29 April 2007

What endears us to the novel?

In a sort of confession, noted Victorian novelist George Eliot, in her book ‘Adam Bede’, wrote, “it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings.” Thereby, giving us an insight into (at least one of) the techniques novelists use in writing their fiction. They make things up. They lie.

I find this phenomenon interesting because, although we, as humans, are known to be seekers of the truth, we seem to thoroughly enjoy reading a novel; and some of us, writing one. Which, I suppose, explains the thriving business in published fiction; but it makes me curious.

What endears us to the novel? Why do we look for its companionship? Why do we study it in schools and colleges, and even after? While thinking about these questions I was reminded of a recent conversation I had with a friend.

When I mentioned a novel I read recently to a friend, the friend asked, “What’s the story about?” This prompted me to narrate the storyline, the plot, the ‘what happened’ in the story, including the plight of the main character, leading to the final resolution. I didn’t just narrate ‘what happened’ in the novel, but actually ‘what happened to whom’.

Perhaps this was because characters (and characterisation) are critical to a novel’s success. No matter what the novel is about, it’s the main character(s) in the story which we find most engaging and intriguing as readers. The more we identify ourselves with the main character(s) of the story, the more involved we are with the novel.

26 April 2007

George Eliot on Realist Fiction

“So I am content to tell my simple story, without trying to make things seem better than they were; dreading nothing, indeed, but falsity, which, in spite of one’s best efforts, there is reason to dread. Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult. The pencil is conscious of a delightful facility in drawing a griffin — the longer the claws, and the larger the wings, the better; but that marvellous facility which we mistook for genius is apt to forsake us when we want to draw a real unexaggerated lion. Examine your words well, and you will find that even when you have no motive to be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings — much harder than to say something fine about them which is NOT the exact truth.”

[George Eliot, from ‘Adam Bede (1859), Chapter XVII: In Which the Story Pauses a Little’, as quoted in www.ProjectedLetters.com, ‘Idealism & Realism’. The excerpt can be found here.]

23 April 2007

Once published...

Not only does authorship get lost on Web due to plagiarism (see my previous post), sometimes entire articles disappear.

There have been many times when I’ve read an article on the Net and referred it in my blog or to a friend, only to find, a week or month later, the article is no longer available. Or, the link doesn’t work. Sometimes the article or the passage I’ve referred is still available, but edited, so that some relevant text is missing (Wikipedia is a case here). This makes linking and citing references from the Net difficult, not to mention the annoyance of discovering the disappearance (it’s usually someone else who points it out).

In the world of print, I feel, there is greater reliability. Once published, the print material stays. Yes, I accept there are other drawbacks such as the book or journal or article is not available everywhere or to everyone, or it’s too expensive to obtain, or the book goes out of print. But, between the reader and the author/publisher, there is a tacit understanding that the print volume, once published, will be catalogued, stored in libraries and sold of bookstores. There is a sense of permanence. It gives the reader a sense of relief.

Then again, the Net offers virtual access to incredibly huge volumes of material… in print, in pictures, in audio and in video. Accessing such a variety of material from millions of sources can be problematic for anyone. For the man on the street, this is a windfall, particularly as most of the material on the Net is accessible for free. Moreover, the Net offers quick updates (immensely valuable for news items), reviews and criticism. Plus, the facility of contacting the author directly through email. No more writing letters to the editor or the publisher.

Since the advent of the Net, there has been a paradigm shift in the relationship between author/publisher and reader. From a static ‘once published’ mode to a dynamic ‘constantly changing’ interactivity not experienced by readers before. Come to think of it, neither have authors and publishers experienced this before.

22 April 2007

Authorship gets lost on Web

Around the time the Pew Internet & American Life Project released their research report on bloggers last year (see my previous post), hailing bloggers as the Internet’s new storytellers, USA TODAY published an article by Del Jones commenting on the rampant plagiarism that is visible on the Internet.

“The Internet is becoming a cesspool of plagiarism,” writes Del Jones in ‘Authorship gets lost on Web’, presenting several examples of how Internet users have shamelessly copied material from others and passed them off as their own. One example cited by Jones, an article on advertising by advertising professional Steve McKee, apparently, was picked up and posted in 36 blogs, 13 of which “took credit for writing it as their original prose.”

