What’s Wrong With the Israeli Internet Today? – An Update

Two years ago, while watching the film Rendition I was quite taken with Moroccan actress Zineb Oukach which I mistook for Israeli actress Hadar Ratzon. This led to my making a point about the Israeli Internet being stuck in the 1990’s, a point I seem to keep on making.

Later on I used the Israeli Screen Actors Guild as an example for Israel’s laxed approach to privacy and how, for instance, Ratzon’s cellphone number, SSN and date of birth can be revealed using a simple Google search.

Now, since most people cannot distinguish between a ‘white hat’ and a ‘black hat’, it is quite likely all this made me look like a kind of stalker. Creating a portrait of Ratzon out of her cellphone digits probably didn’t help. 🙂
I get that vibe now and again from people who don’t get technology. I guess it’s true what they say: ignorance is bliss. Apparently once one’s naivete has been interrupted, one sometimes gets upset.

Okay, so in two years’ time has anything changed? Not much:
1. Israel’s leading acting agency Perry Kafri still won’t spend a couple of bucks building a website for each of its actors.
2. Two years ago, Hadar Ratzon’s page consisted of three photos, one coding error and no background information. Today it boasts eight photos, zero coding errors, some background information – but also quite a few errors including some kind of “Mongols contest” which presumably stands for “monologue contest”; Plus a characterization of Ratzon’s acting part in “Rendition” as “leading role” – a gross exaggeration.
3. Two years later, the Israeli Screen Actors Guild did nothing to curtail its privacy leakage.
4. Hadar Ratzon now has an official website! Yes, I was quite happy to be notified of this glorious fact by a friend of Ratzon who built it for her (oh, but of course). Two years ago I suggested HadarRatzon.com – but apparently she went with HadarRatzon.co.il.

And so we get enough progress to celebrate with a showreal [sic]. Here’s to hoping Hadar Ratzon is taking all this in stride:

Top 10 Signs Your Website is Stuck in the 1990s

Page under construction – Every website is a work in progress, there is no need to state the obvious. The only thing these ‘under construction’ pages do well is attract attention to the fact that the webmaster was too lazy to complete the task.
Case in point: the official police.gov.il website whose emergercy lines [sic] page in English kindly asks you to wait for its construction. [Now fixed]
IE only website – the unspoken rule amongst lazy webmasters is that if a website looks nice in Internet Explorer – that should suffice. This leads to websites with shoddy codes that don’t show up well on other browsers.
Case in point: the Airport Authority’s official website iaa.gov.il would occasionally flat out refuse to serve visitors with ‘incompatible’ browsers.
Recommended screen resolution – a classic relic of the nineties, this is a continuation of the notion that a website looking fine on the webmaster’s screen is enough. Can you imagine someone changing their screen resolution in order to view a website properly?
Case in point: apparently the Ministry of Communications’ website moc.gov.il imagines your doing just that!
A bunch of links – back when websites were in the thousands and search engines were being built, we relied on the last website to direct us to the next one, as visiting websites was the end – not the means. But that was then…
Case in point: The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor worries you may be lost, and so they post on moital.gov.il a whole buncha links, including a link to their own website!
Clip art overdose – before website design was a profession, style or taste were not a prerequisite and so a renaissance of ‘functional’ (read: hideous) websites ensued. Taking a generic photo and making it into a button was common practice back then.
Case in point: The Ministry of Defense trying to get away with a generic handshake image on their mod.gov.il homepage. [Now fixed]
Congratulations, it’s a portal – when the virtual world was shiny and new, people thought if they’re already inventing a new image why not call their site a ‘portal’, a gateway to the internet, as this might fool visitors into thinking it is bigger and more important than it really is.
Case in point: bestlife.co.il is not a tiny website but a ‘Best Life Portal’, an entrance to a world of knowledge.
Make this your homepage – dot-com era delusions of grandeur: my site is not just important, it is so relevant to your life that I will make it easier for the scores of people flocking to make it their homepage – and add this button.
Case in point: the Ministry of Environmental Protection thinks sviva.gov.il is where the citizenry start their day.
e-shops with foggy ‘About’ pages – Unlike the real world where customers can easily evaluate the store they entered, there are precautionary steps that online shoppers must take, like noticing an ‘About’ page with the company’s vision but no physical location or phone number.
Case in point: With zero real-world details, shoptime.co.il puts customers at the company’s mercy. [Now closed]
e-shops without prices – a relic of an era when customers had no power and comparison shopping meant calling stores hoping they don’t have a no-quoting-prices-over-the-phone policy. These businesses may as well put up a banner saying: ‘You will pay more here!’
Case in point: galcontrol.com wants you to call them, coz you can’t get the nice-face discount while browsing online.
Companies using free hosting – Multimillion-dollar businesses that refuse to shell out 5 bucks a month for a self-hosted website, settling for a free service, here today, gone tomorrow.
Case in point: stockelectric.fav.co.il, the online presence of Stock Electric, which must have spent all their money on offices and warehouses and trucks, or they would have enough for a permanent online address. [Now closed]

