How To Build A Successful Blog (Interview)

Meet Alborz Fallah, the owner of the famed owner of Car Advice. In 2008, Alborz’s blog was independently valued at $5.9 MILLION dollars. He now has a team of full time writers producing content and he gets to drive expensive cars, which he then writes about in his blog. And giess what? It all started with a computer in his bedroom.

Alborz was recently interviewed over at Yaro’s blog. Here’s some of the most important points to take away from the interview (in Yaro’s words):

  • You can start a blog and choose top level categories in very competitive markets, if you niche it down based on geographical location. In other words, you can start a car blog and target just your country to differentiate it. There’s big bucks to be made as the leading blog in just one country for mainstream subjects.
  • When you don’t know what topic to blog about, pick what you think might work and just put something out there and see what happens.
  • You can build a significant blog based only on part time labor, if you are dedicated and get things done during the time you have available to work on the project.
  • Sometimes, being controversial can do wonderful things for your traffic. Strong opinions will always stick out and grab attention.
  • Search engine traffic is very powerful if you just do a few things right, like blog post titles in Alborz’s case.
  • Think BIG with your blog, it doesn’t have to be just a small publication – consider taking things to the next level with the help of financial investors.

Download an mp3 of the whole interview, or get the text as PDF.

Don’t Let This Be You – How Twitter Was Violated

Twitter is probably the world’s hottest technology company in the world at this time. If you follow the world technology industry, you’ll no doubt see Twitter in the news at least once a week, every week. Well, this past week, Twitter was in the news again – for all the wrong reasons. A cracker from France (named “Hacker Croll”) managed to single-handedly break down Twitter’s security system and gain access to confidential company information, employee records, calendars, phone logs, credit card numbers and other information.

In a thriller of an article, Techcrunch lays bare the riveting story of how Hacker Croll violated Twitter. Here is a summary of how he did it:

1. HC accessed Gmail for a Twitter employee by using the password recovery feature that sends a reset link to a secondary email. In this case the secondary email was an expired Hotmail account, he simply registered it, clicked the link and reset the password. Gmail was then owned.
2. HC then read emails to guess what the original Gmail password was successfully and reset the password so the Twitter employee would not notice the account had changed.
3. HC then used the same password to access the employee’s Twitter email on Google Apps for your domain, getting access to a gold mine of sensitive company information from emails and, particularly, email attachments.
4. HC then used this information along with additional password guesses and resets to take control of other Twitter employee personal and work emails.
5. HC then used the same username/password combinations and password reset features to access AT&T, MobileMe, Amazon and iTunes, among other services. A security hole in iTunes gave HC access to full credit card information in clear text. HC now also had control of Twitter’s domain names at GoDaddy.
6. Even at this point, Twitter had absolutely no idea they had been compromised.

Read about the whole thrilling account here.

In computer security circles, they say that a computer system can never be 100% secure – there’s always a hole somewhere that can be exploited by someone who is determined to do so. However, most organisations and individuals (probably even you) are very very poor when it comes to security in the computer systems (especially online) that they use.

As seen in the Twitter cracking, a single Gmail account fell and this opened the door for the whole company to be compromised. Could this happen to you? No, really, could it? Rethink your approach to computer security, reset those passwords and do not use a single password for all the services and systems that you use. Change your passwords regularly and do not use passwords that can be easily guessed.

Always be on your guard. Otherwise, You may come to regret it.

How To Make 3,000,000+ a Month

Here’s a video that details how internet mogul John Chow makes $40,000 per month from his blog. He really exposes his business model in an inspiring talk.

“ John did a great job itemizing his method; detailing his steps. He broke down the process into easy to understand reasons and answered all questions; in short , he shared his secret to success. He made online success seem like a real possibility. Get a product, do the work, get results. My take: like anything else….Once one is willing to administer the effort, treat it like a business, own it like a business and be business like about it, a real business will ensue. Thank you John Chow, very well done! ” – Jos

Alice and Kev

In a brilliant blog, games design student Robin Burkinshaw tells the tragic but fascinating story of what happened when he stripped two game characters of their possessions and left them in a place designed to look an abandoned park, letting his simulated humans fend for themselves.

It’s a virtual social experiment that relies almost entirely on the programming of the characters to decide what happens next.

I’ve read through the entire blog in one sitting (it is that amazing) and I recommend the blog to all of you! While reading through it, it felt like a good book and I could not stop thinking that it would make a great movie or TV series. It just goes to show how good games are getting these days, particularly this game.

Calling the Sims a game is an understatement – it is so much more and you just have to play it to find out that for yourself.

Please have a look at Alice and Kev.

Do not just look at it for its entertainment value. Think about what Robin is doing. He’s drawn a huge amount of attention to his blog and, ultimately to himself. In the process he’s proven what a great storyteller he is (this should work well for his career in game design) and probably earned quite a lot from (if you buy The Sims 3 from one of the links on his site, he gets a commission).

It is a prime example of using what you already have in hand to try and get ahead. What talents/skills/strengths do you have in hand? Are you fully exploiting their potential?

The Nation Media Group, Plagiarism, An Apology, and Customer Service – A Case Study

This follows the article that I wrote yesterday regarding plagiarism by the Nation Media Group (NMG): Shameless Plagiarism at The Nation Media Group. If you read that article, you will notice that I wrote it while I was pretty upset at the NMG.  I felt that they had been dishonest and, feeling that there was little I could do about it, I decided to tell the world (that part of the world that reads what I write) of my frustrations. After writing that post, sharing it with Bidii Africa members and putting it up at Let's Explore, I felt a little happier.  A got an email that essentially said, "Cool, let's slay this behemoth."  Word spread, and what I wrote was picked up by Irani Media where Stephanie added her thoughts and experiences with NMG and plagiarism.

