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Friday, June 30, 2017

Facebook®: It’s Not a Website

Over the past few weeks, I worked on developing a web contest.  The client had asked for something that would drive visitor returns and would address some specific prospects he was trying to sell as advertisers.

We built the pages, incorporating the ads submitted by the advertisers who had bought in to the contest.  I called the local ad manager and asked for the links, where each ad needed to point.  When I got it back, I called again and said that I needed the actual website URLs, not the advertisers’ Facebook pages.

“Those where I put Facebook addresses don’t have websites.  They just use Facebook.”

I had heard of this but no one I’ve been doing work for exists with Facebook as their door to the world.  So all of you who have companies or businesses relying on Facebook, stop it!  I can’t be more clear than that.  Just stop it.

The Internet does provide a door to your business.  It’s a great one.  It’s one that should
  • Be welcoming to prospects
  • Tell visitors what you do or what you make
  • Allow you to offer multiple screens of information, promotion and user feedback
Bottom line is that you want to invite people in, show them around, tell them what you do and show them how you and your products can help them.  Your business is unique so you want to have the freedom and flexibility to tell your story your way.
Facebook isn’t the place for that.
  • You’re stuffed into their format.  The layout is the same for everyone, you have little control of placement on or design of a page
  • You have no real branding – Facebook is their brand.  Proof?  “Your” URL will end in
  • Load times can be unforgiveable on Facebook
  • Feedback is great but it shouldn’t be the focal point of your site.  Hateful consumers can post some pretty nasty comments.  I’m a proponent of entertaining those comments and dealing with them on line but to put them front and center defeats the purpose of your site.
  • Adding a back room for sales is difficult.  Yet just about any web developer has an ecommerce bolt-on that would work with a website.
  • You are at their mercy regarding actual content
  • Linking to other pages or other sites is almost as difficult as the sales bolt-on.  What if you have 5 products.  You want to develop pages or arenas around each product where people can link from your home/front page to whichever one they want to find out more about.  Not gonna happen in Facebook.
  • Visitors will be distracted by Facebook items including the “People Also Like” where competitors’ messages can appear.  C’mon!  If that doesn’t convince you, what will?  Maybe the text ad that runs right below that promoting competitive stores?
So you have the opportunity to stand at your virtual front door and greet prospects as they approach.  You can decide what you’re wearing, what’s in the window, what offers might be posted, and where the shopper can go once he or she has entered.  And you want to turn that over to a third party?  One who could not care less about your business?  

The Internet does provide a door to your business.  Facebook ain’t it.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Check your Updates! You may be getting scammed – or watched.

Howdy.  I’m here from the American Paranoia Foundation.  My job today is to make you worry about the updates to all those apps on your phone or tablet. 
If you’re a younger reader (oxymoron) you’ve probably set your phone or tablet to automatically update all apps.  Maybe you set the options so they only update on wifi or during certain hours, but you’re letting it happen automatically.  Why not.  Saves a lot of tapping.
For starters, it means you don’t get to see the access any given app is asking for…the access you’re giving it without question.  To be fair, some phones will pop up a warning but many don’t.  If you told it to update automatically it goes right ahead. 
Depending on the app, it may “need” access to read and write capabilities, in-app purchases, photos, music, files, device ID and information, device history, wifi information, and the biggies, your location and identity.  A new photo-posting app definitely needs access to your media and maybe your camera.  An audio player surely needs access to your music.  Of course, “friend finders” need your location.1

Now, think about it.  I know I’ve mentioned it before, but this is serious.  If you’re trying to protect your privacy, well, forget that.  Ordinary – otherwise benign – apps can find out all about you.  They can capture your emails and texts and send them back to the app designer.  Ever deposit a check with your phone?  Might as well call all those apps to make sure they got the data.

And think about passwords.  If you keep any of them on your phone, you gave those apps access to them.  Ah, smarter than that, are you.  You don’t keep any passwords on your phone.  You keep them in your noggin.  Fine.  But if you’ve used any passwords on line (checked your bank balance?) it’s out there.

Update (6/19/17):  A good friend sent a note pointing out another huge issue.  Your contacts.  If the app has access to your contacts, it can find out everything about them in addition to you.  So if you keep meta information about friends on your phone, maybe address, private email info, other "secret" info, well, in addition to leaving yourself vulnerable, you're giving away their information, too.  That's pretty nasty and irresponsible.  End of update.

I tried to check out a few, sending emails to app developers requiring access that, to me, they didn’t need.   Seriously, why does a chess game need to know my identity?  Or my phone’s history?  I sent emails to those that I could, eight in total.  Got one response and that referenced only my question about location.  "In order to efficiently deliver ads...", they needed to know my location.  Also told me that I could avoid that by paying for the ad-free version.  I didn’t but I want to buy it and see if it still asks for location.  Bet it does.

