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SEO Principles

May 24, 2014 // Posted in General, Main, Tips and Tricks (Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ) |  No Comments

Google

Google

Search Engine Optimisation is key to your site being found on the Internet.

SEO is your way of improving your website’s ranking in Google, Yahoo, and Bing. The more time and possibly money (if employing an external management  company) you spend on SEO, the more chance you will have of being the first search result listed by Google – which is the ultimate goal of any website and to be easily found by your potential customers.

The simplest technique is by altering the text, or ‘content’ on your website. To do this you must first understand your website’s target audience, who are they and what words will they type into Google when they are looking for this particular service or product?  There are of course many possibilities, and it is important to investigate those options and compile a list of your best appropriate keywords and phrases.

Once your keywords and phrases have been researched, your content can then be re-structured effectively so that it is ‘optimized’ and SEO friendly. You can have professional help with this, so talk to an SEO specialist company about what they would recommend. Other important actions include linking, (both internally – from your own site, and externally – other websites providing good linksto yours preferably from PR3 or higher sites) and implementing meta-tags, sub-headings, and website descriptions on all of your web pages. Content is king, so your success will be determined by the quality and relevance of your page content.

Important SEO principles  like ‘Black Hat’ and ‘White Hat’ SEO strategies. These two are very different  and it helps to understand the differences between them before talking to an SEO company about tactics for your website so you can make the right decisions.

‘White Hat’ SEO companies will use or recommend good design, good relevant content and appropriate linking. These will achieve longer lasting results and ranking.

‘Black Hat’ SEO companies, on the other hand will use underhand and inappropriate tactics to get fast results but at the expense of long term strategies and a sustainable website. They will hide bulk keyword text by using a background colour the same as the text so the text doesn’t display, or use font-colours to do the same or very small font sixes so that the text is not readable by humans. This will result in an immediate increase in ranking initially in some cases, but it won’t be very long before the search engines start imposing penalties on those sites and may even remove them from their search results completely.

So if you choose to use an external SEO company, be aware of these two types of SEO companies and ensure you choose the right one.

Keep up to date with what search engines are considering when ranking web site pages and adjust your content accordingly regularly to keep your site high in the rankings.

Also make sure you re-submit your site map to search engines regularly, and every time you make major changes to your site to keep your search results accurate and not link to now non-existing pages or content.

 

 

Cloud Computing – A Stupid Question?

January 3, 2014 // Posted in General, Main (Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ) |  No Comments

incloudsYou will probably think this is a stupid question, but what is the difference between cloud computing and what we already had?

 

I have been trying to get my head around this for some time now. Cloud computing is described as storing your data on a cloud (third party) server on the internet.

But if that is what cloud computing is then isn’t it the same as having your web space on a third party server and storing your data on a database server linked to your web space etc. You can also save all your files etc on that same server.

Obviously a cloud server is not really storing your data in a cloud, it would be very clever if it was. What happens when it rains, does your data come down with it?

Seriously though, if you have a shared hosting package on someone elses servers, or even have your own dedicated server in someone elses building, then your data is stored on a physical device not directly controlled by you but remotely accessed. Isn’t that the same as a Cloud Service? Your data is stored on a physical device in someone elses premises that you manage remotely.

How does one differ from the other? Are they both not the same?

DSCF0141DSCF0138My idea of cloud computing is more like my current method of connecting to the internet. Due to cabling issues my service provider connected me to their data centre some 2-3 miles away via a radio link and in order to be able to see the receiver/transmitter the other end, had to put up a 30ft plus pole, so my modem is ‘in the clouds’, now that’s what I call cloud computing.

 

Comments and answers welcomed

Steve

HTML5 and CSS3 OR NOT HTML5 and CSS3 Web Developer Dilemma

December 25, 2013 // Posted in Computer Tips, Main (Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ) |  No Comments

New Formats

New Formats

Dilemma for web site developers with HTML5 and CSS3.

 

As you are no doubt aware, HTML5, CSS3 and now a new version of jQuery that is aimed at HTML5 and CSS3 have been released and are now supported to some extent in the latest versions of major browsers. Also some Web authoring software has also been updated to use these, such as Serif WebPlus X7.

