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Interview with Roy Troxel

Link: Interview with Roy Troxel

Filed under: Interviews, Internet, Security by Brian Turner

Roy Troxel is the editor of the Web Server Times, an online publication for the IT industry.

Roy has been in the IT business for twelve years and started his own company, Cyber-Routes, in 2002. He has a BA from Cornell University and is a Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW).

The Web Server Times features articles on servers, security, and other technology, from a webmaster’s viewpoint. If you’re too busy to visit all the tech forums, subscribe to our newsletter to stay current with the trends that are affecting your career. Or just bookmark us and visit daily.


1. You’re a long time user of the internet. What was the first attraction
for you of going online?

What first attracted me to the Internet? Pure romance. The idea of connecting to people anywhere on the planet. A friend of mine’s daughter said, “It’s just a lot of computers strung together.” If I had seen it that way, I would have pulled the plug immediately.

2. The internet must have changed considerably since then. In which key ways would you say that the internet has evolved? Would you say it’s more in the way certain services and ISPs (ie, Google) have become established, or would you say there’s been a sea-change in user behaviour?

I would say the biggest changes since I first got onto the Web in 1993 have been wireless and broadband high-speed.

I entered the IT industry in the 1980s, working first as a PC technician, building and rehabilitating desktops for various companies.

After obtaining the various certificates and the necessary experience, I began building and administering network servers, Web servers and eventually entire server facilities. By the 1990s, I was completely caught up in the information highway and loving every minute of it. In
1994, I bought shares in Microsoft and Intel, as well as several “growth” stock funds.

By 2001, I began to see the handwriting on the wall. Something was seriously wrong in the IT industry. Every other person I knew was starting his or her own business, and I just knew they couldn’t all succeed. But the banks still kept loaning money to these people and the investors still kept investing.

Everybody knows what happened next, so I’ll skip the details. In my case, the contracts became fewer and the compensation lower, so I decided to go into business on the Web. The Internet could possibly open up a world-wide market! It would be a matter of finding the right client
niche, doing the right kind of marketing, but with my experience, I could maybe meet other people and…Who knows? (I believe that can still be the case today, but I ‘m a lot shrewder about it than I was in 2002.)

I felt that the best way for me to begin communicating would be with a newsletter and a…Web log! (Or “blog” for short.) Very “cutting edge” in 2002. Thus, The Web Server Times was born.

The Web Server Times began on a well-known hosting service that claimed to promote your site as well as host it. Their hype went something like: “This gives you the time to run your business. We’ll take care of all this techie/marketing stuff.” This is like a stock broker saying, “Just give me your money, and I’ll do the rest.” Many of their “innovations” were actually JavaScript programs which you can download for free from numerous sites. Nonetheless, I was new to ecommerce at the time, and I did learn from the experience. (After one year, however, I negotiated an excellent arrangement with my current host. )

3. Currently there’s a lot of focus on Web 2.0, especially as a social networking platform. Do you think there’s a danger that lots of Web 2.0 companies are repeating Dotcom? Also, do you think there are key Web 2.0 companies and strategies that we are likely to see as hubs on the internet for the future?

As for Web 2.0, I guess it’s based on the fact there have been so many changes since 2002 that the Web has taken a quantum leap forward and has created a new wireless international coffee-house environment. As you walk into your home, your wireless network begins its work, cooking your dinner, turning on your TV and turning up the air conditioning.

As you pass your telephone, its infrared detectors sense your presence and the phone says “Four new calls, Mr. Troxel”. You walk up to your computer, look at the 42″ screen and speak into the microphone: “Today’s prices for all my holdings. Print them out, please…And I need to know the latest used car prices in Baltimore.” And then your noiseless laser HP does its work. All of these devices are feasible today, and I guess that could cause a sea-change in user behavior!

But Web 2.0 is also promotional gimmick. That’s not bad. Thomas Edison began that practice with his own “Edison” label. The problem is that it means so many different things to too many people. I visited a number of forums where the subject was discussed and that’s the only conclusion I can come to. However, if some company’s software says “Follows Web 2.0
Standards”, I would be suspicious.

4. To return to social networking - it seems like there’s a specific focus on the social aspects of the web, not least with blogging. Do you think there’s a danger of social networking being over-stated? After all, internet communities have existed since the first days of the internet. Do you think blogs are likely over-hyped as a community medium, and where do you see the role of internet forums in the scheme of social networking?

