Sunday, October 31, 2010

Live blogging Conferences- tips and best practices

In continuation of my previous post about the advantages of Live Blogging, this post shares some tips that can be adopted while live blogging a conference or an event.

Preparation for live blogging starts as soon as you know that an event is coming up. In particular, try to do the following:
  • Learn more about the speakers/participants. Familiarize yourself with their title, specialization etc. Add them on facebook if possible, follow them on twitter. This will help later when you wish to tag them in a photo or a post. Similarly befriend fellow bloggers, event organizers etc
  • Ensure that blog is up and running, all required plugins are done, it is indexed by google and you and other bloggers have appropriate level of access. Update your profile so that you get due credits for your work.
  • Start updating event blog about various pre-event information- who all are speaking, how to reach the venue, what is the agenda and various other topics relevant to the given event. This will help build up pre-event publicity and also search engines will take note of your blog for keywords related to the event, so that event updates can command good traffic
  • Request organizers to include blog URL in all possible event materials- emailers, brochures etc. This way participants will know in advance (or at least during the event) that it is being live blogged)
  • Figure out what interesting information about the event you can cover in the blog, that event website or mainstream media can’t (for example, how the stage is being setup, how many entries were received for a contest and so on)
  • Have a set of event related photographs ready (of the venue, speakers, company logos etc)
  • Make a checklist of things to carry for the event (fully charged laptop, internet data card, camera, audio/video recording equipments, necessary cables, chargers etc
Above: Me interviewing Ford Figo couples Nischal & Niharika in Bangalore [Details]

During the event
  • Its important to be present early and occupy a table which is most strategic (close to the stage and close to a source of power)
  • Take some pics of the venue before the event starts-stage, stalls, key organizers, banners
  • Get settled in your seat, check the connectivity. Datacard based connectivity will be weak in basements, soundproof conference halls etc. If there’s a wi-fi/LAN/other modes of connectivity its great, else one will have to manage with poor data cards
  • Get in touch with event organizer/emcee, get them to display/announce that event is being live blogged at appropriate time
  • To live blog an event we will actively listen to the talks, take notes and publish the summary of the talk as a blog post. Live blogging is best done in teams of 2 or 3 people. Each blogger will take up one speaker on rotation, so that after one speaker, blogger A who listened to him can compile the post and publish it while Blogger B can listen to next speaker.
  • Blog post can be of different style, depending on the content, situation and your comfort level. For example, if there're lots of statistics or disconnected points, they can be listed as bullet points. If there's been a generic talk, the excerpts or summary of the same can be published as a blog post in couple of paragraphs.
  • Having basic knowledge about the speaker, his background or subject will be of great help. Avoid doing mistakes while mentioning someone’s name, designation, company etc. These are sensitive information and might even result in escalations.
  • Once in a while one won't be able to write about particular speaker, if the talks are too fast/generic etc or if his accent is too tough to interpret. Refer to the ppt if he/she has any or any written communication from organizers.Do not worry if you're not able to cover a particular speaker well. See what best you can do in the available speaker and get ready for next one. Worst case it should be fine not to cover one or two speakers, as long as more than 90% of the speakers are covered
  • For panel discussions where everyone talks, focus on key points/outcomes or questions raised and opinions/answers given.
  • Do not attempt to upload high res photos directly to blog using datacard. Upload them to flickr or picasa in bulk, then take the embeddable code and use it in blog.
  • Check what else can be done to make the blog interesting- see if you can pull out an interview with exhibitor, a podcast with the speaker, some feedbacks from the audience, some statistics etc
  • Blog posts can also be promoted on twitter and facebook as and when they are published, for some instant audience. Tag concerned people in tweets, photos and updates. Speakers and others would love to share/retweet updates related to them
  • Encourage readers to ask questions for the speakers or share their views on a topic. Approve comments at regular intervals and respond where feasible.
Post event:
  • Read through the blog posts, correct errors if any and add additional information if required/where possible
  • Edit and upload photos and videos. Tag concerned people, if not already done. Add descriptions.
  • Send a note to each speaker stating his/her session summary has been published as a blog post.
  • Check on the net for other individuals who might have blogged about the event. check for media coverage. Thank them for their coverage.
  • Study the blog traffic, its popularity in Google for event related keywords and other technical aspects
  • Respond to all comments, collect feedbacks
  • Send out a detailed report to organizers
Let me know if there’re any tips/best practices I might have missed.

Similar posts: SEO Fundamentals * Workshop on broadcast journalism * SEO for regional language bloggers * Social Media case study- Travel Blog * Relevance of Blogging *

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Day with Ford Figo Discover Smart drive team in Bangalore

I made another brief visit to Bangalore this Thursday (4th Bangalore visit this October), to be a part of Ford India’s celebration of manufacturing 50000 figos (Ford’s recently introduced small car has been a great success in India, climbing-up to 5th spot in terms of most sold small cars). To celebrate this success Figo has been doing a month long road trip called Discover Smart Drive, which started from Chandigarh earlier this month.
The convoy was in Bangalore 2 days back (as I write this the convoy must be on its way to Chennai, where the grand finale is scheduled) and I got to join the team, along with a few Ford officials from Chennai who were driving to Blr.

