I use, and like, Google Reader. I also like having my own blog, but I rarely have time to post anything particularly useful. Using Google Reader, however, I can simulate writing interesting blogs by posting a link to my “starred items” list. “Starred Items” are articles that I find particularly interesting or useful. All of these articles come form blogs I subscribe to. You can subscribe to my starred items list instead of this blog if you feel I’m not posting often enough but like the kinds of things I usually write about (and you thus end up reading what I’m reading).

So, here it is again: my “starred items” list.

CGIAR

Home page of the CGIAR Newsroom. Please note that the page did NOT look like this when I worked on it. This is a NEW design that I had nothing to do with.

Highlights

  • Centralized news for all of CGIAR
  • Subscribe by Email Interface

Description

I created an RSS aggregator with an option for receiving updates via email. The CGIAR, part of the World Bank, desired to centralize their communications through the CGIAR’s newsroom and web site. When the project started, the varied departments of the CGIAR all had their own web sites, designs, CMSs, and ideas about how to get the word out about what they were doing. In 2008 I worked with the CGIAR Newsroom staff to consolidate the RSS feeds from all of there centers (where available) into a single feed on their main Newsroom web page. For centers that did not have their own web site, we included created an RSS feed for the Newsroom’s own CMS and they were encouraged to use that. In the end, users could subscribe to a single feed for all the CGIAR news.

Technical

The entire solution was done in ASP.NET in Visual Basic using XSLT to transform the XML news feeds into HTML. The ability to receive alerts whenever a new article appeared was a web form that included a CAPTCHA test to minimize subscriptions by robots.

Several months ago I moved tedmasterweb.com to a subdomain of clevernet.biz. I expected the PageRank of tedmasterweb.com (4) to flow upstream and increase the PageRank of clevernet.biz (3). For months I waited and waited but nothing seemed to happen. In fact, I appeared to have completely lost the PageRank I had for tedmasterweb.com.

About a month ago I did several things to try and regain my lost PageRank. Specifically, I planned on asking people linking to the old site to update their links to point to the new location (clevernet.biz/tedmasterweb), but in many cases I was unable to find the authors of those links, or the links came from USENET or forum lists and they couldn’t be changed.

Besides updating incoming links, I fixed several broken links on clevernet.biz, added the clevernet.biz Google Analytics code to the tedmasterweb.com templates, and added a robots.txt file disallowing indexing of “email to friend” and “print version” pages. And finally, in my last post, I sent a ping to Matt Cutts’ blog in which he asks about international search bugs (which this isn’t but it did seem odd that the PageRank completely disappeared).

I’m not sure which of all of those things was the culprit, but I seem to have regained my PageRank, or at least, I’ve regained a PageRank on clevernet.biz/tedmasterweb (it is now 4).

Over the weekend we moved clevernet.biz to a new hosting provider. I do not expect such a move to impact PageRank since all we are doing is changing the IP address. I do wonder, though, how it will affect searches originating from Spain since the new server is housed in Germany and previously we were hosting our web site ourselves right in the Canary Islands. As of this writing, a search for “salir primero en Google” has us at number 1. This holds true when searching from the Canary Islands or from Chicago. We’ll see how this changes over time…

What I find really interesting, though, is that my tedmasterweb subdirectory has a higher PageRank than my main web site (clevernet.biz). My theory that a higher ranked subdirectory will boost the main domain has been debunked. It will be interesting to see if that ever changes, especially when we publish the new version of my PHP BBEdit Clippings set (which gave me a PageRank of 5 on tedmasterweb.com some years ago).

Around 2001 I started a web site called tedmasterweb.com. It was my professional face on the web with “articles” I’d written and software I’d produced available for download. Some of the software was quite popular and garnered me a PageRank 5 for the site as recently as October 2006.

In the first half of 2007 I decided to try an experiment. Being a partner in Clevernet, it seemed logical to merge the resources on my personal site with those on clevernet.biz. Since merging the content could have been a time-consuming task, I decided to make my entire personal site a subdirectory of clevernet.biz: Basically, tedmasterweb.com would become clevernet.biz/tedmasterweb/.

Tedmasterweb.com had a PageRank of 5 prior to the move. Concerned that such a massive change could eliminate my PageRank, I followed Matt Cutt’s guidelines on moving a domain using a 301 redirect so that search engines (Google) would know that the content had moved, permanently, to a new location (and in this case, a new domain). I had also read other articles regarding 301 redirects and tried to follow their advice as well. I have since discovered a similar, but more concrete, 301 redirect experiment. The primary difference, though, between all of these experiments and suggestions is that I am not just moving content to a new domain, but also to a subdirectory, which may have been my downfall.

Today, several months later, it would seem that my PageRank of 5 for tedmasterweb.com has been completely lost. Just issuing an appropriate redirect, in my case, was not enough to maintain it. I suspect that if I could get all the people linking to resources on the old page to update their links to point to the new location I would regain some, or all, of my PageRank, minus the penalty for not updating the content regularly and for the links being somewhat old. As soon as I post this article, I’m going to go after those old links. My guess is my PageRank will suddenly improve.

Bottom Line: migrating a domain with a decent page rank to a subdirectory of another domain is a bad idea and in the end, inbound links really are key to a high PageRank.

We’ve been setting up a new email server at Clevernet for the past few weeks. While researching issues related to mail not arriving at the intended destination, I ran across this sweet nugget: “Net 81.44.0.0/16 is UCEPROTECT-Level2 listed because of 551 abusers. Your ISP TELEFONICA-DATA-ESPANA Internet Access Network of TDE/AS3352 has to fix this. See: http://www.uceprotect.net/rblcheck.php?ipr=81.44.255.25

Basically, what this means is, our static IP happens to be in a block of addresses known for sending massive amounts of spam and try as we may, there is nothing (or little) we can do to get our IP unblocked (get a clean reputation).

Telefónica, the formerly state-run telecommunications monopoly here in Spain, controls probably 90% of all Spanish internet traffic. I tried calling their office this morning to ask them about this issue but when I dialed the toll-free number, 1004, I got the dreaded “all circuits are busy” error and when I dialed again 30 minutes later, I got a busy signal. I would have gone to their office in person, except for the fact that they don’t have a customer relations facility in the Canary Islands. I can clearly recall major frustration when Ma Bell was first broken up, but:

  • the customer service number was never busy (but you did have to wait on hold for hours)
  • you NEVER got a “all circuits busy” error – after all, what kind of trust does such an experience generate in potential and existing customers?
  • Ma Bell had an office in every major city, and probably most minor cities too

I hate sounding like a whining expat, but I think most Spaniards (including those that actually work for Telefónica) would agree that Telefónica really sucks and if given even the smallest opportunity to bail, they would. If you want another opinion on just how dreadful Telefónica is, get a load of this story.

If the competition weren’t so expensive, I’d work with them more often (in fact, this site is hosted on the EasyNet network). At least they get some priority treatment as resellers of Telefónica connectivity, and that does filter down.

In all fairness, there are many factors contributing to the problem stated above. The biggest is the thousands and thousands of customers running cracked versions of Windows with no, or completely outdated, anti-virus software and hard drives full of infected versions of commercial software and pr0n downloaded via eMule. The situation reminds me a little of life in the states in the early 90s, but with one significant difference: the viruses of this decade are 1000 times more complex than anything we encountered back in the day, and trying to explain to novice users what the solution is (are) is a difficult task. One has to wonder just how out of hand it will be when developing nations suddenly find themselves in possession of a critical mass of this technology, but lacking the knowledge required to keep it under control. I guess the fun never ends…

Una jueza certificó una demanda de tipo “class action” contra la empresa Target (una tienda como los grandes almacenes pero a bajo coste). La demanda acusa a Target de “violar las leyes federales y estatales que prohiben la discriminación contra los discapacitados”. Me imagino que se refieren a que no se puede usar la tienda online de Target (y posiblemente otras partes de su web) con un lector de pantallas.

Hablando un día con Fer, nos pusimos de acuerdo en que es posible hacer webs accesibles sin incurrir gastos adicionales si uno se lo plantea nada más empezar el proyecto. Sin embargo, tanto en las islas como en el resto de España, me parece que lo que más importa es como se ve la web, no lo que hay detrás (y luego dicen que nosotros los estadounidenses somos superficiales 😉 ja ja – es broma!). Intento, siempre que pueda, que mis clientes se fijen en el éxito del proyecto a largo plazo. ¿Cuál es el éxito de una web que cae demandada por no haber tenido en cuenta cosas tan básicas como la accesibilidad?

Leí hace poco que Apple rehizo el código que está detrás de su tienda. Según dicen, la tienda es más accesible que nunca, y mirando el código fuente, me lo creo. En la actualidad aquí en Clevernet colaboramos en el desarrollo de una aplicación web tipo “red social” para Emotion Memories en Mesa, Arizona, USA. Siendo yo uno de los desarrolladores con más experiencia, ruego a los demás desarrolladores del equipo que desarrollen teniendo en cuenta la accesibilidad y siguiendo el modelo de “progressive enhancement” precisamente para que no inhibamos el acceso a nadie, que tengan JavaScript habilitado o no.

Sé que no está de moda prescindir de AJAX, pero al final de cada mes nuestra empresa sigue adelante y parece que va a seguir así durante muchos años (toco madera) así que creo que estamos haciendo algo bien.

