The Benefits and Pitfalls of the URL shortener

Fig. 01

Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) are the fabric of the web. A URL is an address to a resource (file, database query, command output, etc.) on the internet. Since the advent of blogging technologies that have a premium on the number of characters per post, there had been a consistent need to develop algorithms that could reduce the number of characters a URL could occupy and recode them into aesthetically pleasing & manageable URLs. Techniques have been developed and in today’s fast-paced world in which the number of characters matter, shorter is better. Services that generate short URLs from long URLs are known as URL shorteners.

BENEFITS OF URL SHORTENING

01. URL shorteners, first and foremost, allow you to personalize a URL
and provide you with analytics details on the activity of your URL
(e.g. click data, geographical location of clickers, etc.). These help
if you sell products or services and need to know say, where your core
clients are based.

02. Short URLs are easier to share thus they promote the act of
sharing. Which would find easier to remember & share i.e.;

(1) http://thetechguysblog.com/about/#.U9WWs12t-o8, or

(2) http://bit.do/abouttechguys ?

03. A few URL shorteners can shorten multiple pages into one URL. From
my experience, the short URL’s immediate destination is usually that
of a page on the shortener’s website with individual URLs to web pages
you put up. This may come in handy if a user doesn’t own a website but
has a presence on the internet across several websites.

04. Short URLs are best to use when creating a QR code for a web page
because QR codes created from them have a (relatively) small surface
area and/or have larger dots so that they are easier to scan them from
a distance.

PITFALLS OF URL SHORTENING

01. URL shorteners redirect a user to a longer URL from a shorter one.
This theoretically implies that it takes a longer period of time
getting to a page via a short URL than it is clicking on its original
URL, hence short URLs generally slow down browsing.

02. You do not have any ownership over the short URL, thus you do not
have any control over security and/or longevity of the link.

03. URL shorteners are popular among spammers and if you use the same
URL shortener as they do in e-mails, you run the risk of having your
e-mail address blocked by your IPS (Internet Service Provider). As an
internet user, and as usually warned when clicking on unfamiliar
links, you should also be aware of the fact that shortened URLs can
possibly pass off as spam.

04. If the URL shortener’s servers happen to get hacked, every link
becomes a potential phishing attack.

 

Fig. 03

 

05. If the URL shortener folds (ceases operations), all links are
deleted from the company’s database and every short URL you created
with that shortener will break.

06. It is not possible to include descriptive/anchor text to your
short URL if the URL shortener you use does not provide custom URL
options. Descriptive text in a URL increases the web page’s chances of
not only getting picked up by search engines in related searches, but
also those of it getting a higher ranking among search hits.

PROMINENT URL SHORTENERS

01. bit.ly
02. tinyurl.com
03. goo.gl
04. ow.ly
05. multiurl.com

NB: Bit.ly and Goo.gl have recently been blacklisted by The Spamhaus
Project. [See link to The Spamhaus Project in the Reference section]

Useful Links:

01. Everything you need to know about ‘authorship’,
‘author rank’ and ‘social SEO’, with Mark
Traphagen

02. How to use Google URL shortener to help track
social media marketing activity

03. How to Create Your Own URL Shortener

How To Format Your Website for Mobile

mobileweb2

As an entrepreneur, your aim is to break even and position your business in a sea of profit. With the surge in the number of mobile devices in the global economy, it is becoming increasingly important for the business man/woman to make decisions that would make it easier for the mobile user (with an internet connection) to access information. The problem isn’t that business undertakings, today, don’t have websites, they do. The problem, usually, is that their websites are optimized for the desktop computer. Desktop websites usually take a while to load on mobile devices and time is money especially when you’re on the go. On average, mobile users leave a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

Web servicing is a form of service. A potential customer waiting for pages to load is equivalent to waiting at a desk for assistance and depending on the personal elasticity of demand one has for the service, the business would, by extension, lose out on turnover to a large degree.

Now, until the mobile device sector can close the gab between their capability and that of the desktop computer at one point in time without losing portability, it’s advisable for business owners to employ the use of a mobile sub-domain of their website to cater to mobile users. Here’s a list and short description of 5 tools I recommend for business owners to use for creation of a mobile version of their website.

