Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Social Networking for Grown-Ups...

So much is said about social networks and how catch all social networks are all the rage right now. But look back a few years and you see all a landscape littered with yesterday's stars.
Friendster
Hi5
and to some extent
Orkut (Some may argue that Orkut is alive and kicking in India, but I beg to differ. Orkut isn't hip any mre, which means that over time it will slide into nothingness. After all which woman, wants 100 friend requests from absolute strangers)

And not to mention that the hundreds of new social networks that pop up every other day. Clearly a gold rush is on. The acquisition of Desimartini by HT 's Firefly eVenture is a symptom of this gold rush.
With the reported difficulties of Google & MS to monetise their respective ad properties of MySpace and Facebook, it is clear that we have seen all the hypergrowth we had to see, It will grow, there are after all several billion people on this planet but not necessarily to the point, where it will justify billions in valuations in the near future.Maybe Facebook will grow into something else. A Personal newspaper (or perhaps twitter will have that honour).
Other stories of fatigue (which are related to the relative difficulty in moetising) would be worrying people in this and affiliated industries

All social networks suffer from the what can only be termed as the nightclub effect. i.e. like in a nightclub, when the place is new and the hip people move in, it is the happening place in town, when they move on, the venue collapses. By, all means, it may still be around. But like the fashion trends, easy come, easy go... and like in fashion, there will be a few timeless classics...

So, what is the alternative?

Social networks that are targeted at niches, rather than at masses, The internet is a medium of niches. You go to amazon.com for books (amongst other things), expedia for airtickets etc.
Flixster seeks to be based around your interest in movies, but relies on the same base community of friends. Something around travel is eminently workable.

One such alternative look at social networks is geni.com. It is a social network for families. You seed it with yourself as the starting point and then build a tree. Son of, brother of etc. and repeat that with your parents, and your parents' parents. The good part is that the person invited has the ability to populate his own branch of the tree, which is relevant to him and only him.
It allows the usual smorgasboard of services like Birthday/ anniversary alerts, photo albums, newsfeeds et al. and auto generates calendars. So, it becomes pretty much a family bulletin board. This is one place, where I've seen my Parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews active on it. A first for any social network I've been on for the past five years.

The absolute best part, is that, if you don't belong to the family, you can't get in.

If MS or Google want to make an acquisition for the future, this is it. Imagine photo sharing apps, imagine family blogs, opportunity to refer gifts, air-tickets...
Anyhow, this is only one example. And perhaps more useful than most.

Another example is LinkedIn. Very effective. I get a lot done through linkedin. recommendations, contacts etc. I often accept random requests, thinking, they may be useful to me at some point in the future and therein lies the danger of it being rendered irrelevant, I may end up with a giant contact list which I neither care for nor use...

Google may have a better chance to refashion orkut into something more than what it is right now. Yahoo 360 is a nonstarter, otherwise they too had a good chance of making something of it... Imagine building a music recommendation engine basis your friend group rather than everyone in the list (which may include family and other people). I'm yet to see a social network that is slicing and dicing to that level of minutiae.
I'd love to see Amazon enter into this arena. Their recommendation engine is getting better and better over the years.

The bottom line, is that a catch all social network is unlikely to live on in the long term except as part of a larger bouquet of services. Till someone builds a social network for grown ups, well have to live with this  madness.
Originally published here on 07/Apr/2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Do Not Call

Everytime, you give your number away in a form or a promotion or even when you are buying an air-ticket. you are inviting yourself to spam, lots and lots of spam. After that, everytime, you get a call from someone selling you a credit card or a home, loan. Did you wish that they would stop bugging you? Wishing does not work in India. You have to do something about it.

The short and sweet way from TRAI:

“For customers who would like to register/de-register their request for NDNC registry may dial 1909 or SMS to 1909 with keywords 'START DND' for registration and 'STOP DND' for de-registration”

For the harder way especially for the companies (read as: banks), who frankly give a damn. Here are some URL’s, to go:

ICICI: http://www.inuonline.com/dnc/donotcall.asp
HDFC: http://www.hdfc.com/donotcallform.asp
HDFC Bank: https://www.hdfcbank.com/applications/misc/dnc/dnc.htm
HSBC: https://www.tools.asiapacific.hsbc.com/webform/apply?id=in+donotcall
CitiBank India: http://www.online.citibank.co.in/ngrhtm/custhmdnd.htm
Standard Chartered: https://play.standardchartered.com/smail/in/IN15/index.html
ABN Amro: http://mail.abnamrobank.co.in/creditcard/do_not_call_servicemail_cc.asp
SBI: http://www.sbicard.com/sbi/donotcall.jsp
Canara: http://www.canbankindia.com/personal/card/faircard/faircard-main.htm

There is no guarantee that this will work ofcourse. In which case, keep track of the phone number calling you and call 1909 and complain. That helps. For a few weeks atleast…

Thursday, August 21, 2008

An Aggregator for Aggregators

Earlier this week a friend of mine popped up on messenger to ask me about a rumour regarding someone at one of my previous workplaces. So we got chatting about rumours, what is news and what is worth blogging about? So he suddenly asked are you on FriendFeed?

