Some good conversational UI examples to learn from

It was Dennis Mortensen – CEO/Founder of x.ai – who made me aware a few years ago of the concept of ‘invisible interfaces’. He talked about applications no longer needing a graphical user interface (GUI), taking “Amy” – x.ai’s virtual personal assistant as a good example (see Fig. 1 below).

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Fig. 1 – Amy, x.ai’s virtual assistant – Taken from: http://www.agilenetnyc.com/business/x-ai/

Since then, I’ve been keeping more of an eye out for bots and virtual assistants, which can run on Slack, WeChat, Facebook Messenger or Amazon Echo. Like “Amy” these applications can be driven entirely by complex machine learning algorithms, or can be more ‘smoke and mirrors’ and operated entirely by humans. Let’s just have a look at some relevant examples to illustrate where I think some of these virtual assistants and chatbots are heading.

Example 1 – Nordstrom Chatbot and Operator offering personalised discovery:

US based Nordstrom recently launched its first chatbot for the 2016 holiday season. If you’re already on Facebook Messenger or Kik, Nordstrom’s virtual assistant is only a click away. Users who engage with Nordstrom’s bot will be asked a number of questions about who they’re shopping for. The bot will then respond with bespoke gift suggestions based on the user’s responses.

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Fig. 2 – Nordstrom Chatbot – Taken from: https://chatbotsmagazine.com/the-complete-beginner-s-guide-to-chatbots-8280b7b906ca#.l5e2i887r

You can get a similar experience using Operator, which is driven entirely by human experts who’ll provide you with personalised advice on what to buy (see Fig. 3 below).

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Fig. 3 – Operator’s experts providing tailored advice to its users – Taken from: https://www.operator.com/

Example 2 – KLM sharing flight information via Facebook Messenger:

KLM, the well known international airline, now enables customer to receive their flight documentation via Facebook Messenger. After booking a flight on KLM’s website, customers can choose to receive their booking confirmation, check-in details, boarding pass and flight status updates via Messenger. It’s built on a Messenger plug-in which customers only have to enable in order to receive ‘personalised’ messages from KLM (see Fig. 4 below).

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Fig. 4 – Screenshot of KLM’s Messenger app – Taken from: https://messenger.klm.com/

Example 3 – Telegram using buttons for discovery and shortcuts:

As much as it’s great to have a very simple ‘single purpose’ conversational user interface, there are messenger apps and virtual assistants out there that do offer user functionality that works better with buttons to click. A good example is the Telegram app, which has buttons for specific actions and shortcuts (see Fig. 5 below).

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Fig. 5   – Screenshot of the buttons in Telegram’s messenger app – Taken from: http://alistapart.com/article/all-talk-and-no-buttons-the-conversational-ui

Main learning point: I’ll no doubt learn more about conversational user interfaces over the coming months and years, but looking at simple examples like x.ai, Nordstrom’s Chatbot, Operator, Telegram and KLM’s Messenger feels like a very good starting point!

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://alistapart.com/article/all-talk-and-no-buttons-the-conversational-ui
  2. https://uxdesign.cc/10-links-to-get-started-with-conversational-ui-and-chatbots-3c0920ef4723#.yqpfdz5re
  3. https://chatbotsmagazine.com/the-complete-beginner-s-guide-to-chatbots-8280b7b906ca#.l5e2i887r
  4. http://www.geekwire.com/2016/new-nordstrom-mobile-chat-bot-ready-help-shoppers-find-perfect-holiday-gift/
  5. https://www.techinasia.com/talk/complete-beginners-guide-chatbots
  6. https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/07/conversational-interfaces-where-are-we-today-where-are-we-heading/
  7. http://www.theverge.com/2016/3/30/11331168/klm-facebook-messenger-boarding-pass-chat-integration
  8. https://messenger.klm.com/
  9. https://www.operator.com/

App review – Qapital

As my readers might know by now, I’m always on the lookout for new apps or any other technology innovations that provide a simple but great customer experience. I think I’ve found another one in Qapital, an app that enables people to “Save small” and Live large.” The app lets people make small savings in an automated fashion. Qapital makes it easy to create (1) saving goals and (2) set up rules to trigger deposits into one’s Qapital account (see Fig. 1 below).

