The Rise and Rise of The Cloud – Are Those Around You Ready?

Google’s original mission statement was pretty clear:

“to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”

On my recent trip to Newcastle in Eastern Australia I chose to fly Qantas and whilst in transit I came across a story in their inflight magazine titled ‘Cloud Control’ as authored by Joshua Gliddon – possibly the technology writer for the magazine but not entirely sure.

Cloud Computing are those around you ready for it?

In the one pager brief he described Cloud computing in simple terms and used an analogy along the lines of quote

So when next time you fly, you’ll have a renewed appreciation for those fluffy white sculpted clouds outside your window – your data’s new home.”

I then decided to ask the passenger sitting next to me in seat 6B “What’s your definition of cloud computing?”

I was curious what complete strangers actually thought – in fact it’s now a plan to ask as many people on my trip. To my surprise her analogy was interesting;

“Well to me it’s like a broom cupboard where everything goes in and nothing goes out without my knowledge”

….better still she went on to say that often her employer and fellow team members chose cloud options such as GoodReader so they can take work home with them – specially on long business trips.

What did she like about it? The ability to conduct a simple search in a little box to find and retrieve a file that traditionally would have taken a lot longer to find and or extract…anywhere anytime.

Let’s face it, as more and more people adopt computing as their number one choice for managing day-to-day personal and professional elements the need to work smarter, quicker and more securely is upon us.

The ‘Toolbox’ for everyday people will soon be a PC, Smartphone, Tablet or as in the case of my parents a brand spanking new TV with ‘Smart Internet’ Capability.

Additionally and from a business perspective these ‘Toolboxes’ can only but deliver exciting solutions such as the ability to manage files independent of any set system. For example I remember the Sharepoint days which meant having to download a file to your local machine, hit the road in the vain attempt at hoping when you returned to the office and uploaded the file no one had used it and completed edits.

Whilst SharePoint did indeed improve this with file lockdown functionality it took a long time for it to catch up with other issues such as corrupted files, missing or illogical file storing pathways and in some instances a great way for an employee to randomly download a bucket load of sensitive information before handing in a resignation notice.

Modern day Intranet’s such as Box.net offer the basic shell that was Sharepoint but with  bigger more strategic innovations such as third-party applications, group collaborations and even external invited guest – Yes I hear you SharePoint does al that….but seriously who used these features effectively given the many iterations and complex UI?.

I use Box.net, DropBox (for personal use) and the odd app on the iPad such as GoodReader and RTM (Remember The Milk) an awesome To-do list that is everywhere I go – even mum and dad’d internet enabled television.

My addiction to the cloud has ‘accidentally’ led me to strengthening my consultancy time out in the field authoring strategic pathways for larger corporates and NGO’s on the benefits and whats required to get into the Cloud according to their needs.

On a simpler scale and a good case in point – my dear wife, God bless her! She’s one of those lucky enough to be sitting on a big virtual fence, one that can decide if you are a Generation X or at a size-able decent push pass for a baby boomer.

Now the above statement will probably have me sleeping outside without the dog….just to add to the pain she’ll most probably make sure the dog has a comfortable nights sleep..however I fear not the result as put simply she’s not all that into ‘ computers’ as she so eloquently puts it, additionally she fits into a class of internet users that are about to be bombarded with some really nifty innovations in the Cloud.

Having said that on several occasions I’ve tried to gently persuade her to come over to the brighter side of life and have often spent time showing her the power of DropBox, box.net, GoodReader and a raft of other cool Cloud based applications…yet to this day I still see her writing up calendar entries on the kitchen counter on a dilapidated cute puppy 13 page spread, or cutting out recipe ideas which end up in a rusty old tin.

It’s this tin that is home to 100′s of recipes, all of which sounded good at the time but entered the tin’s ominous black hole never to be seen or heard off again – cue the Osso Bucco idea from the September 1991 Woman’s Day magazine.

So in summary where am I headed with this post? I guess the primary motivator is thinking ahead and seeing how the uptake of such cool technologies are slowly reaching the everyday mum’s and dad’s and in most instances the professional / office worker who rolls up for work on a Monday only to find their IT department has ‘rolled’ out a beta version of a new intranet.

However back to my motivation for posting this i simple really….its all about pushing a message that is; put simply - “Time to get with the program”

Recently Apple unveiled their iCloud concept for all the different types of IOS devices running OS 5 and MacOS Lion….when it does go live I predict it will be a small scale revolution as millions of newly acquired Apple customers jump on the Apple juggernaut and discover cool tools and equipment (that actually doesn’t fail all that much).

All the marketing spin, the morning talk shows and yep even Woman’s Day will invariably try to act as the educators trying to capture market share from the average consumer to gain more knowledge and possibly experiment with all the decent products already available.

But can Kerry-Ann sell the sizzle? or can ACA create and expose Cloud to boost its following with raunch, scammers and weight loss pills that offer interesting results?

From a business perspective I’d love to see all those busy burning the long hours, working away at developing code and functionality for the Cloud to really hit the go pedal and get out there, noticed and offering a pleasant user experience.

My question to you is simple – have you ask those around about the Cloud lately?

Go on ask I dare to dig deeper….“What do you know about the Cloud and how will it improve your day-to-day activities?”

Cheers – from Melbourne Australia (in transit to Sunny Newcastle in NSW)

Posted in General Tagged , , , ,

Welcome!

Hi there

If you happened to follow the link from our old adress webtragics.wordpress.com then thanks for popping in.

As mentioned on that platform WebTragics has grown enormously over the last few months and its encouraging to see just how important it is to manage relationships and networks.

A huge thankyou goes out to all of our collaboratos, mentors and customers for making the landing as comfortable as possible.

We look forward to meeting many more into the future…the web is well and truly entrenched in our day to day lives and consequently we want to be on the same ride…anyone want to jump on board?

The WebTragics Team

Posted in General

Amazing What Analytics Can Tell You….

I’m working with a new client that has recently engaged WebTragics to work with her extended base of Facebook followers.  Her current Facebook fan base is very healthy mostly there because they have ‘liked’ the company. This is an excellent starting point  as it’s a great way to gather powerful intel and even use them a powerful test group – hence the reason for today’s blog post.

We used the opportunity during one of our meetings (held weekly) to navigate through the company’s FB page. We did the usual surf around, checked out the pics of the other admin’s (I’m yet to meet them) and then headed where all good Social Media marketers go…. the analytics page. what I want

As expected the page was new to the client – even though she had run it for some 2 years. Further more an amazing BFO (Blinding flash of the obvious) had finally hit the client – the bulk of her potential customers are actually in a different state!

The analytics also showed that her target market was obviously misinterpreted based on the analytics – in the reporting the bulk of her visitors are in the 18-35 and most come from the Melbourne (Australia) area.

Another interesting fact was that the original online client age group was thought to be 27-40 years of age.

Once again completely wrong!

So armed with this info I decided to dig a little deeper and formulate an online survey with about 10 questions and a sweetener to make sure there was traction (Gold Class movie tickets).

The submissions came in the results tells a very interesting story. I don’t usually pull any punches when I craft my survey questions – at the end of the day there’s little time to waste during these activities right?

The end results went to back the assumptions and how her digital strategy should change tact to best serve the online audience obviously attracted to her products….a very worthwhile activity that anyone in this space should undertake.

With regards to analytics – it’s not just confined to your FB pages…your website is also another critical caretaker of such valuable information – most of us in this space call them metrics. When I talk about website analytics – and I don’t mean those dreary server-side reports, most people tend to shy away as let’s face it involves putting a small amount of code into the back-end part of the dreaded developers realm.

FaceBook AnalyticsThe short version is simple – if your website, dedicated administrator or manager isn’t using Google analytics (or similar) he or she is not doing enough to work out the metrics for both conversion as well as return on the overall investment. (please excuse my comments if you use other industry products at the same level as Google’s product).

My first ever recollection of Google’s product ‘many moons’ back was very impressionable – some of my traffic was coming from Guam of all places…wow I thought how cool. Little did I realise back then that those metrics did nothing for ROI.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that Google Analytics has incredible functionality, however there is a plethora of interesting helpful sections and if you Google ‘analytics’ help, you will see plenty of information and even socially driven tips from other users by way of online forums and the like.

Good luck with the analytics hunt…don’t get lost! As always bookmark this blog and feel free to shoot through your questions at anytime – more than happy to help.

Back to this post and a couple of learnings from this include:

  • Availability of metrics in your current web presentations – go and check out what system is now attached and how to best read the reporting
  • Try to understand your users and the effect they have on your marketing plans – are you pitching to the right audience?
  • Go and buy your developer, designer web manager a coffee to gleam their ability or knowledge on the concept.

Always dig deep and ask pertinent questions of those managing your website/s after all if you decide to ignore it then just like many others your online presentation will simply act as a big black hole that sucks in money and spits little back.

Posted in Analytics Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

5 Points to Consider When Exploring Your Kids Education and its Connection to Technology.

Lets face it education has evolved into an incredible beast – one that is difficult to comprehend if you chose a while ago to ignore the sleeping behemoth lying in the corner of your subconscious.

I began wondering about the impact technology and education has had and will continue to have on children going through the modern-day schooling system.Image of Smartboard http://smarttech.com/

Just last week my son Hudson, came home from school and proudly announced that he had figured out what he wanted to do when he grew up; a Smart-board Inventor.

Aside from the obvious omission from this little 6 year olds mind (Smart-boards are already invented) he managed to instill a little feeling of uneasiness inside me that kept nagging away and pushing me to explore further.

As a parent that loves watching his children develop into the next generation (hopefully giving Generation Y’s the sort of headaches we as ordinary people cop today) its encouraging to see technology evolving and enriching our children’s lives and intellect.

I’m a firm believer in getting my kids to explore the outdoors, get muddy, run in the long grass, eat sand cakes, and most importantly graze their knees just like we did when we were that old.

In my line of work i’ve had first hand experience on the negative effects technology such as PlayStation’s, Wii’s and other electronic gadgets have had on older children. The other day one of my friends came over with his son and was given the opportunity for $10 bucks to mow the lawn – he managed to say no and ask for the wireless password to our home all in the one sentence. When quizzed further he stated

‘i’m not fit enough to push the mower’ – get yourself some sheep’

So on one hand I have an interest in the web, the evolving technology and the exciting path ahead for junior school kids going about their daily lives and on the other I’m weighed down with how technology has affected kids, who for many years turned to electronic devices for entertainment, communication and growing their thumb muscles.

A dear friend of mine is a psychologist – i’ll call her Mrs A….she specialises in profiling and deconstructing the thought processes used by errant children before the courts. She and her partner Mr A have two 2 beautiful kids who are similar ages to my two except they are about 3500 frequent flyer miles away.

I recently quizzed her on her perspective of education and the convergence of technology. Like me she too is aware of the impact it is having on the kids. She has seen the effect bullying has had first hand and has also experienced the nasty aftermath the effects adolescents have developed when adapting technology but in an adverse way, such as online gaming, ‘kill them all’ games and addiction to online visual elements such as porn and social media.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/yhoitink/2819832960/Think about it – in the 80‘s could you imagine sitting in a room staring at a screen for hours on end, communicating with your friends via Facebook online or worse still using a mobile phone with a keyboard so small it beggars belief that words can actually be typed?

Mrs A often goes out of her way to understand her child’s schooling, needs and the road ahead. She’s one of those parents you would wish was acting as a mentor for you in the background whilst your kids are growing up.

Mrs A states “…It’s not so much about the lunch box order or the after school activities but more about how the teachers are using different ways to enrich my kids learning in the classroom whilst adapting to the technology available”

Most of us didn’t have today’s technology options when we were in school, so while parents realize technology has become an part of their child’s education, they’re sometimes finding it difficult to merge it into the learning process.

There is a lot more to consider than just picking a PC or other hardware (desktop, iPad, net-book, etc.). Parents need to consider several other factors: Appropriate software, interactive e-reading programs, how to educate children about online safety when exploring social media, and how to integrate technology into the current curriculum.

However, technology is important in today’s world and taking a comprehensive approach to integrating technology into education will make sure that children thrive in the modern education system and in the jobs of the future.

I developed this post over a few weeks as it simply kept growing in content – I can’t really apologise for the amount of content as the journey was too good to edit in order to fit into a ‘blog box’ so please feel free to enjoy, comment and share the following tips.

1. Understand the technology – only just ok!

My son who was recently diagnosed  with Asperger’s some 18 months ago, has allowed my eyes to open up to the way children actually learn. My son was constantly chewing the tips of pencils, not socialising correctly and in most instances not learning at the same pace as the rest of his prep class. These oddities led to further assessments and a ‘professional’ diagnosis at 5 years of age.

It was around this time that I discovered Multimodal learning. Essentially Multimodal refers to the way children take in, touch, feel, smell the information around. This method of learning or ‘sucking in’ as I call it allows for children to experience learning in many ways.

http://www.apple.com/au/ipad/features/ This is where interactivity comes into play. My son Hudson has two iPad applications which he adores. The first is PocketPhonics by  Apps in My Pocket and Jigsaw  Mansion by Extend Interactive.

For those uninitiated in the wonders of the iPad, both applications allow Hudson to use his fingers to either draw letters under guidance or in the case of Jigsaw Mansion move puzzle pieces around a board to complete according to the ‘cheat sheet’.

I have seen an incredible change in Hudson since adopting the iPad for post school learning. He loves his time with Dad and loves to show me how to to do things on it.  Not sure but the controlling element comes out here and buggered if I know how he got that trait :)

In Hudson’s classroom, the Smart-board is prevalent, so to is the teachers laptop, the student Pc’s and a raft of other electronic goodies – most of which are either  connected or hooked up to the net.

Multimodal approaches are even easier to integrate into the classroom. Using stylus pens, tablets, built-in video cameras, smart-boards and the like all can have a significant  impact on students lives.

This also stretches to the discovered and confirmed notions that a multimodal approach that includes auditory, experiential and visual elements all will have a longterm  effect on a child’s development.

At the very least you have a child that can help you fix computing issues or connectivity to the net.

I often run courses and information sessions on all matter of digital specific subjects such as Social Media, SEO, Digital Strategy creation and other related topics. During these sessions I invite all participants to bring their laptops and 3G dongles so that they can work on their laptops and take part at a different level.

Another example I use in these courses involves a soccer ball, a grassed area and the course group all standing around a circle. As they pass the ball to the person opposite them, the participants get a chance to show more about their background, work and the reason they are attending the course.

When the ball is eventually passed around I change the pace and introduce a couple of alternatives which involves one person passing the ball randomly and the person who catches it must call out an element they remember about the person who threw the ball at them.

2. Books are old school - make learning fun

There are many examples that need kids to apply memory inducing systems such as the dreaded multiplication tables or the ‘ABC’s’

Holden CommodoreHudson often ask’s odd questions and or makes statements that simply mean his mind is working away at something he has seen and or experienced in the classroom. We often will sit down and carefully trawl through the Vimeo’s and YouTube’s of this modern world to show him how ‘things’ come together.

His current favourite is the recently uploaded videos by Holden Marketing which entails the road travelled from ‘steel to road’ and what it takes to build the Holden Commodore beginning with the use of using steel rolls and modern manufacturing systems.

Hudson was aware that cars get made in factories but for him to experience the manufacturing process using online video was an interesting experience.

He is now very quick to then explain how cars are built when we are on long car trips!

Often Hudson will tell his Grandmother that he simply loves school and that he can’t wait for the boring weekend to go past so he can get back to the learning – I distinctly recall none of my classmates ever thought school was awesome enough to want to come back – do you?

3. Involve other kids around the PC at home.

Hudson and his brother Dylan (3.5 years young) recently got a new trampoline which does wonders for Hudson’s Asperger’s condition.

We often encourage both of them to go outside and jump around like crazy. Increasing their heart rate and playing games within the enclosed trampoline is a great way to for them to bond and get rid of any built up tension, testosterone and in some cases the adrenalin.

After a while Angela and I can see both kids are slowing down and this is the perfect time for us to introduce computer time. To give you an idea, both are active technology adopters and know how to navigate their way around computers better than their mother :)

We encourage them to use the pre specified PC time to work on some pre selected programs and software packages. They both sit there and take turns using the applications and learning tools with a greater attention to the tasks required. Prior to the trampoline it was all out warfare, screaming and plenty of ‘Naughty Stool Time’

The outcome / eventual learning results are easier to do and or cement simply because the kids have reworked their energies in a completely different way.

When friends come around (and after they have done some jumping time) Hudson will usually show them the programs and what’s required of the new ‘student’.

This ownership element is awesome and I feel strongly that this interaction helps to develop a child’s social skill set….or hamper it depending on who is supervising.

3. Learn to Accept The Need To Let Kids Be Kids.

I know that my schooling was completely different and delivered a much different outcome. I wonder what would happen if I travelled back in time and completed my schooling with the available tooling and materials?

Just as everyone learns at a different pace, so to does the absorption of technology and the steps necessary to get a satisfactory outcome from its adoption.http://www.apple.com/au/ipad/features/

The last thing any parent should do is simply hand over an iPad or other piece of technology without properly supervising its introduction and use.

Both of my boys are good to go with the iPad in the rear of the car on long trips – whilst as parents we condone the use of such devices it is also important for kids to interact with their environment as much as possible.

Often the iPad will be turned off, the portable DVD player is switched off and the attention turns to the outdoors for the kids to play eye-spy or a similar activity.

Once ‘spot the cow’ game reaches its climax and boredom sets in – the iPad is once again introduced and using 3G, the kids are asked to search for a cow using Google’s very own voice recognition browser plug-in.

A word of caution; as inquisitive as kids are the new Google voice recognition application should be used with a bit of  in trepidation.

We recently experienced the results the voice recognition application does when it misunderstands the commands stated by Hudson. The request was for a Smart-board – after several unsuccessful attempts Hudson was finally rewarded for his persistance via Google’s interpretation of what it thought Hudson was trying to say – the end result was the word ‘Penis’

Remember that neither of our boys can write well (we are trying) and in our daily interaction with the schooling system some kids do better, others need more guidance and time. Technology allows parents and teachers to give the right amount of discipline for each student individually, and to supplement where necessary. It also allows students to learn at their own pace, which can help keep them interested and excited about the material available.

Coming back to Hudson’s fav iPad application – PocketPhonics. Apart from the kid friendly colour scheme and lame but rewarding ‘You are awesome jumping pencils’ the application once deconstructed serves multiple purposes including;

  • An ability for kids to learn the most important words used in simple ‘phonic’ sounds
  • An ability for the child to use their fingers to trace the letters after a short demo
  • An ability to upgrade the free app once the child has mastered the letters and experience even more content.

5. Set Them Free – with a firmly attached guide-rope

I’m not talking about chaining to rope like goats….its all about the enjoyment you get from watching your children explore. One of the motivators for moving to Snug in Tasmania was the clean air, the vast acres ofGoat on a rope untouched wooden forests and the odd abandoned building showcasing some of Tassie’s local history.

Never in a million years would we let our kids explore these places without our supervision (not unless they have turned 10 maybe 12) and the same should apply to the online / technology space.

I recently caught up with my mate Jody Grieve who is a professional photographer and teacher in Perth’s Northern Suburbs. Apart from the enthusiasm she carries for her students it’s the passion she  has for parting with her photography knowledge onto those that will listen which really blows me away. www.jodiegrieve.com

Anyways I visited the school she is now teaching and much to my surprise walked into a classroom full of Apple iMacs, corded  keyboards and a sense that finally schooling in Western Australia has finally done something about the PC issues experienced over the years   – but that’s a different story.

Back to point 5 and the reason I dragged Jodie into this piece is to showcase just what a joke parent filtering products can be. Naturally we as parents freak out  about the potential harm the net can do to our children…and often it’s not an intentional search engine result.

Jodie has talked about how her students can very cleverly ‘break into’ most of the commercially available parent filtering products.

Lets face it – most of the todays computer games teach kids to explore, hunt, discover and many instances kill – using some really hard-core blood splattering nano-  driven super laser guns.

Just as our kids do now (sort off) our childhoods were spent outside, inside and at friends houses exploring, documenting, telling stories, camping out, riding  bikes, grazing knees ect. Todays children should be encouraged to do similar things but using technology as the provider of ‘structure and support’

In other blog posts I have written about the use GeoCaching / treasure hunting products from the folks at geocache. This concept together with an ever ending assortment of new and intriguing  technological solutions for kids to adopt can really open up the mind.

Geocaching.com Just like my mate Mike who has a son called Liam. I recently had the pleasure of dropping in for a few days whilst visiting Western Australia. Mike has three kids (1 daughter and two boys)  and to see these kids grow up with all the opportunities and technology really gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling – until I was asked by Liam what ‘Reggae Music’ was….before I  could answer, Liam had typed it into Google and was reading the first few entries as displayed.

Needless to say the stuff listed showed the usual Bob Marley pics, Wikipedia summaries and as expected the search engine listings quickly deteriorated once the invite to view YouTube videos  was the only logical step for Liam.

In the space of a few minutes the videos we watched quickly transposed  into the content posted online by others somehow linking to the wording ‘Reggae Music’. Within  minutes YouTube was suggesting videos that entailed rappers with semi naked girls dancing to a weird remake of the Bob Marley classics – but with a modern twist. Additionally  other videos showed people smoking drugs to gain a level of detachment from the outside world whilst singing Redemption Song by Mr Marley - albeit using their most  embarrassing Karaoke voices.

This example is where parents need to step up and educate the kids about the way technology works, how search tooling can be frugal if not harmful and that what was visually seen when researching Bob Marley is a great example of were things can go wrong.

I’m a firm believer in setting the boundaries up front for both of my kids, however a child’s mind is always going to be super curious and in the early years they are going to enter  into the realm of exploration and discovery….just like we did as kids except our time involved tree houses, creeks and tadpoles catching.

As my children grow up both Angela and I have agreed to sit with the kids and not block everything available but use our family values and logical parenting methods to explain why some of the content should not be viewed or adopted.

The existence of predators, forums, Social Media, Cyber bullying and inappropriate material will be disclosed as and when needed and all the while the children will be told the pros, cons and why Mum and Dad have wrapped a certain element of protection around the internet and its use.

Trusting your children is always a great way to parent them – without hovering over their backs. These days some parents are allocating special ‘exploration’ time for kids at a certain time – however some have taken the surveillance thing a little further by using programs that can check mouse activity, pages viewed and in some instances copy the entire user experience onto the hard-disk for later viewing.

I’m still researching these products and plan to showcase some of the ways parents are protecting their children. Unfortunately of the parents I know that are working at that extreme all of them are IT professionals and have access to corporate grade software such as Symantec Virtualization….obviously out of the average persons reach.

Symantec Virtulization

So long as your children are aware that the surveillance is for the right reasons neither your children nor yourselves should run into conflict. Naturally as they get older and more responsible the over-the-shoulder observations could be toned down.

There are a plethora of surveys available online some good some a little suspect but most show some really intriguing statistics and trends surrounding the activity children undertake on their FaceBook pages. Check out allfacebook.com for further examples.

Internet Safety is a hot topic and when you hear that 68% of children have ‘friended’ a complete stranger is incredibly scary.

To me it’s like sitting out in traffic and waving a cardboard sheet with your personal details written for all to see. Forget Stranger danger or the old school ‘safety houses’ the new dangers are unseen and predators have become highly organised, some to the point of using technology to aid them from being detected.

Whilst there is no real need to hit panic buttons the incorporation of technology into our children’s lives is critical, so too is the need to offer open discussion around the inevitable pitfalls. I’m the luckiest father in the world (i’m sure all other fathers say the same thing) and I will always make sure our family values of respect, pride, communication and caring shines through in everything my children undertake.

Hopefully by the time my kids grow into testosterone driven young men – those values would be well and truly cemented into their mindset.

This sort of post or discussion is an ever evolving one and unlike some of my blog posts this one ended up at close to 3200 words. No apologies available.

If you have managed to read this far your interest is appreciated – and hopefully you could give to the discussion and my ongoing research.

What’s your experience with raising children of late?

What about the way you have managed to integrate, supervise and manage your children’s use of the web, Social Media, and other educational products freely available? How did you plan your discussions with your children’s use of the web?

Thanks folks – another great trip down memory lane.

Posted in Technology Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Web Design Mock-ups – An Example of UX What’s Right…What’s Wrong

I’m now knee-deep in three client projects that need my attention and that of my designer Josh Lamont. The single biggest discussion revolves around the end User Experience or UX for short.

There are plenty of conversations already had and no doubt a bucket load more with regards to how the end website will look like, function and give for the ideal end-user experience. Let’s face it a crappy experience is truly the only way to lose a potential customer.

We have all been there and for some of us worked in Agencies and web-based businesses that simply don’t get it. The bulk of the issues rely on differing experiences and what each individual contributor brings to the table. Additionally in board-rooms across the globe inexperienced senior managers that are fully aware of the web tend to discredit UX and UI elements for fear of actually becoming discredited by their lack of end-user principles.

Since departing from the ‘Agency’ concept I have found that gently guiding clients through education and awareness leads to a better understanding. This I believe was my biggest single mistake when I managed the suite of websites for a tourism experiences provider based out of Sydney, New South Wales.

Here is a little vid to pave the way for the remainder of this post – enjoy

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/19131028]

Tourism Experiences

in late 2007 and most of 2008 I managed had a great little team of collaborators that really understood the web and how to go about telling stories, engaging with the public / visitors and then converting them into either paying customer or returning visitors. Unfortunately the people up one level in the business did not.

Normally the regular visitors would regularly call into a website to gather information and perhaps plan a holiday. Why? because all the information was there at your finger tips – however there was always one caveat….how did the user actually find the content.

In simple terms the business had amassed a bag full of websites (last count about 11) which were created using static presentations that required a developer, a designer and a content aggregator to manage the presentations – hmm 3 seats kept warm in winter and sweaty in summer – great business logic really. To add insult to injury both the designer and the content person had their hands tied as the developer was the only person who could translate the work into the code of the website.

This is very much a late 1990′s method of operating yet believe it or not I left the organisation at the end of 2008 and to this day 2011 it is still doing the same thing. Looking back I remember thinking why????

During my tenure I took three revised digital strategies to the senior management team, the aim was to get sign off on the improvement to the web presentations. I was silly enough to assume the decision makers understood the importance of designs, ability to update the content and overall approach to user engagement. Whilst the argument and theory weren’t contested, the decision to make it all come together was never really understood and or adopted.

This is where I should have listened to the Dale Carnegie’s Audio book – How to win friends and influence people

As you can imagine the news filtered back to my team (3 times mind you) baffled them and ultimately disillusioned everyone….try to then manage a team of Gen Y’s with poor motivation levels – but that’s a different topic and possibly a post down the track.

Back to the concept and reason for this post, it became clear from the solid Google analytics investment / integration in the code across the entire website collection, that users were simply not sticking, the average page views were abysmal and the links back to the website remained stagnant (an undisputed SEO tactic) - after all why would you link to agoogle analytics website with a dated look and user engagement right?

In the end the Web Team’s enthusiasm subsided and we simply went about trying to change the world with smaller stepping stones….this is were I learnt one of my biggest usability and UX lessons….

Gaining confidence and an understanding of why you are suggesting changes that have been designed paramount …the journey and the end returns need to be clearly evident to the decision makers…however the key to gaining acceptance is educating the ill informed to make them look good prior to a pitch for change. Seeking acceptance for your ideas for change needs to happen one step at a time. In the ideal world (as designers and Ux specialists) you need to let go and part with knowledge and wisdom so that others in the decision team look good in front of their peers…

Google Bombs – of a different kind

The biggest bomb though occurred one morning towards the end of my tenure and unbeknownst to me the previous developer for one of the sites decided it was a great thing to have keywords on the home page hidden by way of white text on a white background.

Nothing prepares you for an email from Google early in the morning as you prepare for your day….telling you your site is suspended from the search engine for violation of its terms….I recall to this day what my team said it

“Does not surprise us…”

As a reasonable manager at the time I took responsibility however to this day i’m absolutely baffled why a modern-day web business that relies on Google’s indexing system had applied a 1990′s SEO method that was clearly in breach of modern Search Engine indexing.

Anyways I digress, the result was an instant black-ban for the breach and one of the major websites disappeared off Google quicker than Paris Hilton celebrity endorsement.

So why give my readers some background on my experiences with this organisation? The usability principles applied to the web products! This was the single biggest turn-off for me whilst managing their entire suite of online presentations, that coupled to the lack of a decent CMS really did make for some interesting days.

The product in question

I have grabbed some screenshots to show you the process a visitor would undertake to make a buying decision based on the content. Remember this is vastly improved on the previous versions thanks to my then team – 2.5 years on and nothing has changed apart from a rebrand and another website which grabs the same content from the one seen here.

In screenshot 1 you will see the home page. I have deleted any reference to the site’s name and will not post a link however hopefully the message gets through.

Upon landing on the home page a nice neat design greets you but its obvious from the very minute you step inside that the real offering gets lost with the heavy use of colours and graphic design. The call to action on the top right of the page a good attempt to close a sale, however you haven’t sold the user on why they should buy from you.

The content is a little easier to swallow but for those in the know it’s clearly written to form a bond with a search engine as opposed to a real customer. For the uninitiated you would think that in order for you take advantage of the product you would want to explore which participating businesses make up the product.

The average person would then click on the ‘Attractions’ only to be presented with another designer driven template.

Refer to the second template screenshot below and see for yourself exactly where the attractions are….look closely ok. Here’s a tip; look at the grayed out area in the LHS navigation area. I have made this really obvious by removing any reference to the pictures, content and other identifiable elements.

Now think through a users eyes that actually sees the entire page in one hit.

In real web speak a grayed out buttons, menus or call’s to action is usually not very visible on a page and deliberately designed so users can’t action a step or process. The human eye / brain is conditioned to glass over the grayed areas on a screen presentation in order to seek out the relevant information it is looking for.

After extensive user testing i.e. not the founders mothers and great uncles….it was dead set clear the button for the attraction should be made brighter….2011 is here and wow the button remains unchanged…..

If a user clicks on attractions that’s it – the list should be there in an instant. Sending visitors on a wild chase defeats the purpose of engaging with them and put simply guarantees you a lost visitor.

One click extra is one click closer to failure….

Additionally when the visitor does find the link he or she is presented with a list of attractions with missing participants…which begs the question is it the users browser or PC or the company’s intent to look completely Inc$&#^(t.

People if you need to edit your content using a static site template like this make sure you also remove the bullet points and blank spaces. In this example the content for this part was managed by the third party shopping-cart software and that too was a bugger to manage – in summary a great union of two really dumb back-end solutions working together :)
So in order for the user to decide if the product is right for them he or she has to rely on the content which unfortunately is an exact copy of the printed handbook that is mailed with the product. There is NO engagement, NO appealing content, NO past experiences and definitely NO end user comments and / or star ratings.

The natural process would be to part with your cash – all fine and good except users are forced to hit the Buy Now button to explore further. By form of natural connectivity the site partners up with the shopping cart platform which in itself is a massive leap forward.

What the user then experiences is a change in the actual product. and its marketed under a different brand name…nowhere on the site do you see any reference to the change in branding or business logic…again more questions surrounding credibility pop up, specially when you read content written about the old offering.

A simple fix would be to use the real estate on the home page to tell visitors of the branding change and what it means to them!!!!

Question; would you begin to doubt the credibility of the product on offer? Are you thinking along the lines of some of the testers used during my early days as the organisations Web Manager?

Most of us will continue with the shopping process and probably not give it much thought however there is also one more element completely missed from the concept and end-user experience (UX) – What the tribes / Social Media platforms out there are saying about the product.

The real challenge in todays fast-moving digital world is that businesses are no longer in control of their brands – you can make it look as good as you want, apply the design and images you see fit and even put up what we are led to believe are genuine client endorsements.

Ultimately the decision to buy is often put on hold before making that buying decision whilst checks are conducted to see what the word is on the ‘virtual street’

Unfortunately for some businesses there are blog posts, user forums, travel sites (as in the case with the described example) that have popped and put simply degrade the product all because the experience the user had past the point of purchase wasn’t good enough.

I won’t digress as this element can populate an entire blog post however whats really is important is that web users in general don’t trust unknown brands enough to believe the hype and content displayed.

If your web design is poorly constructed and the experience is not cleverly thought through, questions on credibility will begin to pop in the minds of users. This will allow you to enter the web equivalent of a world of hurt.

Businesses that mix offline marketing with online digital strategies generally tend to fare better but Internet only presentations can really come unstuck.

Hot Water Heaters…

Think of the above example summarily by picturing the following real life example I recently experienced. I was in the market for a new hot water cylinder. The Sales guy in the store really new his stuff and on a few occasions tried to close the sale by asking for an order – something didn’t stick with me and decided to forego the purchase until such time as my ‘wife’ was available to come down and sign the order – a great escape clause!This is not the water cylinder described ok!

In the car park of the shop in question I sat on my iPhone and typed in the brand and model of the hot water system into Google. Within minutes I was shocked to see the amount of negative comments – not so much about the product but the poor after sales service and warranty back-up.

Additionally the notion that the product was only suited to warmer climates (we live in a very cold climate) also put a lot of doubt in my mind. When I went back into the store I handed over the iPhone and put simply asked the guy if he was aware of the bad publicity on the net (remember my search was not about price rather about other people’s experiences). The sales guy was professional and he knew he had lost a sale.

Because I practice and am passionate about UX and UI (User Interface Design) I sat with the guy and the real truth started to emerge. Some clients who uncover hidden truths by deconstructing hidden meanings usually walk away and say nothing. I thought it was prudent to tell the guy why I decided against his product.

It turned out after some candid conversation that the company was aware of the bad publicity and was keen to get rid of all remaining stocks in order to clear their inventory and move away from the bad karma online.

Amazing how the power of the web and the tribes out in the blogosphere has changed retailing and people’s buying habits isn’t it?

The example I feel clearly demonstrates that the minute doubt is put in the mind of the purchaser regardless of the medium or platform the ability to ask for the conversion will be heavily jeopardized.

Usability principles which come under the banner of User Experience or UX are completely fascinating – those that partake and think through the user elements in the minds of a potential end-user can be easily rewarded.

Those that do it wrong tend to live in a bubble that put simply protects them from growing organically on the web and if anything shelters them from a truth they mnost probably won’t want to know about.

Take a look at the info-graphic David Armano put together…essentially if you wish to pursue higher engagement you need to focus on the rhs of the graphic – or in summary aim for Social Engagement. This will repay any investments in development ten fold.

davidarmano.com

 

When was the last time your website underwent some serious user testing? User Experience analysis or indeed compared it self to businesses you aspire to be among?

If you have read this far thanks – I tried not to ramble too much…..drop me a line should you want further information or indeed hook-up to assess your needs a little further ok! addicted@webtragics.com.au

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4 GEO-Location Examples – can it benefit your business?

Firstly, for those of you just getting a grip on the geo-location social Media explosion element, spare a thought for those who simply aren’t aware of some of the product out there and what opportunities exist once learnt, understood and adopted.

Let’s leave my mum out of this for now….

What is it?

The simple explanation is this – take one GPS enabled mobile device like an iPhone, select an application that functions with the in-built gps and the next thing you know you enter another world of possibilities. Much like a pda (Personal Digital Assistant – yes they still exist) Smart-phones account for the bulk of mobile telephone sales across the globe.

Most people opt for smart-phones as an extension of their office, email, social circles and general airport waiting lounge time killers – cue Angry Birds.angry birds

Adding applications (app store stuff) to your applications repertoire that requires the use of the inbuilt GPS and you begin to use functionality like mapping and other location-based assistance tooling like www.CarSales.com.au adopt.

Carsales.com.au (an example)

carsales.com.au

In this example a user to the website on a desktop enters a completely different experience to that of a smart-phone user. If the user on the mobile visits the www.carsales.com.au website on the mobile phone the first thing that instantly happens to the user is a re-direct to a mobile specific url www.carsales.mobi

Visitors to this site normally jump in to research their next car purchase, be it new, used or demonstrator. Once the basics are filled like vehicle type, brand, type of purchase, he or she then gets a pop up warning asking them to allow ‘Carsales.com.au’ to use their current location.

This little element improves the user experience and will only shortlist geographically ‘close’ vehicles. The idea is to remove vehicles listed in distant locations.

Carsales is one Australian based success story and an early adopter of technology so its no surprise that geo-location abilities are starting to shine through.

The inside word is that the organisation have a massive network and development team spending plenty of time redeveloping their internet persona.

The plans are ‘huge’ thanks to funding made available through a recent IPO (Initial Public Offering) Stock exchange listing

Whilst the Geo-location adoption is only minor it could be the start of some interesting user experience products.

My tip is to keep watching this space.

geocache.comGeoCaching – example 2

Ok this next example gets a little more interesting and the fun starts to shine through.

Geocaching is by all accounts a worldwide phenomena. Apologies to those addicted to the concept – I have only just started to have a play, so I can understand if you want to skip this bit.

Geocaching.comUsers of the Groundspeak.com application have the ability to use the in-built GPS on their phones, iPads and traditional handheld GPS type units to hunt for ‘treasure’ as my kids call it.

Essentially people from all walks of life go out and use online clues posted on the website to find little ‘caches’ which are cleverly hidden in everyday suburbia, open reserves and in one example for me a floating pontoon in the middle of a bay (you needed a boat to get to it!)

The hunt for the cache is part of the fun and it involves the family. Using the iPhone (as an example) users get to plot a path then use the GPS to find a little box, canister or other container which will contain the described cache.

Its incredibly fun and potentially addictive.

Once found you open the container to find lots of trinkets other Geocachers before you have previously left behind or swapped over.

Inside the box or canister will usually house a little notebook and pencil for Geo-cachers to leave notes and their screen names an an invite to replace a trinket with one of your own.

Users then update the find on the website and aid others with tracking notes and clues including photos taken by the phone handset in-situ. Difficulty levels can all be uploaded and described for others to read and share.

To me this is social networking with a difference and I must say once attempted can result in yet another use for your iPhone.

Under arrest??

I will share with you my first experience at Geocaching, which nearly ended up in questioning based on my obvious intentions to ‘Loiter’.

Geocache found in Hobart TasmaniaI had downloaded the app and had about an hour to kill in the Hobart CBD. The nearest Cache to me was 700 meters from my then current positioning. I hit navigate to the cache and I began to follow my phones radar and directional markings all of which changed as I stepped closer to the cache.

In order for me to set the scene a little further; the temperature was hot, Hobart was in the middle of a beautiful summers day, the city is busy with workers chasing their lunch orders, the shoppers are madly trying to fulfill endless Christmas shopping lists and kids are driving parents nuts as school holidays had reached fever pitch.

Enter myself, respectfully dressed (between meetings) and wandering around the back of a major shopping centre. The cache simply could not be found…I referred to the mobile application for clues and even viewed the pictures.

Needless to say I was walking around the same area for a good 10- 15 minutes and unbeknownst to me the CCTV system 3 meters above my head had watched and recorded my every move.

It did not take long for the suspicious activity to be passed onto the right authorities.

When I finally found the cache (and no I wont tell you where it is!!!) I looked incredibly excited only to have my enthusiasm curbed by an

‘Oi what are you doing’

I looked up to see two police officers wanting to know about my intentions.

They had received reports of a man loitering with an ‘intent’ at the back of the shopping centre. I was a little speechless as I must admit I have never crossed the illegal line. Once asked all I could respond wa with swift

“I’m geocaching

with police radios abuzz with a shoplifter (think Hollywood A-listers ‘borrowing’ merchandise – ahem Miss Lohan??) both of the police officers stood there whilst a newly baptised Geocache virgin tried to explain to them how the concept worked.

35 minutes later the coppers left and I can confidently report that Groundspeak has another two Geocachers among their members.

For those of you interested to know the ‘cache’ was returned to its humble place of residence and I walked away from the scenario with not even a caution.

Trackable’s and geo-location

Another excellent addition to the Geo-cache phenomena is the use of Trackables. These are caches with a slight difference. Essentially the hard-core among the geo-cache community spend a few dollars to buy a metal tag that has a unique serial number. This number together with a cache are married together and details left on the main website.

geocache.com

Geocaching.com

This is where it gets creative. The cache is now registered and deposited somewhere in the world. geocachers then log into the website / application navigate to the closest cache with a trackable icon and if lucky enough can find it. The idea is to then go home with the trackable and enter the details of the listed serial number. Users can then track where the cache has travelled – using Google Maps.

geocaching.comThe current owner of the trackable is then responsible for the ‘re-location’ of the newly acquired cache. I have in my current possession a trackable that has currently travelled from NSW to Queensland to South Australia and eventually ended up in Tasmania – less than a 5 minute walk from my house.

The idea is to see which of the zillions of trackables have travelled the most. My intent is to ‘replace’ the this trackable on my trip to Western Australia. I will also plot and update the website – then set up a new geo-cache for others to find – all this some 3500 kilometers from where the cache was last found.

Go on hopefully by the time you get to this line you are just busting your guts to try it out – geocaching.com/

So what are your experiences with Geo-Location and its association with the modern technology platforms like iPhones and iPads? I would be keen to know if you are using any tooling that incorporates geo-location technology.

foursquare.comFoursquare – checking in for others to see.

Foursquare for me, means an ability to ‘check in’ and let others within my network know my whereabouts electronically via a mobile app on my iPhone.

Those that follow me and or know me can use their application either on their phones or on the web. A great example is my up and coming trip to Perth Western Australia (my mate Danny is getting hitched…again) I can check in at the Perth Domestic Airport, The hotel, the wedding reception, the photo session ect.

The summary descriptor from the company’s website is simply put;

…a location-based social networking site, mobile device application that rewards users for their comments and usage.

The more a user interacts with the application the more this is acknowledged and in some instances rewards such as ‘badges’ are dished out.

Only online since 2009, the concept has drawn plenty of users and has an interesting rise through the social media maze.

My summary is simply a way for people to both interact with their surroundings whilst also updating friends and socialising.

Ok…so Foursquare has new stuff….What it means to you

The recommendation engine has extra Jedi powers – the summary of this concept is simple, of all the zillions of recommendations around the globe users will be able to delve into recommendations from others easily when visiting an area.

4SQ has improved the recommendations and are better recycled based on the users preferences. For example I’m a carnivore and love my steak – within reason the app will show my preference for meat as opposed to an omnivore based list (vegetarian restaurants) – the engine will also consider your past history within the application, places your friends go and a heap of other variables – all designed to give an awesome user experience – or is it?

foursquare.com Additionally there are new merchant facilities that allow more interaction between consumers and businesses. These include check-in specials, Group specials including Swarm such as specials after 5pm, New user specials, and a host of other goodies due out soon.

I’ll be the first to admit the concept is a little slow off the mark here in Australia, but my recent trip to Bangkok, India and South East Asia revealed a bucket load more users and associated recommendations.

For me the idea integrating user specials is great – take one of WebTragics current clients – Maro Fashions in Salamanca. They could give a ‘check-in’ specials with alternate daily and as the shop is smack bang in the middle of Hobart’s famous tourist hub incoming visitors more conversant with the technology could indeed take advantage of the technology.

Now reading through some of the company’s press releases / Mashable postings, you will find some interesting case studies of businesses that have adopted the technology.

As a sceptic of some stuff on the web and the major downside I find is that Foursquare is yet another Social Media application that needs my attention – I’m lucky as I choose to spend my day working on the web and have plenty of SM time allocated.

I’m also a little disappointed that if you do register and want to engage the uptake is Australia is pretty well…limited.

Some users engage with it constantly, almost to the point of ridiculous, whilst rarely login.

However if your take Maro as an example the three girls are constantly under the pump and rarely see the light outside.

Jess is true camper and is making some great changes to her management of the store. She is busy assisting WebTragics to finalise the strategy and managing the creative process and the photography part.

Her aims are to eventually hand the reigns over to the girls in-store whilst she begins to concentrate more on here ‘Net’ presence. Social Media commentary / blogging being the priorities.

What do you think? is Foursquare for you? If I was to surmise the concept with a badging theme then I think its like Scouts – you only get out of it what you put in.

Final example – Find my iPhone

iphone

This example is by far one of the most recognisable Geo-location examples known to man yet quite possibly the least used….except for me.

Let me set the scene. I wanted to buy a new car (actually a Landcruiser ute for the property) and took to the sales yards in Southern Tasmania. With kids in tow and the sales people looking super slick, I managed to narrow my choice down to one example in under two hours.

I loaded the kids up into the new ute, cranked up the engine – which sounded like angry bull on steroids, and began shifting through the gears as I drove out of the yard for its test drive.

Now as I didn’t have any way of holding the phone or storing it easily, I placed the phone on the dashboard…visible for all to see and remember to take back after the test drive.

Now the test drive went ok….the ute was a monster of a truck and could be heard for at least 5 blocks…putting fear in old women and sending out subliminal messages to bored police officers in the local vicinity.

We drove around, the kids had a ball – even though they could not see over the dashboard, and we collectively decided to test the suspension which made the truck sit sky high.

apple.com/mobileme/features/find-my-iphone.htmlFor those of you not familiar with customised 4wd utes, the experience is interesting….unfortunately the vehicles suspension was tuned in such a way that dental tweaking would need to be carried out at the same time as the scheduled oil and filter change.

So hopefully with this picture firmly entrenched in your mind the bumps, narrow roads and massive inclines all took its toll on my iPhone which by now had managed to move forwards off the dash and fall behind the gauges console.

There it sat until that afternoon. Well after we had decided to return the vehicle and call it quits to the negotiations.

BTW Kids are a blessing when shopping for cars – my tip is; if your negotiations are not going anywhere dose your kids up with a couple of sugar infested lollies and wait for them to start running amok in the sales persons office. You put your most distressed look on and pretty soon you have an exit strategy in play.

anyways – by 2pm I had realised that the phone was missing and could not recall seeing it within the last hour so I looked up the application from Appple called Find My iPhone….low and behold there was my (pre-registered) iPhone, on a map with a bright blue flashing symbol some 7 kilometers from my place. The used car lot.

I drove straight down only to find the yard all locked up – several calls were made to the after hours numbers. My mistake was telling the messaging services of so-called after hours sales number listed on the doors that I had left my phone behind in a car….as expected no one called back.

I took photos of the car and the phone on the dashboard and sent a message via the iPad stating that phone was locked and that it would be collected asap with an option for the finder to ring an alternative number.

It sat there all weekend until first thing the following Monday when it was collected.

No I didn’t buy the car :)

So if this example is not one that motivates you to investigate the application further or indeed consider hooking it up as part of your renewed interest in Apple products I’m confident nothing will.

Now back to you – how could your business apply the technology in its offering? Could you hide a cache near your store (you can’t participate as a business spruiking product but you could get creative) could you work with platforms like Foursquare.com?> could the next mobile device app you develop and skyrockets up the App store charts include some sort of GPS guided tooling?

The possibilities could potentially be endless.

Thanks for reading – I had fun remembering some of these examples :)

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Foursquare 3 makes it debut…

foursquare.com

Founders of the ‘check-in‘ social networking service, announced today that version three is out and about – so why not ‘check in’ with the site and read up on the latest.

In the mean time I’ll be heads down bum up writing a post based on this and other similar geo-location products.

Register to receive this article once its published ok!

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1 extra tip makes 8 – driving traffic to your blog or website

Guys I lied I do in fact have an extra tip that will assist you in your blogging endeavours…

Consider placing a minimum of one keyword into your headline.

The use of keywords could easily fill another post (or 5) and plans are underway to do just that but for now get a feel for keywords that really stand-out, check Google for relevance and then play the multivariate game a little slotting in keywords where possible.

I got given this tip about three years ago and found immediate results.

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