Tuesday, December 17, 2013

As outdoor fitness movements like walkathons and cycling become popular in Indian metros, the idea of car-free zones is finally finding more takers

Publication: The Times Of India Delhi;Date: Dec 15, 2013; Section: Sunday Special;Page: 18
Padmaparna Ghosh | TNN 
Audi's Gurgaon showroom is its biggest in India. And that's not the only luxury car showroom hawking its wheels in Gurgaon, Delhi's border cousin and a poster-child for urbanization. Nothing about the development of Gurgaon or its vision of a future can ever be free of one of its principal cheerleader — the car. Yet, the unthinkable has happened. Every Sunday, a 10-km section of the prime suburb is out of bounds for motorized transport from 7 am to noon to no particular end except to give space to residents to do what they want with it. Called Raahgiri, it has let people cycle, walk, skateboard, hold fitness and yoga classes and mini races and skateboarded here. 

    In a country where pavements are demolished to increase parking, flyovers are preferred over bicycle paths and pedestrians languish at the bottom of the traffic food chain, keeping roads car-free needs gumption. In India there are now 200 times as many motor vehicles ( including two-wheelers) as there were 50 years ago (from 0.7 million in 1961 to 142 million in 2011). City authorities all over the country are struggling to control the number of vehicles and the problems they create. 

    Yet, a few Indian cities are now confident enough to pull off carfree zones despite strong opposition. The good turnout at Gurgaon's Raahgiri, in fact, prompted the Delhi government to look at a possible vehicle-free road in the India Gate area every evening. Visakhapatnam, Ahmedabad, Dehradun, Fazilka (Punjab) are all experimenting with such no-carzones in an attempt to introduce an alternative to its residents. Last year, Visakhapatnam introduced a car-free zone on the Beach Road between 5.30 and 8 am every day and cycling, walking was promoted. It created three more such zones later and is now planning to set up more. 

    MV Satyanarayana, commissioner, Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, says that the response has been really positive. "Initially we needed police personnel to make sure that cars did not come in but now the residents are so habituated that police presence is not needed. In fact, now there is a demand to make it car-free even in the evenings," says Satyanarayana, who is attempting the impossible task of making sure that pedestrians get first right on the 

    road followed by cyclists. 

    Ahmedabad's vehicle-free Sunday evenings, on the other hand, faced trouble because of lack of adequate police personnel to keep the roads car free. 

    Cyclists and pedestrians have always been there on the roads. But unfortunately, they have been invisible because these are mostly daily commuters who can't afford more expensive modes of transport. It is only recently that urban fitness movements like running, marathons and cycling events have made the middle class notice the lack of footpaths and cycle paths, and the lack of concern for anyone who is not in a car. 

    "Thanks to walkathons and cycling movements, the middle class and rich are beginning to value pollution-free and congestion-free public areas. They are asserting 

their rights to these spaces," says Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director — Research and Advocacy, Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based NGO. "But it is important to catalyze public imagination, passion and emotion so they can transform how people look at transportation and slow down this relentless demand for road infrastructure." 

    But can these intermittent movements wean cities off their addiction to cars? According to Henrik Valeur, a Danish architect-urbanist who is writing a book on the urban transformation of India, it seems like a faint hope. Valeur has suggested a car-free sector (19) to the Chandigarh government as part of his proposals for the new master plan.The idea was to build parking lots at the sector's borders (over- and underground) and have a mix of cyclerickshaws and solar-powered rickshaws and bicycle lanes so that residents can move around without cars. 

    "About 25% of the total surface area of the sector is currently used by cars, and much of it is covered with asphalt, which contributes to the overheating of the city. The liberated space instead could be used for communal activities, such as playgrounds, sports fields and community kitchen gardens," says Valeur. 

    The plan was submitted in December 2010 but did not make it to the final masterplan. Instead the administration in 2012 chopped down 60 trees in the sector to facilitate the construction of an overpass for motor transport in the middle of the sector. But Valeur still believes that small movements for car-free zones can be incremental. 

    "The Copenhagen experience shows that even temporarily closing roads helps in convincing people (of the need for car-free zones)," he says. "Initially, they will be annoyed but this is why it is important to have actual examples in such areas." 

    Fazilka, a town in Punjab, also freed its main market area of cars between 10 am and 7 pm. Predictably, shopkeepers opposed the move but today, Fazilka has a thriving car-free shopping area. It even introduced a dial-a-rickshaw service. 

    Roy Chowdhury cites the example of Dehradun which pedestrianized Ghanta Ghar and Paltan Bazaar completely. "European examples have shown that when you go in a car, it is targeted shopping — park, buy, leave but when you walk around, you browse and tend to buy more. People are not against walking. They just want a better experience while they are walking," she says. 

