Tag Archives: internet

Free or paid online services: which should you choose?

flickr logoThere are a bunch of free services on the internet. There are services like Google Drive (formerly Docs) which is basically a free online word processor, spreadsheet app, and presentation app. There is Flickr which is a free photo sharing service. There’s Tumblr which is used for many types of sharing, but is most similar to a free blogging service.

All of these services (and many more) are great, and who doesn’t want free? Well, free isn’t always the best option.

Free support = no support

First, free usually means you are on your own if you need help. There is no 1-800 number to call for tech support. There might be an email address, but you may not get a response. If you are lucky there is a forum where other users go online to help other users who need it.

If you are paying for a service, you should be getting customer service also. There is usually an email address and/or a phone number to help when you need it. Now some place might have tiered service and give quicker responses based on your membership, but you should be getting some type of support if you are paying. For example, I use SmugMug for sharing photos and videos. This is a paid service. Not only do I love the site, but the customer service is fantastic. I usually get a response to my emails within an hour.

Lack of features

In addition to not having support free services usually come at a price of features. Many free services will offer the basics for free and when you want more you have to start paying. Some services might be thought of as a free demo or “lite” version and the full version comes with a fee. For example, you might be using a free online word processor that lets you type and save all of your documents. However, when you want to share or print a document or save in another format you have to pay. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this, but make sure you are aware of limitation before you start using a service and get hooked into it.

Free is still good

I’m not saying you shouldn’t use free services on the internet. There are a bunch of great ones out there, and I use several. For example, I use Dropbox and iCloud. Both are fantastic services and both are free. However, if I want more storage out of both services I have to start paying an annual fee (yes, there are ways to get more storage in Dropbox for free, but at some point that runs out too). If I needed to I would be happy to pay, but I know the limitations and make sure I don’t get to that point.

In the end, it is a good rule of thumb to do some research before jumping into a free service. Make sure it meets your needs. What are the limitations? Are you willing to pay a membership fee if you have to? Just remember, you get what you pay for and don’t start complaining when that free service isn’t enough.

How to reduce, remove, and block profanity online

word filterAs the Internet grows, the ability in which it’s used is constantly expanding. Teens, adults, and even kids of all ages are logging in and seeing what posts the net has to offer. Likewise, they’re sharing, sending, and commenting along for the world to see … whether or not their content is appropriate. Whether containing curse words, questionable photos, or suggestive text, in many areas of the net, there’s virtually no filter to weed out offensive messages. Users are free to post what they want, when they want, leaving the content for anyone to see.

So as a parent, teacher, or someone who just doesn’t appreciate reading the X-rated, what do you do? How do you filer out this inappropriate content?

Report It

On social media, content can easily be reported for being less than kosher. All users need to do is click the “report” button for the content to be sent into Twitter, Facebook, or alternative social media platform. Each post will then be reviewed and determined whether or not it should be taken down. Punishments are even given out to repeat offenders, such as limiting their log-on time or suspending them from a site.

Block It

For those with young Internet surfers, it may be a good idea to invest in blocking software, which doesn’t allow the use of certain websites without parent permission. Settings can be adjusted, based on desired freedom level and age, but the general idea is to keep kids from seeing anything too “advanced” for their years. Parents can purchase a program or subscribe to a monthly service.

This software is often found in schools or public libraries as well.

Scan It

web purifyA new way to look out for cursing or adult content comes by way of scanning. Companies like WebPurify work to check content directly from one’s web browser. By enabling the monthly service filer, users can avoid profanity from any corner of the web, thanks to an algorithm that constantly updates itself. With the service, users can block four-letter words, or a custom list of phrases, in multiple languages. Much similar to page-blocking software, WebPurify charges a monthly fee in order to keep one’s online searches curse-word free. However, the two differ in that scanning services place responsibility on the website owners to stop inappropriate content from reaching kids, not the parents or searchers.

No matter your approach to keeping the Internet clean, there are plenty of options to consider. Through the help of specialized software and workers who are dedicated to keeping sites safe, users of all backgrounds and ages can enjoy a more appropriate virtual space.

