Our inspiration comes from life around us, the people we work with, the schools our children go to, the movies we see, the malls we shop at, the blogs we read and the friends we know. Then of course, there are books that provide a completely fresh point of view. Ideas are everywhere if you know where to look and more importantly, never stop looking.
We think the biggest asset is keeping an open mind and not being judgmental about anything. And across cultures, what drives people is ambition and deriving meaning for what they do. People don't just buy into products or services - they buy into extended dreams about their own existence

Freedom. Liberty. Equality

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Freedom jpg
Freedom.com on the web is a communications company. Liberty.com is a mish mash of tea party sentiment. And equality.com is permanently corrupted by a data error. Surprising how some of the most powerful words in our lexicon have such trivial outposts on the internet. The Freedom website, for example, looks as if it has not been updated since 1995. The Liberty.com website looks like a nursery school project - full of enthusiasm and a mess of typography, logos and navigation. And don't bother about Equality.com because it won't load.

When they registered it, Freedom on the net was probably one of those trivial accidents that go on to become multi-million dollar treasures - not due to foresight, but simply proximity and knowledge of something called a domain. The dictionary in its entirety, except for obscure words like pusillanimity, is all gone. Apparently, every combination of 3 letter words, sensible and nonsensical, is gone. You now have to register twisted phrases and words that sound more like the original in order to have a chance.

There's this race to name companies now, where the domain becomes more important that the name of the company. Domain name companies have tried every single extension - from .net to .org to .tv to entice business owners, but ultimately, it is the .com that gets chased and registered. They provide all kinds of permutations and combinations, but to little avail. The belle of the ball is the one with a .com suffix and there's nothing that anyone can do to undo it.

One of the most famous departures was the company called delicio.us. For some reason, .ly is proving to be quite popular as a suiffix - primarily from the coverage of the Libyan uprising. For a short while, there was a concern that the popular URL shortening service called bit.ly would go dark if a rogue government took over and stopped the service, since these domains are under that particular government's control. However, since freedom and equality seems to have been restored in Libya, bit.ly continues to edit URLs that stretch to infinity in the browser address bar.

But back to easy words in English. Common.com is a wealth advisory - obviously not for the common man, only for the privileged! Power.com is an email service. Flower.com is a florist - and their website again looks as if it has not been updated since the 90s. They are either doing very well or very badly. I've noticed that the only time people take chances in business is at the start up stage. Once the money begins to come in, they become extra cautious and risk averse. At easy.com, you can rent everything from a car to an office. Classic.com is a placeholder site - hoping to make a lot of money from the domain sale and so is Paint.com.

The only site that lives up to its domain is sex.com - the most searched for word on the internet has to be a pornography site. All the talk about cordoning off these sites to their very own .xxx domain has come to naught. They are among the most difficult to restrain and keep down. Bouncing back everytime.

And to end, equal.com is a sugar substitute. The virtual can never be the real thing!


( 1 Vote )

Tags: .com rush | domain names | equality | freedom | liberty | naming companies

 

What does 'please' mean?

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confuse
Look up the dictionary for tough words like 'disambiguate' (remove the ambiguity from) and the results seem meaningful. The definition works as long as you are clear on what ambiguity means. Now look up the word ambiguity - doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention. Look up doubt and this is what you get - be uncertain about; hesitate to believe. Look up uncertain and this is the definition - not definitely ascertainable or fixed. See where this is going? We understand words only in the context of the situation they are referred to. Words are the very hounds that lead us on a merry chase and disappear in a puff of smoke just when we get closer. There is no such thing as absolute meaning.

If that seems strange, think of 'freedom'. We all know what it means, straight off, right? No need to consult a dictionary or that all encompassing fount of human wisdom - Wikipedia. Look it up for freedom anyway and you won't get one set of meanings. You have to define freedom within various contexts to get a more definitive result. You have to deal with disambiguations! In other words, dive deeper. Skimming on the surface is not an option.

