Foursquare and Amex, Instagram marketing agency, Montague Arms

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Foursquare and Amex
When I was checking in at the cinema on Foursquare recently I noticed the nearby Nandos had a ‘special’. These are usually a bit useless – a free drink for the mayor – but as I occasionally go to Nandos I looked to see what it was. It turned it was a deal where if I used my Amex card there I’d get back £10 on a £10 spend. Bargain.

This is something Amex has done for a while in America and I remember being rather disappointed it wasn’t doing it in the UK. Pleasingly it is launching with a similar £10 back on £10, or £5 back on £5, with useful retailers like Tesco, Eat and Pizza Express. Set up is easy. Sync your card via the Amex website, check in to participating places on Foursquare and ‘load’ the offer, then just pay by Amex. You don’t need to tell the retailer what you are doing or show them a voucher.

I’ve blogged before about not being able to give a reason why I use Foursquare but now I have one.

Incidentally, through reading about this I discovered the Explore section of the Foursquare app*. I cannot remember ever using it despite it sitting on the bottom navigation bar. It further proves that if you have a product which people use to do one focused thing it hard to get them to notice other functionality you offer.

*The Foursquare iOS app has since been completely updated and Explore is now more integrated.

Instagram marketing agency
To help (or feed) my obsession with New York I follow newyorkcity on Instagram. Every day a cool photo of the cool city is posted and it makes me want to go back there even more. It’s a popular feed with more followers than the Instagram app can show (it says 260…). Photos will get 10,000 likes and hundreds of comments.

I noticed this morning the feed’s owner/photographer announced she’d cofounded a company, The Mobile Media Lab, and for their first client, Samsung, she’ll be shooting with their Galaxy Note.

So, this is an agency set up by three people, which is specialising on getting brands on to Instagram. No big surprise here – a new market has opened up and there’s an opportunity to get in early. It will be interesting to see how effective they can be on Instagram. Their website has a case study of brand promotion which has already happened on the newyorkcity feed but I never noticed it.

Strangely over the past few days a few photos which feel more like personal interest have crept into newyorkcity (like an award ceremony). I’m not sure of the logic behind this. I follow it for great pictures of the NYC, and if they mess with that too much I’ll stop following.

Montague Arms
I was saddened to find out that the Montague Arms between New Cross and Peckham has closed, never to reopen in it’s old form. It actually closed at the end of 2011 but I didn’t realise.

The Montague was an amazing old boozer packed full of dusty taxidermy and seafaring memorabilia. It was the kind of pub you don’t get anymore. It closed mainly due to the death of the couple who co-ran it (into their 80s) and also because it was no longer fire safe.

The end of the Montague was inevitable. It was too big and just too far away from things to draw enough of a crowd to keep it going. Back in the day it welcomed coach parties on their way from Dover. More recently it hosted bands and student nights.

The taxidermy and memorabilia have been sold at auction. I cannot see anyone else taking on the lease. I dread the day I drive past and see new build flats in its place.

Creative Review iPad app, Google Currents, V&A and ASOS using Mag+

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Creative Review iPad app

I’ve noted my disappointment in magazines on the iPad before, so I was interested to read how Creative Review have approached their move to the iPad. Quick disclosure: while I’ve used the CR website, and did have a subscription to their print magazine, I haven’t actually used their app.

In a detailed blog post to launch the app, CR explain that they’ve decided not to publish a digital version of the magazine. Their research found the vast majority of their print subscribers wanted to read the magazine in print and not on screen.

Instead they’ve decided to provide content “that exploits the iPad’s strengths” which is hi-res images and video along with in-depth features. Although you pay by the month they are updating the content regularly. This means it fits nicely between their monthly magazine and their website with latest news and discussion.

The blog post deals frankly with their decision to charge a standalone price/subscription and not bundle it with the print subscription. In short they blame Apple’s pricing rules and cost of the additional development it would take.

Throughout my year subscribing to the print magazine they promised the iPad app was about to launch. The reason it took so long is also explained in the blog post. Basically Apple kept changing their rules. Ultimately CR made some decisions because they couldn’t risk Apple changing their policy.

The Guardian on iPad decided to reproduce their daily paper after giving a lot of thought to what would be most useful to their readers. Here CR have done the same kind of thinking. It shouldn’t just be a case of take what you do now and put it on to the iPad. It is about what the iPad brings to what you do.