How much social media usage is too much?

social mediaIn a time where social media rules the Internet, it’s easy for users to become overwhelmed with the vast amount of profiles they can host. Between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, etc., where does one draw the line as to how many profiles are enough? Especially when each platform is trying so hard to draw you in. Now companies host Facebook logins, and they’re constantly tweeting information that can only be seen by card-carrying members. They’re enticing us, and it’s working.

But there does come a point when all the social media is truly overwhelming. When too much time is being spent each day just keeping up with what others are doing online. We comment, like, share, and retweet all their best post from the day. And then we have to post things too, so other people can see them. Before long, keeping up with social media becomes a part time job.

Of course, celebrities can hire others to do it for them. When their day gets too busy, some social media professional is behind the keyboard, telling everyone about their busy day. Then thousands of responses come in. But what about the layman? Those who are logging in and putting up each post the old fashioned way?

Everyday Social Media

On Parks and Recreation, social media addict Tom Haverford is arrested for wrecking while tweeting. His tweets “Gotta pass this lady on the ejkerkj.” And “Just hit a fire hydrant, but I survived. #Unbreakable #WhatsMrGlassuptothesedays? #Whynosequel?” gave him away. As punishment, the judge took away all technology. No email, no phone, no mobile devices.

Should the rest of the world see the same punishment? When overwhelmed with technology, should we cut back? Cold turkey, no more electronics until a solid break has been had?

Of course, usage is different for everyone; we all have that friend who seems to be tweeting every second of the day. But after profile upon profile has been created, even the occasional users get bogged down with social media.

There’s truly no way to say how much to too much time online; that’s up to the individual. But to avoid a scene like Tom’s, or to just keep our heads straight between Facebook and all its minions, be sure to schedule break time each day. Otherwise we may just see what the effects of too much social media can do.

Rural Internet Options are Slim, Expensive

rural internetFor those that don’t live in the heart of a metropolis, logging into the interweb may just be a timely, expensive process. Rather than free hi-speed WiFi lining the blocks, online access is hard to come by, is slow, and not all that reliable. To the majority of the population, however, this may come as a shock. When web access is so readily available, it’s hard to remember that it’s not a luxury for the entire country.

According to the FCC, 19 million Americans don’t have access to hi-speed or broadband Internet. These figures are purely location wise; the option to purchase isn’t available. For comparison, that’s the same size as the U.S.’s seven most populous cities combined: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and San Antonio. Can you imagine any of them without hi-speed Internet? Let alone all of them?

Slow to Grow

While steps are being taken to get these rural communities connected, it’s safe to say they’re going nowhere fast. Grants are being awarded for communities to dig cable or obtain broadband access, for instance, in rural Kentucky, while Internet companies themselves are slow to move forward.

In fact, many communities don’t have access to cable Internet – and never will – simply because of their population. Even in communities where cable lines are only a few miles away, companies won’t lay the extra line because there’s not enough business to be gained. To the rest of us, this seems like a no-brainer; once the work is done, there’s steady profit flowing in. But apparently, that isn’t the case.

Some rural communities are looking to broadband connections instead, which works via satellite, however this is a lot slower, inaccessible in certain weather events, and equally expensive at 1/20th of the speed. Personal satellites are also available, but are almost double the price and limit one’s usage; half of paid data has to be obtained between 2 and 8 am (though some companies’ hours differ slightly). Yet because this is many users’ only option, there are growing wait lists, depending on location.

So what will save these rural Internet users? Will enough grants finally come through to grant them online access? Or will Google Fiber upstage every current Internet provider and bring in lightening-fast Internet to those whose current option is dial-up?  Whatever the answer, it’s beyond time. Nineteen million people is just too high of a number to ignore.

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.

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.

Wi-Fi Etiquette: When is it appropriate to ask for access?

coffee mugWhen it comes to logging in online, there are a number of rules – usually unwritten ones – to follow. From where web access can be “stolen” to how long its ok to sit in a coffee shop, we’re all victims to this ever-changing trend. But because there are no set laws, it can be hard to know what’s kosher and what’s pushing your barista toward spitting in your next chai latte. To get the best of both worlds, consider the following the next time you log in.

