Year: 2011

Are you getting superfast broadband? If not why not?

https://ichristaylor.com/2011/are-you-getting-superfast-broadband-if-not-why-not

This article was first published on EamonnMallie.com

Availability of superfast broadband within Northern Ireland97% of Northern Ireland residents have access to superfast broadband1, the highest proportion of any region within the UK. So why are only 60% of Northern Ireland households taking up this service?

Ofcom have published “The first Communications Infrastructure Report” which details lots of interesting facts that no local news outlet seems to be paying much attention to.
Access to the Internet is pretty much a human right these days and you can access the Internet for free at your local library. What student would prepare for an assignment without conducting some form of Internet research? I’d guess that nearly every single office job requires the Internet whether for email or browsing.
The Internet, therefore, is as much a utility as our water supply and is an essential every day service that we need.

So why then has there not been a media frenzy about these figures? Naturally the report does not cater for the need of our tabloid media but it definitely does need reported on.

The BBC reported “Northern Ireland broadband service criticised” which is a misleading headline in my opinion. Yes the report suggests that more could (and should) be done to improve access to broadband, but 97% of us here in NI already have access to superfast broadband. I have it and I’m about to get upgraded to a 30Mbit/s connection. What have you got? 1 in 4 have less than 2Mbit/s which means that you will really struggle to stream video online and most likely your skype call will be pixelated. In my view this is unacceptable and easily rectified with a simple call to your ISP.

National broadband measures

Percentage receiving less than 2Mbit/s

 

 

Percentage receiving less than 2Mbit/s
Each area has been ranked from 1 to 5 on the percentage of broadband connections that have modem sync speeds of less than 2.2Mbit/s.

1= less than 5%
2= 5% – less than 10%
3= 10% – less than 15%
4= 15% – less than 20%
5= 20% or more

Of course there will be those who argue that you simply don’t need superfast broadband. This is shortsighted and fails to recognise the benefits that come with a fast connection to the Internet. Superfast broadband is now more affordable and the consumer is in a strong position to take advantage of this without having to stretch their budget. Ofcom also reveal that on average we download 17 Gigabytes of data every month. That’s equivalent to about 11 or 12 hours viewing of iPlayer per month. As each year passes we consume more and more content online (up sevenfold in five years) thus making superfast broadband all the more important if you want to watch video online.
Hands up if you have an Internet connected TV? I know it’s not just me. If you have a games console, a Blu-Ray player, an Apple TV or have recently bought your TV then you can probably watch YouTube and other online video content from the comfort of your sofa.

Lots of us have laptops, mobile phones and tablet computers and we use them while we are watching television. I would wager that the majority of the time we are using the Internet on those devices either browsing facebook, playing words with friends, updating all of those apps you downloaded from the App store or even sending an email. OK so nobody sends email anymore, but you get the point, we need the Internet just to go about our normal everyday tasks. If you are a typical household with a mummy and daddy and 2.1 teenagers you’re going to need superfast broadband just to keep everyone happy.

The family I’ve just mentioned will all have mobile phones and statistically speaking more than 2 will have a smartphone and in a couple of years (maybe even just one) everyone will have a smartphone. This will not only apply pressure to the home wifi network but will see massive demand for 3G (and soon 4G) services. In other words, we just can’t get enough Internet!

But, we in Northern Ireland are a bit screwed when it comes to mobile Internet.
If you want 3G on the road you better not actually need it outside Belfast and the main roads.

3G coverage in Northern Ireland
3G coverage by geographic area

 

 

 

3G coverage by geographic area
Each area has been ranked from 1 to 5 on the level of mobile coverage.

1= 90% or more
2= 70% – less than 90%
3= 50% – less than 70%
4= 25% – less than 50%
5= less than 25%

Mobile coverage based on predicted coverage

So how does this actually affect us? Generally speaking when we are at home we can make the best use of the Internet, whether that be watching a High Definition movie or making a video call to a friend who lives on the other side of the world. However, this report should be highlighted not because of how I can get access to the Internet on a personal level, but for the stark reality that many businesses and those who travel for their work are not able to make use of superfast broadband connections whether in the office or from their car. This impacts the local economy. This means we are not as competitive and this means jobs are on the line. You only need to have a quick look at a recruitment agency to see that IT plays an important role within our local economy. The wider view is of course that the Internet provides access to a global market. We can now sell services overseas with literally the click of a mouse. The Internet provides opportunity and superfast broadband will enable our local businesses to compete on the global stage which ultimately will boost the local economy. Simple. Well not quite, but I hope you understand how crucial it is that we not only have access to superfast broadband but that we also avail of its service.
Feel free to leave a comment on the issue of broadband access and whether you think it really matters to the local economy or not.
Ofcom have published the press release The state of the communications nation and their report The first Communications Infrastructure Report but I’d highly recommend you visit
http://maps.ofcom.org.uk/ and see for yourself what level of access you currently have.
1BDUK defines Superfast Broadband as having a potential headline access speed of at least 24Mbps, with no upper limit.

