Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Anatomy of a Hyperlink

Heres the breakdown of a hypertext link for all our Nautilus CMS users that anyone creating hyperlinks will find useful.

4 Parts to a Link
The 4 components of a link are
  1. The A href tag which tells the browser that the following text or image is a link to somewhere else on the web. It has an opening section and a closing section. 
  2. The web address where you put the address on the web you want the link to go to. This could be in your own website or some other place on the web such as a:
    • webpage
    • blog
    • facebook page
    • twitter entry
  3. The title of the link which gives the visitor information about the link. The title will display when the mouse hovers over the anchor text
  4. The anchor text is the clickable part of the link which is displayed for your visitor.  Search engines also use this anchor text.
Link Example
This link to the Spiral website shows each component of a hypertext link.

Inserting Links for Users of Nautilus
If you are using our content management software, Nautilus, then you can easily add a link as follows
  1. Select the destination for your link, in this case its the mailroom free trial sign up page http://www.mailroom.co.nz/signUp2.aspx
  2. Select the anchor text on the page you are editing and click on the link icon
  3. When the link dialogue box opens, insert the destination address in the URL input space
  4. Enter your title for this link by selecting the advanced tag on the link dialogue box and entering descriptive text in the "Advisory Title" space
  5. Click Ok to finish and insert the link

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Trade Me Story

Spiral table
Last Friday Mike O'Donnell, Head of Operations at Trade Me ,spoke to my local chamber of commerce here in Lower Hutt. If you weren't there you missed out on some funny stories, great tips on growing an web based business and Mike's view on the future of the web. I wish I'd taken more notes but I was pretty much enthralled by what he was saying and so was the whole room. Along with entertaining us through breakfast, Mike was promoting his book, "Trade Me - The Inside Story" - a mixture of good business advice and funny anecdotes.
This month I have a signed copy of Mikes book as our prize draw.
If you sign up during November 2010, to receive our newsletter, you will go in the draw to win a copy of this book.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Cloud Computing for SME's

Last week I attended a packed presentation on cloud computing from our friends at LANtech. This well thought out presentation explained clearly what cloud computing is good for and when you wouldn't use it. The room was full of, mostly, business people with no interest in computers but a lot of interest in protecting and growing their business. There are two important messages relating to cloud computing.
1. Cloud computing takes the hardware out of the equation for you
2. You can use it anywhere you have an internet connection.

Consider cloud computing before you lock yourself into an expensive local server
If you have software running on a server in your office you will know how expensive and time consuming it can be to keep the server running  and the software up to date, virus free, add  all the microsoft updates and patches plus the new versions etc etc

With cloud computing it’s a no-worry scenario because you let your developers look after that for you - of course you need to establish a relatiuonship with someone you trust. But cloud computing also means you can move your apps from one developer to another or one server to another without it being your bother.

Do you wish you could be free of the office?
With cloud computing you can. Because its out there on the internet, you can access your files and work anywhere. This one is very dear to my heart and in my last newsletter I touched on some of the things we do and tools we use  at Spiral to enable the team to work from anywhere. 

All the software we develop goes out into the cloud. As well as the bespoke development we do to assist people manage their databases, we also have our own products used by so many of you i.e.
- Nautilus for updating your website
- Mailroom for managing your email communications and marketing campaigns

Monday, September 06, 2010

Getting out of the office

This post is about getting out of the office and working remotely. With my 3 weeks in Ontario coming to a close, I've had plenty of time to practice working from abroad, I’ve also worked from Australia, Turkey, NZ and the UK. Our flexible working policy at Spiral means that on any given day you might see anyone on our team working from a number of different locations. There have been a number of challenges in setting this up and I am happy to share our experience if you want to contact me.

3 tips for effectively working remotely
  1. You have to have a great team to do this so tip #1 is build a great team so you can support each other
  2. Stay up to date with emails and avoid the email avalanche when you return to the office
  3. Use web based tools that make your job easier
We are experienced in all these areas and especially creating, evaluating and setting up web based software. You can use web based remote access tools to work remotely but this article covers the purely web based tools and methods you can use. Pure, web based software runs in your browser so theres no software to install.

