Is This Future Shock?

general wibble from a retired technologist

Archive for 2008

Websites, blogs and content management

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Cromarty CG

Please, can we have a website?

How many of us get questions like that?

I did, and the Cromarty Coastguard website was the result.

So, the answer was “Yes”.

Recently, my local Coastguard Team decided they wanted to get a quick team website off the ground. Most of the team are happy with the internet for searching for technical information, they all use email, but they’re not really content providers of any sort.

They seemed astonished when I said that they could have a website, with their own domain name within a day or so. They were then a bit surprised by the number of questions

What’s your website for…

Usually the first thing you should decide.
Are you:

  • providing a service
  • sharing information
  • building your brand with it
  • selling something
  • or just learning HTML/CSS

We wanted an information site, which would highlight the work we do for potential new members, and provide some easy reference material.

Who’s going to manage this?

The idea was, “Oh, the team’ll do it”. I’ve heard this before, so wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to provide content. I’ve offered to help admin things, but I expect the Station Officer will take a lead.

What’s it going to run on?

It’s a tiny wee website; I’m not expecting huge traffic. I expect regular changes as we respond to incidents and do training exercises. I thought I’d better get a content management system(CMS) . I’d heard about Joomla and Drupal… but I’d also read about using WordPress as a CMS. I blog with it, so am familiar with it. I’d been thinking about moving a couple of other hobby sites onto WordPress, so this was an ideal opportunity.

So, our website runs on WordPress.com, with its own domain name. I’ll watch the stats with interest, and see how many members author content for it – and look for any links for other coastguard sites.

From request to up took 2 days; much of which was finding content and getting the domain name up on WordPress.com. I’d certainly use WordPress again for a hobby/small site.

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Written by SteveEllwood

November 25th, 2008 at 10:36 am

Giving customers what they want

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or, are we dinosaurs?

@jobsworth has written another thought provoking post on the customer’s voice and choice, and I commend it to everyone.

We need to be in the business of providing the customer what she wants when she wants it, where she wants it, how she wants it. We need to focus on making things that the customer wants to buy, rather than trying to get customers to pay for things they neither want nor need.

There was a time when we could decide for the customer. There was a time when we could constrain the customer’s voice and choice. There was a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

via Faster horses in the age of co-creation

I think it’s fair to say that we need to know what business we’re in, and what we can sell to our customers – and in these turbulent financial times – what we can sell that will bring us cash in, and provide us some margin for our business.

If we can’t bring in cash quickly, and make margin on what we’re selling, then we need to walk away quickly from that opportunity and fix what we do.

Otherwise, we’ll sell the customer what they want, but what we can’t afford.

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Image Credit: whizchickenonabun

Written by SteveEllwood

November 11th, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Posted in customer service,JP

Even Demos says allow Facebook at work

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Facebook, Inc.

Image via Wikipedia

In an article on use of social networking sites reported on the BBC, a Demos report states that firms should allow the use of these sites at work.

“Banning Facebook and the like goes against the grain of how people want to interact. Often people are friends with colleagues through these networks and it is how some develop their relationships.”

When even the BBC and Demos are picking up issues @jobsworth was blogging about last year in Facebook and enfranchisement you figure this must be going mainstream.

Now, as long as companies can hold their nerve and not retreat into the comfort zones of “retrench/forbid/ban” – and revert to centralised command & control, maybe some of the innovation at the edges, and the contacts people build will help us get through the recession; if not, at least it will give their people some more human contact and stability in difficult times.

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Written by SteveEllwood

October 29th, 2008 at 9:08 am

Keep up with your social network as the crunch comes

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Everyone needs friends and contacts

While we find our way through the next year or two, there are going to be many changes. Orders get cancelled, expenditure is cut, and jobs will go.

If your circumstances change

Change brings opportunity, so accept it is inevitable, and look forward to what it will bring.

Your network is key to finding opportunities, so keep up with your network.

If you stay as you are

You’ll be fortunate, and unusual, but your friends and contacts will need you.

You may be key to them finding opportunity, so keep up with your network.

