It’s no exaggeration to say that big data is big business nowadays. Research by IDC suggests the big data analytics market is growing at 11 per cent each year, and will soon be worth more than $200 billion. That’s not entirely surprising when you consider the predictions for future data volumes, with the ten zettabytes of data generated in 2015 expected to increase 18-fold by 2025.
Bitcoin came onto the scene in 2009, and although its source remains anonymous it has become a major form of currency in the global market. Bitcoin’s validity was debatable at first, but skeptics were quieted when its value rose quickly; it has fluctuated greatly since then, yet it is still becoming an increasingly popular payment method for e-commerce businesses and online sales.
Is accepting bitcoin right for your business? The answer for most businesses will be yes, however there are important considerations to make when thinking about accepting bitcoin for online purchases. Let’s hold the digital magnifying glass up to bitcoin and see if it’s right for you.
First things first: what is bitcoin?
Bitcoin is a digital decentralized peer-to-peer cryptocurrency.
Wow – now that’s a very cryptic description. Let’s break it down. When we say bitcoin is decentralized, that means it doesn’t belong to a particular country or bank, and thus is not subject to a single administrator or governing body. For example, there is the U.S. dollar, which belongs to the United States and falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Reserve; there is the pound sterling, which belongs to the United Kingdom and is controlled by the United Kingdom government; then there’s bitcoin, which belongs to no particular country and follows no set rules.
Bitcoin was created as a decentralized currency to allow users to have greater freedom with the way they stored and spent their money, and also to prevent a person or group of people from enforcing nefarious control over its value. Erik Voorhees writes for Bitcoin Magazine, “Consider: since every CoinBase [one of the major bitcoin transacting platforms] user can opt out and leave the platform, this presents a natural check on CoinBase’s ability to act with impropriety, and makes coercion impossible.”
Next in that bitcoin definition: bitcoin is fully digital. You will not have a smattering of bitcoins at the bottom of your sock drawer after an international vacation. There are no printed notes or minted coins; bitcoin exists solely as numbers on a screen. All transactions are completed online, following the increasing trend of the digitization of companies by fintech companies and major banks alike.
Bitcoin transactions are peer-to-peer, meaning they are sent directly from one individual to another. Your transaction doesn’t have to go through a bank, but is rather sent from one person or organization to another using a unique, encrypted code. This means that fees are very low, with some companies not charging any fees at all. An individual holds their bitcoins in what’s known as a wallet, and there are multiple companies that offer these wallets to consumers and businesses.
Finally, regarding bitcoin being a cryptocurrency, this has to do with the way transactions are processed. The codes that are used to facilitate the exchange of bitcoins employ cryptography to ensure their safety. The individuals’ identities are not revealed, but a public record of the transaction is available, making this a highly secure yet fully transparent monetary system.
The big question: should I accept bitcoin at my e-commerce site?
There are both pros and cons to accepting bitcoins, but currently the good outweighs the bad.
Your first consideration should be the size and number of transactions your business tends to make. If you are a large company and your transactions are few but large, bitcoin may not be advantageous in the current currency environment (although, of course, that may change). However, if you’re a small company or your transactions are frequent and in small amounts, bitcoin could offer huge savings in transaction fees.
Credit card companies charge fees to businesses that tend to be between 2% and 3%. As mentioned previously, bitcoin’s transaction fees are between 0% and 1%, netting a potential total savings of 1% to 3%. If you’re a small business owner, you know that 1% to 3% can make a huge impact on your bottom line, thus the savings from accepting bitcoin on your e-commerce site could be substantial. Since small businesses do not operate on the same scale as larger companies, they do not have the bargaining power to negotiate lower rates with credit card companies. Therefore, they stand to save a massive amount by accepting bitcoin.
Another benefit to using bitcoin is that bitcoin transactions complete very quickly, in a matter of minutes, as opposed to days as with credit cards. Getting paid quickly is very important for small and medium businesses who require a steady cash flow to maintain operations. The nuts and bolts of how transactions are processed is where things can be somewhat difficult to understand, but we’ll give it a try: after a bitcoin transaction is initiated, it needs to be verified by a bitcoin miner – that’s someone whose job it is to process bitcoin transactions. Since this is an individual and not a company, financial institution, or governing body, it keeps with the decentralized model of the bitcoin currency. Once a miner verifies, or “solves,” a bitcoin transaction the funds are then transferred from one account to the other.
Although this process may sound time consuming, it usually takes about 10-20 minutes from start to finish, or up to an hour if network connectivity is below par. This is exponentially less time than credit card transactions or wire transfers, which take days to complete, and this time saving can prove hugely beneficial to small and medium businesses. After all, time is money.
