The circles of social networking

The virtual giant has done it yet again, with the Google+ Project. The latest rage, it is fun, easy to use and gives you a next-generation experience

Shweta Taneja

 

It is a little more than two weeks old, in beta stage, and already has two million users across the world. It has already crashed twice because too many people were logged in at the same time. Its regular invites are being sold on EBay.com for 99 cents (Rs. 44). A week after it was launched, Google’s marketvalue shot up by $20 billion. If you haven’t heard or read about it, you might as well have been living under a rock. Welcome to the latest rage in social networking, the Google+ Project.

Till now, social networking attempts by Google at best got responses such as “ahem” or an indifferent “so what?”. Google Wave became nothing but a techie haunt, Google Buzz stopped buzzing within a few days of its launch, and Orkut failed to attract anyone but sleazy lurkers. All of them fell off the online radar, and weren’t missed much.

But Google+ has an altogether different approach to social networking. It is fun and it offers a little bit more than Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Orkut and all other social networks put together. According to Google, it aims to be a social layer on top of the search engine and all its product offerings, so that your Web experience becomes one seamless, integrated Web-social experience.

Circles and Hangouts

The social site revolves around Circles—which are specified groups of friends, family, acquaintances and the people you want to follow. You can create, edit and delete Circles with a simple drag-and-drop function. A tweet (@gstrompolos) describes the experience of putting the people you know in Circles as playing a never-ending game of solitaire with your contacts. Visually, that is what the drag-and- drop feels like.

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The great big online sale

Forget those favours from friends abroad for the just launched iPad 2. Now a simple click can get you the latest and best gadgets at your doorstep

Shweta Taneja

A few months ago New Delhi-based Rina Bhardwaj, 31, was running around the Capital’s infant shops looking for a baby monitor. “I wanted it before my baby was born and I could not find it anywhere!” she says. After searching for a week, she took a friend’s advice and checked websites which sell gadgets. She found exactly what she was looking for on EBay.in. “It took me an hour of browsing, 5 minutes of paying and it was delivered to my home within a few days,” she says.

Be it the latest gadgets or the hard-to-find stuff, Indian websites are offering it all online—and chances are you will get most items at a discount. Here are some websites you should visit before you trek down to a gadget store.

EBay Global EasyBuy

Want to buy something that has just been launched in the US? EBay.in has made it easy with its Global EasyBuy service (www.ebay.in/globaleasybuy). You can buy the latest laptops, personal digital assistant or PDA phones, music systems and other cool things as they launch in the US. The prices displayed include shipping and customs costs, so when you order you know exactly how much you will have to pay. The website offers an equated monthly instalments, or EMI, facility for three-six months on select items, in case the cool thing you want comes with a hefty price tag. So you pay in rupees, while the latest e-book reader is delivered to your home. The prompt customer service and no-fuss website are an added bonus.

Log on if: You need the newest and the best internationally, and are ready to pay any price for it.

Olx.in

In store: Looking for deals on a mobile phone or the latest gadgets launched in the US? Online retail sites may be just the thing for you

In store: Looking for deals on a mobile phone or the latest gadgets launched in the US? Online retail sites may be just the thing for you

A newly launched website, Olx.in is a subsidiary of the international site Olx.com, famous for its classified advertisements. The website is a marketplace where you can sell or buy just about anything and everything under the sun.

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Venice and romance? Bleh!

Sorry for being such a party pooper for romantics (I consider myself one, btw. It must be society of cynics getting to me). Let me start this blog by copy-pasting a quick Google search I did on Venice.

‘Venice is probably the most romantic city in the world; its unique watery landscape gives the city a magical quality that is irresistible…’

‘The romantic city of water, that is how Venice is known to the masses. Who visits Italy, has to see Venice as well’

Even..

‘Why is Venice Italy a romantic city?’ on answers.com without any answers to it.

And finally, my favourite, from a tabloid The Sun,

‘The singer took a romantic gondola ride with pretty LUSIANA LOPILATO (famous chick in Brit) in Venice, but the stirring sights of the city failed to provoke even the slightest smile. At one point he even looked like he couldn’t wait to get off the watery ride as he rested his head on his hands.’ This accompanied a photo of the a grumpy looking singer.

