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The life of an independent web designer probably varies a lot, certainly in the small circle I know most of my compatriots work in very different ways.   Sure we all design web sites but our ways of working vary hugely and it can be quite useful to touch base with others occasionally just to swap experiences and ideas.   One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed is the type of customers, over the years I’ve primarily had just a few larger clients although when I started up I was doing a new site every week or so.

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The market has become extremely competitive and it can be very difficult to make a decent profit in the web design field.   Individuals and smaller businesses have a huge choice in potential designers and because of the nature of the work location is immaterial.   Designers who work in countries where the cost of living is much smaller have a huge cost advantage compared to those of us who live in expensive places like Los Angeles!  I’ve seen some brilliant web designers working from out of India who will create stunning web sites for a small percentage of what I could charge (no I’m not telling you who).  However for every one brilliant designer from a developing country, you’ll find hundreds of con-artists and hopeless one man web firms too.

So if you’re working online it’s important to both generate a steady income and a quality portfolio of clients.  A professional web site can be hugely successful to both online and offline business, it’s in the interest of every designer for their web sites to succeed.   If a website is generating interest and money, it will likely generate further work for the designer in expansions and additions plus through referrals.

This is one of the reasons why I’m always very wary where I advertise my services, in my opinion one of the worst places is in webmaster and designer forums.   Competition will be brutal, quotes will be ridiculous and very likely in these situations where costs are minimal then quality is likely to be so too.   It’s way better to find a better fit and find projects and customers to work with almost cooperatively to produce a successful website.

To be able to do this one of the challenges is bypassing the various region locks and bans that some of the biggest advertising sites put in place.   Many of the best ones restrict access to advertisers who are based in that specific country.  These region locks are the same as those employed by the big media sites like those discussed here – Netflix Blocking VPN where advertisers look up your IP address and restrict your advertising to specific regions.  For example there are some brilliant advertising sources targeting London in the UK, but my American IP address won’t let me access them directly.

What I do is invest in tools which allow me to hide my identity online.  By masking my IP address I can choose which markets to target and not get blocked by these restrictions, this enables me much more control about how and who I advertise my services too.   I’ve learnt to my cost that it’s much better to spend more time and money on attracting good clients than it is spending hours producing hundreds of low cost cookie-cutter web sites for a few dollars each.  Not only is it professionally more rewarding, it is also more profitable for my business in the long run too.

I’ve written in this blog many times about my dislike of internet filtering and censorship.  Of course my main problem is completely selfish and that’s the associated technology – region locking where web sites block access or lock you into a specific version of a site based on your IP address.  It sounds reasonable but I can assure you that for an English speaker the Japanese version of Netflix is not really as good at the US one!  In a global world, where most of us are lucky enough to travel more – continually classifying people simply based on their physical location is pretty stupid.

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I want to visit Japan, I want to see Mount Fuji but I don’t want to watch Japanese dubbed American sitcoms on my computer when I’m actually there.  After all what’s the point of a global account on the internet if it locks you into a small restricted world based on where you happen to be at the time.  I don’t get a different credit card for every country I visit – that would plainly be stupid, so why can’t the internet be more global!

Of course fortunately as I have discovered there are ways around these stupid restrictions.   It’s called a VPN and basically allows you to route your internet connection through a third party server so you can choose whichever country you prefer.  Firstly I just used them to access all my US based stuff which got blocked when travelling, but slowly I have realized it actually unlocks a whole new world.  There’s some amazing UK channels online like the peerless BBC, watching the BBC World News streaming on my laptop is how I get my international news when travelling.  Also get this  every country’s version of Netflix is indeed different and you can access them all with a VPN.

So ok the Japanese version of Netflix didn’t quite do it for me, but the UK, Canada and Australian ones have some unique stuff that’s not on the US version.  For French speakers it’s great to watch the French Netflix version if even only to keep your language skills up to date if you don’t use them much.

This is all great and works a treat but using a VPN is not always possible.   What do you use for example if you use a games console or a Smart TV setting to watch your content online?   Ever tried setting up a VPN on your Xbox?  It’s not that easy and many of the devices we use to stream video simply don’t allow this functionality.  So how can you bypass region locks on some other sort of media device like a Roku or Chromecast?  Well the solution is simple it’s based on using DNS to route specific parts of your connection through a third part server to hide your location.

This helps on media devices because all you need to do is change your DNS server in the  network settings and that’s it/  No VPN client software or connection is required, you can use Smart DNS Netflix servers as well if you choose the right supplier (most are still blocked like the VPN servers).

 

I’m a pretty law abiding sort of guy, but I do find my behaviour becomes a little bit more flexible when I’m online.  I’m not talking about overt criminality or anything like that, more taking use of available resources that perhaps I shouldn’t.   My temptation is normally due to two distinct factors –

  • Love TV Shows and Movies
  • I’m lucky enough to travel a lot

How should these two factors combine is basically this – I am always waiting for the latest series of a variety of TV shows – Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and a myriad of others. Unfortunately when you’re travelling you can miss out on these releases as they’re often scheduled at different times. A show might be released on one date in the US and then a few weeks later in Europe, so if I’m travelling all my friends have seen in way before me – and yes they usually can’t resist commenting.

Streaming UK TV

You’d think that it wouldn’t matter because of the Internet but no, I am an avid HBO subscriber but am completely unable to access my subscription when outside the USA. It’s kind of stupid really that the online facility is blocked from me at the one time I actually wish to use it.

Now I can mess around with IP changers and stuff like that, but am always frustrated that I just can’t watch it quickly without problems which is why I am tempted by torrents. This is a way of sharing files between a shared community. Basically someone uploads a file and shares it on their computer then as people download they become part of the swarm and share it too. The result is that you can download movies and music very quickly indeed by using these ‘torrents’.

The problem is that you’re still breaking copyright and even if you have a legitimate right to access in one country doesn’t mean you have in another. It’s a crazy situation but unfortunately so it’s due to us having a licensing situation which kind of ignores the digital world we live in. Worst still when you download a file like this, it’s extremely simple to track down who downloaded it. It’s worth reading this article on anonymous torrenting for some background on the technicalities.

Basically you’re wide open to DCMA litigation, people get caught and fined all the time. In reality if you use a third party access point i.e. one that is not registered to your home address you should be alright. This is because although your IP address is recorded it won’t be associated with you directly if you are downloading from a coffee shop or hotel.

So when travelling it should be safer, although this doesn’t help with the very real problems of sharing your hard disk out to a bunch of strangers. All in all I don’t think torrents are worth the effort but I wish the media companies would sort out their licensing so people who travel aren’t penalized like this.