Help get someone online for the first time

10 tips for avoiding confusion and helping someone get online for the first time

If you want to help a loved one get online for the first time, follow the 10 steps in this article and soon they will be surfing with confidence.  It looks at everything from the device to use to setting up the browser, training and support.

1.       What do they want to do online?  The internet brings the world into the home, from shopping sites and up-to-date news and weather, to radio and TV programmes.  In helping someone get online it’s worth bearing in mind that videos require a better connection than text and pictures. So if your loved one loves video they will need a good quality connection.

Wifi extender

A Wifi extender

2.       Get connected  If your loved one has close neighbours, you may be able to ask them if you can borrow the WiFi connection to their internet to get your loved one started on the internet before committing to a long term contract, consider using a wifi extender to help   When ready buy an internet connection – either fixed broadband or mobile data.

  • Fixed Broaband
    • Pros: generally faster and better value for money
    • Cons:  speed can vary street by street so ask neighbours, long term contract
  • Mobile
    • Pros: available on pay as you go (PAYG), so no long-term contract, good for starting with browsing & email.
    • Cons: Video on mobile can be expensive (uses lots of data *, so a single hour long TV programme could cost over £10) and you will need a really good signal strength in the room where you want to watch video.

3.       PC or tablet?  Tablets like the iPad are great for reading web pages, looking at social media and watching vi2-in-1 laptop with detachable keyboarddeos.  If your loved one wants to write their memoirs, then a laptop with a keyboard is worth considering. Maybe a 2-in-1 device -a laptop with detachable or fold-back keyboard- would be a good compromise.

2-in-1 laptop with fold-back keyboard

Holding a tablet for long periods can be tiring so help find a stand and a comfortable position to use it.  Also consider where it can be charged up without trailing wires and ensure that they can plug it in using the tiny connectors.

4.       Basic skills  Tablets and PCs can be very confusing for first time users; there are many small cryptic icons and several ways of accomplishing the same task. You will need to spend some time covering the basics – choose one way to explain things, leave some simple notes & be consistent!  The very basics are:

  • switching on;
  • opening & closing a web browser;
  • navigating web pages;
  • switching off.

If photos are of interest, using a photo viewer and finding and opening documents in a file manager will be useful.  I’d try to stick to just using a web browser at first.  Choose a web browser that you know well even if it isn’t the native browser for the device you have chosen.  This will help you explain the various icons and idiosyncrasies and provide better help when on the phone.

5.       A few of their favourite things  Spend some time looking at the internet together to find sites that your loved one likes and bookmark them.  An review of best websites may help

Telegraph recommended web sites

Does a favourite TV program have a web page? Are there related sites?  Is the local weather of interest?  Find sites with the forecast and others with current or historic information.  Which ones does your loved one like most?  Set the browser up so that the bookmarks are always visible.  For one person I recently helped, the bookmarks were:    local weather, news, maps, gardening, supermarket & search.
YouTube is also a great source of entertainment and information, but you can generally find the best videos from a search rather than visiting / bookmarking YouTube itself.

6.       Stay safe  Set up the browser with safe search on and think about appropriate privacy settings.   Teach your loved one what to do if:

  • a message pops up to say the site isn’t safe; don’t proceed & ask for help
  • whether to enter personal or payment information when generally browsing; stop there.
  • A file download is offered when browsing; don’t download any files offered by a website
  • If someone you don’t know phones up and tells you that you have a virus; don’t believe them, put the phone down and ask for help.

7.       Practise, practise, practise!  Encourage your loved one to use the internet every day so it becomes familiar.  Although the internet has been available in people’s homes for over 20 years, companies still love creating new cryptic symbols and changing the appearance of their pages – which doesn’t always suit older people.  Urge them to keep clicking away & not to worry – they cannot break the internet!  If you are able, pop around regularly to encourage and answer questions.  Install a product like TeamViewer* to help you see what they can see on their device and help you to control & maintain their device remotely, this is especially useful if you live at a distance.  Encourage your loved one to keep browsing – although there is a lot to learn they will soon be able to progress…

8.       To Email and Beyond  Once browsing has been mastered, talk about setting

How to choose good passwords

How to choose good passwords

up an email address so you can help them register for other sites and services such as Facebook or sup


ermarket shopping.  I’d recommend using one of the free providers (like Google) rather than the internet provider.  Use the guide here to help your loved one choose a memorable password.

Bookmark the Email service in your browser too, so they can easily find it in a familiar place.

9.       Appointments & reminders  Set-up an online calendar for your loved one and put important appointments into it but ask their permission to allow you to see their calendar too.  You could even set up events for regular activities like bin-day or tending a beloved plant.  Microsoft and Google  offer a free calendar that can be shared which you can bookmark in your browser.