How much social communication is really going on here?

First, you’ve got the hate sites and the porn sites. They don’t figure in this discussion.

Then you have the highly opinionated sites, often political in nature. Because of the relatively anonymous nature of the Internet, the blogger can post any opinion he wants, with no editorial supervision or fact-checking. What’s more, there is a market for this! These sites are not really communicating anything but rather are re-affirming what their readers already believed.

Then there are the blogs that appeal to a very specific niche. Here is where the true “revolution” is. Here is where the true communities are being established. Instead of appealing to a mass audience (sometimes the lowest common denominator), the “true” blogger uses the resources of
the Internet to convey useful data to his or her specialized audience.

This isn’t always easy. I tried a blogging site myself for two years. I was trying to work with three other bloggers, all of whom were intelligent entrepeneurs, but within two years I had to abandon the project. The first blogger had become a scientologist and began posting daily medical reports of his wife’s failing condition. The second had joined a militia/vigilante group, shut down his hosting service, and is now employed as a truck driver. The third became a muddle-headed crank, obsessed with conspiracy theories. (Everybody he disagreed with was a
“fascist”.)

5. In your blog you’ve mentioned a lot about advances in computing, such as distributed computing and smart dust. Do you see these as having any specific shaping role in how the internet develops from a user point of view, or are they simply technologies that simply sustain our current consumption of the internet, and attempt to help speed up access to services?

Innovations like distributed computing and smart dust are still in the laboratory phase, in my opinion. When they become a reality, via nanotechnology, yes, you will see a tsunami of a sea-change in user behavior. Imagine swallowing a pill containing smart dust: your internal
system is now part of the Internet!

6. If there’s one big bugbear when it comes to the internet, it’s security issues. Whether we’re talking about email spam or servers being hacked, it seems that at every step there’s an exploit to be opened up against users. Do you think that software companies and ISPs are really taking matters of security as seriously as they should, or do you think the key to secure computing online is user awareness of basic security protections?

First, let’s realize that there isn’t a computer on the Web that can’t be hacked. The question is: Is it worth the effort? If the hackers think it’s worth spending a few years hacking into the Bank of America, they will get to work on the job.It’s a matter of risk vs. reward.Could the present day firewall around China be hacked? Of course. There may be Chinese revolutionaries planning the job as I write. Or maybe the KGB or the CIA is on the case.

As far as ISPs go, my own service (Comcast) is very slow with security matters because they don’t see that kind of support as being cost-effective. This is especially true in the matter of spam.

7. You’ve mentioned before about concerns you’ve had as an affiliate merchant with Amazon. Do you think that the internet is moving away from affiliate relationships, or do you think that it’s simply the case that once a company becomes more established, it tends to seek to reduce the rewards from affiliate marketing? Where do you think the future of affiliate marketing is headed?

In 2002, I was introduced to the world of affiliate programs. It all seemed so easy at the time. Just copy and paste logos and links onto your Web site. Visitors would click through to the affiliates, buy a product and you’d get the commission.

Wrong! As it turned out, most companies’ links were sneaky ways to advertise the companies’ products, because most affiliate programs didn’t bother using cookies to track whether the sale came from your site or somebody else’s. Sure, there were exceptions, but you had to really look for them. I went with those that advertised “permanent”, or at least “90-day” cookies.

Then there was the problem of attracting visitors. After several weeks’ research I found Google Adwords and in the fall of 2004, launched an extensive and expensive campaign to bring visitors to The Web Server Times. I had also teamed up with Amazon and had posted links to their products on my Web pages containing content that described or explained the device being advertised. The search engines like that, I was advised.

But I had made one fatal error: My market timing was off. I had launched the campaign in the fall, and not during Christmas season - the biggest buying season of the year. To make the long story short, by the time the season started (the last week in November in the US) I had spent all my Adwords budget!

The final blow came this spring. Amazon decided to cut its commissions in half, making 4% the highest possible amount. In addition, their cookie life-span was decreased to 24 hours.

The moral of the story is this: Create your affiliations the old-fashion way. Take potential affiliates out to lunch, pat their dogs and praise their families. Link-pasting just isn’t going to do it. All the money I spent on Adwords I could have invested in a good bond fund. It looks like a.) a lot of affililate prorams aren’t reliable, or b.) if they are, they will disappear once the company feels it isn’t a necessary part of its revenue.

