Category: Small Business Software

Social Media and the Busy Business

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For social media and business, trends develop constantly and guidelines change, but as any one of these “How to” guides will tell you, social media requires time. One such book I recommend is The Digital Handshake at Audible.com. This audio book includes several hours of informational material on all the different methods of gaining exposure on social media.

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Including business social media into your schedule

Personally as a small business owner, I do not work the usual nine-to-five hours that most of the population do. While running my own business, the practice of finishing work hours late into the night is quite common. Working into this long day I have to spend considerable time seeking to engage new clients. When my potential clients days are winding down, is the time I have to spare on my social media marketing schedule.

Studies have shown that while in theory the internet is always on, and someone is always around, it seems the internet is still vulnerable to the highs and lows of regional based traffic.  The internet does seem to have a “nine-to-five” when it comes to reaching people within your area or country. You can see now how a business could be wondering how it could utilise the social media market if it has to set aside time during crucial business hours. Posting a blog can sometimes take two hours, and finding substantive material to tweet about can be time consuming as well.

There is a solution…

Schedule your social media

You might think a tweet on Twitter has to be instant but think again. Free services like Twuffer make it possible to sign into your twitter account and post tweets that will tweet when you want them to. The average recommended tweets a day is about three, so scheduling for the start, middle, and towards the end of the work day has the potential for great exposure. If you really want your followers to engage, keep your tweets personable or about a topic that could be helpful or is interesting. Scheduling your tweets leaves you to your work while your computer chirps your song for you.

Delayed Blog Posts

Most of the popular CMS’s out there like WordPress, Drupal, and my favourite MODx, have the ability to also schedule when new blog posts are made. I have often published a blog post at night, only for it to suffer from lack of exposure, lost in the next mornings news. This is where delaying the publishing time can greatly help to catch the eye of those subscribed to your feed. The best all round social media scheduling tool I have found so far is BufferThe incredible thing about Buffer is you can manage all your social media posting and scheduling through the one interface. Buffer allows you to schedule multiple social media profiles months in advance if that’s your strategy.

 Now you can plan your blogs and social media interactions with your customers on a more manageable schedule.

We Push Buttons take on outsourced social media campaigns for busy clients. Our expertise and commitment to your brand promotion will see an traffic to your website and social media points of contact with clients grow exponentially. If you would like to discuss your social media ideas and projects then contact us today.

Why We Love WordPress

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We love working with WordPress

Content management system – User friendly – Open source

We love WordPress because it is a user friendly, open source software that can be used to make all sorts of websites.

Millions of people are using WordPress each day which makes it a dynamic and developing software, publicly available, without ever losing the original source code. We can also extend the WordPress platform with plugins and themes.

We are confident that most of our clients can use WordPress after a couple of hours of training. We offer training packages to our clients and you can see our training services here.

Plugins and themes

WordPress has many free plugins that extend your site to become an eCommerce shop, a blog, a database, a membership site, a health service site, a booking and ticketing site, name it, you can make it in WordPress. Its flexibility that is its number one appeal.

SEO

WordPress is great for SEO too. Google analyses data from each site to create page rankings as do other search engines. WordPress accommodates the parameters of good SEO on each page of a website so you can boost your rankings and be found on the net faster than your competitors.

Tutorials

In addition to all the above reasons why we love WordPress is that there are plenty of tutorial videos out there on the web and forums to help with those tricky elements of design.

Save money

We have some expert coders here at We Push Buttons so we can dream up some pretty stylish designs with moving parts and tricky styling. But we also love WordPress because you don’t have to be an expert or pay for amazing plugins to customise your site. This means our clients can learn and understand how to manage their sites in house, saving them money and giving them more control over it.

Social media

Your WordPress blog can be synced with an email marketing campaign or to all your social media feeds. Essentially WordPress is  the best Content Management System produced so far and because it has a large community of developers, it continues to improve.

WordPress sites are:

  • Fast loading
  • Responsive on all devices
  • Integrate with social media
  • SEO friendly
  • Constantly updated with good coding standards
  • Easy to navigate
  • Generate site maps to search engines so they are easily readable
  • Easy image optimisation for SEO purposes
  • Easy to customise
  • Support all forms of media such as images, audio and video files
  • Secure

Fred’s Tiny House Council Regulations Airtable Database

 

Fred’s Tiny Houses are making it easier for tiny house dwellers to navigate council regulations in their shire with a national database in Airtable. Fred’s data base is interactive so people can rate their council on their friendliness towards tiny house living and design, leave comments and download PDFs of each council’s regulations. The database is of course a work in progress as councils start to address the needs of the tiny house movement coming to their shire.

You can find the Fred’s Tiny House Council Regulations in Australia database here.

We Push Buttons have clients who use Airtable as a cloud based collaborative spread sheet with many more features such as fields being able to hold long form text, images, links, attachments, check-boxes, drop-down lists and numeric data. You can opt to have different views to the grid, with Calendar, Gallery and Kanbar.

 It’s the best form of database we have come across, being able to cope with complex amounts of data and multiple staff can interact with the database at once, saving changes in real time. Plus, it can be placed on a website and users can be invited to contribute, Fred’s Tiny House Council Regulations data base being a good example.

We use Airtable as it dramatically reduces time with repetitive tasks that are abundant in web development. We can track the progress of a project and link our clients in the cloud to allow for collaboration and better record of communication.

Eve Lamb from the Castlemaine Mail wrote this article which published March 15, 2019. You can read it here.

Periscope – Live Video Streaming Platform

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Purchased by Twitter for a reported $100m, Periscope is a live streaming app that at first glance, appears quite similar to Google Hangout. When you broadcast on Periscope, you can transmit live recordings to both Periscope and Twitter fans. That means a whole group or online community can link up and interact with questions or comments. Any interactions from followers appear on your screen, which gives you the opportunity to answer questions and react to viewers.

That is where the similarity to Google Hangout ends. Periscope, in a similar fashion to Instagram, is for people on the go and can be used while you are out and about. Periscope also automatically links to Twitter, and Twitter synchronisation means live transmissions will appear in real time on your feed, making it easier for followers to tune in.

