Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Measure your cyber-fame

There are no introverts online. A few comments, a few likes, a few followers -- you gain a strange sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. Yet, some remain cocooned in cyberspace, using it as an eternal refuge from real-life claustrophobia. For others, it’s a launch pad for many a real-life venture.

Most cyber-beings are bitten by the self-promotion bug at one point or another. It manifests in various ways (filling up an elaborate profile, putting up photos of oneself and family) and for various reasons (letting oneself known to others, making friends or for business promotion). Cyber-fame is key to leveraging the full potential of one’s online existence, be it on blogs or networking sites.

You need to work your way to it, though arguably it’s easier than in real-life.
One, make sure you blog on topical issues; two, regularly post updates; three, network by visiting blogs, liking updates, and leaving comments; four, link your blog to networking sites so that each time you have fresh post, your friends see it on their timeline; and five, revive contacts by messaging.

No of hits, friends and comments fair indicators of your online popularity. Blogger, Wordpress, YouTube etc have an in-built device to let you know the number of visitors. Or else, you can let sites like Blog Counter or Sitemeter do that by signing up and placing an HTML code on your blog.

The credibility of the number of comments depends on the nature of comments, because not all could be relevant, and there could be spams.

Now, you have sites that combine your presence, activity and contacts on various platforms and calculate your influence. One of the popular sites is Klout. Another one is Peer Index. Both work on similar lines, though Klout assesses your influence on a broader scale. Sign in with your Twitter or Facebook login and password; and add to it all your networking sites.

Klout Score measures your influence on a scale of 1 to 100, and takes into consideration Comments, Wall Posts, Likes, Mentions, Reshares etc. It measures your Reach (number of people you influence within your network and across extended networks), Amplification (how likely your audience will respond to your actions) and Impact (the influence of your audience).

Klout also will tell your style from among 16 possibilities -- a Conversationalist, Networker, Observer, Pundit etc. The score can be tweeted and shared on networks to publicize your fame and influence.

The authenticity and credibility of such online indices are debatable, but recently, a matchmaking site Tawkify announced that it would consider members’ Klout score when pairing them with each other for dates.

(This article appeared in Wireless World column of The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rise of right wing in France

Not in the recent past has a French election commanded so much attention as yesterday's poll. It could be because of Nicolas Sarkozy. Not surprisingly he came second, first time in many years that an incumbent President has failed to come on top of the poll. He looked more busy on matters other than governance.

But the rise of far right wing Marine Le Pen is the real news of the first round. She came 3rd. It poses questions about sustenance of multicultural societies. With globalization and democratization of media, the world has become more and more pluralistic.

But are we getting more intolerant of diversity? This is the pertinent question that many events of our recent history, big and small, raise.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dive underwater to explore Great Barrier Reef

Google’s Streetview -- which gives a 360 degree panoramic view of landmarks and such prominent places -- isn’t available for India, though it is in many countries enabling us to virtually walk through cities and villages of the world; and also see, for example, Swiss Alps, Amazon River and London’s National Gallery.

Soon, we will have an oceanic variant, called Seaview. Thanks to technology, we will be able to dive underwater and get a breathtaking view of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Google in collaboration with the Catlin Seaview Project will help us explore the Great Barrier Reef -- the world’s largest coral reef system located in Coral Sea off Queensland in the northeast of Australia.

Coral reefs -- the rainforests of the sea -- are underwater structures consisting mainly of calcium carbonate secreted by corals, a type of marine animals. They have many ecological benefits: serving as habitats to aquatic organisms, besides protecting small islands from being gobbled up sea. It’s estimated that 50% of coral reefs have been destroyed due to pollution and global warming.

Catlin Seaview Project is a scientific expedition aimed at carrying out the first comprehensive study to document and reveal the composition and health of coral reefs on the Great Barrier Reef across a depth of up to 100 metres. Ten Australian scientists from the University of Queensland and James Cook University are at work on the project. The pilot studies start next month, and the main expedition will be from September to December 2012 with some follow-up expeditions late in 2013.

