The New Princesses

Picture 10It’s interesting how the damsel-in-distress and prince charming saves the day theme is the essence of most fairy-tales. What kind of conditioning do these tales provide little girls ?

There’s one set of stories: Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White that may condition girls to think of their partners as their ultimate saviors. And then there’s another set of stories: Beauty and the Beast, Princess and the Frog etc: that give the impression that love can and does change ugliness into beauty and beasts into princes.

Research has shown that girls that over-identify with fairy-tales are more likely to fall victim to abusive relationships because sub-consciously, they take on the role of the submissive, passive female role model, expecting love and patience to change their partners’ behavior. This quote in particular struck me, “Small children may interpret the story-book submissive roles as a template of how society expects them to develop.” That is disturbing.

When I see movies like “Shrek,” there’s hope that our perception of princesses is changing. “Shrek” to be will always be seminal work of art and cultural reform. It took everything we know and believe about fairytales and princesses and turned it on its head.

Yes, princesses can be fat and stinky. They can and do burp. They know karate and are capable of taking care of themselves. And they are extremely capable of falling in love with the ugly – of seeing beyond. So there’s hope. I know the kind of media I’ll be feeding my kids when they arrive.

Even the new version of “The Princess and the Frog” is quite encouraging. She’s no princess but an ordinary waitress who dreams of owning her own restaurant someday. She’s drive, ambitious and diligent. Then she kisses a frog out of desperation and becomes a frog herself. I love how new writers and thinkers are taking what we know about fairytales and princesses and flipping it around.

Yes, princesses have dreams. And they don’t all want to live in a castle. And they are good at other things besides looking pretty.

I want to see how technology and storytelling come together to create empowering learning experiences for little girls. I want little girls to dream about themselves, the possibilities, their own potential and all the various things they could enjoy about life. I want them to be surrounded by media and cultural artifacts that work as critical thinking tools that will allow girls to think for themselves.

Have you come across such digital tools? I wish I had more kids around me or was friends with more forward-thinking parents. I’d love to learn what’s on their mind and what kind of education they dream of giving their girls.

The $1 business model

I’ve been very fascinated with this idea. Now that Facebook is on it’s way towards profitability, it perhaps is not applicable to the social networking giant but there might be something for the new start-ups still trying to figure out their business model.

Plenty of start-ups in the Internet space follow a strategy of building a product, amassing an audience quickly and then trying to figure out how to monetize the audience. Facebook did the same, but it hasn’t and still struggles with winning the in-network advertising conundrum.

It changed its “FAN” to “LIKE” – with the definitive intention of pandering to brands and companies by showing them an increase in enrollment into their fan pages. Facebook also changed the settings on my profile page and now connected each “interest” of mine to a specific fan page. It annoyed me. I had beautifully crafted and super creative interests and activities and now they are all gone because I refused to link them to Pages.

From a brand perspective, these are all excellent changes. Branded content will continue to seep through personal social networks in form of “likes.” My clients are already excited with the possibilities.

But on a personal note, Facebook has become less and less intimate and is losing context for me everyday. I have more people on Limited than I did before and my interactions on Facebook have lessened to wishing happy birthday’s and liking a photograph. Maybe it’s just me but are these changes adding real value to the user to ensure they continue using and trusting Fbook for the long term?

That’s why my $1 business model is so brilliant. If I say so myself.

I’d have MUCH happily paid them a $1/ month subscription fee than be subjected to  forced changes. Facebook would have the operating budget they needed to stave off pressure from the industry and buy time to come up with a smarter strategy. It’s a flawed idea, I know but I just shelled out $20/yr for a flavors.me pro account. Facebook offers a much better service and contains my biography of sorts…so paying a subscription fee to Facebook is a no-brainer.

Just my two cents.

Not just location; I’m ready to share more

I haven’t written in a while. I’m thinking of migrating my blog over to tumblr. There’s a very work-like, formal feeling to logging into my domain name and blogging. Anyways, what follows are a few ideas I’ve been thinking about over the past few weeks. Just wanted to catalog them before they fly away.

***

I’m fairly outgoing and so I enjoy Foursquare. But I very often simply forget to check-in because it’s just not a habit yet. On the other hand, if I’m watching an incredible show, movie or reading a page-turner of a book, I’m the first to yell, facebook, tweet it out to the world. It’s an ingrained habit and now that I read more than 3 books/month and discover new authors more often thanks to my Kindle, I find myself itching all the time to share my ‘finds’ with the community. As a personality, I care more about what people think of my media recommendations over my restaurant/ pub recommendations.

The growth of location-based services has been exponential. Books and reading based services have stumbled along the way, neither of them capturing my interest or attention for a sustained period of time. Books and media-based conversations are so rich and multi-layered in context. Then, I wonder why we can’t yet “check-in” to books and entertainment yet ?

We recently met with the brilliant team at HotPotato to evaluate potential opportunities with them for a client. Miso and Hotpotato allow users to share what they are currently watching. In doing so, they create a live environment of impassioned audiences that discuss live events, TV shows and even movies as they are watching it. But I’d really love to see a version for books and reading.

I’d ventured a guess earlier (largely from my own experience) about new mobile devices such as Kindle and iPad contributing heavily to an increase in media consumption. Perhaps there’s an opportunity waiting to happen here with interactive books on-the-go. Imagine you “check-in” a book everytime you read it and it post reading, you are privy to and have access to discussions and opinions – on the go, on your device.

Just a thought. You know, because I’m really ready to share more than just my location.

On philosophy, morality and children

This is a rambling of ideas and thoughts that have been floating in my head for the last few days. This morning, I read a very interesting piece in the NYT about an experimental study in a second-grade classroom at a charter school in Massachusetts where undergraduate students from Mount Holyoke College teach these children philosophy. Not about philosophers but about the higher value, morals and questions with no right or wrong answers. The idea that Prof. Thomas E. Wartenberg purports is that philosophy is not an elitist discipline and that children have the capacity of abstract thinking and thus developing deep reasoning skills via participating in dialog of philosophical issues around stories and fables.

I find new ideas and new methods to improving education very compelling. Critics will argue for and against Prof. Wartenberg’s approach, but I think it’s important to consider how similar it is to what parents do with their children after reading a story book to them: they talk at their children about the morals associated in the story. If I collected a penny for every-time my cousin has compared her daughter’s actions to a fictional but highly respected character, I’d be richer. But I think doing it in a classroom and allowing the children to express their thoughts and feelings is different than a parent relating the moral of the story to them. Also, exposing them to each other’s thoughts and feelings probably makes the experience far richer for them.

I think the point here isn’t that Prof. Wartenberg chooses to take a philosophical approach to inculcate reasoning skills in second graders – the point is how he does it. Quite simple actually – they read a book together and then they talk about it.

By now they knew the drill: deciding whether or not they agreed with each question; thinking about why or why not; explaining why or why not; and respecting what their classmates said.

There was no real point to this blog post apart from expressing wonder at a professors attempt to inspire a tiny portion of how we educate our children and prepare them for the future.

The Future of Publishing Conference

Picture 3… confounds me as much as you. And so on April 30th, I’m headed to the Future of Publishing Conference headed by University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, to discover and learn what the leading practitioners are thinking and how they are approaching the content business.

This conference is jointly put together by Knowledge@Wharton, the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative and Wharton School Publishing with the goal of “examining new technologies and strategies that impact all facets of the industry to help bring actionable answers to publishing executives.”

Not only does the conference have an impressive line-up of speakers (Demand Media, Simon & Schuster, Fast Pencil, Conde Nast, etc) but the panels are well-designed to tackle one specific issue facing the content industry. While, I’m psyched to hear Martin Nisenholtz (he founded nytimes.com in 1995!) keynote the conference, you must also take a look at all the panels here.

I’m not a fan of concurrent panels because it’s difficult to decide which ones will offer most value (based on speakers, moderator and content) But I’ve decided to attend one panel where I learn something new and another panel, where I go deeper on what I already know. So to learn something new I’m planning on attending this panel on the future of books. Ever since I got my Kindle, I’ve been very surprised by how my own reading habits have changed (for the better). I’m curious to hear how the book industry is thinking about new platforms and pricing.

The Future of Books: (Designed to discuss new book platforms, new delivery methods for content and pricing models)

Ellen Archer, President, Hyperion Books
Brendan Cahill, VP and Publisher, Open Road Media
Steve Ennen, Managing Director, Wharton Interactive Media Initiative
Jason Epstein, On Demand Books
Ellie Hirschhorn, EVP and Chief Digital Officer, Simon & Schuster On Demand Books
Steve Wilson, CEO, Fast Pencil

The next panel I’m planning on attending is on Content Discovery & Promotion. This ties in close to my current work and interests. The panel is designed to explore how partnerships can help drive revenues, traffic and bring more visibility to content.

Richard Baum, Global Editor, Reuters.com
Pete Fader, Frances and Pei-Yuan Chia, Professor; Professor of Marketing; Co-Director, Wharton Interactive Media Initiative (moderator)
Jason Jaynes, VP Marketing and Product Management, Pluck
Seval Oz Ozveren, VP Finance and Business Development, Cuil

If you are planning on attending, buy your tickets now. Drop me a line as well – maybe we can meet up there!

Exit Through The Gift Shop – A Banksy Film Review

exitSo last night I had the opportunity to go to an exclusive (oh, I feel special!)screening of Banksy’s “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” So here’s the strange and in hindsight, a very Banksy-ish thing about the movie that he made – it’s not about him. Yep. And if you think that you might actually be disappointed that the movie isn’t about him, you are wrong. Because the character that the film is about is an extraordinary metaphor for what’s possible when you are…. sort of winging it.

Enter Thierry Guetta or (circa 2008) Mr. Brainwash. But let me rewind for a bit and, to the uninitiated, tell you why this movie is a big deal and why you should watch it.

You’ve probably heard of Banksy – if you haven’t heard of him, you certainly have at some point come across his work. When I think of how best to describe him, I can only say that he is a dichotomy, in that, he is one of the world’s most famous street-artists, but ironically he is also entirely anonymous. A total mystery. His true identity is shrouded in mystery and there are probably ten people in the world who know of it. I suppose his meticulously orchestrated anonymity has played a large part in creating his intriguing identity as a street-artist. His work is amazing and if you aren’t familiar, I highly recommend to get on top of your cultural education and learn about him.

For the last two years, I’ve been clued into street-art phenomena because of my boss, Marc Schiller. Marc, like Banksy, leads a dichotomous life. By day, he is a prolific strategic thinker and a marketer and outside work, he is a street-art connoisseur and the founder of Wooster Collective. It is inevitable that his passion for street-art rubs off on the team and at the very least, we’ve become more attuned to this esoteric world.

So that’s the spiel. Think of Banksy as the Brad Pitt or the Obama the street-art world. So when he makes a movie, it’s guaranteed to become an art piece as Marc says. So what’s the film about – and I quote Banksy, when I say, “The film is the story of what happens when this guy tried to make a documentary about me but he was a lot more interesting than I am, so the film is now kinda about him.”

That’s just it. And the guy in question is Thierry Guetta.

He is a character. Multi-dimensional, funny, slightly over-the-top and mostly unbelievable. The film traces Thierry’s story from an untalented video-film maker to an overnight commercial street-artist. (Yes, notice the irony?) It begins in France when Thierry stumbles upon his cousin (who eventually picks up the pseudonym Space Invader) creating Space Invader inspired art-pieces. Intrigued, he films his cousin placing the art strategically across various nooks and streets of Paris and thereby, igniting his own interest in street-art.

Thierry’s path leads him to Shepard Fairey and eventually to Banksy who inspires Theirry to find his own artistic calling. (Because film-making definitely wasn’t it!) Not one to let Banksy down, Theirry soon finds his distinctive style (Andy Warhol reborn) and goes on to become an art sensation literally overnight, selling over $1 million in art.

In my opinion, this paradoxical nature of Thierry’s rise to fame and success is really the essence of the film. What’s more important for an artist? Commercial success of respect of his peers? Because while Thierry rakes in millions, it’s not clear whether his peers (Shepard Fairey, Banksy) believe that Theirry earned the success.

Also, how does this lens change when the artist in question is a street-artist? The footage leading up to Guetta’s seminal and first show “Life is Beautiful,” tells a story of a man who in his naivete decides he has every right to be and deserves to be an artist as big and famous as Banksy. It makes the audience question the integrity of his intentions but also hopelessly making them fall in love with this outlandish, clown-like character. “But that’s how Banksy did it…” was his response when someone questioned him about the practical and logistical details of his art show. It at once, sounds so silly and yet, so endearing that the only appropriate response is to laugh and go along with Banksy and Guetta for the ride.