Putting the issue of plagiarism aside (I'll get to it later), I think this demonstrates the profound challenge facing organisations everywhere.   All it needs is one person dissatisfied with your product/service with a blog and suddenly your reputation and respectability could be facing a  big ugly challenge.  What is a company to do when there's a good number of its customers armed with blogs and ready to trash them at the slightest provocation?  Surely, there probably aren't any silver bullets out there; the solution(s) to this problem are probably wide and varied.  Yesterday, the NMG did something right.

One of the first people to email me following the post calling NMG on the plagiarism was Charles, a write I respect deeply, who is from the NMG.  His email was pleasant, but curt: He wanted me to point out instances of the plagiarism so that he could look into the matter.  I did that last night and today I got a response that was satisfactory to me.  Let's analyse this using Joel Spolsky's Approach to Remarkable Customer Service.  What did the NMG do right?

1. Take the blame.  When you're dealing with an angry customer, you have to take the blame.  The customer is always right, as they say. Take the blame and move on to the more important matter of solving the problem.  The NMG did this well.

2. Don't fight the customer.  "When an irate customer is complaining, or venting, it’s easy to get defensive.  You can never win these arguments, and if you take them personally, it’s going to be a million times worse. This is when you start to hear business owners saying, “I don’t want an asshole like you for a customer!” They get excited about their Pyrrhic victory. Wow, isn’t it great? When you’re a small business owner you get to fire your customers. Charming." (Source: Joel Spolsky's Approach to Remarkable Customer Service).  As Patrick McKenzie writes, you never win an argument with a customer.  NMG didn't fight the customer.

3. Fix everything two ways.  Every customer service problem has two solutions (and you have to use both): You solve the immediate, superficial problem and also make sure that particular problem doesn't happen again.  Charles not only calmed me down by explaining why they published Bidii Africa articles, he proceeded to tell me what the NMG did to make sure the problem didn't recur. So the NMG have this covered too.

4. Make customers into fans.  The trick here is to treat your customers so well that they talk about it.  This is the whole rationale behind remarkable customer service.  Yesterday, I was extremely disappointed by the NMG.  To see a paper that I love turn suddenly (in my eyes) into a dishonest behemoth got me sad, and angry.  I'm just one out of its thousands of readers but today I didn't buy a copy of the Daily Nation.  It was my way of solo, frustrated protest.  I was going to make sure that anyone who values my opinion thinks twice about buying The Nation.  I know what you are thinking – my 35bob and that of six of my friends won't do anything to hurt the NMG in any way. However, remarkable customer service isn't about being nice to most of your customers, it's about being nice to all of your customers.  Charles, and the NMG, got this right, very right.  I didn't buy the Nation today, but I'll buy it tomorrow. Why? Because Charles was pleasant and helpful.  He seemed sincere and made me believe that there are good, honest, respectable people at the NMG.  Yesterday, I was pretty hard on them.  I made a list of possible reasons why the NMG would plagiarise.  The list didn't have anything nice to say about the NMG.  I wrote that post and overlooked another possible reason for the plagiarism.  Dear readers, and everyone at the NMG, I wish to apologise for this.  The plagiarism that I wrote about yesterday could have been the result of an honest mistake, and I fully believe that it was.

Be sure to read the rest of Joel Sposky's article as I have only dealt with items that I feel apply well in online customer service and reputation management.  Also, Seth Godin has an interesting take on starting over with customer service.

What other lesson can be learnt from this experience?  As I wrote elsewhere, it is important to keep track of what is being said by you online and to respond super fast whenever there's a problem.  Notice how Charles' fast, sincere and helpful actions won back a customer and made a new fan.  One wonders where the Wananchi Online people are when their new product Zuku is getting a bad reputation. Welcome to Online Reputation Management.

Now, regarding NMG's plagiarism, I am convinced that the instance of plagiarism that I wrote of yesterday was an honest mistake, and a misunderstanding.  However, the very fact that this is not the first complaint of plagiarism by the NMG is a little worrying.  Other complaints are here and here.  Some people say that where there's smoke, there's fire.  Perhaps the NMG could do something to clear up all of these issues.  I don't know, though – maybe they already did.

The NMG did, however, clear every doubt in my mind regarding the instance of plagiarism that I had written of.  I cannot put it in better words so I shall put the email from Charles here:

"We have now established how Bidii articles ended up in Daily Nation. First, let us acknowledge that, indeed, the articles were published in DN and The East African.

How did this happen? Beginning from when it was KaziAfrica, Bidii material come to the email addresses of very many editors and journalists at Nation, even in many instances when they have not subscribed. Anyhow, every
one took it in good stride. However, someone got the email for Letters from the paper and added it on the Bidii list. Thus all Bidii correspondence ends in Nation's "Mailbox".

Everything that comes into the "Mailbox", as the name indeed does indicate, is for publication. The Letters editors, therefore, have on occasion published some of the letters that caught their fancy. They did it in good faith, in the understanding that they were sent to the "Mailbox" be considered for publication (because that is what the notice says).

They weren't aware that by doing so they would cause offence to Bidii members. They also say it is unfair to accuse them of plagiarism or stealing, because they attributed the letters correctly to the authors (although perhaps, one could argue that they should added Bidii too. However, there were no such instructions).

Going forward, instructions have been given that no material from Bidii should shall be used in Nation because the members don't intend that to happen. However, to absolutely ensure that no slip up happens, we are instructing the IT Department to block all Bidii material from the Mailbox and other general addresses at the Nation.

I hope that you can explain this to your members, and that you find this satisfactory. Finally, to say we are sorry that this happened and for the misunderstanding."

What do you think? Does the Bidii Africa group deserve an apology in print?