Category Archives: Opinion

This is Why Android Will Beat the iPhone

Apple are going to lose out to Google and others in the battle for the mobile market unless they book their ideas up and give users what they want.

Case in point: Opera.

Via InformationWeek I’ve learnt that iPhone users will have to go without the Opera Mini and Opera Mobile browsers because Apple won’t allow them into the App Store.

This is a great shame. I’ve heard good things about the Opera browsers and although I do love the iPhone browser I believe in giving users choice.

Google, on the other hand, with the Android Marketplace, are allowing any applications to be added to one’s Android-powered phone.

Flexibility will be a key selling point of the Android phones. Freedom and flexibility will allow Android user’s to adapt their phones to suit their needs, while Apple try decide user’s needs for them.

Give user’s what they want and they will reward you with loyalty. Restrict them and they’ll go where the grass is greener.

Web Startups are Threatening the Future of the ‘Net

I ignore a lot of the news I come across on a daily basis. One recent example is the lay-offs at web companies. It’s just all a bit too depressing, really.

So why am I blogging about it?

Well, I’ve related it to a bug-bear of mine today. The lack of sensible business planning in internet start-ups.

It’s caught my attention today ’cause I’ve just read Alex Iskold’s post at ReadWriteWeb about Platforms. Alex highlights the examples of Facebook and Google’s OpenSocial as platforms that have risen with great fanfare, only to fall by the wayside. The reason: no business plan.

These platforms were developed without a clear view to monetisation. It makes me cringe every time I hear of a web company being injected with VC funds. I’m scared it’ll be another funky web start-up with a cool free app that makes no money whatsoever.

I’m concerned because the effect could be a bad image for web businesses. While some of us are trying to encourage companies to spend money on the ‘net (for good reason, may I add) all around us companies are laying off staff or closing altogether because they haven’t made enough money. Companies that had no clear road map for success. Surely that’s just bad business decision making?

Let’s take Twitter as an example. I love Twitter. I think it’s a great service now that my initial skepticism has long since passed. It has no business model, though. Instead they “really want to focus right now on just building the infrastructure“. So where’s the return on that $15.1 million in VC funding?

If I were one of Twitter’s 17 staff members, I’d be pretty scared at the moment.

Let me tell you a secret: Last year I left a company I co-founded in part because money was being splashed out on projects that had no hint of a business plan. Now I’m scared that the industry is doing exactly the same thing.

Am I being too cautious and are these companies simply taking a calculated risk? Or is it time to step out of the box for a bit and re-evaluate?

How Chris Brogan Got Me a Link Without Knowing It

Mark Cahill is someone I’ve always known of and respected, so I was delighted to find (albeit a bit late) that he’s mentioned (and linked to) me in one of his posts.

I wanted to share it with you because it goes to show just how much more valuable Social Media is than SEO.

In the comments, Ari Herzog (another person I have plenty of time for) says, “If Google died tomorrow, you and I would continue blogging as if nothing changed.” Ari says that we shouldn’t be thinking about Google, and I agree. I don’t even think anyone should be doing SEO any more (that’s another – very long – conversation, though)!

In the post, Mark acknowledges Ari’s and my view that we shouldn’t focus too much of our attention on search engines. In his comment back to Ari, Mark agrees but offers the view that Google knows which links are relevant. In a more e-commerce setting, search engines would also be much more important.

It’s a very worthwhile comment, we can’t just ignore search engines completely. I, for one, still look at my stats – my visitors, subscribers and in part, rankings – because that tells me whether what I am doing is working. What search engines should not be used as is a indicator of performance (or KPI).

If I show up in Google Blog Search for a topic I’ve blogged about, great! But that doesn’t mean I’m successful in my goals. That doesn’t necessarily mean that my work is having an impact.

Mark’s post has been the KPI in this case. The very fact that Mark has mentioned me and linked to me has shown that my methods are working. I’m aiming to become part of the community that I follow, listen to and respect, and Mark is part of that community.

That community also includes people like Chris Brogan and it’s Chris who’s inadvertently led to my mention on Mark’s blog. I had commented on Mark’s post about blog readership after Chris mentioned the post himself. Subsequently, Mark felt the need to mention my comments when talking about link relevance.

Purely by engaging with Mark and contributing to the relevant discussion, I have gained a very valuable mention and a great link. We’ve also got the beginnings of a dialogue. One that I expect will continue to blossom and benefit both of us, not just in terms of links but also with knowledge.

Sure I could go to an SEO or link builder and say “get me 100 links by this time next week” but I’d take this one link from Mr Cahill over that any day!