What’s Wrong With the Israeli Internet Today? – Brought To You Courtesy of the Israeli Ministry of Transport

I have already posted an elaborate list of the top annoyances plaguing the Israeli Internet*, but wherever my mouse takes me I encounter more and more prototypical examples:

Let’s say you want to check out the official website of the Israeli Ministry of Transportation. You skip Google, as you can distinctly recall the easy to remember URL from a radio spot, and so you type in: mot.gov.il – only to receive this disappointing page:
[singlepic id=90 w=500 h=441 float=center]

No, 404 is not the serial number of a new form you need to fill out, but the error message you get as someone was not clever enough to define the DNS settings properly.

Now, I should point out that the world can be divided into two groups:

  • One group is made up of those who believe that, similar to Dorothy clicking her heels three times, their typing the letter W three times magically charges the Internet, thus allowing it to flow smoothly and deliver data to their computer. Individuals within that group tend to utter phrases like ‘I clicked on the Internet’ or ‘the Internet is broken’.
  • The second group is made up of those who actually know what FTP, gopher or telnet mean, thus knowing WWW was an arbitrarily chosen name for the server that delivers HTML pages. Individuals in this group tend to skip the unnecessary typing of www in domain names, but will always say ‘double-you double-you double-you’ when dictating web addresses to acquaintances they do not consider particularly sharp.


Okay, back to the Ministry of Transportation:
Upon receiving the 404 error, you enter the same address with the WWW prefix, and lo and behold, you get the government website:
[singlepic id=89 w=500 h=441 float=center]

Now take a close look at the web address in the right-hand corner:

That’s right! No www!

Now, as I pointed out in a previous post, aside from the obvious disaster of not showing your reader the requested website, there are two additional mistakes the MOT webmasters made:

  • They failed to define a human-readable 404 error page, with some helpful links
  • They failed to define a reporting mechanism that would raise a flag at the webmasters side


Related browser trick:
Clicking Ctrl-Enter instead of Enter in your address bar, results in the auto completion of the URL with a ‘www’ prefix and a ‘.com’ suffix.


* For a lack of a better term, ‘Israeli Internet’ is what I call the ad-hoc collection of websites run by Israelis.
** As with my previous posts, all the information was checked, double checked, and was correct at the time of its publishing.

What’s Wrong With the Israeli Internet Today? – Brought To You Courtesy of the Israeli Screen Actors Guild

Update 1/2010: Hadar Ratzon now has an official website at HadarRatzon.co.il

I have already posted an elaborate list of the top annoyances plaguing the Israeli Internet, but wherever my mouse takes me I encounter more and more prototypical examples:
Today, while preparing to reply to a recent reader’s comment in a post I wrote about Israeli actress Hadar Ratzon, I stumbled upon her private cell phone number, her home number, home address, and email. Yes, believe it or not – all it took was a simple Google search, as apparently Shaham, the Israeli Screen Actors Guild thought it wise to upload her resum? to their website, including the mentioned contact details. Upon expanding my search I found around 150 members’ resumes, many of which included contact details and even the coveted national ID number (an SSN equivalent).

