5 signs that you're addicted to technology

Young girls and their smartphonesLet’s not deny it: technology is great. However, there comes a point where enough is enough and you simply need to draw the line. The following are a few signs that it might be that time.

1. On more than one occasion you’ve been knocked off your feet by some idiot who couldn’t be bothered to look where he was going – if he had, he might have noticed that you were obviously halfway through a text and not able to pay too much attention to where you were going. (After all predictive text is bad enough when you ARE looking.)

2. You have reached the point where it seems absurd to NOT post a picture of your breakfast, lunch and supper to Instagram. That IS what the site is for, isn’t it?

3. When Eskom has its rolling blackouts you are less concerned with the logistics of cooking supper and having a hot shower than you are with conserving the power of your iPod, iPad and all your other iStuff.

4. When you arrive at your friends’ houses you let them know you’re there with a BBM or WhatsApp message. Doorbells are so mainstream.

5. Family camping trips are completely out of the question. That would mean having all your gadgets die on you, or worse, having to leave them at home. Can. You. Imagine?

How dependent have you become on technology? Post a comment below and share you story.

source: Women24


When Starting a Business – The Best Things You Can Do

Starting Business TipsIf starting a business in 2013 is one of your plans, you’re a smart person. Now is one of the best times to start a new business, with the economy having made a decent recovery and other good economic factors looking good. For someone who has never started a business before, the task of building something from the ground up can seem daunting and too much to handle at some points. If you have good direction, starting your own business shouldn’t be too much to manage. Check out these must have tips if you’re planning on starting a new business in 2013, regardless of the size.

Include Marketing in Your Business Plan

When developing the business plan for your new company, it can be easy to think that you can just address marketing later. You should address marketing from the very beginning, to make sure it’s properly budgeted for. You don’t need to get your marketing from an outside agency just yet (although if you do, you should read client reviews before you settle on the agency). Just be sure that marketing is a part of your original business plan, because without marketing, success will be a lot harder to achieve.

Get Professional Help

You may be tempted to try and save money by doing everything on your own, but you should avoid that temptation. Seek professional help for things like accounting, marketing, and other things that you aren’t able to do on your own. Sure, if you’re good with numbers, you can act as your own accountant. But in a majority of cases, you should at least consider hiring a professional accountant among other professionals to help your business succeed. At the starting stages of your business, one small financial error could derail the entire operation, so seek help from the professionals if you want to be sure you don’t end up broke and out of business.

Take Care of Tax and Legal Issues Beforehand

If you mess up and end up in some tax or legal hole, you’ll have a hard time digging yourself back out of that hole. Before you even turn on the open for business sign, make sure you know exactly where you stand with all of your tax and legal issues. All industries have different rules, so be sure you start with a good foundation by reading trade magazines.

Remain Employed

One of the most secure things you can do when starting a new business is to start it while you’re still employed with your old business. This ensures that should anything go wrong, you’ll be able to fall back on your old job without having to awkwardly ask for it back. This isn’t always possible because in many cases the demands of starting a new business require that you devote so much time that you can’t remain employed at your old business, but if it’s possible then do it. It’s always nice to have a back up plan.

Image credit: http://askjan.org/


5 Reasons Why SMS Is Here To Stay

SMS remains the most popular two-way communications platform on the planet. In most cases, it’s inexpensive, casual, and discreet for users. It also represents one of the more profitable features offered by mobile network operators. And while SMS does face an increasingly fractured market, largely from the growth of messaging apps, it’s not going anywhere any time soon. Here are five reasons why:

1. SMS is growing, not shrinking

texting.jpgIndeed, SMS is continuing to grow at an incredible rate globally. In 2011, more than 7.8 trillion SMS were sent worldwide. That vastly outpaces every other messaging platform combined. Over-the-top (OTT) messaging (instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp, iMessenger, BlackBerry Messenger, etc., also known as application-to-person) represent 3.5 trillion messages, combined. Multimedia messaging service (MMS) adds another 200 billion. The rate at which SMS are sent is increasing, and is expected to increase each year at least through 2016, according to several research firms.

2. SMS is a major revenue driver for mobile network operators worldwide

SMS represents 63.5% of mobile messaging revenue globally. And it represents somewhere around 10% of an average operator’s revenue streams. I have a hard time believing MNOs won’t think of ways to add value to SMS, or reduce the cost enough that it still makes sense for consumers.

