Ah, ’tis the season of good cheer – and omens for e-commerce site crashes alike! A retail industry site I’ve grown fond of, Evan Schuman’s StorefrontBacktalk, is predicting chaos in the land of online shopping as a result of rushed IT projects, more customer handoffs for functions like payment and shipping (PayPal, FedEx and the like) and integration with other third parties (Facebook, MySpace) where transactions can run into trouble.
While this is no laughing matter for an industry and an economy hovering on the brink, the site’s editors seem to be rubbing their hands at the prospect of some hot news stories, come the day known as Black Friday.These editors have launched a Twitter feed in which they’ll blast news of any site crashes or slowdowns, which will serve either to vindicate their predictions or, more optimistically, show that the retail engine is all tuned up for the marathon month ahead. So we’ll see – I’ve signed up for the feed and will update this blog as news unfolds (or, doesn’t). In the meantime, here’s something to be thankful for: that your transaction processing, load balancing and Web services aren’t quite so visible to the public eye.
Will Cyber Monday holiday shoppers hog all the bandwidth?
A recent Maritz Poll showed that expected Cyber Monday shopping is up from 20% last year to 26% this year.
According to the National Retail Federation’s eHoliday Survey, 84% of online retailers will have special Cyber Monday sales, up from last year’s 72%. Shopping dollars will undoubtedly be wisely spent this season, and retailers everywhere are competing for the sale.
With the online deals presumably drawing in more shoppers, will company networks feel the stress? Nearly 56% of workers plan on shopping online while in the office this year. According to a BIGresearch survey, 70% of people between the ages of 18-34 with Internet access will shop from work, with men being the ones most likely to shop (60% of men vs. 51% of women).
But will people really wait until Monday to start their online shopping forays? More households have high-speed Internet connections, eliminating the need to use office network connections on Monday. The online deals, however, may be the reason people hold off — so a spike in Web traffic over company networks is likely to occur.
Years ago, writing a “grateful” journal was all the rage. Helps to keep things in perspective (at least, that’s what Oprah told us). So, given that it’s been such a tough year for business, I thought I’d step back and see what I could find to be thankful for. Here’s my list.
5. I’m thankful for the idea of a Microsoft-free world (not that it would ever happen.) But, finally I see business ready for some changes in the technological hierarchy, experimenting with open source applications and operating systems. Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome are fiercely competing with Internet Explorer – and are holding their own. It may be a long road, because legacy programs die hard, but the possibility is on the horizon.
4. I’m thankful for GOOGLE and its ability to just keep getting it right. The search engine giant with incredible apps (for both business and pleasure) introduced the G1 Google phone this year. Google is taking on Apple and Microsoft with browsers and search engines – and is now competing in the mobile device ring, welcoming open source applications. I must also thank the company for providing us with small-talk topics (“So, have you tried out the new Google Goggles?”) and connecting us with our peers on GTalk.
3. I’m thankful that we had a real example of how Web 2.0 and social networking could change the world. We saw the impact social networking and the Web generation had when it came to the election. Text messaging, Facebooking, blogging and Twittering were used by the masses to connect and promote – creating quite a stir and forever changing the way candidates campaign. From online health records to wikis, we are using the Web to manage our lives and keep us informed.
2. I’m thankful we’re all more aware of security risks. This year we’ve experienced everything from the San Francisco network lockout to concerns about VoIP and unified communications. The Emerging Cyber Threats Report for 2009 warns us of an even rockier future – estimating that 15% of online computers will be botnet-affected this year. There are no rose-colored glasses for looking at security – we know the risks.
1. I’m thankful that despite the economy, technology continues to flourish and companies continue to innovate. Even though budgets are getting cut and IT innovation is becoming more difficult, people are making it work. Costs can be cut by moving to green IT, virtualization and SaaS applications. Not too shabby
If my glass-half-full approach didn’t satisfy your appetite, check out this year’s list of tech turkeys compiled by Rachel Lebeaux, associate editor of SearchCIO.com.
The troubled economy has led some companies to lay off employees, and this year they are approaching it in a whole new way. No more discreet, hush-hush conversations – company news is being spread rapidly through blogs and other social networking tools.
Those who have grown up using the Internet are changing the way everything is handled. The Web generation, the 25- to 34-year-olds who learned how to use the Internet in school and grew up alongside it, are approaching the Web in new ways – they are using it to manage their lives. Social networking connects us on a new level — blogs keep us in the know and Twittering (although obnoxious) spreads information in seconds.
Mix that amount of accessibility with a troubled economy and you get a lot of people nervous very quickly.
How? People are already concerned about the economy. You can’t open the business section without seeing something “in crisis” or words like recession and downturn. But what about when you start reading your friends status messages on Facebook.
During some routine Facebook-stalking of my 455 closest friends, I recently came across a disturbing status message: So-and-so has been laid off.
Then comes the panic.
