Update as of Dec 2021:

Hey beautiful people!

You can now find me here on out at my blog for all future updates:


It’s URL is http://www.kevinsingarayar.com/

Hi guys,

It’s been like, what, 2 years?  Look, I really need to apologize for not attending to this blog as I had been swamped with work.  But, I’ve now decided to have a dedicated blog that will be our permanent online rendezvous point.

So, I’ve finally moved technopreneur.wordpress.com to its all-new, permanently refurbished home:


It’s URL is http://www.burningboats.com/

So, please join me and be part of the BurningBoats.com community.  It’ll be no fun without you.  See ya there!

P.S. I recommend that you unsubscribe from this blog and subscribe to the new blog at BurningBoats.com as this blog will no longer be updated.

I don’t really have anything personal against Donald Trump. I mean, try as I might, the only thing I could really resent about the guy is the skunk he had to run over to showpiece it on his head. With all those billions, you’d think he could afford a decent hair stylist.

But others just seem to revel in their resentment towards the fella. The latest to do so being Rosie O’Donnell (she must have really pissed him off to receive a response in the form of a lawsuit). It’s splashed all over the news.

Look, I wouldn’t really waste your time with such triviality unless it made some kind of business or entrepreneurial sense. So the only reason I’m posting all of this is because I’d found out yesterday that Mark Cuban had dragged himself into the bitchin’ fest as well.

I gotta tell ya, there’s nothing like watching two billionaires going at each other as if it were a Friday night smackdown (toss me my chips honey … ) – and this round has to go to Mark Cuban. Read his post. Amidst the chaos, there’s a wonderful lesson laid out about doing business in today’s digital environment. We can all chew something from it. Yes, that includes you, Donald.

P.S. I hope all of yall are enjoying your holidays and let’s make 2007 the best yet. I’ve lots to share, discuss and reveal in the coming year, insights to growing your business and staying plush, so don’t you be goin’ anywhere.

Time Magazine

Well, it’s about time (hmm … that’s punny) a magazine like TIME acknowledges the people that really matter.

Time Magazine

My advice, I say go the whole hog and put this in your brag sheet. Don’t tell me you don’t deserve at least, that?

I blogged about it in my last post. Parks Associates put out a press release on the same day revealing that annual U.S. revenues from Internet video services will exceed $7 billion by 2010.

On their analyst’s blog, Robert Iger, CEO of Walt Disney Co., was reported to have said that,

the CPM for adults age 18-49 on the ABC.com ads is 4x what they’re getting for primetime advertising.”

And also from their blog,

Ad retention rates for the ABC.com services are incredibly high (upwards of 85%), and ABC indicates that revenues from their Internet programming and downloads could total approximately $700 million in fiscal 2007.”

I hope you’re positioning your business right smack in the middle of this advertising vortex. Who knows where you might land with so many big players moving into the online arena. But with a little bit of imagination and ingenuity, you can now do battle with the biggest of them.

Get the full scoop from Parks Associates’ blog.


C’mon, don’t tell me you’ve never pretended to be one of those. It’s really safe to come out of the closet now. Even my friend’s boss has publicly declared it. You know you’re a YouTube addict and so is everybody else. Everybody with a broadband connection that is. What’d you think I was referring to?

YouTube LogoYouTube, the video-sharing site that everybody just can’t seem to get enough of is a true web phenomenon. A phenomenon phenomenal enough to be snapped up by Google for a cool 1.65 billion smackeroos (that’s the equivalent of owning a fleet of Boeing 787s – ten to be exact).

You can confidently proclaim it to be the poster child for Web 2.0 and no geek will take issue with you on that. Unlike the iTunes store, whose emphasis is on downloadable videos, YouTube is strictly (and I use this word very loosely) streaming. And of course, YouTube is free.

With overheads lower than that of a cable TV company and with a bigger audience to boot, you’d be forgiven to think cable networks are packing it up for greener pastures. Though that’s never going to happen, YouTube’s runaway success is another clear indication of disruptive technologies at work in a post-Web 1.0 era. And the reason for this success? Only one that immediately springs to mind – amateur viral content producers.

