Tag Archives: technology

Workmen take out their anger on the machines

New technology is the murderer of longevity

By training, I’m a coder. The early stages of my career I spent programming. I’ll be the first to admit, I was a pretty bad coder, so I migrated to be a manager, technical director and then strategist, but they all shared the same core skillset – 1) problem solving and 2) making ideas a reality.

Code was, for me, just a means to an end. A problem exists (i.e. how to show people what events were taking place at the barbican) and code was a way to solve the problem (make a website where people can see what events are happening). It’s not the only solution – and ‘digital’ always being the answer was one of the reasons I moved from digital agencies to media agencies – as more often than not, the broader picture is about creating a holistic experience with many facets, hence strategy being where I now call home.

That’s an aside though – the ‘making ideas a reality’ is the heart of my thinking this morning. For about 8 years now, I’ve not worked on a Friday. This 20% time used to be dedicated to not-for-profit working, not just charity work, but projects which had no commercial reason to exist. From this sprung projects like The Disposable Memory Project, The 100, LoveThink, Clarity* and others. Small ideas, dreamt up whilst daydreaming, and made real by a few quick ‘hacks’ in code, et voila, a project is live and can exist. The Disposable Memory Project, for instance, was an idea in a Dry Cleaners on a Saturday afternoon, and existed by Saturday evening as a simple wordpress blog.

Code has always been for me, a sketchbook. Something to go from concept to working prototype, rapidly. And being able to start with the bricks of code, rather than the fully pre-built house of something like wordpress, meant that I could prototype the experience and the total concept, rather than fit my ideas into an existing framework. This was brilliant. I could knock out a working version of something quickly, get people using it, and see what happened. As my ideas are rarely about the technology itself, but mostly the people within the idea, the connections made, the output of the idea. It really doesn’t matter what is ‘under the hood’ and how the project technically works, as long as it does, and people can connect.

Now, here lies the problem. This morning, as I sit in my shed, drink my coffee and read the latest copy of Delayed Gratification, I get some server alerts pinging on my phone. The100 is offline. LoveThink is offline. Disposable Memory Project is offline. None of these projects are ‘active’, they are all in a sort of ‘pasture’ mode where people can simply see the outputs and results of the project, but it still requires some technology to allow people to see the content – a database to power the experience.

This is increasingly happening. Server alerts. Why? Because the infrastructure which sits behind the projects is changing. Whilst the projects lie as a snapshot in time – the technology stack behind the projects are constantly evolving. My hosting company upgrade the software, the language, the databases, the various nuts and bolts which run the ideas. These upgrades are usually to patch security exploits, or to improve uptime or stability of the service. (Sometimes, its simply because my code is bad, and the server runs out of memory, and it needs literally turning off and on again.)

You can’t use this bit of code any more – its insecure. Or, this database version is old and won’t run any more. Or, your upload approach is causing the server to crash. Or something something something I don’t understand.

The technology (naturally) has both surpassed my knowledge of how to make/fix things, and the legacy needs of my ideas. If I were to sit down and try and fix or upgrade the framework which lies underneath the project – I would end up having to re-write huge chunks of it – for what end? Just to keep a dormant project online? So, I wonder whether I should just take the content offline, so it no longer exists. A difficult decision, and one I cannot make on my own – it isn’t really my content. The Disposable Memory Project and The100, in fact most of my work, is other people’s content. I am simply the curator or guardian of the content, and I have a responsibility to keep these memories and snapshots online.

Yet, the relentless march of technology makes it harder for me to do this, every day.

This week, Pebble, the company who some years back made a huge splash on Kickstarter, having one of the largest ever pre-funding rounds on the platform, sold to Fitbit, stating they could no longer exist as an independent company, and that they wouldn’t be honouring any remaining pledges. Over $12m in pre-orders, and they are not able to manufacture the products their audience have been waiting for. Refunds are being sent out. Customers are both disappointed and furious, many saying ‘I don’t want a refund, I want my Pebble!’. A small note in the announcement explains that, whilst any existing Pebbles will not cease to work, ‘reduced functionality may come in time’. The technology infrastructure which sits behind Pebble will, in time, cease to exist. And, in time, Pebbles will turn into Bricks.

When I moved house, I unearthed a box of post-IPO or post-collapse kickstarter and early stage gadgets which I have purchased, but no longer work. A Little Printer from the team at Berg, which no longer has a cloud to connect to. An old Sphere which I can’t seem to find the app for to control any more. Various macs which won’t run new versions of iOS.

