>Are Alexa rankings really worth it?

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A lot of folks refer me to their Alexa rankings and proudly mention how high it is rating their website. However, I am not convinced. In fact, I think Alexa rankings are not even a good estimate of usage. They are nothing but good marketing gimmicks. Here is one reason why.

To prove to the world that Alexa rankings have no meat, one of the companies that I co-founded, Cogilent Solutions, decided to prove the easy manipulation aspect of the rankings. They decided to setup an Intranet wide domain called cogilent.net. This domain is accessed by only their Islamabad office and that too by no more than 30 employees at any given day.

http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details/cogilent.net

Over time, the ranking has improved dramatically. Currently, Alexa ranks Cogilent.net (which is not accessed by more than 30 folks a day through Intranet) ranked as high as top 12,000 most visited sites in the world. Yes, only 30 employees accessing a fixed domain for a few daily chores have made it among the top 12,000 websites in the world as of today. Either the world has stopped surfing or their ranking formula needs serious tweaking.

So as you can see, how easy it is to manipulate Alexa. Once anyone figures out how to manipulate its algorithm, it is quite easy to get the rankings to show what you like.

>The Fast Growing IT industry In Pakistan

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Pakistan’s IT Industry was stagnant till the beginning of this decade. A meager sum of US$22 million was being brought in as export revenue up till 2002 in Pakistan. An IT enterprise with more than 50 employees was generally considered one of the bigger software houses in the country. A survey in 2004 by PSEB (Pakistan Software Export Board) indicated there were only a handful of companies with over 100 employees. To make matters worse, a software house formed in the 1990s or earlier would probably not survive its first five years and would most likely close its operations.

However, this past four years has brought about a big change. Since 2004 we are witnessing a phenomenal success and very high growth rate (averaging 50% growth rate annually) for the IT industry in Pakistan. Not only are the companies able to survive longer but are thriving in the national and international markets. And some of them have truly become great success stories worldwide.

I have been associated with the Pakistani IT industry since the mid 1990s when I decided to settle back in Pakistan from the USA. One of the biggest and probably the best change that I have witnessed in Pakistan in recent years has been the emphasis on developing indigenous products and intellectual property rather than just being a typical offshore software house that offers competitive rates as compared to the shop next door. Dozens of local enterprises are not only building some really exciting products here but are also creating waves in the international market. And yes, quite a few are getting funded as well from Venture Capitalists as far away as the Silicon Valley. We even have numerous tech blogs to cover them as well including the popular Green & White that I reviewed earlier this year. So if you want to find out more about the startups and the products in the market check them out.

PASHA (Pakistan Software Houses Association) estimates that today Pakistan’s IT industry is worth over 2 billion dollars. PSEB just came out with numbers that shows that the exports of IT related services and products are now over 170 million dollars (as reported by State Bank of Pakistan). By 2013 it is estimated to grow beyond 1 billion dollars. There are over 1,100 companies registered with the PSEB and over 100,000 people are employed by the industry. The biggest companies now boast a workforce of over 1,000 employees or thereabout. That’s a remarkable change from just a few years back when the biggest could hardly muster 100 employees. For more details about the IT industry and the PASHA survey, check out their website.

This is definitely a very exciting time for the IT industry in Pakistan. And also the best time to invest in a startup in Pakistan. I too left the cozy life of a salaried employee and became an entrepreneur in 2001 to co-found Cogilent Solutions that launched Pakistan’s first job hunt portal, BrightSpyre. Today it boasts over half a million job seekers from across the country and page views in many millions. It is still growing and will probably cross a million unique job seekers before any other job portal in Pakistan sometime soon.

>Entrepreneurs Should Embrace Linux

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Entrepreneurs should embrace Linux. Now, this may seem like a powerful statement. And it is. I have nothing against Microsoft or Apple or any other operating system out there. However, I do believe that among them all, Linux currently favors the biggest advantage to a budding entrepreneur.

With Microsoft Vista and XP persistently scanning for counterfeit copies of their software (God knows what else) on your hardware, a small time entrepreneur in a developing country like India, Pakistan or Kenya will probably never be able to afford the licensed software. In Pakistan, Microsoft charges upward of PKR 150,000 annual license fee just to use their basic OS for a small enterprise. This price is equivalent of almost 6 months of salary of a fresh IT graduate from a good university in Pakistan. And then, the cost for all other softwares including IDE like Visual Studio or Dreamweaver and database servers can push the entrepreneur close to bankruptcy. This is acutely true due to lack of Venture Capital/Fun of bank financing for IT related companies in developing economies.

Instead of seeking out the pirated editions of these robust softwares, my suggestion for budding entrepreneurs is to embrace Linux. Not just on the server side for launching applications, but also on the desktop where the actual development happens. The cost of ownership for all the software and applications will be zero. Yes zero, provided you stick to open source. In fact, most of the Linux applications are now owned or supported by large corporations including Linux by Red Hat, Oracle etc, MySQL by Sun Micro Systems among others. The development environments (IDE) are also improving including Eclipse, bluefish etc. Besides, chances are you will be using PHP, Java, Apache, MySQL and Sendmail on the server side for publishing your web application. All of them are native to Linux and come pre insalled and totally free. And did I mention, that viruses don’t cause as much havoc in linux as they do on Windows. And an industrial strength firewall software is also included free with the OS.

Another major advantage of Linux OS over others is that it is not a CPU or memory hogger. Yes, my Ubuntu linux desktop uses on average 512MB of memory at any given time, even though I am running MySQL, Apache and a Firewall service on my laptop. This is a far cry from Vista (my laptop is dual boot) which uses a minimum of 1GB of memory for basic OS that does not even include any web or database server. Further, the CPU clock cycles are also consumed less by Linux. Hence, you do not need a top of the line system to do your programming or run a server. In one of the companies that I co-founded, Cogilent Solutions, we routinely run Linux on three year old systems and laptops with little or no glitches or upgrades required. So the cost of ownership of hardware is also lower.

So don’t wait around, embrace linux in your enterprise and start seeking the benefits of the OS that can hold its own in front of Microsoft Vista.

My favorite Linux for desktop and servers is Ubuntu. You can download your free copy today from Ubuntu