Archive for January 2014


A warning to those with rivers.pro tagcloud code in their Tumblr themes

31.01.2014

Does anyone have the rivers.pro tagcloud code in their Tumblr theme? If so, it’s time to remove it. The code forwards to a website which McAfee SiteAdvisor labels dodgy. It is very hard to remove from a customized theme, since every time the page loads, the forwarding takes place. You’ll have to find a way to stop the loading, then edit your templates.
   The code looks something like this:

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://tumblrtags.rivers.pro/jquery.js"></script><script type="text/javascript" src="http://tumblrtags.rivers.pro/widget.js?css=default&minsize=80&maxsize=180&order=alphabetical"></script>

   I’ve advised Tumblr of this. Maybe they have some way to help Tumblr users.
   Incidentally, you may be asking, ‘Why is he warning people on his regular blog and not on Tumblr?’ The answer is simple: I am not allowed to.
   Every time I tried posting this message, this is what I got:

Tumblr warning on tagcloud code

Maybe Tumblr has already blocked the code?
   Regardless, if you have friends who use Tumblr, please get them to check.

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Posted in design, internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Finance is broken, and we still haven’t learned

26.01.2014

I posted this quotation from I Acknowledge on my Tumblr today:

The news that should have us all worried is: the derivatives market contains $700trn of these debts yet to implode.
   Global GDP stands at $69·4trn a year. This means that (primarily) Wall Street and the City of London have run up phantom paper debts of more than ten times of the annual earnings of the entire planet.

   It brings me back to one of the first things we ever wrote in the Medinge manifesto: ‘Finance is broken.’ Attempting to value companies using shares or financial statements can be a mugs’ game—and that was in 2002, before the market became so improbable.
   If only we knew how much worse things would get. And we thought, in the immediate post-9-11 period, that we would be learning the lesson about a Dow that was well overvalued. History has shown that we didn’t. And the most recent recession hasn’t corrected things: we’re still sitting on a time bomb.
   We wrote in the manifesto, ‘We believe money is a poor snapshot of human value. Brands, however, create value. The branding industry is about creating value for our customers. It makes more sense to measure the ingredients of branding and relationships.’
   It’s an ideal, and one with its own problems, too. But I know that part of the finance industry has failed us through its greed. I’m not too certain how their deeds and those of these British forgers differ, creating “wealth” backed by nothing.

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Posted in business, globalization, UK, USA | No Comments »


Four ingredients of leadership

26.01.2014

140121 Defining leadership_Page_02

I was asked by my Alma Mater, Victoria University of Wellington, to give a 90-minute lecture on leadership last week to students visiting New Zealand from Peking University and the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. (My half-serious suggestion that I spoke Cantonese and the three students from Guangdong who understood could translate to Mandarin to the rest of their classmates was turned down.) The above was the second slide, and the four main points I wanted to get across. When I posted this on Facebook and Instagram, it got quite a few likes, so I’m sharing it more publicly here.
   They were a personal look at my style of leadership and what drove my career over the last quarter-century or so.
   The first one was more down to luck and necessity than my being a great visionary who foresaw virtual firms and how we could be brought together through online communications. The second, however, is probably down to a number of factors, though one must also evaluate the risk of taking those steps.
   The third and fourth, however, should be things we can all accomplish, by finding causes close to our hearts.
   One student asked about the fourth, because she noted that there were circumstances where dissent might land one in trouble. (You may think I was taking a dig at China there, but I suspect Edward Snowden might have a thing or two to say about that.) I gave her the example of a person who had a criminal record for a minor matter because he had fallen in with the wrong crowd, and had repaid his debt to society. Did he deserve a leg up because you knew he was a good person? Now, what if that person wanted to go for a particular job? Even if the glass ceiling isn’t shattered, you can still put cracks in it if you believe he’s the best person for it. Help him out: give him feedback on his CV, offer him advice, help rehearse a job interview.
   What if it was someone who wanted to go to a good school but his parents couldn’t afford it? Would you write a letter of endorsement and put your weight behind his application for a scholarship—because you knew he would make the most of that opportunity?
   My apologies for the use of the masculine pronoun but the above are based on real-world examples.
   We all have something to offer the next person, and those opportunities to help others will always arise.

