After multiple attempts and lots of frustration, the screen cast is finally uploaded. Like I said, it is rough. Amateur city. Check it out below courtesy Vimeo.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
This was supposed to be the post where the long delayed screen cast of a quick easy website build (using SnapPages) was posted. Except that it nearly wasn’t. And it’s all down to the inconsistency of my internet connection. It’s a tired theme, one that has been discussed ad nauseum on this site and the rest of the Nigerian blogosphere.
Despite my enthusiasm for the internet and it’s opportunities, the lack of affordable bandwidth makes it difficult to trust anything to the internet. Case in point, my attempt to create a simple straightforward screen cast of the process of building a website was fraught with frustration due to constant breaks in connectivity. Consequently, I was only able to set up a very short screen cast that shows the initial setup process of a SnapPages site.
Better than nothing, I suppose.
Here it is embedded below. I’m going to have to post it as soon as the measly 66 MB uploads successfully (in about 4 hours, if nothing breaks) as an update. It’s a bit rough around the edges (OK very rough around the edges). Clearly done by a rank amateur (moi). It shows the login process and the initial wizard for setting up the basic structure of a website. You can visit the initial site at http://digitalshop.snappages.com/Home.htm. Subsequent screen casts will add more detail and customization. If I can just get them done.
Ok now, we can choose the technology. The thing is there are quite a few choices out there. Which is why we worked through what we needed first to make it easier to make the choice. There really is no scientific route to follow. Just a question of searching on Google, sites like Go2web20.net and such comparing the features of the sites that show up in the result. Sites that I have looked at in the past include the following
I’m not going to try to review or compare these services in this series (call me lazy) in this post. I will, however, take a couple of them and build sites with them. Starting with SnapPages which is extremely easy and which I have used before. The problem is – my internet connection is misbehaving. Which is the fundamental problem, in Nigeria, of all internet-based services that rely on constant connectivity. The regular breaks in connection, the drops in performance – all contribute towards making it a painful experience too many times. However, I have done this before with SnapPages and will persevere.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Someone showed me a quote for laptops the other day and it wasn't bad in terms of specs and pricing. However, I was pretty surprised that they were Windows XP machines. So here's a heads-up: don't buy a computer that has any operating system older than Windows Vista. In fact, if possible, wait until you can get 7 before you buy. This isn't about having the latest and the greatest. 7 has advantages by itself, that make it worthwhile, but aside from that, unless the experts have shown that the OS is a bad one, getting the latest usually means that you have the one that the vendor, MS, will be supporting going forward. So when getting new computers that come pre-installed with operating systems, you should hold out for the latest.
Having said that, I'm not suggesting that you rush to the market and buy an OS just because it is new. Vista had a lot of backlash (undeserved in my opinion). A lot of people who bought computers that came with Vista downgraded it to XP. It is wise to wait and hear what the word is before deciding to buy.
By the way, if you're a student in the UK or the US with an academic email address (.edu or .ac.uk) you can get Windows 7 for 30 GBP or USD as the case may be. That's a very very sweet deal.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
So let’s do our website. A couple of posts ago I had covered the reasons any business should have a website. The idea is also that a website shouldn’t cost a lot to put together and can even be free. Secondly, a website no longer requires any technical expertise to be done well, look professional and be useful. Sure high end sites need the technology experts, but to do a simple functional website that supports a basic business and it’s processes doesn’t. More importantly, you can do it yourself. However, if you want a little more (or a lot more) you will need to willing to spend some money.
What do you really need?
The first thing to do, is not to investigate technology, but to determine what you really want to accomplish. What should the website need to do in order to meet your needs? I would suggest the following based on my original post.
- A place where people can at first glance see what you do and what you offer.
- A list of your products.
- Your business processes – how they can make use of your service.
- A means to contact you.
- A means to be contacted by you.
- A means to give feedback about your products.
- Incentives to buy from you.
- Self-manageable with no technical expertise required.