There are still some advantages to the affiliate partner however: low overhead, no real bookkeeping, no shipping, etc.. But with a 4% commission, you have to sell a lot of products or services, which means you have to drive a lot of people to your site to make it all worthwhile.

Michael Bloch, of ThinkHost, has a simple game plan. When something new comes out, like MySpace.com or ringtones, he scours the Web to learn all he can about it, and then “searches for the gold”.

8. You’ve also mentioned previously that you have a strong interest in investing, especially in internet companies. Do you think that internet companies are in any way higher risk investment compared to bricks and mortar companies? And are there any particular companies you think deserve closer attention, and if so, why?

In light of all this, however, the emphasis to US investors is on “value” stocks over “growth” stocks. The IT companies of the 1990s were all growth stocks. They put their profits back into research and development, not into dividend payments for investors. When many of these companies failed, the investors lost everything.

A “value” company however has usually been around for several decades, like General Electric, and can afford to pay dividends to its investors. A startup company could never do this of course, so the emphasis is on established blue-chip stocks.

In view of this, Internet stocks are clearly growth stocks. Even Microsoft is still in this category, although they did pay out a one-time dividend in 2004. So, if you’re interested in Red Hat or Cisco, be prepared to hang onto those stocks over many ups and downs.

The Internet does now play a crucial role in stock-trading, however. “Live” quotes and prices have enabled the number of day-traders sitting at their home computers to expand exponentially! The Internet has also facilitated global marketing and the transfer of money internationally to a phenomenal degree over the past few years.

However, this doesn’t mean that investing in a company like Cisco will make you a lot of money. See the difference? The Internet is the VEHICLE for all this global commerce, but not yet the value entity.

And before you make any investment at all, examine your own financial needs first: A new house may be more important to you than owning stock in Google (another growth company).

……And I am NOT a certified financial adviser, so don’t take any of MY advice, without consulting other sources! :) :) :)

9. Recently we’ve seen big slides on the investment markets, not least over inflationary fears in the US and continued concerns about the imbalance of debt. Do you think we’re seeing the closure of an economic cycle in play, as the previous boom years of the global economy give way to harder times. And do you see any real threat of a major recession in the future hitting the US, UK, or even globally?

As far as global political and economic issues go, I can’t make any predictions and neither can anyone else, no matter what they claim. On the other hand, investors who know what they’re doing go by “indicators”, and here are some of the ones that have come my way.

US Politics: The Bush Administration is currently in a tail spin from which it won’t recover. The war in Iraq, the Congressional scandals, the hurricane disasters, the trade imbalance, gas prices,,, You name it. There are millions of irate voters here who will probably be voting the
Republicans out of office this November, which will mean that the Bush Admin will have an uphill fight against Congress and the Senate. The problem is, the Democrats are clueless about what to do about the above-mentioned problems and are utterly lacking in leadership.

I don’t know how Tony Blair is faring in England or what the EU is doing these days, because I’ve spent most my time studying China. There is a lot of wind blowing from certain blogs about how it’s the sleeping giant, how its rising middle class will become the most powerful market
in the world, and how it’s buying and/or stealing US technology.

There are elements of truth in all of these claims, except that you have to realize the country is still run by a Communist government which can influence how the corporations are run. Thus, China is not a true free-market economy. If a corporation begins having problems, the government will bail it out. This is like the US government giving money to Microsoft or General Motors every time those companies have a bad year.

As far as China stealing and copying US technology - that’s about ALL they can do. They have no true scientific or technological infrastructure, although they’re working on it, as with their space program. However, the average Chinese entrepreneur still can’t visit an institution like Cornell University, for example, and obtain plans for computers or airplanes, etc., because they aren’t in China - such documentation is mostly in the US and Europe.

Their patent system, I’ve read, is in chaos so if someone in China really does invent a better mousetrap or whatever, it will be stolen out from under his nose. As for the Chinese “middle class”, it would make the characters out of Dickens look like the Rockefellers. Most Chinese are still “peasants” who live in the country and eke out a living on their small farms under the watchful eyes of the commissars.

I don’t think any of the above will effect the US stock market anytime within the next five to ten years.

Well, that winds it up. Let me know if I need to explain anything in more detail. And thanks for the opportunity.





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