What do you need to work remotely?
  • Good hardware, that is your laptop or mobile device.
  • Wireless Internet connection or WiFi
  • Mobile phone
Web base software tools
These are the software tools we use:
  • Nautilus for updating our websites. Nearly all our clients use Nautilus which was designed by us to be a stress-free way for business owners and marketing professionals to use. Because its web based it can be used from any computer connected to the web.
  • Mailroom,  our easy to use, powerful solution to creating beautiful email marketing campaigns, managing subscribers and tracking the results.
  • Skype for staying in touch with clients and talking amongst ourselves - its free, easy to use and doesn't tie up our phone line. We also use Skype with video for team meetings.
  • Basecamp for managing our projects, collaborating with our team and with our clients.
  • Highrise for tracking our client contact details, deals and followups.
  • Xero for invoicing
  • Blogger for writing articles
Ways to get online
If you take your laptop or internet enabled mobile device with you, e.g. iPad, iPhone, Blackberry then you will be looking for WiFi access for your device. If you are traveling light then you need to source internet cafes and public internet access points along your route before you leave.

Using Wifi abroad
Check the data plans in the country you are traveling in and what your current NZ data plan charges for data roaming. Data roaming can be expensive depending on the country you are in, I have found data roaming on my plan in Austalia costs the same as here in NZ.

A good option in some countries is to purchase a prepay plan for data on one of the local networks. Again, you need to check before you go as each country can have very different options. For example, there are good plans available in the UK but in Canada (in Sept 2010) none of the networks offered data and international calls on a prepay plan.

Other tips

Having organised your software, laptop and WiFi access, there are a few little extra tips that will improve your experience of working remotely.
  • Make your phone calls at mutually agreeable hours - check the timezone differences and watch out for weekeknds
  • Use headphones with a microphone for best sound quality 
  • Use video (available with Skype) to personalise some of your calls
  • Try to set aside a regular time each day to work
and finally .... keep up the communication with regular phone calls, it reminds everyone they are part of a team and gives us all an opportunity to discuss small issues before they turn into big problems.

Welcome to freedom!

Send me your own tips.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Designing Navigation

This month we have been immersed in our latest challenge .... how to structure the navigation for a content rich site that uses big words and long phrases for its articles and consequently the planned navigation.
I like things simple, although comprehensible may be a better word, and when we are dealing with complex issues we sometimes need to go beyond simplicity to make things comprehensible. This is the issue with the navigation in question. Heres what we did to resolve this issue.

As always with our design we focus on how people will use a website or piece of software. Any navigation needs to help visitors answer 3 questions:
  1. Where am I?
  2. Where have I been?
  3. Where can I go?
Along with answering these 3 questions, I have the results of numerous studies and the practical experience of observing people while they interact with user interfaces to help us reach a solution.

The more sections and pages planned for a website the more complex the navigation problem is. We cannot represent  every single piece of information in the navigation so we strive to provide the visitor to a website with enough information to quickly and intuitively work out where to go.

If an article buried at the lowest level of the navigation is the hardest to find then this would be our "findability" benchmark. While the designer was doing the visuals we built a wireframe and created a page for all the sections we knew about, along with pages deep in the site, that we could use to test out theories. Our programmer applied interactive code to the navigation and we are now testing the behavior of people on the site to determine if we have it right.

I am always searching for a solution that will make it easier for people to find the information they want on your website. If you want help on designing or redesigning the navigation structure on your website give me a call.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How we manage the future

Testing for every browser is a costly and time consuming excercise and I have put a lot of thought into how we get the best result for our clients and their customers while keeping the cost under a million dollars . Heres what we do ....

We manage  future bowser version compatability by developing using the W3C guidelines for world wide web standards

We manage browser compatibility by testing to the following browsers:

          * Internet Explorer(IE) 6, 7 & 8
          * Firefox 2 & 3
          * Safari - Mac & iPhone
          * Chrome

Roughly 60% of the market (Net Applications via Wikipedia) is using IE. IE6 & IE7 do not fully support the world wide web standards so we sometimes go away from the standards in order to make things work in IE, which is the major web browser. Of course we check everything works fine in the other browsers at the time, but new browsers and new versions of the browsers can be, and will be, realeased after we have delivered the project.