During a recent Google Hangout -- a live audio-video link from underwater on the Great Barrier Reef -- Richard Vevers, founder of the Underwater Earth and Seaview Project, explained the objectives and challenges of the scientific expedition. Due to limitation of time, some of the questions from this correspondent were answered via email:


How different is Seaview be from Streetview?The survey team will travel at approximately 3-4 km per hour on underwater scooters taking images continuously every few seconds which will then be stitched together. The length of the dives are limited to 1 to 1.5 hours due to battery life. There is only one visual team working on the Great Barrier Reef; however the plan is to roll the project out globally using multiple teams surveying locations all around the world. The roll-out model is similar to that of Streetview mapping.

What details will the mapping cover?

The expedition has 3 elements -- a shallow reef survey, a deep reef survey and a megafauna survey. The shallow reef survey will focus on creating a broad-scale visual baseline study of the reef using a scooter mounted 360 camera rig. The deep reef survey will be a detailed scientific study looking into the health and biodiversity of this little-known ecosystem. The megafauna survey will look into the movement of megafauna in relation to factors such as ocean surface temperature.  

How much surface will be covered by the survey?

The shallow reef survey will cover the largest area -- 20 locations along the 2,300 km reef with 4 x 4 km surveys carried out at each location on average. We hope to reveal about 300 km of the reef that people will then be able to explore. 

How do you overcome the challenges under water?The biggest obstacles are the natural weather and water conditions -- we ideally need good sunlight at least average visibility. Another limitation is driver fatigue and we are already investigating the possibility of using remote-operated vehicles in the not-too-distant future. 

What are the threats to the reefs and how will this project help save them?We have lost approximately 50% of coral reefs in the last few decades, mainly due to pollution, overfishing (using destructive practices) and global warming. The idea behind the Catlin Seaview Survey is to reveal the environment, life and science of the reef so that people become more aware of the state of our oceans and these potential threats.

Beyond the panoramic view, what will Seaview provide online?We are looking to analyse the 50,000 images from the survey using image recognition software so that the composition of each reef location can be analysed. We are also looking into adding layers of additional content on some of the images when displayed online that will allow viewers to discover exactly what all the different forms of marine life in the images are.  

When can we expect to see the Seaview on Google Maps and Google Earth?You will be able to see Seaview images through Panoramio in Google Maps and Google Earth from September when the first pilot information will become available online. The images will also be available through the expedition website, catlinseaviewsurvey.com so that people can have a full virtual dive experience online. More and more images will be uploaded over time as the surveys are completed and the data is processed.

(This article appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

There’s nothing private online

From the password you type to access email, to the texts and photos you put up on social networking sites -- they are all visible to someone other than you. Theoretically, that is. Practically, of course, there are institutionalized safeguards to prevent data from being accessed.

But, how much privacy can Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft etc ensure? After all, our data are on their server, right? And, for free, in most of cases!

We define privacy differently online. Offline, private means, only I have access to it. But online, we trust the owner of the server where our data is, and we co-opt him into our personal space. This handing over of data to a trusted guardian will become the norm as we move more and more to the cloud.

While we fret about privacy, we have no qualms about proclaiming either to the entire world via Twitter or to our “Friends” via Facebook and similar sites, our location, our travel plans, what articles we read, our political views, our religious faith etc. (By the way, in the days of yore, “Friends” were people whom we knew very closely and whom we trusted. No longer!)

The most we can secure our privacy is to not let our browser know which sites we visited, by using “Incognito window” in Chrome or “Private Browsing” in Internet Explorer and Firefox. But it isn’t as private as one may think -- it only prevents history of websites visited from being saved on the browser, and prevents cookies being placed on the computer. Even with private browsing, service provider can track websites and malicious software can get implanted.

Privacy issue has grown alongside the shift that has taken place in the way we communicate. We have moved from “person(s) to person(s)” communication to putting up data in a central place that is accessible to many people. Now, you don’t send information, instead others access your information. Earlier, email was the way you shared photos. Now, you put them up on a site (cloud), where others view it. The problem here is, not all of us are careful what information should be made accessible to whom; with the result, all info becomes visible to all people!

And people whom you may not even know may get to see the info. For example, if on Facebook I Like a photo put up by SMJ, that photo will reflect on the feed of my friends all of whom may not know who SMJ is. Why should strangers get to see SMJ’s photo, even though SMJ originally made the photo visible only to her friends?

Privacy issues are tricky. If you are too fussy about privacy, never put anything personal online!