This is all well and good if you know that everyone that will use your web site has a browser that supports the latest HTML5 and CSS3 etc. But how can you determine that, the short answer is “You can’t”. This means that users with older browsers will not see your site as you intended it to look, and many, if you use the new CSS elements to identify form required fields etc, will not be able to use your forms for contact or submitting information. This is even more prevalent when it comes to mobile sites. How many mobile phone users do you know that update their phone software every time a new version is available?  I thought so, almost none! So they will still be using browsers equivalent to IE6 or 7, which have no support for the new html code.

There are also millions of PC users throughout the world that use IE6 and 7 browsers and other browsers that do not support HTML5 etc. So are you going to create a site that cannot be accessed by millions of potential visitors?  If your site is a retail business you could be losing a high percentage of your business.

Even the latest versions of all major browsers do not all support all of the new HTML5 and CSS3 functions, some support some and not other functions, and others support some different functions and not those that others do.

So which HTML5 and CSS3 features do you use? This is a question I cannot answer for you, you will have to make your own decision on this one.

And then there is the old IE thing, IE10 and IE11, although allegedly HTML5 and CSS3 compatible, has some major issues on formatting and extent of compliance, particularly with image compatibility on things like transparent pngs, text formatting, and JavaScript issues etc.

You you need to make some important decisions when you create your new web sites:

  • Do you target your sites at visitors with specific browsers? (IMO not a good idea.)
  • Do you create two sites, one for the new protocols and one that is compatible for the old protocols? (Also probably not a good idea unless the extra work involved is not a problem.)
  • If you choose the above, do you include a script that automatically detects the browser and switches accordingly, or do you ask the user to select a version?
  • Do you stick with the earlier versions of HTML and CSS3 code and stay compatible with most browsers? (Maybe a good choice for the time being until the percentage of users with later versions of browsers increases substantially)

The other issue is the latest jQuery, which has many changed functions and code. I did see a statement that said it was backward compatible with older versions, but trust me when I say that it is not. I have found this out after spending hours trying to find out why things that used to work fine have all of a sudden stopped working.

WebPlus X7, for example now uses the later version of jQuery, and if you have say, a webplus light box on your page the later version of jQuery is then added.

You then add features from jquery-ui 1.7,1.8 etc not adding jquery as WebPlus has already added it for the light box, and the jquery-ui functions no longer work. So you either have to use the later jquery-ui (which doesn’t allow some of the functions of the older versions – bah!) or manually add a different system for light boxes and the earlier jquery manually.

Other third party tools also present a similar issue as many were developed before the new version of jQuery was released.

So if you find that things suddenly do not work when you upgrade your site to HTML5, CSS3 and/or the Latest version of jQuery, perhaps now you will have an idea of where to start looking, and not have to spend hours trying to locate the issues as I have recently.

I hope that this post helps someone in some way.

 

Steve

 

 

 

Top 10 FREE Traction Building Ideas for a New Web Site

November 12, 2013 // Posted in Tips and Tricks (Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ) |  No Comments

The dot com era proved that just building it isn’t enough. The chicken and the egg issue exists you need customers to get customers… and attempting to launch a web site, is that issue on steroids. So, how to get traction?

Here are Ten FREE Traction building Ideas we are trying:

1) Email Your Friends:
Find everyone you know that relates to your target market and introduce them to your website via email… as you know them, leverage every piece of emotional capital you have with them to encourage them to take a look at your new site and join.

2) Ask Your Friends to Refer Others:
If you send an email to people who are your target market, clearly articulate why it is valuable to ‘THEM’ (not just you) to join your site… and then ask and make it easy for them to refer people they know. Here’s an example of an email I wrote that asks for a referral –

“Please forward to anyone that may be interested… entrepreneurs, advisors, people with Blogs, press contacts etc! Even forwarding to four or five contacts will make a big difference for us!

Happy New Year and thanks!

++

I’ve just discovered a new web service bringing potential business advisors together with entrepreneurs and early stage businesses. For Advisors – It’s a great way to discover new deal flow and get involved in a hot new company. For Entrepreneurs – a great way to take your business to the next level in 2007!

The site is called Advisor Garage – http://www.AdvisorGarage.com and was recently featured in Business Week!

Please sign up and forward this email to great advisors and entrepreneurs.
++

After three or four weeks of steps 1 & 2 we found that we had begun to get a few people onboard… So now what?