Change brings uncertainty

In the midst of change, people look for stability. Your tweet, blog post, IM or phone call might be the touch of normality people look for. Don’t stop being a social creature. Keep up with your network.

I was so tempted to have as the previous paragraph:

“Uncertainty brings doubt.
Doubt brings fear
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate . Hate leads to suffering.”

but I thought leading with Yoda

might be a bit much.

Image Credits: Litandmore &
bbaltimore

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Written by SteveEllwood

October 21st, 2008 at 3:48 pm

Social Networking fixed my heating!

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I started to write this post in the summer, when someone asked me about social networking. As the weather turned cold, and the heating came on, it’s given me the impetus to publish it.

They were quite dismissive.
“I haven’t time for all that nonsense. What on earth do you waste your time with that for?”

Occasionally, I have trouble articulating what I like about social networking, but on this occasion I came up with a couple of examples.

  • As a homeworker, it replaces the chat over the desk, or round the watercooler/coffee machine.
  • As an inquisitive guy, it opens windows on new things to learn – from some really bright people in a range of industries… including in my own company.

I then had the bright idea of saying “Of course, it was social networking that fixed my heating…”.

When asked, I said I was leaving the pub after a pint, when I met my neighbour. We were chatting about how things were going, and I said my biggest problem was finding a central heating engineer who could cope with an old solid fuel system. He asked the symptoms, and said he was a boiler technician. I expected a punt for a job, but he said “Ach, it’s no your heating. It’s a jammed radiator valve or two; that’s easy to fix”. We had another beer, and I thought no more about it.

The following day, I was in the garden, fixing a light, and he asked if he could pop in. Less than 10 minutes later, he’d fixed what I thought was a heating problem. No, I didn’t pay for the advice; yes, I did buy him another beer.

Social networking isn’t about the tools or technologies. It’s about the connections you make, and what you do with them.

Remember your real world social networking, too…

Image Credit: Coreyu

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Written by SteveEllwood

October 8th, 2008 at 10:06 am

The URI is the Thing (TUITT)

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TUITT

Paul Downey – also known as @psd – has done another one of his pen & ink masterpieces conveying the importance of the URI.

I’ll admit to my shame, than it wan’t until I started reading some of Paul’s stuff on Web APIs that I even realised what URIs were.

Of course, I soon learned how to identify a Cool URI thanks to Tim Berners-Lee

This shows shows the perils of ignoring the virtues of the URI…

You can get a clean high-resolution PDF from archive.org, and see the annotated copy at Flickr

read more | digg story

Image Credit: psd
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Written by SteveEllwood

October 7th, 2008 at 11:44 am

Highland sunset over the Cromarty Firth

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Posted by email from steveellwood’s posterous

Brilliant sunshine on an autumn evening…

Written by SteveEllwood

October 5th, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Posted in Highlands

How to change someone's view with customer service

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logo

I have a house with 4 dogs running about the place; now while I love them dearly, they do leave hair and sand everywhere. You need a good vacuum cleaner.

Following some recommendations on an internal newsgroup, I winced and bought a Mìele Cat & Dog TT550. They aren’t cheap. But wow, they work really, really well.

Over the last year or so, the vacuum hose started developing kinks. As you moved across the room, suddenly the suction would cut off. I duct taped the biggest kink point. Helpfully, it then started kinking elsewhere. I tried to find a spares supplier and couldn’t identify the part I needed.

Last night inspiration struck. I guessed the website as miele.co.uk – it was – and found an awful web contact form there. Raised my concern and sighed as I saw “We aim to reply within 72 hours”.

They replied by a personalised email within 30 minutes, and told me to ring the service department, giving me the right number to ring. I rang this morning; an easy call gate “Press 1 for vacuum parts”, and I was talking to a helpful named individual. “Yes, this type of failure is unusual. Your vacuum serial number was sent into the retail chain a little over 2 years ago, so you may well have had it less than 2 years. Give me your address, I’ll send you a free replacement hose.”

The vacuum is great. I liked the service attitude and response even better. Would I recommend a Mìele vacuum? I just have.

