Believe.in – The next step in charity giving is striding toward its goal

6 months ago I took a look round Believe.in and speculated on some of its future releases. Increased social media integration was at the core of speculations and I am happy to say the Believe.in road map to social media success seems to be well on course.

2 new releases immediately jumped out at me when perusing the site. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t visited Believe.in for a while but the new releases are a definite hook for returning as well as new users.

Facebook

Believe.in kicked off its enhanced social integration releases with Sign in/up with Facebook. As the biggest social network on the planet I’m sure it was an easy decision to make. And, as I highlighted in the first review, charity givers make extensive use of Facebook as a means to raise awareness of causes and donations for charitable undertakings.

Believe.in-Facebook-Sign-in

As you would expect, the Facebook login process is spectacularly simple and, unlike many other Facebook logins, is not massively invasive. Believe.in’s great strength is its ethical stance on charity with its 100% Fundraising – Every single penny goes to charity mantra. I expect excessive cosying up to data hoarder Facebook would not have gone down too well with the Believers. For this reason the Facebook/Believe.in App access is firmly positioned at the public acceptability end of the data divulgence scale.

Believe.in-Facebook-App

In a world where our personal data is ever increasing in value, the last thing Believe.in want to be caught up in is a perfect storm of data breaches. After all, one of the greatest assets those in the charity sector require is credibility.

Events

The next release that caught my eye is the introduction of an Events page. Currently in beta, the Events page will allow users to create an event hub. The event hub includes participants in the event, a running total of sponsors and the total raised so far. There are also nice touches like a Leaderboard of money raised by participants plus Sponsors messages of support in a Twitter feed styleee. All these elements are seamlessly linked together as the focus is still very much on user experience and ease of use.

The first event is the TechBikers Paris to London Cycling Challenge taking place 27-29 September 2013. I don’t know what happens to the event once complete so this page may not be accessible once the event is complete.

Believe.in-Events-page

I would like there to be search within the event so users can navigate to a participant without leaving the events page but I expect that is in the pipeline. This kind of search will be especially important for large scale events like fun runs.

What next?

These 2 releases are fantastic editions to the Believe.in platform.

I expect the Facebook integration is the beginning of further integration with social media platforms. The homepage is beautifully clean in design and function so I do wonder whether third party icons such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus promoting the integration will creep on but that is up to the team behind the site.

The current integration is just the tip of the development iceberg and I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see the third party social icons and functionality with an increased presence on believers’ pages, charity pages and event pages. The key will be not to dilute the identity of Believe.in but to accentuate it with social media. A difficult proposition and one I am sure the team are wrangling with.

What does Umbraco Belle have in store for us?

Following my recent survey, The CMS Experiment, I have been analysing the responses.

Many CMS developers are exceptionally knowledgeable and very passionate about their CMS of choice but what I noticed about the responses to Q5. What are the 3 worst things about your CMS of choice? Is that this passion translates not only into defence against unfair criticism of their CMS but their own critique too.

As I said in my previous post, no CMS is perfect and it’s the CMS developers that know this better than anyone else.Umbraco logo

The primary gripe noted by the 18 Umbraco devs that responded to the survey was the outdated UI. A likely issue not just with devs but with the wider community of marketing and website managers/teams that use Umbraco on a daily basis.

This is a fair criticism, Umbraco as a platform is wonderfully flexible and open for the developer community but the UI leaves a lot to be desired.

UI is a primary concern when designing and building a website so why not the back end too? It is, after all, still part of the website. As far as I’m aware, the Umbraco back end has not been modified to any meaningful degree since v1 was released in 2003 so it is bound to look more than a little dated.

Documentation was second on the list of developer issues. Well summed up by one respondent that said, “A forum is not documentation”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

And the third and fourth most popular gripes are the variable quality of packages along with bugs in new releases.

These are issues that have been reported by Umbraco users not armchair critics so (despite the small sample size) can be seen as a fair representation Umbraco CMS devs.

