Cloudflare is changing the game

In a world where Google, Amazon and Facebook dominate the tech space, Cloudflare has stolen away the headlines for the betterment of the internet with its recent announcement. The company announced on its 8th birthday that they would be launching a domain registry, and it is unlike any we have seen before.

Cloudflare, to the shock of many in the industry, has decided not to charge anything above the federally mandated cost to register a domain with the government. That is right; this multi-billion dollar company has chosen to not make a single penny off of your domain registration. In a world where the average Canadian spends between $10-$15 per domain, this is remarkable.

Cloudflare is not a small company and is about the same scale as Google at the moment. It has a core set of business that sees itself as a content distribution platform and secure infrastructure vendor for millions of client across the globe. It also has recently announced it is on a path to an IPO and has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in preparation for this. So why do this?

Cloudflare is a unique company in the tech and capital market as they are doing two different things than any other major brand. First, the company does not see the internet as a property that you can corner, and instead looks to promote a free, equal and open internet, much like the values from Internet 1.0. Secondly, the company is doing things for the good of the internet, and although this might ultimately fail once the company scales, it is still a refreshing view from a larger company in the tech space.

This does leave one important question for consumers, what does this mean for the cost and registration of their domain? Well, it is a little up in the air. The Cloudflare system is still being tested and should be live within the month, but it looks to be set up similar to every other registry system. If you are up for renewal, it might be time to take a look around and see if you can benefit from using this new system. As well, for those who are operating hosting or other third party services, your overall cost to your company to get a website should start to drop for your packages if you choose Cloudflare as your registry option.

However, this does still leave some questions. Will the other registry companies like GoDaddy also drop their prices, or will they continue the same old costing options going forward? As well, if you are looking for other nations or domain names, will Cloudflare offer those? Finally, will Cloudflare provide an easy to use swapping option? These are all tough questions, and we will need to wait and see how Cloudflare’s announcement has changed the industry in only a few short weeks.

What are your thoughts? Is this just a bump in the road for the major registry options on the web, or the start of more competitive space for those looking to register domains?

6 Recommended PHP Rating Scripts for Feedback & Interaction on your Website

Web Development on Laptop Screen. Online Working Concept.

A good many of you who web designers out there may in fact be correct in your assumptions regarding what your defined audience wants, but there’s likely an equally large percentage of you who have made design, layout, and content choices with your site that have missed the mark. You might have hunches, and more than a few folks will have opinions for you. But how do you really take the pulse of how intelligently your site is laid out for and experienced by visitors.

Here at 4GoodHosting, our expertise is naturally with quality web hosting in Canada, but our enthusiasm for trends in Internet marketing leads us to discover a number of topics that would likely interest our customers. This week, we’re inclined to discuss these 6 good PHP scripts for Canadian websites that are very practical for letting your site visitors leave you with quantifiable feedback on specific elements or components of your site, via ratings.

Here are 6 that we’ve come to be familiar with, and in order of the ones we think most highly of.

  1. Thumbs Up

The ThumbsUp rating script gets high marks for its modern, stylish design and how it makes it easy to implement an engaging ratings system for any of your websites. The ThumbsUp script works with a MySQL database, and incorporates an easy-to-understand configuration file, plus includes six custom templates. It looks sharp, and performs well too. The admin area offers plenty of control and customization options along with several selectable features. Users report finding it very easy to customize scripts to suit website styles and needs.

  1. Rating System

The Rating System script provides a very plain way for allowing visitors to engage with your content by leaving a rating score. Choose one of the 3 different user interface styles, and the proceed to documentation which explains how to implement and configure the script to suit the specifics of your website. Another big plus is that it allows visitors to leave feedback on your content, products, and media releases, and more.

  1. Skinnable Rating System

The Skinnable Rating System is not only a modern, comprehensive rating script that’s easily implemented, but it also boasts an advanced administration panel that provides an impressive level of control over your ratings system, statistics and the appearance of the system itself within the website. In addition, there’s also a handful of snappy features that also come included and add to the scripts’ overall high-quality finish.

It’s a strong fit for all modern browsers and mobile devices, and last but not least it can be integrated with any of your online content fairly simply for even the least experience webmaster.

  1. Poll

We like Poll for the fact it’s a useful little script than can be used to set up opinion polls on your website without much know-how or effort on behalf of the webmaster. Like Skinnable Rating System, it comes with a nice advanced admin panel where you’re able to manage your opinion polls via an intuitive user-interface that even a newbie could work their way around quite easily. Poll also comes fully documented, and is bundled with 3 poll styles to choose from, so it would bet #1 on the list if convenience and ease of use were the only criteria.