And that, ladies and germs is the power of social media (and Chris Brogan)!

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Ladies and Gentleman; Yahoo! Web Analytics

Yahoo! Web Analytics

We probably all knew this was coming since Yahoo! purchased IndexTools, but now it’s official. Yahoo has launched Yahoo! Web Analytics.

I’ve been using IndexTools for what must be five years now. Before that, I was all about WebTrends as well as a short stint with Urchin. Having explored a variety of other tools I have to say I still prefer IndexTools.

I use Google Analytics on my own site as a sort of comparison between that and IndexTools (sorry Y! Web Analytics) but I have to say I’m seriously considering making the move now. Yahoo! Web Analytics is just better. There are far more useful reports, far more useful features (such as segmentation), better conversion tracking, campaign tracking and you can drill down ’till you’re blue in the face.

For those of you thinking of taking a look I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait a little while. It looks like Yahoo! have closed the service off to new customers. Maybe I won’t be making the switch, after all! Bummer.

While eBay Stumbles Off, I Might Stumble Back… Upon StumbleUpon

Give me a second to get over the self-induced confusion over that title.

Okay, done.

If you didn’t already know, I abandoned StumbleUpon a while back citing a couple of frustrations, including the toolbar. So my ears (fingers?) pricked up a little when I spotted, via Marketing Pilgrim/ReadWriteWeb, that SU has decided to offer a non-toolbar version of it’s service.

Honestly, I never used the “Stumble” feature anyway so this probably won’t change much. What I’m hoping is that this is the first step for StumbleUpon loosing the toolbar completely.

Amongst the recent talk about eBay looking to sell StumbleUpon it has been noted that the number using the service has fallen quite significantly from last year. It’s kinda unsurprising to me. There was plenty more buzz about StumbleUpon twelve months ago, likely prompting more sign-ups to the service, who have since left out of disappointment or frustration.

My opinion (and this is VERY speculative) is that the toolbar is a barrier to adoption. Just like many said it was for Joost, who abondoned their desktop client last month.

With the general shift towards moving applications off the desktop and onto the web, it seems backwards to require the use of a desktop application or add-on of any sort.

We’ll see what happens. For now, I’m going to give StumbleUpon another chance. Especially now I have a friend there!

Google, I Want You to Have My Data. Please!

A couple of days ago, Google stated that it will now anonymise user data after 9 months instead of 18 months.

Andy Beal asks a very good question with his post, “Why Isn’t Google Asking Users for Input on Its Privacy Policy?

And why aren’t they? Why are Google, as Andy puts it, “acting like Big Brother and telling us little users what’s good for us.”

I’d gladly let Google keep my user data indefinitely if it means I get a better service. Like Andy, I trust Google with my data. They have plenty of people cooped up in the Googleplex who are clever enough to work on damn good security, which I’m sure is more than adequate already.

In fact, I quite often see the benefits to having Web History turned on.

I’m all for freedom of choice too. Google already provide a Preferences page. Why not add some other options to that like;

  • Allow Google to track your activity?
  • Allow Google to keep your data for X years and X months
  • Google should anonymise your data after X years and X months

Oh and those Xs would of course be text boxes for us to put our own figures in. No ‘choose from these limited options’ malarke. Just freedom.

Give people choice and they will reward you with loyalty.

Okay, I give in – My take on Google Chrome

I’ve resisted up until now, but I can’t hold it in any more. I feel like the odd one out. The only person not shouting about Google Chrome. Even my mates where talking it up down the local watering hole. They’re usually my break from internet-related topics!

I’ve been a FireFox user since version 0.8 when it was still called Firebird. Before that I even used Mozilla for a time. We’ve fallen out occasionally but I still love it’s speed and all those countless little features that make browsing so much more efficient; like saving tabs when you exit, a more usable web history search from the address bar, quicker bookmarking and a host of others.

I have to admit though, of late, I’ve been frustrated with how clunky it can be. I know it’s because I have a fair few add-ons installed but I keep them down to only those that I use day in, day out. I tried Apple’s Safari for a time, which was great because it was so fast but I simple couldn’t live without those little touches and the add-ons.

I’ve also tried out Prism, Mozilla’s answer to the growing trend of web-based applications moving us away from the desktop. Prism aimed to give us a desktop application-like way of using web applications. It just didn’t live up to expectations, though. The functionality was very basic and some simple settings (of the few available) just didn’t work.

