Originally posted on peak 5390:

Last week I was writing up report cards for an Introduction to Programming class I taught recently. In addition to their academic performance, students at my school are assessed on courtesy and respect in every class they take. I noticed something interesting as I was compiling scores for the class: these were the highest courtesy and respect scores that I had ever seen for a whole class.

At first I started second-guessing myself. Maybe I was seeing my students through rose-colored glasses, because I had enjoyed working on programming every morning with them. But when I asked what more I could have wanted from students in regard to how they treated themselves and others, I couldn’t think of much. Students had taken themselves more seriously, asked each other for help more consistently, offered help more readily, and treated school resources with more care than in any class I’ve seen. Students…

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HATE Android or Apple?

Why should I hate Android (or Apple)?

MG Siegler’s Android examination has spurred me once more to put finger to keyboard. It started with an attention grabbing controversial headline “Why I hate Android”. MG is probably Apple’s greatest fan barring Stephen Fry, but hey ho read on.

My reading of his arguments are basically;

  • It’s an IPhone copy
  • Google didn’t deliver a free/cheap phone
  • Google got into bed with the carriers
  • Google hasn’t helped the net neutrality debate in the wireless space.
  • Android is carrier opiate for the masses.
  • Because Android could have been something beautiful.
So this man who uses an iPhone because he refuses to be imprisoned by Android. He would prefer to live in Steve Jobs’s walled garden, paying via iTunes every time he wishes to breath. Google didn’t deliver a free phone, but the they did deliver a viable phone that continues offers an alternative to iPhone. Imagine a world without Android. Without the competition Apple, I suspect would have been quite content to extract even higher margins from their reality distorted acolytes.
I must step back and say I think the technology in the Apple stable is best of breed. It gives Google, and Microsoft something to aim at. This in turn stimulates Apple to keep deliver better to their customers.  Competition is good, very good. The best is never the best. Complacency and conceit will lead half baked, poor, dismal products, and a resulting death spiral for the company concerned.
Apple have a poor reputation for rejected and borrowing developers’ app ideas when it suits them, and re-baking them as their own innovations, whilst imprisoning developers and content providers, and taking a 30% cut of their earnings. Look at Barnes and Noble, Amazon et al, standing on the shoulders of giants and innovating, something Apple refuses to acknowledge it does too!
Sure the Android OS is not a completely open playing field, but it is why more open than the Apple’s offering taken from BSD, enhanced and redefined as their own innovation. That is not say that they shouldn’t do it, but they don’t acknowledge the foundations and help they have received along the way or pay it forward or giveback anything in return.
Let us be clear both the OEMs and carriers, both have put way too much crap on my phone. Some I have managed to remove, the rest I push to one side or ignore. I could root my phone and put a custom ROM on it. At least I can circumvent the tardiness of some OEMs and carriers, and get a later  or custom operating system. My choice, no bars at the windows or walled gardens. I am a name, not a number; 3G, 4s or whatever! In short I love my freedom, even if like any society there are rules you have to follow.
So should the carriers let Google take over their networks. Clearly the Answer is no. Trying to stop the carriers putting all their crap on your phone is an issue. Net neutrality need real action and should not be left to large corporations and politicians who wish to muddy the waters for the own ends. With the waters being so muddy it is difficult to accurately gauge what is neutral – litmus for the net?
As for the issue of whether the networks should over charge for poor service, that is a regulation issue. It is not Google’s job to break that monopoly only to create their own advert driven one. Using their own financial muscle to “improve” our service is probably the best way of bringing an anti-trust suite down on your head.
So do I hate Apple no,sure I won’t buy one any day soon. Google, Amazon and Microsoft, come guys keep innovating.Come on Blackberry – wake up! MG ? Hate – No way – life’s too short!  Any he got my fingers typing again. Though business ethics tend to get in the way I just love technology!

Disclaimer:

I used an Android Phone. I have never used an iPhone, though I did lust after one and started formulating ideas for an App, which I have now been reworking in html/Javascript I don’t work for Google. I live in Europe.

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How Local Businesses can Engage Customers with Social Media

How Customers can help market your business

There are some great ideas for engaging customers in this article by Jon Schepke from Search Engine Watch (SEW). Sure it focused towards the American market but the general themes are applicable to most countries. The main points are:

  • More and more users are reading reviews on-line before they purchases services and this trend continuing towards local businesses.
  • Open a communication channel with your customers; enjoy and profit from the good and learn from the bad! Twitter is an excellent mechanism to do this, but be genuine both publicly and via direct messaging. There is an added bonus in that both Google and Bing use Twitter to provide input their search results.

