Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Robot Writers: Can They Replace Human Creativity?

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

robot-penHave you read anything on Wikipedia lately? If you’ve come across entries on the world’s largest online encyclopedia that seem a bit stilted, like they could have been written by a robot—there’s a chance they actually might have been.

A bot program called Lsjbot, written by Swedish university administrator Sverker Johansson, is able to write up to 10,000 Wikipedia entries a day. Many of the bot’s entries are about either animal species or small towns in the Philippines, but Lsjbot has been incredibly prolific so far with more than 2.7 million articles posted on the site—or about 8.5 percent of total entries.

Lsjbot isn’t the only robot that’s written Wikipedia articles. The rambot, a U.S. based bot program written by Wiki user Ram-Man, began “writing” entries about U.S. county and cities in 2002. Rambot’s first entry was Autaugaville, Alabama. And rambot is just one of the 1,647 Wikipedia bots currently listed as contributors, both active and inactive.

Is this the beginning of the end for human writers?

Robots and writing sophistication

As technology has advanced, software programs have been developed that allow for vast amounts of data to be gathered, filtered, matched, and placed together in particular ways. This includes the English language. In fact, bots are used to generate a significant volume of news reports, including by the Associated Press—they can quickly turn a set of facts into a readable news story, and are available to “write” at a moment’s notice.

However, most experts don’t see robots as replacements for human writers. Instead, these writing bots can be relied on as efficiency tools, generating routine content such as financial reports or breaking news summaries. This frees up human writers to focus on more in-depth, emotionally charged content.

Kris Hammond is the founder of Narrative Science, a service that uses the Quill writing bot platform to provide narrative reports for businesses. Hammond recently claimed that by 2025, 90 percent of the news the general public reads will be generated by robots. However, he explained, “That doesn’t mean that robots will be replacing 90% of all journalists, simply that the volume of published material will massively increase.”

Can robots beat the real thing?

Writing robots are increasingly sophisticated, and some are able to produce copy that’s practically indistinguishable from human writing. And of course, they’re faster and more efficient. But are they better?

Human readers can breathe a sigh of relief, because while robots may become copy workhorses, there are many aspects of writing that a robot author simply can’t accomplish. Robots can’t get creative—they can only work with the resources they’re given. Robots can’t draw emotional connections or infer meaning. Robots can’t be subtle, or funny, or conversational.

So as long as people demand entertaining, interesting, and emotionally meaningful content, human writers will get to keep their jobs safe from the robot revolution.

5 Great Tools Google Offers for Freelance Writing Businesses

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

These days, any small business looking to succeed must have a functional, stable website. But for busy freelance writers and other small business owners, creating and maintaining a website can sometimes fall to the bottom of the to-do list—in fact, nearly half of small businesses don’t have a working website.

This is a huge mistake that will cost you business. Andrea Faville of Google says that up to 97% of U.S. searches performed on the world’s largest search engine are for local goods and services. If you’re not online and findable, with a user-friendly and intuitive website, you’re missing out on the #1 way your customers are looking for you.

Fortunately, Google wants to help small businesses succeed. They offer a number of tools and features that enable you to compete with larger companies and establish a strong, customer-friendly online presence.

Free website builder, web hosting, and more

Google maintains a website called GYBO.com (Get Your Business Online) for small businesses. Here, you can register a domain name, create a great-looking and functional site with easy-to-use website builders, and have your website hosted online—all free, for up to a year.

GYBO.com also offers a series of free, interactive video tutorials that cover everything from the basics of getting a website up and running to creating mobile-friendly websites, and much more.

Affordable, real-time document creation and collaboration

With Google Apps for Business, you can create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations; access your files from anywhere; share and collaborate in real time; and get email addresses for your domain—all for as little as $5 a month.

This service is an affordable and feature-rich alternative to Microsoft Office, which provides the same functionality—and in some cases, better features—for a lot less. And what small business wouldn’t want to save money?

