Friday, October 29, 2010

Death by Farmville


We've seen this story on the news before...a parent shakes a child and it dies. Sad, unfortunate, but also not uncommon. This happened down in Jacksonville, Florida. What makes this sensational is the fact that the mother got upset with the child over it interrupting her playing Farmville.

Facebook's role is being overblown in the media. Notice it is not "Mother Shakes Baby to Death". Headlines seem to be more "Child Dies due to Facebook Game". The focus is put on Facebook. News articles do report she was playing it through Facebook, but Facebook did not create Farmville. You don't have to be on Facebook to use Farmville (Myspace and Twitter also work, as I understand). Putting Facebook in the headlines is sexier than putting Farmville in the headline.

Of course, this is also going to be something people cite when they say Facebook is bad for society. I have a friend who hates Facebook, and I am sure this friend will see this headline and just tie it to Facebook.

Let's be honest. If this woman would shake a baby to death over a Facebook game, she probably have done it over a TV show, or cooking, or a phone call, or any of another thousand reasons.

Link to CBSNews Article

Friday, October 22, 2010

Time Machine: Everything Old is New Again

Some topics of interest from this week's classes.

We discussed the Do Not Call Registry, which was a way to prevent telemarketers from calling you. Someday, we may see a Do Not Email Registry, but I wouldn't expect that for a while. I remember telemarketing being annoying in the 80's, and it took them until 2003 to do anything about it. Here's my original post about how to get on the registry and save yourself from telemarketers.

Second of all, passwords came up in one class this week. Microsoft has a free password strength checker on their Web site, where you can see how strong or weak your password is. Here's the link. We also discussed passwords, and how you can make a better password. I discussed the mnemonic device method for creating and remembering a password in class, and here is my original post on that.

Of course, for people majoring in the IT area, it's always a struggle to find a balance between security and ease of use. If you require difficult passwords, your users may end up writing them on a sticky note, or putting them in a passwords document.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Stalking a criminal

The Internet has obviously changed many things. One thing it has changed is crime. Criminals are known to use sites like Craigslist and eBay to sell stolen goods.

It's interesting how people have also used this in the investigation of crimes. For example, a woman recently had a GPS stolen, and used Craigslist to get in touch with someone who was selling a GPS of the same brand the next day. She contacted the guy, got his email address, used that to find his profile on an online dating site, used that information to find him on Myspace....

The police were able to get video footage from a McDonald's where he used her card, and the Myspace profile matched the face of the person on the video.

It's a lesson that (as she says) you never know who you are robbing.

Link to story

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Charging for Web design work

One of my former students emailed me to ask about freelance Web design work, and how much to charge. This is always a very difficult question, and I don't know many people who are comfortable setting rates coming out of college.

Keep in mind that companies will pay what sounds like a really high hourly rate because they are not subject to the overhead that their regular employees have, such as health benefits, office supplies, and other such items.

The difficult part in freelancing early on is figuring out how long things will take. I found as a programmer I had no sense for how long projects would take me to do. People would ask me how long things would take, and I would think it should be a 2 hour project, and I would spend 25 hours on it. I developed that sense over time. Classes like Systems Analysis and Design were great in theory, but when it came to applying the lessons, I fell a little short.

Customers don't really want to pay based on how good you are, so generally, customers should not see your hourly rate. I would suggest creating some base packages. For example, a 5 page Web site should cost X, a 10 page Web site costs Y, etc. You want to be clear with a customer what they are paying for. I found a company that does something like that here, for reference.

You can see they have a base package for $600. For a basic 5-page site, $500-$750 seems to be the going rate. This would generally include the basics of meeting with them, gathering content, designing it, having the user test it, fixing the errors they find, and making the site live. In reality, the technical end of the work will probably take less time than the other components of the project.

Other stuff that is extra, and this is where I would run in to issues. If the customer wants e-commerce stuff, or they want Flash animations, that would be stuff that would cost extra. When they describe the requirements, that is when you have to determine the cost of it. If they describe a Flash animation, keep in mind that is rarely a two-hour gig. Flash animations, Web programming, and e-Commerce projects should include testing and bug fixing time. There have been times where I wrote a program in an hour and then spent 5 hours trying to hunt down a bug. Flash programmers can charge rates of $50-$75 an hour, so a site that is heavy on customization like that will be more costly.

What is very clever is that there is a maintenance package is $50 a month for two hours worth of work, and additional hours are extra. You may want to offer options like "10 hours of updates over the next year for $250, or updates at an hourly rate of $40" rather than constraining someone to a number of hours in a month. By offering a package deal, you may have someone pay for the 10 hours even if they don't need them, just because it looks like a better deal. Also figure most updates will be small changes, so a lower hourly rate is fine.

You can of course work with people on price. There are people I've been eager to work with, and made allowances for them.

You also have to decide if you are going in to the hosting business, or if you are going to arrange for the customers to host things elsewhere. I generally would not want to get in the middle of a transaction between a customer and a Web hosting service. If this is the case, make sure you provide them the username and password for the site. Even if they don't use it, it's professional to make sure they have access to this. I've dealt with people who have no clue about this, and if they ever need to change hosting sites, it's a pain for them. Same idea goes for the domain name purchase. You can direct them, but you probably don't want to be the person in the middle since domain names do need to be renewed.

If you are not doing the hosting yourself, you have to assume some customers may have a URL purchased and a hosting agreement, and others will not. If the customer does not have the infrastructure in place, there is some startup work you have to do to get them up and running, and that may be something you want to charge for. This may be something you want to charge $100 for.

I would recommend the customer set up a billing arrangement directly with the hosting service (like godaddy). If you end up in the middle, your credit card is the one the hosting service has on file. If, however, you are planning on hosting sites yourself, that is something different.

You should always have some sort of portfolio available. For my PCCC students, your capstone project can be a start, but you may want to expand on it and upload it to a server somewhere.

The main problem I think most customers have is that they don't understand that you don't provide content. When they pay for a site, you are taking their existing information and turning it in to a Web site. You will need to meet with someone in their organization, and they should be providing you electronic copies of the information they want on the site. Some customers think you are going to actually write the text for the site, and (unless you want to do this) it needs to be made clear that this is their responsibility, and that you don't provide proofreading services.

As you get better at doing basic Web sites, you can probably get things done quicker and therefore make your business more profitable. You can also change prices as you go along. Notice the site I linked above also includes a year (2010 rate card). You can always change rates yearly (or project to project).