Have Access to an Unrestricted Internet? Consider Yourself Lucky

You surf to the online home of the New York Times every morning. You scan your Twitter account for messages from friends, family members, professional athletes, and celebrities. You read the gossip and news at the Huffington Post daily. And before you turn out for the night, you check out the antics of your favorite celebrities at TMZ.com.

Consider yourself lucky. There are citizens across the globe who can’t access any of these sites. That’s because they live under authoritarian regimes that block at least some of their access to the Internet.

Restricting access to the Web

Students in China, for instance, might not be able to log onto the Web home of the New York Times during times of political unrest. Government protesters in Iran might not be able to send messages to each other through Facebook. And residents of Burma might not have access to the global Internet entirely when political protests are taking place in that country.

Unfortunately, authoritarian regimes have several ways of blocking their citizens’ access to the Internet, and these methods have evolved over time just as the Web itself has evolved.

Blocking access to Web 2.0 apps

For instance, governments might block either permanently or temporarily the access that their citizens have to such Web 2.0 applications as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Often, such blocks occur during political protests, election seasons or the violent crackdowns to protests that too often occur in such countries.

Countries can also be more subtle in squeezing off access to the Internet. Some, for instance, have restricted connection speeds. This, in essence, makes it impossible for users to download, share, or even see audio and video files.

Some authoritarian governments use what is known as technical filtering to prevent their citizens from accessing content that uses specific keywords. Others use this technology to block their citizens from logging onto specific domain names or Web addresses.

Human censors

This might sound surprising, but some governments even employ actual human censors to monitor and manually remove forum and blog posts that the government finds objectionable. Often, these censors will eliminate blog posts or forum messages that criticize government leaders or policies.

The United States, of course, has plenty of flaws. However, we can all be proud to live in a country in which the Internet remains largely unrestricted.

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Get IT Satisfaction: How to Clearly Explain Problems to Your IT Department

We’ve all had this experience: We log onto our computers at work and something’s not working. Maybe we aren’t receiving our e-mail messages. Maybe our Web browser has slowed to a crawl. Maybe the computer crashes every 10 minutes.

Whatever the problem, it makes it impossible for you to complete your work. You now have one option: You have to call your IT department. Unfortunately, that can sometimes cause as many headaches as does your current computing problem.

Be honest: It’s not always easy to communicate with your IT department personnel. The staffers working in IT obviously know a whole lot more about computers, Web browsing and general technology than you do. Because of this, it sometimes sounds as if your company’s IT personnel are speaking a different language. And when this happens, it’s not always easy to effectively communicate your computer problem so that you can receive quick results.

Fortunately, you can take some simple steps to make sure that your IT department clearly understands your problem. Once clear communication is established, your IT pros can quickly and effectively repair your ailing computer.

No reason to be intimidated

First, don’t be intimidated. Yes, that IT worker knows more about your computer than you ever will, but remember, you know more about your specialty, too, whether it be the law, accounting, sales, or marketing.

Screen shots

Secondly, take screen shots when you can. If you can show your IT personnel exactly what has gone wrong with your computer, they’ll more easily be able to tackle the problem. If you can’t do that, try to replicate the problem in front of IT workers when they arrive at your desk. If certain actions, for instance, cause your computer to crash, perform those actions – causing the crash – while your IT workers are standing at your desk.

A written report

Finally, keep a written report of your problems. If you notice that the same problems are taking place whenever you check your messages, log onto the company’s Intranet site or visit Google, write this down in a notebook. Make a new entry every time the problem reappears. This, too, will help you better communicate your computing issues with your IT personnel.

Communicating with your IT workers doesn’t have to be an intimidating or frustrating experience. Just follow these simple rules, and you’ll be back computing at full strength in no time.

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Got questions? These Three Sites Have Answers

It’s human nature to question. After all, if we never wondered about the world around us, how would we ever be inspired to create?

Fortunately, if you have questions, the Internet has answers. The Web is filled with sites dedicated to answering any question that might pop into your head.

Here, though, is a look at three of the sites that can best answer your most pressing questions.

Quora: The designers behind Quora boast that the site connects you to everything you want to know about. And that’s not an empty boast.

If you have a question, you can log onto Quora to get answers from people who share your interests. This often means that doctors, lawyers, economists, screenwriters, and police officers are providing your answers.

As an example, a dietitian might answer your question about how to eat healthy without grains. A long-distance runner might answer your query about how to best prepare for a marathon in chilly temperatures.

Ask MetaFilter: Ask MetaFilter operates under the concept that there are plenty of experts out there with the answers to just about any question you might have. It’s an intriguing concept and, surprisingly, Ask MetaFilter usually does provide reliable answers to questions.

