Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Bhoomi Project : e-Governance helping Indian farmers.

One of the first e-Governance projects that was taken up in Karnataka on a war-footing has just reached a definitive phase. Bhoomi ('Earth' in Kannada language) project was kicked off at the turn of the millennium with the gargantuan task of computerizing all agricultural land records in the state.

Six years of existence have driven away all fears and the state's farmers have ungrudgingly embraced this move. The success has been so high that the Central government has adopted the Bhoomi model as the official model to be adopted across all states in India for computerization of land records. What is so unique about this model that it has met with such resounding success. We need to delve a little deeper

The whole project involved setting up kiosks across the various taluks (counties) in the state. With 203 kiosks set up all over the state, farmers were invited by the government to submit their records for computerization. With lot of publicity about how this would ease life for farmers, the bargain paid off. 20 million (2 crore) land records of 6.7 million(67 lakh) land owners were computerized with farmer contributing Rs. 61.94 crore rupees as service fees to the exchequer. However life has been much easier for them ever since the kiosks appeared. Why so?

  • Retrieval of land records by farmers is a child' play. They go to the nearest kiosk, pay Rs 15 as service charge and within 2 minutes they are handed over a printed copy of their land record. Simple as it may seem, old timers recall that this routine task used to take up to 30 days before the implementation of the Bhoomi project.
  • Farmers can also have title changes done in just 35 days as against the previous 200 days that it used to take.
  • Each kiosk has touch screens that allow farmers to keep track of how services requested by them are progressing. In case services take longer, the farmer is entitled to directly go to the taluk head and demand an immediate look into the cause.
  • Land records are also frequently used by farmers as collateral to raise bank loans and credit lines. With the Bhoomi project, a farmer can directly ask the banks to link his land record online with the credit link extended to him. This ensures that he can work up bank loans within 5 days.
  • The same holds true with the courts. Land litigation cases take lesser time to resolve with computerized records.
  • Overcoming bureaucracy and doing away with the regular palm greasing that had to be done to the village officials to get the land records earlier has removed the smirk from the farmer's face.

Even on the security front, Bhoomi scores several points. Bhoomi has a biometric fingerprint system built in for security. Any major service like a title change requested by a farmer requires key official in the upper echelons of the system to validate it via their finger prints. This ensures that the system is virtually tamper proof.

What has the government gained from it? Lots, one might even go tot the extent of saying that the government and not the farmers are the project's biggest beneficiaries. With the biometric security enabled Bhoomi project, the government has totally done away with losses incurred due to land record tampering. 2500 crores was the total loss in Bangalore alone due to land record tampering before 2000. That should put things in perspective. The other gain is the ease with which the government can regulate land revenue, bring about changes in laws that regulate land revenue. The software also enables the administrators to generate various reports based on type of soil, land holding size, type of crops grown etc. This information would enable administrators to take informed policy decision.

No wonder then the Bhoomi project won the Silver Icon at the 7th National e-Governance Conference, the Silver at the CommonWealth Innovation Awards in 2002 and was the finalist at the Stockholm Challenge Awards, 2002.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Karnataka Assembly Goes Online

Monday will be the opening of another chapter in e-Governance in Karnataka. The Karnataka government has decided to publish online, the recordings of the daily proceedings at the Assembly, for the sake of citizens.

This means that the editing and reporting branch of the Vidhana Soudha would go in for an overhaul. Once fully setup, the branch will be equipped with facilities that will enable
  • the online editing of the session proceedings;
  • compilation of daily deliberations at the house in both Kannada and English
  • linking of question posed by members to the government and the answers provided by government members
  • live coverage of key debates on the web
  • conversion of all audio tapes to CD format
  • completely digitize the archived proceedings of the house of the last 50 years.
All the output from these activities would be available to the common citizen at the official website of the Karnataka government.

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Demands of Globalization - Innovate, Educate & Convince

Two newsitems caught my attention in the Sunday morning edition of the Times of India. Both spoke of how India needs to gear up to the demands of globalization, that according to the New York Times famed columnist Mr. Thomas L Friedman, has created a level playing field for people and nations across the world
  1. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh who had been in Bangalore yesterday to inaugurate the construction of Metro Rail, showered a few words of praise on the city's residents.
    "You have become the symbol of a new India, an India on the move, rising to fulfill its destiny on the world map. The success of IT revolution has placed the state on the world map. This is not an isolated success of a few people who work behind walls and inside air-conditioned rooms. This success has been made possible by the toil and commitment of millions of people.
    You also need to reinvent for the future if you have to maintain your lead. You need to invest looking the needs two decades from now. You need to keep the costs of living, working and doing business in Bangalore low"
  2. Another TOI headline screamed "Indian firms creating more jobs for Americans" Here are some excerpts...
    "American public should be educated about the role played by Indian companies in creating thousands of jobs as they expand their operations in the US to counter the impression that outsourcing was taking jobs to India", Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath has said.

    "Indian companies are also helping to turn around American firms facing financial difficulties and US companies are getting a lot of business from India", Nath said launching the 'India Business Forum' here on Friday.
The first item clearly drives home the point that Indian Inc honchos have been trying to drill through for 2-3 years now. Innovate, innovate and innovate, for that is the only thing that differentiates companies today. Today's customer is so materialistic in his approach that he is easily bored by even a short term monotony in products or services. He is always looking out for that extra something that will pep up his experience of the service he has subscribed to or has added some zing to the product he plans to buy.

Innovation and globalization are linked too. Jay Dwivedi hits the hammer on the head when he says that innovation has to be part of a company's DNA from day one and can be managed literally in real time.
The days when you could make a plastic bottle, fill it with water, sit back, and see the sales grow each year, are long gone. Today, companies have figured out to make plastic bottles in China, ship empty bottles to Italy, fill them up with water from the Italian Alps, and then sell them at your local supermarket for half the price. Only an innovative company can thrive in this environment. The rest simply file for Chapter 11.
Companies going global have all the more reason to constantly innovate not just to cater to the ever changing tastes of the consumer, but also to reach out to as many varied markets as possible. John Stark speaks on the importance of innovation in the industry and what happens when you stop innovating.

