Well Microsoft you might just have something(but is it cool enough)

I’ve been waiting for this one for some time.  We got a glimpse of some preview technologies earlier in the year, over at Redmond and I suspected the emergence of this little beast.  Not sure how your OEM partners are going to view it though.

It looks like a good attempt and is certainly better than most of the devices coming out of south and east asia.  However does it have the cool factor?  Its a bit like business men in polyester shirts.  Theyare just not cool.  However they are business men and that may be Microsoft’s game.  I think the device will makebig headway amongst the standard mundane business world away from the image conscious brand people. The stylus will make it a great note taking tool when combined with one note or even evernote and I think MS Office will be one of the biggest reasons for using the device.  Cool accessories, like the key board approach seems to really think about productivity.

ImageI think, Microsoft, you might just capture marketshare here.  The I.T. departments of the world will surely like to take this as a standard.

But I’m afraid its still not cool enough.  I’m going to keep my iPad but I might just purchase one, for those productive days where I don’t need to be as creative in my thinking.


PHP and Lamp with iOS

So I tweeted some time ago about moving away from Microsoft server technology and in particular .NET.  I’ve spent most of my professional career building server solutions or leading teams using the Microsoft stack.  I’ve loved it for so many years and have spent the same years justifying its scaling credentials. We’ve even got many proven successes out their being used in anger. One success above all is the new Life platform that we’ve developed for UniServity.  The scaling capability is proving itself  over and over again and therefore my view of Microsoft server technology  remains unchanged.  However I’ve had my head turned slightly by simplicity in the last few weeks. Also by the increasing costs of licensing.

I’ve just started building a series of iPhone and iPad apps with a server / cloud component.  I naturally turned to Microsoft for the answer, however the thought of opening up Visual Studio architecting this fantastic multi layered app with an MVC architecture fills me with dread, when all I need to do is build something simple that will access a database and scale. I’m also using a Mac now-a-days have have been for the last 5 years.  So we now need to boot up parallels start up visual studio and get coding.  All a bit much for my mac book air.  (sorry slimmed down the hardware due to all the traveling)

So I dreamed of the days of Perl and CGI using BBEdit on my original macintosh to edit simple scripts.

PHP gave me the answer and when you start to dig a little deeper it really does provide a viable answer.  It scales well, Facebook proves that with its 540 billion page impressions and its simple to get coding.  I can use my mac as my server and I know it will easily port to a linux or unix platform in the future. I’ve downloaded some simple editing tools and with mysql i’m building my simple cloud based service for my iOS apps.  Except its really not that simple any more.  Its amazing how quick you can progress. Its also like riding a bike, you never forget the technology’s roots and you find that its back down to natural programming techniques.  Rather than even more layers of abstraction you get with .NET.

AND above all no license fees and no policy of requiring even more hardware to run your software.  It does scale very well I have to say and it does spark that programming geek in us all.

More to follow as I progress.


Near field communication, can it make life more convenient?

I’ve been looking into near field communication and possible applications for it.

Its and interesting technology and there is certainly lots of application ideas for it. Obviously the biggest break through will be a move to cashless society using your mobile phone to pay for things with a simple swipe of a sensor. Oyster cards and ticketing are also a logical route especially for people like me who keep loosing their Oyster cards. But there are lots of other applications which will make life simple and convenient.

I’ve been working with NFC with my new blackberry. I’ve just taken delivery of my first batch of sticky sensors. First thing I wanted to do is stick one on my desk. I wanted my out of office and other services such as social network status to change their status when I arrived at work. It proved really easy a simple swipe and my app did the rest. It switched my out of office off and the checked me in on facebook.

Next the car. One sticker on the dashboard, out of site, mind. One swipe. The phone was configured to turn its bluetooth on and switch off the bleeps from my email to save it catching my attention whilst driving.

Saved one sticker for home. Obviously the house isn’t fully automated but I could update some settings. Much more work here.

I guess when you start thinking about convenience and applications there are a lot of things you can use the technology for. Think about it being rolled into all your favourite shops, in the packaging of product, advertising boards, hotel checkins, door entry, flight boarding, immigration, business card exchange, time keeping systems and many more such instances.

Roll on iphone 5 we need to start building apps now.

