Monday, 13 December 2010

Rapid information share

I heard some sad news last night. Tom Walkinshaw, the former Jaguar sportscar boss and manager of the Benetton, Ligier and Arrows F1 teams, died of cancer. He was 64.

I heard this news through a number of my racing contacts posting status updates on Facebook. As soon as I read the “RIP” messages I immediately went on to the BBC F1 site to find out more information. Nothing. I then went on to ESPN F1. Nothing. ITV. Nothing. The official Formula 1 site. Nothing.

I then decided to turn to trusty old Google. The only thing that came up offering any information was the rolling Twitter feed. The only website that had been updated was Wikipedia. It was several hours before any official news sources were published.

Now, I know the late Mr Walkinshaw was hardly the most well-known person in the world and I’m sure that if it has been somebody like the Queen, the entire world would have come to a standstill in minutes.

Still, the fact that it was only social networking sites that picked this up just goes to show the potential power they have now and the speed at which they can deliver messages globally through viral means.

I can just imagine the poor grieving Mrs Walkinshaw holding her husband’s hand in the hospital whilst updating her Facebook status with the other. And changing her relationship status from “Married” to “It’s complicated”.

It also highlights how big these sites have become in everyday life. Rather than picking up the phone or writing a long winded email, people are just picking up their iPhone, logging on to Facebook or Twitter and posting short messages (under 140 characters obviously). So the key is, if you want to get your message out there fast, Tweet it.

And finally, I am aware that my last two Datapartners blogs have involved people dying so to cheer things up a bit I’d like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Is it really good to share?

One of my friends recently posted a status update on Facebook informing everyone that a year had passed since his Nan died. There were a few replies from people offering their condolences and generally saying nice things. It was all rather touching. What I found slightly odd was that one of his friends clicked the “like” button. Is it just me or is that a bit inappropriate?

Facebook and Twitter have made people open to the concept of sharing every personal detail with the world. I won’t sit here and pretend that I don’t update my status. I update it fairly regularly in fact but only when I have something useful to say like informing the world about how well I did at a race. Occasionally I will just make a flippant comment or amusing observation but only when I think it’s something people will find useful… or offensive.

It’s when people start posting status messages informing everyone about some family drama that is occurring in their life and bleeding their hearts to the world about personal rubbish that should really be kept private that I get really annoyed. I’m not interested in knowing how pathetic someone’s life is. Keep that kind of thing to yourself.

The one that makes me laugh is when female friends post status messages complaining about getting friend requests from perverts and strange men who they don’t know. Well if you’re going to take pictures of yourself in your underwear and use it as your profile picture, you are going to attract those kinds of people.

The new “Facebook Places” and “Google Places” take this sharing malarkey to a new height of dangerousness. Using GPS tracking you can basically tell people exactly where you are at any given time. This now means some of my friends are informing everyone that they are at home. Who cares? Then they’ll inform everyone that they have checked in somewhere halfway across the country. Great, thanks for letting me know you’re not at home so I know it’s safe to break in and rob you!

Seriously, I would never publicly display my current location. I mean, I could get into serious trouble for that…

Friday, 15 October 2010

Who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?

There has been this long-running feud between Mac and PC users as to which one is superior. It's much like the Everton vs. Liverpool argument in football or Holden vs. Ford in Australian Touring cars but with slightly more intellect and less bloodshed.

Now, let's face facts here; Microsoft is rubbish. Everyone hates them and their unreliable software that requires 500 million patches to be downloaded every day to fix some glaringly obvious bug that a spotty 13 year old hacker has exploited. The same patches that crash your computer once installed.

Macs are much more reliable and have fewer problems. But then there are considerably less people who use them.

I won't sit here and pretend to be a computer snob. The truth is I couldn't give a toss what computer I use as long as it does the job I ask of it. I use a PC and always have done simply because it's what I’m familiar with. Having said that, I also use an iPhone, which as you very well know, is an Apple product.

I like my iPhone. I've become one of those annoying idiots who gets it out and plays with it every 5 minutes for no reason whatsoever. I also do that with my iPhone.

What I like about it is its simplicity. It's very intuitive and easy to use. I'm told this is what Apple is good at.

So last night my girlfriend came back from work with a new smart phone that she was given by her company. It's one of those HTC things made by the Chinese. They used to develop software in conjunction with Microsoft but have more recently collaborated with Google Android. She told me to have a play around on it, claiming that it would make me very jealous and want to ditch my iPhone in a heartbeat. Well it didn't.

Firstly I found it very unintuitive. It was hard to navigate around the menus and not very well laid out. Although it had a better camera on it, the first time I tried taking a picture I ended up zooming in on her chest by accident, which was nice but not what I intended.

Another thing I like about the iPhone are the apps. I've got some useful things on mine including business tools, social networking sites, games, a spirit level and a lightsaber. Now, this HTC thing has also got apps but unless you are extremely rich it isn't really worth your time downloading them.

So what about the phone itself? That is, after all, what its main use will be for. Well my girlfriend tried adding a contact to her address book and ended up inadvertently phoning her boss in the middle of the night. This made her feel extremely guilty.

