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Archive for March, 2008|Monthly archive page

Will The Financial Crisis Damage Small Technology Firms?

In Business on March 18, 2008 at 1:45 pm

The current crisis in the world’s banking industry is causing my quite a bit of concern right now.  Our web technology business is small but growing.  When businesses are doing well they’re more likely to spend money on items such as web design and web applications and we believe we’ve benefitted from that over the past year or so.

But what happens if our clients and potential clients start to suffer as a consequence of an economic downturn?

Problem 1 – Spending Cutbacks

During uncertain times, many businesses choose to be careful on spending outside of their company.  In particular they may look to what are perceived as cost centres (website updates, build and application development) as being something that can wait for a while.  If that’s the case, there’s going to be a slowdown in spending on technology unless it’s deemed as essential for the company to operate.

Problem 2 – Credit Freezes

Thankfully we’re based in the North of England – this is an area which is traditionally very conservative with money.  People don’t like to borrow money or use complex financial instruments and most SMEs in the North West still tend towards being self-financed.  However, this article’s aimed at everyone.  Business that rely on finance will face certain problems.  In particular, curiously, the ones that have a moderate but high risk position are the ones who face the biggest chance of foreclosure.

Why?  Well it’s time to think like a banker.

Example 1: This business has loans of £100,000, assets of only about £30,000, and sales have plummeted.  However, the business is still viable if it can renegotiate its loan terms.

If the bank decides to close this company it will definitely lose £70,000.  In renegotiating the loan the business will continue to  function, and the bank will get its money, albeit over a longer period.

Example 2: Another business has been far more careful with its money and has a £30,000 loan with assets of £100,000.  However, sales have died due to the downturn and income is poor.  They too need a renegotiation as their cashflow situation makes it impossible to meet the loan payments.

In this case the bank, needing to bring in money to improve its cash position, will be less inclined to renegotiate.  After all, if it closes the loan it will get everything back – the full £30k.  Their cash position is improved and everyone’s happy.  The business may struggle now because it’s now £30k down on cashflow.  In fact, it could even fold because suddenly there’s no cash left in the company to help pay its wages and bills.  Worse, it can’t even negotiate a loan against its assets because all the banks are being ultra-cautious, will take one look at the cashflow problems and decide to look for someone safer to lend to.

You also have to think very carefully about any secured loans.  In the event of a repossession it’s possible for the bank to get everything.  They may repossess your premises and resell them at a significant profit.  In many jurisdictions there’s no compulsion for them to share or give the profit to the original debtor.

Problem 3 – Price Inflation

Inflation is pretty steady in the UK still.  But we still have one massive problem – we’re starting to sell internationally.  Countries that trade internationally in dollars will have found their costs rising dramatically when dealing with EU based economies.  It’s not that long ago since a British pound was worth $1.5 – yet now it buys $2.  But thankfully there’s an upside – the more steady, more sensible and less loan happy mainland Europeans have found their Euro increasing dramatically in value.  It makes our holidays to Europe more pricey, but the upside is that our services look a lot cheaper to Europeans – so as one market declines, another has grown.

But it’s not all bad….

Opportunity 1 – Competitive Pressure

Businesses that are struggling will need to fight to compete.  No longer will money simply roll through the door as naturally as leaves through a courtyard.  Instead some firms which have experienced an easy ride lately with their easy finance, will need to get out there and find customers.  They’re going to need to invest in technologies that help push them up ahead of the competition.  This is where there could be some real growth in the web technology market – at least, for the companies that can give the best results.

Opportunity 2 – People With Time

If there is a downturn it’ll mean more people with less work to do – perhaps not needing to work so many hours, or even higher levels of unemployment.  For them the web will be one of the cheaper forms of entertainment available to them.  They’ll be getting into blogging, Web 2.0 applications such as Facebook, and even maybe dabbling a little and learning how to code themselves.  They’ll help the market to grow and will be enthusiasts for the business in the future.

