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Geek by profession, thinker/writer/artist by passion. Part-time blogger,social media enthusiast and a tramp by nature :) A Man Of Mud


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tharoor, Twitter And Controversies

Oops @ShashiTharoor has done it again! Does he serenade controversies or controversies have ways of seeking him out ?

I believe it is a little bit of both. For over-excited media channels vying with each other for TRPs, a candid Shashi Tharoor on a promiscuously open platform like Twitter, it is a wet dream and there is no way they could miss such golden opportunities to manufacture news. In this instance too the controversy couldn't have started without the media's active contribution. But then those were not verbal statements that were then put in words by a reporter to mean differently,the minister had tweeted them and they are still there for the whole world to see. How could he then have been quoted out of context ?

Well, the media is seldom neutral while reporting news , it tends to be far more judgmental and passionate, even to the point of being untruthful. In almost every instance of news reporting, the facts,allegations are never served in isolation but are packaged with the opinion of the journalist, which again  is influenced by her/his craving for sensationalism. This exactly isn't a secret, media's penchant for sensationalizing even the most drab story is very well-known but in Tharoor's case, Twitter seems to be a recurring factor. Twitter is just another platform, if at all Shashi Tharoor's statements were objectionable, they could have been made anywhere! In fact,  it is Tharoor's questioning of the Home Ministry's visa restriction policy that has stirred this controversy, why is "Twitter" emphasized and hyphenated with Tharoor on all news channels and print media ?

 This may be because the media and the government both have issues with a Minister of State airing his views on an open forum. Had he given the same statement to a handful of reporters, these very words might have sounded "refreshing"and the media could have hailed him but to devoid the media agencies from raking the moolahs is not something the latter can forgive or overlook. No wonder, at least one notable journalist, who also heads a television channel has gone on record criticizing the Minister for his twittering ways. Ironically, he himself did it on Twitter.

Apparently the government in general and Shashi Tharoor's boss and the Home Ministry in particular are not at all happy. It is not about going against own government, Tharoor as the Minister of State for External Affairs was merely cautioning against implementation of a stricter visa policy which were not taken well by several important countries. As such he was doing his job but what has annoyed a lot of people is the platform he chose. According to them, governmental policies are too sacrosanct to be even exposed to common folks' perception.

What does a career diplomat like Shashi Tharoor know on foreign policy making ? India is a democracy but that should be restricted to voting only! Once the ballot has been cast and a government is in place the people should go back to their toils leaving things like laws and policies solely in the discretion of the on the ruling elite, of course they can later be used during future electoral campaigns but till then the public have no right to know anything about the policies, at least not from the minister himself ! 


Posted By danish Ahmed 4:37 AM

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cyber-Warfare And Mercenaries on the Web

Iranian Cyber Army hacking and defacing Twitter may be part of a broader strategy of the Iranian government and military to control the flow of information from its own territories as well as information directed at it from external sources.This is the contention of a Techcrunch article which has also been published in Washington Post.

If you are an active Social Web user then you must already know about the role Twitter played during the post-election turmoil in Iran. Not only was it the main service for communication among the protesters and the primary source of news coming out from Iran but it was also the platform on which a major social media campaign was launched to mobilize public opinion against the Iranian regime. Although,it was supposed to be a campaign by Iranians anti- government protesters, the West's involvement was quite conspicuous. As a matter of fact US administration intervened and Twitter rescheduled its maintenance downtime in view of the volatile conditions in Iran. I had posted my observations on this development in one of my previous blog entry, please check out (Tweeting a revolution or is it a black operation ?). This campaign was seen by Iran as an attempt by the West to exploit political turmoil in the region to destabilize the state. Thus, this latest attack and defacement can be seen as a retaliation.

However, the Techcrunch article goes on to hint that the attack may have been launched as part of a much larger plan!  Apparently, Iran has on Friday said that it is creating more efficient centrifuges that can be used in its nuclear plan by 2011. This and other reports like Iraq  accusing Iranian forces infiltrating into its territory are being seen as part of a larger diplomatic offensive ahead of the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. The cyber attack on Twitter as well as some other anti-government sites could be politically motivated to send a message to the West that Iran is capable of engaging the adversary in cyber warfare too. This message would sound far more ominous when we look at the conflict from the prism of asymmetric warfare.

Only time can tell how accurate this speculation is, but i myself have little doubt that the internet is fast becoming an arena of political games; games that go beyond mere propaganda campaigns,crowdsourced diplomacy to system disruption through Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. In one of my earlier posts ( Is Cyber-Warfare On Social Web same as Terrorism  ) i have discussed how politically motivated attacks and nation-states conflicts spilling over to the internet are affecting the common users, this could be another instance of it. However, it is not really clear if this group called Iranian Cyber Army is indeed a government supported group or just another group of nationalistic individuals acting on their own accord but with the tacit approval of the Iranian government. The flaw in the argument is that an hitherto unknown group of hackers, taking down Twitter may hardly procure any bargaining power for the Iranian regime! No doubt Iran is actively pursuing its nuclear program as well as cyber-warfare capability, but why should the US and EU concede any  ground to it because it could take down a popular micro-blogging site ? From another perspective, it is quite possible that this news report may be part of the social media campaign against the Iranian regime that has been going  for quite sometime.

Posted By danish Ahmed 3:20 PM

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Caught Between McCarthyism And Maoism

Posted by: danish Ahmed 2:18 AM

Alright,everybody, who can write or speak have already gone on record with their respective opinions on the Naxalite threat. I now know what Cassandra must be feeling like when the Greeks,emerged from within the wooden horse (if it doesn't make sense to you why i feel so,go through my previous posts or just forget it, it has no bearing on what follows :p ) but i will still want to share my thoughts through this post.

Naxalites did not air-drop last December,they have been operating since more than two decades in various parts of India. In fact, the word, operating, would be an understatement! For years, they have actually been ruling large swathes of territories which comprise nearly a third of the size of sovereign India's territories! Apparently,neither successive governments, nor was the Indian civil society much concerned about it. The region where the writ ran was considered far remote and in a manner, of not much consequence to the national politics. Columnist Santosh Desai explains this aspect of the problem in a much better way.

Anyway, the current situation is far too complex to be put in simplistic terms. True, there is a fissure between tribal,dalits and poor belonging to rural India and the relatively well off middle class and the elite. In fact,if the fissure continues to widen at this rate, a major disaster would be in store for us. However, it would be foolish to view this fissure as a battle-line, when one wages a war against oneself it is called suicide! But the distinction between an ordinary poor,exploited Indians and a Maoist militant shouldn't be blurred,the latter deserves to be treated as an enemy of the state ought to be.

Are the two really as entwined ? Most of the grievances of the tribal are related to acquisition of land by the government, yet it seems strange that these people would extend ideological support to a group that aims at a totalitarian state and complete state ownership of the resources. Indeed, India is too heterogeneous, too pluralistic, parliamentary democracy is best suited to it ,even the remotest groups are politically conscious enough to not allow a totalitarian regime to emerge. If at all they are found to be aligned with the Naxalites, it is mainly because the latter are seen as the only anti-establishment rallying point. The establishment on its part has shown little hesitation in tagging sundry groups as Far-Left militants. This tends to make things easy for the police in particular, arresting deemed Naxalite sympathizers and even exterminating them helps them satisfy their political masters. In some ways it is reminiscent of Sen McCarthy's policies but involving far more lives.   This over-simplification is actually far more dangerous than it may seem if we were to not ignore the fact that the situation is as complex.

These hitherto wastelands which the mainstream cared little  about have suddenly become much sought after owing to their richness in natural resources. Industrialization and mining have turned these regions into gold-mines and everyone out there wants a share of the pie. If the grapevine is to be believed, everyone from the state ministers to the worker on the ground is out to make quick bucks riding on the development wave. For instance,if a government official can make a fortune by extending favors to his/her corporate friends operating in the area, a rival contractor orchestrating a disruptive attack on site cannot be ruled out. There are plenty of similar examples where a particular attack could be personal in nature but the administration as well as the media labeling it as a Naxalite attack would only encourage similar attacks in future. Take for instance the recent detention of the Rajdhani Express in West Bengal. The government may not have done it but the media had absolutely no qualms labeling it as a terrorist attack. What now transpires is that the train was stopped by locals belonging to an organization called PCAPA (People's Committee Against Police Atrocities) whichis supported by the Maoists. A mass of three hundred people stop a train and detained the driver on knife-point, demanding the release of their leader. Is that the definition of terrorism ? This organization like many others doesn't adhere to Maoism or Communism in general. This group may have very deep grievances, it may even be hostile to the current government but from what the media says (especially print media) it cannot be said to be waging war against the Indian State.

