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:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrYykvP6jMA

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]
police.gov.il
 
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.
iaa.gov.il
 
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!
moc.gov.il
 
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!
moital.gov.il
 
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]
mod.gov.il
 
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.
bestlife.co.il
 
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.
sviva.gov.il
 
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]
shoptime.co.il
 
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.
galcontrol.com
 
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]
stockelectric.fav.co.il
 

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.


Afterword:
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.

Why frgdr.com Changed Its Hosting Provider from Yahoo to GoDaddy – Follow-up #1

I recently transferred my hosting from Yahoo to GoDaddy and elaborated on the reasons that led me to this inevitable move after a couple of years of gradually increasing disappointments from the Sunnyvale company.

As somewhat of a computer geek, I never thought I would need assistance from the customer support department, and never thought it to be a factor in choosing a hosting provider. Unfortunately, the two times I had to contact Yahoo I was shocked that a corporate giant like them would allow its customer support to function this poorly. With offshoring, ridiculous salaries and meaningless mandatory responding times, the old saying resonates: You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

To grant you an unbiased opportunity to know Yahoo without the dubious honor of becoming their customer, I am posting here the entire six emails that span only one incident. I believe reading it is worth your time. Please note the dates and try to imagine the level of frustration one reaches when waiting for a reply and getting a Yahoo instead.


Email #1:
From: frgdr.com
To: Yahoo! Web Hosting
Subject: Banning IPs and or .htaccess
Date: Fri, 28 Oct 2005 14:31:06

Hello Yahoo people!

Now that my site is up and running for a while, I wanted to know how can I keep certain IP addresses off it, as I have started seeing Spiders that do not follow the robots.txt file.

Appreciate your prompt reply by email,
Shahar Golan.


Reply #1:
From: Yahoo! Web Hosting
To: frgdr.com
Subject: Re: Banning IPs and or .htaccess
Date: Sat, 29 Oct 2005 10:43:12

Hello Shahar,
Thank you for writing to Yahoo! Web Hosting.

As I understand from your mail, you need information regarding keeping away IP addresses.

In order for us to better assist you, we require some additional information. Please reply to this message and describe all of the actions you took that led up to the problem — include any of the following relevant information. The more information we have, the better able we will be to investigate this issue.

* Your Yahoo! ID
* Your domain name
* A clear and detailed description of the problem
* The exact steps you took before the problem occurred, and the text of any error message you received

I look forward to your reply.
Regards,
Wilson
Yahoo! Customer Care


Email #2:
From: frgdr.com
To: Yahoo! Web Hosting
Subject: Re: Banning IPs and or .htaccess
Date: Sat, 29 Oct 2005 11:10:24

Hi!
Thanks for the prompt reply, although I must say I am getting a bit annoyed by the Yahoo employees’ over use of semi-automatic answers :(

I will answer your automatic questions, although you could have retrieved them from the original post:
* Your Yahoo! ID: [redacted] (but you know that already)
* Your domain name: frgdr.com (but you know that already)
* A clear and detailed description of the problem: How can I keep certain IP addresses off my site.
* The exact steps you took before the problem occurred, and the text of any error message you received: If you read the original post, you could have understood no steps were taken by me, I JUST NEED TO KNOW HOW TO BAN CERTAIN IP ADDRESSES, as I encountered spiders that do not follow my robots.txt file.

If you need further information, or just want me to repeat myself for your own amusement, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Shahar Golan,
a soon-to-be unsatisfied customer.


Reply #2:
From: Yahoo! Web Hosting
To: frgdr.com
Subject: Re: Banning IPs and or .htaccess
Date: Sat, 29 Oct 2005 15:35:05

Hello Shahar,
Thank you for writing to Yahoo! Web Hosting. I hope this email will answer your question.

As I understand your concern is about getting a static IP address for your Web Hosting Starter account.

I would like to inform you that Yahoo! Web Hosting does not provides static IP address for the domain name. Yahoo! provides dynamic IP address for all the domain names.

Please do not hesitate to reply if you need further assistance.
Regards,
Chad
Yahoo! Customer Care


Email #3:
From: frgdr.com
To: Yahoo! Web Hosting
Subject: Re: Banning IPs and or .htaccess
Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 09:49:10

Hello Chad,
 Hello Wilson,
  Hello Brad,
   Hello Gibson!

Thank you all for giving me the precious opportunity to write to the Yahoo Customer Care team. I really cherish these moments we spend together, and if you don’t mind my saying – it make me feel you really DO care about your customers – what with the frequent corresponding I can honestly say I have found true pen pals.

Now, let us assume I was not looking for friends, but for actual service, how would the Yahoo people respond?
Let me refer you to a nice page I found by a small company called Yahoo:
http://docs.yahoo.com/info/values/
The page quotes the company values, words that may feel strange to you: excellence, innovation, and customer fixation – to name a few.
It seems to me all the people at the Yahoo Customer Care decided to focus on the last value: fun – and indeed, they are goofing off out there playing around with customers.

Now, assuming you read this far, there is a chance you are genuinely, honestly interested in answering my question – which I will now repeat for the third time:

————————————————-
————————————————-
————————————————-
————————————————-
————————————————-
HOW CAN I BAN CERTAIN IPs FROM ACCESSING MY SITE.
————————————————-
————————————————-
————————————————-
————————————————-
————————————————-

If you:
1. Have no idea what I am talking about
2. Do not have any technical knowledge
3. Do not know what banning is
4. Do not know what .htaccess is
5. Do not speak English
– then please forward this email to a representative who does.

