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Dec 2010

Can small businesses get smart to open source?

Posted in Business tactics, Technology | 0 Comments

If you’ve got a smartphone, chances are you’re either running iOS or Android, though a year ago you’d be forgiven for not even knowing what Android was, let alone the fact that it’s rapidly catching up with Apple’s iPhone and iPad operating system. Open source, easily adaptable and with a community of coders and designers forming around it as quickly as Linux but with the mass-market appeal of the ever-popular touch-screen smartphone, Android’s where it’s at, technologically speaking.

However, if you’re a business that deals in software development, or you’re a small business seeking to reach a wider audience, Android may appear to be a bit of a blessing. Its open source format and the lack of Apple’s stringent App release guidelines means that applications can be road-tested by the public a lot faster. Apple’s App Store is a competitive market – only alive a few years and already accelerating towards half a million Apps, releasing sub-standard code for even a few pence can spell disaster for an App’s long-term appeal.

But why would you even want to make a successful App? Well, for the simple reason that more and more people are using their smartphones for tasks that the laptop is no longer needed for. Even the netbook now sits second in the portable-but-capable stakes, especially if your phone can order you a DVD, book you a cab home, and sort the take-away on a Friday night, all on the way into work. Oh, and that train? It’s delayed, but don’t worry, your App’s told you the alternatives anyway.

The reason I mention the sheer variety of Apps is because it’s an open market, and with Android, the market widens to include those who many not be able to afford Apple’s start-up costs. They’re not bank-breaking, but even the odd fifty quid here and there is going to make a difference to a business with three employees and an office that’s smaller than the building’s lift shaft. Android’s software development kit (SDK) is advanced, malleable, and most importantly – free.

Entire companies have formed around submissions to the App Store and Android Marketplace, sometimes focusing on one platform, more often attempting to focus on both. Major companies will drop in with versions of their popular software – Adobe sell a Reader app for less than a fiver that will grant you access to PDFs, and it’s up to you if you’d prefer theirs or the multitude of cheaper and even free alternatives. But fear not, the market isn’t dominated by major names.

Small, niche technological wizardry is also available, and small businesses who offer this sort of thing – Shazam (the “what song is this? Aha!” people), Dropbox (cloud file storage) and other small applications that can help you network between different versions of a service you’re already using for a specific purpose, are benefiting in a big way. If you can cover a spot in the market in this day and age, you might find that going open-source will lead to success. You can field-test the app on almost any Android phone, people don’t need a £400 handset to try it, nor will the Apple store have the privilege of rejecting it for the myriad reasons they tend to throw at small developers.

My personal favourite paid Android application? Inventory Droid. Scan barcodes, take photos, and essentially create an entire inventory for a small shop. Now, combine that with, say, the Motorola Flipout, a cheap Android handset, a free Google SDK and some spare time, and not only do you have your own app for use with your own business, but you can sell ten thousand copies and pay your entire year’s salary. Not a bad deal for a quick download. Can’t code? Hire someone – if your idea’s good enough, it’ll pay for itself, but remember that Android is constantly evolving, and you’ll never need to pay another penny to keep up with the SDK.

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Oct 2010

Bridging the Gap

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One of the UK’s biggest children’s charity organisations, Children in Need, has announced that this year they will be using social media in order to boost online donations. But how can smaller organisations and businesses benefit from using similar techniques?

The annual televised charity appeal has always been keen to incorporate innovative fund-raising methods. Back in 1980, Children in Need became the beneficiaries of the first BBC “telethon” event – a format that has been used since by this and other charities.

Undoubtedly, the entertainment aspect of this event will have a positive effect in connection with social media platforms. Twitter itself is occasionally described as being, essentially, just a group of people watching the same TV programme – something that Twitter’s ‘trending topics’ can sometimes seem to confirm. The integration of social networking websites with other forms of media is certainly worth noting in relation to small business success.

This year, Children in Need are taking it one step further by asking supporters to wear “a pair of virtual spotty ears” in return for a £1 donation. The difference between offering this internet novelty – as opposed to, for example, Comic Relief’s physical red nose – is that used will be able to share their ear-wearing picture online.

Those wishing to acquire the Pudsey-esque ears can simply visit to make their online donation, upload a photo, and then receive their virtual-ear-wearing picture. It might sound like digital overload, but the concept has already proved popular with football fans, who often add their club’s logo to their Twitter profile picture in order to show their affiliation.

