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Got Spam? Stop it Before it Strikes Your Mailbox

. Posted in small business into a huge

By Bob Parsons

Tuesday, September 2, 2003; 4:00pm EST

Once upon a time on the Internet, when you saw the little envelope, or heard, ?You?ve got mail,? you got a warm fuzzy feeling. As time, technology, and the popularity of the Internet and e-mail for business use progressed, most e-mail is no longer from your best friend ? or even your business colleague. Now, it?s from someone trying to sell you a million-dollar business proposition or maybe a miracle pill, among other obscene and potentially virus-laden messages.

It is estimated that the average U. S.-based office worker must sift through up to 100 pieces of ?spam,? unsolicited bulk mail, everyday. Spam is an inexpensive and easy way to advertise to a vast audience. Today, an estimated 50 percent of all e-mails handled by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are spam. And believe it or not, this is expected to increase to the point where the majority of e-mail is in fact spam.

Who pays to handle all this junk mail? In a word, you! Because your ISP has to invest in the cost of equipment and resources to handle this junk, the cost gets passed along in your monthly Internet bill. More importantly for small business owners, you also pay for spam with the most precious commodity you have ? your time.

The burden of spam and its associated costs have drawn the attention of our legislators who have introduced several anti-spam bills to Congress, including the Reduction in Distribution (RID) of Spam Act of 2003. This bill, if passed, would require all commercial e-mail messages to be identified as such (including a standard label for unsolicited sexually explicit messages), and include the sender?s physical address and an opt-out mechanism. It would also prohibit the use of false or misleading headers in commercial messages.

Currently, 35 states have anti-spam laws on the books that come in the form of regulating opt-out procedures, requiring subject-line labels or merely regulating falsification of message headers. While a governing body that oversees commercial e-mail is nonexistent, the Federal Trade Commission is spearheading the development of federal standards to protect you from spam. At a recent conference, FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris called spam ?one of the most daunting consumer protection problems (the) FTC has ever faced.? Predominant forces on opposite ends of the issue are the Direct Marketing Association and the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email.

As this continues to play out at the federal level, there are steps you can take now to cut down on ? if not virtually eradicate ? the daily spam in your inbox:

Be aware of what you?re ?opting-in? for

When you download ?free? software and utilities (Instant Messengers, video and sound players, etc) be aware of the fine print: ?I would like to hear about specials from <insert company here> and its partners.? This line is typically alongside a check-marked box. If it?s a company you want to hear from, then there is no problem. However, if it?s a company that doesn?t flat out guarantee that they will not make your name and e-mail address available to others, you should reconsider. Your e-mail address could be sold to the highest bidder if you don?t indicate otherwise. In other words, uncheck the box. This process is called ?opting in? and ?opting out,? giving or denying permission to a company to add your e-mail to their distribution list.

Know when to ?opt out?

When you receive an unsolicited e-mail, it should have instructions (usually at the bottom in fine print) on how to unsubscribe via e-mail or by using a link to a Web page. Caution: Spammers can be devious, building their lists of e-mail addresses by pulling them off of Web sites, chat rooms or even by outright guessing. Sometimes, devious spammers who might have guessed your address may be using a fake, opt-out mechanism as a way to confirm to them that they guessed right. When you hit the ?unsubscribe? button, keep track and make sure that you don?t receive future mailings from that domain name. Keep in mind that some mailing services can take a few days to remove you from a list, however in most cases, removal should be virtually instantaneous. If spam doesn?t stop, it?s time to make a formal complaint.

Find out ?whois? sending it

Before making a formal complaint, you need to find out who is spamming you. The best place to start? The ?whois? database. Whois is an online public database that lists the domain registrar, hosting server names, the registrant?s contact information and other details for every registered domain. You can easily conduct a whois search by starting with a third party like www. geektools. com or www. domainwhitepages. com. Or, you can logon to the Web site of a leading domain registrar, which will provide a link to a whois server. Information obtained from whois can be used to help direct your spam complaints to the appropriate place.

Report spam to the appropriate place

Every e-mail ever sent goes through a number of third parties to get to you. Responsible companies involved in this process will have policies against spam and e-mail abuse. When you?ve researched the domain in question, here are the types of companies to which you can report spam:

    Domain registrars enable the domain name to point to the hosting provider (the server or servers that house the Web site). Although a registrar alone cannot stop an e-mail itself, if the link to the site is severed, the site being advertised is not going to work. This is one way to punish spammers.

    Hosting providers have the servers that house the Web sites being advertised. Often times, the hosting provider will also handle some or all of the e-mail services. Hence, the hosting provider can be an excellent place to report spam. A hosting provider can affect the e-mail, as well as the Web site in question. Note: Some companies run and maintain their own Web server without outsourcing to a hosting provider. That would lead you to the next step?

    Internet Service Providers (ISP?s) control the networks and bandwidth that transports e-mail, so they can effectively stop spam mailings in a much more direct fashion. ISP?s deal primarily with the Internet protocol (IP) address, a numeric identifier linked to the company?s servers or Web sites. There are far fewer ISP?s than hosting providers. Many of these are large networks, so be patient, as they may take a little longer to respond, but are an effective method of stopping spam from a certain source.

Download a good spam filter ? or better yet, an intelligent one The best way to clean up your inbox is to download an intelligent spam filter that recognizes and separates the good from the bad. To date, the best on the market is the ?Bayesian? spam filter, which uses artificial intelligence to detect spam according to your personal e-mail preferences. This self-learning filter uses a probability based mathematical theory developed by Thomas Bayes, an 18th Century British clergyman. Bayes? theory is based on the number of times an event has or has not occurred, and the likelihood it will occur in the future.

Out of the gate, the Bayesian filter starts with basic ?scoring? capabilities to effectively catch spam. It analyzes words, patterns and senders (among other metrics), giving each e-mail message a score which is compared against a defined threshold. If the e-mail makes the grade, it is delivered to your inbox as intended. If the score is too high, the message will be marked as spam in your inbox, or sent automatically to a location of your choosing, e. g. bulk mail.

Users can easily adjust the score threshold to be more or less sensitive. For example, if you have an e-mail address that is used primarily for communicating with your customers, you might lower the threshold setting. An e-mail used solely for internal correspondence might be set higher. The beauty of a Bayesian filter is that over time, as it learns from and adapts to a user?s individual e-mail patterns, it becomes incredibly effective, continually adjusting to recognize new types of spam.

Not so long ago, small business owners paid for receiving unsolicited advertising via their fax machines through wasted paper and toner. Today, you?re paying for spam in ways never imagined. Unlike the old days of blast-faxing, there are tools and resources at your disposal to stop spam before it strikes. If you have questions about spam and how best to stop it, contact your favorite domain registrar, ISP or e-mail service provider.

Bob Parsons is president and founder of GoDaddy. com, the world?s No. 1 registrar in net new domains and provider of domain-related products and services, including Spam Xploder?, intelligent, Bayesian filter technology. For more information, visit http://www. godaddy. com/.

Want to learn more?

An increasing number of grassroots groups and anti-spam advocates have joined the front lines to combat the infinite number of unwanted messages being sent to Internet subscribers. The following resources can help you learn more and stay apprised of the latest in the war against spam:

? Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email http://www. cauce. org/

? Direct Marketing Association http://www. the-dma. org/

? Federal Trade Commission http://www. ftc. gov/

? Internet Research Task Force http://www. irtf. org/

? Network Abuse Clearinghouse http://www. abuse. net/

? Spam Laws http://www. spamlaws. com/

 

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Is Your Web Site Ready for the New Year?

. Posted in small business into a huge

By James Saunders

Thursday, January 20, 2005; 2:00pm EST

As we look back at another year, and forward to another, there?s time to reflect on how our websites performed in the last year and decide on what web site improvements need to be made for the New Year ahead. This is the first part of a two-part article that looks at 10 things that a website owner can do to improve their websites for the New Year.

Did your site perform as well as it could have in 2004?

If you own an ecommerce store, did it receive as many orders as you?d have liked during the festive period? Did you get lots of support requests asking for further information? Did your site suffer from a high abandonment rate? We all need our sites to be successful and produce a return on investment on the cost of promotion and advertising. However, it?s easy to be taken in by technology and miss the basics that will help improve the performance of your website, decrease abandonment and increase conversion.

The list below identifies 10 ways in which you can improve your website. All of the improvements can be made without major investment, new technology or the need for additional resources:

1. Ensure that you make your USP / benefits clear on every page

2. Ensure that provide improved ways in which your visitors can contact you

3. Improve the quality of the information on your site such that they can make informed purchasing decisions

4. Ensure that your site is accessible to all visitors and search engines

5. Add new ways of delivering content to 3rd parties

6. Improve conversion through removing unnecessary registration and requests for too much information

7. Offer greater customer service through not only meeting ecommerce regulations but surpassing them

8. Improve the site such that it offers an improved user-experience

9. Stop worrying about page rank and start focusing on customers

10. Take time to understand how visitors use your site and learn from that knowledge

1. Ensure that you make your USP/benefits clear on every page

The Internet breaks down many boundaries. Not only has the Internet made it possible for everyone to trade online, but it has also removed geographical barriers making it far easy to purchase products from overseas. However, as an ecommerce site owner, this leads to increased competition. In the high-street, you may have had a handful of competitors. Now, you may have hundreds or thousands. Therefore, it?s necessary to stand out from the crowd and clearly identify your business and websites USPs and benefits. These may be:

Price

Product quality

Service quality

Product knowledge

Product uniqueness

Product availability

Free delivery

No matter what your USPs are, make sure that they are clearly identified on your website and make sure that these USPs are visitor-focused by asking yourself the question, how does the USP benefit the visitor.

2. Ensure that provide improved ways in which your visitors can contact you

Visitors are bound to have questions regarding the products/services that you provide as well as about your business. In order to assist visitors make informed decisions, it?s important that you provide the answers to these questions on your site. There are a number of ways of doing this. These include :

Frequently asked questions ? as you receive new questions from visitors, ensure that you add them to your FAQ

About us information

Improved product information

However, it?s clearly not always possible to pre-empt the full range of questions a visitor may ask. Therefore, make sure that you make it easy for visitors to contact you if they have questions. Also, ensure that these ways of communicating with you are clearly identified on your website by locating them in the header area of each page. Popular means of allowing visitors to contact you include:

Email

Telephone ? clearly identify the hours that you can be contacted

Contact us form ? an improvement on email as you can direct visitors to include information to enable you to be able to provide an improved service

Live Help ? only provide live help if you are able to support it full time

Call me ? make it easier by calling visitors back at a mutually convenient time

VoIP (e. g. Skype or Vonage) ? save money by using Internet telephony

Ticket-based support

Forums

3. Improve the quality of the information on your site such that they can make informed purchasing decisions

Unless you sell unique products or services, there?s the possibility that you use product information provided by the product manufacturer or supplier. Although this information can be very detailed, in most cases, it isn?t or the information is targeted more at those selling the product rather than those wanting to purchase it.

