Thursday, April 30, 2009


Business jargon is complex as it is. It is made even more unintelligible by meaningless acronyms. Think of how much drivel we spout every day in the office.

Yesterday, my daughter was telling me of the classes she had in her primary school. She said one of her classes was VCOP. For the life of me I could not understand what on earth it was. She didn't either ! I finally discovered that it was "Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers and Punctuation". Oh ! She was having an English class !

This reminded me of my first day at work, all those years ago. I had graduated from business school and was starry eyed and ready to take on the world . I was supposed to be a finance "cat". I walk in , into a leading company and was shown the management accounting template of the company which read like this

I gaped at it open mouthed. Here I was, reasonably intelligent, from a good business school and I couldn't understand a word. It was a most humbling experience.

We do this all the time. Any business document is totally unreadable by a layman. Its full of silly abbreviations.

In one of the companies I worked in, before you clinched a sale, you had to do a DRB, where you outlined the stage in SPADE, attached a CODEC, defended GOP in IFRS and non IFRS terms, got approval for a BAFO and finally signed a SLA ! Ha ha !!

Can we get plain and simple English back into business please.

The Pox on Acronyms - in case you were wondering what the title of this post meant.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Business: April 29th

The Business returns this week with its full cast and a warm-up performance by San Francisco Regional Air Guitar Champion "The Awesome." Fresh and smart meets loud and sweaty tonight at 8pm.

The Satyam investigation

The Satyam affair broke out in early Jan with Raju's famous letter. Since then, two parallel chain of events have happened - one handled brilliantly and one handled abysmally.

When the news broke, the company was on the verge of immediate collapse. The government acted swiftly in naming an eminent Board to take over. These individuals demonstrated why they are of so eminent a stature. They immediately took control, kept the business going, reassured customers and employees, staved off an immediate crisis, held an auction, found a buyer (can you imagine how difficult a task that would have been) and did a deal in 3 months flat. There is now a reasonable future ahead for the company, its employees, its shareholders and its customers.

By any yardstick this is a stupendous achievement. I haven't really heard, or read about, the plaudits they richly deserve. They deserve a medal. Messers Karnik, Parekh, Achutan and everybody else involved in saving the company - take a bow.

The other chain of events has been the "investigation" into the fraud. It would be difficult to find something more shabbily handled. Numerous government agencies are falling over each other in their so called investigations. The AP police and the CBI (you could not imagine two organisations worse equipped to investigate something of this nature) have taken four months and achieved precious little. Other than catching hold of everybody in sight and locking them up.

Here's a situation where the perpetrator of the fraud has owned up. And pray, what are they investigating? In four months, they haven't been able to bring a case on a self confessed fraud.

India's justice system is frankly pathetic. People get locked up and remain undertrials for periods longer than their sentences would have been if they were guilty. A basic tenet of justice is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Raju may be guilty by admission, But what about some of the others. Especially the PWC partners who have been jailed. As I posted before, this is a complete travesty of justice.

In many ways this story is a true reflection of India. There is an India which is brilliant, can achieve fantastic results and is breathtaking. There is another India, which is pathetic and shameful.

Three cheers to Karnik & co. Three brickbats and a kick on the backside for the judicial process.

Monday, April 27, 2009

How the mighty fall

I read the news from General Motors yesterday, that they are discontinuing their Pontiac line from next year, with some sadness.

I grew up in the days when what was good for GM, was good for America. The best selling business book was, of course, "On a clear day, you can see General Motors". Any aspiring MBA graduate could reel off the famous five of GM - Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac. Every Hollywood movie of those days had one these beauties as a star character. GM was, after all, the largest company in the world.

Those days, mass communication was still at its infancy. The internet had not arrived. Doordarshan had just made its tentative steps in India (with such wonderfully stimulating programs such as Krishidarshan). Yet all of us had known a lot about GM, even without stepping outside India and only seeing Ambassadors on Indian roads.

Pontiac is 83 years old. It was introduced when Alfred P Sloan was the legendary chairman of GM. Its heydays were the 60s and 70s. Pontiac models such as GTO, Firebird, Grand Am, Grand Prix and Trans Am were household names a generation ago. GTO was even immortalised in a song in 1964 which hit the charts. The American love affair with the car was at its peak (not that it has gone away now). And Pontiac and GM were heroes.

