UK facing digital skills crisis warn MPs

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Urgent action is needed to deal with the UK’s digital skills crisis, warn MPs- or it risks damaging the country’s productivity and competitiveness.

Urgent action is needed to deal with the UK's digital skills crisis, warn MPs- or it risks damaging the country's productivity and competitiveness
It is thought 12.6 million adults lack basic digital skills, while 5.8 million have never used the internet at all.

“Stubborn digital exclusion and systemic problems” with education and training need to be urgently addressed, the report said.

It urged the government’s digital strategy to be published without delay.

The report found that:

“Digital exclusion has no place in 21st Century Britain,” the Commons Science and Technology Committee said.

“While the government is to be commended for the actions taken so far… stubborn digital exclusion and systemic problems with digital education and training need to be addressed as a matter of urgency in the government’s forthcoming digital strategy,” it continued.

The report calls for businesses to invest more and better training at all levels of education.

“The UK leads Europe on tech, but we need to take concerted action to avoid falling behind. We need to make sure tomorrow’s workforce is leaving school or university with the digital skills that employers need,” said the committee’s chairwoman, Nicole Blackwood.

In response a government spokesperson said: “This government recognises the crucial role digital skills play in our society and economy. Our Digital Strategy, to be published shortly, will set out how we will help employers and individuals access the tools they need to power our digital economy.

“This will make sure we are well placed to remain a tech leader in Europe. We will consider the Select Committee’s report and respond in due course,” they added.

The Science and Technology Committee says there is no single definition of a “digital skill” but it is generally understood to be the ability to use computers and digital devices to access the internet- the ability to code or create software and the ability to critically evaluate media, and “to navigate knowingly through the negative and positive elements of online activity and make informed choices about the content and services they use”.

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Web firms pledge to tackle online hate speech

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Sunday, June 5, 2016

Microsoft, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have pledged to remove hate speech within 24 hours, in support of a code of conduct drafted by the EU.

Microsoft, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have pledged to remove hate speech within 24 hours, in support of a code of conduct drafted by the EU.The freshly drafted code aims to limit the viral spread of online abuse on social media.

It requires the firms to act quickly when told about hate speech and to do more to help combat illegal and xenophobic content.

The firms must also help “educate” users about acceptable behaviour.

The need for better ways to combat online hate speech had become more urgent in the wake of terror attacks in Belgium, said Vera Jourova, European Commissioner for Justice.

“Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalise young people and racists use to spread violence and hatred,” she said in a statement.

Hate speech and xenophobia also had a “chilling effect” on groups that sought to champion tolerance and non-discrimination, she said.

The agreement of the web firms was an “important step forward” in making sure the net stayed a place where free expression was possible, Ms Jourova said.

A core part of the code is the requirement to remove hateful content within 24 hours of being properly notified about it.

The tech giants have also agreed to work more closely with groups that monitor and flag violent and hateful content. They will also develop and promote “counter narratives” to challenge those who post hate speech or illegal content.

Karen White, Twitter’s head of public policy for Europe, said “hateful conduct” had no place on its network and added there was a “clear distinction between freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate”.

The code also requires the firms to overhaul their notification systems to ensure people can quickly report inflammatory content when they find it.

The Commission will hold regular meetings with technology firms to monitor what effect the code of conduct is having. A preliminary assessment of its effectiveness will be drawn up for the Commission’s high level group on combating racism and xenophobia by the end of 2016.

The code of conduct for net firms was one of several initiatives to tackle abuse online, the Commission said. Other work involves research to help ISPs assess information posted online and produce tools that can counter intolerance.

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Three quarters of UK Internet retailers top100 don’t follow up abandoned carts

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Almost three quarters of the UK’s top 100 internet retailers didn’t follow up on abandoned carts in a test that could potentially lose them significant sales.

Almost three quarters of the UK's top 100 internet retailers didn’t follow up on abandoned carts in a test that could potentially lose them significant sales.

Customer engagement specialists Optilead analysed the leading 100 UK retailers, as defined by IRUK Top500 research, and found that 74 did not follow up on cart abandonment.

