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How to Create RSS Feeds for Twitter

  1. On the Twitter website, go to Settings -> Widgets (link) and create a new widget. You can create widgets for user timelines, favorites, Twitter lists, collections and search results.
  2. Once the new widget is published, make a note of the widget ID which you can find in the URL of the widget. If you don’t have a widget ready yet, use 362462751664263169 for a sample widget ID.
  3. Click here to make a copy of the Google Script in your Google Drive. Open the script and choose Run -> Twitter_RSS to authorize the script. You’ve to do this only once.
  4. Inside the Script Editor, go to Publish -> Deploy as Web App and click the “Save New Version” button. Set Anyone, including Anonymous under Who has access to the app and hit Deploy.

The Independent Financial Review Panel has published their new Report and Determination

2 min read

The main points are:

MLA’s salary shall increase by £1,000 to £49,000 and by £500 each April if inflation (CPI for previous September) is greater than 1%.

MLA Pension contributions will rise from a minimum of 7% to 9%, and be based upon 1/50th for each year of career average earnings. There will be some protection to retain 1/40th for those over 55 on April 1, 2015.

Rent and rates for constituency offices will be capped at £8,500 (maximum rent allowed) plus 40% for rates. There will be lower amounts for shared offices with other politicians and only one constituency office will be funded. All payments are conditional on full compliance with new signage requirements within three months.
MLA’s who rent offices from their political parties or connected individuals and groups will no longer be eligible to reclaim expenses for rent and rates.

Travel allowances are fixed for each constituency for each MLA, and will vary from £850 per year to £7,500, depending on distance from Stormont. To qualify for the full allowance, MLAs must attend Parliament Buildings on at least 72 days a year and record their attendance. A deduction of 1% of the allowance shall be made for each day’s attendance less than 72 days.

Employment of Support Staff. MLAs shall be able to claim an annual allowance of up to £50,000 for employing up to two full-time or equivalent part-time staff in their constituency office or at Stormont. ERNI and a new employer pension cost of 5% shall be paid in addition to the £50,000 cap.

A new salary structure will be introduced to ensure that no member of support staff is paid less than the Living Wage Foundation living wage of £8.25 per hour, rising each year to meet the £9.20 per hour minimum set by the Chancellor for 2020. Support staff may be eligible for annual performance uplifts of £250 a year to reach the top of their salary scale.

Recruitment. All future vacancies for MLA support staff shall be filled on the merit principle, requiring open competition.

Download the Report and the Determination.

Use Sentiment Analysis To Understand Your Customers

12 min read

Sentiment analysis provides the tools which enable you to learn what your customers are saying about your product. This will help you build a better understanding of your customers.

[caption id="attachment_833" align="alignright" width="100"] Download this article as a PDF[/caption]

“Sentiment analysis or opinion mining refers to the application of natural language processing, computational linguistics, and text analytics to identify and extract subjective information in source materials.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentiment_analysis

Eh?

Basically it’s good to know what people are saying about your company or your product.

So how do you gather this information?

In the old days, companies spent lots of cash doing consumer research by surveying people on the street, in focus groups and via the telephone. Today, companies can ask people to complete online surveys when the visit their website or contact them via email to follow up an online purchase. Despite the advancement in technology, the questions remain the same.
What do you think of the service? How easy was the transaction? Would you recommend the product? And so on.
However, people lie in surveys. Think about it. How truthful are you when you complete a survey? Do you always tick the right age box? What about your financials, do you pretend to have a £10k or a £100k a year job. I mean what harm does it actually do?

The point I’m making is that the research is only so good. It’s like stats.
63% of people who visited this blog ‘liked’ the page on facebook.
Over what time period?
The previous stat doesn't reveal that! Stats can be used to hide a lot of relevant information.

So what are the options?

Customer surveys are only part of tracking feedback. We live in a culture which publishes blogs, reviews, status updates and emotions online and in public. This is good as it allows companies to mine that data for references that are relevant to them. Sentiment analysis allows you to use that information to find out what people are saying about your company / brand / products / staff.

How to start.

Define your overarching objective and be realistic.
Why do you want to know what your customers are saying?
Is it going to affect your price point, your marketing strategy, what products / services you provide?
Be honest.

What’s your budget?
Do you have the resources to carry out customer surveys?
Ask your customers a direct question. If you are on social networking sites, ask your followers for feedback. You can use the front page of your website to promote a customer feedback survey or just ask people to complete a comments section.

