This is a question that has been bugging me for a while, and you know what, I still don’t have the answer to this fully. You see, working with technology and user experience on a daily basis while improving digital platforms for companies, I can’t help but get used to continually improving all aspects of a business. Yet when I look around at most companies, I see the same old companies doing the same old things time and time again, often getting busier and busier without being more efficient or growing. Now here’s the thing, it is not like there is a barrier to entry to using technology throughout a business. Costs have come down quite considerably over the last few years and there is now more than ever an enormous pool of digital expertise to tap into. Albeit, there is a hugely varying quality of digital expertise, but there is a lot available never the less. So why is it that companies fail to innovate?
I decided to write this blog post after seeing another “Look at how amazing our new website is, let us know what you think…” post on LinkedIn by a proud owner of a business. So I decided to chip in. The site was WordPress based, so far so good. Then it all kind of went to the usual problems, not using Child Themes and not using HTTPS, both of which are an absolute minimum when building WordPress websites. Yet still, the business owner shrugged off the feedback stating that they are working with a “world leading company, I’m sure they know what they are doing”. And in this case, I can honestly only say that this is purely ignorance that is leading this particular company not to innovate. Look, I’m not saying that building a website is in any way innovative, but it does tell you a lot about a company based on the way their website is built. Firstly, in this instance I can tell you that this website was put together on the cheap in an “all fur coat and no knickers” type of way. I see this a lot, and we generally work with companies around 2-3 years after they have gone down this route and realised that it doesn’t work. And what that tells me about companies who go down this approach is that they are still very much in the mindset of cost over value. Purchasing anything based on cost is a losing battle and one that will cause you no ends of problems in the long run, businesses who eventually realise this start to enormously innovate throughout their organisation which starts them on a path to significant growth as an organisation.
This is by no means a lone example though. I’d argue that most organisations fail to innovate throughout their organisation. And this is not because the innovative technology, processes or systems are either not available or expensive. I’d argue that it is because people are so busy doing what they have always done or busy talking about how busy they are that they fail to realise the opportunity that sits right next to them as a solution to their many problems. This clearly is not a technology problem, it is a people problem. It is the decisions that people make on a day to day and minute by minute basis which prevent their own organisation from innovating by keeping their self busy doing the same old same old. This is by no means a unique situation though, this is what is known as the productivity problem in the UK and something which the UK government is looking at as a priority to grow the economy. Businesses need to step up and as what one minister said “Stop being lazy”.
For anyone who is too busy to look at new opportunities, I wish you well, but for those smart enough to stop and take 5 minutes to look at new opportunities, you will be amazed about what is available when you open your mind a little and speak with companies who can help your organisation significant improve throughout. Happier, leaner and more innovative companies are the companies that people like to work with. What is clear to me on a regional basis is that cities like London and Manchester are clearly leading the way when it comes to implementing innovative solutions throughout their organisations, whereas non-city regions and counties are often much slower to adapt. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is due to the majority of businesses being run by small teams and/or families that they struggle to think differently because they make decisions purely based on their own personal past experiences, which limits their thinking. As the quote goes, “To the man with a hammer, the solution to every problem is a nail”. Often true innovation comes from talking with people who are significantly different to you, even if you completely disagree with their way of working and their beliefs. I know that personally, some of the more innovative solutions that we have implemented have been a direct result of the random conversations I have had with people who I normally wouldn’t connect with. Instead these ideas have come based on making time to speak with different people and learn from their experiences. You can learn an awful lot from others when you stop and think about a problem together.
Innovation is key throughout every aspect of your business and the more businesses I speak with I can guarantee that I could walk into any organisation and improve their efficiencies throughout their organisation, whether that is through digital solutions or process improvements. This is not being over confident, this is based on seeing so many problem which are blatantly obvious to me that never seem to get fixed or improved. Often its the simple things that make the biggest difference. The challenge is always getting companies to change. As they say, you can lead a horse to water…. To finish, I’d like to open this invitation to any businesses who is stuck in their ways and unsure what to do to grab a coffee with me. Let’s look at how we can re-shape your organisation to become more efficient whether that is through digital technologies or otherwise. We can’t do this for you, but we can help you open your mind. Let’s chat.
We’re working on exciting projects with forward thinking companies as always. Becoming a forward thinking company is simply a mindset change required from those at the top of the organisation.
