Category Archives: Business Applications

Bridging the Gap: Effectively Connecting With Consumers Online

Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and email make keeping customers, clients and loyal subscribers informed about news at your organization easier than ever before. But despite the variety of media and technology platforms, most organizations and businesses struggle to maximize these resources.

Building an online following is about more than posting pictures, or sending daily updates. Like every aspect of business development, effective social networking requires careful attention and a focused, well-articulated theme or message.

Streamline Your Email Newsletters

It’s tempting to inundate your audience with daily emails about everything from promotional sales to product changes. This is a mistake. Frequently sent emails become associated with spam. Email marketing companies typically have rules in place to prevent their clients from inadvertently spamming their clients – it helps to think of your own email inbox and how quickly it clogs with spam.

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· Focus your newsletter, or email, to once or twice a month.

· Organize the information. For example, “What’s New,” “Sales and Promotions” and “Industry Updates” can all be categories.

· Give readers, or customers, an incentive to read through the email by including a coupon at the end.

Facebook

Facebook enjoys around 900 million monthly active users. That’s a goldmine for the media-savvy marketer. Facebook is a good way to automatically insert yourself onto the newsfeed of your followers without sending emails or promotional brochures, but that doesn’t mean you should post daily updates without a purpose.

· Announce new product arrivals alongside pictures of your staff or satisfied customers.

· Facebook is about exchange and engagement, so invite your followers to engage by holding contests for new product names or asking questions related to your business. For example, if your business sells green cleaning products, post a Facebook message asking others which of your products they like the most. This will facilitate an online discussion among your audience and draw attention to your business Facebook page.

Pinterest

Pinterest is a great way to expand on your organization, while offering valuable information to your online audience. Let’s say your company sells fly fishing equipment. Pinterest gives you the perfect opportunity to educate your customers in an interest-related area while showcasing your merchandise visually.

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· Be subtle, make the focal point about the hobby, but mention your products as they relate to specifics. For example, “Using a broader piece, like the Catchfly22, allows you to cover more surface area on the water.”

· Create Pinterest group boards for each facet of your business. For example, if you own an organic pet supply store, feature separate Pinterest boards on food & nutrition, grooming and toys. This will allow you to reach a broader consumer audience of pinners.

Twitter

Twitter is one of the trickier social media outlets to use for business because your content is limited to a few hundred characters per post. The bottom line is: keep your tweets regular and meaningful.

· Twitter is ideal for announcements. For example, “Just in time for summer…Newest colors of Balliboo shorts!” – Along with the announcement, tweet a picture of the new shorts spread in a colorful arch across the store counter. This keeps your audience aware of new merchandise, and excited about purchasing it for the upcoming season.

Each of these social media outlets is only as powerful as your overarching communication strategy. Strategize about when to post, email and tweet so that you can coordinate the messages and media content.

For example, if you want to promote a new brand of athletic clothing that just arrived, make sure to reiterate that news through every social media outlet without making every post identical.

You can tweet a picture of the new clothing in colorful piles and post a picture on your Pinterest board of an employee wearing a new shirt, along with a description of a few local biking routes.

Reinforcing your synchronized message through multiple social media outlets makes it more powerful, and more likely to be absorbed by your audience.

This guest post is contributed by Grady Winston. Grady is an avid writer and Internet entrepreneur from Indianapolis. He has worked in the fields of technology, business, marketing, and advertising – implementing multiple creative projects and solutions for a range of clients.

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Filed under Business Applications, Business Development, Guest Writers, Social Networks

The 411 On Enterprise Resource Planning Software

Guest writer Sachin, lays out the case for Enterprise Resource Planning software (ERP) – what it is, and what it does.

imageEnterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is an integrated approach to a whole suite of business operational functions. ERP software is an integrated suite of software designed to manage these functions on a “same page” basis. It’s similar in some ways to project management software, but covers multiple field of business needs.

ERP software basics

ERP software provides a very large range of functions, and like good business software should, it’s able to be customized to suit any business environment, seamlessly.

This class of software is generally considered best practice, high-ROI software because of its ability to provide a single-stream management function. ERP software includes:

  • Quote functions
  • Business planning templates,
  • Manufacturing processes,
  • Sales
  • All aspects of marketing
  • Reporting functions

The software also provides functions like stock control capabilities, ordering, customer service functions, financial management and staff payroll, etc.

As you can see, this is a comprehensive list of basic business operations, consolidated on one system, which is where ERP software provides valuable solutions not available on other packages. A package like MYOB can do some things, but not others. ERP software is designed to provide this overwatch capability in one package.

