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Does it make more sense to enter a market and get to know your customers as you go, or enter the market having a strong understanding about them? The second option seems the most logical, but getting this information is not always easy.

Google Surveys might not be the most known service offered by the search engine giant, but it is definitively very useful for medium and large businesses (I am not saying small because it doesn’t come for free and many small business owners would be better served investing their money elsewhere).

How It Works

Creating a Survey

The process is a very simple three step procedure. First, select a survey name and select your target Audience (if you identified yourself as a website owner you will have the option to select the visitors of your site as your audience). If you select “general population in a selected country” you will be able to filter your results by gender, age, or geography.

Select the format you prefer. You will be able to modify your decision later on in the process. You can now create your survey and get a real-time preview of your work, such as:

Who Will Answer Your Questions?

Concrete Examples

There are many ways you can use Google surveys to benefit your business. The first could be creating a survey to find the price sensitivity of your target audience to a given product. This will allow you to use the perfect price on your site to maximize the conversion rate.

A second use could be to figure out the frequency of use of a given product to understand how often and how many customers will return to your site to purchase your product multiple times. This might help you in determining whether you can apply a lower price to begin with and maximize your earnings via a long-term relationship with your customers.

You will have endless opportunities at your fingertips! Additionally, Google offers you free one-on-one hangouts to answer all of your questions


You might know a lot about your customers, but there definitively plenty to learn. Getting this information out before launching a product or a strategy will save you time and money. That is where Google Surveys come in play. Use their $50 coupon to try out the service and see what you can find out about your customers?

Featured image a screenshot of Google Surveys, found via WebProNews

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The Art Of Building A Successful It Department

Creating and filling mission-critical IT personnel positions is a managerial art form — one that’s key to running a successful department, according to a Meta Group analyst.

Jonathan Poe, senior vice president at the analyst firm Meta Group, says smart CIOs know that delivering value from the IT department to the overall business starts with having the right people in the right roles. And more and more IT leaders are looking at reshaping their IT structures. Poe says between 2002 and 2003, more than 80% of global 2000 companies will overhaul their IT organizations.

Bringing in the right people is only part of the job. The other part entails creating the right positions — in essence, creating lieutenants to serve the CIO, freeing his hands to focus on the bigger picture.

In this conversation with Datamation, Poe talks about creating a successful IT department, filling the positions carefully and defining a successful operation.

Q: Is this something that only new CIOs should think about doing?

Every CIO should be looking at it, but it is especially important for new CIOs. You need good managers to be successful. You need the right people to get the right results for you. It’s amazing how few CIOs have purposeful staff positions focused on getting specific results.

If a CIO has been in his or her position for a few years, why should he or she tinker around with staff?

If you’ve been there for years, you have a legacy set up and staff kludges. This manager can’t get along with this manager. And this group can’t do that work, so you start carving out niches that don’t make sense for the business.

If you’re coming in as the new CIO, do you really want to start out by letting people go or rearranging staff positions?

These organizations you come into were designed for the last guy, who probably got fired. Bring in an administrative assistant and a key lieutenant…a few key people, if not a whole team, because that is what is going to make you successful.

I think you don’t have to be the hatchet person. That shows poor negotiations. If you’re an executive interviewing with a firm, part of your terms and conditions for coming on board should be laying out that you want a personal assistant. Tell them you work pretty well with a certain team of people or a lieutenant. Part of the negotiation should be what part of your team you can bring on board. If you’re walking in as a CIO and you don’t know if you can trust your admin, that’s a bad start right there. The company can take care of the hatchet job before you arrive.

Isn’t it generally against contract to take employees from your old job with you when you leave for a new job?

There’s that argument, but most labor laws are fairly wide open in regards to taking your team with you. You see whole teams moving from one brokerage to another. Companies like to say you can’t take anybody with you, but it doesn’t mean you can’t work around that. When an employee quits his job, he might know what his next job is going to be. And if it happens that two weeks later he’s working at a different firm, then it was just an offer you couldn’t refuse. Corporations will say you can’t go work for a competitor but those things are hard to enforce and smart people figure out ways to get around it.

