The web’s M.O. (from the Sonal Shah episode)

Apparently the web has gone into shoot first, ask questions later mode. And too damned bad for anyone who stands in the way.

So Obama names his transition team and in it is a South Asian – Sonal Shah. Her bio is impressive –, Goldman Sachs and the founder of a Peacorps-like organization, Indicorps, focused on India.

First – Euphoria.

Then, a scathing article about Shah’s politics – attacking her for being part of the despicable and detestable Hindu far right. But the article does not actually provide any fact-based backup for these claims. Instead it points to the associations of her parents. Guilt by association.

Shah is instantly condemned on blogs and in newsgroups – the very same blogs who would defend Obama against the Rev. Wright association (hmm…) Do any of these people fact check? No. It is left to Sonal’s acquaintances, friends, colleagues, and calmer, saner minds to defend her. A gentleman who started a volunteer organization in Pakistan based on Shah’s Indicorp stated categorically that “Sonal Shah has wanted nothing but the best for Pakistan and its Muslims”. Would that be her approach if she were a Hindu fanatic?

Sonal herself issues a statement denouncing the policies of the Hindu far right and disassociating herself with those policies.

What then? Do the people who jumped on the “oppose Shah” camp apologize? Do they even admit they might have over-reached? Oh no! That would be… too civilized. They offer no apology. They move on.

Could Sonal have been more careful about which groups she associated with her efforts to do real good? Sure and it is a very valid point. By the same token though, those who are ready to tear someone down should be more careful to check the facts.

In this day of instant opinions it is incredibly easy to cause irreparable harm. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?? There are two sides to every story – why not wait to figure out both before hanging someone up to dry?

In the instant and constant news cycle, it sometimes makes sense to wait a while before forming an opinion and publishing it for the world to see.

The Positive Energy of Erik Stuart

Erik Stuart – wonderful friend and former colleague, logic personified, and master (or to be more exact, doctor) of all things economics – is blogging!

Erik is one of those rare guys with whom you can have an incredible discussion on any topic. He’s articulate, thoughtful and extremely insightful. He has the added advantage of being able to take complicated concepts (whether in economics or physics and the like) and explain them in really simple terms. I truly loved working with him and am very excited that he’s started blogging.

You *must* read his blog.

And I just love, love, love his blog’s name.

Welcome, Erik! Oh, and I am still waiting to hear more about The Game.

To move to Tumblr…

It seems like the whole world is blogging. But that’s hardly the case1. When blogs first started, only the technically equipped could blog. Blogger changed that. But the interface was limited and once Google bought it, innovation on that platform slowed down for a long time. WordPress2 offered people who were slightly technical flexibility. The fact that it is open source meant that user needs quickly drove feature development by the army of users. The power of WordPress and the open source platform is truly brilliant and is something I’ve noted before. But many (me included) are finding that maintenance is a fair amount of work. And the complexity ratchets up with every plugin that’s installed.

I blogged privately on Blogger for years before I decided to switch to WordPress and blog publicly. I chose WordPress because of the flexibility, the ability to host it on my own url and because it was completely free. But over time, it has become a pain to manage the various plugins and the upgrades. In addition, something as simple as a template change is real work because things break. So I’ve stuck with what I have even if I don’t love it.

Tumblr is the new face of simplicity and elegance and is a great platform for blogging. It is quick, it is easy, it is clean and the UI – both for the poster and for the reader – is a sheer joy to work with. It has no sidebar and no plugins (that I know of). The blogger can change templates and colors on a daily basis if she wants – it is a much better alternative to the population that would otherwise choose Blogger.

The lack of thousands of widgets – really, the lack of choice and therefore the lack of complexity – is what makes Tumblr great. It forces you to be simple and focus on the content.

Let’s say that I am sold. Let’s even say that I am willing to give up plugins I like (such as Subscribe To Comments) in order to make my life easier. Can I switch to Tumblr?

The answer is a resounding NO. For one big reason – I cannot migrate my content to Tumblr.

I want my blog to contain all my posts – the content and the comments. This would require the ability to “import” my WordPress blog into tumblr, something almost every other blogging platform allows. Should it be doable? Yes. Is it doable? No. Or not yet. I have no idea whether this is on the roadmap or not, but until it is, I, and others like me who desperately want to, can’t move to Tumblr even though we want to.

