The PC revolution of the 90s, coupled with the dot-com boom which followed has resulted in massive amounts of online content.
The PC revolution of the 90s, coupled with the dot-com boom which followed has resulted in massive amounts of online content. There are almost 2 billion websites online currently, and at least a tenth of them are active. Needless to add, online content is generated at unprecedented rates.
Let’s put this into perspective, however: at the end of 2016, IBM Marketing Cloud reported that about 90 percent of present-day online data was generated during the last two years – or even less! In mind-blowing numbers: that’s about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day! And that’s a lot of zeroes: in case you didn’t know, a quintillion is 10 raised to the power of 18!
Apparently, not all of this content is relevant, and a fair proportion of it is repeated – multiple times. Even so, if you’re living on the small island of Ireland, you’re certainly faced with a serious problem. Namely, how do you set up your website to top the search results for your target audience – say, those few thousand people living in Northern Ireland interested in your specific business, product, or service?
If Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is your instinctive answer, this post is for you. If you are starting up a business in N. Ireland and have not come across SEO yet, we still recommend reading on!
When you run an online search, you barely scroll beyond the first page. In fact, you often restrict yourself to merely the top 5 matches. This is where content marketing companies and search engines want a bite of the optimization cherry – promising to show your results at prime spots when users look for a specific set of keywords. Though this approach can work on paper, what you need to understand is that the top spots of any search query are extremely limited and there are hundreds of thousands of SEO practitioners out there who promise the same to all their clients
Here is a real-life analogy to explain the irrelevance of SEO and websites. Optimization is a medicine which is required when the patient (website) is ill. It might appear attractive on the surface since it provides a quick fix, but all it really does is merely brush away an actual problem (poor development) under the carpet. Even if it offers a short-term solution, it is not sustainable. Just think about it – do you really think you’re going to SEO your website to such an extent that it will beat Google/Yahoo/Bing’s search algorithms and find its way to the top based on SEO alone? Very unlikely, I’d say!
Our philosophy is to prevent the disease itself, so you never have to worry about curing it. This can be achieved by spending time, energy and resources on the development phase of a website. If you pay enough attention to get the right development team to deliver your website and its content, you would not have to worry about hiring an SEO “expert.” SEO is a created, manufactured industry that never tells you the root-cause of the problem – poorly developed websites; all it tells you to do is to spend more and more money to fix it.
This simple yet versatile phrase has been tossed around in business circles since forever. Strangely enough, it remains one of the most ignored and underutilized management mantras. No matter what the industry (advertising, television, theatre, sports, consumer electronics, etc.), it is always about content.
Web sites are no different. Good, relevant, compelling and organic content would slowly but surely get recognized and get your more visits, more eyeballs, and more traffic – which will eventually lead to a higher conversion rate. You would rather want 1000 visitors to your site with a conversion rate of 2% than attracting 5000 visitors through paid SEO campaigns and having 0.1% conversion.
Cutting straight to it: SEO practitioners attempt to manipulate search engine results. Nothing more and nothing less – no matter how much their sales representatives sugar-coat it. When you are out to manipulate some (or all) of the world’s popular search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing, you better have the best brains in mission mode.
Ask yourself – does the SEO company you are considering really look like they would have the world’s best software engineers working for you? If that thought is overwhelming enough, let us take a step back and think if they have the best software engineers in Northern Ireland working for you. In case the answer is not evident by now, it is a resounding N
Secondly, let us assume for a moment that the SEO firm really has the expertise to decipher the complicated algorithms of some of the world’s most popular search engines. What is the next step? Tailoring your website’s content to trick search algorithms into believing your website is best for the keywords associated with your business.
Given that the internet giants have some of the most complicated (and patented) search engine algorithms working for them, do you really think it is possible to alter your content in a one-size-fits-all way that would score high with all search algorithms?
The answer, again, is a resounding NO!
The Internet is a dynamic community with varying user habits and demographics. Today’s top search engine, Google, didn’t exist 20 years ago and, up to then, Yahoo was the internet community’s preferred choice. Hotmail was one of the pioneers of e-mail, and it does not even exist nowadays. Orkut, the most popular social networking site of the last decade is defunct today – and even Google could not make it competing against Facebook! This is the uncertainty of the Internet and its user behaviour.
When you search for the best restaurants in your area, the top results would invariably point you to a food rating website rather than an individual restaurant. When you run a search for the best mobile phone, the top results are not about a particular company but an e-commerce website (most likely Amazon) or a blog that has review-based content. Looking for the best hotel would take you to a hotel aggregator’s website. And the top results for each of these queries would depend on the search engine.