  1. Advanced Rating System

Advanced Rating System is the way to go for those of you who want comprehensive data from your ratings. It is a modern rating system that you can easily implement onto your website, and it lets visitors leave feedback and engage with your content on-the-fly – which of course means they’re more likely to do so! You’ve got your choice of a variety of bundled rating icons and colours that match the style of your website perfectly, and by making use of modern technologies including AJAX, IP protection, cross-domain embedding, and MySQL database it’s a champ for storing ratings data. The consensus it that it is a hugely customizable and attractive rating system that’s ideal for nearly any type of website.

  1. Minty AJAX Ratings

Those in the business seem to agree that ‘Minty’ AJAX Ratings script delivers a ‘cool’ solution for anyone wanting to set up a basic rating system for their website. It scores well for its smooth implementation steps, optional MySQL database use, easy customizable nature using simple CSS code, and AJAX instant-refresh. The Minty AJAX Ratings script is a great way to engage with your visitors with content that is more likely to promote that interaction. You can also retrieve feedback to see how your content, products or media releases are performing.

As mentioned above, the appeal of having visitors rate your site and / or individual parts of it is in the fact that it’s quantifiable input on how inviting the pages or site as a whole are for different types of users visiting it. There’s definitely a lot to be said for implementing one of these PHP scripts.

Siri, Cortana, or the Guy at Google Now: Who’s the Best Assistant?

smiling businesswoman communicating with helpline operator

Here at 4GoodHosting, we’re a premier Canadian web hosting provider, and as such you can be certain we love anything related to the mobile communications world. You’d be hard pressed to find any newer-model smartphone and computer on the market today that doesn’t have a smart assistant preloaded and waiting on your every inquiry, Apple has Siri, Windows has Cortana, and then there’s the lesser known but equally useful Google Now.

So how do they stack up against one another in our opinion? To the more casual observer or passive participant it may seem like Siri, Cortana, and the nameless Google Now assistant are all pretty much the same — and, to a great extent, they are. But they also have several tangible differences and in each case they’ve got at least one quirk, flaw or strength between them.

So which one would be best for you? Of course, you’re not going to make a purchasing decision for your next smartphone based exclusively on the type of assistant it comes with, but it may be a prominent consideration.

It’s not an easy question to answer, with the fact they’re so similar making it hard to compare them without digging deep into their capabilities.

Let’s give it a try.

Siri

Siri has been one of the flagship features of iOS since the 2011 launch of iOS 5. It’s somewhat humble beginnings were with the basics, like weather forecasts and messaging, but it’s expanded in leaps and bounds since, and most notably it now supports third-party integration with MacOS Sierra and iOS 10.

Indeed, Siri’s jokes and witty comebacks continue to be a hit, but the virtual assistant is becoming more and more capable as the years go by. These days you can ask it to call people, send messages, schedule meetings, play games, launch apps and games, answer questions, set reminders, and still provide those weather forecasts.

Siri’s also very capable with understanding contextual queries, and with the MacOS Sierra and iOS 10 versions it relies a lot less on web results in choosing the response. Siri can also integrate with third-party apps and understand follow-up queries. This was a significant departure for Apple, which has always maintained tight creative control over which 3rd-party companies are granted access to its native functions. As a result, we feel it’s a bit premature to judge how well this stacks up to Cortana or Google Now.

Siri has no troubles contextually searching for files in MacOS, although we think it’s fair to say she doesn’t seem to have the learning capabilities that Cortana does. Especially when it comes to personalized responses.

Another detractor for Siri is in the way it’s reliant on voice input. Cortana and Google Now both work very well with text input, while Siri requires voice input. It is possible to edit your dictation after it’s been received, but that’s not going to appeal to any user. This is especially annoying with the MacOS version of the assistant, with the fact there are any number of reasons or scenarios where a user might not be able to talk to his or her Mac, like in a crowded workplace for instance, or while in bed with your partner asleep next to you.

Cortana

On Windows Phone, users can have Cortana make calls, send messages, set reminders, take notes, recognize music, find great restaurants, check your calendar, among many more functions. The Windows 10 version of Cortana offers a few more features, namely the ability to search files by context, and wit the Windows 10 Creators Update you have even more functionality, including the ability to lock, restart, or shut down your computer. Add the fact all of this is done using natural language and that’s fairly impressive.

