Hackers. They attack someone, somewhere, every day. They are omnipresent on the internet. Their main targets include governments, TV channels, banks and big companies.
With the internet evolving so quickly, we must face a new reality. While the internet offers many exciting possibilities and is an essential part of our private and professional lives, we also have to face the downsides.
Security breaches are a reality and internet security is now more important than ever before.
Hacking is no novelty. It was back in the 1980s that the first hackers managed to access to sensitive data. But it wasn't until the 1990s that hacking started to become a serious problem for big institutions and companies.
High profile victims have included Apple, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook, no less. The financial damage can be significant, but for organisations like these the more profound implications come from the loss of trust and the knock on effect on their image.
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This associated damage is hard to measure and even harder to fix.
Who would want to share personal information on a social network knowing its owners are not able to protect their security? Who would want to use an online bank service if it's easy for hackers to access sensitive information
Internet security is essential for everyone who wants to succeed in today's modern, fast paced and constantly changing world. Big companies and banks have been using secure connections (encrypted connections protected by SSL certificates) for many years now.
But what about smaller companies? What about a person who wants to sell online? Who guarantees customers are safe when paying for goods and services from smaller companies online?
It's easy to lose track of the possibilities and threats in a world that changes so rapidly. SSL certificates might be an obvious choice for big companies, but they are crucial for smaller organisations and individuals who sell through online shops too.
This is a guest post from Symantec. If you run a company that sells goods or services online, you'll find a wealth of information in Symantec's interactive security guide.
One in four consumers don't trust any company to secure their personal information online. That's according to a survey of 1,000 UK consumers conducted by information security and risk management firm Integralis.
Although a quarter of all respondents said they don't trust any organisation to take care of their personal data online, there is some relatively good news in one sector: nearly 65% of people said they do trust banks with this information.
However, businesses operating in other fields need to do more to win the trust of their customers. Only 36% of people trust online retailers with their personal data, 24% trust supermarkets and just 22% trust online payment systems like PayPal.
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But despite this general lack of confidence, people still use these services in droves. For instance, over half of people surveyed said they do grocery shopping online at least once a week. While people might not trust online retailers with their data, they're still willing to share it.
"Online shopping is unbelievably popular, even though people don't necessarily trust it," confirms Mick Ebsworth, information security consulting practice director at Integralis. "People are worried about the types of information these site sask for."
"Far too often, consumers are prepared to supply core personal details - like mother's maiden name or date of birth - to organisations that don't need that information."
This can put consumers at increased risk of ID theft, should that information fall into the hands of online criminals.
"People need to always think about the information they provide," explains Ebsworth. "Does an organisation need it? Your bank might not be attacked, but your account at another site with lower security might be. So why use the same passwords?"
Although consumers might be making mistakes by supplying personal information to firms that don't need it, the buck really stops with the organisations requesting it. If they want potential customers to trust them more, they need to be more circumspect about requesting information.
Ebsworth has some advice for online businesses: "Firstly, you need to put in place the technical controls to keep personal information secure. You need the right level of encryption and good levels of data storage. Think about who has access to that information - in your organisation, with third parties, and online."
"Secondly, only request information that you really need. Recognise that the consumer has a role to play here, but that you can help them."
Finally, he has a sober reminder for firms that might still be unconcerned about how they handle this data. "Everybody who collects personal information has a duty to take care of it. Although there's nothing in the law to say how you should deal with a data breach, the Information Commissioner's Office can levy big fines if they believe you haven't adhered to good practice."
Does your business need all the information it collects from customers? Do they trust you to take care of it?
You can use tools like Google Analytics to see how visitors interact with your website. But that’s just a drop in the ocean in terms of competitive analysis.
If you’re running a small or new business, there are some excellent, comprehensive and free competitive analysis tools that can provide valuable data to help you understand your market.
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You’ll need to be willing to put a bit of time in to learn how to get the most from these free competitive analysis tools. But if you do, you’ll be rewarded with information to help your business succeed.
Short for ‘due diligence’, it’s an excellent tool that provides free business intelligence such as insight into competitors, suppliers, investors and clients.
You can also use it to benchmark a business’s performance and growth over time, build sales leads and integrate social networks such as LinkedIn.
