Considering WordPress?

WordPress LogoAre you having trouble deciding if WordPress will be the right solution for your next amazing site, or do you have a boss or client who’s refusing to accept WordPress as a viable platform? Sara Rosso gave a great intro to the WordPress Ecosystem at this year’s WordCamp San Francisco. She covers some of the heavy-hitters using WordPress, how big of an audience some of them are reaching, and why they decided to make the switch (if they did move from another platform), as well as how the overall community works.

Why Google Plus is About to Change the Web

Google+From Jason Hiner at the TechRepublic – This is the way Google always wanted social networking to work, and this time the company may have pulled it off.  Google’s previous social attempts have been unmitigated train wrecks, if we’re being completely honest. Open Social failed because Google couldn’t get Facebook and other social networks to buy into the idea of a shared social identity. Google Wave missed the target by not being useful enough to attract any users. Google Buzz freaked people out by naively overstepping its bounds on privacy.

So when Google unveiled its latest social experiment last week — called Google+ — I was extremely skeptical. Still, Facebook is so malignant in terms of privacy and such a mess to use and configure, that I was more than happy to give Google+ a try. I just expected it that it would be a speed-dating relationship like most of my product reviews and destined to last no more than a few weeks at the most.

Damn, was I wrong. After almost a week, I fully expect this Google+ thing to turn into a long-term relationship. I mean we’re not buying matching workout suits or anything yet, but this is definitely more than just a crush on the hot, new thing.

To start, Google+ is what Google calls a “field trial” — a fancy way to say that it’s still in beta. For now, it is open mostly to technology industry insiders and the press. Google reasoned that since reporters were going to be writing about Plus anyway, they might as well let them to kick the tires. Wise move.

Vic Gundotra, Google’s SVP of Social and the head guy in charge of Plus, said, ”We chose the initial seed very carefully. We wanted a lot of diversity, so we have people that represent over 42 of the world’s languages… We’re trying to really test the product, make sure that we meet people’s privacy expectations, that the systems are working, [and] that we can scale. We’ll slowly grow that initial seed as we’re ready.”

The other Google executive running the Plus project, Bradley Horowitz, added, ”Field trial is the right term. That’s not a euphemism. There’s a lot of rough edges in there and a lot of learning we have to do. The feedback we got in the first 24 hours is tremendous.”

Even with its rough edges and without the masses of humanity having access to Google+, the core experience is pretty powerful and it’s easy to see where Google is going with this.

As I wrote over the weekend while diving into Google+, the most attractive part is how easy it is to find, add, and organize your friends (I cited that as the main reason you won’t hate Google+). The friend issue is the heart of all social networks, although it’s so obvious that it’s often overlooked. In fact, Twitter still isn’t very good it, Facebook is a little better, but both of them now look like neophytes compared to the way Google+ does it.

The friend feature on Google+ is called “Circles” and it turns out to be an intuitive mashup of friending (from Facebook) and following (from Twitter). Circles are basically sets of friends that you can drag and drop into groups mirroring your existing social circles — Family & Friends, Colleagues, Local Techies, etc. — rather than just the one big lump of friends you have on Facebook that can result in moments of “worlds colliding” since you have to share all of your updates with all of your friends. On Google+ you can selectively send updates to different circles, and you can also quickly click between the news streams of your different circles.

You can also make circles for people you don’t necessarily know but are interested in following their updates (e.g. Tech Journalists, Famous Engineers, Web Celebrities, etc.). This is where Google+ echoes Twitter because people don’t have to follow you back in order for you to add them to one of your Circles. At that point you’ll see all of their public updates, and most of these folks make the majority of their updates public in order to be seen by more people (it’s the whole social media narcissism meme and it has already transplanted itself on Google Plus).

The real killer feature to Circles in Google+ is how easy it is to find and add friends. Everywhere you see a user’s name or avatar you can simply mouse over it, click “Add to Circles” and then select which circle to add them to. On Twitter, it took me about three years to find about 200 really interesting people (mostly in technology and the media) worth following. It took me less than three days to find that many on Google Plus. Of course, most of them are the same people, so Google+ has the advantage of speed by letting us quickly re-coagulate our existing social graph on the new service.

