Strategy

A recent update to UCASA.ORG.  New version of Joomla, updating their site to the 2.5 series, and a new theme.  Take a look at ucasa.org.

Techivity provides web consulting, small business advice, custom themes, components and installs for Joomla and Wordpress.

This is a quick commentary on why some of those programming tasks that seem “easy” are never quite what they seem, especially in new, more object-oriented programming packages like Flash.  I hope this helps some of you out there plan better when you are trying to budget projects.

First, its important to understand how most OO programming works.  These days, most web code is done in “snippets” meaning bits of code that are attached to an object.  This is great in that it creates more efficient code, that is easier to read when you open the object, and when it runs, the only code executed is the necessary objects.  All makes sense, right?

But what happens when you go to edit such a file without knowing the “object-model” – that is the way the objects are put together?  It used to be, with procedural code, you could open the top-level file, look at the files it includes, open them, and then search through all the files to find functions you had to edit.

Now, with OO coding, if you don’t know how the objects are put together, say in a Flash file that has 150+ objects, some executing code, some not, then you have to sort out which one is connected to what, how they are named, what their instances are, where the code lives and what objects it activates when.

Sound complicated?  It is.  And its why some of those changes that seem “simple” like “just adding a few animated graphics to a file” can actually be hard and time consuming.  Adding those graphics means finding the right layers in the file where the graphics belong, locating the objects that are animating the graphics, sorting through the code for those objects, finding the arrays that are animating the graphics, and then adding the appropriate details and linking in the graphics properly.

So, when you are trying to budget your web development projects, consult with a pro.  Certainly, you could be a “pro” – if you know the complexity of the object model for your source files.  But if you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, chat up a pro about how hard it is to do something.  Give them a detailed description of what you want to do, as detailed as possible, and let them look at the files.  In some cases, they might need some consulting time to properly gather requirements.

What are requirements?  I’ll talk about that next time.  Check back in a week or so…

Google’s changes are an issue, but not for the reason originally reported.  Consolidating and using web history is an issue if you don’t want them to do it, so here:

http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/320137

That is how you remove your web history from your Google account.  Do it before March 1 (so in the next 4 hours).  Disappointing when a company that speaks rhetoric about freedom violates it.  Very.

Here’s a video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omIyTNB8UNY&feature=related

 

I was talking to an associate who expressed concern about the new Google Service Agreement and I wanted to post.  He was concerned that the new agreement could be read as Google taking license with people’s stuff…not so.

The part that seems to cause everyone heartache on the Google agreement is this:

“When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.”

Various lobbying organizations and elected representatives keep trying to make technology providers who offers tools like Google Docs, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and any other web organization that offers software on-line legally accountable for the content they transmit.  So, if JimTechBoy posts copyrighted material on Facebook, or YouTube, instead of you being responsible, Facebook and YouTube is responsible.

This is an awkward, monolithic way to try and handle piracy.  The violation of sharing copyrighted material was by JimTechBoy when he copied the material and posted it, but Jim’s hard to find, he doesn’t have as much money as Google, so the lobbyists and legislators are trying to find ways to make the carriers responsible.

Problem is, doing so would end those carriers abilities to pass on content.  The new Google agreement clarifies language and makes Google more protected against such issues.  The license you give by posting your content is necessary, if you don’t grant Google a license, they cannot share your content in any way…

Free distribution of information is imperative to our global culture, and even our local relationships now.  Trying to restrict it because a few people break the law will further damage our economy, our ability to relate to the world and one-another and negatively impact all my clients.

So, I’m in favor of companies like Google protecting themselves carefully.  Does not mean they are going to suddenly start stealing anything.

In opposition to the SOPA and PIPA proposed legislation techivity.com went dark today, January 18th, 2012.  The day passed, but the risk remains.

The philosophy of this legislation is analogous to holding a postal carrier liable for the material in his bag when he’s out on his route; he didn’t choose to carry it, doesn’t know what’s in there, could find out if he stopped to read everyone’s stuff, but certainly couldn’t make any deliveries on-time or maintain any privacy doing so.

That is almost precisely what the proposed legislation would do to the internet.  Its appalling and would damage most of our clients hosting and stop much small business from engaging in legitimate online business.