Let’s talk about conducting online research

You could go to google and enter a search term and collate the results, but how useful would that be?
Sentiment analysis is all about getting real data together that you can then use to shape your future strategy, policy, or product line.

Before discussing some of the tools that can help you conduct your research I want to explain how you will score content so that it is actually useful.

Let’s use the example that you’re trying to find out what people think of the “iPhone”.

Example content from a review site:
“I bought an iPhone 3GS. Well I say bought, but it was free with a contract. The contract is expensive but the phone will be worth it. I hope! After only a few hours use I can see that the battery wont last all day, but I don’t mind as I’ve already downloaded lots of cool apps. I love Apple products.”

Example content from twitter:
“One thing I can't live without? My iPhone 4.”

Example content from facebook:
Woohoo!! Just got a white iPhone. I’m now one of the cool kids ;) Anyone know any good apps or have tips on how I can really make use of it? I can’t figure out how to get my music onto it either, any help would be great. Thanks.”

Example review from Apple.com:
“The iPhone 4 is the best phone ever, not just by design but it also has the best apps. I use it everyday.”

Example review from Play.com
“The HTC Sensation is way better than the iPhone. While people claim the iPhone has better apps, that is no longer the case. The HTC has a far better battery than the iPhone and while the iPhone has a great screen, it’s smaller than the sensation as it therefore not as good”.

From the five examples above the iPhone would seem to get favourable reviews. However, let’s take a closer look.
To quantify the data you need to set some parameters.
Who is writing these reviews? Let’s assume that they are written by ordinary people.
Do they seem genuine? I believe that the reviews above are genuine.
What are they talking about? The iPhone of course!
Really?
Which model?

This is the first obstacle you will encounter. From the outset the search term was too broad and produced results that weren't specific enough. Each of the examples could be talking about a different iPhone. Not one mention the size of the included memory.

Keep thinking about your overall goal. If your objective is just to research the brand “iPhone” then the examples above can still be used. If it’s to assess the iPhone 4 then the first review can be discounted.

Once you are sure that the data you have collated is valid i.e. refers specifically to the task at hand, you should then try and score each statement. You can do this by asking the following questions:
Is the statement positive?
Is the statement negative?
Is the statement neutral?

You will need to develop a scale which you can then score the statement against e.g. a positive statement receives a score of +2, neutral 0 and negative -2.

It’s not always easy to judge whether a statement is positive or not. There are additional factors that will need to be considered.

  • What are the emotional components of the sentence and how do these influence the classification e.g. anger, sadness or happiness?
  • We would need to how much influence that statement could have e.g. is it a tweet to 20 people or an article on Amazon?
  • Is the facebook page private?
  • Is the statement opinion or fact?
  • Is the statement provided by the owner or is the statement a quote by another?

In the examples above I have added the bold font and red colour, but what if the original author used different fonts to create emphasis on their words?
The intended message could have a different meaning with certain words written in bold. It is important that you factor this into you calculation. Consider why a person has taken the time to highlight a positive (or negative) feature.

Where does the author mention the pros and cons of the product within the review? These positional features indicate the strength of the piece. A review that starts on a negative tone will most likely be negative overall. People tend to lead with their strongest emotion.

Here is a quick guide on what to do:
1. Determine objective - “I bought an iPhone”.
2. Determine document subjectivity - is it a factual statement or opinion?
3. Determine document orientation - is the statement positive, negative or neutral?
4. Determine the strength of the orientation - i.e. weakly positive, mildly positive or strongly positive.
5. Determine the sentiment - what emotional components are in the statement i.e. it’s a nice phone.
6. When was the statement written? This can help deduce what product model the review refers to.

If you follow these six steps you will have a good understanding of what the statement says about your company or product.

What if an article contains both positive and negative phrases? How can that be evaluated? Is there a weighting formula?
Break up the statement into scoring chunks.
Weight the statement by keyword, emphasis (e.g. bold type), where it’s published, small following, how influential, private / public etc.
Things to remember: how many times is the keyword mentioned? Is there a lot of emphasis? Does the person have a small social media following? Is it a popular website? Is the post public or private?

I suggest that you plot this data on a chart
Bar charts can help you visualise the data

1 = keyword
2 = positive orientation
3 = negative orientation
4 = level of influence
5 = negative orientation

This is just an example to give you an idea of how useful plotting your data on a chart or a graph will be in determining the overall sentiment associated with just one phrase.

