Archive for September, 2009

Solving WordPress Upgrade Issues

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

During this month, many bloggers – including me – using WordPress found their blog posts to be getting deleted or attacked by spam. These problems typically affected older versions of WordPress (e.g. 2.0). Most commonly cited solution was to upgrade to the latest version of WordPress.  

Click here to download my article providing step-by-step instructions for upgrading WordPress from 2.0 to 2.8.4. This article is based on my personal experience of upgrading Talk of Many Things and includes solutions for a few issues I encountered during the upgrade process.

Carl Hiaasen For The Estate Of Joseph Heller

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Gone are the days when the demise of a leading novelist meant that their loyal fans were left without any more of their favorite author’s books.

This struck me a few years ago when I saw one book after another carrying Robert Ludlum’s name on its cover getting published well after the death of the author in 2001. I wondered if this was “ghostwriting” in its literal sense! Examining one of these books (The Ambler Warning) closely, I discovered that it was credited to the so-called “Estate of Robert Ludlum” that had, since the death of Ludlum, “worked with a carefully selected author and editor to carefully prepare and edit this work for publication”.

ambler_warning_03_400w

Nowadays, publishers seem to be getting books written by surrogate authors and selling them under the label of the estate of the better known, but deceased, author. Most of them remain anonymous, with their books displaying the more famous novelists’ names on their covers. Only the famous writer Eric Van Lustbader, who is contracted to continue Ludlum’s Bourne series, has received credit on the covers of books written by him for the estate of Ludlum.  

Legality apart, inventing the concept of an estate to exploit the cachet of a famous, dead author is sheer marketing genius on the part of publishers. And, since some of these surrogate books are as good as the originals penned by the deceased author, loyal readers may not complain too much – not when their only alternative would be to sever all ties with their favorite authors permanently.

Which brings me to the question of why there hasn’t been an estate of Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22 and other books that have a cult-like following, despite his death 10 years ago? I think the answer can be found in something Heller himself had said a few years before he passed away. When asked why he hadn’t written anything as good as Catch-22, Heller had replied, “who has?”.

c22sw

Well, if there’s someone coming close to continuing the legacy of Joseph Heller, it’s Carl Hiaasen. His Stormy Weather does to hurricane-hit Florida what Heller’s Catch-22 did to the war.

Who Will Pay For Infrastructure?

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to use the recently-opened Bandra-Worli Sea Link (BWSL) iBandra-Worli_Sea_Link_from_Taj_Lands_Endn Bombay. For those who are not familiar, BWSL is a bridge over the sea connecting the suburb of Bandra with Worli in South Bombay. By using BWSL, motorists can avoid Mahim Causeway, Shivaji Park, Prabhadevi and other busy areas that come on the traditional land route, thus slashing their travel time to 8-10 minutes from 50-60 minutes.

 Bandra_Worli_Sea_Link_03_400

Such a drastic saving in time should make the sea link very popular and justify city planner’s estimate that it would grab at least 60% of the volume of 145,000 vehicles that use the old route via Mahim Causeway every day.

However, that’s not to be – at least not yet. 

During my trip, there was so little traffic on BWSL that I forgot for a moment that I was in Bombay – a city known for heavy traffic virtually round-the-clock. At first, I was wondering if this was because I was traveling during the non-rush hour. However, as I learned later from a local friend who takes the sea link everyday to work, traffic has always been light on BWSL from the time it started attracting toll charges of INR 50 (~USD 1) in July.  

In a fast-paced city like Bombay, fifty rupees  seems to be a small price to pay for the benefit of gaining 40-45 minutes of time. Besides, when compared with a random sample drawn from Malaysia, UK and other countries, BWSL’s fifty rupees happens to one of the lowest tolls for a bridge anywhere in the world, as the following chart indicates.  

 Worldwide_Toll_Comparison_01_400

(Click here to download the Excel model behind this chart.)

When people that stand to gain most from better infrastructure are reluctant to pay for it, it’s difficult to understand the viability of the scores of highways, metros and other ambitious infrastructure projects being undertaken all over India.

