Privacy and Customer Support made simple… way too simple?!

By , September 26, 2008 1:06 am

The Context

This is a true story of my experience of trying out testing a Vietnamese web service. There are many things to improve about its business model, PR strategy, usability, security. In the context of this entry, I only focus on Privacy and Customer Support which raised much concerns in me.

I could have named the service with all screen shots, but eventually I decided to keep it confidential to save space for them to improve on what I have to say here.

The Story

I paid to be trapped!

Company C launched a revamped version of their web service W.

Deciding to try it out, I paid the activation SMS and went to my profile only to end up in horror:

My profile was completely public:

  • My email was NOT masked. Full mailto: link
  • My phone number which had been used for activation was public
  • Postal address was mandatory

I felt like was accurately trapped:

  • There was NO option to hide profile from public view (let alone hide from other users)
  • There was NO option to change email as it was login credential
  • There was NO option to change phone number as it was registered as credential
  • There was NO option to delete or deactivate my account
  • The only thing I could do was change my postal address, which I had been carefully enough not to put my real postal address in the first place

Bare-naked, trapped, public my profile lay.

Gotta find my way out

Horrified, I looked around the site for a cure and there was 3 options to contact them: email, phone or IM

I emailed them via a form… to receive a script error. I switched from Firefox 3 to IE 7, the form hung. I tried Safari, no help either. There was no sign my email had reached them. No email was given either.

I picked up the phone and dialed their numbers one by one… no answer.

I buzzed their IM… no sign of living.


After two months of continually buzzing them through IM, eventually I was served.

And this is the show conversation:


Tai Tran: hello. Ciao

Customer Support: Ciao

Tai Tran: I’m the user of W. I have a request for W to remove my account. I wonder how do I do this?

Customer Support: please provide me your username

Tai Tran: username: <censored>

Customer Support: I deleted it for you

Tai Tran: oh, please let me check it. <verified that my account was deleted from the site> Thanks a lot 🙂 Have a nice day 🙂

When I saw this SQL error upon refreshing, I knew my account was deleted. An SQL command, Run. Simple. Quick. Painless.

I shifted from horrified to stunned:

  • S/he should have and could have asked for credentials: email, phone number, secret question, other details. S/he did NOT.
  • The Yahoo! account I used had NOTHING relating to my account at W.
  • So it means ANY one can delete ANY account just by giving a username which is public.
  • On the sale perspective, s/he should have and could have asked the reason why I decided to stop using their service. S/he did NOT.

Shocked. Stunned. Speechless.

Morals Well I understand

I understand that privacy feature consumes their money and time.

I understand that the number of users with very strict requirements for privacy like me isn’t that many.

I understand that the number of users willing to stop using the service after paying isn’t that many.

I understand that Customer Support / Contact Center department is always busy it’s best to solve an issue as quickly as possible.

… so it leaves room, way too much room for improvements.

With growing enthusiasm as well as concerns, it’s high time the alarm was on for media providers and media consumers.

My suggestions

I have some tips to give away on this

  1. Provide privacy options. To save web service providers efforts to analyze, I give away a high-level specification on privacy for free below
  2. Do NOT enforce poor privacy on users. If it’s your policy not to allow certain amendment, speak it out before registrants hit Submit on registration form.
  3. Start training programs for your crew so each could do the sale.

FREE specification of Privacy Options

What do you think of this story? How do you react when realizing that your privacy was not guaranteed?

Vietnamese Internet Usage Survey September 2008

By , September 17, 2008 11:11 am

Some points to note when reading this statistics:

  1. It’s from a survey on a VNExpress, Vietnam’s number 1 online newspaper. Readers from other news don’t see this poll. [Addendum: this poll being on an online newspaper helps attributing the dominating portion of “news” in the result. I thought this deduction was too obvious but certain response proved me wrong]
  2. Readers using a RSS Reader who are more tech-savvy don’t see this poll
  3. The poll only asks for the most usage from voters, no multiple-choice. Consequence: the result doesn’t reflect the actual time people spend on web
  4. Perception: some voters might confuse “activities that take most time” with “activities that add most values”
  5. Readers interested in other columns might totally skip this article, let alone scroll down, click and fill in the capcha to vote
  6. The survey is not done officially but is only a side poll on a very different article
  7. Many people might have voted on “News” to show their support for VNExpress, like the behavior of bookmarking Google
  8. I’m quite surprised Online Game was not in the list
  9. If VNExpress’ intention for this survey to show that Social Networking is depressing Porn, they might have failed because
    • Porn percentage is 2.4 times that of Social Networking plus Blogging
    • No historical data (i.e. the same survey in 2007) were shown to indicate that Social Networking is really growing over porn
    • Even if (I say if) percentage of porn surfing in 2008 is less than the volume in previous years, absolute number or ‘quality’ of porn surf might not have decreased because obviously there are more Internet users in Vietnam than in previous years
  10. Is FPT spreading the good words on social networking to pave the way for its new Social Network? If yes, I wonder why the article misses Online Game – one current FPT business – though.
  11. While the scientific validity and reliability of this survey are highly questionable, it can be read in certain ways that prove certain arguments.