I start to think about the technology which is functioning today in my house, which in time, will also be orphaned. What happens when Alphabet decides Nest is no longer commercially viable, and they remove any cloud infrastructure for people’s connected homes? What happens when the smart doorlocks manufacturers go bust, and people can’t unlock their homes? What will the Vine superstars do when their app is closed down? Where did all the users of Google Reader go when their beloved tool was switched off? What happens if Wikipedia can’t fund the project any longer?

As someone who is required to look towards the future in my role, I wonder whether we forget about the past too quickly. Perhaps we need to play a dual role, thinking about both the road forward to explore new spaces and see what impact new technology has on our lives, yet also consider the importance of longevity, history, our past and invest in the importance of preserving things which have come before us.

Organisations like both the National Trust and the Wayback Machine play important roles in keeping not just ‘interesting artefacts’ but critical archives of social, political and cultural history. Digital content is far more ephemeral – some disappear within seconds by design, such as Snapchat, some are obfuscated intentionally for reasons of privacy or embarrassment; other digital archives struggle to exist because the infrastructure they were designed for simply no longer exists. I remember some years back reading an article about the Domesday Project – an early ‘multimedia’ initiative to capture living in the UK, we had a copy of it at my primary school, using huge ‘laserdiscs’ running connected to a BBC Microcomputer – no longer being accessible because the hardware to read the content no longer existed. Similarly, I asked a registrar why he signed my first child’s birth certificate in fountain pen, and he explained that the ink in a rollerball pen simply faded away over time.

How do we design for longevity, when digital technology, by design, exists as something which is ‘overwritable’, and how do we maintain functionality which people have invested into, if the creators and guardians are no longer funded or able to remember how to maintain something?

Perhaps Kodak were right all along. We abandoned them, laughing at how they refused to change with the times, yet anyone who has lost images on from phone will perhaps have some small ounce of nostalgia for the printed photograph.

I am entirely pro-technology – for the new things it can create, the new ways of creating, the democratisation of content which is has provided, is remarkable. But, we clearly need to now think about the challenges it has created too. It is to easy to create ‘news’ which is untrue. It is too easy to be anonymous and cruel to others. It is too easy to create something which people rely upon, and then remove that support. It is too easy to create accidental ephemera where sustainable impact is needed. For it has never been about the technology itself, but rather the outputs and outcomes of what that technology has enabled. We need to now think about how to design for a world where there is no guarantee that the medium which contained the message will exist in 2 years, yet alone 200.

So, now, I’m sitting staring at a database error that I no longer know how to fix. I think – possibly, new technology has just destroyed 100 people’s memories, and that makes me incredibly sad, yet with renewed ambition to better design my work in the future for longevity.


Amazon Echo

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m generally quite cynical about new technology launches.

As someone with years of being in roles where it’s my job to get people excited about the future – I’ve always had to temper people’s excitement about new technology, and get them thinking about what it means for people and our lives, rather than the hardware itself – but with the most recent product launch from the commerce giant, I’m genuinely excited. I want an Amazon Echo – the sleek cylindrical love child of Siri (Apple’s voice controlled assistant) and Sonos (the wireless music player).

At it’s heart, Amazon Echo is a device which sits on your shelf in the corner of your living room, office or kitchen, and then listens and reacts. You shout ‘Hey Alexa, play some classical music’, and the device fetches from music and fires up some tunes. You call ‘Hey Alexa, buy more Ambrosia Custard’, and it adds previously purchased items back into your shopping basket. You holler ‘Hey Alexa, what time is the next Eurostar to Paris’ and it’ll tell you how long you’ve got to dash to the station. You whisper ‘Hey Alexa, turn the lights on please’, and your house illuminates. Or at least, that’s the picture being painted by Amazon and its consumers in the US, as the device isn’t yet available to us in the UK. I’ve had a brief play with one of the few units over here at a recent demonstration by the Amazon team, and I’ve been reading through some of the toolkits which Amazon are releasing to help developers and businesses add support for voice interfaces, and I’m still excited.

As I’ve written before, Amazon realised a long time ago that ecommerce is an incredibly hard design challenge – you’ll never be able to mimick or match real-world retail environments, so they’ve stopped trying, and instead are adding layers of shoppability to the real-world. Amazon Firefly, their object recognition app, allows you to shoot a photo of anything, have it recognised, and add it to your basket. Amazon Dash Buttons are branded physical buttons which sit on your washing machine or fridge to reorder goods at the touch of a button. And Amazon Echo builds on that thought, to make purchase frictionless, effortless, nothing more than a passing comment.