When new browser versions are released we check that our Nautilus software works in the new release but not custom built software.

How to grow your Twitter following

Here are 5 ideas for growing your following on your business Twitter account:

  • Post your Twitter link/username everywhere - website, email signature, blog etc
  • Retweet great, appropriate tweets
  • Respect your followers - don't flood them with sales messages
  • Follow users you have something in common with
  • Remember you are a professional - don't tweet your personal life on your business account

Monday, June 21, 2010

Collaboration Success

The latest consultant site delivered by Spiral also involved collaboration and working with a branding expert.
Working with other people and organisations to bring you the best possible result is something we are very practiced at and we very proud of our achievements in this area.  We have numerous examples of successful collaborations. To date they include:

  • SME's who have a great relationship with their graphic designer where the designer has primarily been working on print collateral and they now want to upgrade their website. As software developers, who also do some design, we are well placed to interpret the visuals and build the website or newsletter template.
  • Historic Places Trust. This project, implemented late in 2009 was a collaboration between Historic Places internal marketing department who wrote all content for the new site, Datacom who supplied the content management software and Spiral who supplied the database and web programming plus detailed visual design elements based on pre-existing concepts. 
  • New Zealand Registered Architects Board (NZRAB). NZRAB have a database of all the architects registered in New Zealand. This information is shared with the public via the NZRAB website and via web services with the NZIA who manage architects professional development. Spiral is responsible for the technical management of this database and collaborates with the technical team at NZIA to enable secure sharing of some information and passwords across the two sites.
My tips for working with others are:
  1. Leave your ego at the door
  2. No-one likes to be left out - Include everyone in the communication
  3. Have well planned a strategic meetings when needed, distribute the notes to all involved
  4. Be honest and speak with kindness
  5. Speak up and if the group decides against your recommendation, get over it - see tip #1
If you have ever watched a team of Husky dogs pulling a sled you will note that it only works if they all work together - it becomes a tangle if one dog says "Oh, I think we should go this way today!"

Sustainability Update - Congratulations Cain

Being sustainable means several things to us,  its not just about the environment! A sustainable business offers products and services that fulfil society's needs while placing an equal emphasis on people, planet and profits.
Cain recently published code he developed for the new version of Nautilus, to the open source community. This is part of our commitment to people in the community, in this case the world wide programming community.  The user control Cain developed, which is part of the code in Nautilus used to resize images and create thumbnails, was downloaded 4 times within 2 weeks of being posted.
If you know anyone into .NET programming and code bashing then send them the link - http://thumbnailcreator.codeplex.com/

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Good enough becomes awesome

Theres an old saying that good enough is good enough - it's really a comment on delivery and meeting deadlines. As a team we are constantly delivering to deadlines, both ours and our clients, and we know what excellent is so we always strive for excellence - trouble is, the web changes every day and what was excellent today may only be "good enough" tomorrow.
If we look at that project thats been on your desk (or inbox) for weeks, it would appear to be nearly finished, maybe you want to do a few final tweaks to it, maybe you will get it QA'd (Quality Assurance tested) just one more time, is the spelling all correct etc, etc. The question is, deliver it now or wait until it 110% awesome?

Delivering now doesn't mean it wont ever be awesome. Even Apple delivers on "good enough" - who remembers the first iPods?  The first generation of iPods had some issues but Apple sold truckloads because they were good enough to be awesome. They keep improving them and iPods are still awesome.

You can deliver now on your website or software app. and keep improving it too. Each day you say "Lets wait until we have the ... finished" is another day you put off the launch of your project.

You know that tomorrow you are going to think of a better way to do something, say something or display something. Its a given, the big question is are you brave enough to launch as you are - is it good enough to launch - can your project be delivered now?