Vietnamese Internet Usage Chart

Vietnamese Internet Usage Table

Saigon Twitterers First Gathering 14/9/2008

By , September 17, 2008 1:28 am

A. What happened, basically

Chip did a very nice coverage with her immediate post Twitter SaiGon 1st Gathering. Thanks a lot Chip, it wouldn’t never have been successful without you.

B. What happened in details

The detailed agenda included the normal information exchange and 3 main sections as listed below:

B. 1. E-Learner Platform 2.0

Two students, Mat and Hung, and starting to build their grand program on teaching children on an E-Learning environment which emphasizes Openness and Cost-saving and takes advantages of Web 2.0

Hung’s presentation immediately inspired many interesting debates. Apart from popular arguments on technology, costs and practicability of the tools, what impressed me most was that we brought the Willingness for Alternative Solutions on the table. We didn’t stop at the fad of new tools, we touched the heart of a Mindset issue.

For now, to avoid repeating Hung’s words duplicating Hung’s contents, I invite you to CLICK HERE to see their slide show for the program.

B. 2. BarCamp Saigon

“BarCamp is an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from participants.”

So why would you want to join the BarCamp in Saigon:

  1. If you’re a geek, you know what you do
  2. If you’re in the technology field, this is a chance for you to meet with people with similar interests love
  3. It’s a learning opportunity
  4. It’s not only for networking. It’s open and honest
  5. It’s a chance for you to see, hear, touch and talk about new things fresh right out of people’s head
  6. If you’re an analyst, come over here to this information goldmine
  7. Even if you’re not in technology, you might want to come here and share the problems you have in your jobs and maybe someone with a technical expertise can help with a solution you’ve never thought of
  8. Start-ups, meet people here!
  9. Venture capitalists, all geek faces around the region are here
  10. Please feel free to add your point here or with a comment below

Please simply put the date in your calendar: 15/11/2008

B. 3. Mentioning some web services

Google, Navigos’ Caravat and Yahoo! Portal clone Timnhanh. Only quickly through though; we didn’t dig deep down on each.

B. 4. An investment opportunity

…on technology, blogging and media… something that’s never been done in Vietnam.

You don’t want to miss the next part. I know you don’t want to miss the next gathering. Please CLICK HERE to subscribe, you’ll never miss the next good things.

C. My Key Observations

Obviously, the topics don’t want to go away from my mind so easily. There are some few things I’ve observed from our gathering that I’d like to share:

C. 1. CommunicatioN first, then media

The gathering is an evidence of “CommunicatioN, not CommunicationS“. Technology (Twitter) serves as a platform to build and strengthen the human quality of communicatioN.

C. 2. Synergistic power

Unlike networking functions I had previously attended/organized, the gathering was full of positive, creative and synergistic energy, thanks to the burning passion and rich ideas from each attendant.

In other words, it was networking not for the sake of sheer networking. It happens when the good comes first, rather than the goods come first.

How do you agree with me?

C. 3. The internet is so full & rich has it fully reached the users?

This exclamation came from N., a non-tech-savvy professional: “The internet is so rich. I only have a Facebook and a LinkedIn”. This brought 2 thoughts up on me:

1. It reminds me of “Way of a Scientist” that I was thinking hard on one year ago.

Way of a Scientist

We (solution providers) want to keep users from the complexity of technology.

2. It’s a good excuse for me to bring this statistics on the table: 58% of people don’t know what social networking is.

How about Vietnamese users? What is the percentage do you think? I believe that analyzing my following suggestions would be useful:

  1. The opportunities of expressing via more traditional channels. This should help justifying the love for blogging in many Vietnamese users
  2. The willingness to look for alternatives. This should help explaining Yahoo! 360’s huge success in Vietnam
  3. The amount of time an average Vietnamese spend on online activities as compared to their peers in some other countries such as US or Japan. This should help reasoning the growth of social networks.
  4. Physical distance between Vietnamese mutual connection. This might help with analyzing micro-blogging.

C. 4. Globalization

Kevin gave us a compliment “This is the first time we mid expats and Vietnamese that works!” Thanks Kevin, I don’t know about others, but if I am to name one thing that pushes me on, it would be my conviction in being a “Global Villager”.

Hold your breath…

…the next event is coming soon…

HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank are the first two foreign banks to open wholly-owned units in Vietnam

By , September 9, 2008 2:14 pm

“HSBC has a capital base of $182 million. Standard Chartered has a capital base of $61 million.”, reported Reuters.

