Everybody knows that most passwords will remain unchanged. Yet our collective response to Heartbleed has been to patch our servers and email users asking them to do something we know most of them won’t do.

Here’s what our response should have been:

ALTER TABLE users DROP COLUMN password;

It turns out that passwords are obsolete, and they have been for a long time. Like the occasional pay phone you find in the back of a run-down restaurant, passwords have been unnecessary for years. The difference is that everyone laughs and reminisces when they see a pay phone, but nobody does that when they see a password field. But they should.

From “Passwords Are Obsolete, and they make Heartbleed a thousand times worse.” Interesting and worth a read.

How to sell a yellow shirt

How to sell a yellow shirt

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What could be more boring than writing descriptions of articles of clothing for a catalog? After describing your fourteenth long-sleeved yellow shirt, you’d have to be tempted to write something wacky, anything at all that doesn’t involve percentage of cotton versus linen versus rayon, or buttons or the lack thereof.

And if writing description after description is dull, reading them can’t be any better.

The J. Peterman Company takes a different approach. Each item they sell is described with a tiny short story, along the theme that the company founder, John Peterman, travels the world to find interesting clothing and other items, and sells them to his equally interesting customers.

Consider the description for a long-sleeved yellow blouse with dark pink collar and cuffs:

The Next Big Thing.

Breakfast at The Coffee Shop.

Union Square West, not too far from the Strand.

Forget Fashion Week. Forget Madison Ave. I eat here to spot the up-and-coming (trends and people).

Veronica, for example, plays the role of struggling waitress-cum-actress, riding the N train from her little studio in Chelsea to the 14th Street station for her midnight-to-six-a.m. shift.

Wears shirts like these, just in case any director looking for the next Joan Blondell has a late-night craving for eggs Benedict.

Last month she landed a small part in an Italian thriller starring a couple names you might know. Starts shooting on location in Genoa next month.

“Some more toast, please, Veronica.”

The shirt has a name, by the way. It’s the Actress in Waiting Shirt. It’s priced comparably to shirts from other retailers. After the lovely little story of Veronica, the description includes a little more standard info you’d expect to see in a catalog: what the shirt is made of, details about its constructions, where it’s made. The major image for the shirt is a color illustration, but there are also photos of it, tucked into the lower right corner of the page.

The catalog for The J. Peterman Company is a cute little thing, sized smaller than a standard catalog and printed not on glossy paper but on heavyweight stock. It’s the sort of catalog you keep around a while.

As pretty as the catalog and illustrations are, it’s these unique descriptions and the world they evoke that make J. Peterman stand out. Sure, it may take longer to come up with a distinct story about every piece of clothing, accessory, and sundry item they sell. But the result is so distinctive, so memorable, and so much more appealing than standard catalog fodder.

Such descriptions are also what search engines rank highly, and what encourage visitors to read multiple pages of a site. So the time invested in creating them pays off in several ways.

And you can bet they’re a whole lot more fun for the writers to write as well.

Other companies do this well also: Photojojo, John Fluevog, and Betabrand all come to mind. They’re all retailers, but you don’t have to sell stuff to write interesting content.

(By the way, John Peterman is a real person, and not just a fictional company figurehead or a minor character on Seinfeld – he played second base for the Pittsburgh Pirates for three years!)

Big Big Design turns 9

Big Big Design turns 9

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I founded Big Big Design nine years ago today, changing my sideline of building websites for friends into a fulltime job.

It’s been an interesting time since then, with the web and the business world changing drastically in only a few years. To think that the Web itself is only 25 years old! Most of what I work on today is completely different from what it was in April of 2005.

Whatever this year and the next 9 years bring, they’re bound to be quite unexpected as well. Perfect.

7 Essential Free WordPress Plugins

7 Essential Free WordPress Plugins

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One of WordPress’s great strengths is its extensibility: You can add most any feature you need through a plugin or theme (what WordPress calls its templates). Here are 7 free plugins I find myself adding to nearly every WordPress website I set up. Most of these also offer paid, premium versions, which add even more features.

(Note that I don’t mention any security, backup, or caching plugins here. The hosting company we use is WP Engine, a managed WordPress hosting platform. They handle performance, backup, and security for our sites, so we don’t need to worry about those issues.)

WordPress SEO

WordPress SEO plugin examplehttps://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo/
WordPress SEO by Yoast (Joost de Valk) provides comprehensive but easy-to-use search engine optimization tools to your site. It adds a preview to every post and page editor, so you can see how the page titles and descriptions you set will most likely look in search results. And it offers analysis and recommendations per page to help you make your site as search-engine-friendly as possible, with a minimum of effort. It includes XML sitemaps, breadcrumb paths (for better internal linking), and more.

Google Analytics for WordPress

http://yoast.com/wordpress/google-analytics/
Another plugin from Yoast (Joost de Valk), Google Analytics for WordPress does more than embed your Google Analytics code into your site. It ensures you’re using the latest code, helps you use more advanced tracking features like monitoring downloads and outbound link clicks, and metadata. Using this will make your Google Analytics reports richer and more informative, so you can learn more about what interests your website visitors.

