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Searching made simple

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This month GAVIN MOFFAT resumes his regular series on how to make the most of hi-tech tools. In his latest article, he gives us tips on how to properly use search engines.

The World Wide Web is vast, made up of billions of pages of information, some of them useful and relevant to your interests and many of them simply not fit for anyone’s consumption. So how do you find your way around the Web and get to the info that you need quickly and efficiently?

It’s simple – you just need to master your Google-Fu. There is a range of commands and modifiers built into search engines such Google, Yahoo and Bing that will help you to track down the information you need without trawling through a lot of stuff that you’re not interested in.

Phrase searches

By putting double quotes around a set of words, you will instruct the search engine to find all web pages that contain the exact phrase contained between the quotes. For example, typing in “Graeme Smith”” will bring up pages that reference the cricketer. That can help you to search with a great deal of precision for the info you need.

Search within a site

Not every Web site has an accurate, user-friendly search engine, but most Web sites are indexed by Google. If you’re looking for the contact details for the Rosebank, branch of FNB for example, you could ask Google to search your bank’s Web site for the information. Simply type out the text enclosed in the square brackets: [contact details Rosebank Johannesburg site: fnb.co.za]

Excluding terms

By putting a minus sign immediately before a word, you can ask the search engine to exclude pages that do not include the term from your search. For example, if you want to find out about ‘world’ and keep getting results that reference world maps, world music, and the World Series, you can enter your search as follows: [world -music -maps -series] (NOTE: no space between the minus and the word it refers to).

Fill in the blanks (*)

The * wildcard tells the search engine to treat the star as a placeholder for any unknown term and then find the best matches. Type in: [Jacob Zuma * speech], for example, and you’ll get results for ‘Jacob Zuma State of the Nation speech’ and ‘Jacob Zuma inauguration speech’, among others.

OR searches

If you want to find out about retail trade shows in 2010 and 2011, you could search for: [retail trade shows 2009 OR 2011]. The OR modifier must be in capital letters). That will give results for both years.

Define terms

Have you come across a piece of jargon you don’t understand? If you want a definition of a word, you can use the define: modifier. For example, if you want to know what a firewall is, you would simply type in the phrase in square brackets: [define: firewall].

Closing words

To get the best search results, be as simple, precise and descriptive as you can when you’re inputting information into the search engine. Focused searches that use the modifiers above can be real time savers and help you to make the very best of what the Internet has to offer you.

* Follow Gavin Moffat on Twitter on @gavinmoffat

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Web World

Telcos want one face

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The investments that telecommunications service providers are making in reshaping their online properties into customer-centric portals reflects the growing maturity of self-service and Internet uptake in the industry, says KEVIN MELTZER of Consology.

Many telcos around the world are overhauling their websites to offer customers more holistic portals that give them a single point of entry into the organisation.

They are doing so because they recognise that service will be a key point of differentiation for their businesses in a market that is becoming increasingly competitive. They have also realised that they have a major opportunity to shift customers away from expensive contact centres towards low-cost electronic channels.

In the past, most telecommunications operators ran multiple sites across multiple domains and subdomains. These web-based properties were built around the way that telcos structured their own businesses rather than around the needs of the customer. But we are now seeing the leading operators take a more user-centric approach to the way that they design their web and mobile sites.

This coincides with a change in the industry from slicing customers into numerous segments and then serving them across a range of functional and product areas. For example, many operators split customers into prepaid and postpaid segments or voice and data users, distinctions that are becoming less meaningful in a world of technology convergence. They now want to present a single face to the customer rather than servicing the subscriber through silos.

These changes are starting to percolate through to operators’ customer service and sales strategies. Telcos are starting to pull together disparate products and services that once resided across multiple sites into customer service portals.

These sites put a wide range of information at the subscriber’s fingertips, he adds. Increasingly, for example, subscribers can log directly into their accounts from the operator’s homepage and then access a wealth of services and information. This marks an evolution from the fractured and inconsistent customer experience of the past.

Leading operators are even thinking about how their Self-Service platforms should be integrated with social media strategies to allow customers to pay their electronic bills or top up airtime with a single click from within a social network.

Whereas Self-Service portals on telco sites were once purely about account management functions, they increasingly offer far richer functionality. In addition to allowing subscribers to pay their bills and check their account information, they are also increasingly becoming the first stop for service and commerce.

Operators have started to recognise that splintering their e-commerce, service and account management functions simply makes no sense. Customers want to be able to do everything through one interface rather than needing to visit two or three Web sites, or eventually possibly needing to phone a call centre or visit a store for certain transactions.

Integrated and easy to use online customer service channels will be central for telco operators who want to be competitive in the markets of tomorrow. They form an advantage in an industry where it will be customer relationships rather than cost or service that drive loyalty and purchasing decisions.

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Talk for less with MWEB Talk

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Today, MWEB announced its consumer VoIP package called MWEB Talk, which allows users to make free network calls and get discounted rates made to landlines and mobile phones.

MWEB, today launched its new Voice over IP (VoIP) offering to South African consumers. The service, MWEB Talk, will offer users’ free on network calls to fellow MWEB Talk users’ and cheap calls to landline and mobile phone numbers. This follows the success and demand of the ISP’s existing VoIP products in recent months.

‚”We have seen a noticeable transformation in users’ Internet behaviour with consumers wanting services that complement their ADSL connectivity solution. We have seen phenomenal growth and by the end of the year will deliver over 100 million minutes on our VoIP platform,‚” says Carolyn Holgate, General Manager of MWEB Connect, the ISP’s Consumer and Small Office/ Home Office Division.

MWEB has made significant investments in its infrastructure and VoIP has been prioritised on its network to ensure performance and stability of the MWEB Talk service for both businesses and consumers.

‚”In addition to the high quality of the service, MWEB Talk is also simple to set-up and users’ should experience a significant reduction in their telephone bills. By implementing a VoIP service consumers and small businesses can cut their monthly telecommunication bills by up to 55% to landline and mobile numbers,‚” says Holgate.

With no subscription fee, existing MWEB customers can log into their MWEB account, register for the service and download the application for PC and Mac as well as mobile applications that turn an iPhone, Android, and Nokia smartphone into a VoIP phone. Customers will also be able to purchase a Desktop VoIP Handset for R99 which will be HD voice ready and will support multi-extensions.

‚”We believe that VoIP is the future of telephony in South Africa and we are extremely excited to see the consumer market shift into the VoIP space,‚” concludes Holgate.

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