Thursday, December 10, 2009

When your life is fundamentally facebook

It is now time to face the facts. Who you are on facebook defines you. Why do I say this? There was an article in the newspaper the other day which talked about a young boy who tragically died in a motoring accident on the Worli sea link. One of our newspapers ran the story and tried to include a little background about the boy. What ensued was an abc of the boy’s life on Facebook. The number of friends he had and what they were saying on his page. It is interesting how the world at large outside his family and friends will now only him because of his Facebook page, more than anything else. In a sense this is cyber age immortality, on the other hand, an indicator that maybe some of us spend a lot of our lives on Facebook!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Its sounds like a subtitle

I just saw a news blurb on BBC that announced that YouTube would shortly be introducing subtitles for its videos. It made me start to think, subtitles are such addictive things. Even though we watch English DVDs we often turn the subtitles on. This may seem odd considering the strides that we have taken in the field of audio development.

This is the age of surround sound, and THX yet we revert back to something that probably has its origins in the first black and white movies that didn’t have sound but used cue screens with text inserted between the video to convey a message.

This is a case of technology reducing the use of a sense instead of augmenting it. We no longer bother to listen properly but just read the subtitles. True they are definitely an aid if you can’t understand the accent of the actors or if the sound effects seem to drown out the audio. At the end, YouTube’s invention is likely to be a great hit for the Karoke crowd who can now sing along to their favourite music video.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A touchy truth

I was looking at laptops again over the weekend. I realise that a lot of manufacturers are now opting for touch interfaces, instead of the old tactile ones that we have become accustomed to. Gone are the good old button bashing days. This made me start thinking that the current craze of our generation is being ‘touchy’. This started with the I-phone and several me too wannabe’s followed.
In truth is touch such a great thing. Is it as reliable the age old button? Touch screen phones for examples can’t compete with full QWERTY phones. Yet we now have ‘multi-touch’ keypads on laptops. I still can’t figure out how useful that will be. True the next version of Windows is supposed to support it, and in Windows vista the two finger drag acts similar to holding the ctrl key down and scrolling, but what is the big deal?
On the plus side, for the fans of Star Trek the Next Generation, maybe we can expect some kind of futuristic ‘L-Cars’ interface system becoming possible. And if we take a bigger leap, Minority Report like gesture interfaces are unlikely to be in minority in the years ahead!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Technological Evolution

What is the next step in human evolution? The thought struck my mind when my trusted R-52 Laptop finally decided to give up on me. The loss resulted in me checking out and reading about laptops and netbooks. I decided to venture forth to a nearby store and took a gander at typing out the age old ‘Quick brown fox jumped over the lazy brown dog’ on a couple of new laptops.

The two netbooks in my consideration were the most popular models from Lenovo and HP. What struck me at first was the reduced keyboard. My typing test lead me to believe that the HP was more suited for typing out stuff, the Lenovo being a little bit cramped. In the laptop segment I am eyeing Sony’s new budget Viao which has a nicely spread out keyboard and HP’s DV6 apart from Lenovo (due to my trusty think pad).

All this leads to me to wonder how is the human race going to evolve in the near future. Years ago, if a person walked down the street talking to himself he was likely to have a date with a padded cell. Today I see society completely content with others talking to thin air as they have Bluetooth devices concealed under curly locks.

With keyboards shrinking in size are we going to evolve into having shorter hands and if everything is voice activated in the future then maybe our hands as we know it are going to devolve. I remember watching the TV show Star Trek Voyager where one of the crew members is exposed to something that makes him evolve quickly eventually turning into some kind of lizard, along with Captain Janeway.

Lets hope technology is a catalyst for positive evolution and not degeneration in the years ahead. The leaps and bounds in prosthetics (pun intended) is a great example of that positive first step. At the end of the day we have a choice that determines how we evolve.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Economics of Technological Development

I was leafing through the latest issue of the Economist and I came across a startling discovery. Apparently in North America a lot of people pay for incoming calls! This seemed to be a throwback to the archaic days when cell phones were a luxury. In India this thought is now absurd (unless you are on roaming.)