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Posted in business, China, culture, leadership, New Zealand, social responsibility, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


The real privacy policy

26.01.2014

Documentaries such as Terms and Conditions May Apply (embedded here) and Doc Searls’ The Intention Economy got me thinking about our privacy policy.
   We have one for our company, but how do we really use your private data? It got me thinking.
   Since we’ve been online for longer than most people, we have practices that haven’t varied too much.
   They go something like this.

Our overall policy
We wouldn’t do anything that we’d get pissed off about if the tables were turned. Unlike Google, our privacy policy really is ‘Don’t be evil.’

Email
If you give us your email address, we’ll only ever use it for the purpose you gave it for. We hold on to it at head office, and it’s never shared with anyone. We don’t know anyone in the email-marketing game, anyway, and even if we did, we don’t see the point of giving away an address that we earned through your trust.
   Just be warned that we do hold on to your address for ages.
   We have to be nice about your email because we still let you write back to us to get your address removed, and someone here reads that message. We’d rather you not get aggro about it, so we only do what’s right.

Social networks
If you become a fan of ours, we appreciate it. We never drill down to find out your personal information. We sometimes check the graphs to see the age and gender breakdowns but we don’t find out about you personally. Be aware that the social network itself will collect stuff on you—but we’re not taking any of that data ourselves.

Cookies
Our websites have cookies. We never check them ourselves. They’re only ever used for helping you log in, usually to partner websites who supply the back ends to stuff we do. They’re also used to gather stats about our readership. But we never associate any of this data with you because we’re a small company that doesn’t have the time. The only detailed readership stats we have are from users who knowingly volunteered them through surveys.
   Some of our sites carry advertising, so unfortunately, this means the ad networks might try to track you. We suggest opting out through the Network Advertising Initiative for the US or check this page for other territories, or altering your cookie settings.
   Some of our income comes from these guys, so we’re going to have to continue carrying their ads.
   For the ads we serve ourselves, we don’t collect any personally identifiable data. Our clients are quite happy with the demographic breakdowns we give them.

Comments
We don’t even know what IP address you used since our websites are on the cloud. If you give us a comment, all we know about you is what you tell us.

   The last one might apply nicely for this blog.
   Wouldn’t it be nice if all firms were this up front, or even more so?

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Posted in business, culture, internet, marketing, publishing | No Comments »


It’s still wise to bet against Facebook

26.01.2014

A non-peer-reviewed academic article from Princeton predicts Facebook will be toast by ’17, and Facebook has very cleverly responded using similar methodology to say that Princeton will have no students by 2021. The lack of review on the former left it wide open for the Facebook attack.
   However, it’s not unwise betting against Facebook. I’ve been saying it for years—on the basis that even Altavista could not survive Google—and the only question has been: when?
   This weekend, I spent more time on our company’s websites working on internal projects. I’ve spent precious little time compared with three years ago on the social networks because it no longer suits me.
   Facebook, by breaking its own algorithm for sharing company posts, doesn’t offer me sufficient numbers. It benefits me more to work on business and check our publications’ content than to put up links in Facebook. If I want to share with a smaller group, I have Instagram, where I tend to follow those closer to me plus a few interests. I’m even on Snapchat and Wechat. I’ll go where there is engagement if I want to be social. It’s summer so there’s also the prospect of spending time in real life with your friends. With the positive developments happening at work, I’m getting rewarding engagement even on old-fashioned email. I’m less worried about privacy there, too, since I’ve never used Gmail. (I had an Excite Mail account once in 1999 and, without ever giving out my address, it filled with spam. I’ve been webmail-sceptic ever since.)
   Facebook feeds have become glorified Digg feeds for me, and we all know what happened to Digg. You might think that I’m being contradictory: in one paragraph I bemoan how company posts don’t get shared, while in this one, I’m unhappy at the external links I see. There is a distinction, however: the people I have who are fans want to see the company posts—they signed up for them. What we didn’t sign up to, even if they fascinate us, are comic strips or Buzzfeed trivia. I might have clicked through, but I can’t tell you what the last five Buzzfeed pages were. So now I’m wondering what’s the point.
   I’m far from quitting Facebook but the lack of innovation there reminds me of where Yahoo! was at some years back. It reminds me, too, of Vox, in its dying days, with all the fake accounts that I see—sometimes I only go on to manage a few groups and to clear the queue of the fakes. It’s stagnating rapidly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if 2014 will see some form of tipping point where there are noticeable departures from some formerly heavy users. Already two good friends have gone during 2013, concerned either with Facebook’s copyright policy (one is a professional photographer) or its privacy intrusions. I don’t think Google Plus is the answer, either, because Google simply has too much baggage, and its Doubleclick ads, which are used as tracking tools, are all over the ’net. I’m now beginning to think that the next big thing isn’t around yet because our behaviours are shifting, to wanting something that can handle our work and play more ably.
   It’s rather interesting to note in our election year that the tools that have been used to gather information for governments might now render the social media campaigns of political parties less effective than they would have been.
   These new media have become old media because they no longer hold the promise of the new: they are no freer when it comes to self-expression.
   Unless companies can come up with privacy policies that people can live with, they may find their sites drop in visitor numbers and engagement even further. There’s a lot counting against the traditional social networks.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, marketing, technology | No Comments »


