Castles in the air – my vision for Apple’s iCloud

May 10th, 2011 by Peter

Let me start with a confession – I don’t own or want to own an iPad. I use one for in-house testing of the sites we build, but for me personally the iPad is still a solution in search of a problem. However, I realise that for 95% of people the iPad is (or will be by the time the iPad4 rolls around) all the computer they’ll ever need. And there’s the rub – why do I still need a Mac (or PC) to sync this supposed ‘post-PC’ device to?

Back in 2005 it seemed pretty cool to plug a cable between a Mac and an iPod and sync a bunch of tunes that I could take on the road with me. In 2011 it seems pretty clunky to still be doing the same thing (albeit with a wider range of media). And half the time I’m syncing stuff I’ve bought over the air to my Mac so I can sync it back down to my mobile device. Meh.

So I’m kind of excited about what iCloud could be. Obviously I’m tempering my optimism based on Apple’s track record with iTools / .Mac / MobileMe, but their current massive investment in data centres coupled with their negotiations with the major record labels over streaming content gives me hope. So here’s the dream…

What if iCloud removed the need for owning a Mac / PC altogether? Users would store all their media and documents on iCloud and sync them directly to their iPhone / iPad via wifi (or 4G / LTE if the data costs ever drop low enough). Given Apple is now financially more stable than most small nations, and given Facebook already know everything there is to know about everyone, I suspect most people will have few reservations about letting Apple act as gatekeeper to their online life. With a 50Mb+ connection to the net, the ability to read / write MS-Office (or iWork) documents, import photos (via the SD slot in the iPad3), and sync apps and media – for most users the PC goes the way of the dodo.

Of course there’s the potential that this PC/Mac-less syncing could cannibalise Apple’s sales of Macs to consumers in the short term. However, over the longer term Macs will be the obvious choice for a generation raised on iPads and iPhones, particularly in if iOS and OS X continue to converge.

Castles in the air? Given that Google have just announced their Music Beta service, I can’t imagine it will be long till Apple unleashes iCloud

How To Survive The Panda – Farmer Update

March 15th, 2011 by Modi

With the Farmer / Panda update being rolled out just in the US so far, site owners in other countries are quite concerned about how the algorithmic update is going to affect their rankings and traffic. Indeed, the need to protect the original author of an electronic article was something that should have been addressed and resolved since a while ago but is the update just doing that?

Although the update has been publicly known as the one that would target content farms in particular, Google never mentioned the term ‘content farm’ so far. Instead, they have been talking about quality content which it is really resolve algorithmically as quality can be very subjective amongst different individuals. If content farms were into the cyclone’s eye the impact of the update should have been pretty much the same across all content farms. However, that is not the case.

Articlebase.com, hubpages.com and Ezinearticles.com have lost a great deal of their rankings, hence traffic while other similar sites such as wikihow.com, answers.yahoo.com and ehow.com have actually increased their traffic. Clearly, the update has not been fair with many websites and there have been lots of complains into their Webmaster central forum. Google are encouraging website owners to realise complains if they think that they have been unfairly treated, although manual action is not going to be taken, rather than some algorithmic enhancements.

Signals Of Low Quality Content (How To Escape Panda’s Wrath)

As some US sites have reported, the following may be signals of low quality:

  • Poor web design. If you compare an article from Articlebase.com or Ezinearticles.com with ehow.com it is obvious that even though the actual content quality is very similar, the look and feel of the sites isn’t. Factors to pay attention with include:
    • Excessive use of whitespace
    • Narrow column width
    • Lack of images
    • Lack of headings (H1, H2, H3s etc)
  • Excessive number of ads. As Matt Cutts confirmed ads alone aren’t a signal of low quality. However, pages with just ads or too many ads and a little bit of content wouldn’t be valuable to anyone, hence Google would treat them as low quality pages. Ads powered by Google make no difference and they are still treated as ads so watch out!
  • To get an idea of what poor web design or excessive use of ads may mean, compare this post from ehow.com to that post from ezinearticles.com .

