Open and closed platforms

This is a blogpost that I had planned a very long time (4-5 weeks) ago, and I’m only getting down to write it now. So my apologies if the quality is not as good as my blogposts usually are. 

Many of you would have looked at the title of this blogpost and assumed that the trigger for this was the “acquisition” of Joe Rogan’s podcast by Spotify. For a large sum of money, Spotify is “taking his podcast private”, making it exclusive to Spotify subscribers.

However, this is only an “immediate trigger” for writing this post. I’d planned this post way back in April when I’d written one of my Covid-19 related blogposts – maybe it was this one.

I had joked the post needed to be on Medium for it to be taken seriously (a lot of covid related analysis was appearing on Medium around that time). Someone suggested I actually put it on Medium. I copied and pasted it there. Medium promptly took down my post.

I got pissed off and swore to never post on Medium again. I got reminded of the time last year when Youtube randomly pulled down one of my cricket videos when someone (an IP troll, I later learnt) wrongly claimed that I’d used copyrighted sounds in my video (the only sound in that video was my own voice).  I had lodged a complaint with Youtube, and my video was resurrected, but it was off air for a month (I think).

Medium and Youtube are both examples of closed platforms. All content posted on these platforms are “native to the platform”. These platforms provide a means of distributing (and sometimes even marketing) the content, and all content posted there essentially belongs to the platform. Yes, you get paid a cut of the ad fee (in case your Youtube channel becomes super powerful, for example), but Youtube decides whether your video deserves to be there at all, and whose homepages to put it on.

The main feature of a closed platform is that any content created on the platform needs to be consumed on the same platform. A video I’ve uploaded on Youtube is only accessible on Youtube. A medium post can only be read on medium. A tweet can only be read on twitter. A Facebook post only on Facebook.

The advantage with closed platforms is that by submitting your content to the platform, you are hoping to leverage some benefits the platform might offer, like additional marketing and distribution, and discovery.

This blog doesn’t work that way. Blogposts work through this technology called “RSS”, and to read what I’m writing here you don’t need to necessarily visit You can read it on the feed reader of your choice (Feedly is what I use). Of course there is the danger that one feed reader can have overwhelming marketshare, and the destruction of that feed reader can kill the ecosystem itself (like it happened with Google Reader in 2013). Yet, RSS being an open platform means that this blog still exists, and you can continue to receive it on the RSS reader of your choice. If Medium were to shut down tomorrow, all Medium posts might be lost.

Another example of an open platform is email – it doesn’t matter what email service or app you use, my email and yours is interoperable. India’s Universal Payment Interface (UPI) is another open platform – the sender and receiver can use apps of their choice and still transact.

And yet another open platform (which a lot of people didn’t really realise is an open platform) is podcasting. Podcasts run on the RSS protocol. So when you subscribe to a podcast using Apple Podcasts, it is similar to adding a blog to your Feedly. This thread by Ben Thompson of Stratechery (that I just stumbled upon when I started writing this post) sums it up well:

What Spotify is trying to do (with the Joe Rogan and Ringer deals) is to take these contents off open platforms and put it on its own closed platform. Some people (like Rogan) will take the bait since they’re getting paid for it. However, this comes at the cost of control – like I’m not sure if we’ll have another episode of Rogan’s podcast where host and guest light up a joint.

Following my experiences with Medium and Youtube, when my content was yanked off for no reason (or for flimsy reasons), I’m not sure I like closed platforms any more. Rather, someone needs to pay me a lot of money to take my content to a closed platform (speaking of which, do you know that all my writing for Mint (written in 2013-18) is behind their newly erected paywall now?).

In closing I must mention that platforms being “open” and platforms being “free” are orthogonal. A paid podcast or newsletter is still on an open platform (see Ben Thompson tweetstorm above), since it can be consumed on a medium independent of the one where it was produced – essentially a different feed is generated depending on what the customer has paid for.

Now that I’ve written this post, I don’t know what the point of this is. Maybe it’s just for collecting and crystallising my own thoughts, which is the point behind most of my blogposts anyway.

PS: We have RSS feeds for text and podcasts for audio. I wonder why we don’t have a popular and open protocol for video.

Missing data in IIMB Alumni Directory

Recently, I got a mail from the IIMB Alumni association asking me to contact batchmates who are not part of the association mailing list. The objective of the mail was to ensure that every alumnus is registered with the association and can be reached for whatever purpose. Among other things (including exhorting us to mail our class mailing lists, etc.) the mail contained statistics of the number of students in each graduating batch and the number of students who are not part of the alumni mailing list.

The pattern in the proportion of people not on the mailing list was quite interesting so I thought I’ll share it here:


For the earlier graduating batches, you can see that the proportion not on the mailing list is very high. And then there are two deep drops, one in the mid-nineties and one around the turn of the millennium. The latter I would associate with all students having a valid email ID at the time of graduation which would have allowed them to be reachable and be part of the alumni association. The former also would be associated with penetration of email.

What is also interesting is the bump around 2010 – while the enrolment rate up to the batch of 2009 seems to be pretty good, something seems to have gone wrong after that. The enrolment rate for the batch of 2010 is as bad as that for 2002, which is quite bizarre! Wonder if the alumni association messed up, or if there were some technical glitches around then or if for some particular reason that batch hated IIMB so much that they didn’t register!