It heightens the importance of brand recall and preference – as you’ll shout out the name of a brand you remember, rather than having a shelf of products competing for your attention with discounts and POS techniques which they can rely upon. This potentially also cements the role of Amazon Echo in partnership with other media, especially TV – the ability to prompt purchase even if the audience isn’t second screening.

Retailers will need to actively think the role that this more passive interaction with services that voice and in-home IOT interfaces offer them. Amazon celebrated their 20th anniversary this month – and as an organisation they’re sitting on decades of insight and knowledge about shopping habits and behaviours. What additional insights they’ll gather through having a new foothold in the front-room with the ability to capture more passing comments from consumers, rather active ‘sit and search’ type behaviours, will be of great interest to advertisers and brands.

But whilst yes, it’s a direct opportunity to add products to baskets, thinking of voice as just another way of clicking ‘buy now’ is short-sighted. In the same way Google search data shows the interests and questions that audiences have around certain key words, and perhaps the content which could be developed to answer that search – voice opens a new space in which to offer true value to consumers in their home. Will Vanish offer the answer of how to remove a stain within seconds of spilling a glass of red wine on the carpet? Can British Airways keep a wishlist of places that the family are mulling over for their next holiday? Can Lurpak make a suggestion of a meal for tonight based upon the contents of the fridge? – and that’s just playing with the idea of voice based search, the most obvious first step using the platform.

I’m also excited because we’re starting to pass into the next generation of interface and internet of things, where devices become more hidden and flow into a more natural way of interacting, helping us lift our heads from our screens, and the integration of many more IOT devices together, Amazon Echo, for instance, already connects to Philips and Belkin home automation technology, like lighting systems.

This constant overwatch from our technology doesn’t come without its concerns. Whilst Echo doesn’t listen to what you say until you prompt with her wake-word ‘Alexa’, your voice is still being transmitted to third parties, and as we saw in a recent advertising innovation, voice is potentially easy to abuse – with Toyota running a radio ad prompting in-car iPhones to switch to Airplane mode via Siri. Also, the type of data being collected would be far more passive than ever before, every little search, every little thought, every comment you make through the Echo system would and could be aggregated to build a very rich picture of what a person is doing and ‘offline’, rather than when actively engaging with a device. Each small interaction, the specific time when someone adds an item to their basket, or asks for the time, or switches music on, or turns off their lights, builds up a unique view of someone in a more offline state at home, which isn’t yet captured accurately – a huge potential wealth of data for advertisers and brands. In addition, what impact does this ‘on-demand’ capability have on our planet? Being able to order a single item with a passing mention, and have it shipped to you within an hour by connecting Amazon Echo and Amazon Prime Now (the recent immediate shipping functionality launched in London) doesn’t help reduction of packaging waste or carbon emissions, and points towards a worrying culture of impatience.

But for every concern, there are bright stars of positivity too. Nest’s connected smoke alarm alerting you at work that there’s a problem. Microsoft Research Lab’s work on mood tracking to help children with Autism and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder prompting ways of calming the wearer down. Amazon’s Echo could even be used to alert family or friends at the calls for help from an elderly relative.

This is the first outing for Amazon Echo – it may well be that we see a number of variations on its form, its use and its best place in our lives. Early comments from the beta release in the US have already started shifting how it is designed and thought about, and now it has gone on mainstream release, we’ll start to see many more uses of its technology that haven’t yet been thought about.

A modified version of this article was first published in The Grocer.

Convergence is Redefining Retail.

Innovation is disrupting and redefining retail as never before.

A convergent media landscape, created by fast-changing technologies, has increasingly blurred the boundaries between media, social networks and retail.

The combination of advances in technology and shifting consumer’ expectations has resulted in e-commerce increasingly meaning “everywhere-commerce”.

Tech innovation has led to the emergence of the always-on consumer, who expects goods to be just a single tap away, and to be able to effortlessly shop across a multitude of channels, at the right time and in the most convenient place – a phenomenon accelerated by the rise of mobile commerce, which is set to exceed £15bn in the UK this year.

To address this consumer need, tech and social media companies are looking into new methods of shortening the path to purchase, laying the foundations for the creation of an everywhere commerce ecosystem.