Due to the ease in which the information can be used on your site, it?s likely to be used on many of your competitor?s sites too.

Stand out from the crowd and provide personalized content about the products and services that you sell. After all, to be able to sell your products and services, you need to be familiar with their use, features and unique selling points. Make sure that the product details you provide include as much information as possible in an easy-to-read and enticing format.

4. Ensure that your site is accessible to all visitors and search engines

Many ecommerce stores remain inaccessible to many visitors and search engines. Given the need to ensure that all websites are accessible to visitors with disabilities, it is very important to ensure that your website meets the WCAG guidelines for website accessibility. For more information about the guidelines, check out the RNIB?s Web Access Centre at:

http://www. rnib. org. uk/xpedio/groups/public/documents/code/public_rnib008789.hcsp.

Some of the most important visitors to your website are search engine spiders. These spiders visit the pages on your site and are used to rank the pages within the search engines for particular keywords and phrases. The spiders follow links to your site from other sites, and then follow the links within the site. However, there are certain impediments that may prevent spiders from getting to some or all pages within your website. These include:

Use of JavaScript menus ? some JavaScript menus do not include links to internal pages within the website that search engine can follow. If possible, replace the JavaScript menu with an alternate CSS based menu.

Use of dynamic URL parameters ? search engines are getting more tolerant to having multiple parameters in URLS. However, it is still advised that no more than 3 or 4 parameters are used.

Use of session IDs ? Many ecommerce stores require the use of session information in order to be able to maintain information about visitors as they interact with the store. However, if session IDs are passed as URL parameters, they can prevent search engines from spidering the website.

It is very important that these impediments are removed in order that your site can be completely spidered. For example, an ecommerce site may have many thousands of pages (associated with the products). However, through the use of too many dynamic URL parameters or session IDs, the major search engines many only be able to list a handful. This therefore gives less content available within the search engines associated with your website that could potentially be found by a search engine user.

5. Add new ways of delivering content to 3rd parties

Article and news syndication using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is becoming widespread across the Internet. However, to date, syndication of content for ecommerce stores hasn?t been as popular. This is set to change and ecommerce site owners start to use content syndication to keep their visitors and customers up to date with their:

Latest news

Special offers

The use of content syndication can be used to replace the need to publish opt-in newsletters. This saves you time and ensures that your visitors/customers are always up-to-date with the latest developments on your website.

In part 2 of this article (coming soon), we will provide more detail about the following tips for website success in 2005:

6. Improve conversion through removing unnecessary registration and requests for too much information

7. Offer greater customer service through not only meeting ecommerce regulations but surpassing them

8. Improve the site such that it offers an improved user-experience

9. Stop worrying about page rank and start focusing on customers

10. Take time to understand how visitors use your site and learn from that knowledge

About the Author

James Saunders is the Managing Director of Site-Report. com Limited (http://www. site-report. com), a UK internet consultancy offering holistic advice to UK SMEs on all aspects of website development and promotion including usability, accessibility, ecommerce regulations, internet marketing and search engine optimisation.

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5 Strategies for Avoiding a Data Security Breach

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Does your company store private data about your customers and vendors, such as their passwords, credit card details, or social security numbers? If so, even a minor security breach could seriously damage your company’s reputation — and lead to lawsuits.

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Work From Home, More Than Meets The Eye?

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By James Bradley

Friday, December 08, 2006; 2:00pm EST

I have been doing business for 18 years, and let me tell you first hand, there is no business like Work at Home business. The key being "Work at Home". From the corporate world to the small time brick and mortar world of business, there really is nothing that can compare to the freedom and enjoyment of work from home business ventures.

There are so many ways to go about setting up and running your own home business utilizing the internet today, its really an amazement to me that everyone isn't working from home as their own boss. If you're sick of your jobs or simply want a change in your life, I strong urge you to look into legitimate home business opportunities.

If you can type and have an internet connection, you can very easily run your own flourishing home business. I'm not going to tell you now to go buy some program, what i'm going to talk about goes much further than this.

The equation to success always involves several things: Focus, dedication, passion, informed decisions, and Commitment.

Have you ever set a goal before, made a conscious decision that you wanted something accomplished in your life, but you were then distracted and lost your focus?

Maybe you lost a credit card, or you got a cold, or you forgot someone's name, or something happened at the office.........AND YOU LOST YOUR FOCUS?

You weren't thinking of your goals, you were thinking of something else, something that distracted you from goals you had previously set for yourself.

Life is hectic and we all have busy schedules, the days and hours fly by so quickly it seems there is never enough time in the day.

So much that we lose our focus and forget what our goals in life are and how we can work to achieve them

We lose focus

WE ALL LOSE FOCUS

Which is why I want to make this very clear, that no matter what obstacles and distractions you are faced in your life, no matter how busy or tired you are, you Need To Have The Driving Determination and Will Power To Achieve Any Goals That you Put Your Mind To!!!

I want you to understand this sincerely, because this is what has helped me to achieve the true success that I have today, and it is one of the staples of building and running a successful home business. Your will and focus to succeed, to make something of yourself are all that anyone needs to succeed in any aspect of their life. No one is going to give you anything for free, "there is no free lunch", as they say. So expect any home business opportunity to involve some work and effort, but you can do it with a little drive and self determination.

About the Author

James has been involved in advanced internet marketing and home business opportunities for the last 4 years within the frame work of a multi national billion dollar company. He is a graduated student of http://www. homeincomeuniversity. com/.

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4 Tips for Making a Small Retail Space Feel Bigger

. Posted in small business into a huge

You found a storefront in the perfect location for the right price. Congratulations! The problem is, space is so tight that your customers can’t browse without bumping into furniture or one another — and you’d need to invest some serious coin to expand your footprint.

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Should Your Small Business Get Political?

. Posted in small business into a huge

With the Republican primaries upon us — and the 2012 general election on the horizon — Americans are becoming increasingly vocal about their political views. As a small-business owner, should you start posting signs in support of your favorite candidate(s) for public office?

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Building a Community in the Virtual Workplace

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By Dana Greenlee, co-Host WebTalkGuys Radio

Monday, October 27, 2003; 10:30am EST

The physical landscape of a typical business is changing. Some employees may now find themselves surrounded by family pets rather than cubical half-walls. Working for a business, yet out of the office, is the cresting wave in workplace trends.

In fact, 50 percent of employees in many companies aren't located in the same office, or even city, as their managers. How do they communicate and collaborate? Typically, they rely on obvious technologies like the telephone and Internet. But the time has come to move beyond voice conferences and e-mail.

The days of everyone arriving at the same building at 8:30, working together all day, and leaving at 5:00 are over. In fact, 50% of employees in many companies aren't located in the same office, or even city, as their managers.

It?s time to move beyond voice conferences and e-mail. A new company called Collaboration Architects constructs task-specific ?offices? that bring geographically distributed teams together in cyberspace.

Collaboration Architects designs, constructs and implements online work environments that help people and organizations collaborate via the Web.

Dr. Bill Bruck, co-founder of Collaboration Architects, calls himself a Technology Sensei, because he uses principle from the martial arts to help companies make that technological change to a more virtual office. Bruck has written ten books on information technology, like Microsoft Office, WordPerfect Suite, PerfectOffice, and GroupWise. He?s also a psychologist and professor of psychology.

Bruck recently talked about why using the web to collaborate with work groups is imperative in the new Information Age.

Q. Isn?t using e-mail enough to collaborate virtually?

Bruck: No really. You write an e-mail. You send it to 10 people. You get eight different responses. Now what do you do? Do you send eight different replies? Do you copy each reply to all 10 people? And if someone replies to your reply, should they copy it to everyone on the list? It?s enough to give anyone a raging headache. A well-designed virtual office eliminates the frustrating e-mail trail by giving everyone a single location to make comments and respond to them. It?s a nearly foolproof way to ensure that no one gets left ?out of the loop.? Also, it documents every word that?s exchanged. When you need to look back and confirm something, you?ll find the entire ?conversation? recorded in one place, rather than having to open six months? worth of e-mails.

A virtual workplace creates a ?living archive? of documents. Memos, progress reports, schedules, budgets, press releases. . . all documents pertinent to your project can be archived in your online environment. Obviously, every team member benefits from having access to such materials. If someone misses an important meeting, he or she can go to the archive and review the notes. Successive drafts of documents can be posted so that the ?history? of the project may be easily reconstructed. Decisions are recorded for posterity.

Q. Is sounds like this virtual work environment can be a more democratic way of collaborating.

Bruck: It does give everyone an equal voice. Synchronous describes a one-hour meeting. Asynchronous refers to what happens between that meeting and next meeting. Let?s say a company holds a brainstorming meeting. We all know the ideas that are put on the table come from those people that are the quickest and the loudest. But suppose the company recorded these ideas in an asynchronous online environment and told everyone they had a week to review them and add others? Quieter folks, or those that prefer to mull things over, or those that just had a bad breakfast that morning would be much more inclined to post their ideas. In this way, a virtual workplace is a great equalizer.

Q: Some business resources are tight due to the economic downturn. Will going virtual help a companies financial health?

Bruck: Perhaps the biggest and most compelling reason to establish an online work environment is simply this: it?s nothing less than an inevitability for corporations destined to survive and thrive in the Information Age.

Today?s business leaders have a simple choice: they can quickly learn how to use online collaboration technology or they can bury their heads in the sand. Those who choose to learn increase their chances of staying competitive. For those who don?t, it?s just a matter of time before they are out of the game altogether. And in today?s world we are talking about months, not years, to experience competitive degeneration.

Q: What does the future look like for business collaboration?

Bruck: The electronic workplace is the workplace of the future. Fifty years from now we?ll be holding long-distance meetings in front of life-size video screens just as a matter of course. But it has to begin somewhere, and that somewhere is finding better, more efficient ways to share information. The corporation that learns how to compete globally-and manage the attendant wealth of information effectively-will ultimately come out on top.

Q: In a nutshell, what does Collaboration Architects do?

Bruck: We create online work environments that allow people and organizations to collaborate via the Web. We are ?architects? because we believe that the creation and implementation of successful online workplaces require the same level of quality thinking and artful employment of the right technologies as do the creation of physical workspaces. But what?s just as important is that our solutions take into account the corporate culture-the reality-of each of our clients. Every organization has its own capacity to accommodate change, and we respect that. We make sure the solution we recommend is right for that client.

Q: Why would an organization need a virtual workplace?

Bruck: Well, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, as every company is different and has its own unique needs. But in general, I would say as the business world has changed, the needs of individual organizations have changed right along with it. Decisions are much more complex, they have to be made more quickly, and they tend to involve a lot more people and cross-functional teams and organizational boundaries. And not everyone contributing to getting the job done is located in the same building or even the same state or even the same country! Did you know that in some major corporations, 50% of the employees are not co-located with their managers? A virtual workplace gives team members a place to ?go? and way to communicate and share information when they get there.

