Posts Tagged ‘technology’

BBC Radio Lincolnshire tech slot with William Wright

Listen to Will talking with @mrwilliam in his tech slot today. Cloud Computing & online jobs – scroll to 2hrs 30mins

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QR Codes Don’t Connect Offline to Online


2-D codes are far more important than you may think

QR Codes don’t connect offline media to online media. They are far bigger than that. 2-D codes, QR codes, Microsoft Tag, Nokia Point & Find are talked about in articles I read and articles I write in a very tactical way.

Where can you use them?‘, ‘How can you use them?‘, ‘What do they do?‘. These are all valid questions which people ask now while people become aware of them in the world excluding Japan, which has been using the technology for a while.

But something has always been missing when I think about how I could use them in the business I work in to generate revenue. By their nature, 2-D codes are simple to set up and pretty much free to use. The value our business would get from them is in developing mobile web sites for clients, of course. But, my business is a digital agency. We don’t do print.

But this morning, I had a meeting with a local creative agency I know through a business networking group. I was asking them for some quotes and feedback on some projects I am working on, when I started talking to them about 2-D codes. They had never heard of them. I explained what they were and that’s when it hit me.

The bigger picture for 2-D codes is the opportunity they represent to connect partners together to develop solutions for our clients. Not only do they connect offline media to online media. They connect service providers together too in new ways to provide new solutions and approaches to clients and their customers.

When you look at 2-D codes this way, you have the opportunity to expand beyond the limitations of your own business by working with other service providers. Suddenly, a potentially sceptical creative print company to our digital agency becomes a partner.

Of course, there is still some way to go before 2-D Codes become commonplace here in the UK, but working like this with them will make the technology more tangible for clients who increasingly want to reach their customers in ways which suit them and not ways which suit the company.

Twenty Uses for QR Codes and Tags for Marketing

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qr-codeMobile marketing has a less than solid reputation, unfortunately. It is viewed as a poor cousin to other forms of digital marketing and it is associated with downmarket products, fickle teenagers and annoying ringtones. The ‘Crazy Frog’ ringtone probably did more to damage the medium than any other product sold through mobile phones.

This is unfortunate because mobile phones are being used in different ways by people because the technology in them is increasingly sophisticated. GPS systems, high speed internet access, high resolution cameras and high storage capacity make them more useful for the people using them and, therefore, a good opportunity for marketers and advertisers to provide better services for them.

QR Codes, Microsoft Tag and Nokia ‘Point & Find’ are services which enable people to quickly connect to information such as mobile web sites, videos, MP3 files, text or telephone numbers.

To see how to use these technologies, download the guide above.

Meaningful Web 3.0

web 3.0

Web 3.0 is about meaning

Who would be Gordon Brown after the last few days in British politics? He might be thinking about how he would like to be making decisions which will have a dramatic and positive impact upon the electorate’s lives rather than worrying about the less than spotless behaviour of some of his MP’s and their expenses.

It would be interesting to have dinner with him this weekend. You would doubt that he would be in a position to be very cheerful. Except that he has invited Tim Berners-Lee to dinner this weekend at Chequers, where it is likely that he is going to be talking about the future of the world wide web.

What is the future of the web? Many people may know about what is called ‘web 2.0′ which has seen the web moving from a one-way conversation in its early days to a two-way conversation which enabled us to contribute to the web. Web 2.0 has seen the massive growth of services like Facebook and Twitter where we can self-publish.

Despite the amazing ability for everyone to publish their thoughts, to find information through Google or to publish their videos for the world to see, we are starting to stretch the current web structure to its limits. For instance, searching on Google limits your query to the search engine finding words which you typed into the search box which will bring up relevant web sites which have those words in them.

But the words (or keywords) which Google found in the web site might not actually bring up a web page which is useful to you. The words in it might not be related to your query and, therefore, your search results are meaningless because the search engine looks for words and not for the meaning of the words. e.g. If you type in the sentence “The sky has the colour blue” Google will look for web sites with those words in them but it may not connect the words together to seek the meaning of that sentence.

This is one the most important aspects of where the web will go in the next few months and years. Web 3.0 is about meaning. When you type a question into a search engine such as “Why is my left foot larger than my right foot?” search engines will be able to understand the question and not just search for the words in a web page. The search results will bring up web sites which answer the question and which also make suggestions on what you can do about it if it is a problem, rather than bringing up a load of web pages just about feet. 

