Happy 15th Anniversary, Download.com

download.com

download.com

Today we have application stores up the ying-yang. But 15 years ago, trying to find applications for your computer was a lot harder. We did have two decent sources: Tucows.com and download.com (a CNet company, now owned by CBS). Since then, these two sources have grown to better catalog Freeware, shareware, and paid applications. This week, we say Happy anniversary to Download.com.

While the domain was registered on February 24, 1996, Download.com will officially launch on October 23rd, 1996 (Reference via CNet article). Since then, the website sees almost 10 million downloads of software a week. The top downloads being AVG and Avast antivirus software. A long cry from Hey, Macaroni (the dancing macaroni meme), WinZip 32 and Duke Nukem 3D – which was the most downloaded in 1996. WinZip is still one of the top 5 download pieces of software on the site.

For 15 years, download.com has kept a great archive of software, weeding out the obsolete, malware producing items. They have been sued for some software downloads, most notably the free music download program LimeWire. While download.com did not promote the download of mp3 music or movies, the peer-to-peer software is another way to download legally shared items. Of course, this has always been the conundrum of file sharing.

In retrospect, TuCows has been in operation since 1994, offering the same services. Other services have come and gone, but download.com has stayed strong. So happy 15 years to a source that I’ve personally used many a time from my IT career.

Time for Yahoo to Close Groups?

It’s another Monday and seems to be another day of inbox Spam. However, I’ve noticed recently how more and more spam groups are being created on Yahoo! and joining me. They basically say the same thing:

I’ve added you to my akljsdfklj group. a free Yahoo! Group to send and receive group messages.

Description: asdflkhasdf

To gain access, click the link…

This is another reason that Yahoo! just doesn’t care about their product. I use Google Groups all the time and don’t get any spam messages like this. Yet, every week I am removing stupid posts like in the image.

Where is the confirmation? I really have to click on a link and tell them this group is spam? Why not have some protocols in place to avoid me getting annoyed like this?

Here are some ideas that anyone running a group website could implement:

1. Multiple fields on form

Make them fill out more information than your name and small description. Make them enter in some contact information. Require a description field to be 20 words or more (not just characters). Have an algorithm determine if the description is jibberish or actually says something.

2. CAPTCHA

It’s annoying, but in a way, it’s meant to be annoying. That way, you know someone is human. Yahoo! does have some CAPTCHA algorithms that they could use in this group. It also kills the bots attempts to register groups.

3. Confirmation

Email confirmation means they have to register an email address first. That might also stop some bots from creating groups.

These are not revolutionary ideas. They have been used before and can be used again. The more we can stop spammers and bots, the less phishing scams and malware can be created. When that happens, people and companies save millions of dollars.

So Yahoo! – If you’re just going to let it continue, then why not shut down YahooGroups and get out of the business. It’s what you’re doing anyway…

Fake Apple Store – Not a New Concept

Fake Apple Store - BirdAbroad

Fake Apple Store - BirdAbroad

The band “DaVinci’s Notebook” said it best:

Unless every American does his part – They’ll steal our Cheetos, Birkenstocks and Wal-Marts
And it won’t be very long – ‘Till the pirate version of this song
Tops the radio charts in Mainland China

In the last 48 hours, a blogger (called “BirdAbroad”) broke news of a new store in Kunming, China that was claiming to be an Apple store. It brought up this dilemma that anyone can make a fake store in China and how this is starting to become a major issue. But reality is, this is not the first time a fake store has been fabricated (and I don’t think it’s going to be the last, either). So what can we do to keep our purchases safe?

The Store that calls itself “Apple”

An American woman living in the Kunming China area – Blogging under the name BirdAbroad – discovered this store that claimed to be an “Apple Store”. They went home to verify on Apple’s website, but according to their searches, there were 2 stores in China and this was not one of them.

So they did what any other american would do – post this information on the internet.

Of course, this caused a major disturbance in the Apple force. Since the term “Apple” is a trending topic, People sprung on this story like a Apple fanboy to the Lion OS.