The second part touches on how it is necessary to have the guts to tell the people, who have brushed against the wrong side of globalization, about the long term benefits of having embraced globalism. Globalism might have ignored them in the first wave, but nobody will be ignored for long, for globalization gives back what it takes, albeit in a different form.

While American IT companies are making a beeline to hire the best talent at cheap prices in India, Indian companies are hiring domain experts from Europe and North America to penetrate these markets. In the process Indian companies are giving a fresh lease of life to ailing companies in these countries by acquiring them and saving the jobs of the employees of these companies.

With Indian companies having survived the initial foray into going international and having quite proven that they have in them what it takes to succeed at the global level, it is now all about innovating to stay ahead and convincing hostile governments (and foreign, local media) that they do have nothing to lose by allowing Indian companies to operate from their own turf.

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India IT News Capsule - June 2006, Issue 9

  • AMD powered PCs exclusive shop set up at Bangalore: Vertex Techno Solutions Pvt. Ltd has opened AMD exclusive multi-brand computing devices store at President Chambers on Hayes Road, Bangalore, which will showcase all major brands including HP, Lenovo, Acer, Fujitsu, etc. exclusively based on the AMD platform.
  • BusinessWeek Infotech Top 100 contains 6 Indian firms: BusinessWeek has released its top 100 global Infotech firms and the list contains 6 Indian firms. Within the top 25 came Infosys(10), TCS(12), Bharti TeleVentures(19) and Wipro(23). Cognizant(32) and Satyam(85) were two other Indian companies.
  • Government steps in to regulate sales of GenX technologies to Indian companies: The Indian government has made it mandatory that all GenX technologies sold by international companies to Indian operators must be approved by the government. The logic behind it is to ensure that the international companies completely work with the Indian buyers to address all setup & security issues before making the sales. This ruling comes in the wake of Qualcomm's Push-To-Talk technology that was sold to Tata Teleservices and had to be later withdrawn as the government pointed out that the security systems were not in place to protect consumer interests.
  • Birlas buy Canadian BPO firm: The Aditya Birla group has moved forward to acquire Canadian based BPO firm Minacs through its subsidiary TransWorks. The deal is expected to be finalized at 125 million USD.
  • TCS to invest 1100 Crore rupees in Karnataka: TCS, the Indian IT giant has evinced interest in investing Rs 1100 crores in Karnataka. It has asked the Karnataka government to allot land for this purpose in Tier 2 cities that Karnataka has been planning.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Social Bookmarking Catching up in India

Ever felt the need to be able to access your bookmarks while surfing the Internet from a PC other than your regular home or office PC/laptop? Necessity led to the advent of online book marking sites which allow you to bookmark a website or a specific page online instead of your browser. So whenever you travel, you just need to remember the name of the online bookmarking site and all your bookmarks accompany you.

However the story does not end there. When I can store my bookmarks online, why not share them with friends? If so with friends, why not with common interest groups. Social Bookmarking was born. Web sites started offering netizens not only online storage for their bookmarks but also an opportunity to share and view other people's favorite bookmarks. Among the most popular ones today on the Internet are Del.icio.us (read it as delicious), Digg, Reddit, NewsVine, Blink, Furl, Spurl, Sphere, etc.

The few common services that all these websites allow are

  1. Bookmark your favorite web sites or URLs.
  2. Have your bookmarks thrown open to the public and get them to vote for your bookmark in case they like it.
  3. You can add friends and constantly keep track of new bookmarks that they add.
  4. More the votes on your bookmark, the more likely it is to appear on the homepages of these web sites. That will mean more and more people will view the bookmark and hence more votes.
  5. Tag your bookmarks with key words that enable users searching on those key terms to locate your bookmark.
  6. Tag Clouds that give an idea of what keywords are currently the most popular among users.
  7. Plugins for Firefox, Google Desktop, Opera, etc allow you to access your bookmarks and earmark new ones to these sites directly, without having to actually browse to these web sites.
The Indian Scene

Of recent I have been witnessing a slew of Indian social bookmarking sites that have sprung up. Indiagram, HumDigg, IndianPad, ForumsofIndia are four that I have come across. While this post does not intend to review each of them in detail and point out their shortcomings, it definitely is an attempt to point out the uniqueness of each of these sites and leave it to the Indian IT Pulse reader to choose his/her favorite. The idea is to highlight the social bookmarking trend that is catching the fancy of netizens in India and the scenario in the Indian webscape. So here goes:
Indiagram: One of the first Indian social bookmarking sites I came across. The most refreshing feature in Indiagram is the User Cloud on the home page. Based on a rating system that takes into account the number of bookmarks added, the rating obtained for one's bookmarks based on voting by other users, etc the most popular user is indicated on a higher sized font in the cloud of names. Less popular users are assigned lower font sizes. Though other sites too rank users, a user cloud acts as a quick reference to home in on the most popular bookmarker.

: A clone of Digg, this has provided me some very interesting material to read. Guess, the initial adopters of HumDigg have turned out to be quite Internet savvy people. URLs are also browsable category wise which is one cool feature here. Categories range from technology, movies to sports and science.

IndianPad: A flurry of interesting innovations make this website a must visit, even if you are not a registered user. In addition to the usual links, the site also allows users to add music bookmarks and rate music. The tag cloud too is user tweakable to view popular tags in the last 48 hours, 7 days, 30 days , 1 year or for all time. Some things though failed to impress me. There is a section called Livecast that gives a live preview of URLs being posted real time, though I must say, I could not fathom why it would interest anybody. URLs too have been divided into 3 sections. General Stories, Audio and Adult. Seems rather bizarre and I could only gather that it must have been done with a commercial intent rather than provide for any meaningful browsing.
Forums of India: A new kid on the block, with run-of-the-mill features. Though I did not find anything out of the ordinary, I plan to keep a watch to see if this site has some ace up its sleeve, something fresh and innovative. I must add though that when I came across this site, it gave me the impetus to get this post from draft to publish status. :-)

One major grouse I have of all Indian bookmarking sites is that all of them promise to give you India specific content, but fall short by miles. Indiagram says "Stay current and informed with India", IndianPad shouts, "My Country, My views , My vote!" . Quite understandable that users cannot be restricted to submit only URLs restricted to Indian web sites and doing so would make the sites less popular. However, I would love to at least see a section that displays only the India specific URLs filtered from the rest of the URLs. This might be done say via an automatic filtering by filterbot followed by a review from an editorial board.