Google Analytics and Google Trends are good free competitive analysis tools because they’re integrated with the most popular search engine in the world. It means you get data ‘right from the horse’s mouth’.
But it’s a good idea to go beyond Google to get deeper insight into your website’s analytics. Comparing data sets can help you avoid sample biases that come about from opt-in panels or toolbars, giving you a more accurate picture of how your audience is behaving in response to your marketing efforts.
For example, have a look at the free competitive analysis tools from SEOmoz.
Search engines are constantly learning more about how people categorise and search for information. A big part of the mix in recent years has been social media, which search engines now indirectly recognise and attribute authority to.
In other words, it’s important to use and understand social media to reach your audience, and watch and learn from competitors too.
Competitive analysis doesn’t need to be expensive and complicated. As long as you’re willing to work at it, you can get valuable insight on your partners, suppliers, clients and customers … and get a step ahead in your business.
Helen Major has a keen interest in finance and has been writing for blogs and newspapers on the subject since she graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2007. She is currently writing on behalf of Duedil, a free Company House and directors’ search database.
Accessing the internet on mobile phones has been one of the fastest growing technology trends over the last few years. UK consumers have rushed to buy smart phones, with ownership almost doubling in the past couple of years.
As a result, businesses really need to wise up to the evolving mobile website landscape.
Worryingly, smaller UK businesses are falling behind in this mobile world, missing out on vital sales and new customers.
The same research found 45% of internet users use a mobile device to access the web and that 6% have shopped online from their mobile phone. This means people are spending up to £1.3 billion via ‘on the move’ purchases.
This confirms the shift to mobile is being led by consumers, which means it’s vital businesses reconsider their mobile internet presence.
The risk businesses are facing is that they’ll miss out on mobile custom. Many believe creating a mobile-friendly site is too costly or complicated.
However, with reports predicting purchases made using smart phones could make up 12% of all ecommerce, smaller companies can’t afford to ignore the mobile trend. There are a number of options available to create mobile websites – not all of them complicated - and they can ensure mobile visitors have a good website experience.
Our report also found that, while vast numbers of the UK’s 1.1 million small businesses (1 – 49 employees, 2011 Government figure) are online, there are still 660,000 that have yet to get themselves online at all.
Even those companies that have got to grips with the web are risking falling behind by not creating sites that can be used on mobile phones.
Perhaps most notably, we found that businesses really do worry about falling behind the pace of technology change. Half say they are ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ that they are being overtaken by changes including the advance of mobile internet usage.
Quite simply, it’s time smaller companies invested in becoming fully accessible to customers using mobile internet. If they don’t, the risk of losing out on future custom is very real.
Ramandeep Sambi is an online marketing executive at BaseKit.
Fibre: the secret to faster broadband. (Image: Flickr user James Laurence Stewart)
Here's a tech bargain ideal for home-based businesses looking for an internet connection with a bit more oomph.
You'll have to pay line rental (£13.99 a month or £126 a year) on top of that, but the offer makes this broadband tech bargain significantly cheaper than most competitors.
Over a year, the Plusnet package will cost you £347.76 - or a little less if you pay the annual line rental up front.
For comparison, BT's Unlimited Infinity 2 package - which has the same 76Mbps speed and unlimited downloads - adds up to £423 over the same period.
If - like most of us - your internet connection is still based on ADSL (which uses a traditional copper wire to connect you to the local telephone exchange), this Plusnet package will give you a big speed boost. That's because it uses a modern fibre optic cable to bridge the distance from your street to the exchange.
This allows Plusnet to offer speeds of up to 76Mbps - around ten times faster than the speed of an average UK broadband connection. You'll notice web pages load more snappily, and the extra speed will make a vast difference when you download large files or several people are using the connection at once.
What's more, Plusnet's broadband service generally gets good ratings from users.
The main potential drawback is that you must be based in Plusnet's service area. To see if this includes you, just click Start your order on the Plusnet site, then pop in your postcode when requested.
Both website visitors and search engines alike prefer web pages that load quickly. Akin Fagbohun, researcher and content writer on behalf of managed data services company Six Degrees Group, explains how to squeeze more pace out of your site.
