Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Is it time yet?

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

The ecomony is in the toilet, Chrysler has declared bankrupcy, GM may declare any day now and most businesses are hunkered down counting what few pennies remain. Time to rein in all of your expenses and ride it out is certainly one way to look at things.

There is another…..

Cautiously expand!

I’m completely off my rocker and been sniffing glue to pass the time, but just think on it and you will see that there is sense in my ramblings. Your success in the business world is driven by profit, margin and market share. Right now profit is probably the one that you are looking at most seriously and seeing it decrease. Your margins equally have shrunk as savvy consumers are shopping around. Well, what about market share. Yes - you may be making less per transaction, but getting more of them.

Now lets look at the other side - suppliers are equally as hungry and are willing to entertain creative ways of getting your business. This applies to everything - hard goods, services - you name it. Web development companies are suppliers too, and they are seeing their business drop off too, so either they start laying off staff or accepting that they are going to make less per job, but still keep their head above water.

Are you going to get something for nothing - no. That doesn’t make any business sense at all but you are going to get a very good deal. Not only that - becasue there is some excess capacity, then you are likely to get quicker turnaround and better customer service.

Take the plunge, talk to a few people - you may be surprised at what you hear and get a deal you simply cannot afford to turn down.

If you would like us to quote for any work - feel free to email me at lee@spinnakersystems.com

A picture is worth a 1000 words

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Load times on a web site are one of the more critical elements that attract/deter customers

If your web site takes a long time to load, your customers will get frustrated and will go elsewhere.

Yes, I know it looks “fabulous dahling”, but the main aim is to attract and keep customers, and if you fail in that it doesn’t matter how pretty it looks.

I know, I know, you are muttering about high speed internet and that everyone is now on DSL or Cable so it doesn’t matter, but that is only partly true. At least 20% of your potential clients are still on a relatively slow internet connection, and the ones that are on a fast connection have no patience, as they are used to pages loading instantaneously.

There are lots of things that can be done to make a page load faster, but the one thing that matters most is to get your images all sorted away and optimized.

Each and every image on your web site should be optimized for size, and that means you resize the image to the actual size it will appear on your page (not simply resize it via the html). Then you should optimize the image to the minimum quality needed so that it displays well. Choosing the correct file type here is important too. If your image is a photo, then use JPG, if its text or graphics, then GIF is probably a better choice.

The trick here is to have the right images on your site to achieve your desired design aims, but to ensure that the images you do use don’t slow you down any more than they need to.

If you would like a review of your site, please contact us. We would be happy to help.

E-Mail - a boon or a bust?

Monday, October 27th, 2008

It is dreary monday, and we are helping a client out of an e-mail situation.

This client has a large, somewhat non-tech savvy membership, and everyone has their own web-email. A lot of their members don’t monitor their e-mail and now the server has started to hiccup due to being clogged up with SPAM.

It’s the curse of modern communication that probably 90% of all e-mail is simply garbage selling cheap meds, sexual aids, attempts to obtain passwords or account information, or viruses and it drives administrators up the wall.

Some ISP’s now provide SPAM filtering based upon complex rules, which do help to a certain degree, but in a lot of cases, all they do is tag the e-mail prior to delivery - so you still have to take action.

There are some basics that everyone should be doing that will help somewhat:

  • Take advantage of your ISP’s SPAM filtering - so set up a rule in your mail package to re-route spam to a junk mailbox and set an auto cull rule on this to delete messages after a number of days

  • Never EVER reply to a junk mail item - all that does is confirm that your e-mail address is alive and kicking
  • There is such a thing as acceptable loss - if you don’t want to spend hours a day filtering through potential junk mail for the odd item that is not, then accept that e-mail is not a 100% tool and don’t even open your junk mail folder to go through it
  • Set up a “white list” of people you do get e-mail from, and keep it up to date

These simple rules may not eliminate your junk and SPAM mail problem, but they will help.