This week we launched our new profiles pages. We know from our web stats that these pages are looked at a lot. I surmise that people are checking us out before they work with us, so they are pretty important pages on our website. The deadline for delivery was the end of May. The pages were delivered with some photos missing and two quotes missing - was this going to lose us business? I wouldn't think so. Were the pages complete and fabulous? nearly, they were good enough. Should I have waited until they were complete? Whats complete? Each day brings new information and new ideas to add to our projects. One of the joys of the web is its ability to embrace change - I can update my website everyday if I have time. So can you!

Which brings me full circle to what projects have you got that are just waiting for that final 5% before they are delivered? Can you deliver them now and make changes next week when you have more information. If we are talking about webpages or software applications, consider what can be delivered now:
  • if its a webpage/s:
    • look at the webstats after its launched and make adjustments based on whats popular
    • get a friend or colleague to give you feedback and make adjustments
    • watch people using your pages and make adjustments
  • if its software:
    • pretend you are a user and find out how hard it is to use
    • try it on different computers and make adjustments
    • ask a friend to try it and make adjustments
Get away from your ego, launch now and good enough project is on its way to becoming awesome.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Search Engine Optimisation in a Nutshell

Search engine optimisation is an art and a complicated one, but in a really over simplified nutshell. To be found on google:
Use the phrases you want to be found on in your content

To increase your rank on google:
  • Use the phrases and variations of those phrases repeatedly in content and headings
  • Get links in to your site preferably from sites that Google rates highly and if the text of the link (or to a lesser degree the content around it) contains your keyword phrase, even better
  • Be around for a long time - google rates longevity

Thursday, May 13, 2010

New server - true cloud computing

Most of what we do at Spiral, all that software development, happens out there in "the cloud".  This week we gave our customers the same dependability and flexibility enterprise applications enjoy by going truly, madly, deeply into the cloud with our new VMWare server.

VMWare enables us to virtualise our server. Virtualisation dramatically improves the efficiency and availability of resources and applications. Our server "sits" on a collection of pooled computing resources in the form of CPU, disk space and memory - between our server and the hardware is a 'hypervisor' layer that manages the server resources. Virtualisation is a proven software technology that is rapidly transforming the IT landscape and fundamentally changing the way that people compute. Today’s powerful x86 computer hardware was designed to run a single operating system and a single application. This leaves most machines vastly underutilised. Virtualisation lets us securely, share the resources of our physical environment with other organisations thus conserving the Earths energy.

Energy Savings

As a member of the Sustainable business network we are constantly looking for ways to reduce our impact on the environment. Virtualisation provides energy savings as high as 70-80% without sacrificing reliability.   Most servers today are in use only 5-15% of the time they are powered on, yet most x86 hardware consumes 60-90% of the normal workload power even when idle. VMware virtualization enables consolidation and increases utilisation of the hardware to as much as 85%. Read more on the VMWare website.


Virtualisation of a single server is just the beginning- we can build an entire virtual infrastructure, scaling across hundreds of interconnected physical computers and storage devices. We don’t need to assign servers, storage, or network bandwidth permanently to each application. Instead, our hardware resources are dynamically allocated when and where they’re needed within our private cloud. Our heavy use applications always have the necessary resources without wasting excess hardware that is only used at peak times.

Need more resources? we can expand "the cloud" with just a few simple commands to meet increased demand.

Cloud computing gives our customers the flexibility, availability and scalability they need to thrive.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cloud Email reduces Spam by 98%

Spam is the single most annoying email issue and it can be expensive or timeconsuming to find a suitable solution to blocking it. Our website has been around for more than 10 years and spammers have had plenty of time to find us, so we get more spam than a lot of people.  Our mail provider is out there in the cloud where we like to operate too - our mail provider is Google.

NOT GMail - we use the Google mail app - it's a solution that deals with large volumes of spam, effortlessly. If you want to see whats being marked as spam its a simple process to check the list and, happy situation, the mail stays on Googles server(until you delete it), never to taint your computer, it all happens out there in the cloud.

Any company from just 1 or 2 employees to big corporations can use the app. At Spiral there are just 6 of us, so we use the free version of the application. NZ Post use the paid version and are New Zealands biggest user (at Sept 2009) of Googles corporate email (the paid version of the Google mail app) which includes phone support and extra features.

