MERIT Solutions Blog

MERIT Solutions has been serving the Chesapeake area since 1982, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

Malware Ninjas Can Be Beaten: Here's How

The digital threats business faces are becoming ever more sophisticated. Yes, the biggest gaps remain easy and simple to fix, but even if you’ve disabled links in emails,chosen a password that’s not ‘123456’ and patched Java and Flash, you’re still at risk.

That’s enough to keep the slouching criminals in burglar’s masks out, the ones who just try to guess your password, or email you suspicious-looking links in poorly-worded spam emails. But it won’t keep out the skilful, professional malware ninjas hiding under the eaves of the internet.

What do the threats look like?

Cyber Espionage

Cyber espionage involves gaining network or computer access, usually via infected emails or documents. Having achieved this,the next step is to install RATs - Remote Access Trojans - allowing remote access at will. The ultimate aim? To steal money, data or intellectual property.

Advanced Targeted Attacks

Advanced targeted attacks are typically aimed at individuals with access to sensitive information. Hackers know individuals tend to be softer targets than organizations, so they target individuals using many of the same tricks as marketers including finding them on social channels, then stealing the individual’s credentials to steal or damage what they have access to.

Financial Malware and Ransomware

Browsers, Java, Flash and Acrobat Reader are the main avenue (not the only ones) through which infections like this enter systems. The criminals responsible are often half a continent away, in Eastern Europe or Africa. Special exploit kits infect users by means of Zeuss or Zbot financial malware downloads, enabling hackers to steal online banking credentials. Databases can be infected with ransomware like Cryptolocker by the same means, encrypting your data and demanding payment to release it.

The standard response to cybersecurity threats is reactive, and it’s not enough. Think of it like medicine: the cyberthreat environment is like the flu, constantly mutating. Just like the flu,what we really need is a vaccine that works now, before anybody gets sick. What we have is drugs tailored to each new threat, once it’s already a problem. It’s the same with cybersecurity. So even though you may have antivirus, web filters, firewalls and built-in OS protections in place, you still need a way to lock the stable door - before the horse bolts.

What’s needed is a multilayered system that’s active rather than reactive, spearheaded by anti-exploitation tools configured to monitor sensitive applications and prevent them from performing the actions that lead to infection. It’s not a good idea to drop all your current security measures and put something brand new in place; instead, integrate passive and reactive security measures into a strategic approach the begins with active monitoring and intervention, resting on traditional firewalls, antivirus and - always crucial - staff best practice.

The time to jump in is when Acrobat downloads a .exe file, not when you’re putting your disaster recovery plan to the test.This is also the only method to guard against unknown threats that haven’t yet been identified: a vaccine for before you get sick.

Continue reading

5 SEO Tools To Get a Google-Eye View of Your Website

Article 5 Content (to put into HTML creator) -

Seeing your website the same way your visitors do is pretty important. But if Google doesn’t love you, no-one else is going to get the chance,so it makes sense to look for tools that let you see your website the way Sundar Pichai and friends do.

Here are the top 5 tools to let you get a Google-eye view of your website:

1: Google Webmaster Tools

Who knows Google better than Google? And at the low, low cost of free, it’s smart to start at the source. If you’re relatively inexperienced in this area, this is also a good place to start; it’s a novice-friendly tool with lots of support and intuitive design.

Cost: Free

Standout feature: Fetch as Google, which allows you to see a given URL as Google sees it.

2: Moz Pro Tools

Moz Pro comes at a pro price, but it delivers a wide range of powerful tools. With Moz you can identify SEO opportunities, build reports and track growth. On the flipside from Google Webmaster Tools, this is definitely for the more experienced professional.

Cost: Free 30-day trial, then plans between $99 and $599 a month.

Standout feature: Crawl Test Tool. The Moz Pro Crawl Test Tool employs the company’s own Roger crawler bot to crawl your pages the way Google does, and analyse up to 3, 000 links from a single URL.

3: SEO Report Card

UpCity’s SEO Report Card offering lets you check your website’s performance against your competitors. You do have to hand over some contact information, but in return you get onsite analysis, link building, rank analysis, and more.

Cost: Free

Standout Feature: Website Accessibility, measuring your website’s load speed and accessibility to crawlers.

4: WooRank

WooRank is built for the larger organization, with touches like the ability to download reports as branded PDFs making distribution of data across a company easier and more professional. It also offers one of the widest arrays of tools in terms of metrics covered - over 70 - so if you’ve got the usual bases covered and want to find new avenues for improvement, this might be the tool for you.

Cost: Free 14-day trial, then Pro at $49 per month or Premium at $149 per month.

Standout Feature: WooRank looks closely at mobile, an underscrutinized aspect of website performance and SEO.

5: HubSpot Website Grader

HubSpot Website Grader first came out in 2007; don’t worry, this is the new version. Website Grader lets you see performance information like load speed, page size and requests, gives you a thorough look at your website’s mobile readiness in terms of viewport settings and responsiveness, and checks up on your SSL certification.

Cost: Free

Standout Feature: SEO testing that shows how easy your website is - or isn’t - to find, by both humans and bots, for a comprehensive search overview.
Recent comment in this post
Anna Jackson
Hello Randall! I was doing very important work but due to your subject I felt better to stay at your site instead of continuing w... Read More
Friday, 15 September 2017 20:31
1 Comment
Continue reading

Windows 10 Wants Your Data: Be Prepared

With Windows 10, Microsoft has had to swallow two bitter pills: the poor reception of Windows 8 and the end of software as a product. To sweeten that medicine, the colossus of business IT has also swallowed something else: the keys to your data.

