Cheers Canberra, the NBN’s a joke & i’m fed up.

March 16, 2017 in Rants

Riddle me this – if our political parties collectively agreed to build a hydroelectric power plant, do you think we’d let them choose what concrete we’d use to build it based on political policies, three word slogans and particular biases that seemed relevant at the time? You’d naturally think if we let people who have no idea how to build a dam wall it’d probably crumble, and there’d be a million inherent problems in the process of building said damn wall, right? This of course all happens while engineers who said this would happen decades earlier look on, shaking their heads in disbelief. And yet, here we are in 2017, and thanks to the NBN (that’s the National Broadband Network for those of you playing at home) becoming a political football, folks like me who are trying to run a business from home are suffering out of sheer NBN incompetence.

Firstly, there’s a lot of terminology and words being flung around in terms of technology, pipes, speeds, yada, yada, yada. For the purposes of making some sense out of the mess, i’m just going to make a quick core dictionary for you below:

ADSL

Before the NBN, it’s what most Australians used (although to be fair, most of us like me still do). We rolled out copper lines back in the 60’s to every house in Australia so we could make calls. Then we figured out Dial-up internet, which was pretty badass at the time, then we figured we could throw a specific frequency down the copper line to get faster internet. We got by for a time, but ADSL in 2017 is crap. Telstra said the network was dead in 2003, it was being fixed by ziploc bags (you can’t make this up), and because it’s an analogue pipe, it’s affected by weather, it gets interference as it travels from the exchange to your home, and of course, the further you live away from your home, the crappier your speeds are. Golden.

FTTP

When the NBN was first introduced, it was going to be a majority Fibre To The Premise/Home network. Fibre is kickass. Why? Because it’s a passive conduit that doesn’t have any of the problems I just mentioned with ADSL. In terms of nation building, it’s the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As it stands today, like when the bridge opened in 1923, we don’t need all the lanes and extra space now. But fast forward to 2017, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a fine example of building for the future, & FTTP is no different. It’s virtually unlimited in bandwidth (because fibre uses light to transmit data), it can be used for an infinite number of things (not just internet, making it versatile) and the only real bottleneck to FTTP is the boxes on each end that send & receive data, both of which can be replaced cheaply when we inevitably want to go faster. The catch was when NBN first started their rollout, there was a serious case of what you don’t know, you don’t know. There’s only so much you can guess from trials, and so there was a lot of extra time spent figuring out the best ways to roll out FTTP. But by the time the election rolled round, FTTP was already well on its way to being on a working schedule, meanwhile other technologies like skinnier Fibre lines were being trialled, bringing down deployment times and cost.

FTTN

I’ve almost never seen a massive, national government project run on time or under budget, and at one point because of inherent delays, the NBN was costing more and was behind schedule. If you clicked the links above in FTTP, you’ll understand why. On the flip-side of this coin, let’s not forget that despite it running over budget, it still wasn’t costing tax-payers a single cent and was well ahead of being completely repaid by 2034, thanks to incredible uptake of high-tier plans. Despite this, part of the Liberal’s plan to get into power as part of the 2013 elections was to deliver an NBN “cheaper, faster, sooner” using technologies like Fibre To The Node. What this means is that instead of taking the fibre all the way from the exchange into your home, NBN takes it to the closest Fibre termination node and the Copper that Telstra said was already dead will deliver it the rest of the way. This made sense because the most expensive part of the NBN rollout is what’s known as the last mile – that is, the piece between the distribution point and your house. Digging trenches, working around driveways, gardens, different houses etc. etc. is all time-consuming, unpredictable and intensive, laborious work. So, in theory at least, you can cut a huge chunk of the cost out by just avoiding that altogether, right? Well, not so fast. For one, FTTN gets better speeds than ADSL, but it’s still subject to all the same problems of ADSL. You might get a fast connection, or, you might not for the same myriad of reasons Telstra (& Labor who created the NBN) wanted to step away from. As for speed, FTTN delivers just enough bandwidth for today, but really only lasts us for another decade, tops, before it’ll have to be replaced by FTTP anyway. That includes all 30-60,000 FTTN boxes filled to the brim with lithium batteries that are being installed around the country as we speak. In fact, almost every single country & telecommunications provider that the Liberal party based their plan on, is already moving away from FTTN for FTTP. This isn’t without factoring in all the issues of the Telstra copper network we bought in the process, which, thanks to Telstra’s privitisation and subsequent use of sub-par contractor technicians, means that the lack of documentation and adequate permanant fixes means there’s huge parts of the copper network that have to be dug up and replaced anyway.