There has been a fix come out which patches a sever vulnerability in the OpenSSL technology in use on many Linux web servers. Be sure to update your web servers to prevent this vulnerability being exploited. For a full technical write up on the vulnerability, head over to Threat Post who have covered the topic in great detail.
The vulnerability was first identified by an information security engineer at Google.
What do you need to do?
Install the latest OpenSSL patches available on your Linux web server. Speak to your web hosting company to get this updated. Clients hosting with us, our web servers have been patched as soon as the vulnerability patch was made public.
We strongly recommend running a manual server check if an automatic patch isn’t available to you. If you have any questions regarding the vulnerability or your solution please contact me and I can talk you through the solution.
You may have seen the news about a Linux vulnerability branded ‘Dirty COW’, which affects many Linux servers. An overview of the vulnerability is below and what you need to do.
What is Dirty COW?
Dirty COW is a new Linux vulnerability referred to technically as CVE-2016-5195. The name came from the fact that it exploits a mechanism called ‘copy-on-write’ and is known as a privilege escalation bug. This means that if attackers manage to get a foot inside your system they can then use Dirty COW to take total control, so it’s crucial to protect yourself. The bug has only recently came to fruition but has been around for nine years – which means it’s likely that many Linux servers have been affected.
What do you need to do?
Install the latest Linux patches available on your Linux web server. Speak to your web hosting company to get this updated. Clients hosting with us, our web servers have been patched as soon as the vulnerability was made public.
We strongly recommend running a manual server check if an automatic patch isn’t available to you. If you have any questions regarding the vulnerability or your solution please contact me and I can talk you through the solution.
For those interested in the more technical details behind the exploit, read all about Dirty COW.
Unless you have been living in a cave over these last couple of weeks, you’ll probably have heard about the cyberattack that broke the internet for a few hours on several occasions. So what actually happened? It all starts with the DNS.
DNS stands for Domain Name System, in non-technical terms this is the technology that turns www.contradodigital.com into the servers IP address where your website files are hosted, for example, 22.214.171.124. There are many providers of DNS technology in use on the internet, with many providers using managed services of larger companies who have invested millions in the underlying hardware and infrastructure which enables the internet to work seamlessly. One of these companies providing DNS is called Dyn and here is where the cyberattack happened.
When the attack was happening, internet users in the following areas highlighted in the image below were unable to access many popular websites including websites like Twitter, SoundCloud, Spotify, Shopify and many more.
Image source: http://thehackernews.com/2016/10/dyn-dns-ddos.html
This is a significant part of the US and UK when customers and businesses could not access websites, meaning a significant drop in ecommerce sales for many organisations and a huge drop in productivity for those companies working in digital. For a system as large as the internet, which has been build with redundancy in mind, an attack of this scale is one of the worst we have seen to date and the seriousness of this means that businesses need to really step up in their cyber security efforts both large and small.
To read up more about the specifics of what a DDoS attack is and how this all happened, visit the Dyn website who have provided a write up on what happened.
Ultimately this attack was caused by hackers exploiting internet connected smart devices such as web cams and the likes. With the enormous rise in smart and internet connected devices available on the consumer market now, it is devices like this which are being exploited by hackers. When the software has been designed badly or built with un-updatable code or has been built with security holes in the code, it is this what is being exploited. Specifically using the Mirai software.
Distributed Denial of Service attacks are notoriously difficult to protect against, particularly on this scale with over 300,000 devices attacking a system. This is on the macro scale though and this really does just go to show that no matter how big you are attacks can happen to anyone. The even more worrying aspect is that this code has now been released open source so that the code is available to anyone wanting to exploit the same loophole.
The reality is that smaller and medium sized businesses are never reported on in the news. We deal with several hacked websites per month when businesses have failed to protect their self against cyberattacks. As a business owner you need to take cybersecurity seriously, and that means more than simply installing an antivirus and firewall on your laptops.
Picture this. You own a hotel. Imagine every door, windows, emergency exit and air vents into the building are ways of an attacker getting in. Not imagine your antivirus and firewall are your receptionists, blocking unwanted visitors in the building by locking the front door. Now imagine that all of the other doors, windows and vents in the entire building are left wide open for attackers to exploit. This is the reality that most businesses are dealing with without even realising. The software equivalent of this is that websites and web servers run outdated code, aren’t updated and active add security holes through using inefficient technologies and people to build systems. I cannot stress this enough, take cyber security seriously before you become the next victim. Sticking your head in the sand thinking that you will be fine will ultimately result in your business becoming the next headline. Be proactive.