The story after that is all too well known. A long decline started and GM slipped. And slipped and slipped and slipped. Pontiac slipped along with it. If today's generation were asked to reel off the top five car brands that come to their mind, Pontiac is highly unlikely to feature. Pontiac who ? what ?

Pontiac is a grand old lady, whose best days are long gone. It is time for it to approach its Maker. But for some people at least, it will mean the passing of an era. Of a world that's gone and will never come back. Its OK to wipe a tear.

Pontiac RIP.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Failure isn’t what it used to be. Bankrupt newspaper companies are following the lead of AIG and Lehman Brothers and rewarding executives with large bonuses. The Tribune Co. is trying to pay out $13 million in bonuses, the Journal Registers Co. is trying to pay $2 million, and Philadelphia Newspapers has already given hundreds of thousands in bonuses to its corporate officers.

Company spokesmen say the bonuses make good business sense by rewarding good performance and keeping executives from leaving the companies. Both arguments are hollow. The first rationale rewards performance in running the companies into the ground and the retention rationale assumes other newspaper companies are hiring and would want to hire the tainted executives.

The issue of bonuses has emerged because newspapers filing for bankruptcy are not liquidating, but using Chapter 11 to create reorganization plans that will allow them to change the terms of the debt and union contracts. They have to seek approval from the bankruptcy court for their expenditures.

It is true that most of the papers in these bankrupt companies are making operating profits, but their corporate parents are losing money. The fact that profits exist are one of the reasons the companies have been petitioning the bankruptcy courts to allow them to pay bonuses. Not surprisingly, company debt holders—including states that are owned taxes—are not too happy with the idea and employees who have suffered layoffs and wage concessions are rightfully resentful.

The bonus debacle is yet another indication that the bankruptcies were created in the board rooms and corporate offices, not by the economic downturn. Poor corporate and management decisions are their root problem.

The newspaper business is clearly hurting because of the recession, but it is not a unique phenomenon. About once a decade for the past 50 years, recessions have played havoc with newspaper revenues, but the industry has survived them. Poor economic times, however, push companies whose managers have not paid sufficient attention to their balance sheets into financial crises and bankruptcy.

The last time we saw such wholesale problems was in 1991-1993 recession. Ingersoll fell into insolvency in 1991 and was broken up after its use of junk bonds for financing backfired. The New York Daily News went into bankruptcy that year as part of the collapse of the Robert Maxwell house of cards. United Press International went into bankruptcy in that recession as well. All three were victims to poor managerial choices made earlier and their positions became untenable in the recession.

History is repeating itself.

The bankruptcies today are the result of companies surpassing their financial capabilities and because executives have exceeded their own abilities to manage the firms. Some newspaper executives unwisely loaded their companies with enormous debt to make acquisitions and others are in trouble because the cumulative weight of poor management over a period of time has finally caught up with them.

Most newspapers, however, are surviving the downturn and will be serving their communities for many years. They are responding to the poor advertising climate with responsibility and thrift--NOT by giving executive bonuses that should be used for strengthening their businesses.

Dilemmas - IV

One final poser and I'll move on from this topic.

You discover something about a key supplier of yours that you didn't know before. He employs child labour.

Would you

1) Stop buying from him even though it may affect your business
2) Report his employing child labour to the authorities, but continue to buy from him
3) Ignore this, saying its his business and none of yours

If you work for a global company, you probably have no choice - NGOs will roast your company alive. (Remember Nike in China ?)

But , assume you are in a small local company. What will you do ?

Would your answer be different, if instead of discovering that he employs child labour, you discover one of the following

- He is cheating on VAT (excise, sales tax, whatever) and evading them , or,
- He is discriminating against women

Would your answer be the same ?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Dilemmas - III

Today's poser.

You resign from your company and join another company. Your were happy with your previous employer and he treated you well - you are moving just because a better opportunity arose.

In your new job, you need to hire four good lieutenants. You know that if you approached your four buddies in the old company, they would join you (for they loved working with you). But if those four left too, the business in the old company would be seriously affected.

This is one of those cases where in different cultures, you'd get completely different first responses. In some cultures, this is not a dilemma at all - you'd just do it. In other cultures, this would be a complete no no.

But, as I mused before, I believe these are deeply individual decisions based on one's values and beliefs. There is no "right" answer.

Would you place the call to your buddies ?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dilemmas - II

Ethics are either black or white - there are no shades of grey in my view, as I posted before.