Each of the sites was tested three times, with items added to the cart or basket, filling out the visitor’s details, but abandoning the cart before payment details were completed. This, said Optilead, gave retailers the opportunity to retarget the visitor using the contact details provided.

In total, researchers abandoned products worth £172,000 – or £574 for each basket.

That, says Optilead, is a significant amount, in the context of Centre for Retail Research figures that suggest UK online shoppers will spend an average of £1,311 online this year.

In all, 26 companies responded to the tests – all via email. It received 56 responses from 300 tests. Thirteen companies followed up on all three occasions, and response times averaged 21 hours and 46 minutes.

“After this amount of time in today’s competitive online landscape,” said Marc Pearce, multichannel marketing manager at Optilead, “consumers are highly likely to have visited a rival website – and may have already completed their purchase.”

He added: “Having a real time solution in place is vital to engage with online prospects immediately. But what’s most important for retailers is the ability to harness the tools available to connect with prospects depending on each opportunity’s value.”

“For instance, high-value leads should be followed up instantly with a phone call, email should be utilised to engage with lower-value leads and SMS is fantastic to touch base, offer discount codes or confirm order and delivery statuses.”

He said that Optilead’s own experience suggested the best time to contact a prospect was within 15 minutes of abandonment. “With the lowest response time in these 300 tests being 29 minutes – and the highest four days and 21 minutes – none of the IRUK Top100 engaged within this vital time frame.”

But, he said, 46% of retailers that responded to at least one of the tests did not do so when higher value tests were carried out.

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Many UK urban areas fail superfast broadband test

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tests on 42 towns and cities across the UK suggest almost half have average broadband speeds below 24Mbps.

Tests on 42 towns and cities across the UK suggest almost half have average broadband speeds below 24Mbps.
Hull, with an average of 12.4Mbps, is the UK’s slowest city, according to comparison site uSwitch, which conducted the tests.

London and Edinburgh had average speeds of 22.4Mbps and 21Mbps respectively.

These speeds are likely to be low not because of lack of availability but because people have chosen not to take up faster services.

Government figures suggest superfast broadband – 24Mbps or higher – is now available to more than 90% of homes and businesses, with funding pledged to bring that total to 95% by 2017.

According to BT, its fibre services are available to 24 million home, but only 22% (5.5 million) have connected to them.

Hull is the only UK city not served by BT’s Openreach, which controls the telecoms network. Hull’s independent supplier, KCOM, disputed the findings.

“We’re rolling out ultrafast fibre to the home across Hull and East Yorkshire, which means speeds of 250Mbps are available to consumers right now,” said a KCOM spokesman. The company says it is connecting “a new customer to fibre every 30 minutes”.

Three in 10 tests logged speeds of less than 5Mbps with just one in 10 registering speeds of above 50Mbps, according to the data.

The faster top 10:
Middlesbrough – 34.4Mbps
Belfast – 34.3Mbps
Brighton – 33.8Mbps
Swindon – 31.8Mbps
Nottingham – 30.4Mbps
Cardiff – 30.2Mbps
Bristol – 28.6Mbps
Huddersfield – 27.7Mbps
Plymouth – 27.3Mbps
Southampton – 27.0Mbps

The slowest bottom 10:
Hull – 12.4Mbps
Aberdeen – 15.6Mbps
Milton Keynes – 17.1Mbps
Wakefield – 17.4Mbps
Sheffield – 18.3Mbps
Doncaster – 18.3Mbps
Norwich – 19.4Mbps
Edinburgh – 21.0Mbps
Newcastle – 21.1Mbps
Newport – 21.2Mbps

We should be asking what more can be done to encourage the adoption of superfast broadband now it’s so widely available.

The UK’s towns and cities should be leading the charge when it comes to broadband speeds, yet just 22 cities have broadband users with average speeds of more than 24Mbps.

Those who just use the Internet for the occasional catch-up TV programme, email and Facebook, broadband speed is not really a priority, especially when the fastest services can cost considerably more.

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Internet Of Things- how to use IoT to make sales

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Friday, May 6, 2016

How brands will use the Internet of Things (IoT) to develop their customer relationships.

