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Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers 
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Post Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
Getforum.org would like to introduce you to our Exclusive Whitepapers we will have everything from how to make a profit for your forum to your blogs to your website also exclusives on security and everything in between.

You can NOW find all of our NEW Whitepapers at:
http://webmasterhelpexchange.phpbb24.com/blog/
PLEASE JOIN US FOR OUR INTERACTIVE BLOG.

Every sunday night we will still update our Exclusive Whitepapers on the support forum.

We thank you for being a member of getforum.org

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Sat Apr 18, 2009 7:36 am
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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
Blogging for Profit
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

Web professionals should be using blogs for one purpose — to make money.

Blogs pave the road to profit by building brand awareness, driving traffic to websites, promoting products and services, and attracting new readers. And throughout this article, when you see the term "readers," think "customers." Because really, they are one and the same.

Blogging for profit doesn't just mean selling to consumers from Web pages, although that is one way to earn revenue. Look at your blogs as crucial extensions of your brands and products. It involves using every possible method to reach out and turn readers into customers. It's about defining your role, finding an audience, and paying close attention to the needs and wants of your visitors, to ensure the sustainability of your business.

But before spending hours developing a theme to your blog and writing posts, you need to find where you will have the biggest impact with readers.

Finding Your Space in the [Blogoshpere]
All great blogs have one thing in common: They define a niche through its readers. Whether you're just starting a blog or have an existing blog as part of your business, it won't be truly effective unless it meets the needs and wants of those who visit. Unless you can pinpoint your audience and identify what matters to them most, and what drives them to convert, your blog will become a fractured experience. You want every post to address some topic relevant to the readers. Within that framework is where you can get creative and develop your style to separate your blog from your competitors.

A good place to start is by finding blogs that are similar to your own (or your idea) and doing a little research. Find popular blogs in your industry, competitors included, then see which of their blog posts have the most user comments. This is a good sign of the posts of the most interest to its readers. Look for common themes, wording and ways the blogger addresses the audience to determine your potential readers’ preferences and expectations.

Once you have a grasp of your target audience and what your competitors are doing, it's time to think about your blog's style and structure. Do you need a three-column blog or two? Should you choose a style with lots of pictures and graphics, or a more Spartan approach? Will your tone be conversational, or more professional?

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Compete With Data
Compete.com lets you see website traffic numbers for up to five websites, even subdomains by signing up for a free account. Find 10 blogs in your industry and use Compete to find the 5 with the most traffic. These are the ones to target for your research.


These are important questions because the answers will affect the type of and availability of advertisers and, ultimately affect your profitability. If you write a business blog, a graphicheavy style with an edgy font and a casual tone might deter serious advertisers with deep pockets. On the other hand, if you cover lighter material, a sterile site with no real flair might be viewed as out-of-touch with the intended audience. You want to stand apart from the competition, but you also want potential readers and advertisers to feel comfortable that you know the industry and your audience.

Making Your [Blog Earn]
Keeping an effective blog takes serious work. There are posts to be written, keywords to be researched, and fires to be extinguished. All that work should be rewarded. And done right, you can reap the benefits.

It all starts and ends with good content. That’s what matters most to search engines and readers alike. And the money follows the readers — both in advertising dollars and consumer spending. Of course, there is no end to a discussion on writing quality content. For now, let's focus on dollars and cents.

The three most common areas to earn on a blog are on the page itself, within the blog posts and through supporting products and services. To get the most from your efforts, you’ll need to address all three.

Quote:
Compete With Data
Compete.com lets you see website traffic numbers for up to five websites, even subdomains by signing up for a free account. Find 10 blogs in your industry and use Compete to find the 5 with the most traffic. These are the ones to target for your research.


These are important questions because the answers will affect the type of and availability of advertisers and, ultimately affect your profitability. If you write a business blog, a graphicheavy style with an edgy font and a casual tone might deter serious advertisers with deep pockets. On the other hand, if you cover lighter material, a sterile site with no real flair might be viewed as out-of-touch with the intended audience. You want to stand apart from the competition, but you also want potential readers and advertisers to feel comfortable that you know the industry and your audience.

Making Your [Blog Earn]
Keeping an effective blog takes serious work. There are posts to be written, keywords to be researched, and fires to be extinguished. All that work should be rewarded. And done right, you can reap the benefits.

It all starts and ends with good content. That’s what matters most to search engines and readers alike. And the money follows the readers — both in advertising dollars and consumer spending. Of course, there is no end to a discussion on writing quality content. For now, let's focus on dollars and cents.

The three most common areas to earn on a blog are on the page itself, within the blog posts and through supporting products and services. To get the most from your efforts, you’ll need to address all three.

Quote:
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em
If you simply don't have the time or resources to maintain a profitable blog, consider seeking out other bloggers in your industry and proposing a joining of the forces. It's possible that some other bloggers will be open to the idea of pooling resources and visitors to form one super blog to serve a wider audience and lessen the burden on the individual bloggers. You will lose some control, but in the long run it could turn out to be a profitable venture. Sometimes alliances are needed to defeat the Goliath's of the world. And as duplicate content becomes less of an issue on the Web, you can still keep your own blog while driving traffic to the group effort.


Earning on the page
Your main blog page will be part of your template, where elements of the page will be carried over to every other page and post throughout the blog. And the most common way to earn revenue on your page is through advertising. This can come in the form of Google AdSense (pay-per-click) or display ads. ValueClick and Tribal Fusion both have an extensive network of advertisers who are matched with bloggers for the best chances of conversion. Alternatively, you can solicit ads directly from an advertiser.

Another option is run-of-site advertising. If you successfully carve out a niche for your blog and have the readers to back it up, you might find an advertiser interested in paying handsomely for every bit of ad space you can offer. This can be tricky, however, as it requires a commitment from an advertiser to the website, its content and the author. It also means that your advertising revenue could dry up at any given moment, should the advertiser decide to cancel. To consider run-ofsite, an advertiser will want to be sure they are reaching the appropriate audience. Therefore, have analytics and any and all reader demographic data readily available.

E-mail subscriptions offer an excellent way to send targeted offers. Consider an e-mail signup box in a prominent position on your page. Feedburner (now owned by Google) has a free e-mail collection service. Any e-mail service provider (ESP) will offer ways to collect and manage subscriber data. And if you’re willing to manage the data on your own, Best Contact Form and FormSpring both let you set up forms to collect names, e-mails and demographics which you can then import into your CRM. By default, when a user subscribes to your blog, you already know they are interested in your subject matter. The next logical step is to make offers strongly correlated with your regular content and the user’s demographic data.

If you feel your content is strong, consider exclusive content and paid subscriptions. One way to entice users to pay for content is to offer snippets of material found nowhere else on the Web, then request a payment to read the rest. The WP-Membership plugin allows WordPress publishers to require payment to see all or some content on the blog, while the RSS Post Editor plugin forces feed registration to view additional content. If your audience capitulates, it’s a nice way to build your e-mail list.

Earning in the Posts
There are many possibilities to earn revenue within your blog posts. One of the more effortless ways is by engaging in text link advertising. These advertisements are embedded in the text itself, popping up when a user hovers over a linked word or term within your post. When the user clicks on the ad, the advertiser is charged and you earn a portion of the advertising fee.

For advertisers, text link advertising offers a highly targeted opportunity. These systems are designed so that ads match the words and the context of the particular post. For publishers, this offers a way to get many opportunities for clicks while conserving screen real estate. To take full advantage of text link advertising, publishers need to use the most relevant keywords to the subject in the post.

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Boast About Your Network's Reach
An extended online network is more important than ever, and advertisers are aware. Don't be afraid to tell advertisers how many Facebook friends you have, Twitter followers or Digg friends are in your network. The longer your reach, the more chances for your advertisers to benefit.