At the time of writing this post, I am sure none of the web sites have reached a critical mass of users. To get more users registering at these sites, the site promoters need to convince users the need to start bookmarking. To start bookmarking, users need lots of good content to read. With blogging rapidly catching the fancy of the Indians, lot of desi content is sure to drive traffic to these sites. Meanwhile, until that happens, these sites would have to rely, first, on their current users recycling bookmarks stumbled upon on the international bookmarking sites and second, their ability to innovate. Innovation would be crucial to survive the bloodbath that is gonna happen sooner or later to drive traffic and maintain sustainable revenue streams flowing.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

IT Czar Speaks Up on Success

Rediff recently interviewed Narayana Murthy, the czar of Indian IT emergence. Speaking on a host of subjects that ranged from the start of his company Infosys to globalization, Indian economy, reduced cycle times for big projects, his retirement as executive chairman from Infosys and 5 elements that he says defintely lead to success, the man provides a beautiful insight into his though process. Here below are the 5 principles that form the cornerstones of success according to Narayana Murthy
  • Openness to Learn: Openness to subordinate your ego to take ideas from others.
  • Meritocracy: The best ideas are adopted and implemented using data to arrive at the best decision.
  • Speed: Assuring you do things faster compared to yesterday and last quarter.
  • Imagination: You continually bring better ideas and better innovation to the table.
  • Excellence in Execution: That is implementation of these great
    ideas with a higher level of excellence today than yesterday.
Food for thought, I would say.

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Dirt Cheap Digital Cameras For Sale

An odd looking guy with a bag slung over his shoulder stood by the compound gate. On enquiring, he mentioned he had some cameras to sell. Certain that he was selling some cheap reel cameras, we shooed him off.He persisted mentioning that he was selling genuine digital cameras for dirt cheap prices. I was caught off-guard. Digital Cameras being sold door to door !!!. Anyway there's always a first time I thought and let him in.

He removed a box from his bag and uncovered a "digital camera" that looked more like a black box. I asked him the name of the company that manufactured these. He mentioned that these were indigenously made as part of his family business. The mystery further deepened. "How much?", I asked while he was resisting my attempts to get him to open the box to reveal the camera. "15,000 rupees, Sir", he said. "Market prices for these digital cameras are upward rupees 20,000. However I give them off for cheap prices as my family personally manufactures them and sells them".

I asked him to demonstrate his camera. He was more interested in getting the price settled first. "Sir, I will give it for 14,000 for only you.". He was still not getting his "digital camera" out of the box. I decided to play along with him. "No, I will pay nothing more than 2000 rupees", I said crashing all his expectations. He started packing to leave. He still had not shown us his digital camera. I was by now too worked up to see what was the digital camera that he was selling like. I dangled another bait before him. "I will purchase 2 if you give me at Rs. 2000 each". He paused, "Make it 4000". "No, not a paisa more than 2000". "Ok, I will settle for 3500". Finally after much hassling, he settled for 2800.

Opening the bag he had just packed, he opened the box and removed a plain looking black box, reminiscent of the first box like cameras that appeared in the early 60s. "Is this a digital camera?", I asked innocently. "Yes sir, you just need to put the reel and snap pictures. Once the reel is complete, you can give the reel to the photo studio and for about 50 rupees extra, he will give you a CD with the photos that you can send by Internet.". I was gaping in wonder at the finesse with which he was delivering his well-crafted lies. He would have surely duped any person who had never set his eyes on a digital camera. He continued, "I have sold about 23 pieces today. Sir, as it was salary day and workers purchased most of them at the industry gates nearby.". This was probably the only truth that escaped his wretched mouth.

Time to expose the con man, I thought. "Have you seen a digital camera?". He stared at me in bewilderment. Collecting his evidently shattered composure he replied shakily, "Why do you joke , Sir?". "I am not the one joking here, mister. You are!", I shot back with all the seriousness I could muster. "You just tried to sell me a reel camera passing it off as a digital camera. I have called the local police and am going to lodge a case against you". I could see the beads of sweat forming across his forehead. "Sir, forgive me sir.....I have not seen a digital camera myself. If you want you can keep that camera for free sir. Please leave me sir. Don't tell the police anything, Sir. I beg of you sir", he said crying piteously. I was unrelenting. I bought my digital camera, took a snap of his camera and showed him the photo on the LCD screen. He was flabbergasted. This, I announced, will be the photo I intend to had over to the police as proof. It seemed like I had passed the death sentence on him. His survival instincts kicked in and he collected all his stuff and dashed off as fast as his feet could carry him. I mockingly shouted, "Wait, I need to take your photo too, posing with your indigenous digital camera". My brother protested for having let him go and insisted that we pursue him. I told him not to worry. "This photo of his", I said, tapping on my digital camera, "will ensure that he never steps foot again in our locality. It may also never allow him to lie so confidently about his amazing home made digital camera". We all laughed out loud. Beware of this digital camera con man.

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India IT News Capsule - June 2006, Issue 8

  • 4.3 million IT jobs in India by 2010: India is right on target the NASSCOM-McKinsey prediction of meeting $60 billion IT exports by 2010. This in turn would create 4.3 million ( 43 lakh ) IT jobs in India. The exports stood at $11.5 billion in 2005-06.
  • SeaGate planning R&D centre in India: The largest manufacturer of hard disks, SeaGate is contemplating setting up a research and development centre in India, given the huge growing market and human talent available.
  • Mobile users to treble in India in the next 3-5 years: Bharti Airtel, one of India's leading cellular service providers has predicted that the number of cellular subscribers in India would treble by 2011 to reach 300 million (30 crores) from the current 100 million.
  • HMT to set up tech centers in Zimbabwe: Hindustan Motors Limited will set up two tech centers in Zimbabwe at Harare and Bulawayo. The project estimated at 225 million rupees will be primarily to develop infrastructure for small and medium firms in that country.
  • EMC to double investment in India: EMC the enterprise level data management giant has announced a decision to double its investment in India to $500 million by 2010. It also plans to double its current workforce of 1600 in India.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Next Generation Mobile Services in India

Happened to receive a mail from the India Internet Survey group which was conducting a survey on mobile users and their habits. Participated out of interest to see what direction the survey points at. happy that I did since it gave me an insight into the probable technological innovations in the pipeline that Indian cellular companies are planning to introduce in the coming 6-12 months in India as part of their services upgradation. Some of the services really amazed me for the sheer innovation. I have star marked them.