If you would like to discuss mail, web design, SEO or any other tech related subject feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

A note to our American Friends

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

The Canadian dollar is taking a high dive against the US dollar. I really don’t know why the US dollar is so strong, but then I design web-sites, I’m not a banker - thank goodness.

Is there a silver lining to all of this? Yes there is.

What this should mean is that the US market should be looking north.

As a rule, I am not in favour of offshore development, as the experience I’ve had with outsourcing (in a prior career) was a monumental failure. Language and cultural differences made getting things done effectively and efficiently a complete non starter, and any potential financial gains were more than offset by the sheer frustration of trying to make things understood.

This is simply not true of the relationship between the US and Canada. We speak the same language (well more or less :-)), have a similar culture and very similar institutions. It’s a no brainer when you consider that right now you can save 25% of your development and maintenance costs by looking north of the border.

We have been specializing in development with English speaking countries for about 4 year now, and have had great success. Even when the Canadian dollar was at an all time high, we were doing a consistent business, so now it makes even more sense for our clients.

Our recommendation would be to negotiate contracts based upon pricing in US dollars, and go long term. This works for both the client and the supplier, as the client gets a great deal, and the supplier will be much more flexible on pricing with the carrot of long term cash flow. A win-win for all.

If you would like to discuss web design, SEO or any other web related subject, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

Where to begin

Friday, March 10th, 2006

So you are looking for a web-development company to create your on-line presence are you?

How do you go about it so that you don’t end up in a spiralling cost scenario, or end up dealing with an organization that won’t be there for you in the long run.

Let’s face it, developing a web site isn’t a one off thing. You don’t put something out there and then simply forget about it. For it to be useful to you and your customers, it has to continue to add value.

Simply, that means that the content you initially put in place is just the first step of many and you need to consider that.

Well it isn’t rocket science….

The way you have to approach it is exactly the same way you should work with a contractor for your home and it consists of a number of steps:

1. Get an idea of what you want. This doesn’t have to be to the greatest level of detail, but go shopping around the internet for sites that you like, features that you like and make a list. Try to figure out the type of content that you want on your site and make some notes.

2. Contact some web development companies and ask them to quote on what you are looking for. Tell them also that you will want three references, and the ability to contact those references. You also want a list of the web sites that they have done.

3. Spend the time to look at their work. Do you like what you see? If not - go back to step 1

4. Look at their quote in detail. Does it give you the information that you need to adequately understand all of the costs involved, what the roles and responsibilities are and what the process will be for your site to be developed. If it doesn’t, start asking questions.

Here are some good questions:

  • Do I get the source for my web site?
  • Is there a holdback to ensure the site is finished completely?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities? Who creates content? Who approves content?
  • What warranty do you offer?
  • What are the steps in developing the site and how does that tie in to the payment structure?
  • Can I host my site anywhere?
  • Will I get the source for all of the images/interactive media on my site
  • What are your on-going maintenance rates?
  • Do you have maintenance contracts?
  • What are your service levels on those maintenance contracts?

You should get answers to all of those questions, and the answers should satisfy you. What you should expect to hear is a process that takes you through from beginning to end and on into the future. The process should be fair to both you and the development company both in the way it works and in the way the payments are tied to the deliverables.

From a developer perspective, the areas that can cause most trouble can be iterations through the development cycle with a client who cannot make their mind up, or rafts of tiny changes when looking at content, so we attempt to clear that up during the quotation phase. After all - if you are quoted 5 days for a work effort, then you will be very surprised if it comes out at 10 days, even though it was an additional 5 days of your own revisions.

Now contact the references and see what they say. See if the development company has lived up to the statements they made above.

It isn’t foolproof, but at least now you have done your due diligence. You will have weeded out the fly by night organizations, or the students trying to work their way through college.

If you have any comments about this article, e-mail me directly at lee@spinnakersystems.com. We have had to shut down posting to this blog, as it was being hit by spam postings, but I will promise to post any valid responses to this article.

