Cyril Maithily Gupta's Blog

From 1984 to 2014… Big Broather, we are watching you

April 25th, 2013

Everybody has heard of George Orwell’s 1984, the book that carved a disturbing place for itself in our collective psyche by the fascinating portrayal of a totalitarian regime that watched its people at all times and even made thought, a crime.

1984 was a very significant year, not because it wasn’t anything like what George Orwell had warned us about, but because it was the year of the beginning of the new world. The year when that first breakthrough was made that made computing personal and eventually a tool of freedom. It was the year when Apple Macintosh, the first personal computer with the now ubiquitous graphic interface and mouse was launched.

I don’t know if the visionaries of that age had any idea how important that tool would become for freedom, but Apple’s advertisement for the Macintosh now looks very serendipitous.

It showed a woman hurling a hammer onto a screen showing a big brother like image, and breaking it. The personal computer would become a tool for just that, breaking dictatorships and fighting oppression everywhere.

As we slowly make our way through 2013 I sometimes hear people worry about things like privacy and the enhanced capability of the government to monitor everybody, and I have a private little laugh. The days when the government really had the capability to watch people, hide facts, and carry out clandestine operations were in 1984 when spy organizations were having a field day and ‘covert’ really meant something.

The advancements in communication technology have made monitoring easier, but more than that it has made it much easier to monitor the monitors. For the people to exchange information and facts outside of a government controlled network, and to take collective action against any injustice perpetrated by the government or by its negligence. If someone’s really alarmed by technology and jumping right now, it’s the government and not the people.

No matter how many cameras the government installs on the streets, how many IPs it monitors, how many networks it sniffs, how many caps it puts on SMS exchanges, it doesn’t stand a chance against a society which has a camera in every hand and the means to send data to anyone in the world instantly.

So today when a policeman beats up a woman in the streets of Ludhiana he will be filmed and then fired and no news network will be needed to carry this news or to show that clip to have that impact. The people have adopted the tools and taken the matters in their hands. They are not dependent on the newsmakers, they decide what gets on news and when they’ve made their decision no amount of nudging or pushing will stop the newscasters from making it the headline.

If there was a battle for control between the government and the people it’s already lost. Each new computer sold, smartphone used and Internet connection connected insures that. There is a reason why more than 25% of India’s population now owns a mobile phone even when they don’t have some other basic facilities of life. It’s because in their intuitive intelligence they realize that communication is the first step towards freedom which will lead to a better life.

The right to be informed, and to inform is now an inalienable right for the people even though it’s not granted by any constitution. It’s a right that has been engraved in stone in the minds of those who practice it and they will not let anyone take it away. Whenever the governments do anything to dilute this right they will face fierce opposition and they will jump and back down.

The difference between the handling of the protests against rape in Delhi is a perfect example. Last time the government came down with force trying to prevent protestors from accumulating and using force against them. It backfired terribly. This time they had learnt their lesson and even while they made their usual gaffes they handled the situation with much more care. The protestors were not barred from accumulating, instead they were supplied facilities like drinking water and from the government’s side there were attempts to inform the protestors what they were doing to prevent such incidents. They made statements and distributed pamphlets. It helped that they were able to arrest the criminals very quickly and that the condition of the victim is much better now.

The government can’t put any sort of bars on social media and it seems to me that they’re now refocusing their energies on participating instead of stopping. That’s why the Congress Party of India; the political party that is in power in India right now, felt it necessary to create a fund for social media. They hope to use it to put their view across and that to me is a very proactive step because it will put them directly in touch with the real people and get them feedback that’s not filtered by agencies and individuals who have vested interest in maintaining the delusion that all is well.

It was a most wonderful 1984 and I feel every successive year is going to be a bit more wonderful as people use their voice to assert themselves more powerfully and make the governments jump again, and again… and again.

From ‘Know your customer’ to ‘Own your customer’ : The great digital migration – Microsoft Blue

April 14th, 2013

I am reading the authorised biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson right now. Steve’s gone, but it’s pretty interesting to see what he did to the world. It’s just like his personality awful and awesome at the same time.

Apple invented this, or at least made it mainstream, Google changed it’s mantra to it and now Microsoft is trying very hard to climb on-board. I guess by know everyone has heard of ‘Microsoft Blue’, what they hope is an innovative new strategy that will bring them back their mojo! Well, it’s dated MS, and it’s what everybody else is doing, so you give it a new name and you hope it will make you do better. Maybe or maybe not, but it sure won’t help the people.