Reading through Google’s own buzz about Chrome (I only ever listen to the horse until after I’ve tried something out for myself) I have to admit, I wasn’t that excited. It sounded like just another browser with a couple more features; nothing special. It claimed to handled web apps that like to crash the browser (something Firefox definitely suffers from) well and touted a special way to handle your favourite web apps. None of the language really jumped out at me though. Maybe I’m just too cynical.

The install was quick and I was off on my way in no time. I checked out some of the documentation and quickly found out how to create desktop ‘apps’ from my favourite web apps like Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Reader (yes I’m a Googaphobe) and got cracking.

The first thing I noticed was speed – it’s a huge improvement. Even over Safari which scared me ’cause it seemed to pre-empt my actions and do it for me. Handling complex apps like Gmail seemed to be a breeze for Chrome and I had one of those rare moments where I want to play around with something just ’cause it feels fun. (The last time that happened was when I got my Nokia N95 and figured out I could use GPS with Google Maps!)

I was impressed so I made it my default browser and decided to get on with my day just like any other. Chrome lasted a good few hours, which is less than Safari. Which is not to say Safari is a better browser, I don’t believe it is. I just knew what to look for with Chrome more so than I did with Safari.

The main problems I had with Chrome were (in no particular order);

  • Lack of page titles from web history when typing in the address bar
    This is a feature I love about Firefox. Often, you can’t remember the web address but by using keywords that were in the title you can find that site you visited yesterday with ease. It’s become a must-have feature for me now and Chrome needs it.
  • Bookmarks manager. I couldn’t actually figure out any way to even see my bookmarks within Chrome, let alone manage them. Plus, Chrome seemed to lack an ‘unfiled’ bookmarks folder and instead asked you to choose where to put bookmarks as soon as you add them. I like being able to quickly bookmark something and then return to my unfiled bookmarks to organise them all in one big block. This way my train of thought isn’t broken while I’m browsing and I can be more productive.
  • Re-opening closed tabs. The ‘new tab’ feature is really nice, but it should be much easier to re-open tabs you’ve just closed.
  • Exiting with multiple tabs open. It’s all too easy to close the browser by accident when you have several tabs open. Firefox has had a simple yet effective system for circumventing this for ages and Google have really shot themselves in the foot by not even incorporating a basic safeguard in this respect.
  • Opening ‘apps’ from within the browser. If I create a ‘desktop app’ using Chrome I expect that app to open if I access it through the normal web browser. For example, if I click on an “Add to Google” button for a blog’s feed I expect Chrome to open up the ‘Google Reader app’ that I created, not simple navigate to Reader in the normal browser window. Otherwise, what’s the point in having separate apps? I may as well just use them within the browser as normal.
  • Options. There are little to no options for Chrome which means that you can’t make the browsing experience your own. I’m a huge advocate of flexibility and choice. The more choice a user has, the happier they can make their user experience. The more you restrict them, the more they feel pigeon-holed and eventually loose faith.
  • Page loading visuals. I kept having to ask myself, “is it doing anything?” Chrome lacks good visual indication that a page is loading, or how much it has loaded. That will be a huge problem for the masses. Average Joe and Jane have trouble with IE, they certainly don’t need a browser that’s even more inconspicuous.
  • Add-ons. I can’t live without them. I use the web developer extension a LOT. I use the delicious extension plenty, as well as others. In fact, if Chrome had all my favourite Firefox add-ons I might just switch straight away.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Like I said, I was impressed, and here’s why;

  • Speed. Yep, it’s like lightning. It’s almost as if it’s reading your mind. Scary!
  • Easy on resources. Firefox gobbles up my pitiful 1.5Gb memory like a Leech. Chrome didn’t bat an eyelid when I had Gmail, Reader, Calendar, Maps, Remember The Milk, WordPress Admin and a couple of blogs open all at the same time.
  • Interface. It’s really clean and minimalistic. No clutter whatsoever. In Firefox, I often use the Web Developer toolbar but I always hide it when I don’t need it ’cause I can’t stand having a big chunk of browser above the web page. It’s just unnecessary.
  • ‘Desktop apps.’ I don’t really know what to call them. I guess they are like desktop apps. They work better than Prism, anyway, which seemed to get confused about whether to open links within itself or in the web browser. It helps to separate those common apps, like e-mail from your general work. I do a lot of browsing and often have a good number of tabs open and find that extra tab for e-mail or calendar gets in the way. Chrome solves that problem well.
  • Searching from the address bar (WHATS THE WORD?!). I LOVE this. I’ve loved this ever since it arrived in Firefox. If I had a pound for everytime I’ve hit F6 and just started typing I’d have brought a house by now.