I like what Sun said. Rather I understand what the Sun said. What is so romantic about the city after all? Why does the whole world keep on gushing about it? Don’t get me wrong, I loved the get-lost-in tiny lanes over canals that Venice is. Venice, I am sorry to say, looks good just in photos (as proof find here the pictures I clicked). It stinks for one. It’s a dead town full of three hundred year old buildings and romantics with gooey eyes.

 

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FB page for Skull Rosary

Just a few months ago, I announced my upcoming graphic novel The Skull Rosary. To build up some excitement (not only for you guys, but also for myself!) I have just launched its FB page! If you read this, and click on the FB link too, I hope do press that all important LIKE button. The graphic novel releases in May 2012 and will be done in collaboration with artist Vivek Goel and his indie production house Holy Cow Pvt Ltd. I am thinking how I can Do keep coming back to know what more is happening in this!

And a sneak update: The Skull Rosary comprises of five stories and I have already completed one of them! It sounds beautiful to my ears, but you never know what happens when its thrown out there! Fingers crossed.

While online, thou shalt not…

Be it Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, follow these 10 commandments of social networking etiquette

 

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have their share of boorish people who jump into other people’s conversation, generally create a ruckus or bombard your Wall with their gaming updates—and don’t know when to stop. Here’s a list of things to avoid.

Playing games on other people’s Walls

Yes, we know that you love to play Farmville, take mid-afternoon quizzes about “Which Mahabharata character are you?” and “What kind of Ramdev follower are you?”, and dozens of other apps that come your way on Facebook. That doesn’t mean your friends should suffer from a perennial feed of your app activity. It’s not only irksome to see who you just added as a “friend” on Facebook, but also increases the silly updates on people’s Walls. Before they turn off the extra noise you are creating by un-friending you, turn off the bot updates that these apps generate.

Go to your Privacy Settings > Apps and Websites. Click on “Edit your settings”. On the Web page that follows, click on the “Edit Settings” button along with the “Apps you use” header. This will list all the apps you use and what your profile is being used for. Uncheck the feature “Post on your Wall” for every app. Believe us, your friends will thank you for it.

Saying no to your mother

No sneak peeks: Online etiquette demands that you keep your eyes off other people’s screens. Illustration by Raajan/Mint

You might dread the day your mother, or the gossipy aunt who wants you to get married to her cousin’s son, sends a friend request on Facebook or Orkut but you cannot really stop them from coming into your online social spaces. Not unless you change your cellphone number and house and shift to another planet. There are some people you just cannot avoid, but don’t despair—Facebook lets you divide your friends into different lists through which you can control who sees what on your Wall, your status updates, your photographs and even tags. Keep a list of people you couldn’t say “no” to and limit the way they see your profile. You can control the status updates they read, the photos they see and the discussions they can keep a tab on. Make Lists by clicking on Friends on the left-hand side of your Facebook profile. Now go to Edit Friends > Create a List. Once you have completed segregating your friends, simply go to Privacy Settings. Click on Customize Settings in the section “Sharing on Facebook”. You can click on each of the elements on your Facebook profile, such as your information, posts, photographs and details, and for each set which lists of people can view them.

Using all caps

Except when it’s a bank that has just used your credit card for an unauthorized payment, or when you want to make a point strongly, never ever use all caps for any communication online. In the online world, talking in all caps is not talking, but YELLING…

…Read the complete story on the Mint website here.

Will robots become the new slaves?

Last night, I started to re-read my fave guy, Isaac Asimov. This time, I am re-hooked to his short stories on robots. Then in the morning papers, I saw this. It’s a story about  Justin the robot, who serves you coffee. It’s a cute squiggly looking bright blue robot, made by the German air and space agency, a super-techno, super-expensive guy has four-finger hands and is a step towards a humanoid. And well, serves you coffee.

Which took me to a very important question. What is it with people wanting their coffee to be served? We humans went through a whole round of imperialism where the ones who had money and wanted more money, and more importantly, more hands to do things for free for them. Brown, black, evil, good, trashy white, blue, anything will do till someone is serving you a coffee for free.

