Category Archives: Web

Pre-ordering digital content: What’s the point?

preorder

If you are an iTunes Store customer, you have probably seen the sections in the store which allows you to pre-order music, books, or movies. I don’t have data to back this up, but I would assume pre-ordering in iTunes is very popular. If it wasn’t I would expect Apple to stop offering that option.

My question to those that pre-order from iTunes and other digital stores is: “Why?” It is not as if the store is going to run out of the file. The content will be available the day of release and five years after the release (unless it is pulled by the store or seller).

Incentives, freebies and deals

There used to be a time when I wouldn’t be writing this article. In the past, I remember iTunes offering special pricing for pre-orders or extra content for pre-orders. If that was still the case, I would understand why one would pre-order digital content – you pay the same, or maybe even less, and get a deal out of it.

However, these deals seem to have disappeared. I haven’t seen a pre-order deal in iTunes in a long time. In fact, I have found it to be cheaper to wait for the physical media release and buy that at a cheaper price than pre-ordering it. On occasion, a DVD movie with the digital version has been the same price as pre-ordering, or just buying, the digital version by itself.

Actual media pre-orders (ie. DVDs, video games, etc.) still have these special offers. Disney, for example, often offers some deal on pre-ordering an upcoming movie release. Game stores often offer some type of deal to pre-order a game for your console. Why can’t digital content do the same?

One acceptable reason to pre-order

The only reason I see for pre-ordering digital content is so that you don’t forget to buy something you really want. Maybe there is a movie coming out in four weeks and you want to buy it. By pre-ordering it in iTunes you can set your computer or device to automatically download pre-ordered content when available. The content gets released and you open the “Videos” app on your iPad and “Surprise!” your new movie is there that you forgot you even ordered it.

This reasoning could also backfire. You pre-order a digital item and then forget you ordered it. Let’s say a music album, for example. You see another digital music provider has a special release-day price to download the album. You buy it there and forget you already bought it from another provider. It automatically downloads for you and you have now bought it twice. Unfortunately, you can’t really return digital content.

Conclusion

Until I see a real reason to pre-order digital content, like the deals mentioned above, I will stick to waiting for release dates and finding release day deals. Speaking of release dates, that is one thing the pre-order list is good for – finding out the release date of that movie, book, or music you want!

Why LinkedIn remains the only international social site available in China

LinkedInIn what the Chinese government terms as a move to keeping its society sane and couth, it has blocked the use of social sites like Facebook and Twitter among many others. Actually, accessing these sites is next to impossible, and if attempted, is punishable by law. This unquestionable move to block out international social sites has however taken a surprising and unexpected twist manifested in the government’s decision to let the citizens access LinkedIn.

Though the reasons as to why China has let its citizen’s access LinkedIn still remains a mystery to many, there are many speculations that in the opinion of many contain all the logic needed to render them tangible.

Possible Reasons

Many people believe that LinkedIn’s approach to networking people is the only thing that has let it survive China’s strict censorship laws. LinkedIn focuses on professional qualifications and aims at letting employers meet employees without leaving the comfort of their offices. For a nation that is work-oriented like China, this is a gold mine since it will allow its population to network with professionals, both locally and internationally.

Unlike other social sites, LinkedIn did not come up with a simplified site version for China. Due to this, LinkedIn is more of a top-notch forum that will only work for Chinese who can at least construct coherent English sentences. Since English is not the first language is China, the number of people who can comfortably chat and exchange ideas on LinkedIn is effectively reduced to encompass only those who have gone through the pain of learning English for the sake of business.

Since LinkedIn is all about business and professional networking, loose talk and suggestive picture uploading that is rampant on other international social sites is unheard of. If we go by the fact that China’s basic motive in blocking other social site is for the sake of its societal ethical beliefs, then it would be right to conclude that LinkedIn does not have the capacity to breach these unwritten rules. In fact, all that LinkedIn can do is uphold the virtue of hard work and professionalism.

