The African Version of Amazon Will Emerge From Nigeria

w575.jpg When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced the company’s plans for 30-minute delivery drones with Amazon Prime Air in December, it became clear that ecommerce has exciting days ahead.

But Amazon isn’t the only company ramping up digital business, nor is the U.S. the only region in the game. In fact, Africa may have already stolen a march on personal delivery from the air, and Nigeria — specifically the rapidly growing city of Lagos — may produce the next great ecommerce company.

See also: 20 Important African Startups to Watch

Africa’s tech space, which has been defined and accelerated by the mobile phone, is undoubtedly growing as investors scramble toward the continent. Various African countries have leapfrogged fixed-line Internet because of the ubiquity of cellphones and their networks, and entrepreneurs will likely tackle transportation in a similar way. Why build roads to inaccessible places when the air is a better and increasingly cheaper option?

A current initiative that addresses African drone delivery is the Flying Donkey Challenge, a 24-hour race around Mount Kenya where African companies have to deliver and collect 20-kilo payloads as they go. The winner receives a prize of more than $1 million.

But while these companies face huge challenges in circumnavigating Mount Kenya in East Africa, it’s actually in Nigeria, West Africa, where today’s challenges are almost unfathomable in scope — and, yet, also where future “African Amazons” are likely to emerge.

Lagos isn’t Nigeria’s capital city, but it is by far the biggest in the country. Depending on which statistics you believe, the city’s population is between 17 and 21 million, with 30,000 people arriving every week from across Africa.

Delivery in Lagos is utter chaos. There isn’t a viable postal service in the city — or the country, for that matter — and by all standards the city just shouldn’t work. But it does, and ecommerce companies are proliferating. Some even guarantee delivery of products across the city within 24 hours.

“By 2030, one in every six Africans will be Nigerians, and its economy will have the largest GDP on the continent,” says Betty Enyonam Kumahor, managing director of Africa for global IT consulting firm ThoughtWorks. “But understanding how to launch an ecommerce business in Nigeria requires an understanding of the ecosystem and country, and other aspects such as the cost of generators and the relative dearth of the talent pool.”
But ecommerce startups in Lagos, such as online grocery business, are facing logistic problems beyond buying generators. There’s also the problems of trying to get through Lagos’ terrible traffic and finding addresses that often cannot be found on a map, for example.’s founder, Dr. Olumide Olusanya, is positioning the company as Nigeria’s equivalent of Ocado, the very successful UK delivery arm of Waitrose supermarket. Olusanya gave up practicing medicine to become an entrepreneur, and has expanded rapidly in its short history. It has quadrupled in size in the past year, and in January moved to a 20,000 square feet fulfillment center in the city.

“We believe the timing of starting our company has been God-sent,” he says. “Brick-and-mortar supermarket shopping, which is exceedingly painful on this side of the world, is not yet culturally ingrained, and we will leapfrog the curve of building supermarket brick-and-mortar, as you have in the developed climes where this is an embedded culture.”

According to Olusanya, the two biggest brick-and-mortar players have a combined market share of 0.9%, with fewer than 13 outlets in a nation of 170 million people — a significant portion of whom are migrating to the middle class.

“The fact that 65% of first-time users become repeat shoppers with us is proof that we are on to something huge,” Olusanya says.

Ecommerce innovation isn’t limited to Nigeria, but entrepreneurs around the world are closely watching what is happening there. One such UK entrepreneur is Ivan Mazour, CEO of Ometria, a software company providing an ecommerce intelligence platform to retailers.

“Ecommerce is the next frontier for emerging markets — an unstoppable wave in the evolution of retail,” he says. “The MINT countries [Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey] are the future, and Nigeria is the most interesting of this new group. As an economy, it’s projected to go from the 39th largest GDP to 13th in the next two decades.”

More importantly, Mazour adds, Nigeria is already home to many successful ecommerce giants, including Konga and Jumia, two Nigerian ecommerce companies that have raised $63.5 million and $61 million respectively from global investors. These two companies provide the inspiration for African entrepreneurs, such as’s Olusanya, as well as other more niche ecommerce companies to create Africa’s first retail hub or cluster in Lagos.

“[Ometria was] founded with a focus on bridging the gap between the knowledge that exists in developed markets. As we continue to expand globally, we are looking to Nigeria as a future ecommerce leader in the EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa] region,” Mazour says.

There’s also a wealth of exciting startups such as QSR Consult, a company that is developing three new “quick service” restaurants Grubs, Spice Bowl and Kobis in Nigeria. Tunde Ogunrinde, the company’s CEO, spent 17 years at Burger King UK and returned to Nigeria in 2009.

“There is a greater comfort with shopping online with many Nigerians nowadays due to pricing and non-payment until goods are delivered at the door of client,” Ogunrinde says. “It seems that Jumia [and] Konga are leading the market in terms of brand awareness and potential volumes. As confidence grows, this form of buying and selling will increase, but for many of these ecommerce companies, the biggest challenge is logistics and getting products to clients on time.”

So, while Bezos dreams of drones and talks hot air, and while some African companies clamber to join the race to Mount Kenya for the Flying Donkey Challenge, it’s Nigerian ecommerce startups that are doing it right now.

Moreover, they are finding quick success in one of the most competitive cities in the world. We’ll see drones over Lagos sooner than we think, and probably a lot sooner than the cities in the West.




Ten Ways Companies Drive Away Talent

This article was first published on Forbes.

If there’s one word that’s almost certain to appear somewhere on every business’s website, that word is talent. Companies of every size love to talk about talent! They can talk about talent all day long.

It’s easy to talk about talent on a website or in a recruiting brochure. It’s easy to say “We value talent more than anything!”

Talk is cheap. Attracting talented people into an organization and hanging onto them — now that’s another story.

Most employers, sad to say, do a better job of driving talented people away than reeling them in, both during the selection process and after the talented person comes on board as a new employee. They don’t do it intentionally, of course. They can’t see how their systems, policies and attitudes frustrate and repel great people. It starts with the ugly and tedious, Black Hole processes by which new employees get hired.

Those Applicant Tracking Systems are horrible talent repellents, but most of their owners don’t know they serve the same function as massive, barking, teeth-bared attack dogs at the gate.

Fearful people who believe they don’t have any power in their job search will submit to those awful systems. Switched-on people with alternatives will quickly say “Yikes, I’m not sticking around here” and apply for a job somewhere else.

Once a newcomer starts the job, there are more talent repellents waiting. Some of them are cultural. Some of them are operational.

Here are our Top Ten favorite Talent Repellents — ten ways employers drive brilliant people away from their doors.


If your firm likes to talk about talent, first take a look at your company’s job ads. Most job ads do a better job of explaining what the candidate must have than of selling the job to a possible applicant! If your job ads don’t use a human voice and spend as much time selling the job as tossing around Essential Requirements, all the talent-talk is merely lip service. (Never seen a job ad with a human voice? Here’s one.)


