Friday, February 27, 2009

The Taxman Cometh, Part 2

This past week, I spoke with three CPAs and an EA (Enrolled Agent) in order to find someone who could prepare our LLC's state and federal tax returns, which are due March 16. Despite the apparent simplicity of our first-year returns, the price quotes ranged from $500 to $1,000—which seems a little steep considering how little time it should take an experienced professional to complete. Because he wanted our business, the EA revised his offer to a first-year discounted price of $350. All of these individuals were recommended to me by people I know in the financial and accounting professions, so I didn't push any of them for discounts. For comparison purposes, I contacted a local H&R Block agent. His typical price for a simple corporate return is $350, and he offered me a discounted price of $300.

I had originally considered doing the returns ourselves with tax-preparation software until I searched for corporate tax products and found they started at $500. But before calling my co-founder, I decided to see if Intuit, the maker of TurboTax,* offers a corporate product. And sure enough, they do! TurboTax Business 2008—which is made for LLCs, partnerships, C corporations, and S corporations—retails for $109.95 (federal) and $49.95 (state). How did I miss this great deal during my original search?

I reported my findings to my co-founder, and he was even more displeased with the tax preparers' price quotes than I was. I told him about TurboTax Business, and he definitely wanted to go that route. So I did a little more research and found the federal version for as low as $58.00 here. It appears that the state product is not available for separate sale, but only as a download via the federal product; therefore, we will probably have to pay full price for it. Still, $107.95 is a very good deal, especially compared to the price of an accountant.

Then I remembered that a friend—who recently went to work for Intuit—told me that they have a friends-and-family discount program. He was able to get me the federal product for $26.94, for a total of $76.89, assuming we end up paying full price for the state product. Thanks, dude! I will post about my experiences with TurboTax Business in the coming weeks.

*I have used TurboTax ever since I began working as a sole proprietor in 1993. It has improved vastly over the years, and I highly recommend it to anyone who files anything but the simplest of returns.

Word Clouds, Part 2

I couldn't resist creating another word cloud using Wordle. This one is based on the content of the Truth Rally teaser page (click to enlarge):

Truth Rally Word Cloud

Wordle was created by Jonathan Feinberg, whose obvious artistic flair can be viewed at his blog. You can click this author link to see the word clouds I've submitted at Wordle.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Drupal Architecture

Before providing further updates on our Drupal development, I thought a brief overview of Drupal's architecture would provide a good frame of reference for interested readers. I wrote earlier that Drupal's architecture was one of the deciding factors during our CMS selection process. In particular, the architecture is abstract enough to allow us to design Truth Rally as we have envisioned it—without having to make any compromises or accommodations.

Drupal's architecture is divided into five primary layers:


The base layer is the data pool. Each datum (node) represents one piece of user-supplied information, such as a blog post or a comment. This data is filtered through the other four levels, which are configured by the developer to describe precisely its final presentation to the user.

The second layer is made up of modules, which are plug-ins that provide the real functionality in Drupal. The standard set of included modules can be augmented with any of hundreds of available contributed modules or with your own custom modules. Available modules provide support for charts, editors, picture- and video-sharing, polls, email, and much more.

The third layer is composed of blocks and menus, which provide the logical presentation of the data from the underlying modules. The fourth layer is where user permissions are applied in order to control what each user sees and to what functionality they have access—an aspect of the architecture that is especially useful for our site. The final layer is the template, which provides the look and feel.

Currently, my co-founder, Mike, is working on level 5, while I am focusing on levels 2 and 3. I will elaborate further on our experiences as we complete each phase of development.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Word Clouds

Today I tested an online tool called Wordle, which generates word clouds, often called tag clouds, because they were originally used to give a visual representation of the frequency of tags associated with Web content. All you have to do is supply Wordle with some text, and a Java applet does the rest. After the default cloud is displayed, you can customize it by changing the font, word layout, and color scheme. I gave it this blog's feed, but it appears to have only used the most recent posts (click to enlarge):

Blog Word Cloud
I saved the above word cloud to the site's gallery for a little free advertising. Check it out here, and generate some word clouds of your own.

I found two minor bugs and reported them to the program's creator. Did you spot them? The first problem occurs only when the text source is HTML, as is the case for the feed I provided: The last word of a paragraph is merged with the first word of the next paragraph because there is no intervening white space—only HTML tags. For example, "... last.

First ..." produces "last.First" as a single word. The other problem is that terms properly ending in a period like "i.e." are reproduced without the final period.

Update: Take a look at this improved word cloud.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reputation Management

I signed up recently for a new service called SM2,* which is offered by Techrigy. SM2 is a product that monitors and analyzes social media for selected keywords; it allows companies to track mentions of their brands and high-profile employees, as well as their competition. It serves the same general purpose as Google Alerts, but is combined with the depth of data analysis provided by Google Analytics. Active reputation management is extremely important in the libel-ridden world of social media, and products such as SM2 can play an important role in that task.

They have built their own index of social media, which they claim recently surpassed 1 billion pieces of content—from sources such as blogs (including media blogs and microblogs), wikis, forums, video- and photo-sharing sites, and social networks. Thus far, it has located more mentions of my selected keywords than Google Alerts has. Moreover, they provide real-time alerts, whereas Google provides only daily reports.