In an era of online uncertainty where the top cab company of the world (Uber) doesn’t own a single taxi and the most trusted website for booking hotel stays (Airbnb) does not own any hotel, how can an SEO service provider be trusted to get your website to the top of popularity charts by adding a few words here and few phrases there?
If you have read this far, you must be perceiving us as anti-SEO activists that are out to talk people out of their long-established belief, even though we have given you food for thought a few times before. Let us zoom out for a moment and look at the entire SEO story from a macro level – what brought it into existence, why it is thriving and to what extent the present generation SEO gurus are capable of adding value to your content.
Debating the legitimacy of SEO is polarizing internet community just like politics, sports and religion divide non-specialists. During the early phase of the internet boom, SEO had a strong case. Google was the default search engine riding on top of a secret search algorithm. However, marketers and engineers did find a loophole or two in it and exploited them to tailor the search results, at least until the time it took Google to realize and fix the flaw.
Over the years, a multitude of search engines have evolved – evidently running on different algorithms – which makes SEO practice ineffective. Each search engine eventually found out about its flaws and fixed them within a few months – if not weeks. Gradually, this cycle shrunk from months to weeks and from weeks to days. Today, we are at the peak of the internet evolution, with Artificial Intelligence powered bots crawling the internet and helping search engines separate the fluff from the stuff – making baiting them through content virtually impossible.
Over the years, a multitude of search engines have evolved – evidently running on different algorithms – which makes SEO practice ineffective. Each search engine eventually found out about its flaws and fixed them within a few months – if not weeks. Gradually, this cycle shrunk from months to weeks and from weeks to days. Today, we are at the peak of the internet evolution, with Artificial Intelligence powered bots crawling the internet and helping search engines separate the fluff from the stuff – making baiting them through content virtually impossible.
This is where the experience part comes into play. You have to know what you buy – otherwise, you’ll be hoodwinked into buying the wrong thing. To go back to our analogy, if the customer isn’t looking to pay for the full meal experience, then cutbacks in the kitchen are the obvious and expected result. You can cut out many elements and employ many time-saving processes and still end up delivering a meal for under a fiver which includes crisps and a drink. However, that meal is called a toast and is precisely what a poorly designed website would look like to your clients and visitors.
What does this analogy have to do with anything technical?
Well, we use it to show to you that it’s easy to know if you just had a good meal or not – for the simple reason that you are the one consuming it in the end. It’s your customers and clients who will consume the virtual dinner that you had created for their pleasure. If the cutbacks are severe enough, it’s no longer a restaurant or a café, nor a food stall. It’s just a guy with a toaster.
Just like everything else in life, if you want to make something work, you need to work and work hard. And if you know anything about websites, you’ve probably realized by now that designing a website isn’t just a walk in the park. Coding to well-established standards, adhering to the principles of UX design, testing rigorously and repeatedly, and creating authoritative content is all part of it.
Compromise either of these elements, and SEO would have the same impact on your website a light breeze has on a mountain. Or, to put it even more vividly, SEO amounts to nothing more but an expensive set of makeup products which, when applied most optimally, still end up fooling only the distant onlookers that the doll beside you is an actual person. You don’t want a body without a soul for a partner – a pretty face lacking depth and human qualities; in the long run, what you want is a three-dimensional being who has all of its facets equally developed.
Why should it be any different when it comes to websites?
In a country such as Northern Ireland which has internet penetration of well over 80%, your website has the potential to reach a large percentage of the population if it is developed the right way. Till now, our take on SEO would have put you off in a big way.
But wait: before you start believing all is doom and gloom in this world, let us change your perception straight away – it definitely isn’t!
After having you saved from getting caught in the downward spiral of SEO (you’ll thank us later!), we now reveal the secret behind an organic way of editing your website that is sustainable in the long run.
Relevant, unique and regularly updated content is a good starting point to get your website recognition. The more resources you allocate at this stage, the less you need to worry about attracting and retaining visitors later. Tagging is another useful way to let your visitors and search engines know about your web page’s content. It is like metadata which web crawling bots can easily parse to calculate a page’s ranking with respect to a particular set of keywords.
Our services are built on the belief that an SEO-optimized website should be a by-product of good website development practices.
The earlier we get an opportunity to work on your website, the lesser will be the requirements for post-development SEO. It will drive genuine, organic visitors and you won’t need to worry about getting flagged by search engine bots for having posted misleading content.
