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Yesterday’s world cup matches were simply among the best so far. The Germany-Argentina one was billed the final before the final. If it was disappointing it was only because it didn’t turn out to be as nail-biting a cliffhanger as many thought it would be.

The popular wisdom was Argentina will win. But I have been swimming against the current and as of now I am floating!

The German goal in the opening minutes was a shocker to many, but set my heart aglow. And quite surprisingly for even German supporters there was a goal rush after that. Not that Argentinians didn’t play well, but simply it was not their day. Poor Maradona. And, I didn’t like the hype around Argentina.

I thought Germany played to a plan. Their tackling and passes stood out and they seemed to be more in control of the wayward Jabulani. Perhaps the only moments of concern for the Germans were in the early part of the second half. May be goal difference might have been narrower, but Germany was the clear winner over Argentina.

Spain just managed to end match decisively against Paraguay, who must have been left cursing that brief moment when the ball found the post. And what a goal that was! That match was more evenly poised than the previous one.

More fun to follow.

Typewriters have vanished but the skill of typing is more relevant NOW than ever before. This is the age of desktops and laptops. The entire urban population is forever on the computer either for personal or official work. Their fingers are running all over the keyboard, but how many of them can type without looking at the keys? Very few. More

Yahoo!, in its continuing efforts to increase its presence in the social networking space unveiled yesterday a new phase of web experience by integrating with Facebook. From now on, users of the two services will be able to link their accounts; and view and share the updates with friends across the networks.

Users who choose to connect the two networks will henceforth be able see Facebook updates on the Yahoo! home page, in Yahoo! Mail and other Yahoo! sites and services. Conversely, users who create content on Yahoo! sites will be able to share them with their friends on Facebook.

Simultaneously, Yahoo! yesterday relaunched Yahoo! Profiles as Yahoo! Pulse. This provides users a central dashboard where they will be able to manage the contents, from external social accounts like Facebook, they wish to share on Yahoo!.

Announcing the integration with Facebook globally across more than 15 Yahoo! sites, Cody Simms, Senior Director of Product Management, said via a video-link from Sunnyvale, California, that the effort was aimed at bringing together different social sites so that people have one simple, trusted place to share information and connect. “This is part of the focused strategy to bring social networking into the Yahoo! experience.”

Simms said Yahoo! had no plans to launch a social networking site of its own. “The idea is not to create a social network on Yahoo! but to bring all the networks of the users on to Yahoo!,” he said. “It’s key to extending our reach and increasing the engagement.” Stating that Yahoo! had strict norms on privacy, he said, “Yahoo! Pulse puts the user in direct control of which network he wishes to connect with, what he wishes to share, and with which network.”

Similar to the arrangement with Facebook, Yahoo! will soon integrate with Twitter allowing the users of the two sites to connect, create and share content across the network. Already, Yahoo! Search draws its results from the full stream of public tweets. Later this year, people across the Yahoo! sites will be able to access games like Farmville and Mafia Wars after the integration between Zynga and Yahoo! Application Platform.

(An edited version of this article appeared in today’s edition of The Times of India, Bangalore.)

Scientists are currently working on technologies that will enable us to communicate to one another even when the network is weak or disrupted. More

Shashi Tharoor — the flamboyant novice of Indian politics who got pitch-forked to the corridors of South Block — has got out.

He played a smashing innings that will be remembered for the big hits which got him neither sixes nor fours but just a few singles with great difficulty.

There is no doubt Tharoor walked into the Indian political pitch with great promise, commanding support and encouragement of his bosses. The way he humbled seasoned politicians in Kerala’s political hub in last year’s Lok Sabha election raised hopes of a new beginning for a state overtaken by the inertia of political stereotype and rhetoric.

But before long he began showing signs of getting distracted. Evidently his strengths were getting diverted. He retained the grit and conviction to bat on relentlessly against unfriendly googlies and bouncers. But all his efforts didn’t seem to be fetching him or his team any dividents.

The junor foreign minister was living on the edge. On a few occasions he got himself trapped, but got away with the benefit of doubt. Finally, the innings has ended.

Tharoor’s supporters and well-wishers hope this is just the first innings. He has many more chances to prove his mettle. Whether there will soon be a second innings or not, it may be worthwhile to examine, in retrospect, a few of the mistakes he committed:

1. He should have reaslised he is a greenhorn in Indian politics, which isn’t an easy turf to play on. With the goodwill he earned, he should have made a quiet and steady beginning with the aim of scoring, and not lobbing catches to the opponents.

