You Need A Web Presence…

… if you are in business for yourself or if you are an organization with a public face.

If you are starting your own business, if you do free-lance work (or want to), if you are an independent musician, actor, artist, writer, cartoonist, or self-publisher, you need to have your own website, so when anyone searches for your name in a web browser (sometimes referred to as “googling”) they will find you. That way, they can find you and contract for your services (and you can continue to pay the rent and feed the kids)

If you have a Public Service Organization, or a Charity, Fan Club, Guild or any other public organization, you need to a website so people will can find your organization online so they can join up or donate so your group can keep the lights on.

Libreleft books: My Business Blog

The First thing you need is your very own Domain Name

Domain names are unique. There can only be one Libreleft.com and I own that — so long as I pay my annual fee, no one else on the Internet can have that Domain Name.

In the beginning, Domain Name Registration was free, but now it will cost you something, and what it costs varies.

Don’t Use:

A lot of people choose one called GoDaddy because its cheap, but I heave heard such a variety of horror stories, I can’t possibly suggest that — in fact, I will always strongly advise against it. If you can find pages of horror stories about any service, it is probably a good idea to walk on by.

use

I am extremely happy with my Domain Registrar, Register For Less because they have proven very trustworthy from a privacy standpoint (at least until Edward Snowden tells me different — but I don’t think he will.) R4L has always offered Whois Privacy without charge.

Of course, I have no experience with any other Domain Name Registrar, so don’t take my word for it, do research :)

The second thing you need is a Web Host

If you are tech savvy enough to host your own website, you won’t need this article (although you probably know someone who does). If you don’t, you will need to contract with a commercial website Hosting service.on a local service, OR do so through a web platform.

Should you Hire a Pro?

It is certainly easier to pay someone to do it all for you, but there are a couple of things you need to be aware of before you do.

Even if you don’t know what HTML is, the first thing you must insist on is that you have access and control over the website you are paying for. The thing you don’t want to happen is that after you pay for your website but the web designer actually owns your Domain Name and has total control of your site. That can effectively force you to do business with that Web Designer forever and the biggest risk is that you build your brand but lose control of it.

Horror story: I know one non-profit organization that had a volunteer design its site and register the domain name… and when there was a falling out, the guy with the domain locked the organization out and the organization lost all access to its own online content and had to start over from scratch. They could have won in court, but most non-profits don’t want to or can’t afford to go that route.

I am not suggesting web designers are evil, but even the nicest web designer might not always be around. If your web designer controls the only “keys to” your site, and you lose contact with your web designer, you lose control of your site — and your brand. This can have the unhappy side effect of costing you work if your contact information changes.

It is important to have access to your own site after you’ve paid for it, even if you contract with your designer to maintain it, things change. If you suffer financial reverses, you might not be able to continue to pay to have this done for you. And you should always be able to switch to another professional should circumstances warrant it, or maybe you just want access so your grandkid can make regular updates for you.

Or should you Do It Yourself?

There are many different ways to do a website; some want lots of bells and whistles, so if you’re new at this, there will be a pretty steep learning curve.

When you have a domain name and a web host, you need to have something to put there. The most basic function of any website is to serve as a calling card that explains who you are and what you or your organization does and provide a way that your friends, clients and fans can contact you.

A Static Web Page

A basic website is built with a programming language, the current version of which is HTML5. It isn’t particularly difficult, but it isn’t easy either. I learned HTML from a startlingly easy to use set of online tutorials on an awesome website called HTMLdog. (I bought the printed manual to support the author, because it was worth it. And I plug it wherever I can because it was just that good. When I learned it was XHTML, but the whole site has been updated to the new HTML5 standard).

HTML is the primary language of the Internet… as far as I know email and blogs are written in HTML or a variant. So if you have the time to learn how to do it, you can build your own web page in HTML5. This is great for things that rarely change, like your mission statement or FAQ, sample work, list of credits or résumé.

Pretty nearly any website you have to log into in order to use gives the user the option of a profile page. Always fill these in, and include your contact information. If you want to be contacted, the more places people can find you, the better.

There are also web platforms specifically designed to serve as an online business card. Here’s my about.me page and my artist sister Liana Russwurm’s see.me page.

A Blog Web Page

Blog software has changed the Internet, because it makes it much easier to add new content to keep your website fresh.

There are lots of great blog platforms — WordPress, Tumblr, BlogSpot, LiveJournal — as well as some I’ve only just heard of, like Weebly and Overblog — so you can set up a free blog on a variety of web services. This is my historian-writer brother Lani Russwurm’s visual history blog Past Tense on Tumblr, and it’s previous incarnation on Wordpress and it’s original incarnation on blogspot.

