Web development in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates has undergone a profound transformation since 1973, seeing tremendous growth and achieving an incredibly high income per capita.  It is widely recognised as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with industries such as tourism, manufacturing, real estate, financial services and trade playing a major role alongside oil.

With such opportunity and competition it is extremely important for new and existing companies to make effective use of modern marketing strategies.  Internet marketing is now a major multi-billion pound industry and a method suitable for the progressive nature of the UAE business community, particularly for the two major Emirates; Dubai and the capital Abu Dhabi.

Web development UAEInternet penetration in the UAE is on the rise as regular web usage has reached 67% of the population, with 55% of the population using it on a daily basis.  Currently, the web is used primarily for emails and searching for information, with a smaller percentage accessing the internet for business or for making online purchases.  The internet is inevitably changing the dynamics of how we structure our business, culture and society, with the UAE being no exception.  As internet penetration in the UAE grows, businesses must respond by developing high quality Arabic web design.

A modern well-presented website is now expected for most businesses and organisations.  With good quality website design, Dubai and Abu-Dhabi based companies can benefit from improved information distribution and an expansion of reachable markets.  It is an effective way of winning new business and retaining existing customers, while responding quickly to new competitors.

With competition becoming more demanding and search engines more concerned with the user experience, the web business owner should consider the importance of web development.  A UAE company immediately commands respect from web visitors with a professional Arabic web design.  In order to compete amongst the ever-increasing market in the UAE, it is wise to invest in a well-constructed website with a strong logo, a harmonious colour scheme, simple and professional looking graphics, and effective navigation options.  UAE consumers have high expectations from companies, expecting high levels of service from them.

As internet use in the Arabic world has grown faster than anywhere else since 2000 and access costs have shrunk, businesses should now increase investment in web content in order to gain a place in the highly competitive world market.

The browser war continues

For those working in the web design industry, browser choice is often a topic filled with debate. For anyone who surfs the net browser choicer can also be a very personal matter and recent data suggests that browser choice is increasingly diversified.

In the beginning there was Netscape Navigator. However by 2002 the browser had all but disappeared. This was primarily down to the growth in Internet Explorer, and the dwindling development efforts by the Netscape Corporation.

Internet explorer is a bit like Ghenkis Khan and the Mongol Empire. Perhaps not the most obvious comparison, but give me a chance. So, Internet Explorer was launched in 1995 and by 2003 had a market share of close to 95%. Between the year 1206 and 1280 the Mongol Empire grew to stretch from Korea to Moscow.

The rapid expansion of the Mongol Empire is much like Internet Explorers rapid growth in popularity. The development of Internet Explorer was also fairly rapid and progressive. The Mongols were also progressive and introduced new technology and new thinking into a medieval Eurasia.

However like all Empires, over time cracks begin to appear. For the Mongols, their days of power were numbered and to make matters worse the epic trade routes that were built up now helped spread the Black Death which decimated both Mongol and other populations.

browser warsIn 2010 Internet Explorer had a market share of 60% which is a long way of its 2003 peak of 95%. This begs the question, what happened? The answer is quite straightforward. Mozilla happened.

Mozilla created the web browser Firefox and it really came into its own with its 3.5 and 3.6 versions and now their latest version, Firefox 4 is available to download. The browser is currently competing with Internet Explorer for top spot, but right now it has a market share of about 30%.

Internet explorer was never going to maintain a market share of 95%. Competition from Mozilla, Google’s Chrome and Safari ensured this. In my own experience having started with Internet Explorer, then on to Google Chrome, I am now using Firefox 4 and have found it to be an excellent web browser.

In my field of SEO and web marketing I believe Firefox offers me the best web browsing experience. It is well designed, easy to use and highly customable. The amount and variety Firefox Add-ons available is exceptional and definitely provides me with very important data and information.

Greg Jacobs

Content Manager
MintTwist

My Technology hero – Tommy Flowers – The father of the digital age

Tommy FlowersThe name Tommy Flowers probably means very little to just about everyone which is a shame because without Tommy Flowers it is more than likely I would not be here writing this blog.

The genius of Tommy Flowers was obvious from a young age and he eventually earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of London. The very concept of electrical engineering was relatively novel in the 1920’s but Tommy Flowers knew it was the future.

Tommy later gained experience working on telephone exchanges and by 1939 became convinced that a completely electronic system was possible. At the very same time, Europe was descending into the chaos of war which would soon drag the rest of the world and Tommy Flowers into it.

Alan Turing, another technological hero, was working for the British government breaking German codes. He developed the world’s first algorithms and was literally years ahead of the competition. Eventually Turing heard about Tommy Flowers and asked him for help.

The reason he asked him for help was because the latest code breaking methods being used at the time required large amounts of data input which by hand would be completely impractical. However if an electronic machine could be made which could break codes by inputting large quantities of data then any German code could be broken.

The key for Flowers was valves, lots of them. To put things into context, at the time the most complicated electronic device used about 150 valves. Flowers proposed that his machine which he names ‘Colossus’ would use 1800 valves. Sadly the British government and the Ministry of Defence were yet to be convinced and rather than offering their help told him to make do on his own.

Colossus

Undeterred Tommy poured every ounce of energy, every second of concentration and every penny he had into his ‘Colossus’.  After eleven months, Flowers and his devoted team built ‘Colossus’. The world’s first computer was born and immediately set about breaking German codes. Later the ‘Colossus Mark 2’ was built which used 2400 valves.

German intelligence became British intelligence immediately. The Allies now had a massive advantage over the Germans and with their new intelligence were able to dominate the war at sea, the war at air and the war on ground. The D-day landings, which marked the beginning of the end for Hitler, used vital information gathered by ‘Colossus’.

The Supreme Commander of the Allied forces, Dwight D Eisenhower went for a meeting at Bletchley Park, the home of ‘Colossus’ and the code breakers, on the 1st of June 1944. There he was handed a decryption made by ‘Colossus’ which showed that Hitler did not want additional troops to be sent to Normandy. Eisenhower turned to his staff and said “We go tomorrow.”

Without the work carried out by Tommy Smith and the code breakers at Bletchley Park it is quite possible that the outcome of World War 2 would have been different. Tommy Flowers is my technological hero because he built the first computer which broke the German codes which won us the war and brought freedom to Europe and the world.