A good way to find the right keywords is to use a keyword suggestion tool. Enter the terms associated with your post and you will see other, possibly more relevant terms users are searching to find your subject. By including these keywords, you have a better chance of being matched with a good text link advertiser, and therefore a better chance of a paid click.

The downside of text link advertising is a perceived burden on the reader. While supporters say it provides relevant, informative links and products to the readers, detractors claim that it’s distracting and gives a spammy appearance to a blog. The only way to know for sure is by knowing your audience and testing. In general, the higher your PageRank, and the more profitable your sector (traditionally credit cards and mortgages), the more success you will have with text link advertising. Two providers in the market are LinkWorth and Kontera.

Another possibility in line with text link ads is to earn through affiliate links. One of the easiest methods is by using Amazon’s Associates program. This is a way to suggest products to your readers within the context of your posts. For example, if you're writing a review of a book (that is relevant to your readers, of course) you can link the title of the book in your post to the book’s product page on Amazon. If a reader clicks the book title in your post and buys from Amazon, you earn a percentage of the profit. Even if they don’t buy — and don't clear their cookies — a later purchase will be credited to your account. Beyond Amazon are opportunities with other affiliates and vendors that, while requiring more time and effort, can offer higher revenue shares.

A third opportunity exists with the entire content of your posts, in the form of sponsored content. Sites like ReviewMe and PayPerPost have a network of advertisers that will pay bloggers to write about their products or services. If you decide to use these services, it is of the utmost importance that your readers are aware of the paid-forcontent arrangement. Otherwise, you risk a mutiny. Not only will you lose further paid content opportunities, but you will suffer a devastating loss of readership that will affect your revenue potential site-wide.

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Essential Gear - Flip Mino
If your blog isn't incorporating online video in some regard, you're quickly falling behind. No matter your subject matter, there is room for video, be it an interview or a how-to. The Flip Mino is a small, lightweight and affordable solution. It takes one hour of video. The software is Web-hosted where you can edit video, take still shots and save it to your hard drive. Plug in the camera via USB and your video can be uploaded to YouTube in minutes with the click of a mouse, then quickly embedded in your blog. The Flip Mino can be purchased at TheFlip.com for $179 and an HD version sells for $229.


Earning wth Supporting Products and Services No blog is an island. It’s an extension of your idea, brand and overall business. There are opportunities for every blogger to earn revenue outside of their page and it starts with the heart of your blog — its content.

Creating quality content is hard work. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours writing a great blog post, only to see readers ignore it after a few days, weeks or months. The longer you blog, the more content you amass. Chances are, before long you will have enough content to fill a book — or several. Blurb.com gives publishers a free download to take content directly from your blog and lay it out into a book format for publishing, starting at $4.95. Lulu.com is another publishing option, and offers a wide range of services from editorial help and distribution services, to formatting for devices like the Kindle.

As you write your posts, take note of important topics, or those that are just scratching the surface of a greater issue. These are prime candidates for heavy research and eventual white papers. Depending on the breadth of your research and content, you can choose to charge a premium for these studies, or offer them to affiliates to sell through their websites and networks. If nothing else, they can be distributed through various channels, creating an extended branding reach and SEO benefits, or used as a way to force registration and create new leads.

You might even find that as you write, an opportunity arises for an entirely new blog. Platforms like WordPress, TypePad and Drupal allow you to open new channels almost immediately. A new blog is a way to expand your expertise, reach a new audience without alienating current readers, and even cross promote your products. Many big brands start entire websites to promote one particular brand or product. At under $10 for a domain name, it’s a cost-effective way to run a campaign, or test the waters with a new idea.

Finally, take the opportunity to sell supporting products to your readers. Amazon’s aStore offers a way to incorporate a fullblown retail aspect to your blog with no upfront fees. Sign up and select the products you want to include in your store. You can write your own descriptions, change the colors and presentation of the store then embed all of it in a separate page of your blog. You get the advantage of an endless supply of products that matches your blog’s look and feel, and a revenue stream without ever handling a product. The consumer gets custom product selections relevant to their interests and the security of shopping through a trusted retailer.

Expanding Your [Reach]
Basic SEO efforts will go a long way to extending you blog’s reach and maximizing potential profit. Creating sitemaps and submitting them to the search engines, keyword optimization, linking strategies and many other techniques will help. But you also need to reach out to readers where they connect to the Web.

Social networking has come to affect every user’s life in some way or another. There are specific blog networks like Technorati and MyBlogLog, but increasingly blogs are making their way to wider reaching social venues. Facebook recently acquired NetworkedBlogs, where users can search through hundreds of blogs and add the content as a widget to their profiles. NetworkedBlogs claims over 400,000 users on Facebook. It’s also a good idea to get involved with social sharing sites like Digg.com, and Mixx.com, and bookmarking sites like Delicious.com. While these sites can be beneficial, they can also consume a large portion of your time, so make sure to keep your focus on your blog’s content. You might also consider some paid advertising to promote your blog to readers. It might not fit every blogger’s budget, but if you have the resources, advertising can get your blog noticed. Google AdWords is a standard avenue, but there are other options like advertising through StumbleUpon, and Facebook can place your ads to a highly targeted audience.

Blogs have evolved from online diaries to essential business tools. Use you blog to inform readers, extend your brand and make new contacts. But at all times and through every step of the way, use your blog to profit.

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Sat Apr 18, 2009 7:49 am
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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
Searching Behind the Curtain: Diving Deeper into Multi-Channel Analytics.
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

Do you really know how your search marketing efforts directly impact your overall online initiatives and business goals? Are you confident that you are properly allocating your online marketing resources across channels?

For many marketers, it’s not always crystal clear. Web analytics is definitely foundational, but measuring marketing metrics in narrow silos leads to missing valuable, big-picture insight that could change the way you invest your budget.

Overall business goals should serve as your destination, and the metrics and analytics can be viewed as the directions to help get you there. Without a good analytics strategy, you are essentially running aimlessly in the dark. When multiple channels are involved in your online marketing strategy, it is essential to ensure that all channels are working toward a common goal or set of goals — all paths leading to the final destination.

Even more important, it’s not just about what you measure, but what you do with the data. When you clearly identify your goals and align all marketing channels, it’s easier to see what’s working, what’s not, what areas need improvement, and quick fixes that can boost performance across channels.

To accomplish our ultimate business goals, the focus needs to move beyond simply counting clicks and their sources. Each lead and every source of traffic needs to be analyzed to see where to best spend our time and resources. This process involves taking our analytics data and weaving it into the very fiber of our business models.

DIVE DEEP DOWN THE FUNNEL

If you are only looking at clicks (number of clicks and/or the costper- click), time on-site, or on-site conversions (including cost-perlead or conversion rate metrics), it’s time to evolve. Not all leads are created equal. Two leads might bear the same cost to acquire, but that doesn’t mean they will perform equivalently well further down the sales funnel.

For example, one of our business-to-business clients was spending $110,000 per month with Google and other search engines, with its campaigns well-optimized based on cost-per-lead metrics. However, at the end of the day, many of the leads they received were unqualified. They didn’t move further down the funnel into quotes and, ultimately, sales.

After a few changes to their metrics process — namely, implementing post-Web analytics by tying the data into its CRM to gain access to a deeper data set — we were able to move the focus down the sales funnel to the quotations-issued level. This simple step resulted in the release of 43 percent of previous AdWords and other search engine marketing spending. They were then able to reallocate that money to other marketing channels and online campaigns. At the same time, the company experienced a 21 percent lift in software sales from the remaining AdWords campaign.

This example highlights the fact that optimizing marketing efforts with analytics can be a great step toward more efficiently reaching the overall business goal. Additionally, with extra marketing dollars, this company was able to focus on optimizing other channels and revenue streams.

IMPLEMENTING POST-WEB ANALYTICS

Plenty of hype surrounds post-click analytics, but much of it is just that — hype. Savvy marketers have been looking at bounce rates, click paths, lead scoring and multiple conversion streams for several years now. What’s far more exciting than post-click marketing is post-Web analytics.