I am not sure that all local markets  have developed the sophistication in terms of local searches for local people. That is certainly true in Normandy, my neck of the woods.

However for the anglophone community who don’t process local knowledge it is essential. Equally there are tourists and business travellers who don’t have local knowledge looking for a bed for the night or somewhere to eat.

Review sites like Yelp or Tripadvisor provide not just a route to receive praise and criticism, but also for engagement. For instance, if a room did not come up to scratch, it is a chance to put things right, and turn a bad situation into something more positive.

Then there is the check-in phenomenon:

  • Check-in sites like FourSquare and Gowalla provide more opportunities for engagement and make special offers. Whilst these small start-ups by comparison to the likes of Google and Facebook Foursquare has announced a distribution deal with Groupon, the daily deals site.

  • Google have their own offering Google Places with the primary benefit of being able grow your Search Rankings organically.
    Google Places has some interesting features such as being able present special offers to potential customers.

    It has now been integrated with Google Hotpot, the user review service which is a ranking factor.

  • Facebook have their own location-based service allowing their users to check-in, you’ve guest it Facebook Places. Facebook are rolling out a deals based service to complement place with a social emphasis.

  • Following the Nokia/Microsoft deal, Nokia are evolving Navteq to deliver social location services.

The big social driver is Facebook. Once Facebook getting to grips with mining their user’s data, they have the potential to give Google and the other search and engagement channels a serious run for their money. If this happens local business will need to channel effort into ensuring their voice is heard, and their customers are truly engaged.

Using social media as channel between you and your customers gives you the opportunity to promote your business in a genuine and personal manner. It also creates a feedback loop allowing you modify you activities to better suit the needs of your customers, and the gauge their reactions to your changes.

You are close to your product or service. You understand your local environment. Use these things to your advantage over the faceless soul-less multinational who is just paying lip service to the idea of customer engagement.

Let them tell other people how great your business is. Equally show you are passionate about your business and engaged with your customers. Then you are not a lone voice in the wilderness but a multitude singing your business’s praises!

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Why Social Media Leads News on Death of Osama Bin Laden Death

What is the Impact of Social Media for Small and Local Business

Like many people today, I woke up to the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by American Forces. Actually my wife, who had been listening to BBC’s Radio 4 on the Internet, told me. Old tech meets new!

When I fired up the computer to find out more, it was apparent that social media most notabilby Twitter was at the heart of the story.

The White House, late Sunday evening local time, tweeted a quote from President Obama that Osama Bin Laden was dead.

At least, one individual living close to the scene of the action actually tweeted, whilst it was going on.


A Google Places flag has been posted at the approximate location, though I would not wish to comment on the quality of the reviews.

I have mention before that FTSE businesses don’t get social media, but what are the implications for small and local business especially here in Normandy?

  • Twitter is going main stream; if  someone in a Abbottabad is tweeting live during the military operation, then we in Normandy need to wake up to Twitters reach and impact.

  • High impact events such as this are going to drive people to use social media outlets like Twitter in their day-to-day activities.

  • Use social media to drive news about your local business, the world is watching.

  • Social media can help you to understand what is happening now in your locale, and use that to drive business in your direction.

  • Gain competitive intelligence on competitors activities.

  • Reach out to other businesses to establish mutually beneficial relationships.

  • Engage with customers quickly and openly.

Update: When the news broke of Osama Bin Laden’s death tweets were occurring at the rate of 12.4 million and peaking at 5106  per second. Looking at Twitter’s history, it is continuously innovating as attempts convert it’s perceived value into something more concrete. That innovation coupled with its vast user portfolio suggest that may eclipse even Facebook as the de-facto place to go for real-time information. 
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Field of Dreams or a Website on the Road to Nowhere

When Art and Search Engines Don’t Meet

I was chatting to a musician friend, a great guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, visiting us in Normandy. He told me rather proudly he had a website. This sounded good – a “Field of Dreams” is born. I am always interested in real world examples of how well people’s websites are doing, what Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) they are doing.

I asked whether he did anything to optimise his site for Search Engines. No – he said people will find it. A sinking feeling hit me. We were on the “Road to Nowhere”.

I asked again. “People will like what we do and find us – word of mouth.” This sounds like an ominous case of ‘Build it and They will come’!

I think sensing my dismay. My friend said “My brother builds websites. Perhaps I should talk to him. He says they should always make money.”

I said I thought that was a good idea or at least make enough to cover the running costs. His response “But we’re artists we don’t want to make money. Anyway, I have a good deal on the hosting.”

Conversation closed! Now I knew we had a problem. Could I solve it? Short answer is no. I thought I would take a look at his website anyway. Well you never know. A friend is a friend.