For How Long?

LinkedIn InNonetheless, it is almost impossible to draw a solid conclusion as to why LinkedIn roams freely in China, bearing in mind that in 2010, the Chinese lost access to one of the most powerful search engines in the world, Google. Perhaps, the Chinese government has realized that LinkedIn is the only safe channel through which its professionals can network with the international world. On the other hand, it could just be biding time before shutting down the service.

Apparently, China is confident that a social network that lets professionals meet and discuss job-related issues is not harmful to the society. After all, it is not the best place to plot or start a revolution or spend precious time chatting about celebrities and impossible fantasies.

Need advice? Try ChoicePunch

choicepunchEver since the world was introduced to PostSecret, the idea of going to strangers with news became a thing. Dark, embarrassing, or just needing to confess the fact that Progressive’s Flo is was too perky for her own good, the site allowed online users to get things off of their chests. Without the threat of a consequence.

Now, however, the theory of online sharing is growing – but it’s not just secrets that others are sending to the world. Now there’s an entire site dedicated to giving others advice. Found on ChoicePunch.com, users can give advice, share personal stories, or just learn what others have to say. There’s even a private section to keep personal matters from being shared with loved ones (or the rest of the online population).

How it Works

Users can sign up for a free account, and as soon as they’ve confirmed, can start posting. Helping others can be found under the Speakout section, while asking others is known as a Reachout. Simply click your corresponding section, and begin communicating.

When reaching out, users ask a question, give a little background information, and then offer up relatable choices – usually two to four. They can then explain their situation so others have a better idea as to what they’re answering. When speaking out, users head to a main page where questions are displayed with images (ChoicePunch provides them), then they click on a post and give their opinion. This is done by choosing on a specific answer, or write a few sentences about why you agree or disagree.

Profiles also keep track of how many lives each person has touched, like an ongoing reminder of the good that can be done online. And while a majority of the questions are superficial, for instance diet advice, or when to tell a new significant other you’re a parent, there’s also a number of hard-hitting topics that are explored.

No matter the subject matter, though, ChoicePunch offers users an outlet that never before has existed. Instead of going to friends and family members, who may be swayed by background information, unbiased advice can be found almost instantaneously. And without footing the bill for an expensive or multiple-session shrink. By posting questions and answers online, strangers can give and get real-time advice that directly relates to their life.

To start getting real-time advice today, head to ChoicePunch.com.

Google Search: More advertising leaves less room for organic results

Google’s corporate motto is “don’t be evil.” When this was unveiled in 1999 / 2000 (attribution claims vary), it was seen as something of a dig at various large companies and the way they operate. Zooming forward to the present day, I find myself wondering if Google are beginning to lose sight of this ethos and become a little drunk on their own power.

I run a number of blogs. One of them has, over the past few years, become rather successful. Now, I don’t mean “earn a fortune, quit my job” successful, but successful enough to attract advertisers, gain loyal readers running into the thousands, win a couple of small awards, and earn me enough money to make the time I spend on it worthwhile.

So, why am I moaning about Google? Well, it started a few months ago, when I began to notice my unique visitors dropping like a stone. I had a chat with an “industry” friend, and he pointed me in the direction of a very interesting article about how Google is slowly “killing off” organic search.

Google Search
Google Search

More advertising, less search results

According to the article, there’s now less and less space on a typical Google search page dedicated to organic results, and more and more dedicated to revenue-generating Google products. The examples in the article include a search for “auto mechanic” where only 13% of screen real estate on a 13” Macbook Air ended up displaying natural search results. A search for “Italian Food” on an iPhone showed NO natural results whatsoever on the first screen (barring one from Google-owned Zagat) and required a scroll through four pages of information before any truly natural results appeared at all.

So how does this affect independent bloggers? In my case, my blog has been at the top of Google’s results for a number of relevant search terms for several years. Now it has dropped down, typically to fourth or fifth place. So why has this happened?

