The Web: More Than .com

March 17, 2014

sephone-bar

When you hear about domain names – facebook.com, ebay.com, sephone.com – most of the focus is usually on the part before the dot. But what do those few letters at the end of the domain mean?

The right-most portion of a domain name is called a TLD, or top-level domain. It is, in short, a category for domains. You’re probably used to hearing about a lot of domains that end in “.com”, a shortened version of “commercial”. But names on the web go far, far beyond that!

In the beginning… .com, .net, .org

The first batch of top-level domains were created in early 1985: .com, .net (for networks), .org (originally for non-profit organizations), .edu (for educational institutions), .gov (for government), and .mil (for military). Some top-level domains (including .edu, .gov, and .mil) are limited, and they can only be reserved with certain qualifications. The other three big TLDs are now unrestricted.

Country codes

But what about the other top-level domains? In many cases, domains in use may be assigned to a certain country. Here are some of the common country code TLDs you may see on the sites you visit:

  • .uk: United Kingdom
  • .fr: France
  • .de: Germany (Deutschland)
  • .cn: China
  • .in: India
  • .ie: Ireland

Individual countries have different policies about how people can use their domains. Some require registrants to be a citizen. Other countries leave registration pretty open, which allows domain owners to be a bit creative with their names (for example, the original del.icio.us used the United States’s .us domain, and bit.ly uses Libya’s .ly).

The new frontier

As the use of domain names has grown, people continue to look for new ways to create easy-to-remember homes online. Much like the addition of new toll-free prefixes in addition to the original 800 numbers, new domains are added periodically as well (for example, .ws and .info).

In 2014 companies will be adding thousands of new options for top-level specialty domains – everything from .photos to .coffee to .community.

If you’d like to talk about the best choices for your business’s domain name, or if you’d like to register additional names for your company, we’d be happy to discuss your options!

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

Comcast, Netflix, and Net Neutrality

February 24, 2014

SnailAn agreement with huge implications for how the Internet works happened over the weekend – and most people will probably never hear about it.

Netflix has agreed to pay Comcast in order to ensure its users don’t see annoying those “buffering” messages while they’re trying to watch their favorite movies and TV shows. In other words, Netflix is paying for a premium level of service on the Comcast network.

Since the beginning of online access, the general rule has been that information is information; it doesn’t matter what it is. You might be watching “Breaking Bad” on Netflix, looking at a photo of your grandkid, or reading a news article – all data’s treated the same way.

The Netflix deal starts the web down a different road: a road on which certain content is treated differently.

The Netflix traffic jam

Netflix usage is insane; it takes up just under a third of the downstream traffic in America. One way to look at the Netflix/Comcast deal is to say that Netflix is paying to compensate for that huge share, and it might be fair that since the company uses a large portion of resources, it should pay a premium for that amount of access.

A possible future

On the other hand, this deal raises questions about net neutrality: the practice of treating all online content the same. In short, with net neutrality in place, a customer pays for a certain level of service and can do whatever they (legally) want to do with it.

An absence of net neutrality may mean that Internet service is treated similarly to cable: different rates for different kinds of content. Internet providers could theoretically charge an additional fee for access to some sites. (There’s a great concept chart by Redditor quink that shows this well.) Taken to an even more extreme level, a service provider with, for example, their own news portal could either reduce or block service to competitors. It could also put smaller, more innovative new companies at a disadvantage if they didn’t have the resources to pay for deals with Internet providers.

The FCC is currently looking at new ways to ensure net neutrality, especially while the industry continues to consolidate.

Is the Netflix/Comcast deal a case of one company paying their share for access, or is it the beginning of the end for net neutrality? It’s tough to say. In any case the debate about net neutrality is sure to be one of the core discussions in the coming years.

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

Facebook’s Paper and Early Adopters

February 4, 2014

Facebook's Paper appOn the eve of Facebook’s tenth anniversary, the world’s largest social network launched a new app: Paper. Most media reports have tagged it as a news reading app (like Flipboard), and the reactions run the gamut from huge praise to harsh criticism. I tend to think that’s what Facebook expected, for one simple reason: Paper is how Facebook would look on mobile devices if they were starting over. It’s the rebirth of Facebook for early adopters.

One of the toughest challenges web application developers face is how to keep current users happy while improving your product to change with the times. As a user you usually only see one side of it – and Facebook has seen its share of backlash when they try to change even the tiniest thing about the site. (Good luck getting through all the “change Facebook back!” posts in your News Feed when one of these changes happens.) Why change the site at all, then? If you don’t, a site goes stale. How many of these homepages can you remember from the last ten years, and would you really want to spend all your Facebook time looking at those first few?

