Readers' Forum - October 2005

from the October 2005 Actrix Newsletter

If you'd like to ask a question or request some help on any Actrix or Internet-related matter. Simply send me an e-mail with the word "Forum" in the subject line. I'll try and get an answer to you by return e-mail, and will also post the answer here for the benefit of others who may have a similar question or problem. By the same token, if you read something here and think you may have something to suggest, please feel more than free. Please also note that questions and answers may also turn up under the Helpful Tips section on the Actrix home page (www.actrix.co.nz).

Nick writes: Hi Rob, I really appreciate your articles. They're written in layman's language, I can follow them easily. A question regarding web sites. I understand how I can get to site directly by entering it's URL. The bit of the puzzle I don't understand is, say, I have a web site about Widgets, how do I arrange for the word "widget" to be picked up by a search engine? Thanks Nick

Hi Nick, Thanks for your kind words, and for a very good question. The best site in the world isn't worth a great deal if no one can find it. One of the ways to get your site known is by getting it into a search engine. Search engines work in two ways. They crawl the web all by themselves using programs calls spiders or robots that follow every link they can and report their findings back to the search engine's database. Eventually, a search engine will find you, but only if some other site somewhere on the web links to your site. otherwise there will be no way to find you. So, the first thing you should do is try and get your site linked to by somewhere else, and a good suggestion would be to lodge your site with some NZ based search engines like www.nzsearch.co.nz and www.searchnz.co.nz.

Secondly, you should register your site directly with the search engines. Most search engines, such as Google, will have a page where you can enter details about your site. This will speed up the process of the search engine finding you, but it could still take days or weeks for your site to be returned in a search.

Thirdly, you need to optimise your site for search engines. A whole lot more could be said here, and you are encouraged to do your own web-research, but two things are vital. The first is meta tags which are bits of code added to the header section of your web page (behind the scenes and a web browser won't see them). A description meta tag should be added which provides a short description of your site (say 50 words or so). A search engine will return what's in your description tag as the descriptor for your site. You should also add a key-words meta tag which will alert the search engine as to which words you think describe or summarise your site. When a search engine knows this, it will return your site to people who enter those keywords.

The last trick is to design your site so that it gets returned high in the search engine's collection of returned sites. Keeping your text on each page reasonably short, and having the keywords repeated in the text up to three times is ideal. Too many inclusions of keywords has the opposite effect and the search engine starts to lower your ranking because it thinks you're cheating.

There will be lots of information on the web about optimising, meta tags, and so forth. If you'd like to do more research, use a search engine, of course!

0510ppane.jpg (14416 bytes)Bert writes: Hello Rob I went to a tutorial on Google search engine and a question of viruses in O.E. came up. We were told that we should remove our pre-view panel in order to avoid a virus opening in there. I have noticed that when I right click on an unopened e-mail so I can delete it the message does come up in the pre-view, but I have never heard about disabling that panel. What is your opinion? Regards, Bert

Hi Bert. This isn't something I would recommend as being necessary provided one has up-to-date software. A year or two ago there were a couple of viruses that would automatically activate the minute they were viewed in the preview panes of (mainly Microsoft, I think) e-mail programs. Of course this was a real danger at the time, but the situation was temporary in that Microsoft (and any others) quickly issued updates to their software that prevented this sort of thing from occurring. The latest versions of these e-mail programs will all now refuse to run any malicious code found in an e-mailed virus, so it is no longer necessary to disable your preview pane.

Now, if you haven't updated your software for a long time, then you may still be in danger. Click Help and then About, and you should be able to see which version of Outlook or Outlook Express you have. I think, if I remember correctly, that this problem was fixed in version 5 or version 5.5 of Outlook Express, but if you don't have version 6, then your software is still a bit obsolete and you should update by going to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/, and downloading whatever updates are available.

If you want to be doubly sure about things and disable your preview pane anyway, you can do this in Outlook Express by clicking View, and then Layout. Untick the box that says "Show preview pane".

Judith writes: Hi There, I have a person in Finland who I correspond with. She has suggested I install Skype, so that we can actually talk to each other.....for free. Sounds too good to be true! Is it? Do you know anything about it? I would appreciate your help. Thanks, Jude

Hi Jude, I've pretty much only heard good things about Skype so far, and a lot of people use it without problems. It's freely downloadable from: www.skype.com. You'll need speakers and a microphone (and a soundcard) for it to work, however it's significantly better to use either headphones and a microphone, or a proper headset, as using a microphone together with speakers may lead to echoing and feedback etc.

It's purported to work reasonably well, even on dialup, but obviously the more bandwidth available the better. If both parties have broadband, you're probably going to get the best results, but there would be no harm in trying it on dialup. It works with Mac systems, Windows and Linux.

Your voice is converted into data which is then sent over a P2P network to the other person. It is supposed to be encrypted so it should be secure, but I still wouldn't use it to talk to the bank or to discuss other sensitive data. If you just intend to chat with friends and family it should be fine.

It is very easy to use. Finding people is as simple as searching, or having them give you their Skype name. You can also hook up conference calls on it with multiple participants. It has chat (a la MSN/ICQ) function, and file transfer tools built in. There are also add on services you can pay for which will allow Skype to call out to landlines etc but that's probably getting a bit more technical. There are heaps of reviews and good info on their site as well.