App review: Toutiao

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of www.toutiao.com/ homepage 

When I first heard about Toutiaou I thought it might be just another news app, this coming one from China. I learned, however, very quickly that Toutiaou is much more than just a news app; at the time of writing, Toutiao has more than 700 million users in total, with ore than 78 million users reading over 1.3 billion articles on a daily basis.

Toutiao, known officially as Jinri Toutiao, which means “Today’s Headlines”, has a large part of its rapid rise to its ability to provide its users with a highly personalised news feed. Toutiao is a mobile platform that use machine learning algorithms to recommend content to its users, based on previous content accessed by users and their interaction with the content (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of Toutiao iOS app

I identified a number of elements that contribute to Toutiao’s success:

  1. AI and machine learning – Toutiao’s flagship value proposition to its users, having its own dedicated AI Lab in order to constantly further the development of the AI technology that underpins its platform. Toutiao’s algorithms learn from the types of content its users interact with and the way(s) in which they interact with this content. Given that Toutiao users spend on average 76 minutes per day on the app, there’s a wealth of data for Toutiao’s algorithms to learn form and to base personalisations on.
  2. Variety of content types to choose from – Toutiao enables its users to upload short videos, and Toutiao’s algorithms of will recommend selected videos to appropriate users (see Fig. 3). Last year, Ivideos on Toutiao were played 1.5 billion times per day, making Toutiao China’s largest short video platform. Users can also upload pictures, similar to Instagram or Facebook, users can share their pictures, with other users being abel to like or comment on this content (see Fig. 4).
  3. Third party integrations – Toutiao has got strategic partnerships in place with the likes of WeChat, a highly popular messaging app (see Fig. 5), and jd.com, a local online marketplace. It’s easy to see how Toutiao is following an approach whereby they’re inserting their news feed into a user’s broader ecosystem.

Main learning point: I was amazed by the scale at which Toutiao operate and the levels at which its users interact with the app. We often talk about the likes of Netflix and Spotify when it comes to personalised recommendations, but with the amount of data that Toutiao gathers, I can they can create a highly tailored content experience for their users.

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of video section on Toutiao iOS app 

Fig. 4 – Screenshot of user generated content feed on Toutiao iOS app

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of Toutiao and WeChat integration on Toutiao iOS app

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.toutiao.com/
  2. https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/toutiao#/entity
  3. http://technode.com/2017/06/05/podcast-analyse-asia-187-toutiao-with-matthew-brennan/
  4. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603351/the-insanely-popular-chinese-news-app-that-youve-never-heard-of/
  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ywang/2017/05/26/jinri-toutiao-how-chinas-11-billion-news-aggregator-is-no-fake/#24d401d64d8a
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toutiao
  7. http://lab.toutiao.com/
  8. https://www.liftigniter.com/toutiao-making-headlines-machine-learning/
  9. https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/01/chinese-news-reading-app-toutiao-acquires-flipagram/
  10. https://lotusruan.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/cant-beat-giant-companies-on-wechatweibo-try-toutiao/
  11. https://www.chinainternetwatch.com/tag/toutiao/

 

 

 

App review: PayKey

I recently came across PayKey and have been intrigued since in the combination between banking and social media. PayKey’s vision is “to make payments in all social chat possible.” To this end, PayKey provides a secure payment keyboard which people can use when they’re in a social network of choice (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Twitter, etc. – see Fig. 1 below).

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Fig. 1 – PayKey Startup Pitch at the Mobile Monetisation Summit 2015 – Taken from: http://www.slideshare.net/IsraelMobileSummit/paykey-startup-pitch-at-the-mobile-moentization-summit-2015-startup-contest

The first step is for users to include payment functions in your keyboard.

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As soon, as you’ve included the payment capability, you start the payment flow within the messaging service. This enables you to pay to any people within your social network on the messenger service of choice.

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The penultimate step involves choosing an account to send to a contact, setting limits that work for you.

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Once you authorise the payment, the specified amount will be sent. The authentication that takes place here is one of the critical components of PayKey. PayKey is linked to existing bank payment systems, which means no changes to their current security practices. In addition, users can also choose a unique identifier (e.g. Twitter account detail) to connect with their bank account, making it easier to connect with your bank account.

