Yearly Archives: 2014Blog

Declining iTunes Sales Points to Increased Acceptance of The Cloud

When we speak of The Cloud we’re generally referring to Internet-based data storage and hosting of applications. This contrasts with the traditional computing model where applications and data live on a hard drive on our local machines. The traditional model has worked fine, until, that is, the rise of mobile devices. Most of us no longer work or communicate on just a desktop computer. Almost everyone now has a small computing arsenal that includes a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone, or some combination of these. In this scenario the problem becomes, how do you work and communicate consistently from device to device? The answer is to have your data and applications stored centrally online. As long as you have an Internet connection you can work in a consistent manner no matter what device you use. And that, in a nutshell, is cloud computing.

But working from the cloud presents its own problems. When data lives in the cloud, how secure is it? How reliable are the connections — both on your end and at the host? Can you always get the Internet when you need it? What about backup? What about cost? And what if your cloud service goes out of business, or changes their terms, procedures, etc.? Concerns like these have caused cloud computing to grow at a slower rate than we might expect in a connected world. That’s where the latest developments at iTunes comes in.

For the last few years sales of digital music on iTunes have been in decline. Steve Jobs once famously said in defense of Apple’s business model, “we don’t rent music.” But the market is showing that people today are more happy renting than owning. Where are people renting their music? From cloud-based streaming services like Pandora. For a reasonable monthly fee you can listen to all the music you want. Why own a bit of music when all of it is available so cheaply?

Granted that renting music doesn’t present nearly the same risks as trusting your data to a third party does. But as more people move to cloud-based services trust in the cloud will increase. And this means changes and new opportunities will arise for businesses. Software is rapidly moving to subscription models. Services like Box and Dropbox offer large-capacity data storage plans. And there are several services like Crash Plan that offer cloud-based backup. It looks like a good time to begin thinking about how your business can leverage the cloud to better service your customers from any device.

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The Internet of Things Is Coming

It’s great to be online. Connected, in touch, information without constraint, computers in our pockets. It’s the information age, after all.

Companies are happy that you’re online, too. So much so that efforts are ramping up to put almost every device, motor, gadget and thing in our lives online. The purpose, of course, is to gather data. It’s not enough that while using a computer or device the mother ship (ships) is (are) watching. Soon, every time we open a refrigerator, start a car, turn on some music or presumably sit on the couch, a data stream will be generated.

It’s being called the Internet of Things (IoT). Tiny chips that are connected to the Internet will soon begin to be embedded in the things around us, potentially everything around us, to gather data and send it to wherever the terms of service that we’ll have to agree to before turning on that washing machine or desk lamp, say it can be sent. If you’re a company you probably like the idea. You’ll learn much about your customers and the use of your product. If you’re a consumer and you’re concerned at all about privacy you may begin to feel that this is big data running amuck.

The Internet of Things is made up of IP-enabled, totally embedded applications within devices that connect to the network. This includes sensors, machines, active positioning tags, radio-frequency identification (RFID) readers and building automation equipment to name but a few. Here there is the potential for trillions of nodes. Imagine every device in your home and workplace, every crucial component in an industrial machine, connected to the internet. This layer of the internet is only just emerging and will completely eclipse the internet as we know it today in terms of scale.

We’re already seeing the IoT in items like household thermostats, electric meters, cable TV boxes, and especially wearables like the new watch computers from Samsung, Apple and others. Maybe some of the data generated will help us save energy, combat diseases, better feed the world and otherwise improve our lives. The tech companies love the idea, in no small part because of the money to be made producing all these chips and devices. I’m not sure if it will work though, at least if home networks remain under our control. But some of the largest tech companies are vigorously lobbying for free nationwide WiFi, which would certainly help make the data collection ubiquitous. It’s the information age, after all. But it’s important to remember that information is flowing both ways.

There’s a lot more worth learning about with regard to the Internet of Things. The link below provides a good overview of this important subject.

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The Power of Big Data

Tech companies are just scratching the surface of what they can do with Big Data. An enlightening article describes some of the power that comes with recording the daily lives and activities of hundreds of millions of people. In a 2012 experiment Facebook learned how it could alter the moods of users. Google routinely runs about 20,000 experiments per year involving users. Facebook even learned that it could motivate people to get out and vote — not inconsequential given that it can filter out individuals’ political persuasion. That experiment involved over 60 million people! Where else but online can a sample size that large be assembled, without their even knowing it …

Facebook and much of the rest of the web are thriving petri dishes of social contact, and many social science researchers believe that by analyzing our behavior online, they may be able to figure out why and how ideas spread through groups, how we form our political views and what persuades us to act on them, and even why and how people fall in love.

It’s likely researchers would like to figure out a whole lot more, given the magnitude of data available. Makes one wonder what interesting things they’re doing that are not being disclosed.