The new Windows business model involves a 30% cut from sales from the app store and ads delivered with Bing search results, as well as ads already inserted into pre-installed apps. But many of these do their targeting with the help of personal data that Windows 10 collects by default.

In fact, Microsoft’s privacy policy explicitly states: ‘We will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to protect our customers or enforce the terms governing the use of the services.’ (Source: Microsoft Privacy Policy.)

If you use your Windows machine for sensitive business data or you just don’t want Microsoft to know as much about you as Google, Facebook and your ISP already do, what’s to do?

1: Custom Install

Many of us are used to bypassing the custom install option.But if you’re planning to install Windows 10 and you haven’t done it yet, do a custom install and you’ll be able to turn off some of the OS’ data-gathering right from the start.

2: Privacy Settings

Head over to the Privacy Settings (Start>Settings>Privacy), and click General. Under that, look for a column of toggle switches you can flip on and off. The top toggle, ‘Let apps see my advertising ID...’ is the most important one, but if you’d like a belt-and-braces approach, turn them all off.

3: Apps and Location

The next tab down in the Privacy Settings menu is Location. While it’snot a new Windows 10 feature, it does need some atention: the more pps can use your location the more data is being collected. By default, these are all switched to ‘on.’

4: Cortana

Cortana will get to know you if you let it, sharing your information with Microsoft as it does. To stop that happening, go to the Speech, Inking and Typing tab and click the ‘stop getting to know me’ button in the middie of the screen. Bear in mind that turning this off will also turn off both Cortana and dictation capabilities.

5: Other Devices

When your computer syncs with other devices it shares information with them and then back to Microsoft. It’s also used for connecting with beacons which in turn are used for advertising - and data gathering. To stop that happening, simply turn the feature off.

6: Wi-Fi Settings

Finally, set up the Wi-Fi Sense feature. Go out of the Privacy menu and into General Settings, then select Network and Internet. Under that heading click Manage Wi-Fi Settings. There, you’ll find the controls for the wi-fi sense feature that lets you stop your computer doing things like connecting to open networks shared by your contacts and sharing around your Skype and Outlook details.

While that isn’t the whole story,it will cover all the major bases when it comes to keeping your data safe from the prying eyes that came with your computer or OS.
Continue reading

4 Linux Myths That Need to Die

The days when there were two and a half operating systems - Mac for creative types, Windows for everyone else and Linux for the weird kids in the corner - are well and truly over. For a start, OSX and Windows both owe a debt to Linux; Microsoft is courting Linux for its Azure cloud service, for instance, too. It’s been awhile since Linux was the sole preserve of bitcoin-waving digital mountain men. It’s coming to business; time to get to grips with it.

Linux Myths
The biggest Linux myth is that it’s too difficult to start using. Unfamiliarity and the sense that there’s a steep learning curve vie with the feeling - based on nothing, usually - that you’ll have to learn a whole new suite of apps and basically, you’d rather just stick with XP, please. But many of these ideas are false. Let’s let some light in on the Linux debate.

Myth: The interface is unfamiliar

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that OSX, Apple’s flagship operating system, is built from the same Unix base as Linux, don’t you jump from OS to OS all the time? Even iOS and OSX are different; throw half-a-dozen Windows variants and a couple of Androids into the mix and you’re an OS jetsetter. What’s one more? And like every modern OS, Linux is based on 60s research into the way children with learning difficulties absorb new information. It’s pretty intuitive.

Myth: Solving Linux issues is too difficult and unintuitive

First, Linux is pretty difficult to break and when it goes wrong (which is rare) it’s easy to fix, thanks to comprehensive log files and a simple troubleshooting system. Compare that to Windows, which breaks all the time, and OSX, which is really hard to fix (see you in the Console?) and it comes out favorably.

Myth: Linux doesn’t support the apps I need

OK. This isn’t Linux’ fault, but it is sometimes kind of true. It’s more to do with software companies shunning cross-platform support, though that ship has now well and truly sailed and three-OS Windows/OSX/Linux support is increasingly the norm. As Linux user numbers creep up, though, app licensing will catch up. Meantime, you probably spend 70% or more of your time in a web browser anyway, right?

Myth: I’ve never installed an OS before

Again,this one is half right… for the wrong reasons. The majority of computer users haven’t done an OS install, because they normally just upgrade when the new Windows comes out by buying a new computer. But that doesn’t mean they can’t do it. And a lot of those upgraded from the ill-fated Windows 8 to Windows 10, so they now know how to install a pretty substantive upgrade, even if it’s not technically a whole new OS. Besides which, installing an OS isn’t hard. Linux in particular is about as easy as installing an app, especially one of the more user-friendly variants like Mint.

Open source, agile, and easy to use: maybe it’s time to give Linux a shot?
Continue reading

Consolidate Your Contacts to Stave Off the Phishing Attacks

Consolidate Your Contacts to Stave Off the Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks are still largely clumsy. You'll get a message in your e-mail inbox from someone you've never met. If you open the mail, you'll likely find a link to a strange Web site. Don't click that link! But if you do visit the site, there will usually be a request for personal information, maybe even your bank information. If you provide this information? You might find your bank account drained. You can protect yourself from phishing with a bit of common sense: Don't open strange e-mails and never visit the links in them. But Dennis O'Reilly, a writer with CNET, provides one big tip to prevent phishing e-mails from even reaching your inbox.

Consolidate Your Contacts

You might have several e-mail accounts, all of which have their own list of e-mail contacts. Certainly, many of these contacts will be duplicates. O'Reilly's advice? Consolidate all the contacts you have with different e-mail accounts into one single address book. If you do this, you should leave yourself with one point of access to your e-mail addresses.

