Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Do's & Don'ts For Website Success!

  • Do invest in a secure online ordering system.

  • Do keep your audience in mind and create copy that personally speaks to them.

  • Do create a clear and compelling sales message.

  • Do update your site content and keep it fresh and current.

  • Do anticipate and answer your visitor's questions.

  • Do check your site to ensure all forms and links are working.

  • Do include a call to action on each page. You won't get business if you don't ask for it.

  • Do include your contact information.

  • Do offer links to programs like Acrobat Reader needed to view your site information.

  • Do choose a Web host that provides exceptional service, minimal down time, and consistent site backups.

  • Do carefully check your content for spelling and grammar mistakes. Errors are unprofessional and show a lack of attention to detail.

  • Do title each page to be search engine (and bookmark) friendly.

  • Do use a URL and domain name that accurately reflects your business or company name and is easy to remember.


  • Don't confuse your visitor with too many topics on one page. Organize information logically.

  • Don't let your site become outdated. Your credibility will disappear if you offer Mother 's Day specials just in time for Father's Day.

  • Don't include too many colors, fonts, or font sizes that distracts your visitor.

  • Don't yell at your visitor by using all capital letters.

  • Don't take your customer's privacy for granted. Create a privacy policy and stick to it.

  • Don't insult your customer by selling his information to third parties.

  • Don't ignore or delay customer requests. Return all customer inquiries promptly because you never know whom they may recommend you to even if they don't buy from you.

  • Don't add a “visitor count” to your site. No need to brag how many or show how few visit.

  • Don't include graphics that fail to add importance to your site.

  • Don't use silly clip art unless absolutely necessary.

  • Don't add unnecessary "extras" that will take a particularly long time to load.

  • Don't ignore customer complaints, just because you're on the Web doesn't mean your business won't be affected by dissatisfied customers sharing their experience with others.

Top 10 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Website

 1. Your Business is Open to the World 24/7, 365 Days a Year
Unlike your company's office that may be open from 8-5, Monday thru Friday, your company 's website is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There are many different time zones that may affect your business, which is why being on the web makes it time convenient for everyone.

2. It's Your Online Brochure / Catalog That Can Be Changed at Anytime
A website is easier, cheaper and quicker to update than print material. Its' capacities are almost limitless which allow you to provide users with more comprehensive information. This will save you money on printing and distribution costs as well.

3. Reach New Markets with a Global Audience
On the Internet, you aren't that local little business anymore. You have the potential to be seen by millions across the globe. Did you ever think your company would have the possibility of doing business around the world? Well, now you can. Without a doubt, the Internet is the most cost effective way to trade nationally and internationally.

4. Improved Customer Service
By providing answers to questions on your website, sales and information requests can be processed automatically and immediately, whether someone is in the office or not. Online forms can be used to allow customers to request quotations or ask further information. Save costs by allowing users to download invoices, proposals and important documents.

5. Present a Professional Image
For a small business, a well-designed web site is a great way of instilling confidence and looking bigger than you actually are. In this day in age, customers assume that you already have a website. By now, your primary competitors probably already have a presence on the Internet. If they do, keep up with them and find ways to make yours better.

6. Sell Your Products
Why pay expensive rent, overhead, electric bills, and all the other costs that go along with owning a bricks-n-mortar business? Selling in cyberspace is much cheaper and a good way to supplement your offline business. Providing secure online ordering is very affordable for even the smallest businesses.

7. Promote Your Services
Lawyers, doctors, financial consultants, entertainers, realtors and all service oriented businesses should let customers know that they have a choice. Millions of users are referring to the web and are using company's websites to make major decisions when they need a specialized service.

8. Gather Information and Generate Valuable Leads
You can gather information about your customers and potential customers by using forms and surveys. Rather than going out and getting leads, let them come to you. This is a great tool for prospecting targeted customers looking to use your products and services.

9. Provides Instant Gratification
People are busy and don't like to wait for information. Give them what they want, when they want it. If your product is suitable, offer them free samples or trials to download. This includes pictures, brochures, software, videos, Power Point slides, music and more.