But there are some situations in business life where ethically it seems OK, but morally its not so clear. In such a situation, an individual's value systems determine what's right or wrong and there is no one right way.

Today's poser.

Does it matter what business the company you work for, is in ? If your company is an IT company or a soap company or a telecom company or a steel company, there is no issue.

But would you work for a cigarette company ? Would you work for a company that makes land mines ? Would you work for a company that buys "blood diamonds" from Africa ? Would you work for a logging company in the Amazon?

Or, does it not matter what business your company is in, as long as what it does is legal and you do your job professionally ?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


The high hopes that News Corp. had for MySpace when it paid $580 million in for the social networking site in 2005 have never been realized and appear more elusive than ever.

Consequently, MySpace co-founders Chris DeWolfe (who is CEO) and Tom Anderson (who is President) are being pushed out of their management roles in major shakeup of the company's leadership.

The move is signals News Corp’s concern over the site’s declining market share and poor returns.

In the past three years Facebook has surpassed MySpace in total number of users worldwide, but MySpace has managed to remain the largest site in the U.S. and has 130 million users globally.

In 2008 the company had estimated advertising revues of $585 million, with the bulk coming from its ad-sharing deal with Google. But it will take a long, long time for News Corp. to recoup its investment at that pace. That revenue problem is compounded because Google has been unhappy with its MySpace deal and is unlikely to continue it at present terms when it expires next year.

The shakeup at MySpace underscores the value creation challenges that online media face. Services are typically offered free to generate high numbers of users and then these are used to create audiences for advertising or as a market for up-selling enhanced services. Although the audiences are attractive for some advertisers and some types of advertising, online advertising is not yet as effective as television and print advertising for most brands and retailers.

Dilemmas - I

Ethics are either black or white - there are no shades of grey in my view, as I posted before.

But there are some situations in business life where ethically it seems OK, but morally its not so clear. In such a situation, an individual's value systems determine what's right or wrong and there is no one right way.

I intend to post a few dilemma's over the next few days. I have no answers for any of them - each of you readers will have your own "right" way.

Here's the first of the them.

You've worked in a company for 10 years. You've wanted a key job, but are not getting it. Your company's direct competitor is offering you that position. Remember its your direct competitor, whom you have spent the last 10 years of your life fighting.

Would you take it ?


When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased publication in mid-March it continued as a web-only publication. It employs 20 persons, making it one of the largest online staffs of any local Internet news organization.

Although it has a much smaller staff than the print edition did, the site continues to cover local news and sports, provides national and international feeds, and features local bloggers. In many ways it is what many observers have called the future of post-print journalism. It is well recognized that print is an expensive way to convey news, information, and commentary so observers argue that the Internet is the answer for community informational needs because the public is increasingly getting their news there anyway.

It is still early days for forming a definitive view of how dropping print may affect online demand, but the P-I’s situation gives a unique opportunity to observe effects. In February—before the print edition closed—the website had 1.8 million unique visitors. In March, that number dropped to 1.4 million unique visitors. If these initial results hold true over time, it would indicate that print still provides some important reputational and marketing benefits to online activities.

Those interested in the online future of journalism should be watching the Seattle situation with interest in the coming year.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Trust : Why businesses lost it

Chris Jarvis has made a superb post in his blog Realizing your Worth on "Trust : Why businesses lost it and how to win it back."

He quotes Charles Handy, an Irish philosopher specializing in organizational management who wrote in his book ‘What’s a Business For’ in 2002 this prescient paragraph:

The markets will empty and share prices will collapse, as ordinary people find other places to put their money--into their houses, maybe, or under their beds. The great virtue of capitalism, that it provides a way for the savings of society to be used for the creation of wealth--will have been eroded. So we will be left to rely increasingly on governments for the creation of our wealth, something that they have always been conspicuously bad at doing.....Trust is fragile. Like a piece of china, once cracked it is never quite the same. And people's trust in business, and those who lead it, is today cracking."

Click here to read this superb post.

The Business: April 22nd

Sean Keane returns to The Business. Please come witness this amazing spectacle of mother natures richest pageantry, and BYOB.

The Business: April 15th

Sean Keane will not be with us on April 15th, but in his place will be:

Special guest for April 15: NATO GREEN!