Why your website content shouldn’t be an elephant

You’ve spent months planning and talking about your new website.   Agencies have been interviewed and briefed, you’ve looked at designs and waited patiently for the build to finish…but one thing is missing.   Content.

Content is often the last thought but it should be one of your first. Writing what goes into your website at the beginning:

  • Helps you focus on the structure and aims of the site.   By thinking through what will go on the site, you are more likely to drop redundant sections and develop better ones.
  • Assists web designers in producing better more accurate designs.   What you have written informs and inspires them about your company.
  • Minimises development time – you will receive a test site that is 95% complete, leaving you free to concentrate on fixing bugs and making final tweaks, rather than feeling the pressure to produce hundreds of words.
  • Gives you a head start with SEO.   With your content written, you can start planning your SEO strategy and give your site the best possible launch.

Creating content can quickly become an elephant – weeks away from launch it is a small speck in the distance. Suddenly it’s large and looming. One of the biggest reasons people put it off is that they are unsure how to write engaging copy, and copy that will work for SEO. Good copy can reap big returns so it is worth taking the time to research how to do it properly. Check out our Top Ten Tips for Web Copy and the Short Guide to SEO from MintTwist and kick start your content today.

What to expect from web design in 2011

2010 was a difficult year for many people in many different industries. After the difficulties of 2008 and 2009, 2010 was never going to be a boom year. Many economic analysts had forecast 2011 as a year of recovery and maybe a bit of growth in the economy. However, with widespread government spending cuts due, 2011 might be slightly premature.

Web design is quite a fast moving industry. Web design companies are constantly striving to improve their abilities and their knowledge in an effort to get ahead of the competition. This requires a web design company to pay close attention to what the likes of Google are doing.

Search engine optimisationThe pace of life today is incredible. Google has obviously picked up on this because loading speed is now part of the Google algorithm. Some websites contain huge amounts of data and others not very much, and both present challenges. For new websites your web design company should be aware of the latest Google algorithm and ensure the site is developed with it in mind.

Images are everywhere on websites and they are prime example of loading items which could hamper your site. It is imperative that the image file size is kept to a minimum and that they are ideally formatted in JPEG and GIF.

Another challenge for web designers and developers is to make sure the site being built is suitable for the various screen resolutions available today. The can range from 640 x 480 to 1024 x 768 and as technology improves resolutions are only going to get bigger and better.

There is also growing demand for websites to work with mobile devices such as the Apple iPad or Samsung’s Galaxy Tablet. Web designers are quite used to having to perform cross browser testing. Cross platform testing is certainly a growing aspect of web design and represents significant opportunities for various businesses.

The style of websites has changed so much in recent years. At first the web was all about bright flashy bold colours and fonts to grab the eye. Now, the best sites are those which use neutral colours and fonts which are easy on the eye and easy to use. Take Google, the world’s most successful site, notice anything?

Choosing the right UAE web design company

The market for web design in the UAE has grown at an astonishing pace. 2010 has been a big year for the region, most notably the completion of the worlds’ tallest building, the Burj Khalifa Skyscraper and in Abu Dhabi the world’s largest indoor and first Ferrari theme park was opened.

The region has seen huge investment over the last two decades and created an oasis in the desert. Cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi have emerged and are now key drivers for the region. The region is home to the offices of numerous multinational companies and corporations. In addition to this there is very healthy growth of small to medium sized business.

In today’s business world there is no doubting the importance of a web presence and the UAE is no exception. The problem is that the vast majority of web development firms in the UAE do not have the same level of knowledge or experience as professionals in the West.

Internet usage is growing at a rapid rate in the UAE amongst the 4 million or so people that live there. Companies are investing millions of dollars in the region and the internet is a vital communications tool which is only growing in use and importance. Choosing the right web design company to work with can be difficult but below are some useful hints to help with that difficult decision.

Check the Portfolio – For web design companies having a portfolio is a simple must have. It gives a web design company the chance to show off their work and you can quickly gauge what kinds of styles are possible. However, be warned because seeing them in a gallery is not enough. It is vital that the functionality of these is thoroughly checked.

Talk to the owner of the business – Before any deal is made it is essential that you meet with the director of the web design company. This gives you an opportunity to test their knowledge and gives you an opportunity to talk about their previous and future projects and get contact details for referrals.

The kitchen sink – The very best web design companies will do more than just develop a website. The best firms will begin with a free consultation which will be based on a very high level view of your business and who it is targeting or which markets are most relevant. It is also common to discuss the design and development process used by the web design company because this will help in organising time scales.

Following on from this the Dubai web design company should be able to demonstrate their skill in keyword research, content management, digital graphic design, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and web marketing. If your web design company can fulfil all of this then you are speaking to the right people.

The people – Knowing that there is a team of dedicated professionals with specialist skills, working on your behalf is hugely important and can give you a lot of confidence in the web design company you are working with.

The vibe – Finally, the design company you choose to work with has to feel right. The communication needs to be friendly but professional and constructive. In other words you must be able to question the design company and you should expect good answers in return. Companies who don’t listen to their clients inevitably let them down so if you are ignored head somewhere else.

Top ten blog writing tips from MintTwist

1)      Form an opinion

2)      Ensure its well linked up

3)      Less is more

4)      300 words bare minimum

5)      Make the headline snappy

6)      Be passionate

7)      Fine tuning

8)      Keep it easy on the eye

9)      Be consistent with your style

10)   Get those keywords in

1) Form an opinion

Blogs are enjoyed by so many because people enjoy reading about others opinions. A blog is written by an individual to share their thoughts on a matter and form and opinion. People like opinion because we all form our own opinion on matters and enjoy comparing it to others.

2) Ensure its well linked up

A blog post should not be one link after the other. Overloading it with links is off-putting so choose appropriate words at appropriate intervals. If you want a link to your services or products page make sure the word which will link to that page is related.

3) Less is more

Do not get sidetracked. It is easy to start typing away and forget what the core point of the blog is.

4) 3 minutes

The longer the post the more the reader has opportunity to lose interest.

5) Make the headline snappy

Often the hardest part of a blog, try to condense your argument into a few words. The tabloids have mastered the art.

6) Passion

People like passion and it is easy to pick up on. The most successful bloggers are incredibly passionate about what they write about. Controlled passion is the key.