Met the team at Hotel Monarch, Brigade road on Thursday night and we called it a day.

Friday morning we left to RVCE on Mysore road, where Ford was scheduled to conduct its CSR initiative, DSFL (Driving Skills for Life) wherein several vital tips and tricks regarding safe, economic and sensible driving were shared. Ford is taking this initiative seriously and has conducted over 50 sessions so far, training traffic police, drivers, college students and so on and plans take it in large scale in future. The session focused on several aspects of driving (pre-driving checks, safety measures, response time, increasing fuel efficiency and so on) which we often tend to miss. More details on this in a separate post soon.
dsfl-session-in-progress  exercise-reflex-action
Post event we had nice lunch in RVCE 1st year mess, followed by a quick demo on safe braking distance. I had a quick interaction with the 4th Ford Figo couple (who were chosen to drive the 50000th Figo in its last leg of Discover Smart Drive, from Hyderabad till Chennai) and also got to drive the 50000th Figo a bit. We drove on top of AnandRao circle flyover overlooking turf club, and drove near Vidhana Soudha and Kubban Park (media was crowded outside high court in anticipation of results of 11 BJP rebel MLA disqualification case)
Convoy and flagoff

Below is a video made by Hrish Thota and team about the Bangalore visit. My brief interview with the lucky couple is also included

Subsequently we’d to return to Chennai while the team proceeded with their other activities like tweet-up and so on. Got to meet Hrish Thota aka Dhempe (the official blogger) and his team (which specializes in short videos), officials from Shobiz (few with whom I’d worked during Nano Superdrive). Hrish has been documenting the discover Smart drive from the beginning and also making interesting videos of the trip. Wanted to meet the once popular fakedhempe but he was nowhere to be seen!
nischal-niharika-figo-couple   RVCE-principle
Discover Smart Drive is scheduled to conclude in Chennai next week.
Similar posts: Interesting facts related to Ford India * Ford Figo Review *

Friday, October 29, 2010

RadioRhythmz online bollywood radio: Need ur feedback

Dear readers, need your feedback on this. I have included a small plugin on the sidebar, given by RadioRhythmz.The plugin plays nice bollywood tracks while you read my blog posts. While this is nice to have, what could be discouraging for a reader is that player starts playing automatically and at times, this could be annoying (if you’re in an office/some other silent zone or if you’re unable to quickly identify from where the sound is coming from.

This also puts some load on internet bandwidth and if you open multiple tabs, the sound wont sync well either.
I am being paid a small amount every month to include this plugin. Since they’ve a commercial motive in paying me for the audience they’d get through my blog, stopping the player from playing automatically and giving an Opt-in (player would start to play only if you click on Play) will hurt commercial sentiments and they won’t be paying me unless its retained in current format.

While earning some additional revenue is good (just takes care of monthly broadband bill), I do not see a point in doing it at the expense of my readers. Hence I would need your feedback, if it is fine to retain the fm player as it is or if you’d  like me to remove it.

Kindly take a moment to fill the below form.

 I am bound by contract to run it for a month, after that I’ll remove it, if good number of you are not liking it.

Nov 8th update: I've got 15 responses so far, which are kind of split..

4 people want me to completely remove it, 3 are neutral, 3 say they can manage, 4 prefer it not to autoplay, 1 person likes it as it is...

Ford India- some interesting facts

Yesterday, while being driven to Bangalore with a few Ford India officials, I got an opportunity to have a discussion with these officials and find out some interesting facts about Ford India in particular and cars in general. Below are some of the information which you might find interesting, in case you’re automobile enthusiast. If you’re not, please skip this post.

Ford India’s Chennai plant has a production capacity of 2 lakh cars and 2.5 lakh engines per annum
When I asked if it is remotely feasible to have a provision to give customers an opportunity to custom configure cars (like how Dell laptops can be customized, details in this post), they felt though that could be an exciting proposition, such an approach doesn’t look viable, at least in near future, for mass production cars. Most of the manufacturers are currently working towards meeting existing demand. Time and cost overruns involved in customization do not get justified for low budget cars. Such features are available in overpriced built to order luxury cars.

I asked if the Ford Figos [Review], which are being used in the discover Smart Drive, were driven to Chandigarh or were taken in a container. I was told they were driven till there (via Mumbai, where artwork is done), as container would take long time.

When asked about possible competition from Toyota Etios, I was told its all part of the game.

FordFigo overtook Santro and Indica by a few units to become 5th most sold small car in India, as per September auto sales figures. When I asked if they’d sustain these numbers in long run, the officials were very bullish. The Figo is just about 6 months old and the response has been amazing. Though 6.5k units a month is not too big a number, its a matter of pride for us as we’ve started from nowhere and have build a strong presence. Things can only get better.

