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/

 

 

 

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

EDITD and applying big data analytics to the fashion industry

Since I went to a talk about visual search of fashion products, I’ve been keen to find out more about how the fashion industry uses big data analytics to make product decisions. I then came across EDITD, which is a real-time fashion analytics company based in London. Given my passion for both fashion and data, I thought I’d have a closer look into what EDITD do:

  1. EDITD’s mission – EDITD’s overall mission is to “help the world’s apparel retailers, brands, and suppliers deliver the right products at the right price and the right time”. Given the fast pace nature of the fashion industry decisions about product planning and the right amount of stock are absolutely critical. Julia Fowler, co-founder of EDITD, gives a good example when she explains that “today, an EDITD user can simply run a query on cardigans, for example, and receive results in under a second. More than 50 million SKU (Stock Keeping Units, MA) are tracked by the system.” I came across another good example in EDITD’s UK lingerie market retail calendar which aggregated data on new arrivals, discounts and sellouts can help merchandisers planning timing and location of their stock (see Fig. 1 below). It also helps navigate promotional activity and discounting.
  2. EDITD’s product – It was interesting to see what kind of features are included in EDITD’s product offering (see Fig. 2). I read in article in Fortune that EDITD’s dataset includes 53 billion data points on the fashion industry dating back more than 4 years. The Fortune article also mentioned that EDITD’s data covers more than 1,000 retailers across the globe. The way in which EDITD aggregates all this data through its different features (see Fig. 2) is where the main value of using EDITD’s services comes into play.
  3. Tangible benefits – Earlier this year, fashion retailer Asos said that using EDITD led to a 37% revenue increase in the last quarter of 2013. This was due to the data insights provided by EDITD which helped structure Asos’ pricing competitively. Geoff Watts, EDITD’s CEO, told The Guardian that the main value for Asos from using EDITD came from using their insights to make informed buying decisions grounded in data. “Retail on a basic level is all about buying the right things, so getting that right and making sure you’re selling the right product at the right price is really what dictates your success,” Watts said. Maria Hollins, Asos’ retail director, echoed this and stressed the importance of Asos making the right decisions faster than their competitors.“At ASOS, being first for fashion means being always competitive and having just the right assortment,” she said. “We’re using Editd every day to help us make critical buying and trading decisions”. If anything, EDITD saves retailers and brands from having to do so-called “comp shopping”, having to spend time going to competitor sites and stores to buy their products and compare prices. Instead, through EDITD, people can see at a glance what the competitive price points are (see Fig. 4 below).

Main learning point: I can see why brands and retailers are keen to use EDIT’s data tools and insights on a daily basis. The data on fashion and apparel has been aggregated and presented in such way that it accommodates fast decision making. I was particularly impressed with what I’ve seen of EDITD’s front-end dashboard and the way in which its purpose built product tracker provides real-time market visibility.

Fig. 1 – EDITD’s UK lingerie market retail calendar – Taken from: http://editd.com/blog/2014/10/timing-why-uk-lingerie-market-blooms-in-may/

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 Fig. 2 – EDITD’s main product features – Taken from: http://editd.com/product/features/

  • Market Analytics – EDITD offers a product tracker built specifically for the fashion and apparel industry. The tool provides real-time market visibility, analysis of new stock and discount activity, entry and exit prices and number of options in stock which enables retailers to benchmark their performance against each brand or retailer, providing insights into market positioning.
  • Retail Reporting – EDITD offers daily and week reports on what’s selling the fastest and the latest trends in new arrivals.
  • Visual Merchandising – EDITD has an archive of newsletters, blogs and webpages with real-time updates for brands and retailers across the whole market, worldwide. The idea is that every communication with customers is captured, to help users find discount cycles, product trends and themes, and understand their retail cadence.
  • Trend Dashboard – EDITD’s real-time tracking monitors trend progress, and historic data shows performance and trajectory. This data is all captured in EDITD’s Trend Dashboard (see Fig. 3 below).
  • Runway & Street – If you want to get a better sense of emerging trends straight from runway shows or the ‘streets’, EDITD provides visual reports on new fashion and apparel trends to look out for.
  • Social Monitor – EDITD has a Social Monitor which combines the knowledge of over 800,000 thought-leaders, key influencers and fashion experts providing an instant source of inspiration and insight into the hottest trends and opinions.