Of course, you will be able to find many different sources of information regarding your company or products, the trouble is how do you quantify them all? Is that realistic? I firmly believe that depending on the volume, companies should only take a snapshot of data e.g. information published one week per month or one month per year and analyse that. I would account for any outside influences e.g. product launches or news related items about your company during this time period.

You should look at each resource individually i.e. score updates on twitter, then score updates on facebook, then product review sites, then blogs etc. Once this is completed you will have total scores for each network that you can then plot on another graph which will give you an overall snapshot of opinion.You may decide to weight each network differently e.g. if you sell on Amazon, an Amazon review is going to be more influential than a blog post.

A simple formula that could help you with this process is:

Ci = {C1, C-3, C4, C0}

and

D = {Ci, Cii, Ciii, Civ, Cv}

C can be used to represent a classification e.g. a keyword. So if your company was trying to assess sentiment against a range of products each product would be identified by a different keyword and hence would be represented by Ci, Cii, Ciii etc.
Ci is the sum of the figures within the series {C1, C-3, C4, C0}.
C can also represent different places you have researched e.g. Ci = twitter, Cii = facebook, Ciii = Amazon etc.
You just need to make sure that you understand what you need C to represent and then run with it.

D will represent your companies / products overall score and will provide a representative sentiment analysis.
D is the sum of the figures within the series {Ci, Cii, Ciii, Civ, Cv}

A screenshot of the twitter sentiment website
If you find that you are swamped by data you can try using an automated service such as Twitter Sentiment(screenshot above) which is “a Twitter sentiment analysis tool. Research the positive and negative opinions about a product or brand.”

Tools

There are many tools that you can use to track sentiment online, but you can start with google alerts, twitter and facebook searches.
With google alerts you can establish a search query specifically relevant to you and have google email that to you each day. Google will search websites, blogs, news sites etc and email you the results, thus saving you from having to repeat the search on a daily basis.
Twitter allows you to save searches and to track , but I’d recommend using a tool like Seesmic or tweetdeck to view these searches. These will allow you to see every time you have been @ mentioned or how many times someone has tweeted about your brand name or product. You can have many ongoing searches making it easy to monitor on an ongoing basis.
Seesmic and tweetdeck will also monitor your facebook pages and notify you when someone leaves a comment against one of your posts.
Bing has agreement with facebook that gives them access to facebook profiles, so head to http://www.bing.com/social and enter your query.
Blekko is another site that searches facebook e.g. http://blekko.com/ws/iphone+/facebook
so don’t limit your tools to just a few applications.

One trap that you definitely do not want to fall into is spending all day everyday searching social media sites. If you set these tools up correctly, you should only be checking in a couple of times per day. Respond where necessary and record sentiment when it comes up. Only analyse the data when you can set aside the appropriate amount of time. So your work flow could be that you check your data once per day for 10 minutes and you spend another 10 minutes capturing feedback. Compile that information in whichever way suits you e.g. copy and paste into Word or onto a spreadsheet. At the end of the month you can then spend a few hours going through the data with the aim of producing a sentiment analysis which you will then use to review your existing products or services.

Conclusion

With sentiment analysis it is easy to get carried away and spend too much time focusing on finding and rating content that describes your product, which can take your focus away from developing great products or services. You definitely need to find the correct balance between conducting the research and actually carrying out your business activity.
However, the importance of sentiment analysis cannot be stressed enough. Even a little research into what people think about your products can help your business overall. If you are deaf to customer complaints your business will start to get into trouble.

Feedback! I’d like your thoughts on this article.

Do you think it is wrong, factually incorrect, glosses over important topics?
What has been your experience with sentiment analysis?
Is your company doing it?
Do you have any tips that you’d like to share?

Thanks for reading.

How To Use Twitter Lists

4 min read

[caption id="attachment_758" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Twitter lists that I've created."][/caption]

Twitter has allowed you to create lists of other twitter users for a while now, but not many people seem to use the feature. Read on to find out why you should consider using them.

If you’ve not heard about twitter lists or have not created one, let’s create one first.

To create a new list, follow these instructions:

1. Visit the profile of the first user you would like to add to your list
2. Click the person icon. This brings up a drop-down Actions menu.
3. Select "Add to list"
4. Enter the credentials of your list and choose whether others can see it or whether it is private
5. Check to see if the user you wanted to add was successfully included in that list: to do this, click the person icon and select "Add to list". A checkmark will be added next to lists in which that user is included (shown below under "Adding or Removing People").