10. Great Recruiting Tool
Whether you are looking for talent or posting job opportunities with your company, your website is a great recruiting tool for building your business.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

5 Tips for Running A Business Twitter Account

It’s no secret that Twitter can be used as a great marketing tool. Every major business, whether tech related or not, probably has a Twitter account. It has become as mainstream and essential as having a website. But as with anything, there’s a good way and a bad way to use it. Little mistakes on Twitter are a very fast way to alienate your consumer base.
This is a list of basic Dos and Don’ts to consider when using Twitter for business. The key to most of these tips is finding the right balance and of course, keeping a professional air, while you’re at it.

Getting Started

It may seem like its straightforward, but the first thing you should be sure to do is add a profile picture, biography, a relevant background, and a link to your website before publicising your Twitter account.
When you create your Twitter account, don’t follow hundreds of people to attempt to get followers. If your content is good, you’ll get noticed and people will follow you. If you’re following hundreds of people, versus having only a few followers, you’re more likely to be mistaken for a spammer. Either that, or they’ll take it as a sign of desperation to get more followers.
twitter for business

Don’t Be a Bot

Don’t flood your followers. Space out your tweets, just like you would your blog posts, so that they don’t quickly get bored with your tweets. If you’re streaming your blog posts into your Twitter account, and use a service like Twitterfeed, make sure you have it set to post in realtime rather than in bulk. Several tweets blasted out consecutively are more likely to be ignored.
Auto-anything doesn’t go down well on Twitter. Don’t auto-DM when you get new followers. People don’t expect you to thank them for following, so don’t do it.

Behind the Scenes

Use Twitter to keep your customers aware of upcoming maintenance on your site, especially if you run a community site. Don’t wait for them to ask you what’s going on.
how to write a business tweet

Acknowledge your Consumer

Retweeting positive mentions of your service or company is often appreciated, as is replying to all tweets addressed to your account in a timely manner. But like with any other tweet, space them out. Don’t fill your latest tweets with retweets alone.
how to write a business tweet
Having a Twitter account opens your company up to dealing with customer service issues in a public forum. Make sure you have the time to handle any inquiries or complaints that are addressed to your account. It’s also preferable to take the discussion into a more private space like email or online chat.
how to write a business tweet


Be personal and engaging. Don’t make people feel like your Twitter account is a bot. The more they feel like there’s a real person behind the account, the more interactive they are likely to be. Don’t turn your Twitter account into a stream for your blog posts. People can subscribe to your blog posts if that’s what they want.
Share interesting industry news about your field. Showing that you’re interested in more than just your own company will make people more likely to follow you because there getting more than they can get from your website. Twitter offers a unique medium of interaction with your consumer base so take full advantage of it.
twitter for business
And if you are running a Twitter-related service, don’t force people to auto-follow your account, and definitely don’t force them to tweet about it without their consent during the authentication process. That is the fastest way to get unfollowed and to stop people from using your service. Give them the choice. If they want to follow you, or tweet about your service, they will.
Do you have any tips or tricks for starting your own Twitter business account? Let us know in the comments.
Image credit: Rosaura Ochoa
(By) Nancy lives in Cairo, works at a publishing house, is half poet, half geek, and suffers from a heavy dose of techno-joy. You can find her on Twitter at diptychal

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tighten security on your WordPress site

Being the most popular CMS on the block comes at a price. Unfortunately, WordPress sites are the most sought after by hackers for many reasons. First, its the most used CMS and is used by millions of popular sites. Secondly, these sites are usually ranked high and generate a good amount of traffic. Lets take your site and lock it down.

1. Use SFTP or SSH

SFTP, or Secure File Transfer Protocol uses port 22 instead of the usual port 21. If you are using port 21, then your files are transfered across the internet in plain text and anyone can intercept the file and have a look. If your hosting server supports SFTP (most do), by all means use it.

SFTP provides a few security features that are important

  • FTP Password is encrypted

  • Your file transfer is encrypted

The information you transfer to your hosting server will now be encrypted, meaning, only your computer and the hosting server can read and understand the jumbled up information. It’s like a secret code now that only 2 computers understand.

Almost all FTP programs support SFTP. Personally, I use Filezilla, which is free and does a great job.