Take advantage of our Free Digital Disaster Recovery Audit and test yourself on our Digital Evolution Score Card to see how advanced you are as an organisation and hence capable of dealing with problems. Better still, get in touch and we’ll talk you through the various options available for protecting your business, website and digital assets from cyberattacks.
It’s taken a good few months of organising everything in the background and we’re finally here. Blackburn WordPress User Group, BeeWUG is now officially starting which will be running on the first Wednesday evening every month in…. Blackburn at the College who are kindly supporting the local WordPress community.
BeeWUG is a free community event open to everyone wanting to learn more about WordPress. Whether you have an interest in WordPress, are using WordPress professionally or just want to come along and meet some great people, get involved. Look forward to seeing you there.
Head over to the BeeWUG website to find out full details and book onto the next free event which is on Wednesday 2nd November: https://beewug.uk/2016/10/17/beewug-2nd-november-2016/
Book directly onto the event here: http://www.meetup.com/Blackburn-WordPress-Meetup/events/234930231/
Follow us socially to keep up to date;
And make sure you sign up to the mailing list on the BeeWUG website.
Last night I gave a talk at a developer meetup group in Liverpool after being asked to speak at the event. The developer group was full of extremely amazing developers who are far more knowledgeable than myself about the finer workings of high end technology. Hats off to them.
After listening to another speaker at the event before me, it was extremely clear that I had just sat through a talk for an hour and I honestly couldn’t tell you anything about what I just listened to. It was very abstract and quite frankly, way over my head. This is not a criticism of the speaker, he was great and the audience loved it. Here’s the thing though, I like to classify myself as a very knowledgeable person working with various technologies on a daily basis, I’m certainly no-where near as smart at tech as many of the people in the room which is a great position to be in as you can learn from them.
So anyway, I jumped up to do my talk titled “Venturing into the Unknown Building TendoJobs.com” which was designed to be an overview of building a tech startup from scratch while bootstrapping everything from day 1. I do a lot of talks to businesses, companies, conferences, events and so on, I enjoy doing them and sharing my thoughts with those interested. This one was different though, it was clear that the audience was so unbelievably amazing at various technologies that for those in the audience listening to me the content of the presentation must have been similar to a University Professor attending nursery to learn about something. It was fun doing the talk that’s for sure and it was truly a baptism of fire. What struck me most though was the array of endless questions at the end of the presentation. Rarely do you end up answering questions for a good 15-20 minutes at the end of a presentation, but they kept coming, which was great as it got people thinking.
As the old saying goes, to a man with a hammer, the solution to every problem is a nail. And this couldn’t be truer than within the developer community across all platforms and languages. The problem I see time and time again from developers and technology startups that I speak to on a regular basis is that they keep adding technology to solve a problem when actually you don’t need to add technology. At the development level, technology adds complexity to every project which adds time and money to what is being done. It’s time as developers we step back a little and start to ask ourselves what we are really trying to do.
To put this into perspective, here are just a few of the questions that came from the bemused audience last night;
- So what tools / technology do you use for your release and deployment process?…. i.e. expecting the sophisticated answer for something like Jenkins…….We use SFTP (for the non-teckies reading this, picture the process being viewed as a stone age person using a flint bow and arrow to catch an animal. It’s functional and it works. )
- When you make a change within the code, how do you know that it doesn’t break anything else?….. i.e. expecting the ‘best practice’ answer that every single unit of code has unit tests wrapped around them and we run these tests before we push code live…… We just build the code well and remove virtually all dependencies throughout the various classes (for the non-teckies reading this, imagine that you’ve baked a cake. Wonderful. Now your unit tests can be loosely thought of as checks at the end to make sure what you’ve made is correct. So in this random example, you’d line up all the raw ingredients next to your baked cake and confirm that they are present within said cake. This needs you to buy two sets of ingredients to test that the cake contains them all. Thus doubling the cost of the cake baking project)
- When you added this form to the website in the first instance, why didn’t you build in validation checks at every step from the outset?…. i.e. expecting that it was something we simply forgot to do….. We actively avoided doing this because we would have been building features and functionality that people may or may not have needed. Instead, we let the data tell us what validation checks we needed to add in as and when people started using the platform (for the non-teckies, this is talking about the ‘you must enter your First Name’ type notifications that you see on websites)
- So what frameworks did you use to build the platform? ….. i.e. expecting a cool and sophisticated answer about one of the endless technology frameworks available to choose from today….. We didn’t use any. We just used solid Model View Controller design patterns to structure our code well so that it is maintainable, easy to manage and release changes. (For the non-teckies, think about this as following a recipe. When you have your raw ingredients in the kitchen, which cookbook do you choose and which recipe do you select from them? We simply threw it all in the pan and it turned out beautiful)
- Why aren’t you streaming your file uploads via Amazon S3 and automatically resizing images as needed within the applications? ….. I.e. expecting to hear that this is in the pipeline to do so….. Because that is simply too much work involved to do and virtually all employers can manage to upload their logo within the guidelines provided. It’s needless work.
