Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Websites in hard times

This is a happy story, at least for one business and hopefully for the other. Talking to a local business owner today and he was all doom and gloom about the economy, business - "I've been in business for 30 years and I'm proping this company up with half my house (mortgage!), grumble, grumble and I'm just not getting any new business, grumble, grumble, recession." Funny thing is this guy (names are protected) is obviously an optimist or he wouldn't be in business, he's a practical fellow with a can-do attitude.

Down the road another fellow, in the same line of work is going gangbusters. 2 years ago the two companies were equally profitable and the owners are good friends. Now one has as much work as he can handle and the other is dispairing. Whats the difference - you guessed it - a website!

The fellow with as much work as he can handle has a website bringing in business for him and the other guy . . . no website. Thats about to change.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Why does my website look different on my Mums computer?

Mum may have an older computer than you or she may have a state of the art modern computer with all kinds of fancy bells and whistles. Either way chances are your website will look different when you view it on her computer.

Heres some background on why. . . .

Did you know that you can set-up your browser to display things the way you prefer them to be displayed?
At times it may not seem so, but you have control, you are in charge and you can set how you experience the internet - you, the end user or website visitor - control your own experience of the internet. Even if you adhere to the defaults set-up when your computer was delivered there will be enormous variation in

  • How your monitor renders text
  • How your monitor renders colour

You can also choose to:

  • Set minimum font sizes so all the text on websites displays bigger
  • Use an older browser like IE6 or IE5.5 both of which veer widely away from the world wide web standards in the way they render pages
  • Use a Mac or a PCAdjust your monitor colours to suit yourself
  • Turn off images and navigate/use a website in text only mode

The resolution settings of your monitor can also affect the display. Common settings are 800, 1024 or 1280 pixels wide, but there are many other options and your site may end up scrunched together or spread out, depending on Mums setting.

But the Font's different and I want it the same - can't you FIX it!
Different computers use different fonts and sets of fonts. Macintoshes have different fonts to PCs'. Some fonts are universal most are not. For example many people use Verdana , thinking it universal, most PCs' come with Verdana but older Macintosh computers did not!

What we do
We set fonts up in families or groups so if the first font in the family is not available on your visitors computer then the browser will look for the next one in line. i.e. a common font style for us to set up is: font-family: verdana, helvetica, arial, sans-serif - here we are telling the browser or computer to use Verdana if its available, otherwise try Helvetica and then Arial finally if none of the others are available just display the text in any sans-serif font.

We use standard fonts like Verdana or Arial whenever possible to ensure we get the most consistent result for your website.

If your Mum has a stoneage PC she may not have Verdana and no Helvetica ... your website may start to look quite different. For websites where this is important we can make special allowances for the huge variety in monitors/computers etc.

What about the difference in colour?
A tiny minority of older computers can only display 256 different colours - if Mum has an old computer that cannot display millions of colours then your website colours will morph to what the browser thinks is a good approximation of your colours and the results are sometimes aweful. More likely the difference is because your Mum has a different monitor (LCD vs CRT) or her monitor settings need adjusting.

Perhaps she is using a Mac, in which case the colours are reproduced slightly differently between a Macintosh and a PC.

What we do
Where possible we choose from the 216-colour web-safe palette for our colours Use white or black for the main content areaAccept that a minority of people may get a compromised experience of the site design

What else do we do?
We make the text on your website resizable so maybe Mum has taken advantage of this and has made the text bigger on your website - so she can read it!
Mum may be smarter than you (I know mine is!) and have changed her settings - theres a setting on her browser (and yours) that makes all the text on websites bigger. This makes her life easier but your website looks different.

So while your website may look different on different computers - we design to look great on them all.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Squeeze pages raise questions about ethics and blindness

remember the song "Mama's got a squeeze box, Daddy never sleeps at night" ? - the kids don't eat and the dog can't sleep!

Well now theres the Squeezepage! Squeeze pages are landing pages created to solicit opt-in email addresses from prospective subscribers. The goal of the page is to obtain the visitors email address.

