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marți, 28 august 2007

Autosurf Sites: A Real Way to Earn Money or a Scam?

Autosurf sites promise members payment for viewing ads -- often very large amounts of money. They claim autosurfing is a great way to make money -- and they are extremely popular right now.

But how legitimate are these autosurf sites -- and can you really make any money?

This has become a very hot question, because the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently filed fraud charges against the owner of perhaps the largest autosurf site, 12dailypro.com, and alleged this site was actually a $50 million Ponzi scam.

(A Ponzi or pyramid scheme is a scam that promises people outrageous returns or payments, and pays them with money from new investors or members instead of money generated from the business. Since this is not sustainable over time, Ponzi scams always collapse and people who join later always lose money. Ponzi scams are illegal in the US.)

The Concept of Autosurfing

Autosurf is a controversial form of online advertising, where different advertised websites are automatically rotated in the viewer's browser. Advertisers, of course, pay the autosurf company to have their websites as part of the rotation. Viewers are paid cash or credit to view the advertised websites.

Autosurf sites are rotated automatically for the viewer. No interaction is required for most autosurf programs, so there is usually no way for advertisers to know if the viewers are even seeing the ads.

In fact, many autosurfers leave their computers and go and get a cup of coffee or go to the gym while the autosurf ads are being displayed. This is a huge disadvantage for the advertisers.

Why People Autosurf

The primary reason people autosurf is to earn cash or credits. Some autosurf sites require people to add their own money, which combines some kind of job (watching the ads) with a type of "investment" or "membership."

The second reason people autosurf is to get traffic to their own websites. Some autosurf programs will show your website to other members in direct proportion to how many times you view other websites. For example, you might earn one credit to have your website shown for every two websites you view. Websites that are purely for traffic and require no monetary investment are called "traffic exchange" programs and are not Ponzi scams.

Legitimate Autosurf Programs

There are autosurf programs that do indeed pay their members money. However, it's important to note that the money being paid to the site's autosurfers isn't coming from the members themselves. The money is coming from paid advertisers.

Here is how a legitimate autosurf program works:

Advertisers pay the autosurf company x dollars per thousand impressions. (An impression is when the website is displayed in the viewer's browser as part of the rotation.)

For example, it's not uncommon for an advertiser to pay $1 to $2 per thousand impressions. That means the advertiser is paying the autosurf company $.001 to $.002 per impression. Then the autosurf company pays their autosurfers a percentage of that amount -- for example, half of the amount it gets paid by the advertisers.

That means that an autosurfer would have to have 1,000 to 2,000 websites displayed in their browser rotation to earn $1.00! Since each website is usually displayed for 15 to 30 seconds, it's easy to see that these autosurf programs will not lead to riches.

Now, the companies who are buying advertising know that they are getting impressions and not necessarily visitors. That's why the cost of autosurf advertising is so low. And as you can see, that's also why autosurfers aren't getting rich off of their autosurfing efforts.

Again, notice that in the above example, the money being paid to the autosurfers is coming from the paid advertisers, not from the members themselves.

What About Autosurf Sites That May Be Ponzi Schemes?

At these sites, you don't autosurf for free -- you have to invest in the autosurf program. These sites promise that you will get paid to autosurf, and the amount you get paid is often proportional to your investment.

Usually, there is a wide range in the amount you can invest -- from just a few dollars to thousands of dollars. And, you're promised a very high rate of return: 1% to 10+% per DAY for 100 to 500 days.

The more you invest, the more you are told you'll earn for your viewing of the advertised sites.

These sites also have a recruitment component. In other words, you recruit others to participate in the program. That's part of the system.

How Do You Know if an Autosurf Program Is Legitimate?

Here are four important questions to ask:

1. Are the payouts high? If you are promised unusually high earnings, be VERY skeptical.

2. Do you need to invest your money to autosurf? In general, you should never have to pay to get a job. Again, be very skeptical if you are asked to pay or invest to join.

3. Where is the money to pay you coming from? Is it coming from advertisers paying the autosurf company or from other members' fees?

4. Are the payouts related to what you are doing? Why should you earn more money for viewing the same ads if you have more money invested in the program? (After all, advertisers don't get more benefit if you've invested more money.)

Caveat: You can always ignore good testimonials in deciding whether or not something is a Ponzi scam. Ponzi scams DO pay their early members (usually outrageous amounts), so Ponzi scams will have great testimonials. Ponzi scams fall apart when not enough new members join or when there are complaints that generate investigations -- that's when people stop getting paid and millions of dollars are often lost.

