So want a star blogger?

A blog offers so many benefits. Progressing rapidly from its humble origins as a glorified electronic diary, a blog now offers you a forum to have your say. Of course, you can discourse on developments at your organisation, but also on issues in your industry and the wider world. Equally important, blogging is a way to enhance your credibility and position yourselves as an industry-wide authority. You can provide a reference point for your customers and prospects, a source that they can consult on a regular basis, much in the way they do with their favourite columnist in a newspaper. And a blog need not just sit on your own website, but can be used as a highly effective and versatile online marketing tool.

As ever, though, there's a but. A big one. A blog is indeed a great opportunity. Yet it's also an opportunity to mess up. Your blogs need to be professionally written and readable. They should be both entertaining and informative. They need to deliver quality content. Above all, a blog is not an advertisement. Obviously biased corporate propaganda, still worse stilted 'corporate-speak', can be spotted a mile off. The trick is to go softly on the promotion, and deliver what people want to read. Do this and they'll keep coming back. 

Here are some samples. To discuss your particular blogging needs, call 07785 992285.



Why Big Data is a Big Deal

We're always hearing about Big Data these days. Really, though, a less polite interpretation of the phenomenon is simply that data is getting too big for its boots. In other words, it's outgrowing the capabilities of traditional data processing applications and tools. Modern data can now be measured in exabytes, with, in a mirror of Moore's Law re hardware power doubling every two years, the world's total data capacity has doubling every 40 months since the 1980's.
For example. The Large Hadron Collider project releases data from sensors at the rate of 40 million per second. These revealed 600 million data ‘collisions' per second - the things needed to spot trends - which were then filtered down to a decidedly more manageable 100 per second.Politically, Big Data has gone to the very top now too. The 2012 Obama Big Data Research and Development Initiative has been tasked with finding ways how Big Data can be used to address many of the problems currently faced by government. The industrious US president didn't leave it there, either. He even enlisted the help of Big Data to get re-elected.
Of course, all this stuff is the ultra macro perspective. In contrast to the Hadron Collider, a locally based auto parts retailer may set its sights somewhat lower. Big data is relative to the companies and organisations doing the processing. For some, humble may generate the term, while for others it will be terabytes.

There may be trouble ahead

In truth, on all levels, public and private sector, Big Data can pose problems for organisations - and challenges for software developers. The opportunity to spot trends and derive valuable insights from single data sets means that areas ranging from marketing to crime and disease prevention can take giant leaps forward. Yet that potential must be converted into actual before this can happen. Software tools need to capture, store, request and analyse - across hundreds if not thousands of servers simultaneously. 

Many current systems can't cope because of common failings such as:
Frequent write operations locking data records and blocking reads
• Sheer volume causing retrievals to run beyond time limits
• Increases in capacity taking months of testing
• Insufficient hardware and processing power

What to do?

Face the music and dance. Failing that, enlist some Big Data technology. Pioneered by the likes of Google and Facebook, it's purpose-designed to deal with unstructured data on an industrial scale, with architectures based on the concepts like map reduce, key-value storage and horizontal scaling.

Another essential point, as hinted above, is that Big Data is largely unstructured. The whole trend has been driven by data from the likes of Facebook, which can be in the form of text, video, audio or transaction. There are nuggets, gems, silver bullets galore inside these colossal information mountains, but they can't be accessed on World War Two technology. I exaggerate, but much of the stuff people are attempting to use today may as well be.
It takes a specialist to create systems with the accessibility, transparency, analytical speed, security, power, innovation and automation to ride the big data wave effectively.



