Visited your local library, or the local bookstore recently?

When was the last time you visited your local library or peeked into the bookstore? If you’re like me, then more likely you’ve browsed through Amazon books online. Or, if you’re unlike me, you’ve read your books of choice on Kindle, or listened to music on your iPod. Who wants to drag oneself to the car, then drive several miles to the library, only to see drab faces along drab aisles filled with books on self-help? Depressing, eh? Well… if sitting in the car to drive a few miles is construed as ‘dragging oneself’; and real people appear ‘drab’, then online activity is drifting you, me, and them farther and farther away from reality into a phony, make-believe world… and that is surely even more depressing.

We need to snap out of it. Real people have real problems, and they may wear sombre expressions, but so what… that is the reality. By actively escaping into an online world, donning avataars that appear sexy, seductive, aggressive or egalitarian to our online audiences does not make the real you, I, or me that kind of a person. To truly deal with our reality, shouldn’t we face real people, live through real situations, to find real solutions to real problems?

Escapism is fine for an hour or two – as we did in the past when we had only movies – our entertainment on celluloid. But spending hours on end online is neither healthy for the head, nor is it heart-healthy. If we step out of our online space – that space which we believe is our comfort zone to meet people in person… in real time, not simply as facetime, that would be truly cool. Again, just going to the nearby mall, or to the grocery store don’t quite count for stepping out of one’s comfort zone. With self-checkout services everywhere, there’s little scope to actually speak to a living soul. We have to make it a point to chat to someone. Even in our job, not all jobs call for speaking to people… we may go to our desk day after day, and are not required to actually speak to anyone. Colleagues knocked on our door, or would drop by to say hello, or to resolve an issue, or we would go to their desk, interrupt with an ‘excuse me’  to ask a query that would take but a few seconds to answer! But now, our colleague physically next door, or even just a wall — or a hallway away, sends email, or text message. Isn’t it against current business etiquette to walk to a colleague’s door to resolve a tiny issue? Conference calls, video chat, voice chat (by appointment only) are the order of the day. Spontaneity is out in contemporary business or even personal communication. We leave messages, whether it’s in our office, or for someone we try to reach urgently at their office. Nobody answers their phone… oops, sorry, cellphone. Blame it on what was once a boon… the caller id. Whether it’s a bill we want to pay, or a charge we wish to dispute… no matter where, it is all automated. Try searching for a new job… “Don’t call me, I’ll call you” is so yesterday! Should you receive even an email response, consider yourself fortunate, or well, it could be an anomaly.

So what is this world turning into? Isn’t it beginning to seem like the world we used to watch in films? But that was science fiction… oft they were memorable sci-fi films depicting degradation, a depraved human race, and decadence in the future. We are fast approaching that scenario… only now, it’s not on celluloid, it’s in real life.

Why is it then surprising that those self-help bookshelves are burgeoning? Why should it be irksome that people who approach those aisles are in fact searching for some meaning in their life. Folks who are actually taking the effort to drive up to the poorly-funded libraries, and to fast-disappearing bookstores, those who’re browsing through those depressing aisles are actually very real people. So I ask myself, “Who am I to mock those men, women and children who are struggling to keep head above water, striving to be human… while I busy myself furiously typing away at my laptop on a blog online”!

 

 

This Blog is worth… how many $$$$?

Ever done a search for your own blog? I did… just yesterday. I tried, in vain, to find the log in button on this page, so later I Googled for wordpress login along with user name. What do you know? There was a site that stated what this blog is worth. I was aghast! Not by the $$$$ number displayed, but by the idea that some random no-name company is using some vague algorithm (algorithm being a rather fancy term for something basic we learned in middle school – “the step by step procedure to calculate e.g. to solve an equation, etc.”) to determine the value of my thoughts and the written words.

Now, can anyone explain to me – step by step – why anyone should attempt to calculate the worth of my personal diary – my web log? What business is it of anyone but myself, as to what the value of what I jot down here is. Do I go out to estimate the value of some random house on this planet? I don’t need to unless I’m in the buyer-seller market for real estate, and interested in buying or gauging the worth of my own house. Or am I out searching for information on what the true worth of that company is – the one that’s trying to put a $$$ value on my blog?

