Category: Digital

Birds of MICA

The beautiful MICA campus

I was back at the MICA campus recently to take a couple of sessions of Digital Media Planning & Buying. My previous (and my first) visit to the campus was in August of 2019 and this trip reinforced the positive feelings I have for this unique campus.

The campus is located on the South Western outskirts of Ahmedabad city, in a place called Shela. The campus is just the right size for a medium sized educational institution. At around 15 acres, it is neither too small to make the place look cramped and not too big to make it impersonal. Add the beautiful landscape of lush green lawns, leafy trees and the built environment of low rise exposed brick architecture, and you have all the right ingredients to make it a wonderful place for learning.

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The place is also bordered on one side with a branch of the Narmada canal. Add the fact that it is located amidst farmland, well away from the hustle and bustle of the city and you have a place that’s a dream for bird-watchers.

I have, so far, spent only about 5 days at the campus, and spent about 4 hours in total in bird-watching. But in this time, I have observed no less than 52 species of birds. To put that in context, I have counted 65 species in the 18 months that I have been maintaining records on ebird.

Here are the birds I spotted during my stay of around 28 hours in the MICA campus this week:

  1. Indian Pond-Heron
  2. Cattle Egret
  3. Little Egret
  4. Black (Red Naped) Ibis
  5. Oriental White (Black Headed) Ibis
  6. Black Kite
  7. Oriental Honey Buzzard
  8. Western Marsh-Harrier
  9. Grey Francolin
  10. Indian Peafowl
  11. Red-Wattled Lapwing
  12. Common Redshank
  13. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  14. Spotted Dove
  15. Little Brown Dove
  16. Blue Rock Pigeon
  17. Rose-Ringed Parakeet
  18. Plum-Headed Parakeet
  19. Asian Koel
  20. House Swift
  21. White-Breasted (Throated) Kingfisher
  22. Small Bee-Eater
  23. Lesser Golden-Backed Woodpecker
  24. Rufous-Backed (Long-Tailed) Shrike
  25. Black Drongo
  26. Brahminy Starling
  27. Common Myna
  28. Indian (Rufous) Treepie
  29. House Crow
  30. White-Eared Bulbul
  31. Red-Vented Bulbul
  32. Rufous (Tawny) Bellied Babbler
  33. Jungle Babbler
  34. White-Browed Fantail-Flycatcher
  35. Common Tailorbird
  36. Indian Robin
  37. Great (Cinerous) Tit
  38. Purple Sunbird

Of these, I was particularly delighted at spotting two ‘lifers’ – The White-Eared Bulbul and the Rufous (Tawny) Bellied Babbler. The formed especially delighted me as it is only found in North-west India.

Monday Reads – 09/03

black smartphone with icons
Photo by Ready Made on Pexels.com

What your business needs to do to compete in 2020, the future of Grocery Shopping, the issues associated with Internet usage and a small note that I found inspiring:

The Experience Disrupters – Great analysis and insights from the CEO of HubSpot about what businesses need to do to compete in 2020. The summary is that, for brands to be successful in this age, it’s not enough to just have a good product. Brands need to focus on the experience they are providing to their customers and make that the focus of disruption to create brand loyalty.

Why Grocery Shopping Is on Its Way Out – A long, but very thought-provoking article on how technology is disrupting something fundamental Grocery Shopping. While we can safely say that the ship has sailed when it comes to bringing back good old-fashioned people- and relationship-driven commerce, what is the potential cost of this digital convenience?

Issues with the Internet – The article above, and other ‘bad’ news that seem to be dominating the media these days prompted me to write this note. It’s a summary of the results of a study commissioned by the EU to understand the potentially harmful impacts of internet usage on people and society.

Keep Going. No Matter What – A small note, but one that I found inspiring, on the power of perseverance.

Happy Monday!

