And the Winner Is…

Welcome back to part two of the great graphical website builder shootout. We ended our last blog with a promise to continue with our project of building three similar websites using three excellent website development tools and then publish final results, including a winner in the Great Graphical Website Builder Shootout.

An important approach to take with any significant project is to break it up into digestible chunks. Hence, I had spent some time creating sample content for the site as well as searching Creative Commons for license-free graphics that would fit the site’s theme.

For review, our website needs to have five sections – Home, Services, Blog, Support, and About – and also needs to be able to provide functionality that supports the various services provided by the site. In some cases, we expect our development tool to provide controls (like a calendar control) to enable this functionality. In other cases, some custom development may be required to achieve optimal functionality.

The most advanced functionality required is online scheduling, where site visitors can view available times and schedule a time to receive assistance with their specific technology problem. I’m highly skeptical that any of the three companies being reviewed will provide this functionality out of the box.

With that, let’s take an in-depth look at the 3 development tool contestants and how they fared in this shootout…

Squarespace

Squarespace provides an excellent drag and drop tool for developers to quickly assemble a website. I spent several hours putting together a slick-looking Tecteen.com site (while dealing with interruptions) and searching for existing images that were labeled “licensed for reuse” in Google’s image search feature. Altogether I spent about 4-5 hours from zero to published with Squarespace.

You start by choosing one of the provided templates to begin building your site. Squarespace makes it easy to switch to a completely different template; however, the number of templates to choose from for our particular scenario was smaller than the other providers I reviewed. Hence, I ended up being a bit limited by the template we chose. If I had been creating a website for a restaurant or online store, the templates provided would have been a better match with this business.

Squarespace had some nice surprises that I could see coming in handy for many site builders. The first was a simple tool for creating a business logo. I tried it out and was able to put together a decent-looking logo in a matter of minutes – no graphic design skills required! You are even allowed to take the logo with you if you were to decide to move your website and no longer use the Squarespace service.

I also liked the announcement bar feature that enables you to place breaking news or promotional content at the top of your site. The image further below provides an example of what this looked like for the Tecteen site.

The Squarespace site builder was free to use during a trial period that ended too quickly. Since I was working with all three tools at the same time, it took me a while to get through using the various tools to complete each site and document nuances in this blog. When I returned to my Squarespace site after several days, the service informed me that my trial period had ended and that I needed to upgrade to a paid plan to continue.

You can spend a fair amount of time customizing certain aspects of the site’s look and feel in the “Style” section of the tool, as more than 30 options are currently configurable.

Weebly

Weebly also starts with choosing a template for a site, blog, or store. I was able to choose from a wide array of professional-looking themes.

Weebly’s interface for building websites is straightforward and simple. Drag web controls onto your edit area and then modify control properties. Click on a mobile or desktop icon to see how the site pages display on the pertinent form factor. Nice.

For each page you create, you can choose one of four page layouts – how the text, images, and other content are laid out on the screen. This limits your options when creating pages, but also minimizes complexity.

Weebly doesn’t provide a “build your own logo” option, so we built several of our own custom logos to try out in various situations. I spent a fair amount of time creating a logo for the site while we I was creating the Weebly version of the website. You can hire a marketing firm or graphic designer to design a logo for your company or choose an option that’s easier on the budget by creating your own.

I was impressed to find that Weebly offers a control called Bookings for adding a scheduling tool to the website. However, as I attempted to implement it, errors occurred and it appears the service costs $30 per month – spendy for a small business.

Wix

Initially I was going to review only SquareSpace and Weebly for this blog, but then a Wix television commercial caught my attention (yay for TV advertising generating a genuine lead) and knew I had to include it in this shootout.

Wix has a wide range of website templates to choose from. The advantage of starting with a template is that you can get from ground zero to having a published website pretty quickly. The disadvantage is that you’re often locked into a site architecture that’s less flexible. A lot of small companies begin with a simple template, and then when budget becomes available move to a more advanced web platform – and also to a team of web developers to manage it.

We’re starting out small, though, so an existing template is the right way to go. The Wix library included a “Computer Repair” template, which is a level closer than templates from the other providers to building a site that meets my specific requirements.

