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India-born blogger Om Malik is periodically listed among the top 50 influencers in the world of technology, evident from the 1.2 million followers he has on Twitter. His widely followed blog Giga Om serves up cutting-edge technology news, analysis and opinion. In India to visit his parents—and his childhood home in Delhi’s Old Rajinder Nagar—this alumnus of St Stephen’s spent an afternoon with Arindam Mukherjee, discussing issues around technology. Excerpts:
I have actually stopped using Google as a search engine. I think Google is doing unnatural things as a company. This is a terrible example of a company forgetting its core value system. I believe that companies have a DNA and you have to be true to your DNA. Apple has been very true to its DNA, of creating beautiful hardware, overlaid by user experience, which is to make things very simple. Some people like it, a lot of people don’t like it, but that’s their DNA and they haven’t gone away from that. Every time they have shifted away from their core values, they have done unnatural things. It’s a lot like if you put Virender Sehwag in a baseball team. It’s not going to work out, not that he’s working out as a cricket player these days.
Google is one of those companies whose DNA is to help you find information. In doing all these social and privacy changes, they are doing unnatural things. I don’t think their Google Plus enhanced search is a good thing. It’s actually terrible. The whole concept of best search engine has been thrown out of the window because Google is trying to fit itself into this vision of a social networking-enabled company and is chasing Facebook. It has forgotten its core values and their privacy decision is also part of that whole failing to understand their core values.
I think this is where they are going wrong. It is like people not paying attention to customers. Their customers are now advertisers and not us people. That’s the difference between the Google when it started and the Google today. Their priority list is completely different.
But Android (Google’s operating system for mobile devices) is good…
"I’d be very happy if SMS went away, given the crummy way phone companies behave here, with all the spam messages."
I like what they have done with Android. They have done a good job of disrupting the telecom ecosystem along with Apple. Again Apple has one way of doing things and Android is a different way of doing things. That’s a smart way of thinking about what Google should do, extend that whole idea of helping you connect and find information and consume information by taking you to other places. That’s what their core value system is.
Where does Facebook go from here?
They are about to launch new marketing products. I think a lot of it is based on Facebook’s ability to connect. Facebook connect will be the future of that company. The problem with Facebook is that they are going at a speed that nobody has ever seen before. Now that they are more mature, they need to figure out how to grow revenues and to leverage such a big audience, and to stay relevant in the mobile world -- which they are not. Facebook on mobile is not quite exciting yet and they still can’t figure out how to make money through all these people who are using Facebook on their smartphones.
Starting with Google and Facebook, the Indian government is trying to monitor all online content. Is this feasible?
We have similar issues in the US. Today, we live in a whole different reality. We have new threats and challenges and the government needs to evolve to face those challenges. But it also has to balance that with what average people need and their desire for privacy. But being a democracy and with issues like citizens’ rights, it is a tough and a difficult balance which needs a very informed government. Unfortunately, the decision makers of our time do not have the wherewithal to actually come to grips with this change which has to be made with a “citizen first” perspective. Like the government is for the people and not the other way around and that is something we will have to remind even when regulating the digital world. In the US, the media is more engaged. That’s one way of keeping everything in balance. More than the rules, their enforcement is a bigger challenge and for that, we need active policing by the citizens themselves.
The growth in blogging has been phenomenal. How do you see this impacting society?
The idea of blogging is sharing and telling people this is how I view the world. We get confused by blogging as an opinion and as news. We have pigeonholed blogging into this platform based blogging which is not quite it. You could be on Wordpress, Twitter, Tumbler or Facebook, as long as you are writing, creating, opining, sharing any kind of thing, it is blogging. We have earlier, written personal diaries, we have shown photographs to friends. Blogging is the same over a much open Internet scale. It is a good thing as more creative people are coming out of the shadow. Its very important for people to see the other point of view.
Indeed. On another front, people keep saying SMS and email are dying. Is that so?
I don’t see email on the way out at all. The damn thing just keeps growing and growing. I think SMS and BBM might be replaced by a different short message service, like a WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger or Twitter or iMessage. But that’s just a label, the action is exactly the same. I would actually be very happy is SMS went away given the crummy behaviour of the phone companies here and the way we get spam messages from various companies here. But actually nothing can replace the SMS. It works, it’s efficient and it’s simple. It will probably go way as a revenue stream for the carriers and thankfully, that’s not a bad thing.
How do you see Apple after Steve Jobs?
"There’s something after the laptop, the tablet and the phone. There’ll be one unified device...the idea of a laptop will be different."
