March 2011 Archives

The laziest credit-card scam ever

Here's an item from the inbox at my online store:


How are you doing. I would like to purchase some items from you to Rochester IN 46975 via next day air . Let me know if you accept credit cards as only method of payment. Kindly get back to me with the your website address.


Jessica Johnson.

Really? This must be the laziest scam attempt ever. "Get back to me with your website address"? It's like the crooks don't even care about their craft anymore. Where's the artistry?
It may seem like a novelty or an extravagance, but everyone should own their own domain name -- specifically, whenever possible, one should own one's own name, ending in dot-com. There are many fine reasons, but four stand out above the rest:

#1: There is no better way to secure your online reputation in a single step
Nobody should doubt that the importance of one's online reputation grows every day. The breadcrumb trail you leave behind on the Internet simply by taking up space on this planet is greater than most people would imagine -- even if you do nothing at all on the Internet yourself, you'll still almost undoubtedly end up with a presence there. Because that trail you unintentionally (or intentionally) leave behind now influences such important decisions as whether you're considered credit-worthy or whether you're employable, it's important to have as much influence over that reputation as you can grasp. The single easiest way to capture that is by securing your own name as a domain name.

#2: E-mail services may change, but your e-mail address shouldn't
Any decent domain-name service (I like, but there are plenty of decent providers) will allow you to forward e-mail sent to your domain name to your choice of destinations. That means you can set up your own permanent e-mail address on your own domain that will forward to whatever service you want to use -- Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, your Internet service provider, or any combination of destinations you choose. This makes e-mail management easier for you (since you can set up multiple incoming addresses to suit different needs, like financial services, personal messages, and comments you post on public message boards), and it means that nobody will ever have to search for your e-mail address again in the future, just because you changed webmail services.

#3: Everyone has some sort of domicile on the Internet anyway
If you have a Facebook page, then you already have a website of your own. If you have a Flickr account or a YouTube channel, then you already have a website. If you have a LinkedIn account, then you already have a presence. If you keep up a Twitter account, then you already have an address on the Internet. The problem with all of these is that they become your "domiciles" on the Internet -- and they're all owned by somebody else. Sure, you may have rights to your account, but that isn't the same as actually owning your own domain name. The difference is like that between being a renter and being a homeowner. Both give you a place to stay, but only one is really "your" property. Buying a domain name is a way to ensure that your chief domicile on the Internet really belongs to you. There's nothing that says you can't use that domain name to point directly to your Facebook wall or your YouTube channel. But if you're going to invest your time and energy into anything resembling a digital version of yourself, then you really should ensure that you own the digital version of the very name that belongs to you in the real world.

#4: You don't know how much you'll use it until you get it
...then, once you get it, you won't know how you got along before you got it.

Social-networking websites, ranging from Facebook and MySpace to Twitter, Google Buzz, and LinkedIn, encourage people to share what's on their minds. In a way, it's just an amplification of the water-cooler talk that we've shared since the Industrial Revolution, and the campfire talks we probably had as cave-dwellers.

But in the 21st Century, sharing what's on one's mind in the form of an online "status update" (as it's usually called) can be a dangerous thing. What was once offered as a passing comment to a co-worker on an assembly line is now a declaration of opinion to a potentially global audience, and unlike offhanded remarks made over a lunch break and quickly forgotten, these comments are now recorded for posterity -- quite literally, as in the case of Twitter, which is being archived by the Library of Congress.

This brings us to the risks few, if any, users are thinking about. Posterity will look back on what we think is just the flotsam and jetsam of the Internet with a different attitude than we expect -- if we're even conditioned to think about the consequences at all. Some people will benefit, no doubt: Their Tweets and Facebook status updates may end up looking progressive and maybe even prescient, even when viewed 50 years hence. Others, alas, will be highly regrettable. Here are five examples of things people should refrain from declaring online:

#1: "My boss/my significant other is a jerk" or "I hate my job"
The old advice went that if you couldn't say something nice, you shouldn't say anything at all. It was sage advice. It's along very similar lines to the advice that a married couple should never go to bed angry, but rather should always seek to resolve their differences quickly and with patience towards one another. Expressing angry emotions in a public forum -- in fact, a global forum -- isn't really a psychological release so much as it's a way of amplifying those emotions. Just because it's possible to inform the world in real time of one's soap-opera of life doesn't mean that it's a good idea to do so. It isn't. And when it's the boss about whom one is complaining, then it's an occupational hazard as well.

#2: "I'm on vacation in ___"
You wouldn't put a sign in front of your home saying "Attention burglars: This house is unoccupied. Feel free to rob us." Why would any sensible person put the same sign on the Internet where everyone on the planet can see it?

#3: "___ will hate me for saying this, but..."
If any instinct suggests to you that saying something might have bad consequences, or that doing so might violate someone else's trust, then it's time to trust the instinct rather than brazenly overriding it.

#4: "I'm calling you out, ___"
Rivalries, petty differences, and political animosity should be shelved whenever possible, rather than aired for all the world to see. Yesterday's competitors can easily become tomorrow's merger partners -- just ask Britain's Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, or anyone who's ever worked at a company with a hyphenated name. The people at Bear Stearns likely never expected to find themselves working for JP Morgan, but it happened in a flash, and anything disparaging that any of them might've said anywhere online about their rivals-cum-overlords could easily have meant the difference between keeping a job and losing it.

#5: "You know who I hate?"
US Senator Robert Byrd was associated with the KKK in his young adulthood, and it was remembered until his death at age 92, as it rightly should have been due to his influential public presence. Countless other celebrities and public officials have spent years trying to distance themselves from youthful expressions of hostility towards other people. A common theme among many of the most damaging personal histories is hatred, particularly of classes of people. The world is simply too burdened with hate already, and there's no reason to add to it in the public marketplace of ideas -- nor, for that matter, in one's own heart and mind. Yesterday's common prejudices frequently become today's points of embarrassment. Why place hatred on the permanent public record?

There are, no doubt, many other things people shouldn't be sharing online about their inner thoughts and feelings. But these five are a good starting point for halting bad behavior before it does permanent damage.
YouTube has at least three massive advantages that will keep it around long after other popular websites have faded away:

1. It requires no effort -- none -- on the part of most users. They literally have to just press the play button to watch a video. There's no logging in, no learning strange conventions like Twitter hashtags, no confusion about the purpose of having a Facebook "wall". Just a pure and simple purpose: Watch videos. Absolutely anyone can figure out how to use it.

2. It has become the default forum for hosting video. For those who wish to upload videos to the Internet, there's no question about where to go: YouTube is the default location. Anyone who bothers trying to come up with an alternative architecture would have a massive degree of effort required to convince people otherwise. Unlike Facebook, which took over social networking dominance from MySpace because MySpace ceased to have any "cool" appeal, there's nothing cool or trendy about using YouTube. It's just there, and doesn't attempt to make any waves of its own.

3. The amount of investment by users in YouTube makes it hugely valuable. Posting videos there -- many of which are not archived anywhere else -- is like putting something in one's safe-deposit box at the bank. Users have so much invested in their uploads that it would take a massive force to cause them to take them down and put them anywhere else.

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