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Google+ and the Internet Pseudonym Debate

Published on August 4, 2011
Tags: Internet Communication

You will no doubt be aware by now of the massive influence of social networking sites on the lives of millions of people: Facebook has somewhere in the region of half a billion users; Twitter has around 200 million; the recently-launched Google+ clocked up 20 million users in a little over three weeks.

This is clearly a big business and one that looks certain to stay around for a good long while yet, but there is a growing debate over the issue of names. More specifically, why do so many social networks insist that you register using your real name?

This issue was perhaps best highlighted by the recent news that Google+ has been closing down the accounts of people who registered under a pseudonym. Many people received an email from Google informing them that there account was being suspended because it didn’t comply with the network’s guidelines. The reasons given for this by Google were that in order to keep the social networks running efficiently, people need to be able to search for other people by their real names so that they can find and add them with minimal fuss.

This is similar to policies employed by other networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook; one of Facebook’s initial achievements was seen to be its success in getting people to use their real names when they signed up. All of this, however, has provoked an angry reaction among some users, especially those who have had their accounts suspended by Google+ for using fake names.

One reason for this disgruntlement is that a lot of people put a lot of effort into their online persona. Many people are well-known by the persona they have created for themselves, such as on forums and networking sites that don’t always require you to use your real name (such as Twitter). Some people suggest that this helps them to create more distinct boundaries between their ‘real’ and ‘online’ lives and it helps to separate what they do in real life from anything that happens online.

This, naturally, works well for some people and there are people who have made careers out of being something of a mystery online (case in point: the famous blogger Belle du Jour). One concern, however, is the belief among some researchers and other professionals that if people have fake identities to hide behind while they are online, they are more likely to be disruptive and cause trouble than if they were forced to register for sites using their real names.

Theoretically, this is because using your real name on social networking sites means that the things you write are more obviously attributable to you; in a world where increasing numbers of employers are investigating their potential employees’ internet presence before hiring them, it certainly makes sense to keep anything under your real name professional and entirely above board. Using a pseudonym, however, supposedly makes some people more likely to act up because they feel they have a barrier to hide behind.

Using an online moniker apparently makes some people feel fearless and liberated; as though they can say what they want. There is undoubtedly some truth in this – you only have to visit an online message board and scroll through the comment threads for a couple of minutes before you find evidence of what’s known as ‘trolling’ or nasty comments that people would never say in real life.

There is even a famous theory to explain this phenomenon of internet anger. It’s called Godwin’s Law, or Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies. Godwin’s law states that the longer an internet ‘debate’ goes on, the probability of a comparison being made involving the Nazis and/or Hitler approaches 1. That is to say, it becomes a 100% guarantee. The same could probably be said of many topics. After all, if a conversation thread goes on long enough it could conceivably touch on any topic imaginable.

But Godwin’s point certainly stands. Most people can probably either imagine or will have seen a situation just like this on internet message boards, most likely made by people hiding behind online personas, effectively censoring their identities while making comments that would generally be censored in ordinary life.

This isn’t a debate with a clear conclusion: there is an argument to be made for people using their real names on social networking sites. This can be linked to the old adage of ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide then you’ve got nothing to worry about’; if you aren’t planning to do anything suspect online, why should it bother you to use your real name? There is also, though, a good argument to be made for allowing people to use whatever pseudonym they want online. People have a right to privacy and the vast majority of people are perfectly innocent and just want to have a good time; why should a few internet trolls ruin that for the rest?

One thing seems certain and that is that the debate over whether Google+ was right to suspect accounts is going to continue. It also feeds in to the issue of how much information people should post online when it is so obviously easily accessible by so many people – including friends, family, employers, spammers and others. But that is a topic for another day. For now, it seems safe to say that social networks aren’t going anywhere any time soon, but neither is the tension over how separate we should keep our lives online from the lives we live in reality.

By Chelsey Evans

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Ofcom's Biannual Report on Broadband Speeds: The Internet is Getting Faster

Published on July 29, 2011
Tags: Usability, Web Design London, Internet Communication

A report from Ofcom has found that there are still major discrepancies between reported and actual broadband speeds in the UK. This is despite the fact that average broadband speeds in the country are now around 6.8Mbps per second; there are still huge local variations and some areas still don’t support the speeds of broadband that are frequently advertised by internet providers.

