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My Snapchat Masterclass at The Guardian’s Changing Media Summit 2017

This month I hosted a session at The Guardian’s annual technology and media-focussed conference in London. The aim of my masterclass was to demystify, explain and contextualise Snapchat’s role in the world, and in the marketing mix for brands and agencies.

The presentation I went through is below and whilst lots of the content was delivered verbally, there are lots of useful stats, examples, best practice and case studies for Snapchat marketing in there.

If you have any questions about any of the content, or need professional help with your digital marketing drop me an email or tweet me @willfrancis

Will Francis at The Guardian's Changing Media Summit 2017

 

 

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Are Productivity Tools Helping Us To Procrastinate?

In today’s world of relentless distractions including email, social media and app notifications, we’ve also become obsessed with organising that chaos through tools and processes which promise to bring order to our messy lives. But do these to-do apps, project management tools and the like really help, or are they giving us yet another reason to indulge in useless busy-ness?

Over the years I’ve tried everything, and I’ve come to the conclusion that our answers lie not in the tools, but a few simple principles.

Just Do It

The best thing you can do right now is just get on with it. If you look at successful people down the ages, they didn’t need any planning or productivity tools. Just the guitar, paintbrush or golf club required to do their thing. Their burning desire to create and complete something drove them on without having to overthink it. The most creative people I know all work like this, they simply do what they need to with minimal planning.

Realise the Preciousness of Time

For some it requires a major life event like losing a loved one or having a near-fatal accident to bring home the immense preciousness of life. For others, and I suspect this is a common trait in successful people, it runs through their head every single day.

So if you’re not thinking about your mortality and the fragility of life every day, try it. This sense of urgency you will feel is something you need to reconnect with on a daily basis.

This doesn’t just mean you should think about death every day. Just think about how precious today is, and at the end of it be grateful you got to have today, whatever happened. All the dead people you know would have done anything for today.

Know Your Calling

If you’re lacking that burning desire that naturally gives you the energy to get on with it, you’re likely doing the wrong thing in life. What is the thing that would truly excite you, and what’s stopping you doing it? Most likely the answer to the latter part of that question is fear. Fear to tell your family that you’re going to take a big risk and do something different from that which you studied or trained for. Fear of failure. Fear of losing your house. Fear of looking stupid. Fear of being told it’s not viable or a daft idea. Maybe even a fear of wasting your precious time (that’s a valid one!).

Answer that question and then…

A Simple To Do List

There’s clearly a lot of comfort in to-do list and time management apps. But having used a lot of them I feel that the filling in of tasks, checklists and deadlines is in itself useless busy-ness. We naturally love useless busy-ness. It makes us feel productive. It’s so seductive because it’s very easy to start (unlike the valuable things we should be doing).

Other things that fall into this category of activity are checking email, reading social media and wandering the internet. But useless busy-ness creates almost zero value for you or anyone, and is a killer drain on our two most precious resources — time and brainpower. Those resources, particularly brainpower — cognitive energy, attention or however you want to term it — need to be spent on what you’re really good at.

Keep a simple to-do list that requires as little management as possible. I have a Notes (on Mac and iPhone — your system has an equivalent) note containing a few small lists categorised by the life goal to which they contribute. Each task on there must drive towards that goal. There should also be a personal list for stuff at home like repairs, things to buy and looking after family. Each task should be the immediate thing you’re going to do. So instead of ‘publish a book’, just start with ‘write pitch for book about birds’. You don’t need a project plan for stuff like that because you know what comes next. Just get started.

So mine is a somewhat spartan approach to task management. But after all these years of trying so many different processes I’ve realised that being protective of my time and attention, because I appreciate its value, and then just getting on with it with a minimal to-do list is what works for me.

This post originally appeared on my Medium blog

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The Perfect Apple Watch Face for Sailing and Watersports?

Apple Watch faces

I’ve been stuck at home with a chest infection this week so suddenly had time for doing some random stuff, which included playing around with Apple Watch faces and ‘complications’. I had a go at putting together the perfect sailing watch face, and after some tinkering, here’s how…

Apple Watch face for sailing

Water sports enthusiasts will know there isn’t one app that completely makes a tidal or sailing watch unnecessary. I’ve used some apps with glances, but these are horribly inefficient ways to access data given you have to swipe up, scroll to the one you want and then wait forever for it to load.