  • Shallow Content or No Content. This is something to be very careful about. Matt Cutts confirmed at 2011 SMX West that if there are pages with very little or no content you should remove them. Alternatively, for pages that have no content for a reason (e.g. a product review page which hasn’t received any reviews yet) the best practice would be to instruct the search engines not to index the page using a <meta content=noindex> on these pages until they have unique and high-quality content on them. By adding a noindex the search engines will still be able to reach those pages but won’t index them. Thus, when the quality increases the noindex should be removed and the page will start ranking ASAP as the search engines already know about the page’s existence.
    However, there are some objections here as certain types of sites rely heavily on imagery and lack of textual content. For instance, lets take as an example the content and structure of sites such as that of a modelling agency,  a video artist, a flamenco dancer, a fitness blog, or Comex 2000 network communications? What about this site which lacks textual copy but is full of high quality, informative and engaging videos explaining the difference between good and bad bacteria in the human body? Or, what about HR software provider breatheHR, which consists of a very informative video and a powerpoint presentation?  It seems that all that content falls into the shallow content category but does that mean this is low quality? Many artists’ websites are great just because there isn’t any great deal of content other than an image of an artistic performance. Should Google maybe reassess their quality ranking factors as they seem to be harsh in these instances?
  • Scraped Content / Machine Generated Content – This one is really to be avoided as this has been at the core of the Farmer / Panda update. Google favour the original authors but are really strict with content thieves trying to rank higher than the original author. Any scraped content appearing on a part of a site could bring a lot of trouble, not just ranking drops but even complete removal from Google’s index. Make sure all copy on your site is UNIQUE. Many website owners especially in e-commerce sites aren’t aware of this issue and may experience traffic loss as product pages have usually been scraped from the manufacturer’s site. Re-writing all these pages is also recommended otherwise you should expect traffic for long-tail searches as scraped content product pages will get de-indexed. For instance, this  glassware retailer, may experience traffic loss for the wine glasses term if the textual content on the page doesn’t get updated on time.
  • Article / Page length – Apparently, most content farms which experienced devaluations include posts of a similar word count (approximately 300 words). For all those familiar with Article Marketing it won’t be a big surprise Google decided to take some action on that. Varying the articles / pages / posts length is highly recommended but it’s not just about length of content but quality too.
  • Syndicated Duplicate Articles – Links from hundreds duplicate syndicated articles are not valuable and are being discounted.
  • Excessive exact match anchor text. Google have confirmed that they will start taking action against excessive numbers of backlinks with exact match anchor text. Again, don’t expect penalties but heavy devaluation. Varying the anchor text and building some brand links too is recommended.

Finally Google confirmed that there will be more algorithmic updates in the near future for low quality content, thus we should expect content farms to lose even more of their ranking power.

Design & Creativity @ dConstruct 2010

September 9th, 2010 by Bruno

It’s always a pleasure to attend dConstruct, specially when my ticket came flying unexpectedly under the door at 9am on the day of the event for free! Couldn’t ask for more, thank you Damien, thank you Osbro. So, here’s a summary of my scribbles, thoughts and some questionings on this years speakers approaches to this years theme: Design & Creativity.

Be different, be radical, innovate.

Marty Neumeier – @martyneumeier – designer and now copywriter, journalist, publisher and brand consultant opened the event and explained how we designers can change the way we do business nowadays.

As designers we need to be radical and not be afraid to present our fresh and radical ideas when approaching a new project.  The thing is, that to support and backup this, we need to think like business people (the client) because they are afraid off being different! No matter how innovative our design approach to the brief is, they don’t get it at first (sigh)…but, don’t give up with first bad comments and feedback… instead, take them into consideration, test them, use them to improve,  and will see people start looking at it differently, with a positive approach. So, be confident of your design!