This made me start thinking, its not that man fails to progresses technologically. It is how fast mankind adopts new technology, how fast it becomes economically viable for a technology to percolate to the grass roots level of society.

We often hear the whisper of next generation fuel sources, electric cars and hybrids and though they have started testing these cars in the US, it is far from becoming a reality for the common man. We are still dependent on fossil fuels now matter how long strides we have taken in alternative fuel sources. It is not that we lack the know-how as the human race. It is because we lack the economics to grow fast enough. For man to innovate he needs to research and that costs time and money. Basic economics. 101 - exhaustive research and effort is expensive hence adopting a technology is also expensive. Yes we can delve into marketing mumbo jumbo about early adopters and product pricing and how this is profitable for the companies but I won’t touch upon that here.

The question I ask you is take Arthur C Clarke and his vision of the future. 2001 has come and gone and 2010 is at our doorsteps, yet man fails to have achieved space travel on the scale Clarke envisioned (the Virgin Galactic Space Ship One is a step in the right direction). Similarly how is the human race going to progress technologically in leaps and bounds when cutting edge technology is under wraps because of defence applications or other commercial applications is so expensive. Robotics is an excellent example. There are so many intelligent robotic toys – Robo Sapiens being a popular toy being sold. Yet we can’ t afford to have a robot in our homes even if Honda started manufacturing them as butler or nannies an I-Robot future is still very distant.

The solution? Your guess is as good as mine. Where is our next big disruptive innovation that’s going to solve this technological and economical problem? Should we be entering into the next generation of technological communism? In a sense that’s what Open Source is all about isn’t? Developing things faster in a free manner thereby reducing the burden on the end consumer. For now I can just be glad that tariffs based on technology, as in the case of cellular phones is definitely looking better in India than overseas.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Going Ape Over Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality, at the first take it sounds like something out of a science fiction flick, like Minority Report. What you may not realise is that Augmented Reality is already here, part and parcel of our lives. Augmented Reality is where ‘computer graphics objects are blended into real footage in real time.’ 

The latest Google Smart phone uses Augmented Reality to help provide information about different destinations. Most of us have witnessed Augmented Reality without realising it. The most common example being the “third empire” graphics during that gripping cricket match or tennis tournament. Though these days, these graphics have been replaced by complete CG versions, in the early days of cricket broadcast LBW’s for example were depicted over shot television footage. 

What India needs is a system of Augmented Reality that is mandatory for all drivers, no matter what they drive. This could help bring order to the kind of chaos that we see on the roads today. Something akin to an easy to use heads up display that not only advices one how to drive, but cautions and penalises a person for breaking the law – jumping lights and cutting lanes for example.  

In India Augmented Reality is even employed in low tech form. Take for example the recorded guided tours in the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai. True this does not fall into the classical definition of Augmented Reality – but it is perhaps another way to think about the application of technology. Augmented reality has a lot to promise for the average marketer, something I will delve into at a later date. 

Friday, August 7, 2009

Shazam - The Sound of Music to Marketers Ears

Here’s another one for all you music lovers out there. My colleague Sayed proudly whipped out his Apple i-phone to introduce me to a music identification service known as Shazam. Shazam provides downloadable widgets to cell phones that allow you to search music album information on the go. Imagine yourself listening to a song while at a music store and liking it but not knowing the artist is. Now with Shazam all you need to do is record a clip and viola album information at your fingertips. Available for Apple i-phones, i-touch iPods, BlackBerry it is now even available for Ovi by Nokia.

The service is pretty impressive. All it takes is for the phone’s built in mike to record a part of the clip. The widget then connects to the internet and searches an online database for a match. This service is no new kid on the block having been launched back in 2002. Already Shazam has a social networking model built into it being connected to Facebook, allowing you to share songs with friends and an e-commerce angle that allows you to purchase songs online.

What could be interesting if advertisers could tie up certain advertising jingles with downloadable offers / advertisements? Imagine you are listening to the radio and an advertiser plays a jingle which he records to his phone. Or you are walking through a mall and the in store jingle has discount offers embedded in them for first five downloaders that hour. And that's just the tip of the Iceberg, envision musical treasure hunts across retail chains for starters, the possibilities are limitless.

