Selective Amnesia There was a point to this. But I forgot.


@twitter I <3 u!!! ZOMGLOL and stuff.

This is why I love twitter so much. Where else will I get direct, non-partisan, objective testimony to my greatness and my superiority and by so many (genuine, real, actual, living) people?
On twitter, I am 1) an Actual friend and pal, 2) kvlt, 3) smart-important, 4) popular, 5) a creative thinker, 6) funny! 7) a lens looney
All this, in addition to proving my Tamil and PSBBian bona-fides.

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On privacy and search engines

I received an email a few weeks back from a newly launched search engine which, they say, does not collect information about you and, like totally, respects your privacy.

Meanwhile, around the world, people are getting their twanties (twitter-panties) in a twist about privacy and data collection.

But. How do you buy anything (search is that – buying information) without giving away some kind of information about you? Can you even trade – online or offline – without the seller knowing who you are? Even the smallest store you shop in will know something about you – even if it is just your preference for coffee and what brand of coffee you favour.

It makes sense, and is infinitely better for you as a customer, if the store keeper collected and used information about you. What kind of coffee you like, how many kilos of sugar you buy in a month, do you like your rice packed in plastic bags or paper. And so on. And so forth. In addition to this, if the store keeper knows you well, he will extend credit, undertake additional services for you (such as customizing your shopping bag, or door delivery, or a little extra coffee every 4 months.) and enhance your shopping experience.

On the other hand, if the shopkeeper doesn’t collect such data about you, or (in this instance) forgets all such data the minute you walk out of the shop, imagine what happens. The next time you go there, the shop keeper stares blankly at you, doesn’t recall what is so special about you, doesn’t stock the things you buy or cares not what the customers in his shop are buying, has too many confusing choices in just coffee, and so on.

When you pay for your purchases at a shop – any shop – you are indirectly telling the shop keeper/the world about your social status. If you pay by cash, or pay with your credit card, or pay using clam shells from Tunisia, the shop keeper can and will judge your status. And will store that little tid-bit of information for future use. A store/chain of stores that doesn’t collect information about its customers will not survive long enough. This is true of almost every business.

Why are search engines then expected to be different?
Correct me if I am wrong…is it because, gasp, search engines are online? You know, shops are real buildings – brick and mortar and smelly aisles. But a search engine is nowhere and everywhere. How do you ensure that the search engine is safe?
The same way you ensure the store is safe. By leaving the storekeeper to take any and all actions he sees fit to keep himself in business.

What about other services online? Should your email collect information about you? Should the sites you visit track you? Should the forums you inhabit, the chatrooms you infest, the groups you form, the blogs you flame and the videos you watch all collect potentially sensitive information about you and your computer?

You bet.

If they didn’t, you’d never be able to use them repeatedly. A few months ago, I downloaded and installed Firefox 3 Beta (build 2, I think). It was a fantastic browser, and still is. The problem with that particular build was it couldn’t save my sessions. So each time I fired up my browser, I had to go through hell to login to each and every site that I create content on – this blog, flickr, youtube, twitter, gmail, facebook, blogger, google groups and more – just to keep up with what my friends were doing.

In the offline world, that would be the equivalent of telling your local storekeeper your name, your father’s name, your family history and your street address everytime you walked into his store. And that is just to begin transacting.

So, all right, login information needs to be collected. What about “sensitive” information like your IP address, your browser, your OS’s build and your monitor’s resolution? What justifies a website/service is collecting that information?

What justifies your bank in asking for your monthly income to give you a loan? What justifies the government in asking for your caste to give you a birth certificate? What justifies your employer in asking for your previous experience and a reference to your character? What justifies your bank in asking for an address proof when you open a new account? What justifies the Passport office in demanding an address proof?

Because, information about you is essential to safeguard you. If the services mentioned about didn’t ask for those rather sensitive information, it would be very easy to impersonate someone, anyone, and let the victim pay for a crime he/she didn’t commit.

Once this information is collected, it becomes authentication. Only the person who matches the information given earlier will be allowed access to that particular service. And when there’s a mismatch, a conflict, it becomes easy for both parties to sort out the issue with the information already collected.

If you don’t mind giving ICICI Bank your passport number, you have no cause to complain when websites collect information about you. Of course, the analogy is over-simplified. I even grant you that the second comparison is flawed. But the basic argument remains true – if business don’t collect information about you – the customer – they will not and cannot stay in business for long.

If Spencer’s Daily didn’t collect information about what each customer purchases and monitors such information (for instance, why is Bru selling more in Saligramam and Sunrise selling more in Sowcarpet, why is instant coffee selling more in North India whereas tea bags do not sell enough in Chennai), they’d never be able get their inventory right and it would be far too easy for a competitor to take away their market share.

If my blog (via Sitemeter and Google Analytics) didn’t collect information about my reader, I’d have been writing drivel that would make even Shivam Vij curl his nose up in disgust. (See, I know a lot of my readers like it when I go after SV. Even if SV doesn’t lke it.) If Google didn’t collect information about your monitor’s size and resolution and your IP, search engines even today would be clunky, slow and overloaded with links to a 1000 useless directories.