  • Watching full-length movies or music videos
  • Playing gamesWi-Fi for data connection
  • Videoconferencing with one other mobile phone/smart phone user
  • Sharing photos to a web page from your camera phone
  • Using walkie-talkie (or push-to-talk)
  • Skype
  • Using GPS/location-based services
  • Sharing video you broadcast from your phone live with your IM buddies/groups in your contacts
  • Filming high-quality video for playback on TV
  • Allowing your child to watch a TV show on your phone while you wait **
  • Watching 1- or 2-hour videos on your phone
  • Using Wi-Fi to make VoIP calls**
  • Watching broadcast Video DVB-H**
  • Sending pictures and video using text messaging
  • Blogging
  • Watching live television**
  • Watching 2- or 3-minute video clips on your phone
  • Listening to music
  • Storing personal or work files**
  • Taking high-quality (film- or print-quality) photos

Talk of being connected to the network. With mobiles growing to be more than mere PDAs, it is a matter of time before we see desktop totally wiped out and laptops being pushed to the fringes of existence. Technologies like screen and keyboard projections will make the mobile the uber-device.

Companies like Google will be eager to make the 'Network as the computer' and pull the rug from under Microsoft's feet that reigned supreme in the era where the 'Desktop was the computer'. As the Matrix movies portray, it wouldn't be long before we can claim, "Always plugged into the Network".

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Outsourcing & Offshoring...Any difference?

Why is there so much uproar over outsourcing to India across the developed nations in the world? Quite a pertinent question considering that such an uproar had the power to considerably lower the popularity rankings of the most powerful man on the planet, Mr Bush, the President of America. Reasons differ and also range from people losing jobs in the developed world to blatant offshoring by companies that seek full advantage of globalization by hiring cheap labour. Mohan Babu in ComputerWorld adds quite an interesting dimension to the whole debate. In trying to get to the reason at the heart of the uproar, he mentions what could be the cause of the continued protests against outsourcing to India and other parts of the world - the confusion between the terms 'offshoring' and 'outsourcing'.

Offshoring by its very definition, he says, is a subset of Outsourcing. It was present 2-3 decades back when players like IBM, Electronic Data Systems and Accenture began supplementing their IT staffs with contractors and consultants, a trend that also led to outsourcing units of work. Outsourcing started gaining centre-stage in the late 90s when companies went on a vendor-contracting spree to address the twin challenges of Y2k and the e-commerce revolution. Outsourcing was the procuring of services or products, such as the parts used in manufacturing a motor vehicle, from an outside supplier or manufacturer in order to cut costs. Thus the initial way of outsourcing began right within the US with institutions in one state awarding contracts to vendors, usually in other states, who could help them cut down costs.

Offshoring on the other hand was the logical extension of outsourcing when the globalization wave hit the planet. When American IT companies found that costs could be further brought down by hiring Indian engineers on contract basis and getting them to the US on work visas, outsourcing acquired a new dimension with Indian companies too sharing the pie. However governments under pressure clamped down with restrictions on the number of work permits being handed out. This paved the way for offshoring to take over. Companies realized that offshoring was the way out. Completely award work to Indians and get them to work from their own country. This meant even higher savings. IT companies had tasted blood for the first time and more and more followed. And with media reports misquoting, the terms offshoring and outsourcing were both liberally used to refer to any work that was being sent out of the country. Now that definitely doesn't help matters, does it?

So when a company in America says its outsourcing work, it does not necessarily mean that it is sending work to India or any other place outside the country. Getting this notion clear would help blow clear the clouds of suspicion that start gathering in the minds of locals when a company in the developed world starts mentioning that it is looking at outsourcing as a means to cut costs.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

India IT News Capsule - June 2006, Issue 7

  • Nokia and Motorola unveil 5 new handsets each: Cellular providers Nokia and Motorola unveiled 5 new handsets each to unleash a fresh wave of competition to capture Asian markets, chiefly the burgeoning Indian market. Nokia takes the total phone models released this year to 23 in India.
  • TCS eyeing South American markets: Fresh from the boost TCS has got by bagging 2 South American orders, Tata Consultancy services is also planning on setting up BPO offices in the emerging markets to offset rising wages in India.
  • Kavveri Telecom bags 120 million rupees order: Kavveri Telecom equipment maker has obtained an order from Bharat Electronics to supply equipment worth 120 million rupees.
  • IIT Delhi Students integrate GSM and WiFi handset: Delhi IIT students along with their faculty have established VirtualWire Technologies which plans to bring out dirt cheap handsets that have dual functionality to receive GSM based calls as well as VOIP calls by linking to WiFi networks.
  • HP may design chips in India: ProCurve Networking, a division of Hewlett-Packard is contemplating India to design chips for network switches. The software for these switches is already being developed at the Bangalore HP centre.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Indian Companies Luring TV viewers to the Internet

All these days we had advertisements of TV programs splashed all over the Internet in India. It is only now that Internet based advertisements are making their presence felt on the ubiquitous television. Evidently that points to the amount of money there is to be made by driving traffic to the advertised websites.

Two prominent advertisements are making the waves in India. One is from the Yahoo India group that wooes Indian TV audiences to gift themselves a Yahoo mail id. Understandable, given the stiff competition that Gmail is giving Yahoo. The other surprising entry is from the Sunsilk hair care group in India. They have come out with ads for their new site dedicated to the fairer sex. Termed the Sunsilk Gang of Girls, the site is not all blitz. It does have some interesting features like Blogs, Contests and even a Makeover machine that allows visitors to upload photos and adjust hairstyles to their liking. The site design looks cool with lot of Flash and Macromedia stuff. Evidently with so much of work that has gone in to make the site, it does make sense to advertise. If not for monetary purposes, at least to get the brand name rolling on everybody's mouth. And with 509 gangs of girls already registered, it sure looks like having caught the fancy of the targetted audience.