Another appealing feature with Cortana is that Microsoft’s virtual assistant is analyzing your interactions at nearly every step to learn more about your preferences. This info is stored in something premier Canadian web hosting provider and the information includes the places you like to go, people your interactions suggest you care about, the times of the day that are your ‘quiet times’, and things you might be interested in based on your viewings, among other things. And if you’d like to overrule Cortana, you can edit them any time you like.

There’s more. Cortana is also capable of reading your emails, tracking your location, taking note of your browser history, checking your contact list, keeping tabs on your calendar, and then putting all this data together to suggest info / choices in the future, if of course you allow it to. Cortana has also been formatted to recognize context, so most of the time it will be able to understand follow-up requests, and you can even phrase inquiries or requests in different ways and Cortana is able to take the contextual clues and respond accordingly, again most of the time. You can also type your questions or requests if you’d rather not speak out loud.

Cortana is not limited Microsoft’s apps, either, as it can access third-party content as well. The assistant can also add something to your Hulu queue, or check out a friend’s Facebook feed. More and more third-party connectivity is being added all the time.

Google Now

Google Now is different from Cortana and Siri in a number of ways, but most particularly in that it’s designed with less personality – and more functionality – in mind. Yes, it is an integral part of Android, bit Google Now can also be used via an iOS app, or accessed via the Google Chrome browser on any mobile internet device.

The best way for you to conceptualize the functionality of Google Now is to think of it as an extension of Google’s existing search capabilities, as compared to it being more simply a full-on smart assistant. Google Now does much of what the other two virtual assistants do, and does it just as well the majority of the time and with similar speediness. Like Cortana and Siri, you can ask Google Now for directions to the closest Pho restaurant, or what kind of weather you can expect over the next 10 days.

With your approval, Google’s software will utilize your search history and customize its responses based on what it’s gleaned from your preceding queries. For example, if you ask Google Now to inform you about what’s in the news, it will provide news articles it believes would interest you, based on what you’ve previously read on Google.

Further, the platform’s additional third-party support means that – like Cortana and Siri – you can add new features to Google Now that aren’t a native component of its platform.

Google’s integration with its search engine is a BIG plus, and it makes Google Now one of the most useful virtual assistants out of the box. Unless you’ve yet to use Google as a search engine (highly unlikely), it will already have a mound of data and footprints for your movements on the web. It will also pick up on your habits if you’re using it on a smartphone, and will try to serve you a specific card in advance of your next request. You can even tell Google Now whether it’s actually serving you relevant cards, and if not the software will improve in short order.

Google Now on Android operates much like Cortana, given it’s tightly integrated with the operating system’s search functionality. As you go about your browsing, Google Now will pull up relevant information. If you’re reading about a new music album, for instance, it might suggest a card with a list of dates for that band’s tour, or recorded music from bands of the same genre.

The Decision

Despite the fact Siri finally made it to MacOS, Cortana has to be regarded as the most fully-featured assistant currently available. Apple has decided to finally open up Siri to third parties, and that will make a big difference, but the growth hasn’t happened yet, and it remains to be seen if it can even match what Cortana and Google Now are currently offering.

In truth, Apple remains at a disadvantage due to its own business model. Both Microsoft and Google own services that a vast array of web users already utilize. Combining this with a virtual assistant makes it more convenient to the person using it, because it will very quickly display its ability to anticipate what you might be looking for, with at least some effectiveness (and always improving in this regard)

All this said, the best smart assistant is the one you have ready at this very moment. Our recommendation is that you try their respective apps on your smartphone, your desktop, and perhaps even some of your smart home devices before deciding on the one you want to be getting to know you, so very well.

5 Ways to Promote Greater WordPress Website Speeds

Finger Pointing at Internet WebsitesIf you live in the heart of a major metropolitan city, having a sports car that can do zero to 60 in less than 3 seconds would is great – but it’s certainly far from being a necessity (or even practical for that matter) because of the fact that you’ll almost never be able to actually put that performance capability to use. Here at 4GoodHosting, we’re city dwellers and some of the best Canadian web hosting providers around, but we certainly don’t drive Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Maseratis, or anything of the sort.

