Starting a Small Business

Here at Web-Empire we pride ourselves on digging out useful information that can help you with your technological and business endeavors. This week we have found an excellent web-site called This site covers much of the nuts and bolts of starting and running a business and, much to our delight, it actually covers the different approaches for setting up a business and covers the pros and cons of each, and does not just sing the praises on one specific type, or relegating the others as silly or ‘will never work’.

The site is a veritable mine of useful information including how to use social media effectively and technology in general including the sort of costings you can be expecting. We recommend that you give it a little look and we hope you find it as helpful as we think it is.

Web-page Layout


Why valid HTML and CSS are useful versatile tools and not to be feared

One of the things writers often ask when setting up a website is about the layout – coming from print design backgrounds generally they want everything rigidly laid out in certain colours, spacings, fonts and sizes. And this is where the shock lays – the internet doesn’t work like that.

Most of them start having panic attacks at this point but they shouldn’t, and this is why. Everybody has a different computer set up – some people use big screens others small, some use e-readers and some use phones.

Some people use speech synthesis to navigate sites or need to have certain coloured backgrounds and text to be able to read, they need things to appear in different sizes.

Then there is the thorny problem of which operating system they are using and which web-broswer – Windows, Mac OS, Linux, NetBSD etc… each one of these displays the websites slightly differently.

And this is why CSS, HTML and some useful stuff like PHP is designed the way it is. CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets and is the most useful thing ever – combined with HTML it means that you can format your page – you can have headers in different sizes – eg, title, sub-title, name. You can designate a preferred font and then if the viewer is on a system that can’t show that font you can put in second and third choices. You can request colours and sizes, and unless the viewer has overridden the colours for some reason, you’ll get that colour. You can request the size of the text relative to the viewer’s preferred normal text size; if they need large text as they are partially sighted, then they will still see your headings as being larger than the body text.

Your site will work on all these different platforms, with all those different size screens being used by all those different people – in other words, your work will be accessible.

You use HTML tags within your writing/article to get the styles to show and everybody’s happy.

Writers are asking me how they can make their writing look nicer on the web – the answer is CSS and if you haven’t got time to learn the intricacies then get someone in. If you are using a blog that supports it you can use a simpler notation than HTML known as Markdown to change sizes of text and mark paragraph boundaries etc…

It is tempting to force control of text styling by placing an image of text on your site. This is often unavoidable for things like corporate logos, but for the main text of a site, it’s unacceptable. Imagine a blind person reading your site with a speech synthesiser; their software can’t read out text that’s in an image.

Just knowing a few of the tags would help you greatly in having a more aesthetic appeal, even if it is not universal – after all a blind person isn’t going to care if your title’s pink or blue. For the visually non-impaired a header image might read My Wonderful Site in lovely swirly text but for those with screenreaders it would just say “unknown image” unless you hide a text version in the HTML using an ‘alt attribute’, but that’s not suitable for anything more than a few words.

This isn’t just a matter of getting your stuff out there accessible and looking pretty; it is also about the discrimination laws. And though no one has yet been taken to court over it – when there is stuff in place to make websites accessible it seems folly not use it.

And don’t be scared of CSS and HTML if you don’t know them there are plenty of forums and help guides out there for you to peruse.

And another good thing about CSS is that you can put stuff into the ‘skeleton’ of your site that only things like google see – so you end up in the right place in search queries. It will also help indexing sites list you, which if you’re looking for lots of visitors can’t be a bad thing.

Brass and Chrome

Here at Web-Empire we have been watching for news of the fabled Chrome Operating System from Google. With rumours that it might take on Microsoft and the like we thought we would delve into the subject abit more and share it with you:

The recent news about Google’s Chrome OS has raised the interesting question of what an “OS For The Web” might be like, as Chrome OS (as the name suggests) will be based around the Google’s Chrome web browser.

Many have discussed, in the past, whether the rise of usable Web applications will one day make “desktop applications” obsolete. Applications like Google Docs already provide word processing, spreadsheets, and the like, purely through a Web interface; and web- based email has been around for over a decade now. Just about everything you do on your PC can be done on a web site, although the quality of the experience may be somewhat less in a browser window – and things don’t work too well when you’re not connected to the Internet…

But there’s no reason why those pitfalls can’t be removed. Google Gears is a browser extension that lets Web applications install themselves into protected areas on your PC with their own protected areas to store their data in, meaning they can run without an Internet connection. And ongoing improvements in HTML such as HTML5 will continue to improve the quality of the experience that browser-based apps can provide.

