Courtesy navigation

Blog posts in The internet

The inconvenient truth of A/B testing

October 07, 2014 by John McGarvey

Should you A/B test your website?{{}}Why guess about how to improve your website, when you can actually measure exactly which changes have the greatest impact?

That’s the basic idea behind A/B testing. Because tracking what people do on your website is easy, you can make a change and then precisely measure what impact it has on your sales or conversion rate.

A/B testing is also called ‘split testing’. Learn the basics on Marketing Donut.

How does A/B testing work?

With A/B testing, you use an A/B testing tool to split your website traffic in two. Half of visitors see your original page design. The others see an edited version.

As visitors interact with your website, you track how visitors behave and measure what they buy.

Over time, you can see which of the two versions is generating more sales. In A/B testing terms, you can see which is the winner. Typical A/B tests might aim to determine:

  • What types of imagery work best on a landing page.
  • What key benefit you should use in your headline.
  • What button text generates more clicks.

Once you’ve proved which of your two versions is better, you can roll it out to all visitors — and move on to your next A/B test.

The awkward truth about A/B testing

In recent years, the popularity of A/B testing has grown enormously. Tools like Google Content Experiments, Optimizely and Unbounce help you run A/B tests even if you don’t have much technical knowledge.

When running A/B tests is so easy, it’s tempting to get carried away. Why bother with market research when you can just try out two options and let the results show — unarguably — which is right?

Well, if you’re a small company that wants to test everything, you’re going to run into a problem pretty quickly. Your website probably doesn’t have enough visitors.

In A/B testing, statistical significance is crucial

An A/B test is only truly useful if you have confidence in the result. You need to know, for sure, that the element you’ve changed is responsible for the improved conversion rate.

Here’s an example. Imagine you’re testing two variants of a landing page.

Half your visitors see the original version, which is converting at 1%. The other remaining visitors see a new version that’s converting at 2%.

At first glance, it looks like the new page has won. Doubling conversion rate is an impressive result — it could double your revenue, too.

But what if these were the full numbers behind that test?

  • The original version was seen by 100 visitors. One of those visitors clicked ‘Buy now’, giving the conversion rate of 1%.
  • The new version was also seen by 100 visitors. Two of those visitors clicked ‘Buy now’, giving the conversion rate of 2%.

Suddenly, things look different. The difference between pages is a single sale. If just one more person chooses to buy from the original page, the score will be even.

For many small business websites, these aren’t unrealistic traffic levels for a single page. However, you need many more visitors to be confident the improvement you’re seeing isn’t down to chance or seasonal factors.

A/B testing may take longer than you think

Most A/B testing tools will give you an indication of how much confidence you can have in the results of your test. Typically, you’ll want a confidence rating of more than 95% before using a test’s outcome to make a decision.

And that takes time. As a general benchmark, you’ll need at least 100 sales or conversions via each page variant before confidence in the result is that high.

If your conversion rate is 2%, that equates to 5,000 visitors to each page. But if those pages only receive a few hundred visitors a week, you’ll be waiting a while for results you can trust.

Have realistic expectations of A/B tests

Sites with massive traffic, like Google, have the ability to test 41 different shades of blue to see which performs better. But your average small business website simply doesn’t have enough traffic to run such detailed tests.

This doesn’t mean A/B testing is a waste of time. It can be a really powerful way to improve your website. But it’s important you go into any project with realistic expectations of how long it will take to get meaningful results.

Online marketing gurus often talk of ‘testing your way to success’. But more often, visitor numbers mean it takes time for a single A/B test to provide conclusive results.

And in practical terms, that means A/B testing is best used as one of many tools to improve your website experience.

Posted in The internet | Tagged Website testing | 0 comments

Is Bitcoin the answer to your business security woes?

June 30, 2014 by IT Donut contributor

Is Bitcoin the answer to your business security woes?/ Bitcoin accepted here{{}}There’s a lot of debate surrounding Bitcoin, and for good reason. This unregulated electronic currency is not backed by a central bank and its value fluctuates wildly.

The Internal Revenue Service (the US equivalent of HMRC) recently decided to treat Bitcoin as property (not a currency). This could have a major impact on the volume of transactions conducted using Bitcoin.

However, while Bitcoin itself is controversial, the encryption technology behind it could be the future of digital security.

How Bitcoin security works

Bitcoin uses an accepted security concept called asymmetric key encryption. When you download a Bitcoin wallet — in which you store your Bitcoins — you’re assigned two encryption keys.

There’s a public encryption key, which you give to anyone from whom you want to receive Bitcoin payments.

Then there’s a private key. This is mathematically linked to your public key, and is used to decrypt information encrypted with your public key.

In practice, this means anyone who wants to pay you can encrypt the transaction using your public key. But only you can decrypt it to receive the money, because only you have the private key.

Bitcoin encryption for email and the cloud

Some email providers use a similar system called Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption to send emails securely.

However, as PGP stores your private encryption key on an email server, hackers (or the government) could potentially intercept and decrypt your messages.

A more secure option is to encrypt emails using a Bitcoin key before you send them through your provider’s servers.

You can apply this same concept to data stored in the cloud. If you encrypt it with a Bitcoin key, your information will stay safe even if someone hacks into your cloud provider.

The risks of Bitcoin encryption

While these security measures do offer extra protection, the risks of Bitcoin encryption lie in the human element.

If you don't secure your virtual Bitcoin wallet, you can fall victim to theft. Really, keeping your wallet offline and protecting it with a password is the only straightforward way to secure it.

And you should always remember that encryption is a double-edged sword. If you ever lose your password, your data is lost forever.

The future of Bitcoin

While some governments have banned or restricted its use as a currency, Bitcoin is gaining support among some businesses. There’s even a Bitcoin cash machine in East London.

The supply of Bitcoins is limited and their volatility means the cost of security can easily surpass the value of what you’re protecting.

But perhaps the true value of Bitcoin lies in its potential to educate more people about using encryption to secure information.

In this digital age, information is currency. You should protect yours just as you would protect your money.

Tim Maliyil is the CEO and Data Security Architect for AlertBoot.

Posted in The internet | Tagged security | 0 comments

More than a quick guide to ecommerce essentials

June 18, 2014 by John McGarvey

More than a quick guide to ecommerce essentials/ Mobile phone and ecommerce essentials{{}}If you’re starting or running an online shop, you’ll know there’s a lot to think about.

Just getting to grips with the basics can be challenging. Choosing an online shopping system, working out how to get paid, putting together your product catalogue and then making sure people can actually find your website are all tasks which take time and effort.