This huge range of functions is particularly useful for businesses in planning mode, because it provides a useful structure which can operate as a single entity, not sourcing materials from outside or other programs. For small businesses, it’s a godsend, providing increased capabilities on one system, not an expensive range of different software.

ERP in the workplace

ERP methodologies are part of the new generation of advanced business management practices and techniques. The fact is that management is now very much based on business software. The better the software, the better the management capabilities, so being able to manage a business from a single desktop environment is best practice in more ways than one.

ERP uses a concept called “workflow”, which is a systemic, step-by-step methodology designed to operate as a quality control system, ensuring, for example, that all steps of ordering are carried out properly, in sequence, from order picking to invoicing.

The good news for businesses is that this drastically cuts down on administration. Time is more than money. ERP software automates administration, as far as possible. (Those who’ve spend hours on administrative details will appreciate how much of a saving on time, frayed nerves and other distractions this really is.)

Applying ERP software to your own business

The best way to check out the advantages of ERP software is to “test drive” the software and see for yourself the practical applications.

Check out in particular:

  • Reporting functions – These are critical to any business, and a well-organized reporting system really does provide management with a wealth of information, quickly and efficiently.
  • Sales – Another key aspect of any business, and if you’ve been finding your sales data more cumbersome than helpful, you need to look at this aspect closely.
  • Marketing and related operations – This very high value, and often capital intensive area of operations can be streamlined and literally put on a single page, single function basis for management.

ERP is likely to be exactly what you need to move your business forward and streamline your administration. Check it out, because you won’t be disappointed.

Guest article by Sachin.

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Filed under Business Applications, Commercial Applications, Computer Tools, Guest Writers, Point of View, Software, Windows Tips and Tools

Cruise Ships Leading the Way in Technology Revolution

Guest writer Ben Johnson (no, not Ben Johnson – Shakespeare’s contemporary), but UK based regular contributor Ben Johnson, takes a look at how Cruise lines have managed to not only meet the technology needs of their guests, but have taken the lead in technology adoption.

imageQuite often large companies don’t always embrace technological advances, happy with the status-quo these innovations are simply ignored or put on hold until several business case studies later. One industry bucking this trend is the cruise industry, due to the ultra-competitive nature of the industry cruise liners are constantly trying to “out do” one another.

While the destinations visited will continue to be the biggest draw, many cruise goers simply don’t want to leave behind their technology filled life’s behind, after all technology really does make life easier as the examples below demonstrate:

  • No longer do you have to worry about missing the latest 3D movie release, cruise ship operators including Royal Caribbean Cruises have updated their onboard cinemas to include the latest 3D experience.
  • The most technology filled gyms in the world can be found be found onboard cruise ships. Carnival Cruises makes working out a joy with its floor to ceiling windows facing the sea creating an atmosphere of tranquility.
  • Apple lovers and technology buffs in general will love Celebrity Cruises who now offer computer classes as well as the chance to buy the latest products from the onboard Apple store.
  • Royal Caribbean recently installed solar panels to its Allure of the Seas cruise ship, which will help create a whopping 111,108kWh annually for the ships shopping area.
  • Once again Royal Caribbean is leading the way in technology innovation this time in the shape of facial recognition. When you check in to the Oasis of the Seas, a crew member shoots a photo, which is sent to the ship and linked with passenger’s room key. That picture is not only used for security purposes but when the onboard photographer takes your photo this is then automatically assigned to you.
  • Onboard the Royal Caribbean you will never have to wait in a queue to get your food, shape recognition cameras are used to analyze foot traffic and this information is sent in real-time to the 300 interactive boards dotted around the ship.
  • The world’s largest cruise ship is Royal Caribbean International’s, Allure of the Seas, a gigantic 1,187ft capable of carrying over 6,000 passengers. The size of the ship can be daunting for many especially for those with children, to put parents mind at ease Royal Caribbean have recently developed an application which can track kids as well as plan onboard activities.

The cruise industry is innovating at a phenomenal rate, what innovation would you like to see next within the tourism industry?

Biography:

Guest writer Ben Johnson is a freelance travel writer and cruise enthusiast. While specializing in luxury cruises and maritime law, Ben’s knowledge covers a wider spectrum of consumer tourism.

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Filed under Business Applications, Guest Writers, Integrated Solutions, Point of View, Software

Conseal Security Takes Portable Device Security To Another Level With Conseal USB

“This tape will self-destruct in five seconds!” – Mission Impossible.

Growing up in the 1960’s, I though that was just the coolest phrase – and the underlying technology, of course. As a way of keeping confidential  information out of the hands of the bad guys, what could be better than that? BOOOM!