2. He should have meticulously studied how Indian politics works, evenwhile focusing on his ministerial responsibilities.

3. He should have curbed his proclivity to be judgemental and opinionated. One thought that he was a diplomat, but there weren’t many indications of it.

4. He should have realised that the number of followers on Twitter didn’t mean much in real life. It’s no indication of how many tweeps actually follow him.

5. He should have realised that promoting cricket in Kerala was never his brief; and also that IPL is quite a different ball game altogether. He should have thought twice before padding up for it. Any injury on the field would affect his official work.

Wounded badly, Shashi Tharoor will surely ponder over what lies ahead and which way he should move now. All is not lost for him. His brilliance and scholarship have been proved beyond doubt. And there will be umpteen occasions for him to put them to good use.

There is one mantra he would do well to keep in mind: even if you don’t rub someone the right way, don’t rub them wrong way.

* A stranger helping a visually challenged man to cross the road.

* A stranger removing a big stone from the middle of the road.

* A stranger throwing an orange peel on the pavement.

* A stranger apologising to you for almost brushing his bike against your car.

* A stranger spitting out in public the paan he was chewing.

Fleeting moments; actions that all of us come across at some point; gestures — some pleasant, some unpleasant — that stir our emotions; some leave us smiling, some leave us seething.

It’s a fact that we meet more number of strangers than friends every day. And many of them leave some impression — good or bad — on us, prompting us to react. It could be a simple word of appreciation that the good Samaritan deserves, or it could be a rebuke aimed at that unruly citizen on the road. Though there are many mass communication platforms today, there is not one which will help you connect with a stranger.

Samson Manickaraj has taken social networking to a new high. While most sites let you interact with friends, Samson's invention of Blauk will allow you to connect with strangers.

So believes 30-year-old Samson Manickaraj, and he has come up with blauk.com. He says this is not social networking site that helps you connect with your friends, nor this is a blog or a micro-blog that lets you broadcast to the world what you are doing or what you think about something. “This is a ‘noteboard’ site. The first noteboard and the only noteboard site in the world providing noteboarding service.”

What is a noteboard? “By noteboard I mean a board, a platform, where you can leave notes for random people you see in your everyday life,” says Manickaraj, CEO of the youngest networking device on the web. “Blauk is the first of its kind in the sense that it lets you post messages for strangers you run into in everyday life, and Blauk ensures that the other person knows your thoughts.”

Manickraj, an alumnus of the California State University, elaborates the unique concept behind Blauk, “Having an opinion is a human instinct. Vice-versa, wanting to know what others think of us is also a craving within us. Popular social networks allow you to stay in touch with existing friends. There is no service which lets people hear what strangers think of them. Blauk has filled this void.”

“If a Facebook lets you stay in touch with existing friends and a Twitter lets you express what you are doing at the moment, then Blauk lets you speak of what you think of the world and vice-versa what the world thinks of you. So Blauk has filled an existing void in the social-networking arena,” he says.

How do you blauk? Like any networking site, you register with a username and password. Fill in your age, sex and email ID. That’s it. Go to the homepage, and start blauking. When you click on ‘post’, you will be prompted to fill in the “description of the person you saw”, “when did you see”, “where did you see”, and the city. You can also leave a message for the stranger.

Blauk was launched in January 2010 and it’s now in a very basic stage. Manickaraj says there are 43,881 registered users as of April 8, and blaukoholics will define what it will eventually be. “As of now, people are blauking an appreciative comment or criticizing bad behavior in public, talking about cool cars etc,” he says.

There are a number of blauks (messages) aimed at strangers indulging in unacceptable practices in public, like talking on mobile while driving or relieving oneself on roadside. There are also appreciative comments on what people are wearing or the mobile phone they are using. Says Manickaraj, “A lot of women are using Blauk to post live messages describing guys who harass or stalk them. People following Blauk on the cellphones get to read these live and take action or react.”

Twenty-six year old Priya Sharma, working with foreign bank in Chennai, finds Blauk interesting. “I joined this two weeks back after I read about it in the media. It’s cool because we can make comments on strangers, giving full description of that guy, when and where he was. And it’s safe! It’s like talking one-on-one to strangers. You can’t do that so easily in real life.”

