Sunday, January 27, 2008

Scrabulous is fabulous!

For the uninitiated, Scrabulous is an online version of popular board game Scrabble. Scrabulous gained immense popularity through its Facebook App. There are nearly 600,000 daily active users for Scrabulous and it rakes in USD 25,000 per month in advertising revenue through banner inventory. The Facebook version of Scrabulous raised the ire of toy-makers Hasbro and Mattel, which jointly own the rights to the game. They asked Facebook to pull down Scrabulous and behind the scenes negotiations have been going on between Hasbro, Scrabulous, and Electronic Arts, which has the license in the U.S. to the online version of the game. Hasbro is trying to get Scrabulous to sell itself to Electronic Arts, or else shut down completely.

Interestingly, Scrabulous has been built independently by two brothers from Kolkata - Rahul (26) and Jayant Agarwalla (21). And while they have simply taken the board game online, they have done a fabulous job of it. I am a Scrabble fan myself - and own a Scrabble Deluxe board from Mattel as well as the Scrabble Game CD from Electronics Arts. Without a doubt, the Scrabulous Facebook experience beats both the official formats. Firstly, one gets to play with members across the social network at any time they desire to do so. That apart, the Scrabulous duo have continuously improved the UI/UXP and launched some great features based on inputs from users.

While Hasbro/Electronic Arts may force the Kolkata brothers to shut down Scrabulous, I am hopeful that they'd go on to build some fabulous new apps/games/products.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Auto-rickshaws - The ideal advertising medium for Internet start-ups

By now, most of us would have seen a lot of dot com ads on the back of auto-rickshaws and cabs/taxis. IMHO, this form of advertising is ideal for Internet start-ups/ventures - it's economical and effective.

The ability to burn a fortune on fancy TV/Print/Radio/Billboards advertisements is not a viable option for most Internet companies given the scale of their operations and the low monetization opportunities in the industry. Instead, if one is able to put up their brand on 500-1000 autos in each of the major cities (@Rs. 100 per auto per month), their brand is sure to be seen by a majority audience at a fraction of the cost that it would otherwise require to reach the same audience.

All the people I have spoken to in Mumbai have seen ads by MouthShut, Khichdee & MapMyIndia on Autos.
All of the people I have spoken to in Chennai have seen ads by TestingJobz on Autos here.
All of the people I have spoken to in Delhi have seen ads by PropertySensex and BuySellOldBooks on Autos and SeventyMM on Cabs.
Also, since people follow the traffic, you tend to see the ad for a prolonged period. From whatever I have read, these dot coms have employed close to 200-500 autos in the respective cities. And it sure is being noticed.

Brand Association
I have had several discussions with those in the marketing industry about this form of advertising. More often than not, marketers would tell you that the associations resulting from such advertising would affect the brand adversely. They'll add adjectives like 'cheap,' 'shabby,' and 'shady' to get their point across. I couldn't agree less. MouthShut, which pioneered the concept, has been exploiting this economical and effective method since 2001 and I don't know anyone who thinks of MouthShut as a 'cheap,' shabby' or 'shady' site - even after 6 years of advertising on auto-rickshaws. MapMyIndia, Kijiji, and SeventyMM are some of the other dot coms that have also warmed up to this form of advertising - all of them being dot coms that provide great value to online consumers.

Anyways, those who accept and adopt this innovative form of advertising stand to gain customers without spending much. The cynics can continue to burn their precious funds on traditional media and feel good about the sophistication of their brand.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Skin business on Facebook

Yup! After completely taking over the Classifieds sections of major print publications (Times of India and Hindustan Times), escort services are now using Social Networks to promote their services.

First, escort services create a series of fake profiles on Orkut with revealing pictures of pretty looking girls. They then kick off conversations with other Orkut members and add them as friends. Those with an inclination to use escort services get hooked, numbers are exchanged and the business gets rolling.

Well, a friend of mine recently pointed out how these guys have even started tapping users on the more-secure Facebook network. Here, a fake profile is created and the same is used to create 'compelling' Marketplace listings (Screenshot attched). The listing reads "I am an airhostess to meet me visit

And when you visit the site mentioned, you are taken to a site which was earlier hosted under the domain attached). Note: Chamadi in Hindi means Skin. Here, you have details of the escort services like fees and contact numbers, gallery, etc.

I don't know whether this would be considered by Facebook as an abuse of their services. Or whether they'd take it off after one has reported the same. The print industry in India definitely doesn't have a problem with such ads and seem to make copious amounts of money from the advertisers. I only hope that the online industry doesn't follow suit.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The boy-next-desk turns CEO

When I joined my current organization in Feb 2006, I met up with an extremely smart 21-year old techie named Murli who worked on SEO/SEM initiatives for one of our portals. He was always scouting for freelance projects to leverage his geekiness and make some additional money. Sometime in Jul/Aug 2006, one of his clients invited him for a permanent position at a substantially higher pay. Or so he told all of us. And he moved on.

I pretty much lost touch with Murli after that and only recently did I chance to visit his Orkut/LinkedIn profile on seeing his New Year wishes. And I was pleasantly surprised that Murli has gone on to found a company of his own called Horizon InfoVentures. And Horizon has already seen some fame and success. They have a property listings portal called RealAcres, and the portal was amongst the 13 winners from India at the Red Herring 100 Asia 2007 Awards.

I was also able to dig up a video of Murli being interviewed by Joel Dreyfuss, the Editor-in-Chief at Red Herring magazine. It's quite refreshing, but strange, to see Murli in a formal suit giving spiel. He'd always come to office in a t-shirt and denims. Never thought I'd see him like this.

Rock on Murli! All of us who have worked with you are proud of your achievements and it surely has inspired many of us to take the plunge.