Increasingly non-blogging websites like Flickr and GoodReads are allowing users to blog as well.

A blog can be used to discuss and share some of your work with your fans, as cartoonist Nina Paley does, or it can be entirely new content with a view to finding an audience, as my humorist (and/or science fiction) writer brother Larry Russwurm does

I like Tumblr for my visual blogs; I like the archive features (users can look at thumbnails of your entire blog, and I also like the ability to password protect content and allow people to see it without having to register or log in (sometimes called a “registration wall” because users must register (which entails giving out personal information) as well as using a password to access protected content). You can also use it like a regular blog, alothough if you want to have comments, you need to use Disqus to do it. If you decide to use Tumblr, 10 Tips For Problogging On Tumblr has some excellent advice.

My other favorite is Wordpress, which can be used in different ways:

  • You can set up an entirely free blog ~ my first blog is still at WordPress.com. When your free blog starts getting traffic, WordPress will start posting ads there, so you needn’t feel guilty about getting a “free lunch”.
  • If you decide to go ad-free, you can subscribe to a commercial package from Wordpress, which gives you the ability to post your own video (you can only embed from YouTube in the free version) and you can even get your domain name from there
  • You can download the WordPress software (free as in gratis and free as in freedom) from WordPress.org and create a website to host yourself.
  • Even if you choose to blog on WordPress.com as a trial, and decide later you want to self host, you candownload the whole thing and reconstitute it as a self hosted blog if you wish.
This is my Gravatar on my Author blog, but I also use it anywhere anywhere I need an avatar image.

This is my Gravatar on my Author blog, but I also use it anywhere anywhere I need an avatar image.

An avatar — that little photo of you that appears on Facebook, or Twitter or wherever — is the visual manifestation of your “brand.”  It should be your logo if you’re an organization or a business; if you’re an independent contractor or creator, it should be you. Either way, it should be consistent, because like any brand, people will see in a blink that it’s you. Whether or not you use WordPress, you should sign up for a Gravatar; that way when you make comments in many places, your chosen image will accompany what you write.

recommendation

Many of my blog articles (like this one) are something I’ve written because I know someone who needs the information. A lot of people use FaceBook as their calling card, but do you really want to mix your business and personal contacts? If you are using facebook as your business presence, it is necessary to use a Facebook Page, because what you post on your personal page can not be seen outside Facebook.

One of the things I dislike most about Facebook is that all posts you make there are not seen by everyone in your friends list, and Facebook is forever twiddling with the Timeline order in which your posts appear.  And of course, posts can easily get lost. It can be virtually impossible to try and find something you posted on Facebook a while back. Things don’t just disappear off a real website or a blog under your own control.

Even if you’re a big Facebook fan, it’s possible to set Wordpress or Tumblr blogs to post to Facebook.

If all you want right now is a basic online “calling card” my own recommendation would be to choose the blog software you like best and use that to make a static web page. Later on, if you want to expand it into a blog, you’ll be halfway there.

Acceptable Ads

Add Block Plus logoI generally use the Firefox Browser when I want to surf the Internet.  Unlike proprietary browsers (like Internet Explorer), Firefox will work with any Operating system, whether Microsoft Windows or any Apple or Linux varieties. Because it’s free software, one of the great things about Firefox is the catalogue of free add-ons available to users.

One of the add-ons I’ve been using longest is called “Ad Block” which does a terrific job, not only of blocking annoying intrusive advertising, but of helping keep my computer secure. If you want it to, Adblock Plus can also:

  • Malware Blocking Block domains that are known to be infected by malware to make browsing the internet more secure.
  • Remove Social Media Buttons Remove social media integration such as the Facebook Like button that track your browsing habits.
  • Disable Tracking There are hundreds of ad companies tracking your every move, but you can easily disable all tracking to browse privately.

Advertising in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can help support the content we want to see. It’s only when it does things we don’t want it to, either by using a lot of bandwidth for flashy video ad animation, compromising our security, invading our privacy or simply annoying us by interrupting the article we want to read that it goes too far.

Which is why Ad Block Plus actually allows some advertising. I’m one of the 75% of AdBlock users who don’t object to reasonable Internet ads. The hope is that advertisers will limit website ads to those that follow these guidelines.

Do you think advertisers will learn users will block their expensive, invasive and dangerous advertising, instead opting to follow Ad Block’s guidelines?

If they don’t, more and more of us will never see their ads.


Free Software Day celebrations in Kitchener, Ontario will be taking place this Saturday at Kwartzlab, on Saturday, September 28th, 2013

Privacy vs. Telemarketers: Canada’s “Do Not Call List”

Although I still have misgivings, I am about to register my telephone number on Canada’s National Do Not Call List (DNCL).