Wix packages their plans in 5-tiers, ranging in price from $4 to $40 per month. You can earn discounts by paying the yearly cost upfront. Wix payment and pricing options are available here: http://www.wix.com/upgrade/website.

In general for all providers, the longer you commit, the cheaper it is on a monthly basis. The catch is that you have to pay a lump sum up front to realize the savings.

Summary:

Here are some samples of the home pages created from the three providers. They look totally different from each other, largely due to the templates available from each provider and then the initial template with which I started. So one key to a successful website is starting with a template that more closely matches how you envision customers using your site.

The home pages for the sites developed with SquareSpace, Weebly, and Wix tools

All three providers supply far more functionality than I can describe in a short blog. My goal has been to define a project of reasonable scope and then see which of the three tools was best for this particular job. You might find that one of these three or a perhaps a completely different one meets your specific requirements better.

In addition, all three companies are quickly moving forward with new innovations to make the lives of website creators easier. So your experience may very well be different and/or better than the one I had. I will provide updates/corrections to this content if the service providers or readers report inaccuracies.

And with that, drum roll please…

Wix came out on top for creating the type of website required for this project (technology services provider). Squarespace and Weebly enabled me to complete the task with ease as well, but Wix included a few more capabilities to garner the top spot. Here’s a summary of some of the key features and scores to better quantify key features leveraged to build the site:

Great_WebsiteBuilder_Shootout

 

 

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Who Will Win the Great Graphical Website Builder Shootout?

Modern business runs on the web. If you own a business, you don’t have a web presence, and you’re not familiar with terms like “SEO” and “PPC”, then you’re either in a business that benefits little from the Internet (which, frankly, would be difficult to imagine) or you’re losing business to the competition.

Businesses have many options available for joining the Internet revolution and creating a web presence. Most large businesses have a team (or army) of web developers who are experts at creating complex websites and invest in expensive website development tools, like Adobe Dreamweaver.

Smaller companies may have a developer or two on staff or they may outsource web work to contract developers. The smallest of businesses – aka, Mom and Pop shops – rarely have the budget to invest in expensive web development resources, so they either end up with a very basic website (created by an internal hobbyist) or have no web presence at all.

If you don’t live in the technology space, you may not be aware of a thriving industry of simple web development tools to address these challenges small businesses have in creating a professional-looking website. These website development tools have been available for as long as I can remember.

Naturally, the tools were initially rudimentary, but have matured over the years to offer advanced functionality and now you can set up a professional-looking website in no time at all. These tools are generally free, as these providers make their money providing related services.

To give an example of the timeline involved here, I used an AOL website creation tool back in the mid-90’s to set up a wedding website and then leveraged another called Homestead to create a personal website in the early 2000’s.

You just need to find a reason to create a site, which, frankly, shouldn’t be that difficult to do. Do you have a small business that needs to reach more customers? Do you have a big event upcoming that you’d like to highlight and share with the world? You can accomplish some of these with existing services, like Facebook; however, if you really want to do your event justice, you’ll likely want a dedicated site.

I recently had the occasion to set up a website with my technology-savvy son and performed quite a bit of research on new website development tools to determine the best one to use. Naturally, more tools are available than anyone could possibly review or use; however, I narrowed our test bed to three that seemed to come out on top in just about every review that I read – Wix, Weebly, and SquareSpace.

And we have a real purpose for doing so, which enables us as reviewers to provide context. The goal was to develop a website for a small IT (information technology) business a friend of mine is starting. He’s an expert in smartphones of all types – Apple, Android, Windows – and wanted to bring his business to the web to leverage his skills to generate business helping people with their technology challenges.

This is a great scenario for evaluating a product like a web dev tool. We have a real-world project that is limited in scope, but just enough work to ensure each tool gets a proper workout.

Weebly_Interface
Weebly’s website development tool

In more detail, the goal was to create a website/presence that would get a small business on the web and allow users to contact and schedule an appointment for getting their technology problem resolved. A neighborhood genius bar if you will.

The typical first step in setting up any business on the internet is to come up with a domain name. A domain name is exactly what it sounds like – the name of the business or a slight variation thereof as it exists on the Internet. You’ll need a unique domain that isn’t already registered by another business or individual.