A better option to stealing your neighbor’s Wi-Fi

Despite all the questions we may have, there are a few instances when it’s clear-cut, for instance, stealing your neighbor’s internet by hacking their password. Sure, if they leave it unprotected, that’s their loss, but when we have to resort to illegal activity, it’s best to pass.

However, secret option three can also be used; just ask your neighbors for their access code … and offer to split the bill. It may slow down the speed some, but for those with minimal net use, it’s a great budget-friendly solution.

When you’re visiting a friend, leave the password requests to a minimal. Generally hosts will offer up such info, especially long-term guests. But when checking game stats in a single evening, or wanting to Facebook after a dinner party, stick to your mobile network’s web access instead.

Public Wi-Fi

Other protocol to avoid comes into play in public. Places like the library usually offer free online access and expect nothing in return (though they may limit your time). But as for coffee shops, fast food restaurants, and cafes, that’s not the case. Customers are expected to make a purchase of some kind before hopping online.

However, if you plan on eating lunch, but want to check your email first, who says you can’t use then buy? (This isn’t a grocery store, after all.) So long as patronage of some kind takes place, it’s fair game. That means you shouldn’t re-use McDonald’s cups to look like you purchased a drink, and don’t bring in your own snacks, and especially don’t bring your own power strip and personal heater (I’ve seen it). If it’s free service you’re looking for, the library may be more your speed.

Conclusion

No matter how often we log in to Wi-Fi access points, there are a number of instances to come up each and every day. Be sure to follow these universal rules to stay online and in good terms with each router owner.

The internet is overpriced

the internetThe internet is something we all need. It’s our communication, our source of purchasing, browsing, or even our livelihood. No matter what it costs, we’ll continue to pay the fees so we can access all that is the World Wide Web in a convenient manner. Whether through computer, tablet, or smartphone, we are hooked.

But how much money is too much? Are online companies cashing in on our virtual weakness? Knowing that we need this access, they’re jacking up the speeds along with the monthly prices. But how long will we continue to pay?

In an ideal world, Google will have provided free internet to the world. While this may seem far-fetched, it’s a process that’s already begun to take place. (Google Fiber is currently only available in Kansas City, though expansions are in the plan.)

Second best-case scenario, we share internet with our neighbors, splitting the bills. (But in this case, there would be no “peak hours” to slow service down, and routers can reach all corners of the house.)

Finally, we’re left with the status quo: either paying an outrageous monthly fee, or buying a $4 coffee for a day’s worth of service. And while service is expensive either way, there’s much to be said for the convenience of having internet in your own home.

This, however, is where the companies get us good.

“Because they can”

Take a look at your most recent internet bill and its break down of fees. If you have service for a cell phone provider, chances are you’re paying a monthly “service charge” just for owning a hot spot. Averaging $20+ per month, this fee accounts for no actual internet, just the ability to access it. Other companies may charge a rental price for routers, or a maintenance charge – even if you already own the router. Additional fees can occur from overage charges, sign-up fees, cancellations fees, set-up expenses, or even when accessing at the “wrong” time of day.

Rural living generally offers up the most added fees, whether or not the area is hard to access. Because cable access or broadband isn’t readily available, these residents are subject to strict pricing options and fees. For instance, satellite internet allots a certain amount of usage, half of which can only be used during the middle of the night. Unless a night owl, that means you’re paying for twice of what you can reasonably use.

However, until we find a reasonably priced option (come on, Google, dig faster), internet providers will continue to overcharge for their services. And we will continue to pay.

ISPs vs. the cloud: Which email provider should you use?

email_featThese days, the average internet user has two options for email service: an address through his or her internet service provider (ISP) or use one of the numerous email services available on the internet (Gmail, Yahoo, iCloud, etc.). Which one should you chose? Well, there a benefits and negatives to both, and that is what this article is about.