The Steps

To do this, O'Reilly suggests that you first export all of your contacts from your Web-based mail services. The steps to doing this vary by your e-mail service. For instance, to export your Gmail address book, first open "contacts" and the click "more>export." Select the contacts you want to export, select the right format and then click "export." To do the same thing with, select the "people" app and click "manage>export." Select the "contacts" tab in the left pane. Click "actions>export all," enter the captcha code and choose an export format.


Next you should delete the contacts from your Web mail services, import your contact list to your ISP mail account and forward messages from your Web mail service to your ISP account. There's no guarantee that your e-mail inbox won't again fall victim to a phishing attack. But taking these steps will dramatically reduce the odds.

Continue reading

Sitting All Day? You’re Putting Your Life in Danger

Are you sitting too much at work? Probably. In fact, if you work in an office the odds are good that you spend most of your day sitting at your desk and hunched over your computer. This isn't good for your health. In fact, it's downright dangerous. A recent story on Slate by writer Jason Bittel spells out the dangers. According to Bittel's story, our bodies aren't designed to sit for 11 hours. And that's what many of us are doing. Even when we're not at work, we're sitting in our cars or slouching on our coaches watching TV.

What to do?

The solution seems obvious: We need to move around more. Of course, exercise -- along with a nutritional diet -- has always been an important part of living a happy, healthy life. The key, as Bittel writes, is to force yourself away from that computer for short walking breaks. And when you are sitting in front of your computer, try not to slouch. Bittel includes a call at the end of his story for participants in a quick Google Hangout every half hour. The Hangout meeting is designed to get people away from their computers and on their feet.

The right workstation

You can also build an ergonomic workstation to keep yourself from slouching and sitting the day away. CNET writer Sharon Vaknin provides tips on this. The first step is to find your ideal natural posture. For many people, Vaknin writes, this posture is the same one you use while driving a car: Your feet are on the floor in front of you. Your hands are in your lap. And your shoulders relax as you lean back slightly. Memorize this posture, and use it whenever you sit at your desk.

Keyboard and mouse

Next, you need to position your keyboard and mouse in the right place. These devices should be positioned so that your elbows are at your sides and your arms are at or below a 90-degree angle, Vaknin writes. Your keyboard should also be located at a height about 1 to 2 inches above your thighs. This might require you purchase a pull-out keyboard tray.

Continue reading

Could VR Make It This Time Around?

Virtual Reality is the perpetual motion machine of tech: every time you look around, there’s some wild-eyed inventor with a weird contraption and the same claim: ‘this time, it works!’

So we’ve gotten used to pointing VR over to the corner with the deathrays and cold fusion guys. But we could be wrong this time.

From a business viewpoint VR was less than a novelty in the 1990s, but VR or AR (Augmented Reality) apps could explode the way mobile apps did, and modern enterprises that aren’t involved in vending VR devices and services could still provide value to their customers via VR. Imagine what real estate will do with it, for instance!

So VR could work. But why should we dust it off now?

Why it’s (maybe) time to rethink VR

1: The tech is there.

The difference between VR nbow and VR in the way-back-when is the difference between 1982’s Tron and 2010’s Tron: Legacy. In ‘82, the ideas were there - but the tech? Watch the movie and you tell me. VR’s the same.While it meant yards of trailing wires and pixelated landscapes it was never going to go far with consumers - let alone businesses. But now that it means Google Glass, or even Oculus Rift, VR might have a fighting chance.

2: The price is right.
Early attempts at VR were truly wallet-busting, as early computing tended to be. The trade-off between price and performance meant VR was stuck in the same situation as very early mobile devices, where they didn’t really deliver and they cost far more than their performance merited. In some cases, like the presciently-named but ill-fated EyePhone, that could be half a million dollars. Now we’re talking about a price tag between $200 and a little over $1000, there’s a chance for a consumer market to develop.

3: Industry heavyweights want it to succeed

In its first iterations, VR was powered by individuals with dreams, and companies like Sega that were dipping their toes in the water. For the bigger players, it wound up as just another page on ‘10 Tech Flops You’ll Remember if You Lived Through The 90s.’ But this time around, Google is seriously committed to its ‘augmented reality’ Glass project, and has Maps, Hangouts, Drive, Youtube and search all ready to tie into it. Facebook, Sony, and Samsung join the list of those with deep pockets who want to see VR succeed.

4: The hacker’s paradox

As VR has professionalised, it’s also become open to hobbyists and hackers in a way that just wasn’t possible in the 90s. That means tens of thousands of people working on solving VR’s problems, coming up with sometimes-diverse solutions: the Ubuntu, Fedora and Korora of VR.

Continue reading

3 of The Best: Marketing Automation Software

Marketing automation software sets marketing departments free to concentrate on more valuable tasks, by taking over the more repetitive aspects of the job. It can also help by providing clear goals, checklists and processes that everyone from consultants to part-time marketing staff can follow, so marketing is less error-prone as well as more streamlined. From its origins as a method for automating marketing emails, marketing automation has expanded radically and although only 5% of business use it (VentureBeat Insights, 2015), many more should: 80% of companies that use marketing automation saw an increase in leads in 2014 and 77% saw an increase in conversions (VentureBeat 2015).

It’s not always plain sailing with marketing automation though. Many businesses are dissatisfied with their marketing automation software and as many as 20% of marketers in a recent survey were in the process of switching to a new marketing automation tool (Third Door Media, 2015). While the problem is sometimes that implementation is flawed, there is a big difference in the range of tools available. While no brief introduction can cover the variables or the huge range of options, it can offer a list of the best places to start.

