Friday, December 10, 2010

India Needs a Sharp News Curating outfit: But, HuffPo is not the right model

Nikhil Pahwa, who runs one of the few successful niche blogs in India (Medianama), writes a post titled ' Someone Needed To Set Up An Indian HuffPo Seven Months Ago'. His context: the failings of mainstream media vis-a-vis the Barkha Dutt/Vir Sanghvi/Others mess. Nikhil writes:
The space is wide open for someone to become a destination – smart curation, commentary, debates, co-opting conversations taking place on the web, linking out to great content and conversations, and putting the RTI to good use.

The idea is a good one. It is not a new idea. Sites like Desipundit, Blogbharti and some others have tried to curate the Indian media in the past. Sadly, they haven't gotten far. Shivam Vij at Kafila does a good job at curating alternative voices but that is not 'scalable' from a business point of view.

The Ideal News curating Outfit isn't out there. Even HuffPost is the wrong model for other startups to follow. Mainly because few can match the media savviness of Ariana Huffington.

1. Ariana got celebrities, famous columnists to write for HuffPost. For free.
Can we do the same? Big names get the traffic. HuffPost had a big advantage with this trick when it started out. With her media contacts, Ariana also got the coverage.

2. Even now, HuffPost is accused of going over 'fair use' norms when it aggregates links, often pasting the bulk of the 'good stuff' in blockquotes.
Will the likes of TOI, HT, IBN7, NDTV etc., who are fiercely competitive players, allow this to happen on a regular basis?

3. HuffPost has tons of funding.
It is very hard to get funding for editorial startups in India. I have tried doing that for Bighow. Instablogs, the citizen-journalism startup where I served as a managing editor, got Rs. 18 crore recently, but not for reporting. It got the money from Times Internet for marketing/licensing its blogging platform.

I am not surprised that only serious online news players in India are the Portals: Rediff, Yahoo and Aol.

So, what is the way out?
The good old Indian jugaad. Pay 10-15 editors Rs. 10,000-15000/pm, who shall work part-time, 3-4 hours/daily, who will do all the stuff that Nikhil pointed out above, and some. It all comes to Rs. 2 million/year. And then add an economic component, like a curated daily deals section. And things like that. In 3 years, I am sure it will make a profit.

All this needs some fine-tuning, sure, but we have to find a way out. With a 3 year running cost of Rs. 10 million ($2.5 million approximately), I know this is not the typical high-ticket deal for the normal VC.

The ideal Indian news startup is waiting (& praying) for an 'idealist' investor.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Social Media Mania, Redux

Is the Internet bubble 2.0 about to burst? That I don't know. But, it is amazing that some 10 years back, I was at the India Internet World fair at Pragati Maidan in October 2000 and the bubble had burst. You looked at all those shiny booths of venture-funded startups, the shiny pens and markers they used to hand out, gone dry as soon as one left the arena, you thought the end would never come. But it did. I don't remember a single company from that time surviving now.

You start thinking at how long will an economy based on 140 character tweets, profile pages and populated by free-loading users, mostly young (a major part of Facebook users are below 30, something similar in 2000 when most users of new sites were young people), is going to last.

This post at Chronicle of higher education describes the current situation:

On Facebook-led mania:
Apparently, Facebook has now grown so big and powerful that nominally rational people are saying outlandishly silly things to reporters, on the record...
On over-reliance on Twitter:
Advanced degrees from top-notch programs, evidence of sustained hard work in pursuit of complex long-term goals—ignore all that! The important thing is whether your job candidates can be clever in less than 140 characters five to 10 times per day. That and their social life.

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China's Best Friends: List of countries who have refused to attend the Nobel peace prize ceremony

As of date, 44 countries will attend the Nobel peace prize ceremony to honor Liu Xiaobo. China's 'friends', there are quite some who will not attend. Most are China's long-term allies or trade partners. The Guardian lists these countries:
Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco.

...Algeria and Sri Lanka have not replied to their invitations.

Aren't these governments the best advertisements for humanity on this planet?


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Why Barkha Dutt or Vir Sanghvi aren't important

1. Because they don't do important things: One is actually a glorified reality-TV host (Re:'We the people' - more explanation in the note below) and the other writes breezy, cheery articles on good food and luxury living ('Counterpoint' is pure fluff in comparison), something most Indians, including this writer, just cannot afford.

2. Because none of them is a serious journalist: Endangering soldiers in name of war reporting or having 24-hour-access-card to the inner sanctum of crony-democracy-meets-capitalism does not cut it [aka Access Journalism] , as far as I am concerned. P. Sainath, they just are not.

3. Because they are not the voice of real India: Both work for elitist brands. NDTV English and Hindustan Times, both cater to the Urban Indian Elites.

4. Because no one likes the self-important.

'Hunt down the elites': And, if anyone in our young nation becomes too important in his/her deluded estimation, it is our national duty to hunt them down.

Note: Some have asked me how 'We the people' is a Reality Show. Truth is it is hard for me to accept TV shows of the kind as a news show. Multiplayer Talk show is a better name for them, don't you think? Moreover, most TV news anchors are not journalists. They just read off the teleprompter. Cruel, but is true.

Related: Which is the most trusted media outlet in India?

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Which is the most trusted media outlet in India?

I trust my news sources to go and bring all the information they can find for me on a topic. I do not trust my news sources to be balanced. I trust my news sources to be honest with me. I do not trust my news sources to be truthful, however they might claim. Trust in news media is an oxymoron. You do the truth-finding yourself. You do not outsource it to some self-appointed gate-keeper.

Having said, the image above is an early snapshot of an Ongoing poll on "India's most trusted media outlets". As expected Indian Express and Hindu have the most votes. NDTV is taking a beating.

Note: I am sorry for the tiny text size in the image. The list of items in the poll was large and it was tough to get a readable screenshot. Click on the image and zoom for the names.

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Why much of what investment bankers do is socially worthless

"Banking is important, banks are not". Translated for the field of education, this prescient dictum would say "Education is important. Schools are not." It doesn't surprise me that both banks and schools are ripe for revolution. This must-read New Yorker article correctly describes banking as a utility:

Most people on Wall Street, not surprisingly, believe that they earn their keep, but at least one influential financier vehemently disagrees: Paul Woolley, a seventy-one-year-old Englishman who has set up an institute at the London School of Economics called the Woolley Centre for the Study of Capital Market Dysfunctionality. "Why on earth should finance be the biggest and most highly paid industry when it's just a utility, like sewage or gas?" Woolley said to me when I met with him in London. "It is like a cancer that is growing to infinite size, until it takes over the entire body."

Via Kottke

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How to Make Money on the Internet: The Mind-map Edition

Doogie Horner does a nice mind-map edition of "how to make money on the internet". The thing I liked about this mind map is that Amit puts a small block of editorial paragraph at start of the map, thus putting this graphic ahead of most others graphics in the genre.

Errata: Earlier, by mistake, I had written that Amit Agarwal had done the above map. Error regretted.

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