Note that you can register (pay for) a domain name with a traditional domain registrar, like Network Solutions or GoDaddy, and then transfer that domain to your website builder service provider. Or you can do everything through the website provider, but you could save a few dollars per year by keeping the domain and website builder providers separate.

The next step in the project is to brainstorm what content and services need to be available on your website. Typical content might include an About section that tells your company’s story, a Contact page with information for customers to contact your business, and a product information page. Typical services are a calendar tool for users to schedule an appointment online and providing free file storage (ala, Dropbox).

SquareSpace_Interface
SquareSpace’s graphical website development tool.

The website we’re building will initially contain standard content categories (About, Contact, Blog) and a limited set of IT technology services – online (phone, chat) technology recommendation consultations, onsite “secure my router” help, “build me a computer”, and a few others. We’ll want to be sure these services are clearly documented on the site.

We’ll use the following criteria for evaluating each website builder tool’s value:

  • How intuitive is the web development tool to use?
  • How quickly did it take to go from zero to published?
  • Does the provider provide value-added services that obviate the need for custom development?
  • What support channels are available and how good are they?

In the interest of staying within industry recommended blog lengths, I’ll break this review up into two blog postings. Yes, I know it’s not fair for you to have to wait for the final verdict, but this is kind of how the world works – you know with click-bait and all everybody trying to get ads in front of your eyes.

Graphics with examples of the three website development tools being reviewed are interspersed throughout this article.

Wix_Interface
Wix’ graphical website development tool.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll continue with our project of building three websites using these excellent tools and then publish final results, including the winner of the Great Graphical Website Builder shootout! Thanks for reading thus far…

An app for personal food management

My personal life is just about as busy as my professional life. With two working professionals in the household and kids with continuous events and activities, my spouse and I rarely encounter the prized “dull moment” (but when we do, oh, how we savor it!).

As our work and personal lives get busier – think Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, football, soccer, basketball, baseball, orchestra, band, school, homework – we’re constantly looking for ways to be more efficient in how we get stuff done.

As you’d expect, we leverage latest advancements in technology to make our lives easier. We have smartphones for communicating in real-time via text messaging, we use GPS apps to ensure we can get to where we need to go, and even added a smart watch recently to see how this tool could save us even more cycles.

One ongoing challenge that we’ve only incrementally addressed is what I’ll call “food/grocery management”. This is the process of procuring food to maintain a household as well as managing food waste.

The process of procuring food has improved over the years in a number of ways. Grocery stores in the U.S. are open longer for those who can only get to the store later in the evening. And grocery delivery services are now past their early-growth stage and have become a mainstream alternative to having to visit the grocery store.

With regards to food waste, recent studies have shown that the average American family throws away more than $2,500 per year in food. It may seem unimaginable that the number is this high; however, it begins to make sense when you think about all of the 3-5 day old food that ends up in our yard waste bin because the idea of eating leftovers is frequently unappealing.

A lot of this wasted food is certainly safe to eat, but it’s much easier for Americans to justify avoiding food poisoning versus saving a few dollars. That is, we’d rather throw away perfectly good leftover food than risk 24-36 hours being miserable with food poisoning.

As a technology product innovator, I’ve come up with a technology idea to address these problems. Through all of my research online, I’ve not seen the market produce a comprehensive solution for this problem yet, so I’m assuming the specific implementation I’m going to cover here has never been done – although I would also add that with so many innovators out there, it’s difficult to invent something that isn’t already in progress in some form or been done.

Ideas for the app name for the “personal food management” market segment application: the Grocery List app, the Food Management app, Grocery Management app, Family Food Management app.

People will use an application only if they find value in it. So it must either save significant time for the user and/or allow them to save money. Others may have altruistic reasons for leveraging a technology solution, like the ability to avoid wasting food, but usually these do not trump the more typical value propositions of  saving time and money.

In the technology industry, product managers are responsible for understanding market happenings, identifying needs that a technology solution could address, and then working with developers to create a product to (hopefully) address these needs. A simple example is spreadsheet software that enables anybody to efficiently categorize and visualize information. I frequently leverage spreadsheet software to categorize data and illustrate points with others. It’s safe to say that spreadsheet software is an invaluable tool for me.