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Google Currents

Shortlist magazine give up half a page of this week’s issue to their “new tablet edition” which is available across iOS and Android. But they haven’t produced apps, they’ve partnered with Google Currents.

Google Currents has been available in America for a while and is part of a glut of apps which let you read content from multiple sources. Flipboard is probably the most successful example and I noted AOL’s Editions a while back.

I’m pleasantly surprised by Google Currents. There are a lot of similarities to Flipboard but a few ways in which it is better. Within a feed/publication there are content sections. This means you can subscribe to The Guardian and then chose which sections you want to read. It also lets you subscribe to rss feeds so you can add anything (unlike Flipboard’s walled garden).

Most useful for me is saving content for offline reading. I use Byline to save content from Google Reader when I have a long tube commute ahead. It is OK but lacks the nice UX you get in Currents.

Google Reader is one of the last surviving RSS readers and the whole concept of subscribing to RSS feeds never reached the mainstream audience. I’m sure Google would happily kill Google Reader if there was somewhere else it could send its users. Some people say Twitter (or maybe Google+) is the replacement for RSS readers. I’m thinking it is something like Google Currents.

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V&A and ASOS using Mag+

A few brands are producing iPad apps that are versions of their promotional magazines.  They use the Mag+ publishing platform and the result is a bit mixed.

Mag+ is OK as a platform. The big problem is getting started. You have to download an issue before you can see anything and, sadly, this process isn’t very intuitive. The result is a splash page with big arrows pointing to the button at the top you need to press to get going.

This is the source of the fundamental problem with the V&A’s app. It is called V&A Calendar so when you open it you expect to get a custom app with a calendar which you can explore. But what you get is a digital magazine which you swipe horizontally and vertically to move around. I quickly found myself on a page showing all the days of a month and tried to click on a date but nothing happened as this was just a magazine page. All very confusing.

ASOS have two Mag+ apps. By simply calling them ‘ASOS Magazine’ and ‘ASOS Men’s Magazine’ they’ve avoided the V&A’s problems. So, when I downloaded the Men’s Mag I knew what to expect. And therefore I enjoyed what I got (especially as it said a few of the things I wear are on-trend for this year).

The V&A problem can be easily fixed with correct labelling. They should also remember if you have to start with a help screen, explaining how to navigate an app, there’s something wrong with your navigation.

Leon de Bruxelles, Britain’s Got Talent Twitter Hashtags, Zeebox

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Leon de Bruxelles

Looking for somewhere to eat near Covent Garden I found myself in the new Leon de Bruxelles this week. It promised amazing mussels and, as the first London restaurant from an established European chain, great quality. It did not deliver.

On sitting down we were told they had run out of mussels (and, given no one else had them, they must have run out much earlier). Since mussels are really all they do I cannot understand how that happened. But we stayed and chose from the small list of other dishes. Shortly after ordering, a basket of four small pieces of cold baguette was plonked down. At first I couldn’t work out why it looked wrong, then I realised there was no butter, bread knives or plates.

I ordered the Flemish Carbonnade Beef which sounded lovely and at £14 I was expecting it to be a substantial tasty stew. It was neither. After eating over half I found a hair in it.

It left me wondering if I should post a bad review somewhere, so potential customers would know what it was like (I don’t count this blog as reaching such people). But, as someone who uses TripAdvisor but takes the negative reviews with a large pinch of salt, I realised if I posted the above it would seem like I was making it up.

There were two saving points. The staff were nice and, thanks to tastecard, two mains, two sides and two drinks came to £22.

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Britain’s Got Talent Twitter hashtags

It is becoming the norm for TV programmes to put hashtags on screen at the start. The new series of Britain’s Got Talent is doing something different. It is putting a few well-placed hagtags during auditions that play on what you are watching. #nowwithwings when a performer extended his costume wings, #hottie when a swoonful young male singer took to the stage.

I have to admit I was initially sceptical. I instantly spotted a ploy to get these tags trending but dismissed them, thinking few people would use them. I was wrong on the second point. They were so popular that TweetDeck froze and terminally crashed when I tried to add them as a column.

Yes, they did trend worldwide. Given that Twitter’s trending algorithm makes it hard for a term to trend more than once it will mean that BGT trends every week. The clever bit will come if ITV monetise these hashtags.

There is a danger here though. These tags need to be used sparingly and only when there’s something worth tweeting about. If too many programmes use them and, especially, if they use them badly, the audience will be turned off by them.