7) Fine tuning

When you have written your blog read it again, and then again. Try to find any mistakes and ways to improve the structure, the words and the tone. The first draft is never perfect.

8) Easy on the eye

Ensure that the blog does not contain huge paragraphs and endless sentences. The font needs to be easy to read, so not too small or too big.

9) Be consistent

Readers enjoy consistency because people like to know what to expect. That’s why so many people have favourite writers. If you read a book and enjoy it is quite usual to buy another book theirs.

10) Get those keywords in

Try to put yourself in the reader’s shoes. What keywords would people use to search for your blog post? Include as many of them in the body as possible and try to keep them as natural as possible.

Is cloud computing the future of web design?

Cloud computingWith the 7th International Cloud Expo being held in America this November and the announcement that New York City and Microsoft are teaming up to provide the city’s 100,000 employees with access to cloud services, it is evident that cloud computing is now at the forefront of computing technology and a current buzzword in the field.

Cloud computing refers to anything that involves delivering hosted services over the internet and encompasses any subscription-based or pay-by-use service that, in real time, extends IT’s existing capabilities.

A clear benefit of this provision is the inevitable reduced cost incurred by any organisation.  The provision is not owned, with any resources being consumed as a service.  The company only pays for what is used as a utility, therefore avoiding capital expenditure.  According to New York City’s Mayor, “Through our partnership with Microsoft, we’ve found ways to offer our employees Microsoft’s newest computing tools while reducing costs to taxpayers.

By capitalizing on the city’s buying power, consolidating dozens of separate city agency license agreements into a single one, and paying for software based on use, we’ll save $50 million over the next five years.”

Until now, New York City’s agencies each purchased software individually, comprising more than 40 separate license agreements and even more maintenance and support contracts. With the new cloud agreement, all of the city’s software and services will be under one unified agreement, saving money and eliminating confusion.

Organisations also benefit from increased storage capacity as compared with that available on private computer systems.  With a phenomenal growth in data quantities, companies are under pressure to store and protect not only new data, but older existing data that is kept ‘just-in-case’ to protect against any future difficulties.  With this storage requirement comes additional costs associated with the greater need to manage and protect the data.  Cloud computing provides a cost-effective solution for this ongoing problem.

With the continued advances in technology and ever changing needs of organisations, cloud services ensure that the most up-to-date software is available to companies.  Similarly, the evolving nature of such provision ensures that companies are offered greater flexibility in how they access services and the many different combinations of services that may be required.

Possibly the most significant benefit arising from this shift in technology is the ability to access information from anywhere, resulting in greater mobility for employees.  In the case of New York particularly, this benefit is exemplified by the fact that many of the city’s workers are not office-based and so will have improved access to services with resulting improvements in communication between agencies.

Despite the significant benefits associated with the cloud computing revolution, there is also concern surrounding cloud computing and its attendant security risks.  The main concerns about cloud computing are security and privacy as data inside the ‘cloud’ is outside a company’s firewall and that brings with it an intrinsic threat of risk.  With an increase in hacking attempts, companies need to implement stringent security measures such as proven cryptographic methods to authenticate users.

This security risk extends beyond data storage to web development.  It is evident that an unsecure server is bad for search engine optimisation and for a company’s website.  As identified by an SEO London company, a lack of security in the cloud can result in the loss of search engine rankings.

As part of the ever growing and evolving IT industry, we must be open to advances in technology even if we maintain some reservations about potential security issues or associated concerns.  A spokesperson from a London web design company recognises the potential for cloud computing and the advances in technology in our every day lives.  “As web designers we frequently find ourselves caught up in the everyday workings of the internet”.  Cloud computing may very well be the new technology to drastically change the web design market but ultimately only time will tell.

To outsource or not to outsource?

Both private and public sector organisations are faced with the ongoing challenge of deciding whether functions or individual projects should be carried out internally or externally. Within the broad context of the annual review cycle, MintTwist re-evaspxaluates the merits of outsourcing project work just as one would with every other business decision.  It is important to recognise outsourcing as a strategic business tool, but to also determine the specific benefits that externally sourced work brings to the company.

It is wise for all companies to recognise the benefits of outsourcing for the continued progress of their business.  For the web development company, self-contained projects are easy to outsource and reap numerous benefits.  This type of organisation can help managers to set priorities more clearly and focus on core projects, which thus improves productivity.

Outsourcing converts fixed costs into variable costs and therefore releases capital for investment elsewhere in the business.  In this way it is possible to avoid large expenditures.  Inevitably, labour costs are reduced.  Hiring and training staff for short-term projects can be expensive while using temporary workers is often ineffective.  Therefore, with specific projects outsourced, human resources can be focused where most needed within the business.

The use of outsourced agencies enables new projects to begin quickly, without the need to commit weeks or even months for preparation and setting up.  Companies see an increase in productivity and gain access to a broad range of services which place businesses on a level playing field with other, possibly larger, companies.

Conversely, there are costs associated with outsourcing project work that impact on more than just financial growth.  The greater number of outsourced projects, the more potential for communication difficulties between the outsource provider, the company and the client.  More specifically, the field of web site design necessitates ongoing dialogue with the client in order to meet expectations whilst achieving maximum results.  It is far easier to manage the client relationship and achieve consistent service levels without the introduction of a third party.

It is always prudent to keep in mind that, while functions can be outsourced with each project, accountability cannot.  Web design companies, such as MintTwist, deal with sensitive data for each client that must be managed carefully.  While it is possible to identify and outsource provider’s portfolio of work, it is more difficult to assess its ethical conduct and personnel practices.  Such issues can be easily managed internally within the ethos of the organisation and under direct managerial control.

With a long-term perspective it can be an excellent decision to invest in training for staff in order to achieve a consistency in output for the company.  Whether it be skills related to website design, sales, marketing or SEO, London web design companies require employees to have the current knowledge base and associated skill set to contend with the competitive market.  The ongoing use of outsourcing does not allow for the development of high level functioning internally.  With competitively high service levels and excellent client relationships, MintTwist determines that the costs of outsourcing project work outweigh the benefits for the company.  Outsourcing introduces an unknown quantity for the web design company, where projects are in fact better managed in-house.

Did you know you can get FREE Champagne by refering new business to MintTwist?

Free Bottle of champagne

Yes it’s true! MintTwist is offering the finest Champagne (FREE) for each and every successful referral you provide.

