Archive for September, 2005

The real top ten tips for blogging anonymously

Saturday, September 24th, 2005

As many of you know, Reporters without Borders released a PDF handbook about blogging for dissident bloggers. Actually a lot of it also deals with making a good blog, like the section about blogging ethics and search engine optimisation. Completely irrelevant. If I was blogging at risk, I think I would have more pressing concerns than getting my blog spidered by Google. My chief concern was the section about Blogging Anonymously by Ethan Zuckerman which contains a lot of shockingly bad (and sometimes unnecessary) advice for blogging anonymously. So, here’s the real top ten tips for blogging anonymously.

  1. Get a new email address from a free email host.
    As anonymous as you think your own email address is, it is imperative to get a new one. Keep your real identity and your fake identity completely separate. Use your fake email address to open a new blogging account, don’t use a blogging account that was opened with your real email address. I recommend a service like that does not require your real email to make an email confirmation for opening a new account. One thing Zuckerman did not mention is that you need to choose an email name that has nothing to do with your name or anything to do with you. No funny play on words or use of acronyms. Enough coincidences like that and you’ll be scuppered.
  2. Get a blogging account from a popular blog host.
    Zuckerman made recommendations such as and Let’s get serious here. No disrespect to the guys who run those two hosting services, but I doubt they have the legal team like Yahoo, MSN or Google’s to back them up. You have to go for blog hosts that won’t crap their pants at the sight of a lawyer’s letter or the FBI at their door. Go for or or MSN Spaces. Accept no imitations.
  3. Blog from cybercafes
    Library computers are public, but some libraries require a lending identity card to use their computers. Anything that suggests your identity is bad. Go for a crowded cybercafe always. Zuckerman’s advice on switching your cybercafes often is a good one. Never choose any that are near your place of work or place of residence. Never choose one in which you have membership privileges because they will have notes on you. Always choose one that’s crowded and popular at all times. And always choose a seat in the cafe with your back to the wall! If you can be observed posting to your blog, you’re scuppered. As far as any security expert is concerned, the key to figuring out who you are is figuring out which computer you use.
  4. Forget about anonymous proxies
    Anonymous proxies don’t hide your identity. Even those that say they are “high anonymity” often are not. Do you want to trust a sysop to state the truth about his service when that service is for clandestine purposes? Anonymous proxies only make it difficult to make a direct trace to your computer, not impossible. And if the authorities already suspect which computer is being used to make blog posts, anonymous proxies won’t help. If you have to use an anonymous proxy, it means you are using the wrong computer. Always blog from popular public computers. Zuckerman’s suggestion that it can be safe to blog from your home with an anonymous proxy will earn you a knock at the door at midnight.
  5. Tell no one
    Zuckerman’s advice to seek the aid of a computer expert is his second worst piece of advice. That computer expert is yet another person who can finger you. Tell no one. (And do I have to mention here that you shouldn’t keep any notes related to your blogging topics? Notes = evidence that can be used against you.)
  6. Onion-router schmonion-router
    If you’re reading a handbook from Reporters without Borders on internet anonymity, you obviously don’t know anything about internet anonymity. Setting up an onion router compounds the problems of having to ask for help to set it up and putting too much trust in technology to hide yourself. If the authorities are going high-tech to find you, then go low-tech for protection. Tell no one and use popular public computers.
  7. Encryption: Are we still talking about that old hat?
    Sure, you can follow Zuckerman’s advice and set up PGP encryption and post via email to a remailer to a blogging service like that allows posting via email. Does that promote your anonymity? Hell no. It only means that someone intercepting your email will have a hard time discovering its content. If they’re already intercepting your email, you’re living on borrowed time. This technique also gives you the false sense of security that you’re safe while blogging from your own computer. You’re most certainly not. Furthermore, the shadow of the email you sent can be used as evidence against you.
  8. Post via email
    I am not saying that blogging via email is a bad idea. In fact, it’s a very very good idea. If you are being observed, a tell-tale sign of blogging is when you open up an obviously recognisable interface like’s. Blogging via email does not look like blogging at all. It looks like you are sending a supposedly harmless email. If you are using a blogging service that allows posting via email, set that up and don’t open the regular blogging interface. And make sure your email software keeps no traces in the “Sent” folder.
  9. Flush your cache
    If you are using a web interface for blogging, flush your cache before you leave your seat as an added precaution. Caches are logs of the sites you visited and can remain in a public computer for several days. Flushing the cache removes traces of what sites you were at. Go to the Preferences of your browser, find the Security tab and click on Empty Cache. This is a good practice to have when using a public computer, even if you are not blogging at risk. This is not a fool-proof technique since deleted log files can sometimes be recovered. But used in conjunction with other precautions, the authorities will have a harder time finding stuff about you, especially when the authorities don’t have the special expertise needed to recover deleted caches.
  10. Don’t panic!
    Be mindful of the force (and the authorities), but do not get paranoid or panic. The authorities are waiting for you to make a mistake and the chances of making one rise hundred-fold when you are out of your mind. If you think the authorities are close, test that assumption by changing your habits (like switching to a new cybercafe temporarily). In the movie Hunt for Red October, they called it a Crazy Ivan. Zig when they think you will zag.