Nato Green continues the great tradition of smart, biting, Jewish comedians like Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, and Joe Lieberman. Nato is the mastermind of Iron Comic, Laugh Out the Vote, Laughing Liberally Local 415, and the New Jew Revue. He's appeared in the Progressive Reading Series and SF Sketchfest 2008.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Outsourcing Agriculture

The greatest crisis, in my view, of 2008 was not the financial crisis. It was the food crisis that hit the world in the early part of the year. Global food prices rose by 75% as compared to 2000. Food riots broke out in many countries. About 73 million people, in 78 countries, who depend on food aid from the United Nations have had their rations cut. The crisis got diffused, because other events overtook it and food prices fell back. But unlike the financial crisis, there is no solution in sight and its going to come back with a vengeance next year, or the year after, with certainty.

The problem is deep. A combination of high oil prices, climate change (both in terms of global warming and in terms of diversion of land for growing corn for fuel) and shrinking land for agriculture affects the supply of food. On the other hand global demand is expected to double by 2030 as population increases and economic development increases the demand for nutrition. End result is that food prices will rise meteorically for the next 10-20 years. That means food riots, starvation, malnutrition and a global crisis.

The problem will be deepest in three parts of the world - China, India and Africa. China is the worst placed - it has the largest population, but the lowest cultivable land. But China will manage the problem the best. Africa is best placed - huge cultivable land, but will manage it the worst. India is in between.

My take on the solution, is for Africa to "outsource" food production to China and India. The solution is not these countries buying up land in Africa, as Saudi Arabia and South Korea are doing. That will never work - in times of crisis, a Mugabe equivalent will simply appropriate the land back. Africa must retain the ownership of the land, but outsource grain cultivation to Indians and Chinese. India and China must focus on making Africa hugely food surplus. That will have twin advantages - it will greatly reduce starvation in Africa itself. And it will increase global food production enough to keep prices low.

China and India have the greatest stake here. They are the greatest consumers of food. Their natural reaction would be to boost agriculture domestically. That they should, and would, do. But they would benefit greater if they became an "outsourced service provider" in food production to Africa.

Buzz off Europe and North America. China and India must simply take over the FAO and deal direct with Africa.

Any takers for BPO in agriculture ?

Kya Bolte Ho ? nǐ shì shénme shuō ?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How come Bollywood is so small ?

Bollywood is world famous. Every Indian is mad about films and its a defining aspect of Indian culture. Indian films are now being known world over. India makes the largest number of movies in the world. Apart from Hindi films, there is a thriving film industry in many Indian languages. This must be a huge industry right?

Wrong. The entire Indian film industry size is just $ 2.2 bn. Just 60% of Infosys. One tenth the size of Reliance. The entire industry. That's it. Read the FICCI KPMG report for all the gory details.

Most films lose money. And for its tiny size, its expected to grow only 9% next year after a flat last year. Sounds like a dog industry.

How come ? Surely there's something wrong. You have one billion crazy Indians all wanting to imitate Shahrukh Khan or Aishwarya Rai. Not to speak of the rest of the world where lots want to learn "Bollywood dancing". Terrific talent in singing, dancing, acting amongst the Indians - just go to any college or company function. Fanatic demand. Great talent supply. And yet a tiny industry.

Why ? I am a self confessed ignoramus on Indian movies - haven't watched one for a few years. That won't stop me from speculating (that's the nice thing about blogging - you can wax eloquently on things you don't have a clue about) !

  • The size is probably understated as the industry is not all above board. But even at 2 or 3 times the stated number, its still a tiny industry.

  • Its highly unprofessional. A lot of financing is by the underworld and professional management just does not exist.

  • Marketing is an unknown function. There's no merchandising at all (how many Lagaan cricket bats have you seen ?)

  • Its not really sold globally. Whatever is taken global is for the expat Indian audience. Actually the films, with their song and dance, does have universal appeal.

  • There's zero market research. Do the producers really understand their customer - what do they want ? What are the market segments - the bhaiyya watches completely different stuff from the aunty.

  • Much of the product is garbage. That's why most films lose money - they are trash and deserve to lose money.

The industry has a larger than life image, but in reality its a mouse. There's a lot of noise, but little to shout about.

Corporate India - get on to the movie industry.

Now that's a thought. Won't you want to work in a company where you see Aishwarya on Monday, Kareena on Tuesday, Priyanka on Wednesday ......

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A moving video

No its not Susan Boyle !

Its Chicken a-la-carte , a moving, award winning video. I guarantee you'll be touched.

Its only 6 mts long.