If you’re an Eric Schmidt fan, you’re also a believer in “…if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide…” as he said in defense of Google policies.  Go ahead.  Let it all hang out there. 
However, if you’re more like I am, shut down the apps or add identity, location, and IP blockers.2  Better still, just dump those apps.  But know this:  some apps leave breadcrumbs.  They may be orphaned files but they also could be operational elements, left there to keep a lookout on your wellbeing.  There are other apps that will remove these files – but they require access to your identity, location, wifi, history, and device.  I’m just sayin’.
1 If you’re using a “friend finder” paint a big bullseye on your back.  Seriously.  If they’re your friend, call them up.  Text them.  Send a telegram, try smoke signals or a Cessna towing a sign.  But axe the friend finders.
2 I downloaded an app that purported to encrypt texts.  99¢ to find out that it wanted my location and identity.  It didn’t get installed.  Told you I was from the American Paranoia Foundation.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

They Thought They Had Us By The Antenna

Seriously, squatters…now you want to sell? You bought a bunch of URL’s.  Now you want to sell them.

It was a dark and stormy night sometime in 1995.  My entry into the Internet world was thanks to a terrific VP of Marketing for a major pharmaceutical company.  We had given a presentation to her on pay-per-view and video on demand as we placed them in a test with one of the then baby-Bells.  After the meeting she asked, “Guys, do you think this Internet thing will ever amount to anything commercially?”

On the flight home (no angry passengers, no TSA, no service ponies) the guys I was with decided we needed to get some religion.  We studied a number of areas – designing, distributing, monitoring, including “naming.”  Network Solutions was the only game in town managing URLs…they tied site names ( to actual DNSs.  In other words, when someone went looking for a web page using a URL like, Network Solutions managed the relationship list that told Mae East and Mae West and all their friends, “Oh, looking for that?  Well, go to (Yes, it’s an intentionally impossible address.  But then, go dial 555 1212).

A few folks got a bright idea – register a bunch of URLs using companies' names then squat on them.  When the companies come knocking, bump that $70 registration fee up to a few – or many – thousand dollars.  You got it, they want it, supply and demand, eh?

Well, the law caught up with these squatters.  In effect, it said that the .com extension really was to be applied to commercial entities and declared that unless you had a reasonable right to use a URL, you had to give it up.  Said another way, McDonald’s Excavating could have registered and kept but others, with no connection to the name could not.

Seemed pretty simple.  You can breathe now, the backstory is over.

It got complicated for broadcasters.  Smart squatters registered hundreds of call letters – letters which, by and large, are gibberish and would be available to anyone and, therefore, not totally protected by UPC rules.  And they sat on them while they called or snail mailed stations offering to sell at anywhere from 10 to one thousand times the registration cost.

A few stations paid.  Most balked and went another direction…and it was the best thing they could have done.  The squatters forced stations to look for other names and in doing so, they incorporated (OMG) branding into their URLs.  So we saw,,,, or   The URLs actually clued prospective visitors in about the site and bolstered the stations’ brands.

So the Internet grew, more stations jumped aboard, started streaming and were able to cross promote between the web and over the air.  And stations succeeded because in their URLs, they had a catch phrase – mnemonic, if you will , in most cases – that would resonate with their audiences.

I think just about everyone I know listens to streams of broadcast stations.  And of them, I’d wager that most, if not all, know the URL of the station.  Some have set bookmarks and don’t remember.  Others rely on recognizing the station logo in the iHeartRadio listings or on and its derivatives.
Well the payoff to this rambling story is that about a week ago I got an email from a company acknowledging that I was the website manager (not webmaster…big difference) for a number of stations. 

They went on to say that they had recently acquired the URLs for the stations’ call letters.  It was quite well laid out and correctly listed the stations and their owners.

And after that, they laid out the sales pitch and why these stations needed their call letter URLs – just the plain 3 or 4 letter URLs.  They also said that it would be good marketing for the station as we could promote multiple URLs.  Oh, and that the offer included wouldn’t last long.  That offer, by the way, varied by market size so they did do some homework..

If you know me, you know that I jumped at the chance – No, no!  I was polite.  I simply laid out history and offered my condolences for their having purchased a pig in a poke.  It was fun.

Sadly, someone spent their (or worse, someone else’s) money to buy those URL’s.  Sitting at lunch, a couple of beers and they start talking and realize – falsely – that if they can get their hands on these dormant URLs, they can score big.

There was an episode of Twilight Zone (yes the original) where some guys stole a bunch of gold.  They put themselves into suspended animation for a number of years so that when they emerged, the robbery would be long forgotten and they would be rich beyond belief.  When they did actually awaken, scientists had discovered how to create gold artificially and their haul was worthless.  Not an exact parallel but close enough. 

Guys, enjoy your URLs.  You own ‘em.