Supporting local shops, Appifier, More or Less

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Supporting local shops

Stylish local shopkeeperTesco has opened an Express store near me. And it is a good one. It has a wide range and seems to be cheaper than the central London Tesco Metros and Sainsburys Locals. It is probably a ten minute walk from my flat but it will relatively easy for me to visit on the way home for the tube.

So, I now find myself with middle-class guilt over my local convenience store. I hate the way our high streets have become identical collections of the same brands. There’s been plenty of fights against these small big chain supermarkets moving into neighbourhoods where locals have come out to support their shopkeepers.

My problems is my local shop isn’t run by a friendly shopkeeper — they don’t even make eye contact. Their range is poor and expensive. And if I buy milk in the summer it will go off before the use-by date. Yet the family that run it are there 13 hours a day every day, I suspect they don’t take a day off and have never had a holiday. Plus they are conveniently at the top of my street so I can pop there to get milk before breakfast.

I guess the best I can do is only use the lovely Tesco Express for things I usually buy for my local shop. And I have to hope they aren’t driven out of business.

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AppifierAppifier is a new product that promises to turn your WordPress blogs into iPhone apps with ease. I tried it last week and it was easy. Install a plugin on your blog, upload an icon and loading screen png to Appifier and your app is ready. You can see it on your iPhone using its Sandbox app.

Appifier submit your app to Apple but you need your own developer account ($99 a year). The ongoing cost of Appifier is $39.99 a month or $499.99 a lifetime. The Appifier cost includes push notifications and you can monetise it with AdMob or Adsense without paying Appifier a cut.

So far, so simple, so a-little-pricey.

The first problem is the resulting app is as simple as setup process. It shows the latest seven posts as simple image and text. You navigate to older posts via their categories and search. That’s it. No comments or commenting.

This leads on to the second problem — what is the point? It doesn’t make a compelling app. You’d have to have a pretty loyal readership to get a decent number of iPhone users. And the sort of bloggers this simple approach will appeal to will not.

I’m sure Appifier have bigger plans and more features on the way but I cannot see how it will justify its cost and bring in enough app traffic.

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More or Less

More or LessI’ve been gorging on podcasts lately. For the first time in a long time I’m up to date on the Scott Mills Daily and I’ve listened to the latest series of Radio 4’s More or Less. Presented by The FT’s Tim Hartford, it is a 30 minute looks at maths, statistics and numbers in the news.

Now, I understand that this might not sound interesting. However it does a great job of explaining and debunking things. In particular I like how it takes figures in the news and checks their validity (a bit like Channel 4’s Fact Check).

In the last episode it checked if the projected benefits of High Speed 2 are realistic and if executive pay has really risen by 70%. It presented both sides of the argument while explaining how complicated these things are to get right.

(It does look like the High Speed 2 benefits were calculated in good faith but it is hard to predict travel in 2070. Executive pay hasn’t risen by so much across the board.)

Monocle 24, Amazon, Rakuten group

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Monocle 24

I cannot put my finger on what I don’t like about Monocle magazine. I’m usually very permissive and don’t criticise things that aren’t aimed at me. And Monocle magazine with its affluent view on the world isn’t aimed at me. Then I started listening to its Monocle Weekly podcast and I found myself enjoying it. It humanised the writers who I’d previously considered elitist and I found its ‘expert’ view on world affairs educational.

I was amazed to hear they were launching a 24 hour internet radio station and they weren’t doing it by half. They’ve built two studios and hired a team of professional news reporters and producers. How do they expect to make money from that I thought until it launched. On hearing it I now think it is a master stroke.

They are broadcasting accessible eclectic music and informed conversation to a worldwide audience. You can have it on the background or listen closely. I think they’ve found a gap in the radio market. It might have been the gap Channel 4 Radio were going for a few years ago but it’s the worldwide approach that will make it. Monocle is an international magazine and people will listen to their radio station around the world. Most importantly their audience is one advertisers will pay a lot to reach.

It is a little rough around the edges (especially at junctions) but I like that. It occasionally reminds me that Monocle is not for me — the weather (with Thomas Schafenacker) talks about how flights will be affected and the Rolex adverts centre on their regatta timekeeping — but I’ll forgive it.

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A Google+ post by a Google developer has been doing the rounds recently. Most people have seized on his criticism of how Google doesn’t operate as a platform. I was less interested in that argument but fascinated in what he said about his time at Amazon. He paints CEO Jeff Bezos as an evil megalomaniac who listens to no one and forces his own ideas on everyone. On reading the post Amazon made much more sense to me.

