A personal take on various topics

Free to Blog but Accountable You Are. The Supreme Court of India Weighs in on Blogging and Online Expression.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of India in an important ruling refused to shield a 19 year old blogger from a responsibility to face the charges in a different state than the one of his residence. A few important implications stem from this which should be noted. One important aspect which is perhaps easy to lose sight of in this debate is that the Supreme Court did not weigh in on the guilt or lack of it in this case, but on the fact that the person could not shy away from the responsibility to face the charges in a court. What should also be noted is that the underlying case is a criminal case and not for civil liability or libel, and seems to stem from an alleged death threat that was issued in the forum as per this article from The Telegraph. The implications are relevant to bloggers, site maintainers, forum administrators, group moderators and perhaps even small commercial internet services dealing in opinions and expressions flow. In interest of brevity I use the word blogger below to be freely substitutable by any of these. Note: I am not a lawyer and this is not a legal opinion, it is an expression of my personal understanding. [caption id=”” align=”alignnone” width=”500” caption=”The Burden of Accountability. Imaged owned by and used under permission from Firoze Shakir. http://www.flickr.com/photos/firozeshakir/3309041065/”]The Burden of Accountability[/caption]

Is a blogger accountable for the online content including those made by others on the site ? The Hindu offered a brief summary of the underlying issue in the case as follows.

Ajith D, a Kerala-based computer student had approached the apex court for quashing of the criminal case registered against him at Thane Police Station for allegedly hurting public sentiment by starting an online community in Orkut with an intention to launch an anti-Shiva Sena campaign.
I think this verdict does go to some extent towards suggesting that he does though I am not sure if it is a blanket conclusion one can draw at this stage. The court in its comments said :
You should not have indulged in such activity. You are a student of IT. You are doing something on internet and you should know about it.
This is a clear and unambiguous message which suggests that the constitutional rights do not cover a netizen from a responsibility to face any charges that may crop up as a result of any of his / her online expressions or facilitation of other’s online expressions. In this case many of the offensive comments were made by anonymous contributors and not by defendant himself. Thus such a person cannot shy away from having to face charges and defend himself even when the vehicle of expression he provides is used by others to express themselves. Thats like holding the public transportation and public telephony organisations responsible since their offerings were used to conduct an activity that is now under criminal investigation. That obviously does not make sense. But allow me to introduce a hypothetical premise here. What if the public transportation and public telephony organisations used their discretion from time to time to decide who can use their services and who can’t, and what if they knew the the broad intentions of the user in using their services (either upfront or post facto). Would they now have a responsibility in this case ? That does make the situation a bit cloudy. The equivalent situation in this case is when an online forum / site / group / blog is moderated. I am also going to assume for a moment (since I don’t know the facts) that the said orkut group allowed the group maintainer to moderate the content and the group maintainer might have used his privileges to say knock off spam on the group. This would imply that all expressions are not automatic and hence there is perhaps a case for the court to have made the moderator responsible to face charges for all the content in the group. However I would find it a little surprising if the group maintainer did not have any privileges to moderate the content or exercise his right to do so. Should the blogger be required to face charges in any jurisdiction ? While terribly inconvenient and perhaps with a lot of nuisance potential, the court opined very very clearly.
If a case is filed in a foreign country go and face it. You should know what you are doing on internet.
This is going to be really an issue for a lot of bloggers. In traditional (non internet) offerings, the service provider often has some kind of presence in the places where his services are consumed. Not so in the case of internet. You can reach the world without leaving your house. Also traditional service provision, requires some infrastructure or facilities investment or leasing, not so in case of blogging. The blogger often may have limited access to resources, may often have no revenues whatsoever. Yet he could be made responsible to defend himself in the furthest corners of the world. So herein lies the issue - Given the potential minimal resources and perhaps no revenue at his disposal, the blogger may have to face charges from any corner of the globe. The resultant investment in time and money alone may now seem like a punishment even if the blogger was to be eventually successful in defending himself in a court. While the internet has delivered asymmetric capabilities to the blogger (maximum reach at minimum cost), the legal infrastructure has placed him at the receiving end of that asymmetry (maximum potential costs of defending himself while working off minimal / zero revenues). There is something clearly uncomfortable about this but I am not sure whats the right solution. An interesting angle that will need to be looked at here is also the implication for internet based individual or small company commercial services (which often operate on a rather shoestring budget and headcount). Would this opinion lead to a negative business climate for such offerings ? Coule it be detrimental to their offerings, since often the primary commodity they deal in is information, precisely the currency whose use could expose them to (threats of) legal action. I do think this is an issue which will perhaps need a different resolution in times to come. And especially since the Supreme Court has already weighed in on the issue, it might be the time for legislature to take a look at its implications especially by considering its implications on the business climate of small internet services as well. Is this an attack on freedom of expression ? In this case the charges are criminal in nature and seem to be stemming off a death threat. These expressions if made orally would’ve made the person who made such an expression equally inconvenienced, and I cannot imagine why online expression should be granted any more freedom or privileges than oral expressions. If at all, online expressions because of their reach and ability to persist, need to have more accountability. So confusing this with freedom of expression and speech is just being plain facetious. So in my opinion the answer is NO. However the case does raise interesting possibilities about non threatening or non criminal charges. How would the Supreme Court opine in such a situation. Well we wouldn’t know until such a case reached them, but let us for a moment assume that the opinion continued to be similar. Even in such a hypothetical situation, I believe it would still not impinge on freedom of expression. All that the court has said is that one cannot escape from being accountable for expressions and thus present themselves to defend themselves. Thats perfectly reasonable. However it could indirectly hurt freedom of expression due to the burden it places in terms of defense. Defending oneself in a remote state can be an act of punishment itself which could dilute the very strengths the constitutional rights sought to promote. That part does worry me. So what can be done about it ? For starters I think the legislature while continuing to make people accountable for their expressions should pursue mechanisms by which the cost of implementing such accountability could be reduced. How that could be done is beyond my capabilities and understanding of the legal system. Moreover the judiciary could in the cases it handles, continue to be very proactive in ensuring that the freedom of expression is strongly defended in the cases that come to it for redressal. It should also figure out a way to deal strongly and with penalties on any frivolous use of force to clamp down on expression. Update : I am surprised with myself for having forgot this recent tweet of mine (post the NDTV / Chaitanya kunte episode). Quite simply it says :
   Right to express is inalienable from accountability of expression. Civil liberties are strengthened by responsible civility

