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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cluttered Facebook Wall


Little do we realise that many of us are on social networking sites because of their “share” feature. We get to see --  and presumably benefit from -- what other people have shared --  like their thoughts, photos, videos, and links to interesting articles.

Mark Zuckerburg was very sure -- quite justifiably, in hindsight -- about our inclination to know about others, and to let others know about us. Just as Google is to Search, Facebook is to Share -- the premise many other networking sites have tweaked, customised and built upon, There are niche sharing sites such as for videos, photographs, travel info, websites, songs, books, worksheets, documents, you name it.

Each time FB fine tuned the share functionality, it courted controversy over cluttering of the wall and privacy issues So too with the latest offering of what is called “Frictionless Sharing”. It means, whenever you click the link of a FB partner app, it will show up on your wall. It could be an article that you read on Washington Post or a song you listened on Spotify. Users, of course, opt in or out of it, but the moot point is how many are aware of it.

Leave aside frictionless sharing. Take wall postings. There was this recent instance, when I saw on my wall, postings of K on S’s wall, when neither K nor S is my friend! More than my wall getting cluttered, why should I know what K is telling S? Since they are my office colleagues, I went up to them to check their privacy settings.

It turned out that S had set “Who can see Wall posts by others on your profile?” to “Friends of Friends”, while her own wall postings were visible only to her Friends. I was getting K’s postings (but not S’s) since S and I had mutual friends. Confusing? It is. No wonder, sharing norms are treading on privacy concerns.

Tagging pictures is another aspect where photographs become visible for people whom the original person never intended to. Notification of comments is also commonly perceived as an irritant.

This applies to not just FB but to all such networks. We tend to pick on FB since it uses the share functionality the most. Sharing in itself is nothing wrong, because that’s the way information is passed around. What should be in place are good filters, especially when it becomes more easy to share more stuff among more people.

To begin with, users must head to Privacy Settings (click on the little downward arrow beside “Home” on top right of the FB page) and spend some time learning how not only your privacy can be safe-guarded but also how other users’ privacy can be respected.

(This article was published in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Audio magazines on internet


Podcasts -- does that ring a bell? Not so long ago, around 2005, these online magazines in audio formats were a rage; so much that New Oxford American Dictionary selected it as the word of the year. Many websites had podcast links on them, people bookmarked podcast directories and downloaded applications like Apple’s iTunes.

Are podcasts still around? Yes, they are very much around; only that they are not in the limelight: having ceded the centre stage to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Far from having disappeared, reports say that the number of people downloading these online audio/video magazines is on the increase.

Podcasts are nothing but audio blogs which are periodically updated. It could also be the audio versions of the contents that are uploaded at regular intervals on websites like the BBC. The new issues get downloaded on to the PC or mobile phones or tablets. Many people think podcasts are associated with Apple. Not so. The suffix ‘pod’ caught on, since this technology followed the success of iPod.

When podcasts first burst into cyberspace, many pundits saw an imminent boom of amateur radio stations on the internet. Many believed that just as some blogs had grown to rival traditional print medium, podcasts could give a stiff competition to established radio stations. Though many amateur bloggers began podcasting, it’s the podcasts of established radio and TV stations that were much sought after. A big challenge for amateur podcasters is the quality, and that’s where established organisations like BBC or ABC score.

How does one listen to a podcast? Typically, websites that have podcast version of their content would have a link indicating it. Click on it to download the clip. We can also subscribe to the programme feed on Twitter, Facebook or Google Reader by clicking on the link. Once we do that, we get a notification every time new podcast content has been uploaded.

There are also directories where one can access a collection of podcasts on a variety of subjects like news, sports, technology, business, comedy, travel, science, parenting, etc. The best known directory though is iTunes of Apple. It can be downloaded from “apple.com/itunes/download/”. The iTunes has a section on podcasts, besides it also has radio, TV shows, music and movies. Take for example BBC Global News podcast. Once it is subscribed, each news bulletin will get downloaded to the PC when it becomes available.

During its initial days, podcasts struggled to establish themselves, because downloading audio and video clips were expensive. That’s not the case now, with the availability of affordable plans that allow unlimited downloads. So, be it the podcasts of Scientific American, or TED Talks, or BBC or comedy shows like Kab Banega Crorepati (a spoof of the popular game show), there’s plenty to choose from.

Magazines that talk on internet

Podcasts -- does that ring a bell? Not so long ago, around 2005, these online magazines in audio format were a rage; so much that New Oxford American Dictionary selected it as the word of the year. Many websites had podcast links on them, people bookmarked podcast directories and downloaded applications like Apple’s iTunes.

Are podcasts still around? Yes, they are very much around; only that they are not in the limelight: having ceded the centre stage to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Far from having disappeared, reports say that the number of people downloading these online audio/video magazines is on the increase.

Podcasts are nothing but audio blogs that are periodically updated. It could also be the audio versions of the contents that are uploaded at regular intervals on websites, like the BBC. The new issues get downloaded on to the PC or mobile phones or tablets. Many people think podcasts are associated with Apple. Not so. The prefix ‘pod’ caught on, since this technology followed the success of iPod.