If you are following a person, it is easy to stay informed about their live transmissions via Twitter. Once you opt into sharing, you will receive notifications every time your chosen celebrity starts to stream. If you miss a transmission, you have twenty four hours to watch the live broadcast. If you are feeling bored (or perhaps adventurous), you can click the World Map tab that displays all of the live broadcasts happening on Periscope at that moment. Dive in and you will find the weird, the wonderful and the downright wacky.

Periscope is user-friendly. The app lists everyone you follow on Twitter under the People tab and presents an extensive database of user videos from around the globe. It is quite easy to scroll through the videos and tap to join in the conversation.

Periscope is an ‘access all areas’ platform. You can check out people sightseeing in Paris, watch protests in the UK or see in the New Year in Times Square. You can share in the political campaigns across the globe or watch the latest news unfolding before your eyes. There’s also plenty of structured material from musicians talking about their latest album and actors discussing upcoming films. On the wackier side of things, you can take a guided tour of someone’s sock drawer or check out the contents of a refrigerator in a country on the other side of the world. Periscope turns an eye to everything everywhere from the mundane to breaking news.

Despite its accessibility, there is not much reason to worry about disturbing content. The Periscope community is similar to that of Instagram – the content is checked, but it seems to be mainly clean.

Periscope has real potential for news reporting, especially breaking news and celebrity events. It is also a useful platform for writers and artists who want to be more accessible to their audience.  One very appealing aspect of Periscope is the ability to set up private broadcasts. This means you can live stream a family event to friends and family in other countries.

Saving Broadcasts

Although all streamed broadcasts disappear after 24 hours, you can still save copies of every broadcast or individual broadcasts.

You can automatically save copies of your broadcasts to your phone with the following steps:

  1. navigate to People tab
  2. tap Profile icon (top right corner)
  3. from Profile page tap ‘Settings’
  4. turn on ‘Auto-Save to Camera Roll’

To save an individual broadcast as soon as it ends:

  1. on iOS, tap ‘Save to Camera Roll’ when broadcasts finishes to download to your phone
  2. on Android, tap ‘Save to Gallery’ when broadcast finishes

Do you want to try live-streaming, or maybe catch the latest offering from your favourite celebrity? Periscope is available as a free download on Android and iOS here.

*Warning: streaming of copyright materials without permission on Periscope could land you in hot water!

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What is a Content Management System (CMS)?

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What is a Content Management System (CMS)?

A CMS is basically a software system that facilitates administration, authoring and collaborative content creation for web users who are not experienced with web programming languages. The three most popular CMS WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are easy to use and are often favoured by small businesses, individual bloggers and not-for-profit organisations.

The benefits of a CMS

A robust CMS enables users to manage documents online, administer changes to web content with little or no training, and create multiple author outputs. Most platforms have a range of presentation templates, which will vary depending on whether you want to build an eCommerce site or start a personal blog. The CMS controls your collection of web materials including documents, images and other media, and stores your content and metadata on a database.

CMS: The Good

WordPress, Drupal and Joomla offer:

  • templates that allow the user to insert their own content for an individual look
  • easy to edit content – most platforms separate content from visual presentation in the administration panel. This makes manipulating content easy for non-technical users
  • traffic control – user groups allow administrators to control registered users’ interaction. Anonymous users can be restricted or denied access, thereby circumventing issues with Spammers
  • regular software updates and the ability to add plug-ins to extend functionality
  • multi-lingual tools to increase your audience share
  • content syndication through the generation of RSS feeds and email updates to users
  • low cost and low maintenance: WordPress, Drupal and Joomla can be used for free, and the ease of use often means it is often unnecessary to employ a full-time software developer to manage your site
  • CMS platforms are excellent for search engine optimisation (SEO). Social media plugins, fresh content and RSS feeds can increase the number of subscribers on your site

CMS: The Bad

  • implementation for larger scale projects can be costly and may require further hardware installations
  • URLs on CMS can be unstable which could see them blocked by search engines

CMS: The Downright Ugly!

Before we go any further, both of the items on this list are avoidable. It is worth talking to a software specialist and spending some of the money you’ve saved elsewhere to avoid these ugly ducks!

 

Storm Season Backup Servers

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Backup your Server

Storm season – time to get a backup server

The recent autumn storms that lashed the east coast of Australia are a not too subtle reminder that all businesses, large and small, should have backup servers in a separate location to their main business premises. As well as keeping a backup server, business owners should verify that backups are working successfully, or unexpected natural disasters could leave you without the necessary data you need to run your business.

The difference between the Cloud and offsite backup

Cloud does offer limited backup for companies but it is meant for small files and personal data. The major, and most important, difference between Cloud and off-site backup is ownership. When you store data on Cloud, you are a customer and as such, bound by the terms and conditions of Cloud storage. When you use an offsite backup server, you are the owner of your data, which means you can access it whenever you want. An offsite server also offers greater data protection because it can run twenty-four hours a day with scheduled backups at regular intervals.

Why is an offsite server the best option?

We live in an information age where the most valuable possession a business has is data. If your business was to lose all the company and client data, the costs involved in notifying clients and government agencies, continuing without data (if that is possible) and recreating the lost data would result in loss productivity and possibly, bankruptcy.

Off-site servers are an added layer of insurance against:

  • Natural disasters – storms, fire, floods, earthquakes and cyclones
  • Hardware failure
  • Theft
  • Malicious attack – from employees or the internet in the form of virus, worm or trojan

Having a backup server in place means you or your IT manager can travel to the off-site location and immediately retrieve an up-to-date copy of your business information.

How do I set up an offsite backup server?

The complexity and expense of an offsite server will depend on the size and nature of your business. It is best to choose a secure location, out of a flood zone, that is easily accessible. If there is no one within your business that is qualified to set up a backup server, you should seek expert advice to ensure you data is properly protected twenty four hours a day.

Every company suffers data loss at some point or another, so your best defence against the cost and stress of lost data is to commission an offsite backup server, establish a disaster and backup recovery plan, and review your data protection policies every twelve months.

 

What is Canva?

Getting Creative with Canva

What is Canva?

