Blue Screen Of Duds

Where the alter ego of codelust plays

Archive for the ‘crossposted’ Category

A Brijj too far

with 21 comments

When I started writing this sort of a review, I honestly wanted to rip Info Edge apart for releasing such a sham of a website. Having read a lot of what Sanjeev Bikhchandani has written and said over time and having seen Naukri grow into the robust company that it is today, I had considerably greater expectations from Brijj. But I’ll hold my horses, tone down the criticism and look at the larger picture, that the blame is almost universally spread out among the Indian internet landscape. Our idea of innovation is to look at the hottest 50 websites out there in the west, pull elements from each of them and promise to do everything, including an unconditional end to global warming, and hope nobody notices that beyond the stellar messaging (email for body builders, email for stupid people, anyone?) the product is the same wine in the same bottle.

Of course, a lot of Indian internet companies are profitable and in a good shape and at least in theory that should drive innovation across the board. But we seem to be happy to wait for the next big thing to fall from the western landscape, lap it up, spit it out and hope the audience here picks it up and voilà, you have a shortcut to near-instant profit. The strangest thing is that even here where there is hardly a decent business model online beyond the traditional banner spots, you get to hear almost endlessly about Web 2.0 and the like from within and outside the trade almost like it is the gospel that fell straight off the money tree.

What nobody will tell you is that most Web 2.0 companies in India today are neither successful nor feasible in both the long and the short run, including the latest string of Ruby on Rails-powered monstrosities, which often don’t have user bases that don’t extend beyond the developer’s immediate family and a string of former and current lovers. From that point of view, the ‘copy from west and paste here in the east’ routine may sound like a good and easy idea, but it is a malaise that will end up leaving us behind like cheap clattering Chinese imitations before soon. I think someone has to wake up, ground some good beans, brew some strong stuff and smell a whole lot of it.

Now to the product at hand: Brijj

On the surface, Brijj picks out the best of Facebook in terms of presentation (the squeaky clean lines, funky Javascript, Ajax etc) and marries it with the best of Linkedin (references, plug ins for Outlook, Outlook Express etc). But that’s where the similarity and the theory ends. Neither does Brijj have the stupendously awe-inspiring backend data wizardry that is the hallmark of Facebook, nor does it have the professional-friendly feel of Linkedin. For existing users of people networks, the lack of what are considered as standard features also stick out like a sore thumb.

For example, there is absolutely no granular privacy settings in terms of who gets to see what and how much. I am assuming that a lot of it is controlled by who you are a friend of and who you are not a friend of, but there’s hardly any easy way to figure it out. Beyond a few clicks and a handful of links, there is nothing to discover about the website. There is just no surprise factor. It looks and feels like a low cost carrier and the killer blow comes in when you see the best done page: product comparison — where you get to see what the different membership options are. And that is a dead giveaway of the shortcut to profit route, when you are crystal clear about your pricing options and are relatively clueless about the rest of the website.

On the technical front, the site is a bit rough around the edges. The server signature is the standard “NWS” or Naukri Web Server, which is actually Apache under the hood, running PHP and possibly one of the MVC frameworks. There are some duplicate meta and doctype declarations all over the place (UTF-8 or iso-8859-1? Make up your mind!), possibly due to some unfortunate soul including a default editor template in some controller file. There is almost certainly only a limited amount of QA done on it (other than a basic copy check) and page titles and meta tags are the same all over the place. And at least in the logged in home page, there is an invisible DIV with a certain Sonal Mehta’s (apparently, an HR manager at Infy) email and phone number hard coded into it.

So what’s the verdict? I am afraid unless Info Edge puts some real hard work into it and revises/refreshes the product, this will end up in the dustbin before soon. In any case, I can imagine the company having real pressure on it to diversify, especially after their successful listing. With 99acres and other properties not doing too well and still being huge cost points that gnaw away at Naukri’s healthy constitution, this won’t come as a relief in breaking the one hit wonder curse. Positioning-wise, I can’t see too many existing users moving over to this. The switching costs are way too high and the features are way too less and honestly, it all feels a bit too amateurish.