I am in the process of investigating this food challenge further; however, I have plenty of personal experience to draw from on the subject. As a product manager, I must gather and document specific information before moving forward with an idea. Here’s a subset of the type of information I research for any project, with a focus here on our original challenge – grocery management.

USE CASES/SCENARIOS:

OLD PROCESS: Current grocery process is for family members to write down additional items they need on the paper grocery list on the fridge (if they remember). When it’s time to buy groceries for the week, dad/mom grabs the paper grocery list near the fridge and goes to the store to buy groceries for the week. After shopping for 2 hours, (s)he comes home with everything from the paper grocery list. Unfortunately, needed items are missed because the kids forgot to write them on the list.

NEW PROCESS: Dad/mom logs into the Grocery app on this mobile phone to bring up the family’s customized grocery list for the week that includes all of those things that family members have texted to the list, including those items added while dad/mom is at the grocery store. Dad/mom comes home with all necessary groceries and all family members get what they want (unless dad/mom chose not to get the Twinkies).

CONSIDER:

Kids with phones: Sammy has just eaten the last yogurt container in the fridge. She might tell mom/dad that they need more yogurt or she might write it down on the paper grocery list by the fridge. If mom/dad isn’t readily available, she may not remember to tell them at all. If Sammy is feeling ambitious (she’s a teenager, after all), she may write “yogurt” on the paper grocery list near the fridge.

Kids without phones: A lot of kids have smart phones these days, if for no other reason than to be able to text a parent from school. Younger kids are with a parent when they’re young and most don’t own smart phones. In other cases, younger kids (7-10 years) can borrow mom’s or dad’s phone to add to the grocery list.

TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC:

The target market is busy adults who have sophisticated grocery shopping requirements. These scenarios involve adults are usually parents with multiple children, are concerned about children eating healthy, often try to cook at least a couple of family meals each week, spend between $700 and $1,200 on food monthly, and may even shop at multiple grocery stores, including online grocers, to meet their unique family food requirements.

REQUIREMENTS:

  • Grocery List app database would be maintained in the cloud. Security of this data is less of a concern because few care that you consume prune juice.
  • The app installs on each phone in the family, so when they need something, they simply text what they need to the Grocery List App’s text alias.
  • The app has to notice buying patterns and add them to a time-based grocery list. For example, milk is a staple for our family. We consume about the same quantity of milk each week. Hence, milk would go on the list of weekly groceries that get ordered on a weekly basis.
  • Is integrated with calendar app to know when a family member or the entire family is going to be out of town. This will obviously change what ends up on the grocery list and when it needs to be fulfilled.
  • Reminds you when you are near a store that carries something on your cloud-based grocery list.
  • Allow you to check off each item on the list as you go through the store (or order online).
  • Provide the option for customers to have groceries delivered, pick up groceries themselves, or a mix of these. For example, I like to pick out my own fruits and vegetables because grocery delivery services have proven that they cannot (yet) provide this service. You’d think a grocer called “Amazon” would be able to provide decent bananas!
  • Notify the person doing shopping in real-time when something new gets added to the cloud-based grocery list (say, via text) and require notification acknowledgement.

So we have the beginnings of a grocery management app with some good functionality to save us time and money. We haven’t yet discussed how to address food waste issues, so I’ll cover that later as we get further down the road with this app.

What else would you like to see the app be able to do for your specific grocery shopping requirements? Please leave a comment and we’ll get working on the app!

 

Jimi Hendrix Is the Answer!

As we rapidly approach “that” time of year – yes, Jim Hendrix’ November 27th birthday – it might be time to relate a funny story about the master guitarist from Seattle born on Thanksgiving day (well, one of them)…

My good friend Calvin knows very little about popular music. He was raised on the Irish Rovers and Peter, Paul, & Mary. Music that any kid with hopes of being cool in school would not admit listening to.

