Making Communications Buzz

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Using a Second Monitor With Your Laptop

This post is what's know as "off topic" since it's about computer hardware, not digital communications or the Internet, but check it out anyway.

As further confirmation that computing is going mobile, 2005 was the first year laptop computer sales exceeded desktop sales.* But let's face it, most laptop screens are still smaller than we would like.

If you favor a laptop over a desktop, but you would like a bigger screen, don't throw out that desktop PC monitor just yet. Did you know that Windows XP makes it easy to hook up a second monitor to your laptop?**

This more than doubles the available space on your PC's virtual desktop whenever you use your laptop at home, or at some other fixed location where you might keep a monitor — on a desk in your office, say. (I'm not recommending that you take the second monitor with you when you leave the house or office.)

By hooking up a second monitor, you can display one or more programs on your laptop screen and other programs on the second monitor. No more hiding your e-mail window so that you can read a Web page or vice versa.

You can view Web pages on one screen and write e-mails and Word documents on the other — or whatever combination of programs you like. I find this very useful. Try it and let me know what you think.

* Source: Newsweek print edition, February 13, 2006
** I don't own a Mac laptop, but I am pretty sure you can do the same with a Mac just as easily.

How to Hook Up a Second Monitor to Your Laptop Using Windows XP
Open the big door on the back of your laptop and you will find a socket where you can plug in a monitor. Plug it in. (Be sure to plug in the monitor's power cord as well.) Turn on the monitor. Now turn on your laptop. If your laptop is already on, that's no problem, just restart Windows.

Once the laptop is on (or restarts), click on the Windows Start menu (in the lower left corner of the Windows desktop). In the menu, find Control Panel. Under Control Panel, select Display. In the Display Properties dialog box that opens up, click on the Settings tab.

Here you will see a window with two monitor icons. Click on icon number 2. If the actual second monitor is on the right of your laptop, make sure the monitor icon #2 is to the right of monitor icon #1.

Now you can play around with the settings for the two monitors. Under Display, you should see the words "(Multiple Monitors)". Under Screen resolution, select "1024 by 768" if it's an option (or you can choose a higher resolution if you like).

Now click on icon number 1. Under Display, you should see the name of your laptop display. Under Screen resolution, select "1024 by 768" if it's not selected.

Now click the Apply button at the bottom of the Display Properties dialog box.

On the external monitor's screen, you should now see a "desktop" background that resembles your laptop's screen background.

With your mouse, grab the top of the Display Properties dialog box and drag it over "into" the external monitor's screen. It should move right over. See it there? If not, send me a comment (below).

Click OK to close the Display Properties dialog box. Now open your e-mail program or a Web page in your Web browser or whatever. In order to move one of these windows over to the second screen, you have to first click on the "Restore Down" button.

The Restore Down tab at the top of the Windows application window. Click to make the window resizable.
The "Restore Down" button. Click this to make
the application window resizable and draggable.

When this button shows the two little window icons, you can click it to make the window resizable and draggable. Click the "Restore Down" button. Now you can resize the window by moving your cursor over any edge of the window until the cursor turns into a black double arrow. Hold down the mouse and you can drag any edge of the window to make it bigger or smaller. You can "grab" and move the whole window by clicking and holding down your cursor on the bar across the top of the window.

Grab and drag any window to the into second screen. Once the window shows up on the second screen, you can click the same "Restore Down" button (which has become the "Maximize" button) to maximize the window so that it fills the entire screen.

The Restore Down tab at the top of the Windows application window. Click to make the window resizable.
The "Maximize" button. Click this to make
the application window fill the screen.

NOTE: Here's a little caveat. This might be hard to picture, but you'll understand what I mean if it actually happens to you. If you are working in a program — any program, Microsoft Word, say — and you have all your windows on the second monitor when you shut down your laptop, that is where they will be the next time you boot up. Cool, eh?

Yes, except when you boot up again without the second monitor attached -- because you will not see any program windows at all.

There's a quick and easy solution. Just go back to using the laptop display without the second monitor. Open the Display Properties dialog box (right-click on the desktop and select Properties, or go to the Windows Start menu > Control Panel > Display). Click on the Settings tab. Select the icon for monitor number 2, and then uncheck the box next to "Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor". Click Apply or OK. Your missing program windows should now be visible on the laptop screen.

If this second monitor trick floats your boat even half as much as it does mine, you may want to keep your old PC monitor around a bit longer — at least until WebTV actually arrives.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Next Generation of the Internet: What's in It for Businesses?

A few weeks ago, Newsweek magazine featured a great article on "The New Wisdom of The Web." Here's the gist: there's a whole lot of new stuff happening on the World Wide Web. In fact, it's looking like the second Internet boom.

What's happening and how can businesses benefit?