The EFF has more real world tips on blogging anonymously.

Google blog search

Thursday, September 15th, 2005

Hot news this week: Google has launched a blog search tool. I think we were always expecting a blog: operator for the regular Google search site, which I think I would have liked better. But Google decided to come up with a separate engine. If they had decided on a new operator, then (given’s ubiquity) would have had something to worry about. So far all the other contenders like and have nothing on Technorati because of either a lack of results, lateness or too many duplicates. For Google, it appears that their problem is too much spam and not quite as many results as Technorati. And one strange thing I noted was that Google blog search is getting a lot of results from RSS feeds. This means that if you are publishing only a partial content feed instead of a full content feed, you won’t be getting as many references as you should.

Google Blog search looks like a decent companion (I’m subscribing to both Technorati and Google RSS feeds of myself), but I wouldn’t be declaring the death of Technorati yet. What we need right now is a Google and Technorati side-by-side blog search comparison tool ala Yagoohoogle.

Tell me about your blog

Monday, September 12th, 2005

If you read my blog and if you have a blog, tell me about it. I already have a short list of other bloggers who read my blog, but I got them mostly from comments and from blog-search tools like Technorati. I have a list called “Readers” in my RSS feed reader, but it’s still very thin and I’d like to boost it. So leave me a comment or write me an email. Thanks!

Techcrunch on how to pitch your dotcom

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

This is a great article from Techcruch on ten things that tech companies can do to get blogged. It’s Techcrunch’s wishlist directed at all the PR reps who keep sending them stuff. But it makes a lot of sense. Most tech entrepreneurs already get most of the points. The ones that they keep missing are points 7 and 8.

7. Be descriptive. Tell me what your product does immediately in crisp and interesting prose that is FOA (Free Of Acronyms). FaceBook is a social networking site for college students. Pandora is a music recommendation engine. See? I need more details down the road, but give me something to hold on to before you jump into the cool way you’ve implemented ajax into the FAQs, or whatever.

8. Tell a Story. Bloggers want to tell a story. Help them. Pandora is different because they break down music technically – interesting! 60% of FaceBook’s users log in daily – wow! Writely is allowing people to visualize a world without thick clients – big story!

Tech entrepreneurs always fall in love with their technology. I’ve been pitched ideas revolving around Ajax and Ruby before. But when I respond with “But how is it different from this-or-that dotcom? And why will this-or-that user segment prefer it?”, I always get blank stares and stammering. The things is, tech entrepreneurs almost never think about who will be using their software or how they will use them before they start building them. The key to success always lies with focusing on the users, not on the sexiness of the technology. It’s pure commonsense.

Display any Flickr photo collection on your website

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

This is a really nice script that displays photos from any RSS feed on your website. went from Nice! to Sucks!

Friday, September 9th, 2005

This is probably news of no importance, but I’ve decided to unsubscribe from’s RSS feed. It just got too intrusive for me with its “link optimisation”. I can’t stand that:

  1. It has a link post every day, not for one topic but for several. There’s “News”, “Ask Metafilter” and now “Ask Slashdot”. Listen, I’m here for lifehacks. Hello, that’s what your site is called. If I wanted that other stuff, I’d subscribe to their feeds. I don’t need it from you too.
  2. On top of those link posts, also does a link post on its own posts! What am I, a five year old child? I need to be reminded twice about everything?
  3. It’s even doing a weekly post about its advertisers. Talk about intrusive advertising! I don’t mind if they link to their advertisers within their own posts, especially if the advertisers have relevant products or services. But blatantly making a “Sponsor” post is just too much.
  4. I think it all started with a directive to cross-sell the other blogs in the Gawker Media empire. I can’t stand that either. If I was interested in cars or celebrities, don’t you think I’m smart enough to subscribe to those feeds. I mean, those blogs are popular and prominent enough that they’re all topic leaders in their fields. But the point is: they’re not relevant to lifehacks so why are they on
  5. I get ten posts from you and only five are actual lifehacks. What happened? I got bait-and-switched, that’s what happened.