When we were in high school during the 80’s, Cal somehow missed out on the rock music trend that swept like wildfire through the nation’s high schools. AC/DC, Tom Petty, Rush, Led Zeppelin, The Who. Instead he got mixed up with songs like Safety Dance and Puttin’ on the Ritz (by a band called Taco, no less. Wonder where they are today?!). Undoubtedly a result of his early (and apparently damaging) exposure to the Irish Rovers.

But Jimi Hendrix slipped through Cal’s pop-culture filter and in a big way. Not Cal’s music filter – because he didn’t know any Jimi Hendrix songs, unless “Purple Haze” had been covered by Peter, Paul, & Mary (It, of course, never was) – but the filter that lets certain words or phrases through without additional context. Maybe Jimi’s name just sounded cool, kind of like like “Starland Vocal Band” or “Rage Against the Machine”.

All of this might explain why Cal came to believe that Jimi Hendrix was not just a famous guitarist from the Rainier Valley in south Seattle, but the man who discovered America, the first astronaut to land on the moon, and the founder of Microsoft!

You see, whenever a question was raised in any situation during our years in high school, Cal’s answer was almost always “Jimi Hendrix”. According to Cal, the only subjects Jimi Hendrix wasn’t an expert in were math and physics. In just about every other setting when any other question was raised, an answer of Jimi Hendrix was appropriate – at least to Cal.

Things didn’t get any better when Trivial Pursuit became the most popular board game on the planet and the maker of this game issued a variation called “Rock and Roll Trivial Pursuit”. You can imagine there might be one or two cards in this edition of the game where an answer to a question could be “Jimi Hendrix”. But as I recall it, pretty much every answer Cal gave during the one time we played the game was “Jimi Hendrix”. Turns out that George Plimpton had nothing on Jimi Hendrix! (at least in Cal’s eyes).

It probably didn’t help matters that many rock lyrics at the time were unintelligible (ok, it’s still true today), with the “Jimi Hendrix Experience” being a great example of this. One of the universally least understood lyrics of all time comes from the Jimi Hendrix song Purple Haze when he says, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky“. This is news to a lot of people, as people who are familiar with this song regularly insist that this lyric is instead “Excuse me while I kiss this guy“. Just a slight shift in context!

This lack of clarity in lyrics certainly wasn’t going to help Cal any. He already thought that Credence Clearwater’s “Bad Moon Rising” contained the lyric “There’s a bathroom on the right” and the Fifth Dimension’s song “Aquarius” contained the words “This is the dawning of the age of Asparagus!”. Musical artists singing about veggies? Really?!

I do like to make fun of Cal’s lack of musical aptitude; however, it’s crazy to think that even though he was clearly born without the music gene, his academic skills were quite excellent in the areas of math and science, enabling him to eventually become quite literally a rocket scientist (but perhaps no better at understanding this classic Starland Vocal Band lyric: “Sky rockets in flight! Afternoon Delight!”).

Not all of us are born with the music gene, but at this time of year we should be thankful that we’re each born with a unique set of attributes that can be put to good use in any number of ways. Some are born to be artists, while others with hard skills can design and build great stuff, like skyscrapers, airplanes, rockets and even the equipment used to record awe-inspiring music from the great artists of our time.

Jimi Hendrix has been gone from us for 40 plus years now; however, Jimi (or his estate) is still releasing music, including some previously unreleased material recently in 2013, and he’s as popular as ever. With such great staying power, Cal was on to something about Jimi. After all these years, maybe Jimi is the answer!

Know When to Turn Your Game Face Off

Not a day goes by without another conflict somewhere around the world grabbing the headlines, where people are fighting and killing each other over what are often trivial things. Some people don’t even recall what they’re fighting about; they just know that they have to harm anybody who represents “the other side” because it’s ingrained in the mentality of the culture.

While many countries have gone beyond resolving conflict by killing members of the opposing side, some continue to use the battlefield, well, as a battlefield. People in more developed cultures that have defined a new battlefield in the business realm often don’t understand why people continue to inflict and endure real physical and emotional suffering in a constant loop of tit for tat killing.

This got me thinking about how we, as humans, create and maintain affiliations with certain types of groups – teams, if you will. Yes, just like our local professional football or baseball team. We collectively get involved in one of the four U.S. major professional sports seasons and support these teams during their seasons – baseball in the spring, football in the fall, basketball in the winter.