Personally, I walked away feeling a little bit foolish. In one particular scene, as a marketing and PR stunt Geutta promises exclusive limited edition one-of-a-kind prints of his work to the first 200 people that enter his show. To make each print unique, he lines them up in one long row and like a child playing with color, he sits in his wheelchair (with a broken foot) and as he rolls down the line, he spray-paints a red and yellow squiggles across all 200 prints, making each print a (moronically) unique representation of pure bullshit.

Oh and guess what? I’ve actually paid for similar “exclusive one-of-a-kind, limited edition” artist prints.

So there.

If anything, this movie will give you an entirely new perspective and appreciation for street-art. And you might just walk out a little bit smarter.

In full disclosure – My company is handling the marketing of this film. Only because Marc is one of the few people Banksy trusts.

Watch the short video clip here:

iPad POV

Did I ever mention here that ever since I got my Kindle, I’ve been reading (at least!) three more books a month than I did before? I’ve been following the publishing price wars with great interest over the last few weeks and have thought a lot about whether it would impact or change my habits if it the book prices on Kindle were increased. That’s for another blog post.

This one is about the iPad. I definitely won’t be buying the device just yet (poo!) but I’m as passionate about the debate and excitement following it as everyone else.

I think as a Kindle-owner  my biggest question is how will the iPad impact the ebook market. In his review for the NYT, Pogue mentions a few flaws that drive my skepticism regarding the iPad and ebooks.

  1. It weighs 1.5 pounds (compared to 10 ounces of the Kindle!)
  2. Books purchased from the Apple bookstore cannot be read on any other machine – not even a Mac or an iPhone. That’s a bummer. (Although the 9.7 inch color screen might actually compensate for the drawbacks!)

I think the biggest confusion is around the one true use of the device. As an audience, we’ve been sort of conditioned to perceive a single important use/ value for any device. Even with the iPhone, it’s first real purpose is to play the function of a telephone. The Kindle is for reading, the iPod is for music. I’m still having trouble assigning a single value for the iPad. And that might actually be a good thing – symbolizing a new age of devices that are more integrated and have multiple values as opposed to primary and secondary value.

To me, the value of the iPad is as a content consumption device. Even with the no-flash policy, (and some news sites have already converted their videos into an iPad friendly format) I see a lot of potential in form of applications and optimized websites for the iPad. Add to that the comfort and convenience factor (making it super easy to surf the web) and the iPad might strike the chord.

I’m also positively assured of the success the iPad will have with applications. About 150K iPhone apps work for the device but it will also launch a host of iPad specific applications. (I’m excited at the thought of hulu.com launching it’s own iPad app!)

Pogue sums this up succinctly when he says,

the iPad is not a laptop. It’s not nearly as good for creating stuff. On the other hand, it’s infinitely more convenient for consuming it — books, music, video, photos, Web, e-mail and so on. For most people, manipulating these digital materials directly by touching them is a completely new experience — and a deeply satisfying one.

Kleiner Perkins is obviously very confident of the iPad and its future. It just invested $200 million in its iFund to specifically create applications for the iPad. The company has some 20 applications already under development and will be launching 11 of those tomorrow to coincide with the iPad launch.

What are your thoughts? Will you be buying the iPad?

Designing for the first 15 minutes

My colleague mentioned to me this particular presentation which was very well-received at SXSW this year. I wish I was there to actually hear the presentation but trolling the interwebs – I was able to find some supporting learnings that better explain this talk. This comes extensively from notes taken by Julie at Facebook:
*Everything below is paraphrased or taken directly from Julie – does not include my thoughts or ideas*


  • We are designers are very attuned to bad experiences.”
  • Designers are designing for themselves – but the philosophy falls flat for the new user experience because we’re only a new user once. Esp. true for social networks because we can’t go back and feel what it’s like to discover and become friends with a new group of people for the first time.
  • Ask for registration after users have done something worth saving – after they have invested time in your site. Another strategy is to prove that what’s over the registration wall is worth registering for. (Gowalla does it well)
  • Design a roadmap around an ah-ha moment. Let people continue with the new user flow even if they haven’t confirmed their email yet so they can get to the ahha moment sooner.
  • Eliminate everything before the ah-ha oment.
  • The feedback cycle for getting a user from new user to very engaged and active user is important but a lot of this hearkens from game design – (eg. spore. mint.com, bejewelled.com) At Facebook, the high level feedback is around sharing.
  • User education is an experience – not something they have to read out of a textbook. (eg. glitch.com, yammer, games)
  • Games teach you controls as part of the gameplay – go left, right  try. “In Super Mario Galaxy, the first task is to jump over the bunnies, which is fun. You don’t even realize you’re being taught because you are so immersed in it.”
  • Tumblr is great example as well.


Key TAKEAWAYS:
- see your new user experience with fresh eyes–watch new user tests.
- get newcomers invested right away into your product
- discover your ‘aha moment’ and get to it quickly
- Set small goals that expand into larger ones.
View more presentations from Daniel Burka.

Social media is your bubble. Not mine.

Umair Haque’s controversial post has caused quite a stir in the community. Bud Caddell’s response mirrors my thoughts and brilliantly articulates the flaws in Umair’s argument. I wanted to share a few thoughts of my own to add to this debate.

It’s largely home to weak, artificial connections, what I call thin relationships. Today social media is trading in low-quality conncetions – linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.

Umair assets that thin connections offer no value and I have an issue with that. His statement assumes that people are not smart, in that they let crowd their lives (and social networks) with meaningless relationships that add no value to them. I look at it differently. For one, and this is mostly a nod to Bud’s point, social media isn’t meant to help you create new relationships – but to help strengthen existing ones. Frequent interactions whether they are by sharing information, inconsequential tweets or debates, help cement an existing relationship and give it a foundation.

Regarding thin relationships, Haque assumes that they don’t already exist in our “offline” lives. Neighbors, car-pool groups, the yoga group, parents of your kid’s friends – these are all thin relationships. And they do add value to your life – even if the only value they add is convenience. Social media has helped accelerate the quantity of thin relationships we can now create – AND it has created new kinds of value we can extract from these relationships.

I frankly also believe that as a culture we are past the point where an “online” relationship doesn’t constitute a “real” relationship. I look at an online friend, acquaintance or person as somebody I have simply not met in-person yet. Social media tools and technologies have afforded us the ability to get a proper picture of an “online” person’s personality, likes, dislikes and thought processes. We aren’t in the 1990′s where an “online” person was just a username in an IRC chatroom. As such, our definition of the word “relationship” has evolved. Perhaps it hasn’t been verbalized yet.

The “relationships” at the heart of the social bubble aren’t real because they’re not marked by mutual investment .

Social media is an investment that works for multiple relationships. The design of the technology allows your investment in it to affect and reach more than one person at any given time. That said, naturally, if you develop an affinity towards someone thinking, you are bound to communicate more often with them and as such “invest” more time into the relationship. What Haque misses here is that the relationships in social media begin by mutual interest and have the flexibility to grow together or apart into various branches.

In response to Haque’s point about social media’s inability to replace traditional gatekeepers – I think that Social media is not meant to replace or dis-intermediate any gatekeepers but complement their efforts.

People invest in low-quality content. Farmville ain’t exactly Casablanca. Third, and most damaging, is the ongoing weakening of the Internet as a force for good. Not only is Farmville not Casablanca, it’s not Kiva either. One of the seminal examples of the promise of social media, Kiva allocates micro-credit more meaningfully. By contrast, Farmville is largely socially useless. It doesn’t make kids tangibly better off; it just makes advertisers better off.

Calling games like Farmville socially useless, is the biggest and most profound logically flaw in his argument. What differentiates useful from the useless? Because kiva.org is impacting change and Farmville is largely creating entertainment – is that the basis for dismissing the value games like farmville add to the social and cultural environments we thrive in?

If that’s the underlying principle for Haque’s argument, he is essentially implying that entertaining pursuits that don’t make us better off, are useless. And that’s bullshit. We are multi-dimensional people, with multi-dimensional skills, interests, hobbies and desires. If I can donate $50 to Kiva.org, I am also capable of engaging with farmville for two hours. And no other platform reflects this better than social media.

As a society needs a balance of do-gooders, entertainers, bankers, artists and critics to flourish and grow, the evolution of social media and social technologies will only happen with a balance of similar pursuits. For every kiva.org, we need a farmville. At the end of the day, it’s not just about how we are impacting change, but also about how are we constantly challenging the status-quo and enriching our critical thought processes, that creates value and elevates the society as a whole.

Social media, the buzz, the conversations are not in a bubble. They are happening all around us – in our physical world. They are shaping and re-shaping our offline cultures constantly and with that, it is constantly challenging how we look at the world. We are all re-evaluating our opinions and ideas with an acceleration that wasn’t really around before.

Social media is a bubble, because we call it so. We (digital strategists, social media “gurus,” adagency and creative types) live in our own bubble only listening to, responding to and exposing ourselves to each other’s thoughts and ideas. The minute you step out of it and surround yourself with a different set of people, a different set of voices – you’ll notice that social media is not really a bubble anymore.

Just my two cents. Would love to hear what you think.

Things I learn

I have a new perspective on my job and what I do: I’m a problem-solver and thanks to a strong team and a terrific boss who never shies from giving me feedback, I’m a good problem-solver. The thrill of working on the agency side is you never know what type of challenge will come your way. Every once in a while, I like to look back and take stock of things I’ve learned and become good at and new weaknesses I’ve identified in myself. Perhaps because it is spring and the weather is getting warmer, I’m in more introspective mood… or perhaps it’s because I’m at a roadblock regarding a current challenge I’m working on! But I wanted to capture these thoughts before losing them.

1. I’ve noticed I’ve become better and I continue to become better at presenting my case, argument and disagreements. It sounds so peculiar. But as responsibilities increase and my work touches more people, I have had to sometimes fight harder to protect it or to simply make sure its message doesn’t get diluted. And I suppose after trying every sort of communication skill, I’ve come to realize that data is the best way to win my case. It’s not about I like or I think. It’s about, this will work for three reasons, 1) 2) 3)

2. I’ve also become very good at identifying the problem and framing the right question. Client assignments are sometimes, very specific but most times they are very broad. The onus then is on us to put smart and intelligent thinking to the issue at hand and before even crafting a solution, frame the right question.

3. Constraints make my work better. Budget constraint? Speed-to-market? Timing? Resources? Tight boundaries around a project result into a smarter output.

4. Tell a story. Tell a story. Tell a story!! Solutions to a problem don’t mean anything when they are not framed in the right manner. And after 5 years of creating decks and presenting “solutions,” the most effective way to present it is in form of a story.

5. Visuals make an idea or a solution ten thousand times more effective. I am not a designer, but I’ve learned how to become resourceful. Powerpoint and a MAC are my best friends.

6. My most successful meetings happen when everyone in the group know exactly what is to be achieved out of the meeting. I am not an expert yet – but am getting better everyday at running very effective meetings. Also, something I learned from Behance (make things happen!) and I put to use everyday is: action steps. Once the meeting is drawing to a close, I make it a point to recap the responsibilities and duties assigned and make sure everyone is on the same page about next steps before leaving the meeting.

7. Details matter. I’ve learned this from my boss. He must have been a journalist or a teacher in his previous life. He’s a stickler when it comes to grammar, typos, alignments and using the “right” word to convey an idea. It a very frustrating process to go through a deck with him and have him point out numerous seemingly minor mistakes in wordings everytime. But I’m glad I’ve taken them to heart – because the resulting end product is impeccable. Brilliant. Stellar. When I am managing my own teams, I know I’m going to demand perfection of the details.

8. My personality is such that I get bored easily. The ebb and flow of work life means that you aren’t always working on the funnest or the most interesting problems. To deal with this, I’ve resorted to teaching myself new skills. Here’s what I mean by this – taking a class or reading a book about design is not going to make me a designer. But it’s going to give me a different perspective on problem-solving. It’s giving me a new lens to approach a problem and that excites me. My current obsession is with web usability and user experience. Why are certain things the way they are on the Internet?

I am indulging my obsession and I’m realizing that I’d be good at developing digital products and experiences. Not the best – but better than I am now. And as long as I’m learning – even if what I’m learning is just a new way to think, I’M LOVING MY JOB!