In fact, there are multiple examples of them taking this step. For instance, SMS sent via first delivery attempt mechanism can potentially save money on 80%-90% of text messages. Clever bundling can also drive revenue: Here in the United States, we bundle SMS with our calling plans, meaning there’s no ceiling to how many messages a given subscriber sends in a month on his or her plan. What’s the disincentive to use SMS?

3. SMS is platform agnostic and highly reliable

I can (and do) use iMessage with friends who also have iPhones. But what about friends who have Android-based mobiles? Colleagues whose businesses use BlackBerry devices? My mother, who uses a feature phone? To reach them, SMS is the most reliable option. This is due to the simple reason that it’s hard-coded into the global mobile infrastructure, requiring distribution across all phones and carriers.

What’s more is that I find iMessage and other chat applications to be unreliable. SMS, on the other hand, works even in extremely resource-limited conditions, including lack of Internet access and even moments of cell tower traffic congestion. For example, in emergencies, texts have a higher chance of reaching people than other forms of communication. This level of low-resource ubiquity is unmatched in the global communications infrastructure.

4. Increasing use in business, government and non-profit sectors

SMS is seeing a dramatic increase as a tool for businesses, governments and non-profits to interact with large populations. For example, Detroit recently introduced a Text-My-Bus program that allows people using public transport to learn when the next bus is arriving at a given stop. Businesses are increasingly looking to SMS as an opportunity for advertising special prices or events to clients. UPS, for example, uses SMS to notify clients as to the progress of their package deliveries. And non-profits are increasingly participating in text-to-donate programs, where donors can send a brief message to a short phone number and a small donation is added to a cell phone bill. Most famously, the American Red Cross raised more than $43 million with its text-to-donate campaign following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

I suspect they choose SMS over a messaging service largely because user adoption rates are so high — see my previous point about SMS being platform agnostic. With so many mobile phones in circulation, there’s only one global messaging platform at the moment. For people wanting to reach a large audience via a convenient messaging feature, SMS is the only real option. As these services gain more traction, people will continue to interact with them via SMS.

5. Chat Is Attempting To Emulate SMS Success

Many analysts see built-in messenger apps, such as iMessage, WhatsApp, Mxit and others as a threat to SMS. These apps operate on a user’s data plan, rather than through the SMS protocol. The argument follows that in cases where data plans are cheaper than SMS plans, users will choose the least cost route, thus supplanting SMS as the most popular platform. To be fair, we’ve seen this happen in a few places. Hong Kong, Australia, and Finland have seen drops in SMS usage. In the U.S., SMS usage leveled off in 2011 for the first time. But a dip in usage does not translate to an evaporation of an entire platform. Indeed, SMS is still the most popular platform in the U.S., despite the relative ubiquity of iMessage, Blackberry Messenger, and Facebook chat.

Portio Research takes this argument a step further, suggesting that messaging apps may only be an addition to an increasingly fragmented market, rather than being an SMS killer:

Does a boost to one messaging type have to equate to a usage drop in another? Does it have to mean cannibalization of SMS? What about synergy? Side by side traffic growth? And what of the other messaging mediums of MMS, mobile e-mail, and mobile IM? After all, while messaging users love to communicate seamlessly, popular modes of communications do vary – and maybe OTT isn’t a replacement, but rather just one more segment of the messaging mix.

At FrontlineSMS, we’d agree — multi-channel engagement doesn’t mean the end of SMS. It means a boom in mobile messaging across the board, including for SMS.

In an increasingly device-rich society, with wild differences in access to infrastructure and technologies of all kinds between the very poor and even the moderately well-off, multi-channel communications are critical if service providers and businesses are to engage effectively with everyone in a community, all of the time. Each platform and channel of communication has trade-offs, and as we’ve argued elsewhere, your choice of platform not only presents opportunities — to sharing video, or messaging more cheaply across cell data — but can close doors to those without the kit or the credit to access them. Multi-channel approaches, such as the Praekelt Foundation’s Young Africa Live, which combines SMS with feature- and smartphone apps and a website, offer the broadest possible number of options for individuals to engage with its message. Despite the brevity of the format, SMS has a valuable place in this spectrum, both as a lowest common-denominator technology, and as a communications platform that often works when all others fail.