Info Edge is also making critical mistakes like not having a common registration database among its properties. Who on earth wants to maintain yet another login in an already troubled world of products where there is almost nothing that goes by the name of interoperability. I am assuming that at some point Info Edge will roll into Brijj, the muscle of Naukri’s database, but they have again erred gravely by not having it on from day one. It would have stood out as a major differentiator to any other similar product and this is again made considerably difficult because of users having to maintain two different identities on Naukri and Brijj.

Advertisements

Written by shyam

August 9, 2007 at 8:33 pm

The Upgrade That Was Not

leave a comment »

Hell has frozen over! Blogger is rolling out a new backend. On second thoughts, it is only getting a bit chilly out here, but it certainly ain’t cool enough for things to freeze over. At least not yet. Apparently, the greatest of the changes is in a place where the end user, like you and me, don’t see much of. Blogger is going off the static publishing set up (one where it would pick up content from its database and spit out static HTML and XML files based on the templates and settings you had specified) and moving to a new set up where all the content is served dynamically (the way in which WordPress blogs functions now).

The immediate change you’ll get to see is a top bar, quite similar to wordpress.com once again, that will show you as logged in and also display other useful information, if you are logged in. Behind the scenes, and I am guessing here, the entire operation would now move to an application server (probably the same server that handles the posting/editing backend) from the old set up which was probably serving a directory of files based on the host header. The other significant change is the authentication part, for which you can now use your Google account (for new blogs, not for existing blogs) or your old Blogger account. The logic there is quite mixed up and needs a lot of work.

That said, the new beta is a complete dud compared to WordPress.com. The interface is still the dated, clunky one and true to the beta label, some of the stuff is broken, like the new WYSIWYG layout editor that was spewing out Ajax debug information on to my screen when it was not functioning as intended. Access control is nice, but I did not see the option for controlling access per post and determining access on the blog level is not a fun thing to do.

The good points? Well, the archive links are laid out much better now and there are Atom feeds for posts and comments (per post too) now. There is also something called “labels”, which looks like a bastard child that resulted from a love making session between tags and categories. Pretty nice, but once again it is something they should have had yesterday.

But someone really has to get some new default templates into the system pretty soon. I am sick of seeing the same 10 all over the place. And the upgrade itself is symptomatic of how Google treats Blogger, more like a stepchild than as a product that deserves a whole lot more of attention and resources allocated to it. Yeah, I know, it is not easy to roll out features for a framework that supports a huge number of users, compared to something like wordpress.com that is new and had a clean sheet of paper to start with. But it can’t be that difficult either. After all, it is all just a data, pulled in and out of database servers and presented on web servers.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Written by shyam

August 15, 2006 at 9:03 am

Lovely Writers

with 3 comments

 

 

Thanks to Chris, I stumbled upon Windows LiveWriter. Till date, I’ve used a variety of blogging clients like wbloggar, ecto, Performancing for Firefox (the current one) and almost everything else that supports the Metaweblog API. And I have to say I am quite impressed. The only weak point I can see is that it does not allow easy Technorati tagging like how Performancing does. Now, for the positives:

 

 

  • WYSISWYG authoring with non-MS Office mangled HTML source.
  • “Web Preview” that allows you to see the post within your blog’s layout without having to publish it.
  • Multiple account support (meaning that you can post to Blogger, WordPress, Windows Live Spaces etc).
  • Spell check (ahem, one feature that’s badly needed for most bloggers).
  • SDK to integrate other services (that should take care of my tagging complaint).
  • Support for RSD, Metaweblog API and Movable Type API (in layman lingo that means it would support most of the blogging services out of the box without forcing you to wade into the ugly tech details).
  • Absolutely spanking support for embedding images.

So the verdict for now is that it is really a non-Microsoft product in terms of being usable and irritation factor. There are downsides like being based on .Net and a standalone application. But for most Average Joes, this would really be a great addition to the regular blogging toolbox.

p.s: The spell checker does not have the word ‘blogging’ in its default dictionary. Now, that’s really hilarious.

