Blue Screen Of Duds

Where the alter ego of codelust plays

Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Is the Indian mobile advertising market _actually_ exploding?

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I normally tend to ignore studies done by market research firms since they are only an imperfect indicator of the market and it becomes your best buddy only when you have to selectively quote numbers during a Powerpoint presentation. A while ago, I had seen a report on Adotas (which quoted a Business Standard piece on a study by Thomas Wiesel) that mobile advertising in India will surpass traditional online advertising in 2009. Now, that is a tall claim for anyone to make, for various reasons that can fit easily in another post.

And as usual, I had ignored the post after giving it the regular ‘raised-eyebrow-followed-by-a-smirk’ treatment. That was till Russell started posting his mobile-specific website, Mowser’s, numbers. If you look at his numbers, it is a bit of a shocker. India leads the way in page views for the month of October with 611,319 page views, followed by South Africa at 303,380.

I do not quite know how to interpret this, but it is a whopper that we are at least 2x in terms of number of mobile page views, compared to any other country. Now, there is a possibility that Russell’s numbers are skewed, but if it is true I’ll have to start tracking one more segment.

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Written by shyam

November 3, 2007 at 8:56 am

Posted in advertising, India

An hour late, anywhere in the world

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Delays at Indian airports are so routine that we have mostly accepted as a fact of life and the situation is no different either on the budget or the full fare carriers. One of the most hopeless airports in terms of delays is the one at our so-called IT capital – Bangalore. In the past six months, when I have been flying to and from the city fairly regularly, there has not been a single instance where a flight has taken off on time.

Normally, you lose about 10 – 20 minutes after the boarding is announced because of overcrowding and other infrastructure-related issues. Then you have to wait (im)patiently for the engine start, following which you wait in the slot that has been assigned to you for take off. By the time you are airborne, you are already at least 15 minutes late. Unfortunately, for me, the nightmare does not end there.

Skies above Delhi, anytime of the day or night, is like a vortex of aircrafts in their different stages of descent. Losing another 10 – 20 minutes looking down at the tangled web of lights down below is the norm these days and by the time you get out of the airport, you have comfortably lost over an hour from your scheduled arrival time. To make matters worse, these days the airport arrival board does is often not regularly updated in case of a delayed flight, which means you spend another 15 minutes trying to spot your driver who does not know you have finally arrived.

But hey, there is hope. We have now institutionalized the delays to such an extent that soon we will going get hotels in the terminals that will enable business people to conduct their meetings. In any case, the common refrain in such circumstances is usually a jab at our status as a developing and crowded nation and the conversation usually veers to how different it is in the west and other foreign countries.

Well, apparently, the affairs in the realm of air travel anywhere ain’t all that rosy as it is made out to be. This report, in the NYT, details how more than 100 domestic flights are officially late by at least 15 minutes 70 per cent or more of the time. It is so bad in some cases that they had to go to church and light a few candles, when all else failed to get some of the consistently chronically late flights to be on time. I guess we are not the only nation that turns to faith to work out matters that are meant to be covered by anything but that.

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Written by shyam

September 6, 2007 at 6:51 am

Posted in aviation, India

Three (good) Indian blogs that you probably don’t read

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Time to post something different for a change than the regular longwinding ones.

Shashikant’s tiny world: He posts across a wide variety of topics covering technology, the economy and other aspects of current affairs. He has something that is desperately lacking in most of the Indian blogosphere: a perspective that is not a wannabe version of the popular western ones. If only he would change the circa 2001 blogger template to something more contemporary, but I can hardly complain since I read the full feed in an RSS reader. And, no, I am not linking to him because he’s linked to me.

Gopal Vijayaraghavan: Gopal works for Yahoo! and is one the leads for the PHP APC cache. That does not mean he posts only about profiling PHP code and race conditions in it. He also writes about movies (from a very non-critic and normal viewer point of view) and a lot of other non-tech related things. The only minus point is that he does not allow comments on his blog.