3) Write a Press Release and get it OUT there…
I can almost hear a few folks swallowing and already considering looking for the next blog… it really isn’t that tough and it isn’t expensive. In fact, its FREE! Don’t believe me? Consider signing up to PR Leap (http://www.prleap.com/learn_more). Not only do they have some good articles which explain for dummies (like me!) how to write a press release but they also offer a free submission service to multiple channels such as Google News, Google Search, Yahoo! Search, Topix.net, Technorati, MSN, Ask News, Moreover, NewsNow and others. According to their website – PR Leap is the best way to send your news release(s) to all major search engines, newswires, and websites. And basic accounts are free!

So what happened with us? Well we signed up, created a one page press release (took about 30 minutes), submitted it and it was approved earlier today. It will appear tomorrow. If you are interested, the link to the press release is: http://www.prleap.com/pr/61185/

The basic plan (read… Free) comes with stats, so I’ll let you know in a few days if the press release was actually read by anyone and if it was picked up by any sites, bloggers, press etc. Let’s see how good PR Leap and our press release writing skills are!

4) A Personalized Toolbar:
A great startup called Conduit (http://www.Conduit.com) offers people the opportunity to create their own, personalized toolbar for FREE. Conduit has a wizard embedded within their website which takes you through the setup process step-by-step. It took about twenty minutes and once you’re done, they create a link to your toolbar download site which you can then share through an email signature or through a click through download on your new networking site. There are a number of cool ways to tailor the toolbar… your branded search, create links to particular pages on your own site, add weather, a radio and so on to make sure its a value download for your customers.

5) Design Your Site with the Customer In Mind and Make Inviting Others Easy
If, like us, your marketing budget is measured by the quarters rattling around in your pocket, then do your site a favor and design it so the ‘Invite Others’ button is never far away. No matter what page the users happen to be on. Bold it, make it big, underline it if you have to but referrals from happy customers are always easier to get than attracting new customers.

6) Friends & Contacts revisited:
Do any of your friends know anyone in the press or people who have blogs ? Well you won’t know until you ask… ASK!

7) Join Linked In (http://www.linkedin.com)
If you haven’t already, consider joining linked in. Yes, its another networking site, and you could consider them the competition (In your dreams!)… but after joining you can search through the directory and find people that may either a) be interested in joining your site or b) encouraging others to do so. If you aren’t a member already, take a look

8) Groups & Forums:
Are there Yahoo (http://groups.yahoo.com) or Google Groups (http://groups.google.com) or other online forums that include the types of people you want to attract to your new networking site? If so, join them but beware… most groups want members to contribute to the discussions and no groups appreciate spam. So find the best forums for your target customers, join and spend some time getting to know what subjects are being discussed. Give it a week or two then jump in and add some value… and make sure that your post includes your email and perhaps the web address. If it is valuable, then members may check out your new site…

One last thing, if there aren’t any good groups with your target customers… consider creating your own… and make it it feeds your new networking site. Here’s one I started and yes… I know it only has a few members… but its more links in the internet for your website which appears in your google or Alexa results: http://groups.google.com/group/Harvard_Entrepreneurs_Startups?lnk=oa&hl=en

9) Write to your Existing Members:
Do you have a few members? If so, email them occasionally (Not every day!) and remind them of the value of your site… perhaps highlight a particularly useful tool or feature of your website. Maybe reach out to some of the individual members and ask them if you can write about them joining the site, a person feature if you will. At the bottom of each of these emails… give them a few sentences (above for example) to send on to others they know. Stress how much you would appreciate their help and how important they are to you and your young business.

10) Drum roll… .badda badda badda… .Create a Blog!
Here’s hoping that a blog is the tenth and most valuable means of getting the message out there about a new networking site. (WordPress.com is FREE)

Originally posted by : Andrew D. Ive

Installing VB6 on Windows 7

July 10, 2013 // Posted in Computer Tips, Main (Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ) |  1 Comment

I know this post is not about PHP but I feel it may me useful to someone.

VB6

VB6

Microsoft say that you can only install VB6 on Win7 in a virtual machine in XP Mode. That is an issue if you do not have Win 7 Ultimate or Professional as XP Mode is not available for Windows 7 Home.

So here’s how to get it running on Win 7.

I have tested this on Win7 32 Bit, and know others that have also installed successfully on 64Bit.

Please Note: It will not work on Windows 8 as VB6 support has been removed from Windows 8.