How Google thinks

The figures may be marginally down, but with a near 90% share of the UK online search market, Google is still pretty dominant. Indeed, one is tempted to paraphrase the words of Winston Churchill, no less:
‘Never have so many placed so much in the hands of so few'
It stands to reason that a sound understanding of Google and the workings of its collective mind can be make or break an online marketer. Of course, for sound reasons Google make it their business to ensure that not many have such an understanding. And when they do, you can be sure that things will change pretty quickly. Google is nothing if not a moving target!
All that said, here's our very brief insight into the way Google works.
1. It crawls. Well, the number of pages now out there on the web is measured in trillions, so it's hardly going to sprint through that lot! Google's self-appointed task is to crawl - or trawl - these pages, following links, in response to search requests from its customers.
2. It indexes. Again, in volumes measured in one of those literally astronomical quantities like 100 million gigabytes. The process is based on content and a number of other more mysterious factors. You can opt out of this process if you don't want your site indexed, but that would be a bit of an own goal for an online marketer, wouldn't it?
3. It algorithms. All important. Google has these mystic programs and formulas that it deploys to try to work out exactly what it is you're looking for when you enter something in a search box. This is the bit that's constantly changing, as the Californian giant gets ever more sophisticated - and adept at foiling those who would fool it.
4. It presents. Your results that is, on web pages known as SERPs or search engine results pages.
And that's all there is to it! Of course, in practice it's anything but this simple. And as we say, it keeps changing. On which subject, let's backtrack to algorithms.
Culminating at the end of last year, there have been some pretty significant changes at Google in recent times. Many are geared in one way or another to thwarting the dreaded spam - or those who would pervert the course of online justice.
Some nitty gritty:
Keywords no longer quite so key. Organic searches are now secure, which means that information about the keywords people search for is no longer so available. Which, in turn, means that one source of insight into consumers' minds is now getting closed off. In other words, tactical SEO based on keywords is no longer so important.
Page rank loses rank. Page rank has been a crude measure of a site's importance, but it's being phased out now.
The hummingbird flaps its wings. Code for a more sophisticated way to read surfers' minds and understand what they're actually thinking of when making a search. This is known as ‘conversational search', and is likely to be a real game changer. Again, keyword matching is no longer so salient.
Author and publisher ranking upranked. Not quite such recent innovations, but part of the general shift.
And what exactly is that shift? Essentially, a better experience for consumers, a worse one for spammers, more recognition for content creators and a switch from tactical to strategic SEO for marketers. Original, genuine, solid content is becoming more important than ever, as dodgy tactics take a big hit. A better future all-round, in fact!



People pawn the strangest things!

Ask practically anybody who works in the pawn industry what they get asked most
frequently by friends and one question is usually near the top of the list. And that's
‘What's the strangest thing that someone has brought into your shop to pawn?'

Generally it's a fair cop. Because over the years people have expected to raise cash
on the back of some pretty bizarre items!

For example, gun ownership is a pretty emotive issue in the US these days, with many
citizens fiercely defensive about their constitution-given right to bear arms. However,
a grenade launcher?! There's enough stopping power there to halt an Abrams main battle
tank! Not a great deal of call for them in your average neighbourhood, even in these
troubled times, though - even if it was legally-owned.

Pride of place on the weird list, however, must go to the American gent who brought in a
full-blown human corpse! He even had the required paperwork to prove he had acquired it
legitimately, although it was not enough to convince the assistant!

Slightly less eye-opening but still strange are the farmers who ask to pawn livestock, even
seriously meaty stuff like cattle and sheep. Maybe a touch more regular in a rural location,
but an inner city pawnshop doesn't have a great deal of call for a herd of prize Aberdeen
Anguses! Still less anywhere to house them for a few months!

Altogether more logical are the landscape contractors who pawn their equipment in the
off-season. Nobody does much of that in the winter, and if the weather's extreme enough -
and they're smart enough - they can work a ‘few months on, few months off arrangement'
with snow ploughs or gravellers. Remember that 90% of items that are pawned are
reclaimed later, so it could be viewed as simply good business. If the banks won't finance
businesses any more, why not the pawnbroking industry to fill the gap? Think of it as the
new face of the finance industry - and dare we say, a more friendly one.

More common altogether are the fantasy sports cars, speed boats and high end jewellery
that are ever more frequently part and parcel of the pawnbroking business as its clientele
goes increasingly upmarket. Even items like gold teeth, gold fillings, toupes and SS branded
cuff links are popping up. Glass eyes have also been offered, although not accepted, thankfully!
While as for the swimming pool one company was sounded out on - ‘Hmmm. Not too sure where
we'll put that one!!!'

Sophisticated works of art are finding their way into the hands of pawnbroking firms now, too.
Few are as sought-after as the Picasso as one Michigan company dealt with, though! They don't
come much more up-market than that!