Category Archives: Populism


When Vikram and I shook on building after a boisterous lapse into the kind of Bangalore patois so typical of the average South Indian porki, we honestly didn’t think it would get the kind of attention it has been getting, delusions of grandeur notwithstanding. Of course, the whole team is delighted by it. CNN, the Economist blog, the Wall Street Journal blog, The Huffington Post, and The Times of India have covered it, along with a few other online and offline publications. And given that I recently wrote a small exposé about the foundational three Ms behind the idea, it’s high time Samosapedia got some airtime on my own blog.

I spend a substantial amount of time either thinking about or working on Samosapedia, which is not surprising for any co-founder. Software alone is not really what keeps me busy. The very smart Braxton, who joined us because he loves the concept, stewards the code (Ruby on Rails straddling Heroku) really well, and puts up with our proclivity to IST with humor, which cemented our bond. The big questions to me include the editorial oversight needed to build the world’s largest cultural dictionary.

Let’s first touch very briefly on the imperfection of calling it The Definitive Guide to South Asian Lingo, since in choosing to call it that, we reveal something about ourselves as editors. One of the most priceless reactions we got to the term “South Asian” was “Aren’t South Asians Filipinos?” It turns out the term “South Asian” causes a small modicum of irritation and confusion. Other observations were that we shouldn’t use the term South Asian at all, but instead say “desi” or “Indian.” On this one, we’re sticking to our guns. There are enough commonalities linguistically and culturally, and enough radical differences, for us to be geographically inclusive on the site. The term “South Asia” may come from a taxonomy generated outside South Asia itself, but we can’t find a better, more inclusive term that matches our aspiration for a giant cultural dictionary. We’re ceasing to worry about labels. The existing one has been well received so far — thanks to our users, we have over 6000 entries now, and we’re going to keep on growing.

What becomes interesting is that sometimes, definitions aren’t merely objective. We don’t really want them to be objective, which is why we allow for multiple entries for a given term. Take for example entries like the one for the Jan Lokpal Bill, which as of this writing, still features prominently in popular press in India. One user’s idealism may test another user’s opinion on the whole approach taken by the bill, with the result being controversy. We welcome it — the lingo we’re collectively cataloging is multifarious, and controversy is the by product of engaged users. By that same token, one user’s humor may offend another. Here, we’ll traipse as lightly as possible, because we want to allow maximum self-expression, liberating language and encouraging our users to be creative and playful. Soon enough, we’ll also want to have users help with moderating words. It’s not just a dictionary we’re building here, but a community, responsible for its own editorial oversight, without the founders being gatekeepers.

Samosapedia has rapidly become a small anthology of South Asian writing, and makes people laugh, bringing delight and nostalgia (nostalgindia?). I am really excited about it, and about all the things we’re going to do with it in the future.

SxSW ’08 Redux via Epistolary Rumination

Dear Chris, Chaals, and Brendan,

Thank you. For two years, you’ve put up with my jittery nagging a few hours before the panel, and for two years, it has rocked.

Dear Apple,

We really missed you. Our “Browser Wars” panel at SxSWi ’08 was standing room only, with people lining up outside who couldn’t get in. We discussed stuff that was really relevant to Safari, touching on mobility, standards, security, JavaScript, and stuff like that — PC Mag has a rough record of the conversation. People love your stuff — the MacBook Pro and the iPhone were ubiquitous at the Austin Convention Center. And while you are open in your standards participation (working groups like Web API and HTML conduct business in the open), and while you are candid on the Surfin’ Safari Weblog, it would be great if your PR / Marketing department could let you come out and play with us. Maybe next year?

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SxSW ’08 | The End of History (Not)

The grackle birds are out in full force in Austin. They are noisy and obnoxious, but I only visit with them but once a year, when I, like scores of other Californians, descend on Austin, TX, for Geek Camp, aka South By SouthWest 2008.

Young-ish trendy persons with laptops and iPhones and loosely slung satchels meander around the Austin Convention Center. Panels are being held, and the sun is shining (mostly), and the after parties are kicking, and film makers, musicians, designers, and geeks are all coalescing, as per the norm.

Last year, I chaired a panel bringing Brendan Eich (Mozilla/Firefox, and inventor of JavaScript), Chris Wilson (Microsoft/IE, worked on every version of IE in recent memory), and Charles McCathieNevile (Opera — a standards titan who travels the world working on standards) to the table to discuss where the Web was going. It was a great panel discussion which embraced spirited debate.

A year has passed, and PC Magazine thinks we’re about ready to usher in the “boring era” of Web browsers. Really? A little bit like the End of History, where things were supposed to be all nice and boring after the end of the Cold War, but ended up being anything but?

OK, look. I’ll be the first to admit that the term “wars” shouldn’t be used when talking about Web browsers. This year, when I agreed to do the panel again at SxSW 2008, I used the term “war” to pack the auditorium. But let’s be frank about a few things.

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Mr. Gandhi Goes to Frankfurt

So I’m in Frankfurt Airport, after the long continental puddle hop from California, and I’m weary. I can’t see so well, because my eyes are a bit sore. I’m on my way to Spain to attend the Open Source in Mobile conference in Madrid, and I have my Indian Passport and a few sundry papers of visitation clutched tenuously in my hand. I’m merely transiting through Germany, and I’m trying to find the line where I can get my stamp, since I possess a valid visa to go to my next port of call.

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The Human Race Condition

This post is about (really, really) bad television, senatorial gaffes, and melanin. Mainly about melanin. For whatever reason, this Superbowl weekend (yes, yes, go Colts) a lot of people wanted to talk about race with me.

Ordinarily, that’s not really a topic I am likely to broach of my own accord. Mind you, I’m not reluctant to talk about race. If I was tongue-tied when put on the spot, it was mainly because my mental machinery takes time to warm up to the subject. This weekend, I distinctly felt that people were asking me my opinion because of my own melanin content — that is, because I’m Indian, the intrepid conversationalists assumed that (rightly or wrongly) I must have something interesting to say about the subject of race. And maybe that’s not a far-fetched assumption.

Something must be going on in the collective zeitgeist (and note that it’s also Black History Month). I got roped into two discussions on the subject, not to mention the fact that race issues featured at the Superbowl as well (e.g. see the numerous stories about the respective coaches). But here’s what happened this weekend, and here’s what motivates my current musings.

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