    • Start by creating a zero-byte file in C:\Windows called MSJAVA.DLL. To do this create a text file in notepad with nothing in it and save it in a folder with the name MSJAVA.DLL. Then browse to the file, copy it and paste it in c:/windows, click Yes to the prompt to use administrator privileges.
    • Next turn off User Access control. To do this go to control panel, click System Security, then Click Change User Account Control Settings, move the slider right down to the bottom and click OK.
    • Insert your VB6 CD and click the view files (do not auto-run) and browse to the setup.exe, right click it and select Run As Administrator. You will get various incompatibility messages just ignore them and continue.
    • Select Custom Setup and check the boxes against:
      • Microsoft Visual Basic 6.0
      • ActiveX
      • Data Access
      • Graphics
      Only the above.
    • Next browse to C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio\VB98\ and find the vb6.exe file. Right click it and select properties. Go to the Compatibility tab and select the following only:
      • Run this program in compatibility mode for Windows XP (Service Pack 3)
      • Disable Visual Themes
      • Disable Desktop Composition
      • Disable display scaling on high DPI settings
    • Install the Service Pack 6, again by right clicking the setup.exe file and selecting Run as Administrator.
    • Finally as there may be some registration issues for some ocx’s download and run the vb6 runtime for Win7  (available from Microsoft here)
    • Switch User access Control Back on.
    • You are now good to go.
    • Enjoy.

I hope that is useful to someone

Steve

Some information for this post was gleaned from http://www.fortypoundhead.com/showcontent.asp?artid=20502, thanks to fortypoundhead.

How to speed up a slow PC

May 24, 2013 // Posted in Computer Tips (Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ) |  No Comments

Slow PC?

Slow PC?

We have all had the problem that as your PC gets older and you install more and more programs your PC gets slower and slower. So what can you do to speed it up again? Here are five things that you can do:

De-fragment
This goes without saying, it is an essential regular maintenance job, however, I am surprised at how few people regularly do this if you ask them. Do You do this regularly? — Once a month is a good interval. It doesn’t matter which Windows OS you use, make sure you either manually de-fragment or set the machine up to automatically de-fragment at least once a month. When your PC’s files get very fragmented, they suffer serious performance issues. The built-in Windows de-fragmenter works just fine, but if you are looking for something a little better, there are many Free and Commercial products available

Clean up the hard drive
Have you ever filled up a hard drive? If this hard drive contains both your OS and your data files, your machine is going to die! This is often a major cause of slow running PC’s. You need at least 10-15% free on your hard drive for your PC to work, creating temporary working files. If  you haven’t got at least 20% free space, I would recommend you to start a clean up. The built in Windows Disk Clean Up utility quickly clears out all temp files for you, in various categories such as Internet Temporary Files, temporary download files, windows temp directory and more. Access it by right clicking the drive in MyComputer and click Tools > Disk Clean Up. Once you’ve done that, check your pictures, music and videos, as these are usually quite large files. Delete the ones you no longer need or copy them to an external drive or CD/DVD’s. Then check all your document files, delete those no longer needed and back up those you want to archive to another drive or DVD/CD. Once you have sorted those out, you can remove old Restore Points and Shadow copies (from the System Restore Utility) .Then check your installed programs, Do you need them all? There is probably some that you haven’t used for years, get rid of them using the Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel. After you have done all this Empty the re-cycle bin, and check your Drive Space again. Right click the drive in MyComputer and click properties.

Now it’s time to clean up the registry
Errors in the registry cause major slowing down of the PC, and can cause it to stop altogether. Modifying the registry is not something the novice or inexperienced user should attempt on their own, as incorrect changes to the registry can prevent your computer from even starting up. Before you make any modifications to the registry, either manually or using a professional tool, ALWAYS backup the registry first, then you can always restore it if something goes wrong. There are many software tools available, some free and some commercial. Most of them will find many errors in your registry, it’s not always something you’ve done, over time removing programs, upgrades and driver changes will leave remnants in the registry that should not be there. Run a registry fix tool and let it fix the errors it finds. Reboot to confirm your PC still works, (Most registry fixes will make a backup of anything they change, so that you can restore them in safe mode if something goes wrong, but that doesn’t happen very often if you pick a good tool.) After the re-boot run the registry fix again, as some more errors will be found, that do not become apparent until some of the first ones removed have taken effect. Re-boot again and Run the tool again, repeat the process until no errors are found.