In the same way that you can zip files to reduce their size on your computer, you can also compress the files that form the structure and content of your web pages.
The process of compressing and uploading your files can be a little technical, so you may want to ask your web designer or agency about this.
Browser caching is an excellent way to reduce load times for returning visitors. Caching tells a returning visitor’s web browser if anything on the site has changed since they last visited.
If the site is the same, the web browser will simply show the pages it downloaded last time, instead of downloading the information again. And if only certain files have changed, it’ll only download those.
Most web hosting companies already support caching. If yours does, it should be enabled automatically, so you won’t have to do anything to benefit.
If you want your site to be super-quick, think about how the images you’re uploading will be displayed. To minimise load times, make sure images you upload have already been scaled to the size at which they’ll be displayed.
If the same image is used in different places at different sizes, scale the image down to the maximum size it will appear then reduce the size in your website’s HTML code where necessary.
Most content management systems like WordPress will do this for you.
The term ‘CDN’ has become a bit of a buzzword in the world of web hosting lately. When you use a CDN service, your website is replicated to a number of servers around the world.
When a visitor calls up your site, the server closest to them delivers your site. This reduces the stress placed on any single web server, and means the data has a shorter distance to travel to its destination.
Again, some web hosting firms provide access to a CDN as part of their hosting package.
There's always something interesting going on with Google. Just this week it announced Google Glass, a pair of glasses with a camera and display built in.
However, as it'll probably be a little while before you see someone wearing them on your local High Street, for this Friday's tip of the week we thought we'd show you three Google tricks.
Google has a pretty advanced calculator built right into it, and you can easily calculate sums by just tapping them in to the search box. Here's an example: 54 + 46 = ?:
Use the +, -, / and * keys and give it a go yourself. You'll never need to us an actual calculator again.
You can convert currencies too, and Google will automatically use up-to-date exchange rates for you. How many dollars can you get for £150?
If you don't know what a specific word means, just type define: into Google, followed by the word. For example: define:disestablishmentarianism.
If you're grappling with another language, Google can help you there too. Check out its translation tools.
What Google tips and shortcuts do you use regularly? Leave a comment to let us know.
So... remember the EU cookie law? This time last year it was big news, as companies large and small scrambled to understand the implications and avoid potential fines of up to £500,000.
Cookies are small bits of data used to identify visitors and provide them with a better experience on a website - for instance by keeping them logged in or tracking the pages they visit. Virtually every web page uses them.
The EU cookie law aimed to protect people by making them more aware of what cookies are being set as they use the internet.
Technical and legal experts alike agreed that the law required websites to seek consent from visitors before setting any cookies on their computers. Companies spent time and money getting ready for the law, many implementing pop-ups and overlays which users have found irritating and annoying.
However, it turns out there are two key problems with this approach:
It's an unsatisfactory experience for both parties.
Now, it seems like all that effort to create opt-ins might have been unnecessary. Because at the end of last month, the Information Commissioner's Office (that's the body with the job of enforcing the law in the UK) announced it was going to remove the opt-in from its website and start setting cookies as soon as soon as visitors arrived. In addition, the site:
If that's good enough for the ICO, then surely it must be good enough for the rest of us. And with little evidence to suggest that a lack of an opt-in damages visitor confidence or trust, the obvious move now is for businesses that have implemented an opt-in to remove it.
We could offer our own comment on this change in approach, but instead let's turn to Silktide, a software company that's created this great infographic summarising the cookie law so far. Click the infographic to see the full version:
How have you interpreted the cookie law on your website? Will you remove your opt-in message too?
If you have a few moments to spare this morning and a burning desire to learn more about how data travels to your computer from servers around the world, take a look at this map. It shows the vital underwater cables that connect continents and carry the vast majority of the world's internet traffic.
Whenever you visit a website that's located on a server in another part of the world, it's almost certain that the data from that server will reach your computer by travelling through some of these undersea cables.
It's incredible to think that these tiny cables - each usually less than 10cm in diameter - form such a vital part of the internet infrastructure we've come to rely on every day. With each carrying an enormous volume of data, it's no wonder that a single cable snapping can cause big disruption and hit the headlines.
So, next time you watch that video of a panda sneezing on YouTube, just think how far it might have travelled to reach you. The internet: isn't it amazing?