Above is just a small selection of the questions that were asked and discussed after the presentation. It was really interesting discussing the whole tech startup process with a group of highly experienced developers. I was certainly the caveman in the room without a doubt when it comes to tech which was really interesting.
The key message from the presentation though was all around Keep It Simply Stupid. You see, when you add complexity into any project, is it any wonder the costs of said project goes up when you then have to spend 50%+ more time developing the project, and is it any wonder that you cannot find the right talent within your organisation who has 5 years experience using technology X. You’re adding complexity out of striving to continually improve development techniques. I’ve seen this on many occasions in very large organisations where the organisation simply revolves around the digital technology hamster wheel to keep rebuilding technology and adding new and different processes into the system instead of truly stopping and thinking about what they are actually doing. Ultimately achieving nothing while working at 150% of capacity continually wondering why nothing is being achieved.
Ultimately the product or service is here for the user of the end user, the customer. You have to ask yourself that when you are looking to implement technology X or process Y within your application, does the end customer really care and are they even going to notice? If the answer is no, then honestly, what are you wasting time even doing it? Seriously. Sure, if you’ve an endless budget and lots of free time to do this, great, you probably work at Facebook or Google. For the rest of us though, let’s bring these dreams down into the practicalities of the day to day.
To put this into perspective, let’s just take a look at one of the largest developer surveys that takes place each year from Stackoverflow, here are some of the most popular technologies in use today;
The above really is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to technology choices. Within each of the technologies above, there are equally as many variations, technologies, frameworks and best practice ways of doing things. Technology quite simply is a minefield. I work with technology on a daily basis and I’ve only ever heard of around 50% of these technologies, let alone had the time and inclination to explore them.
Look, I’m not saying that all of these best practice things aren’t something to work towards. They all have their benefits. But let’s be realistic here, every single project is limited based on time and money which ultimately determines the output at the end. You cannot, and I’d argue should not, implement best practice from day 1 for anything, unless that thing is as simple to implement best practice as it is not to. Keep things simple, use solid continual development and agile processes to build on solid functional foundations.
Adding complexity to any project is a risky route to go down and one that I’d always recommend steering away from. Keep your projects as simple as possible instead of keep trying to add in new technologies into the system endlessly just because you can.
A couple of comments from the questions on the evening put this into perspective which include “You had some balls to stand up and do a talk like that in front of a group of specialist developers” and “Your ideas are certainly…. Interesting”, which is a polity way of saying they are a bit “out there”.
One final thought I’d like to leave you with. Technology projects, systems and organisations are as complex as you make them. You cannot then wonder how you’ve got into this position and complain about how difficult things are. Take a staged approach with developing and continually improving any technology system instead of simply bolting on as many pieces of technology as you can just because they are cool to do or are deemed best practice. Save yourself endless hours, weeks and months of time building things that ultimately adds no value to the project, adds cost and makes everything difficult to maintain.
Great talk, great group of people, great discussions. Food for thought from a different perspective. See everyone at a future event.
We recently wrote about how awesome the new Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) technology is for improving page load times on your website. Well, yes it is, but something to bear in mind that we’ve just come across. Google recently wrote a blog post about how to set up Analytics on your AMP pages only 4 days ago, which quite frankly is a little slow since we’ve been using AMP technology for well over 4 months now and it has never been on our radar that this wouldn’t be tracked by default out of the box. Anyway, we’ll let this one slip.
The crooks of it though is that you’re probably not including tracking on any of these AMP pages that you’ve implemented which is a tad annoying. From a WordPress perspective, make sure you’re using the AMP Analytics plugin which will add Google Analytics tracking to your AMP pages when they are loaded by web browsers and Google. You could be missing out on a significant amount of tracking data when tracking the performance of your campaigns. For anything non-WordPress related, you’ll have to get into the tech to implement this manually within your web application which is certainly going to be a tad more time consuming. Drop us an email if you need any help with getting this set up on your own websites and web applications.