To style or not to style that is the question

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

As an active web developer. I tend to look into all avenues for enabling me to produce a quality product at a reasonable price.

Some of the things that I stress to clients revolve around making their sites simple, maintainable and consistent in look and feel.

Consistency is a factor that can be easily overlooked, but it really does add to the overall professional look of a site, when you can go from page to page without any jarring changes.

Maintenance is another factor easily overlooked. Lets face it - you will be living with your web site for a while, and as your business changes so will your site. You want to be able to add or change your site in a cost effective manner.

One of the key ways that we accomplish this is though the use of stylesheets. These allow us to abstract a lot of the styling cues away from the HTML into a separate document. The great advantage here is that you do things once, and then in essense re-use them all throughout your site. If you have to add a new page, all of your styling cues are ready and waiting to be applied.

Additionally, if down the road, you want to tweak your styling, then you only really have one place to deal with and the changes are reflected site wide.

Wonderful….

But like everything there is a dark side, and for stylesheets that is trying to use them for too much.

Stylesheets possess incredible power for formatting a web site. All you have to do is go to csszengarden.com to see what I mean. I love what very creative people have done, but would I ever implement a web site like that? - No.

In my humble opinion, those pages break the cardinal rule of being maintainable. Yes - the HTML is simple, but the stylesheets are not. Additionally, the stylesheets are really tailored to one specific page, so I would question their usability for sites with many pages.

Additionally, stylesheets are still not implemented in a consistent fashion across all browsers and by pushing the limits you are much more likely to bump into those oddities.

I know there are people that are writing sites that rely completely on stylesheets for their formatting and that their use is being pushed as the wave of the future. Right now however, I won’t go that far with my clients.

Will that change in the future? - stay tuned

Unfortunatly, due to the activities of a variety of spammers, I’ve had to disallow posting to this log.

Unfortunate, but necessary.

If you have any comments - then email me directly at lee@spinnakersystems.com

RIP Paul Martin

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

The election results are in and now we have a Tory minority government.

This has been an extremely long election, and its good that it is finally over before the electorate collapsed under the weight of the combined BS being shovelled by all of the major parties.

I’ve a few observations to make.

Paul Martin has tendered his resignation. After a lackluster campaign, highlighted by more negative comments about his opponents than positive statements about his vision for Canada I think that he should move over. I had high hopes for Mr Martin when he first came to office, but those have not come to pass. Mr Martin showed some signs of life towards the end of the campaign. If he had shown that earlier in the campaign, maybe he wouldn’t be resigning.

Negative ads don’t work. There have been some extremely negative ad campaigns run during this election - the worst of these authorized by the Liberals. If even a small proportion of them were true, you would expect Steven Harper to eat babies and burn gays and lesbians as a spectator sport. Now while you may not agree with all of Mr. Harpers positions, painting him as the devil incarnate has backfired, and all I can say is shame on you for even trying.

Finally, there seems to be an urban/rural split in the voting, with the rural areas going Tory and the urban areas going Liberal. I’m going to sincerely hope that Mr. Harper has one eye on the future and does not disenfranchise the urban vote. Reality says that you “dance with the one that brought you”, but if he does not want to be a one term premier he will certainly have to reach out the olive branch to the urban areas that did not agree with his policies. Mr. Harper - you have an opportunity here - don’t squander it.

Have search engines lost their way

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

I’ve got an espresso machine and it has gone a little wonky.

So I’m off to find resources to help, and boy did I ever receive a shock. When I went searching for the term “delonghi” which is the make of this slightly erratic piece of equipment, I didn’t get much joy. I was using Google, for those of you interested.

Fine, refine the search….. lets try “delonghi espresso”

The results, to put it mildy, are all over the place. The first item on the list had some relevance to my search, but the rest of the list was almost completely useless.

A significant number of the search returns were either irrelevant entries in E-bay, Amazon or pages of links to somewhat unrelated services, or sites that were completely SPAM.