How do you figure out what specific positions you need to fill?

You need to set up positions around projects and specific operations. You need to have people who will execute specific functions for you. As a CIO or executive, you can’t spend a lot of time in people development or communications, for example. You need to have a trusted lieutenant to take care of that kind of leadership.

What are some of the positions a CIO should focus on creating?

You should have an IT/Human Capital Management position. You want to make sure your IT guys are being effective and productive. You know how complicated some of these systems are, so you want to have the right people working for you. You can’t end up with a single point of dependency on one person. As an executive, you won’t have time to take care of all of this. And you need to know somebody is making sure my employees are happy, my pipeline is full and my people are being used as efficiently as possible.

You need an IT/Finance position. IT budgets are a significant portion of a corporation’s budget. It’s greater than plant and equipment, greater than facilities, greater than real estate. Most executives want to know what they’re getting for that investment. On all those little projects, on all those installations, you’ve got to show the rate of return and value. On the upper end, this can be kind of tricky. What kinds of rates of return are proper for a risky project? As we bring in new projects and new initiatives, how do we know the assumptions are the same as last year? You need someone to take care of all of this for you.

The Best Secret Santa Platforms, Ranked

This story has been updated. It was first published on December 14, 2023.

Vaccines, masks, and boosters have brought back some sense of normalcy this holiday season. Some got to see their families for the first time in two years this Thanksgiving and were probably planning a similar gathering for the end-of-year festivities. But then omicron happened and there may be some who are not so sure about traveling or attending a crowded home anymore. If that’s you, at least know these new complications haven’t canceled gift-giving.

Several virtual platforms have allowed people to celebrate digital Secret Santas over the years, and you can get in on the fun too. But finding the right online tool to organize a socially distanced gift exchange can be hard.

Save yourself some time and headaches and take a look at our list of best Secret Santa platforms. Consider it our gift to you.

Like most of the websites and apps on this list, Secret Santa Organizer has the basics: It lets you draw names, send anonymous messages, and ship invites with the time and URL of your gathering. But unlike the rest of the platforms on this list, it gives you the option to request that all your data be deleted when you’re done.

[Related: Can’t get a gift in time? Here are 14 you can make yourself.]

Result: 2 out of 5 🎁

Functionally, Sneaky Santa isn’t bad, as it has all the features you’d expect: You can send invites, draw names, write messages, and create wish lists. In fact, it offers the most flexibility of any tool on this list when it comes to giving your loved ones some gift inspiration. You can also make exclusions, but you’ll need to check the names of the people each participant can draw and not the other way around. This is more than a bit annoying—if you don’t want your aunt to draw your uncle’s name, you’ll have to check the names of all the people in your party except for your uncle’s. If you have a lot of people playing, that can be a bit of a headache.

This platform isn’t associated with any store or vendor, so you can paste any URL into your wish list. You can also add interests or hobbies, or simply drop the name of a store you like without specifying a particular item.

If you’re including kids (or someone who doesn’t want to deal with learning another platform), you can start a wish list for them without having to create a separate account. The downside is that this sets you as that person’s contact, which means that when names are drawn, you’ll need to tell them who to give a gift to.

Visually, Sneaky Santa is unattractive and unintuitive, so it takes the prize for the worst-looking interface of the bunch. Another drawback is that everyone has to create an account with a password to access the platform, and you don’t have easy login alternatives, such as using your Facebook or Google accounts. But if you’re planning to use the same setup next year, you can use the same account and group, and the platform will automatically exclude this year’s picks for everybody, so folks won’t have to give a gift to the same person two years in a row.

Finally, if setting a budget is important to you, look elsewhere, as this is one of the few basic features it doesn’t have.

Result: 3 out of 5 🎁

Lots of features, but maybe too many: Elfster

Elfster seems to have it all, but the devil’s in the details. You can draw names, make exclusions, draft wish lists, and you’ll be able to organize your gift exchange party by adding a time and place to your invites. The interface is nice and friendly, though a bit cluttered. But it’s intuitive and easy to use, so even the least tech-savvy of your friends will be able to work it without your help. Elfster also has a mobile app (available for iOS and Android) that provides the same functionality as the web platform, but in a much cleaner, user-friendly environment. 

