Why the SC ruling on ‘Private Players’ use of Aadhaar doesn’t say what you think it does

On behalf of iSPIRT, Sanjay Jain recently published an opinion piece regarding the recent supreme court judgement on the validity of Aadhaar. In there, we stated that section 57 had been struck down, but that should still allow some usage of Aadhaar by the private sector. iSPIRT received feedback that this reading may have been incorrect and that private sector usage would not be allowed, even on a voluntary basis. So, we dug deeper, and analyzed the judgement once again, this time trying to disprove Sanjay’s earlier statement. So, here is an update:

Section 57 of the Aadhaar act has NOT been struck down!

Given the length of the judgement, our first reading – much like everyone else’s was driven by the judge’s statement and confirmed by quickly parsing the lengthy judgement. But in this careful reanalysis, we reread the majority judgement at leisure and drilled down into the language of the operative parts around Section 57. Where ambiguities still remain, we relied on the discussions leading up to the operative conclusions. Further, to recheck our conclusions, we look at some of the other operative clauses not related to Section 57. We tested our inference against everything else that has been said and we looked for inconsistencies in our reasoning.

Having done this, we are confident in our assertion that the judges did not mean to completely blockade the use of Aadhaar by private parties, but merely enforce better guardrails for the protection of user privacy. Let’s begin!

Revisiting Section 57

Here is the original text of section 57 of the Aadhaar Act

Nothing contained in this Act shall prevent the use of Aadhaar number for establishing the identity of an individual for any purpose a purpose backed by law, whether by the State or any body corporate or person, pursuant to any law, for the time being in force, or any contract to this effect:

Provided that the use of Aadhaar number under this section shall be subject to the procedure and obligations under section 8 and Chapter VI.

Now, let us simply read through the operating part of the order with reference to Section 57, ie. on page 560. This is a part of paragraph 447 (4) (h). The judges broke this into 3 sections, and mandated changes:

  1. ‘for any purpose’ to be read down to a purpose backed by law.
  2. ‘any contract’ is not permissible.
  3. ‘any body corporate or person’ – this part is struck down.

Applying these changes to the section, we get:

Nothing contained in this Act shall prevent the use of Aadhaar number for establishing the identity of an individual for any purpose a purpose backed by law, whether by the State or any body corporate or person, pursuant to any law, for the time being in force, or any contract to this effect:

Provided that the use of Aadhaar number under this section shall be subject to the procedure and obligations under section 8 and Chapter VI.

Cleaning this up, we get:

Nothing contained in this Act shall prevent the use of Aadhaar number for establishing the identity of an individual pursuant to any law, for the time being in force:

Provided that the use of Aadhaar number under this section shall be subject to the procedure and obligations under section 8 and Chapter VI.

It is our opinion that this judgement does not completely invalidate the use of Aadhaar by private players, but rather, specifically strikes down the use for “any purpose [..] by any body corporate or person [..] (under force of) any contract”. That is, it requires the use of Aadhaar be purpose-limited, legally-backed (to give user rights & protections over their data) and privacy-protecting.

As an exercise, we took the most conservative interpretation – “all private use is struck down in any form whatsoever” – and reread the entire judgement to look for clues that support this conservative view.

Instead, we found that such an extreme view is inconsistent with multiple other statements made by the judges. As an example, earlier discussions of Section 57 in the order (paragraphs 355 to 367). The conclusion there – paragraph 367 states:

The respondents may be right in their explanation that it is only an enabling provision which entitles Aadhaar number holder to take the help of Aadhaar for the purpose of establishing his/her identity. If such a person voluntary wants to offer Aadhaar card as a proof of his/her identity, there may not be a problem.

Some pointed out that this is simply a discussion and not an operative clause of the judgement. But even in the operative clauses where the linking of Aadhaar numbers with bank accounts and telecom companies is discussed, no reference was made to Section 57 and the use of Aadhaar by private banks and telcos.

The court could have simply struck down the linking specifically because most banks and telcos are private companies. Instead, they applied their mind to the orders which directed the linking as mandatory. This further points to the idea that the court does not rule out the use of Aadhaar by private players, it simply provides stricter specifications on when and how to use it.

What private players should do today

In our previous post, we had advised private companies to relook at their use of Aadhaar, and ensure that they provide choice to all users, so that they can use an appropriate identity, and also build in better exception handling procedures for all kinds of failures (including biometric failures).

Now, in addition to our previous advice, we would like to expand the advice to ask that each company look at how their specific use case draws from the respective acts, rules, regulations and procedural guidelines to ensure that these meet the tests used by this judgement. That is, they contain adequate justification and sufficient protections for the privacy of their users.