Reuters has been reporting from the stores on how upset customers have been swarming for refunds. They even noted some store employees didn’t know they were part of a big facade. I suppose if they could read english, they might have noticed the big faux-pas in the window that said “Apple Stoer”.

What Apple is Doing about the Fake Store

Nothing that we know of yet. They have been tight-lipped about the whole ordeal. Maybe they’re waiting to see what the outcome is. Maybe they’ll see this area as an important expansion and buy it?

OK, probably not.

There are two types of Apple stores – Apple (which is not called Apple Store) and an authorized Apple retailer. In town here, we have 2 AAR’s. Their store names are not related to any Apple trademark, for they would violate terms of service. But they do say “Authorized Apple Retailer” somewhere on the store.

Of course, this store is neither. Interestingly enough, you would figure (after all the press) this store would be closed up by now. Yet, the employees still come to work and more product gets sold.

Not the First Time

The reality: this is not the first time a fake store has opened up. It’s just the first time an Apple store has been opened.

We’ve heard about the underground knock-off world in the news many time. I can show you a few DVD’s I collected from friends that have been to China (horrible quality, so it’s just for show). I even remember a friend coming back with a fake Rolex watch – showing it off like it was the real thing.

There are some vendors on the streets who also sell the real thing. They get the product through black market or smuggle from other areas. Purses from Coach, dresses from Macy’s and iPhones from Apple.

This isn’t even the first time that has happened in the United States. In years past, people would open storefronts trying to fool customers that they were a brand it wasn’t. Most of the time, they also sold knock-off products. In 2008, police raided China-town and closed 32 vendors.

Be Aware of Fakes

Whether these people bought real iPhones or fake, Apple doesn’t have to honor the devices. That means if you spend $2,000 for a Macbook Pro and it dies within 30 days, you might have a nice paperweight.

Some people buy fakes for the novelty – like my friend I mentioned earlier. He knows that once the watch dies, he throws it away. Then again, it might just live his lifetime…

Even in the US, you cannot always trust a store. If you feel it’s a fake, then don’t buy from it. Do a little research and make sure they are who they say to be.

In the meantime, more fake Apple Stores have popped up in China. We’ll have to wait and see what Apple does to resolve this issue.

Do Paywalls Ever Make Sense?

PaywallThere was a recent article at Arstechnica.Com describing how The Times in the U.K. ended up cutting its web traffic in half by simply requiring registration so that viewers could read their articles. Prior to this, the articles on the site were freely available. The registration requirement is in anticipation of their future paywall plans.

I have to admit that I’m one of the people who left their site more than once when I clicked on a link and was presented with the registration requirement. I’ve done the same thing on other newspaper sites as well. Will people pay for online news?

At its essence, news is often glorified gossip.

There are plenty of successful paywall sites. Here are three sites that incorporate paywalls that I personally find worthwhile enough subscribe to: Netflix.Com,  Rushlimbaugh.Com and FHU.Com.

Netflix began life as a DVD rental service and most recently added a very popular streaming service as value-added subscriber benefit behind a paywall. The Netflix streaming service helped convince me to sign up and become a customer, as well as the availability of Blu-Ray discs. If Netflix had DVD’s only, I wouldn’t be a subscriber. Streaming and Blu-Ray make me willing to open my wallet.

Rushlimbaugh.Com puts the site’s massive and growing archive behind a paywall that includes access to the Rush Limbaugh podcast version of his radio show where they perform the courtesy of cutting out all of the network ads. Being able to receive the ad-free podcast of the daily Rush Limbaugh radio program is why I subscribe. I rarely sign into the site and go behind the paywall. I want the ad-free daily podcast, so I pay, even though I could get the program for free by listening on the radio.

FHU.Com also puts a massive and growing archive of radio programs, books and video behind a paywall. I want access to this material, and since it’s a charitable organization, I am willing to donate to gain access behind the paywall and support them.