This is something we have written about before, but it is worth looking at again as it seems to be a problem that just won’t quite go away despite multiple actions being taken with the aim of dealing with the issue. The Ofcom report found that even though nearly half of people with broadband are paying for packages with speeds up to 10Mbps, very few of them actually achieve this.

This has led Ofcom to call for changes in the way internet service providers advertise their products. It’s not all bad news, however, as broadband speeds have increased by around 10% in the past six months. This suggests a growing consumer awareness of the need to shop around for the best deals and fastest speeds, as much of the improvement came from people switching to faster services.

One issue that is becoming more prominent, though, is that even while average broadband speeds are increasing – which is, of course, good news – there is a growing gap between speeds that are advertised and speeds that are actually achieved. Even though average speeds are only around 6.8Mbps, the average speed advertised by internet service providers is 15Mbps.

Something else that the report found was that many people have broadband services that claim to be ‘up to’ 24Mbps, while more than a third of them only receive 4Mbps. Also, Ofcom found that broadband offering speeds of more than 24Mbps, which counts as being superfast, was available to 57% of homes. Despite these services being available, not everyone is receiving those speeds as they’ve been advertised.

So, what are some of the factors that affect the speed of broadband?

  • The way broadband is delivered is one major reason many internet users don’t get the headline advertised speed; around 75% of broadband still relies on ADSL technology, which means that the speed you receive is influenced by the distance between your house and the telephone exchange.

  • The time of day when the service is being used can also have an impact; if you are trying to use your broadband at a time when many other people are also using it, it can drag down the speeds achieved.

  • The quality of wiring in your house plays a part, too; if the wiring in your house isn’t keeping up with advances in broadband technology it will make it much harder to achieve the speeds that have been advertised by the internet service provider.

This is an issue that affects us all and so it is definitely more important than simply a question of advertising. For instance, when web designers and developers are creating new websites, they will naturally want to make use of the latest technologies to provide the best possible user experience. However, if web users are struggling with slow to load broadband, websites that make use of such technology run the risk of not displaying properly or taking much longer to load than they would if customers were receiving ‘as advertised’ broad band speeds.

This is frustrating for everyone and so while it’s definitely encouraging that progress has been made over the past six months, the widening gap between advertised and actual speeds is certainly something that needs to be addressed.

ASA, the Advertising Standards Agency, is currently looking at the issue of broadband advertising and it is expected to report soon; it will be interesting to see what they have to say. Added to this, Ofcom have recommended that rather than a single speed being quoted, customers should be provided with a speed range so that they can get a more accurate picture of their likely broadband speed than they would if they were simply told the maximum speed available.

This is valuable, as it is naturally important that consumers are given a clear indication of the speeds they can expect from their internet service provider. Also, more awareness of the difference between ADSL (generally slower) and cable (generally faster) services will definitely be beneficial.

However, it is also tempting to suggest that as well as making alterations to the way speeds are advertised, if real, beneficial change is to be made in the world of broadband speeds, programmes to upgrade the networks and improve actual speeds should be given more priority. After all, advertising can only take you so far; eventually, you need a faster product to back it up.

By Chelsey Evans

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Google, Amazon and the Android Mobile Application Market

Published on July 22, 2011
Tags: Mobile Application Development

More than a billion people in the world use services provided by Google. Commonly, these include the world-famous Google search engine and sites under its ownership, such as YouTube, as well as the increasingly popular Google Chrome web browser. Google currently also dominates the Android market, and essentially has unilateral control over it. In more recent developments, the company launched its new social networking site, Google+, only three weeks ago and it has already almost reached the twenty million user landmark.

All of this goes to show just how big Google is and how far reaching its influence is in the world of the web and other technological matters. There have been a few points of contention along the way, such as US courts ruling that the company should halt its attempts to create the biggest online library ever, and challenges made to the EU over the company’s dominance of the search market.

Now it appears as though Amazon is set to challenge Google by launching its own tablet computer, using Android technology. Rumours have been building for a while that Amazon is intending to launch its own tablet, and a week ago it appeared to become more certain, with some suggesting that the tablet could even launch before October. On the face of it, this seems to be more of a direct challenge to Apple and its iPad than it does to Google, but when you take into account Google’s control over the Android market it raises questions for the search giant as well.

