Tuesday, November 23, 2010

BT FON: Now this is Social Computing

The premise of BT FON by British Telecom:

You freely allow for others to share a piece of your home-hub broadband connection in return for free access to theirs and, importantly, access for free to BTs public wifi spots.

It's potentially the worlds largest Wi-Fi community in the world and
my iPad, without a telcom data card, is begging me to join and download the iPhone app to activate it.

Those Wi-Fi hotspots were mostly aimed at businessmen but this seems much more democratising....and free. Let's be frank, using mobile data is definitely the easiest approach at the moment to feed your smartphone but it does seems we are at the stage now that those large towers used by telecoms companies to throw your data signals through the air will be replaced by a million peoples home wireless hub. It's social decentralised computing and the model is good.

I notice my existing mobile data provider, O2, has capped my mobile data usage and 10 days before the end of the month I find myself with it all used up and my speed throttled. If BT FON could take some of the load off then this would help somewhat.

I wonder what the telecomms companies will make of it?

I think this is an excellent play by British Telecom. If something like this could gain momentum then it would be quite a disrupter but without the numbers the experience will be poor as I transition between Bob Smiths hub and wait another minute until I can use a little bit of Mary's down the road. If switching between free hub-pimping and mobile data is seamless then maybe the problems aren't so great.

I'd be reading the small print on the security and privacy implications but this is definitiely one to watch.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

last.fm - The Big Biological Model gets a cold

last.fm is a service I have used and admired for a long while now and I became a paid subscriber for £3 a month (or thereabouts) a few months back which is something notable in a sea of free music services.

Their service really does manage to play music 'like the music I like' while deftly avoiding the stuff I don't like. I've trained it over the past few years like a puppy to respond to my commands of love and hate and now it does a great job in creating my personal radio station.

Their simple delta of being able to mark something as 'not liked' provided them with the extra dimension of customer modeling that the other recommendation and fuzzy logic engines sorely missed. Recommendation models without an 'unlike' are akin to physics environments where there is no 'reaction' to the 'action' - the map is too one dimensional.

I remember reading a list of the jobs that last.fm had available in 2009 and you would have been hard pressed to discern between their job descriptions for marketing and technical staff and job listings for a biotech scientist. The guys at last.fm understand nodal modelling and that the real social graph looks more like something you see in a petri dish in a microscope - constantly changing, fault tolerant, nodal, duplicated, overloaded and alive.

Some howcome last.fm are making some cardinal sins with their customer relationships at the moment?

1. Introducing subscriptions that can only be paid for by PayPal. This was moderately annoying when I was in Latin America recently and my PayPal was suspended after one too many transactions in Brazil making their fraud algorithm jumpy.
2. Removing the two key features that most subscribers pony up their cash for - streaming personal playlists and 'loved tracks'.

The on-demand streaming isn't something I use last.fm for as I use it as my personal auto-pilot radio station and secondly as my database of music likes in the cloud. The truth is I use Spotify for on-demand '' listening. The changes in service however do bother the legions that had moved from their iPods to iPhones and Android devices to have on-demand on the move.

What bothers me is the way that they are making the changes.

No push of email to subscribers to alert them of the situation and a terse statement on the site inevitably sees a raft of users angrily hitting the forums and web. The path for resolution is simply to cancel your subscription if you are unhappy about it.

Problems with licensing seems to be the battle cry with most upheavals in music services but did they really try an explore all the options they could have taken?

  • Two tier subscriptions with a higher delta for on-demand streaming.
  • Aborting the free model and charging a nominal fee for all users.
  • Offer different services/rights to different countries

.....or even less radical - cancel the services that they were going to but run an 'ease the shock' campaign pre-warning users of the reasons why they need to do this.

We're listening to last.fm but they aren't listening back.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Touchpoints (manual and automated) between sCRM and CRM

    Dear Readers,
    I'd be grateful for insights and comments on this topic.
    There seem to be two phases to harmonising sCRM and CRM domains.

    1. Don't integrate using software - use people initially.
    Use the CRM tools in the cloud (FB comments, Twitter, Get Satisfaction etc) where the customer/prospect is operating and backfill insights and information manually into your CRM system.