I don’t envision myself ever paying for access to a newspaper website. I have never subscribed to a printed newspaper. I used to subscribe to a number of printed computer, stereo and photography magazines, but somehow that lost its appeal a number of years ago and I let the subscriptions run out.

For a paywall site to be successful, it must have something behind that wall that people want access to. They must offer something of value that revolves around the essence of what they do best.

NING Cuts Staff, Turns Off Free Model

Last month, Ning CEO Gina Bianchini was replaced by Jason Rosenthal – which made me wonder if some big changes were afoot. I guess I was right as it turns out Ning is changing their business model. Let’s look at what happened and what that means to you.

This letter was posted over on TechCrunch:

Team,

When I became CEO 30 days ago, I told you I would take a hard look at our business. This process has brought real clarity to what’s working, what’s not, and what we need to do now to make Ning a big success.

My main conclusion is that we need to double down on our premium services business. Our Premium Ning Networks like Friends or Enemies, Linkin Park, Shred or Die, Pickens Plan, and tens of thousands of others both drive 75% of our monthly US traffic, and those Network Creators need and will pay for many more services and features from us.

So, we are going to change our strategy to devote 100% of our resources to building the winning product to capture this big opportunity. We will phase out our free service. Existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning. We will judge ourselves by our ability to enable and power Premium Ning Networks at huge scale. And all of our product development capability will be devoted to making paying Network Creators extremely happy.

As a consequence of this change, I have also made the very tough decision to reduce the size of our team from 167 people to 98 people. As hard as this is to do, I am confident that this is the right decision for our company, our business, and our customers. Marc and I will work diligently with everyone affected by this to help them find great opportunities at other companies.

I’ve never seen a more talented and devoted team, and it has been my privilege to get to know and work with each and every one of you over the last 18 months.

We’ll use today to say goodbye to our friends and teammates who will be leaving the company. Tomorrow, I will take you through, in detail, our plans for the next three months and our new focus.

Thanks,
Jason Rosenthal

Workforce Cuts:

In a nutshell, Jason came in and took 30 days to evaluate the company, now he is cutting the fat. 70 people – 40% of the staff has been laid off. That is a big number when you have a company that houses over 1 million total networks. So now 98 employees will have to continue on.

No More Free Ride:

When I first was introduced to Ning, I had to wonder if this free model was going to work. Now I know the answer – no, it didn’t. They are cutting their free service to focus on the paid services. And looking at the A-la cart prices on Ning, I would guess that is all going to change in the next couple weeks.

For example, extra storage to your account costs $9.95 / month. Add your own domain, Support, Run your ads and your bill is $45 / Month. Pretty pricey there.

I am not sure what is going to happen to popular social networks already on there. David Hasselhoff site is hosted there. Chris Pirillo has Geeks.pirillo.com on there. I would guess they are already paying the premium prices due to higher bandwidth.

But what about the sites I use that are not that high profile? Several Geek and computer pages I visit, a local non-profit hosts their site on Ning, too. I would guess that they have to pay or go seperate ways.

What We Learned from this:

Free is nice, but not trustworthy. I know that whatever I have out there on a free model might be gone tomorrow. Bandwidth and other overhead are big factors in giving something away. Sometimes it works, other times; Well, you make a lot of people unhappy.

I am not sure how many sites will decide to move over, but I would guess the 1 million mark might have to be reached again. On the other hand, Ning has really built up an easy to use interface for anyone that wants to build a social site without having to do much coding. It’s really about the cost of ownership.

Do you have a Ning website? Are you going to stay on Ning, or move to another hosting provider?

Checking Your Website with Browsershots

I always forget about this website.  When I finally go there to check my site amongst OS browsers, I always find one small problem. Quick change in the CSS and everything is all better.

