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September 17, 2006

Bollywood On Demand - The Sequel

I wrote last year about Bollywood dishum dishum being available at a set top box near you if a) you were so inclined and b) lived in a select market such as the Bay Area. This was a pilot program launched by Comcast in conjunction with BODVOD, owned by [212]media, a NYC based company.

So, how is it doing? A recent press release from [212]Media provides the answer:

Our movies, mostly Bollywood, are available in over 11 million digital cable households and we've been seeing a major uptick in the number of transactions over the last 6 months.

Not too shabby, eh? That's a lot of masala down those cable pipes! Hopefully, the internet tubes won't get too clogged :-) And, there's more on the way:

After a recent trip to India, we've secured the latest content as well as the classic movies. This month, we're airing 'Rang De Basanti' and have 'Bluffmaster', 'Swades', 'Deewane Huye Paagal' and 'Krrish' all scheduled to air this Fall. The rise in interest for Hindi film has also convinced Cable Operators such as Time Warner to invest in the marketing of these movies through buying ads in print, television and the Web. You'll also notice the 'Bollywood' category on Time Warner's International Movies on Demand Channel (Channel 500) here in New York has more films available than any other category.

This is a turning point of sorts for us. Everyone already knows that Hindi movies are only shown in about 80 theaters across the country and people can't purchase DVDs at Barnes & Noble or Best Buy.

The point about availability is particularly important. Renting DVDs from my friendly local desi grocer is becoming less and less of an option - the film transfer is frequently horrendous and popular titles turn out to be too scratched for smooth playback. Netflix? Forget it - the wait is way too long and their inventory is still too limited. For a company who relied on Bollywood rentals in their early phases, that's a damn shame. In any case, there's a market opportunity here and [212]media (not to mention Time Warner and Comcast) seems well placed to capitalize.

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- September 17, 2006 8:58 PM // Bollywood , Technology

September 10, 2006

Web 2.0 Error Messages

In the nascent days of Web 1.0, visiting a web site that was down, or traipsing a link that no longer existed usually resulted in a plain plage coldly informing you of "404 - File Not Found" or "500 - Internal Server Error." Okay then - journey over - time to try again on Alta Vista! Soon enough though, enterprising product managers and engineers figured out a way of extracting some value out of the thwarted visitor. Consequently, these pages evolved into search boxes surrounded by navigational links trumpeting the content available elsewhere on the site. "Sorry, we don't host the original link BUT look at the other goodies we have! Try a search! Look at some ads!" In essence, a 404 became a biased 411 - a free plug for the rest of the site. After all, those eyeballs were too precious to lose.

This remained the state of the art for the longest time - still is in most places. Try this, this or this, for example. However, the next gen web companies, particularly those involved in the business of user communities, are taking a lighter approach. This goes with their fun image. Just look at their overall design and color schemes (pastels, hot pinks, baby blues). It makes sense - why be a sourpuss if you're a social networking site and trying to attract visitors? Even morticians like to have fun now and then! Perhaps it's not all that surprising that this playfulness extends to their error messages as well. So, do join me while I tour some of the better parties on the web.

We begin with Technorati:

Invoking the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a fine way of getting the festivities started. Bonus points for "leave a quarter on your way out," a sly dig at those web 1.0 titans who still view an error page as a monetization opportunity.

Our next destination is YouTube:

Will those zany guys stop at nothing for a laugh? "Zapping the gremlins" pokes fun at the IT/Unix guru nerd set and their habit for all things hobbit. It's also a reference to the behind the scenes sorcery necessary to run sites like this, the black box nature of which is illustrated by the "layman's explanation," a real hoot. The tequila is really starting to flow now!

Moving on to Google, we have this:

Javascript magic running dry at Google? Say it ain't so! And yes, there's the reference to the black arts again. Even Merlin can only stay up for so long apparently. So, let's tiptoe out of there and look for louder pastures. How about web 2.0 darling, FlickR?