Q: Can you tell us some of your central philosophies?

Bruck: Sure. As I touched on earlier, we take a very ?human? approach to the work we do. We have a thorough understanding of the technical dimension, sure, but we also put a great deal of emphasis on the social dimension. And because people are used to working with people in places, make sure the environments we create provide a sense of place. We use graphic metaphors designed to make a company?s people feel ?at home? in the virtual office, and we also integrate that company?s business processes into the environment. It?s all about making people feel comfortable working in cyberspace-which, let?s face it, is an alien concept for most-so that they can be as productive as possible.

Q: Okay, what happens once you?ve designed the virtual office and taken it ?live.? Is your work done?

Bruck: Absolutely not! (Laughs) Determining the appropriate technology and building the desired solution is just the beginning. We consult with our clients during and after the implementation process, coaching and training everyone who will be working in the virtual office on how to get the most out of it. We?re happy to conduct periodic evaluations and advise our clients on upgrades that would help them meet their future collaboration needs even better.

About Source of Article Dana Greenlee is producer and co-host of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show.  WebTalkGuys, a Seattle-based talk show featuring technology news and interviews. It is broadcast on WebTalkGuys Radio, Sonic Box, via Pocket PC at Mazingo Networks and the telephone via the Mobile Broadcast Network.  It's on the radio in Seattle at KLAY 1180 AM.  Past show and interviews are also webcast via the Internet at http://www. webtalkguys. com/. Greenlee is also a member of the The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences.

 

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Top Affiliate Marketers Tips

. Posted in small business into a huge

By Mike Banks Valentine

Monday, November 15, 2004; 1:20pm EST

No doubt you?ve heard of the 80/20 rule ? which states that 20 percent of affiliates generate 80% of affiliate income, and conversely, remaining 80 percent of affiliates generate only 20 percent of all income for most affiliate programs.

There are ten basics that will put your affiliate marketing in the top 20 percent of affiliate earnings. Ten suggestions that will transform your affiliate income from a trickling creek that barely covers your hosting fees, to a roaring river of extra disposable income.

TOP AFFILIATE MARKETERS DO MOST OF THESE TEN ITEMS

1.Top affiliate marketers cloak web site links

Cloaking affiliate links should not be necessary, but is. Oddly many site visitors refuse to visit your links if they see an affiliate code appended to the URL when they hover their mouse over a link on your web page. Sometimes they will type the affiliate domain directly to the browser address bar while removing your affiliate ID from the URL. To short circuit this odd behavior, simply cloak the URL. How? Visit this Link Tool: http://WebpositionAdvisor. com/tools/link_cloaker. php

2.Top affiliate marketers write & distribute articles

Writing articles about your market niche is essential to gain reputation as an expert in your field. But the biggest benefit comes not just from writing those articles, but from having those articles published by other web site owners and ezine publishers. Your article gains you both reputation and links from other web sites from the resource box appended to the end of each article. Here are major article distribution sites.

http://yahoogroups. com/group/free-content/

http://groups. yahoo. com/group/aabusiness/

http://www. goarticles. com

http://www. ideamarketers. com

3.Top affiliate marketers focus on a market niche

Filling a web site with content reflecting a narrowly focused product or service niche is a well known method of gaining web traffic in your area of specialty. An excellent resource that can help you determine relevant and focused areas to fill your site with is called NicheBot. They offer innovative tools to research and pinpoint market niches for your web site based on the WordTracker Database and Google.

http://www. nichebot. com

4.Top affiliate marketers use autoresponder series

Autoresponders are incredibly valuable tools that allow you to send a timed series of email messages to those that sign up for them. Most often those autoresponders are sent through a third party provider. Some of the top providers are Sendfree. com and aweber. com, for a tutorial covering autoresponder basics, visit:

http://website101.com/email_e-mail/email_autoresponder_basics. html

5.Top affiliate marketers create web pages to pre-sell

Creating either testimonial pages or review pages that discuss and pre-sell the product or service you are affiliated with is  the best method of getting increased orders for your chosen affiliate programs. Many programs actually provide either an article or recommended text to sell their products for you and allow reproduction of those articles with your links embedded.

6.Top affiliate marketers gather email addresses

The best affiliates collect email addresses on their web site by offering free reports via the above mentioned autoresponders or by giving away ebooks or through newsletter signup forms. The best use all of these methods or more to build their list of email addresses. This also allows you to contact potential customers that would otherwise never see your site again after clicking away to the affiliate program web site.

7.Top affiliate marketers advertise SOMEWHERE

Depending on your market niche you should advertise using PPC and/or ezine advertising. Some categories of Pay-per-click can be prohibitively expensive, but advertising somewhere is all but mandatory to gain substantial additional traffic to your site. There are some great bargains in ezine advertising and some less popular PPC engines other than Yahoo?s Overture and Google?s Adwords. Try 7search, Kanoodle and FindWhat for lower Bids than the big boys of PPC.

8.Top affiliate marketers optimize for search engines

Search engine optimization is becoming more complex as more and more webmasters participate, but the basics applied to your site can increase visibility dramatically over time. The most critical of the many SEO techniques is to use title tags that reflect individual PAGE content. Many webmasters write a master title tag and apply that site-wide. This is the worst thing you could do for search engine ranking. Learn more SEO: http://SearchEngineOptimism. com/SEO_Tutorial/

9.Top affiliate marketers give away ebooks or freebies

Everyone knows by now that giving something away is a great traffic generator and allows you to gather email addresses to allow contact of potential customers at a later date. This strategy is employed by EVERY successful web-based company at one time or another. Think of all the free things YOU have collected online over time. Screensavers, software, ebooks, discount codes, toolbars, white papers. They work!

10. Top Affiliate marketers have their own mailing lists

The best of affiliate marketers have their own newsletter or ezine and gather email addresses on their site to build their list of subscribers. Having this list allows regular contact with potential customers interested in your site, your product and your market niche. If you don?t write your own material or think you can?t produce weekly content, there are hundreds of authors out there that will gladly product articles for you. The article distribution lists provide free content and ghost Writers provide high quality content for a fee.

If you implement ALL the above techniques, you are guaranteed to become one of the top affiliate marketers on the web. Then you can create your own product telling everyone how YOU did it, create your own affiliate program and have hundreds of us selling for you.

About the Author

Mike Banks Valentine operates WebSite101 where you can learn more through an extensive Affiliate Marketing Tutorial

http://WebSite101.com/Affiliate-Marketing/

Want more details on how to become a top affiliate marketer?

http://WebSite101.com/pam. html their sales letter is cheesy their product is so good I wrote them a testimonial! Buy it!

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5 of the Biggest Risks Small-Business Owners Face

. Posted in small business into a huge

You may be an optimist, but when it comes to running a business it pays to be prepared for worst-case scenarios. According to the Institute for Business & Home Safety, a quarter of businesses shut down permanently in the wake of an unforeseen disaster, reports the Wall Street Journal.

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The Pros and Cons of Using Debt Collectors

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Third-party collection agencies recovered approximately $44.6 billion in post-commission debt in 2010, according to a study done by Ernst & Young [PDF]. In many cases, businesses would have written off that money if it weren’t for the collectors’ efforts.

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Affiliate Program Best Tips

. Posted in small business into a huge

By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting

Thursday, September 4, 2003; 12:20pm EST

As with most things in life, not all affiliate programs are created equal. All of them will have their own way of doing business and it is important that you know what you are getting into and what you will get out of an affiliate program when you sign up to one. After investing your time in efforts into an affiliate program it is important that you get the returns you deserve. There can be a very pronounced difference in the money you can generate from one affiliate program versus another based on how it rewards its clients and what its terms and conditions are for payment. Look for affiliate programs that disclose important information, dollar amounts per sale, percentages and conditions up front with easy to understand terminology. Those who hide such information until the last moment or make it difficult understand are usually doing this for a reason - a reason not in your favor. Make sure that you fully understand the money you will generate per new customer created, money earned per additional sale made by that same customer and whether there is a time limit to your entitlement to a percentage of sales on customers you have generated.

Here are some great tips to help new affiliates generate the maximum revenue possible from their partnerships.

 

Make the affiliate promotion a prominent feature of your web site or email marketing. Also be sure to not place multiple affiliate programs in close proximity to each other, this will cause confusion with potential customers.

 

If there are "coupon codes" associated with the promotion make sure you clearly display the code corresponding to your affiliate account and outline the benefits for the user to entice usage.

 

If you are not experiencing the revenue generation you were anticipating, try different placement, colors and graphics with your promotions. Sometimes even simple changes can have a big impact on number of people who will use the service.

 

Make sure the affiliate program you are part of collects any "coupon codes" or "promotional codes" when signing up new customers over the phone. This will enable them to track where the customer came from and credit your account with the sale.

 

About The Author

Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding this article or interest in the services available from Visca Consulting.

info@viscaconsulting. com

http://www. viscaconsulting. com/

 

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Digi-Net Hubz 2.0. Java based instant messaging for web site integration

. Posted in small business into a huge

By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting

Tuesday, October 26, 2003; 3:00pm EST

Instant Messaging has become an integral part of the Internet experience and is a tool found on millions of computers worldwide. However, this doesn't help webmasters enable their web site users to communicate with one another. Incompatible messaging systems, different protocols and a broad range of operating systems make it nearly impossible for standard instant messaging tools to accomplish true web site user to user interaction.

Florida based Digi-Net has come up with a solution to this problem that allows all site users to have one on one instant messaging sessions with each other using HUBZ. In its second release, this community building and site stickiness enhancing concept works on a platform neutral Java server-client architecture. Meaning user A in Canada running on the UNIX platform, could effortlessly talk to another user on their favorite web site who lives in France running on Windows XP. Neither of which would need an Instant Messaging tool or even a software plug-in to do so.

HUBZ works by installing a server component onto a server of just about any platform in existence, Windows, Unix / Linux, Solaris, Mac and incorporating a small line of code into your web site pages. System requirements include the use of JVM software (Java Virtual Machine) and a minimum Pentium 333MHz with 128MB RAM. Your modified web pages will then display a small, completely customizable icon displaying the number of other users who are visiting the site at that moment and an invitation to click the icon for a list of the users. From there you can get profiles on other users (various information users have entered about themselves), and if you like what you see, start chatting with them.

Features for the webmaster include the ability to moderate HUBZ and "kick out" any unruly users. This can be done by an administrator level security account and the use of a separate accounts based login page which is easily setup. The HUBZ environment is highly customizable allowing you to modify all graphics, colours, fonts, messages, icons and aspect of operation imaginable. Making it easy for HUBZ to blend into the style of a web site and become part of its overall design. It also seamlessly integrates into other Digi-Net products such as the highly popular DigiChat and DigiPosts products. For NT environments, the server component can run either as an application or NT service.