Remove spyware/malware
If you are using Windows you MUST have an anti-malware program installed or your machine is guaranteed to get infected with spyware, which will gradually make your PC slower and slower, not to mention the potential privacy and security issues. Malwarebytes is good for this, although most anti-virus packages have anti-malware included, they do not always find all of it. Malwarebytes, is good and there are free and commercial versions available. I have found, that this usually finds anything that my anti-virus package misses (I’ve tried various anti-virus packages and Mawarebytes always finds something that each one of them didn’t). Get free program updates regularly and run it at least once a week. You can even trigger it to start at a specific time and day each week using the Windows Scheduled Tasks facility.

Check the hard drive for errors
After long periods of use the hard drive develops ‘Bad Sectors’, fragments of files get left behind in the indexes and other information in the file descriptors etc. can become corrupt. To fix it, you’ll need to check the drive for errors. Right click the drive in MyComputer and click Properties > Tools > Check Now >  Check the options to Automatically fix file system errors and also to scan and attempt recovery of bad sectors, then click start. If this is your Windows drive, or contains files that windows needs to operate (e.g.Swap file, system files and some drivers), you will be told that Windows needs exclusive access to this drive, so cannot perform the check now, and then asks you if you want to schedule the check when Windows next starts. Click Yes and reboot. The Disk check will start before windows does when you restart. This may take some time as it will check every piece of the drive surface, every file,folder, descriptor table etc. You can also get third party disk checkers, but the built in windows one seems to work just fine.

Short URLs good or bad

May 24, 2013 // Posted in Computer Tips (Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ) |  1 Comment

First of all for those of you that do not know what a shortened URL is, here’s a quick explanation.

A shortened URL allows users to shorten, share, and often track links (web addresses). Reducing the URL length makes sharing easier. For example the shortened link http://bit.ly/steverblog would actually take you to my blog on MyOpera at http://my.opera.com/SteveRiches/blog/, and http://bit.ly/b3hHHs would actually take you to one of my web sites http://www.richosoft.co.uk/.

Shortened URL’s can be obtained for FREE from places like http://bit.ly, and others. Some like bit.ly, will also offer tracking statistics on your shortened URL’s. This allows you to see what site the visitor was referred by, how many people have clicked this URL, where they came from, what browser they were using and much more.

OK, so I have have a shortened URL for my page. What use is it to me or my friends, colleagues or business contacts?

  •     When Tweeting on Twitter, I can save characters in my tweet by reducing the length of a link to my website that I wish to include, but the viewer can still reach the long link address in one click.
  •     When sending an email and including my web address, I can shorten any link to my website, making the email less cluttered, and if it is a very long web address, avoid the viewer having to cut and paste the address because it wouldn’t fit on one line in the email.
  •     I can get extensive tracking statistics. (see above)
  •     I don’t have to type long web addresses into emails, tweets and facebook posts, reducing the possibility of typing errors.
  •     Links look tidier.

So much for the benefits what are the possible problems?

When you click the link http://bit.ly/b3hHHs you do not know where it is going to take you, whereas when you see the link http://www.richosoft.co.uk/, you can be pretty certain you are going to the RichoSoft site.
http://bit.ly/b3hHHs could be taking you to a porn site, phishing site, malware distribution site or some other un-desirable site.

ADVICE
My advice to you is to only click shortened links if you are confident that the source is genuine and the link valid. Some big companies use shortened links including companies like The BBC, Opera and big retail organisations, and the links they may send you, or post on twitter can usually be trusted.

Also whatever link you see in an email or internet page, be aware that you might not actually be going to the site shown, eg: Click this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk

Where did it take you?    Did you see the BBC home page?   You now see what I mean?

In most browsers today, you can preview where the link is really taking you by first hovering over the link and checking out the status bar,  some email clients do the same or similar. So before clicking a link check it out first.

How to remember many Strong Passwords

May 24, 2013 // Posted in Computer Tips (Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ) |  No Comments

We all use the Internet more and more, and now regularly visit many sites that require a password.