What further compound the problem are the political games played by almost all political parties at all levels.Whether it is the ruling party, opposition or fringe parties, all of them keep stroking the fire to not only consolidate votebanks but to rake in moolah to buy votes with. Just take a look at the controversy unfolding in Karnataka now. According to the media again (ToI) ,Bellary-based mining lobby (Reddy brothers) has grown so wealthy that it now holds the Yedurappa government on ransom. One can just imagine what amount of money iron-ore and other minerals trade should be churning out to empower a few businessmen to blackmail the Karnataka government and disregard the national leadership of the BJP. The local leaders on their part have their own agendas, their share of the pie. Other players would include small-time entrepreneurs, brokers, officials, bureaucrats and of course gangsters, everyone has a role in this epic chessboard but this segment in particular sets things in motion. As for the Maoists, some of the basic tenets of the ideology, protracted war and perpetual revolution can exist only in a state of conflict,the current inequality is necessary for their existence. And while i am at it, why should i ignore the intellectuals who leave no stones unturned to declare the Indian establishment as elitist, tyrannical and apathetic towards the underprivileged people but they hardly make effort to change things. Of course whining now would help boost sale of their new books and may be, get honorary distinctions and certificates from other countries and agencies.

 Caught between radical Leftist militants, overzealous cops and paramilitary forces, greedy corporates, young entrepreneurs, unscrupulous officials,politicians and local leaders, it is the tribals,dalits and the poor in general from these regions who now are in a very unenviable situation. As the Maoist writ run supreme in these regions they cannot but co-operate with the Naxalites. The administration has never bothered to either provide basic facilities (people still die of starvation in tribal regions of Orissa ) that every Indian is entitled to, nor has it attempted to take back the control of the areas from the Naxalites.

Now imagine, the guns falling silent, peace returning to the region and the media and the civil society having a very clear view of what is going on in these remote areas! One doesn't have to be exceptionally intelligent to guess who loses the maximum in such a scenario ;) Of course, the tribal, indigenous people suffer in either case.

Update: (16th Nov)

Feel like Cassandra yet again :P

Details of the illegal mining and money-laundering scam with ex CM of Jharkhand as the focal point vindicates several contentions mentioned above. To begin with, the scam involves a whopping amount of more than Rs.4000 crores! That is a huge amount of money, no matter which corner of the world you are in, for a poor state like Jharkhand,this simply unimaginable wealth. No wonder then Koda was one of those rare independent representatives who were appointed as the Chief Minister of a state.One can imagine the sort of money that illegal mining must generate and the socio-political fallout resulting from it.

Another key contention that stands vindicated is the involvement of a number of players from diverse backgrounds and including the governmental officals, corporate and the Maoists among others. The ToI has actually provided the profit-sharing ratio based on the statements of Koda aide. According to this break-up the Maoists got 20%-30% per truck,the politicians got 10% lakhs per acre, the businessmen had a share of about 50% while the bureaucrats got paid 10%-15% of the share. The report further implicates several important but unnamed politicians and businessmen and i belive it when it hints that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

McCarthyism :  politically motivated practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. It is derived from the name of Senator Joseph McCarthy who led the crack-down against Communists, communist sympathizers and anyone who was deemed to have a soft corner for Communism 

Interesting Links

Posted By danish Ahmed 2:18 AM

Monday, October 12, 2009

Will Twitter Go Down With The Waves

Posted by: danish Ahmed 12:47 PM

Twitter has been down for more than 2 hours,the last tweets on my time-line reflect panic as one would expect from the passengers of a ship as it goes down with the waves! Well, i haven't got a Google Wave account yet, the analogy is partly coincidental :p

Was i surprised? Not at all! This is not the first time that the micro-blogging site has gone down, since past few months,outages have become a regular affair and most likely will continue for a while. No! I don't mean to say that the guys at Twitter are not smart enough, indeed, it would be foolish to say that for guys who came up with such a brilliant concept such as Twitter. The only speculation that can be made is the probability that the issue lies deeper than it seems to us.

Outages are not specific to Twitter alone, most popular services including Google, Gmail and Facebook have had their blues too. It is an irony of fate that the very participatory nature of the Social Web is also the factor that takes it down often. For instance, the Internet traffic generated by Michael Jackson's death was much more than the servers were prepared for; it seems that most of the people in the world decided to use the Web to find more information about MJ, unprecedented numbers of requests coming in was interpreted as a DDoS attack by Google which then went into emergency mode. However, other Social Web sites such as Facebook, Friendfeed, MySpace and Twitter of course are far more open, consequently they could not balance the load and crashed.

So couldn't they build the service keeping load balancing in mind? This question is complex too, the Web is evolving at such a rapid pace that it is no longer possible to follow the traditional model where even the tiniest detail has gone through analysis and validation before the development has actually begun. Most of the popular service providers of the day are widely used for features some of which had not even been foreseen when the service was built for the first time. Adding newer features to existing applications is a continuous process that is conceived of and implemented in response to changing paradigms. Quick adaptation and innovation-on-demand is what drove their growth and has enabled them to change the way we use the Internet now.

Keeping the above scenario in mind, it is easier to understand why Web 2.0 websites often face scalability issues. Most of them had started up targeting a small segment of users, with plans to upscale operations on a future date. But as the service becomes popular and the user base increases exponentially, 
 too many requests lead to bottlenecks that make the system defunct for a period of time. There are technical reasons of course, I have come across quite a large number of papers blaming Ruby on Rails, the framework on which Twitter was built. This aspect cannot be refuted absolutely when one considers the fact that this framework has not been proven on large-scale application development.  Facebook has addressed this issue by migrating the background code, it also has a limit on the number of friends a user can add. But there has to be something more than the weakness of the development framework.

One of the reasons that i love Twitter for is the fact that there is no restrictions apart from the 140 characters per tweet limit and the model itself. Unlike IMs or Social Networks, Twitter delivers messages from multiple users to multiple users. This makes every user a center of information propagation or many-to-many messaging system yet the server remains centralized, so as the number of users increase the processes increase exponentially since every user follows an unspecified number of users and is in turn followed by other users. i am not aware of the business logic or algorithm used by it but can understand that it must be efficient enough to handle all those transaction most of the time. However, the frequent outages suggest that something at the fundamental layer needs a re-look at.

As i said in the beginning i do not have a Google Wave account yet but from what i have read and seen in the Developer Conference preview video, the architecture is more inclined towards being a distributed one rather than being centralized. i wonder if the folks at Twitter have looked in that direction, if the server is unable to handle the load now, waves of users are just starting to migrate to Twitter. Read: Has Cattlegate Opened The Floodgate?

Also read : http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/05/22/twitter-at-scale-will-it-work/

P.S.: Inviting my friend netgenre to write a guest article on data marshaling in the above context

 Recently i came across (through Twitter, of course) a excellent article at High Scalability which offers to explain the different factors responsible for the scalability issue of most social media sites. i found the part on Pull-on-Demand vs Push-on-Demand approaches quite interesting. In the first approach, which  is followed by Facebook ( according to the same article), the service queries all your friends,fetches their updates and changes and provides them to you at one place. So if you have 1000 friends, it makes 1000 queries to show your friends update. So with every new user or even connection the number of queries to execute rises exponentially.
 In contrast, Push-on-Demand approach deals with updates in a different manner. Rather than waiting for queries,.it pushes the data to friends right when it is changed! The user no longer needs to pull data, since it is already there when s/he logs in. Of course this model is not without drawbacks but that is beyond the current scope.
But more importantly, which model does Twitter use ? 
i am not sure, but most likely it uses a hybrid of both model...Just a guess right now ;)

Posted By danish Ahmed 12:47 PM

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The N00B's Guide To Twitterverse

Posted by: danish Ahmed 8:05 PM

Picking up the thread from the last post, I will try to demystify the basics of Twitter for the benefit of the complete N00B. Here is how twitter works and the meanings of the terms that baffle you the first time you start using it.