When podcasts first burst into cyberspace, many pundits saw an imminent boom of amateur radio stations on the internet. Many believed that just as some blogs had grown to rival traditional print medium, podcasts could give a stiff competition to established radio stations. Though many amateur bloggers began podcasting, it’s those of established radio and TV stations that were much sought after. A big challenge for amateur podcasters is the quality, and that’s where established organisations like BBC or ABC score.

How does one listen to a podcast? Typically, websites that have podcast version of their content would have a link indicating it. Click on it to download the clip. We can also subscribe to the programme feed on Twitter, Facebook or Google Reader by clicking on the link. Once we do that, we get a notification every time new podcast content has been uploaded.

There are also directories where one can access a collection of podcasts on a variety of subjects like news, sports, technology, business, comedy, travel, science, parenting, etc. The best known directory though is iTunes of Apple. It can be downloaded from “apple.com/itunes/download/”. The iTunes has a section on podcasts, besides it also has radio, TV shows, music and movies. Take for example BBC Global News podcast. Once it is subscribed, each news bulletin will get downloaded to the PC when it becomes available.

During its initial days, podcasts struggled to establish themselves, because downloading audio and video clips were expensive. That’s not the case now, with the availability of affordable plans that allow unlimited downloads. So, be it the podcasts of Scientific American, or TED Talks, or BBC, Free Health Tips, there’s plenty to choose from.

(This article appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Android, for whom


We never walked into a mobile retail showroom and asked for a Symbian or a Bada or a Windows phone. Did we? We asked for a Nokia or Samsung or HTC phone. But of late, many people are going in for an Android phone. But, why is everyone now seeking this particular operating system (without realising it is one) when they wouldn’t care to know if the phone is on Symbian or Bada or Mango?

Over the past one month, five people have asked me, “What’s an Android phone? Now that I have to buy a new one, you think it will be a good idea to try out an Android?” The surge in numbers of phones having the Google’s operating system isn’t surprising going by the near-cult following it’s amassing by the day, much like iPhone in the US. But do we all actually need an Android phone?

The rule of thumb when going in for any gadget is: what do I need it for? The question should be increasingly asked, more so now, when the market is swarmed by a huge variety of models with confusing permutations and combinations of specifications.

Let’s first get this clear: if you are using the phone merely to text and call, and if you hate GPRS, you don’t need an Android (which is a smart phone as different from the simpler feature phone). Instead of worrying about Android or any other OS, you could look at keypad or voice clarity or price or design.

What make Android phones attractive are the applications. If you are an app freak, go for Android. And there are tens of thousands of them in the Android Market -- anything from breaking news and cricket scores to astrological forecasts and currency converters. There are also those that help you see stars and planets. And, if you are shy of popping that all-important question to your partner, well, there’s an app for that too.

Don’t others phones like Nokia, iPhone and BlackBerry have apps? Yes, they do. But not the variety and numbers that Android offers. Why? Mainly because Android is an Open Source platform, meaning app developers in any part of the world can write the codes to develop the apps, and put them on the Android Market. Nokia has lately woken up to the app power, and is proactively forming a vibrant developer community.
If you are a fan of Google products, like Gmail, Picasa, Blogger, Calendar, Reader etc, then too it makes sense to go for Android. The phone contacts, for example, get synced with Gmail contacts; and serve as a good back-up.

Even if you are only texting and calling, an Android smart phone can significantly enhance user experience. There’s, for example, Gesture Search that lets you quickly find a contact, a bookmark, an application or a music track on your device by drawing on the screen. The, there’s the translator app that can work as an interpreter if you are a new place where you don’t understand the local language.

So, do I need an Android phone? Well, it’s the same old question: What do I need the phone for?

(This article was published in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Uncertainties of getting official work done in Kerala

If you have to get any official work done in Kerala, or attend a public function, or write an exam; just be warned about the unforeseen disruption.

A few years ago, one of my friends in Tiruchy had to write a competitive exam in Kochi. He missed the exam since there was a bandh on the previous day and he couldn't reach Kochi in time. I won't be surprised if someone told me a story of a wedding getting postponed because of hartal.

Not a very nice thing to say about my home state, but the fact is that it's simply difficult to get work done: the biggest threat being the strike. Any of the two dozen parties or unions can call for a hartal anytime on any issue.

So, when I had to go to Ernakulam (from Bangalore) to get some documentation work relating to property done at the village office and the subregistrar's office, taking a cue from others' experiences, I took a few days' extra leave.

And my fear turned real.

On Sunday night, a Kerala minister T M Jacob, a very senior, respected and popular politician, passed away. As a mark of respect to the departed leader, the state government declared a holiday across the state on Tuesday, the day of his funeral; and an extra day's holiday on Monday only for offices in Ernakulam district. With the result I could not get anything done on Monday and Tuesday.

To a certain extent, bandhs and hartals can be foreseen, though not always. Deaths can never be foreseen.  For me, this was a totally unforeseen tragic event. Since I had taken a few days' extra leave, 90% of what I had to do, I could complete, and I am leaving back for Bangalore today. If it was a bandh I could blame the political parties. Here, in my case, I couldn't blame anyone for the untimely tragic event.

But the fact is even when there is no bandh or such disruptions, the amount of time that is lost in getting official work done at government offices is huge. Too much of documentation and paper work is one major factor. A good networking of all government offices will help. Details of property and such other particulars should be easily available at the click of a button.

Hopefully, the universal identity number that we all would get one day, will ease matters.