One of the issues is that Google has reportedly stopped other hardware manufacturers from competing with its own Android devices. However, Amazon has got its own mobile app store, which enables it to cut out Google and instead sell features such as messaging and search to the highest bidder (such as to Bing, for example). This would help, in theory, to cut down on the cost of the hardware, as would the fact that Amazon could afford to sell the hardware for a lower price, knowing they could make up the cost on software and other content instead.

If the Amazon tablet is released as is suggested that it will be, and if it proves to be a success, this could inspire other manufacturers to make use of the Amazon app store. The thinking here is that Amazon has got considerable retail experience and so would be able to make the tablet and its app store more profitable than apps have proved to be for Google.

The effect of all of this would be to challenge Google’s dominance in one area of its operations, but there are a few snags that Amazon would need to work out before its proposed tablet could be a proper success. One of the biggest challenges is the fact that the Amazon app store is currently only available in the United States, and it would naturally take time for it to re-develop and alter it so that it was suitable for other regions, which often have in place considerably different regulations and policies governing such software.

Another challenge is that the Amazon app store might need to spend slightly more time on development to work out some of the issues that have previously been raised, such as the fact that some third-party developers find it frustrating: if they were going to offer a comprehensive, user-friendly app service, this would definitely need to be worked out.

So, the issue is not without its challenges and it is nowhere near a certainty that the rumoured Amazon tablet will have the impact that is hoped by some (or even that it will be released by October, as has been suggested). However, it does show burgeoning competition in a market that has gone relatively unchallenged up until now and it also shows that, no matter how well Google performs and no matter how it expands into new areas such as social networking, it is not the only player on the field.

Whatever happens, tablet computers are rapidly becoming more popular: last year, Apple sold 3,000,000 iPads in just 80 days. BlackBerry manufacturer RIM has also released its own tablet computer and more are surely on the way from elsewhere. Amazon is sure to face many challenges in its attempts to break into this market, let alone when challenging Google’s dominance of the Android market, but it just goes to prove that Google still can’t afford to ignore its competitors, however successful it becomes.

By Chelsey Evans

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Are Spelling and Grammar Important on a Web Site?

Published on July 14, 2011
Tags: SEO, Usability, Web Design London

An interesting news report this week suggests that poor spelling and grammar on websites is costing internet businesses millions of pounds a week. It seems to be common sense that if you are publishing anything on the internet, you should – at the very least – run it through a spellchecker first to make sure there are no glaring errors. It appears, however, that lots of people fail to do this and it’s having a massive impact on businesses.

A large part of the issue here is about trust: if people are going to part with their hard-earned cash online, they need to feel as though they can trust the website. If there are lots of spelling errors and basic grammar-related mistakes, they might feel as though the site is not particularly professional and is therefore not worthy of their business (this is the point where we frantically read back through this blog post to make sure we’re not guilty of the same sin).

It isn’t just ecommerce sites that are affected, either. It seems fairly safe to say that the vast majority of businesses have websites so they can promote their work and grow their company; even if they’re not directly touting for business online, their website still forms an important part of their marketing portfolio. Plus, as more people turn to the internet to research businesses before they use them in the ‘real’ world, it is more important than ever that websites offer a good first impression.

The source of this news story about the revenue lost by online businesses is Charles Duncombe, an online entrepreneur. He makes the point that websites have about six seconds to grab someone’s attention, and that sounds about right. Web users can tell extremely quickly whether or not a site is of good quality. The overall look of the website obviously plays a part in this, but so does the quality of the content – if there is a stupid mistake in the headline (other than perhaps in a clearly ironic manner), it’s bound to put people off.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that internet sales in the UK are worth around £527m per week, which demonstrates just how big a business this is. Additionally, an online experiment by Mr Duncombe found that online sales were twice as high once he had corrected an error on a website. This goes to show how much money is being lost thanks to bad spelling.

There is also the potential for websites to be negatively affected in search engine rankings thanks to spelling mistakes and other indicators of poor quality content. We have previously written about the Google Farmer update, which has had the effect of pushing lower quality sites down in the search engine rankings – proving that it’s not enough to just target keywords: quality matters for all sorts of things.

It’s also worth noting that the reputations of businesses are at risk, here. A company could offer a fantastic service, but if it doesn’t sell it properly or it gets something fundamental wrong on its website, it could stop that company’s success in its tracks. Mr Duncombe makes the point that when you sell something on the web, 99% of it is down to the written word.