Since the whole premise of Blauk is connecting with strangers on a personal level, identification process is crucial, and it’s built-in, though not foolproof. If the person who blauks is accurate about the stranger’s attributes, location, age, time of incident etc, it becomes easy for the stranger to find out (using the search tool) if there has been a comment about him.

Manickaraj says issues of privacy violations are limited in Blauk. “People entering blauk.com expect to see a realistic account of others’ opinion of them. If they were rude to a kid on the street then that is what they will hear, and if they did a kind act they will hear a lot of praises.” He says since no one refers to anyone by name there is no possibility of direct offence. There is a “Spirit of Blauk” to which users have to agree. “There is a content-monitoring team working around the clock from India to Los Angeles covering a 24 hour cycle. Offensive user ids are banned from the network,” says Manickaraj.

Like any networking device, it’s the users who will determine its value. Manickaraj hopes Blauk will gradually evolve into a medium that will take communication to a higher level, which will enable easy personal communication with strangers, that in turn will redefine social behaviour and bring in positive changes in personal and workplace relationships.

Here are some typical blauks:

10:30 AM Fri, 09.Apr.2010
@ liberty x road, himmatnagar – hyderabad
the person on cell driving a black skoda
“ur life may nt be precious 2 u but 4 othrs it is,so stop tlkng wen u are drvng to make the road safe”
coolangel, Female 36

8:00 AM Fri, 09.Apr.2010
@ petrol bunk, shenoy nagar, Chennai
nearly 40 woman / verna
“Was your blouse really torn or is it fashion?”
trnjt, Male 31

8:30 AM Fri, 09.Apr.2010
@ Near Mumbai TV tower, Mumbai
5’7″ fair guy abt 23, goatee, dull gray t-shirt, maruti 800 #4753
“Hey idiot you did not get any other place to take a piss?”
patinsn, Male 27

6:30 PM Sun, 04.Apr.2010
@ Benzer, Mumbai
white shirt, shorts, foreigner guy
“cellphone looked damn cool”
chipmunkd, Male 21

11:15 AM Tue, 06.Apr.2010
@ John Players store, Moledina road, Pune
Girl, maroon color salwar, 22/23 years
“your smile has made my dull and boring day!!”
sardine_lover, Male 22

5:45 PM Sun, 04.Apr.2010
@ central railway station, platform 9, Chennai
green Tshirt, 19/20 yrs of age, wit his parents
“waaat foul lingo; neva heard it so worse; and u ppl lukn educated 2; duh… ur dads even worse.”
teeee, Female 19

3:15 PM Fri, 02.Apr.2010
@ Atrium cafe, im on tbl 3, him on ma right side, Kolkata
fair guy, crew cut, yellow Tshirt wth supermodel pic
“scared to pick up pen frm flr cus.. iv a loose t shirt & this jerk watchn nonstop whn ill bend down”
shar_adha :: Female 22

(An abridged, edited version of this article appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, on April 12, 2010.)

Twitter was conceptualised as the web equivalent of SMS. But in its four years of existence, the microblog has grown way beyond even what its founders imagined. Millions of people use it in some way: to follow breaking news, to keep in touch with friends or to give expression to their emotions and opinions.

When a few Londoners in 2008 decided to leverage the power of online networking to steer social projects, they were breaking new ground. The thought was elementary: if a million people could network online, why can’t a few of them get together offline? And, thus w as born the idea of Twestival or twitter festival.

Twestival Global 2010 will be held in 175 cities around the world — including Bangalore — on March 25 in aid of international charity, Concern Worldwide. The proceeds will go to its worldwide education projects. Besides Bangalore, six cities — Chennai, Goa, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Kochi — will host Twestival this year. Each city will have its own fund-raising programme, conceptualized and organized by volunteers,
 on that day.

BANGALORE TWESTIVAL AT OPUS

The Bangalore festival will include a rock show by Galeej Gurus, Repsychled, and Nakul Shenoy’s Beyond Magic, at Opus, Palace Road, from 7 pm onwards. “If you are on twitter and in Bangalore, this is a must-attend to meet your twitter friends as well as to contribute to a social cause,” said Vaijayanthi K M, regional coordinator for India. There are plans for a secondary fund-raising inter-corporate cricket match on March 27.

