Category Archives: India

Voice SMS – wrong audience?

The Airtel Voice SMS ad (below) is now being regularly aired on most Indian TV channels.

I found it surprising that Airtel seems to be targeting this service at the middle or the top layers of the socio-economic pyramid. Given the general perception that those in the ‘Base of the Pyramid‘ are more likely to need and use voice-based features on mobile phones, I’d have thought Airtel would go after the BoP audience (probably in addition to other segments). It’d be interesting to test this service with BoP users and see whether they’d take to it.

On another note…

Is this also an attempt at changing the typical Indian phone usage behaviour — the innate unwillingness to use voice mail on phones (I’ve heard various theories on this one, will save that for a different post)? It’s still early days, but I still don’t see any sign of a dramatic change in that behaviour!

Also, I realized there is a basic usability issue with the way one has to record the voice message. To send a voice message, one has to dial * and then the number.  Which means, I can’t use the “Contacts” on my phone to send a voice message!! And given how dependent we are now on our Contacts, this is so unusable!


New additions to our Advisory team

As mentioned in my previous post, here are more updates on some of the key developments over the last several months…

Two highly accomplished and very interesting people have joined our Advisory team. I’m really honoured & privileged to have them provide us their mentoring and support. Here’s a brief introduction to Soumya and Reuben…

  • Soumya Banerjee: A veteran in the areas of internet, new media and financial services, Soumya Banerjee is a pioneer in successfully establishing, and scaling a global distributed multi disciplinary consulting services model. As the former Managing Director of Sapient in India, Soumya was instrumental in its establishment and growth to over 4000 people and creating a portfolio which delivered high end consulting and interactive services.  Recognized in multiple forums for creating award winning workplaces, Soumya takes a special interest in mentorship and growth and helping companies and people achieve their true potential. With his professional and life experiences in India, Europe and the Americas, Soumya takes a personal interest in the nuances of global cultures and is also an avid photographer and traveler. He has a Masters in Computer Science from the University of Houston.
    • Reuben Abraham is a professor and director of the Emerging Markets Solutions Initiative in India at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. He serves on the global board of directors of the Soros Economic Development Fund (SEDF), a fund which aims to catalyze growth in emerging markets. Under the aegis of SEDF, he has set up a unique $17 million India-focused SME early stage fund with Google and Omidyar Network as co-investors. He serves as an independent director on the board of Indiaco Ventures, a leading listed Indian financial services company, and serves on the advisory board of two start-ups. He was also a TED Global Fellow for 2007 and and is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative.

      Reuben completed his M.A., M.Phil and Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York. During his time in New York, he was an Associate Fellow in Global Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Public Policy Consortium Fellow and a Sloan Telecommunications Fellow. He served as a consultant at the World Bank and conducted research at three Columbia University research labs. Before Columbia, he was involved in co-founding two start-up ventures, both in India.

      Talk at MindTree: “Understanding Your Users”

      Was invited for a talk at MindTree, at their fancy “Global Village” campus in Bangalore, to talk about “Understanding Your Users“.

      Heavily loaded topic, of course. I decided to focus on 1 possible way of understanding users — using photo documentation techniques to uncover unmet & unarticulated needs. Walked through some examples of photo documentation based user research, using a recent informal study we conducted on the topic, ‘Car Storage Behaviour & Needs’. And, at the end, I also shared some “best practices” from my personal experience of having used this technique over the years.

      The audience consisted of people from varied disciplines – Engineering, User Experience/Usability, Product Management and Business Analysts…so, decided to keep the content relevant for audiences that are completely new to user research, as well as those who have basic awareness and minimal practical experience in field techniques.

      The complete presentation can be downloaded here.

      Interestingly, the crowd was very enthusiastic and inquisitive. Unlike similar sessions I’ve conducted before, the audience here warmed up very quickly and were full of questions in the very first few minutes. Was quite impressed with the level of enthusiasm and “aliveness” in the group. It made the whole effort very fulfilling!

      And, here’s what it looked like…

      Param\'s talk at MindTree

      Facebook and pedigree

      The Nielsen Company has published this report (via on the usage patterns of online social networking trends in India. Excerpts:

      The Nielsen Company recently conducted a survey in India using its online research panel “Your Voice” on the usage patterns of Social Networking websites and found keeping in touch with people they know to be the strongest reason for joining a social networking site for the vast majority of Indian respondents (82%). The Nielsen survey also found over half (58%) joined a social networking site to reconnect with old acquaintances they have lost touch with, and to make new friends (53%). Professional networking was a strong fourth for 43%.


      Security reasons were cited by 68 percent of the respondents for using alternate identities on sites. They prefer not to reveal their personal details. 35 percent chose to use an alternate identity “Just for fun”.