Then it can seem like there’s a never-ending list of things to think about. Are your prices right? Where should you advertise? Are customers happy with your delivery options? What are your competitors up to?

An enormous collection of resources

If you’re grappling with some of these problems, don’t forget why you might have set up online in the first place.

It’s typically much cheaper and easier to start selling online than through a High Street shop. And instead of having to rely on the right people walking past, you can sell worldwide.

On IT Donut — plus our sister site, Marketing Donut — we’ve put together lots of useful resources, tips and advice to help you run an online shop. You can see some of the most popular at the end of this post.

But we also like this enormous collection of resources from iWeb. It’s an ‘interactive flowchart’ (no, we’ve not seen one before either) that claims to tell you how to set up an ecommerce website.

In reality, the information available covers much more than just how to get started. There are all sorts of ideas about everything from search engine optimisation and seasonal promotions to email marketing and content strategy.

It’s definitely worth a look if you’re running or setting up an online shop.

Visit the ecommerce guide from iWeb >>

Our ecommerce resources

You can also access lots of great ecommerce advice on our websites. For instance:

Basic ecommere advice:

Improving your website:

Ecommerce case studies:

Posted in The internet | Tagged sell online | 0 comments

IT for Donuts: what is a botnet?

June 06, 2014 by John McGarvey

IT for Donuts: what is a botnet?/ Picture of a botnet{{}}IT for Donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This week, find out what a botnet is.

Botnets: malicious networks

A botnet is a network of computers, servers or other devices that have been infected with malware or compromised in some way.

These computers may be scattered all over the world, but they’re linked together via the internet.

Botnets are created when individual computers get infected by malicious software. It’s just like catching a computer virus via an infected website, email or software.

If your computer is part of a botnet, you may have no idea. Botnet software conceals itself and may only use your computer’s processing power when you don’t need it.

Botnets can consist of thousands or millions of computers. For instance, until security experts took it down, the ZeroAccess botnet consisted of over 1.9m slave computers.

What are botnets for?

The hackers and online criminals who create botnets use them to gain access to enormous computing power and distributed internet connections.

Botnets are powerful tools used for many malicious purposes. For instance:

  • Click fraud. Botnets are used to generate artificial clicks on online adverts, so advertisers receive more revenue.
  • Distributed denial of service (DDoS). Because every computer in a botnet is connected to the internet, they can be used to target a specific website with a massive amount of traffic, taking that site offline. Learn more about DDoS >>
  • Sending spam. Botnets are often set up to distribute enormous quantities of junk email.

Botnets are an important tool for online criminals. Stamping them out would be enormously beneficial for the internet as a whole.

To do your part, take good basic security precautions. Use decent security software. Avoid opening emails and files that look suspicious.

Finally, pay attention if your computer starts behaving oddly. If it slows down or seems to be hard at work while you’re not using it, double-check your security software and perform a full system scan.

Other IT for Donuts tips:

Posted in The internet | Tagged IT for donuts | 0 comments

Are you about to buy a dumb domain?

June 02, 2014 by John McGarvey

Are you about to buy a dumb domain?{{}}With thousands of new domain name extensions becoming available, choosing a domain for your business seems to have got both easier and more difficult.

On one hand, there’s more choice. You can avoid having to scrabble around for an available .co.uk or .com domain by simply opting for one of the new extensions. Maybe you’d like www.yourbusiness.food or .music.

But on the flipside, nobody really knows which — if any — of these domain names are going to be successful or desirable.

For instance, will some domain extensions get targeted by spammers and scammers? If so, you probably won’t want to be associated with them.

In the past, we’ve been somewhat sceptical of these new domains. With so many to choose from, it seems inevitable some will sink without trace. Perhaps not .London (it made the front page of the Evening Standard, after all). But can you see .guru, .vip and .rehab all catching on?

Now there’s a website, Dumb Domains, designed to showcase some of the more unconventional domain options available.

It’ll show you one available domain at a time. But you won’t have to reload many times before you see a silly one.

For instance, although www.pirate.lighting sounds pretty cool, we’re not so sold on butt.construction or sploosh.computer. (Both are available for $28.99, if you fancy taking a punt.) 

Posted in The internet | Tagged domain names | 0 comments

Why the cloud is like a serviced office

May 28, 2014 by IT Donut contributor

Why the cloud is like a serviced office/ Service office{{}}“If someone asks me what cloud computing is, I try not to get bogged down with definitions. I tell them that, simply put, cloud computing is a better way to run your business.”

That’s the cloud, according to Marc Benioff, CEO and founder of cloud business platform Salesforce.com.

And while you could argue that he has a vested interest, he has a point. The cloud is so widespread that every business needs to understand what it is and how it can help deliver products and services people will actually pay for.

But there are many definitions of the cloud. If IT is not your main focus, the cloud can quickly turn into brain fog.

The cloud is like a serviced office

For a straightforward, alternative definition of the cloud, take a look at a serviced office like the one we work out of here at Desynit.

Other than a great view of the station and a fantastic local bakery, there are good reasons for us being here: 

  • When we moved in, we didn’t have to worry about sourcing basic office equipment. It was included.
  • All the main services are managed for us: lighting, heating, internet, reception, cleaning and so on.
  • Because we share with other businesses, we can access facilities like meeting rooms on a pay-as-you-go basis.
  • The building is in good condition and well-maintained, with a proper alarm system, locks and security.
  • As our business grows, it’s easy for us to find more suitable premises. (We’ve moved to a bigger office three times so far.)

On top of all that, there’s only one bill to pay each month. That makes life much easier for our finance team and helps us budget accurately.

The real benefits of the cloud

It doesn’t come for free, that’s for sure. But in terms of value to a business, it’s a clear win. So when Marc Benioff talks about businesses running better in the cloud, this is what he means.

Desynit Director, Matt Morris, explains: “You no longer need to think about the bricks and mortar issues of hardware, licensing, maintaining operating systems and installing updates — to name just a few. It’s all taken care of.

“If you need additional services, bolt them on. Need more capacity for peak time? It’s there on a pay-as-you-go basis.”

Oh and one more thing. This particular office is mobile. Wherever you are, as long as you have internet access, just step right in.

The final fittings and fixtures

Let’s come back to the serviced office analogy. The basic building set-up may tick most of the boxes, but what if you have a more unusual requirement?

Some cloud providers open up their platforms so third party vendors can develop apps and add-ons to meet business needs. (At Desynit, we integrate apps from the Salesforce AppExchange.)

When your requirements aren’t standard, being able to do this makes a big difference.