In recent weeks several media / tech companies have made a foray into this space, evolving from pure media players into digital commerce game changers. For example, YouTube has recently launched click-and-buy video adverts, allowing consumers to buy products directly from the video ads they are watching.

As part of its attempt to take on Amazon and eBay, Google has revealed plans to embed a “buy button” to its search results, enabling consumers to make purchases without needing to visit an alternative site.

Pinterest is planning to introduce a “buy button” on its platform too, whilst Twitter and Facebook have been testing one since last year.

For brands existing in the retail space, it’s clear that e-commerce, mobile commerce or ‘everywhere commerce’ is critical to the successful growth of their business. Take Mondelez, Diageo, and AB InBev, for example, which as businesses generally don’t sell directly to consumers, but they are now looking into how all forms of digital commerce can deliver growth, and it’s here that the role of media has never been clearer in driving direct business value.

Mondelez has recently embedded a ‘buy it now’ button into the brand’s online media, allowing customers to buy their favourite snacks directly from online video advertising, online promotions and social media.

Retailers looking to harness the power of convergent commerce need to follow five principles:

Brilliant basics: retailers must focus on accessibility. Search, marketing and addressing any failings in mobile optimisation are crucial. This has become even more important since the introduction of the new Google’s search algorithm, which will show only ‘mobile friendly’ websites on its search results.

Smarter media: retailers must deploy data to ensure effective targeting strategies. These will help retailers engage with the right people with the right message, and then create the opportunity for consumers to buy within media rather than just driving them to point-of-sale. Mobile technology has added a shoppable layer to most media channels, such as digital out-of-home or television, allowing us to add a shopping basket within ad units, tweet to purchase, support micropayments, pre-ordering, group purchases, and many other forms of sale. With technologies like Sky AdSmart, programmatic buying and second-screening, we’re reaching a point where we can personalise TV advertising as never before, enabling consumers to purchase the products they are watching on the screen without even entering credit card details, and have them in their hands within the hour.

Constant innovation: retailers must constantly test and learn, experimenting with new channels, technologies, distribution models, partnerships, content and creative thinking. Insights from testing new approaches are always valuable.

Holistic evaluation: in an everywhere-commerce environment, retailers need to have a strong understanding of which touch-points within their ecosystem are delivering against which KPIs, and how the network is performing holistically. A data-led evaluation framework enables retailers to optimise the entire operation around channels that truly work.

Internal collaboration: existing barriers between internal departments need to be broken down. There is a lot of crossover between product, trading, commerce and marketing, and integrated thinking and shared objectives have become a must for retailers wanting to meet expectations and needs of a consumer with an on-demand mindset.

Opinion originally posted on http://www.retailgazette.co.uk/blog/2015/06/how-retailers-can-harness-the-power-of-media

Used under a CC licence from https://www.flickr.com/photos/87913776@N00/2540266946/

The future of price tags

Imagine a world without price tags.

This world already exists in the high-priced, high-end markets: crazy 24 bedroom houses with their own cinemas, moats and swimming pools list ‘Price on Application’; fancy jewellery stores or performance motor cars choose not to be as vulgar as to talk about price, reminding shoppers of the saying ‘If you have to ask, you can’t afford it’.

But ignore the wealth-gap for a moment, and think about what prices are – they’re offers to a consumer of what the retailer is willing to exchange the object for, made up of the current value of the product along with a mark-up which includes profit and overheads, translated in to your local currency, at a snapshot in time.

The reality is that the actual cost of a product varies, in real time. The cost of cotton rises and falls. Inflation is constantly eating away at the value of the pound. Fuel prices change. Currency markets fluctuate every microsecond. The value of a product is not fixed, but the offer to sell the product to a consumer rarely does. Once the tag is printed, it is static until manually intervened with a sharpie or a sale.

However, with the advent of volatile cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the massive penetration of mobile devices, and the speed of real-time data – fixed price tags are set to be a thing of the past.

Imagine an internet connected price tag, which sources real-time information about commodity prices, currency rates and stock performance, to present an offer to the consumer based upon these inputs. Visit the store in the morning, and your latte could be 39p cheaper than the afternoon where milk prices have soared after a collapse in the dairy farming industry. Rehabstudio has built such a device which takes the real-time value of Bitcoin to show the price of an object in that currency.