This is what where we are headed in this 21st century: never mind the criminal acts, like the occasional stealing of Ministry of Interior records and uploading it to the nearest P2P network – no need for criminal acts when the government ships the database by regular mail and it gets lost. Never mind the illegal reverse telephone lookup which lets you easily spy upon a caller, revealing its name and address – no need for illegal acts when a body of government passes regulation to reveal contact details of pet owners, so that as long as you are stalking someone who has a dog, you can get all your spying needs fulfilled legally.

[singlepic id=55 w=240 h=360 float=right]Forget about sex tapes leaked to the internet – that is just entertainment compared to the tidal wave of bank frauds, phishing scams and identity thefts headed our way. You thought The Net was a silly 1995 film with Sandra Bullock? Better think again. Lucky for Bullock she is not a member of the Israeli SAG, so I cannot use her cell phone number as a gimmick to end this post – but if you liked the 2007 film Rendition, just pick up the phone and convey that to cast member Hadar Ratzon – you already know how to find her phone number.

It’s not about abortion. It’s about the next 20 years. Twenties and thirties, it was the role of government. Fifties and sixties, it was civil rights. The next two decades, it’s gonna be privacy. I’m talking about the Internet. I’m talking about cell phones. I’m talking about health records, and who’s gay and who’s not. And moreover, in a country born on a will to be free, what could be more fundamental than this?

– Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) – The West Wing TV Series


* As with my previous ‘What’s Wrong With the Israeli Internet Today?’ posts, all the information was checked, double checked, and was correct at the time of its publishing. On average, things I complain about tend to get fixed, usually within a few weeks, so if you stumbled upon this page and got different Google results, it probably means that the relevant people read my post. No worries, in the age of Internet Archive, nothing posted on the internet can ever be removed.

** Hadar Ratzon was somewhat surprised an hour ago when I rang her up. Although she knew Shaham had her resum?, she was not aware that any Tom, Dick or Harry can just run her digits and get her on the phone (or show up at her doorstep, for that matter). She did not sound too happy about that.
On a related side note, she acknowledged visiting the mentioned previous post about her on my blog, and insinuated it was the trigger for improving her official Agency page.

ANSI art created using HTML Image Page Builder

What’s Wrong With the Israeli Internet Today? – Brought To You Courtesy of the IDF

I have already posted an elaborate list of the top annoyances plaguing the Israeli Internet*, but wherever my mouse takes me I encounter more and more prototypical examples:

Let’s say you want to check out the official website of the Israeli Defense Forces. You google IDF (in Hebrew in our example), and get these results:
[singlepic id=29 w=450 h=900 float=center]

Oh my, you hit the jackpot! The first result is exactly what you were looking for. Feeling lucky you click the first result only to receive this disappointing page:
[singlepic id=30 w=450 h=900 float=center]

No, 404 is not a new Israeli army unit, but the error message you get as of recent days, as someone was clever enough to wait for the page to reach Google’s number one result and only then screw up with the DNS settings.

Aside from the obvious disaster of not showing your reader the requested website, following are additional mistakes by the IDF webmasters:

  • Failing to define a human-readable 404 error page, with some helpful links
  • Failing to define a reporting mechanism that would raise a flag at the webmasters’ side
  • Defining a folder name with CAPS is very unorthodox, and using a Hebrew word (‘dover’) is an additional no no. These two methods assure your readers never remember the exact URL, making them dependent on search engine results – and we just learned how far that gets you.

If you still want to check out the IDF website, you can click here for Hebrew or click here for English:
[singlepic id=31 w=450 h=900 float=center]

* For a lack of a better term, ‘Israeli Internet’ is what I call the ad-hoc collection of websites run by Israelis.

What’s Wrong With the Israeli Internet Today? – Brought To You Courtesy of Hadar Ratzon

Update 1/2010: Hadar Ratzon now has an official website at HadarRatzon.co.il

I have already posted an elaborate list of the top annoyances plaguing the Israeli Internet*, but wherever my mouse takes me I encounter more and more prototypical examples:

Let’s say you’re watching the film Rendition (2007), and you notice a breathtaking actress:
[singlepic id=4 w=450 h=254 float=center]

You wait until the movie ends, and by scanning the credit list you find out her name is Hadar Ratzon:
[singlepic id=6 w=450 h=254 float=center]

You come home from the cinema, and anxiously google it:
[singlepic id=7 w=450 h=254 float=center]

Of course you did not really expect to find an official HadarRatzon.com website, as that may cost up to ten (10!) dollars a year, but the first result is her agent and it seems promising:
[singlepic id=8 w=450 h=296 float=center]

Guess again! Three photos and a website error – this is all the information you get from the company that gets a significant percentage off her income. Could there be a better example to prove that Israeli companies do not consider the Internet a marketing tool, nor a knowledge acquisition tool?