Opportunity 3 – Weak Rivals Will Decline

One of the best things about a recession can be that the really weak rivals will suffer.  Web designers, for example, who churn out poorly thought out and over-priced websites will find themselves at a disadvantage to those with a reputation for positive results.  They’ll either have to reposition themselves more truthfully (at the economy market perhaps) or spend some time improving.  It’s also worth looking out for closing companies and seeing if you can pick up their past clients.  Filling a dead-man’s boots may not seem too ethical, but chances are it’ll be a relief for those clients to know there’s still someone around who they can rely on.

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Why We Hate American Software Companies (Well, Adobe)

In Business, Web Development on March 13, 2008 at 9:00 am

Actually, that’s a contentious one. We don’t really hate US software companies. Just some of them. Adobe in particular is winning no prizes for its pricing policy.

See the image below:

Adobe software is really expensive in the UK

Now, you may notice something… The purchase price of the UK software is, before taxes, £705 while the US software (presumably with taxes) is $999. I’m going to compare our tax free price with the US full price, simply because I can’t assume that the US price includes taxes – I just don’t know the US system that well.
Now if you’re not well up on exchange rates the figures may make the UK copy seem cheaper. But every one of our Great British Pounds will buy 2.03 of your now considerably Cheaper US Dollars.

So let’s work it out.

If bought in the US, the cost without taxes is:

US$999 = GB£492

If bought in the UK, the cost without taxes is:

GB£705 = US$1431

So there we go – we pay over 40% more to download Adobe Software in the UK than in the US. And pity us with our taxes – if you add VAT the price goes up to an equivalent of a whopping $1682. If there were shipping costs, or shop costs to take into account we could understand it. But this is software. It costs the same to deliver wherever the end user is if you’re using the Internet. While there are costs with accounting, they don’t add up to 40% extra.

The US economy isn’t doing that well, but do they really need to rape the wallets of overseas developers in order to improve the situation?

Oh, and I’ll leave it as an exercise to you to spot just how much of a rip-off the upgrade prices are. I wish I had a daughter just so I could forbid her from dating Adobe accountants and marketers.

10 Reasons I Want To Sleep With My iPhone

In iPhone on March 12, 2008 at 1:03 pm

I’ve realised that I’ve stirred up something of an angst in slating the iPhone. I mean, I’m lucky enough to own one – I should be happy. The contract terms were clear enough if I’d read it properly, and maybe, according to some, I shouldn’t be making calls whilst driving – even if that is with a hands free kit.

But it’s still a great phone, and it and I are practically inseparable. So much so that it’s tempting to sleep with it under my pillow (what, you thought I meant sleeping with it that way?! Eugh, you disgust me!) so that mid-dream I can double check a fact on Wikipedia.

So here goes. I may run out before 10….

  1. I adore the UI. Apple are the first to bring true multi-touch to the mass market. MS are lagging here with their Surface coffee table – which you can’t carry anyway. It really is an intuitive interface.
  2. It just works. Well, for most things it does. I fired up the Windows Mobile machine for the first time in a while. Since then I’d reconfigured the Wi-Fi in the household. Could I get the damn thing to connect? Come on MS – these things should be simple!
  3. It’s gorgeous to look at. So gorgeous in fact that several people* have offered to sleep with me in order to look at it. This morning in fact. Either that or the cheap pig pheromone spray I bought is doing the trick.
  4. The screen is just right. Contrasty, sharp… it’s everything a screen should be.
  5. Browsing the Internets is wonderful. The best internet browser you’ve ever used on a portable device to date. I repeat… The Best. Forget Opera Mobile. Forget Minimo. Forget whatever heap of junk they wedged into your mobile phone… Safari on the iPhone rocks.
  6. It doesn’t play Flash. You may question my sanity, but for me it’s great – I can go to a potential client who may well be insisting on a Flash only website. The iPhone lets me demonstrate, with wonderfully simple clarity, why that would be A Bad Idea.
  7. It annoys Apple haters. Personally I’m pretty ambivalent about Apple. They do some cool stuff (iPhone, OSX) and some not so cool stuff (iPod Touch, Apple TV) and that’s just like a lot of companies. But I love anything that irritates fanboyz on either side of the fence. Get real guys – these are just big corporates fighting for your cash – don’t make it so easy by getting all fervently religious about it.
  8. I now carry a decent camera about. OK, I’m scraping the barrel a bit now, but because I won’t carry two phones, when I moved from the N95 to the iPhone I lost a 5MP camera and rather wonderful video facility. However, the N95 still can’t hold a candle to a cheap Canon compact. Ultimately, good compact cameras rock far more than any mobile phone. Mobile phones have led to a deterioration in good photography. Let’s fight back for decent cameras!
  9. iTunes isn’t actually that bad. I’d avoided it for years, but now got forced into it. However, I’ll accept that life’s like that sometimes. And in the end, iTunes isn’t that bad. It’s especially good with podcasts and I’m now enjoying radio programmes I kept missing, as well as the musings of the likes of Gareth Jones On Speed and Stephen Fry’s Podgrams. I’m happy.
  10. I love touching it. Seriously. Just try it. Hold it in your hand. Rub it against your body. Bring it to your lips. You will, I assure you, have to have the thing prised from your clenched…. fingers. Be careful touching other people’s iPhones, however, because you really don’t know where it’s been.