No one is really sure what it means yet, but the latest developments in online communication (often called "Web 2.0") have the attention of media moguls like Rupert Murdoch, who opted in in a big way last year when he paid $580 million for a Web site called MySpace.

One of the most significant features of the new Web is user generated content. Sites like MySpace allow users to share an online profile with the world that incorporates digital photos and video, blogging, podcasting, online chat and other, more esoteric eMaterial. Naturally, it's all very appealing to teens and young adults.

But why would Murdoch care about a huge online teen hangout? Because there is much more at stake than just meeting new friends. User generated content is reshaping all kinds of media. Go to news Web sites like BBC Online and The New York Times and you see the signs: the BBC Online home page now has a prominently displayed link to "See what's popular and new". Check out this page; it's all about user input. The Times home page includes a feature box of links for Most Popular news stories "E-mailed, Blogged, Searched."

RSS is another new development, a very useful tool to be discussed in another post.

Why should businesses care about these trends? One conclusion might be that a static, brochure-like Web site is no longer going to be enough to set your company apart from the rest. The new Internet offers innumerable ways to reach out to, and interact with, customers and potential customers.

The good news is that many of the new tools available are easy to use.

If you are skeptical about all this, you are not alone.

For now, it's still safe to say that a company Web site should be:
1. Easy to find
2. Stocked with useful, well-organized information, including easy-to-find contact information

These two things are hardly Web 2.0 characteristics, and they should be addresses first and foremost.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Flash Detection: Who Cares?

My version of Firefox (1.0.7) has only Flash Player 5 installed, not Flash Player 7. Shortly after switching to Firefox from Internet Explorer about a year ago, I noticed that some Web sites didn't display, or only partially displayed, in the Firefox browser. At first, this was annoying, but when I realized what was going on, I found it to be a useful tool, because it was a quick way to find out if sites used the latest version of Flash and — more significantly — how they chose to inform a visitor that their site requires the latest Flash Player.

Some sites don't bother to use Flash version detection at all. That is, they don't tell you that you need the latest Flash Player to use their site. All you see is a blank, or partly blank, screen. Here's one example: the WebSideStory site.

This is what the WebSideStory home page looks like in a browser without Flash Player 7. There's no Flash detection at all. No message displays to tell me I need to get the latest version of the player — nothing.

You can see the top of the page: the logo, utility naviagation, search box and horizontal navigation bar, but the dropdown menus for the horizontal nav don't work unless you have Flash Player 7. A totally useless interface.

I guess decisionmakers at think that unless I can figure out that I need Flash Player 7 on my own, or I work for a company where someone else will figure it out for me, they don't need my business.

There are many professionally-designed sites out there like this. For a while, I took the time to inform webmasters at these sites of their erroneous ways. But I soon realized that no one really thinks it's a problem. Am I the only one?

Monday, April 24, 2006

E-mail: how many lines is too many?

Here's an idea for a new electronic communications product: E-mail software that remembers the reading habits of the people in your address book. What for? Have you noticed that some (all?) of the people you send e-mail to never seem to get to the end of your messages?

The e-mail software idea is meant to be humorous and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but my point is not humorous at all. In general, people really don't read e-mail very carefully, and it is a mistake (sometimes a serious mistake) to assume that they do.

Knowing this, we can save ourselves some grief by using a few simple techniques of business e-mail style:

1. Put anything important at the very beginning of an e-mail message.

2. Never make "paragraphs" more than 2-4 lines long. Usually this means keeping them to about two sentences in length.

3. Separate paragraphs with two returns (two blank lines) instead of just one. This helps the reader to stay focused.

For more about effective e-mail communication, see "Increasing the success of your business communication," by PR consultant Elizabeth Robinson.

Some of us are "old school" when it comes to e-mail (if there can be such a thing), writing paragraphs, complete sentences, lines and lines of text.

This is also known as setting yourself up for a rude awakening, because (am I wrong about this?) very few people read more than the first paragraph of an e-mail.

There are exceptions. You know, it's the folks who reply to an e-mail by including the original message and then addressing each point, one by one, underneath a snippet of the original.

In the e-mail software I'm envisioning, these conscientious souls will earn the label (R) for "Reader" in your address book, and the software will allow you to send them messages that are as long as you like.

E-mail "skimmers", on the other hand will earn the label (DE) for "Don't even think of writing a message to this person that is longer than three lines."

When a message to a person with label (DE) goes beyond three lines, the messaging software will beep and the text you are typing will become red.

Go ahead, keep on typing. Just remember that you will be repeating everything in red over the phone to the recipient as soon as you realize that you forgot who you were writing to. Usually, a missed deadline or money -- or both -- will be at issue at that point.

How will the software know? Well, I plan to leave that up to the Google, Yahoo! and MSN folks mostly. Aren't they linking all this stuff up together in one humongous interconnected database?

