This week sees Royal Mail increase the cost of a first class stamp from to 44p to 60p in the largest increase it has ever made. A second class stamp will rise from 34p to 50p, also up 14p (and therefore 39%). It is unclear how Royal Mail expect to reassure the general public that an increase of this magnitude is justified, especially considering usage of the service has already dropped off from 84 million items being handled by Royal Mail per day to 25 million in the last five years. With the closure of thousands of local post offices and the loss of the early morning delivery, is this another echoing clang of the final nail being driven home?
As always, we need to consider the impact on business users. For a small business sending, on average, 35 letters per week, the annual cost of postage will rise from £618.80 to £1092. Scale up the amount of letters sent and the figures get scary. If you send, on average 100 letters per week your costs will rise from £1768 to £3120 per annum. In effect you will be paying more for a lesser service.
So, should this be the push we all need to go paperless? More and more businesses are reducing the amount of paper they use in their offices and this could be the incentive we need to go one step further. If you aren’t already using email as your main form of contact then WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! Save yourself money and time and come gently into the new century, it won’t bite.
The cloud storage space is now feeling a little more cramped as the big boy of the web sidles in for a piece of the action. Announced yesterday, Google Drive aims to tempt over those enamoured of the likes of Dropbox by offering server space to store your files. Other than the fact it’s backed by the web giant the other benefits Google is touting are integration with their other services such as Gmail and Google Docs. One very interesting differentiator is the ability for 3rd parties to use an API to access Google Drive through Chrome browser apps. This allows these 3rd parties to effectively write a web based file system that ties into Google’s Chrome browser and ecosystem. Clearly Google has been learning lessons from Apple’s vertical integration methods.
By signing up you can get 5Gb for free and the paid upgrade offerings are priced very competitively in comparison to Dropbox among others.
Of course as with all things there are grumblings from the side lines the most major of which are concerns over privacy. After all, what is to stop the big G from having a quick peek at the files you are storing on their servers and add to the profiles they are cheerfully building up on you. All the better to show you more targeted ads. Others more amusingly point out that this all sounds rather like Gdrive, Google’s cloud based storage system which was, according to Steven Levy’s book ‘In the Plex’, shelved after lobbying by a certain Sundar Pichai. Strange indeed then that the very same Senior Vice President of Chrome & Apps is the one making this very announcement.
The recent upsurge in retailers offering contactless payment is set to rise further if figures from Visa are to be believed. Their predictions suggest that the number of contactless terminals will rise to 150,000 in the UK during 2012. That is a rise of 50%.
Busy retailers like McDonalds are increasing the number of stores with contactless payment facilities in a bid to reduce queuing times and with giants such as Tesco, WH Smith and Waitrose set to follow suit, will payment the ‘traditional’ way become a thing of the past?
London 2012 is set to be the first Olympic Games run on contactless payment, and you will soon be able to pay for your bus fare with a wave of your hand.
Barclaycard’s latest offering on the contactless payment front is ‘PayTag’, a stick-on credit card which attaches to any item such as your phone or wallet and can then be waved at a terminal to complete payment. In an effort to speed up the drudgery of queues, payment can be made without PIN verification in cases of transactions under £15.. It comes with 100% fraud protection guarantee in a bid to calm fraud fears.
So, could this be the future? How do you feel about it? Are you sold? Are you left feeling cold?
I’ve just got used to chip and PIN so I’m keeping contact, for now at least.
One area lacking from the CodeIgniter feature set is user authentication. This is a feature fundamental to a huge number of standard web applications, be they globe-spanning social networks or a shop front for a local business. Indeed, the majority of sites that allow any kind of user experience customisation will at some point require assigning users a username and password to allow these features to be utilised. Many sites, both global and local, now use social media connections to provide authentication which enable users to interact with the application without the need for creating a new account to maintain. This approach has the added benefit (or detrimental consequence, depending on your world view) of allowing an application to potentially interact with more of the user’s data already available through their social networking activities, creating a more personal experience. Believe it or not, however, not everyone is on Facebook, and as such the current online landscape dictates that there must be a way for users to create an account in a web application with nothing more than their email address.
From a development point of view this means having a robust and reliable authentication system is a regular requirement. CodeIgniter doesn’t attempt to fulfil this need whatsoever and the inherent silver lining in that decision is that it helps to preserve the CodeIgniter mission statement of “maximum performance, capability, and flexibility in the smallest, lightest possible package.” There is no half-hearted effort to introduce a feature to CodeIgniter which has been deemed, rightly or wrongly, as non-critical and thus risk compromising the integrity of the framework.
The cloud to this lining, therefore, is how best to implement this functionality.