What I am talking about is this new approach to business which involves trying to virtually ‘Own your customer’. To lock him down, to contain him, and to make sure that he isn’t able to move a muscle out of your domain. To make your devices perfectly compatible and operable with all your other devices, and to attempt to make them as incompatible as possible with everything else out there in the world so that your customer is totally locked down into your domain.

So if you happen to own an Apple iPod or iPhone, an Apple MacBook is what you must have if you want to use these devices, if you are an android guy then you can’t sync with anything with an apple logo on it, and if you happen to be a MS boy then well you’re going to have to endure that Windows logo on every device you own and that’s what Microsoft Blue is all about.

It’s like the classic Gangster turf war story. You muscle in into a neighborhood, dominate it and then build fortresses all around so that nobody gets out, jealously protecting your turf from similar gang-leaders. This is not the future of computing, this is not what was supposed to be created.

How did consumerism take over freedom so easily? These companies that are now trying to own us were lead by people who were great visionaries. Who wanted to solve a problem. Who wanted to create a dent in the universe, and now it’s all about growing bigger, owning more, and just making sure the buyer pays again and again and again.

This appleistic approach to computing and technology will create huge islands of technology that will exist in isolation with only thin lines of communication between each other. The worst thing that can happen because we have the technology that could have enabled free flow of information, unabated, unchecked and unstopped from one sort of device to another, all over the domain. That would have been an ideal world where information would be free to access for anybody who would want it. Where data could be tapped into freely by small companies no matter what technology they are working on, and a new product would be easy to create, and easier to find users for.

The marketplace-ization of software and hardware may be good for the domain owners, but it’s awful for the consumers because the single-entity owned marketplace by its very nature promotes locking down of data so that the marketplace users can’t move out so easily and have to keep buying related devices one after another.

I really missed the good old days when the OS was just an OS and everything else was brought to it by other providers. What a beautiful thriving place that was.

Of the world that is coming, and what could be next

March 27th, 2013

After reading ‘That used to be us’ by Thomas Friedman, the prime thought that comes into my mind is that this world is going to be a really tough place from now on for those who aren’t competitive, and a wonderful place for those who are.

That book is about America, but it is more relevant for the rest of the world because it gives you great insights into how America became the leader of the free world, and why it is now losing that position rapidly. It’s sobering because the shape of the world will be defined by the country that leads it and I have a lot more confidence in America to do this job than China.

Now about India’s place in the new world, the book talks about the wonderful work that the governments of China, Korea, Singapore and Japan have done on their infrastructure and how America is struggling to cope, but India is missing from the list of the countries that threaten American dominance. Thomas Friedman certainly didn’t think we are a serious challenge, and I think he has a point.

For all the big noise about rising and shining India the facts are that in the last 50 years our governments have failed to provide ensure the two most important factors that could have made us a force : 1) Education, 2) Health.

I am placing education first because with good education a lot of health problems can also be nipped in the bud.

I hear so much talk about the biggest youth force in the world that could drive our economy, but I think that idea is misplaced. Almost all of our ‘youth-power’ is uneducated, untrained, unemployable and sadly uncouth. A crowd of idiots doesn’t a great nation make.

The Indian success story is written by the free thinkers, the entrepreneurs and the fighters who succeeded against all odds, not by government nurture and care. But the government is selling whatever they created to the corporations and soon we are going to have a polarizing problem that’s bigger than the 1%-99% problem of the US, and things here will be much worse here when people realize how they have been shafted.

The 2000s have proven very turbulent for the world, and I think that turbulence is now heading towards India.

More on this later…

The sneakiest attack on the Indian Internet Industry

May 18th, 2012

Dear Internet entrepreneurs and users. Here’s what I feel is the sneakiest, the most dangerous and the boldest spam attempt by anyone till date. This is so preposterous that I never imagined that somebody could even think of pulling this kind of bullshit off!

This company – Envisage Media has created a software platform called streamride.net and has tied up with ISPs, working through them to inject ads into each user’s browser no matter what websites they visit. They’ve been doing this for Ortel, and now I saw their ads on Spectranet which is a major ISP with tens of thousands of users. The ISPs install this software on their servers, the user has to install nothing.

This is what happens:

When any of the users of these ISPs visits any website of the world, ads show up from Envisage media over the website’s content, defacing it, and also stealing revenue from it. This is like a spyware, but you can’t remove it, because it’s sent from the ISP and not from your computer. There’s no way to remove it from the user’s end, and there’s no way for the website owner to prevent these ads from showing up on their websites.