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Main learning point: Companies like PayKey are making the experience around making payments a lot more intuitive. Instead of relying on customers to go where their banks are, PayKey enables customers to connect with banks where a lot of their daily interactions already take place – social networks and messenger apps. Don’t be surprised if Facebook launches a very similar service soon!

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.cbronline.com/news/verticals/finance/fintech-profile-paykey-enables-payments-within-any-social-network-4857108
  2. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/wired-money-2016-startup-stage-digital-banks
  3. http://www.centrodeinnovacionbbva.com/en/blogs/blog-talents/post/paykey-proposition-tailored-help-banks-remain-competitive-current
  4. https://www.paykey.me/#/vision

Site review: “JustGiving Crowdfunding”

The last few years have shown a great boom in projects and products originating from crowdfunds such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. UK based JustGiving is well known for enabling people to raise funds at scale, making it easy for individuals to raise money for a charity of their choice. Over the last few years, JustGiving have now established their own crowdfunding platform in the form of JustGiving Crowdfunding:

  1. How did the site come to my attention? – I remember JustGiving launching its crowdfunding platform Yimby in 2013. The main goal behind Yimby was to “create a space where communities can raise money for social activism using technology to bring people together and fund projects at grassroots levels.” I then lost track of Yimby a bit, but I recently found out that Yimby has now been renamed as “JustGiving Crowdfunding”.
  2. My quick summary of the site (before using it) – I expect this site to be geared towards individuals or organisations that want to raise money for specific projects or communities, all with a ‘social’ or ‘community’ element.
  3. How does the site explain itself in the first minute? – “Raise money to make good things happen” reads the headline on the homepage of JustGiving Crowdfunding. The slogan is followed by this explanation: “With JustGiving Crowdfunding, anyone can raise money to fund their own project. If it benefits a friend in need, or a local or overseas community, JustGiving Crowdfunding can help you make it happen.” The visual explanations of the process and the benefits of doing this through JustGiving are helpful in understanding what JustGiving Crowdfunding is all about (see Fig. 1 and 2 below).
  4. Getting started, what’s the process like? (1) – At the bottom and the top of the JustGiving Crowdfunding homepage there’s an orange button which says “Raise money” (see Fig. 3 below). After clicking on this orange button I land on a page which is clearly marked as step 1 “Create Page”, followed by a “Sum up your story” tagline. However, when I look at what I think is meant as a progress bar at the top of this page, I’m unsure about the number and nature of subsequent steps involved. Assuming that a large proportion of people using JustGiving Crowdfunding will be doing so for the first time or won’t be raising funds online on a regular basis, I believe it would be helpful to the user if the progress bar included (a) the step the user is currently on – highlighted – and (b) subsequent steps involved in creating a page – with a progress number and brief description. Another suggestion would be to explain to the user why JustGiving uses a £200 fundraising target threshold. When I – unknowingly – entered £100 as my fundraising target, I got an error message which stated “Sorry, please make sure your target is at least £200” (see Fig. 5 below). As a user, it would be good to understand the rationale behind this threshold.
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like? (2) – Completing the “create page” step was very straightforward otherwise (see Fig. 6 below). When I click on “Continue” I then land on a page which looks very different and which asks me to log in or to sign up (see Fig. 7 below). This makes me wonder whether non-JustGiving users are likely to be thrown by this step or not. I can imagine that some users might be worried about committing to signing up without having a full understanding of the JustGiving Crowdfunding process and its outcomes. As I mentioned in my previous point, having a proper progress bar to outline the different steps would be helpful.
  6. Getting started, what’s the process like? (3) – As an existing JustGiving user, logging in is very easy and swift. Once I’ve logged in, I land on an “Add the Details” page (see Fig. 8 below). I took a fictitious example to be able to answer the questions in the “Tell supporters your story” (see Fig. 9 below) and it all felt very easy and intuitive. In the third and presumably final step I get to preview the page I’ve created (see Fig. 10 below). I found the information on the preview page very helpful, particularly the section about “Pledges and Updates”. The one bit of information and guidance that I and possibly other users would benefit from is about sharing/marketing your project and your JustGiving page. I would like to get some expert advice on how to make the most out of my JustGiving page and how to make sure that people get to see and read my page.
  7. How easy to use was the site? – The process involved in creating a crowdfunding page on JustGiving felt simple for the most part. As I mentioned in my previous points, I believe that the site can do better in guiding users through the page creation process, explaining the steps involved, their sequence and outcomes.
  8. How does the site compare to similar sites? (1) – RocketHub is a large, direct competitor of JustGiving Crowdfunding. The fee that they charge the fundraiser will depend on whether the fundraising target has been met (4% if met, 8% if not). With RocketHub you get to keep the funds that have been pledged, even if you don’t meet your fundraising target (as long as you’re sure that you can fulfil your obligations). I really like how RocketHub provide users with guidance around benefits, their small print and success stories on their login/sign up page (see Fig. 12 below). GoFundMe is another good example, even though their platform is solely geared towards individuals raising funds. I like how they help their users discover charities or projects that they can give money to, e.g. by using Facebook’s “Funded by Friends” functionality (see Fig. 13 below).
  9. How does the site compare to similar sites? (2)  The experience on Razoo feels similar to JustGiving Crowdfunding, and is aimed at individuals and organisations which wish to raise funds for specific projects. I like the “Also Fundraising for this Cause” section which showcases other individuals or organisations raising funds for the same project. Buzzbnk is another good example of a competitor who focuses on “Positive people backing bright ideas”. Each Buzzbnk fundraising page has a nice, tabbed “About the project” section (see Fig. 14 below). The Buzzbnk site seems to focus more on ‘discovery’ than JustGiving Crowdfunding currently does.
  10. Did the site deliver on my expectations? – Overall, the experience on JustGiving Crowdfunding feels simple and intuitive. However, I do feel that the site can do better in guiding people through the process, explaining exactly what needs to be done (and why) in order to raise funds for one’s social projects. For example, platforms like Kickstarter and RocketHub do this pretty well. Also, JustGiving Crowdfunding’s site feels a bit light with respect to two things. Firstly, the social aspect involved in raising funds for projects, really creating a community around certain projects – LinkedIn  and Crowdcube (see Fig. 16 below) are doing this pretty successfully. Secondly, I believe thatJustGiving Crowdfunding can do more to encourage people to find and explore new projects or organisations to which one can pledge money.  Buzzbnk are doing this well and there are other non competitive examples such as Meetup.com which is a great example of a business enabling discovery in a smart way.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of the steps involved in raising funds through https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/

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Fig. 2 – Screenshot of the explanation of the benefits of using JustGiving Crowdfunding to raise money for projects 

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Fig. 3 –  Screenshot of the “Raise money” button on JustGiving Crowdfunding’s homepage

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Fig. 4 – Screenshot of JustGiving’s “Create Page” form – Unclear progress bar

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of JustGiving’s “Create Page” form – Error when entering £100 as the target amount

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Fig. 6 – Screenshot of the “Create Page” step on https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/page/create

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Fig. 7 – Screenshot of JustGiving’s “Log in” page on JustGiving Crowdfunding

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Fig. 8 – Screenshot of JustGiving Crowdfunding’s “Add the Details” page

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Fig. 9 – Screenshot of the “Tell supporters your story” section – with fictitious example – on https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/marc-abraham

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Fig. 10 – Screenshot of “Preview Your page” step on https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/marc-abraham

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Fig. 11 – Screenshot of “Pledges and Updates” explanatory section on https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/marc-abraham

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Fig. 12 – Screenshot of RocketHub’s login/sign up page on http://www.rockethub.com/launch/start

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Fig. 13 – Screenshot of GoFundMe’s ‘discovery’ page on http://www.gofundme.com/

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Fig. 14 – Screenshot of “Also Fundraising for this Cause” section on http://www.razoo.com/story/Cameron-Cousins

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Fig. 15 – Screenshot of project page on https://www.buzzbnk.org/ProjectDetails.aspx?projectId=235

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Fig. 16 – Screenshot of the Sugru fundraising page on https://www.crowdcube.com/investment/sugru-19593