Note: you don't need to follow another user to add them to a list; if you want to read a user's Tweets but not see their messages in your main timeline every day, lists allow you to do that.

[caption id="attachment_759" align="alignright" width="150" caption="The image shows twitter users that I'm not following but whose tweets will appear in my list"][/caption]

You can also follow someone else's list.

Following a list is as simple as following any other Twitter user. Simply click on the Lists tab when viewing their profile, and select which lists options you want to see. Click the follow button to follow one of their lists.
Similarly, following someone else's list does not mean you follow all users in that list. Rather, you follow the list itself.

What can you use lists for?
Simply think of them as groups. You can select multiple twitter users and lump them together in a group. So if you follow people who you know participate on another forum or are your friends in the real world you could create a list for ‘anotherforum’ or a list for ‘yourfriends’.
When you login to twitter you then have the choice of reading tweets in your stream i.e. all the tweets from everyone you follow, or read tweets from people who are in your twitter list.
Lists are an effective way of removing the noise from your stream and bringing relevancy to your twitter stream.

[caption id="attachment_760" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="A sample of tweets that appear in my list"][/caption]

I'm not getting it, what’s the point?
Lists are only useful for people who follow lots of other twitter users. If you follow less than 100 people you probably do not require lists as you can probably read all the tweet in your twitter stream.
If, like me, you follow more than 100 people, you will find that creating lists allows you to keep on top of the latest news.
With people publishing more than 200 million tweets per day now, you are always going to miss some important stuff. Don’t worry about that - if it’s that important someone else will retweet it or it will turn up in one of your lists.

I follow lots of different people, from different walks of life and who have different interests. This can make me twitter stream very interesting, but it can also make it boring at times! Creating lists around a specific subject matter mean I always have something interesting (to me) to read.

Applications like flipboard allow you to read your lists in much more appealing way outside of the twitter website and can present the content in a magazine style way.

To sum it up...twitter lists make twitter a more valuable resource and enhance your twitter experience.

For more information read twitter’s guide.

My first impressions of google+

7 min read

Last week Google launched their long awaited social network, Google+ and while it is currently in closed beta, I have been lucky to get an invite and have been using it for the last 5 days. View my profile to see what I've been up to.

What is Google+ and can it give facebook a run for it's money?
According to Google:

The Google+ project makes sharing on the web feel like sharing in real life.

But will that get them the critical mass that so many of their previous social apps failed to get? Google's executives have been quick to deny the companies social ambitions and have instead stated that google+ will only improve the user experience within the google ecosystem and that this product is about understanding social, location and other signals so google can enhance its core search platform. They can say what they want, but to me this product poses a real threat to twitter and not to facebook.

So what can you do on google+?

[caption id="attachment_740" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Google plus running in the Chrome web browser."][/caption]

When you first join you are asked to add your gmail contacts into circles. Don't worry, you only need to add the people you expect to interact with on a social network. At this time it is unlikely that any of your friends will be able to join, but do put them into circles now while you remember. Circles enable you to separate out your private life from your public life, therefore allowing you to send status updates to only certain groups of people. Watch the video below to see how useful circles are.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocPeAdpe_A8
The Google+ project: Explore Circles

The ultimate status update?

I have been known to exaggerate at times, but the status update in google+ is more useful than twitter as you are not restricted to 140 characters and you can include all of your media within google+, therefore you are not relying on third party media hosts such as yfrog or twitpic. However, you can do this in facebook, so it's not the ultimate platform for updating your status. From an ease of use perspective, it is very easy to post an update, control how visible that update is and you can edit your update. Yes, unlike twitter and facebook, should you make a typo you can just edit that post. Accidentally posted your exact location? No bother, just delete the location from your post. Simple.

Sparks

One of the many things I do on twitter is search for specific subjects e.g. I'll search the hash tag android to see what people are saying. On google+ google are introducing Sparks, which allows you to search a specific subject and pin it to your sparks area. This allows you to check in regularly to see the latest information. This is no different than using a saved search on twitter, except that it looks a lot better and seems to be more user friendly. If something really interesting comes up I can share that with my android buddies or to my wider social circle. This you would struggle to do on twitter.