Here’s how they do it:

When you visit a website, streamride adds a link to a javascript file right after the body tag of the site’s html code at the ISPs server. Which means, the ISPs actually modify the code that you are sending out to the browser (illegal hacking!!) before it reaches the user. This javascript file loads the advertisement and creates the overlay over the site you are visiting showing the ads on your site that you had never authorized and aren’t getting a paisa from.

I use spectranet in my office and I was surprised to see ads on my webistes today. First I thought my computer had a spyware, and then that my website was hacked. After ruling out everything, I discovered how this sneaky organization is trying to steal our revenue and ruin the user experience that web companies have tried to build so painstakingly.

Here are some screen shots that will show you what’s happening.





Wherever you go, you can’t escape these ads.

Entrepreneurs, your advertisers and your clients must feel very dumb in paying you. They can pay this guy lesser, and earn from all the hard work and investment you’ve made in your website. If you are selling a service or running an e-commerce website, they are advertising right over your sales preposition. Today I saw a Jabong.com ad on Flipkart.com thanks to this :o.

The company who is doing this is http://www.envisagemedia.in/. The ISPs who I know are involved include Ortel and Spectranet, but I am certain there are other smaller ones too.

If major ISPs think they can pull this off successfully and other ISPs follow suit after Spectranet, running an Internet enterprise in India is going to be certainly very hard.

Do two negatives make a positive?

August 12th, 2011

When I was a child there was a particular image of the media and the journalists who used to bring the news to the people. The image was of an upright, in pressure, yet strong establishment, and the journalists were honest, threatened, yet full of resolve to bring the truth out in the open. Now we all know the truth.

Nobody in India now believes that the media has a single shred of honest blood left in its vein. The people believe that the popular media is in the pay of many different vested interests, and is in full control of the lobbies that are sponsoring them. When we watch the news, or read the papers, or see the coverages on the Internet, it’s clear who a particular media house or reporter is aligned with.

The media too no longer thinks that it is successful in fooling a lot of people, and that’s putting a new kind of pressure on it. The pressure to try and salvage whatever little credibility it thinks it has left.

Frankly, media can get away with almost any bullcrap they choose to present on the television, on print, or radio because there’s no dissenting view, no differing facts, no links to other stories, but online the story is different.

The news website of all media houses now must have a comments box below their news, and if they don’t have it people don’t come back to their sites. The reason is simple, unlike other media sources like the newspaper, radio or even television, the Internet is a medium which encourages people to click and go to a different place if they are not happy with what they see.

That’s why it is consistently proven that those websites which have a free comments box, and let people comment freely are more popular than those websites which do not have a comments box below their news.

Those websites which have a more or less laissez faire policy about the comments attract more visitors, and bring repeat visits. That’s why the media websites are under pressure to let people comment freely, which puts them in an all new kind of pressure too.

Whenever there’s a biased story on the site, scores and sometimes hundreds of dissenting comments appear. A lot of them are just flames, but many present real facts, biting commentary and insightful observations. The comments than invert the very existence of the article, totally reversing what a reader not in the know would carry away from the news.

The web medium then due to its very democratic nature is a bad servant to the political masters of the media slave. It’s a good thing, because the journalists are less prone to write a totally biased news because they know what’s coming.

However there’s another side of it. A lot of the comments are plain flames, many are rumors and many are outright blatant lies. There are racist comments, comments that cross all boundaries of decency and courtesy, and comments that damn the opposition to hell and beyond.

It changes the quality of the news and often the flame wars will shift the focus away from the real issue. Worse than that, sometimes the flame war going on is so offensive that it makes the reader angry, or sick, and may even give rise to feelings of mutual antipathy.

The comments do cancel out offensive and biased news sometimes, but what about the bias they carry? There’s no simple solution; we can only hope that the majority of the people in the democracy are sensible enough to put them out of the way. Of course, that’s the basic premise of democracy: that the majority of the people are smart enough to choose good things.

Now if only it worked as it is advertised.

There is only one Home

August 10th, 2011

I love science fiction because it makes fantasies possible. When you read well-written science fiction stories with solid hard science as base, it just seems that one day it could all really happen. Traveling to the stars, finding new realms — it could be within our grasp.