Why do people visit your website?

https://ichristaylor.com/2011/why-do-people-visit-your-website-1

There seems to be a lack of understanding among the masses about how people actually find themselves on your website, but is it actually that different from brick and mortar shops?

What makes you shop at the local supermarket? Is it convenience? Is it reputation? Is it the brand? In truth, customers are driven to a store on a variety of factors and this rings true on the web as well.

The visitors to your website arrive either through search, sharing or on the strength of your brand. What are you doing to harness these vehicles?

Search
People are trained to use search engines to find content, products and services and search will probably drive more visitors to your website than any other method. Back in 2010, Google processed 34,000 searches per second or about 3 bilion per day, so you need to make sure your site is search engine friendly. If you can’t figure out how to do that you need the help of a SEO specialist who will do a variety of things to your site which will make it more appealing to a search engine. However, no SEO expert can turn lead into gold. You absolutely need to have good content.If you don’t have good content, it doesn’t matter how good your SEO guy is, your visitors won’t like your content and eventually it will slip down the search rankings.
What make good content? Any content that visitors find useful, whether it be a product that is in stock or a full explanation of the service that you provide or an up-to-date menu for your take away.

When you understand how people arrive at your site from search, you have a better understanding of what makes your readers tick and you can use this to create better content. You therefore need to also research what words and terms people are using when they come to your site and you can do that with google analytics and looking at your keywords.

Sharing
Email was the first method people used to share internet links with their friends and family, but it’s the rise of the social network that has really driven the growth of sharing. There are lots of tools dedicated to sharing content with other sites and your “followers” including plugins such as the tweet this and the facebook like buttons. Does your site employ these? If not why make it difficult for your users to share your content? If you have an online store and one of your visitor’s sees something that they think one of their friends would like, you need to make that process as simple as possible otherwise you could miss out on a potential sale.

To find out how many of your visitors are coming from social networks (or indeed sharing your content) you need to spend some time looking at your website analytics.

Brand
Established businesses cannot afford to rely solely on their brand to drive traffic to their website, but it is useful if customers have your brand in mind when they go online to look for something. Therefore, it is essential that if they search for your brand or product that they find you!
If you have an offline presence e.g. a shop, make sure that people know that you also have a website. Print your web address on any signs that you have, include it on till receipts and make sure that it is printed clearly (and accurately) on any promotional material that you produce.

If you provide sponsorship, maybe to a local sports team, make sure that your brand is easily found on the web. If I search for “your brand” what will I find? The last thing you want to find is nothing or worse still your competitor! So before stumping up the cash for a sponsorship deal make sure the branding reflects what you know people will find if they search for you online.

I find it hard to believe that during a recession, so many businesses still don’t advertise their website and so many more fail when it comes to having up-to-date content on their site. They are literally turning customers away.

This is just a quick overview of what I think are the essentials of understanding your website vistors, but please leave a comment if you disagree or have any other useful advice.

Why the Advent Vega can be your living room tablet

https://ichristaylor.com/2011/why-the-advent-vega-can-be-your-living-room-tablet-1

I have in my hands the Advent Vega, a 10.1″ 16:9 Android powered tablet computer.This is not a thing of beauty, but I’m going to recommend that you buy one. Why? Price and it’s hackable.

Even though I’m an iPad fanboy, I’ve come to realise that for many people shelling out £399 on a “gadget” can seem a bit much, even when that gadget is the magnificent iPad. So, what are the alternatives?

There are many Android and Windows tablets on the market right now, but they all have one major disadvantage when compared to the iPad, price. Why spend over £300 when for a few extra pounds you can get the iPad? Check out the Asus EeePad Transformer or the Motorolo Xoom both of which are top of the range Android tablets running honeycomb, but will set you back £350. If you managed to stretch your budget by £50 you would have an iPad 2 with its App store and range of accessories. Now I know these tablets are not quite like for like, but my point is that for most people the entry level iPad 2 will more than meet their needs. I know it works for me.

