The Radia tapes were surely the big surprise of the year in India, where railway ticket booking was still the dominant internet activity. Actresses Aruna Shields and Sonakshi Sinha were the most-searched names and a record number asked 'How to get pregnant'
2010 was a very eventful year for the internet and social media. From frenzied Twitter activity that followed the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, to the Niira Radia tape leaks in India, there was a lot that kept internet users hooked. It was a year of increased hacktivism and cyberpolitics, which culminated in the recognition to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as Time magazine's Man of the Year. Many would have wanted that for much-applauded Wikileaks chief Julian Assange.
India recorded a huge jump in internet usage during the year. According to the Internet and Mobile Society of India, there were around 60 million internet users, with 7.4 million broadband connections in 2009. Although the 2010-2011 report isn't out yet, statisticians are certain that internet penetration has increased in the country and that much of this has been in rural India. At the Pitch CMO Summit 2010, Sanjay Behl, CEO, Big TV & IPTV and brand head, Reliance Communications, said that judging by the internet growth in India, there could be 100% wireless coverage in the country by 2030. But what are Indians doing on worldwide web?
According to Google Zeitgest 2010, which documents countrywise and global search trends, the most-searched items were songs, Facebook, Google and YouTube. In India, IRCTC (railway ticket booking) continues to top the list of fastest rising bracket year-on-year, followed by low-cost phonemakers like Micromax and YouTube video.
In people, British actress of Anglo-India descent Aruna Shields (no we don't know her either) and Dabaang sensation Sonakshi Sinha topped the queries, while much-hyped Kites beat Rajinikanth's Endhiran -don't ask how. Nokia, Samsung and Airtel remained the most searched brands.
But would you guess what took the cake? It was India's 'how to' question of the year: 'How to get pregnant'! Indians also searched 'How to Kiss', 'How to Impress a Girl' and 'How to Improve Spoken English'.
Globally, Chatroulette, a Russian chat site where one can talk to strangers, dominated searches, beating even Facebook and Twitter. iPad and Justin Beiber followed close. There was a declining interest in swine flu and New Moon (the 'Twilight' fantasy romance novels).
The year started with the epic battle between Internet giant Google and the Chinese government. China alleged that Google had violated the agreed norms of censorship, and was redirecting mainland users to the unrestricted website in Hong Kong. China's response to this "disagreeable behaviour" was to hack into many email accounts of human rights activists and the attack on several other websites in India, Germany and the US. Provoked, usually tight-lipped Google threatened to withdraw its search engine from China and close its operations there. To add to the tension, a Wikileaks cable revealed that Google's competitor Baidu was collaborating with the Chinese government to sabotage its operations. This led to Google's partial withdrawal from China. The issue remains unresolved, with Google retreating into silence and China alternating between assuring Washington about stability of diplomatic relations and remaining vocally hostile to Google.
But Google's worries did not end there. Soon afterwards, the European Union (EU) started an anti-trust investigation against the internet search giant, based on complaints of other service providers about unfavourable treatment of their services in Google's unpaid and sponsored search results, coupled with preferential placement of Google's own services. The EU has confessed, however, that it has yet to come across any proof on these allegations. Google has maintained silence on the issue, but there have been whispers that other service providers were looking for an investigation as a ploy to decode Google's secret and highly-advanced search mechanism.
India, however, was busy with its own share of issues. When the government was already having a bad time with the Adarsh Housing Society and the Commonwealth Games scams, Outlook and Open magazines leaked tapes of conversations between corporate lobbyist Nira Radia and several political leaders, government officials, prominent businessmen and even journalists.
The conversations exposed fixing of ministerial portfolios at the highest level, doctoring of news by journalists, who have become household names, and media houses on the directions of corporates and politicians. The information heightened the pressure on the government struggling over the 2G spectrum allocation scam, forcing the already-delayed exit of telecom minister A Raja. The disclosures sealed the longest parliamentary deadlock in the nation's history, as the opposition battled the ruling coalition without even a single day of proper business being transacted in the winter session.
Such was the impact of the information, that Ratan Tata petitioned the Supreme Court to try and prevent further leaks, arguing that the conversations were a breach of his privacy. Instead, more tapes have been released on the Web and the situation could only get more embarrassing for all those involved.
This year, India-Pakistan rivalry spread to the cyber space as well. On the second anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, a group of hackers, self-titled as 'Indian cyber-army', hacked 35 Pakistani government websites and posted a picture of the US army's flag-hoisting in Iwo Jima during World War II, after changing the colours of the flag to the Indian tricolour. The reaction followed swiftly, as several Indian websites were attacked by hackers calling themselves the 'Pakistani Cyber Army', and posting 'Pakistan Zindabad' slogans on these sites. The website of the Central Bureau of Investigation was among those hacked and is inaccessible even three weeks after the incident.