So my verdict is this: Everton are just as rubbish as Liverpool. They are both equally as rubbish as all other football teams on the planet. Holden is also rubbish because they are basically Vauxhall. Ford is no better. Australian Touring Car fans have about as much intellect as football fans. The combined IQ of a football fan or Touring Car fan is less than that of a soggy banana. And I'm sticking with the iPhone.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it's broadband

OK so there was an interesting story in today's paper about a bunch of egg heads who held a race between rural broadband and a carrier pigeon.

Forgetting this challenge was quite obviously stolen from Top Gear, I would still rather download something on a slow internet connection than entrust my data to a flea-ridden flying cat burger.

Firstly, there is the issue of security. A pigeon is likely to get eaten or shot. It's even more likely to fly into my patio window like all the other pigeons seem to do. This would leave the data it was carrying extremely vulnerable. Even if it managed to reach its destination, there is a very good chance that the USB stick would arrive covered in pigeon poo.

Now, this stunt was organised by Tref Davies, who is the co-founder and technology director of business ISP Timico who, ironically, supply our broadband service and host our servers. The result of this test leaves me slightly worried about what effect it's going to have on our service. Will they start sending invoices via carrier pigeons? Are they planning to power their server farm with hamster wheels?

Read the story in today’s Telegraph Online

Friday, 20 August 2010

I don't want to be wired for sound

A bloke from Sky knocked on my door the other day asking me if I'd like to part with eleventy billion pounds a month for the privilege of watching more rubbish on television.

Needless to say I turned him down. There are a couple of reasons for this: Firstly I had Sky a few years ago and it was rubbish. Out of the 66 million channels available only 3 or 4 are ever worth watching and you usually have to pay extra for those anyway. I already have 33 million useless channels courtesy of freeview and, as far as I can tell, Sky is just like Freeview. Without the free bit.

The other reason I don’t want Sky is because I don’t particularly want to add any more to the spaghetti junction behind my TV. The last time I ventured into that jungle was 2 years ago at Christmas when I hooked up the Wii. I went missing for a month.

So far I have wires for the TV itself, wires for the aerial, wires for the DVD player, wires for a separate NTSC Region 1 DVD player, wires that connect the DVD players to the TV, wires for the Wii and wires for the Wii remote chargers. There are about a thousand of the damn things that connect the surround sound system to various holes in the TV and 5 different speakers around the room. Then there are the dozens of leads lying around the plug socket for my iPhone charger and my girlfriend’s phone charger and the lead to the digital camera so that we can view our holiday snaps on the television.

It is the same problem with computers as well. There is the wire for the unit, the wire that connects the unit to the monitor, one for the printer, one for the scanner, one for the mouse, one for the keyboard… you get the picture.

Of course there is wireless technology but even a wireless mouse needs a wire connecting the remote to the PC. It’s not really wireless is it? And have you tried using a wireless mouse and keyboard? They are great until the batteries die. They don’t give you any warning either. The cursor will suddenly freeze on the page somewhere, meaning that you can’t do anything apart from leg it down the shops and buy some spare batteries.

I use a laptop at home now. Not just because they take up less space and are generally more convenient but because there are fewer wires involved. With things like iPhones, iPADs, Kindles and all manner of wireless gadgets being released now my hope is that wires will become a thing of the past sooner rather than later. The technology is already there to do away with wires altogether but for some reason it’s not catching on fast enough.

Of course now we have these eco mentalists telling everybody that all this wireless technology is giving us brain cancer and killing all the bees. I think this is going to be an even bigger problem than solving the dilemma of batteries running out in wireless keyboards. Speaking of which, I better finish writing now before my keyboard runs out of ba

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Keep the noise down please

There are some things in this world that just annoy me. Take Jamie Oliver for instance. He is a perfectly nice man; as well as single-handedly solving the world’s obesity problem he is such a normal down-to-earth kind of guy. And I still want to punch him in the face. I can’t explain it. There is just something about his face that makes me want to take a hammer to it.

This bizarrely brings me on to the subject of adverts. More specifically adverts on websites. Now, I use Google AdSense on my websites and I’ve made quite a few quid from them over the years. Generally I don’t have a problem with normal banner ads and content driven text ads that just sit there quietly on the page. I have occasionally seen one that takes my fancy and clicked on it.

However, some adverts do annoy me. I’m sure all of you have experienced those annoying pop-up ads. Everybody hates them and they have been the bane of the Internet for years. So much so that pop-up blockers have become standard in all browsers now. But just when we thought we were safe from these annoying intrusive ads, some idiot decided it would be a good idea to invent video adverts.

Again, the basic concept is OK. If a video advert just sits there innocently on the page and gives you the option to play it then fine. What I hate are these annoying videos that just auto play. Apart from scaring the living daylight’s out of me sometimes, they just irritate me. When I view a website it is because I’m interested in the content on the site. I am not interested in seeing an advert. That is why I have a mute button on my TV remote than you very much.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Using Amazon might make you go blind

There is an age-old tradition of parents telling porkies to their children to stop them doing certain things. You all know the kind of lies I’m talking about: “Don’t pull faces because if the wind changes, you’ll stay like that”, “If you watch too much telly you will get square eyes” and the well known “stop playing with it or you’ll go blind”.