How brands will use the Internet of Things (IoT) to develop their customer relationshipsThe Internet of Things  will soon become a significant channel through which brands will be able to create and deepen relationships with their customers, a new Forrester report suggests.

Tens of billions of IoT sensors will appear, embedded in connected objects such as an Miele oven, connected using Microsoft technoloy, in the next five to 10 years, predicts the report, The Internet of Things redefines brand engagement.

As a result, it says, marketers will need to develop experiences rather than managing products – a process to which mobile smart phones will be key.

“Reports of IoT killing mobile are greatly exaggerated, if not completely inaccurate,” said report author and Forrester analyst Thomas Husson. “Instead, brands need to define engagement scenarios where smartphones are the primary interface and remote control of connected experiences.”

Forrester predicts that this year, a third of US online adults will use some form of IoT whether at home, through wearables or in their car. But adoption of connected devices in smart homes or cars is still low, especially in Europe.

The findings show that as yet only 4% of UK online adults use their mobile or tablet to control or monitor home utilities or appliances.

As yet, IoT based marketing to consumers is still limited, but Husson suggests in the report that this industry will enable marketers to listen to consumers and analyse their real behaviours, interact with consumers more frequently and in a more intimate way, as well as differentiating their customer experiences.

They will also be able to build new offerings and business models.

The key to doing that, argues Husson, is by delivering utility through the IoT – and marketers must improve their skills before they can do that. That includes the challenges of using data to put customer behaviour in context and keep control of the customer relationship.

Privacy and security must be a differentiator, while design thinking will help marketers to move from products to experiences.

Given that many IoT designers and system builders are more concerned about interconnections, customer security will become a key concern.

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Music streaming increases sales of vinyl records

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Music streaming sites are helping to drive sales of vinyl records, new research suggests.

Music streaming sites are helping to drive sales of vinyl records, new research suggests.Half of consumers say they listened to an album online before buying a vinyl copy, according to an ICM poll, shared with the BBC.

The behaviour is more common for people who use ad funded services such as SoundCloud or YouTube, suggesting free music can drive real world sales.

Maybe surprisingly, 48% of people who bought vinyl last month admit they have yet to play it. Seven per cent of those surveyed say they do not even own a turntable.

Younger fans increasingly discover on digital but collect on vinyl.  Others say they buy records to support their favourite artists, while 50% of consumers identify themselves as “collectors”.

The resurgence in vinyl during a period of declining sales has been one of the music industry’s more surprising success stories.

In 2014, 2.1 million LPs were purchased by music fans as demand increased for an eighth successive year – climbing 64% to a 21-year high.

Official Charts Company figures suggest the rise has continued in 2016, with 637,056 records sold in the first three months of the year, accounting for almost 3% of the UK music market.

Adele’s 25 was the biggest selling album on vinyl last year, followed by Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black

The vinyl revival has been spurred by Record Store Day – which started nine years ago as a means of supporting independent music retailers.

This year’s event took place on Saturday 16 April and sees record shops around the UK stocking thousands of one-off records.

There were vinyl releases from artists including Justin Bieber, Abba, David Bowie, Alan Partridge, Foals, Chase & Status and the Dead Kennedys.

But the ICM Unlimited research shows that the majority of music (73%) is now bought online, with Amazon emerging as the top retailer, accounting for 27% of all sales.

Apple’s iTunes store is next, with an 18% market share, followed by supermarkets (10%) and high street record stores (7%).

Men are more likely to visit a bricks and mortar record shop than women, the figures suggest, but there has been an increase in the number of women buying vinyl.

“About 8% of men have bought vinyl in the last month, and that’s been fairly constant over the last three of four years,” says Andrew Wiseman, head of ICM Unlimited.

“Back in 2013, only 3% of women bought vinyl and that’s risen to 5% in the last year – so we’re starting to see that gap close.

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EU watchdogs demand revisions to Safe Harbour replacement

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Monday, April 18, 2016

EU privacy watchdogs have demanded changes to a pact meant to govern cross Atlantic data transfers.

EU privacy watchdogs have demanded changes to a pact meant to govern cross Atlantic data transfers.The group urged the US and European Commission to revise and clarify several points in the proposed Privacy Shield agreement in order to safeguard EU citizens’ personal information.

