Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The blogging challenge

For someone who is very keen to promote the idea of blogging and general social networking to my customers, I’m painfully aware I don’t do anywhere near enough of it myself. This is partly because I’m too busy trying to encourage other people to do it and also because, having written several books and managed numerous different blogs covering a wide variety of genres, I never find time to write a company blog. I’m also inherently lazy.

Blogging is great but is it for everyone? A blog, like any form of written work, should be worth reading. That means it should be either informative or entertaining, or both. There’s only so much a single person can write that is useful and informative without getting repetitive. It’s not always possible to be entertaining either. I mean seriously, you try writing humour into the subject of web design and content management systems. It’s harder than listening to a Justin Bieber song without wanting to rip your own face off.

Anyway, to encourage myself to blog more, I am setting myself the challenge of writing one blog a day for two weeks (starting Monday and excluding weekends because, you know, I have a life) on the subject of blogging. These blogs will cover the following topics:

To blog or not to blog
How long should my blog be?
What should my blog contain?
How often should I blog?
Can I make money from blogging?
How do I promote my blog?
What benefits does blogging have?
What about vlogging?
Is the answer really 42?
What are the best blogging sites?

Friday, 1 July 2016

Will leaving the EU affect your website? No

Firstly I want to point out from the outset that I refuse to call it Brexit. This is because I flatly refuse to acknowledge another stupid tabloid-created word that sounds like a breakfast cereal. Anyway, the majority of the country voted to leave the European Union and now it seems the majority of the country is disgusted with the vote and thinks we should stay. This is typical of us Brits. It’s like the weather: We complain when it’s cold and wet all the time but as soon as the sun comes out we all complain that it’s too hot. There is simply just no way of pleasing a nation of whiny, fussy, weather obsessed queuing addicts. The mainstream media don’t help either. They are all spreading doom and gloom and telling us the pound is worthless, our costs will rise and we’ll all die of poverty which is simply making people believe that’s what will happen. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. What people need to do is say “right, we’ve got what we wanted so let’s make this work. Let’s get our heads together and make Britain great again.” But of course that doesn’t sell newspapers. So how is leaving the EU going to affect the majority of us? How is it going to affect my industry? How is it going to affect the many companies who rely on my business. How is it going to affect their businesses? The truth is probably not at all. I personally don’t think Joe Average will notice much difference at all, if any. People who have a vested interest in Europe in terms of their market sector will be affected; those who work abroad, foreigners who work in the UK, those who have clients elsewhere in Europe, multi-national companies, overseas investors and the like. People who run small to medium sized businesses and whose businesses are local probably won’t notice. I’m certainly not worried. It’ll be just like when Labour takes over from a Tory government or vice versa; Despite all the uproar, nobody really notices any difference in their everyday life because it doesn’t matter who runs the country, they will all find their own unique way of screwing us. Of course this doesn’t mean that people won’t tighten their belts and be a bit more frugal. It’ll be just like when the recession hit a few years ago (again, I refused to call that the “credit crunch” because that also sounded like a breakfast cereal). Everyone started shopping at Aldi and Lidl because they realised there was no point paying £5 for something that they could get for £1. It was the same in the web world. People realised they could get a cheap, nice looking Wordpress site rather than pay silly amounts of money for a proper site. This is great except I personally think Wordpress is crap. These were all subjects I was discussing with a friend of mine the other night whom I know from a business networking group I go to. He’s someone who might be affected by the EU referendum because his market sector is overseas. He was asking me what I charge for websites and hosting and was stunned when I gave him ballpark figures of a few hundred to a couple of thousand for a design and between twelve and thirty pounds a month for hosting. He was stunned because he is used to dealing with figures of tens of thousands. This is because he deals with big companies who have more money than sense and probably assume that they are getting something far superior because they are paying more for it. This is nonsense. What I do is more or less exactly the same, except I do it a lot quicker and without the layers of bureaucracy, politics, middle-men and general bullshit. So I’d like to reassure all our clients and all those companies who aren’t our clients yet and are spending far too much on their websites, that leaving the EU is unlikely to affect them anywhere near as much as the press would have us believe, if at all. I’d also like to say that if you are spending silly amounts on a website and/or would like a nice one built quickly and at little cost, give us a call. Fear not, Webxit will not happen.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Nominet price increase and CRAM-MD5 support

OK so this is more of a public service announcement rather than a blog. We sent some of our customers an email recently, informing them that Nominet (the official registry of UK domain names) is increasing the wholesale cost of UK domain names by 50% this year and we, in turn, have been hit with more like a 100% increase from our upstream provider. Unfortunately, we've had to increase our prices as a result but we've managed to keep it as low as possible. To be fair, it's the first time Nominet has increased its prices for UK domains since 1999 so we can't complain really. Well, we can and I'm sure some of our customers will too, but that's just life unfortunately.