To start, Elfster will require you to create an account, though it offers login alternatives using Google, Apple, or Facebook. Unlike the rest of the platforms on this list, name-drawing happens on a date you set when you create your event. But before people know who their Secret Santa is, anybody on the list can invite more people to join by sending them a link. Elfster is also the only platform here where you can opt out of your own event. That means if you’re feeling like a Grinch but are your family’s designated IT specialist, you can set everything up without having to partake in any gift-giving.

Like Sneaky Santa, Elfster lets you start a wish list for a child or anybody who can’t manage their own profile, but you’ll need to create another account with a new email and password. Making wish lists is easy: You can search for specific products from sites such as Amazon, Nordstrom, Zappos, or Dick’s Sporting Goods right from Elfster, and add them directly to your list. And if you can’t or won’t make it to the actual gift exchange event, you can plug in your address so your Secret Santa can send your present straight to your door.

It’s important to know that unlike the rest of the sites on this list, Elfster is not only a Secret Santa site but more of a gift-giving social media platform. This means you can add friends and create events, and you’ll get notifications when there’s a birthday coming up. This may be a little too much to deal with if you only want to make sure the couples in the family don’t draw each others’ names, or if you’re uncomfortable sharing personal information just so you can participate in some seasonal festivities.

Result: 4 out of 5 🎁

First runner-up: Secret Santa Generator

It’s true that most people love the holidays, but some (without being Grinches) just want to get things done so they can quickly move on to the quieter half of winter. If the shoe fits (we won’t judge, we promise) Secret Santa Generator may be the answer to your gift-giving prayers. 

The first two are a dropdown menu and a checkbox, but the latter is trickier. Secret Santa Generator has a highly stripped-down interface, and you’ll need to type or paste the names of the players, one name per line, into a single HTML text box. You’ll need to add any exceptions after each name between curly brackets, separated by a comma—that is NAME, {exception1, exception2}. This can be a bit complicated, but if you make a mistake, the platform will tell you exactly what you did wrong and where it is so you can easily fix it. 

After you have the list of sorted names, you can add the participant’s email addresses so everyone gets a notification. If you’re acting as the master of ceremonies and want to do things old-school, you can also write down the names and let people know directly who they got. 

Secret Santa Generator is easy to use, and since it requires the least amount of data to do its job, it may be the most secure platform on this list. Still, some people like more feature-rich options, so this one may be too simple for you. 

Result: 4 out of 5 🎁

A great balance between options and simplicity, DrawNames has all the features you want a Secret Santa platform to have while remaining super user-friendly. The fact that you don’t have to confirm passwords and input captchas before you start is exactly the stress-free experience one needs this time of the year.

[Related: This is the perfect year to quit wrapping paper]

Wish lists are easy, and even though they work well, they may be the least appealing aspect of this platform. For starters, you won’t find as many options as Elfster when it comes to vendors, but DrawNames still offers direct integration with sites like Amazon, Walmart, Etsy, Macy’s, and Columbia. Also, this feature is not as flexible as on Sneaky Santa. You can paste URLs as text in the Hobbies/Interests field, but you won’t see a content preview.

Beyond easy signups and invites, one of the best things about DrawNames is its interface, which is clean and utterly intuitive. This may seem like a small detail compared to the features this or any site on this list offers, but it is not. The easier it is to use a platform, the easier it will be for us to share our time with our loved ones. And that is the real gift.

Result: 5 out of 5 🎁

6 Ways To Reclaim Your Privacy When Using Google Products

1. Google Dashboard

Privacy settings for nearly all Google products and services can be accessed from a single page – the Google Dashboard. Here, you can review individual settings for online services like Buzz, Reader, Picasa, YouTube, and more.

2. Chrome’s Incognito Mode

Chances are good that if you’ve used Chrome for any length of time, you already know about Incognito Mode. For those who don’t, you’ll be glad you’re reading about it now. Chrome was the first major browser to include a “private surfing” mode which allows users to browse the web without accumulating a trail of crumbs on the local PC.

