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You can take that to the bank

So how is this for a crazy story I heard about via the online grapevine: some crooks in America built a fake ATM machine and stuck it on a wall on a busy street. People went up to this machine, stuck in their electronic banking card, punched in their pin, and then got a message on the screen that read: “System error – please call your bank branch.”

And of course, the machine swallowed their card. Just think about the genius of this wicked con story. You go up to a machine, unsuspecting. You insert your card and type in your pin. Then you think something has gone wrong and you have to call your bank. You have no reason to believe there is any wrongdoing so, yes, while you are annoyed that the machine gulped down your card, you don’t realise you have just been robbed. Or are about to be robbed.

What happens now is that the con artists have your card and your pin number. They simply walk on over to the real ATM machine down the road and withdraw your cash. By the time you actually call your bank they have withdrawn your full daily allowance. At a few hundreds cards a day and we are talking substantial loot. Keep reading →

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Posted in the category: Insight

Selling the Internet

The Internet is a fascinating place, er, space. I have been online since day one, well, you know what I mean. And I have seen some funky stuff going on in cyberspace. Back in 1993, when the Internet first began to make news, myself and a bunch of hyperactive computer nerds took the streets in an effort to evangelise this new world. If was a tough gig.

But it was filled with inspired adventures and light-hearted moments. I wanted to touch on some of those moments in today’s column as I was reminded a few months ago of how fast the world has changed (and is still changing).

A friend of mine recently told me that her husband thought he had broken the Internet. I remember over 10 years ago people calling us up saying that wanted to buy the Internet. The most common phrase we heard was “We would like to Internet”. So, let’s go back a short while and see how colourful our world has become.

Let’s start off by pondering over the famous chicken and egg equation. Keep reading →

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Posted in the category: Insight

Hot spots actually

I got to tell you a hot story. Well, er, a hot spot story actually.I am sitting here at Heathrow airport and voila, my WiFi enabled laptop picks up a hot spot provided by T Mobile. I have a bunch of e-mails in my outbox so I am keen to go online, sync up my laptop with our mail server back at IS via my VPN client (ie, with a secure encrypted “tunnel”) and then the e-mails will be on their way.

I have a little bit of time before my connecting flight so I figured I would also work on my latest column. Ok, so the hot spot story. Well, you put in your credit card number etc. and you get one hour of wireless Internet access. Sounds perfect.

I have just over an hour to spare before my next flight. So, I sync up, the e-mails hit the Net and then I do a bit of thinking about a bunch of stuff and then I decide to get something to eat. Ok, I am back. Had a quick bite. But, wait a minute, when I fire up my laptop again and go online it tells me I only have 20 minutes of online time left with T Mobile. And this got me thinking. Keep reading →

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Posted in the category: Insight

Networking power and Corporation Community

Ronnie AptekerPulling power. Buying power. The power in numbers.

Today’s column is all about the power of networks, and networking. The opposite of networking is not working, as a wise man once said to me.

Have you ever walked into a store and asked for a cash discount. And how about a bulk discount?

Not so easy when you are on your own. But if you knew of someone else who wanted to buy the same car, say, then perhaps you could go to the car dealer and ask for a better price if you purchased two new vehicles instead of one. And perhaps you could now go and find a few more friends who want the same car.

As your network of liked-minded buyers grows, then so does your leverage. Networking is all about leverage. Both offline and online. Keep reading →

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Posted in the category: Insight

From Benoni to Footskating: Making Movies in South Africa

FootskatingThis past week was a very big week for the footskaters.

Yes, the M word is my starting point for today’s column. M as in movie. As in magic.

And there’s also something else that’s even more special with an M, but that we will leave for another time and place.

Yes, this past week we tested the new Footskating movie; the all digital guerilla style adventure that was made with a handful of crew, a fist full of dollars, and a lot of heart and soul. And the good news, we passed the test. Keep reading →

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Posted in the category: Insight

MySpace Not Our Space

In one of my earlier columns I touched on the phenomena known as MySpace. There has been so much global media attention on this web site that I thought we should spend a bit more time exploring what exactly is going on here.

MySpace has more than 90 million active users (over 200 million as of Nov 2007) and is growing at an overwhelming rate, with 280,000 new users joining each day. Daily page views are second only to Yahoo with over one billion impressions per day. And consider, all of this without any marketing campaign. So, let’s have a look at the picture behind the picture. Let’s think about what this means for this online magnet’s new owner.

MySpace was bought my Rupert Murdoch‘s NewsCorp for $580 million not so long ago. Murdoch said:

“Technology is shifting power away from the editors, the publishers, the establishment, the media elite. Now it’s the people who are taking control.”