It was enough to anger the original author of the article, Steve McKee, who is quoted by Jones as having said, “They’re like cockroaches… Ideas are our assets, and it’s frustrating when people take them from you without shame.”

In another example, Del Jones cites India’s own Arindam Chaudhuri, who, apart from being one of the directors of IIPM, a privately-owned management institute headquartered in New Delhi, is also touted to being an economist, a business guru and a best-selling author. Here’s a reference from Jones’ article:

“A July 3 column written for BusinessWeek by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and his wife, Suzy, was posted on the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM) site from New Delhi. There was no attribution to either BusinessWeek or the Welches, only a photo that appeared with the column of professor Arindam Chaudhuri, a business guru and best-selling author in India who works for IIPM.”

But what can one do to prevent plagiarism? According to
www.plagiarism.org, a website that creates awareness about plagiarism and offers software resources to scholars to help prevent their work from being plagiarised and protect their rights as original authors,

“The internet now makes it easy to find thousands of relevant sources in seconds, and in the space of a short time plagiarists can find, copy, and paste together a term paper, article, or even a book. Because the material online is produced by writers of varying levels of quality and professionalism, it is often difficult or impossible for educators and editors to identify plagiarism.

Additionally, the seemingly ‘public’ nature of online content blurs the distinction between publicly and privately owned information. Electronic resources, by nature easily reproducible, are not perceived as ‘intellectual property’ in the same way that their material counterparts are.”

Laments Del Jones: “In some quarters, plagiarism remains a serious offense. But where it involves the Internet, an acceptance of plagiarism is taking hold, and when confronted, offenders often shrug it off as hardly newsworthy.”

[Citation: ‘
Authorship gets lost on Web’ by Del Jones, USA TODAY, 31 July 2006. Forgive me for using the title of your article as the title for this post without seeking your permission.]

20 April 2007

A portrait of the internet’s new storytellers

Who are bloggers? Why do they blog?

If you are a blogger, like me, you probably have a personal reason to blog. Whatever be that reason, many people, both outside and within the blogging community, wonder why bloggers blog. What is their motivation? What is their gain? And, as many bloggers are reticent in providing their personal profile, some using a pseudonym to remain in anonymity (I’m guilty here!), many people wonder who these bloggers are.

While surfing the internet in order to find answers to these questions, I came across an interesting research done a year ago in the United States by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist, and Susannah Fox, Associate Director, who conducted this research, present their report, ‘Bloggers: A portrait of the internet’s new storytellers’ (that’s right, this post’s title is taken from their report) for all of us to read.

Their findings are quite interesting and I’ve listed the main points below. If you are a blogger, see if you fit in there somewhere. Do keep in mind that the research was conducted in the United States and may not reflect bloggers globally. You can also access the PDF file of the report here.

Here are the key points from that research:

Blogging is bringing new voices to the online world.

The blogging population is young, evenly split between women and men, and racially diverse.

Broadband is the norm among bloggers, as is going online several times each day.

Bloggers are avid online news readers, particularly political news.

Bloggers prefer balanced sources of news.

Newspapers, television, and radio are also part of bloggers’ daily news diet.

Bloggers are highly engaged with tech-based social interaction.

For most, blogging is a hobby, not an activity that consumes their lives.

Blogging is usually the first foray into authorship; bloggers blog to express themselves creatively and share personal experiences.

Most bloggers do not confine themselves to one topic.

Personal experiences are the most popular topic, but politics, entertainment, and sports are also frequently discussed.

Personal experiences provide the most inspiration for bloggers.

Half of bloggers keep one blog and most do not share authorship with anyone else.

More than half of bloggers use a pseudonym.

Only a third of bloggers think their blog is a form of journalism.

Most bloggers post infrequently.

Seven in ten bloggers post when inspiration strikes, not on a set schedule.

The typical blogger spends about two hours per week on their blog.

Most bloggers have blogged three years or less.

Most blog from home.

LiveJournal tops the list of blogging sites in this survey.

Text dominates most blogs, but one-third of bloggers post audio files.

Blogging for pay is rare.

Most expect to be blogging a year from now.

Most bloggers post material for themselves, but one-third blog mostly to engage their audience.

Blogs gain attention, if only at a personal level.

Half of bloggers believe their audience is mostly people they know.

Blog writers are enthusiastic blog readers.

Nearly nine in ten bloggers allow comments to be posted on their blog.

Four in ten bloggers have a blogroll and most keep the list to under 50 blogs.