Within minutes, there were comments to the update wondering where they had worked, how many people were laid off, what were they going to do??
What happens next? The person who was laid off feels worse and everyone who looks at the status message starts to think, “This is going to be me!”
OK, granted, this person didn’t have to share with the Facebook community this particular brand of bad luck – but he did and he didn’t think twice about it.
Is anything really private anymore? A company can’t even lay off 1,500 individuals without being recognized in the blog world. Jeeze…
And I will never live down my first college newspaper articles. Deal with it.
Analyst firm IDC has predicted a significant slowdown in worldwide IT spending in 2009. The newly revised estimate brings IT spending at 2.6% growth in 2009, down from IDC’s earlier projection of 5.9% growth. In the United States alone, the August growth estimation for IT spending was 4.2%. Recently, the percentage was adjusted to 0.9% spending growth.
Everyone knows spending is down and budgets are tight, but the question remaining is: What now?
At the AMR Research Business Technology Conference 2008, held earlier this week, emphasis was placed on saving money and not just making money. Throughout the year, analysts have warned that companies would be putting the brakes on IT spending as the economy dipped towards a recession. Now that we’re here, what can we do?
- Go for green IT: Make the move towards virtualization, for instance. It reduces the number of necessary servers, which saves on power and cooling — thus saving you money.
- Get SaaS-y: It’s a way to grow quickly and inexpensively.
- Hold on to your good employees: Good employees will weather the storm along with you, and replacing highly skilled employees later on is costly. On that note, manage your employees well so they want to stay.
- Look to the future: The recession will lift. Maintain your IT innovation so you’ll be ahead of the game when it does.
More evidence this week that the Web 2.0/social media revolution may be advancing, but it ain’t here yet:
- Instant messaging hasn’t become the preferred method of communication among IT staff; nor has texting. We have Robert Half to thank for these insights: Of the 1,400 CIOs who took its recent survey, 79% cited email or phone as the preferred forms of communication among their staff.
OK, I’m being a little facetious. It’s hardly likely that decades-old ways of communicating in the corporate world will be swept away overnight, if ever, by technologies like these. IM and texting have their workplace functions, but they won’t replace email anytime soon. (Wikis and collaboration platforms might be another story… but they weren’t part of this survey.)
- Speaking of collaboration, that’s the oft-touted benefit of social networking platforms tailored for the enterprise. But having employees who like social networks such as Facebook or having developers enthusiastic to build something like it in-house doesn’t mean you’re ready to hop on the bandwagon. In fact, if you don’t have a company culture of collaboration, attempting to create one with Web 2.0 tools won’t work, warned experts at the AMR Research Business Technology Conference this week.
One practitioner who’s learned this lesson is Jason Harrison. He was involved in an effort to roll out a collaboration platform at an advertising agency. Though some 400 employees had joined a company Facebook group, the in-house effort failed. “We took it for granted that the workforce wanted to collaborate, and we were wrong,” he says.
Today, an implementation of SharePoint and NewsGator at another agency, Universal McCann, has proved much more successful for Harrison, who is now worldwide CIO for Mediabrands, a unit of Interpublic. Employees can search for documents to use in their client pitches, they easily picked up on how to tag content, and everyone can see the hottest content and most active users, he says.
- I liked some comments from AMR analyst Jonathan Yarmis, vice president of disruptive technologies. He called social technologies the “next wave of computing, building on task and process automation.” The workplace, he said, will be “transformed” over the next five years. And I’m sure the technical capabilities – in unified communications, document sharing and wikis, to name a few types of systems – will advance and seep into the way we all do our jobs.
But to embrace the large-scale change he infers, using existing and future tools to their capacity, probably involves some business process analysis, some supply chain analysis, some workflow automation. And that’s no small stuff. So let’s be glad we have time to really figure out what our business needs and if social media can provide it. While we should welcome the advancing Web 2.0 army, let’s be thankful it’s not here yet.
Chills, body aches, fever — it’s flu season. Am I sure of these symptoms? Of course, I Googled them. If you find yourself doing the same as cold and flu signs creep up around you, you may be contributing to Google’s newest effort to mark trends — Google Flu Trends, that is.
Google.org, a branch of the company committed to addressing world problems (as stated in the company vision), recently launched Google Flu Trends — aggregating Google search data to estimate flu activity across the country.
According to Google, people searching for flu-related search topics and people with actual flu symptoms are closely related. Google compared the query counts with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and found that certain flu queries were popular during flu season. Keeping track of how often these specific queries show up during flu season can provide flu circulation estimates throughout the United States. During last year’s flu season, Google.org was able to accurately estimate current flu levels one to two weeks faster than published CDC reports.
Although still in the very early stages, Google Flu Trends could give you a heads up on flu season to prevent you from catching the dreaded affliction. According to Medical News Today, more than 97 million cases of the flu are reported annually. With a one- to two-week advance notice of flu trends in your state, you may be able to take the necessary precautions to prevent sickness (and sick days).