Jason Alexander, who manages Galeej Gurus, said: “We strongly believe in the cause of education that Twestival is supporting this year. We would like to do our part in giving back to the society & community, through what we do best…making & performing music.” Shalini Mohan, a bassist for Repsychled, is excited. “It’s a festival that’s happening all over the world on the same day. Nothing like joining hands for supporting a cause.”

Vaijayanthi says people are now more aware about Twestival. “We do not have to explain the entire premise, the motive and our intention. Companies/sponsors are also more forthcoming and willing to support us because they have seen the impact.”

Founder of Twestival Amanda Rose feels there is no shortage of people who are passionate and want to help. The challenge is coordination, not participation. “Organizing online and gathering offline allows Twestival to harness the incredible communication power of twitter to propel participation in real events. By using social media platforms such as twitter, Twestival is able to connect hundreds of independent local events into a powerful global initiative.”

SOCIAL CAUSE

Concern Worldwide, in aid of which Twestival 2010 is being held, is a 40-year-old Ireland-based international humanitarian organization working among the deprived to improve their standard of living. With a staff of about 3,200 people of 50 nationalities, it operates in 28 countries. In September last year, Concern celebrated 10 years of its work in India.

An estimated 72 million children worldwide are not enrolled in school, says Tom Arnold, CEO of Concern Worldwide. “Concern is committed to reaching those left behind, giving them access to learning and the chance to break out of the cycle of poverty. Twestival Global is revolutionizing the way concerned citizens all over the world connect to benefit the poorest among us. We are thrilled to have been chosen, and we’re rolling up our sleeves to make the most of this extraordinary opportunity,” says Arnold.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

A group of London tweeple (people who use twitter) hosted an event called Harvest Twestival in September 2008. The objective was to meet up, have some fun and in the process help a local charity organization. They held a raffle, pooled in donations and canned food for a non-profit called The Connections in Traffalgar Square which supports the homeless.

The messages went out on twitter, the event was planned in two weeks, and sponsorships were pooled in from twitter users. The organizers expected not more than 40 to attend, but people had networked online and around 250 showed up at the venue! The Harvest Twestival was a thumping success. While on one side The Connections got the support it was looking for, the event demonstrated the power of twitter as a platform to network and rally for a social cause. The enthusiasm led the way for holding the first Twestival Global, preparations for which began with the first tweet on January 8, 2009.

A month later, on February 12, over 1,000 volunteers got together in 202 cities, including Bangalore, to organize events to raise funds for water projects around the world. Over $250 was raised in one day through events and online donations; resulting in 55 wells benefiting more than 17,000 people in Uganda, Ethiopia and India.

Says Vaijayanthi, “In 2009, Twestival India was able to raise over Rs 90,000 for the non-profits. Considering the ever-increasing number of Indians taking to twitter, we expect to more than double this amount in 2010.”

TWITTER TURNS FOUR

It was on March 21, 2006, at 9.50 pm PST, that Jack Dorsey, founder of twitter, sent out the first tweet: “just setting up my twttr”.

(This article appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, on March 22, 2010)

Twitter was conceptualised as the web equivalent of SMS.  But in its four years of existence, the microblog has grown way beyond even what its founders imagined. Millions of people use it in some way: to follow breaking news, to keep in touch with friends or to give expression to their emotions and opinions.

When a few Londoners in 2008 decided to leverage the power of online networking to steer social projects, they were breaking new ground. The thought was elementary: if a million people could network online, why can’t a few of them get together offline? And, thus was born the idea of Twestival or twitter festival. Continue Reading »

A proposal is doing the rounds among the cricket bigwigs on holding more than one IPL in a year. The idea is to take it abroad to places like the US and the Gulf, where there is a huge concentration of Indians.

There is no doubt IPL — the 20 over-a-side, eight-team Indian Premier League Championship — is a roaring success. It has now come to symbolise cricket, eclipsing not just the sedate 5-day Test version but even the shorter 50-over-a-side One-Day Internationals or the ODIs.

Success begets success. It’s also said we shouldn’t sleep over success, but look far ahead to reap more out of success. It all sounds good, ambitious, enterprising and what not!

But the plan overlooks an aspect of IPL that’s so crucial — the players. Did anyone consult them, before publicing the ‘more of IPL’ plan?