The UI is outdated and there is a definite lack of official documentation both of which can and should be addressed by the Umbraco core team. And so, (drum roll) here is Belle/Umbraco 7. The UI is a massive improvement and although the core functionality appears to be unchanged, the look and feel gives the impression it will be a much nicer user experience for both devs and other back end users.

Umbraco Belle Logo

A quick demo of Belle can be found here (no sound unfortunately).

The indication from the Belle workshop last week (6th September) was that the Umbraco 7 release would be accompanied by detailed documentation. Music to devs ears everywhere. And here it is. Umbraco 7 on GitHub.

This documentation is long overdue and the hope is that there will be sufficient resource allocated to maintain it to an excellent standard.

Belle is yet to be released so bugs are as yet undeterminable but as this release is the future of Umbraco I would think the team behind it are busy beavering away to bug bash pre-release.

As for the quality of the packages… It’s not an excuse to say that is the nature of open source. And that is what the forums are for. Plus, if too many draconian steps were taken to monitor and certify package releases I expect many devs simply wouldn’t bother.

Belle has a target release date of 31st October 2013. Let’s hope there are no Halloween ghosts or ghouls lurking to mess things up.

The CMS Experiment

Whenever a group of CMS developers find themselves in the same room, conversation often turns to their CMS of choice and why they chose to work with that technology.

The conversation begins with a broad comparison of whether it is better to work with .NET or PHP. This conversation usually doesn’t get very far so the topic changes to specific CMSs.

I conducted a survey to begin to uncover at least some of the fallacies, legends and myths surrounding CMSs and just why some developers get so passionate about their CMS of choice.

CMS-experiment

The data was collected using a 5 question survey on Survey Monkey the details of which are below.

  1. What is your CMS of choice
  2. Why did you choose this CMS in the first place?
  3. Why do devs get so protective over their CMS of choice?
  4. Would you like to experiment with other CMSs?
  5. What are the 3 worst things about your CMS of choice?

The call went out on Twitter and happily I got 46 respondents. Not a huge sample size but devs are busy little bees so many thanks to everyone that took part in the survey. I really couldn’t have done it without you and I hope you enjoy the results of your 5 minute break.

Here are the results:

Q1.

What is your CMS of choice

The survey didn’t really get much of a response from Drupal, WordPress and Joomla users so we must approach the rest of the survey with the knowledge that over 80% of the respondents are using either Umbraco or Concrete5. Not bad result though as Umbraco is .Net and Concrete5, PHP. Not sure any conclusions can be drawn from the lack of engagement from other CMSs. Maybe they weren’t on Twitter the past few days… Or had better things to do.

Q2.

Why did you choose this CMS

Respondents had the option to choose as many of these options as were applicable to them.

Amazingly, 66% of respondents believe their CMS is the most flexible, over 50% genuinely believe theirs is the best and 40% believe it is the easiest to use. Interestingly, less than 20% believe there is more work out there for their CMS over others, which begs the question, why aren’t they experimenting with other CMSs?

The quality of the dev community scored highly and ease of use for clients was a common comment for this question.

Q3.

Why do devs get protective

Over 50% of respondents believe that devs get protective over their CMS of choice because they don’t understand or have never taken the time to see how other CMSs operate.

Although I am talking about the wider dev community here rather than focusing directly on the individual respondent I believe this answer demonstrates quite clearly that many devs simply haven’t experimented with other CMSs.

This stands to reason of course. Agencies often have one CMS they focus on and devs themselves do not have the time to master multiple CMSs and more importantly multiple languages to gain a complete understanding of the CMS world. This feeling is demonstrated by the comments I received. Paraphrase of all comments “Time and sometimes money has to be invested to learn a framework/CMS”.

Q4.

Would you like to experiment

Given some of the responses to Qs 2 and 3, I was expecting this question to be more balanced. But it wasn’t. Over 75% of respondents said they would be keen to experiment with other CMSs. I think the answer to this question was skewed in the affirmative as most developers are keen to learn new things and judging by the responses to Q5, many recognise that their CMS is not perfect and they can get a huge amount of ideas from experimentation.

Q5. What are the 3 worst things about your CMS of choice?