I buy a lot of things from Amazon and I’ve sold a lot of things through its Marketplace. I know I can find most things at want there at the lowest price. The reason it has the lowest price is because it insists suppliers give it their best deal – if they offer a better price elsewhere they are booted out. If you don’t believe me look at the cost of Apple stuff on Amazon. Apple don’t do discounts anywhere except Amazon.

It’s this line from the Google+ post that got me: “[Jeff Bezos] hired Larry Tesler, Apple’s Chief Scientist and probably the very most famous and respected human-computer interaction expert in the entire world, and then ignored every goddamn thing Larry said”. That will be why Amazon’s product pages are a mess and why checkout takes several screens.

After years of problem free shopping I recently had two packages fail to turn up. Amazon’s site doesn’t tell you want to do when this happens. There’s plenty of help pages but nothing on this. The first was a Marketplace one and Amazon give me the option of filing a claim but first I had to contact the seller for a third time but the moment I did this I got an email saying they’d refund my order. The second missing package was an Amazon one. With no where else to turn I had to email customer service. They replied within an hour and send a replacement next day.

There’s lot of talk about the need for frictionless design in eCommerce (and the rest of the web). Amazon isn’t frictionless. It just has a strong leader who forces people to do what he wants.

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Rakuten group

Back in September Japanese online giant Rakuten bought who are the main competitor to Amazon in the UK for £25m.

Two small but potentially significant things have happened since then. now offers first class and express delivery in addition to free 2-4 day standard delivery. That brings their delivery options in line with Amazon.

Rakuten have plonked their logo prominently above’s on the site. Companies usually do this for one of two reasons. Either to please their corporate ego and push a brand no one but it cares about. Or it is the start of a rebranding exercise (think Santander and the UK banks it bought).

Why would Rakuten want to change such a strong brand with powerful URL? Maybe if they wanted to sell more things online than you play with. Maybe if they were planning to challenge the all-encompassing Just wondering.

Marketing and design, Doodle, Robert Elms

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Marketing and design

In so many ways we live in a better designed world then we did ten years ago.  Almost everything has specialist design thought put into it and a lot of that has to do with marketing and communications.  This week my bin collection day changed.  To communicate the change my council pushed a leaflet through my door, did a feature in their newspaper (which is also pushed through my door) and put a sticker on my bin.

Bin collections are the number one source of enquires (and complaints) to councils so I imagine this was a big campaign for them.  And it was nicely designed with a friendly typeface and a green land/blue sunny sky background.  Thought and money went into that design.  My bin (pictured) still has the sticker from the last change 10 years ago – there was less design then.

The world is a better place with good design.  It’s more enjoyable and I hope such efforts as that bin campaign continue.  (Sadly the bin message failed to get through as most people on my street put their recycling out this morning which was the old day.)

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As I’ve said before I’m a big fan of things that do one thing really well.  And if that one thing solves a real-life problem then I’m a very big fan.  Doodle is the latest recipient of my fandom.

Trying to get a disparate group of people together (say old friends who are scattered around the country and have complicated commitments like kids) for important business (a drink) can be painful.  Lots of emails, texts and phone calls to find the best time which often results in failure and upset.  Doodle helps make this easier.

Say what you want to do, give a list of times and then invite people to say when they can do.  They tick the best times.  You find one that works.  Job done.  Simple.  And you don’t even need to register with the site.

There’s a nice freemium model behind it.  Friends arranging drinks can use it for free.  Businesses arranging business can go pro and brand it.  Great.

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Robert Elms

As part of my degree I did a five-month placement at the BBC local radio station for London then known as GLR.  It was my first time living in the city which has since become my home and I got to work with the broadcaster who knows the city best, Robert Elms.

Robert, or Bob to his friends (which I wasn’t), is still doing pretty much the same show 15 years later and I’ve rediscovered it through its podcast.  The stature of the show means it still gets big guests – Gary Oldman and John Hurt came into the studio to talk about film making and not just plug Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. But it is Robert’s passion and knowledge about London that makes it a great listen.

Every week a noted Londoner is made a Listed Londoner by talking about their favourite place, view, shop etc, which despite running for 15+ years still introduces me to new places.  Anyone who writes a book about London is invited in and regular contributors delve into the city’s history through buildings and trades.

If you like listening to podcasts and like London add Robert Elms’ to your subscription list.

(Update 7/10/11: Sounds like Robert’s show is under threat of the BBC cuts in local radio.)