Installation onto the server was a somewhat easy process. Although the documentation was unclear about some initial configuring issues, the exemplary phone and live web chat technical support that is available until 10pm EST got us back on track with a fully operational HUBZ server in no time at all. The document does however, excel in explaining the many ways you can customize the HUBZ experience for your users.

HUBZ can be purchased either as a monthly service which is hosted at Digi-Net, or as a software license for installation onto your own server. Pricing for the HUBZ PRO/50 Server starts at $69US / month (plus $99US setup fee) or $199US (plus $49US annual service plan) for the server license. The annual service plan covers complete technical support and all upgrades of the software and is mandatory for the first year. Server models include the PRO/50, PRO/100, PRO250 and the ultimate PRO/Unlimited which sells for a very reasonable $499US.

Overall, HUBZ is an inexpensive way to bring a truly unique community experience to your web site users. All on a platform that is stable, highly compatible and versatile. It's another winning product from Digi-Net.

About The Author

Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.

info@viscaconsulting. com

http://www. viscaconsulting. com/

 

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The Future of Broadband

. Posted in small business into a huge

By Dana Greenlee, co-Host WebTalkGuys Radio

Wednesday, December 3, 2003; 12:00pm EST

Those of us who spend the majority of our waking hours on the Internet have developed some pretty iron-clad expectations. We want to get where we are going quickly. We no longer tolerate slow-loading Web pages. We start rolling our eyes if that Microsoft flag waves too long or the little blue ?E? on our browser revolves more than twice. Don?t break my surfing rhythm and do not make me wait.

There is a reason many studies show broadband users spend more time online on any given day than those with dial-up connections. We need the speed and, ironically, we don?t get in, get out and move on, but rather go more places for longer stretches of time than our frustrated compatriots using dial-up who find their minds wandering while waiting for everything to load with a slow connection.

A speedier Internet means more productivity, more windows can be open and more tasks can be juggled simultaneously. That?s the message Andy King conveys through his monthly Bandwidth Report, published online at http://www. websiteoptimization. com/bw, where he reports on the speed of our connections, both at work and at home.

Andy King is president of WebSiteOptimization. com and author of ?Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization.? He is also the founder of http://www. webreference. com/ and http://www. javascript. com/ and he knows the value of a fast loading Website. It?s tied in with, among other things, having access to the Internet via broadband like DSL and cable. He took a few minutes to talk about his latest Bandwidth Report and how U. S. broadband adoption compares to the rest of the world.

Q: Your October Bandwidth Report shows that broadband adoption is breaking 40 percent in the U. S. What are your thoughts on that?

King: It?s great! It?s an important time since it shows broadband is really making headway.

Q: Your Bandwidth Report growth chart predicts it will grow to 70 percent in just a year or so.

King: I do some extrapolation on the growth chart. I?m an engineer so I like doing that kind of thing. If you look at July-August 2005 we could be at 70 percent, assuming it grows at the same rate. It?s safe to say this coming summer we?ll break 50 percent.

What I found looking at other countries is there seems to be a saturation level. Korea says they?re approaching 70 percent, depending on whom you talk to, and they?re reaching saturation. There are a few outposts and rural areas that just aren?t going to get hooked up unless they get a satellite dish.

Q: What other things do you see holding up the adoption of broadband?

King: I think the main thing is price and complexity. The price keeps going down, which is good, but it?s sort of a teaser price. They will give it to you for six months and then they will bump it up to $49.95. That?s a good chunk of change. Also, some folks are having trouble hooking up. Cable seems to be much simpler. That?s why cable has twice the penetration in the U. S. as DSL does. I think the simpler they can make it, the faster it will propagate.

Q: People in rural areas are anxious for broadband but it is just not available to them. Will there be a point when broadband is in every area?

King: I?m not sure they?re going to be everywhere. I don?t think you will be able to get it at the bottom of Death Valley any time soon. They are focusing on where they can get the most bang for their buck. It?s really a ?last-mile? problem. We actually have a cottage up in Canada and the only way we can get broadband is to get a satellite dish.

Q: How is satellite as an option for people? Is it exponentially expensive?

King: Actually the price keeps going down. Satellite dishes offer fairly good download speeds. Upload speeds are different story. The best option is to have broadband wired directly into your home.

Q: Wireless is a big frontier opportunity for broadband as we look into the future. Do you see wireless starting to pick up steam or will the United States be the backwater of wireless broadband compared to the rest of the world?

King: Yes. They are definitely ahead of us overseas. But if Starbucks and McDonald?s have their way, we?ll have wireless everywhere.

Q: Your Bandwidth Report offers a sort of world tour. Tell us why the world is picking up on broadband a little bit faster than the U. S.

King: If you go to the Pacific Rim, Korea, Hong Kong, you?ll see they have higher penetration rates than we do. Canada is well ahead of us, too. They were at 60 percent broadband penetration just a few months ago. Thailand is up there, too, as is Denmark and Belgium. In my September Bandwidth Report (websiteoptimization. com/bw/0309), I have a chart from the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). Iceland is even ahead of us, believed or not.

Q: Why are these other countries adopting broadband faster than we are?

King: Some countries realized it is a strategic advantage to do this, so they?ve gotten a bit of a head start on us. I think they?ve relaxed some government regulations and done some subsidies. It is a combination of things.

Also, if you look at other countries, DSL has kind of slipped. In the U. S., cable has twice the penetration of DSL. But if you go to Korea, it?s all DSL. That?s how they get connected. They?ve also made it simpler to connect.

Q: Still, 56k modems are popular with 49.7 percent in the U. S. Most people are getting online with a dial-up connection.

King: Yes. If you add up all the modems it?s about 60 percent. It?s amazing that 3 percent are still using a 14.4k modem. I still have some in the drawer. People are welcome to buy them from me! But some folks don?t have much of a choice. They can?t upgrade or maybe they are in a school with donated computers or maybe they are using a wireless phone that gets 9600 baud. You really have to design Websites for the worst-case scenario. That?s why I did that the bandwidth report - because there was so much data out there but I didn?t see any good numbers or charts. So I publish reports so that people know that not everyone is on broadband ? at least in the U. S.

Q: You wrote a book called ?Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization.? Why is it important for Webmasters to go through the process of making their side optimized for download? What are some of the benefits?

King: No matter what your bandwidth, people are only willing to wait a certain amount for your site to download before they get frustrated and want to go do something else. To boil it down, people hate to wait. My background as an engineer is in the optimization of structures. So it?s kind of a natural extension to apply that efficiency to the Web. The first part of the book talks about psychology and creates a need, so you can show that part to your boss. It summarizes all the research out there that shows slow download speeds are the most popular complaint of people surfing the Internet. It really doesn?t matter what your bandwidth is ? you just don?t want to wait! People wait eight to 10 seconds. After that, people?s eyes glaze over and they start thinking about other things. It has to do with how are short-term memory works. As your are going through the Web, you get into a sort of flow. If you?re working on a fast series of web sites, you get into a rhythm and when you run into a slow site, it disrupts your train of thought and it?s really distracting.

Source of Article Dana Greenlee is producer and co-host of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show.  WebTalkGuys, a Seattle-based talk show featuring technology news and interviews. It is broadcast on WebTalkGuys Radio, Sonic Box, via Pocket PC at Mazingo Networks and the telephone via the Mobile Broadcast Network.  It's on the radio in Seattle at KLAY 1180 AM.  Past show and interviews are also webcast via the Internet at http://www. webtalkguys. com/. Greenlee is also a member of the The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences.

 

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Search Engine Tips

. Posted in small business into a huge

By Dennis Gaskill

Friday, November 14, 2003; 3:30pm EST

Self-proclaimed search engine experts have, over the years, touted all kinds of methods for ranking higher in search engines. This has included things such as hidden text, hidden links, meta tag stuffing, double meta tags, page stuffing, cloaking, redirect pages, bulk-quantity doorway pages, and other "secrets" of dubious quality.

Those techniques, and newer techniques that still amount to trickery, can result in lower rankings just for using them. In a worst case scenario they can even result in your domain being banned. Once banned, it's hard to get back in. Let's look at search engines from the search engine perspective instead of a selfish perspective.

My site, www. boogiejack. com, has consistently been ranking high in search engines since it opened in 1997. The ranking will fluctuate from time to time with each search engine, but I usually enjoy a few front page and number one links at any given time. Try a search for "left border backgrounds" now (one of my specialties), and see how it ranks at several search engines.

What's my secret? It's quite simple, I know how search engines want us to behave, and I have always followed the rules. I do everything I legally can to optimize my pages, but always play within the rules using only legitimately recognized (read that search engine approved) methods. When a search engine catches on to new trickery, you can be dropped or banned without warning.

So what do the search engines really want? They want to be able to help their web site visitors find what they are looking for, and they want to give them the best and most logical matches first. They can't do that easily with webmasters trying to manipulate their ranking by artificial means.

They want webmasters to show the search engine the same content you show your visitors, so anything like hidden text and links, cloaking, redirects and other tactics that show the search engine one thing and visitors another are high risk tricks that often result in being banned.

Your web site's content is the search engine's content, so they want sites with high quality content above all else. They want to show the best sites available for a search return, because if their content is helpful to the searcher, the searcher will be more likely to use their site for searches time and time again.

It's hard to get search engine employee's to comment on how their engines rank sites, but speaking on conditions of anonymity, here are the words of a technology specialist from one search engine (...and I won't knowingly betray a trust, so don't ask who the specialist is or what engine he works for, I won't tell):

"Design your site so that your text accurately reflects your content, products, and services. We penalize sites that make obvious attempts at manipulating our engine. No tricks, no misleading verbage designed for placement.

Link popularity is very important, so make sure the sites that should link to you are linked to you, and you to them. This is more than the latest buzz, this is reality. So if your site is about MP3's, you should have links with music sites, MP3 software sites, band fan sites, and so on.

At the very least you should be exchanging links with non-competitor sites whose content complements your own, and if you're not afraid to link directly to competitors and they'll exchange links with you, all the better. We give a little boost to sites that link directly to competitors.

One of the things we're after with this is to have your site "pre-judged" for us by your fellow webmasters. All links help, because it shows others find your site valuable enough to link to you, but links from relative content sites help your ranking even more.

I'll admit that sometimes people find ways to manipulate results for a short time, but sooner or later we catch on to these techniques (nobody studies our search engine harder than we do), and we'll penalize or ban sites for obvious manipulation attempts. Whether we ban a site or just penalize them, is partly determined by the degree of cheating and partly by the mood of the reviewer!

Once we've flagged your site, you'll have a hard time getting a top ranking again no matter how well you clean up your act. You've heard the expression, "once a cheater, always a cheater?" So have we. And here's a dirty little secret for you: if we catch you once, we may check other domains you own with a fine-toothed comb to see if you're spamming or cheating us with them too.