Strong Passwords are Good

Strong Passwords are Good

 

But how do you remember so many different passwords as it is best to set a different password for each site?
You can do this effectively by:

 

 

  1. Write just part of your password down, or store in a file, or on your mobile phone. But what if someone steals my phone or computer or finds my paper? That is OK, because you are only writing down part of your password, and they will not know what site it refers to, as we will see in a moment.
  2. Create STRONG passwords with letters, numbers and non-alphanumeric characters, and keep them as long as possible. Mix upper and lower case characters. This way they cannot be guessed. Never use your date of birth, or house number/post code or name in your password, as people can get these off the Internet in places like Facebook etc.
  3. Now you need to create your passwords:
  • Think of a PIN that you will always remember, 3 ,4 or 5 characters long, something like  3478# or 8#7 or 23&4.
  • For each web site you need a password for create a code that helps you remember what site it is for e.g.,  FBk for facebook, RSoF for RichoSoft, TWit for Twitter etc.Next add some random characters  e.g., 4556, or zc98@.  Use different random characters for each password.

    These you write down, save in a file or store in your phone. Anyone finding these would not know what they refer to, and the password is not complete anyway, so would not work.

You now have passwords that look like this:

FBk298745+C
RSoFhgTf89%F
TWitBV65W_u

 

  • Next we use your PIN. Decide whether your PIN will be at the beginning or end of your password, and when using the passwords add  your PIN, to this position. So if we had a pin 3478#  our passwords above  would become:
FBk298745+C3478#
RSoFhgTf89%F3478#
TWitBV65W_u3478#
OR
3478#FBk298745+C
3478#RSoFhgTf89%F
3478#TWitBV65W_u
  • These full passwords are the ones to use on the sites, and now we have STRONG passwords that cannot possibly be guessed, and you only need to remember the PIN Part and whether it is at the front or back. The rest is written down or saved  so you do not forget it. By having a different password for each site, if someone does actually find out one of your passwords the others are totally safe.

Keeping your Computer Secure

May 24, 2013 // Posted in Computer Tips (Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ) |  No Comments

Nowadays more and more people are using their computers for all kinds of communication, Internet, Social Networks, Banking, Shopping, Chatting and live video and phone calls.  But the more we do, the more risk becomes from hackers, and attackers.

Whilst some of these are simply trying to inconvenience you by maliciously infecting your PC, others are trying to get your personal information and to access your bank accounts. These are doing what is called ‘phishing’.

Computer Security

Computer Security

So what can you do to minimise the risk?

Install a complete Internet  Online Security Package, one that contains a firewall, anti-virus, anti-fishing, anti-spam and ID protection, such as McAfee Internet Security Suite. It’s a good idea to get one that also checks web pages as you go them for suspicious activity. Make sure you have automatic updates switched on to keep the virus patterns etc. Up to date.

Always make backups of your important files, pictures and documents on DVD or external hard drive, and store it safely away from your PC.

Make sure you are running genuine Windows Software (If this is your OS), and switch on automatic updates to keep your PC up to date with the latest security patches.

Check your Browser’s settings, and select the maximum level of security.

Do NOT open email attachments without checking them for viruses, and if they are not from someone you trust, delete them!

Do NOT follow any links in emails asking you to reset, reconfirm or update you bank account details. Banks do not send this kind of email, so it is surely phishing, delete them!

Create a Boot and recovery disk for your PC, in case it becomes infected viruses and will no longer start up, some Security Software will create this for you automatically.

Turn off your computer and/or disconnect from your network, when it is not in use.

About Prestel

April 22, 2013 // Posted in Main (Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ) |  1 Comment

In my first post I mentioned Prestel, and some readers have asked for more information on what it was and what it did, so here goes:

 

Prestel Logo

Prestel Logo

The innovations on which it was based were credited to Samuel Fedida at the then Post Office Research Station in Martlesham, Suffolk. In 1978, a team of programmers was recruited from within the Post Office Data Processing Executive. Under the management of David Wood they developed the software for the public access Prestel system. In 1983, as privatisation of British Telecom loomed the staff of the software development team were moved into the Prestel Division of BT.

Prestel was the GPO, later British Telecom’s, answer to teletext.  With two-way communications between user and servers, many more pages could be offered, and user interaction could be achieved through response frames to the Information Providers, user to user emails, and public chat lines.  It was launched in 1979.

The public Prestel database consisted of a set of individual frames, which were arranged in 24 lines of 40 characters each, similar to the display used by the Ceefax and ORACLE teletext services provided by the BBC and ITV television companies. Of these, the top line was reserved for the name of the Information Provider, the price and the page number, and the bottom line was reserved for system messages. Thus there remained 22 lines (of 40 characters each) in which the Information Provider (IP) could present information to the end-user. Each frame was stored in a block of 1 kilobyte (1024 bytes), out of which at least 104 bytes were reserved for routing and system information. This left 920 bytes for the frame contents, 716 bytes in the case of response frames. The IP logo on line 1 occupied at least 43 bytes, depending on the number of control characters, so the space available for the IP’s data is 877 characters at most. Lines could either occupy the full forty character positions, or be terminated early with a CR/LF sequence. Each control character took up two bytes, despite displaying as a single space, so the more complex a page, the less actual information could be presented. It was almost impossible, therefore, to display a right hand border to a page.