It took a bit of time playing around and some wasted money on apps but I think this is pretty cool, and worth sharing. You’ll need a few apps and here’s how to put it together:

Apps you will need:

Tide Pro – this simple tide app offers tide times for any location in a nice, clean format. Once installed, simply look up your desired location in the iPhone app, then open the Watch app and select that location. Once the tide times are displayed force touch to set that location as the one which shows in the Watch face complication.

Carrot – a weather app with a difference – your weather reports come with a dark, snarky sense of humour. It is nicely designed too, and provides powerful weather forecasting tools. The reason we use it here is because for an extra premium upgrade fee it allows you to choose other data points to show in the app’s Watch complication, including wind direction and speed.

Dark Sky – whilst you could use Apple’s native Weather app for showing the temperature, I really like Dark Sky as it also shows rain warnings in the complication as well as more detailed alerts about changing weather through app notifications. The iPhone app has been praised as one of the finest third-party weather apps for iOS and deservedly so. Through its near-perfect interface it allows easy access to shockingly accurate rain forecasting and all the other important weather data you’ll need.

Now to set up the watch face:

1. Force touch your Watch face to reveal the face selection and editing menu. Scroll to ‘Modular’ and tap ‘Customise’.

2. From top-left, the complications in the screenshot above are Date, Time, Tide Pro, Sunrise/Sunset, Carrot, Dark Sky.

3. That’s it. You can keep this face next to your ‘every day’ one to make switching easy.

The only thing I’d like to add is live wave height data, and when something comes up that can do that, I’ll edit this post.

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Avoiding Unexpected Data Roaming Charges Abroad

WIll Francis on Good Morning Britain, ITV

We’ve read the horror stories about people returning home from their dream holiday to find they’ve spent thousands on data. It’s remarkably easy to incur these charges, depending on your provider. Some UK networks (such as EE) won’t let you use the internet at all until you’ve bought a package. Others (such as 3) allow you to use data freely unless you call them to set a spend limit.

What Is Data?

Any content you send or receive that’s not a phone call or a text message is data. Browsing the internet, sending WhatsApp messages, downloading and using apps, syncing email and weather. A lot of this happens in the background – convenient when at home, but a potential nightmare when abroad.

How Can I Avoid Unexpected Charges?

There are a few simple things you can do to avoid any nasty surprises. I chatted about these on Good Morning Britain with Ben Shephard and Kate Garraway.

1. Switch ‘Data Roaming’ Setting Off

In your phone settings, look for ‘Cellular’ or ‘Mobile Data’. It may be called something similar depending on your phone model. In there is a switch called ‘Data Roaming’. When switched on it allows usage of data over the cellular network, which will incur charges. Switch this off to know for sure that your phone is not using any data abroad. You can then switch it on for short periods should you need to, for instance, to search for a restaurant. Be aware that when you switch it on other apps and services will update and sync in the background, so switch it off as soon as you’re finished.

2. Use Wi-Fi Whenever Possible

Take the opportunity to send photos, sync email and browse the web when availing of free Wi-Fi networks in public places.

Wi-Fi is internet access that relies largely on the landline telephone network. It is then distributed to laptops and phones by a wireless router in the home, office or public space. Whoever owns the router pays the bills, not the end user with a phone or laptop. This means that logging on at a café or hotel is free, unless payment is clearly requested to obtain access.

If the Wi-Fi network has a padlock symbol next to it in the list of available networks, ask a member of staff for the password.

3. Call Your Mobile Carrier Beforehand

If, like me, you hate the thought of being without Google Maps and TripAdvisor on holiday this tip is for you. Call or go on your carrier’s website to set up a package. Some will offer daily allowances with a daily charge, and some will offfer a total amount of data for the duration of your stay. Think about how much and how regularly you’ll use data services when choosing. And make sure your usage is capped at the package allowance, so you’re cut off when it’s used up.