1: Eloqua

Eloqua is for the truly committed. It’s features-packed, comprehensive and expensive. One of its major benefits is that the company offers incredible support, basically tutoring individual customers in how to get the best out of the tool on their terms. Offering seriously tight CRM integration and a great marketplace, Eloqua is priced at $2, 000 per month.

2: Constant Contact

On the other end of the scale from Eloqua, Constant Contact is a light, small business-friendly and fast out of the blocks. If you want email marketing automation, and nothing else, right now, this could be the tool for you. It’s very user friendly and simple to use, and compared to some other options on the market it’s very affordable. If you’re planning a more comprehensive automation drive down the line though, Constant Contact won’t be able to follow you there. It’s email-only. Constant Contact is priced at $15 per month.

3: HubSpot

HubSpot is the ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ of marketing automation. It does everything, while specialising in nothing. In some ways that’s a big advantage and HubSpot doesn’t even concentrate on marketing automation, seeking to offer ‘inbound automation’ instead, with its marketing automation just a component of that. For businesses looking for software that functions like a marketing department in a box, this is the nearest you’re going to get, with a proven track record and a reasonable price tag of $200 per month.
Continue reading

5 of the Best Free Online Presentation Tools

Productivity is increasingly moving away from the classic desktop machine. As mobile, BYOD and cloud transfigure the way we work - soon to be further disrupted by Google’s Chromebit,which can transform any screen into a computer for $100 - we need software tools that facilitate productivity in that new environment. our four slides on MS PowerPoint aren’t going to cut it. At the same time, you don’t want to spend a fortune. So what can you do? Choose from these free online presentation tools.

1: HaikuDeck

HaikuDeck lets you create slide decks on a range of devices. It’s been instrumental in showing off the productive powers of tablets and is particularly good for creating simple,yet crystal-clear, presentations. It’s not features-packed but it is reliable and effective. It’s also quite impressively free, in both its web app and iOS incarnations, and according to the company, ‘always will be.’

2: Empressr

Empressr devotes itself to storytelling rather than HaikuDeck’s emphasis on clarity. Here, you get a rich media tool for talking people through processes or narrating systems or stories. Right now you get unlimited presentations on Empressr for free, but it’s currently in beta, so don’t count on it staying that way.

3: Slides

If you work on a laptop, this might be your best choice. Slides is a browser-based presentation creator and editor with free cloud storage so you can easily device-hop. Like HaikuDeck it’s more about appearance than storytelling, so if you need clarity with style it’s a great choice. presentations are referred to as ‘desks,’ and is free as long as you don’tmind all your desks being public. If you want privacy, though, you have to pay for it, to the tune of between $6 and $12 a month.

4: PowToon

PowToon is a quirky, fun tool that lets you create step-by-step narrative cartoons, narrated by voiceovers. Behind the scenes you build on a series of storyboards, but when the presentation is shown it looks like a short animated film. If you want to stickj with PowToon and get the occasional basic presentation too, PowToon Slides does just that and comes bundled with the core app. The free version features watermarks and outros, so you’ll probably want Pro at $19 a month or Business at $57 a month.

5: SlideDog

SlideDog allows you to build presentations from a range of media and keep it all the right size and shape,with no file type or compatibility problems, so you can build a presentation with multiple different types of media embedded, then share it online or show it conventionally. You can use SlideDog offline, but if your presentation features online content like YouTube videos they won’t work without an internet connection. SlideDog is freemium, with a free plan that offers short trials of premium features.If you like them you’ll need to switch to the $8.33 a month Pro plan.
Continue reading

4 Gmail Hacks For Productivity

Gmail is a handy tool. But if you’ve never changed the setup on yours you could be leaving a lot on the table. Messing with the configuration of basic online tools is up there with people who use massive complex graphics as desktop backgrounds - a symptom of having too much free time, a sign of frivolity. Which is a shame, because there are actually Gmail plugins that can make using it way more productive and convenient. The top four? Read on!

1: Undo

If you’ve ever sent an email you wished you could call back as soon as you clicked ‘send,’ this hack’s for you. You’ll want to go to the Lab section (Settings>Labs), then select Undo Send and click Enable. Now when you send an email, that message lingers on the screen a while, accompanied by an honest-to-goodness Undo button that will recall it. Never send garbled, typo-ridden messages at 4AM again!

2: Schedule

… unless you want people to believe you sent that (highly polished) email at 4AM. In which case, the Boomerang for Gmail plugin lets you schedule outgoing emails. That’s useful if you have clients in different time zones, or people on your list open emails way more at certain times. The free basic Boomerang membership lets you schedule up to 10 emails a month and it’s compatible with Chrome, FireFox and Safari. Heavy users might want to upgrade, paying $5 - $50 a month.

3: Identify

If your inbox is a busy place, you’re likely to lose track of who said what when. Don’t sweat it. There’s an app (well, a plugin) for that. In fact, there are two very popular ones, Rapportive and FullContact. Rapportive works with FireFox and Chrome, while FullContact is Chrome-only, but has an iPhone app. Both do a similar job: they let you know who you’re talking to, opening a sidebar that shows photo, bio and other details whenever you open an email. FullContact has slightly more functionality, though - you can add notes to someone’s profile to remind yourself, and the information it displays comes from a range of sites while rapportive mostly just syncs with LinkedIn.

4: Disguise - and Detect

Email marketers have a vested interest in knowing who opened their emails, so they can AB test subject lines and improve clickthrough. And everyone would like to know if their emails are actually being read. So that’s where MailTrack gets its users from. MailTrack tells an email’s sender if the recipient opened the mail,and if so, when.

