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Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Crazy World of e-Commerce

Its two in the morning and you are unable to sleep. There is a nagging thought at the back of your mind. Something is telling you that you have forgotten something extremely important. Then with a sudden jolt of realization, you realize you’ve forgotten to buy the present for your best friend’s birthday two days away. With work matters that will occupy you the whole of the next day, you realize you may not have the time to head down to the store in town. No matter, thank god the store has an online presence. Bleary eyed, you place an order for the item and choose same day shipping. Going back to sleep knowing the item will arrive by post later in the evening, your worries are over.

Roll out the red carpet and move aside, traditional businesses, for the age of e-Commerce has arrived. Like the Internet, its appeal is becoming increasingly popular. At present, approximately 60% of people in the United States are estimated to have bought something online, a trend that is likely to catch on with time. So why choose e-commerce over the traditional brick-and-motar stores that have existed for centuries, if not millennia? After all, the golden rule of ‘if its not broken, don’t fix it’ applies here right? Well, it would depend on how one looks at the issue. The introduction of the Internet has changed the rules of commerce, and the benefits of e-commerce are arguably too numerous and holds too much potential to ignore.

E-commerce has an edge over traditional businesses in various ways. The most obvious difference at first glance would be the absence of a brick and mortar shop, which translates to lesser costs involved. Without a physical presence, businesses are able to save on costs otherwise incurred on rent, which are approaching sky high rates at the present day. The rent for that quaint little shop at the corner of the street you have always found attractive could run up to the thousands per month.

Furthermore, e-commerce not only eliminates costly rent but also the costs of possibly hiring help and having ready stock on hand for customers to interact with. Display pieces remains one of the few draws a physical business have over online stores, especially in the case of clothing. Most of us would have likely encountered buying clothes online only to find that the cutting is not as accurate as described in the size chart provided. Also, not having the chance to physically inspect what you’re buying leaves open the possibility of misleading item descriptions and ending with one buying the wrong item. Thus, care has to be taken to ensure the seller or merchant website is a trusted one with much positive feedback.

E-commerce also has the benefits of being open 24/7/365, whereas a physical store would be restricted to their opening hours only. Also, e-commerce is able to circumvent the physical boundaries of the world, engaging in sales that span halfway across the globe. Both of these points would increase the potential customer base of a store. All it takes is for somebody to have the means to make payment online, be it through credit/debit cards or middleman services like PayPal, and an internet connection. The fact that online stores never close, perhaps only during maintenance, ensures that there will always be a potential customer at any point in time.

The most important difference that allows e-commerce to set itself apart from a traditional store would likely be that virtually anybody can start their own businesses online. E-commmerce is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as

‘commerce conducted via the Internet’

which effectively means any individual who has something to sell can engage in e-commerce! The Internet age has seen the emergence of websites such as eBay or the Amazon Marketplace, both of which has major sellers that appear to be making serious cash of the buying and selling of goods. Additionally, it also allows sellers to target smaller niche markets, which would not be feasible in the real world owing to possible high costs that would be incurred.

Virtually anything can be sold online, and I mean anything. After all, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Even though you may see something as junk, say your old music CDs of bands you don’t listen to anymore, somebody on the other side of the world may be an avid collector of these music memorabilia and are willing to offer a reasonable price for them. Even virtual items, such as in-game items for video games such as World of Warcraft and Team Fortress 2, can be found on eBay.

For instance, iWOOT (which means i Want One of Those) has ‘Nothing‘ for sale. That’s right, ‘Nothing‘. Retailing for a cool £5.99, the reviews left by customers are currently at around 4.8 stars out of a possible 5 are is one of the more popular items on the website. For those thinking ‘Pictures, or it didn’t happen’, here are images of ‘Nothing’.

The fact that you’re paying £5.99 for nothing ‘Nothing’ notwithstanding, this actually makes a pretty ingenious gift for those moments when you somebody says they want nothing for their birthday gift. The look on their faces when they actually realise they’ve received exactly what they asked for should be priceless.