BLACK HOLE RECRUITING PORTALS If it takes a job-seeker an hour to complete all the mind-numbing fields in your Applicant Tracking System, the best people have already fled for greener pastures. If you’re a Recruiting Director or a curious CEO, ask your ATS vendor what the abandonment rate is on your recruiting site. How many people, in other words, start the process and then drop out of it? There’s your talent on the hoof, off to a friendlier welcome mat than you were able to lay out.


Once you start to communicate with applicants in the selection pipeline, what kinds of messages do you use? The evil Passive Voice type (“Your application has been received”) is a surefire talent barrier. Why not say “Wow! Thanks for applying for a job with us. Give us a few days to look at our openings and your background. We’ll back in touch, either way!” Then, actually close the loop. None of this mealy-mouthed “If we want to call you, we will” stuff meets the Human Workplace test. You can do better than that.


INFLEXIBLE TIME OFF POLICIESOnce a new hire comes on board, he or she can only dive into the job whole-heartedly if the rest of his or life is attended to. A client of ours took a job and quit on the first day, during orientation, when she asked the orientation leader “How would it work if I have a court case three weeks from today, a half hour away in the city? I only need to leave an hour early.”

The orientation chickadee said “There’s no provision for that. You have to come in. You don’t get time off benefits for sixty days.”

The new employee, sensing danger, said “No problem, I’ll talk to my manager about it” and the orientation gal said “I’ve already noted your name and the date. You must change your personal schedule that day.”

The newbie bailed, her hiring manager called her to say “But I would have figured it out for you!” and the ex-employee said “Culture is everything. I’m not taking a job with a manager whose response to Godzilla process is to sneak around it.” If you don’t find your voice in a case like that, when will you ever do it?


My science friends tell me that entropy is a feature of closed systems. When no new information comes in, things break down. So it is in corporations where there’s no upward feedback, such that executive leaders are spared the inconvenience of reacting to messy reality and permitted to bask in the awesomeness of their delusional plans undisturbed. If your employer doesn’t have robust, active, constant feedback mechanisms in place and an appetite for hearing about life on the street, you’re pushing away talent as we speak.


I was a corporate HR leader for decades. If you want to gauge an organization’s ability to snag and keep talent, look at its pay policies. When you knock the ball out of the park and your manager says “I’m really sorry, but I can only give you a two percent raise, because, you know, it’s our policy,” you’ve learned all you need to know about the importance of talent in your shop.

HEY, YOU STOLE MY IDEAThey say information is power. If people use information like a club to beat one another with, nothing good will happen for your clients or shareholders. If your organization is the kind where people keep quiet about their ideas to prevent them from being stolen, the universe wants you to hightail it out of there. If you’re in charge of a joint like that, you’ve got some trust-building work to do.


Some processes are good, but lots of them are cumbersome, slow and stupid. Check out our Nine Signs of a Bad Process wheel below to see what I’m talking about. If people who come to work ready to rock it are prevented from doing their work because some fear-based process is gumming up the works, I guarantee you’re losing talent. People might be sitting at their desks when you walk by, but their hearts and brains are elsewhere.


CONSTRUCTIVE SNIPINGLeaders who can coach and inspire employees are one in a million, and thank God for them! Leaders who pick and quibble and snipe are people who fear that a Mojofied team might threaten their own petty power. If your environment is a snipe-fest, good people won’t stay. How can you get anything important done in a place like that?


TRIUMPH OF THE BEST AND BROWN-NOSIEST The last Talent Repellent on our list is a culture that rewards brown-nosing and punishes honest dissent. Most of us have seen organizations like this, where Yes Men and Women are exalted and passionate people asking tough questions are silenced. Life is too short to work in a place like that. The world is too big, there are too many meaty problems to solve, and too many brilliant people for you to collaborate with in trust-based, forward-looking organizations for you to waste another femtosecond among Godzilla’s handlers.

In your job search and on the job, only the people who get you deserve you. Your gut knows the difference. Can you listen to it?


7 IT Mistakes That Will Get You Fired

It’s hard to get a good job in IT these days, but it’s all too easy to lose one.

There are lots of reasons for instant termination. Failure to fulfill your obligation to protect your employer’s digital assets or abusing your vast powers for your own nefarious ends are two sure ways to end up on the unemployment line. You could be fired for opening your mouth at the wrong time or not opening your mouth at the right one. Spying on the boss, lying to your superiors, or being directly responsible for the loss of millions of dollars in downtime through your own negligence are all excellent ways to end up on the chopping block.

Everyone messes up at some point. But some screwups are almost always fatal — to jobs, if not entire careers.

Here are seven true tales of IT pros who screwed up big and got fired quick — even if some were terminated for the right reasons. The names have been withheld to protect the guilty. Don’t let their fatal mistakes become yours.

Fatal IT mistake No. 1: Slacking on backup

It was 10:30 on a Thursday night when Eric Schlissel’s phone rang. On the line was the chief operating officer of a midsize clothing manufacturer with whom Schlissel had never spoken before. The COO, who found his company’s phone number via Google, was frantic. His plant’s ERP system had been wiped out by a virus, and they had a major deadline in the morning.

Schlissel, CEO of managed service provider GeekTek IT Services, hopped in his car and headed down to the L.A. garment district to handle the situation personally.

“Within three minutes of logging in, I realized there was nothing on the server,” says Schlissel. “All the data files were gone, the database was gone, and the ERP software was nowhere to be found. I told him this was no virus. Someone had purged the system.”

It turned out a disgruntled IT contractor had enacted revenge by wiping the garment maker’s servers. But worse news was yet to come. The backups, which were supposed to run every night, hadn’t been working for a very long time. The most recent data Schlissel could find was a year old, making it virtually worthless.

The company only survived because someone in accounting, who did not trust technology, had kept paper copies of everything. It took Schlissel and his team six months to restore all the data by hand.

“It was a $10 or $12 million company, and they probably lost $2 million as a result of this,” he says. “It was the most catastrophic IT disaster I’ve ever seen.”

The factory’s general-purpose IT guy, who was responsible for ensuring backups were made, had simply forgotten about them. He was on the unemployment lines the next day.

Failure to maintain backups is an all too common screwup, and the mistake is often fatal to one’s job security, Schlissel says.

“The first thing we do when we visit a new client is to check the backups,” Schlissel says. “This is a classic IT horror story, one we often tell clients. We’re not trying to scare them, we just want to make sure their assets are protected.”

Moral of the story: A backup in hand is worth two bushels of paper.

Fatal IT mistake No. 2: Snooping on the boss

A few months ago, Oli Thordarson got a call from the CFO of a midsize health care provider in Southern California. As CEO of Alvaka, an advanced network management services company, Thordarson and his staff are often asked to act as a virtual CIO for small businesses and to perform forensic investigations.

The CFO told Thordarson he thought someone was secretly reading his email, and he had a pretty good idea who it was: the director of IT.

The CFO said that, over the past two years, this guy had made comments about things he had no business knowing, says Thordarson. “The running joke was that the director of IT knew more about what was going on inside the company than anybody else,” he says.