Well, it’s clearly due to one of the recent algorithm updates, but looking at the sites that are now on top reveals little. While one or two may arguably have more “authority,” some are small commercial companies appearing seemingly at random, which tells me that despite Google’s punishing algorithm updates, some sites are still manipulating their rankings with SEO techniques and are slipping through the net.

After spending years creating good content and building readers, Google moves the goalposts, resulting in far fewer people finding my site.

While I know this sounds like “sour grapes,” I’d be less bitter if I truly believed that all the results that have pushed me from the top deserved to be there. I’d find it easier to accept the situation if some didn’t contain vastly out of date content that (personal bias aside) simply doesn’t deserve to be there.

The more I think about it, the more it seems that increasingly, the only way to ensure people consistently find you on Google is to pay Google. Even if you’re doing well in the organic results right now, the next algorithm change may plunge you into obscurity, especially when Google’s page layouts now mean that even being on the first page of the natural results doesn’t mean anyone will see you without lots of scrolling.

Google built its popularity on being fast, clear and fair. It would be a terrible shame if that “don’t be evil” slogan came back to bite it.

The unfortunate downsides of streaming music services

playIf you haven’t heard, Google recently announced a streaming music service. For $9.99/month you can stream all the music you want to your compatible device.

This is not the first streaming music service, and it probably won’t be the last. In principle, an all you get stream music service sounds good, but in reality it has a few problems which keep me from signing up for one and sticking with purchasing music.

Problem 1: Mobile data limits

The biggest problem with streaming music services is data limits enforced by wireless carriers. Unless you are on a WiFi network all of the time, you are going to need to use a data plan, which for most people is limited to 2GB or less.

You might argue the 2GB is plenty of data, and it is if you are just surfing the Internet and checking emails and maybe downloading apps every now and then. However, that data goes faster than you think, and streaming only makes it go faster. Yes, audio uses a lot less data than video, but it is still using that data and I would venture to say you will use up that data before your month is up.

I can see many people who unknowingly sign up for a streaming service without even knowing they are eating up their data plan until they get a nice present tacked onto their next bill for data overage. Of course, the data providers would love it if you purchased an upgrade for your mobile data plan. Now you get to pay for more data and the monthly streaming fee.

Problem 2: WiFi isn’t perfect

Let’s say you are one of those people I mentioned above who have constant access to WiFi. You have WiFi at home, WiFi at work, and you frequent enough places that have WiFi access that you don’t really care about streaming in your car or other places.

Just because you have WiFi access doesn’t mean you can stream your music. Your employer might limit streaming or even block it. If you are on public WiFi at a cafe it could also be limited by the establishment or just extremely slow from a large amount of people using it. WiFi is great, but only if it is completely usable.

Problem 3: Owning the music and making an audio CD

Contrary to what some might think, the physical CD is not dead yet. I, for one, still make audio CDs of my music. If you have a streaming service you can’t import music into iTunes and burn a CD. You have to buy those tracks. Yes, you can do both but this can get costly if you are always doing it. Plus, call it old school, but many people prefer to own their music. I like being able to load my iPhone with what I want and be able to listen to it whenever and where ever I am without having to worry about using data or being on WiFi.

Conclusion

For many people a streaming music service is great. They have a limited data plan, have WiFi access, and or don’t care about owning music. For others, like myself, it is the wrong way to go.

Top five reasons why WordPress is the best “Press”

wordpress-logoWordPress is arguably known as one of the leading content management providers. It’s recognizable, compatible, and free to use – covering all of the online basics and plenty more. But for whatever reason, there are still website owners opting for a buggy competitor, or sticking to basic HTML for their web-viewing needs. As the Internet changes, however, it’s time to stick to a uniform, reliable source, and WordPress fits that bill.

Still on the fence? Check out the top five reasons WordPress is a better website content managing system than your current provider.