What we do have for you though is genuine speed for your WordPress-built website, and that IS a necessity these days. Users’ expectations have expanded these days, and they expected a website to

  1. Load quickly, and
  2. Be responsive when scrolling through pages or enjoying multimedia content

If a website doesn’t respond with sufficient speed, these users will move on. It’s that simple. It may not be ‘fair’ but that’s the way that it is. You may be left wondering about ways to increase your website speed, and you should do that for a pair of reasons. Not only does a lagging website risk losing visitors (and in some cases prospective customers) but more importantly…

Google has stated unequivocally that the speed of a website will reflect that site’s rankings in SERPs (search engine results pages)

Now that is a big deal, and no matter whether your website is e-commerce, personal, or whatever it may be.

Right then, here’s 5 nearly-guaranteed ways to improve the speed of your website.

  1. Choose a Reliable and Reputable Web Hosting Provider

Your proven web hosting provider in Canada must have solid and reliable hardware, and most particularly their servers. Researching your prospective host in line will almost certainly lead to at least one customer review that talks about their servers.

But while we have the same powerful dedicated servers that nearly any good Canadian web hosting provider will have, but we also boast our ‘fast fiber’ network designed to deliver optimal operation time and high throughput and packet per second capability.

Long story short, you should be demanding, and when you ask questions about the response speed of a web hosting service you should expect a more detailed and qualified answer than ‘oh yes, we’re plenty fast.” There should be numbers in that response.

  1. Enable Caching

Caching is the technical term for storing data in a temporary storage area. The relevance of that given our topic this week is that having this storage spot and directing data there improve’s a site’s vroom-vroom capabilities. That’s because much of the content has an opportunity to be ready-made for delivery on demand and does not have to gathered and then prepared for delivery / display to the user. It also reduces the load of various systems resources being piled on your server.

Typically, good web hosts will offer their customers caching plugins that can be implemented and activated via your control panel. You can usually also do this through you WordPress CP if you are hosted with WordPress hosting.

  1. Utilize a Content Delivery Network

This step comes very highly recommended, as a Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a surefire way to speed up your website. A CDN is a worldwide network of servers that facilitate you duplicating and storing your site’s static elements and files. Examples of these would be cascading style sheets, Javascript, images, video files etc. These elements are then delivered to whoever asks for them via a server that is closer to their physical location. The time content takes to reach their browsers is, of course, drastically reduced. And not surprisingly that makes for satisfied folks.

  1. Ensure your Images are Optimized in Full

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that users now expect higher quality images to be features on websites. Image quality – and to a greater extent image size – both factor into the new challenges place on the speed of the website in delivering them to the expecting visitor without anything more than a slight delay.

The majority of images can be resized or cropped to fit with graphic-editing tools or plugins, and most of the time the web user will not notice any reduction in quality.

This is a step that’s not particularly technical, and we think it’s one you can probably take on by yourself! So here goes:

  • Use JPEG format whenever possible, or PNG if not
  • Avoid using BMP and TIFF formats
  • Crop your image to eliminate unnecessary elements and reduce size
  • Resize your images and use logic in making your decisions. Example – a web page only 750 pixels wide is going to have a devil of a time accommodating a 2000 pixels wide image. Resize it!
  1. Go Ahead and ‘Minify’ your HTML, JavaScript, and CSS

CSS and JavaScript have never been as integral to websites like they are today. You wouldn’t dare consider doing away with these files, but you certainly should try to reduce the size of them if you want more pep out of the site.

The term that they use for this move is ‘minify’, and what that means is basically getting rid of comments, extra spaces, extra line breaks, and so on and so forth. ‘Frivolous infrastructure’ is the term we like, and it also includes block delimiters in the code in order to make that code lighter and and really dialling back on the amount of data that needs to be transferred.

There are a selection of plugins specifically designed for WordPress websites to make this ‘minifying’ as easy as possible. Good ones include WP Super Minify and Better WordPress Minify, both of which automatically reformat your code to make it much leaner. Manual resizing is a possibility too, and quite easy when you use Closure Compiler. Many CDNs and caching tools offer built-in minify support.

More in Store

Of course, we’ve just scratched the surface of website optimization for greater speed. These 5 steps are pretty much failsafe in bringing your actual noticeable results though. If you’d like to dig deeper, here are 3 popular performance analysis sites that feature online tools that can run a series of tests on your site to identify performance issues and then instruct you on how to remedy them if you’re lagging in any particular area. They’re user-friendly and intuitive and the results and scoring can be displayed in a choice of manners.

Have a look