Erosion of Banks Market Capitalisation

Here’s an image someone mailed me today (accuracy and authenticity unclear) [caption id=”attachment_147” align=”alignnone” width=”1024” caption=”Change in FI Market Capitalisations”]Change in FI Market Capitalisations[/caption]

A Perspective on the Indian Information Technology (Amendment) Bill, 2006

Disclaimer :I am not a lawyer, neither do I claim to understand law well. The perspective below is based on my reading of the two bills which was not conducted in complete rigour and detail. The following is my understanding it. For a legally valid opinion kindly consult a lawyer. Just last month, the Indian Parliament passed the Information Technology (Amendment) Bill, 2006. The bill is currently pending Presidential assent (to the best of my knowledge) and is expected to become a law soon. Unfortunately this document is a little hard to follow since it refers to changes made to the earlier applicable version of the law as defined by The Information Technology Act, 2000. One has to read them side by side to understand the full import. This post primarily focuses on the implications of the changes to the law but may refer from time to time to the implications of the earlier version as well. Digital Signatures and Certificates : This is a very large section of the bill. I think I shall need to read it more carefully. So I am completely skipping that section and may choose to write separately about it later. Computer networks and their security : This bill now brings into purview wireless networks (the word wireless got added to the definition of a network). While an intermediary earlier was someone who stored or transmitted a message, it is a far broader definition as stated below.
‘(w) “intermediary”, with respect to any particular electronic records, means any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any service with respect to that record and includes telecom service providers, network service providers, internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, onlinemarket places and cyber cafes, but does not include body corporate referred to in section 43A