Google tracks your searches, and uses them, even when your web history is turned off

22.01.2014

My dislike of Google is no secret, and, as a precaution, I have every known Google tracking setting turned off. I even block the Doubleclick and YouTube cookies. However, I have to manage a page at Google Plus—and Google cleverly tracks you through its Plus service.
   It doesn’t lie about it:

When you use our services or view content provided by Google, we may automatically collect and store certain information in server logs. This may include:

details of how you used our service, such as your search queries.

But you wonder why they bother having a web history page. My web history is turned off, but it needn’t matter: Google is still tracking me and giving me useless information.

Web history turned off

   How do I know? Its friendly Google Plus suggestion, asking me if I know a Senger Ralf:

Senger Ralf

I don’t. I run a few Facebook groups, and as most Facebook users know, the site is plagued by fake accounts. It’s not uncommon for me to need to block a dozen a day. Senger Ralf was one of the borderline cases, so after searching on DuckDuckGo, I tried Google.
   It also claims that I have downloaded 39 apps. This is BS. I logged into Google Play recently and without any move on my part, 30-plus apps started coming down. Thank goodness none of them got installed, but Google now inaccurately thinks I am into a whole bunch of useless games. A blessing in disguise, then: the less accurate the data on me, the better.
   The documentary, Terms and Conditions May Apply, is great to watch if you ever come across it. Google’s spying is revealed there, along with that of others. The documentary maker even reveals that Google covered up its original privacy policy on its site, deceptively passing off that its earliest dated from 2000, when there were ones before that. The 1999 policies, which are now on the site (Google has a habit of stopping dodgy behaviour when it is busted), included terms such as:

Google’s policy on our wholly controlled and operated Internet sites is to respect and protect the privacy of our users.

and:

From time to time, there may be situations where Google asks you for personal information. When we intend to use your personal information, we tell you up front. This way you can decide whether you want to give us the information or not. In case you change your mind or some personal information changes, we will endeavor to provide a way to correct, update or remove the personal data you give us.

Upon your first visit to Google, Google sends a “cookie” to your computer. A cookie is a file that identifies you as a unique user. It can also store personal preferences and user data. A cookie can tell us, “This is the same individual who visited Google two days ago” but it cannot tell us, “This person is Joe Smith” or even, “This person lives in the United States.”