So there you go. A bit of balance. Perhaps.

10 Reasons I Hate My iPhone

In iPhone on March 10, 2008 at 6:04 pm

Now, before the hate starts, let me say that the iPhone is beautiful. It’s UI is terrific, and it is by far the very best handheld web browsing device I’ve ever come across. It’s also the first phone I’ve had which has started conversations, and everyone who sees me using it wants to touch it. If I was so minded I’m pretty certain it could get me laid.

But there are many times I hate it. In no particular order, here’s why:

  1. It’s trying to kill me. The Bluetooth is flakier than a chocolate named 99*. I mean really. Sometimes it’ll talk to my car kit, sometimes it won’t. I wouldn’t mind if it was otherwise highly specced, but no A2DP means it won’t stream music to my car or a headset, so I’m forever fighting wires, getting tangled up, and generally shouting at the iPhone when I’m driving. And that’s why it’s trying to kill me – using it in the car, while driving, is a death sentence.
  2. It doesn’t want me to have memories. That excuse for a camera… coming to the iPhone after an N95 you suddenly find yourself transported back to 2003, when phone cameras were still new, still fuzzy, still didn’t work in low light and still didn’t do video. The upside is that it’s encouraged me to carry around a proper compact digital camera – something which does a far better job of images than any phone camera I’ve used.
  3. It wants me to lose friends. After all, why bother letting me know they’re calling when you could just amusingly redirect all calls to voicemail until the next reboot?
  4. It wants me to lose business. See points 1 and 3. I can’t answer the phone when driving any more, nor can I make calls by simply prodding the bluetooth button on my dashboard and calling out the name of whoever I’d like to talk to. Similarly, that call avoidance strategy may be great for battery life, but it’s rubbish for making money.
  5. It’s pretty, until you start to use it. Especially if you’ve just been eating donuts. Try it, you’ll understand.
  6. It’s trying to lose me. Many high-end phones come with GPS software. That stands for Global Positioning Satellite. The iPhone has something which you could also call GPS – Guesswork Positioning System. That’s right – you can go to Google Maps and ask it where you are. It’ll then tell you to an accuracy of… oooh, well in my house it says I could be anywhere in an area covering about 25 square miles. The worst thing is… my house isn’t in any of those square miles – it’s about two miles outside. This is not a phone that’s going to save you when you’re lost in the Atacama dessert. It’s probably simply a part of the functionality designed for reason 1.
  7. It doesn’t like being charged up. Most of the things that should charge it up, won’t. I suppose that’s my fault for equating “charges iPods” with “charges iPhones.” How silly of me.
  8. It’s noisy as hell. I don’t mean that when it rings it causes complaints from neighbours. Don’t be ridiculous – ringing is something to be done quietly – see point 9. It’s worse than that. What it does is to use hi-fis, car stereos, computer speakers… anything really, as a sort of noise proxy. Whenever it’s receiving a call, making one, thinking about it, checking your e-mail… off it goes. BIDDY-BIDDY-BIDDY-BIDDY! It’s like I’ve got Twiki hiding under my desk.
  9. It doesn’t want to disturb me. I buy phones to receive phone calls. It would be nice if, when someone calls, that phone could muster up enough noise so that you could hear it ringing. The iPhone’s ringer is easily drowned out in noisy places. For example, places such as museums, convents and libraries.
  10. It’s jealous. You get it on a contract from O2 and you mustn’t ever leave. Oh no. Put that SIM into another telephone and that’s it – breach of contract time! You’ll be cut off pretty soon after which you’ll have to go grovelling back to O2 with a sincere apology and a promise not to be naughty again. And you can’t transfer the contract to another phone, even if you pay the same amount. No, you’re trapped. Trapped like you might feel when you’re with a beautiful but violently jealous girlfriend who, it turns out, you just got pregnant. Think Betty Blue. That’s how you’ll feel from about month 3 to month 18. The freedom when that contract ends… oh you know – it’s going to be like ending a relationship with a beautiful nutter. You’ll feel free as a bird, yet somehow… empty. Sad. Forlorn.