Something which has been on our own to-do list for far too long than I’d care to admit, we’ve finally got around to automating our email marketing campaigns. Firstly, if you aren’t on our mailing list yet, why, it’s awesome and we share some amazing content like this you’re reading now. Secondly, get signed up at the bottom of this page by entering in your email address.
Now let’s look at what we’ve recently got set up and how we’ve automated our entire email marketing campaigns so we can spend more time focusing on writing great content, running events and training courses and generally connecting with businesses and people much more efficiently. Why spend time doing something manually if you don’t need to, right?
What’s Wrong with Manually Sending Email Marketing Campaigns?
Ok, so let’s quickly cover this one. Firstly, if you are sending email marketing campaigns through something like Outlook, you are doing it all wrong. Head over to our Really Simple Guide to Email Marketing to understand why.
Now, we’re assuming you’re using an email marketing tool such as MailChimp. And do you know what, sending email marketing campaigns manually is absolutely fine. There is nothing wrong with doing this at all. But. If you are sending email marketing campaigns manually to share content such as Blog Posts or Events that you are running, you are wasting time doing this manually when you could automate the entire process. It’s all about saving time so you can be more productive in what you are doing.
So let’s look at how you can automate your email marketing campaigns with WordPress and MailChimp.
WordPress RSS Feeds
If you didn’t already know, virtually every type of content on your WordPress website has an automatically generated RSS Feed URL that can be accessed when you know where you are looking. Take a look through the WordPress RSS Feeds List for information on where to look.
For example, here is our main Blog’s RSS Feed URL if you want to take a look what this looks like;
Find the relevant RSS feed that you want to use to send email marketing campaigns to your audience as you’ll need this shortly.
Within MailChimp you can segment your Lists into different Groups based on what people have subscribed to. There are many way of organising your MailChimp subscribers, so we’re not going to cover that right now. For the purpose of this blog post, we’re going to use Groups to segment a single List based on what people are interested in which helps to keep everything easy to manage to avoid duplication.
To create a Group in MailChimp you navigate to your List, then click on Manage Subscribers then Groups which will allow you to enter in specific information about how you want to group people together.
The reason you want to create a new Group is so that you can allow your audience to subscribe to multiple different groups from the same Newsletter. This allows you to send emails to specific groups of people within your mailing list. Simply configure the relevant settings for yourself as this information will display when a user is updating their subscription preferences;
Ok, so now you’ve created a group, let’s start to join everything together. In the first instance you can even migrate people into specific groups should you wish.
Here is how the data you enter in this section will display when the user is managing their profile on your newsletter.
MailChimp RSS Campaigns
Create a Campaign
Firstly, create a new campaign in MailChimp but be sure to select an RSS Campaign as the campaign type as this comes with a few handy settings that have been automatically built in for you.
Confirm your RSS Feed Settings
Enter in all of the settings related to when you want to be sending your campaigns and where the data is coming from. In this example, we’re looking to send out content from the Developer Blog so we enter in this information here.
Select Your Recipients
Next you need to select who you are sending the emails to. Here you are going to want to send emails to a Group of users you have just created earlier. This could be for a specific set of content on your website or even a specific interest if your website has multiple interests on there.
There are a lot of options here so we’re not going to cover everything. Use the options that are best suited for your individual needs.
Personalise your Campaign Information as Usual
If you are reading this blog post, you’ll already be used to creating your campaigns as normal and personalising the relevant information so we’ll skip over this bit here. Just make sure you do this when you are creating the campaign.
Choose an RSS Template
Simplicity is key here which is why you should choose one of the default RSS templates which you can select. This will automatically include lots of handy information for you which will speed up your development for sending RSS campaigns.
Design your Email Template as Usual
Again, we’re not going to cover this part here. All of the pre-populated fields have been created for you when using an RSS template, so you’re all good to go. Simply personalise the look and feel of your campaign as you see fit.
Preview & Test
The next step is to preview and test your campaign. This is so important to do as you can really annoy people when you mess up a campaign and send it out with missing information and or incorrect information.
Start RSS Campaign
Then you’re good to go, start your RSS campaign running and you will never have to worry about manually sending email marketing campaigns again.
This really is just the starting point about what you can do when you start to automate your email marketing campaigns. Take the time to think through what you are doing, why you are doing is and what you are looking to get out of it. Automation can save you so much time when you think strategically about what you are doing.