Twitter Jargon

Tweet - The only question that drives Twitter is "What are you doing?" and a Tweet is a response to that question. If you are into social networking sites like Facebook and Orkut or even a Skype or GTalk user, you must already know what the status message means. But unlike the other services, the status message on Twitter i.e. the Tweet is not a passive message but the medium of communication or the counter-part of the IM you send to your chat buddy. However, a Tweet is generally visible universally unless, of course you have blocked a person. A Tweet can be of 140 character length only, which could be one of the reasons why Tweets travel faster than anything else i know of.

Handle - Username, this is important as it is likely to become your identity on Twitter, for example my Twitter handle is danishctc. You can find my profile on twitter by simply typing http://twitter.com/danishctc in the location bar or your browser. You can also reply me or mention it by simply prefixing my handle with the @ (at) symbol : @danishctc

DP - Stands for display picture or avatar. It is highly recommended that you put up your own picture as DP.

RT: Retweet is nothing but the same tweet being posted again by another user. There could be many reasons for doing this but the most common ones are- the person liked the particular tweet and would like to share it with her/his followers  and the original Tweet is kept to make sure that the response is seen in the context. To retweet, you can copy the whole tweet along with the original tweeterer's handle (prefix the @ (at) symbol to the handle ) and type RT right at the beginning. (Most clients make this easy, explained here just to make sure)

Screenshot of my convo with de3p , pushkarbhatt
Replies/Mentions: these are tweets by other users who have either replied,addressed or mentioned your handle. A handle prefixed by @(at) symbol is treated by Twitter as a tweet meant for that particular person and shows up on his timeline; for example- "danishctc: @anandmisra hi"

DM: Direct message, visible only to the recipient. Normally, all clients have a functionality to let you send direct messages to your friends but you can send dm by simply typing the character D before the handle.
"danishctc: D anandmisra this a dm"

Friends - Twitter is people-driven, if you want to harness its power then you have to follow people whose updates you would want see. You could start following people in the suggested list that Twitter displays when you sign up or celebrities you already know ( for example Shashi Tharoor, Celina Jaitly, Gul Panag) but it is important that you find other like-minded users to make your tweeting productive. As with so many services, Twitter can also import your contact list from other accounts and suggest your pre-existing contacts that are already on Twitter. To follow them you can go to their profile page and click on the link "Follow" (Note:  Following a large number of people in a very short time is seen suspiciously by Twitter since spam bots seem to follow a similar pattern, trying interacting as much as possible )

Followers - These are people who are following your updates. They are important from your point of view since they are your main audience as well as customer-base.

Favorites- If you find a particular tweet interesting and dont want to lose it in the melee, you can add it to your favorites. To add a Tweet to favorites, click on the star icon, the Tweet can now be found in the  favorite section of your Twitter profile.

 One of the major advantages of Twitter is the fact that it is not limited to a single client, single domain or even single device. I prefer tweeting from mobile rather than the desktop.

The original interface for interaction was Twitter.com and continues to be so since that is where you manage your account and set preferences. This is also the site you should be using if you are a new user.However, this interface lacks certain features for more advanced users but this is aptly compensated by numerous third-party clients.

Clients- There are plenty of clients avaible, download the one which meets your expection. On desktop/laptop, i find Tweetdeck the best, followed by Twhirl and Seesmic. Firefox add-on, Twitter Fox is another client that i find myself using a lot. On mobile (i use Nokia N95 8GB), Gravity comes across as the client with best features but i have also used Fring and Twibble for tweeting.
There also some very cool web-based clients that you should check out: http://dabr.co.uk and http://slandr.com 

Update - Thanks to Softykid for reminding me about Snaptu, a mobile client that i had heard a lot about yet  never got to installing it. But now that i have done it, it is strongly recommended that you try it out :)

P.S.: Thats it for now, hope someone finds it useful coz i didn't get much pleasure compiling it! not my kinda thing ;)

The Twitter Song 

Posted By danish Ahmed 8:05 PM

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Has Cattlegate Opened The Floodgate ?

Holy Cow! Shashi Tharoor's single tweet has taken Twitter to every nook and corner of India. Now, even the most obstinate bull squatting in the middle of the vegetable market wants to know what Twitter is all about. Of course the cows let loose by their owners to graze in Indian streets are equally curious even if they are not mooing it. Indeed, a lot of people are signing up on Twitter, a vast number intend to do it in near future. But I am a bit skeptical, if most of the people have an understanding on what Twitter is and how it should be used.

I have posted some of my own experiences here

There some facts and opinions that I should mention before proceeding further. I think all Internet users who are not on Twitter can be broadly categorized into 3 categories. The first category includes people who use the Web minimally, their professional as well as personal agenda doesn't allow them to explore the social aspect of Web. As such the whole social media debate is irrelevant to them, at times they are indistinguishable from machines .

Then there are people who think Twitter is just another way of wasting one's time that could be utilized for creating artificial intelligence or achieve major breakthrough in stem cell research. However, you won't find them doing either, instead, you can find them participating in Orkut. Socialization, interaction, collaboration to them means going through photo-albums of this cute chick they came across in the friend list of another friend's friend. The main activity would include sending persistent add requests, leaving flashy images,ASCII art or corny scraps in Hinglish or broken English or do stuff that require little or no intellect. People belonging to this category, who think that the phenomenal growth of twitter userbase, eminent personalities and biggest organizations and almost every website extending tweeting functionality, is because of a social media hype and
who are convinced that Twitter is a waste of time should strictly continue with Orkut, Twitter would be an incompatible medium since the latter requires intellect!

However, there is the third category of users who do not doubt the utility of Twitter but are still not using it because they don't fully understand it or it has not worked for them. Indeed,there is not a single social website that one can join up and start enjoying or get results from day one. How effective social networking sites turn out depends on how well the user has created her network. This is especially true with Twitter since there are no photo albums of users, no social games or "which movie character you are" quizzes (well, there are mechanisms to share images, files etc but they are not integral part of the architecture.) . In other words, your experience on Twitter depends totally upon how you interact with other users (Tweeps). If used properly, it opens a completely new world of options, from real-time news to reaching out to targeting customers/audience and getting the most relevant answer to your questions. The potential is immense! In my follow-up post, I will try to compose a guide for beginners.

Posted By danish Ahmed 3:37 AM

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Engaging The Red Dragon

Posted by: danish Ahmed 3:03 AM

This post is a continuation of a Twitter conversation  (not more than 2 to 3 tweets) i had with two of India's hottest and intelligent females, @gulpanag and @CelinaJaitly ,on the string of incursions into Indian territory by the Chinese forces.
Every time China flexes its muscle,we Indians go on an overdrive speculating everything from minor skirmishes to nuclear exchange. Strange as it may sound, this behaviour is quite expected. After all, India has never had a coherent China policy,starting from Nehru himself. However, as has been opined by most intellectuals, it is imperative that we come out of the shadow of  the 1962 aggression, but that does not mean that we close our eyes to the reality. To find a reasonable solution, we need to identify the problem first, something that is not very actively done in case of Sino-Indian relations. 
The genesis of India-China rivalry lies in a very fundamental law of physics which says that two masses cannot occupy the same space! As two biggest powers in the region it is but natural that they have vested interest in the neighborhood. It is not a question of ethics or morality but one of political compulsions.This stems more from the instinct of self-preservation rather than aggression, after all, the balance of power in the region is closely related to how well they have maintained their spheres of influence. Any two big powers would end up in similar circumstance but in the case of China and India, even if their deemed spheres of influence are too common to trigger conflict of interest, their distinct political ideologies further compound the equation.
This is very different from India- Pakistan rivalry, which is based far more sentiments than on pragmatism. This is one of the reason why the Chinese threat is almost always underplayed,it is very unlikely to whip up passion at the grassroots level.
These factors together make Sino-Indian conflict particularly complex, but how does one engage the Red Dragon?

