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:


Developing my own product – Creating a Minimum Viable Product

Now that my efforts to develop the HipHopListings iOS app myself had not provided me with the desired results, I decided to seek help. I got as far as creating a basic app version of my existing HipHopListings (‘HHL’) blog and installing it onto my phone. However, it became pretty clear very quickly that Apple weren’t going to accept my app or that “AppMaker”, the 3rd party tool I was using, were going to submit the app for me. Alex, an experienced end-to-end developer, was happy to help me with developing the app in return for a modest fee. One of the first questions that he asked me however was whether I could provide me him with a short brief of what to build.

At this stage, I had thought about my product vision, assessed the opportunity, created wireframes and even started developing the app myself. What I hadn’t done, however, was define the minimum functionality which needed to be included in the app. I thought I had a reasonably good idea of my target users and their problems that I was looking to solve through the app. Also, I felt I now had a better steer on the criteria Apple use to approve an app into their App Store. I just needed to translate this is into some well-defined features and requirements that Alex could work against.

The challenge was to rein myself in whilst I was outlining the product requirements. I could easily see myself falling in the trap of overdesignining this app, now that I had an experienced developer to help me. I therefore used Tristan Kromer’s version of a mix of the “Lean Product Canvas” (by Ash Amaurya) and the “Business Model Canvas” (by Alex Osterwalder) as a technique to try to keep my requirements as ‘lean’ and ‘minimal’ as possible. This is how I broke it down:

  1. Customer needs and goals (problems) (1) – The key user problems I was looking to address through my HHL app were twofold: (1) how do I find out about upcoming Hip Hop shows in my area? and (2) how do I find out about upcoming Hip Hop releases. Both seemed like fair assumptions to make as I’ve received lot of a feedback on these problems from having done HHL over the past 4 years.  
  2. Customer needs and goals (requirements) (2) – In my brief to Alex the developer I translated the user problems mentioned under 1. in the simplest way possible: (1) enable users to easily view upcoming shows and go to a 3rd party ticketing site (see Fig. 1 below) and (2) enable users to filter listings by area and by date (see Fig. 2 below). I also asked Alex to set up Google Analytics so that I could track users’ actual behaviour and validate some of my assumptions.
  3. Keep it simple – I decided to keep the design of the app as simple as possible at this stage. Let’s get the app approved by Apple first (which can be a real pain in itself), get people to use the app and comment the functionality. Once I’ve established that users actually do find the app of value in terms of finding out about gigs and releases, I can them improve the functionality further and worry more about the user interface / visual design. In his “Lean Product Canvas” Tristan Kromer refers to this approach as ‘trimming the fat’.
  4. Customer needs and problems (3)  Based on previous feedback, I thought it would be good to add a very basic ‘discovery’ element to the app; a very simple ‘Featured’ screen which users can turn to for curated shows and releases which I’d chosen to highlight (see Fig. 3 below). I reckoned this feature would be relatively easy to get feedback on. Firstly, through tools Google Analytics and Flurry I would be able to monitor the number of views of this screen. Secondly, I felt this would be the kind of feature which would be easy to get qualitative user feedback on. I could use both feedback methods to validate one of my assumptions: making it as easy as possible for users to discover new shows and releases will be a powerful proposition for HHL’s (target) users.   
  5. Constraints to consider – One of my personal goals was to learn more about designing for mobile. And learning I did. My original design went largely out of the window as soon as I realised from testing that Facebook’s more traditional split screen view (see Fig. 4 below) would probably be easier to implement and for users to interact with. After all, all I wanted is a clean and simple interface, no frills, and it looked my original designs were probably a bit too elaborate compared to some of the simple user interfaces that are working well (with Facebook, Hailo and Vine as good examples). Also, I realised that I had to update the app’s content manually via a back-end which had to be kept as simple and intuitive as possible. I spent a good chunk of my time think about the user flow involved in uploading, updating and removing the app’s content.