So there are things I love and things I don’t love but overall Chrome, for me, is a stellar browser. Google have outdone their competitors on plenty of fronts once again. It’ll be interesting to see whether Firefox’s new version can compete on speed with Chrome’s “V8” Javascript engine.

For now, I’ll just be using Chrome to separate my favourite web apps from my normal browser experience. That might get a bit annoying as any web links will open in Chrome, not the default web browser (Firefox) but I’ll cope until they fix that (ha!), but I’ll give it a go.

I have nothing to be worried about

Tamar Weinberg of Search Roundtable today asked, “do search penalty discussions worry you?” Well, Tamar, I’d have to having something to worry about in order to be worried.

The way I see it, unless you’ve been employing optimisation techniques aimed specifically at improving rankings, there’s nothing to worry about. In fact, no web master/marketer/business owner should be employing techniques other than those which improve the quality of one’s web site for the benefit of the target audience.

Tamar brings up the subject of which hat SEOs wear. Some would say I’m whiter than white for my views on optimisation. I say I’m neither black nor white hat* but simply ethical in doing business on line, just as I’m ethical in conducting business off line.

* If you have to lump me in either camp, I guess you’d go with white, but I’m not just white hat – I’m more like the white wizard!

Ethics and Corporation Tax

One thing that really bugs me is tax avoidance. I used to think it was a great idea until one day, whilst having an inner groan at the constant lack of cash in public services I realised that avoiding tax is, in fact, incredibly unethical and irresponsible. Taxes, whether you like them or not, are there to pay for all those things society needs. They pay for our health service, the roads, street lights and so on.

Just like as individuals we pay income tax, companies pay corporation tax – a tax on profits. Many corporations, including big household names, employ tax avoidance schemes utilising subsidiary companies in tax havens like Luxembourg. These schemes allow them to pay as little tax as possible on the massive profits they earn.

Billions of pounds are essentially being kept out of Government hands and in the pockets of wealthy shareholders, denying society of much needed cash to improve public services. So I was glad to read today that such practices have been outlawed.

Ever the sceptically minded, though, I can’t see it making a huge impact. Corporations spend hundreds of thousands on accountants to build these complex structures designed purely to avoid paying tax simply because the returns are so huge. Put simply, they’ll find another way because the financial benefit of doing so is so great.

But what’s the solution? Then I thought back to the income tax. With individuals, we are charged income tax at 20% (unless you’re lucky enough to be in the higher-rate tax band) with the benefits system helping those who don’t earn as much to get by. Corporations and individuals both earn money and have to use that money to pay their operational (or living) costs. Anything left over is then a bonus. However, we are taxed differently – corporations pay tax on anything left over while individuals pay on everything we earn (let’s ignore the untaxable allowance for simplicity). So why not tax corporations on everything they earn and then kick-back a little bit for every pound they don’t make a profit on?

It’s a nice idea, I think, but whether it will work in practice is something for the accountants and economists to battle out. My first thought is that avoiding that method would just be a case of making your accounts look like less profit was made. Probably not a hard thing to do. Yet, for big companies with lots of shareholders that would probably be a bad thing as the one thing shareholders want most out of their investment is a good profitable company.

I’d love to here thoughts on this idea, especially people who will be more well-versed in accounting than me.

One Vote Every Four Years is All We Get

A while ago I signed a petition on the Prime Ministers website asking for the government to introduce legislation that would empower ordinary citizens to call a referendum on important matters. According to the petition details a system, called Citizens’ Initiatives, exists in Switzerland, New Zealand, Hungary and 24 states in America.

The petition asks that a referendum be called on an issue when a petition is signed by 2.5% of the population. For national issues this would be the entire UK population, with 2.5% being around one million, and for regional issues about 3-4,000.

The governments response posted today states that powers already exist for local councils to hold referendums and have access to the full electoral register in order to do so. On the issue of national referendums, the response states that The Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 allows government to call national referendums but “does not however set out any criteria for using referendums.”

The government is obviously guilty in this instance of not listening to the public. The petition clearly asks for “legislation allowing citizens to trigger referendums” not allowing government to trigger referendums. It’s about real democracy – giving the public the power to show they are unhappy and make sure something is done. All that the public can do at the moment is shout and even that has been limited by legislation like the Serious Orgnaised Crime and Police Act 2005.

Not only is it disturbing that the power to trigger referendums lies solely with government but that it is a government led by an unelected Prime Minister. I know many would say that we elect parties, not the prime minister, but how can we accept that we have no say in who leads our country especially when the new prime minister has already started undoing the work of his predecessor.

If you’re interested in this issue I suggest a trip to the site for the Campaign for Direct Democracy.