This is the Clevernet Server Room.

Clevernet Server Room

I took this picture to document our most recent changes to this room and our server network configuration. This is great for geeks, but I don’t think it communicates much to non-techies. In fact, such a site might actually scare some people. They’d rather see the door closed on the cabinet and have it tucked away in the corner, to say the least. Some might even consider the cabinet a potential torture device.

Nevertheless, elements of this picture are frequently our solution for our clients, usually a smaller configuration, but with many of the same components: firewall, file server, hotspot server, switches, ADSL router and cables, all in some kind of housing.

It’s a great solution. For the most part, it just works.

If we want to connect with our target audience, however, we need to show them how maintenance-free the product is and that’s usually accomplished with a picture of a confident, graying man in a suit standing and smiling with his arms crossed. We’re considering using pictures of us goofing off just to be different… We’ll see how this ends up.

Having attended one of the Mixtura Lab meetings on dealing with clients (here in the Canary Islands), I am republishing this blog entry. You might find it interesting to contrast and compare my business experiences with those of other expats living in Spain.

I’ve lived in the Canary Islands for 3+ years now and have been with Clevernet for 2+ years. I don’t consider myself a big success here because I simply do not have that many web development clients located here (but that could be due to the fact that we tend to work on really large web applications and not on straight web design). In any case, I am sharing my observations thus far. It is my hope that those who read this blog might be kind enough to share their cross-cultural business experiences as well. This is a topic I am quite fond of, personally, and would love to get a conversation going on doing business in the Canary Islands.

Please note: these are GENERALIZATIONS. These observations are NOT to be taken as hard and fast facts, they are simply summaries of some of the experiences I’ve had and are listed here to communicate trends. For each observation I’m pretty sure there have been one or two times when the opposite was the rule.

  1. Clients may try to re-negotiate a contract after the terms have been accepted by both parties, and sometimes after it has been signed. Furthermore, some clients actually believe this is acceptable behavior. I suspect this is a reflection of the fact that we are all here, together, on this island and must be reasonable with each other. Sticking it to your client, even when you have their agreement in writing, is likely going to bounce back on you and you end up sticking it to yourself in the form of a lack of future prospects. Listen to your clients ideas rather than rejecting them outright based on what you thought was a done deal.
  2. People are reluctant to put things in writing, or sign contracts. Much greater value is placed on original intent than what I’ve seen in the U.S. where you are required to agree to a wild variety of things before someone will sell you something, but it could just be that clients want a way to back out if needed. So far we’ve never had a single client back out of an oral agreement, so, I believe it is the former rather than the latter.
  3. A successful negotiation takes into account customary financial arrangements such as:
    • arranging financing around delays introduced by government subsidies
    • providing proforma invoices
    • providing a single invoice, against which multiple payments will be made over the course of the year
    • the use of avales to secure contracts
    • electronic delivery of invoices must be negotiated and follow some very strict rules (although almost nobody does)
  4. When talking to potential clients with whom you have no prior relationship, show reverence, don’t ask too many questions, just let the potential client tell you what he/she wants. This is particularly difficult for someone like me who is used to playing the role of the “solution provider” in technical areas where the client usually has little or no idea of what they really need. I tend to assume a level of trust that, as far as the potential client is concerned, doesn’t exist. I haven’t done anything to win their trust yet, and when working with an outsider, trust is not assumed.
  5. The Chicago tactic of pointing out a clients’ failures in their existing systems tends to hurt your clients’ pride and does little to convince them to work with you, even if your intention was to help them see where they could improve. Again, the trust thing…
  6. Although favors are common currency here (and sometimes greatly appreciated), even small ones can be costly. Failing to recognize when someone has done you a favor has been the end, or near end, of more than one business relationship here so far. I have no problem doing favors, but am uninterested in developing a relationship based on them (that’s what friends and relatives are for).
  7. Be sensitive toward your clients. Try to do things their way even if in the long run you plan on doing them differently. For example, it is particularly important to deliver bad news in person, never through email or SMS. Likewise, good news is also best delivered in person, or at least via a cell phone call.

Here are some more, even more general observations:

  • It’s hard to tell what attitudes or customs are the result of living on an island and what come from Spanish tradition.
  • Language skills seem to matter far less than people skills, but listening closely is a very important people skill.
  • In general people are very punctual, contrary to popular mythology, but they will frequently ask you to call the morning of a meeting to make sure they can really make it (something that drives me crazy – if I schedule an appointment with you, do we really need to double-check the morning of?)

So, that’s my list at this point in time. It will be interesting to see how it changes 10 years down the road. Please feel free to leave a comment. It is no longer necessary to register.