Hang out with your customers online

Making personal connections with customers is crucial to boosting conversion rates. Google makes that easy with Google+ Hangouts for small businesses. You can place free one-on-one or group video calls to talk with key customers, hold team meetings for geographically diverse staff, offer seminars and Q&A sessions, and more.

Improve online marketing strategies with analytics and trends

With so much data flowing across the Internet, analytics are critical to online success. You need to know things like how many visitors your site attracts, where they’re coming from, what they’re looking at, and what makes them leave—or what converts them to customers. You can learn all this and more for free with Google Analytics.

For further improvements to your marketing campaigns, look to Google Trends (also free), where you can search trending terms over time and apply them appropriately to your strategies.

Showcase the quality of your small business

It can be hard for online customers to distinguish reputable businesses from not-so-great ones. Trust and a good reputation are essential for any small business, especially online. Google can help you gain consumer confidence with their Trusted Stores program.

A Trusted Stores badge from Google assures visitors that your website will provide them with a great experience. To qualify, you’ll need to have good customer service, shipping rates, and online reviews for your business. You can apply for a Trusted Stores certification here.

With so many powerful and free tools from Google, it’s almost impossible for your small business website to fail. Which features will you sign up for? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

5 Easy Website Builders for Your Small Business or Freelance Site

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Building your own WebSite!

A recent small business study from Yodle revealed some startling findings: 52 percent of small businesses don’t currently have a website.

What makes this so surprising? Not only is a website an essential tool for marketing any business, but there are plenty of easy-to-use site building tools, ranging from inexpensive to free, that make creating a professional-looking website a snap.

If you’re not happy with your current freelance or small business website—or you don’t have one yet—take a look at these full-featured services to find out if one of them is right for you.

SnapPages

This DIY website builder comes with a drag-and-drop page editor and a large library of website themes and customizations—colors, fonts, typography, and more. There’s also a sizable collection of social plugins and an integrated blogging platform.

Cost: Free for limited pages and file storage with SnapPages branding; $8 per month for a Pro account with a personal domain, extra features, and more.

Squarespace

Designed especially for businesses, Squarespace comes with a 14-day trial that includes a free domain. A user-friendly interface allows you to add pages, customize font and colors to match your brand, and integrate an ecommerce store. There’s also a full blog platform, social media integration, analytics, a built-in mobile website, and more.

Cost: Starts at $8 per month, up to $24 per month for fully integrated ecommerce, advanced options, and unlimited features.

Jigsy

At once website builder and content management system, Jigsy has a drag-and-drop editor for simple page creation, and unique designs with mobile-friendly templates. Blogging, photo sharing, drag-and-drop ecommerce, and more are included.

Cost: Free for a single website with advertisements and limited storage. Ad-free Pro memberships with unlimited features and storage are $8.25 per month.

Wix

This free website builder comes with a huge library of slick, professional website templates, and many selections that are designed with types of businesses in mind—restaurants, sellers, service providers, consultants, and many more. The drag-and-drop editor allows integration with a wide range of web apps for social media and comments, online stores, email marketing tools, live chat, and more.

Cost: Ad-supported Wix websites are free, with ad-free plans starting at $8.25 per month.

WordPress

Perhaps the most popular platform for building websites, both WordPress.com and WordPress.org offer fully featured website tools that include practically everything you’ll ever need for your site. For those who lack technical skill, WordPress.com is often the better choice—it’s an easy drag-and-drop interface with premade templates, while WordPress.org is a platform that requires a domain host (though the platform itself is just as easy to use).

Cost: The WordPress platform is free, and there are hundreds of free templates to choose from. While free domains are WordPress branded (yoursite.wordpress.com), you can purchase a personal domain through WordPress starting at $18.00 per year. There are also premium templates available for a one-time fee, typically starting at $75.