Google+ Circles

I’m not predicting Google+ will replace Facebook and/or Twitter. This will definitely not be a zero sum game. Facebook has the most to lose from Google Plus, but it’s going to be years before Aunt Jenny and your plumber show up on Google+ the way they recently showed up on Facebook (and it’s possible they never will). All three of these social networks — Facebook, Google+, and Twitter — will still be going strong three years from now. People will gravitate to them for different reasons. They’ll go to Twitter for news and to cyber-stalk celebraties. They’ll got Facebook for private networking, water cooler chats, and games.

So where will that leave Google+?

I’m glad you asked, because that’s the real point here (sorry to bury the lede). To start, Google+ is mostly going to be made up of digital influencers — technology executives, entrepreneurs, and professionals, as well as social media mavens and technophiles in the press. Don’t underestimate the power of this broad group. It’s the same group that has catapulted Twitter and Foursquare into mainstream consciousness in recent years. A large percentage of this group is already in the “initial seed” of Google+ users and they are the ones who have been raving about it for the past week. Look for a lot of them to decrease (but not eliminate) their Facebook usage and spend more time on Google Plus.

However, once you get past the technorati, then the story is going to get really interesting, because in the long run, Google+ is going to be less of a destination and more like the connective social tissue of the Web. I’m talking about social networking moving beyond a walled garden like Facebook or even a controlled ecosystem like Twitter.

Pieces of Google+ are likely to be decentralized with tentacles extending across the Web, the mobile Web, and various computer, smartphone and tablet platforms. In some ways, Facebook and Twitter have started doing this already. They’ve put share buttons and boxes on external sites. They’ve launched client apps for multiple platforms. Facebook has even allowed sites to use the Facebook platform as their engine for user comments. However, the ultimate goal for Facebook and Twitter is to drive users back to their sites where they can be monetized.

Google has a different goal. It needs all of this social data about what people like, how they are socially related, what content they share the most, what context they share it in, and more in order to power its search engine and better organize the world’s information. That means Google’s social motivations have little to do with driving people back to plus.google.com. It’s ultimately about enhancing search and not allowing Facebook to hoard so much of the world’s social data.

That’s why Google has already submitted it’s iOS app to the Apple App Store. That’s why it is already talking about opening up Google+ Hangouts (group video chat) to other video services and clients. It’s why Google is putting little +1s all across the Web and in its search results (even though they aren’t very well connected to Google+ yet). In order to satisfy its appetite for social data, Google ultimately needs Google+ to be ubiquitous across virtually all platforms — both in terms of accessing the service from devices but even more so in terms of micro-connections to the service from third party apps and sites.

Think of +1 integrated into mobile content apps, Q&A sites, blog comments, product reviews, music services like Pandora, etc. Now, imagine reading a product review and giving it +1 and then instantly seeing what all of the people in your “Tech Pros” circle have posted about that product — all without leaving the site you’re on. That’s where I see Google going with this and that’s where this could permanently change social networking on the Web into a much more integrated experience. And, if Google+ succeeds, it would likely force Facebook and Twitter to move in a similar direction.

Nevertheless, one big question here is how far will Google go with the open strategy? Can it avoid the temptation of giving Google+ pre-eminence to its internal platforms, such as Android, Chrome browser, Chrome OS, Gmail, and others? Will it build great apps and functionality for other platforms as well? For example, will it build a client for Windows Phone 7, even though Microsoft is its biggest rival in search? Will it work with Apple to make FaceTime (which has also promised open standards) compatible with Google+ Hangouts? Those are the kinds of litmus tests I’m going to be watching for.

Still, “Google+” is the perfect name for this because it’s ultimately an add-on and a force-multiplier to the existing Google experience, especially its search engine but also to the broader Web in general. Google+ will be a social layer on top the existing Web. At least that’s the vision. This time, Google might just pull it off.

