Archive for May, 2008

The Ultimate Consumer Power

Knowledge is Power

For as long as I can remember, businesses have deliberately attempted to confuse consumers by using over-complicated pricing plans that are hard to compare against the competition.

In today’s Ireland, this is especially true for mortgages, broadband and other telecoms services like mobile phone plans.

Have you ever tried to directly compare mortgage rates? It’s tough because many of them are measured in different ways (variable rate, fixed rate, tracker rate, LTV mortgages, etc.). Using different metrics makes it impossible to directly compare each product. The same goes for broadband. It’s hard to directly compare pricing plans.

But this isn’t going to last much longer.

The Game is Changing

There’s a shift in power that’s moving in favour of the consumer. It’s becoming easier for everyone to see through these deliberate attempts to confuse. Social tools have allowed us to become more organised, and more informed.

Comparison sites like Google’s Product Search, GoCompare (UK only) and PriceRunner (also UK only), are helping consumers make informed decisions that are no longer based on a glossy brochure or a smooth talking salesman. They’re based on the views of their piers and the community. They’re also based on cold hard facts.

It’s Already Happening

Recently, the major mobile service providers here in Ireland have had to launch simplified plans that are more flexible and are easier to compare to the competition. Pat Phelan has done a great job highlighting O2’s new Clear plans that have obviously been launched to counteract Threes new Relax plans.

The Best Value Will Win Out

The move to more transparent pricing models is great news for consumers. It will mean that we’ll always know who’s offering the best deal (on price or service) at any particular time.

This will force businesses to provide more competitive transparent prices instead of offering a set of confusing price plans designed to be hard to compare against the competition. In the end, the business providing the best value will win out.

And that’s great news for all of us.

Comments Closed

First Look – Teaser Launch for Footprint

Footprint Teaser Site Launch

To mark Webstrong’s new tenancy in the Hothouse, I’ve created a teaser web page for Footprint, my newest software project.

For the moment, the site doesn’t say too much. It simply collects names and email addresses of people who want to find out more. But over the next few months I’ll be releasing more information on the whole thing.

I don’t want to give the game away too soon, so apologies for the lack of information. But if you’re keen to know what it’s all about, or even slightly intrigued then why not add your name to the list and I’ll tell you more about it shortly.

I’ll also be looking for alpha and beta testers in the not too distant future. So if you like to poke around new Web2.0 type stuff and get your hands dirty during the early stages of a project (particularly if you’re a web designer), then please register your interest and you’ll receive an invite soon.

You can visit the site at

If you want to give any immediate feedback, leave a comment here or email

Microsoft Institute of Technology

Colleges Need To Align To Industry

Microsoft has a tight grasp on Institute of Technologies, and it’s choking the life out of the students.

The vast majority of computer science based courses in Ireland focus largely on teaching Microsoft technologies to the students, despite the fact that they’re only used in niche areas of the industry.

Ever thought about using VB Script as your client side scripting language? Of course not, it’s only supported by Internet Explorer. Want to build a web application powered by Microsoft Access? Don’t even think about it, it’s got a total absence of security features. Oh and it’ll also collapse in on itself with just a handful of simultaneous users. Want to build a web application with ASP? Don’t even bother, ASP is a joke.

Here’s a list of the typical technologies covered in computer science based courses in Ireland right now:

  • Microsoft ASP
  • Microsoft Visual Basic
  • Microsoft Batch Scripting
  • Microsoft Access
  • Microsoft SQL Server
  • Microsoft Active Directory
  • Microsoft VB Script
  • Microsoft IIS

Do you see the pattern here?

Microsoft has it’s fingers in all the educational pies across the country that teach the next generation of IT workers and they know exactly how to maximise the use of their technologies in industry: to get’m while they’re young when they don’t know any better. But the reality is that these technologies are not used by the majority of Irish companies in the web industry. In the job market there’s only a minuscule portion of employers looking for graduates with skills in these areas.

Adjusting for the Industry

For college graduates, the majority are blissfully unaware that they are now armed with a set of useless skills that have no practical use in the real world. It’s only after a few job interviews and a rude awakening do they realise that the last four years has been spent learning skills that are worth almost nothing in the work place. They now face the long hard struggle of relearning everything all over again, getting to grips with the actual technologies used in the industry.

Here’s what that the above list should have looked like:

  • PHP
  • Java
  • Perl
  • MySQL
  • Oracle
  • JavaScript
  • Apache

But it a seems that unless you can provide lucrative course sponsorship or another similar type of sweetener, big businesses such as Microsoft, will win the syllabus wars over open source technologies for as long as colleges find the lure of the greenback more appealing then providing their graduates with real industry strength skills.

Better Doesn’t Mean Harder

Learning the industry standards, isn’t any more difficult or doesn’t take any longer then learning the poorer Microsoft alternative. It simply means a shift in the content of the course syllabus. Why spend time learning ASP and Access powered web applications when you could just as easily learn how to make a scalable, well structured PHP, MySQL powered web app? It makes no sense.

Calling All Students

If there are any students reading this doing an IT based course, then please consider going to your course director tomorrow morning and ask him/her why there are so many irrelevant Microsoft technologies taught in your course and request that a larger emphasis be put on open source technologies instead. It’ll save you having to relearn what you thought you knew, on a platform that’s actually used in the real world.

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The site was built quickly and simply in just a few days. I took the chance to use some of jQuery’s more subtle plugins to render the rounded corners and equalise div column heights.

Any feedback on the design is greatly appreciated.

Adding a Comment Button to your Blog

How to Add a Comment Button to your WordPress Blog

As a follow up from my previous post, I’ve put together this quick guide on how to add a comment button to your WordPress blog.

It’s a fairly easy process that should only take about five minutes.

1. Save Your Button to the Web Server

The first thing you need to do is select your favourite button. I suggest picking one that fits with the existing colour scheme of your blog site. Try to avoid adding a button with a colour that clashes with the rest of the colours on your site. I know you want people to notice it, but you don’t want to blind them!

Once you’ve picked your favourite button, use an FTP program to upload the button to the image directory within your theme folder. For example, the image folder of WordPress’s default theme is located at:


2. Edit Your Theme

Once you’ve uploaded the button to the right directory, you need to add the code in your theme to display it.

In WordPress, each theme is made up of a variety of different files. But we’re only interested in the one named index.php. Open this file in your favourite editor and find the line that looks like this:

<div class='entry'><?php the_content(); ?></div>

Directly after it, add the following code:

<div class='commentPrompt'>
  "<img src='/wp-content/themes/default/images/comment.gif' />"
, "<img src='/wp-content/themes/default/images/comment.gif' />"
, "<img src='/wp-content/themes/default/images/comment.gif' />"
, "commentPromptLink","Comments Closed");

Remember to replace the URL in all three places to the location of your own comment button.

If you would like to know the full meaning behind this code, visit the official WordPress documentation for the template tag. It’s very well written and doesn’t assume that the reader has previous coding experience (provided that you start at the start).

3. Add Some Style

If you look closely to the above code, you’ll see that I wrapped a div tag around it and gave it a class name of ‘commentPrompt’. This will allow you to add some style to the area directly surrounding the button and help integrate it with your theme’s original design.

For my own blog, I’ve centered my comment button within a box and given it some padding and a dotted border, but I’d encourage you to try your own design so it looks ‘at home’ in your own blog’s design.

Here’s the CSS code I used for the box surrounding my comment button:

    border:dashed 1px #FF6600;

Well that’s about it. Hopefully this has been helpful. I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who found this code useful.