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So I've joined menshn

28th June 2012

The point of twitter, it seems, was all about keeping in touch with your friends, at first. It was heavily mobile-led, and using twitter you could keep in touch about the minutiae of life by jabbing your mobile phone's number buttons, or your on-screen keyboard, or your blackberry keyboard, and the message was sent.

What happened to twitter was that the communication turned political, and people realised that lots of interesting things were actually being said, and so institutions like the bbc started using it as a litmus test of opinion or what have you.

Now, menshn.

Menshn is trying to be what twitter is now. 

This means that it hasn't got that wonderful attractiveness that drew people to twitter, and it has boxed itself in, unlike twitter, which evolved.

I register.  I login.  I look around, and I don't feel compelled to participate.

Is it just me?

But of course, we'll see.

The website that grew, part 6

27th June 2012
Categories: tWtG

For previous installments, see the tWtG topic..

A month went by, much the same as any other, and John happened to be serving in the shop one Saturday afternoon when two Danish tourists walked in.

"Good afternoon", said John.

"Good afternoon", said one of the tourists, "We found you on the internet.  Can we try some of your Yorkshire Mature cheese?"

"Yes, no problem" said John, and lifted one of the cheeses onto the counter, cutting a couple of small slices off with a cheese knife and offering them on the tip of the knife.

"Absolutely delicious" said the Danes, "can we order this back home?  We're from Denmark."

"Err.. yes, we can do a telephone order; I'd have to look up postage prices."

"Can we order them from the website?"

"No, not at the moment.  Would that be easier?"

--

Back home, Kate was the one dampening John's enthusiasm. "We may have one internet order.  That's not going to pay for Hugh to develop an online shop for us!"

"But think of the potential!"

"I think we need a meeting with Hugh.  It's about time you got involved in the website and understood some of the technical stuff."

"OK, set it up"

So she did.

Can you work on a tablet?

20th June 2012
Categories: hardware

I spoke to someone recently who quoted David Rock as suggesting that the pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for thinking as opposed to memory) is a little like a stage in a theatre, with the actors on the stage being the things you're currently thinking about. Too many actors clouds your thinking, which is why when you get to work in the morning it's a useful trick to get some larger piece of work out of the way rather than diving into email! The audience in the theatre are your memory; to recall something, you bring an audience member up onto the stage. 

The computer "desktop" works in a similar way.  Have 20 windows open, and you're likely not only to spend time hunting for the right window or getting distracted by other windows, but also (in my opinion) you will worry in your subconscious about background windows you're not using.

But large computer screens are very useful in showing more of the window you're working with (so that you have more context - or more of a rounded character for your "actor", and have to remember less) and of course showing one or two windows side by side, related to whatever you're working on, which has the same effect.

Having tried out a 10 inch laptop for various pieces of work (not just programming but document writing, emailing and so on) I can safely say I'm not interested in a tablet PC (of any size, let along a 10 inch screen half obscured by an on-screen keyboard). 

Many of my acquaintances, however, tell me how their tablet PC has changed their life...

So what do you think?

Why do estimates from technology companies vary so much?

18th June 2012
Categories: prices

It's a question I've been asked a few times over the last 15 years I've been working in the IT industry, and things haven't changed.  While you can only get a very small spread of prices if you want to buy, say, a loaf of bread, curry, or a laptop, asking for a bespoke computer solution can elicit responses from 'well within budget' to 'way off the scale'.  

I beleive that the problem is twofold, and lies both with the customer and the supplier.

The customer

While specifying "exact requirements" is pretty easy with a laptop (250GB hard drive, no optical disk, 13 inch screen, 4GB memory, Windows 7 64 bit please), it's less easy with a software system or even a website.  What you're buying isn't delivered in a small black box; it's a team of experts who understand not only your business but also how best to build future-proof and useful systems. The tendency not to regard a website or business system as a return on investment doesn't help - if it's an expense, I want the cheapest please!  It has to do X, Y, and Z, and be quick about it!  Good customers first work out how the technology will help them, and convey this carefully in their requirements specification, as well as buying the best, in order to help themselves in the future.

The supplier

In a crowded market, the customer is king.  Or at least that's how they are sometimes perceived. This perception can be felt most strongly by struggling companies, who need the sale no matter what, and are therefore prepared to offer cut-throat prices in order to get it, even making a loss in the process. Because of these, you may get wildly differing prices for what is basically the same perceived system.

What can you do?

If you're specifying a business system right now, discuss your expected return on investment with your suppliers.  There may be a fear of doing this because you think it may raise the price, but they'll be just as keen to show you that they're the best of the bunch who can deliver the right technology.

Also make sure you go to at least 3 suppliers, and when you have your estimates in, ask each supplier why their estimate is so different from the others (if indeed it is). This will enable you to get an idea of the differences in approach and the differences you might be seeing in a finished product.

Finally

What has changed over the years is that certain types of business problems have become easier to solve with off-the-shelf technology - for example, if you had asked for a shareable online spreadsheet system 15 years ago, it would have cost you dearly, but now you can simply use Google Docs for free.  But as with healthcare, this only raises the ambition of the buyer, who wants to solve increasingly complex problems. Are you over-stating your problems, and could you get a return with a simpler solution?

The website that grew, part 5

2nd June 2012

For previous installments please see the tWtG topic.

Kate got back in touch with the first company she'd asked about search engines.  The managing director, Hugh, replied with the following:

Hi Kate
Good to hear from you again.  Can you come and meet us at our offices?  We're in a converted barn outside of Willowvale.  It would be useful if you prepared a list of what you want to achieve with the website.
Kind regards
Hugh

Kate organised a morning off work and drove the 15 miles out of Aylesbury to find the Willowvale barns. Hugh's company, Willowvale Interactive Media Partners, was a 3-man company based in a long barn with one room. One of Hugh's colleagues made coffee and they sat down to discuss the "Smiths fine cheeses" site. 

Kate started to explain how they had contracted a search engine company to look after their "internet ranking", and that this company charged a fee every month, but Hugh interrupted to ask what the purpose of the website was.

"It's to bring in more business."

"Can you explain about what kind of customers you'd like to attract?"

"Anyone that buys cheese."

"Including people who buy cheddar at the big supermarket?"

"Yes, if we can change their habits."

"Do you want them to come to the shop, or are you interested in selling over the internet?"

"Shop at first - we don't want to invest too much until we can see what the website can do."

Hugh understood Kate's caution, but advised against trying to attract everyone to the shop. He introduced the idea of putting the shop on the "tourist map". Kate was very responsive to the idea, and they discussed a few new pages the website could have, in order to connect with Aylesbury-related searches.

Hugh also explained that changes at Google were shaking up the search engine optimisation world, preventing optimisers from improving a website's rank entirely through linking, and placing more emphasis on content. 

They got onto technical details.  Hugh asked how the content was updated.  In fact, Kate's brother Harry had built the site with Dreamweaver, and it wasn't easy for Kate to update, so they agreed that Hugh would change the website to use a content management system.

A week or so later, it was all set up, and Kate was able to add a couple of new pages designed at attracting tourists to "Aylesbury's famous cheese shop".

John was still not convinced.

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