Using a service like Shazam the phone sends the person’s phone number to a database as an interested user and provides the users with some downloadable content – jpeg image, discount coupon or whatever. For now Shazam is yet another exemplary example of bridging the gap between mobiles and internet.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Can technology turn over a new leaf in the book?

Books have come a long way with the advent of the internet. With the dawn of the e-book came the invention of several e-book readers like Amazon’s Kindle. Logical progression? Perhaps, but the cost of an average Netbook today works out to be cheaper than a Kindle.

A friend of mine showed me that there was an e-book fair going on in a website. This was a novel concept. Yet what it turned out to be was a list of PDFs you could download from a website (without thumbnails even!). Somehow, going through an e-book fair failed to have the same amount of serendipity that you have when visiting a real book fair. I went to a book fair last weekend and I literally had to get my hands dirty digging through piles of books, something you don’t do online, in fact in a few minutes and clicks I was out of the online book fair.

This made me start thinking. What is in store for the book in the future? Technology has definitely made an impact on word-smiths, what with word processors having replaced pen and paper for the average author. The internet has become a boon for authors today. Every leading author has a website to promote their books and blog about how they are writing their next novel. You can now even pre-buy a novel as is the case with the next Dan Brown thriller, The Lost Symbol from and visit the book’s website even.

On the tech front, there is talk about flexible displays that mimic the feel of a book, which is an interesting thought. E-book readers haven't caught on due to their steep prices. Perhaps something in today's Netbooks could be adopted for a cheaper e-book reader?

The internet is also a bane, what with the number of illegal e-books one can download – scanned copies of originals, its likely to hit publishers sales. A colleague of mine prefers to get his books this way, printing out a few chapters at a time and reading them.

So for now the internet largely remains as a medium that promotes books and technology is yet to find a substitute for the good old book that you can snuggle up with on a rainy day. Which is altogether not too bad a thing.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Beyond Basic Bar codes

A few years ago when I was in college, SMS marketing was the new thing on the block that was making a buzz. Now everyone uses SMS short codes – those numbers that you send a text message to, to get information or take part in a competition. Today, people even want SMS codes on websites, bridging the web and offline marketing activities. Yet one thing that is yet to be tapped in the Indian market space is the new developments in what I call next-gen bar codes. Whether QR codes or Semacodes, Indian marketers are yet to invest in these technologies.

What made me to start to think about these new age bar codes as the next marketing tech tool was an episode of CSI where a QR code is recovered at a crime scene. According to the story, the Quick Response - QR code or Semacode has an embedded link to a website, which is read by a scanner. I thought of little of this until I saw a colleague of mine trying to scan bar codes with his i-phone, which automatically searched for the cost of the products online.

Most cell phones come with built-in cameras these days. If a Semacode can be read from a photo by a cell phone application then marketers have an altogether new and fun way to promote products. In fact this is already quite popular in Japan, where Japanese cell phones read these codes using their camera. What this means in the Indian market space is that we could see ‘Collect the Semacode’ competitions for example, promoting FMCG products or providing information about offers.

Just having Semacodes linked to website landing pages will be a step forward in the right direction, what with more and more people hopping onto the mobile internet bandwagon. These smart bar codes can even be used in both print medium and hoardings. What makes them so ideal is that it reduces the pain of having to type in a URL.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Global Technological Crisis

With the Global Financial Crisis ravaging the globe, its far reaching consequences are yet to be understood. One corollary to the crisis is what could be nick named the Global Technological Crisis. Some people blame the speed of rapidly disseminating information to various audiences as a contributing factor to the uncertainty of the current financial crisis, though this is not the technological crisis I speak of. With the average consumer facing reducing levels of disposable income, tech companies are facing a challenge the weary customers.

One innovation we have seen is the popular netbook. Launched initially by Asus, every computer manufacturer has their version of the netbook available. These stripped down versions of laptops are not only cheaper but smaller in size, lack optical drivers and are much easier on the pocket of the consumer who just needs a solution to simple mobile computing. Some may see this as adopting to the consumers needs, but in terms of the human race growing technologically, could this be a step backwards, though a minute one at that? The BBC video below portrays some of the plus and minus points of the netbook, for those interested.

