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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

News: Do small firms really need a website?

As far as web-literate consumers are concerned, internet search engines generally offer the best way to track down a local plumber or find out where the local pet shop is based.

Martha Lane Fox and co-founder of Brent Hoberman pose to promote the website
The boundaries of internet and traditional start-ups have blurred

After all, a reputable company will have its own website, right?


In a world where e-trading has become as mainstream as microwaved ready meals, it comes as a shock to many to discover that no more than half of Britain's small to medium-sized businesses have a web presence.

But those are the facts, according to the Federation of Small Businesses, which represents about 210,000 firms.

After a flurry of activity a few years ago, when a steady stream of its members flocked into cyberspace, demand has stagnated.

Which is a shame, according to the Federation's IT chairman, Peter Scargill, who insist companies must "keep up or lose out".

This is more than ever the case in today's business climate as many companies struggle to grasp the impact of the next wave of internet technology.

So-called web 2.0, blogs, wikis and web-on-your-mobile are giving ever greater power and choice to the consumer.

Many shrewd players are racing to adapt and respond to compete in both the offline and online market place.

Does this mean that those existing only in the real world are being left behind?

No web presence

Not so, says entrepreneur Lorrain Corrance, a qualified carer from Barrow-in-Furness who she set up a company to look after sick and disabled people.

Priorities will differ from business to business but the web will be integral to a business plan on some level
George Derbyshire, head of the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies

Driven by disgruntlement, after feeling disappointed with a former employer's attitude to care, Ms Corrance's set up One to One Personal Care.

The company now has one full-time employee, one part-time cover and five clients, and so far all her clients have come through social services or recommendations.

"I don't feel like I need a website," Ms Corrance says.

"The whole point of my business is that each client will have one dedicated carer who will offer a high standard of care.

"I don't want my business to grow more quickly than I can handle because I don't want to have to let people down if I don't have the staff to provide the services."

Vital tool?

James Pople, who runs a building contractor firm in Tunbridge Wells, is not convinced that a website is an essential tool for business success.

Wiggly Wigglers' worm composting kit
Wiggly Wigglers has gained global recognition through its podcasts

Nine months after his website went live, he insists it has not generated a single phone call from a customer.

Instead, his website functions as a catalogue of his work.

It was for this reason alone, after repeated requests from potential customers, that Mr Pople says he even bothered to launch a website at all.

"Perhaps it is just useful for giving clients peace of mind before making enquiries," he says.

But this view of the internet as an afterthought must change as new technologies fundamentally alter consumer behaviour, according to the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies.

"Priorities will differ from business to business but the web will be integral to a business plan on some level, whether it forms part of your communications and marketing strategy, part of your supply or customer chain, or whether you use it to trade," says the group's chief executive, George Derbyshire.

Fully engaged

Heather Gorringe, chairman and founder of Wiggly Wigglers, could not agree more. Offline companies are truly missing a trick, she believes, having experienced the power of the web for herself.

When the internet was still in its infancy, she saw its potential to expand her worm composting kit enterprise well beyond the village where it is based and the firm's website went live in 1995.

"We are based on a farm in a village of 63 people in rural Herefordshire," she says. "The passing trade is virtually nil."

The site was adapted for e-commerce in the white heat of the tech boom in 1999, when turnover surged from £6,000 in 1995 to £200,000.

Facebook website
Firms use social networking sites to communicate with customers

And the crash did little to dent Wiggly Wigglers' performance. The company's turnover has now reached £2.5m. Its customers come from all over the UK, the Irish Republic and Western Europe and has its own group on social networking site Facebook.

In addition, gardening podcasts, featured regularly and downloadable from the website, have boosted the company's profile with a fan base from the US to New Zealand and China.

"Growing a brand globally has helped sales locally," Heather observes.

"Communicating with potential influencers is important for every business, even if you are a local fish and chip shop".

The reason why so many companies are disappointed with their website's performance is that they have failed to maximise their potential, believes Mr Scargill.

"A website is a passive device," he says.

"Unless you have a well recognised brand name you need to have some way for people to find your site.

"If you haven't marketed it properly, it's like taking a bunch of brochures, putting them in a cupboard and then wondering why sales aren't going up."

