Thursday, 5 July 2012

An updated site and portfolio!

It is difficult to believe that the last time we updated our blog was in April 2010.  Oooops!  Where have the last 2 years disappeared to?...

We are very proud to announce the launch of a slightly revised and wholly updated portfolio on our site, and welcome your feedback.  We think we have made a lot of customers very happy with the hard work we have put in, and our attention to pixel perfection.  Cloudbase has become a truly enterprise content and e-commerce management engine, and is packed with 6 years of learnings and development - an asset to any online project.

If you are interested in talking to us about your next project, please drop us an email at, and if you know any .NET developers or hot web designers that are looking for a job (no agencies or outsource partners please!), please get them to get in touch with their CV and portfolio asap.  We are growing and need the best people to help us do so.

Thanks for visiting us. We will do our best not to wait 2 years next time to keep you up to date with all the happenings in The Hatchery.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Why did we build Cloudbase (our proprietary solution) instead of using an open source content management system?

We were involved in two meetings on Friday last week and both potential customers asked us the same question: "Why did you build your own content management system instead of using an open source platform such as Joomla or Wordpress?"
In a sentence, the answer is simply that none of the existing platforms easily accommodated the requirements of our clients or ourselves.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Part 1: Does my business need a website, social media and all that stuff?

We have recently seen a spike in requests from customers to explain how the Internet, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and social media in general can help their business grow, and what it actually all means. Although many customers are wanting to generate new business leads and maintain customer relationships in a relevant and convenient way, they are primarily worried that embracing the web and social media will mean that they spend more time in front of their computer and less time face-to-face with their customers or family.

This is a perfectly valid concern and needs to be properly explored in the context of one's own business before plunging into the gripping, limitless world of digital media and communications. In my next few blog posts, I will explore numerous popular technologies that may (or may not) be of business benefit to you.

Please note that while I hope you will derive benefit from this information, you shouldn't apply it without due consideration to your own business requirements, target market, resources and processes. The information provided is intended to stimulate thinking rather than answer all your questions. If you are lacking in confidence or remain confused by all the jargon and options, we would be pleased to undertake a full assessment of how you could and / or should use technology to grow your business and embrace your customers. For more information please email us at

The Internet

The Internet has been around for years now and if you are reading this blog post then you already know what a browser is and how to navigate web pages. What you may not know is how the Internet is structured, how search engines show you exactly what you are looking for, and most importantly, how you can beat your competition to the next lead or sale.

How the Internet is Structured

I don't want to go into too much detail about how the Internet is structured as I want to try and keep this as jargon and clutter free as possible. If you feel you need more meat on the bone then take a look at Rohan's blog post about using 'View Source' to assess your website structure. What I will say about the Internet and how data is structured is that it isn't all a complete mess.

Most people use browsers to view websites and pages and those browsers are all trained to interpret structure and styles using standardised codes defined in languages such as HTML and CSS. If there was no structure to the Internet it would make a search engine's job of finding relevant information much more difficult - almost impossible. So bear this in mind: how your website is structured is important. You can get away with quite a lot but for optimal search engine results and usability, you absolutely must pay attention to how your website code and content are organised.

Search Engines

Nowadays one can find almost anything on the Internet. Individuals, families, groups, businesses and governments all contribute to the data available on the World Wide Web. The brilliant minds of Sergey Brin and Larry Page that created Google developed some incredibly complex algorithms to simplify the process of finding information on the Internet quickly and easily. Larry Page devised the system we now call PageRank which tries to determine the relative importance of a set of links and therefore pages. In academic circles, the basis on which he built his link analysis algorithms made perfect sense as it mirrored the commonly used 'citations' framework in academia. It was logical that the more times a paper was cited by other academics, the more important that paper was. And so, one of the key metrics used for evaluating relevance on the Internet was, and remains, links. The more times your website is referenced by others, and the more important those other websites are, the higher your website will be ranked relative to those with similar keywords, titles and content.

So, a key consideration for your web strategy should be link building. We don't advocate buying links (even though this may seem like a quick way to improve your rankings) primarily because search engines are becoming smarter all the time and will penalise you if they discover your site has tried to take advantage of this somewhat questionable ecosystem. Do this properly and traditionally. The Internet should be seen as another marketing channel and despite being shrouded in bits and bytes and unfathomable concepts, it is still administered by people. People write most of the content on the Internet and as such, are responsible for adding links and referencing other websites. Find those people and connect with them. I will discuss more about how to do this when I talk about Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the other social media tools out there in a subsequent posting.

Beating the Competition aka Improving your PageRank

There are literally hundreds of articles on the Internet that will tell you how to improve your PageRank and drive more traffic to your website. Here are my top tips for doing so:

  1. Include high quality, relevant information on your website
  2. Promote your site to everyone you communicate with - ensuring you include your website address on business cards, letterheads, newsletters and emails just to name a few
  3. Get your website featured on some of the bigger sites on the Internet
  4. Tell the Press about your website
  5. Keep your website running smoothly and keep it up to date

...and for more advanced users:

  1. Consider Google Adwords and other online advertising opportunities to drive more traffic to your site (more on this in subsequent posts)
  2. Provide a RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed for your website which will alert users to changes in your website content

Those tips will get you going in the right direction. Remember that essentially when your website is published it simply says 'here I am'. Now you need to get search engines, blogs and other websites to point at your website and say to their readers - 'Look there, you will like that.'