This is called the ‘semantic web’. And this is what Tim Berners-Lee, Dame Wendy Hall and their colleagues have been developing for a long time. The UK Government will soon require that all of their published information to be described with something called ‘RDF’ (Resource Description Framework) so that all their data and information will be linked and so we will be able to find meaningful information more easily than we can today. 

So, cheer up, Gordon Brown. The freedom of information which has opened up a few weeks of trouble for you will seem insignificant to what you and Tim will be discussing this weekend. You will be making the first steps to making the web that we know now, which is about masses of information, into a connected world of knowledge and meaning.

Consuming Content through Air

News on your desktop

News on your desktop

Reading a newspaper is an immersive experience. Getting the Saturday newspaper is one of the weekend’s great pleasures. The number of topics covered is large but interesting. I may not read all of it but I will read most of the newspaper. There are usually one or two articles which stick out which are particularly memorable and thought provoking.

However, during the week reading a newspaper is a different matter. I read a newspaper in a different manner which means fitting in reading an article or two when I am on a train, having a sandwich at my desk at work or briefly in the evening after getting the children to bed.

As a result, I buy a newspaper less frequently but I do read their digital versions for catching up on the rugby team I support, business news or technology news. I read the news through my mobile phone or on my laptop. All for free, of course. I also follow a number of blogs which are all ‘aggregated’ through an application called ‘ShareFire’ which presents them all in one place for me to read when I can. ShareFire is a simple, free and easy to use tool which saves me having to log into each blog on the web.

And that is the newspaper publishing industry’s problem in a nutshell. I am a contributor to their current demise. I admit it. I read far more than I ever used to than when I just read a newspaper.

But something caught my collective eye at work today. As a technology company, we are always looking at new trends, technologies and applications. This morning, our ‘Chief Geek’ spotted an blog article by Serge Jespers about an application built in Adobe Air and Flex by The New York Times for their readers.

It’s a free download which provides non-subscribers with a limited amount of news at no charge. To get the full version, you need to pay a subscription of $3.45 a week. You can search the newspaper, watch videos of the news, see the news in pictures all for free too, and all from your desktop (which means that the application loads pages in the background so you can move between them quickly).

Another article today on the BBC technology blog site by Rory Cellan-Jones highlighted an interesting comparison to how the newspaper publishing industry could learn a lot from the English Premiership which is very successful at making sure that people pay for their content through subscriptions. Commentators were saying that the football league example was not good because people are happy to pay for live football games to be streamed onto their TV’s but not so keen on watching highlights or replays. However, news is even more short-lived than a football game and few people want to read yesterday’s newspaper, unless you buy ‘The Week‘ of course.

There is great talk about devices designed specifically to enable people to read eBooks and electronic versions of newspapers and magazines, such as Amazon’s Kindle 2 or Sony’s eReader. But, these are expensive and most people won’t want to fork out a load of money when they already have a decent laptop, web-book or PC from which they can easily read.

So, the development by The New York Times of a branded reader application for their news which enables the publisher to get paid for their content and which helps customers get up to date news in a well presented way is a move which could start to pave the way for the publishing industry to secure its future. I will be watching with interest.

Mobile Marketing Gets to the Point

Nokia Point & Find connects offline to online

Nokia Point & Find connects offline to online


The next time you are standing at a bus stop, or you are waiting for a train, take a look around at anything that interests you and take a photograph of it with the camera on your internet enabled phone. For instance, that poster advertising a film that you have heard good reviews about, or perhaps the advertisement for a chocolate bar. Chances are that you will just have photograph of an advertisement on your phone and a pretty shaky one at that unless you are a professional photograph specialising in photos taken through phones.

But wouldn’t it be useful if that photograph led to you finding out where you could see that film in the cinema nearest to you, at what time and buy tickets for it then and there? Or by photographing the chocolate bar on the poster you received a digital voucher which you could redeem in your local corner shop on one of those chocolate bars? Another useful application of your mobile phone could be when you are driving around an area looking for houses you might be interested in buying.

Currently, you have to get the details from an estate agent or an online service about houses and then plan a tour around the area to see which ones you want to view. But, if you see a house on your tour for which you had not printed off the details you would have to mess about calling the agent or logging onto the web to get the details. It’s frustrating and the speed at which you find details on the internet at home or at work makes it all the more so because you cannot find them so quickly when you are away from the web. It would very useful if you could take a snap of the outside of the house on your phone and see details about it immediately to see whether it is in your budget.

