Posts Tagged social media

India Adrift

 

 

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The observations and comments here are derived from my several posts and comments on the issue in various social media networks. 

The first para largely pertains to a discussion about the TMC’s and particularly Mamata Banerjee’s time in power since her victory in 2011.

Politics is as much a game of building up perceptions (even illusions for that matter) and communications as it is of actually ushering in good governance and delivering on promises made. Mamata falls quite short on at least the first count and matters haven’t been helped in the least by her periodic outbursts, loose comments, whimsical and knee-jerk reactions to events and propensity to put her foot in her mouth on several occasions. Her media managers have done a pretty poor job so far and if at all she has a P.R. agency managing affairs for her, either she needs to replace it with one far more competent and adept or pay greater heed to their suggestions & recommendations.

I can’t help drawing comparisons with someone who has capitalized on the masterplan laid down by his high-powered, expensive, U.S. based P.R. agency and adroitly turned around a disastrous situation which stared him in the face in 2002 to one where he has become a cult-guru of sorts for a section of the middle-class urban Indians who have started believing the carefully cultivated hype that he will return India to double-digit growth days in a trice and solve most problems of governance with a wave or two of his ‘lathi’.

Consider some of the following inconvenient facts, even in Modi’s home state which has been relentlessly touted as a model of development.

  • Gujarat ranked 17th overall within India in terms of literacy when Modi took over. Currently, after more than a decade of Modi-rule, it ranks 18th.
  • Gujarat’s fiscal deficit a year back was the 3rd highest in India, behind W. Bengal & U.P. While W. Bengal & U.P. have never even remotely claimed that they are model states in terms of fiscal management & development, Modi has built his whole reputation on those premises.
  • Hunger & malnutrition are worse in Gujarat than several other large states and the U.N. development Index report of 2011 (which uses govt. data) indicates that 45% of children in Gujarat are malnourished.
  • No political pundit or veteran columnist seems to have qualms about the fact that a man who has little formal education, a family life which is murky (Is Modi married or divorced? Why doesn’t he answer questions about the woman, supposedly his wife, languishing in some village) and whose background largely includes being an on-again, off-again RSS ‘pracharak’ and  tea stall owner previously may not quite be the right choice to run a country as large and as diverse as India and tackle the economic complexities, foreign affairs and social media exposures & inquisitions which are a given in 2014 and beyond.

Check out details about some of these ‘facts’ and issues in these reports:

Deccan Herald – Fact-checks & Statistics about Gujarat

TOI report based on the U.N. Human Development report 2011 pertaining to Gujarat

A word cloud of Narendra Modi’s speeches over the years (most of them used to be in Gujarati & Hindi to the unwashed masses in his early years) would surely show up streaks of his personality and governance style which may not be quite palatable to the discerning. The almost indisputable fact that his P.R. agency and media managers gamed the system by pushing in over 50% fakes to build up his 1 million plus followers on Twitter also doesn’t quite indicate a man who can be ‘trusted’ to lead India in 2014 & beyond.

Some unpalatable truths about Modi’s social media strategy

Ramachandra Guha’s piece in The Hindu about the implications and fallouts about Narendra Modi as PM in 2014, makes some incisive and well-argued observations. Here is the link to the full piece.

Ramachandra Guha piece on Narendra Modi in The Hindu

The alternative to Modi, Rahul Gandhi, attempted to be projected by the Congress, is largely a non-starter too. Rahul Gandhi is widely perceived to be well-meaning but vacuous with no vision or original ideas for governing India.  He is also perceived as someone who has achieved little or nothing during the years that he has been in politics. He seemingly lacks the drive or the decisiveness needed to provide effective governance. While he may come across as charming, he also comes across as someone who has been unwilling to roll up his sleeves and get hands-on when it really matters. As a friend mentioned, had he really wanted to turn things around for the Congress in U.P., he should have shifted base to Lucknow for a couple of years at least and gone about the task with gusto and singlemindedness, rather than the fleeting visits, periodic speeches and occasional photo-op moments that happened to be part of his U.P. campaign over the years. He has also often been silent or even absent when visibility was the need of the hour and hasn’t given any indication over the years that he has either the political instincts or the panache to ‘seize the moment’ which is so important for a politician to position himself in the perceptions of the people.