Tumblr is late to the game in terms of blogging software. And while they may get a large percentage of those who are just starting3,  a lot of people have blogs already. A few will be willing to cut over in order to avoid the hassle, but most, even those with little traffic, will want all their posts and comments moved over. Tumblr should bring their “easy, clean, and beautiful” approach to this problem and solve it. I am sure it will have a big impact on adoption. I’ll be the first in line.

  1. In fact, just this week, I told three very smart eBay colleagues that they should be blogging 

  2. I’m ignoring TypePad in this discussion since it won’t affect the discussion 

  3. I recommended that all three folks use Tumblr 

Third anniversary of blogging

On May 10th, 2004, I started blogging.

I had been in New York for about six months (albeit with a horrendous travel schedule to California) and I quite disliked being in Manhattan. After the wonderfully warm weather and incredible open skies of the Bay Area, I found Manhattan claustrophobic, dirty and over-crowded. And, to be fair, I was never here long enough to establish any kind of routine to help me feel settled.

I thought a lot about my own attitude and decided to try to focus on the positives. So, I committed to blogging about the best of the city each week. Three years ago today, “My Space In A Place” with the tagline “They say loving a place is all about attitude. Let’s see, shall we?” was born.

I didn’t focus too much on the title (obviously!) or the aesthetics or the logistics (no Feedburner, no Technorati) of the blog – I had a very clear purpose – to start sampling the variety that the city offers and to document it online to make myself see the pluses of the city.

My first post included the following:

On that topic, I realized I need to give big, bad, Manhattan a chance — yes, the winter sucked, but we are past that and I hope a glorious summer will let me explore more and enjoy this city. I’ve heard that it takes about a year to fall in love with Manhattan. Which means that I have till October or to be fair, till May of 2005 (arriving in winter can’t count, can it??!!!).

So, a post a week till October and we’ll re-evaluate, shall we? 🙂

The blog lived on Blogger and I did not list it publicly. I shared the URL1 with family and a close friend who was also adjusting to Manhattan.

With each post I wrote, I started to fall in love with Manhattan – opera, ballet – no, not just ballet, but Swan Lake with Nina Ananiashvili!!, Carnatic music, concerts in Central Park… It was a fabulous summer. Soon, I was missing NYC when I was in California on business. My experiment was working!!

I hit my goal of starting to love NYC by October of 2004. And I was having so much fun with my blog and I kept it up. Finally, in late 2006, after I had quit my commute to California and taken a little breather, I felt ready to blog publicly. That’s when this blog and my Tatvam blog appeared2.

I’ve loved my three years of blogging – I’ve fallen in love with my city, made wonderful new friends and had great conversations!

To my incredible readers, thanks for making this little blog, which started out with only imaginary readers, so much fun! 🙂

  1. Since that blog had so much personal information, it is now only open to invited users. 

  2. A couple of times I’ve wondered whether I should have blogged publicly earlier. The answer is no – my earlier blog was a personal journey and one I was not ready to share with the whole world. 

Jeff Jarvis on the brouhaha

I’ve been reading Jeff Jarvis’ blog for years and have always found that he has the rare ability of being pithy while hitting the nail on the head.

Here’s a perfect example — he was on CBS being interviewed about the Don Imus brouhaha and more specifically the reaction in the blog world. Apparently there is some concern that people are out of control, saying mean, horrible things… and in light of the other bad publicity the blog world has been getting, should there, in fact, be some regulation of what people can say on the internet? Jeff’s answers could not be more perfect!

DesiPundit and Magic Bus

One of my favorite charities (and one that I’ve blogged about before) is Magic Bus. They do truly outstanding work that makes a huge difference to the kids they work with.

So, I am very exicted to announce that DesiPundit, where I am a contributor, has decided to auction off the prizes it won at the Indibloggies this year, with all the proceeds going to Magic Bus! Please help spread the word and if possible at least bid on one or more of the items. The prizes provided by Indibloggies sponsors are:

Head over to DesiPunditand make your bid by leaving a comment (at a minimum, for the value of the item you are bidding on). The auction ends Thursday, April 5th 2007 at 11:59pm CST.

Happy bidding!

International Women’s Day

IWDI missed International Women’s Day since I was sick as a dog. Lots has been written about it – pros, cons, how to celebrate it, how not to, whether to, whether “celebrate” is the right word… You get the point.