Well, this capability is now available through your Nokia mobile via their ‘Point and Find’ service. It allows you to find information like this now. All you need is the ‘Point and Find’ software on your internet enabled phone to get instant information. The service is quick and easy to use. For marketers, it gets around a major hurdle with mobile marketing which is the fact that people don’t like having to tap out more than basic messages on their phones. The three keys activities carried out on mobiles are search, social networking and photography. But search is limited by people’s reluctance to type on their keypads so Google is developing a voice driven mobile version of their search engine.

With services like ‘Point and Find‘ or ‘Amazon Remembers‘ you just need to photograph what you are interested in to get the information you want about the product or service you have seen. The possibilities are endless. And they both meet the ‘Want It Now!’ feeling that we all experience now. Consumers hate having to wait.

Marketers will be able to understand which of their off-line marketing collateral is most effective and which locations are most productive. Marketing investment can be targeted more effectively and efficiently. Mobile marketing will become more mainstream with the reality of instant gratification as the database of products and services are increased in these services.



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What Shape Is Your Recession?

28/04/2009 1 comment
What's your shape?  



What's your shape?

Troubled times tend to produce great creativity. Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ was set in the dust bowl of the Mid-West as the people moved west in search of work. The early eighties saw the rise of bands in the UK such as ‘The Specials’ whose tracks included ‘Ghost Town’ which portrayed British inner city decline as old industries collapsed and ended generations of working traditions. The Second World War saw the race to nuclear weapons to end the war sooner. Not all of that creativity was good but hard times pushed society and people to change the way it had worked in the past.

The last week has been a revelation on economics for me. I have learnt about ‘Keynes’ and his theories on economics which have come back into favour. ‘Quantitative Easing’ is nothing new except for the description. (If you want to follow a good blog on economics then I suggest following Peter Cannings’ Blog)

The tough times most of us are experiencing now don’t yet appear to have shown signs of great music or innovation which were not already happening before the recession took hold of the world with the exception of the politicians and soothsayers. 

And the politicians, journalists and soothsayers have excelled themselves in describing the recession for the last few weeks. There seems to be a new sport amongst them for describing the ‘shape of the recession.’ Some say the recession will be ‘W-shaped’. For others, it will be ‘V-Shaped’ or ‘L-shaped.’ The best I heard was that it would be ‘bath-shaped.’ 

Britain’s ‘Chancellor of the Exchequer’ revealed his budget last week which revealed more about the recession than any of the ‘shapes’ being conjured up by the soothsayers and politicians. There not so much a ‘shape’ but more of sound as the nation sighed a very long “Oh dear.” The journalists on the BBC’s Radio 4 ‘Today’ program described the budget as “salami-slicing” which was a new but novel description. 

But whatever the politicians and soothsayers predict, or however they describe the recession, it is not them who have to get us out of the mire we are sliding towards. It is you and me that have to prevent ourselves sliding into the swamp. There is no sign of the recession in the small business in which I work with 24 other talented and professional people apart from a determination to work our way past it. We have had more quotes going out to customers and prospects in the last four months of this year than we managed in the last six months of last year. 

It is now that our imaginations are being pushed to work out new ways in which to help our customers. It is now that we see a scramble for people to gain new skills. Our customers want to try things out without expending huge amounts of cash. They are experimenting with ideas that were fads yesterday but now seem to be eminently sensible. Small businesses don’t have the cash to burn on risky projects, but most of people in them will be trying things out to understand how they can be used for their large clients. 

So, the signs of creativity are beginning to show through in the recession. People are looking for value more than five years ago and this is driving creativity. But, as far as my shape for the recession goes, I don’t have the time to ponder upon it. Although, if I was to choose a shape for the recession it would be an ‘X’. ‘X’ marks the spot. The spot where I stop predicting and start doing. That’s the only we can get out of this mess.

Platforms are Back in Fashion

23/04/2009 1 comment
The platform is coming back 



The platform is coming back

Whatever people say about Microsoft, it has made computing accessible to millions of people around the world. It has never been the most innovative company in the computing world but it has always made it that bit easier for more than just highly technical people to do things with computers. There will probably be a plethora of people commenting about the innovation they may or may not have suppressed in computing, but the fact is that over the last fifteen or so years having a computer in your house has not only become normal, it has become essential. 