* For a lack of a better term, ‘Israeli Internet’ is what I call the ad-hoc collection of websites run by Israelis.

Thanks to reader koko, I stand corrected. I must have been mesmerized by Fatima Fawal (Zineb Oukach) and her middle-eastern features, that when the credits rolled I mixed her up with Safiya (Hadar Ratzon). As koko suggested, Safiya is the lover and co-worker of Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal). Here is a frame of hers from the film:
[singlepic id=14 w=450 h=254 float=center]
And another one, just to make it up to her:
[singlepic id=15 w=450 h=254 float=center]
Either way, my critique of the Israeli Internet still stands – it just so happens that this entire post started by a case of mistaken identity.

Top Annoyances Plaguing the Israeli Internet – Part 2

I have previously mentioned eight calamities plaguing the Israeli internet. I will now elaborate on five more such plagues, so feel free to freshen up by reading the previous post first.

Back so soon? Good. Here are my new observations:

Webmaster Knows Best
Many websites may give you what you want, but they will do it on their terms. One example for that is the Israeli Post who will let you query about a registered parcel, but will make it impossible for you to bookmark the query in order to execute it later.
Another example is a popular cooking show that publishes its recipes online but will only let you print them out or see one recipe at a time, as their webmaster must not have heard of tabbed browsing or multi-tasking – but he sure loves his URL masking.
Other webmasters try to disable your right-clicking so that, god forbid, you would not save one of their images without prior written consent. Obviously this method does not work as each graphic file you see online is saved on your computer whether you asked for it or not.
My general feeling about this subject is that while all these companies and organizations are making use of the internet, they do not really understand its underline basis of sharing information.

If I Tell You Its Price You Will Know How Much It Costs
This is an illness well embedded in the Israeli business culture from way before the internet, but it seems the net is just another platform for companies to carry the fog of war to. For years whenever you would call a local store to inquire about a price of a whatchamacallit, the reply would always be ‘we don’t give out prices over the phone’. I always assumed the aim of this method is to lure you to the store without comparing prices first – but in this day and age, when you can compare prices in a Zap – I only have to wonder what on earth makes these shopkeepers stick with their shtick.

Storefronts And Fronts For Stores
One of the many unwritten rules of the internet is: if you are not showing it – you must be hiding it. Whether it is a website for a hotel, a college or a computer store, if you do not elaborate on the people behind the establishment, if you do not show photos of the facilities – the assumption is that you have something to hide.
Back in the days of real-life stores, you would only need to step inside to see if this is a place where you might want to do business, but nowadays when everyone can have a great website, the only way to know if you are stepping into a storefront or just a front for a store – is the ‘About Us’ section. Many Israeli websites do not list names of people, a physical address, or a photo of the place, in an attempt to disguise the fact that this ‘well established business’ is run by two fourteen year old kids who may or may not send you the USB cable you ordered, as they might be grounded by their mommy and cannot get to the post office.

While all the Israeli bloggers have jumped on the RSS bandwagon, having seen how important this syndication tool is to knowledge-seekers, it seems that most Israeli websites have no idea what RSS is. Oddly enough, while many of these websites want you to sign up for their newsletter, they are unwilling to lift a finger to facilitate the needs of those who might be interested in the content but not so much interested in divulging private email addresses in the process of getting content.