Main learning point: actually putting down my functional and non-functional requirements down was both scary and exciting at the same time. Scary, because I really had to rein myself in and be realistic about technical and financial constraints. Exciting because I could apply some of my ‘lean’ lessons learned to my own app and think about the key value I could provide my (target) users with in the first iteration of my HipHopListings app. If anything, it was great to go from creating my original vision to submitting my app with Apple within a month. As scary and challenging as it felt at times, I felt I had created something tangible that I could launch, validate, learn from and build on!

Fig. 1 – My design for a “Shows” to enable users to easily find out about upcoming shows and go to ticket sites

Fig. 2 – My design for a simple filtering functionality, enabling users to only look at shows in their area or by date

0421'13 Draft Show Filtering V1

Fig. 3 – My design for a simple ‘Featured’ screen which highlights pre-picked shows and releases

0420'13 Draft main app screen (featured)

Fig. 4 – Facebook’s split view mobile app design

Related links for further learning:


What to make of Twitter #music

Last week it finally happened: Twitter launched its own music service in Twitter #music. This is “a new service that will change the way people find music, based on Twitter.” Like so many other music and content-oriented services out there, Twitter is trying to crack the holy grail that is ‘discovery’.

Here are three reasons why I think Twitter is in a fairly good position to do so:

  1. It knows what’s popular – Since Twitter’s acquisition of music service We Are Hunted, which specialised in analysing the likes of Twitter and making recommendations accordingly, the question has been how Twitter would encourage its users to discover music. An obvious first angle is to highlight music that’s popular, showing “new music trending on Twitter” (see Fig. 1 below). The tracks on here are irrespective of a user’s taste or the artists you’re following on Twitter.
  2. It can point you in the direction of new talent – I’d love to find out more how Twitter’s algorithm compile the artists and bands that appear in its “Hidden talent found in the Tweets” screen (see Fig. 2 below). Twitter suggests over a 100 artists who are considered “emerging”. Because Twitter Music primarily focuses on the artist, it will let users discover new music through the artist. For instance, when I click through on The Blank Tapes, one of the emerging talents mentioned, I get a neat overview of all the artists that The Blank Tapes follow (see Fig. 3 below).
  3. It’s dynamic! – The dynamic nature of Twitter is probably best symbolised by Twitter Music’s #nowplaying view which displays those tracks tweeted by the people that you follow. The tracks that appear on this screen are likely to change in rapid succession (obviously dependent on the number and kinds of people you follow and their Twitter activity).
  4. It’s cross-platform – Users can currently access Twitter #music via the web and iOS. An Android version is set to follow soon, with Twitter also looking to expand the service beyond the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. One can imagine a tablet version to also be introduced soon. Apart from being cross-platform (which was to be expected), Twitter Music offers a tight integration with iTunes, Rdio and Spotify. By default, you users can listen to track snippets through iTunes and will have to log into to Rdio or Spotify account to listen to the full-length track. Twitter is thus creating its own – fairly closed – ecosystem around music and music discovery.

Main learning point: in a way, with “Twitter #music”, Twitter has launched a music service that very much does what you’d expect it to do. With the amount of ‘social data’ that Twitter has of its users and the activity on their platform, you’d expect nothing short of a highly usable and ‘intelligent’ music service. Twitter #music definitely delivers on those fronts: it provides a good user experience, it’s visually appealing and – most importantly – it does stimulate users to discover new music.

However, Twitter’s new music service still feels fairly one dimensional. Opportunities to actively engage with artists are limited and ways to find out about more things than just their music (e.g. live dates, discographies) are non-existent. It would be great to see Twitter build on its music service by adding more ‘interaction’ over the next few months.

