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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Indecision at Karnataka tourism booking office

I was at the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation booking office at Corporation Circle, Bangalore, yesterday morning checking out some tourism packages. Since my wife and I are free on Tuesday and Wednesday and our son's exams are over, we thought we'd go somewhere. One of the packages that looked attractive was was Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola. It's a one-day trip, starting from Bangalore at 7 am and reaching back at 10 pm. One of our friends recommended it's a good one, and told us to book in advance since there could be a rush.
 
The person at the counter, though not very savvy and smart, was helpful. After laboriously looking up in the computer he said, "Sir, no one has so far booked for Tuesday. You can book. But we need at least 15 people for the trip. So, your booking will be subject to confirmation. If you book now, and there aren't 15 people, the ticket will be cancelled and the money refunded. Or else, you can call up on Monday and see if the tour is on and then book."
 
That was a disappointment, more because it left me thoroughly confused. Even though I came prepared to book the seats, I didn't know if should reserve for a trip that didn't seem to materialise. Who would book for a trip which in all likelihood would be cancelled. In this manner, if everyone goes away thinking the trip won't materialise, how would the KSTDC manage to make up the minimum number of 15 tourists that's required for the trip?
 
A typical case of how something shouldn't be done. Such a response will not help a tourist in anyway to plan his itinerary. If a minimum number of tourists is required for the trip, and KSTDC isn't sure of having it daily, then it shouldn't announce plans for a daily trip in the first place. No tourist will be comfortable with so much of doubt hanging over a plan. They would come forward to book only if they know the tour will happen for sure. If KSTDC isn't sure of getting tourists, restrict the number days of the tour to once or twice a week and publicise accordingly.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Blogs better than social networking sites

I am back on the blogosphere. I haven't blogged for two full weeks -- quite a long stretch for me. However, I found that people were visiting my blog and some were leaving comments. So, to that extent my blog was alive!

Over the recent past, I have been noticing unusually more number of invites for joining social networking sites. Looks like these sites are proliferating at quite a fast rate. Most of these invites are auto-sent, because the person who has signed up has blindly clicked on a link which sends these invites automatically to everyone on their contact list.

Earlier -- even though I knew that these invites were not personal, intended ones -- I used to sign up. Then I realised that I was getting invites faster than I could keep pace with the existing ones. Now I just ignore these invites unless there's something very striking about them. For now, I am sticking to LinkedIn, Orkut and Facebook, though, I am on many other networks as well.

I have seen that many people use these social networking sites to chat when the other person is online. That could anyway be done with existing devices like Gmail, Yahoo or MSN. People also use it to upload photos and videos. But that function works better on devices like Youtube. So, at the end of it all, I find that that more than as an instant communication medium, these social networking sites serve better as a good database of people one has interacted with -- from friends to total strangers -- by virtue of the detailed profiles that are available.

I feel blogs are much better networking devices than these sites. On networking sites, there is nothing more than a number of "hello-s" and "hi-s" being exchanged, or at the best, "O, it is such a long time, where have been hiding" types. There is no substantial exchange on anything of each one's interests.

I believe, one gets to know of another person's interests much better through blogs than through networking sites. Blogs reveal an individual's personality better than social networking sites. Networking sites generally lack depth or any meaningful content. Therefore, acquaintance or friendship or even a more stronger relationship which has grown out of interaction through blogs will be more steadfast and strong than those that have grown out of networking sites. Personally, I have got to know more number of people through blogs than through social networking sites. I don't find that surprising. I guess teenagers and youth are on these virtual social clubs more for fun than anything else.

I chanced upon an interesting post by Pramit Singh on 9 solid reasons why E-mail still beats social networking.

Well, just to add to what Pramit has written, social networking sites are beaten not just by emails, but by weblogs as well.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Celebrate womanhood; enjoy!

It's really heartening that there aren't any massive protests against the Women's Day celebrations, like we had (have) for Valentine's Day. After all, celebration of womanhood is no less or no more Western than the celebration of love. Just shows how meaningless these organised protests are. Let me stop here, lest I be blamed for giving people ideas! Let me join the fun... Women of the world... go ahead... have a blast... (as you always do...)

But, wait a minute... how many of you are lucky to have a blast every minute, every day? Just as International Women's Day is a celebration, it's also a time to pause and reach out to those who are on the sidelines, for whom womanhood is a burden, a shackle they try hard to break free from. I guess, most of the women -- irrespective of the strata or section of society they belong to -- are on the sidelines.

