TagTech Topics

Cloud Computing is on the Horizon

Author’s Note: This article is part of a Tech Topics column I write for a small print publication focused on helping small business owners become more comfortable with technical topics.

Cloud Computing is similar to how it sounds. Instead of keeping your data on hard drives inside computers at your office. It lives up in the “Cloud.” What is the Cloud? It is a generic name given to remote servers that host and maintain applications and data. And it can be a real asset to your business.

Instead of worrying about storing and backing up all your business data at your office, the cloud gives you peace of mind that comes with the benefit of backups and redundancy unlike anything you could do in-house. The hallmark of a Cloud Computing application is anything you use without having to install any software on your computer or smartphone. Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail and the email provided by your ISP are all examples of Cloud Computing applications.
Similarly, Netflix Instant, the video streaming service they offer is another example. You do not have to download the movie to your hard drive then watch it. The video file lives in the Cloud, managed by Netflix, and for a price, you have access to that file.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Dropbox. This service changes the way people use and manage files. The service is deceptively simple. Once installed and registered with the web site, it will place a folder on your Mac or PC. Your “dropbox” is just what it sounds like. You can place anything there you like. Only instead of living on your computer it will first be backed up to the web site, where it will be accessible from anywhere you have an internet connection.

Second, if you install Dropbox on more than one computer and login to the software, it will keep the two folders in sync. Additionally, the service will keep backups and previous versions of all the times in the dropbox. This is especially important as it relates to mobile devices.
Enough talk about clouds, what does it mean to you and how can it help you out?

Apple is bringing Cloud printing to the masses with AirPrint. Their technology piggy backs off Bonjour, their zero-configuration printing technology for Macs and PCs. AirPrint only works with a very limited number of HP printers but more support will be expanded in the future. The idea is simple. If you’re on an iPhone or iPad and there is a printer connected to your wireless network that supports AirPrint, the iPhone/iPad will locate it, install a driver, and allow you to print, all with no effort on the user’s part. The technology is still young but once it becomes more mainstream it will make printing from Apple’s mobile devices as simple as sending an email.

Not to be left behind, Google also threw its hat into the ring with Google Cloud Print. Similar to Apple’s small offering, Google Cloud Print only works in Google Chrome browsers and only on a Windows operating system. However, the idea is equally as simple. Go to the options in a Chrome browser, sign in to your existing Google Account to use Cloud Print and suddenly you’ll have access to any printer installed on the Windows PC from Gmail for Mobiles devices, Google Docs and the Chrome OS operating system Google is currently beta testing.

Google is pushing this technology quickly because of its upcoming Chrome OS operating system because the entire thing is one big web browser. There is no underlying operating so everything must work within a browser.

Never far from the printer scene, has HP had an entire ePrint initiative going. HP has taken a slightly different route by assigning its printers with ePrint a unique email address where the applications designed to work with it, will send the file to that address and the printer will then print it. The real benefit here is the print can be used from anything that can send an email.

So far it is only the ePrint printers which Apple’s Airprint works with. HP also promises direct support for Google’s Cloud Print. In the future, the current requirement of Google to have a printer connected to a Windows PC to work will be erased. HP’s purchase of Palm and the Web OS mobile platform will be particularly exciting as HP has announced a new line of Web OS smart phones and tablets and you can bet they will all be capable of printing.

The days of a mobile phone or tablet needing a PC or Mac to print are gone. Gone are the days of worrying about print drivers and PPDs. Gone are the days of worrying about whether a manufacturer had made a drive for your particular device. In the coming days, the barrier to print will be erased on Apple, Google Chrome OS, Android and HP/Palm devices. Microsoft is lagging behind with no system in place but you can bet they’ll get on board in the coming months. Though, Google’s current system relies on a Windows PC to operate so they’re not totally out of the game.

These are exciting times for printing in the mobile world. As phones and tablets become smarter and more business travelers adopt them instead of laptops, the ability to print from them will be in increasing demand.

Instead of clients walking in with laptops, in the very near future they may walk in with an iPad or other tablet with Dropbox installed. They’ll be able to pull their presentation or contract out of the cloud and print, without using a computer.

