Browse Month: August 2008

Small Business Don’t Checklist For Web

3290657131.jpegSmall businesses are usually cash-strapped. Even if not, they hardly have piles of cash laying around their offices. In recent days I had a few people asking me for some kind of small business friendly technical resources citing lack of funds to pay for full-scale items – be it web design, search engine promotion or just a laptop and a printer.

So after talking to quite a few people I have put together a quick SMALL BUSINESS DON’T checklist. Basically, if you are doing more then one thing from the list below – you already shooting yourself in both feet.

  • DON’T take any free web site offers. The reason is simple – whatever is free is worth what you pay for it. As you already know, if your business is not online – it doesn’t exist. But if your web site is covered with banners and ads you have no control over, is slow to load even on fast connection, times out frequently and looks like it was put together last night after couple of six-packs – I’d be surprised if it will land you any significant income. However, by spending a reasonable amount for professionally-looking web site you will be able to get better deals and maintain the professional image from the beginning.
  • DON’T buy extremely cheap computer or hardware with good intention to replace it “later”. If you will find it troublesome to do any significant work on that cheap piece of equipment, you most likely will loose any motivation to do the work. There is a telltale that famous Paganini performing on three, two and even one string of his violin while they break. One thing you have to remember is that he already was Paganini when that happened; it didn’t happen while he was starting his career. Small screen and below-average performance may impede you from doing more in less time, and the time is the only asset you have when starting a company.
  • DON’T buy the top of the line stuff either, unless absolutely neccessary. As a small business operator myself, I am always in doubt when I hear some fellow small business owner’s justification of purchasing a top fo the line notebook. Most likely you competing with someone who already have more money than you do. Therefore, if buying a $5,000 computer is what going to make you a winner then you already lost – the other guy can always buy more, faster and at a larger discount.
  • DON’T go for cheapest credit card processor if your business requires it. Go for the one you have the most trust in. In addition to PayPal both Google and Amazon offer payment solutions, so there is really no need to go in all the gray areas. Besides, shady processor may damage your business’ credit rating which might take years to rebuild.
  • DON’T underestimate the power of the Force the power of the crowd. Visit all the consumer-feedback web sites and visit them often. Not only you can get a better understanding of how your business is viewed from the consumer prospective, you can also get an idea how visible it is to the outside world at all. If you are a niche player – visit niche forums and groups, if you sell or provide services to wider audience – visit general feedback web sites.
  • DON’T be afraid to put a face to your business. If you’re inclined to participate in online discussions about your company or your product – make it known who you are. It gives your current and potential customers some sort of a feedback shortcut. In a long run it may do more good to your company’s image.

Obviously the list is as short as it is incomplete. Feel free to add more.

Brave Little Georgia And More PUPTs On Digg

For many people the sight of Russian tanks streaming across a border in August has uncanny echoes of Prague 1968. That cold war reflex is natural enough, but it is misleading. Not every development in the former Soviet Union is a replay of Soviet history. It is crudely simplistic to cast Russia as the sole villain in the clashes over South Ossetia.
digg story

If you check out the Digg comments following the link above, there’s clearly a bunch of PUPTs in the comments. Some people’s bad English and outright bashing of Georgia is a clear indication of paid provocateurs. Some more clues – calling Georgia a US’s puppet, mentioning outrageous but unconfirmed casualties in 1500s or even 2000s as a proven fact (even though no pictures of video footage exist to support this), calling Saakashvili a mini-Hitler, and proclaiming Russia as a protector of it own citizens. In general, the situation itself has many common traits with Germany annexing Sudetes before World War II. Same type of claims, same passports distribution beforehand, same go-get attitude from the aggressor.

Again, I am trying to keep this blog as far from politics as possible, so take this as another look at the cyberwar (or information war).

Puppets and Puppeteers In Information Wars

Puppets and Puppeteers in information wars - IStudioWeb BlogWhile everybody is watching Olympics in China, there are couple of wars going on. There’s a war in Georgia where russian tanks and bombers are leveling off residential buildings. This blog, however, is not about the politics, so I will talk about another war, the information war. While most of what I will be writing below pertains russian-language blogs, I am sure most other communities have similar trends.

When checking a reaction to any event in popular blogs it is always interesting to separate comments into different categories. There are people who agree or disagree to the author’s point of view, there are people who just dropping their 2 cents and there are people who just want to “chime in”, so that their user name and web site show up. In blog communities, namely LiveJournal, that’s very popular among Russian-speaking crowd, things go a little different, especially for a political event. Once something major breaks in – and by major I understand something attracting hundreds and hundreds of comments – a very special kinds of trolls crawl from under the bridges. Some of them are, indeed, creatures of their own low self-esteem. Others, however, appear to be on government’s payroll. Given the ultra-patriotism that Russian government under Putin was imposing it was both amazing and scary to watch the proliferation of “paid ultra-patriotic trolls” (PUPTs, which sounds close enough to “puppets”) throughout the Russian-speaking web.

These creatures don’t allow anyone to bash or even question the righteousness of Russian government, anyone who does it is being bashed, accused of being pro-American, jewish, stupid or just one who “doesn’t love his country” (everything mentioned is considered to be very bad by common folk in Russia). Given that most of UPTs are being paid for what other people do at their leisure time, the strength of trolls’ attacks supercedes any and all counter-measures one can take. Obviously, when some on-the-fence bystander watches the crowd bashing a single unknown user he is happy to join in and support the crowd or at least is being smart enough not to oppose the crowd. The fact that the “crowd” may consist of a very few government paid employees using multiple online identities sort of escapes the moment.

For a person, who is not constantly bombarded with propaganda news from Russian TV, radio and newspapers it is easy enough to tell the PUPT from regular troll from someone who was just sucked into discussion. Paid UPTs are usually either very aggressive or very thorough. Pretty much everything – from language patterns, to responses to other non-paid UPTs and to other members of discussion – can give them away. It’s somewhat hard to tell the UPT in a separate blog, but in a community similar to LiveJournal it’s quite easy. PUPT’s own journal (blog) is either empty, filled with crossposts from another blogs (usually automatic) or reposts from news sites. Very rarely one can find a regular personal blog that belongs to UPT, usually this indicates the main account for “troll master” or, if I can put it this way, the puppeteer. His role is usually to oversee the big picture and engage large targets. This figure usually less aggressive, poses as some authoritative resource, citing documents, providing links (mostly to other propaganda sources or selected specifically to represent certain propagandistic point of view) and so on. Beating one usually requires a lot of knowledge, ability to support own point of view with quickly found links, materials and evidence as well as at least partial support of community.

Technically speaking, there’s nothing new in these techniques of political trolling. Sure thing they date back as long as politics themselves. With proliferation of the internet, even though crowds are twisted more towards the entertainment, governments eventually realize the full power of online communities. Given the resources available to (any) government it is very easy to predict what will happen next. Of course some communities will survive the PUPTs infiltration. Even omniscient and omnipotent KGB did not twart dissidents of Soviet Union – mostly because they were harmless, but also because it very hard to chase down every single person who allows himself to think differently. However, as to Russian-speaking resources, it won’t be long before any reasonable discussion will be shut down one way or another due to the presense of vast army of PUPTs. Russia has only one prime channel that is controlled by the government (all major channels are, but 1st Channel is broadcast all over Russia), most of translations of foreign newspapers available from single web site that provides propaganda-tweaked translations of news (I personally saw a few articles from NYTimes translated in such a way that the whole meaning of the article was reversed) and most newspapers are lean to publishing articles about celebrities and aliens. It’s much like the Chine’s Great Firewall, only much more subtle and powerful.