In a multi-channel world, where successful engagement and data capture are increasingly critical, and as businesses focus more and more on reaching previously difficult markets in low- and middle-income countries, who can afford to discount the world’s most accessible, most widespread, digital communications medium?

Trevor Knoblich works as Project Manager for FrontlineSMS, a 2011 Knight News Challenge winner. He began his career as a federal policy reporter in Washington, DC, then spent 5 years working as a humanitarian specialist. He currently works on issues at the intersection of journalism, technology and developing countries. At FrontlineSMS, he is building tools to help journalists and media outlets around the world improve their ability to gather, track and share news.

Image courtesy of Flickr user YayAdrian.

This post originally appeared on the FrontlineSMS blog.


More Technology Makes Lazy Humans

Here’s my first interview in 2013 with the Weekend Post newspaper’s John Harvey.

Children playing with cellphonesLOVE it or hate it, social media is here to stay and will continue to revolutionise the way we communicate.

Initially the preserve of well-to-do college students (as was the case with Microsoft and Apple before them), platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become part and parcel of practically everyone’s daily lives, save a few cynical die-hards clinging to the past.

The ability to relay news – personal or otherwise – at the touch of a button gives the user complete control over cyberspace and in the manner he or she wishes to convey the specific item.

There are so many advantages to social media that most major corporations have made it an integral part of their marketing strategies.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook may have lost points on the New York Stock Exchange last year, but it would take a brave man to bet against him dominating the markets as he has done computers and cellphones across the globe.

Yet while there is little disputing their cultural and economic relevance, for leading South African online behaviour expert Ramon Thomas Facebook and Twitter are increasingly facilitating the “regression” of people’s emotional maturity,

Thomas, whose expertise in web-based trends has earned him appearances on Carte Blanche, CNBC Africa, 3Talk, e.tv news and Special Assignment, contends “the lines between the real and virtual world” have become so blurred that people are no longer making an effort in actual human relationships.

“That is very dangerous, because people are starting to care less about each other as they have less actual interaction, preferring instead to retreat to their ‘safe’ worlds of Facebook or Twitter,” he told Weekend Post earlier this week.

Thomas’s assertions are drawn from his work with students, school children and their parents. He is in high demand around the country as a motivational speaker, particularly Johannesburg and Cape Town.

One of his more interesting findings is that dating websites are fast becoming obsolete as cellphones have “a lot more power because the user knows they are interacting with someone they know”.

“You will only give a BBM [Blackberry Messenger] pin to someone you know. It’s almost the same with WhatsApp. Basically people are starting to interact a lot more offline, and so that is killing the dating sites.

“However this does not mean they are actually interacting. All it shows is that they are overdependent on these platforms for virtual interaction.”

Thomas recalled an incident in Cape Town recently where a man was attending a comedy show with a group of friends, and the girls in the group tweeted every joke the comedian told.

“At interval the man tried to make a point that the object was to listen to the comedian and enjoy the experience. He did this by telling his own joke, but instead of understanding what he was getting at the girls then tweeted what he had said.”

Thomas believes that the psychological impact of social media technologies is twofold, in that it actively encourages flagrant voyeurism while simultaneously causing people to not put as much effort into their relationships as they used to.

“I know cases where girls don’t even break up with their boyfriends in person, but simply post that they no longer want to be with them.

“I often think of Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World in which people have multiple casual sexual partners. The internet is very much like that, where people have all these virtual relationships even though they don’t really care about the other person they are interacting with.”

What is most disturbing, he says, is that people seem to be regressing in terms of their emotional maturity.

“There is a big difference between child-like and childish. On social networks there is a lot of childish behaviour, even from people well into their thirties and forties. It seems that they wish to regress to a place that allows them to gossip like teenagers.

“The internet realm is also a totally immersive experience for them. You need only look at a game like SIMS where you can dictate what the characters do, basically a soap opera in a virtual world. Some users can’t even live without games like these, and that is very worrying because they would rather live through computer images than engage with real people.”

Thomas says while there is no doubt that the internet and social media have made life easier, it is essential that a balance is struck between virtual and real.