If we narrow down the list of sports we enjoy, we maybe end up with 2 or 3 serious sports affiliations, and that perhaps is the extent to which we think about our team affiliations. Many take these team affiliations seriously, dedicating weekends to supporting a team or maybe two – college football team on Saturday, professional football team on Sunday, and then making them all day events!

Sports gives us an easy way to think about teams. We call these groups of professional sports groups “teams”; but if we look at our other affiliations from a higher level, we may find that we’re associated with a multitude of “teams” on a daily basis.

A typical team can be described as a group of people participating in a specific cause or activity with a purpose. So starting with sports, I support maybe 3 teams for the 3 sports I like – football, basketball, and soccer. That’s pretty easy to see. But what about all of the non-sports teams I’m either “on” or support?

People can be passionate about anything, including a religion, a school, politics, the company they work for, or even electronics. Ever met an iPhone owner or Android smartphone owner who had an opinion about how good their product is? They’re often more passionate about their electronics provider than any sports team.

We typically don’t think about most of these “teams” on a daily basis, as  we don’t put on a “Sony TV” shirt, paint our face with a Sony logo, and cheer for the Sony electronics team to sell more electronics than say Sharp or Philips. Sounds kind of funny doesn’t it?

Let’s use what could be a typical morning for some people in order to count some other affiliations we might have that could also fits our team analogy. The alarm goes off on your Apple iPhone, you get up and initiate the Keurig to make you a coffee, jump in the shower and use Dial soap and Suave shampoo to lather up and get clean, turn on your Samsung TV to Channel 5 to get the morning traffic, put on your Levi kakis, Ping golf shirt, and Florsheim shoes, jump in your Ford Mustang, head to the voting booth to cast your ballot for a particular political candidate or cause, and then off to work at Google.

Not all of these are teams in the traditional sense, of course. They’re mostly products, brands, and groups. Often times, though, we’re just as passionate about the type or brand of car we drive, our coffee provider, or the company we work for, as we are for anything else.

In the developed world, business is the modern battlefield where we assert our influence and have someone else’s influence asserted on us (aka, “taking our lumps”). Maybe Ford sells more Mustangs than Chevy sells Camaros one year and the next year the reverse is true. This doesn’t stop those who are on each of these team from trying to crush each other on the business battlefield every year.

The beauty of teams in the business world is that this is where we can express our frustrations and anger regarding every day life, which everybody has (just don’t kick the dog, please!). But instead of killing thy neighbor, we can just put on our game face for a few hours and then use business as the “battlefield”.

A metaphor for this is eloquently created and illustrated in the Warner Brothers classic cartoon “Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog”,  where the wolf and the sheepdog check-in together at 8am each day to be enemies (be on different teams) for the work day and then when the “end of work day” whistle sounds at 5pm, they’re back to being old pals. The enmity between them is put on hold till the next day, where they do it all over again.

I like to look at teams in this manner because it reminds me to not assign the same level of priority to all of my affliations. Don’t get me wrong – I love my local soccer team. And I will paint my face, chest, hair and yell at the top of my lungs in support of the team when I’m in attendance at a (home) game.

What I won’t do is injure a player from the opposing team because he/she scored a goal against my team and lost my team the game, even if it is my beloved team. Remember that in the new world of team affiliations, you can put your game face on and dislike the opposition for the duration of your involvement in that team activity. However, when the whistle blows, signifying the end of the current game, we can stop being bitter foes and go back to loving (or perhaps just liking/tolerating) thy neighbor like Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog do.

This behavior makes sense in so many ways because ultimately you’re going to be associated with a multitude of “teams” and you might – no, will – “play” with someone on one team and then oppose them on another. We all do! One day I’m supporting the Seahawks with my colleague and the next day we have sons playing on opposing high school football teams.

The team concept can be applied to any type of group (the Republicans and the Democrats!). There is a time and place for game face on and game face off for our multitude of affiliations. The team we dedicate most of our efforts in support of is the company for which we work. Even though business can be brutal, its beauty lies in the cost of going into battle being lost dollars as opposed to lost lives and human suffering.