Few offer an RSS feed, possibly because many bloggers are not aware of the technology.

[Citation: ‘Bloggers: A portrait of the internet’s new storytellers’. Pew Internet & American Life Project, July 19, 2006. Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist and Susannah Fox, Associate Director.]

19 April 2007

A public spectacle

I write two blogs as ‘runawaysun’: ‘sunstruck’, an opinionated polemic on world issues which I’ve been writing for two years now; and, more recently, a confessional, chronicled in ‘Unsettled Views’. There was a third – a team blog – titled ‘the immigrant experience’ which was, sadly, discontinued after a year. Some of its posts reflected current immigrant experiences, but the rest was firmly locked into the past.

‘sunstruck’ is rational, assertive and perhaps a little confrontational, bringing out my masculine values. A friend had once commented that ‘sunstruck’ gave her the feeling the blogger was angry and unhappy about the world. She had preferred my ‘the immigrant experience’ posts which were autobiographical fiction. “Nice stories,” she had said. “Ever thought of publishing them in a book?”

“But, they are published!” I had exclaimed. “They are on my blog, dammit!” But she had tut-tutted me out of my elated feelings of being a blogger. “Publishing a book,” she had said, “is at a much higher level. Authoring a book is what makes people famous; not blogging. Blogging is just a public spectacle. Most of it contains meaningless rants. Very little of it gets any readers anyway.”

I thought long and hard about this. And, as I write this post, I’m still reflecting on her words. Could she be right? Does blogging mean nothing in the world of publishing and authorship? Did I know any bloggers who had published books to their credit? Sadly, I couldn’t think of any.

17 April 2007


As it is with books, blogs are attributed to their authors. Hence, in most cases, authorship in a blog is a deciding factor in the blog’s readership and success.

Since it is difficult to deduce the identity of a blogger from the contents of a blogger’s ‘profile’ page (the ‘profile’ page is rather amateurish in its construction, if you ask me, with lists of books and movies and music leading nowhere in particular), readers try to imagine what the blog’s author is all about from his/her (or their, if it’s a team blog) posts.

That’s because, most readers feel – and deduce – that the blogger is present in the contents of his/her posts. Thereby, acceding to the fact that blogs and blogging are autobiographical in nature.

I believe, since blogs are fragmentary in their construction, unlike books which are complete, it is difficult to imagine the profile of a blogger from his/her posts. As much as readers try to find meaning in the blogger’s words and piece together an identity which is likely to fit the blogger, the blogger, too, experiments with his/her identity and tries to find meaning from these experiments in his/her blog.

And so, over the years, and hundreds of posts, a relationship slowly develops between a blogger and his/her readers.

15 April 2007

A man of posts (not letters)

My blog has defined me as a man of posts. It’s not, perhaps, a true definition of who I am, but it is a description of what I do with my blog.

Unlike collaborative efforts like Wikipedia (or a conventional print encyclopedia) where individual authors remain invisible, my blog gives me instant visibility. It gives me ownership of what I write – and responsibility for it. It gives me a voice, a consistent identifiable voice, which creates a persona most conventional authors of books enjoy. My blogger profile provides a contour to this persona, but it’s the content of my posts which really determines who I am to my readers.

Since each post is stamped with a date and time, and archived (in a backward chronological order) by the blogging software, my readers can discern my mood and personality from my posts – something authors of books cannot share with their readers. But, that’s not all. I can hyperlink and connect my posts to other relevant material on cyberspace, thereby laterally expanding the horizon of my posts… and their contents.

What my blog also provides is a quick interaction with my readers through the feature of ‘comments’ – an almost-instant feedback mechanism unavailable to authors of books. It’s like having a conversation with my readers, exchanging views on my posts, some of which have inspired me to re-think my views and temper my blog posts in the future. All of which is on public view on cyberspace.

Conventionally, the alternative to this is a laborious and time-consuming exchange of letters, where authors have to rely on readers taking the trouble of writing letters to publishers, hoping the letters would be passed on to them faithfully. Then there is still the matter of the author responding to these letters, which is assuredly a private matter.

14 April 2007

I am now an author

Thanks to blogs, I am now an author.

In the olden days, being an author was an achievement. It meant writing something sensible, presenting it to a publisher, and seeking an opinion. Most paths led to rejections, of course. Only those with real merit were shown to an editor – a person with literary knowledge – in a publisher’s office.