Among the lessons learnt in last 50 years,an important one is that while China forced India to pull out of Pakistan in 1965 ( Apparently, Indian forces marching towards Lahore were called off after China mobilized troops on the border and asked India to stop the war on Pakistan 1 ) , it was much restrained in 1971 war, which came shortly after Porkharan-I. It is apparent that like all good communist dictatorships, the Peoples Republic of China understands the language of force. By force i mean deterrence and not applied force, the latter is unthinkable in present times.
But there are sufficient indications to believe that the Communist regime plays the game by the rule (the reference here is to games theory ) But the only game that China has really mastered, is the zero-sum game, as is evident from not only the 62 war but also from the Korean war and the Sino-Soviet conflict. It is also a game that India has not been a very good player of. Quite likely China's recent transgressions are its way of expressing displeasure at India's decision to allow Dalai Lama visit Arunachal Pradesh but then lack of appropriate response from India would be construed as weakness by any rational player. Both the states are mature enough to realize that armed conflict or even an escalation of rhetoric would be highly detrimental to the pace of development going on in their respective countries. But knowing  China, these incidences are likely to continue more vigorously if India continues  if India does not respond appropriately.       

Posted By danish Ahmed 3:03 AM

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Transparency, Radical Trust and the Indian Democracy in the Age of Web 2.0

Every time i see @shashitharoor defending his tweeting habit on TV i can detect a gleam in his eyes which betrays a feeling of incredulity within him. WTF?! They seem to say, shouldn't his government be grateful that he is connecting it to nearly a hundred thousand people? One could say that may be Tharoor's long stint at UN has made him forget the epitome of doldrums that our babudom is, but that wont be the whole truth. Managements in most large organizations world wide are scared of new things (and for good reasons too) but that's part of the larger social media debate, this post is about the Shashi Tharoor question and about Twitter.

Shouldn't a democracy like India support transparency as the UK does, for instance, Tharoor asks. The penetration of Internet technology in India has not been deep enough to become part of our lives as it has been with the American and the British. India may be emerging as a software giant, but the majority of Indians, including those belonging to the IT workforce view the Internet as an unreliable medium. True, everyone right from the governmental departments to the small-time trader use the Internet for things like e-mails and correspondence, online booking and shopping and propaganda. But these are traditional tasks that the Internet makes easier, they don't harness the real power of the Internet.

The real beneficiary of the Internet have been those who have been able to leverage its powers. Let us not forget that there has been a major paradigm shift in the architecture and usage pattern of the Internet. It now goes by the moniker, Web 2.0. Tim O'Reilly opines that a significant characteristic of Web 2.0 is the fact that businesses are embracing the web as a platform by building applications and services keeping the features of the Internet in mind instead of expecting the Internet to transform itself to suit traditional models!
Yet, a large section of the literate Indian population still consider the Web as something that should be used strictly in a manner that keeps the user insulated from the other users.

In the early days of the Internet revolution, anonymity was a major factor which encouraged participation and for good reasons too. But Web 2.0 revolution has changed all that, users now are not only using real identity but are also trying to put up as much info about themselves as possible. Discussing the various aspects of the changing user behavior is beyond the scope of this post, the point i wish to drive is that if anonymity was the flavor of Web 1.0, trust and transparency are the pillars of Web 2.0.

Lets take Wikipedia as an example, a reference site that can be modified by anyone with access to the Internet! A decade back, the majority of people would have scoffed at the idea. Indeed, Wikipedia was not an instant hit, it came out as a winner with the passage of time. But Wikipedia introduced the idea of radical trust which went on to become one of the distinctive features of the Web 2.0 meme. Almost, every successful Web 2.0 enterprise has been based a collaborative platforms that believe in actively engaging with the consumers and using the feedback to offer far more customized services/products the consumers.

For Indian democracy, this a great opportunity for interacting better with the people. The incumbent governments stand to gain the most by connecting to the voters directly, redressing most problems would be an impossible task but letting the people take a glimpse of the working of the government can actually instill much greater confidence of the people in the government. In fact, the opportunities are immense, if the Ministers, bureaucrats and legislators are willing to come of the time warp and connect to the people. Instead of trying to discourage Shashi Tharoor, they should actually be encouraging other Ministers and spokespersons (as well as issuing- DOs and DONTs lists) to use the power of the Web 2.0 to strengthen democracy.


Posted By danish Ahmed 9:02 PM

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Saffron Purge Or End of the Right Wing Politics In India

Posted by: danish Ahmed 2:44 AM

My last post began with the question, if the BJP was in its dying throes, and as i note later (or was rather reminded by fellow-blogger Meeta :p ) , the post ends with the same question! Indeed, this question is too big to be answered in one post,especially after Jaswant Singh's paradigm-shattering book and statements. However, the only thing that is clear is that the way the BJP is handling dissent, it seems to have made up its mind to bring in major changes after the poll debacle. As of yet, it has been seen as a clash of personalities with ideology having been relegated to the background.

However, Arun Shourie's latest outburst against the party leadership adds another dimension to the whole hungama (which i think resembles the climax of Kaminey :p) . His contention that the RSS take control of the BJP reminds one of the infamous Communist purges. In fact, purges are not limited to Communist history alone, every large scale socio-political revolution, has been followed up by a counter-revolutionary movement. Its an irony of fate that revolutions must,like Uranus, devour their own children because they threaten to subvert the very objective of the movement. The classical example is Napoleon Bonaparte, the hero of the anti-monarchy French revolution who went on to declare himself as the emperor!

The BJP's Ram Janmabhoomi movement can best be described as a cultural movement that sought to semiticize Hinduism and evolve national identity based on it. The fundamental flaws in the Sangh was its partisanship and its unwillingness to accomodate all sections of the population. After the initial enthusiasm had worn off a lot of its supporters found themselves following a sub-nationalistic agenda. Since then the party has been banking on the charishma and personalities of its leaders and good fortune of its regional allies. Indeed, if the NDA was able to achieve the distinction of being the only non-Congress government to complete a full term, it was largely due to the charismatic leadership of Vajpayee. True, the Congress had not yet recovered from the disarray it had fallen into during the end of the millenium and the BJP was the strongest contendor but it required extraordinary skill to pull along a coalition government like the NDA. Anyway, the NDA government was a positive development from a historical point of view. It forced the Congress to get out of nepotism, corruption and lethargy and almost rebuild itself.

As things stand now, the BJP as we know now, faces existential dilemma. It has had its day under the sun, winding it up would be the only logical conclusion. But that does not imply that the strain of thought that the BJP sought to represent would die with it. Let us not forget that the fountainhead of radical Hindutva ideology is the RSS which would continue to survive as a cultural group. The BJP was the RSS's political face just like the Jan Sangh was before the BJP came into existence. The RSS shouldn't be very keen to ensure the BJP's survival, after all, the former stands firm in favor of strict adherence to the core ideology while within the BJP now, ideology is the farthest thing in the minds of senior leaders squabling for power.If the BJP implodes or diminishes in size, it wouldnt mean the end of right wing politics. Various members of the Sangh Parivar, including the RSS through its various institutions, ABVP as a student union, VHP, Bajrang Dal etc would continue indoctrination at the grass-root level, until the next time.

Posted By danish Ahmed 2:44 AM

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Can the BJP survive without Hindutva

Posted by: danish Ahmed 3:50 PM

Has the BJP just pressed the self-destruct button by sacking Jaswant Singh for his book on Jinnah? This is the question i woke up to find in Jug Suraiya's op-ed in ToI in the morning (18th Aug 2009). It was a refreshing point of view but later in the day, the number of naysayers increased and by now ( i.e. 1 AM, 20/08/2009 ) those in India's fourth estate, especially social media have written an orbituary for the BJP.

Even i would love to write one but i have a nagging doubt about it. To begin with, the manner in which Jaswant Singh was expelled is highly deplorable and shocking, but the expulsion itself doesn't come across as a surprise. Most likely even Jaswant Singh himself knew the eventuality when he sat down to write the book. Now coming back to the future of BJP, a number of experts have said that BJP is throwing away a life-saver that Jaswant Singh's book could very well be. Blame the Congress for partition and alienation of Indian Muslims, expose its "pseudo-secularism" and BJP would suddenly become far more acceptable to people who have traditionally opposed it.

The fundamental fallacy that i see in this argument is that the BJP has already made a choice and it is going to be difficult if not impossible to change track now. It squandered the first opportunity during Vajpayee's reign by treating Narendra Modi as a hero instead of dumping him after the Gujarat riots. It paid the price by losing the general election but as the saying goes,"those who do not learn from past mistakes are condemned to repeat it" ! In the run up to the last general election it had again a choice to make and it chose hardcore Hindutva ideology. Advani's infamous Jinnah statement might have been an experiment to gauge the effect of any probable dilution of the party's ideology on the core support base. Projecting Narendra Modi as the future Prime Ministerial candidate during last general election was probably the declaration that the party "think tank" believed that a return to aggressive Hindutva was the only way forward.

