Sig9: An End of an Era

Sugar for your brain. Sig9, mine and Vivek‘s (and Anoop‘s and Sherin’s) dream creation was my first foray into any sort of news and community site. It’s history deserves recording, since it’s played a huge part in the last few years of my technical life.

Vivek came up with the name, and initially we designed it as a site to create some sort of technical enthusiasm in our class at college. Happily, our friends didn’t seem too taken up with the idea. I say happily, because that urged us to change it’s focus. It went through numerous avatars: a wiki-like site with a homegrown CMS, a mostly-static site that served articles (and which led to content stagnation) and somehow we ended up with a Drupal-powered blog, while at the same time serving targeted articles. And a couple of popular articles later, we were on our way to glory! 🙂

What Sig9 taught me is how very different people can come together to have a focused site. I think it must from the second or third year on that Vivek’s interests and mine started diverging really fast, and while he posted articles on the arcane art of OS development and language design, I stuck to web design and development. Yup, from the very beginning, he was a Linux junkie while I argued for a Microsoft OS, but what happened I think, at the end is that we ended up influencing each other a lot. I use a Mac now (and I love it for the Unix underpinnings), and Vivek designed the current Sig9 layout. One very important lesson learnt: even if your interests are widely different, you can always learn something from each other. Towards the end, we had very strict rules for content quality. We didn’t want to be a link blog, so we asked every contributor to qualify the link with how it related to him personally, but we always had just one criterion for inclusion: the post should be “interesting”. Sufficiently vague, much like the definition of porn 🙂

And how very often, chaos is preferrable over organization. The ambitious Sig9 admin-wiki quickly stagnated because writing down every admin action quickly leads to more metadata than actual content. It might work for Wikipedia, but for smaller community sites, organization should naturally evolve from chaos with the bare minimum of fuss.

Did we succeed at what we wanted to do? Not really. Sig9 never had the level of interactivity or community that I envisioned. But I’m sure it taught us a lot.

Interestingly, Vivek is also joining a startup company in Bangalore: Montalvo (He left for Blore today, which is what precipitated this post). He tells me Sig9 played a large part in him getting the job. Now that we’ll be in very different places, and busy with our jobs and RL, will it ever revive itself? I’m pretty sure it would. It’s too interesting an effort not to try. We don’t have any definite plans now, but when we do, you’ll be the first to know.

The end of an era. And perhaps, the beginning of a new one. 😉

An Open Letter to Hutch India

Dear Hutch,

I demand a public apology. You bungled up the BPL transition horribly, and you have to make amends. Face the facts: it’s been over two months since BPL Kerala went pink, and the customer experience has continued to be horrible. If there’s a way to acquire a controlling stake and then integrate a different operator service into your framework, you’ve shown us that this is not it, definitely.

Constant “network busy” errors, wacky billing errors, zero availability of the 111 customer service number (on purpose, perhaps?), changing helplines and recharge shortcodes without any definite intimation, taking down your value-added-services almost at a whim, and the best of all – forced re-submission of all registration data! Just because you are all pretty in pink (and orange and whatnot) doesn’t mean that customers will flock to you.

And what a letdown! The huge “Hutch is coming” feeling that permeated the state and the immense publicity of the launch-day gala made me think, “Wow, I’ll finally get to use a real operator.” Call forwarding, call waiting, put a call on hold, maybe even GPRS and some 2G VAS. But nope, you gave me hell on earth. If I want to make a call from my cell – to any other mobile operator, including intra-circle calls – I have to face on an average, on bad days, at least a 2 minute delay while I work out the network busy errors: there’s no clear-cut solution except to press “redial” again and again and again. And when finally the call does get through, bad reception and voice quality, crackling and interference and sometimes even connections to completely different numbers! We are not living in the 1980s any longer! And just because this state happens to be way down (geographically) doesn’t mean you get to play frisbee with us.

What I’d like is some kind of admission that there are problems. Some kind of data that says that you are working on these issues because on-the-road user experience is way worse now than two months ago. The only positive indication seems to be the way coverage has improved, but that’s such a small piece of the pie. Instead, every one of the bland customer-support personnel seems intent on regarding mistakes during the transition with an all-in-a-day’s work attitude. The axiom seems to be “The customer will always suffer”.

There was a particularly funny incident (in that sad but funny way) during one of the earlier days. Hutch (and earlier, BPL) provide a status SMS immediately after the call gets over which has the amount of money that I spent on it. That’s the useful information, the rest of it are ads. But I’m digressing. By design, these annoying messages are only delivered once after a call. On that fateful day, around every three minutes I would receive that very same message on my cell. Irritated, I called up, to face an irate customer-care rep who got angry at me for disturbing him in the dead of the night (It was around 1). While on a personal level I pity the customer-care reps, the technical bungling that had to happen for a frickin disaster like this only proves my point. Didn’t you have a plan before you ventured into the merger?

Do give me some indication that the tide is changing. Be (wo)man enough to admit that you made mistakes too. An SMS that I got today said I’ll have call-waiting and forwarding enabled finally. Is that true, or is it more promises not delivered? Or is it something like what I like to call the Hutch-recharge-loop: when I call 141 to recharge, it says “Call 500,” and when I call 500, it says “Welcome to Hutch. BPL Mobile is now Hutch. Call 141 to recharge.” How is any uninformed customer supposed to recharge his mobile connection?

Do not bungle up again. Please. I like the image that Hutch offers to the media a lot. The cool kid on the block, the cool ads, the really cool understated media presence. I’d really love to be a Hutch customer. But give me respect.