internet

Newsletter is published!

When I am very busy, my client’s get their work done first.  It makes sense.  So I haven’t published a newsletter for a couple of months.  Doesn’t help me to promote my business, but I think working hard is promotion enough.

But without further ado, my October Newsletter is available here.  If you want your copy when it is first published, consider signing up for my newsletter with the link at the sidebar.  I don’t sell or give away my contact list to anyone, and it is safe from any spam.  Enjoy!

Today is gTDL reveal day

Today is the day that has been anticipated as top level domain applications are revealed. I mentioned this a few months back, for the small sum of approximately $85k, you can apply to create you own generic top level domain (similar to .com and .net). ICANN received more than 1900 applications by the May 30th deadline.

Google has applied for .google (makes sense) and .docs, lol and .youtube while the American Bankers Association has applied for .bank and .insurance. the Directi Group has applied for 31 domain strings including .hotel, .movie and .shop.

What does this allow them to do? Have their very own domain registry and in some cases, sell domains with those extension much the same as you can buy a .com or .ca now. Only they will be making the yearly fees.

Up to now there are 22 existing suffixes, including the country designations, others like .org (for charities) and the new .xxx. Some say that it will make the internet more innovative and competitive, but others say it will be very confusing. At least now you know when you see a .com that it is a website, but it will be very confusing if you have something like stocks.shares. Is that a typo or a web address?

Also, just because a name is a well known brand in one country, doesn’t mean that they will necessarily be allowed to buy that suffix. There may be an equally or more well known brand with the same name in another country. It will be interesting to see what the internet looks like in the next few years and the outcome of this new rule.

What is Chrome and where did it come from?

I am asked from time to time to look at client or friend’s computer and “clean it up” as it has slowed down and they don’t understand what all those icons on their desktop are. Often, they will have numerous different browsers such as Chrome and Firefox, as well as their standard Internet Explorer and they have no idea how they got there, or what they are for.

downloading programsHow they got there

Whenever you install a program from the internet or update a program, it is important to read all the windows that come up during the process. It is often here that you get these programs installed onto your computer. They aren’t viruses and aren’t harmful, but if you didn’t ask for them, it is a bit daunting to wonder how this strange stuff ended up on your computer. Imagine if “stuff” just started appearing in your home when you went to the grocery store, without you actually asking for it!  Not free nice stuff, just more clutter.  That’s often how people feel about it.  And it makes me laugh as they always claim that they didn’t put it there.

When you install an update or a program you are often given the option to do a Standard or a Custom installation. And they usually recommend the Custom unless you are an advanced user. Don’t be put off. It isn’t complicated and most of the options you can just accept (and click NEXT), but this is where you can often cancel these extra sneaky programs. Just take a good look at each window as it advances through the stages. Often those added programs are included with a little box that you need to untick in order to avoid it downloading.

What they are

Often the programs are different browsers. Browsers are programs that allow you to, well, browse the web. The most known one for PC computers is Internet Explorer, but Mozilla Firefox is quite popular now. For Macs it was Safari, but you can download that for Windows now as well. But Google has come out with Chrome. Then there is MaxthonRockmelt  (no, I don’t know where they get these names from either), SeaMonkey, and Opera.

Reasons to choose something different from IE

I first started using Firefox because of the increasing threat of viruses that targeted that browser, and shared files in your computer that made it easier for it to infect more of your whole computer. A program that was separate from the Microsoft operating system was a good idea. Plus, previous versions of IE were just awful at letting me choose how a web page printed, while I could often get the whole page or a page and a quarter to print on one sheet. Each of these browsers work in basically the same way but have different features that you may like better than another. Chrome claims to load faster, has an integrated address bar and search engine (which means if you type in a word in the address bar, and it isn’t a domain it will search for websites and has more space for the screen itself rather than the various tabs and buttons.)

All of these are free, easy to download and if you don’t like them, you can delete them again from your computer. Just know that when they ask the question “would you like “X” to be your default browser?” say no. If you say yes and end up not liking it, every time you click on a link in an email or other linked document it will open this new browser rather than your standard one.

Now you know where those “stray” programs came from.

What is Crowdsourcing

Crowd sourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a “crowd”), through an open call. The term “crowdsourcing” is a combination of “crowd” and “outsourcing,” first coined by Jeff Howe in a June 2006 Wired magazine article “The Rise of Crowdsourcing”.