4. Know How To Check Balances & Buy More Data

Every carrier has an app or website for its customers to check their allowances and buy more. Download and login to the app at home before leaving. If it’s a website, load it in your phone’s browser so it’s in your history, or even better add as a favourite.

You’ll need to not be on Wi-Fi when accessing these as they identify you by your data connection over the mobile network. They never charge for accessing this, even when abroad.

So in conclusion, being a little bit prepared is the key. The internet is hugely useful when abroad for finding your way around and communicating. Spend a little time before you go and you can enjoy these benefits without the huge bills!

Bon Voyage!

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Two Perfect Christmas Cocktails for the Holidays

Christmas Old Fashioned Cocktail

With the peak festive season fast approaching I set about creating the perfect two cocktails to serve at my house this Christmas.

Based on a few ingredients you may well have lying around, these are both classics with a seasonal twist – the Christmas Old Fashioned and the Port Martini.

Once you’re done enjoying some fine drinks with friends, don’t forget that you can now use pocket breathalysers to keep track of your condition, as I looked at in my review for Gadget Buddy, head on over to their site to check it out 🙂

Note on measures: roughly speaking 1 oz = 30 ml = 1 shot

Christmas Old Fashioned

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Ingredients

2 oz dark rum
¾ oz tawny port
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1/3 oz sugar syrup
Maraschino cherries

Method

Stir the liquid ingredients with ice in a mixing glass if you have one, if not stir in a tumbler. Old Fashioneds are renowned for their need to be stirred properly. Stir for a full minute to ensure dilution and cooling. Fill your Old Fashioned glass (a rocks glass or tumbler is perfect) with ice and strain the mixture in. Top up with ice if possible. Spear 3 cherries with a cocktail stick and rest on the rim.

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Port Martini

Our second Christmas-themed cocktail is another classic with a yuletide twist. The vodka martini gets a burst of warm, ruby flavours from a good port, and a wonderfully spicy nose from the floating star anise. This is a fantastic drink but dangerously easy to slurp and very strong!

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Ingredients

2 oz vodka
1 oz tawny port
1 star anise

Method

Fill a cocktail shaker 2/3 with ice and pour in your liquid ingredients. If you’ve ever wondered which order to pour your ingredients in, many bartenders agree that they go in order of expense, cheapest first, so if you spoil it for any reason you’re least likely to waste the expensive booze! For this cocktail that very much depends on how much you splashed out on each ingredient.
Shake for half a minute until the shaker starts to frost on the outside and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Gently float a star anise on the surface and serve.

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Abbey Road with Alan Parsons

Vintage Mixing Desk at Abbey Road Studios, London

This weekend I went along to Abbey Road in London, the world’s most famous recording studio, to attend a talk by Alan Parsons. As a producer and audio engineer he’s worked on some of the facility’s most legendary output including work by The Beatles and Pink Floyd, before becoming an artist in his own right.

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Being something of a music production geek (I used to teach music technology) I had to go and see inside the famous Studio 2 where The Beatles recorded most of their work.

As well as getting the chance to see some pretty cool vintage equipment, all of which could do less than a Smartwatch app today, they had some famous instruments out including the Mrs Mills piano – a Steinway Vertegrand from 1905 used by countless artists and which can be heard on many Beatles tracks. I couldn’t help but play a couple of cheeky chords on its hallowed ivories 😉

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Alan shared some great stories, which were a fascinating glimpse into working life there during the 60s and 70s, and explained the various roles he played in now classic albums.

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By far the highlight of the evening was him talking through Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon whilst multi-tracking it through one of the vintage desks. Bringing up different parts in the mix and explaining them. He had to get the band’s permission to do this for us, as he was essentially remixing the tracks live. It gave the audience a unique glimpse into a seminal rock album, which was fascinating even if like me you weren’t too familiar with it.

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Among the various grey boxes on show – it must look pretty nerdy to the untrained eye – was one of Abbey Road’s eight Studer J37 four-track tape recorders. These were used to record albums such as Sgt Pepper, with the more complex arrangements requiring them to have several machines bouncing down to each other to create more tracks. How this compares with modern software is mind-blowing, and yet producers here still achieved amazing results with such primitive hardware.