 

mobify-logo

Mobify – is a freemium tool that accelerates your website in
addition to any speed optimization technology you may already have.
The paid plans start at US$249 per month per month, and include the
removal of mobify logo and report of website statistics.

scaledwirenode_logo3

 

 

 

 

 

Wirenode – is a mobile website generator and a user-friendly editor
for designing your mobile site. Paid plans start at US$19.80, w/
upgrades such as support for custom domains and removal of
advertisements.

 

mippin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mippin Mobilizer – all you have to do with Moppin Mobilizer isenter your websites RSS feed URL, go through a few steps, install some
code on your site and you’re done. As you configure your mobile site,
the app has a panel that allows your to preview it whilst you’re
progressing.

 

logo+claim

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onbile – gives you an intuitive user interface for constructing a
mobile website, you can select one of the 13 templates as a starting
point for your mobile site design.

 

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Winksite – is a web app that helps you build a mobile community for
your website.

The benefits of hosting a mobile version of your website outweigh the costs involved in doing so and anything that implies gain maximization and/or cost reduction of a product/service usually means well for any competitor in the business arena. In the end, the decision to create a mobile version of a website all but lies in the hands of the business owner(s).

AMPION Venture Bus is coming to Namibia!

ampionpic

Last year as an extension of the internally renowned StartupBus competition, a proof of concept bus was ran under the moniker ‘StartupBus Africa’. It was a hugely successful venture spawning new startups such as Sterio.Me (a learning system via SMS), Workforce (a platform bringing together job
seekers and potential employers) and Bribed (an app to tackle corruption by crowdsourcing real time data on bribes) in addition to building linkages between existing technology hubs in Africa and internationally. Continue reading “AMPION Venture Bus is coming to Namibia!”

StartupBus Africa 2014 getting ready to kick off!

 

The StartupBus programme was founded in 2010 in the US by  Elias Bizannes on the premise that “Entrepreneurship cannot be taught but we believe it can be learned”. The idea is to put around 40 multi disciplinary entrepreneurs on a bus in a given locale and have them build a company in three to five days after which they pitch their business models/ ideas to a panel of judges and one company gets chosen for funding/acceleration. The big payoff is the networks created by participants who go on to utilize their skills and new found connections back at their respective places of residence and/or business.

Startup Companies
Companies started by StartupBus alumni.

Alumni of the StartupBus competition have spawned some notable startups amongst them Instacart which just recently secured 8.5 million USD in funding from famed Silicon Valley tech VC, Sequoia Capital, Branch which was recently purchased by Facebook for 15 million USD and Sterio.Me which has already partnered with schools across Africa to roll out its pilot programme to help students access educational content over mobile.

Fast forward to 2014 and StartupBus competition is now present on three continents with over 200 participants, but we would like to home in on the StartupBus Africa programme. The first StartupBus Africa competition kicked off in 2013 with a southern African leg touching down in Harare in Zimbabwe  and Joburg, Bloemfontein, Cape Town in South Africa. This year the competition is aggressively expanding, enlisting a whopping 160 entrepreneurs and will include the following countries on the bus routes:

  • West Africa:
  1. Lagos
  2. Benin
  3. Togo
  4. Ghana
  5. Ivory Coast
  • East Africa:
  1. Kenya,
  2. Uganda
  3. Rwanda
  4. Tanzania.
  •  North Africa:
  1. Morocco
  2. Tunisia
  3. Algeria
  • Southern Africa:
  1. Zimbabwe
  2. South Africa
  3. Botswana
  4. Namibia
Startupbus Africa
The Buspreneurs on last year’s trip.

Last years StartupBus Africa competition spawned Workforce a mobile construction labor hiring platform, funeral.ly a funeral management app and Sterio.Me a free educational platform to help teachers engage more with their students through an SMS activated audible quiz. With this years expanded bus routes and many more entrepreneurs there should be many new exciting startups coming from African soil.

On top of their outstanding entrepreneurial skills, the participants bring sound knowledge in IT, web design, new media and business development. They will form interdisciplinary teams and work on different projects during the journey, with focus in 3 key areas: energy, healthcare and education.

StartupBus Africa
The StartupBus process.

