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PayPal Proves That They Can't Be Relied On

Back on June 1, 2010, I wrote another post related to PayPal downtimes and, more specifically, why having a backup payment processor is valuable. PayPal proved me right, again, today.

PayPal was basically completely down.
On their live site status page, they said:
Impacted Service/Product:
Live Site
- PayPal APIs
- Website
- Website Payments Standard
- Website Payments Pro Payflow Edition
- Express Checkout

Seriously yuck! But, for us, it was no big deal. In fact, if we hadn’t decided to build an error email when PayPal was returning transaction errors, I never would have noticed they were down. Our backup simply gracefully took the transactions on, with only a minor delay to customers at checkout. For those who are curious, we were affected from about 8:15am to 9:30am and from about 11:30am to 12:00pm.


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Google Search: Now Focusing on Local Results

This morning I sat down at my computer to perform some of my normal keyword research on Google, only to be greeted with an “update” Google apparently made over night. In this update Google has significantly changed the way they handle the local results set by completely integrating them with the organic results (only showing up for me in Google Chrome, so may be a test). In the below example search, there are two organic results, then seven local results (that appear like organic results) followed by five more organic results. This change makes a significant difference for the organic SEO’s out there; if you have a result set that competes with local search results, you really have to be in the top 2 for the results to show above the fold. If you were previously ranking at spot three for the results set below, you would now be beneath seven local results before your keyword would show.  Google also cuts back the organic result set from ten results to seven, kicking an additional three results off the first page.

The second person this effects is the SEM user that relies on Google AdWords clicks. With this change, Google has implemented a map that follows you down the page as you scroll. This is interesting for the local results, but covers up the ads in the right bar as you scroll.

I’m not sure why Google would want to cover up what makes them their profit, but this new update does not seem to be completely well thought out. I know that local search will continue to get more and more popular with time, but this new results set seems to tailor directly to the local results set, while negatively affecting everything else.

Here is a before and after screen shot.



What are your thoughts? Do you like this change? Do you think it will stay this way, or is it simply a test Google is doing?


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Web Development for the Non-Programmer: Web Applications and Servers

This article is the third in a series on web development for the non-programmer. For the first, go here.

To a visitor, a web page is simply an HTML file (with its associated images and other resources). It doesn't matter where it comes from or how it's made. A web server could act much like a hard drive, simply storing and retrieving HTML files. However, such a server would be static: the pages would always be exactly the same for every visitor. While this is fine for some sites, many sites need features that aren't possible with static pages: features like visitor accounts, changing statuses and online purchasing. To do this, web servers need to create and serve HTML pages dynamically.

In order to dynamically serve web pages, web developers use a suite of server-side applications and tools. At the heart of these is the server itself. This is the application that receives incoming connections, retrieves the web page (either from a file or by calling a program that generates it) and sends it to the client. The server also responds to requests for images and other resources, usually by simply retrieving the file requested. Note: confusingly, the term "server" is applied at several different levels, with context determining whether it references the machine ("The server is down"), the operating system ("Windows Server 2008"), or the actual program. There are currently two popular server applications: Apache, a free, open-source, cross-platform server for general use, and IIS ("Internet Information Services"), Microsoft's server software targeted mainly toward businesses. Both have many features beyond simply passing HTML files, including standard plugin systems that allow them to handle virtually any input or output. Each is able to handle multiple simultaneous requests, running the necessary plugins separately for each request.

Generally web pages are created using a programming language that is specifically adapted to the task. Common languages include PHP (with Apache) and ASP.Net (with IIS), but practically any language for which the server has a plugin can be used. Since HTML files are basically text files, they can be created using any process that generates text. However, most languages use a template-based approach, where the body of the web page is stored as a template, with fields or areas that can be filled in dynamically using code that the web developer writes. This could be something as simple as filling in the visitor's name or as complex as generating a list of products for sale with pictures and "buy" buttons. Large, complex websites have millions of lines of code, all centered around generating the text in the HTML files they serve.

It is possible for a web site to handle all the data involved with creating and serving web pages on its own, either stored in temporary memory or in files on the hard disk. However, most larger web sites use a database for that purpose. A database is a program or system used to quickly and easily store and retrieve large amounts of data. They keep the data safe and secure, and help prevent issues such as two users trying to change the same data at the same time. They aren't limited to web applications, but they are ideally suited for them. There are quite a few different database systems, each targeted at a different usage sector. Microsoft's SQL Server, for example, is aimed at large business applications, while MySQL is generally used for smaller sites and programs, and SQLite is an extremely lightweight database for applications that need only basic functionality. The vast majority of databases use a language called SQL ("Structured Query Language") to store and retrieve data.

To sum up the server-side process, then: When a visitor sends a request to a web server, the server application receives that request. It determines how that request is to be processed and passes it to the appropriate plugin or program. If the web page is to be dynamically generated, the code that the web developer wrote is run, often using templates to create the structure of the page and retrieving page data from a database. The completed page is passed back to the server application, which sends it to the visitor's computer.

The server-side process is the heart of web development, and to attempt a short list of related topics and current events would be foolish. The field changes continually as new program versions are released and new techniques are developed. One of the long-standing debates is between using the open-source Apache server and related technologies versus the closed IIS/ASP.Net system. An open-source .Net platform, Mono, was recently released that promises to mix things up a bit by allowing ASP.Net pages to be run on Apache (and other) servers. Cloud hosting is also gaining ground as a viable option, with pages being created and served from any one of a number of shared servers across the internet.