Choosing the right cloud platform will enable you to focus on your core service, rather than on your supporting systems. And that has to be better for your business.

Amy Grenham is the marketing manager at Desynit, a business systems IT consultancy and Salesforce.com integration partner.

Posted in The internet | Tagged cloud computing | 0 comments

Five ways contactless payments can help your business

April 30, 2014 by IT Donut contributor

Five ways contactless payments can help your business/Contractless payment in action{{}}There are about 36 million credit and debit cards in the UK that can perform contactless transactions, where you tap the card on a card reader instead of using chip and PIN.

And after a bit of a slow start, it seems people are starting to embrace contactless. An estimated 125 contactless payments a minute are made with VISA cards alone.

So, here are five reasons your business should offer contactless payments:

1. Make speedier sales

Queues are bad for business. They frustrate customers, who sometimes walk away if they don’t have time to wait.

Contactless payments only take a second or so.

It might not sound like that’ll make much difference compared to using chip and PIN or counting out change. However, if you serve hundreds of people a day, you’ll notice a drop in queue length and an increase in happy customers.

2. Customers buy more

Currently, contactless payments are limited to £20 per transaction. But research shows that because consumers can spend more than just the change in their pockets, they do tend to spend a bit more.

In future, it’s likely the £20 ceiling will be raised, giving customers even greater contactless spending power.

3. It’s cheaper than chips

To start using contactless, you may need to buy a new payment terminal. Once up and running, it’s unlikely transactions will cost you more.

In fact, contactless transactions on debit cards usually attract lower charges than chip and PIN. And that means you’ll have a little extra in the till at the end of the day.

4. Get more time to talk

Although contactless saves time on transactions, it doesn’t have to strip away all human engagement.

It’s important businesses develop relationships with regular customers. And with less time spent focusing on the mechanics of paying, you have more time to make conversation.

5. Stay on top of new trends

Keeping up with new trends can be daunting. But if you embrace those that come your way, you’ll keep your business on top of its game — and ahead of the competition.

Or to put it another way: contactless is growing. Maybe your customers aren’t that bothered about using it yet. And maybe none of your competitors have it today. But both those facts will change. Are you ready?

Andy Macauley is chief operating officer of Handepay.

Posted in The internet | Tagged Mobile hardware | 0 comments

Look at how far web design has come

April 28, 2014 by John McGarvey

By the standards of traditional industries, web design is incredibly young. Yet in the 20-ish years it’s been possible to make a living from building websites, the approaches and techniques involved have changed remarkably.

You only have to browse back through the Internet Archive to see the differences between then and now. Just check out Microsoft in 1996, Ford in 2000 or British Airways in 1999.

Web design agency Aptitude has taken a look back over the history of web design in this interesting infographic:

The Rapid Growth of Web Design: Past to Present (Infographic) 

(Incidentally, we don’t think it’s accurate to say mobile internet access exceeded desktop access as early as 2008. It probably hasn’t happened yet — but we’ll let that slide.)

Posted in The internet | Tagged web design | 0 comments

Is responsive web design the future?

April 22, 2014 by Adrian Case

Is responsive web design the future?/ Responsive web design in action{{}}With mobile devices still increasing in popularity, it’s never been more important for your website to cater for mobile users.

As Ofcom said nearly three years ago, we are a ‘nation addicted to smartphones’. While sales of traditional PCs are gradually declining, smart phones and tablets are on the up.

If you’ve never done anything about your mobile presence, the time for action is now. There are many factors to consider.

Different devices have varying screen sizes, resolutions and processing power. There’s a choice of platforms, too — like iOS, Android and Windows.

It would be virtually impossible to create a different version of your website tailored to each individual device. However, you can use responsive web design instead.

What is responsive web design?

Responsive web design is a way of making sure your website provides a universally good experience for visitors, regardless of what device they use.

It’s the ‘one size fits all’ approach to web design. When you create a responsive website, the various elements (images, content, navigation and so on) shift and change with the screen size.

You’ll soon understand if you see a responsive website in action. Go and visit Time Magazine on your computer, then resize your web browser window. As the size of the window changes, the content moves around to fit.

This means responsive sites work well on both large monitors and tiny smart phones.

The benefits of responsive web design

So, responsive web design sounds good. But is there evidence to say it’s worth investing time and money in?

Many companies that have moved to a responsive web design have experienced growth in conversion rates, creating a sales uplift from mobile traffic. We are yet to see the full impact mobile devices will have on online behavior. However, they’re certainly here to stay.

This means it’s vital to consider taking a responsive approach with any new or redesigned websites.

Some businesses have a much higher proportion of mobile visitors than others. But as mobile devices become even more common, you really should think about the responsive web.

Blog by Adrian Case of Akita Systems, providing IT support and consultancy to the South East of England since 1996.

Posted in The internet | Tagged security | 0 comments

IT for Donuts: how to buy a domain name

March 28, 2014 by John McGarvey

IT for Donuts: how to buy a domain name/How to buy a domain name{{}}IT for Donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This week: how to buy a domain name. If you’ve chosen the domain you want for your website, how do you go about securing it?

Who sells domain names?

Although domain names are controlled centrally (for instance, all domains ending in .uk are managed by a non-profit organisation called Nominet), they can be bought from many different companies.

These companies are called domain name registrars. They can register a domain name for you, enabling you to use that domain for your website, email and so on.

Major domain name registrars in the UK include GoDaddy, 123-reg, Heart Internet, 1and1, Fasthosts and Names.co.uk.

To buy a domain name from one of these providers, go to their website and search for a domain. Choose the one you want and enter your payment details. It’s that easy!

How does buying domains work?

When you buy a domain name, you get the right to use it for a certain period of time. When that period ends, you must renew your domain to keep using it. You can usually buy a domain for anything from one to ten years.

You can normally register your domain with one company, host your website with another, and then link the two so that people who type in your domain name end up at your website.

However, it’s important to check how easy it is to do this. It often involves some technical steps.

Many domain name registrars offer support to get everything working. But for a hassle-free setup, it can be easiest to buy your domain name and web hosting from the same company.

You might also get your domain name free or discounted if you buy it as part of a bundle that also includes hosting and email services.

What are the catches?

The domain name market is competitive, so registrars frequently offer deals to tempt new customers in.

However, these heavy discounts usually only apply to the first year’s registration. After that, you can end up paying an inflated renewal fee.