This means integrating your Web analytics system into your sales force automation system (if you’re working on generating leads) or into your CRM system and customer database if you’re an e-commerce power. In other words, run your Web campaigns based on something more akin to the total expected lifetime value of a customer, rather than a guess on what a Web form or first e-commerce sale might be worth. In our experience, the clients we have taken just one step down the path of “post-Web” (for instance, managing Google campaigns on a keyword / category level to cost-per-qualified lead, rather than cost-per-web form), typically change the way they spend money online by as much as 45 percent.

Start by creating custom fields in your CRM system

(Salesforce.com, SugarCRM, etc.) for the information you want to capture. And remember, only measure what matters. Next, add hidden fields for each of these variables to all lead forms on your site. The hidden fields will pull information about the visitor from cookies, eliminating the need for you to ask the question, how did you hear about us? Of course, you will want to test all your forms to ensure the process is working and that they are easy to understand and be completed by your visitors.

Finally, process the data. Put the data captured from Web analytics into the custom CRM fields. You can then use this data to optimize paid search spend. Use it to integrate relevant keywords into your SEO efforts and optimize press releases. Also use it to determine the offers that your customers are most interested in, and then make sure you are offering the same thing across all channels.

USE ONLINE DATA TO INFORM MULTI-CHANNEL CAMPAIGNS

For many businesses, a great number of conversions happen in the real world, not online. Use what you learn online through your marketing and post-Web analytics strategy to inform offline campaigns. What works well in e-mail might also work with direct mail. Successful online video spots can be expanded into television ads. Do you get a lot of clicks on a particular banner ad? That eye-catching ad might make a good billboard or print advertisement.

Search is one of the most measureable marketing channels available, giving you invaluable insight into your customers’ wants and needs. However, the sheer amount of data you can capture from search campaigns can sometimes be a pitfall for marketers who are overwhelmed by information overload. This is where goal-setting is so vital to the success of search analytics.

Paid search is perhaps the best online source to shape offline campaigns because it can help uncover the keywords and benefits that resonate most strongly with your target audiences. But it doesn’t stop there. By keeping an eye on the origin of your clicks, you can even discover new audiences and sources for leads. Your ads might be getting clicks from a corner of the Web you never considered a part of your target audience. By exploring these sources you can then dig deeper and find the portals where that particular audience spends their time on the Web, even offline, thereby opening new channels of exposure for your brand.

One of the biggest advantages of today’s online tools is the power to integrate multiple layers of data. By taking advantage of these systems you will find not only the channels that offer the best return on investment for your business, but entirely new areas of expansion and profit.

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Sun Apr 19, 2009 3:14 am
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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
Using Disclosure to Avoid Deceptive Internet Advertising Claims.
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general across the country have made it clear that businesses using advertisements considered to be misleading or deceptive will be subject to stiff penalties, including big fines.

The Three P’s
First and foremost, you must be certain that all claims made in your advertising materials are truthful and substantiated. For example, clinical studies that support health and beauty product claims are necessary. This will often require disclosures in your advertising, and those disclosures must be presented both clearly and conspicuously. To that end, the FTC advises advertisers to consider the following three factors, which you can think of as the “three P’s”:
1.) placement of the disclosure in the advertisement;
2.) proximity of the disclosure to the applicable claim; and
3.) prominence of the disclosure.

In connection with these factors, you should consider:
1.) whether the design of the advertisement draws attention away from the disclosure;
2.) whether the advertisement is so long that it requires repetition of the disclosure; and
3.) whether the disclosure is easy to understand.

As far as the first two “P’s,” placement and proximity, you should ensure the disclosure appears directly adjacent to, or close to, the relevant claim. That said, like many disclosures on television and radio, these can be lengthy; requiring consumers to scroll down to view the entire disclosure. In those cases, you should use explicit instructions regarding the need to scroll down, as opposed to a general statement, such as “see below for details.”

Hyperlinks may be used to communicate some disclosure information. However, any disclosures that are an integral part of a claim or inseparable from it, such as additional costs that apply to a transaction, should be placed directly next to the applicable claim.

Where consumers are able to purchase goods or services via the website on which you are advertising, you should never rely solely on a hyperlink to communicate pricing information. All pricing information, including any additional costs that may apply, should appear directly above the submit button. In addition, you should provide information, or access to information above the submit button regarding how the consumer’s data may be used by you and your business partners. To this end, it is important to communicate to consumers that by clicking the submit button, they are providing their expressed, informed consent to your disclosed billing and privacy practices.

Further, you must be careful when using the word “free” in connection with the product or service being advertised. Be sure that all terms, conditions and obligations upon which the free offer may be contingent appear in close proximity to the offer presented in the advertisement.

Regarding the third “P,” prominence, the onus is on the advertiser to draw the consumer’s attention to the disclosures. Be sure it does not get lost within the rest of the advertisement. The important thing to remember is consumers should not have to go out of their way to hunt it down. To avoid this, you may need to repeat the disclosure.

Be aware that simply providing a disclosure may not always be enough. The average consumer must be able to fully understand the terms of the disclosure. To accomplish this, use simple and easy-tounderstand words and sentences. If consumers are unable to understand what is being disclosed to them, the entire advertisement may be considered deceptive.

E-Mail Disclosures
Advertisers that use e-mail marketing are subject to additional deceptive advertising laws. The federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, as amended, sets forth specific requirements that must be followed when advertising via e-mail, as well as penalties for those who violate the statute. Under CAN-SPAM, the use of false or misleading header information is prohibited. In other words, you must indicate the identity of the sender in all e-mail marketing messages.

Additionally, your subject line should accurately reflect the products or services advertised in the e-mail. Clearly and conspicuously identify the e-mail as an advertisement, provide a valid physical postal address for the sender and provide consumers with a mechanism for opting out from the receipt of future commercial e-mail.

Please note this is only a brief overview of some of the legal issues surrounding deceptive advertising on the Internet. Remember to obtain guidance from a licensed legal professional prior to developing and publishing online advertising.

Quote:
Getforum.org recommends that you do not spam any of your members and always watch the three p`s

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Sun Apr 19, 2009 3:27 am
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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
Beauty in the Beast: The Paradox of Ugly, Successful Websites
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

Powerful brands grow out of breakthrough ideas, sticking to a singular vision to achieve great success. And sometimes these brands excel despite a naïve design aesthetic. The authentic promise of a brand whose product is so good it doesn’t need design has been around for decades in the world of consumer goods. In many ways, the dismissal of design lends itself to the legitimacy of the product.

Prominent Web brands like Google, eBay, craigslist, and Wikipedia sidestep the expected visual vernacular of the marketplace, or ignore it all together. They defy current branding convention by focusing on function rather than emotions. Their leaders come from technical backgrounds where engineering and information technology are everything, while brand, marketing, and design are afterthoughts. And yet, in the world of business, their brands succeed.

Other online services go so far as stripping away all the traditional trappings of a brand — logos, messaging, color and imagery — to pure text and content. Instead, their beauty comes through in simple, clear access to information.

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So why does it work, and what can we learn?


From Product to Phenomenon
The perception of a good product usually relies on good design. But when your product is great, users readily forgive poor design.

Google, one of the best Internet products today, is a good example.

The classic version of Google’s home search page has maintained its Spartan aesthetic which, since its inception, has reinforced Google’s “geek” quality. Backed by phenomenal product performance, the geek, academic image has helped build Google’s reputation for comprehensive and fair search results.

Overall, Google rarely seems to be consumed with design. Google News is simply two columns of headlines, article briefs and traditional blue hyperlinks.

Google Reader, as with any RSS feed, takes content from other sites, strips away branding and design, and delivers readers nothing but the customized content to which they have subscribed. But both content delivery systems are effective because of the product — quick delivery of easy-to-consume, relevant and timely information.