The Cloud is not all beautiful sunsets and safety nets. Giving up control of your data to someone else can have its problems too. The latest high-profile incident was when Google lost 150,000 Gmail accounts back in February of this year. This isn’t even the first time Google has had problems with losing customer’s mail. A similar event took place in 2006 though on a much smaller scale.

I don’t mean to pick on Google, as T-Mobile and Microsoft had one of the biggest meltdowns when they lost all data from users of the T-Mobile Sidekick back in late 2009. The Sidekick is different from a normal cell phone in that it stores all of your data, contacts, photos, etc in the cloud instead of on the device itself. When a server error took down the Sidekick servers, all of the customer’s data went with it.

Similarly, there have been security issues with the cloud. With Gawker Media being hacked in Dec 2010 and their user’s passwords leaked and even Etsy.com, an online marketplace for crafters and artists recently exposed the purchases of its users. Just as with all technologies, there are trade-offs to be made. There are a ton of benefits to Cloud Computing but it is not without its risks.

Getting Started with Social Networking for your Business, Part II

Author’s Note: This article is part of a Tech Topics column I write for a small print publication focused on helping small business owners become more comfortable with technical topics.

In this second part of our article on social networking, I answer several questions about how to establish your prescence on Facebook and Twitter.

I understand that you need a personal Facebook account before you can set up a business account. The business account is in some way linked to the personal. Is that correct?

If you have a personal Facebook account, you can use that account to create your business page. If you set up the business account from your personal account, you will be able to interact with friends and family through the personal account and still have the ability to maintain your business page. There is a procedure for creating an account for business use only, but you will not have the usual level of interaction with others that a Facebook account provides. It is probably best to create a personal account, and then set up your business account from there.

Keep in mind that your personal page and the business page are separate from each other. If you decide, after creating a business Facebook account, that you’d like to interact with people on Facebook, there is a “Create your profile” link on the top of the business account. After clicking, Facebook will ask you for additional information beyond the email address and birth date required for the business account creation. Facebook does not allow one person to maintain multiple accounts.

To create a business account, go to this page, which will walk you through the process. Facebook has created a Frequently Asked Questions page, to assist with initial setup and getting started questions. Scroll to the bottom of the page for Business Account specific information.

Someone mentioned that if a business has 25 or more friends/followers (or whatever the terminology is) they can get a shortened Facebook address (username) with the business name. Any ideas on this?

When a business account is first setup the URL will be http://facebook.com/pages/YourBusinessName. Once your page has 25 fans you can claim a username for your page. The username becomes your new URL. In Facebook terms, a fan is a person who goes to your page and clicks the “like” button. For instance, if you to go http://facebook.com/coke you will be redirected to Coca-Cola’s page. On the very top of the page it says Coca-Cola with a Like button. Click that button to become a fan of Coke. The same applies to your business page. Once 25 people have become fans, head over to http://facebook.com/username and select a name for your page. If you get an error saying you’re ineligible, it most likely means you do not have 25 fans yet. Be advised, it is possible to change your username but you can only do so once so choose wisely.

Once I have a page setup, how can I get people to visit my page? Mashable (a site offering news and information about social and digital media) offers a good, basic guide to getting people to visit your page here.

I’ve read that Twitter has put out a helpful guide for business users. Where can I find this guide?

Facebook is pretty straight forward for anyone who remembers their old high school or college face books. Twitter, on the other hand, can be a confusing and scary world of short messages and weird symbols. Thankfully, Twitter has put together a comprehensive guide for businesses that want to use Twitter. It is located at http://business.twitter.com/twitter101. This guide will walk you through everything from getting started and learning the lingo to best practices and case studies. This will help you determine if Twitter is right for you. While in most cases, Facebook is right for just about anyone, Twitter is a little trickier. This guide will help you decide if Twitter can help your business, and will help you decode the jargon on Twitter.

Getting Started with Social Networking for your Business, Part I

Author’s Note: This article is part of a Tech Topics column I write for a small print publication focused on helping small business owners become more comfortable with technical topics.

You can’t walk down the street or visit a web page without seeing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace or some other site calling for your attention. Like it or not, social networking is here to stay. The World Wide Web is evolving; it started out similar to traditional media with a broadcast style. Someone would post information on a website; others would read it with limited interaction.