Your never-meant-to-be-your Friend,
Shahar.


Reply #3:
From: Yahoo! Web Hosting
To: frgdr.com
Subject: Re: Banning IPs and or .htaccess
Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 11:17:51

Hello Shahar,
Thank you for writing to Yahoo! Web Hosting. I hope this email will answer your question.

As I understand you want to:
1) ban certain IP address to access your web site, and
2) use .htaccess for your web site.

For both the issues: 1) & 2) We’re sorry, the feature you are mentioning is not currently available through Yahoo! Web Hosting and we do not have an estimated date as to when or if it will be available. However, we’ll pass your comments on to our Development team for further consideration.
We are always looking for ways to make Yahoo! Web Hosting more useful to our users, and we will be sure to keep your question in mind as we continue to make improvements to our service.

Please do not hesitate to reply if you need further assistance.
Regards,
Chad
Yahoo! Customer Care

Why frgdr.com Changed Its Hosting Provider from Yahoo to GoDaddy

Warning, GEEKY POST! Move on, folks, nothing to see here!
Unlike my regular posts about life, liberty and the pursuit of decent hummus, this is a pretty rare post intended for the technically savvy only, so do not bore yourself if webmastering is not your cup of tea. Read some other stuff here.

Okay, now the fact that you can actually read this post means that I was successful in changing a hosting provider from Yahoo.com to GoDaddy.com and I will discuss my reasons here:

When I first registered my website on August 2005 I wanted to host it with a company that:
1. Is recognized and respected and would not vanish after a couple of months
2. Has a large clientele thus its customer support would be good.
3. Is located outside Israel for security reasons (both cyber-attacks and actual real-life attacks)
4. Would offer a good value for its price.
For all these reasons I chose Yahoo Hosting Starter plan: US$12/month. 5GB disk space, 200GB data transfer.

I gradually became disillusioned with Yahoo, but it took quite a bit of time. It seemed the more I knew of the company – the less I liked my decision to work with them. The reasons to leave Yahoo started piling up:
1. A couple of months after I launched my website, I wanted to configure .htaccess to stop unruly bots from accessing it. This is when I learned that Yahoo does not allow its customers to configure that, amongst many other advanced features disabled by Yahoo.
2. To get a straight ‘No, we don’t provide it’ answer about .htaccess took the Yahoo customer support no less than two days and three emails, as the offshore employees are forced to reply using scripted answers. I have posted the whole torture-through-emails correspondence as a follow-up to this post – make sure you read it as it is well worth your time.
3. Yahoo’s over-zealous cooperation with the Chinese government became clearer as the number of human rights violations facilitated by its branches grew.
4. In May 2007 I launched a blog, only to find out Yahoo provides a crippled and outdated version of WordPress, with no easy way to upgrade it.
5. I became acquainted with GoDaddy when a client of mine needed me to design a website for him and he had already had a GoDaddy account. When I needed some DNS-related help and emailed GoDaddy’s customer support department, I was amazed at how fast the reply came (just a couple of hours later), how human it sounded and how helpful and accurate it was. That got me thinking why the heck am I paying four times as much as the equivalent GoDaddy Economy Plan costs: US$4/month. 5GB disk space, 250GB data transfer.
A couple of months later when I inquired about transferring my own website to GoDaddy.com, the answers were just as fast, just as accurate.
6. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a recent event when for three weeks thousand of websites (including mine) were down, producing on-again-off-again Error 500s. The good people at Yahoo were gracious enough to tell me they are ‘aware of it’ – but did not elaborate on the cause for the incident or their estimated time to fix the problem. Also, once the problem was fixed no notification was sent from Yahoo and no restitution was offered.

So now frgdr.com is happily hosted here, and hopefully this is a beginning of a beautiful partnership. We have upgraded to the latest WordPress version, started using web2.0 folksonomy tags, and are in a good mood for further site improvements.

…And now back to your previously scheduled blogging.

HotOrNot for Über-Geeks

You probably remember how addictive was rating girls on HotOrNot.com a while back. A recently launched NYC Jelly project compares website design by showing you a screen capture of two homepages at a time, and lets you pick the winner. It is the ultimate HotOrNot for geeks and it is called CommandShift3.

Besides being utterly addictive, it is a great way to check out the current Web2.0 trends. At this moment in time, these are the best and worst designed websites:

All Time Best And Worst Website Design (as of January 4th, 2008) - CommandShift3.com

Diplomacy Needs All the Words It Can Get Its Hands On

Israeli Knesset member Shelly Yacimovich has started using Snooz, the Israeli Twitter-wannabe, as another way to communicate her message to the masses.
While it is probably an aid that actually updates her status, there is something cool about getting RSS updates from a parliament member. Then again, the preposterous idea of communicating a message using one sentence is a sure sign of the times. Let’s see how long she can keep this up (currently 4 updates in 8 days).

MK Shelly Yacimovich on Snooz

How about updating her WordPress blog more often, instead?

I’ve been at the State Department for 30 years and there is no right answer to these questions and diplomacy needs all the words it can get its hands on.

– Asst. Secretary of State Albie Duncan (Hal Holbrook) – The West Wing TV Series