Our speed generation is forcing us to be fast in our design processes because while you are finalising a design someone else has already started an update of it! See the mobile phone industry as example… With this in mind, Marty shared a very interesting tool on how to approach new design brief. It’s s quick method to evaluate your product along with your client.  He says: prototype your design and user test it, then categorise it. For this ask your self, is your design…

A) Good and Different?
B) Good but Not Different?
C) Not Good and Not Different?
D) Different but Not Good?

In which category does your design/product fits in? I’m sure you guessed which category is the successful one. So, to innovate you have to be REALLY different, radical, innovative!

The  question is how radical can you be when designing…? in my opinion this depends much on your target audience … but if you teach your audience (your client) they will understand and select the right prototype that will be future proof. You need to guide them and make them look at it from different angles (they are afraid of being different don’t forget, they like standard..). It’s by teaching them that you will enable innovation!

Marty finished is speech by re-enforcing that: “we all intend to keep innovating, so if you want to innovate you got to design…differently!” I agree, now where’s my colors…

Here’s a quick game for you: using Marty evaluation tool I challenge you to find nowadays products that:

… are good and different: I say iPhone (easy i know), you say…?
… are good but not different: I say Levi’s, you say?…?
… are not good and not different: I say Virgin Cola, you say…?
… are different but not good: I say i.e PEPSI AM, you say…?

Which keyword suggestion tool? All of them!

February 15th, 2010 by Modi

One of the most challenging and crucial tasks for any SEO is what keyword suggestion tool to use. Each one is based on each vendor’s keyword database, therefore there is no “perfect” tool and is wise not to rely on a single one only but try to combine a few ones as each one can provide very different results for the same set of keywords (as they pull data from different sources).

There is a vast choice between paid and free keyword suggestion tools. Three of the most commonly used ones, along with their advantages and disadvantages, are the following:

Google AdWords External Keyword Tool (free)
(+) They have a huge database of search activity so they offer great keyword depth
(+) Handy for seasonal products as it provides search history results for the past 12-months
(+) A good starting point for your niche as it will generate a large number of keywords (ideal for brainstorming)
(+) Returns country specific results depending on your location
(-) Does not give exact numbers search volumes of searches but bars
(-) It is very likely that your competitors are using it too so it doesn’t give you any strategic advantage.
(-) The most competitive keywords are usually the most expensive ones (Although not always the ones that will increase your traffic)

Word Tracker (Paid, Free)
(+) Separate UK-based research database which is really handy for UK businesses
(+) More useful features than most keyword research tools
(+) Offers a 7-day free trial as well as a limited free keyword suggestion tool
(+) Ideal for newcomers to keyword research as it comes with great resources (articles, case studies, guides etc)
(+) Ideal for deep long tail keyword indentification if your niche is big enough
(-) Sometimes the results seem a bit spammy and irrelevant
(-) Their database is much smaller than Google’s.
(-) A bit steep learning curve for beginners as its functionlity is not always strightforward.
(-) Keyword Discovery data is not always accurate as they are based on estimates

Keyword Discovery (Paid)
(+) Search activity results are based on over 200 search engines worldwide
(+) Built-in a keyword density tool that measures the density of any given page
(+) Shows seasonal trends throughout the year so it is handy for seasonal producs
(+) Enables you to identify the market share held by individual engines for each keyword
(-) Quite expensive
(-) Sometimes it is a bit slow
(-) No avaialble PPC data

Light-weight and quick CMSs solutions (that work!)

December 11th, 2009 by Modi

Not too long ago I had a chat with a graphic designer who told me about that amazingly easy to use CMS that will leave all developers sooner or later unemployed but I did not feel that threatend to try it out until recently that I needed to come up with a solution for a model agency website that required only a few pages to be frequently updated, consisting mainly of text and images. I thought to try that miraculous thing, whose name reminded me of Sushi, that allows non developers to offer CMS solutions to their clients just out of curiosity and because I found it totally uneccessary to install a big full-on CMS or write a bespoke one.  By nature I am not easily convinced that things are as great as they sound, and in every case I try to discover imperfections and disadvantages so I make my life a bit harder than it deserves to be. However, in the case of CushyCMS, I was taken by great suprise and started being worried about graphic designers taking over the whole world being able to offer complete web sites with both great looking front-ends and functional back-end solutions.