How to get my FREE Champagne?

It couldn’t be more simple.  Send us a quick email with the details of the business you are referring, including the contact you would like us to approach, and we will do the rest.  Our experienced sales team will get in touch with the business, and if they decide to use one of our Web Design, Web Marketing or SEO services we will ship your your FREE Champagne.  Nothing to it!

How do I start?

Simply send us an email to info@minttwist.com with the contact details of your referral and let our sales team do the rest!

Facebook: The good, the bad and the ugly

When you consider that Facebook was launched in February 2004 and has grown to over 500 million members, it really is an incredible achievement. It is a feat of epic proportions and a tremendous success story which also reflects the growing popularity of social networking.

There are people whose career is now dependant of Facebook. There is an ongoing battle between  independent application developers and development companies such as Zynga, around the world including web design London.

Zynga is a fantastic example of success with Facebook. After being in business for nearly three years the company has an annual revenue of over $100 million dollars and are responsible for some of the most popular applications on Facebook, specifically Farmville and Mafia Wars.

However, in the interest of fairness and objectivity, one could argue that Facebook is a bit like Marmite. You either love it or hate it. My fourteen year old niece for example will happily spend hour after hour on Facebook, whereas I will spend maybe five to ten minutes on it every day or two.

A few too manyHow many times have you been out with friends, maybe you had a few dozen too many drinks and made a complete fool of yourself, which would have been fine pre 2004 because even if your friends did have cameras and took pictures there was no website which could embarrass you in the same way Facebook can.

The influence of Facebook has also spread to businesses and careers. It is widely reported that employers will try and find your profile on Facebook, just to see if there is anything you perhaps forgot to mention. You have the ability share with the world absolutely everything that you like and dislike, your favourite music, food, movies and your political and religious affiliations.

For some the amount of information has gone too far. It is frequently said that knowledge is power, and if that is the case Facebook is all powerful because they have knowledge of over half a billion user. Some might ask what possible harm could come from all this knowledge?

Well a lot really. To begin with, companies will go to extreme lengths to gather data on customers and Facebook is a giant and rich database of customers. Since 2004 advertising has become increasingly significant for the company because it brings in revenue. With Facebook companies can set up highly targeted adverts, so one could argue that ad least users aren’t bombarded with random advertising. By localizing the site Facebook is sending out a strong message of willingness to improve their service which is encouraging.

There is also a much darker site to data which was demonstrated during World War 2. In Germany and elsewhere in Europe, as the Nazis grip spread to Poland, France, Holland and Belgium the census’ of the countries were used to hunt down Jews and other political enemies. Indeed this is a somewhat extreme example of the dark side of data but it did happen and does show how information can be used in the worst possible way.

International web design in London

London undergroundIn the last 100 years the world has shrunk. It is now so small that the furthest place you can go is at most going to be a day or two away. There are some exceptions though, for example if you wanted to reach the heart of the Amazon rainforest or the North Pole or any other extreme location it might a bit longer than a few days, say a week or so.

Living in London you really do get a sense of this shrinking planet we share. Having been born and raised in this remarkable city I consider it a genuine privilege. The city has so much history, energy, culture, style and beauty it is impossible not to fall in love with it.

There have been many famous quotes about London but one has always stood out for me. The English poet Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) once said “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Putting to one side my bias and instead thinking more impartially, for me to say that London is perfect would be a lie. There is no such thing as perfection. However the same can be said about all major cities, they all have their problems.

What I find most amazing about London is the richness of culture and the variety of nationalities, which you don’t have to go far to see examples of. The workforce at MintTwist itself is evidence of a small world and multi-culturist society.

  • Eric our SEO guru has Kenyan parents and moved to the UK at a young age.
  • Gabriel, who works on web marketing, is from Argentina.
  • One of our developers, Julien is half French, half English.
  • Andre our senior developer is half Portuguese and half Angolan.
  • Mustafa, our project manager is Turkish Cypriot.
  • Lee our head designer is a quarter Italian, three quarters English.
  • Alexis, one of MintTwist’s directors is half Greek Cypriot and half English.
  • Our other director, Elliott, and without doubt the most interesting blend of nationalities, is one quarter Spanish, one quarter Jamaican and half English.

As for myself, I have a Croatian mother and my father’s family immigrated to the UK from Poland over a hundred years ago.

More than anything, what this demonstrates is that the movement of people is a fundamental part of the development of mankind. Ever since humans evolved into bipedal creatures it has been in our genes to explore and relocate to better places. Without it Columbus wouldn’t have discovered America, the Vikings wouldn’t have come to Britain and the British would be much worse off and a more crowded place because we wouldn’t have Australia to send criminals to.

Only joking! :-)

Web addresses go global

The World Wide Web is going through historic change and will soon be a truly representative of its name. This will have far reaching effects for both users and a web design agency like MintTwist.

Net regulator Icann has switched on a system that allows full web addresses to contain no Latin characters, which their president (Rod Beckstrom) has described as “historic”.

Surfing the UAEEgypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the first countries to have so-called “country codes” written in Arabic scripts.

This move is the first step to allow web addresses in many scripts including Thai, Tamil, and Chinese.

More than 20 countries have requested approval for international domains from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann).

Icann has said that the new domains are available for use now but did admit that there is still some work to do before it is perfected and correctly working for everyone. They may be formalities but hopefully there will be so major delay or setback.

Teething

The introduction of the first web names using so-called country code top level domains (CCTLDs) is the culmination of several years of work by the organisation.

Whereas before websites could use some non-Latin letters, the country codes as .cn for China had to be written in Latin script. The historic change means that web addresses can be completely written in native characters.

Teething - Painful but unavoidableBefore you get too excited, Icann has warned that the internationalised domain names (IDNs) will not work on all PC’s immediately. Why exactly is unclear but most likely is that the service will be phased in gradually. By doing so the process is u much easier task to manage.

According to Icaan, “You may see a mangled string of letters and numbers, and perhaps some percent signs or a couple of “xn--”s mixed into the address bar,” said Mr Davies. “Or it may not work at all.”

Previously, Icann has said that people would have to update the software on their computers to view the domains.

“Computers never come with the complete set of fonts that will allow it to show every possible IDN in the world. Often this is fixed by downloading additional language packs for the missing languages, or specifically finding and installing fonts that support the wanted languages.”