Thordarson had one of his techs modify a real-time network probe so that it would send a silent alert if anyone was reading emails they shouldn’t be accessing. Within a few days, Alvaka discovered that the director of IT was indeed reading the CFO’s email — as well as messages from the CEO, the chairman, and other top brass. The next day he was reading the want ads at

This problem is more common than you might think, Thordarson adds. In roughly two-thirds of the companies Alvaka advises, techs have the ability to read any employee’s email, including that of top executives.

“Did they do it to enable support and then forget to undo it, or did they do it because they wanted to snoop?” asks Thordarson. “We don’t really know.”

Moral of the story: A fool and his job are soon parted.

Fatal IT mistake No. 3: Covering up the crime

It was a mistake that could have happened to anyone. The IT staff at a major financial institution needed to replace a disk tray for an older storage array. A staffer called the vendor and had one shipped out. But the junior sales guy at the vendor made a mistake and shipped the wrong tray — one for a newer array that was incompatible with the old one.

The array then failed catastrophically, taking the entire bank’s system offline for nearly a week and costing millions of dollars in lost transactions. That’s when they called in Anthony R. Howard to troubleshoot.

There were three big screwups, says Howard, a best-selling author (“The Invisible Enemy: Black Fox“) and independent technology consultant for Fortune 50 companies and the U.S. military. One, of course, was that the vendor shipped the wrong unit. The second was that the bank’s IT staff tried to install the array itself without waiting for the vendor to send out a qualified technician to do it for them.

The third problem was the big one, though. Almost everyone involved in this screwup lied about it, says Howard. Only one staffer had the courage to admit what really happened.

“When the IT staff saw their jobs were in danger, they began to try to protect themselves and blaming the tech support staff of the vendor,” says Howard. “After the bank’s internal team was done with its investigation and found out that only one person told the truth, he was the only one who managed to keep his job.”

Moral of the story: If the crime doesn’t get you, the cover-up will.

Fatal IT mistake No. 4: The porn identity

Late one evening a couple years back, a network admin for a Fortune 100 firm was looking for an empty backup tape. He grabbed one from the desk drawer of a senior system administrator and popped it into the drive, but was surprised to find it was already full of data. What, he wondered, could be on it? So he looked at it.

You can guess what he found.

“It was filled with porn,” says Dave Amsler, president and CIO of Foreground Security, which was called in to handle the incident. “And so were dozens of other ‘blank’ tapes in the admin’s desk. There was nothing illegal on any of the tapes, thank goodness. Still, he was terminated on the spot.”

Yet that’s hardly the worst Amsler has seen in his 14 years with Foreground, which provides managed security services for major U.S. corporations and government agencies. Amsler says he’s been called in to deal with porn problems for at least 10 clients. Twice he found IT employees running adult sites on company servers. In those cases, the personnel suddenly found themselves with lots more spare time to pursue their hobbies.

Porn filters are useless against this kind of behavior because the IT guys know how to turn them off. Even when organizations have strict policies and filters in place, high-level admins often exempt themselves from these restrictions, says Amsler.

“Sometimes rightfully so,” he adds. “Often high-level admins need to get to sites that would normally be blocked in order to do their jobs. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t at least be monitored. Even good people end up doing things they normally wouldn’t when they think no one’s watching. If the admin knows he’s being watched, that would eliminate a significant portion of this behavior.”

Moral of the story: Some things are better done at home.

sacked1Fatal IT mistake No. 5: Keeping the wrong secrets

Until recently, Dana B. was a network engineer at a major U.S. Internet provider. One day, a former colleague was told to change the IP addresses on some production routers. Because these changes could impact Internet subscribers, taking them briefly offline, the ISP typically made such changes overnight.

But this engineer didn’t like to stay late, so he changed the addresses at the end of the day before he went home, then turned off his phone so that nobody would disturb him during his off-hours.

That was his first mistake. His bigger mistake was that he consistently refused to document anything he’d done, says Dana. That meant he had no idea which IP addresses he had already used in the past — and neither did anyone else.

After he left, the interfaces failed to come up because their IP addresses had already been used, leaving nearly 5,000 subscribers without Internet access. When other engineers tried to call him to figure out what went wrong, they couldn’t reach him.

“It took a team of five network engineers several hours to find the issue and correct the problems,” says Dana. “The next day he came in and was promptly walked out.”

Moral of the story: Some secrets are better left unkept.

Fatal IT mistake No. 6: Unmitigated disaster

They thought they were ready for anything. An organization in a heavily regulated industry had spent millions building out a comprehensive disaster-recovery plan, including a dedicated fail-over data center humming with hundreds of virtual hosts and a Gigabit Ethernet connection.

But when an unplanned network outage cut the connection to its primary data center, the money the organization spent on its DR solution was for naught.

“The CTO did not have the confidence to activate the disaster-recovery plan, because they had never tested it,” says Michael de la Torre, vice president of recovery services product management for SunGard Availability Services, which was called in by the organization later to shore up its DR strategy. “Instead, he stood by for more than a day hoping the circuit would be repaired. Everyone was offline that entire time. Employees had no access to email or data files, and the organization took a pretty big hit to its reputation.”

Shortly thereafter, the CTO’s career also suffered an unplanned outage.

More than half of all organizations with disaster-recovery plans in place fail to adequately test them, notes de la Torre. Even those that do test uncover an average of five critical errors in the people, process, and tools needed to make DR work.

Disaster recovery is neither glamorous nor easy, but it’s vital to the survival of your company, he adds.

“Protecting the business may never get you promoted. But failing to do so will almost always get you fired.”

Moral of the story: Test your umbrella before the **** hits the fan.

Fatal IT mistake No. 7: Speaking truth to power

Ten years ago, “Bob” was working for a payday loans franchise with more than 1,000 locations nationwide. (Bob asked that his real name be withheld from this story.) He had been hired to rearchitect the chain’s ASP-based system, which was running ancient code on servers in every store. But first he had to prove himself by converting the stores’ dozens of Web-based legal forms into a database.

One Friday afternoon, six months into the job and two weeks before his initial trial was over, the vice president of IT came into the weekly staff meeting to present his five-year vision for the company. The veep’s two-hour speech could be summed up in four bullet points, says Bob:

  • Stay the course
  • Fix bugs
  • Don’t rock the boat
  • No new technology

“I was floored,” says Bob. “I thought, ‘What about all the stuff they hired me for?’ They were spending millions of dollars a year maintaining creaky sites written by 50 different people.”

Later that afternoon, Bob went into the VP’s office and closed the door.

“He asked me, ‘So what do you think of my vision?'” Bob says. “I said, ‘Frankly, sir, you don’t have one. What you just described was a maintenance plan.'”

The VP thanked him for his candor and complimented him on his courage. The following Monday when Bob returned to his office his key no longer worked. He was gone.

“I drove home whistling,” he says. “I’ve never been so happy to be unemployed. I decided I would never have my career depend on an empty suit ever again. The next day I started my own business, which has kept me busy ever since.”

Moral of the story: Sometimes getting yourself fired is the right thing to do.