The information on VietnamNet might be incorrect: “HSBC có vốn điều lệ một nghìn tỷ đồng. Standard Chartered có vốn điều lệ một nghìn tỷ đồng.”.

Twitter then BackType boost hierarchization in web societies

By , September 7, 2008 11:55 pm

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates, which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

You can follow and have followers on Twitter. Followers can read updates of the followed. Updates from many people that you follow are aggregated on one page.

Why Twitter?

  • It’s not real time so you can just leave your message and the intended receiver will pick it up when s/he login
  • It’s quick to write small stuffs
  • It’s helpful to update activities you wouldn’t normally blog on
  • It helps you to stay connected more closely to those you care about

See this video for more information:

[gv data=””][/gv]

What is BackType?

BackType banner

BackType = Comment Tracking + Twitter‘s Follow

What BackType does

  1. It searches the web for noteworthy comments that might otherwise be lost in the noise
  2. It allows you to follow people who leave those comments. Excuse me, are you interested in Michael Arrington, Darren Rowse or Pete Cashmore and want to know what they comment on other blogs? If yes, BackType is the place for you
  3. You can submit your link so that BackType would aggregate all comments to your account
  4. BackType requires NO installation
  5. You can find discussions on you or your services by searching

BackType is NOT CoComment

If you’re not familiar with CoComment, it is a plugin which tracks comments on discussion threads and emails you when there’s an update.

BackType is not CoComment in the fact that CoComment is discussion-based and BackType is URL-based and commenter-based.

Twitter and BackType enforce classification in web users

Twitter’s usage turned from personal to authority

Foremost on Twitter’s homepage you read this:

Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

The initial intention of Twitter is for people with real relationships to know one another more. And how have power users of Twitter utilized it?

  1. Those who have interesting things/opinions to share use Twitter as a sharing channel
  2. Businesses use Twitter as an announcement board
  3. Service providers use Twitter as a channel to communicate with clients
  4. Those who need updates use Twitter as an information goldmine
  5. Those who seek to expand their networks use Twitter as a networking tool

Twitter Whale

In fact, these usages have been emphasized much more than the initial intention of Twitter. Top bloggers and some service providers have utilized Twitter to strike up or engage in conversations, update their lines of services and express their opinions. Twitter has become a place where power media users extend their influence on the web. That’s exactly where all the buzz is about.

Meanwhile, you or I can still follow our ‘real’ connections’ lives, only more quietly.

BackType further boosts the influence power of power users

When BackType was introduced, the enthusiasm burst out almost immediately. People are talking about how BackType is yet another information goldmine: you have always got information from news, blogs, Twitter – now you have comments served on a plate! There they are, your favorite top bloggers right on the front page! Can’t be sweeter.

However, this is where hierarchization forces its way.

Power media users become even more powerful when, by default, they are on BackType’s front page right from its launch. They had the power of opinions on blogs and the power of audience on Twitter yesterday, now they are having more power of comments on BackType.

Media Influence

So what?

Actually I believe it’s a fair game after all. Power users invest their time and efforts to tie their career with the media they create and it’s worth for the recognition they’re gaining. It’s also fair for BackType to try to win quick endorsement from top users by featuring them on the front page.

Just my observation that hyrarchies and long tails have been formed in the web society. Breakthoughs from starters must be done with more innovation & boldness than ever.

Yahoo! 360plus introduced data migration tool from Yahoo! 360. Where is the enthusiasm?

By , September 6, 2008 6:55 pm
  1. 360plus started off in April 26, 2008.
  2. Reaction was very weak. None, yes, none, of my 360 friends moved to 360plus. Even the non-tech users lost their confidence in Yahoo! products. When they saw the buggy 360plus, they even backed off farther.
  3. Later on we learned that 360plus Vietnam was the product for Vietnam. What was meant to replace 360 is Yahoo! Universal Profile.
  4. With no old friend on 360plus, I made friends with some a few new people though. However, it was neither an information goldmine nor a communication platform I was looking for. The community there was filled with spams, unthoughtful and inconsiderate bloats from younger users, despite some very nice efforts to guide the new users. I lost my patience after around 500 entries.
  5. I tried to come up with around 20 suggestions for features for the 360plus team before quitting nevertheless.
  6. Not until early September did they introduce a data migration tool from 360 to 360plus. What flabbergasted me was that the tool looks like it bases on public RSS feed from 360 to import to 360plus, which means the 360plus team has limited access to the 360 global database. Where is inter-department collaboration inside Yahoo!?
  7. But I’m sorry it was too late I was not even trying the tool out. I have backed up entries I want to keep to my Window Live Spaces blog, manually.
  8. Many of my friends on 360 have moved to Facebook.
  9. Will 360plus Vietnam hit the 2 million cap that 360 did in Vietnam?