9. The most important skills I have learned however is to believe in myself. And to not lose conviction. I’ve learned to be assertive in situations that required me to step up to the game and demand due credit or attention. Being assertive has actually made me respect myself more and made me enjoy my job more and I cannot thank my boss and my work environment enough for helping me indirectly develop this skill.

I suppose neither of this is rocket science. If I’d taken notes of everything I’d learned from business books, I’m sure these five things would top the list. But I’ve learned these things by doing and making mistakes and I think they are now indelibly imprinted in my head.

I’m sure there are other areas I need to get better at and constantly improve. One of them is to better manage a client. I’m getting there… but would love to hear some feedback. What are some of things you have learned and what are some things you are hoping to get better at ?

MoleSkine Secerts!

Picture 2Picture 1I made a very interesting discovery last night.

My MoleSkine ran out of pages and I desperately needed a new one. So I walked to Strand. (FYI – They always have a terrific collection of Moleskine’s for atleast $3-$4 less than traditional venues)

I’m pretty loyal to the black hard-covered ruled notebook. It retailed at Strand for $14. As I was buying it, I noticed a fatter, thicker version of a ruled notebook and I picked it up to discover it wasn’t a notebook but a 2010 Daily Planner. And it was on sale at Strand for $7.95!!

I quickly scanned through a open copy of the Planer and noticed that it was just like the regular notebook! (Only with dates and times on every single page – but who cares?!)I’m only concerned with writing and anyways my Moleskine, by the time I finish it, is barely recognizable. I liked the idea of having more pages to write and doodle on.

For $8, I not only ended up getting twice the amount of pages, but also a cool little telephone booklet and all these fancy features like a calendar, travel planning page and such.

So yea – a little known secret of the publishing industry. Yearly Daily Planners become quite worthless after December and come January, you’ll find most of these in sale racks. The logic is that most people do their planner/ calendar shopping before the new year begins and they don’t quite enjoy the idea of starting a new planner a few months into the new year.

Works for me though :D And if your concern is the pages and the writing, it should work for you too.

Social Media for Small Business Owners

My talk about Social Media for Small Business Owners along with Morgan Johnston of Jet Blue was a huge success. I went in wondering if I needed to down a few shots of vodka before giving my talk, but turned out that I had a very attentive audience who was hungry to learn! And how!

Like I mentioned earlier, I wanted to focus on talk on giving SBO’s a framework to think about their social media strategies. I still think that was the right approach. The crowd was a mix of SBO’s at all levels – there were folks who had no idea what Twitter or a Fan Page was and folks who were still wondering how to use Linkedin.com to grow their business. While I found most of the attendees very warm and eager to learn, it was a little disheartening when a few still referred to social media as a quick solution to “send more traffic” to their site. You can’t lose weight without working out- how can you then gain the benefits social media offers without putting the time and effort into it?!

Anyways, here is the final presentation that I shared with the SBOs:

Social Media For Small Business Owners

View more presentations from Jinal Shah.
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The Second Screen – Internet and TV can be friends

NYT has an amazing article today about the relationship between Internet and TV but mostly about how instead of cannibalizing the TV, Internet is actually bringing life back into the TV.

One of the main reasons this is happening is because of the “Second Screen.” We talk a lot at work about the second screen – which in essence is the idea that viewers increasingly watch TV while engaging in other activities either online or on mobile. Facebook and Twitter are allowing users to engage in chatter while watching television. And that in itself is extremely powerful.By becoming a part of the story, the audiences are effectively moving the story forward.

This year, NBC decided to show the Golden Globes live on both coasts for the very first time. And they want to repeat it with the Emmy Awards to enable viewers on both coasts to watch and (chat online) simultaneously.

This isn’t it, according to the article,

The Vancouver Olympics are shaping up to be the most-watched foreign Winter Games since 1994. This year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched program in United States history, beating out the final episode of “M*A*S*H” in 1983.

Amen to that, I say.

My thoughts on chatroulette.com

I’ve read about ChatRoutlette.com a lot and even spent a few awkward moments on the site. I think a Twitter friend summed it best when he described the site as the online red light district.

The experience on Chatroulette.com is eerily similar to the ICQ.com days – where you’d enter a room, vet each other out virtually and maybe share a few meaningful lines of conversation. Atleast on ICQ.com, you could hide behind a cloak of anonymity.

I’ve kept clicking next and the weirdest assortment of strangers from all over the world whizzed one after another on my screen. A creepy bald, old man, an excited college kid from Holland, a girl with her underwear in focus, and the list goes on.  I shared perhaps five lines with a kid before clicking next.

Its remarkable that a young kid in Russia created this site – unsure of how it would be used and how people will react to it. And even though I’m not seventeen, there’s a part of me that is entirely fascinated by this site and the idea of meeting strangers on it. danah boyd expresses it better than me when she says,

I used to love the randomness of the Internet. I can’t tell you how formative it was for me to grow up talking to all sorts of random people online. So I feel pretty depressed every time I watch people flip out about the dangers of talking to strangers. Strangers helped me become who I was. Strangers taught me about a different world than what I knew in my small town. Strangers allowed me to see from a different perspective. Strangers introduced me to academia, gender theory, Ivy League colleges, the politics of war, etc. So I hate how we vilify all strangers as inherently bad. Did I meet some sketchballs on the Internet when I was a teen? DEFINITELY. They were weird; I moved on.

I’m not sure that immature folks of any age (or the easily grossed out) should be on this site. But I do hope that we can create a space where teens and young adults and the rest of us can actually interact with randomness again. There’s a cost to our social isolation and I fear that we’re going to be paying it for generations to come.

Personally, the Internet hasn’t taken away any randomness from my life. The only difference is that this randomness how has a context to it, whether its the six degrees of separation or knowing enough about a person from simply googling them. It is still an act of measured serendipity to come across strangers who actually are not.

Also, I don’t think ChatRoulette has evolved into the kind of platform that can sustain anything more than a brief curiosity yet. And that is OK with me. I do agree with boyd that all strangers are not inherently bad, however, it this Internet age, it might be handy to have an internal radar that urges you to click “next,” when something is just not right.

I think I may play around a little bit more with ChatRoulette. I want to try it with a bunch of friends on the screen to see the experience that gives me. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about CR as well.

Update: This introduction to ChatRoulette by Sarita Yardi is a very good read. Highly recommend it.

On Ideas and keeping them

.. an idea just hit us out of nowhere, leaving really no other choice than to run after it. I was the proponent of “it’s not the idea, the execution that counts.” And it’s funny how easy it was to say that when I wasn’t the one with the idea. I suppose an idea is like a baby, anyone who has one alone can see the potential and the possibilities it beholds. After 24 hours of idea paralysis, I’m now pulling myself together to begin some actual legwork on the idea. Who knows where it will lead? But all I know right now, is that I’ve gotta go deep with it.

At work, we’ve been working on a fun project about work-life balance and managing productivity. It’s quite ironic to be overwhelmed with content and information about work-life balance and maintaining a zen state with the chaos in my mind and head. However, I did learn something interesting about achieving goals. Some people (read: my husband) is the kind who keeps his goals to himself. He is secretive to a point of being obsessive. And then there’s people like me: who talk to a few people so I can hold myself accountable for it. It’s like the time I wanted to go to Italy, I told as many people as possible. And then I worked my butt off to get into the program or else, I’d have lost my face infront of all these people!

We humans are such complex and weird creatures.

Social Media for Small Business Owners

I’m giving a talk next week at Asian Women in Business about Social media for small business owners. Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my point-of-view is regarding social media for SBO’s. I don’t for a minute doubt the value social media provides any business. However, I want to be cognizant of the fact that social media, like any other business channel, requires immense time, resources and investment for limited tangible results. And I wonder if that is a hard sell for a SBO.

I’ve been interviewing and speaking with SBO’s since the last few days and am hearing mixed opinions. Most SBO’s see immediate value in social media but the results don’t often match up to their expectations. And mostly that comes from a case of misguided expectations.

There is a LOT of information on the Internet for SBO’s interested in using social media. But just sifting through it and reading about it can be overwhelming and cause action – paralysis. I don’t want my presentation to be just another talk crowding the web. While there is no one-size fits all approach when it comes to social media, I do want to provide my audiences with a strategic framework to think about social media.

I just wanted to jot down some thoughts here before I begin framing them into a presentation. I’d love feedback and ideas on making this better.

1. What you don’t know about social media: Social media is old news. This talk is not a SM 101/ but lets start with a reality check. Yes, we’ve heard the astounding numbers. 350 Mil+ users on Facebook. 50M on Twitter. etc etc. But what you might not know is this – only 5% of people on Twitter create 75% of the conversations on it. 85% of iphone users use only between 2-4 applications. (So hold your horses before you invest 50% of your marketing budget into a new application)

Bottomline: Share of attention is difficult to achieve UNLESS there is a compelling value proposition.

2. Lets talk about you. Have a clear understanding of your business goals and then think about how social media platforms can help you achieve them. You are not Dell. You are not Zappos. What are YOU trying to achieve from social media? Entertainment networks use social media to drive tune-in and awareness; Magazines use social media to increase readership and build audiences; the korean BBQ Truck uses Twitter to drive foot-traffic and inform its fans of the truck’s locations. And other retail brands use facebook and Foursquare to drive sales and promotions. What is your business goal and is it something that social media can help you achieve it?

What are then some of the goals that SM can help you achieve? From a sales POV – social media can give you a terrific understanding of your customers; help you build thought leadership in you area of business/ expertise and help occupy mindshare. Social media also offers a more direct advantage in terms of driving promotions, foot traffic, sales and positive reviews. (Think yelp.com twitter.com and foursquare.com) The usual arc into success in social media is 1) build audiences 2) to drive awareness and 3) ultimately inspire action.

3. Understand your audience. This is important. Once you have your goals clearly outlined, think about your audiences and where they enjoy spending time on the Interwebs. Are they talking about you or your competitors somewhere? Are they they just a handful or are they in droves?

4. Prioritize your investment. What’s right for your business? Each platform helps you achieve specific objectives. Linked in with business networking, Twitter with customer service, relationship building, Facebook with fan engagement.

5. Rules of Execution.

No overnight results: The amount of time you invest in social media is directly proportional to the results you can expect from social media: Setting up a Facebook page of Twitter profile isn’t enough.

Not about the numbers: Not yet anyways. Focus on the quality of your interactions not the quantity. An entertainment client of ours has 30K less followers on Twitter than its competitor. In spite of this, our client tweets are just as re-tweeted (slightly more often, in fact) as the competitor tweets.

Measure. Optimize. Adapt. The beauty of social media is real-time results. Twitter is still far limited in providing results – but Facebook gives you the opportunity to track progress, see what’s working and what’s not and make changes in real time.

This is a work in progress. But any thoughtful comments and constructive criticism will be super helpful.

Branded Content: Gucci vs. Burberry

Note: Older article from contentdecoded.com reposted here.

Picture 1A few weeks ago we applauded Burberry with its brilliant foray into social media and branded content with Art of the Trench. Today we chanced upon Gucci’s effort at being “social” and have to relate our extreme disappointment with the end result. Burberry did set the bar very high.

Gucci Eye Web is an ode to its line of sunglasses. (atleast we think it is) but it comes off as a poorly executed idea without any substance to it.

When you enter the site, it asks you to pick a city to explore the nightlife. Upon picking New York, you end up on a flash-heavy page with cliched music and a picture of rotating sunglasses at the center of the page. The sunglasses alternatively feature images of random people – I was hard pressed to understand how those people are connected to the Gucci brand. The site is also confusing: is it about nightlife ? Or about Gucci sunglasses? If it is indeed about Gucci Eyewear, why isn’t everyone in the “crowd-sourced” photographs wearing Gucci sunglasses?

Here are three reasons we think this Branded Content initiative by Gucci is epic fail.

  1. No solid positioning: There is no About page on the site or anything that gives the reader an idea of the purpose, mission or point of the site. Additionally, the directions are misleading. The three-stepped guide at the corner of the page tells the readers they can explore nightlife in particular city with no information about the city or nightlife! Was the idea to explore nightlife via the user-submitted photographs? But even then, how are zoomed in photographs of random people a way to explore nightlife? I can’t tell the difference between the photos from New York or Barcelona. They all look the same.
  2. No connectivity: The idea of “connect” on the Gucci EyeWeb is translated as share us with your friends. Gucci’s idea of experimenting with social media is cherry picking the themes they want to explore (let’s do crowdsourcing!) and then add social sharing buttons. This isn’t even Web 1.0.
  3. Exclusive does not mean brochures: The site offers users the ability to download exclusive content. Gucci’s version of exclusive content is a brochure with the product information about Gucci sunglasses and a link to the main site. A fashion blog offers more exclusive content than that. We are passionate about content and masking brochures and “saley” content as exclusive is not only in poor taste, but undermines the intelligence of the Gucci customer and brand enthusiast.