I asked lots of questions about upcoming launches (asked if they’re planning a CNG variant for Delhi NCR (Few Maruti models and Toyota Innova are available in CNG), asked if they’re planning any cars in 10-13 lakh range-to replace the earlier Ford Mondeo and take on Honda Civic, Corolla and the likes), the officials said about 8 new models are lined up to be launched in near future and more details will be made available at appropriate time.

FordFigo’s facebook page has added over 7000 fans during October and growing, nearing to double its Pre October count of 8000+, there were some discussions around this. Fan response have been great, many of them have a huge wish list for possible additional features for Figo, but without a willingness to pay more :)

On being asked why only couples were allowed to participate, the reply was simple and straight forward that its how target audience was identified. There’re lots of contests for rest of the fans to get involved and win. Figo’s Discover smart drive received over 400 entries from enthusiastic couples, from which 4 lucky ones were selected.

Above: 4th Ford Figo Couple: Nischal Ram and Niharika on their way to Bangalore

Figo was designed in Australia, while lead engineer and many others were from India, 80% + is new. The crash testing is also done in Australia while Chennai plant has a track for quality testing.

All cars have a 4 letter factory code, with which it is identified from drawing board till its assembly. Those working in the plant recognize the cars with these internal codes and not the commercial names given to them later

Ford is also undertaking an initiative called DSFL (Drive Safe For Life) wherein drivers are trained to drive safely and adopt various simple but effective measures that increase fuel efficiency and engine life. More about this later, as I’m heading to RVCE Bangalore today where one such session is planned.

Disclaimer: Above information is sourced from an informal discussion and are not to be treated as official communication from ford. Please validate information officially with ford before using it for any formal purposes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Advantages of Live blogging an Event

This post shares some gyan about the emerging social media trend, live blogging of events. The content is drafted after my experience of live blogging several conferences (CII, IAMAI to name a few) and contributing as official blogger for a few events. If you’re not a serious blogger and the topic is not interesting to you, please check best posts of 2008 here

What is live blogging?
Those familiar with traditional journalism would know the significance of reporting the news at the earliest. Journalists all over strive to deliver latest news into your TV room, as soon as they occur, braving all odds in the process. With high end communication technologies at their disposal, journalists of today have relatively easy job, compared to their seniors who had to depend on traditional medium of communication such as telephone, telegram and fax while they were on the field few decades ago.

With blogging positioning itself as an unofficial alternative to journalism, live blogging can add significant value to any event, even more than what traditional reporting could offer.

Live blogging, in its simplest definition, is providing live updates about an event/conference on a blog. If it is a conference, live bloggers can note down the excerpts of talks given by various speakers and publish it as a blog post after his/her talk, if it is some other kind of event, live bloggers provide periodic updates and photos on the blog about various happenings at the event.

Why Live Blogging is important?
Traditional Media usually gives very limited coverage. For a day-long event, newspaper report next day would probably carry a very brief summary of the event and highlights of talks given by one or two most prominent speakers.

Advantages of Live Blogging:
  • Traditional media may not be able to cover an event live and delivers event news to public after a delay of few hours to a day. Live blogging, on the other hand can bring in instant updates and happenings of the event, both for the people attending the event as well as to those who are not able to. Conventional media (print & TV) only gives a high level reporting of the event (due to time and space constraints) while bloggers can report each activity in detail and let readers chose what they want to read
  • Live blogging ensures extended reach for an event, reaching out to those who may not be physically present but are keen to follow the developments (like what did a particular speaker say etc) Live blogging lets them follow the updates from the comfort of their office/homes.
  • Live blogging effectively documents the keynotes shared by the speaker. A journalist composing his report at the end of the day will have much less to recall vis-à-vis a blogger who blogs soon after the speaker finishes speaking
  • At most of the conferences, end of the day all discussions are forgotten and people get busy with their day to day work. Live blogging can well document the day’s proceedings and facilitate further discussion on the topic among interested individuals, even after the event.
  • Live blogging aids in SEO of the site/blog through quality content and possible linkbacks, helps organizers review what all happened, sustains the buzz about the event, even after it is over
  • Facilitates 2 way interactions- those who’re not physically present can also ask questions for the speakers or share their feedback. This is something impossible in mainstream journalism
While traditional journalism is standardized and well paid, live blogging so far is happening on voluntary basis, with organizers calling for individuals to live blog an event (usually nothing much is paid, except may be free entry to the event and food. Bloggers who opt to live blog often do so for the thrill of it) and different individuals adopt different styles/approach to live blog. I'll share my view on live blogging best practices in next post. Coming up next: tips for Live blogging

Similar: My early journalism experiences * Official Blogger for Tata Nano * Ideas Generated at CII Connect 2009 * Notes from ICT for SMEs Conference, New Delhi *

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tour of Nilgiris (TFN) 2010 needs Official Blogger n Photographer

My experience/exposure to cycling has been bit minimal. Chennai-Mahabs and back is my longest ride on cycle (about 100kms). However, cycling is a noble way to save environment, save money and gain good health. Lots of cycling related events are happening around, Tour of Nilgiries is one among them and this post has more info about the event and an opportunity for bloggers and photographers to get involved.
File Photo from Mahabalipuram Cycling Trip, Feb 2009
Tour of Nilgiris, better known as TFN, is an acclaimed cycling event, being organized for the 3rd year this time. Tour of Nilgiries reportedly started in 2008 in an informal way among a few friends who were cycling enthusiasts but in a very short span, picked up momentum and is now a much awaited event for cycling enthusiasts and organizers are putting in efforts more than professional event management companies to ensure smooth sailing of cycling event.