I have ordered these results by CMS to see if there is a discernible pattern to developer gripes about the CMS of choice:

Concrete5

Main issues are on the popularity of the system compared with other more well-known CMSs. Concrete5 is up against stiff PHP competition from WordPress and Drupal. One respondent noted that it is sometimes difficult to convince a client that Concrete5 suits their requirements better than Drupal. A lack of good themes and plugins marketplace was a popular comment along with a lack of support and documentation. There were also a couple of comments about how well it can handle eCommerce.

Umbraco

Top of the list is the outdated UI (currently being addressed and launched in October, code name Belle). In close second is the lack of formal documentation. One respondent noted that a forum does not constitute documentation. A fair point. Also featuring in the Umbraco gripes are the lack of packages and the variable quality of those packages. Deployments can be tricky and one respondent used all 3 fields within this question to simply put Courier.

WordPress

There were 4 WordPress respondents so these comments can by no means be attributed to the whole community but they do offer an insight. The recurring comment focused on the amount of plugins that perform the same function (better to have too many than too few I suppose). That was the only common theme.

Drupal

The 2 Drupal respondents also commented on the sheer amount of plugins that perform the same function. Set up can also be timely and it’s not as easy for non-techy people to get their head around.

Joomla

The sole Joomla respondent stated that the CMS can be too complex for basic users and there are too many extensions to choose from (a recurring theme in the more popular CMSs).

ExpressionEngine

A couple of Concrete5 respondents commented on ExpressionEngine too. The lack of best practice documentation and forums and a general lack of progress with the CMS were the top issues.

Conclusions

What I have learned from this small survey is that no CMS is perfect. No CMS ever will be perfect.

Most developers believe their CMS is the most flexible, easiest to use and in general terms, is the best. This assumption has to be put down to a lack of experience with other CMSs though.

Most developers would be keen to learn more about other CMSs. It is experimentation that will enhance all CMSs from core platform development to the approach to day-to-day content management.

This examination of CMSs is by no means the general dev community feeling toward the CMSs covered here but a look at CMSs based on the results presented to me. If you would like to contribute to this survey the link is still valid or please use the comments section below.

CMS-experiment

Code In The Dark. EPIC

When I heard the phrase code in the dark my mind was flooded with connotations of a lowly developer hunched over a keyboard methodically tapping keys through the night while several monitors bathe his modest surroundings in cool, artificial light.

This mental projection could not be further from the reality of Code In The Dark.

Never before has a code-off been more epic.

As electronica pumps through the basement setting and surrounds the devs and their machines, fans look on in awe at the beauty these masters of HTML/CSS are producing with each key stroke. Oh yeah, and there is a smoke machine (obviously).

Computers have long since shaken off their uber-nerd image and devs are no longer guys that can build a website while recounting every lyric from Dark Side of the Moon but are rockstars in their own right. Films are made about them, articles written about them and they have wildly extravagant weddings.

Sean Parker Wedding

It was only a matter of time before the hackathon was shaken up to reflect the rockstar status of software development.

Code In The Dark. 15-20 min, HTML/CSS, No Preview, One Champion. Imagine Maximus Decimus Meridius passionately delivering these words inside the Colosseum and you get an idea of the epicism.

Gladiator

Code In The Dark, coming soon to a dimly lit abandoned warehouse (with wifi and DJ) near you.

Code-In-The-Dark

The NSA and the Tech Giants – Compliance is not Collaboration

Our Privacy is their priority… A sentiment that became hard to believe following recent reports on the level to which Microsoft complied with the NSA in their spying operations.

Compliance is a very different beast to complicity and collaboration however, and as much as the tech giants are lauded as the bringers of a new age of digital integration while simultaneously abhorred for their wealth, power and breaches of trust; there is no more powerful body in tech than the US Government. If they say jump, the overwhelming majority will say how high (and those that refuse will jump eventually).

NSA-vs-Tech

With this is in mind the witch-hunt against the tech giants soon loses steam and credibility.

We cannot know the level to which the tech giants objected (if at all) to the NSA requests before handing over the keys to their server rooms but what is undeniably true is that they had no choice.