In other words, anyone with a weakness for exhibitionism (with a tagline like ‘Broadcast Yourself’ you can understand why) and a little bit of time to spare, has the ability to create, produce, upload, watch and share their own or others’ videos; all without the budget of a Hollywood Studio. Let me put it to you this way. You don’t need a budget. Got a cellphone? Then the binary world of stardom is your oyster. It takes less than three minutes to set up an account and start uploading your videos to YouTube.

If shooting videos ain’t your thang, watching probably is. With more than 100 million videos offered per day and more than 65,000 new videos uploaded everyday, you’ll have enough reasons to explain away your 10-year absence from your in-laws’ weekend visits. Employees had been known to miss lunch-breaks disputing whether ‘lonelygirl15’ was real or just a teaser. CEOs were found to have cancelled business meetings to practice the ‘Numa Numa‘ dance behind closed doors (you guessed it, it’s not the secretaries anymore).

It’s this creative control you have over the content you consume that makes YouTube the sensation that it is today, never-mind the low-res videos that your computer serves up.

But I’m No Exhibitionist, I’m An Entrepreneur

And so you are. Which is why you need to pay extra attention to the implications of how consumers are grazing content. It only makes good business sense to do so because this democratization of mass media is about to affect your advertising and promotional strategies. Traditional advertising methods as you know it, are already queuing at the edge of the cliff, ready for its leap of death.

When Google snapped up YouTube, it cemented the future of online videos. The appendage to that should read, “We’re Taking Over The Advertising World, Suckers!” and Google will be quite right as the defection to online viewership escalates.

But how Google is going to monetize YouTube is anyone’s guess. Everything that industry analysts are throwing out at this juncture, are merely conjecture. It will happen though, as where the crowd goes, advertising meekly follows. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as Cervantes said, and going by the increasing number of network television companies that are now scrambling to place their programs online, the pudding is tasting quite, splendid.

But some companies are not waiting around to see what Google does. They have taken the responsibility upon themselves to test the waters of social computing and leverage on something called the, ‘viral effect‘.

Take General Motors for example.

GM Gets Peer Production

General Motors’ foray into the bottom-up approach of managing their business was well-exhibited with the Chevy Tahoe SUV’s four-week ad campaign back in March. What GM did was leverage social computing at its most elementary level. They had visitors to their site create their very own Chevy Tahoe commercial, providing remixing materials for visitors to do as they please.

Control over such a campaign was obviously non-existent (every MBA’s nightmare). And it proved to be the case as an eclectic mix of opinions were demonstrated via these videos. And as you may have probably guessed by now, videos of these campaigns were sighted on YouTube.

Many pundits pooh-poohed the move by GM. But they’ve missed the whole point of what Web 2.0 signifies – that today’s consumer is in control. GM seized the opportunity to engage its users, and it proved successful as it attracted participants (all 30,000 and more of them) it otherwise never would have. Even with GM’s TV ad budget of over $2 billion (that’s for a year), it may never have attracted the attention it received from a TV ad the way it did through social computing. Granted, many of those participants might never become a Chevy Tahoe customer (unless of course they’re descendents of the Davy Crockett type) but that’s besides the point. GM has won over the hearts and minds of the neutrals, which makes a difference in today’s world.

Update: I may have been wrong about GM’s participants not becoming customers. Here’s what Frank Rose wrote in this month’s issue of Wired Magazine:

the Tahoe Apprentice campaign has to be judged a success. The microsite attracted 629,000 visitors by the time the contest winner, Michael Thrams from nearby Ann Arbor, was announced at the end of April. On average, those visitors spent more than nine minutes on the site, and nearly two-thirds of them went on to visit Chevy.com; for three weeks running, Chevyapprentice.com funneled more people to the Chevy site than either Google or Yahoo did. Once there, many requested info or left a cookie trail to dealers’ sites.”