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If you haven’t have heard of the Zeebox app, then it describes itself as “your TV sidekick” which you should use “while you watch TV” as it is “social, clever and fun”. It has multi-channel programme listings, a programme twitter stream, news, things called ‘Zeetags’ and it can change the channel of a few TVs.

It attracted a lot of TV industry buzz and BSkyB bought a 10% stake in January with a promise to integrate it into it’s mobile applications.

In the last week I’ve heard from two separate sources, who have accessed a (possibly hidden) part of its developer API, that it has hundreds of users at a time when it should have thousands (and thousands).

It doesn’t take a genius to see why it isn’t connecting with an audience. The only thing that is “social” is the twitter stream and for most programmes a twitter stream is a pretty boring list of mundane updates. I watched both The Voice and BGT with Zeebox on and saw little of interest. Meanwhile my own Twitter feed and the official accounts were “fun”.

It could be that Zeebox have something revolutionary planned. But right now I cannot see anything doing “social” and “fun” which isn’t Facebook and Twitter. That’s where your friends are and they are much more “fun” and “social” than strangers. If second screen is going to be about anything it will be participation (see Million Pound Drop) and there are not many programme formats that call for audience participation.

(Please note, I’m currently contracting at ITV. This blog contains my personal views and do not represent or reflect the opinions of ITV, or any of my previous employers or clients.)

Google Apps in Big Business, eBook first chapters, Dropbox and Foursquare’s websites

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Google Apps in Big Business

I’ve recently started doing a little consultancy for ITV. They efficiently set me up with a computer login and email address so on the first day I found myself logging into a Windows workstation with Outlook for the first time in almost a year. Horrible memories came flooding back. But it wasn’t for long as by day two I’d been migrated to ITV’s new Google Apps (Email, calendar and documents) based system.

This is brilliant news for me as it has meant I can work in their office on my Mac (they are moving to Macs too — everyone is getting new Macbook Airs). What’s even better is it took minutes to hook up my ITV email and calendar up to Sparrow/iCal on my desktop, my iPhone and iPad. All this makes it easy and efficient to manage my ITV communication alongside with my other clients.

I’ve overheard a few teething troubles from people finding the limitations of Google Docs and there’s one Internet Explorer only system which isn’t going to work on the Mac but overall people are liking it. I bet the reduction in IT management will more than offset the cost of the new kit.

I always thought of Google Apps as being a small business thing. Now I can see how much sense it makes for big business too.

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eBook first chapters

I’ve resisted buying an eReader because I don’t read enough books and the fiction I read costs a few quid in a charity shop. I do use eReader apps on my iPad though and I’m finding the free first chapter preview very useful.

I’m not a great reader. I have problems concentrating and remembering all the characters. I can now tell quite quickly if I’m going to find a book easy to read or if I’ll soon lose interest and not enjoy it. So now if I get recommended a book I download the preview chapter and see if it will work for me.

This first chapter preview is going to change publishing. Authors are going to have to make that preview punch hard and pull in buyers. Slow scene-setting will be discouraged. Writers will not like this.

For John Lanchester’s new book Capital a prologue has been released as part of the marketing site. Weirdly I didn’t get a sense of what the novel would be when I read the prologue, I actually thought it was going to be factual book. To me it felt like a movie trailer but without the content of the movie. I wonder if the prologue was specially written to market the book.

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Dropbox and Foursquare’s websites

Dropbox and Foursquare share a common business problem: there’s no reason to reguarly visit their websites. You may wonder why this is important to a business; well, their websites can be a good place to monetise their services. As well as advertising, Dropbox can sell its paid packages, Foursquare its brand partners.

Foursquare added a lot of functionality to its site few months back. You can now get personalised recommendations plotted on a local map. As I rarely need these recommendations where my desktop machine is (at home) it isn’t a great reason for me to visit.

Dropbox recently refreshed its website with an injection of fun (well, a rainbow sharing icon). It has added a powerful search option which is handy but I’d probably still use my desktop one. More interestingly is there’s now a lightbox photo viewer which makes looking back over photos much more engaging. I bet they’ll add a media player next to make it feel more like a digital music locker.

Both are facing an uphill battle to get people to go to their websites more often. Especially as their simple ‘do one thing really well’ is what has made them successful. Doing more things less well will put people off.