This criticism is grounded in the belief that while we commend brands for taking that proverbial step forward with social media, we hold them accountable for their sloppy execution. Had Gucci put a little more thought into this project, it would have been a different story altogether. For a luxury brand such as Gucci, allowing users to interpret the brand with their images is a commendable step towards embracing their fans and opening up the brand. And Gucci certainly gets points for that. But as a luxury brand, Gucci (and any other) is about exclusivity, integrity, heritage and class. While it may seem that most of social media themes (crowdsourcing, massclusivity, transparency, casual-ness etc.) are diametrically opposite of what luxury brands stand for, the real challenge for luxury brands is going to be to figure out how to interpret these social media themes in the context of their own brand.

The Art of Trench coat is a lesson in sartorial elegPicture 2ance and how it translates on the web. Visual poetry! In addition to accepting user photos (wearing the Burberry trench), Burberry has commissioned a handful of famous photogs including The Sartorialist, to add to this photo essay of sorts and celebrate the trench coat. This is one of the better branded content efforts I’ve seen in a long time. Hats off to Burberry.

Burberry’s Art of the Trench has it’s own flaws – for example, how does the site plan on ensuring repeat visits? But the reason Gucci and other luxury brands need to be a little careful with social media-branded content executions is that for every Gucci, there will be a Burberry. – a competing brand that will have executed an idea just a little better. And that has tremendous intangible benefits in social media.

2010 Social Media Trends: From Enagement to ECommerce

Social media is evolving from an engagement platform to an ecommerce platform.

With the year ending, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I was and what I was doing around this time last year. In December 2008, I was presenting to all my clients a Twitter 101 deck and giving them a practical, logical reasoning of why they should consider jumping on Twitter. Fastforward 12 months and my agency is not only running and growing over 10 Twitter feeds for our clients, but we’ve gathered a rich historical database of our results.

I want to try and imagine now, how the next 12 months are going to surprise me and knock the breath out of me. Social media and it’s evolution excites me. And for 2010, I’m putting my stake in the ground for E-commerce.

We are going to witness a major shift in how we approach social media. 2010 is going to demand stronger measuring tactics and more importantly, tangible results. Brand building, awareness, buzz and fan activation are important goals but clients and agencies alike will now push for more tangible goals: sales. A direct increase in revenue.

Picture 4Dell just announced today that it credits about $6.5 million of its revenues to Twitter. Dell’s aggregate presence on social media (Facebook & Twitter) and its own community sites (Direct2Dell and IdeaStorm) has 3.5 Million + fans and followers that have collectively contributed to the $6.5 Mil rev. achieved.

What’s important to consider is the astounding growth (more than double!) in just three months following Dell’s announcement in June at having reached a 3 Mil revenue mark. Will the numbers reach 12 Million+ by 2010 ?

Granted $6.5 Million is a tiny piece of Dell’s $60 Billion revenues – but the unparalleled (100%+) growth in just three months alone is worth noting.

We are just beginning to see the potential of driving sales through social media.

Another point to consider:

As financial and human-resources investment in social media continues to grow, it will only get more time-intensive and expensive for a brand to push their audiences to three different web-based destinations: 1) It’s own website 2) It’s Facebook profile and 3) It’s Twitter page.

I think by late 2010, it will be fair to expect brands to start prioritizing their investment and efforts, and arguably giving first preference to its social media destinations. I know it sounds far-fetched. The idea that a brand’s website can be completely cannibalized by its social media presences seems preposterous, but it just makes sense to me logically.

If I can grow the impact of my brand and my revenues ten times faster on the social web than via my website – why wouldn’t I just put more resources into my Facebook page?

Also, it is a LOT to ask a customer to fan you, follow you and also sign up for your email newsletter. Ecommerce needs to get streamlined – content needs to get streamlined.

Signs are already pointPicture 3ting in this direction. Earlier this year, 1800-Flowers quietly opened an E-commerce store on its Facebook fan page.

On it Facebook page, 1800 Flowers accepts payments with all major credit cards and will soon implement Facebook’s proprietary payment platform. (Although the company only has about 8000 fans on its page (and not much fan activity – but that you can attribute to the fact that 1800 Flowers it not exactly what you’d call a passion brand.)

A friend of mine who works at a luxury fashion brand informed me that her company is “definitely” selling products on Facebook starting 2010. Facebook is one of their strongest focus for next year.

These are just my top level thoughts on a topic that is going to become very important and talked about next year. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. If you are a brand, I want to know more about how you are looking at measuring success in social media. Let’s keep this discussion going!

A few thoughts on the iPad

There have been a few dismissals of the iPad. My Facebook feed was flooded for a few hours last night with friends calling the iPad an exaggerated version of the iPhone. While that judgement may not be far off the mark, I am personally quite excited for the iPad and the potential impact it can have on the content publishing worlds. So a few things off the top of my head:

New Markets – I think the main thing the iPad will do is unlock new markets and underserved audiences. I’m thinking my 50-yr old Mom or my 5 year old niece. The broad applicability and price points of this device will fill the niche for readers who want more than just books on their device and computer users who want a scaled down version of their PC. I’m curious to see how existing publishers will optimize for these markets and the platform.

Content: I’ve head some very smart people talk and discuss “the medium is not the message” argument. While I am not sure I even understand the more academic discourses on this topic, one thing is clear to me. The medium may not be the message, but the medium will certainly dictate and push for innovation in the deliverance and creation of the message. Much like what the iPhone did with the application community. I think it will be interesting to see as the iPad technology evolves, what kind of new markets and industries it decides to support. The strongest advantage the iPad has against the Kindle (sorry Nook – I’m not even sure, I should include you here in the competition!) is its iTunes network.

Over a pizza discussion with the team the other day, Justin bought up an interesting POV. He mentioned how the future should actually have been convergence of technologies into one device – but the iPad actually fragments this convergence. What are your thoughts about this?

Update: This news article re-affirms my initial thoughts about the iPad’s target audience: the middle-aged.

Pause.

I know people come into our lives for a reason and then they leave. But sometimes, I just don’t want to meet people that are not going to be in my life permanently. :(

From a night owl to a morning person

I’ve developed a new habit – and I promise, it’s a good one. When in college, I poo-poohed at the working professionals who wanted to devote more time to their hobbies but claimed to be so busy with work that they found no time for their hobbies. Now, five years into the work force myself – I was slowly inching towards becoming one of those. There never is enough time. It’s not that I have no time – at the end of the work-day there are still four solid hours, or five if I’m feeling frisky to accomplish something. But by the end of the workday, my brain feels like warm jelly. Opaque and unable to process anything that needs an IQ above 50. Also, I just really enjoy being at home with R and cooking together or watching a movie together. The problem was – I had to priortize what I absolutely not give up and what I could live without. Here’s where I netted out – I need 8 hours of sleep. and I want to spend time with my R. But I could give up staying up at night in favor or squeezing in a few extra hours in the morning. Especially on weekends and holidays.

And I have to say, that’s been working out quite well for me.

For example, this past Monday. What a stroke of luck. My company was probably the only one that decided to honor Columbus Day and give us the day off. I had pretty much signed off for any days off after the Labor Day weekend so this was a delighful surprise. I scheduled an early, early morning meeting uptown with my mentor. And then spent the rest of the morning, exploring a new neighbourhood in New York. I spent two leisurely hours at the Columbus Circle Borders hungrily devoring the newest Dairy of a Wimpy Kid. I nestled myself in the History section and chuckled rather loudly at the incredible wisecracks of Greg Heffley, the wimpy hero. I also finally read, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and for a second wondered if the book was missing pages. I scratched my head thinking how Spike Jonze managed to make a movie out of this 3-paged book. Didn’t look like much of a story to me.

After my fantastic book-reading sojourn, I paid for :On Writing: by Steven King (at my writer friend’s recommendation) And while I may not be a fan of his writing, I admire his succcess. (And who doesn’t want success of THAT sort!) I ambled around aimlessly on Madison Avenue for a while wondering about the sudden influx of chimmey-smoking Europeans. And then I heard… Oy Mambo, Mambo Italiano… on a loudspeaker. Turns out, it was some sort of a Italians in America parade. What a pity – because there were barely any people on the streets watching the parade.

Anyways, before cabbing it to my eye-doc’s appointment – I stared for a bit at the carefully orchestrated art-like exhibit in the windows of a Judith Lieber showroom. The windows were outfitted with brightly colored lights and when they fell on a diamond-encrusted clutch, it reminded me of an ancient Studio 54 crystal ball photo I had once seen.

By the time I returned home, I felt so accomplished! I’d started my morning with a very inspiring conversation, read two books at Borders, window-shopped and explored a new neighborhood in New York AND got my new contact lenses.

These days, I can’t stay up beyond midnight and I’m so okay with that. :)

Sometimes

.. in my dreams, I see worlds created out of muted images and photographs that I must have  seen or admired on the web.

But in my dreams, they look eerie. Like they’ve been brushed with thunder, a melting sun and sorrowful blues.

I get by with a little help from my friends

In a very Beatles mood these days. Last night, I had a wonderful call with a very good friend of mine. Infact, she was my first friend in New York and to this day, remains a strong inspiration for me. We started our careers together as interns for InStyle magazine. Our desks were next to each other. We bonded over being broke, sharing lunches and beauty products! My first summer in New York was beautiful because I had found a true friend in her.

She worked in the NY publishing industry for a bit – got published a few times in the New York Times but when the call came, she packed her bags and moved back to her suburban home town in middle America. Yes. After spending six years in New York, she had the balls to say yes to an idyllic (but make no mistakes – her little town has its own quirks and challenges!) life in Pennsylvania and devote herself to her one true love. Writing. Such an inspiration! She nudged me, as only a friend can, in the right track and here I am. Deviating, re-inventing myself again and perhaps, answering my call.

Thank you, A.

Waiting eagerly for 2010

I am three full months early to make this proclamation but I am so ready for this year to be over. Personally, it was a very fulfilling year. Even professionally, my growth has been uncharted.  But creatively, I’ve never felt this empty before.

Writing is a difficult passion to sustain. It’s like I’ve run out of stories. I can’t seem to think of interesting things to write about. I haven’t even been able to imagine anything interesting to write. My well is running dry. It’s like being a dancer and suddenly realizing that you are disenchanted with all the moves that there are. It’s like being an artist and struggling to find a scene you can paint because the ones you find, either lack luster or don’t hold your interest for long. Or a photographer, who can’t find a frame good enough to shoot. Does this feeling have a name?

Also on the web and on Facebook – I never quite know how much to share and how much to hide. Is it weird to talk about my wedding? Is it weird to always talk about professionally interesting topics? Exactly what facets of myself do I hide and reveal? Really. Life was simpler with the anonymous blogger accounts.

I’ve almost given up on amassing any creative wealth this year. Sometimes I revisit the dog-eared, yellowing pages of a haphazard but a free creative mind and I shock myself at the intensity and beauty of the prose that a ‘younger’ me had written in the past. And maybe in hindsight, an ‘older and wiser’ me will realize that the frustration, impatience and general lack of direction I’ve felt this year was perhaps, just a pause in time. A much needed pause to understand and then articulate this insanely beautiful year. Where is Sam when I need him ? That’s exactly what he’d have said. Or something better.

Ahh. Anyways, with any luck – my creative spirit will find me before the year ends.

The Teen Vogue Brand

I just finished reading this insightful interview with Amy Astley, editor in chief of Teen Vogue. When I transitioned away from the magazine world into the digital realm in 2006, editors were just beginning to think about expanding the print versions of the magazine to the web. In less than three years, the survivor-magazines have not only built a sound web presence and personality, but also given a new meaning to the magazine business.

I recently had coffee with the publisher of a top women’s magazine and a part of the conversation that stayed with me. She made a comment about how ‘publisher’ is an archaic title for the role that in all reality is that of a chief brand officer and their responsibility is to think of the magazine as a brand, and not just a content property.

I was reminded of this conversation while reading Astley’s interview. Her vision for Teen Vogue is so precise. And she’s right, there’s not other way to articulate it than say that it is a sensibility and she builds a team of people who ‘get’ that sensibility.

The Teen Vogue brand outputs: reality show, events, CFDA/scholarship and even the new handbook released by Teen Vogue strengthen and further the brand story. I suppose it’s not all that new considering magazines have always supported events and causes that align with their brands.  Teen Vogue is bringing it closer to their readers though.