Written by SteveEllwood

September 17th, 2008 at 10:58 am

Is Yammer really a Twitter in the Enterprise?

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scales

I don’t think it is.

Having seen a posting from @pistachio about Yammer, I wittered on our internal blogging sytem about this – and was astonished and delighted to get a ping from @richarddennison saying there was a BT group on yammer.

I joined it. Nice sign up, requires a corporate address, a confirmatory email is sent to the address. There’s a nice web interface, and a cute little AIR desktop client.

There’s a familiar ability to follow people, see “All” – basically a corporate public timeline, and  an in-built tagging and search facility.

I really quite like it.

But – and there’s always going to be a but – their monetisation model seems to be that you can have a network free; it’ll cost you $1 per person, per month if you want to admin it.

That includes removing people, setting session details, branding. Note, some later experimentation confirms that any member of the network can block another by going to the admin section and saying the user is no longer part of the network. This forces a reconfirmation of the email address; if the blocked individual no longer  has an email address then they won’t get back in. That addressed one of my larger concerns.

I don’t anticipate a huge signup from within BT. Say 100k employees, 2% signed up… that would require $24k a year; and a huge control overhead, given that there’s free signup. As we have people retire, leave for other contracts they’d all need to be excluded.

We have some internal tools, that link to our HR system (so low admin costs for us) which might be easier, though the interface isn’t as fancy.

I’d add that I miss the “broad church” of Twitter. I wish it luck, but I don’t see it taking over my microblogging.  It may, perhaps, give people new to blogging/microblogging a quasi-safe environment to try in. I think if it gets taken up for that we’ll need to remind folk that it isn’t really a controlled environment.

Of course, the easy sign up process means that anyone with a domain could use it. I could set up an Ellwood Family group.  But why wouldn’t I use Twitter instead, where I can choose to follow my family – and whoever else I’m interested in?

Image Credit: action datsun
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Written by SteveEllwood

September 16th, 2008 at 9:36 am

Posted in blogging,Twitter

Personal branding and blogging

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Sherlock Holmes

… or what happened to ShaiDorsai?

Following a personal branding/social media engagement post on Richard’s blog, I thought “Yes, fair, I ought to make it plainer who I am, and take more open ownership of my opinions”.

Another guy whose blog I read (actually, I take an RSS feed but that’s another matter), and whose posts I admire is Chris Brogan. He’s written a whole series of post, including Elements of a Personal Brand:

Build a Destination

This comes first in giving people a way to reach you, to see you, to know what you’re about. In this case, I mean giving people a website (preferably a blog), a phone number, an email account, a twitter account, a LinkedIN profile, and a Facebook profile. At minimum.

Now, I had the last 3 in my name, so it seemed churlish not to provide a recognisable blog and email address…

Get your blog a domain name

Now, I started *this blog* on WordPress.com, as it was easy – but the wordpress.com suffix takes away from my identity…

I use 1and1.co.uk, amongst others, for domain names and I ordered steveellwood.com from there. It’s about £11 a year. Initially, I just had a frame forward to my blog, but then decided I’d rather do it *properly*. I followed the instructions at the WordPress FAQ – after a moment’s hesitation, as you can’t pay for the domain upgrade until you have pointed your domain at the WordPress nameservers. That came at a cost of $10 a year.

Sort out your email

In line with WordPress’s suggestion, I used Google Apps for Your Domain to sort this out, again there are easy Google Mail configuration instructions. [It’s probably easier if you don’t already use GoogleApps – but if you do, you can find your configuration code at https://www.google.com/a/cpanel/YourDomainName/VerifyOwnership]

So, I can now be contacted at my domain, too. Currently I forward mail to another account, but can always find it through Google Apps email.

Why not self-host?

I have another blog (at http://shaidorsai.co.uk) which I self hosted, so I could learn about WordPress, and I may even do that at sometime.

Until then, it’s easy to use WordPress.com, and since *I* own the domain this blog now sits under I could easily point it to a self-host if I want – and WordPress.com makes it easy to export your blog to ease the transition…

Image Credit: gregwake

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Written by SteveEllwood

August 26th, 2008 at 6:56 pm