In part two I will be discussing social media and how you can personally start to drive more traffic to your website. The tools are all free, but the process of cracking social media will take time and dedication.

Good luck optimising your website and ranking higher in the search engines.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Read all about it - we are exiting the recession

My primary source of news nowadays is Google Reader which I have configured to pull news stories from all the sources I feel publish content relevant to me and The Hatchery. Last week I noticed a change that made me think - can we use the news to quickly predict economic fluctuations?

Well of Course You Say

The aforementioned statement may sound silly and obvious but the simplicity of the indicator I am referring to struck me as slightly different. On Saturday morning I opened Google Reader to find 486 unread news articles. Wow. On average, the number of unread articles I receive every morning is somewhere between 200 and 280, but on Saturday (and ever since), that number has more than doubled.

After reading (or at least scanning) them all over the past 3 days, I can say that I am struck by the amount of positivity in many of the articles and blog posts. The underlying sentiment is not as dreary and filled with doom and gloom outlooks and predictions. Can we deduce that we might be seeing a turning point? Could the most simplistic economic indicator be the number of news articles published across a random selection of sources?

The Indicator

In the past it was pretty difficult to determine the quantity of news published by multiple sources. One might have noticed a slightly thinner newspaper or fewer ads in print, but generally the comparisons we could draw were limited to a single source and their historical track record. Google Reader throws that limitation out of the window and I for one am excited by the insight I feel it provides.

The economic indicator I believe I may have stumbled upon needs context - like all other useful indicators. For example, approximately 60% of my news comes from Silicon Valley or the USA and another 10% from South Africa. So a rise in the number of articles or improvement in general sentiment may be just that - general; and may only be relevant to the region(s) in which the majority of one's news articles are published.

What do you think? Until the economies of the world have recovered and an approximate turning point identified, can this potentially be used as a simple indicator?

Monday, 8 March 2010

Offshore Development - Where are the landmines?

Choosing an offshore design and / or development company over a specialist agency based in the UK can potentially save thousands of pounds; but unless you have the expertise to manage the remote team and the technical know-how to perform adequate QA on the delivered product you may be setting yourself up for failure and wasted expense.

Benefits of Offshoring

  1. Price. Hiring developers in India, China or South Africa can be significantly cheaper. On average we have found offshore development to cost 30% less than hiring staff in London to do the job, but some of that saving is offset by the cost of a suitable project manager with technical know-how to ensure the offshoring process saves, rather than costs, money.
  2. A full team instead of just one resource. Most offshore companies now offer customers pricing based on time spread across multiple resources. You might get a part time project manager, full time developer, part time designer and test specialist in a package that is attractively priced. This is great. In fact, it is vitally important, but the benefit is negated if you use a specialist web design / development agency in London as their team will provide the same benefit - and often with more experienced, value adding resources that have a good understanding of your target market.

Disadvantages of Offshoring

  1. Timezone Differences A 5 hour (or so) time difference with India might not seem like a problem but adding up the delays in communication across an entire project development lifecycle can easily double the expected time required to deliver a completed product. You will be required to sign off on deliverables on a regular basis and any delays in that sign off will directly impact on the delivery date. Make sure you can afford slippages in your product or site launch or plan according to the likelihood that timezone differences will cause slippages.
  2. Language Difficulties Adequately communicating requirements and managing a project from start to finish with native, English-speaking developers and designers is a challenge at the best of times. Doing this with limited-English speaking teams can be a nightmare.
  3. Consistency Many offshore companies rotate resources between projects and one can quite easily receive a project that only just hangs together in both design and code consistency. While your website or product may appear to do the job, it is vital that you look under the hood and make sure the delivered project is reasonably constructed and easy to maintain. Our experience is that often this is not the case.
  4. International Experience Many designers and developers in the commonly used offshore countries have little or no international work experience. We regularly undertake projects that are fundamentally unfit for purpose but only because the designer or developer didn't understand the market in which the product or website was to be used. A good example of this comes in the form of e-commerce websites. The rules and requirements governing e-commerce (and in particular, payment processing) in the UK can be quite different to other countries, and often those requirements are overlooked and therefore render an offshore project useless - especially if maintaining or changing the code provided by the offshore company is a mess.
  5. Lack of Professionalism There is also a definite difference in professionalism between in-country and offshore providers. Ensure that you match the right resource with your requirements and don't just accept the offshore provider's recommendations. It really will help to have a specialist project manager consult locally to help you navigate the technical jargon that is thrown your way.

I have highlighted a few of the obvious benefits of offshoring your next design / development project and mentioned a few of the mines you need to avoid if you decide to do so.

If price is your only consideration then dealing with the risks associated with offshoring won't worry you too much. If quality, maintainability and time are your most important considerations then our suggestion is that you manage the risk of offshoring by contracting an experienced, local, technical consultant with experience of the process and project requirements to get the job done properly.

If offshoring isn't for you then contact us ( for an all-inclusive package that is affordable, unique and professional.

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