Anyway I might learn something; Search Engine Optimisation – what not to do.

The next problem finding his website. I tried the obvious searches round musician and his location. As you would expect – no joy!

I tried his name. Millions of pages of joy but certainly not ranking near the top of the search engine results page (SERP) . Eventually I used a combination of him and his wife’s name. The “masterpiece” was uncovered!

The website is very basic. Could be better but could be much worse on the eye.  To be honest there was not much to it. I am not a web designer so I should not offer other than a layman’s view.

From a Search Engine’s Perspective, I suspect the Gogglebot barely found anything to index. Unfortunately my friends, from an artistic perspective would prefer their music stood alone to be judge on its merits. However, a search engine is a blunt object, which does not appreciate music and the human voice. As music, like most  things arouses different emotions in each of use it should never be judged by a machine.

So what didn’t I find (oh so negative)?

    • Any real insights into my friends, their music and other work. Things that could be indexed and understood by search engines.
    • Regular “blog-style” postings providing a window on their current activities. Again that marks a website as providing current information.
    • Use of social media such Facebook or Twitter to drive additional traffic to the site.
    •  Apart from the music itself,  no tagged photographs or YouTube hosted video to widen their horizons. Good stuff, that shows the search engine that you are to be taken seriously.

My son is currently learning the guitar. Later, my friend, who also does some guitar lessons, was giving him some tips and playing some stuff at the kitchen table. My son came away, really excited and motivated watching and learning from someone who plays well.

The lesson for my friend is hopefully some day soon, he realise that be it artist or local business, it takes more than a good product to make yourself heard in a search engine’s results. And the lesson for me is to try to communicate my ideas better, so that people’s Fields of Dreams become realities, and don’t end up on the Road to Nowhere!

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User Generated Reviews for Organic Improvement in Search Engine Results

Engaging with Customers can improve your Ranking

Google’s Page Rank Algorithm is being gamed more and more, with more and more sites acquiring back-links paid or otherwise. Added to this Google’s Panda update to down grade poor content. User Generated Reviews are featuring more frequently on Search Engine results pages. This indicates some weight is attached to sites that review higher and the possibility for achieving organic improvement in Search Engine Results.

Google has received much criticism for its search results lately particularly where poor or scraped content targeting advertising revenue features above original content. Apparently there are approximately 200 factors making up the Google ranking algorithm, with back-links especially to sites of authority have been highly weighted, but it has certainly been the case in the past that practically any link is a good link. Quality in both links and content count.

The great thing about organic growth and the improvement of your website, within search engine rankings that there is not the high up front costs of engaging a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) consultant to help you build loads of back links. Depending the professionalism of the consultant you may find your site link to various nefarious place you normally would not be seen dead, and in the longer term may have detrimental affect on your business. This is something you can do yourself with a “little” help from your customers. You have control! Well as much as anyone does, when managing customer relationships.

The world is changing with buzz words like Social and Real-Time featuring heavily. It is also clear that Google has been utilising the results from review sites like Yelp to improve its own results.  Google is now pushing its own product Google Places (amalgamated with Google Hotpot) to crowd-source better results.

So what does this mean to a small/local business? Using an old road safety slogan “Dark means Danger – Get yourself seen!” Encourage customers to review your business by having links to review sites. I have heard of business giving business cards to their clients with the direct URL of their review page. Sure there will be some bad even malicious reviews, but if you have a good product you can gain much benefit from the good ones. So make sure your clients who have benefited from your products and/or services, do you a favour in return. If you don’t ask/ you won’t get!

Design your website so that your reviews are easily accessible, so anyone landing your site can instantly get a good feeling that they are not in unexplored territory, that someone has been there before them, and it is a safe place to be. No lions lurking in your website “jungle” waiting to gobble them up and take their hard-earned cash into the bargain.

So what about the bad reviews? The first question is “Are they justified?” – if yes do something about, fix the problem and reach out if possible to the affected customer. Showing you care will go a long way to restoring the faith of other customers. If they are not justified; still engage with the customer maintain your image. If they are malicious, it depends on the review site, the more responsible will remove the offending review or allow a response, otherwise you are left to your own devises to dilute their impact.

Whilst customers can leave their reviews on a variety of different sites, try to point them in the direction of sites that Google values, and where you can engage with your customers. This should organically improve your search engine ranking, bring in repeat business, and show potential customers that you will value them. Thanking a customer for a good review – it’s good manners and gives future customers an indication of how they will be treated.