He continues,

Sales took off too, even though it was spring and SUV purchases generally peak in late fall. Since its introduction in January, the new Tahoe has accounted for more than a quarter of all full-size SUVs sold, outpacing its nearest competitor, the Ford Expedition, 2 to 1. In March, the month the campaign began, its market share hit nearly 30 percent. By April, according to auto-information service Edmonds, the average Tahoe was selling in only 46 days – quite a change from the year before, when models languished on dealers’ lots for close to four months.”

(source: Wired magazine, December 2006)

Whoa, yowzer! That’s what I’m talkin’ about … I was already a believer in the power of social computing long before this, but this just fortifies it. Dion Hinchcliffe sums up GM’s embrace of what is an incumbent prerequisite to continual business growth, in a very simple but potent illustration:


Buick, on the other hand, apparently got it wrong with this one. David Kiley has the story.

Another Form Of YouTube Marketing

Dove nailed this one with its campaign for real beauty. A 75-second clip which cleverly struck a chord with women across the globe – has garnered close to a million views on YouTube.

(if loading is slow, watch it on YouTube)


Pete Blackshaw explains:

The YouTube metrics along are quite impressive: nearly a million views, hundreds of comments, and about 2,400 “Favorites” rankings. Plus it made a host of YouTube honors. But, the YouTube metrics are only part of the story. The well-coordinated campaign deeply penetrated the blogosphere, crossed global boundaries, served as context for deeper textual discussion, and entered a host of social networks. For 10 days, it topped the charts of linked-to brand videos on both BlogPulse (owned by my firm and Technorati.”

And something about consumer-fortified media (CFM),

Unlike the vast majority of viral videos out there, this ad was 100 percent brand or agency created. But it was fortified by intense consumer commentary, conversation, and dialogue. Put another way, co-creation was an end results but not the starting point. Looking ahead, expect CFM to become a key success criteria for brands looking for tangible evidence of consumer appeal, involvement, and engagement. Every Super Bowl ad, for instance, has latent potential as CFM, but it’s not a guarantee.”

Dove’s ad campaign was a clear case of creating value for the consumer. Value that compelled viewers to self-engage in word-of-mouth marketing for Dove, or as Pete Blackshaw calls it, consumer-fortified media.

Nike Just Did It … Again

If I may expand on Pete’s consumer-fortified media, a now infamous Nike ad featuring the mercurial Ronaldinho was created in the mold of Dove’s ad – to stir up conversation and induce the ‘viral effect’.

What struck me immediately the first time I watched it was, “Is this a spoof?” It was an amateurishly shot video, something that a kid armed with one of those bleeping plastic devices that comes with video capabilities ( yeah … a cellphone, that’s right) would produce. Then Ronaldinho does this thingamagic thingy with the ball at his newly crowned Nike- adorned feet, volleys it four freakin’ times in a row against the top of the crossbar from a considerable distance, and the clip ends with a cool handshake with the guy who brought him the boots.

Here, watch it.

(if loading is slow, watch it on YouTube)

Now, if you’d even the slightest idea of the concept of probability, you’ll understand the significance of this video. But a true soccer fan could careless about math. “How the #*%! did he do that!” would probably be the first thought that flashed across his blank face.

Ten minutes later, “Wait a minute, could that video have been manipulated in some way? There was no way he could have done that.”

Questions like these popped up in hundreds of chat rooms and blogs. Needless to say, the video was one of the most talked about on YouTube for a period of time. Time magazine featured this video ad in a segment called, ‘Viral Videos that Swept the Nation‘.

I understood then the significance of adding the ‘ amateurish feel’ to the Nike ad. If it had been professionally filmed with a budget rivaling that of an A-grade Hollywood flick, it might not have created the buzz nor contributed to the ‘viral effect’ the way this one did. Remember, most of the videos on YouTube have a rather, ‘ home-made’ vibe to it. Playing to this visual magnetism was a very smart move by Nike.

Before I turn this post into a yawn-fest, let me just hand you a last bit of update. YouTube and Verizon have teamed up to serve VCast subscribers the functionalities of downloading and uploading video clips. The catch with the downloading feature however is, only a selected number of videos from YouTube are provided.