There’s no question that Adobe Photoshop is the premiere photo editing app, but it remains too costly and too difficult to master for many of us. If you want to create the odd infographic or social media post, and you don’t have time to climb the professional ropes, there’s plenty of free/ semi-free alternatives out there. One of the best has to be Canva.

Canva is an online platform offering hundreds of free templates to help you create amazing postcards, social media graphics, book covers and everything in between. There is no installation required to use Canva. Simply visit the website, create a profile and start designing for free. The premium photo stock on Canva costs money – most seem to cost US$1.00, but there are plenty of free images available too. The site also has a comprehensive Design School that includes a blog, tutorials, and teaching materials.

Canva is simplified photo-editing at its best. Sure, there are no layers and limited filters, but there is still plenty of flexibility on offer, and a good variety of options available, especially for poster and meme creation. Choose from thousands of free elements or upload your images and edit them online. Some of the features include a massive range of frames and fonts, free icons, and badges and streamed designs from other users.

Once you have signed up, choose from a series of templates for posters, presentations, Facebook covers, etc. Just click on your chosen template and decide on the layout that best suits your media. You can then play with fonts, images, filters and backgrounds. Canva saves as you go, so your work will not be lost if you lose connection. When you re-enter the site, your designs will be displayed on the desktop. After you have completed a design, you can share on Facebook and other social media, download or make public via Canva Stream.

Canva isn’t the answer to every photo editing question, but it is user-friendly and can deliver professional looking designs for free. Oh, and did we mention it’s great fun to use?

Disqus: the only commenting system worth contemplating

Why we recommend Disqus as our preferred commenting system:

If you are running a blog or website and want your commenting system to be real time, fast, effortless and user-friendly, Disqus is the only plugin worth contemplating. Disqus is free and readily available on platforms like WordPress, and it’s a quick and painless process to replace your current commenting system on most blogging platforms. Once you’re signed up, you can start commenting immediately and site users can create their own Disqus profile and take it with them to other sites. This makes it easier for people to leave comment on your site, because they can use their Disqus profile on all sites that have the plugin integrated.

3 reasons to make that comment with Disqus:Disqus-logo-vector-blogger

  1. Less Spam – If you are serious about reducing spam, Disqus is one of the few commenting systems with powerful detection technology that is designed to keep the robots (and repeat anonymous offenders) out! Some best practice strategies include:
    1. Changing pre-moderations to ‘non-verified’ to avoid comments with fake emails going live straight away
    2. Including a requirement for links in comments to be reviewed
    3. Receiving notification if a comment is flagged by readers. You can set a flag amount and when it is reached, an automatic removal of the comment will be generated
    4. Blacklisting trolls who use repeat anonymous logins
    5. Sending comments for review that contain restricted words
  2. Social Integration – the three major social networking sites, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are currently supported by Disqus, so anyone who doesn’t wish to become a Disqus user can still leave a comment using social media. Conversations can be easily promoted or shared, and people invited to the discussion by simply adding social media buttons under comments
  3. Personal Control – you can manage the look of your comments, change avatars, and even export and import entire threads. Not only that, email notifications give you greater real-time commenting control, and you can approve, delete and reply to comments from your email inbox

Last, but certainly not least, Disqus opens up a huge online community through ‘Discovery’. This feature not only brings popular discussions that are internal to your blog into focus, it also points commentators to related links on your blog. The external arm of ‘Discovery’ has a monetisation program available that is based on CPC (Cost per Click), but due to the volatility of this type of revenue, the external feature is of more value due to increased visitor engagement and traffic generation to and from your blog.

Free email program for your desktop

Free Email Program

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These days most of us are so overrun by email that often it is all too overwhelming. Personally I think it is a great idea to have an email program on your computer as well as having one in the Cloud. For email on your desktop or laptop I can really only recommend two programs; Thunderbird from the Mozilla Foundation and Microsoft Outlook.

Thunderbird

Thunderbird is a great email client and considering it is free it is an amazing program. It has a similar interface to other email clients like Outlook but the search funtionality seems to be far superior. The Mozilla Organisation have released an add-on called Lightning which is a great calendar to keep track of appointments. The only small downside is sometimes it doesn’t import your contacts quite as easily as Outlook or Gmail but really it is a small price to pay for a great tool. It’s a great resource for boot strapping businesses.

We wrote a more complete review of Thunderbird here.

 

Clicky: Analytic Tool

Clicky Analytics: As a web designer that specialises in small business I find client most of my clients don’t understand Google Analytics properly. It’s cumbersome, the learning curve is steep and is too complex for most small websites. That’s why I recommend Clicky. It creates easy to understand statistics about your website in an easy to digest format. There’s no training needed to understand what it all means. How many unique visitors have you had today, this week, this month, where did they come from, what terms did they use in search to find you,  how long did they stay on that page and on your website in general, all the pertinent things someone needs to know about their website. It also allows for some pretty solid industry leading analytics for the advanced user too.

Click here to visit their website.

Browser-based tools for busy writers

Focusing on productive creativity

“I sit down at the computer with the intention of getting that next article/chapter/story done. The next thing I know, two hours have passed and I haven’t written a word!”

Sound familiar? If your social media accounts and web-surfing habits are costing you hours of writing time, why not restore some desktop discipline. Try some of the following browser-based tools for writers. We’ve compiled some of the best tools on the net to help you get the most out of your creative time.

Get Organised

If you’ve got a million ideas but can’t figure out how to get them onto paper, it might be time to try a different approach. The following tools can help organise your thoughts and ideas into words and sentences.

  • Wridea – a site dedicated to managing ideas. It offers a “collection of brainstorming tools” and the ability to share your ideas with friends. Many writers find this site appealing because it is very user-friendly and sign-up is free. Use it when inspiration strikes – it’s a fast, easy place to jot down ideas for future use.
  • TiddlyWiki – a note-taking app that is free to download and store. It is non-linear, giving you the freedom to store and retrieve notes according to your personal thought structure, and one of my favourites for brainstorming ideas and making those connections in a busy plot. You can take notes, add hyperlinks, images and freehand sketches, use tabs, tables and tags, and bookmark websites for research. You can also share ideas as files or links.