Taking a look at the other products on iWOOT, one would realise they do have an enormous inventory to choose from, In all likelihood, a physical shop selling purely such things with an inventory size of iWOOT’s would cost a fortune to set up. Given the inventory size and the nature of their products, the issue of shelving would likely result in a major headache. Online, items can be arranged any way at all at the simple click of a button, be it by pricing or even by popularity. A most useful feature would be the cross sales feature or item recommendations on each product’s page. These list what items customers who have bought that particular product have looked at or bought as well, which would likely increase revenue.

Taking a page or two from the past decade’s dot-com flops, e-commerce has the potential to be the next big thing and avoid going the way of the dodo by learning from past mistakes. At an age where broadband internet is the new norm and means of online payment are easily within reach, the potential customer base is too substantial to be ignored.

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Posted by on September 24, 2011 in COM 125

 

Leaving Facebook – Social Suicide? Or not?

How to commit social suicide? Well, close all social media accounts you may have and there you have it, your social death warrant. Or is finally returning to the real world a cause for celebration instead?

When we mention social media, Facebook invariably comes to mind. Ranging from teenagers to curious parents, it has quietly but steadily taken over many aspects of our lives. Without a Facebook account, one does appear to be cut off from the rest of the world, and definitely none of us wants to be known along the lines of ‘that strange person who has never tried soda before’.

With Facebook admittedly being the epicenter of our modern world, it has become commonplace to organize gatherings or make announcements solely through Facebook. Not having a Facebook account could leave somebody out of the loop, especially concerning friends that one does not have the luxury to catch up with too often. This rings especially true when it comes to friends and acquaintances who are living overseas. Timezone differences sometimes make it rather inconvenient to have a real time conversation. Applications like WhatsApp do provide a low cost option for text messaging, but it does not reach the level of Facebook in acting as a window into somebody’s life, allowing one to keep themselves updated with how their friends are doing overseas.

Facebook changes the way we interact with each other. Becoming like the digital equivalent of the mobile phone, we send birthday wishes through Facebook, catch up with each other by viewing pictures on each others’ profiles. In short, when we have something to say, it goes on Facebook. Today’s teenagers, in particular, are greatly affected by this new trend. The need for validation by their peers and the desire to avoid becoming a social outcast spurs them on to embrace new trends, which Facebook happens to be in the technological age.

We, as humans feel the need to fit in, and with Facebook being the current trend, we naturally want to be a part of the bigger picture. With the advent of mobile data plans, Facebook is also tapping into the mobile application market. With the ability to update and view Facebook profiles on the go, users are able to access their accounts on the way to work, at work, in the cafeteria during lunch, in the classroom, in the john, etc. Are all these starting to sound familiar?

Social media addiction is becoming a real problem in the current digital age. Psychologist Joanna Lipari of the University of California compares Facebook to Jim Carrey’s ‘The Truman Show’, where Truman lives out his life in a fabricated world where everything is perfect (unknown to him, he is the star of a reality TV show that documents his life). Lipari draws this comparison as we only show the best side of ourselves in the Facebook universe, becoming a fabricated, perfect world of sorts.

Several common symptoms of addiction include a reduction in social activities (in real life of course), and also withdrawal symptoms when not being able to access Facebook for extended periods of time, which may consist of constantly thinking what has been posted on your wall in your absence. A simple test would be to lay off Facebook for a few days and note if you are feeling unexplained anxiety or if you find your thoughts constantly drifting towards Facebook activity. Additionally, the number and time of day one visits the sites can be telling. For instance, having to check your newsfeed the moment you wake up. In other words, when one starts viewing Facebook as a possible replacement for reality, then there may be a problem.

Apparently, the problem of addiction is widely recognized and the truly determined have turned to a nifty little service that apparently saves you the trouble of deleting all your information and accounts by doing it for you. Purging all traces of your online persona, Web 2.0 Suicide Machine does not deactivate/delete your account but effectively removes all friends, posts, groups joined, etc. In short, it removes every trace of your online self, leaving behind an empty profile page. By all accounts, it has been so effective at doing so that Facebook has sent a letter to formally request the creators of Suicide Machine not to interfere with Facebook operations, citing privacy violations.

