Every Friday, find five quick links about compelling technologies, emerging trends, and interesting ideas. Source: the internet.
- Google celebrated I/O by dialing up the design, it seems. There are some sexy, new fast actions in Gmail and a flat, card-based Google+ re-launch that shows they’ve been doing plenty of pinning over in Mountain View.
- David Carr on Snooping and the News Media: It’s a 2-Way Street. Best line about digital trails: “The absence of friction has led to a culture of transgression. Clearly, if it can be known, it will be known.”
- Twitter buys some visualization skills so we have more ways to make sense of all those tweets.
- Quartz takes a look at why iPhones still have the lion’s share of mobile data activity. “So while it is true that Android phones vastly outsell iPhones, Apple users seem to be getting a lot more out of their devices. For now, at least.”
- There’s a lot of crisp thinking and beautiful writing going on in this elegant longform piece on MOOCs, Harvard, and higher education by Nathan Heller in The New Yorker.
Anyone who’s spent time in a high school or college campus recently won’t be wholly surprised by Pew Internet’s recent study on U.S. teens and technology. 78% of teens have a mobile phone, and 47% have smartphones — meaning that a whopping 37% of all teenagers have a smartphone.
More surprising may be the number of mobile-mostly users, people who access the internet mostly through their mobile device. About 15% of adults mostly use the internet via mobile, but there’s a big leap to 25% of mobile-mostly teens — and a full 50% of teens with smartphones.
What does this mean as older teens entering college campuses and the workforce? The communications and ecommerce worlds have been living mobile-first for a while. Jonah Peretti reminded us at SXSW that mobile used to be where content stopped, but today mobile is instrumental in content spread. Black Friday 2012 was a wake-up call for any remaining retailers who didn’t see the opportunity for mobile transactions.
The seismic shift will occur for enterprise IT when these teen mobile-everything users expect to be able to perform tasks from registering for class to entering time in PeopleSoft to submitting expense receipts. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has been an IT practice for a number of years, with non-trivial concerns about support and security. Make no mistake: this teen mobile usage data shows there’s a tsunami of application development work awaiting organizations for this rising generation of mobile internet users.
How is the digital explosion affecting arts organizations? Last week, a Pew Internet report revealed the current digital focus of arts orgs, and what they identify as emerging opportunities and costs. Unsurprisingly, 99% have a web presence and many struggle with the time and expertise cost of social media. A few other findings that leapt out:
- a full 97% have a presence on social networks and 45% post at least once a day
- the “brand champion” strategy of having patrons help manage negative comments on social media is working for many
- widely varied audience use cases (e.g., older/younger patrons divide on social media) creates need to support traditional alongside new media outreach
- 20% have reprimanded employees over content shared online, which speaks to tensions between employees’ right to freedom of expression and the organizational needs for confidentiality and appropriate, public behavior (if this isa tension in publicly-funded arts orgs, what does this look like for banking?)
One opportunity that stood out was the sizeable gap between adoption of websites (99%) and social presences (97%) and that of mobile apps (24%).
Certainly, not every arts org needs a native application, but if I were working on a low-cost SaaS mobile solution with ecommerce baked in, arts organizations would be on my target list.
“The fact that we can even offer a ‘preview’ shows how tight the association is between content management and delivery….The existence of a preview button reinforces the notion that the desktop website is the “real” website and mobile is a satellite, an afterthought.”
– Karen McGrane, in Content Strategy for Mobile
Having survived the near-miss apocalypse, today we’re all turning our calendars over to 2013. Many are pausing for a natural moment of reflection and resolution — all those things we were yesterday will henceforth cease to be, and today we begin again as our newer, better selves. At least until we remember where we hid the cookies.