If the websites didn’t collect information about you, you’d still be stuck with black text and white backgrounds and pathetic animated gifs and BLINK tags. If companies didn’t know their customers, they’d be selling acidic soap and lobbying governments to protect them from foreign competition. If websites don’t know you, and the things you do online, they’d never help you find the things you want to find.

And, oh, finally, Caveat Emptor.
It’s a pity the world has forgotten that beautiful phrase.

(Apologies for blindly using the masculine pronoun to refer to keepers of shops. It is both convenient, and in my experience, true. Almost every shop (not supermarket chains) I’ve shopped in were run by men. See, I the buyer, know something about the seller too. I’ve collected data!)

(Apologies too (and two) for tense slips, grammatical flaws and inconsistent sentence structures. Also apologies for invoking Shivam Vij in this post. It was done only to illustrate a point and not to slander/libel Shivam Vij. I concede that I’ve misrepresented him, and turned him into a caricature. In my defense, I’d like to state that caricatures are usually based on some truth.)

Update: Ravikiran made the same point, in a lot fewer words, and with a very simple, fitting analogy on the Satin mailing list. He made this point on 12th March. I didn’t read the post because a) 12th March was (and is) my birthday and I was doing other things then and b) the volume on Satin is staggering and to keep track of all discussions there is a task beyond my current capacity.
I just finished reading that particular thread on Satin. There are some points raised, which you can read if you are on Satin. If you aren’t, you should read this post from top.

Filed under: Web 9 Comments

Twitter next candidate for multi-billion dollar buy-out?

In my mind, there’s no question about it. Twitter’s perfect in every way for a big acquisition. The question is, when? And, who? And, er, even how much? This guy, Ev, has a track-record you see. He’ll have to do this, or he would never be able to start the next big thing on the net.

Bets invited.

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Google, Yahoo, Privacy and censorship

First, Google gets a rap on the knuckles for doing evil. According to Privacy International, Google’s the worst when it comes to keeping private data, that way.

Against Censorship On the other hand, Yahoo seems oblivious to the number of people it turns off, as it continues to squeeze flickr’s balls. In yet another case of Censorship, it’s filtering out “offensive content” in Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany, and North Korea.

As expected, flickr users starting crying murder. And with protest art. Some whined on their blogs (like I am doing now), while some get quoted on Salon/Machinist.

(Aside: This is probably the most link-filled post I’ve ever written)

So, anyway. The point is – how long do you give flickr before they censor all kinds of images except cute kitten ones?

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On Microsoft buying Yahoo!

Because I am supposed to have an opinion on the issue of MS buying Y!....

I’d say – go for it, Microsoft. Having seen how Microsoft handles this whole blogging thing the last couple of years, and having seen them handle the communities at MSDN and at other channels, I believe they will be a lot better at nurturing some of Y!’s communities. Especially flickr. Yahoo’s track-record in handling criticism and its content is less than perfect.

If the deal does happen, I will cheer. For, hopefully, it will ease the squeeze on flickr’s balls.

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Filed under: Web 2 Comments

Tezaa 2.0

So, you know, I am like this born again Christian. I’ve become a Web2.0 (With due apologies to Sir Tim) fanatic and evangelist. I pray for deliverance of those crappy corporate websites. I baptise newly born blogs. I train missionaries who will spread the word of our lord, Ajax.

One of the first W2 sites I came across, was Tezaa. In fact, not too long ago, (in the Cosmic sense) I wrote about Tezaa on this blog. Since then, I’ve been in GChat-touch with Shalin Jain, who runs Tezaa, along with a bunch of super cool techies.
He told me today that Tezaa’s went through a ‘pull-up-the-pant-tighten-the-screws-add-new-features’ phase recently. And the New Tezaa is ready to take on the world.
Here’s what’s new about the all new Tezaa.

  • New design. Great stuff, this design is. Simple, cool colours, and easy navigation. The tabs make for a great way to switch from section to feature to polls in the site

  • Open ended questions – Wow! So, if I don’t have an answer, but just a question, I can ask the Tezaa community and they will give me all that I need to know.

  • Related polls – It definitely rocks. For, when I click next poll on – say a poll on where to eat out in Chennai – it throws up another poll about Chennai.

  • Related Links – as Amit puts it – this definitely makes great sense.

  • Navigation – Tezaa remembers where I was last – er – let me put it so it doesn’t sound big-brother-ish. Let’s say you are in the ‘Open Questions’ tab, see a poll you like, click away. Make your choice, add new links and then click the home button (the newly redesigned logo), the site navigates back to the Open Questions tab. This is, I thought, a sensible idea.

  • The Community – I can add friends (and their tags and stuff) – which means – yeah – greater interaction, related polls etc.

Shalin tells me that even more cool, and fantastic features are on the way. So yay!

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Stiff Upper lip

I am not afraid

A funny site, filled with these and other super images in response to the Londom Bombings. Check out Fear is what i feel

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