Note that a message has been replaced by a record which broadens the scope quite a bit, and in my perhaps lay interpretation is likely to bring under its purview all the software as a service or a network service providers. Offenses The earlier law had two offenses listed in this section, which now have increased. Lets take a look at them. The first offense description related to tampering of source code continues to remain the same unchanged -
65. Tampering with computer source documents. Whoever knowingly or intentionally conceals, destroys or alters or intentionally or knowingly causes another to conceal, destroy or alter any computer source code used for a computer, computer programme, computer system or computer network, when the computer source code is required to be kept or maintained by law for the time being in force, …

The next offense Hacking with a computer system is now far less precise, and loosely means any dishonest or fraudulent activity in the context of a number of computer related activities as described in Section 43. That section incidentally has now been supplemented by Section 43A which under its purview now requires “body corporates possessing, dealing or handling any sensitive personal data” to maintain reasonable security practices and procedures (with a two year prison sentence in case of default). I will not dwell on Section 43 since it lists out a broad range of activities which can have negative consequences on computer systems and networks. A new offense description can now be found as follows :
66A. Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,— (a) any content that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or (b) any content which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently makes use of such computer resource or a communication device,

This is an onerous clause requiring us to be very careful in many of our online communications. I think to the extent it brings in accountability in online communications it is welcome. It is my belief that both the prosecution or courts are unlikely to pull people up for frivolous comments unless there are strong negative consequences and / or it is a persistent activity with a deliberately negative intent. However I still feel concerned about the rather loose wording which still could get misused. The next offense is related to pornography. The first clause of the offense continues to the best of my reading ablities to be unmodified
… publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, …

However it has now been further expanded by the following
… publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form any material which contains sexually explicit act or conduct …

I could not find any reference in my reading to either consumption or storage of pornographic content to be an offense. Interception and Decryption : While the wordings are different I could not find any substantive changes in the clauses related to the state rights to Interception and Decryption, except that the word Monitoring has also got added. But its safe to say that the Central Government can pretty much continue to snoop on any electronic transmission as they believe necessary. Couldn’t really figure out what if any difference this bill makes. Modifications to the Indian Penal Code : The penal code is now applicable to “any person in any place without and beyond India committing offense targeting a computer resource located in India”. So people who are not residents or citizens of India targeting Indian computer systems are now classified as offenders. Incidentally it should be noted that the penal code already applies to “Any citizen of India in any place without and beyond India”. However that seems to be now made much clearer by the explanation which states that “the word offense includes every act committed outside India which, if committed in India, would be punishable under this Code”. While I am not certain about it my lay reading seems to indicate that Indian Citizens committing violations outside India will be eligible to be flagged as offenders. If my interpretation is correct, Indian Citizens involved in publishing or transmitting pornography or in activities which could get classified as an offender as per this law, , will get classified as offenders under the act in India, even if such activities are legal in the parts of the world where they or their computer systems reside. However I must insist I am not too sure about this. A law misconstrued and misunderstood ? I wasn’t quite sure how to react to blog posts like ”India Sleepwalks To Total Surveillance”. However I really can’t respect the way the bill has been represented. Some of the bold statements in the post say, “Thou shall not author a joke. Not even forward one”, “Thou shall not surf Bollywood news” and ” Thou shall not watch porn”. I really could not find any evidence to support such views whatsoever. The sad part is that such posts get picked up in articles like Blogger Writes from Inside the Newest Police State on the Planet, discussions such as slashdot - India Sleepwalks Into a Surveillance Society and tweets such as these. I have spent about 6 years in US, and the remainder in India. I have always been very happy with the freedoms I have received in India, even though I do know that very unfortunately a small proportion of the population does get victimised or harassed due to the stringent laws from time to time. I won’t be surprised if a substantial proportion of Indian Citizens actually support the clauses against pornography. And finally the draft bill has been under discussion since 2006 so I couldn’t understand how the world’s largest democracy sleepwalked into something (though I am certain this and another bill got completely fast tracked after the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks). The fact of the matter is that this has always been a state of stringent laws, with laws which don’t always agree fully with the western world. I think we should rate our laws based on our aspirations and desires. While I shudder at the privileges the government has in terms of eavesdropping, I am quite ambivalent on the strictures against pornography and greatly welcome the enhancements related to electronic signatures and increased accountability in terms of online communication and network security maintenance. Its really a mixed bag in my opinion. If at all India is to be considered a police state as in some opinions, in my opinion it is certainly not because of this bill.