Also, some of our customers were contacted recently about changes being made to older mailboxes. This will affect many other people as well so, being the nice people we are at Datapartners, thought we'd share our knowledge on this matter too.

Basically, something called CRAM-MD5 support (yeah I don't know either) is being switched off on 22nd February 2016 in line with industry security requirements. Therefore, anyone using this must update their email clients (Outlook, Windows Mail etc) to use secure sockets in order to improve email security and to continue using mail after February.

As complicated as it may sound, the necessary changes are simple to make on your computers, phones and tablets and we have found some great step by step instruction videos on how to do this:

For Android devices
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HY0ejyXpN_0

For iPhones / iPads
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZN7PNk2xs10

Professional:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5bQJ-ZFpJo

For Windows 10:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWffeFTPmJA

For Apple Mac:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0ISihtgsMQ

We suggest watching the relevant video through first and only make changes to the settings if required because it may not affect you at all. Of course if you only access your email using online webmail then you're fine anyway.

https://help.fasthosts.co.uk/app/answers/detail/a_id/2745

You're welcome :-)

Thursday, 27 August 2015

A responsive website explained

For the last year or so, I've been trying to convince a lot of our customers to part with some of their hard-earned cash and update their website. This isn't because I'm a greedy, money-grabbing parasite, it's because the internet moves very quickly and websites go out of fashion quicker than boybands.

The reason I've been pushing people to get their sites redesigned is because of the introduction of mobile-friendly, or "responsive" websites. But what is a responsive website? It's a concept I try very hard to explain to people but, for some reason, very few actually seem to understand it.

In the old days (a couple of years ago) when people started using their mobile phones more regularly to surf the internet, they found most websites were hard to view on such a small screen and they needed to zoom in and out, scroll left, right, up and down to navigate around it. Then some bright spark decided it would be a good idea to create a "mobile" version. This was a trimmed down version of the site that fit better on a mobile phone.

This was great except it meant that people effectively needed to get two websites designed: One for viewing on a regular computer and another for viewing on a mobile device. This meant more cost for the customer. It was made worse when smartphones boomed and suddenly there were hundreds of different mobile phones and tablets on the market, all different shapes, sizes and using different browsers that rendered web pages slightly differently. This meant that a mobile site that looked good on an iPhone 3 wouldn't necessarily look good on a Samsung Galaxy (or an iPhone, 4, 5, 6, Galaxy s3, s4, s5, Google Nexus, iPad, Kindle... you get the idea).

Then some brighter spark decided the code behind the website should be able to control this. I won't go into any technical detail but what happens is there is just the one website and it is coded and designed in such a way that it will automatically adjust and realign elements on the page depending on the size and shape of the browser it is being viewed on.

That's all there is to it. However, despite spending hours explaining this concept to people, the number of times I've then gone on to build a site and the customer has come back saying "But it looks completely different on my phone compared to my computer" makes me want to quit my job and become a hermit. That is exactly the point. The website will look different. It will shrink and readjust to best fit the screen.

They say pictures speak louder than words so here goes. Below are visual examples with an explanation. For this example, I have used our very own Datapartners website, which is a shining example of a responsive design.

On a desktop computer

So you can see there it looks like a "normal" website. There is a main navigation on the top left, a site search on the top right, an eye-catching cover photo that spans the entire width and a bit of blurb that explains in brief detail who we are, what we do and how we can help you. Underneath that is a list of our apps and services in three columns. It uses a very familiar and fashionable layout that is used by a lot of companies.







For the purposes of this example, I have included another screenshot of the home page when scrolled. This is just to emphasize the use of the three columns for the apps and services we offer (you should check them out by the way; they are awesome!)










On a tablet

So now someone is viewing it on a tablet. Generally this  type of screen is roughly between one half and one third the size of an average desktop monitor. In this instance, the cover photo fills most of the page. This is basically because having a photo of this proportion that is as wide as the screen but only half the depth would look crap. However, the main navigation has become larger and the intro text stretches across the page. The rest of the page looks the same as the desktop version, only everything has slightly less spacing because the screen is half the size.

However, if the person then flips their tablet round so it is now displaying in portrait rather than landscape you will see where the responsive site really starts to work. In the example on the right, the website automatically aligns the intro blurb and call to action to the middle. The cover photo is cropped to fit the new sized browser and the apps and services which were previously in three columns are now tiled one above the other. This is done to allow the text to be bigger and more accessible. If we still had three columns the text would have to be so small so as to fit on the screen it would be very difficult to read.