Apple had one skill set which was given to the company by Steve Jobs and I don’t know how long this is going to last with them. But I have always admired the way Apple and Steve, which is one and the same, worked. I loved the ethos Steve Jobs brought into the company. His vision and his way of thinking about the world is part of the Apple DNA, of creating beautiful hardware, overlaid by user experience which is to make things very simple. He imprinted that DNA into Apple, they call this the legacy. As a company they will have to retain that magic. The magic of Apple is that there is no magic -- you just buy their product, bring it home and start using it.
Did you ever meet Steve Jobs?
Never. I never wanted to meet him, because the guys you put on a pedestal have a way of disappointing you. Because they are also human. So I would rather have that image.
Will Microsoft and Windows survive?
Microsoft doesn’t have the wherewithal to cannibalize itself. They keep doing things which are patchwork. But they do a good job of it. They have a huge market, they have a huge market share. Apple, in contrast, will take an existing product and say, yes, we will destroy it. You know that if iPad keeps growing in popularity, computers become an afterthought. But one can’t laugh at Microsoft. They are a very serious company with a really serious revenue base. Just that they are always in a catch-up mode. It worked in the 1990s when competition wasn’t that intense. It doesn’t work quite well in today’s time. Once you miss a cycle, you are pretty much done. What they are trying to do with the new Windows 8, is essentially move two steps forward and see if they can actually re-invent the laptop experience and also make it across to the tablet. I don’t think they can, because those are two different mediums and behaviours. But they have done some interesting things in their cloud computing service and will continue to do it. I would not count out Microsoft in the cloud. If you look at how well they have created Skydrive and all those cloud based services, they have done a good job for their audience and they have a huge audience.
But it’s going to be a challenge. I feel they need a leadership change, and a fresh way of thinking about the company. They have to stop thinking like Microsoft of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer and they have to think of how would Microsoft do without this legacy, of Microsoft of the future. It’s a tough decision and a tough conversation they need to have.
Would tying up with Nokia in the phones space help?
I think Nokia is pretty much done. I just walk around the market and half the people have some kind of Android device and half some phone made by other companies. Where is Nokia? It used to be very big. Samsung seems to be everywhere or at least the perception is everywhere.
But they have big hopes on the Lumia with Microsoft…
It’s not a bad phone, except it’s coming after both iPhone and Android. What these have done is create a behavior, like the Mac and Windows did with desktop icons and pull down menus. They were different but the metaphors were exactly the same. Any new OS that tried to come in with a new user experience and behaviour, didn’t succeed. iPhone and Android did exactly that – the app metaphor is quite strong. That’s why you will find that Blackberry will continue to struggle unless they get that whole touch and the new operating system up. They (Nokia) could have done something interesting. I am not entirely convinced that I hate it (Nokia Lumia), but if I have a choice, I will not use it. I liked the MeeGo version, it doesn’t have lots of apps but its more intuitive. Nokia made a big mistake in killing MeeGo.
What will succeed then?
Going forward, it will be Android that will succeed. The new smarter feature phones that are coming up from people like Micromax and Spice, which are stripped down Android based phones, they are the people who will define the Android’s success, except that they won’t have what Google thinks is Android. The Chinese companies are going to dominate the low end market. HTC is in trouble already, Motorola was in trouble so Google had to buy them out and let’s see how long they are going to make phones. It is a sad story. It is what is going to happen to a lot of these companies. Its very hard to get everything right and I think the guys at Apple and Samsung have got a lot of things right in the high end of the market and in the low end of the market, it’s anybody’s game.
Microsoft, Google are getting into everything…
That’s the Holy Grail and everybody wants to go for it. I like what these guys are doing, they are trying to create behaviour which is across different devices and they are adapting their OS for every form factor. At least in the interim, that seems to be the way to go.
So in a few years, which device will survive?
Everything is in-between right now. The tablet is one way of doing things. But there is something after the laptop, the tablet and the phone. There will be one unified device and that form factor will be very different. Three years from now the idea of a laptop is going to be entirely different. But that will be defined by how much bandwidth is available and the network will define its intelligence. But that’s a few years away. The networks are not ready yet. And that is why I find Microsoft’s approach pretty interesting because at least they are doing whole things across the mobile and the tablet. I think the guys from Google are a bit all over the map on this one.
And print media? Will it survive?
The network is just a distribution mechanism. The basic premise of the industry will not change, the delivery mechanism will change and the industry will need to adapt to the new model.
A shorter, edited version of this appears in print