A mind full of ideas and a crowd full of support…

Not so long ago when it used to be a nightmare for Sridhar, a documentary filmmaker from Ahmedabad, to arrange funds for his projects. He had to personally visit and write to a number of institutions and individuals asking them for their support. In few fortunate instances when he had some financial support in the beginning, it was still difficult to sustain the same during all the stages – from ideation to completion- of a project. But now with this web initiative called ‘ReelChanges’, things are getting a lot better for him. He can inform a larger audience about his project details, ask for funds in parts during the production and once completed can even market his documentary films to a potential broadcaster. On the other hand, an audience i.e. a site user gets to learn about a topic he might be unaware of and can probably help a struggling filmmaker like Sridhar get his project completed by making a monetary contribution. With some filmmakers who have multiple projects in their online portfolios, the users will be able to help them out in the one they find the best. However visiting a site that hosts a quality bunch of documentaries on issues- ranging from arts, music, education, indigenous cultures to youth, politics, and environment- also qualifies as a sole motivation for many.

At a different site by the name ‘CNCnews’, citizens are busy posting questions to the government- demanding answers and reactions on issues of public interest. However as we can easily predict; most lawmakers and executives would like to cut corners in answering questions posted ‘online’. To curb this possibility, a group of journalists then follow these executives in the political corridors with the same questions. It is often the case with this web site that a single question gets endorsed by a number of citizens, making it ‘a must to answer’ for the concerned lawmaker. The cycle completes with journalists posting back these answers on the site for users to review.

These examples are currently few but one just needs to look around and notice the huge success of campaigns like the “Hard Rain” and “Jago re”. The former is a charity program to support globally a series of public exhibitions about climate change, poverty, the wasteful use of resources, population expansion, habitat destruction and species loss. However in both these campaigns, internet is being used to inform and gather local participation and support.

So who all should be counted in this new class of trend setters? Are these only the filmmakers, journalists or activists? Probably not! These are the common people- like you and me- enthusiasts from different fields- who have realized the true potential of this medium- not just merely as a tool to inform but more as a tool to attract and encourage public participation. They are establishing a parallel image of the internet- proactive and collaborative; other than a daily morphine dose of social networks, news, stock trading, pictures, video and porn. And it’s not the first time that they are trying to use technology ‘unconventionally’ to their advantage. Owning a website or a personal blog can’t be the only solution, especially in the times when the success of an entire idea depends on whether you make it to the first few results of a search engine or not. The future now lies in creating shared platforms- often non-profit – for people with different interests but possibly with similar ends to meet. It’s increasingly about lessening communication gaps amongst individuals while discovering opportunities to appreciate and support mutual efforts.

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Everywhere is nowhere!

“Everywhere is nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

This observation was made around 5 A.D. by the Roman philosopher Seneca about human relations and how do they get affected by the distances between the human beings. He said “people who separated physically would often separate socially and emotionally as well.”

I find this a suitable critique in the present context of social networks. Each and every online site – whether it be MySpace, Orkut, FaceBook or ibibo – or an ad of a touch screen mobile phone where a cricketer endorses its use by saying that it facilitates people to stay in touch – looks like an empty cloud. We do have parallel and efficient modes of communication but at the same time- it has resulted in a casual outlook towards human relationships… the vary difference between acquaintances and friendships is so visible. With ever growing list of “friends” in one’s “social” network and with each of us confirming “multiple friends request” every day; the idea of having a relationship has become shallow. I am sure its a challenge for language too, to define these newer forms of relationships – which obviously can’t actually be friendships but are said as one in absence of a proper word.

Though quite technical but…

Points to know when you work in a team for a web based application

Yesterday, I got some insights on standards to follow whenever a product team embarks on the critical mission of implementing the design for web based application. Here are some of these:

Why do we need a “div” based web development rather than the old fashioned “table” based one?
We might want to say that in the present context when web applications are becoming more and more dynamic with a variety of media, the “table” based approach falls short. Dynamism with faster download time can be well achieved by using “divs” rather than “tables” due to one or other of the following:

a) The “table” being a nested approach adds a lot of code behind a web interface. A nested approach involves using few elements of code again and again. This ultimately results in web interfaces with heavy code file and eventually a large download time at the browser end.

b) Also, it has been noticed that different browsers react to “tables” in many different ways. The way a browser application like Mozilla Fire fox downloads a web code with too many of “tables” widely differs from the way it can download the same web code written using a “div”. In the former case, it is more a large bunch download which might result in nothing on a user’s screen in an event of internet going off for any reasons while during download. While in the later case when a code is written using “div”, it is more a smaller packet download (but many in number) and would ensure that at least a portion of the website is visible on a user’s screen even when internet goes off accidentally.

c)Third and the most known fact, quite contrary to “tables”, a web code with “div” support “CSS based styles”. It lessens the code length, ensures a better consistency through out the interface and makes the code a bit comprehensible for “designers” too 🙂

d) Also, to comply to different usability and accessibility norms, we should check using section 508 evaluator. Using “jaws” can also help you in testing your product for specific requirements of people with blindness.

So, enjoy and add value to your products. Add your comments and suggest corrections if I am wrong somewhere.

Credits: Dr G Dalvi, IDC IIT Mumbai