How times have changed. (In 1999, I was a Google fan. Understandable if that was their privacy policy.) Now it tracks you when you have turned off your web history, which gives you the false impression that Google no longer looks at your searches, and it uses your name and avatar for advertising purposes, even when you have turned off Google Plus endorsements.
   It pays to be extremely wary of this firm, because it never says what it means.
   Finally, if you are a Wordpress user, and you have Google concerns, then be aware that the big G is tracking you there, too. The Wordpress dashboard uses Google fonts. The way to fix this is to download a very small plug-in called Disable Google Fonts (hat tip to Fontfeed). If you like the look of the fonts, just install them on to your own hard drive—they are open source.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, technology, USA | 8 Comments »


Worse reality shows

21.01.2014

2Tapu on Twitter hashtagged #worserealityshows tonight, with Who Wants to Marry a Mutineer? as her suggestion. The hashtag, which went viral tonight, inspired everything from The XXX Factor and America’s Next Top Bottom to The Amazing Racist to the very disturbing Are You Sexier than a Fifth Grader?.
   2Tapu contributed So You Think You Can Chant?, American Idle, Antique Roadkill Show, and America’s Most Unwanted (presumably a dating show for ex-cons), among others.
   Here were mine, and let’s hope none ever get made:

The Real Housewives of Tawa
Joe Thousandaire
Dog the Bounty Chocolate Bar
Straight Eye for the Queer Guy
Pimp My Blimp
Reformation Rescue
Trinny and Susannah Undress Gok Wan
Extreme Makeover: Vatican Edition
Monsters, Inc. Garage
Real Stories of the Highway Road Works
Solved Mysteries
Farmer Wants a Life
America’s Funniest Home Sound Recordings
Real Stories of the Nazi Patrol
Rock of Love with Bret Maverick
Lead Us from Temptation Island
Humans Wrecking Balls
Half Pint Crawlers
Rameses’ Egyptian Nightmares
Dog Shouter
Stranded with Ross Kemp
Stranded with Ross Kemp on Temptation Island
I Survived a Japanese Geisha
Strictly Come
No Opportunity Knocks
Boarder Patrol
Wife Slap
Who Not to Whore
Reject Runway
Jon & Kate Plus Eight Is Enough
Project Housing Runway
America’s Next Top Motel

   I then went to grab a meal and lost the mojo—which is just as well, as I have a speech to write.
   What was very fascinating: that many on Twitter believed that any show with the Kardashians already qualified.

PS.: My contributions to #terriblestarwarsspinoffs from Team Coco were: Naboogie Nights, Yavin & Stacey, Jango Unchained, Palp Fictine, Moulin Rogue Squadron, Starsky & Hutt, Six Fett Under, and Ana and the Kin. They didn’t make their list. See if you think theirs are better.—JY

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Posted in culture, humour, internet, New Zealand, TV | No Comments »


Monica Z now out on DVD and Blu-ray

18.01.2014

Monica Z, the bio-pic about the late Swedish jazz singer starring Edda Magnason, is now out on Blu-ray and DVD, as of earlier this week.
   I learned about the movie not through my Swedish contacts—they were messaging me only when the film was in the cinemas—but when Edda appeared at Allsång på Skansen in 2013 singing ‘Gröna små äpplen’ with a Monica Zetterlund hairstyle and 1960s dress. It didn’t take long to do a bit of surfing after discovering this:

   Purists (like me) will say she’s not quite as good as Monica but of the covers, this is still really good. I listened to the soundtrack ad nauseam on Myspace (really) but if I return to Scandinavia in 2014, I might pick up the DVD in person.
   Just to make this post more complete, and for all lovers of Swedish jazz, here’s my favourite Monica number, as performed by Edda. I had only seen this on the full Allsång telecast prior. (You need to have a break in the midst of a political campaign.)

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Posted in culture, interests, Sweden, TV | No Comments »


Upset about needing Google Plus to comment on YouTube? Here’s a radical idea: don’t