THE WHEELS ARE TURNING: The middle class is beginning to value pollutionfree and congestion-free public areas, and is asserting its rights 

BREATHING SPACE: Starved of open areas, city dwellers use open roads like they would a park 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Making the cookie crumble differently

For SilverPush, which tracks users as they move from browser to mobile apps, the biggest challenge comes from the big guns of internet

Hitesh Chawla from Fazilka, Punjab, hadn't heard of Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, the technology school he graduated from, till he was 15. Now, his start-up, 
SilverPush, is pushing back the frontiers of technology.

The company has just won a round of funding from Dave McClure's 500 Startups, after being nurtured under the wing of Rajesh Sawhney-backed GSF Accelerator with Siddharth Puri of Tyroo as angel investor.

On being a successful applicant to GSF, Chawla, 30, says, "I wasn't really expecting I would get in, though I hadn't given up on the entrepreneurship dream."

SilverPush is one of the many companies trying to perfect the technology of mobile ad re-targeting and among the 50 companies the world over that are known for cross-device re-targeting. "Expect mobile re-targeting to be the next big space for innovation, investment, and acquisitions," said an October piece on AOL-owned technology news website TechCrunch. Forbes listed ad retargeting in the top seven online marketing trends for 2014.

For most advertisers, re-targeting is the Holy Grail, and mobile is the road to it.

Demystifying ad re-targeting
If you search for shoes on Snapdeal, leave the site without a transaction and then log on to Facebook to view a friend's latest display picture, chances are the picture will be followed by a shoe advertisement, as you scroll down. This concept draws more customers and accounts for more sales than banner advertisements on websites, which is why companies and brands are increasingly focusing on retargeting.

Large companies such as Drawbridge and Tapad, with revenue run rate of $20 million and sales of $100 million, respectively, are the big fish of cross-device ad retargeting, following consumers as they move from desktops to tablets to phones. This is done by dropping a cookie on a website a consumer has visited and matching these cookies. The Wall Street Journal describes cookies as tiny pieces of code that marketers deploy on web browsers to track people's online movements, serve targeted advertising and amass valuable user profiles.

The problem becomes more complex in trying to track consumers on mobiles, as these devices don't accept cookies. Increasingly, though, it will be important for brands to have a mobile strategy, as Indian users increasingly access internet through smartphones. About 20 per cent of online transactions are through smartphones.

This is the technology SilverPush is trying to sharpen - tracking users as they move from browser to app on mobile.

No clear answers
"You've heard the phrase 'it's not rocket science'. Well, this is rocket science," says a senior marketing executive of a mobile phone company, requesting anonymity as he isn't authorised to talk to the media.

Since cookies do not exist in mobile retargeting, everyone's fishing for a way out. Social networking giant Facebook launched its own mobile retargeting last month, a year after launching its ad exchange.

On SilverPush, Alok Mittal, a venture capitalist who has invested in location-based mobile advertising company AdNear, says, "In mobile, there are no cookies. So, I am curious. Expenditure will shift to the mobile advertising area, as mobiles are available to 600-800 million. The Indian market, however, is still very slow."

SilverPush founders say they identify a smartphone device (read user) through 50 parameters, based on data collected through ad exchanges, app owners and advertisers. This data is crunched to arrive at a smartphone's profile. "We sanitise the data; we segment it," says co-founder Mudit Seth, 27. "We come out with the intent of the user, based on which we come out with user behaviour."

So, a person who browses photography sites will be shown camera advertisements on games she plays.

SilverPush claims to have profiled 80 million devices in India, virtually most of 3G/4G users, which mobile marketing resource site mobithinking.com pegged at 88.5 million, based on the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India statistics. "We have collected this data in the last six months," says Seth.

Though feature phones outsell smartphones globally, the trend is expected to change by 2016.

The ad exchanges SilverPush works with - Smaato, PubMatic, MoPub (being bought by Twitter) and AdIquity - also have ad inventory from publishers or app owners such as Facebook and Angry Birds. SilverPush bids for this ad inventory through the exchanges. The cost of the ad depends on the popularity of the publisher; displaying an ad on Facebook is among the costliest.

"We process a billion ad requests a day for India alone; now, we are starting in the US as well," says Chawla. The company's clients have included Myntra, Jabong, Dominos, Airtel, Paytm, Firstcry and Samsung.

For Seth and Chawla, SilverPush is the second entrepreneurial venture. Earlier, they partnered an outdoor advertising company that failed to take off, as the two found the business non-transparent.

Now, both are excited about innovations in the mobile space. "In (every) six months, everything changes," says Seth. The two say their company is expanding its reach by working with ad agencies such as ad2c and Madhouse, which provide it work instead of going to clients directly.