Update: Tim Heuer, as promised, has made the Flickr and Tagging plugins.
Technorati Tags: , ,

Written by shyam

August 14, 2006 at 7:50 am

Satisfy Me!

with one comment

When you start a new business in an already crowded market place do make sure you get one thing right – go out of your way to satisfy your initial set of customers and treat them like you’d treat the most valuable person in your life. This holds true even more in the food industry where established tastes and loyalties are hard to switch and you get more or less only one go at getting them to move.

Yesterday night, I wanted to order out from a new joint in Saket, called The Blue Tandoor, because I was more or less sick of the existing joints there. There are more than enough eateries out there, mostly around the PVR Anupam area, but almost all of them follow the cost saving approach to cooking non vegetarian food, which uses the base marinated meat that’s given the final treatment/masala/garnishing according to the order.

The only other joints in the vicinity, who do it differently are Cafe Rendezvous and Swagat in Malviya Nagar and neither specialise in doing Mughlai. So, at least in theory, they do have a window of opportunity in serving to a niche within the food spectrum that has a ready and massive audience in the area they are located in. But they botched it up and in a terrible way.

Firstly, their menu card did not have the minimum order figure listed anywhere. Second, it was priced too high, at Rs 500. When your price point of your main dishes is at an average of Rs 250, it would be hard to top that figure. And most people who use home delivery don’t often order three course meals, thus making the “sir, please get a starter or a dessert” line a non-starter.

I spent five minutes with them ordering what I wanted to order, after which the chap told me that it fell short of the Rs 500 mark, following which placed the order with my regular chap who was only too glad to serve me, and even better they call up the day after asking if there were any problems with delivery and quality. Five minutes after I placed the other order, the chap called me back clarifying that the manager had said they would serve me. Nice, but it was too late by then.

I have seen this across Delhi, that new joints or even older ones, don’t value their new customers. Most times, going out of your way just once for a new customer could win him/her for you for a long time. And good service also works to get you brownie points in terms of peer-to-peer reviews. One satisfied customer often leads to many more from the same segment. Just one among the many points that’s lost on them.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Written by shyam

August 10, 2006 at 8:20 am

Posted in /etc, crossposted

Aside

leave a comment »

One of the funnier sides of the recent blog ban is that it has given a bit of a glimpse into possible numbers related to bloggers in India. From the numbers on BloggersCollective, which I guess is the largest number of Indian bloggers/blog readers from India assembled in once place, we have more hype than actual numbers to back it up when it comes to participation.

At the last count there were 432 members in the group and if we were to invoke the 1% rule and extrapolate the audience possible, the number would be 39600 (99*400) who contribute to the process strictly within the Indian context. I’m not taking the other 32 into account because a lot of the bloggers become part of the 39K number due to their participation on other blogs and also there is no way to account for Indians who read blogs from India while being abroad.

Attribute an average of 3 page views per user to that number and you’d still get figure of only 120,000 per day, which across 432 blogs is a very low number. Low enough maybe to start a whispering society, but not large enough constitute a readily marketable or easily targeted demographic. Please don’t tell me that such a number has been quite effective, as shown by the banned blogs episode; effectiveness and scale are two different things. Besides, a lot of the bloggers are media people, which certainly did help in getting good enough traction on the mainstream media.

Another contentious point is that blogging by itself does not do much. It does well only when it is sold as part of something more easily recognised, like how Indiatimes does it with ‘News Blogs’ on timesofindia.indiatimes.com. Does that mean blogging in India is no great shakes? Right now, I think the answer is ‘yes’ and I don’t think it will take off at a major level till the vernacular crowd moves in and that is a different story in itself.

