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Trust on the internet

27th June 2011

When you part with money on the internet, do you always know how trustworthy is the website you're visiting?

The inherent problem is that you're not necessarily receving the goods when you send the money - and to complete the transaction you have to trust that the company, who many not have a bricks-and-mortar presence, will send what you've paid for.

While the look and feel of the website is important, it's not quite enough to be a guarantee of the bona fides of the supplier.

In the run up to the Olympics, London 2012 have created a 'ticketing website checker', here, to help ensure that any fake ticket-touting websites can be checked and caught out by consumers.  

Some of our customers, like Evolution Organics, have employed devices such as trust logos (links to well-known security providers who can verify the ability of the supplier to supply the goods).

Ultimately, the consumer has to be aware that if they don't have anough information to be able to trust the supplier with their money, they should back away fast.  The same principles we all learnt in the 90s with spam emails - i.e. don't open it if you don't know what it is - should be kept in mind and applied every time!

css3 in firefox 5 (Technical)

24th June 2011

Mozilla has launched the latest release of Firefox, version 5, hot on the heels of version 4 due to their new rapid release programme.

One of the new features is support for CSS3 animation, a neater and more efficient way to perform simple animations (based around changing of style) than including libraries of javascript.  Here's a simple colour change animation - where the browser actually works out the colour gradations from red to green and green to blue.  Try it out once you've donwloaded 5.  Or you can add -webkit prefixes (duplicate and amend the -moz prefixes) for trying out on webkit browsers like Safari and Chrome.

<!DOCTYPE HTML>
<html>
<head>
<style type="text/css">
h1{
-moz-animation-duration: 10s;
-moz-animation-name: wowanimation;
-moz-animation-iteration-count: 1;
}

@-moz-keyframes wowanimation {
from {color:red;}
50% {color: green;}
to {color:blue;}
}
</style>
</head> 
<body>
<h1>wow</h1>
</body>
</html>

see the demo page here

crowdsourcing

21st June 2011

If you've ever had to type words into a box to prove you're human and not a robot, you've come across the concept of 'captcha', a technique that attempts to use unique human skills to weed out robots from a process.  

A variant of captcha, 'recaptcha', attempts to harness these skills in order to recognise characters in scanned documents.  The typed in words are cross -checked across different people and the resulting right answer is used to fill in the blanks in a sort of human OCR device.

The bbc reports today on the phenomemon of gaming taking on a similar task, but what has interested me is a new project by the founders of recaptcha, a language learning site (still under wraps) called duolingo.

The aim of duolingo, it seems, is to teach people lanuguages while they themselves help translate documents into other languages.

I'm not entirely sure how this works, but the examples they've publicised on video look pretty convincing, so I can't wait to see duolingo launched.

You can sign up for beta testing at their site, duolingo.com

How to run a meeting

16th June 2011

My advice isn't about sales meetings; they're another animal altogether.  This is about staff meetings.  The sort of meetings some people dread and even the best of us have fallen asleep in.  This is how to do it right:

Have the end in mind.  Have an agenda.  Prepare notes so that the meeting will be informed, and will run like clockwork.  Know why people are there and expect a contribution.  Start on time.  Start without people if they're late.   Don't apologise for not being prepared.  Start positively.  Thank people for attending.  State the agenda. State what's expected of people.  Reel people back in from red herrings.  Keep going back to the agenda.  Delegate decisions and actions to people if they're taking too long in the meeting.  Let people know what they need to do and when.  Suggest and diary the next meeting date.  Thank people for attending.  Pack up and leave.  Follow up with an actions list.  Follow up actions with a reminder and a call for updates.  Remind people about the next meeting.  Start again.

Do not tell me about this event again!!!

15th June 2011

An email landed in my mailbox recently.  It was from a person whose name I didn't recognise, and the subject was very short.  In gmail the body is displayed after the subject, and the mail appeared like this (names and subject have been blurred to project the innocent!):

Do not tell me about this event again!

