But This Is A Brand New Computer?!

While doing various demos with clients I can’t help but notice one scary trend. Client usually checks the demo page from his or hers computer, prepares a list of issues and then we meet to go over them. A lot of clients complain right off the start that their web site doesn’t look exactly like it should or behaves strangely. The reason, of course is not the fact that the web sites we designed aren’t compatible with their browsers, but their browsers being dramatically out of date.

There were so many times when this had happened, it actually became one of the internal internet memes. The phrase “but this is a brand new computer, we only bought it year and a half ago” isn’t that funny anymore. People are becoming increasingly overprotective of their computers, calling them their “friends” and “babies” – “my baby is sick, can you fix it”, “my dear friend have been acting strange lately, maybe he’d caught a virus or something”.

Worse yet, when you point to those issues you face further complaints that you are trying to avoid your responsibilities and you should make web site work with any browser on Earth. While in general it is true, the task is all but impossible – try stuffing that intro flash movie down the throat of Lynx and you will get the idea :). Or, more realistic scenario – the famous Internet Explorer 6.0, that some people still think is good enough browser. In fact, according to statistics on my most traffic-heavy clients’ web sites the IE 6 is 4th most popular browser, after IE 7, IE 8 and Firefox (all versions).

Unfortunately, quite a few things are simply impossible to achieve in this world. One of them is the browser compatibility. However, there’s a pretty good chance that if you make something look critical and urgent and very important overall – people would listen, look and take action.

So from now on if you venture to this web site using one of the older browsers (Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox are supported at the moment) you will see a bright yellow bar on the top of the page saying that your browser is old and needs to be updated with a link to a page where you can choose what to do as well as a link to page where I explain why it is important to keep the browser up to date. If you are using the latest and greatest but just anxious to to see what the page looks like – feel free to look here: http://www.istudioweb.com/browser-information/.

Small Business Problems Aren’t Small

cash_registerImagine you are running a small retail store. And the online storefront as well, where you sell exactly the same stuff you sell in your brick-and-mortar. Now, correct me if I am wrong, but main issues you’ll be working with are:

  • keeping track of the inventory (N units in stock, X units on order)
  • keeping track of sales receipts (since you have cash/credit you have to learn what the heck is accounts payable and accounts receivable)
  • keeping track of employee hours worked or units of work completed (like packages prepared and shipped or units assembled)
  • keep track of all your money movements, including both direct and indirect costs (like paying salary to employees and paying handyman to fix your delivery truck, or paying your smart-ass business consultants to improve your business), i.e. all of your costs of running business
  • keep track of your customers’ records, personal requests (if your business is of such sort) or general requests (for certain merchandise)
  • keeping track of long term projects not directly related to running a store, like marketing (ads in newspapers, AdWords campaigns) or IT (web site redesign, integrating store’s POS with online ordering)

I’m sure there’s so much more than this, but I just want to stop here. So far we have operations, sales management, human resources, accounting/finance, customer relations and executive management. Did I miss anything (ah, yes, legal, let’s just skip this for a moment) else?

Now, from my experience pretty much all the business owners are keeping all this in their heads. Their bookkeeper does their bank reconciliation once a quarter or once a year. Their full time store sales person probably remembers what needs to be ordered by week’s end. She also knows most of the customers by face and name and sort of knows what they like. And every night the owner pulls cash out of the register together with thick pack of credit card receipts to try to make some sense out of them before the store opens tomorrow morning.

Sounds totally wrong? Or too familiar? That’s what I’m getting at!

Over 80% of business owners don’t go above Excel sheets in order to keep track of all of the above information. One spreadsheet – inventory, one – list of vendors, one – credit card transactions, one – payroll. And these are very well disciplined businesses, because about 60% just don’t keep track of everything. About 20% of business owners don’t keep track of anything at all, judging about their current situation by the current balance on their bank account. And that, mind you, could be a personal account, because they aren’t incorporated, just d/b/a.

Why? Because they don’t know any better. And they don’t want to pay for it, because the money’s tight, the crisis is upon us and there are more important things to do. Nobody wants to spend their time and money on something they can’t immediately use or profit from. And that is totally understandable and just as well totally wrong.

Keep reading, this is just the beginning 🙂

Long Time No See

Yes, that’s me – long time no see, but I am finally back. Two vacations and some life-changing experience as well as four months are through – and this blog is back online.

Since my last post was about iPhone, I will start with iPhone again now. So far it has proven to be a wonderful device, although it still has that toy feeling. Throughout all these four months I couldn’t help but think that I can’t wait to put this toy aside as soon as something more suitable comes along.

By being exposed to AppStore and the multitude of iPhone Apps, I kind of got an idea of the market, the possibilities and the progress one can make. What happens on iPhone market is very much similar to PC shareware scene back in the eighties. Lots of free programs with limited functionality with bunch of nagging screens asking for money in exchange for a full version. Lots of small software teams of few people (sometimes it’s just one person).

If current state of PC software market is any indication, in just a few years we’ll see the next generation productivity tools, massively multiplayer online games of all kinds, collaboration and communication suites.

And speaking of communications – recently I had a chance to try out Google Wave. My first impression – imagine Microsoft Work stuck in review revisions mode when a lot of people are making changes and you’re looking at them in real time. And instead of that annoying (at least to me) “copy column” you get to have instant messenger right inside the very document you’re editing. And you can play it as a movie to see who said what and when. And you can use it to blog (I am looking into that!). And share pictures. And create automated “bots” that will annoy people who try to talk to you when you’re away.

At some point during the I/O presentation (which I had to watch just to get an idea how to use the Wave) I got this funny feeling that Google is a self-improving artificial intelligence network that keeps googlers as ambassadors to humanity. Come to think of it – when you have a project (and you can call a project either building a web site or a vacation) and you communicate among a number of people, it’s hard to keep everything in order – meeting minutes, e-mails, instant messages, phone calls, to-do lists and so on. Google Wave takes care of all that. In fact, it does it so good that you don’t even need to come back to your old e-mail anymore. Each wave – is a task, an e-mail thread, a repository of documents and a to-do list. Once you start thinking in waves – I haven’t seen anyone using this expression, but it’s pretty obvious – you just can’t go back to old-style technology.