Their analysis tools provide extensive functionality including charts for daily volume, the aforementioned social media types, specific domains, popularity of sites that feature mentions, demographics of authors, tags used by authors, map overlays, and more. They also have tools that measure sentiment of brand references (i.e., positive vs. negative) and tone of content (i.e., very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, very negative) for all search results. A cursory review shows their automated sentiment and tone determinations to be mostly accurate.

We are currently using the free version of the service, which provides up to five search phrases and 1,000 saved results. This is adequate for a small startup like Truth Rally, but larger companies can purchase one of their priced plans, which start at $500 per month. I am impressed with this service, and will follow up in the coming months once I've had more experience with it.

*I couldn't find an explanation of the name SM2, but my guess is that it is akin to Amazon's EC2, which stands for Elastic Compute Cloud. Similarly, I assume that SM2 stands for Social Media Monitor(ing). If this is correct, the "2" actually represents the second power, but for convenience is not written as a superscript.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's a Small World

It has been three months since I began testing Google Analytics on this blog, so it seems like an appropriate time to offer a brief review. As I wrote earlier, Google does not report IP addresses or any other uniquely identifiable information about visitors; the finest level of detail is a visitor's city.

The information reported by Google Analytics is broken down into four main categories: Visitors, Traffic Sources, Content, and Goals. The Visitors section gives you technical details, such as browser type, operating system, and network type; trending information, such as visits, unique visitors, pageviews, and time spent on the site; and loyalty information, including new versus returning visitors, frequency of visits, and recency of visits. The Traffic Sources section reports how visitors find your site, including search terms they use to reach it. The Content section gives you various information on which pages visitors view most frequently. I haven't used the Goals section yet, but it can be used with ad campaigns to determine their effectiveness. These descriptions just scratch the surface, and new features are being developed and added on a regular basis.

One of the cool features is the geographical representation of visitors (see maps below). Thus far, this blog has been visited from 17 countries on four of the world's continents. Where are you, Africa and Australia? (I got a tip that a group of penguins was viewing my blog from Antarctica, but Google doesn't include that continent.) The color of each country gives a rough indication of the number of visitors, as shown by the legend in the lower left.

This blog has been visited by users from 25 states in the US, including the seven most populous states (which comprise 44.7% of the US population) and 16 of the top 20 most populous states.

Not surprisingly, most of the visitors are from California.* Each of the 44 dots in the following map represents the number of visits from the represented city, with the size of the dot proportional to the number of visits. As with the above maps, the color is representative of total visits as well. As shown, hovering the cursor over a city launches a small popup that indicates the number of visits.

I am using an IP-address filter to exclude my visits, so none of the above data includes yours truly. You can click on any of the above images for a better view.

Update: A visitor from Brisbane yesterday (Thursday, February 19, 2009) has added the continent of Australia to the ranks of this blog's readers.

Update: A visitor from Cairo yesterday (Wednesday, April 8, 2009) has added the continent of Africa to the ranks of this blog's readers. All continents tracked by Google Analytics are now represented.

*This is not surprising given that this blog is about a California LLC, most of my business network is in California, and California is by far the most populous state in the Union: 52.9% larger than the second most populous state, Texas, and 12.1% of the total US population.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

RCApp.exe - Application Error

If you're one of the many Norton users who is being plagued by this dreaded RCApp error message and has been unable to repair it, I have the fix for you. I spent a lot of time explaining the problem to two clueless Symantec technical-support representatives, both of whom instructed me to reinstall the program and guaranteed that would fix it. The second one even had me download and execute a custom removal tool to ensure the entire program was removed before reinstallation. As I've since learned, this tool doesn't really remove everything. On my third try, I finally reached someone who knew how to fix it.

The problem occurs when you upgrade to one of the latest Norton products, and the uninstall process fails to remove LiveUpdate, the update program used by earlier versions. You are then left with a rogue process that continues trying to update a program that has since been removed, thus resulting in the aforementioned error. The latest products apparently do not use a separate program to perform updates.

To correct the problem, access the Control Panel and click on Add or Remove Programs. Locate the program LiveUpdate, and click the remove button. VoilĂ ! It worked for me; if it doesn't work for you, let me know and I will research the issue further.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Technorati Blurbs

Technorati announced a new service that allows members to post articles and blurbs regarding particular tags, each of which is featured on its own page. The tag page for truth features relevant posts, photos, and videos. I posted the first blurb on the page:

There was no tag article either, so I began writing one. But then I noticed that before posting a tag article, one must first become a Blogcritics writer. I reviewed their site, and it looks very interesting. However, it would probably require a bigger time commitment than my work schedule can currently accommodate. Further, writing opinion pieces for Blogcritics would likely create a conflict of interest with my position at Truth Rally.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Getting Your Fair Share

I signed up for a new service today called FairShare, which tracks online content. Given a web feed, it reports when any web site copies the content appearing in that feed. If the content is licensed, it will also report any violations of the license terms, such as failure to link to the original content. Online plagiarism is widespread; it is particularly common among those whose purpose is to divert traffic to their sites in order to collect ad revenue, effectively syphoning it from the targeted authors. There are entire sites that are built via automated theft of original content, so it is important to protect your work if you intend to earn revenue from it.

I learned about this service from TechCrunch, and used their invite code to reserve a beta invitation. As I mentioned earlier, we will have a web feed for the latest results from Truth Rally, so this could turn out to be a great service to find sites that reprint our copyrighted material without permission or attribution. For now, I am testing it on this blog's content. I will post an update if it actually finds anything.

Here is a screen capture of FairShare's license options (click to enlarge):