Group messenging

[caption id="attachment_738" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="Google plus has its own native android appGoogle plus running in the Chrome web browser."]Google plus has its own native android app[/caption]

Huddle is clearly aimed at iMessages (Apples soon to be released iOS messaging app) and allows you to a send instant messages to multiple recipients. It also features its own separate android app which is a sinister way of threatening all those other group messaging apps such as ping chat.

Group video chat

The killer feature for me is hangout which enables you to hold a group video chat. If I want to have a video chat with my family who live all over the place, now we can have one conversation instead of multiple conversations. We could say we'll hangout on a Sunday afternoon and just chat to each other as each turns up. What I like about this approach is the lack of pressure to be somewhere or answer the phone.

There are other nice features such as the integration with gmail where you get notified to your google+ updates, the seemingly free photo storage with picasa and the (rather scary) instant uploads from your mobile of your recent photos (can be turned off) to name a few.

So who should be scared?

I don't think facebook has anything to be worried about, they are just so big, with many active daily users who really engage with the site. They have a business model that is making them serious cash and they are growing revenues year on year. If anything, google+ will inspire facebook to push out new features. The potential loser in this is twitter, a company that is not turning a profit and has much venture capital invested in it. Those guys will want their pay out soon! The reason twitter has been so successful is is limitations, but twitter seems to be moving away from the basic 140 characters and let's be honest, would you as a third party twitter app developer be confidant that they will keep those APIs open?

Gmail has 200 million active monthly users and if google can persuade those to switch their social profile to google+ then they will have serious traction. There are far more google accounts, so the potential is there if google can sell this social network to the masses.

[caption id="attachment_737" align="alignright" width="180" caption="your google+ stream on the android app"][/caption]

What can we expect in the future?

Google has already said that they will release APIs, so third party apps and the ability to post to several social networks will happen soon enough.

Native apps on the iPhone and iPad should be with us within days depending on Apple's app store policy.

The uptake to the service will be slow! Remember how long you will have been on facebook and twitter. I have been on facebook for 5+ years and twitter for at least 4 years. If google+ can stay around, let's judge how successful it is in a couple of years.

Businesses can expect to tie in their google profiles and place names into google+ so that they can offer a better customer service experience. Imagine using your mobile to search for a local business, check out their profile, ask them a question on google+ (any availability for a table at lunchtime?) they can then respond directly to you. Even better would be to update their status with offers and lunch menus etc.

Marketers will love this site. I have no doubt that google ads will creep in eventually and if facebook is anything to go by, marketers will have access to all sorts of profile data. Therefore Adsense will become much more targeted. Let's remember that while search might be google's best product, they are for the most part an advertising company and that's how they make their money.

Google apps customers need this product fast. Huddle and hangout would be really powerful within the workplace.

Conclusion

Is this going to be my main social network? Probably, but only if I can get my family to use it. I find google+ to be more engaging than twitter and much more valuable than facebook, but it's early days and the noise ratio is quite low.

To join visit plus.google.com  and don't forget to say hello to me on google+.

Read My Samsung Nexus S Review

7 min read

The Samsung Nexus S is now my preferred mobile phone. Read on to find out why, but be warned, this is a lengthy post!

Before the Nexus S
Nexus S Standby ScreenHaving been a a mac user for over 4 years and previously owning both the iPhone 3G and the 3GS I made the jump to Android last June when I purchased the HTC Desire. During the past 12 months I have discovered that, for me, Android is on a par with iOS devices and actually ahead in some aspects. With that in mind I have now purchased the Samsung Nexus S. For my mind, it is the best example of comparing an Android phone to the iPhone.

The Desire was rooted early on and has run a variety of ROMS over the 12 months, but lately I have been using ROMs that mirror stock Android e.g. Oxygen and DevNull. (As a piece of trivia, I think the Desire is the most hacked phone of all the Android handsets on the market today. The sheer volume of custom ROMs available for it is astonishing.)

As I say goodbye to the Desire, I leave the handset running Android 2.3.4.

My initial impression of the Nexus S
I ordered it from prepaymania for £303 delivered – I have to say that I hadn’t heard of this outfit before, but the phone arrived on schedule, so no complaints.
The box itself was your typical phone box, nice and compact and obviously inspired by Apple.
The Nexus S comes with a separate power cable and data cable which I though was a nice touch (charging and data transfer is by Micro USB). Also in the box was a headset which I have yet to use.
The phone is made from black plastic and is not of the same build quality as the HTC Desire. However, it feels much lighter and sits well in your hand. Let’s not forget that this is a 4” device as opposed to the 3.7” Desire.