Ramachandra Guha again touches on several of these points in this interview with IBN

Ramachandra Guha on Rahul Gandhi as a Prime-ministerial candidate

Surely India, a country of 1.22 billion people, with its great diversities and complexities as well as its huge talent pool and major potential, needs someone at the helm, other than these two gentlemen who don’t quite have the attributes to measure up to the task,  who is potentially capable of steering the ship safely past the icebergs after the general elections in 2014!

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Game over, Facebook? (or How Facebook Keeps Shooting Itself In The Foot)

Why Facebook Is The New Yahoo – Datamation

This blog piece really supplements the points made in this article (link above ). The points below are essentially to further amplify and expand on the contentions in this piece.

Facebook logo

Image via Wikipedia

Early adopters will recall Facebook as a rickety, buggy apps which had very few people who had gotten on to the bandwagon and a whole lot more of bugs together with a  generally pretty crappy UI. While after the dot.com bust at the beginning of this century, clueless commentators & hapless analysts have been desperate to hype any emerging trend to the skies, Facebook progressed & grew beyond its wildest dreams more because it happened to be in the right place at the right time & owing to the many errors of omission & commission by its forerunners & contemporaries.

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

All through this spectacular growth story, Facebook kept on playing fast & footloose with the privacy & the needs of some of its serious users. It kept on playing around with its UI, which, despite several makeover attempts, remained crappy & reminded many people of Web 0.5 rather than Web 2.0.  It was a hacker’s delight and it put up a brave front  every time someone demonstrated the relative ease with which it could be hacked into. It kept on experimenting with the length of texts for posts & comments for posts without so much as a by-your-leave or even a warning to most unsuspecting users. It merrily downgraded photographs uploaded for display, a fact unknown to most of the hordes for whom uploading to Facebook pics of your latest vacation or your dog became a status symbol of sorts.

While Facebook has of late been demonstrating a zeal for real names (because Google+ is a real name network from the time the beta was launched? ) for much of its existence, it didn’t give a damn about who registered on the network, beyond the cursory reminder that pre-teens were not allowed. I know of several people who promptly proceeded to have Facebook accounts for their dogs & cats & even proudly proclaimed the ‘fact’ to their friends. Many others opened multiple accounts on Facebook, under a host of pseudonyms & assumed names and let their ‘special’ friends know which account they used for which purpose (for a hint think Farmville & Cityville and the need to conceal from a certain ‘set’ of friends the fact that one was incurably addicted to it). In any case Facebook didn’t care two hoots about what got on to your Stream from numerous Farmville posts for example, auto-generated when your friends got on to it.  Messages & pokes from perfect strangers followed the same pattern. Anybody could write anything on your wall or read your comments to others’ posts in many cases, without you either knowing or being able to do anything about it. Your friends could add you on to any groups they happened to be a part of, without bothering to think whether you may actually be reluctant or unwilling to join a particular group they happen to be part of.

When serious users & geeks raised howls of protest about this, Facebook embarked on the first of its many hamhanded attempts to appease the unhappy & outraged users & introduce controls for users’ accounts & privacy. At times deliberately and, on other occasions, unintentionally, patching & taking care of a particular area of concern seemed to open up new cracks & areas of unhappiness.

Amidst all this, Facebook’s numbers kept growing because for the vast majority of people, privacy, security or poor user UIs & unannounced, ad-hoc restrictions mattered little. Aside from registering one’s dog & cat, it became an online rolodex for many and once its numbers grew beyond a certain threshold, peer pressure ensured that most people felt compelled to open an account on Facebook at least to prove to their friends that they weren’t anti-social in the least and kept themselves abreast of new developments in this ‘digital age’. Some proceeded to ‘befriend’ just about any Johnny who could be found on FB & was willing to be added, thus growing their no. of friends relatively quickly into the high 3-digits category, assuming that this fact alone gave them some kind of a bragging right over their friends whose ‘friend counts’ were nowhere near that. If you have seen posts or comments from anything more than 10% – 15% of your ‘friends’ on Facebook, you must belong to an exceptional minority indeed!