A Mea Culpa on a Tweet Gone Sour

As someone who has been using usenet and the world wide web since ‘94 , there was one thing I had learnt long time back. Be careful of what you write. Sure in the first year or so I wrote stuff which I wished I had a way of pulling back, and once every few years there does go out a mail I wish I hadn’t pressed the Send button so fast. But even as I am aware I often compose long winding sentences which take some effort at reading, I was feeling rather smug in the notion that I had learnt the art of being careful. I knew I could write passionately even as I maintained a sense of balance and did not take extreme positions. That I had gone past the stage of writing stuff that in hindsight sounded just plain dumb. Until today. Today is when I realised that while I am careful when I compose emails and blog posts, tweeting is something I need to reinforce those learnings. Theres something quite easy about 140 characters which sometimes just entices you to offer your opinion - oh just so quickly. And that speed of tweeting can sometimes bend the editorial controls that one has learnt to apply on a mail or a blog post. At the end of it one wonders what it was - irresponsibility, folly, or just some mythological greek hubris (actions which negatively impact / shame both the perpetrator and the affected) slipping past editorial controls. There was one quick tweet that I did which referred to a screenshot just a little while back. Soon enough I had people expressing their angst at me, angst that I then considered completely unreasonable since I was factually quite accurate. I actually considered myself the victim for a while. Until the last mail I exchanged on the topic required me to take a relook at my tweet - and I couldn’t believe my eyes, I had actually put the name of a website in there in a context that had some negative connotations. And the worst part was that I never really actually remembered actually putting in the name that I so obviously had done. The name was in the image also, but putting the name in the tweet amounted from moving it from the 5th page of a newspaper bang onto the front page. Try hard as I could, I just could not actually bring myself to remember how I consciously typed it in there. And then I slowly imagined myself on the receiving side of it. I soon realised I would’ve been hopping mad. Much much more than hopping mad. It was inappropriate. It was unnecessary. It was entirely uncalled for. I have over a period of time realised that every 3-4 years I do something incredibly stupid. The kind which requires me to ask myself “what weed was I smoking ?”. In a sarcastic vein I can take solace in the fact that as far as the law of averages can predict I shouldn’t be doing anything similar at least till 2012. I deleted the picture. I deleted the tweet. But the tweet still stays there in the ether. Moral of the story : Just because typing in 140 chars is easy and quick doesn’t mean you can let your editorial guard be down while tweeting. In fact given the fact that it is so much easier to tweet, not only do you need to have those same guards on, they need to be more agile and sharp since a tweet can be sent far quicker than it takes to write out a subject line.

Answers : How Web 2 Are You (Spoiler!)

Had a fair degree of fun trying to figure out all the logos in the quiz : How Web 2 are you ? I got about 24 correct in the first unresearched pass, but then spent some time figuring out the remainder. Here’s the full set of answers (drumroll ! ! !) .. (Click on the text to go to the site)
TechnoratiTechnorati Twitter Twitter FeedburnerFeedburner StumbleUponStumble Upon RollyoRollyo
FlickrFlickr BloggerBlogger ZimbraZimbra NewsvineNewsvine DiggDigg
NetvibesNetvibes WordpressWordpress PhotobucketPhotobucket DeliciousDel.icio.us SkypeSkype
BoxeeBoxee Redditreddit BasecampBasecamp RapleafRapleaf LinkedinLinkedIn
edocredocr Remember The MilkRemember The Milk FacebookFacebook You TubeYou Tube Last FMLast FM
GMailGMail YuuguuYuuguu MyspaceMySpace SlideshareSlideshare QikQik
SeesmicSeesmic BeboBebo MooMoo HuddleHuddle  