Photography is a good example. The advent of the digital camera, easy to use photo editing software and of course the internet have seen a surge in the availability of stock photography at a reasonable price. So the quality of photographs created by individuals started to get on par with professionals and you have a larger pool of people to choose from when you are looking for photographs for yourself of your company.

Crowdsourcing can be for design work such as 99designs.com clients can ask for submissions for designs for anything from business cards to logo design. You state what kind of design you’d like, how much you will pay, and then interested designers will start submitting designs. You choose from the designs submitted and agree to pay what they have asked for (it may be more than you offered, but the perfect logo, so you are willing to pay the higher price).

A t-shirt company, threadless, asks for submissions on t-shirt designs and the most popular (voted on by the crowd) are offered for sale in their store. If your design is chosen you get money as well as money towards buying other t-shirts and further cash rewards should it be so popular that they re-print it!

Some crowdsourcing is for the benefit of better knowledge. Wikipedia was an early example of crowdsourcing. Linux or Open Office are also examples where the user is also a contributor to making a product or application better.

Galaxy Zoo is a citizen science project that lets members of the public classify a million galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Gooseberry Patch, has been using crowd-sourcing to create their community-style cookbooks since 1992.

Mechanical Turk web service allows humans to help the machines of today perform tasks they aren’t suited for. Such as choosing a favourite between three photos. You sign up for the work and get paid a fee for doing it.

Of course there are benefits and casualties to crowdsourcing.

Advantages:
1. Numerous ideas from numerous people. Gets more ideas which means that you are more likely to get the best idea
2. Cheap. It cuts costs as you are employing a person, just using them for a limited time. Plus the competition that results.
3. Fast. It takes less time to get a job done as it is more likely that the right person is available now.

Disadvantages

1. Quality could be questionable. Ideas and designs are submitted now just by professionals but amateurs as well. So while they may, for example, have created a great logo, they have no idea how to make it into the format you may need. And as you don’t have a relationship with the particular designer, you may not be able to find them in the future for any changes or issues.
2. It is unreliable. You may not get too many people interested and are getting ideas from a less talented pool of people.
3. Confidentiality. You are on the net for everyone to see what you are asking for, so with large corporations as an example, everyone will see you are thinking of changing your branding before you are ready to launch the idea.

Of course, for designers, photographers, crowdsourcing has been very difficult as not only do they have to compete with one another, but they have to compete with anyone who owns a computer.

Sources:

Wired.com
Crowdsourcing
Mechanical Turk
CMS Wire

Stop the Meter on your Internet Usage

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are about to impose usage-based billing on YOU.

This means we’re looking at a future where ISPs will charge per byte, the way they do with smart phones. If we allow this to happen Canadians will have no choice but to pay MUCH more for less Internet. Big Telecom companies are obviously trying to gouge consumers, control the Internet market, and ensure that consumers continue to subscribe to their television services.

If you would like your voice to be heard, sign the petition at Open Media. This petition will go to Industry Minister Tony Clement, and the leaders of the Block Quebecois, and Green Party. The NDP and Liberals are already opposing this bill.

Let your voice be heard!

What is Net Neutrality and how does it affect you?

Essentially, net neutrality is the idea that no group should be able to discriminate against applications or content found on the Internet. That means no blocking access to web content, and no speeding up or slowing down of specific online services. It means the Internet should be a level playing field for ideas and innovation.

An interesting book by Barbara van Schewick explains how the Internet was originally constructed in “Internet Architecture and Innovation”. She explains that many technologies have an architecture to them that makes them easy or difficult to add other uses to. The Internet was constructed in such an open way in the beginning as the men who designed it had no idea what it would be used for in the future, if at all. They only knew what they wanted to use it for. In fact they thought the idea of people searching for something on the Internet was laughable. But, because they didn’t make any assumptions about what it may be used for, they designed it in a general way that could be easily added to.