For instance, banks have been using Aadhaar eKyc to open a bank account, Aadhaar authentication to allow operation of the bank accounts, and using the Aadhaar number as a payment address to receive DBT benefits. Each of these will have to be looked at how they derive from the RBI Act and the regulations that enable these use cases.

These reviews will benefit from the following paragraphs in the judgement.

The judgement confirmed that the data collected by Aadhaar is minimal and is required to establish one’s identity.

Paragraph 193 (and repeated in other paras):

Demographic information, both mandatory and optional, and photographs does not raise a reasonable expectation of privacy under Article 21 unless under special circumstances such as juveniles in conflict of law or a rape victim’s identity. Today, all global ID cards contain photographs for identification alongwith address, date of birth, gender etc. The demographic information is readily provided by individuals globally for disclosing identity while relating with others and while seeking benefits whether provided by government or by private entities, be it registration for citizenship, elections, passports, marriage or enrolment in educational institutions …

The judgement has a lot to say in terms of what the privacy tests should be, but we would like to highlight two of those paragraphs here.

Paragraph 260:

Before we proceed to analyse the respective submissions, it has also to be kept in mind that all matters pertaining to an individual do not qualify as being an inherent part of right to privacy. Only those matters over which there would be a reasonable expectation of privacy are protected by Article 21…

Paragraph 289:

‘Reasonable Expectation’ involves two aspects. First, the individual or individuals claiming a right to privacy must establish that their claim involves a concern about some harm likely to be inflicted upon them on account of the alleged act. This concern ‘should be real and not imaginary or speculative’. Secondly, ‘the concern should not be flimsy or trivial’. It should be a reasonable concern…

Hence, the privacy risk in these use cases must be evaluated in terms of the data in the use case itself, as well as in relation to biometrics, and the Aadhaar number in the context of the user’s expectations, and real risks. Businesses must evaluate their products, and services – particularly those which use Aadhaar for privacy risks. It is helpful that the UIDAI has provided multiple means of mitigating risks, in the form of Registered Devices, Virtual Ids, Tokenization, QR Codes on eAadhaar, etc. which must be used for this purpose.

What private players should do tomorrow

In the future, the data protection bill will require a data protection impact assessment before deploying large scale systems. It is useful for businesses to bring in privacy and data protection assessments early in their development processes since it will help them better protect their users, and reduce potential liability.

This is a useful model, and we would hope that, in light of the Supreme Court judgement, the Government will introduce a similar privacy impact review, and provide a mechanism to regulate the use of Aadhaar for those use cases, where there are adequate controls to protect the privacy of the users and to prevent privacy harms. Use cases, and an audit/enforcement mechanism matter more than whether the entity is the state, a public sector organization, or a private sector organization.

Note: This is in continuation of Sanjay Jain’s previous op-ed in the Economic Times which is available here and same version on the iSPIRT blog here.

The writer is currently Partner, Bharat Innovation Fund, and Chief Innovation Officer at the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship, IIM Ahmedabad. As a volunteer at iSPIRT, he helped define many of the APIs of the India Stack.  He was the Chief Product Manager of UIDAI till 2012

(Disclaimer: This is not legal advice)

Collaborating Framebench way!

As cloud based platform for online collaboration, communication & feedback platform Pune based startup Framebench is driven to hold your central workplace where you can store & share your creative assets. The objective is to help all your remote team members and clients to review, mark changes required on the assets and even host discussions on them in real time. All of this is automatically documented for viewing later.

Online collaboration is a method that gives the ease of access to work together with your team online simultaneously. Over the last few years, online collaboration has got a few adjustments done and all we can say, yes, it is better than ever. The World Wide Web has exploded with information, there are new ideas created, implemented, and trashed every day. Restricting yourself to one idea at one location is not doing justice to the race of technology. This is where online collaboration tool comes into play. If you have the right tools, using the technology to your advantage becomes even easier. Co-founded by BITS Pilani alumni Rohit Agarwal and Vineet Markan, Framebench is a promising venture in an exciting space. Framebench is built as a HTML5 web application with some of the latest technologies in the backend. The team depends on web sockets and low latency media streaming in order to achieve near real time collaboration among browser clients. The server side is built with a clear objective to serve thousands of concurrent connections which in turn allows them to scale effortlessly using the amazon web services. It helps teams to quickly annotate and collaborate on images, documents and videos and review them online. Teams can suggest edits and approve files in a single place which substantially reduces their time to market. The best part being able to achieve this workflow completely in real-time and can also be executed in an online conference environment.

