Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Qatar Journal

I had a leisurely coffee with Qatari from QL last Thursday. We were talking about the state of the IT sector in Qatar, and generally solving the world's problems. Anyway, he was hassling me saying I should have some sort of commercial project, because there was money to be made.

I'm a bit skeptical about making money from websites. There were a lot of good ideas during the dot-com boom that produced no cash. He started quoting some figures about google ads, and how little you need to spend on hosting. Anyway, I went home that night and had a chat with Sara about it.

There's a gap at the moment for serious local news. QL and others serve the demand for informal chat, but the local papers have abysmal websites and mainstream news sites don't cover Qatar. Thus, I'm going to start up a news site, named Qatar Journal. The official launch will be on 12 May 2007 (exactly one month after my chat with Qatari) - it will be rough around the edges, but it's better to launch quickly and fix things as we go along.

Basically, there's going to be no editorial. The easiest way to scare advertisers is to start getting cynical about press releases, so I'm going to leave all discussion to the readers. Obviously, there's going to be an editorial element in choosing stories, and here I have an advantage over the newspapers' sites: I only need to pick around 10 stories a day, whereas they are publishing (almost) everything.

Anyhow, I just wanted to blog this before anyone starts asking - "why are you trying to compete with QL?". I'm not. I'm a regular QL reader, and it's great. Qatar Journal is an online local newspaper, and when it generates its own community, it will have a very different tone to QL. Hopefully, some readers will visit both sites, but I would guess that most QL regulars will stick with what they know - I'm not trying to poach anyone.

Let me know what you think about the site, and keep an eye on progress. Everything should be working very soon, but it'll take a couple of weeks to get the site looking professional.

Also, discovered Alexa today. Here is an image snapshot of Qatar websites (April 2007), and a permalink for future comparison.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

First TC meeting

So, Gord and I are at the security conference for a few days. Here's a few things I've learned:
  • The current malware products are sophisticated - the HackDoor client looks a well-designed piece of software engineering. I'd always assumed they would be fairly naive. The server side looks simpler, but then server programming is simple ;)

  • Phishing scams have avoided those banks which have implemented two-way authentication on their websites.

  • Firewire ports and PCMCIA slots have direct memory access, so can be used to copy an image of your computer's RAM even if no one is logged in. This can recover useful forensic material even after a reboot cycle, as modern BIOS's don't clear RAM. Eek.

  • Vista has an option for encrypting the filesystem. However, files are cached in RAM in an unencrypted state. Eek.

  • There are no data, from anyone, on the scale of the IT security problem that exists in the gulf. Honestly.

There aren't many delegates from Qatar at the conference beyond the staff of Q-CERT. That's a shame, and I can't work out whether it's down to a lack of interest or poor advertising. I'm sure if they'd mentioned the free Ritz lunches, the attendance would have been much higher.

Monday, April 09, 2007

iGov ictQatar IT Forum

TOO MANY ACRONYMS! The Gulf Times (and probably every other paper) today announced there's going to be a meeting at the Ritz tomorrow to talk about developing government IT services so they can be accessed through the web. I could probably make some useful suggestions, if I were invited. But I'm not, and neither are you.

Why bother advertising a meeting if it's not open to the public? That's like me issuing a press release saying "Family meeting, 7.30, around the dinner table. We're going to talk about the state of the bathroom." Of course, Wednesday's papers will follow up the story with photos of Hessa al-Jaber shaking some guy's hand. There won't be any details of what was discussed - just a photo and a repeat of the purposes of the meeting. Grr.

Given that I'm not invited, here are my suggestions. The important ones are non-technical.

  1. Scatter the money around. Don't spend millions on a single project to do everything - it will fail, and all your money will have been wasted.

  2. All initial projects should be finished within three months. A two-year project will fail, and you will be two years behind schedule.

  3. After three months, see who's got something working - give them more money and more responsibility. Stop funding the projects that haven't achieved anything; look for new small projects instead.

  4. Replace the leaders of failed projects. Publicise the successful projects.

  5. Insist on compliance to internet standards. If someone is using an ActiveX control, Macromedia Flash, or non-validating HTML, take away their money. They don't understand the web, and eventually you will be embarrassed if people believe their solution is representative of the State of Qatar.

  6. Insist that people use a free database in their solutions. It saves on costly licenses for still-born projects, and the database code will be cleaner if programmers believe they need to swap from MySQL to Oracle at a later date.

  7. Apart from following internet standards, and using free databases, don't enforce any other standards. In particular, enforcing Microsoft products will halve your pool of talented programmers; enforcing project management and system analysis methodologies will double the bureaucratic overhead. Both of these will encourage failure.