 

Issues with the Internet

woman in black blouse sitting in front of silver laptop
Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

As I write this, this seems to be the season for bad news. Most of the stuff that we come across on Digital media (and offline) seems to be doom and gloom. And that set me thinking – Is it really this bad? Or are we experiencing the negative aspects of our ‘always-on’ culture?

I freely admit that I am not very tech friendly, but I am not a technophobe either. I have been working in the Digital economy for two decades now, but friends still laugh when they find out that I frequently know less than them on some specific use cases of the Web. This is especially true when it comes to Mobile phones. While I have had smart phones for a while now, they were mostly work phones and as such, I was very careful not to use it for any personal use (as far as possible). That all changed in 2015, when I purchased my first smartphone for personal use.

I will not deny that there are some positives to come out of the ‘always-on’ culture that the smartphone, especially, has helped drive. For one, connecting with friends and family has become much easier. And that, I believe, is a very good thing. Commuting has become much easier, enabling greater discoverability of places and experiences. Beyond these two, however, there are very few other use cases where I can confidently say that things have changed significantly for the better. The only one that comes to mind is personal transportation. I believe the ride-sharing / on-demand cab services have been extremely helpful, especially if one is living in or traveling to a city with inadequate public transport.

But on the flip-side, these positives have also been accompanied by many negatives. As I started doing some online research on what could be some of the challenges and issues brought about by high levels of internet use, I could not find very many useful articles. Many of them were about the technical issues of connectivity and the Internet of Things. A few touched upon the possible impacts at an individual level. But I was looking at studies that considered the overall societal impact of the Internet.

I finally found what I was looking for on the EU website. Whatever be your opinion of the EU (mine is that it’s a very valuable body, but too bureaucratic), there is no doubt that they are doing some very valuable research on some important topics. One of them is a study on “How The Internet Can Harm Us, And What Can We Do About It?“, released about a year ago (February 2019).

There are two parts to this study. Part 1 looks at the harm caused by internet addiction, but I was more interested in Part 2 that covers the harmful effects on individuals and societies associated with internet use. I am still going through the detailed report (runs into 72 pages), but it has, very helpfully, put out a summary right at the beginning. And these are the eight harmful effects that the study has identified:

  • Internet addiction – ‘lack of control over one’s internet consumption that can lead to a decrease in physical and psychological wellbeing, with associated symptoms of distress, anger, loss of control, social withdrawal, familial conflicts, and others.’
  • Information overload – ‘having too much information to adequately understand an issue or make effective decisions… associated with loss of control, feelings of being
    overwhelmed, reduced intellectual performance, diminished job satisfaction, damaged personal relationships, and harms to health.
  • Harmful effects on knowledge and belief – ‘Misinformation can cause significant harms to the health and wellbeing of individuals and to the proper functioning of society, including the functioning of democratic institutions.’
  • Harm to public/private boundaries – ‘Harm is done by the way in which the internet and smartphones blur the distinction between private and public, and between the spheres of life, including work, home life, leisure and travel…Harm that can result from such permeations includes loss of quality of life, harm to privacy, decreased safety and security.
  • Harm to social relationships – ‘Extensive internet use, particular social media use, is correlated with loneliness and social isolation.’
  • Harm to communities – ‘Many offline communities are being harmed because of the partial migration of many human activities (shopping, commerce, socialising, leisure activities, professional interactions) to the internet… As replacements, they are often not adequate, since they often do not possess some of the valuable qualities of online communities, and do not possess some of the strongest qualities of offline communities, and may also suffer from impoverished communication, incivility, and lack of trust and commitment.
  • Harm to cognitive development – ‘there is evidence that children can be harmed in their cognitive development by prolonged internet use, including harm to the development of memory skills, attention span, abilities for critical reasoning, language acquisition, reading, and learning abilities.’
  • Harm to democracy and democratic citizenship – ‘Some online activities, however,
    appear harmful to democratic deliberation and decision-making. These include (1) the incivility of much online (political) discourse, (2) ideological and political polarisation that is correlated with internet use, (3) misinformation, particularly ‘fake news’, and (4) voter manipulation through profiling based on harvested social media information.