After several drafts and editing, the manuscript was made ready for publishing. That meant taking decisions on typography, formatting, cover design, paper selection, binding and print runs. Then came the hassle of distribution – reaching the printed book to prospective readers through a trade channel, the last of which was the bookstore.

For the journalist, the scholar, the poet and the short story writer, life was a little less rigorous. It meant a journey as far as the editor’s desk in a newspaper or a magazine, where a binary decision ended it all. While some authors were published, others got the thumbs down signal. Justice was swift, though some writers have complained about its fairness and quality.

In the olden days, being an author depended on intellectual prowess, grammar and creativity. It depended on labour and luck. It depended on possessing the right credentials for acceptance by editors and publishers. And, it depended on their professional (and merciful) judgment. Nothing was achieved otherwise.

Today, thanks to blogging software, I can set up my blog in three easy steps. I can write whatever I want and publish it simply by posting it online with a click of my mouse. I don’t need intellectual prowess, creativity or credentials. And to hell with grammar! It doesn’t even matter if I can spell properly, or at all.

Labour means tapping away on my computer keyboard for an hour. And the only luck I need is with my broadband connection.

Moreover, I can choose my blog format from a collection of colourful templates. I can illustrate my posts with drawings and photos. I can add music and video. I can even link my writing to other published material on the Internet.

And, distribution? Well, the whole world is my marketplace.

11 April 2007

To be an author

Michael Malone is a great technology/business writer. His book ‘The Virtual Corporation’ – co-authored with William Davidow – from the early 1990s is one of the best books I’ve read on the evolution of the new organisation, fuelled by the IT revolution. What I also like about Michael Malone is his subtle sense of humour which he never fails to bring into his writing.

For instance, when his latest book ‘Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built The World’s Greatest Company’ – a story on Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the founders of HP – was recently published, this is what Michael Malone had to write about what it means to be an author, in an article ‘To Be an Author Again’ published in last week’s ABC News’ Silicon Insider column:

“I’ve written a total of seven, or 13, books. That indeterminacy is due to how one defines authorship. For example, I once hosted the public television series “A Parliament of Minds” in which I interviewed more than a dozen of the world’s leading philosophers. The two university professors who produced the series and hired me to host decided to publish the book under their own names -- and indeed not to even tell me about it, despite the fact that almost every word of it is mine or my guests. So, even though you can’t find that book under my name, I count it is as mine, dammit.

Then there is “One Digital Day,” which was one of those classic “day in the life of” coffee table photo books created by Rick Smolan and his team. It’s most assuredly his book, but since I wrote all the essays, I also count it as mine. And, of course, there are the three collaboration books – “The Virtual Corporation,” “Virtual Selling” and “Intellectual Capital” -- that I co-authored with pretty famous guys. They go on my list, but they also go on theirs -- and readers continue to assume that I was merely the dumb scribe (wrong) and they were the illiterate visionaries (also wrong).

In the end, it doesn’t much matter. When you start out in the writing business, your dream is to get out of the day-to-day newspaper and magazine writing, which you assume gives your creations a limited life-expectancy, and finally get into the world of book writing, which is really important -- and immortal.”

In this ABC News article, Michael Malone gives an interesting perspective to writing in the (fast) changing IT and Internet age. It’s quite an amusing anecdote for an oldie like me who knows what Malone is talking about, since I’ve grown up with punched card systems and 8-bit computers.

For the younger generation which has grown up on Pentium systems and iMacs, this is just a page out of the technology history book. But it still makes for interesting reading. So, take a look at Michael Malone’s article ‘To Be an Author Again’ in its entirety on ABC News here (4 pages). Plus, his experience in becoming a writer is invaluable to all budding writers.

09 April 2007


A collaborative project like Wikipedia is an interesting phenomenon, particularly because it’s done for free. Those who contribute to Wikipedia – and other social news sites (see my previous post ‘Hidden influencers’) – do so in their own volition, without asking for a fee for their effort. None is offered to them anyway. [There are a few exceptions, like Netscape.]

In fact, on online social news sites, or for that matter, on all websites that allow user participation (e.g. amazon.com or imdb.com), contributors can be identified by their Internet names and email IDs. On Wikipedia, however, contributors remain anonymous to us.