Facebook has from time to time quoted the total no. of people who have registered. Information regarding what percentage or numbers out of these have been dormant and for how long, hasn’t been forthcoming. Whereas e-mail clients knock off users who haven’t had any activity on their account for say 6 months or one year, Facebook never ever knocks off anyone and makes it virtually impossible for anyone to leave even if he or she wants to. It has always been designed to be a one-way street.

There are many who suffered through all the twists & turns of a badly designed & executed app like Facebook simply because by the time they decided it was decidedly crappy and were planning to leave, most of their ‘friends’ had gotten on to it. Added to it was the fact that it was the most visible and high-profile social media platform in most parts of the world and hence there was peer pressure to at least stay on nominally, irrespective of whether one liked or hated the experience. Along the way of course there were the added attractions of games, pages for organizations & businesses and e-commerce among others. Facebook also managed its marketing & media efforts quite well, aside from the misfortune of getting caught out in its efforts to deliberately and, in a sustained way, slander Google.

Quel ricco sfondato di Mark Zuckerberg, founde...

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook

To use an analogy which will be quite understandable to Indian readers, you don’t start with an Ambassador car and then try to make it into a Honda City say, by periodically tinkering with the carburretor, steering wheel or spark plugs. Despite any tweaks to these subsystems the overall experience would still remain a distinctly unsatisfactory one. Of course from time to time groups of people just switched off & turned to various alternatives and though that outflow has gotten stronger in recent months, overall, it didn’t really matter much. There were always newer markets to conquer & newer people to sucker and, as a result, the total numbers kept growing, albeit at a much slower pace than what had been experienced sometime earlier.

All through this process, Facebook copied bits & pieces from here & there and then once it grew big and attracted major funds, went on a spree acquiring smaller, promising start-ups. It kept tweaking privacy settings, UIs & groups but never ever came up with the big idea or a really innovative one. Copying others has always been its forte which was amply evident when it revamped Groups and made it as close as possible to popular e-groups which had been in existence for ages, with a few more bells & whistles added.

Ergo, its desperate strategy of copying Google+ & Twitter now & remaining relevant & hopefully ahead in the race is nothing surprising.  Given its near-total bankruptcy of big ideas & innovative ones, one would in fact have been quite surprised if it hadn’t done so.

In doing so however it has given short shrift to much of its loyal user base. Most of Facebook’s active users aren’t too bothered about privacy & possibly quite like the idea of broadcasting to the world what they had that morning for breakfast and taking a peek at comments made by their ‘friends’ for posts which should not concern them normally. Much like Twitter, Facebook possibly owed its growth & success to the fact that it managed to adhere largely to the KISS (Keep It Simple & Stupid ) principle which would have been comforting to most of its users. It had a great opportunity to distinguish itself from johnnies-come-lately like Google+ which quite a few people might find somewhat complicated & confusing to test-drive & muster. Alas, in its desperation, it is trying its best to become another Google+ by churning out poor versions & pale imitations of G+’s major features without realizing that, in the medium & long-term, it can’t win the battle with Google because Google, in addition to being the big honchos of Search, has its fingers in over half -a-dozen apps like YouTube, Picasa, Documents, Reader, Calendar, Talk & Maps, in addition to having control over cloud computing, browsers, operating systems & even mobile hardware companies now. And, end of the day, content and its easy shareability & deliverability rules above all else, doesn’t it?