Sites visited while in Incognito Mode will not show up in the browser’s history, and will not be allowed to leave cookies and other tracking information behind. Other browser makers have since added similar features to their products, to the general benefit of all.

Encrypted Gmail

For some time now, Google has been allowing Gmail users to log in using a secure (SSL) connection. If enabled, your traffic to and from Gmail is much more resistant to eavesdropping and tampering by your work or ISP or others that may have access to your traffic as it flows from one end to the other.

Encrypted Search

Much like the Gmail SSL connections mentioned above, you can now perform your normal Google searched using a secure connection. This of course doesn’t have the slightest affect on what Google knows about you, but it reduces the ability of unscrupulous web sites to track you based on your searches.

SSL Enforcer Chrome Plugin

I make several Google searches per day, but as a Chrome user, I search with the omnibar much more often than I go to the Google homepage. To get omnibar searches to use the new SSL feature, I use the SSL Enforcer extension. This will detect when a site supports SSL, and automatically use that option whenever available, including with Google searches.

This extension, however, is not foolproof. It needs to make a standard, unencrypted connection to the page before it can create the secure one. It’s probably not a good idea to rely on this for heavy security but it can be very useful to help protect casual browsing.

Analytics Opt-Out

Google Analytics is an extremely popular tool for web admins to gather information about the users of their sites. There’s nothing inherently wrong with analytics, and it’s most commonly used to gather basic information that any serious web admin would want, such as the browser and OS types of their visitors. Some people, however, are uncomfortable sharing their system or user info with the world so Google provides a simple way to take yourself out of the Analytics equation. By using the new Opt-Out Tool, you can install a plugin for your browser (IE 7+, Chrome 4+, Firefox 3.5+) that will make you essentially invisible to sites using Analytics.

What other ways do you use to protect yourself from the Google’s clutches?

Joshua Price

Josh Price is a senior MakeTechEasier writer and owner of Rain Dog Software

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The Continuing Evolution Of Google Maps

Google maps is synonymous with directions: it is difficult to recall a time before we’d Google Maps available at our hands and needed to find our solution for ourselves or even utilize an old-school newspaper map.

However if we think of Google Maps — the navigation, the trapped services — it’s quite often an older variant of this program that springs into mind. Google Maps has evolved, and with it are a plethora of new features that lots of users have neglected to research.

The original Google Maps

Google Maps was released in 2005, and in the intervening years has been the standard for digital mapping solutions. A year after, the technology giant came with Street View, which has been among the products most famous characteristics, and definitely it’s most contentious. Among the largest influences it had for Google was that the business no longer needed to rely on third parties because of its own information, and that is if Google Maps actually grew into something larger than was envisaged.

Apple vs. Google

The coming of Google Maps on Apple’s first iPhone in 2007 was yet another significant turning point, and also the times when Google and Apple publicly transitioned appear long past. These times they’re bona fide competitions, along with the growth of Apple Maps in 2012 was a substantial stage in electronic mapping background, also saw the close of the cooperation between both tech behemoths.

The ancient Apple Maps was successful, and the ancient version was user-unfriendly concerning bugs which present Apple CEO Tim Cook has been forced to make a public apology. These bugs were soon smoothed out, however, and now it’s very much a real rival for the distance provided that monopolized by Google Maps, and naturally is the norm all Apple products, which immediately spilled Google Maps upon the evolution of Apple Maps.

Apple Maps isn’t the only equal, as other workable third party offerings like Citymapper — that really uses the mapping information as manufactured by Google — compete to its electronic map viewers, which can be high on everybody using a smartphone. That’s a massive number of possible users, and also the basic reason why there are several different programmers battling for recognition in this lucrative area.

Microsoft got in on the action with Bing Maps, which really raised the bar in regards to these features because the now-famous upper aerial shot, enabling structures to be looked at from a 45-degree angle, for instance. Nokia is just another supplier who proceeds to build top quality maps, also sells into a range of prominent organizations, such as Garmin, whose goods are used in the sports industry, carmakers like BMW, as well as Amazon. They’re a few profitable contracts.