Now, I never believed any of these little white lies my mum used to tell me, especially because I had perfect eyesight throughout my teens. However, when I was in my early twenties I suddenly went blind. My eyesight literally vanished overnight. Since then I’ve had to put up with wearing horrible bits of Perspex on my face.

I put it down to the fact that I started working in the web business around that time and sitting in front of a computer screen for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week just put too much strain on my eyes.

This is something that concerns me about these new Kindle things. For those of you who don’t know, the Kindle is a new device that has been developed by Amazon to display e-books and other forms of digital media.

They are already being touted as a replacement for the traditional paperback but will it catch on? Although I am a great one for encouraging technological developments I have to admit to having reservations about these things. Firstly there is the inevitable question mark over eye strain. I personally find it difficult to read too much on a computer because the glare from the screen makes me go cross-eyed. Then there is the problem about power. Assuming they use rechargeable batteries, it is going to be a pain the backside if you are half way through reading an exciting chapter and the screen blacks out.

Given that everything is going down the electronic route now and more and more data is being stored using cloud computing I guess it is inevitable that the Kindle will soon replace books completely. Still, there is something pleasant about holding a big fat paperback book that I will personally miss if the Kindle takes off. Plus I find the old traditional ink on paper much easier on my eyes.

Of course the loss of my eyesight could equally be as a result of reading the old fashioned books. It was around the same time I started working in the web industry that I started reading novels – several a week in fact. This would make my argument about screen glare null and void.

This leaves just one plausible explanation as to why I lost my perfect vision. Maybe they aren’t white lies after all. Perhaps my mum was right all along.

Check out Amazon's Kindle

Friday, 30 July 2010

My computer will be the death of me

Working in the Internet industry, it is my job to research the latest developments in the web and general computer world. Spending a lot of time working with new technologies has resulted in me having a bit of a love/hate relationship with my computer. Being a web developer really is the ultimate battle of man verses machine. Sadly, I am convinced that the machine is ultimately going to win this war.

Fundamentally developments in technology have really benefited mankind. However, our increasing reliance on modern technology does leave me slightly worried sometimes. I’ll explain what I mean.

A few years ago a sub station exploded in my town. I’m not sure whether a man called Achmed was standing anywhere near it at the time but the point is it caused absolute chaos.

The entire town came to a standstill. Supermarkets had to shut down because all their freezers had stopped working and there was no lighting. All the shops had to close because all the tills are electrical and hooked up to their computerized accounting systems, as well as the fact that no shopkeeper would know how to do mental arithmetic anyway. People in their homes had no lighting and couldn’t cook because their ovens were electric. Not that they had anything to eat because everything in their fridge had melted. People couldn’t even wash because their washing machines are all electric and a lot of people have electric boilers so couldn’t shower.

Of course a power outage means no television and no Internet connection. This would upset a lot of people because they would not only miss Eastenders but they wouldn’t even be able to log onto Facebook to inform all their friends that they have no power. The world as they know it would end.

Let’s face it technology has made people lazy. Most jobs now just require people to sit on their backside in front of a computer. Jobs that used to involve manual labour have largely been replaced by machinery and people are generally getting less exercise because computers are doing everything for them. You don’t even have to leave your house to go shopping any more for heaven’s sake.

Then of course there is the social impact. Kids don’t play outside any more. Instead they stay in doors and chat to people on Facebook or MSN and bare their private parts to complete strangers on web cams. Or else they are playing Grand Theft Death Stab Kill Murder 3 on the Xbox Wee or something like that. This would explain why most young people today have no real social skills.

Mankind survived the last ice age but I’m not so sure we will survive the next major disaster because we are just far too dependent on technology and very few humans are adequately self-sufficient. Still, with the rate of technological developments, I think giant meteors and Mount Yellowstone are the least of our worries. I think our biggest threat will come from machines rising up and taking over.

For all I trump on about Google taking over the world, I really hope they don’t because the trouble with Google is their stuff works. If Google’s machines rise up and take control, the human race will be screwed. That is why I’m now rooting for Microsoft. At least with Microsoft we could just hide underground and wait for the inevitable blue screen of death and message saying that the destroyer of mankind has experienced a fatal exception and needs to close.

Monday, 28 June 2010

We are Santander. We are illiterate!

Over the past few years I've been getting increasing frustrated by the standard of English in this country. More and more people seem to be monosyllabic these days and unable to string a sentence together without going “err”, “um” and saying “you know” and “like” every other word.

Writing is even worse. Now, I appreciate how delicate I have to be here; I have to try and write this entire blog using perfect grammar and punctuation so I don’t look like a complete muppet (did you notice the use of the semi-colon though?)

Punctuation is something that can be open to interpretation to a certain extent but there are some clear cut rules that nobody seems to learn at school.

I’ve always had a problem with people who don’t know the difference between “its” and “it’s”, “their”, “there” and “they’re” and “your” and “you’re”. It’s really not that hard people!

Take a look at the letter that we received from Santander recently:
Are you serious? These are the people we are entrusting our money to. I know that they are Spanish but surely they have English people working for them? People who surely had a good enough education to get a job in one of the world’s largest banks.

