While Net-happy teens popularise the language of emoticons and acronyms, one ambitious group of students is playing with computer code to cash in on the latest online trend: Blogging.
Meet Delhi-based 20-year-olds Arnab Nandi, Jayant Gandhi and Kapil Mohan. Creators of Blogsnob, a free text ad service that's making bloggers go gaga because it helps them find other interesting blogs, and other bloggers find theirs.
For the uninitiated, a blog is a place to exchange ideas, opinions, information, and links on the Net. Bloggers also link to their favourite blogs and look for new ones everyday. To that extent, Web rings and search engines help a bit, but Blogsnob enables you find new Web logs easily.
The concept is simple. Registrants have to paste a simple piece of code on their blogs. Thanks to this code, every time their blog page is refreshed, a new text ad promoting a random blog is served up. Similarly, an ad promoting the registrant's blog is served up on other blogs as well.
Ease of use is what made Blogsnob click. When the trio began operating last November, they got five registrants within a day, a hundred in a week and boast over three thousand members today.
Bloggers have been praising this service: Kane Blues writes, "Kind of a neat concept where the reader can jump from one journal site to the next. It's also a good way of letting others know about your site." SY Afollee describes it as "a combination of the randomiser button on a Web ring and a regular link." Snob jumping -- from one blog to another using the Blogsnob ads -- has become a popular exercise!
Says Mahesh Shantaram: "Blogsnob is a great 'timepass' tool. It connects an infinite number of unrelated blogs together, and you can keep clicking through for ever(if you have the time). Each click is a whole new experience. Though, I like Blogsnob and find it a good way to read other journals at random, it's very hard to find a valuable journal. People rarely give useful descriptions and you just have to keep clicking through.
He goes on to say. "There is another similar tool: Textad Exchange. However, Blogsnob became so popular when it was launched that it hogged the whole 'market share'... there are hardly any users on Textad Exchange... that page hasn't been updated ever."
And to think everything began with a simple idea of Arnab's. He says, "I developed Timepasstown, a community site three years ago. I was miffed that it didn't seem to be getting the attention it deserved, despite the work we had put in. I wondered how I could get more hits."
Matt Haughey's version of Google's Text Ads and Evan Williams' improvisation on Pyra Ads, had Arnab thinking, 'Hey! Even I can do that!' He transformed his idea into code in three hours, put it online, spammed a few people and went to sleep. "I didn't know of any other way to tell people about my service and I did get yelled at for spamming people… But the first reviews were encouraging. Links, reviews and word-on-the-Net made it so popular. In fact, once it started, the signups just snowballed."
Arnab had thought of the name Blogsnob even before he wrote the code. It was called Blogsnob, because snob according to them meant someone who showed off. So they hoped that when anybody wanted to show off their blog, they would use Blogsnob.
Despite all the attention from their online friends and users in the US, Arnab, Kapil and Jayant prefer to keep their techie status low-key in India. "Actually, blogging is not such a popular concept here yet… To explain about Blogsnob to people who don't understand the concept would be tough. Friends who do know about it get really motivated by our exploits and are also keen to start something like it. Anybody could have done this. We happened to be at the right place at the right time."
For now, the trio receives cards and donations from all over the world. Explains Jayant, "We didn't begin the service in order to make money, but the sponsorships and donations have helped cover part of our costs. Hosting Matters sponsored the hosting, and an American bought me the blogsnob.com domain. For a Web service created right at the time of the Dot Com crash, I'd say it's doing quite well. We've made about Rs 10,000 -15,000 since we started."
The three engineers-to-be did encounter a lot of bugs in the process. Kapil, the database and coding expert among them, says "We would get lots of stinkers if something went wrong, so we redid the code twice. And despite what users say, we try to be as fair as possible in serving up different Web sites. The reason Blogsnob exists is to meet new people, and give everyone a chance at showcasing their talent - in design, in writing, and to make the whole blogging thing a lot more fun."
The success of Blogsnob has inspired them to start Idya Research, to create useful, innovative applications. Their first commercial product, Idya Adsystem already has already been deployed at four Web sites. "Having seen Blogsnob work so well, many of our users have bought the commercial Idya Adsystem. In fact, a company from Finland even asked us for a commercial license -- we didn't really know what that was all about! For now, many more innovative products are ready for release, right after our exams."
Their individual creations made before Blogsnob have also now become popular. "Timepasstown has authors including a 14-year-old from Argentina, a 30-year-old teacher in the US and an engineering student from Patiala. Likewise with Jayant's Nibble Guru, a resource for programmers."
The three of them admit that the hands-on knowledge makes life easier in the classroom too as they are working towards finishing a Bachelors Degree in IT. Arnab says, "Once the lecturer was teaching something about databases and pointed out a problem that we had already faced the previous day." Kapil says, "The knowledge helps, but the tough part is you always want to know more."
Most of the money invested in their projects comes from prizes the three have won at computer competitions. Their parents, however, are tired of their 'screen 2 screen' habits -- oscillating between the television and the PC. Kapil mutters, "I wish we get cable connection soon, or our parents will continue freaking out over the telephone bills."
So, who inspires them? All have their own role models. Bill Gates rules for Kapil, because of his ability to create his empire from scratch. For Jayant, Justin Frenkel, the guy who at 18 made Win Amp and then sold it for millions is the man whose footsteps he would like to follow. Arnab marks Tim Berners Lee, the creator of the WWW, as his favourite.
For now, their plans include sitting for their GREs, studying for their Masters in the US and later setting up a corporation together -- with a proper license!
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