Today, safeguarding confidential information is far more complex – and there are many more “bad guys”. Information, in a very real sense, is currency – and the need to protect it is every bit as real as if it were hard currency.

Unfortunately, protecting critical data in an age of extreme data portability (USB sticks, portable Hard Drives, memory cards …. ) against theft, or loss, is exasperated by the very nature of portable technology.

How hard is it to lose a USB key through theft or misadventure – easy (personally, I’ve lost two over the years).

How hard is it to lose a portable Hard Drive through theft or misadventure – easy.

How hard is it to lose a memory card through theft or misadventure – easy.

How hard is it recover any one of the storages devices mentioned? Hard. Hard. Hard.

While it’s true, that both password and encryption applications, offer some protection against unauthorized access should a portable storage device vanish, neither provides absolute protection. Both password cracking, and decrypting applications (and the computing resources necessary), are readily available to those with less than honorable intentions.

What’s needed then, is a technology that not only offers password protection and file encryption, but the ability to remotely destroy data on a non-recoverable device – if it becomes necessary.

I suspect that the Ministry of Defense in the UK, would have been delighted with this type of technology had it been available when, in 2008,  fifty eight Ministry of Defense unencrypted drives – which contained details of troop movements, locations, and travel accommodation, were “lost”.

Certainly, portable media device theft, or loss, is not restricted to organizations; it can just as easily happen at an individual level. For example, in the U.K., in 2008, – 9,000 USB drives were found by dry cleaners in various articles of clothing. It’s safe to say, that data loss and data leakages related to lost or stolen computer portable devices, are now commonplace.

Luckily, Conseal Security has just released a security safety system  that not only includes strong AES encryption, it allows protected devices to be remotely self-destructed, if they are lost or stolen. Moreover, as part of the package the ability to lock devices to specific networks, domains or specific computers, is included. A bonus feature includes a capacity to review all access attempts on a device.

Application setup, including creating an account which provides access to all of the programs features, is straightforward.

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The initial account password will be emailed to you. The temporary account password in the screen capture shown below, has been changed.

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Once logged in, you can proceed to manage the portable device attached to your machine.

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In the following screen shot, you’ll notice I have logged in and entered a name for the attached device.

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The USB drive I used for this test was quite small (512 MB), so the encryption and registration took less than two minutes.

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As per the message box, no files were accessible on Drive F: (the original drive designation) – instead the files were on Drive G: (the newly concealed drive).

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Following encryption of the drive’s contents you will have a number of options to choose from, including –

Access Control

You can set up rules to control where and when this device can be unlocked.

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Alerting

You can set up alerts to email you when this device is used.

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Self Destruct

You can securely delete the contents of this device if it has been lost or stolen. It will become a blank disk.

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Unlocking the portable device is an uncomplicated process – as shown in the following screen captures.

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A taskbar popup will notify you on successful completion of the “unlock” process, as illustrated in this screen capture.

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Fast facts:

Remote self destruct – If your Consealed device is lost or stolen, you can remotely destroy the data it contains. Press a button on a website and the contents of your device will be securely wiped when next inserted.

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Who’s accessed your data? – View a log of who attempts to unlocks your Consealed device, including who they are and what computer they used. The log shows all access attempts and contains sufficient information for law enforcement officials to uniquely identify the computer used.

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Define who can access your data – Specify the computers or network domains which can unlock your Consealed device. Also specify what times of the day it can be unlocked. Rules can be changed even when the device is out of your hands.

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Safe from password guessing attempts – Even fairly complex passwords can be guessed on average within 16 minutes. Conseal’s “Dual Locks” system completely secures your protected data against password guessing attempts. Consealed devices can only be unlocked with permission from a central server.

Warnings of attempted break-ins – Receive email warnings when someone tries to unlock your Consealed device, directly and uniquely identifying the user, where they are, and what computer they used.

Strong encryption – Your data is stored using super-strength 256-bit AES encryption (approved by governments to protect ‘Top Secret’ information).

Takeaway: A very impressive and elegant solution to a potentially disastrous occurrence at a cost that’s appropriate.

Conseal USB Licenses:

Home User – 1 year’s protection. Non-commercial use only. Up to 5 devices £19.95.

Corporate User – 10 devices £140 (for 1 year). 100 devices £99/month. 1000 devices £830/month. 10,000 devices £5950/month.

Conseal Security offers a full no-quibble 14 day money-back guarantee from date of purchase.

System requirements: Windows XP and above.

Devices: You can Conseal literally any USB storage device. This includes memory sticks, USB pen drives, external hard disks, SD / MMC / xD / CompactFlash cards. It also includes all Firewire, eSATA and USB3 devices. Conseal is completely device and manufacturer independent.