In UseNexus S running Android 2.3.4
When I turned the phone on I logged in with my Google account and the phone instantly started syncing my personal data and downloading my apps from the Market. It downloaded most, but not all of my apps. There was no faffing with iTunes or connecting it to a PC to activate – it just worked without fuss. First thing I needed to do however was update the operating system to 2.3.4 as it shipped with 2.3.3.
But you know what? The phone told me I had to update and off it went and started downloading the update.
A word of warning here: installing this update wiped the phone and I had to set the phone up as new again. This was not the case with the Desire, but perhaps I did something wrong.
I had a quick play and I decided that I knew enough about stock Android and that I would be better rooting the phone now rather than later. So that’s what I did. I followed this guide to the letter and it worked great.
I haven’t put a custom ROM on yet as I want to keep to the pure stuff for now, but rooting lets you do simple things like take a screen shot.

Buttons
The Nexus S has no physical menu buttons, but so far these have not caused me any issues. One thing I do miss (although it’s not a big deal) is the trackball which was handy when you need to edit some text.

Is this the best phone I’ve owned?
I think it’s right up there. It’s certainly better than the HTC Desire and the 3GS, which were good phones in their time.
There are several factors that are important to me:
1. Screen size – 4” is probably the biggest size I would want on a phone and the Nexus S has a great screen,
2. Size and weight – it’s big but light, mainly due to the plastic casing. I carry the Nexus S around in a protective pouch, but I also carried the Desire in its own pouch, so I’m used to the bulk.
3. Battery – Even at this stage with the battery not being totally calibrated the Nexus S has a better battery life than the Desire. I should easily expect the Nexus S to last me two days of normal use. My Desire was easily lasting me a day with the DevNull Rom and the latest radio installed. This compares favourably to the iPhone 4 which does not last my girl friend more than 10 hours. She must have a dud. ;-)
4. Apps – people make a big deal about the quality of the apps in the Android Market compared to the Apps Store. Well I’m sorry, the apps I use are the same as the ones I have on my iPad (give or take) and they work fine. I’m a google guy and on Android, google’s apps are better than iOS. Fact!
5. Notifications – I’ve not had a problem with notifications. Scratch that. I did have a problem with notifications (too many!), but I soon learned to only allow certain apps to update themselves in the background. I now get push notifications from SMS, email, ping chat, calendar and everything else I manually update. I feel I am more productive this way.

What about the Nexus S hardware?
I like the phone! I don’t mind that it feels light and is shiny black plastic. The buttons feel solid and the screen is responsive. There is a satisfying ‘click’ when connecting the charger.
My one gripe is that the headphone jack is on the bottom. I’m struggling to get used to this, but only because (in my head) the volume controls are back to front. I will get used to this though.

Camera: The Nexus S comes with two cameras. I’m on record in several places stating that IMO the iPhone 4 has the best camera of any phone. That is still the case. The Nexus S has a 5 megapixel camera and in good daylight the images are impressive, but like most other camera phones, when the sun goes down so does the quality of image.
The front facing camera is VGA quality and is really there to compete with Apple’s Facetime. Surprisingly using the google talk app video calls work well, even on 3G. This app also lets you make standard VOIP calls to other GTALK users.
Minor gripe: why can’t GTALK and Facetime get along? Those two apps would be very useful if they allowed you to chat to users of both systems.

The back of the Nexus SLoudspeaker: I can’t figure this out. When playing music through the loudspeaker I feel let down, but when using the loudspeaker for phone calls it works really well. So good that I can actually see myself using this more often, something I rarely used on other handsets.

Call quality is good.

I use the swype keyboard, just because I prefer that over a more traditional keyboard, but the standard gingerbread keyboard is a big improvement over the standard HTC keyboard on the Desire.

Display
I have the i9023 model which has the Super LCD instead of the Super AMOLED screen that originally shipped with the handset. A lot has been said of SLCD, but for my eyes the screen is superb even with the brightness turned down. In this respect it compares favourably to the Desire.

Conclusions
It’s difficult to compare like for like so I will end my narrative now. To conclude, the Nexus S is generally a little bit faster at everything compared to the Desire. So this is definitely an incremental upgrade, similar to the iPhone 3G to 3GS upgrade.
So much about mobile phones today is not about the hardware, but about the operating system and the apps. The right hardware will however enhance that experience. Therefore, if you’re considering the Nexus S you will not be disappointed. It’s a snappy phone that multitasks well and will more than meet the needs of most people.