PS: Talking about low traffic  on BWSL, many frequent users are not complaining: they fear that increase in volumes on the sea link would lead to major traffic snarls because of the sub-optimal design of the approach road on its Worli side. But, that’s a topic for another day!

What I Liked Best About London Oyster Card

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Lots has been written about the benefits of Oyster Card and other contactless, RFID-based, prepaid stored value cards used in mass transit systems of London, Boston, Hong Kong and a few other cities. Here’s a recent article.

During my travels in Manchester, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, Basel, Paris, Amsterdam and many other cities around Europe, it used to be a big pain to figure out the right type of ticket to buy, what with multiple zones, alternative routes between any two points A and B, especially when you’re running late for a business meeting. The complexity used to increase if English instructions were inadequate or missing and where fares depended upon the time of day when the travel was undertaken. Added to that was the anxiety of blowing money by overpaying or getting fined for underpaying.

Enter London Oyster Card. You tap the card once when you enter the public transport network at point A, then tap once more when you exit it at point B. The lowest fare for your route is automatically calculated after taking into account time of travel and other factors. You’re saved the trouble of having to figure out the right fare on your own. That, in my opinion, is the greatest benefit of the London Oyster Card.

Now, for one of my pet gripes about Oyster Card: While you can reload money into the card from the Internet, you have to physically tap your card at a terminal located in one of the tube or DLR stations to activate the reloaded amount (activation is not permitted on terminals located inside buses). Problem was, you have to decide which station it’s going to be at the time of reloading, and cannot change your mind later. This might be okay for everyday users taking a fixed route. But for visitors and other infrequent users like me with variable routes – some days we’d enter the public transport system at Canary Wharf underground station whereas on other days it could be at the nearby South Quay DLR station or at a bus stop at Marsh Wall – this effectively rules out the online channel for reloading our Oyster Cards. I hope Transport for London – the company that operates the London mass-transit network – recognizes this problem and removes the present inflexibility around the choice of terminals for activation of reloaded amounts.

Don’t Let Your Competitors’ Inbound Marketing Steal Leads From Your Cold Calls

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Marketers should supplement their email, telephone and other forms of outbound marketing activities with inbound marketing inputs, or risk losing their hard-won leads to competition. 

Suppose a software services company –  let’s call it “SoftCo” – wishes to execute an outbound marketing campaign to generate leads for its SAP line of business. From past experience, it is aware that creating interest in the market for implementation, upgrade, support and the usual fare of technology services is bound to have limited effectiveness because every other vendor is trying to do the same thing. Therefore, it decides to create a sharply defined marketable offering around cost containment through SAP FICO implementation, back it up with dedicated marketing collateral and initiate an outbound email and telephone marketing for this focused offering. Prospective customers receive SoftCo’s collateral and are very impressed to hear a message that resonates well with their own efforts at cost cutting during these challenging economic times. They turn to SoftCo’s website to learn more about this offering by themselves before they are ready to invest their time to engage in a series of discussions and presentations from SoftCo’s inside sales team. Now, SoftCo hasn’t updated its website to include details of this offering, believing that this should be taken up later, after its inside sales team has gone out into the market to generate some leads. As a result, these interested people find nothing about this offering on SoftCo’s website. 

It’s easy to predict the next steps and the likely results.

Many of these interested people head over to Google to search for other vendors who could help them cut costs via SAP FICO implementation. They come across many companies – who are competitors of SoftCo – whose entries appear on top of Google’s organic and inorganic search results by virtue of their investments in search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). They then visit the websites of these competitors. By deploying landing pages, microsites, event-triggered action, abandonment tracking and remarketing and other elements of inbound marketing, SoftCo’s competitors are able to engage more deeply with these interested people and convert them into qualified leads.

End of the day, although SoftCo sows the seed of cost control via SAP FICO implementation in the market, it is SoftCo’s competitors who reap a rich harvest in leads.

Don’t let this happen to your company. Implement the basics of inbound marketing alongside your outbound marketing campaigns so that you avoid losing your hard-won leads to your competition.

PS: For a theoretical underpinning to the SoftCo example described here, look up this McKinsey article, which describes how consumers are moving away from the traditional sales funnel and changing the way they research and buy your products.