Your peculiar needs may differ, but this should cover the general needs of most. Now let’s turn those needs into an actual site.
The Home page
This is a page where you give a succinct intro to your business, product or service. This is the first page most people see. Two sins you should never commit. First is don’t overload it with text. The internet generation have very little patience to read things so make your text meaningful and pithy. Secondly, pictures are essential (to the whole site, not just the home page). Get good ones. Third, the content needs to change frequently. You need to keep this page in particular fresh. Remember those incentives we talked about? This is where you advertise them. The home page is where you carry on the conversations about your business. The whole conversation doesn’t need to be on the home page, but it does need to start here.
A products page (or pages)
This is your online catalogue. You need to think about your products and how they are categorised. Is there a natural category? For instance, if you sell cars, a natural categorisation is brand (Toyota, Honda, Peugeot) or vehicle type (sedan, SUV, bus) or price range. Ideally, you other to be able to combine the different methods of categorisation, but with a focus on simplicity and self-management we may need to only do simple lists. An additional step should be the ability to click on each item and see more details about that particular item, maybe place an order or at least make an inquiry.
A contacts page and contacts mechanism
You need a page where all your contact information is posted. Though, arguably you could have all this info on your home page where it is front and centre. Secondly, from some of the other pages, such as your products pages you should provide a means where people can quickly email a query to you. This could also be your information acquisition page. As much as you need your potential customers to know how to reach you, you need to be able to reach them too. One way is have a contact form where they post their questions or service requests to you and you collect their info as part of the same process. On the other hand, if we are getting really minimal, the contact page will just have a link that opens their default mail client. As I have mentioned (and will continue to) there are most sophisticated things you could do, but we are focused on simplicity.
The fourth thing we need is a means to get a conversation going. Blogs in general, such as mine, have a comments section where people can leave comments about the blog posts (hint, hint). That may not be common on most sites, but it is a great place for people to quickly engage with you, leave testimonies, suggestions and recommendations.
So with this starting point, we can look at the options of free sites and site-building tools out there. One more thing though, as much as I have rattled on about being able to do this for free, I absolutely do recommend that you buy yourself a web address of your own.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
This still isn’t what I promised to write this week, but I gotta take care of business, you know what I’m sayin’? I have been writing this blog since February this year and it has been fun. However, I am painfully aware of things I wanted to write, and some commitments I made in terms of volume and types of content that I have not kept. In particular, I said I would post more frequently, and I would have categories of content. I have not been able to live up to that and I suspect this may have made this less than the best experience for my hundreds of readers. Lastly, there are some other projects, I would like to develop, but I don’t want this blog to suffer as a result of divided attention. Lastly, I think diversity of style and perspective can only be good thing. I had already spoken to a friend about this earlier today, but decided to give everyone the chance. So, I hereby officially invite other interested technology writers to write for Digital Crossings. I am looking for the following qualities in writers.
- The person has to be writer. If you have no appreciation for the well turned phrase, don’t nod your head at a nicely executed rhyme and cannot string one together yourself, then you’re not what we’re looking for. The writer should have the ability to write correct English sentences, but with wit, flair and elegance (yes that means you’re a better writer than I currently am). I want to be able to publish your posts without rewriting any parts of it. I’ll fix typos, other than that I will reject a post rather than attempt to rework it.
- Should have a passion for technology, but a willingness to write for non-geeks and non-technology professionals. I have drawn the line at writing about hardcore technology stuff and focused on ordinary computer and internet users. Who knows, with enough writers we may do a section purely targeted at geeks, but let’s stay the course right now. You do need to know technology and know it well. So be familiar with Ajax and RSS. Understand what an accelerometer is, be eagerly waiting to get your hands on an Android phone, but be able to restrain yourself when writing for these pages.
- Should be Nigerian, or at least have an experience of the Nigerian technology situation. In other words, someone who understands that we do not have 4Gb broadband connections and knows where Otigba is and has, at one time or the other, screamed “NEPA give us light”!