Google does have one key design element, however. And although it’s a point of engagement with user, an artist without a graphic design background designed the Google logo. Dennis Hwang, Google’s webmaster in 2000 and untrained artist, began designing festive logos for holidays as requested by Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Would any other well managed brand, like Nike, Apple, GE or Coca-Cola ask their webmaster with a knack for doodling to redesign its corporate logo for special occasions? It’s extremely unlikely.

This is just one way Google has changed the rules of branding on the Internet. It had the vision to follow its original plan and, to this day, offers an Internet experience not cluttered with thousands of links and sales offers, as seen on AOL, MSN, Yahoo!, Ask.com and other search options. It has been able to turn its geek look into a credible differentiator in the marketplace — and it works so well because it’s backed by stellar product performance.

Experience is everything
Ensuring a successful user experience at every touchpoint is key to any brand’s success. And despite being a visual eyesore, craigslist delivers a beautiful experience.

Everyone remembers their first craigslist moment — a lease was signed, a job landed, or someone’s junk becomes a coveted treasure. All because of a 21st Century bulletin board with the power to aggregate almost anything you desire from your local community and beyond. And it all happens through a bare-bones website managed by a handful of people who simply don’t seem to be concerned with making the site interface attractive.

The beauty of craigslist is in the experience. Conceived by founder Craig Newmark, the site’s objective is to facilitate transactions among users — and that’s all. Newmark has been said to have little interest in maximizing profit, instead preferring to help users simply find what they want and need.

As such, craigslist has emerged as a powerful anti-brand. No fancy logos, marketing budgets or ad campaigns were needed to build the brand into what it is today — an established presence in 450 cities in 50 countries with a rumored revenue of more than $80 million in 2008. And it’s this down home, get-what-you-want experience that has set craigslist apart from other online and offline competitors, and keeps it growing every day.

The Straight Story
Wikipedia founders Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales envisioned an online encyclopedia that anyone could edit. And through its evolution and success, Wikipedia snowballed into a place for democratically summarizing the world’s information on its way to becoming the 7th most highly visited website today.

Wikipedia is a marvel of innovative thinking and backend design. However, it’s no visual masterpiece. From a branding perspective, the core visual components are an odd conglomeration of elements that don’t often gel.

The bookish look of the black, white and grey design certainly speaks to the academic nature of the content. But the design of navigation, portal and discussion pages, while simple, seem like afterthoughts. They can often be confusing and cluttered.

In addition, the peculiar puzzle piece/ globe symbol is less of a logo than it is an illustration. It works to reflect the patchwork nature of the product but poorly expresses easy access to scads of multilingual information.

Yet, despite the strange navigation and peculiar look, the brand thrives because of the driving story behind it. It’s one of the best places to get unbiased information to fulfill our curiosities. The quirky visual nature of the site and lack of visual brand elements reinforces the focus on the information. At the same time, it creates a distinctive Web experience that helps differentiate Wikipedia from other sources of online information.

Pioneers of the past
A decade ago, Internet startups were booming. Thousands of entrepreneurs spent millions of dollars developing the latest and greatest online technologies and services with little thought to design and branding. The focus was product development, speed to market, and the hopes that the site would be in demand.

However, as history has shown, many of the early pioneers were lost in the dot-com bust. But the survivors continue to focus primarily on product, leaving design and brand as an afterthought.

Take eBay, for example. The site was created in a utilitarian way and it grew at a rapid pace. This growth was fueled by continuous functional innovation, with little attention to overall design or structure — and rightfully so. Why slow down product development teams to focus on design when your stock price hinges on how fast you grow? This early focus on product development has remained with eBay throughout the years.

The look of eBay is not particularly elegant. The site features oversized navigation buttons and links in random places. Overall, it’s a chaotic visual experience. Unlike craigslist, Wikipedia or Google, eBay has gone through many site redesigns, but all focused solely on the product, not the aesthetic. The eBay logo, comprised of compressed and condensed letterform (always a no-no by typographic standards), won’t win any design awards. But the chaos and lack of design sense of eBay all seem to work in its favor. It lends credibility to the brand, reminding users that it has survived the growing pains of online business.

Despite its lack of focus on design, eBay’s history also helps set it apart from newer competitors. It has been around for ages and will continue to be for years to come.

Design credibility
When all is said and done, some of the world’s greatest online brands have been able to throw caution (and design) to the wind because they have a key element that drives their brands to the top. Whether it stems from a truly phenomenal product, an exceptional brand experience, a clear story or vision, or because they’re simply industry pioneers, it’s clear these brands are exceptional. Yet, they’re also the exception.

So when does design become essential for the rest of us?

Nearly all the best global brands invest heavily in their aesthetic. They know design and brand experience are key to driving their businesses. Many of these brands have existed for decades. And most do not exist solely online — a key difference between them and the online brands previously mentioned.

However, some form of design is always essential. Whether your brand exists on the Web or on the street, whether you have a 10-month history, or a 100-year legacy, design matters. An exceptional offering often limits the need for high-end design elements, but for most online businesses a good design will be critical to consumer confidence.

Brands are also essential when making decisions based on information gathered online. While RSS feeds and wikis filter out design and democratize information, users need the promise of quality that only a trusted brand can provide. You can generally trust The New York Times brand, while you should be less ready to believe an unknown blogger.

Your site can be ugly and your interface beautiful. But the most important factor is that your overall design lends itself to your brand’s credibility, its mission and helps differentiate you from competitors. The online brands mentioned here have been able to couple a unique driving force in their businesses with little attention to a design aesthetic. For them, this translates into differentiated, respected brand experiences adored around the world.

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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
Are You Socializing Your Online Business into Obscurity?
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

Sometimes networking as a Web professional can feel a lot like being a politician running for office. Plenty of travel is involved, even if it’s browser-based, and stump speeches need to be written and tweaked ever so slightly to fit the audience. Then they need to be delivered. Drop a link here, submit a press release there, and try to make a few hundred friends along the way.

Like any successful political campaign, effective networking takes time — lots and lots of time. As any social marketing expert will tell you, participation is required to be truly successful. And once you realize how much time it really takes, you might wonder how in the world wide Web you’re going to find all that time.

If you’ve made some inroads into the popular social networks of the day, you know what it’s like to spend hours looking for the right connections; those who will help you gain exposure to the “in’s” of the particular portal. Or, like many, you might find that you’ve already spent considerable time trying to make friends, only to see the fruits of your labor reduced to a junk mail folder filled with unwanted email every time someone wants you to vote on their story. All the while, your business is suffering.


The truth is most of these networks provide a disproportionate amount of value to the time spent pounding the virtual pavement. It’s time to take a long, hard look at your networking objectives and determine if it’s getting in the way of your business goals. That includes sifting through your analytics and looking at conversion rates, time-onsite, bounce rates, exit rates and more, for the traffic coming from these sites.

Another truth is that many of these networks will fade into obscurity within months or years. At that time, so will most of your hard-earned connections. However, just like a politician needs to carry vital swing states during a campaign, the Web professional needs to have a real presence in some of the Web’s biggest networks. The two with arguably the widest reach and greatest momentum are currently Facebook and Twitter, respectively. According to Facebook’s press page, the network has more than 175 million active users and more than 3 billion minutes are spent on the network each day worldwide. Twitter is growing at an astronomical rate, nearly doubling its traffic from January to February alone, now with more than 8 million unique page views per month.

Experienced politicians know there are some states they just can’t win. So, their efforts are scaled back greatly to conserve their energy for the important battlegrounds. It’s no different for the Web professional. Reports regularly surface about how some social networks are “gamed,” benefiting only those who know how to work the system to their benefit. Let them keep their game. Your game is your business, and you play for keeps.

If you focus on your business objectives, your products and your services, the crowd will follow. In fact, there’s no better way to gain exposure on a network than letting someone else do it for you. Let the voracious social networkers submit your content and get their friends to vote it up for you. What’s important is that they can find it. Chances are, if they can find it, so can the search engines. And that’s even more important.