Will HTML5 web books change the way we view the web?

4 min read

HTML5 has been touted as changing the web for a while now, but will it change the way we read books?

20 Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web

Last year Google published the HTML5 web book "20 Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web" but I largely ignored it. Why would I want to read books in my browser? I read books on my phone and iPad, but even for me reading a novel through the browser might be a step too far.

However, as much of a digital convert as I am, I had not factored in just how quickly HTML5 adoption would take place in a year. Google is really pushing the adoption of HTML5 with it's Chrome desktop browser and beginning August 1st Google Apps will only support modern browsers. This means that if you're a Gmail user, you will have to be running either the current or prior major release of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari or you will not be able to get the most out of gmail.

This summer will see offline working arrive for Google Apps through the Chrome browser. This is powered by HTML5. You seen HTML5 is more than just a web page. While HTML5 allows designers to create beautiful pages and layouts, they can also build in more functionality (to the website) without requiring the user to download or install any additional software. The user simply requires a 'modern' browser. If you are using the web browser 'Chrome' you will always have the latest version. This is because Google wants (and needs) its users to be running the latest browsers so its users will get the best experience. They therefore built Chrome to auto update itself. The other major browsers already support HTML5 and will continue to do so.

So how will HTML5 make me read a book on my computer?HTML5-web-book-screenshot

I don't think I could actually read a novel on my desktop computer and I don't think HTML5 will change that. However, the web is evolving fast and is in more and more devices now. HTML5 will drive adoption of web services on devices such as phones and tablets. You know, that smartphone that you download all those apps for might not need apps in a year. When the iPhone launched without an App Store, Steve Jobs stated that with the mobile version of Safari users didn't need apps, they could do everything through the browser. While that was true to an extent, we the user and developers weren't quite ready for that. However, users are becoming used to sophisticated websites and are used to the 'app' experience. It will be easy to transition users to the web full time in a few years. There are already a lot of apps that are really just a webpage. At the end of the day, do you as a user care what the technology that drives the app is? No. All you and I care about is the experience and HTML5 will make that experience sweet!

Take Kindle as an example. Here is an app that let's you read books on any device, on any platform - and they all sync and work together to get you the best experience. You can bet your last pound (£) that Amazon will be one of the first companies that adopt HTML5 web books, if for no other reason than it will reduce their development costs. Instead of developing for many platforms, they develop for the web and the user just points their browser to their Amazon account. Simple.

There are lots of content based sites (like this one) that will benefit from web books. I could see newspapers adopting web books on masse just so they can replicate the 'paper' version. TV companies can produce slick sites that recreate that 'living room tv' set up.

My mum doesn't need to know about HTML5, she just needs to know that her experience of using the web will get better if she uses a modern browser and the sites she visits build their site with HTML5 in mind. So, to answer my own question, HTML5 web books will definitely change the way we view the web.

How to flash the HBOOT on your HTC Desire

3 min read

I use Fastboot Commander which as a GUI based tool is the easiest way I have found to flash the HBOOT on your HTC Desire.

[caption id="attachment_554" align="alignleft" width="300"]A screenshot showing the startup screen of fastboot commander A screenshot showing the startup screen of fastboot commander[/caption]

A little disclaimer: Fastboot Commander is a tool that should only be used if you are comfortable messing about with your phone. This has the potential to brick your phone or to put it simply, break it!
However, if like me you like to tinker with your phone, Fastboot Commander will allow you to upgrade your ROM, your radio and your HBOOT without much fuss.

What is fastboot?

“Fastboot is a command line tool used to directly flash the filesystem in Android devices from a host via USB. It allows flashing of unsigned partition images. It is disabled in production devices since USB support has been disabled in the bootloader. You must have an Engineering SPL, or an SPL that is S-OFF.” Find out more from the Cyanogenmod Wiki.

Fastboot Commander is a tool that harnesses the power of fastboot and puts it into a package that the average person can use.

Simply download it from the link above and run it on eiher, Mac, Windows or Linux. There is no installation - it just runs as a JAR programme.

Step 1: Put your HTC Desire into fastboot mode by powering the device off. Wait a few seconds, then hold the volume down button and press the power button. After a few seconds your phone will boot into a screen that gives you several options, including fastboot and recovery. Select the fastboot option.

[caption id="attachment_553" align="alignright" width="260"]The image shows the user updating their radio on their HTC Desire The image shows the user updating their radio on their HTC Desire[/caption]

Step 2: Do nothing!