The Privacy Shield is meant to replace an earlier data transfer pact called Safe Harbour. Safe Harbour was invalidated by a court decision last year.

The Article 29 Data Protection Working Party said it was still concerned about the possibility of “massive and indiscriminate” bulk collection of EU citizens’ data by the US authorities.

It added that it wanted further guarantees about the powers a US official would have to handle complaints from EU citizens.

“We believe that we don’t have enough security [or] guarantees in the status of the ombudsperson and in their effective powers to be sure that this is really an independent authority,” said Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, the chairwoman of the group.

The group’s recommendations are not binding on the EU or US, but should prove influential as the watchdogs can suspend data transfers they are concerned about.

“I am grateful to the experts for their thorough analysis,” responded Vera Jourova, European Commissioner for Justice. “They provided a number of useful recommendations and the Commission will work to swiftly include them in its final decision.”

The European Court of Justice effectively brought an end to Safe Habour in October when it ruled that the pact did not eliminate the need for local watchdogs to check that US firms were protecting Europeans’ data.

The agreement had been used for 15 years to allow American firms to self-certify that they were carrying out the necessary steps.

But a privacy campaigner challenged the process after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed details about US authorities spying on foreign citizens’ data held in the country.

The EU privacy regulators are concerned that a similar challenge could be brought against the proposed Privacy Shield unless its language is toughened up.

Earlier in the week, Microsoft had endorsed Privacy Shield on the basis that the US could take “additional steps” to protect data at a later point.

But Max Schrems – the campaigner who challenged Safe Harbour – welcomed the latest development.

“I personally doubt that the European Commission will change its plans much,” he said. “There will be some political wording, but I think they will still push it through.”

“Given the negative opinion, a challenge to the Privacy Shield at the courts is even more promising. Privacy Shield is a total failure that is kept alive because of extensive pressure by the US government and some sectors of the industry.”

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Martha Lane Fox joins Twitter’s board

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Saturday, April 9, 2016

Fellow Millenium Product award winner Martha Lane Fox has tweeted that she will be joining the board of Twitter.

Fellow Millenium Product award winner Martha Lane Fox has tweeted that she will be joining the board of TwitterBaroness Lane-Fox tweeted that it would be her “best job ever”.

Twitter has suffered some poor financial results lately, with a quarterly net loss of £64 million reported in February.

The news was – appropriately – announced via a tweet. It was also announced that Pepsi vice chairman and chief financial officer Hugh Johnston would join Twitter’s board.

Baroness Lane-Fox is widely regarded as one of Britain’s most successful web pioneers. She began her digital career with the launch of lastminute.com along with co-founder Brent Hoberman in 1998. By the time they sold it in 2005, the deal valued the company at £577m.

LastMinute.com was one of only 3 websites which were awarded Millenium Product status by the Design Council- along with our master site- WiseMoney.com

She was the UK’s Digital Champion until 2013, the same year she joined the House of Lords. Recently, she founded Dot Everyone, a body that champions digital innovation.

“I’m absolutely over the moon to be part of the journey of an iconic company that I love using,” Baroness Lane-Fox told the BBC.

Twitter executive chairman Omid Kordestani tweeted that he was “thrilled” by the news.

Twitter faces an uphill struggle when it came to turning the company’s fortunes around. Twitter has huge problems and it will need some pretty major changes in order to make it relevant and, in particular, profitable. Whilst it has a lot of users, traffic and brand recognition it has always to monetise itslef and make money.

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The first website went online 25 years ago today

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Friday, March 18, 2016

Invented by Sir Tim Berners Lee, the first website info.cern.ch went live at CERN.

Invented by Sir Tim Berners Lee, the first website info.cern.ch went live at CERNToday the world’s first website turns 25 years old. Created by 60 year old British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1990, while he was a researcher at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).

The website still exists today and it’s address is info.cern.ch .

It still provides information about the world wide web – the platform that sits on top of the Internet, where documents and pages on the Internet can be accessed by URLs, and connected to each other via hyperlinks, like this.