Just thought it was interesting enough to note.

Y Combinator’s Request for Startups: The future of content and journalism

I chanced upon Noah‘s link to Y Combinator’s Request For Startups. Both the RFS’s hit home with me and I thought I’d take a few minutes to pen down my thoughts.

1The Future of Journalism – This is such a loaded query. What indeed is the future of content ? More importantly, what is the future of content consumption? This particular RFS asks us to consider this question from a different perspective: how would this site make money. I don’t have the answer but there are several themes floating in my head that perhaps can make some sense when sewed together?

Setting expectations from the beginning: I’ve written in the past about social media expectations and how they are directly related to the future of any new business service in the social media space. (PS – Social media is not the same as social networking, although some rules still apply) In this post that I wrote a few months ago, I expounded on the premise that success often follows social networks or services that set the expectations from the very begining. Since the obvious goal here is to make money, the ideal content website would approach this by defining reader/user expectations before anything. I’d approach the build of such a site with a simple premise in mind: people will pay for content and service when they percieve value, so don’t focus on building a user-base first. Charge from the VERY begining. Case in point: Club Penguin, Moncole (web-only edition) etc.. Threadless, etc.

Multi-platform content? Content limited to browser? I think this is worth considering especially in light of new technologies. People are OK with paying the monthly subscription fee for blogs they can access for free otherwise on Kindle. Essentially, people are paying for mobility and for convenience. I think the future content site should be built with the idea of convenience and mobility at its core? It would be foolish to consider limiting a content site to just the browser. For those who still enjoy their ‘content’ in print, perhaps the idea here is to set up print-kiosks aroudn the world at airports and other major city-hubs that allow anyone to pick and choose articles they’d like to read on paper and simply hit the print button. Viola – the selected content is packaged into a magazine/newspaper, at a premium ofcourse. Literally turning the tables around. Case in point: magcloud, blurb, Mine magazine (not sure how successful the venture was, but definitely knocking on the future of content)

I also just read a very interesting article in this months’ Fast Company about multi-platform storytelling to be launched by Penguin and the creator of CSI. The idea here is to use books, video, games and several other platforms to tell a linear story. Perhaps the same model can be used for news/content?

Format: This area is so tricky. On one hand the success of sites liek Breakingnews and on the other there’s the chatter around the $100 billion hyper-local news industry that remains untapped. I am torn. I get my news from my “network” – whether that’s on Fbook or Twitter. I follow enough local friends to not feel out of loop and I follow enough strangers to know exactly whats up with the world. So I’m not so sure I’d want to pay for that. What I’d be willing to invest my time and money is long-form news and op-eds from incredibly smart people. Case in point: The Daily Beast and HuffingtonPost

I think that people like me generally approach content with this point of view: If it’s interesting, it will find me. So what would make someone like me ‘seek’ out and ‘pay’ for content?

As someone who started her career as a journalist, the future of content is very close to my heart and I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and things you are seeing in the marketplace.

Introduction to Perfumery by Anne McClain

photoThis is one of the most interesting things I’ve done in New York – last night I attended an Introduction to Perfumery class last night at Meet. Hosted by the beautiful and amazing Anne McClain, I walked out of the class with a completely new appreciation and understanding of fragrance.

Let me tell you a little about Anne McClain first. Anne is currently a student a school of perfumery in Grasse, France. In Sept 09, Anne will travel to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and spend one week volunteering at the Casa de los Angeles, teaching art at a local day care center for children of single mothers. After this trip, Anne will return to Grasse to create the ‘Humanity’ scent, inspired from her experience in Mexico and the idea of compasion. In Spring 2010, this scent will be made available to the public by way of a fountain of perfumed water in Brooklyn, where Anne lives. It is an experiment, she says, in trying to bring a personal experience to a public space by means of fragrance.

Now if that is not inspiring, what is?!

I’ve always thought of perfumery to be an art that you get a more refined and sophisticated understanding of with more exposure and training….just like wine, cheese or cigars. In my own case I have graduated from wearing the more commercial, simpler fragrances to appreciating and wearing more complex scents or layering unusual combinations. Fragrance, also, as we all know has the power to evoke incredibly strong memories and transport you back to forgotten worlds. Last night was something like that.

What I love about Anne is her efforts and faith in making perfumery an accessible art. It is like painting or dancing, she says. You start with the basics and you can understand and learn enough to experiment on your own. I can tell you one thing: once you take this class with Anne, you will realize that all this while you had been staring at the world of perfumery from behind an opaque curtain. And now, it is transparent.

We started by sniffing Jasmine Grandiflorum, a type of Jasmine grown in India. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of  jasmine because it reminds me of sticky, greasy hair oil that my mom would insist on rubbing on my scalp when I was a kid. I hated hair oil and this particular Jasmine variety smells just like it. But it was interesting to me to hear other’s experiences and memories associated with this Jasmin.

After Indol (a synthetic ingredient that smells like mothballs!), we sniffed yet another Jasmine Sambac. This one – was much lighter on the nose and reminded me of the scent of ‘gajras-’ little flower garlands that Indian women use as adornment for their hair. A few other raw ingredients we sniffed last night are Geranium, Citronella (a synthetic ingredient used in rose-based fragrances to give it more bullk) Patchouli (cool fact: patchouli oil is made of 144 chemicals and hence, near impossible to replicate) Sandalwood, Bacdanol (the synthetic equivalent of sandalwood) Adoxal (a synthetic ingredient that is used to create the marine smell. This ingredient had a very salty smell) Essential Rose Oil (It was disgusting! Which is so surprising considering most of my perfumes have rose top notes)

My favorite part was the later half of the ingredients – the warmer, woodsy ones used mostly in men’s fragrances. I enjoy mixing my feminine fragrances with just a dash of my fiance’s colognes. I feel like men’s fragrances add a litlte more substance and perhaps just a little bit of darkness and mystery that I enjoy. We started with sniffing Ambroxan, a synthetic equivalent of Amber. I had never questioned where Amber came from… for some reason assuming the scent came from a stone, but yesterday I was shocked and a little grossed out to learn that amber actually comes from whales. I will spare you exactly how it is produced – click on the link to learn that. Thankfully, most fragrances use the synthetic equivalent of amber. Whew.

Anyways, Ambroxan smelled heavenly…it smelled secure, sexy and like an aphrodisac. Another lovely ingredient we sniffed as Cashmeron. I think Anne described it beautifully when she said that Cashmeron smells of a handsome man walking in the woods, with a scarf around his neck. In my version of the scent, it is Hugh Jackman in his sexy greek god-like demeanor. Sigh. Just the thought. :P

I also learned that contrary to Sephora, coffee is not the best smell to sniff to clear your nose. Just fresh air. So if you are out perfume shopping, walk out of the store to clear your nose memory and walk back in a few minutes later. Another intereting fact – the best place to wear perfume is your hair! It stays the longest there and not on your pulse as you might beleive it.

So anyways – THANK YOU Anne. You have found a lifelong student in me! And if any of you are interested in hosting a perfume workshop for your girl-friends, get in touch with Anne!

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How to: De-clutter your phone book

Picture 25 The only phone-numbers I have left on my cell-phone are those of my family, twenty or so friends (people I communicate with AT LEAST once every month) and a gazillion take-out places.

That’s it. And it was the most liberated I have felt in a LONG time.

It’s funny because just a year ago, my boyfriend was making fun of me for having over 300 contacts listed on my phone. I couldn’t even recall the faces of about 15% of the contacts.

I’m love technology and instead of becoming overwhelmed by it, I have decided that from now, technology is going to simplify my life.

I started with my phone.

Step 1: Delete ALL contacts that I simply couldn’t put a face to. (I know, it sucks you don’t realize how easy it is to punch someone number on your phone when you are out networking or at a bar or at some event. Next thing you know – you have 50 names and numbers you cannot recognize)

Step 2: Delete ALL contacts that I will most likely never ever talk to on the phone. (This includes a bunch of ex-colleagues, old banks tellers, old restaurants that have closed down or I don’t order from anymore etc)

Step 3: Exercised much caution here- Delete ALL contacts of friends who I have not talked with in over a year (in some cases even the last 6 months)

Step 4: What I did do, which was so smart, was add all 1800 numbers to my bank, credit card company, landlord and doctor. Yes, shamefully admit that I hadn’t saved those numbers.

Result: My phone book is about 150 numbers lighter.

My ex-colleagues and old friends are connected to me on Facebook. Athough I highly doubt, if there be a time when I need to talk to them, it will anyways be a very awkward phone conversation which should not happen without prior email or fbook msg. So why continue carrying the number on my phone?

You will surprise yourself – but if you paid careful attention to your phone-bills, there are probably only about 20-30 phone numbers you call or recieve calls from regularly. (unless your business line and work line is one and the same)

I feel much lighter already. You should try it!

Next task: De-clutternig Facebook!

(Photo credit: OneExposure)

Clever newsletter marketing

Picture 7 I’ve been closely following newsletter marketing these days – while it’s tough to find out exact response rates and gauge effectiveness, I try to judge each newsletter from my own lens, or its uniqueness.

I found LifeBooker via a Facebook Ad and signed up for their deals and newsletter. Just today I recieved this email in mail promoting their free $12 gift certificate code.

What’s interesting to me is that LifeBooker shared information on how other customers used to code, thereby, booking massively discounted spa and haircut deals.

While the newsletter could use design more powerfully to convey this information, I thought it was really smart that they shared some ‘voyeristic’ data. That certainly got my attention.

What do you think? Have you seen other clever and unique newsletter marketing techniques?

How do you decide whether an MBA is for you?

The last few months were torturous in terms of the internal conflict I battled regarding the next eveutal question people my age consider: grad school/ MBA. The best advice I recieved was that I should consider MBA only if: 1) I wanted to change industries 2) If I felt that I had reached a glass ceiling in terms of promotion/ pay raise.

In my case it is niether. I love the digital domain and thankfully, the last few years of agency/ consulting experience has given me the ability to transfer the skill-set to any other industry. Regarding promotion/ pay raise, I don’t beleive that I have reached a glass ceiling in terms of that and from my understanding of the digial industry, I don’t think I will be there anytime soon.

So based on that filter, I should have easily been able to weed out MBA. But the other benefits of an MBA niggled me. Most important, the high-worth business network that I’d have an opportunity to cultivate (considering I got into a top B-school) On the other hand, a $120K debt + 2 years of no money coming in is a huge set-back. Back to square one.

I spoke to a dozen incredibly smart and successful MBA’s and non-MBA friends and the feedback was always mixed. MBA’s highly valued the network and the credibility the label lent them. Most of them however maintained that their learning was limited. But almost all of them considered that their MBA was a good decision. The non-MBA’s I spoke to were not faring far behind in terms of jobs, salaries or credibility.

My mentor (mid to late 30s)  offered me an interesting insight as well. He said that most likely people his age or just a little bit older is the generation that is going to move up to becoming my generation’s boss’s. And his generation, doesn’t care about an MBA. The way they evaluate a candidate is very different. They still respect and look for a mix of creative and analytical skills, but what they value more is the ability to think unconventionally.

After taking into account all these conversations and ‘research,’ – I was able to decide a few things for myself.

1. I do value the network and credibility an MBA from a top school brings you. But I haven’t yet been denied or lost an opportunity because of either.

2. I am still learning and growing tremendously as a professional from my job, my mentors and the people I surround myself with. There is a new learning curve to overcome (whether in strategy, operations or leadership) every few months that I thrive on. Also, as a personality – I grow and learn better by doing.

3. Financially and in my personal life (my wedding, my fiance’s grad. school etc), I have a few other things that need to be a top priority right now. The incurred debt from an MBA is not a problem as I am confident that I can get rid of it in a few months. But right now, we need  (me) to have a stable salary to be able to support us. This, I realize, is an important factor. With all the research I did, I was also sure to ask talk about how grad school can impact a new marriage. This is largely a personal choice but for me, it was a no-brainer.

So what’s the verdict? I haven’t dismissed the possibility of an MBA. I am certain though, that I am not ready for it right now and probably need another year or two. And lastly, I may have to consider exploring evening-MBA option simply because I cannot imagine being out of the workforce for two years. I love working wayy too much to do that.

Seems so simple! But it took me six months to decide upon this. Whew.

So what’s the verdict?