Here are five apps useful to those looking to track time, create new habits, or merely keep a firmer grip on their to-do lists in 2013. I recently read The Power of Habit, which underscored the importance of documenting what you intend to do in order to actually get the damn thing done. The social overlay is powerful in these aspirational apps — it’s one thing to tell oneself in the mirror of one’s intention to walk five miles a day, and quite another to tell a couple hundred Facebook friends. These apps promote behavior change by understanding the importance of social capital, and that “‘individual’ health behaviors are actually complex network phenomena” which play a part in spreading conditions like happiness to obesity.
- Wunderlist 2 :: Ideal for the task management obsessed, this app has elegant list making and sharing. Am still muddling through its recent (Christmas Eve!) upgrade and attendant syncing problems, but a really lovely user interface.
- Evernote :: This is my go-to productivity app, and Evernote 5 delivers a raft of useful, new features. It always makes me feel vaguely guilty — am I Evernoting to my full potential? — but features like the page camera and the audio are killer.
- Lift :: Think of Lift as cleanly-designed reminders to be that better person in 2013. Pre-set options include “Unclutter” (4,190 participants); “Go to gym” (10,867 participants); and “Tell my wife I love her” (3,426 participants — presumably the husbands are already hearing this, or the wives just can’t be bothered?). The social network feels like a big benefit here: if that many other people can unclutter a cabinet, why shouldn’t I?
- Everest :: Everest captures your long and short term goals and allows you break them into small steps. It’s designed to be a lush, photo-rich experience. As the name implies, much of the user content seems more focused on long-term goals rather than the banal day-to-day. (h/t Eric Kuhn for prompting me to check this out.)
- Timer :: If you’re anything like me, a task can expand to fill any amount of time allotted to it. There’s no hidden, killer feature — it’s set of lovely, clean programmable buttons that prompt you to keep yourself on track and on time.
While the overall economy haltingly recovers, web and mobile development have resumed at full tilt. Maintenance on digital properties deferred since the 2008 financial crisis is now critical to perform. The growth in mobile device adoption and the proliferation of tablets in multiple form factors are forcing even the desktop-devoted to accelerate mobile development. Vendors are busy, RFPs are everywhere, and clients are eager to get started.
But when clients undertake a web project, what is really the job to be done? Back in the 2000s, Clay Christensen pointed out that “every job people need or want to do has a social, a functional, and an emotional dimension.” The customer’s articulation of the job, which he offers up in his popular milkshake example, is not always the job that needs to be done.
Christensen’s findings ring especially true today during this renewed digital development boom. Clients say, “I need a web refresh/mobile app,” as a statement of their perceived functional need. But often what they are looking for is a strategy that guides them through:
- Walk me through my audiences in the digital realm
- Help me understand how digital technology will change my core business processes
- Show me where my company fits in a new competitive landscape in a disrupted environment
- Teach me about social media, and how to use it
Large management consulting firms have the chops to tackle many of these questions, but often without a strong delivery arm for the quick prototyping and execution required for digital. Conversely, web and mobile development shops want to solve a technology problem, ideally with a reusable product, and may be ill-equipped to take on the strategy component. The right blend of digital firm does exist, but may not be on the clients’ radar if they are beginning with the functional end in mind. What’s the solution? Re-focus your team on the higher level of problem — the complete social, emotional, and functional job to be done by your web presence.
These days Software as a Service (SaaS) is ubiquitous. Project management? Got Basecamp for that. Bulk email at scale? See Constant Contact or Mailchimp. And say goodbye to your server logs — Google Analytics has been widely adopted for understanding website performance. The move to SaaS has long been the case for bloggers, who from the early days migrated to solutions like TypePad. Today, many would rather have a Tumblr instance or a site on WordPress.com than be in the business of building and updating an application.
Currently I’m involved in two projects, one as part of a team implementing and promoting a multi-tenant Drupal instance, and the other as a client for migrating the server side of an open source mobile application to a SaaS platform. In both cases, moving to a platform will enable updating and scale at lower cost — but it’s highly instructive to sit on both sides of the table simultaneously and see transition pain points. A few observations on ways to drive platform adoption:
- Give people control of their pixels. Enabling admin users to make small tweaks for brand or preference make an organization feel more ownership of the process and the CMS.
