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Monthly Archives: April 2010

27
Apr
2010

7 Tips to Better Tech Support

by Administrator

Network Operation Center - NationalNet Customer ServiceYou’re working on your web site and then for some strange reason FTP stops working. You stop and start your client. You reboot your computer. You make sure you haven’t done anything stupid like forget to put in your password. The more you look, the more you realize that nothing has changed on your end. It is at this point you decide to call tech support but after 15 minutes on the phone, you’re more frustrated than when you started and the problem is nowhere near being solved.

This is an all too often scenario that many times can be avoided by following some simple steps. Below is a list of 7 things you can do to make your support experience not only more successful but maybe…just maybe, more enjoyable.

 

  1. Make sure you’re dealing with a company that provides real support

    Take the time to investigate. Look on their web site. Do they have a support phone number or is it all by email or a web form? What are their hours of support? Is it 8-5 EST M-F or 24/7? If they advertise 24/7 support call the number at 1 AM to see if someone actually answers the phone. If someone does answer the phone, is it just an answering service? If it’s only email support, send an email to see how long it takes them to respond. Google the company to see if you can find reviews on the company as well as trying to find out what other customer’s support experiences have been.

    All of this may seem obvious but many people purchase a product or service without taking support into account. Remember, while you may never have a need to contact support, there may be a time where you need to, and dealing with a company that has decent support is going to be worth its weight in gold at that time.

  2. Have your information ready

    When you call support, they’re going to ask you for information about you to verify that you are the customer (if they do NOT ask you for information, you should be concerned – you don’t want to deal with a company that doesn’t confirm who they are talking to because then anyone could call and do things to your account!). They will ask for your account number as well as other things to confirm your identity, so make sure you have all of that in front of you and ready. By being prepared, you make things go that much quicker.

  3. Be patient

    You’re frustrated because something isn’t working as expected and now you have to stop what you’re doing to get it fixed…but remember, the tech support person is just doing a job. He is going to have to ask questions to determine your issue and how best to solve it. Getting impatient during this verification and question phase doesn’t help anyone. While some of the questions may seem stupid to you (“So, your monitor is black – can you please confirm that it is plugged in”) remember that tech support deals with all sorts of people and not everyone is as intelligent as you, so tech support cannot make any assumptions. At some point, someone has called about his or her monitor having a black screen…only to find out it’s unplugged.

  4. Provide a way to duplicate the problem

    This is especially true when you’re submitting a ticket or email for support. In order for a tech support person to see the problem as well as know they have corrected the problem, they need to duplicate the problem, so always provide the steps required to duplicate the issue. If the issue only happens when you do certain things, then detail those steps in the email or ticket. Provide log in information or any other information that is pertinent.

  5. Provide valid contact information

    This also applies to email or ticket support requests. Don’t assume that the information the company has on file is correct. They may wish to call you to discuss the issue so you should provide a phone number as well as the best time to call so that they can contact you. A good tech support person wants to resolve this as quickly as you do and calling you to discuss helps them do that.

  6. Include pertinent information

    If it’s a software or hardware issue (ie, you’re having a problem with your printer or particular piece of software) be sure to include model numbers and software names and versions as well as any modifications/patches you may have installed. Also include what operating system you are using. Again, don’t assume that the tech support people know exactly what software or hardware you have.

  7. Don’t be afraid to be ignorant

    While you may think you have a good idea what the problem is, if you were positive about what was wrong, you wouldn’t be calling tech support. Explain the issue as detailed above and let them do their job. This is what they do for a living and you should let them do it. There’s no shame in not knowing something (nobody knows everything). Don’t try to impress them with your command of tech terms or try to tell them what you think it is. In fact, by playing a bit dumb, you may learn something as well

Of course, there are never any guarantees that your tech support experience will always be great. After all, these are people just doing a job, and like any company, some employees are better than others. Not all companies have the extreme level of great support that NationalNet prides itself on, but by following a few simple rules and being nice and pleasant, you will find that your issues will be solved much faster with a lower frustration level.

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16
Apr
2010

So, Just How DO I Stream Video On My Website?

by Administrator

Streaming Video IconWe’ve all watched videos on the internet, but what is it that you really need in order to put videos on your website?

Lets start by explaining the difference between the two prevalent ways to serve up video – streaming video and HTTP download video (there is also “progressive downloading” which is a hybrid of streaming and HTTP download, but I see no compelling reason to use or discuss it).

