Pet Peeves #1: The Usage of “Would” In Indian English

Once a student of English Literature, I tend to be a bit of a stickler for correct usage of grammar. As a language teacher, I have learnt to turn a blind eye to some common mistakes my students make. But there are some things that bother me too much to be shoved to the back shelf – in French (I am a French teacher) and in English.

One of these many things is the rampant usage of would in Indian English. Every one from the humble clerk with warped notions of the Queen’s language, to the highly qualified and well-read entrepreneur seems to prefer “would,” much to the detriment of “will.” 

This often gets translated into French and becomes even more unpalatable, making me want to scream in frustration – and I’m normally a very patient teacher. But coming back to the usage of would in Indian English, here are some examples I’ve picked up from formal communication – emails I’ve received from colleagues and associates, and from people trying to sell me a service.

“I would be available all day tomorrow.”

“XYZ would be closed tomorrow.”

“We would be processing your request tomorrow.”

9 out of 10 times, the usage of would is incorrect and I have to suppress the urge to reply and ask “You would, but won’t because you could, but can’t?”

So what is the difference between would and will?

They are not, I repeat NOT synonyms. Sure, they are both forms of the verb ‘to be’ but that’s where the similarity ends.

WOULD is the past tense of the verb ‘to be’, used to talk about the past or in a hypothetical sentence.

Ex. It looked like it would rain, but finally it didn’t.
Ex. If I had known that the weather was so bad in Bangalore, I would have carried warmer clothes.

It is also used as an indicator of politeness.

Ex. Would you like a muffin to go with your cup of tea? / Would you mind helping me with the glasses?

WILL, on the other hand, indicates the future.

Ex. I will be available all day tomorrow. I will be in my office, so would you like to come over for a tête-à-tête ?

How I Sold A Site

I didn’t think it could happen, even though I’d read about it happening, and if it could, definitely not to me! But it did happen.

I developed a site…and sold it!

The idea for What Are Chatbots was germinated one summer afternoon last year when we were brainstorming with the founders of Skilla on how to explain the concept of chat bots to clueless investors. So I recruited an intern and we started reading…about the history of Artificial Intelligence, the first chat bots, more recent forays in this world of conversational technology and its many applications.

After a fortnight of research, I started compiling a white paper, only by that time we had decided to bootstrap some more and avoid the whole investor loop till Skilla had reached a certain stage. So I took the white paper, broke it down into individual posts and put up a Medium publication. What better way to get readers for the hard work done by my intern and me?

The site looked good and started getting traction – we even started getting followers!

The quick success confirmed our hypothesis that there was a need for a publication that talked about chat bots in an informal, non-techie way. A blog whose target audience was the same as the target market of the chat bots – the average millennial who was curious about this new phenomenon and wanted to find out more about it without having to deal with the jargon, preferably in short snippets of information easily consumed while waiting for a friend at the bar or cabbing it to work. So I continued writing for the site whenever I came across an interesting chat bot and had some free time.

Much to my delight, a friend who works for a communication consultancy based in Bangalore, reached out and asked if we could meet. They were curious about chat bots and thought that their clients would be interested in this new trend…and what better way to clue them in on chat bots, than a blog that talks about them?

A few discussions later, I found myself sending them a proposal and before the month was over, I had sold What Are Chatbots

Time to bring out those champagne glasses! Once the jubilation subsided, I did feel a twinge of sadness when I realised that I would no longer be the person who took all decisions regarding the site (logo, layout, appearance or even the editorial style and content). But I continue to write for the publication, pitching in an article whenever a bot strikes my fancy, while the team of writers at the agency now manage its growth and maintenance.

The experience made me realise several things:

  1. I write well – even when its about something I might not necessarily understand and in a style that’s not really mine.
  2. People buy sites, even regular hobby sites by very regular writers – it’s not a random myth.
  3. If built with focus and drive, even a simple hobby site can attract attention – and eventually be sold!
  4. Chat bots are the next big thing – and not just because Mark Zuckerberg says so – but because they do make sense!

Writing For A Chatbot

I started moonlighting for Skilla a few months ago. For the uninitiated, Skilla is a chatbot (currently in closed beta on Facebook Messenger) that allows people to create a professional page to showcase their skills and eventually find people with complementary skills for their project / startup. Users can message Skilla and answer some quick questions about their job, skills and behaviour patterns to get a simple yet very sleek page which can work as their visiting card on the Web.

One of my first tasks on the Skilla team was to script the conversation the Skilla bot would have with the users. Now, I’ve written for websites and blogs, both corporate and personal. I’ve written my Masters thesis and also written some white papers. The tone, the style and the content has been a mix between the casual and the professional. But I’ve never written for a chatbot and hadn’t the faintest idea what a chatbot should say.

What’s the best tone? How much should the bot say?

Clueless, I looked for tips on Google. Here’s what my first attempt yielded:

As you can see, the query “writing for a chatbot” brings up much more technical results. Nothing to do with the conversation the bots will have with the users. So I tried changing the query to “tips on writing for chatbots.” “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, My mother told me to pick the very best one, and that is Y-O-U.” Just one relevant result. Not much to go on with…

A similar search for social media or corporate blog brings up some really good articles and great tips. (I personally recommend the article by Grammarly – it’s got excellent advice, especially for beginners.)

Apart from the guidelines on the Facebook Developer’s page, there were very few guidelines and best practices available for chatbot conversations. A little frustrated, I realised that I’d have to roll up my sleeves and figure this one out myself. So I took to trying out different bots and comparing their styles. (Read about my experience with one of the most popular chatbots here.)