I know, you are wondering: if this can stop telemarketing calls, what’s not to love?

In order to register on the National Do Not Call List (DNCL) personal information will be collected, used and disclosed by the National DNCL Operator in order to register, verify and de-register residential, wireless, fax or VoIP telephone number(s) on the National DNCL. The numbers registered by consumers on the National DNCL will be disclosed to telemarketers and clients of telemarketers and other subscribers to the National DNCL to prevent telemarketing calls to those numbers. The numbers may also be disclosed, on a confidential basis, by telemarketers and clients of telemarketers and other subscribers to the National DNCL to another person involved in supplying the subscriber with services to enable compliance with the National DNCL Rules.  In addition, personal information will be collected, used and disclosed by the National DNCL Operator, the CRTC and/or its Complaints Investigator Delegate in order to investigate complaints regarding violations of the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules, to administer and enforce these rules, and for audit and quality assurance purposes. Personal information may also be disclosed to Canadian and/or foreign law enforcement agencies for the purpose of administering or enforcing any law or carrying out a lawful investigation.

The catch 22 is that I must first allow my personal information to be “collected, used and disclosed by the National DNCL Operator in order to register, verify and de-register residential, wireless, fax or VoIP telephone number(s) on the National DNCL.”

If that isn’t bad enough, the National DNCL will then “disclose my registered phone number to telemarketers and clients of telemarketers and other subscribers to the National DNCL to prevent telemarketing calls to those numbers.”

“The numbers may also be disclosed, on a confidential basis, by telemarketers and clients of telemarketers and other subscribers to the National DNCL to another person involved in supplying the subscriber with services to enable compliance with the National DNCL Rules.

In addition, personal information will be collected, used and disclosed by the National DNCL Operator, the CRTC and/or its Complaints Investigator Delegate in order to investigate complaints regarding violations of the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules, to administer and enforce these rules, and for audit and quality assurance purposes. Personal information may also be disclosed to Canadian and/or foreign law enforcement agencies for the purpose of administering or enforcing any law or carrying out a lawful investigation.”

National Do Not Call List

So the deal is, to stop telemarketers from abusing my privacy, I must first give up my privacy by handing my phone number over to an absurdly long list of faceless people and agencies:

  • National DNCL Operator
  • telemarketers
  • clients of telemarketers
  • other subscribers to the National DNCL
  • another person involved in supplying the subscriber with services
  • the CRTC
  • CRTC Complaints Investigator Delegate
  • Canadian law enforcement agencies
  • Foreign law enforcement agencies
Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian

Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian

Canada has been a world leader in the field of Privacy Law, with both federal and provincial privacy commissioners.  Recently I heard Ann Cavoukian talk about how we deserve to have our privacy protected, and that corporations need to implement “Privacy By Design.”

Still, handing over personal data feels like the opposite of personal privacy protection, particularly for someone whose only “loyalty” membership is with my bank that knows how I spend my money.  What is the point of protecting personal information from Facebook and the like if I hand my data over to a government agency that promises to pass it to the very telemarketers I wish to discourage?

Why Now?

Today, I just had a call from a telemarketer who curtly informed me that they “have no list.” When I started to explain the “Do Not Call List” he hung up on me at “Canadian Law.” The alacrity of his hangup suggests the DNCL might actually work. 

So maybe it is time to give the DNCL a shot. If it works, the only disadvantage I can see is that my husband will lose out on the entertainment value he currently derives from telemarketer baiting. When he has time, he makes them work hard, answering questions, providing information, and generally toys with them for as long as possible. The theory is that the best way to make them stop is to cost them money, but the problem is that there are just so many of them — for every company you teach not to call, hundreds or thousands of new ones pop up every day.

experiment

These days it seems as though I’m getting a handful of telemarketer calls every day. Total strangers are calling me up and very often asking for me by name, so they already have some of my personal information. For the past few years I’ve interrupted telemarketer pitches at start with the instruction to “remove me from the list”. I can’t really say whether or not if that helps, because the number of telemarketing calls seems fairly constant, but that’s just an impression; I don’t have any hard data.

Telephone modele U43 MGR Lyon (Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr Rama)To frame this adventure as an experiment, beginning tomorrow, on May 21st, 2013, I will start making a log of all the telemarketing calls we get. A month later, on June 21st, I will register with the DNCL and log the telemarketing calls we get over the following month.

I’ll let you know how it comes out. :)


Image Credits:
Screen Capture from Canada’s National Do Not Call List (DNCL) website

Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian at the 2013 #GOopendata Conference by laurelrusswurm licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Telephone Photograph by Rama, found on the Wikimedia Commons, released under a Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr License