A new website for RBF

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I've been building and maintaining the website for umbrella chamber of commerce Ryde Business Forum since January 2001, and today loaded up and gave the final tweak to the fifth website I've built for the organisation. It had been in the back of my mind to build a WordPress site for the Forum since last winter; the more I work with WordPress the more I like it both as a platform to build on and as an editor when the site is up. Read More

Open Office excels where Excel doesn’t

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I don't use Excel except as a crude database for names. Macros and the like are a mystery to me; simple formulas are as good as I get. Today I installed the excellent Connections plugin on a new website I'm building for Ryde Business Forum. It's going to be the member directory. As well as using the free plugin I bought an add-on which allows me to upload a .csv file of names, addresses and the like into the database. How hard can it be? Even I can create a .csv from Excel. But that's where it all started to go pear-shaped. I use Excel 2008 for Mac, and while it can create a .csv file it didn't create it with quote marks around each cell content, which is what Connections needs. Nor could I find a way to make the program do it. I looked glumly down the barrel at manually putting quote marks around membership details for 150+ members. Not only would it take hours, I'd have RSI at the end of it. A web search found me a macro that would create a .csv with quote marks, so I stopped swearing for a bit. Only to find that - guess what! - it doesn't work on Excel 2008 for Mac as Microsoft decided this particular version wouldn't support Visual Basic macros. Earlier versions do (but I don't have an earlier version) and later versions do (but I don't want to pay hundreds right now just for the privilege).  I started swearing again. Sometimes I really hate technology. Sometimes I really hate Microsoft. Well, most of the time I really hate Microsoft; with Word in particular it has made what was once a decent WP program into a clunky monster and PowerPoint has got worse rather than better in usability. More searching pointed me in the direction of Oracle's Open Office, which is free and which, with a mere click or two, can produce a .csv file complete with quote marks. I simmered down and had a cuppa while OO downloaded and installed. True to its promise I got my .csv as I needed it in less than twenty seconds. Another minute later and I had a database mapped to Connections. There is still some work to do - loading logos, social media links and company descriptions, which have to be handled manually. Unfortunately the current version of Connections doesn't support the very important fields of Contact First Name and Contact Last Name in the .csv import but I understand this will be rectified in a later one. When I have some time over the next couple of days I'll explore OO more fully to see how it compares with the accepted standard, Microsoft Office. I am already using Mac's Pages as a rival to Word for some small client jobs. It's quicker to use, actually, and much better for adding images and creating DTP jobs for the web and email (but not pro print), even if you have to go through the fiddly step of loading them into iPhoto first. Right now though, it's wine o'clock on a Friday, I still have a headache from my sweary session earlier in the day, and it's quittin' time.
e-commerce for your site

E-commerce: build it into your site or add later

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e-commerce for your siteRunning e-commerce on your website is now so cost-effective even the smallest organisation can afford to do it. You'll need SSL hosting and a fixed IP address, but that's going to cost you less than $50 to add to your hosting (if you buy through us that is... currently SSL hosting is $32 a year, paid annually). We'll add a fabulous, easy to configure and easy for you to update shopping cart for another $70, which is a one-off fee and pays for the cart software.  (Please note: this only applies to sites we build or have built for you, or sites already running on the WordPress platform.) If you don't have credit card facilities, we can link your new cart to your PayPal account, and if you don't have a PayPal account we can help you set one up. PayPal is widely used and trusted these days across the world wide web; even larger organisations are using it for people to buy products and services. We don't bundle a shopping cart with our existing packages, and there is an extra charge involved to set it up for you, which attracts a fee of $100 if it's going on a site we built or are building, and $140 if we have to retrofit to a site we haven't built.  Depending on how many categories you want your shop to have and how many products you want in there initially, and whether we have to resize and fix images for your products and/or services, $100 may be all you have to pay.  For example, if you only have one category and less than ten products, we could probably set that up for $100. Adding products is easy and quick, but we do like to ensure your new shop blends seamlessly into your existing website template, which the majority of the setup fee covers. From around $200 your shop will be up and running and you'll be selling like a pro. Just because you own a small business doesn't mean you have to think small! Contact us now to find out more!

WordPress 3.3 is available

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We're always telling our clients to update to the latest version of WordPress, and now 3.3 is here. Should you update? It's a fairly major upgrade from WP, with much improved facilities if you're using an iPad and streamlining of the Dashboard area, with your submenus flying out at the side on mouseover, rather than expanding downwards (very useful if you use a laptop with a smaller screen). The media uploader has changed to a more simple drag and drop facility. Behind the scene there is improved javascript, which won't really affect you as a client. Find out all the changes here at the WordPress site. Because it's a major upgrade, there are possibilities of bugs which need to be ironed out. Eager users will be finding those bugs and reporting them, so it may be an idea to wait until the next upgrade is released, which will probably be by the end of the year or early in 2012. If you just can't wait to upgrade, we do recommend you back up your site before, in case there are any issues. If you are unsure about backing up your site, WordPress has answers to your questions and a how-to here.  If this all looks a bit too complicated you may like to try out Vaultpress, a plugin which backs up your site every time you make a change. It is not a free plugin - and there is a privacy issue in that your data is being backed up on Vaultpress' server - but worth the minimum $15/month. Of course you can always ask us to perform the upgrade for you; we do that for our clients as a matter of course for smaller updates and will be waiting until 3.3.1 is released before we backup and upgrade your site for you, host server permitting.