On the bread earning front, it is said that the financial sector accounts for 18% of the financial sectors IT spending. With this sector being the worst hit and spends coming under the microscope, the IT giants who make their bread and butter from the financial sector are likely to be hard hit and find new segments to cater to. A Business Week article I came across provides a few facts and figures worth considering.

Even robotics has been hard hit with Japanese factories reducing their robotic work force due to lack of demand for products. With robotics integrated in manufacturing Japan, it takes less and less people to assemble things. Even the massive manpower of China can not match the effectiveness of these robots who work tirelessly and don’t grumble of overtime. In fact in Japan at the Yaskawa Electric factory on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu robots are used to manufacture even more robots. Yet the global slowdown means there is less demand for robots, which if it continues could lead to less advancement in the field of robotics. So those dreaming of an I-Robot like future, will have to wait a while.

On the flip side of the coin, products that offer more value for money are growing more popular. The X-Box 360 console is said to be the most popular console in Australia this year. Perhaps this is because of its cheaper price point than the PS3, yet another indicator of how price conscious the public has become.

Friday, July 24, 2009

When Smart Smarts.

I have been pondering whether it is time to upgrade to a new phone. The world seems to have taken to the smart phone like a fish to water. Everywhere you look everyone is either touting an i-phone, a blackberry or a Nokia smart phone. But is having one of these so called smart-phones a boon or a bane?

Mankind has already sold its soul and long with it privacy and free time to the invention known as the cell-phone. Reduced to puppet on cellular chains, we are at the beck and call to every Tom, Dick and Harry who decide to interrupt us at any minute at their choosing. People can not comprehend when people decide to unplug themselves and be incommunicado like the good old days when you stepped out and be unreachable. In fact this state of affairs has even led to a television commercial that parodies the phenomenon of walking while talking.

If all this is to be, isn’t the smart phone the incarnation of all things technologically evil. An excellent example of technological determinism, the smart phone goes beyond just enslaving you like other phones by providing you features such as managing your schedule and giving you an incessant urge to check your mails every minute. So you have the working lady who starts reading her mails the moment she steps into a lift or the executive who keeps an eye on his mail whenever his phone pings.

Gone is the age of relaxation. Mankind seems to be eager to invent devices that while making things easier, make us work harder enslaving us in a vicious circle. So to join the madding crowd and invest in a smart phone or keep things simple and silent when need be. That is the question.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Painful Truth

Some of us wonder why India is not developing fast enough. With the recent opening of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, Mumbaikars have been going into a tizzy calling it one of the city’s greatest achievements and an urban national landmark. Whatever it may be, this is just a drop in the ocean when one considers how fast China was able to build an airport for the Olympics not to mention the rest of the infrastructure. At the end of the day it is attitude and discipline that makes the difference.

Can technology be the much needed catalyst for change? Perhaps. Apparently electronic tolling akin to that found in cities like Singapore where toll is automatically deducted from a pre-paid card for vehicles that use the bridge is going to be put in place. This should reduce traffic snarls at the toll gate.

Another innovative invention came to mind the other day while I was walking home, that might teach Mumbaikars a thing or too. Traffic in Mumbai pay little heed to pedestrians crossing the road. This can be quite annoying as even though the light is green for you to cross, you find cars tearing down on you at break neck speeds. Solution? Some form of punishment seems to be the only way, yet the Mumbai police force is too overstretched (or too lazy?) to implement a fine for everyone who jumps a light at EVERY traffic signal there is in the city. So the ingenious idea yours truly had was to lay spike strips on every intersection which lowered whenever the lights turned green. Try to jump the light and yes you are likely to shred your tires.