It’s gotten to the point where nearly none of the posts on interests me. Half of them aren’t real posts — they’re meta-posts. In any case, if it does turn out that any of’s posts are of any real value, they end up on and I still get to see them anyway. So long,!

Researching a client’s brands online

Tuesday, September 6th, 2005

Yesterday I touched on the topic of studying a company to make it inscrutable. That’s just one of the reasons I always conduct secondary research (research through the internet and other publications) on all my clients. What I look out for is brand impressions — anything that people think is important enough about a company, its products or its employees to mention. Some of the other reasons include:

  1. Understanding their marketing history and promotion efforts — because their target audience might remember what messages they sent out before
  2. Finding out what other people make of the company, the people who work in it and their products
  3. Finding out who are the stakeholders — people who have interest in the company or its products — and why they have an interest in them

I have a basic checklist of things I do when I conduct secondary research. For dotcoms, I only do internet research and never bother with paper publications, although I do always ask clients if anyone has written anything about them. You might find this checklist of sites useful since I’m not the only one who uses these techniques. I run all the searches for the company’s name, its website, the brand names for its products and the main people behind the company and the people in the development team. (Incidentally, I also run the same searches for each one of the client’s most prominent competitors.)

  1. — I only scan up to 200 entries unless a lot as been written about the company.
  2. and — I look out for references in user blogs as well as industry blogs and employee blogs. Regarding employee blogs, I’m not really interested in them except for getting their impressions of the products and the company they work for and how popular their blogs are.
  3. — I scan for references in the more popular web versions of industry publications.
  4. — I look up whose name is on the domain registration. Sometimes its important to make it anonymous but have the contact details correct.
  5. — I check the number of incoming links and website prominence to compare with their competitors.

I don’t build a dossier on everything or on everyone. But I do make notes. It’s not important for me to bring up everything I find. Sometimes they just aren’t relevant to my branding objectives. But I do need to know who is thinking what so that I can segment the market accurately into primary audiences and secondary audiences — groups of people to whom I need to allocate my branding budget. Everything is really all about the money and how I spend it. But that’s a topic for another day.

Skype robot that creates an underaged-girl “user” as a perv honeypot

Tuesday, September 6th, 2005

This is brilliant. This programme makes a robot for Skype that looks like a girl — with automated responses and even an attractive photo. The software author also put up logs of a previous conversation that the robot had with an unsuspecting victim who propositioned the “user”.

A profile is put up with a girl’s name and picture, and put in “Skype me” mode. Within minutes some seedy guy will invariably try calling/chatting, and there’s a little program I made running the whole time which will partner up people 2 at a time, and send messages from the first person to the second, & vice versa. This way both people think they’re talking to a girl.

The role and function of marketing communications in product development teams

Monday, September 5th, 2005

The ideal dotcom startup team seems to be CEO, CTO and COO or CFO. Now it’s all well and good to be product and business focused, but who’s looking out for the people who can make or break a business — the users and the public stakeholders? A CEO’s function is to provide strategic vision, a CTO’s to manage the development of the product and internal technologies, a COO or CFO is to look after revenue and expenditures. All these are full-time jobs with weighty responsibilities. Just as weighty as it is the CCO’s (Chief Communications Officer) job which is to manage the outgoing as well as incoming communications of the company as well as looking after its brands. Yet most dotcom startups completely sideline this essential function.

I had drinks with the joint CEOs of last night. Both very bright and clued-in guys who have great ideas for web services and products. They both have great vision and are very experienced at producing winning products and partnerships. And while they do know what their consumers want and how to deliver the goods, neither of them has marketing communications expertise and neither does anyone on their development team. Even while their products are in development, buzz still needs to be managed as first time users try out their beta products and talk about them. And someone needs to create marketing communications plans and execute them. Currently, they’re both handling these functions themselves but chinks are starting to appear. There’s not one but two faux Wikipedia pages to promote their products; glaring spelling errors in their marketing materials; use of a free blog host (Blogspot) for their company blog; and at least one instance of evoking the cliched Google’s Law. None of which set very good impressions on the techie crowd — the quintessential first-adopters. I’m not trying to be picky, but a startup that wants to engage the larger community has to first be inscrutably “Slashdot-ready” (and those guys do way a lot more researching).

Yahoo domains now for $1.99

Friday, September 2nd, 2005

They dropped it to $4.95 a couple months back before it returned to $9.95. Don’t wait for this $1.99 offer to expire. It’s good.