We believe in building long-term relationships with our clients. If you are a business in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, we are offering free no-obligation, IT audit of your online digital presence. This enables us to get a deep understanding of your business model and the technology which powers it. Being an authoritative figure in web development, we are asked all the time for our opinion on various websites and technologies. Consequently, we created this no-obligation website audit to help everyone with a web presence in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Post IT audit, we are able to identify the improvement areas, and our experienced team is available with their suggestions to drive operational efficiencies and to answer your questions. Our audit is 100% free and comes with absolutely no strings attached – you are not obliged to sign us up for future services if you do not see the value.
Blockchain is one such technology that has attracted a lot of attention from industrialists and technologists alike. Blockchain does, in fact, owe a lot of this attention to cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin that have taken the world by storm in the past few years. Thankfully, the maddening hype around Bitcoin has subsided as investors saw its value rise nearly 20 fold from $900 in Dec 2016 to $19600 in Dec 2017 and then plummet to under $4000 a year later. Billions were made and lost in this frenzied period. Now the world is scratching below the surface and looking at the underlying technology – Blockchain – and the potential it has across industries.
Though we have done posts about blockchain and its potential, in this article we take a step back and scratch below the surface to figure out what is it in Blockchain that can potentially change the fundamentals about currency, banking transactions, accounting and much more.
Cutting the technical jargon and drilling down to the simplest of terms, “trust” is one word that can explain everything about which missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle does Blockchain (and consequently, cryptocurrencies) complete. Trust is that invisible glue binding societies together for centuries. It initiates interactions and facilitates transactions. Trust works at three different levels – individual, institutional and authoritative. When you lend money to a friend in need, you trust him to repay you at a later point in time.
This transaction is facilitated by prevailing trust at individual level. At a larger scale, when you place an online order and pay in advance, you trust it to deliver your order in time and in brand new condition, even if there is no face in front of you to trust. At a more macro level, when we have a currency note and tender it in exchange of goods and services, the merchant happily accepts it. Both of us have full trust in the country’s central banking system.
Trusting a “central system” is of utmost importance here. Individuals and organizations place their trust on a single entity, a governing body and carry on with their day-to-day businesses. High trust societies have often found to be the happiest. Businesses build over a culture of trust and companionship rather than strict regulations have been found to be more successful. Centralized trust is still the driving force behind banking systems and economies around the world.
The United States took it a notch higher in 1971 that its economy was functioning in a high trust environment by de-linking its dollar from the bullion system – the gold standard still prevalent in major economies. This demonstrated that a dollar holder had full confidence in federal banking system, even if there was no corresponding asset to back the value of a dollar.
One major problem with centralized trust is that it lends itself to risks arising out of information asymmetry. Hackers have a great incentive to break into that one database, as they know they are going to find a goldmine of information if they succeed.
The system is often governed by a single entity – a single authority – which provides huge incentive for corruption. Recent history of the modern, technology driven world is full of instances where customer data gets leaked – intentionally or otherwise – by the top authorities/individuals entrusted with the task of protecting it.
While blockchain attempts to solve most of these concerns (we’ll see later how), a number of governments and social groups around the world have resisted its adoption. The major challenge is getting them to make peace with the fact that rather than viewing blockchain as a technology that presents alternative currency, they should look at it as redefining trust.
That the mechanism finds its way in disrupting the way currencies work is just a byproduct. After all, the world has learnt to trust electronically generated bank statements and payment receipts that substitute cash transactions and there is no reason to believe why cryptocurrency cannot gain popularity among the same stakeholders. DigiCash: Novel Innovation Destroyed by Centralized Trust
DigiCash: Novel Innovation Destroyed by Centralized Trust
Even though cryptocurrencies are starting to gain momentum in recent years, the idea of a substitute currency was first introduced by David Chaum decades ago, in 1983. Six years later, he founded DigiCash, which had a central controlling authority for issue, control and regulation. It combined elements of trust and security. It implemented security through blind signatures that wrapped it in a layer of anonymity to add to security. It was just a matter of time when DigiCash made huge waves in the financial sector and a major bank like ING offered a deal to Chaum within years.
Negotiations went on for months and but Chaum walked out at the final stage. That did not deter other industry giants from pursuing their interest and none other than Bill Gates tabled a $100 million offer for integrating DigiCash with Windows 95 but to everybody’s dismay, Chaum did not find it interesting enough either. The news was not received well within the company and an internal rebellion caused its downfall in the year 1999. Failed talks apart, the centralized nature of DigiCash’s structure posed a major challenge to its operations.
Why Did DigiCash Fail?