HFC

Ah, Hybrid-Fibre Coaxial. You’re… okay. A little flawed, but far better than FTTN, well sort of. Those pay-TV cables Optus & Telstra strung around capital cities are being repurposed for the NBN. Is this a bad idea? Personally, I actually don’t mind. Sure, i’d love a big Fibre pipe in the back of my house, but HFC also does the trick right now, and has been shown capable of handling some of the load that lays ahead. HFC, like FTTN, was the Liberal’s plan to re-use parts of the older networks to deliver the NBN sooner. The big issue with HFC is that everyone down the street, from my neighbour who doesn’t know how to turn on the TV, to the kids a few blocks over who throw ragers every weekend and pirate Game of Thrones all share the same HFC pipe. That means that unless our providers have sufficient bandwidth in place, HFC’s speeds can drop from Fibre-like speeds to sub-ADSL speeds at dinner time. Swell.

MTM

Multi Technology Mix – This basically means “screw Fibre to the Premise, we’re going to use FTTN & HFC in a vein attempt to roll-out a network as good, sooner, faster, cheaper.” Except for the fact that this has, and continues to fail miserably. See video above for why using one technology over MTM is better.

Back to the story so far.

So, now that you’re with the program in terms of definitions, let’s get back to business and why i’m so cranky. With the exception of my own want and experiences so far with NBN, a nation without fast internet is not an innovation nation, despite what Turnbull all too well thinks. We’re a country stepping away from manufacturing and a country that’s transitioning into services and providing specialised knowledge & insight (don’t believe me, just look at what makes up our current GDP.) As this continues to happen, as the next generation is raised on code, on fostering digital ideas, on creating new things that propel our world forward, we need a platform that harnesses that ingenuity and places our kids on a global scale. Right now, that platform is ranked 51st in the world, and shows no sign of improving. This is a big problem. The NBN is already costing us more because all the things engineers, not politicians, said would happen, happened. We could’ve had a network that enabled regional towns to be on the same playing field as major capital cities. We could’ve sparked a whole new wave of small startups in places like Gympie or Mildura, towns with tens of thousands of folks fostering growth of the next generation because they don’t need to leave their towns and families to build the next big thing. But sometimes it’s not even about the next big thing.

You see, I run a creative agency, and we make a lot of film & photo products. As it stands right now, if I had the NBN, my company would be faster and more cost-effective. I still have ADSL even though I should have HFC by now (don’t worry, i’ll get to that in a second). To send a client a 200mb proof for reviewing a film currently takes 40 minutes. On the NBN, it’ll take 40 seconds. Sure, you can work around 40 minutes, it’s not ideal, but it could be worse, right? Well, actually it is, because when we are finally ready to deliver a mastered video file, which are usually around 10gb, if we were to use the ADSL, it  would take us 35 hours under ideal conditions. On the NBN though, it would take us 40 minutes, the same amount of time it would take us to upload that tiny 200mb file on ADSL. That means if I want to deliver something in a hurry, it’s actually more cost-effective to courier, Express Post or even hand deliver a hard drive to the client instead of using my current connection. On FTTN, that won’t be much better, on HFC, it’ll probably be fine, but while I wait on the NBN to deliver my connection, i’m using my 4G connection and wasting $45 for 10gb of data to make things happen in a reasonable time frame. Ouch.

And the salt in the wound is that I was supposed to have my HFC-NBN connection by the end of January 31. Back around this time last year, Downer Group (one of the contractors NBN uses to roll-out their network) delivered notices to all the houses in the area saying we’d be having our HFC NBN connection installed sometime between September 2016 & January 31, 2017. Thank god, finally, I thought to myself. Finally I can get ahead and live in the digital age where my business belongs and thrives.