2. Change the admin account name

Before WordPress 3.0 came around, users were stuck with the default account username of admin. Changing this required going into the database using phpMyAdmin, and changing the name.

Now a fresh install of WordPress 3.0 lets you choose the administrator name by default. Change this to something other than admin. Please!!

phpmyadmin admin name change

How do we fix this?

  1. Login to phpMyAdmin

  2. Find the wp_users (or whatever your prefix is _users)

  3. Edit the  user_login field to whatever you want the new administrator user name to be

  4. Save

3. Pick a secure password

When you choose your password during installation, or post installation, make sure it is secure. I like to use a random password generator to ensure any database or user account passwords cannot be cracked. Using a mix of uppercase,  lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols would take someone a lifetime to circumvent. Make sure it is over 8 characters long.

4. Create a random cookie hash salt

How do we fix this?

  1. Go to the WordPress secret key salt generator site, and copy the generated code

  2. Open your wp-config.php file and find the 4 lines of code that begin with define('AUTH_KEY'

  3. Remove the old code, and paste your new code into the wp-config.php file

  4. Save the file on your server

5. Remove the WordPress version generator meta reference

If you open your website and view the source, you will find a tell-all of what version of WordPress you are using. This is an easy way for hackers and bots to quickly identify any vulnerbilities and take advantage to gain access.

How do we fix this?

  1. Login to your administration area.

  2. Click on the Appearance heading, and click on Editor

  3. Open the functions.php file

  4. Add the following code:  remove_action('wp_head', 'wp_generator'); somewhere in the file, and click Save.

Now when you view your homepage, you will not see the generator tag. An even easier option is to install the Secure WordPress plugin which will remove this for you without any code editing.

6. Keep up to date

Make sure your WordPress version is up to date, and all of the plugins are up to date as well.

Beginning in WordPress 2.7, a notification will show in the administration area if your version is not up to date. For WordPress, this warning will be along the header once you login. The plugins warning will show next to the Plugins menu heading. It will show a number with the number of plugin updates. Be sure to do a complete backup (files and database) before you do any upgrades!!

7. Correct wp-config

The wp-config file is what stores you database information such as login, password, table prefix, and the secret cookie salt we generated above. This would be the holy grail for hackers looking to takeover your site. Lets get you protected.

The first thing we will do is correct the permissions. WordPress.org Codes suggests a 750 file permission so that the public group cannot read it.

The second thing we will do is add some more security to our .htaccess file so that it cannot be directly edited.

You can edit the .htacces by adding the following…

<files wp-config.php> Order deny,allow deny from all </files>

If you dont already have an .htaccess file, now is the time to create one. Simply, create a file and name it htaccess.txt. Edit the file with the above code, and place it in your root directory. Bam!

One last thing we can do is move the wp-config.php file out of our root directory. WordPress allows us to move this file up one directory and into our “private” directory. That is…if your root is /sites/useracct/domainname/, we can move it to /sites/useraccount/ and we dont have to make any changes. This is a much more secure practice. Go ahead and move it out of the root directory.

That is enough WordPress security to keep you busy for today. I have more to come, so check back for Part 2 of this series, and let me know what you think so far…

Dear XP users: No IE9 for you (Listen up people, XP is dead!)

Yesterday Microsoft unveiled to the masses the beta of its new browser IE9. But this new browser won’t run on the majority of Windows systems currently out there. Is this a problem? Will it encourage XP users to upgrade?

Here’s the deal. About two-thirds of PCs out there run Windows XP. Windows XP doesn’t support the Direct2D API that IE9 uses for hardware acceleration. No Direct2D support, no IE9.

But does it matter?

Well, the first thing to bear in mind is that IE9 is currently in beta, and not the final release. Microsoft hasn’t given us a clue as to when the final release of IE9 will be. Best guess is that it will hit the download servers in April 2011, in time for Microsoft’s MIX web conference. April 2011 is a long way away (in the tech world), so it’s quite likely that Windows 7 will gain more ground during that time, while XP’s market share will continue to slide. I wouldn’t want to bet against that trend. I expect that the holiday spending orgy will result in a significant upgrade uptick.