Yet, cutting oneself off entirely from the social media world does seem a shame. The potential for social media is enormous, with its ability to spread information at lightning speeds. Simply put, the onus is upon the user to monitor and keep their own behavior in check. Given that Facebook has an estimated 750 million active users, it is obvious it is not a problem we can ignore. Like everything else, it is beneficial if used in moderation. The younger generation of today, being more susceptible to addiction due to their mindset, array of mobile devices and natural affinity with technology, need to be educated on the dangers of social media addiction. Thus, it is best to use social media as a complement to daily life instead of treating it as a substitute, or suffer the consequences.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in COM 125

 

Social Media and its Impact

Social media today seems to be utilized by everyone ranging from global conglomerates to the common man, the more popular options likely being Facebook and Twitter after the allure of Friendster seemingly died off some years ago. The ubiquitous networking platform of the modern age, it has proved to be an indispensable tool in nearly every facet of our lives. Not only does it allow us to catch up with old friends, but it also plays an important role in introducing new trends, given the ability of social media to disseminate information at an astonishing rate with ease, linking quickly from network to network.


The recent General Elections in Singapore, for the first time, saw social media being used by politicians to reach out directly to the general public, recognising its ability to reach the masses and the tip the scales of public opinion. Along with light-hearted humor such as remixes of Returning Officer Mr Yam Ah Mee’s deadpan announcements, social media played a vital role in allowing personal opinions to be shared and discussed. More importantly, the ability of social media to ‘share’ or ‘recommend’ links and articles not only enabled opinions to spread within a network of friends at record speed, but also provided users with an alternative view aside from the traditional media.

These social media platforms have been extremely successful as they are relatively inexpensive and can be used by virtually anyone. Additionally, social media has another advantage over traditional media as it allows the average man to not only access existing resources, but to also publish information should he or she wish to. Politics is not the only field that users of social media has benefited from. Social media also provides avenues for more mundane issues such as product reviews, with buyer feedback possibly swaying the purchasing decisions of potential customers.

Take the Lord of the Rings release on Blu-Ray for example. Although the extended versions of the trilogy had been released on DVD, Warner Brothers made the decision for the Blu-Ray release to contain only the theatrical editions of the film. For a little background, a Blu-Ray disc can comfortably hold more than twice the data on a DVD. Potential customers were understandably unhappy with the studio’s decision as they perceived it the studios trying to profit twice from the fans, predicting the inevitable blu-ray release of the extended versions of the films. Amazon’s discussion page for the product was flooded with complaints over Warner’s controversial decision. This dissent eventually led to a protest of sorts, with thousands of customers leaving a one star review on the product page (Link), encouraging buyers to wait for the extended editions instead.

Yet, for all the benefits social media brings, there is invariably a dark side to the technology.The speed at which social media is able to disseminate information can make recalling erroneous reports an uphill task. Just today, CBS News mistakenly left a post (Link) on Twitter reporting the death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. It was removed almost immediately, but the offending post could still be viewed due to the number of users who retweeted the news.

Social media has also been responsible for incidents such as burglaries and job losses. Just this May, the Larson family from Great Falls city in the United States came back from a holiday only to find their home burglarized. In hindsight, they believed a Facebook message detailing their travel plans was the root cause of the break-in. Similarly, Facebook posting have also brought grief to Dawnmarie Souza and Nathalie Blanchard. In Souza’s case, she lost her job after bad-mouthing her superiors on Facebook. Blanchard, similarly, lost her insurance benefits after she was tagged in Facebook photos that depicted her having a ball of a time, despite the supposed depression she was on sick-leave for. These cautionary examples all depict situations that stem from a loss of privacy. Social media such as FourSquare, which enables users to share their current location, may be a gold mine of information for people who know what to look for.

Potential job seekers should also be wary of what they post on social networking sites. Straight from the bosses themselves, they make it no secret (Link) that they do look to social networking sites to have a better understanding of prospective employees, especially applicants that do not have much prior working experience and thus results in a lack of background information for the employers to conduct a check upon.

In this time and age, social media has given users unprecedented access to information and the ability to share and discuss opinions. However, the bad side of social media has also reared its ugly head from time to time in recent years. Bearing in mind that nothing posted on the Internet is entirely private and making good use of privacy settings, one can lessen his or her chances of getting into such situations. Imagine having your boss or, God forbid, your family, coming across pictures of a drunken you doing the merlion thanks to some genius who decided to photograph and tag you for laughs. Ugh. No thank you.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2011 in COM 125

 

The Internet

Given the current state of the world’s dependency on technology, the Internet in particular, it may very well become the newest entry to support human life. Are you, dear reader, able to envision a life without the Internet? Probably not.

