ThoughtThought

Welcome Alco Marine!

Very pleased to announce another local business taking their very first steps into the online world! Alco Marine, welcome to the internet!

Alco Marine in Lake Havasu City

Their first ever site at www.havasualco.com was created to address a common need among Havasu business owners: to reach Lake Havasu visitors when they are back at home.

The site is meant to provide information, not only to local residents, but to all the boaters in Southern California about services available in our town.

My Pair Networks Experience

I have been with Pair Networks since April of 2004. Each year I just find more reasons to dig their service. Here a few little stories that describe why.

Bob Egan and the digital download

Geek tale: Bob Egan is an indie musician and member of Canadian band, Blue Rodeo. I've been maintaining his site for a number of years now. When he released his last album, "The Glorious Decline", one of the tracks was to be featured on a major publication and they wanted to offer a download link to his server. So many, many people might be downloading a track from his site.

This was a very good thing, but also a problematic thing since it would demand much from his site on the technical side. A small site on a low level account at Pair, that kind of sudden high demand to download a music file, could have been a potential server crash.

But I contacted Pair support, told them of the situation, and they solved it by moving Bob's site temporarily to a "high volume" account which could handle the demand. They did this very quickly AT NO CHARGE.

English translation: Pair saved my client money.

Tuff Gong Books and the Bob Marley Facebook Page

Geek tale:Tuff Gong Books recently started a contest to win a free book. They promoted this on Bob Marley's Facebook page.

Tuff Gong Books is on a "virtual private server" at Pair.

But a post on Bob Marley's Facebook sends a massive rush of traffic in a very short time - a massive server killing influx.

Through 2 lengthy calls to Pair support technicians, they assisted me in creating the most efficient pages and scripts to get done what needed to be done to handle such a high volume in such a short time. Their advice turned a potential server crash into a successful campaign.

English translation: Pair saved my client money.

Steve Wynn and the CD Store

Geek tale: Musician Steve Wynn has a lot of CDs. To make all of his catalog available to fans takes up a lot of space. He was near his max space allotment on his current account. Going up to the next level offered a lot more services than he needed. So a call to Pair. I explained the situation of just needing more space and asked if that was an option. Pair doubled his limit AT NO CHARGE.

English translation: Pair saved my client money.

It's common.

I've been with Pair a long time, I've brought in quite a few accounts for them. But every time I call, I'm just another customer. This is just the level of service they offer. Pair Mailing Lists, Pairnic, Pair Sales, Pair Support -- I've called and written all of them many, many times over the years, and have always found their response quick and more importantly, direct and relevant.

The key to Social Networks is the Unsocial

The more popular the social network, the more it depends on technology - blind, cold, insensitive, unsocial - lines of code.

Occasionally, the silent underpinnings of endless happy social buzz, can get a wrench thrown into it. There are many, many ways this can happen - some are glitches, some are intentional, some are reactive.

Google is a prime example of this. Most folks use some element of the massive google machine all the time and have no problems. Yet, every now and then, something goes awry either in the case of an "gmail down" moment, or an individual awakes one day with no more gmail account.

The key thing to note here, is that we are all at the mercy of the labyrinth underbelly of google which churns out all that fun stuff we enjoy and take for granted daily -- I'd go into more details, but my human sister always scolds me for even uttering the word "algorithm" in polite company.

The point is, if this happens, and your social world suddenly falls silent: chill. Chances are it is a technical glitch, and soon your digital world will be righted.

But it's also a good idea to know this happens, and don't put all your digital eggs in one basket. With all the services and web toys available out there now, it is very easy to expect them always to be. They may, the may not. Not long ago Yahoo was digital king.

Blanket and backup.

Try not to rely too much on one service. If you want to share music or a video, add it to a few sites. If one goes down, you've still got somewhere else to tap into. And definitely don't trust any one site or any one person with your content. Always keep a copy under your mattress.

Life Online Series: Blinders

Sometimes the biggest problem with the world online, is remembering there is a world offline. The worst problem is that real danger exists in both.

I first went online somewhere back around 1987, I think. Back then is was through a Bulletin Board Service (BBS). My parents bought me a computer for Christmas. We open our present at midnight on Christmas Eve. After opening goodies, I put the IBM clone computer together and started playing with it. Next thing I knew, sunlight came through the window and it was morning.

It's pretty obvious that many people have found a similar all consuming experience with computers, all the stronger now with all the instant news, chats, e-mails, video and music available via the web.

For the most part, I see this as a very good thing. But sometimes, it requires a conscious effort to step back sometimes, and look at the world beyond the glowing computer displays. Even to know that world exists and has its own set of parameters.

Could take it more broadly really. As a philosophy graduate student I often had to stop and awe sometimes at the rigid walls and competition between academic disciplines.

