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Kim Dotcom put the idea of a fresh submarine cable linking New Zealand to the West Coast of the USA back in the news last week. Chris Keall reports on Dotcom’s plans at the NBR.

This isn’t going to happen. At least not in the form Dotcom proposes. The reason is simple. Rightly or wrongly Dotcom’s name is poison with at least two of the groups that hold the keys to a trans-Pacific cable:

  • The US government hates him. It needs to give landing rights permission. Given many American officials still want to throw Dotcom in jail, this isn’t going to happen so long as his’s name is attached to the project. They will see the cable as a pipe designed to suck all the profits and eventually the lifeblood, out of the US film and music industries.
  • Few Institutional Investors will touch Dotcom. They thought Pacific Fibre too risky. Dotcom is worse.

Is the New Zealand government on this list? Dotcom is something of a folk hero. That doesn’t mean government likes or wants him. In a minor way he threatens our trade relationships. He needs government permission for local landing rights, he also needs government departments to commit to buying fibre capacity.

Pacific Fibre couldn’t make a compelling business case to build a fresh cable. At least not one that investors would buy. That project has some of the country’s best business brains. They are well-connected and wealthy. There aren’t question marks hanging over them.

If Pacific Fibre couldn’t do it, it is unlikely anyone else can.

Dotcom’s plan to build a giant server farm using hydro electricity is clever. It could generate the traffic needed to make a cable viable. Branding it with New Zealand’s clean, green image could work as a lure. Keeping it outside the ambit of US Patriot Act legislation that allows spooks to pry into data at the drop of the hat is also a big plus. There’s also a case for backing up data in a small. democratic country in a tucked away part of the world.

But we’re back to risk. Putting data in a small, remote country with only a handful of fibre links may not look attractive to big corporations – especially if that server is associated with someone questionable.

This isn’t about whether I think Dotcom is guilty or flaky – until he has had his day in court we won’t know how to judge the man. This about how others see him. When it comes to dealing with business risk perception can be as important as reality.

Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood says the media company will move to a digital-only model.

Hywood doesn’t put a date on it but says the move will be in the future and only if print becomes unprofitable.

This makes perfect sense even if there’s little evidence of other newspaper publishers making a successful move to digital. Media companies have little choice, either shrink to a digital core and hope the mastheads continue to carry weight, or hang around for the inevitable day when the presses stop running.

Of course, anyone reading this site will have known that was true a decade ago.

Hywood says Fairfax’s digital strategy is ahead of the company’s competitors and ahead of most traditional media companies around the world. He is only part right. Fairfax’s most serious competition comes from media companies that were born digital.

Speaking of businesses born digital, I wonder about Fairfax’s strategy in the light of its part sale of the TradeMe auction site. If I was in Hywood’s shoes TradeMe would sit at the core of my business. By now there would an Australian TradeMe. And I’d junk those crappy low-value Google ads on Fairfax sites and link to TradeMe auctions instead.

AdNews: Fairfax will shift to digital-only model.

It took well over an hour to book and pay for Air New Zealand tickets. The company’s online system is dumb, online support is worse.

Finding flights, prices and other details is straightforward at the Air New Zealand website.

air new zealand website

After making selections and filling in ticket details you click through to a purchase screen.

This is where the trouble starts.

There are two payment options: credit card and the Poli option for online internet payment. The credit card option was available, but the Poli option was displayed in faint type. It wasn’t possible to select the button.

I clicked on the “why can’t I use internet banking (Poli)?” link.

This says: “POLi isn’t compatible with this web browser. We suggest using Internet Explorer 7.0 or later.”

why can’t I use internet banking (Poli)

 

Internet Explorer 9 is installed on my computer, so I switched browsers only to find now I couldn’t select the tickets from the first screen.

Air New Zealand’s online support told me this is because the site doesn’t support Internet Explorer 9. Helpfully ‘Breeda’ the person handling my enquiry suggested I tried Firefox.

After downloading Firefox. I stepped through the process for a third time, only to reach the same greyed out Poli option.

This time the support told me “Windows .NET Framework 2.0 or later is needed to use POLi. Install or update now”

This took a while. Stepped through again, but was roadblocked at exactly the same point. Just in case the problem was installing .NET, I rebooted and took a fifth trip through the process.

The site still wouldn’t let me pay using Poli.

In the end I used the credit card option. It costs $4 more than Poli – but that’s not the issue, I prefer to pay by internet banking because transactions are cleaner in my account.

Air New Zealand needs to fix this.

 

Nit-picking over SEO is a waste of time. What does this mean in practice?

One of my recent habits was checking Google Webmaster Tools. Tools there help site owners fix problems which affect  how Google’s search engine views a website.

Can I ignore this now I no longer care about search engine optimisation? If you have an opinion, feel free to add it to the comments below.

Geek brain food?

Regularly checking Webmaster Tools has a whiff of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It doesn’t help that the tools often point out things to fix on your site, such as misdirected URLs, missing title tags and so on.

While SEO geeks spend a lot of time hanging out at Google Webmaster Tools, the information on offer isn’t just about optimising search. Misdirected links are a problem in their own right and the site performance information is a quick way of checking there aren’t major problems – even if it is inaccurate. My measured speed graph leaps about even when I’ve done nothing to slow or streamline the site. (The site speed feature has now be removed from Webmaster Tools).

Crawl errors or cruel errors

The crawl error information seems equally ridiculous. At the time of writing I’m told there are 180 not found URLs. Many of them are working perfectly well – I can click on them to check this. Others are weird things like missing tag pages where I’ve removed the tag or comment pages. There are also URLs like:

htt p:/ /bi llb enn ett .co .nz /20 08/ 11/ 29/ rec har ge- tho se- bat ter ies /?r efe rer =sp her e_s ear ch

and

htt p:/ /bi llb enn ett .co .nz /pa ge/ 19/ fun cti on. cal l-u ser -fu nc- arr ay

Whatever they mean.

I can’t get excited about readers not being about to find pages I don’t expect or want them to find.

The fetch as Googlebot feature is clearly no longer of any interest to me in my post-SEO era. Likewise I don’t care about the keywords. And anyway, some of the listed keywords are just plain weird.

Information, but pointless?

Webmaster Tools’ search queries tab displays more information I can’t use.

I like the page showing the links to my site. seeing who is taking an interest in my work is interesting. At the same time, I feel if they take an interest in me, I owe it to them to see what their sites are all about. But is this useful? I don’t think so.

Don’t waste time warming up when writing for online audiences. Get started straight away.

Readers are busy. They scan text looking for meaning and they want it fast. Other writing competes for their attention and it is only a click away.

Your first paragraph should summarise the entire story in less than 40 words. A 30-word intro is better. And make sure those words aren’t all in one sentence.

Don’t overload the first paragraph with too many facts. Save details for later.

Move straight to the action. Passive first sentences send readers fleeing for the exit.

Online, opening words are often a teaser to lure readers. If Google indexed your story, the first 150 characters become the descriptive text telling people what to expect when they click the link.

If you struggle to write short, snappy first paragraphs, imagine you are writing a tweet. Twitter’s 140-word word limit is excellent training for writing introductions.