For some weekend contemplation. Thank you Chandu Nair for sending the link to me.

Click here to watch the video.

Whew !

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Increasing competition among cable, satellite, and broadband suppliers, combined with slower growth in consumer uptake because the industries have reached maturity, is leading to aggressive marketing efforts to wrestle market share from other companies.

If the leading companies followed classic marketing strategies, they would be offering consumers better arrays of networks and services, better customer service, and/or better prices in efforts to attract more customers.

Instead, many of the largest competitors have been engaging in acts that harm customers and consumers by using illegal and deceptive marketing practices and strategies designed to unwittingly wring greater revenue from their customers. Although the companies apparently think there are benefits in behaving badly, their marketing practices are increasingly getting them into trouble.

Aggressive telemarketing—which has always offended consumers—has landed a number of leading firms in hot water. Comcast and Direct TV have just admitted charges and are paying fines to the Federal Trade Commission for violating telemarketing rules by ignoring the federal do-not-call list. The FTC has also filed a suit against Dish Networks for similar violations.

Companies tend to advertise heavily when competition is high and ads for cable, satellite, and broadband services have helped the revenues of thousands of television stations, newspapers, and magazines across the U.S. Unfortunately, the veracity of advertising claims in cable, satellite, and broadband services has been widely questioned by consumer groups, governments, and other competitors. In recent months Bright House Networks filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission about the practices of AT&T, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureau chastised Cablevision for advertising claims after complaints from Verizon, and Verizon itself has been sued for misleading claims by NJ Division of Consumer Affairs.

The industry also sought to market different levels of broadband Internet services to customers and planned to charge different rates for users—a strategy that would allow them to advertise a low price even when many customers would have to pay a higher price based on usage. Plans by Time Warner, Comcast, Frontier Communications and other firms to offer tiered service plans have now been dropped after complaints by customers and legislators.

Cable and satellite firms have traditionally been mavericks and rogues in the media industries and many Internet service firms followed their example. Even though the industries have matured and the number of players has been significantly reduced through mergers and acquisitions, the wild and woolly world they created is still evident in their marketing practices.

We can only hope they will learn to become good corporate citizens—or at least firms concerned about their own reputations.

China's Q1 figures

These days China's numbers matter as much, if not more, than America's numbers. There was therefore more than the usual interest, when China announced its Q1 numbers yesterday.

GDP grew by 6.1% compared to Q1 of last year. This was greeted with some disappointment by the markets (who only react against expectations and not against reality !) This is actually very positive. Firstly, 6% is nothing to sneer at - every other country in the world would give an arm and a leg to grow at 6%. Secondly, on a quarter on quarter annualised basis, this is 6% against a virtual stalling last quarter as The Economist has analysed. So there are some signs that the worst is over, at least here.

On the positive side, retail sales grew by 16%. Fixed investment grew by 30% - the government's stimulus is starting to kick in). But on the negative side exports were down by 17%.

Actually China is not as dependant on exports as is made out to be. Only 10% of the jobs are in the exports sector. Although exports account for 40% of GDP, the value added (net of imports) is only 18%.

So here is my take on the China numbers

  • Growth is actually good, and forget whether it was dot on with expectations.
  • Growth is being led by domestic consumption and investment, making up for poor exports (isn't this what the world has been clamouring for ?)
  • Massive infrastructure spending and investment is happening - Will all this be really productive or will they be bridges to nowhere ?
  • If you look objectively, China was overheating in the past and is now on a more even keel.
  • The worry continues to be the banking sector. Massive lending for investment has happened. How much of this will truly yield returns. I know the published percentage of non performing assets is not high, but I am almost sure this is hugely understated.
  • The story that there will be social unrest if 8% growth is not achieved in bunkum. I simply cannot relate to this logic
  • Inflation in the medium term is a real real threat. God help if commodity prices around the world (especially oil prices shoot up).

One other thought struck me. Its only Apr 16. How come such numbers come out so early. Many companies cannot meet such a deadline. But a whole nation - and that too as huge as China?

There's just a nagging feeling at the back of the mind. Government numbers (everywhere) aren't audited. And you know that old adage - lies, damn lies and statistics !!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Is globalisation a dirty word ?

Whenever there is any event of importance anywhere in the world, you are sure to find some form of "anti globalisation protest". "Globalisation" seems to a be a dirty word. Also dirty are 'multinational", "capitalism", etc etc.