According to the Co-founder Rohit Agarwal they already have over 1000 companies using the platform. These include the likes of Unilever, Prime Focus, HBO etc. However as Rohit shares the challenge post product launch in Feb 2013 was to acquire users. They spoke to college users and about 800 designers within the first two months of the launch. This was to get feedback and user experience reports. This helps them to build a business around the product that users enjoyed using.

Frambench is currently focused on expanding their paid user base and making it popular amongst lawyers, architects, consultants and other professional groups with attractive pricing structure and options. This they believe can be achieved via strategic partnership with various large players across the globe. The team is also exploring series of fund raising with well-known venture capitalists in India and the United States.

Oogwave gained insights from CIOs at the 8th #PNMeetup

5 CIOs/Mentors, 2 startups showcasing their products, 12 good listeners and a rainy Noida morning at Adobe campus. We had a different setting this time, 15 minute of product demo and 60 minutes of quality one-on-one with the CIO community. We had two startups – Gaurav Jain, Founder & CEO of Oogwave & Vikram Bahl, Founder & CEO, Yavvy who got mentoring/guidance on their product strategy, Go-To-Market (GTM), scaling and sales among other things. Sharing some takeaways which Oogwave shared with us.

Oogwave is the content sharing platform for Enterprises, albeit the medium sized ones, and they wanted a ‘peek’ into a CIO’s perspective in order to better position themselves in the crowded market-space.

Some of the takeaways from the #PNMeetup were:

The biggest takeaway for us was that we do not need to necessarily focus on smaller/medium companies and if we are able to increase productivity, the CTOs of larger companies are more than likely to take notice, especially if we can reduce the total cost of ownership.

As we are in the business of becoming the platform of choice for enterprise collaboration, it’s priceless for us to gain insights into priorities in a CIO’s scheme of things. So while we do employ all the right technology for data security and already work on the principles of compartmentalization and least privileges, we hadn’t given much thought towards getting ourselves ISO certified. It really helps to know we can improve our prospects substantially by demonstrating that we have adequate process maturity and robust safeguards to ensure data security in line with industry standards as per ISO.

Sitting across country’s top CIO’s is quite an elucidating experience, but at the #PNMeetup we additionally got to interact with other passionate young entrepreneurs. This invigorating passion improves everyone’s morale especially when the going is tough, which is not that rare when you are an entrepreneur fighting to carve out a niche for yourself and your product. Talking to fellow product creators, understanding their challenges and accomplishments, builds up a camaraderie and is great for the startup ecosystem in the sense of building ties and establishing mutually beneficial relationships among entrepreneur community. Gaurav Jain, Founder, Oogwave

We hope to build this program on a monthly basis. If you are interested to be part of this program, do share us an email at pnmeetup(at)pn.ispirt.in

Kreeo Makes Disparate Information Discoverable and Manageable for Collaboration

Launched in 2007 in India, Kreeo helps organizations enable information discovery, collaboration and co-creation. CEO Sumeet Anand discusses knowledge/information management solutions in a Big Data world and shares lessons learned along the startup’s journey and pivot from consumer to enterprise software. This article is brought to SandHill readers in partnership with ProductNation 

SandHll.com: Please describe your company and product focus. 

Sumeet Anand: Our key offering is the “Kreeo Enterprise” product and solutions around it.  Kreeo helps organizations to enable information discovery, collaboration and co-creation among people to synergize them as a corporate mind. We strive to facilitate better expression, creation and management of knowledge in ecosystems and to address the needs of a future driven by Big Data, open data and linked data.

Kreeo uniquely combines the strengths of social computing, application PaaS, Big Data and an interoperability layer in a unified framework. Kreeo solutions are applied to a wide variety of contexts such as market-intelligence management, knowledge-centered support, corporate KM intranet, social learning, etc.

By using Kreeo, customers can get rid of multiple application silos and can unify information from multiple sources (internal and external/Web) and make it easily discoverable and collaborative.

Kreeo is currently available for on-premises and private cloud deployments, and we are working on our SaaS offering. The product is applicable to almost all industries and we provide vertical solutions to customers for specific scenarios. Our key targets are medium and large organizations in the BFSI vertical. 

SandHill.com: There are a lot of software products for information management. What is unique about Kreeo? 

Sumeet Anand: Most of the knowledge that matters for a business is either with people or is outside an enterprise on the Web. Traditionally for information discovery and collaboration, companies applied multiple solutions such as social networks, search appliances, micro blogging, content management, document management, file sharing, wiki, blogs, RSS, bookmarking and analytics.