 

At least half of the buspreneurs come from Africa and because we believe in the entrepreneurial energy of young women, we strive to have 50% of female buspreneurs on each bus.

Namibia!

To make sure that the bus reaches Namibian roads we need YOUR help. There are several sponsorship options for your organisation or company to become partners in StartupBus Namibia. Please click here get into contact with us or send an email to [email protected]

 

Namibia’s strange internet domain fiasco.

Namibia has found itself in a strange situation. Our country’s top domain is owned by a private Namibian entity. This is a problem. Although it is not uncommon for private entities to be in administrative control of issuing a certain countries domain name, these entities usually operate within mandates set by a national communication regulatory body or by government itself. But not in Namibia boeta, you just have Ondis. Chessssss!

This private entity comprised of three main individual shareholders called Ondis, in the early 90s saw that the Namibian government and private sector were sleeping on the the internet so they went and registered the .na domain with ICANN and now subsequently own the right to solely issue .na and .com.na domain names.  The company has issued all Namibian domain names through its instruments including those of government for close to two decades now at an average rate of 100USD/year for .com.na domains and 500USD for .na top domain. With close to 3000 Namibian domain registrations to date, these guys must have made a pretty penny. All in all, 3000 domain name registrations to a population of 2.3 million people is not very exciting anyway. I daresay the fact that three guys are figuratively holding the whole country at ransom has something to do with that.

infona
Super high domain registration costs for Namibian locals.

The cost of Namibian domain names is prohibitive, many Namibian’s end up purchasing .com and other domains which can be purchased from as little as 5 USD ( NAD 56) from services such as GoDaddy.com and Namecheap.com. Dr. Ebehard Lisse, one of the core shareholders of Ondis, has in the past defended prices saying the high cost was due to size of Namibia’s economy and that you would find similar price schemes with similar countries.  A little research shows that this is simply not true.

Southern African Small Country Domain Prices
Figures from each respective country’s domain registrar found by internet search.

Globally, domain registration prices for any country average around 10-20USD per year whereas Namibia’s are well over that range as the figure above shows. The Namibian ICT sector has had to make due with this problem but by no means has kept quiet on the issue.  Since 2008 The Namibian ICT Alliance has in the past requested Ondis to have a more inclusive board so that stakeholder in the various ICT sectors could have better representation. Ondis has not yet ratified the request and has accused the ICT alliance of exerting political pressure instead of engaging with them. Frans Ndoroma MD of Telecom Namibia has also called for a multi-stakeholder body to be implemented to take control of the domain registration license.

I personally see this as a failure of both government, private sector and just what I can call nothing but greed and short sightedness by Ondis. Government and private sector should have exerted far more pressure to standardise the process and now that the internet permeates nearly every part of daily operation of most public and private entities, easy and cost effective domain registration is becoming a bottleneck to proper representation of those entities on the internet today. Conversely, Ondis should have initiated steps to transfer control of .na domain registrations to a publicly accountable organisation years ago. They have cited lack of expertise in domain management and Namibia’s small population as cause of the slow uptake of Namibian domain names but that is just ludicrous speaking as a private entity sitting outside of public scrutiny. How could they even hope to address those same concerns if they do not have a relationship with  civil bodies in government? Their  holding on to the ccTLD licence with such fervour, leads one to assume their motive is purely financial, whatever the case may be.

Lastly, where is ICANN in all this? In 2007 at the Rio Internet Governance Forum they apparently had promised Mnr. Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah then Min. of Info. & Broadcast that the ccTLD licence would be transferred over to government. You know what they say about promises. They need to be held to account, whether or not such a promise was made. That they continually allow this situation to pervade by ratifying Ondis ownership of the Namibian ccTLD goes against their own tenets of accessibility and accountability.

There does seem to be a growing amount of talk about the country  on this very issue and hopefully the newly established CRAN and ICT ministry will spearhead a task-force to bring all concerned stakeholders together to sort this issue out. With the unveiling of the new domestic IXP, making sure that national internet domain assignments is a transparent and optimised process for the challenges we face ahead in the rapidly changing technological landscape is key

Nanotechnology: The Future of Faster Electronics

srg-iii-pov-animation2
With 15,342 atoms, this parallel-shaft speed reducer gear is one of the largest nanomechanical devices ever modeled in atomic detail.