If you decide that social networking is a must for your business, make your presence where you stand to reap the greatest rewards. If you’re not tech-specific, skip Sphinn. If you don’t cater to the younger crowd, take a pass on MySpace.

Social networks are notorious time-sinks. You need to have a presence out there, but it’s more important to focus on your company. After all, if your business falls behind or worse, fails, nobody is going to want to be friends with you anyway.

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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
Loyalty Programs as a Customer Retention Tactic for your Online Website or your Blog or Forum.
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

When you spend thousands of hours on SEO and thousands of thousands of dollars on paid search or display advertising, you better be absolutely sure that not only are you converting visitors but that you’ve got strategies in place to ensure you retain those customers so they buy from you, the merchant, in the future. Let’s look at a one essential Web customer retention tactics in loyalty programs.

While you may already be employing many customer retention techniques and tactics like personalized emails or triggered coupons, the majority of e-commerce merchants and Internet retailers are not using loyalty programs due to perceived (and real) complexities of implementation. In the end however, the value is clear and the investment low. Engaging users with loyalty programs for the sake of retaining business has been shown to yield a positive impact on a business time and time again – but not how you may think.

Best Practice for Loyalty Programs
The best loyalty and retention programs are those which strengthen the connection consumers have with a brand. The reason to start a loyalty and retention program is not to provide discounts, but to recognize and reward the most valuable customers in exchange for information that you the merchant can use to create products and services that more closely fit their needs.

For example, a local sandwich shop here in Chicago rewards you with a free sandwich when you buy 10. That’s all fine and dandy (and delicious) but that sandwich shop does not know anything about its customer’s affinity for its line of product. A more personal, data-centric approach would be for the vendor to ask its customers questions in order to participate in the program (and perhaps even ask a few questions to redeem points for their sandwich).

What the vendor receives is valuable information on customer preferences, and my opinion of their service and store. I’ll still use either program (as long as I get a free sandwich) but one really provides genuine value to the merchant. If it’s pretty much the same amount of work, why not choose the latter? Doing so will create a more informed merchant that will be better able to serve me in the future with new products in line with my tastes – something they don’t know right now.

So if you are creating a new customer retention programs, or revamping an existing one, avoid rewarding frequency and focus instead on genuine loyalty. Some of the best-known loyalty programs (such as airlines' frequent-flier clubs or grocery chain cards) encourage customers to chase points and discounts above anything else – just like the sandwich shop does right now. You might as well call these "anti-loyalty programs" as consumers are less interested in you than they are in the points or the discounts.

The downside of frequency program (which is what we’ve really been describing here) as opposed to a true loyalty program, is that competitors can easily copy it (how many more points do we need to give to make our offer more attractive?). What if another sandwich shop opened down the street with equally delicious sandwiches and a similar points-based frequency loyalty program? You got it – goodbye old standby! When push comes to shove, merchants will get shoved aside by consumers for the vendor with the greatest discount or number of points.

Best practice is to focus on creating genuine loyalty and not a points system. That is accomplished by leveraging the data that can be collected to create personalized emails, to trigger emails based on customer preference and store availability. For example, say the sandwich shop had my email, knew that I love artichoke and proscuito sandwiches and sent me an email saying they were reserving one just for me – that’s how you earn loyalty.

The most important data analysis practice is to be selective in what you are looking for, before you start looking, and to know how you might put that knowledge to use if and when you obtain it. Keep in mind that consumers and business customers lose faith very quickly when they share personal and preference data with a company and then do not see the company act on it. Most have an expectation that you the merchant will do something sensible with the data they share with you – so don’t blow it.

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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
Competing (and Thriving) Against The Freemium.
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

Web entrepreneurs have a difficult choice to make with the release of every new service - should it be offered complimentary to bring in streams of users and make them aware (growing the service virally) or should we charge for it with an aim of shortening the road to profitability?

While the former (freemium) might seem like the best way to go, there are many inherent challenges and, despite the continuing slow economy, people are still spending. So why not encourage them to pay for what you've created from the get-go? Let's look at the challenges in greater detail and what Web entrepreneurs can do to get people to buy paid versions today.

It's first important to explain this portmanteau (a combination of two known words); a freemium is a business model that works by offering basic services for free, while charging a premium for advanced or special features. You might think that offering a freemium would be a pretty easy decision to make. You may be right, but that doesn't mean there aren't challenges. For those who are selling their products and not giving them away, this provides an opportunity to take advantage of the weaknesses of those doing so.

The Challenge of Freemium
Those offering freemiums are forced to choose which services will be free and those consumers will have to pay for. That presents a problem because a conscious decision has to be made on the features that will be left out. Any mistake in the division of those features or services carries with it the potential to send consumers elsewhere. And that's just the beginning of the problem with freemiums. Developing products, and using the necessary hardware and infrastructure costs - and it's getting more costly each day. Supporting customers that don't pay (and have little motivation to do so) can't go on forever - it goes beyond the bounds of any rational economic principle. Pricing offerings can be equally challenging; those that use a free service to simply test the service will be unlikely to upgrade to a paid version that is $50 or $100 per month - even if it's really good. Instead, they'll simply continue using the means they were previously or search around for another alternative - perhaps even a paid version from a competitor.

The Opportunities of Paid

The draw towards trying new things is too great for many consumers to deny. Even if someone mentions its existence, that's enough for first adopters to try it out. This effect, called immediacy, leads people to pay a premium to have first or early access to something. If it's truly new, publicize it as such and watch consumers open their wallets and copycats offer their free versions of your product.

George Carlin once said that people will buy anything and I wholeheartedly believe that. While his example was a little out there (a left-handed nose hair trimmer with a state motto on it) there remains a lot of truth in it - people will pay (oftentimes more) to have something that’s personalized for them. For example, why choose a standard theme for an open source weblog platform like WordPress when for a few hundred dollars you could have one customized to match your specific expectations?

Despite your familiarity with a product, it doesn't mean that it's shared among others. What this means is that people will gladly pay extra for support, a formal education, a community that encourages sharing of problems and resolutions, in order to have something like software explained to them. Many large-scale software vendors are turning to this model and it's proven to be their primary source of revenue.

Consumers will also pay when they can have it their way - in the words of Burger King. That means making products usable and accessible in the way that clients/consumers actually want them.

Q. Can you compete against those using the freemium model?
A. Yes you can and in most (if not all cases) doing so is a much better solution for the sustainability of your company – if you make some good decisions and resolve to focus on what consumers really need; support, greater access and personalization.

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Mon Apr 20, 2009 8:19 am
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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
Sanity check: Have we now entered the post-OS era?
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

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Will Windows 7 be adopted by businesses? Could Google Android make a splash on netbooks? The bigger question we should be asking is, “Does the OS still matter?” And if it doesn’t, then what does that mean?


Microsoft knew this day was coming. This was the reason it desperately wanted — no, needed — to take down Netscape in 1996. Netscape wasn’t just trying to build a program for reading text and photos across a network of connected computers. Netscape was trying to build a new platform - the ultimate platform - to run software and share information instantly and on a global scale. And no one understood that better than Bill Gates.

Gates had recognized a similar shift a little over a decade earlier when he first saw Steve Jobs’ Apple Macintosh and its graphical user interface. Gates knew it would make his text-based operating system, DOS, irrelevant. So he created Windows and eventually stole Jobs’ thunder.

It took Gates slightly longer to pick up on the power of the Web, but once he did he immediately grasped its potential to make Windows irrelevant. That’s why he catalyzed Microsoft to create Internet Explorer and drive Netscape into oblivion, by any means necessary. By 2000, Microsoft had pulled off the great reversal, taking 80% share of the Web browser market, which Netscape had dominated at 80% just four years earlier.