10.   Get social  Many people and organisations use Facebook and other social media. It can be a useful way to stay in touch with loved ones and share photos and news.  Set it up for your loved one to protect their privacy and minimise the number of alerts.  Assure them that if the number of messages gets too much they can safely ignore the nagging

That’s it – 10 steps to helping someone become a champion silver surfer.  If you have any questions, let me know by posting a comment.

How do I create a unique and memorable password for each site?

Every day in the connected world we have to login to numerous different sites for banking or shopping, let alone email and social media –  and we are told not to use the same password for each one.  In this article we will look why so many passwords are needed and how to create passwords that are unique but easy to remember and don’t need to be written down.

Why you need so many passwords

We’ll start with an explanation about why shared passwords are risky, but if you are not interested in the details and want the tips, see below.

When you first enter a password on a website it converts it into a new form using a special method (called a cryptographic hash function or hash for short) and then only stores the converted form.  The methods are so complicated that the original value cannot be recovered from the converted form, it cannot be decoded, so when you visit the website again and enter the password again, it performs the same conversion and then compares the converted values.  Even subtle changes give completely different values.

eggs   -->   ab92d9fae5ee7975c7735376ec60851b
Eggs   -->  9890f06976131702b942e59eda2f750a

When a website is hacked, the hackers grab the list of codes.  They cannot decode them, but as the methods to convert (hash) passwords are few and far between, the hackers know the methods too.  So they write programs that take every word in a dictionary and convert them with the same method (hash) and then look up the stolen codes in their dictionary of codes.  The hackers use many different language dictionaries and know all about substituting numbers for letters and add these to their dictionary of codes. To combat this, traditional rules suggest using a complex mix of letters in different cases, numbers and punctuation that won’t be in one of hackers’ dictionary of codes – this complexity makes a secure password very difficult to remember.

Hackers know that people re-use usernames and passwords so if they grab the password from an obscure site, you can be sure they will use that information on all the popular sites to see if they can get access.  They can do this check of other sites very quickly after the first hack and they sell the information on so never go back to an old password.  For these reasons you really do need a different password on each site but it isn’t as hard as you might fear.

Rather than trying to remember 8 characters of fiendishly difficult gobbledegook, another method is to use longer, easier to remember set of words.  Using the opening line of a well known poem is open to the same dictionary attacks that single words are, but if you combine an assortment of easy to remember information then you have the makings of a good password – here are some examples:

  • Favourite teacher’s name
  • Favourite food
  • Favourite dog breed
  • Best holiday destination
  • Best friend’s middle name
  • Number of house you first lived at
  • First telephone number

If each of these was written out in full it would be very cumbersome to use as a password, but using the first four characters from two words and one number gives something memorable, the base for our unique passwords.  For example:


This type of information might be known by someone else and some of it may even be on your social media profile, but there is a limitless range of information that is special to you and so it would take a lot of effort for anyone to find this out.  If you are not super-wealthy, a politician or a celebrity it is unlikely to be worth anyone’s while.

So far we have only one password – but we want a different one for each site.  To create this we add the first 4 characters of the site name to your personal password.  So for Google and Facebook we have the following memorable passwords and converted forms to show how different they are.

GoogJohn79Gree --> e80e7876a45de840c774e8789aa8181d
FaceJohn79Gree --> c7c2fab4f5c10defd49de551b32277f0

Technically we have created salted passwords and their MD5 hashes.

Method for creating a unique, easy to remember password for each site

Use this method for creating a unique memorable password – for an explanation see above.

  1. Choose two unrelated memorable words and one number
Greece, Johnstone, 79
  1. Reduce them to the first 4 characters of each
  2. Gree, John, 79
  3. Combine them in any order you like, memorise this and use it as the base of all your passwords
  4. John79Gree
  5. Identify the first 4 characters of the website
  6. Facebook à Face
  7. Add the shortened website name to your personal information, in any order, but be consistent to make it memorable


Hey presto you have created one memorable password base and can use this to create a unique and memorable password for all the sites you visit in the connected world.

We hope you like this method, please let us know if you find it useful or you have any other suggestions using the comments form below.  In the future we’ll look at managing your passwords as part of a digital will.  Please let us know if you have any other questions about living online for Smart Ageing.

Image altered and used under a creative commons licence

Simple Remote Controls for TV Viewing

All-in-one remote controls promise to make TV watching simpler by reducing the number of gadgets to juggle when watching TV whether it is live, recorded at home, a catch-up service like iPlayer or film from a disc.  In this article we get hands-on with a budget model and consider if it succeeds in simplification and reducing clutter in the living room.  We then look at features that will help if seeing and using small buttons is becoming difficult and finish with some buying tips.