 

5 Backup & Disaster Recovery Tips for Your Small Business

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Smart Women Mousepad

As summer winds to a close, your business faces an increased risk for data loss from seasonal storms, power outages, and a general increase in activity that can lead to human error. Now is a great time to review your backup and recovery plan—and make sure you have good habits in place to protect your data.

These five tips will help ensure that you’re covered in the event of data loss or disaster.

  • Check your defenses. Effective, up-to-date anti-malware programs and firewalls are an important part of an overall data backup plan. Make sure that all of your work machines—including any mobile devices that are used for business purposes—have the latest definitions and security updates.
  • Automate your backups. If you don’t have one in place already, set up a system that will automatically back up all of your data on a periodic basis. Good choices for small businesses are cloud-based backup solutions like MozyPro (starts at $10 per month) or Carbonite Business (starts at $229 per year).
  • Run periodic tests. Make sure your backup and recovery system is working by periodically recovering an important file and testing it for validity—make sure it still opens, contains the right data, and can be edited and saved. You can also use an alternate hard drive to test a full-system recovery.
  • Stick to proven brands. In technology, there’s something to be said for a recognizable brand name. Your backup plan is useless if you’re storing data with a cloud service provider with weak security, or on hard disks that are easy to break or corrupt. If you’re considering a new brand of backup hardware or software, ask for opinions from other businesses who have used it before you commit.
  • Keep a full remote backup. Whether it’s a cloud storage service or a few terabytes of external hard drive, make sure you have at least one full set of data stored off-site. If you need to keep a backup hard drive onsite, invest in a heavy-duty, fireproof safe to store it in.

Your small business backup plan is essential for keeping you up and running. Take the time to test your plan today!

Yahoo Trouble: Why This Search Engine Has Not Taken Off As Planned

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

For those who can remember the early days of the Internet, mainly the 1990s, there was a different class of leaders when it came to activity on the World Wide Web. Online enthusiasts were greeted in their email inbox by AOL’s iconic “You’ve Got Mail,” and television commercials touted search leader Yahoo! with men on mountain tops shouting “YAHOOOOO!.”

Those days seem like a distant memory for both of these companies, but Yahoo’s fall from grace has been much more staggering than that of AOL. There was a time and place when Yahoo was the most visited page on the web, an achievement made possible by the company’s vision and early adoption of the move from newspapers to online news. So what happened and why is the new CEO, Marissa Mayer, a constant topic of conversation?

Lack of Vision

As mentioned, Yahoo dominated the early days of the Internet in terms of traffic, because the company was at the forefront of the shift in news reporting and readership. As print newspaper began to decline, Yahoo was there with full online reporting and easy reading for millions. However, that same vision was not able to see or accept the next shift in web browsing.

While millions of web surfers still access the Internet from in-home providers like www.satelliteinternetdeal.com/, an ever-increasing percentage of the population is accessing content from across the web on smartphones and tablets. Mobile devices, and social media, are changing the way web browsers access, view, and interact across the web.

Rather than adapt again, embrace the mobile culture, and move toward greater integration with social media, Yahoo chose to dig in its heels and keep cranking out the same style of content it had for years. This lack of vision and an unwillingness to change led to a rapid downfall.

Turnaround Efforts

When it became apparent that Yahoo’s downfall couldn’t be reversed, much less leveled off, the company went through about 18 months of tumultuous transitions and overhauls. In late 2011, CEO Carol Bartz was fired and replaced by former PayPal CEO Scott Thompson. Board leadership was overhauled, attempts to embrace the mobile culture were made, but none of it seemed to make a difference.

At the heart of the problem was Yahoo’s inability to attract ever important online advertising dollars. Google’s AdWords machine is the epitome of success in today’s search world. AdWords generates billions of dollars in revenue for Google each year and attracts an equal number of visitors to its website.

The real turnaround may not have really begun until June 2012 when a young, savvy businesswoman was plucked from Google headquarters to lead the charge at Yahoo. Marissa Mayer, a former executive at Google, was hired as CEO of Yahoo—and after a year in charge, has had quite the impact on Yahoo. But her tenure has not been without controversy.