All in all, though, a very interesting dataset.

Long mails

As you might have noticed from my blog posts over the years, I like writing long essays. By long, I mean blog post long. Somewhere of the length of 800-1000 words. I can’t write longer than that, because of which my attempts to write a book have come to nought.

Now, thanks to regular blogging for over nine years, I think I’ve become better at writing rather than speaking when I have to explain a complicated concept. Writing allows me to structure my thoughts better, whereas while speaking I sometimes tend to think ahead of what I’m talking, and end up making a mess of it (I had a major stammer when I was in school, by the way).

Given that I like explaining concepts in writing rather than in speech, I write long mails even when it comes to work. Writing long emails is like writing blog posts – you have the time and space to structure your thought well and present it to your readers. This especially helps if the thoughts you are to communicate are complex.

The problem, however, is that most people are not used to reading long emails in a work contexts. People prefer to do meetings instead. Or they just call you up. For whatever reason, the art of long emails has never really taken off in the corporate sphere, Maybe people just want to talk too much.

This, of course, has never deterred me from using my favourite means of communication. It didn’t stop me when I was an employee and the people I wrote to were colleagues. It still doesn’t stop me now, when I’m a consultant, writing to people who are paying me for a piece of work. If they are paying me, I should communicate things to them in a form they are most comfortable with, you might argue. If they are paying me, I should communicate things as well as I can, I argue back, and my best means of communication is writing long emails.

The problem with long emails, however, is that, like long-form articles you send to a Pocket or an Instapaper, you tend to bookmark these long mails for later, intending to read and digest them when you have the time. So, when you send a long email, you are unlikely to get a quick response (note that you can sometimes use it to your advantage). This means that when you write long mails, you might have to follow it up with an SMS or a phone call to the effect of “read and digest and let me know if you have any questions”.

In my last organization, I worked with a number of technical people, some of whom had PhDs. It was interesting to contrast the way they communicated with my long emails. They too would put complex thoughts in writing, except that they would use Latex and make a PDF out of it. It would be littered with equations and greek symbols, in a way that is extremely intuitive for an academic to read.

And here I was, eschewing all that Greek, preferring to write in plain text in the body of emails. No wonder some of my colleagues started terming my emails “blogposts”.

The “Per Person” catch

Every time a travel agent sends you an itinerary for a tour package, look for the units of the cost. Usually it’s quoted in US Dollars per person. The funny thing is that this is how it is quoted even when it is just an accommodation package where two or three of you are going to share a room.

I wonder if this is a way to encourage more spending, since the customer perceives the total cost to be a much smaller number when he sees “per person” than when he sees an all-inclusive number.

Like for a forthcoming trip, the travel agent sends me an email saying “the hotel will send a taxi to pick you up at the airport at a cost of EUR 50 per person”!!

On a similar note, I realize travel agents love to bundle. When costs across several hotels and trains and taxis are bundled together and presented to you as an aggregate (“per person”, again), it is easy for them to pass on overheads to you without you figuring out where exactly that overhead went.

There have been times in the past when I’ve received packages from travel agents, then tried to purchase each component of that package online, and found that the total cost of buying the parts separately is approximately half the bundled cost that travel agents impose!

Making guest list

So last night I sat down to do the presumably fun task of preparing my wedding guest list. This was just the first cut, where I just put down the names of people I want to invite in an excel sheet. In the second cut, I’ll parse the sheet and figure out how each person on the list should be invited – personally, or on phone, or email, and so on.

So there can be two kinds of error while making such a list – errors of omission and errors of commission. The probability of error or commission is quite low. After all there aren’t too many people who you explicitly don’t want at your wedding. And if there exist any such people, you will remember that only too well while putting their names down in the invite sheet.

Errors of omission is what I’m concerned about. There have been times in the past when people have gotten married, and I haven’t had a clue. It’s a different matter about whether I’d’ve gone or not, but I know that there is scope for hurt feelings if certain people are left out of the list. So one must be careful.

The problem is that I’m currently not in touch with a lot of these people. I would’ve been good enough friends with them at some point of time in life that I’d want to invite them to my wedding. But the fact that I haven’t kept in touch means I may not remember their existence, but when eventually they see my wedding pics on facebook it might result in a kinda hurtful “congrats” message.

The other question I must ask is that if I’m prone to forgetting about someone’s existence, if they are worth being invited at all. That I’ve forgotten about them means that obviously they are quite low in my list of people I want at my wedding. So am I generally paining myself by trying to remember people who I wouldn’t normally remember?

So far the easiest list I’ve made is from my batch of people from IIMB. We have a google doc with everyone’s names and personal details. So one parse through that meant I wouldn’t forget anyone’s existence. Much peace ensued. The problem is similar lists don’t exist for my other social networks. Anyway I’ll try my best.

Tangentially, another issue is about how “forcefully” I invite certain people who don’t live in Bangalore and have to fly down for my wedding. For a variety of reasons I happened to bunk their weddings, and now it’s a little embarrassing to insist that they be there.

PS: This old post of mine, I think, is pertinent.