Details on what Chrome OS will work like are not yet available, so all we can do is suppose; but given Google’s existing work on Gears and the Chrome browser itself, it’s quite likely that Chrome OS will not necessarily be simply what “an OS with just a browser” might imply; it could well extend what apps in the browser can do until it’s enough to do everything you’d want to do on a PC.

Some of the technical implications of that are discussed in [one of our consultants comment to a posting on technovia]( ).

Ada Lovelace Day – Grace Hopper

Here at Web-Empire we have chosen to honour Grace Hopper for the first ever Ada Lovelace Day. For those of you who do not know what this is all about you might want to read last weeks post.

Although Ada Lovelace was the first programmer, her work in the field was crippled by the lack of an actual computer: but Grace Hopper had no such restriction.

She became involved with computers during World War 2, working on the US Navy’s Mark I computer; she excelled, and after the way turned down an offer of a professorship in order to stay with the Navy.

She was a member of the team that designed the UNIVAC in the late 1940s and early 1950s, during which she pioneered compilation: the technique of writing a program for a computer that translates programs written in languages designed for humans into the actual language of the computer, which soon led to the development of COBOL, a language that is still used today.

It’s easy to underestimate how fundamental that idea is – the native language of a computer, machine code (also known as assembly language), is designed for efficient implementation in digital circuitry: where ‘efficient’ means both that the circuits required to understand the language are cheap to build, and that the circuits can process their commands quickly. These requirements lead to machine code being uncomfortable for humans to program directly. The development of compiler technology meant that humans could write programs in languages designed for humans – then the compiler automatically translates those programs into machine code that the computer can actually run. Nowadays, only a tiny fraction of software is written directly in machine code; generally, this is only done when it cannot be avoided for some technical reason.

Although relatively few people in the industry today know of her name unless they’ve actually gone searching for the history of women in computing, Grace Hopper attracted an amazing list of honours – check out her Wikipedia article for the full list!

Ada Lovelace Day

Tuesday March 24th 2009 is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging about women we admire in technology.

Why should such a day interest us? Is it not sexist? Why is it needed?

It interests us here at Web-Empire because a) it’d about blogging, b) Ada was pretty much the first computer programmer though the computer she was designing the programs for was never finished meaning she could not run her programs. c) there is a dangerous misconception that men are some how more capable of doing ‘technical stuff’ than women – amongst this ‘technical stuff’ computer programming and other areas of science and technology are now seen as masculine pursuits. This has not always been the case – far from it.

Restraining ourselves to just looking at recent history, computer programming was originally considered to be “women’s work” as it involved typing which obviously meant secretarial work. During the second world war women outnumbered men at Bletchley Park by 3 to 1.

Young women in schools who are making career decisions are not always given a balanced view of the careers they could have, pushing them into ill fitting “acceptable” career paths. Whether it is parents not knowing what careers the subjects could lead to or other issues, making people aware that women have actually contributed a lot to science and technology is very important.

If this does not happen and the young women are discouraged or their male colleagues have been led to believe they automatically will not be any good – we will lose valuable contributors to our economy, our national security and to the possibility of the human race actually surviving long enough to do anything useful.

This is why we here at Web-Empire thought you should all know about next Tuesday. the idea is that you write a blog post on an inspiring/admirable woman in technology.

For this reason next week’s Web-Empire post shall go live on the Tuesday and not the Monday.

Ada even had a [programming language]( after her, and there are now prestigious industry awards associated with her name.

We hope this has been informative, from all of us here at web-empire.


Twitter is micro-blogging, a cross over between blogging and instant messangers such as ichat and MSN. It is also considered to be a type of social networking. Twitter was founded in 2006 and has been growing in popularity, especially in the last few months (to the extent that we here at web-empire now have ‘What is this Twitter thing?’ as our most asked question).

Each person has their own homepage with twitter were they can post messages up to 140 characters long. These are known as tweets and can be thoughts, what you are currently doing, links to things you find interesting etc…

The tweets appear on your home page, and you can choose to follow other people’s tweets which will appear on your homepage too. Tweets also appear on the public timeline which is a page that shows everybody’s tweets – this, however, has become less interesting and it is hard to catch your own tweets the bigger twitter becomes.

You may also direct a tweet at a friend or accaintance by putting their name after an @ sign in the tweet – these tweets will be brought to their attention as being directed at them, and their name will become a link to their homepage when people view your tweet.