Get Productive

Procrastination is a major problem for writers – I used to spend an unhealthy amount of time worrying about the paradox of time travel and cataloguing the contents of my bathroom cupboard when I should have been writing. Then the net came along and I had every reason in the world to waste even more writing time. If you find it hard to escape the entanglements of the web, try using the following tools to cut down distractions and keep your mind on the plot.

  • Pomodoro Technique – this simple technique advocates taking regular breaks that include physical activity to increase productivity and avoid burnout. There are plenty of browser-based ‘tomato timers’ available – it’s just a matter of deciding which one you like best.
  • Cold Turkey – This site blocker for Windows is an absolute ‘must have’ for web junkies like me. You can block nominated social media sites and web pages, and the free version has some great features including the ability to group pages into lists, and a timer for blocking lists at particular times. A paid upgrade includes a scheduler and the ability to block game apps as well.

Get Utilities

These fantastic tools are easy to use and will appeal to (and slightly distract) devoted wordsmiths. Used correctly, they free up more time for writing and help you avoid poorly written, cliché riddled prose.

  • Cliché Finder – sometimes you simply have to let every dog have its day, but don’t fall into the habit of overusing cliché. If you’re unsure about a phrase, copy and paste your text into the box on the site, click on ‘find cliché’ and let this handy tool do the rest. The only down side to this tool is its time-wasting potential –I couldn’t help testing Cliché Finder’s ability…over and over again! NB: this tool only supports English.
  • Grammarly – if you’ve spent hours worrying about dangling participles or agonising over colons versus semi-colons, get ready for the joy of Grammarly. With an online thesaurus, a detailed online Handbook, a Q&A section and a blog included, there’s plenty to learn on the site. Grammarly makes it easy to check your grammar and make sure you haven’t inadvertently stolen someone else’s magnum opus. The annual subscription fee of less than $AUD20 is well worth paying for the benefits of an online grammar coach and plagiarism checker.
  • BibMe – this bibliography tool will probably only interest students, academics and the odd pedant or two. If you fall into any of those categories, you’ll know how time-consuming and frustrating bibliographies and footnotes can be, especially for large publications. BibMe is a fantastic resource that cuts the time spent building your bibliography in half, rates your essay if required, and generates a bibliography in your choice of style (e.g., MLA, Chicago, etc.).

So there you have it – for every time-wasting, brain-draining site on the web there is an equal and opposite site designed to block the siren song of procrastination and release the grip of writer’s block. All you have to do is pick the tools that work best for you and get on with the business of writing.

 

HTML5 v Flash

The Great Debate

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Which is the superior medium – HTML5 or Flash? There seems no end to the debate. Some developers believe Flash is already dying in a PC-bound backwater, while others believe it has far too much traction online to simply go under and drown. As yet there had been no definitive answer, but we believe the future is HTML5.

Weighing up the Advantages

The developers and supporters of Flash insist they have the numbers to prove the worth of the technology they prefer. 70% of web-based games are built on Flash, over 70% of web-based video content are viewed via Flash, and over 90% of enterprises rely on Flash. Numbers like that deserve confidence and no doubt are music to Adobe’s economic ear, but numbers alone cannot protect the future viability of a technology that is driven by consumer demand for accessibility.

HTML5 offers mobile capability, which means content can be downloaded on any device; a capability that the PC-bound Flash medium does not enjoy. Most modern browsers and many mobile devices that are incapable of running Flash readily support HTML5. The ability to run content across a variety of platforms is incredibly important when you consider that in all probability, one in five views will occur on a mobile device. HTML5 also has semantic markup. When it is properly formatted it allows for easy reading by a spider and can provide a huge boost to a site’s SEO. Flash, on the other hand, is compiled code so the content cannot be spidered to increase the SEO rating of a site.

HTML5 v Flash…and the Winner is…

The open standards development of HTML5 means it is not controlled by one company vision. Feedback is encouraged and has helped developers keep up with the demands of a growing world of users, making HTML5 a clear winner for on-the-move gamers who demand the latest technology.

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The Five Main Types of Software Licenses

Software Licenses

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What they are and how you can use them:

Traditionally Software Licenses were commercial in use – you paid a set price and you were allowed to use that software whether it be an Office Program, an Accounting Package or an Anti-Virus Program on one or more computers.

And there is big money in software licenses.

So big in fact, companies were licensing not just software but the actual tools of the trade for businesses, designers, and education departments. Somewhere along the way prices started becoming prohibitively expensive for companies and universities and began effecting productivity on a massive scale (that’s a whole other topic!).

All of a sudden the font that your company was using on your letterhead free of charge for 10 years now needed to be licensed for $140 US. The graphic program that you bought for $1,200 US all of a sudden had a requirement to be upgraded every 2 years at an additional $500. Your company grew from 3 employees to 6, well that’s a whole different category of software license so now you owe twice the amount you did the year before.

One of the main reasons I believe Western Productivity has stagnated is prohibitively expensive software licenses.

But need drives demand and with so many smart cookies out there people started taking matters into their own hands.

Organisations such as GNU began creating free software that could do what their commercial rivals did. Others followed suit and now we have some amazing products, many that are superior to commercial rivals. I am slowly adding a resources page of software that is either free or affordable. Some are open source, some are free, most are commercial and some are shareware.

Like with anything on the internet there is an oversupply of conflicting information regarding software licenses. When can you use them? How can you use them? Can you adapt them? Can you use them commercially?