This is the problem… why can’t folks just mind their own business? Have I assigned anyone the task of estimating this blog’s worth? No, I have not., and I can bet that most of us have not done so. One can understand that companies, corporations, non-profits, others who receive funding from others to run their business (apart from their own monies in the venture) need to estimate the goodwill, or brand value to put it on their annual reports as their asset/s. Just in case they wish to liquidate them, or have intentions of selling their business, or perhaps need more financing to expand or manage their current business. I have none of these intentions!

When businesses attempt to gauge the value of someone’s assets, when they have not been assigned to do so, it should be deemed as encroaching on someone’s privacy. I have my own reasons to write, blog, fill the space here – whether it’s trite, useful, serious, helpful, nonsense, humorous…  is not anybody’s concern, but my own… as long as I’m not encroaching on anyone else, or anyone’s privacy. How many visitors this blog has, how many likes, how many followers, how many…,  how many…, how many…! How many times and for how long will we be subjected to this marketing madness or social media mania of gauging popularity? Does everything have to be converted to indices, measurement and minutae for even further dissection? So companies, please stop your nonsense of determining “What is your personal blog worth”!

Had trouble finding followers?

That’s the trouble… why do we even think of this as trouble. Are we Pied Pipers driving the art of writing to its death?

Those who truly think independently, don’t quite care about a fan following. The real independent thinkers and philosophers wrote their ideas or expressed them. Because they made sense we read about such people, read their books, or follow their ideas, believe in their philosophies, or ponder over their thoughts.

Writing can be triggered by something you saw, read, or experienced… anything could serve as a stimulus. The idea about having platforms like wordpress, or twitter or blogspot or even facebook… if each of us did our own thing, write our own ‘think’, create content that we actually believe in, it would be so much more fun than just circulating ‘forwards’ from hotmail to gmail, or worse, re-posting it as your own content (aka plagiarizing).

How much of all that we read, or is written is truly meaningful? What I write today on my blog (web log i.e. my diary) here, will the words sound dated five years from today, or five months away, or say in five days? Recall, blogs first started out as digital diaries that you could revisit someday. These diaries were personal, not items and writings that others could pry into. If someone laid even a little finger on it, leave alone leaf through its pages, the diarist would be hopping mad. But a page in a diary gives a glimpse of the person who wrote the words. It may give a hint into a person’s character. What interests me are human relations, how the mind thinks… why it thinks the way it does, what transpired in the person’s life to bring about such thoughts? You can weave an entire story… stories are telling. We will forget products but if there was a story around it, we tend to remember it more.

Today, though, many of us tend to clamor for a large fan following. Just the other day, I recall either tweeting (or blogging) about why anyone should care how many followers I have on Twitter, or how many tweets I posted… or for that matter should it matter to anyone but myself how many folks I follow? What does matter is whether or not my content, words, tweets, chirps hold meaning, have some interesting take or twist on a subject that I read, or found interesting. e.g. on Twitter, I’d be more eager to see a tab that displays counts of re-tweets, or favorite-d strings of 140 characters. But all we do is post link after link without giving our take on it, without expressing our views or what it was that piqued our interest, or held your attention if even for just a moment. We’re in such a grand rush to move to the next subject… all in a hurry, rushing to nowhere in particular.

So here’s what I believe… you can create your own content, or you can curate content that others have created. Yeah, someone will likely turn around and say this is jargon, old hat, content curation is a term used for years now. But my point is, even if it’s been used for years, have we all learned how to do it? Whether as companies, or as individuals, how succinctly can we summarize what we read and present it in a coherent, or more interesting manner, or more pertinently, can we add our two cents to it?

Every platform that is built – either as an app or web tool – is sort of latched on to by marketing departments to promote their brands, products etc. What started off as a space for ‘you, me  and us types of individuals’ now turns into an overcrowded platform used by professional corporate bloggers, content providers, content curators. There’s just so much information out there about everything and nothing. If there’s any particular topic or subject of interest, sift through it to find what interests you, present your views, and create a fabric that appears interesting when you look at it as a whole. If it is linear it won’t be quite interesting, but add dimension, give it depth, add color, bring in elements to enhance the entire picture. But as in any picture or photograph, if there’s a singular focus it will appeal to many. Some may like the picture for the color, others may enjoy it for its texture, but most will enjoy it as a whole, unable to quite pinpoint what it was they liked about it, nevertheless they do like it. Well, in a nutshell, that’s what I think is the purpose of content creation, and content curation.