All of this was based on the idea that the Web browser would become the universal computing platform. But it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen in 1996. It didn’t happen in 2000. It didn’t even happen in 2007 - the year Windows Vista arrived while the tech world was fixated on Web 2.0 and “cloud computing.”

There are a lot of reasons for the failure of Windows Vista, but in retrospect the biggest reason was that the OS simply didn’t matter that much anymore. Most of the consumers who ended up with Vista simply got it because it came installed when they bought a new computer. The vast majority of them never chose Vista.

The group that did have a choice with Vista was businesses and they chose to avoid it, although not because of any inherent inferiority of Vista. Vista has been very usable since Service Pack 1 and since vendors finally updated their software and drivers to work with it by early-2008. The problem was that there was never a compelling reason to upgrade to Vista. It was the software equivalent of repainting a room and rearranging the furniture.

Now we have lots techies singing the praises of Vista’s successor, Windows 7, which will be released later this year. I just got finished testing Windows 7 for two months. I used it as my primary production machine at the office every day. I installed it on a high-powered 64-bit Hewlett-Packard desktop machine. I loaded all my apps on it. It worked fine. However, my conclusion on Windows 7 was, “So what?” There’s nothing in Windows 7 that matters. In fact, the computer operating system has never mattered less than it does today.

As some commentators have suggested, there may be a bunch of IT departments that adopt Windows 7, but if they do it will be out of annoyance and necessity (if Microsoft finally phases out Windows XP) and not out of the desire to benefit from any major advances in Windows 7. There are none.

It didn’t used to be this way. Installing a new operating system used to be like getting a whole new computer. Installing Windows 95 over Windows 3.1? That was a huge improvement. Installing Windows 2000 on top of Windows 95? That was a big leap forward. There were reasons to upgrade back then, for example:

Windows 95 - Greatly simplified interface; much more friendly to the average user
Windows 98 - Improved multimedia capabilities and built-in Internet functionality
Windows 2000 - Industrial-strength Windows NT code base, but in a much more polished package
Windows XP - Unified the Win9x and WinNT/2K code bases; allowed businesses to standardize on one OS
Windows Vista - ?
Windows 7 - ?

Part of what’s going here is that the computer operating system has achieved a level of maturity and efficiency. You could even say that work on the OS has reached a point of diminishing returns. How much more efficiency can we wring out of it? What other major innovations are waiting out there?

Some claim that touch-based interfaces are the next major leap forward for the OS. I would argue that touch will have very limited and specific uses and will mostly be used in usage scenarios with short bursts of activity and not for prolonged work or data entry.

It’s possible that a combination of voice and touch could revolutionize the user interface (and thus the OS), or that another major innovation could make it faster and simpler for humans to work with computers, but for now the keyboard and mouse are as efficient as it gets. And, as a result, the computer OS has stagnated.

And, of course, the other thing that’s going on is that the Web browser is finally usurping the OS as the universal platform that was envisioned back in the mid-1990s. Please note that I’m not talking about cloud computing or software-as-a-service (SaaS). While applications and services delivered over the Internet are certainly part of the ascendency of the Web browser, they still have not reached critical mass in the business world and the trend is bigger than that.

What we’re seeing is that many businesses are using the Web browser as the front-end application to access private, back-end systems, from databases to CRM to ERP to payroll to corporate portals. And, why not? Since most users are very familiar and comfortable with Web navigation and Web forms, these corporate systems can tap into that experience to provide applications that have an easier learning curve than Windows-based business apps with their unique menus and interfaces.

If you combine that with the fact that many users now keep their personal e-mail and files in Web-based systems such as Yahoo Mail and Google Docs, you have a situation in which the average user spends most of her computer time in a Web browser.

That’s why tabs have become a standard feature on all of the major Web browsers, because most users now have multiple Web sites open in the same way as having multiple applications open in an operating system.

Today, when I go to a new system or reinstall the operating system on an existing system, the first two things I do are to install Firefox and then Xmarks (formerly Foxmarks), which syncs all of my bookmarks. Those bookmarks include links to all the Web-based applications and tools that I use at work. Once that’s done, I can do 80% of my work without installing another application. And I can do those two steps on Mac OS X or Linux or Windows XP or Windows 7. It doesn’t matter.

Now, I’m not saying that the OS never matters anymore. Clearly it still matters for netbooks, which didn’t take off until they started offering Windows XP as an installation option - but that’s because users are much comfortable with XP than some of the unfamiliar Linux interfaces that came on early netbooks. Since netbooks are mostly about Web browsing and e-mail, you could see Google Android become a popular netbook platform, especially if it’s super-simple and has a lower price tag.

The other place where the OS still matters is on the smartphone, but the smartphone is at the state of development and adoption that the PC was two decades ago - although it is going to accelerate even faster.

Platforms such as the iPhone and Palm’s forthcoming webOS have shown that there’s still a lot of room for OS innovation in the smartphone market. But, the biggest benefit of both those platforms is a better and more standard Web experience. As more smartphones adopt the same approach, the distinctiveness and importance of the smartphone OS will naturally diminish. The most important thing will be that a user can access Outlook, Gmail, Twitter, and online communities on a smartphone with the same ease as on a PC.

Twenty years ago, we thought the computer was the revolution, but it wasn’t. The advent of the Internet - and the Web browser as one of the ways to harness it - has shown us that the revolution is actually in communications and the dissemination of information. The computer will be to the Information Revolution as the assembly line was to the Industrial Revolution. It will simply be one of the catalysts that helped make it happen.

In the same way, the computer OS simply doesn’t mean as much as it once did, or at least as much as we once thought it did. But, then again, all of us (including Bill Gates) knew this day was coming

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Tue Apr 21, 2009 12:47 am
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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
Creating a process for fault resolution.
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

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It is helpful for everyone who deals with help desk calls to broadly use the same kind of approach when resolving caller’s problems. A unified approach means that callers know what to expect from you. If they get a different response from each member of the team they will get an impression of a lack of cohesion and may reduce the trust of the customer.


Don’t take this to mean that I approve the use of scripts, I hate scripts, they serve only to highlight a mechanised approach and can mean that the call sounds stilted and may even give the impression that the agent doesn’t really understand the job.
My real bugbear is the closing part of our call taker’s script. They are required to ask every caller “Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

I always think that is a silly question, if there was anything else I wanted I would mention it at the beginning of the call.
They should have the necessary technical skills to be able to troubleshoot a problem from a skilled viewpoint whilst conforming to a call template.
Template is probably to strong a term to use. Maybe check list would be better.
Start with the old favourite: Who, What, Where, When and Why.

Call takers should know that any error messages should be recorded precisely. There’s nothing worse than getting a ticket that stated “User reported an error message” without detailing what the message was.

So, to break down the five Ws we should clarify them.

Who? Name and Phone number, an accurate contact can sometimes mean that I can clear the fault without visiting the site.

What? The type of equipment, asset number, and the problem associated with it, including a precise record of error codes.

Where? We need to know where to go to, so often the address I receive is that of the company’s head office or the address where the invoices are sent.

When? When did the fault occur, also take note of whether it has happened before and if other changes were made that might have caused the problem.

Why? Why is the equipment important? Why are we fixing the fault?

The same routine should apply when the ticket is a request for service. Who are we creating a login for? What systems do they need to access? Where do they work, are the appropriate resources available at that location? When is the service needed? Why are we providing this service to this person at this location?

Apply this simple template to any request; Change requests, Fault logs, Provisioning requests, even working out the staffing and holiday rotas.

Using the simple 5 Ws as a template for help desk calls means that you can ensure that all the bases are covered without having to resort to using a script that has been written by somebody who in all likelihood doesn’t use the language in the same way that you do.

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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
Consultants: It's not the theory, it's the execution
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

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Project success has less to do with the adoption of a specific methodology or theory and more with how well the people involved can adapt the procedures to new challenges.


