You’ll soon see articles in a compelling new format on your favorite social network. But guess who calls the shots?


By Mala Bhargava

scroll through your Facebook stream, perhaps stopping to Like or comment on an amusing video here and abeautiful photo there, you prob­ably don’t give a thought to the red-hot dynamite property that News Feed happens to be. Behind the scenes, what’s going on is all sorts of research, all manner of tinkering and tweaking, no end of infor­mation-gathering, and a greater and greater reach into users’lives.S YOU LEAN BACK IN A FREE MOMENT

It’s unnerving. Especially when you find you can’t really outrun the changes that are made to the social network­ing platform that is bigger than the population of many countries now.

Only recently, critics were up in arms over the idea that the news stories users see on their feed are filtered by Facebook’s algorithms. A research study to this effect appeared in Sci­ence magazine in which the partic­ular focus was exposure to others’ political views. Does the News Feed in fact steer users towards others who share the same politi­cal views? Or does it leave an open playing field for users to encounter varied views? Facebook says users get to see what they seek. But even that is a little worrying as more of what you sought is pushed on you than you bargained for. What­ever is happening in the innards of the News Feed’s workings, it’s pretty obvious that users don’t see updates from some of their “friends” for ages, even without having tampered with preferences. Just how much control does Facebook have over our lives?

Whatever the control, it’s about to go up many notches as Facebook launches Instant Articles, a programme that lets publishers put stories into the News Feed. Not only does content look good, articles are supposed to load instantly: something much needed with readers’ attention spans be­ing much shorter. Instant Articles interaction will include
being able to comment online on parts of articles, play video by tilting the phone, and more. Users will get everything in one place — at least for the publishers who signed up, and that includes The New York Times, BuzzFeed, NBC, The Guard­ian, BBC News, TheAtlantic and afew others. More will join up in the coming weeks, for sure.

For publishers, there’s an experience to offer readers be­yond what they’ve managed. They get a wider reach than they could have achieved, given Facebook’s massive user base. And they even get to keep their ad revenue, from ads that feature with their content. Publishers also get to retain their branding by using easy tools that create a cover for the content. On top of that, they provide detailed analytics to the publishing companies on how stories are being viewed.

But the worrying part is obvious. Facebook is changing things around practically all the time. Publishers could so easily find they have the tables turned on them with some change that Facebook has made. Already, it’s being thought that they would be slaves to what Facebook wants to do, with all control for what goes into Instant Articles having been vested with the social giant. With the quality of content within Facebook invariably going up (an assumption many are making), will the News Feed cannibalise publishers’ own websites and apps? With more to do on Facebook, just how much more time will users spend on the social networking site? It’s a win for Facebook as it locks its users in some more. And takes charge. EQ

In the past two decades has been unparalleled in the last 100 years. A plethora of new instruments has hit the markets, making the environment more com­plex than ever. Gautam H. Parikh’s Handbook of Indian Securities captures this complexity with a unique compilation of vari­ous equity and quasi-eq­uity instruments that are available today for raising funds from investors.HE EVOLUTION OF CAPITAL MARKETS

Parikh has a manage­ment degree from London Business School as well as a law degree from the London School of Econom­ics. In his book, Parikh has explored the history oflndian capital markets with an emphasis on the post-liberalisation era. The author has explained in detail each of the instru­ments with the help of case studies to make them interesting. The case stud­ies explaining Tata Motors’ DVR and Catholic Syrian Banks rights issue are particularly noteworthy.

Parikh’s book is a handy reference tool for CFOs who are not market-sawy as well as for students. It is also an useful guide for market participants who are not so well-versed with
all the instruments and find it awkward to turn to their colleagues for help.

However, the book would have been more use­ful if the author had clarity about the target audience, instead of assuming that one size fits all. The nar­rative frequently switches from “layman” terms — which to some would be waste of space — to highly technical and legal termi­nologies that may possibly require repeated reading by alayman to make sense. In subsequent editions,
the author must correct a number of facts and figures that seem to have been mis­represented. Rajiv Gandhi, for instance, wasn’t the prime minister when he was assassinated. Also, he was killed in 1991 and not 1989- The badla system was abolished in 2001 and not 1994. The lot size of shares of SMEs is wrongly given as 100,000. Abroker is never liable for the ap­plication money for an IPO investment made by individual investors. There are many such gaffes.

In his eagerness to cover all the angles, the author keeps digressing into unrelated areas such as corporate governance instead of focusing on the main subject matter.

Parikh could have made the book more interest­ing by throwing light on some of the instruments that have been misused and manipulated by market participants and subsequently resulted in
scams. He should have also covered extensively the new kids on the block -theBSESMEandNSE Emerge platforms for small scale enterprises. These are interesting op­portunities that many are not aware of. The Emerge ITP platform allows start-ups to list without an IPO. Preferential Issue (not preference shares) and issue of warrants, a route blatantly misused by midcap companies, has not been covered either.

Nonetheless, the book is a great effort by a first-time author as it covers such a vast subject and succeeds in bringing some clarity. Being a reference book on a current topic, it will need to be revised at regular intervals and this will give Parikh an opportunity to rectify the shortcomings of the launch edition. [E3

^ Baliga is an independent market analyst


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