So what happened?

Well, January 31 came and went, and the Downer Group never knocked on my door. You see, I live in an estate. My entire neighbourhood has HFC running past and into their houses, but when they built my estate, the developers chose not to run the HFC into the development and instead relied on good old copper to handle our internet and phone calls. We’re so far away from the exchange, I experience regular drop-outs three times a day (in good weather) and my speed is a third of what constitutes optimal ADSL speeds. This means that Downer Group would need to actually come into the estate and install some HFC cable for us to get connected. No biggie I thought, i’d imagine they would’ve considered all of this when they came and sussed out our estate to give us an installation date, right?

It’s now the middle of March, and Downer Group & NBN are nowhere to be seen. My entire suburb is now on the NBN, except for our estate of 42 homes, who have no idea what’s going on and why we haven’t been connected, no matter how much we ask for answers. I’ve explained the entire situation to NBN over the phone and over Twitter messages, and the official response is always “there needs to be more work done, we don’t give out timelines, our contractors don’t communicate with us and you’ll get it when you get it.”

Wait, what?

Hold on, firstly, you don’t find it ironic that the NBN, a major piece of technology primarily used for communication isn’t being built by people who don’t talk to each other? Also, you literally put a piece of paper into my letterbox TWICE saying I had a definitive timeline for when the Downer Group were installing my HFC connection. A window of months, which they missed completely, and are hiding behind you, still getting paid with no sense of accountability or action for their laziness?

I’d be totally happy if someone could just pick up old mate Bob the Technician who’s out on the street doing the rollout (which is exactly what they do with Telstra) and just ask “hey Bob, what’s happening with these guys?” and for Bob to go “oh yeah, we forget about them” or “yeah we need to install an extra piece of infrastructure, it’ll get here in a month.” Both of which i’d be happy with. Knowing some sense of transparency or idea of why the NBN is completely missing the mark would be great. At least creating a sense of understanding of why i’ve been left for dead while the Downer Group start rolling out the next suburb over instead of finishing what they started would be great.

The crux of it all.

And this is why folks are so frustrated with the NBN. Since the Liberal party took hold, the NBN all but stopped regular, transparent updates on the roll-out, creating plenty of mystery and further confusion as to just what the hell is going on. This thread on Whirlpool about my local area is surging with a deluge of complaints about folks experiencing NBN installers simply not turning up on the day, connections never being activated and poor connection speeds to just scratch the surface. From my own research to friends & family who live in the area, they’ve had everything from NBN-installers not turn up to rocking up after their scheduled timeline, looking at the house and going “nah, we’ll be back maybe tomorrow, maybe Friday” and then buggering off.

So here I am, frustrated as all hell that my business is suffering, and no matter how hard I try, whether it’s Telstra, NBN or the Downer Group, I simply get ignored when I try to figure out why no one bothered connecting us or letting us know why or if we’ve been forgotten altogether. I’m so sick and tired of being played off as a number, as someone who doesn’t matter, it inspired me to write this and share it around, because so help me god you should never piss off a nerd, especially when you screw with their internet connection, and i’m especially tired of being taken for a ride by my government who have lied their way into power and have left the generation of tomorrow in a scrap-heap.

All I want is my NBN actually connected with a company that has a sense of integrity and accountability. And if they can’t install my NBN, just let me know why, so i’m in the loop. All I see right now is a company failing and hiding because they current government doesn’t want to look bad, and it’s frustrating the hell out of tens of thousands of Australians, myself included.

UPDATE: Just came across a Whirlpool thread, which, at time of writing, has over 55 pages of complaints about being given a timeframe and then simply not showing up and then being told the same rehtoric that “additional work is still required.” Delving in to the thread, it is noted that NBN is pro-actively doubling down on any communication out of fear of revealing network woes, and that issues relating to complexity (like HFC activations) and Micronode setups are adding the company’s growing woes.