18.01.2014

There were a few upset people in November because Google compelled everyone who wanted to comment on YouTube to have a Google Plus profile. Even a co-founder of YouTube, Jawed Karim, objected.
   But it’s been a long time coming.
   In 2011, Google combined, as is its prerogative, YouTube accounts with its own. While prior to that you could maintain separate YouTube and Google accounts, by 2011 you couldn’t. That helped Google sell more advertising, since YouTube is one of the most visited sites in the world and 2011 figures show that 96 per cent of Google’s $37,000 million annual revenue comes from advertising. If it could get your YouTube browsing data mixed with your other preferences (when you saw a Doubleclick ad, or when you used your Gmail), then their targeting could be pretty potent. As we also saw, it didn’t matter if you had asked Google not to track you, either through its own Ads Preferences Manager or through an Iphone setting, Google would hack you to get these data—at least till it gets busted, by me to the NAI or by the Murdoch Press to a much larger audience.
   Will it try it again? You bet. It’s had a record of such behaviour and since the fines are tiny—they were penalized $17 million over the Apple hack, which is one two-thousandths of what they made, or about four hours’ revenue—there’s not a huge disincentive. Getting effectively a speeding ticket is worth the risk in their corporate culture.
   In 2011, already incensed by the annual battles I had with Google, although I was yet to discover their deception over Ads Preferences Manager, I thought: I won’t connect the two accounts. In fact, I might even stop using my YouTube account.
   My reasons for doing so were outlined exactly three years ago. They weren’t so much about Google’s advertising business but about the very real privacy issues that a friend had uncovered first-hand. He had asked me, however, to report it as a hypothetical, since he had discovered this very situation with a client. (I’m only revealing this now since a commenter confirmed that this scenario was real.)
   I’ve covered other YouTube privacy problems, so I won’t elaborate here, but once the Ads Preferences Manager con was discovered later that year, I did two things: (a) blocked all Doubleclick cookies, since opting out of their Manager actually did nothing after a day; (b) blocked all YouTube cookies, since going to YouTube was one way Google could alter its opt-out cookie into one that began tracking you again.
   From that day on, I could no longer comment on YouTube and the great news: after three years, I don’t miss it.
   And to make it even better, Google changed the commenting system recently, so that if you don’t have a YouTube cookie, you see no comments at all.
   That means my YouTube browsing is more intelligent since I don’t have to put up with the idiots that seem to outnumber the few smart ones on the website. (You can, incidentally, do the same with Fairfax’s Stuff.)
   If I find myself desperately needing to comment on a video, I simply embed it on a blog or on Facebook and write my remarks there for my own limited audience to enjoy. Those friends who comment don’t wind up making it all about Barack Obama’s birth certificate in the thread. Unlike YouTube.
   Since Google will not reverse its decision to force every YouTube account holder to have a Plus account—after all, the protests in 2011 came to nought, and since then, most people just came to accept the new status quo—then those who really dislike it might have to change their online habits. Google’s betting on users eventually giving up the fight—and, realistically, most of you will.
   And yet, not being able to comment on YouTube is no bad thing. I’ve done it for three years, and if your blog even carries advertising, then why not make a few bob for yourself for taking the time to write? Just try not to use Google ads.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, USA | 2 Comments »


Four million page views on Autocade

09.01.2014

I came across an old blog post that showed that Autocade took four years to get 2,000,000 page views: not bad for an encyclopædia that receives very little promotion. That was in March 2012. It has since crossed 4,000,000, which meant the second 2,000,000 took 21 months to achieve (in December 2013). If the growth rate continues, then we’ll get to 5,000,000 some time in 2014.
   I estimate that the first 2,000,000 were achieved on 1,800 model entries. There are just over 2,400 today, which means each page is attracting more visits. The 2,400th entry was the Renault Scénic III.
   There are still a lot of holes, but not as many as when we were on 1,000 and got the first bit of press attention. I thank all the spammers and spambots: without you, I would never have locked down the wiki and restricted it to a select few specialists (not that that many people popped by wanting to add to Autocade in the early days). Peter Jobes’, Keith Adams’ and Nigel Dunn’s contributions both to the technology and the content have helped make it a very usable site.
   I’m really happy people are finding Autocade such a useful resource. It was always intended to be global and geographically neutral. I’m running into more and more people who visit it but had no idea I founded the website, and more recently, some even suggested that a printed authoritative car guide could be built around it (especially as most car buffs can poke holes in Auto Katalog and similar annuals). It takes an enthusiast to build a site for other enthusiasts, which is, once again, why Wikipedia fails so badly on the motoring stuff. Generalists will never have the same passion, or, for that matter, the same commitment to accuracy.

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Posted in business, cars, globalization, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, UK | No Comments »