So why is this important to you at all?  We at Hansen Web Design track emerging social networking technologies carefully because down the road, it may be important to your business, just as Facebook and Twitter are now.  Smart businesses know how to take advantage of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media to extend their reach and marketability.

Keep an eye on Google+.  It will likely be a player.  The exact role it plays in your business has yet to be determined, but watching it and understanding it will make it much easier later.

New Client – Studio GlassWorks, LLC

Studio GlassWorks, LLCHansen Web Design is proud to announce our latest client – Studio GlassWorks, LLC of Madison, WI.  Studio GlassWorks designs and builds custom architectural decorative glass for residential, commercial and religious clients.

We’ll be designing and coding a custom WordPress website for them with a special set of plugins for site management, search engine optimization, and security; and we’ll also be setting up a series of specialized galleries for them to show off their products – they have a LOT of products and beautiful photos!

An Explosion of Web Names

URLOne of the biggest changes in the history of the Internet could be set into motion shortly. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing remains open to fierce debate.

At a meeting in Singapore, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees the Internet address system, has approved a vast expansion of the range of addresses available. The group wants to make it possible for Internet users to create their own extensions like .com, .net or .org.

So, get ready for Web sites that end with the names of cities or brands, like .berlin or .canon, to name just two entities that have expressed interest in the proposed system. Crafty entrepreneurs are busy thinking up sites like iwant.beer or whatsfor.dinner.

Icann envisions hundreds of new extensions, and that is just in the first round of applications. The overall range of Internet addresses on offer would increase exponentially.

Icann has been working on this for years. At a meeting in Paris three years ago, its board recommended going ahead. Since then, however, final authorization has been delayed several times, even as Icann has gone ahead with other expansions, including the use of non-Latin alphabets in domain names.

This time around, Peter Dengate Thrush, the chairman of Icann, said he thought the board would give the go-ahead. “We’re feeling reasonably confident at this stage because of the feedback we’ve been getting from all the players,” he said.

Such a vote would be a personal triumph for Mr. Dengate Thrush, given that the meeting in Singapore is set to be his last as chairman. Icann says the expansion would give Internet users vastly greater choice, leading to innovations in online marketing, among other things.

Yet critics of Icann question the need, saying existing suffixes provide plenty of choice. They say Icann wants to railroad the plan through without addressing their concerns.

Owners of corporate brands and other trademarks — who remember the cybersquatting that marred the early days of the Internet, when profiteers claimed brand names and then resold them to their owners — say the expansion would open the door to a new round of intellectual property abuses.

“It’s an unproven idea that has been handled very poorly from a project management standpoint,” said Alan C. Drewsen, executive director of the International Trademark Association.

The primary beneficiaries of the change, critics contend, will be the registrars that maintain Internet addresses; unlike Icann, a nonprofit organization, many registrars are commercial entities.

“The more domains they have out there, the more names they can register and the more money they take in,” said Josh Bourne, president of the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, a Washington-based lobby group.

Icann plans safeguards to thwart cybersquatters and other opportunists. The price of the new extensions has been set at a steep $185,000, for example, with a further $25,000 annual fee to maintain them. Trademark owners would be allowed to claim their names for use in addresses during “sunrise” periods following the rollout. These protections have been strengthened since the proposal was outlined.

“My expectation is that people will look at this in a fairly commercial way,” Mr. Dengate Thrush said. “My hope is that they aren’t going to waste a lot of time and money applying for names that don’t stand a chance.”

Mr. Dengate Thrush acknowledged that there were still unresolved issues around implementation. But he said these could be resolved after a vote to go ahead. Icann plans a four-month communication period before applications for addresses will be accepted.

During that time, trademark owners will have to wrestle with some big questions. Should they apply for the new suffixes? Should they register their names for use with other new extensions? Or should they do neither? A lot of money hangs on the decisions.