Chawla says the company is rejecting buyout offers. "(The offers are) very enticing personally, a million-plus dollars in cash," say Chawla and Seth, almost in unison, seeming excited as they play with their mobiles in the cafeteria of their Gurgaon office.

Google, Facebook
For SilverPush, the big guns of internet are likely to pose the biggest challenge. Google, Facebook and Microsoft are developing systems to bypass software companies that place cookies on websites and develop data mining abilities on their own.

Microsoft has announced it will give marketers the ability to track and advertise to people who use apps on its Windows 8 and 8.1 operating systems on tablets and PCs. The company will do this by assigning each user a number - a unique identifier - that monitors them across all their apps.

Google's plans, which the company disclosed only in broad terms, would also use a unique identifier.

Facebook's new ad service, launched in October, got around traditional third-party advertising cookies by doing the tracking on its own, said the Wall Street Journal. When a person visits a website selling shoes on a work PC, a piece of Facebook code placed on that site - Facebook's own cookie - recognises the person has logged on to Facebook using that browser earlier. The shoe seller can then send the person an ad for the product on the Facebook mobile app, even if that person never registered with the shoe seller.


If you understand the online world, the world of desktop web, cookies are the secret sauce to everything cool that can be achieved through online advertising. Websites put cookies on you when you visit their pages, and these can do wonders when it comes to targeting.

On the browser-led internet, cookies for all browsers are common. Google will look at your cookie from a previous visit to a news site and show you an ad with a, say, Newsweek subscription. Naaptol will study your browsing habits, and if you are identified as, say, a woman, offer you cutlery deals.

The web is the only medium able to segment consumers by their behaviour, and allows advertisers to target customers. On billboards or TV, behavioural targeting isn't possible.

Mobile phones, however, don't store cookies; you need another identifier. For smartphones, while Android has its own ID, iOS (Apple's operating system) has not settled on a particular ID and so, everyone's struggling there. Luckily, most smartphones in the Asia-Pacific have Android operating systems.

That's what SilverPush has done - it has developed the ability to identify Android users. By identifying the sites you have visited, they can segment you in terms of female, age group, sport lover, etc. Because they have been able to identify Android users, they are going to advertisers.

For instance, when Gillette brings out a ladies' razor, SilverPush can say "through my technology, I can identify five million women users and re-target them for you". So, instead of Rs 2 a click for a generic ad campaign, Gillette may be happier paying double for reaching a targeted audience for better conversions.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Fazilka residents recall battle of Beriwala : Pak General’s brother Maj Shabbir Sharif was killed in this fierce man-to-man combat in 1971

Praful Chander Nagpal

Fazilka, December 1, 2013
The appointment of General Raheel Sharif as Pakistan army chief has revived memories of the 1971 Indo-Pak war with special reference to Fazilka. General Sharif perhaps may be unable to forget the bitter memories of one of the fierce man-to-man battles as he had lost his elder brother Major Shabbir Sharif at the hands of Indian Army Major Narain Singh in the Fazilka sector.

Pakistan had launched a determined attack in this sector to capture Fazilka town on December 3, 1971. Pakistani forces, led by Major Sharif, had advanced in the Indian Territory beyond the first defence line across the strategically important Beriwala bridge.

The B company of 4 Jat Regiment of the Indian Army led by Major Narain Singh was assigned the task to stall the heavy Pakistani invasion and recapture Beriwala bridge. In the ensuing battle, both Major Narain Singh and Major Sharif were killed after displaying exemplary bravery.

Pakistan honoured Major Sharif with its highest gallantry award Nishan-e-Haider while Major Narain Singh was conferred with Veer Chakra.

"Their tales of rare act of bravery continued to do rounds in the Indian and Pakistan circles for a long period," says octogenarian Mohan Lal Paruthi, the founder general secretary of 1971 Indo-Pak War Memorial at Asafawala. He had witnessed the collective cremation of 82 martyrs of 4 Jat Regiment, including Major Narain Singh. The cremation was held at Asafwala village by area veterans where the memorial was later built. "During the exchange of bodies after the ceasefire, Pakistan army personnel had saluted the mortal remains of Major Narain Singh", says Paruthi.

Significantly, Pakistan Major General Muqueen Khan in his book equated the bravery of Major Narain Singh with Major Sharif.

The memorial raised by Fazilka residents is a place of obeisance and pilgrimage, says Urmila Bhatiyal, the widow of Major Narain Singh, whose bust has been installed at the memorial. Urmila and her son Dr Narinder are frequent visitors to the place.

Dr Narinder says: "I am proud of my father Major Narain Singh whose name lives on. If I get a chance to serve the country I will not miss the opportunity."