 

An Image Header Post

February 9, 2017 in Journal

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A Video Post

February 9, 2017 in Web Design

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A Standard Post

February 9, 2017 in Web Design

 

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An Audio Post

February 9, 2017 in Web Design

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An Image Header Post

February 9, 2017 in Announcements

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An Audio Post

January 30, 2017 in Web Design

Co-working SpaceTeam fund big data prototype prototype long shadow latte big data. Innovate affordances personas user centered design paradigm user centered design innovate quantitative vs. qualitative pivot thought leader viral paradigm cortado affordances.

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A Video Post

January 30, 2017 in Web Design

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Good content always trumps good design online.

February 1, 2016 in Editorial

For quite a few years now i’ve been creating nothing but websites and digital strategies. I’ve been making so many I recently took a break mid-last year just to focus on my photography and film for a little while. I did this because as much as I have a love for all things tech & digital, turning into a non-stop factory of project creep, bug-fixing and late night calls started to take their toll. So rather then let the love die completely I pivoted what I was doing to focus on the content itself rather then the medium that delivers it.

It certainly wasn’t a sudden fascination by any stretch, i’ve been photographing virtually everything since I was just twelve years old. My first camera, with its insignificant sixteen megabyte memory card gave me an instant respect for what it was like to shoot on film. Being so physically limited by the tools I had meant I picked up great patience and focus on getting it right the first time instead of praying and spraying, a term photographers use to describe the use of holding down on the shutter button and hoping your camera picks up maybe one shot out of a dozen good ones.

Fast forwarding a few years to when I slowly crept towards becoming a full time freelancer and focussed on just making websites (this was when I was still in bridal gowns, of all industries) I was full of pep and enthusiasm for the limitless design possibilities that I had to create the most ultimate websites for my clients. I had rolled up my sleeves, dug deep into the design, flicking my mouse around creating wireframes to start a dialogue of what would become instant masterpieces. The design was done, the backend was friendly enough a six year old could edit the website in seconds, all it needed now was some beautiful, imaginative photos and words of wisdom to adorn the pages to win over even the most cynical of potential customers.

 “..if I could tell Ben from five years ago one thing, it would be to focus less on design and more on experience.”

It’s here where I hit a snag. I got to work, poured my coffee for the morning and whacked open my emails, eager to feast upon the content that would make the design sing, but what I got wasn’t magical. In fact, it was anything but whimsical or fantasmic. What I had clicked on just wasn’t going to work. The photos were so small the details of the bridal gowns were merely insignificant patterns of pale white pixels. Worse yet, the copy I had received was dull and unimaginative.

In hindsight, if I could tell Ben from five years ago one thing, it would be to focus less on design and more on experience. Essentially just like the saying suggests, you can polish a turd all you want but at the end of the day no-one’s going to want to go near it, and nothing was truer then the predicament I found myself time and time again in.

There’s a ramen joint I frequent often called Taro’s in the city. I did a review on his food just recently for OurWorlds, and it’s quite possibly up there with some of the best in the world. Taro himself is passionate and relentless in his pursuit to making the best possible dishes, he’s a Sake connoisseur and frequents Japan regularly to further hone in on his craft. His blog, which documents his food-based travels, discoveries and monthly specials garners a huge audience despite not evening having a mobile version for hungry customers on the go to read.

And really what the lesson here is blissfully simple. Passionate people with great stories will always trump jazzy PR messages sponsored by great design. That’s not to say you need to pick one or the other though. Having a website that really shines and makes an impact on your potential customers is really about having great content being shared “through” great design. It’s a greater then the sum of the parts affair, and when the design is so good all you see is a great story being told, well, that’s when you really see results with your digital strategy.

You only need to look at some of the world’s most clicked sites to see this at play. Take Apple’s website, for example. The beautiful imagery and handpicked copy is one thing but the design creates a whole new level to the story literally unfolding before your eyes. Just the act of strolling causes elegant leverage of modern web design to reveal smooth animation and design tricks all aimed to turn a great story of craftmentship into something that sells something more then just a product, it sells a way of being we all want to be a part of.

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.38.09 PM

So with this in mind, if you’re looking to dive deep into a new digital strategy this year i’d suggest one thing and one thing only and that’s to really engage people with a great story and not just a flashy website. Having a cool website is one thing, but if you’re a great brand full of passionate people & ideas then tapping into them and sharing it with the world will be the key to your success and not relying on digital trickery to get the job done.

