Karl Elliott

If your self-hosted #wordpress website…

If your self-hosted #wordpress website is not yet on version 4.7.2, then I suggest you upgrade to it as soon as possible.
This was a very important security update after some significant worldwide attacks on WordPress sites. Without it, your site could be vulnerable.

I’d be very interested to know who is running what level of WordPress on their website.n And if you need help/support during the upgrading process your can always get in touch. WebClub Gold members will be updated by us, but others can be advised via WebClub membership or, for a fee we can do the work for you.

#security #updates

Karl Elliott

Uk Digital Strategy is launched

Today, the UK Government has launched it’s new Digital Strategy – a Plan for Britain.
The official documents are all here.
Wired UK is carrying an article today explaining “Why the UK’s Digital Strategy will ensure ‘nobody is left behind’ “. Read that here.
This is a fairly significant step and it will be interesting to see how this unfolds over the coming years.
The area of focus for our sector is probably the Digital Skills agenda. Getting more people to benefit from the Digital Revolution is critically important and we, as community embedded organisations have an important part to play in this.
Time to go have a look through the strategy….

Karl Elliott

Making WordPress posts expire

A new #wordpress #plugin this week on the VANEL website is “WP Post Expires“.
It was pointed out that a search for Jobs on the VANEL site found a lot of articles for very out of date job opportunities. Normally we have a policy of leaving any posts from our Member organisations there for the long term archives, but in some cases – dated events, job opportunities etc – it makes sense to have posts ‘disappear’ when a date has passed.
WordPress doesn’t do that by default, so I experimented with the WP Post Expires plugin which works just fine. Now when writing a post we can add an expiry date at which point the post goes back to being Draft and hence not visible. You could just as easily have it delete the post or something else.
Plugin worth a look if you’re managing dates in your posts.

Karl Elliott

Tech Talk for 28 Feb

TT-exchange and near-free software

Many large software providers donate licences for their software to charities. Which means that if you are a registered charity then you may be able to get hold of significant software at a cost of no more than an administration fee.

TT-exchange is the system/organisation/website that distributes this ‘donated’ software in the UK to charities. It used to be known at CTX and for many years VANEL and other local charities have been using the system to get some of our software and save a fortune in the process. (Over the past ten years the TT-exchange website calculates that VANEL has saved £79000 against the full-price costs of software we’ve ordered!)

TT-exchange doesn’t offer everything. There’s still lots of other free or cheap software out there and many online services offer free or discounted subscriptions to software anyway. But some software from the largest providers such as Microsoft normally has to be paid for at full cost. That’s where TT-exchange provides the service.

By way of example:

Microsoft Office Professional Pro normally costs £389 in the UK, but charities can get this for £35+VAT.
Norton anti-virus subscription for small businesses for 10 licences is just £13+VAT rather than £84.99 standard price.

So if the software you need is available you can potentially save significant money.

The process…

To be eligible you must be a Registered Charity. It’s the only way the software donors can verify your non-profit status in the UK. This does mean that social enterprises, CIOs and voluntary groups are not able to register with TT-exchange.

If you are eligible, you simply register with the system, confirm all your details and they will then get back to you once your status is confirmed and your account is ready. You will need to give some details – not just your charity registration number. Budgets for IT spend may be required and you often have to supply links to your website or send through notes and confirmation on headed paper to confirm you are who you claim.

Once registered you simply go shopping. Select the software products you need, add them to a basket, pay for them and wait.

There are limits to the number of licences and packages that you can actually put in your basket though. Some providers such as Microsoft allow you quite a lot of licences per package (I think it’s 50) and you can then only re-purchase extra licences annually. Some software comes in packs that you can only choose one of. For example, Norton anti-virus Small Business comes in packs of 1, 5 or 20 licences. You can’t order 26 licences by combining packages – you simply choose one package that suits your needs.

And for much of the software you might not get a CD delivered ready for installation. Increasingly software is ‘delivered’ by email. You get a link to download the software and an email of the licence strings you need to authorise the software. Microsoft software usually requires a visit to a Microsoft licencing site to get your authorisation and then you can begin to install your software.

So, if you are a registered charity, visit the TT-exchange website and browse the product catalogue.

If there’s something you like/need/want, then register with TT-exchange to setup your account and then get shopping.

#software, #techtalk, #ttexchange

Karl Elliott

Tech Talk for 15th Feb – No. 1

I’ve started off the new “Tech Talk” article series on the VANEL website. The idea of Tech Talk is to publish an article on an interesting tech topic each week. It will be on the blog generally on a Tuesday and in the Friday VANEL e-bulletin. Each Tech Talk will also appear here on VANEL Digital ready for an open, online discussion over the following week by WebClub members.

So, first article…
Original on VANEL blog here.

Keep your website updated – it’s essential

If your website is hosted online as part of the service you use to create it – WordPress.com, Wix, Squarespace or similar, then you’ll not need to read this article. Your website will always be kept up to date and secure automatically as part of the service you are receiving. Lucky you.