Further details, and a 15 day Trial download are available at the developer’s site – Conseal Security.

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Filed under Business Applications, Cloud Computing, Computer Tools, Connected Devices, Cyber Crime, Cyber Criminals, downloads, Encryption, Encryption Software, flash drive, Geek Software and Tools, Software, Software Trial Versions, Surveilance Tools, USB, Windows Tips and Tools

Dell KACE Free Virtual Disk Utility

imageDell KACE is currently offering a free Virtual Disk Utility for creating, mounting and dismounting Virtual Disks on Windows, MacOSX and other kinds of computers.

Dell KACE uses a rather neat analogy when defining a Virtual Disk Drive – “A Virtual Disk might be compared and contrasted with a USB “thumb” drive. Both are removable media containing directories and files that can be added to a system when needed, updated locally and removed when no longer needed”. For example, I often use Virtual Disks in testing.

Program files, data files, and application directory structures can all be stored on a Virtual Disk Drive and with KACE’s Virtual Disk Utility, you will have the opportunity to both  encrypt, and password protect, the Virtual Drives which you have created. Keep in mind this application creates Virtual Disks – not Virtual Machines

Following installation, the screen shots which follow, illustrate just how easy it is to set up a Virtual Disk with KACE’s Virtual Disk Utility.

I should point out that in normal operation, you would launch the Virtual Disk Utility by selecting the application from the Windows Start Menu; then simply follow the same series of choices. (There are additional methods for Virtual Disk creation, discussed later in this review).

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As I mentioned earlier, Virtual Disks you create can be encrypted so as to restrict mounting a Virtual Drive to only those users who can provide the correct password.

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As the following screen capture illustrates, you will have a wide range of choices in picking a drive letter.

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When finished, an Explorer window will open to show the initial contents of the new Virtual Disk and MyComputer windows will display the mounted drive. You can drag-n-drop files as you normally would, to the new Virtual Disk, launch applications, and open additional Explorer windows via MyComputer while the drive is mounted.

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Through the Properties tab you can adjust the characteristics of the Virtual Drive.

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Optionally, you can quickly set up a Virtual Drive (or, more than one Virtual Drive), by selecting a folder on any drive, and then create the drive from within Windows Explorer context menu.

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Additionally, you can “dismount” a Virtual Drive from within the Windows Explorer context menu.

In this review, I’ve managed to cover only some of the features of this application. To read a more in-depth overview please read an Introduction to Virtual Disk, on the developer’s site.

System Requirements: Windows 7, Vista, XP, or Mac OS 10.5 or later (Windows 64 bit native installation available).

Download at: KACE (Registration is required).

Note: Additionally, the application will install the open source Dokan library which contains a user mode DLL (dokan.dll) and a kernel mode file system driver (dokan.sys). Dokan is used to mount Virtual Disks and make them accessible as normal drives with Explorer visibility and Command Prompt access.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Business Applications, downloads, Encryption, Freeware, Mac OS X, Open Source, Software, Utilities, Virtualization, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP

Free Phone Calls From Gmail – Yes It’s Free, But Is It Any Good?

image If you live in North America, you’ll know that “FREE” is one of the most overused, and undefined words – ever. Free, has so many variables attached, that it’s virtually worthless as a descriptor.

If you don’t live in North America, it’s still probable that the same conditions apply where you live, as well.

Despite the fact that “free”, is a very uncertain term, and despite the fact that we’ve all aware of that old expression – “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”, advertisers continue to appeal to our lower instincts by crafting entire campaigns around “FREE”.

So last week, when Google announced “free” phone calls to “actual phones”, not just PC to PC (including long distance), from within Gmail, in both Canada and the US, my natural sense of skepticism kicked in.

Being the old cynic that I am, I immediately thought –

It’s got to be a hassle. Well I couldn’t have been more wrong. Google Voice is the easiest VOIP application I’ve ever used. Even easier to use than my long time favorite VOIP application – Skype.

Voice quality has gotta suck. Wrong again! Voice quality beats my home phone quality – hands down. In fact, if you’re a speakerphone user, I’ll wager that this application will be an improvement.

It isn’t really free. By now, I was a little tired of being wrong but, I was wrong again! Google’s free phone calling feature in Gmail is, well, FREE – at least until the end of 2010.

Setup couldn’t be easier. Highlight “Call Phone”, in your Gmail chat menu.

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Then, just download and install the voice and video application from the next screen. The installation app will automatically calibrate your devices. Alternatively, you can choose to self calibrate.

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Following installation, you’ll notice that the “Call phone” icon has changed to green – from the previous gray.

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Clicking on the Call phone icon will open a phone keypad, as the following screen capture shows.