5. It’s User Friendly

Whether a beginner or a WordPress expert, the program comes in a simple, easy-to-use package. Updates notify users when they’re necessary, pages are labeled with large tags, and the navigation section provides a descriptive layout of all available actions. New features even come with descriptive tags so users can learn any adjustments with ease. The content management system (CMS) also has a sleek, simplified look so no tasks are bogged down or lost in the action.

4. Free, One-click Upload

When hosting outside of WordPress, the program is as easy to upload as a single click. Even for those without website building experience can do it. Just sign in with your host, upload, and start building pages. As for those who do host with WordPress, the CMS is already available, saving a whole two seconds of work.

3. Unlimited Options with Plugins

Want to upload an RSS feed? A signup box? Social media accounts? A page view counter? There’s a plugin for that … and for hundreds of other add-ins. Just upload and customize to create a completely unique website. Store your content in cloud storage, or stick to design-related features. Best of all, they’re free to use and have the ability to completely makeover a website.

2. Shows Site Data and Traffic

One of the best WordPress abilities is that it compiles and keeps track of all website hits. See where viewers came from (including referrers and keyword searches), how many clicks came in each day, as well as how that compares to the previous month. Over time, charts will show how traffic changes, and how posts affected those differences in numbers.

1. There are Hundreds of Free Resources

Can’t figure something out? Just perform a Google search to see what the experts have to say. Because WordPress is so widely used, there are entire websites dedicated to helping others fix their design, formatting, or other WordPress issues – free of charge. Just ask and search to receive access to thousands of free WordPress CMS tips.

Prepare for the upcoming Google Reader shutdown with 5 alternatives

Google ReaderIn an effort to consolidate its services, Google Reader shuts down on July 1, 2013. The rise and growth of Google+ has seen a bunch of shutdowns and we can expect to see more as the company looks to focus more on its key products.

With Google Reader gone, it is time to look for alternatives for subscribing to RSS feeds. Here are five alternatives that should help you get everything – well, nearly everything – you got from Google Reader.

1. Feedly

Feedly, under the project called Normandy, had been preparing for a Google Reader API clone since the shutdown for announced, and you now have an alternative that should help you seamlessly transition from Google Reader to Feedly. The Feedly service is supported on iOS, Android, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. This Feedly blog post shows you how you can make that seamless transition and ensure you do not miss any updates from your favorite blogs now that Google Reader is gone.

2. NetVibes

NetVibes opened a new home for millions of Google Readers recently by offering a dual dashboard-and-reader combo which, unlike other alternatives, is powered by its own real-time RSS engine that is completely independent of Google. NetVibes comes with an ecosystem of over 260,000 apps and feeds, social search, syncing across multiple devices, and works on iOS, Android and desktop browsers.

3. NewsBlur

This is a personal news reader runs on iOS, Android, and on web browsers. It is a free service with premium subscriptions if you want to support growing services and unlock a few restrictions. The service offers four RSS feed views which are Original, Feed, Story, and Text. Original offers readers the original design and typeface of a given site. The Feed view is the plain old RS feed you are used to. The Story view shows individual blog posts one at a time, and the Text view shows the original story’s extracted article text, which may not be 100% perfect.

4. FeedDemon

For Windows users, FeedDemon will continue to offer its services which includes keyword tagging, Feed Watches, the ability to search feeds, and the ability to automatically download audio podcasts.

5. Google Currents

It’s not all bye-bye from Google. Google Currents is another excellent alternative available on iOS and Android devices which turns your blogs into an attractive, shareable and favoritable magazine. It is able to aggregate your content into categories to help you better enjoy your content.

There we have it, 5 Google Reader alternatives that you can use to ensure you are updated on what’s new on your favorite blogs and online destinations.

Meet the new Google Maps

Google-Maps-Preview

If you were at the Google I/O (or weren’t), you are probably aware of the major redesign changes that were launched for Google Maps.  One thing you will quickly notice is the approach that Google has taken to provide a more intuitive interface that takes away the clutter and leaves you with a clean and clear way of exploring neighborhoods and other destinations.