Global Access

When Icann first announced its plans for non-Latin web names it said it was the “biggest change” to the net “since it was invented 40 years ago”.

Perhaps this should have been rephrased as “arguably the biggest change”, especially when you consider that it is yet to be perfected. Over time, this will no doubt grow and become a massive part of the internet but it has a way to go yet.

Mr Beckstrom has quite rightly said that “Over half the internet users around the world don’t use a Latin-based script as their native language, “IDNs are about making the internet more global and accessible for everyone.”

FaceBook localization sends out strong message

Over the last decade the internet has experienced a dramatic roller-coaster of a ride. Looking back at when the .com bubble burst seems like an age ago, and ever since people, businesses, investors, all of them had their doubts about the internet. Business models and strategies were rewritten overnight, not to mention the value of the companies which were wildly over exaggerated.

Today the internet is a somewhat different story. Compare the internet now to ten years ago. The first thing that might come to mind is having to dial up using your 56k modem and wait an eternity for any kind of progress. Nowadays you are either jumping on a wireless network or perhaps in an office they may be using Ethernet connections. With both, getting online takes a second.

However this is not what the internet is about. The connections speeds were inevitably going to improve, and will continue to do so. Now internet providers in the UK are offering fibre optic internet connection which will give users lightning fast speeds. In addition to this more people are using the internet as their primary medium for entertainment and broadcasters are making more content available online, such as the BBC’s iPlayer or 4OD.

Since the bubble burst a lot has been learnt. The capability and dynamism of websites has improved dramatically and has lead to certain websites becoming synonymous with the generation of today. Sites like FaceBook, MySpace, YouTube, to name a few, are more than websites now, they are part of many people’s lives, daily routine, and consciousness which has altered the way we interact with each other.

To imply this is how everyone feels about FaceBook wouldn’t be accurate but ‘generation Z’ is growing up with the internet and their experience and expectations are very different to those of a decade ago. Kids and teenagers around the world are accessing the web and sites like FaceBook are in high demand from people around the world which includes many languages.

It was just over a year ago that FaceBook started localizing itself for the world. The company utilized outsourcing to spur its translation efforts. And though volunteers aren’t the only people translating content, a year later, FaceBook has done an impressive job of going global.

Some recently reported key stats from FaceBook’s global expansion efforts include:

  • 40 percent of FaceBook users are not using English.
  • More than 70 percent of FaceBook users are outside the United States.
  • It reaches more than 10 percent of the total national population in 26 countries.
  • FaceBook is available in 43 languages and is in the process of being translated into another 60 languages.
  • 25,000 volunteers helped translate FaceBook into Turkish last year, and there are now 9 million Turkish-language users signed up for FaceBook.

In conclusion, we have seen FaceBook recently overtake Google in the USA as the most popular website. Does this mean sites in other countries will be knocked of the pedestal? At this stage it is hard to say. In the UK the most popular website is Google, but not too far behind is FaceBook, which will continue to grow and chase. But this is not the optimum acid test for FaceBook; instead it will be to see how successful FaceBook are in non-English speaking countries by the year 2012.

The MintTwist-ology : Develop the Perfect Website

Introduction

Once we have the Planning documents and the Design documents (see Design the Perfect Website), both of which have been understood, agreed and approved by the client, we are ready to begin developing the Perfect Website.

This stage can be considered to be the mechanical and technical phase of the whole process. It is where the components of the perfect website are drawn together and made into a working reality that can come to life on the World Wide Web.

There are four very important components of the development phase. Each of these aspects requires the consideration of the website coder as they are developing the site.

Search Engine Optimisation is key to maximising the number of visitors to the site. However, on its own, increasing the number of visitors will not lead to a successful website.

The other three cmpomall have a direct result on the User’s experience of your website. Providing a quality User Experience that will engage is a crucial component of increasing the ‘Visitor to Customer’ conversion rate (the proposition of your website Visitors who become returning Customers and fully engaged Users).

If your website can maximise the number of visitors to your site and maximise the vistor-to-customer conversion rate, you will have hit the holy grail of the internet. Your site will engage your users and grow in popularity beyond your most optimistic of projections.

SEO

SEO for short or for an even easier way to look at it; where does your website rank in search sites such as Google! SEO is crucial to ensuring your website can be found.

After coding each and every page the MintTwist website coder must ask; “There are millions of competing pages on the internet; so how are we going to make sure that finding this page is not like searching for a needle in a haystack”?

Look and Feel

First impressions are so important. The visual design of your entire website should encompass your company brand and capture the attention of your target user audience whilst conveying key messages and leading the end user with clear ‘calls to action’. The whole site should be aesthetically pleasing. After coding each and every page the MintTwist website coder must consider; “are we putting our best foot forward”?

Usability

Quite simply, is your website simple to use?! Internet users are an impatient lot. If your website is confusing, inefficient or leaves the user feeling unsatisfied than the chances are they’ll look elsewhere. Research shows that 75% of users will not return to a website that falls down on usability issues. After coding each and every page the MintTwist website coder must consider; “Is the interface interaction engaging or annoying”?

Accessibility

You may be discriminating against groups of users without even realising. Accessibility standards are guidelines to ensure that the internet serves as a rich source of information for all, including those with disabilities. The way your website is coded is crucial to this cause. A site which does not adhere to W3C standards will be penalised by Google and the other Search Engines. After coding each and every page the MintTwist website coder must consider; “Does this satisfy accessibility requirements”?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the governing authority for modern Web standards. They have a tool in their website with which any Web user can check the validity of any website’s code.

To learn more about accessibility standards and code validation, please visit: http://www.w3c.org.

Development steps

In keeping with the MintTwist methodology there is a structured process that the coder will follow (illustrated below). At every step the coder will be ensuring that the key aspects that will ultimately determine the success of the ‘Perfect Website’ are addressed and at the forefront of their thinking.

• Create a CSS files
• Create server side components
• Create client side components
• Create third party utilities
• Build the pages
• Unit Test pages (SEO, Look and Feel, Usability and Accessibility testing)
• Integrate the pages
• Integration Testing
• Website System Testing (SEO, Look and Feel, Usability and Accessibility testing)
• User Acceptance Testing

Using your Website

Once complete, your Website is ready to go-live, to start helping your business to engage with new potential customers and to be used by the Internet Marketeer in the execution stages of your “Perfect Website” project.