Training to be an entrepreneur

Because of the instant-nature of my job, I often don’t find time to sit down, reflect and compute the bytes of information that I feed into my head daily via Twitter, Facebook and a number of other networks. I try not to lose focus of my personal goals as I gain more work experience and become more confident and self-assured daily.

I consider my current phase of life as a “training” period for my next phase of life, which is running my own business. I think a lot about how I want my life to make a difference, the impact I want to make. I will be honest – my primary goal is to build a highly profitable and financially successful business and I don’t harbor false notions about my capitalistic desires. However, I also want to be a strong leader and I want to create a business that will impact more than a handful of lives. An honorable business that will create jobs and hopefully, contribute to the general well-being of society. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, but for now I am also sub-consciously training myself to be a leader, to understand how to run a business and to learn from both the good habits and the bad habits of entrepreneurs. I’ve picked up a few ideas and values that I want to build my business around. I just wanted to put them down on paper, so here:

1) Execute quickly and efficiently: This is the most important thing I have learned and it is the single most common factor all entrepreneurial minded have in common. I must have heard, ‘better to ask for forgiveness than permission’ about 10 times from all different people. It is branded in my head now. It is important to think things through and be doggedly focused on the end goal. It is equally important to not gloss over the details in the beginning, because it is not a pleasant situation to deal with midway down the road. But the point is – do your homework fast and just execute. Start making, building, selling – whatever it is your idea is. But just start it.

2) Cut a good deal, but provide equal value: I don’t like asking for or doing free work unless it is a fair barter. When doing a free project for an author, he asked me “How can I make this worth your while?” I had never been asked that question before. It showed me integrity. It showed me that I was dealing with a fair businessman who was also looking out for my best interests. Not everyone in the business world is going to look out for my best interests, but those who do – I know I want to hang on to them.
This is a principle I want to live by and do business by. So when the time comes for me to start pulling in favors, I want to know that I have earned those favors or that I will pay for them. Yes – there are no free lunches.

3) Brilliance shines effortlessly: Some entrepreneurs or wanna-be entrepreneurs feel a strong need to constantly talk about how smart they are, how connected they are and how cool they are. And it gets frankly annoying after a while. The leaders I admire are the ones who know when to talk, when to namedrop and when to shut up. And that is the kind of leader I aspire to be everyday.

4) Inspire loyalty: The founder/ public face of a huge non-profit never thanked his volunteers or even bothered to find out their names when he flew into Philly for a conference organized and managed by the volunteers. Three months later, every single volunteer had quit or moved on. A small gesture of appreciation would have avoided this situation and kept the volunteer roster loyal and motivated. Instead, the non-profit had to struggle for another few months before they could build a sound volunteer board again. Lesson: No employee is too lowly. Don’t gush, but certainly don’t ignore anyone’s contribution. I admire companies and entrepreneurs who are able to retain employees long-term. To me, it says a lot about the company.

5) Give control: I read these stories about how once you are an entrepreneur you cease having a life. No vacations, no time-off. But I have met an equal number of amazing entrepreneurs who build their business around the idea that it will survive and run smoothly without their continued presence. And that happens upon relinquishing control and trusting the right person to take care of the business in your absence.

So that’s what has been on my mind so far. Would love to hear your thoughts and your ideas on what you think makes a good entrepreneur/ leader.

Playing with Shadows and Light

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I had a very Enid Blyton-esque weekend trip to Storm King over the long weekend. It’s a five-hundred acre open-air art museum just outside of New York. We picked a good day to visit because it wasn’t very crowded. At one point, we even wondered if we were the only ones there. The entire landscape is punctuated by modern sculptures that I really struggled to understand. Art is subjective – and I don’t yet have a very refined sense of it.

But we did have a wonderful picnic of fresh mangoes, Comte cheese, bread and plum tomatoes! Also, we walked right through Maya Lin’s Bodies of Water exhibit which was, simply put, brilliant. Lin’s exhibit reminded me of the pastoral, flowing hills of Tuscany. This might as well be a tiny Tuscan replica. Although it did look better from a distance.

Sculptures make me think. Most of time, I wonder about what was going through the artists mind and what this piece signifies. It is important to me that art stands for something – that it makes a statement. I suppose, it is also important to me that ordinary folks should be able to understand it and the metaphor it represents. It doesn’t have to be world-changing, but at the very least – its gotta have substance and make me think or feel something intense. And Maya Lin’s Bodies of Work was intense, for me.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about art and especially the phrase, “A picture paints a thousand words.” – or however it is that the saying goes. I attended a Pecha Kucha a few months ago where my favorite-st artist, Jonathan Harris, presented his work, “Whale Hunt” I had seen this project before online and it’s been passed around and written about quite a lot. But I’d never heard him actually present it, explain it or tell the story around it.
I listened with rapt attention as he narrated his experience with the aid of the photographs. As he spoke about the cold, as he told us how it takes the entire village to pull out the whale and how the certain parts of the whale are more prized than the rest. His words, his storytelling actually gave the project a lot more perspective and depth than simply exploring the photographs. Not sure if anyone else felt that way, but I did.

Anyways, back to StormKing – it was comforting to be away fro the city and surrounded by a carpet of green. I’m also sharing a few pictures – with people in them. (I don’t know how many people actually enjoy photos of scenery without people in them – I don’t!) Be kind though. I’d be very upset if these photos turned up photo-shopped somewhere else on the net. :) Jk.
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Spring Awakening

Last night, before falling asleep I asked myself, when did writing become a chore? These days, I’ve been spending my evenings and down-time just consuming. Consuming content, ideas, thoughts, words, images – without processing, sharing or even commenting about them. Working in the digital industry sometimes robs me of my appreciation of it. So many voices, so many ideas – why bother sharing mine only to have it drown out? Thus, I become a victim of my own creation.

Let me share with you what I’ve been doing the last few weeks. On a recent visit to Target, I stumbled upon a book called, “The Mysterious Benedict Society,” in the Young Adults section. Over the next five nights, I lost myself in Trenton Lee Stewart world.

The story is of four unusually talented children who embark upon mysterious and super-secretive adventures. The storytelling, aided with the help of puzzles, is different and unlike something I’ve read in a long time. When I’m so entrenched in a world created by a book, it disappoints me when it ends. I find myself continuing to savor the moods, colors and the feel of that world for a few days after. As a marketer, I wonder why content producers and publishers don’t make an effort to cash in on this afterglow. The Mysterious Benedict Society though, did create a lovely website.

Another YA book that reminiscent of Calvin (from Calvin & Hobbes) is ‘The Diary of A Wimpy Kid.” It’s a quick, wholesome read and I laughed through most of the book. The book is written in the voice of a over-exuberant 11 year old kid (who knows exactly what his strengths and weaknesses are!) His pithy comments and observations about his family, school and friends are remarkably and brutally honest. It doesn’t matter if you are a kid or an adult, I promise you will enjoy this book series.

Why my interest in YA books, you may ask. Well, for one, its summer and my brain takes a vacation. So right now, while my physical self is on a loft on Bond Street furiously typing away and doing some very important life-changing work, my brain, is actually happily romping through the tulip fields of Amsterdam and gorging on brownies. And I really, should not disturb it.

On a more serious note, I prefer YA books because I admire authors who can create interesting worlds, characters and stories for children. Children’s books are so blessedly free of complex emotions. They are simple, often innocent, make you laugh and how can you not like that?

If my choices in books and movies finds you questioning my IQ, let me assure that I also watched the Oscar-nominated ‘In Bruges’ with the delicious Colin Farrel. (who plays a dumb hit-man in the movie!) Loved it. I’m quite fond of movies that mock morality and fate. I swear, I’ve laughed, cried, been amused and even cringed while watching this movie. When a movie can make you feel all those emotions – it bloody well be nominated for an Oscar.
:)

I promise to now update more regularly. Not just my musings about the digital cultures, branding and marketing. My life, I guess, is more interesting that I give myself credit :)

Cancun, Mexico

When: November 2008 (5 Days)

The Infinity Pool & Beyond at ME by Mel

I’ve probably lost the more colorful details to time and memory.  But here’s a short account of my first time in Mexico.
I visited Cancun with my sister and a close friend during the 2008 Thanksgiving. We were cautious and a little reluctant of going to Cancun because of its strong association with spring break. But any reservations we had about finding a remixed spring-break version of Cancun flew out of the window the minute we stepped into our swanky hotel, Me by Melia. We joked that the hotel wasn’t meant for single girls with no beaus. It’s flamboyant design, colors, abundance of flimsy fabric and a very generous sprinkling of outdoor beds, coupled with the kind of music and staff (read: hot; young; doable) you’d find at a Sex & The City party, made it ripe for, excuse the brutality, mating.
Because we were visiting during a low-tourist month, we were spared the torture that came in-built with these fashion-y hotels . (Although, Sunday morning saw throngs of hot, wealthy Mexican men and their girl-friends frolic in and around the Infinity Pool at the hotel)

There are three things that stand out to me about my time in Mexico:
1) Our trip to Chichen Itza – I insisted on this two hour trip outside of Cancun. The idea of being so close to one of the world’s old wonders tickled me pink. And also because baking on the beach is definitely not my idea of a vacation. What struck me most about Cancun was its organized tourism. I understand that perhaps the seasoned traveler might not want the organization and might actually prefer a slightly more rugged, “authentic” experience. But for three single girls, we couldn’t have asked for a safer city to vacation in.

ChichenItza a shoddy photo, but the structure is quite magnificent.

We booked our trip to Chichen Itza with our American Express Concierge the night before. (Some other time, I will write about the joys of traveling with an American Express umbrella)

At 8am the next morning, a bus picked us up below our hotel and took us to a central meeting point where hundreds of tourists from other hotels on the strip were convened. Around 9am, the tour operators began dividing us by our destination and assigned us our bus number.  It took us about two hours to get to Chichen Itza. On our way, we made a forty-minute stop at a Cenote. (Cenote / Sinkhole is an under-ground water pool) We weren’t carrying our swimsuits so we wandered around the Cenote instead of jumping into the pool with some of the other tourists. But I remember a distinct feeling of coolness and general well-being wrap around me when we stepped into the cave that housed the Cenote. We people-watched for a little while – mostly little kids who without a care in the world nose-dived into the crystal clear waters of the Cenote and lapped around happily in the waters.

After a quick lunch (limited vegetarian choices; and a tepid “Mayan” dance performance) we made it to the ruins around 1pm. Chichen Itza is breathtaking. That Mayan warriors and poets walked on the same dirt roads I was standing on left me bewildered. Our guide narrated stories of the Mayan culture and what I loved most about his narration was his emphasis on the fact that the Mayans were like any other civilization. It’s reputation as being one of the most advanced, magically endowed and intelligent civilizations was true for almost all others, according to our guide. He said, just like in our society, the Mayan’s had their top doctors, top economists, top leaders – but it also had regular folks that whose only concern were the daily bread. He was clearly upset at popular culture’s depiction of the Mayan culture.

The mid-afternoon sun on the bland, dessert-like terrain was scorching. We wandered around in search for shade and napped on a lonely tuft of cool grass we found. Unfortunately for us, the officials had stopped allowing tourists to climb the ruins only a few months ago to preserve them. So we could only admire, not touch. We flirted a bit with the rules but were too chicken to break them.

The grounds were also infested with barefoot, snotty-nosed children selling cheap cotton hand-kerchiefs with Mayan motifs. In an uncharacteristic wave of kindness, we decided to buy one of the kids an ice-cream. But he bought five other friends, and we end up buying ice-cream for them all. I was both ashamed and happy – the scene isn’t any different at tourist destinations in India and I’d be hard-pressed to entertain them there. I suppose I excused myself because they were Mexican.

2) Snorkeling with the fishes – Done with our history lesson for the trip,  the next day we rented a motor-boat and followed our guide twenty miles into the middle of the ocean. We parked our boat, put on oxygen masks and flappy fins on our feet. And when it was time to jump into the ocean, we hesitated. (Not my sister though – she was already paddling around in the water, her head submerged, tickling the fishies) I am scared of water and not a confident swimmer – at all. At our guide’s insistence (and then tough love) I finally jumped but began screaming the minute I realized that there was no security of ground beneath my feet. We were a good thirty feet above ground. But as I realized that I wasn’t sinking, I felt bravado return into my body. Adrenaline pulsed through me and I felt invincible.

Underwater, a muffled silence enveloped me. The fishes were moving in perfect synchronicity and the corals swayed as if their every move had been orchestrated to the last detail. I felt coltish when a fish grazed past me and I jumped every time I felt its slippery, cold scaly skin on my bare legs. It was fantastically weird.