Source : InfoWorld


The 9 most endangered Jobs in IT

IT endangeredDarwinism is no stranger to IT. Given the pace of innovation, today’s plum post is almost always one shift away from becoming tomorrow’s pink slip. But the trends currently taking hold of IT organizations may have a broader impact on IT employment than we’ve seen in years.

It’s no secret that the cloud computing revolution and the infusion of consumer devices into the workplace has wrought massive changes in IT. Job titles that were once considered secure are suddenly on the verge of extinction, thanks in part to a world where business users no longer have to go through IT to get to the technology they need to do their jobs.

Call it the new IT ice age. And tech pros who don’t evolve with the times risk joining the T-Rex and the triceratops in the tar pits.

We spoke with a number of IT pros about the jobs they see going away in the years ahead. Here are nine of the most endangered species in IT, along with advice on how you can avoid becoming one of them:

The Brown-Nosed Naysayer (Negativitus infinitus)

For decades, the Naysayer held sway over all tech decisions, wielding the word “no” like a razor-sharp claw to slash all requests, citing security or budget concerns. But the BYOD revolution and the universe of public cloud services available to users have rendered the Naysayer as harmless as a newborn kitten.

“We all know this particular type of IT pro — the ones who think the customer is never right and users are guilty until proven innocent,” says Tyler Lessard, CMO of mobile risk management company Fixmo. “They’re part of the reason people are now storing business documents on Dropbox and connecting their own iPads to the corporate network without informing IT, creating new security nightmares. They’re being replaced by a new generation of consumer-savvy IT pros who appreciate that we need to make room for employee choice and freedom — as intimidating as that may be.”

Organizations where the Naysayer still reigns supreme will have a tough time attracting top talent, warns Vincent Schiavo, CEO of DeviceLock, a provider of data leak prevention solutions.

“The prime habitat for the Naysayer are organizations unable to hire the most sought-after recent graduates,” he says. “They’d rather work somewhere with a more progressive stance on enabling Android, iPhones, and other innovations in personal productivity technology.”

How to avoid extinction: Practice forming the word “yes” with your lips, and embrace the new tech revolution. Then develop a mobile device management strategy that allows for granular control of devices and policy enforcement for social media, says Schiavo.

The Data Center Dinosaur (Tyrannoserver rex)

With deep knowledge of a particular type of hardware, coding language, or development methodology, these once-mighty creatures wore their expertise like a protective shell. Now they’re being replaced in the evolutionary chain by flexible generalists with a broader skill set.

“In the past these clever creatures were coveted for their deep experience in one specific skill or tool,” says Ed Nathanson, director of talent acquisition at Rapid7, a vulnerability management provider. “But thanks to Darwinism, IT pros with a narrow field of focus are largely confined to the ‘short-term contractor’ habitat.”

At Purdue University, IT people like this are called “server huggers,” says CIO Gerry McCartney. “They’ve defined their job by the piece of equipment they maintain,” he says. “That’s a risky posture to have from a professional standpoint. I think there will be very little need to have local hardware-oriented technical knowledge.”

How to avoid extinction: Broaden and diversify your knowledge base now, while there’s still time, says Greg Schulz, senior adviser for the StorageIO Group, an IT infrastructure consultancy.

“If you are the hardware guy, you better start learning and embracing software,” he says. “If you are the software geek, time to appreciate the hardware. If you are infrastructure-focused, it’s time to learn about the business and its applications. You don’t want to be overgeneralized, but make sure to balance broader knowledge with depth in different areas.”

The Red-Bellied Repair Tech (Breakfixus familiarus)

Repair Techs were once a common sight in offices, called upon to swap out dead hard drives, replace fried motherboards, and keep expensive desktops up and running. But the plummeting cost of hardware and popularity of cheap mobile devices have made them largely an anachronism.

“The species was highly territorial, thriving on the native fauna of the small-business and home computer market,” notes John Caughell, marketing coordinator for Argentstratus, a provider of cloud-based applications. “Sadly this once proud beast is fast on its way to extinction as the world moves to devices that seldom see a flat surface, except to recover and recharge.”

Hardware has gotten so inexpensive that it’s cheaper to replace something that’s broken than to waste time and money fixing it, adds Dennis Madderra, chief operations officer for Simpletech Solutions, a managed IT services firm.

“With workstation prices falling, and more and more applications running from virtualized platforms or Web-based interfaces, waiting for a tech to replace a failed power supply or video card is quickly becoming more expensive than just replacing the box entirely,” he says. “Why not replace the box with a freshly imaged computer and be off and running in minutes rather than hours?”

How to avoid extinction: Consider taking a horizontal leap to server maintenance, says Madderra. “Anyone who can quickly diagnose hardware issues and errors on a server will have work for years to come.”

The Lesser-Spotted System Administrator (Networkus rebooti)

Like worker ants or soldier bees, System Administrators have played a small but vital role in the IT ecosphere by keeping the lights on and the bits flowing. Now their numbers are in peril, as admin jobs that haven’t been outsourced already may soon find a home in the cloud.

Jerry Kelly, North American CIO for holding company Diversified Agency Services, says email admins, for one, may soon be found only in museums.

“Ask any startup if they want to build and manage their own email server,” says Kelly. “They will stare at you like you’re crazy. Most IT directors want to get email out of their environments even more. If your company hasn’t moved email to either a private or public cloud, there is a good chance they will soon. Either way, the traditional email admin role at a company will end up like the dodo.”

Low-level administrator jobs will be tougher to come by, particularly at small and midsize firms, says Brian Finnegan, associate professor and faculty chair of IT at Peirce College in Philadelphia. While they won’t disappear entirely, these tasks will migrate to cloud companies where the demands are higher and the competition stiffer.

“Network, storage, and related infrastructure administration jobs — the kind of work that keeps the bits flowing through the pipes in individual organizations — are available with the cloud providers, but you need to be ready for the big leagues,” he says. “Those that do remain will require engineer- and architect-grade skills. Working in the server room at your small or midsize company is a world apart from working in a server room at Google or Rackspace.”

How to avoid extinction: Become a security wonk or a data analytics expert, two tech fields that are flourishing and will for some time to come, says Purdue’s McCartney.

The Pink-Crested Credentialist (Certificatus maximus)

Trailing a long list of technical certifications behind it like a vestigial tail, the Credentialist can still be found in its natural habitat — usually the HR department of a company it wants to work for. But it has been marginalized by IT pros with actual skills and experience, says Mike Meikle, CEO of the Hawkthorne Group, a boutique management and technology consulting firm.

“This species is known for taking so many certification courses you can’t figure out how they manage to get actual work done — besides installing Transcender software,” he adds.

The days when you could slap some Cisco or Microsoft certifications onto your ré³µmé ¡nd write your own ticket are long over, says Lenny Fuchs, owner of My IT Department, which provides contract tech services to small businesses.

“Without the work experience to back it up, certifications are almost useless,” he says. Fuchs adds he gets a kick out of seeing ré³µmé³ that read “John Doe, MCTS, CCA, CTSGIT, MCITP, CCNA, MCP. Last held position: Assistant manager at Starbucks.”