DigiCash started with a lot of promise but fell prey to the same mistakes that prevailed in existing systems for decades. Any database system is characterized by a central authority that has full control over it. They can decide what is available to public, who can access (or not access) the database, what rights can the users have, what gets stored in it and what gets deleted. This can have serious ramifications on two fronts:
First, such a strictly controlled master database with an entire system dependent upon it is a single point of failure. Wells Fargo learnt it the hard way recently, when their Shoreview datacenter reported smoke and customers could not complete their ATM/Debit Card/Credit Card transactions for many days after it. The bank’s Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems too got severely affected which adversely affected customer calls.
Second major risk is that a server hosting a central database is a sitting target for hacker attacks. There is a huge prize for cracking its code, serving as a major motivation.
Double Spend Problem with Digital Currencies
Digitized currencies bring a number of benefits with them but they are not without flaws. Double spending problem is one of the most common problems of digital currencies. A digital token is relatively easy to reproduce, unlike physical currency like notes and coins. The legitimacy of physical currency can be verified instantly. Holder of a digital currency can easily retain the original with himself and transact its digital copy. As there is no central agency to verify that the currency is spent only once, adoption of digital currency hinged upon the participants’ ability to verify its authenticity.
Block Chain – Solution to Double Spend Problem
Satoshi Nakamoto (a pseudonym) presented this paper in 2008 to a mailing list where he introduced his own crypto currency (Bitcoin) and detailed upon the approach to tackle double spend problem. He proposed that all bitcoin transactions be recorded in a shared transaction log, a public ledger called “block chain”. It is a list of transactions that keeps building up over time and any change in ownership can be verified against its history to eliminate fraudulent transactions.
As ownership keeps changing, the log builds up and that is why verification takes a lot of time and considerable computing power. This is what makes blockchain based transactions inherently irreversible. Hackers have tried mechanisms such as out-computing to fool the blockchain system but have had very limited success. Most bitcoin thefts have resulted from users’ carelessness rather than from loopholes in the system.
The greatest threat to blockchain security is a 51% attack, where a user controls a majority of network’s computing power. This can enable him to reverse the ledger and transfer coins to his own wallet multiple times, completely eliminating the traces of original transactions.
What Keeps Blockchain Secure – Cryptography and Hash Function
Though detailed cryptography is out of the scope of a couple of articles, a basic understanding goes a long way in understanding security mechanism of blockchain. Cryptography involves sending encoded messages so that even if the message ends up with unintended recipients, it cannot be read by them. The intended recipient possesses a decryption code which is used to decode and read the message.
Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is a popular form of cryptography, where a set of complementary keys (private key and public key) is generated before sending a message. A message is encrypted with the receiver’s public key before sending. Receiver uses his private key to decrypt the message and read it, preventing its misuse at the hands of an interceptor. This approach works better than the centralized passwords, which give absolute power once the password ends up in wrong hands.
Hash Function
Hash function lies at the core of blockchain trust. It is a unique function that has the capability to take data of any size and turns it into a fixed width output of hexadecimal characters. What sets it apart from other crypto mechanisms is the fact that whether the input of a hash function is a single character or an entire text book, width of output remains same. It is also unidirectional, which means you cannot trace the input string if you have the output. Therefore, the block identifiers generated by hash functions are unique and immutable.
Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA – 256) is capable of generating an astronomical number of combinations. These identifiers are then utilized to label blocks of data, addresses and transactions that are used to modify the public transaction ledgers, which also explains the relatively long time it takes to authenticate and modify it
Mining and Consensus
A blockchain ledgers is a very dynamic record and it needs to be kept up to date in real time, meaning a large number of computing units (and associated electricity supply) need to be available and work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The process of validating and verifying transaction ledgers is known as mining. The huge computing power required for it is shared by the entire network. The nodes that help in solving such huge problems are identified and rewarded. Solving more complex problems requires higher computing power and fetches higher rewards. This also serves as a motivation for network participants to bring in more processing power to the network.
As a blockchain database is distributed rather than centralized, a copy of it is stored over all participating nodes (computers). Its non-hierarchical, peer to peer architecture ensures all the nodes are of equal importance and there is no central authority to control the database. When a bitcoin transaction is made, it has to be authorized by the entire network before being allowed. Once all the nodes approve a transaction, it is then protected by hash signatures and miners add the block to the database.
In conclusion, we would like to stress that the immutability of blockchain transactions can be a boon and a bane. Elaborate precautions and authentication measures are in place to validate a transaction but once it enters the system, it cannot be reversed at any cost. Imagine a scenario where you want to send $100 to a merchant but instead entered $1000 in haste. This transaction cannot be reversed at any cost. It will entirely depend on the recipient’s good faith to correct the mistake, otherwise it stays in the system forever!
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