The questions on this site are broken into various categories, everything from human relations to technology to health to law and government.

On a recent visit to the site, for instance, people were asking when the fifth season of Mad Men will become available on iTunes Canada. Others asked more philosophical questions. One user, for instance, asked how mature she could possibly be when she considers the best way to make friends is to have the same enemies.

StackExchange: StackExchange is a relative newcomer to the online question-and-answer game. It is made up of a network of 85 question-and-answer sites, though, so it certainly boasts the breadth and depth that you’d want whether you have a question about your dog’s incessant barking or the meaning behind that Nietzsche quote.

The site has certainly become popular. It already has 1.7 million users and has provided 7.1 million answers to 3.4 million questions.

Best of all? StackExchange’s question-and-answer sites, broken into those serving fans of science fiction and fantasy, database users, cartographers, Web designers, chefs, gaming junkies, and everyone else, are free and open to all users.

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Don’t Let Your Competitors Set Your Agenda

Even the biggest tech powerhouses make the occasional business mistake. And one of the most frequent? They let their competitors set their agendas.

Take Google. Google remains the undisputed search engine king. It’s also one of the most powerful companies in the world, but that hasn’t stopped Google from trying unsuccessfully to become the next Facebook.

Facebook takes Google to school

Facebook has already established itself as the leading force in social media. Google thought that it should hold that title, so it launched Google+, its own social networking program.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with Google+. It boasts some nifty features, especially in the tweaks it offers for business owners. But Google+ is not Facebook. Consumers are simply used to Facebook. They prefer to use the service for their social media needs. Google attempted to break into Facebook’s turf by offering a product that’s not really needed.

It hasn’t worked. Google+ remains a distant afterthought in the world of social media.

An Internet search mistake

Microsoft knows the feeling of falling into this same trap. As everyone knows, Google remains the top dog in the world of Internet search. This hasn’t changed since Microsoft launched Bing, its own Internet search engine.

Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Bing. The search program does a good job finding information. And it, too, comes with some nice features. Unfortunately, Google search is still better. It’s easier to use. It’s familiar. And it’s quick. There’s no real reason for consumers to make the switch from Google search to Bing.

Learn from Google, Microsoft mistakes

You can learn from the mistakes made these two tech giants. Focus on improving what you already do. For instance, instead of targeting social media, Google should concentrate on improving its search, e-mail, and online documents servers. These are already successful offerings, and Google can gain even more followers by making them stronger.

Follow this example. Don’t be distracted by what your competitors are doing. Your job is to make the services and products at which you already excel even stronger.

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Consumers Demand More from Mobile Web Surfing

In an interview with O’Reilly Radar writer Mac Slocum, Joshua Bixby, president of Strangeloop, said that the days in which consumers were happy to just be able to connect to the Web with their mobile devices are long gone. Today, the owners of smart phones and tablets demand that Web pages load quickly on their mobile devices and that these pages include all the bells and whistles of a full Web experience.

And, Bixby told Slocum, those companies that can provide this experience are the ones poised to thrive. And those that can’t? They’ll fade away.

Web, mobile Web no longer separate entities

As Bixby says in the interview, the Web and the mobile Web can no longer be considered two separate entities. Today’s consumers expect their Web experience to be just as smooth and complete whether they’re reading a forum on their laptop or reading a newspaper on their smart phone.

Of course, what’s most interesting is that the smart phone market is still so young. As prevalent as these devices appear to be, the truth is that the vast majority of consumers still don’t own smart phones. Bixby cites this stat in the O’Reilly Radar story: 155 million U.S. mobile phone users aren’t using smart phones.

The smart phone revolution

Bixby says that this stat shouldn’t prevent developers from creating a rich mobile Web experience. Change happens quickly when it comes to technology, and new mobile users are picking up smart phones before they experiment with lesser mobile models. Many of these new tech users, then, will do the vast majority of their Web browsing through smart phones or other mobile devices.

Too much focus on apps?

Today, Bixby says, too many developers are focusing on apps rather than their own Web sites. This can lead to problems. Bixby points to this example: Users, while accessing their Twitter feeds through a tablet or smart phone, click on a link to a story that interests them. However, instead of the link taking these users directly to the news story, it takes them to a page that demands that they download the news site’s app. Those users who actually do this, and don’t skip this step, are then taken to the news site’s home page and not the location of the actual story they wanted to read. To get to that story, they’ll then have to go back to their Twitter feed to find the original link.

This, Bixby says, is a good example of developers missing an opportunity to take true advantage of mobile devices.

It’s clear that Web sites that don’t create a good experience for mobile users will miss out on traffic and customers. Consider Bixby’s interview a wake-up call.

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