As well as using Twitter’s web site, there are many Twitter client applications you can run on your own computer, which provide an easier interface. In many of these, new tweets from your friends will appear as a small popup window, much like an instant messaging system.

There are also Twitter clients that run on smartphones and PDAs, or you can tweet via SMS/text messages from any mobile phone.

For the community/social journalism side of blogging twitter is helping to get stories noticed or for headlines to break before the article is even written! There is also Twitpic which is a site that allows you to post pictures through twitter.

Twitter has a direct message service on it, for sending private messages to other users, though this too is restricted to the short character count.

There is unique form of spaming going on in twitter where accounts are made, often with nonsense posts (though sometimes not), the whole perpose of which is to get people to click through to adverts and things.

Having said that many companies and individauls such as writers use Twitter as an effective marketing tool, with interesting tid bits for their followers to engage with. However there are considered to be some security risks associated with Twitter as they will share information they have collected with ‘third parties’.

Twitter has recently gone main stream due to the news coverage of Stephan Fry’s usage, much to the horror of those who have been using it and who have watched it grow. This means marketing companies have finally noticed it and that the amount of spam or spoof accounts is likely to sky rocket.

However it does mean that more of the poeple you know will now actually be using it. There are also RSS feeds which you can add to your blogs, social networking sites and websites that show your tweets.

Twitter is fun and versatile and when things are broken they have a lovely picture of the Fail Whale being carried by little birds which we here at Web-Empire love. There is even a Fail Whale fan club complete with merchandise!

However, Twitter is centralised and has control of your account – by it all being based on their servers – this is a potential risk for security reasons as it is one large target to be hacked plus it means if anything happens to the central organisation you could loose all the contacts you’ve made.

But it is free and this means you do not need access to your own space on a server. There are also news letter emails occasionally, too. We like Twitter but it is not the only micro-blogging system which is something we will hopefully cover in future posts.

We hope this has been informative from all of us here at Web-Empire.

An Adventure in Technology

The weekend saw the second Tech Adventure at the Trinity Arts Centre in Bristol – though the organiser pointed out that it was technically the third, but the first one happened a bit too long ago.

Web-Empire was in attendance at both this one and the one in 2008.

This one saw robotics students, a self-replicating 3D printer, DJs, a mix of motion and music though technology, various old and interesting computers with or without games, a swap shop, a 3D display device, a games table, a Wii area and various talks.

BB gun and motion sensor dudes creating music with motion Heximotional 3d printer - reprap the gubbins

One of the talks was on parallelism and performance in systems – which doesn’t necessarily have to be about computer systems. This was by Colin Butcher and was very very interesting and deserves its own post in the future.

The event brought programmers, inventors, and roboticists all together allowing them to exchange ideas and information.

There were even musical instruments and Geek Poetry present including a competition of spot of the programming languages mentioned. The prize was a wiggly pet! These helpful and friendly creatures happen to have a blog hosted by us so we were pleased to see them out at such an event and the poetry wasn’t bad either.

Upstairs there was also a No2ID event – a subject we here at Web-Empire feel needs looking into more thoroughly for a future post.

We will hopefully also find out about the next one in time to let you all know about it.

Most Start-Ups Fail

New businesses struggle generally for the first two years of their life so if your company or business is in the infant stage how can you increase its chances of survival?

We here at Web-Empire have been looking into this in the hope of aiding our customers and in doing so we have come to the conclusion that to help our customers we have to help them help their customers.

Customer feed back is essential, whether positive or negative. Giving your customers an outlet for their complaints – however annoying you find it – may well save your business. If the dissatisfied customer feels they have been listened to they are actually more likely to praise your business than a customer who thought your service or product was brilliant in the first place.

Not only this but a customer who feels they have not been listened too can do untold damage to a small or medium sized business. They will tell somewhere in the region of ten people who – being people – love passing on bad news, and so will tell several more people each. This would not seem so bad except that businesses of this size still rely most heavily on word of mouth regardless of their advertising budget.

According to Paul Graham feedback from customers is even more important than just keeping them sweet so they don’t bad mouth your company. He says that it will help you track what their needs actually are giving you the chance to adapt or learn from mistakes. He also has a few more useful tidbits for young companies or those considering starting one up.

But how can small companies manage the time and resources needed for this sort of customer service? There are many solutions, such as call centres which give the appearance of a dedicated helpline but these can be prohibitively expensive initially. But feedback forms and frequently ask question (FAQ) on your web-site may be useful as long as you actually answer respond to them.

