Category Archives: Web design and management

Free web management tools

You’ve had my list of free tools for building web pages, but for many of us the work doesn’t stop there. We have to manage and maintain our web presence and monitor its performance. Thankfully, there are plenty of free tools to help.

Spider web by Luc Viatour

Image: Spider web by Luc Viatour, www.Lucnix.be (Licences: GFDL; CC-BY-SA-3.0)

A few of the free tools that I use for managing web projects are listed below. (Again, use at your own risk.)

Automation

  • Hootsuite (schedule posts to Twitter, Facebook etc)
  • TwitterFeed (publish feeds to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and app.net)
  • IFTTT (build automated tasks connecting the online services you already use)

Bookmarking

Communications/media monitoring

Reputation management

Data

Digital Asset Management

Encryption

  • GPG4Win (GNU Privacy Guard for Windows)

Link checking

Link metrics

Performance monitoring

RSS etc

SEO

Social media

  • Hootsuite
    Manage your Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ profiles. The paid version lets you manage teams as well.

Free web building tools

Recently, I explained how I edit web pages using just a browser. I thought it might also be helpful to share some of the other tools I use.

Web building, by Bogie Garry

Image: Web building, by Bogie Garry on Flickr (licence: CC BY 2.0)

This is simply a list of some of the free stuff I use for building web pages. I’ve not gone into any detail (I may do that another time): some have a little explanation, others rely on you visiting their web pages (I’ve been very inconsistent). Use at your own risk!

Colour

Images

  • Gimp
    Open-source alternative to Photoshop.
  • Inkscape
    Open-source vector drawing desktop program.
  • RIOT
    Desktop tool for optimising images.

Licenced images

Finding images that we are allowed to use on our own pages is much easier than it was.

Audio

  • Audacity
    A free, open source, cross-platform desktop program for recording and editing sounds.
  • ListenToYoutube
    An online tool for ripping audio from YouTube videos.

Text editing

WYSIWYG editor

  • Amaya
    The W3C’s WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) web editor and browser.

Video conversion

Screencasting

Layout

Libraries etc

FTP

Wireframing

For free and easy web editing, do it in your browser

Some of us still have to write html and css, but gone are the days when we needed expensive software to create and test it. Here’s how you can do it in your browser, for free.

Web browser icons.

I look after a charity’s website, which contains a lot of content that changes frequently. The content management system is old and we don’t run a testing server. Therefore, I need a way to tweak and preview my work without affecting the live site. I used to rely on Dreamweaver, but now I use my browser.

I’m using Google Chrome in Windows Vista (I know, I know), but most of what follows can also be achieved in the other major browsers. I’m also presuming that you, the reader, have a basic grasp of html and css.

html/css

The latest browser versions include their own developer tools. Open a web page and right-click on something. In the context menu that appears, there should be an item like ‘Inspect element’. (In Internet Explorer, press F12 or go to Settings and select ‘Developer tools’.)

(From now on I’ll stick to Chrome, but if you’d rather play around in another browser, be my guest.)

I now see a set of panels at the bottom of the screen. By default, they show me the page’s underlying html and css. I can edit both the content and the css and see the results in front of me (until I refresh the page, which – obviously – resets everything).

If I right-click on an element in the html view, I can edit the html itself or copy the whole lot, including its child elements. This means I can easily copy chunks of a page, edit them in a text editor (I use Notepad++, which is free), then paste them back into the page.

This is all great, but wouldn’t it be even better if I could simply edit directly on the page, like in WordPress or Microsoft Word? With a plugin, I can. (I use PageEdit in Chrome, but there are plenty of others.) It gives me a set of editing tools (I can change the font size, add bold and italics, edit the text, add pictures – you name it) and it lets me export the results as html. Nice.

Colour

ColorZilla logo

ColorZilla

Perhaps I’ve seen a colour that I want to use in my page. Using ColorZilla (a plugin for Chrome and Firefox), I can select the colour from the screen and copy its values (as hex, rgb or hsl). I can then paste those values directly into my css.

Capturing

Of course, everything is lost when I reload the page. So, what If I want to show someone else my work? Well, I simply take a screenshot and send it to them. My PC will do that without any extra software; but, using plugins, my browser can do it better.

Awesome Sceenshot logo

Awesome Sceenshot

I use the Awesome Screenshot plugin (available for Chrome, Firefox and Safari). Not only does it let me take a picture of the screen, but I can capture the whole page if I want to, even if it’s too long to be visible. Once the image is captured, I can crop it and annotate it.