Go further, and allow individuals to see their own price on an object. Use mobile devices to read a product, perhaps with an NFC or QR code, and retailers can use personally tailored information to vary the price to help increase the likelihood of a sale. Perhaps you know they’ve scanned the same product in three other stores, and you don’t want to lose them to the next merchant. Perhaps the shopper is a loyal customer, and you want to give them 20% off. Perhaps they’re such a loyal customer so you know you don’t need to give them a discount because they’ll buy it anyway.

Pricing becomes as fluid in physical stores as it can be online, and the concept of showrooming (visiting stores to test products and then buying them cheaper online) erodes, because the price they’re getting in store right now might be better than they’ll get later today somewhere else.

It’s not a too-distant future.

Online travel service Orbitz already started tailoring its pricing based upon a user’s choice of computing platform, after discovering that Apple users generally will pay $20-$30 more for hotels than PC users, and modified their pricing accordingly and physical retailers in the US are trialling personalised pricing through online, and clearly offers and discounts through programmes like Boots Advantage Card, Nectar Card and Clubcard are all based upon huge amounts of personal behavioural data from not only shopping but a range of product lines in the case of Tesco.

In the main, consumers benefit from the use of personalisation. Better targeted advertising, discounts on products which are relevant to you, and retailers find it easy to discount products through data, but as we move to a more blended world where online and offline become one, where price-tags are electronic, and shopping online becomes the norm, the opportunity to increase pricing based upon knowledge of what a consumer is willing to accept, or market demands putting pressure on the profit margin becomes more and more likely, and again transparency becomes key.

Retailers will have to be clear and transparent about pricing, and how it is driven, else there is likely to be regulatory intervention. The Office of Fair Trading is already considering how these practises could have an impact, and what their role is.

In any respect, things which we’ve expected to be relatively static are becoming increasingly fluid, and both consumers and retailers are likely to have some interesting challenges and changes on their hands in the next three years.

Article originally posted in Retail Week

Human first, technology second

As an ex-developer, I love that techniques from the world of coding are seeping into the rest of the world, particularly the advertising and creative industries.

The concept of prototyping, creating something rapidly and often using makeshift materials and tools, allows us to test an idea cheaply, kill it if it fails, or scale it if it works.

The concept of ‘beta’ gives us permission to constantly build upon something, and it be okay if we make mistakes (providing we listen when we get it wrong).

The concept of ‘agile’ allows us to ‘test and learn’, whether it is using data, prototypes, or strategy, and get to something right through a series of steps, rather than planning every last detail in advance.

I’d like to see our industry go further, and embrace more concepts – distributed working, open source, forking, and most importantly user centric design.

User centric design is the process of understanding and building systems around how people function, not expecting people to function within a system. Human first, technology second.

This means examining and embracing the complex ecosystem of decisions, influences, behaviours and spaces that a person flows through, not just focussing on specific devices or channels.

Thinking about the human first, and the technology second demands that we explore a consumer’s touchpoints across the entire day, not just media, but every interaction and environment they may experience – transport, transaction, friends, workplaces, and more.

Thinking holistically about a person and their actions demands that we stop thinking about individual channels, but instead behaviours and narratives. What happens when someone goes to sleep? What happens when they wake up? What happens when they get lost? What happens when they arrive?

Thinking about these narratives allows you to solve a brief with any number of platforms, tools, channels, devices and interactions; it allows you to solve an actual challenge, rather than just answering how a predefined solution could be applied to a challenge.

We become anthropologists and discover a dozen potential new channels which are relevant to use. Perhaps some of your owned assets are already part of the story, and you¹re not using the m. Maybe there is a frustration that a customer frequently faces, and you can provide a solution, not just a message.

We can continue thinking about platform strategies and channels, but we need to start looking at the human first and the technology second, to understand all of the other opportunities around the behaviour in question, rather than just the channels we already know exist.

NB. I wrote this article for the IAB, and you can see the original posting at http://www.iabuk.net/blog/human-first-technology-second-user-centric-strategy

Obsolesce is more.

Google by Michael Mandiberg
Google by Michael Mandiberg, used under CC License

I’ve been thinking recently about obsolescence, and whether we sometimes throw the baby out with the bathwater when jumping from one platform to another.

The Yellow Pages, for instance, has been practically destroyed and made irrelevant by Google, yet Google doesn’t allow you to browse in categories, as the Yellow Pages did, nor see an unrated/unfiltered/uneditorialised list of everyone in your local area – just those who have good page rank (and how many plumbers do you know that understand the importance of semantically structured content?).