The next benefit to bitcoin transactions is that they are final, which means that the chargebacks or returns that sometimes occur with credit card transactions cannot and do not happen with bitcoin. Customer disputes can delay credit card payments and disrupt cash flow, and can also be quite costly, charging the merchant a fee between $5 and $20 per chargeback. If chargebacks occur too frequently, a business can be placed in a chargeback monitoring program, the fee for which is a costly $5,000. Bitcoin’s rapid transaction speed negates the possibility of chargebacks entirely: when a customer makes a purchase, it happens in a matter of minutes and with no room for second thought. This does not, however, mean businesses can be foolhardy with their practices, as online reviews are still alive and well, so business ethics are not to be sacrificed.
Businesses that have international customers also stand to benefit by using bitcoin; in addition, companies that have been unable to go global due to size restrictions or foreign transaction charges will find accepting bitcoin an easier way into the international market. No matter the financial institution or country, banks that facilitate purchases across borders will find a way to get their cut of the deal in one way or another – after all, those fees should be going to the business and not the bank. On the other hand, because bitcoin is decentralized, businesses will never have to pay foreign transaction fees.Businesses will, however, need to consider fluctuations in currency rates.
Finally, businesses that accept bitcoin can enjoy an improved public perception by being on the cutting edge of technology. Bitcoin is the new kid on the block when it comes to currency, and carries with it the appeal of being the coolest and most hip type of currency today. By accepting bitcoin, businesses piggyback on bitcoin’s state-of-the-art feel and will be thought of by their customers as a pioneer in e-commerce.
What are the risks associated with accepting bitcoin?
As with any online exchange of funds, there are risks to take into account when considering bitcoin as an online payment method. While bitcoin’s being decentralized is one of the key benefits bitcoin users will proselytize, on the flip side that may scare some merchants. Even though almost all major countries accept bitcoin as payment, some do not, reflecting market uncertainty. Some argue that bitcoin being decentralized means it is more likely to fluctuate, while others insist that its decentralization is precisely the reason it will not fluctuate, since it does not depend on a single country or institution to determine its stability.
Bitcoin has seen massive fluctuation since it was created, which also means it can be difficult to price goods accurately without knowing the current exchange rate of bitcoin with local currency. This could be a significant challenge for an accounting department, as businesses may need to be able to change the price of their goods or services almost daily to correspond with bitcoin fluctuation.
How can I get started with using bitcoin?
If a business would like to start accepting bitcoin payments but expects small numbers of transactions, it might want to begin by simply by creating a bitcoin wallet and advertising on the website that it accepts bitcoin, and to contact the business directly to facilitate payments on a case-by-case basis. This is an easy entry into the bitcoin platform.
For businesses that want to really get the ball rolling, they will want to use a bitcoin payment company. There is a handful of these companies on the market today, and each one offers a slightly different solution to accept bitcoins. Check out Bitpay, Coinbase, and Stripe to see which one works best for your online business.
Despite its anonymous cloak-and-dagger beginnings, in just eight years bitcoin has become a legitimate, internationally recognized global currency, not only with huge investment potential but also with multiple potential benefits to e-commerce businesses. Bitcoin’s positive attributes are many, although they must be tempered with the risks of a currency that has fluctuated a lot in its short life. Accepting bitcoins as a payment method is relatively straightforward, and can have great benefits for a company’s market perception. If bitcoin is the future of online payment systems, consider this article your crystal ball: we see bitcoin in your future.
Technology and business goals collide at the intersection of page load time and conversion rate.
Marketing wants a fully featured page, with lots of images and services to track user behavior.
Page load time has a huge effect on conversion rate and customer happiness:
- Half of all customers expect a webpage to load in under 2 seconds. If it doesn’t, they lose trust in and patience with the site, and click the back button to navigate to the next search result on Google.
- User expectations have increased big time. SOASTA conducted an experiment between 2014 and 2015, looking at conversion rates based on page load time. In 2015 they saw a peak conversion rate at for sites loading in 2.4 seconds. This was 30% faster than the peak conversion load time in 2014.
- Cedexis found that decreasing load time by just 1 second improves conversion rate by an average of 27.3%, where a conversion is defined as a purchase, download or sign-up.
The necessity of keeping page load time low for a good customer experience means that tech teams need to exercise every option available to them for performance. Effective caching techniques can bring improvements to even the leanest of websites.
Why optimize caching?
Caching is the process of storing elements so that clients can retrieve resources from memory without needing to put strain on the main server. Utilizing caches has three main benefits.