Another point worth bearing in mind is that if you’re happy with an old OS, then chances are that you’re happy with an old browser. Or a non-Microsoft browser. There are alternatives that continue to support XP … for now.

Personally, I think that not supporting XP is a good move. Microsoft will continue to stream patches to XP for both the OS and IE until the support period expires, and if XP users want a more modern browser, then they’ve got the option to go for something else (Firefox, Chrome, Opera …). But sometimes you have to draw a line under the past to move forward, and in my opinion Microsoft’s done the right thing here.

XP is dead people, time to get used to that.

Interested in SEO???

3.14159265 Things to Consider if You are New to/Interested in SEO

This post is geared towards individuals ranging from those who are completely new to SEO (Search Engine Optimization); to those who are new to SEO but have already been looking into it in some capacity; to those who may be looking to SEO as a method to increase business revenue. If you have no idea what SEO is but you’re reading this post somehow, then start here to get a small idea of just what it is. If it’s something that interests you past that, then come on back over here and have a look!

Okay, so for those of you who are new to SEO but have been researching it in some capacity, you are undoubtedly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information out there and the seemingly innumerable conflicting personalities who appear to rule the interactive SEO landscape (blogs, forums, et al). I recall those confusing days where I would read something that seemed like great information, then read someone’s comment below with a conflicting viewpoint which also seemed like great information. The result was not knowing who I could trust, which tactics actually worked, and even second-guessing if this whole “SEO thing” held any merit whatsoever. In the past, I’ve paid money for the books, instructional packets, educational materials, et al in attempt to learn SEO “the right way,” so I’ve been down just about every route conceivable when it comes to that. My hope is to alleviate many of the uncertainties and woes I experienced for as many of you as I can. With that, I’ll begin by addressing information overload and helping you to avoid it.

Avoid Information Overload by Establishing your Goals

Put simply, information overload is what happens when you consume vast amounts of information over a considerable span of time but are no more productive or positively impacted in light of it all. For example, you know those e-books and offers that purport to teach you everything from how to supposedly make your first $1,000 online to things like learning how a 12 year-old made $40,000 in 4.9 seconds by making Google sneeze (what does that even mean, anyway)? Yeah, that’s not SEO, but there are easily tens of thousands of those types of offers and it’s easy to get distracted by them if you’re new to SEO since SEO is commonly lumped into just about every facet of Internet marketing (thus, easy to run into as you research SEO). To help you prevent or get out of information overload where SEO is concerned, you need toestablish your goals. What does that mean, exactly? Well, ask yourself this one simple question: “Why am I interested in SEO?” Try one of the following answers on for size:

A. I own my own business and I’ve heard SEO may very well help me generate new leads and earn revenue.

B. I want to make money online and I’ve heard SEO is a great way to do it.

C. I own a Web site and thought I should start paying attention to this “SEO” stuff.

D. It’s required for my job.

E. Is it lunch time yet?

Based on your answer above, provided below are my responses for helping you begin to get the most out of your SEO endeavors:

A. You’ve heard correctly. SEO is great way to help you tap into the power of the Internet to generate new leads and conversions! My recommendation for you would be to hire an Internet marketing agency to do it for you, or hire someone to do SEO in-house. Finding a trustworthy candidate is always the conundrum in this industry, but it can be easier than you may think. Try reaching out to businesses around you, businesses online who you trust, or other business owners you know and inquire about who (if anyone) they’ve used for their interactive marketing needs. From there, an agency or well-credentialed candidate will be happy to put you in touch with a current or previous client of theirs to vouch for their work. It’s the best way to override the agencies and consultants who fabricate their clientele credentials.

If you’re a business owner and want the best ROI possible in the shortest span of time, taking on SEO yourself isn’t really your best option. SEO is a very involved, ongoing process and rankings take time to happen, so you can expect a good 6-months to a year to see good results based on solid data (results are typically dependent upon how competitive your industry is online and the types of campaigns you run; i.e. if you focus on the wrong keywords or keywords with very little traffic, you can implement SEO until the cows come home but you will not see desired results). If doing SEO yourself is the only option you’re willing to consider, then refer to the answers for ‘B’ and ‘C’ below to get a feel for what you can expect. I will go into much greater detail in a later post, but the important thing to remember is that results aren’t guaranteed. There is an inherent risk to SEO that just can’t be avoided or ignored if it’s something you choose to invest in monetarily. Anyone who says otherwise may have something to sell you and it’s probably not something you want to chance.

