Tuesday, January 2, 2018 by Casey Kelly-Barton
What Will Websites Look Like In The Future?Is your website ready for 2018? The approach of a new year always brings out the trend forecasts, and 2018 is looking like a year that will deliver some big and long-overdue changes to the way websites function. That's because more and more web traffic is mobile now, which means users have a whole new set of expectations for your site's design and usability. So if you're taking stock of your site and wondering how to update it to win more visitors and customers in the year ahead, check out these suggestions based on 2018 trend forecasts.
1. Focus on mobile-friendly designMobile users already generate more than half the world's web traffic, and that trend is here to stay, thanks to users in countries where mobile tech has leapfrogged over desktop availability and to a whole generation of young people worldwide who have always used their phones as their main web access tool. Developers and search engines are now taking a mobile first approach to site design, because it's practical and good for business. Soon, a mobile first approach will be critical to search rankings, too. Since October, Google has been very slowly rolling out its new mobile-first index, which will eventually rank and display sites based on the mobile-readiness of their “content, links, and schema.” The index was originally slated to debut in 2018, and it will take time to implement it fully. In the meantime, it's a good idea to start focusing on your mobile site in order to stay competitive in search results once Google has the program completely up and running. One way to start now is by using a plugin to add Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) functionality to your WordPress website. AMP creates faster-loading versions of your existing pages to satisfy the demands of mobile users, who won't wait around for slow-loading sites.
2. Add better images and videosWeb users love videos – humanity takes in about a billion hours of video every day on YouTube alone—and images are a must for telling stories and selling products. However, web users also expect web page to load in an instant, which means your videos need a host that can load them fast, and your images need to be lightweight as well as high quality. If you're still using PNG files as your go-to format for still images, it's time to get to know SVGs: scalable vector graphics. SVGs are now the preferred format for web graphics, because they scale without pixellating (no pixels!) and because they are coded into each page so they don't slow down page loads. Coding SVGs manually takes some skill and knowledge, but there are SVG plugins for WordPress than can simplify the process. Among the most popular free options is SVG Support by Benbhodi, which lets you upload your SVG files to your image library or, in advanced mode, embed your SVGs in your code. You can make your own SVGs in Adobe Illustrator, and if that tool isn't in your budget, there are several open-source free alternatives you can use for SVG production and editing.
3. Use large and easy-to-scan fontsEven the fastest-loading, most mobile-ready site will lose visitors if they can't read what's on your pages. And when you think about visitors trying to read your site on their phones, maybe in the sun, or without the reading glasses they left at home, you'll see why bigger fonts are a better choice for your website going forward. While you're upsizing your headers and key information, check the main text to see how it looks on your phone. If the font is hard to read on that small screen, change it to something else that works better.
4. Build a progressive web appIf you want to create the most mobile-friendly user experience possible without developing your own app, consider a progressive web app (PWA). In very simple terms, PWAs are web sites that behave like apps. PWAs load fast and work on and offline, scroll smoothly, support push notifications, and can be pinned to a home screen. So if you want your visitors to scroll your archives—or your catalog—even when they're offline, a PWA may be the way to go. Google has a trove of information on PWA development, and Magento is building up its Magento PWA Studio toolkit for its e-commerce users.Not ready to develop your own PAQ? You can install a PWA plugin for your WordPress site.
5. Consider a chatbot for always-on customer supportCustomer-support chatbots are perhaps the trendiest use of AI, and publications like Forbes and Business Insider expect them to gain ground among online retailers in 2018. Why? When used right, chatbots can save customers time, keep shoppers on your site, and save you money on live-person phone and chat support. Chatbots use keywords to answer questions, so they're ideal for tackling inquiries that are already in your FAQ, like questions about your shipping and return policies. That can free up you or your customer service reps to handle other issues. Just remember that bots can't take the place of live CSRs (at least, not yet), so your customers will need a quick way to reach a human if the bot can't answer their questions. There are chatbot plugins for WordPress, and there are several Magento extensions that allow shop owners to add a Facebook Messenger chatbot, too.
Website Success in 2018By updating your website now, you'll be in a better position to get found in search results, keep visitors on your site, win customers, and keep them coming back. That's a pretty good way for your website to ring in the new year.
Monday, December 4, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
December 2017's Biggest Tech StoriesThe holiday season is upon us. Many tech companies are working at a fast pace to provide new updates and products before the end of the year. To keep you posted on some of the last big tech stories of the year, here are some of the main trends and news stories to be on the lookout for in December.