We Didn’t Start the Fire. Sure, but Don’t Keep It Burning Please

I still remember being impressed by Karl Marx and Communism in the early eighties only to be strong believer in Capitalism by the end of the decade. Since then, I have rarely looked back to question my faith in Capitalism until the economic crisis of 2008. In that questioning sweep got captured one more apparently unimpeachable cornerstone of my faith - Democracy. I don’t know if I should’ve felt so surprised on the realisation that these two have almost identical strengths and failings. Billy Joel would find ripe pickings on both legislative and financial markets (yes both are markets with the difference being the currency - votes and notes) around the world, should he want to extend ”We Didn’t Start the Fire (in Flash)”. This song talks about many significant episodes in the 20th century, many of them with negative consequences. It also talks about the individual refrain in terms of absolving self of responsibility by saying - we didn’t start the fire. Both Democracy and Capitalism are feedback based auto correcting systems. This is their strength. This is what makes them sustainable, and perhaps the best options in the long run. This is also their weakness. The feedback loop takes time to act (it won’t kick in until the fuel for the collectively sponsored ponzi scheme runs out) and by the time it does, the wrong steps have levied a heavy toll. But as these systems have proved time and time again, that even if inefficient these are the most effective systems. But this has come at a cost. The’ve strengthened our faith in them at the cost of our faith in ourselves. If the system is responsible to correct itself, surely an individual does not need to play much of a role - we simply go with the system and correct ourselves as it does and pay the tabs that it leaves for us in the process - Right ? There are things that we can ask ourselves in advance before the systems go through their next sinusoidal dive. Should I be investing if the market that seems to be going up too fast because others are investing, should I be voting for someone who promises growth over healing since others are doing so, should I be borrowing so that my expenditure can exceed my incomes since others are doing so, should I be expecting rich valuations for my efforts which I can’t understand because others are expecting so, and should I be making promises that are likely difficult to keep because others are doing so. While being able to identify the trend (and especially the correction) in time can offer rich pickings, I don’t know that most of us would be able to pull it off. However what we can do is apply common sense. In many cases if it doesn’t make sense for you, it eventually wont make for the system which shall then auto correct. In the meanwhile you have these choices - if you have confidence in your abilities to time the system, exploit it but get out just in time, or take responsibility to be a contrarian and act for yourself now, or go with the flow and sing “We didn’t start the fire” later.