With Kreeo organizations don’t need any of the above as modules or separate solutions; they can do all that and much more with a unified solution that also intelligently organizes (multi-dimensionally) a company’s knowledge and interactions and makes them easily discoverable in a simple, sensible and highly secure (object-level secure access) way.

Using Kreeo, people can get access to real-time results from the Web around their interests (news, customers, competition, technology, markets, etc.) along with all that is available internally inside the company (documents, project info, support content, learning content, user-generated content, etc.).

Users can create content objects and co-edit them like a wiki object or keep them as author-editable blog posts. They can co-edit in draft as well as published mode. Kreeo provides access to near-real-time structured data (graphs, charts, tables) from sources like Bloomberg, etc. along with unstructured content created internally and from multiple Web sources.

Our solution can greatly enhance the productivity of knowledge workers across marketing, sales, R&D, strategy and operations teams.

Read the complete article at Sandhill.com

A product’s success goes beyond its features

It is an irony of sorts: the more things get real, the more they need to go virtual; and the more virtual they get, the more there is a need to balance the two with Augmented Reality. That is the case with events. As events – trade fairs, conferences, seminars, exhibitions – become bigger and span multiple dates, multiple venues, have multiple tracks and hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of participants, there is no way to keep pace with the event. So, what do you do? You get your event on a platform like Event2Mobile that lets you distribute event details like agenda, attendees, exhibitors, location etc with ease and without the problems of cost, time and distribution associated with print. And, of course, putting it on a mobile ensures that the event goes wherever the stakeholder goes.

Event2Mobile, of course, is selling the service on the strength of interactivity, deeper engagement with attendees, experiential capabilities, ability to update the event on the fly (and let attendees know about it instantly), networking capability, integration with weather updates and Google maps, live chats and so on. Not that it takes much intelligence to guess what a mobile app for events should be doing – but the thing about Event2Mobile is that it does all of what you guessed plus some more (there is a free version of the service, but it works only on the iPhone).

The intriguing part is the thinking that the platform has put in place. For example, delegates have a QR code that can be scanned and this makes it easy and accurate to send mailers or additional information to the delegate without having to exchange cards and keeping track of what needs to be mailed. The service also provides event analytics – if it can do this in real time, it can help event organizers deal with upcoming problems to ensure a better experience (like incentivizing attendees to go to Restaurant B on the venue when Restaurant A appears to be filling up).

The challenge with such a service is that it can be mimicked overnight. What took the original development team months to think through and get right can be copied in a few hours by a competitor. There are no real barriers to the business. Over a period of time a service like Event2Mobile will survive on competitive pricing. This means two things: first, it must race to bring in customers to recover development cost before competition begins to eat into the market; second, it must bundle itself as a component of enterprise grade Trade Promotion Organization (TPO) and Trade Promotion Management (TPM) solutions.

CollateBox: Cloud-Based Software Simplifies Small Biz Collaboration

Small businesses with growing lists of data are the ideal customer for U.S.-incorporated CollateBox, a software product of India-based WOLF Frameworks. Sunny Ghosh, co-founder and CEO, describes CollateBox’s value proposition and the factors that influenced its development. This article is brought to SandHill readers in partnership with ProductNation. 

SandHill.com: Please describe your product and how it provides business value for your customers.

Sunny Ghosh: Companies collaborate on lists of data with a lot of people, internally and externally, for different projects. But organizing and keeping track of these growing lists is a nightmare — from scouting mailboxes to finding the latest spreadsheet version to collect validated data.

CollateBox is a simpler way to collaborate on a list without creating and emailing multiple copies of spreadsheets. It lets users collect data from multiple sources, organize and securely share parts of a growing list with team members. And there’s no software to install; everything works online in a secure cloud environment and can be used for any business process.

CollateBox also helps companies set up processes to maintain a workflow and keep data organized, saving precious time and money. Users can also view instant notifications and summaries on every record of their data with the added ability to comment and add attachments. 

SandHill.com: Please describe your market and typical users of CollateBox.

Sunny Ghosh: CollateBox is best suitable for companies and teams with 100 people or less. It is suitable to any business scenario that involves growing lists of data. HR managers use it to work together with HR executives to qualify a list of new recruits. Companies can use it for sales leads, automatically assigning prospects to the sales team as a new lead is qualified. A marketing coordinator can use CollateBox to maintain a single list to coordinate email campaign dates with the marketing team.

Other examples of how small companies use our product include: tracking production updates and sharing it with top management, allocating service requests to support agents and visualize a summary of service statuses, and an operations manager can use it to recruit new partners using online forms and automatically collate all data in their CollateBox account.