The big advantage of Cushy is that it is very fast to set up as it only requires registration (which is free), rather than any sort of installation. It is ideal for small web sites that users want to update text and images in some parts of their site e.g. news, events or even the homepage. The only thing the designer has to do is to provide the FTP details of the site, specify which parts and pages will be editable and who is going to edit those. Cushy will then create the WYSIWYG editors and the CMS is up and running! I have never come across any CMS that can do the job so quickly, absolutely stunning!

Unless your client has a big site with lots of different content types, it is not really worth installing one of the big CMSs such as Joomla or Drupal. But even if this is the case, you would be better off developing a proprietary CMS that does exactly what your client’s requirements are, rather than install an all-in-one solution that will result in unnecessary server processing, slow response times, let aside bugs that are very hard to find and fix given that those applications have been written by so many different people using totally different coding styles.

Wordpress is getting more and more popular as a CMS lately apart from being an excellent blog platform. It is much more light-weight and clean compared to Joomla and Drupal and with the recent release of the Pods framework it can easily(?) turn into a powerful CMS. What is great about Pods is that you can create and display your own content types, and even build relationships between them, unlike Cushy, which make it really powerful while at the same time it retains all the Wordpress advantages: simplicity, SEO benefits, excellent plugins that increase functionality without having to tweak the actual code (normally). No wonder Wordpress won for the first time the ‘Best Overall  Open source CMS’ award in the 2009 Open Source CMS awards.

You need to bear in mind though, that Pods is made for developers who are familiar with PHP.  For non developers, there are a few alternatives s that can help significantly turning Wordpress into a CMS but with some limitations. The most interesting ones are:

  • Custom fields built in functionality – assign custom fields to a post (requires editing templates / php files).
  • More fields plugin – add extra (custom) fields in the write/edit page – more powerful than custom fields.
  • WP-CMS Post control plugin – control your admin write options and hide unwanted items from content authors.

There’s many other interesting light-weight open source CMSs for small websites many developers claim they are easy to use and set up such as XOOPS, concrete5, SkyBlueCanvas, Perch and MODx. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to try them yet but once I do I will write another post about them.

Pay peanuts – get (code) monkeys. Approaches to the economic downturn

November 12th, 2009 by Peter

Whether you call it a downturn or a full-blown recession, there is no doubt that these have been tough times for UK companies. Either by good planning or good luck (quite possiby the latter) we’ve remained extremely busy and are continuing to expand.

What the slowdown has done is educate us about client attitudes to web development and their wider internet strategy. Because when money gets tight, companies have to spend money on the things they believe are important. And some cases, those priorities don’t include web development.

As things have got tougher, we’ve encountered lots of companies looking for web design bargains of the “my brother could do this for £200″ variety. Unfortunately, they seem to be making the assumption that [company + any old pages on the net = massive profit]. Given how long the web has been around and the (blindingly obvious) difference between good and bad sites it’s a little disheartening that some firms still can’t see the potential for web developers to add real value to their web presence.

Thankfully, the slowdown has made a number of other companies realise just how integral their web strategy is to the success of their business. They understand how a usable, well-integrated site can give them a huge edge over the competition (both through the ‘front-end’ increasing sales and the ‘back-end’ cutting administration overheads). And they understand they need a company that knows the web inside-out to help them achieve this.

And, just occasionally, there is the ‘eureka’ moment. Like the lovely chap who thought his site wasn’t selling because of the font face it used (and wanted us to do a ‘quick and cheap’ fix). And who, when we explained the ‘slightly’ more significant issues of a chaotic information architecture, reams of unreadable text and a truly eye-popping colour scheme, just got it.

So, we’ll keep on providing insight rather than being tempted in to high volume, low-cost ‘code monkeying’. And if anyone really does have a brother (or sister) working from their bedroom who can develop a web site for £200 – we’ve got enough potential clients to keep you in business for years to come!