The other change when viewed on this device is the search box has disappeared. This is done simply to save space.

So, just to clarify, all of this stuff happens automatically as soon as the device is turned around. It is still exactly the same website, using exactly the same code. It isn't a separate site. The user doesn't have to do anything. The site automatically knows it needs to readjust to fit better on a smaller screen. Clear?

On a mobile phone

So, following on from the tablet, we come to the mobile phone. Teenagers often look at websites while walking down the street not looking where they are going and end up walking into me. None have yet been pushed in front of a bus. Yet.

Anyway, you can see similarities between this and the tablet viewed in portrait. Because a mobile screen is generally narrower than a tablet in portrait, we can see the intro text has wrapped slightly more. That's about the only difference. When the phone is viewed horizontally (in landscape) it looks just like the tablet version in landscape. In this example, we have made the main navigation slightly bigger so it spans the whole width. Again, this is done simply to make the text bigger.

As with the tablet, the search box has been hidden on the mobile phone as a way of saving space. However, there is an alternative way of building the navigation on the smaller browser so we can get the search box in as well. This is explained in the examples below:


So, can you spot the difference? No? Well in this example, we have hidden the main nav and replaced it with what's called a "hamburger menu". You don't need to be a genius to figure out why it's called that. Because this menu only takes up a tiny space on the left, there is now plenty of room for the search on the right.

So where has the main nav gone? Well, click on the hamburger menu and the main nav is revealed.

To see this in use, visit www.eddiehall.com

So that's it. I will stress one last time: This all happens automatically. The website can tell what size browser it is being viewed on and will automatically change to best fit the screen. The site WILL look different when viewed on a mobile phone. It WILL look different when viewed on a desktop computer. It WILL look different on tablets. But that is the idea! It is all about making the site more accessible and easier to navigate for your visitors. If people can't navigate around your site well enough they will leave and go and visit your main competitors. Simple.

So, are you interested? yes? Good. We can help you so contact us and we can design you a modern, mobile-friendly, fashionable, accessible, search-engine friendly and generally awesome website.

I think I've run out of superlatives.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Get bigger results by staying small

One of the things that annoys me about people in general is their inability to listen. Most women are a case in point; they never listen to what you tell them. They hears words, rearrange them in their head and twist them into what they want to hear. Politicians are another example. They never listen to what the public actually want. They pretend to listen in order to gain votes but then just do what they want to do, rather than doing what the majority of voters want.

 I’m guilty of not listening myself from time to time. If, for example, somebody talks at me for more than thirty seconds without actually involving me in the conversation, I switch off. I can’t help it - it’s a defence mechanism. I also tend to stop listening to people when they start talking complete bollocks. So it was I found myself doing this the other day when I was at a social gathering. I got talking to some chap who apparently did the same sort of job I do. The only difference was he works for a big London agency and I actually work for a living. He spent ages telling me how he’s been working on some big project for the last eighteen months involving lots of acronym-type things that I’ve never heard of and how the change control and project management and schemas and methodologies and blah blah blah something with involving a flux capacitor have been causing him something or other.

 I found myself thinking about the difference between what he does and what I do and the only difference I could find was his job involves a colossal amount of bullshit. To put it into perspective, over the last few weeks I’ve launched two new websites. In other words, two people have asked me to build them websites, I’ve designed them, coded them, had them approved by the customer and launched them onto the world wide web. Most of the time was spent going backwards and forwards with the customers to make sure I was building exactly what they wanted and waiting for them to respond. The build process itself took a few days.

 So why do big companies take so long to do anything? It’s because they make things so complicated and, the more complicated something seems, the more they can charge for it. That means the chap I was talking to the other day probably earns three times what I do and no doubt drives an expensive car to make up for having a small penis. The other reason is big companies have a lot of people working for them. I, for example, take a phone call directly from a customer, do the work myself and liaise directly with the person who wants the job done. Developers who work for big companies have to go through their manager who probably has to go through their manager who needs to go through an account manager who then liaises with the client’s account manager who goes through their manager who goes through their manager who was probably told by a third party consultant to get the work done so, consequently, doesn’t have a clue. The time spent simply exchanging messages is immense and it’s really a pointless waste of time and the number of people doing jobs that aren’t really needed just strikes me as being pointless.

