Tag Archives: website production

Why Publishers and Broadcasters need to change

It’s been absolutely crazy busy at work for the last few weeks, mainly on the new business front. I’d like to add this is a report, not a criticism. Anyway, when it gets this busy at work I often remember Bill Gates’ book The Road Ahead where he discusses how future business will all be conducted by electronic systems exchanging data with each other.

The truth has turned out to be quite the opposite – customers want ever increasing levels of detail before signing up to a product or service.

I did get a chance last week to go to an interesting technology event run by Vizrt. The event was aimed at their large publisher and broadcaster customers – many of the broadsheets and tabloids use their system (or similar competitors) for creating content for their newspapers or TV news snippets. We were there because we work with some large publishers, integrating their systems together.

One of the speakers at the event was Morten Holst who is a Product Strategy Manager for Vizrt, and raised some interesting points which are paraphrased below.

Morten’s first point was to wake up the audience with the following video:

His point was that whilst the video is amusing – a baby who knows the iPad interface so well that she can’t use a paper magazine, and even checks her finger to see if it’s her finger that’s broken – this baby is going to be a consumer in ten years. Publishers and broadcasters need to wake up and realise their consumers are changing very quickly.

His next demonstration was a comparison of a web site 10 years ago and nowadays. I’ve used the BBC News website as an example below.

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Bbc_news_2011

Look at the two homepages for a few seconds, and you can see many similarities. In fairness, over the ten years, not a huge amount has changed.

I’m not particularly targeting the BBC (it’s still my favourite news site). The point here is that publishing hasn’t actually changed very much in 10 years.

Now look at another entertainment industry over the last ten years. Look at the video below – if you can, try to watch it in HD.

Morten’s point here is that 10 years ago these kinds of graphics and sound effects were considered motion picture quality. Now they are considered the acceptable standard of computer games – this year’s Battlefield 3 (the video above), FIFA 12 and Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 are good examples.

The video games industry has recognised a number of times that it needs to push the boundaries of user interfaces, presentation and design – think of an Xbox 360, the revolutionary Wii controller, then the revolutionary Kinect controller. To put that into perspective, the Xbox and Wii were launched within the last 6 years.

His final point was about comparing printed content to digital content. If you read paper magazines, the photography is usually outstanding – full, double page and high quality. That same image will be shown as a 2 inch square on the web, and won’t get a second glance.

The iPad is encouraging publisher’s to think more creatively, by designing beautiful interfaces. In truth there’s no reason the iPad can encourage creativity and a web browser can’t. However the iPad has been disruptive enough in digital terms to make editors want to push the boundaries.

So, on to the future, Morten encouraged the audience to start pushing the boundaries, to stop doing things the same way because that’s how they’d always been done. The functionality has moved on enormously, yet the editors aren’t using the new features, yet.

npowerclub72.com site review

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This week npower, who secured the naming rights to the Football League from the 2010/11 season for three years, jumped on the bandwagon and launched a Football League social network – www.npowerclub72.com.

The agency behind the website clearly had some good intentions, some of which I agree with:

  1. Don’t use Facebook Connect for everything, because unless you’re a unique level of Superbrand, all the consumer data that you’ll be collecting will be owned by Facebook. I agree with this and at Endava we call this On Portal and Off Portal. Off Portal are social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. where the brand has no permanent rights to consumer data, and On Portal are brand-owned social networks where all the data belongs to the brand.
  2. Badges are good. I also agree with the philosophy that when users have used the site for long enough, reward them with badges. This idea has been around for a long time (Xbox or even Gold/Platinum credit cards and airline points cards). Badges cost nothing to distribute (they are only pixels), and instantly provide a level of loyalty to a website where users want to return to earn the next badge. On Npower’s website, users earn a badge for visiting/ claiming to visit a Football League club’s ground.
  3. Football and social networks. It’s been a long time coming – with football the most popular sport in the UK, and social networks so successful here as well, it’s natural to create a network for football fans.

So far so good.

The design is OK, nothing too fancy, and then again, it probably doesn’t need to be – neither Facebook or its twin brother Google+ are going to win any creative design awards.

Here’s what I’d have done differently if we ran the site:

  1. Badges are overused. In fact, the only thing to do on the site is earn badges. No other user generated content exists, and there’s no moderation on the site to you claiming all the badges. This defeats the loyalty aspect completely.
  2. No Facebook integration at all. The site should update Facebook (and Twitter, etc.) when users earn badges (once they sort out the badge issue).
  3. The visit-a-football-ground should be extended to upload pictures when a user visits a ground. This will provide a level of self-moderation.
  4. There’s no mobile support. In 2011, all sites should include mobile browser support and then include [iPhone and Android, etc.] app support. The mobile support should include mobile photo uploads and GPS, to provide FourSquare style ‘Check-In’ functionality to grounds.
  5. There’s little content links to the Football League. I would expect at least a league table and results ticker.

Back to my point above – a social network for football fans has been a long time coming, and I still think the opportunity exists for someone (probably a sponsor) to produce one.

