Construction of Our New Pembroke Office Begins

Grassroot Technologies New Pembroke Office

We are very excited to announce that we have begun construction on our new Pembroke office. Establishing ourselves in Pembroke is multifaceted for us: our CEO was born and raised in Petawawa and sees a great need for IT services in the area, and the SMBs there need a local company that they can depend on.  While we’ve had staff in Pembroke since the late Summer of 2012, we had not quite found what we were looking for in terms of office space. Our search ended a few weeks ago and we’re already ankle-deep in drywall and debris.

Our office will be in downtown Pembroke in a one-hundred year old space with lots of character. We were told that the building had brick walls but the previous tenants had covered it in drywall and wood paneling. So we did what any reasonable person would do: we grabbed hammers and crowbars and got to work! It took three days of nasty demolition work but it was well worth it, and, as a bonus, we found a window behind the drywall! The building keeps on giving.

OVWRC Dump in PembrokeRemoving the debris was even less fun. Who knew that drywall could be so heavy? Also, a tip for anyone as crazy as us: remove all nails from debris so that when you’re disposing of it your hands don’t turn into pin-cushions. With time running out to get to the disposal plant, we hustled. Luckily, the Ottawa Valley Waste Recovery Centre (full disclosure: they are a full support client) was a 15 minute drive away. We disposed of just a little under a ton of waste with a few hundred pounds still left over.

Now that we’re done the demolition  the construction can begin. Our plan is to create a meet-and-greet area that will be open concept and a separate level for the work area.  The look and feel will compliment the building but bring a modern touch. We’re looking forward to posting our progress as we go. Stay tuned!

WordPress or Drupal, Which is Better?

Wordpress or Drupal, Which is Better?

There are many, many, many posts and articles about which Content Management System, WordPress or Drupal, is better and with comparisons. Choosing between the two can be daunting, especially when you’ve devoted a lot of time to one of the platforms. You can build almost any sort of site using WordPress or Drupal but we tend to use WordPress for simpler, typical websites and Drupal for sites that incorporate more complicated features. If you develop using WordPress or Drupal, it is definitely in your best interest to learn how to develop using both CMSs.

WordPress is the leader in usability.

The interface is simple and easy to learn for developers and for users. Developers can install and deploy WordPress sites in minutes and can install, update, and remove plugins all within the web interface without the need to download any files or the use of FTP. WordPress themes tend to be flashier and some include configuration options that don’t require any CSS or coding knowledge. Usability is a major deciding factor for developers as evident with the huge WordPress install base.

Built-in features

When we have to train a client on maintaining or updating their WordPress site, it doesn’t take long. A WYSIWYG editor is built-in with a media manager that can build galleries and allows for drag and drop uploading. With WordPress, clients can take advantage of all the latest site technologies and features like blogs, embedding multimedia, automatic social media integration, podcasting, etc.

Where WordPress falls short

Where they hit a roadblock is customization, like employee directories, client logins, or web applications. While WordPress can do all these things, it is nowhere near as powerful or easy to develop as with Drupal. Wordpress plugins do extend its functionally quite a bit, including e-commerce, applicant tracking systems for job boards, etc, but they tend to not allow much room for customization if you’re not going to tinker with the plugin PHP.

Drupal is the king CMS platform.

With Drupal, you can build anything. There is no better way to say it. You can build an intranet/wiki for your organization, a video submission site like YouTube that processes videos, an e-commerce site, or social media network. In fact, the Canadian Government, including our own City’s website has adopted Drupal.

Customizability

Drupal allows you to customize everything down to the URL using patterns like any blog content type should have the URL of “http://www.site.com/blog/CATEGORY/Title” and every service page should have the URL of “http:/www.site.com/services/TITLE”. With a combination of three modules (what Drupal calls its plugins), Views, Panels, and Ctools, you can create custom content types and content displays.

If’ I’m losing you, here is an example of a project we did: we built a client login where clients could log in and be redirected to a client-specific landing page that displayed their latest statements and documents. Using Views, we filtered the landing page to only show documents attached to the user that was logged in. Using Ctools, we built a custom content type to add new documents that included a field for Document Name, Category, File Upload, and Attached User. Using Panels, we built the landing page. Setting this up took less than an hour with zero PHP coding, just a lot of clicking.

Using those three modules, we were also able to build an e-commerce website by creating a new content type called Products with its own fields and categories and we used Views to display them in an e-commerce product listing style.

Where Drupal falls short

With this power comes a learning curve and usability obstacle: there is no denying that Drupal is not as user-friendly and more difficult to learn than WordPress. Improving usability was one of the main goals of the last release of Drupal, Drupal 7, and continues to be a primary focus for the next version, Drupal 8. You still need to install a WYSIWYG editor and gallery modules, two features that most users now expect.

Which CMS is better?

If all you’re building is a typical site with a few stat pages, a blog, contact form, and social media integration, WordPress is the way to go. If this site needs customization and you don’t want to tinker with PHP, Drupal is your answer.  Wordpress can be used to build just about any type of site but it is a walled garden in that wanting to do anything outside of what WordPress and the plugins are designed to do is not very straight-forward. Drupal takes some time to learn and you never stop learning but the ability to build web applications without any coding is amazing. Ultimately, it comes down to what features the site needs or will need in the future.