Fig. 1 – Qapital user interfaces – Taken from: https://letstalkpayments.com/keep-lookout-amazing-pfm-app/

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These are the main components of the Qapital app:

  1. Choose a Goal – User can set monetary Goals through the Qapital app. Unfortunately, the Qapital app isn’t available in the UK yet, so I couldn’t set up a Goal through the app. However, once you download the Qapital app, users can set their own saving goal or select one of Qapital’s pre-selected goals.
  2. Create a Rule – Qapital users can create Rules to managing their saving habits. Rules are events that trigger the Qapial app to transfer money fro a user’s linked account to their Qapital account. For example, if you find yourself spending a lot of money on guilty pleasures like tech gadgets or trendy trainers, you can set up your own “Guilty Please Rule” (see Fig. 2 – 3 below).
  3. Connect to IFTTT – Users can link their Qapital account to their everyday (online) activities through IFTTT. IFTTT is a free web-based services that enables users to create “recipes”, which are simple conditional “If This Then That” statements. These statements are triggered based on changes in services such Gmail, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest (see Fig. 4 below).

Main learning point: I love how Qapital encourages people to save and makes it very easy to do so! Call it gamification or jusr great user experience, Qapital has created a very compelling proposition and product in my view.

Fig. 2 – Screenshot saving Rules on Qapital’s app – Taken from: http://www.tested.com/tech/android/564019-google-play-app-roundup-qapital-dub-dash-and-evo-explores/

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Fig. 3 – Rules that users can create on Qapital – Taken from: https://www.qapital.com/how-it-works

  • The guilty pleasure rule – This Rule has been design to help users curb their spending habits. If you feel that you really gotta have it, you can create a Rule to save a set amount when you give in to your guilty pleasure.
  • The spend less rule – Users can decide on a cap for how much they want to spend in one place, and they can then challenge themselves to spend less than that. When you come in under budget, the remaining amount is automatically to sent to a user’s Goal.
  • The roundup rule –  This Rile lets users round up their change every time they make a purchase with their card linked to their Qapital account. Qapital’s average user saves $44 each month with this Rule.

Fig. 4 – Connecting users’ Qapital accounts to their online actvities – Taken from: https://ifttt.com/p/qapital/shared

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Related links for further learning: 

  1. http://www.advisoryhq.com/articles/qapital-review/
  2. https://ifttt.com/p/qapital/shared
  3. https://ifttt.com/qapital
  4. http://www.ourfreakingbudget.com/qapital-app-review/
  5. http://www.americanbanker.com/news/bank-technology/can-mobile-apps-prod-millennials-to-save-this-startup-thinks-so-1073121-1.html

App review: Abra

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The main reason why I’m excited about Abra – a US-based peer-to-peer payments startup – is that people become tellers or ‘human ATMs’ who expense cash at hand to the recipient. The Philippines is a key target market for Abra, and it facilitates seamless payments between residents of the US and the Philippines.

Recent stats show that about two-thirds of the adult Philippine population is still unbanked. Currently, Filipinos will have to go to a local exchange ‘business’ (often a one-man band or small operation that does foreign exchange as one of its activities), fill out paper forms to send or receive money abroad. This can be very time-consuming, costly or unreliable.

Abra’s mission is to change all this and make cross-border peer-to-peer payments as easy and seamless as possible. This is how they do it:

  1. Deposit money into the Abra app – Users can deposit money into the Abra app either via a linked bank account, or by using Abra’s network of Abra Tellers, which are like human ATM machines (see Fig. 1 below). Each Teller will set their own fee with the customer, after which the Teller and the customer will meet up in person to accept a cash deposit and credit the customer’s account with funds (or vice versa, if the user wants to cash out) (see Fig. 2 below).
  2. Convert into Bitcoins – After a user’s account is credited with the necessary funds, the money is instantly converted to bitcoin behind the scenes, but still denominated in a traditional currency. What I like about Abra is that it doesn’t really talk that much on its website or its other comms about using bitcoins to underpin these payments. Abra, however, does use bitcoins and shared ledgers to facilitate peer-to-peer transactions without the need for an intermediary.
  3. Send and withdraw money – Customers can use the Abra app to send and withdraw money, or buy things online where Abra is accepted by the seller. The company generates revenue by charging a .25 percent fee to a customer upon transacting with an Abra Teller.
  4. You don’t need a bank account – One of the key upsides of Abra in my opinion, is that you don’t need to have a bank account to do a transaction through the platform. Competitors like Simple and Venmo still require users to add their bank accounts, whereas Abra let’s people transact without the need for a bank account.

Main learning: I’m really excited about innovations like Abra; using bitcoins and blockchain technology to solve a real-world problem and enabling unbanked people transact easily and cheaply.