So words that refer to very broad contexts - the ones that we use in everyday conversation are the hardest to define! What does the word 'please' mean? The answer ? It depends on whether you use 'please' as an adverb, a verb or an idiom. If that sets you scurrying for the meaning of adverb (any member of a class of words that function as modifiers of verbs or clauses) or verb (any member of a class of words that function as the main elements of predicates) and idiom (an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements)

Are you any wiser? It's like the dictionary which is a friend in times of need suddenly bares its fangs and hurls abuses leaving you completely befuddled. Don't bother to look it up. The confusion is not likely to be cleared any time soon. It appears that when you turn to the dictionary to look up the simplest words in the English Language, you get mind benders. When you think you finally know English, or for that matter, any language, you realise you don't!

Our entire knowledge of letters adding up to words (a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning) is built on shaky, verbose foundations. We need complex definitions for the simplest of words. But simple words aren't enough to convey shades of meaning. So, we have to layer it with complexity till the skyscraper that it is built on threatens to fall. Let's construct one starting now. Doubt, uncertain, vague, ambiguous, enigma, illusory , apocryphal are all overlapping words built atop one another. What is the real difference? The contexts we use them in. Academics would not like to use simple words because they seem elementary.

Words are representations of meaning rather than true meaning. The rest is in our expressions and body language - thankfully we seem to understand this universally without the need for an actual language. Otherwise, communication would be impossible.


( 1 Vote )

Tags: ambiguity | communication | confusion | dictionary | disambiguation | thesaurus

 

Too much of a good thing

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too much of a good thing
One of the things that advertisers and marketers frequently wrestle with are the offers and discounts to be given to customers. How much? How often? What are the ways to reward the most loyal customers better? How can it be done without diluting brand value? After hundreds of years of commerce, there's still no black and white answer - only shades of grey.

Take, for example the problem that American Airlines was trying to solve - giving large companies who were their biggest customers an incentive to buy more First Class tickets. They assumed that they could lock in this segment with VIP treatment and not have them cross over to a competitor. So they priced 'lifetime' free First Class tickets at $250,000 in 1981. That was serious money 30 years ago - or even today. To sweeten the deal further, they even offered a freebie - travel with a companion.

Given the normal flying pattern based on existing customer data, the airline would have come out ahead. What they did not expect was the change in customer behaviour. Instead of top executives alone, the idea was embraced by those who could afford it and loved flying. Within a few years these customers had racked up millions of air miles - enough to give them unlimited privileges at airports, lounges and inflight for free. And it was the airline that lost - in some cases, as much as a million dollars a year.

Groupon as a company is built around daily deals. At first, it seemed a great way to introduce people to new brands. The idea of sampling taken to an exciting new level. But there were too many instances of customers who took the deals happily and never returned. Sometimes, the deals were so good, they overwhelmed the company offering it and the loss was both bad for business and bad for customer perception. The number of Groupon imitators has multiplied. There are Indian ones like Snap Deal which have simply taken the same model and replicated it, hoping to reach an insane valuation in a short while and sell out.. But they did not handle the primary problem. How do you ensure that the deal is good for both, the seller and the buyer? The danger is also that if the first experience of the brand is a discounted one, getting customers to pay the full price just gets harder.

Its the classic chicken and egg problem. Does the customer come first or the brand? Actually, what comes first is anticipation. No customer buys into a product alone. They buy into the promises and benefits associated with the brand - the shades of grey. And discounting a brand is an even greater headache. Because people have now come to expect that brands will have days on which they are sold at less than the regular retail prices. At festival time. Or when a milestone is crossed - 1 million cars sold! In many cases the milestones are invented - summer sale, end of season sale, annual sale because there has to be an excuse to drop the price. Or else the brand value takes a hit. There aren't easy answers to this one - and even the most experienced marketing managers can end up playing 'eeny meeny myna mo'


( 2 Votes )

Tags: advertising | American Airlines | discounts | Groupon | marketing

   

Satyameva Jayate - Aamir makes a splash

satyamev
It was a highly anticipated show. India's 'Thinking Star' Aamir Khan has used his persona to address the country's problems. And the picture he paints in the first episode isn't pretty. Female Foeticide has grown by leaps and bounds in the last couple of decades to a horrifying statistic - 30 million girls killed before they even had the chance to be born.