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of EDITD’s Trend Dashboard – Taken from: http://editd.com/product/features/

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Fig. 4 – Screenshot of EDITD’s front-end providing competitive insights – Taken from: http://menapparelonline.com/blog/fashion/fashion-data-tool-editd-helps-asos-push-revenues-up-37-the-guardian/

EDITD

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://fortune.com/2014/09/22/fashion-industry-big-data-analytics/
  2. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/30/fashion-data-tool-editd-helps-asos-push-revenues-up-37
  3. http://www.wgsn.com/en/
  4. http://menapparelonline.com/blog/fashion/fashion-data-tool-editd-helps-asos-push-revenues-up-37-the-guardian/
  5. http://editd.com/blog/2014/10/timing-why-uk-lingerie-market-blooms-in-may/

Find similar fashion through Cortexica visual search

Last week, I went to a great talk by Alex Semenzato, who works as a Business Development Manager at Cortexica and is founder of FashTech. In his talk, Alex explained about the visual technology as developed by Cortexica. He discussed this technology in the context of fashion products, making the case for how visual search can really change the way we find out about fashion products and trends.

Especially given that fashion is such a visual product, it was very interesting to hear about how visual search can drive product discovery. Because of its visual nature, I can imagine that it’s much easier to explain what you’re looking for through images than through text.This is what I learned from Alex Semenzato’s talk:

  1. Find similar – The main proposition behind using Cortexica’s findSimilar™ software is that “you can shop any look just by taking a picture”. Users can take a picture on their mobiles of a design pattern or look that they like and use the visual search functionality on the client app to find either the exact item, or the most similar option(s) within the retailer’s database. One big caveat though: the quality of your visual search results is very dependent on the products available in the database of the retailer whose app you’re using. For instance, when I did a visual search through the Zalando app, the most relevant results that the app returned didn’t get  close to the look that I was searching for (see Fig. 1 below). In comparison, the results that the Macy’s app returned already felt more relevant (see Fig. 1 below).
  2. Matching – Alex explained that the matching between user’s pictures against fingerprints in the retailer database takes into account things such as colour pattern, texture and – eventually – shape. The technical challenge is to really get this mix right when doing the matching against available items in a retailer’s database. For example, the search technology needs to understand the different textures that a fabric like denim can have. It will be interesting to see how Cortexica’s competitors such as Snap FashionChic Engine and ASAP54 compare in this respect.
  3. Big data – In his presentation, Alex talked about potential B2C opportunities around Cortexica’s visual search capability. “Big data” was the first thing that he mentioned. Sometimes it feels like I can’t go to a presentation without at least one person mentioning the words “big data”, but it being able to measure makes a lot of sense in the context of visual search and fashion. One could use the analytics around products searched for (and bought) to gauge demand and to aid with product on-boarding. However, as a member in the audience rightly pointed out; the value of past data can be quite limited in the world of fashion, where it’s all about today’s trends. Alex talked about using the data generated from visual searches also in relation to merchandising solutions, associating similar items with the main product that one wants to promote.
  4. Things to watch out for – With the previous point about data opportunities come questions around data protection and data ownership. I would like to find out more about visual search and aspects like data usage and ownership. Think about questions such as “can I just use the data generated from ‘street style images’?” and “will the retailer own the images that I took and any associated data?” which I’d love to get answers on. Also, I wondered – after having had a play with the functionality – how to get the user experience around visual search right, especially if users don’t discover the type of product or look that they were looking for. For example, how do you keep users engaged if their retailer or publisher app doesn’t return the desired results?

Main learning point: I really enjoyed Alex Semenzato’s talk about the visual search capability as developed by Cortexica. It seems like a very logical and intuitive way to discover new products and I can see the visual aspect working particularly well in relation to fashion products. Given that this is a relatively new technology, there are few things which still need to pan out: the use of data and the overarching discovery experience for the user. Cortexica has definitely created and interesting piece of technology which can benefit both consumers and retailers alike.