This made me wonder. What motivates these contributors to spend their time and energy as they do? What inspires them into reading, writing, editing, updating information, posting the edited matter, exercising their judgments for the benefit of others? Are they a new breed of social workers in our Internet age?

If so, then, are they spreading a silent message within us through their work? That, authorship – or the claim to authorship – is just a matter of ego? (Besides the cash and the awards that may come one’s way.)

07 April 2007

Wikipedia revisited

A comment made on one of my previous posts (‘Shouldn’t we demand more?’) by a fellow blogger had me thinking. As she had commented, I must confess that I, too, regularly search for information in Wikipedia. And, as a first-off source of information, Wikipedia is pretty good.

Normally, in my work, I do not confine my search to Wikipedia alone and continue to research my topic, gathering information from various sources (some also from Wikipedia links), reading, assimilating and forming a certain point of view, before I use that information for my work. By that time, that ‘intelligence’ (if I may use that word) with which I work is no longer an exclusive product/derivative of Wikipedia, but a result of many other sources and intelligence, some of which may not even be available on the Internet.

So, in spite of its weakness (as I had blogged about earlier), Wikipedia is, indeed, a quick and convenient source of basic information. And, therefore, it is immensely useful to Internet users like us – whether or not we have access to more reputed sources like Encyclopedia Britannica or other industry journals. Or, we have data from our own field work, lab experiments and market research.

As users of the Internet, maybe what we should keep in mind is that Wikipedia, and similar sources of open-source information, need to be used for a specific purpose – the purpose of gathering basic information. We should then pursue other sources for more, and perhaps more qualitative, information before assimilating the facts and arriving at our own conclusions.

And, in our search, should we find information contrary to, or deviating from, our initial finding, we should be willing to ‘edit’ our information and our intelligence – even our views – as Wikipedia does. That’s because things change, new discoveries are made everyday. Information grows old by the hour. The danger, of course, lies in our sticking to Wikipedia, or any other source for that matter, as the only source of reliable information.

It’s not what Wikipedia is, but how we use it that determines the quality of our work and our conclusions. Isn’t that true for all tools, technologies, information and education?

Many thanks, Madhuri.

05 April 2007

Hidden influencers

Two months ago, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) online carried an article called ‘The Wizards of Buzz’ highlighting the popularity of social news sites, which were further popularising specific news stories and influencing people. Well, perhaps, not people in India, at least not in a major way, but definitely influencing the decisions of people in the United States. The article, written by Jamin Warren and John Jurgensen, said:

“A new generation of hidden influencers is taking root online, fueled by a growing love affair among Web sites with letting users vote on their favorite submissions. These sites are the next wave in the social-networking craze -- popularized by MySpace and Facebook. Digg is one of the most prominent of these sites, which are variously labeled social bookmarking or social news. Others include Reddit.com (recently purchased by Condé Nast), Del.icio.us (bought by Yahoo), Newsvine.com and StumbleUpon.com. Netscape relaunched last June with a similar format.”

How does this concept of social news and social networking work? Warren and Jorgensen from the same WSJ article explain:

“Most sites are based on a voting model. Members look around the Web for interesting items, such as video clips, blog entries or news articles. A member then writes a catchy description and posts it, along with a link to the material, on the site, in hopes that other members find it just as interesting and show their approval with an electronic thumbs-up vote. Items that receive enough votes rise in the rankings and appear on the front page, which can be seen by hundreds of thousands of people. When an item is submitted by a popular or influential member -- one whose postings are closely followed by fellow members -- it can have a much better shot at making the front page.”

Who are these influencers behind this new craze? Some of them we may never know as they go by their assumed Internet names, but the WSJ article mentions several, including Cliff Worthington (a 45-year-old English teacher in Osaka, Japan), Smaran Dayal (an 18-year-old student in Pune, India), Diane Put (a nutritionist in California, USA), Adam Fuhrer (a 12-year-old student in Toronto, Canada), Henry Wang (a 17-year-old student in Illinois, USA), among hundreds of others. There’s a small list of such influencers at the end of the WSJ article. Perhaps there are thousands more. Considering the fact that there are hundreds of millions of Internet users, the influencing power of these few thousand hidden influencers is substantial.

Just how substantial is their influence? It may be difficult to quantify their influence in pure numbers or money value, but the WSJ article gives us an indication of the extent to which it is applied:

“The opinions of these key users have implications for advertisers shelling out money for Internet ads, trend watchers trying to understand what’s cool among young people, and companies whose products or services get plucked for notice. It’s even sparking a new form of payola, as marketers try to buy votes.”

