technology Tag

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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Latest EE Video: LG G5

I recently had a thorough look at LG’s latest phone, the G5. It’s a very cool piece of kit and can be made all the more awesome with add-ons. Here’s my in-depth look at its features for Tech Radar and EE.

 

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Snapchat Appeals To Kids For The Same Reasons Myspace Did. But Can It Escape The Same Fate?

Remember Myspace? (I have to say that now when I intro myself to new people — my years working there are still a key part of my career history).

More importantly, can you remember the countless millions of teenagers who learnt HTML so they could ‘pimp’ their pages?

Kids Were Coding on Myspace!

That is unbelievable in retrospect. We got kids learning to handle (if not completely write) code just so they could make glitter fall down their page and have sexier buttons in their ‘contact box’. They knew how to open style tags, albeit simple ones like <b>, and then close them</b>.

Parents of course thought they had finally lost their young. They were witnessing their kids type and paste pure gobbledegook into boxes in some very confusing admin panel. Kids made their Myspace profiles resemble a sort of digital bedroom wall, plastered with a mess of everything they were into, and everyone they were associated with.

Confusing to ‘Olds’

The more I work with Snapchat (in my capacity running London creative digital agency Harkable), the more I’m struck with how this is the first platform since Myspace to appeal to kids largely because it bewilders and even scares their parents.

Even at my tender age I can still remember the sheer confusion the first time I used Snapchat. This of course was closely followed by a more composed, professional criticism of the UX (user experience).

The Thrill of the Dangerous

Just knowing you could send absolutely any kind of photo or video to anyone on Snapchat is in itself exciting.

Everything there is out of the gaze of authority. Seeing their parents’ horror just makes it all the more fun. And so it was on Myspace, you could be anyone and do anything. There were serial killers and sex offenders but we all accepted that the entire human spectrum was represented there, before everyone left for Facebook that is.

Is Snapchat Destined for Decline?

So the big questions looms. Can Snapchat avoid the fatal death spiral that Myspace disappeared into so rapidly? Ultimately the odds aren’t in their favour.

The only reason Facebook and Twitter have stuck around is because:

  1. their general utility — messaging, groups, events, photos, news
  2. their unprecedentedly high levels of adoption across all demographics — i.e. your grandparents use it, people in places with less access to technology use it
  3. integration across the web and the wider media landscape — Facebook ‘like’ buttons on websites, hashtags in TV shows etc

Will my Mum really get on Snapchat before the youth leave for something new? Will it replace current forms of private messaging like email and WhatsApp? Can it really become woven into our other media experiences such as surfing the web and watching TV?

Seems unlikely but then the entire premise of the app would have sounded bonkers five years ago, so don’t write them off completely.

So Many Users, So Little Money

The big challenge for them will be monetisation. They are the classic example of the social media startup having boomed in user numbers, only to be faced with the task of turning that into a profitable business.

They currently sell vertical video ads (portrait video as opposed to the traditional landscape) which are inserted in between Stories and Discover, kind of like TV ads. They trialled sponsored lenses — augmented reality animated overlays for selfie photos and videos — but have discontinued that for now. There’s no self-serve ad buying platform, and agencies are struggling to justify significant media spend because of the lack of any robust analytics, other than reports on views and reach.

Snapchat’s Future Is Not In Mass Market

They’ll need to bring a much more rounded advertising offering with the ability to target ads and report on exactly what the money achieved.

But like Myspace failed to do, they’ll need to keep its core users interested. And rather than trying to attract that wider demographic, it might mean keeping mum and dad a little bit scared of it.

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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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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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Alfa Genus V2 Headphones Review

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Last week I received Rock Jaw Audio’s latest in-ear headphones, the Alfa Genus V2. The follow-up to their Alfa Genus (which I never tried), they sport improved aluminium casing in place of wood, and the cable is now tangle-free thick rubber, in place of twisted rubber.

I can only compare them with my current loadout – Sennheisser MM 50 iP in-ear headphones and AKG K171 studio monitor headphones. First impressions are of course dominated by the prominent USP – three interchangeable frequency filters.

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Silver offer enhanced bass, champagne (gold) offer a neutral response and black offer enhanced treble. The difference is marked and personally I prefer the default-fitted silver filters which give a response I think most consumers will be used to – a warm, bass-heavy sound which makes the most of rock and dance music as well as keeping podcasts smooth and easy to listen to. The neutral filters are very crisp and balanced in contrast, whilst the black treble filters are far too crisp and I can’t imagine anyone would wear these unless for a very specific, treble-heavy application. Whichever filters you use – and they take only a few seconds to swap out – the clarity of sound is impressive. Detail and separation are noticeably better than my Sennheisers after just a few seconds of listening to familiar tracks. I would expect this from a higher end pair of headphones but given the Alfa Genus V2 cost just £50 I’m impressed.