Memolane emails, Dropbox Automator, Philadelphia with Cadbury

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Memolane emails

MemolaneA while back I noted Memolane which is a website that pulls in all your social content from the web and presents it in a beautiful timeline to explore. You can look back over photos from Flickr and Instagram, tweets, music and more. It is great to wander back and remind yourself of your life. Depending on your privacy settings others can wander back too.

Shortly after Memolane came out of beta, Facebook announced its Timeline profile view, which — along with imports from Flickr, Instagram and Spotify, lets you wander back and remind yourself of your life. Depending on your privacy settings…

For me Memolane has been a site I occasionally like to visit but no more. But a few weeks ago it started sending me emails with highlights from my timeline a few years ago. The emails took me back to Iceland and Vietnam, and my tweets on Skins (first generation). It’s lovely seeing photos. Seeing tweets makes me cringe. Either way I look forward to seeing the emails.

The only flaw is it needs decent content from the current day in a previous year. I presume that is why I’m mainly getting emails from 4 years ago.

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Dropbox Automator

Towards the end of last year I noted that Box was giving new users 50Gb of cloud storage for free. At the time I thought it would be great for off-site storage for my photos, music and things like tax paperwork. Sadly the limited tools Box gives free users meant I didn’t really use it (plus iTunes Match came along to look after my music).

I started to use Dropbox for tax stuff and photos but I was aware the limited free storage would cause me problems one day. Also I didn’t want to keep these files on my laptop.

I think the answer to my problems is Dropbox Automator. It follows the ifttt model (which I’ve also previously noted) and lets you set up rules for actions. By connecting it to my Dropbox and Box accounts, Automator copies files I place in defined Dropbox directories to Box ones. So, when I save a bank statement into a Dropbox folder on my laptop, Automator copies it to Box. As Automator works in the cloudiverse I don’t need to do anything. I’m then free to delete the file from Dropbox safe in the knowledge Box has it. (It is a lot simpler in practice.)

Dropbox Automator can do other things. It can convert files, send them to a Kindle, upload to Facebook/Flickr, manipulate images, email files, zip them and more.

It is still early days from the project and the company behind it, Wappwolf, are improving it all the time. Worth keeping an eye on.

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Philadelphia with Cadbury

Philadelphia with CadburyWhen Kraft bought Cadbury there were all sorts of predictions of what the food giant would do with the beloved British brand. Would they move production out of the UK? Would they run it into the ground and replace it with their cheaper Milka brand?

What nobody predicted is they’d produce a Cadbury version of their Philadelphia soft cheese. Chocolate cheese — it is a taste I could not imagine. So when I saw a BOGOF offer I had to purchase.

I can confirm it is basically a chilled chocolate spread with a hint of soft cheese and it works. I had it on a muffin by itself and with banana. I’ve never gone in for spreads so probably will not be purchasing again but I will happily finish the pots I bought.

Emails lost as spam, Personal documents on Kindle/GoodReader, Reading Trainer app

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Emails lost as spam

GmailIn the past week I’ve had three emails sent from my Gmail caught in the spam filter of the receiver. This really worries me. There could well be more.

The really scary thing is they were all to people I’d previously exchanged email with and some very recently.

As a freelance contractor I rely on email to set up new relationships with people. The first I knew that one of my emails hadn’t gone through was when I received a text from a new employer postponing a kick-off meeting because he hadn’t received my confirmation. That’s not the image I want to project.

You just trust that an email will get to its destination. Without this trust, email breaks down as a communication system.

Gmail’s spam filtering is so good I rarely see spam in my inbox. But I think I’d rather see more spam and know the filter is letting through email I count on.

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Personal documents on Kindle/Good Reader

kindleAs part of the fun of taking on a new project I’ve had to read a few long reports. Back when I had access to a free office printer I’d ignore the environment and think nothing of printing 80 sides. As my home printer is one of those cheap ones that uses expensive ink cartridges I now think twice (and about the environment).

My iPad has been great for reading such documents. In particular the GoodReader app opens all sorts of files. It can download them from Dropbox or direct from my Gmail. However, GoodReader was obviously created by a developer who hasn’t got the user interface skills to make loading and accessing documents simple. I’m not saying GoodReader is bad – in fact, I recommend it – but it isn’t one for the mainstream audience.

Kindle is very much for the mainstream audience and it’s come through with a simple way to read your own documents on its device or one of its apps. Simply email your Word, Text, HTML, image or pdf file to your address. After a few minutes it will be ready to download to your device.

