Friday, September 23, 2011

Windows 7 and the curse of retraining

As a computer person, I am in the position where I need to constantly retrain myself. Many of the things I learned in college are already obsolete. A career in computers always presents new challenges and new opportunities, and that is part of what I like about it.

I find that many people hate the fact that things change. Computerization of jobs is one thing. I know two doctors with small offices who are pretty computer illiterate. They both plan on retiring if and when they have to submit all medical claims electronically instead of faxing or mailing them. I certainly can understand that. In that situation they feel there is too much added expense (in time and/or money) in retraining themselves, buying equipment, and possibly hiring an assistant to do the computer work.

However, even computer literate users generally dislike retraining. I understand the thought. People who are not in the computer field seem to look at computers as an appliance, much like a stove. If I had to retrain myself on how to use a stove every year I'd dislike that and just order out more.

Since people don't like the idea of retraining, they tend to use a new tool the way they used the old tool. However, newer versions of tools generally include better ways to do things. For example, since Windows 95, I used the same process to take a picture of what is on my screen and save it. I would hit the print screen button on my keyboard (or hit alt+printscreen to only capture the current window). If I wanted to only keep a part of the image instead of the whole thing, I would then open a program like Photoshop, create a new file, paste the screen image, select the part I want, crop it down, and save. This process is clunky, but it works, and this was just how I did things.  Windows 7 (and some versions of Vista) include a tool called the Snipping Tool. This tool would let me take an image of part of my screen in many less steps. Were I not constantly playing around with new features, I would be less efficient. For those of you who haven't started using this cool tool, here is the Microsoft Snipping Tool tutorial.

Rather than learn new versions of a tool, people may even actively seek ways to make the new tool look like the old tool. For example, when Office 2007 came out, people hated the Ribbon interface, which replaced the old menu interface. A number of companies released tools (such as ubitmenu) that allowed users to display the old menus back in Office 2007.

For me, retraining is part of the allure of computers, but if you are among those who view it as a curse, I can understand the thought.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Monetizing a Site

As some of you know, I teach courses that involve Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, social networking, and other such material. For me, it is critical to be involved with some of these because it keeps me up to date on the stuff I am teaching. After all, if I am not staying involved with these things, how can I speak to their effectiveness, ease of implementation, and details?

I'll definitely talk about this in my Internet course this semester, but I felt like it might be a good idea to put some information out about how people make money off of Web sites, even if they are not selling products or services online. Here are three ways a Web site can make money with no risk, and links to sites I have personal experience with.

Advertising: Google has a program called AdSense, which allows a Web site owner to sign up and set up an account to display ads. Through a pretty straightforward step-by-step process, they are given the option to choose how invasive they want the ads to be. For example, you will notice I have a few small ads on this site. Through Google's Blogger service (which hosts my blog for free), it is even simpler. For other sites, Google will give you some HTML code that you embed in your Web site. If you don't know what that means, your Web developer will.
From my own experience, I've been running this blog since 2006. Google will send you a check after you make $100, and I haven't received a check yet. If I were being paid by the blog post, I'd probably be making about 20 cents a post. If my goal was to try to make money, I could choose to display more ads, or make the ads more prominent. I am also displaying blog entries in my Facebook account, so I assume many of my students are viewing this through Facebook and don't even see the ads, which also cuts down on possible ad revenue. In terms of keeping myself fresh with the technology, I will usually hop on and change the format a little bit before I talk about it in class. This way, I can speak about the latest version of Google AdSense from my own personal experience.
Is Google the only site that allows you to advertise? No. However, Google is pretty trustworthy. There are other, less ethical sites that allow users to display ads and may pay more. However, some of them use some shady business principles.
In general, if you are a small Web site, Google AdSense allows you to easily connect with advertisers without having to worry about doing much work.

Affiliate Marketing: Sites such as Amazon and Walmart offer affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing basically allows me as a Web site owner to provide links to Walmart or Amazon. If anyone clicks on those links and buys something, I get a small percentage of that sale. Amazon Associates is among the most popular. Users can log in and get a personalized link.
Users can link directly to a product, or just to the main site. Amazon requires a minimum payment of $100 before they will pay you. Again, I may reference it once in a while, but I've never received a check from them because I really don't push for clicks. I have a small link on the right hand side of my blog, and will once in a while go and build a link to stay on top of things.
Sites that really want to monetize may even ask their users to click on the Amazon link they have provided if they are going to buy something anyway, as it will help support them. The more a user sells, the larger a percentage of fees they get.
As a member I see (sometimes on a weekly basis) how they are changing the program. Amazon and some states are in court because of Amazon Associates. The short form is that states are suing them because states feel this program should compel Amazon to charge sales tax. Looooong story there.

On-Demand Publishing: Sites like CafePress allow users to upload a logo. Once the logo has been uploaded, you can decide what you want it to be on. Do you want it to be on t-shirts? mugs? underwear? You then choose how much markup you want to ad and provide your users with a link to the site. This is a great option for a company that does not want to risk buying t-shirts and then having them not sell. As a matter of fact, one of my students last semester mentioned he set up a site like this for one of his high school organizations. I've got a small site on there I haven't played with in a few years, but it's kind of a neat way for Web site owners to create shirts with no overhead, or for artists to make logo shirts, mugs, and other items.

If you have a Web site or are an artist of sorts, these are some options available to you.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Volunteer NJ

With all the problems lately, one thing I have heard a lot about lately is volunteering. Volunteers have done a lot of good helping people affected negatively by the recent tropical storm.

I know I always used to wonder how I could volunteer, and it turns out the NJ Governor's office has made it easy for people to volunteer (and to find volunteers) in NJ,

People can fill out a volunteer profile, browse volunteer opportunities, and find agencies in need of goods and services. Volunteering doesn't have to revolve around emergencies; there are plenty of opportunities for people with a trade. For example, a quick search shows they need people to help low-income folks with taxes, provide computer training for senior citizens, and provide training for people who are out of work.

If you've ever wondered how to get started with volunteering, this site is a great starting point. For Students looking to beef up a resume short on job experience can always volunteer. Another advantage is that by volunteering, you get the chance to network and meet people who might have a job opening.