I tried another couple of search terms and had similar results, before I gave the whole thing up as a bad job and reverted to the Yellow pages.

So what is going on here?

It seems Google, in its attempt to detect relevancy has gone overboard. Its weighting algorithm for determining relevance seems to be slanted so heavily toward site activity and links that it overwhelms any other factors.

Additionally with the search that I did, a good proportion of the results were out of date - the coffeegeek site mentioned in the results is not active for example.

Most disturbing, there were also a significant number of SPAM sites, and these were in the first 2 pages.

I can’t explain this, other than to say the tuners and tweakers seem to be ahead of Google here.

Unless there is some activity on Google’s part, then their billion dollar empire is going to come crashing down around them. The key to their whole existance is relevancy, and right now they seem, at least in this example, to have lost the plot.

If you would like a quote for SEO, please contact us. We would be happy to help.

Grumpy old men

Friday, January 13th, 2006

There is a British TV series called Grumpy Old Men, which provides a forum for men to grouse about the things that are driving them up the wall.

Great Idea!

Well I think I will start a category on this blog just for that.

And here is my first……

HACKERS

This blog has been subject to continual posting of comments that are attempting to link to either poker or various and sudry drug resale sites. It got to the point that there were about 200 of these A DAY.

To that end I’ve had to shut off the ability for people to reply to the posts and that means if you want to post a reply you will have to e-mail me. That is such a shame, but necessary.

I’d personally like to staple a notice to the eyelids of these idiots that simply says “GO AWAY”. I’ve tried reporting them to ISP’s etc, but it really doesn’t seem to help so for now - you can’t post directly to this blog.

Shame on them!!

SEO Copy

Friday, December 9th, 2005

While a handful of speakers at SES Chicago emphasized the importance of keyword placement in pages, a copywriter thinks it’s the wrong approach.

Copywriter Bob Bly suggested writing for search engine optimization means weakening the copy’s ability to sell. “You need to have a single core audience in mind and concentrate all your effort on writing to that one audience.,” he wrote.

From Bly’s perspective, SEO can be accomplished, but not at the expense of writing the strongest copy possible. Keywords should be placed in the copy, and experiments with word changes can take place.

“Never change a word of strong selling copy if that change will make it even one iota weaker, even if SEO best practices would endorse that change,” Bly cautioned.

Now let me have my say……

Dear Mr Bly

If a tree falls in a forest with no-one around does it make any sound?

Bottom line is if your site isn’t found on search engines then it really doesn’t matter how good the copy is, as only existing clients will read it.

Copywriters and SEO experts need to co-exist to obtain the optimal results for the client. Any other thinking is professional arrogance.

selecting package software - Open Source clues

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

As you are working through the software selection process, you create a needs analysis to act as your benchmark. This basically states what you want from the product and how important each of the desired features are.

The next step is to find products that are potential candidates and determine how well those products fit your needs.

There are endless sources for product information, from promotional material being delivered to your office through to the endless amount of material on the Internet. The trick is to determine what is sales hype and what is verifiable fact, and that can be extremely tricky.

With conventional products, you really have four major sources of information

  • sales brochures
  • sales personnel
  • reference accounts
  • user groups

For Open Source products, there doesn’t tend to be a sales force, so you have to follow a different path. The best sources I’ve found for Open Source are the forums and the Wiki’s. Now you are asking - what the heck are those?

A Wiki is basically a community developed documentation effort, which tends to be the way documentation is created for Open Source products. To cut a long story short - the documentation is developed by the user and development community.

A forum is a site on the Internet where users and developers communicate about a product.

Both of these give you a good opportunity to get unbiased views on the product in question.

Ok - enough for now - more later……

If you would like further help on product selection, please contact us

Selecting package software needs analysis

Friday, July 15th, 2005

So now you have your needs analysis done. Put it in a drawer for a couple of days and do something else, and then pull it out again and go through it. Be harsh with your evaluations to determine whether the “must haves” really are must haves.