Who skips the sex scenes… while e-Reading?

What someone enjoys as bedtime reading, or what twisted tale a storyteller wishes to spin, matters little to me. But out there, like Peeping Tom, loads of companies are snooping on you to note whether you’re a diehard romantic, or whether racy violence is your page-turner. Do you speed-read, or is pausing after every paragraph your scene. Whether you play, re-play, or ponder over the written word… or perhaps pause to grab that bag of popcorn. (Pardon me, but that last bit of popcorn was a stretch of my imagination!)

Now, do reviews on Amazon tell the real story of how many folks truly enjoyed a book, or do start ups have a better handle on the true facts about real reader interest in all fiction. A new war seems to be looming, one that’s more than likely to draw writers away from their desks or out of the wood-works, to battle on virtual grounds. Data, collected by tracking reader habits, and made available by companies, may steer astute writers towards domains that seem to sustain reader interest. Those who enjoy writing may have put pen to paper, or clicked away on a typewriter, or keyboard… for the sheer pleasure of writing. Deep within, most writers seeks readers, yearn for their feedback, their appreciation and if that’s a critical essay, could one ask for more? (No, not everyone is Naipaul.)

In an era of e-books and self-publishing, competition is not only from other authors in the genre, but is also from blog-writers, advertisers, endless Facebook time, tweet time, YouTube viewing, TedTalk, reality shows, extreme everything… to get that rush of adrenaline. With this continual battle to grab a moment of quality reader time, it’s time to morph a veritable passion for the pen and turn it into a killer sword. Your hard-bound novels are likely to be pirated to be made available on Scribd; your paperbacks may be sold in wholesale… a dime for a dozen. Dreaming of the Pulitzer, or are you of Pearl S. Buck caliber?  Beware, or at least be cognizant of the Oyster tracking your work, which follows readers, to determine which of the pages are skipped, or which make for a thriller. As readers, or authors… we will all be manipulated, one way or another. Now the question is, as a writer, will you survive by the skin of your teeth, or do you have that killer instinct that will allow you to thrive in the deep jungles of the vast Amazon?

SEO tools, or cheese tactics? Back Links, Cross links, Outbound Links…

As a blog reader, have you noticed that often you’re reading a particular post, and all of a sudden you find you’re somewhere else – either on another post written by the same blogger, or on an entirely different blog! Sometimes, you land on a totally different site. This happens not just in the blogosphere, but also on other social media sites. While this may be useful at times, more often than not it’s irksome… because whatever it is you were reading is now either ‘lost’, or you have to hit the ‘back’ button ever so often to return to the page you were originally reading. This occurs when you click on a hyperlink – either knowingly, or inadvertently – that immediately transposes you to another domain, or another webpage. That link which pulled you away from the current page is the outbound link. As an example, I’m taking you to this webpage outside of wordpress. If you clicked on it, notice that it opens up in another window. This is intentional, because I’d like you to continue reading this page (although the other page offers something delicious!). ヅ This link is an example of an ‘outbound‘ link. Does it add value to my site i.e. this page? Well, that is a function of how the algorithms of Google, Bing, or Yahoo will mark this page – add points, or give negative points – so as to bury my page among the billions of pages so it is almost never found by someone searching for the topic on Links in the context of search engine optimization.

However, in contrast, if say you have a page on this subject, and decide to link to this page or any other with related content from my posts on this blog, that would be an example of a ‘back‘ link for my blog. Now, depending on whether your content and my content have relevant content and there’s an obvious reason why the link exists, once again, the algorithms of the search engines (smart as they are) may figure out the likeness of content along with the context and give us both a positive mark. However, if the search engine finds that some spam-filled page stuffed with keywords is linking to me, neither will that page earn any point, nor will mine. This would be an example of ‘cheese tactics‘ by the spam website. Of course, note that I borrowed this phrase from the gaming industry. But as the phrase connotes, it’s a cheap tactic used to garner clicks, that no respectable SEO expert would dare to use.