However, if, like many, your website is ‘self-hosted’, i.e. It resides in hosting that you pay for separately, then you need to be considering the issue of keeping it up to date.

If you’ve got a website generated via HTML or created offline through a tool such as DreamWeaver, then again your site will be fairly static and the issues of updates will affect you less.

But if you use WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or any of the other tools used to generate websites, then updates should be on your ‘to-do’ list.

WordPress (probably the most popular web platform for non-profits) made the BBC news this month due to a huge worldwide hack exploiting a security flaw. Major news and a major headache if it affects you. Forewarned is forearmed, and preventing security gaps is a lot easier up front than it is to try and recover your broken website after the attack. Keeping up to date is probably the simplest security measure you can take.

Updates mean keeping the core code – the version of WordPress up to date. It also means all those add-ons – themes, plugins and the like.

So why bother updating at all? Why not simply leave your site alone once it’s built until it’s time for a refresh.

Well you could. Everything will tick along nicely. In fact, if you run updates then you need to do it carefully – take a backup first, update, check nothing fails (plugins are notorious for changing functionality, working differently or even introducing bugs in their updates), and be prepared to ‘roll back’ should an update cause problems across a site. In fact, updating should be done carefully and with some preparation. Your site potentially is also often unavailable to visitors whilst updates take place, so bear that in mind.

But the consequences of not doing the updates is potentially worse. Security is the main consideration here. The longer code – such as a particular version of WordPress or of a theme or a plugin – is out in the open, the more likely it is that ‘attackers’ will learn ways to infiltrate the code and potentially damage your website. So keeping up to date will lessons the security risks to your site.

It was a subtle flaw in WordPress that caused the problems recently, but a new version of WordPress (v 4.7.2) was soon out to fix the problem. So if you update to that, your worries should be reduced. But don’t update and the security risks remain.

There are of course other reasons to upgrade too. Improvements and efficiencies. Increased speed, reduced memory use, usability improvements or completely new functions and functionality. Updating can generally keep your website future proofed.

There are some downsides. A WordPress core update might now be incompatible with an older plugin causing you a different headache. But in general updating is the way to go.

So is your website up to date? Do you even know? How often is is updated? Who does it for you? Are updates done in a controlled and tested manner (just in case things go wrong)?

Go take a look now and make sure you have a plan in place. Keep that site up to date.

VANEL can help you with updates and maintaining your site. We can do it all for you – backups, security checks, regular updates etc – via our WebClub Gold support package which works out at around £10 per month. Or if you’re doing it yourself and need advice, suggestions or simple troubleshooting, then basic WebClub membership (for £25 per year) is here to support you. Either way, any questions, get in touch with Karl at VANEL and we’ll keep you on the straight and narrow…


Karl Elliott

Mobile is eating the world.

There’s an absolutely clear trend generally away from PC’s to laptops, and from laptops to tablets and mobile phones. As a charitable sector we need to be understanding that our audience and customers is now largely mobile and accessing websites and our ‘public, online face’ wherever they are. How are we going to grow into that?
So to put it all into context here is a presentation from Ben Evans – “Mobile is eating the world” – updated in Dec 2016 and well worth a watch. Full of interesting information.

Karl Elliott

New for 2017…

The VANEL Digital website and blog has been pretty quiet for a while now. But for 2017 it’s time for a fresh start and an attempt to share something here on a regular basis. “Tech Talk” is the new weekly tech/digital column over on the main VANEL website (and e-bulletin). But more will be shared to this VANEL Digital website to reflect everything that we’re up to or that might be relevant.
Watch this space, and please join in the conversation.

Karl Elliott

Weeknotes – 22 April 2016

A roundup of notes and news related to technology from the past week or so…

WordPress 4.5 is out

The latest major WordPress update has been issued.  So your self-hosted WordPress sites will all be telling you to do an upgrade.  Usually this is a safe update to do, but beware of your older plugins and customised themes which might not always keep working as WordPress marches on.  And I’ll always recommend that you do a backup first.

Read more about 4.5 here.  If you’re a WebClub Gold member then I’ll be updating you shortly.  If not, you can always ask us to help with these sorts of upgrades.

Installatron Messages

If you are self-hosted with WordPress then you might be getting a lot of automated emails from Installatron at the moment.  I’ve noted that Krystal (and probably other hosting providers) have changed the admin tool that does easy installations of software.  And the new tool – Installatron – by default does an awful lot of notifications. Regularly. Every day. Annoyingly…

They are for a good reason – telling you should be doing something about maintenance on your site. But if (like me) you don’t react that day then they keep on coming.  So head into you hosting admin panel, find Installatron and for each of your websites find the setting to change email noticifications.  I’ve turned most of them off now (apart from errors, which I still want to know about).