My reaction, quite frankly was of bafflement? what is this now? I usually consider myself to be on the bleeding edge of technology, but I have been out of this watch-techcrunch-and-sign-up-for-everything-new-thing-that-gets-announced loop. After some moments of befuddlement on my part, I start adding the usual aggregator stuff, del.icio.us, Amazon wishlists, Google reader et al. And then I added Jassim (the aforementioned friend) and some other friends and suddenly a thought struck me: Firehose.

It was like drinking from a firehose. after the first few minutes, I was complely zapped. this is impossible, first you had del.icio.us which kinda helped you to keep track of websites as an aggregator. Google reader to keep tack of news feeds and NOW (imagine a drumroll) something to keep track of all that in one place along with all the crap your friends are keeping track of as well…

What is wrong with people? was my first reaction. They use this everyday? Don’t they have a life?or a girlfriend? Jassim pips in with “or both?”

Well, he says “think of it as an Aggregator for Aggregators”. WOW! what an idea? Makes me think that folks who read newspapers are somewhat simple-minded in comparison.

Or not.

Folks reading newspapers are smart enough to know that everything in this world is not important to them, some of what their friends do, sure. but not everything.

A Fundamental Flaw

This whole Internet, customise the shit out of your news needs stems from a a fundamental flaw in our thinking of media and the Internet. “I know everything that I need to know about and I need to know everything about what I need to know.”

A newspaper’s fundamental premise is to broaden your viewpoints/horizons etc. The New York Times prides itself on a tagline “All The News That's Fit To Print”. Who decides, what is fit to print and what is not? The editor obviosuly. Clearly something that the aggregator (or the aggregator of an aggregator) is not capable of doing.

Attention Deficit Disorder

This I-need-to-check-everything-upto-the-minute firehose does is somewhat destroying my ability to focus on tasks at hand (even when I don’t use Friend Feed or Twitter), perhaps even destroying productivity. In the time that I take to write this post, I’m probably playing a game on Conquer Club, responding to mail, IM and perhaps editing Wikipedia. This is not my fanciful theory. I point you to The Atlantic, which ran an article titled Is Google Making Us Stupid? a few weeks ago. Which esentially asserts that we are increasingly unable to sit through a longish article.

This article was preceded by a comment in a speech by Nobel Laureate, Doris Lessig who said

“We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers”

Quite so, I would agree. Tech Crunch’s loud protestations apart.

A Fad?

I’ve had a blog since the dawn of blogging (or thereabouts), and in those days, bloggers couldn’t stop being obsessed with each other. Inter-blog commentary was the order of the day. As time progressed, bloggers suddenly realised that writing about what you ate for dinner is just not something the world is interested in. It takes time to be a writer, just because you have something to say, doesn’t mean that there will be someone to read it. Blogging eventually evolved. Something like Engadget has grown tobe more than blogs. Infact, you could easily mistake it for a mainstream publication on the internet, were it not for the steady stream of snarkiness that pervades it. Some people may call it attitude.

Go back a few years, Newsgroups were the tool of choice to communicate, then was IRC, then came Blogs. Each has evolved to be more (or less) than it was.

RSS, some claimed would take over email as the communication tool of the day. 8+ years on, we hear the same thing. It is the New New Thing.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Who?, What?, Where? When? and How? etc...

I've had a blog at http://chiragpatnaik.blogspot.com /(now http://chirag.patnaiks.in) since quite a while. This blog went through several name changes and changes in direction, till, way back 5 years ago, I finally renamed it to Marlinspike, inspired by Marlinspike Hall from my favourite comic.

Over time, I realised that it was more a personal blog. I always had this thought to write a professional blog , but the name Marlinspike was too good to use (or so I think) on a personal blog. So yet another name change for the personal blog, while this new one becomes... Marlinspike.

This blog is essentially a commentary on what is happening around us in media (MSM and otherwise) and Marketing. Yes, that means, pretty much everything under the sun.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Facebook Chat. What is next? Facebook Mail?

Facebook has enabled chat for the India Network.



I was only a matter of time, before this happened.

First thought: Gtalk has competition. If you spend more than a few minutes on facebook, then Facebook Chat has the potential to make you stay for even longer. Orkut had it, but it somehow always seemed kind of wishy washy...

What's next?

Think further and there is no reason why facebook can't have a robust mail app. It will be a logical progression (like gtalk was a logical progression for google) of features. Though, you can already send mails from facebook to a regular email address, facebook needs to create seamless two way mail a usable option.

More time on an app that does social networks and chat and mail... yes please...

(Technically, iTimes.com already has mail built into it, but being the first is not necessarily by default the best option.)