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News: Threat of fraud 'looms for years'

Credit cards
Fraudsters could use personal data to apply for credit cards or loans
Children whose personal data has gone missing could be at risk of identity fraud for many years, credit reference agency Experian has warned.

The company said fraudsters could wait until children turn 18 before trying to apply for credit in their name.

Compliance director Helen Lord said this could have a "catastrophic effect" on their ability to buy or rent a home or obtain a loan or credit card.

The Association for Payment Clearing Services said vigilance was vital.

Jemma Smith, from the association, said: "The information is no doubt valuable in a thief's hands."

The fraudsters will wait until they turn 18 and start applying for loans, credit cards, mobile phone contracts and other credit products in their names
Helen Lord, Experian

Children aged 15 to 17 whose names, addresses and dates of birth were among the lost data are at risk from determined fraudsters prepared to wait for lengthy periods before using the data, Experian said.

"The fraudsters will wait until they turn 18 and start applying for loans, credit cards, mobile phone contracts and other credit products in their names," Ms Lord suggested.

"That could have a catastrophic effect on their ability to get on the housing ladder, rent a flat, obtain their first credit card, obtain a loan for their first car, even open a bank account."

Credit reports

Experian said warnings from banks and the government to check statements carefully were not enough to prevent people falling victim to identity theft.

Instead, the agency said people should monitor their credit reports to ensure no unauthorised checks were being carried out, something which would indicate someone was applying for credit in their name.

The BBC's Jane Peel said anyone concerned could apply for "protective registration". This places a warning against their address so if anyone applies for credit in their name, it will be double-checked.

She said one official at a High Street bank had told her: "This will be on the radar for decades."

Chancellor Alistair Darling has stressed that so far there is no evidence that the missing data has fallen into criminal hands.

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News: T-Mobile to open up iPhone sales

The iPhone was launched in Germany in early November
iPhone users are still tied to just one network in the US and UK
T-Mobile is to start allowing German customers to buy Apple's iPhone without a contract to its network, as it moves to comply with a court injunction.

Its announcement comes after rival Vodafone went to a German court to challenge T-Mobile's exclusive tie-up with the iPhone in Germany.

T-Mobile will now sell people just the handset for 999 euros ($1,477; £719).

This is a significant premium over the 399-euro price for those who also take out a two-year T-Mobile contract.

Similar tie-ups

Apple has similar exclusive iPhone arrangements with O2 in the UK and AT&T in the US.

T-Mobile added that customers could also now have the SIM lock on their iPhone removed, including those who have already purchased a handset.

This would allow them to switch to another phone network.

T-Mobile said in its statement that it would abide by the conditions "until the legal situation is resolved".

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News: UK broadband use reaches new high

Mouse and keyboard, Eyewire
Broadband has taken over UK net use in a few short years
Almost nine out of 10 UK net users are connecting via broadband services, official figures reveal.

Information gathered by National Statistics (ONS) for September show that 88.4% of Britons are choosing to use broadband rather than dial-up.

The statistics show that 49.2% of those connections are for services advertised at two megabits per second or faster.

But analysis of the figures suggest the broadband market is static, which could mean tough times for service suppliers.

Tough times

The figure for September is only slightly up on the June total of 86.2%, but indicates a 26% rise over the last 12 months.

The statistics show that broadband has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity among net users since services started to be available and affordable.

As recently as April 2003, ONS reports, 81% of people went online via dial-up modems and only 17% had broadband.

The statistics also offer a breakdown of the speeds that people have signed up to, and show that the proportion of people on higher speeds - between two and eight megabits per second (Mbps) - has grown. Only 4% of those questioned were using services faster than eight Mbps.

Analysts Point-Topic say there is evidence for a slowdown on broadband take-up as the pool of dial-up users diminishes.

Broadband net firms have relied on converting people from dial-up for most of their growth over the last 12 months, said Tim Johnson, chief analyst at Point-Topic.

Mr Johnson said this could spell tougher times for net firms.

Not only were dial-up users resisting being converted, but households without net access, estimated to number about 10 million, were also declining to sign up in large enough numbers to sustain growth.