Even our Heavens have the idea of slaves serving the people who didn’t kill, lie and hid their bodies in apt clothes. Have you heard of anyone working to wash their clothes in Heaven? That wouldn’t be so heavenly would it, now? We need our slaves. It’s the sign that we have made it in life.

108153-four-fingered-robot-justin-gets-coffee-for-alexander-dietrichNow the era of human slavery has somewhat ended with words like freedom and independence being taught to everyone around us. Slavery is not a politically and culturally correct idea to talk about . That doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

In the heart of hearts, all of us want our slaves. I want someone I can kick, turn, abuse, order without pay. So in the era of technology, we look at robots and machines – our new slaves. They don’t have souls, we say. We said the same thing about blacks in Africa and we said the same thing about shudras in India.

Mechanical slaves! Who would have not thought of it!

The intrinsic human need to be served has led the German scientists to work on a robot which will serve them a cup of coffee. Before it, it was the slaved coffee machine. This is the era when a new slave will come to life. So creating a good-boy slave is the next project for our civilisation. A slave that wont tire, wont crib, wont go to the human rights violation committee, wont have issues or emotions. An ideal slave. An ideal butler. Yes, robots are the future slaves. As Asimov had rightly predicted.

I will finish this with one more thought. If we depend on slaves, aren’t we becomes slaves of slaves? Slaves of technology, slaves of robots? Ah, that’s how it all started. Didn’t it?

Take charge of Facebook

Want to take control of your data and the way you use your Facebook account? Then try these tricks. By Shweta Taneja

 

When Tejas Pande, a 23-year-old Bangalore-based information technology professional, heard about a workshop called Facebook Resistances at the Centre for Internet and Society (www.cis-india.org) in the city, he signed up without thinking twice. “I spend almost 10 hours every day logged in to my Facebook account. Its fixed rituals were getting to me. So I wanted to find out how I can take more control of my account and make it more personal.”

The workshop, which was conducted by Marc Stumpel, a new media researcher and privacy advocate from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, had the same concerns. Stumpel’s workshop, which has travelled across the world from Barcelona and Berlin to Bangalore, is a research initiative that looks at changing the rules and functionality of Facebook. “We want to change your experience of the site and make it more personal,” he says, adding, “We also want you to safeguard your privacy in the Facebook world.” All this, he says, is possible through add-ons to your Internet browser. “People just need to know what these cracks are.”

Privacy rules: There are simple ways to safeguard your privacy on Facebook.

Privacy rules: There are simple ways to safeguard your privacy on Facebook.

With more than 600 million active users, Facebook has become prone to attacks from hackers. Problems such as identity theft and malicious bot messages or status update worms are becoming common. Other than that, privacy concerns which have wracked Facebook since its inception continue to be controversial despite the “controls” it now offers.

The main reason for this is that the social networking mammoth keeps on pushing new features or changes constantly and rapidly, even before we can understand the ones that already exist. “Most often we don’t get a chance to opt in to new features, and can only opt out if they get our attention,”explains Stumpel. This leads to a loss of control over personal data and what Facebook can do with it.

To prevent this, it’s necessary to keep going back to those account settings and make full use of whatever control Facebook offers at any point. Here are some of the latest ways you can protect your online identity.

Log out of multiple sessions

How many times have you logged into Facebook from an Internet café or a friend’s mobile phone and forgotten to log out? Every time you do that, even though you close the browsing window or application at the end, Facebook keeps your session open, making you vulnerable to mischief. Now you can log into your account and see a list of active sessions with their details, which include the login time, device name, the approximate location of the login based on IP address, and browser and operating system. If some of them are unauthorized or you are unaware of these activities, shut them immediately and reset your password.

Take control now: In your Facebook account, go to Account > Account Settings > Account Security > Account Activity > Also Active. Facebook lists all your active, open browsers in the Also Active list. Click on End Activity on the unwanted ones. You can also take control of which gadgets you log on from with the Login Approvals feature that comes under Account Security. This feature lets you put a code alert, which can then be SMSed to your mobile phone as soon as you log in from an unrecognized computer. This will alert you in case there’s been a login from a source you don’t know about.

