NKW 1709 - A Busy Week
What a week! As the owner of a small business I find that I am stretched not so much in time as skillsets required to be able to move things forward. This week just gone was a prime example. Having the ability to research, pick apart, learn and adapt makes life easier. Sometimes it is frustrating as the solution, whilst eventually obvious, are often obscured by technical jargon, unfamiliar systems and interdependencies.
Assumed knowledge us a hindrance, throw in the myriad of access controls and you can lose hours. YouTube and Google are the modern day Encyclopedia Britannica, although there us a lot of crap out there. As quickly as the hurdle is overcome, the knowledge can be lost. It is helpful to make a note!
Building The Website
I have had a domain for sometime now and almost a year ago I started learning to code using HTML and CSS. It was really a ground up approach. Incredibly slow and limited in terms of practicality. My recent introduction to Photoshop introduced me to the prospect of creating a website using that package, much more intuitive but already obsolete. Looking around, there are a number of apps or platforms, but of course most require a subscription and I was unwilling to commit to that sort of model. It seems that everyone wants to drive towards a subscription model and milk you for all they can. That is a good business model but is a tad unfair in my opinion.
I managed to find a company, Mobirise, they allow you access to a base set of software and tools that you can use to build a website with additional features at a cost. The beauty with this is that if you are comfortable editing HTML in notepad then you can take the output from Mobirise and make adjustments. I have enough knowledge to be able to do this. The basic blocks and features of Mobirise are enough.
I managed to build a fairly complex site with images, carousels, social media links, etc. It was easy to grasp.
The problem with building a website it that you then need to host it somewhere and again that attracts costs. Now here I already had a solution.
Amazon Web Services
Amazon Web Services, was, until a year or so ago, something of a mystery. The best way to describe AWS is that it provides just about all of your IT requirements bar the terminal and connection to your home or business. This is what is called the public cloud. As a business model it has very strong competitive advantages. I started to study AWS and passed the AWS Cloud Practitioner, which gave me the fundamentals of how AWS works.
How is this relevant? Well, part of the study involved setting up and hosting a domain. Route 53 is the AWS service that handles domains and DNS. That combined with AWS S3, Simple Secure Storage, meant I could set up a website using static hosting. So when I had completed my website build I merely had to upload my files and folders into the S3 folder. Apart from a few technical finer points, the site went live.
Significant issue 1 - the site was not secure, by that I mean not encrypted and therefore trusted by the outside world. In order to secure the website I would need to jump through some more hoops.
AWS Certificate Manager
For your website to be trusted you have to have a certificate, it is a tad more complex than that but in essence there are organizations who can issue certificates once they validate that you are the owner. AWS has a service called certificate manager, which does this for you. Here is where we come across the assumed knowledge and jargon. AWS how to instructions are written by experts and often they lose sight of the fact that mere mortals have to get to grips with them. Add to the mix that you have the option to write the script or use a Graphical User Interface (GUI), they often don't specify which, as it is obvious to them!
Google and YouTube gallop to the rescue more often than not.
But then how to get that sought after padlock?
AWS Cloudfront Distribution
What on earth? Well imagine a fence around your property, you can have access directly to your address (website) or you can stop people at the gate and control access there, In simple terms AWS has to hide your site behind their fence and compel users to go through their gate, which demands encryption and standards. Cloudfront provides this and also more rapid access by caching your data at key locations (this is optional).
Of course it is not as easy as that. You have to specify the settings for Cloudfront then you find that you have to go into AWS Route 53...
AWS Route 53
We are nearly there! So what is happening now? Well after the shock of seeing an error sign instead of my newly minted website, I managed to test and retry settings and eventually get things right. So first off Cloudfront takes the domain and hides it behind it's allocated URL. When you then go back to try the original domain name, then the error appears. In my case this was because I had missed a setting in Cloudfront to set alias addresses. Sounds tricky? It is and it is frustrating!
Once the settings are right you then have to make some adjustments in Route 53. Imagine it this way, if you have a series of signposts up that point towards your address, you need to make sure that they know to point to your address. It is a form of routing the traffic, you have to amend some records in Route 53 which were pointing to your S3 static hosting URL and now need to point to Cloudfront.
Well, that took some patience!
Data is everything these days and thus I, like many others, would like to see how my site is performing. You can then adapt and change to suit the audience. As an example, most of my audience uses a mobile interface therefore I should make my site as mobile friendly as I can, along with the content.
So, how to tackle? First step is to set up a Google Analytics account, easy. The creation of the tag is fairly intuitive. You can tailor to particular requirements but I'll be honest I did not dwell too long on that. So what you end up with is a tag and a dashboard ready to start streaming data. And then....?
Well what is a tag? Think of it as a unique identification that can be tracked. in essence it is a bit of HTML code that is scanned by Google, the trick now is to embed that code into your pages. More importantly, on every page that you want to monitor.
Back to the Batcave....In my case, my knowledge of HTML and use of Notepad allowed me to simply copy my tag into each page. I could then launch a non-production view of my website to test it and then upload to the AWS S3 static hosting bucket and hey presto live!
Flashing back to the Google Analytics site I could then see when I accessed the pages and therefore tested the tag as well. The learning experience continues with the data output but then we can't all be experts right away!
Now that I am managing the development and upgrade of my website in an Agile manner using sprints, I have to consider the next iterations. One of the features on offer is video or linking to video, thus I needed to get a YouTube channel up and running and, of course, provide content.
YouTube is fairly intuitive, although if, like me, you have multiple Google accounts then making sure you have the correct one activated is important. You rapidly become aware of the description, tags and other settings. But the learning experience continues.
There are, surprisingly, a number of ways to make a video. In the first instance I used PowerPoint to make an animated presentation, being careful to set the timings. You then have the option to save the PPT as a video MP4 or Windows Media. Learning and development here was primarily with animations and timings.
PowerCyber - Video Editing
I have a video editing package where I can combine music with video or indeed separate it or otherwise edit. Again as you can imagine there are a large number of features and formats that can be used. I edited the PowerPoint video here and also, when creating content from Photoshop, I recorded the screen.
Using music is a challenge as there is copyright to consider. Thankfully there are artists out there who will allow you to make use of their work, under strict condition. Researching for the music and editing the the video did not take too long.
So what else was there, well in reality there was a great deal else going on too, but specifically I have been supporting a start-up business with advice and guidance. There is a really great team of people, five of us, that are really getting behind it. I must be the least bubbly and effervescent one of the group judging by the abundance of messages pouring out of WhatsApp.
I do have my uses though!
One of the tasks I took on was to establish a merchandising line via a third party website. This was fairly easy as we had the material and I have already got a Redbubble Shop set up. It took maybe 30 mins max to do this.
Part of my bread and butter is making plans and organising things. That said it has to balance between doing and organising, so with that in mind I collated a plan of what the famous five are doing so we can reflect and try and catch things as they happen. This is more about getting the key points, prioritising and setting targets. Herding cats is a great way of describing things but then to a greater or lesser extent this happens in project management. No need to over engineer things!
As part of the direction we need to keep the fire going behind the sales otherwise we fall over. So with a colleague, we brainstormed and outlined the approach to sales. It helps to think things through and bounce ideas off each other. Again, quick and easy to think through, much harder to sustain.
So a busy week, every week, even day, brings challenges. Remaining focussed, patient and adapting to change is important. Accept that you will not have the answer but with determination and networking you can find the answer and solve the problem. Relish the small successes that build towards the bigger achievements.
Incremental success is not so easy to notice but it is critical to making progress.