What's a better way to start off the bargain hunt this week than by speeding up and securing your network with this wireless router from Netgear?
Whether you're upgrading your existing network from 100Mbit to 1Gigabit, or installing a router in your office for the first time - the Netgear N600 will have you browsing the web, accessing files, and printing wirelessly in no time.
5 ethernet ports mean you can connect 5 devices via ethernet cable, and many more via wireless. A built in USB port also means you can network your printer so any device on your network can print.
All the latest security standards are on board so you can be sure that your connection is secure, and safe from prying eyes.
Curry's has this wireless router as a web-only deal for £39.99, as opposed to the usual £79.99. Grab yourself a bargain because these won't be here for long!
(Image: Flickr user Alberto Bissacco.)
If you live in, work in or travel to London then you might have been enjoying free wireless internet in Tube stations for the last few months.
Virgin Media has installed wireless access to nearly 100 stations. But from the start of February, it'll stop being free.
But if you're not with any of those companies then you're going to have to fork out. You can buy access for different periods of time:
There's a special offer on at the moment that gets you three months for the price of one, but even with that in place to tempt people, it's hard to see customers flocking to use the service.
Tube stations are places you pass through. You don't linger to use the internet access and other facilities. You want to get on your train and to your destination as quickly as possible.
Say I use the Tube twice a day to commute to the office. Now, let's be generous, and say I spend ten minutes in stations in the morning, and ten minutes in the evening. Discounting weekends, that's roughly 400 minutes a month where I might be in a position to use the Wi-Fi.
At £15 a month, that works out to about 3.75p per minute of wireless internet. Is that really worth it, to check Twitter and your email? I don't think so - especially when you can almost certainly get mobile internet the moment you emerge from a station.
If you've become addicted to the free internet while it's been available, don't worry. It's easy enough to download emails and the latest Tweets before you head underground. Any emails you write on the Tube will be sent as soon as you emerge onto the streets.
You can even use a service like Pocket to cue up news articles or websites to read on your journey.
The appeal of free underground internet access is clear. But as soon as there's a cost involved, it's not worth the hassle and expense.
Of course, Virgin Media probably doesn't expect the service to attract many paying users. It's more interested in providing mobile and broadband customers with a perk - and giving potential customers a reason to switch to these services.
When your website takes more than a few seconds to load, it's obviously annoying for your visitors. But did you know that poor website performance can have a more tangible cost too?
People abandon websites that take too long to load. As your page load time increases, your conversion rate drops. And that means you're making fewer online sales.
Facebook Graph Search in action
Facebook took a big step towards becoming a social search engine this week when it announced Graph Search, a tool to help users find content on the social network.
As Graph Search becomes more widely available, it could have big implications for how businesses use Facebook.
Facebook defines its graph as being the map of relationships between everyone using the service. The graph is huge. It contains data about more than a billion people, over 240 billion photos and information about over a trillion connections.
Graph Search is Facebook's first real attempt to provide anything more than basic search tools. The company does a good job of explaining it in the official press release:
"Graph Search and web search are very different. Web search is designed to take a set of keywords (for example: “hip hop”) and provide the best possible results that match those keywords. With Graph Search you combine phrases (for example: "my friends in New York who like Jay-Z") to get that set of people, places, photos or other content that's been shared on Facebook. We believe they have very different uses."
Graph Search results will take into account the connections and privacy settings of individual users, so when you search you'll only be able to see things you'd be able to see elsewhere on Facebook.
The function isn't widely available yet, but if you want to try it you can join the waiting list here.
Graph Search is currently focused on helping users find four main things: people, places, photos and interests. Graph Search examples suggested by Facebook include:
But make no mistake, this is just the start of Facebook's efforts to do more with its most valuable asset - the graph - and you can expect this to evolve into a really powerful tool over the next few months.
It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to see that Graph Search could significantly influence how potential customers find businesses.
Take the first bullet point above: 'restaurants in London my friends have been to'. If you run a restaurant and you're not listed on Facebook, you don't have any chance of appearing in the results, even if you have five star reviews and thousands of satisfied customers.
In simple terms, Graph Search could make it more important that you keep your company's Facebook page up-to-date and interesting.