We here at Web-Empire consider that these are indispensable on e-commerce online shops and encourage our customers to include them.

Another solution is for a company to have a profile on sites such as they even help prioritise feedback so that you can respond to the most urgent first, useful if you are getting a lot of feedback! Part of what we do here at Web-Empire is knowing about such sites and helping customers us it – we will even set profiles up for our customers if thats what they want.

Some situations may even call for a support forum for customers where they can share uses for your products or even iron out any bugs themselves!

We hope this has been useful.

From all of us here at Web-Empire

Weather and Finance

The financial system is complex and, to a certain extent, chaotic. Here at Web-Empire we feel that those doing the financial modeling failed to predict the current economic crisis (aka the “credit crunch”) due to several factors.

One of these factors is the weather and though we would like to think it no longer impacted on our wellbeing as it did in the days of old when a bad summer meant you would starve in the winter, it would appear this is not the case.

But we all sit inside offices to work and we have food from all over the world and we are not starving here in the West so how is the weather affecting business?

Any Fire Officer will tell you that businesses whose main site is affected by, say, flood or fire generally does not survive the two years afterwards. The cost of such disasters, especially for small and medium sized businesses, is catastrophic. Even if they are insured, even if they do have off-site back ups of all their information. Many businesses do not think and keep copies sometimes right next to the original or master.

Now one or two businesses being wiped out by a fire and the fact that they may go out of business two years afterwards means that the financial system can survive this. But large storms can affect whole regions or districts and a good proportion of the buildings hit will be business property. The amount of time taken up in sorting the mess out – getting the insurance company to pay out and the work done (here at web-empire our personal experience says that getting the builders in is more of an issue than getting the insurance payout). This all eats into company time; and then what if half the employees of a company have been hit personally? They will need time off to sort their own affairs out and may even be traumatised by extreme events.

Even moving to other premises is time consuming and costly to businesses, both financially and in human resources.

Floods and wild fires can be equally as devastating and often one form of extreme weather can spark off another – ie storms and floods. Gloucestershire came to a complete halt in 2007 when large regions of the UK flooded that year. Many properties flooded including the Promenade in Cheltenham that has many shops on – including the bookshop that one of our team was going to for the launch party of the last Harry Potter book. Some buildings are still under repair at the time of writing (early 2009).

Power was down in some places due to a sub-station being flooded and drinking water was contaminated for similar reasons. This meant that huge chunks of the county were relient on water shipped in from other counties in tanks they sat on the road side. Few businesses could work – health and safety meant that most catering places had to close and with no running water toilets in offices would be an issue too.

Such events would at least put strain on the local economy.

The recent snow is another example. People could not get out to shop, at least in the villages, but more importantly a lot of them could not get to work and though the internet is a marvelous thing it can not compensate for everything.

London was even brought to a grinding halt – large chunks of the Underground weren’t running, buses stopped and roads were impassable. Universities canceled lectures, schools closed, tourist attractions had few visitors and people simply could not get to work. There were more road accidents and the like.

Extreme weather also hits the insurance companies as they struggle to pay out more people in one hit than they are designed to cope with. Insurance relies on paying out say 1 in 10 people who pay insurance leaving the excess for investment. If they are suddenly paying out 9 out of 10 people then there is no excess and sometimes not enough to cover costs. This hits the financial sectors again this time from an investment side.

We here at Web-Empire feel that their may well be a more significant link between the weather and economy – just the number of businesses affected would surely have a knock on effect. Weather is also a chaotic system meaning that predicting what is going to do next is actually very difficult and the further into the future you go the more uncertain things become until preditions are worse than useless. If there is a strong link then it would mean that there is at least a chaotic factor in the financial world and that would need to be addressed in the models or at least in how the models are used.

Micro-printer Project

Here at Web-Empire this microprinter project has come to our attention and we thought it looked like the sort of thing we should be letting you all know about.

They are using reciept printers connected to the internet to print out select informations, such as your to-do list for the day to say weather forecasts (these are just two of the applications for this project that we here at Web-Empire could think of). Information that comes in small written packets is perfect.

The concept I’m sure will have many applications for both the personal and the business. This is a project still underway so if you like the sound of it then go and look at their website.

We hope this has been interesting from all of us here at Web-Empire.

Next Page »

Web-Empire’s Blog is proudly powered by WordPress and themed by Web-Empire based on work byMukka-mu