Users of any technology can be grouped into a few categories using the technology adoption lifecycle, something that dates back all the way to 1957. (If you’re interested in sociological research – and I mean, who isn’t? – the original report is online as a PDF.) The people who are more willing to experiment and play are usually the first to try a new technology, and they’re called “innovators” and “early adopters”. As a technology spreads it gains the loyalty of even people who are more reluctant to change.

What would happen if Facebook didn’t have to worry about the reaction of its current users and appealed to those early adopters who love the cutting-edge? What if there were no “change Facebook back!” campaigns?

That’s Paper.

Paper uses some really innovative ways of interacting with an app, and it brings the design of the News Feed into current times where media like photos and videos rule and design is based more on the content you’re showing than what device you’re using to show your content.

Paper’s not a news reading app. It’s Facebook’s new vision for the News Feed, and they’re letting you choose if you want to come along for the ride.

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

The State of the State of the Union

January 28, 2014

stateoftheunionThe State of the Union address has become one of the annual traditions that political geeks crave and everyone else tends to love or hate. Since the original “he shall from time to time” passage was written in Article II, Section 3, presidents have changed how they fulfill the constitutional requirement.

As it has with almost everything else, the web has transformed how the State of the Union is presented. Bringing the speech to radio (as Calvin Coolidge did in 1923) and television (Harry Truman, 1947) allowed the address to reach a larger audience, but today’s viewer can be more informed, thanks to the Internet.

  • The White House itself uses YouTube to present an enhanced version of the State of the Union, complete with graphs, statistics, and social elements alongside the prepared speech.
  • PolitiFact.com uses the address for a chance to do some live fact-checking of the speech on their site and on Twitter.
  • Pretty much every news source in the world will have live-blogging, live-tweeting, live-photoing, and whatever other information and analysis they can manage to find.

Even with its centuries-old roots and traditions, the State of the Union continues to change and evolve with the advent of the web. What could you do to give a refresh to your typical routine and allow your customers to be more informed?

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

Justin’s Predictions for 2014

January 8, 2014

This is one of a series of prediction posts for 2014 by our team members.

It seems like every year brings new advances and shifts in technology, some of which we’d never expect. Mobile devices and tablets have seen a huge surge in their market over the last few years, and we’ve seen an ever-growing expansion of social media as well. I think we’ll be imagining content in a different way by the end of 2014.

Using devices in new ways

There’s always a buzz about the next big device market. A few years ago, everyone started to talk about how tablets could change how we consume content. Lately the speculation has been about how we might use glasses, watches, or as Alan mentioned, televisions in new ways.

We talk a lot about responsive design, which lets you build a single site that adjusts its design based on what device you use to view it. In 2014 I believe we’ll really start to focus on moving beyond even responsive design to where we take a device’s strengths in mind. Maybe you’ll receive a custom notification on your phone if someone places an online order on your site. Maybe your watch will vibrate or beep if someone enters your store and you’re in the back room.

2014 may be the year where instead of thinking of the Internet as a bunch of HTML web pages and see it as the framework for new kinds of interaction and engagement.

Specialized social media

Facebook continues to be the social media king, but depending on who you believe, the site may be losing traction with younger users. Over the past couple of years we’ve seen growth in a number of social networks that specialize in one thing, such as Instagram and Pinterest. If Facebook users are worn out by Bitstrips, viral videos, and fake rumors, they may opt for networks where they can fine-tune who they choose as connections based on the type of content they want to see and share.

As the social pendulum swings back, there’s also a strong chance we’ll see services like Snapchat and Instagram Direct continue to rise in use. Controlling individual viewing seems to be a popular feature lately.

2014 promises to be an exciting year in tech. What do you think will be the hot tech gifts for the 2014 holiday season?

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

Sephone State of the Browser: December 2013

January 3, 2014

Now that we’ve reached another new year, it’s time for the latest installment in our State of the Browser series. In these posts we periodically look at what browsers visitors are using to visit some of our sites with the highest amount of traffic to get a snapshot of what’s popular with the general web community.

For the month of December we’ve picked three sites and averaged their browser usage. Here’s what we found:

Browser Usage Share

We found some continuing trends in the numbers from last month.

  • Internet Explorer usage overall continues to decline. In June 2008, Internet Explorer usage was at approximately 80%. Today it’s just over 30%. The number today is pretty evenly spread between the latest 4 versions of the browser, with 1.69% holding onto the ancient relic of IE 7. Internet Explorer 8, which is the most recent version available for Windows XP, may continue to decline as XP support ends in April.
  • At 22.8%, Chrome has become a close second to IE in terms of browser usage.
  • We split Safari up into mobile and desktop versions, and the mobile version continues to be popular at 13.7%.
  • While Android phones and tablets continue to be more popular, it seems like iOS users use the web more often, at least on the three sites we calculated. Total Android use (Android Browser + Chrome on mobile) is at 4.6% while Mobile Safari takes up 11.2% of the pie.