First of all, caching can make web pages load faster, especially if the user has visited before. If you utilize caching to distribute content globally, visitors will see a reduction in latency, which is the time it takes for a request to physically travel from their browser through the network to the server and back again. If your page is cached locally on the user’s browser, they don’t need to download every resource from your server, every time.
Secondly, caching reduces the amount of bandwidth needed. Instead of the server being responsible for delivering resources for every request, it only needs to deliver new content. Everything else can be returned from a cache along the network.
Finally, caching increases how robust your site is. A client can retrieve resources from a cache, even if your server is down or experiencing high traffic. A plan for preparing for volume spikes should include a caching strategy.
Levels of caching
Caching can happen at lots of different checkpoints along the network, right from the browser to the server itself. Every checkpoint has different benefits and challenges associated with them.
Let’s start with the caching options closest to the end user, then move up the chain to the server where the resource being retrieved originates from.
Browser caching – imagine scrolling through the search results on an online shop. You click on an image link to load the product page, decide it’s not quite right, and hit the back button. If your browser had to request the entire search page again, you’d have to wait for all the images to be downloaded to your browser for a second time. Fortunately, browsers use memory to store a version of sites they’ve already visited. Instead of going all the way to the server and back again, your browser just pulls up the version it’s already stored for you. It will also do this for constant pieces of your site, like your logo, for example.
Proxy cache (Web Server Accelerator) – caches can also be shared between many users. ISP use caches to reduce bandwidth requirements by sharing resources. That way, if one user has already requested a static resource (like an image or file) the ISP doesn’t need to request it again from the server – it can provide it instantly.
Content Delivery Network (CDN) – remember how distance between user and server affects load time? CDNs are caches designed to reduce latency by distributing copies of cached files to local servers all over the world. When a user requests a resource, they are connected to their local CDN. Companies with international users should consider using a CDN to reduce latency.
Server side caching/ reverse proxy – if most of your content is static, you can cache it for yourself, so customers won’t need to hit your server to load static content. There are several tools that do this for you – Redis, Varnish, and phpfm are all popular options.
Database caching – database servers are often separated from the rest of the server. This means that when your server receives a request from a user, they need to request something extra from the database. If a frequent request always returns the same result, you can cache this in a database cache. This prevents the database from crunching the same request over and over again, resulting in better performance, even during busy periods. Search servers for ecommerce sites also return cacheable queries.
When should you optimize caching?
“I’m not lazy, I’m just efficient” – ever heard that before? Well, think of your servers as the absolute laziest pieces of hardware you own. Never ask them to do something time consuming twice if there’s a way for them to hold onto results in a cache down the line
For example, you sell jewelry online and one of your top link destinations is a list featuring the 20 most popular items. If you didn’t utilize caching, every time a visitor clicked on that link, they’d need to send a new request through their ISP to your server, which would ask the database to calculate the top 20 items and then send back each of the corresponding images and prices. But realistically, you don’t need to compute this full page every time it’s requested. The top 20 items don’t change often enough to require real-time results. Instead, cache the page in a reverse proxy – located in the same country as the customer – and deliver it much faster.
When you start optimizing your caching strategy a good place to begin is by identifying the most popular and largest representations first. You’ll get the biggest benefit from focusing on caching improvements for pages that are resource heavy and requested often. Looking at the waterfall diagrams on the Network tab of your browser can help identify resource intensive modules on the page.
Time To First Byte (TTFB) is a good way to measure the responsiveness of your web server. Improving your caching strategy through reverse proxies, CDNs and compression will help customers experience shorter TTFB, and help your website feel snappier.
However, don’t forget that most customers will have a poorer experience than that seen in testing. They might, for example, be located on the opposite side of the world using a mobile device or an older computer. By utilizing caching best practices, you’ll ensure customers have a great experience, no matter where they are.
When you need to refresh your data
Because we work in a world where everything is frequently updated, it’s important to understand the different methods we have of forcing a cache reset. There are a few ways we can force browsers and other caches to retrieve a fresh copy of data straight from the server.
- Set expiration date – when the site doesn’t need to stay perfectly up to date in real time, but does need to stay reasonably fresh. If you set an expiration date in your header, the browser will dump the cache after that time. If the resource is requested again, a fresh copy will be retrieved.
- Set modified-since – the client will download the updated resource only if the server confirms it’s been updated after the modified-since date. Instead of sending everything again, the server can send back a short 304 response without a body, thus saving bandwidth and time.
- Clear specific module – you don’t need to refresh your entire blog cache just to display a new comment. Segmenting a page into different modules can help with cache refreshes.
