Friday, March 25, 2011

Why is everyone so worked up on NYT's paywall? Because NYT is the fuel of all aggregators and most bloggers

The New York Times' decision to put up a $15-35/month paywall is generating buzz and consternation among bloggers and aggregators. That is understandable. The New York Times is perhaps the most important link source for much of online conversation. A sampling of NYT's standing on various leaderboards (most linked sources):

1. NYT is No.2 on the list of sites cited most for original reporting. [See image above]
2. NYT is No. 9 on the Techmeme Leaderboard  (Technology stories aggregator)
3. NYT is No1 on the Memeorandum Leaderboard (Politics stories aggregator)
4. NYT is No.1 on the Mediagazer Leaderboard (Media stories aggregator)
5. NYT is No.2 on Hacker News Leaderboard (Social news site for technology entrepreneurs)

When was the last time Huffington Post was cited for original reporting?.

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No one needs an ipad, but why are people buying them? Introducing the Cave man theory of gadgets

In 1 year, Apple has sold more than 15 million iPads. The iPad cannot replace your PC, nor can it be carried in your pocket. But, why are people buying it? Wired magazine explains this, and I call it the Cave man theory of gadgets:

...the tablet’s main appeal lies in the approachable touchscreen interface that just about anybody at any age can pick up and figure out.

'Figure out'. This is the key. iPads are the Hermes scarves of gadgets. They have no fixed use. But they do look fancy. The fancy/rich people like them a lot. So, they must be useful. Let's try to browse the web. Let's look at some videos. Let's check out that cool new website. Wait! The Apple guys won't let you see that 'unauthorized' website.

The cave man has bumped into the outer walls of Apple's walled garden.


What all Gurus Do Not Want You To Know

Evgeny Morozov, author of "The Net Delusion", who often writes about the political effects of the internet, does a review of a new book by 'technology guru' Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine, titled "What Technology Wants". He explains brilliantly why the gurus write books with cute, fancy names.

Morozov quotes from Kelly's explanation for why he wrote the book:
These “wants” of technology provide a long-horizon framework for business—your business. I’ll be doing as many talks at companies and organizations about “what technology wants” as I can in the coming months.
Morozov compares the current generation of gurus with that of other time:
Kelly is not the first technology guru to make a living by selling advice to corporations.
 ...But it is hard to imagine the previous generation of serious thinkers about technology—the likes of Jacques Ellul and Lewis Mumford and John Dewey—moonlighting as corporate advisers to Danone and Halliburton
 ...In contrast, most of today’s technology gurus-from Kevin Kelly to Clay Shirky to Douglas Rushkoff—take special pride in publicizing how deeply embedded they are in the very industry that they are supposed to scrutinize. 
Morozov says: 'Perhaps this is what technology wants'
In other words, Technology wants companies that can exploit them. Technology needs people that get exploited so that consumers can get access to that technology. 

Morozov writes,
Kelly’s project, by contrast, seeks to deepen the moral void -— and to establish its normative character by claiming that it is propelled by the same forces as evolution. But can evolution really explain the plight of child laborers mining for cobalt—a key ingredient in batteries for mobile phones—in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Zambia? (According to a 2007 study by SwedWatch, a Swedish watchdog, there were some fifty thousand workers under the age of eighteen involved in this practice.) Is exploiting minors for cobalt mining something that technology wants, or is it something that certain businesses, here disguised under the innocent label of the “technium,” require? To claim that such processes follow the normal direction of evolution is to let the mining corporations off the hook far too easily.

In summary, technology needs people who can play with simple words, making simple things seem high concept, and convincing normally savvy business people to pay them millions.  Technology needs these gurus to take the eternal story of 'human exploiting humans' forward. Technology needs gurus who are not really Gurus.

Also read:
The price of our gadget culture: Foxconn Suicide Nets

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Does India Really Need More Colleges and Universities?

While the rest of the world is considering the death/irrelevancy of colleges/universities, questioning their monopolies as Givers of Degrees, and while the rest of the world is benefiting from brilliant educational innovations such as the Khan Academy, MIT Open Courseware, content in schools, among other great initiatives, India is stuck in web of greedy for-profit educational institutions and pliable governments, who are only too eager to please corporate education efforts (read this Business Standard story about government largesse towards corporate universities).

There is some innovation happening in the field of education in India: For example, IITs and IISc courses being converted into freely available videos. NGOs such as Pratham are doing some good work. But India is a country of 400+ million students, and Government plans such as Right to Education (RTE) and Sarvasiksha Abhiyan are simply not effective.

All the government wants to do in the name of promoting education in India is to privatize higher education, authorizing moneyed players to loot students, by claiming that they have teachers from abroad.

Yes, the same teachers that the West is discarding for being ineffective and irrelevant. India has always been a haven for discarded and outdated professionals.

At least, Kapil Sibal should put in an independent Education Regulatory Authority of India, which sees to it that our students aren't being defrauded in name of good education.

As far as Colleges and universities are concerned, why must we blindly copy concepts from the West? Things that they themselves are questioning?

Education cannot be a business: Think Campusless teaching. Think Apprenticeships. Think Continuous Learning. 

Also read:
How to improve education in India: A proposal 

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What do you mean by 'Tech-savvy Indians? (or, why most Indians don't need Apple)

What defines a technology-savvy Indian? It is the Indian that understands the value of hard-earned money. It is the Indian that gets a multi-functional mobile phone for Rs. 5000, a fully-functional personal computer at home for Rs.12000 and a Netbook for Rs. 15000.