"With almost 40% of British households on the wrong side of the digital divide, the social and economic progress of the UK will be stalled unless the great majority of these homes can be brought on to the internet," said Mr Johnson.

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Firefox 3.0 hits beta

New security features have been included in the just-released Firefox 3.0 beta, although Mozilla has warned that most users should stick to Version 2.0 for the moment.

"We do not recommend that anyone other than developers and testers download the Firefox 3 Beta 1 milestone release,"

Mike Beltzner, the company's interface designer, said on Mozilla's website.

"It is intended for testing purposes only."

But while the official word was for users to stand clear, Beltzner's personal recommendation was a lot less intimidating.

"It's a preview release, so use with caution and don't expect your add-ons to work without some magic; but between you and me, I've been running on this 'developer preview' for at least three months, and have never looked back,"

he said on his own blog.

Beltzner touted several improvements in Firefox 3.0, including new security features, a redesign of bookmarking and history, but said they all require more testing and user feedback. The company has posted a more complete list of new features in the release notes on its website.

On the security side, Firefox 3.0 adds malware checking, an anti-phishing feature that warns users of suspicious URLs; one-click site information that displays site ownership; fixes for vulnerabilities in plug-in updating; and integration with anti-virus software and Windows Vista's parental control settings.

Mozilla also claimed that it has fixed more than 300 individual memory leaks and added a new cycle collector to eliminate other memory issues. Firefox has a reputation for consuming large quantities of memory the longer it's left running, and ultimately slowing down the computer, even though some of its developers have contested the claims, and even pegged the problem as one of perception.

Most current Firefox plug-ins will not work with Firefox 3.0, a stumbling block for some who might otherwise want to test the preview.

"Users of the latest released version of Firefox should not expect their add-ons to work properly with this beta,"

the beta's release notes read.

Firefox 3.0 Beta 1 can be downloaded for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux in 21 language versions from Mozilla's site.

Mozilla has not set a deadline for delivering the final edition, and apparently does not intend to.

"The final version of Firefox 3 will be released when we qualify the product as fully ready for our users,"

its release notes said. Mozilla is more than three months behind it own schedule schedule, in part because it extended the alpha-testing stage to encompass eight versions.

This summer, Mozilla pegged Beta 1's release for late July with a second beta in September, both to precede a final release by the end of the year. The company is now shooting to deliver a second beta before the end of the year, with more betas possible before producing one or more release candidates in a run-up to the final code.

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Computer Acronym

ADSL - Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line
AGP - Accelerated Graphics Port
ALI - Acer Labs, Incorporated
ALU - Arithmetic Logic Unit
AMD - Advanced Micro Devices
APC - American Power Conversion
ASCII - American Standard Code for Information Interchange
ASIC - Application Specific Integrated Circuit
ASPI - Advanced SCSI Programming Interface
AT - Advanced Technology
ATI - ATI Technologies Inc.
ATX - Advanced Technology Extended

--- B ---
BFG - BFG Technologies
BIOS - Basic Input Output System
BNC - Barrel Nut Connector

--- C ---
CAS - Column Address Signal
CD - Compact Disk
CDR - Compact Disk Recorder
CDRW - Compact Disk Re-Writer
CD-ROM - Compact Disk - Read Only Memory
CFM - Cubic Feet per Minute (ft�/min)
CMOS - Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor
CPU - Central Processing Unit
CTX - CTX Technology Corporation (Commited to Excellence)

--- D ---

DDR - Double Data Rate
DDR-SDRAM - Double Data Rate - Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory
DFI - DFI Inc. (Design for Innovation)
DIMM - Dual Inline Memory Module
DRAM - Dynamic Random Access Memory
DPI - Dots Per Inch
DVD - Digital Versatile Disc
DVD-RAM - Digital Versatile Disk - Random Access Memory

--- E ---
ECC - Error Correction Code
ECS - Elitegroup Computer Systems
EDO - Extended Data Out
EEPROM - Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory
EPROM - Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory
EVGA - EVGA Corporation

--- F ---
FC-PGA - Flip Chip Pin Grid Array
FDC - Floppy Disk Controller
FDD - Floppy Disk Drive
FPS - Frame Per Second
FPU - Floating Point Unit
FSAA - Full Screen Anti-Aliasing
FS - For Sale
FSB - Front Side Bus

