Securing your systems

June 25th, 2009 by Jason Barnes | EMail This Post

Earlier this week, a colleague was contacted by their provider about their IP. Apparently that IP was breaking the Acceptable Use Policy - by distributing a virus/Trojan/spyware! He was running AVG, a very commonly used antivirus software, and he’s a pretty high level computer user, and yet he was still infected! Without actively monitoring his system, he was infected. This is one of the reasons I strongly recommend managed hosting if you don’t have a server administrator on staff. While that may be an option for your server, personal computers can open up holes into your bank accounts, credit cards, and identity in general, even if your an advanced user. PC World had an article on 17 High-Risk Security Threats (and how to fix them), with topics like online passwords, cellphones, and your browser. If nothing else, definitely make sure to download and install your important updates.

User interface design

June 20th, 2009 by Jason Barnes | EMail This Post

I will be re-designing a site in the next week or so, the and sites are being updated, and shortly thereafter, we’ll be looking at doing a major update to the control panel used for dedicated and shared hosting customers, as well. I was doing a bit of poking around, and I came across an article from April 2006 about designing user interfaces - Designing for People Who Have Better Things To Do With Their Lives, by Joel Spolsky. It starts off:

When you design user interfaces, it’s a good idea to keep two principles in mind:

1. Users don’t have the manual, and if they did, they wouldn’t read it.
2. In fact, users can’t read anything, and if they could, they wouldn’t want to.

These are not, strictly speaking, facts, but you should act as if they are facts, for it will make your program easier and friendlier.

The article raises some interesting points about taking a minimlist approach to design, and how that improves usability. It’s actually a great look at some of the common mistakes people make when designing and documenting their products and applications, and the author is quite blunt in his delivery. A good read for those who might want some tips, and a little humerous for those already in the know.

Will we ‘bing’ it?

June 17th, 2009 by Jason Barnes | EMail This Post

When the new search decision engine, Bing, was launched by Microsoft at the beginning of the month, I wrote an article introducing the newest Microsoft flavour of search. I highlighted the fact that Microsoft had made many different attempts to grow in the search market, including their Facebook search deal, but had little success, and I also noted that Bing had some advantages that might give it more chance for success than previous efforts. However, I finished the article with a simple question - Is it enough to make users switch from Google?

We’re now well in to week 2 with Bing, and according to recent reports, Bing has shown continued growth. This isn’t a surprise considering the rumoured budget is $80 - $100 million. Both comScore and Compete agree that Bing has increased their share of search, but it doesn’t seem to keep its users. Unfortunately, people are programmed to use Google. Are you looking for something on the web? Google it. Simple, effective, and as common as venti-sized coffees. While I’m supportive of an alternative to Google and have gone as far as to change one search box (but only on one browser on one computer), I’m still not sure Bing has done enough to make users switch.

For more information, I recommend reading the following articles:
Bing keeps growing
Bing attracts (trial) searchers

(No)Following the PR sculpting debate

June 16th, 2009 by Jason Barnes | EMail This Post

I recently read an article by Matt Cutts about PageRank sculpting, and the main point that stuck out:

I would recommend the first-order things to pay attention to are 1) making great content that will attract links in the first place, and 2) choosing a site architecture that makes your site usable/crawlable for humans and search engines alike.

For example, it makes a much bigger difference to make sure that people (and bots) can reach the pages on your site by clicking links than it ever did to sculpt PageRank.

Creating great content will attract links, and that combined with an effective site architecture should be more significant in boosting search engine rankings than PR sculpting. But I think this theory is (somewhat) flawed. There are a number of reasons that good content and effective site architecture would never be enough. The competition may have more content and/or more resources to develop content, they could be older and already well linked to, and they probably have an effective site architecture in place. Bottom line, in the most competitive markets, which would include keywords like dedicated servers and managed hosting, first order approaches are definitely not enough to get an edge over the competition.

I recently wrote an article about the changes to the nofollow attribute, and in summary, stated that while I’m always looking for an edge, the nofollow tag doesn’t appear to be that edge. In my specific case, this is probably fairly accurate; I can add content, I can improve site architecture, and I can definitely address some of the performance issues for the site. These are all more significant and will have more return (compared to the amount of time invested) on improved site rankings.

Why am I trying to clarify my post? The individuals likely to read the article are probably in a similar position to my own, and should be focusing their efforts where it’s more likely to have a significant impact. However, with such a hot topic, I’d also like to avoid any negative backlash and state clearly that while PR sculpting is not something that most site owners need to know or worry about, and although the rules surrounding PR sculpting have now changed, it can still be used to effectively direct users, search engines, and link juice to appropriate content.

Do Facebook vanity URLs matter?

June 11th, 2009 by Jason Barnes | EMail This Post

Facebook announced yesterday that on Friday, June 11th, 2009 at 9:01pm (PDT), users would be allowed to flock to the site and grab their own vanity URLs. That means instead of hitting up the pub, watching game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, or catching a movie, people will be anxiously awaiting the opportunity to forever dub themselves - or any other moniker that seems fitting.

Some additional information that should be considered. Facebook employees, important brands and trademarks, and now select journalists and members of the media will have (or will have had) first crack at taking the /Mikes and /Dells and the like before us regular people have a chance. Going 1 step further, /coke will even redirect to /cocacola.

As part of my below-the-line marketing efforts, I’m definitely interested in trying to grab something resembling keywords like dedicated servers, managed hosting, or something along those lines, as well as trying to grab possibly one of my nicknames, like ‘Barnsey’, or ‘JayAndSilentRob’. It only makes sense to do so, because there will be hoards of users trying to do the same thing! But do Facebook vanity URLs really matter?

Facebook is definitely a force on the Internet. There are millions of users that exist on the site, and I would guess a high percentage of those individuals would depend or even NEED the site, giving weight to the ‘crackbook’ or ‘facecrack’ references that are fairly common. But the strength or significance of these types of URLs is definitely questionable. MySpace has offered these for years, and while MySpace was once the 10,000lb gorilla on the block, it’s lost a lot of the allure it once had. Is Facebook really the force it once was? Along with Twitter (which is apparently on the downswing itself), every new site, or application, or social media platform that springs up is going to take away from Facebook, which for now seems to be sitting pretty on top. For example, isn’t the next big thing supposed to be Google Wave?

Maybe a better question to ask - does Facebook really matter?