Thanks to increased automation, even high-level Cisco Certified Infrastructure Engineers could be facing the same fate as encyclopedia salesmen, paperboys, and switchboard operators, says Dante Malgrino, CEO and co-founder of Embrane, a platform-as-a-service vendor.

“In the new programmed network model, it will no longer be about humans configuring machines via a CLI or GUI, but rather more about machines and software communicating via programmatic interfaces,” he says.

How to avoid extinction: Become an engineer/programmer by mastering a scripting language like Python, Ruby, or PHP, says Malgrino. Or turn your attention to creating your own intellectual property, such as journal articles and presentations at industry conferences, advises Meikle. “That will help you truly stand out from the crazed credentialists.”

The Common Web Designer (Templator fillerupus)

At one time they numbered in the millions; now there are only a handful left. Automated site-creation tools and increasing dependence on sophisticated marketing techniques has deprived millions of HTML and Flash designers of the natural Web lands they once called home.

“Dropping boring prose into a template isn’t going to cut it in today’s marketing maelstrom,” says Simpletech’s Madderra. “Companies that wish to flourish online need to build content based upon solid SEO [search engine optimization] principles utilizing media, writing, and design elements organized around a marketing plan. The Internet is swarming with companies champing at the bit to provide these services, some even for free.”

As Fuchs from My IT Department notes, “My mom has a website. She made it herself with Go Daddy’s tools. Once your mom can master a technology, experts begin to disappear.”

How to avoid becoming extinct: Become an SEO maven, says Fuchs.

“With all these site-creation tools and the move to less dynamic websites that are more friendly to mobile devices, Web designers need to become to SEO experts very quickly or they will be out of a job.”

The Woolly Unix Mammoth (Mainframus obsolete)

Once one of the dominant creatures in the enterprise biosphere, Unix servers — and, by extension, the people paid to tend them — are heading for the tar pits. Not because they can’t still do the work, but because they’re being replaced by more nimble and less expensive Linux boxes, says Anthony R. Howard, author of “The Invisible Enemy: Black Fox” and a technology consultant for Fortune 50 companies and the U.S. military.

When Oracle bought Sun in 2010, it de-emphasized Sun hardware and let Unix support dwindle, says Howard, while failing to keep up with the increased capabilities and dramatically lower costs of open source alternatives.

“A Unix server costs more than $25,000 per server,” says Howard. “Linux can now run most of the same applications and costs only around $3,000 per server. One company I personally worked with saved more than a billion dollars over five years by migrating off of proprietary Unix architecture onto Linux. As more folks migrate onto Linux, the Unix admin will eventually go the way of the T-Rex. They ate well during their time upon the earth, but their days are numbered.”

How to avoid extinction: Build up your Linux chops in a hurry, and become an expert on which applications can migrate to Linux and which ones need to stay on Sun, says Howard. “When your org does decide to migrate, you can lead the effort instead of getting left behind.”

The Purple-Tufted Programmer (Codus cobolus)

Developers who cut their teeth on Cobol or Fortran are a dying breed, but they’re not the only ones. IT pros who hack code — and only hack code — may quickly wind up on the wrong side of the evolutionary divide.

Routine programming jobs are largely being offshored or eliminated outright, notes Peirce College’s Finnegan.

“If you aspire to plan to write code for a living, you’d better be prepared to do it at the level of software engineer,” he says. “That means doing it for a large organization on a very large scale, with an engineer’s attention to process and quality control, as well as the people skills to function in such an environment.”

Even mobile developers aren’t immune, notes Chris O’Connor, CEO of Taptera, a provider of enterprise-ready, social sales mobile applications.

“Apps are too cheap and too awesome these days to truly warrant having an internal mobile team building a company a proprietary app,” he says. “These internal teams, who spend most of their time navel-gazing at their BlackBerrys, are being replaced by people who listen to end-users and adopt best-of-breed apps for specific enterprise problems.”

How to avoid extinction: As with the Data Center Dinosaur and the Sys Admin, coders who want to survive need to expand their expertise and align their skills with the needs of the business, says StorageIO’s Schulz.

“Coders and script junkies need to also be integrators of business logic, cloud tools, and more, or they’ll join the ranks of mainframers who are becoming extinct,” he says.

The Ridge-Backed Technocrat (Bureacratus extremis)

For years they ensured job security by building technology silos and defending their turf via arcane policies only they could understand. Now their natural habitat is overrun by business managers who no longer need to seek approval for technology purchases, and threatened by executives who don’t understand why they need to buy more boxes to “scale” their already sprawling networks.

“This species is being forcibly driven into extinction because of the convoluted and archaic policies they force on unsuspecting users and line managers,” notes Rob Enderle, principal consultant with the Enderle Group. “They can single-handedly turn jobs into a living hell and make surviving an approval process harder than swimming to the center of the earth.”

The technocrat purposefully creates network sprawl to address scalability and performance problems, but ends up creating massive amounts of maintenance and management work, says Peter Doggart, director of product marketing for Crossbeam, a network security platform provider.

“In the past when products failed to perform as expected, technocrats could just insist more boxes were needed and no one would be the wiser,” he says. “That day is coming to an end.”

How to avoid extinction: Stop defending your turf and start building alliances with other teams, says Doggart.

“Technocrats can survive by making things more efficient and saving money for the application guys,” he adds. “They need to embrace a next-generation model and adopt consolidation technologies that can eliminate pain within the organization.”




Did Apple Kick The Ball Into its Own Goal With its Campaign Against Flash?

By forcing Web developers, and ultimately Adobe, out of the Flash business, Apple made HTML5 apps better. That’s good for Safari users, but it’s also good for users on other Web platforms, like Android. If there’s a truly good universal platform for online apps, it stands to reason that the smart developer will build apps for it, since this way the app will be available to the largest number of users. Right?

Furthermore, now that Adobe has HTML5 religion, the company is releasing high-quality HTML5 developer tools, migrating its Flash developers over to the new platform. So we should be about to see a flood of new Web-based mobile apps.

All this appears to be just as Apple intended: Steve Jobs’ campaign to rid the world of Flash is succeeding. The Web is getting better apps and the Web-browsing experience on Apple’s mobile devices is getting better.

But this could be bad news for Apple’s lucrative App Store business. While Apple takes a 30 percent cut of all app sales through its store (still the only way for consumers to get apps), Apple gets 0 percent of “Web apps” loaded up through the browser. The better HTML5 gets, the less developers will write apps, less money Apple will make, and the less unique the iPhone and iPad will be.

I talked with the CEO of a Web company who is excited about the advances in HTML5 because he sees a future in which the devices and operating systems are on the same level. It’s a world where new products, like Microsoft Windows phones, can come along and be instantly competitive. And where companies like his can have a shot at dominance in their market niche after building only one app, the HTML5 version.

In other words, Apple, in pushing the world toward HTML5, is killing its own golden goose.

Or is it?

