The Web Hoster’s Tool Belt

(Ping! Zine Issue 26) – Not every tradesperson gets to wear a tool belt.  Accountants, fry cooks and mechanics are all without this accessory.  Super heroes get to fashion them, but you would get to be the exception to the rule too if you could shoot lasers from your eyes.  Since I do not know of many web hosts or hosting worker that have that ability or trait – where do we fall into place when it comes to this handy accessory? 
For the web hosting worker our tool belts are much more virtual than physical.  They still pack the same punch as your traditional tool belts, but they will not help us keep our pants up. 

Get Those Responses Out Even Quicker
I hate to bring up another old cliché but time is money in web hosting.  The quicker you can get those questions answered from customers, the faster you can make the next guy in line happy.  That is the reason that “quick responses” are used by all web hosts.  What if you only need to type out a friendly introduction or a closing line or two welcoming the customer back if they have any other issues or questions?  Autohotkey (http://www.autohotkey.com) is the program to have when it comes to producing your own short quick responses to prevent yourself from having to type them out each time over and over again.  Write up a simple script, type in a few letters – hit enter and have your quick response typed out for you. It does have a learning curve to master but once you do get it down it is a powerful tool for anybody who finds themselves typing the same thing over and over again.

Now how about storing those longer quick responses that are a little more complicated than your average one or two line answer?  Many help desk scripts have the quick response feature built in, but maybe you would rather use your own answers.  Possibly getting the “higher ups” to include your awesome answers would be about as productive as telling a knock-knock joke to man with no ears.
Google Notebook (http://www.google.com/notebook) takes the cake when it comes to organizing and accessing longer tutorials or complicated answers that I send out each and every day.  You can sort each note by notebook or by a series of tags – so finding the right one should be an easy thing to do.

Organize How You Get the Job Done
Getting the answers out to the public is an important job, but not the only important job when it comes to your day to day work with any web hosting job.  Another task you might find yourself needing to tackle is creating a list of things you need to do.  Any idiot with a pen and paper can write things down but with keeping all of this easily accessible via the Web in mind,  you might want to check out Ta-da List (http://www.tadalist.com).  This online to do list manager does one simple task and does it really well.  It provides you with the means of writing down what you need to do.  You can also share your list with others.  This comes in handy when you might be collaborating with others.

Speaking of working as a part of a team; you need a way to keep that group conversation organized.  No matter if you are discussing how to get the job done or just shooting ideas off one another for a project Campfire (http://www.campfirenow.com) is the best of the best when it comes to web-based group chat tools.  One definite highlight of Campfire is it is great for groups where there are remote workers.  There’s no better way to keep everyone together when everyone’s not at the same location. It really is as simple as visiting a web page.

Keep a Word Processor in Hand
Maybe as a writer, the word processor had a special place in my heart and that is why I always keep on within mousing distance.  Both Zoho Writer (http://writer.zoho.com) and Google Docs (http://docs.google.com) offer great Online word processors that are available at any time and only require that mouse-click-away access.  Sure you could do the same with OpenOffice Writer or Microsoft Word.  For people who wear multiple hats and have to be multiple places though there is something nice about quickly storing and editing some of these things Online. 

Other Hosting Tools of the Trade
There are other tools that can help you with both customer support and managing your own organizational issues.  One alternative way to get the word out about a server would be Twitter (http://twitter.com).  Many know Twitter as a tool to waste time with.  You tell all your friends that you ate frosted sugar puffs for breakfast or you landed that great job promotion.  The same technique of spreading a short comment or link to a mass audience would also work when it comes to telling them that server number five is going to be upgrade at 5:05PM on Sunday.

Many customer support personal will tell you that without their bookmarks, they would be almost useless.  One awesome service to keep all of your bookmarks in hand no matter where you are is del.icio.us (http://del.icio.us).  Tossing the social aspects of the site out of the window, del.icio.us’s main purpose is to keep your list of bookmarks easily reachable Online.  You can also set them all to private, so you do not need to worry about sharing them if you do not wish to do so.

When is the next payday coming up?  Keeping up to date with that date alone is enough reason to recommend a web site like Google Calendar (http://www.google.com/calendar).  Google Calendar is an easier one to work with out of all the Online calendars you might find.  You can setup repeating reminders and also have it remind you by e-mail of important dates you do not want to forget.

The best way to become a better web hosting worker – no matter if your on the front lines with customer support or in the back room with the servers – is having the right tools to make your job easier.  For a plumber going out and fixing a clogged toilet, it might be a goal achieved better with tools than trying to do it with bare hands alone.  Do not allow yourself to fall pray to a similar stinky situation.

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