I’ve seen needs analysis that were for relatively simple projects that put them into the NASA league, and believe you me - you don’t want to go there. You end up with a very very narrow scope of potential candidates and end up turning blind eyes to better and more flexible products. I had one where the chief decision maker was very rigid and it ended up costing the organization $250,000 to purchase the product, whereas a little more flexibility could have gotten a free Open Source product.

Ok - back to the needs analysis. One potential use for a needs analysis is to be able to quantify how good a fit a product has to your requirements. The way to do this is to assign a points value to each criteria. Obviously, if a product cannot meet your ‘must haves’ then it is eliminated, but it becomes difficult sometimes to distinguish between the other candidates. So get your calculators out……

Assign a points value of 100 for each ‘must have’, 50 for each ‘very important’, 20 for each nice to have and 5 for each ‘not important’ and then grade the product. For each requirement, estimate how well and completely the product meets the requirement.

You will note the inconsistency here - I said if a product doesn’t meet your ‘must haves’ then you eliminate it, and then go on to describe scoring it. This is because there are many ways to meet a requirement, and some are significantly easier to deal with than others. If my requirement was to ship electronic format product between a variety of geographic locations, then I could do this by copying diskettes or CD’s and shipping them, or by electronic communications. You have to decide what that means to your organization.

At the end of this exercise you have a spreadsheet that allows you to compare like products. The one with the highest score is most likely your best candidate, but a note of caution here. The real use behind this is to allow you to COMPARE the products in a quantifiable way - but not to automate the decision process. Please, please, please make an informed decision, not just a mathematical one.

So far, the process we have described can apply to any product, both open source and commercial. With open source products, it is usually easier to get an unbiased opinion of how well it meets needs and in our next article we will be looking at ways of getting those opinions.

If you would like further help on product selection, please contact us

How to select a package - the first steps

Wednesday, July 13th, 2005

When you are looking to implement any software package, the first step is what is called a needs analysis.

It can be a complicated process for many organizations, but in essence what you are tring to do is to make sure that the software fits in with what you need it to do, and works in a way that is compatible with your organization. The second part of this cannot be understated, as the best software in the world will not work in your place of business if it doesn’t fit in with the mindset of the people using it. Some of the most spectacular software implementation failures haven’t been because the software was bad, it was because the people that were using it either couldn’t or wouldn’t use it.

Let’s start with the needs.

The best and most straighforward way to do this is to get your pencil out and make a list. Start with big concepts and then break those down to the point where they can be answered with a simple yes or no answer. If you are ending up with a list of thousands - you are either at too low a level or you work for NASA.

Once you have done that then go through the list and grade each one with a level of desirability - keep it simple and use ‘must’, ‘very important’, ‘nice to have’ and ‘not important’.

‘must’ means that if the software doesn’t support this completely, then you don’t consider the software any further

‘very important’ means that if the software doesn’t support this completely or very close to completely it will be a major impact to your business

‘nice to have’ means that it will make your life easier and will give quantifiable benefits, but the world won’t end if you don’t have this feature

‘not important’ is the fluffy type features that look good on advertising, but really don’t provide quantifiable benefits

Once you have the grading, then simplify your life and get rid of the ‘not importants’

Now you have your checklist and its time to go do your homework. I’m presuming at this point that you are doing this research yourself rather than getting a consultant in to help. Personally, I would suggest getting a bit of support here, as it is dollars well spent.

Next we talk about how to use the needs analysis and souces of information to help you complete the process.

Open Source - part 2

Monday, June 20th, 2005

The last article took a look at Open Source software, and its definition.

Open Source software raises all sorts of questions in peoples minds, and the first is “if it’s free is it any good?”

That is a key question, and applies whether software is Open Source or pay as you play. When you are selecting software, the question of quality is paramount, and you have no guarantees either way. Over the years, Microsoft has released some significantly buggy software - so you really never can be sure.