Fig. 1 – Add money through Abra – Taken from: http://fintechranking.com/2015/03/05/why-we-started-abra/

 

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Fig. 2 – Finding and engaging with Abra Tellers – Taken from: https://techcrunch.com/2015/09/10/abra-raises-12m-in-series-a-funding-for-its-bitcoin-based-remittance-service/ 

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Related links for further learning: 

  1. https://www.goabra.com/
  2. https://www.goabra.com/blog/were-live-in-the-us-and-other-updates/
  3. http://www.coindesk.com/abra-remittance-app-us-launch/
  4. https://www.finextra.com/pressarticle/65114/bitcoin-remittance-app-from-abra-goes-live-in-the-us
  5. http://uk.businessinsider.com/mobile-payment-company-abra-launches-with-blockchain-technology-in-us-2016-6
  6. http://techcrunch.com/2015/09/10/abra-raises-12m-in-series-a-funding-for-its-bitcoin-based-remittance-service/
  7. https://www.reddit.com/r/Buttcoin/comments/4qq794/can_someone_explain_to_me_how_abra_tellers_are/
  8. https://www.mybanktracker.com/news/new-startup-to-be-uber-of-banks-abra-turns-everyday-people-into-atms
  9. http://money.cnn.com/2015/06/08/technology/abra-bank/

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

Voice-enabled security and payments

I know I’m slightly late to the game when it comes to voice recognition technology, but I was intrigued when I came across a mobile banking app by Dutch bank ING, which they launched about a year ago. This app uses a voice enabled security and payments system, which makes it possible for its clients to check their balance or make mobile payments using their voice. In order to log in, users will have to say a short phrase which the banking app then matches to a sound file stored on the user’s phone.

The underlying claim here is that the shape of a user’s vocal cavities and the way a user moves her mouth means that speech can be more unique than a fingerprint. Nuance, a US based biometrics company, has developed technology that analyses a user’s voice “for hundreds of unique characteristics that are then compared to the voiceprint on file.”

 

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Instead of having to remember 15,000 different passwords or related security questions – you should be able to tell my frustration with existing security measures here – Nuance aims to do away with all this by matching the user’s voice to a stored voiceprint. This can be either passively, whereby the user can say anything to enable the matching or actively, whereby the user is asked to recite a specific passphrase. As a result, authentication should become a lot easier and less stressful for the user.

From the perspective of a bank like ING or any other company, voice-based security mitigates the risks inherent in knowledge-based security. Four-digit PINs or event digital fingerprints can be easily compromised, for example when a person is attacked. Passwords and security questions can be successfully answered with simple web searches of the account holder.

In contrast, it’s much harder to compromise voice biometrics. A voiceprint is a hashed string of numbers and characters, which means that it’s pretty meaningless to a fraudster. Even more so, each time a hacker tries to speak with a call centre or a mobile app, their own voiceprint will be left behind which can then be used to proactively keep them out of the system.

Thinking of mobile payment giants like WeChat (see Fig. 1) and M-Pesa (see Fig. 2) and the rapid raise of in-app payments, I can see voice-based see voice based technology taking great a great flight over the coming years.

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Fig. 1 – WeChat screenshot – Taken from: http://www.digitalstrategyconsulting.com/intelligence/2014/08/wechat_adds_virtual_payments_to_messaging_app.php

 

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Fig. 2 – “How to get started with M-Pesa” – Taken from: https://www.vodacom.co.tz/mpesa/consumers/getting_started

Main learning point: I know that voice recognition isn’t yet where it needs to be in certain cases, but I can see how voice-enabled security and payments can provide a secure and seamless user experience, especially compared to issues related to the current knowledge based approach to passwords and security.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://news.sky.com/story/make-mobile-payments-using-your-voice-10351022
  2. http://www.nuance.com/for-business/customer-service-solutions/voice-biometrics/index.htm
  3. http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/mobility/mobile-apps/ing-netherlands-voice-password-nuance-173717
  4. http://www.cnet.com/news/google-wants-to-help-you-manage-your-passwords/
  5. http://www.ing.com/Newsroom/All-news/NW/Do-you-want-to-transfer-money-Just-say-it-out-loud.htm
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactive_voice_response
  7. https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/17/messaging-app-wechat-is-becoming-a-mobile-payment-giant-in-china/

Book review: Mobilized

I recently read “Mobilized” by SC Moatti, “an insider’s guide to the business and future of connected technology.” SC Moatti is a mobile veteran from Silicon Valley, having developed successful mobile products and services at the likes of Nokia, Facebook and Trulia. Moatti makes the book’s intentions clear in the first chapter: with businesses increasingly shifting their strategic focus to mobile, there’s a need to create a truly mobile culture and mindset within the business. To help companies become mobile first, Moatti introduces the “Mobile Formula” which contains the three rules for successful mobile products:

SC Moatti

SC Moatti’s “Mobile Formula”, the three rules of successful mobile products – Taken from: https://www.leanplum.com/blog/mobilized-on-mobile/

The Body Rule – The best mobile products operate by beauty: Contrary to what one might expect, the beauty in mobile products isn’t about aesthetics, it’s about eliminating waste. ‘Efficiency’ is the keyword here and Moatti refers to the Birkhoff formula in this respect: M=O/C. In this formula, M is a measure of beauty, O of simplicity and C of complexity. Beauty will increase with simplicity and will decrease through complexity.