Software Licenses: A Brief Overview-

  • Free Software GNU License: You are able to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software without hindrance. The easiest way to describe this is ‘Free’ as in liberty, so you are able to adapt them to your needs, they are also ‘Free’ as in price. The GNU Organisation has more in depth information.
  • Open Source: Open source means that you can use a font, program, or browser for free of charge generally without any conditions. Open Source as its name suggests means that its code is available in a free manner so others may distribute it under the condition that further developments and applications are put under the same licence GNU General Public License (GPL), is the most common license.
  •  Freeware: is commonly used for commercial products that are proprietary software. A company is allowing people to use their product without payment but you cannot adapt and modify the program as a company owns it. Free as in Free price, not Freedom to modify it. This is often tricky for artists and designers to understand as it is free for personal use, but if you use it for commercial reasons (even if its for your child’s local primary school fete you need to pay a fee).
  • Creative Commons (CC): Is a non-profit organisation that has allowed creative people to release their works whether it be art, fonts, code, manuals, video work, graphic design, photographs, with a license that suits the person creating the work. A creative person may be happy to give their work away for free no strings attached, give their work away for no payment but with recognition that they are the author of the product, or that it can be adapted only for non-commercial use etc. The Creative Commons is an amazing resource to share, learn and use works without payment and as a designer I find absolutely invaluable. It is often misunderstood, but if you want to understand it properly Jonathan Bailey at Plagarism Today has written the easiest to understand article on the topic I’ve seen so far- How to Correctly use Creative Commons.
  • Shareware: Really should be called Trialware. A company allows you to download their program for a set amount of time with the aim being that if you like their product you buy the software license.

Please keep in mind that this is really only a very brief overview of software licenses. Last time I checked there were well over 20 different types, all slightly different. There is a whole field of Intellectual Property dedicated to licensing software and I certainly don’t have the budget to pay for a lawyer to go into further details, besides you probably would have nodded off by now.

Below are a few organisations that have revolutionised the web through use of various software licenses.

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WordPress has democratised the web by making it cost effective to create beautiful, effective websites. WordPress uses an Open Source GNU General Public License (GPL)


 

The Mozilla Organisation have created such great software as Firefox, Thunderbird and Firebug. They have been on the cutting edge of the internet for a long time now and have always created great software. Mozilla has created their own Open Source license called the Mozilla Public License (MPL)


The GNU Organisation began in 1983 and are best known for their Linux Operating system. They have never stopped creating amazing programs much of which has been adapted and copied by commercial rivals.

If you believe in a free internet then they are an organisation well worth supporting. They are always seeking assistance whether it be financial or actual coding through the Free Software Foundation.


Creative Commons began in San Francisco in 2001 and has the lofty aim of creating universal access to research and education to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity. They have a yearly fund raising drive. If you are a creative type then a donation should be right up your alley. Helping spread good design, freely.

Creative Commons Copyrighted Work Licenses:

We love Creative Commons and how you can license your original work such as images, text & code with different licenses so you can share with other people.

Attribution:

Other people can copy, use, display and distribute your licensed work provided they give you credit. They can also modify the work provided there is credit given. I have seen this used with great effect by photographers that have done a photo shoot and been paid for the best 20% of the photographs and they release another 20% with a Attribution License so other people can enjoy their work and they gain further exposure.

noncommercial-sotware-licenseNon-Commercial:

You allow other people to use your work only in a non-commercial way. Other people can copy, use, display and distribute your licensed work provided they give you credit but can’t make money from your work.

No Derivative Works. You allow others to distribute, display and copy your work  but they cannot modify or build upon your work.

share-alike-licenseShare Alike:

Others can share and distribute your work only if it is under a license identical to the license you’ve set.

The four Creative Commons licenses above all have various permutations relating the exact nature of how you would like to license your copyrighted product. For more information Creative Commons please see their website here…

Benefits of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing for your business

 

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Cartoon Courtesy: Rob Cottingham

Cloud computing is one of the latest IT technology marketing buzzwords. Is it something you can take advantage of in your business or is it just the latest in a long line of ‘next big’ things that just don’t cut it. Before we look at the benefits Cloud computing could have for your business, just what is this mysterious piece of jargon?

What is the Cloud?

Imagine instead of having all your files installed on your own computer, you simply log into the internet and find all your programs directly in your browser. That’s basically what Cloud computing is all about. All you need is a computer, an internet connection and you can work from anywhere – even in transit with your tablet or iPhone.

If you use a web based email program like Hotmail or Gmail then you already use the cloud without realising it. All your emails are stored on the email service’s web servers and you can log in from anywhere around the world. Cloud computing takes this to the ultimate limit – a virtual computer office accessible anywhere with an internet connection.

The accessibility that Cloud Computing offers means the information must be stored off-site. This means data needs to be hosted on a cloud company’s own server. Issues with trust have been well-documented and certainly worth investigating further – especially find out where the servers are located. Different countries have different levels of legislation regarding access to this information, certainly the general advice is to make sure you choose a company with servers in your own country. Robin wrote an article last year on the issues with The Cloud here…Cloud_computing

Dedicated companies can provide ‘limitless’ storage – limitless being of course the anticipated demand for storage space. But the power to buy in bulk allows, in practice, no limit to the size your system needs, without the need to purchase the storage hardware yourself. No more backing up on to DVDs or portable memory drives. Guaranteed continuous backup of your data is the catch cry.

The freedom from the need to buy big powerful computers and manage your own IT department is a real attraction to cloud computing. A computer that has an internet connection and a browser is all you need – the software run through Firefox or your browser of choice. The management of an IT department isn’t something that most people will really have to do. But larger companies can relieve themselves of the cost of this by outsourcing to a cloud provider. Sorry guys but it’s true. Large companies requiring security of their information can utilise the technology to run their own cloud-based system and network.

The two burning questions I hear you asking about The Cloud:

  1. How much does it cost?
  2. Can I trust it?

The cost depends on what sort of computer you want to mimic. You can choose levels of:

  • RAM
    • Basically storage space. Just like the RAM in your computer, but it runs in a virtual environment RAM runs faster than hard-drives so your system can potentially run faster in a cloud environment. This is what your software runs in.
  • CPU
    • The speed of the processor the environment mimics. The reason they have a choice is to lessen the burden on their server loads – ‘slower’ performance is really less requests to the server per second.
  • Cores
    • The number of processors the environment mimics – the more people accessing the server at anyone time – sort of like the bandwidth in a way.
  • Storage space
    • This is where your documents, files and media are stored. Just like your hard-drive.

Some companies offer fixed plans like mobile contracts (Software as a Service SaaS), some have a yearly fee, many such as Gmail are ‘free’ and some you pay a rate based on the amount you use. Also remember the overall speed is also affected by the speed of your own web host plan or wireless connection.