Affiliation with particular interests and beliefs is hugely popular within the world of social media, as demonstrated by the popularity of Facebook’s ‘Become a fan of’ and ‘Like’ application. Small businesses that are able to benefit from this are usually those who have an attractive image or positive connotations to their brand name.

Allowing users to wear an ‘I’ve donated to charity!’ badge is not only an attractive prospect to many, but it’s also extremely easy and requires minimal effort on their behalf. Another company which is utilising the easily accessible nature of social media is clothing brand Gap, albeit for slightly less charitable reasons.

This is the fifth year of Gap’s Casting Call campaign, which allows parents of children aged 0 to 10-years-old to enter their children in a competition with the chance to star in either the store’s babyGap or GapKids window advertisements, and other promotional materials. However, this year Gap have launched an iPhone app to make the application process even easier.

Once again, this relies on digital media, with the concept being that you can take a photo on your iPhone camera and send it straight into the competition. After that, you’ll need to get friends and family to download the app too, so they can start voting for your child to win.

The child who receives the most votes will receive a $1,000 Gap gift card in addition to the photo shoot prize – which is probably a fraction of the amount that Gap will make from all the iPhone app downloads. But while the prize alone would be enough motivation for some parents, it is unlikely that Gap would receive quite so many entries had they not made use of the almost effortless entry process that is granted to them through such social media platforms.

Although these are both examples of large-scale business implementation of such techniques, they could certainly be adapted to be used by many small businesses. The undemanding nature of using social media to initiate client interaction and publicity certainly appeals to the digital generation, and it is one way in which any organisation might harness the public’s enthusiasm to publicly associate themselves with certain brands and products, and use it to their own advantage.

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Aug 2010

The ten silliest iPhone Apps around

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With the recent launch of the iphone 4, there has been a new wave of talk about the phones and what they can do. More often than not it comes down to apps. Apps, apps, apps. What with the highly irritating advert that smugly says ‘There’s an app for that’ and your friend who proudly tells you they found their way to the pub using an app, there is no escaping them.
To be honest most of the apps I see, I wonder why do you even need it. After a little research it turns out that there are plenty of ridiculous apps out there. Here is my top ten silly apps:
1. Fatbooth
This is actually one of my personal favourites as it brings hours of entertainment, take your picture and watch as you become instantly supersized. Essentially however it is just laughing at fat people and not very PC.
2. Drunkdialer
For when you have had one too many to drink and you think it might be a good time to call your ex, but it’s never a good time though is it really? Especially when you are drunk. This puts an end to that silly drunk calling. If you can actually type the number it allows you to call, but the numbers keep moving and you have to press ‘call’ before the button moves again. A good idea or just a bit mad?
3. The Wooo Button
The Wooo button does one thing and one thing only – it screams woooo when you press it. I’m not sure when this would ever be needed, other than to annoy people.
4. GottaGo
The app that sends you fake calls and MMS to get you out of those tricky situations. All you have to do is set a timer and it will call or text you, so you can make your excuses and go. Brilliant.
5. Poop The World
As the website says: Finally, a useful application for the iPhone! Track your bowel movements in real-time, keep an eye on things, share with friends, and make it fun! Isn’t this what you have always wanted?
6. SimStapler
This is what the app store says about it: The first true office equipment simulator, SimStapler© brings all of the thrill and excitement of a “real” stapler right to the palm of your hand.
What? I didn’t know people had staple fetishes.
7. Beer Opener
Experience the joy of opening a cold refreshing beer bottle without the inconvenience of actually consuming beer!
Since when has it been an inconvenience drinking beer? Who exactly this is aimed at, I don’t know.
8. Calm Candle
An app of a picture of a candle. That’s it. Anyone who finds a candle relaxing in the first place, probably isn’t the type of person who would buy an iphone app. Silly.
9. iNap@work
The iNap@work makes random common office sounds, so if you are lucky enough to work in a cubicle you can put this on while you have a power nap and everyone around you still thinks you are working! Genius.
10. iKissMe
This is a little bit wrong- a pair of lips for you to kiss.  No one is that desperate, are they?
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Jul 2010

Applied knowledge

Posted in Business tactics, Social Media, Usability, Web 2.0 | 0 Comments

If you’re working in social media, or realistically anything that involves logging onto something once a day, chances are you’ve probably got a smartphone. I’m going to go ahead and push that even further, and wager that if you do, it’s either a BlackBerry or an iPhone. If it’s an iPhone, and unless you’re one of the many shedding tears over the recent issues with the fourth iteration, you’re likely happy to spend a little bit of cash on a huge variety of useful applications, or “Apps”. If you are one of those people, and you’d love to find out how useful a businessperson with their Apps geared for productivity can perform above their peers, then read on. If you’re not busy sending hate-mail to Steve Jobs, that is.