Our imaginary friend, Ralph E. Wolf, plays on at least a couple of teams – team wolf and his unquenchable appetite for stealing chickens and team Acme, the company whose products he supposedly peddles. If two imaginary animal foes can adhere to the game face on/off principle, then certainly non-imaginary, civilized people can too!

Dealing with the Trolls Among Us

The online troll is a hot topic of discussion these days. Read any online forum (that involves people) and you’ll see the most vocal responders often use the word “troll” to describe another forum poster.

Trolls were made possible by the first online web app that provided a forum for user comments and allowed users to sign up with a username other than their real name. This type of username is typically referred to as an alias or pseudonym.

I see the term being thrown around in online forums often with reckless abandon because it’s often one troll versus another. “You’re an Apple fanboy.” “You’re a Microsoft fanboy.”

What exactly is a troll? The term “troll” can be challenging to define because most people don’t think of themselves as trolls, even if they exhibit the classic behaviors. Naturally, people use the term troll in many contexts (with the traditional one being an ugly and scary cave-dwelling being), but I’m going to define it with regards to its new use in the technology industry.

Keep in mind that even if my definition were perfect, the trolls among us will disagree with my definition. But I won’t be alarmed or feel besmirched – this is the job of the troll and anything less would (frankly) be disappointing.

We’ll also cover how to deal with trolls because someday you too will have a troll in your life. Hopefully he/she isn’t also a stalker, as stalking trolls are difficult to shake!

So here we go. The new troll is anybody who hides behind an alias and replies to online articles and users in an online forum with content intended to generate a negative emotional response from another online poster who authored or commented on an article. Ultimately, the troll would love to also elicit a written response to their inciting post to verify that they’ve truly accomplished their goal of pushing someone’s buttons – icing on the cake for the troll!

Trollish behavior is built into the human DNA, as evidenced by my older brother. When we were kids, he knew exactly how to push my buttons to make me mad. If there was something he could say to me or a constant noise he could make while I was trying to focus on a task, he would say or do it, sticking with the obnoxious behavior long enough to send me into a fit of rage (he was a persistent offline troll).

Same with the online troll. The online troll often responds to an article’s author (or another poster) with a mean or controversial statement meant to elicit an emotional response. First, you read the troll’s comment, which is either in complete disagreement with your response and/or a personal attack on your character, and when the troll has got you good and mad, you respond with something that’s really going to get him/her. This usually backfires, especially if you misspell a word or use bad grammar.

Trolls are contrary to the point of self-contradiction. I once replied to a story online regarding terrorism and said the people doing the nefarious behavior had been brainwashed. One troll responded to my post with a “… and you’re not brainwashed?” comment.

Of course our beliefs are based on our experiences, including all of the good and bad information we put into our brains on a daily basis. It does take a bit more brainwashing, however, to be motivated enough to torture another living thing, especially a fellow human being. It’s unlikely that any amount of propaganda supporting the opposing view on this type of torture would change my mind on this.

Yes, like most people, I sometimes temporarily and, perhaps during an emotional moment, feel I’d like to see someone evil suffer, but then I come to my senses and realize everyone has a reason for where they are in life and I can’t know how they arrived there.

Not all trolls are bad and in fact many of us have a favorite or two. The rare troll has built a charismatic online persona with a preposterous, but entertaining point of view. Others have perhaps softened an extreme position over time or claim a charming alias like “Loverock” that enables non-trolls to tolerate the occasional trollish post.

My best advice for dealing with trolls is very effective – DON’T! Just like Mom advised about how we should respond to name calling and having sticks and stones thrown at us. Ignoring a villainous response to a post you made online is not much fun, but is better than the alternative. Arguing with a troll is a dead end. You’ll never win. Even if you think – no, know (or at least are pretty certain) – that white is white and not black, the troll will soon bring doubt into your life on this point. Don’t go there!

Some online entities have attempted to deal with the online troll by requiring forum posters to use real names and aliases. These efforts have mostly failed because many scenarios require people to protect their online identities (especially when sharing personal information) and certainly the freedom of being anonymous online leads to creativity and entertainment that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Think “Fake Steve Jobs” and the plethora of great non-real personalities on Twitter, including some great animal aliases. What would we do without Subtweet Cat?