We don't place quite as much emphasis on themed sites as some engines do, but a themed site will give you a boost with us too. That's not to say your MP3 site can't talk about your love of dogs, just that if you cover many topics within a particular theme, you'll get a boost in rankings. You're not penalized for addressing many diverse or unrelated topics."

So there you have it, search engines want the same things surfers want. Quality content presented accurately and honestly, links to and from sites with complementary content, at least one major theme, and no dirty tricks.

Gosh, that isn't a great revelation is it? It shouldn't be, it's the way we should all be doing business in the first place - honestly and accurately. It is what works best in the long term with search engines and in life, and your site will never be penalized or banned by playing fairly.

Source of Article Dennis Gaskill is the creator and owner of Boogie Jack's Web Depot at http://www. boogiejack. com/ - a popular webmasters resource site ranking in the top 1% of the most linked to sites on the Internet. He is also author of the new book Web Site Design Made Easy and publishes Almost a Newsletter, named the Best Ezine of 2000.

 

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Sonic Foundry ACID Pro 3. Advanced music creation and sample looping application

. Posted in small business into a huge

By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting

Tuesday, November 6, 2003; 3:00pm EST

Without a strong musical background, anyone interested in composing their own music were basically left stuck being unable to create music. That is, until Sonic Foundry produced ACID Pro 3. ACID Pro enables the user to create professional quality music with the ease of using a paint brush. No musical background? No problem! This application lets you focus on the sound of the music rather than the rules and complexities of music creation.

How does it work? Opening the program and creating a new music file presents you a screen with blank "tracks", and a window giving access to directories full of high quality "wave files" that are instrument and sound samples referred to as "Loops" in ACID Pro. You browse your collection of Loops as you would regular files in a standard directory structure. The program includes hundreds of loyalty-free (meaning you do not have to pay Sonic Foundry for royalties if your composition generates money) Loops with the ability to add thousands more through their Loop expansion packs, or by creating your own wave files easily with a wave editor. ACID Pro features CD ripping so you can create Loops directly off sounds from your own CDs as yet another way to create your own loops.

Once you have browsed through the sounds, listened to them through the auto preview feature, you can simply drag and drop them into the blank tracks of your song. Each Loop has its own track - allowing you to paint at what times you want the Loop to be played in your composition. For example, bring a drum Loop into track 1, bongo drums into track 2, a singing voice sample into track 3 and guitar into 4. You can then selectively place each instruments execution time along a timeline that forms professional quality music! But it definitely doesn't stop there. Increase or decrease tempo, pitch, track volume, and a host of equalization effects that you can apply. Amazingly there is an unlimited number of tracks you can add, making the complexity of your music limitless. While creating your masterpiece, you can preview it on the fly, even make changes to the song as it plays! Even use its full MIDI support to play and record music through a MIDI device.

Once you are happy with your production, or want to come back to working on it later you can save it in its proprietary ACID Pro format. Alternatively, you can export your music into almost any of the most popular media formats including WAV, WMA, MP3, AIF, RM and PCA. Allowing you to burn your music to CD, stream it through your web site, take it with you in your MP3 player or do just about anything you want with your new music creation.

The value of this $399.96US is exceptional. Not only do you get a full blown recording studio in your home or office with the ACID Pro application, but it also includes Sound Forge XP 5, a highly comprehensive wave file editing tool. Edit any aspect of your wave files but cutting, pasting, adding effects and changing just about any aspect of the audio in your waves files you want! Finally, Vegas Audio LE a full featured video / multi-channel audio mixer and editor. Allowing you to create full blown videos on your desktop! All of these applications have the theme of attractive and intuitively designed interfaces, an abundance of features and an ease of use unheard of until now in the music creation category of software. You are also given access to a number of Internet based services such as Get Media (provides free Loop and media downloads monthly) and a members area of ACIDPlanet (community of ACID Pro users you can share your music creations with and more).

Sonic Foundry has always had a winner with the ACID Pro product, and Version 3 is no exception. So if you are interested in composing truly top notch music with ease and simplicity - look no further than ACID Pro 3. ACID Pro requires Windows 98SE / Me / 2000 with 300MHz processor, 128MB recommended memory and approximately 60 megs of drive space. Supports multi-processor systems and dual monitor display. Available through the Sonic Foundry web site either as a download or sent express delivery on CD with a manual, or at numerous resellers nation wide.

About The Author

Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.

info@viscaconsulting. com

http://www. viscaconsulting. com/

 

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Austin Loves another Local Business

. Posted in small business into a huge

Just two months after Austin helped Megan Summerville win a Love a Local Business Grand Prize grant worth $30,000, Joey Gallahan-s customers have helped him win a $5,000 grant. Gallahan-s business, JWG Photography, is now one of three Finalists who will try to convince our judge that his business should win our next $30,000 grand prize Intuit Growth Grant.

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Digi-Net Groopz 2.0. Online live customer interaction java based server

. Posted in small business into a huge

By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting

Tuesday, October 26, 2003; 3:00pm EST

Many companies have dreamt of one on one communication across the Internet with their web site visitors that would give their customers the answers they are looking for, and that warm fuzzy feeling of interaction with real people. The problem, was the methods of creating this communication channel. In the past these channels were usually complicated proprietary software, client browser plug-ins, or semi-chat rooms that were never really up to the task.

Having live operators ready to answer questions, and proactively provide assistance to their web site visitors with a software application that is robust; multi-platform compatible; easily set up and configured; and uses pre-existing client end technology is now available. Thanks to Gainesville, Florida based Digi-Net Technologies company, producer of a product called Groopz 2.0.

It works by having three components exist. A server component that can reside on a wide range of platforms (Windows 9x/Me/NT/2000, MacOS, Linux or Solaris), an operator component (as pictured to the left) for the live operators to manage their in/outgoing calls and simple HTML modifications to the pages of your web site that you wish to enable this functionality (typically as many as possible for more depth of customer information). When a user visits your site, the small Java applet that is part of those HTML page modifications sees that the user is viewing the page, sends this fact and other details about the user back to the server, which in turn updates all the user activity information on the operators console. The operator console is a powerful tool that lets you peer into the traffic of your site. Seeing who is there, how long they have been both on the site and at the current page they are on, even the path of pages the user has examined! Additionally, technical information such as browser, operating system, language, provider address and much more is available to Groopz operators.

You can click on any of the people who are visiting your site and create a communication channel or, alternatively, a user can click an icon which is displayed on the pages having the Groopz HTML modification and page an operator to talk with them. The icon is smart enough to know when there are operators able to assist the user, and display the appropriate status - such as "Click now for a live operator." or "Our operators are currently not available." (note that the users are then able to send a direct message to the operator for when they return). Once a live channel of communication is opened, you can text based chat with your users in a somewhat chat room, but more personalized and one on one environment. As you talk, the profile can be modified with personalizing information such as the users real name, and a transcript of the conversation is made. All of this is stored in that users profile, so that when the user returns, you have complete information and history of the user instantly available to you. Not only that, but the operator console allows you to go back to review your history of all conversations made based by web site, date and user. You also have the ability to enable or disable conversation encryption at will for privacy and security purposes.

Opening this communication channel has numerous powerful applications such as live customer service, technical support, online topic advice, sales and marketing, and the list goes on. Example, you are an online reseller of computer hardware. You as the operator can create a channel of communication with any of the users browsing your online product catalogue, you see they have spent much time looking through your server hardware section, and ask if they have any questions or comments about your server product range - opening a dialogue that could possibly end in a sale of your products, or at least expedite the process. This is because the user has, 1. Become better informed of your product through being able to ask the questions that are relevant to their situation; 2. Had a customer service experience that will be above and beyond their typical experience and 3. Removes redundancy in future communications as the operator can refer to user profile and information already gathered, avoiding customer frustration. Add to that, the ability to push content to them such as automated messages, referral to web pages, or even files and you have an amazing opportunity to really add value to your customers experience. And say for example you answer the call, but there is another person in your department or company more qualified to answer the customers questions? Not a problem, just like a phone exchange, you can transfer users seamlessly between operators in your company! An additional feature which can be purchased with Groopz is called LeadScan. The technology actively monitors and compares user characteristics and site usage patterns to rules and criteria you assign. LeadScan then alerts operators visually and audibly to the presence of users matching these rules, greatly simplifying the process of finding more "high potential customers".

The software its self, both on the server and client side is a snap to install. We advise installation of the product version that contains a JRE (Java Runtime Environment) to simply the installation process. Both components were installed within a small number of clicks, with almost no problems. Our only issue was in that the server component by default has a built in web server, defeating other web servers that may be running on the server. Once this was disabled, no further issues arouse. Installation, to configuration, to operation can easily be accomplished within hours. We were blown away by how fast we could have such a powerful tool at our disposal, ready and operating with so little effort or complicated installation procedure. Customization is quite easy for branding and environment consistency of things like colours, graphics and icons between the web pages and the Groopz environment.

Once the software is installed, all that is left is a simple matter of modifying your HTML pages with a few lines of code (provided on templates and thoroughly outlined in the accompanying detailed documentation) and editing the accompanying JavaScript file that helps the java applet find the server paths, and allows customization of the Groopz environment for your users. After everything is up and functional, it is very polite with the system resources. The minimum hardware specifications couldn't be any easier to meet (233 MHz Pentium processor, 64MB RAM - we would truly hope your server has at least those specs by now!). Utilization of server resources is negligible. Plus it is fault tolerant and scalable across multiple physical servers for large scale implementations.

Pricing as configured in our review (including the LeadScan technology) starts at $3,495 per operator seat, plus 25% total cost annually for a service package that encompasses full technical support and software upgrades (which the server can be configured to do automatically). A hosted version of the service is also available from Digi-Net starting at $199 monthly with a 25% overall cost additional startup fee. Discount pricing is available for educational, non-profit and government customers.

Groopz 2.0 will stun you with its diversity of features and usability, while leaving you with lots of time to try them out after its quick and painless installation. For more information on this product, pricing, requirements or features the people at Digi-Net would be more than happy to assist you. Our past and current dealings with Digi-Net have proved to be excellent in customer service, answering all of your sales and technical questions.

About The Author

Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.

info@viscaconsulting. com

http://www. viscaconsulting. com/

 

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In the Trenches: Back in the Saddle

. Posted in small business into a huge

If you-ve been wondering where my column has been for the last few weeks, I-ve been taking a break. See, my son was born four weeks ago and that meant I needed to take time off. Of course, it-s easier to take time off from writing a column than it is from running the business. Fortunately, that-s worked out well too.