Setting this up does need a bit of work. Amazon will automatically give you an address (I think mine was something like but you can change it. Then, to prevent spam, you have to give it email addresses to accept documents from. All this is hidden away in ‘Personal Document Settings’ under ‘Your Kindle Account’ on the ‘Manage Your Kindle’ page of Amazon. (You see what I mean about it needing a bit of work.)

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Reading Trainer app

Reading TrainerSomewhere along the way in my life I’ve lost the ability to read well. I think it happened at university where I started skimming set texts. It’s then been made worse by speed-reading text on screens. Last year I started reading fiction books again in an attempt to improve things but I still find I could ‘read’ a few pages and not take a single word in.

A few weeks ago a Reading Trainer app appearing in the iTunes App Store for a discount price so I thought I’d give it a go. Sadly it doesn’t seem to be working for me. Admittedly I was sceptical that it would be brain-training-esq and just made you better at doing the tasks in the game. Having done several units I don’t think it is even doing that.

The problem is that I get no sense of how the tasks are improving my reading (if they are). Tasks like finding words in a grid of letters and spotting which pair of words don’t match are helping me concentrate. But others, like reading a passage and answering questions about it, seem like more of a test of my existing knowledge. There are also anagram tasks, which I fail simply because I cannot do anagrams.

It shows me graphs that are going up, but without context. I now have a reading power of 52 (cue the bit in Harry Hill’s TV Burp where he looks to side and shrugs his shoulders).

Maybe I need to do it more. Maybe I’ve not reached the breakthrough moment. Lots of reviewers on the iTunes Store are impressed by their achievements.

Pies, Pizza at the Gowlett, Instagram photos of food

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My pieI love pies. But until last week I’d never made one. While pies seem simple — pastry and some filling — the thought of making pastry and cooking up some filling seemed like too much work. I guess I also knew deep down that pies were unhealthy. The pie I made certainly was.

It came from the Pieminister book a friend kindly gave me. Like many cookery spin-off books it is beautifully produced, everything looks wonderful but takes a pile of ingredients the likes of me doesn’t keep around the house. However hidden at the back was the Hunter Chicken Pie which didn’t call for something I wouldn’t buy on a normal shop.

Admittedly I did cheat and use ready-rolled puff pastry. But the chopping of onions, cooking with rosemary then adding tomato, Worcester sauce and balsamic vinegar was me. Then cooking up the chicken, bacon and 150ml of double cream was me. I did get a bit of help laying out the pastry.

The result was gorgeous. I’m pleased I’d had my blood cholesterol test earlier in the week before eating it.

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Pizza at The Gowlett

Gowlett's pizzaI should love pizza but I have an on-off relationship with it, mainly because pizzas disappoint me too much. I’d given up hope on shop bought pizzas. Pizza Express’ efforts do nothing for me. The occasional delivery pizza is OK but only it if has BBQ sauce on it.

I’m down to two places that do pizza really well. One is Yard in Shoreditch which sells pizza by the yard with different toppings to share. I’ve only been there three times and it hasn’t failed me. But the best place I’ve ever found for pizza is The Gowlett in Peckham.

It often tops charts of best pizza in (South) London and deservedly so. What I cannot work out is why. It is a backstreet boozer that’s purposely been kept plain. Although it tries to make a virtue out of its beer selection it is average. But their pizzas stand out. The base is perfect and the toppings tasty and inventive.

Not skimping on the quality of the toppings is certainly a factor. Last night’s chef’s special featured a runny egg that tasted better than most I’ve made.

Their pizzas come from a hidden kitchen out back so you cannot even see how they are prepared. The only clue was a sign I once saw that said they are made by Polish chefs.

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Instagram photos of food

The face of cruditésInstagram photos seem to fall into three types. Cool photos made even cooler with the filters, pets and home cooked food. Lacking a pet my photos fall into the first and third categories (although I’d accept the criticism they aren’t that cool).

This is nothing new. In the early days of Flickr people would take photos of what they were about to eat but the fashion fell away. Now it is back on Instragram and I think I know why.

For a lot of people Instragram is about showcasing artistic creativity. The filters make this easy to do. Most people I know don’t have the time to create nice things but they do cook. I was very proud of the pie I made and my breadmaker produced its best ever loaf. I wanted to share those ‘achievements’ and Instagram made that quick and easy.

I find myself taking fewer Instagram photos as I feel like they have to be good. In the winter there are less opportunities to find interesting things to photograph. But I’m cooking more. The food pictures will continue.

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