Zindagi Online

BlogAdda or Spammers Adda?

The new so-called blog platform (though I prefer to call them Blog Leechers since they are resorting to all sort of gimmicks to just get footage, such as showing your blog under frame pages, showing your feed content as their own and so on) BlogAdda has surely gained attention but not due to its content or any novel features (it has got none, anyways, Instablogs should have taught them lessons) but because of their staff let loose on a spamming spree. The BlogAdda people have been adamantly spamming all sort of blogs in English as well Hindi Blogosphere, the intention is probably not so much to promote their product but as an SEO noted at Chandroo’s blog, to gain undeserved Google rank. First, it was the notorious Deepanjali, who even created a fake Marathi blog to pose as a fellow blogger and left poetic Hindi comments on almost all gullible blogs and now Kirans and Adityas have taken over. To pose as bloggers these guys have created fake Blogger accounts so they don’t have to comment anonymously, since many, if not most, users don’t allow anonymous comments.

Tired of their spamming on all my sites, in September 2007, I had written to BlogAdda through their website that they should stop this gimmick

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The truth is out nowhere!

The word camouflage first registered in my mind while I was at school. We were introduced to it in our biology classes as the art of concealment. A chameleon, for instance, changes colour to blend in with its environment. A white polar bear is hard to see on ice, as is a striped zebra in the African bush. As an evolved species we feel that phenomenon such as camouflage exist in lowly, inconsequential life forms only. And whenever we employ it with intent, we have a tendency to offer it a high-tech perspective, like the special camouflage clothing that soldiers often wear to become less visible. The startling fact is: camouflage is as much a human characteristics, as it is of the rest of natural world.

Camouflage 101
Image by Martin_Heigan via Flickr

It was hard for me to expect camouflage stealthily existing around, but not too hard to expect it in politics. Politicians have for long made us believe that they have only the interest of the public in their hearts. We often claim to know their true colours but fall prey the very next time we see a popular show-biz personality campaigning for them. Politicians and cine-stars easily put up smokescreens and camouflage to hide their dark side. Their sweet promises, luring demeanour, the people they move with, the media glitz, everything is a crafted ingredient in the camouflage recipe. We admire their daughters as actors and TV anchors, we buy their book of poems (overlooking the ghost author), and we curse the journalist digging too much in their private lives. Who says camouflage doesn’t work every time?

If that scared you now, it won’t when you have to use a camouflage yourself. Yes, we camouflage all the time; at work, with kindred, at interview and where not. We soften unpleasant ideas with foggy words, we act as confident individuals; blacken our hair with dyes; undergo plastic surgery to remove wrinkles; get dentures to replace missing teeth and apply facial cosmetics to emulate the lost lustre of youth. We call it make-up while getting a new camouflaged personality taking off Batman, the comic-book character and creature of night.

Sometimes this camouflage gives us courage to stay on. Consider chatting over Internet, toddlers pretending as adults and perverts as gentlemen. With adventurous and discreet screen-names chatting is easier to handle than the high-jinx of face-to-face conversations. You don’t have to worry about what your non-verbals sneakily profess. You even feel new boldness to flirt, to pen witty lines you never would have said in person. The Camouflage of faceless communication allows individuals to bypass awkwardness and provides an overwhelming sense of control.

Everyday our opinions are formed and solidified with inputs from Radio, TV and newspaper and so many times we are catered camouflaged propaganda. In the scientific and technical world, people often invent special jargon to cover up situations or facts that they may not want our audience to be exposed to directly, very much like the existence of aliens in the movie Men in black. Next time you take an appreciative look at city’s most popular newspaper editorial, look again; it may well be advertorial performing camouflage marketing. Very recently there was an outcry against liquor advertisements being run on various channels posing as Apple juices, mineral water, sports gear, in fact anything but liquor; the advertisement people terms these as surrogate ads. But that’s not new. Liquor and tobacco giants have been doing that for years, sponsoring cricket matches, even teams; thus covertly and conveniently camouflaging the lethal products they create, with their avatar of community chum. Your own English daily promotes business of flesh under the massage-parlour classified ads that ironically appear under the health and fitness column.

Accept or not camouflage has become a culture now. We use it unaware and fail to notice them around us. As long as people would like to hide themselves and evade truth, camouflage will unfold itself in numerous forms. You just have to look minutely to discover a camouflage.

Zindagi Online

The Network of metaphors

This piece originally appeared in my column ‘Reality Bytes’ in issue dated 12th Aug, 2002 of the Free Press Journal, an English daily published from Indore, India. Some text has been borrowed from a Research Paper on the subject by Lee Ratzen.