Measure simplicity through the “thumb test”: Ultimately, the best measure of simplicity is to create a product that’s easy to use by everyone. The so-called “thumb test” is a great way to test whether your product is easy to use. To pass the thumb test, a task should be easily completed by a user with a thumb of average size and without incidentally hitting an unrelated link, button or design element by mistake. Take a look at AnkiDroid for instance. The flash cards on AnkiDroid’s Android app make it easy to learn words in a different language, with clear buttons and calls to actions (see Fig. 1 below).

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Fig. 1 – Screenshot of AnkiDroid – Taken from: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/6-flash-card-apps-for-android-compared-which-is-the-best/

Even the “thumb test” will become redundant (eventually): With voice command software like Apple’s Siri ,GreenOwl’s service TrafficAlert and virtual reality all being hands free, the thumb test will eventually become a thing of the past (see Fig. 2 below). Moatti argues that the principle underpinning the thumb test will still apply: beauty on mobile means that all user interactions need to work effortlessly and efficiently.

TrafficAlert

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of TrafficAlert – Taken from: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.greenowl.ta.android

The Spirit Rule – The best mobile products give us meaning: When describing ‘meaning’ in the context of mobile products, Moatti identifies ‘personalisation’ and ‘community’ as the two key factors that add meaning. One might argue that these two factors contradict each other, but Moatti makes compelling arguments for both. Firstly, ‘personalisation’ is all about the user feeling cared for, by giving the user total control of the mobile experience. Contrary to what one might think, recent research shows that mobile products create deeper bonds between users and their communities. For example, a study by Kyung-Gook Park at the University of Florida illustrates how mobile products make people feel more connected to those around them.

Building for meaning – Mobile products as extensions of our spirit: Moatti makes some great points about the use of internal and external filters to create mobile products with meaning. Internal filters, Moatti explains, can be as simple as our location or address book. These internal filters help in connecting users to their environment; using location or user based data to create a personalised experience for the user (see example in Fig. 3 below).

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Fig. 3 – Personalisation through onboarding on Beats’ mobile streaming service – Taken from: http://www.appvirality.com/blog/personalization-in-retail-apps/

External filters come into play once it’s understood what users care about through internal filters. External filters allow the experience to be shared and enjoyed with other people. For example, a privacy policy is an external filter, in place to outline what a product can and cannot reveal about its users.

The Mind Rule – The best mobile products learn as we use them: The mind rule is the final component of Moatti’s Mobile Formula. Mobile products constantly adapting is of the essence here. This adaptation can happen either fast or slow. Messaging app WhatsApp is a good example of adapting fast. The team at WhatsApp have adopted a culture of ‘continuous learning’ where they learn from users and their behaviours on an ongoing basis, adding new features constantly. This is driven by a realisation that in order to keep up with the competition, they’ll need to adapt relentlessly.

In contrast, slow learning is all about breaking new ground, focusing on new users or launching new offerings. It basically comes down to taking one’s fast or iterative learnings to the next level; creating new mobile divisions to conquer a new target market or value proposition. Whereas an existing mobile product or business might not be the best place to explore new territory, due to a fear of alienating an existing customer base, a completely separate app might be a better place to do so.

Main learning point: “Mobilized” really made me think about how to approach the creation and improvement of mobile products. Most books on mobile products concentrate on design. The great thing about SC Moatti’s book is that it focuses on the mobile user instead, and provides great insights on how to best create a great user experience.

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/using-mobile-apps-the-one-thumb-one-eyeball-test-for-good-mobile-design
  2. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/measure-beauty
  3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sophiecharlotte-moatti/the-7-design-elements-of-great-mobile-products_b_8175942.html
  4. http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/6-flash-card-apps-for-android-compared-which-is-the-best/
  5. https://uxmag.com/articles/personalization-the-pillar-of-the-mobile-user-experience
  6. http://www.appvirality.com/blog/personalization-in-retail-apps/
  7. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sophiecharlotte-moatti/3-best-practices-to-get-c_b_5910572.html
  8. http://ufdcimages.uflib.ufl.edu/UF/E0/04/35/17/00001/Park_K.pdf

Book review: ValueWeb

Chris Skinner – author of the bestselling book Digital Bank – recently published ValueWeb: How FinTech firms are using mobile and blockchain technologies to create the Internet of Value. The ‘”ValueWeb” covers the rise and importance of blockchain technology, describing it as a key technology for authentication and transactions. Skinner positions blockchain technology as a means to an end, with the ValueWeb being the ultimate outcome. The ValueWeb, being closely linked to to the Internet of Things, allows machines to trade with machines and people with people anywhere, in real-time and at virtually no cost.