Jerry Yang and his co-founders were the Internet big honchos in the late 90s, having their fingers in everything from Searches to E-mails, E-groups, News portals & Blogs among others. It took less than a decade for it to be reduced to the status of an also-ran in virtually each of these areas. Given the fact that upward spiral & downward plunge cycles have gotten shorter in the Internet era, one finds it hard to visualize Facebook & Zuckerberg five years from now as anything other than an also-ran, still bent on mindlessly copying from the newer games in town what they perceive as ‘killer-features’, to regain lost glory. Didn’t someone tell them that mere imitation is not only the best form of flattery but also the first big steps towards ceding a position of leadership?

P.S.

A couple of instances of how patchy Facebook’s hasty makeover is:

1. Facebook now allows you to choose from among lists. Unlike g+ though which allows you to select one or more circles, just an individual even or all circles, extended circles & public, Facebook gives you the choice of choosing a particular list, a predefined category like Friends or Public generally which is far more restrictive in addition to not being intuitive at all.

Facebook appears to be forming Smart-lists of friends by primarily selecting those among your friends who post or comment much more frequently than others. Sadly, this can hardly be the basis for your default choice of ‘good friends’. While one can manage & tweak the list as desired, the default  option seems downright hazardous. Remember when Buzz tried to do something similar and it blew up in their face (possibly helped along by Facebook, its media managers & ‘friendly’ blogs & publications).

Facebook now lets you follow folks who opt to be Subscribed to. How is that any different from Pages that one may have elected to follow earlier? Extending the page functionality to individuals & making it an opt-in feature can hardly be called a major innovation or upgrade, isn’t it?

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The Fall of The Print Media and The Rise of Digital Media, Including Social Media

An archived article from the New York Times about the steady decline of the print media in recent years. This appeared towards the end of 2008. The situation, if anything, has considerably worsened since in the markets that this report refers to.

Facebook logo

NY Times article on print media Nov. 2008

The precipitate fall of conventional print media at the hands of digital media, including social media, continues as this archived piece from the NY Times states. The trend hasn’t been reversed in the last 3 years at least as this archived article from CNN will show http://is.gd/VrIiAG . Recent studies point to a consolidation among print media. Thus large national & international groups like the NY Times or the Washington Post will survive this onslaught and possibly even gain temporarily owing to the decline and closure of smaller print media. Some recent data & metrics suggest that social media may actually be helping to cushion & stall the decline of players in the print media to an extent.

The situation is no different for print magazines as this archived study from as far back as 2009 will show http://is.gd/B0d2pL

The big print media players are now heavily leveraging on social media to remain relevant and alive. Here’s a recent article that describes the various ways that this is happening. http://is.gd/4bc485

Twitter logo

In India the situation is somewhat different owing to the following factors
1.The low penetration & reach of land broadband networks (ref. piece from the Economist on this issue, shared earlier in this group http://econ.st/iNvNXj ) together with the relatively low availability of relevant hardware to access broadband networks, specially in semi-urban and rural areas.

2. The grossly delayed introduction of 3G mobile services which has also helped to stunt the growth of digital and social media together with other content available digitally.

These don’t seem to be by design but rather owing to the lack of focus and inefficient implementation by the national and several state govts. This situation will hopefully reverse and resolve itself in the coming months and years and hence the trends mentioned above will become very evident in the Indian market too in the foreseeable future. Its not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’.

Finally a word about Twitter, one of the major planks in the social media universe currently. It is amazing how the twitter platform, whose initial usage was largely restricted to people tweeting their friends about where they were planning to have lunch or go shopping or holidaying has expanded in scope with brand extension & usage diversification largely being defined and driven by its ever-growing numbers of users globally. Twitter today is getting to represent more of a news network than being merely a social network as this article so appropriately details http://is.gd/dSCviY .

Masthead - New York Times

In fact this ever expanding usage of Twitter is making the organization seriously contemplate launch its own news network as mentioned by one of its co-founders recently. http://is.gd/aNUkkt . While by default much of this is already in place and operative what is left to Twitter is to enter into the necessary tie-ups & partnerships formally and find ways to monetize the whole idea.

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