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You get the usual selection of buds, including some expanding foam ones. The medium-sized rubber ones fit me best and provide a comfy seal allowing all that low-end goodness to fill my head. My only personal gripe would be that whilst there’s a microphone and button on the left ear cord, there are no volume buttons, something I use a lot as I switch between calls, music and podcasts in streets, trains and offices. Also, the right-angle jack is something I personally find less pocket-friendly but that’s a very minor issue.

Overall, I’ll definitely recommend these to people who ask me about good headphones under £50, even under £100.

Buy on Amazon

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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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Strap In: Smartwatch and Virtual Reality Wars About To Kick Off, Will Either Succeed?

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As this year’s Mobile World Congress draws to a close, the big takeaways from Barcelona’s annual tech-fest are:

  • smartphones have all gotten a little better, again
  • smartwatches are landing in a big way this summer
  • VR is going to be mainstream by Spring 2016

Whilst the likes of Samsung – with the slick new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge – and HTC with their One M9 have done a decent job of bringing improved phones to the market, mainstream wearable tech – products that the majority will actually buy – is what’s getting everyone inside Fira Gran Via really excited.

The smartwatch going mainstream is largely due to Apple’s Watch hitting the market this April. As with any technology, Apple getting involved adds instant legitimacy and vastly raises the prospect of mainstream adoption due to their superior design of hardware and software, launched with seductively-crafted marketing. But can the smartwatch become more than just a notification platform for your phone, with some health tracking thrown in? To really break smartwatches Apple needs to:

  • give developers a platform to do more than add notifications to existing services or apps
  • look beyond health, which is only of interest to health geeks for now at least
  • have battery life that doesn’t pale in comparison to Pebble’s 10 days
  • create a watch that feels as good to wear as a luxury watch, after all $350 is a lot for a poorly put together accessory
  • make Siri work for his/her money – the wrist could be where Siri becomes truly useful and widely adopted by the majority, so Apple must nail the integration

Unfortunately, there are still way more reasons for Apple Watch and the whole smartwatch category to ultimately fail. The most challenging one is that even the cult of Cupertino will struggle to convince the average smartphone user they need a fancy watch. Smartphones and tablets play movies, TV, games and offer a full internet experience. We were doing all that stuff when those new touchscreen devices came along so were happy to sate our existing appetite on a high quality, portable platform. The smartwatch however requires us to adopt totally new behaviours, and history shows we’re not so great at that. It will take a killer app or piece of functionality to compel the masses to buy one, and what that is is anyone’s guess right now.

Virtual Reality

Like smartwatches, VR headsets are coming to the market heavily tied to specific platforms. The main players are the Vive by HTC and Valve, Samsung’s Gear VR, Project Morpheus for Sony Playstation and of course the Oculus Rift, the crowdfunded headset now owned by Facebook that got us interested in VR all over again. Then there is a second tier of highly affordable headsets into which you simply slot your phone and run compatible apps, a category not to be dismissed due to its accessibility and backing by Google. Their Cardboard prototype has inspired a slew of similar products including its own collaboration with Mattel to create the retro View-Master, a 21st century redux of the popular 3D slide-viewer we loved as kids.

Whilst comparisons with 3D TV are probably unfair – VR clearly has more consumer and industrial uses – the big question that will always hang over any new technology is why? Why do I need to spend money to get this? Why do I need to change the way I do stuff? Why should I convince all my friends this is the best thing ever so they get on board and share the benefits with me? So many questions, but think about how easily the iPhone answered all those and ushered in the smartphone era, and then think how impossible it is to find an answer when they are asked of 3D or curved TV. Can VR answer these? Quite possibly, and the winner of the battle for VR supremacy is likely to be one who is already in our home, delivering content we love. That’s why it may well be Sony Playstation who have the most users of VR by Christmas 2016, with the rest battling it out for PC gamers’ hard-earned cash, likely a larger but more fragmented and competitive market.

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Your Weekly Social Media Diet

So many social media sites, so little time. This is my plan for keeping on top of it all, and getting more out of your social media life.