This article is based on the “MintTwist-ology” for creating the “Perfect Website”. MintTwist is a London based Web Agency specialising in high quality Web Design and Development.

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The MintTwist-ology : Design the Perfect Website

Introduction

In order to design the perfect Website, you will need to have your Website Planning document (see Plan the Perfect Website).

With this, your Designer can start the process of Website Design.

Broadly, the Website Design process involves three main deliverables:

• Create a ‘sitemap’
• Create ‘wireframes’ for Homepage and Content page(s)
• Create ‘visuals’ Homepage and Content page(s)

What is a sitemap?

A sitemap is a diagram that defines all of the pages in a Website and the hierarchical structure in which they will sit.

Note: In the ‘build’ phase the sitemap will be turned into a physical web page; this helps humans get a quick overview with quick links to of all the pages within a site. It also helps Google to automatically index all of the pages in your site (this helps with the Search Engine Optimisation of your site; which in the medium term will increase your number of visitors from the search engines).

What does a sitemap look like?

As an initial starting structure, a standard website will probably contain at least the following pages:

• Homepage
• About Us
• Products and/or Services Homepage
o Product 1
o Product 2
o Service 1
o Service 2
• Contact Us
• Terms and Conditions
• Sitemap

To this, a number of other pages will be added. The number and types of these pages should be determined by your Website Planning document and any other supporting preparatory material that you may have.

Note: It is advisable to provide each distinct function of your website with a dedicated page. This way each page of your website remains relevant and clear, maximising the effect its specific message and related call to action for your visitor.

An example of a sitemap for a Shipping Website

sitemap1

Wireframes

The wireframes will provide a visual overview of the sections of the web pages and the types of content and functionality that will be placed on them. A wireframe will be used to ensure that the correct messages and calls to action will be placed in the correct places on the page in order to maximise their effectiveness.

Note: There should be no areas of ‘dead’ or ‘unused’ space. The space on a web page is your real estate and your web designer should ensure that every last bit of it is working for your business. A wireframe will help you to see what each and every part of the web page will be used for.

An example of a content page wireframe for a Shipping Website

wireframe

Website Visuals

The homepage is your face to the Internet; it should be designed to be high impact; immediately portraying your target message to your target customer. Studies show that Internet users make up their mind about a website in less than 2 seconds based on their experience of your homepage. If they don’t like what the see, feel or read they will move to the next website on the list.

The homepage visual should be designed first. Once this visual is agreed, content page visuals can also be designed. Depending on the complexity of the site one of more content page visuals should be created.

An example of a homepage visual for a Shipping Website

visual

Approving the Design

At each stage of the Design process you should review the deliverable to ensure that the correct messages and calls to action are being presented in a Design style that will appeal to your target audience.

Using your Website Designs

Once complete your Website Designs will be used by the Website Coder in the next stage of creating your “Perfect Website”…Develop the Perfect Website

This article is based on the “MintTwist-ology” for creating the “Perfect Website”. MintTwist is a London based Web Agency specialising in high quality Web Design and Development.

The MintTwist-ology : Plan the Perfect Website

Introduction

In order to create the perfect Website, firstly you need to have a Website Planning document. Before you can start the process of Website Planning you need to know two key things:

· What do you want your Website to say?

· Who do you want your Website to say it to?

Once you can answer these questions you are ready to proceed and begin “Website Planning”.

Website Planning

The process of Website Planning involves you being able to define 4 key aspects of your Website. These are:

· Message/Audience

· Perception

· Action

· Content

By following this article, and writing down the answers to the questions in each section you will produce your own Website Planning document.

Define your Website Message and Audience

Write down the answers to these questions:

· What is the primary message you wish to convey to the audience of your website?

Examples of this are; telephone us about our product/service, buy something, register with our website etc.

· What are the major purposes for the site?

Examples of these are; name branding, e-commerce, product or service information, generate leads, etc.

· What are the specific short-term and long-term goals for the site?

Examples of these are; to reduce customer service in-house, generate x increase in sales, generate new leads, etc.

· Who is your target audience?

Where relevant include things like; age range, profession, interests, gender, income bracket etc.)

· Is you target Website target audience different from your current customer profile? If so, please describe.

· Are you a local, regional or an international business and do you want to target a specific area?

· Who are your primary competitors?

· How does your company differentiate itself from competitors?

· What are the key reasons why customers choose your company?

Examples of these are; price, information, niche, quality, speed, expertise, sole provider.

Define your Website Perception

· Write down three adjectives to describe how the user should perceive the site.

Examples are; conservative, progressive, friendly, formal, casual, serious, experts, humorous, service-oriented, professional, etc.

· How is your company currently perceived?

· Do you wish to carry through the same kind of message through your website?

· List any URLs of sites you find compelling. What do you find the most interesting about these sites?

· List URLs of competitor sites. What you like and dislike about their overall site?

Define the Actions you want your Website Visitors to take

· What is the primary action you wish your target user to take from the homepage of your site?

Examples of these are; order a product, download a brochure, browse company information, move along specified path through the catalogue, email customer service, explore pages, phone your shop / office, etc.

· What is the primary action you wish your target user to take before leaving your site? Is it the same action? If not, describe why.

· What elements are key items you wish to have available to the user on every page?

Examples of these are; order form, brochure, email address, contact information, advertisements, access to a particular product range etc.

Define your Website Content

· Will this site use existing or new content? Describe any visual elements or styles you want.

Examples include; logo, text, product shots, press releases, testimonials, brochures, sell/data sheets, etc,

· Can this be utilized from existing marketing materials or collateral?

· Describe the major topics for your site?

Examples include; Products, Services, Information, How to Contact Us, Links, Frequently Asked Questions, Events, Members-Only Area, etc.

· If relevant, describe the product/service categories of your Website. If relevant, include sub-categories.

An example of this would be; 1. Fry Pans: Pancake / Crepe pans, Omelette pans, Sauté pans, Frying pans, Deep fat fryers, Accessories. 2. Pans: Pan sets, Sauce pans, Milk pans, Speciality pans, Pan Lids, Pan Storage, etc.

· If relevant, describe the major brands (other than your own) that your company would like to promote on the Website.

Choose a cross section of brands that represent your company fully, these could include; budget brands, premium brands, fashionable brands, high quality brands.