SandHill.com: How did your company and CollateBox originate?

Sunny Ghosh: We founded WOLF Frameworks in 2006 with an aim to democratize computing by introducing savings of more than 60 percent in time and cost and with zero technical coding skill for developing and delivering new business software.

Our first WOLF product was an Online Database Application Platform. Launched in 2008, it helps database architects and application developers to rapidly configure and run all sorts of online applications without writing a single line of technical code — even for firing complex business logic. We netted over 40,000 end users during out first 30 months of business.

A year later, our Platform as a Service product was being used in more than 20 business applications. In 2010 WOLF bagged the Information Week Silver Edge Awards at INTEROP and was named GARTNER Cool Vendor Award for Platform as a Service worldwide.

In 2011, we ideated on DBMonk, which was incubated by VertExperts LLP for early validation.

DBMonk renamed to CollateBox Inc. and was incorporated in October 2011, in the state of Delaware, USA. We released the minimum viable product for selected users in 2012 and subsequently had more than 10,000 user registrations. In 2013 we signed up our first set of paid customers for CollateBox and released version 2.2 for more than 1,000 users.

Read the complete post at Sandhill.com

How Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Kathapurushan became a Software Product Entrepreneur ?

From being the protagonist of an Adoor Gopalakrishnan national award  winning movie to a graphics trainer, from a book publisher to a printer, from services to products, our guest today has been there, done that. Meet Vish, the MD of Logical Steps.

ProductNation: Hi Vish. Welcome to Product Nation. Let us begin with your story.

Vish: I was born in an entrepreneurial family. My family ran a printing press in Kerala. So I grew up living entrepreneurship and also picking up skills to run a printing press. Childhood was exciting, as we were always creating something. As far as my education is concerned, I enrolled for an undergraduate Physics program at the Moscow State University. University had some of the finest minds in Physics teaching the subject. But, the 1991 coup cut short all this excitement. This brief stint while I was in Moscow, made me realize that college education does not prepare you for life. Though, I was not keen to go back to college, it was family pressure that saw me write three years physics papers in one shot. All this for a degree from the University of Kerala, Trivandrum. Isn’t degree everything?

It was around the same time that I got introduced to computers. My father had made investments into offset printing and desktop publishing. I soon found an entire computer science department to myself, right from laser printers to 486 machines. I learnt everything from scratch. It was time for my first fling with entrepreneurship. It was an MS-DOS pocket reference manual. Using a microsoft reference manual as the guide, I printed out some MS-DOS reference manual copies and handed it over to a local bookshop for sale. Surprisingly, the book shop came back for more. Simultaneously, I also ventured into Desktop publishing training, as the printing industry was moving in that direction. These experiments gave me the confidence that I could do something on my own

ProductNation: When did you get the time to do the Adoor Gopalakrishnan movie? And why do you consider it your first product experience?

Vish: Adoor Gopalakrishnan is a family friend and I had done a small role in one of his earlier films. He talked me into playing the lead role in a film called Kathapurushan. It went on to win the National Award in 1996. He knew about my background in printing. So, during the film, I got involved into many aspects of the movie production – recording audio, printing of collateral and special books. And working with Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who cared about every little detail and to experience his passion and leadership. I consider that experience extremely precious and a sort of first in making a product.

ProductNation: Which were the other movies you did?

Vish: No, I went back into computer training with a company called Tandem. Tandem, which was based in Trivandrum, sent me to CDAC Pune for a course called DACA – Diploma in Advanced Computer Arts. As a trainer, I was to learn this course and come back to Trivandrum to teach. At this course, I was the only one from a non-arts background, as the others were all from JJ and similar schools. But, I topped the class and got a break into advertising with a Kirloskar group company – Pratibha Advertising. One of the noteworthy projects that I did while at Pratibha was a digital kiosk that was showcased at the first Auto Expo in New Delhi. I quickly realised that digital advertising in India at that time was still very early. So I packed up my bags and went to Singapore for a teaching assignment with a University. But, I ended up joining a digital marketing company there. It was here that I spent close to five years till the dot com bust in 2000 consumed it. During my stint here, I got in depth experience into e-learning.

ProductNation: Is that when you started your current company, logical steps ?

Vish: Yes. I came back to India, after the dotcom bust. And that is when we started Logical Steps. We began by supplying learning content for television. We were paid 10% of the contracted amount. That is when I understood the trouble of doing business in India. So, I went back to Singapore to source business and keep the business running. It was challenging. I was using my salary to finance the business. I was not keen to close down and let go of my staff who had picked up extremely useful skills. So, we kept going. It was during this that we got a chance to service AIG for one of their projects. So that is how our services business started.