Shadowbox JS

Shadowbox JS at workhttp://sivel.net/wordpress/shadowbox-js/
The Shadowbox JS plugin improves how visitors look at the images on your website. If a visitor clicks a thumbnail or small image on your site, the default thing that happens is they are shown either the full size image on a page by itself, with no link or button to take them back to the page they had been on, or they’re taken to an attachment page with the image on it but with a confusing title and strange layout. With Shadowbox JS, clicking a picture opens a popup, with the original page still behind it grayed out. The visitor can click through a gallery of all the images on the page. It’s a more elegant way to show photos on your site, and provides a more usable and friendly experience to your website visitors.

Header and Footer

http://www.satollo.net/plugins/header-footer
Many web management tools require you to add code to the head of the pages in your website, or to the bottom of the page: verification codes for webmaster tools, links to scripts for webfonts, traffic tracking scripts, and on and on. Some themes provide a space for you to insert such codes, but if you change themes you need to remember to copy the codes. Instead, you can use Header and Footer, which very simply injects the code you provide into the head element or into the bottom of the body element of every page in your site. It’s indispensable.

Quick Page/Post Redirect Plugin

http://www.fischercreativemedia.com/wordpress-plugins/quick-pagepost-redirect-plugin/
If you make structural changes to your site and move pages from one URL to another, you need to redirect visitors and search engines to the new URLs from the old ones. This plugin makes that easy. It’s also useful when you want to create a short, easy-to-type URL for a landing page or as a redirect to an external address.

Google Plus Authorship

Search results with and without Google Plus Authorship infohttp://marto.lazarov.org/plugins/google-plus-authorship
You can link content you write on your site to your Google+ profile. This causes your Google+ photo to show up next to your posts in search results — it’s eye-catching, Google seems to rank such results highly, and it helps people recognize you and the topics you write about. This plugin makes it easy to set up the links between your site and your Google+ profile. Check out this screenshot: The top result uses the authorship relationship, while the lower results are regular search results. Both are great, but which one would you be more likely to click?

WP to Twitter

http://www.joedolson.com/articles/wp-to-twitter/
Twitter is more than a broadcast tool, and it’s best used as a way to personally connect with people. But it’s still useful for announcements, and automatically tweeting your new blog posts ensures that you won’t forget to tell people you published something new. I’ve found the WP to Twitter plugin to be reliable and simple to set up and use.


How about you? What are your indispensable WordPress plugins?

 

Photo credit: Paul Wilkerson on Flickr

Is a professional headshot worthwhile for your website?

Is a professional headshot worthwhile for your website?

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I’m very DIY on the web, as you may guess, so when a client needs a photo of themselves to use on their website, I’m willing to whip out my iPhone or pull a 35mm camera and a tripod out of the closet and start snapping pictures.

But I know that pro photos can show people and scenes to a much better advantage. Not only are the lighting better and the image quality sharper, but a professional knows how to compose the photo and use depth of focus to achieve the effects you want. Continue reading

Performance-wise, there are a few things to keep in mind. The iframe content is entirely controlled by Getty. They could put something in there that could greatly affect your site’s performance—be it a huge, unoptimized image, slow scripts, or irresponsible requests. In that same vein, since you have no control over the images, you won’t be able to implement a responsive image strategy, once those solutions are released into the wild.

Useful cautions and testing from Anthony Colangelo on Getty Images’ new free embedded image policy. Read the full article: http://alistapart.com/blog/post/using-embeddable-getty-images

Introducing the new Big Big Design

Introducing the new Big Big Design

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Launching a new website is exciting for everyone. There are cheers and congratulations, plans of posting news and blog entries, and promises of updating galleries and portfolios

And yet, in all the years I’ll been building websites (14 years!), I’ve seen relatively few companies and organizations work actively with their sites and keep them fresh and up-to-date after they’re launched. So many do nothing with the sites at all after launch — not adding even a single new photo.

This is no good. A website is only as interesting as it is current, and if we created it 6 years ago and updated only a few things since then, now it’s nowhere near current.

Continue reading

Cynthia on Awesomecast #187: Chasing the Podcasting Dragon

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I had the tremendous good fortune to be a guest on the Awesomecast podcast this week, talking tech with host Michael Sorg, regular John Chichilla, and fellow guest Hutch Bailie Jr.

We talk about Netflix and the Netflix Drone Youtube video.
We discuss the WWE Network.
We discuss streaming devices and apps in general.
We talk Samsung’s Gear and the future of Samsung.
We talk Vmix and what their product can do for your greenscreen.
We talk security flaws in iOS and MAC OS X SSL systems.
We talk about some popular apps like WhatsApp.
We discuss Disney Movies Anywhere!
Chichilla tells us what is coming up next in the world of technology!

You can see the whole episode here:

Find out more about Awesomecast and how to subscribe and to watch live every week at http://sorgatronmedia.com/awesomecast/.