Unless that sender has UglyMail, which detects the tracker in a MailTrack mail and warns the recipient that it’s there, by displaying an ‘eye’ icon next to the incoming message. So if you’d like to catch out email recipients who would have you believe they never got the message, or you’d like to make sure you’re not being tracked yourself (or both), there’s a Gmail plugin with your name on it.
Continue reading

The iOS Hack That Could Create Apple-Free Zones

Apple hasn’t historically faced the same malware threats as Windows, mainly because it was simply used by fewer people. But now that mobile Apple products are everywhere, hackers are figuring out ways to attack the platform. Most of these are frightening only if it’s your credit card details in the hands of the Russian mafia; otherwise, business as usual. They’re just the same hacks as those used on Android devices. But there is an Apple-specific attack, based on a weakness in the iOS operating system, that could render whole areas iPhone-free.

Weakness in the system

In a way, the devilishness of this hack relies on iPhone users being a little bit unscrupulous themselves. Hackers configure a wireless router in a particular way and then use it to start an unprotected network. Once an iPhone or other Apple device connects to the network, it crashes, and from then on it will crash every time it’s restarted, without giving the user time to disconnect from the network. The only solution is to physically move away from the network’s range. Of course, you shouldn’t really be connecting to other people’s unrecognised wifi networks anyway, but who can honestly say they’ve never done it?

Security makes it worse

The hack utilises SSL certificates to force apps that use these certificates to crash. This is particularly ingenious, as Skycure CTO Yair Amit blogged, because ‘SSL is a security best practice, and is utilized in almost all apps in the Apple app store, [so] the attack surface is very wide.’

Hard to guard against

One solution would be to simply set your device not to connect automatically to unprotected networks. Should be pretty simple, right? Trouble is, your phone actually talks to wifi networks without necessarily connecting to them. That’s how it knows where they are and what they’re called. And when it does that, a vulnerability called WiFiGate means an attacker can force a mobile device to connect to an unprotected network automatically. Add these together and it would be possible for attackers to create a situation whereby all iOS devices in a certain area became unsueable regardless of how they were configured.

The good news… that for now, there are no known exploits of this weakness. Somebody could make it impossible for you to use your iPhone until you physically move, but otherwise the actual damage to targets is minimal - for now. As far as anyone knows, this hack hasn’t been used to steal information or threaten any confidential data. How long that will hold true is obviously unknown, but Skycure says it’s working with Apple on a fix and advises iOS users to update to iOS 8.3, which offers more protection, as soon as possible.

Continue reading

How to Connect With Customers on Twitter

While there are some obvious pointers that work across any channel, from the phone to a letter - relevance, value, engaging style - the social networks can’t all be approached in the same way. It’s not just that most of us have used them for personal reasons and it can come as a shock that all that experience sometimes adds up to not much when you have to use them for business. It’s that they have their own identities - their own cultures, ways of doing things and their own etiquettes.

When you set out to communicate with customers over social media, you can’t treat the business-oriented, longform-friendly Google + (Soon to be Streams) the same as casual Facebook. And Twitter is just as individual.

Twitter is the ‘quickfire’ social channel. A tweet is just a few words, so if you have news, often that’s where it goes. It’s a busy channel, and a noisy one, and your tweets will sink without trace if you’re not careful: a tweet has a half-life of less than 20 minutes.

So how should you utilise this channel?

1: Speak the language

Speak the language of Twitter, by using native features: likes, retweets and favorites. Don’t try to use Twitter like Facebook. Retweeting is the Twitter equivalent of curating content on your blog, so find suitable brands to follow and retweet often. But you need to speak the language of twitterers too. Learn it by reading tweets so you’re prepared to fit in!

2: Show appreciation

While this isn’t Twitter-specific as such, it does need to to be done in a Twitter specific way. Offer deals, discounts, special content, to your customers via Twitter. Yes, you’re showing customers that you appreciate them, but you’re also incentivising following you on Twitter, and your tweets are far more likely to be seen, liked and retweeted by followers.

3: Showcase your work

Twitter is really well suited to posting pictures with the tweet serving as a caption, using hashtags to widen appeal and searchability. If your business doesn’t result in many photo opportunities, that’s not a big problem. Your twitter followers will understand that, so use the channel to boast of problems you have solved for clients. This works best when you retweet your customers’ comments, which you’re far more likely to see if you follow them, so don’tforget to follow in return!

4: Don’t tell: ask, and listen

Twitter is the channel people turn to to vent. Ask customers, either in groups or specifically, to comment on your service or recommend improvements. People love doing both these things, and you get retweetable recommendations and feedback from the exercise.

5: Tweet often - but not too often
Because Twitter is noisy and fast-paced people think the best way to use the channel is to pour tweets constantly,but actually just 2-4 tweets a day is best.

Continue reading

Social Death:What Happened To Google +?

You have a Google + account. You may not know it, but you do. Everyone who has a Gmail or YouTube account has one. Everyone who uses Google’s cloud productivity and storage suite has one. And everyone who has an Android phone has one. But the number of active users has always trailed far behind the number of accounts, drawing attention to the fact that Google’s venture into social hasn't actually been very successful.

On Monday, April 27 this year, Google announced that it would be splitting its social network into two. Surrendering to the facts - Google + is a competitor for Facebook the way Bob’s Truck Shop is a competitor for General Motors - Google has broken the channel in two.

Speaking on April 28, Sundar Pichai, Google’s VP of products, told MWC that: ‘For us Google+ was always two big things: one was building a stream, the second was a social layer, a common layer of identity; how sharing works across our products and services.’ That mirrors criticism leveled at Google for inventing Google+ to solve the company’s own internal problems, meaning users of Google products needed only a single login, allowing Google + to function like a foyer. No-one wants to hang out in a waiting room,though, so while Mr Pichai points to ‘a passionate community of users’ for the social side of +, it was never a contender when ranked against Facebook and Twitter.