      What (especially) didn’t work for me about this study…

      The survey was conducted amongst 301 people across various age groups starting from 15 years onwards.

      When one is drawing usage patterns in online social networking in India, would a sample size of 301 suffice? Sounds rather strange.

      Anyways, here’s another interesting observation (about the competition in the social networking space in India) from a cover story about Facebook (registered users only) in India’s leading weekly magazine, Outlook:

      Facebook, on the other hand, has a whiff of pedigree, privilege and exclusivity about it, since it was founded by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg and was originally restricted to students of Harvard and other Ivy League colleges; an impression strongly reinforced when a study last year concluded that Facebook users tended to be better-educated and wealthier than those on other networking sites. That Facebook comprises a well-heeled crowd that freely shares its consumer tastes means that even if its numbers don’t quite match Orkut’s, it’s by far the most sought-after hunting ground for market researchers and targeted advertising.

      Experientially, I’d agree with this strong generalization (about “whiff of pedigree, privilege and exclusivity”). But, I wonder if the origins of Facebook really have much to do with the kind of people who populate the site? I can understand that being an influencer in the US, where it all started, but would that trend spread to far flung countries like India as well?

      India, viewed through an American lens

      Nothing new (reinforcing several stereotypes, in fact), but nevertheless, still interesting to look at your own country through a different lens. Not able to find a way to give a direct link to specific posts, so here goes a collection of several posts from Jojo’s blog:

      PDAs : a big cultural difference

      I’ve been waiting to get the right picture to make this post since I first observed it. However, stopping to take pictures of men as they pass me seems to garner some unwanted attention! So this pic will have to do.

      In the US when we think of Public Displays of Affection some of us think of slobbering teenagers (or perhaps a certain female friend who shall go unnamed!) making out in public places (bars). It’s quite the opposite here. Couples, even married couples, never touch in public. I have yet to see as much as a hand-holding.

      From Wikipedia:
      In India, the Supreme Court of India – the seat of the highest authority of the law of the land – has described PDA to be in bad taste and an unacceptable act, which may be considered an act of public nuisance, and sometimes leading to conviction and/or fine from the involved parties.

      On the other hand, where in the US some guy friends will actually sit with a seat in between them at a movie, men in India are very affectionate with their friends.
      I was at first taken aback by the sight of two men walking holding hands, fingers actually intertwined as well as men with their arms around each other. Our connotations of these behaviors is quite different. In India, homosexuality is still quite taboo, and these are purely gestures of friendship.

      Just another cultural difference observation from me to you!

      Here’s a hilarious picture illustrating the dangers of bad punctuation (again, courtesy Jojo’s blog):


      If you’re not satiated yet, here’s the whole story

      New age marketing

      HDFC Standard Life Insurance has created a ‘Responsibility Quotient’ application on Facebook, I’m guessing one of (if not the first) time a major Indian business entity is taking to the social networking platform for marketing and brand building.

      The ‘application’ is nothing but a contest-quiz, which if you happen to win, your parents get to fly to Paris for a vacation! Cool, eh? I think the whole thing’s a decent idea considering it reinforces the concept behind one of their recent products, a ‘Unit Linked Savings Plan’, that’s apparently “a plan ideal for young professionals”.

      Transport Challenged People in Bangalore

      Sudhir Gota writes a very interesting & thought provoking post, Behind Bangalore’s Growth, A New Species Is Born: Transport Challenged People on The City Fix. An excerpt:

      Bangalore’s urban sprawl was aided by the economic boom, during which income levels of certain industries skyrocketed. The rising income combined with long travel times, poor public transportation facilities and the glamor and hype generated by the automobile industry powered the vehicular boom on the roads. The government’s efforts to make the city more car-friendly had a boomerang effect with a virtual multiplication of private automobiles on the road. In fact, the motorization index nearly doubled from 178 in 1996 to 361 in 2006. Presently, private automobiles – two wheelers, cars, taxis etc. – make up nearly 88% of the vehicles on Bangalore’s streets. Yet that accounts for just 39% of trips. Thus it can be concluded that Bangalore has high congestion not because it lacks roads– a claim that advocates of road construction routinely make – but because there are so many private vehicles moving so few people.

      And, his concluding statement is spot-on…

      It’s time to start planning for people and not vehicles. Accessibility and not mobility should be the primary concern of the planners and government.

      Here’s a paper that Sudhir Gota & Prashant Mutalik have published on a related topic: Congestion to Demotorisation – A paradigm shift for Bangalore (PDF).

      Times of India‘s now started a new initiative (I’m guessing, encouraged by the success of the ‘Lead India’ initiative): ‘Unlock Bangalore – Let’s put the bang back in Bangalore‘.