I am talking about Broswershots. They simply take my site and call it up using different browsers on all Operating Systems. Linux, PC, Mac and BSD checking the following browsers:

  • Avant
  • Chrome
  • Dillo
  • Epiphany
  • Firefox
  • Flock
  • K-Meleon
  • Galeon
  • Iceape
  • Iceweasel
  • Internet Explorer
  • Kazehakase
  • Konqueror
  • Minefield
  • Navigator
  • Opera
  • Safari
  • SeaMonkey
  • Shiretoko

I can also view the many versions of the browsers. Let’s say I am optimizing for Internet Explorer. I can check IE 4.0, 5.0, 7.0 or 8.0 on a Windows format. Check the boxes, enter the URL and away we go.

What Dillo sees of my websites from Browsershots

The process is not instantaneous. The service will set a 30 minute time limit which you can extent, but you have to physically be there to do so. If you checked all boxes, then you will definitely need to extend the process a couple times. It can also really show you how slow your website might load if you have an influx of users. One website I checked came up with all versions in about 10 minutes, yet another website (a little more PHP process driven) took a little more time.

Once your screenshots appear, you can view and download. Of course, this is dependent on the Internet connection at both sides, so you may have to request a new screenshot if you don’t see the proper results. For instance, IE 8.0 came back with a blank screen. I then told Broswershots to retry and the end result was perfect.

This website is pretty useful in detecting problems. Although I do have a PC, Mac and Ubuntu machine, I am really happy I don’t have to load up every browser on those machines. It’s about 80 different browsers and their versions to choose from. I am hoping soon they will also check across phone browsers. That will be a perfect addition to Browsershots.

McAffee: .cm Top Level Domains are the Worst

mcaffeeMcAffee put out their annual “Mapping the Mal Web” report. It is a PDF that lets you know how risky a website in a Top Level Domain (TLD) can be. Since the .com is so widely used, it’s easy to say it’s on the top of the list. But it’s not #1 – that dubious honor is left to Camroon – the .cm domain.

I always said that TLD’s in other countries are not the best way to go for a domain. Generic TLDs are controlled by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). These include .com, .net, .edu, .org, .biz and a host of others. This is because an individual company that holds a TLD could fold at any time and the TLD with it.

Take the case of .md – It was a TLD held by an independant company from 1995 – 2003. On May 20th, 2003, the IANA was informed that the parent company – dot MD, LLC – fell under chapter 11 bankruptcy. The TLD was in flux for a while, but eventually became sponsored (which is all you can ever do for a TLD) by MoldData.

In the case of .md, health care or those in Moldova, would use this TLD. If this was a TLD that really didn’t work for a country or a profession (let’s say .qq), it would have most likely been disbanded unless a new sponsor was found. Also, unless you were a doctor or one of 3.5 million residents of the country, this TLD would show small risk for malware.

The top 3 on McAffee’s list – .CM, .COM and .CN. The 3rd is the People’s Republic of China, but what’s more interesting is the fact that if you accidentally mistype, you could easily go to google dot cm or google dot cn.

McAffee stated in their report that 5.8% of all domains showed risk. Up from last years’ 4.1%. Seven of the twenty riskiest TLDs were in the Asia – Pacific region. .CM came in with a risk level of 36.7%, .com was at 32.2% , .cn was 23.4% and .info was at 15.8%.

On a good note, Hong Kong dropped from the top 10 in 2008 to 34th place. Therefore, some TLDs are doing a lot to make their areas of the web a little safer. Congrats .hk.

On the other end of the spectrum, .gov (Government), .jp (Japan), .edu (Education), .ie (Ireland) and .hr (Croatia) are the least risky. It makes perfect sense with .gov and .edu – because you need to be in government or education to have the TLD. However, Japan, Ireland and Croatia were a surprise – especially since with Ireland you can easily make words out of the TLD, like Carr.ie, bird.ie, coll.ie, yupp.ie and microsoft.ie (could point to MS’s Internet Explorer website).