It’s vital to get it right, especially when you consider that things such as bad spelling and dodgy grammar are traditionally taken as indicators of an online scam. It seems safe to predict that every single person reading this blog will have been the recipient of multiple scam emails that have been riddled with basic written errors. It also seems safe to predict that you will all have immediately deleted the emails as a result (well, we hope so, anyway!). Imagine if people did that with the website of your business, simply because you didn’t proofread it properly or put quite enough thought into the copywriting.

So, don’t let your business’s website lose out because you’ve written “it’s” instead of “its”. There are a few simple things you can do to make sure the content on your site is of a high quality so your readers will trust it and – hopefully – give you their business as a result. They include:

  • Use a spellchecker. It sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many people don’t.

  • Remember your audience. It is fine to write in ‘text speak’ when you’re actually texting, but remember that your website is supposed to be a professional pitch as to why people should use your services. Imagine you’re a customer: would you be convinced by your site? If the answer is ‘no’, then you may have some work to do.

  • Get a copywriter. There’s no shame in admitting you need some assistance to help your website pack a punch for the right reasons. A professional copywriter will be able to make sure there are no grammatical slip-ups on your site and that the content is relevant to your business.

  • Proofread. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Even if you’re confident in your ability to write good copy, don’t post it online without checking it first. You never know when errors might have crept in without you realising.

By Chelsey Evans

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Which Comes First in Web Design - Design or Content?

Published on July 8, 2011
Tags: Web Design London

When you have a business, chances are that at some point you will want a top quality website to help market your work and provide your clients with more information about your services. The temptation at this point can often be to jump straight in to the web design process and start thinking about what you want the site to look like.

Of course, aesthetics are important as they are what web visitors first see when they click onto a page, and they do make a difference as to whether the visitor decides to stay on your website, to read the information there and to contact you or buy your products. So what your website looks like is very important, and it’s something that web designers spend a lot of time making sure to get right.

When you are creating a website, however, it often helps to start from a different point: the content. Graphics and colours may come first in terms of a web visitor’s viewing experience, but in terms of what goes into your website, it really helps if you know what you want to say first. This often helps to guide the web designer too as the quality and length of the site content can determine the structure and layout of the design.

This is why planning is such an important part of the web design process; when we design websites at Ampheon Web Design London, for instance, we always like to know exactly what the client is looking for first. This includes matters such as the nature of their business and what they are hoping to achieve with their website, as well as how they would like it to look. This helps us to create a much better website with the aim that it will be more successful at generating traffic and business.

So, if you are thinking of creating a new website for your business, what are some of the things you should be thinking about before you turn your thoughts to the aesthetics of web design?

In a lot of cases, it can help to get right back down to basics. For example, what does your company actually do? Having a really clear, conceptual idea of what your business is about can help to shape your vision for your website. Secondly, who is your target audience? This is likely to vary depending on the nature of your company and whether you are looking to produce an ecommerce site or an informative one.

It also pays to think about what content you are going to be putting on the site. What articles do you think you will need to include in order to sell your business to people? What categories do they fall into? This helps to break your site down into distinct sections that will make it easier to design, navigate and understand. It also helps if you have at least some content written before you turn your attention to the look of the website, as the tone of your writing will help to inform where the site goes from there.

And don’t forget: your  web site content should be written with the visitor in mind; how what you are offering can benefit them.

Once you have a very clear idea in your head about the content of your website – the meat of it, if you like – you can turn your attention to the design. What kind of colours do you want? What feelings to you want the site to invoke? Do you want interactive features? What sort of graphics? How do you want to go about branding it? These are all questions that your web designer will be able to help you answer if you aren’t sure, but the more you know beforehand, the more the designer will be able to create an accurate reflection of your vision.

One of the most important things to remember about web design – and websites in general – is that if they are going to be good, they need to be dynamic. This means you should regularly review the content on your site and update it to keep it fresh and relevant. This is not only sensible from the point of view of keeping your readers up to date, but it also helps in terms of SEO (search engine optimisation). At longer intervals, you might also want to review the aesthetics of your site to see if they need updating to keep up with where your business is going.

Overall, then, web design is not static. It’s not just a case of designing an attractive website. Of course, that’s part of it, but it’s also about the quality of the content that forms the core of the site, so the aesthetics will complement what you have to say, not overwhelm it. Web design is not just about creating pretty webpages: it’s also about conveying a message. Knowing what that message is before the design process starts will definitely be of benefit to your business.

By Chelsey Evans

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