The counter argument comes from another CEO, one who’s built a successful business around both Web services, and software for mobiles and traditional computers. He says that apps are here to stay, because the “lowest common denominator” strategy (using the Web) doesn’t cut it for developers ultimately, nor for consumers, and most importantly not for the tech megaliths behind mobile operating systems: Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

The challenge for apps developers, my source explains, is getting their apps seen for more than a fleeting moment. For those making Web apps, there’s just no good way. Even a good review of a Web app on a popular site has only a temporary impact. The way to get your app in front of potential customers, time and again, is to get it featured in an app store.

You do that by building an app that highlights its unique hardware capabilities—the features that the hardware company is using to sell the product. These will likely be features that you can’t access today, or in the foreseeable future, with a Web app. This isn’t because HTML5 won’t advance, but because the device and OS manufacturers will always do their best to keep their products somewhat ahead of the lower-common-denominator Web platform. It is how they sell products.

So if you make a mobile app, you want to feed into that trend, because it will feed you.

And what about HTML5? It’s good for apps that don’t depend on the app stores for sales. The means enterprise apps, essentially. HTML5 has its place in consumer apps, too, including inside many successful mobile apps. But not for the core features or the main UI.

Relying on HTML5 to quickly get to broad compatibility across the mobile landscape is a trap, my guy says. To succeed, you need to tackle each platform separately. In fact, he says, you might want to build apps that only work on the latest and greatest version of a phone, and intentionally not on previous models. Yes, fewer people will be able to use it. But everyone who buys the new toy will. The more your app makes the hot new hardware look good, the more it’ll get promoted by the hardware or OS manufacturer. That can give your app presence it could not otherwise get. Once your product is succeeding on the brand-new hardware, you can start adapting it to other platforms.

Try to conquer the entire mobile world at once and you’ll have no marketing partners. Or, put more starkly: It’s hard to win when nobody loses.

Source : Linux Today

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

Lifestyle Religion

How Nigeria Influenced Steve Jobs Belief In God

Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs turned Eve’s apple, the symbol of fallen humankind, into a religious icon for true believers in technology.

The just-released biography on Steve Jobs by author Walter Isaacson details all the ins-and-outs of the late entrepreneur’s computer empire. But — as is the goal in all biographies — it’s the personal revelations that make it a compelling read.

Following his death earlier this month, the outpouring of grief for Jobs was huge and unprecedented. All over the world, people felt a keen sense of loss. Not since Michael Jackson has there been such an outpouring of public grief. And it’s never before been lavished on the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation.

Steve Jobs — although raised by Lutheran parents — shunned religion. “In July 1968 Life Magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra (Eastern Nigeria). Jobs took it to Sunday school and confronted the church’s pastor. “If I raise my finger will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?”

The Pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.”

Jobs then pulled out the Life Cover and asked, “Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?”

He never went back to church.

Like Bill Gates he did not believe in a supernatural deity nor any organised belief structure.

Steve studied Zen Buddhism in his youth. One of his long time spiritual advisors has been a buddhist guru and Zen Master Kobun Chino. He even married Steve and Lauren. Therefore we can safely say buddhism has influenced Steve’s life and choices.

But, apparently, he still thought there was a 50% chance that God exists.

Isaacson conducted over 40 interviews with Jobs, some of them taped right before his death. He reveals several of the best stories from the biography, including the discussion he had with Jobs about death and the afterlife, explaining that for Jobs, the odds of there being a God were 50-50, but that he thought about the existence of God much more once he was diagnosed with cancer.

However, whatever his religious belief may be, he definitely believed there is a heaven and in making an impact on people around him. In his words, “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.


Google+ vs. Facebook

The September 2011 edition of the PCWorld magazine is out and one article that did catch my attention is the comparison of Facebook with its yet to be launched, but extremely threatening rival, Google+ (Google Plus).

In Nigeria, Google+ is yet to catch on, with most people not even aware of the new big entrant into the Social Networking circles.

Google+ is still in what they term “Field Testing” stage, meaning that the services have not been opened to the public yet, but to just a select few. These select few are in excess of 25 Million as of today. This may seem insignificant to the 750 Million strong membership of Facebook, analysts expect that there would be a membership explosion once the doors are thrown open. However, those who are unwilling to wait till then may have a privileged feel of the Google+ services here.

So, what is it that Google+ is offering that is so different from that of Facebook?

Matter of fact, not much.

Networking via Circles

The manner in which you add friends to Google+ sets it apart: The service culls a list of friends from your Gmail account, and you drag and drop them into “Circles.” You can create Circles for different parts of your life, such as for work, college friends, or a carpool. You update your Google+ Stream (the counterpart to Facebook’s News Feed), but unlike on Facebook you can share posts with specific Circles. That way your coworkers don’t see the updates meant for your softball team, and vice versa.

Google+ doesn’t require Friend Requests. You can follow anyone, profiles are all public, and anything you choose to share publicly can be viewed by anyone on the Web, Google+ member or not. Think of Google+ as a mix between Twitter and blogging tool Tumblr.

Among other nifty features, Google+ has Hangout, which lets up to ten people chat via webcam simultaneously. (Facebook is meeting that challenge, announcing a partnership with Skype for one-on-one video calls.) But for the most part Google+ borrows heavily from Facebook, offering features such as photo tagging, posting on friends’ walls, and the ability to post a video to your Stream with one simple URL.

Will the Circle Stay Unbroken?

The future of Google+ is anyone’s guess. How long can Google maintain the private-club atmosphere before it’s pressured to invite big brands, advertisers, and the masses? Gaming, commerce, and dancing-cat videos can’t be too far off for Google+ if the network’s population swells.

On top of that, one privacy misstep or product-quality blunder could doom the project. Google is trying to avoid privacy problems in light of the Buzz debacle, when users’ contacts were briefly exposed to the public. That episode triggered an FTC investigation and a settlement in which Google agreed to submit to privacy audits for the next 20 years.

The biggest item on critics’ lists concerns how Google’s ad business might fit into Google+. “If you marry the strength of the search that Google has with the behavioral base of social media that Facebook has, that’s a one-two punch,” says Judy Shapiro, an blogger and CEO of EngageSimply. “But our privacy becomes the collateral damage.”

Google+ vs. Facebook

With 750 million members, Facebook doesn’t have much to worry about – yet. But instead of wondering whether Google+ can beat Facebook, we ought to ask whether they can coexist.

The idea that they can offer different kinds of social media and get along peacefully isn’t crazy. People have made Flikr albums, Twitter profiles, AIM handles, YouTube channels, and Tumblr pages. Surely there’s room for one more?

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Gadgets Mobile

Apple is Taking All of My Money (and I’m Okay With That)

I’m trapped in an interesting quandary these days: Apple is taking all of my money, albeit in .99 cent increments at times, and I don’t find myself terribly concerned.

You see, I moved over to an iPhone 4 from a Motorola Droid X several weeks ago. While  I have a few Apple devices that i truly enjoy–my iPad, an Apple TV–I wasn’t fully assimilated into the cult of Apple. There was one lone hold out that kept me pure: my phone. In fact, when Verizon got the original Droid I was in heaven. Verizon FINALLY had a “smart” phone that put me on par with all of those Apple fanboys. Take THAT, iPhreaks! I now had a phone that could easily compete, and in many ways surpass, your beloved device. When I came to SmarterTools last year they even opened a Verizon business account solely to accommodate my desire to keep my Android device. Everyone else here uses iPhones, so I saw my commitment to Android as my one display of solidarity for “openness” and as a way to display my disdain for the heavy handedness and closed infrastructure of Apple.