The users of MySpace are different to the mass consumer audiences that characterize the old media domain – the MySpace members are participants. This site is not all about connecting people and products, it is about connecting people to people. MySpace provides its users with a cool set of online tools that allow people to interact, share ideas, pictures, music, humour, etc. And, with enough critical mass, it must be the answer to selling media where audiences, not corporations, drive the action. Keep reading →

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Posted in the category: Insight

Virtual Networking with a twist

Ronnie AptekerOne of the great things I love about the Internet is virtual networking. You know, the ability to make contact with people you never really meet in person. E-mail can be such a brilliant tool, if used appropriately. It can also be quite destructive if emotional elements creep in. Never have a fight via e-mail. Never curse or rant or argue using e-mail. It will only cause you further headaches. Trust me on this.

E-mail allows you to share things. Information, news, ideas, events, diagrams, pictures, sounds, songs, and so much more. And it allows you to entertain. Yes, e-mails can be pretty funny, especially if you send out jokes.

While I sometimes get overwhelmed with the amount of e-mail I can receive in a day, and while sometimes I wish some of the jokes I get weren’t so lame, I typically get delighted when a fresh funny story arrives in my inbox. I love nothing more than to pass it to those who I know will get a boost from it. Yes, sharing a good joke is a great thing – it is one of those things that make life special.

Storytelling is a fundamental part of all good leadership. The ability to connect with people, to inspire them, to capture their imaginations, and to provoke them, are all necessary to facilitate growth.

Everyone likes a compelling story, and we all love a good joke. So, in an effort to spread the love, and with the aim to inspire anyone who is reading this, here is a cool anecdote that I have cherished over the years. Please indulge me – I have been doing some soul searching of late and humour is one of the best ways to appreciate the journey.

So, here is a colourful corporate lesson, with a funny twist, that an inspired friend of mine sent me many years ago. Lesson: A man is getting into the shower just as his wife is finishing up her shower when the doorbell rings. After a few seconds of arguing over who should go and answer the doorbell, the wife gives up, quickly wraps herself up in a towel and runs downstairs.

When she opens the door, there stands Bob, the next door neighbour. Before she says a word, Bob says, “I’ll give you 800 bucks to drop that towel that you have on.” After thinking for a moment, the woman drops her towel and stands naked in front of Bob. After a few seconds, Bob hands her 800 bucks and leaves. Confused, but excited about her good fortune, the woman wraps back up in the towel and goes back upstairs.

When she gets back to the bathroom, her husband asks from the shower “Who was that?” “It was Bob the next door neighbour,” she replies. “Great,” the husband says, “did he say anything about the 800 bucks he owes me?”

Moral of the story: If you share critical information pertaining to credit and risk in time with your stakeholders, you may be in a position to prevent avoidable exposure.

If you have a good joke or an inspired story then please send it my way. And, if it strikes a chord with me, I will pass it on to the next person. Yes, this is the power of virtual networking. You got to love this technology!

  • Ronnie Apteker is one of the founders of Internet Solutions, the country’s largest corporate Internet service provider. He is also a movie producer, an author of two books and sometimes a stand up comedian.

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Posted in the category: Insight

Queue no more

HelpFast food just got even faster.Mobo, which stands for “mobile order”, is a new American venture that has hit the streets of New York. Using mobile technology, Mobo aims to save time for the city folk who are always hustling and bustling.

The idea is to avoid queueing and to streamline your visit to the local coffee shop or take-out spot. The Mobo team is also developing platforms for other services where people have to queue, as in say, the transportation and entertainment sectors. If there is a queue, then Mobo is going to be there to try and help.

HelpIn short, Mobo allows you to order and pay for food with an SMS – yup, via a text message. This means that while you are travelling, for example, to your local Starbucks, you can order your coffee and your sandwich and when you get there it is ready for you and you don’t have to stand in line to pay. You skip the queue and the food is fresh.

The way the service works is that you have an application that runs on your cellphone that pops up a food menu of what’s on offer at the restaurant offering the service. You select what you want and you press send.

GoMoboYou’ll then get a confirmation message back with the exact minute your order will be ready. And what’s amazing is that you don’t pay any extra for the service (besides the cost of sending the SMS message that is generated and sent by the application that runs on your cellphone).

It is built into the price of the food that’s being sold – the restaurant absorbs this nominal technical overhead in an effort to provide a better customer service and in turn, allowing the business to move more product. Each Mobo-affiliated restaurant has a special Mobo express counter so that you can quickly collect your order while it is fresh.