While this is another step in the right direction, phone carriers have yet to embrace today’s culture of consumers as producers and online socialites. By sticking a charge to subscribers for selected content or mobisodes, is not only antithetical to what social computing represents, but sacrilegious on all Web 2.0 fronts.

Carriers have to forgo control of their networks to a certain extent, if they’re going to win over more customers. The days of yore where corporations control information flow are all but over.

P.S. I’m sorry but this Ronaldinho ad is still bugging me. If you’re a soccer maniac, I’ve got to show you this.

Ronaldo’s reply to Ronaldinho:

One fan’s theory of how Ronaldinho actually did it:

Here, got you something. Dunno if it’s of any use to you at all but my niece made this. You are free to download it, rework it, do as you please with it. Frankly, I have no idea what you could use it for. Maybe you can.


If you’d like it in psd format, shoot me an email and I’ll pass it to you. She’s got more of this stuff in the back of her closet, so, if you’d like, I could get her to fork out a couple more for you.

The first time I learned of the word c-o-l-l-a-b-o-r-a-t-i-o-n, was probably around…uh…I don’t know, maybe around the age of eight. My teacher had a tough time explaining its concept to me during a science project, “Kevin, collaboration is not making your partner do all the work while you tie his shoelaces to the chair! To the back of the lab!” How was I to know what collaboration meant then? But true to form, I got the hang of its meaning and put the musician’s mantra of “Practise, Practise, Practise” to its limit but getting the smartest kid in the class to ‘collaborate’ with me during all my math tests.

Today, collaboration seems to be the hottest act since Baywatch hit our television screens, for what seems like eons ago. But unlike Baywatch, collaboration produces results. It has become the epitome for almost all things Web 2.0.

Web 2.0

But it shouldn’t come as any surprise. After all, collaboration software (sometimes referred to as groupware – though this is more commonly associated with business processes using shared databases) developers are tapping into something that is already innate within the human species; the uncontrollable desire to share, give and sacrifice. We are a communal and altruistic species. Believe it or not, we want to make the world a better place; donating ourselves in one form or another. Collaboration thus comes naturally to us.

Linus Torvalds understood collaboration only too well. And this led to the open-source operating system Linux, being born. Ray Ozzie’s understanding of human collaboration led to the release of Lotus Notes back in ‘89. Jimmy Wales’s understanding of collaboration led to the creation of the world’s largest and most up-to-date encyclopedia online (Larry Sanger may have a bone to pick with that, though).

But collaboration software was probably catapulted into the mainstream with the invention of e-mail. It’s an excellent communication tool (don’t let spam tell you otherwise), but as a collaboration tool, it isn’t very productive. Passing attachments back and forth doesn’t really cut it when a team is working simultaneously on a task. Today’s files and documents are getting way to big to even attempt stuffing them in team members’ inboxes (remember the ‘sneakernet’ days of carrying floppy-disks from one person to another?).


There are no hard and fast rules where collaboration is concerned. You can do it on a personal level, within or across organizations with established processes, from the bottom-up in an ad hoc way, or just communicating with clients and customers. It’s also more than likely you’ll never always be working in a same team more than thrice in a row. Your business will tend to form and dissolve teams as quickly as sugar in hot tea. Bear this in mind when choosing collaborative software. You may own the latest and most up-to-date gizmo on the planet, but another organization you’re corresponding with may not.

The Make-Up Of A Collaboration Software

There are three very basic functions a collaboration software embodies: Communication, Collaboration /Sharing and Management

The communication tools:

  • instant messaging
  • e-mail
  • voice mail
  • fax
  • web publishing
  • blogging
  • skyping

The collaborative tools:

  • wikis
  • video conferences
  • webcasting
  • teleconferences
  • data conferencing
  • Discussion forums
  • chat rooms

The management tools:

  • Office suites
  • Workflow systems
  • Group calendars
  • Project management systems

The new wave of collaboration tools populating the market today, spawned by the popularity of the Internet has an eclectic mix of features; applications catering to large enterprises right down to consumers. Some ASPs (Application Service Providers) offer a fully-integrated package, combining communication, sharing and management tools while other ASPs offer specialized services zeroing in on one specific segment of collaboration. With the nomadic lifestyles of most entrepreneurs today, mobility becomes a determinant factor in how collaboration software developers are building their products.