The blockchain can be used as a shared ledger for shared economies. One of the things I liked about the ValueWeb book is how Skinner removes all sense of buzz around blockchains by stressing the fundamentals which underpin this new technology: “The blockchain creates a marketplace for globalised value exchange that is trusted, secure and irrevocable.”

These are the main things that I took away from reading Value Web:

  1. Mobile as an authentication tool – Skinner makes the point that mobile “makes invisible banking visible.” He also explains how mobile serves as a very effective authentication tool, based on four key mobile attributes (see Fig. 1 below).
  2. Africa shows the way to the future – The book’s chapter titled “Africa shows the way to the future” felt the most inspiring. In this chapter, Skinner zooms in on the success of M-PESA in Kenya. M-PESA is a pioneer with regard to facilitating mobile money transfers between people in Kenya, through mobile network operator Safaricom, a subsidiary of Vodafone. Through M-PESA, a mobile wallet, the mobile phone is acting as a ‘value exchange mechanism’, making it easy for people to send and receive money. M-PESA’s “agent network” is the key component here. Agents in Kenyan towns take money and text the agent in the location the money needs to be delivered. The agent in the receiving location gets the text message and then issues cash to the target recipient.
  3. Digital currencies –  The ValueWeb is based upon two key technologies. Firstly, mobile, which enables people to exchange value in real-time and facilitate real-time authentication (see point 1. above). Secondly, digital currencies, to provide a store of value to exchange. Bitcoin is the key value currency which started it all. The key thing to know about bitcoins, and the different variations of this cryptocurrency, is that it was the first ‘enabler’ of online value exchanges, conducted in real-time and at very low processing cost. Skinner offers a good overview of what the bitcoin is (see Fig. 2 below).

Main learning point: In “ValueWeb”, Chris Skinner does a great job of demystifying some of the buzz around blockchain technology and bitcoins. By focusing on the value that people can now exchange in real-time, Skinner paints an exciting picture of great opportunities that are are already starting to happen.

Fig. 1 – Mobile as an authentication tool, four key mobile attributes – Taken from: Chris Skinner, “ValueWeb”, p.  47

  • Tokenisation – You can check the customer is who they say they are by locating if they have a second token – a mobile registered to their account – with them.
  • Geo-location – You can geo-locate customers using location. For example, a company called XYVerify does this using telecom masts, rather than a mobile device. The system will establish a person’s location based upon where their signal can be located between different mobile transmitting masts.
  • One Time Passwords (‘OTP’) – You can authenticate who the customer is interactively OTP by text messaging. An interactive text or app-based OTP process means that mobile can offer a great second level authentication tool.
  • Mobile biometrics – Using mobile biometrics can become a very effective way to authenticate customers. For example, Banca Intesa in Spain was using mobile apps for iris recognition and Voice Commerce offer voice verification by mobile.

Fig. 2 – A quick overview of bitcoin – Taken from: Chris Skinner, “ValueWeb”, pp.  81-86

  • New bitcoins are generated by a network bode, and these network nodes are created each time a solution is found to a specific mathematical problem.
  • The people trying to solve these math problems are called miners, and each time they successfully solve the problem they create a new bitcoin.
  • This math challenge is so difficult to solve that there are businesses dedicated to this, with data centres running thousands of computers focused upon bitcoin mining.
  • The reason they do this is that each tine a bitcoin is created, the company or person who solved the problem receives 25 bitcoins, which were $250 each as of August 2015. Hence the bitcoin miners do this to earn virtual currency rewards.
  • Before you can buy any coins you must create a wallet to store them. You can do this by installing the bitcoin client, the software that powers the currency, or use an online wallet, where this data is stored in the cloud.
  • A bitcoin transaction is recorded on a public ledger system called the blockchain. The blockchain is a shared ledger system that means all of our bitcoin wallets can be see publicly.
  • No one knows who made the transaction, but the fact there is an electronic shared ledger ensures transactions cannot be made twice.
  • All confirmed transactions are included in the blockchain. This way, bitcoin wallets can calculate their spendable balance and can be verified to ensure they are spending bitcoins that are actually owned by the spender. The integrity and the chronological order of the blockchain are enforced with cryptography.

 

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