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All posts by Alistair Fairweather: Columnist

For his sins, Alistair has been working in online publishing since 2001. Starting out as a web designer, he worked for tech start-ups in both Johannesburg and England. Returning to South Africa in 2002, he moved into an editorial position on MWEB’s portal team. The role quickly evolved into an online product management position, in which he cut his teeth building web applications for MWEB’s subscriber base. When MWEB’s portal team were absorbed by 24.com in 2006, he continued his dual roles in editorial and product management. In 2007 he took the opportunity to specialise in product management as part of the team that would later form 20FourLabs – the erstwhile innovation division of 24.com. While at Labs he oversaw the launch of a range of new products, including Answerit and Letterdash. He also managed the 24.com user community, nurturing Letterdash past the 1 million page impression mark, and helping to create South Africa’s largest blogging platform. In late 2009 he joined Media24 Magazines for a brief stint as their Social Media Manager. The portfolio includes power brands like Huisgenoot, YOU, Fairlady, Go!, Men's Health and many more. As of July 2010 he has taken on the role of Digital Platforms Manager for the Mail & Guardian Online.
  • Why BlackBerry, Microsoft’s desperate scrap for third place is so important

    Few people remember third place. Whether in sport, science or business, there's little glory attached to the bronze medal. But two multinational giants, BlackBerry and Microsoft, are straining to be the third player in the burgeoning smart phone market. The latest figures from IDC, an industry analyst, show a rapidly expanding global market for this new generation of mobile phones. Over 216-million handsets were shipped during the first three months of 2013, an increase of over 40% compared with the same period in 2012. But the lion's share of that market -- over 92% -- is flowing to the two dominant...

  • Is it tickets for the web?

    For an industry focused on the future of information, the internet is surprisingly prone to old fashioned maladies such as superstition, rumour and wild speculation. We've heard the latest doomsday prediction before -- the World Wide Web is dying -- but there's never been much convincing evidence, until now. Ben Elowitz, a web entrepreneur, took usage statistics for the web and compared them to Facebook's usage numbers. The results are startling. While...

  • Broadband for the people — The next generation of mobile data access

    Qualcomm is one of those companies that you've heard of, but that few people outside of the telecommunications industry know a huge amount about. That's not completely surprising considering its primary focus is research and development and its primary clients are big telecoms players. I chatted to James Munn, vice president of Qualcomm in South Africa, about why they're establishing offices in Africa. Qualcomm is the world's largest "fabless" chip supplier. That means that it designs chips and then outsources their production to specialist chip manufacturers called foundries. Qualcomm, which was founded in 1985, has been instrumental in the development...

  • 4 very different mobile payment services

    Mobile payments may be the next big tech gold rush, depending on who you listen to. For something getting so much hype, and with so many start-ups popping up in the field, it is a surprisingly vague term. There are at least a half dozen different approaches competing to become the de facto format. All of them share one thing: the use of mobile devices – mostly cell phones, but increasingly other devices such as tablets – to exchange money. But that's just about where the similarities end. Here are four different services with four very different routes to...

  • Google and the Chinese Phisherman

    It's like something out of a spy movie: On the 1st of June, Google announced that it had uncovered a "campaign to collect user passwords" that was aimed at the personal Gmail accounts of "senior US government officials, Chinese political activists, officials in several Asian countries (predominantly South Korea), military personnel and journalists." The origin of these activities? Jinan, China. Google outlined the details of the case in a blog post on Thursday, and offered reassurance to its customers along with tips on how to improve their security online. Google is naturally at pains to point out that its security...

  • What digital tribes can learn from Native Americans

    For all our ability to change the world around us with new technology, humans have never been very good at naming our new inventions. Usually we resort to old words, old concepts to explain the very new. And so the word "tribe" has been adopted to describe groups of people, scattered around the globe, connected only by the internet and their passion for a particular topic. So what can these new digital tribes learn from one of the world's oldest surviving tribal societies, the Native Americans? Speaking at last month's South By Southwest Interactive festival, tribal members discussed this idea's...

  • Reid Hoffman’s ten rules of entrepreneurship

    You may not have heard of Reid Hoffman, and if you were introduced to him you might be forgiven for underestimating him. With his scruffy jeans, his coke bottle glasses, and his excited giggle he may be mistaken for a common or garden nerd. But Hoffman is a key member of what is called - only partly in jest - the PayPal mafia. Hoffman was a founding board member at PayPal, and was...