Pune OpenCoffee Club Meet - December 13, 2008

Went to the Pune OpenCoffee Club meet yesterday. It was supposed to focus on Search Engine Optimisation, Web Scalability and Sun Startup Essentials Program. Search Engine Optimisation - Dimakh Sahasrabuddhe, Dimakh Consultants I really liked this session. It is always refreshing to see a very down to earth speaker explain things broken down in a very simple way (tinge of jealousy at my end ?). While I feel like a नीम हाकीम (half doctor or amatuer) on this topic since I know only parts of it, I came back with some more insights into the space and some comfort in knowledge that the little I knew wasn’t way off the mark. Anyways, here’s what Dimakh had to say on the topic : Make sure you know what keywords you are conducting the SEO. Don’t forget the site name itself in the process. For good SEO, focus on the following issues (listed in a descending priority as per Dimakh, he said Google hasn’t ever published the priorities)
  • Content : It is important to make sure your content is in tune with the desired topics and keywords. Make sure the keywords (and sometimes even the phrases) you want to optimise for are covered in the content. Google does look at the keyword density in the content and that can influence your site rankings.
  • Domain : It is preferable to have the important word or two about your site in the domain itself. eg. You may consider having a site domain as sushrut-icecream-parlour.com instead of sushrut.com (I am not sure if he would’ve preferred the hyphens there - just applying my own thoughts here).
  • Filename : Make sure your filenames (ie. those in the URL) actually reflect the content.
  • Tags : Ensure that the tags (meta?) reflect the content appropriately
  • Alt Tags : Use the alt tags to enrich the information available to the search engine to better understand the images or hyperlinks. Keep them short but give enough info to the search engine eg. in a link to a file called enquiry.html, have the alt tag mention “Enquiry for Motors”.
  • Internal Links : Make sure it is easy for the spider to traverse through your site using the various links. Sometimes you may want to provide an alternative navigation mechanism if the default mechanism is not easily understood by a search engine (I assume he was referring to things like a Flash based navigation)
  • External Links : I really couldn’t understand what he implied here (probably because I got a little lost into thinking when I should’ve been listening), but some could help fill out the stuff in the comments below.
Finally Dimakh mentioned Seo Root and Google Rankings as sites to visit for further learnings. On the whole a very helpful session. One more karma point Pune Open Coffee Club earned in my books. Web Scalability by Sun Microsystems : (I missed the first couple of mins, hence didn’t catch the presenter names). The presentation focused on a toolkit designed for prototyping various technical and architectural issues around web 2.0 applications called Olio. Its a very nice and capable tool which in the words of the web site can be used for the following activities :
  • Understand how to use various web2.0 technologies such as AJAX, memcached, mogileFS etc. in the creation of your own application. Use the code in the application to understand the subtle complexities involved and how to get around issues with these technologies.
  • Evaluate the differences in the three implementations: php, ruby and java to understand which might best work for your situation.
  • Within each implementation, evaluate different infrastructure technologies by changing the servers used (e.g: apache vs lighttpd, mysql vs postgre, ruby vs Jruby etc.)
  • Drive load against the application to evaluate the performance and scalability of the chosen platform.
  • Experiment with different algorithms (e.g. memcache locking, a different DB access API) by replacing portions of code in the application.
An excellent piece of content that was poorly targeted imho. Sun has an extended amount of experience dealing with enterprise architects, and this was a really wonderful presentation which most enterprise architects would’ve understood easily. This particular community of people often need to do their homework very well, and usually are allowed a fair amount of time and money to do their homework, and in many cases also have access to a body of people who are also equally capable in working out various issues related to architecture. I really think this is a useful tool which can be used by startups but that they shall need to spend the time to understand the tool and what it could do for them. However it is not a point and shoot kind of a tool. Based on the questions I could very easily understand that most persons very quickly ended up assuming that the tool could do much more than what the tool authors ever intended, and then felt disappointed. This was really a situation of positioning gone awry and I think Sun will need some more effort in positioning the presentation in its early stages to prevent disappointment later. Finally as in a question I did ask quite explicitly, the reason why it makes sense for Sun to invest in and open source such a tool, is that this tool really forces you to do your homework well in the first place. If you were to do your homework well in the first place and focus on performance and scalability early on, the tool usage would tell you to either focus on Java or more infrastructure to handle high load or low read percentage scenarios. These are very reasonable and sensible outputs of the tool. What olio does not tell you is the set of tradeoffs which are outside its scope, impact of the various choices of languages and toolkits on spead of release, agility, robustness and maintainability - that is something that the startup architect will need to come to some decision independently. Finally sun talked about its Startup Essentials Program which offered various promotional incentives to startups. Very useful incentives, though I would advise people to evaluate if usage of such incentives introduces a small degree of lockin onto open solaris (I like opensolaris - just would ensure that I would use it in a manner that doesn’t introduce too much lock in), and also the post production cost implications including support. There were a fair degree of questions through the session, and I think as an audience it makes sense to pause and take the matter offline if the proceedings continue to be stuck at a stage after two or three questions. Update: A presentation similar to the one presented can be found on Olio site at Olio Presentation In parting All in all a very useful session, and a left me with the desire to attend more sessions subsequently. Thanks POCC and all the organisers.