Other things to check include:

  • Watch out for lock-ins. Once you’ve bought a domain, the registrar should make it easy for you to transfer it to another supplier or point it at a different website, without excessive charges.
  • Get it in your name. Your domain is central to your online brand, so make sure it’s registered in your name — not that of your web designer or another supplier.
  • Auto-renewal can be handy. This means the registrar will renew your domain for you when the registration period expires. (Of course, you may prefer to renew manually to retain more control over payments.)

Finally, be aware that many domain name registrars now offer domains for sale on both the primary and secondary markets.

The primary market is where most people buy their domains. When you buy from the primary market, you’re buying a domain that nobody else currently owns. These domains are available at standard prices. Expect to pay around £5 a year for a .co.uk domain, or £10 — £15 a year for a .com.

The secondary market is where people trade domain names that they already own. Prices here tend to be higher and less predictable — you can pay anything from £50 to thousands.

Posted in The internet | Tagged IT for donuts | 0 comments

Broadband and the British national obsession

March 26, 2014 by John McGarvey

Broadband and the British national obsession/House keys - Broadband included?{{}}Well now. Here’s a news story that marries broadband speeds (one of the IT Donut’s own obsessions) with one of the Great British public’s favourite topics of conversation.

You see, property listings website Rightmove has released research suggesting that slow or non-existent broadband could wipe to 20% off the price of a house.

Cue — obviously — a story in the Daily Mail, complete with ropey stock photography and everything.

Broadband is the fourth utility

Even if you doubt the specifics of this research (a 20% reduction sounds like an awful lot), it certainly backs up the idea that broadband is fast becoming the fourth utility.

And it’s true: we treat our internet connections like turning on the lights or central heating. When we need it to get online, we expect to be able to do so.

A reminder for your business

The Rightmove story was released because the property firm has now added a broadband checker to its own website, to tell you what sort of connection you should get at a house you’re interested in.

But it provides an interesting reminder about the increasing importance of the web in our lives.

We spend more time online than ever. We’re connected not just at home, but nearly wherever we go. We’re buying things when we’re on the move.

If we’re at a point where broadband availability ranks alongside off-street parking, good schools and public transport links as factors in house desirability, surely it’s time to make the internet more central to your company, too.

In short, if you’re running a business — any sort of business — and you’re not thinking regularly about how the internet can help you, you’re missing a trick.

More than just a website

The internet is so ingrained in our lives that it’s not enough to build a website and leave it at that.

You need to stay up to date with new developments, like Google’s continued efforts to appeal to target mobile ads by location, or the fact that showrooming is rife. Is there any way you can turn these — and other — trends to your advantage?

You don’t need to transform how you do business. Nor do you need to panic.

But these days, people tend to turn to the internet first, no matter what they’re looking for. That creates new threats, and new opportunities. Are you ready to take advantage?

Posted in The internet | Tagged broadband | 0 comments

IT for Donuts: how can I create a website on a budget?

March 21, 2014 by John McGarvey

IT for Donuts: how can I create a website on a budget?/Build a website{{}}IT for Donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This week: if you need to build a website but you’re on a tight budget, what’s your best option?

Building your own website

If you’re looking to build a website on the cheap, you won’t have the cash to commission a designer to create your site for you.

And unless you’re already familiar with the principles of web design and the ins and outs of the HTML computer code that websites are built from, you won’t be able to create a convincing site from scratch. (Professional web designers and developers take years to learn how to do this well.)

But being cash-strapped doesn’t mean you have to make do with a below-par website.

Use a DIY website builder

There are many packages available that enable you to construct a website using pre-defined templates.

You don’t need to have any technical knowledge to use these website builder packages. You just have to choose your templates, add images, content and other elements like videos, then arrange everything as you want.

It used to be that the limited range of templates in most website builders meant they all looked rather similar.

However, nowadays website builders are more versatile. You still have to spend time learning how your website builder works, experimenting with templates and creating the content for your site.

But a few days’ work over a couple of weekends can leave you with a site you’re justifiably proud of.

That means a website builder is a good way to create a web presence for your business when you’re starting out or on a tight budget.

Finding a website builder

There are many website builder packages on the market. Here are some things to think about when choosing one:

  • How easy is it to use? Do you need any technical knowledge to make a start? Is the interface clear and simple to understand?
  • Does it have the features you need? Are there limits on the number of pages you can create? Can you add in ecommerce functions?
  • Will it cater for mobile users? Any new website should be easy to access from a mobile device, like a smart phone or tablet.
  • What other sites use it? Try and find examples of real sites that use the website builder you’re looking at. Are they any good?
  • Do you get everything you need? Every website needs a domain name and web hosting. Many site builders include these, but not all.
  • How much will it cost? You usually have to pay a monthly charge for your website builder. Check whether there’s a minimum contract period.
  • What happens if you decide to cancel? It’s important you’re able to extract and keep all your website content and data.

To get you started, here are some companies offering popular website builder packages: 

Most popular packages offer a free trial to begin with, so you can get a feel for the website builder before you commit to using it. 

Posted in The internet | Tagged IT for donuts | 0 comments

IT for Donuts: what is a dongle?

March 14, 2014 by John McGarvey

IT for Donuts: what is a dongle?/A typical 3G dongle{{}}IT for Donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This week: if you’ve been investigating how to connect to the internet when you’re out and about, you might have been told that you need a dongle. So, what is a dongle and should you buy one?

Get online on the move

If you travel for work, it’s important to be able to get online from different locations. You can use your smart phone to check for email and look at web pages, but it can be trickier getting online with your laptop or tablet.

Free Wi-Fi is a good option, but isn’t always convenient. You usually have to buy a drink in a café. In rural locations it might not be available at all.

A dongle gives you flexibility in when and where you connect to the internet, because it lets you use a mobile data connection rather than requiring you to be near a wireless network.

This means you can get online wherever there’s a mobile phone signal.

Alternatives to a dongle

A dongle isn’t the only way to connect to the internet when you’re out and about. You can also consider:

  • Tethering your laptop to your smart phone. You may be able to connect your laptop to your phone via Bluetooth, so your laptop can use your phone’s data connection. However, some networks charge extra for this and it can run your phone’s battery down faster.
  • Getting a tablet or laptop with a slot for a SIM card. Some laptops and tablets include a slot for a SIM card, enabling them to connect to directly to a 3G or 4G data network without a separate dongle.

What is a dongle?

A dongle is a small gadget that looks very much like a memory stick (see image).

Most dongles have a standard USB connection, so you can plug them into your laptop. They may work with some tablets too, although this depends which model of tablet you have.

A dongle has a slot for a SIM card, like the one in your mobile phone. Once you’ve inserted a SIM, it can connect to the internet.