The ownership of a computer and access to web is a pretty big wall between the web world and not. Easy to forget sometimes so much online is restricted by the digital divide. Often real world events brings that divide to focus.

I remember being utterly dumbstruck when after a terrible tragedy, online folk were ecstatic and slapping each others back over how well one form of technology relayed questionable details about the event online.

Besides seemingly failing to notice the real life hardship people faced, there seemed to be more emphasis on getting news FIRST rather than getting good news.

Just recently during the Southern California fires, I saw first hand how limited that information could be. A resident of Yorba Linda, where one of the fires burned, but five miles away, besides watching the smoke from my backyard, I kept my TV tuned to the local news broadcasts. I also watched things online, interested that for the most part, it sucked in comparison to the local TV news and shots from the news helicopter.

The day following the fire threat to Yorba Linda, my friend called from Northern California convinced I was about to burn. She noted all the sources online she'd read and insisted I read them too. I tried to tell her I'd been watching the news and following the story all day, but she was adamant I was about to burn.

Finally, I had to describe to her what I saw from the backyard that day verses the day before.

It's pretty obvious sometimes we just have back up and re-evaluate. Even though I make my living off computers, I still occasionally do week long zero computer fasts and pick up a book. It makes me wonder though about generations who jumped online so much earlier in life. Is separation already no longer an option to them?

Web Safety Series: E-mail

Don't tell me anything. I won't use it against you, but I could. And so could others -- without even knowing it.

Have you ever read the "Privacy Policy" of a site?

Have you ever tried to contact any big corporation online for a simple question?

Many sites ask for all kinds of information about you. Most sites even just take information about you without your knowing it. In the corporate web game the biggest collection of e-mail addresses and newsletter sign-ups wins.

In the case of most large established companies, this information is handled responsibly. But the problem arises from unknown companies who may or may not respect your privacy.

So why risk it? E-mail addresses are a dime a dozen. Have one that you cherish above all others. Give this to family and friends.

Then get another. And another. And another. As many as you want for various purposes.

Need to provide a contact address for some company to answer your question? Give them a disposable address. Create one e-mail address with a name like, "subscribe". For me, I could use: subscribe@rexruff.com. Then when it gets too crowded with junk, just close it. Walk away, create another one.

And it will get full of junk. Even as you read this, there are web bots scanning this text and looking for e-mail addresses. They have probably already added the example address I typed above to their lists.

If you try to contact me, you will not find my cherished address on this site. Instead, you will find a contact form. Most sites use these as way to fight the e-mail address eating web bots.

Contact forms are good for the sites, but can be bad for the visitor. Many have tons of REQUIRED fields that have little to do with an answer to your question. Rather they have to do with the company collecting user data. In most cases, all you really need to give them is a disposable e-mail address so they can contact you in response. So to get past all their fields on the contact form just lie. Put in anything but your real information. If they contact you back directly, then gauge from there what they need to know.

Also know that at any time, even with companies you do have to give your address to, you can tell them not to send you anything. For example, I had to give my bank an e-mail addresses to get security information. But they used to send me a bunch of other sales junk. So I wrote and told them they may not use my address for anything besides the essential notifications. The extra stuff stopped.

Do not try this with mail from unknown sources. Best to just ignore that and move on.

For the most part, two addresses at a time covers things. One cherished for family and friends, one disposable for subscriptions and newsletters and stuff. When one or the other gets too much junk, dump them and move on.

A note on your cherished address - make it a good name, a logically variation of your name if needed. Like Jane@janedoe.com or jane.doe@gmail.com. If you use this e-mail for work or work inquiries, it should look look professional. hotpants@hotmail.com does not look good on a resume, or as a reply address to serious inquiries.

If you are a self-employed, it is best to get a domain so your e-mail address is the same as your web site address. Simple one page "business card" type sites can bet set up for less than $100 a year.

SEO Series: Intro | You Can't Fool Google

Trying to dupe Google is something akin to trying to steal from a casino. There are those who do it, but the risk is high and the punishment is handled in dark allies.

The most common theme for a good web site is traffic. A site is nothing without visitors. Getting them is hard, providing what they need is harder and getting them to come back the hardest. Even the most popular topics, and most famous people still have no guarantee of a healthy flow of web traffic.

Planning on being famous, making a splash online, or having a famous child? Best to buy all relevant domains now. No joke. The moment a name becomes celebrity or buzz word starts glowing, there are sites going up to try to attract traffic about it. Some are of genuine interest and support, some are sleazy spam sites and domain squatters.

Either way, it means one thing: Search Rank Competition.

The tool to fight with in this competition is called "Search Engine Optimization" (SEO). However, everyone has access to this tool. The tool is only as good as it is utilized with effort, patience and consistency.