On our return trip, I manned our little motor-boat and relished the power buzzing through me, propelling the boat forward. There are no signals and roads on the oceans, and if you are lucky, no traffic either. I zig-zagged as I pleased, leaving behind bold tendrils of white waves in my wake. It was a power-trip like no other. Back at the hangar, we changed out of our wet swim-suits, showered and taxied back home.

Our scrumptious Thai Dinner -two nights in a row!

3) Thai food! (yes!) – Dining in Cancun was one of most surprising and delightful experiences we had. Twice in a row, we ended up at the same Thai restaurant by the ocean. It’s alfresco dining reminded me of Bombay. And it was hands down, the best Thai food I have ever had. (Even better than Jaiya Thai in NYC!) On our last night though, against the wishes of our concierge, we ventured out into the “city” for a taste of authentic Mexico. (Btw, there is no such thing as authentic Mexico in Cancun) Downtown Cancun was a square mile of cacophony of typical bars, strip malls and tourist shops. We ventured into what could be the dollar store version of Cancun – it was larger than the ground floor of Macy’s on 34th street. Although we didn’t buy anything, Mexicans have a flair for making cheeky souvenirs.

And that was our very PG-13 trip to Cancun! I could bore you with the ins-and-outs; how to get there and back; and other details, but that’s frankly, not very interesting to write about so you’ll just have to rely on Google and Tripadvisor :)

Life is for sharing

:D

Digital Story-telling

Little rat reading the book

Another terrific discussion on BBH Labs blog about the digital narrative:
And here’s my comment.

I don’t think that digital storytelling and the brand storytelling are necessarily divorced from one another. Infact, I’m not sure if a narrative-based digital campaign will be successful on its own. Narrative and a story builds over time. To think that digital can manage that with one campaign, one microsite, one widget is to basically apply the same, tired old advertising-thinking to new behavioral models.

I should share the story of Amul Butter. Amul is one of India’s leading dairy companies. Since the 70’s (probably even before) Amul Butter advertisements (print, billboards etc) have been satirical observations of culture, politics, cricket and bollywood. Yet – tied effortlessly to the brand. This three-decade old archive of advertisements might as well be the best interpretation and elucidation of the country’s pop culture. The consistency, the witty-writing/ creative and the dogged dedication to the narrative have made these advertisements and Amul Butter one of India’s most loved brands. The brand inspires passion, loyalty and patriotism as the new entrants try to bite off Amul’s share of the market.

Amul is not a ‘digital brand’ yet – but it operates in very different markets where billboards are more relevant and pervasive than the internet. But the larger lesson I hoped to highlight by sharing this story is that: the point of storytelling is to evoke passion. And that happens over long-term.

Sharing examples of Charlie-bit-me videos is fine – but thats a one-time hit. When was the time we spoke about the Numa song or the Chinese backstreet boys ? One-time hits fizzle out eventually – everything on the web fizzles out eventually as newwer, shiner, funnier stories emerge. I don’t argue the value of a one-time growth spurt for a brand, but if we are talking about storytelling, lets not look at the web as a as a very in-the-moment/ instant-gratification medium. Investment in new media and its planning should be a strategic long term plan, not a short-term hit. Only then, will we be adding any tangible value. AND creating stories that will be conversed about for years to come.

(Img via Flickr)

Twitter – The end of the begining ?

Ben Malbon and team of BBH Labs has an amazing, thought-provoking discussion on Twitter and the future of it.

Here is the comment I posted on the blog: (Read the main post first!)

I think there are two lenses to have this conversation from: a personal lens and a business lens.

On the personal front, I think Maria phrased it the best. Curiosity and Credibility -also lets not forget instant gratification that this medium allows us. From a theoretical POV, I can also argue, vanity and a kind of cultural megalomania (look how funny my tweets are, or how cool the links I share are)
Whatever the reasons, they pander to the very basic human instinct and we respond to them. I think these responses are also quite evident on Facebook (rememeber how everyone had the ‘Places I have visited’ and the ‘Books I have read’ applications installed when the aps first premiered? ) However, on Twitter – the gratification is on steroids! The speed, the quickness, the instant-ness…
I think what Twitter has done, is made us as human beings incredibly self-aware. We have come to realize the power of our words, our curatorial abilities and our personalities – and because it is so easily manifested on Twitter, I think this is just the beginning. As Twitter evolves, we too, will evolve how we use it.

On the business front, I personally think the answer has never been clearer or simpler. I believe that brands and entrepreneurs are coming to accept that perhaps, the only value with investing time and resources on Twitter is that of a direct connection with the customers. Cliched, but I cannot think of a single social technology that has made customer service so incredibly simple or relevant.

As a collective Twitter community, we have also evolved from the obsessive need to gain ‘followers’ and ‘follow’ people back. Infact, now if I see someone following everyone that follows them – they lose a little bit of credibility with me. It goes to show that they are not curating the information they receive – only paying attention to the information they send out.

It is OK for brands to follow / harness only their audiences. They don’t and shouldn’t feel obligated anymore to follow everyone back. The barriers to entry on Twitter are only diminishing – So in that respect – I believe for brands and businesses, this is just the beginning.

No. I don’t think this is the end of the beginning. Early-adopters such as ourselves may move on to some other technology, but that does not mean Twitter has peaked. We early adopters moved on from Hi5 and Friendster – but those networks continue to thrive. Albeit, with a different audience, but they are successful.

Early adopters like us are never the sole/ target audience of any new technology. Also, any new technology takes atleast a few years before it finds who the ‘monetiziable’ audience is and eventually, it evolves into pandering to that audience. More often than not, early adopters are not that audience.

About monetizing Twitter itself – that’s a question I think everyone is interested in watching how and when that will happen.

A fresh new perspective on marketing

Agencies in the market for work

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This is where the recession has its upside. Its pushing everyone out of their comfort zones.
DDB West created a snazzy, clever website for a new project “The Rebound Project” positioning themselves as an agency ready for a gaming project. In another instance, this months’ Fast Company issue carries a full-page advertisement (yes print!) by innovation consultancy Fahrenheit 212 making an open bid for interesting projects to work on for free*.

I don’t know if its working for either of them, but I have to applaud their efforts :)

Highlights from the PSFK Conference 2009

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I am a few days late but I wanted to compute and think through what I learned at the conference. Once again, thank you to Anjali Ramchandran who very graciously donated me her PSFK Conference ticket. I couldn’t believe my luck and her kindness. Anjali – thank you very much again!

The day kicked off with an amazing panel on Rethinking healthcare. My most important learning from this panel? Simplify complex problems using design and information. I wrote in more detail about this particular panel here.

The next talk, Ghosts in the Darkness, by Celestine Arnold, was perhaps my favorite and the most illuminating talk of the day. Celestine chose a very interesting topic – the representation of minorities in video games, social networks and virtual worlds. Throughout her talk, I wished I had a tape-recorder because I wanted to remember everything she was saying. Her talk centered around how most video-games are created for and cater to a very white market and about the stereotypical representation of minorities in the games. Her deck is not yet online but I’ll be sure to share it.

Next up was Kevin Slavin of Area/Code: Best quote of the day came from him, “Mobile is an ecosystem that cell phones happen to be a part of”
Slavin made some incredibly thought provoking comments about the relationship we have with inanimate objects. ‘All objects are living things and have a sou. We are headed into a world where entities have a physical presence and a digital presence.”

The panel on sustainability with Sarah Beatty (Green Depot) Simon Collins (Parsons) Ryan Jacoby (IDEO) and Matthew Lusk (Hecho Inc) highlighted how the conversation around sustainability has evolved. Collins summed it up in the very beginning of the discussion, Sustainability is not a destination, it is a journey. What I took away from this panel was that sustainability comes down to intelligent design (designers) and intelligent choices (consumers)

The most fun I had was at the Open to Change panel with panelists John Geraci (outside.in) Scott Heiferman (Meetup.com) Avner Ronen (boxee.tv) and Domenico Vitale (www.pic-nyc.com)
This panel focused on how creators and the community come together to develop new thinking and make ideas happen. Nothing new learned, but just re-affirmed my own believes and faith in the power of the community. It’s fantastic to see entrepreneurs like Avner Ronen spending much of his time building the community around Boxee. I particularly enjoyed an anecdote he shared: Boxee has a wiki set up and Avner made a note on the wiki about an upcoming pitch with Hulu and its content partners. In no time, Boxee fans and its community had written and provided insights into the pitch document that Avner later took to Hulu. Hail the community!!

The only drawback of this panel was that instead of allowing the panelists to speak, the moderator answered the audience questions! Also, he talked more than any of the panelists. :S

And as a delicious finish – Wooster Collective‘s, Marc (also my boss!) and Sara Schiller, talked about street art and basically, why tweaking the public space is so infectious. They shared a terrific compendium of public art photographs from their own archives. “We used the internet to celebrate an art form that was only being discussed as vandalism by traditional media.”
So why is tweaking the public space so infections? Marc says, “It is site-specific, allows the city to become a collaborator, adds context and meaning and most importantly – becomes personal and intimate.” The ephemeral quality of street art is what makes its impact so profound.

Piers and team – congratulations on an amazing job with the conference!

Re-inventing Healthcare

The PSFK Conference yesterday was kicked off by a very interesting panel on re-inventing healthcare and innovations in the industry. I have many thoughts on what I learned at the conference and so I’m breaking it up in several posts so that I can focus and collate my thoughts on each of the big ideas and not just regurgitate it.

Richard Fine of Help Remedies has a very interesting idea. Help Remedies products are stripping apart the frills of medicine packaging and bringing it down to its purest levels. Fine made some good points about the packaging, the upselling and the choices that pharmaceutical companies package up to gain a larger market share on simple products like acetaminophen and band-aids. Now, you cannot not love the packaging and presentation of the Help Remedies products – it stands apart and it makes a point.

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But what disappointed me was the total lack of dialog or questions around the bottom-line and the business model. Innovation in design is not the answer to curing the health industry of its woes. It is a part of the answer. Help Remedies sells its 12 tablets of simple acetaminophen for $6. And they sell 8 surgical band-aids for $6. As compared to a Rite-Aid tablet pack that sells 100 tablets for $5.95 or 80 band-aids for $3.99.

Now the obvious question is, do I simply want to look cool by buying a better packaged drug or do I want value for my money? And I think the answer to this is also very obvious. Screw the packaging, give me more value for my money.

At the presentation, Fine mentioned that their products are currently being sold at top hotels (Mondrian) museums and elite boutiques. See the full list of venues here.

My contention with this idea is not that their products are sold and currently cater to an obviously design-conscious, upper strata of the society. It is OK that this is their business model. But my problem is with the idea that when presenting to a creative crowd, do not just highlight the creative/ differentiation and the positioning. The panel was about altering the way we think about medicine -and the way we think about heatlhcare or medicine or anything for that matter cannot be divorced from the business of it.

Perhaps the responsibility of illuminating both sides of the coin lies more with the moderator of the panel than the actual speakers.

Now I don’t own a business or have never run one. So I am sure that there is a reason why a simple product like theirs is not competitively priced. Manufacturing, Distribution, Formulations – perhaps Help Remedies CANNOT afford to sell their products for a more competitive price, but the point is – talk about it! Don’t underestimate the intelligence of a creative community by not addressing the business implications and challenges of actually trying to change how we view an industry.

Just my opinion.

Reinventing & Reinnovating B-School programs

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With the current state of the economy, I find it very interesting that we are taking stock and questioning everything from consumption and , morality to education and ethics. This article in NYT questions whether the time is now to retrain MBA programs.

Since I don’t have an MBA, my opinions are slightly skewed. So forgive me. But I was in B-school as an undergrad and quit in favor of a more liberal arts oriented Communications major. I don’t think that communications is necessarily divorced from business  – you need business skills even as a communications professional. However, what I valued most about the Comms. school was the priority and focus on ethics, standards and morality that were ingrained into the students as part of journalism school training.

And that is exactly what the critics of the current b-School programs purport:

…..that they graduate with a focus on maximizing shareholder value and only a limited understanding of ethical and social considerations essential to business leadership.

I have said this before because I truly believe in this. This recession is a boon in a way – because it has stopped the self-perpetrating cycle of greed and consumption and is forcing individuals, communities, charities and even organizations to stop and reflect. In the 1950s, this introspection resulted in an increased focus on vigorous quant and analytical skills from MBA schools. This time, it will result in a stronger focus on  corporate, social and ethical responsibility AND creativity.  Because, the bottomline is never the only ultimate deciding factor.