True enough, can the BJP really regain its position purely on an anti-Congress plank? In the last 60 years no political party or alliance has been able take on the Congress by focusing on the incumbents' follies alone. Let us not forget that the Congress' popularity had reached an all-time low, during the Emergency. Yet the coalition government that included BJP's precursor,the Jan Sangh, did not last 2 years! Vajpayee-led coalition is the only non-Congress government to have completed its tenure but it has been said to have could survived largely because of the turmoil within the Congress as well as the stature of Vajpayee . These factors helped the government survive but the BJP could emerge as the leading party on the basis of its ideology. No non-Congress, non-BJP party could be an effective political force because they lacked an ideology that could appeal to all sections. In fact for a diverse and heterogenous country like India, with all its contradictions in demographic aspirations, primary loyalties, traditions and culture, any ideology bereft of an all encompassing emotive appeal is unlikely to survive in national political arena for a long time.

If at all the BJP could rise to prominence it was mainly due to its ideology. But the ideology being excluvistic, also worked against the party,alienating segments the vote of which was necessary for it to get elected to power. So the experts opine that the BJP should use Jaswant Singh's books and statements to take the battle to the Congress camp,blaming it for the partition, and dilute its hardcore Hindutva plank.Can the BJP survive with a diluted version of its ideology?

I don't think so!
The original architect of the Hindutva as a political ideology was none other than Mahatma Gandhi himself! Hinduism was never an organized religion, in fact it wasn't even a religion but an ammalgamation of various philosophies and traditions of groups living west of the Sindhu river. I would love to discuss the use of the term during Muslim rule but that would be a digression from the topoic, do it should suffice to say that during Muslim rule, the use of the term was mainly for literary purposes. It was the British themselves who, for adminstrative purposes, brought togather all groups adhering to diverse philosophies and traditions of under an umbrella term Hindu. Reformers like Swami Vivekananda and Dayanandi Saraswati started the process of unifying groups into a cohorent religious entity based on Vedas. However, it was Gandhi who took this motley group and turned them into a formidable political force.

Jaswant Singh recent remark that Jinnah as a secularist who was unhappy at Gandhi for bringing religion into politics may be correct but then Jinnah never understood that bind such heterogeneous groups, a spiritual unifying force was neccesary . For him,truth,non-voilence , satyagraha and self-detachment were political instruments that couldn't be used without adherene to spritualism or religious influence.

Gandhi's Hindutva was all inclusive, a unifying spirit of thousands different religious groups , he used the tolerant ancient Hindu ethos to not only bind them , without threatening other religious groups. Nehru went ahead modernizing it without discarding the basic principles nor touching the distinct traditions and dogma.

Unlike the Sangh's Hindutva, Gandhi's ideology was all inclusive, it played a major role in uniting India. The BJP's ideology too can be traced back to pre-independence period when Savarkar first proposed it. In a nutshell, if Gandhi's soft Hindutva was all inclusive, the Sangh's has always worked towards semiticizing Hinduism The conflict between Gandhi's Hindutva with that of the BJP's has been going on since 7 decades.Can the BJP dilute its ideology and still survive?

Posted By danish Ahmed 3:50 PM

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is SRK's Detention A Big Deal ?

Posted by: danish Ahmed 2:44 AM

Shahrukh Khan detained by authorities in Newark and all hell has broken loose since then! From man in the street to the Minister of External Affairs of State @shasitharoor, most Indians are outraged but some people around me, online as well as offline seem outraged by the outrage!

Of course, holding an opinion that contradicts general percepts is an essential trait of neo-conservative intellectualism. One cannot claim to be an intellectual that if s/he is found to harbour the same opinion that the more common segments of the society do. I myself have been guilty of that often so this is not aimed at anyone specific. Coming back to SRK issue, those apathetic towards it have a couple of very valid points:

  • Thousands of people are facing the same problem everyday, why call foul now that SRK has been subjected to the same treatment?
  • The second point is that SRK is taking advantage of the incident to publicize his forthcoming movie.

I have little doubt that the second allegation has some substance. SRK's initial statement that he was targetted because of his surname "Khan" sounds too conspicous to be a coincidence with the fact that the title of his latest movie is,"My name is Khan." In the age of social media, an incident that helps you your brand name go viral is nothing less than a dream come true. A shrewd buisnessman like SRK would undoubtedly exploit the issue for making loads of money and perhaps that is what he is doing.

However, this does not change the fact that US immigration policy is utterly discriminatory and unjust. Time and again Indian citizens and even Ministers have been subjected to discriminatory treatment. Post-9/11, the US has been following a number of security policies which have been termed as prejudiced, unethical and in some case (like Guantanamo Bay prison) inhumane. There are people who believe that these rules have helped US thwart more terror attacks on its soil but that is not quite true (I have discussed this in one of my previous posts)

All that it has given is a sense of estrangement and humilation among a large section of global population. Forget the common man, the list of Indian celebrities detained/stripped frisked include former President APJ Abul Kalam,the then Cabinet Minister George Fernandez, Wipro Chief Azim Premji, actors Aamir Khan, Kamal Hassan, Mamooty, Irrfan Khan and scores of less popular Indian celebrities. Background information on any of these individuals shouldnt be difficult to access. After all, these people virtually live under the gaze of the public! Let me reiterate the fact that i am not justifying VIP culture, all i am saying is that since all of these people are well-known, collecting background information about them shouldn't be difficult at all. Moreover, it is not just frisking and question-answer sessions, from what earlier victims have described, it is an interrogation which can leave any one distressed

These incidents merely reflect the arrogance that the US officials display when dealing with Asian visitors. Arrogance which has resulted in traumatic experience for people whose only fault consist in carrying a Muslim name. No sovereign nation with even an iota of national pride can afford to allow its citizen being mistreated on regular basis. Brazil in 2004 gave an apt response to US racial profiling policy by implementing a policy of finger-printing US nationals only!
I would conclude with the question which has been it the back of the mind ever since Kalam was frisked. Is Musharraf subject to the same treatment that India's former President and one of its most respected citizen.

Posted By danish Ahmed 2:44 AM

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is Cyber-Warfare on Social Web Same As Terrorism

Posted by: danish Ahmed 5:52 AM

If you are a web user then you must already know that some of the most popular social web sites including Twitter, Facebook,LiveJournal and even Friendfeed were taken down this week by miscreants. It is perhaps one of the largest co-ordinated DDoS attack since the attack was launched simultaneously on Twitter, Facebook and other popular social media sites. As a consequence Twitter was down for several hours outraging users like me addicted to Twitter. Even a day later the micro-blogging service was running slow and had major connectivity issue with clients. It is not surprising at all, Twitter already has an inherent scalability issue, its far more vulnerable to denial of service attacks.

A typical DoS a(Denial of Service) attack is one of the oldest techniques cyber criminals employ to cause damage to sites. The technique is wickedly simple, a large number of requests are sent to the victim server which, it is unable to handle and thus crashes or slows down considerably. Often this technique has been successful but compared to this the DDoS is far too powerful. In DDoS (Distrbuted Denial of Service) hundreds of thousands of computers are used to send data and flood the network, these computers may be in different parts of the world but all of them would have been infected with a malicious code that allows the attacker to remotely control these computers. A collection of hijacked computers is called a "botnet" which according to latest news are actually availabe for hire at a relatively cheap price.

Coming back to Twitter outage last Thursday, what is really alarming is the fact that it seems to be politically motivated with probable involvement of state-actors! Apparently this highly synchronised attack was not a random anarchist act, it was targeted at one individual, a Georgian blogger, going by the name "Cyxymu," (the name of a town in the Republic of Georgia), who had accounts on Twitter, Facebook,LiveJournal, Blogger and YouTube.[source] As is obvious, fingers have already been pointed at Russia, especially after the last years cyber-warfare between Russia and Georgia.

