Thursday, May 28, 2009

Manx Telecom Customer Service - Why Bother?

The old broadband whinge, it's coming back again. I see that Manx Telecom are upgrading the network to ADSL2, those in the south of the Island already have it and the roll out will cover Peel, Ramsey etc soon enough.

Me? Oh no I'm still on a connection that is under 2 meg, certainly not the 6 my brother who lives in the middle of nowhere (aren't remote ISAMs great?) gets or for that matter the 7-8 meg that most of my friends get. Still pay the same though.

It's not like I live out in the sticks either, Douglas post code, Douglas rates, we live in Douglas. I'd prefer not to but that’s a different rant. Even worse we probably live in one of the most densely populated parts of Douglas and yet our broadband service is utter shit. I've contacted Manx Telecom loads of times about this and I know for a fact lots of other people around here have to. This isn't my whinge, it's a whinge from a lot of people living in a built up area, in the capital, that believe their broadband speed should be equivalent to the rest of the island. It's always the same answer from Manx Telecom, nothing they can do (they can't justify putting in a remote ISAM, even though it would service the needs of far more people than the current remotes). But I suppose we should just be grateful to have some sort of working broadband, tough shit that you're paying the best part of £30 a month for crap all.

When the new ADSL2 finally hits Douglas (we will be last, we're always last) mine will top out at about 3.5 meg. Awesome. I'll still be paying the same as the rest of the island though the majority of which are averaging between 10 and 12 meg. So please Manx Telecom you monopolising bastards, would it not make sense to provide some level of reasonable service to ALL your customers before splashing the money on upgrading those that currently get the most anyway?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Venda On The Isle of Man - A Rant

I was going to sign up and post this over at Manx Forums but I figure what the hell, why waste good content on a website I don't own? (It's the little details that make the difference between a successful website and one with no traffic ;))

It seems that sarcasm is well above some people and that this little post was taken literally. I thought the give away would have been the suggestion that a bunch of Manx retailers group together to take on Amazon. Nobody see the sarcasm in that? I guess not because my little rantings and ravings have somehow been taken very seriously and been presented in a way to defend the whole Venda situation.

So just to clear things up for those that are not technically minded here's some straight forward opinion about the whole Venda on the Isle of Man situation.

What is Venda? It's a hosted service that lets you easily build shopping websites. Each website is hosted by Venda and for this you pay them money. Simple as that.

Is Venda unique? Absolutely not. There are literally hundreds of competitors for what Venda offers. Some hosted, some you can install on your own server. Some cost money but many are free. AS FAR AS I'M CONCERNED VENDA HAVE NO USP.

Could local IT suppliers offer what Venda offers? There is no need for them to. Web applications are easy peasy to program, any developer worth his salt could knock out a shopping based CMS but why bother? Why re-invent the wheel when there are so many free or cheap (globally recognised and top of their game) systems out there that can easily be altered to suit any retailers requirements. Plug this into a rich content website and you stand a chance. Every Manx web company can or should be able to easily do this.

Will Venda make Manx retailers more money? I doubt it. Having a website that creates a profit requires so much much than just chucking a shopping site on the web. The retailers will need the support of experts in the field of internet marketing to stand any chance online. In that regard Venda is simply an added expense with no ROI. Hosting doesn't cost £50 a month.

Was I impressed with what I saw in the backend of Venda? Not really. The only bit I liked was the template wizard, but they are 10 a penny these days anyway. The most alarming side was the complete lack of integration in the stock management side. Retailers will sign up on the promise of the all-in-one hands off Venda solution and end up spending hours dicking around with spreadsheets. The presentation I witnessed made a strong point of emphasising the SEO benefits of Venda and yet when I searched for the clients website they were using as an example using some popular target phrases they were nowhere to be found. Submitting a sitemap doesn't cut it I'm afraid.

Could this be done better? Absolutely. I have no invested interest in this at all. I'd certainly not be bidding on the work, screw that. But there is a chance here to create an optimised, working community of websites for small retailers on the Isle of Man. It could be done with a fraction of the money the DTI are about to give Venda. Use the money and give it to local IT companies so that the retailers can have their websites not only setup but also marketed and managed for them. Any IT companies not up to the task or any retailers whose products aren't a success online get pulled. Not all websites are profitable - fact. Use the resources of the Isle of Man, use various web developers, various hosting companies (with different IP's, not all stuck under Venda) and knit it altogether in an online community that leverages the links and traffic in the best possible way. This is how networks of related websites naturally grow on the web and this is what is needed to ensure traffic for the retailer’s shops.

So does that clear things up? I see Venda as nothing but a huge waste of money brought on by a clever sales pitch and the usual government consultants throwing opinions around on things that they don't have the first bloody clue about. Also see the need to upgrade to Vista and the cutting edge accounting system sold on the basis that "it works like Excel" as further examples. The end.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I can't really remember us losing our own home and moving into a council house, I was too young.

I can remember us buying the second hand Talbot Sunbeam, I think it cost £900. I certainly remember the sacrifices that had to be made to afford it.

I can remember the regular visits by the catalogue person, just about everything we owned was paid for on the drip from the catalogue.

I remember our first and only family holiday. A week in the Butlins park at Pwllheli, Wales.

I remember my dad holding down 3 jobs, us hardly seeing him except when on his 9 days and I suppose what it eventually did to my mum and dad.

I remember the guilt of going away with the school when I was 11 and just how much it cost.

I can remember my dad’s dream of owning a "decent" boat. By decent I think he meant one with a cabin. The excitement when the bank said he could borrow the money, all £1500 of it. It was paid back at £80 a month if I remember correctly.

I remember the company I worked for going tits up a matter of months before I was due to get married. Of being out of work without a penny to my name and if truth be told – without a care in the world deep in the belief that it would sort itself out.

As I sit here now in front of 5 grand’s plus worth of computer equipment, in the house my wife and I own where I work, creating content for my own business where I choose what hours I do and don't want to work, I feel like a right selfish prick. Why? Because the only thing in life I've got to worry about is the fact I know my reserves are going to dip below 12 months of salary in the next few months - and it's giving me sleepless nights. I was brought up during the eighties when nobody really had much, but I can never remember my mum and dad having sleepless nights or freak outs over money. Note to self - get a fucking grip fella.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Great White Shark vs Killer Whale, Who Would Win In A Fight?

When not pondering what makes the world go around these are the things I like to occupy my mind with. You can't beat a good old animal fight.

In the red corner we have the Great White shark. As far as sharks with teeth go it's a true heavyweight but when you compare it to the Killer Whale it's probably more a super-middle. Full of teeth and aggression, grrrrrrrrrr!!! In the blue corner we have the somewhat girly looking and placid Killer Whale. It's only when you go further than skin deep though that the real potential winner in this fight shows up. In terms of speed, power, agility and probably most importantly intelligence the Killer Whale has it hands down. The only possible doubt in this fight being the Killer Whale’s nature, or what we perceive to be its nature. You know it's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog and all that? Still if I was a betting man I'd put my fiver on the Killer Whale every time. This video backs that up:-

This whale is known as CA2, not much of a name but you obviously do not try and steal her chips cheese and gravy! And we thought cows were dangerous.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

How Wrong Was I About Venda?!

Having seen the guts of the system - wow wee, she's a beauty! Does the lot, I'd definitely use it for my online store. Maybe the Manx retailers could group together and by the power of Venda challenge Amazon for that number 1 e-tailer spot, I reckon it could happen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When Governments Go Wrong

What's £300,000 between friends? I suppose when it comes to government spending it's bugger all, especially on the IOM. That's the amount the DTI are willing to spend of our money on providing local retailers with a web presence. They've gone with an off-island supplier so in a creative double whammy not only are they chucking 300 grand of tax payers money off island but are also taking away business from the local website designers at a time when they need the business most. I'm not a website designer by the way, I don't do clients - well except the very privileged :)

What really really fucks me off about this more than anything else though is who made the decision to go with Venda? What qualifications do they have to justify making an educated decision on an ecommerce supplier? I'm going to talk about 1 aspect, the 1 I know best, SEO. Search Engine Optimisation, the Venda product has been sold to the IOM Government I'm guessing on the basis that is will provide excellent search engine visibility to the local retailers. My entire living is based on search engine traffic, if my websites don't get traffic then I don't make a penny. The mortgage doesn't get paid, food doesn't get bought etc etc It's an ass twitching industry. I guess that makes me qualified to at least have an opinion?

My opinion on Venda for SEO, it's shit. The first alarm bell is something that takes 5 seconds to figure out. Do a Google search for "ecommerce solution" (their primary keyword target) how far do you have to go down the results until you find Venda? I gave up at page 7. IF they can't rank their own website then they sure as hell can't guarantee great search exposure for the retailers. Maybe I'm wrong though? The next thing to do is to have a look at their existing clients - I'll pick 2 at random, Superdrug and Arsenal Football Club.

This is really basic stuff for anybody sourcing a website supplier, lets have a look at the source for the web pages created by Venda for these big name clients. I know that 85% of search ranking will be dependent on the link profile of the websites but if the on-the-page stuff isn't correct then no amount of links will compensate. Any CMS needs to create search friendly HTML in order to stand a chance. The search engines will punish or even at worse ignore shit. Venda was sold on the basis that it does SEO, let's see?

From extra white space characters in the title tag (enough to break some search robots), descriptions that are far too long, or too short, missing keyword values, duplicate keyword/description values. URL's that don't include the product name, instead using a product ID to the single biggest sin in on-the-page SEO - using the same description across the entire site. If you're not going to create a unique description for each page then don't include one at all! I've spent 5 minutes looking at this across their clients sites and I can say without a shadow of a doubt, they are dishing out some of the most search unfriendly websites that I've seen from any CMS. And we're going to give them £300,000 for this?! If their clients rank it's only because of their branding and the natural links that it attracts. Manx retailers will not enjoy that branding power.

If they've bullshitted on 1 aspect of their sales pitch then what about the others? They may be big, they may be well known, they are also very over priced for what they do and just love public sector money. Local retailers are going to sign up for this (subsidised by you and me) and expect to find their products online through the search engines, it's not going to happen. Don't believe me? Do a Google search for Arsenal shirt (that's gotta be the most popular term in terms of traffic for the Arsenal store?) and see where the official Arsenal store powered by Venda appears?

In 6 months time it's going to be another 300 grand down the drain and nobody ever mentions it ever again. So who made the decision, and how were they qualified to make it? More importantly why didn't they ask me, I would have at least gave them an idea of what they should be looking for, for free.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Super League: Super Fans

I’ve just spent the weekend @ the Super League Road show event: Murrayfield Magic in Edinburgh and what a fabulous weekend it was. All 14 Super League teams play over the 2 days, so from £12.50 you get to see 7 matches.

The atmosphere was brilliant with loads of people in fancy dress and having a laugh and of course a few beers. It was great to see 14 different sets of supports all mingling and joking about each other’s teams. Then when the matches started they would all run back to the stands, often sitting next to each cheers cheering and booing side by side. Then back to the beer tent to top up on alcohol and rib each other about the match.

It just felt good to be a Rugby Supporter.

Could you imagine if the Premiership did something similar? They would need a separate beer tent for each set of supporters and lines and lines of police between each group. On the whole weekend in Edinburgh I saw TWO coppers, laughing and joking with the crowd…. That is all. Two coppers to police 60,000 supporters….

I love Rugby….