Step 3: Go back to your computer and run Fastboot Commander.

Step 4: Connect your phone via USB.

Step 5: Now all you need to do is select the action you wish to complete e.g. in the picture shown I was updating the radio. I selected the radio button and selected the appropriate file and then selected open. After a minute or so my HTC Desire had a new radio image installed. Updating the radio has the advantage of bringing several improvements to mobile reception, data transfer, battery life and better GPS.

If you are thinking about installing a custom rom on your HTC Desire you will need to update the default radio as many roms require you to update to a newer radio. I recommend that you use Fastboot Commander to do this.

Let me know if you have a better method or if you found this tool useful in the comments below.

The Cost of iPad Apps

3 min read

Some of my favourite iPad apps are free e.g. Flipboard but if I need an app or think it deserves the purchase price I will pay. How do I make this decision?
I regularly play Words with Friends and while there is a free, ad supported version, I play it enough to actually want to pay for it. It is important for me that the developer receives payment for their work, and I know that my small part may convince them to continue to support the app and hopefully release updates in the future.
When it comes to productivity tools, sometimes there is no choice but to pay. Goodreader is an example of this, where the free alternatives are not quite as polished.
When it comes to entertainment, the decision is not quite as straightforward.
t3-ipad app
Let’s take magazines. Esquire and T3 both cost £2.99 per issue which is not a big saving over the printed version, but surely the convenience of the digital edition would justify the price?
Well, er no actually, the experience is worse. The apps themselves are massive, generally over 500MB, buggy and not that intuitive.
One of the things that irk me about the publishing industry is that it seems to be waging a war on itself. For every publication that erects a pay wall, there are hundreds more that offer compelling content for free (ad supported) either through apps or via the web.
Why then can traditional media companies not adapt their businesses models to suit this new dawn?
Small (and big) iOS developers are making a living creating apps that offer a really good user experience and deliver a useful service all from a price point starting at zero and rising to a few pounds. Typically these apps will only ever be bought once (that is no new monthly content or subscription model), yet these businesses have created over 300,000 apps that have been downloaded over 10 billion times and in the space of a couple of years have created an entirely new market.
If I buy a magazine I'm not fully engaged with the content, it's something that I will come back to, but on the iPad this is not the case. Often the magazine app provides a clunky interface that looses my interest and almost compels me to find alternative content through the browser. In my previous post I touched on what would make pay for a news app (mainly offline reading) but I can think of no reason to buy a magazine iPad app.
There is just so much good content available either as a free app or through the browser that I have no desire to pay for content. Publishers take note!

YOURLS: Your Own URL Shortener

2 min read

[For an overview of what URL Shorteners are and why you should use them, please read my article: URL Shorteners]

YOURLS is a service that you install on your web host for a specific domain that will give you your own URL Shortening service.

I'm going to make some assumptions: You already have a domain name and a web hosting plan.
If you don't have either try 1and1 (affiliate link) for domains and hosting. This blog is hosted with them.
yourls-logo
1. Buy a domain name
2. Buy hosting
3. Configure host
4. Install YORLS
5. You're done.

Ok, so that wasn't much help! If you need domain name inspiration try domai.nr which will show a multitude of domain extensions for your chosen name or phrase. Remember, you want a short domain e.g. CT1.me, so don't be afraid to buy any top level domain name e.g. .im .es .ly .it .eu etc.
Once you find your perfect domain, don't be afraid to shop around for the best price.

Your hosting plan will need PHP and MYSQL support - this need not be expensive but check before you buy!
Installing YOURLS is easy, but make sure you read all the instructions before starting.
Download YOURLS to your computer and follow these steps:

  1. Unzip the YOURLS archive
  2. Copy includes/config-sample.php to user/config.php
  3. Open user/config.php with a raw text editor (like Notepad) and fill in the required settings
  4. Upload the unzipped files to your domain public_html or www folder
  5. Create a new database (see Configuration – you can also use an existing one)
  6. Point your browser to http://yoursite.com/admin/
  7. Follow the onscreen instructions - there isn't many.

Now that you are all up and running you can use your own domain name to track click throughs on links you share on twitter and facebook (or anywhere else).
I chose to use ct1.me only as a URL shortener, so I've got a html redirect pointing to ichristaylor.com, but you could equally create your shortener at yourdomain.com/s/ or s.yourdomain.com.