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Organic Ranking for Local Business via Google

Building a Relationship with Google

I have spoken before of the need for small and locally based business to the develop on-line presence,especially here in Normandy. I have also said before just creating a website is not enough. A website needs to be a living breathing thing, not a few pages dumped onto the internet, which it is hoped your customers will come to.

I proposed that for a local  business should creating a website in the form of blog is a great idea. So why is a blog a great idea? Primarily because Search Engines thrive on content, and sites that provide quality timely content are likely to rank higher (this is not the full story). Search Engines like to see websites that evolve and improve their rankings over time growing organically. A site that jumps straight to the top is likely suspected to be a spam site using “black-hat” Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques, resulting, if proved, in its rapid demotion. So what does Google offer the small and local business:

  • Blogger; a blogging environment which allows you to purchase a custom domain to create a website – owned by Google
  • A Profile – tell Google about yourself and allows you to link back to your website.
  • Account; the glue that ties the whole Google environment together
  • Gmail; email from Google – it may not be your first choice email, but it comes with the package, and could be used just to manage your relationship with Google.
  • Places; put your local business on Google’s map – will appear on the Search Result Pages. I think it would be better called Google Business Place as it really gives you a chance to inform Google about your business
  • Alerts; set up searches to monitor your and your competitors presence
  • Analytics; helps you to understand how Google perceives your on-line world and allows you to tune your presence.
  • Buzz; one of Google’s social attempts – somewhere between Twitter and Facebook
  • Youtube – video sharing site – owned by Google.
  • Real-time Search – search that looks at social activity particularly from Twitter.

So these are  the tools, what are we trying to do with them? In short we are trying to define an integrated network of links that Google can see, understand and rank, that defines your on-line presence. Google seems to expect an organisation to be multi-faceted in terms of its on-line activities. Thus an organisation will be producing:

  • Pages of quality, timely content associated with your business activity- hence the blog and perhaps the Youtube postings
  • Primary location for your activities – Google Places. Effectively it allows you to define your business and its area of operations on Google.
  • Link to your website and other on-line activities e.g.  (back-links provide are a highly weighted factor in ranking search engine results) – Google Profile and Google Places
  • Video serves two purposes; it allows you to get your message over visually, and also gives greater depth to your Google Profile via Youtube.

There are many factors involved in producing the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), and whilst the weights of the individual factors is not known. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) attempts to convince the search engines that a particular on-line presence is the most relevant for a particular search. This is mostly about positioning keywords with quality content and  back-links. I saw a tweet, which I have since to re-find, which said “Content is king, but back-links are the king makers”. Google ranks the back-links by authority of the provider and who could be much higher than its own Google Profiles or Places?

Google Profiles allows you to define yourself and your business. It also allows you to link to other websites perhaps Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. Twitter is particularly important because  Google has access to the real-time stream of all tweets, and you can post links a to your blog post via this route. Google Buzz can also be used in this way, but bizarrely I find it is often not referenced directly.

I am now going to contradict myself. Google is emphatic about maintaining the quality of its search result. This results in frequent changes to the results for a given query. In fact recently Google even managed to rank Google Places as a lower quality result. However, do not be disheartened, keep on surveying your on-line presence, modifying it piece by piece to deliver better result rankings. Remember whilst rankings are important it is the conversion to sales that really count.

,Please note: I am not recommending all of the components above as the be-all-and-end-all of your on-line presence. You will need to determine what works for you. I personally prefer WordPress to Blogger.

Update: Google’s Small Business Marketing Handbook

Update: Google Hotpot – this is Google’s User Generated Review product. However,  Hotpot is being assimilated fully into Google Places, but the concept will continue to exist. Engaging with your customer’s and gaining traction within Google’s search result is a must for small businesses.  As Google attempts to make their search results more socially relevant, User Generated Reviews will become a more pertinent signal in their search algorithms.

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FTSE Businesses fail at Social Media

Is Social Media important for Small Business?

I just read on the Telegraph on-line that the majority of the FTSE100 business fail at social media. I think the issue is wider than just social media. The major problem is that most older businesses have yet to realise that they need to react to events far faster than they have had to in the past.

Previously larger businesses had a press office, who would say yes I will get back to you on this story or find someone to give you a quote. However, that is not enough now. A story damaging or enhancing to as company’s reputation may appear. The agile company will have the processes in place to:

  • Monitor their on-line reputation 60*60*24*7*365
  • Respond appropriately; ensuring that the appropriate  people in the organisation are informed, and a considered approach taken
  • Be ahead of the game; driving the story about their business, engaging with customers, monitoring what the competition are doing and saying.