Available characters consisted of upper and lower case alphanumeric characters as well as punctuation and simple arithmetic symbols, using a variant of ISO 646 and CCITT standard. This layout was later formalised in the 1981 CEPT videotex standard as the CEPT3 profile. In addition, mosaic graphics were available in which individual character positions were divided into six squares which could be used in any combination, giving the possibility of 64 different graphics characters. Alphanumeric characters or mosaics could be entered in white or any one of six foreground colours (red, blue, green, yellow, cyan, magenta) and set against a background of the same colours as well as black. Special control symbols were employed so that characters or mosaics could be made to flash, appear double height, be separated by a border or be “concealed” (which were made visible by means of a special “reveal” button on the Prestel keypad).

By embedding cursor-control characters within the page data, it was also possible to encode simple animations by re-writing parts of the screen already displayed. These were termed “dynamic frames” and could not be created online using conventional editing terminals, but required specialist software and uploading via the “bulk update” facility. No timing options were available beyond that imposed by the available transmission speed, usually 1,200 baud download (receiving) and 75 baud upload (sending keypad entries).

The service was never as popular as it was envisaged.  Although it was taken up positively by the Travel and Financial services industries, the in-home market was never the success it could have been.  Televisions with built-in adapters were exorbitantly expensive, and hard to find, and dedicated terminals were only really affordable to businesses.

Despite this, Prestel was instrumental in developing many of the technologies we now consider commonplace on the Internet and World Wide Web today.  The Bank of Scotland had their HOBS “Home and Office Banking” service whereby you could manage your bank accounts online.  Club 403 offered online grocery shopping.  British Rail offered access to timetables.  Kays had mail order shopping from their catalogues.  There were several forums and chatlines where ordinary users could post messages and chat among themselves, and later, Micronet allowed anybody to publish their own pages, for a fairly modest fee.

Prestel was also instrumental in providing the first taste of electronic mail that many people would experience. Being able to send simple messages for free to friends and family would seem to be a novelty, but it would soon turn out to be one of the most used features of the service.  Many friendships were started and flourished through the interactions made possible via Prestel Mailbox, and Prestel was certainly responsible for more than one marriage, and perhaps the failure of several others.

Telex Link Info Sheet

Telex Link Info Sheet

To get more business users, Prestel launched Telex Link, which allowed any prestel subscriber to receive and send telex messages.  In the days before Fax machines, the telex was the official business-to-business communications medium:  Telex messages could be held to be legally binding just like a written letter.

In fact, it was only with the arrival of Micronet 800 in the mid 1980s, started as an online computer magazine by East Midlands Allied Press, and whom for a period gave away free modems for home computers with their subscriptions, that domestic usage began to rise.

This was helped by access only being a local telephone call throughout most of the country – a facility otherwise unheard of in the times before “0845” and it’s like.  Even so, Prestel subscriptions peaked at less than 100,000 subscribers – far below the “millions” of subscribers aimed for when launched.

During the daytime, when business usage was high, there was a per-minute charge to use Prestel, but in the evenings and weekends, traditionally the quiet times, it was free apart from the telephone call.

Unfortunately, with Micronet being so popular, suddenly the quiet times became fairly busy!

Prestel actually took over Micronet in 1989, and merged it with their other online offerings, forming the BT Dialcom Group.

In 1991, Prestel decided to introduce a charge during the previously free times, effectively doubling the cost of accessing the service, and within months managed to kill off the home usage almost completely, confirmed by the closure of Micronet that October.

After a decision to concentrate on core network services and not value-added services, the whole lot was sold off to a private consortium, and from there it ended up with Financial Express, where, after a brief appearance as ‘New Prestel’ it was closed down completely.

This is just a brief overview of Prestel probably one of the innovations that led to the Internet and communications systems we have today. The equipment that was used to create the Prestel service has all disappeared now it seems, not even is there any trace in any museum, unless you know better!

 

 

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