Adding further:

“Payola schemes depend on the voting system these sites employ. Some marketing companies promise clients they can get a client front-page exposure on Digg or one of the other social-bookmarking sites in exchange for a fee, according to marketers. To deliver on that promise, the company then recruits members at the site, offering to pay them for thumbs-up votes on the posting that links to the client. If enough paid-off members all vote for that posting, it could theoretically push the client’s link onto the front, where it receives wide exposure.”

There’s more, of course. So, why not read the whole WSJ article and find out for yourself what’s going on? You can find it all here.

04 April 2007

Digital Maoism and the hive mind

Some quotes from Jaron Lanier, from his essay ‘Digital Maoism’ (Edge, May 2006):

“No, the problem is in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various historical periods. The fact that it's now being re-introduced today by prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like, doesn't make it any less dangerous.”

“When you see the context in which something was written and you know who the author was beyond just a name, you learn so much more than when you find the same text placed in the anonymous, faux-authoritative, anti-contextual brew of the Wikipedia. The question isn't just one of authentication and accountability, though those are important, but something more subtle. A voice should be sensed as a whole. You have to have a chance to sense personality in order for language to have its full meaning. Personal Web pages do that, as do journals and books.”

“The beauty of the Internet is that it connects people. The value is in the other people. If we start to believe that the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we're devaluing those people and making ourselves into idiots.”

“The reason the collective can be valuable is precisely that its peaks of intelligence and stupidity are not the same as the ones usually displayed by individuals. Both kinds of intelligence are essential.”

“Collectives can be just as stupid as any individual, and in important cases, stupider. The interesting question is whether it's possible to map out where the one is smarter than the many.”

“Every authentic example of collective intelligence that I am aware of also shows how that collective was guided or inspired by well-meaning individuals. These people focused the collective and in some cases also corrected for some of the common hive mind failure modes. The balancing of influence between people and collectives is the heart of the design of democracies, scientific communities, and many other long-standing projects. There's a lot of experience out there to work with. A few of these old ideas provide interesting new ways to approach the question of how to best use the hive mind.”

“Scientific communities likewise achieve quality through a cooperative process that includes checks and balances, and ultimately rests on a foundation of goodwill and "blind" elitism — blind in the sense that ideally anyone can gain entry, but only on the basis of a meritocracy. The tenure system and many other aspects of the academy are designed to support the idea that individual scholars matter, not just the process or the collective.”

“The hive mind should be thought of as a tool. Empowering the collective does not empower individuals — just the reverse is true. There can be useful feedback loops set up between individuals and the hive mind, but the hive mind is too chaotic to be fed back into itself.”

[Citation: Edge, May 2006 – ‘
Digital Maoism’, Jaron Lanier]

02 April 2007

Information and accountability

Somewhere in my old family home in Kolkata, there is a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, bought in the seventies, in which certain sections have been ‘rubber-stamped off’ by the Indian government. These sections contain information about India from a political point of view, specifically on Kashmir and the border between India and Pakistan (including maps). The rubber stamp says something like “the information contained here is under dispute by the Government of India” and is, therefore, not to be trusted.

My initial reaction to this was anger at the government’s censorship of information in a democracy like India (apart from the disgust at seeing a beautifully-printed and expensive book messed up by purple non-erasable ink). I believed, then, the Indian government had violated one of the basic tenets in its own Constitution. It was only later, when I grew older, that I saw some sense in the government’s decision to apply this method of censorship. I realised that, along with information, comes accountability.

I believe, the providers of information are accountable for the accuracy, appropriateness and relevance of the information they provide us, whether they like it or not. It’s a serious responsibility; one that should not be played around with as I see it being done in the social news sites (like Digg, Reddit, Netscape, among others) which have cropped up, particularly with the advent of Web 2.0. Just because a news story is voted to be popular is not an indication of its accuracy.

Mind you, this is not about violating the freedom of speech. By all means, anyone can publish whatever they want, as long as they don’t violate any laws of the country they belong to. But, news needs to be reported and edited by competent (and impartial) journalists and editors. Not by citizens at large who may not know the facts of the matter, and yet, vote for a story because they simply liked it. Popularity of inaccurate news (and information) can be a dangerous thing!