One consideration is if the data storage company goes bust and turns off the servers – or withhold your data if you get behind in paying your bill. Sometimes the security of a large, popular company is worth the additional fees – whatever you do, make sure the host has a policy for the ownership and access to your data in case of catastrophy!

I see the use of cloud technology becoming a mixture of smaller business utilising web-based hosts and larger businesses incorporating cloud-based technologies into their own IT departments. With a healthy sprinkling of work from home and jet-setters running their businesses from their laptops in all the most beautiful places in the world. On a gondola down a venice canal perhaps…  It sounds far-fetched and science fiction but this technology has the potential to transform the idea of the internet, as not so much a place you visit but a place you operate in. And who doesn’t want more control over their own lives anyway?

Let’s recap the Benefits of Cloud Computing

  • Limitless storage
  • Easily accessible
  • A wide range of options for your budget
  • Less hardware and software to purchase and upgrade
  • Better quality of life for everybody

I don’t often see as much potential in new technologies as I do in cloud computing.

Will the internet finally keep it’s promise to mankind to free our lifestyles.

cloud-computing

Open Source Software for Self-Publishers

The Benefits of Open Source Software for Self-Publishers

Having a publisher prepare one’s manuscript is often fraught with difficulties and frustrations. This is no truer than with the esoteric art of poetry, my own brave conviction, where the gist of the art and its subtle nuance is often lost on but the very best publishers. The result being, having one’s life work poorly represented and poorly marketed. Beholden to the publisher’s whim, indifference and empty promises, self-publishing became an attractive and viable option – provided one can find a practical and inexpensive desk-top-publishing software program.

After dismissing my own publisher on the very same grounds, previously mentioned, I had engaged an old university colleague to redo my manuscript using proprietary desktop publishing software. Unfortunately the software, in the past, was not frequently updated and when difficulties arose over program use, help could not be had. People could not assist us because of compatibility issues that developed when transferring and integrating our document files, created from old software, with more updated software programs of those who were rendering assistance. An example of such a problem is the resurfacing of old editing, despite saving new changes and deleting the old. Frequent updates of proprietary software, to avoid these issues, can be prohibitively expensive especially for the infrequent user and hobbyist self-publishers.

With my life’s work on hold, the option of using open-source desktop publishing software promised to breach my publishing impasse. While Googling, I chanced upon an experimental version of an open-source desktop publishing software called Scribus©, suitable for both PCs and Macs. Googling for online information, I sought instruction on how to use this particular program and was thus able to lean its idiosyncrasies.

In less than a week I was able to re-do my manuscript, from scratch, to print ready stage. The same equivalent process took my former publisher more than two years, using proprietary software, to no avail.

Like self-publishing, learning new software requires a steep learning curve but is worthwhile with open-source software if one can overcome the initial trepidation.

 

Open Source Software

Open Source Software for Small Business

Computers offer the small business owner such amazing tools to create, publish and promote one’s business that marketing your business, art studio or next book has never been easier. And with such a vibrant Open Source Software community, today’s business owner can build a great computer that does almost everything required by a small business or artist.

Here’s some of our favourite Open Source Software:

Web browser: Firefox

All the top browser makers will let you have a browser for free. They’re mostly not open-source but all basically do a similar thing. Mozilla Firefox is my choice for an Open Source browser, it is hugely popular, stable and comes with some great add-ons.

 

Open-Source Email:

Google’s Gmail and MSN Hotmail are the two most popular webmail services. Most people have at least one of these even as a secondary email account. They are simple to use, easy and accessible anywhere. But they do have their issues: Some people don’t like the idea of cloud based software whilst others don’t trust what large companies do with your information.

But there is an open-source alternative:

Mozilla Thunderbird is an open-source email management program, very similar to Outlook. You download your mail from the mail server to your own computer’s hard drive so you have access to your messages even when offline. The great thing about storing your information is you control the information, there’s no advertisements distracting you and you can access your emails when an internet connection isn’t there. Read our full review of Thunderbird here
These are things like sending emails, writing letters, designing simple flyers. Also you might need to calculate monthly budgets, income and outlay statements, more business type administration.

 

Open-Source Documents: Word

Most new PCs come with a trial version of Microsoft Office or are included in the (premium) price. Yet it does cost a reasonable amount of money to purchase the software. This is especially apparent when looking at schools and education departments that are still running Microsoft Word 2000. If it wasn’t so expensive the schools would have upgraded by now. The most common name in open-source office software is Open Office & LibreOffice. It might take a bit longer to relearn some things but mostly works the same way as Word. You can even open and save Word files.

 

You might need a spreadsheet for doing basic accounting, budgeting or timetabling. Open Office has an excel equivalent in the suite. It also has presentation (slideshow) software, a database package and a drawing package (more on this below). If you can use Excel then you can pick up Open Office’s version very quickly and easily. There’s some subtle differences but for most purposes it’s basically the same.

Open-Source Image software:

If you’ve ever played around with Windows you might have found the Paint program. I haven’t met anyone who has been able to use it for much more than child-like drawings with the mouse… So you’ll need better image software to scan your work, create digital artwork, professional posters and invitations, that sort of thing. Open Office has a drawing program that seems like a set above Paint but in my opinion, real artists need real software.

For many years the industry standard has been Photoshop. Only problem with Photoshop is it’s expensive and the learning curve is steep. If all you want to do is resize your family photos or add a watermark to your work then its hard to justify the price tag of Photoshop.

Enter: GIMP

is an image manipulation program similar to Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. It has an equivalent function for most of the functions the other software has, and is available under what is called a GNU Public Licence. This means that you are free to use and distribute this software.

We’ve done a more complete review of GIMP here….

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Audio software

It really depends on what you want to do with audio. If you want to record podcasts then you might only need something like Audacity, which is a multitrack audio recorder and processor. You can record your voice on one track, put some music on other tracks and then mix together your podcast, ready to post on your blog.

If you are a musician looking to produce music then you will want a multi-track digital audio workstation that you can record and use synthesizers with. DarkWave Studio is such a package. VST-compatible, which means you can plug in other synthesizers and effects to create and produce professional-quality audio.