Let’s start with reliability and service. I have used both types of email accounts, and reliability is a toss up. Companies are inevitably going to have technical issues and email will go down at some point.

What is more important is the service you get to restore your email. With an ISP account you should have access to tech support and through this support you should be able to determine if the problem is on your end or the provider’s end. If it is on your end the support tech should help resolve your issue – that is what you a paying for, after all.

However, if you are using email through a free service like Gmail, you are pretty much on your own for figuring out your problem. This is when you search the forums or call a knowledgeable friend or relative. Most of these free services do not have support. Apple’s iCloud does have support, however it is not immediate. There are email services you can pay for, if you wish, and that should give you similar, if not better, support than your ISP. If you are paying for your email provider and not getting support it might be time to move on.

The biggest reason, in my opinion, to go with an internet email service over your ISP is stability. People change internet providers all of the time. If you are using an email address from your provider, that address goes away when you cancel service. This means emailing all of your family and friends with your new address, changing login and contact information on sites that use that account, and losing any emails in that account that your do not have saved on your computer. If you use a service like Gmail or Yahoo and you change your ISP your email address does not change. It stays right where it is with your emails in tack.

Of course, if you are technically able to, you can set up your own personal email server. Then you are responsible for the reliability and you are your own tech support.

So what should you choose? That is really up to you, and the information in this guide should help you make a better decision. Just be aware that there are options out there and you can always change.

Privacy: Ghostery helps you elude online trackers in all browsers

Ghostery browser add-on
Ghostery shows you who is tracking you and let's you stop them.

Browser cookies are the black helicopters of the Internet age. Everyone seems to believe they’re only used for a secret, evil purpose.

I guess it depends on your definition of evil. Companies use cookies  to store information about Internet users. That information is coupled with other data collected via “tags, web bugs, pixels and beacons that are included on web pages in order to get an idea of your online behavior.” That idea helps them deliver ads and marketing messages to you online. Probably the biggest problem is that this is done without you knowing that you’re building a customer profile simply by reading blogs and watching videos.

Ghostery is a free browser add-on that exposes who is tracking your behavior and allows you to block them. It is available for Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer and Apple iOS. That’s right – you can use it on your iPhone.

When setting up the add-0n, it’s easiest to go with a broad brush by blocking all third-party extensions and cookies. It doesn’t seem to do any harm (depending on your definition of harm).

For example, it blocks almost all the social media sharing buttons you see on web content. So if you use them a lot to “Like” pages, tweet stories and add to social bookmarking services, you’re going to miss them. But it’s easy enough to allow the functions you want by clicking on the ghost icon at the bottom of your browser. That will bring up an info box that tells you what is blocked and lets you unblock it. You can also click through to get information on the service that is tracking your behavior.

That window also lets you temporarily turn off the blocking. Once you do that, Ghostery still identifies the trackers and gives you the same information.

One of the benefits seems to be increased browser speed. Sometimes the blocking takes time but overall pages load faster without the third-party extensions.

Another casualty is advertising. Some ads are blocked. Sometimes the space is there but no ad can be seen. Annoying pop-over ads still appear but don’t show any advertisement. I still have to close out the ad space to continue reading.

Other than that, I don’t seem to be missing any functionality, except my online banking site seems to be glitchy while Ghostery is blocking trackers. Pausing the blocks lets me do what I need to do though.

I see two problems for publishers though:

First, Ghostery can block your analytics – Google Analytics and Omniture for example. That means your stats could take a hit even if you’re only tracking traffic to pages not who is reading them.

Second, if you run a metered paywall – a limit to the number of pages that can be viewed for free – Ghostery can let readers bypass those limits since they rely on information in cookies. But it doesn’t break down paywalls that protect certain pages.

What I like about Ghostery

I don’t need a tin foil hat anymore. The add-on makes me feel invisible to all kinds of tracking. Since not all of it is evil, I have the ability to accept the services that I want to use. It’s easy to use and worth the time to install.

Ghostery
Ghostery blocks some ads from being displayed

[Download Ghostery]