the consumer. And with the internet, a fair amount of the non-grocery shopping (even in India) can be done off the net. So, as a company, the need to invest in physical retail space where all the customer does is walk in, browse, stand in a queue to buy stuff seems as unreal as having to walk into an airport, check off the flights, pick which flight to fly from and then get your ticket.

When was the last time most of us booked a ticket at a counter? Any ticket? Air, Rail or Bus? Indeed, most movie tickets are also booked online.

So, why grocery? Or books or toys?

In the past couple of years, I have switched to Flipkart. Initially, I thought I would save money by not having to go all the way to a store, end up buying coffee and a book at full MRP. But that has not happened Рnot because of Flipkart prices Рthey are great Рbut because, I have ended up buying more books than I would have if not for flipkart! Be that as it may, do I miss a bookstore? Not one bit. I have specific categories of books I read and many a time, they are not always available Рbut on a website, there is no such problem Рthey source it for you and deliver it free of cost. So, book stores, IMO are pass̩.

Ditto, reservation counters for any mode of transport.

Think about toys now. Most stores give you the same toys, sourced from the same manufacturer – so why go to one store over another – if all you are going to do is buy the same damn thing. Of course, service. But then, if I order off a website that gives me fabulous service without ever having to step out of the house (like Flipkart) – any other promise of service wont make me budge. And whats more I use that time to do other things with the kids. Yes, there will be times, when I wont have a gift at hand to give to the kids friends birthday party – I might need a store. But then, I would always give them vouchers and give them the power of choice. As it is, most birthday parties are a needless exchange of junk (this is filed for a future post). Sure, the kids loses the experience of browsing through and picking what she wants. Oh, well, I can get pretty much the same experience off the net.

Think about clothes. If you know your size, why bother going to a store? Why not buy it online? Indeed, I wish someone sold fabric on the net as well, but that’s a business opportunity I guess.

So, coming back to retail, why open a store? I think there are reasons – if you really really want to open a store, but a generation from now, we may wonder and laugh at the need for stores in the previous generation.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Rich Farmers

Our country has a myriad set of laws that are ostensibly designed to protect the small farmer - who at one point was supposed to be the backbone of our economy. Thus there are laws that prevent farmland from being bought by "non farmers". The part which prevents easy conversion of agricultural land to residences is a good one IMO. We will come to that in a moment.

Around me, in the past couple of years, there are quite a few people who have bought agricultural land (wherever the law allows them etc.) and started farming. Now these are not the kind of farmers newspapers report will glorify or our youthful politician scion will visit. These are fairly well to do people who are passionate about horticulture, agriculture and grow exotic stuff or organic food or just like to grow something. They are not your so called subsidy seeking farmers, nor are they poor. They are into farming as a sabbatical from corporate life or as a hobby or business.

Yet, a lot of people even if they wish to cannot go ahead and do so - because of the rules that make it tough for them to do so.

My view is that such interests should be encouraged - even if they have sign an undertaking that they will use the land only for agricultural purposes etc. This does two things. One, the land stays as farmland. Second and more importantly, it puts people who want to pursue farming as a hobby or a business and pushes out those who want to do as a form of subsistence. In my view, this is a good thing - because the government can focus less on subsidising agriculture and giving out job schemes like REG schemes and focus on the real things that matter. (Anyway with the current government all this talk is useless, but whatever.)

Wishful thinking, but well...why not?