Yes! "Highly trained monkeys" are in da house! The clincher is the "include the following information in your error report" bit, a dig at the endless applications and websites that ungraciously crash, usually when you're trying to save something critical to the existence of the free world, and then have the cheek to request that you send an e-mail with an unwieldy huge stack dump as debugging information. Why, anybody would think us users were nothing but beta testers. Oh, wait ...

Ah, we're having such a good time here, let's stay awhile and sample some more of that sangria:

Oooh, a massage, a confession and a get-out clause ("in the grand scheme of things it's no big deal") - these folks are real veterans of the dating scene. Tough to leave this party, but depart we must. Let's drop by Google on the way back to see if they've woken up and, by jove, they have:

Aha! In their typical pithy way, these boys have summarized the entire ethos of the error message in one succint sentence: "Oops. That wasn't supposed to happen." Bit of a buzz kill, but that's a great haiku for life in general, if you think about it. It's also a fine way of rounding off the evening.

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- September 10, 2006 2:52 PM // Technology

September 1, 2006

Karsh Kale Remixed

Karsh Kale is one of the brighter names in the desi electronica scene today. If State of Bengal, Badmash and Shri, Talvin Singh, Nitin Sawhney, Niraj Chag, M.I.A and so on comprise the British invasion (they are all UK based - it's not for nothing that it started off being called the UK-Asian Underground!), Karsh represents one of the very few prominent US faces of the Asian Massive. His latest album, Broken English, is a dizzying melange of the music of New York City, reflecting the bhangra of Jackson Heights, hip hop of the projects, alt rock of Greenwich Village and myriad other influences, all underpinned by his Indian classical training. The opening track, Manifest, is a statement of intent, effortlessly packing rap, Hindusthani vocals, synth atmospherics and bhangra into a propulsive dancefloor stomper. It's easily one of the best tracks on the album.

So, when Manifest was selected as the target of a remix contest at Acid Planet, it didn't come as much of a surprise. The idea is simple: Acid Planet provides the basic elements of the song i.e. a number of audio loops. Budding producers and DJs then utilize the samples to come up with their own mix which they then upload back to the site. The entries can then be rated and commented upon. The results vary wildly, both in style and quality. Half the fun is scrolling through the contest entries to hear how the same set of sounds inspired such a different array of results. The contest and the site is also very web 2.0 - mashups, user powered content, user ratings, online social communities and such.

Just pause for a minute to consider the implications of all this. In effect, we are taking a track that blends various influences from all over the world, deconstructing it down to its various components, and, by making it globally available in lego form, scattering the strands to all corners of the world. The seeds germinate and sprout, using whatever new cultural fertilizer is available, into new songs which echo the root track yet reflect the new milieu that nourished it into existence. The prodigal sons then return to their parents. This process of deconstruction and reconstitution could continue indefinitely - my head hurts just thinking about it. Yet, it is also a metaphor for the themes of globalization, migration, and travel in the original album. Of course, everyone has their own reasons for submitting. For example, Kaushik M writes:

I like doing remixes. I especially like remix contests, although I have no interest in entering them to win a t-shirt or free software. Instead, remix contests are a great way to get raw working material to inspire me. Using just the vocal track, I like to recreate the entire song into something new. The act of reinventing and reimagining someone else's creation is interesting. It gives me a chance to experiment with different styles, and to get to know my production tools better. It also keeps my musical skills sharp, especially after long quiet periods when I don't have much time to work on music.

All of this theorizing is useless if the new mixes are crap or if no one contributes. Fortunately, this particular contest inspired nearly 200 entries from all over the world! I went through and picked some that I thought to be particularly interesting. Once again, they are presented below, in the embedded Flash mp3 player. The original is streamed here, BTW. The styles range from dark electro (Sharaab) to minimalist groove (Kaushik M of Oishani Music) to deep house. Enjoy!

PS - Hat tip to Tablatronic for pointing out the contest. I'm still looking for the samplepack myself - if some kind soul could e-mail it to me, I'd be grateful.

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- September 1, 2006 10:28 PM // Music