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Nov 2011

Is it worth learning webmaster skills as a business owner?

Posted in Business tactics, Technology | 0 Comments

A lot of online businesses are run by a small team of people – and in some cases, just one person. That’s a lot of responsibility, but with hired help for coding and building the site, creating something that practically runs itself is going to prove to be an advantage in the long run. But sites will break, and not having the right skill-set to fix anything can really let you down in 2011.

“If you’re good at something, never do it for free,” states the Joker, in The Dark Knight. Odd place to source your advice, but I couldn’t agree more. If you’re doing something for free – i.e. fixing someone’s broken HTML – then you better be getting something great in return, or you’re costing yourself time you could be a) sleeping, b) making money, or c) not doing endless amounts of people favours with no rewards. But sadly that also means that those who are computer illiterate and trying to run a site will often run into difficulties – specifically, ones they can’t fix without forking out for a second salary.

Learning basic skills doesn’t take long at all – HTML and CSS are not impervious to the almost beginner – and even learning how to set up and manage a WordPress blog is going to help when it comes to making sure the small business you’re trying to get off the ground doesn’t falter in the early stages. After all, you don’t want to have to run to an IT-knowledgeable friend or relative (or worse, expensive freelancer) when you could be Googling and problem-solving.

The Google aversion is probably the source of 90% of the tech problems I hear. It’s so simple to Google your answer, and people are vocal and knowledgeable enough to have written about it years before you’re wanting questions answered and problems solved. Sometimes I ask questions on Twitter despite knowing I should be Googling, but it’s this knowledge – that the info I need is out there, waiting to be read, that means all is not lost if those I know personally can’t help me out.

Being a self-starter is all about being driven and committed, and making sure you can accomplish what you need to in a self-reliant manner is part of that. Starting a business means saying goodbye to the nine-to-five, and if you think any different then you’re kidding yourself. In the beginning, everything is down to you, from the accounting to getting the office internet connection set up. You don’t turn up for eight hours a day and claim a salary each month.

Sound daunting? It’s not – learning how to craft sites, deal with Paypal and forgo paid themes in favour of your own CSS artistry can actually be an enjoyable and empowering experience. It certainly has been for me – I know that after learning, Googling, asking questions and making mistakes, I can take a great site idea and actually build it into a working prototype. For every person who’ll call you a “noob” or claim you’ve no business, well, running a business, there’s someone who’s willing to walk you through the basics. Don’t get left behind – be one of the people leading the way.

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Jan 2011

Are your website error messages entertaining enough?

Posted in Web 2.0, Web Design and Usability | 0 Comments

Occasionally I run across a really amusing 404 page. Often, it’s a cute mascot who’s sad because he or she can’t find the page. Occasionally it’s a real gem that’ll tell me I got eaten by a grue instead of finding the page. But there was one on WordPress I stumbled onto recently via the most unlikely of routes. Let me paint you a picture.

I’m working on a post, and once I’m done, I let my editor go fiddle about with it till it looks the way it should. However, I forget to close my own version of the page, and when I save (thinking I’m on the CMS for another site entirely, namely this one) it saves over his edits. All of them. A brief moment of guilt ensues, so we attempt to compare versions¬† to find his edits. Out of sheer curiosity (I’ve loved errors ever since zooming in too far in Paint Shop Pro caused an illegal-operation shutdown in Windows), I compared version X to version X.

The screen goes to white, and a small message types itself out on my screen:

Self-comparison detected.
Initiating infinite loop eschewal protocol.
Self destruct in… 3

And the screen goes black. Then, in an ominous but familiar green font, more text appears.

Wake up, Christos Reid…

The Matrix has you…

Follow the white rabbit.

Followed by a short message telling me not to let this happen again, and a link taking me back to the CMS.

What can you say to an error message like that? Personally, I called my entire team over and we watched it several times. There’s never any indication that WordPress admits doing this publicly, and if you already know what you’re looking for it’s only really possible to learn about it via Google. But it made my day, work-wise, and it’s something that other sites (the ed. notably lists Wikipedia as one that should really have a few Easter eggs by now) have yet to fully exploit.

So go compare versions – who knows, it might inspire you to create funnier error messages of your own.

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