Apps: tasks made convenient

If you’re on the run and you’re needing to work on the accounts for last year as April’s creeping up on you a little too quickly – then don’t worry. Grab your iPhone, launch the App Store, find Spreadsheet, pay just under six dollars, and you’re able to edit a spreadsheet on your phone. I’m not joking, and it’s even visually appealing. Personally, I’m on a hiatus from Apple products, but I have to admit that the appeal of being able to do mundane tasks on the commute and the more enjoyable ones in the office sounds fantastic, and why not up your productivity?

If that’s not enough, why not Documents To Go? That’s your PowerPoint, Word, Excel, PDF, iWork (c’mon, it’s still an Apple phone), Google Docs… the list goes on, quite literally. Netbooks are all good and well, but if you’re a city-dweller, you know as well as I do that bar Starbucks, taking a computer out in public is a risky proposition, at best. However, an iPhone is literally the size of a phone, and unless you’re an optimistic-but-misguided person trying to pocket an iPad, it’s perfect for the job.

The main advantage is functionality, and of course, portability. Being able to ensure your presentation runs the way you want it to, or correcting a typo or two moments before taking to the stage is a vital business advantage, and you’ll find your productivity soaring. If you’ve got the phone, take advantage of it – not doing so is like having a car but never putting it in reverse – you can keep going forward, sure, but when everyone else is squeezing into the smaller spots you’re going to be aiming for the bus lane and praying for the warden to look the other way.

But there are other smaller benefits – simply having a smartphone as a manager or a CEO is crucial in today’s digitised economy. Missing that vital email or PDF contract just before you’re in a phones-off meeting can be disastrous, and making sure you’re hooked into the biggest communications network on the planet is all too logical. It’s a pity one of the best phones on the market is rather pricey, but if you’re after something that lets you edit, record, document, process and approve almost as smoothly as on your office computer, then invest.

Anyone else out there?

Of course, one of the biggest draws of smartphones, and the iPhone in particular, has to be the ability to social network. Twitter and Facebook have become a huge part of almost everyone’s everyday lives, and with a massive 400 active Facebook accounts and the mind-bending Twitter statistics from one of my recent posts, you’re looking at a lot of time invested in other people’s comings and goings. So, with that in mind, and the business tactics we’ve discussed on this blog quite often about getting more customers through good social networking on behalf of a company, how do we engineer the smart use of Apps in order to facilitate this?

The answer? Ensure people know you’re thinking on the move. A CEO who’s in a meeting but still finds time to Tweet about his breakfast is a bad thing. A CEO who Tweets about the important and public aspects of said meeting is an honest, open, respected CEO. If you’re sitting high on the employee hierarchy and you’re feeling a little left behind by the office’s dedicated social media buff, then take it into your own hands. Of course, it’s worth making sure you know what and what not to say, as not everyone will appreciate a mix of your charity work and a TwitPic gallery of your new boat, but otherwise, why not ensure everyone knows you’re not someone with more money than time?

There are, of course, other benefits – subscribe to the Twitter accounts of your competitors, even with a subtle account. Being able to monitor them on the go, especially if they make an announcement five minutes before your annual press conference, is a key business strategy. All too often, announcements go unheard by competitors until they see it on the showroom floor later that day and, hand clasped firmly to forehead, stagger towards the hungry press-hounds to redeem themselves. Even tweeting in response to a competitor’s announcement moments after they make it can have a huge impact – you’re aware, and you’re critical but appreciative of your rival’s business presence.

We live in a world where Stephen Fry’s more interested in tweeting on his iPhone than anything else, and when one of the UK’s leading minds is into Twitter, it’s worth taking note. But being able to do so, as Fry has done, in the middle of a television broadcast, and watch the presenter laugh at Fry’s tweet from across the set is something quite exceptional to watch. Now, imagine that Fry is your competitor, and the rest of the room represents the show’s host, and you’re the only one with no iPhone App for Twitter. Sound isolating? It is, and if you’re going to rocket to the top, you’re either going to need a lot of chemistry and astrophysics, or you’re going to need a phone heralded by a man called Steve that has turned public transport into a phone-rotating, music-heavy, endlessly tapping festival of productivity.

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