WordPress Masterclass

It’s been a few years now since I held a full, advanced, WordPress Masterclass.  But it’s back and scheduled for:

Wednesday 29 June 2016.
9.30am registration. 10am start. 4pm finish. Lunch provided.
At VANEL offices at the Willows, Grimsby.
Strictly limited places. Booking essential.
£95 per person, £75 for VANEL Members/Friends + £40 per person for additional attendees from the same organisation.

This is for those who already use WordPress for their website and pretty much know how it all works.  It’s to help you learn to do all the really clever stuff to make the most of the power of WordPress to really manage your site(s) well and to make the best use of the tool.  We’ll stop short of actually coding/re-coding WordPress, but there’s a lot of useful stuff that we’ll cover in this workshop.

More details very soon, or contact me – Karl Elliott – to discuss whether this will be appropriate for you.

Keep your website safe

There was (another) scare story this week about a charity losing its website.  Read it here.  The site was hacked/attacked and disappeared.  They clearly had no way to recover it so now they are appealing for help, support, money etc to get it back to life again.  Lessons learned the really hard way.

(Of course it’s not just small voluntary groups that this happens to.  Here’s news about a football club losing its website – admittedly for slightly different reasons.)

Preparing for this is easier, quicker and cheaper than trying to recover from it.  Better security on the site in the first place to avoid the attacks.  Backups to recover from it.  Someone technical, knowledgeable and prepared to support before, during and after an attack or problem.  Thinking about it as part of your risk management and business continuity planning – at staff level, management team and board of trustees/committee level.

So how are you prepared for this?  VANEL can help you prepare for these sorts of technical issues or can help you if the problems arise.  Just contact us for information (in advance please!)

Funding for your digital projects

Tellonline will match fund your digital project up to a maximum  of £5000.  It’s a simple process with a deadline of 7th June.  You’ll need to find some money yourself, but only 50% of the price of your project.  So find out more and apply here.

VANEL can help you with this.  We could help you think through your digital project, price it up, and hopefully to deliver it.  We could even help you  prepare the wording  for an application.  So why not get in touch to discuss.

A couple more training courses…

We delivered “Cooking up a website” in Scunthorpe recently in partnership with VANL.  Our next session of this two hour basic introduction to how websites work and how you can build one will be in Grimsby at VANEL offices on Friday 6th May, 10am-12noon.  Limited places and booking essential. £20 per head.  Contact us to book or for more information.

And on Wednesday 15th June we’re running “Technology for Trustees” at our Grimsby offices. From 3pm-5pm this two hour session is very specifically for trustees or committee members who need to understand how their leadership can help with the technology that their organisation uses, how they benefit from it, how to fund it and how to leverage good value from it.  Again, very limited places and £20 per head. More information soon or contact us.


Karl Elliott

Google AMP for faster mobile websites

Accessing websites on mobile devices can be less than speedy at times. And when you build your own website it’s always important to make sure it works and is accessible via mobile, but speed can sometimes be a problem.

Google have just released the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) Project, and I’m having an experiment with it.

AMP is a technology that automatically creates very fast versions of your website posts so that suitable apps or Google searches will return the AMP speeded up pages. So theoretically your site visitors on mobile will get a much faster version of your web page story delivered to them. No effort on your part, but a happier visitor?

Google AMP is here. And you can read the story and theory behind it here.

The excellent thing here is that WordPress has already taken AMP on board (article here) and released a plugin for WordPress.

Couldn’t be simpler. Add it to your site and watch the speed increase…

So I’m trying it. I’ve just added the AMP plugin to a client website and to the main VANEL news website (as well as this site – VANEL Digital). On all of them it looks like it works simply enough. You can see the AMP alternative version of your article by popping /amp onto the end of the post URL (it doesn’t work with Pages at the moment – just Posts). The AMP version is clean and simple text for quick loading.

So bear in mind that highly designed and structured posts are going to lose all that and strip back to the bare bones text. But that generally is a good thing anyway.

Have a think about this for your website. After all, these days more of your visitors are coming from mobile devices than from PC’s. Google is helping us out here.

#websites #mobile #amp #performance #experiment

Karl Elliott

Web training course dates in March

VANL in Scunthorpe are scheduling a number of website development training sessions as part of their IT4communities programme. They are hosting the sessions which are delivered by Karl Elliott of VANEL as part of our VANEL Digital initiative.

Dates and sessions are as follows:

“Cooking up a website” – Wed 23rd March, 9.30am-12.30
“WordPress for Beginners” – Wed 23rd March, 1.30pm-4.30pm

“Working with WordPress” – tbc in April or May
“Running a website” – tbc in April or May

Bookings or expressions of interest are being taken now for these courses. There is a fee. Places are limited.
Further details are appearing on the VANL Training page here.
Keep an eye on our @vaneldigital Twitter feed too for more updates or contact me to book or for details.

#training #vanl #wordpress #websites