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Another classic instrument was this Hammond RT-3 organ, which makes some incredible sounds and features on plenty of Beatles and Pink Floyd tracks.

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A mixing desk created by EMI, back in the day when record labels were also developers of recording technology. This is the TG12345 Mk2, meaning it was the second in a line of four, so in use from the late 60s until the mid 80s. Alan used this to multi-track DSotM for us.

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Loved this photo of four excited Liverpool lads posed against that very wall for a photo. Amazing that they spent their career working in this room, evolving from a Mersey beat foursome to the biggest and most influential band ever.

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Overall it was really worthwhile, and I’d definitely recommend going to an event here if you get the chance (they don’t happen often). It’s made me go away and re-assess prog rock classics from Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd and the like with fresh, less dismissive, ears. I get why people worship this place too. There’s something undeniably special about being in a specific room where era-defining art was conceived and produced, and where modern heroes came to work each day.

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The Podcast Renaissance Continues: What You Should Be Listening To

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It looked for a while that podcasting was on its way out along with the now-discontinued iPod it was named after, but thanks to factors such as Serial, the phenomenally popular podcast which follows Sarah Koenig’s re-examination of a Baltimore murder trial, and the fact that more people are streaming web audio in their cars, the online audio format is seeing something of a resurgence. Serial has set new records for podcasting and it can only be bringing more listeners to podcasts. Also, it’s rumoured that Spotify will soon include them in its product. A record 15% of Americans now say they’ve listened to a podcast in the last month, and Google Trends shows search results for ‘podcast’ are at their highest level since January 2007!

So, time to get involved. Here are the podcasts you need to be listening to:

About A Minute – an interesting interview, lasting about a minute

The Bugle – John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman give their unique, satirical take on the world’s events

TED Talks – presentations from inspirational people

The Godless Spellchecker – an atheist explores spirituality and religion through interviews

Sodajerker on Songwriting – exploring the craft of songwriting through interviews with the very best

Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything – modern human stories

99% Invisible – design and culture

Radiolab – great radio documentaries

The Moth – true stories, well told

Reply All – exploring the interweb

Freakonomics Radio – as in the books, a look at how we could optimise society

Documentary on One by RTE – archive of radio documentaries

Longform – a look into non-fiction writing through interviews

On Being – what does it mean to be human?

And here are some of the best BBC Radio 4 shows as podcasts. Even the ones that might sound boring are brilliant due to R4’s world-class presenters and production:

The Moral Maze – exploring moral questions in a classic format

Thinking Allowed – on society and how we live today

The Digital Human – how we live with technology

On The Hour – ridiculous spoof radio spots from Chris Morris

A History Of Ideas – ethics, law and philosophy

The Bottom Line – business with Evan Davies

More Or Less: Behind The Stats – tearing apart stats reported in the news

The Infinite Monkey Cage – great balance between humour and hard science by Brian Cox and Robin Ince

Any podcasts you love not listed? Tell me in the comments!

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8 Things I Realised After Owning the Apple Watch

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The Watch is essentially an iPhone accessory

Whilst you’re made aware that you should only buy this product if you’re an iPhone owner, when you start using it you find that it is essentially a Bluetooth accessory, albeit a very fancy and clever one. It must be near to your phone to do pretty much anything except tell the time, listen to any music you’ve loaded onto the watch (up to 1GB, though this doesn’t include streaming music such as Spotify) and check health stats. It’s obvious why Apple made this compromise, because for the watch to have its own internet connection and more processing power it would have to be unwearably huge.

But it’s not an iPhone on your wrist

Whilst it’s an extension of your iPhone it’s a totally different device with different uses. It is not, for instance, at all useful for consuming content. Apps like Instagram, Digg or Guardian quickly go in the bin (though the latter’s alerts are useful). This is all about quick access to the most boiled down information and notifications. Once you realise this you go searching for apps you never thought about needing before…

You discover the App Store all over again

The apps you use on your phone most probably aren’t the ones you’ll use on your Watch. Your wrist is no place for the Facebook feed, Instagram, blog feeds or even Twitter. You start to want the essential data – minutes until next train home, miles cycled this week, time of high tide today, next calendar event, number of visitors to your site today etc, as well as one-tap utilities. There are great apps like Numerous which can help pull numbers from all over the place, as well as the IFTTT apps which allow you to create buttons to do all kinds of stuff from warming up your house to sending a map of your location to your partner instantly.