Clarifying the future of Google+’s component services, Mr Pichai said: ’we're at a stage where use cases like photos and communications are big standalone use cases.’ The future of Google+’s services will be in three parts: Streams, Photos and Hangouts.

Photos will focus on Google +’s image service. Photos on Google + have always been far better quality than those on other social channels, but in some ways that’s been part of the problem: while Facebook and Twitter moved onto mobile right along with their customers, Google + was held back by file sizes so large they took forever to load on mobile devices. The service gets good usage but cutting it loose from the social network will probably make Streams easier to access.

Streams will be the social element of Google +, separated from the photos service and providing faster (and more mobile-friendly) access for that passionate community who really do prefer Google + to other social networks.
Finally, there’s the future of Hangouts. Hangouts has lost ground to other communications services, but Google’s VP of product Bradley Horowitz argued in December that ‘It's texting, it's telephony, it's one-to-one, it's many-to-many, it's consumer, it's enterprise,’ and stated that its comprehensiveness made it unique. Hangouts does have some great features - but all this was being said a year ago about Google +.

Continue reading

Mark Up Word Documents in Google Docs

Google Docs is most people’s first taste of the ease and convenience of cloud, though trends suggest it’s likely to become the norm soon. Meantime, many jobs that were once done on Microsoft’s productivity suite are moving over the Google. But one standby of the Microsoft system that we just can’t seem to quit is the ‘track changes’ feature. Sometimes ‘comments’ just aren't enough. What happens when you want to track changes on a Word document in Google?

Fully integrated

When it was launched, Google didn't offer track changes integration, pushing business users away. In mid-2014, that changed and full integration was rolled out. Here’s how it works.

When you upload a Word document that has tracked changes to Google Docs, the changes become ‘suggested edits.’ You can work in the document much as you would in Word. When you want to make a change or edit you can go to the ‘editing’ menu,under ‘comment’ and ‘share’ in the top right corner. Click on it and select editing > suggesting from the dropdown, and you can insert suggested edits, just the way you would with tracked changes in Word. Then, when you export that same Google Doc as a Word file, your suggested edits will be saved as tracked changes.

And one better

Google Docs offers a feature that Word doesn't, that makes the whole process of editing and revising a lot easier. No, I’m not talking about comments. Rather, it’s Google Docs’ Revision History function that stands to save many workers’ bacon. One of the reasons tracked changes exists in the first place is because without it, there’s no way to go back through a word document and see what changes were made, who by and when. But Google Docs has exactly that feature.
Revision History is accessed via the File menu. Scroll down the drop-down and you’ll see the option about midway down. Keyboard macro buffs may prefer to press command + option + shift + G on a Mac, or ctrl + alt + shift + G on a PC. Here’ you’ll see every major revision made on the document, who made it and when, and you’ll have the option to access that text or return the document to a previous version. And if you’re looking for a minor revision, they’re saved too, under ‘show detailed revisions’ at the bottom of the menu.

With these tools it’s easy to send documents back and forth between a Google Docs user and someone whose primary productivity suite is Microsoft Office, with no real synching issues.

Continue reading

Five of the Best Translation Services (That Aren’t Google Translate)

Most businesses have clients, contractors or offices in countries that don’t speak English as a first language. Even if you don’t, you’re going to need to translate a document sooner or later. Unless you happen to be a linguist, when that day comes you’ll probably reach for an online translation service. But there is more than one. Google Translate doesn’t always do a perfect or even a comprehensible job. Here are five alternatives that offer serious competition.

Google Translate has one major factor going for it - apart from the brand recognition that comes with that Google name. It’s free. Not all the alternatives are, but if you’re looking for a quality translation for professional purposes these are all a lot cheaper than hiring a translator!


UnBabel is free for the first 150 words. You insert your text into a field and select your target language. It uses similar machine learning technology to Google Translate but then sends the finished translation to a human translator to be proofed and corrected. If you want credible communication with non-English speakers, consider UnBabel. Of the options it’s probably the fastest and most efficient. However, it’s not the most in-depth.
Price: $0.03 per word


Much like UnBabel, Gengo lets you insert text and then select your target language. It comes with the advantage that you can simultaneously translate text to multiple languages and has a very wide range of languages, though this drives the cost up fast. It also helps you select an appropriate tone, helpfully based on where you intend to publish the result. It’s more comprehensive than UnBabel; it’s also more expensive.
Price: $0.12 per word


Most of us know Duolingo as a language learning site. But it also offers translation services. You can have a document ‘crowd translated. It’s free for individuals, but businesses should email for a quote.
Price: email for by-the-job quote


Yes, it’s a subreddit. Users will sometimes translate individual words or short pieces of text for free, and you can negotiate prices with individuals for larger pieces. Consider /r/forhire too, if this route interests you: you can find freelance translators who will quote you for your text.
Price: variable offers both machine translation and human translation. It’s free, but sometimes you don’t get what you don’t pay for: there’s no guarantee that a human translator will see your text. If they don’t you’re no better off than if you’d used Google Translate.
Price: free

Continue reading

Does Not Compute: The Missing Android App and How To Live Without It

Maybe you’re old enough to remember the internet without browsers. For everyone else, here’s how it used to work: you typed the address you wanted, then went there. No address, no page. Obviously, browsers brought the internet to the masses. And on the desktops of our devices there’s an app just like a browser for navigating the space inside the device. It’s called a file manager. But what do you do when your device (gulp) doesn’t have one?

Lacking a file manager makes even the most intuitive OS gradually get harder to use,because there’s no centralised way of finding files. It’s like the pre-browser internet days:no address, no file.

On desktop and laptop devices it’s relatively easy: Apple and Windows both come with file managers. Windows just updated from Windows Explorer in previous incarnations to File Explorer in Windows 8, while Apple uses Finder. But Android, while it has a file system, doesn’t have a file manager.

Obviously, that’s not as good as it could be, so what can users do to work around it?

Hit the Play Store

Just because a seemingly basic piece of functionality isn’t bundled with your OS, doesn’t mean you have to face life without it. Just head over to the Play Store and download the solution.

ES File Manager

Popular and free, ES covers the basics and comes with some impressive functions you didn’t know you couldn’t live without, like an archive creator. As well as arranging your files on your device it can also act as a cloud client for apps like Dropbox or Google Drive and supports App management.

Astro Cloud and File Manager

Another popular (and free) choice, Astro focusses more on cloud support than ES but otherwise they’re quite well matched. Astro uses a fullscreen viewer and contains other functions like an SD card optimizer and app management.

Solid Explorer

Solid Explorer comes with a free trial and costs a whopping $1.99 to unlock. Two separate explorer panes and drag and drop support means that hefty price tag might well be worth it, and Solid supports popular cloud options like Skydrive and Dropbox, has an indexed search function, and supports archived files like .zip and .rar.

AntTek Explorer Ex

You don’t need to use a paid-for app to get a full-featured, two-pane file manager. As well as the basics, AntTek supports streaming from a remote server, FTP and Samba, and Yandex, and if that’s not enough it also has built-in music and video players. And it’s free.

File management doesn’t bother some people, but if you live life through your phone - or if you BYOD to work - sooner or later, you’re going to need it!
Continue reading

You’ll Like These 5 Tips to Increase Clicks and Shares

Making a post or tweet ‘go viral’ has become the internet equivalent of the Philosopher’s Stone. Just as medieval alchemists labored over bubbling jars trying to find the magic formula to transmute base metal into gold, so modern marketers struggle over bubbling keyboards (OK,not quite) to find the right combination of words, images and ideas that makes people want to share content with everyone they know online. But we have things medieval alchemists didn’t have, like soap and teeth, but also like collaborations between analyser BuzzSumo and Content Marketers Fractl, who got together to analyse shares of over a million articles to find out what everyone should be doing to turn the base metal of a status update into viral gold.

1: Match the mood to the network

Different social networks have different ‘moods.’ LinkedIn is prevailingly positive: complaints don’t get much traction, but 70% of its top-shared articles were positive, while for Twitter, only 40% were positive, with 46% being negative and 14% neutral. On Facebook, still by far the biggest social network, the mood appears a bit negative - 47% negative, in fact, 36% positive and 17% neutral. (Once you correct for BuzzFeed and Upworthy’s relentless cheeriness it’s even darker: 30% positive, 57% negative.)

2: Facebook is where the sharing (mostly) happens

Facebook has about 62% of all the users of the top 5 social media platforms, but sees a disproportionate 82% of the shares. Either users are more engaged with Facebook, more likely to share content or possibly both: it’s not just that there are so many of them. Twitter has disproportionate virality too: it’s about the same size as LinkedIn but sees about four times as many shares.

3: Getting shared isn’t easy…

In fact,the vast majority of the most successful publishers manage only about 5, 000 shares per piece on average. Who does significantly better? Only Upworthy and BuzzFeed - but getting shares is basically their whole reason to exist. They do have some techniques we can all follow to get better results though…
4: Mystery and suspense, surprise and a twist in the tail

Posts that contain gems of unexpected information, or that trigger the ‘information gap’ effect (you won’t believe what that is) do best. We get hooked on stories quickly and the best simple narratives are already being told in headlines, making us want to click on them to find out how the story ends. This is in large part how BuzzFeed does it, though other factors like addressing news stories and social concerns is a part of their method too.

5: If you’re not killing it on every social network, that’s OK

...neither is anyone else. Most companies are really only succeeding on one or two social networks and for the majority, even that is a struggle. For marketers, it makes sense to figure out which networks clients stand to gain most from and focus, rather than trying to dominate across all networks.
Continue reading

How SMBs Can Use Cloud To Act Big

SMBs often shy away from big tech changes more than their larger counterparts: after all, they can’t afford even a single Ford Edsel moment. The risks inherent in betting on unknown outcomes is higher. But cloud isn’t some dream of how computing could be. It’s not the future like jetpacks, it’s the future like central locking. And it carries far more benefits for the SMB than for larger enterprises. Why?Because large enterprises are benefitting from services they generate in-house,which smaller businesses often have to simply do without. With a good cloud provider you can contract out everything from security through business processes to data management and behave like a much bigger company, in a non-Edsel kind of way.

1: Hand Over Your Security and Compliance Concerns

CIOs of larger firms worry about regulatory compliance and data security, malware and leaks. For smaller businesses that’s even more of a worry because there’s less hardware and specialised staff to work on it. But there is someone who has loads of both: your cloud provider. Get your security and compliance backed by an SLA and it’s a problem you can tick off. Cloud computing gives SMBs a streamlined, efficient security and compliance concerns.

2: Better Collaboration Through Cloud

One of the big differences between a smaller business and a larger one is attention to working processes. As a result, larger businesses handle things like interdepartmental communications and keeping clients informed automatically while smaller concerns struggle to locate documents and juggle the phone, email and productivity. The more of that you can hand off to the Cloud the better, and managed cloud can take on the tasks that big companies handle in-house, letting you roll like a Fortune 500 company.