Learn More

So call your representatives, sign the petitions, email your friends.  YOUR internet is on the line and it needs you…

Google Petition

Wikipedia Blackout

 

 

As small to mid-size business and non-profit leaders, many of you have to wear multiple hats, providing technology advice, marketing strategy and engaging in sales work supporting relationships. This is for you.

I was watching a video by my sister Payson Cooper, who has cultivated a nice skill-set in strategic marketing, and I thought she articulated something more clearly than I’ve ever heard it before, so I wanted to share it with my audience.

So what is the difference between Marketing, PR and Sales anyway?

Professionals blur the lines between these disciplines, its not surprising that small business entrepreneurs who have less time to specialize do the same.

Here’s what Payson had to say:

Marketing is identifying what problems you solve, how you solve them, and getting that information in front of the people who care. This covers everything from strategic marketing, where you are thinking about your audience, what problems they face, and how you can solve them, to lead-generation marketing, where you identify people who care and pass them to a sales team.

PR (Public Relations) is defining information to help third parties understand what you do and who cares about it. This is very important because it provides your potential customers with a third-party, relatively independent, perspective into what you have to offer. Its dependent on marketing, but entirely different. It supports sales, but is different. This is identifying industry experts who have credibility and giving them what they need to make an impartial evaluation of your services and
offerings, so that the folks who listen to them get to know about you and what you can offer.

Sales is the process of overcoming natural objections to purchasing your services or products. Isn’t that a nice description? When you have something to offer, those interested will have natural questions and objections. Why would this help me? Do I need it? What is included? How much is it? Why is that a fair price? Sales is the process of helping a potential customer answer those questions.

So there you go; a nice, discrete separation of Marking, PR and Sales for the small business executives and entrepreneurs among you out there to use when you need to strategize.

I am in training the first couple of weeks of August, when I return Techivity will take a look at some of the new services Google has made available.

If you found this post helpful, and want to take a look at what Payson offers in marketing strategy, take a look at her site. She and I approach things a bit differently, but her strategies are quite effective.  As usual, feel free to post a comment, or contact Techivity for consulting services.

Well, well.  I was checking my news feeds this AM and I see this post about project Spartan.

http://techcrunch.com/2011/06/15/facebook-project-spartan/

Seems that there’s a top-secret project at Facebook to implement an app delivery service on Safari to target the iPhone and iPad.  It also seems that the social media giant is working on a major update to their photo apps:

http://techcrunch.com/2011/06/15/facebook-photo-sharing-app/

I know many small business contacts who still shy away from Facebook not sure how to leverage their time there.

What this means to you, if you are a small business client, or just someone who follows our blog for tech advice and strategy is that if you haven’t figured out how to use Facebook to connect, network, and grow your business yet, you need to do that.  LinkedIn is a great business, professional networking site, but at this point it should be pretty clear to most of us that the mobile world is going to be very important to our future in business communication and networking.  Already, we use our phones constantly, most calls are mobile-to-mobile these days, and we use email, messaging, and more constantly.  Its only natural that social media would make that migration too.

And Facebook is putting resources and effort into being a major mobile social media player.  It will help you if you are comfortable using it.  As usual, if you want help, we’re happy to provide consulting and assistance.

So get in there!

I don’t often do this, write a recommendation to avoid someone’s hosting services, however, this example of incompetence is so strong that I feel I need to say something.

I was helping a client migrate from shared hosting (as in shared with other unconnected businesses) on 1&1 to their own  hosting solution.  We moved the domain to the new solution, leaving name service pointed to the 1&1 hosting, to protect the clients active email boxes, until we could make a careful planned migration of the email, hoping to avoid interruption.

A few weeks in, 1&1 deleted the remaining hosting account.  Yep.

They just deleted their customers digital property, without asking, checking anything, or keeping a back-up.  Worse, they defended the action by saying we should not have moved the name registration, which demonstrates a complete failure to understand basic concepts about how name registration works.  What we did, was basically the same as having a domain registered with Godaddy and hosting it somewhere else.  Millions of accounts are set-up that way.