Getting 'likes' on Facebook might become more important too, as Facebook may use these to determine Graph Search rankings.
There's obviously potential here for Facebook to let businesses use Graph Search to identify potential customers via searches like:
Sure, Facebook already offers significant targeting options to advertisers. But Graph Search has the potential to make targeting both easier and more accurate.
It remains to be seen how the site's users will respond to to all this. But there's no doubt that for Facebook itself, the graph is a valuable asset. It's how the company hopes to make big money in the years ahead.
Distributed denial of service attack. DDoS for short. Four letters that are can strike terror into the heart of anyone who's been on the receiving end of one.
DDoS attacks aim to take websites offline by overwhelming them with requests for information. Typically, they involve hundreds or thousands of computers, all coordinated to bombard the site simultaneously.
Often, the owners of these computers don't even know what's going on, because the source of the attack is malware that's infected their machines.
DDoS attacks have hit the news regularly in 2012. Last month, Teresa May and the Home Office were targeted. Back in May, Webfusion - one of the UK's largest web hosts - was on the receiving end of a sustained attack (the firm produced an interesting white paper explaining what happened).
The motives for DDoS attacks vary. Sometimes they're random. Sometimes they're political. But there's often a financial aspect. They can come from your competitors, or they can be blackmail, pure and simple. Pay up, or your website stays offline.
And although it's only big name brands that hit the news, online criminals are increasingly turning their attention to smaller companies. Without the resources to deflect attacks, they're softer targets.
As security expert Don Smith told us recently:
"More and more smaller companies are being attacked by cyber criminals, yet many still hold the view that they are too small to be targeted."
If you're not prepared, combating a DDoS attack can be tricky. When your website's overwhelmed by spurious traffic, you may find you're unable to even log in yourself.
In fact, the possibility of a DDoS attack is something you should consider when choosing a web host, because the way they handle them can vary remarkably.
Some hosting companies will simply take your website offline completely so that their other customers aren't affected. Worse, you might get a bill for the extra traffic the attack generated.
Other web hosts will provide far more constructive assistance. Ask if they can give you examples of how they've fended off attacks in the past, and look for security features that come as part of your package, like DDoS protection.
Also make sure they keep their servers and apps up-to-date, because often the latest versions of ecommerce and content management tools are more resistant to DDoS attacks.
Looking for a new web hosting firm?
Here are some firms you might like to consider:
Have you ever suffered a DDoS attack? How did you cope?
Between summer 2011 and summer 2012, traffic to ecommerce sites from smart phones and tablets grew by up to 200%. Warren Knight, CEO and co-founder of social sharing and ecommerce platform Gloople, explains why mobile commerce is becoming more important every day.
I was recently with a new client who sells men's clothing. The first thing I helped them with was to understand their online customers through Google Analytics. To their surprise, not only had they seen a massive increase in mobile and tablet visitors and customers, but mobile customers were spending 10% more than other customers.
This is definitely not an anomaly. It's something I've seen time and time again. It's time to pay attention.
The biggest turnoff for mobile shoppers is the difficult customer acquisition journey. This is the step by step process a website visitor goes through in order to purchase a product.
Some online stores lose sales because their website is either archaic or non-responsive, meaning that the journey of purchasing a product is intolerable. The result is that visitors leave the website without purchasing anything.
The way people purchase goods has changed since the days of going to a store and paying cash for it. Don’t get me wrong - in-store shopping is still leading in sales. However, most people will no longer drive hours to a shop just to find that what they want no longer exists.
There's been a big shift towards online shopping, and mobile commerce is the next logical progression. Indeed, eBay alone has 300 - 400 employees working on mobile solutions, with the company expecting to rack up mobile sales worth $10bn in 2012.
Mobile devices are becoming a central part of our lives and should be used as tools to help us shop and pay. With most mobile phones now coming with either 3G, 4G or the ability to connect via a wireless network, there is no excuse in avoiding the inevitable. Mobile commerce is the future.
How long does your website take to load? Two seconds? Ten seconds? 30 seconds or more? If you've never paid attention to your site's load speed, perhaps you should. It can affect how often people return and influence your rankings on Google.
In short, web page loading times matter. But a whole variety of factors influence how long your homepage actually takes to appear on a visitor's screen.