5 simple reasons to use Googles cloud based email app:
  1. It takes care of spam spectacularly
  2. You can access mail via POP, IMAP or webmail - keep using Outlook if you want too
  3. You can set it up yourself with the easy to follow help - no geeks required
  4. Its free for organisations with less than 50 employees
  5. Its reliable
Give me a call or send me an email if you would like to know more and we can point you in the right direction.

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    Does scrolling beat paging?

    Your website visitors know how to scroll, according to internet guru Jakob Nielsen's latest report, based on an eyetracking study of over 500 webpages. Nielsens findings show that a website visitors viewing time was typically spread 80% above the fold and 20% below the fold.

    "The fold" is the content visible on a webpage without having to scroll. This obviously varies depending on the size of the monitor used to view a webpage. You can read more about the fold on our website.

    Important information goes above the fold

    With 80% of visitors attention going on what they see without having to scroll, placing important information above the fold is critical. If you have a long article it is better to deliver it as a long page with scrolling than to split it up into short pages. You may need to write it in such a way that the important stuff comes first, a little like a magazine article is written, or if you are not able to structure the content to have the import information above the fold you can use clues to draw the attention of your reader to the text below the fold.

    A visitor to your website should be able to understand who you are and what your website is about from the information presented above the fold. After that, if their attention is caught, they will scroll. A poll on about.com indicates that 49% of people will scroll if the page seems useful and only 5% of visitors hate to scroll.

    3 Tips on scrolling

    1. Don’t try to squeeze your content into your page to make it more compact because most visitors will scroll down below the fold to see your entire page
    2. Make life easier for your visitors when scolling by dividing up your layout into sections
    3. You can encourage your visitors to scroll with teasers or a cut-off layout (such as cut off images or text)

      Stop worrying about the fold - Scrolling BEATS paging

      Placing important information above the fold is still a primary consideration for content writers and editors. Website visitors are comfortable with scrolling and are prepared to scroll to the bottom of the page in some cases.

      Read the full report on Jakob Nielsens Alertbox

      Whats Twitter, whats all the fuss about and should I be using it?

      So what is Twitter?
      Twitter gives a voice to even the weakest signal. It can help you make better choices and gives you a platform where you can influence whats happening in the world.

      Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows you to send short messages, 140 characters in length, that answer the question “What’s happening now?” or "Whats got my attention?". The messages, called “tweets”, can be read by your friends or “followers”. It could be breaking news, a great deal at your favourite shop, a local traffic jam (hands free of course) or simply a friendly hello. You can access Twitter through the internet, on your smart phone or via SMS on a simple mobile phone.

      Twitters growth has come from older adults who might not have used social network sites before, the NewYorkTimes reported. You might like to think about the implications for your organisation as more and more of your customers join Twitter.

      What can Twitter do for your business?

      Twitter helps you stay connected with your customers and connected customers are more likely to think of you when they want something. As a business you can use Twitter to:

      * Bring customers into your shop by sharing information ("New stock from Italy unpacked today")
      * Show appreciation to your customers ("thx 2 all who sent in their IT horrer stories. The winner is
      * Gather feedback ("which was the most fun - the chipmunks slide or the jack in the box?")
      * Gather more feedback - Imagine people are having a great experience using your widget, wouldn't you want to know?
      * Offer tips ("always do what your mother told you")

      Are people Twittering about your business and what are they saying?

      Do you know what people are saying about you right now on Twitter and don't you want to be part of the conversation - I would! Heres how to listen in and you don't even need a Twitter account.

      Listening in means starting with searching for you business name. You can use the Twitter search at search.twitter.com or Googles Twitter search - we have embedded this on our website at www.spiral.co.nz/twitter - to make it easy for you to find.  If the buzz is good ... great, you have testimonilas you can use. If the buzz is critical ..., great, you can do something about it.

      If you want to be part of the conversation you will need to get a Twitter account and start tweeting. If you want to influence whats being said about you, you will need to get tweeting.

      Search Twitter now to hear whats being said, right now, about your company, product or brand.