Perspectives from the *other side* on Software, Management and Life

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Doing OnLine Business

Recently I had to setup an online business for someone, and I was blown away with how much can be done for free and with minimal technical expertise. The days when an online business setup required USD 30,000 or so are over. Today's the age of USD $20 businesses!

An online business is like any other form of business. There is a service or good thats sold, and customers that line up to consume them. For the brick and mortar business, the sayings goes "location, location and location" on the ability for it to be successful. Thats because most goods that are even half good can be sold if there are enough customers in the shop.

Similarly for web based business, the second step (I havent mentioned the first step yet, so dont worry) is community building. Entrepreneurs do this through a number of ways, which include:
1. Advertising their website over standard marketting mediums ie Print, TV, Billboards etc
2. SEO - search engine optimization. Trying to get google to list your website on the first page when a relevant search is done
3. Gureilla Marketting - Hiring a bunch of interns to spam the net with subtle messages that get users on other, but related sites, to come over to your site
4. Site kickstarting - hiring editors to post messages and make the site look active so as not to scare your first few customers from an empty looking shop!
5. Advertising using google adwords, facebook ads etc

Walking backwards, the first step is about getting a web presence. This is whats gotten me excited today:

1. Purchase a domain thats easy to remember and spell. GoDaddy sells domain for only $9.95
2. Second step, go to google apps and signup
3. Create your email address for the purchased domain using google apps. Gives a professional look to have a domain based email used across the site rather than one from gmail or hotmail.
4. Create a free webpage using google apps sites. The page is very basic, but sufficient to get a decent landing page for sending out feelers on whats about to come. Be careful not to reveal your "secret plans" to avoid someone from taking the wind out of your sails until you get the actual site up
5. Read the tutorial for drupal and make a decent looking site using plugins and themes. There are a number of hosting sites that do the hosting for USD 10 to USD 15. You should plan on a week to two for this.

I'll keep you posted on what else I learn as I help along on this business setup.

Monday, February 02, 2009

KISS - keep it simple STUPID!

Usability is crucial for any application. Its becomes more so with web applications, since they're targeted for a userbase expected to have below college level education. This is great news for some of us who do have college level education as we can simply browse and not play mind games when we're focused on other matters.

For ages I've been in the enterprise development industry, and boy, are most applications there built to ensure that anyone who uses them needs to first read the big fat(!) manual (RTFM)! This of course is changing as most enterprise users now expect ease of use in the office that they've come to expect using facebook, gmail and yahoo at home.

Recollecting an old memory, I was consulting for a big health insurance firm on their web portal for their customers, and we hired a high flying security expert. I guess the expert wanted to justify his "expert" title, and came up with a list of eight (8) properties a password MUST have. I thought he was crazy, but as is the case with consultants, they do have a reputation to live up to. The health insurance firm played along, again I guess someone wanted to justify the cost of hiring the expert. And even during development of the application, I explicitly put in a hack for my password as I just couldnt remember a password with a number, a character, a capital and it being 9 letters long along with a number of other irritating requirements. And oh yes, if you forgot your password, the new one was mailed to you - No, not email, snail mail!!

I was glad I didnt have to log into that portal after I was done developing it, and truly feel sorry for its customers. But a few months ago, the password over-engineering zeal came back to bite me. It wasnt some web banking application, it was ..... delicious !!! Yahoo has been the forerunner in usability, but I guess after their acquisition of delicious, they just couldnt beat enough sense into them.

Here are two screen shots that explain everything.

The above given screen shot shows the crazy password rules for delicious. What were they thinking!! All my URL's are public anyway, its not as if a compromise of my account will suddenly leave me penniless or open them up for liabilities.

The next screen shot has its own humor:

See where is says "keep me signed in for 2 weeks". Hello ...I dont work for NSA, FBI or CIA. I want to remain logged in for ever and ever and ever. If I ever throw away my laptop, I'll format the drive so please keep me loggggeeeeddd in!

Enough of a rant, I've taken action. Moved over to twine, at least their password policy is good. Lets see how their features are. I'm going to miss delicious in the end, if it wasnt for some security wannabe jerk because of whom I had to click on the forgot password after every 2 weeks, I'd still be a user!