When I was at the basement car park this morning, I hadn't realised today was Women's Day. But, may be the maid who was sweeping the floor there would have. Because, I saw her stop her work, keep looking at a well-heeled woman get into her swank car and drive away. What must have gone through the maid's mind? Well, a woman driving the car is also symbolic of the control she has over her life. How much control does the maid have over her life?

Is that maid one of those many women on the sidelines destined just to watch the celebrations and not be part of it? Need not be. Because I have seen many poor people leading a much contended and happier life compared to the rich. Who knows, she may also be celebrating the day in her own way! All don't need drive out in swank cars to celebrate, do they?

Women's day issues exist at different levels. Some women whine and crib being a woman. Some others take pride in their womanhood in spite of the harsh realities of daily life. I would go along with the latter category. There's no point blaming men and finding fault with everyone around for one's plight. See what can be done, and move ahead, rather than whine.

There are some -- really unfortunate -- women who can't do the work traditionally men do, even if they want to. There are other women -- luckier ones -- who are already in the "men's world" but still don't think they are getting a fair deal. But complicating matters are some other women (mostly traditional mothers), who think women should not do the work men usually do.

Here I am reminded of a well-educated mother of two grown-up daughters. While we were discussing the hazards of night-shift work for women, her refrain was: "Why should these girls go and work in the dead of night, as if there are no jobs available in the day time...?" With the support of her two daughters I tried taking the debate along a bit, trying to change the mother's traditional idea of womanhood.... But I instead changed topic, before I got embroiled in family fight between the daughters and their mother.... The girls are still studying, and I have no doubt what their reaction would be if they got a well-paying night-shift job!

Don't try finding answers to questions like: who is a woman? what's her job? where should she work? is she equal, superior or inferior to men? how career woman is different from a homemaker?

Life is a precious gift of God; whatever the gender, whatever the job. Every woman -- like a man -- is endowed with unique abilities; identify them, make use of them. Whoever you are, be good to people around you. Everything else is secondary.

Whoever you are,
Whatever you are,
Wherever you are,
Celebrate life,
It's too precious to be wasted away.

Monday, March 3, 2008

iReport: CNN's path-breaking new citizen media site

Mainstream media marries alternative media! A media revolution of sorts! But, before I explain this path-breaking development of CNN's iReport.com let me take you through some background.

Today, media is no longer about one-way flow of information; it has increasingly become two-way, and the catalyst is technology. As individuals launched their own webjournals as blogs, the conventional media had to change. Now most media organisations have their own interactive platforms.

BBC's TV has Have Your Say and BBC Radio has World Have Your Say. The Guardian has Comment is Free. In India The Times of India has turned the good-old Letters to Editor column into its new avataar of My Times My Voice. CNN-IBN TV channel has given space on their airtime to reports filed by citizens and has Citizen Journalist on its website. NDTV has My News wherein viewers are allowed to pick stories they consider most important for telecast, and on its website it has NDTV Interactive. Basically, in each of these ventures, readers are given space (albeit quite small) in the conventional media. Today, all this has provided plenty of opportunity for the citizen to express himself or herself in the traditional media. By any stretch of imagination, this is quite a revolution.

But now, CNN has taken this to a new level, by launching iReport.com: for uncensored, unedited, user-powered news. This is by far the best ever recognition of the alternative citizen media by mainstream media.

In all the above examples, the mainstream media decides the topic on which the citizens can air their views. There is a certain amount of control the media exercises. But now that barrier has been breached with iReport.com.

CNN's iReport until recently was restricted to video clippings sent by viewers. It was vetted and only if found appropriate would be telecast. But now in iReport no editing, no filtering.

About iReport:
  • The content on iReport is not pre-vetted or pre-read by CNN. This is your platform. In some journalistic circles, this is considered disruptive, even controversial! But we know the news universe is changing. We know that even here, at CNN, we can't be everywhere, all the time following all the stories you care about. So, we give you iReport.com. You will program it, you will police it; you will decide what’s important, what's interesting, what’s news. More

This is, I guess, the first instance of a reputed news organisation opening up its space to put up unverified content. The only saving grace is the disclaimer: "The views and contents on this site are solely those of the iReport.com contributors. CNN makes no guarantees about the content or the coverage on iReport.com." But the very act of giving space to such content itself is revolutionary. This is by far the closest mainstream media has come to courting alternative citizen media.

What next?