Include other useful Information

Remember to add anything else that you feel is relevant as a footnote to your Website Planning document.

Using your Website Planning document

Once complete your Website Planning document will be used by the Website Designer in the next stage of creating your “Perfect Website”…Design the Perfect Website

This article is based on the “MintTwist-ology” for creating the “Perfect Website”. MintTwist is a London based Web Agency specialising in high quality Web Design and Development.

IT projects must appeal to emotions to succeed

I came accross this article in the FT.  It is brilliant, and should be compulsory reading for anyone who is thinking of implementing an IT solution for their business.

It starts with the big danger that is faced by anyone trying to implement an IT solution for their business.  It provides us with some frightening statistics.

It concludes by providing us with an amazingly simple solution to all our IT woes!

By David Elton

Published: October 7 2008 09:50 | Financial Times

Everyone knows IT projects don’t work. Twenty years ago the Standish Group produced its shocking conclusion that 80 per cent of such projects failed.

Our own research, with Harvey Nash, showed little improvement – a 63 per cent failure rate. Over the past two decades pretty much every other piece of research has reached similar conclusions.

Not that anyone really needs data on this point. Who hasn’t been involved in an IT project where frustration got the better of them and, head buried in hands, they wondered what it would take just to get it all to work?

The irony is that the reason IT projects fail is because they are IT projects. I worked with a client recently who was looking after a project and experiencing the usual delays and endless re-planning. Try as she did, she met resistance at every turn. She then came up with the obvious but brilliant idea: why not get the business to take the lead?

The effect was remarkable. The project became the new baby for the business. Previously insurmountable barriers became challenges to resolve. Vital requirements became the subject of innovative workarounds. On cutover day, the operations team came in early, relishing the prospect of helping the baby take its first steps.

Of course, IT was a big part of this project, but people played a bigger part.

No amount of technology will overcome resistance to something people don’t want. Attitudes to IT projects are far from being a “right brain” rational calculation. Success is often about emotion – the “left brain” instinctive reaction

Make a compelling emotional case and most technical problems can be overcome. Do it the other way round and solutions are elusive.

Why should this be? After all, surely IT is not about people. It is about automation, illustrated in that classic picture of a data centre with the lights out and the machines left to get on with the work. In fact, IT doesn’t eliminate people from the process. It changes what they do, usually allowing them to do more. So IT projects, far from eliminating people, are all about them.

There are plenty of failures that illustrate this basic truth. The first attempts to set up online retail businesses in the 1990s are good examples.

At the time, I was working with an airline that set itself a 50 per cent online sales target. It did not come close the first time round, but in 2002-2003 it tried again and achieved 70-80 per cent of sales via the internet.

The differences between the first and second attempts were about people. First, there was increased availability of secure payment methods that consumers trusted. Second, vendors started to understand that savings do not come from automation, but from enabling customers to do more for themselves. These were not internet projects, but customer enablement projects.

Another illustration of the importance of people in IT projects can be seen in a global call centre consolidation project I was involved in: it was based on worldwide call-flow technology. The macroeconomic case was compelling and board approval resounding. Regional managers were unimpressed.

However, behind the parochial territorialism, there were good reasons for modifying the proposal to improve it. A new, more rational version emerged, which still included some consolidation of operations and, critically, a shared view of how things would work. Costs of implementation fell.

I know from my own business, how important changing behaviour can be to obtaining value from technology. We recently implemented a new contact management system that aimed to create a more integrated approach to selling. The theory was sound and the technology effective but the biggest obstacle to securing the benefits was getting people to use the system.

When we understood this and started working on changing behaviour rather than implementing systems, we started to see the improved co-ordination of sales we had sought.

These lessons apply to just about every IT project I have worked on – changing the way people work, not just the technology, has to be at the core.

I’ve seen this idea in action when I worked with a CIO on a large upgrade and outsourcing project.

He started by defining the change he wanted to achieve. His questions were: what would the new way of working feel like? Will it feel better than today? Does it feel like it should generate value?

The key is in the verb, to “feel”, the emotional, not the rational was the starting point. Of course, he then moved on to the numbers to validate the judgment, but they were not the starting point.

So what are the questions boards should ask when the CIO presents an IT project, to make sure they do not repeat others’ mistakes. The first is, have you appointed the right leader for the project? That person needs to be an influencer who can change the way people think.

The second question is: are you clear about what you are doing and why?

If you want to change the way people work, then they will need to understand these things.

Finally, the board needs to ask whether there is a meeting of minds on the need for change and, if not, how it is going to win people over? Projects where everyone agrees are do-able. Projects where people disagree are a nightmare.

If there are credible answers to each of these questions, there is a good chance the project is heading out of the abstract world of IT, into the real world and so, towards a greater chance of success.

Custom Web Design Design vs Web Templates

When creating a website for your business, your Web designer will first need to create a visual design and layout.  It is important that this is done with the purpose and aims of your website firmly in mind.

The overall design and information architecture of your website is vital if you are going to effectively transmit your unique message to that unique set of consumers that is your target audience – as well as to entice them into action!

There are two methods for creating a visual design and a layout for your site.  These are outlined below.

The Template Option

The cheapest way of purchasing a layout for your site is to employ a competent web developer who will choose from an array of pre-conceived layouts, a template that will best fit your message and target audience.  They will be able to alter the colours, fonts and images of the template in order to produce a final layout that is more or less in line with what you want.

The Custom Design Option

The most effective way of creating a visual design and layout for your site is to employ a competent and qualified Web designer to work closely with you in order to gain an understanding of your message and target audience.  Once they have done this, they will be able to turn your requirements into a visual design and a layout that will quickly convey your messages to your target audiences, with clear ‘calls to action’ in a manner that will optimise the effectiveness of your website.

What is the value of your website to your business?

In order to make the best choice between these two options you need to try to calculate the potential return on your investment, and ask yourself the question: How much do you value the potential of your website?

Essential Web Design Tips: CSS Vs. Tables Deathmatch

Possibly the most empassioned of the web design wars is that which places the logic of using a tabular layout versus that of using a fully-CSS layout.

We are at a point now where new, young web designers are starting out using CSS layouts but, for a number of years now there have been those who started way back when tables where all the rage and, as such, continue to stand by their trusty tabular simplicity.

There is no argument against the simplicity of a tabular layout, indeed it is probably a lot easier and quicker to build a table than it is to write and configure a style sheet. Alas, the benefits of using a table design stops there.