Nanotechnology refers to an area of science that involves the manipulation of matter on an atomic or molecular scale, generally accepted to be in the 1 to 100 nanometer range in at least one dimension. It involves the creation of chemicals, materials and even functioning mechanical devices at an extremely small scale.

So just how small are these nano objects we’re talking about, I hear you ask? Well since you asked so nicely, I’ll attempt to explain.  For starters – just to give you an idea: 1 nanometer (nm) is about one billionth of a metre. A human hair is about 80,000 – 100,000 nm thick. Using the gift of imagination, let’s shrink ourselves down to the nano scale (effectively making us The Nano-Tech Guys? Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?).  Now that we’re tiny, let’s adjust the scale of things and take a look at a few familiar objects, to bring things into a more familiar perspective.

If we took 1 nm as representative of 1 metre, then mini me would be 1.7 nm tall. Our previously mentioned human hair would be 80,000 metres thick. That’s 80 kilometres. A sheet of paper would be 100 km thick. So if mini me stood next to a sheet of paper, it would be like big me standing next to something 100 km high. An object the thickness of a coin would be high enough to bump into some low earth orbit satellites. I hope this helps put things into perspective. Anyway, moving on…

I think it’s fair to say nanotech is still in its infancy, owing to the obvious difficulties in manipulating matter on such a small scale. At this tiny scale, many of the materials we’re used to dealing with have very different and very interesting properties, opening up a range of applications and possibilities. Ever the inquisitive one, I hear you ask again – “What can we do with these tiny items?” Well actually, you may have already used devices and products that incorporate nanotechnology. A few examples are:

 Sunscreen
Yes, sunscreen. Your transparent sunscreen most likely has nano-particles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that absorb harmful UV rays.

 Clothing
Nanoparticles are increasingly being added to clothing to offer UV protection, antibacterial action via silver nanoparticles, or nano silica particles for waterproofing. Expect future developments to merge nanotubes and nano fibres into “smart” clothing that can respond to your body, or your immediate environment.

 Computers / Smartphones / Tablets
Yup, those too. The super-fast processors that run your PC, smartphone, etc are manufactured using ultra-small semiconductor components that can be as little as 22 nm across nowadays.

Graphen-640x512
Graphene is an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice made of carbon atoms.

 

One substance that seems to be causing plenty of excitement in the nanotech world is graphene.
Graphene is simply our old friend carbon – the same stuff that gives us charcoal, pencil lead, and the black stuff you have to scrub off the bottom of the pot when you get carried away playing games and you burn your dinner. Carbon atoms can be arranged in a variety of ways, with very different results. Depending on the configuration of the atoms you can get hard diamond, or soft pencil lead, to name only 2.  Graphene is a hexagonal, 2-dimensional sheet arrangement of carbon atoms, and is only one atom thick. This substance has incredible properties, particularly excellent electrical conductivity, which makes it perfect for manufacturing computer chips. Graphene nanoribbons could be capable of transporting electrons thousands of times faster than a traditional metallic conductor, resulting in fast processors and solid state storage technology that would be a gamer’s dream.

The medical applications of nanotech are shaping up quite well too, with biotelemetry implants the size of a grain of rice that can remain powered (with a graphene technology battery) for up to a month. In the medical field, nanotech also allows for effective drug delivery mechanisms. A nanostructured composition encapsulating a protein called interleukin-2 (IL -2), which is lethal to cancer cells, helps fight cancer more effectively while minimizing the side effects of high dosages of the “naked” IL-2 protein.

Nanotech has the potential to revolutionize a large number of industries. If we can develop better techniques for manipulating matter at this scale, we can expect a myriad of amazing new applications to crop.

 Right, so I’m off to play Crysis, where nanosuits and other cool hi-tech stuff abound. Let’s hope I don’t burn my dinner.

 

Google takes mobile customisation into overdrive.

 

One thing is clear, there is no shortage of innovation at Google. The data giant isn’t satisfied with  global domination of the smartphone market with it’s Android operating system, now they want to standardise and modularize the hardware aspect of smartphones too.

Enter a fully modular and endlessly customisable smartphone, the Ara. The Ara is basically just an exoskeleton frame which allows you to plug in different ‘modules’ which provide different functionality such as the screen, sound, the antenna, battery etc. These modules can be designed and built by ANYONE using the open source platform Google is providing for hardware and software developers. Google is planning to implement a Play Store type regiment to bring the modules to consumers and to enforce some kind of quality control I would assume. Even the modules themselves will be highly customisable, allowing the user to remove and swap the casing for further personalisation.

Project Ara
An Ara mobile disassembled

 

A modular mobile phone scheme allows for longer device lifespan as you won’t throw away your whole device if just the screen or battery are malfunctioning, you’ll simply replace the modules and go on with your life. The modular phone concept is not new. You might remember Phonebloks, a modular phone Kickstarter project from las year. This project is now being developed in collaboration with Project Ara.

Google says Project Ara is in line with its aims to reach 6 billion smartphone users. That number probably has you thinking “Google, you’re reaching.” but then again when have they ever not been? This is one of their ‘moonshot’ initiatives which include their self driving car and the global internet coverage balloon network project, Loon. Speaking at the recent LAUNCH conference in San Francisco, project head Paul Eremenko stated that they are aiming for a 50 USD entry level unit when the phone finally comes to market early 2015. That is quite simply mind-blowing. It is also highly disruptive if it actually takes off and gains traction.

If that does happen, we will see a whole new ecosystem for exciting new startups to emerge. One could easily imagine medical and scientific modules that could be developed which would totally redefine what a mobile smartphone device is.

 

E-waste is a serious problem in Africa. A growing portion of the e-waste pie are mobile devices. Countries such as Nigeria, Benin and Ghana are being used as dumping grounds for obsolete electronic devices from all around the world. These gadgets which are so instrumental to our daily lives are comprised of components such as the processor, display, antenna etc.. which when put together, make a mobile device.

ewaste

When there is a defect in the device, it is usually just a certain piece of hardware that needs replacing but the cost of repair or the ability to repair that certain chip, LCD screen or other malfunctioning feature is prohibitive for most people so they end up throwing their devices away. These end up in huge toxic landfills and the materials these devices are made of take thousands of years to decay. E-waste is a complex problem with many of the stakeholders in the global electronics markets needing to take steps towards more sustainable methods of manufacturing. Google’s Project Ara which is a definite step into that direction.

 

 

A chat with founder of MXit, Herman Heunis.

Recently we caught up with Herman Heunis founder of Africa’s biggest social network MXit which now has over 7 million active users. Having made his successful exit from active duties at MXit in 2011, we asked him some questions regarding what it takes to succeed as a tech entrepreneur in Africa today.

TG: You left Namibia for Stellenbosch in the late 70s, how was it being a programmer during that time?

HH: Some background, I was born in Namibia (Rehoboth), my parents had a sheep farm near Kalkrand (My grandparents and great-grandparents were all from Southern Namibia). I matriculated at Jan Mohr in 1976 and in 1977 I started a B.Comm degree at Stellenbosch University. In those years computers filled entire buildings. The 1st time I worked on a computer was in 1977 at Stellenbosch University – Computer Science 101. My career as a programmer started in 1980 whilst I was doing my compulsory 2 year National Service in the SA Navy.

TG: How did you come upon the original idea for MXit? Was it a flash in the pan moment or an iterative process?

HH: It was an iterative process. In a nutshell, the very original idea (root) of MXit was an Astral SMS-based game – I believe it was one of the very first Massive Multiplayer Mobile Game (MMMG) in the world. It did not work due to a number of reasons but the main one, lack to find a sponsor for SMSs. An integral part of the game was communication between players. After several metamorphoses we dropped the game idea and focused only on the communication part – that worked extremely well. Years later we introduced several gaming platforms on top of the communications platform.

TG: What were your biggest challenges as a tech startup in Africa?

HH: Many. Lack of human resources (software developers) was the biggest challenge. Funding, affordable and stable internet bandwidth, unstable platforms (and lack of expertise), the press, mobile operators, etc.

mxitwallpaper4

TG: What in your opinion are the main characteristics a tech startup founder should have?