Meanwhile, NDTV.com launches its blogging service, replete with avenues for cross domain scripting attacks and numerous other holes. A ten minute inspection of it already has shown ways to steal posts from other people, requiring almost no technical knowledge, making our gaffes look pre-pubescent in an instant. C’est la vie, I guess.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Written by shyam

July 31, 2006 at 9:25 am

Posted in /etc, Blogs, crossposted

The First Week

leave a comment »

Day one: Well, I am experiencing significant withdrawal symptoms. All of a sudden, there is no third window to alt+tab to. But the thinking has slowed down, emails and issues are being tracked better, but no significant bumps in productivity yet.

Day two: It feels like a million voices, all shrieking at the same time, have been silenced. There is a huge void, a deafening silence. I can think of at least four things I could have written about, but would not have written about. I do not know anymore what’s the latest list of top ten things that are being consumed at any time by a million RSS aggregators.

I think I have observed it earlier, but I hardly know the domain names or the layout/design of most websites that I read with the RSS aggregator anymore. I can, sometimes, identify by the style of writing who the author is, but most times I just cannot. It seems to be a case of consuming information without the personal context, which is exactly opposite of what blogging is meant to about. It is raw, it is ugly, but it is all about data and the connections they make to each other.

My fingers are very thankful about this hiatus. I am sure they must have been sick of me going through the 300 plus list, clicking and clacking away one feed at a time. But I have not managed to switch yet.

I’ve managed to miss the new Netscape.com being hacked. I am being unfaithful to my hiatus here, though I did not reach there via the aggregator.

Interestingly, due to searches for nude pictures of various Bollywood actresses and prostitutes in Noida (?!!), traffic keeps coming in, thus proving that with popular enough content, websites don’t really die in this age of Google and a multitude of other crawlers who keep revisiting your brain dump. Which begs the question, would it really be a violation of the ToS of Adsense if you create your own content (bona fide) across a vast variety of topics and leave it as it is, earning you dough for doing nothing at all in your old age?

Another interesting observation is about social interaction. I did not know when someone called up yesterday and asked “did you not read my post?” what the post was all about. The thoughts are no longer about what another blogger is thinking/writing/doing and other online things. Life in real life is considerably slower and you get a lot less of interesting things to read/do.

That said, on a blank browser, it is hard to find interesting things to do. Without the delicious ‘popular’ list and the other feeds I track, there is hardly anything to read other than boring media websites. The future probably belongs to the aggregator, but certainly not only to the aggregator.

Day three: Not good at all. I am tempted to fire up everything again.

Day Four: I am not as bothered by not reading blogs and writing them as much as the weird manner in which I seem to work. Miles and miles of improvement possible here. It would be nice to blame the blogs for your crap, but the problem is deeper and wider than that.

Day Five: I have run out of observations, sue me.

Day Six: I am kind of getting used to this, but it still does take a bit of an effort to keep myself from clicking on the GreatNews icon. But I guess the main theory still holds that for people who can multitask well, the extra reading only adds to your capabilities. But that has the downside of making you feel like you’ve accomplished something even when you are struggling with your other tasks. In other words, isolate different tasks, compartmentalise time and activity, tweak and optimise individually and the the whole will follow the parts.

Is time for an update?

Technorati Tags: ,

Written by shyam

July 31, 2006 at 9:25 am

Posted in /etc, Blogs, crossposted

Broadbanned

with 2 comments

If you ever wanted to see a deployment of the classic smokescreen tactic, all you need to do is turn to our dear telecom industry for help. For a better idea of what I am talking about, try parsing the following statement by Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (AUSPI) and Reliance on the government’s idea to enforce strict Quality of Service norms for broadband services in India:

“It is seen that compared to most of the countries in Asia and the West, where broadband usage is growing, our country still lags behind. As such, the focus right now should be on both supply side and demand side of the broadband market, that is, creating and deploying broadband-capable infrastructure in the country as well as stimulating the use of broadband in the country. We need to focus on creating the need and deployment of broadband in the country.”

Most of the companies who comprise the association are the ones who are responsible for doing the “creating and deploying” of broadband in India and the ‘usage’ that is being mentioned is something that follows the first part. So what exactly is the government doing wrong by asking for strict measures to ensure that the so-called broadband being peddled around by the same companies is what it claims to be? Essentially, what they are asking for is to be allowed to deliver an abysmal (and overpriced) level of service to the customer, without being held accountable for it, all in the name of helping broadband grow in the country.

