The Dark Net

The Internet of Things - Scott Muniz

“Dark Net!” I think whenever that term is used it should be accompanied by Mozart’s Requiem which, by the way, makes Darth Vader’s Theme seem cheerful by comparison. Can anything good ever come out of a place called the Dark Net? Actually yes, much good in fact, comes from the Dark Net. That may surprise you because clearly the Dark Net has a major PR problem. It sounds like an Internet neighborhood you drive in only after having locked your doors. Therefore, I’m here to set the record straight. On behalf of the Dark Net Chamber of Commerce I’d like to invite you to visit.

What is the Dark Net?

Time to get uber-geeky. What is a dark net? Wikipedia answers: “A darknet (or dark net) is an overlay network that can only be accessed with specific software, configurations, or authorization, often using non-standard communications protocols and ports.” Any questions? So to put it in plain English a dark net is a network designed to provide anonymity to users. The best known dark net is TOR which stands for The Onion Router. As the name implies, like an onion, layers of relays bounce communications around a distributed network. “It prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location.” – TOR is accessed by using the TOR browser. Once you’re on the TOR network you can visit all the sites on the surface Web, the one we commonly use, however you’ll be anonymous. This is because the route you’ll take will be through numerous relays designed to hide your IP address. Once you arrive at your destination the site sees the IP address the last relay gave you. The TOR browser also gives you access to the Dark Web, for example, sites with the “.onion” TLD, like the hidden marketplace. These sites are not accessible using common browsers.

Just as there is the World Wide Web there is also a Dark Web, which is WWW content that exists on dark nets. As the World Wide Web is but a piece of the larger Internet so too the Dark Web is a small part of the Deep Web, the part of the Web not indexed by search engines. In addition to the Dark Web the Deep Web includes other dark nets like small, friend-to-friend peer-to-peer networks, as well as large, popular networks like Freenet and I2P. TOR is one of the dark nets in the Deep Web.

Are You Ready to Visit the Dark Net?

One of the common fallacies of Internet browsing is that the user is anonymous. The truth is your online device has been assigned a public IP address by a network, like an Internet Service Provider, who knows exactly who you are. Everywhere you go online is tracked and logged, yes, even if you’ve enabled “InPrivate browsing.” You can remove all your cookies and delete all your temporary files – it doesn’t matter! In other words, you were more anonymous in the lobby of the hotel you stayed in during your vacation than you were when you visited their Web site. Sure online users’ tracking information may remain private until someone comes looking for it. And that’s the point isn’t it?

Let’s say you’re a journalist behind enemy lines and you need to get out a story you know will land you in prison if you’re caught. Or let’s say there are human rights violations in a part of the world where the Internet is highly monitored by the government. This is where the Dark Net is invaluable. By downloading and installing a free browser the user can achieve anonymity. In that light suddenly the Dark Net seems like a pretty safe neighborhood. Of course it would be naïve to think criminals aren’t exploiting the anonymity of the Dark Net. It is for this reason the Dark Net has had such bad press. To be fair though, the World Wide Web has no shortage of creeps and miscreants. Though undesirable content may be on both Webs it doesn’t mean we have to go there. So, install the TOR browser, use good judgment, and, although you may not decide to move there, you might just find the Dark Net is a nice place to visit from time-to-time. Safe travels!

Social Marketing

Social Marketing and the Cocktail Party Problem

How do you pick a voice out of the all the chatter, and attend to what they’re saying, especially when the conversations around you are louder than the one you’re having? This is called the cocktail party problem. Yet the brain is able to defuse the ambient sound and channel the voices we’re interested in. In scientific terms this has been explained as “selective cortical representation of attended speaker in multi-talker speech perception.” No matter how you describe it, although we give it little thought, it’s a remarkable and critical ability we use every day.