The newspaper, although far from dead, is a snapshot of moment in time, and not just a single article but a massive slice through a single day, curating news, opinion, advertising, economics, literary style, design influence, and many other socially and culturally interesting aspects beyond just a specific piece of copy. Yes, the Wayback Machine exists, but it gives you little context.

Are there unique elements we lose, which still have value, as we progress to the next stage of an object or medium? How can they be amplified and either pivoted around or reborn to maintain relevance, rather than simply nostalgia?

Perhaps looking backwards is a good way of spotting valuable things we’ve lost and deserve to be remembered, or at the very least explored.

Creating something new is exciting, but don’t get carried away.

This post originally appeared on the Community Knowledge Transfer website.

Creating something new is exciting.

Hopefully, you’ll be so excited by your idea that dopamine will be rushing through your body, and you’ll be falling over yourself with energy and eagerness to get stuck in, hire a developer, and get making the thing.

Before we do anything, however, let’s take a deep breath, count to 10 (don’t worry, that’s only two in binary), and look at some of the techniques which help make sure that your new project runs smoothly.

First of all, do you actually know what you want making?

You might be able to pitch the idea in a lift to raise funding, or sell the concept to someone with wavy hands and waggling eyebrows, but do you know what the thing you’re making will actually do, screen by screen, click by click?

If not, you probably need to spend some time developing the ‘User Experience’ – as in “what will the user experience when they use my application”. What do they see when they first arrive? How many articles appear on the homepage? How do they register a new account? What happens if they’ve already got an account and try to register again?

Depending on the size of your idea, this project could be relatively quick, or take a few days exploring all of the features and functionality. I often use post-it notes to quickly list out all of the features, and group them together per screen, perhaps using a large wall as a working space. It allows you to very quickly move features and functionality around, and encourages you to think quickly and sketchily, rather than focusing on detail. Drawing up each screen can come at a later date.

It is always best to involve your developer in this user experience design process (or UXD, if you want to impress others with abbreviations), so they understand the reasons behind each decision, and when they come to create each screen, they understand how things connect and why.

It is even better to involve the end users in this UXD process, as they’ll often provide many wonderful insights, suggestions and comments you might never have considered.

In fact, the more collaboration at this stage the better, as its easier to discuss around post-it notes than change designs and code.

Once you have this user experience piece, and everyone is roughly in agreement with what the application will do, your designer can go away and make it beautiful, and your developer can go away and write up a specification.

This specification doesn’t need to be hundreds of pages long, perhaps just annotated drawings if you created screen by screen drawings in the UXD phase, or short ‘user stories’ describing what the system will do, hopefully in plain and simple English.

If you don’t understand what the specification is saying, it’s a useless document. Don’t encourage someone to write something just to tick a box, as its waste of time for both parties; create something that acts as a living guide for making sure you’re creating what you need and want.

And now, the exciting part, the coding begins.

The most important thing to make sure that DOESN’T happen is that your developer just locks himself or herself away in a room for several months, ‘getting it done’, and presents you with your application in a ‘tada!’ moment.

If you were building a house, you’d want to be on site every week, talking with the foreman, checking the plans, making sure any necessary changes are included, or any unforeseen circumstances are dealt with suitably. Creating software is no different.

At the start of the project sit down together and work out the order in which things are done, and rough time-scales for how long each piece of functionality should take to build. Think back to the post-it notes, and work out which parts are the most important to see first (either because they’re more complex or because you need to start demonstrating it).

Again, the UXD will have defined most of the elements of your application, so you use that as a guideline. Your developer will be able to guide you on a sensible order (you can’t build a roof before the walls in a house, and software is similar to a certain extent).

Plan with your developer to have a weekly review, where you look at the functionality that was built that week, and discuss what will be built the following week, in case things have changed, or the developer has any questions. Ideally, in these reviews, everything should have been tested and working, so you see actual functionality, rather than half-completed code.

Sometimes, things won’t be exactly what you expected, or once you’ve seen it working, you might realise some elements need to change, but hopefully, they’ll be small things (as there was only one week of work that passed since you reviewed it last).

These weekly reviews will pass, and your software will continue to grow, in the order of priority that you agreed up front, and hopefully to schedule (or at the very worst, each week, you’ll know whether your deadlines are slipping or not!)

At some point, you’ll have a version of your application that you’re happy to share with others, and you can start testing.

Again, get the UXD documents out (see how useful they are??), and review what you originally agreed upon against what you what you’ve ended up with. Apart from where you’ve made decisions to change things along the way, you have a wonderful tool to check you haven’t forgotten anything, and your application works as it should.

And finally, once everything has been built and tested, your developer will be able to help you launch the application, and make it publicly accessible. Before this happens, it is really important to agree with your developer how support will work. If something breaks, how quickly will they react to fix it (and for how long will they do this for free?) If you need something changing, what is the process for asking that to happen? How long notice might they need for future updates?

You’ll see that the key to running a successful project is good and regular communication, and getting the original user experience agreed between you and your developer, and making sure that people are involved from early on in the project, not just when they need to be doing ‘their bit’.

And when you make a billion pounds from your application, don’t forget to buy your developer a beer or two.

Second Stage Use

I’ve been thinking alot over the past few years about when implementations of new technology become interesting.
There is often a pattern of:

– creation: someone very clever or opportunistically creates a new technique or technology, often an engineer with specific purpose in mind.
– beautiful implementation: someone also very clever uses the new technology, often slightly subverting the original use, and in a very striking way.
– saturation/mainstream: many many many other people use the technique again and again, but generally in the same way, just variation on a theme.
– hibernation: the technique often loses its main appeal, or the excitement of its original use lessens.
– blended use: someone, very clever or opportunistically, then blends the original technique with something else, a mashup, to create something better than the sum of its parts.

Whilst I love the creation and beautiful implementation phases, what really excites me is the second stage of use, the new subtle application of the technology, often combined with another technique or technology to create better effect. Location aware technology has been through the creation and beautiful implementation phases, and probably is coming through the saturation phase, and we’re starting to see some interesting blended location based ideas.

It is not the ‘I am here’ which is the cool thing about Foursquare, its the ‘I am here, and two of my friends have been here, and suggested not to try the coffee’ which is interesting. It is not the oyster card which is interesting, it is the email which I received about Farringdon being closed next week, initiated through my regular use of the station, rather than any explicit instruction for alerts.

This second stage use is what creates interesting ideas.

We’re not far from walking into Starbucks having already ordered our coffee whilst on the train, and it being hot and ready for you when you walk into the store, because it knew when you were 90 seconds away from picking it up.

The interesting comes from the result of an action, not from the action itself.

Child’s i Foundation Meetup in Feb

Our Child’s i Foundation first meetup will be held at the Old Bank of England on Feb 4th. The main plan of action (so far) is to discuss our current todo lists, and hopefully peddle off tasks to people who are keen to give some time and effort to the cause. We’ll be posting more about what we’re able to divvy out on the main blog in due course, but if you’re interested in giving some time, please RSVP, and come along.


Kirsty, Lucy and Julia were at the sicamp last night, collecting business cards and speaking to a whole range of lovely developer and just interesting types, many of who are keen to help out, across quite a wide range of technologies. It provides an interesting challenge, in that we’re eager to receive help regardless of what platforms things are built on. We already have interest from Drupal, Rails and PHP people. Our current site is built on WordPress and will soon enough be moved to its own box so we’re a bit more able to hack the code – but if we have lots of activity using different platforms, it will be a great opportunity to show how open standards and interoperability technology such as webservices can be used to great a coherant whole. Increasingly, I think the main site will become a portal to aggregate the network activity – which quite neatly reflects our meatspace activity.

Don’t forget to follow us on twitter: @childsi


I’ve mentioned on this blog before about barriers to entry for innovations like opensocial or openid – and how some things are just too technical to become interesting to the mainstream. here is something which is lowering that barrier – and possibly (until tonight) the most anticipated 404 page i’ve ever bookmarked – http://www.google.com/friendconnect.

FriendConnect promises to offer social tools through basic embeds and snippets of codes, allowing content developers who aren’t necessarily the most technically savvy, to still enable their site with the power of social networking.

David Glazer, a director of engineering at Google, explains “Many sites aren’t explicitly social and don’t necessarily want to be social networks, but they still benefit from letting their visitors interact with each other. That used to be hard. Fortunately, there’s an emerging wave of social standards — OpenID, OAuth, OpenSocial, and the data access APIs published by Facebook, Google, MySpace, and others. Google Friend Connect builds on these standards to let people easily connect with their friends, wherever they are on the web, making ‘any app, any site, any friends’ a reality.”

Watch this, and many other spaces.