- Invest in admin UX. The boring “killer app” behind adoption is often a clean admin user interface. If the person charged with updating the content doesn’t feel confident in the user interface, updates occur less frequently.
- Create systems that enable adaptive content. Karen McGrane speaks persuasively about why we need to stop the madness of systems that cram print layouts into ever-smaller screens. Systems that enable authoring the right content types and metadata are essential — they help publishers reach users on the proliferation of devices today, as well as the ones not even created yet.
- Meet the need for speed. Content publishers, especially for news sites, live in the admin interface. A system that lags on the backend will fail to impress, especially in today’s environment where 400 milliseconds (the blink of an eye) is now considered too long to wait.
- Be explicit about ways platforms remove pain points. Custom online publishing platforms for web or mobile rarely calculate total cost of ownership at a level that includes both feature enhancements and maintenance updates. Open source systems update frequently, and even in a cleanly-coded site where the Drupal core is untouched, these updates require time and testing.
- Expose and sell the roadmap. Platforms need a product roadmap informed by both articulated user needs and emerging trends. Too much on the former, and you lose a coherent product. Too much of the latter and you slow adoption. Find the right blend collaboratively with content creators and designers, and iterate.
- Integrate social services. We’re no longer building independent publishing systems, we’re integrating them into an ecosystem of always-on channels of social applications like Facebook. Make sure the content types enable compelling and clean sharing to social.
For those making a move to a platform, remember that feature set alone is rarely the differentiator for a great online presence. A thoughtful investment in content and social strategy drives effective digital communications, particularly for those in the information business — whether that’s an educational institution, a news organization, or a consulting firm. Find the right platform to provide a solid underpinning, and focus on a strategy that delivers what matters for your online audiences.
Much has been written about the internet’s disruption of longstanding models for education. The success of Khan Academy in K-12, the launch of Coursera, edX and others in higher education, the publicity garnered by the Thiel fellowships, and the aggressive funding of edu start-ups everywhere (EdSurge provides solid coverage) all illustrate the opportunity to take a well-established system and do things differently. Digital channels enable a shift to explore new ways to learn that are not confined to one era of your life (undergraduate years) or location-based (on campus). The goals are clear: reduce cost, provide equal or better outcomes, and spread educational access to the world.
Is health care next? Today, the founder of RunKeeper focused on mobile health with a terrifically titled GigaOm piece, Your phone will soon be your new doctor. The piece focuses on mobile and the myriad apps that have sprung up to connect mobile device users to their day-to-day health awareness and performance. But, beyond mobile, the larger point about digital disruption is there. Health care today is episodic — you go to the doctor once a year and/or when you’re ill, it’s location-based (in the doctor’s office, out of your element), and it’s heavily reliant on your memory as a diagnostic device. Mobile health can be just the opposite: always on, always with you, and reliant on hard data (number of steps taken, heart rate, meal consumption) in a way the traditional health care model cannot be. The future is here: welcome to your personal health KPIs.
Venture capitalists and nonprofits alike are moving fast ahead into both education and health care, exploring ways digital channels can create new markets amidst disruption. New Pew research released about the news industry this week feels like a cautionary tale: it’s time to focus on new delivery models before the older ones are on life support. In education and in health care, the hunt for digitally-driven reimagination is on.
Round up of interesting opinions on last Friday’s decisive victory (see this comprehensive count-by-count summary in the Wall Street Journal) for Apple in the patent wars:
Unsurprisingly, Apple’s Tim Cook circulated a memo proclaiming that “Today, values have won and I hope the whole world listens.” Samsung is working on appeals while messaging that this is a loss for the average consumer, and took a 6.9% beating in the market, the largest drop since October 2008.
Graphic: Infomous-generated cloud of Apple Samsung topics in the news 08.26.2012