So, why did I buy an Advent Vega? The Vega has interested me for a while and it seemed to tick all the right boxes, however there is one glaringly obvious flaw with the Vega. The Screen.

Screen

Facts: 10.1 inch, 16:9 aspect ration capacitive touchscreen, a resolution of 1024 x 600 and also supports auto rotate and multi-touch gestures. It is very sensitive and will take some to time to get used to, but it’s safe to say that from an input perspective the screen is good.

The screen is let down when viewed from an off-set angle. It’s ok if you are using it on your lap or right in front of your eye line, but move off to the side and the screen becomes unwatchable or unreadable.

But let’s not get caught up with that, because the Vega really is actually pretty good and certainly great value for money.

Hardware

I paid £129.97 which gets you a lot for your money. In a tablet measuring 275 x 178 x 13.6 mm (W x D x H) and weighing 750g you get: stereo speakers, MicroSD Card slot, HDMI output, front facing camera, microphone, USB port and a headphone port.

It’s encased in black plastic, but it feels comfortable to hold and solid enough that I’m sure it can survive the odd knock.

Operating System

The unique selling point of the Vega is the active developer community, and before you all click away, it’s really actually quite easy to install a custom ROM on the vega.

Out of the box, the Vega runs Android 2.2 froyo which is ok, but I’m used to gingerbread, and frankly shipping froyo with a tablet is a silly business decision because it highlights how bad the operating system is and thus dosen’t allow the Vega to look and perform like it could.

If you buy a Vega you must install a different operating system on it. Developers call this installing a custom ROM, but don’t worry, this is not dangerous and it is impossible to brick your Vega. Just follow the instructions very closely and read various forums to learn what it is you’ll actually be doing. It is quite straight forward providing you have some patience and can follow instructions.

At present the best ROM to install is VegaComb which is a community built version of Google’s honeycomb (which was never open sourced) and transforms the Vega into an iPad competitor. Well ok, it doesn’t really, but what it does is highlight how quickly Android tablets are going to dominate the market once IceCreamSandwich gets released, because cheap tablets will flood the market that will actually be pretty good.

I had not used an Android tablet before (aside from a quick play in stores) and although I use an Android phone, the UI is different (thanks google!). However, it really isn’t hard to pick up and thanks to the Android Market all your previously purchased apps are available for you to download to your new device.

Apps

There really isn’t a lot of apps available for android tablets, but what I’ve found is that phone apps actually scale quite well on the Vega. On the iPad you get the choice of original 1x view or a 2x zoomed view which dosen’t always do the iPad justice. Apps on the Vega just stretch or zoom to fit the screen which can lead some odd views, but overall they seem to look ok.
I’m happy with the apps I have, I’ve basically just duplicated what I have on my phone and they all work fine.

Video

One of the main reasons I bought the Vega was so I could plug it into my TV and watch movies that I would store on the Vega, thus the Vega would become my main media hub. Unfortunately this isn’t quite perfect on vegacomb as it leaves a 2″ black bar down the right side and along the bottom. I can live with this for now and I’m sure it will be fixed soon enough. Apart from this, the HDMI out works well mirroring the Vega in every way. When you see the Vega outputting over HDMI to a 32″ LCD it looks great but this just demonstrates how poor the screen on the Vega actually is.

The Vega is perfectly happy to stream flash videos such as iPlayer but it will also play .avi and .wmv files through the QQ Player which is free to download in the Market. Video play back is smooth.

Camera

The Vega has a 0.3MP front facing camera which is compatible with Skype and Google Talk. It’s actually ok and you will use it to make video calls if that’s your thing. I can’t imagine ever using the camera to take a still image but it works, and so would do in an emergency.

Keyboard

There are many keyboard apps in the Market, but the stock honeycomb keyboard works well so I don’t see the need to recommend anything else. For instance I use Swype on my phone, but I would have no need for that on the Vega. I can type comfortably onscreen and there doesn’t appear to be any lag.

Battery

Battery life on the Vega is fine for a working day but I’ve found that it doesn’t hold it’s charge more than a couple of days on standby which is disappointing. I think the perfect example of battery life is to compare it to your smartphone. The more you use it the faster the battery dies! I haven’t run any tests but I reckon you can expect to get 5 or 6 hours of screen time which is acceptable.

