Challenging Meetings

So, despite the myth that new parents have no time, I built a thing last night.

After this conversation with @malbonster and @katiedreke :
http://l.ynx.co/meetingappidea

… I built this last night:
http://l.ynx.co/meetingsapp
(it works best on a smartphone, like iOS)

It’s a meeting challenge app – open it during a meeting, and at random times, you’ll get presented with a challenge, for instance, drop a completely made up abbreviation and use it like everyone should know it, or hum for longer than 30 seconds. You only get points if you don’t get called out on it.

There aren’t many challenges in there yet, let me know if you’d like any particular ones adding.
You can add the app to your home screen on iOS in case you need quick access to it.

It’s all clientside tech, so you can just grab the source and fork it. Let me know if you do anything interesting with it. Also, it was very rapidly built (in around one hour) using divshot to throw together a twitter bootstrap layout, and then basic javascript to get the engine itself work.

Have fun, but don’t blame me if you lose your clients’ confidence.

Branch, four months on.

Branch, the new discussion platform from the company behind Twitter, has come out of private beta, allowing anyone to create their own conversations.

The platform has been open to selected individuals for a while, and I blogged about it back in late August with a distinctly ‘not quite sure about this thing yet’ take on the site which allows groups of individuals to talk around topics, but four months on, the service has developed dramatically.

Demonstrating a dedication to listening to its early adopters and involving them in the discussion of new functionality, paired with rapidly rolling out new features, the branch.com platform has already become a really valuable mine of discussion and tool for facilitating conversation where twitter is simply too brief.

Three key features really stand out for me.

Invite only branches – I was initially sceptical about the idea of allowing only those who you hand-pick to be part of a branch, but after continued use, I’ve realised its strength is in holding a salon, rather than a free-for-all shouting match. The ability to ask to be added allows outside voices if the moderator approves the input, based upon their ‘pitch’ to join in.

Highlighting – taking ‘likes’ or ‘favourites’ on to the next level, rather than liking an entire post, you can highlight specific comments or statements within a post, to really zero in on aspects of the conversation you appreciated. This gets around the ‘Curate’s Egg’ of many blog posts or random musings.

Branches – the eponymous feature, being able to fork off a conversation into a separate branch allows you to take discussions off at a tangent without diluting the main flow. This directly supports the disparate thinking that often leads to really interesting debate and thought, without leading others away from the theme at hand.

They’re also integrating Spotify/Soundcloud, grouping of conversations (and people), actively working with early adopters which they call ‘Friends of Branch’ to develop the platform further and have placed a real emphasis on design and user experience.

For publishers, the immediate value and opportunity will be around offering discussion salon content quickly and easily, almost like a written panel debate, easily instigated and rolling, and will no doubt offer new forms of content and structured debate beyond its current format.

For brands, the opportunities are less clear yet – perhaps the facilitation of conversations, inviting key figures or remarkable minds to talk around topics close their heart, perhaps open consumer panels around product development, perhaps collaborative democracy tools to make decisions in the open.

From a data perspective, being able to see which users are commonly highlighted and respected against particular topics will offer some real insight and quantifiable metric of authority and respect, which goes way beyond tools like Klout to identify and understand influencers.

For something that launched publicly this week, there is already a fantastic wealth of value to be explored, and I’m going to keep a keen interest in how publishers and brands start to use Branch within their own activity.

DR Codes

This is a thought that’d been rattling around in my head for a few years, which I want to try and crack this year.

Each agency I’ve worked in, there has been some form of tea making culture. Every day, at varying times during the day, someone will offer to make a brew.
Small teams of good friends know how to make each others drinks, but larger teams struggle to remember, and if you’re offering to make a large round, you have to remember quite a few permutations of the basic bases: Drink Type, Sugar Count, Strength/Milk Ratio, Foam, Steep Time, and so on.

At de-construct, we had a number of solutions to remind brewers how the team liked their drink. These were pieces of beautiful design which presented the instructions to make the drink in a graphical format, printed as a large poster in the kitchen area. The first one, I think was done by Alex Griffin, mostly in response to me accidentally putting salt in a cup of tea instead of sugar (they look the same, it wasn’t my fault).

There are so many combinations though, and people change their desires frequently – I’m drinking more tea than I used to for instance, and some times I need sugar, other times I don’t. If you’re making me coffee though, its simple – freshly ground black filter coffee please.

So posters only work so far, and don’t solve the problem of remember who wanted a drink either.
How often have you scribbled down some hieroglyphs like MK: T2S, SB: C1SB, KL: C2 to keep track of who asked for what?

So the idea of a DR code came to me a few years back when looking to create a new poster for a space: A graphical marker which explains how someone wants their drink, that can be read by both humans and machines. A QR code for drinks.

A human looking at the code could easily see the drink’s make up: drink type, sugars, milk, etc. A computer could read even more information, and build that into applications. A mobile app could easily capture what drinks people wanted, and who wanted them – perhaps the DR codes are stored against the address book entry, and the app logs the ratio of making the drink to receiving the drink (to catch out people who never step up to the kettle), and that data could be aggregated to show the consumption habits of a business, and improve stock ordering accordingly.

So I’ve started work on creating the code itself, a human and machine readable visual device which holds information on a drink’s make up.

There are TR Codes (Tea Requirement codes) and CR Codes (Coffee Requirement) so far, and I’m still tweaking the meanings (for instance, subtleties between ristrettos and espressos, or milk/foam ratios for drinks like a latte vs a capp’).

There’s potentially colour to explore too, to expand the drink types. I’m pretty sure it could extend to drinks beyond the office, cocktails for instance might work based upon ratios.

Once the DR Code works, I’ll look at how we can use some simple Javascript to recognise the icon, and act upon it in some way.
I’d also love to look at non square / non digital looking versions, using perhaps pie chart type visuals and colour.

There are bunch of references which have influenced this so far:
The work Mat and I did on CLARITY*
The espresso field guide (and versions of that)
Tea over IP