Stay tuned for next month when we go more in depth on other aspects of web development.


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E-Commerce Times
Lighting the Fuse for an Enterprise FOSS Explosion
The Fuse family of software is now under the FuseSource name and has gained new autonomy from Progress Software with its own corporate identity. Part of the IONA Technologies acquisition by Progress Software in 2008, FuseSource has now become its own company, owned by Progress, but now more independent, to aggressively pursue its open source business model and to leverage the community development process strengths. Our discussion here targets the rapid growth, increased relevance, and new market direction for major open source middleware and integration software.
Microsoft Gets Its Shine Back in Q1
Microsoft reported strong revenue and solid earnings Thursday, with particular strength in Windows sales during its first fiscal quarter ending September 30. Revenue set a Q1 record of $16.20 billion, up 25 percent year-over-year. Net income was a healthy $5.41 billion. Office 2010, Windows 7 and Xbox 360 consoles and games all spurred growth, the company said, yet it was spending on Windows 7 and Office 2010 that got the attention of analysts. "Microsoft's biggest strength is Windows. They're doing a yeoman's job," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
Swix Social Marketer Crunches the Numbers on Campaign Offer Results
Swix has enhanced its original application, Swix Analytics -- a dashboard that tracks ad campaigns and subsequent user engagement across 20 social media communities -- with Swix Social Marketer, a new product that tracks the returns those campaigns are delivering. "Businesses realize there is power in social media, and so they start to dedicate some resources to it," said Swix CEO Scott Lake. "But they quickly come to realize that there are too many metrics to track to determine what the value is to the company in these offers."
Exciting Commerce // Unlimited
Ifeelgoods: Driving Sales with Facebook Credits

Facebook Credits on the way to becoming a universally accepted web currency: Ifeelgoods (“virtual goods, real commerce”) is a new service which enables e-commerce businesses to use Facebook Credits for loyalty programs, customer acquisition or special campaigns:


"Users can earn Credits for making purchases, sharing with friends, clicking ads, signing up for email updates, or for redeeming loyalty program points."

The implementation should be relatively simple:

"Retail websites first add some simple javascript code to display messages such as “Buy this dress and get 25 Facebook Credits” or “Post to Facebook and get 3 Credits.”
Users then click a Facebook Connect button, allow the Ifeelgoods app access, and the Credits are automatically deposited in the user’s Facebook account. The integration will only be lightly branded as powered by Ifeelgoods."

Facebook Credits are today often used in Facebook games, where they can be used for example to purchase virtual goods.

In this context, the app2user program from Facebook is interesting:

"The company is part of Facebook’s app2user program which enables apps such as ShopKick and Rixty to help merchants and loyalty program operators offer their customers Facebook Credits in lieu of other rewards.
This effectively creates another payment method for Credits where users pay or create value for retailers who in turn pay Facebook."

Over and above this, Facebook Credits are in general gaining more and more significance. Just recently, Facebook has increased the number of developers who have access to Facebook Credits:

"We’ve seen a great demand for Facebook Credits since we started testing in May 2009 and expanded the beta in February this year.
Facebook Credits are now used in more than 200 games and applications on Facebook from more than 75 developers."

More infos and application areas to be found on the official Facebook Credits site.

Related posts:

Originally posted in German by Marcel Weis and Jochen Krisch, adapted for by Jason Soo.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh on the First Year With Amazon

A good interview with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh about their first year working under Amazon:

Amongst other things, Hsieh describes why Amazon started Endless and also why Zappos is doing much better with Amazon than with their former investors.

A short version of the interview is also available.

Related posts:

Originally posted in German by Jochen Krisch, adapted for by Jason Soo.

MenInvest Builds Fashion and Media House for Geeks and Gentlemen

While we are on the topic of men’s fashion, its worthwhile to glance over to France, where MenInvest has been working over a year to build an exciting pool of websites catering to the full range of fashion and trend interests from geeks to gentlemen.

AXA Private Equity got onboard with MenInvest last February:


"MenInvest is a group carrying on business in digital, e-commerce and media activities focused on a common target: men.
This transaction is designed to accelerate MenInvest's organic and external growth over the next 18 months to make the group rapidly acquire a leading position on the men's market in Europe.
This market is booming in all the fashion and media sectors, although it remains heavily underexploited, particularly on the Internet."

The websites are a mix of media and e-commerce offerings, which utilize a high degree of mass customization elements.

Most recently online (FR) is MenLook, who will deliver purchases in the Paris region within 4 hours. Preceding MenLook was SaintSens for tailored shirts, an acquisition (FR) of MenInvest made in May. In March, MenInvest got onboard with Estime for leather goods and Timefy for watches. Menity and Menly are the associated media services.

The shopping systems deployed are mostly Prestashop, the open source alternative out of France.

AXA Private Equity acquired the shopping channel HSE24 last year (GE). In addition, they are holding a position in Glamoursales, which are operating private shopping clubs in China and Japan.

Related posts:

Originally posted in German by Jochen Krisch, adapted for by Jason Soo.

The M-Commerce Revolution Is Here

The M-Commerce Revolution Is Here

By Shaun Ryan
E-Commerce Times
10/12/10 5:00 AM PT

The challenge is to embrace the m-commerce trend early -- and do so paying close attention to the consumer experience. This means embarking on a well-thought-out strategy that not only takes into consideration customer buying behavior, but also focuses on creating a cohesive Web-to-mobile experience that puts site search at the forefront.