May I Freshen That For Ya?
The ubiquitous usage of automatic-refreshing of webpages might not amount to click fraud but it sure is annoying. Many news websites (example #1, #2, #3) assume their readers are morons who would not be able to refresh the page, and so they do it for them. With a single line of code, they force every one of their readers’ browsers to retrieve the page again after a predetermined amount of time (usually 5 minutes). While using this method might make some sense on the always-changing main page of the website, it makes absolutely no sense when done on pages of individual articles. For users who use tabbed-browsing and open a number of articles they want to read in different tabs, the experience of reading an article and just when you are in the middle of it having it ‘magically’ refresh itself is a pet peeve.
As many of you might be reading this in Internet Explorer, you should be aware of the fact that other browsers offer the user the option to automatically refresh any webpage he desires.

Top Annoyances Plaguing the Israeli Internet

The Israeli Internet, the collective knowledgebase consisting of websites created and maintained by Israelis, is plagued, in my opinion, with problems that should have disappeared long ago. Well into its second decade, the Israeli net shows a lot of the symptoms that Israeli society show, including short memory, turf wars and little transparency. Here are the top annoyances that bug me every single day:

It is no wonder this Hebrew word is well known around the world. The famous Israeli impudence is embedded in the Israeli net, most notably visible with leading websites shoving pop-up ads into their visitors’ faces, often hiding or delaying the option to close the window, and accompanying the graphics with music or narration. And we are not talking about your run of the mill pr0n site doing it – these are Israel’s leading web portals.

You’re History
The net is the platform onto which humankind is documenting its knowledge, but not in Israel. It is common practice in the IsraNet for webmasters to stop supporting old pages upon upgrading their websites. Similarly, leading companies open an Ad Hoc website for a marketing campaign (e.g. new movie, new snack food), stop updating it after a month, and letting it close at the end of the year.

It seems that the golden rule for webmasters here can be summed up to one sentence: ‘If it works in Internet Explorer – then it works fine’. Nowhere else in the world can one find such poor compliance with HTML rules and the inevitable result is that IE is the only browser that guarantees Israeli websites would show up. Now, granted, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser is as popular here as it is around the world, and private websites can be given some slack, but when the leading Israeli banks manage websites that do not show up on the second most popular browser – it is simply unacceptable. Adding insult to injury, the banks’ own website boast about their great strides for internet security, all the while forcing every one of their customers to use the most unsafe browser ever invented.

This Land Is My Land
In the ancient land of Canaan, netizens mark their territory just as canines do. Israelis are obsessed with taking credit, rather than getting credit. No TV program is ripped without first embedding the nickname of the kid who had done it, no subtitle file is uploaded without the translator adding some thank you lines for his own hard work, and most images are watermarked from here to oblivion, regardless if they are an original work or not.

Website for Every Worker
It is surprising how many successful artists do not foster a website. Singers who perform in sold out venues, who employ managers and PR people, do not see the benefits in having a website – or they do have a website, a fluffy one with almost no content and no updates.

We Don’t Need No (More) Stinking Knowledge
It seems Israeli news websites are certain they are the alpha and omega, as they seldom add links for additional knowledge, even when the entire article discusses a new website. With the nature of the Hebrew language, foreign names can be spelled in different ways. This means that the nasty habit of Israeli websites to not add the English spelling of a name, sends readers into a search frenzy just to track down the discussed website or person. When a recent article discussed Congressman Keith Ellison, it forced readers wanting to read more on the official website to do a lot of searching, as a link was not provided and the Hebrew spelling of Ellison can also be translated back to Alison, Allison and Elison.

Sub Par Subdomains
When the three letters, WWW, were arbitrarily chosen as the default subdomain back in the days, no one probably thought the internet was destined to be surfed by laymen who would grow to expect the tongue tying prefix. Nowadays, people all over the world type in mail.google.com or movies.yahoo.com – but not in Israel. The triple double u’s have become synonymous in Israel with a website’s address, so much so that people do not understand how to type in mail.yahoo.com upon request. Instead of educating the masses, websites tend to use a lot of slashes, thus many radio ads quote website addresses full of slashes or unneeded sub-subdomains (e.g. www.hachvana.mod.gov.il)

Your Ad Here
Many websites choose not to have an independent website and reside under an irrelevant domain, chose only for its monetary values. When Israeli number one radio station’s website is glglz.msn.co.il you know something is wrong. Usually, as with the mentioned example, the collaboration ends after some time, and the website ceases to work (see ‘You’re History’ )