Why this should be the future of beauty

I’ve been aware of this nifty little tool (Thanks to Jazmin) for some time now and everyday, I think – today, is the day when one of the massive beauty companies (read: L’oreal, Estee Lauder, P&G, LVMH) are going to license this technology and build it into their website. Why wouldn’t a color cosmetics company jump on this technology and install it on their own website and give women the ability and the freedom to sample the different colors?

Color cosmetics, like food, are products that people (read: women) need to touch, feel and sample. God knows, how many shades of blushes and lipstick I’ve had to try on my face before I found the one that looked good. And the funny part is that the one I end up buying was the one recommended by the MAC makeup specialist. I would have never thought that the color she recommended would look good on me. The point is, this tool would be a life-savior.

Sometimes I think that, while the social web is about connections, relationships and conversations – technology that enhances my experience with a brand will connect me better to it,  definitely earn my loyalty and you know me – I will gloat about them :) The future of marketing cosmetics and beauty is not just about a facebook fan page and some blogger buzz – it is about actually using technology to solve the challenges of your business while making the end-experience a hundred fold more beneficial for your customers.

Btw, I am also surprised that taaz.com only has about 15.2K visitors/month. (Quantcast) Is it because not many women know about it? Is it because while women CAN experiment with the products and try on makeovers, they actually CANNOT buy the products that work directly from teh site?

I’d love to hear your thoughts – and what you think about taaz.com.

* Taaz.com is developed by a San Diego based  photo enhancement company called, Photometria Inc.

UPDATE: Deepu John, VP of Marketing at Taaz.com was kind enough to reach out to me upon reading this article and further clarify some of the points I made above.

I thought I should answer your question about TAAZ from my perspective. In reality TAAZ has had Millions of women try the experience since we launched. Taaz.com has indeed received millions of site visitors. Taaz.com has also partnered with instyle.com to power their Hollywood Hair Makeover (http://www.instyle.com/instyle/makeover). They also worked with Sephora and powered the makeover aspect of Sephora’s 2008 Holiday Ecard, “Mistletoe Makeover” at http://mistletoemakeover.com

He was also kind enough to point to me a selection of press releases about taaz.com -  http://www.newspad.com/all?q=taaz&hitsPerPage=20

I have reached out to him with additional questions and will update as I receive them.

Planning for the future

My strongest struggle with myself is staying one step ahead of myself. It may sound weird, but I feel like I’m constantly in a race with myself – jumping time and space, making sure that my future self is taken care of. Does that even make sense?

Anyways, today I was chatting with one my closest friends online and he asked me, ‘What does the future look like to you.” My answer was prompt. “my future is vibrant, happy, colorful and content. it involves lots of travel, considerable wealth and lots of time with family and friends.” After I had typed it, I realized what a cliche I had become. All my life, I tried to let my ambition outshine my own brillaince. But when it came down to it, I do not want an extraordinary life – or I do, but I think that normal is extraordinary.

On Monday, I think I took a big step towards my career. I’ve applied for an evening program at a local school that I beleive will be instrumental in helping me shape my future. I am in a state of anxiety. Its like waiting for judgement day. But inshallah – I’ve done my best, overextended myself and am now hoping for the very best.

As anxious I am about our current economy, I’m excited to see what will come out of it. I know a lot of talented young people who have lost their jobs in this downturn – but I’m consistently impressed with their efforts to take control of the situation and continue to innovate themselves and their careers.

What do you think? What does your future look like to you?

Why social networking sites need a business model first

Yelp.com Scam:

I have written previously about monetizing online communities. To sum it up, my point was that communities do not convert into paying customers unless the expectation is set at the very beginning. The recent Yelp.com extortion scam further strengthens my point. Yelp.com is not yet a profitable company – its primary source of revenue is advertising. As the primary user-review site, I did trust yelp.com implicitly with its customer recommendations. However, having learned today that yelp.com actually tampers with the reviews (pays employees to write reviews, gives a negative review to business who decline to advertise with yelp.com and gives positive reviews to companies that advertise with them) – I will never again trust the veracity of the reviews on that site.

It is a mockery of consumer trust and the implicit rules of social networking and social technologies. Like the Creative Commons Act – this may not yet be written in stone, but dude – tampering with user reviews is dishonest, faulty and plain despicable.

Social networking/ social media companies – I beg you. Please have a business model in place first. Then go attract your users.

Don’t get me wrong – I do think that as a community of thinkers and entrepreneurs, we will only learn by taking risks and making such mistakes. But personally, I’m becoming less and less enchanted by social networks that essentially offer variations of the same service – but do not do the right due-diligence and research to have a sound plan behind it.Ultimately, this is what happens then. Oh yes, we’ve generated a terrific user base- NOW- lets go to investors and get the money. And THEN lets figure out how to make money off this. How can you do business like that?!

We talk so much about old business models dying and how social technologies is re-defining how we do business. Agreed- but I still think there’s a lesson or two to be learned from the old-school folks. For Yelp.com -what’s the point of bringing in thousands of users, establishing trust with your users and then fooling them like this? The sad thing is, unless this story reaches critical mass – users will continue to flock to yelp.com, trusting its recommendations.

I wish brands would understand that a social network is not a solution to their problem. Heck, most brands don’t even do a good job of properly identifying the problem first. As I see it, they find a new media solution first (whether it is a facebook fan page, a social network or even twitter) and then they frame the problem around it.

Facebook – the savior

Yes. I sincerely believe this. At work, I have two windows constantly open other than my work email: my personal email and Facebook. With their new “Like and Share” features, it is diminishing my need to go to a digg.com or a reddit.com – and instead derive satisfaction from sharing items with MY friends. There has been a lot of debate abou their TOCs lately – Give those guys a break. They are doing their best too – to figure out how to make money while staying true to the community. What I love most about Facebook is that while they experiment with different business and revenue models, they are quick to react, communicate and apologize to their community as and when need be.

Anyways, these were totally unfiltered thoughts brimming around in my head after reading that Yelp.com scam news today. Feel free to agree/disagree.

Have a safe trip home

I love this so much that I have to share it every possible way with everyone I know. This is a topic so dear to me, and so close to me that its amazing to see other talented people explore it – all across the world.

Dido asked film directors across the world to create video pieces/ short films on what their idea of what home means to them, using a song from her new album, ‘Safe Trip Home.’

The resulting montage of videos, emotions, moods and explorations of what home means to people of all ethnicities, cultures and beliefs – is nothing short of brilliant. Colorful, vibrant, poignant — I have felt twenty-five different emotions in the last 15 minutes alone as I waded through this pool of rich, feelings.

I love this – also because it is so close to my heartfelt project, ‘Dsplaced,‘  The collective storytelling experiment that I launched with my friend Mansi to do just that – explore people’s relationship with their cities, and the idea of what home and memories mean to people.

You have to take 10 minutes out of your day and spend it immersed in this site. If you have ever wondered about the significance of home, or displacement – you will lvoe the site. And of the hundreds of stories shared, I am sure you will find the one you most relate to.

Here’s one from Mumbai that I love – please enjoy it and pass the word around. And if you would like to share your story, do it here, dsplaced.com

Why mobile marketing is more successful in India

This is a very simplistic argument, but hear me out.

When I moved into my new apartment, I subscribed to a bunch of Indian Television Channels via Direct TV. The channels I receive are MTV India, Star Plus, Star One, Star News, NDTV and some spiritual channel and a cricket channel. Needless to say, much of my free time this weekend was spent channel surfing. I am so used to the American TV shows and watching American Television that I watch these Indian channels with a renewed sense of purpose.

What strikes me most is the blatant sponsorship, advertising and marketing in every single game or reality. Here is just a sampling of the shows that not only have major product placement and sponsored sections during the duration of the show, but also carry a brand name in their titles.

Hero Honda Roadside Roadies, Pepsi Wassup: The voice of Youngistan, Miranda Kickass Mornings, Hero Hondo Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, LG Mobile Oye its Friday, Garnier Nach Baliye…. and that’s just a sampling. In dance-based reality shows, the contestants are filmed spouting out brand names and asking the audiences to vote for them. Bollywood celebrity endorsements are a new rev-generating industry for celebrities in itself. To a point, where a single celebrity represents 5 or more brands! Even bollywood movies – case in point, Chandani Chowk to China, was advertised in reality shows, with brands – and anywhere else possible.

The point I am trying to make is – Indian television and culture has accustomed Indian consumers to expect advertisements and blantant, in-your-face sponsorships.

Next point – Americans have a deeper sense of privacy and a concept of space. Indians are used to the concept of no space – jostling through crowds, shoving through vegetable markets and sharing the a small 2 bedroom house with 8 other people is commonplace for them.

And lastly, mobile is accessible. and cheap in India. This is one technology that has deeply peneterated the rural regions as well.

So you combine these three factors: 1) Indians are not mad at advertisters. They expect advertisements. 2) Indians, at large, do not place top priority on privacy or a sense of space. and lastly, 3) Mobile is cheap  — and I have come to believe, that this is why mobile marketing and mobile campaigns are so successful in India and not so sucecssful in America.

I know – I told you it was a simplistic hypotheses, but it starts there. I’ll see what I can dig up to supprt and prove this hypotheses.

The graduating classes of 2009

I read this article expounding on the generational bad luck that the graduates of 2009 face ahead. With the economy in shambles, the graduating class also unfortunately face the terror of entering the real world: without the certainty or stability of a full-time job. The article also quotes a research study that ‘suggests  that the negative impact on earnings of first entering the labor force amidst a recession lasts anywhere from ten years to forever. And that’s research based on relatively mild recessions.”

Applying Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier rule to this graduating generation, does it mean that those born in 86-87 have less of a statistical chance of becoming successful or reaching their zenith ? (Definition of ‘successful’ is relative)

From a simpler time

I was warned about the pollution. The traffic. The noises. Malaria. Culture Shock. But I wasn’t warned enough about the blissful state of contentment and joy that would envelop me. Everytime I return back to Bombay, my city and I instantly recognize each other and without exchanging a single word or gesture, we become one again.

Old habits resurfaced naturally: bargaining, yelling at the ricksahwalla who tried to cheat me, conversing in marathi with my neigbors and ignoring the smut-faced innocent eyed children who follow you around begging for one rupee. It took me less than a day to re-introduce myself to *my* Bombay. (My version of Bombay which begins and ends at the peripheries of Andheri to Bandra/ Mahim. Thats the Bombay I know and love.)

Cultural and structural changes aside, I was most struck by the amount of free-flowing disposable income everyone has in Bombay now. A night out at Blue Frog and we (6 of us) easily spent in excess of 10,000 rupees. And the next morning, I visited my fathers factory where Shivaji, who has been with my father’s firm for over 16 years still makes only 6,000 rupees a month. This sort of irnoy bothered me throughout my time there.

The salesguy at a silk store in Bombay showed me over 100 dresses, one after another, in colors, fabrics, cuts and styles that I requested. Tired and famished, when I finally asked him to stop he replied, “But Madam, I am not tired yet! Let me show you more.!” My total bill amounted to some 15,000 rupees – a paltry sum for me, but his salary for 3 months.

I suppose you could call me the rosy-eyed phoren return girl who acted, felt and behaved in a fashion that is very predictable of such folks. But that is not true. These juxtapositions have always been ingrained in the fabric of Bombay. What Bombay didn’t have before in such surplus quantities were the financially and culturally progressive youth. My middle-class society has not spent money with so much abandon before and that took me in by surprise.

Anyways.

I am back now. Energized. Happy and excited for the new year. My priorities are foccussed and what I want to do this year is finely aligned with the kind of person I want to be by the end of this year. And here’s hoping the same for you.

Almost home

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My empty house and my almost-furnished home. I still baffle myself with my idea of home.
I watched a random video on youtube this evening where Rahul Bose (Actor extraordinaire) spoke about Bombay. And it resonates so deeply with me. I was nodding in agreement the whole time I was watching the video. There is no one Bombay. Like there is no one Philadelphia or New York. Each of us have our own dimensions of what makes a city, MY city. Suburban Bombayits that don’t travel to South Bombay, South Bombayites that don’t consider the burbs Bombay. Lower East Siders who don’t “do” mid-town and Upper East Siders who dont’ do the tunnel and the bridge. We each of our own city.

I’m leaving for Bombay tomorrow. I’m returning to MY idea of Bombay but am hoping I can re-define it and add yet another piece to it. Don’t be surprised if you find my blog more personal, effusive and emotional than ever before. I have a guard on most of the time – here too. I’m hoping, returning back home will dispel it for me.