Here’s another interesting chart. One of every five visits on the three sites we used comes from a mobile device (phone or tablet):

 Traffic by Device Type

That number is one in four for many of our sites, and we even have sites where almost half of traffic comes from either a phone or tablet! If you’re not already thinking about mobile, now is the time.

Take a look at some of our other State of the Browser reports from the last few years.

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

So You Got a New Gadget…

December 26, 2013

GiftsIf you’re one of the millions who found a new piece of technology under the tree, you’ve probably been spending a lot of time tapping buttons and playing around with new apps. But whether this is a replacement gizmo or your first step into tablets, e-readers, and smartphones, adjusting to a new device can take some time. Luckily, there are a lot of resources available to help with your next steps.

Free stuff

What fun is a new device if you don’t personalize it with your own apps and games? Whether you found an Android or an iOS device under the tree, developers are offering some great deals to fill your bytes with cheer.

If you’re an iPhone or iPad user, check out Apple’s 12 Days of Gifts app. They’ll be giving away apps, music, and more for each of the twelve days following Christmas.

If Android is your flavor of choice, Google has a section of the Google Play store set up with some free suggestions to fill your new toy.

But you better hurry – some of these offers will be gone quicker than St. Nick!

Training & instruction

If you’re looking for some help to get the most out of your device, there are plenty of options. Check with libraries around your area to see if they’re holding any workshops for tablets and phones. They’ll also often hold classes to help you figure out how to use that brand new e-reader to buy books – or in some cases even borrow books from the library. (In Sephone’s backyard, for example, the Bangor Public Library, the Orono Public Library, and the Maine State Library all regularly have programs to help with e-gadgets.)

Many adult education programs also offer technology programs for really reasonable rates. It’s a great way to learn in a group setting about what your device can do.

No matter which device you’re tapping this season, don’t be afraid to learn more and use it to its fullest potential! Happy app-ing!

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

Avoiding Danger in Online Comments

November 14, 2013

LoudspeakerIf you’re posting content online, there’s a good chance you want people to share and talk about it. Discussion lets people feel more engaged and connected – and it also gives people an incentive to talk about it with their friends.

Managing a good space for conversation can be a lot of work, though. Online communities can be intimidating, as you’ve probably seen if you’ve read comment sections on popular sites. If left unsupervised, troublemaker visitors can post irrelevant, hurtful, or polarizing comments, and a discussion area that’s run amok may actually discourage people from visiting your site. As you’re choosing how to build your comments area, keep the following tips in mind.

Have a clear set of rules

It’s important from the start to write a set of rules stating what you will allow and what you won’t. How do you want people to behave? What would you consider to be over the line for obscene words or other content? It’s important to make a version of these rules public so that visitors know what to expect, but you may keep a set of examples or specific offenses private to guide you. Don’t be afraid to say that a comment may be deleted (or even that a user may be blocked) if they don’t follow your rules.

Here’s a quick note on anonymous comments. There’s been a lot of discussion over the years about whether sites should allow users to comment anonymously or pseudonymously (with a username they choose). Some sites use Facebook to ensure that there is some level of verification for the people who comment. Personally, I think it doesn’t make much of a difference as long as you have guidelines for your discussion. Keep in mind that removing the ability to post without your real name may exclude people from your discussion. Some people can’t or won’t comment with their real name because of a number of reasons: they may not want people to see their Facebook posts or friends, they might have a company policy not to publicly comment on topics, or they might not want to share a personal story.

Use consistent, objective moderation

With a set of rules for the discussion area in hand, it’s important to enforce them if a visitor violates them. Hide or remove a comment for first-time offenders, and try to reach out to them if possible to make sure they understand the guidelines for the discussion. Use your comment system’s blocking mechanism for repeat offenders; a few bad eggs can spoil an area completely if left unchecked.

If there is more than one person moderating the area, make sure that every moderator understands the guidelines and acts consistently. Visitors may be frustrated if some comments are allowed while other similar ones are removed by moderators.

Encourage and reward good contributions

Comments are supposed to enhance a discussion, not stop or derail it. Many modern commenting systems have some way for users to vote a comment up or down; these ratings let everyone feel like they’re part of building the community, and they reward people who write thoughtful, valuable comments.

Systems like IntenseDebate take it one step further by calculating a person’s reputation – that is, the overall value of their posts over time. People with a history of quality comments rise to the top of the discussion. It’s a great way to encourage people to contribute often and write comments that people will find valuable.

Comment areas can be a great opportunity for your site to become more engaging with the people who visit. But make sure you’re staying on top of what people post, or it may drive people away!

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.