It’s players, coaches, managers, umpires and a whole lot of support staff who have made what cricket, or rather IPL, what it’s today. They are all under tremendous pressure to perform round the year. Their body and mind are stretched to the maximum. They have little time for relaxation or for their personal and family lives.

What about all of us who watch cricket and enjoy it. Already I have heard of many people who are sick and tired of their favourite sport and pastime. Strange, is it not, if one has to be fed up of something that he or she likes!

Well, there’s definitely an overkill of cricket. How many matches will one see? Cricket may actually be under threat of losing its entertainment value. Even now, during a T20 match many people, come to see the match only during the last 3 or five overs of each innings.

Cricket is much more than winning. It’s about style as much as strategy. Great innings. Great bowling spells. Great catches. Great stops. Great field placements. We have all enjoyed that as much as the winning shot of our favourite teams.

Let’s not dilute the significance of these fascinating facets of this great game.

IPL once year is more than enough. We would like to look forward to it once every year. Because what happens after a longer wait gives us unrivalled pleasure.

Let us not kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

It has been quite a Buzz for Google during the past week, ever since they unveiled the new social networking platform on February 9. Some of the features — that Google introduced with the good intent of helping prospective users — backfired forcing it to launch a damage-limiting exercise. After poring over a barrage of criticism accusing Google of not taking care of privacy issues, it is now rolling out a number of changes in the settings.

Google has acknowledged that they “didn’t get everything quite right”. On the Gmail blog, it said, “We’re sorry for the concern we’ve caused and have been working hard to improve things based on your feedback.”

But to begin with, when Buzz was launched on February 9, among the first to hop on were the many who had been weighed down by the “heaviness” of Facebook or the “strangeness” of Twitter. One of them was Karthik Nagesh, a 35-year-old English lecturer, who has been shunning social network sites. “When I logged on to Gmail, I saw this Buzz thing. I just read the introduction, and said ok, and bingo, all the guys I was chatting with were right there on Buzz.”

What sets Buzz apart from sites like Twitter or Facebook is that it’s right inside Gmail, like chat. That Google thought of embedding Buzz within Gmail, is not surprise considering the fact that for most people email is the primary mode of communication and thereby they keep their Gmail open most of the time. And that has helped Buzz get a lot of users like Nagesh who were anyway using Gmail and chat a lot.

But just a few days into the launch, it turns out that most people who signed up were not like Nagesh. Ironically, it’s the feature of “followers”, made popular by Twitter, that has given Google the biggest headache. (Your X number of followers get updates about you, and you get the updates of the Y number of people you follow.)

Buzz was built in such a way that the moment you set it up, you had all the X number of people — you frequently emailed or chatted with — as your “followers” and they in turn were “following” you. Google didn’t give you a choice, with the noble intention of sparing you the bother of finding people to follow. Google assumed that you would be interested in following everyone you frequently emailed or chatted with.

But most people felt outraged at the way Google took a decision on their behalf. Now onwards, Google said there would be no auto-following, but Google will merely suggest people you could follow, what it calls auto-suggest.

The second point that raised a lot of concern is that the names of your followers and people you follow were getting displayed for everyone to see on the public profile. And the option “not to display” was hard to find. Acknowledging the concerns of its users, Google has now made the options more visible. Moreover, all initial users will now get a second chance to review their followers, whether to keep following them or unfollow them.

Another important change Google effected was that users’ public Picasa albums and shared content on Google Reader will no longer be automatically connected to Buzz.
A major complaint was that there was no link to make changes in the settings of Buzz. Google has fixed that now. It has provided a Buzz tab within the Gmail settings. To be fair to people who don’t like Buzz, Google has also provided two alternatives: ‘Do not show Buzz in Gmail’, and ‘Disable Google Buzz completely.’

Evidently, it has been a tumultuous first week for the web giant. Not all issues have been sorted out. Sandhya Rao, a software engineer, who has been “checking out Buzz”, feels it’s still not user-friendly. “Though it’s a good idea to embed Buzz in Gmail and notify the new Buzz arrivals, it’s difficult to locate the new comments. For example, a comment made today to yesterday’s posting will lie way below the subsequent postings. So you need to scroll through old postings and comments to locate the new comment!’

As more people use it, and as Google fine-tunes it, we will know in the coming days if Buzz will become roar to scare others on the field.

(This article appeared on page 18 of The Times of India, Bangalore, today)