Cleartrip blog/Hrush: I know this is a corporate blog, probably disqualifying it from being considered as a normal blog. But most of the content on the blog is penned by Hrush Bhatt, Founder & Director, Product and Strategy for the company. Other than the fact the blog is one of the best and the most open blogs among Indian corporates, he also gets additional brownie points from me for quoting two bloggers in the web data sphere that I follow closely: Danny Ayers and Joe Gregorio. Minus point: Not updated frequently enough.

While on the topic of blogging, I was wondering recently if the only major difference that blogging has brought to the platform is that being biased is no longer uncool? These days, I tend to switch off from any discussion that aims to figure out the biases of mainstream media. The fact of the matter is that everything and every human being is biased and we are conditioned by our biases.

The only difference is that it used to be cool to claim that you were unbiased as a media entity. When you report from the field, you are supposed to stick to the facts and not colour it with your biases. I think this is quite badly misplaced. While, as a blogger, it is cool for you to be biased. In fact, you are encouraged to come clean on your biases than cover it with a veil faux neutrality. Other than that, if you take out the scale and economics of the matter, there is hardly any differentiation: Both sides have bad reporting, band language and myopia to the obvious.

Interesting and hypothetical over-the-top question of the day: Can you imagine a newspaper filled with op-ed writers?

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Written by shyam

August 29, 2007 at 9:26 am

Posted in Blogs, India, social media

A Brijj too far

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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.

Written by shyam

August 9, 2007 at 8:33 pm

Jajah to spread wings in India?

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At least that’s what a report in The Hindu Business Line claims. Strangely, the body of the story does not say much, other than what is already known: the T-Online Venture Fund infusion and Intel Capital’s involvement in Jajah. In fact, the story in itself reads like a rehashed PR pitch and it is kind of crappy that you can lead with a grand headline (which is kosher is you are a blogger though!) and not follow it up in the body.

Any kind of telephony over IP is a major minefield in India and it will be chased down tooth-and-nail by both the regulators and the existing regular telephony players. The legal side of matters is also quite confusing in this regard. But this should be an interesting one to watch, since various parties have for long been trying to get even voice chat in popular instant messaging platforms shut down. The Jajah website does identify users by the originating country’s IP address and for now for unregistered users the service is available only in the landline-to-landline combo.

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Written by shyam

May 30, 2007 at 9:33 pm

Posted in India, Mobile

Uplifting Night @ Smoke House Grill: May 23

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Smoke House Grill is not the ideal place to do gigs, so it came as a surprise to me when I heard that Ma Fazia and Woody were playing there on the 23rd. Since I could not find any of the usual suspects to tag along, I went for the gig, post couple of rounds of beer at the seriously icky Press Club and as expected found a mostly unappreciative crowd not giving too much of a damn about what was being played.

See, the problem with SHG is that it is not your average clubbing joint. It is more of a place where the rich lads, uncles and similar beings drop by to get that Manhattan feel in sadda Dilli. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with the joint (if the price point does not impale you first). SHG is by far one of the better done up restaurants in Delhi, backed up by pretty decent service and food, but it just ain’t the place for gigs.

The music, though, was mind blowing. Ma spun (contrary to my perception of her playing only mostly psy) some ambient and plenty of house (nuffink outright commercial though) and flashes of electro. At the same time Woody dazzled with his saxophone and the flute, bringing in songs with the flute and doing either side of the breakdown with his sax, embellished by a faint smattering of reverb that made it dreamy and prominent at the same time. For the faithful, this was one not to have missed and sadly most did miss it.

Last time I was the SHG, the resident DJ was playing mostly lounge and chill out tracks, but this time around, after Ma and Woody packed up, he played some spanking hard house tracks and once again, no full blown commercial on the decks! Admittedly, I’ve not been clubbing for a while now, but what is it with the gigs now playing stuff what you would have expected a Peter Rauhofer to play? But I have no complaints, keep the good stuff flowing!