Not surprisingly, we’re not the first ones to ask this question. A discussion on Stack Overflow spanning over 3 years has hammered out the finer points for us and directly resulted in the creation of a new authentication library built upon comments and recommendations from the thread. This library is called Tank Auth.
Tank Auth is a rock-solid, fully featured user authentication library for CodeIgniter. Functionality includes user registration, activation, password reset and captcha support for new users and login, logout, logging and credential management for current users, all based on a well-defined security model that integrates smoothly in to the CodeIgniter core. This is a great solution to our authentication requirements that can easily be hacked in to shape for specific requirements.
Whilst everything that is present works well, it does still have a little way to go. Account profiles (as opposed to mere account credentials) are included but not implemented in any useful way. There is no ‘role’ management or user differentiation built in. And, as with the rest of CodeIgniter, there is no backend provided whatsoever.
That’s next on our list.
The issue has raised its head on a bug opened on the official Github Bootstrap repository wherein Bootstrap is described as not working with JSMin, minification software created by Douglas Crockford. Commentators say the issue could easily be resolved by adding the semi-colons. Crockford himself comments on the thread, his opening gambit being, “That is insanely stupid code. I am not going to dumb down JSMin for this case.” Lines are drawn, sides taken and insults thrown around.
However Ruby developers are also seen as San-Fran livin’, fixie riding, floppy haired hipsters with giant egos who are more concerned with image that substance. Developers who are concerned with making code “beautiful”, as if programming were a medieval art like glassblowing or being a blacksmith. People who wear T-shirts proclaiming them to be “Code Poets”; programming Lord Byron’s. It is unsurprising then to find that Bootstrap is the output of Ruby developers.
The bug has now been closed with no resolution and a lot of acrimony, the debate will, we are sure, continue.
Sorry to sound bossy, but if the content hasn’t been updated on your website for a while, make sure you do it now!
The reason for my urgency is the latest update from Google. This mini amendment to the search engine’s algorithm is rooting out out-of date or spammy content. This means that if you haven’t updated the content on your website for a long time, you may see your keyword rankings drop, or even disappear altogether.
Before you panic at this news, it’s important to remember that Google (usually) makes updates that benefit the user – i.e your customers. No customer wants to read outdated content on your site, so why should Google rate your site if your copy is old?
The most successful websites add fresh content regularly, so you should therefore get into the habit of updating your content often. The easiest way to do this is to start a blog and write posts regularly. This doesn’t have to be a huge job – just a couple of paragraphs weekly would be a good place to start. You can talk about anything you like – industry opinions, company news, new orders, business trips etc – just make sure it’s relevant and well written.
As part of your content overhaul you should also re-write the text on your homepage and about page (plus any other pages that have text present). I have lost count of the number of websites I have seen that display the names of long-gone members of staff, old addresses; or information about an event that happened years ago! Make sure you amend these details as soon as they happen to keep your website fresh and relevant for your customers – and Google will be happy too.
So far we’ve established that CodeIgniter is simple to install, streamlined to develop and efficient to host, but what do we actually get with this package? There are two main areas of functionality provided by CodeIgniter that form the core of its existence: classes and helpers.
Firstly, classes. We are provided a whole heap of pre-built class libraries to help build a back-end that can easily deal with common situations. These are essentially a compilation of well written and thoroughly tested functions designed to simplify the tasks most web-facing applications will require somewhere in their repertoire.
As an example, dealing with user input is notoriously laborious in web development. Collating form data, validating the input, removing malicious entities and formatting the results is the bane of any productive day. However, using the form validation class provided with CodeIgniter is, by comparison, trivial. It allows us to ensure user input is safe and present when required and, coupled with the email class, allows us to quickly generate emails to send back to the user. We can allow file uploads and zip them, we can manipulate images and generate thumbnails and we can keep this all in session data for authentication or displaying errors and notices. The database class ensures we can keep a permanent record of this data easily too, and throughout this whole process we haven’t written a single function of our own.
On the front-end CodeIgniter provides us with a selection of helpers. These are a series of functions designed to literally help with the creation of an interface. Continuing from our scenario above, the form helper can dynamically create text boxes and file upload forms and even populate them with session data or previous input. We also have helpers to format text, HTML, dates and URLs and CAPTCHAs to help us retain our humanity. A full list of CodeIgniter’s classes and helpers can be found in their user guide.
Don’t be fooled by this simplification of CodeIgniter’s rich feature set. Due to the fundamental nature of the framework a certain level of technical knowledge is required to shape CodeIgniter in to something useable – this is not the point-and-click-and-blog service you will find with the likes of WordPress. But nor is it designed to be and the “right tool for the job” axiom is just as appropriate in web development as any other profession. Similarly, there are a few gaps in the CodeIgniter arsenal and we will take a look at these next time.