You may have heard then of Office 2.0.Office 2.0 Office 2.0 is collaboration and production tasks managed fully online. That’s the simplest way I can describe it. With the surge of broadband access, this is a very viable future for the mass market to take to easily. Though still very much in its infancy, the potential for managing most or all your business processes online is very real. Synching various business tools and keeping track of all your business transactions could just be a matter of five mouse clicks and a task is completed.

I’m sure you’re already itching to know what the future of collaboration software holds for you, so let’s start with some desktop clients:

· Microsoft’s very own Groove

· Colligo

· Socialtext

Web-based software:

· Microsoft’s Sharepoint

· IBM’s Lotus Notes

· Joyent Office 2.0

· Zimbra

· Zoho

· Google Docs & Spreadsheets

· thinkfree

· Atlassian

· Goowy

· GroveSite

· 37 Signals

· near-time

· itensil

For a more extensive list of Office 2.0 applications, I recommend you’ve a look at this database. Visit those sites and see what’s on offer.

So What Does This All Mean?

As an entrepreneur, saving a buck here and there, adds up to a considerable amount of savings for your business over a year. So if you can find avenues to do so, why shouldn’t you?

Forget paying for proprietary software if there is a viable open-source alternative available or, consider using an ASP for your business. It will probably cost less than what it takes to run and manage a small IT department. Just ask yourself, how much of the productivity tools like Microsoft’s Office do you actually use? 50%? 70%? 10%? Think about it.

Does it make sense to purchase Microsoft’s Office Suite only for you to use Word or Excel? Would a more cost-effective option like the free Google Docs & Spreadsheets or Zoho be intrinsically more viable?

The dawn of Office 2.0 applications puts you in charge of the choice of tools you really need at a fraction of the cost of shrink-wrapped software. Sometimes offered to you for the unbeatable price of free. While true that many of the current applications are not yet primed for enterprise usage, SOHOs or SMBs, will stand to gain first. So why not take advantage of this cost-cutting measure?

We’re moving in a direction where the Web itself will become an operating system of sorts where every aspect of business, social and personal activities will be done online. And that includes storage. Prepare yourself for it. Prepare your business for it. Exciting times truly lie ahead.

So really, who needs cubicles?

Who Needs Cubicles?

If you own a website or a blog, or both, you’d probably want Google to know you exist. I mean, Google knew YouTube existed and copped it for a whopping $1.6 billion dollars. I’m sure you could do with, half of that kinda cash lying around somewhere. So to get there, you need to get your site or blog indexed in Google as a starting point.

Note: I know many of you still have problems getting indexed in Google for your site or blog. I will cover that topic in future.

How To Check If Google Has Indexed My Site

  • Fire up your browser and go to Google. Now, type in the url of your site or blog into Google’s search box either like http://yoursite.com/ or http://www.yoursite.com or yoursite.com. Each variation of the url might bring up different results so try all of those. If you get a result, you’re IN! You’re now in Google’s database where someone who happens to search for your name or the name of your site, will find it in Google. For this example, I’ll be using General Motors’ blog (bet ya didn’t know General Motors’ had a blog, did ya?). Why General Motors as an example? I just like the color of its site.