- Fingerprinting – caches work by storing and retrieving a specific file when requested. If you change the name of the file, the cache won’t be able to find the file, and the new copy will be downloaded. This is how fingerprinting works to keep assets up to date. By attaching a unique series of characters to the filename, each asset is considered a new file and requested from the server. Because the content is updated every time, you can set an expiration date years in the future and never worry about a stale cache. Many compilers will automatically fingerprint assets for you, so you can keep the same base filename.
Don’t forget that a cache is not long term storage! If you decide to cache something for later, you might find that it’s been invalidated and you need to retrieve the resource again.
Making caching work for you
Determining the perfect solution for your site can be difficult. Rely too much on caching and you might find users have outdated sites, or memory troubles in their browser. Ignore caching entirely and you’ll see page loading times increase and user experience suffer.
By understanding your user’s needs, you can create a great experience from the beginning. If caching is important, it’s worth using a framework that provides out-of-the-box caching optimization. If caching is less relevant because accuracy is more important than speed, then you can make allowances either way.
Caching strategy is a problem to be solved uniquely for each app. Determining where you can utilize caching to save bandwidth is an ongoing learning experience. Keep making incremental improvements and keep it light for your customers.
The future of the world—and the world of work—was on display at TEDxLugano in Switzerland earlier in September. With a theme of “Professions of the Future” the topics of the independently-organized TED event ranged from the future of robots in harsh environments to the practical realities of an AI-first world.
Beyond Artificial Intelligence
The event was a first-hand look at some of the future implications of artificial intelligence and robotics from some of the leading thinkers in that field. But going by each presentation, it added context and nuance to a topic area that often have people jumping to worst case scenarios, reminiscent of a high-budget science fiction movie.
Indeed, when it comes to AI, our culture seems to be in need of a reality check. AI isn’t necessarily the technological advancement that’s going to save the world from all its ills, but neither is it certain to be the “end of the human race” as Stephen Hawking has famously said. Examining some of the main topics that came out of this Tedx event can help give a more granular and realistic vision of the stunning developments in this field.
Robot Intuition May Save Lives
Anna Valente, a professor in automation, robotics and machines gave a stunning talk on intuitive robotics, which have the potential to aid human endeavors in myriad ways. Often, when we think about the growing sophistication of the robotics field, people get panicky and fear the worst: that robots will become smarter than humans and surpass our capacities. However, there is a massive middle ground between where we are now and robots actually taking over the world. Take, for example, the idea that Valente presented: using intuitive robots in harsh environments where human life may be at risk. Creating robots that could intervene in natural disasters or conflict zones without putting human life at risk would be a helpful deployment of this field. As Valente put it, intuitive robotics can help humans “transcend the danger and amplify our ultimate senses” and unlock profound possibilities that both enhance human capabilities and save human lives.
Life After Death
Attendees were excited to hear from Henrique Jorge, a software developer and entrepreneur who is best-known for founding the social network ETER9, which uses AI as part of its core. Currently in beta, ETER9 learns the habits of its users through observing their social media posting patterns. Then, when users aren’t online, AI will continue to post in the user’s absence, amounting to a so-called Counterpart, which is a “virtual self that will stay in the system and interact with the world just like you would if you were present.” The more a user interacts on the network by posting and commenting, the more this Counterpart learns. While this might sound disconcerting to some, the goal is not supplanting human communication for AI. Rather, in his talk Jorge proposed an exciting future where AI could be used to keep the presence of individuals alive long after they’ve passed away. This concept of “digital immortality” through the merger of machines and human consciousness is just one of the exciting and nuanced ways that AI is being used.
Another topic presented was by robotics engineer Wyatt Newman. Newman explained how “robotics, automation and Artificial Intelligence are continuously transforming the working world” which means that the skills and jobs we will need people to be adept at in the future could look very different from what we need today. While much has been written about this hypothesis in the media, most of it fuels fear of the future, not fostering an attitude of possibility. As Newman said in his talk: “The robot revolution is here, but is not to be feared. It is our hope for the future.” Through tactics like smart automation, finding new and more nuanced roles for human workers and using robotics for tasks that humans can’t fulfill, we can find a space for robots in the future world of work that does not eclipse our human world.
A highlight speaker of the event was computer scientist and inventor Jamil El-Imad, whose interests span in Virtual Reality (VR), brain signal analysis, Big Data and Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI). At the event, he debuted his “dream machine” which helps users harness mindfulness to reach peak human experience. As El-Imad intoned in his talk: “Imagine you are in Zurich, your friends are in different countries and you all wish to go to a motor racing or football event together …. technology is changing our live experience” in ways we couldn’t have imagined just years ago.
The work of the TEDxLugano speakers showcases the ways that the fields of AI and robots are not things to be feared, but rather celebrated and explored, as the human race progresses and evolves into the future.