As the name suggests Tour of Nilgiries focuses on Nilgiri range of mountains in South India, spread across the state of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In the 2009 edition, participants covered over 900 kms on cycle. The 2010 edition (named TFNTEN), Scheduled for Dec 16-23 2010 will cover about 1000 kms, starting from Bangalore-Kollegal-Gundlupet, Ooty, Wayand, Coorg and back, spanning about 8 days.

Ride a Cycle Foundation (RACF) is the organization behind Tour Of Nilgiries. TFN is not a cycle race, but a leisure (well, reasonably leisure) ride on a bicycle across the scenic mountain routes. The participation is restricted to 100 members and exact cost is not known to me. (Website says advance donation of Rs 16000 and balance as communicated by the organizers as tour date nears).

Now, why am I writing all these? There’s a provision for one official blogger and one official photographer. I had all plans to apply for Official Blogger spot and was preparing for that. Unlike other scenarios where we’ve to garner online votes, here the aspiring bloggers need to write about TFN and list why they should be selected as Official Blogger. That might sound as self praise, but I felt defending our candidature by listing our merits is better way than going around asking for votes. Hence I made a list of reasons why I should be considered for the post of Official Blogger for Tour of Nilgiris 2010.
  • Considerable experience in Blogging: Blogging since May 2006, 550+ blog posts, 500+ visitors per day, PR 4
  • Experience serving as Official Blogger for Tata Nano Superdrive, Green route, a 26 days road trip covering all of South India. Well experienced in documenting daily happenings in an interesting way, for any tour/event.
  • Experience in live blogging conferences and events, organized by IAMAI, CII and others [More details in About Me page]
  • I enjoy travel, long drives, photography, cycling and nature
I might have gone on adding a few more points and submit my entry to the organizers, but something big happened last weekend. My ability to attend Multi-day events depends on availability of leave from my employer. A career related development [do not ask more about this, nothing worth making public yet] has made it very unlikely that I’ll be getting 10 days leave in December, to travel along with the TFN cyclists. So with considerable uncertainty hanging over the head, it doesn’t make sense to press for Official Blogger position. Even for organizers of the event, it’ll be better to select someone more certain of joining.

If you’d like get selected as Official Blogger or Official Photographer for Tour of Nilgiris 2010, do read this post for instructions and submit your interest before 24th October.

I wish all the best for TFNTEN organizers and participants. Hope to be a part of Tour of Nilgiries 2011 edition.

Related posts: Wayanad Trip, Sep 2008 * Ooty trip, May 2009 * Official Blogger for Tata Nano * Nilgiris Heritage Train * Cycling to work- Pros and Cons *

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sera Jey Monastic University, Bylukuppe, Coorg

Sera Je is the 2nd Tibetan temple in Bylukuppe, Coorg. Its in fact an education facility than spiritual centre.sera-jey-university-outside
Majority of those who visit the golden temple in Bylukuppe, Coorg usually return after exploring the first temple (Golden Temple). About 4 kms from the main Golden temple, there lies an another interesting place, called Sara Jey, which is a calm and peaceful place, due to absence of tourist crowd.
Recalling some internet literature which mentioned the presence of Sera Jay and armed with directions given by locals, we drove to this temple after visiting the golden temple.

The doors were closed, but we peaked through a small entrance and requested monks inside if we can come in. They opened the main entrance and we stepped in. I’d thought it to be a temple, but this is more of a study centre or meditation place, with rows and rows of what looked like a bed laid in parallel. MY assumption is that students sit on it and study/meditate. The signboard outside the campus reads “Sera Jey Monastic University for Advanced Buddhist studies
Below are a few more photos of the second Buddhist campus premises in Bailukuppe, near Kushal Nagara
sear-jey-flag sera-jey-memorial-pillar history-kannada-sera-jey
Some additional information about the Bylukuppe Tibetan centre

The facility was established in 1969-70 by a monk with land (1500 acres) and support extended by Mysore Maharaja. Approximately 20,000 Tibetans live in the campus, located about 87 km southwest of Mysore, which is the first and largest of the Tibetan settlements in India. Residents are self sustainable in terms of economics, though they receive support from outside. Monks do go out of campus for education and entertainment (I’m told lady monks have lots of restrictions imposed on them and are hardly seen outside the campus, while male monks are free to roam around on bikes, go to nearby cities for movie/studies etc)

On your next visit to Coorg, do plan to explore this as well.

Other Coorg Posts: Chiklihole Dam * Chelavara waterfalls * Sera Jey University * Abbi Falls * Omkareshwara Temple Madikeri

Saturday, October 16, 2010

MicroFinance Related deaths in AP- An analysis

Micro finance was (and is) a great way to help villagers start their own small scale business and achieve financial independence. While Banks demand extensive documentation and collaterals and village money lenders charge exorbitant interest rates, micro-finance institutions (MFIs) were a boon to villagers, who were in need of a small capital to start something on their own. However, in a recent development, over 20 villagers have reportedly committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh [NDTV report], not being able to repay the loans taken from Micro finance companies.

This post offers some insights into what has gone wrong, with inputs from some inside sources.

1. Commercialization of Micro Finance business: Once started as a noble cause to help the poor, micro finance has now become profit making business for many. SKS, for example, started as an NGO, then became a NBFC (Non Banking Finance Corporation) and is now a full-fledged for profit company listed in BSE. Meeting targets in issuing loans and recovering it became primary objective and social welfare took the backseat.

2. Non-discretional disbursal of loans: Micro-finance was supposed to be offered to those villagers and self help groups which are needy, have an intention to use the funds and do some business. However, target bound loan officers who’re told to meet their target started disbursing loans to individuals who may not really have the need/might already have outstanding loans/weren’t really keen to do some business with the money. This has lead to credit card like situation where banks force sell credit cards without discretion and then resort to using under arm tactics to recover unpaid dues. This is also resulting in a scenario wherein villagers take a loan form one MFI to payoff their previous loan and the vicious cycle keeps rotating till one fine day.

3. Giving loans in Cash: Loans are supposed to be given in the form of materials or should be paid directly to vendor who supplies the equipment/raw material etc. This is to ensure that funds are used for their intended purpose. However, when loans are given in cash by micro finance institutions, borrowers are very likely to use them for purposes other than what it is granted for.

4 Not mentoring the borrowers: Just giving cash won’t be of much help. Most of the villagers/borrowers need enough support, training and guidance in earning returns on their business. Micro Finance Institutions should also guide them how to setup, run and grow the business. If micro entrepreneurs are unable to market their products/do not know how to efficiently source raw materials etc, the initiative will fail.

5. Reduced tolerance: Any form of lending shouldn’t be treated as charity and lenders need to recover their money. Recovery rate as such is fairly high in Micro-lending due to community model of disbursal. But then, there’ll be many genuine cases wherein borrowers might need more time to repay or additional support.  MFIs and its investors need to increase their tolerance level for such cases, as long as the reason for delay is genuine. If this doesn’t happen and recovery agents use under-arm tactics for recovery (such as kidnapping one’s daughter), villagers will suffer added insult to injury and might consider suicide. image
Shaken by suicides, AP govt has passed an ordnance enforcing additional regulations on MFIs. But I feel the above factors need to be addressed first. While disbursal practices and recovery strategies might differ from one micro-finance organization to another, I wish the industry corrects itself for the benefit of all stakeholders

Right: Neelaveni B from Andhra Pradesh, in whose hotel business I’d invested Rs 2000, through RangDe, has repaid over 50% in past 6 months [More] RangDe gives an opportunity to everyone, to become a social investor, with as little as Rs 100

Related: My Social Investment via RangDe * Progress of my RangDe Social Investment * My Teenage investment experience * Surviving Stock Market Crash * Analysis of MLM Companies *

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chelavara waterFalls, Virajpet Road, Coorg

Tourists who visit Coorg often head to Abbey falls, a fairly popular but heavily commercialized place. A little exploration and checking with locals will lead you to several other falls, which are better and bigger. As per the guidance of our hosts at Kings Cottage, we set out to explore one such falls, called Chelavara falls (or is it Cheluvara falls? not sure)

Chelavara falls is located about 12 kms from Kakabbe, after a little diversion from Virajpet road. (17 kms from Virajapete) The falls is visible from a distance as we neared the place. Height wise this is taller than Abbey falls and while tourists are not allowed to go under the falls there in Abbey, Cheluvara falls is unrestricted.

Today is supposed to be Blog Action Day and we’re supposed to write about the theme, Water. I’m supposed to write more about water conservation/water projects/its significance etc- but writing about waterfalls instead.

If you have time, there’re provisions for trekking upstream. We didn’t trek much, though.
Above left: A small waterfalls near Palace Estate, Kakabbe and right, another view of Chelavara falls

Also read: Talakona Waterfalls # Abbi Falls Coorg #

Skywatch Friday Coorg Special

Encouraged by good number of comments received for my previous Skywatch Friday post, publishing another one, this time a few handpicked snap from the recent Coorg Trip

Lone Telephone Post: This single telephone post, without any wires passing through it, was clicked at Kakabbe in Coorg, at a fairly high altitude, near Kings Cottage campus. It signifies the growth of wireless technologies (just kidding) or may be implies the need for staying disconnected when you’re on a vacation.
But Kakabbe had fairly strong mobile signal, so the need for landline phones were minimal

Our plans of an early morning trek to Tadiandamol went for a toss as no one got up on time, so we headed out to visit Cheluvara falls.

We missed a stop and went ahead and once we realized that, instead of taking U-turn and going back, we decided to explore where that roads would lead us to. We reached a set of scenic hills, which we could climb easily and enjoy a 360 degree view. Clouds concentrating around the peak made a nice view, and all hills appeared connected-  if we had the time, we could have walked on from one hill to another and so on...(missed the endeavour here-had to park the Innova and walk a bit, Endeavour would have taken us closer)

Below: Two more photos taken on top of the hill!
jump shadows

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ford Figo Discover SmartDrive vs Tata Nano Superdrive

One after another, auto companies are conducting road trips to promote their cars. Last year, Mitsubishi did a Great Driving Challenge, wherein couples had to gather votes from people to be able to get a chance to drive 3000 kms in a Lancer Cedia car. Volkswagen Polo did a road show in MTV earlier this year. June 2010 was dominated by Tata Nano’s Superdrive road trip, wherein 9 Nanos covered 39 cities and 15000 kms in 26 days, for which I was the official blogger.

Currently Ford India is promoting its small car Ford Figo through a north to South road trip called Discover Smart Drive. I am very much tempted to compare Ford Figo’s Discover Smart Drive with Tata Nano Superdrive, and hence this post.

 Ford-Figo-Discover-Smart-Drive Nano-Vidhana-Soudha

The Motive, Objective and Occasion
Nano Superdrive was held to celebrate the launch of Sanand plant in Gujarath with over 2.5 lakh cars per year capacity. Though Nano had won appreciation all over, very few people had seen it, due to very limited availability. Super drive aimed to create awareness about the car allover India and build demand for the car as it’s shipped in bulk to showrooms.

Ford Figo as such is a nice value for money car and no doubt has been fairly successful on sales records. [My review of Ford Figo here] Ford is conducting Smart Drive to celebrate the production (not sale) of 50000 Ford Figo cars in a short time (within about 6 months of its launch). [Thanks to Hrish Thota, one of the 2 official bloggers for clarification] Not a great number to boast off, but still significant as Figo has marked Ford India's successful entry into India's small car market. Currently Figo is 5th most selling small car in India (6465 units of Figo were sold in Sep 2010, beating Tata Indica (6258units) and Hyundai Santro (6451 units), as per September 2010 auto sales figures. (Alto 30147 units, i10 (14434), WagonR (14354), Swift (11913) are the first 4 places, need to note that Indigo, Manza and Marina put together touched 8783 units though).

The cavalry: Nano superdrive cavalry included 3 Nanos and one or two support vehicles, while Figo tour has one 50000th Figo, 1 media Figo and 1 support Figo, all diesel, titanium. Graphics on Nano cars look more appealing than the ones on Figo, in my personal opinion. Both road trips are of close to 1 month in Duration and are masterminded and managed by same event management Company, Shobiz...

Drive routes and the drive:
Nano Superdrive included 3 teams which simultaneously toured north, south and central India. Figo Smart drive is relatively simpler, starting at Amritsar and ending in Chennai, driving from north to south, covering Jaipur, Delhi, Agra, Indore, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and few more cities on the way, spanning over 4 weeks.

Nano didn’t have any celebrity driver as such. Media people, official bloggers, hired drivers, lucky winners, Tata Motors officials everyone shared the steering wheel on the drive. In Ford Figo the focus is on 4 couples who’ve been chosen to drive 1 week each. Figo is positioned as smart family car, targeting young couples and hence this is a wise move.

In both road trips, its one day of driving, one day city activities, trying to catch some eyeballs from public, media and others
figo-smartdrive-tollgate Nanos-taj-palace-hotel-mumbai
Interactivity with online users:
Figo Smart drive is well promoted online, with lots of contests for online fans. Nano on the other hand focused more on offline activities- customer meets, FM radio activities, test drives etc and had very little interaction with online followers. Nano Superdrive’s route and destinations were predefined, while Figo couples have an opportunity to spend good time at tourist places and the discretion to deviate from main road and visit nearby places if they wish to consider various recommendations of online fans. Nano’s facebook page managed to add just about a 1000 fans during the campaign (don’t have exact numbers, rough estimate) while Ford Figo had about 8800 fans and 1200 followers prior to the trip and is increasing fast (they just crossed 10k mark).

Superdrive had created 3 blogspot based blogs for each of the routes (visit Green, White and Saffron route blogs). Ford is smartly using is already popular corporate blog, Superdrive had very little action on twitter, while Figo is actively organizing tweetups, publishing on the move twitter updates and holding lots of contests for twitter, facebook and orkut users.

Both of these road trips are good experiential marketing experiments for respective companies. Nano superdrive did receive good media coverage and Ford Figo Smart drive, which has completed one fourth of the journey is also getting good attention. As companies spend several crores worth marketing budget into these activities, I wish them all the best and hope it converts into sales in near future.

Sadly only 5520 Tata Nanos were sold in September 2010- Not sure if there was a demand but not enough supply, or there wasn't any demand at all.