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Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.crowdcrux.com/10-best-kickstarter-alternatives/ 
  2. http://www.crowdcrux.com/top-10-crowdfunding-sites-for-nonprofits/
  3. http://techcitynews.com/2013/11/13/justgiving-launches-yimby-crowdfunding-for-social-good/
  4. http://giving.nesta.org.uk/project/justgiving/
  5. https://www.justgiving.com/developer/simple-donation-integration/
  6. http://monetizepros.com/features/crowdfunding-platforms-compared/
  7. https://www.causes.com/
  8. http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/blog/crowdfunding-innovation-sustainability-startups

App review: Meerkat

The other day is saw a discussion about whether Meerkat will or won’t last. Meerkat is a simple video app which lets people stream live to their Twitters. It launched about two weeks ago and has been talked about (and used) a lot since. Let’s do a quick review of the app:

  1. How did the app come to my attention? – Simple. My wife told me about Meerkat about a week ago. I also came across the app on ProductHunt.
  2. My quick summary of the app (before using it) – This app lets me stream live to my Twitter follows.
  3. How does the app explain itself in the first minute? – The first time I open the app, there’s a screen that introduces Meerkat’s ‘rules of conduct’, explaining that “Everything that happens on Meerkat, happens on Meerkat” and thus making it clear that my Meerkat recordings will be shared on Twitter (see Fig. 1 below).
  4. How does the app explain itself in the first minute – The Meerkat login screen says “Tweet Live Video”, which clearly suggests that I’ll be able to tweet live video streams. At the top of my personalised screen I see a text field which says “Write what’s happening …” with two big calls to action – “schedule” and “stream” – underneath (see Fig. 2 below). I’m not quite clear about what will happen when I write something in the text box, or what to expect when I click on “schedule” or “stream”. Nor am I clear on why certain posts appear under the “upcoming” header; I’ve got three upcoming streams from Index Ventures in there, but I don’t understand where these posts have come from. Are they based on Twitter accounts that I follow or are they just placeholders to deal with an initial ‘cold start’ problem? Also, I know I’m not a designer but the light grey font used for the “upcoming” header doesn’t work particularly well against a dark grey background in my opinion.
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like – I type in “Playing with Meerkat” (see Fig. 3 below) and then click on “schedule” to put in a time that works for me (see Fig. 4 below). Et voila, a tweet announces my live stream and off we go (see Fig. 5 below).
  6. How easy to use was the app? – Fairly easy. I guess I personally could have done with a bit more to better understand how Meerkat works and perhaps see some examples of other live streams. For people like me who don’t do video that frequently or who are who conscious of the things they share on Twitter, a bit more context on the app would be helpful. For instance, I can see on the Meerkat leaderboard that Nir Eyal, who I know and trust, is an avid Meerkat user (see Fig. 6 below). It would be good to see some of Nir’s video streams directly from the app.
  7. How does the app compare to similar apps?Qik, which is now part of Skype, and Periscope, which is currently in private Beta are similar to Meerkat in a sense that enable live video streaming from a multitude of devices. It will be interesting to see what Periscope will look like when it goes live and to learn how easy to use the app is in comparison to Meerkat.
  8. Did the app deliver on my expectations? – Yes. The app is simple – perhaps a bit too simple in places – and does exactly what it says on the tin, nothing more and nothing less.

Main learning point: It will be interesting to see what Meerkat’s usage is like once the current hype has subsided and once competitors like Periscope have entered the fray. The app is easy to use, but I feel it could yet do more in terms of its explanatory interface and enabling users to discover content. Considering that this is only the first release of Meerkat, it feels like a good and effective product.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of the Meerkat screen which introduces the Rules of Meerkat

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Fig. 2 – Screenshot of my personalised screen on Meerkat 

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Fig. 3 – Screenshot of my personalised screen on Meerkat after I’ve typed in something in the free text field

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Fig. 4 – Scheduling my live video stream via the Meerkat app

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of my tweet announcing my live video stream on Meerkat to my Twitter followers

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Fig. 6 – Screenshot of the leaderboard on the Meerkat app 

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Related links for further learning:

  1. http://quibb.com/links/on-meerkat-and-why-it-won-t-last
  2. http://www.theverge.com/2015/3/9/8164893/meerkat-live-video-streaming-twitter-yevvo-periscope
  3. http://www.producthunt.com/posts/meerkat
  4. http://www.wsj.com/articles/twitter-acquires-live-video-streaming-startup-periscope-1425938498
  5. http://hunterwalk.com/2015/03/14/meerkat-the-value-of-slow-graphs/

Why ‘single purpose’ apps are en vogue

As I’m currently investigating how to best simplify the ways in which user discover new content – as part of my day job as a product manager at Beamly – I have been thinking more about so-called ‘simple purpose apps’.