Hyperlinks and navigation are almost always absent from squeeze pages - anything which distracts the visitor is avioded. Anything that takes the visitor away from this page is avoided - total focus is on obtaining that email address.

The method used for obtaining that elusive email address is to offer you something for free - information, access to content, secret passwords, whatever to give up your email and possibly get additional information.

I have seen many of these squeeze pages on the web and only this week found out what they are called which raises the question how do you find out about a trend or idea that you can observe and have no name for. Without a name the trend becomes blind to us - we can't search for it on Google. To not have the words to search for a trend or idea on Google ... now thats a scary thought!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Why do we specialise in .NET development and how does that affect you?

To look at where we are today I need to take you back 8 years to decisions made in 2000 and the consequences there from.

My first major web development application was in the planning stages and coming from the corporate background that I did it was obvious to me that the critical issue was our data. How we managed it, how the database would scale, how easy it would be to manage etc etc. After much research and despite the higher install cost it was apparent that Microsoft SQL Server 2000 was the answer for the database I had designed - a database that would be processing millions of transactions in a day. The logical programming language to accompany that was ASP, at that time in its classic form.

Having made the decision on what database to use the remainder of my technology decisions were easy to make and I have never regretted specialising early. We occasionally look at other technologies such as Ruby on Rails, php, J2EE and Javascript. The only one we have integrated into our existing Microsoft platform is Javascript, largely because it is a clientside script technology and functions alongside ASP.NET rather than replacing it.

The ASP.NET platform has evolved to be responsive, powerful, easy and fun to code. We now have software running under .NET 1.1, .NET 2.0 and .NET 3.0 - our software is robust and our server platform is stable.

We specialise in .NET development so that we may offer you a scalable, enterprise level database along with quick, feature rich, robust software.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

A domain name you can trust

Trust is an increasingly important issue on the internet and one of the trust factors for users is the domain name of the website they are visiting. Internet users choose local domain names over .com addresses.

A survey of British Internet users showed they are six times more likely to choose a .uk rather than .com address when looking for information via an Internet search engine. 62% believe a .uk address suggests a company is local or more relevant than a .com, and 32% believe that it is important for international companies to have local domain names in order to attract local customers. 72% said they would visit a .uk web address above any other and only 5% of respondents would try the .com.

How does this translate for New Zealand companies?
Well if you are doing business in NZ than you will be more successful within the NZ market with a .nz domain name. New Zealand internet users experience a higher degree of trust when they are on a local - .co.nz, website, which means having a .co.nz domain name is essential for doing business in New Zealand.

For companies exporting you need to consider 3 things
  1. Having a .nz domain name avoids the anti-US feeling in some markets
  2. Having a .com domain name is essential for the US market
  3. You could take out domain names in all your major markets .uk etc

You can get a domain name for each of your local markets because your web designer can point ALL your domain names at the same website.

The implication for New Zealand businesses trading in overseas markets is obvious. Having a local domain name is important in building a higher level of trust in your products and services. We have seen this in the Australian market, where .com.au domains perform better than .co.nz domains.
If your market is the UK and your company is based in NZ you would typically have two domain names yourcompany.co.uk and yourcompany.co.nz .You can have as many domain names as your wallet and your imagination allow.

See my previous post for more on how domain names are structured and check if you have the correct one for your business.

Have You Got the Right Domain Name?

Domain name, web address, URL, they all refer to the same thing - it's the way people find your company on the internet. Just as homes and offices have a street address, so your website has a web address.