ProductNation: What happened to e-learning, then? And the platform? How did you start silver bullet?

Vish: An opportunity came up to create an e-learning engine for the US Market in the area of Medical Entrance exam called MCAT. A doctor who was considered the guru of MCAT had already created a large amount of content plus created analytics metrics to appraise students. We were given the project to create a platform that could provide all of this. This project gave us tremendous exposure to learning frameworks and gave us the idea to create a product on our own. That is how the idea of SilverBullet came up.By that time, I had also realised the limitations of a services business. So, we were all set for a product pitch in late 2010. While we built the platform quickly, content became a challenge. So we had to invest resources in training teachers to address this issue of content. This consumed our resources and it was our services business that was feeding silverbullet. It took us some time to adjust to this new reality, as we were dealing with an individual customer, unlike a corporate entity as in our services business.

ProductNation: Let us talk about silver bullet? Any learnings that you would like to share.

Vish: Silver Bullet is an online learning system for engineering and medical entrance examinations in India. There have been tremendous learnings. Unlike servicing a business, in this case, it was a B2C online product. It took us some time to figure out our Go-To-Market approach. We felt schools were the touch point, but it wasn’t so. Then we tried facebook, and it wasn’t the touch point. The most profound insight came from my 10 year old daughter, who frankly said that students are not interested in adding more studies to their daily work. She went ahead and said that no one would like to put themselves into trouble by opting for a Free Trial. How true? Students are already overworked. In all this, we figured out that it is the parent who is the touch point. And the parent was in a totally different world and a world that wasn’t online. The only way to reach them was through traditional media. It was then, that we checked out the media budgets of other online learning companies and found that they spend 19% to 20% of their revenue on ad budgets that run into crores, it is a totally different league. And that is how these companies are reaching out to parents. Parents are more than happy to add to the kid’s collection of material to consume.

ProductNation: Interesting, allow us to end this interview, with a difficult question. Looking back on your career, it is easy to see that you have been all over the place. How has it helped you in approaching your product business?

Vish: [Laughs] The product business is much like the movie business. If you see, my experience in diverse areas has given me ideas and the aptitude to create a wonderful product. Whether it is design or delivery, content or its packaging, all my earlier experience have served me well in developing Silver Bullet.

ProductNation: Wearing two hats at the same time i.e. services and products. What would you prefer? And what challenges do you face, while doing so?

Vish: Product without a doubt. It is something that you can own. But, when working on a product, especially when you are just starting off, managing the internal aspirations of the team becomes difficult.

ProductNation: Thank you, Vish for talking to ProductNation. We wish you all the very best in living up to these challenges.

LurnQ: Indian startup that’s building a personalised MOOC

Update: Some readers have asked for information about MOOCs. A (MOOC) massive open online course is an online educational resource that is available for open access via the web. MOOCs originated around 2008 within the open educational resources (or OER) movement. For more, refer to the Wikipedia link.

Online learning is undergoing a paradigm shift and this Forbes article is a pointer of the shape of things to come. Coursera, Khan Academy, Udacity, Udemy etc are growing into large public platforms and likely to give competition to universities and colleges in the years to come.  

LurnQ is an Indian startup that is building a personalised learning management solution which can aggregate and curate content from the web. The key part of LurnQ replicates an experience that everyone is familiar with – using a user’s preferences to aggregate content from the web and display it like a Facebook newsfeed (see screenshot). This is a smart strategy and takes advantage of the the benefits of recognition (rather than recall).

The LurnQ platform consists of different applications that are bundled together into a SaaS platform. The core of the platform is a repository of web content from established MOOC sources like Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy etc. There is a learning app that displays content in multiple formats – video, slides, multimedia. And a teaching app that gives teacher the capability to put together a course.

The site has over 5000 registered users and is growing socially over 100% every month via Facebook (without ads). They also run a student ambassador program. And here’s a list of LurnQ lessons if you want to check them out.

For monetization, LurnQ is aiming Freemium. The core consumer product will remain free at all times  for learners and teachers. A premium version will be available for private or closed community deployment by individuals and organizations. Pricing details are still in the works.

For targeting growth, LurnQ plans to extend the Student Ambassador Program and drive teacher side adoption through special initiatives aimed at teachers. On the application front, they want to focus on viral features (follow lessons, users, Invite friends etc). Also possible is the route of content partnership with conferences. Mobile apps are planned at a later stage to drive on the go consumption across devices.