So, my client lost email service in the middle of the business day, for a whole day while we moved DNS, and lost correspondence.

All 1&1 had to do was check their logs, or name service, to see live data in the account.

Deleting your customer’s property, without contacting anyone or checking anything, then telling the customer they are in the wrong, is just horrible customer care.

I am sorry to have to say; Don’ t host with 1&1, just don’t do it.  Their disrespect for this customer was frightening.

I’ve been dealing with a hard-drive crash in my Dell laptop the past couple of days and its opened my eyes to what I consider to be a serious issue in the technical industry.  The tech industry has become central to our culture, part of our identity in modern times.  So what happened to the customer service?

For example, in the past 2 weeks for my Dell Inspiron 1545 I needed a new keyboard, hard-drive and restore disk.  So, what do I do?  Go to my account on support.dell.com, login and start digging around…when I cannot find anywhere to download the operating system software, and no replacement parts link, I try to open a chat window.

They want me to pay for out-of-warranty chat (oh and don’t try this in IE 8, all the dell support links break the 2nd level in).  I try to call support; they transfer me 3 times taking up 40 minutes until I get to a guy that says he can only help me if I give him a credit card and approve a $35 fee.  Finally, in frustration, I hang up on everyone and call in to Dell sales.  They give me the Dell replacement parts line.  This fella wants to know the part number off my keyboard to send a replacement, and I have to pay for the operating system disk to restore my machine.

Uncle.  You win Dell, you’ve got great hardware, good prices, but I don’t ever want to have to talk to you again.  Ever.  I’ll have to, I’m sure, but you wasted enough of my time giving me the run-around when I was just trying to buy stuff from you to keep my machine working.

My dell is now using a $62 after-market SATA drive that I bought at Software & More around the corner from here (great guys, if you need computer stuff in Salt Lake City, go to them, they are honest, forth-coming and respectful) and its running Ubuntu 10.10 while I try to figure out what to do about the Windows 7 license printed on the bottom of the machine that ought to give me license to an operating system nobody will give me…

Granted, there’s no chat or phone support for Ubuntu (unless I pay for it) but there are literally 100’s of forums full of people eager to help me with anything…the big computer companies don’t even have community pages.

There’s something very wrong here.  In an industry that is leading our culture, talking to a major player, I couldn’t in 2 hours of time get a sales rep to help me.  What does that say about where we are headed?  That a major industry player cannot even successfully sell me a component I need to keep my machine running without putting me off to 3 different team-members, in 2 countries, over the course of 2-3 hours?

Dell, Gateway, Microsoft and any other big boys listening, you gotta wake up.  I think it was Heinlein that said, “You can tell the decline of a civilization by the ways its people treat each other…”

Doesn’t bode well folks.

Then again, Software & More, the neighborhood store…the sales rep said to me, “Hey, if you have any trouble, call us back and come back in, we’ve a tech right here…I’m sure he’ll talk to you about any issues you’ve got.”

Next laptop I buy will probably come from those guys, even if its a bit more money.

Maybe its just the big boys with the cultural issues around customer service…that would probably be ok with me.

There are so many Open Source systems for websites out there, that I thought I would take a moment to explain a bit about when to pick each one, they all have their strengths and weaknesses, pros and cons.  There isn’t one “solves it all” type system, so if someone is telling you that, its because they would rather work with what they know, than what you need…

We’ll talk about a few of the big boys here (WordPress, Joomla and Drupal being the most obvious), and a few of the up-and-coming (ModX and Concrete5) here.  Basically, when selecting an open source system to run your website there are several things to take into consideration:

  1. What does your site need to do for visitors?  What features do you need, like a store, or login system?
  2. Who will manage the site?  How much will ease of use impact them?
  3. What growth can you anticipate?  What features might you want down the road?
  4. How important is custom design and layout?

If you want a site that primarily communicates to visitors, provides information, you are not too concerned with additional features, like a web store, mailing lists, forums or providing custom information to a selected group, then that’s one set of requirements, if you need a site that provides login, user accounts and gives people information customized just for them (like a site that looks up account information for them), that’s a whole other set of needs.  Throw design and layout control into it, and it can be hard to pick the right system.