Managers often fall victim to the notion that “if we adopt a specific methodology, we’ll fix everything”; this mindset can infect consultants and developers as well. We’re all tempted by the promise of not having to think about a certain subset of the actions we must perform; if we just follow the prescribed procedure, we’ll be all right.

You don’t want to have to reinvent all of your processes on every project, so you should standardize procedures to help avoid missing things. But nobody has perfected a methodology for a nontrivial activity yet, so you always need to consider when to break the rules – or at least bend them a little.

As an example, let’s consider the Agile vs. Waterfall controversy. I’m a big fan of Agile principles (I even signed the Agile Manifesto early enough to get my name in the left column), but just “doing Agile” doesn’t necessarily fix anything. Here are ways that Agile can go wrong:

1.) You can fail to plan far enough ahead.
2.) Scope creep can eat all your resources.
3.) The product’s design can end up inconsistent and not well thought out.
4.) You may never get to “done.”

Agile doesn’t cause any of these scenarios — people who do Agile badly cause these scenarios.

Now let’s consider the all-too-familiar drawbacks of the Waterfall approach:

1.) You’ll probably fail to account for some important requirements.
2.) When you add or modify requirements during a later phase, it requires massive rescheduling.
3.) The initial design is almost never right, and you won’t know that until implementation.
4.) You have to be omniscient to be able to budget the required time and money.

Despite these drawbacks, it’s possible to use the Waterfall approach and still be successful. How? By taking a few hints from Agile processes.

1.) Change the requirements or design whenever necessary — after verifying with all stakeholders. Build extra time into the schedule for these mini-iterations.
2.) Keep an open mind about the phases. Don’t be so stuck on defining the phases that you find yourself on a death march through them.
3.) Start prototyping during the research phase rather than waiting until the design is finished.
4.) Organize the project so the less critical features are implemented last; this allows you to omit the features if you run out of time.

To be successful with Agile, you can’t blindly follow its principles either. You should keep in mind the following:

1.) Some projects or parts thereof benefit from thorough planning and design in advance.
2.) Sometimes you need to say “no” to user requests. (Unfortunately, not all user stories have happy endings.)
3.) Sometimes you have to place limits on a project’s schedule.

No methodology or theory is a silver bullet. You can use any system to help you organize your processes — though arguably some are better than others depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. The lessons we learn from the failures and successes of each approach are far more valuable than adopting one or the other. Project success depends much more heavily on the people involved, and their ability to adapt the procedures as needed to meet the challenges they face.

The same principle applies to many domains. I’ve seen object-oriented code that clearly represented components of an application, and all developers have seen object-oriented code that obfuscated what was going on in order to satisfy a purist’s notion of what object-oriented programming should be. Ruby (which is one of my favorite languages because it is so expressive) can very easily be monkey patched into an indecipherable nightmare, while I’ve seen PHP (a language that encourages badly organized code to the point that I’ve often said it must stand for Page Hacked to Pasta) that was so clear and well-organized it would make you weep tears of joy.

The theory is not as important as the way you put it into practice.

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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
Meeting users' demands for real-time data may set you apart
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

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When systems give users the expectation of real-time data but don’t deliver it, users may get more frustrated, angry, and confused than they would with a non-real-time system.


Around the holiday season, I had a large number of packages delivered, and I noticed that delivery companies’ tracking Web sites gave the impression of real-time data. It looked like the moment a package was scanned, the latest status would appear on the screen once you refreshed it. In reality, the scan status often wouldn’t appear for hours after the package was scanned. In fact, I received one package before the system said it was shipped.

Thinking back, I’ve encountered many instances of similar systems; banks in particular come to mind. Banks’ dependence upon batch processing in the middle of the night seems quaint at first glance; however, customers often feel there are double standards when withdrawals are looked at for overdraft fees the moment they occur, while deposits usually do not post until the evening batch at the earliest.

Some systems put a disclaimer on these kinds of views that reads, “These results may not reflect recent activity.” This helps alleviate users’ anger at the system since the user knows (if the user reads the disclaimer, that is) not to expect real-time information.

While this approach is accurate and it reflects the reality of a batch processing system, it is no longer satisfactory to end users. Many new systems without the legacy baggage use transactional databases rather than batch processing and handle just as many items per day. Users see that and wonder why all companies can’t provide real-time data; of course, we know why: A company still using batch processing may be saddled with a million line application originally written in 1982, and it would take a decade to rewrite it. But to the end user who is comparing your product or service to a competitor’s, it can be a significant factor in his or her decision.

Search engines are a great example of a batch processing system. It used to take weeks if not months for a new page or site to be added in the search results. Webmasters would keep a close eye on their server logs for AltaVista or Lycos to come around, and then check out their latest rankings. Search engines would post guidelines about how long after submitting a page to expect to see it in results. Then, some search engines started indexing sites sooner and faster, particularly major sites and sites with frequent updates. Users soon realized that if they had just heard about some new craze or viral whatever, some search engines were going to have that information and others were not. In other words, moving closer to a real-time system by reducing the time between batches became a major competitive advantage.

I recognize the reality that not every system can be transformed from a batch processing model to a real-time model. Sometimes the issue is legacy code; other times it is program architecture or physical architecture that can cause data delays or holdups (some systems are very resource intensive and caching data or results is important to take some of the load off the systems). But anything you can do to make your systems’ have data that is closer to real-time data will be a major advantage in the marketplace.

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Thu Apr 23, 2009 6:47 am
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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
10 seriously annoying default configurations
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

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Into every life, a little stupidity must fall. And sometimes, you just have to vent about it. agentok of getforum.org whitepapers shares a few of the default configurations he finds especially frustrating and idiotic…. What are yours?


We all have them: Stupid default configurations that we either have to change or live with. Some of them may seem pointless and irritating, although there’s usually some situation where they make sense. Regardless, when configurations are wrong for us, they get under our skin more often than they help us get on our way. Here are 10 of the default configurations that aggravate me the most.

1: Keyboard failure, press F1 to continue

I know it has been fixed for a long time, but all former Compaq server administrators will remember this one. How silly of a message that the server would sit there with its tongue hanging out waiting for us to acknowledge this error with the object of the error. Truth be told, this was my motivation for writing the top 10 irritating defaults.

2: Windows Server 2008 interactive installation name

For Windows administrators who perform an interactive installation (where you boot from the CD), the default computer name is less than intuitive. To be fair, it is a standard name associated with boot environments, but the interactive installation removed the ability to set a computer name. I think we’ll have to get used to names like WIN-IU7JC1B15RI. However, this can be configured with an installation answer file or Windows Deployment Services.

3: Microsoft Office Recently Used File List value of 4

There is nothing more irritating than using a new installation of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint (2003 or earlier) and seeing a deprived recent file list on the File menu. I change this right away by going to Tools | Options | General to access the option to increase the number of recently used files — but the maximum is 9. Office 2007 finally loosened up this restriction, and you can set those apps to list as many as 50 of your most recently used files. The option is a little harder to find, though: Click the Office button and select Advanced in the left pane. Then scroll down to the Display section and enter the setting you want for Show This Number Of Recent Documents.

4: Windows Server 2008 using IPv6 and IPv4

I’m glad it’s available for use in the product, but does anyone know anyone actually using IPv6? It surely is not a mainstream protocol in use. I believe it will be adopted sooner in other regions of the world, but I don’t think it should be enabled by default yet. One good tool to get started in managing Windows Server 2008’s network stack is the Netsh tool.

5: Folder does not exist. Do you want to create it?

This technically a safety step, but how frequently do we select no to this question? Further, this is usually not the last question of a Windows installation wizard, so there is an opportunity to go back in the installation and change the installation path. As a side note, it’s a good practice to keep all of your installed applications in a designated area. For example, installing all applications and components not part of the operating system to a drive other than the C drive can manage the system drive space better. By using a different drive letter to contain the third-party installed software, storage provisioning for the C: drive can be standardized easier.