Fig. 1 – Using Cortexica “Find Similar” visual search through the Zalando app

The image that I searched on:

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The “most relevant” results that I got back on Zalando’s app:

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The “most relevant” results that I got back on Macy’s app:

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Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.snapfashion.co.uk/
  2. http://www.chicengine.com/
  3. http://www.businessoffashion.com/2014/05/visual-search-set-make-world-imagery-shopable.html
  4. https://www.asap54.com/
  5. http://thenextweb.com/apps/2013/01/17/stileeye-launches-its-visual-engine-for-fashion-out-of-beta/
  6. http://blog.neimanmarcus.com/press-room/neiman-marcus-partners-with-slyce-to-introduce-single-tap-visual-search-technology-revolutionizing-luxury-shopping-with-snap-find-shop/
  7. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/businessclub/11168037/Virtual-fitting-room-Metail-firm-raises-7.5m-as-consumers-find-new-ways-to-shop-online.html
  8. http://www.magicmirror.me/

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

 

Gamification – Motivation and rewards

In the world of gamification one of the key questions is how to motivate people and how to keep them motivated. I recently did an online course on gamification, in which this topic was explored in quite some detail. The course was instructed by Kevin Werbach, an Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at Wharton School, Pennsylvania.

In his lectures, Kevin talked about motivation a lot since it’s such a critical part of gamification. “What motivates people?” “Is it the right kind of motivation?” “Is it enough?” Answers to such questions aren’t straightforward, but it’s fair to assume that gamification is most likely to work if one is motivated to do something (see this great talk by Tom Chatfield in Fig. 1 below).

Gamification examples such as Recyclebank, eBay and SAP all try to find ways to motivate their users. Kevin highlighted two different theoretic approaches to motivation in gamification: behaviourist and cognitive. He also outlined the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I’ve learned the following things about these different approaches:

  1. Behaviourism looks at what people actually do – Behaviourism is highly empirical and it focuses solely on those things that can be tested. In other words, trying to get into a person’s head is off-limits under the behaviourist model. ‘Observation’ and ‘feedback loops’ are two tangible artefacts of the behaviourist approach. A good example of a feedback loop is LinkedIn’s progress bar, which shows users their progress with respect to completion of their LinkedIn profiles (see Fig. 2 below).
  2. Reinforcement through rewards – In the behaviourist approach, rewards act as a kind of behavioural feedback. Rewards are all about motivating users to play a game or to keeping playing it. Rewards are based on the notion of “The Dopamine System” which neuroscientist Jaap Panksepp describes as the brain’s “seeking” circuitry and which propels us to explore new avenues for rewards in our environment. In the lecture, Kevin outlined some useful reward structures to consider (see Fig. 3 below).
  3. Pitfalls of the behaviourist approach – The risk with a purely behaviourist approach, as Kevin explained, is that of looking at the person involved as a black box, ignoring the inner thoughts or feelings of that person. We’re, however, dealing with players of flesh and blood and we have to account for players’ feelings and thoughts. For example, the hedonic treadmill is a concrete risk in a sense that once you’ve got people only responding to rewards, you’ll have to keep putting in rewards to keep things interesting.
  4. Cognitive behavioural approach looks at intrinsic motivation – The cognitive approach to gamification takes into account player motivations which are independent from (tangible) rewards. In contrast with the behaviourist approach, the focus is on a person’s inner thoughts and motivations. One can distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards in this respect. Intrinsic rewards are those things that people want to do just for the sake of the thing itself. Extrinsic rewards are all about the reward and not about the thing itself. Gamification expert Gabe Zichermann has created a nice mnemonic to capture the key reward schemes, called “SAPS” (see Fig. 4 below). These SAPS address both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.
  5. Factors of intrinsic motivation – Whereas I struggled a bit to fully understand the distinction between behaviourist and cognitive theories, the thinking which underpins “intrinsic motivation” really resonated with me. In 2000, Richard Ryan and Edward Deci wrote an influential article on intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in which they outlined a motivational spectrum. This spectrum includes “amotivation” (i.e. no motivation) to “extrinsic motivation” (i.e. external motivators) and “intrinsic motivation” (i.e. doing something just because it’s fun) (see Fig. 5 below). Ryan and Deci have also studied the three common factors of intrinsic motivation: (1) competence (a sense of ability) (2) autonomy (a feeling of control) and (3) relatedness (activities being related to something beyond yourself).