He traces the genesis to a state-sponsored policy to reduce the number of women in the 1970s because the population growth in the country was assuming alarming proportions. The government believed that if the number of child bearers were reduced, the population growth would slow as well. Instead, it led to a flourishing industry of unscrupulous doctors and ultrasound machine manufacturers systematically eliminating girls in the womb. The business has developed its own code - Jai Shri Krishna, if the scan revealed a boy and Jai Mata for girls. The second is a virtual death sentence and a 'package deal' where the cost includes an abortion.

The social effects are already apparent. There are villages like Kurukshetra in Haryana where men over 30 are unmarried because they simply aren't enough girls . So, another industry has sprung up around procurement of girls from poorer states who live a life very close to prostitution with no legal remedy.

And for all those who live smug in the misconception that female foeticide is a rural and a 'poor people' problem, he demonstrates that it is the middle class and the rich who have access to advanced medical facilities who are the biggest culprits.

Indian families see girls as burdens, since they have to bear the cost of marrying the girl off and providing the dowry. The boy, on the other hand, is seen as the saviour, the one who can be depended upon when parents grow old. But the stereotype is no longer true. India has had to enact a law where the rights of elders are protected and they are not driven from their homes when too old to take care of themselves.

Against a more forgiving and a more inclusive society, there was the joint family web that protected the aged and women. But with the development of the nuclear family and the 'every man for himself'' attitude, there is little tolerance for those who are not 'useful' any more - or for those who live beyond it

Its heartening to note that Aamir Khan has put his charisma on the line to speak up for those who need a voice - and to shine a light on the problems that most people wish away or change the topic. The format of the show - part talk, part documentary, part activism, with a musical flourish at the end does not break away from convention. A number of options were probably explored before the team decided that this would be best way to present sensitive subjects. Most stars tend to use their charisma to build their image - but this is an exception. Instead of walking on the red carpet, Aamir has taken the pains to explore the dirt that is routinely swept underneath it. And moved from mythology at prime time to exploring the myths we comfort ourselves with - just because the truth is so hard to take.


( 0 Votes )
 

The internet in 60 seconds

light streaks
There's nothing happening around you, except for the ordinary buzz of everyday life. People walk, cars drive past, the wind rustles through the trees and somewhere in the distance, a phone rings. Now imagine if you were transported from this into a storm of activity that overwhelms you - take a look at a graphic that puts together what happens on the web every minute. While it isn't documented and the sources are not given due attribution, it shows how crowded our 'information super highway' - to quote an early description of the net has become. It's like imagining a quiet road with intermittent traffic becoming an autobahn where the number of vehicles and the activity never ceases.

This post, for example, will be just one of 1500 blog posts created every minute. So the fact that you are here, reading this, is a real privilege as far as I am concerned. Or the fact that you got here in the first place. You have navigated through millions of links to land up here and spend about 4-5 minutes (or however long it takes to go through a 500 word post) on something that you believe is worth your time. Because, by the time you read this, another 7500 fresh posts would have appeared in blogs across the net.

The catch-up game, no matter what you 'follow' is well and truly over. In our lifetime, we will have always have access to all the stuff that is being created. Even going by the law of averages where only 1% of all that is created is worth consuming, we would still have no way of seeing all of it. Or even a tiny fraction. And once you factor languages into it, we are talking of consuming only atom sized portions. Because when you look at the other side of the statistics - how many websites do people visit in a day (its about 100, for those statistically inclined) you see the utter futility of matching consumption to creation

May be I made it a little easy for you to get here. Posted a link on that 'social terminus' - Facebook and the career station - Linked In, as well as the world's personal broadcasting tool - Twitter. But if the graphic were to be believed, there are nearly 700,000 status updates on Facebook every minute and nearly 100,000 tweets. So its easy for my voice to get drowned in the chatter, even if you are part of my 'personal network'

In a sense, I am happy that all this activity stays within the confines of little screens in your hand or on office desktops and does not spill over into real life. Because the potential for permanent distraction is immense. That is why programs like the ironically named Freedom, which cut off access to the net so that you can get things done, have proliferated. Because the urge to check your email every five minutes or returning to your Facebook page to see how many comments your smart post or retort got, is immense. There's more discipline required now to accomplish even the most mundane tasks. And that's hardly a good thing.


( 0 Votes )

Tags: blogs | communication | email | Facebook | internet 60 seconds | LinkedIn | Twitter | video | YouTube

   

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