An open source program to suit you

What would you like an open source program to do?

open source programImagine you’re already a very happy user of an open source program, full of the joys of freedom of choice, and you’ve chosen Original Sync (imaginary software for our imaginary scenario) to keep track of your contacts, appointments and emails.

You love it 95% of the time but there’s this little niggle – you’d like it to be able to do something additional to save you a job or help you work more efficiently. Wouldn’t it be great if it could talk directly to your note taking app or come with different coloured backgrounds for different days of the week or fill in a time sheet or in some other way do something totally incredible that it doesn’t do atm?

An open source program and approach allows you get those changes made – here’s how it works:

Adding the features you want

You approach your hosting provider (that’s us) and pose us the problem. We talk to the programmers that we know and trust, and ask them if that mod is possible. Chances are it is, so the programmers obtain the source code (because that code is ‘open’, ie available to see and use) and develop it to include the features you want. Bingo – you have software that does just what you need it to do, an open source program with your name on it (not literally). The modified source code and new program is available for anyone to use, because why not?

The world is a happier place because Monday is pink and Tuesday is a delicate shade of sea green.

Choice and freedom

Using open source to run your business expands your horizons as it gives you the choice and freedom to use the software that’s right for you, not the software that a developer wants you to use or that you have to use if you want other related packages to keep working. This is called ‘lock-in’ and is one of the most unattractive aspects of proprietary software. Switch to open source and lock-in becomes something that holds back your competitors, not you.

Ownership of content and assets

Ownership – content, domains, accounts, do you really hold the rights to everything you do online?

It’s important to be clear about ownership of your web assets and content. Here we take a quick look at a couple of areas, and include an update on something we were talking about a fortnight ago – linking accounts.

Who owns your content?

It’s reasonable to assume that you have total ownership and full rights over all your original content that you post on the internet. Reasonable, but possibly wide of the mark. Double check the Ts&Cs of any sites where you post content.

Some sites such as LinkedIn explicitly reassure you that your content is yours and you have full rights to it, but there’s a sting in the tail:

…you own the content and information that you submit or post to the Services and you are only granting LinkedIn the following non-exclusive license: A worldwide, transferable and sublicensable right to use, copy, modify, distribute, publish, and process, information and content that you provide through our Services, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or others.

– our bold, because that’s quite an important little clause. Some sites go further and expect to be able to use others’ original creative content royalty-free. This from WattPad, a creative writing platform:

C. For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions. However, by submitting User Submissions to Wattpad.com, you hereby grant Wattpad.com a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the Wattpad.com Website.

This is all there in black and white, but how many people actually read it, inform themselves and consider the ramifications? This is a concern as WattPad is aimed at the teen/young adult audience. These digital natives often dismiss this stuff as boring and unimportant, which can have unwelcome consequences.

If you’re posting original content make sure you understand what can be done with that content. Read the agreement and make sure you’re happy with it. Otherwise, don’t sign up.

Registering a domain name

Easy peasy. Find one of the few remaining available domain names, hand over your Β£9.99, fill in a few fields and you’re away. Or maybe you get someone else to do it and trust them to get it right. It isn’t that simple though and making common mistakes can jeopardise your whole business set-up.

Common mistakes

To focus on just a couple of mistakes, do you know who’s named as the owner of the domain your business relies on? Do you know who’s named as the administrative contact? These should be respectively the owner of the business and the person who is authorised and competent to act for you on domain matters. This should be an in-house IT person or a trusted technical provider.

Do you know if the contact email on your domain registration arrives at a live and monitored inbox? Is there an established path to contact you, eg to deliver notice that your domain name is nearing expiry? This all sounds extremely simple and it is, but many small business owners don’t know the answers. To make matters worse, they wouldn’t know who to ask. This exposes a business to losing their online presence and email addresses.

Consider this from Nominet:

We have always required domain name holders to provide accurate and up-to-date information in the form of a correct registrant name and postal address. Failure to do this means a registrant risks losing their domain name.

And that’s before a company registering a .uk is wrongly described as a charity. This and other mistakes can legally permit your domain to be removed from you. We’ve had to act for clients who’ve suffered this mistake. It’s now our practice to run the rule over existing domains new clients bring to us. It’s all part of the service.

Ask the experts

Help is at hand. In this as with so much else, OpenSure can see the process through for you accurately and quickly. We can run a check on an existing domain and advise on domain queries, such as false invoicing scams.

Using a third-party app to log-in

Two weeks ago we looked at why linking accounts on different platforms wasn’t such a good idea, and now this from Computerworld:

A new tool allows hackers to enerate URLs that can hijack accounts on sites that use Facebook Login, potentially enabling powerful phishing attacks.

All sorts of sites allow you to use other sites’ logins to log in to them, eg Goodreads. This is yet another example of stretching security rather thin, completey unnecessarily. Just come up with a unique login for your Goodreads account and snip another thread between your online identities.

Security quick tips to act on today

Security and giving away information

Security isn’t just down to other people choosing not to hack your device or a service you use – you have some control and some responsibilities too. As part of our ongoing weekly series on security, we review three measures you can take today to increase your security and privacy and that of the people you communicate with.

Keep distribution lists private

securityHow often do you get an email from someone that includes swathes of other email addresses in the Cc field? Lucky you if the answer is ‘not often’. Dare I ask how often you *send* an email like that?

It’s bad manners to reveal lots of email addresses that have been displayed without their owners’ consent. It looks amateurish and spoils the layout of your email. Some recipients will realise it’s hardly personal and delete without bothering to read it.

So how do you prevent this and avoid jeopardising other people’s security? It’s very simple: when sending a mass email ensure that the recipient addresses go in the Bcc (blind ‘carbon’ copy) field. Put your own address in the To field. That’s all it takes.

Be careful what information you record

It’s too easy to keep up a running commentary across the breathtaking range of social media opportunities. Add to that devices that we actively configure to record our sleep, exercise, health. We can even record our driving experience with dashboard cams.

Proving your innocence

The innocent face of this is to increase our own security and protect ourselves (proof that that white van simply pulled out in front of you). It helps us optimise our lifestyle for the benefit of our health. Consider though the implications of being on the wrong side of the law or a dispute. Clearly we aren’t going to encourage anybody to with-hold evidence or do anything shady, but put it like this: information you don’t record can’t be twisted to be used against you.

Just imagine the fun an insurance company (yours, or someone else’s) could have with your health and fitness data. What if it could be proved that you were sleep-deprived or fasting the morning you had a car accident (consider this case ongoing in Canada)? What if you’d used Twitter to vent your frustration with a child the day that child breaks an arm? You’d be innocent, but now you may have to prove that because of the information you’ve broadcast and/or recorded.

You’ve all heard of children having parties while their parents are away. The time and venue made it onto social media and 300 uninvited guests arrived, with predictable results. Hilarious. What a numpty. But take a step back and draw the connection between that and the situation you could be creating for yourself.

Kill off obsolete accounts

Over the years we accumulate vast numbers of accounts. These accumulate across forums, social networking, journal log-ins, multiple email accounts etc etc. It’s worth revisiting these from time to time and deleting any that you’re sure you no longer need. This minimises your exposure to hacking attacks as well as reducing the amount of information about you that’s available on the internet.

In most cases, certainly for personal non-work related accounts, it’s advisable to avoid using your real name for display purposes. Clearly professional sites such as LinkedIn are an exception. And remember – never EVER re-use a password.