Read our post on Podcasting for more detailed information.

Video

VideoLAN Movie Creator is a video editor you can use to make films or video blogs. The VideoLAN organisation (creators of VLC player which you may have heard of) states on their website that it is ‘A project and a non-profit organization, composed of volunteers, developing and promoting free, open-source multimedia solutions’. Perfect for video blogs, projections for gigs, or video art.

Beyond the scope of this article is Ubuntu Studio, an Ubuntu total package developed specifically for artists of every medium, as well as multimedia artists. A brief glance seems promising, especially if you’re happy to embrace the open-source philosophy whole-heartedly and spend the time learning a completely new system. Look out for an article soon about this awesome product.

Conclusion:

The open-source philosophy isn’t just about free stuff. It’s about freedom from restriction and freedom to share. The community that develops and maintains this software does so because of their beliefs. If you use open-source software commercially it would be nice to consider donating some of your profits to the continued development of whatever you find useful.

Donate to the Gnome Open Source Software Community

What is a Creative Commons License?

Which Creative Commons License is right for you?

creative-commons-license-logo

Creative Commons is a licensing scheme which encourages the sharing of intellectual property whilst allowing the creator to retain ownership of the copyright. A Creative Commons licence is a simple, legal means for creators to grant copyright permissions to their creative work.

The aim of the Creative Commons project is to collate a pool of digital content that can be used a resource by anyone in their own creative processes that operates within copyright law. Creators of content can distribute their work for others to enhance, modify, edit or sample in their new creations, ensuring that the original creator is credited for their original work.

A Creative Commons license come in seven varieties that creators (or licensors, as referred to legally) can choose from to distribute their work under (version 2.5):

  • Attribution
  • Attribution / Share-Alike
  • Attribution / NoDerivs
  • Attribution / NonCommercial
  • Attribution / NonCommercial / Share-Alike
  • Attribution / NonCommercial / NoDerivs
  • Public Domain

Creative Commons Licenses explained:

Most of the combinations are of the following:

  • Creative Commons: Attribution means that use your work must be credited to you.
  • Creative Commons: ShareAlike means that the resulting use of your work must also be licensed as a ShareAlike license.
  • Creative Commons: NoDerivs means that your work must not be edited or altered, but can be freely distributed.
  • Creative Commons: NonCommercial means use of your work must not be used for commercial purposes.
  • Creative Commons: A Public Domain license waives all rights to the copyright, allowing others to use your work freely without crediting you.

Creative Commons also makes its licenses available in three formats, reflecting the digital nature of the work and the non-legal background of the majority of creative workers:

Creative Commons Licenses come in three formats:

  • Legal Code
    • The license in traditional legal language
  • Human Readable
    • The license in standard language that most people will be able to understand
  • Machine Readable
    • The license in a computer language that software can recognise, embedding the license into the digital format of the work

This approach to license format is designed to ensure that creators are protected legally, that creators can understand the terms of the licenses, and that prospective licenses can use Web technology to source Creative Commons licensed creations.

The Creative Commons website has an easy-to-use tool for licensing your work the way you want it, and for finding Creative Commons licensed work online.

Why use a Creative Commons license?

  • It encourages distribution of your work and your name
  • It adds to the pool of digital media available for others to use
  • It inspires new creations
  • It enriches the record of human creative achievement stored by the World Wide Web

Anyway you look at it Creative Commons is a great resource for Artists & Small Business owners. Creative Commons items can images, worksheets, budgets, code, photos and anything else that comes under the umbrella of Intellectual Property. For more information see:

www.creativecommons.org.au or www.creativecommons.org

 

How to use Excel in your art business

Using Excel in your arts administration:

Arts Administration – for many artists it’s the side of their practice they’d rather not think about, but in our economic culture it’s an integral aspect of any successful Art Business. Luckily with the advent of technology, we have tools at our disposal that can help us manage this side quickly and easily.

Spreadsheet applications like Excel are my favourite way to manage the administration of art – in fact I consider it an artform in itself. The beauty of Excel for me is the simplicity of its function, and its ability to be manipulated to perform various tasks.

How to use Excel: The Basic Theory

Quite simply, Excel is a sheet of rectangles, or cells, into which information can be entered. This information can be two types:

  • Data
    • Words
    • Numbers
  • Instructions involving other cells
    • Total the list above
    • Calculate the total price times the number of items
    • Add up the total hours worked for each day

So it can be used either as a database or a spreadsheet. What do these terms mean?

GIMP Review- Open Source Software

GIMP Review

Image Manipulation Program

GIMP is a GNU image manipulation program similar to Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. GNU means that the software is not owned by anyone, and can be freely distributed. Free in this sense means freedom, not necessarily free-of-charge, but it is available to be downloaded and used at no cost. This would seem to be the perfect solution for artists living on low-income who just need some cheap way to get their images online.

I have a client who wants to save images of his work so they can be ready to sell on Red Bubble. I’ve been using Photoshop for a few years but he doesn’t have it, or any other commercial image software, so I went looking for a free alternative for him.

And I found GIMP, a free program that does pretty much everything that Photoshop does – and can even work with the same file formats!

My client is a visual artist working in ink and paint. His images are either photographed or scanned and then he wants them to be post them to his own website or sell his work through websites such as Red Bubble. Whilst this offers his work a unique ‘lo-fi’ character, this technique creates some issues when the colours don’t appear as they would on the original work, or when smudges and blemishes appear on the original artwork. Many of his pieces are also black-and-white prints he would then hand-colour.

He asked me to make him a step-by-step tutorial in simple image touching-up, resizing and exporting various file formats (JPG and PNG specifically). What a great way to learn a new program! I had to try and find all the corresponding GIMP functions to match how I would do the job in Photoshop. Overall GIMP 2.6 functions work pretty much the same way as in Photoshop – though sometimes they’re under a different menu.