Enter Marissa Mayer

Mayer had been an instrumental player in the growth, expansion, and dominance of Google during the early 21st century and the expectation was that she’d be able to raise Yahoo from the dead. From the moment she arrived on the scene, however, she was embroiled in a controversy of a personal nature.

Upon her arrival at Yahoo, it was simultaneously announced that Mayer was pregnant. Almost immediately, critics and supporters lit up blogs across the web, either singing her praises or denouncing her. From that point on, her every move was subject to scrutiny, including:

  • Her decision to take two weeks of maternity leave and then return to work, leading many to question to her work/life priorities
  • She built a nursery next to her office at work, while also ending Yahoo’s telecommuting  policy for employees, bringing further scrutiny of her priorities
  • The expansion of maternity leave to 16 weeks and paternity leave to eight weeks brought mostly praise
  • An expansive acquisition program that many labeled as destructive to employee morale

Her personal life choices aside, Mayer has led a major overhaul of Yahoo’s business approach, with some 20 acquisitions during her one-year tenure. The latest and largest was Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr for $1.1 billion in June. While many of Yahoo’s acquisitions of have been mobile-oriented purchases, none have yet had the impact of reversing Yahoo’s fortunes.

In the end, Mayer’s moves have been the sort of aggressive approach Yahoo needs if it’s going to recover from a nearly decade-long free-fall. Most critics have had positive views of Yahoo’s acquisitions to date, but more needs to be done to reverse the company’s fortunes in full. At some point, in order to overcome or even make a dent in Google’s dominance, the company must address its woeful value in the eyes of advertisers.

This guest post is from Ryan Hugo, a business analyst. He frequently shares his insights about the tech industry on business blogs.

 

3 Cool Things You Can Do with Gmail

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

A lot of small businesses use Google’s Gmail for their business accounts. Gmail is free, it sounds professional enough (more so than Yahoo or Hotmail, anyway), and it comes with plenty of useful features like filters, forwarding and POP/IMAP, chat, the ability to link several accounts, and integration with Google Docs.

But there’s more to Gmail than most people realize. Here are a few great features you might not know about.

Send a text message

Using the Chat function, you can send SMS text messages to your Gmail contacts. To enable this, go into Settings and click on Labs, and then search for SMS in Chat. Click on Enable and save your settings.

Then, to send a text:

  • Enter the name of your contact in the “Search, chat, or SMS” box on the left side of your inbox (you must have the Chat feature on to see this).
  • In the options box that appears, select “Send Text (SMS)”.
  • Enter the phone number you want to text in the dialogue box and click Save.
  • In the Chat window that appears, type your message and hit Enter. The message will be sent as a text.

Automatically file your attachments

It’s a pretty common practice for many people to just leave messages with attachments in their inboxes, so they can find them again. Unfortunately, it’s not a good practice—because you have to search for them every time you need them.

The attachments.me add-on for Gmail can help you get organized and save your attachments to a better storage platform. You can set up the service to automatically copy your incoming attachments to the cloud service of your choice, whether you use Google Drive, Box, SkyDrive, or Dropbox. And if you don’t use cloud storage, attachments.me lets you see all the attachments in your Gmail inbox in thumbnail form, and sort or search them quickly.

Organizing incoming mail with labels

If you’re not already using Gmail’s labels to filter your email, you’re missing out on the biggest selling point for this platform. It’s an easy way to categorize messages, show you what’s important at a glance, and find the information you need fast.

To filter with labels:

  • Click on “More” in navigation pane to the left of your inbox
  • Scroll to the bottom and click “Create new label,” and enter a name for your label
  • Find and open an email that represents what you want to filter, such as messages from a specific client, or a daily status report
  • From the “Reply” dropdown box, select “Filter messages like this”
  • Click on “Create filter with this search” and choose the label you created

Now, when similar messages arrive they’ll be automatically labeled—and you can just click on the label in the left navigation pane to see only those messages.