Disclaimer: Personal observations and opinions only. Figo Discover Smart Drive images sourced from Ford Figo facebook page, Nano superdrive pics are my own. All information as available with the blogger at the time of composing this post and information are subject to change without prior notice. Brand names and logos are property of respective automotive companies.

Also Read: Mitsubishi Great Indian Driving Challenge * Fiat Linea Review * Ford Endeavour TDCi 2.5 MT review * Maruti A-Star review * Scorpio 2.2 Vls mHawk Review * Ford Figo Review * Chennai Roadies * Nano Superdrive * Pros and Cons of road trips *

Monday, October 11, 2010

Chiklihole Reservoir dam near Dubare, Coorg

Last time I visited Coorg (Kodagu) was in November 2007, as a part of Club Mahindra’s coorg trip for travel bloggers. We toured Kodagu last weekend, revisited some of the places and explored a few new ones. This post offers few pics and write up about a lesser known place in Coorg, called Chikli Hole Dam, near Dubare.
chikki-hole-dam-view Some one had wrongly told me that its advisable to reach Dubare as early as possible, that elephants will start arriving for their bath from very early morning and visiting Dubare later in the day won’t get you much action as elephants would return back to forest after their bath and meals. Counting on this information, I’d planned the itinerary such that Dubare was our first destination in Coorg and we reached there very early, as early as 5AM. Elephants were nowhere to be seen, water in the river was fairly high and crossing it on foot upstream was ruled out, boat services, elephant arrivals will all start after 9 AM, was the information given to us. Our options were limited-wait till 9 AM, drive chikki-hole-signboardout, visit some other destination and come (most of them wouldn’t open before 9AM anyway) or try rafting. We almost decided on rafting (extremely simple and non challenging one, nothing comparable  to Sita river or Kali or Hrishikesh), at an exorbitant rate of Rs 600 per person, but the person in charge made an attempt to extract even more from us, saying “its too early in the morning, unless you pay him more he is not ready to come”. Thus we ditched rafting plans and ventured out to explore a place called Chikli hole reservoir, about 10kms from Dubare.

Where is Chiklihole Reservoir?
To reach Chicklihole, you should drive towards Dubare elephant camp, from Kushalnagar side. About 6-7kms before Dubare, a road turns right, where you’ll see the sign board as above.
Going straight will take you to Dubare and driving 3kms right will take you to Chicklihole. Chiklihole reservoir is a small dam, but very scenic. Add to it the early morning fog, the photogenic rating would increase 100x. What’s unique about this dam is the scenic way in which water is allowed out of the reservoir (refer the first photo) Had the water been more, the photo would have been even more scenic.

Compared to Dubare chikklihole is less visited by tourists (no one recognized this place when I uploaded the photo to facebook) and is worth a diversion from Dubare. Roads are decent, but not wide enough for buses.
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This unplanned visit to Chiklihole dam turned out to be one of the best places of Day One. Another major dam in Coorg, Harangi Dam, is closed for tourists. Harangi dam is a treat for eyes when gates are open.

Nearby places: Omkareshwara temple, Madikeri * Golden Temple, Bylukuppe * Dubare Elephant camp * Kings Cottage Kakkabbe * Cheluvayya falls * Talakaveri *

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

How does alexa know if you have kids or not?

I was going through the site statistics for at and following screen caught my attention. Here’s the alexa summary about has a three-month global Alexa traffic rank of 286,350. The site is based in India, and visitors to it view 1.6 unique pages each day on average. The time spent in a typical visit to is roughly two minutes, with 73 seconds spent on each pageview. Compared with the overall internet population, this site appeals more to users who have postgraduate educations; its visitors also tend to consist of childless men earning less than $30,000 who browse from homeenidhi-site-stats-06102010
Above screen tells me that most of my readers are either between 25-34 yrs of age or 55-64 yrs of age, are all graduates, mostly males without kids and access my blog primarily from home. Some how this is not convincing. While its possible for trackers to get details about a person’s browser, OS, location and country, personal details like age, sex,kids, education are difficult to collect accurately. I believe these stats are gathered from registration details of alexa users or possibly with tie up with facebook or such resources.

I wanted to findout if any site has more audience with kids than those without kids.,,,, and almost all other sites I checked had over-representation of people without kids. Can this be true? People with kids don’t use internet? How can alexa know if a person has kids or not?
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I gave some more thought and below is the logic I could think of. Many people register when they are young, so select their profile as NO KIDs, but never update their profiles after they become mom or dad. Naturally updating alexa profile will be last thing on your mind when you become a parent and  this is resulting in a lifelong miscalculation at alexa site statistics…

imageBut then, above were generic sites. What about sites meant for parents only? say Finally I was proved wrong. Lots of people with kids, largely females, with undergraduate education and in the age group 25-44 were visiting So they have some mechanism to identify if you have kids or not… any idea what it is?

Think think think…

Similar: beats 2 million sites for the keyword rejection handling * Comment Kings of this blog * (Dec 2007)

Monday, October 04, 2010

How to Survive if an elephant, lion and tiger attacks?