 Screenshot 1

  • Alternatively, you could type in site:http://www.yoursite.com or site:yoursite.com to see if it’s indexed. This special syntax tells you how many of your pages Google has already indexed and are showing up in its database. Don’t fret if yours isn’t indexed yet. If your site is relatively new, it’s quite probable that could be the reason why. 
  • Now, if your site is indexed, what you’d probably like to do next is find out, how much Google really knows about it. So, type in info:http://www.yoursite.com or, info: followed by any of the other URL variations I mentioned above. That should bring up a page which looks something like this:

 Screenshot 2

  • Google shows a few clickable links which you can click to get more information about your site. You will see a link to Google’s cache of your URL. A cache is a copy of the page that Google indexed. You can click on ‘link to‘ to see who’s linking to your site and so on (a tool that I would recommend you use to find out who’s linking to your site is MarketLeap’s Link Popularity Check. It’s free to use and very useful indeed).
  • Let’s just try clicking on Google’s cache and see what pops up.

 Screenshot 3

What you’ll see is a bit of information that Google tells you about when it last indexed your site and at what time.

Tip: Those ‘in the know’ about search engine optimization takes advantage of Google’s cache feature to have it spider their sites regularly. Here’s how you can do the same:

If you have a whole lot of pages on your site, Google’s bots will never usually index all of it in one go. It will spider your site a bit at a time and return to index some more.

What you do is check Google’s cache a few times over a few days to see how often Google’s bots ‘pays homage’ to your site. Once you get an idea of its frequency, update your content before Google’s bots returns. Do this regularly enough, and Google’s bots will understand that your site is one that is regularly updated. What happens then is the bots will keep a regular schedule of visiting your site.

Taking advantage of this fact, place a link in your site or blog (now knowing fully well when Google is coming over for a visit), that points to your own product page, which could be a direct response web site or an order page (these sites hardly rank well in Google because of its lack of content). This sends a surge of traffic from your blog (which is now regularly visited by Google) to your product’s website (hardly visited by Google). That’s traffic you never had to pay for.

There’s a lot to search engine optimization than meets the eye, but it is vital to anyone doing business online to understand it. I’ll be covering more on this topic along the way and pointing you to resources that will keep you well up-to-date on how to keep you sites highly ranked and bringing in steady traffic.

I was listening to an interview with Donald Trump and Robert Kiyosaki whilst driving a few days back. They were being interviewed about their new book, ‘Why We Want You to be Rich: Two Men – One Message‘.

Why We Want You to be Rich 

Then Trump pointed out something quite interesting – that being a successful entrepreneur had partly to do with genes. “What’s Levis got to do with this?” was the first thought that popped into my head, “One to many martinis, Mr. Trump?” But common sense concluded that he was in fact talking about our gene pool.

Pressure, according to Trump, is what makes or breaks an entrepreneur. He mentioned that he had brilliant friends who were from Wharton School of Business and Harvard, but failed in businesses which they had never recovered from. Simply because they could not handle the pressure. And it’s this ability to handle pressure, Trump believes, that makes successful entrepreneurs; or as a popular BusinessPundit contributor would say, a ‘high quality entrepreneur’. Genes, it seems, have something to do with this. I guess Mr. Trump is a strong proponent of the phrase, “Either you have it, or you don’t.” The final piece of advice I got out of him before I stepped out of the car – if you cannot handle the pressure, don’t be an entrepreneur.

Really? And what exactly can a person do that does not involve pressure? Can I infer from this that employees are exempt from the pressure to perform for their bosses? Nurses and doctors are exempt from the pressure to save a person’s life? Firefighters are exempt from the pressure to charge into a burning building to put out fires and save lives? Parents are exempt from the pressures of raising children? Are the pressures of being an entrepreneur any more significant than that of our everyday heroes?

People simply react differently to pressure. My interpretation of pressure is, me watching Elton John crooning on TV, whilst singing and gyrating along to The Weather Girls’s, ‘It’s Raining Men’ on the radio when the wife and her girlfriends suddenly barge into the room. That’s pressure for me. Under such circumstances, I would rather be in a fireman’s position – charging into a burning building than face whatever it is I’m about to face.

Bill Clinton handled pressure by flat out lying to the world about not having sexual relations with that woman. Clinton handled political pressure by lying. Someone else in the same situation, who is averse to lying, would probably handle the pressure differently. Suicide? Possibly, but that’s how that person handles pressure.