6: Voice-prompt-only service phone numbers

This one never ceases to amaze me. My previous job required quite a bit of travel. During weather or flight interruptions, I would often call the airline directly from my mobile phone rather than wait in the line equal to three aircraft’s worth of passengers when I needed re-accommodation. The service numbers were usually voice-prompt driven, which makes no sense in an airport, as there are incredible amounts of background noise. I became an expert of saying “Yes” and “No” very loudly and gaining the awkward attention of my fellow passengers. Number entry dialing is often possible but hard to find if it is not mentioned.

7: The Windows beep device

This is annoying for many reasons. For one thing, it doesn’t adhere to Windows sound volume settings for default configurations. This is especially irritating for administrators like me, who connect to multiple systems through tools like Remote Desktop and have the beep transferred as well. But the beep can be disabled. Simply go into Device Manager, choose Show Hidden Devices from the View menu, go to the Non-Plug and Play Drivers section, double-click Beep, and choose Do Not Use This Device (Disable) from the Device Usage drop-down list in the Beep Properties dialog box. After the next boot, beep is no more!

8: The entire default Internet Explorer browser configuration on Windows Server

Is it just me, or is the default installation useless? Even adding sites to the trusted sites list and local policies for the trusted sites doesn’t allow proper behavior of some legitimate sites. Ironically, Windows Update will work with all of the installations required. I find myself installing an alternative browser, such as Opera, Firefox, or Safari. To be clear, I don’t install it on every server — simply on those where browsing functions are required and it makes sense to do so. As a side note, this is a good trick to getting crude Explorer functionality in Windows Server 2008 Core installations.

9: Windows Server 2008 default folder view

I sure love the folder view in Windows Server 2003, XP, and prior editions. But Vista and Windows Server 2008 have really messed with my mind. I’d like to get a show of hands: Who actually uses Documents, Pictures, and Music as favorite links? My favorite link is the folder and computer. Just let me see my file system. I know what I am doing, most of the time!

10: VMware vCenter Server’s certificate store

The default installation of VMware’s vCenter Server product is two years. For many people, there are quite a few surprises on day 730 of their server virtualization bliss. The good news is that you can correct this situation before it gets you. There are plenty of topics on the VMware Communities forums, as well as this whitepaper from VMware on the replacement process.

What annoys you?

And the list goes on. There are always going to be things that annoy us — and some default configurations may get administrators downright mad.

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Thu Apr 23, 2009 6:53 am
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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
VDI solutions with multimedia capabilities.
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

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Out-of-the-box VDI installations aren’t generally known for their whiz-bang multimedia performance, particularly when these solutions rely on media-adverse RDP. A number of vendors are working to correct these deficiencies in order to make VDI more desktop-like.


we’ve hit a point at which we need to make a decision that will directly impact the user. The current decision point lies around the level of support that we’ll provide for multimedia service including Flash.

Frankly, we don’t really have a lot of choice in the matter. We have to provide some kind of support for multimedia and for Flash in particular. After all, we’re using our VDI infrastructure to replace full PCs in computer labs and targeting staff desktops for users who don’t use or need laptops. To not provide support for common services that students and staff expect to work would simply doom the project to failure. Students expect sites like YouTube to just work, and a number of staff have come to enjoy listening to Internet-based radio stations based on both Flash and Windows Media. While providing radio to staff is obviously not a mandate, with the amount of time and dedication we get from people, it’s something we really want to do.

At the same time, in order to as closely mimic the full desktop experience as possible, we are also looking for a solution that expertly handles USB redirection. If a user plugs in a USB drive or Webcam, ideally we’d like to see that device connection redirected to the server session. It’s pretty well known that RDP isn’t exactly ideal when it comes to handling real-time audio and video and USB connectivity. From choppy video to out-of-sync audio, it’s far from an ideal end user experience.

On the VDI side, we’ve settled on VMware View as the solution of choice. This “VDI 3″ product provides some support for Wyse’s TCX multimedia extensions. We’re still investigating exactly what is included in View’s TCX suite, but that’s a different discussion. Until recently, Flash was (sort of) supported with TCX.

I’ve learned recently that VMware View and TCX will provide full support for Flash and for a number of multimedia codecs; I also understand that TCX has very good USB redirection capabilities.

But then came along HP Remote Graphics Software (RGS). My limited understanding thus far of RGS leads me to believe that it is a complete replacement for the RDP stack and uses its own compression algorithms to achieve its goals. By replacing RDP, RDP’s limitations go away in favor of RGS, which is supposed to deliver desktop-like multimedia performance for all codecs plus Flash video. From what I’ve read, it also appears to support USB redirection. I just don’t know if RGS provides broad USB device support, or if only certain devices are supported.

I’ve also recently learned about Pano Logic’s Pano box, which is supposed to be a processless, RAMless, OSless little device that sits on a user’s desk in place of a computer or thin client. Pano’s solution uses very, very little power, requires no software updates, and seems like a nice solution.

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Fri Apr 24, 2009 1:31 am
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Post Re: Getforum.org`s Exclusive Whitepapers
Why does Apple rise while the rest fall?
agentok Senior Editor of getforum.org Whitepapers.

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Apple Inc’s recent successful results are causing debate about the reasons behind it.


Apple’s products are over-priced. They have an undeserved reputation for high quality and low failure rates.

And with those comments, the conversation became more animated. It took place over dinner last weekend. My companion was with a guy who runs a moderate sized IT firm in Southern California. And, as is often the case with those who sell services using PC-based applications to other companies, he has a strong bias against Apple products. Actually, he really doesn’t like Apple. At all.

He told me that, “Apple’s products are over-priced”. Going further, he noted that much of the so-called “coolness” and “class” that the company promotes is little more than “marketing BS”. Clearly, it frustrates him that so many individuals opt to pay a premium for products that he thinks are often not as good as similar products being made by other manufacturers across a wide field of services.

Regardless of whether or not one likes Apple; it’s clear that many people and organizations do. And, their numbers are growing, while the manufacturers of other brands of PC, phones and/or music players are suffering. What’s the reason for Apple’s continued growth in a market that’s got key retailers collapsing and key manufacturers looking for companies to fill their production lines? Is it simply, “BS marketing”?

I don’t think so. Although marketing does play a big part in the equation of many business successes, I believe that Apple’s ability to thrive is mostly due to its design philosophy. Ask people who use their products, and they immediately start to sound like owners of BMW cars while they talk about “the feel” or “company philosophy” as well as performance. Like BMW, which also has a few models with service records that are worse than some competitors’ products, Apple positions its goods on the higher-end of prices for their products. (Interestingly, Apple and BMW have similar levels of market share in their respective business segments.)

In their recent quarterly report of April 22, Apple reported earnings up 15% year over year. While other organizations’ CEOs are saying that nothing can be done to stop the layoffs, the office / plant closings, and the bleeding; here’s Apple saying that things are expected to continue to improve. Even though consumer spending is slowing each month and is now below last year each month for 3 months in a row; Apple has sales up 9% over last year. Those results are not due to marketing alone.

Not all the news was good: Computer sales were down 3%, apparently impacted by school budgets cutbacks. (Overall, the personal computer industry was 7%.) But mostly their results surprised investors and the market with 3.8m IPhones sold (+123%, and according to other reports, helping AT&T’s results significantly as their sole wireless partner), and 11m IPods sold, up about 3%.

Apple Inc’s leadership has shown vision, guts, and determination. They created a clear business plan and executed it without any outwardly visible hesitation.

Recent product launches from Microsoft, Dell, HP, Samsung, Motorola, Nokia, and Sprint which were extremely marketing-driven seem to have done little to stem the losses of those organizations. The leaders of those entities would be wise to spend more time talking to their customers, and learning the long term benefits of design before they have to shut more factory lines and let go more employees. If they don’t, the stock market will continue to spank them and at some point they’ll find themselves out of work, too.

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Fri Apr 24, 2009 1:36 am
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