The words ‘single purpose’ indicate that the apps focus on a singular user ‘job’ (I’ve written about ‘jobs’ previously). For example, Facebook’s “Paper” which concentrates solely on one job; enabling users to upload and share stories. It’s almost like we’re decomposing multi-purpose apps and recreating them into smaller, single task oriented apps.

I’ve thought about this a bit more and looked at some recent examples:

  1. Why single-purpose? – The other day, I heard about a quote from Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley, whose company has just split its app into two: “Swarm” (for keeping up and meeting up with friends”) and “Foursquare” (local search personalised to a user’s tastes). “What we’re starting to see is that the best apps tend to be the simplest, the easiest to use and the fastest to use” Dennis Crowley told the Guardian. “I think there’s a larger trend towards unbundling apps and making very easy, simple, clean and elegant single purpose use case apps, and I think that’s what we’re doing.”
  2. What do users want? – In my ongoing conversations with users, it always dawns on me how much people seem to value simplicity and/or ‘structure’ in products. Whether it’s a physical product or a digital application, my perception is that people like to know exactly what a product is for and what it doesn’t do. Users don’t like getting confused by tasks which aren’t core to the key reason for wanting to use the product in the first place. I really like the “Laws Of Simplicity” by John Maeda (see Fig. 1 below). I believe that the current move towards single purpose apps ticks at least four of John Maeda’s Laws Of Simplicity: Context, Time, Organize and Reduce.
  3. Other benefits of ‘unbundling’ – I learned a lot from Taylor Davidson’s views on the benefits of unbundling and him taking Facebook’s current strategy as an example. Taylor points out a number of valid touch interface reasons which accommodate single support apps (as outlined in Fig. 2 below). Touch interfaces make it easy to surface and access multiple apps, and the data capture of specialised apps. Taylor also highlights some constraints and risks to consider in relation to single purpose apps (see Fig. 3 below). Both risks that Taylor points out – lots of single-purpose apps competing for user attention and capturing data in isolation – make a lot of sense and need to be taken seriously.
  4. Facebook’s ‘social conglomerate’ strategy – Rather than creating one product or app which does everything, Facebook seems to be following a so-called ‘social conglomerate strategy’ whereby it makes targeted acquisitions to include specific services in its portfolio (and which continue to exist under their own brand name and within their own ‘home’). Good examples are Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Oculus Rift. As Taylor Davidson explains in his aformentioned blog post; having a social conglomerate strategy in place enables the likes of Facebook, Dropbox and Foursquare to use different brands and applications “to reach difference use cases, demographics, and desires.”

Main learning point: The unbundling of apps seems like a very logical trend, with companies such as Facebook and Dropbox looking to both simplify their apps and to address different use cases / audiences through separate apps or brands. It will be interesting to see how recently acquired single purpose apps such as WhatsApp will be integrated within the Facebook ‘conglomerate’ and whether there will be cases where the single purpose app strategy backfires due to a plentitude of apps available to users.

Fig. 1 – The Laws Of Simplicity by John Maeda (taken from: http://lawsofsimplicity.com/tag/laws/)

  • Law 10 – The One: Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.
  • Law 9 – Failure: Some things can never be made simple.
  • Law 8 – Trust: In simplicity we trust.
  • Law 7 – Emotion: More emotions are better than less.
  • Law 6 – Context: What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.
  • Law 5 – Differences: Simplicity and complexity need each other.
  • Law 4 – Learn: Knowledge makes everything simpler.
  • Law 3 – Time: Savings in time feel like simplicity.
  • Law 2 – Organize: Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.
  • Law 1 – Reduce: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.

Fig. 2 – Benefits of ‘unbundling’ (taken from: http://taylordavidson.com/2014/apps)

  • The touch interface of mobile smartphone operating systems makes it easy to survey multiple applications to select from: easier than opening up a single app to dig through a menu and list of features.
  • Mobile operating systems unlock a data platform for specialized mobile apps to leverage in a way that isn’t possible on the desktop today.
  • Contacts, calendar, photos, location, storage, and more are all available for an app to access with ease, and that accessibility makes it easy to build a valuable specialized application on top of mobile platforms.