I often hear this question, in one form or another, “How can I, or my Web site, be heard in the worldwide crowd?” It’s easy to view the Web as a cacophony of voices in which it is impossible to expect to be heard over all the noise. That’s a reasonable conclusion. Why would you want to be heard over the voices? When you enter a crowded room are you inclined to yell in order to get everyone’s attention? It doesn’t make sense and yet some consider this to be the aim of social marketing. It’s an unattainable goal. A better approach is the cocktail party problem. Rather than trying to get everyone’s attention, enter the room, look for someone to talk to, ignore unwanted noise, and pay attention to what the other person is saying. This is exactly how we all “work the room” in real life. Also, don’t forget, the most interesting people are very good listeners. The Bible put’s it another way, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (James 1:19) This is excellent advice and a principle that works online as well. Rather than clamoring for attention, if you listen carefully to online conversations, you can filter out posts about your brand, your products, customer issues, trends, and so on, allowing you to engage meaningfully with customers to bring to them real value and to bring to your business real money (to put it bluntly). More on social listening in a moment.

Social Engagement vs. Social Marketing

This is why social engagement is so much more effective than social marketing. Let’s take a moment to discuss social marketing. Marketing implies getting your name out there, brand recognition, top-of-mind awareness, and a million other buzz words. Abbreviations like SEO, for search engine optimization, and SEM, for search engine marketing, are the catch phrases of social marketers and unfortunately the esoteric language of online “snake oil salesmen.” SEO and SEM are passive marketing approaches that wreak of old world thinking. Consider it mathematically. Let’s say there are ten search results on Google’s home page and thirty car dealerships in your town. They all hire the best SEO and SEM marketers in the world. Can they all achieve first page ranking? For the sake of argument let’s say we lived in the world of quantum mechanics and they did manage to get thirty dealerships in to ten results, will this translate into clicks? Does this automatically translate into real business? Show me the money!

Sometimes very successful brick-and-mortar businesses appear to lose their minds when they open an online storefront. To illustrate let’s create a hypothetical retail store called Fred’s Fun Stuff. Fred spent years building a business, building relationships with customers, carving out a niche, and as a result he enjoys increased profits year over year. He knows he needs to go online so he launches an online store. He buys all the hoopla about social marketing and spends out the wazoo to get good search engine placement. It works, he gets good site traffic, but he’s not selling much online.  He learns that nearly everything he has in his store can be bought on Amazon for less so he starts to cut his prices to compete with Amazon. His customers find out they can buy from him cheaper online. Now he’s moving the same amount of products, has less foot traffic in his stores, and due to smaller margins he has less profit. Well done Fred! The problem? Fred lost his mind.

In his brick-and-mortar store Fred doesn’t try to compete on price with the likes of Walmart. Why? He knows he can’t. So what does he do? Fred listens to his customers, engages with them, supports them, cares about them, and he builds relationships. “I go to Fred’s because of the personal attention.” “He has the coolest store and lets me try stuff out. If I don’t like it I can bring it back.” “Fred always stands behind his products.” You get the point. In a nutshell Fred does stuff Walmart can’t and won’t do. These are called differentiators and it is one reason some retailers stay around when others go under. There are many differentiators that make your “real world” business successful. The key is to bring those same factors to your online venture. Success tends to beget success.

Social Listening

In the cocktail party problem it’s all about attention and how that attention can change your brain. The same is true for social listening. A system has to be put in place to serve as your ears to listen in on all the conversations on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, and so on. Of course listening requires more than just ears. The system must be able to filter conversations by triggers like products, competitors, geographic location, key phrases, and then be able to bring these conversations to your attention. A dashboard shows you the conversations you want to “hear” in real time. Now you can engage. This is active, not passive, marketing.

To illustrate let’s say you’re listening to social networks for any mention of a competitor and you find several customers complaining because a product is out of stock. You have the product in stock so you engage the customer and let them know about the availability. Not only have you made a sale but, just as important, you’ve begun a new relationship. Relationship marketing, the differentiators, kick in, focusing on customer retention.

I don’t mean to give you the impression there isn’t a place for SEO and SEM. These are important components for the same reason you may list your number and put a sign above your brick-and-mortar business. There is a place for passive marketing as there is a place for advertising. Online success isn’t about achieving good search engine ranking only to wait for someone to click on your site in hopes of a sale. Online success is about pursuing relationships. To put it in the framework of the cocktail party problem: You enter the worldwide social networking mixer, you have on your SEO/SEM name tag, and you listen to the conversations to identify that next opportunity. You work the room, you engage, you follow up, and you build relationships.