WHAT WE LEARNED THIS WEEK: There’s no excuse for outdated software

Internet entrepreneur Ruslan Kogan caused a bit of a stir last week when he announced he would “tax” anyone buying products form the Kogan site while browsing on Internet Explorer 7. While the backlash was amusing, it brings up a good point – why are businesses still using outdated technology?

Internet Explorer has improved over time, but you shouldn’t be using older versions of the software. And not just Internet Explorer – that goes for any piece of software at all. You shouldn’t be using versions from five or six years ago when the newer updates bring you in line with industry standard.

If you’re using files that can only be read by five-year-old software, you’ll find yourself in a lot of trouble.

Software costs a lot of money, yes, but the benefits of staying in line with industry standards are far greater. Especially when the software in question is free, like a web browser, where there are plenty of alternatives including Chrome, Firefox and Opera.

Don’t get caught struggling to keep up with technology. Find the latest version of your software, and then update. You don’t have an excuse.

More consolidation in group buying demands a focus on niche markets

The group buying consolidation continued this week, as Deals.com.au and Ouffer combined their efforts. It’s not a surprise – the market can only support so many players and with the giants such as Scoopon and Cudo still running the show, smaller players will either fall away or focus on a niche.

And that’s exactly what Deals is doing. Chief executive Adam Schwab told SmartCompany earlier this week it merged with Ouffer in part because of some niches the company is experimenting with, especially in the gourmet food market.

And that’s how the group buying and daily deals markets are surviving right now, focusing on smaller and smaller niches, rather than appealing to a general audience.

And perhaps that’s how you can survive as well. If you’re operating an online business, don’t cast your net too wide. If you can sacrifice a vaguely interested general audience for a core, dedicated community, then choose which is most profitable. Often, it’ll be the core community – who can then rally behind you and give some good publicity.

Experimenting with ads works – as long as the product allows it

Skype users across the world reacted negatively last week to an announcement the company would introduce ads within conversations.

Although these ads aren’t audio-based, they’ll show pictures within the middle of the Skype window during conversations. Annoying, to be sure, but it won’t stop the conversation you’re having with your friends or colleagues.

It raises an interesting question, however, about when and where using advertisements can be acceptable. There are times when using an ad is out of the question – interrupting a conversation for an audio ad in Skype may be one of those – and there are times when it can push the boundary of what’s accepted, but still work.

These Skype image ads will work because people are used to ads already in their mobile and web apps, especially in a free product. They’ll get used to it.

The most important thing is that you don’t upset the user experience. If you’re keeping the actual experience of the product intact, then there’s no reason you can’t mix things up with some ad experimentation.

Too late for top level domains – or is it?

Last week it was revealed which businesses and entrepreneurs had applied for generic top-level domain names.

Among the giants like Apple and Amazon, several large Australian companies registered, including ANZ, the AFL, Commonwealth Bank and iiNet.

There are also some smaller ones here too, which are much more interesting for SMEs. For instance, one Australian entrepreneur applied for .physio, while an Australian group has also applied for .CEO.

The application process is over, so if you’re thinking about getting one of these domains, then forget it. But you should look at the applications so far and think about whether it’s worth registering for a subdomain when they start getting sold – it may be worth contacting an applicant to see if you can get a good early bird deal.

Always declare your eBay activity

eBay sellers across the country have been given warning the government is cracking down, with the identities of around 15,000 people being handed over by the company. Centrelink is on a massive hunt to find people who are cheating on their welfare by not declaring eBay earnings.

There’s good news though, as those who use the site as a genuine hobby won’t be targeted. But it raises a good question for sole entrepreneurs as to how much of their eBay activity they should be declaring.

Selling goods on eBay is a great way to get started as a side business alongside your existing offering. Just make sure if you’re using it as a core business, and you’re making a decent amount of money, then you declare it.

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