GoMoboWhat’s cool about having an application run on your cellphone is that you can customise the software to save, and order, your favourite things. In other words, there may be a certain lunch meal (for example, a Greek salad, a coke and a brownie) that you love having and you can save this as a “Fave” on the application which means one touch ordering – fast and effective.

Payment on Mobo is simple. When you sign up with the service you enter your credit card details and the rest is as you would expect. You can even tip the staff of a restaurant by adding a tip option when you customise your order.

In the olden days, well just a short while back, we could use our phone to call up a restaurant and order. But that always meant having to wait for someone to answer the phone, and then having to be put on hold, and then hoping that they got your order right, and a whole bunch of other stuff. You know what I mean.

This new approach always you in effect to pre purchase your food and it cuts out delays and human error.

Mobo users can also log on to Mobo web site and order online via the Internet.

  • Ronnie AptekerRonnie Apteker is one of the founders of Internet Solutions, the country’s largest corporate Internet service provider. He is also a movie producer, an author of two books and sometimes a stand up comedian.

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Posted in the category: Insight

Chicken and Egg

Which came first, the telephone or the skyscraper?Give up? The answer is the telephone. Think about it: without a telephone, who would want to live or work on the 50th story of a high-rise building? How would you get anything done? No-one has this kind of time. Without a telephone we would all be running up and down the stairs all day long. We would all need our own lifts. All business would be done on the street, at ground level.

The telephone liberated us. It allowed us to live vertically.

Think of a flea market. Who at a flea market has a sophisticated PABX system installed? Of course they don’t, otherwise they would be in a fancy office somewhere.

So the argument works both ways. But jokes aside, it is the phone and the PABX that allowed companies to expand vertically into high-rise office buildings.

And the Internet has taken this liberation to another level. Between e-mail and the Web people are working from airplanes, island retreats and the polar caps.

What is so cool about this communications technology is that it has a very short history. It is pretty straightforward to trace the start of all this liberation from birth to today.

Did you know, for example, that the word “hello” was invented after the telephone? Think about it. You got this new invention, the phone, and it rings, and you pick up and say – what? So a new word was invented to help us deal with this new technology.

Have you ever wondered who bought the first fax machine?

This always intrigues me. Perhaps it is my Internet background. When I was out there evangelising the Internet in South Africa, when Internet Solutions (IS) first started back in 1993, I always used to ask people this question.

To whom would they send a fax? And who would they be receiving a fax from? The egg before the chicken?

And then came the Internet. At IS, we used try to persuade people to go online. But why? Whom were they going to e-mail? Well, for starters, I would e-mail them. And they would e-mail me back.

Probably the first fax someone received was their bill from the fax company for their new fax machine. Imagine how they must have felt to have received a payment reminder on their new miracle machine. I am being silly now, but you get the idea.

After last week’s column about the paradox of progress I thought I would take you back to the start of all these digital distractions. Let me end with a story about telecommunications in Australia.

So a guy goes to the Australian phone company in the 1950s and says he is going to invest in rolling out “tiekieboxes” throughout pubs and restaurants in Australia. He reckons he will split the profit with the phone company.

So he spends millions deploying these phone boxes only do discover that the profit was very small. You see, they had a similar phone system in the 1950s in Australia to what we had here in South Africa up to about 15 years ago.

They had the flat rate unit system, which means you could make a call and stay on the phone all day without any usage charges. These days, the more you talk the more you pay (talk is not cheap any more).

So our panicked entrepreneur goes back to the phone company and says that he is in trouble. He tells them that they need to roll out the unit system because the flat rate billing is killing him.

But this was not their problem. The deal was that our entrepreneur was going to absorb the risk of rolling out the callboxes. So he was in trouble.

And do you know what he did? He went and put a few pounds of led in every handset of each of the tiekieboxes he rolled out. And the revenues rolled in. I guess people just aren’t into heavy conversations!

Technology is changing everything. And it is a funny business. The only place that doesn’t seem to change is the ’ol post office. Ironically, the only people not obsessed with pushing the envelope are postal employees.

And on that note, I better get back to work. The footskaters are keeping me busy at the moment; they just launched their new web site.

Yes, yes, that is a blatant punt, but forgive me; this column has been all over the map.

  • Ronnie Apteker is one of the founders of Internet Solutions, the country’s largest corporate Internet service provider. He is also a movie producer, an author of two books and sometimes a stand up comedian.