This was very important for innovation, because the beauty of the Internet was that as long as you followed the few rules that it had when it was constructed, you could design programs that would work with it. This was important because if it had been constructed differently and you had to convince the architects of the original Internet to change something in their original platform every time to you wanted to design something for it, you would have to convince them that it was worth the effort. And in the history of the Internet, we hear over and over that when an idea was first conceived, people didn’t usually think it would ever work. In 1995 a fellow called Pierre Omidyar thought it would be a neat idea to sell items by auction online. He told his friends about it and they thought he was crazy, but he went ahead and spent a long weekend in his San Jose living room writing the code for this and put it on the web. He just was able to put it out there without having to convince anyone that it was worth it, just to see what would happen. And eBay was born.

Deep Packet Inspection
In the early days of the internet, you could use it without anyone knowing what you were doing on it. Your internet provider (or IP) didn’t know whether you were sending emails, uploading websites or downloading music. However, now your IPs employ something called “deep packet inspection”. When data has to be transmitted, it is broken down into similar structures of data, which are reassembled to the original data chunk once they reach their destination. This is how anything you do over the internet is sent. Deep Packet Inspection came about when viruses started to appear and caused more and more problems for internet users. A packet is made up of different information such as the source IP address, the destination IP address, the sequence number of the packets, the type of service, flags and other information. By reading these packets, IPs are able to filter out the viruses before they reached their own network and your computer. However now they are using this inspection for totally different purposes and that is what Net Neutrality is all about.
The argument about Net Neutrality is this: Internet providers think they should control what goes over their networks to keep its operation fair to all. However others feel they are stifling innovation by trying to control information that detracts from their own business interests. The eBay story is important to the idea of innovation over the internet. Because the internet was so open, this fellow was able to just write up some code, put it on line and see if anyone would find it as good an idea that he did. He didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to put the site up, didn’t need any start up funds from anyone, he was just a smart guy who saw the potential of something and went ahead and did it. Google has a video program called Google video. It hoped to be something like YouTube. Likely though, you’ve never heard of it. Because YouTube was a better product and easier to use, people just voted with their clicks. This is what people are afraid of losing if the internet loses what Barbara van Schewick calls being Internet Agnostic. The internet providers claim they need to control what is happening on their networks so certain programs and people don’t hog all the bandwidth, but there are already tools to solve those problems without distorting the level playing field among their competition and classes of applications.

Some examples of how this inspection has not been agnostic:

  • In 2005, Telus blocked access to hundreds of websites during a dispute with its labour union (sites and blogs about the dispute),
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  • Shaw attempted to levy surcharges for Internet telephony services
  •  

  • Rogers quietly limited bandwidth for legitimate peer-to-peer software application (because it competed with their own VoIP offerings)
  •  

  • and Videotron mused publicly about establishing a new Internet transmission tariff that would require content creators to pay millions for the privilege of transmitting their content.
  •  

 

In Europe, most mobile providers won’t allow their customers to use Skype over the network because it competes with their own products.

Throughout the history of the internet, the low cost innovators have been the ones that created the most important applications that we use today, eBay, Flicker, Blogger, Facebook, Twitter. If we had lived in a world where you had to have investment, none or few of these innovations would exist today.

Now, you may ask, why shouldn’t the network providers be able to regulate their own networks? After all, they set them up? Well that is true, but they also get a lot of public money to help them. And like a car company can build their cars whatever way they like, they still have to adhere to regulations that make things fair and safe for the users. And the internet is even more important because it is one of the central infrastructures of our time. We communicate, study, work and generally stay in touch over it. And we can’t allow them to shape the future of the internet for their own commercial interests and not the interest of the public that uses it and now relies on it.

In the end, we don’t want network providers to be able to stifle the innovation that the internet is famous for. And we would like to continue to have the freedom to decide for ourselves what the better applications are. Let’s hope that Net Neutrality can continue.

Sources:

“Internet Architecture and Innovation”. by Barbara van Schewick – Spark Interview with by Barbara van Schewick – CBC, Spark

Michael Geist – his blog at www.michaelgeist.ca

Phishing Scams

There used to be a time where businesses would get a letter in the mail from some part of Africa claiming to be a Dignitary or lawyer that needed the firm’s help. It would go on to ask permission and for bank account numbers so this person could deposit great sums of money to the firm’s account. For their trouble, they would give the firm a commission (a wonderfully high sum too)to keep. Of course it was a way to get access to a bank account and clear it out.

Technology has enabled this same scam and so many more to evolve to greater heights.