Science fiction presents a vision in which human beings are a citizen of the stars, living on many planets all around the universe, but if there’s one thing I know for a certainty, it’s that there’s no other HOME.

In the whole universe, Earth is the only planet that we can call ours. There is no other world in this universe that will be like Earth for us. No other world can be as hospitable or as comfortable as our lovely HOME.

It’s not about the size or the color temperature of our sun; or about the distance or the inclination of the Earth’s orbit; or even about the gravitational pull and the unique mix of elements.

Earth, life, and our existence is a product of innumerable factors, innumerable random events; manifestations shaped by chance and fortune. It is not just our home, but also the mother which gave birth to our species and civilization. It is the producer and we are the product, perfectly adapted to exist and thrive here.

No other planet no matter how physically similar it is to Earth, or how well it matches its orbit and mass; can be the home that Earth is for us. It cannot support life as we know it. We may live there by engineering the environment but it can never be our home.

Maybe if everyone of us thought about this a little more, and the economy a little less, we could work towards a better existence for humanity in our HOME instead of bigger and bigger GDP.

Earth gave us intelligence, now let’s pray for wisdom.

Newspapers and their biased reporting

August 10th, 2011

I read a lot of news, mostly on the Internet, but my family subscribes to three newspapers and I glance at them when I see them around. One of these is Mint, it’s a financial newspaper run in India by the Hindustan Times group. I’ve noticed that Hindustan Times tows the government line on things a lot, and the editorial sometimes looks as if it’s written personally by the representatives of the government of India.

Today on the front page of the newspaper there was a ‘Quick Edit’, on how the falling prices of the Brent Crude Oil were a breather to India, and would presumably help in combating inflation.

As a section of the media is wont to, they used crafty choice of words, and positioning to suggest that the Indian government is doing all that it can to help the people of India. So when they mentioned that the government of India recently raised prices of petrol which contributed to the inflation they prefixed the word ‘reluctantly’, and then they also recommended (is that the editor talking?) that the government does not lower the prices of petrol now even though the crude is falling (though the rationale behind raising the prices was that crude is rising), and make up for the ‘losses’ of the oil companies.

It seems that for these partially blind economy analysts the Indian economy is just the upper middle, and the higher class. Economic reform for them is about preserving the ‘growth rate’, and reporting increase in profits of big corporations year after year.

They go into a panic when they report that the stock market fell 400 points, but they seem to think that the rampant corruption in implementation of welfare schemes like MANREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee), is a part of the process that can be reported on the 3rd page when something really awful happens.

These is the kind of thinking that has brought the western economy to the brink and put the entire world in peril. You can ignore the deprived class at your own peril, and only for a short while. If you keep trying to do that what you get are things like the French Revolution. The world should take note of the rioting in London, and start thinking differently about the economy.

The corporate lobbyists are suggesting measures like cutting bank rates to give the economy a stimulus. without a corresponding cut in petrol prices this is going to make the already horrifying inflation rate even more monstrous.

I wonder if there’s a Neera Radia like troll helping the newspaper editors write their news this time round too?

Netvani+ Posts your Google+ update to Facebook and Twitter

July 18th, 2011

netvani+
A few days ago I promised to create a free application that would post your Google+ updates to Facebook and Twitter. It’s online now at netvaniplus.netvani.com.

Netvani+ Posts your Google+ update to Facebook and Twitter
Netvani+ (http://netvaniplus.netvani.com), is a new online service to send your Google+ updates to your twitter and facebook accounts automatically.

This online service uses OAuth 2 to authenticate your Google account, your facebook account, and your twitter account, and then it scans your Google+ profile page periodically to discover new public posts that you might have written. When it finds a new public posts it posts them immediately to your twitter and facebook accounts with a link to the original post on Google+.

Some features:
Post to Twitter, Facebook, or both
Delete any account any time
Choose too post all new updates, or only those that carry the hashtag #netvani+
Choose to submit only the new latest, or up to 3 new posts automatically

This Google+ posting service works on all browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, etc.), on all versions.

Security & Privacy
Security and Privacy are very important things that you need to keep in mind when you go online on a social network or share your information online.

Netvani+ uses OAuth2 which is a secure way of signing up with websites online without sharing your password or sensitive information. You can delete the OAuth access token associated with your account from within Netvani+ itself, or within twitter or facebook.

Netvani+ does not record any information that’s not vital to providing the service.

How does it work
Netvani+ works by constantly scanning your profile page for new updates using HTTP, and then posting it online to facebook and twitter using OAuth. There is no Google+ API right now, and Google+ is constantly changing, so I expect there will be some changes as we go along.