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Posted in the category: Insight

The Skype message is loud and clear

I am very excited, sitting here on this rainy afternoon to write this column. In the past year I have embraced technology in a big way again and I have never been more inspired.There is lots to share and explore when it comes to opportunities on the Internet. And it is the online world where entrepreneurial spirit is really peaking. An overwhelming number of Internet initiatives warrant a closer look. Skype is one of them.

Everyone wants to know where to invest their hard-earned money. Property, gold, the stock market – where is there growth?

Well, Internet consumer spend around the world grew at over 30% last year. And it will continue to grow at this incredible rate for the next decade. As more and more of the world gets exposed to high-speed Internet access, so will Internet activity be on the increase. This is the place you want to be.

I am involved in a new high-tech online venture and so far it is going from strength to strength. The Internet represents a whole new kind of revolution and in this new column I will try to highlight the leading endeavours in this space.

The world is changing, faster than we realise. The way we shop, talk, interact, socialise, and work is going to change in fundamental ways. For example, think of how much money you spend on your cellphone each month.

People have anxiety over this. How often have you looked at your watch when on that long call, chatting away during peak hours on that expensive cellphone? Wouldn’t you love an alternative?

I got a voice message on my Skype voice mail the other day. It went like this “Hi Ronnie, if you get this message it means that the GSM cellphone operators are going to have a real problem soon.”

As you can see I got the message loud and clear.

My Skype phone has become second nature to me. I run Skype on my laptop and it allows me to speak to any other Internet users that are running the Skype program. You can download it from www.skype.com. It is the fundamental example of packet-switched telephony.

In other words, it is the first real revolution in the area of VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). And, not only can I talk to other Skype users, but I can call people on their landlines using Skype.

This is the service called “SkypeOut”. I buy blocks of minutes (like a video shop contract) using my credit card and I can then dial normal land line numbers at a fraction of the cost that I am used to paying. The service is so easy to use and it is stable and loaded with functionality.

SkypeMore than 190 000 people sign up for Skype everyday. More than 250 million copies of the software have been downloaded from the www.skype.com web site since its inception. These numbers are staggering.

If I ever go overseas I always have my laptop with me. If you call me via Skype you will always find me because my hotel room is online and wherever I go there is invariably a hot spot somewhere where I can check my e-mail, my voice mail messages, etc. And, if I want to call someone back in South Africa I can do so via Skype – which is a real piece of cake.

One of the barriers to getting into something like Skype is simple psychology. People like to hold a phone when they talk to someone else on the other side of the line, or in this case, the virtual line.

So, to overcome this hurdle we now are able to purchase “Skype phones”. This simply means a physical phone handset that typically plugs into your USB port. I bought one from Digital Planet and it cost me less than R200. Works like a dream. Now I don’t have to sit hunched over my laptop talking to my computer microphone (which looks really weird!)

Ok, I hope you are with me here. Let’s recap. I power up my laptop in a place where there is Internet access, like at the office, my home, News Café, Mugg & Bean, the shopping mall, the airport, er, most places in fact.

I have my Skype program running at all times which means that when ever I am online (ie, connected to the Internet) I can use my Skype phone to make and receive calls.

And just went you thought it couldn’t get any better, they brought out SkypeIn. Like its name implies, this sits on the other side of the fence to SkypeOut. I can get a SkypeIn number, in America for example, which is basically just an American phone number.

If I put this on my business card people will think I have an American office or something. And if they call this number it will ring on my Skype phone. If I am not online then it will go through to my Skype voicemail.

Someone in America calling my SkypeIn number won’t even know I am using Skype! The whole process is transparent. An American guy wanting to do business with someone doesn’t want to make long distance calls.

SkypeIn has made it seamless and cost effective to communicate on a global level.

You may be wondering about the costs here. Yes, you need a computer and you need to have Internet access. My ADSL (high-speed) access at home costs me around R500 a month. Since I have started using Skype my home phone bill dropped by over R1 000 a month so the maths seems obvious here.

The basic use of Skype is free. My Skype voice mail costs me 20 US dollars a year and my SkypeOut service costs me 10 US dollars for a block of units which seems to last forever. I use SkypeOut to call America at least three times a week and I have never once looked at my watch when on the phone.

Talk may be cheap in most countries, but here in South Africa we are getting overcharged in a big way when it comes to telephony. Check out Skype. It will give you a lot to talk about.

Download SKYPE today…

  • Ronnie Apteker is one of the founders of Internet Solutions, the country’s largest corporate internet service provider. He is also a movie producer, an author of two books and sometimes a stand up comedian.

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Posted in the category: Insight

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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