How to use a dongle

To start using a dongle, you need a SIM card as well as the dongle itself.

All major mobile phone networks sell special ‘data SIMs’, designed to be used in dongles rather than mobile phones.

The amount you pay for your SIM depends on how much data you need to transfer. For occasional use, it’s usually best to pay as you go, topping up your data allowance when it gets low.

If you’ll be using the dongle regularly, you can get a SIM on a contract, paying a fixed amount each month (usually £15 — £30) for a fixed amount of data.

If you’ve not used a dongle before, a good way to get started is to buy a package that includes a dongle and pay-as-you-go SIM card. These are available for £30 — £50, including some data.

This lets you see what it’s like to use a dongle in practice, before you sign up to an expensive contract.

Once you have your SIM card in the dongle, all you need to do is plug it into your computer. Most dongles will automatically install software to connect you to the internet. Then you can browse the internet as normal.

Dongle connection speeds

When you buy your dongle, you can choose between a 3G (third generation) or 4G (fourth generation) connection. Although 4G is faster, it’s also more expensive and coverage is generally limited to larger towns and cities.

A 4G dongle will automatically drop down to 3G when necessary, so you’ll still be able to get online.

In strong signal areas, both 3G and 4G dongles will provide a good enough connection to browse web pages and check email. However, 4G is better for transferring large files and watching video.

Posted in The internet | Tagged IT for donuts | 0 comments

A beginner's guide to server colocation

March 10, 2014 by Albie Attias

A beginner's guide to server colocation/Data centre{{}}Colocation. Sure, it’s an unfortunate term that sounds a bit like one of those painful body cleansing treatments you get in health clubs.

However, if you run a new or small business, it’s actually something that can really help your company.

What is colocation?

Colocation is just like web hosting. The only difference is that rather than your data living on a server owned by the web hosting company, it lives on a server that you own.

The physical server belongs to you, but it lives in a datacentre owned by your colocation provider.

A datacentre is a special building designed to keep servers safe, sound and running 24 hours a day.

You use the colocation provider’s building, internet bandwidth and electricity. But you own the server that holds your data.

Colocation is more expensive than standard web hosting, but costs less than doing everything yourself. It’s also sometimes called ‘colo’, ‘co-lo’ or ‘CoLo’.

Why use colocation?

Colocation offers smaller businesses the benefits of a large, well-resourced IT department, but without the large costs:

  • Get more bandwidth for your buck. For instance, if you need to stream video from your server then you can do so for a relatively small cost.
  • Improve your cash flow. You only pay as you go, and usually only for what you need.
  • Get better protection and security. Because your server will be kept in a proper data centre (not in a corner of your office), you get redundant power supplies, firewalls and other extras to keep your server running.
  • You retain control. You’re just paying for space in the data centre, but you keep full control over your server and can use it however you wish.
  • It’s easy to move. If your business moves premises, you don’t have to figure out how to take your server with you. It stays in the data centre.

For smaller companies that don’t have much of their own IT infrastructure, colocation helps you compete with larger businesses on a level playing field.

So, what’s not to like?

One of the biggest problems with colocation is that it can be quite hard to find providers, especially outside cities. And even if you do, you need to consider:

  • Physical access to your server. This is likely to be only available during the provider’s office hours.
  • Cost. Colocation certainly costs more than basic web hosting. You can also end up paying a different amount each month, depending on how much bandwidth you use.
  • Upgrades and maintenance. You have to do this all yourself. Although you’re renting space from your supplier, the server is your responsibility. (If you’re not confident, managed hosting might be more suitable.)

It’s true that colocation isn’t for everyone. But for smaller businesses that have a modicum of IT expertise in-house, it can be a good way to gain access to the kinds of IT services that have previously been the preserve of larger organisations.

This is a post from Albie Attias of King of Serversan IT hardware supplier specialising in servers and networking.

 

Posted in The internet | 0 comments

IT for Donuts: how to view a website that's currently offline

February 28, 2014 by John McGarvey

IT for Donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This week: you need to urgently check a website for information, but that website has gone offline. It's probably having technical problems, but how can you get the information you need without delay?

How to get round 'website unavailable'

Once in a while, websites go down. It even happens to Google and the BBC occasionally, so pretty much nobody is immune.

If a site you need to access in a hurry is having a moment, don't panic. Google will almost certainly come to the rescue for you.

As Google crawls web pages to keep its index up to date, it takes a snapshot of most of them. This is called the 'cached' copy, and you can view it easily. Here's how...

First, go to Google and search for the website you're looking for. (If you know the exact URL of the page you need, just paste that into the search box.)

In the search results, find the page you're looking for. (If you searched by URL, it should be the top result.)

Select the green down arrow beside the result's URL, then choose Cached from the options:

Google cached search result{{}}

You'll see Google's copy of the page. At the top will be a line of text explaining when this snapshot is from.

When this won't work

Most of the time, this method should let you look up information you need.

However, if you're after something that's particularly time-sensitive, like the latest train disruptions or the weather forecast, Google's cached copy will probably be too old to provide accurate results.

To avoid any out-of-date information, always check when Google took its copy of the page.

Posted in The internet | Tagged IT for donuts | 0 comments

How to stop internet downtime crippling your business

January 30, 2014 by IT Donut contributor

How to stop internet downtime crippling your business/Frayed Internet Cable{{}}When your internet connection goes down, your business can suffer disruption that wastes your time and hits your bottom line.

If that sounds all-too-familiar to you and your company, here are a few ways to reduce disruption caused by an unreliable internet connection.

1. Upgrade your old router

Consider upgrading your router if it’s more than five years old. Newer routers offer more reliable, stronger wireless signals, better security and faster downloads.

If you have laptops, smart phones or tablets that can operate using newer, faster wireless networking standards then make sure your router can perform at the same speed, too.

2. Check your computers for security problems

Security problems like malware and viruses can hit your internet speed by consuming your computer’s processing power and sending data across your internet connection.

Make sure you have good security software that’s working properly and gets regularly updated.

3. Reposition your router

If you rely on a wireless internet connection on your premises, where you position your router can dramatically affect the strength of the signal — and therefore the speed of your connection. Try and position it near the centre of your office, rather than leaving it in the corner by your phone socket.

If you still struggle to get a strong connection, consider getting a signal booster to improve coverage or connecting the most important devices to the router via a cable.

4. Check your contract

Some ‘unlimited internet’ packages aren’t actually unlimited. They have fair-use clauses or restrictions to ensure that one user’s heavy use doesn’t slow the service for others

If you exceed your package’s usage limit, you might be charged extra of have the speed of your connection capped. Your internet provider may also limit speeds at peak time, or slow access to sites that require a lot of bandwidth, like YouTube.

Ultimately, if your business requires a reliable, fast connection then you should consider investing in a fibre connection, if fibre is available in your area. However, these tips are a good way to make your connection more reliable without having to splash out on an upgrade.

This is a guest post from Christian Nellemann, founder and group CEO of XLN Telecom, a specialist provider of small business broadband and phone services.

Posted in The internet | Tagged broadband | 0 comments

IT for Donuts: do I need a 4G connection?

January 17, 2014 by John McGarvey

4G mobile phone{{}}

Image: 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com

IT for Donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This week: now that most mobile phone networks offer 4G tariffs and handsets, is it worth considering 4G for your business?

What is 4G?

4G is a relatively new kind of mobile internet connection. It allows you to connect your smart phone or tablet computer to the internet at very high speeds, while you’re out and about.

4G is named because it’s a fourth generation mobile network. It follows on from 3G, which you probably use at the moment if you access the internet through a smart phone. The main mobile phone networks offer 4G connections, including O2EE and Vodafone.

What makes 4G special?

If you’re familiar with 3G, you can think of 4G as the same thing, but much speedier. In the right circumstances, a 4G connection can be three to four times faster than your average home broadband connection, giving you the ability to do more online when you’re out and about.

All that speed means 4G can be a boon if you need to send and receive large files when you're on the move, like this aerial photography company that uses it to process large images.

But because 4G is faster, it's also makes for snappier all-round internet access. For instance, your phone or tablet should download emails and display websites faster, reducing those frustrating moments while you wait for something to load.

Sounds great. What's the catch?

To get a 4G connection, you need three things:

  • A mobile device capable of 4G. Many of the latest smart phones and tablets can connect to 4G networks, but you'll find most older devices won't be able to.
  • A 4G mobile tariff. Guess what? Because 4G is better than 3G, it costs more to get a 4G contract from your mobile network. Expect to pay at least £5 — £10 a month extra.
  • A 4G signal. 4G network coverage is improving fast in urban areas, but if you spend a lot of time outside major towns and cities then you'll find 4G availability is patchy.

So, to start using 4G you're probably going to need to buy a new mobile device, get a new contract, and check the coverage in areas you expect to use it.

Should I move to 4G?

4G is a genuinely worthwhile upgrade, if you can afford it and if it's available in the places where you spend most of your time. You'll notice a real improvement even compared with a good 3G connection, and it should eliminate some of the frustrations of mobile internet access.

However, at the moment it's hard for your average company to make a convincing case for moving to 4G. In fact, 3G is still more than adequate in most circumstances, even if you might have to wait a few extra seconds to download your email.

That means most businesses will be fine with 3G for now. But improving coverage and (hopefully) falling prices, the story could be different in six to 12 months' time.

Posted in The internet | Tagged IT for donuts | 1 comment

How to stop internet downtime crippling your business

January 15, 2014 by IT Donut contributor

How to stop internet downtime crippling your business{{}}When your internet connection goes down, your business can suffer disruption that wastes your time and hits your bottom line.

If that sounds all-too-familiar to you and your company, here are a few ways to reduce disruption caused by an unreliable internet connection.

1. Upgrade your old router

Consider upgrading your router if it’s more than five years old. Newer routers offer more reliable, stronger wireless signals, better security and faster downloads.

If you have laptops, smart phones or tablets that can operate using newer, faster wireless networking standards then make sure your router can perform at the same speed, too.

2. Check your computers for security problems

Security problems like malware and viruses can hit your internet speed by consuming your computer’s processing power and sending data across your internet connection.

Make sure you have good security software that’s working properly and gets regularly updated.

3. Reposition your router

If you rely on a wireless internet connection on your premises, where you position your router can dramatically affect the strength of the signal — and therefore the speed of your connection. Try and position it near the centre of your office, rather than leaving it in the corner by your phone socket.

If you still struggle to get a strong connection, consider getting a signal booster to improve coverage or connecting the most important devices to the router via a cable.

4. Check your contract

Some ‘unlimited internet’ packages aren’t actually unlimited. They have fair-use clauses or restrictions to ensure that one user’s heavy use doesn’t slow the service for others

If you exceed your package’s usage limit, you might be charged extra of have the speed of your connection capped. Your internet provider may also limit speeds at peak time, or slow access to sites that require a lot of bandwidth, like YouTube.

Ultimately, if your business requires a reliable, fast connection then you should consider investing in a fibre connection, if fibre is available in your area. However, these tips are a good way to make your connection more reliable without having to splash out on an upgrade.

This is a guest post from Christian Nellemann, founder and group CEO of XLN Telecom, a specialist provider of small business broadband and phone services.

 

Posted in The internet | Tagged broadband | 0 comments

Product intelligence: the future of ecommerce?

January 02, 2014 by IT Donut contributor

Product intelligence: the future of ecommerce?/boxes stack for delivery{{}}When you’re selling online, how quickly you’re able to deliver your products can make or break your business. If your next-day delivery promise turns out to be hogwash then you’ll see customers switching to more reliable competitors.

The University of Cambridge, working together with James and James Fulfilment, is carrying out research that it thinks could lead to a new means of online order delivery — allowing consumers to interact with their order almost right up until it arrives.

Ecommerce product intelligence

The research is based on the concept of ‘product intelligence’, where computer models allow every product and order in a warehouse to effectively think for itself.

What does that mean? Well, if the researchers are correct, orders themselves will soon be able to communicate with warehouse and delivery staff to make sure that they are processed correctly.

Product intelligence could let consumers interact with their order right up until it is delivered.

For instance, currently if a customer wants to change the delivery address once an order has been dispatched, they have to contact the courier. But with product intelligence, they could let the order know the new address — electronically.

Popping out? Let your order know

In fact, it could be possible for consumers to interact directly with their online orders at every stage of the journey.

You might be able to tell your order that you’re are not at home because you’ve popped to a café down the road. Or you could even say: ‘use my mobile phone to come and find me’ while your parcel is out for delivery. Imagine that: no more ‘we called while you were out’ cards.

The difference with product intelligence is that the order will tell the carrier what it needs to do, rather than the customer telling the carrier. It sounds futuristic, but the infrastructure is mostly already in place, so the technology could become available very soon.

Product intelligence and efficiency

Product intelligence could also allow goods to decide where in a warehouse they should be stored. The researchers have found that doing this can be 20% more efficient than current best practice.

Although it might seem obvious that the fastest-selling products should be kept closest to the packing station, actually getting the information required to arrange products correctly is not easy.

When the products can confer amongst themselves, products that are frequently shipped together will know they should be stored together.

While online ordering has vastly improved in the past decade to become a slick, real-time process, many fulfilment centres and carriers have failed to invest at the same rate.

That’s why product intelligence has such huge potential: it could save businesses considerable time and money, and deliver much higher levels of customer satisfaction.

This is a guest post from James and James Fulfilment.

Posted in The internet | Tagged ecommerce | 0 comments

If your customers don’t know what SSL is, do you need it?

December 17, 2013 by IT Donut contributor

If your customers don’t know what SSL is, do you need it?/SSL secure{{}}The average internet shopper doesn’t have a clue what an SSL certificate. Come to think of it, do you know what an SSL certificate is?

If not, here’s a brief explanation: an SSL certificate allows your website to display the secure padlock when people visit it. It also encrypts data transferred between your website and its visitors (like their credit card details), so it can’t be accessed by online criminals.

If you sell online, it is important to have an SSL certificate — and not just because it protects your customer’s card details. Here’s why:

1. Your customers do care about security

Just because your customers don’t know what an SSL certificate is doesn’t mean they don’t want reassurance when they’re shopping online.

Many factors help determine whether online shoppers feel safe enough to make a purchase from you, and you don’t control all of them. For instance, you can’t invent a trusted brand that’s been around for a hundred years.

However, you can make your customers feel more at ease by displaying an SSL certificate. One study found 94% of consumers were more likely to proceed with an online purchase when they saw the Norton Secured Seal during checkout.

2. It’s a legal requirement

Every website owner has a responsibility to make sure the data their website collects or uses is kept safe.

This responsibility may be a legal obligation, depending on what type of data you collect or use. If you process credit card details, for example, it’s essential that this data is securely encrypted.

3. Your reputation could be at risk

Barely a week goes by without news of data being stolen or hacked. Just one such incident can damage your company’s reputation.

Don’t think this will ever happen to your business? The numbers don’t look great: according to government figures, 76% of small companies suffered a security breach in 2012. What’s more, experts have warned that smaller companies are increasingly being targeted by online criminals.

This post was written by John Philips from SSLs.com, a reseller of SSL certificates.

Posted in The internet | Tagged ecommerce | 0 comments

How to handle Cyber Monday

December 02, 2013 by John McGarvey

Cyber Monday — online shopping{{}}

In what can only be a carefully-timed PR move, Amazon has this morning secured impressive coverage by announcing that it's testing the use of drones for deliveries.

Why so carefully-timed? Well, today just so happens to be Cyber Monday, the day when online sales peak in the run-up to Christmas. Experts are predicting that internet spending today could hit £500m, making it the biggest online shopping day in history. 

Self-fulfilling?

Never mind that drone deliveries are likely still years off — what matters to Amazon is that it has got its brand into the BBC website's top 'most read' slot on the busiest digital retail day of the year. 

While it's true that Cyber Monday has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, there is no doubt that the first Monday in December is a key online shopping day. So, if you sell online, it could pay to be prepared.

Last-minute Cyber Monday preparations

Ok, so without the PR budget of Amazon you're unlikely to secure similar levels of brand coverage. However, if you sell online, there are still things you can do to make sure you handle Cyber Monday well.

It's a little late now to do anything more than last-minute preparations, of course. But you can certainly make sure that your website's working properly and you're ready to handle orders that arrive:

  • Check your website is functioning ok. At any time of year, website downtime means lost revenue. But on the busiest day of the year, the impact will obviously be higher. Have you checked it today yet? Go on, do a test order right now.
  • Postpone non-essential maintenance. There is absolutely no point in doing anything that could hit your website sales on the busiest day of the year. Updating your website's software? Just wait till tomorrow.
  • Consider upping your online advertising. It depends on your budget and your market, of course. But in general, more consumers will be online today hunting for gifts. You could reach more of them by increasing your online advertising spend.
  • Be ready to pack and ship orders. One of the most effective ways to keep your customers happy is to pack and send orders quickly. Now's the time to nip out for bubblewrap and sticky tape, if you're running low.
  • Think about staying late. Retailers including Amazon and John Lewis expect sales to peak this evening, from 6pm — 9pm. It might be worth hanging on in the office, just to make sure your website keeps running smoothly.

How have you found Cyber Monday in previous years? Does it deliver a boost to your bottom line, or is it nothing more than a load of hype?

Posted in The internet | Tagged ecommerce | 0 comments

Is virtualisation a magical way to cut your costs?

November 28, 2013 by IT Donut contributor

Is virtualisation a magical way to cut your costs?/cloud split into virtual servers{{}}Modern computers and servers are so powerful that many businesses tend to only use only a small percentage of their full capabilities.

For instance, if a server is only being used to store files and share internet access then much of its processing power is going to waste.

In recent years, more companies have started using virtualisation to help harness some of that untapped power. So, what is virtualisation and why should it matter to your business?

Virtualisation: many servers, one box

Virtualisation involves sharing computing resources so your business can get more bang for its buck. This clever technology allows one physical server to function as several servers.

That’s why they’re called virtual servers: although they behave like individual servers, they all run on the same piece of hardware.

For example, instead of running your each of your in-house applications (email server, accounting system, CRM system etc) on its own physical server, you can ‘virtualise’ one big server and run the whole lot on that.

Doing so means you only have one physical server to maintain. Virtualisation is also handy when different applications can't run together under the same operating system. For example, perhaps your accounting software runs on Windows but your website requires Linux.

Power when you need it

These days, you can take advantage of virtualisation without actually owning any hardware yourself. Instead, you rent your virtual servers from another company, often a web hosting or cloud computing firm.

In this situation, you’ll never see the physical server on which your virtual servers run. It sits safely in a data centre where it may be shared by other businesses too.

The beauty of this approach is that the resources needed to run your applications can be spread across a number of virtual servers, which are all shared between companies.

This means that there’s lots of computing power on tap should you need it — yet you don’t have to invest in expensive hardware yourself.

To spread the load, many virtualisation services split computing power between customers in different time zones, so there’s always enough spare capacity to go round.

Is sharing servers safe?

One of the first questions businesses have about sharing servers in this way is: ‘Are our applications and data safe if we’re sharing with other companies?’

Usually, the answer is yes, as long as you are dealing with a reputable provider. If they are a European firm and covered by EU data protection laws then that gives you extra reassurance. In general, you should ask the same questions of your provider as you would of any other cloud computing company.