And do we really need another reason to raise the age-old debate of nature vs nurture? Are successful entrepreneurs like Trump, a product of ‘natural selection’ as evolutionists would have you believe? Or can successful entrepreneurs be trained – which includes training to withstand pressure (yeah, like those guys flying the F-16s. But the Airforce would probably have you believe they were born to fly. So, there we go again.)?

Whether great entrepreneurs are born rather than made is simply too hard to prove. There are so many variables at play here that one just cannot zero in on one specific area to be the determinant factor for an entrepreneur’s failure and worse still – attribute that to not having the right DNA configuration.

The failure of Trump’s friends from Wharton and Harvard can only be good news for a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs. If nothing else, it proves that entrepreneurial success and business acumen is not dependent on ‘esteemed’ paper qualifications. Anyone can be a great entrepreneur. Being able to handle the pressure is one thing. Having the guts to pick one’s self up and come back stronger is another. I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said, “ By ‘guts’, I mean, grace under pressure.” Or, does someone have to be born with courage too? Where does this end?

The problem I have with some of these ‘mentors’ who spew their ‘advice’ on a sometimes gullible audience, is the consequences their words have over some people. I don’t know if Mr. Trump got to where he is today by sitting idly by and collecting the ‘pearls of wisdom’ rolling out of his mentors’ mouths. I would assume he worked his butt off, failed a couple of times, picked himself up again and again, learned from his failures as well as others’, and pushed on. Attribute that to persistence and perseverance. And don’t let anybody tell you, “either you have it, or you don’t.”

So, pause for a while, take a deep breath, and realize once and for all that we are only to take responsibility for our own actions. Stop using excuses like, ‘the inability to withstand pressure’ as a crutch to stand on. Start living with the consequences of your decisions and earn your own respect. If you’re gonna be a successful entrepreneur, it’s time to start studying the actions of ‘mentors’, instead of just listening to them.

“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”

                                 – Napoleon Hill

If you’re planning to apply for netizenship in digital country, and join the millions of other migrants who are hopping on board to enjoy the freedom and glean the wealth of information and riches that the Web has to offer, you’ll have to learn the culture of the web first, to acclimatize yourself well to its surroundings. Failure to do so will result in you standing out like a sore thumb, highly vulnerable to newbie taunts (think Borat)  and scams (the online equivalent of being robbed in broad daylight).

If you’re willing to do this, you’ll enjoy the rest of your stay in digital country, following the brightly lit, well-trodden paths used by other netizens and avoiding the dark alleys often haunted by a sleazy, knife-wielding mugger (the online equivalent of whom could well be a nerdy pajama-clad, bespectacled teenager armed with a fully decked out keyboard).

The precautions you take in the real world have to be replicated online as well. Whether it be buying something on eBay, paying your bills, or conducting any form of online transaction, the risks and dangers of being robbed online are very real. Hacking, spyware, adware, viruses, the infamous Nigerian e-mail scams, or phishing (a method of tricking you into surrendering your personal information for identity theft), and mutations of such frauds are a worrying trend. 

You may have seen some of these scams in your inboxes, or floating around the web as disguised e-commerce sites (sometimes known as spoof sites). If you’d been a victim of such scams and sabotage, you can attest to the fact that even the most discerning amongst you, ‘never saw it coming’. Such are these clandestine operations – preying on you when you least expect it, proving to unwary doubters that these threats are no urban legends.

Almost anyone with a limited amount of knowledge of computer programs can gain control of your PC. It is as simple as installing a freely obtainable remote control software on your PC and letting voyeurism take over. Every move you then make is watched. The perpetrator can now steal your identity, send you spyware wrapped in an innocuous looking e-mail disguised to be from a long lost friend (after all, the person already knows a whole lot about you), and a worst-case scenario, implicate you in any of the perpetrator’s criminal activities (stolen identity, remember?).

Believe it or not, I did not rip that paragraph out of a Tom Clancy spy thriller. Google “identity theft” and see what pops up.