All that costs just Rs. 32,000, the same as that of an iPad in India.

So, when the Economic Times writes that 'Tech-savvy Indians cry out for Apple's attention', does it point to the status-symbol-craving Indians, whose aspirations are being fed by the marketese masquerading as news in the newspaper supplements and  silly gadget shows on NDTV?

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are We all Just 9-5 Facebook-Enabled Wage Animals?

In the eyes of the business elites, humans are valuable because they are wage slaves, whose progress is only measured in terms of productivity - articles per day, calls per hour, time to answer questions..., and nothing else.

Hal Varian, who is some sort of a glorified philosopher at Google, says:
"If you look at the history of the world, up until 1700 nothing much happened."

Why? Because productivity statistics were not available then.

The Da Vincis, Thoreaus, and Shakespeares of the world do not matter in this Six-sigma-worshiping world.

Living to work, to pay the bills, is the only thing that matters.

We are all just Facebook-enabled animals.

This is what the business elites would like us to believe, rising inequality be damned.

All we got to do is be useful for the businessman around the corner.

In the 19th century, horses held the same position.


Monday, March 21, 2011

10 things we can we do when the government shuts down the internet

First, the government moved ahead and made rules to shut our voice. Then, it went ahead and  made rules to shut down our access to independent voices and information.

The Economic Times reports that our enlightened government (read a few top bureaucrats and assorted politicians) has made some changes to the already troublesome IT Act 2008, giving some government servants the power over all ISPs, blocking the internet for all practical purposes.

They have invoked the old 'National Security in Danger' scenario:
The shutdown can happen in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, its defense, security of its states, friendly relations with foreign states or for public order. Failure to comply will result in imprisonment of up to seven years.  
Actually, most of these bureaucrats and politicians, who make such citizen-hating laws, are more dangerous to Indians, and to the idea of a India, than the fear-mongering reasons they cite for creating laws and bye-laws.

I would like to think that it is only pure coincidence that our current minster for Information and broadcasting, Ambika Soni, worked alongside Sanjay Gandhi, who made his name during emergency days in the 70s, when Indira Gandhi muzzled the press ( and did much more) in name of National security.

Consider our 'democratic' setup, if you will. Most of our lawmakers in the parliaments win by narrow margins. Only half the population votes (the average voting percentage is always around 50%). These elected representatives go on to 'rule' our country. And, you cannot recall them over any issue. Rules such as these (shutting the internet) call for immediate recall of our MPs. But we can't do that. I hear Switzerland has 1-year terms for its elected representatives.

It is even worse in case of our bureaucrats. Politicians can be recalled, or at least voted out of power. It is extremely hard to remove or punish a bureaucrat. They have created many rules just to save themselves from situations like these.

The proposed 'kill switch': Is it feasible?
The oft-quoted cyber law expert Pavan Duggal (Isn't it strange that we have so few cyber law experts?) says in the Economic Times story:

Although it may be technically possible to block the net in India, theoretically it may be very difficult given the dynamic nature of the constitution and the judiciary.
10 options do we have in case someone actually 'kills' the internet
1. Go to the courts (fight for your fundamental rights)
2. Use Right to Information (RTI)
3. Get some people and file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL)
4. Buy Ham Radio sets and learn to use them
5. Make international calls to foreign ISPs
6. Use expensive/unauthorized satellite internet
7. Establish rogue radio stations (Radio Raghav, Community FM)
8. Start something like Citizen Band (CB) radios in the United States (In India, it will be illegal to use these)
9. Make Voice Calls which get onto Twitter (Re: the Egypt Uprisings, where Google launched Voice Call-to-Twitter service)
10. Copy all kinds of available information and distribute freely: Keep Manual Printing Press handy. Download the full Wikipedia and re-purpose it in various formats
11. Prepare: Throughout human history, a group of people has tried to rule by force on others, by all means necessary, including obscure laws created by pseudo-democratic set ups. Start by making friends with people who believe in liberty for all.

Also read
If your government shuts down blogging, shut down your government

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What is the real truth behind IIPM? What to do about it?

What is the real truth behind Indian Institute of Planning & management? It is important that students and parents, who are spending expensive amounts for a degree (and education), learn about IIPM's suspect quality.

Recently, examined each of IIPM's claims (superior course, global exposure, international faculty and dollar salaries), and found no evidence to support the claims. No institution or company Careers360 talked to, could verify IIPM's claims.

In fact, the IIPM controversy has its own Wikipedia entry. In 2005, blogger Gaurav Sabnis pointed out to an investigation by JAM college magazine. The ensuing bullying tactics cost Gaurav his job at IBM. IIPM forced a professor, professor Amit Kapoor to remove the 'offending' blog post (just Google it).

In this age of pervasive transparency (Wikileaks, Radia Tapes etc.) why is an anomaly like IIPM thriving in style? It puts up multi-page advertisements in the big papers and none of these respectable names are willing to investigate the tall claims made by IIPM.They want their advertising income.

The Media-(for profit)Educational nexus is something that is yet to be exposed in this country, where everybody is out to milk the demographic dividend for all that it's worth, proper education be damned. [See the above Graphic about the IIPM-Media Nexus - Via Careers360 website]

What other options do parents and students have? Going to consumer courts is an option. Complaining to the the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is also a good idea.

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