Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

A happy New Year's Eve is a bottle of specialty bubbly with the love of my life with three happy and healthy kids in their beds. 

Oh, and a major website upgrade completed and delivered ahead of schedule. 

Many thanks to all of SDOC's clients.  It has been an honor to be a key element of your online presence.   I look forward to being of service to you and more enterprises in 2014. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Warning for WordPress Website Owners - use caution with NextGEN Image Galleries

WordPress has become one of the most popular content management systems (CMS) available.  The basic core is relatively easy to use for the newbie and they innovated the process of connecting the website to the plugin database to add updates without having to manually download and upload them.

NextGEN gallery is one of the most popular plugins for WordPress.  It has been used worldwide for creating multiple image galleries with captions and slideshow features.  I use it for one of my client's sites as an "image museum" of sorts.  See RikEmmett.com.

Now with this said:


WordPress has been upgrading its core to rely more heavily on jQuery - specifically a responsive admin bar that can be utilized on any device including phones and small tablets, and smoother slide and fade animation.

Photocrati has tried to keep pace with a massive upgrade that not only makes greater use of these animated features, but added more features to the management of the galleries themselves.

The response has been mixed to say the very least.  The support forum on WordPress.org reports everything from extremely slow load times and random error messages to complete site crashes that required admin support from the hosting provider to restore the website from an archived snapshot.  I tested the latest 2.x version on a WordPress 3.8 install (the latest release) and while it didn't crash the sandbox, I saw the slow page loads and error messages.

The leader of the development team issued an open letter to the WordPress community acknowledging the problems with an apology and an explanation of how to proceed next.

In SDOC's opinion, it's best not to make this upgrade.  Consider the last stable release of this plugin to be version 1.9, which can be manually downloaded here.

So what did we learn from this WP plugin problem?

1)  The "simplicity" of WordPress is not always so simple when you start adding on additional functions.  Simplicity and ease of use on the front end for the user is always matched by increasing complexity and hands-on management for the administrators.

2)  WordPress is not the ideal solution for every website, in spite of its popularity.  I use it myself in some very complex installations (espcially RikEmmett.com and Atlantapanhellenic.org).  But it also has big limits, especially in the frequency of major updates to its core and spotty quality control in plugin releases.

3)  ALWAYS back up your files and database before adding or upgrading plugin functionality.  Better yet, test them in a non-production sandbox site (if you have one available) before adding it to your "live" site.  Most of all, ask your web host if they can automatically back up your site on their side on a regular basis (read:  nightly, if you have a high-traffic site with frequent new content.)  This advice has saved my bacon more times than I care to remember.  If the worst thing you have to do is restore your database and reupload your files after a crash, consider yourself blessed.

Best of luck to your website owners and be careful out there.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

To Yelp or Not to Yelp

Online ratings can make a big difference in a small business' bottom line.  But are they still trustworthy?

When ratings sites first opened, they were a boon to small businesses looking to improve their street cred.  Even a negative review was an opportunity to demonstrate great customer service in less than ideal circumstances and still come out a winner.

Business review sites like Yelp, Angie's List, Kudzu, etc are the original "crowdsourcing" sites.  Recently Yelp has come under fire for allegedly hiding positive reviews under a "not recommended" label if the business in question did not purchase advertising with Yelp.

From Channel 46 today:
Woo said their impressive Yelp review became less impressive after they decided not to pay $299 a month to advertise with Yelp.
"They're kind of extorting us to pay the $299 a month or otherwise our ratings go down and we can't do anything about it," Woo said.
Woo also pointed out that at the bottom of Yoon Sushi's profile there's a link to 15 other reviews that are not currently recommended, the majority of which are perfect 5 star reviews.
"One of our customers came in and told us that he put a 5 star review and then noticed the review went straight to the filter and was under the un-recommended section," Woo said.
From Huffington Post

Complicating the issue further is the growing role of "reputation managers":  firms that regularly review the Internet for content about their client.  Then, if they find anything, they issue press releases and reviews and blog articles and a flood of links to "bury" the incriminating material so far down in search engine results that they are unlikely to be read.

Some of these "managers" have no trouble taking the next step and writing glowing positive reviews on Yelp, etc for their clients and negative ones for their clients' competitors.

A publication from my alma mater ran their own analysis of Yelp and other crowsourced review sites.

How can consumers view these sites more critically?
I think there are many signals on Yelp that consumers can combine to make up their minds. The way I use Yelp is, I read individual reviews, trying to be aware not just of whether they’re fake, but beyond that, whether they come from consumers who are like myself. There are plenty of biases in reviews besides their being fake or real. The other thing I look at is the number of reviews a business has. I have a lot more faith in a business with 3½ stars and 100 reviews than I do in one with 4 stars and just 3 or 4 reviews. That’s common sense. Also, when available, you can use sites, like Expedia, that allow consumers to review a business only once it’s confirmed that they are paying customers.
Comments are open:  do you use Yelp or similar sites for your business?  Have you experienced having certain reviews hidden?  Has crowdsourced reviews helped or hurt your enterprise?