There are a lot of promises out there to get your site traffic or high rank in search engine results. One word: beware.

Good SEO is good SEO, but no guarantee. A lot of people, a lot of sites, have good SEO. Even great. And all are competing to be on the first page of results from search engines.

If anyone tells you different, you face two risks. 1) Paying out a lot of money, and even worse, 2) getting booted from the Google index (meaning you don't show at all!).

Though there are no guarantees to get high placement with google, there are guarantees how to get booted. There is good page rank, and there is negative page rank and there is no page rank. Negative page rank is really hard to shake.

The good news among all this treachery however, is that quality counts. A good site is rewarded. Good content is rewarded.

SEO is not a magic pill. It is a set of best practices that takes work and consistency to pay off. Elements of which will be discussed as this series continues.

Domain Name Series: Introduction to Domains

There are many theories about what makes a good domain name. And there are exceptions to just about every one as well.

A domain name is the address of your site, for example, www.rexruff.com.

Usually, the domain name is the same as the name of the business or person who buys it. But unlike a real world store, you cannot just go out and hang up a shingle. Instead, you have to buy it from someone else, with any luck, a respectable "Domain Registrar".

From a domain registrar, like Pairnic.com, you can buy a domain name for under $20 dollars.

The problem arises in the form of common names already taken, or worse, domain squatters.

Every word in the dictionary is gone. Variations of many popular words are gone. Any famous names or brands are gone.

Many of these are gone to proper owners, but many are gone to domain squatters who buy them in order to later exploit people who may want to buy them.

Even if you own the rights to the name, in the case of a trademark, you still would have face a long a costly battle to get the name back. Unfortunately, acquiring a domain from a squatter through legal battles is often the same high price and takes much longer.

So given the difficulties of getting a domain name, the real trick these days, is creating a domain name not already taken that best represents your business.

This not only takes some thought and creativity, but patience as well.

First, think of a name.

Second, visit Pairnic.com and see if it is available.

When you see the results at Pairnic.com, it will show you that domain name as well as any options for slight variations, like .com, .net, .org.

There are many many ending types these days, but the most popular remain the three named above. ".com" is the best.

Another problem arises if you see that all three are available. If you buy the .com address then create a wildly successful and popular site, the squatter will move in to feed off you and buy up all the other dot endings available.

Most major companies have to buy up all these variations just to keep squatters from feeding off them. Not to mention slight variations of their name or common misspelling of the names.

So whether or not you buy other dot endings depends on the how much you want to spend on preventive measures.

There are many other guidelines to consider when selecting your domain name. The next part of these series will cover some domain name best practices.

Theory in Practice: Web Site

The Theory: All Businesses need a web site.
The Practice: But do your customers have a computer?

As more and more people go online, it's pretty much a given that a business needs a web site. But the degree of need can vary considerably, as can the size, functionality and expense of the site. One site does not fit all.

Except for us geeks that make them, most people don't really notice the organization of content of each site as compared to another site. And that is a good thing. For most people want to visit a site, and immediately, know what that site is about and find out what it can do for them. For example, when you visit Google, all you see is a place to enter a search term. Its simplicity and main purpose is made very clear and easy for the visitor to use.

The first step of any good site is recognizing the needs of who will be visiting that site. Think of it as a front display window - what do you want your customers to see the moment they enter the door, or walk by your business?

A second question to ask, is what kind of people are in need of your services? What is the age group of your customers? The income level?

Both of these most important steps for a web site are very much important steps for any business. Just because the web site of your business will be in digital form, and built by methods you may not understand well, don't think you cannot control its development. A site is but another means to reach your customer and no can do that as well as you.

The person who builds your site, a web developer, is very much like a General Contractor who builds your house. You would work with the contractor every step of the way to make sure your home was built as you want it. The same goes for web sites.

At times it is not easy, and it is important to stress your desires. There are times when certain limitations may limit your vision. There are times when your developer may be able to improve your vision, or offer a less expensive, more practical example based on web experience and knowledge.

However, there are also times when a developer may not want to try something new, or will want to reuse old code rather than build something new you envision. In these cases, it is important to question how important and costly the differences may be. Even Jeff Bezos, the creator of Amazon.com, at times had to battle with his developers to build what he wanted, as he wanted.

It's important to always consider the fundamental goals of the site and the visitors of the site. What you think may "look cool" at first, can get very tedious to those visiting everyday, or visiting in search of one thing quickly. Long animations and confusing navigation in this case would pretty much be the same as if there was messy construction going outside the door of your business, impeding the customer from entering.

There are "best practices" for a web site, but there are no rules really, so plenty of room to create and experiment.

My rule of thumb as a developer is to build as close to a client's vision as possible so long as:

1) It is not something that would be of detriment to my client's web presence.
2) It is not something that would embarrass my client (or myself!).

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