- I’m looking for writers who are not looking to earn money from this. This is Pro Bono work people. Despite the Google Ads on this site, I do not make money from this blog. Not a cent. You get to have your name in the blog, can link to it from your various profiles in Facebook, Legwork or MySpace and can put it on your resume, will get into our (yet to be created) honour roll, but that’s about it for the foreseeable future.
- Lastly, the writers need to understand that they are only sending in articles. I look forward to excellent pieces of writing and useful, insightful articles, which I will appreciate and celebrate. I’m hoping to build a community with the writers that write, but I’m not building an organisation. I’m not building an editorial team or staffing a publication, at least not yet. I’m just asking for people who would like to to write. For the pleasure of it. For the value of helping someone use technology to be more productive in their lives.
If you do decide that you want to write for Digital Crossings, send me a DM on Twitter saying “I want to write” and include a link to what you consider to be your best piece of writing and another link to your public profile on your social network of choice.
Lastly, I still plan to do that piece on building a website and you won’t have to wait till next week Tuesday to get it. Keep an eye on this space.
This not what I promised last week that I would write, but I needed to make this correction. In a post I wrote last month, I stated that MTN’s charge of 15 kobo per kilobyte and their unwillingness to let you use their internet package deals on your phone could potentially result in a charge of 471,000 naira. This could happen if you chose to use your mobile phone to access the internet on their network. A friend challenged on that declaring the very idea as unthinkable and that I must be mistaken. He went and did the math with the figures I presented and arrived at 41,000 naira. He was right, I did make a mistake, but my mistake was not my assertion. It was a typographical error I made in writing the blog – not in my arithmetic. specifically, I wrote:
“MTN charges 15k per kilobyte for me to access the Internet via my mobile phone. When that is multiplied by 3GB (314572 KB), it comes to four hundred and seventy-one thousand, eight hundred and fifty-nine naira, twenty kobo”
My mistake was I mistyped the kilobyte equivalent of 3GB. 3GB is 3145728 KB not 314572 KB. So do the math again. By not supporting the use of mobile phones to access the internet using one of their data plans, they really are setting you up for a 471,859.20 naira bill to get the same kind of service that they will offer with one of their data modems. You can break it down any which way you want. 1GB of data is 157,000 naira. 500MB of data is 78,000 naira. 100MB is over 15,000 naira. Come on!
Frankly, I do not understand why the data plans are not available via cell phones. It is still the same number of bytes. Of course, they get to sell fewer of those modems and data devices. There will also be more pressure on their network’s data services since the lower barrier to entry will also mean that more people (except me) will get online and they will see the kind of service complaints that AT&T in the US are facing due the number of iPhone users guzzling data on their network. In order words, it is more than likely that their network cannot handle the capacity and this is an artificial mechanism to slow the uptake of the service.
Mind you, this is only speculation. Maybe they have other reasons for discouraging users with phones like the iPhone, most modern Nokia smartphones or almost every Windows mobile from using their phones with the 3G internet services. As I said in my original post, you don’t get the sense of this restriction from their website. You have to walk into one of their centres or talk to their people to be told that you have to get the data device before you can take advantage of the packages. I would really love MTN to tell them that their people have misinformed me. I’m going to do my best to get this post into the hands of their customer service organisation. Let them write a rebuttal in these pages or whatever forum they want. However, if you read between the lines carefully, you’ll see that all the verbiage on their webpage is around getting the data card or the USB modem.
So the facts remain, if you must use MTN’s 3G internet service on the go for anything other than the most minimal of uses, then you have to buy either a blackberry or you need to get a data device and haul around a laptop rather than using your very data capable cell phone.