Products I’m Hoping to See at CES 2013

Products I'm Hoping to See at CES 2013

As a tech lover, it’s hard not to be excited about the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). While no ground breaking technology has been unveiled at CES in recent memory with major vendors choosing to have their own Apple-style keynotes, smaller vendors use it as an opportunity to get exposure. While some are novelties, like this years see-through washing machine, there are a lot of really imaginative tech toys and some that are actually useful and that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

3D Printers

Along with hover cars, the ability to create an object in a magic box by clicking a mouse or touching a screen is proof that we’re in the future. Variations of 3D printing have been around for a couple of years, ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars for professional use, but 3D printing for home use has really been taking off. Imagine being able to create or download a 3D model and printing it! Print your own chess set, train tracks, car models, or build your own phone dock or glasses frames. The possibilities are endless and extremely exciting. MakerBot’s Replicator has been leading the way but it’s still thousands of dollars. I’m hoping that this year’s CES brings more affordable 3D printers.

Pico Projectors

Pico projectors, small handheld projectors that run off batteries, have also been around for a few years but they’ve been limited in both the screen size and lumens they can output. You’d need a dark room and to be close to a wall to get a 40 inch screen. This year at CES, I’m hoping for manufacturers to get over this limitation and blow us away with projectors that can be built into iPhone or Android cases or can be mounted on the ceiling of our living room to replace our TV. Imagine a 60 inch screen for $300-$400 through a Pico Projector.

Car Integration Add-ons

Car manufacturers have been building “smart” cars for a few year (like Ford’s MyFord Touch) but they have several problems ranging from their propriety nature to being built into each car. Every time you buy a new car, you have to learn a new “smart” system and a new set of compromises. They all interface with iPhones and Android phones but they still use their own built-in, limited software. What I’m looking for at CES this year are car integration add-ons that plug into cars’ OBD-II ports, which have been built into every car since 1996.

The OBD-II ports allow devices to read live data from cars including an error codes, temperature, fuel economy, etc. There are already plenty of bluetooth or wifi adapters that couple with iPhones and Android, but none include smart features like reporting weekly fuel economy or alerts when something isn’t right with the car.

Our Twitter Strategy for Business

Our Twitter Strategy for Business @grassroottech

[pullquote_right]The first step as with any marketing strategy is to set a goal, and it helps if the goal is realistic.[/pullquote_right] Twitter is still a mystery to many people, especially businesses. The little they do know about it is along the lines of “it’s for you people” and “nobody wants to know what you’re having for lunch”. Our Twitter strategy for business can be broken down into a few key components.

Set a Social Media Goal

Using Twitter for business is simple but does involve an internal champion, much like SEO, and daily work, or tweets. The first step as with any marketing strategy is to set a goal, and it helps if the goal is realistic. Our goal as an IT services and management companyy was to get involved in our local community and raise our brand awareness. We’re doing this in the real work by wrapping our work trucks in vinyl, having branded jackets and bags, and participating in local events, but we’re starting from scratch on the web.

Send Followers to you Site

Before we started with Twitter, we redesigned and redeveloped our website. Not only did this include a new look but added functionality and value proposition for visitors in the form of a blog. The web is all about sharing so we committed to blogging on topics that would be interesting for business owners and tech enthusiasts. Simply put, we needed a place to send people from our Twitter feed, Facebook page, LinkedIn page, or other online marketing, and something that people could share on these networks.

Share Industry Stories

[pullquote_left]Every day we share stories in the office that make us laugh or get our problem solving juices flowing.[/pullquote_left]Next, we developed a strategy for Twitter and the web in general, which was heavily motivated by two questions: what will people find interesting about our business and what can we post that is sharable? While some of the work we do is typical of the IT world and can be seen as tedious, we also have the opportunity to work on a lot of cool projects involving state-of-the-art data centres or with interesting clients. Every day we share stories in the office that make us laugh or get our problem solving juices flowing. We decided to just make the stories public through our blog and by posting links to the articles on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

Follow Interesting People

Once we signed up for Twitter, we started to follow interesting people in technology, locally, and in general. Using HootSuite, an amazing and free Twitter client and manager, we watched for keywords related to our business in our city. This gave us a good indication of popular topics and the Twitter lingo. Then we started tweeting and looking at our web traffic. Our analytics showed that the days we weren’t able to or tweet less our traffic dropped significantly. It didn’t take us long to realize that tweeting had to become a job function. We did a bit of research on when the best time of day and week is for tweeting, and what kind of tweets are retweeted, or shared, the most.

Let your Personality Show

[pullquote_right]For businesses, it is important to let your personality come through on the web.[/pullquote_right]What a lot of business tend to do is to tweet with promotions or with ads only. They don’t engage any Twitter users or get involved in any conversations. Twitter is really only effective the more followers you have. If no one is following you, no one is seeing your tweets, and no one is sharing them. People follow interesting Twitter users. Ads are not interesting. For businesses, it is important to let your personality come through on the web. When you only have 140 characters, it is challenge. We try to be interesting by posting pictures, retweeting other users’ interesting tweets, pictures, stories, etc. We respond to anyone looking for #techsupport. We get involved.

Get Involved and Be Persistent

At the beginning of this post, I said Twitter was easy. The concept is: be interesting and get involved. Actually doing it takes some work. Don’t be shy and try different things. Track your tweets and pay attention to what works. Study the most followed people in your industry and make note of what they’re doing. It is a lot of work, but it’s actually fun and fulfilling to be involved.