Your web address or domain name typically has several levels, separated by a dot. The right-most level is known as the top-level domain and is often represented by a country code, such as .nz. Within .nz, a range of second-level domains have been created for specific uses (eg. .co.nz for commercial users and .school.nz for schools). Some second-level domains are subject to moderation and have a restricted usage (eg. .govt.nz). Using Spiral as an example we see:
* third-level domain = spiral
* second-level domain = co
* top-level domain = nz


Third-level domains are managed in New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom on a 'first come, first served basis'. Australian domains are available only to registered Australian businesses, companies or ABN holders

How do I choose a domain name?
1. Choose the top-level domain based on your market and possibly your location

2. Choose the second-level domain based on your activities

  • .co or .com for companies pursuing commercial aims
  • .org for non-profit organisations
  • .net for organisations directly related to the NZ Internet
  • .school for pre-school, primary and secondary schools
  • .maori for Māori people, groups, and organisations
  • .ac for tertiary educational institutions

3. Choose a third level domain based on one or all of the following

  • your company name eg spiral.co.nz
  • the name of your product eg wondercap.co.nz
  • an easy to remember abbreviation eg nzrab.org.nz
  • something made up and memorable eg Ilovemydog.co.nz any combination of letters and numbers. You may also include a hyphen anywhere in the string, except the beginning or end.

What about the www?
The fourth-level domain is also known as a sub-domain and typically we see www as the sub-domain, as in

http://www.spiral.co.nz/ . A sub-domain might be set up for something like a forum or another major section to a website i.e. our mailRoom software website is http://www.mailroom.co.nz/ and the address for the application is http://email.mailroom.co.nz/ - no www necessary.

Other factors around trust will be in my next post.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

What is a SQL inject?

A SQL Inject is akin to the worst kind of tagging and is yet another way that hackers make all our lives uncomfortable for no apparent gain to themselves!

A SQL injection attack - and I say attack because it is essentially an attack - consists of injecting (or inserting) an SQL query into the input field on a web application. An attacker can inject SQL commands into input fields, which may then execute against a database leading to database corruption or code execution on the server. These attacks are usually automated.

SQL injection is very common with PHP and ASP applications due to the prevalence of older functional interfaces. The newer programmatic interfaces available, such as J2EE and ASP.NET applications are less likely to have easily exploited SQL injections.

We consider SQL injection attacks to have a high impact on our clients websites and treat them seriously.

How we avoid SQL injection vulnerabilities
All our second generation Nautilus websites have been developed using .NET 2.0 and we avoid SQL inject attacks through the careful use of parameterised stored procedures.

Our older Nautilus websites are vulnerable and we are in the process of retrofitting these websites to repel attacks.

Microsoft Security Advisory article (954462) reported on June 25th 2008 that Microsoft is aware of the recent escalation in these attacks targeting websites that use Microsoft ASP and ASP.NET.

We are currently looking at further ways to secure our server with outside software that may
1. Scan for vulnerabilities
2. Provide protection for all websiteson our server

We'll let you know how we get on.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Advice for people planning their first web presence

The single most important question you can ask and answer before you begin your web project is

Why are we doing this is?

If you can answer this question and be clear on what outcomes you expect from the website then you can measure the success of your website. Ultimitely the success of your website comes down to the bottom line, however you measure it.


Friday, January 25, 2008

I was in a time warp

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting a gentleman with an extensive stock of weird and interesting items for sale.

In a solidly build warehouse , the company has been accumulating items since it was formed in the 1930's. Founded on old fashioned principles such as value, customer service and providing items to customers that would endure rather than what is cheapest on the day, this company has items that are no longer manufactured. These items are the last of their kind available in New Zealand and I wonder if they are the only remaining ones in the world?

How does one even begin to sell from this type of stock list?
Firstly not all the items are ancient. There is a huge stock of speciality items that there would be a small demand for, the trick is to reach a larger market to increase that demand and so voilà a website becomes the perfect tool to reach that market, especially coupled with extensive optimisation or an adwords programme.

What about the oddities?
The one-offs, the end of lines that are never to be repeated, the items so old and so unique as to almost be classed as antiques? An online auction site would seem to be the answer here. What will the market bear? An auction is the ideal place to sell speciality items and to test the market on everyday items.

I hope we get the job of helping this gentleman move his stock. I'm sure there will never be a dull day exploring in that warehouse!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008