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Digi-Net DigiChat 4.0 Enterprise Edition. Java based graphical online chat server and client

. Posted in small business into a huge

By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting

Tuesday, October 7, 2003; 3:00pm EST

Online chat has grown wildly in popularity over recent times making it one of the major past times for Internet users. The concept of online chat can be traced all the way back to the early eighties and late seventies when people were chatting over dial up BBS (Bulletin Board Systems). However the most recent product offerings bare little resemblance to what was on tap 20 some odd years ago. Today's chat servers offer the capacity of concurrent user sessions in the thousands, a rich highly customizable graphical environment and numerous user and administration tools and functions. A strong example of what contemporary online chat represents is the newly released DigiChat 4 by Digi-Net Technologies of Florida, USA.

DigiChat 4 represents the latest release of a product that has enjoyed immense popularity and respect throughout the Internet. Users of past versions have been eagerly awaiting this version, and we believe they will be well rewarded for their wait. DigiChat has come through our tests with excellent results, proving good things come to those who wait.

Based on a Java platform, the DigiChat server is multi-platform compatible with just about everything including Windows NT/2000, MacOS, Linux, Unix, Solaris and any other operating system supporting Java. Hardware requirements are minimal, for example a Windows NT based system requires a minimum specification of a Pentium 200MHz processor and 64MB of memory. And with higher specifications comes more user capacity and performance. The server we used for our testing was a Windows 2000, Pentium III 933MHz with 256MB of memory. The Java based client for the users is equally robust requiring only minimal systems specs, an installed JRE and relatively recent Netscape or Microsoft Explorer browser.

Installation of the DigiChat server software was a complete no-brainer, requiring almost no input during the installation process with exception to configuring the JVM (Java Virtual Machine) and where the chat applet would reside on the web server. Once installed its a simple matter of typing in the license keys, setting up a room and you're up and running in about 5 minutes total install time!

We are impressed with the intuitive design of the DigiChat client. Buttons, drop-down menus and option windows are well organized and quick to navigate. The scrollable user and conversation windows and associated flag, private message and user information icons are clear and simple to use. Just about every aspect of the chat environment can be changed either by the administrator or user. Administrators can use the new skins feature to create a completely customized look and feel to their chat room by simply replacing graphic files in the DigiChat resources folder. Users on the other hand, can define their chat font colour, size and speed; window size and user icon.

One of the many features that sets DigiChat apart from the pack is the use of user icons. Users can look through a catalogue of images that can be associated with their name in the user list and in conversation as a way to help identify who you are. Approximately 40 images are included, all of which are changeable with your own or can be expanded upon. Similarly cool is the 'emoticon' feature which translates specified text strings into icons. For example a text :) smiley would be displayed as a graphical representation, a highly popular feature for chat rooms to have. The DigiCast feature lets administrators display within the chat room text automated messages at set time intervals. This is a handy way to communicate information to users such as tips for new users, scheduled server maintenance, etc. Unheard of in chat room software to our knowledge is DigiChat's new feature of peer to peer file transferring. Allowing you to transfer files between other chat room users via a signed version of the chat applet. Users can then swap pictures, files and music while in a conversation.

For moderators, improved automated flood controls kick out unruly users automatically depending on the criteria you specify. The ability to kick out a user or 'permanently' ban them is similar as previous version of the software and allow banning based on user computer's address information and IP ranges. DigiChat 4 can store chat transcripts to a file on the server if configured to do so. The ChatWatch feature allows for filtering of content by replacing specified words with 'alternatives', excellent for filtering out language. For a fully moderated environment, DigiChat 4 ENT version allows for a complete auditorium style discussion allowing control of the entire conversation - perfect for hosting special guest events. Guests, moderator accounts and administrator account rights are fully configurable to allow control over what a particular moderators privileges are. However, there is no internal user database or management functionality, therefore you must write code (examples being PHP, CGI or ASP) to interface with an external database system you would need to develop. In our tests we used ASP code interfacing with an Access database which seemed to function well enough, although somewhat lacking in security against avid hackers. For users behind proxies or firewalls, HTTP tunneling can be enabled through the installation of additional third-party software and configuration changes to DigiChat. This helps for compatibility with the maximum amount of users possible.

The DigiChat client features space for advertising, although it is not configurable to tie in with third party or in-house ad servers, it allows you to display rotated hyperlinked banner advertising. What DigiChat is good at integrating with is the entire range of Digi-Net products. Named the 'Enclave Community Suite', you can have the DigiPosts and Hubz products work seamlessly with DigiChat to have a full fledged community of discussion forms, chat rooms and instant messaging on your web site.

The new Bots feature allows you to write or implement written bots for automated and intelligent interaction with users. Programs can be written to respond or query users with dynamic content pulled from specified sources. Example uses of such a feature would be a user requesting the weather for their local area and DigiChat answering back with data pulled from a chosen source of weather data. It can also be a great automated help system, trivia style game or other idea. Your imagination is really the limit on this one. A 'Commander' feature, available in the ADV version, allows a much higher level of interaction with server utilizing command-line parameters as the gateway to the servers functionality. Get reports on chat server statistics, automate routine administration and maintenance functions. Most interestingly, it can allow interfacing with email systems, for example, to alert individual users of incoming email in their mail box. Again, your creativity can run wild with this sort of open and flexible interfacing with the chat server.

Overall the program performed flawlessly in installation, most of user testing and day to day administration. We did notice some users experienced 'lag' (slow server response times) on occasion, which seemed to be on the most part due to their own connection speed or availability which DigiChat may be sensitive to. There was also a somewhat severe bug with the private messaging functionality that was in the process of being addressed at time of publication. The DigiChat server NT service occupied a frugal 5mb of memory resources, and required amount of disk space is a non-issue. It is dependable in that we felt confident to leave it to fend for its self for potentially months at a time without problems arising. In the event something does go wrong, Digi-Net technical support proved themselves to be knowledgeable, friendly and with excellent hours of availability. Their refreshing approach was in stark contrast to the neglect you experience with many other vendors nowadays. Technical support is available in a number of channels including phone, email, live chat and discussion forum.

DigiChat 4 is available in a number of versions and concurrent user sizes to meet your needs. DigiChat PRO (Professional) version is available in 100, 500 and 1000 single site user licenses and provides a generous base set of features. DigiChat ENT (Enterprise) allows 500, 1000 and 2000 user licenses spread across up to 10 different sites with the addition of auditorium style moderation. DigiChat ADV (Advanced) is the King Kong model allowing up to an unlimited number of users over 100 web sites, auditorium style moderation, 'Commander' feature and is ideally suited to companies interested in reselling their chat room space. An OEM option on the Advanced server allows branding of the chat room applet. Pricing for the PRO, ENT and ADV start at $599US, $1999US, $4995US, respectively plus a minimum one year service plan that includes upgrades and technical support. DigiChat 4 is competitively priced, feature-packed, a snap to install, easy to manage and best of all, users love it! What more could you want?

About The Author

Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.

info@viscaconsulting. com

http://www. viscaconsulting. com/

 

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Dell Axim X3i. 802.11b wireless, colour Windows Mobile 2003 multimedia handheld

. Posted in small business into a huge

By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting

Monday, April 5, 2004; 3:00pm EST

Mobile computing has certainly come a long way in such a short period of time. Who would have thought five years ago, we would be surfing the web wirelessly, listening to MP3's, watching videos and writing documents on our pint sized handheld companions? Handhelds are no longer limited to storing contacts, calendar scheduling and your to-do list. Today they are literally a scaled down version of all the things your desktop can do.

A smart example of today's combination of affordable and feature rich handheld technology comes in the small form factor of the new Dell Axim X3i. Dell is new to the handheld market, with the X3 series being only its second model since its entry in the market. The Axim X3i includes the handheld, a stylish cradle, cables, Li-Ion battery, case, software and manual. The Axim is based on the Microsoft Pocket PC 2003 operating system, which immediately gives you most of the software you will need, right out of the box. The Pocket PC platform is well supported and has thousands of Microsoft and 3rd party based applications available, ranging from games to accounting software.

Getting the Axim up and running the first time was a simple process, which you are guided through using an easy to follow fold out sheet. A guide book is included for more specific instructions if needed. Synchronizing the data between your desktop and Axim is easy, and completely automated. Setup of the Axim is only a couple minutes and involves the usual clock setting and screen alignment routine found on every other handheld.

The Axim its self has a thin sleek design that is comfortable to hold. The front features a vibrant 3.5" 240x320 64k colour TFT screen, well placed power button (with integrated charge status light), microphone, a central navigation pad, 4 "task" buttons and 2 side buttons for dictation and enabling Wi-Fi. The side of the unit includes a headphone jack and navigation dial. The top has an SD based memory card slot, infrared port, and a Wi-Fi antenna, and the removable stylus. The bottom is the data port for battery charging and data synchronizing using the cradle or included cable. The back of the Axim features a built-in speaker and the battery compartment which allows for swapping of the included 950mAh battery, and accommodates larger capacity 1800mAh batteries. The Axim has a quality feel, buttons give solid feedback and the outer shell is constructed with quality plastics. It is surprisingly light weight, making it truly pocket-able. We were very pleased with the inclusion of both a built in microphone and speaker. The speaker is about what you would expect, tinny and quiet, but adequate for anything you wouldn't be bothered plugging headphones in for. The microphone was shockingly good. Even when the user was not physically close to the Axim's microphone, our dictation audio files had excellent vocal range and clarity. The quality of the audio files is customizable up to full 16-bit 44.1KHz sampling.

The included cradle is well designed and attractively finished with a mirror like polished look. The blue glowing Dell logo compliments other Dell branded equipment you may have on your desktop nicely. It is also functionally attractive, with its ability to synchronize and charge your Axim and an additional battery. The cradle uses USB connectivity with the computer and features a low profile inline power adaptor instead of those cumbersome brick adaptors.

When using the Axim, it will immediately remind you of its bigger brother, the desktop. The Pocket PC operating system has done a tremendous job of miniaturizing all the (Microsoft) applications you commonly use on your computer. All the familiar tools and applications like Word, Excel, Outlook, Explorer, MSN Messenger, Windows Media Player and even Terminal Services are all there in a "mobile version". This is great for document and services compatibility, as you won't have to convert documents, or sign up for services you are already part of on your desktop. When your word processing, spreadsheet, instant messaging, web browser, email client and multi-format media player are all included as part of the package, pretty much everything is taken care of. The basic utilities that are included also have attention to detail such as the notepad employing hand writing recognition that actually works well; and clock utility with multi-region display.

The Pocket PC operating system is laid out similarly to the Windows XP environment, with changes to improve its "on the road" usability. The familiar Start button, menu options and other Windows XP similarities keep things consistent between your home and mobile systems. The unfamiliar aspects of the operating system are quick to learn and do not hinder usability. Just about every aspect of the interface and operation of the unit is customizable through the familiar "Settings" folder. The combination of Intel XScale 400MHz processor, 64MB RAM and 64MB ROM offered snappy response times across the board. Loading applications such as the browser or media player were literally instantaneous, the Axim always felt responsive and well specified to do what you asked of it. Start up time is almost instantaneous, important for needing to grab quick details such as phone numbers, scheduled event details and addresses in a hurry. Wi-Fi support is well implemented, with a designated button for turning the functionality on or off to conserve battery life. The operating system does an excellent job of automatically searching for wireless networks and connecting to them. The site survey and wealth of other wireless utilities and features make mobile network access an absolute breeze.