I am sure that many of us would broadly relate to and agree with the above. I was impressed by the breadth of the findings. I intend to spend more time understanding the study in greater detail.

The study has also suggested some policy options for preventing and mitigating these effects. Again, they seem very logical and comprehensive. But that will have to wait for another post!

Reference:

Harmful internet use – Part II: Impact on culture and society
Study – January 2019

Making Your Next Travel Booking Online? You Might Want to be Careful

Travel image on laptop
Photo by Artiom Vallat on Unsplash

It’s that time of the year when many of us start making plans for summer travel (Coronavirus scare notwithstanding). In India, children enjoy summer holidays between the months of April and June, coinciding with the hottest time of the year (before the onset of the monsoons in June lower the heat and humidity).

If you, like millions of other users, are actively researching your next holiday online, then you might want to read these articles:

How ‘dark patterns’ influence travel bookings – A long article highlighting some of the ways online travel plans play with human psychology to get users on their site to make their booking right then. Examples include the use of statements such as ‘xx number of users are looking at this property right now’, or ‘3 rooms booked at this property in the last 24 hours’, etc. Now, I have no problem if these are genuinely true, but the article highlights certain cases where it is blatantly obvious that some businesses are generating these numbers at random.

Dynamic flight pricing: Are airlines raising your ticket price based on your browser history? – In case you are wondering why the price for your flight keeps going up the more you search for it, you might want to read this article. While it mentions that it could not find any specific instance of prices being manipulated based on the frequency of searches, it does have some suggestions on how you might want to do your next flight search to minimise chances of being shown a higher rate.

Online hotel booking sites may be duping travelers, says consumer rights group – There is nothing sinister about this practice. In fact, I believe the headline is click-bait. All it says is that users might want to check for deals directly with hotels before deciding to book on an Online Travel Aggregator site.

In summary, it might be wise to take reasonable care while researching and booking your next holiday online. The use of ‘Incognito’ mode while browsing might be a good idea as also taking the time and effort to check directly with the hotel for the best rates.

 

 

 

How Good is Your Email Marketing Strategy?

black and gray digital device
Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on Pexels.com

Email Marketing is one of the oldest forms of digital marketing. The first email was sent nearly 50 years ago (in 1971) and the first marketing email was supposedly sent in 1978.

Email was also one of the first digital marketing channels that I worked on. I have seen the strong role it can play in driving sales for businesses. And which is why, in general, the state of email marketing today disappoints me.

I truly cannot recollect any business whose email I look forward to receiving. Some of the better ones that I receive in my inbox come from thought-leaders. They seem to have a good understanding of what is it that their subscribers are looking for from emails, and they stick to delivering that in the simplest form with absolutely no bells and whistles. And you know what? It works! I can read the important points right in the email, without being distracted by unnecessary images. In many cases, I can get all the information I want right from the email without having to click to go to a Landing Page (though that option exists).

However, when it comes to ecommerce (including travel), the lesser said the better. I have unsubscribed myself from most mailing lists of businesses that I have shopped with. Why? It did not seem that they could be bothered to send me information useful for me. Receiving the same, standard one-size-fits-all message started getting extremely irritating after a while.

And one of the worst offenders have to financial services. It’s such a shame that, given the wealth of information that they have about their customers, they still do not seem to be using this to create interesting and relevant emails.

It is a well accepted fact that email marketing (to clean legally acquired lists) is one of the most effective and efficient forms of marketing. But to get these benefits requires businesses and marketers to invest in truly understanding their customers and building a robust customer data management strategy. The trick is not in the creative element of the email, but in the targeted and relevant messaging.

I sometimes wonder if, in their craze to adopt the latest ‘Next Big Thing’, marketers are forgetting to devote enough time to the basics. A well designed email marketing campaign has to be one of the first digital marketing strategies that any business should develop, if they are keen to derive the maximum benefits from their overall Digital Marketing strategy.