Also read: No Plan? Sitting Ideal…No Problem! 50+ Cool Websites To Visit

Google Maps today

As the world evolves afterward, so does the world of digital mapping, and thus does Google Maps. Among the latest improvements to this service has become the capability to guide message the companies that attribute on Google Maps, provided that they use Google’s ‘My Company’ function. The ability to talk directly with companies via instant messaging may interest many — to get a beginning it provides the chance of requiring information that’s not on the company’s site or that folks aren’t ready to phone for hold off.

The Truth About Activated Charcoal In Beauty Products

In the past few years, activated charcoal has become a common ingredient in over-the-counter beauty and health products—not to mention it’s also made an appearance in coffee, ice cream, and cookies, among other things, turning them all an elegant black. In particular, the substance has recently become a popular component in skincare, with its presence in this market expected to continue its rise for some time. There’s just one problem: There’s no proof it does any good, and in some cases it might be harmful.

Charcoal itself is simply the carbon residue left over after slow heating high-carbon-content materials like wood, coconut shells or even sugar to remove most of the water they contain. It’s lightweight, highly portable, and burns for a long time at a reliable temperature. Thanks to these properties, humans have used charcoal as fuel for thousands of years. And you know humans: If it’s around them, at some point they’re likely to try to eat it. Nobody knows exactly how or who came up with the idea, but by the time of Hippocrates (approximately 500 CE), some people were using it as toothpaste, thanks to its abrasive properties.

Documented cases of charcoal being ingested date as far back as the 1800s when documents show doctors used the substance to treat food poisoning, according to David Juurlink, a pharmacologist at the University of Toronto. When mixed with water, the stuff creates a slurry that attracts toxins to its surface, reducing the amount that goes into a person’s system. Speaking to Popular Science, Juurlink says doctors give activated charcoal to a person who has overdosed on a drug or been poisoned in another way. The slurry is administered by mouth or via a nasal tube that goes down into the stomach and attracts the dangerous toxins in an affected individual.

This system works thanks to its pores, which are all the little holes you may have noticed in charcoal briquettes. Activated charcoal has been specially treated with heat to have more of them—a lot more—which means more of its material is in contact with the outside world. This gives the stuff an incredibly high surface area—just a gram of it can have a surface area upwards of 32,000 square feet.

For people who are not actively experiencing an overdose, Juurlink says, drinking an activated charcoal slurry or taking activated charcoal pills probably won’t hurt them, “but it assuredly will do them no good.”

But, again, there’s absolutely no reason to be taking activated charcoal at home. It won’t detox your body or make you healthier. There’s also no benefit to putting it on your skin despite the fact that it’s now marketed as beneficial in a slew of over-the-counter skin care products.

Starting in about 2014, some skincare companies started heavily marketing charcoal-infused products with a specific focus on the acne treatment market. Because things “stick” to activated charcoal, the theory goes, the substance should be able to clear your pores of gunk and otherwise get potentially pore-clogging substances off the skin. Even Biore, maker of the classic pore strips, got in on the action with a whole line of charcoal products.

“It looks cool, it’s inexpensive and it’s not harmful… which is more than I can say for a lot of other beauty treatments” writes Michelle Wong who has a PhD in chemistry and runs a blog about the science of beauty, but there’s also no evidence it does anything, she writes.

“Since there have been few studies regarding charcoal’s effects on the skin, these products should be used in moderation and with caution,” the University of Miami researchers write. That’s particularly true for products that promise to unblock your pores with visible results (think those oh-so-satisfying-to-remove pore strips, which come off—often painfully—and bring tons of pore-clogging gunk with them.) If it hurts or causes irritation, don’t do it, no matter how clean it seems to make your skin.

In the case of both consuming activated charcoal and putting it on your skin, there’s another big issue clinicians worry about: Since it hasn’t been shown to have any positive effect, relying on it to treat genuine illness or injury could delay you getting the help you need. In other words, if you feel sick, see a medical professional because activated charcoal can’t help you. But if you just want your face mask to be a stylish black, well, nobody’s stopping you.

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