Are you getting the most out of your Gmail account?

Does Your Alexa Ranking Matter?

Monday, July 29th, 2013

One of the main goals for any small business involved in online marketing is to increase traffic to their website, blog, and social media pages. Of course, it’s important to measure and analyze traffic, and that’s why many marketers use Alexa to gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns.

But should you worry about your Alexa ranking? If your small business website’s AlexaRank is somewhere in the millions, should you be working on improving your numbers—or are there better ways to improve your online visibility?

What is an AlexaRank?

The Alexa Traffic Rankings are a widely accepted authority on website traffic levels. Alexa.com computes these rankings on a daily basis, using a combined measure of page views and users, or reach. To arrive at the Alexa ranking, these two numbers are averaged over time, using the prior three months of traffic data.

So, your website’s Alexa ranking reflects both traffic levels and the number of unique visitors you receive.

Top Alexa ranked sites

Alexa monitors web traffic for sites all over the world, and refreshes its list of the top 500 global sites every day. The current top 10 websites by AlexaRank are:

  1. Facebook
  2. Google
  3. YouTube
  4. Yahoo!
  5. Baidu (the leading Chinese search engine)
  6. Amazon
  7. Wikipedia
  8. QQ.COM (the leading Internet service portal in China)
  9. Windows Live
  10. Taobao Marketplace (the leading online shopping destination in China)

It’s interesting to note that three of the top 10 Alexa ranked websites originate in China—the country with the biggest population in the world. India is the second most populated country, and the United States is third.

What this means for your small business website

Your AlexaRank can serve as a rough indicator of website traffic, but improving it shouldn’t be the focus of your online marketing efforts. As a small business, it’s more important to focus on traffic quality over quantity. Getting the right people to visit your site will be more valuable than having a lot of visitors.

Potential exceptions are businesses that rely on advertiser revenue as a primary profit stream. Alexa Rankings are important to advertisers, and you can charge more for ad space on your website when you have a high AlexaRank.

So if you’ve been frantic over improving your Alexa ranking, you can relax. Focus on building quality traffic through content marketing and good SEO practices, and your online marketing strategy will succeed.

Square for Small Business: Take Your Money and Run

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Obama taking donations via Square mobile payment system

Whatever kind of small business you’re running, the ability to accept credit and debit cards will net you more customers and faster payments. But merchant accounts can get expensive, with per-transaction fees, monthly minimums, and equipment leasing costs all taking a bite out of your profits.

Enter Square. This ingenious little plastic dongle attaches to your iPhone, iPad, or Android smartphone, and lets you swipe customer cards anywhere for on-the-spot payments. Created by entrepreneur Jack Dorsey—whom you might know better as the inventor of a little social network called Twitter—Square is easy to operate, and a lot more cost-effective than merchant solutions.

The accessory, called the Square Reader, plugs into your device’s headphone jack and syncs with the free Square Register app to process payments. The reader itself is also free. You’ll pay only 2.75% per transaction, which is lower than most merchant solutions, with no additional fees and next-day deposits.

Any type of small business, from babysitters and dog walkers to consultants and retail stores, can benefit with Square. It’s simple and straightforward, and you’ll never miss another opportunity to make a sale when you’re carrying a register in your pocket.

3 Great Cloud Storage Options for Small Business

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Cloud storage can be a real lifesaver for today’s small business. The flexibility of being able to access and share your files from anywhere with a connected device is invaluable. With cloud storage, you can work on projects whenever you have a few spare minutes, easily share content with your staff or clients, and quickly pull up the information you need—all without having to run back to the office when you need to look something up.

There are hundreds of cloud storage platforms to choose from, but not all of them will be right for you. These three cloud services offer the right blend of features and pricing for any small business on the go.