Fig. 1 – Sample “Popular – New music trending on Twitter” view 

FireShot Screen Capture #029 - 'Popular I #Music' - music_twitter_com_i_chart_popular

Fig. 2 – Sample “Emerging – Hidden talent found in the Tweets” view

FireShot Screen Capture #028 - 'Emerging I #Music' - music_twitter_com_i_chart_emerging

Fig. 3 – Sample of viewing the artists followed by the artist you follow

FireShot Screen Capture #027 - 'Artists followed by The Blank Tapes I #Music' - music_twitter_com_theblanktapes

Related links for further learning:


Book review: “Culture Shock”

“Culture Shock” is the first book by Will McInnes. McInnes runs NixonMcInnes, a Brighton-based social media agency and he has been advocating business change for years. NixonMcInnes has been recognised as one of the most democratic workplaces by WorldBlu, a global organisation that strives to have “1 billion people working in free and democratic workplaces.”

I guess the biggest caveat to this book review is that the author of the book I’m about to review is one of my personal heroes. About 5 years ago, Will McInnes got me excited about working in digital and I thank him for that to this day. Will is one of those guys who knows what he’s talking about, but does so in a warm and completely unpretentious way.

In “Culture Shock”, Will McIness outlines how we can all make our workplaces more democratic and transparent. The book provides readers with a number of practical ideas to consider, varying in degrees of ‘radicalness’, in relation to changing the way in which businesses are run and employees are being involved.

These are the main things I picked up from reading “Culture Shock”:

  1. Having A Purpose of Significance – As McInnes points out, the idea of having a purpose that drives an organisation isn’t a new one. However, the addition of the word “significance” is the bit that distinguishes 21st century organisations from the more classic organisational mission statements (see Fig. 1 below). More and more organisations are trying to broaden their aspirations and add more ‘meaning’ to their day-to-day activities.
  2. Democracy, empowerment and transparency – For me these three terms – democracy, empowerment and transparency – sum up a lot of the real-life examples and practical suggestions that McInnes highlights in “Culture Shock”. This becomes particularly relevant when you consider these terms from a technology point of view; using the Internet and dedicated software to ‘open up’ your organisation and decision-making. McInnes provides readers with numerous examples varying from companies opening up their Application Programming Interface (‘API’) to organisations using collaborative software like Yammer and Basecamp.
  3. Crowdsourcing innovation and marketing – The likes of Kickstarter, Pledge and Innocentive clearly show the growing popularity of crowdsourcing, getting the ‘crowd’ involved in (funding) innovation or in marketing. In “Culture Shock” McInnes makes a strong case for the value of collaboration and for engaging directly with customers.
  4. Openness (1) – I know it’s easier said than done, but I absolutely LOVE the points McInnes makes about the kinds of behaviours that come with workplace change. I picked up specifically on the suggested use of Buzz monitoring systems and on openness around ‘failure’. Buzz monitoring is the technology that searches the web for keywords of your choice. This helps companies in getting a better insight into the  sentiment around their business or products. However, an important aspect of such systems is that they enable organisations to engage more effectively with customers. Good examples of such systems are Brandwatch and HootSuite.
  5. Openness (2) – As for ‘failure’, McInnes’ central point is that a greater willingness to fail will lead to greater levels of trust between people and will encourage organisational learning. A good example are the “Church of Fail” meetings at Nixon McInnes where employees can volunteer to stand up and describe a time that they failed in the last period. Having described their failure, the crowd will start cheering and clapping loudly. This ritual might not work for every organisation or individual but there’s something to say for sharing ‘failure’ and learning from it.
  6. “Tech DNA” – It was interesting to read what McIness considers a “technical DNA”. In essence, it comes down to organisations having an “embracing attitude towards the disruption and opportunity that technology creates.” The emphasis here is very much on using technology to learn more quickly, thus gaining a competitive advantage sooner than others. In addition, the idea is to involve people all the way through any technology initiative (and not making technology the exclusive  domain of an IT or development department – see Fig. 2 below).

Main learning point: “Culture Shock” is a great read for anyone interested in changing organisational culture. The book provides some strong arguments for the value of making the workplace more democratic and transparent. McInnes illustrates his key points by looking at numerous companies who have introduced a different approach to things like decision-making and employee involvement. He also offers a lot of practical suggestions to consider in relation to making changes to the workplace. All in all, I found “Culture Shock” to be as inspiring to read as it is to listen to McInnes talk in real-life!