You need a website. Here’s why.

February 1, 2016 in Uncategorized

Here’s a question I get asked on an almost daily basis. “Ben, I think I need a website but I work in x industry so what’s the point?” And I get it, seriously. I’ve seen clients bombarded with quotes ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few grand for what appears to the everyday business owner who’s not tech savvy as essentially the same thing. At the end of the day most people know they need a website but getting the right website for the business, along with a digital strategy that helps guarantee a return on investment is a critical step in making sure you’re not throwing away potentially thousands of dollars on an online dud.

So, if you’re reading this, and you own a business and you’re looking to get online, let me start by saying a simple truth that I think sums about how the online world works. Websites are like cars. Yep, crazy theory, huh? Some websites are like Ferrari’s, they’re beautiful, fast and resource heavy. Some websites are like Great Wall cars, cheap, nasty, get the job done but there’s a more then likely chance it’ll fall apart within a year. Others are built for a purpose. Need one with a trayback? Here’s a Toyota Hilux. What about one that can handle a little bit of pressure when needed? How about a Jeep Wrangler? Are you getting the picture yet? There’s actually many different types of websites depending on what you really need. With this in mind, how do you pick the right one for you?

Firstly, you need to find someone who you can trust. At the end of the day a lot of people aren’t tech fanatical, some people are great vets, some are amazing chefs, imaginative entrepreneurs and even just great retail owners but many aren’t all these things, and I certainly don’t expect my barrister around the corner to specialise as a heart surgeon on the side, let alone be up to date with tech trends. As I said to a veterinarian client of mine who quipped he was no good at technology “well that’s actually fine by me because I have no idea what pills my dog needs and i’m totally okay letting you take the lead on that one.”

Ultimately, finding someone who can create the right tools for the job is a key to not only spending the right amount of money on your online investment but getting a better return on investment too.

Let’s take two examples of different business types to give you an idea on how much a website can look and behave differently. Our first business is a take-away restaurant. Now, thinking about their customers for a second here, what are they looking for? It’s likely that over two thirds of them are searching for the same thing; the menu, the price, how to order and where to pick up their food, all of which is unlikely to change often, if at all. Building on this, some great imagery matched with some hearty copy to help win over potential customers in the first few seconds of discovering the site will mean the difference between life and death. Handing over info like the phone number in a prominent easy to find position along with an immediate visual idea of what they’re getting is going to give them a major leg up, particularly compared to other competitors who might go with an off the shelf solution that’s not optimised for their industry or brand. With no care, love or thought into the customer experience and burying the contact details on a seperate page in a typical old-school multi-page website (the ones where cheap, nasty website companies say you need a home page, about us page, blog and contact us page) will mean you lose big bucks trying to keep people engaged long enough to click through to see everything. For the other third who are returning customers looking to see how you’re doing, having a blog detailing monthly deals and specialties will keep them interested and feeling valued that you’re taking the time to express your ideas to your audience directly and not just pamphlet dropping into mailboxes.

Example two could be a bridal company selling wedding gowns. Totally different industry, totally different business. Given the dresses are seasonal, being able to change large chunks of photos along with being able to create a news releases when there’s updates on collections that’s also syndicated on social channels and in a newsletter would be the most important factors in getting what the brand has to offer in front of potential brides to be. The difference between our take-away customer and our bridal customer is that the bridal client will spend hours, even days, weeks and months researching where-as the take-away customer spends seconds, and so having a multi-faceted experience on social, newsletters etc. etc. will mean that the brand maintains an ongoing freshness while the bride to be deliberates her choices.

If you’re seeing where i’m going with this, it’s that websites and their corresponding digital strategies are not one size fits all, and the worst thing you could do is buying a website for the sake of buying a website. Instead of seeing your digital audience as a painful, complicated process to manage, with the right support, the right attitude and the belief that you can in fact do great amazing things online you can turn a digital nightmare into an online best-seller.

At the end of the day, the internet is a brilliant thing. Huge and scary, sure, but powerful and cost-effective unlike any other medium provided, just like anything in life, you work with the right people to support you and your business.