Only weeks back, there were reports of sustained Denial-of-Service attacks on US and South-Korean websites and most likely these are going to continue sporadically until it breaks out into bigger cyberwar or the political objective is met. Earlier, there have been politically motivated large-scale attacks against Eastonia in May 2007 , Ukraine and Lithunia besides the occasional but highly damaging attacks on US sites by Chinese hackers. China is reported to have been preparing for large-scale cyberwar. Of course, Jihadists can't be far behind! However, as with everything, the earliest politically motivated cyberwar involving DDoS was launched against Serbia under the auspicious of the US. Its another matter that, Serbians were equally successful in counter-attacking the NATO on cyberspace.

But as of yet, there hadn't been as big a collateral damage as has been the case in last weeks outage. The Social Web has become a very important political tool as we learnt very recently from Twitter's role during Iran elections and the massive protests later on. Indeed, web is quintessentially a democratic platform and we can expect far more political activism online but there is also the fear that the involvement of state-actors in disruption of what can be called "essential services on the web" is an alarming trend. If attack on civilians in real world is called terrorism and unacceptable in any manner, an attacks that disrupts Social Web cannot be considered any less than cyber-terrorism. May be we need global treaties or similar legislations to ensure that our social web lives are not held ransom by nation-states' military and intels, cybercriminals or cyberterrorists.

A few hours back, Twitter came under another attack which disrupted the service for 30 minutes. At 12:17 P.M. PT Twitter confirmed the attack on its status blog.

More information....

Posted By danish Ahmed 5:52 AM

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Will Twitter Go Down With The Waves

Posted by: danish Ahmed 1:15 AM

Twitter has been down for more than 2 hours,the last tweets on my time-line reflect panic as one would expect from the passengers of a ship as it goes down with the waves! Well, i haven't got a Google Wave account yet, the analogy is partly coincidental :p

Also read : http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/05/22/twitter-at-scale-will-it-work/

Posted By danish Ahmed 1:15 AM

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The ant and the grasshopper: behavioral implications of an age-old fable

Posted by: danish Ahmed 3:08 AM

Everybody, or at least most of us who have gone to the school have read Aesop's tale of the Ant and the Grasshopper. The grasshopper plays, has fun on a summer day while the ant labors to store up food in its dwelling. He even mocks the ant for slogging instead of having fun. But when the winter sets in the grasshopper finds himself starving and begging at the doorstep of the ant who has enough reserve to last the winter. The moral of the story is clear- there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. In other words, hard work pays and also, if you are idle and are having fun now,you will have to pay for it in the future.

An interesting aspect of this tale is the ant's perspective. While the earliest version has the ant rebuking the grasshopper,later versions have her taking in the dying grasshopper out of kindness. In any case, it can be safely assumed that the ant finally has an almost sadistic pleasure when nature proves her right. We can almost hear her saying,"I told you so!". Indeed, vindication of her stand would not be complete with her having reserve of food only,the grasshopper should suffer too. Without that, her hard work during summer won't be justified!
However,things don't turn out the same all the time, Somerset Maugham's version of the Ant and the Grasshopper has two brothers, the elder brother, George is a hard-worker while Tom the younger one is an idler and a spendthrift. George lives a life of discipline, does all the right things, saves a third of his earnings so that he could retire bit early and live a comfortable life. Tom, on the other hand, lives to enjoy the present, he cares too little for the future and his expenses often have to be borne by the hard-working George.

However, as the narrator of the story finds from George, Tom doesn't really suffer in the end for all waywardness in youth. Just when George thinks that Tom is about to pay for not planning or saving money for the future, the latter goes on to marry a rich lady who dies within a few years leaving her fortune to Tom! George is outraged that his spendthrift brother has actually been rewarded for all his vanities and indulgence! Does George hate his brother? After all, he has, time and again spent his own hard-earned money to keep Tom out of trouble! Yet the narrator finds him unhappy at the good fortune of his younger brother! What has probably annoyed George the irony of fate that his own hard-work pays him far less than his brother's loose ways. It is a feeling all of us have had at some point in time.

This is such an integral part of human emotion that it can be seen in our casual behaviour too. And it doesn't always have to be hard work only, it could be anything which requires a certain amount of dedication, diligence and more importantly self-denial.
Indian society is going through an exciting phase, the traditionally subdued segments are asserting themselves and over-running elite bastions by sheer numerical superiority. It is not surprising to find the upwardly mobile middle class outraged by Rakhi ka Swayamvar or Mallika visiting Twitter headquarters. Rakhi at least, doesn't represent us (yes,i count myself too) in anyway! It takes a lot of hard-work and diligence to develop intellectually, so it is but natural that somebody so uncouth and crass gaining such fame and wealth be considered outrageous!

Which brings us back to the question, would the ant's retribution be complete if the grasshopper does not suffer?

Posted By danish Ahmed 3:08 AM

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A tiny moment of truth of our failings

Posted by: danish Ahmed 11:13 AM

I seem to attract a certain segment of people, street-kids, destitutes, invalids, people without food,shelter and the very basic amenities every human is entitled to. On my part, I am very comfortable with them and it must be very apparent since I get approached all too often. By the way, I am not talking about "beggars" one comes across traffic signals, these professionals are the easiest to please. As my very good friend says, anything that can be bought at a price however high is cheaper than that which requires your feelings and gestures.

But that is not the case with the people i am now talking about ,its not just money, they demand something more. For instance, there is this resident of our corner of the city, who would sometimes want soft-drink or ice-cream- not the sort of request a mentally-handicapped destitute should be making but the fact is that he gets it every time and its just not me or my friends. Most of the guys hanging around that area usually give in to his demand.

But I seem to attract far more people in need. Just a couple of hours back, 10-10:30 PM, these two kids stopped my bike, they wanted a lift home. Now, thats something I do nearly everyday but the problem in this case was the fact that I would have to go back quite some distance to drop them. However, i did give in to their insistence, and on the way learnt much about them. They were brothers, the elder one was 12 year old but was being guardian to his 10 year old sibling. Both of them worked at a food stall, couldn't be earning more than Rs. 30 combined but there was an air of confidence in them that made me think that these kids should be in school! I did tell them that I would make arrangements for schooling but don't have a clue on how to go about!

And yes,while returning I realized how uncanny the resemblance between these kids and the Slumdog Millionaire kids was. But unlike the characters in the movie, lady luck is not going to rescue them from poverty, it us who have to give them back their basic rights.

Posted By danish Ahmed 11:13 AM

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

R.I.P Michael Jackson

Posted by: danish Ahmed 2:39 AM

Just finished watching Michael Jackson's memorial, it was once in a life-time event. The glamor and grandeur sorrounding the event seemed to commoditize death and grief but the memorial of the King of Pop could not have been a sombre affair!

Lets not forget that he was under constant pressure to perform,even until the day he died. From the time when the 5 year old wonder-kid MJ was thrushed into the entertainment industy to this date , he was always seen as an object of entertainment even if a very celebrated one. No wonder then, he was a bit strange, the world never considered or wanted him to be a normal person!

Michael Jackson's memorial will go down in history as the biggest televised event. Ordinarily i wouldn't participate in an event of this nature watching its live telecast but MJ's memorial was an exception as it reflected his greatest contribution. For the first time, millions of people from all across the globe were in unison doing the same thing. It is indeed a mighty acheivement.

Thank you Michael Jackson and Rest In Peace !

Posted By danish Ahmed 2:39 AM

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Tribute To The Boy King

Posted by: danish Ahmed 6:10 AM

Waking up in the morning to hear the news of legend passing away is never an easy thing to handle but it was surprising for me to be sulking about it even late in the day when i had some very important decisions to take. What was more surprising for me was the fact that Michael Jackson was not such an important part of my growing up years as it was for others. I never followed Western music, i still don't. But Michael Jackson was different, he had reached every nook and corner of the globe even before the cold war was over and globalization had begun. Much of what i know about him was from reading stuffs and not real-time participation. I did love his music and dance but i still can't claim to have listened to all of his songs. So why then was i was so affected?

Perhaps it was his charisma, his fan following, his life-style and his life-story that had us fascinated us all this time. Despite unimaginable fame and wealth his life seemed one tragic story. He was the first African-American to have reached the pinnacle of glory and that may have something to do with the controversies that dogged his later life. There was something deeply tragical that made him yearn for childhood and his unwillingness to grow up. Half of the controversies seem to have arisen from his reclusiveness, the other half may have something to do with him being sorrounded by greedy gold-diggers. But one cannot deny that the way the media, the authorities and even the people reacted to the controversaries everytime,envy , if not prejudice may have something to do with it.