“When we link information in the web, we enable ourselves to discover facts, create ideas, buy and sell things, and forge new relationships at a speed and scale that was unimaginable in the analogue era,” Sir Berners-Lee has written.

When Berners-Lee created the first website, the “internet” was a group of static documents, used almost exclusively by defence organisations and academic institutions.

His proposal was supposed to allow electronic documents on the internet to be easily searched and shared.

“I found it frustrating that in those days, there was different information on different computers, but you had to log on to different computers to get at it.”

“Also, sometimes you had to learn a different program on each computer. So finding out how things worked was really difficult. Often it was just easier to go and ask people when they were having coffee.”

“Because people at CERN came from universities all over the world, they brought with them all types of computers. Not just Unix, Mac and PC: there were all kinds of big mainframe computer and medium sized computers running all sorts of software.”

“I actually wrote some programs to take information from one system and convert it so it could be inserted into another system. More than once. And when you are a programmer, and you solve one problem and then you solve one that’s very similar, you often think, ‘Isn’t there a better way? Can’t we just fix this problem for good?'”

“That became ‘Can’t we convert every information system so that it looks like part of some imaginary information system which everyone can read?’ And that became the World Wide Web.”

Today, he is a passionate advocate of the open web and net neutrality – the principle that all information on the Internet should be equally accessible to users, regardless of their source.

In particular, he has publicly campaigned against censorship of the web by governments.

He has also called for a new model of privacy on the web, where people legally own all their data on the web, so it cannot be used without their permission.

If you visit CERN today, you can see the orginal NeXT computer on which Sir Berners-Lee built the very first website, with the label hand-written in red ink: “This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER DOWN!!”

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How @ became used for emails

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Friday, March 11, 2016

The death this week of Ray Tomlinson- the man widely regarded as the inventor of the email, raises the question of how the @ sign became used.

The death this week of Ray Tomlinson- the man widely regarded as the inventor of the email, raises the question of how the @ sign became used

The @ character is the symbol of the internet age- which is crucial for emails and social networking.

The “at sign” or was once an obscure symbol known only to bookkeepers. That changed thanks to Ray Tomlinson, the man widely regarded as the inventor of the email.

He used it from his keyboard in 1971 to go between the user name and destination address when sending a message between two computers in his office. Tomlinson chose @ because it was then rarely used in computing, so wouldn’t confuse early programs or operating systems.

In a happy coincidence, the English name of the symbol was already “at”.

“The @ symbol appeared on typewriters before the end of the 19th Century,” says Keith Houston, author of Shady Characters: Secret Life of Punctuation. “It seemed to be a general symbol that meant to readers ‘this is this many items at this price’. It didn’t have a use beyond this.”

As typewriters had it, so did the first proper keyboards for computers.

“The @ symbol was on to keyboards because it was a business tool and had a business use,” says Houston.

Those business users understood it as a symbol to indicate unit price eg 12 batteries @ £1 each.

In 2000, the Italian academic Giorgio Stabile observed that many nations use different words for the @ symbol that describe how it looks. In Turkish it means “rose”, while in Norwegian it means “pig’s tail”. In Greek it is “duckling”, while in Hungarian it is “worm”.

But Stabile noticed in French, Spanish and Portuguese, it referred to arobase or arroba – a unit of weight and volume. In Italian the name for the symbol was “amphora”, referring to long-necked pottery storage jars that had been used since ancient times.

Stabile discovered a letter sent from Seville to Rome in 1536, which discussed the arrival in Spain of three ships sailing from the New World. It stated that an amphora of wine was sold and “amphora” was replaced with the @ symbol as an abbreviation. Stabile concluded the @ symbol was a common medieval shorthand for units of measure in southern Europe, even if the precise units differed.

But the earliest yet discovered reference to the @ symbol is a religious one. It features in a 1345 Bulgarian translation of a Greek chronicle. Held today in the Vatican Apostolic Library, it features the @ symbol in place of the A in the word Amen. Why it was used in this context is a mystery.

It seems fitting then that the first email to be sent with the @ symbol has also been lost to time. When Tomlinson sent the first message to tomlinson@bbn.tenexa, he didn’t realise what a gamechanger it would be and so didn’t bother writing it down.

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