    This is low risk with no internal technology investment. The cost is mostly around people/staff. It's good education all round and a reminder that a companies systems are no longer the ones sitting on their premises.

    2. Automated integration of sCRM data/insights into the 'master' back end CRM and related systems.
    This of course is much more difficult. Some outlines of touchpoints and suggested automation are below :
    Identity : At it's most simplest you can integrate web2.0 Id's of customers into your back end CRM profile and perhaps use your Campaign Management in your CRM app to deliver/chat with the web2.0 channels. Automated campaign management tools spamming customers web2.0 spaces is clearly dangerous as the personal touch may be lost so simply using your CRM tool as a front end to web2.0 activity might retain the personal touch and allow your CSA's to remain in a single workspace.

    Profiling : A unified view of web2.0 profiles with internal CRM profiles. Very useful but prone to legal restrictions. Again the CRM system can pull in public preferences/likes/dislikes for customers and use them for customer support and behavioural targetting solutions.

    Analytics : merge analytics observations on your own web/IP properties with those in the cloud. This area is nascent at the present time but the integration between Salesforce and Radian6 certainly looks interesting in examining click throughs from the cloud.

    Metadata, Taxonomy and KMS: This is a tough nut to crack and the sharp end of the semantic web. Ideally the taxonomy that your customers develop online should inform your southbound knowledge management and product descriptions. Behavioural Targetting ,SEO/SEM and Customer Support will be more successful if you can develop a commonality between how you describe your domain vs how it's actually being talked about in the real world.

    Connect Listening with the Raising of Work/Suggestion Tickets distributed to the rest of the business : Use the listening platform data to directly feed into how you raise suggestions, complaints or issues into the business. This avoids some retype and paraphrasing but still requires staff to manage.

    Run Listening Platforms Across internal channels such as Wikis and Forums : this could be automated to filter hot topics and prioritise work and many forum providers are moving into the semantic space to enable just that.

    Involvement in Design : beyond providing a Wiki or a Facebook group and harvesting opinions on features via Listening Platforms how do we get customers deeply involved in the creation of the products and services we design?
    The big question...
    Is deep automated integration an expensiveand proprietary folly between sCRM and CRM at the present time?
    Do we end raising projects titled 'Integrate with the Internet'?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Another angle on Social Computing - the iPad

There was a distinct ethereal hum as I finally added an iPad to my iPhone, iPod, Powerbook, iMac and G5 kingdom.

I had to answer some questions for myself on something that felt 'game changing' - magic almost.

What is the magic in the hardware, form factor and software of the iPad?
  • Given it's size it travels from room to room with you. The only other computing device that really does that is a feature/modern phone. Laptops get parked which equals bad for a prospective command centre and true on body device.
  • The role of phones will change. The size of displays for pocket devices have limits (technical and social) that the iPad immediately begins to highlight. Phone's may be more of a cousin of your car key, wallet and GPS devices than the final form factor of the utopian 'life controller'. Phone holographic technology would of course help phones reassert themselves as a social device rather than a private device.
  • Works great as you walk and use the device using only 1 hand (unlike a laptop) for essential workflow tasks of the OS (cut copy-paste-search-open-close) , in fact most programs and tasks are possible given multi-touch to allow context. It also works really well with 2 hands allowing richer expression and depth of interaction.
  • No wires and it fits everywhere - that's a fail for most laptops which demand height as well as depth on a desk or surface. iPad display and control are merged into one flat surface.
  • The resolution is great - it looks like an interactive magazine.
  • It wins the war hands down as the master input device for contacts and calendar control. Phone calendar co-working was not convenient with phones or laptops. Laptops feel 'official' and had to be crowded round with a bent neck (or worse via ping pong mail). The iPadCalendar experience is one where you co-author it with your spouse or friend or colleague sitting next to one another...on the couch, standing in the kitchen, and so on. Passing the iPad back and forth so everyone can download their details makes for good 'ownership' of events and to-do's and will prompt healthier use. This form factor, so far, is the best capture tool and it's social - just like calendars and are meant to be.
  • The e-book, e-comic and e-magazine have arrived - they never had before. iPad allows you to zoom on article, photos, paintings or Maps. Hand it to a friend. Magazines can't compete...physical books also look like they will get in the neck strong if iBooks is anything to go by.
  • Contact data and references (URL's etc) really are ubiquitous and synchronised across all my equipment. Retyping was hurting the mass uptake of computing - we need to do away with it. A combination of mobileMe, wireless and apple core products (itunes, iphoto et al) ensures that data, preferences and references are available, accessible and synced no matter where you are. No mean feat.
  • Resolution of expression for multi-touch fingers. So much more satisfying for almost all application experiences from innocuous address book management and browsing to rich real-time control audio/visual applications.