How about this for the time being: Whenever you have to get on the phone to resolve something that results from a too-long e-mail, open your address book and select the name of the person involved. Now click the red sent too-long e-mail icon as many times as you think the situation/misunderstanding/crisis warrants. This incrementally reduces the number of lines you will be allowed to send them in your next e-mail.

Is this post too cynical? Misguided? Let me know what you think, and please tell me if you know of any other effective e-mail communication resources like Elizabeth Robinson (see above).

Giving Blogs a Bad Name

What is a blog? In January of 2005, only 38% of Internet users knew what a blog was. Has anyone seen an update?

Of that 38%, how many really know what a blog is? How many of those think that blogs are just online "journals" for techno-geeks and disaffected teenagers with nothing better to do?

Up until about a month ago, I was of that opinion myself. Now I can't stop thinking about uses for blogs: in business, for families, for churches and other non-profits, for schoools and on and on.

Really, the meaning of "blog" is totally up for grabs, changing constantly. Potential uses for blogs are as unlimited as the Web itself.

Blogs have been given something of a bad name because of their association with bogus news, criminal cases and employee termination lawsuits. But when companies like Nielsen (BuzzMetrics) and Google invest in blogs and many major corporations explore the uses of blogs as customer relations tools, we can see the perceived potential for use in communication is much greater.

Where do you think blogs are going?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Try Google Page Creator

If you haven't tried Google Page Creator yet, you really should.

Whether you are a pro Web developer, or a total novice to the Web, or somewhere in between, take a minute to find out what Google is up to. For instance, just go to this page and click on any link you see. There is a lot to choose from, and there's more on the way.

As a partner noted, the only problem with Google is that the average person doesn't even know what they offer.

That's true. I'm sure I don't know about everything Google has to offer. And yet whenever they roll something out, it seems that they can't handle the overwhelming positive response: too many people want to use it. The quick closing of access to Google Page Creator is one example.

Have you found something Google offers that you love to use? Have you found something that doesn't work so well?

Don't Use Frames. Period.

Want to have your Web site show up on the first page of Google? Then you need to make sure that your site does not use frames.

What are frames? Frames are an outdated method of building a Web page. They don't do well in search engines. You shouldn't use them. That's really all you need to know.

How do you check to see if your site uses frames?
Look at your site in a Web browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox or Netscape or whatever. Now go to the View menu at the top of the browser window and select View > Source (or View > Page Source).

Next, go to the Edit menu and select Edit > Find, or press Ctrl 'F'. Type 'frameset'. (Click 'Find Next' in Internet Explorer.) Is the word 'FRAMESET' or 'frameset' on the page somewhere? If yes, your site uses frames.

You might find the word 'frames' in a string like: 'parent.frames.length'. This does not mean that the site uses frames, however. If you see this, don't worry about it.

If your site uses frames and you want your site to show up on the first page of Google (or just do better in Google), then you need a new Web site.

If you want to test this assertion, type the keywords you would like people to be able to use to find your site into Google and see if any of the sites that show up on page 1 use frames. If so, send me a note! If not, there you have it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Conversion Yes. Aesthetics Maybe. Now We Are Getting Somewhere.

Andrew Johnson's Web Publishing blog poses a great question: Why do ugly sites work so well?

"Compared to Yahoo, MSN, or even Ask, Google is damn ugly. Has that had any negative affect on Google?" he asks. What do you think?

Here's another way to look at it. Yahoo and MSN are paying more for aesthetics when they could be putting that money into R&D. Who is the most innovative of the three?

Speaking of Less is More in the way of aesthetics, here's a link to My Very First Google Page Creator page.

Google Page Creator is easy to use, easy to understand. Just like the blog interface. Well done.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Increasing Your Online Conversion Rate

Robbin Steif gives a great summary of how to increase your online conversion rate. It has me thinking about how to measure the impact of aesthetics on conversion. There's art and then there's the art of conversion. How much are clients willing to pay for design - in usability or look-and-feel - that does not increase conversion rates? And where does one look for facts about what kinds of design increase conversion rates most?

When this blog grows up a little, I would like to see the discussion happen here. For now, I'm looking for others up to the task.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

National Workplace Napping Day

Monday was National Workplace Napping Day, the first work day following the shift to Daylight Savings Time, when we all lose that precious hour out of our week.

Well, I only just read about National Workplace Napping Day this morning, so I missed it. Not that I would have taken a nap anyway. Napping during the workday apparently increases productivity. I know it used to increase my productivity when my young sons took naps on weekend afternoons; I could finally get some work done! Now they have outgrown their naps, so that's over with.

My first thought in reading about how naps increase productivity is that of course they do because taking a nap during the day allows you to work later into the night. Somehow, I don't think that is what the napping experts had in mind.

Monday, April 03, 2006

My Very First Post

Answer: Because it seemed like a good idea at the time.