Fig. 1 – The checklist for creating A Purpose of Significance (Will McInnes – Culture Shock, p. 11):

  • Does our Purpose address a fundamental problem that is caused or exacerbated by this business industry?
  • Does our Purpose lead to decisions which can surpress or limit short-term financial gains for longer-term achievements?
  • Does our Purpose inspire a community to develop?
  • Does our Purpose address a fundamental injustice in the world?
  • Does our Purpose disrupt and positively revolutionise a whole marketplace?
  • Does our Purpose fundamentally make the world a better place?

Fig. 2 – Some characteristics of an organisation that has technology in its DNA (Will McInnes – Culture Shock, p. 201-202):

  • It typically moves before its peers to experiment with technology.
  • It typically expects technology thinking to happen outside of just the IT or Technology areas – it expects marketers, R&D people, customer services, operations, retail and everyone else to be thinking ‘how can technology help us improve this given area?’
  • It usually takes an Agile/Beta approach to technology innovation and manages expectations accordingly.
  • It always puts the human aspect of how the technology will actually be used and valued over the whizz bang feature set – prioritising user-centred thinking and involvement over tech-for-tech’s sake. 

Related links for further learning:


Facebook Graph – Can it really take on Google?

With the amount of data that Facebook has on its users and their activities, I guess it came as no surprise when they recently launched Facebook Graph.

One of the first questions raised was whether Facebook is now looking to take on Google when it comes to search. In essence, Facebook Graph generates a variety of results (e.g. people, places, interests, etc.) all based on the social data available through your network on Facebook.

An obvious first comparison would be with Google+ and it triggered to me think a bit more about what Facebook Graph entails and how it compares to Google+:

  1. Facebook uses the data it’s already got – I thought this post on Fast Company explains Facebook Graph pretty well: “Graph Search leverages Facebook’s social data to pinpoint any combination of people, places, photos and interests. It is designed to field queries such as “photos of my best friend and my mom” or “friends of friends who like my favorite band and live in Palo Alto” or “Indian restaurants in Palo Alto that friends from India like.” In essence, all Facebook Graph does is using the social data it already has. In contrast, the launch of Google+ signified a venture into a fairly new area for Google, with it having to build a new social platform almost from the ground up.
  2. Facebook Graph has its (search) limitations – It was interesting that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said that “We wouldn’t suggest people come and do web searches on Facebook, that’s not the intent” at the launch of Facebook Graph. Indeed, Graph is no Google when it comes to web search; searches on Graph are limited to data that are either public or visible to you. Also, as the aforementioned Fast Company article points out; if one of your friends has wrongly labelled a certain picture it’s just a case of tough luck with Facebook Graph.
  3. Different algorithms – Whereas Google’s search algorithms are predominantly based on keywords and links, Facebook Graph takes into social data around “likes” and “check-ins”. Consequently, the search results that Graph returns are likely to be a lot more personalised and authentic than Google’s. As I mentioned under point 1. above, Facebook has an almost endless amount of social data at its disposal which Google will struggle to compete with. Unlike Google, Facebook Graph enables users to search by using combined phrases such as “My friends who like cycling and have recently been to France.”

Main learning point: the main question I asked myself after having done this brief comparison of Facebook Graph and Google (Plus) was: “is it really fair to compare the two?” Google has clearly established itself as a very reliable web search platform, whilst Facebook Graph is clearly concentrating on “social search”. Having said that, I can see Google+ eventually suffering from Facebook Graph, mostly due to Facebook’s head start when it comes to social data. Facebook Graph, however, is currently only available in beta and it might not hit the dizzying heights that Facebook has hit. Facebook users might not sign up to Zuckerberg’s grand ‘one stop shop’ vision and prefer to search through Google …

Related links for further learning:

Why I really like This Is My Jam

I love This Is My Jam. Period. This service, which only came out of private beta a few months ago, is as simple as it is effective.  This Is My Jam (‘TIMJ’) lets users select one track at the time (your “jam”) which will expire after one week. As a result, you tend to get recent tracks and a good flavour of the kinds of music people are ‘feeling’ at any given time. These are the main things I like about This Is My Jam:

  1. It is curated – Are you also getting tired of “what my friends are listening to” features on Spotify or YouTube, and the unfiltered flood of music that provides for!? As TIMJ co-founder Matthew Oggle explains: “Music gets lost in the deluge, and even when it’s noticed, links out to Spotify or Youtube in a social feed can feel impersonal.” TIMJ tries to address this by forcing users to carefully select a single jam at the time and enables them to personalise their pick by adding their own text or imagery.
  2. It is simple – The TIMJ site looks simple and is simple to use. Selecting and previewing the jam of your choice is incredibly easy and so is customising it. If you wish to share your jam on Facebook or Twitter, again, that is very simple too. I don’t know where it sits on TIMJ’s product roadmap, but it will be interesting to see what their mobile app will look like when they launch it.
  3. Music discovery at its finest – Having been on TIMJ for a good 6 months now, I am impressed with the variety of music on there. There is definitely an element of people trying to ‘outcool’ each other which means that you get a truly eclectic mix of genres and artists, and get to discover music that you might not have come across otherwise.
Main learning point: like with all these services, the question remains how popular This Is My Jam will become, how quickly it will manage to grow its user base. What I do know is that TIMJ offers a great, easy-to-use service for anyone who is passionate about music or who wishes to discover new stuff!

Related links for further learning:–dis-meets-this-is-my-jam

zeebox – the value is in sharing and discovery

Like music, TV is another traditional medium that has gone social. Forget about ‘just’ watching a show on TV’ that is only half the fun nowadays. Watching something on telly is one thing, but the conversation around it on  social media such as Twitter and Facebook is pushing the way in which we consume TV content to a whole other level. zeebox is an app that taps into this trend. It presents itself as “Your TV sidekick” which it tries to do in a number of different ways:

  1. Knowing what you are watching, right now – zeebox will pick up, for example, that I am watching Formula One on Sky Sports 1 and will provide me with all kinds of related info on this programme, of which the “News” tab seems most helpful.
  2. Real time is the key  With an app like zeebox, you want everything to be instant so it lets you invite your friends and start a chat with them whilst you are watching. Similarly, I can view the “Buzz” (i.e. tweets per minute) or “Audience” (popularity figure) for a specific show, both in real time.
  3. “zeetags” to help your discovery – I believe that the big potential of services like zeebox and Fanhattan is in helping users discovering new content. Zeebox will automatically picks up references to things on a show that you happen to be watching or be interested in. For instance, when I’m watching Formula One on telly, zeebox will bring up related tags such as “Fernando Alonso”, which I can then click on to delve into more info about this driver (generated from sources such as Wikipedia and Google). However, the quality of these tags can be improved judging by suggested tags such as “The Netherlands” and “Morocco” when I’m looking into a coverage of an international golf tournament …
  4. Acting as a content ‘hub’ – The idea is that zeebox acts as a portal from where you can dip into various forms of content linked to a particular TV programme. For instance, when I go onto the Top Gear page on zeebox, I can branch out to associated content in the form of apps and downloads.
  5. It’s social! – Last but not least, zeebox enables you to keep on top of what your friends are watching or are talking about. This is a route which is already prevalent across music services such as Spotify and Rdio. Once you know what other people are watching, you can then engage with them around this content or discover new stuff through your friends.

Main learning point: I can see why zeebox and the idea of a “second screen” (as zeebox’ Co-Founder Anthony Rose calls it) is generating quite a bit of excitement. The main thing that I am not sure about is how people will use zeebox on top of some of the social channels like Twitter and Facebook that they are already using. Also, it will be interesting to see how many people will be interested in the ‘context’ around TV. I feel that this area of content sharing and discovery is still at its early stages and that it will get more and more sophisticated over time.

Related links for further learning: