Charities and the Internet

Part one – “Charity begins at the home page.”

If the internet has one lesson to teach it is that a good web presence will always be an advantage to an organisation. Companies like Amazon and Ebay have no physical presence whatsoever relying completely on their web sites and e-commerce to make money. iTunes supplies millions of downloads of music tracks every month and needs only a site to download the client software and storage for the media files

Many charities, through a lack of resources or know-how or simply a failure to understand its benefits do not use the internet to their advantage. Part of this problem is that the internet has evolved at a quite astonishing rate and in the last 6-7 years has come to support a much wider set of online resources. Java and flash based applications are now the norm for the internet rather than the novelty of the beginning of the century.

Internet users have become an increasingly sophisticated group demanding far more from their visits online than a static unchanging site extolling them to send an email or phone a telephone for more information. The highly polished and professional online presence of companies like Youtube, Amazon and Ebay have done much to change the way that people

Often organisations rush into the development of a website without first considering what they want to achieve or worse still consider their website to be something they “have to do,” but little forethought or long-term effort goes into the project. Like everything else a website needs to be part of an overall plan. Directors unwilling to commit time and energy to ensuring the look of the website might want to consider that it could be the starting point for several thousand visitors every year and far more than newsletters and annual reports will represent the company to the outside world.

Organisations often struggling to manage in times of recession will be the first to claim that they derive little benefit from a web presence because they lack the time and resources to explore the possibilities in any detail. At the other end of the spectrum some charities have unrealistic expectations and come to believe that a simple web-page and a presence on Facebook is all they need to be assured of a long line of givers. In both cases, they may also lack staff with the technical skills to accomplish these aims and under pressure to achieve other targets; the web presence is often relegated to something they will “get around to”

The creation and maintenance of a professional website has long since moved from simple knowledge of HTML[1] to the complications of perl, java, C+, SEO[2] : the seemingly never ending task of ensuring that your site is ranked highly in Google, Bing etc. But the increasing sophistication of the internet means that it is entirely possible to create professional website without spending weeks learning how to write and use these tools, companies like WordPress offer out of the box site either free or paid which mean you can have a professional presence in a few short hours!

Some companies spend time developing a site but then do nothing to promote it. Having a well designed website is excellent but if no-one ever finds it then it’s unlikely that it will achieve much and as I suggested earlier, a visitor is more likely to come via the net than through a phone call or personal visit.

A charity might expect to have any of the following make regular visits to their web-site:

  • potential donors;
  • volunteers;
  • professional bodies seeking information about the company;
  • trusts performing their own research;
  • Visitors wanting to gain a better understanding of key issues in the field.

Companies can build their social worth by simply becoming the place where it is know that useful and pertinent information can be found. Be it articles, opinions or download links to other sites. In providing this information the company is more likely to be in a position to start the long term engagement process with potential supporters.

Any company needs to take all this into account when formulating the elements of their website. The final strategy may include a wide range of tactics from third party tools, email marketing & social networking, to online marketing and tools to engage the audience once they reach the site.

SaaS and the oft touted “Cloud” mean that although development and initialization may still need the assistance of the technological literati once this has been accomplished the skill levels needed to keep that presence are relatively low and in many cases will amount to little more than logging in and typing!

Integration of online application is far more wide-spread than it was five to eight years ago. A 21st century web designer would fully expect to build a site that includes, RSS feeds, posts from Twitter and/or Facebook; links to an external blog and professional looking picture galleries installed from photostreaming sites like Flickr. He or she may also be asked to provide inserted video hosted by Youtube and links to audio podcasts such as those hosted by Podbean.[3]

Web users have come to expect a far greater level of professionalism when visiting sites. This is especially important when the aim is to engage with the visitor and ensure that a) return and b) donate. These expectations need to be taken into consideration when developing a web presence strategy.

[1]   Hypertext mark-up language, the basic code for building websites.
[2]   Search engine optimisation – a subset of website creation which focuses on good ranking for web pages especially where the site depends on either paying customers or PPC (pay per click)
[3]   It may be worth just saying that podcasts, photo-hosting and blogging can all be done using the company server. The reasons for not using client side hardware is simply that it moves the technical element away from a small number of people and enables staff with little or no technical skills to use the software spreading the load and limiting the impact of illness and annual leave.
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Twitter ye not!

Last week I ran across a posting in one of the forums from a ‘silver surfer’ who was experiencing problems with Twitter – lets call him ‘Mr Donut.’ Mr Donut had three basic problems

1. No one seemed to be reading his Twitter feed.
2. He could not write what he wanted to in 147 characters.
3. No one was reading his blog.

I emailed back saying that I could offer some advice then went to look at his Twitter feed and blog, and boy do I wish I had done it the other way round!

First off, Donut’s Twitter feed: 48 Tweets since he joined in 2009! He even waited a year to post his first tweet.

I checked my own Twitter feed and noted that I had racked up 3118 postings in the same time while regarding myself as only an occasional user of the platform.

To his credit Donut had found Twitlonger http://www.twitlonger.com/ which had helped, but on checking the blog I found it was simply a page of undated HTML mainly soapboxing whatever issue Donut had uppermost in his mind. His blog contained no way to response to his posts, no reblogging tool and was a page on his site.

A lot of the Twitter feed was simply linking to an old fashioned sites where he posted unfunny jokes, videos and photos sent to him by friends. A lot of the stuff was downloads and I doubt that any followers that would be keen to d/l files from Powerpower and MS whole web pages.

It was no Holmesian feat of deducation to conclude that Donut was unaware of Tumblr, Facebook or even possible Google images and the notion of linking to the resources had not crossed his mind.

I did email Donut to offer advice, refreshing his picture and the look of his Twitter page, linking to other interesting sites and how get more followers but it was fairly obvious that all he really wanted to do was jump on his internet soapbox and was annoyed that the universe could not be reordered to enable that to happen.

Moral never assume your knowledge of the internet will be greater than the ignorance of some of it’s users.

Donut offered the thought that to get followers on Twitter you had to be either famous or a geek, I saw no reason to offend the old boy but here I will say, to get followers on Twitter, you have to say or offer something interesting and the internet in 1996 just ain’t it!

IE10 More Feedback

Copied from http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/10/08/early_windows_10_feedback_for_microsoft/

Windows-10-Preview-Start-Menu-Look-and-Features-460698-2When Microsoft announced the preview of Windows 10, it emphasised the “opportunity to influence product development decisions through the new Windows Feedback app directly within the product”.

Users can not only give feedback, but also see — and vote on — the feedback of others, giving all of us a chance to assess what users think of Microsoft’s latest offering.

Microsoft is trying to remould Windows away from its radical Windows 8 remake into something more familiar to Windows 7 users. Live tiles used to live only in a separate Start screen but have now been brought into the desktop, in a panel alongside a revived Start menu, and the touch-friendly Store apps now launch in desktop windows.

But if live tiles are now in the desktop, should they have more of a role? “It would be great if app tiles could also/alternatively be pinned to the desktop (like Windows 7 widgets)” is one popular suggestion.

And why is the new panel crippled, compared with the Windows 8 Start screen? “Let us organise our live tiles on the Start menu the way you could on the Start screen – with different headings/sections” is supported by 84 users so far.

The way Store apps behave is another tricky area. Currently they open by default in maximised windows, but “modern apps should not all start in full screen in desktop view, some apps (eg, Calculator) should default to a smaller size,” say 30 users. Note, though, that Microsoft seems to have a fix for this already, at least for new apps, since the feedback app is itself a Store app and does not open maximised.

And what about Store apps that duplicate desktop apps? “Only one calculator, having two creates unnecessary confusion,” says a comment, while others miss having a choice of web browsers. “How do I get back Modern IE? Desktop IE feels archaic to me.”

Search is prominent in Windows 10, but “the search button isn’t entirely necessary on desktop, as you can access the same functionality from the start menu”, say several users. Could it be that the second search button is a placeholder for Cortana, the automated personal assistant in Windows Phone?

Nor is everyone happy being force-fed Bing. “Allow other search providers such as Google or Yahoo,” say 62 users. What about the way Windows search mixes web and local results? 361 users agree that mixing Windows and web search is a “terrible idea … if I want to search the web I will start IE.”

The way Microsoft bakes its own cloud services into Windows causes some discontent. “Let us be able to disable and uninstall OneDrive” say 46 users. Another tried to switch from Dropbox but found OneDrive buggy. “If I am to trust OneDrive, you need to fix bugs like this” is the conclusion.

Internet Explorer (IE) will receive a major update before Windows 10 is released, but it still comes in for a beating. “IE is terrible, give us the option on first login of which default browser to install and use,” says one, while another opines “Microsoft, please make a deal with Google and use its browser … [IE] is still as slow as a fart in a frying pan.”

Another user asks why IE still has “Automatically detect settings” on by default, ensuring a slow and usually fruitless search for proxy settings every time it starts.

Then there are the optimists. “Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint should be free and built into Windows 10, this would tempt people away from Chromebooks and Mac,” says a user, supported by 10 others.

Windows 10 feedback tool

Finally, what of the feedback process itself? “If Microsoft would like its customers to do free software testing, could they at least provide a proper bug-tracking tool with severity level and current status,” observes a user, while another says simply, “Enough! This feedback app is doing my head in.”

Windows 10 out of 10

windows10Microsoft is reported to be saying that a million people have signed up for the early access to Windows 10 for those willing to test the operating system’s early versions.

Redmond says 36 per cent are running the OS in a virtual machine. That leaves about 650,000 people running Windows 10 on bare metal.

Members of the Insider Program have delivered “over 200,000” pieces of feedback. most requests concern minor UI tweaks and aesthetics, although “Make it easier to use a local account” is the third-most-requested new feature.
Microsoft’s not saying when the feedback will result in a new release of of the OS, or when it will go on sale.

Ello and Goodbye!

ello2Ello has appeared as the new social network craze, first created as a private space but has since grown into a self-proclaimed “simple and beautiful” network 100% free and currently invite only.  Ello has gathered speed quite simply because so many people out there want to be able to claim they were the first, but add to that a significant number who have become tired of the way that Facebook supposedly invades their privacy and all the problems with trying to stay current on Twitter.

Ello claims to be free but a quick scrape beneath the surface suggests that it’s likely to have the same advert issues as it’s big brother – always assuming of course you can get yourself an invite. To be blunt, Ello has been swamped by the small percentage of social media users that wanted to try out the system.  It’s early popularity created a sort of benign DDOS that pretty much gummed up the works for the some days. Ello claim they are sorting it out, but lots of people will tell you they requested an invite days ago and are still waiting hopefully for Ello to say hello!

Ello claim they don’t want to be an “ad platform” like Facebook. Rather, they’ll be a space where everyone is protected from the advertising ogres of the world. Ello is spot-on that people generally hate ads, thing is though, they don’t hate them enough. People on Facebook and Twitter aren’t exactly jumping ship. Read more at http://www.business2community.com/social-media/ello-goodbye-ello-just-another-social-media-fad-01034402#mQV04zowTCykScxo.99

 

Every cloud?

So you don’t need online storage, lets see. How many of these can you answer yes to?

  1. Do you have more than 40GB of images, music and films stored on your PC?
  2. Is your PC the only place they are stored?
  3. Is your PC more than five years old?
  4. Do you rely on DVDs or CDs to make copies of important stuff?
  5. Do you avoid backing up because it’s a pain

If the answer to more than three of the above is yes, then it’s time you thought seriously about cloud or online storage.

What would be the impact if your PC failed today?

There are cloud solutions for all these problems ones which guarantee the safety of your files and documents. I can tailor a solution to your needs using either free or low cost application and provide you with a walk through for precisely what you need to do along with email and phone support for very little cost.

 

Worthwhile?

A late night email arrived a couple of nights ago, nothing unusual in that, the universality of the internet makes the concept of “business hours” something of a joke and I get email and calls out of hours all the time. The client in this case was turning down my quote for their website, this happens all the time; so what I hear you say , is the problem?

I found myself reading the email several times, the client, a small non-profit,   made the point that my quote constituted a significant percentage of their available funds – my first inkling that their financial position was far worse than I had assumed. And, carried with it the implication, to my mind at least that I was charging them way too much. This started me thinking…

My quote had been based on some previous experience of the non-profit.  My last contract had been a below rock bottom price to help them out of a crisis when they suddenly realised they had a deadline approaching and no one in the team with IT skills. In a couple of days I moved them from a position of a five years out of date website written in HTML only  and no access to their email to a half-way decent web presence based around a WordPress site – with web mail access. My records show that came to around 110 hours of work, including some marathon stints as they approached one of their deadlines. Most of the email emanated from one source, one of the senior members of the company who had managed to place himself as key liaison between his group and me. Waking to numerous emails and images sent during the night was not unusual, much of the content would be URLs or random photos or even suggestions to read another non-profit’s site. A lot of time was wasted just ploughing through information which could have been sent as one email but came in a constant drip feed of information…

I’m probably being a little over sensitive, it’s not uncommon for organisations to have a list which includes the word website for no other reason than “other companies have one, we should too!” that kind of reasoning lumps a web presence in with the same functionality as a filing cabinet or desk – easy to acquire little or no thought needed. The problem is usually made worse if you ask what the company wants to do with their site and the answer distills down to put whatever we happen to think is interesting on there…The strategy such as it was was leave it to the one person in the hope that he and I would come up with something half-way decent.

In the case of this particular non profit a firmer grip on what they wanted on their site would equate to significant savings, but their current strategy demanded an almost 24/7 administrative function and that sort of commitment costs. What they should have done, in my opinion, was to have sat down right at the start of the project and asked some key questions.

  1. What do we want our site to achieve?
  2. What monetary worth do we put on that achievement?
  3. What is our capacity to organise some of the work ourselves?
  4. If the contract is for a limited time – what is our exit strategy (what happens when the PCBloke leaves?)

For the case of non-profits the answer  to 1 can often be as simple as a series of information pages and contact forms, since much of their other contact with their audience is better handled on social media like Facebook and Twitter.

A series of simple information pages on a website should not run to hundred of pounds, if that information is organised and passed to the web people it should be doable in a few hours meaning that 2 should be fairly palatable.

3 might be the work that goes into Facebook and Twitter and the chances are that someone on your team will have skills in their area. Rather than relying on the website to front your news stories you can use social media as your shop, remembering that news items will be pushed to your audience via their page rather than them needing to make the effort to find you.

And finally 4 – continue your good work on social media and get your information pages updated as and when you need them.

What would that have cost my late night emailing non-profit, a lot less than the original quote and possibly even a sum they could afford. 

 

 

 

XPocalypse later?

English: This is a photo of a room full of com...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well it’s two months after the so called XPocalypse; the terrible wave of exploits that security experts predicted devastate the ancient operating system and I’m busy washing the remains of the egg off my face!

No sign of World-wide XP-specific attacks even though Microsoft were one of the first to shout in October 2013, when Tim Rains, director of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing group, cited statistics from the firm’s own telemetry to suggest that post-retirement Windows XP malware infection rates could jump dramatically.

But what did we get… zip, nada, zilch and a fair bit of egg on my face not to mention soem suspicions about talking many of my clients into dumping their tried and trusted old OS friend for it’s newer brother.

Last month a hack duped Windows Update into serving Windows XP systems with patches, but patches were from Windows Embedded POSReady 2009. That version, admittedly based on Windows XP SP3, was designed for point-of-sale systems, particularly cash registers, and automated teller machines. “Of course they say it is a bad idea to use the hack, they want people to move to Windows 8 and later Windows 9,” chimed in a reader identified only as “nilst2011” in a comment appended to the Computerworld news story.