B. There are various methods of making money using SEO as a tool (such as in correlation with niche blogging, where higher rankings are inevitably more lucrative in some capacity), but the only real way to make any substantial amount of money strictly based on the practice of SEO is to take on clients, be it through consulting, freelance, in-house, or agency work. If your head is in the clouds with thinking you’re going to become a millionaire based solely off of SEO, consider the following your reality check:

SEO takes time, focus, dedication, and creativity. It’s a very competitive space and requires talent and skill to rise to the top. You have to genuinely care about helping people succeed. The standard I’ve always held myself to is that the measure of my success is directly proportional to the success of my clients. You should at least have the capacity to adopt the very same mentality.

SEO isn’t rocket science, but to be successful with it, you can plan on learning client relation skills, Google Analytics (or StatCounter or some other traffic-tracking application), how to track rankings, keyword research, competition analysis, how to research the industries of your clients, generating reports, recommending and implementing on-site changes, building links and much more. It’s not a walk-in-the-park where you can expect to start earning money hand-over-fist. If you’re interested in that, the better journey for you may be affiliate marketing(where you will still dabble in SEO, but not make money based solely on the practice of SEO). I will delve into most of what it takes to successfully run a business based on SEO in an upcoming post where I will detail all the little facets I mentioned above and then some.

C. The journey of SEO for someone with a Web site that has no business model or revenue stream is much more lax. A good example ismy Microsoft blog (shameless plug, I know — but it really is a good example). Although I have Google AdSense (a free ad program Google offers where they pay you for clicks and impressions (views) on relevant ads you place on your site) integrated into it, the prime reason for the blog is solely base on hobby and passion. Since most of my traffic for that blog is referral- and direct-based (referral-based means the traffic comes from a source other than search engines, like from a Web site, Twitter, an email, etc. and direct-based means someone comes to my site either manually by typing it into the address bar in their browser or by a bookmarked favorite they have to my site), I don’t put too much effort at all into SEO for it.

If your site is a hobby, then your attitude with regards to SEO can be casual. If you’re looking to be popular, all you really need to do is focus on generating solid, unique content that people enjoy. Arguably the quickest way to the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) is by gaining popularity through others linking to you. Search engines like to see links to you; they’re like votes for your site. I will be providing plenty of resources for you below to start learning good SEO, but what you decide to put into practice (and when) is solely up to you.

D. There are too many variables for me to consider here in writing, but regardless of exactly why SEO is needed for your job, stay tuned for the next section as I will be providing all the resources you need to get up-to-speed on SEO. I would be happy to answer a particular question you may have in the mean time if you have one!

E. Mmm, cupcakes for dessert…

The Fast Track to a Solid SEO Foundation

Since the aforementioned section grew much larger than I initially intended, I will keep this section short and sweet. Everything to follow is self-explanatory:

Guides: The following two guides alone easily tackle just about every facet of SEO that you would ever really put into practice. Google’s SEO guide is relatively concise while SEOmoz’s guide is very, very thorough and extensive. Remember what I said about information overload? Just*trust me* when I say to stick to these two guides first before digging deeper. You will experience a TON of interference from people claiming everything from “some of this is outdated information” to “this guide is much more comprehensive.” While that may be the case, I’m attempting to make establishing a solid foundation with SEO as straight-forward (and free) as possible for you.

1 - Google’s Starter Guide to Search Engine Optimization

2 - SEOmoz’s Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Sites and Blogs: While you’re building a solid foundation of SEO based on the information provided above, you will undoubtedly have questions and desire to participate on SEO-related sites. While there are a ton of credible resources out there and I always encourage your participation and inquisition here, I’m going to hold firm to the prevention of information overload and provide you with a select few that you can actively participate on.

1 - SEO Whistleblower (Of course!)

2 - SEOmoz Blog

3 - SEOBook

4 - Search Engine Watch (This blog is more in relation to search engine news in general, but you can’t care fully about SEO if you don’t care in part about the first two-thirds of the acronym!)