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RFID - Capturing Business Imagination in India

Don't you hear a lot about RFID these days? Its quite a buzz term in tech circles and has also caught the fancy of the media. Before we continue discussing how RFID could shape things in India as an IT application, let's quickly pour over what the heck RFID is all about

RFID - The technology
Radio Frequency Identification or RFID for short, is a technology that was first invented by Harry Stockman way back in 1948. However a viable RFID technology based service was implementable only recently thanks to falling technology related costs. Basically a tracking technology, Radio Frequency Identification uses small tags that ride piggyback on items that need tracking. Tags may be of two types:
  1. Active Tags: These are battery powered tags that keep relaying information in radio frequency at fixed intervals. These are picked up by a RFID reader and the information is stored. THese tags are generally bulky as they need to carry their own battery source.
  2. Passive Tags: These tags lack their own power source. Whenever a reader sends out electromagnetic waves in the vicinity, the tags use the power of the electromagnetic field and relay back information.
Is RFID technology not the same as Barcode scanning?
Yes it is, but RFID has 2 distinct advantages.
  1. The item to be scanned using RFID need not be in Line of Sight
  2. Hundreds of tags can be simultaneously read at the same moment.
Applications in business for this technology are overflowing. I mention just a few below and am sure your mind would have another 10 that could be potential candidates for RFID.
  • You push your trolley full of your weekly purchases in the neighbouring FoodWorld or Spencers and surprise, even as you pass through the counter, the entire list of items have been scanned and the total bill is ready for you to pay. No more tiring wait for each item to be removed from your trolley and scanned via barcode reader.
  • Hate queuing up outside the cricket ground or the music concert show with the ticket in your hand waiting to be verified by the ticket collector? With RFID several hundred people can at once be cleared by scanning sticker tickets pasted on to them.
  • Feel like zooming past toll collection centers without waiting. RFID again to the rescue. You just drive past and the RFID reader scans the tag attached to your car, gets the credit card info and debits the amount due each time you pass.
  • Transporting perishable food items in cold storage containers and worried about temperature fluctuations. Businesses can attach special active RFID tags that relay container temperatures back to the company offices and errant containers can be quickly dealt with.
  • Another outbreak of bird flu and you are worried that your bird stock might be culled following mass culling orders by the government. Government can ease its task by mandating asking owners to tag all chickens with information on the farm of their origin. Thus a diseased chicken can be traced back to specific farm and culling orders can be restricted to that area.
The immediate candidates for RFID technology in India would be shopping malls, supply chain companies, pharmaceuticals, transportation businesses and governmental organizations.

RFID Applications in vogue in India
  • Indian Railways plans to use RFID to track wagons and consignments to enable tracking at each station or crossover.
  • Pantaloon has kicked off a pilot project at its Tarapur warehouse where it has tagged about a 1000 different categories of items. Wipro Infotech is the vendor.
  • Ashok Leyland has HP developing RFID based applications in the engine production house to track engine information.
  • Madura garments uses RFID to track all garments going to its central warehouse to enable easy stock keeping.
Rough patches in embracing RFID
  • Cost has been a major factor vis-a-vis the barcode scanners. High cost tags mean that Indian businesses prefer using tags only on reusable packaging materials. To be widely used, RFID tags need to get cheap enough for a onetime use and throw and still be able to justify ROI on RFID.
  • Lack of standards in the industry over RFID tagging formats
  • Different Reader frequencies in the in the US (900-928 MHz) and Europe and India(865-867 MHz) make RFID tagging useless for consignments that traverse continents.
Inspite of all the current drawbacks, RFID's advantages clearly have the industry interest aroused and it should be a matter of time before India should have RFID applications by the dozen. Life should be a tad easier at shopping centers and film theaters at the least.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Your Email Mirrors your Traits...and your Love Life too

Don't we all love those "I will tell you who you are" mails based on your best loved trees, your birth star, birth sign, favorite fruit, favorite pet, favorite drink, your first letter and the most bizzare of them all, the one that was based on your innerwear color too.

Recently released is a first of its kind list that will let you know who you are, based on the e-mail Id. you use. It also has a special lovey-dovey section for the romantically inclined. Thanks Vasuki for the spicing up my life.

I am the Gmail buff...so mine reads like this.

If your primary mail is Gmail...

Ambitious is the word to describe you. You are never happy with what you got and aspire for something extra all the time. You are considered genius and maverick by your peers. Your friends somehow find it difficult to understand you, your eccentricities and you have your fair share of enemies as well. You are very dependent on the attention you get from everyone.

Romance : You hit off well with people with Yahoo and Rediff mail ids and not with Hotmail.
What's yours? Yahoo, Rediff, Hotmail or just a plain corporate id?... Check out who you are here.

Friday, June 16, 2006

India IT News Capsule - June 2006, Issue 6

  • Symphony Services opens second centre in Bangalore: Symphony Services has opened its second facility in Bangalore which can seat 2000 employees and is spread over 2000 sq feet. This incidentally is the 4th centre in India with 2 other centers located in Mumbai and Pune.
  • PowerGen to end call center operations from India: Britain's second-biggest energy supplier, Powergen, has decided to redirect all its customer calls to Britain rather than India, leading to 980 UK jobs being created by the year-end.
  • Germany based SAP plans on second software centre in India: Gurgaon is at the center of SAP plans to install a second software center in India. SAP which happens to be the world's biggest business software make expressed high regard for India's knowledge based economy.
  • Indian Government to invest heavily in e-Governance: e-Governance is all set to get a power boost with the Indian government all set to invest about Rs. 230 billion in this segment over the next five years. The primary drive would enable government based services accessible to people electronically.
  • Dubai Internet City seeks closer ties with Bangalore: The famed Dubai Internet City has sought closer ties with Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India. The executive director of the Dubai Internet City has envisaged closer partnerships with Indian IT firms.

Eight Indian Startups to Watch For...Lo !!! All are IT or ITES companies

Close to an analysis of why Silicon Startups fail to condense in India as readily as they do in the U.S., Red Herring has come out with a special feature that highlights 8 Indian startup companies that need to be placed on the growth radar.