Picture is a screenshot from the iPhone/iPod Touch app Convertbot which I used to convert GB to KB.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Over the last couple of weeks, I spoke to two people I know who sell things as a secondary source of income. One of them sells clothes, shoes, perfumes and accessories. The other person sells cars. In the two separate discussions, I asked for their website so I could go online and check out their wares. I was half-joking, since I really wasn’t interested in anything they were selling, but it made me think when both of them told me they didn’t have one. What made this particularly thought provoking is that both of them are IT professionals in their day jobs and I would have thought that would have been a pretty obvious tool for their businesses to have.
So I started thinking about how easy it would be for them to set up a very professional looking website for free without too much effort. Having recently discovered a site that inventories all sorts of web building tools I felt I could look one or two of the better ones and do some sort of high level “how-to”. It’s not like I haven’t touched the subject of how easy it is to get really productive with the internet before. Maybe I just needed to be a bit more specific and talk through actually building a site.
On the other hand, perhaps I should step back and look at the basics again: why should you have a website for your business? Is it really worth the effort? What are the wins? I tend to assume that this is 2009 and everyone appreciates the Web and what an enormous opportunity it is. Maybe not. Some of these points are almost childishly obvious, but I think it is worthwhile to talk about them. Well, here goes.
1. A website is a worldwide catalogue of your products and services.
When you create a site and post your goods or services to it, anyone and everyone can have access to it. There are currently 10 million Nigerians on the Internet and that number is growing every day. Those are potentially 10 million people in your backyard who could see what you have to offer – never mind the other 1 billion people worldwide who could see it. Now you could decide that the only people you actually want to have access to your business are the 1000 or so people you can reach with your business card, phone calls, and pounding the streets under the African sun. Perhaps you prefer to stand in your shop door and hope they see your signboard and stop by. Otherwise a website is a great way for maximum exposure.
2. You are easy to reach.
Assuming you provide an email address on the site (I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t) then you have provided an easy means for customers to reach you for inquiries and to place orders. If you invest in a Blackberry or even a low cost data-capable phone and a Zain N1,000 internet connection, you can check for messages on the go.
3. Always open for business.
A website is a shop that never closes. When you have turned out the lights, closed the curtains and turned the key in the lock, a website is still running providing people with access to your business. The more capability you provide on a website, the more of your business customers can experience.
4. You Build a contact list.
The secondary benefit of email is that you can now build up a contact list in a digital form. Just from the email addresses of people who email you, you have a growing list of people that you can contact with targeted marketing and product offers. You have to do this (the marketing) with care and permission otherwise it will be seen as spam. Aside from the email, you could have a contact form on your site that can captures more useful details from the customer. This is actually a method of market research. You can get a sense of what your customers want. Customers will be more willing to do this if you provide some kind of incentive or the other. For instance, you could offer a 10% discount on their first purchase. You can even have one of those features that asks them to invite a friends. These referrals are great ways to increase your customer base as people are more willing to accept offers or solicitations that come through people they know and trust.
5. You can update changes to your business information or service profile without much expense.
When you print a business card, handbill, or print catalogue, if anything changes you have to reprint, or as some do, modify things by hand. While having a website doesn’t eliminate that entirely, with a few online edits you can ensure that the largest part of your potential audience always has the most current and accurate business information.
6. You can actually make money from it.
You can set up your site to be a proper ecommerce site where people can actually pay for goods and services that you then deliver to them. Now this will take a bit more effort and a bit more money to set up than just setting up a site, but if your product is the kind that can be sold this way (and it will surprise you what can be sold this way) it is worth the effort and the investment.
7. It makes you look good.
Having a website improves the value of your brand, especially if your site is well designed. It makes people believe that your product is as good as your site is.
These are just a few simple reasons to set up a site for your business. Did I mention you can do it for free and in a short amount of time? Like everything else in life, there is even more that can be accomplished than what I have listed here, but that also requires a lot more work and I have mentioned them in various forms in older posts and will talk about them in through the lifetime of this blog. If anyone has more reasons to add the ones I have listed, please feel free to post them as comments. With next post I’ll do a proper how-to. I’ll setup a site using one of the free tools and let you see how it turns out.