Form

When holding the Vega in your hands it feels light and comfortable but also a little strange due to its 16:9 aspect ratio. However, I like this view and it sits well when rested on my lap. You can of course view it in portrait mode which is great for reading books and webpages. When compared to the iPad 2 the Vega feels better in the hand.

Real world use

I will mainly use the Vega in the house as a consumption device. I can see me surfing the web, reading email, updating twitter, or watching movies via the HDMI out, but other than those I’m not sure what else I would want to do on it. So if you’re in the market for a cheap Android tablet you could do much worse than the Advent Vega.

If you want to find out more about the Vega check out these resources:

MoDaCo, TabletRoms PC World, Currys / PC World outlet store (where I bought mine), myadventvega.co.uk, manual (PDF)

Use Sentiment Analysis To Understand Your Customers

https://ichristaylor.com/2011/use-sentiment-analysis-to-understand-your-customers

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.

Download this article as a PDF

“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.

Cloud Reader from Amazon

https://ichristaylor.com/2011/cloud-reader-from-amazon

You can now read your Amazon Kindle books on any browser, mobile or PC and offline to boot thanks to cloud reader from Amazon. Simply visit https://read.amazon.com/ from any browser and you should be presented with this screen:

20110811-095411.jpg
Cloud Reader by Amazon

On the iPad, once you log in you will be asked to increase the database size. Say “increase”.

20110811-095429.jpg

You will then be presented with your kindle library.

20110811-095447.jpg
Your cloud reader library as seen on the iPad

Select a book to start reading. It will open up in a vertical screen like this:

20110811-095519.jpg
Cloud reader in portrait mode

Or a horizontal one like this. You do of course have the option to restrict which way the book displays by forcing an orientation lock on the iPad.

20110811-095534.jpg
Cloud reader in landscape mode

Next you will want to create a bookmark for your iPad’s home screen. Do that by selecting the arrow icon next to the address bar in safari and select “Add to Home Screen”. You can rename the bookmark if you wish. When you are ready, simply press “Add”.

20110811-095548.jpg
How to add cloud reader to your iPad home screen

Here is a screen shot of the kindle cloud reader bookmark icon on the iPad:

20110811-095623.jpg
What the cloud reader icon looks like on the iPad

The kindle cloud reader gives you the same presentation options you have in native apps such as background colour, text size and brightness.

20110811-095602.jpg
Cloud reader with a white background

Given that the iPad already has a native kindle app, I’m not sure who will use the cloud reader. What it does do though, is demonstrate that with HTML5 not all applications require a native app. This will be a big draw to developers who will then only need to develop for one application – the web browser. I expect to see more applications go web only in the future.

What are your favourite web only apps?

How To Use Twitter Lists

https://ichristaylor.com/2011/how-to-use-twitter-lists

Twitter lists that I've created.

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.

The image shows twitter users that I'm not following but whose tweets will appear in my list

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.

A sample of tweets that appear in my list

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+

https://ichristaylor.com/2011/my-first-impressions-of-google

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+?

Google plus running in the Chrome web browser.

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

Google plus has its own native android app
Google plus has its own native android appGoogle plus running in the Chrome web browser.

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.

your google+ stream on the android app

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+.

Sonos S5 – is it the ultimate kitchen radio?

https://ichristaylor.com/2011/sonos-s5—is-it-the-ultimate-kitchen-radio

The Sonos S5 fits nicely on your kitchen counter

The Sonos S5 is a compact speaker that delivers more than just music, read on to find out why.

The S5 is a high-performance, all-in-one wireless music system that delivers crystal-clear, room-filling sound. Simply plug it in wherever you want music and enjoy. The 5-driver speaker system is individually powered by 5 dedicated digital amplifiers and includes 2 tweeters, 2 mid-range drivers and 1 subwoofer for high-quality sound that rivals much larger, more complicated audio equipment.
Source: http://www.sonos.com/products/zoneplayers/s5/default.aspx

So how does the Sonos S5 live up to these bold claims made on the Sonos website?
I’ve owned the S5 for around nine months now and I am thrilled with its performance, from the sound quality right through to the additional music services that compliment your existing music collection.

The Sonos iPad app really is a joy to use. It's free in the App store. An Android app is also available.

So how does it work?
In addition to the Sonos S5 you need a device called a “zonebridge” which connects to your router and provides the S5 with the wireless internet access that really shows off the S5 for the magical device it is.