Obviously there's a something at the top left of the email which lets you ignore the email.  It happened to be the "alt text" on an unscubscribe button.  But in the email list it looks like it's telling me off!

So just a warning if you're setting up email newsletters - include some nice friendly text at the top or as the "alt" text for the first image, and Google won't present your email the way this one was presented.

icloud fails to impress

13th June 2011

A little quiz for anyone who hasn't been following tech news over the last week:  is apple's iCloud service:

  • A. a suite of web-based productivity tools such as office applications?
  • B. a hosting service for website developers who want resilient "cloud-based" architecture?
  • C. an iTunes sync tool?

"Cloud" can mean a lot of things in these days of style over substance.  Originally 'cloud' in IT circles meant 'internet' but it has come to mean the services and tools you would traditionally access on your PC or over a local network, now provided over the internet, and the backup and monitoring and fault-fixing associated with doing that.  

Take word processing for instance.  Before the cloud you bought word processing software and installed it on your machine.  If your machine broke down you would need to reinstall, and of course you may have had to install patches and service packs to keep it working.  You also would have had to back up your documents from time to time or fear losing them when the hard disk finally died.  Now you simply go to your favourite cloud word processing tool and write.  The service you are using will take care of upgrades, backups, and availability.

Or cloud hosting.  Take your website, and install it on cloud hosting, and the server space can grow as the site grows, along with processor availailibity.  Hardware failure?  No problem.  Your website moves to a new set of hardware without you lifting a finger.

Oh, the answer's c.

Why we're not a new media agency

3rd June 2011

... or any other 'agency' for that matter.

Whatever pops into your head when you hear 'new media agency' or 'web design agency' may be completely different from what pops into my head, hence this piece explaining why I shiver when one of our contacts refers to us in this way.  And if you work for or own an 'agency' of some description, please don't take offence - it's not you; it's me.

Picture this.  An office on the 5th floor of a 10 storey building, central London or central New York (not central Oxford, we don't have 10 storey buildings here).  It's the afternoon, and the sun is setting over distant tower blocks and sending a warm glow through the hi-tec blinds.  

In the office are three people.  They might be wearing suits, Don Draper style, or they could be wearing polo necks and goatees (don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with goatee beards - I'm sporting one at the moment which, may I say, is quite stylish).

The men are sweating slightly.  They've been working all day, and some of the previous night.  The previous day they've been saying things about the contract with XYZ corp like "I've got the name of Jessica's line manager - so that one's totally nailed".  As if they're building a shed and they need to triumphantly announce to their team the putting in of one nail on the edge of one plank.

What have they been doing in the night?  Researching stuff.  Putting powerpoints together.  Being creative.  High-fiving each other for "totally nailing" a phrase to describe their product or presentation.

And what they've just been doing this afternoon is meeting a new customer.  The customer has been looking at a fantastic bells and whistles presentation for a new ad campaign.  The customer loves it.  The men are thrilled.  When the customer leaves they whoop and holler.  They may open a bottle of champagne.  All in all, they are in some sort of self-congratulatory euphoria.  They've DONE IT!

Change of subject:  how do you make websites that work?  You listen to the customer.  You build a powerful and relevant website.  You measure the website's ability to attract, to gain commitment, to sell, and to engage with users.  You react to the measurements you have taken and you take decisions using science, not tired committees.  You work your socks off for the customer, and the customer reaps the rewards.

The men in the room are what I think of as 'agency' guys.  But here at Oxford Web we're not agency guys - we're web developers.  We're a cohesive team of designers, developers and web analysts whose job is to make websites work - to employ continual improvement methodologies and to create websites that benefit our customers' businesses.  Welcome to Oxford Web.

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26 Cave Street
Oxford
OX4 1BA

01865 596 144

Oxford Web is a trading name of Alberon Ltd, registered company no. 5765707 (England & Wales).