1. The Fight for Net Neutrality ContinuesIf you spend much time on social media, you may have seen pleas from your contacts to call your reps about net neutrality. Ever since the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his plans to repeal the Obama-era net neutrality rules, people and businesses have been up in arms imagining the worst-case scenarios that could result. Critics are worried that the repeal of these rules will give too much power to internet companies, allowing them to control what people are able to access online and stifling competition from companies that can’t pay-to-play enough to reach an audience online. A vote on the repeal is set for later this month and in the meantime, opponents are lodging complaints with the FCC and calling their representatives in the hopes of keeping the rules in place. For now though, the future for net neutrality looks uncertain.
2. Uber Reveals Cyber Attack Cover-upEven as the country continues to reel from the news of Experian’s data breach earlier this year, we just got news of the next one. Uber announced last month that in late 2016, some hackers managed to access some of their user data. At the time, the company chose to pay a ransom and keep the data breach secret, but under new management, they’ve now chosen to alert people to what happened. If a data breach is normally bad for a brand’s reputation, one that’s accompanied by a cover up is even worse. Uber’s current leadership is hoping late transparency is better than none at all in the eyes of their customers.
3. Stitch Fix Launches IPOOne of the biggest tech IPOs in November was the fashion startup Stitch Fix. The company’s model of matching online personal stylists with customers wanting to let someone else do the job of picking out their clothes has been popular with customers. Their initial showing on the stock market suggested they were less popular with investors, but soon that changed as stocks soared 50% in the first two weeks. For now, they seem to be going strong.
4. SendGrid Also Launches Successful IPOStitch Fix got the most attention, but the email marketing company SendGrid also entered the New York Stock Exchange last month. They managed to raise $131 million when they first launched, and saw stock prices go up 13% by the end of the first day. To any business owners reading this, that’s not much of a surprise. Email marketing is one of the most important parts of business success in the internet age and investors are simply showing they recognize its importance too.
5. Facebook Announces Facebook Creator AppInfluencers have become a big part of the way that people and brands experience social media. In a bid to try to attract more influencers to Facebook, the company has announced Facebook Creator, an app which provides a number of features to make creating and sharing content on the platform easier. Users can add intros, outros, interactive stickers and custom frames to their videos. They can more easily respond to social media messages on a unified platform. And they can access more analytics on how people interact with their content. For businesses doing content marketing and any influencers they work with, these changes are worth being aware of.
6. Amazon Offers New AI Tool for BusinessesOnce again, Amazon’s done something to make it into our monthly write-up. This month, they launched a suite of products that bring AI technology to businesses. This includes the DeepLens camera, which uses AI technology to fuel features like image recognition for objects, animals, and people. They also released SageMaker, a machine learning service that will help data engineers use AI services better. In short, they’re throwing their support behind the importance of AI and expecting to make a lot of money with this technology by helping other businesses make more with it too.
7. AirBnb Makes Moves Toward AccessibilityAirBnb’s popular service has given lots of people more attractive alternatives to hotels when they travel, but until recently its options largely left one population out: the disabled. Last month they made an important move to rectify the situation by acquiring the startup Accomable. The acquisition was a natural fit for the company, since Accomable was essentially offering a version of the same service AirBnb provided, but with a focus on accessibility. AirBnb listings will now provide more specific information on the types of accessibility options available, and a portion of customers previously left out by the service will be able to find options that work for them on the site.
8. Companies Begin Work on Smart CitiesIn the past couple of months, multiple businesses have begun planning “smart cities.” Alphabet is working on a smart community on the waterfront in Toronto. And Bill Gates is building a smart city in Arizona. Both projects aim to test out concepts on how to build a better city that uses less energy, has less traffic, is better equipped to face climate change, and is better able to take advantage of the kinds of tech solutions the companies are working on – most notably self-driving cars.
There are a lot of good ideas out there for how to make cities better, but most of them are hard to implement in cities that already exist. These high-tech city design projects will help prove the difference these tech solutions can make in an atmosphere where they’re easier to build and start using.
9. Robots Keep AdvancingRobotic technology continues to little by little see impressive advancements. Last month, a robot from Boston Dynamics successfully pulled off a backflip. In case it’s not clear, that’s a really big deal. It’s hard to master the technology required to make a bipedal robot backflip, making this one more notable step toward robots being able to accomplish human tasks. On the more commercial side of things, Ubtech has just released Lynx, a small humanoid robot with Alexa built in. The robot can walk, talk, and supposedly work as an avatar for busy people who can’t make it to events or meetings. You can see what’s happening through the robot’s camera and respond in real time with live audio. If you have $800 to spend on a tiny advanced robot, then the future is here for you.
See you next month!December’s a busy month for everybody, but especially business owners and marketers. If you don’t have time to keep up with this month’s tech news, then be sure to check back in early January for our next installment. Until then, happy holidays!