Building a viable e-commerce business model

For the last week I’ve spent my time on helping produce a viable e-commerce business model using latest enterprise class commerce platforms, a well informed seo and media strategy and a decent runway to break even. This is not the first time may I add, but it does take into account some new challenges.

The saas world, e-commerce 2, global markets and the improved use of pay per click have made it even more a numbers game to make the business model work. Obviously your product needs to be good, but if it is and you have the right partners in place and the right technology it is simply a case of playing the numbers to get a return on investment? Sounds easy? Not quiet that easy. Its a fine art, where you need to apply your skills and know how to finally tune your system to get the most out of it. Its only through experience and through having the right partners can you guarantee the numbers game will work.

To get it right depends on your conversion path and this starts by having a coordinated approach between brand, traditional advertising, pay per click, social channels and traditional product channels. All need to be identified and a strategy developed to create a buying conveyor belt to your e-commerce cart. It doesn’t start with just your site its starts a lot earlier.

Choosing the right platform and partner to route this conveyor belt through the buying process will lead to successful conversion.

The platform needs to be able to take the feeds of potential customers from all these conveyor belts. It then needs to show case the product well, display options and link to other products to engage the user and stimulate their buying emotions. This is where saas platforms that have one model to fit all fail to deliver. They fail to capture the channels and trigger the buying responses. A wholly owned platform tailored to your product, brand and customer will win hands down when it comes to maximising conversion. It requires multi channelled approach to commerce and there are only a few platforms out there that do this well.

So if you are looking to play the numbers conversion game you need to be in full control of the whole engine from advertising spend, ppc, seo to platform and design. You need to control it all in order to fine tune the animal. This I believe is critical to achieving your business plan. However think SasS when you implement.  Build the As A Service element for your global markets but own the technology yourself.

Can social really predict the future?

With the London mayoral contest being accurately predicted by social network sentiment analysis, should business really start to rely on the intelligence collected from social networks to help plan their business models?

I for sometime have taken a balanced view of key trends emerging from social networks to predict what’s going to be hot in the technology space. Most of the time its been accurate even though most of the time its been predicting the rise of social networks.

The key thing though is blending the intelligence gathered with authentic sources to get the balance right.

Analysis of intelligence from the social graph can help inform your thinking, but if you are doing something new you need to lead the pack. You could follow Steve Job’s mantra and tell your customers what they need. But to do this you need to be brave.

Its important to get the right tools setup to give you the necessary intelligence gathering capability from the social graph and the wider internet so you can bring all the information together in one clear dashboard for you to study and make your own decisions.

Another advantage for using the right tools is to amplify your message to back you up as an authority in your world. Amplify the positive statistics in realtime backs up your messaging. What the social graph can give us is an instant poll of a large targeted constituency without actually polling them. Doing this enables you to get realtime assurance around your decision making process. Social graphs will never make the decision for you but they will give confidence and backing to your ideas.

Big data can we make sense of it all?

With Big Data becoming increasingly talked about, are there really solutions out there that can maximise intelligence within this data and make it clear enough for businesses to make sense of it and act on it?

My view is that its not as simple as just rolling out clever analytical inference tools like Autonomy as this just creates another layer of data. What I feel is needed is a set of communication skills that are inbuilt in most digital agencies.  Combining these skills with technology, business knowledge and your business requirements will enable us to produce clever and clear dashboards with your organisation’s data.  Whether its a set of analytical reports or e-commerce conversion statistics, we can design the tools and dashboard to manage your KPI’s, present the information to your team, collaborate on the actions and get moving with the necessary change. Technology alone won’t solve Big Data, but technology combined with a good set of communication and design tools can produce clear answers to your company’s big data challenge, more importantly it will help you and your colleagues make sense and make better decisions.

Identity Driven Templating

We are now entering the Web 3.0 generation, where we will see web technologies start to evolve into semantic technologies through connected intelligences. This area will play out across numerous Internet technology layers including analytics, content management systems and social networks. But the key area where we see it having the biggest impact on our current browsing activity is in the template, navigation and content layers of most websites.

Amaze is investing heavily in technology and intellectual property to join the dots between a users identity, their social graph, their browsing habits and their content consumption. This will give us a deeper understanding of user behaviour and will allow us to morph relevant content and navigation around users through dynamic templating and content delivery.