Virtualisation is all about sharing the cost of computing resources. If more businesses can share a single resource, that resource becomes cheaper for each individual business. And that’s why virtualisation should matter to you.

This is a guest post from John Paterson, CEO of Really Simple Systems

Posted in The internet | Tagged cloud computing | 1 comment

Still confused about the cloud? You're not alone

November 20, 2013 by IT Donut contributor

Still confused about the cloud? You’re not alone/Cloud question mark{{}}What is the cloud? You’ll get a very different answer depending on who you ask that questions.

That’s because ‘cloud’ is a fluffy term that has been blown around endlessly, used by different people and organisations to mean different things. There’s never been any consensus about what it actually does mean.

Some people argue it simply refers to the internet. Others suggest it’s just a manufactured term that means absolutely nothing.

In general, consumers are most aware of Amazon Cloud Drive or Apple iCloud. Often they feel as if the rest of the cloud computing industry has been thrown into the mix to confuse them.

The ‘official’ definition of cloud

The most widely accepted definition of cloud computing comes from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology. It states:

“Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

Now that’s all well and good, but if you’re a business owner embroiled in running and growing a company, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. You just want a straightforward solution that’s going to support your business as it grows.

Cloud in a simpler form

The company I work for — Names.co.uk — offers cloud services. When we talk about the cloud, we are referring to a cluster of servers. These work together, providing one large platform that can be sub-divided up into smaller chunks to do useful jobs like hosting your website or running a customer database.

Each user has an isolated virtual server, with its own operating system, control panel and software. They also get a guaranteed share of network resources, giving them confidence that the cloud will perform for them.

The cloud is about flexibility

One of the biggest benefits of the cloud in this form is flexibility. Users can increase and decrease their computing power as and when they want, only paying for what the need.

More and more businesses are moving to the cloud because they like the idea of not paying for services they don’t use. It’s like buying a mansion when you only need a one-bedroom flat, with the option of upgrading to two bedrooms if you need to.

But if you’re still struggling with the question: ‘what is the cloud?’, why not see some more answers? We asked some people what the cloud means to them. See their answers in this video.

This is a guest post from Names.co.uk.

Posted in The internet | Tagged cloud computing | 0 comments

The three downsides of cloud computing

November 07, 2013 by Richard Smith

The three downsides of cloud computing/thunderstorm{{}}Cloud computing has had a huge impact on business technology in recent years. It is capable of offering on-demand computing power, email services, collaboration tools, disaster recovery systems and security, often at a lower cost compared to on-site hardware and software.

The cloud is still growing fast, but before your company embraces it wholeheartedly, it’s worth looking beyond the hype to check out the possible downsides.

Like most technologies, the cloud does have some disadvantages. Here are three important ones.

1. Availability

When using cloud computing services you are heavily reliant on the availability of your internet connection and of the cloud service itself. Investing in a robust internet connection with a backup will ensure things are reliable at your end.

It’s also important your cloud provider’s servers are located in more than one data centre. This ensures they can continue providing you with access to files and data, even during problems at one of their data centres.

2. Security and privacy

Who can access your data? Is it safe on your cloud provider’s servers? Could it be stolen?

Every reputable cloud provider should meet all relevant data protection legislation and operate robust, encrypted networks. But even if you’re confident about your provider’s security precautions, the biggest dangers may lie elsewhere.

More specifically, those dangers may lie within your own business. Because using the cloud will enable your staff to access company data from anywhere, you need to work harder to make sure it stays within your business.

3. Accountability

Moving to the cloud does not mean liability falls into someone else’s hands. You still have full responsibility for your business operations, yet using the cloud means you’re effectively outsourcing some of your IT systems.

It is vital that you have a contingency plan to overcome any potential risks. For instance, how would you cope if your internet connection failed or your cloud provider went bust?

Get professional advice

If you’re considering a move to the cloud but want to proceed with caution, it’s important to seek a provider that can offer you advice and solutions tailored to your business.

It can be a good idea to identify a supplier that offers IT consultancy, support and traditional in-house expertise alongside cloud services. Moving everything into the cloud at once isn’t usually practical, but you can strategically move services when it’s right for your business.

This is a guest post from Leia Solanki, Marketing Executive; Tegen Ltd

Posted in The internet | Tagged cloud computing | 0 comments

How to cope in a world that's gone beyond information overload

October 23, 2013 by Ron Immink

How to cope in a world that's gone beyond information overload/yoga meditation{{}}Americans consumed about 3.6 zettabytes of information in 2008. You can bet the UK isn’t far behind.

That’s an enormous volume of information: the difference between 0.3 and 3.6 zettabytes is ten times the number of grains of sand on the earth.

This volume of information is apparent every day, in our bulging inboxes, our enormous choice of TV channels and an endless list of results on Google.

It’s no longer information overload. It’s filter failure.

Chaos on the information superhighway

There is chaos on the information superhighway. We can't see the wood from the trees. Facts do not exist any more, because every fact has an anti-fact on the web.

We create our own belief bubbles, our brains are mush and we are driven by what the smart phone tells us. It’s a cocktail for disaster. Or is it?

There’s nothing to worry about

In Smarter than you think: how technology is changing our minds for the better, author Clive Thompson talks about how technology and the internet makes us smarter and better.

His argument is convincing. Technology provides eternal memory, where we can recall anything and learn from it. And it creates cognitive diversity, providing a place to test, discuss and distribute our thinking with all knowledge at our fingertips.

Technology has also made us more literate. We are writing and reading more than ever with texts, emails, tweets and so on, but tech is also creating different types of literacy.

With video, images, data and — soon — 3D printing, the internet and technology is giving us more rich ways to express ourselves.

Constant distractions

If you put it that way, it is difficult to argue. However, Thompson does make reference to the fear of missing out (FOMO) syndrome, the dangers of constant distraction and the need to be mindful and aware of how you think.

And that brings me to Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, fast and slow. His advice? Regularly step out of this stream of digital information. Take time to slow down. Meditate. Relax.

Kahneman thinks that, in future, we may all benefit from our own digital assistants. He cites Watson, the supercomputer that can play guess-the-question quiz show Jeopardy.

The technology behind Watson is now being used to help doctors diagnose patients based on the answers they give.

In five years, you could have Watson on your phone. It will be your digital, ambient, super-smart digital assistant who can help with your memory, knowledge, thinking and a lot more.

And what will happen then? Well, once you have a powerful new tool for finding answers, you can think of harder problems to solve.

Ron Immink is CEO of Book Buzz and a contributor to Small Business Can.

 

Syndicate content