Here at Datapartners we like to keep things simple. We are also very honest. We may not be able to talk convincingly in Bullshitese or confuse people with jargon in order to convince them to spend more money than necessary for a website. We actually pride ourselves on this. If you come to us for a website, we will do our best to find out what you want, give you an honest quote that is probably ten times less than a big London Agency would charge, get it built in a tenth of the time and then strive to build a long-term relationship with you and continue forward in partnership. This is the Datapartners way!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

It's good to be responsive

As a web developer, it is my job to keep up to date with the ever changing and constantly evolving internet industry. Whether it’s researching some stupid new legislation devised by an impotent politician whose only experience of the internet is porn, or learning about new programming languages, SEO tricks, social networking fads and what is new and in fashion in terms of design.

The internet industry moves very quickly. Technology moves at an alarming rate and tastes and fashions change too. Basically, if your website is over 5 years old, you might as well not have one. With desktop monitors getting bigger all the time, mobile browsing becoming more and more popular and social media/apps changing the way people use the internet, tastes and requirements have changed significantly over the last few years.

Largely because of the dawn of mobile browsing, responsive websites have become the new “it” thing. When I first heard the term “responsive website”. I had absolutely no idea what it meant. I assumed it just meant a website that was interactive or did something responsive based on a user’s input, which is what 99% of the websites I’ve built over the last 13 years have been.

It actually refers to a site that dynamically adjusts its own layout depending on the size and type of browser that it’s being viewed on. So for instance, if you looked at it on a big desktop monitor and then shrank the window, you would see it realign itself and change right before your eyes. It’s very clever.

This is good because it negates the need to create a separate mobile version of a website which means it is more economical for the customer and means I don’t have to build two different sites.

Of course it also means everything that was built prior to the dawn of responsive sites is now out of date. This is annoying because, having spent the last couple of years redesigning our suite of apps and control panels to match our company branding and website, I now have to recode most of it again to accommodate the responsiveness. Of course this does also mean that we can now offer our clients the chance to rebuild their sites and, in the process, make them look nicer too (because, let’s face it, what may have looked good 5 years ago almost certainly looks rubbish now).

So if you don’t want a tired, dreary and unfashionable website but want something new, exciting and responsive, Datapartners can can help. Below are just some of the sites we have started to rebuild as responsive. Check them out.

www.eddiehall.com

www.thegearshop.co.uk

www.evolvestore.co.uk

www.mastersort.com

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Keeping your privates private

A property developer has recently bought the house across the road from me and has been attempting to build a second house on the plot of land that it sits on. Needless to say, I, along with most of the other neighbours, have vetoed this. There are a number of reasons. Firstly the plot is only big enough to fit a shoe in and would look ridiculous. Secondly, it would inevitably be rented out to a bunch of drug dealers or benefit cheats and, quite frankly, I don’t want the lovely quiet street I live in occupied by scumbags. Thirdly the building in question would look right into my bathroom and I don’t like the idea of a bunch of scumbags who are high on cocaine watching me getting all soapy and wet in the shower. No one wants to see that.

There is a reason I bought a house with four walls and a roof. It’s the same reason I lock the toilet door before emptying the contents of my stomach. It’s called privacy. I guard my privacy quite tightly and get really rather annoyed when people attempt to take it away from me. It’s why a lot of people are annoyed with Facebook and its ever-changing privacy policy that appears to be determined to make everyone’s details public.

Of course the internet industry is one where someone always has access to someone else’s personal information. Take my business: A lot of my customers run online shops so whenever someone buys something on that shop, their details are saved in a database that I have access to. Technically I have the power to see names and addresses of their customers. I also run a lot of my business off Google. I store most of my company documents on Google Drive, I use Gmail, Google Calendar and pretty much every other product. Technically, someone at Google could see all this information too. Does it bother me? No. Why? Because I chose to place my trust in Google in the same way that my customers chose to place their trust in me.

It’s all very well and good people complaining because Facebook violates their privacy but, I’m sorry, when you voluntarily sign up to a free service that is solely designed to share information with other people, you can’t really complain when the information that you voluntarily shared is shared with people. That’s a bit like breaking the speed limit in a car and complaining when you get stopped by the police. You chose to do it, therefore accept responsibility for your actions.

Of course transparency is they key to trust. I recently uninstalled an app for my Samsung Galaxy because of this:

Do you see the problem here? It wants to modify my calendar, send emails to people without my knowledge, read my confidential information, delete the contents of my memory card and know my exact location. Errrr no thanks. I just want to look at a map of the London Underground on my phone. I don’t want my phone being taken over by hackers.

Now, if I had accepted these terms, I couldn’t rightly complain when the developers of this app hijacked my phone and started sending photos of underage chickens to MI5 any more than I could complain if a drug addled pervert took photos of me showering and sold them to Big Boys in Boots magazine because I didn’t object to them building a house that looked into my bathroom. That is why the house isn’t being built.