This will need to be supplemented by a system of barriers which actually prevent a speeding vehicle from crossing into the intersection with shredded tires which would cause more harm. Still if such a system was in place then maybe people would respect the rules of the road more. It would also take care of those pesky cyclists who think the traffic light isn’t for them and who flaunt every traffic rule ever written and go scot-free every time. Truth of the matter with the amount of corruption in the city this is never likely to happen and there are always going to be ‘light jumpers’. Still we can dream.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Trapped within patterns and paradigms

We all become accustomed to patterns in our life. Whether these patterns manifest themselves in daily routines, procedures we follow at work or ways we interact with each other, patterns exist nonetheless. The same holds true with the way we search for information. Two things happened recently which were an eye opener to this.

I walked into the British Council Library, a library that I frequent often and headed to a shelf where advertising related books usually reside. To my trepidation I discovered that the books had be re-arranged. As I went through the rest of the library I discovered that the reshuffling was like a plague that was slowly seeping through the entire library shuffling things here and there. This paradigm shift lead to me having to re-discover the library all over again, a not too bad thing.

Later I witnessed something similar online. A social networking site that I frequent – italki decided to expand its wings and add more features. What this meant however was (as in the case of the library) some information needed to be reshuffled and the global navigation re-thought. The site seems to have stepped in the right direction with an L-shaped navigation, resulting in a layout that was very Facebookish. Unfortunately the new layout, like a re-arranged library can be confusing. The mind naturally leads you to a particular shelf or an area in the navigation and when you land there and do not get what you want it can be disconcerting to say the least. The most popularly used navigation items shouldn’t be shifted to a new location.

Consistency in re-design has never before been so critical. We take if for granted in most of the revisions of sites that we visit that when it works we think nothing of it. The Amazon’s and MSN’s of our world have evolved into streamlined offerings that we think hey its not big deals. Yet it is times like this when re-designs are a little inconsistent that you sit back and wonder why is it that things not where they are supposed to be… logically.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Google’s announcement of a free operating system sent the web world in a flutter. Google seemed to have thrown down the gauntlet to tech titan Microsoft. If you think about it, an operating system is the logical next step for a company that already touts a wide range of office like applications (Googe notes), an immensely popular mail and chat service, analytics and much more. What makes it unique is that Google focuses on browser based application development. One of my previous articles or pondering covered how everything about everyday computing is moving online. From word processors to graphic software everything is available for free within the confines of your browser, and Google’s Chrome OS is set to be an extension of this.

The new OS targets net-books, the cheaper stripped down of the laptop that has becoming immensely popular over the last year. Yet based on a Linux platform, it is unlikely that the new OS from Google will sway the masses who are unlikely to step out of their ‘windows’ to new vistas that Google’s Chrome OS. What will make the new OS tempting is that is likely to be a free distribution. Perhaps the OS will be advertising powered to offset the developmental costs? That’s a thought that tickles.

The search engine giant’s move makes you wonder, is Google turning into the Microsoft of yesteryear and will be hearing any anti-trust war cries being hollered at Google any time soon. Wouldn’t it be interesting if in the not so distant future you plug in your Google USB and access your entire computing needs by a synergy of your online account and USB.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A View That Was Killed

I was surprised a few months back when I saw ViewMaster reels being sold at a bookstore. It took me back briefly to the good old days where as a kid the ViewMaster produced such captivating images that tantalised the mind’s eye. Recently while perusing through an economist magazine I came across an article that talked about how Fisher Price was planning to do away with its ViewMaster range of reels for its viewers. Once upon a time ViewMasters were the rage.

Long before we had computer games we had ViewMasters. These red goggles with their little lever transported you to another dimension all together. Hold it to the light and you could appreciate the simplistic 3D images that these devices provided.

Over the 70 years of its existence, the ViewMaster has told many a tale. From fairytales to giving you views of the Grand Canyon, to modern day reels featuring the likes of Shrek. The question that popped into my mind was as the ViewMaster fades into obscurity, what is going to be its replacement?

At the first thought, you might say that the IT age has a lot to offer. Well I thought so too, but then realised that at the price of the ViewMaster you would be hard pressed to find a replacement.I once posted an article talking about how gaming promised to be the next generation of story telling. But what I wonder now is what about traditional story telling? Where no interaction is necessary.