McAffee checked sites on each TLD for Viruses, spyware and what they call “Potentially unwanted programs (PUPs). Overall, malware downloads decreased slightly in this last year. 2009 showed a 4.5% risk of downloads as opposed to 4.7% in 2008. Romania (.ro) topped the charts with 21% risk. .info had 17.2% risk for email malware.

Still, out of 27 million domains, only 5.8% had risk to them. It’s still up from 4.1% of 2007 and 2008, but McAffee did mention they changed their methodology to the report to show the 5.8%. They also mentioned that there are still “Hidden risks” out there that McAffee is determined to find.

So before you buy your next domain, check out the .pdf. It’s a pretty informative document on not only which top level domains are risky, but who your giving your money to. Did you know that .ly is the ccTLD (country code Top Level Domain) for Lybia? Did you also know that if you buy a .ly that you are helping the sponsor – General Post and Telecomunications Company?

Not to say it’s a bad thing, but it’s definitely something to think about.

Unscrupulous Scruples: Watch where you click.

antivirus

I’ve been seeing this more and more. You have to upgrade a product – a home (free) edition or something. You press the link and it sends you to a page that talks about upgrading. In fact, everything this page screams is “We don’t have the free version, you must buy an upgrade to continue”.

But if you scan the page, you see on the bottom in small print “No thanks. Register the Free version”.

Another case in point: I was searching for Drivers for a friends computer. I got to the companies webpage and selected what I thought was the driver. Instead, it shuttled me to download a program that would then collect information on my PC and find the right drivers.

It was not malware, but more of Bloatware. And that program wasn’t afraid to do the same thing – ask to install more Bloatware.

This practice is on the verge of misleading. You have to really scan pages to make sure you are selecting the right option.

Case in point #2: There is a great website out there that helps webmasters. We won’t get into the name, because this is not a witch hunt. I will say that when you purchase something on their site, you are taken to a page that looks like you have to press an “OK” button. However, this button is not to OK the purchase, but to add additional services. By scanning down the page, you find the “No thanks – Continue” option stuffed in the bottom part of the page.

In advertising creation, you learn a little trick. When an eye hits an ad, they instinctively start in the middle and work clockwise around the ad. Therefore, you put your “Hook” in the middle and the other items on the sides, including the name of the product.

What these sites have done is made the ad, but then put the “No thanks” in a spot where upon first glance, the eye will miss.

I just bought my ticket for Blogworld / New Media Expo. I used a discount site to purchase the plane ticket and hotel. After making the initial purchase, I was inundated with options I should look at. I suppose it’s so the discount site can offer lower fares. Once again, I had to carefully scan for the “No Thanks” option, although those other buttons looked like they were part of the processing.

Recently, people have been finding extra charges on their credit cards. They went to an online shopping site and chose the great deal of the day. They then pressed a button that looked legitimate to sign up for monthly deals (or something like that). Of course, those deals came with a price.

I really think that the FTC needs to start recognizing these little nuances in websites. It would be like if you went to the grocery store and the clerk started asking “Should I also add in a gallon of milk?” even if you didn’t grab milk.

As for this upgrade – I understand you need to make money off the product, but being sneaky about doing it is only going to make me go somewhere else. Put the “No thanks” in a more visible area. The consumer will buy your product if they don’t feel they are getting swindled.

EduFire says it can help students learn and teachers make extra money

edufireA couple years ago, I talked with a friend who was a teacher. We put together an idea for a website to help teach. It never made it off the planning stages, but I knew something would eventually come along.

It’s hailed as the “eBay for teachers”.  EduFire is a site that has been around for a year and has over five thousand teachers creating hundreds of classes with over 30 thousand students. For $30 a month, you get a Superpass to all courses.

Teachers get a cut of all students that take their lessons. EduFire gets 85% commission. It’s not unlike a musician renting a practice room for lessons or a personal trainer for a Pilate session. A good teacher that gets hundreds of students per course could easily make some good extra cash.

But is it a quality education system?

With five thousand teachers and growing, you would have to keep up with the content being published. There seems to be no accreditation needed to teach or tutor. Sign up for an account and go.