The eight that beat others to the list are...
  • Ascendus Technologies,Bangalore: Aims to build the world’s biggest online training platform for business executives.
  • ConvergeLabs, Gurgaon: markets an "m-commerce" platform called M-Bay that enables payment transactions over mobile phones.
  • Drishtee, Noida: sets up Internet kiosks and trains the owners, who then provide Internet services to mostly uneducated, illiterate, and poor local populations.
  • Hellosoft, Hyderabad: Develop software that improves productivity of chips and mobile devices.
  • IBS, Trivandrum: Develops Logistics software for transport companies like the shipping and airline industry.
  • NowPos Online Services, Secunderabad: Provide Voicemail to rural citizens for whom language is a barrier.
  • Ocimum Biosolutions, Hyderabad: Sells software-tracking tools to research labs around the world.
  • Softjin Technologies,Bangalore: Customized tools for Electronic Design Automation for chip companies across the world
One thing stared at me from the list. All the companies listed were either IT or ITES ( IT Enabled Services) companies. That, I would say should speak volumes of how important Information Technology has turned out to be for governments, businesses and societies alike. It also should be an eye opener to the IT doomsday predictors

Thursday, June 15, 2006

When Microsoft offended India...

How much can a small blunder affect a software behemoth like Microsoft? Depends on who is affected, right?. Digging through CNET archives took me to an article titled "How eight pixels cost Microsoft millions". My curiosity got the better of me...

Way back in 2004, Microsoft's chief of the geopolitical strategy team, Tom Edwards went on to reveal how one of the biggest companies in the world managed to offend one of the biggest countries in the world with a software slip-up. To quote from the article
When coloring in 800,000 pixels on a map of India, Microsoft colored eight of them a different shade of green to represent the disputed Kashmiri territory. The difference in greens meant Kashmir was shown as non-Indian, and the product was promptly banned in India. Microsoft was left to recall all 200,000 copies of the offending Windows 95 operating system software to try and heal the diplomatic wounds. It cost the company millions of dollars.
CNET also goes on to capture other instances from his speech on how Microsoft made similar blunders that offended Saudi Arabia and some Latin American countries. Interesting read on how corporate blunders bleed companies. Google similarly is on a warpath with the Indian government. Need to wait and see whether Google toes the Indian line.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Broadband over Power Lines - Speeding up Last Mile Connectivity

I remember my college days when my buddies and I had a tough time getting a dial up Internet connection in our home town. The common excuse we used to get at the phone company was the need for infrasturcture upgrade (laying of new phone lines, etc) or non-allocation of quota to our district. This used to get us all pumped up and we used to have discussions on the possibility of using existing power lines to transfer data signals instead of laying separate phone lines. The idea was scoffed at by several mates who felt that the magnetic fields caused by the leectricity transmission would offer an impedance great enough for the whole idea to never really take wings.

These days, I hear the same complaint from Internet savvy people who are not able to procure broadband signals in their neighbourhood because of lack of last mile connectivity. I use a WLL (Wireless Local Loop) based Internet broadband connection that is anything but fast. The service at times is so poor that I switch back temporarily to my good old dial up connection. With conditions like these, I sometimes wonder what technology would provide that crucial last mile connectivity without exorbitant infrastructure costs that involve laying of copper wires or optical fiber cables or upgradation of existing systems. WiFi Max is one such technology that relays on wireless Internet signals via towers similar to GSM mobile signal towers. Costs are still on the higher end as it involvrs setting up of towers. The only other viable alternative, I thought, was still to somehow press with the idea of reusing existing infrastructure. That brings back the question of what infrastructure is uniformly available across the nation and reaches 90-95% of all corners of the country. The answer hit me back as "Electric Power Lines".

Nostalgic college day memories returned when I stumbled upon a Reuters news piece that was talking on exactly the use of power lines to dissemenate Internet data signals. The California Public Utilities Commission has approved the testing of a new concept termed "BPL", short for Broadband over Power Lines. BPL uses existing utility lines delivering power to neighborhoods to carry broadband signals into homes. 30 Peshastin town residents in Washington district too have been getting high-speed Web access through their electrical outlets under the experimental trials being carried out in different states. Known as broadband over power lines, or BPL, the technology uses a special modem that can plug into any household outlet. Users link the modem and computer with an Ethernet cable or wireless connection. For about the same price as broadband cable modem or DSL service, the Peshastin residents are receiving Internet service at a comparable speed.

It has been touted by equipment makers and regulators as a possible competitor to cable and telecommunications services, which handle almost all of the roughly 40 million U.S. residential broadband connections. The other advantage would be the smart monitoring of elctricity flow via the data signals and subsequent emergency warning systems. This aspect of the technology draws interest among the power grid companies.

The article meanders off on how initial technical and financial difficulties have overcome and is focussed on the US scenario. However, I would say, that if anybody in India pioneers the project, it could result in a sea change in India and would be a giant leap in bridging the rural-urban digital divide.

India IT News Capsule - June 2006, Issue 5

  • Australia Bank to outsource jobs to India: Australia's leading bank Westpac has indicated possibilities of outsourcing customer service oriented jobs to India.
  • SMS in India might turn expensive: With TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) planning on Interconnect charges for SMS on the lines of voice calls, SMS might turn out to be costlier that at present.The move would mean that telecom vendors have to share SMS bills of other vendors too. This move is being made to ease the pressure on certain vendors who face a deluge of SMSes due to difference in SMS pricing between vendors.
  • Larsen and Toubro Infotech targets $1 Billion: L&T Infotech has set its eyes on $ 1 Billion revenue by the end of the decade. The company has clearly hinted at a two pronged approach that will give it a better shot at the target: Acquisition route and Targeting valuable customers
  • E-Passports by 2013: The Ministry of External Affairs has come out with a plan to issue e-Passports to all Indians by 2013. The scheme that will be initially implemented for diplomats and officials would be opened up for all citizens by 2013.
  • ICICI OneSource plans BPO in N. Ireland: ICICI OneSource, one of India's leading business process outsourcing company, announced on Tuesday it would invest in setting up outsourcing centers in Northern Ireland, creating around 1,000 jobs over the next two years.