LurnQ looks like a refreshing idea and a spin on what others are doing in the MOOC space. The first challenge they face is getting to a threshold for their user base. The adoption of the newsfeed as a core experience is likely to help in viral growth. Though the homepage is a logged in experience and departs from the design pattern that characterises Web 2.0 user generated content platforms… this might prove an impediment to quick user acquisition.

Here’s wishing them the best in their efforts.

Product development is stimulating

“Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is wasting time. Vision with action can change the world.” Joel Author Baker. Abhiraj Malhotra is “Technology Head & Evangelist” – SchoolPad at Chalkpad Technologies Pvt. Ltd. 

Abhiraj is a passionate software developer and an entrepreneur, whose vision is to infuse productivity into organizations towards a positive change. His interest is in web technologies, web application development, and user interface designs. The Malaysian hockey federation recognized Abhiraj’s work and appropriately awarded him for designing and developing Hockey Champions trophy 2007 official website. This is an astonishing achievement! Today, Abhiraj’s flagship product is “Assistwindow.” 

The content of this interview has the potential to increase your organization’s productivity. Read on….

Please tell us your story that inspired you to be an entrepreneur.
Even when I was studying in school, I loved programming in C++. It not only helped me learn more but I was also able to dabble and learn the intricacies of programming. My passion to write computer programs blessed me with the much needed exposure to solve real-time problems. When I was studying 11th grade, I designed my first website. I kept enhancing my knowledge in programming through continuous learning. My first breakthrough in freelancing was the development of a matrimony portal in ASP 3.0, alternatively known as “Classic ASP” – a popular web development language then. 

I continued to succeed in my programming endeavors, and I was not only reaping financial rewards, but these successes were fuelling my entrepreneurial dreams. Infosys recruited me as a software engineer at my B.Tech campus interview in 2008. I served Infosys for two years. In pursuit of my entrepreneurial dream, I am now a partner in a scholastic organization in Chandigarh. 

Please define “Assistwindow” in less than 25 words.
“Assistwindow” is an online and internal Q&A platform for knowledge sharing & organizing. “Assistwindow” provides meaningful answers to seeking members, thus increasing organizational productivity.

Why and how did you start your company? Why this domain?
Product development is stimulating; hence I migrated to developing products for schools. I simply love my work. In my present work tenure, I enlightened myself in the usage of B2B (Business to Business) technology tools. My present journey also enlightens me much about business and client servicing from which I continually comprehend the multidimensional facets of user experience and product knowledge. 

My team has grown to a strong and dedicated seven member team over the last two years, and as a result of which my products are being developed successfully. During this journey, knowledge sharing was one of the management concerns that I reckoned could directly impact productivity. Since I derived tremendous value out of Q&A platforms such as “Stackoverflow” and “Quora,” I planned to construct an internal Q&A platform. Consequently, “Assistwindow” came into being.

“Assistwindow” is an online Q&A platform for sharing & organizing knowledge within an organization that provides relevant and meaningful answers to seeking members. Members of staff in an organization can answer questions raised by their counterparts anytime and from anywhere. The knowledge that is continually being built is grouped intelligently, and hence can be retrieved quickly. This results in an enhanced productivity for an organization since staff members avoid disturbing each other to gain answers and clarity.

When we deployed “Assistwindow” internally, we realized its tremendous value for internal knowledge sharing for B2B (Business to Business) organizations. This platform will facilitate greater productivity in an organization, since it empowers the staff to enhance their time management skills. 

What did you choose the name “Assistwindow?”
Those who seek knowledge require ‘assistance,’ and ‘window’ is primarily construed as an entrance of life (light and air). Thus our product derived its name “Assistwindow.” 

What is Assistwindow’s key differentiator?
The two core differentiators of “Assistwindow” are its simplicity and efficiency. It is a terrific value offering for it delivers its promises to increase clientele productivity. 

What is the greatest challenge AssistWindow has faced thus far? How did you overcome that challenge?
Our biggest challenge is to connect with people who need such a product. To overcome this challenge, we invest in social media. We share our experiences and learning through our blog named “Business, Web & More…” 

Our blogs have attracted people’s attention. Our recent blog titled “How Plans Kill Productivity” on “Hacker News” received 5000 unique hits within 5 to 6 hours of its publishing. 

Who are your potential clientele?
Our potential clientele are single or multi-site B2B (Business to Business) organizations with a need for internal knowledge sharing.

Organizations in the manufacturing and services verticals can also deploy “Assistwindow” as a personalized Q&A platform for their clients. The questions clients raise about the product and the answers received from the manufacturer will be grouped and reused as and when required. 