Personally I have always used CSS; I started designing web sites about four years ago. Even then CSS wasn’t as widely supported by browsers and web developers alike as it is today. The truth is that style sheets are a lot more extensible, flexible and you can do almost anything you like on a web page with a style sheet.

My experience has shown me that you cannot get such flexibility with a tabular layout. Tables should, in my opinion, be confined to the likes of Microsoft Word.

Tables were intended to display tabular data. Funny that.

Transparent ‘spacer’ GIFs. Tables in tables in tables. A whole mess of HTML to work with when handing over to a new designer. A table layout really is the thorn in the side of modern web design.

As I have alluded to, I am not writing off tables completely. Tables had their benefits in a day when support for CSS was low and web design was in its infancy. The truth is that web design is, as with the Internet itself, still very young.

But consider for a moment what children do every day… They go to school and learn new ways of doing things because it is more logical than the way they used to do things. Like counting with your fingers, toes and hair strands versus using a pencil and paper, or even a calculator if you’re naughty.

Replacing your skills in using tables for layout with the ability to code using CSS is a similar thing. Why hold on to tables when you can do so much more with a style sheet?

When the time comes to redesign a popular web site (which, lets face it, is usually after just a year, if that) and you’ve used tables to build the last version, it is so much more difficult to redesign, not least because you can’t get access to the deep structure of the page without editing it itself. But also because you simply cannot redesign an archive of thousands of pages so, sadly, you have visible periods of your web design history when reading over a web site’s archive. BBC News’ web site is a perfect example of this.

With CSS, though, you can completely change the way each and every page looks, all at the same time simply by building a new style sheet or even amending a current one.

As I write this, it feels as though I’m writing something that web designer has read before. But if that’s the case, why do so many designers still use tables for layout? After doing a quick search on local web design companies’ portfolios, I discovered so many of the sites they have built still use tables!

I’ve talked about the designer aspect of tables versus CSS layouts, but what about the user? Superficially, some of the better-looking table designs could have been built using CSS as far as the average user is concerned. But what about those with a disability?

W3C is actively encouraging web designers to stop using tabular layouts and instead use CSS.

Tables are layed out in a very literal way. Which is perfect for the human eye, but as any web designer worth his salt will know, not all users use their eyes!

Those users with a visual impairment may use a screen reader. Screen readers will, a lot of the time, fall right down trying to read a web page that’s been built with a table.

In this age of scrutinising your own design to make sure it is both accessible and useable, why turn a blind eye to the fact that tabular layouts counters both standards?

The probability is that most designers who use tables will know how to use a style sheet in its most basic form. To style typefaces and image borders, for example. But why stop there?

For me, the largest argument against using CSS is that some browsers are intent on reading it differently. For example, Mozilla’s Firefox browser reads CSS exactly how it is supposed to be read. But other browsers, such as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer just aren’t happy unless they are writing their own rules, garbling web pages in the process. This creates a problem and a web designer must fix a problem Internet Explorer is causing, which then creates two problems in Firefox.

But with a little playing around you can get it. That’s how you end up with some truly beautiful websites.

All Internet Explorer’s CSS issues does is make a web designer’s life a little more difficult. And when you see the end result, a beautifully-designed, well-structured, 100% accessible and useable design, safe in the knowledge that you built it yourself without the aid of a table, you feel proud.

Coding for all browsers and all of the Web community using a trusty style sheet makes the extra work worth it, the end result considerred.

MintTwist’s Essential Web Design Tips: Navigation

With designing a web site comes great responsibility!

Okay, I stole that from Spider-Man but there is some truth behind it. Designing a web site is about much more than superficial Photoshop visuals and CSS coding. A web designer must make sure that everything is in its place and that the web site is clean, navigable and obvious.

Any decent web designer knows that an ‘average’ web user (don’t you just hate that phrase?) has a very short attention span. It is for this reason that everything must be immediately obvious to them.

There are, obviously, no rules regarding web site design. That’s why you get some truly awful-looking web sites. But there are conventions. The MintTwist’s Essential Web Design Tips series will see us publish what we consider to be the top (in no particular order) web design conventions so that those who are just starting out, or those who are just looking for some tips can be as good at web site design as the design team at MintTwist. Well, almost as good…

We’ll start the series with Navigation:

Easy Navigation With MintTwist
Perhaps one of the more important conventions, the main navigation for a web site simply must be easy, clean, obvious and consistent. With the use of some simple CSS, it is perfectly easy to create a beautiful yet functional navigation system for a web site. Colours should utilise contrast in a way that makes the links within a menu accessible to everybody who can see.

Example Navigation Menu

Example Navigation Menu

That doesn’t mean the menu has to be a boring, post-it yellow and brick red set of links. Experiment with colours. Make a colour pallet and save it; you never know when you might need to use those colours again!

The navigation should be uniform throughout the site, even on the Home page. By uniform, I mean consistent, and on EVERY page. Colour-coding your navigation is good, though, for a site with many pages. Each section that has a specific colour can be represented in the navigation but make sure it benefits the user. If it helps with navigation of the site to have colour-coded sections, by all means go for it; it must be obvious, though.

The most important point to remember is that we must try not to make a web user think about what he should click. If it follows the conventions, the user will stay put and there is a much greater chance that he will continue to browse the site and maybe even come back! If you confuse the user with multiple navigation systems throughout a web site, or a different style of navigation on each page he will simply leave the site to get the information he requires elsewhere.

A user has expectations when it comes to visiting a web site. The menu is expected to be in a certain place (the top or to the left), the logo or ‘site ID’ should be at the top left, the content shouldn’t stretch across the page and so on.

Placing the menu at, say, the bottom, or having it float and follow the user to the obscure parts using dodgy JavaScript is, for the most part, less than helpful. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on your viewpoint) people do judge a web site by the way it looks and acts. Functionality for the sake of functionality is a web design faux pas!

The fantastic thing about building clean, simple and navigable navigation is that it is easy and only needs a few lines of CSS. As long as you get the basic rules of a CSS menu right, the challenge should only be with creating a style to suit your web site. The posibilities are endless. See after the jump for an example of an easy to build, yet clean navigation. I’ve chosen a horizontal menu, for use below the masthead of a site, and above the content.

Happy CSSing!…

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