One of the most distubing things that followed MJ's demise was the number of nasty jokes and criticism doing the rounds on the web. Most likely these people have no clue to what MJ has contributed or are simply sick,envious of him or worse, racially prejudiced. i don't need to enumerate the contributions of Michael Jackson to entertainment industry or the records he holds. It is there for all to see. Neither video albums nor MTV could have been as popular without MJ's mersmerizing steps, artists across the world made careers just by imitating him.

Michael Jackson's final act to silence his critics and naysayers was by his death which created so much furore that it almost took the Internet down. Shortly after the news of his cardiac arrest appeared on the Internet, there such a huge surge of online traffick that Google mistook it for an automated attack and for 25 minutes Google searches on Michael Jackson returned an error page. The official Google blog gives a first-hand account in the following post: Outpouring of searches for the late Michael Jackson.

But Google was not the only one, Twitter saw the number of tweets per second double as news of MJ's death was out and soon the site crashed from overload. The Yahoo News page reporting on MJ being rushed to hospital had a record number of 16.4 million visitors and Yahoo News overall had a record number of 175 million pageviews! Yahoo blog entry "Losing Michael Jackson" shares some insights on how it handled the situation. All popular search engines and services including Facebook, Wikipedia, Flickr, AOL had to deal with an unusual situation and had to allocate all available resources to cover the news.

In his last years Michael Jackson's had lost some of his popularity, the slated comeback tour could have salvaged some but his untimely death and the fact that the major players in web technologies including Google, Yahoo and Microsoft were brought to the knees by the news only reaffirms the belief that Michael Jackson was the greatest entertainer ever.

Posted By danish Ahmed 6:10 AM

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tweeting a revolution or is it a black operation ?

For the past 24 hours #Iranelection and hash tags related to Iranian election has been trending on Twitter . What it essentially means, (for those unfamiliar with Twitter) is that the election in Iran and its fallout are the most talked about topic on Twitter. We have already seen the profound impact 1 that Twitter has had on socio-political events in the past but this could be the biggest one considering the fact that the mainstream media was late in reporting the protests and has since been lagging behind the micro-blogging service. ( Please check out, Dear CNN, Please Check Twitter For News About Iran )

However, what really intrigues me is the question, whether the protest in Iran truly reflects the aspiration of the nation as a whole or is just a partisan struggle fueled by external powers. Once again the sources of most these news are either almost anonymous twitterers or those belonging to the opposition camp. The truth perhaps lies somewhere in between, the call for probe by Ayotallah Khameini indicates it. Ironically, Ashton Kucher, who has the largest following in Twitter, has likened the issue to the controversy around G.W. Bush's electoral victory in 2000!

Either way it is Iran's internal issue, it is, after all, the only country in the region that has some sort of democracy (that has not been forced on). So why is the global social media so obsessed with Iranian election results ? I guess it has more to do with the fact that the West is not comfortable with the fact that a hardliner like Ahmadinejad came so close to defeat and still survive. Of course, i am just speculating that he survived but anyway, this was an opportunity that a lot of people would have hated to let go of. That would also explain why the opposition is on the street but euphemisms like "tweeting revolution", coming from American and West European "social media activists" seem to me part of propaganda warfare in the lines of black operations. Only this time the agenda has been outsourced to the crowd populating the social web. John Robb has in his earlier blog posts discussed various 4GW strategies and manoeuvres that the US could adopt to bring down Iran, some of the proposed ones have been black operations of these nature.

At this juncture ishould confess that i don't have much love for Ahmadinejad nor for the ruling elite of Iran, but i cannot deny the fact that he has considerable support from the Iranian electorate as the numerous pro-Ahmadinejad demonstrations indicate. So all talks of freedom and democracy by activists on web sound hollow when one considers the fact that there was hardly any murmur of protest when China banned nearly all major web sites and services on the anniversary of the Tianmen massacre. Similarly, the torch-bearers of liberty and democracy were conspicuously silent when just few weeks back the Burmese junta filed fresh case against the famous Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi just days before her 13 year old detention was about to expire! As i have already mentioned what we are witnessing might well be a crowdsourced black operation, not unlike propaganda warfare except for the fact that in this instance its far too decentralized and viral in nature. The majority of the participants may actually have no clue about the underlying agenda if at all there is one !

1. Twitter one hour maintenance downtime has been postponed as demanded by bloggers/twitterers.

Posted By danish Ahmed 4:06 AM

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Crowdsourcing Diplomacy: Leveraging Social Media In India's War Against Terrorism

Just finished posting my latest blog entry yet something doesn't feel alright. Just a few months back at around this time (its nearly 2 in the morning) i was watching on TV, a group of terrorists attack and lay siege on Mumbai. The next few days, there was a feeling of national outrage, every Indian worth his salt was angry as well as determined to do everything to make sure that incidences of these sorts are not repeated. Yet only 6 months have passed and an alleged key conspirator has been released by a Pakistani court. Apparently, India has expressed displeasure and Pakistan has pooh-poohed it.Can we do nothing except wait for the next major attack to take place?

In this era of globalization, India's greatest strength is its democracy. We are the largest democracy not just because of the numbers but also because of the level of political participation.
Well, know the power of democracy, even a small group us can force the government to reverse major decisions, we can burn trains and destroy public property and still get away. And that is not all! In the global stage too, we can vote to make the Taj Mahal, number 1 in the list of 7 wonders of the world chosen democratically. Well, the Taj deserves it but if its a matter of votes then we Indians can vote and make the nearest shanty declared the 8th wonder of the world. After all, we are the largest enfranchised group in the world and quite aware of the power that enfanchisement brings along.

Our presence in social media is as formidable. We know the power of the individual on a democratic platform, we can make hashtags of nonsensical or just too ambiguous words and use our numerical strength to tweet it until it is a trending topic on Twitter.

Twitter is the place where "everything Social Web" is taking place. Well, Obama being on Twitter is a common knowledge but he is not the only politician tweeting. There are lots of them including the newly sworn in Minister of State for External Affairs, Sashi Tharoor who is quite active on Twitter. Apparently, even the Minister of External Affairs, SM Krishna is on Twitter going by the latest MSN report!* Yet, our great Indian democratic parivar on Social Web and Twitter in particular would prefer to tweet "#wtfwednesday" or similar but desi tags as trending topics. This is the same segment that has been an important part of the group of users who have, through social media, forced companies like Facebook and Twitter itself to reverse their decisions. But, conspicuously enough, they are not as vocal or as expressive when it comes to #Mumbai terror attack trial.

In my previous post I have two simple questions the answer of which also answers questions that should suffice the Pakistani courts.If the Indian twitterati now raises this question in unison its likely to reverebate far more loudly than ever. Afterall, the President of USA, Indian Ministers of External Affairs (both Cabinet and MoS) and numerous other politicians and key decision makers from India, Pakistan, USA and rest of the world are on Twitter.

Crowdsourcing: is a neologism for the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people, in the form of an open call. [source]

Posted By danish Ahmed 2:41 AM

Does release of a key Mumbai terror suspect surprise you ?

Posted by: danish Ahmed 1:21 AM

Hafiz Saeed, the founder and chief of Lashkar-E-Taiyyaba and a key suspect in Mumbai terror attacks on 26/11/2008 has been released by a Pakistani court because of lack of evidence. It doesn't come as a surprise, judicial decisions are based on the charges and evidences submitted by the prosecution which in this case was the Pakistani establishment.

To start with, any meaningful decision in this case has to be a political decision not a judicial one. Most, if not all , of us know the history of the Taliban, LeT and other Pakistan-based militant groups and the Pakistani state's attitude towards them. The 9/11 attacks may have changed equations and pitted Pakistani Army against the Taliban but the same cannot be said about the Pakistani militant groups operating in Kashmir. For Pakistan, Taliban ultimately was an Afghan group that they had nurtured and could now sacrifice for self-preservation but groups operating in Kashmir were their own people, people they had indoctrined,trained and helped gather support from the locals. So dismantling the India-specific terror infrastructure (please read to an earlier post of mine, "Pakistan is riding a many-headed Hydra" ) was never as easy neither was the motivation. This lack of motivation and reluctance to discontinue arming guerrillas to fight Indian forces in Kashmir can be seen in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attack.

