Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Tag: internet

An open letter: 8 bits of advice for spammers and fraudsters

Phishing and spam – dangerous and inconvenient, to be sure. But sometimes I despair of the standard of emails that come through. So – dear spammers and crooks, here are a few pointers.

1) Don’t pretend to be informal if you can’t pull it off

For example, if you send me an email that says “How are the things”, which you have a lot, I’m hardly going to think that’s from a friend. “How’s things?” would be much better. “How are the things?” shows you are clueless on chatty English discourse. Either you mean “Where are the things?”, which sounds like the start of a domestic disagreement:

– Where are the things?
– What things?
– You know, the things for the doodah
– I have no idea what you’re on about
– Why are you always getting at me?
… and so on,

… 0r you are referring to my children as “the things”, a bit like Thing 1 and Thing 2 in Cat in the Hat. If so, that’s quite funny, and closer to the mark. But I’m still not falling for it.

2) Get personal

“Dear Bank Account Operator” really isn’t very convincing. Even “Dear customer” would be better. But better yet, use my name. “Dear Mr Minto” gets you through the first line of defence. But there are many to go…

3) Avoid block capitals

“YOUR WIRE TRANSFER FAILED” is something that a company would never write. Why would anyone fall for that?

4) Get off my domain

Sending email that looks like it has come from an address on my domain, such as, isn’t fooling me. I didn’t set it up. I would remember, you see. And then I wouldn’t email myself pretending to be from my own accounts department. That shit might work with a big corporation, but it’s not gonna fly here.

5) Social media is too obvious

Messages from LinkedIn, Facebook etc – sure, they look good, but I’ve never clicked on one. If I want to reply to a message on a social network, I’ll do it from inside the network. Safer that way.

6) Use better URLs

Even if I was tempted to click on some malware link by mistake, anything with “wp-upload” in the URL is a bit of a dead giveaway.

7) Get sophisticated

I’m rarely a customer of many of the banks or companies you pretend to be emailing from. So I’m hardly worried if I get an email from Citibank, say. Now, if I got a clever email from HSBC *, that would be a different thing.

8) Frequency = desperation

Send me one email about my “account”, and my interest might be momentarily aroused, however briefly. Send me 5 in quick succession? I’m not so worried. Show me a company that does that.

I’m sure there are more pointers I could give, but that’ll do it for now. Have a nice day, fraudsters.

* I’m not an HSBC customer either.

The internet of 1901

There was a curious story today of a woman who cut off an entire country’s internet access. A Georgian woman digging in her garden cut off Armenia from the net.

Impressive in a way, but it also got me thinking about the internet, and how, despite all the talk of the cloud and cyberspace, the internet is a very real thing of servers and fibre optic cables.

In fact, the cabling around the world is very mappable – the Guardian did this great infographic after a previous cut-off in Egypt. And then I saw a picture of telegraph cables from 1901. See any similarity?

Facebook: is the party over?

In all the hoopla surrounding the Goldman Sachs investment in Facebook, one thing seems odd.

It isn’t the money – Facebook made $2bn in revenues last year, apparently, which isn’t bad (although we need to remember that revenues aren’t profit – finance 1.01).

And it isn’t the ambition – Facebook is making itself the de facto log in for half the web. Nor is it platform issues: people look at Facebook on iPhones, Android phones and so on.

It’s the traffic.

Facebook is first and foremost a network. And the laws of networks mean that the more people join, the more useful they are, and the more connections are made. It’s exponential – just think of the moment when 2 people are on a network, and a third person joins – the number of possible connections doubles each time.

Now look at these charts – they are from Wolfram Alpha, who use Alexa as their source.

The number of users just keeps growing:

Facebook users, 2010

Facebook users, 2010

But the traffic doesn’t:

Facebook pageviews, 2010

Facebook pageviews, 2010

You would think that the traffic would mirror the user growth. In fact, given the network effect, it should outpace it.

So what’s going on? Either Facebook’s new users are dud accounts, or the older users are getting tired. People are either spending less time on the site, or are turning up less frequently. According to Alexa, the time on the site is relatively static too, but the daily pageviews per user are falling:

Facebook pageviews per user

Facebook pageviews per user

But this should be a worry for the company. They aren’t in the business of charging users, and may never be if the right revenue model comes along. So usage is everything. Facebook’s growth may seem relentless in terms of the numbers of people signed up, but boredom is a very dangerous thing for a network. When was the last time you logged into MySpace?

Goldman may have made a great investment, or they might just be turning up to the party as all the cool people are leaving. We’ll see.

Zuckerberg vs Hirst

Sounds good, doesn’t it? The billionaire geek of Facebook vs the once bad-boy of BritArt.

But in what context? What are you on about, I hear you ask. It’s simple really. What actually counts in this world: ideas, or execution?

Yesterday I saw an ad on the train for the Judge Institute in Cambridge (my home town) quoting Alfred North Whitehead:

The vitality of thought is an adventure. Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.

That was in the 1880s. So what has this got to do with Zuckerberg or Hirst?

A lot, in fact. If you think the idea is all important, and don’t care about execution, then Hirst is your man. You can “own a Hirst” which has never been touched by Damien. Who cares about the execution? It’s the idea. Hirst gets the credit, the money, the process is immaterial. This was recently discussed in the FT’s arts podcast – the artist as businessman.

But if it’s all about execution, then you’re in the Facebook camp. It wasn’t the first social network, or the second. Facebook, if you believe the movie, wasn’t even Zuckerberg’s idea. It was brain child of the Winkelvoss twins. But, as the character says in the film, “if you were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.” Even if Zuckerberg didn’t come up with Facebook, he executed it. It’s his. He is the one worth x billion, rather than with the $65m settlement.

If you are a Zuckerbergist, then Hirst should be worthless – he just has an idea of the art. Someone else puts it together. Where’s the execution? It’s just mindless reproduction.

Somehow in this world both Zuckerberg and Hirst are very very rich. One is richer than the other, by a big factor, but that’s not the point. Both models seem to co-exist. Maybe this is to misrepresent Hirst. Perhaps his big idea is about the endless reproduction, about pushing art as a brand, and in so doing retains both the idea and the execution of the idea, even by not using his own hand. What does he do? The idea is to market the idea. It’s a meta-economy.

Or perhaps we were all moving that way. Martin Wolf, my colleague and the world’s most influential financial journalist, summed it up in 2007:

Neoclassical economics analysed economic growth in terms of capital, labour and technical progress. But, I now think, it is more enlightening to view the fundamental drivers as energy and ideas. Institutions and incentives provide the framework within which the development and application of useful knowledge transforms the fossilised sunlight on which we depend into the stream of goods and services we enjoy.

If you have an idea, it’s worthless. If you execute that idea, you’ll make money (assuming it’s a good one). But if you can sell that idea over and over again, and yet retain the rights – well, that’s priceless.

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