Fig. 3 – Risks to consider in relation to ‘unbundling’ (taken from: http://taylordavidson.com/2014/apps)

  • The problems of customer acquisition and engagement are magnified. In a world where customer acquisition and engagement on mobile are major challenges (read a million other articles about the problems of app store discovery and search, download metrics and tracking, and more), the proliferation of single-purpose apps increases the competition for homescreen and top-of-mind share.
  • Single-purpose apps amplify the amount of siloed data and reduce the data scale held by any one app. Single-purpose apps build deep understanding about interactions about our actions and behaviors in very specific ways (i.e. what we read, what we listen to, how much we work out, where we go), which makes them very powerful sources of data, but also locks that data away from other apps.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://lawsofsimplicity.com/
  2. http://taylordavidson.com/2014/apps
  3. http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20140226/TECHNOLOGY/140229904/whatsapp-deal-exposes-nys-soft-underbelly
  4. http://techcrunch.com/2014/01/29/one-app-at-a-time/
  5. http://stratechery.com/2014/social-conglomerate/
  6. http://techcrunch.com/2012/05/16/nielsen-u-s-consumers-app-downloads-up-28-to-41-4-of-the-5-most-popular-still-belong-to-google/
  7. http://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2014/04/03/why-facebook-is-spending-billions-on-companies-it-doesnt-need/
  8. https://ca.news.yahoo.com/facebook-s-mark-zuckerberg-is-building-a-conglomerate-201436689.html
  9. http://pando.com/2014/05/01/by-splitting-in-two-foursquare-joins-facebook-google-and-dropbox-in-the-great-unbundling/
  10. http://curiousmatic.com/heres-why-facebook-google-and-dropbox-are-unbundling-apps/
  11. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/29/mary-meeker-2015-findable-data-mobile-sensors
  12. http://blog.foursquare.com/post/84422758243/a-look-into-the-future-of-foursquare-including-a-new

 

Discovering more about social collaboration software

Recently I found myself looking into the world of ‘enterprise collaboration’ tools. The key thing I love about such applications is the amount of transparency they offer. Suddenly, discussions, thoughts, suggestions and documents become a lot more visible and accessible.

In a previous role I had worked a lot with tools like Jive and Basecamp and I’ve recently been ‘collaborating’ a lot through Asana and Yammer. It made me realise that even though a lot of these tools set out to provide a similar value or proposition, there are nevertheless some differences worth looking into:

  1. Online collaboration vs online project management (1) – People can collaborate around ideas or specific projects, or both. Yammer is great as a tool to collaborate around ideas whereas Basecamp and Asana are more geared towards project management. As my ex-colleague Daniel Siddle – who specialises in this area – put it: “real-time collaboration is a hard one to get right since the concrete end goal can be much harder to define and less tangible compared to using online project management software.” With project management software the tangible outcome is that you can deliver a project faster but with social collaboration software things can be a lot less tangible.
  2. Online collaboration vs online project management (2) – What I like most about using tools such as Yammer, Jive, Chatter (Salesforce) and Confluence is that they enable full transparency, keeping all relevant communications in a single place. When working on specific projects, tools such as Podio (see Fig. 2 below) and Basecamp (see Fig. 3 below) can provide visibility on project progress and on who’s doing what. One thing I learned from having another play with some of these tools is that most online collaboration tools also seem to have at least some project management functionality. Good examples in this respect are Yammer, Tibbr and IBM Connections. Employees can have lengthy discussions on these platforms but are able to switch into a more project management related part of the system if required. In contrast, some of the online project management tools that I’ve looked at seem less geared towards open collaboration.
  3. Some tools in the online collaboration space and what to look out for – Tools that come to mind are: Chatter, SocialtextIgloo, Jive, Yammer, Confluence, MangoApps and daPulse (see Fig. 1 below). As with any digital application, key things to look out for are (1) ease of use and clean interface design and (2) management of information. With some of the tools that I mentioned above there’s a risk of information overload, with the application becoming one long activity stream. Also, I’ve learned from implementing some of these tools with clients that the more intuitive it is to share and comment on ideas, the higher the uptake of these tools. I like tools such as Yammer and Jive because they are so intuitive and easy to use.
  4. Some tools in the online project management space and what to look out for – When managing projects of any scale and with a number of different people involved, Gantt charts or emails are no longer sufficient in my view. Tools like Asana, Basecamp, Podio, Trello and SocialCast provide private workspaces dedicated to specific projects and make it easier to keep track of project progress and outstanding tasks. Whereas a tool like Yammer is continually strengthening the project management aspect of its application (see Fig. 4 below), I find that Asana, Podio and Basecamp (see Fig. 2/3 below) can really help in assigning tasks as well as understanding the status of a project and its individual milestones. Another aspect to look out for is the secure sharing of documents. Most of the applications I mentioned above do have that capability, but there also platforms out there such as Dropbox and Box that do just that: securing storing and sharing of documents.