The Internet has been extremely successful in integrating itself into nearly every conceivable aspect of our lives. Increasing numbers of people are relying on the Internet for their daily activities, eschewing the traditional method of accomplishing said tasks. Some examples would be online shopping and for a more common occurrence, using i-banking to review expenditure rather than relying on the physical monthly bank statements.

The idea of the Internet was first conceived in the 1960s, spurred on by the Soviet Union’s launch of the world’s first satellite, Sputnik. The concept of packet switching, the idea of breaking up data to be sent in smaller parts called packets which would then be reassembled into the original file at its destination, led to the development of ARPANET, considered today as the precursor of the modern Internet. Over the years, developments led to ARPANET adopting the currently used TCP/IP, in layman terms, a set of instructions that allow different computers to communication with each other. The Internet as we know it today formally emerged in the 1990s with the introduction of commercial dial-up services and of course, Tim Berners-Lee’s famous invention, the World Wide Web. Things took off from this point onwards, with the emergence of commercial websites and the now prominent names such as Yahoo and Google. Today, whole businesses are built upon this technology. Astounding, really, when we consider the modern Internet as we know it has only existed for a mere few decades!

For a relatively new technology to have taken the world in such a short time (relatively speaking) is an astounding accomplishment. So what exactly is the Internet and how does it actually work? Do take a few moments to view the two videos below, which offers an explanation of the inner workings of the Internet.

Simply put, the Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks. Think of the Internet as a wire. When computers are connected to this wire, it allows them to communicate. Webpages that we access are stored on specialized computers connected directly to the Internet known as servers. The computers you and I use are more likely to be clients, machines that are connected to the Internet via an Internet Service Provider (ISP), mainly Singtel, Starhub and M1 in Singapore. For webpages, we actually connect to them using an IP address, which is a series of numbers like 209.191.122.70. However, IP addresses are not exactly the most practical way to memorise the address of a webpage. Today, we use domain names instead, of which Facebook.com or Google.com are all examples.

In the present, the term ‘Internet’ is synonymous with the World Wide Web, when in actual fact is not the case, all things considered. The Web is simply another application that makes use of the Internet in its functions. However, beginning from Web 1.0 to the current model 2.0, it is undeniably Berners-Lee’s invention that has had the greatest impact on the world. Berners-Lee’s vision of the web, quoted below, was eerily prophetic.

The World-Wide Web was developed to be a pool of human knowledge, and human culture, which would allow collaborators in remote sites to share their ideas and all aspects of a common project,”
– Tim Berners-Lee

The above statement appears to indicate the Web today does exactly what is was intended to do. It does not take a rocket scientist to determine the outcome should the Web or the Internet suddenly cease to exist today. The impact should we lose access to all the information available online at the click of a mouse would be devastating indeed. For instance, businesses would no longer have the potential to connect with its customers via social media and academics would now have to spend innumerable hours poring over books in the library for research, not to mention the time and effort spent actually finding the correct book in the first place. More importantly, global organizations relying on the connectivity the Internet offers would find themselves in deep trouble!

The Web probably still has a gold mine of untapped potential. After all, it has achieved things that were once thought to be impossible. People who are geographically located on opposing ends of the globe are able to form fast friendships over the Web. Kyle MacDonald, the now famous Canadian blogger, started off by trading a single red paperclip online which eventually led to his acquiring of a house! Our world of social media, known otherwise as Web 2.0, has already shown us countless possibilities. The next iteration of the World Wide Web, Web 3.0, in all entirety, should be something remarkable to behold.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2011 in COM 125

 

Com125 – Introduction to the Internet

Hello all!

It has been a year since this blog has last been updated. Come Fall 2011, an academic blog is once again required, this time for the Com125 module, ‘Introduction to the Internet’.

Subsequent uploads will be with regards to the weekly content taught in class for Com125.

Happy reading!

Best regards,
wycee

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2011 in COM 125