Then, in October 2010 I was given a MacBook Pro as my work laptop. From there the lure of Apple became too powerful. With my MacBook and with the iPad I found that things just worked: no headaches, no learning curve, no hiccups or power issues or BSoD. I found myself looking at my beloved Droid X with something akin to disdain. It just wasn’t as easy, it didn’t “just work.” So, I made the switch when an iPhone 4 became available. (I even left Verizon for AT&T, which was absolutely the LAST thing I figured I’d do.)

All of this brings me back to my original point: with the move, I find myself actually buying apps–and not just for the iPhone, but for the iPad and even in the Mac App Store. I’m actually buying more software than I ever have in the past. With the Droid, I bought maybe two apps–one for viewing and editing Microsoft docs and a game. With my conversion to Apple, I’m buying things alarmingly quickly and without much second thought. When I brought this up to the CEO of SmarterTools, his first question was: “Why?”

At the time I didn’t have a good answer, but given some distance I think I DO know why. As I said before, it’s all so easy. Devices flow together nicely. I can go from OS X to iOS and don’t feel like I lose anything. It’s easy to modify a document on my iPad, then open it and continue to modify it on the MacBook Pro (seamlessly using Dropbox). In addition, things just work like you expect them to. Apps look like they should.

With Android, interfaces were sort of hit-and-miss. (This blog really hits the nail on the head when it comes to this phenomenon: Android Gripes.) And while I could move from my Droid to my PC, that transition was a bit more jarring. There was a difference in how things looked and how they performed when moving from Android to Windows. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I recognize it now. It’s even more apparent now that I go back and look at Android devices (my wife uses a Droid and a few of the developers at work have Xooms).

Easy… That’s about the best word for it. With Apple, things just seem to be so easy. It’s especially easy to spend all of your money on apps. If Android ever gets to this point in terms of reach and ubiquity–and to be fair, I think Microsoft is moving quickly in this direction with the way they’re integrating their hot properties (Office, Windows Live, etc.) into Windows Phone–all bets are off.

Will they ever get me to switch back? Maybe, but for now, I’m living the life of a fanboy and loving it.




Ten Reasons Why BlackBerry Is Screwed

RIM, the maker of BlackBerry, was absolutely destroyed today in the stock market. But that’s just part of the story. RIM is screwed.

1. Subpar Phones

RIM’s current lineup of phones is subpar, to say the least. Worse, basically none of the current models will get the marginally newer and better BlackBerry OS 7.0 update. Yet, RIM says there are going to be “delays in new product introductions into the very late part of August.” Ugh.

2. Upcoming leaked products are boooooooring

Just look what is coming up next, supposedly: Stuff like the BlackBerry Bold 9900. Sure, it’ll run BlackBerry OS 7 and might have a touchscreen! But it’s also the same handset RIM has been pumping out for the last five years.

3. The Playbook

RIM’s jump into the tablet market has been pretty floppy. The PlayBook is impressive under the hood and we liked it, at first. But the lack of basic features like email—something BlackBerry is very known for!—and a basically deserted app store makes it non-buyable. For basically anyone.

4. Blackberry App World is a ghost town

BlackBerry App World debuted in 2009 and had about 26,000 applications as of April 2011. Android had over 200,000 apps and iOS was pushing 350,000. More importantly, the number of quality apps? A barren wasteland.

5. Developers hate making BlackBerry apps

It’s a bad sign when a developer who wants to code for your platform, throws up his hands in exasperation and says “screw it.” It’s even worse when that letter is posted on the Internet, goes viral and many nod in agreement.

6. Financials are in ruins

RIM’s latest quarterly earnings were lower than expected. Terribly so. The expectation for next quarter has been cut 20 percent and serious layoffs loom. Hope you weren’t planning on using your RIM stock to fund your retirement.

7. Leadership is struggling

RIM still has two CEOs, neither of which is a bold, innovative leader, even if Mike Lazaridis is an engineering genius. The pair spent a large portion of RIM’s recent earnings conference call justifying why this co-leadership is a good thing. How about they just prove it with awesome phones and tons of happy users?

8. Even BlackBerry owners don’t want BlackBerrys

A survey from last year suggested more than half of current BlackBerry owners were going to switch to Android or iOS. Enough said.

9. Enterprise interest is falling

This is death. RIM has a stronghold in the corporate world, but its grip is loosening. In the past, everyone from the CEO to the office manager had a BlackBerry on their hip. Slowly but surely, those BlackBerry handsets are being replaced with iPhones and Droids. Even the iPad is gaining ground. Apple’s Tim Cook said recently that “more than 80 percent” of Fortune 100 companies are testing out the iPad.

10. Other companies are eating RIM’s lunch

RIM’s biggest advantage was its push email and BlackBerry Messenger service. Now just about every smartphone platform has push email (in some form) and Apple’s new iMessage is gunning for BBM. BlackBerry OS 7 is already behind, and it’s not even out yet. Just look at the voice control and navigation built into Android.

Co-CEO Mike Lazardis tried to put a positive spin on the company’s “transitional” period when he said, “RIM has taken a unique path, and why we do things might not be obvious from the outside.” Someone needs to tell big Mike that it’s time to do away with this smokescreen and start releasing quality handsets ASAP. If it doesn’t, RIM is going to end up like Palm.


Source – Gizmodo


Big Brother Is Watching

“If the Internet were your living room, there would be crowds of people peeking through the windows,” says Mark Ghuneim, CEO of New York digital marketing agency Wiredset, “and you would have unwittingly granted them permission to watch and record everything going on.” Among the Peeping Toms: George Orwell’s figurative Big Brother—the government—but also, potentially, your employer (and future employers) and marketers, as well as so-called data miners who’ve made a multibillion-dollar business out of buying and selling intimate details about you.

In an age of social networking and oversharing, our lives are open books. What we do in our homes with our technology doesn’t always give us what the law calls “a reasonable expectation of privacy.” How easily can others get their hands on all the information floating around cyberspace about you and your family?

Who Can Read Your E -Mail

You just sent a message to a friend about a trip to St. Petersburg you’re thinking of taking. Somewhere a computer is probably “reading” that e-mail with keen interest, using sophisticated software to discern your plan to travel as well as the specific destination—which is why you might suddenly start noticing your e-mail provider serving up ads for, say, St. Petersburg hotels and restaurants.

Google, whose Gmail service keys ads to e-mail content, announced in late March that it will be refining its system to serve up more “relevant” ads (“For example,” Google helpfully explains, “if you’ve recently received a lot of messages about photography or cameras, a deal from a local camera store might be interesting”). The company reassures users that the process is “fully automated” and that “no humans read your messages.”