Beware of any scams that come under the following type:

Generic greetings – If you get an email from Paypal for instance telling you that your account has been compromised and you should sign in, they will use a greeting like Dear Paypal user, or just Dear user. Companies such as paypal know your first and last name and will always use it. Your bank will never send you emails like this. They will call you.

False sense of urgency – These are the emails that say that your account will be closed or blocked if you don’t click on their link right away. Don’t be fooled

Fake links – These are the most important. A phishing email will have a link that looks legitimate, but it still may send you to a fraudulent website. If a company or bank that you deal with is the subject of an email, go to the regular website address you normally go to, don’t use the link in the email. Often it looks very similar and the web address is similar, but the differences mean that you could be typing your user name and password (which is what they are after) into a site that is collecting them for fraudulent purposes.

If I get an email from Paypal or Ebay about a security problem, I never ever sign into my Paypal account from the link on the email I’ve received. According to experienced Paypal users, this is how 90% of PayPal accounts are hacked into.

The term https:// should always precede the domain address as well. The “s” stands for secure. If you don’t see the https then the site is not secure and you should not enter any information.

If you do receive a phishing email for Paypal, you can forward it to spoof@paypal.com. They are happy to have a list of these scams that hurt their business.

The best rule of thumb has always been the same.

“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is”

And for any unsolicited emails you get in your inbox, be very careful of who you reply to and clicking on any links.

Amazing world of the web

I’m constantly surprised and delighted with the cornucopia of resources that there is on the internet. Anything you want to know, track, find is there if you just search a little creatively. I thought I’d give a little list of the sites that I have found in the last little while, or knew about already, but may not have mentioned before.

I have a client that I maintain a charity website for. She was asking how she could put up one of those charity thermometers that you often see, that tracks donations for a specific fundraising event (such as a walk-a-thon). I knew what she meant, as I remember our local theatre had one outside the building. But a web based one? I googled “Fundraising Thermometers” and the first site (apart from the paid ones) was a site called Fundraising Insight and for free was a service where you put in information such as your target amount, and the amount you have raised so far, and it allows you to display a thermometer on your site! You just update the information from time to time and it automatically updates the level that you have collected. I’ve seen sites that allow you to track things before. There is a site called Ticker Factory. On this site you can track things like weight loss, count downs to holidays, due date of a baby, savings. And they have all these little images that you can use as your bar, and others to use as the place you are at now.

I have a few clients that find that an event calendar is a useful thing to have on their site. They usually don’t want to pay anything extra for this, and I found a site called Spongecell Promote. It used to be called just Spongecell, but they seem to have improved their site and the calendars. You can use it for free, and imbed it into your site. And you access the calendar by signing into their website, so once you (or your web designer) have embedded it, anyone in your organisation can keep it up to date. There is a paid version that has more options, and it has functions that allow you to invite people on a mailing list.

For those of you who have lost faith in the now very commercial world of Ebay, there is kijiji.ca (for Canadians, of course) Here you can still advertise your business, but it’s a great way to advertise your discarded goods for sale (or trade) in your own local area.

For the artist among you, and in these scary financial times, there is the site Etsy This is a US shop and sells in US Dollars, but for us Canadians selling, that only helps us, as the biggest market is in the States. It is for only home made items, no imported garbage is allowed. A lot of fun, quality art on this site.

Of course for those among you that are always wondering what the name of that actor was on the show you just watched, there is the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). And it’s a bit of a misnomer, because it has information about TV shows as well as movies. If you like music and are happy just to listen for free, and not to download it, you can go to Songza type in the name of an artist, and a list of songs will come up. It used to be a pretty simple site, but they’ve tarted it up now and often there are linked YouTube videos that you can watch while you are listening.

And a bit on just searching. Don’t be shy with your search engine. I often find things by typing in searches in the form of a question, like “how do you create rounded corners in Photoshop”. Or just the line of a song that I can remember “I’m just a jealous guy”. I very rarely fail at finding what I was looking for.

You Send it

Here is another site that will send your larger files via the internet, rather than clogging up your email or a friend’s. This is especially helpful when the file is larger than your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will allow.
Go to You Send It and follow the easy instructions. This one is slightly different from the previous one I mentioned, in that it sends the email to your recipient with instructions. It also worked pretty fast as well.

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