So, Microsoft technology is not the most exciting technology but it is probably the most important technology that is out there in the world. Their technology has enabled masses of people to get onto the internet, write documents, send and manage emails, and manage your documents for a relatively good price. And more importantly, Microsoft has got people into habits from which other software developers have taken advantage by developing slicker, more flexible and more imaginative alternatives. 

But the biggest thing that Microsoft has done is build a ‘platform’ upon which most of us rely for our PC’s, laptops and servers. Without a common platform, software and computing would be a whole lot more expensive than the prices we are used to today. I can see the swarm of comments building for this post already from ‘open source evangelists’ already. There are plenty of excellent open source applications out there which are highly innovative.

The next big thing ‘boring but important’ change to a platform received further coverage on the BBC with the headline ‘Adobe Flash secures set-top deal‘. Many households with more than one TV in the house but ‘the box’ lives in a different room to the home computer. This has long been talked about. Microsoft and Apple have been building products to enable ‘digital homes’ so we can stream music around our homes from one computer or watch TV through our ‘media centre’. But they have never really been anything other than gadgets. Our internet service providers have been setting us up with bundles of TV, satellite, internet and mobile for some years now too, foreseeing the convergence of all our communications from one provider.

But that’s where the convergence stopped. As the communications cables came into our house from one provider, they split company inside the house and went their own ways to the devices which specialised in being connected to them. The good old TV, albeit an HD-flat-screen-surround-sound-digital panel thing, still has an entertainment spot of its own in the house. The PC or Mac is used for surfing the web to watch videos, collaborate or just browse away the hours looking at stuff you had no idea you were interested in until that very moment. But try surfing the web through your TV and it has been a pretty clunky affair until now. TV’s were not designed to cope with the rich animations and web sites with which we have become familiar. Watching TV through your laptop becomes a very solitary affair which is the opposite to how we have used TV’s for decades. 

But this announcement from Adobe moves us into the next phase of our PC’s, TV’s, DVD’s and mobile phones. Installing Adobe technology into the next generation of TV’s will start to enable web browsing and using rich internet applications in the manner to which we are used to on our laptops and desktops. People will be able to surf the web through their TV’s in a familiar way and, for example, they will be able to download or stream BBC TV programs from the iPlayer and watch them on their TV’s. 

Soon after, we will see the move of the Adobe platform onto mobile phones to enable richer applications to be used on them than is now possible. There is Adobe technology out there which allows this to a certain extent but it is not good enough yet to be able to maximise the potential of the mobile phone to publishers, broadcasters and software developers. When this happens on mobile phones, we will see an explosion in the media which is streamed through them as well as the applications which are used on them.

So, as this activity happens in the background, quietly getting on with building the platform the results of which we will soon become familiar, just remember the name of the company Adobe and have a look at this site and get a feel for how the next platform is being built and what it will mean to you. It’s not the most exciting read you will have, nor may it seem to be terribly important. But, it will be part of your life in the very near future.

Spring Sunshine Brightens a Desperate London Book Fair

LBF had an "air of desperation"  

LBF had an “air of desperation”

The sunshine yesterday in the city put a gloss on a seemingly lightly visited London Book Fair. The immediate view below the LBF banners when walking out of Earl’s Court tube stations were the numerous people outside enjoying the bright Spring day while puffing their last cigarette of hope. There were small groups of people quietly talking to each other or into their mobile phones, but there was no great buzz. Melodramatic maybe but the Fair seemed strangely subdued.

Inside, I had one meeting with a publisher lined up and an hour to kill, so I wandered over to the ‘Digital Zone’. Looking at it on the map, it was a yellow section at the far end of the exhibition. To get to the ‘Zone’ I had to make my way through children’s books, computer books, military books, distributors, printers and publishing recruitment consultants.

The computer books people I know well and, fortunately, they have been investing in digital technology for a long time to diversify their business offerings. Retail was tough but their online, direct business was starting to make them returns.

The children’s section seemed remarkably empty with several stands which you would expect to be busy looking more like a back street restaurant on a wet Monday night judging by the number of empty tables laid out for doing deals. The military book publisher looked busy. War always generates good wealth!