But perhaps the good news, depending on your point of view, is that a zero day exploit for XP is not likely to target your ancient dual-core but be developed for a specific purpose and the available market of high-value Windows XP targets is dropping with every month, in short Cornficker 2 is probably not going to happen. In the last 12 months, XP has dropped 12.5% losing 33% it’s share as of May 2013, according to analytics firm Net Applications. If Windows XP continues to lose user share at its current tempo, it will be powering less than 10% all personal computers a year from now.

Meanwhile, despite the yolk being on me I’ll continue to recommend that users either install Windows 7 or 8 or buy a new machine. In the long run, I know it makes sense, in the short run, I hope my clients do as well.

Making a complete Hash of it…?

social media, social networking, social comput...

Social media, social networking, social computing tag cloud (Photo credit: daniel_iversen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bit of a change of pace from my usual Windows XP stuff: It’s campaign season and I have been watching how some politicians;councillors and MPs handle that from a point of view of their Facebook and Twitter Feeds. Here’s a few thoughts…

1. The “Sunshine and lollipops” post is old fashioned and a little pointless. If everywhere you go the people greet you with no negativity at all, you are either deluding yourself or lying to your readers. So be honest. If you are knocking door in a ward say that you picked up 10 pledges or 15 pledges rather than the anodyne “Good doorknocking in xxxx” which tells the reader little or nothing about what you have done.

2. Use hastags the # symbol it’s supported by Facebook and Twitter so your Facebook and Twitter posts “could be little more than “Canvassed #anyward today, got 5 new pledges for #politicalparty #CampaignName” The last hastag should be an agreed one for your political group in your part of the world so for example #electMonsterRavingLooney2015.

3. Hastags are search terms so agree the one you plan to use with your campaign team. Don’t use ones which attack the other side unless you are happy for them to do the same. Don’t make them up on the day. Twitter will offer suggestions but you are on your own with Facebook.

4. Where you can, geo-tag your Facebook or Twitter post. Facebook allows for any location tag but if you can have one close to where you are campaigning all the better. Avoid businesses.

5. Add a photo – action shots speak louder than words. The group shot is OK but try to vary it from time to time.

6. When posting why not ask a question “Canvassing #anyward tomorrow at 3pm, what are your priorities for the area? #mycampaign2015 #yourpriorities.

7. Video blog and post the link to Facebook and Twitter
In my experience the majority of politician have not really comprehended social media as a networking tool, especially local councillors who either ignore it feel they are fine posting ill considered snippets of non-information which ultimately make them look bad. Give it some thought post carefully and post well.

 

 

Xpocalypse Now?

 

Windows XP

Windows XP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s past April 10th 2014 so I’m assuming you have all upgraded your PCs from XP to, well practically anything really!

No?

OK, well you’re not the only one, leaving aside the corporations willing to £150 per machine per year for continued XP support (and probably only critical updates) if you still have XP what should you do now.

Emergency Check List
1. Start thinking about an upgrade, the longer you leave it, the more painful the upgrade will be…
2. Check to see your you are up to date on the pre-April updates.
3. Stop using Internet Explorer now, it’s linked to the Windows system and will be vulnerable followed by more vulnerable in the coming months. Choose Firefox or Chrome or Opera as your main browser. Install it today!
4. Stop using Office 2003 if you have it switch to 2007

If you have simple Word Processing and Spreadsheet needs, consider Outlook.com the MS email system comes with free cut down online copies of their Word and Excel applications.

5. Stop using Outlook Express – you should have done that years ago anyway. Invest in a copy of Outlook 2007 or later.

Update everything else, Java, Flash etc but check Java first if you don’t need it, uninstall it it’s a security vulnerability.

Basically, if you elect to stay with XP you are in the warzone, depending on what the hackers and malware exporters do next, you will either have no problem at one end of the spectrum or be the source of viruses and malware to thousands of other machines at the other.

No really knows the full extent of the problem, but the advice from the experts is that Microsoft have given you no real choice but to dump XP in favour of something else. I’ll talk about the options in another post soon.