Interestingly, we can also see a future glimpse of where maps may be going. Google has modeled a few cities around the world in 3D letting you enter the third dimension and get a new perspective of the world. This feature is similar to Apple’s “Flyover” function of its own mapping service but Google definitely know how to create buzz for it and deliver a much more intuitive experience.

Improved Search in Maps

Google Maps Screenshot

Of course, the ultimate ability of maps is to be able to search locations and get the exact information you are looking for. Though not quite your Knowledge Graph experience, the new Google Maps takes search a notch higher by letting you get better results when you search for restaurants, hotels, and world attractions. However, that is not the end of it. Google wants a more personalized experience in all of its products that you use, and this includes the new maps. As you use the search feature, Google Maps will be able to learn about your likes, favorites, and destinations, and this information, yes you guessed it, will be used to recommend places and destinations.

Info Cards

Google has added a new feature to help both businesses and you, get the right information to you. When you click on a business, an info card comes up below the search box with the business’ address, directions, web URL, phone number and hours of operation. Rather than having to navigate out of Google Maps to get all this information, you now have everything you need inside the maps interface. Again, the more you use maps to search for businesses, the better the maps become at recommending places and venues with the option of writing reviews.

Images

Google seems to value the use of images in most of its products and Google Maps is one of these tools where images really shine and give you a whole new perspective in search. At the bottom of any location you search, you will see a scrolling menu of images that you can click through to enjoy a photo tour. These images are pulled from Google+, Picasa, and Android phones from owners. Google also contributes its own sets of photos. Google seems to be particularly interested in user-generated photos where it is able to pull up several photos of the same building but during different times of the year and through the eyes of different photographers to give you an amazing photo tour.

Directions in Maps

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We all love to get driving directions when looking at maps. But how about directions when using different transportation options such as public transit, walking, biking or flying? Google now brings this ability to the new Google Maps allowing you to compare the different directions and see which is the quickest and readily available.

Clearly, what Google is doing with maps is very similar to what it has done with search results – personalize our experiences. When you click on search, you are now presented with localized and highly personalized results rather than from results across the globe. Google Maps seem to be taking the same direction.

You can try out the new Maps with the following link: http://maps.google.com/help/maps/helloworld/desktop/preview/

Echofon for Firefox dies after Twitter API changes – Here’s how to get it back

In case you’ve never heard of it, Echofon for Firefox was an add-on for Firefox that allowed users to interact with Twitter without going to the official Twitter website. Available as a small pop-up window in the browser’s status bar, Echofon was a convenient and minimalist way to compose tweets, replies, and browse Twitter.

The last version of Echofon for Firefox ever released, version 2.5.2.
The last version of Echofon for Firefox ever released, version 2.5.2.

As of October 2012, Echofon for Firefox was officially discontinued by its developers so they could focus on versions of Echofon for mobile platforms (iPad, Android, and iPhone) instead. This wasn’t the end of the world, though, because Echofon would continue working as long as Twitter API 1.0 was still active.

With this foreboding message, Echofon for Firefox stopped receiving updates.
With this foreboding message, Echofon for Firefox stopped receiving updates.

Since this article exists, I think you can guess what the problem is: As of June 12, 2013, Twitter API 1.0 has been officially shut down, which also killed Echofon for thousands of users.

Users were left with this simple message when they opened Firefox today:

Can’t login to Twitter. (410 Gone (account_verify_credentials))

I wouldn’t be writing this article if it was all bad news, so here’s how to keep Echofon for Firefox working after the Twitter API change.

Patched Echofon saves the day for Twitter API 1.1

When I opened Firefox today and noticed that Echofon wasn’t working anymore, I immediately assumed the worst. Doing a quick Twitter search for “echofon firefox” confirmed my suspicions that my beloved extension had officially died.