As I said, there are a ridiculous number of sources and communities to get involved with, but I’m just trying to provide a fast track to an initial foundation. Trust me when I say that SEO never runs out of new ideas or new resources for you to discover. In a later post, I will detail a whole plethora of resources for you, but the goal right now is to prevent information overload.

Video: I want to provide you with the YouTube channels of two stellar SEO personalities. The first is Matt Cutts from Google. He shows you how to play it safe where Google is concerned with SEO. The second is Wil Reynolds. Wil is one of my favorite SEOs around. Wil’s passion for — and creativity with — SEO are self-evident to the point of true inspiration. If you don’t get excited or drawn in while watching Wil, then SEO may not be for you!

1 - Google Webmaster Help with Matt Cutts

2 - Wil Reynolds from Seer Interactive

Consequences of Shady SEO: What to Avoid

If you’re new to SEO to the extent that the information provided above is useful, you don’t really need to concern yourself with consequences for the moment. Many of them will be addressed throughout the guides I provided and in Matt Cutts’ YouTube videos. Just be aware that when you veer from the path of white hat SEO (there are white hat (good) and black hat (bad) methods of SEO) and ethical decisions, you could be putting your site at risk for getting blacklisted. The worst punishment you can receive, being banned/blacklisted from a search engine is when your site will not show up for *anything*. A good rule of thumb to avoid penalties or banishment is to not implement anything that claims to to be black hat or claims to shortcut, circumnavigate, or cheat Google’s ranking system. People do find methods of doing such things and even the whitest of white hat SEOs have tried a thing or two (which you probably will at some point, too), but *never* try experimentation with a client or a site that truly matters to you or anyone you may be doing SEO for. Curiosity and creativity are part of the game, so just be aware that if you even so much as walk the fine line between white hat and black hat, make sure it’s not at the expense of your client(s). I will clarify many black hat practices in an upcoming post soon, so for the moment, just be aware that should you err, make sure it’s on the side of caution.


I hope you have found this post to be helpful and informative. As you can see, what I had intended to be a fairly concise article ended up turning into a massive post! While I covered a few bases, I intentionally didn’t account for or clarify every single variable with SEO. Feel free to contribute your questions or thoughts below and I will be happy to respond as necessary. In the coming weeks, I will be stepping into more advanced SEO concepts, tips, tricks, and more, so take your time going through the content and links I’ve provided while keeping abreast of what I post here as well.

Again, please, please, please do not hesitate to ask questions if you have them. SEO is a very confusing and convoluted topic when you first get into it, so don’t feel like a question you may have is too simple or “stupid.” I’m here to help however I can, so fire away.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what in the world 3.14159265 in the post title has to do with the price of tea in China, well; 3.14159265 is Pi (extended out to a random decimal place) and I merely placed it there to poke fun at the easy-to-digest post titles that fill the Internet today; e.g. “12 Insane Ways to Count to One!” or “7 Unbelievable Things You Have to Believe to See not to Believe yet STILL Believe! UNBELIEVABLE!” Maybe I’m the only one who finds this amusing. It wouldn’t be the first time. =)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ethics of Code


Remedial Comics

I am not a programmer. I have, however, worked closely with them over the years in my role as a system administrator. In a properly constructed development environment, there is a fairly standard process for writing applications and putting them into production:

  1. Write and test code locally on development workstation/server.

  2. Submit code to version management system.

  3. Deploy code to staging environment.

  4. QA testing in staging environment.

  5. Return to step 1 to squash bugs detected in step 4.

  6. Deploy code to production server.

  7. Final QA testing. Any show-stopping bugs at this point send the process back to step 1.

Unfortunately the development process in a very small startup company may end up cutting corners because they cannot afford a separate staging environment or experienced QA testers that can find issues and debug the code. There may not even be a proper version control system in place to keep track of what went wrong and which build of the software the problem occurred.

It’s understandable that small startup firms can’t afford to pay for a good process that controls quality; all too often, however, these bad practices are carried forward even when they finally can afford it. It may eventually affect their business financially if they don’t manage to get control of their code and maintain standards. Some companies do learn; they hire the right people and build the right environment to facilitate good development practices. Others do not, and they spend the entirety of their existence getting bug reports from users and playing catch-up with system patches.