Why You May Want to Have Your Blog

This is a reproduction of a post I made in a closed user group of largely young IT professionals in March, 2008. I believe it is of likely interest for many other young professionals who may want to blog in a professional capacity About blogging Blogging started off as an offshoot of the “individual home page” which was more of an homepage which was structured like an online diary (Blog is actually a short form of the word “web log”). However today it has grown very very substantially into a very powerful communication medium which has substantially increased the “expressivity” of individual opinion and a projection of an individual personality. The most read blogs are often those that relate to individuals offering their most private (and sometimes lurid) thoughts for public consumption on the net. Another popular category is the journalistic blogs which trade in news and opinions. This is a great platform for citizen journalism and has now become so powerful that most journalistic houses encourage their professional journalists also to have their own blogs. However what I am going to talk about is a kind of a blog with a very different focus than either of these. I intend to blog about a blog type which is more in line with the target audience of this blog - blogs that deal with professional identity projection. Why Professional Identity Projection ? The net is helping the world to shrink to a smaller and smaller world each day. This is a world which is now exploding in the opportunities that it offers in terms of networking resulting in each of us having a larger average professional network size than at anytime in the past. The larger network sizes and the increasing ease of communication means that we have a smaller time and attention span for each individual that we casually interact with. Thus there is a requirement to project a stronger image of oneself (think of it as you being your own brand). This helps you to be able to not only reach a wider audience of people and build stronger networks but also to be able to within such larger audiences conduct more selective targeting. By this I mean the ability to cut through a mass of people who are either not meeting the target segment that you are really interacting with, into those that will make a lot of sense interacting with How will a Professional Blog help me ? Potentially in a number of ways
  • It creates an identity for you that others can interact with without occupying your time. People can come and read your blogs - understand you and your opinions more without any downtime for you.
  • It creates a stronger and focused projection of who you are and what you are focused on. This tremendously helps others understand you much quicker. In very simple terms - as compared to not blogging, it might make you less attractive to half to two thirds of the general audience who my be not so enthusiastic about your views - but it very substantially increases your value in the eyes of the remaining one third to half - and these are probably the people you might find maximum value interacting with.
  • This is really important - your blog can be an online extension of your resume. If a one pager with a reference to your blog URL can excite someone - you’ve suddenly bought yourself an increased attention span and interest from someone you want to reach out to.
  • Market yourself as a serious focused and thinking person.
When you should not have a professional blog
  • You do not have some views or some aspects about yourself that you would like to project to others
  • You are not keen on offering either interesting commentary or narrative about something that is very original - ie. something you’ve come up with.
What kinds of blogs can I have Theres no clear answer here - its really upto you. However some of the possibilities are :
  • Technical : say a blog purely focused on Java
  • Software Design
  • Business : focused on Business Domain happenings in general and trends you foresee
  • Project Management
I would like to try it out - where do I go from here
  • If you want to offer an interesting thought related to technology, business, management etc. the [..deleted..] blog might be a great place to get started and getting your feet wet
  • There are many other free blog hosting sites. jroller.com is a great one if you want to primarily blog about java. blogspot.com (from google) and wordpress.com are other good free blog hosting sites.
  • Just run google searches like “introduction to blogging” or “blogging tutorial” and understand the space a little bit more.
  • This is a nice introductory document.
  • If you do create a blog do keep me posted about it :)
Important : Read ME Many companies publish documented guidelines about what you can blog about and what you cannot. Find out if your employer has guidelines about employee blogging activity and respect the same. In general blogging about company proprietary information, plans, designs etc., about internal company news are a strict no-no and can sometimes get you into legal trouble. Bitching about your current or ex-employers or any other similar activities in poor taste are only likely to reflect very poorly on you besides the obvious damage it does to others - make sure your blogs are in a positive spirit. In some cases your employer might maintain a corporate blog - see if makes sense to participate in the same. Also many such guidelines clearly require you to clearly state on your blogs that the opinions are yours and yours alone and not meant to reflect that of your employer.