 

What bricks and mortar can teach ecommerce

A very nice man came round to our house one night this week and interviewed Mrs H about her shopping habits online.

This was part of some research that a cross-supermarket industry body is conducting into home shopping. He wanted to find out as much about her online shopping habits as possible.

The questions were fascinating – all centred around habits which can’t be tracked online. “How many supermarkets do you shop with?” “Have tried using Tesco Click and Collect?” “Have you tried the new Sainsbury iPhone App?” He asked her if she recognised a QR code (no, not the specific code… it was whether she knew it was a QR code, and yes, she did).

The man even wanted to see where in the house the computer she does her online ordering from is located. He noted that we had wireless in the house and asked if her iPhone used the WiFi network. He showed photos of Tesco in Korea who are using QR codes in a subway station to let customer order food while waiting for a train – shown in the video above.

The interview got me thinking about what I could do to improve a website if I was a supermarket chain. And it didn’t strike me until I went to buy some ground coffee from the local supermarket one morning.

I went in to buy the coffee and looked at the shelf. Do I want Tesco brand or a non-Tesco brand? Fair trade or not? Strength 1,2, 3, 4 or 5? There’s a special on that one over there. The one next to it has more coffee and works out cheaper though.

And that’s what you can’t do online. Most people shopping online, especially for groceries, know specifically what they want to buy. But people who go into shops can buy additional items on impulse. Something catches their eye and ends up in the basket or trolley.

It happens with items other than groceries as well. A customer goes into a mens clothes shop for a shirt. And they see another shirt or cufflinks or a tie and maybe end up buying all three.

This isn’t a case of “related products” or “suggested products” – it’s impulse buying. I don’t think I’ve bought many things on impulse from Amazon, and Mrs H claims it never happens when buying groceries online. However when we go shopping in a “real world” supermarket, we’ll always buy at least one thing we didn’t set out for.

To make this happen, screen design needs to radically change from a single product per page, to a shelf-style, where a customer can see a variety. Most ecommerce sites aren’t designed or built to show variety (with the exception of colours or sizes). It’s the opposite to real world shops where you never see a single product style on a shelf.

10 years since joining

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This time ten years ago I joined IMG as the Development Manager to build a new Content Management System.

The digital division within IMG was about four years old at that point, and had bought the digital rights to a number of sports organisations with the hope that the advertising and sponsorship on those sites would cover the costs of writing huge cheques to the sports organisations. ‘Hope’ is a strong word, because at the time the Internet bubble was at it’s height, and we all thought we’d be billionaires by Christmas.

When I joined, IMG was pulling out of a number of these deals, and looking for efficiencies with the tiny development teams.

The Internet was so different back then. Products were very expensive. Vendors and ‘experts’ were all learning as they were going along – so when we got stuck, we were well and truly on our own. For instance we tried different CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) to handle the huge amount of traffic we were experiencing, and ended up creating our own using Cacheflow servers. Just looking up the link just now made me laugh – because these boxes used to be the size of a fridge, and now they’re the size of a PC. Once we’d got the Cacheflows stable, we simply migrated to Akamai.

I remember people, including the CTO, would sleep in the office when we expected incidents to happen. I remember arguments with database vendors about licensing – some wanted to charge for every visitor that accessed the website, because they saw that as a database user. I remember running analytics reports on websites that used to take several days to compile, and when we wanted to run the report again with a different metric, all the numbers in the report would change! That same report in SiteCatalyst now takes a second to run and end users run it themselves.

Most of the really difficult stuff back in 2001 is now a commodity. Half of those products now have a freeware solution.

In around 2005/6 I moved to the client side – project management and operations. The CMS was very stable, and it was time to look at a decent off-the-shelf solution because we were losing pitches because of our lack of multi-lingual support, versioning, WYSIWYG editing and advanced SEO support.

We chose Sitecore as the CMS platform, and for the first time we looked at offshoring to India to migrate our sites. Three months of total pain followed. For the first time since joining IMG, we missed deadlines (in sport, although it sounds obvious you can’t miss deadlines – most of the time you might as well not deliver anything than deliver a project late). We pulled the projects back to the UK and an army of contractors joined the development team. Some were good, some weren’t. We started to offshore to Eastern Europe instead. And it was a revelation:

  • Being able to fly there and back in a day (not recommended, although possible and sometime necessary);
  • The cultural similarities; 
  • The push-back nature from developers on some of the requirements.

Then in late 2008 we looked to outsource more work to Romania via Endava. What started off at a simple outsourcing deal changed at the last moment, and the staff TUPEd over to Endava in January 2009.

Since then we’ve worked on some new projects outside of sport, and the Web has become a stable, maturing, controllable entity. In 2001 we were looking only to stabilise our clients’ sites.

Our traffic (bandwidth, visitors and page impressions) have all increased exponentially in ten years, with some exponentially, several times. Social Networks have come and some of them have gone. Do they compete? No, they simply direct more and more traffic to our clients’ sites.

And now to the future. In 2011 we are looking at providing data insights, personalised experiences, full integration with back off systems, and providing a true ROI for our client’s digital properties.