I bumped into an old contact who runs a large ‘print-on-demand’ business who was expanding his empire and his career nicely. On demand seems and its efficiencies seemed to be doing well. Distributors looked busy but I could see an interesting placement of a shipper and a distributor stand near to an eBook company. The fun that the show organisers must have when allocating space to their clients. Do they think like a ‘reality TV’ producer to see if they can make sparks fly?

Oh, and the recruitment consultancy stand was busy. Quelle surprise? 

And, now, I was at the ‘Digital Theatre’. But, theatre was an exaggeration. It had enough seats for about fifteen and, so, on arrival I could see there was a crowd of people spilling out watching a salesman (who had a quasi-antipodean-Dutch accent) from an eBook company explaining about the “global audience” his customers can reach with his product without the need for Royal Mail, UPS or FedEx to get their dirty hands anywhere near your products.

Bolted onto the theatre was the ‘Sony Reader Lounge’ which had several leather seats and sofas and a single Sony Reader bolted onto a table. Where was the fun in that? I am not sure if I needed a ticket to have a play with the device. Could Sony not afford anymore of their readers for the stand? And this summed up the digital area. It was the small back yard of the big mansion but crammed with people trying to get their ‘heads around digital’.

At this stage, I was getting bored of the eBook demo so I decided to have a Twitter moment and took a photo of the proceedings which I sent up to my “global audience” using TwitPic with a comment. The moment was saved when a publisher contact saw my ‘tweet’ and suggested I come and chat to him on his stand. Hooray for Twitter and ‘yah-boo’ to anyone who thinks Twitter is stupid. I picked up a brief for some potential work from the publisher after a very good chat. 

This particular publisher’s view of the Fair was that there was an “air of desperation” about the event with people as keen as mustard to do deals. There were less ‘freebie hunters’ and more serious business people. 

I met my publisher contact at 1pm and sat on the floor for a coffee and a catch up who is getting up to speed on ‘digital’, hopefully with our help. This is how finding new business should be these days. And the LBF organisers should start to provide some proper stands for the ‘digital zone’ because interest was outstripping capacity.

I think I am in the right place at the right time.

Twitter? Don’t worry, Dear. It’s Just a Tool!

Tools are very useful but not interesting at dinner parties 


Tools are very useful but not interesting at dinner parties

Last weekend  I saw my wife sawing off a branch of a plum tree she was pruning back with a saw designed to cut metal. She was managing to get through the branch but it was slow work. I handed her our bow saw and she finished the job more easily.

Furthermore, under my staircase is a big black box which contains most of my tools. There is a mix of spanners, pliers, screwdrivers, hammers and saws. One of these tools has a largish, orange handle and looks like a screwdriver for small screws.

In fact, the tool is a bradawl and it is used for making small holes in wood into which you drive a screw.  The bradawl is not very good as a screwdriver because it was not designed for that even though it looks like one.

Now, before you switch off, this is not a post about the contents of my toolbox or a rant about women and tools. Far from it.

Yesterday, there was an article on the a BBC blog which was talking about Oprah Winfrey signing up to Twitter and there was a big battle between her and some other media chap I had never heard of until yesterday for who was going to be the top celebrity with the number of ‘followers’ to their tweets.

What was interesting were the comments (of which I was one commentator) from readers. The first commentator stated that ‘TWITTER IS STUPID’. A later comment talked about lazy journalists using it and businesses using it for cheap research. Another comment said the discussion about Twitter was not adding to the sum of human knowledge. Fair point.

I used to be a cynical about Twitter. But, being cynical about Twitter is a bit like being cynical about bradawls. Imagine this statement- “BRADAWLS ARE STUPID!” It sounds odd, doesn’t it? Bradawls are extremely good for making holes in wood but they are not very good screwdrivers.

Talk about Twitter is dull, just as talking about screwdrivers or hammers is dull. But seeking how to use a tool is very useful, just as learning that a bow saw is better for chopping off branches from a tree than a saw designed to cut metal.

And talk of Twitter being used by lazy journalists is like saying that farmers who use tractors for ploughing fields should be ashamed of themselves for not doing it by hand. And what is the difference between a business using Twitter for cheap research and a business not using it and buying expensive research? It might be your job.

Twitter is a very good tool but I can’t say I am going to be talking about it at dinner parties. I will be helping clients find more customers with it. I will be using it to find work for myself. But, as with anything, a better version may well come along. And until that comes along, I will continue to use Twitter as a tool, as I will continue to use my bradawl to make small holes in wood.


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