Some of the big apps are a disappointment

Another reason to go hunting in the App Store is that many of the apps you’re familiar with haven’t done a great job of extending their offering to your wrist. To be fair that is because no-one really knows how we’ll ultimately use this new device, and possibly some were rushed, but Twitter for instance shows either Top Trends or Timeline. The format and layout is fine but is that what you really want on your wrist? Would interactions be more important? The Apple apps are mostly fine but you’ll likely find better alternatives in the App Store such as Dark Sky’s superior weather app with brilliantly useful forecasts.

You need some time to properly set it up

Out of the box the watch is great. It pairs with your iPhone and automatically loads Watch extensions for any apps on your phone. However, for most users who have a lot of iPhone apps this causes instant bloat of the Watch homescreen, glances and notifications. You have to rethink how you want those apps to talk to you, and more fundamentally what information you actually want on your wrist. It took me hours and mostly involved turning off existing iPhone apps, trying new apps for different things and endlessly tweaking the settings using the Apple Watch app on my iPhone.

You’ll likely reactivate notifications

If, like me, you’ve switched all notifications off for all but the crucial apps (Phone, Twitter and WhatsApp for me), you’re likely to re-activate some of those for the Watch. Whilst I’m generally against being nagged by technology I’m currently enjoying being told about impending rain showers, breaking news and travel disruptions. Fortunately you can set different notification rules between your iPhone and Watch using the Apple Watch iPhone app.

This is a classic first version of a new Apple product

Using the Apple Watch it’s pretty easy to see where the improvements will come in future versions. They simply revolve around speed, reliance on iPhone and possibly screen resolution. The first two are related because everything on the Watch that relies on the web takes a few seconds to use your iPhone’s connection and possibly runs the app in the background on your phone to process that information. I also suspect the Watch isn’t packing a huge amount of CPU or RAM. If it was a standalone device everything would be quicker and there would of course be a much larger market for it outside of iPhone users. The screen resolution is already impressive but will no doubt be something they can boast about raising next year.

Apps hold the key to this being a truly mainstream product

Now it’s over to app developers to experiment, listen to users and create highly useful snippets of functionality from their iPhone apps. There are already thousands of compatible apps, but it will take time for them to be refined in response to how we use them.

But will the Watch endure?

With this new product line, Apple could be guilty of solving a problem we never had, which is usually a recipe for a fad. My personal opinion is that this is just early days, and the mainstream will start to care about Apple Watch once there are more apps and genuinely useful reasons to have it. Wearable technology and voice-activated cloud intelligence like Siri are advancing and converging fast. What our ’smart’ future looks like is unclear, but only by getting products like Watch to market can Apple find out, and have a chance of leading the smart revolution.

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Am I Right Or Left Wing?

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The 7th May general election is growing near, but people in the UK are struggling to get behind any of the leaders due to the depressing fact that normal people seemingly don’t get into politics.

So it’s likely to come down to which party’s wavelength you’re generally on, and whether you’re right-wing or left-wing. Here’s a great visualisation from Information Is Beautiful which may help clarify which direction you swing in.

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So are you right wing or left wing?

In the UK the former means you should vote Conservative, or to go further to the right, UKIP. The latter leaning would see you voting for Labour, or to go a little further to the left, the Green Party. The Lib Dems are mostly left-wing with some right-wing policies too.

My personal leaning is to the left, simply because I believe that a society’s ultimate purpose is to make its people as happy as possible. For me the left-right argument is much like the dilemma many of us face personally. Do I want to be successful and rich? Or do I want to be happy, even if that means not being the best at everything and having lots of money. Do I really care if Britain has the best economy or defence on the planet? Or do I want to see a doctor when I need and know that people less fortunate than me are being taken care of?

Either way, get out and vote on 7th May. Despite what people like Russell Brand say, unless we all get more engaged with politics the current leaders are the best we’ll ever have, and deserve.

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