FTP

FireFTP logo

FireFTP

So, you’ve edited your page to your satisfaction and have sought your colleagues’ approval. Now, you just need to upload it. Well, the browsers can help here too, as most allow you to access ftp directories. However, the FireFTP plugin for Firefox gives you much greater control over your ftp accounts (in my opinion, it’s better than many of the stand-alone ftp clients that are on the market).

Now, go exploring!

So there you have it, a taster of what can be achieved in the browser without having to fork out for expensive, industry-strength software. But I’ve only scratched the surface: now go and mine it!

Proposed EU data protection regulation

In January, the European Commission proposed a major reform of data protection law. This morning, lawyers from Pinsent Masons took us through some of its more significant aspects.

Some elements are just an evolution of the current situation, but others are very disruptive.

Here I highlight those that stood out most to me. For a fuller picture see the European Commission’s data protection pages (or, better still, speak to your lawyers).

Pinsent Masons’ perspective

The European Commission’s website says:

Protecting your personal data – a fundamental right!

The free flow of personal data – a common good!

However, Pinsent Masons’ view is that there is too much focus on process and not enough on understanding different types and uses of data.

Although there is no opportunity now to oppose the regulation, apparently we can still feed in our thoughts on the practicalities of it.

Regulation, not directive

It’s a regulation not a directive, which means it will be the same in every member state (with some exceptions for national labour laws).

So, unlike with the cookie law, member states will not be drawing up their own regulations based on a directive.

The process will take until the end of 2013.

However, once agreed it will be enforceable immediately. If we’re given any time to comply it probably won’t be much.

Also, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) apparently says there’s no reason that some elements can’t be implemented earlier.

So, Pinsent Masons’ advice is to start doing what we can right now.

What data is covered?

All ‘personal data’.

There will no longer be the distinction of ‘sensitive data’: it will all be treated the same, regardless of sensitivity.

‘Personal data’ will include:

  • Data related to a living individual who can be identified from it, or from a combination of it and other data;
  • location data;
  • online identifiers (eg avatars);
  • genetic data;
  • psychological data;
  • economic data.

Who does it affect?

All of us. All organisations are treated the same.

Consent

We must get explicit consent to use people’s personal data.

But how often? Every time a user visits us? So, for example, would we need to gather someone’s details every time we want to send them a newsletter?

Breach notification

Every breach has to be reported, both officially and to the owner of the data.

Once a breach is reported, the ICO is likely to investigate the whole organisation.

But what constitutes a breach? For example, will it include the loss of USB keyrings? And will we have to we report a breach if we don’t know whether or not personal data was affected?

This could lead to what lawyer Jon Bell referred to as ‘notification fatigue’, as people are inundated with notifications but unable to tell which are actually important.

Penalties

Breaches are ‘usually the result of human error’ and are ‘easily done’.

However, the fines for breaches will rise significantly:

  • up to EUR 1m (public and third sector), or
  • 2% of global turnover.

The legislative process (2012 – 2014)

  1. Hearings
    May – November 2012
  2. Draft report published
    November 2012
  3. Parliamentary amendments to text
    December 2012
  4. Committee stage
    January – April 2013
  5. Lead committee vote
    April 2013

Pinsent Masons are running more seminars on this in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester.

Do organisations really need social media policies?

I supported the idea of strategies and policies for Twitter or social media when it was evident that people in managerial positions needed a solid, reassuring case for allowing their communications staff to use those tools. But I hope things have moved on now.

I keep hearing people talking about how they’ve written a ‘set of Twitter protocols’ or ‘a social media policy’. They cover things like what to tweet and what not to tweet, how often to tweet it and the ‘right way’ to use Twitter. (If you think you know the answer to that last one please keep it to yourself.)

Do we really need policies and protocols for every aspect of our job? If so, why are people employing us? Surely we use social media tools only if appropriate, if doing so helps deliver our communications goals and in compliance with our organisation’s existing codes of practice? Just like any other tools for communicating. When was the last time you saw a six-page document detailing how to use a telephone, what not to say on it and how often you should ring people? (Ok, in some lines of work (such as call centres) there will be protocols for using the phone, but you get my drift.)

I tried writing a social media policy myself recently. I started with the intention of providing broad concepts to help people communicate confidently online (such as ‘think about your audience’ rather than ‘don’t tweet more than fourteen times a minute’), and abandoned it when I realised I was simply reiterating what was already in our contracts and organisational policies; and what was, on the whole, common sense borne of experience.

Instead I wrote a guide to blogging and social media that aims to give colleagues some advice but tries to avoid a ‘right way’ of doing it (it is a document of good practice, not a policy). If communicating is part of someone’s job then we should trust them to do it appropriately; if they don’t then there are management protocols already at our disposal for dealing with them.