Re-educating clients on statistics

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Ten years ago I remember sitting with our clients and trying to prise them away from hits to page impressions (which later became ‘page views’).

Now, we’re doing the same by moving from page impressions to insight.

Page impressions are great for advertising. Well actually they’re OK for advertising for two related reasons:

  1. As long as adverts are sold in per-thousand-impressions (CPM), advertisers will stick with page impressions
  2. Ad agencies have historically been very slow to adopt new business models and retrain their sales staff. See the slow adoption of CTR (Click Through Rates) as one of the most recent examples.

Insight is far more important as a measurement than page impressions. Consider what’s more important: gaining more information about a specific behaviour or preference about all your customers so that you can understand them better, or knowing that you have n million page impressions per month, and that traffic has changed by x% last month?

It’s a very interesting debate. I remember having heated discussions with customers ten years ago after they’d gone white after hearing that their traffic went from x million hits to y thousand page impressions per month. However once they had understood the new metrics, they found their rewards in the new CPM advertising business models of the day.

The new debate is a fundamental shift. We’re not talking units of measurement any more. The calculations for insight are more difficult to quantify. However the brands that adopt true consumer insight are going to be making profits in different orders of magnitude to the old models.

Best of breed

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Photo courtesy of leoj on Flickr

Work has been pretty busy for the last fortnight, and looks like it will be just as busy for the next few weeks. I’m not complaining – far from it, just explaining why there haven’t been many updates to this site recently.

I did manage to write an article for one of our Content Management System partners, Sitecore, on a brief history of proprietary versus off the shelf products.

For the next couple of days we are running a Supplier Day at one of our key clients. I don’t know why we call it a Supplier Day because we invite all our customers and suppliers, and surely the customers are as/more important than the suppliers – making the name even more of a mystery. Anyway, I will try to write a summary on the train back on Friday. And change the name of the event midway through.

Eat your own dog food

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During the launch of Microsoft Vista, we implemented a number of projects with Microsoft. There were a few things I learned from Microsoft at the time, however one of them – the concept of ‘eating their own dog food’ – was something that sticks out.

The concept is simple. Get your own captive audience to try your products before the public. Understand how they use it. Be ready for the public reaction, because you’ve already been using it for a few months.

You don’t need to create your own products to have this approach.

I strongly believe and encourage the staff at Endava to use the latest social networks, tools, applications, so that we can have a view and opinion on them for our clients. What works better than Microsoft Project? Is Twitter useful? What’s the difference between Yammer and Skype? What’s the best task tracking system, or should we be using TFS? Is an iPhone better than an Android?

One specific client always follows up these types of questions with “And have you used it?”

The only way to answer these questions is to have experienced them personally before providing the opinion to clients.

Photo courtesy of nancybeetoo on Flickr

Politics on the web

It’s interesting how politics is starting to the use the web in different countries.

The press spend all their time discussing cyber-terrorism, flash mobs for riots, etc., and little time promoting the use of the web as a great way to interact with your local council or government.

In the States, Open Government has been relaunched which helps track bills, votes, and members of the CA Senate and Assembly as well as following specific issues and contacting politicians.

Here in the UK we have DirectGov and the Parliament website, which I’ve used a few times for different issues (on a professional note, the information architects had their work cut out for them on those sites!).

My local council is Barnet, and whilst most of their services are available through their very standard, functional website, they have an interesting new twist to generate new ideas.

For instance, here’s a video showing how Barnet council spend their (our) money:

And there’s also a website where residents can recommend new ideas to the council. How very Googley.

The ideas on the website allow others to then comment on them.

Whilst I’m remain sceptical about the use of User Generated Content to run my local council in this current time, I do believe this is the way of the future. For instance I’ve never understood people who moan about their local MP but don’t write to them considering their email addresses are publicly available.

And if they continue moaning about their MP, they can always try being a virtual one for a week!

To build an App or not to be build an App

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We have a customer at Endava who is at the innovative end of the spectrum. I wouldn’t describe them at ‘bleeding edge’, however they are willing to take some risks by prototyping new technologies and if the ideas succeed, a more rubust version will be built.

Last year they produced a number of prototypes for an annual event – a YouTube channel, the start of a social media implementation, and an iPhone app.

The iPhone app was more successful than a most expected, for a very simple reason. The web analytics from the website showed a low number of users were browsing their main website using an iPhone. So there was little evidence that an iPhone app would work.

However, as soon as the iPhone app was launched, it was downloaded in the tens of thousands within a week. The following year, a new version was released and downloaded 250,000 times in the same period.

What we’re learnt from this experience is that iPhone apps are another route to market. They exist in parallel to your website rather than a promotional element of it. For this client, the app was hardly promoted on the main website.

It’s ever been quicker or cheaper to produce prototypes such as the ones listed above as long as the core infrastructure is in place – specifically APIs and a decent Content Management System. 10 years ago, these types of prototypes would cost 10 times as much for equivalent first versions (a WAP site, a video portal and as for social media – it hardly existed!).

So the answer to the question in the title – try it.