Undoubtedly, the subject that took the world by storm was Wikileaks. Australian programmer and activist Mr Assange made a grand entry earlier this year with the release of US secret documents on Afghanistan. While a red-faced American government busily fended off questions from all corners, Wikileaks chose to strike again. This time, the blow was bigger and many more countries were affected. From the EU to India, Morocco to Russia and Vietnam, governments tried frantically to block out the information revealed.
When the Wikileaks website was attacked by hackers soon afterwards, supporters created numerous mirror sites where these cables were available. Amid cries of outrage from average people and activists, the Interpol launched a witch-hunt for Mr Assange that resulted in his arrest on charges of rape, in Sweden. He has since been released on bail. Mr Assange might continue to be pursued by the authorities, but the cyber-soldiers inspired by his campaign are unlikely to give up easily.
2010 was also the year of The Social Network, for both films and the media overall. Facebook and Twitter registered a huge leap in registrations. The Facebook membership has reportedly touched a jaw-dropping 500 million, while Twitter boasts 145 million users. Facebook strengthened its foothold in India and South Asia, virtually wiping out Orkut in the region. But Facebook could have a new challenger in Chatroulette.
The top 10 Facebook trends of the year were: HMU (a feature called 'hit me up'), the football world cup, movies, iPad and iPhone 4, Haiti, Justin Bieber, Games on Facebook , Mineros/Miners, Airplanes and 2011. Zuckerberg unveiled Facebook's new email service with the claim that it would mark the end of other email services.
In Twitter trends, the Mexico oil spill and the Haiti earthquake were the biggest news stories this year. The FIFA World Cup with its vuvuzelas and psychic Octopus Paul caught the attention of the world for a couple of months. iPad and Android were the technology buzz. The rest, as one might expect, was entertainment: Christopher Nolan's hit movie Inception, Justin Bieber and Harry Potter.
Lady Gaga beat Britney Spears as the most-followed person on Twitter. Twitter also saw the infamous war between Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi that opened the doors on the IPL mess, leading to Tharoor's resignation as minister and Modi's suspension from the powerful Indian cricket board. Twitter also hosted some closely-watched Bollywood battles and patch-ups between Sonam Kapoor and Shobha De over I hate Luv Stories, and Amitabh Bachhan and Mani Ratnam over Abhishek's performance in Raavan.
With increasing internet penetration, more people are expected to connect through social network websites. Like the rest of the world, India is showing a healthy increase in online shopping figures, hence more companies are advertising on internet and social media websites. IAMAI-IMRB estimates online ad revenue for 2010-11 at Rs990 crore compared to Rs785 crore last year. Travel, BFSI and telecom account for half the revenue.
With the buzz on the Web getting louder, business on the internet ought to get better in the new year. It's always been interesting and now it's getting more exciting to see how people are finding newer ways to talk and do business.
Raise a toast to all netizens!
While its stock is still going strong, near an all-time high, with falling sales in the passenger car segment, Tata Motors faces an uphill task to become a complete automaker
Tata Motors Ltd, the country's largest vehicle manufacturer, faces a daunting task to revive sales in the passenger car segment. With sales of its flagship Indica and much-talked-about small car Nano falling, the company needs to seriously initiate steps to overhaul its passenger car operations. Analysts say that the company will have to come out with better products and variants at aggressive prices, if it is to turn things around.
"Tata Motors' passenger vehicle products are not the best in their segments," said Kaushal Maroo, auto analyst, Religare Capital Markets Ltd. "Indica sales have been poor because of intense competition in the segment, where others have launched better products at aggressive prices; besides the high usage of the Indica as private taxis does not augur well for the brand image of the product."
Since the launch of the Indica in 1998, the company brought out variants like Indica V2, Indica V2 Turbo Diesel, Indica V2 Xeta and Indica Vista, but all these models have failed to maintain steady sales.
"Passenger car sales-excluding the Nano-have been lacklustre primarily due to softening of euphoria, as products like Indigo Manza and Vista are getting older. The company has yet not announced any new variant for the Indigo Manza, which was launched in October 2009, whereas the Indica Vista, though a low-cost car, is facing stiff competition from players like General Motors (which has its Beat), Ford (Figo), Hyundai (i10) and Maruti Suzuki (Wagon R)," said Chaitanya Adesara, research analyst, Sharekhan Ltd.