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Choose your Country, (Canada or the US for the moment), input the phone number – either with your mouse, using the onscreen keypad, from your keyboard, or your Gmail contact list. Click on “Call”, and voila! – you’re connected. Incidentally, the application will automatically save your call history.

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Incoming calls:

The service provides a US phone number (not yet available in Canada – but it’s on the way), chosen by the user from available numbers in selected area codes.

Requirements:

US or Canadian based Gmail users only – for the time being.

A Gmail account.

Web Cam and Speakers (I found this the easiest setup), or

Microphone and Speakers, or

Headset.

Download: From within Gmail.

Features:

Explore some of the most popular features of Google Voice by watching these videos:

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  • Overview
  • Voicemail transcription
  • One number
  • Personalized greetings
  • International calling
  • SMS to email
  • Share voicemails
  • Block callers
  • Screen callers
  • Mobile app
  • Conference calls

I must admit, I’m very enthusiastic about this new service from Google. I find it very convenient, and it’s already saved me some cash in long distance fees.

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Filed under Business Applications, Communication, downloads, Freeware, Gmail, Google, Google Software, Interconnectivity, Software, Video Apps, Video Calling, VOIP, Windows Tips and Tools

Free StatCounter – A Serious Blogger’s Best Friend?

image Are Blog statistics important? Maybe – maybe not; it really depends on why you blog, the type of content you produce, and on your expectations for readership.

If you are a serious Blogger, you may have already concluded that the Internet playing field is not level; that your site cannot compete with corporate sites that specialize in the same content that you offer. But, there are exceptions – and your site can be one of the exceptions.

Great content is the critical ingredient in the success recipe. But, it’s not the only ingredient. I have a great many friends who are serious bloggers, who regularly produce great content, but whose readership growth does not reflect the efforts they put into creating this great content.

Anyone who has been in a management position is, or should be, familiar with this old truism from the late management guru Peter Drucker – “What gets measured, gets managed”. Having spent most of my working life in management, I can assure you of the general truth of this statement.

Measuring the performance of a business operation, (a serious blogger is in business, in a sense), and then acting on the results of those measurements, is critical to both the short and long term success of any business. Measuring customer expectations (and then listening to the customer), is arguably the most important.

We are all familiar with General Motors, a notable example of what can happen to a company which chooses not to listen to customers. Elementary analysis of customer expectations, appears to not have been one of General Motors strong points.

In order to be a successful blogger, and compete with “the big guys”, you need the ability to measure, and manage, your Blog’s important metrics. Since you can’t talk directly to your customer (the reader), to any great extent – I grant you “comments” are important – you need an unbiased tool, one you can rely on, which will will help you interpret your readers needs, wants, likes, dislikes, and more.

StatCounter is a free measurement and reporting tool (a more comprehensive upgrade version is available), which, if used appropriately, can help you measurably increase your Blog’s web presence, and help drive more visitors to your site.

Fast facts:

Free, Fast, Responsive, Quick loading and Reliable Service.

Invisible Tracking – no ads on your website.

Accurate real-time website statistics with detailed visitor tracking and analysis.

It couldn’t be simpler – pasting a piece of code into your Home Page starts the process which will provide you with the following information.

Summary

Popular Pages

Entry Pages

Exit Pages

Came From

Keyword Analysis

Recent Keyword Activity

Recent Came From

Search Engine Wars

Exit Links

Exit Link Activity

Downloads

Download Activity

Visitor Paths

Visit Length

Returning Visits

Recent Pageload Activity

Recent Visitor Activity

Recent Visitor Map

Country/State/City/ISP

Browsers

System Stats

As an illustration, here are several examples of “Recent Pageload Activity” from my site. Clicking on the graphic will increase the size, or use your Browser magnifier.

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As you can see, just this one screen can tell you who your readers are, where they came from, what they found interesting, and more. To put it another way –in this case, StatCounter is reporting my readers needs, wants, likes, dislikes, and so on.

I use StatCounter every day to help me listen to my readers, and to determine what it is they need – what they want to read, and what’s important to them. Taking this small extra step, has paid off in helping me establish an Internet presence that might otherwise have been much more difficult.

If you are a serious blogger, StatCounter, used appropriately, can increase the pleasure that blogging gives you. After all, which one of us doesn’t like to see our efforts produce results.

One caveat: The free version of StatCounter is restricted to the last 500 web site hits. For most people though, this restriction should not be an issue.

You can signup for this free service on the StatCounter site.

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Filed under blogging, Blogging Tools, Business Applications, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Personal Perspective, Social Blogging, Software, StatCounter, Windows Tips and Tools