According to VSNL, the problem they are facing with regards to any kind of QoS is “linked to adequate last mile access”. REACH Ltd meanwhile does not want the TRAI ” to attribute service failures to operators in India” because “circumstances giving rise to service failure are beyond operators’ control”. Effectively, what they are arguing is that they don’t have much control over either end of the service. I can sympathise a little bit about the last mile problem, though VSNL/Tata Indicom should have nothing to cry about it and service providers who tie up with the local cablewallah to cut corners and costs should not cry wolf about the same thing.

But the gem of all the statements is provided by AUSPI and Reliance Infocomm, who must have hired a wind tunnel to supply the requisite amount of air power to generate the smoke required, in saying “Internet is a best effort service. It is the interconnecting of several networks worldwide that form the Internet. Many of these networks are proprietary and, therefore, their performance norms have to be complied with”. If networks participating in the Internet were proprietary, there would be no Internet at all. BGP4 that is used for routing on almost all of the Internet is an open standard. Even if they mean to say privately held by using “proprietary” in its place all I can ask is “so what?” Being a private company somehow enables you to justify even lousier service levels? I think not.

On ground zero this is the situation today. Almost every broadband service provider advertises ‘broadband’ connections at dirt cheap prices. When you look closer the finer print steps out from all the smoke. It is almost always a service with ridiculously low data transfer rates (as low as 250 MB for a month at times) or a package that will give you the mandatory 256 Kbps connection only for a higher rater, which is signified by the asterisk you see in the advertisements. Every time you log into your GMail account, it pulls around 700 KB worth of data from Google. It does not take a math wizard to figure out for how long, using just Gmail, you can survive on an account that gives you only 250 MB of data transfer.

But that is another story altogether and has nothing to do with the QoS they are talking about here. They don’t want to sign up for the stricter norms because then they can’t get away with unexplainable downtimes or speeds that are often 1/3rd of what is advertised. On one of the packages I used to be on earlier, the network would disappear more often than not and it used to be a time limited unlimited data transfer package. In the current scenario I can’t complain about it to anyone. Speed, which is another benchmark for quality, is equally pathetic. Even on a 64 Kbps line we are used to considering ourselves fortunate if we’d get 11 Kbps maximum. Mind you, this was not because the trunk lines being cut anywhere or the cablewallah’s cables being cut, it was because of the service provider using throttling to lock the users down to the barest minimum of speeds.

TRAI’s consultation paper released on May 23, 2006 defines broadband as “an ‘always-on’ data connection that is able to support interactive services including Internet access and has the capability of the minimum download speed of 256 kilo bits per second (kbps) to an individual subscriber from the Point Of Presence (POP) of the service provider..” If that were taken seriously 80% of the connections masquerading as broadband would have to be taken off the market.

Moreover, it also aims to fix the QoS based on the following parameters:

(i) Network latency
(ii) Packet loss
(iii) Bandwidth utilization/throughput
(iv) Service provision/ activation time
(v) Service availability/uptime
(vi) Fault repair/ restoration time
(vii) Static IP address allocation

All of which would force the service providers to clean up their act and actually help India prosper via the broadband route than to just help the providers get richer and richer while the poor users have nowhere to run when the are treated in the most despicable manner.

Blaming faulty STM links is not an excuse. Any self respecting service provider worth his name these days use multiple STM connections (guess who controls most of the long distance links in that segment of the market? VSNL!) and satellite links to keep their services running. Last mile connectivity is not again an issue for most broadband service providers. VSNL, Reliance, Airtel all have it and if there is a problem in that, it is something internal to the companies and it has nothing to do what the government can or cannot do. Of course, we still have the pipe dream of unbundling of the last mile access on existing telephone networks, but that is another story altogether.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Written by shyam

June 28, 2006 at 12:05 pm