Yahoo! shut down their “social network experiment” Mash just a few days before. Generally people agreed with this decision, Mash was too weak even for a marginal project to last.

Web Business Models and how Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, yUp! and CyVee are doing

By , September 6, 2008 1:57 am

A response to Anh Hung’s question on success possibility of CyVee.

WordPress Publishing Tips – 3

By , September 4, 2008 7:34 pm

WordPress badges


…because you don’t want people to leave your page when they click a link.

People don’t want to leave a page when they haven’t finished reading either.

Describe your link and explicitly say “Click here”

Quality Example Analysis
Bad URL Ambiguous. Reader doesn’t know what the URL contains
Not so bad Tai Tran’s Lab Offers the title of the link, but is still general
Good Tai Tran’s Lab where you can find information on business and technology Offers title and description of the link
Better Click here to Tai Tran’s Lab to read information on business and technology Clear instruction of what readers should do: Click
Very bad This link is super cooool. It’s the best! Click here everyone! Ambiguous & childish

Throw your RSS subscription options out

  • For tech-savvy readers, RSS icon is all they need. Show off this in an easy-to-spot place
  • For non tech-savvy readers, offer email subscription at the end of an entry. Since around 85% traffic comes from search / social media, readers normally jump right in one post of yours and you want to keep them by offering them the option when they finish their reading.
  • To many who are not familiar with RSS subscription, the word “Subscribe” sounds like they’re being charged to receive service. Make it clear to them that subscription is free.

Previous posts

Click here to read the first 4 tips in the series.

Click here to read the next 4 tips in the series.

Google Chrome – the Web browser saga continues

By , September 2, 2008 11:57 pm

(to-be-read in reverse-chronicle order)

3 September 2008

Positive review: SaigonNezumi, Google Chrome – What a browser should be -> Simple

A nice coverage: Chip 2.0, Review after the first day launching Chrome

Not-so-positive review: Google Chrome, it’s not worth the Buzz

Why Google Chrome is not only a cost-saving basket

On Finance’s side: GOOG’s Chrome is all about Wall Street.

TaiTran’s comment: Chrome is only only a cost-saving basket, but a full house for wealth for Google.

  1. OK, the money that Google is saving as depicted in Zdnet’s article is the kitchen.
  2. Chrome knows all your web activities. Google will sell smarter ads and thus their revenue from ads will increase. This is the bedroom.
  3. Chrome is the O/S for the web
    Recall: what’s the 2 most successful properties of Microsoft? Windows and Office
    Has Google got Office? Absolutely. Now Chrome is Google’s Operating System.
    This is the living room.
  4. Chrome being open-source will attract the communities (many from Mozilla) who will work for Chrome (more accurately, GOOG) for credit rather than wages. This is the bath room.
  5. Chrome will be the web platform on which many applications and SaaS will base on: free dependency is never a free lunch. This is the dining room.
  6. Chrome being very light will integrate deeply with Android for penetrating into Mobile market. This is the garden.

In short, all about making money in the long run, given that Chrome will succeed. How successful do you think Chrome will be?

Testing Chrome

  1. Is faster than FF3
  2. Failed to import bookmarks from my FF3
  3. Offers more free space by pushing the tab bar to the very top
  4. Doesn’t destroy the layout when zoom in. This is both good and bad.
  5. Doesn’t display XML correctly
  6. Supports built-in 48 languages
  7. Connects to Google services at full speed
  8. Uses same web standard with Firefox
  9. Provides context-sensitive status bar
  10. No RSS auto-detectio
  11. No support for Quick Time
  12. AdBlock will be highly political
  13. Smart start page: recently visited sites
  14. Flickr “Web upload” does not work
  15. The address bar is a search bar

Chrome About Pages

1 September 2008

Google’s official announcement: we hit “send” a bit early on a comic book

Tad was skeptical with 7 reasons why Chrome is a bad idea

Technologizer raised 10 questions

Agglom scanned the catoon

Google Blogoscoped threw the first bomb

Google Chrome Artwork

M&A in financial insitutions, HSBC shoots its cannon first

By , September 2, 2008 3:34 pm

HSBC to up stake in Vietnam’s Techcombank to 20 percent

HONG KONG (Reuters) – HSBC HSBC.L said on Thursday it will raise its stake in Vietnam bank Techcombank to 20 percent from 14.4 percent in a deal worth roughly $77.1 million.

By raising its stake, HSBC will become the first foreign bank in Vietnam to hold a 20 per cent interest in a domestic bank, the company said. Techcombank is officially known as Vietnam Technological and Commercial Joint Stock Bank.

As part of the deal, Hanoi-based Techcombank will issue new shares, priced at VND 60,891.52 per share. The transaction is expected to be completed by September 5.

(Reporting by Michael Flaherty, Editing by Keiron Henderson)

In this article:



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