People are indeed people, but they’re also trolls. Get used to it. But don’t fall into their trap by responding to an obvious troll. Only respond to comments that appear to be from people with at least a hint of common sense (which means some online forums will be off limits altogether!). This is simple, but hopefully also sage, advice for dealing with the trolls among us…

Be prepared

Be prepared. It’s the Boy Scouts’ mantra.

Regardless of your political view about the Boy Scouts and their not-quite-as-popular-in-2014 policy of excommunicating gay scouts from their ranks, it’s difficult to argue against the benefits of being prepared.

Like a lot of American kids, I joined the Cub Scouts and participated in all of their life skills pack activities, like making crafts with leather and cheap bead jewelry and binding with Elmer’s glue, racing cars at the Pine Wood Derby, and eating cookies and milk during pack meetings.

That’s right. Mainly fun and games.

After Cub Scouts and Webelos (had to fit this quirky word into the story somewhere), it was time to graduate to the Boy Scouts.

Most of my friends’ parents were an outdoorsy bunch – campers, hikers, climbers. I loved the outdoors, but mainly for playing sports like soccer and football and games like Kick the Can and Hide & Seek. I never much considered sleeping outdoors unless it was the height of summer, much less in the middle of winter. In Washington, “height of summer” means a high of around 80 degrees, give or take.

Hence, I was a little “unprepared” for my first campout with the Boy Scouts that occurred in the middle of winter in the month of January in the beautiful setting of a place called Wiley Creek.

Mom and Dad had been divorced for a couple of years then, and my mom was therefore helping me prepare for my January night out with the boys from Troop 4xx. This should have been the first sign of trouble, but knowing virtually nothing myself about camping, I just went along with the plan (or lack thereof).

Naturally it was going to be cold, so Mom went to work putting together my “sleeping bag”. I quote the words sleeping bag because, while the intention was to serve as a sleeping bag, one could argue that a sleeping bag it was not.

Her idea of my “middle of winter” sleeping bag was to take an indoor sleeping bag that was barely qualified to keep one warm indoors and sew a standard bed blanket into it, stuff it into a black 32-gallon trash bag, and send me on my way.

For those of you who don’t know camping very well, compact, warm, and lightweight sleeping bags have existed for decades. And because scouts often hiked from campground parking lots to their camp sites (often a long distance), “true” scouts would load up a back pack with living essentials along with a lightweight (but warm) sleeping bag that could be conveniently attached to the bottom of their backpacks without sticking out. Easy peasy.

So there I was in the middle of January, mind you, hauling a grocery bag of living essentials and a very large 32-gallon trash bag with my “sleeping bag” to a 3-walled cabin in the middle of nowhere.

Shift your focus away from the word “cabin” above and refocus your eyes back to the term “3-walled”. Many people have never experienced a 3-walled cabin, but it’s just as you’d expect. A 3-walled cabin is 3 walls with an opening where a door would normally be. It also usually means plenty of “ventilation” to let the outside (cold) air circulate and ventilate the cabin.

When we finally reached our campsite after an exhausting hike from the parking lot – especially for those of us who were less than judicious in how we “prepared” for the campout – we set up our sleeping area in the cabins. Washington is not known for being as cold as Alaska or Montana, but I recall that night being one of the coldest I’d ever experienced – somewhere in the 20 degrees range.

I shivered my way through the night until morning came and somehow survived without losing any fingers or toes to frostbite. I’m sure it was close. As a newer scout, I and those newbies with me on this campout got to experience nature’s beauty, as well as her lack of mercy.

I now have my own kids learning life’s lessons through scouting, although they haven’t yet been sent out with jury-rigged camping equipment and unprepared for whatever nature might bring. We have different, perhaps more civilized ways of teaching them the power of being prepared for just about anything.

For the record, I don’t harbor any hard feelings toward my mom, who thought she was doing what was best for me in cobbling together a makeshift sleeping bag with little more than spit and baling wire. She never was much of an outdoors(wo)man.

One thing she did help teach me, though, through my cold experience was the mantra “be prepared”, which took on a whole new meaning for me after that campout.