--- G ---
GB - Gigabytes
GBps - Gigabytes per second or Gigabits per second
GDI - Graphical Device Interface
GHz - GigaHertz

--- H ---
HDD - Hard Disk Drive
HIS - Hightech Information System Limited
HP - Hewlett-Packard Development Company
HSF - Heatsink-Fan

-- I ---
IBM - International Business Machines Corporation
IC - Integrated Circuit
IDE - Integrated Drive Electronics
IFS- Item for Sale
IRQ - Interrupt Request
ISA - Industry Standard Architecture
ISO - International Standards Organization

--- J ---
JBL - JBL (Jame B. Lansing) Speakers
JVC - JVC Company of America

- K ---
Kbps - Kilobits Per Second
KBps - KiloBytes per second

--- L ---
LG - LG Electronics
LAN - Local Are Network
LCD - Liquid Crystal Display
LDT - Lightning Data Transport
LED - Light Emitting Diode

--- M ---
MAC - Media Access Control
MB � MotherBoard or Megabyte
MBps - Megabytes Per Second
Mbps - Megabits Per Second or Megabits Per Second
MHz - MegaHertz
MIPS - Million Instructions Per Second
MMX - Multi-Media Extensions
MSI - Micro Star International

--- N ---
NAS - Network Attached Storage
NAT - Network Address Translation
NEC - NEC Corporation
NIC - Network Interface Card

--- O ---
OC - Overclock (Over Clock)
OCZ - OCZ Technology
OEM - Original Equipment Manufacturer

--- P ---
PC - Personal Computer
PCB - Printed Circuit Board
PCI - Peripheral Component Interconnect
PDA - Personal Digital Assistant
PCMCIA - Peripheral Component Microchannel Interconnect Architecture
PGA - Professional Graphics Array
PLD - Programmable Logic Device
PM - Private Message / Private Messaging
PnP - Plug 'n Play
PNY - PNY Technology
POST - Power On Self Test
PPPoA - Point-to-Point Protocol over ATM
PPPoE - Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet
PQI - PQI Corporation
PSU - Power Supply Unit

R ---
RAID - Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks
RAM - Random Access Memory
RAMDAC - Random Access Memory Digital Analog Convertor
RDRAM - Rambus Dynamic Random Access Memory
ROM - Read Only Memory
RPM - Revolutions Per Minute

--- S ---
SASID - Self-scanned Amorphous Silicon Integrated Display
SCA - SCSI Configured Automatically
SCSI - Small Computer System Interface
SDRAM - Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory
SECC - Single Edge Contact Connector
SODIMM - Small Outline Dual Inline Memory Module
SPARC - Scalable Processor ArChitecture
SOHO - Small Office Home Office
SRAM - Static Random Access Memory
SSE - Streaming SIMD Extensions
SVGA - Super Video Graphics Array
S/PDIF - Sony/Philips Digital Interface

--- T ---
TB - Terabytes
TBps - Terabytes per second
Tbps - Terabits per second
TDK - TDK Electronics
TEC - Thermoelectric Cooler
TPC - TipidPC
TWAIN - Technology Without An Important Name

--- U ---
UART - Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter
USB - Universal Serial Bus
UTP - Unshieled Twisted Pair

--- V ---
VCD - Video CD
VPN - Virtual Private Network

--- W ---
WAN - Wide Area Network
WTB - Want to Buy
WYSIWYG - What You See Is What You Get

--- X ---
XGA - Extended Graphics Array
XFX - XFX Graphics, a Division of Pine
XMS - Extended Memory Specification
XT - Extended Technology

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Joke: Accident Scene

Two guys were roaring down a country road on a motorcycle when the driver slowed up and pulled over.

His leather jacket had a broken zipper, and he told his friend, "I can't drive anymore with the air hitting me in the chest like that."

"Just put the jacket on backwards," his friend advised.

They continued down the road but around the next bend, they lost control and wiped out.

Banta came upon the accident and ran to call the police.

They asked him, "Are they showing any signs of life?"

"Well," Banta explained, "the driver was until I turned his head around the right way!"

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