During the period between April 2010 and November 2010, Tata Motors sold 64,350 units of the Indica in the A2 or compact car segment, compared with 75,519 units in the corresponding period last year. During this period, Maruti Suzuki, the country's largest carmaker and a unit of Japanese Suzuki Motor Corp, sold 5.21 lakh units, up from 4.07 lakh units. But what's the reason for such a difference? While Tata Motors offers only Indica in this segment, Maruti Suzuki on the other hand sells Alto, Wagon R, Zen-Estillo, Swift, Ritz and A-Star models at attractive prices. Even, Hyundai Motor India Ltd, the second largest carmaker, offers four variants-the Santro, Getz, i10 and i20, in the compact car segment.
Brokerage Kisan Ratilal Choksey Shares and Securities Pvt Ltd, said in a research note , "The decline in sales (for Tata Motors) is primarily on the back of a drop in passenger car volumes by 42% month-on-month and 34% year-on-year, due to increase in competition from global players and a decline in sales of Indica and Nano."
While other carmakers are going in for more experiments, while offering different models, Tata Motors has stuck with the Indica. Not only this, while other carmakers are coming with more goodies and different shapes, Tata Motors is not ready to leave the 'bean shape' of the Indica. In fact, the company is so smitten by the 'bean theme' that it has expanded the bean shape in its other high-end models as well, including the recently launched sports utility vehicle (SUV) Aria. After sticking to the bean shape for over 12 years, it is high time for the Tata group company to move to other designs, before someone starts comparing Indica to the everlasting (and unchanging) Ambassador from Hindustan Motors.
Tata Nano, the much-talked about 'people's car', is also not keeping pace with other cars in the market. Although on the price level there is no competition for the Nano, stray incidents of fire have been a deterrent to sales. In fact, over the past few months, Nano sales have fallen continuously. In November 2010, sales of the Nano tumbled 85% to 509 units from 3,406 units, in the month a year ago.
"While free sales (of Tata Nano) are yet to begin in certain states, channel checks suggest that the demand for the Nano is yet to pick up, indicating that customers aspire for luxury more than economy when buying a car. However, volumes post the pan-India launch would be a true indicator," Mr Maroo said.
In order to boost sales, Tata Motors has come introduced offers like an extended warranty of four years or 60,000 km, at no extra cost, with financing for up to 90% of the vehicle cost. In addition, the company's unit Tata Motors Finance, has launched a special Tata Nano finance scheme through which customers can get a loan for the vehicle in just 48 hours on producing select documents.
Mr Adesara of Sharekhan said, "We are surprised at the hard-sell by the company on a globally-acclaimed product like the Nano. Like when the Indica and Tata Motors had to take corrective measures to upgrade product quality, the company is now preparing for a second innings with Nano, though comprehensive maintenance may cost it a bit more."
The company needs to make the Nano available across the country, rather than only in certain states, as this would help it to reach tier-II and tier-III cities, analysts feel.
Mr Maroo of Religare Capital said, "The extended warranty and 90% finance option would definitely help boost demand from marginal customers and allay the concerns of potential customers over the stray fire incidents. We believe that the pan-India launch and better availability in tier-II and tier-III cities would also help boost sales from current levels."
Tata Motors also faces production constraints at its Sanand plant. The plant, which started operations in June 2010, has a capacity to produce 2.5 lakh Nanos a year. However, till date, Tata Motors has not been able to produce more that 5,000 Nanos a month from the Sanand and Pantnagar plants. In fact, during November, it produced only 1,320 units of Nano compared with 3,426 units in the corresponding month last year.
"The company has indicated that vendors are taking time to set up facilities and some of them should be done in the next few months. However, if Nano demand does not pick up, it could be a deterrent as vendors would be skeptical over volumes and might just not go ahead to set up their facilities," Mr Maroo said.
Mr Adesara of Sharekhan echoed the same: "Production at the Sanand plant is facing constraints due to the supply shortage from vendors. Moreover, the migration of manufacturing from Pantnagar to Sanand is also taking time as vendors have been cautious to move to Sanand after making huge investments in Singur."
Following widespread protests that led to a suspension of work at Singur for over a month, the company decided to exit from West Bengal in October 2008 and shifted to Sanand in Gujarat. In March this year, Tata Motors also decided to compensate its vendors who were forced to relocate their units to Sanand from Singur.
Coming back to passenger car sales, the saving grace for Tata Motors has been the mid-size or A3 segment, where it sells the Indigo and Indigo Marina variants. In November, sales were up marginally, and on a cumulative basis for the period from April to November 2010, sales nearly doubled to 58,072 units from 29,360 units in the corresponding period last year. Nevertheless, the competition in this segment is heating up with the arrival of Toyota's features-rich Etios variant, which is priced between Rs4.9 lakh and Rs6.9 lakh.
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