3: Data Control Becomes Easy

When you’re running to keep up with OS and hardware changes and shuffling documents and spreadsheets around multiple computers, you’re probably all too aware that a lot of that time and energy is wasted. If three or four people need to work on a project, as often as not the result is three or four mutually contradictory versions of it. Cloud makes this and other aspects of data control and management effortless for the business. You become the end consumer, soall you have to produce is what your business actually does. In the age of slick managed cloud, producing and servicing your own IT makes about as much sense as producing and servicing your own electricity grid. You (probably) don’t need a generator - and you probably don’t need a data center either.
Continue reading

Facebook’s Plans To Shoot Internet at You From the Skies

At the F8 conference in Fort Mason, San Francisco on Thursday, Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, announced plans to roll out a new piece of hardware.

Codenamed ‘Aquila,’ for the eagle the Greek god Zeuss rode across the sky (really!), the innovative piece of tech Facebook announced on Thursday is a drone designed to beam the internet down to millions of people worldwide,allowing the company to effectively supply its own infrastructure to difficult-to-reach areas.

Aquila has the same wingspan as a 747 but is constructed of ultra-lightweight materials and is mostly wing, meaning it weighs less than a small car.

It’s going to need that light weight. It’s designed to stay in the air for as long as three months at once. The design uses solar power to drive propellers, and will also require sufficient energy to let drones stay in contact with one another across wider areas to supply continuous access to the web.

The drone will connect people below it to the internet via lasers fired from about 90, 000 feet (about 17 miles) above the surface of the earth, where drag is sufficiently low and there is little atmospheric turbulence.
So how soon can you expect to see one of these slow-moving monsters in the skies over your home?

Well,Facebook is cagey about the specifics, but the New York Times notes that commercial deployment ‘may take years,’ though the machines are due to be trialled this year. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg gets further into the details: ‘As part of our effort to connect the world, we've designed unmanned aircraft that can beam internet access down to people from the sky. Today, I'm excited to share that we've successfully completed our first test flight of these aircraft in the UK.’ Zuckerburg went on to explain that: ‘Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world because they can affordably serve the 10% of the world's population that live in remote communities without existing internet infrastructure.’
The drones are currently under development at a UK company, Ascenta, that Facebook acquired last year. Eventually, the social media giant hopes to be running a fleet of 1, 000 drones, though how it hopes to get the governments of the world to ’like’ the idea of filling their airspace with giant, remote-controlled laser platforms isn’t certain.
Continue reading

The Big Concerns On CIOs’ Minds? Virtualisation and Security

CIOs and IT professionals are under pressure from all quarters.In an increasingly fast-paced environment they’re struggling to implement more compex IT solutions on one hand and fend off a range of security threats with the other. What are their key concerns?

CIOs are seeing their job scopes continue to expand and develop, but they share a small number of key concerns. Overwhelmingly, research indicates, they’re thinking about just a few key things - but they’re thinking about them a lot.

The big concerns for CIOs are virtualisation and security. Protiviti’s 2015 IT Priorities Survey found that, of the 1000-plus CIOs, IT VPs and IT directors who responded, 86% cited virtualisation as this year’s ‘most significant’ concern.

Why? Well, for well over half of the companies polled, they expected to undergo a major IT transformation starting this year, but which they expect to last a year or longer. That transformation is likely to leave IT staff architecting and implementing complex systems in partnership with new companies or alone - all while keeping the lights on at the same time. The three main reasons IT staff gave for undergoing IT transformations were cost and simplification at 64%, new functionality at 55% and service assurance at 48%. These concerns, and the benefits that virtualization can bring, are likely to be magnified for smaller enterprises, with the slashed TCO offered by virtualization making more of a difference to a smaller balance sheet. Whether an SMB opts to repurpose existing servers for virtualization or look for a fully managed solution, or something in between, it’s an issue the majority of IT leaders will have to decide on going forward.

The other major concern for IT leaders is security, with 83% citing malware and virus threats as their main concern and the same number pointing instead to data breach and privacy laws. Proviti’s managing director, Jonathan Wyatt, commented: ‘gone are the days when information security and data privacy issues are viewed as just technical issues,’ arguing that they now called into play questions of ‘critical business policy, governance, compliance and communications that must be addressed across the enterprise.’ That’s probably why many CIOs and IT leaders were working to extend and strengthen their internal relationships, reaching out to C-level and senior executives, boards of directors and business-unit leaders. One result of the changes in IT implementation might be a more integrated approach to data handling, security and infrastructure across the whole enterprise.

Other major concerns for IT leaders included enterprise architecture, at 81%, and patch management, pointing to the ‘cleft stick’ many IT staff find themselves in: running to keep up means they struggle to implement newer, more efficient and secure solutions.
Continue reading

Mobile? Grab this Article!

QR-Code dieser Seite

Recent Comments

Tim Meyers Tip of the Week: Change Your Display in Windows 10
26 August 2019
Don't change only your operating system, change your display as well with a modern sunlight readable...
Tim Meyers E-Waste: An Often-Forgotten Environmental Issue
23 August 2019
E-waste and recycling and other waste management activities have not yet been determined, but they a...
Tim Meyers How to find the ideal desk height
23 August 2019
The table where you sit should be at the right height because it is necessary to have a good positio...
Tim Meyers Self-Driving Cars: Would You Hand the Wheel Over to a Computer?
23 August 2019
Self-driving cars are just cars, so they might have sensors, but no computer brain. Still, they are ...
Tim Meyers Checking Up on Medical IT in 2019
23 August 2019
Because almost all the personal information of the patients are on computers and on a cloud storage ...