Whether you use Gmail or another service—and no matter how much information about yourself you volunteered when setting up your account—any e-mail you send from your home is likely to be associated with a specific IP (Internet protocol) address. In other words, if you set up a Hotmail account under the name Jane Doe, it may be directly traceable to you by law enforcement. (Prosecutors across the United States have successfully sought to subpoena records from Internet service providers to demonstrate such links in criminal cases.) You may think you’ve sent an anonymous e-mail, but for all practical purposes, it’s as good as signed.

Of course, if you use an anonymous service like GuerrillaMail—which allows you to create a temporary e-mail address that lasts just one hour—and log in from a public location such as a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi Internet access, you should be able to cover your e-mail tracks. But such disposable e-mail addresses (which some people use to gain access to websites that require an e-mail address during the registration process, hoping to avoid spam) aren’t practical for the vast majority of us.

On some sites, the price of admission is your surrender of privacy.

And as for e-mail you send from work, beware: Dr. Darren Hayes, a Pace University professor and expert in data security, says, “The legal presumption is that no matter what you do on your employer’s network, there should be no expectation of privacy.” In other words, your employer doesn’t have to tell you that the computer on your desk and everything that passes through it is being automatically monitored.

The San Diego–based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, which maintains an informative rundown of employee privacy rights (and lack thereof) at, is fairly blunt about it: “If an electronic mail system is used at a company, the employer owns it and is allowed to review its contents.” Whenever you visit a website, chances are the site will insert and/or update a small bit of code on your computer called a cookie, which allows that website to track your visits as well as monitor where else you might end up surfing. As Wiredset’s Ghuneim explains, “Marketers buy, collect, and process many data types, including location data, brand preferences, purchase activity, and behavioral data. The data collected by Web browsers adds to each of those areas, and marketers can grab that information as long as it’s disclosed in their posted privacy policy.”

Who Can Track Your Web-Surfing History

Michael Fertik, CEO of, recommends that you “always browse in privacy mode.” (In Firefox, look for Start Private Browsing under the Tools menu; in Internet Explorer, click the Safety link, then select InPrivate Browsing; in Safari, look for Private Browsing under the main menu.) “That might mean,” he adds, “that you have to log in every time you go to your banking site, but guess what: That’s better anyway.” It’s important to note that some websites won’t function properly unless you allow them to place cookies on your computer. In other words, the price of admission is your surrender of privacy.

Every Web browser allows you to clear cookies after visiting sites. That’s a useful tactic if, for instance, you’re checking e-mail on a computer that other people can access.

Both Internet Explorer (from Micro soft) and Firefox (from Mozilla) recently added so-called do-not-track features designed to limit the amount of information marketers can collect about you as you surf the Web. So far, though, marketer participation in do-not-track programs amounts to self-policing, as there is no force of law behind them. That’s why the U.S. Senate’s commerce committee has been considering legislation that would mandate the ability of consumers to opt out of being tracked.

Keep in mind that clearing your cookies or turning on a do-not-track feature does not erase your tracks. Your service provider may maintain detailed logs of every site you’ve visited, and other evidence of your surfing habits may persist on your computer. In 2007, a New Jersey woman was convicted of murdering her husband. Before the crime, she’d entered four words into Google’s search box: how to commit murder.

Comments left anonymously, or under assumed names, on website message boards are traceable too. The administrator of a site, for instance, can see the IP address of the computer of any posted comment—information that can be subpoenaed by law enforcement. (Some websites even make IP addresses of commenters visible to other commenters to not so subtly encourage civility.)

As for social networks,’s Fertik maintains that even the most rigorous privacy settings are not good enough: “The social networks will still take your data and give other people access to it. That’s their business model. So just assume that no matter what you post, no matter how private you think it is, it’s going to find its way to someone else.”

While Facebook, for instance, allows you to limit what nonfriends can see, people in your social circle may not have the same scruples about your information. And once information is out there, it can be used against you. In 2010, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that four of five surveyed divorce attorneys reported seeing information from social networks being used in divorce cases. In 1988, Congress passed the Video Privacy Protection Act after a D.C. newspaper published Judge Robert Bork’s video-rental records during his unsuccessful confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court. Fast forward to 2011: Chances are no matter what you watch on television—through cable or via a service like Netflix—at some level, it’s being tracked digitally, seamlessly, and automatically.

Who Can Track What You’re Watching on TV

In fact, cable companies such as Cablevision have been experimenting with “addressable ads” that deliver commercials tailored to your household. Bob Fetter of Massachusetts- based Pluris Marketing, a company that helps cable providers and other firms conduct such so-called data mining, doesn’t think that’s always cause for concern: “Sometimes sharing your data leads to a better customer experience.” For instance, Disney and Toys“R”Us have participated in Cablevision’s tests, and while they don’t reveal whom they’re targeting, it’s obvious that they’re interested in reaching, for instance, middle-class households with children. Their spots might be more welcome than, say, commercials for erectile-dysfunction drugs. Those who balk at addressable advertising can, of course, opt out. The burden, in other words, is on you, the consumer. “In the past decade, the stakes for privacy have dramatically changed,” says Jules Polonetsky of the D.C.-based advocacy group Future of Privacy Forum. Today, though, even if you do all the right things on your computer—surf in private mode, enable the do-not-track feature, etc.—you are likely being followed more closely than ever, thanks to what you’re carrying around in your pocket or purse. “Your cell phone,” Polonetsky points out, “is a sophisticated computer that knows all your contacts, including all your friends, and knows your location because you always have it with you.”

What Your Cell Phone Can Reveal About You

As the New York Times reported this spring, a German politician recently sued his cell phone provider, Deutsche Telekom, to force it to reveal the data it was tracking about him. It turned out that over six months, the company had recorded his exact location, in the form of longitude and latitude coordinates, more than 35,000 times. As the law stands in the United States, cellular providers don’t have to reveal to their subscribers what sort of information they routinely collect and to what degree. Just the same, for most users, the benefits may outweigh privacy concerns.

For instance, even cell phones that lack sophisticated global positioning system (GPS) circuitry can determine your location by triangulating your distance to nearby cell phone towers. Good news if you’re lost in the Dismal Swamp, of course, and good news for law and order. Both GPS and tower data have successfully been used in court to demonstrate a suspect’s proximity to a crime scene.

Verizon, incidentally, has a service that’s specifically designed to invade privacy—of children. Verizon Chaperone uses GPS to allow parents to pinpoint the location of their kid’s phone at any time (on the theory that kids are entirely inseparable from their mobiles). But the biggest privacy threat to cell phone users, both children and adults, may be one they bring on themselves through services like Foursquare, which lets you publicly check in to locations (for example, announcing to your friends that you’re at the mall), and Facebook and Twitter, which let you add your locations to updates and tweets.

In fact, in the winter of 2010, a group of activists launched to raise awareness about the danger of broadcasting your location to the world. Indeed, last September, police in Nashua, New Hampshire, busted a burglary ring that targeted homes whose occupants had posted their whereabouts on Facebook, graciously letting thieves figure out exactly when they wouldn’t be home.