But Charlie O’Donnell recognized the day by linking to his favorite female bloggers – and he included me on that list. So, thanks to Charlie, I did kind of participate. Thank you Charlie. And thanks for introducing me to some cool blogs.

Flame wars

The New York Times has an interesting piece on flaming.

Flaming has a technical name, the �online disinhibition effect,� which psychologists apply to the many ways people behave with less restraint in cyberspace.

In a 2004 article in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior, John Suler, a psychologist at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., suggested that several psychological factors lead to online disinhibition: the anonymity of a Web pseudonym; invisibility to others; the time lag between sending an e-mail message and getting feedback; the exaggerated sense of self from being alone; and the lack of any online authority figure. Dr. Suler notes that disinhibition can be either benign � when a shy person feels free to open up online � or toxic, as in flaming.

The emerging field of social neuroscience, the study of what goes on in the brains and bodies of two interacting people, offers clues into the neural mechanics behind flaming.

This work points to a design flaw inherent in the interface between the brain�s social circuitry and the online world. In face-to-face interaction, the brain reads a continual cascade of emotional signs and social cues, instantaneously using them to guide our next move so that the encounter goes well. Much of this social guidance occurs in circuitry centered on the orbitofrontal cortex, a center for empathy. This cortex uses that social scan to help make sure that what we do next will keep the interaction on track.

I would say anonymity exacerbates this even more. If being locked in your house, your face gleaming in the pale light of your monitor, deprived of all sensory feedback is not enough, add the ability to communicate anonymously into the mix. Even more dangerous. No wonder a lot of blog flamers are “anons”.


Socially artful responses emerge largely in the neural chatter between the orbitofrontal cortex and emotional centers like the amygdala that generate impulsivity. But the cortex needs social information � a change in tone of voice, say � to know how to select and channel our impulses. And in e-mail there are no channels for voice, facial expression or other cues from the person who will receive what we say.

True, there are those cute, if somewhat lame, emoticons that cleverly arrange punctuation marks to signify an emotion. The e-mail equivalent of a mood ring, they surely lack the neural impact of an actual smile or frown. Without the raised eyebrow that signals irony, say, or the tone of voice that signals delight, the orbitofrontal cortex has little to go on. Lacking real-time cues, we can easily misread the printed words in an e-mail message, taking them the wrong way.

Hmm… I think cute/lame emoticons and smileys, while they may “lack the neural impact of an actual smile or frown”, are better than nothing. I tried giving them up after reading Jai’s rant against them. But my emails felt lifeless. My IMs felt depressed. So, I’m back to the full barrage of smileys, winkeys, dinkeys, animaticons and emoticons. Hopefully that calms down anyone who feels the burning need to flame me. 🙂


Two pieces of information got me thinking about censorship in India — Niranjana’s post on banned books and news that the Government of India (GOI) was taking action against Neo Sports.

Let me restate – my Neo Sports post on their advertisements on the West Indies tour stated that I personally found the ads tasteless and borderline racist. I also stated that I don’t think racism was the intent behind them. And that I thought it was silly for a company to build a brand using the ad since it offended a section of their customers.

Today, Srini very kindly updated me (thanks, Srini!) that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry headed by Priya Ranjan Das Munshi has slapped a show cause notice on the channel asking it to explain itself.

What?? The way this should be moderated is by the market. If the public expresses their dissatisfaction to Neo Sports, that’s fine. If their shareholders hold them accountable, that’s fine. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry is redefining its bounds by overstepping them constantly. They’ve banned the Gandhi YouTube video, they briefly banned all domains, and they banned AXN Channel for showing “The World’s Sexiest Ads”.

Er, hello? No one is being forced to view any of these. Hate the YouTube video? Don’t watch it. AXN is a private channel that users pay for. If they don’t like the show, they will stop subscribing. The GOI has no business being in the censorship business – if they want, they can be in the ratings business. Slap an X or R rating on things, but let the consumer choose. Repeat after me, Mr. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi – the market, the market, the market.

Here’s what I said to Niranjana –

The Indian Government is just insane. That’s why they ban things at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t matter what it is – books, movies, ads, whatever.

They are SO super-sensitive and want to avoid upsetting *anyone* that they ride roughshod over free speech. I think India is a terrible country to be an artist of any kind. You are subject to the whims of bureaucrats who are more concerned with not ruffling feathers than allowing artists to push the boundaries.

Aaargh. Yes, a pet peeve of mine…