Most commercial software development is on a very agressive development time line, and is released with a number of know and unknown bugs. It is simply the way things are done. To remain competitive, companies need to be continually upgrading their product, and doing so with ever decreasing development cycles. Bugs creep in.

With reputable organizations, the ‘zero’ version will quickly be followed by a series of maintenance releases that will address the majority of the issues.

Is Open Source any different? Well, yes. Most open source software has a very active user and developer community. These are the people that make a living out of enhancing and customizing the product. With popular products, these communities number in the thousands and are very active. Within a very short time, these communities are working at detecting and eliminating the problems found, and in very short order there are usually fixes available.

Does this mean Open Source is better? No, but it does mean that it is more open (pun intended). If there are problems with the software, it is usually fairly easy to find what they are through going to their Wiki or Development forum.

More later…..

Open Source Software - what is it?

Friday, June 17th, 2005

If you have spent any time at all looking for software, then you will have run across the term open source. What does it mean and more specifically, what does it mean to you as a business owner or user. Lets throw a little light on this.

A lot of products that you can buy - most of the products from major manufacturers for instance are proprietary code. You get an executable version, and other than setting program options, what you get is what you get. You have to wait for the software creators to bring out a new version for any significant changes and if you don’t like what they are doing, then you have two choices, either go to a competitive product or live with it.

Open source is a little different. With open source software you get the source code for the program as well as executables, and are free to make changes to enhance the product.

There are three tenets to open source:

You have the right to make copies of the program, and distribute those copies.
You have right to have access to the software’s source code, a necessary preliminary before you can change it.
You have the right to make improvements to the program

The basic idea behind open source is very simple - When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing.

Some open soource software is available free, other open source software you pay for.

For us at Spinnaker, whenever we are sourcing software for clients, we always look to the open source community first. Our experience is that the software is much more transparent, and any issues with it are out in the open, rather than little surprises that you find out about later. All software has bugs - just look at all of the releases that Microsoft makes, and it’s better you know about them than not.

We have found that you have to do your homework, but that is no different than getting any other piece of software.

Browsers - Is there an alternative

Monday, June 13th, 2005

I would imagine that most of the people that are reading this entry are probably using Internet Explorer and are seeing everything just fine.

Internet Explorer comes bundled with all Microsoft operating systems and unless you take some positive action, then it is the browser that is set up as your default. So, dear reader, Microsoft is expecting that you are going to choose their product through inactivity. This has proven pretty accurate over the years as IE has about 80% of the market space.

Don’t get me wrong, Internet Explorer is not a bad product. It does what most people need, and as I said before it is conveniently installed for you (probably straight from the factory). It is just that there are better options out there, and no I’m not talking about poor old bloated Netscape, I’m talking Firefox.

Firefox is a relatively recent addition to the bowser family, but has been around long enough for it to be a completely stable and mature product. It comes from the Mozilla Foundation, and is an open source product.

Why Firefox? A browser is a browser, right?

Well…….no

Firefox is open source software and has a host of developers all over the planet developing extensions for it. What that means to you is that you have the ability to add features to the browser that make your experience that much more pleasant.

Lets me give you a couple of examples…..

As a web developer it is really nice to be able to sample colors off a web page. I downloaded an extension to Firefox called Colorzilla, and now can easily sample any color off a web page. Also, again as a web developer I have installed an extension that validates HTML coding, so that I can very easily make sure that the pages that I develop are free of errors.

There are literally thousands of extensions available, so you can extend to your hearts content.

Hey - don’t take my word for it - go and download Firefox for yourself and try it out. It is a free download - so all you will lose if you hate it is the time to download and install it. Firefox can be found here

Welcome

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

Are you looking for answers on web development or just want to comment on the state of the web universe? Come on it and make yourself known.

Over the next little while we will be posting topics for discussion, so feel free to have your say.

Some posting rules though:

No flaming
No obscenity

Those will get posts cut straight away

Other than that - have fun and be creative!