  • Viral marketing with the creator of ‘The Oatmeal’ (SXSW2011)

    Meeting Matthew Inman, you'd never guess that this shy, slightly built 27-year-old is the caustic genius behind The Oatmeal, one of the web's most phenomenally successful humour sites. You'd expect someone brash, angry, and overweight (like his characters). But then he opens his mouth, and the audience quickly goes from chuckling to screaming with laughter. Speaking at the interactive portion of the South by South West (SXSW) conference, Inman shared a few of his experiences in starting The Oatmeal, which in less than two years has generated a quarter of a billion views. Inman opens with a confession: "Disappointingly I don't...

  • Anonymity is not cowardice, says 4chan founder (SXSW2011)

    He arrives late, sidling awkwardly onto the stage. With his baby face and blond mop it's easy to believe Christopher Poole is 24 years old. What's harder to believe is that he founded 4chan - one of the web's most creative, influential and infamously anarchic communities - when he was barely 15. Speaking at this year's South by South West festival, Poole outlined what 4chan has taught him about building online communities, and how he is applying that to his new project, a collaborative platform called Canvas. "Most of you know 4Chan because of our "random" /b/ board - more than...

  • Virtual surgery: Training without pain (SXSW 2011)

    Surgery is one of the most difficult and dangerous professions to train for on the planet. Before you're skilled at operating you can kill someone, but you can only really learn those skills by operating. Virtual surgery has long held the promise of allowing apprentice surgeons to learn from mistakes without killing patients, but until recent advances in technology, it hasn't had much success. Now two different groups of researches are redefining the technology. Speaking on a panel at this year's South By SouthWest interactive festival, Professor Gregory Wiet of Ohio State University, as well as Frank Sculli and John...

  • Friending the constitution: a social media bill of rights (SXSW2011)

    When does a technological revolution become a part of the fabric of society? If it's just about pure numbers, then social media passed that marker some time towards the end of the last decade, when the combined audience of social media platforms breached the 1-billion user mark. But with ubiquity often comes regulation: if Facebook or Twitter are truly social "utilites" then do they need to be policed in the same way that electricity or water providers are? One vital component missing from the wild west of the current social media landscape is any kind of universally accepted guidelines about...

  • Choosing the best social media buttons for your site

    There are now well over a hundred social media sites with more than one million active users. From microblogging to social bookmarking, to photo sharing, to business networking - the list just keeps growing. And most of them offer handy "share this on..." buttons that you can add to your site - all with the tantalising promise of sending you more traffic. But you can’t even put 10% of the buttons available on your site - unless you don’t mind having no content except for the buttons. So the question becomes, how do you choose? Here are some tips to...

  • Top 10 South American brands on Facebook

    When we think of Facebook most of us think of it as the domain of the English-speaking world. But the reality is that over 375-million of Facebook’s 585-million users are non-English speakers, which is more than half of all users. One of Facebook's fastest growing regions is South America. The region already has six countries that number in Facebook’s 25 biggest markets - Argentina, Columbia, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela and Peru -- and it contributes more than 56-million users. What’s scary is that Brazil, with its 76 million internet users, has only just begun to take to Facebook. In November...

  • Five red-hot Indian tech startups

    China’s enormous internet population has been getting quite a bit of press lately, but India is undoubtedly as much of an emerging world internet power. With more than 400-million internet users China’s online success stories, like QQ and Baidu, make even Facebook’s numbers look average. But India’s open economy, its high percentage of English speakers and its highly educated new caste of IT whizz kids make it a perfect breeding ground for tech entrepreneurs. Here are five of the most interesting startups to watch: Voicetap Founded: March 2009 Homebase: New Delhi Elevator pitch: Voicetap connects people in need of advice with genuine experts on every...

  • Five key points about Facebook’s new profile design

    As with life, the only constant you can expect from Facebook is change. Starting from yesterday, the global social network will be rolling out a new design for its most important building block - the personal profile page. It’s a mark of the influence of the site that founder Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the new design on 60 Minutes, still one of the USA’s most respected current affairs shows. Then again, when you have an audience of nearly 600 million people, CBS’s 12-million strong audience probably doesn’t seem all that daunting. So what should we expect from the design? 1. First things first Your...