This is the age of Play Station Portables, but how many kids will ever use a PSP to learn about a new place or read a fairy tale? Perhaps the guys who make PSP games should think about targeting that market. But in the heart of hearts, it just wouldn’t be the same. A play station toting kid today considers the joys of the ViewMaster ancient and outdated.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The web that may be

It is interesting to think about what the web is going to be in the years ahead. From its early days of static HTML pages to today’s dynamic driven pages and rich Flash content, the web has certainly come a long way.

Two new developments have made me wonder what we can expect to see in the future. The next version of windows is just at our doorstep with its promised support of a multi-touch interface. I also notice that we now have touch monitors starting to enter the market, though still not very easy to get your hands on. This makes me wonder if the web of years ahead is going to evolve to meet the touch generation.

It is natural to expect us to have website which are more touch friendly. Larger buttons to minimize the possibility of a wrong click. What’s more with the multiple touch feature that is going to be implemented, websites are likely to have more draggable and sliding options. What this does for website usability is a point to ponder. We can only wait and watch and muse about things to come.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lounging at the Sierra Hotel

Every once in a while you see a website that really re-thinks the internet format. I recently picked up a Practical Web Design magazine that listed 2008’s outstanding sites some of which I had chanced upon during the course of my work. The ones that make their mark are the ones that take the path less traveled online. Yesterday I chanced upon yet another site (due to an attractive banner on some page that I can’t quite remember) which I thought was a worth mention here.

A site that created by the US Air force, it adopts an interesting storytelling approach to talk about the achievements of Air Force personnel who have gone beyond the call of duty. The site makes use of attractive comic book like visuals and a audio narrative to get the message across. The site also pulls the user in by integrating a number of mini-games within the design. Another thing unique is the linearity of the site. Websites are usually non-linear to a certain extent, allowing visitors to hop to another section at the click of a button. This site on the other hand progresses through a story in a linear fashion once a person clicks on a particular section and carries it out with panache.

I am still going through the site, but what I’ve seen is impressive indeed! Which makes me believe that the site will successively manage to entice people in learning more about the American Air Force and maybe even decide to enlist, which is the goal of the site.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Blogged Out

Over the past few weeks, my colleagues and I have been unable to login to any Blogspot ad. This made us wonder, what was up with blogspot, was it down time? A quick search for a possible problem dredged up old articles of how, once upon a time in 2006, Blogspot had been blocked by Indian ISP providers. The problem was complicated by the fact that it has taken over 20 days (and calls every day to a call center) for my Tata Indicom internet connection to be shifted from the 8th floor to the 9th floor in the same building! Exemplary example of mumbai’s efficiency. We finally realised that a certain ISP was probably blocking the sites.

Which is why, today I am posting my first post after such a long time. It is interesting to see that my last post has earned a comment from some one at italki.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Social Networking the Language that Makes the World a Smaller Place.

A friend of mine recently raised an interesting question on Facebook – ‘How many of my friends on my friend list are actually my friends?’ An interesting question indeed, it prompted me to write yet another social networking article.

Many people on many social networking sites have overly inflated friend lists. How many of those so-called friends do we actually scrap, write on their wall, or drop messages on a regular basis. Perhaps the number of friends has merely become an online status symbol? I have seen a number of people having multiple profiles interlinked because they add anybody and everybody and have ultimately reached the limit of their friend list! I for one, diligently prune my friend lists every now and then, keeping only those who message me (and those who I would like to message me!) on the list.

True the key focus of Social Networking, is to make new social ties while reviving old ones and building on current ones. Speaking of which, I recently made a new acquaintance, a person who speaks Portuguese. Which is interesting as I don’t know a word of this language, I converse with this person by switching between Google’s translate website and my social networking site. Literal translations are awkward, to say the least.

Which made me wonder, aren’t there any social networking sites built for this. Where people who speak two different languages can converse with each other using built in translation within the site? An idea for yet another social networking site perhaps? Maybe, but a quick search online reveals a number of language communities peppering the web. There are even sites like or which is a social networking site of sorts dedicated to bringing together people who wish to learn a new language.