Above all else we were particularly impressed with how all of its features come together to meet the demands of so many different scenarios. Commuting on the train, bus or plane? Download an episode or two of your favorite shows onto a 256MB or 512MB SD card. Then when traveling you plug in your headphones, run the shows in the media player in the superb full screen playback mode and all of a sudden its luxury travel time! The media play back has great picture quality, smooth frame rates and the privacy of headphones. Another scenario, you are making a presentation at a client site and need to confirm with a co-worker specific details of a project. Using the built in Wi-Fi and the MSN Messenger you can chat in real time with that person to get the answers. In addition, if you also required remote connectivity to your server back at the office for whatever reason, you can use the VPN or Terminal Services features of the Axim.

It's difficult to fault the Axim X3i when you look at the relatively inexpensive price, and the laundry list of included features. The lack of Bluetooth was the one major feature missing from the Axim. With more devices taking advantage of Bluetooth such as the latest GPS receivers, printers and cell phones; it is becoming a more desirable feature. The included carrying case was the only other sticking point. Its leather sleeve design is a tight fit that doesn't protection the top of the unit, and has a non-detachable belt clip. A more conventional case, in our view, would have been preferable.

When comparing the Dell Axim X3i with its direct competitor, the Palm Tungsten C, the Axim had a clear advantage in many aspects. The Tungsten lagged behind primarily because of the dated Palm operating system. It is basically the same Palm OS from the models of years ago, but with a patchwork of revisions and add-ons attempting to bring it up to speed with today's demands. The lack-luster interface, limited web browser, hokey included media player, and virtually unchanged core applications are prime examples of this. Its truly dated desktop software that hasn't been revised in years, also misses when compared with how the Axim so seamlessly interacts with your desktop computer and its applications. Hardware wise the Tungsten C had comparable processing, batteries, memory and sharp screen quality - but things like a non-swappable battery, terrible keyboard, slippery metal stylus, the necessity of a plug in adaptor to dictate notes, heavier weight, really let it down. The final stake in the heart of the Tungsten C, was the Axim's lower price tag.

Overall we were again and again impressed with just how much a person can could do with this "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" device. It clearly does everything you could possibly need to do on the road, and executes it all with precision in a feature rich and attractive package. As the number of available wireless hotspots continue to increase world wide at a rapid rate, this is definitely the time to consider a wireless handheld that can fully utilize the potential of mobile networking. And the Axim offers exactly that - flawlessly.

The Dell Axim X3i retails for $349USD / $449CND; comes with a base 1 year warranty which is expandable to 3 years; has a complete range of accessories from additional batteries, screen protectors, styluses, cases, foldable keyboards and memory cards; and is available immediately. Dell also offers a lower cost version called the Axim X3, which excludes Wi-Fi support and cradle. For the minimal additional cost, we would strongly recommend the X3i over the lower cost X3 model.

PROS - Excellent value; built-in microphone, speaker and headphone jack; user swappable battery; attractive cradle charges both Axim and extra battery; clear and easy to view screen; excellent assortment of software included; well executed Wi-Fi implementation; well rounded processor and memory specifications; excellent interoperability with your desktop applications and services (Office documents, MSN messenger, terminal services); build quality.

CONS - Lack of Bluetooth; included carrying case.

About The Author

Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.

info@viscaconsulting. com

http://www. viscaconsulting. com/

 

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Microsoft Optical Desktop Elite for Bluetooth. High end keyboard and optical mouse set with Bluetooth wireless

. Posted in small business into a huge

By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting

Wednesday November 10, 2004; 5:15pm EST

Wireless input devices have certainly become must have items over the past couple of year. The plummeting prices, improved reliability and better power efficiency have made wireless keyboards, mice and joysticks hot sellers. An emerging trend within this new wireless market are combo packages that include a wireless keyboard and mouse that operate off a single wireless receiver. Up until now, a bulk of these devices utilized 'radio frequencies' to talk with your computer. Although popular and inexpensive, these devices have a tendency to be unreliable at times, offer a limited signal range and still consume too many batteries. Recently however, new alternatives have begun to emerge and they bring with them relief for some of these technical issues.

Introducing the Microsoft Optical Desktop Elite for Bluetooth. Utilizing all the latest technologies on offer, this desktop keyboard and mouse combo hold a treasure trove of new technologies and innovations to make your computing more comfortable and easy.

The desktop kit includes a standard configuration keyboard with extended configurable control keys and integrated scroll wheel; mouse utilizing high resolution optical tracking technology, scroll wheel and configurable buttons; a USB Bluetooth receiver; software, batteries and manual. The keyboard and mouse are attractively finished in quality materials and a black / deep blue color scheme that would easily work well in almost any environment.

The installation process, while relatively easy and non-eventful for experienced computer users, may pose a problem for novice users. The process for installation must be followed exactly, and at a point during the process the user must follow detailed instructions on initiating the wireless connectivity between the devices and the Bluetooth receiver. We would have liked to see this part of the installation be more automated or give greater assistance to novice users. An existing keyboard and mouse are also required in order to do the installation.  However, if carefully followed, the likelihood of problems is very low.

Once installed you are treated to the benefits of the wireless technology the devices are based on. Bluetooth allows multiple devices (up to 6) to talk wirelessly with your computer, reliable connectivity, with a range of up to 30 feet and can be 128-bit encrypted for secure transmission of data. So not only can the keyboard and mouse use this transmitter, but thousands of other products that use the popular standardized Bluetooth technology such as cell phones, notebooks, digital cameras, PDA's, printers and other such devices. All seamlessly connecting with the Bluetooth transmitter along with your keyboard and mouse.

The keyboard is designed with a relatively conventional keyboard layout, a split ergonomic configuration would have been highly preferred. The keyboard features a wide range of additional control buttons in addition to the standard keyboard set for quick launching applications such as your email, instant messenger and media applications; launching favorite web sites; and controlling the volume and play controls of your media; forward and back browser keys and a built in scroll wheel. The front wrist pad of the keyboard is covered with a simulated soft leather material that generally does add comfort to your use of the keyboard. The individual key mechanisms have a quality feel and provide excellent feedback. The keys have a perfectly light yet decisive feel to their keystroke action, making them very comfortable for prolonged usage. The additional control buttons offer access to heavily used applications, and the volume / mute controls are a definite convenience. Gone are the old days when manufacturers of such keyboards laced them with control buttons to useless applications, 'shopping' buttons, manufacturer's web site buttons, and other non-productive buttons. The control buttons on this keyboard all serve a valuable purpose. The integrated scroll wheel features vertical and horizontal scrolling, with truly superb smooth gliding operation that scrolls in time with the speed you move the scroll wheel.

The mouse picks up where the keyboard left off - visually appealing with its high arched back, prominent deep blue cover and highly supportive rubberized side supports for your hand. Towards the front of the mouse features an identical scroll wheel to the keyboard - that operates smoothly and highly effectively. After using the smoother gliding scroll wheels on these devices you can never go back to the notched jerky motion of older generation devices. The mouse offers incredible support for your hand and seems to almost 'mold' into the exact shape your hand makes when holding the mouse. Its heavy and solid feel gives it a substantial feel that helps to provide more accurate handling. The two mouse buttons are well placed and angled, while offering excellent click action for easy single and double click usage.

The keyboard operates on 3 AA batteries, the mouse on 2 AA batteries. Using the keyboard for a continual stretch of time, it performs flawlessly - transmitting all keystrokes reliably. However, after leaving it idol for a number of minutes, it goes into a hibernation mode to save battery life, causing it to delay responding momentarily when coming back out of hibernation when you start typing again. Although this is not by any means a highly intrusive characteristic of the keyboard, it is certainly worth noting.

The mouse is a similar story, tracking mouse movements well and responding accurately to mouse button clicks during typical usage. Even doing finely detailed graphics work was easily accomplished with the high resolution optical sensor in the mouse. But once the mouse goes into its battery saving hibernation mode, the cursor typically 'jumps' when resuming back into its regular use mode. The mouse was more of a nuisance when this occurred because, unlike the keyboard that would store your keystrokes then dump them in a burst onto the screen, the mouse would suddenly jump and you would end up looking for your cursor on the screen. During regular usage, the mouse only rarely would slightly miss-track the cursor, but not enough to hinder your operation of the computer. Another interesting phenomenon with this mouse is that it is quite particular about its mouse pads. Using a mouse pad that other optical mice had high accuracy on, this mouse performed poorly on, with very inaccurate mouse movement tracking. Select your mouse pad wisely with this one.

The Bluetooth transmitter is a truly ingenious little device that looks similar to a mini-sized USB memory stick, that plugs into your USB port and protrudes only an estimated 2" from your computer. Which is infinitely better than the typical wired receiver box that you used to take up valuable desk space with. The accompanying software allows easy configuration of a multitude of settings such as configuring control buttons, character type speeds, mouse cursor tracking speed and other settings.

Overall I was quite pleased with the quality and performance of the Optical Desktop Elite for Bluetooth. The shortcomings of the hibernation mode; possibly confusing installation process are easy to live with in light of the many positive aspects of this great combo. People contemplating whether to purchase this desktop or a wired version would most likely enjoy the wireless freedom this option offers, at only a slight price premium.

The Microsoft Optical Desktop Elite for Bluetooth requires Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and a minimum system specification of a Pentium 233MHz processor, 128MB memory, 60GB of drive space and an available USB port; includes a generous 3 year warranty; retails for approximately $159USD and is available immediately for purchase at most major electronics retailers.

PROS - Attractive keyboard and mouse design; quality mouse and keyboard button feedback; useful extended keyboard keys; comfortable ergonomic mouse design; smooth gliding scroll wheels are a welcome innovation; accurate mouse optical sensor; lengthy warranty period; easy battery replacement; Bluetooth dongle size and ability to be used as a hub for other compatible devices.

CONS - Lag time when resuming from hibernation mode; installation process may be confusing to novice users; mouse cursor occasionally jumps; mouse cursor accuracy highly sensitive to mouse pad design.

About The Author

Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.

info@viscaconsulting. com

http://www. viscaconsulting. com/

 

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5 Ways To Turn A Hobby Into A Business

. Posted in small business into a huge

We all have a passion. For some, it’s a full-time job which you love so much, you wouldn’t dream of ever doing anything else. For others, it’s a hobby that gives your life meaning and fulfills every facet of your being.