The World Wide Web is indeed too deep to be explored in its entirety. It’s a myth that the Web eliminated all hiding places. Moreover web means different things to different people. We often subconsciously use metaphors to describe it. It’s our ingenious way of explaining the unfamiliar using familiar terms.

Windows Internet Explorer
Image via Wikipedia

During my recent cyber-journey I was surprised to discover many such metaphors being used and fashioned regularly. Some say web is spatial as space, some personify it, some use it as a figure of speech, and others add a touch of poetic embellishment. The Information Super Highway that we refer to cannot be measured in miles for contractors to prepare estimates using cheap adulterated construction material for their next government tender. The popular forums could not be located on your city-map and the metaphysical online-community you vow on is not even comparable to your friendly neighborhood mohalla. Still we use these terms. Waves or no waves, we begin our surfing and enter a site though we never see the door to the mansion.

I was surprised to note that people had actually done systematic studies on these metaphors. They had pondered deep into the psychological side of the use of the metaphors while talking to different people of different background of gender, job profile and expertise at usage of Internet. Data was also collected using online survey and research papers. Thankfully, the results were not entirely boring and I could pick-up some interesting inferences. So here I am sharing some of these with you.

Studies showed that the metaphorical dimension we give to the Web portrays our own innate feelings. The way we describe something affects the way we perceive it and the way we perceive it can affect the way we use it. No wonder then that the paradigm of the computer desktop inspires you to tidy-up the desktop on your machine; you remove the unnecessary shortcuts, get rid of the boring icons and use those downloaded ones. Now the desktop resembles your physical approach towards your own wooden, physically existing tabletop. So what, if your desktop has windows. How many times did you feel like Amundsen using your Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer?

If the metaphors we use reflect our personality, does our skills and gender play any role too? Studies show it does. Metaphor images seem to change as skill level develops. Thus, while the novices are more likely to perceive the Internet as a bottomless pit or an impenetrable maze, even a wide endless road or a locked library, the experts will modestly nod in disagreement. They see Web as a community, a haven of free speech or still better, a huge library. And they have their reasons. I personally regard Internet as an Ocean of information, since it’s deep, inviting and immense, with many areas still unexplored.

Studies suggested that novices tend to use finite, tangible, delimited, closed, delineated metaphors for the Web while Experts use more metaphysical, intangible, open metaphors. This may indicate the lack of comfort level of the novices to conceptualize something amorphously vast and the significant ability of Experts to do so. This difference in conceptual imagery may have ramifications for the development of future Web services to target audiences.

Talking of gender, Men and women project different self-perceptions of themselves as Internet users. Even in real life men tend to prefer absolute addressing (4 MG Road) while women tend to prefer relative addressing (Second house on the right). The way people navigate in a foreign environment may affect on-line information retrieval and future Web search engine design. The fact that more women than men use the highway metaphor may be based on the observation that highways are fundamentally regarded as neutral in sexuality as opposed to ships or planes.

Whatever metaphorical way we refer to the web, information remains the dominant theme associated with them. All of us tend to describe it more often as an information source rather than as an information conduit (as in highway). Other prevalent themes are that of a Library and a Network. If you ponder a while, you would agree. Web seems a lot like a dysfunctional library, with books scattered all over the floor; an un-catalogued library; a library with its lights turned off. Still we fail to notice the conflict; our image of chaotic information access belies the structured way a library presents its information.

Obviously some user metaphors will defy simple explanation and indicate a more pragmatic approach. The Internet-as-Spaghetti may suggest an image of entanglement but it is difficult to imagine the Internet as a bowl of pasta. The Mayajaal that the Internet is referred to may be reminiscent of the spell it has cast on young mind. Also it would not be entirely correct to neglect the parents who term it as a jungle. Today they are less worried about the wrong company their teenage son might be in than the amount of time he spends in his cybercloset all night. To the bandwidth troubled cyber-habitual web is a virtual dead end street. For the government, Web is a cooperative chaos while for the job seeker it renders a new dimension. To the spiritually inclined the sheer power of Web lets him bow before its omnipotence. Some tend to go overboard and equate Web with the almighty himself. To them God is the distributed, decentralized system.

Whatever we call it, Internet has grown big. So big that it provides humanity a new window through which to look upon the infinite. It’s the epitome of both good and evil. It provides for free exchange of ideas, information and imagination. It can, on the other hand, be a tool of isolation and a peddler of the ideas, which live in the darker regions of ones mind precisely meaning that it reflects the true nature of humanity in all it’s diversity. Metaphors simply reveal this resemblance. That doesn’t mean that we’re stuck with the same metaphors forever. Metaphors evolve, as does language itself and new metaphors will be created every now and then.