Weekdays

Breakfast – catch up and schedule

Get the latest on what’s happening and find shareable content with Digg Reader for news and blogs, YouTrends for the latest trending videos, Reddit for trending funnies and Twitter for the big conversations globally or in your area. Instantly share the most interesting stuff using Buffer (and its brilliant Chrome plugin), which staggers your updates throughout the day. This keeps your Twitter and Facebook filled with good content, taking the pressure off in case you have a busy day. 

Lunch – respond and engage

This is when everyone jumps on Facebook and Twitter so a good time to check in on the ‘big two’. Use TweetDeck to view Twitter and respond to  engagement from your Buffered posts – thank any retweets and mentions with replies or favorites. Then have a scan for any recent developments worth commenting on or adding to your Buffer.

As you’re probably at a computer, this is also a great time to show some love on Pinterest, trawling through your feed to find great images to like and re-pin.

Dinner – longer reads

Chances are you’re in the majority that have flirted with Google+ but don’t use it regularly. I find that people get great value out of it once they start, so get the ball rolling by posting something and actively joining a conversation in a Community relevant to you or on your timeline, every afternoon. It’s a heavily American audience so early evening is a good time to start posting if you’re in UK/Europe.

This time is also when a lot of commuters are bored on the train, reading Twitter, so your Buffer should have a few scheduled slots between 5pm and 7pm. A good time to post links to well-written content (like the best stuff on Medium, for example)

Supper – prime time conversations

The peak of social media traffic in the week is always at around 8pm, in line with TV’s prime time. Conversation on Twitter is largely driven by real-time conversation around TV, so if you’re watching a popular show get tweeting about it with the hashtag, make any witty observations and retweet other people’s. Share relevant bite-sized content on the topic such as memes – as opposed to long blogs or videos.

If you’re really keen, now is a good time to put a few things in your Buffer so you have content going out to followers in other time zones while you sleep.

Weekend

It goes without saying you should try to maintain your weekday activity where possible, especially the ‘breakfast’ and ‘supper’ ones, but here are some weekend-specific to-dos:

Saturday – capture your moments

Typically the quietest day in social media as people spend the least time at screens on Saturdays, instead opting for shopping, seeing friends and doing stuff around the house. This is however when you’re likely to do your most interesting stuff so take lots of pictures with your phone’s camera app, and then Instagram them both on the day and later. Think of your fun weekend activities as opportunities to capture photos for use throughout the week.

Sunday – putting time into bigger content pieces

In opposition to Saturday, Sunday is traditionally the busiest day online, particularly in the mid-afternoon post-lunch lull. It’s when the most people are online, they have the most time and are most relaxed – meaning the best content to put out here is long-form content such as blogs, articles and videos. It’s also when you have the most time to properly produce and promote it.
Write a blog post or record your video blog or podcast in the morning, post it in the afternoon and then take the time to promote it across all your platforms. Beyond putting links with great hooks such as questions or counter-intuitive statements (e.g. Why Drinking is Good For You, Could Drinking Really Be Healthy?) generate conversation where possible through reaching out to passion centres of the topic e.g. tweet at influential people in that sphere asking them what they think, go to the Google+ Community or sub-Reddit and ask people there what they think. Remember to not take a promotional tone, but a human and conversational one.

Weekly Tasks

Twitter – follow new people, @mention influencers and keep an eye on your Buffer analytics to learn what’s working and what’s not. Use ManageFlitter to find new people to follow and clean out your Following list if bloated.

Blog – at least one post per week, but always as many as you can manage. Use Google Analytics to see what worked and where traffic is coming from.

Pinterest – find new boards and people to follow to keep your feed fresh. Pin cool stuff from around the web (sites like Tumblr, FFFFOUND!, editorial and interest-specific sites).

Periodical Tasks

Review your blog theme and any widgets you’re using. Is everything up-to-date? Is your bio still true or relevant across all networks? Do you still have links to sites you’ve abandoned?

Use ManageFlitter or Klout to chart your growth on Twitter and in social media over the year.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy it. I don’t get round to all of the above but now I’ve actually written it down in this post I’m going to start trying! Let me know any useful habits of yours in the comments below!

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Samsung Galaxy S5, Gear 2 and Gear Fit Hands-On

I’ve been at Mobile World Congress 2014 with Samsung, where all the latest technology and mobile innovations are announced. I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to play with the Galaxy S5 smartphone, the Gear 2 smart watch and Gear Fit sports band.

Find out more about the new products over at Samsung’s site

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This was actually really hard with my brand new skinny jeans on

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