“The important thing is to set yourself boundaries and recognise that you have the power to switch off the apps when you decide.

“I explain it like this when I present my seminars to the schools: would you rather go the beach and jump in the sea, or stay at home and dip your feet in the pool. That is the difference between the real and virtual worlds, and it is important to get the balance right.”

Certainly Thomas does raise a number of excellent points that unfortunately avid social networkers rarely pause to consider.

Any visit to the local shopping mall will reveal that the connectedness that one used to encounter among laughing friends or between couples as they enjoy a bite to eat has been divided by a type of technological barrier as those around the table tweet everything while saying nothing to one another.

Development of literacy skills also seems to have taken a nose-dive as people of all ages resort to acronyms to describe emotions (Lol for laugh out loud, for example) or communicate in “146 characters or less”.

Thomas says in his research he has found that people who only a few years ago would easily consume a few books a month cannot even finish a chapter anymore because they are so used to short bursts of information on social networks.

The burning question, of course, is whether social media is intended for breezy entertainment and gossip, or transference of credible information. Certainly it is a handy tool for the traditional media, but too frequently it has been found wanting as a trustworthy source.

The number of occasions that people have mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela on Twitter, for example, indicates just how a serious occurrence can be reduced to rubble on the gossip wire – one of the childish indulgences of which Thomas speaks.

At the end of the day the man’s advice to strike a balance is wisest. Only the future knows whether the internet will be our making or our doom as a species.


The Red Flags Raised around Free Websites

Free WebsitesMany times I have had people ask me why I complain about things I get for free. People seem to only place monetary value to items that highlight price reductions (or lack of a price). But when it comes to your business and your time, getting something for free that is bad will give you the same headache and will waste your time whether you paid $1000 or $0. By embracing products such as the Website Builder by www.webstarts.com, you can invest $0 in an amazing product that will help you take your business to the next level, while providing high-end quality. This article will investigate the technology behind free websites in order to help inform consumers and help them make better decisions.

How Can a Website Afford to Give Itself Away?

There are a few ways websites are able to function for free. Some of these methods are acceptable and worth the small sacrifice for the consumer, and other methods are beyond the scope of idiocy. Some websites will plaster their client’s free websites with advertisements. This is how they get paid. Having a website with adverts all over it will not only destroy the website’s design, but nobody will take you, your business, or your hobby seriously. An acceptable trade-off is for the company to put a small single ad banner at the very bottom of the website where it doesn’t interfere with the design or cheapen the look.

Sometimes websites will give themselves away in exchange for personal information and data that reveals your online habits (including what you buy). Have you ever bought a piece of sports memorabilia for your office off a website, and one week later your e-mail gets blasted with adverts about sales on autographed baseballs? Nobody wants to be a guinea pig or be pitched too every day.

The Nuts and Bolts

Technology is key. Having a website that runs off modern software will help it function better in the search engines. It will also help your site load quicker, and won’t disqualify you from using nice features such as photo slide shows or videos. In an article by Small Business Computing the author stressed that there is no need to spend money on having an independent designer build a site for you. He stresses the importance of having the site hosted properly, and using a custom look. Although he recommends using WordPress, the average consumer lacks the skills to learn how to build a website themselves. Using a free website with a good inexpensive upgradable option is the way to go if you are “technically challenged” or if you just don’t have all those hours to invest.

Avoid cookie-cutter templates. Make sure your free website offers professionally designed sites that offer a unique look, and that can be changed out for different looks.

Also, it is vital that your free website has inexpensive (don’t pay more than $20 a month) upgraded websites that offer SEO (search engine optimization). These sites will be indexed to work with Google, Yahoo and Bing beyond the scopes of having a free site (which can still accomplish the same but not at the same scale). So why not just pay for a site now and skip the free one? By using a free website you can test-drive the company and determine if their product and customer service meets your needs. If you like the website, and the technology and features, then you may want to talk to a customer service rep regarding an upgrade. When a company gives you a free website, they are extending their hand in the hopes they will EARN your business, versus them asking for it with nothing to prove.

Surfing the Website Tsunami

There are a lot of free website companies out there that are making waves—some are big, others are small. Surf around and find a good, quality site to ride with for a while, and test it for its strengths and weaknesses.

Image source.