 Screenshot 1

15 million returned results. Prove of a genuine interest and concern in this area.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Plenty. At the top of the list, use common sense. Don’t let strangers use your PC, whether at home or in the office. Don’t dump your credit statements or bill payments in the garbage, where it becomes easy pickings for wandering fraudsters. 

When checking e-mail, don’t click on attachments, even if it’s from mommy (mommy doesn’t always know best). Even if it’s from a trusted colleague and the attachment is important, make sure you run it through an updated anti-virus software (you do have one, don’t you?) before downloading it. Delete any kind of e-mail that claims to be from a Prince of the island of Dr. Bunco, whose father had just passed away and left him an inheritance worth billions but because he needs a certain amount of money to release the inheritance, he’s now writing to you for help (don’t even ask how the ‘prince’ got your e-mail) and as a reward for your help, he’ll split the inheritance with you 70/30 in your favor.

Install a firewall in your PC and setup your browser’s privacy settings to maintain a certain level of security while surfing the web. E-mails that purport to be from a certain bank or an e-commerce site, warning you of an overdue bill or unsettled payment, should always be viewed with caution. If you’re requested to click on that link and fill out your personal information, DON’T.

Always, always, fire up a new web browser, physically type in the organization’s URL in your browser and find if such a page exist; similar to the one in your e-mail. If you’re still unsure, pick up the phone and call the organization in question. You’re bound to get the truth by then. Which, leads me to what I really wanted to share with you; making a safe transaction online.

If you’d been online for any amount of time, you’ll probably testify to the speed and convenience of making bill payments via the web, convenience of shopping at your favorite online store or simply, conducting a quick business transaction via sites such as Paypal. And as I mentioned above, phishers have mastered the art of spoofing e-commerce sites to the point where unsuspecting users are blindly sucked into divulging personal information they would never usually give up, even to their spouses.

Here’s what you need to do to protect yourself. Let’s say you’re shopping at GAP. You’ve chosen the product and GAP now takes you to a page to fill in your particulars. This is usually the first step of four or five in an e-commerce buying process. This is the time to look-out for a few minor, but important details. 

Two items in your browser which are fairly obvious to spot are, the URL of the site you’re on and the closed padlock. Ensure ‘http:‘ is now ‘https:‘. The padlock should also be closed. Both items are almost the first things to look-out for before divulging any of your personal information.

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However, these are not foolproof methods for verifying if a site is encrypted. The variation of authentication certificates today makes it quite easy for phishers to get hold of one and mimic a bank’s or e-commerce site. Frightfully enough, you will hardly be able to tell the difference.

Hence, using the closed padlock as a gauge to determine authenticity of a site, can sometimes be almost self-deceiving, but nonetheless, still a necessary feature to check on. Certain browsers also change the color of the address bar when you’re viewing an encrypted site. Firefox for example, changes the color of its address bar from plain white to yellow when it displays an encrypted site.

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Alarm bells should go off if you’re warned of an expired certificate. That’s a clear indication that you should stop any form of transaction, immediately.

Comodo, one of the world’s largest certification authorities, offers a free download called a ‘Verification Engine‘ that gives you the opportunity to verify the site that you’re visiting is a trusted one. I think that adds to some peace of mind and is definitely worth a download if you’re unsure about your ability to verify trusted sites.

Finally, another precautionary measure to ensure that you’re not being taken for a ride, is to visit PhishTank. A site true to its name, PhishTank is a clearing house for information about phishing on the Internet.

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Apart from using Comodo’s Verification Engine, you can reassure yourself even further by checking against PhishTank’s database. If you happen to come across a phishing site, you can add that to the database and support the cause for reeling in these phishers and serving them on a platter. A site such as PhishTank can only truly be kept up-to-date if users everywhere collaborate on fishing out these foul-smelling phishers.

Hope, you’re now more confident of taking on the dangers the dark-side of the web might throw at you. If we keep ourselves and others educated on how to stop being victims and start being collaborators to keep the web safe, not only for ourselves, but for the kids who are so much more susceptible to scams, we can truly make our stay in digital country a blissful one.