Well, i can go on and on but the only conclusion that can come out of it, is the question whether the Pakistani political leadership is willing to act ? Neither India nor USA nor any other entity can provide Pakistan more credible and substantial evidence than it already has in its government records! I have always wanted to ask a couple simple questions to Pakistan.

What is the objective of the LeT, JeM etc?
What is their modus operandi ?

The answer to these two simple questions should provide enough evidence to Pakistan to nail the perpetrators.

Posted By danish Ahmed 1:21 AM

Monday, May 4, 2009

What is wrong with Mayawati ?

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Posted by: danish Ahmed 1:17 PM

Update : Well, I am not sure if I would still prefer Mayawati over Advani but her recent mis- deeds like spending crores of taxpayer money to build her own statues, the recent attack on Ms Bahuguna's house etc clearly indicate that I was wrong! However, the gist remains the same (minus Mayawati) so i am not deleting it! :p

Check out my friend Meera Sapra's cartoons on Mayawati

I know speaking in favor of Mayawati is considered a blasphemy by the literati (my bro recently asked how an educated person like me could support her ! ) but lets get some facts straight.

India has generated wealth enough to propel an Indian to being the richest man in the world (even if on a very short term) but its also home to a third of the world's poor. Don't you think something is grossly wrong? Aren't economic status, caste distinction and power-share interlinked ?

As The News Week has pointed out, caste-based division in Indian society is far more deeper and larger than the racial divide in the US. Post election we are most likely going to have a very fractured mandate, tribals and other indigenous population in different reagions are up in arms against development plans and Naxalites rule over a large swathe of land extending from Nepalese border to Andhra Pradesh. If you think all is well with the current system, you need to seriously introspect.

Finally, this is a transitory phase in Indian politics, so maybe we should look for ways to redistribute wealth and political power equitably. In fact it is political power that is the key to social equality in India in the present time. Affirmative actions like reservations have helped economic upliftment of Dalits but socio-politically they are still pariah, returning them their share of political power is the only way to achieve social equality. As for many of the apprehensions that Mayawati may make drastic reversals in foreign policies etc, history bears testimony to the fact that once installed on the seat of power, even the most vitriolic leader starts behaving responsibly (Modi is an exception but NDA policies during its term is the most befitting example) (Also its what Peter Parker's dying Uncle says to him "with great power comes great responsibility" :) )

And yes, we do need sort "movers and shakers" that momentarily upset the established class-based social structure. If this sounds preposterous then let me remind you that the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi, Mandal were 2 issues that changed the face of Indian politics forever without hindering the pace of development in any way. It merely shook the foundation of the seats of power of feudal lords-turned-politicians who considered themselves invincible because of their command of primary loyalties of sundry groups, evoked by emotive and often parochial and almost always non-progressive issues. The period was pretty chaotic but so is the case every time a new order is in the making.

If you look at the number at the number of Naxalite attacks on polling centres this election it seems quite ominous. Call them brigands and robbers as P Chidambram does but the simple fact is that farmers, craftsmen, foragers do not take up arms unless there is deep-rooted discontent and rage against the established order, within their bosoms.

P.S.: I have been thinking of writing on this since a long time but couldn't get around to doing it. However, while leaving a comment on fellow blogger/twitterer Aakriti I found that I had enough content to post as a new entry! So here it is :)

Posted By danish Ahmed 1:17 PM

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fake IPL Player Blog: Adding Viral Marketing To Cricket

Posted by: danish Ahmed 1:22 AM

It seems PC was correct all along, polls and cricket tournament can't go together. They are just too BIG ! No, I am not talking from the security point of view which denied India the opportunity to host IPL (and in the process diluted my zeal to follow live scores), the distraction now comes in the form of a blog posted by someone who could be part of the Kolkota Knight Riders squad. Well, the very URL, http://fakeiplplayer.blogpot.com suggests that the author might not be a "real player", but the posts refer to people, facts, events and even predictions which an outsider would not be able to know. But the most interesting factor for me is the fact that the author doesn't seem very keen to prove his claim, the posts seem impromptu musings of a person who has been around in domestic cricket for some time and now want's to give out the insider view of IPL, especially about dressing room conversations, equations between players, coach, owner etc.

Overall, the blog is quite refreshing and informative as well. This week I intended to update this blog with something related to elections but then as PC said cricket and election have nastier habit of eating into each other's fan base far more than SRK and Aamir Khan do. IPL this year hadn't really captured my attention, I wasn't following each and every match but then I came across this IPL ANONYMOUS's blog and was compelled to defer my post on election :)

Btw, this blog has already turned viral (in terms of marketing!) so I have a hunch that if this blog goes on to become as big a hit some other "insider" blogs have become, it could have some impact on Social Media Optimization and Internet Marketing in general. Lets wait and watch....

Posted By danish Ahmed 1:22 AM

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Advani resorts to spamming

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Posted by: danish Ahmed 12:43 AM

With the mega-event called election just a couple of days away, political parties, media and even the aam aadmi have pulled out all stops while celebrating the biggest dance of democracy. Most likel, this contest is going to be an interesting one considering the stakes a lot of aspirants hold. BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate L.K. Advani has been known to cherish hope of bagging the top job since a long time but he might end up in record book as the first person to have started a non-commercial spam campaign over the Internet. Going by the number of ads plastered all over the Web, it is simply stupefying why so much money has been spent on advertisements on Web when the more consequential voters could have been bought (or at least it might have seemed so).
Irony of Fate : L.K. Advani and the news report on Taliban victory in Swat share the same space on the Pakistani newspaper "Dawn". And to top it off Advani's banner (in cheap imitation of Obama's campaign slogan) says "IT'S POSSIBLE".
Now if you can make the connection, do you find it more sinister or more funny ?
Please leave feedback :)

Posted By danish Ahmed 12:43 AM

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Zardari mistakes Osama for Obama

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Posted by: danish Ahmed 5:00 AM

In a sensational revelation, a Central Asian news agency has claimed that it has irrefutable evidence to prove that Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari may have been taking orders from Osama and not Obama as is widely believed. "That may partly explain", says South-Asia correspondent Floral Poi, "why Zardari has been making contradictory statements on a host of issues ranging from Mumbai terror attack to reinstatement of sacked Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhary to his equation with Prime Minister Gilani".

Political analysts say that this won't be the first time Zardari has been victim to an evil prankster. He had earlier claimed that after the Mumbai attack, someone claiming to be Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee had called him threatening to attack Pakistan. An inexperienced Zardari panicked and went into denial mode which has now resulted in one of the biggest diplomatic stand-offs between the two countries.

Sources indicate that owing to the close similarity between the names of the Saudi fugitive and the American President, the former has been sending Zardari instructions on various policies. It is not clear if the Al Qaeda leader deliberately misled Pakistani establishment or the latter misunderstood the message as having originated from the Oval Office. It is a mistake that everyone, from CNN to Ted Kennedy, have done. The names Obama and Osama have been used interchangeably (but erroneously) quite a few times, but this is the first time that a nation's policies have been influenced by it.

A Zardari aide said,"the media is blowing it out of proportion, yes he was always weak at spelling, but these sorts of mistakes are not unheard of! Remember just a few years back George W. Bush plunged his nation into the Iraq War after claiming to have heard God's voice?" And didn't it turn out that the voice did not belong to God but to Dick Cheney who was over the intercom? So why is it difficult for Zardari to make a similar mistake by confusing Osama with Obama ?" the official emphatically questions.

However, a large number of political and security experts argue that it might not be as inadvertent a mistake as it is now made out to be. A security expert on condition of anonymity says,"radical militant groups have always had a say in the governance, the instructions from Al Qaeda or Taliban to the President might not be such a rarity, maybe Zardari just didn't know how to handle it. Afterall he is not known to be particularly bright. Pakistan has been running with hares and hunting with hounds all along, this shouldn't surprise anyone."

Osama Bin Laden could not be reached for comment.

I guess everybody has taken it as it should have been - An April Fool Joke :D
There were 2 clues -
  • Floral Poi - is an anagram of April Fool.
  • Individual letters in bold starting with "A" spell April Fool.

Posted By danish Ahmed 5:00 AM