However, something useful popped up in my search: Apparently, someone had patched Echofon and updated it to use Twitter API 1.1, which replaced the dead API 1.0. Rather than blindly run this updated extension, I took some time to do a file-by-file comparison between the patched version and the official version to make sure nothing nefarious was happening behind-the-scenes.

What I found were fairly minor modifications, and none of them appear to be malicious. Based on my findings, I decided to try the patched version for myself.

(Please note that I am not a computer security expert, so do not take this as a “seal of approval” or anything. Using 3rd-party software of any type, especially patched software, comes with piles of inherent risk.)

The tragic part about Echofon’s demise is that it ultimately comes down to some very simple code modifications:

// const TWITTER_API_URL    = "api.twitter.com/1.0/"; // old and busted
const TWITTER_API_URL    = "api.twitter.com/1.1/"; // new hotness

Without further adieu, here’s how to switch over to the patched version of Echofon.

How to install the patch

  1. Download the patched version of Echofon. The latest version of the patch appears to be “6”.
  2. In Firefox, navigate to your Extensions page. You can find this by navigating to the big Firefox menu, then selecting Add-ons. In the Add-ons window, click Extensions in the sidebar. You can also use the convenient shortcut Ctrl+Shift+A to access this menu.2013-06-12_12h46_53
  3. After navigating to the Extensions tab in the Add-on window, locate a gear icon in the top right corner. Click it and select Install Add-on From File…2013-06-12_12h48_07
  4. Locate the file you downloaded in Step 1 and open it
  5. Restart Firefox

After following those steps, you should see that Echofon for Firefox is again alive and well.

Performing your own analysis

If you want to independently check out what’s been changed in the patched version of this extension, comparing them is actually quite easy. Firefox extensions are packed as a .xpi file, which is actually just a compressed .zip folder. Just rename the file to .zip and you can extract it to your local computer.

By extracting both the patched version and the official version, I was able to use a great tool called Beyond Compare to perform a full directory comparison and analyze the modifications that were made to the extension.

Comparing the contents of the patched extension to the official extension
Comparing the contents of the patched extension to the official extension

Is there any chance of an official updated version for API 1.1?

I’d say it is very unlikely.

2013-06-12_18h16_34

The negative effects of cluttered website design

cluttered designAll too often we see websites that are difficult to navigate, read, or simply don’t make sense. In the process of looking for a trendy new look, site owners created a cluttered monster instead. There may be sliders, large photos that take too long to load, or design features that tend to muddle each page. Sure there’s the outdated site or two that’s just behind the times, but that doesn’t make their faux pas any less offensive.

As web travelers, we need user-friendly sites, links that take us to the pages they say they will, and plug-ins that don’t overlap. As for ill-designed sites, let’s hope their webmasters get a raise soon.

The Regular Offenders

Other forms of website clutter is found by way of multiple pictures, text that goes on for days, or a buggy template that doesn’t display like it should. These rookie mistakes can lead to loss of business, web traffic, or even some badmouthing on the internet. After all, how can we expect users to successfully navigate pages when the design inhibits them from doing so?

A properly functioning website should:

  • bring in new business
  • create traffic through word of mouth
  • act as a source of marketing for the company
  • inform customers
  • portray the business in a good light

A cluttered one, however, does just the opposite. Without a design that promotes company navigation, users are more likely to become frustrated or give their business to a competitor. Run-on text can also overwhelm viewers rather than inform and educate them. With an ill-planned design, it’s likely more customers are being sent away than are signing up to hear more.

These errors also hit websites where they hurt most, sometimes even questioning their services. For instance, when marketing companies or tech-savvy sites have cluttered sites, how are customers to trust whether or not they can perform their duties? If it can’t be done at home, customers may wonder whether or not it can be done at all.

De-Cluttering the Web 

Despite the many negative effects that can come from a cluttered website, it’s also just plain unappealing. No one wants to search through links and pages when there are plenty of sites that have done the work for them. To save face, bring in business, and to make the Internet a better place, remember to cut the clutter. Your viewers will thank you.