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Adobe Creative Suite 2 Premium. Comprehensive suite of graphics, web and publishing applications

. Posted in small business into a huge

By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting

Thursday July 28, 2005; 2:30pm EST

Having an all-in-one web development suite is somewhat of a recent phenomenon. Not long ago, web designers would need to coble together applications from a variety of companies to establish a suitable web production environment. Today, you can pick up a single shrink wrap box, that will handle not only all of your web, but traditional media publishing as well, in an attractive integrated cost effective package.

For quite some time, Adobe has offered a collection of popular tools to design graphics, create web sites, and create internet portable documents - but it is now that they have truly integrated them all into a single seamless environment. The new Adobe Creative Suite 2 Premium includes the latest CS2 versions of PhotoShop, Illustrator, InDesign, GoLive and Version Cue; the new Acrobat Professional version 7 and Adobe Bridge. Something for every stage of the web design and development process excluding the back end application environment. The wildly popular PhotoShop, Illustrator and Acrobat applications used extensively around the globe by design firms, have long been viewed as some of the leading tools for their related categories, it's great to see them all together.

This review covers the Windows platform version; a Mac version is also available. The premium edition we review can also be purchased in a less costly ($300 off the Premium price) standard edition that excludes the Adobe Acrobat Premium 7 and GoLive CS2 applications. Installation of this big boy in its entirety takes a whopping 4 CD's all carefully prepared in a convenient "flip panel" style DVD box. The attractively produced installation process is effortless, allowing you to easily install as much or as little as desired; and your progress throughout the install process is well indicated.

Once installed, you now have access to several distinct tools all available off the Start menu's 'Adobe' folder. Also during the sign-up, registration and product activation process Adobe helps to foster a community like atmosphere by inviting you into their user support community offering product enhancements; discussion forums; tips, tricks and articles for improving your Adobe product skills; and complimentary fonts or trial subscription to your choice of design magazines. All a nice touch to make you feel welcome.

Illustrator, PhotoShop, ImageReady and GoLive load into a clean interface with an abundance of creative tools for composing your masterpiece. Their interface uses a left hand side floating toolbar featuring commonly used tools; a left side collection of floating dockers and tool attribute are configurable along the top fixed bar. Within each docker, tabbed pages of settings hold a bulk of the configurable parameters and object manipulation such as colour selection, layer control and brush styles. Generally the interface is clean, intuitive and for the most part offers quick access to commonly used tools. While changing tool parameters such as rectangle border width was easy in Illustrator; it was more of a challenge in PhotoShop, so not all applications operate identically. Overall you have significant control over customizing your work environment in these applications, a critical feature for designers that are forever looking for more screen real estate while still having the tools they need readily available. Lets have a look at the key applications included in the suite...

Illustrator, as the name suggests, is the illustration package that allows for you to create vector based drawn images. Providing you with a variety of brush, shape and other artistic tools you can compose vector based drawings and layouts that are excellent for print based media. A major new feature to this version of Illustrator is a live tracing format that converts images into vector based drawings you can better manipulate.

PhotoShop the image editing tool is well suited to designing web based graphics and exporting them into your preferred choice of compressed format. In addition to the plethora of creative filters, and tools usually found in PhotoShop, some new goodies have been added. New to this version is a vanishing point tool that attempts to assist you in the process of extending the size of objects such as buildings while retaining perspective. Our attempts at using the vanishing point tool proved challenging, especially aligning the perspective of the vanishing point with the actual object's perspective. We were however impressed with the luminance feature which artificially determined the lighting variance as the object was extended. A Smart Objects feature that retains the quality of objects even after they have been scaled in size was a highly desirable feature we expect all designers to appreciate. An image wrap feature now allows you to better wrap, stretch and bend an image to the shape you desire. We were very impressed with PhotoShop's handling of fonts and text manipulation. Fonts come out highly legible in any size, microscopic to gigantic (even allowing half font point sizes) thanks to its excellent font rendering, and the ability to apply "Sharp", "Crisp", "Strong" and other styles to the fonts. Its ability to do live resizing, rotating and scaling of text works beautifully and still retains the quality of text unexpectedly well. It was strange however that when you highlight text to experiment with fonts, that the highlighting is in black with poor inverting - forcing you to remove the highlight every time you make a change to see if the desired results have been achieved. Adobe Bridge does a great job of showcasing available images, and its live scaling allows you to customize exact thumbnail sizes to your liking. Adobe Bridge is now also an easy access point to stock libraries where you can purchase licenses for use in your designs. PhotoShop is by no means an easy application to master, and you should therefore allow for somewhat of a steep learning curve to master its abilities.

GoLive, is the HTML and web site development tool of the suite. GoLive is the all-in-one site manager that allows page composition, asset management and publishing to FTP or secured FTP servers. While we found it had all the standard and enhanced tools you would find in such an application, its overall intuitiveness was sometimes lacking. Some of the live page composition tools were too fidgety such as the table creation and manipulation tools; and editing individual Cells required tabbing to the correct properties tab to change its properties. When modifying the colour of objects, having to hold down the mouse button to select the colour was awkward and could have been more intuitively designed. Text seemed to require a right mouse click and selection of the Font property from a laundry list of items, when this should be an attribute available as part of the common tool bars. New features for this version include the ability to manipulate PhotoShop and PDF objects at the layer level while in the GoLive environment. A feature that allows developers using Adobe InCopy to dole out different segments of a document to different developers to concurrently work on the same content. GoLive's multi view options let you view your web page in WYSIWYG mode, code mode, split mode, Preview mode and even PDF review mode. The ability to zoom in the WYSIWYG was a nice touch we have not seen on other web page design packages. GoLive is also very much into CSS, with visual editing tools making it easy to produce CSS compliant visual elements for both standard browsers and mobile devices.

Adobe Acrobat enabled conversion of documents in other formats, multiple documents in multiple formats, scanned images and web pages into portable documents that are viewable by an incredibly large install base around the world. The excellent part of PDF files is that they retain their look and feel such as fonts, irrespective of where they go, unlike many other formats. Adobe Acrobat Professional 7 isn't a document composition program, but rather a way of changing other documents into the Acrobat format. In addition to its ability to retain the intended look and feel of a document, there are a vast range of other features that can be applied such as secure documents, managed document distribution, version control, commenting and digital signature capabilities. It even has the ability to create forms that users can fill out, attach digital signatures and submit from the PDF to a centralized email address for collection by a centralized entity. With Acrobat Professional 7, it made converting documents to the format incredibly easy by adding "Convert to Adobe PDF" drop downs in just about every application imaginable. With a couple mouse clicks your documents are converted over without any other input required.

Unfortunately, PDF rendering time was considerably higher than expected. Converting a typical one page invoice with one graphic and a handful of tables took 16 seconds to fully convert into a PDF file. We were hoping for slightly faster if this were to be a tool that is used on a daily basis. Rendering of PDF files are generally very good, but not perfect, with table lines continuing several pixels past there intended stopping point and some images having a "jagged edged" effect. Nothing major, but when being used as a brochure distribution method or for invoicing you want everything to be as close to perfect as possible. We did encounter a number of times where the plug-ins to the applications we used such as Microsoft Word would break causing the Acrobat program to stop producing PDF files for that document format. Although the remedy is not difficult, its continual reoccurrence was bothersome. Adobe has done an excellent job, however, of improving the load times of existing PDF files through the use of an 'Acrobat Speed Launcher' found in the Windows Startup folder.

The help tool provided with the suite did an acceptable job of answering common questions. Our search for "text rotation" came up with a variety of highly applicable results that answered our questions and more.

Performance was not the suite's strong point. While going through the various applications, load times were by no means fast. GoLive for example takes upwards of 10 seconds, PhotoShop a full 15 seconds, and Illustrator a whopping 26 seconds to load on our well specified test box (Dell Dimension XPS Gen3, Pentium 4 3.6GHz with 1GB memory, SATA 160GB drive, and ATI X800SE graphics card). Even Adobe Bridge (several seconds), took longer to load than hoped considering it is just for viewing images.

Overall Adobe offers a solid package for all of your creative endeavors, it really is a creative "suite" in the truest sense of the word. With all the components you need, conveniently wired together to help you expedite your design and document projects. There were some shortcomings in the intuitiveness department and generally slower than average load times. However, each application is absolutely brimming with features and functionality that is frankly rare to find in such concentration -- essentially allowing you to do fully exercise your creativity. If you look at the individual tools and compare them to competition such as PhotoShop to Corel PhotoPaint or GoLive to Macromedia Dreamweaver or Microsoft FrontPage they are in stiff competition, and at this point are more to be decided on a personal preference level than anything else. PhotoShop handles some image and text manipulation better than PhotoPaint, but PhotoPaint has an easier interface and lesser learning curve to deal with. GoLive does well at utilizing the latest CSS and design methods; while FrontPage again offers a more intuitive interface and design tools but suffers from relying on less leading edge technologies. Direct competition to Adobe Creative Suite 2 Premium would be Macromedia's Studio MX 2004. While Dreamweaver MX could arguably be a more attractive HTML design tool, Adobe's suite would crush Macromedia's suite in the graphics design department without exception. However Macromedia's Flash is an essential animated graphics tool that is widely used in web design and viewed by an enormous install base that Adobe's suite could certainly use. Ultimately trying these applications either in a suite or individually by means of trial downloads is the best way to get a feel of what tools work best for your needs and working style.

Creative Suite 2 comes in Windows and Mac varieties. Windows installations require a Pentium III or 4 processor; 512mb to 1gb memory; 3gb of drive space for full installation; 1024x768 24-bit colour display; and Windows 2000 with SP4 or Windows XP with SP1 or SP2 installed. Mac installations require a PowerPC G4 or G5 processor; 512mb to 1gb memory; 4gb of drive space for full installation; 1024x768 24-bit colour display; and Mac OS X v.10.2.8 to v.10.4 and the Java Runtime Environment 1.4.1. Adobe Creative Suite 2 Premium has a recommended retail price of $1,199.00USD with an upgrade version available for $549.00USD for users with qualifying products. Academic pricing is available for qualifying students at $399.00USD. Note that from time to time Adobe may have rebate offers specific to this product. Creative Suite 2 Premium is available immediately at all major computer and electronics retailers; and the Adobe web site online store. Product activation is required for this title.

PROS - All your favorite industry leading design tools in one convenient package; all included applications are incredibly feature rich; some positive new enhancements to the individual applications; great integration between applications and 3rd party applications; help system provides useful responses; package price is affordable when considering the sheer wealth of tools included; little niceties added throughout applications that are not apparent in competing offerings.

CONS - Bugs in relation to Acrobat plug-ins; sluggish application load times even on a well specified machine; steep learning curve to get around interface for some included applications; slow PDF rendering times and slight inconsistencies from the original; design tools sometimes cumbersome or unintuitive.

About The Author

Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.

info@viscaconsulting. com

http://www. viscaconsulting. com/

 

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