Avoid the unwanted photo tag

Did a friend just put your drunk as hell photograph, wearing a “I hate my boss” T-shirt and making an obscene gesture, online? And did your boss and wife see it and blast you for irresponsibility? Other than the embarrassment, you may get into trouble at home or at work because of friends tagging inane photographs they clicked somewhere you don’t remember.If it’s not photographs, it’s minor irritants such as social or festive messages that you unexpectedly get tagged in. Avoid such irritants with a simple click.

Take control now: Go to Account > Privacy Settings > Sharing on Facebook. Click on ‘Customize settings’. In the page that pops up, choose in each option who can see and comment on things you share, things on your Wall and things you’re tagged in.

Secure your account

Hacking is increasingly a problem on Facebook. The reason is that on most of the networks, Facebook (unlike email clients) works on an unsecured connection (http) and not a secure one (https). Now the social networking site gives you an option to choose a secure site for logging and browsing. You can also choose one-time passwords when logging into Facebook from a public connection.

Take control now: Go to Account > Account Settings> Account Security > Secure Browsing. Tick on Browse Facebook on a Secure Connection (https) whenever possible. In case you are using a public computer, take the option of Facebook One-time Passwords. Text “OTP” to 32665 on your mobile phone and you will get a new one-time password which expires within 20 minutes.

Stop Facebook from haunting you online

Baffled when your Facebook profile image pops up every time you are reading a news site or a travel website online asking you to “Like” a news or review since another friend from Facebook does? Or surprised when you are browsing a travel website and your friends’ photographs pop up suddenly, saying they have been there and “Recommend” a hotel or site? Facebook has partnered with some websites to, as it delicately puts it, “provide you with great, personalized experiences the moment you arrive, such as immediately playing the music you like or displaying friends’ reviews”. Basically if you are logged in to Facebook, these sites can take information from your account and display it and also tell you which of your friends have visited that particular city earlier. If you wish to stop Facebook from haunting you everywhere you go online on your browser, act now.

Take control now: To block a third party, go to Account > Privacy Settings > Apps and Websites> Instant Personalization. Deselect Enable Instant Personalization to stop getting these subtle suggestions from Facebook.

Cut off the ads

A Facebook friend, Mr-I-Like-Everything, “Likes” yet another page and it pops up as a suggestion on the right side of your profile. If you have been on Facebook long enough, chances are one of the “Sponsored” pages has been shoved under your nose at least once. These little ad blurbs which keep popping up on the right-hand side corner, or underneath your apps on the left side of your page, are a mix of advertisements as well as Facebook’s way of further profiling you. Facebook calls them “Suggestions” that add to your social personality, but they are just ads.

Read the complete article here.

Preview of my upcoming comic anthology

skull rosary ad

 

This one is completely my baby as a writer with artist Vivek Goel. Comprising of five short stories, this anthology is a new take on a mythology. That’s all I can tell you right now, more will come laters. Oh, and it’s going to release next year during summer holidays. Hope some kids out there are excited!

Tarantulas and all things not so tiny

 

Just read a report on how big, fat tarantulas manage to stick to things that they want to. Invisible spiderman-like silk threads keep them there. But this post is not really about the glues. Or about anything in particular actually. If I need a reason to post (this is my blog you know, and I can put whatever I want to, really) it would be that I loved the visual that’s put above. Spiders are such fascinating creatures for me and for a lot of many authors actually who keep creating superheroes, villains, monsters, horror stories and weird things with spiders in some form or another inserted. They inspire me in their creepy but slick style, almost make me poetic. Of all the creatures, spiders I would say, with their multiple hands and eyes which I cannot see, make me thing. What do you think this tarantula is thinking now?

 

I am about to jump

About to jump

On you.

 

One throw of thread

Silken and soft

Around your mouth

Silence abounds

 

As I weave around you

Thin, invisible bonds

Of horrifying fascination

That you may see, barely.

But that you may not still.

 

What do you think will happen

When you stop to see

To feel

To think

To be

 

And then you become

A strand of silk

Woven around

Misplaced

Misshapen

Crinkled

And lost.

 

See what I mean? Tarantulas make me attempt poetry. Which is a good thing, even if it’s sort of bad.

Were House Volume 1 released!

My first comic short story it out in the market. It’s a horror comic anthology of three authors with artist Vivek Goel. You can order it online at Flipkart

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Would love to hear some feedback on it!