HH: Perseverance, Passion (for tech), Visionary, Disruptive(Rebellious ?)

TG: There aren’t a lot of tech startups in Africa that have reached the kind of success MXit has, do you think there is a specific reason for this?

HH: Timing was perfect and I had a fantastic team. The word “failure” was never an option.

TG: Is there a particular technology that excites you which you would like to see more innovation by Africans in?

HH: Most technology excites me but currently Energy (solar, batteries, fuel cells, etc) is on the brink of major paradigm shift. I think personal wearable devices, monitoring and recording all sorts of data, will be huge. In Africa we might not have the leading (sometimes called bleeding) edge R&D capabilities, but we surely have the in ingenuity to utilize these inventions and take it to another level.

TG: Do you believe that there is an emerging identity of the African tech user or do you think there is a general global homogenisation due to the critical mass movement of technology adoption around the world?

HH: Strangely I think we have a combination of both right now but that will (should) eventually disappear as the tech space (internet access, devices, user savvy etc.) in Africa gets on par with the rest of the world. Then there are more practical issues such as legislation, e-commerce, language, etc. that tech startups need to consider.

TG: Location is always touted as a major component for tech startup founders to think about when deciding to set up, should African tech startup founders be more wary of where they set themselves up in your opinion?

HH: Tricky question – I think starting up is one thing, building/growing the business is another. Access to infrastructure, HR, users, funding, etc. are important – if your location does not have these, you might have a problem. Having said that, some tech startups will depend more on the ideal location than others. Building a large social network on mobile is different to patenting a new type of battery. Coming back to MXit, I think the fact that MXit started in Stellenbosch was a good choice – access to University graduates, access to funding, access to bandwidth, very large potential userbase (with featured phones) and we knew the mobile Operators landscape pretty well.

I think the mistake we made was to stay in Stellenbosch only, too long. My opinion is that we should have moved our head office in 2007 (2 years after we started) to San Francisco. Maybe we could have been the biggest social network in the world today (bigger than Facebook)? Why do I think it was a mistake? 100 times better access to funding, 1000 times better access to software developers and great NETWORKING opportunities with other similar companies.

heunisMobileHeunis-4871863

TG: MXit is Africa’s largest social network with over 40 million users worldwide and as a firm employs more than 150 people now, when you made your exit in 2011 did you have misgivings about leaving?

HH: When I started MXit – there was no exit plan. I started MXit as I was passionate about technology. The ride from 2004 to 2011 was very tough and selling a company that you have started is traumatic. Fact of the matter was, I was extremely tired and burned out and staying on as CEO was not in the interest of the company. MXit needed new blood and new energy.

TG: Do you think more African tech founders should be building their startups with exit strategies in mind?

HH: I do not. Cannot do harm but the question is, are you doing it for the money or because of passion?

TG: You have said in previous interviews that you saw your strength in founding rather than managing large companies, does that make you a serial entrepreneur? Are there more ventures for you on the horizon?

There are no ventures on the horizon right now. Am I a serial entrepreneur? I don’t know if starting 2 or 3 businesses makes you one?

TG: What advice would you give young Namibian software developers/ tech entrepreneurs?

HH: Do as much research as you can possibly do. Ask yourself the question, how will my product/service be different. Will it be chat worthy – will people talk about it?

Surround yourself with likeminded, honest people. A startup is not for sissies – doing it solo is tough.

TG: Do you still visit Namibia? Do you have any hopes for the tech sector there?

HH: We visit Namibia many times a year. Recently (13 Dec 2013) I did the Desert Dash 24 hour 369km Mountain bike race from Windhoek to Swakopmund, solo. In October I cycled from Noordoewer to Swakopmund. We go to Kaokoland on a regular basis to do photography.

If you ask an optimist if there is any hope – the answer will always be YES!

How to create a Bitcoin wallet online.

An online bitcoin wallet is probably the most feasible way to get started with bitcoin. Treat your bitcoin wallet details the way you would treat your personal online banking information. Keep it secure! As with any online entity, 100% security is never guaranteed one has to be vigilant but listed here are the most trusted and secure online wallet services with a proven track record. Follow the 3 steps below to create a bitcoin wallet online. Continue reading “How to create a Bitcoin wallet online.”