Google nets the birds – real time twitter search

October 22nd, 2009 by Simon

So as many bloggers have noted Google have now announced that they will incorporate tweets in real time into their searches. I guess they were never going to leave it all up to Microsoft who earlier announced the same deal for the Bing search engine.

It will be very interesting to see exactly how the tweets will be incorporated – and particularly how it will compare to Twitter’s own search facility. Presumably Google will be cross-referencing as much data as possible to show results that are relevant from a wider perspective ? Microsoft have the head start and it will be very interesting indeed to see how the two giants compare.

This could really change the face of “search” – since with Twitter there is a lot of “signal velocity” and there should be enough signals to make out a meaningful melody amongst the noise (ah tweeting was such a good term for it!) The search engines will start to pick out the landing domains and URL’s in people tweets which gives us yet more reasons to be chirping.

Better start tweet-deck up… happy tweeting everyone.

Why a designer can love Ruby

October 6th, 2009 by Peter

Over the past eighteen months, we’ve built more and more of our projects in ruby frameworks (rails, merb, and sinatra). It’s been hugely exciting for our coding team – new technology, new tricks to learn, and the whole ‘geek-cachet’ of being on the bleeding-edge.

And, whilst a change in the technologies underpinning  our sites normally elicits a disinterested ‘meh’ from those of us with ’softer skills’, our UI, design and SEO staff are hugely excited about the move as well.

So, what makes a non-programmer excited about a programming language and its associated frameworks. It’s not that it’s a ‘miracle tool’ for non-programmers – Rob still spends half his working day rolling his eyes as I ask (for the 25th time) how to add a ‘foreach’ loop in Ruby. What’s revolutionary is the way it enables us all to work closely together on a project and deliver a much more holistic and integrated solution to the client. (It’s also no bad thing that it has also slashed the time it takes for us to develop complex web applications).

To be fair it’s not all down to Ruby alone, but also the simultaneous adoption of an MVC (Model, View, Controller) workflow and ‘git’. MVC isn’t unique to Ruby frameworks, but it is much easier to incorporate than it would be with a PHP-based workflow (yes we know about Cake). Git is a robust versioning control system that leaves SVN for dead. In adopting MVC and ‘git’ we have effectively separated the work Simon (Major Model), Rob (Captain Control) and myself (Vice-admiral  View) do on a project.

Pre-Ruby, we used to design a site’s look and feel and then code it (mostly to stop designers and programmers cursing each other as the latest version of a template got overwritten for the fifteenth time). Now that we’re all able to work on a site at the same time without tripping over each-other’s ‘virtual toes’, we’re actually finding more time to talk to one another, brainstorm on the job, and refine the shape a project as we go along.

The end-results is that we are much more agile in how we build sites and applications. It’s effectively one giant ‘mix-in’ with ideas bouncing round at a million miles an hour and new features being discussed, prototyped and rolled out in hours. And the client benefit is huge (at least for those clients that ‘get’ the whole agile methodology). They’re benefitting from a cross-disciplinary team working together and building in great features that weren’t even the scope (and for for no additional charge at that). How could it be any better?

Talk to us to see what ‘agile’ can do for you.

How do you SEO for ‘joined up thinking’?

September 28th, 2009 by Peter

We’ve been offering Search Engine Optimization to our clients for more than 12 months now, with some pretty good results (e.g. ‘holiday accommodation in Sitges’ for Outlet4Spain). So Simon and I thought it was about time we applied some of our new-found SEO mojo to our own site. And that’s where the trouble started, because there’s no easy way to optimize for ‘joined up thinking’. Let me explain…

When a client comes to us for help with SEO, we ask about their business. Once we know what they do, it’s usually pretty easy for us to build a list of key words and phrases to target. But, when we started keyword analysis for our own business it became pretty obvious things weren’t so clear cut.

In the olden days (somewhere about 1995) it would have been easy – we would have been optimized our site for the search term ‘web designers’. But the explosive growth of the sector and the desire for companies to carve out their own niche within it  has muddied the waters immensely.