Monday, November 6, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
Top Tech Trends for NovemberAs we move into the holiday season, you may be too focused on the biggest buying (and marketing) time of year to stay on top of technology news. Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. Here are the main tech news stories that should be on your radar moving into November.
Walmart Starts Using Robots for InventoryThe fear of robots taking jobs from people is nothing new, but now and then it rears its head anew. This past month, Walmart announced plans to begin using robots that roll through the aisles to perform tasks like scanning the shelves for items that are out of stock or mislabeled. Walmart has assured worried employees that the robots won’t be replacing humans – they claim they’re just to make human jobs more efficient. But if there’s less to do, it just makes sense that fewer people will be needed. This is only one small move in the direction of human work being handed over to robots, but it is a move in that direction nonetheless.
Sophia the Robot Gains CitizenshipRobots aren’t just taking jobs; they’re also gaining citizenship. Late last month the robot Sophia was granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia. The announcement predictably prompted criticism, but not just about the idea of AI citizenship in general – people were particularly critical that the move came from a country that still places serious limits on the freedom allotted to women citizens and doesn’t even allow non-Muslims living in the country to become citizens. Handing over more rights to a robot than it provides to a number of humans in the country definitely got the country headlines, but maybe not the kind of attention officials were hoping for.
Amazon Key Incites Strong ReactionsAmazon is in the news for something just about every month, but rarely do they make an announcement that gets the kind of negative (although often comical) reaction that Amazon Key inspired. Amazon Key is meant to be a way for people concerned about package theft to know their packages will make it into their home safe and sound, even when they’re out. It’s a system that allows the deliveryman to unlock the door and set the package inside while on video so both Amazon and the recipient can see if they try anything else. The system is only available to Amazon Prime members and costs $250, but based on the early response, few people seem to see much value in the option. Responses in both media and on social media are much more focused on the risks of such a service, specifically the loss of privacy and fear of robbery, which far outweigh the benefit of avoiding stolen packages in most people’s eyes.
me: I’m worried about Amazon Key Amazon: Don’t worry it’s entirely opt-in me: whew Amazon: pic.twitter.com/pXmlaez2u8— dan mentos (@DanMentos) October 26, 2017
Even the trending topic description for Amazon Key makes it sound like a horror/thriller premise. pic.twitter.com/X5qq85TaiR— Alexandra Scarin' (@alexandraerin) October 25, 2017
Tech Platforms Tackle Russian AdvertisingOne of the stories that followed the election last fall was the realization that companies backed by the Russian government had paid for a large number of ads on some of the main tech advertising platforms, including Google and Facebook. In response, Facebook last month delivered thousands of ads to a congressional investigators looking into Russian interference in the election. Twitter responded by banning two Russian media companies from advertising on the platform. Even as the tech companies take these steps, a bipartisan group of senators are working to pass legislation that would reduce the ability of foreign powers to use similar methods for election meddling in the future.
ForeScout Technologies and ZScaler File for IPOTwo of the biggest tech IPOs of the last month were focused on the same area: security. Zcaler provides cloud security to big companies worried about data breaches, while ForeScout is an Internet of Things security company that helps businesses monitor the many devices connected to their networks for possible intrusions. With the Equifax breach still fresh in everyone’s minds, both companies provide solutions for one of the biggest tech problems of our era.
MongoDB Goes PublicThe software development company went public to an enthusiastic response from investors. Based on early interest, the company increased the price of shares from the originally planned $22 to $24 right before launching and still saw a 34% increase in its first day. This looks like one more tech success story in the stock market this year.
First Reviews in for Google’s Pixel PhonesGoogle released its Pixel phones early last month to much fanfare, followed by a wave of criticism. While the phone gets points from users for having a long battery life and a great camera, the Pixel 2 in particular is plagued with serious display issues. The colors don’t show up right and users report dealing with screen burn-in. In addition, the phone has earned complaints about its audio recording capabilities. This is one product area where Google clearly needs to do some work.
Smart Light Switches May Disrupt Smart Light MarketOne of the easiest changes people interested in smart home technology can make is the switch to smart lights. So far though, that’s meant buying all new light bulbs along with a system to control them (usually from Hue). The startup Noon Home is selling a system that saves you the trouble of having to replace your light bulbs to use the technology – it will control those you already have, enabling you to choose different light settings and manage them all from your phone as you would with any other smart light.