The letter basically reads “Dear scum whose name isn’t worth knowing. Please find enclosed you are standing still request.”

Come on Señor, que realmente es un esfuerzo de los pobres. Ven a verme después de clase!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Returning after these short messages

It has to be said that I don't watch much television now. There is nothing on but rubbish like Britain's got the Celebrity X Factor on Ice or some similar tripe. Movies are out of the question because anything that is worth watching I already own on DVD and, quite frankly, I'd rather not have a good film interrupted every 5 minutes by adverts.

Whenever there is a commercial break I use that opportunity to make a cup of tea or relieve myself of the last cup. Failing that I just hit the mute button.

I know I'm not the only person who does this. In fact the majority of people I've watched telly with do the same thing which gets me wondering why people bother to advertise at all. Obviously TV advertising works otherwise people wouldn't do it.

The only adverts I like are funny ones but they usually end up getting banned because one person with ginger hair complains. The only other adverts that I appreciate are the ones that have the rare ability to laugh at themselves. There are two companies that spring to mind: Skoda and Marmite.

Skoda play on their old reputation for building rubbish cars by suggesting that hitch-hikers would rather jump out of one on a motorway than be driven anywhere in one. Marmite appreciates the fact that half the population hate their product and this has become their biggest selling point.

As a company that is famously rubbish at advertising itself, I thought I'd give this self-deprecating approach a go for Datapartners. I have a couple of ideas too. You see whenever I phone somebody up I have to say where I'm from. Often people ask me to repeat it, presumably because they hear the word "Date" and think I'm winding them up. When I repeat myself I always say it slowly and deliberately separate the syllables. As a result it comes out as "DATA PARTNERS" which, of course, sounds like "date a partner". I have hours of fun in the knowledge that all my clients colleagues are convinced they are on a dating site.

So how about playing on this? Something like "Datapartners: We're not a dating agency but we'd love your business". I know I'll get told off for we'ing all over our customers with that one so maybe simplify it to "Datapartners: Love Your Business".

This goes even further. We could put ourselves in the classified section with something like "Fun, web based company with GSOH seeks rich, solvent company for mutual satisfaction." Or "Small, fun loving geeks looking for lots of LOL's and cuddly nights online."

So what do you think? Would you go out with us?

Friday, 28 May 2010

Which social networking site is right for me?

OK well given that Facebook is the leading social networking site at the moment and looks set to be for a while to come, it is obviously the most logical place to add your business from a general networking point of view. But is it the right place for your business?

Now, Facebook is something of a playground and is more suited to a charismatic business - like us for example. We mix business with a subtle brand of humour and fun that may not be appropriate for some companies. Take accountants for example; everybody knows that accountants have no charisma whatsoever so Facebook probably isn’t right for them. Also, who would want to become a fan of an accountant? Imagine the status updates… “is loving year end”, “is net of vat”, “is sore from doing double entry…”

So what about Linkedin? This is a social networking site in its own right but specifically for the business world. It is like Facebook but without Farmville, Mafia Wars or those annoying friends who inform you of their bowel movement. In other words, this is the place to be if you are a serious business looking for professional networking contacts.

Facebook is useful for getting your name out there and showing people that you are a modern company who can move with the times. Linkedin is more of a professional service and is more likely to generate legitimate commercial recognition for you.

There are others as well like Plaxo and Ecademy, which are really the MySpace and Bebo of the business social networking scene. In other words they are probably worth registering accounts with them just to expand your reach a bit more but don’t expect anyone to look at it!

So what is my advice here? Well, I would say join all of them. We have!

Disclaimer: All accountants are lovely people and super fun to be around. Especially ours!

Friday, 14 May 2010

Flash: Saviour of the Universe?

Being a kid in the eighties, I used to wear shell suits. They were all the rage back then in the same way that psychedelic flared trousers and afros were fashionable in the 1970’s. Still, nobody wears them now do they? Well not unless you’re a scouser. This is because the fashion world is a very fickle place and changes so quickly.

The web is no different to the fashion world from this point of view. Back in the early noughties, Flash was all the rage. The things you could do were great: Pages would sing to you when you opened them, buttons would beep at you when you pressed them and logos would spin around. It really was wonderful.

Over time, however, just like that old Spliffy jacket I begged my mum to spend a fortune on in the 90’s and only wore for a week, people started to get bored with it and moved on to the next fickle thing.

Now there is an even bigger problem for Flash. What is the latest fashion accessory? That’s right; the iPhone. And what have Apple categorically said they are not going to support? That’s right; Flash.

Still, there are people who are spending a fortune getting Flash websites designed and built. Not only are these sites notoriously rubbish from a search engine optimization point of view because there is nothing for Google to see but they won’t work for the 41 million people who browse the web on their iPhone. In other words, by having a site built in flash you are telling the majority of your visitors, in the words of MC Hammer (who was fashionable back in the early 90’s) “You can’t touch this”.

Now what ever happened to him?

The screenshot above, as provided by our very own Peter Banks (view his blog here) shows you what your visitors will see if they try to view a Flash website on an iPhone. A bit pointless really isn't it?

Also, on the subject of fashion sense, the wonderfully charismatic boss of Datapartners was kind enough to give me a laugh this morning by showing how much his fashion sense has degenerated... sorry... improved since the 70's.

Calling it a solution is not the solution

If there is one thing I can't stand it is the growing use of the term "solutions" in business. It's everywhere now. I no longer design and build websites; I now build integrated web-based solutions.

Now, a solution is defined as a homogeneous mixture of two or more substances; frequently (but not necessarily) a liquid solution. It can also be defined as a statement that solves a problem or explains how to solve the problem.

It also sounds jolly good doesn't it? The word "solution" sounds very poncey and makes things sound better than they actually are. However, I think it's going a bit too far now. I walk past a van every day and it never fails to make me shake my head in giggle at the pretentiousness. I even took a photo which demonstrates my point perfectly: Vegetation and Asset management? Is the word "gardener" not sufficient?

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Electronic evoicing good. Marketing bad

The European Commission recently told us all that we should be using electronic invoicing. They reeled off this nice long list of reasons why everybody should do what they say because they always know best.

For once, however, they didn’t make me want to put my fist through the television screen because, for once, they are right. The fact that some people still send things by post baffles me. Believe it or not there are a scarily large number of people who still use fax machines. Now, I’ve been in the working world for over a decade now and I am proud to say I’ve never used a fax machine in my life. Why? Because this is the 21st century not 1981!

Anyway, back to electronic invoicing. It is good and it is the way forward. It is something that we at Datapartners have been doing for…well. 10 years.

After years of being on the shelf gathering e-dust, we have recently started rolling a beta version of our Evoicing Pro product. It is currently being beta tested by some of our faithful guinea pigs and we reckon we’ll have it rolling out to buy fairly soon.

Like all of our apps, it fully integrates with the others so it can be used in conjunction with the Webshop, Mailermatic, e-CRAM, Clickmachine, Blahwagon and all our other related products and services.

So, if we were pioneers of electronic invoicing, why are we not multi-millionaires and why have we not been bought by Google yet? Well basically it is because we are pretty rubbish at marketing ourselves. We are fundamentally very modest – I mean we know we’re geniuses but we don’t like to brag. So if you can help us market Evoicing, please send us your CV but do email it don’t send it by post or fax!

Seriously, for more info on our Evoicing app and to request to become a Beta tester, click here.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

I am below contempt

I count myself very lucky in that I'm one of the few people in this world who can truthfully say they enjoy their job. I don't want to sound like I'm brown-nosing the boss or anything but one of the reasons Datapartners is such a good place to work is because we have fun.

We are still very hard working and diligent in our jobs. We are very professional when it comes to matters pertaining to the business and we genuinely strive to offer the best service possible.

Our recent Mailermatic newsletter plugging social networking was part of that service. We want to make our valued customers aware of important subjects that could benefit their business and we want to offer our help and assistance wherever possible. Social networking is also something that fits into our company ethos. It's new, it's different, it's exciting and, above all else, it's fun!

We had some great feedback from lots of people wanting to know more. Most people quite sensibly see the benefit and are interested in jumping on the band-wagon. Some are even asking us to do it for them. However, we did have one person say – in my best John Cleese impersonation – "I wish to register a complaint!"

Now, admittedly social networking is not for everybody but anyone who just dismisses it entirely from a business point of view is extremely short-sighted and I guarantee believes in Scientology and is a member of the Flat Earth Society. They probably don't even believe in evolution.

I did a check and the person in question was neither a customer of ours or a supplier. Just someone who voluntarily subscribed to our newsletter. Coupled with their assertion that they won't touch social networking with a barge-pole, I feel comfortable to share this with you. He started his email with the following:

“These sites that you say are the "place to be" are nothing but a wastes of both time, effort and energy. People have much better things to do in life that waste time using such facilities and you should be ashamed at promoting this sort of thing.”

OK well everyone is entitled to their opinion. I would argue that you only have to look at the fact that there are over 400 million people using Facebook and 70 million using Twitter. That's a huge potential networking reach for a business. I only have to look at the statistics from our own social networking campaigns to tell you that it definitely does work. I believe this is good reason to take it seriously. I also believe that people should have better things to do with their time than complain. I also think that writing complaints about something that in the grand scheme of things isn't that important is also a waste of time, effort and energy.

He then finished by stating “Any organisation that promotes such organisations is below contempt.”

Ignoring the repetitive use of nouns, I took the liberty of checking out his website and it turns out he's an “I.T. Consultant”. Enough said!

Monday, 12 April 2010

What goes around comes around

I left school at 16 to become a professional racing driver. That led me briefly into a career as a mechanic where I realised that the job, like most involving manual labour, was being superseded my computers. Realising that’s where both the future and the money was, I went for a career in IT which lead me to the internet industry, which opened the door to other businesses and also into the world of amateur journalism, which lead me straight back to racing where I am now a paid racing driver.

It’s a similar story for the godfather of Datapartners, Peter Banks. He set out to become a rock star and tore up the US charts before his band split up. After this, he moved into the recording studio he’d built which led to him spending more time using computerised equipment. This led to forming a computer company, which in turn evolved into an Internet business, which then re-ignited interest in his band and resulted in them reforming. So, as with my racing, the circle completed.

This brings me speedily rock ‘n rolling neatly onto the subject of website evolution.

You see when websites first appeared they mainly consisted of text on a page and maybe a couple of images. Soon, however, they started getting more advanced. Animated gifs became all the rage because people could have logos that spun around, Flash came on the scene and suddenly everybody wanted a website built entirely in Flash. Sound became the “it” thing and people started wanting pointless sound effects whenever someone rolled over their flashy button. Javascript started allowing sites to have quirky things like those wonderful dropdown menu bars that became so popular in 2001.

With the rise of the Google Empire, Search Engine Optimization companies started springing up everywhere trying to make money off the back of Google. First they told us not to use animation on a site because it distracted the visitor. Sound effects became a taboo because they caused pages to take an eternity to load. Then they told us that Javascript was bad and Google would smack our bottoms if we used it. They then told us that Google would not be able to see any sites that were built in flash. Then they told us not to use font tags and tables and instead start building sites completely using text and formatted using stylesheets.

So what we have now are websites that are mainly just text on a page and a few images. In other words, websites are back to what they were in the first place. The only difference is that they look a bit nicer.

So there you have it. The evolutionary cycle of life will always come full circle. Perhaps that’s why the majority of the inhabitants of this country are degenerating into apes who can only communicate using grunts and whistles. Nevertheless, one thing is absolutely certain: The Internet is a truly magnificent invention and can open doors to endless possibilities.

Friday, 9 April 2010

A plea to all surfers out there

When I started out as a wee trainee web developer back in 2000, nothing fazed me. I was a keen, wide eyed young whippersnapper who was keen to prove his worth.

Back then, the main challenge when designing and coding a website was getting it to work in both Internet Explorer and Netscape. At first I saw this as a great challenge. However, the keenness soon wore off and before long I was joining the rest of the industry in wishing death upon the people at Netscape.

So it was with great joy and much celebration amongst the web community when the general public started to tire of Netscape crashing every 30 seconds and stopped using it altogether. Internet Explorer was brilliant and anybody who wasn’t using it as a browser was an idiot and shouldn’t have been allowed on the Internet – or was a Mac user, which surmounts to the same thing.

Once Microsoft got their monopoly, however, things started to change. Darth Gates and his band of evil software Stormtroopers started releasing new versions of Internet Explorer that were always less reliable and full of more bugs than the previous ones.

Then came along Firefox and Google Chrome. Almost immediately, these two browsers surpassed Internet Explorer in both reliability and usability so needless to say I now use these two instead.

The problem now of course is that I have to get sites to work in Firefox and IE. Firefox is easy. A site will look exactly the same in Firefox as it does in Google Chrome and even Mac’s Safari browser. But IE? Oh dear me no. Not only does the latest version (8 as I write this) render HTML and CSS differently but it also renders it differently in EI7 and IE6. This means I have to effectively make sure a website runs in 6 different types of browser. It is a complete waste of time and energy!

Now personally I view people who are still using IE6 with the same contempt I held for people who used Netscape back in the day and I would recommend to them that they read up on the history of the T-Rex to see what happens to creatures who are not able to adapt.

So what is the point of this rant? Well, frankly, it is to urge all of you to ditch Internet Explorer and switch to Firefox. As well as making my life easier, you will also be able to rid yourself of that annoying clicking sound that it makes every time you open a new link.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

iWish Microsoft were this considerate

OK so in the wonderful world of web design we have to make sure that we build websites that work in Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and at least 3 different versions of Internet Explorer.

For those of you who are not cool enough to own an iPhone and have plumped for the new iPAD, which was released over the weekend, you will be pleased to know that we will now have to start checking that all our websites work well on this new piece of kit too.

Given that Apple are not as stupid as Microsoft and generally don’t completely change their minds on how their Safari browser renders HTML and CSS in different versions, I’m not anticipating too much of a problem because, theoretically, it should be no different to a Safari browser on a Mac or an iPhone.

Anyway, just to check – and to reaffirm they offer better customer satisfaction than those imbeciles at Microsoft, they have launched an iPad Peek to allow you to check what your website will look like on the iPad. Clever eh?

Check the full article on this bit of kit from here.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

The domain name renewal con

Well it's that time of year again. The domain name con men are out in force. Every year they send authentic looking letters out to unsuspecting website owners. Please do not be fooled.

The letter is very professionally written and says something like: "As a courtesy to domain name holders, we are sending you this notification of the domain name registration that is due for renewal. When you switch today to the Domain Renewal Group, you can take advantage of our best savings."

They then go on to tell you how you can easily transfer your domain name. What they don't tell you is that they will steal your domain name so you lose your website, whereby they will charge you a thousand million pounds to release it back to you. They will also no doubt empty your bank account and sell your identity to some bloke in Ghana.

They provide a payment form where you can enter your credit card details or send a cheque. They even provide a pre-paid envelope. Very clever.

So here are my suggestions. The easiest option is just to ignore it, tear the letter up and do nothing. However, it is a fact that a company has to pay the Post Office whenever a pre-paid envelope is returned. I am convinced that if enough people sent the empty pre-paid envelopes back to these cheating scumbags they will not be able to afford the cost and will go out of business.

