21st century support

Bradbox WordPress error
A frustrating way to finish a weekend

If you’d visited this blog over the weekend, you’d have received a WordPress error message. I only discovered it on Sunday evening when I checked the site for feedback. Google Analytics revealed the outage started from about 1am on Saturday morning.

I tried fixing the problem. I tried everything I could to fix it. One limitation I faced was that I have been brought up on Microsoft technologies (.net and SQL Server) and not php and MySQL – the technology that this blog runs on.

Frustrated, I went to sleep on Sunday night knowing the site was still unavailable.

After work on Monday I returned home and tried a few more things. I reached out to a WordPress guru I know. He offered some advice but I’d already tried everything suggested.

And then I came across one of the new types of one to one support websites where specific experts help other users.

I’ve always been interested in this area of consumer support. Graduating in Computer Science a couple(!!) of years ago earned me the natural honour of fixing anything within my extended family that had electricity flowing through it. Since my degree I’ve been asked to ‘programme’ the clocks in various cars, fix a microwave, tune in a TV and set up speakers – my university course appears to have been highly practical from an external perspective.

When family or friends call for help with real computer issues such as domain names, broken hard drive, email configuration, or Google Apps, I wonder who people call if they don’t have access to a friend or family member with a technical computer background.

So there I was on Monday evening, urgently wanting my site fixed, on Wizpert.com. I thought I’d give it a try. The sign up process was fast, and within a few seconds I was talking to a friendly chap from Romania (yes… I wondered whether there was an Endava link too, but no there wasn’t) who was one of their WordPress experts. At first we were chatting on Wizpert’s chat screen, and then I offered for him to remote on to my screen using Chrome Remote Desktop.

Naturally I was sceptical, and thought at some stage he might try to install some spyware somewhere, or change some passwords for access at a later stage. I watched carefully as he moved around my virtual server.

Just under two hours later he had fixed the issue and after thoroughly testing the solution I was a happier man.

The issue wasn’t straightforward, and required two types of solutions. We were still puzzled at the end about how the problem had started on the Saturday night at 1am – our assumption is that one of the WordPress components ‘auto-updated’ and broke the MySQL installation.

Not everyone uses Amazon Mayday for support
Not everyone uses Amazon Mayday for support

Wizpert is one of a number of new support models arising in the peer Internet age such as Amazon have with the Mayday button.

On Wizpert, payment to the expert is discretionary.

If you do decide to pay, users buy ‘coins’ using a credit card or PayPal, and then send these coins to the expert who helped. There are recommendations during the chat process “Most users who this expert helped gave x coins to thank them”.

I doubt these support models will be used for enterprise clients, but as devices and applications become more complex – and certainly more essential to our daily lives, end-user support will transform from the current model of phoning anyone you know with a Computer Science degree, to being able to ask someone sitting a few thousand miles away for some help and advice.

What is Digital?

Self-service - a key trend in digital projects
Self-service – a key trend in digital projects

Many organisations are finding themselves asking “What is Digital?” It’s a difficult question which sounds easy at first. After all, isn’t everything that we do today that involves electronics, digital in some shape or form?

If an organisation has a CTO (Chief Technology Officer), why does it also need a CDO (Chief Digital Officer)? If an organisation already has an IT department, why does it need a digital one too?

So what is digital?

To me, digital is a mindset. In the 1990’s we’d have called it a paradigm. It’s all about thinking slightly differently to classic IT. Continue reading

A British review of US sports and media offerings

Possibly the easiest signup form, presented by Fox Soccer
Possibly the easiest web signup form, implemented by Fox Soccer

This week I’ve been working from our newest sales office in Atlanta, USA. It’s been a great week, and we’ve met some really interesting (and super friendly) people and companies.

During the visit, I spent some time looking at the consumer media offerings over here. The US has often been ahead of the UK market when it comes to television, but the UK leads the world in some web offerings – such as grocery shopping and BBC’s iPlayer, so I wanted to see what the US has to offer. And it’s difficult to do this from the UK because so many sites are geo-blocked. Continue reading

Isn’t Uber super?

Uber - an example of how mobile apps are transforming industries that the web couldn't reach
Uber – an example of how mobile apps are transforming industries that the web couldn’t reach

I’ve started using Uber in the last few days, and it’s transformative to the taxi industry. It’s one of those concepts which makes you think “I wish I thought of that first”. But not everyone agrees, and unfortunately for them, that resistance is probably one of the success factors in any consumer digital transformation offering.

In essence, Uber is a mobile app to call a taxi. It replaces the call to the minicab/ taxi office, and provides more functionality than the old model, because as soon as you call a car, you can literally watch that car drive towards you on a map. Continue reading

The digital divide in the UK

I’m writing this article at 35,000ft above sea-level, on a flight from London Heathrow to Atlanta. Before taking off, I sat in the marvel of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 building watching MotoGP on my smartphone, in what looked like an immaculate resolution.

My daughter on Ben Nevis - with a view like that, who would prefer to check their phone?
My daughter on Ben Nevis during the summer – with a view like that, who else would prefer to check their phone?

At the start of the summer, I took most of the family and some friends to Fort William to climb Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak. Whilst the 2001 census reported that Fort William has only 10,000 people living in the town, I suspect there is regularly the same number again in tourists and visitors. Whilst in Fort William, my phone hardly had any reception. In fact, my mobile hardly worked north of Glasgow. Other members of the journey were on different networks, and coverage was also patchy across the group. Continue reading

Bitcoin introduction, key facts and opportunities

The number of Bitcoin transactions per day looks like it's waiting for a major retailer to join the party
The number of Bitcoin transactions per day looks like it’s waiting for a major retailer to join the party

Firstly, I want to set some context about Bitcoin and this article. I started this blog when I found myself explaining something to one person, then another, and another, and I thought there had to be a more efficient method of distributing information (together with my opinion!) Three years later, this mantra still holds true. However this article has taken the longest to write because when I have met people to discuss Bitcoin, every conversation seems to approach the subject from a different perspective and I’m asked many great questions, so I’ve delayed this article while I’ve tacked those extra points to this article. At times I felt that I should just write a book, but I never had the guts to ask my wife for the time during our summer holiday!!!

This article is split into five sections mainly to specifically answer some presumptions that people have about Bitcoin:

  1. Introduction, and Bitcoin key facts
  2. Anonymity & Illegality
  3. Opportunities
  4. Conclusion
  5. Further reading

Continue reading

What Fotopedia’s closure means to everybody

You better hope users stored their photos elsewhere once Fotopedia closed down
You better hope users stored their photos elsewhere once Fotopedia closed down

This week, the website Fotopedia closed down, and this heralded a key stage in the Internet’s maturity.

We’ve seen various Google products shutdown in the past, sometimes with more publicity than they attracted while the product was ‘live’, such as Google Video and Wave. However Fotopedia signals the dangers that lurk behind relying upon consumer-focussed cloud services.

Continue reading

Making Google Analytics easier to use

Instant analytics dashboard through the Google Analytics Chrome extension
Instant page analytics dashboard via the Google Analytics Chrome extension

If you use Google Analytics to measure the number of visitors to your website, you will love the new Google Chrome toolbar add-on. And if you have multiple sites, it will make your job even easier.

The Chrome Extension sits quietly while you browse, until you visit a site of which you have access to the analytics. At this point, a dashboard at the top of the browser window shows various page stats. You can also minimise these stats to just display real-time information for each page.

Continue reading

Facebook and Yammer proving the end is nigh for email

Bet you wish you bought some Facebook shares this time last year?
Bet you wish you bought some Facebook shares this time last year

So much for young users leaving Facebook en masse… Facebook’s latest results (Q2 2014) are simply stunning:

  • $2.91bn revenue (from $1.8bn in 2013)
  • $791m profit (from $333m in 2013)
  • Daily active users (DAUs) were 829 million on average for June 2014, an increase of 19% year-over-year.
  • Mobile DAUs were 654 million on average for June 2014, an increase of 39% year-over-year.
  • Monthly active users (MAUs) were 1.32 billion as of June 30, 2014, an increase of 14% year-over-year. This is an amazing statistic – 18% of the world’s population access Facebook monthly!
  • Mobile MAUs were 1.07 billion as of June 30, 2014, an increase of 31% year-over-year.

Continue reading