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Getting British business onlineI attended a much-hyped event last night hosted by Getting British Business Online (GBBO) in association with Edinburgh Action Resilience Network (EARN). GBBO is basically an effort to encourage businesses to acquire a ‘free’ web presence through a collaboration of partners including Google Sites (a free site creation tool) and BT website hosting. The event featured the following keynote speakers:

  • Jim Mather: MSP and Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism.
  • Matt Brittin: Google UK’s Managing Director.

Great – a nice talk from Google might give a bit of insight into what they are up to at the moment in an ever-changing digital landscape, and Matt’s talk was interesting so will be covered in a separate blog post later. I failed to take any notes during Jim’s talk but needless to say he was very enthusiastic about the GBBO initivtive along with Google and BT’s involvement in it.

The BT Presentation.

Warning: I get a bit cynical now

Was now ready and waiting for the rather exciting LIVE demonstration of how easy it is to get your business online with a presentation from a member of BT’s website team.

I’ll give  brief run down of how it went:

  • A good few minutes were spent explaining the Ripple Effect to us, which was nice.
  • We then moved onto creating a site – a volunteer accountant was requested (as a banner has already been created for a fictional accountancy firm)
  • Stage 1 – Select your domain name
    • Our volunteer (FMMW Accountants) sugested, very sensibly, to use the company name as the URL.  Great idea, but not according to BT who suggested the much catchier URL of: www.edinburgh-chartered-accountants.co.uk
    • At this stage I’d point out that all combinations of FMMWAccountancy.co.uk, FMMWAccountants.co.uk, even FMMW-CA.co.uk etc are all available and I would suggest that these would be a better choice (but there would be people who disagree with me).
  • Stage 2 – A question interupted the speaker:
    • Q: What happens if you bought your domain name but haven’t got a website?
    • BT’s A: You can’t use this tool to create a website as it would be too complicated to transfer domains etc. (Now this isn’t true – the free website you get just uses the Google Sites platform, a tool that is free for everyone. As such you could ‘point’ a Google Sites website to the purchased domain. If you want a follow-up post on how to do this then get commenting below!)
  • Stage 3 – A rather confusing period of setting up the site. To be honest I was a bit lost and I’ve been using Google Sites for a while…
    • Adding pictures seemed to be really difficult.
    • The demonstrator just kept clicking buttons so fast no one could really see what was going on.
  • There were a couple of additional comments from the speaker worthy of mention:
    • “Why not setup a different site for each of your specialist areas?” – well, I could go on for a while about why not to do this but anyway it’s against BT’s terms of service for the GBBO programme…
    • “You can get a full e-commerce website for your business setup for £750″ – true, but this continues to purpetuate the notion that the internet is free and that you don’t need to invest to become ‘rich from the internets’.
    • “A visitor to your website takes only 1/12th of a second to decide whether they like it or not, so if they like it they will like your business”. Alas, if we suggest not designing custom sites and instead using cheap out-of-the-box systems for everyone, the selection of identikit sites produced will not reflect well on their businesses.

It’s not all doom and gloom

Don’t get me wrong, I do think this is a great way to raise the awareness of digital Britain/Scotland but misinformation can do more harm than good and there really is a missed opportunity to get local businesses working together.

The issues

This is clearly a way for BT and Google to grow their user base:

  1. It uses Google Sites and you have to sign-up for a Google Account.
  2. The domains are registered with BT and after the free period you then move onto BT’s billing cycle – unless you follow the instructions somewhere in here.
  3. Google’s AdSense and PayPal are all setup and ready to go for you in your site.

Beyond that, if this is about helping British business then why aren’t local businesses (rather than Ireland/US based Google) being brought in to offer free workshops? It’s something we’d be more than happy to do.  Oh well, we’ll just have to keep doing our own!

Rant over…for now

I’m disappointed that Ministers and local Council leaders are plugging this without considering the wider view; how you could actually help boost the local economies by joining together local people who need help with those local companies that offer it.

I also take issue with people recommending that business should go out and start being graphic designers, web developers & marketeers along with running their business.  These free tools – such as the ones below – are great for a sponsored event, personal blog or just for playing around and getting a better understand of the web.

If you are a serious business, serious about using the digital space to improve your business then seek professional advice!  We don’t do our accounting, our accountant does!

Some other People’s Thoughts

Getting British Business Offline – concerns over giving people low quality free sites that will not only reflect badly on the businesses but could also put smaller web deisgners out of business.
Bit of Mum’s Net chat – concerns over the tie-ins.  A concern I share – espeically for those that are less tech-savvy and could end up getting caught up in BT’s hosting/domains.

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