What are your future plans?
Our objective is to expand the reach of “Assistwindow” for it to serve our potential clientele. Moreover, any product of such a genre should be continually fine-tuned to keep abreast with the constant advancements in clientele need and technology.

What has been your moment of glory?
Our moments of glory will always reside in customer satisfaction on account of their enhanced business productivity through “Assistwindow.” 

What have been your personal and professional learnings thus far?
Consistency and patience is my primary learning. Nothing big can happen overnight, and one needs to be consistent with his time utilization for any meaningful achievement. 

I have also learnt not to work ad hoc. I desire planned routines of all the tasks that I like to accomplish. The tasks could relate to work, hobbies or even setting apart time to relax and restore my body. One needs to maintain a mix, for one cannot pursue a single objective always. 

I like to discuss any situation, for I believe courteous discussion will provide clarity to any situation 

Finally, I love writing, since writing helps me to think deep, and deep thoughts are vital to success. 

What support would you like?
The only support that will satisfy me is to expand the reach of “Assistwindow” as a tool to improve the business productivity of many more organizations.

BrightPod makes collaboration for digital marketers simpler and faster, much faster

Synage Software, more popularly known as the DeskAway guys, are on to their next thing and they are calling it BrightPod. Sticking to their expertise of developing collaboration software, BrightPod is a collaboration tool built specifically for digital marketers. I got an early peek into it and while the the product and the segment they are going after hold promise, it needs work on the interface and a big push on the adoption side.

Just like any other collaboration tool, you create a new pod (a fancier term for project) to get started. But that’s where the similarity ends. Now instead of adding individual tasks to it, you choose a workflow from the existing ones or you create your own (coming soon).

Most common marketing projects like an email marketing campaign, a Google Adwords campaign and a social media campaign are covered. Select the email marketing workflow and all the tasks that it needs are automatically added to the pod. Just assign a client, set deadlines, add team members and you are good to go. Digital agencies, who run the same kind of campaigns (at least structurally) for different clients will find this a huge time saver.

I tried two of the workflows – Google Adwords and email marketing. While the Google Adwords workflow was well defined, email marketing had me lost. The team would do well to reduce the number of tasks or mark the ones that not everyone bothers about as optional. Another challenge going ahead with the workflow would be that a large company works very differently from a startup, who would overlook a lot of the tasks to push the campaign out of the door as quickly as possible.

Moving on, BrightPod has another two more very interesting features. Focus and Round Up. Focus, as the name suggests, helps you focus only on key tasks and drown out the others. Temporarily from your mind, I mean. Marketing, unlike other functions in a company, is typically about a lot of small things coming together to form the complete piece. Star a task that is important, and it will appear in your Focus tab to allow you to, well, focus, on the task.

Before we get to Round Up, you need to get this. BrightPod is meant for marketers, with workflows and terminologies that marketers feel at home with. But marketing never functions in isolation. You have design involved, you have the web team involved, you might have other agencies involved and if you are an agency yourself, you need to get the client in on the project. This is where Round Up comes in. Just throw in the email address of the person you want involved in the conversation and they are in. They don’t have to get on to yet another app, they can just reply to that email and it will get added to the pod.

So far, so good. Now the things that BrightPod needs to improve. Simplicity is one of the main principles BrightPod is built on and while it delivers on certain counts, it doesn’t have the same kind of simplicity that Asana (something I have used extensively) or Trello (something that I have seen in use around) have.

The BrightPod dashboard, the first thing you will see each time you log in, has an activity stream of all the active pods. Every task added, every comment added, every milestone added, every task completed. For me, that was plain overwhelming, given how each workflow adds 20-30 tasks straightaway. When you log into your collaboration tool first thing in the morning, you want to see a list of the tasks that are due, the overall state of different projects and the important tasks for the day. While tasks due are presented in the dashboard, they are on this section on the right that doesn’t catch your eye first thing.

Also when you click on a pod to make additions and modifications, the navigation is different from that of the main screen, again leaving you a little lost. While these are small things that a user can get used to in a week of working with the app, these are things that typically come in the way of getting the buy-in of the whole team to move to a new application, or even earlier during the evaluation phase.

The biggest challenge BrightPod will face with adoption is getting companies used to the idea of having a specialized collaboration tool for marketers. Organizations like to have the same tool for everyone in the organization, so it would be interesting to see how the company solves this challenge.

All said and done, the product is still in alpha phase, so a lot of these things will get better with time. If you are digital marketer, go ahead, sign up for a BrightPod invite and let us (and the BrightPod team) know what you think.