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Written by shyam

May 25, 2007 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Delhi, India, Nightlife

Internet in India: The upcoming third wave

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It has been my constant quibble that, currently, innovation is Indian internet’s greatest bugbear. Other than the accidental exception of the matrimony websites, I can’t think of even a single company that has done path breaking and /or original things in India. From the big fishes to the minnows, all that we get is yet another email service or yet another social networking site or yet another Digg clone. And the parade is one of never ending ‘inspiration’ and is downright and blatant copying in some cases. So, I got down to thinking, why on earth is it that we don’t see any innovation in this space in our country?

Is it that we don’t have any desire to change the rules of the game? Don’t any of us crave for that killer idea which will change the landscape and the way India is perceived on the internet front? I think the problem lies more with the fact that most of us still do not think natively in terms of the internet. There are not too many of us who are constantly connected, updating information about ourselves and transmitting it pretty much real time. And that is reflected in the ideas that we often come up with.

During the first wave, before the crash came, we had the wonderers and the explorers who just wanted to get on the bandwagon. Most of these were either expats or people with an entrepreneurial itch who just took their latest scratch online. At that time we had the regular content-heavy media websites, lots of copycat B2B websites, the odd auction website or two and even websites that wanted to hand deliver emails sent to others. In short, nothing spectacular; which was not surprising, considering the fact that even the rest of the world too was pretty much getting over their adolescence at that time, coming down from the high of counting eyeballs and setting right numerous other misconceptions.

After the crash that eventually came, we grew up. We wanted to control expenses and took to the notion of revenue NOT being an optional extra for the future. A lot of companies actually started operating in the black and major brands like Yahoo! MSN and Google started treating the country as a serious market than as an outback of sorts or even as an afterthought.

The growth, though, did not extend to the innovation space. What exactly went wrong there? Why have we not seen a Facebook or a Youtube or a Twitter here first? Granted, broadband penetration is not very high in India, but what about text-based content? We have not even come close to scratching the surface of local language content here. Other than a couple of nifty search interfaces, there is nothing, nada, zilch that is happening in terms of innovation there. The only player worth mentioning, Webduinya, is nothing more than the existing Indian English web in a Hindi garb.

The problem is that we don’t think natively in terms of the Internet. Most of us, the first generation and second generation internet adventurers, still think of an offline problem first and then try to find an online solution for it. For the dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneurs like the TATAs and the Ambanis the internet is still unknown territory when it comes to translating their instincts onto it. Thus we look westwards and do the same done-to-death themes of email, instant messaging, blogging, tagging and foist them on the unsuspecting users all over again.

For genuine innovation to show up, the next generation – the kids who are sixteen or younger – have to grow up. These are the natively connected consumers for whom a Google, Yahoo! or an Indiatimes will bring about a faster degree of recollection, with a larger mental footprint, as sources of information dissemination than a Times of India, Hindustan Times or any other traditional media brand we can think of right now.

We can’t start to imagine the needs, requirements and desires of this age group. For us this is a mobile phone-toting, constantly texting and scrapping demographic whose mentality is totally alien to us. We can’t think like them because we are not like them. For the vast majority of the rest of us, this constantly connected world does not exist. We drift constantly inhaling the nostalgic fumes of a static past, rudely woken up often by a world that’s constantly updated, profiled and customized.

We, the adults, can’t imagine a world where a commercial will speak directly to us, addressing us by name, what we normally look for – a world where context will constantly surround us. For the coming generation, context following them is a natural thing. They will grow up in a world where data is mixed, mashed up and beaten out of shape in more ways than can be imagined. The only edition that they’ll ever see is personal and not based on a city or time of the day, which is something most of us can’t even start to dream about.

And that is where the genuine innovation in India will start. Till then we will wander, inadequately tooled, copying and aping what’s already been done a million times before.

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Written by shyam

May 9, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Posted in India, social media