Columns and mags

Hmmm, more Piscean birthdays – goody! Today it is the turn of J.C.Kiran (I refuse to call him anything else, this being the name he registered as on my long dead BBS CiX (1989-1999, RIP). Happy Birthday, Jace!

As an example how to run an efficient online shop – on the 12th, I went online and ordered a couple of CDs for my mother, whose birthday was yesterday. Since she lives in Germany, I ordered from Amazon Germany. Needless to say, the CDs were delivered without any hassles whatsoever the next day (i.e. on her birthday) – much to her (and my) delight.

Today I got insult added to injury from PlanetM Online. It is very likely that someone read my lament from the day before yesterday, because today, I got a casual apology from them, along with a 10% discount coupon. Bah! They expect that a 10% discount will entice me to go and try my luck there one more time? Not likely!

I just ordered the same item that Planet M Said they couldn’t source – this time from Fabmart. Now let’s see what happens.

Met up with KK (the editor of PCQuest) for dinner. Discussed various things, including the pros and cons of my restarting my column in PCQuest. I am a bit hesitant – here’s why:

To start with, PCQuest is a print magazine with virtually no online presence. What presence they do have is so completely out of sync with what people would expect from a magazine like PCQuest that it is not funny. Here, see for yourselves.

While it can be argued that there is no money in publishing the online world, it does not mean that you don’t make an effort to publish at all! And PCQuest’s current web site definitely falls under the heading “not interested, we don’t care”.

The online version is really PCQuest’s showcase to the world outside India. And what a visitor sees is a badly done site.

What’s wrong with it is is simple – whoever designed that site is more interested in selling advertising than getting content online. Articles appear randomly, the archives are pathetic and past articles just disappear down the bit bucket. The design of the site is highly IE specific, HTML errors and bad site maintenance ensure that even ads don’t appear at times, the search is worse than useless, and so on. I could go on forever.

The other problem I have is that the PCQuest of today is so different from the magazine that we were involved with almost a decade ago. In those days, the magazine was a labour of love by many people, including Kishore Bhargava, Ashish Gulhati, Rishab Iyer Ghosh, Nikhil Datta, Anil Chopra, Vinod Unny, editor Prasanto Kumar Roy and so many others. And of course me. Our individual characters and personalities came across strongly, giving the magazine the flavour that made it famous.

Then Cyber Media (the publishers of PCQuest) decided to “make changes” – and screwed it up completely. And within a few months, everyone was gone. What was left were a few staff writers and occasional guest writers.

In the past, I have time and again tried to get PCQuest to acknowledge its authors and give them more freedom – the way I was acknowledged and free to write when I used to write for them. Tell me, how many PCQuest authors can you identify by name or face today? The answer is almost certainly – none. This is a total shame. Those guys write their hearts out – and you can’t even associated a face with their name.

Cyber Media has difficulty in understanding that their writers need to develop their visibility and personalities as well – to the benefit of the magazine they write for. Their biggest worry appears to be that the writers will become “bigger than their platform”, increasing their market value to such an extent that they eventually leave for greener pastures.

According to me, and many of the people I mentioned above, this is sheer nonsense.

The sad part is – this attitude has been a role model for PCQuest’s competitors as well. CHIP followed it, as did it’s successor DIGIT. Let’s not talk about Computers Today, IT, PC World and others.

No wonder that today’s technology writing in India is as bland as glass of water, and as exciting as a product catalog.

Technology writing isn’t just about technology – it is about humans and individuals and how they interact with technology. By “force-fitting” writers into a standard mold, with no faces to names, not personalities of their own and no “personality cults” (as someone who was trying to be extremely nasty about me once mentioned in a now obscure mailing list), these publications (led by PCQuest) killed the art of technology writing in India.

And I am very hesitant to go back into that bland pool of homogenous, pre-processed, form-fitted, “one mold to bind them all” world of writing.

Heck – do you think I would be allowed to write in any of these publications what I just wrote above (even if it isn’t quite technology)?