The days of getting up from the sofa to change between a handful of channels are long gone.  Today we have tens of channels from a TV aerial and hundreds from cable, satellite or telecoms companies.  Most TV companies make their programmes available over the internet on services like iPlayer or ITVplayer and we are able to record programmes at home or watch a film from a disc or over the internet on Netflix.  To choose and select from this vast library, remote controls have grown from having a few buttons and volume control to having upwards of 40 buttons.  The buttons and writing on them is kept small to keep the remotes from becoming huge, and there isn’t just one remote: each box has a separate remote and they all look much the same so you have to check carefully which one you’re using!

For the review we chose an All For One remote to control 3 boxes: TV, disc player and a cable or satellite box.  After testing for a week these are our findings:

  • Opening the packet is always the first challenge – good scissors are definitely required along with a new set of batteries as the remote was not supplied with any.
  • The instruction manual is reassuringly thick but covers a host of languages so the writing is small and when against a shaded background is difficult to read as the contrast is poor.


    The manual is clear but the small text can be difficult to read, especially in one of the highlighted boxes.

  • The instructions themselves are clear and I had my TV and Disc player set up in no time using the clever ‘SimpleSet’ steps.
  • Watching Live TV, on the TV through the aerial or via the YouView box: basic operations on all boxes worked well, and the ‘CombiControl’ allows both the YouView and TV to be controlled as one; for watching live TV this worked very naturally
  • YouView good and bad
    1. YouView was not simple to set up. Although the box has been available for over a year, it wasn’t included in the instructions. Internet searching did provide an answer that worked, but I found the details on a BT site, not the manufacturer’s website, which is disappointing.
    2. Live and catch-up from the 7-day guide was fine; the buttons are laid out differently but it made sense.
    3. On the YouView remote there is a prominent blue Y button to access the menu for recordings, this is the less prominent ‘menu’ button. Once within the menu, operation was fine.
    4. It cannot access the search menu and so cannot search for programs.
    5. Programs can be recorded but recordings cannot be deleted.
    6. Subtitles could not be switched on.

Overall, for less than £20 this type of remote can clear up the clutter of remotes and can be used for most functions. However, some things will require the original remotes, so they cannot be ditched completely.  It does simplify routine TV & film watching by reducing the number of remotes, but the YouView remote itself has basic TV controls built in (on/off, channels and volume) so it doesn’t simplify viewing any further and makes some tasks more difficult.  As it is the same size as a typical remote (for example the YouView remote) it also doesn’t help anyone who finds it difficult to find and press small buttons, or someone who uses subtitles.  But there are smarter alternatives.hero-ultimate-152-503-v1

Some products, like the Logitech Harmony Ultimate  offer more, for example, they

  • have a touchscreen
  • vibrate when the buttons are pressed to confirm the press
  • have illuminated buttons making them easier to see
  • have custom sequences – eg so the volume automatically adjusts to suit different channels or boxes
  • allow you to use a smartphone or tablet computer as a remote control

Using a smartphone or tablet computer sounds very promising if you want clear big buttons. Better still, advanced remotes can, from a single button, send several commands to the boxes. So a single press on a smart remote could switch on the TV and a Freeview box, tune to your favourite channel and adjust the volume to your normal level.  There are a few downsides … they are understandably more expensive, upwards of £100, and you may find it difficult to find one in a shop for a demo, so it may not be possible to try before you buy.  However, the biggest concern for products that promise to make life simpler is that reviews on the internet suggest that while they work very well they can be a nightmare to set up, even for those who consider themselves tech-savvy.

We hope to get our hands on one of these to find out just how good they are and post a review soon but if you are buying a remote to make life easier for yourself consider these points:

  • Have you got any old or specialist TV boxes? Check they are supported.
  • How big are the buttons – are they clear enough for you?
  • Is it easy to switch on all the functions you use, eg subtitles, audio description & search?
  • Will it allow you to send a sequence of commands, eg switch everything on and tune to your favourite channel so it always starts at the same place?
  • Buying and Setting up:
    • How much?! Some of these products cost several hundred pounds.
    • Getting it to work – how much help will you need?
      • If you don’t get on with it after a week, can you return it for a full refund?
      • Will a shop set it up for you and offer support to get you going?
        • Which actions do you want to be most prominent at the top, which lower down etc?
        • How much will a set-up service cost?

If you would like to help review a smart remote for SmartAgeing and live in Suffolk,UK, please get in touch via the contact form.  Or if there are other points on buying a remote to enjoy SmartAgeing which you think are important or you have any other comment on this article, please leave a comment or use the contact form – Thanks!