Main learning point: I didn’t find the topic of motivation and rewards in gamification the easiest to understand. The psychological theories which underpin players’ motivations can be quite hard to fully grasp. Also, there’s a motivational spectrum to bear in mind, with most people likely to fluctuate across this spectrum. The difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators resonated with me the most. This distinction urges people involved in gamification to think constantly about the appropriate motivators and rewards.

Fig. 1 – Tom Chatfield: 7 ways games reward the brain (at Ted Global 2010, July 2010)

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of LinkedIn progress bar (taken from: http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/26-elements-of-a-gamification-marketing-strategy/)

LinkedIn Progress Bar

Fig. 3 – Some gamification reward structures to consider (from Kevin Werbach’s Gamification Course, January – April ’14)

Questions to consider when creating and offering rewards:

  • Which behaviours can/should be rewarded? Provide people with meaningful choices and reward accordingly
  • Tangible / Intangible rewards – Offering money is an obvious example of tangible rewards. A digital badge is a good example of an intangible reward.
  • Expected / Unexpected rewards – Does the player know that he/she will receive a reward or does the reward come as a surprise?
  • What are the rewards contingent on? Rewards can be automatic (‘task non-contingent’), which means that players will get a reward regardless. In contrast, rewards can be related to actually doing a task: ‘engagement contingent’ (starting the task), ‘completion contingent’ (finishing the task) and ‘performance contingent’ (related to how well a player performs the task).
  • When is the reward offered? There are four basic ways to schedule rewards: (1) continuous rewards – these rewards are somewhat automatic (2) fixed ratio rewards – a player will receive a reward at a set number of times (3) fixed interval rewards – these rewards are based on time (and not on what a player does) and (4) variable rewards – these rewards aren’t based on a fixed schedule.

A good example is Samsung Nation’s Quest Badge, which is intangible, expected and completion contingent:

Samsung Nation quest badge

Fig. 4 – Gabe Zichermann’s SAPS (adapted from: http://www.gamification.co/2010/10/18/cash-is-for-saps/)

  • Status – Example: being on top of the leaderboard
  • Access – Example: access to new content (as a reward)
  • Power – Example: the ability to moderate a game (once you’ve earned a certain amount of points)
  • Stuff – Example: receiving a tangible reward

Fig. 5 – The Motivational Spectrum (taken from: http://valerielyl.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/the-motivational-spectrum/)

Motivational Spectrum

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://lifehacker.com/the-psychology-of-gamification-can-apps-keep-you-motiv-1521754385
  2. http://www.gamification.co/2011/10/27/intrinsic-and-extrinsic-motivation-in-gamification/
  3. http://www.slideshare.net/Maritz_Motivation/top-5-gamification-examples
  4. http://www.gamification.co/2013/09/19/ebay-approach-to-gamification/
  5. http://www.yukaichou.com/gamification-examples/top-10-enterprise-gamification-cases-employees-productive/
  6. http://psychology.about.com/od/behavioralpsychology/f/behaviorism.htm
  7. http://blog.bufferapp.com/brain-playing-games-why-our-brains-are-so-attracted-to-playing-games-the-science-of-gamification
  8. http://cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/4925/which-human-instincts-do-gamification-systems-appeal-to
  9. http://www.slideshare.net/baldwind1976/gamification-njla-2013-final
  10. http://www.gamification.co/2010/10/18/cash-is-for-saps/
  11. http://mmrg.pbworks.com/f/Ryan,+Deci+00.pdf
  12. http://stevenhuynh.wordpress.com/2011/10/15/extrinsic-motivation-towards-intrinsic-motivation/
  13. http://www.simonwhatley.co.uk/game-dynamics-gamification

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