Main learning point: having used social and project management tools for a while now, it’s interesting to see an overlap in functionality and in proposition arising between the different tools. Like with most products the main challenge to the user is to be clear what they want get out of a specific tool and to establish whether it can deliver on that expectation. For instance, if one’s end goal is to deliver projects faster, some of the open collaboration solutions might not be appropriate. In contrast, if one likes to collaborate around ideas then the more traditional project management software might not be the way to go.

Fig. 1 – An introduction to daPulse by daPulse

Fig. 2 – How Podio can be used for Project Management by Podio

Fig. 3 – A review of the Basecamp project management functionality by Joel Milne

Fig. 4 – An overview of new Yammer features by Yammer

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://venturebeat.com/2013/04/22/jive-yammer-competitor-shows-its-moxie-by-making-paid-service-free/
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_collaborative_software
  3. http://www.ombud.com/product/compare/yammer
  4. http://www.quora.com/Who-are-the-competitors-to-Microsofts-Yammer
  5. http://www.cio.com/article/598122/15_Free_Enterprise_Collaboration_Tools

Stop losing stuff with Tile

I was really intrigued when I found out about Tile, an app that helps users find their lost items. People talk a lot about the “Internet of Things” and Tile is a tangible example of this concept. So what is Tile?

  1. A small hardware device – A “Tile” is a small white device that you can easily attach to any items that you wish to track (e.g. a laptop, a wallet or a bicycle – see Fig. 1). With its GPS-like functionality users can track their items through their Tiles. Tiles doesn’t have to be recharged and they come with a built-in speaker so that you can hear whenever you’re getting closer to the item that you’re looking for.
  2. An app to go with the device – The main idea behind the Tile app on your phone is to make it easier to find your Tile(s). For example, the app remembers where it last saw your Tile or you can use the app to ring a specific Tile to find out where you’ve left it. Also, the app lets users turn on a range view when they are within 100-150 feet of a Tile. This view will help you figuring out whether you’re getting closer (or not) to the Tile that you’re looking for (see Fig. 2).
  3. A community of Tile users – A user’s ability to retrieve their valuables through Tile will largely depend on the wider network of Tile users. The idea is to create a distributed network of Tile users who all receive an alert in case a fellow Tile user marks one of his items as lost. It sounds like the team at Tile aren’t initially highlighting this functionality, arguing (quite rightly) that users don’t need a whole community to hunt down the set of keys that they might have lost in the house.

Main learning point: Tile is the latest exponent in a recent trend involving connected objects, where the device is connected to an app that the user can control. The main proposition is a simple but an appealing one; helping you to find your lost items. I can see Tile becoming a success and building up a group of loyal users fairly quickly.

However, I believe that Tile’s success rate will depend largely on two factors: price and community. A Tile is currently priced at $25 which could pose a bit of a financial hurdle to users. Secondly, for a user to get the most out if his Tile, the presence of an ‘alert’ Tile user community is critical. I guess that’s the question I’m curious to find about the most: how many people will soon be tagging their personal items through Tile?

Fig. 1 – Tile’s small device that helps you track real-world items

Fig. 2 – The app lets users turn on a range view to work out if they’re getting closer to their Tile tile-signal-strength Related links for further learning:

  1. http://techcrunch.com/2013/06/20/tile/
  2. http://www.thetileapp.com/