Box

A big service with a little name, Box delivers cloud storage solutions and more for small business. In addition to secure online storage, you can organize files into folders, collaborate virtually, set permissions for viewing and access, transfer large files quickly, and access the app from any platform. Box also offers additional features for business, including a sales portal and secure Deal Rooms for virtual meetings and transactions.

What does it cost? Box is free for single users with up to 50 GB of storage, and business plans for three to 500 users with 1000 GB of storage cost $15 per month. There is also a 14-day free trial available.

Google Drive

This storage solution, paired with Google’s popular productivity suite, is ideal for small businesses—especially those already running Gmail. Google Drive fuses Google Docs with cloud storage, so you can save, share, and collaborate in real-time on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

What does it cost? The first 5 GB of storage are free. If you need more space, you can pay $2.49 per month for 25 GB, or $4.99 per month for 100 GB.

Microsoft SkyDrive

Like all other Microsoft products, this cloud storage solution is a strong choice for Windows-based users who are running MS Office. Microsoft SkyDrive offers excellent integration with the Windows operating system, particularly Windows 8 and the Windows Phone platform, because it syncs not only files and folders, but also apps and system/device settings.

SkyDrive is also available for Mac, iOS, and Android platforms as a straight storage solution with Office integration.

What does it cost? SkyDrive gives everyone with a Microsoft account (formerly called a Windows Live ID) 7 GB of free storage. For more storage, the annual (not monthly) cost is $10 for 20 GB, $25 for 50 GB, and $50 for 100 GB.

4 Reasons Websites Underperform

Friday, July 12th, 2013

How To Check Website Google Rankings

For a small percentage of businesses, websites are stairways to riches—but for most companies, they are little understood entities that result in poor search engine rankings, little or no visitors, disappointing sales, and weak interaction. To surpass the fierce online competition, companies must deploy a well-rounded website marketing strategy.

Is your website failing to deliver? It could be due to any of these five common reasons:

You treat your site like a brochure.

Successful websites aren’t static sales documents–they are dynamic, ever-changing entities. Unlike a brochure, your website must constantly improve and change as your business evolves. Use it to document new and exciting services or products. In addition to text content, you can add video, audio, infographics, blogs, polls, reports, books, and much more.

Keep your website fresh with new content. A website with outdated content will get ignored, or even downgraded, by search engines. Websites that are frequently updated are considered valuable. You can never have too much content or too frequent updates.

You don’t tell stories.

People love good stories—and every business has one, even yours. Websites with compelling narratives are excellent reputation builders. Tell stories about how and why you started your business, or about the services or products you offer. Share customer success stories. When you share your story, you not only showcase your personality, but you also invoke emotion and foster loyalty.

You underestimate the importance of mobile compatibility.

Mobile Internet usage is skyrocketing. If your site is not mobile optimized, a large number of prospective customers will be unable to view it. A mobile-friendly website enables prospects to browse and interact with it on a screen as small as a few inches. It is realistic to expect half of your site visitors to use a mobile device to view your website. Mobile compatibility is no longer just another cool feature to have – your site can’t succeed without it.

You ignore the power of SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

For many small businesses, advertising is out of the question. You can save money by optimizing your website for relevant search phrases. Unique, value-adding content is a solid foundation for good SEO. Search engines reward websites that are frequently updated with new content. For example, a web designer could have a collection of articles dealing with website design topics. If you are a web designer in San Diego, relevant keyword phrases like “San Diego web designer” and “San Diego web designer” should be included on your website.

Making updates is a complicated process.

The easier it is to make updates, the more likely they’ll happen. The easiest website platforms are known as CMS (Content Management Systems). Some of the most common are Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla. The CMS enables you to make content updates in a matter of minutes, without help from your web designer, so you have full control over your site. A website that’s frequently updated is rewarded by more visitors and higher search engine rankings.

This is a guest post from George Meszaros, the CEO of Webene, a San Diego web design company.