It may be said, that this is just an advanced form of personalisation but it requires intelligent algorithms that continuously learn from mined data to build evolving profile groupings of user communities. This deeper analytical information can drive content and design in much more granular way compared with what we typically see from analytical products today.

Amaze’s next generation web sites will work with progressively enhanced templates using latest HTML5 thinking to give a rich dynamic experience. However, just underneath the presentation layer we will have a layer of algorithms that connect to the users identity via the social graph or through our profiling engines to source the correct content, navigation structures for that user through a rich and engaging interface.

This approach and thinking gives us a truly next generation approach to website building.

Splinternet Takes Hold

For the past 15 years, websites have been the prevalent digital modus operandi for businesses, however, all of that changed in 2010 with social, mobile and applications becoming mainstream. As these digital technologies continue to fragment, it has become increasingly difficult for brands to manage and monitor their online presence across multiple markets, let alone understand and act upon the opportunities that are available to them.

‘The Splinternet’ is the term we’ve been using to describe this effect where the internet is being segmented into walled gardens; walled gardens that are being created around users, either through subscriber or device driven communities. The two biggest examples are Facebook and new apps that have been created for the mobile community, such as Flipboard and the many gaming apps that come integrated with something like Apple’s Game Centre. The Splinternet is affecting the internet as we know it, creating a number of challenges for agencies and technology players alike who wish to continue to reach users moving forward.

The following top five considerations are underpinning the strategies and decision making process of technologists and agencies like ourselves that are navigating this new world.

1. Awareness

How can you be made aware of what’s going on in this world? How can you watch, protect and react to your own brand and product challenges? We are seeing a lot of paralysis out there, with large organisations understanding the significance of the impact and growing momentum of social media, but with no clear insight on where to start and what to do. The tools now available and the strength and importance of the communities that are in conversation about your brand should not be ignored or underestimated.

The first part of any organisation’s strategy should be to gain an awareness of what’s going on within these communities. This is not necessarily just about listening, it should be focused on trying to make sense of what’s going on and where, and putting the right framework in place to monitor this new world without having to watch it constantly. Creating a model that monitors and makes sense of the Splinternet is the first step towards easing the paralysis, from which a defined strategy to deal with this new world can be created. Once you know how users are responding, you can create a strategy around them to amplify your reach and begin the process of engagement.

2. Governance

Once you have reached this level of awareness, there is temptation to jump right in. However, you need to be careful as social networks are great for building relationships but they can be even better at ending them – it’s like the Wild West out there. If you’re good – or lucky – you can prosper, but it’s essential to create a framework to facilitate your engagement in this world.

To do this, look at how you control your brand’s real estate and keep track of what’s being said. How many Facebook passwords do you have and who has them? What happens if they get lost? Who’s keeping track of what’s being published? Is it effective and how do you monitor it? The list of questions is endless. Now multiply them by every territory or company in your group with all those eager social network engagers and you have a growing nightmare.

Governance is beginning to become a consideration, but it is something that needs to be acted on early before it’s too late. For many businesses, policy is not enough and tools are required to ease the transition into social success. Until recently, however, these tools didn’t exist and so to address the awareness and governance challenges, we developed an innovative infrastructure that overcomes both.

3. Penetration and engagement

How can you reach users within this new world and close the gap between domain based investments, such as .com websites that cost a fortune, and a Facebook page set up in minutes? How do you penetrate these walled gardens and reach the users and communities within?

How do we target our advertising in this space and how do we operate our tools in this space? Take Facebook, its pages are one of the fastest growing areas to have come out of the Splinternet era, but how do we take their potential to a new level by building Facebook apps that integrate with existing content or business systems. Once your awareness and governance tools are in place, this has to be the next stage of your thinking and strategy.

It’s a complex process – pages, apps and content all need to be managed – so to discover that there is a tool being developed that facilitates this will be music to many ears.

4. Connecting intelligence (making sense of it all)

The one thing the Splinternet is enabling us to do is connect intelligence. Even through walled gardens, communities are providing a level of information and human behaviour understanding that so far has not been seen on the web. This is resulting in product and brand strategies informed by the likes and dislikes and content generated by the web 3.0 and 4.0 generations.

