Articles & Columns » State of the Arts Tech Talk

I write a Tech Talk column for the bi-monthly newspaper State of the Arts, published by the Montana Arts Council. Below are my two latest columns, my archives are here and you can subscribe to my RSS feed with your feed reader or by by email.

State of the Arts for October/November/December 2016: Free Site Builders

(One of my Montana Arts Council State of the Arts Newspaper Tech Talk Columns)

We don’t have to look very far to find news of the latest website hack that reveals private financial and bank account data. But you may not know that data from your own web searches can be legally collected, sold and can follow you around.

Do you wonder why things you Googled for one day appear as ads and links on other websites the next day? It’s your search data that has been collected by those companies and that is linked together to form a profile of your search habits.

It’s all in the fine print you click through when you agree to the TOS of a website service such as Google’s search. Does that make you uneasy? But what you search for on the web is probably just as private as credit card account information.

These privacy concerns have fueled the growth of a search engine that takes privacy seriously. DuckDuckGo is the search engine company, and their motto is simple: “We don’t collect or share personal information.” So what you search for at DuckDuckGo doesn’t even stay at DuckDuckGo; it was never saved to begin with.

DuckDuckGo has been quickly gaining millions of users who may no longer believe Google’s “Don’t be Evil” mantra, seeing that Google has made a mess of some of their own privacy concerns while on the way to a half trillion dollar market capitalization.

DuckDuckGo has been growing at between 200% and 500% per year since they began in 2008. And after Edward Snowden’s famous revelations about data collection and surveillance in 2013, DuckDuckGo’s growth line pointed straight up.

DuckDuckGo offers other search features: when you “Duck”, you get general web results, like Google, but you also get human curated instant answers, too, at the top of the page. This is the human element of Ducking, and offers a quick answer to some searches without having to click links to other sites. (Google took DuckDuckGo’s lead and now does this now, too, by pulling information from Wikipedia).

Another great feature of DuckDuckGo the the “!bang” search. That means you can internally search many other sites form DuckDuckGo. if you are doing general searches, and find you want to search eBay for Nikon cameras, type “!ebay nikon cameras” at the Duck, and you will get those search results from eBay within DuckDuckGo’s page.

You can go to DuckDuckGo.com and learn lots more about the company, their mobile Apps and other search features. Now, the Duck may not yet be able to show the same raw number of search results that Google can, but at least for my uses, the side by side results are comparable, and I’ve started using both searches now. And in the future, I may dump Google for the Duck, too.

State of the Arts for July/August/September 2016: DuckDuckGo

(One of my Montana Arts Council State of the Arts Newspaper Tech Talk Columns)

A few years back, I wrote a series of Tech Talks about a free website service called WordPress and how to get started with it to build a website. WordPress still has the dominant market share when it comes to free (or nearly free) website services, but there are other website builder offerings around these days. They’re not completely free, but they are easy to use and have simpler user interfaces that can be easier to use than WordPress.

What brought these other services to my mind – SquareSpace, Wix, Weebly, GoDaddy and others – is the fact that they have been hawked on TV and radio for a few years now. Once upon a time, website stuff was only for geek types; but maybe that speaks to my generation, as generally anyone college age has never known a time without the Internet, and these kinds of technology are second nature. Closer to home, Jeff Bridges, the actor and Livingston resident, talked about SquareSpace on a late night talk show as what was used for a website for his business that raises money for one of his charities.

These other services can be worth it, if you understand their limitations. Which, depending on what you want to do, might not be limitations at all.
They can be a bit easier to use than WordPress if you want a quick and easy site for yourself or for an organizational event.

I came across a website that gives a good rundown and comparison chart of the most popular services, such as SquareSpace, Wix, Weebly, GoDaddy and more. It’s called Website Builders Comparison Chart and it’s at http://goo.gl/5lKcWs . It was last updated in May, so it’s up to date. The usage stats, as the website notes, can be self-reported in some cases, so take the numbers in the “Websites Powered” column with a grain of salt.

All these services all cost a little to use, but SquareSpace has a free trial. But they can offer ecommerce capabilities, newsletter and membership creators, which require extra plugins for WordPress.

The highest rated – according to reviews around the web – appears to be Squarespace. I’ve played around with it, and it’s interesting. websitebuilderexpert.com rates Wix a touch higher, but I wouldn’t myself.

But Wix is popular, and they have recently started moving away from a technology called Flash that has been falling in general usage by being plagued with security problems. (Some new versions of web browsers, in fact, disable Flash by default.)

And almost all of these services – referring to my last Tech Talk – produce websites that are mobile compatible right out of the box.

You can also Easily Google “Squarespace reviews” and see what others say. The best thing to do is jump in and try them. WordPress is still the most fully featured and still the most popular, running about 25% of websites online and owning over 50% of total market share. But there are other services to try.

Read more State of the Arts Tech Talk columns, or go to my Archives