(This appeared in the Wireless World column of The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Virtual pinboard gets into news feed

Six months ago, very few of us had heard about a site called Pinterest. But Friday last, cyberspace was abuzz after "The 2012 Digital Marketer: Benchmark and Trend Report” reported that Pinterest was the third-most visited social networking site by people in the US, after Facebook and Twitter. The report also said that 60% of visitors to the site are females and 55% in the 25-44 age group.

Pinterest, development of which began in 2009, is a virtual pinboard (or a notice board, as the Brits would say) on which you can pin interesting items. It could be photos of animals like puppies or decorative items like wall hangings, or nature like mountains or culinary delights. To join you have to send a request or you can join by responding to an invite sent by someone on Pinterest. You can also connect Facebook and Twitter accounts.

There are three ways you can pin: “add a pin” by pasting the URL of site where you found the item or “upload a pin” from a folder in your computer. Also, you can have a ‘pin it bookmarklet’ on your browser, and each time you find an interesting website, you can pin that by clicking on the bookmarklet. Only a website with a photo on it can be pinned.

The site works like Twitter or Google Plus -- others can follow your pin; you can follow others’ pins; you can repin what you find on others’ sites; you can “like” pins of others; and you can comment on others’ pins.

But, who has time for another networking site and why is it catching on?

One, it’s a visual medium, which tends to be more popular. Two, like FB, it’s a place to publicize and discover new ideas. Three, it is a social marketing medium: if you are, say, an interior decorator, you can see the latest trends just as you can publicise your innovations. And, four, this is not a Flickr-like site where you upload your pics and share it among friends. Pinterest combines elements of Facebook and Twitter.

A random check shows that the site has some following in India; and the fact that some well-known websites already have a “Pin it” button on their pages, indicates that the site is gaining some traction here.

Will Pinterest pose a threat to Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and Yahoo!? It may not, since this looks like a niche site that is to do with style, decor and such visual aspects; unlike the other four that are more broad based with many facets to them.

Still, the established giants -- even while competing among themselves -- will have to take notice of cyberbeings’ new interest to pin items.

(This was published in the Wireless World column in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Desktops go online

Our increased dependence on internet and the need to access simultaneously data lying on multiple devices -- smartphone, tablet, netbook, laptop -- has led to the growth of cloud-based services.

Dropbox, an online storage and sharing service, is a popular one. Users can drop their files into the Dropbox folder on the desktop which gets copied in your Dropbox online account, which can be accessed from anywhere. The data also gets sync’d with other linked devices. These files can also be shared with others. There’s free 2GB storage and works on all operating systems.

Google and Microsoft too have them. On Google Doc, using the Gmail password, you can create documents, presentations, speadsheets and tables; access them from anywhere including mobiles, share them and even edit them collaboratively. Windows Live SkyDrive is very similar, having Office Web Apps, Hotmail and Bing Search integration. There are SkyDrive apps for iPhone and Windows phones.

Now, cloud-based services are moving beyond mere storage and sharing. The desktop itself is going online. One of the companies that is focused on this is Nivio, founded by Sachin Dev Duggal and Saurabh Pradeep Dhoot. Nivio works at three levels: one, nDrive that lets you store 10GB of data free for life and syncs the data with devices. Users get a unique URL “username.niv.io”, from where users can share data publicly or privately.

Two, nDesktop, from where users can access Windows desktop via the cloud, using any browser that supports HTML5. This means you can run Microsoft products on any device. With proliferation of iPads and other Android-based devices, this provides an easy way of taking Microsoft products along with you. Three, nApps, where you have your applications.

An interesting aspect of Nivio, which goes live in India, on April 10, is the pricing. While storage is free for life, products and apps are free for a month, beyond which you rent them on a monthly basis. As Sachin Duggal put it, “No long-term commitments, you pay as you use. If the rental period is over and you want to get the app back, it gets installed in 10 seconds flat.” For India users, Nivio has the servers in India.

The other advantage is you don’t have to upgrade the hardware. Any basic device that supports HTML5 is good enough. “You can run Windows on Akash tablet,” as Duggal says.

With our lives becoming increasingly internet-dependant, online and cloud will soon be the norm. Devices like PCs and smartphones, which will have fewer data stored in them, will have only secondary importance.

(This was published in the Wireless World column in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)