If you ignore the loonies and listen to the arguments of the sane protesters, their logic for anti globalisation usually converges on the following

  • It exploits poor people in developing countries and sometimes deprives them of their traditional livelihood (farming)
  • It is harmful to the environment and contributes to adverse climate change
  • It deprives people in richer countries of their jobs
  • It does not promote human rights and democracy in the countries they operate

Underlying this is the assumption that multi national companies , in their single minded pursuit of profit, will not care about any of these.

Consider this for a moment. The protesters argue against multinational companies. Is it then OK for home grown companies to do exactly the same thing ? Is there any evidence that multinational companies are worse in their behaviour than domestic companies - surely the opposite is true.

The problem is that companies can freely move across borders ; ordinary people cannot. Economic globalisation has happened far ahead of social and political globalisation. Hence the inevitable conflict.

As I mused before on the bad connotation that companies in general ignite, companies have to think global, but act local. They must not make a big virtue of their globalisation. They should keep that very low key. They must be seen to be local.

Only when the social and political fabric of society becomes global (if ever), should companies come out their closet and declare themselves global.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Global businesses, National Laws - the woe of taxation

Business are global, but the laws they have to follow are national. Nowhere is this conflict more severe than in the arena of taxation.

Every nation has the right to tax as it pleases. And businesses have to abide by the tax laws in every country it operates in. But when businesses go global, it causes a real problem. Its common these days for a company to buy materials from 10 countries, manufacture in 5 others, transport via 3 others, sell in 20, account for them in 3, have employees in 15, be headquartered in 4, - all completely different countries. The profit it makes is of course a composite one. Where does it get taxed ?

The answer is, in all of them ! Welcome to the world of a monster called transfer pricing. The only people who salivate on the very mention of this term are the accountants and the tax lawyers. Only one thing is for sure in transfer pricing - you will pay more tax collectively across all these countries than if you paid all your taxes in the country having the highest rate of tax. And you will be dragged to court irrespective of what you do.

Businessmen being businessmen, will try and find the lowest tax option out. Enter the world of tax havens. Countries you may have never heard of. And countries who use tax as a competitive advantage. Like Ireland in the past. Now Switzerland where many European supply chain operations are being headquartered. Singapore in Asia.

Is this all not simplifiable ? Actually the world has made huge progress in the area of indirect taxation, especially customs duty through the WTO. Likewise, it must surely be possible in income tax as well.

How's this for an idea ?

  • Tax bands are globally agreed. Income tax on companies cannot be lower than x and cannot be greater than y by multilateral agreement
  • Double Tax agreements are multilateral (through the WTO) and not bilateral between countries.

This will remove much of the pain global businesses face from the inevitable conflict of national tax laws.

Nobody can do justice to this area without writing a 1500 page PhD thesis. I have absolutely no intention of doing so ! All I am catalysing is a thought.

Tomorrow I'll post on another aspect of globalisation - why it seems to be dirty word in the minds of many.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Humans are social and tribal animals and we have always collectively contemplated the meaning and potential responses to issues and events. In the past tribes gathered around fires and villagers gathered in taverns, cafes, and community halls to consider contemporary developments.

Individual engagement and participation in discussion were the norm, with some reliance on leaders and those who held the history and wisdom of the community.

Lifestyle changes in the 19th and 20th century society created mass society and reduced time and opportunities for collective contemplation. It was replaced by a form of representative contemplation and a greater reliance on expert and professional commentators. The effect was primarily to produce communications telling members of communities what to think and do.

Contemporary communication technologies are dramatically altering that situation and supporting a return to collective contemplation. While not producing face-to-face discussion, blogs and technology-assisted social networking have increased opportunities for discussion and interaction. Individuals are gaining greater opportunities to share their opinions and views, to inform each other, and to respond to and engage in conversation that has been impossible for many years.

Concurrently, technologies are beginning to allow effective meta analyses of buzz, blogs and social networking that gather topics and some sense of opinions being expressed. These information technologies allow us to aggregate the views of millions in ways not previously possible.

Where such technologies will take us in unclear, but the contemporary engagement and contemplation by millions of people online is far better for society than the disenfranchisement that mass society previously encouraged.

Media organizations will have to wrestle with how this collective contemplation is altering the roles and functions of editorial writers, op-ed authors, and columnists. They will have to increasingly engage with the public and see their roles as provoking conversation, not merely telling people what to think.