Sunday, 30 December 2007

Mousetrap - 131

It's that time of the year. When an editor's fancy turns lightly to thoughts of round-ups and best-of lists. “Yassah massah,” we say, and jump to it.

The quick version: If 2005 was blogging, and 2006 was all about the Social Web, Web 2.0, then 2007 was when the people jumped in and began to take the web back.

We began to use the web in ways that went beyond random surfing and forwarding allegedly funny pictures and unverified urban legends to our entire email address books. Small example: the burst of jingoism that saw Indian frantically emailing and SMSing their entire address books to make sure that the Taj Mahal was voted into some company’s little gimmick, the New Seven Wonders. Arguably more constructive was the trend of web activism. Gujarat, Nandigram, and other issues were discussed threadbare, on all sides of the debate, and people began tweaking web tools like social networks, blogs, event sites and the like to garner support, recruit participants for protests against other people’s actions or in support of their own. NGOs began to see the value of online presence and spruced up dead or languishing web sites.

And yes, Social networks became ubiquitous. (We who keep track of this have a name for this: YASN, which is short for ‘Yet Another Social Network.’) Not a day goes by when we don’t receive at least one invitation to a social network that some friend has just found. Folks who had never had more than an email address before that, people who had scorned personal home pages and blogs were now in social networks, and inviting all their friends in. Old webheads, luddites, famous writers and artists, journalists, serious professionals, pet-owners, hobbyists, activists, politicians, poets, painters, tinkers, tailors, greying grandparents and pre-teeners, they’re all leaving messages on each others ‘walls’ and ‘scrapping’ one another. We’re friends online with people we may ever meet. Heck, we use ‘friend’ as a verb now, much to the dismay of the language purists. I tell you.

Oops. Sorry. We got carried away. We had better quickly work in a couple of predictions or Editorji won’t pay us.

The Empire(s) strike back
Open Social
With the bad news out of the way, time to look at things a lot chirpier. A little while ago, Google launched an attempt to change the game back in its favour. This isn't a social network. Rather, it is a way for developers to build applications that work across many networks. For example, Friendster, hi5, LinkedIn, MySpace, Ning, Plaxo, XING, and yes, Orkut, along with a bunch of others, are implementing OS. Will it take the web back from Facebook? Frankly, we dunno. But hey, it’s going to be interesting to watch.

A little bird tells me
Twitter is a simple service. It asks you one question: 'What are you doing?' And you can answer this in 140 characters or less. Friends, family, whoever, can subscribe to or 'follow' your updates, which they can choose to get via their Twitter page or cellphones (the message are well within the 160 character SMS limit). The controls are easy: you can permit random strangers to follow you, or not; you can choose who to follow, and how. The site's been around for a bit--we noticed it somewhere mid-year--but has gained momentum only over this last month. And we think 2008 will see a lot more Twittering.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 30th December, 2007.

This bit didn't run in the paper:

Orkut could have ruled. It’s been around for years, has a huge Indian presence, and despite a horde of me-too networking sites launched by eager desis wanting to cash in, none of them really made a dent. Orkut kept popping up in the news, with every second politician and righteous defender of our kulchur wanting it banned for some reason or the other, and bemused media types who barely knew what they were talking about trying to make sense of it. With the teen and pre-teen set, it became the communication medium of choice, outpacing even instant messengers. But privacy concerns—until recently, one’s settings did not permit control over one’s ‘scrapbook,’ for instance—and the perception that it was juvenile, meant that few fossils my age joined in.

The star
This network, once restricted to college students, opened its doors to anyone who wanted to join. Cautiously, many early-adopters checked it out. Somewhere mid-year, Facebook opened its platform to developers to launch their own ‘apps.’ And suddenly, something changed. Everybody and her grand-uncle suddenly started popping up there. Folks I had never seen on any other forum, people who had never had more than an email address before that, old webheads, luddites, famous writers and artists, journalists, serious professionals, politicans, poets, painters, tinkers, tailors.. you get the picture. Now, even greying grandparents talk of Facebooking and leaving messages on each others ‘walls’ and ‘poking’ one another. I tell you. What is the world coming to?

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