I’ve just realised, I have another ten reasons…. I’ll post them next time I have an energy spurt.

Until then, if you’re thinking about an iPhone… well, it really is the dog’s wotsits when it comes to surfing and playing music. Nothing comes close. As a phone… well… you know how I feel.

* In Britain, if you say to an ice cream man “make mine a 99” he’ll give you a normal ice cream with a Flake chocolate sticking out of it.

Addendum. I wrote about the charging problem because, at the time of writing, my iPhone wouldn’t charge from any of my portable chargers. Turns out it was just it hadn’t noticed – rebooted, I went from 10% charge to full. Damn phone’s a liar too!

For a little balance, or for those who love their Apple gadgets, I’ve written an alternative…

10 Ways to Win Web Awards

In Design, Web Design on March 5, 2008 at 12:49 pm

It was close, but no cigar… one of our sites was nominated for the Clynol Best Salon Website of 2007 award.  Sadly we didn’t win it, but we looked at the competition and then at which site won.  We realised that with many of these awards the depth of analysis isn’t that deep.

Here’s how to get nominated:

  1. Impressive landing page – the first page people land on should be visually striking.  Pretty girls do seem to help on this, sadly, but it’s not the only way.
  2. Simple design – keep it simple and clean, at least on that front page, because that’s the one that will be looked at the most.
  3. Don’t worry too much about usability, at least at this stage, because the testing won’t be deep.
  4. Don’t worry about standards either, most of these folk won’t check.  Shame, but true.
  5. Keep the word-count down – too many words distract from ‘impressive’.

And then, of course, comes actually winning it:

  1. You won’t have any idea of the criteria against which your website is being judged.  It could be that the judging panel is looking at print-outs, has a passion for flowers, or anything – so don’t worry about it.  Also consider that the judges don’t necessarily know a thing about web design.  Just keep doing cool websites and the awards will come soon enough.
  2. Make sure the site is usable, at least on a superficial level.  If they want to find the location, make it easy to find.
  3. Trendy is good – but it does depend – web design and paper design trends are increasingly divergent, although they’re definitely influencing one another.  Also remember, if you’re being judged by designers (paper or otherwise) then what they consider to be leading edge is quite different to that of the average person.
  4. Flash sites win a disproportionate amount of awards, given their poor compatibility and search engine performance.  But there you go – if you want visually striking you can save a bomb by using Flash instead of html and css.
  5. Performance is paramount – any judge will be looking at a lot of sites.  If they’re viewing through browser windows they’ll be quickly bored – your site has to load quickly and respond rapidly.

To be honest, we were surprised we were nominated – it came entirely out of the blue as the site had never been submitted by us to any competition.  It wasn’t even a site we could feel was a particularly wonderful piece of work.  It was fine, and the client is delighted.  But what this nomination did do was to make the client feel justified in using us.  That alone is worth a fortune, and he’ll have told everyone who’d listen.