HTTP download requires you to download a fair amount of the video before it will start playing and in some instances depending on the video format, the entire video has to be downloaded before it will play. HTTP download will generally have a certain amount of buffering even on a high-speed internet connection. With HTTP download, the video player can’t fast-forward to parts of the video that haven’t been downloaded yet. We’ve all seen the buffering bar when watching a video (The darker grey line that shows you how much you’ve actually downloaded). Without streaming you can skip ahead in that grey line, but if you go past the end of the grey line, you are forced to wait for the download to catch up. Like most people, including your surfers, I don’t like waiting.

 

Streaming video gives you the ability to view a video starting at a point other than at the beginning as well as skipping around in the video without having to wait. Streaming video will also start playing much faster, usually almost immediately. The obvious advantage is the lack of waiting required to view a video. Another advantage to streaming is the ability to stream live events, or webcast. So, given the obvious advantages to streaming video, we’re going to focus on that in this article

There are three components to streaming a video. First, you must have a server deliver the video. Next, there is the player that receives the video and displays it to the viewer and, of course, you have the video itself. All three of these components need to be set up properly in order to stream the video.

So let’s start with video formats. They are, in no particular order:

     

  1. Windows Media Video
  2. RealMedia
  3. Quicktime
  4. Adobe Flash
  5. H.264

 

Windows Media Video
Advantages:

  • Good compression and quality
  • Wide compatibility with Windows PCs

Disadvantages:

  • Certain older versions of Windows Media Player may experience playback issues
  • Not widely compatible with Mac and Linux
  • WMV doesn’t support user interactivity well

Top

 

 

RealMedia:
Advantages:

  • None that I can think of

Disadvantages:

  • Hardly anyone uses RealPlayer anymore, so you would have a very limited audience.

Top

 

Quicktime:
Advantages:

  • Excellent compression and quality
  • Compatible with all Macs and many PCs

Disadvantages:

  • Cannot contain interactive objects like buttons and textboxes
  • Quicktime Player is not installed by default on PCs

Top

 

Adobe Flash:
Advantages:

  • High Quality
  • Can contain interactive objects
  • Smaller file sizes
  • Most computers have the flash plugin by default

Disadvantages:

  • SWF files are limited to 16,000 frames

Top

 

H.264:
Advantages:

  • Higher quality with smaller file size due to compression

Disadvantages:

  • End user must have Flash Player 9 or higher (which the majority do)

Top

 

The leading contender of video formats currently is flash video (although H.264 is quickly overtaking Flash due to the DVD level quality it can display). The main reason is that the files it creates are smaller then many of the other video codecs like mpeg or divx. It also supports indexing. Indexing is putting fixed points in the video during the encoding process so you can skip around. This is required for streaming so you actually have a place to start later in the file. Some common tools for encoding a file to flash video are ffmpeg and mencoder (both free). Flvtool2 is usually used to add the indexes after the flash file is created. National Net supports all of these tools and can install them at your request. You can also use on2 which is a company that will encode videos for you or a product like Sony Vegas, which is PC based software that allows you to encode your own videos.

Next comes the server. There are two main protocols for delivering the video. HTTP, which is the traditional delivery method of the internet (if you have a website, you’re using HTTP already) and RTMP which was designed specifically for streaming videos. Both are valid ways to stream, but the difference is that HTTP is usually free while RTMP software tends to be more commercialized and sold by companies like Adobe. Some people claim that the RTMP servers function better but I’m not sure I agree. HTTP servers include apache, nginx and lighttpd. They all require that specific modules be installed in order to read the indexes in the file. Wowza and Adobe Flash Server are just two of many choices for setting up an RMTP server. National Net supports all of these servers as well.

Last we have the players themselves. Web pages, despite our best efforts are still primarily static places. One of the few technologies to come out that allows us to interact dynamically in a web page is shockwave flash. It was making flash be able to play video that gave us the players we see today. Once you embed the flash file in your web page, it becomes a video player and most of them understand how to stream a video. This allows you to skip ahead and watch videos until your heart’s content. A few popular players are jwplayer , flvplayer , flowplayer and Adobe’s own flash player. These are all embedded in your pages and the web browser runs them. Setting up the flash player in your web site is not extremely difficult and each of the players mentioned above come with adequate documentation to assist you in setting up the player in your web site.

Remember, if you don’t like waiting for a movie to play, neither do your surfers, so do them a favor and always be sure to use streaming videos where possible.

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