Mei-lan Stark, senior vice president for intellectual property at News Corp.’s Fox Entertainment Group, recently told a U.S. congressional committee that the change could cost her company at least $12 million in the initial stages alone.

That estimate was based on the cost of registering 300 names in an initial round of 400 new address extensions, at a cost of $100 each, she said. The cost, and related legal bills, would rise as the list of suffixes grew, Ms. Stark added.

Planning is complicated by the fact that brand owners do not know how consumers will react. Icann has already been adding suffixes one by one, in advance of the big bang it envisions. Most recently, it approved .xxx for sexually explicit sites. With a few exceptions, however, marketers prefer .com over other extensions, like .web, .net or suffixes that represent a specific country.

The .xxx extension appears to have had little support from the pornography industry, and its approval prompted dismay in political capitals around the world, including Washington and Brussels. The government advisory council, which monitors Icann and its independent board, had previously voiced concerns.

Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission, wrote in a letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke of the United States that the introduction of .xxx could create unexpected consequences, perhaps prompting censorship-minded governments to block entire portions of the Internet.

In a response, Lawrence E. Strickling, an assistant commerce secretary who is responsible for Internet policy, agreed, but added that the Obama administration did not think it was “in the long-term best interest of the United States or the global Internet community for us unilaterally to reverse the decision.”

The fact that Icann has ruffled feathers in Brussels and Washington, among other capitals, is not necessarily a bad thing. At a time when governments all over the world are taking a greater interest in what happens in the digital world, the Internet needs an independent guardian and Icann is one of several groups that play an important role in this regard. But it may have to pick its fights carefully.

Ms. Kroes wrote in an e-mail that she continued to support the “multistakeholder” approach to Internet governance, as embodied by Icann. But she said that the board of the organization should be “extremely sensitive to the views of public authorities” as it proceeded with projects like the expansion of Internet addresses.

“Overall, I am concerned that certain public policy issues, which are of great importance to the economic and social well-being of European citizens and businesses, have not been taken into consideration by the Icann board as much as they would deserve,” she said in the e-mail, sent via a spokesman.

Source: New York Times

New Client – Northern Capital Management

Northern Capital ManagementHansen Web Design is happy to announce our most recent client – Northern Capital Management of Madison, Wisconsin.  Northern Capital Management is a locally owned investment advising firm serving Madison’s individual and institutional investors since 1979.  They are having us redesign their site utilizing the latest cascading style sheet technology for cross-browser compatibility and fast loading.  We will also be working with them to perform focused search engine optimization for their target investors.

New Client – Prairie Metallurgical Products & Prairie Industrial Products

Prairie Metallurgical ProductsWe are happy to announce our latest client, Prairie Metallurgical Products and Prairie Industrial Products.  While these are two separate companies, they have the same owner.

We will be developing WordPress sites for both of these companies in order to target their customer base with specific search engine optimization (SEO) while at the same time allowing the client full flexibility in the management of these two websites.

New Client – Southwest Surveying & Associates

Hansen Web Design is proud to announce the addition of our newest client, Southwest Surveying and Associates, of Palmyra, Wisconsin.  Southwest Surveying & Associates, Inc. is a land surveying firm providing services to Dodge, Jefferson, Waukesha, Walworth and Rock counties.  We will be designing a new WordPress platform site for them to highlight their services and concentrate on search engine optimization.

The Browser Wars and How They Affect You

Browser WarsAt Hansen Web Design we monitor and test web sites in multiple browsers every day, so we need to keep track of what’s happening with the various browsers out there – how they handle basic HTML code, CSS, operating systems – anything that will affect the look and feel of your website.  It’s important that you keep track too – why?  Not just for the reasons we track them, but for another very important reason – speed.  We want your websites to load fast and design them that way to the best of our ability, but you can help things along by using the latest and “right” browser for your needs.

Tom’s Hardware has been tracking the latest round of the browser wars and has completed a superb review of the latest versions of Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera, FireFox and Safari.  The results might surprise you!

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