My tutorial focused on:

  • removing speckles and blemishes
    • ie from dusty scans, random smudges etc
  • selecting and altering specific sections
    • straightening hand-lettering, rotating images
  • touching up colours
    • making colours more vivid or more solid
  • removing backgrounds
    • a must for printing T-shirts
  • resizing and exporting images
    • Red Bubble needs different products in different sizes and formats

 The basic GIMP 2.6 tools I used were:

  • Square and Round select
    • it’s nice to have a round select tool as standard!
  • Lasso and Fuzzy Wand
    • The Photoshop Magic Wand is called the Fuzzy Wand in GIMP.
  • Eraser
    • It wasn’t clear to me how to select a specific brush size for the eraser, something I use in Photoshop. Though it’s not a necessity.
  • Move and Rotate
    • It wasn’t clear how to select a section to move it – it seems that you need to cut the section, paste it, move it and then anchor it back on to its layer. OK once I worked that out.
  • Colour Balance
    • Useful for scans that lose some colour integrity!
  • Hue saturation
    • My favourite so far! Control the hue/lightness/saturation of the six primary/secondary colours. Individually, or click Master to loop through the hue palette for quick colour variations!
  • Brightness/Contrast
    • Just like you would expect.

There were only a few times I suffered severe culture shock in trying to find equivalent functions in GIMP 2.6 that I has previously used to in Photoshop. The way that GIMP makes you paste into a temporary layer when you want to move a selection was the least-intuitive difference. In fact I still fear that I may have got it completely wrong and am doing this a very long way around…

Also be warned! When saving PNG files, it asks for the Compression level [0 = full quality] – when saving JPG files it asks for the Quality level [100 = full quality]. I’m sure this makes sense in context to the file formats but it’s opposite for artists.

Overall I was very pleased with the interface and general functionality of GIMP. Though when I tried to save a large file [5000 x 7100, 300dpi] it warned me that it had increased my virtual memory size (working on my ancient P4 – XP) and it seemed to take much too long to work on this large file. I’m sure this wouldn’t occur with up-to-date machines, and for most web applications it works fine on my little machine.

If you’re looking for a free program with professional image editing functions then seriously look no further.

Especially recommended for artists on low-incomes and old computers!

Advantages Of GIMP:

  • Open source (and free!)
  • Runs on PC (win 2000 and above), Mac (OS X) Linux and many others
  • Does most things Photoshop does

Disadvantages of GIMP:

  • Online manual very wordy
  • Some non-intuitive inconsistencies between similar functions

Conclusion:

Photoshop users will be able to adapt easily to GIMP. Artists who have older computers and/or lower incomes can create professional results cheaply and relatively easily – especially with the help of the vast number of online image processing tutorials (that’s how I learned, basically). Don’t be put off by some inconsistencies, rather revel in the fact that lots of people collaborate separately to create this amazing free software!

You can download GIMP 2.6 here

You can find other GNU programs here

Windows users can find some great alternative programs here

Please consider making a donation to the developers if you use this software. Gnome Foundation (not the garden variety)

Thunderbird Email Review

Thunderbird Email Review

thunderbird-logo

While much of the world is transfixed by the Cloud, life as a desktop based email is still hugely popular with much of the community (including myself). There’s something that is reassuring about having access to all your emails on your personal computers without an internet connection.

For the most part if you had a PC, you ran Microsoft Office, but at around $200 Australian it isn’t cheap and really is not necessarily the ultimate email client anymore. It’s a great product but there is another Open Source program from the Mozilla organisation called Thunderbird. It’s a free program that really does everything a start-up, artist or small business might need.

Thunderbird Email Review:

Thunderbird’s awesome features:

  • The program is exceptionally responsive and seems to use less system resources (perfect if you’re a cash strapped artist using an old PC or a Netbook).
  • The Search Function is far superior to Outlook. You can separate your searches a lot easier so if you have a regular client where you’ve sent 300 emails back and forth over the previous 6 months it is quicker finding it in Thunderbird.
  • Calendar integration is a free add-on. Lightning is on par with Outlooks great Calendar. Download Lightning here. As you would expect the Calendar does everything you might require in a small business. You can tag events according to significance, whether its work, family, community and the length of the event.
  • Security is a big feature of Thunderbird
  • You can easy synch your email across your PCs and laptops by using Firefoxes in-built Synch Key
  • Can be used in parallel to Outlook (ie. another of your PCs is running Outlook)
  • It files things into Archive 2011, Archive 2010 which makes things realy easy to go through your emails. I find most people have far too many folders on their email clients with only a fraction being used properly. By having something as simple as:
    • INBOX
    • DRAFTS
    • SENT
    • TO DO
    • ARCHIVE 2011
    • ARCHIVE 2010

It is easy to keep on top of your ever expanding inbox.

  • Thunderbird has thousands of different ‘personas’ or skins so you can personalize your email easily.
  • Huge choice of add-ons from Mozilla.
  • Drag and Drop open emails. Much like modern browsers you can have 5 different windows open with tabs at the top so you can move between emails.
  • Can import contacts from other email clients such as Gmail or Outlook.
  • Tagging, colourising, and separating emails is easy as pie.
  • You can use multiple email addresses from the one screen. Ie. You open Thunderbird and all your emails from rob@explainafide.com.au, info@explainafide.com.au and awesomearticle@explainafide.com.au are all downloaded at the same time
  • The vast majority of SPAM won’t even make your inbox

Some Small Issues with Thunderbird:

  • Due to its security settings it is still often a little tricky to set up (though it is getting better)
  • Some of the formatting of text takes some getting used to. As an example it auto corrects some typing due to your history. This is not inherently a bad thing but it is very different from what most of us are use to.
  • Web addresses don’t natively turn into hyperlinks you need to highlight the text and then override it to link to a website.
  • It has a habit of auto-saving into drafts. So if you’re sending a long email that takes half an hour, you might end up with 3 drafts of the same email which can get confusing. If your computer crashes during this long email then at least you’ve got some recent back-ups though.

The Thunderbird Email Wrap-Up:

Overall Thunderbird is an amazing bit of software that will save you money, increase your productivity, and due to its customisation make your inbox look prettier. There is still a place for emails to be stored on your PC and Thunderbird is my pick of the bunch. If you are already using Outlook then the benefits maybe less discernible but if you have just bought a new PC then Thunderbirds for you.

Download Thunderbird from Mozilla’s Homepage