Not small questions at the end of our Christmas shopping season when shoppers either shop online or check out store information on the internet.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dunwoody Crier celebrates a local home-based business

Wife and mom launches jewelry business with a twist 

(link was to online Crier article that was removed some time on Thursday)

Scan of print article from this week's Crier.
Why did the online article disappear?
I learned about Origami Owl from some sorority sisters who are customers and from other members of home business networking groups.

At its start, Origami Owl began like many Dunwoody home-based businesses:  people looking for some way to make a living from home without getting trapped by a scam and having the flexibility of time to be a full-time parent as well.  Origami Owl is a bit more unique in that it was started by a teenager (at home) rather than an adult.

This enterprise is typical of the hundreds of home businesses in Dunwoody where a parent works from home, sees customers and makes sales in residential neighborhoods, and maintains stock in trade, without a single complaint.  Because of four of our seven city council members, and their blind commitment to excessive permitting processes, these home business owners have decided it is more beneficial to ignore the SLUP process than to obey it.  So we all just go about our business of earning a living and being the good neighbors we always were - without begging the city government for their approval.  

Home business owners have no protection from harassment.  They can be vilified in any public meeting due to the bad behaviour of other residents who are not so conscientious.  Complaints can be filed anonymously, even without cause.  By contrast, the extensively rewritten animal ordinance, (Number 3, under the consent agenda) going to a vote on Monday, requires that complaints against an animal owner require three signatures of residents in three different homes.  Or, some kind of evidence that obtaining three signatures is not possible.

Would someone please demonstrate, using legal precedent, why different code enforcement complaints about different alleged nuisances require such vastly different standards of proof?  This new variation of the animal ordinance offers animal owners additional protections against complaints that any other resident or entity is not entitled to.  Specifically, this is the only "nuisance" that does not allow for anonymous complaints.   You can complain all you want, anonymously, on SeeClickFix about someone's yard not being cut, or the fact that they store their personal belongings in their carport, or they have a large family with many cars legally parked on the property, or accuse them of having a home business, whether they do or not.  Proof is a bonus, but not necessarily required.  But if you want to complain about a nuisance animal, you have to give your name and get other signatures from the neighbors.  In what universe is this fair?

But back to the beginning of the story:  Dunwoody moms and dads are currently working from home by the hundreds.  The overwhelming majority of them are good neighbors providing good services to their community.   No extraneous paperwork required.  The Crier recognized that this week, even if city hall is still foggy on the subject.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The 120 Minute Hate

 Jim Riticher's town hall meeting was captured on video and posted to YouTube last night.

I would have made this event last night in person except my other half got home from work late.

Today is the first day since 2008 that my faith in the future of Dunwoody has wavered.  Ironically, only a few days after we celebrated Dunwoody's 5th anniversary as an incorporated city.

Watch the videos.  Take a good look at the faces and catch the names of the people talking.

If you think or live differently than they do, in the slightest way.  They hate you.

Read that one more time.


They are "The People".  If your opinion is different, you are not "the people".  You are an unperson.  Your voice does not deserve to be heard or acted upon by city government.  Your priorities are either unimportant or harmful to THEIR community.

I invited Jim Riticher to respond to a couple of questions I posed to all candidates during the election.  He blew it off.  I must be an unperson too.

There is to be no compromise and no coexistence between residents of different lifestyles.  The zoning rewrite attempted that compromise to maximize differing rights while protecting everyone's lifestyles.  It was unceremoniously thrown back in the faces of all who worked to compose and ratify it.

In the past, I've heard stories of some Dunwoody residents who moved away because their POV was dismissed.  Until this morning I thought that reaction was childish, even selfish.  "Just be a good example right where you are."  That's a lot harder to do than to say and I learned not to judge those who decided to leave.  Group hate is a hard thing to overcome by emulating the examples of Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, King, etc.

I'm going to continue to be a good neighbor, a good homeowner, and a good business owner, without asking permission to do so from this crowd.

Many prayers for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Update:  for the members in this audience who are concerned about the public release of the charter commission's report, the link to the document is the top button of the green vertical menu on almost ever page of the city website.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Happy Birthday Dunwoody

In five years

We've had fights in the council chamber

Saw weird/distasteful/dirty campaigns

Seen enough red shirts to last us a lifetime

Built sidewalks

Argued about where to put the sidewalks

Paved roads

Argued about which roads were getting paved and when

Argued about who used the roads.

Learned more about our neighbors in both elected and appointed positions than we ever wanted to know.

Learned some things about the same that we wish we still didn't know

Found out the law of the state and fed and strings attached to "free" money is more complex than we imagined.  Some times the money just isn't worth the hassle.

Discovered how diverse our community truly is - that there is no "voice" of Dunwoody.  There's a chorus of many voices, some of which don't believe they are heard or taken seriously.

And I thank God every day we incorporated to work out our city's future for ourselves, rather than remain at the mercy of a County that doesn't give a damn what happens to us, as long as our wallets our open.