Now, the web is evolving into a far greater social experience. The social web is a two-way street. When you talk to your customers, they can talk back, for better or for worse. The old broadcast style is losing out to conversations. This can be great for your business. Instead of talking at your customers and hoping they hear you, you can now talk to them and the feedback you’ll get will tell you whether your message is working.

Social Networking is not hard. In most cases, it requires an email address and five minutes of your day. The real difficulty is how you use your social networking presence. Just as everyone can put up a web page, everyone can set up a Facebook account or Twitter feed. Driving your customers to them is the challenge.

How do you get people there? You engage them. Remember, the web is a conversation. Have a friendly tone. Remember yo’re talking to people, not at them. Run offers and specials for those who see your page. Give people a reason to keep coming back. You have an opportunity to capture their attention like never before. In the case of Twitter and Facebook, if a customer chooses to “Like” or “Follow” your page, every time you post they will see it in their stream of other updates.

The effectiveness of your social media marketing depends entirely on how well it’s planned. Creating a Facebook page or a Twitter account doesn’t guarantee results. You have to put a public face on your company. Make yourself likeable. Provide value to your customers. For instance, if you’ve recently had a large job canceled with an odd color or size of paper, let your customers know. “50% off all prints on lime green paper. Supply limited, get it until it’s gone!” Demoing a new machine? Tell them about it! “See our new XYZ 1000 demo, save 20% on color prints using the new machine. One week only!”

Just as you would in traditional advertising, you should give people a call to action. Get them into the store and keep your current customers up to date with new savings or machinery announcements. Where you’d never run a print or radio ad about having 5,000 sheets of lime green stock from a canceled job, you can post to Facebook about it for free, and a bargain-hunting customer could take it off your hands quickly. Social networking gives you the freedom to reach out to your customers in ways they may not have previously expected, and the connections you build with it can benefit you both.

Some thoughts on Internet Security

Author’s Note: This article is part of a Tech Topics column I write for a small print publication focused on helping small business owners become more comfortable with technical topics.

It’s not a glamorous topic. When you hear the words Internet Security, the first thing that pops into your head is probably viruses, spyware, phishing and other tribulations of the Internet.
However, there is another type of internet security you should be aware of, and that’s security for your web site. We have recent reports of two sites that were defaced or hacked in some way. Unlike the image you see on the news, of the elite hacker sitting for days engineering a secret way into web sites, both of these problems could have been easily prevented with a few minutes of time and a little attention.

First, create a good password. This goes for passwords to your server (FTP or File-editing access), passwords to your email, and passwords to your web software, like an online ordering system. I’m not saying you have to make the password look like “Th1SizAg0OdP@s$w0Rd” but also don’t make them “password” or “CopyShop” or your company, spouse, pet, or child’s name. Birthdays are also a very common source of passwords. The idea is not to make the password so difficult you will never remember it, but also to make it hard enough that no one would be able to guess it with a few minutes of trying.

Second, keep your software up to date. If you are running a content management system (CMS), online ordering system, or shopping cart of any type, make sure it is up to date. New releases of these applications often contain security fixes to help keep out would-be intruders. While this may sound daunting, many modern web applications like these have simple update links to click and they will update automatically. Similarly, many web hosts provide a “1-Click” update functionality. Of course, if you’re working with a company to provide your web site then they should already be taking care of this for you.

Third, keep a critical eye. This is not so much a tip as just a warning to remain vigilant. Often times, intruders gain access to systems not by hacking them by guessing passwords, or exploiting flaws in software, but by “social engineering”. Social engineering is a fancy word for trickery. One of the more common forms is a fake email pretending to be from a trusted source such as a friend or colleague, a paper or supply vendor, a large retailer like Amazon, or even your bank. The purpose of these fake emails is to direct you to a web page that mimics the look of the actual page and getting you to enter your username and password so they can then turn around and access your accounts without your knowledge.

A good rule of thumb is that if something looks suspicious, it probably is. If you get an email about a recent order from amazon.com that you never placed, or a note from your bank about a large purchase you don’t remember making, don’t click the link in the email, as it is most likely going to redirect you to a fake site. Go to your browser and type in amazon.com or YourBanksName.com. If you have any question, a call to customer service is a surefire way to verify the authenticity of the message.

All of these are simple things you can do to save yourself hours of headaches and repair work should your website or server become compromised. The moral of Internet Security really is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.