Picking the wrong system can hamstring your web site functionality, cost you $1000’s and delay you significant calendar time.  As with most of our posts, if you would like some help, just contact us.  We do requirements gathering and analysis, and can help make sure you pick the right system.

Here’s our take on a few different systems – don’t get caught listening to a technophile who loves one particular system and thinks it can be used to solve every problem.  That’s not reality.

WordPress: Fantastic blogging system that’s got a bit of content management to it and literally thousands upon thousands of plugins, themes and extensions that allow it to do more.  At its core, WordPress is designed to do one thing and to do it very well, manage a blog.  Its concepts and design from the ground up is focused on managing posts and communicating about posts.  It does that exceptionally well, and if that’s the core of what you want, posting information in a blog structure, WordPress is your platform, hands down.  If you want something else, like control over page organization, user control to limit access to areas by group, changes in how information is presented, or a site that’s not generally “blog-feeling” then using WordPress to do it can get complicated and feel like a hack.  For ease-of-use in setup, WordPress is a good pick.  They’ve made plugin management and site management simple enough for a novice, but with that ease of use, comes limitations; its very hard to make WordPress do stuff differently.  If you expect to run a site that communicates information, where posts can serve as news updates, you don’t mind that information model, and ease-of-use is a factor, go with WordPress.

Drupal: This is a *great* content management system and its track record is undeniable.  Large scale sites like whitehouse.gov (yep, them), economist.com (yes that one) and fastcompany.com (no?  Ok, so you’re not a business geek) run Drupal.  It performs well, has an excellent cache system that sustains performance on large scale sites, has against 1000’s of extensions and has user-access control that can be find-tuned to allow person A to edit this set of pages, and person B to edit those without touching each other’s work.  But the interface is confusing, the information model is challenging, and you need to understand code and website basics to install themes and extensions.  In short, its a professional’s CMS.  You can have someone set it up for you, but unless you know what model-view-controller (MVC) is and know how to link a CSS file to a PHP template file, you’re likely going to have trouble upgrading, extending or re-skinning it.  Its a favorite or us freelancers who set sites up for clients, because content entry can be easy enough, and its very flexible, powerful and robust.  If you expect to run a large-scale community site, need customizations, user access control, a powerful system that can handle large-scale sites, and you anticipate having good tech skills, go with Drupal.

Joomla: For a long time, Joomla was our “favorite” content management system at Techivity/VorpalJack and with good reason.  Joomla bridges ease-of-use between Drupal and WordPress, provides good site control over things like menus and objects on a page.  The template system is easier to customize than WordPress, the administration interface is more intelligible than Drupal, and there are again 1000’s of extensions and templates out there.  Again, it does have weaknesses.  It has a limited user-access model, so its very hard to control access to content items or other resources on a user or group basis.  The plugin and extension management system, while easier than the one in Drupal, is much harder than the one in WordPress.  Performance-wise it does well enough, but its not tested on the large-scale sites the way Drupal is – but ease-of-use…well, I’ve had clients whose computer skills were very limited managing their sites in Joomla.  If you need a content management system that provides more customized ways to organize and present information that WordPress, is easy enough for the uninitiated, and you are not concerned about controlling information by user, Joomla is a great choice.

Here are a few of the up-and-coming cms and website systems.  As a whole, the issue with this group is that there’s not enough community support yet to have the quality and breadth of extensions:

ModX: A great content-management system with really health engineering design, careful management, and next-gen tools, ModX is a bit confusing (like Drupal) on the admin side unless you code websites, then its a dream come true.  Uses Smarty for its template system, so if you don’t know what that is, you won’t be skinning it.  ModX is a good choice if you’re hacking together a website for a client that is a basic site, but has to be custom organized, and its a great choice as a foundation for acustom system.

Concrete5: Much like ModX but a bit easier to use, Concrete5 is a wonderful cross between open source and commercial.  The core system is free, but you can buy extensions right in the admin interface.  Its easier to use than ModX and Drupal, maybe even easier than Joomla, but its speed and performance comes into question on sites with higher traffic, so be wary of choosing it for a major site.  Again, a great system to hash something together for a client.

Ok, there’s a perspective.  Come talk to us if you want advice.