As of now, most states are in the low to moderate zone for flu trends.
Google is growing. From Chrome to G1, it’s not just for searching anymore.
As the Google giant is creating new breeds of consumers (“cross-consumers,” I call them — spanning email, news, mobile devices, Web browsers, etc.), what is happening to all of our personal information? Google knows who we’re emailing, what we’re emailing, what we’re searching…
The launch of Chrome in September marked a big step for Google — the browser would be in direct competition with Microsoft’s IE. I downloaded Google’s Chrome right away, eager to test it out. I enjoyed features like “Google Suggest,” which sends Google searches as you’re typing them out, anticipating your search desires. With every word you type out in your search query, you get links pertaining to that particular phrase. As if searching could get easier?
As it is, we can literally find out anything about everything. Google culls information from many sites and quick answers can be seen directly on the search results. If I wanted to know the dates of the American Civil War, I just need to type in American Civil War and I immediately get the start and end dates in the summaries. I don’t even have to go to any of the sites if I don’t want to.
But even if I’m not going anywhere, my information still is.
How secure is my information? Brian Rakowski, product manager for Chrome, said queries sent to Google through the autosuggest feature include the user’s IP address and the time the query was made. But Google logs only 2% of this information, according to Rakowski, and makes it anonymous after 24 hours by removing the last four IP address digits associated with the query.
What about the privacy feature on Chrome — the incognito tab? This feature turns off autosuggest and allows users to surf the Web without leaving a history or cookies. But, according to Google, you can’t entirely cover up someone’s Internet activity.
Are “user-friendly” projects more likely to catch on? It makes sense – the easier it is for the average user, the more likely it is that they will continue using it. You know, the whole “keep it simple, stupid”?
A survey of John McCain’s and Barack Obama’s campaign websites conducted by New York-based consulting firm First Insights found that the more user-friendly the website was, the more likely it was to change minds. Forty-three undecided voters reviewed both sites: 22 found the Obama website more user-friendly, 16 felt McCain’s site was more user-friendly and five considered them to be equal. At the end of the day, 12 of the undecided voters leaned towards Obama.
What makes a website “user-friendly”? Jakob Nielson, once called the guru of Web page usability by The New York Times, has the usability scores of 51 similar sites. The sites were voter information websites from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the site usability for each was evaluated. The results? The best voter site got a score of 77% (out of 100%), eight sites scored below 40% and the lowest-scoring site got 29%. Not spectacular results, but not bad either.
According to Nielson’s findings, “you need an integrated view of usability, from the user’s perspective, and you need to develop the site through user-centered design.” The user should be the main priority because what’s the point of having a site if the people you want to use it, can’t.
Looking to make your website more user-friendly? Nielson suggests avoiding page clutter and any content resembling an ad. The phenomenon of “banner blindness” occurs when a user automatically skims or skips anything on the page that looks like an ad – whether it’s actual content or not. Another tip? Stay away from words or phrases unique to your company. What may seem obvious to you may not be so obvious to, say, Joe the plumber.
Google Gmail users now have the option to send text messages to mobile phones. The experimental app, found in Gmail Labs, was made available to all users Thursday night.
The feature is very similar to chat – find your contact (if the mobile number is saved in your contacts list) and the option to send an SMS will be available. The text message will appear on the person’s phone as a number from a 406 area code – which will be associated to your account and the number to which all incoming texts to your Gmail account will be sent. Although free for the Gmailer, mobile plan charges may apply for the person on the other end.
Gmail Labs has recently introduced some interesting apps to heighten the Gmail experience. Google Goggles, the email app to test your frame of mind when sending emails after hours, was introduced earlier this month. Met with mixed reviews when tested on drunk emailing (it seemed almost anyone could get through the simple math questions, no matter how inebriated), the overall concept seemed interesting when used to slow you down (and cool you down) before hitting “send.”
Although a great way to — umm — waste time, Google Apps and Gmail chat are not just for personal use and can actually be useful tools in the office. In an official Google blog post by Matthew Glotzbach, product management director for Google Enterprise, more than 1 million businesses have selected Google Apps to run their business, and tens of millions of people use Gmail every day.
The cloud computing-based system did have a glitch in August, when an outage halted emails for a few hours, but according to Glotzbach, Gmail has a 99.9% reliability score. According to the research firm Radicati Group, companies with on-premises email solutions averaged from 30 to 60 minutes of unscheduled downtime and an additional 36 to 90 minutes of planned downtime per month. With Gmail’s one glitch in the year, it suggests it’s more reliable than other enterprise email solutions like Novell GroupWise and Microsoft Exchange.
It’s all about communication – and it seems Google is making communicating within the workplace easier with creative apps and (fingers crossed!) great reliability.
Interested in more about Google and cloud computing in the midmarket? Watch SearchCIO-Midmarket.com’s recent video interview with Glotzbach.