Despite the initial fury, the data holders at the heart of the scandal, Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have become a non-story as the truth hits home. This was a government spying program.

Facebook and Google’s use of data to target and track is well documented and constantly challenged (to little end). Microsoft on the other hand has recently positioned themselves as a bastion of online morality and stalwart of data protection so the mercury rose when the stories came out criticising their “collaboration” with the NSA and how they “handed the NSA access to encrypted messages”. Stories strenuously denied in their post Responding to government legal demands for customer data.

Microsoft vehemently defended itself against the accusations reported in The Guardian:

…we only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks… Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype or any Microsoft product.

Statement from Microsoft about response to government demands for customer data, 11th July 2013

There will always be those that wish to embellish and fabricate the truth. There will also always be those that will only read the headlines, those that only read one side of the story and then those that only read the headlines of one side of the story. A dangerous combination.

Thinking in real terms; the tech giants, including Microsoft, are not above government demands no matter how intrusive the demands may be. Also, this behaviour by governments has long been suspected by the masses and serialised in pop culture. Anyone seen Enemy of the State or any series of 24? These schemes in all probability have also been undertaken by successive governments across the world. Has anything changed from the time when we all thought it was happening to the time now we all know it is happening?

Although Edward Snowden’s revelations did rock the world, the aftershocks are becoming less and less powerful and, like with all news stories, will fade in the public interest and eventually the public memory. Even the story of Snowden turned from modern day martyrdom to soap opera as he flicked through the UN members directory in search of asylum.

The old adage today’s newspapers are tomorrow’s fish & chip paper is still true but in this age of connectivity is perhaps not as pertinent. How about a new adage for the digital world? Today’s news is tomorrow’s Internet meme.

The Snowden Ultimatum

Jean Luc Picard

Dinosaur

The Box set is dead. Long live Binge TV.

The past few years has seen some truly epic TV series on our screens. Boardwalk Empire transported us back to prohibition America, Breaking Bad gripped us with the exploits of a teacher turned drug baron, and Game of Thrones is just so so good. And don’t forget Band of Brothers (had that on VHS).

Shows like these used to be the bread and butter of the DVD box set. When 24 dominated the Sunday afternoon box set binge at casa Hacon it was always accompanied by the DVD sleeves sprawled out on the floor and numbered discs littering the TV stand.

Box set binging has seen a dramatic change the past few years. As Internet speeds have risen, connected devices become the norm, and with our new on-demand culture, waiting for a DVD box set is simply not an option.

Online rental sites such as Netflix and LOVEFiLM offer the same box set experience minus the expense of a set of DVDs, the inconvenience of having to wait to buy the DVD, and the extreme inconvenience of leaving the sofa to change DVDs over.

Box set binging now sits firmly in online hands and unless HMV and other outlets experience some sort of renaissance borne out of guilt ridden consumers and the implosion of the Internet as we know it, this will continue to be so.

The stakes were upped even further this year with Netflix releasing House of Cards and Arrested Development all in one go; giving the viewer the option of when to watch. For avid fans the question is not to binge or not to binge but simply how long to binge for.

Netflix’s move to release 2 shows in their entirety this year changed the game even further. The traditional model of TV consumption is changing. We are still talking of these shows as TV shows. Very soon this won’t be the case.

But for now. The box set is dead. Long live Binge TV.

Box set heaven

How do I make sound come out of my USB Headset?

So you have a rubbish pair of headphones and a brand new USB headset you use for Skype and Lync calls.

Every time you listen to music, watch YouTube, catch up with iPlayer you are forced to listen using the old headphones. How infuriating that your USB headset can only be used to talk to someone using Skype or Lync.

Here the infuriation stops.

Step 1: Right click on the sound icon in the taskbar. Usually found in the bottom right corner near the clock.

Step 2: Select Playback devices.

Playback_devices

Step 3: Make your headset the default device to play sound through.

Set_default

Step 4: Enjoy the superior sound quality your USB headset provides over your old headphones.

Step 5: If the sound quality is not superior, change the default device back to speakers.

All done.