The favourite whipping boy of programmers everywhere has once again taken its licks in a blistering blog article titled PHP: a fractal of bad design. While no stranger to lengthy lists of its shortcomings the latest attack is a cavalcade of issues that the language suffers from. Apart from the vigorous nodding in agreement, debate online has centred on the most pertinent of questions, “Why would a programmer use this abomination of a language?”
PHP is not universally held in such low regard. It is, for the web layperson looking to dip their toe into the world of development, an easy and forgiving environment which allows them to peruse a few tutorials and have a basic site up and running in almost no time at all. By just creating a text file adding a bit of code, changing the extension to .php and uploading to a web server you can instantly create a site. Skimming a few more articles will have you connecting to a database and proudly running a “real” website. Besides it’s used on some of the largest websites in the world such as Wikipedia and Facebook, they must know what they are doing so it can’t be all bad right?
Detractors would point out that enabling amateur web developers to throw together sites will almost no idea of what they are doing is a recipe for disaster. While the site they produce may indeed work, in the eyes of a developers it is only in the most tenuous sense possible and will most likely be riddled with security holes. When such code bases are inherited the amount of refactoring require means that almost none of the original code will be kept. As a developer you will have to view PHP code that will likely leave you bug eyed in disbelief. For the language itself the bizarre rules of equivalence, the inconsistencies in everything including the standard functions will likely drive you mad. The avoidance of any discussion of parameterized sql statements in the official documentation in favour of telling you to escape your strings is insane. The list goes on and on.
So why use PHP? Simply there is no viable alternative if you need to be able to host your site almost anywhere. Other languages require software stacks and web specific frameworks to run a site, ensuring you will need to have knowledge of more than just the language used. The site produced will probably have to run under Fast CGI on a server resulting in less than grand performance. PHP in contrast is ubiquitous and supported by pretty much all web hosts. It is unavoidable if you are to be a web developer and you will need to know the language even if it is not to be your primary skill. Even then your job most likely will be using PHP given that easily 80% of development jobs will use it.
To know PHP’s shortcomings is to be able to avoid them. You do not need to program in the Cargo Cult, copy and paste method used by beginners. There are a variety of frameworks now available that take care of the boilerplate and require you to structure code with a separation of concerns. While PHP is forgiving when used poorly there is no reason you cannot code in a correct manner following best practices. Doing so will help raise the awareness of these issues with potential developers and allow them to avoid the mess of spaghetti code that has come before. When used with a framework such as Codeigniter PHP becomes almost pleasant to use, but maybe that is the Stockholm syndrome speaking.
The Easter break is looming and that means a long weekend – hooray! If like me you’re making the most of this and taking an extended holiday, the last thing you’ll want to worry about is looking after your blog and social media accounts.
Luckily there are simple things you can do to make it easier to run your accounts during your down time and keep things ticking over whilst you are tucking into your Easter eggs.
The key here is preparation – make sure you plan any blog posts or social media campaigns early so that you’re ready to roll come Good Friday.
- Write any blog posts before you go away. Most blogs (WordPress and Blogger included) have a schedule function, so that you can set a date and time for your post to show.
- Consider linking your blog to your Twitter and Facebook account. This will then automatically alert your followers to a new blog post.
- Go mobile using your smart phone and tweet or post to Facebook on the move.
- Try Twitter scheduling software to post tweets for you automatically. Hoot Suite and Tweet Deck are popular choices.
You could also see the Easter break as an opportunity to get creative with your social media accounts. For example, a virtual Easter egg hunt using your social media accounts could be a way to engage followers during the holiday.
Whatever you decide to do with your social media accounts – eSterling wish you a Happy Easter!
Last month, I shared my thoughts about paying for search engine results with you. We established that the answer to the question ‘Is everyone paying for search engine rankings?’ was yes, yes and thrice YES.
So how on earth is Google currently using its great algorithmic capability to work out search engine results?
I am not going to list every factor for three reasons:
1) I want to concentrate on a big factor here, rather than fill 135 pages and bore you readers rigid!
2) I probably would run out of breath (and brain power!!) to list them all.
3) I don’t every single factor of the algorithm and it’s weighting – nobody does, not even the team at Google!
One thing is for sure, I don’t always agree with the way that the Google algorithm works when it comes to one particular element – links. Google’s official guidelines mention that links should not be bought, or sourced from spammy sites.
However, in practice the opposite often applies…
- The website with the greatest number of links is ranked highest – IMO this is WRONG
- The links do not have to be from a relevant site – IMO this is EVEN MORE WRONG!
This shows that links can be bought easily and utilized to help rankings, despite Google saying that they should not be bought. So does Google have any real way of finding out? – I DON’T THINK SO