Whilst we still call ourselves ‘web designers’, optimizing for the term increasingly seems to be bringing in the sub-£2000 first-time site brigade. It also misses the core of what we do – working with a company to shape, build, maintain and develop their web presence over the long term. We’re web strategists, we’re user-experience experts, we’re SEO specialists, email marketeers and UNIX hosting gurus. Optimizing for any one of these dilutes the  big picture – and devalues the ‘one stop shop’ approach we believe is so vitally important to making the most out of the web.

So, if anyone knows how to optimize for ‘joined up thinking in web development’ we’d love to hear from you. Until then we’ll just have to press on with the keyword-rich blog entries :-)

Apple Macs cheaper than windows machines

September 27th, 2009 by Modi

I have recently switched to the Mac world after having spent about 15 years working exclusively with PCs with all sorts of Windows OS, from 3.11 and Windows 95 up to Windows Vista, which in my opinion is the worst  OS Microsoft ever came up with. I have always been reluctant about the switchover, although many people around me were enjoying their time working with a Mac while I was struggling getting rid of viruses, malware, trojans, worms, updating corrupted system files, spending hours in forums trying to learn from other people who were getting the same error message(s), running registry and hard drive defragmentations or when nothing of all that would work, getting to many people’s biggest nightmare: back up all the files (using linux), format the drive and reinstall windows, install the drivers for all the devices, re-install all the programs I needed and so on…

During those 15 years I have spent days and days of work trying to resurrect a windows machine without loosing any data or at least using as less as I possibly could. I can’t recall the times friends of mine were phoning me up, being desperate as their PC was displaying blue screens of death, or would not start up just hours or days before an important meeting or deadline. Some casual pc users have even got into the world of metaphysics in order to make their computers boot again, by talking to them as if they were their kids and try to make peace with them again so the would start up. From my experience, 80%-90% of the time I had to resolve a pc issue, the problem was software-related and not a hardware one.

And then one day I came to the big realisation that the main argument of all pc users that pcs are far cheaper than macs, is not  true at all! The problem is that people generally consider up-front costs instead of the long-term ones. However, looking at the long-term ones macs work out cheaper than PCs and this is why:

  • Macs do not suffer from viruses, trojans, worms etc as much as windows-based machines do, so there is no additional cost for anti-viruses, anti-malware, firewalls etc.
  • Macs do not suffer from overtime hard drive fragmentations, so users do not need to purchase any kind of tune-up utilities.
  • Macs do not use any sort of registry for their applications so users do not need to spend any money on registry cleaning and defragmentation tools. There is no deterioration overtime that windows users accept as indispensable and ‘normal’.
  • Macs OS X is very stable, rarely hangs or freezes and there is no need to re-install it ever, unless the hard drive breaks down.
  • It is unlikely you will lose data, which many PC users take for granted, no matter how long you use your computer.
  • On a Mac you will save hours and hours of work, by not having to deal with how you could make your computer perform as it used to be when you first bought it, or trying to get rid of a virus or recovering from a system failure etc. All those hours are worth some money too…

In a way, Microsoft has offered work indirectly to many IT people because of their poor OSs but the questions is whether this was deliberate or not. Would all those 3d party applications and tools (such as antiviruses and system enhancement utilities ) exist if their OS did not have so many weaknesses? Also, wouldn’t it be great if all those IT experts would dedicate their time in more creative and challenging activities rather than wasting their time trying to resove a widnows system failure? Macs simply do what any computer should do: they just work! Therefore, in the long term, owing a Mac rather than a PC is a much better investment, worth the higher up-front cost as macs also have a higher resale value.

By no means I claim that Macs are flawless; they aren’t. But there are some very strong  arguments about their quality, performance and stability that cannot be overlooked. There is no wonder most web professionals use Macs, rather than windows-based machines. However, casual computer users could benefit too, if they overcome the myth that Macs are far more expensive.

 

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