Archive for April, 2007

So, we have the picture of the team, we have some of us post our funny and not-so-funny experiences, and we have a couple of posts on story-telling. But why, you ask, are we solving a solved problem? Why does the world, and specifically India, need an other mapping site, when you have Yahoo! and Google do a really neat job with their satellite + street maps? Do we want to be another GMaps-wannabe?

As you know, the answer is a resounding NO. Virtual India is a platform for many things. One is to showcase (showoff?) Microsoft technologies – not just Virtual Earth, but also MSRI’s own multi-lingual capabilities, and our strengths in different forms of digital geography. But primarily, we believe as a team, that the final word in maps has not been heard. We believe that the potential of a digital map as a platform for narratives, as a platform for collaboration, and as a platform for learning,  has still remained in its promise. We hope that through this endeavour, we end up exploiting a little more of this potential.

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Every good dev team either has a slogan or a codename for their project. Even XP advocates having a single-word metaphor that generally describes what the project is about. So, if some Microsoft projects used names of Mountains, some Intel projects used lakes and rivers, and some projects in HP used LOTR/Harry Potter-esque names.

What should the VI team slogan be? My personal favourite is the one phrase we use most often: “I don’t know”. Should we make the UI a classical one? I don’t know. Should we add some cool new feature? I don’t know. Should we even release the damn thing? I don’t know!

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Mohit is a funny character. He bluntly refuses to admit that he knows anything while continuing to dazzle you with his knowledge. Today was no exception. I was walking out of our building to get a cigarette, when I pulled on the handle of the door that was clearly marked “Push”. Stupid of me, I thought. Then it struck me. Handles are meant to be pulled, not pushed! Now, there was a conceptual underpinning to this – what was it? I thought I should ask Mohit, our local encyclopedia. [BTW, MSRI has put off plans of populating a library until Mohit leaves us. Wonder why.] As I was walking towards him, I remembered the concept – affordances. So, I asked him: “Hey Mohit, do you know about affordances?” And pat came the answer: “No.”

I knew this would be a long evening. Unfazed, I laboured on: “Affordances…”, I told him, ” like on a door – you don’t put a handle on the side of the door you expect to push.”

And then, like the Hanuman of lore who had to be prodded into doing exemplary things, Mohit woke up to reality.

“We should put in some new affordances in our site.”, I said. [This should tell you how much I know about affordances.] “But first, we need a metaphor.”, Mohit replied. Which is fine, but would our metaphor be a paper map? Or would it be a three-dimensional thingie? Or should it be something else? Like always, we discussed away to glory, not coming to any conclusion.

 A day well spent, I should say!!!

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Discussions, meetings and even passing each other in the active corridors of MSR are only some instances for the Virtual India team to digress. Each conversation flows flows through a multitude of disciplines, people, moods – opinions clash, noise levels are breached and work is ignored.

There is an air of Care, love of what is being done and could be done. Everybody has a Veto and is pushed to dream. The Virtual India team – when working together – never hates work, hate is something we waste in words and in our frequent leaps to the edge of what could be possible. It is only in my recent interaction outside our little world – where India is Virtual and where stories make lives – i realized the changes that have come into me.

There is so much more to get excited about, to read, to listen, to interact and fight over. Problems suck less, and signs, sounds and smells tell more. Gestures in the street remind of that part of us which lives outside of time – of timeless charm and elegance. The target is not to build a piece of software, and not to provide the illusive, distant and in-vogue happyness. And surely we are not in a race to beat the competition, to win the customer – we are not looking to customers, but collaborators to tell stories about places and ponder about tools for doing so.

The many collective ideas, quirks and obsessions provide fuel for what we do and our digressions from it. And as I have gone on incessantly – man is a species of space – and a construct of stories. In more ways than one.

So to conclude let me say – the blog needed an update – love what we are building and hate to waste time – am not in a mood to work today – hyphenations galore – the above should be taken with a pinch of salt as I really do not understand what I was trying to say.

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