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Questioning the Value of Apps

We all know it’s an ‘app world’ now, and that users love the simplicity of one-trick apps that elegantly do things they want to do. But the following article brings up a lot of reasons why apps aren’t always so great. It begins by questioning why the majority of apps are even created in the first place. It also touches on the many problems that come with app development versus developing for the web for mobile platforms — problems that usually result in frustration due to greatly reduced feature sets and restrictive interfaces from what users are accustomed to on websites.

Have you ever tried actually using the Amazon app on iOS, Android, and Windows? … the Amazon app is a frustrating morass of missing and incomplete functions from the website. Sure, maybe you don’t need the full breadth of Amazon functions on your phone, though that’s debatable on a tablet. But natural web conveniences like opening links in new tabs, sharing links, the back button, searching within the page, and zooming in and out are available inconsistently, if at all.

And of course there’s the issue of privacy. What exactly are some of these apps accessing on your device? And how much additional data can they collect when users choose an app over the website?

Ultimately people will choose the best experience. Just because you offer an app doesn’t mean anyone will want it. App strategies must offer something totally unique, or so useful that users can’t live without it. Convenience on mobile devices is a good reason for creating an app, but not if it is so ill-thought out that users become frustrated.

Personally, I use lots of apps — mostly clever utilities that allow my devices to do cool or useful things like photo editing, FTP or synchronized note taking. But I usually reject apps and just use websites when it comes to information, e-commerce and search. I even resist mobile versions of websites, since I find most of them so feature-restricted and inconsistent with their full web counterparts. In fact, my favorite link on most mobile websites is the ‘view desktop version’ link, usually found at the bottom — present if the website owner understands that  users want to decide how to interact with them.

It may be an ‘app world,’ but that doesn’t mean that every app is necessary or even good. My advice is to not create an app for its own sake. But do create one when you can offer something so good that there’s no other way to deliver it.

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Content: From a Visitor’s Point of View

Website content is the vehicle site visitors take to decide if your offerings meet their needs. Writing web content requires a style fit for the medium. Web users are busy and rely on the Internet for convenient access to information. To communicate effectively it’s important to understand what motivates users, how they use the web, and how to speak to them on their terms.

Web users are primarily online to solve a problem. The sites they visit must quickly make it clear whether they can solve that problem, or the visitor will move on.

Because of the sheer volume of information available, web users do as little reading as possible, then make a judgement. They scan pages for relevant information, then decide whether or not the site can help them. Information therefore must be presented in “scannable” form. Headings, subheads, photo captions and bullet lists are all important scan-points for website visitors, who use these elements to determine if there is anything worthwhile for them on the page.

If a visitor finds something of interest, they will click to go deeper, and read in more detail. But initially, visitors cannot be expected to wade through lengthy paragraphs when it’s so much easier to click to something else that may be more useful.

Web content also benefits visitors when it’s more focused on information and less on “sales-speak.” Glossy, adjective-laden prose serves the company, not the visitor, and visitors have no patience for it. What visitors want is solid, factual information that helps them solve their problem. The sooner their problem is solved the sooner visitors can stop searching and become customers.

Brief Is Better

Because reading on computer screens takes energy, and because visitors are busy to begin with, web content must be brief. Short paragraphs and sentences with plenty of white space make textual content much more inviting. Cutting the word count to the bare minimum almost always improves readability.

But web pages are not only read by people. Computers read sites, and this is especially important when sites are visited by search engine “spiders.” These programs read pages and assign rankings based on the content they find. Web pages, therefore, should be written with search engines in mind. Keywords should appear in the page’s META and TITLE tags as well as headings, image ALT tags and page copy to improve search engine rankings.

Finally, content should cause visitors to act. “Action” should be the automatic response of visitors whose questions have been answered, and whose problem has been solved as a result of visiting the site. Content can include links or other devices that enable visitors to act on the information they’ve found by going to the next step in the process. Giving users the ability to act on information is a key difference between the web and other communications media, and can be fully utilized in web content. For instance …

More …

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Google+ and Facebook Roadmaps

The two largest social networks are “embracing opposite strategies, but heading to the same place: To add social intelligence to everything you do.” This is the current state of affairs as FB shrinks and G+ expands. Facebook will create (or buy) more products, like Message, Poke or Instagram, while Google consolidates its many products around Google+. The idea is to leverage the massive data mills each company owns to serve ads wherever people decide to go next, if not necessarily their own mega-social network. For example, Facebook’s user data can work to target ads on any of their products without users knowing that FB is at work behind the scenes.

Each company is trying to attract the maximum number of eyeballs and serve up extremely relevant, highly personalized ads on both desktop and mobile. In order to be all things to all people, each needs lots of services, products and apps, but all tied together with each company’s social signals and identity. To achieve this, Facebook needs a lot more products and a lot more “artificial intelligence,” which are initiatives the company has explicitly said they’ll take. Google needs to take the many products it’s already got and make them a lot more connected to its social and identity information.So although each company appears to be headed in the opposite direction, they’re really competing for the same destination: To add social intelligence to everything you do, plus add identity to everything you do so they know who they’re servicing up ads to, while also enabling purchases.

Interesting article that shows how the social networks will eventually make online advertising even more important, versatile and effective.

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