This infographic shows you the major causes of slow loading sites. How does your site measure up?
If you don't live in one of the cities where you can get a signal, news that 4G mobile is now available in the UK may not have made much of an impact on you. And even if you do live in an area that's covered, you could have been forgiven for losing interest once you saw how network Everything Everywhere (EE) has chosen to price its tariffs.
Your 4G options
Everything Everywhere is the only company currently offering 4G mobile.
EE has now released research into the business benefits of 4G. And they show a considerable upside to the technology, even when you allow for the fact that a 4G provider is never going to play down the possibilities of its service.
The survey examined how 4G is used by small and medium-sized businesses in countries where it's been available for a while. Some of the key findings were:
Interestingly, 4G also lies at the heart of some interesting innovations. The survey cites a CCTV company that's been able to use 4G to transmit footage instead of having to dig up streets to install cables. And a German car manufacturer is soon to launch a car with a 4G hotspot built in - so you can get connected as you travel.
There is certainly demand out there for faster mobile connections. But for most companies, there's no compelling reason to switch yet. What's more, EE is the only network currently offering 4G at present. Once other providers enter the market next year there's an excellent chance the competition will force prices down.
For those two reasons, the wisest move for most companies is to wait and see how 4G pans out. Besides, the BBC found considerable variation in connection speeds - so there's no guarantee you'll see the full benefits yet.
Having an online presence for your company has been virtually essential for several years now. And with the growing use of cloud and hosted services, finding the right web hosting has never been more important.
It's not always an easy decision. Hosting packages tend to be feature rich, and it's hard to tell them apart.
What's more, when you read the small print of many web hosting contracts, you'll find that although the provider will do their best to provide a good service, you don't have much comeback if things go wrong.
If you're only buying hosting for a small, non-critical website, that might be ok. But if it's for an ecommerce site you rely on for income, or the cloud hosting service that runs your customer relationship management system, you need something with a little more certainty.
That's where you need to look for three letters in your web hosting company's contract: SLA. They stand for service level agreement. And they guarantee your business will receive a certain level of service from your hosting provider.
Although SLAs are contractually binding, not all are created equal. Here are three key things to look for in a web hosting SLA:
Having an SLA in place should boost your confidence in your hosting company. Hopefully, you won't ever need to call on it. However, it's not the be-all-and-end-all of finding good web hosting.
If your hosting is a key part of your business infrastructure, take time over the choice. Learn a bit about the different types of web hosting available, get recommendations and ask the right questions before committing to a provider.
Companies offering web hosting with SLAs:
Most hosts only offer SLAs with selected packages - always check before buying.
Stopwatch image: William Warby on Flickr.
Everything Everywhere (EE), the UK's first 4G mobile network, has unveiled price plans in advance of its official launch tomorrow.
Although it promises download speeds up to five times faster than current 3G networks, the firm's data caps - which limit how much data you can download each month - may dissuade many businesses from signing up.
The entry-level EE business tariff is £35 a month (plus VAT). For that you'll get unlimited calls and text messages to standard UK mobile and landline numbers, plus 1GB (gigabyte) of mobile data. You may have to pay extra for a mobile handset, depending on which model you want.
You can increase your data cap: it's £40 for 4GB, £45 for 8GB or £50 for 16GB. If you hit the limit in any given month you'll either have to stop using the internet altogether or buy a data add-on. See full tariff details on the EE website.
Data pricing is something of a thorny issue. You use up data whenever you view a web page, download an email or do anything online. But keeping track of how much you've used over a month is notoriously tricky - even on a 3G mobile.
The increased speed of 4G is going to make it harder. At 8Mbps (megabits per second, which is the lower end of the average speed range quoted by EE), you'd use your entire month's 1GB allowance in just over 17 minutes of sustained downloading.
Your 4G options
That may not be an entirely realistic scenario. We tend to use mobile internet in short bursts: downloading email on the train, looking up maps, and so on. And 3G mobile usage patterns show that most people on 3G networks don't even use 1GB in a month.
However, as a general rule, the faster a connection, the more data you download. What's more, the whole premise of 4G is that it's so quick and convenient that you can go online and do pretty much everything, everywhere. Hence the name.