Indian Companies Googling Employees & JobSeekers

Have a personal blog that helps you let out pent up emotions and feelings about friends, colleagues, your employer, your company, etc? Does your blog receive a hoard of visitors who want to see the latest of your damning revelations? Or on a more sober note, do you have strong opinions on subjects that the general public deems controversial? Ok..No blogs, but have you screamed off your viewpoints on public forums like blog comments, Google and Yahoo discussion groups or the latest social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, Orkut and Friendster? Well, maybe not a "Yes", but a "Ummmm...but that was just an off the cuff remark, buddy",you try to correct. In either case, you might have just dropped the stone on your feet.

If one is to go by the reports on the Internet, one needs to be very concerned. Leaving footprints on the Internet is not without its pitfalls. Search engine technologies are delving more and more deeper into the Information haystack that is the Internet. Google, Yahoo and MSN are ruling supreme and are rapidly closing the gap between desired results and actual results. Convergence in this direction means that search is taking on newer dimensions. Searches have grown from being mere information digging tools to being ones that are in tech terms called as "narcissistic searches" and "stalking searches".

Google Narcissist
Narcissistic searches are employed to find out about oneself on the Information Superhighway. Search engines provide endless opportunities for ego surfing. One just types his name and finds out how much the search engines know about him/her. Google Narcissists is the term coined to describe such people.

Google Stalker
Follow someone too closely and you could be accused of being a Google stalker. Who could probably be a Google stalker? Probably somebody envious of you....may be. However the startling answer that can catch a netizen off guard is "Companies".

Companies Google for their Benefit
With rising jobs opportunities and a shortfall in supply of quality talent, Indian companies are faced with the humongous task of separating the grain from the chaff, the real men from adventurers who would never hesitate to fake experience and skills on their CVs. Indian companies had been all along using the assistance of self maintained databases and consultants to do a background check. Now they have added one more weapon to their armory. Search Engines. Human resource personnel in Indian companies are performing background profile checks of potential candidates and job seekers by running queries against their names on Google, Yahoo and MSN. Employees fare no better. Googling people is becoming a way for bosses and headhunters to do continuous and stealthy background checks on employees, no disclosure required. It also helps them aggregate data that is legally off-limits for companies during interviews like your age, your martial status, the value of your house (along with an aerial photograph of it), the average net worth of your neighbors, fraternity pranks, stuff you wrote in college, liens, bankruptcies, political affiliations, and the names and ages of your children.

Michelle Conlin in the Business Week Online gives a scenario analysis of the dual life most netizens lead.
"There's the analog, warm-blooded version: the person who presses flesh at business conferences and interprets the corporate kabuki in meetings. Then there's the online you, your digital doppelganger; that's the one that is growing larger and more impossible to control every day."

The Indian Scenario
DNA India too has interesting quotes from two of India's top managers who swear by blogs to run their background checks.

Deepak Ghaisas, chairman of I-Flex Solutions, opines

"Blogs are written by people for public consumption. They are a good psychology test of the candidate. Around two to three articles in the blog subscribing to a particular trend/behaviour should be noticed."

For Mahesh Murthy, CEO of Pinstorm, checking employees’ blogs is a routine, both before and after hiring them. He says,
"Of my 50 employees, 10 have their own blogs which I regularly read. When I found two of them fighting through blogs I stepped in to make peace"

Horror stories abound on how people were asked to log out of companies after revelations by Google about stuff they did, which their companies couldn't digest. The classic case of Josh Santengelo, the famed web developer who was embarrassed when a search by his company on Google revealed not just his past accomplishments but also the honest revelations of his drug ridden past that he happened to jot down on the comments page of a blog. A case closer to home is that of Gaurav Sabnis who maintains the famed blog, Vantage Point. His personal comments on IIPM, a management institute in India caught him on the wrong foot with his employer IBM. The case turned ugly with IIPM students union handing out a deadline to IBM with a threat to burn up of all IBM-Lenovo laptops provided by IBM to the institute, unless action was initiated against Gaurav. Matters turned sore and Gaurav claims on his blog to have resigned from the job himself. As the dust settles down on this one, it is the unfortunate manner in which personal viewpoints published over the Internet come back to bite when one airs his/her views uninhibitedly and without exercising caution on the Web, that must be focused upon.

This kind of a eventuality is being forced upon many a individual, that English language has a new verb "dooced" to refer to people who have lost jobs because of what they published over the Internet. The name comes from Dooce.com, the blog of a certain Heather B. Armstrong, who got canned after writing about her job on her blog.

Dooced definitely does not sound great if companies start mentioning about it in relieving letters, does it? So tread cautiously out there... You might unknowingly set off a timebomb against your name even without knowing it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

India IT News Capsule - June 2006, Issue 4

  • CapGemini to increase India headcount: CapGemini plans to increase its headcount in India by 5000 people by next year. This would take CapGemini's total India strength to 10,000. The plans are also to spawn out to three more locations across the country after Bangalore
  • Scandent Solutions acquires US based Nexplicit: Business Software operator Scandent Solutions based in Mumbai has acquired U.S. based Nexplicit for an undisclosed sum. This would help the Indian company take its U.S. operations a notch higher.
  • New Infosys Chairman to be announced soon: Following Narayan Murthy's retirement in August as chairman of Infosys, the company he co-founded with a few others in 1981, Infosys is scanning its boards for a new chairman to take over the mantle. The company has indicated July 11 as the date when the name of the new chairman will be made public.
  • BSNL gets 5 tenders for GSM contract: BSNL's call for tenders for the $4.8 billion mega project of expanding the Indian GSM customer base by another 45.5 million lines has received interest from 5 global majors to supply the telecom gears. The companies reported to have put in their bids are Nokia, Ericsson, Siemens, Motorola Inc. and ZTE Corp.
  • Top 6 FIFA World Cup Soccer Sites: Get all the best of the FIFA Soccer World Cup Soccer action via these sites that are dedicated to the game of soccer/football.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

IPTV in India - Interactive TV Viewing

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IPTV might make its presence in India sooner than later if one is to go by the buzz in the market.

What is IPTV?

IPTV is short for Internet Protocol TeleVision. It is a service wherein digital television service is delivered using the Internet Protocol over a network infrastructure, which may include delivery by a broadband connection. In simple Internet is used to supply TV signals too. So that means that either your cable operator packs his bags or upgrade himself to double up as your internet provider too.