On the Blogging and Microblogging Trail

Early Internet usage I have always been a enthusiastic user of most of the internet capabilities. I started of learning and using ftp and archie and gopher in early 90s, had an opportunity to use the NCSA mosaic browser prior to the Netscape phenomenon, picked up most of my C++ and software design learnings on usenet in the mid 90s, and was well into application development using web technologies and distributed objects by 96. As time progressed, I started using many newer offerings such as portals, forums, groups and  eventually blogs and social networks. Blogging Blogging is a very intensely personal activity. Its substantially unicast nature allows one to carefully craft and customise the message that one would like to project. Early in 2008, I found myself with tons of free time. I had stepped out of my earlier assignment at the turn of the year. I was unlikely to get attracted back into the realm of the conventional commercial software development in the short term. While I knew I was wanting to really focus on developing good software, I had no clue what I wanted to do immediately in the short term. While I had worked in senior management positions, managed large size teams and what at least in my perception had built some kick ass software, I felt like I had this whole body of knowledge and experiences to share but didn’t know where or how to share it. I had started a blog earlier but it petered out after about 5 entries, the notable result out of that exercise having been the article, A beginners guide to Dependency Injection which I wrote in July 2005, which Floyd Marinescu, the then editor of TheServerSide.com asked me to put together based on my blog writings. /var/log/mind : While many people blog for kicks, and many others for publishing their views and commentary on a large range of topics, and some others from a commercial perspective, I started my blog with a very different purpose. I wanted it to specifically focus on issues and matters related to software engineering ie programming, design and architecture, issues I believe I have a lot of experience in and in which I can pretend to talk intelligently. My objective was to share the understandings I had internalised through many of my experiences and share them across the relevant audience.  In a very casual mood I decided that I would start blogging again, and /var/log/mind debuted on Jan 3, 2008 with the post ”Nice Error Message”. At that point, I was not really clear about what I wanted to blog about except that it would be about software engineering. Anyone familiar with UNIX file system structure will immediately understand the title - its a log file of the mind. Soon I was writing quite passionately and some of the posts focused on the fact that I was wanting to move from Java to scripting languages. These included : I attempted to bring in a manager’s perspective including And of course architecture was never too far from my heart I also dabbled a little bit with online media Focus While I received very positive feedback on that, I quickly realised that this was an entirely different set of readers and the positive references were coming from a completely different set of sources. Hence I quickly backed off that angle being a little afraid of losing focus. /var/log/mind is intensely focused and completely non frivolous quite deliberately. However when I started it, unlike emails and groups, I wasn’t communicating with people I knew, I was simply broadcasting and hoping someone would find my views interesting enough. Soon enough there were a few people viewing it and subscribing to the feeds. This was a segment of people who were focused on software engineering to a substantial extent (or at least thats what I assume). Till date I have focused on trying to satisfy this small set of people intensely rather than reaching out to larger audiences. I must confess that while I am often tempted to either make the content a little more easier to read or focus on less intense topics, I have chosen to stay away successfully from such temptations. I would like /var/log/mind to be visited regularly by a small set of people seriously focused on software engineering. This in the overall scheme of things is not such a large audience, but its an audience I can connect with readily. Recently I did give in to the temptation of wanting to blog on a lot of internet / social media issues but only by starting a new blog - ”Web N.o”.  Finally I am also resurrecting my personal blog /home/dhananjay which will focus on lesser intensive aspects of software, internet and allow me to write on other issues of interests such as Finance, Economics, Current Affairs and Humour. On Indian readership : Early on I didn’t quite figure out why if dzone gets more traffic from India than US, I got only low single digit percents from readers based out of India. This remained a puzzle for long. It later dawned on me that my writings were actually targeting much more narrower segment - the people who are really passionate about their programming or engineering, the kind who flock to reddit which has a predominantly higher US traffic. However I have watched the readership grow slowly in no small part due to the helpful words put out by Navin in his writings on PuneTech. In the month of december till date, Indian readership share has crept up to 5%. I can’t imagine my writings being in any way being more relevant to one geographic region than another. Over the next few months I intend to try to understand the rationale behind the discrepancy and attempt to reduce the same at least partially. Microblogging : One of the things I do wish when looking back is that I had paid more attention to microblogging. I simply did not realise the power and capability of Twitter till very recently. I must confess to be a very early stage user and look forward to learning how to leverage microblogging. However I have already done my first mistake, so its safe to presume that my learning process has begun. I had put all the people who I wanted to follow into one twitter handle, and a variety of people started following me back. This was a noise disaster in waiting should it be allowed to grow. There was no way that whatever I would write would make sense to a large proportion of the network. I have always believed in focus, and once again I set out to do the same. My belief is that the network is still quite small, and it is important to undo the potential damage even if it is inconvenient in the short term. So the twitter handle “dnene” now focuses on Software and social media topics exclusively. So if you are an IT / Online Media professional thats the one to follow.  The handle “idhananjay” is much more freewheeling, so if you want to see my multiple facets, my humorous side, or my views on current affairs and local issues thats the one to follow. Finally if you are a IT professional based in India, you may consider potentially following both. I shall soon be setting up a third one and thats going to be for personal friends and family. That to me seems like the most logical way to organise to minimise outgoing noise polution on the twitter streams. A similar separation is also happening on the blogging trail - /var/log/mind and Web N.o shall be serious blogs focused on the specific areas attempting to look at the various issues in depth, whereas /home/dhananjay shall be a freewheeling general blog which shall perhaps reflect a more broader, casual, lighter aspects about my views and opinions.