However, sometimes they are even smarter and don't provide a pre-paid envelope. This would be even more painful if you were to fall for the con because not only have you lost your domain name but you've also paid postage on it.

So here is what you do. You affix a second class stamp on the envelope, empty your bowels into it with a note saying "You sent me your crap, I only think it's fair I send you some of mine!" Now surely that is worth the cost of s second class stamp?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Can you just stop asking that question?

As a web developer, without doubt the worst questions I have to deal with always begin with the words "can you just". Whenever someone starts a sentence with those 3 words it makes my buttocks clench and my ears bleed!

Now, designers have it relatively simple. They just design something pretty, hand it to the customer and then spend the rest of the day smoking marijuana. A punter just wants a nice looking website and they don’t really give a flying Fokker how it works just as long as it does work - and therein lies the problem. Most people don’t appreciate the complexity and sheer weight of coding behind a database driven website, let alone the resources needed to power some of them.

I recently had someone commission me to build them a website. I spent about a month building quite an advanced content management system and video library to complement the site and, just as I was putting the finishing touches on the website I got a call asking if I could just change a few things around on the site. Not a major problem until I looked through the list of changes and realised that I wasn’t being asked to move a few things around, I was actually being asked to change the entire technical structure of the database which of course meant re-coding the whole administration area and website. Oh and I was asked if I could get it done that afternoon.

Have you ever tried explaining quantum physics and philosophy to a monkey? Me neither but it’s pretty much the same principle as trying to explain to someone that I’m going to have to charge them all over again because they are asking for something way outside the original specification.

The analogy I always like to give people is this: If you commission a builder to construct a bungalow and then wait until he is putting the roof on before you change your mind and tell him that you want a second floor on the building he will most likely batter you to death with a sledgehammer and bury your remains in cement. You see it isn’t as simple as "just" putting a roof on. The foundations will have to be dug out and reinforcements will have to be put in place to take the extra load of an additional floor. The same laws apply to code.

So yes a website can be re-developed. In fact I always like to encourage a review of a site every couple of years if only to keep it looking fresh and up to date with the constant developments and new techniques being applied to the wacky website world every 5 minutes. It just takes slightly longer than 3 hours to do and we won’t do it for free.

To give you an idea of some of the processes involved in a simple task of re-designing a website, take a look at this interesting blog from the BBC. Still think it’s simple?

Monday, 8 March 2010

Premonitions of Ardencote

In my secret life as a racing driver I spend quite a lot of time in hotel rooms. I book the room over the Internet, turn up on the Friday and then leave on the Sunday. I never think anything of it. So it struck me as odd when I booked a weekend away with my girlfriend at possibly one of the poshest hotels I've ever stayed at (in England at least) and had a dream about not being allowed in because they didn't have space for us.

Not being the paranoid type, I nevertheless had a strong feeling that I should double-check my booking on the morning of our arrival. My instincts proved correct as it turned out the booking agent had never notified them of my reservation and, had I not phone up to check, we would've had to sleep in the car.

The lovely lady at the hotel was very apologetic, extremely friendly and took my details direct. She even honoured my request to give me email confirmation of our telephone exchange in case I turned up and they still hadn't booked us in. In return I was very accepting of her apology, told her that it wasn't a problem and I was looking forward to staying at their hotel and thanked her for her help.

You see although they were ultimately responsible for our failed booking, it was by no means their fault. If they didn't get a notification from a third party agent, how were they supposed to know? It would have been pretty harsh if I'd blamed them for their incompetence, which is why I was so polite and understanding in return. This brings me neatly onto the subject of our web servers.

You see sometimes computers crash. I hate it when that happens and when web servers go down it is doubly horrible because we have hundreds of people's businesses at stake – including our own! The problem is that we have no direct control over them because we have to keep them at a third party server farm where they are all kept in cryogenic freezers in high security buildings where all employees have to have palm-print scans and anal probes to access them.

When I'm at home or in the office I can access the server remotely and restart it. Sadly, when I'm sitting in the Ardencote hotel Jacuzzi sipping champagne enjoying a well deserved break, I don't have this luxury. Even when I'm in the office I'm limited in what I can do because sometimes the geniuses at the server farm have "power failures" which I'm pretty sure means one of the clumsy twerps has tripped over the cables and pulled the plug out of the back. Again, there is little we can do about this other than phone them up and pray that the technician didn't electrocute himself during the tumble and can put the plug back in.

So it's important to get the message across that we are always aware when the server goes down but there will be occasions when our response time might be slower due to circumstances beyond our control. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our nice customers who were patient when two of our servers went down on Saturday and ruined what was an otherwise good break for me. To those who are less understanding, you will be pleased to know that it appears I've started having premonitions so rest assured I'll be working on this new found ability in order to anticipate when the server is going to crash in future. Hopefully this will speed up response time and allow me to spend more time in the Jacuzzi.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

SEO is dead; long live social networking!