Whilst crowd surfing has been long talked about, we are now able to listen and connect the intelligence with the cloud to truly target brand messaging. But to really understand the community, you need to understand who the members are and how they behave, how active they are, what the size of their network is and whether they are mobile. Once we understand this, we can interact with them in the most appropriate ways, such as triggering engagement with an upset or happy customer, either automated or through a real customer services representative.

5. Convergence

The Splinternet is also starting to enable what we call device and application convergence. Whilst desktop and mobile will remain the top targeted devices in business, at home it’s a very different story. Smart televisions (TVs) and tablet devices are big game changers that are forcing the convergence of media. For example, the very latest smart TVs are bringing together smart remotes and mobile apps with the TV experience.

Media channels can also be converged with social, with on demand or live TV programming closely integrated on one screen. This convergence provides the most exciting after-effect of the Splinternet, as it’s the biggest opportunity to date for brands to reach into the world of above-the-line targeting. You can find out who your potential customer is in real-time and connect with them instantly whilst they consume a particular media.

So, whilst the Splinternet effect has changed face of digital once again, freeing and restricting us simultaneously, there are steps that every brand can take to make sense of and interact with those in this new world.

Facebook Predictions

With talk of Facebook IPO in the near future and potential rumours about Facebook community showing signs of plateauing what is the likely predictions around where Facebook’s going with its functionality.  This is our guess…

1) Improved chat with audio in video.  With Microsoft’s purchase of Skype, you can see that there is an increased appetite to push video into social applications.  Facebook’s approach to create a central messaging hub with facebook email and chat integrated into one messaging platform, combined with online presence, naturally asks the question where’s video.  We think it will come and it will be a big hit with users.  The biggest current challenge to video is its ease of use.  But now with most laptops embedded with video capability, smart tv’s and tablet devices will mean that video calling will start to grow.  It is one of the natural steps for facebook to make.  There are already a number of Facebook video conferencing apps in the appstore that show the capabilities of combining video capability with social networking.
2) Music and media.  Closer alignment with Spotify shows that the music and media industries naturally fit with social networking, both can benefit from each other.  Spotify integration with Facebook brings together perfect examples of what a users likes and dislikes with their online presence indicating what they are listening too.  Moving forwards we can start to look at streaming of content such as movies and tv programmes.  Facebook’s unique ability to really tune into users makes it a fantastic media platform for the future. Expand this into the living room through Smart Tv’s combined with social usage will make Facebook a two way social media channel platform.
3) Check-in. Facebook officially launched its check-in service last August.  At the moment it updates your status and brings together people that are in the same location as you. But if you look at the potential behind this service to bring together and to connect people with other people in the same location or to enable businesses to target people in a particular place, in realtime, it brings a whole new dimension to this service.  Both facebook and its development partners are starting to get to grips with this capability so we can expect to see more exciting developments in the near future.
4) Social commerce.  One of the obvious beneficiaries from the 600,000 + community of Facebook users, however Facebook is in a difficult space.  The only advantage they can gain from any social commerce activity is via advertising or providing a platform for payment, analytics, user information and storefront functionality.  However Facebook could provide more intelligence to group or individual buying.  We don’t know what Facebook will do in this area but we know what they can do, its just how it will be perceived by the user community if they go too far.  We can expect to see more tools for businesses to provide apps advertising.
5) Facebook intelligence.  Facebook already employs a tonne of intelligent analytics and algorithms to provide search and relationship suggestions.  The recently launched auto photo tagging service starts to utilise facial recognition but where could facebook go if it really starts to make sense of what’s going on in the community?  As we enter web3.0 and web4.0 generations making sense of the web, the community and the conversations will enable platforms like Facebook to add a new levels of usefulness.  Products and brands can find you rather than you searching for them. Information can find you, communities can find you. Facebook with intelligence could be even more powerful than the network already is.  Then apply the concept to knowledge and learning then the network could aid knowledge expansition of individuals within the community.
Who knows where Facebook will go next.  What we do know is that the platform will continue to grow in significance and usefulness to the user community.  There is no significant challenge to Facebook so it really is their battleground to innovate in, lets just hope that through their partners and their own innovations that any future initial public offerings will not get in the way of this social revolution.