But what about ‘cross-links‘ within your own website? Often, when you’re on a company’s website, you may be reading say the About Us page. You may find a link on that very page which will transpose you to another page e.g. their Press Center, or their Contact Us page or even to an email id e.g. info@xyz.com. Then when you click on that Press Center, in turn it will have a page with yet another link which takes you to some other page but within the same company’s website, say e.g. on their product page… or think of an e-commerce site like Amazon. When you visit this shopping portal, it is hard to really exit from the site, because of the numerous links which will keep drawing you back to look and search and browse more and more and more of their various products. Not only are the links relevant, they are not filled with spam; also, you clicked on these, because something on the page draws you to them, compelling you to click and click again. Eventually you end up shopping, and your click has now brought about a conversion! Isn’t that the objective of for-profit businesses? In the shortest possible time, with the fewest number of clicks, how can the website or webpage entice you to make a click that will bring about a sale of their product. This in very simple terms is the whole point of search engine optimization, landing page optimization, the value (or lack thereof) of links and cross-links. Not as a company, but as a blogger, I’ll link to one of my own pages here, on words-n-motion. Who knows, may be you will follow me, or subscribe to my blog… that is an example of ‘conversion‘ for a not-for-profit site. 😉

Many of you hip folks are now bored of the ‘f’ word, and have moved on, I presume… but I have yet to cross that threshold… Hey, what were you thinkin’ about? I was referring to facebook…  the resting point for over a billion people across the globe every month… yay, I have these numbers from reliable sources…  nay, not from the horse’s mouth, but almost! ヅ

Stickiness translates to Number of Active Users!

So what is it that brings us to fB and keeps us glued out there? In tech parlance, this refers to their site’s ‘stickiness’. Current-day marketers go bonkers over these ‘numbers’… stuff like “for how long did I – the user – stay on the site?”; how many pages did s/he visit, or how often do we revisit fB, etc… The marketing Merlin then uses such ‘insights’ to tweak the website further, to improve these numbers – increase session time, total # of page views, etc.; in effect, they strive to improve the sticky factor. But here’s what I think… the resultant stress from too much of number crunching may well cause some severe cases of TMJ – temporo mandibular joint disorder – basically a painful jaw – caused by teeth clenching, stress, and other such!

Speaking of teeth, stickiness, crunching… I’m reminded of my delectable recipe – no, not for disaster – but from dates, primarily! Gooey sticky, crunchy, and super delicious! That’s my Date Taffy! To begin, here’s my ‘short’ story on ‘dates’… now, you’ve heard of “yang” (i.e. ‘heaty’) foods, right? Well, ‘dates’ are yang (as opposed to yin)… (Do I hear you mumble, ‘naturally’?).  ヅ Eat them raw (as in from a pack of seedless dates) or, borrow my recipe… (just think of it as my hard work towards ‘page stickiness’)! Carry some in a zip-lock bag; in a nutshell, these delightful dates are great company! By now you really think I’m nuts! ヅ ツ

Date Taffy Squares: Recipe
In a wide pan, warm one tablespoonful of Ghee (clarified butter); to this, add 2 cups of chopped dates. Stir continuously until the dates turn viscous. Add a few coarsely ground almonds & pistachios, some crushed walnuts may be; stir, and pour this viscous mixture into a greased deep dish. Spread evenly. Pat it down quickly with a spatula, or better still the back of a small bowl. Cut into squares, but do not remove from plate until after it all cools and firms up. Gently remove one by one, and store in a container. Enjoy some, bit by bit now, and some more later… yummy, especially on winter days… & for dessert after dinner time! ¯(ツ)/¯

Technology Turns…

FaceBook Usership_2017
Graphic added in 2017. For a further age and gender break up on same source site, visit https://www.statista.com/statistics/187041/us-user-age-distribution-on-facebook/

 

Facebook का यह मेला क्या है?
अजी समझो, यह एक भूल भुलैया है
‘गर अन्दर गए,
तो फिर बाहर आने की कोशिश,
मान लो आप, वोह बेकार ही है.