We've always had a philosophy at Datapartners that any company who says "we guarantee to get your site to number 1 on Google" is a liar and is not to be trusted. The reason is that the whole SEO game has always been so vague and the masterminds at Google have never revealed any of their dark secrets on how they rank pages so how can anybody guarantee to get a site to number one if all they can do is guess? Also, Google in particular, are well known for changing their algorithms for ranking on a regular basis so even if you are number 1 on Monday, doesn't necessarily mean you'll be there on Tuesday.

Then there is the whole point of keywords. It is more accurate to say "we can get you to number 1 on Google for a particular keyword or phrase". You might be number 1 for the phrase "lying cheat" but you could be number eleventy-million for the phrase "cheating liars" so you have to second guess what punters are more likely to type into the search box to find you. Again note the word "guess".

With the dawn of real-time search, it makes appearing high up in the natural listings even more of a lottery because the results are changing in less time than it takes Internet Explorer to crash. The only way to guarantee a high ranking in Google for particular keywords is to sign up for Google AdWords and get a paid listing.

So what is the point of SEO? Well if you ask me there isn't one. If you want my expert opinion, the social networking boom is going to start making SEO redundant sooner rather than later. With the ability to spread the word so quickly via status updates and the speedy inclusion of blogs, you can target more people in less time.

The trouble is that most of you don't have the time to do this because you're all too busy running your businesses and probably don't have a clue what to tweet on Twitter or write on blogs anyway. This is why Datapartners are offering a "Social Networking" service. We will do it all for you.

Visit the Datapartners Website

Monday, 1 March 2010

To build or not to build; that is the question

One of the worst things about my job is having to explain to people why things cost what they do. The problem is that people only see the finished product and most will not appreciate the complexities behind the scenes. Trying to explain to somebody that what they are asking for is actually quite difficult is about as easy as trying to teach Gordon Brown how to smile without looking creepy.

Content managed websites cost more because they are much more complicated to build and take up more resources once they are up and running. Static websites are a lot cheaper but if you ever need anything changing, muggins here will have to do it and of course there is a charge for that.

And so I come neatly on to our Clickmachine product. This is a content managed website but at static website prices. Basically it is a blank canvas and you can build the pages yourself with various different types of page template from newspaper-style articles, HTML, surveys and lists of downloadable files. All aspects of the design are also controlled by you.

And now for the "however". However, the problem is that to build your own website from a content management system requires a certain aptitude with computers. Most people don’t have this which is why they ask people like me to build websites for them in the first place. Consequently I get quite a few phone calls from people pleading with me to help them or just do all the work for them, which of course there is a charge for and this somewhat defeats the object of the self-content management. The other problem is that most people aren’t designers and therefore will make a website look about as attractive as Ann Widdecombe in a thong.

This may sound like I’m slating a product that I was primarily responsible for building. Well yes and no. My advice is that if you feel you are capable of being a designer and you know how to operate a computer without causing a national blackout, then Clickmachine will work for you. If, however, you haven’t understood a word I’ve said in this article then let us build a site for you.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Planning world domination with Google

Like pretty much everybody else on the planet, I use Google. In fact I'll be posting this very article on Google's Blogger and I'll no doubt soon see how many people have visited it by logging on to my Google Analytics account. Google truly is a wonderful company and I always enjoy beta testing their latest bits of kit and marvelling at the genius behind it.

However, a few weeks ago while I was travelling up to the scum hole that is London on my way to a concert, I was playing around with Google Latitude when a scary thought struck me: Google knew exactly where I was at that moment. That got me thinking. Google know what things I browse for on the web, they know who I email thanks to Gmail, they know who my friends are thanks to Friend Connect, they know what videos I watch thanks to Youtube, they know my credit card details thanks to Checkout, they know the contents of some of my work thanks to Notebook and Docs. Things like Google Reader, Google Groups, Blogger, Picassa and iGoogle mean that they can also get a fair read on my general lifestyle. Streetmap even gives them the chance to look into my house.

Not that I’m a paranoid person or anything but when Google do eventually take over the world, I want to be the first to own up and say I will happily take on the role of evil henchman – I think I'd be good at that job!

The even scarier thought is that Google was founded by two students! Not that I want to try and get one over on them but Datapartners is run by a rock star and a racing driver – that’s much more charismatic!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Sack the postman; the internet never goes on strike

Is it just me or does the whole world like going on strike? The miners have done it, train drivers have done it and now the postal service seems to want to get in on the action too.

Given that Royal Mail is about as popular as Ashley Cole at a Girls Aloud appreciation meeting, I never quite understood what they thought they would accomplish by trying to gain sympathy from the public by openly complaining about their pay – especially in the middle of a recession. Come to think of it I can’t even remember the last time I posted a letter… or even used a stamp. This startling revelation brings me neatly onto plugging our Mailermatic app.

Email is the way to go. It's quick, easy and more reliable than snail mail – oh and it costs less too! Sending regular newsletters and general updates to your customers is a great way of keeping in touch with them and potentially opening doors for more future business together. Mailermatic allows you to send nice, clean personal newsletters that fulfil all these accessibility regulations. Now I don't want to get all technical with you because I'm starting to put myself to sleep so I'll just leave you with a link to the product information page (yes, click the link!) and let you see for yourself.

Please don’t write to me to ask for more information. Just email me!