I should come clean now, the Sonos only works work with additional software. In other words you need to install software on your computer, your iOS device or your Android phone. You can also buy the Sonos controller, but that’s an expensive remote. However, once you have these installed you have probably the best remote control you will ever have seen. If you have multiple Sonos speakers around the house, you can control them all from the one remote controller. This means you can specify what you can listen to in each “zone” or room.

It only takes about half an hour to get the Sonos up and running – from un-boxing to installing the zonebridge and the sonos software on your PC. While it’s not quite plug and play, the effort is worth it as in the future everything can be controlled via the apps.

Getting music “into” your sonos is simply a matter of selecting the music on your computer or selecting an internet radio station. All music is streamed either over the Internet over over your home network.

The front view of the Sonos S5

So, what makes the Sonos so compelling?

It’s not that you can listen to your favourite radio stations and it’s not that you can stream your own music collection. What sets it apart is the additional music services that integrate into the Sonos such as my favourite Napster. This is a paid service (£5 per month) that adds significant value to my limited music collection. Many of you will be familiar with Spotify but at £10 a month I do not value it more than Napster (yes I could take my collection on a mobile device, but for the same price I can do that with Napster). Other services includer Last.fm and deezer – both of which offer streaming with limited functionality.  I am a recent convert to Sticher radio and I use that to easily listen to my favourite podcasts.

One of the lesser known functions of the sonos is the ability to input audio, therefore allowing you to plugin your phone, iPod or laptop and use the Sonos as an external speaker. This function works well.

Sound quality.

The rear view of the Sonos S5. This is where the power, headphone and auxiliary ports are located.

The Sonos S5 provides good quality sound (as you’d expect from a speaker in this price range) even when streaming lower bit rate tracks. Obviously the better the quality of the digital audio the better it sounds but overall I am very satisfied with this speaker. I am no audiophile but both bass and treble appear to perform well.

 

Conclusion
This post was sparked by the theory that the Sonos S5 could be the ultimate kitchen radio, so is it? I have to say that in my kitchen it most certainly is the daddy of all home music systems. It has reintroduced me to music and I now consider myself to be an avid radio listener. I much prefer powering on the Sonos S5 compared to watching the TV (in the kitchen). The breadth of options that the Sonos S5 brings definitely means that this is superior to the standard FM or DAB radio and the sound quality is superior to our Sony Hi-Fi, therefore making this the ultimate kitchen radio for me.
If you are considering a speaker dock or a wireless speaker system you should gives serious consideration to the Sonos S5, you will not be disappointed.

 

Not much to note of the side on view, except the nice, clean design.

 

 

Read My Samsung Nexus S Review

https://ichristaylor.com/2011/read-my-samsung-nexus-s-review

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.

Add Google’s plus 1 button to your wordpress site

https://ichristaylor.com/2011/add-googles-plus-1-button-to-your-wordpress-site

+1 button
plusonebutton

Learn how you can add google’s plus 1 button to your wordpress posts which will allow visitors to your website to recommend your content to their friends.

Google added a feature to search results that let’s you recommend search results to your friends. It’s called Plus 1 (+1) and you can now include it on your own website which allows your readers to “recommend” the page their viewing to their friends (and to google!).

Here’s how you can add the Plus 1 button to your wordpress site.

In order to add the Plus 1 button to your wordpress posts you need to add it to ‘single.php’.

<!-- Place this tag where you want the +1 button to render -->
<g:plusone count="false"></g:plusone>

<!-- Place this tag after the last plusone tag -->
<script type="text/javascript">
  window.___gcfg = {lang: 'en-GB'};

  (function() {
    var po = document.createElement('script'); po.type = 'text/javascript'; po.async = true;
    po.src = 'https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js';
    var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(po, s);
  })();
</script>

From your wordpress dashboard, go to Appearance and select ‘Editor, then single.php. Open up your favourite text editor and copy all of the text in single.php and save it, just in case something goes wrong!

Once here, find this bit of code:

<?php arras_postheader() ?> (It might be different for other templates)

and paste the the code google suggest immediately after. It should look something like this:

<?php arras_postheader() ?>

<!-- Place this tag where you want the +1 button to render -->
<g:plusone count="false"></g:plusone>

You might need a little bit of trial and error, but that’s how I got the plus 1 button to appear my posts on this blog.

Source: http://www.google.com/webmasters/+1/button/