अब ले लो इस बला को
जिसे कहते हैं लोग ट्विट्टर
पंछियों की इस चह-चहाट में
ढूँढें किस तरह से हम
कोयल की उस मीठी कुहू कु को!

जुड़ जाते हैं हम रोज़,
आज इस फोरम में
कल उस महफ़िल में
निशाना और मकसद
हैं सभी के अलग अलग.

कोई है हसीं चेहरे की तलाश में
कोई चाहत को पुकारते हुए
किसी को तरन्नुम की,
तो किसी को साज़ की
तलाश करते करते
किसी आवाज़ खींच लाती है
किसी के गीत बुलाते हैं हमें

किसी को दोस्ती की खोज है
तो किसी को नौकरी की
किसी को सिफारिश की ज़रुरत है
किसी को सुन्दर लड़की; या युवा लड़के की ख्वाहिश
आप खुद यहाँ क्यों हैं, क्या आप को है पता
माफ़ कीजिये, सवाल मन में उठा खुद अपने वास्ते
पर  पूछ लिया आप से!

चलो, निकल पड़ते हैं साथ साथ
इस सवाल के जवाब की खोज में
वहीँ से शुरू करते हैं खोज अपनी
जहां खो जाना आसान है;
करोड़ों की संख्या जो है!
पर अजीब बात यह है की
खोकर भी चुटकी में मिल जाना आसान है.
ढूंढो, और न मिले, यह तो बात नामुमकिन है
एक गूगल ही तो है
जहां खोजना मुमकिन है,
और खोकर पाना और भी आसान!

यह तो था सिर्फ गूगल सर्च
पर हुआ यह के लग गए लोग
करना सर्च के ऊपर सर्च,
यानी मान लो रिसर्च!

पर बहुत हो गया यह सिलसिला
छोडो यह facebook , ट्विट्टर का चक्कर,
आओ, फिर से उस जगह
जहां पचपन से कम उम्र के मिलते हैं इंसान
जिनको सीधे शब्द में कहते हैं लोग ‘जवां’!

कहो इसे एक नया अड्डा, या कहो अनोखा सा इक घर,
यह शहर, यह जगह, यह, मोहल्ला, बस है तो यह
एक अनोखी दुनिया
जिसे हम पहले कहते थे गली का नुक्कड़,
आज वोह है दोस्तों और दोस्ती का मिश्रण
सर्च की कोख से जन्मा यह संगम
चलो, मिलते हैं एक अलौकिक गली में
उसे आप नुक्कड़ कहो… कोई कहे हेंग-आउट
technology वालों ने दिया नाम उसे Google +!

Ad Agency layoffs

In Spring 2008, when I referred to layoffs at marketing companies and ad agencies, some smart alecks scoffed at my words, merrily mocking me and my writing. Numerous people holding jobs then dropped pearls of wisdom… “Network, get yet another degree (since my MBA does not seem to cut it), or better still, change your profession“. Some even went as far as suggesting I change my personal [‘Look’ and ‘Feel’]… like I was some website that was long overdue for a total makeover!

Of course, last March, Bear Stearns, believed to have been firmly parked at 383 Mad Ave in NYC, was only just beginning to teeter…  we all are now privy to its change of address… they’ve moved permanently to the annals of financial history. At the time of their big move, the formal announcement of a recession that had already been three months in the making since December 2007 was at least three seasons away! It is highly unlikely then that A&M agencies could have been insulated, impending announcements notwithstanding! However, only those who were laid off, and those who never got  hired — despite job postings that continued to appear (to ostensibly lure fresh, “experienced” talent) — would have gotten a whiff of the hard times to follow; obviously, the rest of the world was happily oblivious to the latent harsh effects it was already beginning to experience!