Another characteristic of Ponzi scams is that they often have a very charismatic founder. This is certainly not a requirement of a Ponzi scam, but often people who have been scammed will later still defend the founder who scammed them.

Currently, the SEC has filed fraud charges against the owner of 12dailypro.com. The owner is accused of running a $50 million Ponzi scam and pocketing $1.9 million into her personal bank accounts. According to an SEC statement, "at least 95 percent of revenues have come from new investments in the form of membership fees from new or existing members. The other 'multiple income streams' from advertising revenues or off-site investments were either negligible or non-existent." 12dailypro.com, which had over 300,000 members, has ceased operations.

12dailypro.com is only one of many, very similar autosurf programs out there.

Are these current autosurf sites Ponzi scams? We'll let the FBI and SEC make the final determination. In the meantime, we recommend you look at any autosurf program VERY skeptically and ask (and get good answers to) the four questions above before you make a decision to join any autosurf program.

Time to sign off. Enjoy your week.

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Companies should be wary of low-priced Google office suite, study says

At just $50 a year per user, Google Inc.'s Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) hosted office productivity suite could be one of the cheapest mistakes a large business makes.

That's one of the conclusions of a study by the Burton Group, which said GAPE offers lots of good value for business users, but lacks strong regulatory compliance features and poor administrative tools for user accounts. That means a quick deployment in a large business could be a "career-limiting move" for IT staffers who advocate its use without knowing of its shortcomings.

In his 55-page study, Guy Creese, an analyst at the Midvale, Utah-based analyst firm, said that GAPE has energized the market for software-as-a-service (SaaS) products. But it is primarily based on a similar free, consumer-focused Google Apps productivity suite that doesn't convert easily for large corporate use.

"Initially combining a portal, e-mail, instant messaging, calendars, document sharing and concurrent document creation -- all for the price of $50 per user per year -- the solution rapidly caught enterprises' imaginations," Creese wrote. "Unfortunately, quickly adopting GAPE without understanding its quirks or looking at other alternatives is likely to become a career-limiting move."

While usability is generally good -- except for users who build complex spreadsheets -- critical data security and regulatory compliance features are missing, Creese said in an interview today. "I would say that a lot of people would view this as a potential [Microsoft] Office replacement," he said. "One of the main sorts of architectural problems Google has right now is that these products were created for consumers."

As a result, IT administrators can't add users in groups with the same general rights, making the creation and administration of user accounts slow and cumbersome because they have to be set up individually, Creese said. "If you're a large enterprise looking to deploy this corporatewide, it is an issue."

On the records management and compliance issue, Google is not the only SaaS vendor with shortcomings, Creese said. Typically, I get major silence" when vendors are asked how they deal with those issues, he said.

Google's offering allows spreadsheets to be saved and preserved in groups for later access, although word processing documents can only be saved individually, a time-consuming process, Creese said. "And that gets legal departments nervous [because] they're on the hook for the documents" with no easy way to retrieve them. "For a small to medium-size business, that's not a big thing. But for a large business, that doesn't really cut it."

Not all the news is bad, though, according to Creese.

While GAPE may not yet be fully featured for large business users, Google "has done a service to the marketplace by legitimizing this" approach, he said. Other major vendors, such as Salesforce.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. -- with its popular Office suite -- are moving into the SaaS office productivity market on Google's heels, adding credibility to the concept. "I think a large part of this is just the brand recognition that Google gets with this. But I am not convinced that they will ultimately win the battle."

In the report, Creese wrote that SaaS-based products are not always a good fit for companies. "For example, some SaaS solutions assume that an Internet connection is always available; financial institutions prefer that corporate information be stored behind the corporate firewall; and support via a Web site can be a shock to companies used to frequent face-to-face meetings with suppliers," he wrote.

"Rushing into a decision is typically a bad move when looking at any new system. But the GAPE decision is especially difficult because it demands that enterprises bet on a delivery model [SaaS], a product [Google Apps] and a company [Google] that are all less than a decade old," he wrote. "Furthermore, the offering is somewhat difficult to understand because its features are generic enough that it can function -- in limited cases -- as a replacement for Microsoft Office, as an enterprise content management system, and as a collaboration and communications system. In addition, the product is still evolving."

"While the $50 per user per year price point is attractive, enterprises are not getting a lot for their money," he wrote.

Creese called the situation in the overall marketplace similar to the emergence of the Netscape Web browser in '94-'95, when Microsoft missed the initial Internet launch and had to play catch-up. "It's a real race," Creese said. "In the end, I think this is all good for enterprises. The market is still immature. While [enterprise users] should pay attention, I don't think it's time to rush into things."