The form factor of the iPad makes it a truly social device
The laptop and the mobile are personal computers - we don't share them physically with others much at all. They are social in that they can enable 'remotely social' experiences but it's a private affair.

This is where the iPad and form factors like it have a potential to shine ... families passing it round to arrange the trip to the lakes, band members trimming the email marketing list collectively, waiters allowing customers to select their choice and then taking the device to send wirelessly to the kitchen, putting in in grandma's lap to see slideshows.

but it's not all honey...
  • The weight - any more weight for the iPad would be a fail but it just gets away with it.
  • Heat - beware your iPad in strong sunlight...it heats up quickly and then forbids you to use it until it cools down.
  • Power and Charging - Non native chargers that work for iPhones don't fare well with the iPad.
  • Utilising other devices - I'm not a fan of the buy a wireless or a wireless with 3G simcard approach. It's a bad fit as iPad demographic probably already have mobile data contracts and don't want another. I'd have much rather payed an extra levy per month on my network provider bill (O2) to use my iPhone as a modem. The iPad is a natural main console for all your computing so it would have been nice to see utilisation of slave devices such as iPhone available out of the box - specifically from Apple rather than a 3rd party integrator.
  • Upfront user profiles. Given the inherently social capability of the device it is a miss to not have controls for multiple user profiles.

We live in interesting times alright.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

iPhone 4 - Honey the Kids Shot Themselves and are in Hollywood

One of the exciting things about the iPhone 4.0 hardware/software announcement on Thursday was just how easy Apple have made it to write, collaborate, capture, edit and publish your movie, documentary or skit....in Hi-Defintion quality.

The sheer innocuousness and on-body nature of this device means that, more than ever before, using little technical shenanigans, people can make their own film OR broadcast and have it watchable in many formats. Did I mention it is possible in Hi-Definition?

  • No running for the 'proper camera'.
  • No transfer of audio/video between hardware devices.
  • No multiple logins and data structures between different service providers.

Of course using a combination of devices and software providers we could come close to functional replication of the iPhone4's top-to-bottom film making but the effort isn't for the faint hearted and could never have be described as effortless and intuitive.

What makes iPhone4 powerful is that one company is providing the answer from top to bottom and ultimately allowing the fun and creativity flow rather than tech detail or data-exports from service 1 to service 2.

It's very easy to

Capture and direct (video and audio)
- video cam style shooting
- camera front/back switch
- video call data
- video auto generation (incl still image sequence generation)
- inline options available live via context menu of recorder
- titling and metadata, no rekeying of metadata
- take aggregation and management

- in situ
- in dedicated local app
- remotely online (YouTube editing,
3rd party)
- rich audio control

Publish and Promote
- via telephony to one or many
- to webservice (Email, Blogger, Google, youTube.....any IP terminus)

If Apple were a movie company then it would be like one of those tightly controlled Hollywood studios from the 30's where they invested in stars and felt obliged to guide and mentor all for the greater good of the 'movie' and of course business. Apple have really invested in tightly bound hardware and software experiences being utterly intuitive and inspiring to work with.

Their software suite keeps looking more and more like a ballet
that continues to run and develop rather than a series of disparate concertos. The upgrade path to their Pro products (Final Cut Studio, Logic Studio) also allow the customer 'symbiosis' to continue for the longest time.

Apple are enabling a bunch of video makers that will go on to change moving pictures in the same way that the music industry was democratised by a Roland 606.

All that and without mentioning the iPad.

Off the Cuff IT Stuff

iPhone 4.0Video Format Specs.
Video formats supported: H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov file formats; MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5Mbps, 640x480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov file formats; Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35Mbps, 1280x720 pixels, 30 frames per second, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file format