There is a “Tutor score” to weed out the bad ones. 1-4 = minus 1 point, 5-6 = 0 points and 7-10 – 1 point.

Still, it might be a great place for your kid to get the extra help needed to pass the ACT, or improve an individual academic. It even looks like a place to help those kids who have English as a second language. The flash card section is also pretty interesting.

Bottom line – if your child is partaking in the course, keep an eye on it. Make sure they are not giving misinformation. If you are a teacher, it could be some good extra money, but make sure it’s not going to cause any problems with your regular job.

As for my friend, I am going to point her in this direction. It looks like everything we discussed a couple years ago. I think this will be right up her alley.

Mini Review of SquareSpace.Com

From time-to-time I develop websites for clients and they generally want something reasonable (cheap) and easy to Squarespacemaintain. I’ve been hearing about a new company, SquareSpace, and how great it was so I decided to try it for myself. I was generating a proposal to update a website and decided to implement a prototype in Squarespace so the client could actually test drive my ideas.

I signed up for the 14 day free trial and watched a few “getting started” videos to help understand the interface. The site uses a visual interface and it’s very easy to get started. You pick a template style and color scheme depending on the type of site you want to create: blog, photo gallery, commercial/business. The templates are just a starting point because everything can be customized. You can even start with a blank screen and build your site from scratch. The templates are really CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) pages that can be customized by a visual interface or directly adding/modifying the CSS code.

In the site editor you can add pages and sections in sidebars that appear on every page. When you create a page or section you specify what “widget” to use. Widgets determine the type of content you want to add (journal/blog, html/text, links, search, map, forum, etc.). You can add/remove widgets and even change templates on the fly.

The site editor has four modes: Style Editor, Structure Editor, Content Editor, and Preview. The Style editor is where you pick/change your template, change column layouts, adjust fonts, colors and sizes, and customize the CSS. The Structure editor is where you add sections and pages. The Content editor is the section you will use the most after your site is configured the way you want it. This is where you add blog content, upload photos to your gallery, and change the information that your visitors will see. The last mode, Preview, shows you what your visitors will see when they visit your site.

Since this is a mini review I won’t go into all the details but I will tell you that I had a simple site up and running in four hours without any CSS or HTML coding. The site was mostly functional but it didn’t have the exact look and feel I wanted. I started switching templates to find a feature or a look I wanted for certain parts of my site and looked to see how it was implemented. In some cases it was a simple setting change in the visual interface and in others it was CSS overrides that made the difference (this is where watching the advanced help videos really helped). In one case I wanted to create a HTML page and add links to other pages. Since the linked pages were not created through the normal “add page” process, I couldn’t find a way to do it. I searched the Squarespace Help forum and found a mention of creating a hidden section on the sidebar and creating my pages there. This worked but seemed to be a kludge in the overall design.

Squarespace pricing starts out at $8/month for the Basic package and runs to $50/month for the Community package. You will need the $14/month Pro package if you want to map the website you create to your own domain name.

Pros:

  • Easy to create a website in minutes.
  • Lots of features for creating, maintaining, and monitoring your site.
  • Import content from other blogging sites: WordPress, Movable Type/Type Pad, and Blogger.
  • Detailed website analytics available.
  • Private site areas (password protected) and multiple editors.
  • Supports RSS and iTunes tags.
  • 100% customizable.
  • Great pricing.

Cons:

  • Website must be hosted by SquareSpace.
  • May require some HTML and CSS knowledge to really tweak the site the way you want (you may need to hire a consultant to finish the design).
  • No direct support for adding audio and video content. You can embed flash players using HTML Injection points but that feature is not available in the Basic or Pro packages. This may be supported with new widgets in the future.

In conclusion I was very impressed with what Squarespace offers. They have so many great features that I can’t possibly talked about of all of them here. I would suggest checking it out for yourself (14 day free trial) if for no other reason than to see how easy it is to create your own website.

73’s, Tom