So if big business can’t get it right where does this leave smaller businesses. Well most small business don’t have big reputations to defend. They still should be using be using social media to engage with their customers and enhance their reputations.

The advantage for the SMB is that you have don’t have to cut through all that corporate crap which most last corporations have entombed themselves in. You are a real person use it to your advantage use sites like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Stumbleupon, Reddit and Digg to raise you profile and sell not just your business but genuinely engage with your customers. It is less expensive to keep an existing customer that to gain a new one.

A final thought whilst corporate social media, might appear polished and professional, for a small business the personal touch is often more appropriate. For example the owner of a Chambre d’Hote in Normandy, tweeting and posting about local events and activities might be appropriate. Social Media should not be considered a millstone for the small business but a small part of your daily activities.

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Libyan Refugees seen in Normandy – Signs of Spring

Early Swallows arrive in Normandy

Releasing a swallow that flew into our living room

Swallow in Normandy

Today, whilst trying to get on top of the gardening, I spotted a pair of Swallows arrived fresh from their African winter holiday. When I pointed them to my wife, she said “Oh they’ve escaped from Libya” .

The rest of the afternoon was spent planting Asparagus, our new permanent crop which we successfully grew in the UK, and early potatoes. A variety, I am assured by Jean-Luc at the local garden centre in Villedieu, is planted in Brittany on the 14th February, and is hardy enough to take a frosting. If they do get frosted, I will follow last year’s tip that worked and spray the frosted leaves with cold water.

The grass is growing, which means summer lawn mowing season has started, on the bits where the four-legged lawn mowers aren’t  allowed. It was good to see the lambs outside enjoying the spring grass with their mother. Hopefully some more will be joining them soon, which will means a freezer full of tasty meat next winter.

Maybe soon there will be a real spring in Libya and its people won’t have to become refugees to taste democracy. Still  I am glad to see the swallows back in Normandy which means winter is finally over and summer is on its way.

Update: Spotted three White Storks flying north probably heading for Cotentin-Bessin Nature Reserve. Other species this area is home to include: Whinchat, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler, Lapwing, Curlew, Bittern, Spotted Crake, Montagu’s Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Bluethroat and Kentish Plover.

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Is Search Engine Ranking necessary for a Small Business?

OK you’ve got a website either you built it you sell or paid someone to do it for you. What next ? Customers – hopefully. But they don’t start arriving at your new virtual shop front. So what do you do? Twiddle your thumbs and wait – may be, or you start to think like a customer.

So I Google my website. Nothing – certainly not on page 1. I try various search terms, still nothing much. I might get some results for a more obscure angle on my website, whilst the more obvious ones don’t appear or if they do it’s on page 10+. Eventually after much head scratching, we do a bit of reading. People keep mentioning “Keywords” and “Back Links”.

Keywords and Back links are the primary reference points against which the Search Engine attempts to rank your website with in the Search Engine Results Page. How relevant is your website to that search. In most cases for the popular search terms the answer, and don’t be disappointed, is not very! The fact bear in mind is the people ranking at the top of these searches will have expended all of time and effort to get there.

Keywords are a science and an art. Why? Well no one apart from the core development teams at the search engines know what their algorithm does, even then it may sometimes throw a few surprises. What are Keywords? These are the words entered by the individual, that the search engine attempts match to their database of websites. So you just put these words in your web page and it will find your website – wrong. These keywords need to be included in your page title, in anchor text (hyper-link text), hyper-link URL and the page itself, but don’t over do it else the Search engine may think you are trying to con it into believe you are more important that you actually are.

Keeping on the subject of Keywords. What to go for? The popular search terms are being dominated. So this is where you need to think creatively, more importantly abstractly! Think around your product. What terms might people use to describe? Might they be looking for a specific location? Perhaps they might want to participate in a particular activity or visit a certain event. All of these ideas can be used to generate keywords which can be used to  generate traffic for your site. These Keywords are part of what is known are the long tail, away from the popular and generic searches. Local news sources are a great source of ideas for local business looking for local tie-ins.

Back Links are a primarily used as an indication of how important your website is. If your web pages are linked to by sites Google, Bing or the other search engines consider important, this will boost your rankings significantly. A local group of business may be a good place exchange links or with similar businesses in other areas. Some people are extremely good a hustling for links, others use link farms and dubious practices. However, poor quality or irrelevant links may cause your site to drop in the search engine rankings, and in extreme cases the search engines have been known to take punitive action.

So the bottom line ranking high on popular key words is important for a large business with large overheads but for the smaller business it is more import to balance their resources, not just money but time as well. What is more important than ranking well on a search engine is actually getting traffic to your site and then converting the visitors into paying customers.

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