What will come later
I hope to give you an RSS/Atom feed of your latest updates very soon, and refine the service as we go.

Your suggestions and bug finds are important. You can mail me at cyrilgupta@gmail if you discover something.

The service is fully open right now, and I haven’t assigned any limits or invitation requirements. I only launched it today, so if there are unforeseen bugs, I am looking forward to the reports.

Thanks for reading and sharing.

If there are any questions about this service, technical or otherwise, I will be glad to answer.

Why Facebook’s Confidence Could be Misplaced When it comes to Google+

July 11th, 2011

Here’s my analysis of some ‘pretty good reasons’ that makes Facebook thing Google+ won’t beat them. See the light…

1. This is all Facebook does – Well, before Facebook arrived on scene, that’s what all Friendster did. It’s not about who has specialization in what, but who has the more compelling idea. The more I think about the Google+ proposition the more I think it’s pretty compelling in comparison to what Facebook offers.

I guess the story is about trust. Facebook, Twitter, Friendster, Orkut made people more receptive to the concept of a public life. So you’ll notice that each successive iteration of the social network has less emphasis on privacy. Friendster was all private, Twitter is all public, and Facebook gives you an option, but seriously how many people in our Facebook friends list are people we are really friends with?

2. People don’t want to manage groups – I don’t even get this. Facebook has lists, twitter has lists, Google has circles. I think private lists are better than public ones because it allows the user to have some sense of honesty about the relationship. In Facebook you really can’t put people in a group called ‘Someone I hardly know’, and hope to progress with the relationship.

So well, private lists/groups/circles are a feature that I’ve found use for, and I am certain many have too.

3. Group Video chat is a corner case – Well… The smallest group size is 2, in case we didn’t realize that. Group chat can be used by two people just as well as 10. It’s not a limitation, but an extension. I don’t know why Facebook feels this is a problem if I can invite some more people to a conversation.

4. Everybody’s on Facebook already – It’s a good point, but it represents friction, not a barrier. People will be slower, and will take longer to move, but ultimately the herd will go where the leaders go. If Facebook wants to retain its majority by a margin I think it should be forgetting about its lead and focusing on creating cool features that users will love.

Zuckerberg said separately that it’s about connecting apps, makes a lot of sense. Facebook is indeed one of the most popular platforms, but they haven’t been terribly good at making it developer friendly. The API documentation is poor, and liable to change. There are many limitations which restrict the developer. Most of them due to privacy issues.

It’ll be interesting to see how Google deals with its API. Till now judging from the other APIs for other Google products I’ve seen that they usually make things quite open and put give control over privacy issues to the app user (as it should be). If Google gets the mix right, and is able to closely integrate other solutions like Youtube, Reader, and Picasa, then it will have an offer that can give Facebook nightmares.

Netvani Makes Social Networking Simpler for Businesses

May 10th, 2011

My newest venture, that I am still working on by the way, is Netvani.com. This is a social networking management and monitoring tool that makes managing the presence on social networks easier for businesses.

The Social Internet is till uncharted territory for businesses, and even big businesses with big budgets are having trouble coping with the unique demands of the social web. A business usually has several different identities on multiple networks, and needs to deal with hundreds, sometimes thousands of customers. This certainly isn’t one man’s job and it’s absolutely not the CEO’s job to manage.

But the social networks don’t share those sympathies. They’re made for one person to use, and if you recruit someone else to manage your social identities you’re going to have to share your password with them.

Even with objects like Facebook Pages, where you can have multiple admins, it’s risky to give admin status to everybody because all admins have the same rights and anybody can just kick you out, or close the page. I had a personal experience of this some months ago when I saw the events page of a very popular pan-Indian event close down inexplicably. Evidently, one of the many admins had seen it fit to delete the event!

So the problems that businesses urgently need to solve include:

1. How to manage multiple identities.
2. How to get teams working together.
3. How to give everybody secure access.
4. How to automate frequently done tasks to save time.
5. How to get a total and comprehensive view of the enter social media presence.

My company is attempting to solve these problems with Netvani. We are building have built a tool that helps solve these problems and more, making it easier for businesses to run their social media campaigns and manage their social presence online.

It’s work in progress, and we’ve launched a beta version for people to use free. Hopefully, their feedback and usage will help us learn what we need to improve, and what we need to do to make this a very useful product.