Business

Technology & You

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With the rapid increase in technology, most of us find ourselves rather hard-pressed to keep up with the latest developments. Not only are products constantly undergoing change but the way we use our projects is transforming. Some technological applications originally created for business use are now used by individuals. Facebook, for example, was designed in 2004 as a web site solely for students at Harvard University but later expanded its user base to include students at other colleges and eventually high schools. Today, anyone over the age of 13 may set up a Facebook account. One of the biggest changes in Facebook, however, has been the influx of business owners who set up a Facebook page as an advertising platform, inviting users to “like” their page and providing space for business hours, customer reviews, and information regarding new products and services. With over 1.3 billion active Facebook users a month, the site provides one of the most lucrative mediums available for advertising.

Along with the increased popularity of technology that allows our individual lives and businesses to run more smoothly and securely has been the rise of a new industry devoted exclusively to helping individuals and IT departments set up services that enhance productivity and privacy.

The crossover between technological products or services for business owners and for use in private homes has benefited both the corporate world and individuals. One such service that began as a business model is VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), which consists of technologies that allow for communication (voice, fax, messaging, video) using computers rather than being routed through a public telephone network. VoIP is now available on many Smartphones and computers, allowing text messages and calls to be conducted over the internet. Because the prices for VoIP are lower than those charged by traditional copper-wire telephone systems, a majority of businesses have implemented VoIP technology since its introduction in 2004. An offshoot of VoIP, Skype, got its start as a service allowing friends to communicate by both video and audio, but Skype has also seen a rapid expansion in conference calls and other business communications.

The crossover between technological products or services for business owners and for use in private homes has benefited both the corporate world and individuals.

Another technological service that began as a convenience for businesses with large data storage needs but later attracted the interest of individual consumers is the use of online backup services via “cloud technology,” which simply refers to the ability to send photos, music files, or documents to a secure, offsite storage facility, eliminating the need for external hard drives or flash drives. Data is available for retrieval any time from any computer. Anyone who has lost irreplaceable documents or photos as a result of a computer disaster (hard drive crash, fire, or theft, for instance) knows the grief that can accompany these losses. Stored data on “the cloud” is encrypted for privacy, and cloud technology allows for storage in a temperature-controlled environment with backup power generators. The safety of cloud backup services versus storing important data on devices within the home or business has been compared to stuffing one”s money in a mattress rather than putting it in a bank. Photos of a baby”s first Christmas are as important to parents as customer invoices and contracts are to a business owner.

File-sharing is another technological feature that has gained popularity with individual users. In fact, peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing specifically allows for sharing between personal networks rather than routing data through a large centralized network. The concept was first popularized by Napster in 1999 and allowed individual users to form groups to collaborate and share music files. Today, the most commonly used file-sharing applications are instant messaging and online chat networks. P2P networks rely on users contributing information rather than merely accessing the applications. Unfortunately, file-sharing has been at the center of several controversial lawsuits regarding privacy and intellectual ownership of materials.

One of the most well-known file-sharing services is Dropbox, which offers cloud storage and file synchronization. Clients create a folder on one or all of their computers and thus have the ability to access the contents of their files from any other computer. Founder Drew Houston conceived the idea when he habitually forgot his flash drive while a student at MIT, so this company began as one not catering to business or individual users, but to fulfill a need for one forgetful student. Today, the company has grown to include over 50 million users.

One service that has been traditionally associated with business use is the postal meter that allowed businesses to send mail in bulk at cheaper prices. Instead of taking large bundles of mail to the post office, businesses would buy a franking machine and stamp their own mail on site. Now, however, both businesses and individuals can print their own postage stamps at home via membership with stamps.com. The service allows the user to buy and print USPS-approved domestic and international postage directly to envelopes or shipping labels. In addition to postage costs, users also pay a monthly subscription fee. With the PhotoStamps application, customers can print stamps with their own artwork or photos, though Stamps.com”s current policy prohibits images of world leaders or materials that are “vintage” in appearance or depict images from an earlier era.