It’s obviously not rocket science. But it helps to have some basic guidelines when you start writing a dialogue for a chatbot:

How long should your messages be? Is it a good idea to use images & GIFs? What are “quick replies” in Messenger Bots? Should you use buttons or quick replies? 

Find out what I learnt during this experience on the Skilla Blog.

Social Media: My Tools Of The Trade

Social Media ProfessionalA social media consultant since several years now, I’ve seen the requirements for this position change much over the last few years. From being a purely text based content creation job, it has evolved into a full-time vocation requiring multi-tasking skills, design thinking and a more holistic marketing approach.

The tools of the trade have, very obviously, evolved over the years from MS Word and blogging sites to include a wide array of platforms. My three favorites, over the years, highs and lows, which have helped me stay on the top:

HootSuite: a social media management tool, which allows you to manage multiple platforms and profiles from a single dashboard. You can schedule your posts, follow-unfollow and interact with followers all from within HootSuite. It’s been a life savior, especially when the holidays are coming up!

Pixabay: who pays for stock images any more? Pixabay has 530000 high quality photos, illustrations, and vector graphics – all free, for commercial use! The site has bailed me out EVERY time I needed an image to illustrate my social media posts. I’ve finally started buying the contributors’ a coffee every now and then as my small token of gratitude!

Canva: the solution to all social media posts. Canva allows you to create designs for web and print: graphics, presentations, social media posts (with customised sizes for each platform), infographics et al. I can no longer imagine being dependent on a professional designer to quickly churn out my social media posts, as is obvious on my Canva profile.

Organised At Home And Organised At Work Makes Me Healthy, Wealthy And Wise

Storage_jarsI’m a sucker for neat, organised spaces and spend my weekends labouring over my storage spaces. My mother, a perfectionist whose cupboards are always immaculately arranged, doesn’t need to do this as often as I do and I find myself constantly running to catch up with her. I think I’ve finally found the solution: storage boxes and containers. I recently invested in a whole bunch of storage trays to keep my spaces uncluttered.

The obsession for orderly spaces extends to my work space as well. I need a neat and tidy work space, so quite obviously I have spent a fare amount of my weekends arranging my documents in folders – the pretty plastic/paper ones and the virtual ones as well. Working as a teacher and a social media freelancer for various organisations, I have documents of all kinds and if I don’t keep them in systematic manner, I won’t ever find anything on time.

A few lessons I’ve learnt on this journey to the perfectly organised space:

  • FilesLabel stuff – develop a system that speaks to you. I prefer using color codes in the kitchen and elaborate names for documents and folders to track the content, author and versions. Here’s an example: B2_ExamenFinal_CO_Doc1_20102015
  • Categorise and store stuff in files and folders. The document I just cited as an example is in a folder named B2_ExamenFinal_2015. Don’t forget to hierarchise so that’s it’s easy to find stuff that’s more important / you use more often.
  • Use the cloud. Changing and updating computers has been a no-brainer ever since I started saving documents on Google drive and Dropbox.
  • Save important documents in multiple places – on your hard drive, in a USB drive and on the cloud. You never know what will misbehave when. I’ve had times when the Internet has failed at work and I’ve been unable to access an important document saved in my Dropbox folder.
  • Don’t feel shy to use applications to up your efficiency quotient at work:
    • Quip: to collaborate with colleagues on documents, spreadsheets and checklists.
    • Slack: for real-time messaging with your team members and keeping an archive of all communication and file exchanges.
    • Wunderlist: to create personal / professional to-do lists and discuss them with others. Feedback always helps!
    • Hootsuite: to plan and organise your social media posts in advance. Once you’ve scheduled the posts on Hootsuite, you can do other stuff and never have to stress about publishing on time!

From Personal Blogging to Corporate Blogging

I started blogging in 2003, at a time when personal blogs were just starting to take off and blogged rather avidly for over 6 years. My blog posts ranged from the extremely personal (and thus immature) to travelogues and essays on more serious topics. An expert on the subject, I maintained over this period, several blogs and was quick to interact with other bloggers and always ready to help out new bloggers.  Somewhere along the way however, social networking sites sprung up and the attention moved from blogs to notes on Facebook. And then came along Twitter, a micro-blogging service that allows you to answer the question, “What are you doing?” by sending short text messages in 140 characters.

I balked at the idea of controlling my verbosity and continued blogging. And thus, the move from personal blogging to corporate blogging was easy. I welcomed the idea of reading up on the trending topics and writing about them. What was not so easy however was mastering the art of tweeting and sending out the right message in just 140 characters. I had mixed reactions towards Twitter. On one hand, it represented another social network and even more flighty conversations (how much can you say in 140 characters after all?). On the other hand it was an extremely fertile ground for curating excellent material for my teaching career as well as my then secondary career in corporate communications. It allowed my to keep abreast of the latest in the world of technology and FLE.

When I first started managing the Facebook and Twitter accounts for Bibkosh, I was unsure. Facebook being familiar ground was easier to master. Twitter however required a little more patience. It took me a while to get the hang of using the right #tags and not shying away from entering a twitter conversation between two people I didn’t know from Jack.

I started by following the tech blogs TechCrunch and Mashable, reading up on various articles on Social Media, all of which got safely archived in Bibkosh.  As I got the hang of the space, I started exploring and following more people, interacting with them and exchanging views on everything from the latest gadget to current events.  A year later, I am addicted to Twitter and completely believe in the power of Twitter to carry forward the company’s message and spread the word far more efficiently than any elaborate advertising campaign.