Web Summit Meets in LisbonOver 60,000 attendees from all over the world will show up for what Inc. calls “the largest tech conference in the world.” Web Summit meets from November 6-9 and boasts speakers from huge tech players like Slack and Reddit and those in high-up government positions from various countries alike. Topics will cover emerging technologies, the intersection of tech and politics, using tech for social good and more. As with every month, November’s sure to bring its share of surprises in tech news. We’ll be keeping an eye out in order to report them in next month’s post, so be sure to check back for December’s top tech trends.
Monday, October 9, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
Tech News for October 2017The spookiest season of the year is upon us, but most of the tech news this month isn’t that scary (with one notable exception). For those of you too busy to stay on top of all the tech news happening each month on your own, here’s a quick rundown of some of the top stories that should be on your radar in October.
Equifax Breach Puts Much of Population at RiskQuite possibly the scariest story of the fall this year is the Equifax data breach. The credit reporting agency had access to the social security numbers, birth dates, and addresses of everyone in the country who’s ever had a credit score – which is just about every adult in the United States. The breach puts about 146 million people at risk of having their sensitive information exposed. The country’s angry and people are scared. Companies, government institutions, and individuals are all still trying to figure out exactly what this means for the future of data security.
Samsung Releases New Mixed Reality HeadsetSamsung just revealed their new mixed reality headset designed for use with Windows devices. While the VR headset market is a crowded one, Samsung is offering higher-resolution displays and a larger field of view in order to be competitive in the space. This brings us one step closer to the mainstreaming of VR technology.
Google Testing Video ReviewsMany websites and channels on the web seem committed to shifting to a greater emphasis on video over text. Google’s never one to be behind on a trend, so they’ve begun testing out providing a video option for reviews in Google Maps. Currently the option’s only available to people who are part of the company’s Local Guides program. If the videos prove popular, they may well expand access to the rest of us.
Google Joins Companies in the Crossfire for Workplace SexismLast month, three former Google employees announced a lawsuit against the company for paying its female employees less than male employees in similar roles and promoting men into higher-level positions much more often than similarly qualified women. Google’s far from the first tech company to face accusations of sexism, but it’s one that’s worked to create a reputation for being progressive. This lawsuit reveals a side of the company that’s not living up to that intention.
Google, Twitter, and Facebook Targeting Now Includes Anti-Semites and RacistsAd targeting is a valuable service for businesses and provides more relevant ads for users. But several of the biggest tech companies on the web faced recent criticism based on their targeting algorithms creating offensive categories. Users discovered and drew attention to racist categories in Facebook’s targeting options, and soon thereafter advertisers realized both Google and Twitter offered (and even sometimes recommended) targeting for racist terminology. In all three cases, the options and recommendations were technologically generated and the companies are taking steps to change how their platforms work to avoid advertisers encountering these options in the future.
iPhone X Includes New Tech and FeaturesApple has recently revealed some of the main features consumers will see in their soon-to-come iPhone, the iPhone X. While the new iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus hit stores last month, techies are generally more interested in the model coming early next month. The iPhone X will be much more expensive than recent models, priced at over $1,000. It includes Face ID to unlock the phone, an especially big screen, an upgrade to the phone’s camera features, and a longer battery life than other iPhones. At such a high price tag, they may only capture the most devoted Apple fans with this one, but the excitement in the tech community is palpable.
Roku Launches IPOThe video streaming technology company Roku launched an IPO late last month, valued at $2 billion. Unlike most of the giants in the streaming space, the company doesn’t bother with trying to produce its own content, they simply provide users access to the content available on a wide number of streaming sites and channels. In its first few days on the market, the company’s shares have been dropping in value, although they’re still above the original price the company launched at.
Facebook Getting into Video ChatFacebook has given video priority on the platform for some time, but they’re exploring features that would give users even more video options. Last month, they started quietly testing a mobile video chat app called Bonfire. The app allows users to chat with up to eight friends at a time on live video. So far, only users in Denmark have access and no plans to move beyond the country to other markets have been announced.
Electric Trucks About to Join Us on US StreetsElectric cars already take up a certain amount of space on our streets, but electric semi trucks are about to join them. Daimler, a company whose trucks are already on the streets of Europe, has plans to move into New York. And Elon Musk (who we can’t seem to go a month without mentioning in our regular tech roundups) has announced plans to unveil a Tesla semi truck later this month.
World Summit AI Meets in AmsterdamArtificial intelligence remains one of the biggest topics in the tech world, as many of the biggest companies in the space continue to make investments into AI research and development. This month, many of the top professionals and businesses in the AI world will meet in Amsterdam for the World Summit AI to discuss their research, learn from each other, and explore what’s to come in AI technology. With big product releases, new features being explored, and companies grappling with high-profile controversies, in some ways October’s just another month in tech. Check back next month to see what news and stories will be dominating the industry in November.