Keeping your site secure with updates

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SecurityWhen we hand over a site to a client, it comes with instructions and the reassurance that we will always help if our client forgets any key or not so key issues regarding maintenance and adding posts, pages and media. One of those instructions is to always perform available updates on core WordPress software and also plugins which have new versions available. Why is this so important? Security. The interweb is scattered with hackers, and system updates make your site more secure. The updates typically address security issues as well as added functionality. No software is immune to security problems, but updates reduce the vulnerability of your site, as do other measures we take when setting up your site for you. Updating your WordPress core software isn't hard to do, but we know many of you forget to look at your Updates settings, so from time to time we check your sites for you and update core software and appropriate plugins on your behalf. If you're nervous about the words "we recommend you back up your website first" just ask us to do it all for you; it doesn't take long at all and we have yet to encounter any problems doing a core upgrade. We do notice a difference between web hosts though - there are some hosts out there running outdated versions of PHP on their server which means we can't update the core software (we do contact them and pester them to give us access to PHP5.X.X). It does pay to get a web hosting company which uses up-to-date tools - in our case we can offer you hosting for $54 a year, hint hint! Shameless plug aside, if we can't - or you can't - update your core software and/or plugins because of your web host, it may be time to shift hosts. WordPress is one of the most popular web building platforms in the world right now, and any reputable web hosting company should be able to support it and its updates. If you have any questions about upgrading your software or plugins, contact us and we'll talk you through it, show you how to do it, or do it for you.

Fighting your forms spam

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CAPTCHAHaving forms on your site instead of email as a means of contact is a great way of minimising junk email - we know spammers love to get their hands on email addresses. Forms are susceptible to spambots, however; you will have noticed most sites now use a form of "CAPTCHA", where you, the user, have to type in words or numbers displayed before you submit the form. CAPTCHA stops spambots. CAPTCHA relies on you, the human, seeing an image with the letters and numbers embedded in it, often distorted to make it harder for spambots to analyse. If you leave the CAPTCHA field blank, your form cannot be submitted. Spambots can't 'read' CAPTCHA images. Many of the forms on our client WordPress sites use the excellent Contact Form 7 plugin to easily build the form, together with Really Simple CAPTCHA, from the same developer, to add that anti-spam layer of security. Really Simple Captcha IS really simple - four letters or numbers that your readers have to type into the box; however, it works effectively. We have been using it on our site and a number of client sites for ages. While there are other form builder plugins out there Contact Form 7 is easy to use for people who don't have programming experience. If you're a small business owner running a non-IT business, you don't have the time or need to learn to program fiddly forms. We've chosen an easy and effective method for you to create new forms and edit existing ones. If you are one of our clients and still getting spam from your forms, contact us and we'll look into the issue and fix it for you.  
Spam - universally disliked.

Plugins to minimise your comment spam

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Spam - universally disliked.We all hate spam - the electronic kind, that is, although I haven't heard of anyone except tv presenter James May who likes the tinned stuff! Spammers are sophisticated and relentless, and use 'spambots' - automatic spamming - to leave nonsense comments on your website or contact form data. Typically you receive notification of comments and forms via email, and who needs more junk email?  Thankfully there are measures you can take to keep these pests at bay. Mortein for the Internet. With WordPress' modular construction, we use Plugins to combat spam (as well as add some amazing functionality to sites). One of the most popular for killing off spam is Akismet, which is free for personal sites or via a donation should you wish, and via a monthly billing system for high-traffic, commercial or money-making sites. It's very thorough - it stops 99% of spam comments making it to your inbox. Akismet comes bundled with WordPress even though it's a third party application. It is THAT effective. We've been using it until recently. However... I've recently discovered that Akismet uses its own server to process data. What's the problem with that? Well, as far as your readers are concerned, their data is being sent to a third party server, including their IP address. This could raise privacy issues and potentially make some of your readers annoyed with you. We are currently trialling Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin on most of our client sites as a result of a successful trial on this site. It has a growing reputation, and works on the client side, not the server side. In other words it sits on your website and does it work, not on a third party server. People leaving comments have to simply tick a box to prove they're human and not a spambot. Because of the coding behind the plugin, the tickable box is invisible to spambots. So - no tick, no submit comment. For you, the user, it's easy to configure; if you wish you can simply install it and not touch a single option. It's free to use - which is often something our small business clients take into consideration. We will be trialling AntiSpamBee next on this site and will roll out to interested clients in the new year if we like it and think it's as good as its reputation. Again, it's a free plugin. It also sits on the client side and doesn't use any third party servers to block spam. Mollom is a big player in the anti-spam stakes, and offers a free version as well as a paid one. The downside with the free version is that you must wear the Mollom logo on your website. Paid plans start from 30 Euros a month, so depending on the rise and fall of the Australian dollar, this could either be a cheap or expensive option for a small business owner. Another possible point of contention is that data is sent to Mollom's servers; there's that third party issue again. If you'd like to try any of these spam-fighting heroes on your site, contact us and it shall be done.
Charles Alexiou

Websites: Charles Alexiou

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Charles AlexiouThe brief for this sleek monochrome site was clear: simple and elegant, with the ability to feature a full screen image portfolio. Charles Alexiou is a designer specialising in full fit outs for new or renovated properties - although he is planning a retail upgrade to the site, offering merchandise which will allow them to have a little of the Charles Alexiou luxury look in their own home. We are also planning on developing the site in a number of languages, as Charles works internationally.
Africa Australia Infrastructure Conference

Websites: Africa Australia Infrastructure Conference

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Africa Australia Infrastructure ConferenceThe inaugural Africa Australia Infrastructure Conference will be held in September 2012 in Sydney and is organised by one of our long-standing clients OctoberFirst Consulting. The conference website is evolving as the event draws near to include the ability for online registrations and payments. At the time of writing - November 2011 - interested parties can download sponsorship information and pre-register for the event. Like many of our sites we are also responsible for all graphics on the website.