Larger software development companies–such as Microsoft, Oracle, Adobe–stick to established coding practices and launch their software when they feel it is stable enough to go to market. Of course, this isn’t always the case. Microsoft had an embarassing experience with the launch of Windows Vista; it was slow, bloated and buggy. It was an unpolished product and it showed. In comparison, their launch of Windows 7 was dramatically better, with a much more stable, mature product.

Many software publishers also provide early beta testing programs so that customers can try out the new software before it’s ready to ship in exchange for their participation in bug testing and reporting. This can be both good and bad–the technically savvy users usually know what went wrong and can help determine the cause of a bug. The technically unsavvy people, however, may be unable to provide any more information than “it locked up”. Anyone who has done help desk work knows what I’m talking about. And if you think I’m kidding, take a look at Not Always Right.

There is a darker side to this practice, however. All too often there have been customer complaints about companies that knowingly and deliberately release unfinished, inadequately tested software so they can get free beta testing from their customers. The most egregious offenders of this practice are MMO game publishers. I am not going to go into detail of which MMO publishers did this. I will, however, provide links to articles with examples of developer issues.

To be fair, one of the most frustrating aspects of publishing and running an MMO game world is supporting it. You need to have a distributed server farm, you need service people to administer customer help in-game, you need to police out the spammers and bots. Some publishing companies work in conjunction with a MMO management company like NCsoft or Turbine, providing the software while the management company handles the day-to-day aspect.

There’s also the aspect of deadlines and shopping seasons. If you’re publishing a software package that could make or break your company and you miss the Christmas shopping season, you could find yourself out of business by January. Many publishers take the risk of pushing out an unfinished product with promises that the rest will be delivered “real soon”.

The problem with these issues is that the customer is the one that ends up paying. Collectively, people are paying billions of dollars to be unpaid beta testers. They are paying for the “privilege” of being saddled with unfinished and sometimes unusable software because the developer either couldn’t afford to meet their deadline, or deliberately rushed to release in order to save money and make the user pay to be their tester.

Personally, unless it is stated up front that I am going to be compensated in some way for my efforts of providing free QA and testing to the software developer, there is no way I am going to pay for an unfinished, buggy application that wasn’t ready for market.

It doesn’t look like there are any real solutions to this dilemma. Software publishers have no financial incentive to improve their development/release practices if releasing software early saves them a boatload of cash. And there will always be people willing to pay through the nose for an early release of software even knowing that it might not be functional enough to use.

The real solution for customers, however, is to hit the developers where it hurts the most: in the wallet. Don’t buy those unfinished applications. Don’t pay to be someone else’s guinea pig. Unless a software publisher offers you discounts, free addons or services, there is no reason why you should give of your own time and effort.

A software developer that has an open beta test period where customers are given free access to use the software and services in exchange for testing is doing it the right way. You’ll get more evangelists for your product if you treat these early adopters with respect instead of looking at them as free labor.

Ethics of Coding

Monday, September 13, 2010

Apple lets in Java and Flash; should Android be worried?

Temperatures dropped about 30 degrees in Hades this morning when Apple announced they were relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps. They will also be allowing 3rd party advertisers such as AdMob, but not analytics software such as Flurry.

The changes bring iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch development a bit closer to the laissez-faire policies of Google’s Android Market. Though the latter still does not require any kind of review or approval process before developers can upload new programs, Google can and does sometimes remove apps after the fact if its policies are violated.

The new policy removes another self-imposed roadblock that Apple had built in the way of developers hoping to support the popular iOS platform. In the final analysis, though, it’s unlikely to have much effect on the competition between Android and iOS. Why? Because developers, while vocal and opinionated, are very pragmatic. They go where the audience is. The main thing that will determine which platform gets the most attention from developers is which platform gets the most attention from the consumers that buy the phones and tablets that host it. And consumers don’t care whether or not apps are written in Objective-C, Java, or Moo. They care about price, selection, and network quality.

You and I, though, we care about the technical bits and the nitty gritty details, right? So without further ado, let’s dive right in.