Long before birds herald the onset of spring, you may have heard (and read) twitters about ad agency layoffs. Think back, the frequency may have been rising since mid-December 2008. Now why is that? It’s because that’s when the US government formally announced that the recession had already set in since December 2007! Looking back now, for 12 months this recession had stealthily taken its toll on jobs, home sales, the fate of companies and on families that depended on these organizations – directly, or indirectly; or even on retirees who lived off their fixed incomes! Wow, so now that it was official, it was okay to openly talk or twitter about how much even the ad agencies were hurting.

You just have to read the compilation of all the twitters (14 pages as I blog just now) to truly gauge the severity of this situation. If that’s too much work, especially considering you may be looking for work, take a look at BNET’s mind-boggling layoff numbers… including ad agency, media and marketing layoffs, ever since the recession started. These will show you why you’re meeting with little success in finding a new job. Or that if you do still have your job while your colleagues have been shown the door, why it’s no time to be smug… the pink slip may likely be well on it’s way to you! Perhaps it’s time to consider another field, go to school and acquire a new skill… and while you’re working on that resume, remember also to go for a makeover on yourself… I’m just sharing those pearls of wisdom I’d received from the mavens on Mad Ave!

The layoff counter keeps ticking.
The layoff counter keeps ticking.
No stopping to this counter's ticking!
No stopping to this counter's ticking!
The Twitter since December is getting louder in Spring '09.
The Twitter since December is getting louder in Spring '09.
When will the Twitters end?
When will these Twitters end?

Corporate America… now will you be on Indian shores in droves?

Or have the events of the past three months numbed your gray cells?

Or then again, surely 10 young men slinking on to Indian shores in the past week are not going to drive you away from those Western shores of Mumbai; nor displace you from India’s Silicon Valley on the Deccan Plateau! Is it possible that you will continue to bloom in Bangalore, India’s Garden city, or is your romance with the city on the rocks? Oops, who was it that claimed responsibility for the terror that the 10 young men inflicted on Mumbai’s millions – not the Deccan Mujahideen? I shan’t mention Hyderabad, from neighboring state Andhra, also in the Deccan region. The Andhraiites are kind of touchy at the moment, given the plight of their people – students, actually, studying in and around US campuses.

Nah, none of the above is going to scare away Corporate America from raking it in. Unless, of course, new laws on outsourcing impose steep taxation on companies – high enough to erode the profits they make using cheaper labor.  The US believes in free markets, is a capitalistic society, the strongest will survive, to the rest we can safely say, “goodbye”.

We, the people, will spend… unemployment government benefits, stimulus packages, new careers, career changes, sabbaticals, further education, distance learning, upgrading skills, etc. are options always available to American citizens. If all else fails, an ongoing war somewhere means there’s always room, albeit, for those interested in enrolling with the US Army. Now how about that, eh?

India has millions of people… hungry for work, for way too long! If the current crop of workers is laid off, the next one will be ready to replace them, and again, and again. But here, at home, it may be another story.

Come what may, fear not, because as American citizens, we’re unlikely to go hungry. We’re innovative, a lot of good will eventually emerge from the current morass. In the short run, a McDonalds can’t be far away…  not on American soil! So what if they’re also dishing out Big Macs and fries, as far away as on Indian shores!

Twitter’s glitter… see the gold?

Tweets sound sweet. Swift 140 character-long missive updates sent within social networks by users, they may convey anything – tiddly trivia or lowdowns on budding love affairs; newsflash about an oncoming tornado or turmoil-ridden political fiasco.

But for the budding 2 years plus company, there’s still uncertainty about where the real moolah will come from. Last June I blogged about how difficult it is for young entrepreneurs to comfortably articulate about their business model. No matter how tech-savvy they are, or how popular their new website turns out, when it comes to making money, long before the initial venture capital or angel finance begins to dry out, the question about monetizing the product crops up… “How will they make the money?”

In the present glut of emerging technology – several that are simply clones of each other – it remains a hard question that few succeed in responding with adequate confidence. Effectively, although from afar the glitz appears attractive, the real gold continues to be elusive. (Is Silicon Valley, today’s El Dorado?)

But techies, please do not despair. Without you, the world could not have progressed thus far. I would not be writing here on wordpress, millions of others would be unable to share their views, the people of this wide world would remain unconnected and ideas would die within cocoons, without taking flight. Thank you to you all.