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Shut your face! -- A study in participatory journalism
Sidin Sunny Vadukut

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October 24, 2007

There is no doubt in our minds that the internet has truly revolutionised the way we live and work. Those office activities that used to take a week or more to do just ten years ago can today, with the help of the World Wide Web, be done in just -- wait, nobody does it because everybody is on Cricinfo.

And this radical change is happening not just in the office. Remember the headache it used to be to actually watch a movie with the family a few years ago? One just had to do sooo many things:

1. Go to multiplex
2. Choose picture
3. Pay for it

Today the internet has changed all that. With just a few clicks we can browse to an online movie ticket booking site, pick a movie of our choice playing in a multiplex right next to our homes, pull up prices for tickets, be petrified at the actual ticket costs, scream at the thieving multiplex owners, close the window and download the movie from a website. Not because we are stingy, but only to show our protest at the crass capitalism of the movie industry. And all this at no cost because, in reality, we are doing this at the office.

Even in the arena of education, the internet has helped our children and young people reach out to information in a way that is so much more efficient and accurate. When I was in school, I needed to wait till after class, then walk all the way to the library before it closed, walk through many shelves of old dusty books before reaching the reference section, where I could watch couples making out like little rabbits.

Today, walk into any large-sized engineering college in our country and you can access an online database of exotic wildlife videos (wink!) that are well researched, documented, classified and commented upon (Example: "rrrrupchik maal") by the local populace.

But where I see the internet having had the maximum impact on our lives is when it comes to media and the common man's ability to participate in the media machine.

In the years gone by, our media channels got away with anything they wanted to say. Whatever was printed in the Times of India or was read out on Doordarshan was indisputable. Of course, you could write in letters to the Editor airing your opposition to anything mentioned. Many editors of national newspapers kept a careful collection of these letters, bringing them out at annual family dinners over beer and rum and so on. "This one thinks we are being too liberal with the Ambanis -- ha ha ha -- Pass me that bottle of champagne that Anil gifted me will you?"

But today the media can no longer take the common man for granted. And nowhere are the changing tides of citizen feedback more visible than on

Rediff is renowned in India for being not just one of the most successful internet portals, but also for having the most arousing debate and discussions on its Message Boards.

Arousing you ask?

Let me take some live examples. A week ago the venerable Prem Panicker had a column titled "Shut Up, Sree!" An admirable piece advocating less talk and more cricket. To which a certain Mr Nigam replied as such:

"Shut Up! Prem. First get the courage to stand up on your own."

It is a known fact in the Indian media that Prem Panicker is a notorious and chronic sitter. In fact, the moment he sets foot in the Rediff office he immediately launches into a wheeled office chair so that he can spend the rest of the day just coasting around, bouncing off cubicle walls but never, ever standing up. He is a pain in the ass during fire drills.

Mr Nigam has rightly brought up this malaise.

Also on the home page that day was an article on Dr Abdul Kalam, our venerable ex-president. Dr Kalam exhorted NRIs to give all to their country. A Ms Neha Chadda immediately expressed her opinion that Dr Kalam was a nice guy but did little for the benefit for the country. This is, of course, a preposterous opinion that needed some putting in place.

Thank god for a one Mr Prince Prince, who had this articulate repartee:

"Neha Chaddi utar ke so ja --"

Crisp, concise and very much to the point with exceptional care for Neha's sleep cycles.

A message board which sees much action is the one that normally follows any Raja Sen movie review. Raja Sen, I do not need to remind you, is one of the most popular writers on Rediff when measured on the popularity metric: "House most likely to be burned down."

Recently Raja Sen reviewed the Priyadarshan [Images] flick Bhool Bhulaiya and gave it a One-Star rating. This was not well accepted by the public who demanded an apology from him and said that he was, and I quote, "Stupid idiot".

Over 900 messages were left after Mr Sen's review, and this bodes well for Rediff's stock valuations.

Of course eager participation can lead to problems. Let me illustrate.

Recent headline: UN seat for India looking shaky.

Commenter one: UN sucks

Commenter two: Kaun hai is UN ka in charge?

Commenter one: Ban Ki Moon


Commenter one: TERA !!@## ka !!@@#

Commenter three: Click here for hot bollywood videos

Commenter two: Thanks for the link.

But other than that, the Rediff message boards are doing yeoman service for the Indian people. I look forward to participating and enjoying in this service for the years to come.

Earlier columns:

More adventures of the Vadakuts, mister and missus, can be found at Domain Maximus.

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