With only 1GB of downloads to play with, you might find you have to fork out for extra data sooner than you'd hoped.
If your business is desperate to jump on the 4G train early, EE is your best option - because it's your only option.
The 4GB plan looks ok at £40 + VAT a month. It's not uncommon to spend that on a 3G service, and 4GB will at least give you some data freedom to explore the possibilities of 4G.
But before you leap in, check the small print: there's a 24-month minimum term on all business contracts. With other mobile networks racing to enter the 4G market next year, you might regret being locked in as competition hots up.
So, unless you're really desperate for 4G, it's probably a good idea to wait.
Mobile phone mast image from barryskeates on Flickr.
Like many freelancers, I spend much of my time working from home. My broadband connection isn't just a convenient way to book cinema tickets and look at pictures of cats. It's absolutely vital for my work.
Using your home as your workplace adds an extra dimension to any house move. And I've moved twice in the last year: once through choice and once due to circumstances beyond my control.
I've got the art of moving down to a fine art, except for one thing: getting my broadband transferred in good time. As far as I can tell, that's impossible.
It seems that no matter how far in advance of the move I contact my broadband provider, it's impossible for them to move the connection from one address to another in a timely manner. I don't mind going without for a few days, but when I moved last year I had to manage without a connection for just under a month.
If they deliver as promised this time, the gap will be about three weeks. Between now and then I'm burning through data on a mobile broadband dongle and regularly decamping to local cafes with free Wi-Fi. Thankfully I live somewhere with a strong 3G signal and plenty of nearby wireless hotspots. I know many people won't be nearly so lucky.
I've had several excuses from my internet service provider. Last time it was an engineer shortage. This time something went wrong with the order, so they had to put it through twice.
Sorry, but that's just not good enough.
At this point, let me remind you that apparently we live in Digital Britain. We have a mobile workforce, we're flexible and we're connected wherever we go.
So why on earth does it take so long to achieve something as simple as moving a broadband connection from one address to another?
My new house has an active phone line, with a dial tone and everything. It's not like they need to come and run a new line from here to the local telephone exchange.
Broadband companies, you need to catch up. Because as the number of people who run a business from home grows, I can't be the only one getting frustrated.
What happened when you moved your broadband connection to a new address? Was it a disaster, or did it go well? Let me know in the comments.
(Image of telephone lines: Flickr user Robb North.)
Is your online shop causing customers problems? (Image: wonderferret on Flickr.)
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) recently performed a 'websweep' exercise (a pleasingly retro-sounding term which reminds me a little of the days when we user to 'surf' the internet). This saw the watchdog review the UK's top 100 online retailers to check they are complying with their legal obligations, particularly those relating to distance selling.
Its results were mixed. Overall, around two-thirds of businesses weren't complying with all the legal requirements. However, problems were really grouped in three key areas.
So, for this week's tip of the week we thought we'd give you those three key things, so you can check them on your ecommerce website. They'll help make sure you're legally compliant, and give your customers the information they need to buy with confidence:
If your online shop is built using an ecommerce system, it should be relatively straightforward to make these changes without delving into your website's HTML code.
You can read the OFT's full report here (PDF). Do any of these requirements come as a surprise to you? Leave a comment and let us know.
If you want to find a way to immediately annoy potential customers and drive visitors away from your website, look no further than the humble CAPTCHA.
We've written about these squint-worthy, hard-to-interpret messed-up bits of text before, but today I stumbled upon one that goes beyond a joke.
It popped up this morning on the Ticketmaster website. I had a fair stab at the image on the right side, but I still have no idea what's going on with the left image. Any ideas at all?
I'm convinced the days of the CAPTCHA are numbered. They're designed to guard against targeted hacking attempts and automated 'bots' that fill in online forms automatically.
But really, unless you're running some sort of super high security website, they cause far more problems than they solve.
When you've taken time to create a nice clear website that makes it really easy for people to buy from you or send you a message, then making them fill in a CAPTCHA is like asking them to complete a fiendish puzzle before they can go any further.
Imagine what would happen if the local corner shop asked you to solve a Rubik's Cube before letting you buy a pint of milk. Wouldn't get much custom, would they?
When you use CAPTCHAs on your website, you risk having the same effect.
Pingdom can show your website uptime in a graph.
This time last week, I had a bit of a problem. My web hosting company suffered a hardware failure, and my web copywriting website went offline. So did my email, which meant my number one communications channel was severed.
It wasn't a total disaster. My web hosting company was on the case and had everything back up-and-running again within a few hours. They also managed to queue up all the email that came in during that time, so I didn't miss any messages altogether.
Because I was out and about when the problems first occurred, it took me a little while to realise anything was amiss. I use a service which sends me an email should my website fail. But because the problem took out my email too, I never received the message. Whoops.
Since then, I've been looking into tools that will regularly check a website's availability and report any problems. So, for this Friday's tip of the week, here are three that are particularly useful. You can set each up in about five minutes, so if your website is currently unmonitored, it's an excellent way to spend your Friday afternoon:
The fastest way to receive a warning of downtime is usually by text message. Most monitoring services charge for this, but you can escape fee-free by setting your monitoring service up to send a direct message to your Twitter account.
As long as your Twitter account has text notifications turned on for direct messages, Twitter will send you a text every time you receive a direct message. So you'll quickly know if there's a problem.
Has a website outage ever gone unnoticed for you? How did you cope?
Your business needs to maintain a reliable backup of digital data, like your customer database, documents, images, emails, accounts and so on.
That data is mission critical, so it all has to be kept safe from theft, fire, flood or accidental deletion. If you run a smaller company, it’s likely your data is stored on a simple server in the office.
As demand grows for your company’s products or services, you’ll collect more data. As a result, you inevitably end up needing more than a single server. Eventually, you end up with a whole room of the things. This brings new demands and costs:
These requirements can become a major financial, logistical and security headache.
A common solution to these problems is to use a purpose-built data centre. Maintained by network specialists, mechanical experts and electrical engineers, a data centre is a secure, computer-friendly environment run at the perfect temperature for the servers inside.
From a security perspective, data centres are also equipped with their own backup power supply. This is usually an uninterruptable power supply (UPS), a large bank of batteries plus a generator to ensure power is always available.
Data centres also usually have direct connections into major internet links – also called the ‘internet backbone’ – meaning connectivity is fast and reliable.
Businesses usually put their servers into a data centre that’s shared with other organisations. This is known as colocation.
The image above is of a typical data centre. They have lots of aisles between servers stacked in locked cabinets (called racks). You rent as many racks as you want and you pay according to the amount of processing power, storage space or bandwidth you use.
Many providers off both DIY and full service maintenance options, so you can maintain systems yourself or use the provider’s technical support.
There are a number of good arguments for using a data centre:
Using a data centre also makes it easy to add extra capacity as your business grows (you just rent more space) and you don’t have to worry about having lots of servers on your premises.
David Barker is technical director and founder of 4D Data Centres, the green colocation and connectivity supplier.
Over the years Microsoft's homepage has had many different designs. The software giant unveiled another recently, and it applies responsive web design, a relatively new technique that could be on the cusp of going mainstream.
A responsive website is one that automatically tailors its design and layout to fit whatever size screen it's being viewed on. Responsive web design came about because modern websites have to cater for people using a huge variety of screen sizes, from tiny phones to monster widescreen displays.
The best way to see what this means in practice is to visit Microsoft's homepage and watch how the layout changes as you resize your web browser window.
On the left is Microsoft's homepage in a full-screen window. On the right, how it looks on a narrower display:
Responsive web design has been championed by cutting edge web designers since 2010, but so far it's not been adopted by many big websites. This move by Microsoft could mark a turning point for the technique. Don't be surprised to see other big-name sites go the same way in the next six months.
Advocates of responsive web design say that as screen sizes continue to diversify, it's the only sensible way forward. Sure, you can create a mobile website that works fine on a small screen, but what about mobile phones with larger screens? What about tablet computers, which can have anything from a 6" screen to a 12" screen?
There's a message here for your business, particularly if you're looking to redesign your website. It's really important to think about how to cater for different devices (read why it matters here), and a responsive approach is a great way to do this.
It gives you more flexibility than creating a separate mobile website, because it will work on screens of all sizes. What's more, you don't have to worry about maintaining two different sites.