Why the hoopla surrounding it?

That is because of the amazing possibilities that are created when you fuse TV and Internet.

  • On Demand Video: The most talked about possibility. You feel all mushy and would like to spend a romantic evening with your spouse or girlfriend watching a King Khan lovey-dovey movie. Just switch on your IPTV and select the movie from a list and you watch it at your own leisure. You can re-play your favorite songs umpteen times before you decide to let the story continue. Or even better, pause the TV for now and continue another time.
  • Spot Interaction: Hate the nasal vocalist Himesh Reshammaiya and want to do something to voice your opinion. Pen your opinion on the channel's website by switching to Internet mode.
  • Dual mode: Use your TV's split screen feature to watch your favorite soap and check your e-mails simultaneously.
  • Triple Play and Quad Play Services**: IPTV can also be bundled with Voice over IP (VOIP) phone services that allow cheap call world wide, Web Access, Video on Demand and in some cases mobile VOIP too.

From whom can I get IPTV in India?

Hold on...hold on... don't dump your current TV and Computer just yet. The first player on the scene is promising IPTV only by the year end. Reliance Communications is still announcing plans to target five million IPTV customers in 200 cities across India. However, the plan is backed up by the 80,000 km of fiber optic network for IPTV services that has been laid by RCoVL and support from other major industry players like Microsoft, Juniper and Motorola. Each company has major stakes, as the benefits are numerous. However going by past trends, it won't take too much time for the initial trickle to turn into a deluge. It won't be long before BSNL and Tata Indicom announce their initiatives in this key region of technology. Each of them is backed by huge infrastructure of Optical Fiber Cables that they have laid across the country.

TRAI ( Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ) too has been quick to publish the recommendations for IPTV.

Foot Notes

**Triple play is an expression used by service operators describing a package including telephony, data and video. Quad play is an expression used by service operators describing a package including both fixed line and mobile telephony, data and video.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Changing Indian Blogscape

Blogging in India is yet to mature enough, to attract substantial interest either from traditional media channels for them to depend on blogs for rich, unique stories and headlines or from the regular netizens to adopt blogs as their staple source of information. The blogosphere in the US for example has in certain areas outgrown the print and TV media. One prime example would be Michael Arrington's TechCrunch Blog. Web 2.0 startup companies prefer, on any day, a coverage on this blog that has close to half a million syndicate subscribers, than a coverage via the conventional print media. This is because the readers of this blog are a filtered group who are genuinely interested or work in areas similar to what is being blogged about. Anybody in any form of media would prefer to reach such a focused and niche group to announce new products and services rather than splurge precious Ad money on traditional channels and hope that a fraction of the readers are the actual intended audience.

Turning attention back to the Indian blogging space, I feel that blogging in India, will venture into an untrodden path. The blogosphere in India is turning into an absorbing amalgamation of 3 groups. One, the media strong-holds that fling the reporter's net far and wide to capture news. Two, the news-creators themselves, reporting the events to interested groups. And three, the netizen blogs who either recycle news or broadcast personal views, opinions, standpoints and perspectives. The dividing line between these groups is slowly blurring out.

Here's a glimpse into the 3-zone blogging space in India.

Encroachment by Traditional Media
Traditional media is voraciously adopting to blogging as a means to hold on to net savvy readers for whom, the TV and newspapers are too limited a source of information when it comes to seeking out news from domains that represent their interest areas. Consider a technology guy who is eager to lap up tech news right till the last drop. Or the die-hard football fan who won't rest till he knows of the latest Beckham hairdo or Zizou's Cannes film festival appearance. How is traditional media expected to satiate the hunger of such niche groups ? There are limitations. An average Indian newspaper might carry a tech supplement once a week. A news channel like BBC too may have a tech related program once or twice a day. Football too might have print coverage just enough to show how much Beckham scored, not how many times he has changed his hair-style. How are they expected to cover minute to minute updates on these fields and retain the niche readers?

Blogging seems to be the panacea. CNN IBN Live website encourages each one of its news-reporters who cover a specific sphere of interest to blog regularly with the spotlight on happenings in that area. Rajdeep Sardesai blogs on politics, Srikkanth on Cricket, Ankit Fadia on happenings in the Hacker community, etc. An amazing 73 different blogs by various domain experts hosted on a single news site. Indiatimes has its own acclaimed O3 blogging community. Exceptionally well written blog entries have links right from the Indiatimes homepage. The idea behind all this is to create more of a community. You create community and you'll increase traffic and loyalty.
If this is one constituent of the emerging "blogweb" I was talking about, wait till you hear of the more amazing and dynamic other constituents.

News Makers and First Hand Reporters
Even the non-news agencies that have first hand access to news as it happens have taken to blogging. Dakshina Kannada district police department in Karnataka has kicked off its blog under the aegis of it current superintendent of police, Mr B Dayananda. The blog he says, aims to serve as an interface between crime investigators and the press and also the net readers. Or take the case of Munjal Shah, an employee at the recently launched Riya Photo Hosting Site who gives a first hand report of the first 60 days after the Web 2.0 photo application went live in March. Who better than the best in the business to narrate current happenings and forecast trends?

Citizen Journalists
The third component would be the self proclaimed free-lance writers who have been slowly but surely gaining credibility for their efforts in India. These 'Citizen-Journalists' as ZDNet UK puts it, have been slowly but surely creaming off users from the traditional media. They add the much needed spice and masala to the news by acting as converging points for related news from various other channels. They don't just stop at that. They even allow a free expression of readers opinions and act as vehicles that aren't restricted by the usual political and legal constraints that bind conventional media.

Law of the Land
Going forward, it would be interesting to see how these three emerging forces shape up the blogging scene in India. What would also be of importance is the real possibility of one of these forces completely overwhelming the others.

The Indian IT law that as yet does not have any concrete framework for bloggers, will also be a force to reckon with. With the Indian government contemplating a revision of IT laws shortly, the blogging world might get the legitimacy that has long been lacking. Equally possible are curbs on the enormous freedom that the blogging community enjoys (just as was the case in Singapore during the recent elections). The law of the land might turn out to be the Hand of God that would ultimately decide the future course for the Indian "blogweb".

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