Srinivas was very talkative but highly knowledgeable driver we got at Mysore. He was manning the second car we’d rented, during our visit to Jungle Lodges K Gudi.

srinivas-travel-parkz Srinivas has been driving cars for more than 15 years now but says “I’m still learning”. “Customers are like gods for us and this car is the temple. When a customer sits in our car, our responsibility is to ensure his complete satisfaction” he added. Before taking up his current job at a Mysore based travel agency Travel Parkz, he was working as jeep driver to some forest officer, hence he was fairly familiar with some of the JLR staff, as well as various protocols to be followed in jungle. When we invited him to jeep safari inside BR hills forest, he promptly put on a greyish sweater on his white shirt, saying “elephants do not like white colour”.

Elephants are very friendly animals, but their habitat is increasingly being occupied by humans, resulting in human-animal conflict. Srinivasan also told us how to protect ourselves from an elephant attack: “Elephants might look big and slow moving, but they can run really fast. Best way to escape is to run in a zig zag manner, elephant will find difficult to run zigzag.” “Also do not climb uphill, elephant can easily catch up. Run downhill, elephant will abandon pursuit, as it can’t maintain balance and fears toppling over”, he added.
If attacked by a lion or tiger, lie down on your belly, fold your arms against your neck and stay calm. If you’re lying on your back, its very easy for the cat to cut open your stomach, but when one lies on his belly, backbone makes it difficult for the cat to kill instantly. There’ll be injuries and blood loss, but there’ll be high chance of survival” was his advise.

He also told lots of stories about Sir M Vishveshwarayya…That will be covered in a separate post.

Srinivas is a nice person to engage for your cab requirements if you’re into writing/research etc. He’s fairly knowledgeable about the places around Mysore and their history and unlike other drivers who prefer to sleep in the car, Srinivas can accompany you inside the places and double up as a guide. But if you just want to sleep in the car and want him to just drive and nothing else, you may better clear that in the beginning.

Below is a youtube video on how a jeep driver scared off an attacking elephant.

Related: Mysore airport launch * Wayanad * Elephant bathing in K Gudi * Coorg * Life Saving skills from movies *

Friday, October 01, 2010

Report: Kingfisher services take off from Mysore

Mysore-AirportThe much awaited air connectivity to Mysore has materialized. Kingfisher commenced its services from Mysore today, providing air connectivity to several other Indian cities via Bangalore. Flying in Kingfisher to Mysore will be convenient for those planning to head out to Coorg, Ooty, Bandipur, Wayanad and other nearby places as well. As I happened to witness the events first hand, here're a few photos and information for you. [Read the previous post]

Actual program involving VVIPs lasted hardly about 45 mins, but lots of efforts worth several man days were put in. Airport started buzzing with activity from early morning hours. Kingfisher counter was first inaugurated by an official, Mr Satyanarayan and Mrs Nalini, who were the first passengers on Mysore-Bengaluru flight were greeted with an oversized boarding pass. We’re flying just for the experience of it, time and money wasn’t a consideration-Mrs Nalini told media. Few other passengers also expressed similar intentions, saying they’re flying purely to encourage the industry.
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Cultural programs like DoLLu Kunita and few other forms of folk dance were organized, but none of the VIPs paid any attention to their work, they merely performed in loud noise whenever authorities gave signal, entertaining rest of the public. Outside a team of home guards and music band was waiting in sun to salute the chief minister.
11 AM onwards activities gathered momentum. Lots of local leaders were interacting with press people trying to build their image. Lots of people asked me which newspaper/channel I represent. I’d no big names to quote and those guys didn’t understand blog and internet medium,hence they moved on. Got a nice Kingfisher First pen, a black CD and a toy cricket bat in my press kit-(not sure of its relevance) People who’d bought tickets started arriving in, were treated with rose water, garlands, gifts etc. Security forces in various uniforms started taking positions and assuming command.

VVIPs arrived by about 1PM- the battalion included CM BSY, Vijay Mallya, Sidharamaiah, Reddy (not sure Karunakar or Janardhan) and passengers and officials. Upon arrival, they went outside the airport to attend some dalit gathering outside the airport in a shamiana. After that, they were supposed to come back and hold a press conference, but they chose to board the return flight directly instead, which was waiting for them and already delayed by more than 45 minutes.

VVIPs in my clicks: The press people were all over the airport to click photos of BS Yadiyurappa and Vijay Mallya, add to that their security staff, other officials and VIPs around them, getting a decent pic was a challenge. Managed to take a few decent shots from my camera, capturing UB group owner Vijay Mallya and Karnataka CM BS Yadiyurappa
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Later, it was time for group photos: Kingfisher team and Brandworkx team below:
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Was a nice experiencing observing the event from start to finish. Made an attempt to interview a few people, but all were either too busy or were not authorized to speak to media...

Update: Kingfisher has stopped its services to Mysore

Related: My Kingfisher experience * Aviation Gyan * Fly free on Indigo * Wayanad near Mysore *