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.

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 itv.com 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, last.fm 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 @kindle.com 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 andrewbarron42@kindle.com) 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.

Music Magpie, Radio 1’s Specialist Takeover, Bitching about the railways

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Music Magpie

Sorting CDsI’ve started a big clear-out of my flat. In particular I want to get rid of the stuff that moved in with me 6+ years ago and has barely been touched since. That, sadly, includes my CD collection and a lot of DVDs. It’s a process that started last year when I made a tidy sum selling anything of value through Amazon Marketplace but I was still left with a few hundred discs.

So on New Year’s Day I started scanning my stuff into Music Magpie which, if you don’t know, is a company that buys used CDs, DVDs and games. They’ve been going a few years and it looks like they’ve got a well developed system. When I first used it a year ago you had to type each barcode in by hand. Now they have an app to scan them.

Most of my (popular) CDs and DVDs were only worth 30p but some were a few quid. I learnt last year that the ones they offer more than a pound for can be worth selling through Amazon (or PlayTrade) but if there’s a lot of other sellers or the disc is obscure they can take a long time to sell.

Discs and cases have to be in reasonable nick. This means they cannot have plugger promotional stickers on them. So I did have to do a fair bit of recasing (something my fingernails aren’t forgiving me for).

All was looking good with Music Magpie until the courier didn’t turn up to collect my CDs on Saturday.  A phone call to them got me an apology and a time specific collection with another courier on Wednesday. After that I’ll wait for them to be processed to see how much of the promised £120 I’ll get. Not bad for things that have been in the cupboard for years. It was still sad to see them go though.

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Radio 1 Specialist Takeover

Radio 1's New Music MonsterWith the exception of Chris Moyles when I wake up, the Scott Mills Daily podcast, and the occasional Huw Stephens weekend show I’ve stopped listening to Radio 1. However last week’s specialist takeover pulled me back. For five weekdays the daytime line-up was replaced by Zane Lowe, Annie Mac, Huw Stephens and Nick Grimshaw.

I’ve always believed the main reason to listen to daytime Radio 1 was for the entertaining presenters and creative ideas but not the music. That changed this week as the music programming was a spot-on mix of ‘new’ tracks, ‘specialist’ tracks that ‘crossed over’ last year and ‘classic’ tracks. (I put all those terms in quotes as their definition is up for debate.) If Radio 1 played music like this every day I’d be pulled back from the office choice of 6 Music.

Radio 1 have started trails and TV adverts saying “New Music – It’s Our Big Thing – All Day Every Day”. I really hope it is.

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Bitching about the railways

Railway companies aren’t lucky when it comes to PR. Every year they put their fares up and get a blasting in the press. The story gets at least two cycles: the announcement in the autumn and then in January when the rise happens. The second is made worse by the lack of other news for the press to cover. Two sets of public outrage so close together means people don’t stop raging between them.

I’m actually annoyed by this raging. I’m lucky enough not to suffer peak time travel anymore but I do know what it is like. I’m not saying our transport system is perfect but it is a lot better than it was. And that’s my first pet hate: people who complain they haven’t seen anything for their increased fares. London Underground has better trains and is more reliable than it was (admittedly this took the new Victoria Line trains a while to achieve). London Overground is finally fit for purpose. Trains in South London don’t fail me. I have no complaints about Virgin, First Great Western or East Coast.

I cannot say the same for National Express East Anglia though. Its trains are old and knackered. This led to a call to arms from Walthamstow blogger radiokate. The problem is NXEA are only a small part of the issue as this comment explains. In short NXEA have to use the trains they are given and run them on tracks they don’t control.

This is my second pet hate: people’s misplaced anger. It is the whole system that is screwed. Sadly that makes us all rather powerless.

What I want to see is the press use the fare increase news cycles to highlight the deep causes and campaign to change them. Don’t just report people being angry. We know that. It doesn’t change.

iPad Magazines, Webdoc, Daniel Kitson

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iPad Magazines

Wired iPadWired UK have finally let its magazine subscribers read its iPad edition for free. So I’ve finally been able to experience a full magazine on the iPad. I’ll be honest and say I approached reading the January issue with a sceptical mind. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t see much of an added value just added annoyance.

I’m feeling a bit lazy in the run up to Christmas so I’m not going to write a few paragraphs on what I think is going wrong with iPad magazines. Instead I’m going to link to this blog from Justin Williams who says it better than I could.

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Webdoc

WebdocI’ve been doing some work for a Swiss start-up called Webdoc over the last few weeks (and hope to be doing more from them in the new year – but that is not the reason for the praise to come).

Webdoc makes it easy to make rich media embeddable ‘documents’ on the web. Using HTML5 you can easily drag photos, videos and sounds onto your doc. It is then just as easy to drag them around, add text, change colours and add basic design. Then through their widgets you can easily add countdowns, votes, galleries and more. It really shows the power of HTML5.

Your webdoc is published on their site where others can view, follow and comment — a bit like a blog or Tumblr. But its power is in the embedding. You can take your creation and put it on another blog or site. The game changer is that you can embed them into Facebook Pages giving brands an easy way to make rich enticing pages that encourage people to ‘like’.

The music industry is getting on board and Webdoc won the MUSIC techpitch 4.5 recently. 2012 could be an exciting year for it.

Webdoc
Webdoc used on Facebook

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Daniel Kitson

Daniel KitsonI went to see Daniel Kitson perform “It’s Always Right Now, Until It’s Later” last night at the National Theatre. You’d be forgiven if you don’t know who Daniel is. He is a well established comedian who can sell out two 5 night runs in the 890 capacity theatre with ease. And the show is a 90 minute story which, while funny, is far from a stand-up act.

He can do this because he has built up a large fan base of people who have seen both his stand-up and these types of performances. The reason you might not have heard of him is (after a bad experience on Phoenix Nights) he refuses to appear on TV. He also doesn’t go in for the big expensive shows. Tickets for the NT were £12 and he usually appears in small comedy clubs.

Daniel is both very funny and an amazing storyteller. “It’s Always Right Now…” was fully scripted and read fast (probably to keep his stutter at bay), and on paper it would have been a small novel. It was full of observations on life told from the point of view of two characters which he took from birth to death.

It looks like he is back performing in the UK at the moment (he’s also very popular in Australia). You should go see him.

Guitar bands, Streetview photography, Pricing psychology

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Guitar bands coming back in 2013

Ed SheeranOne of my annual highlights is getting free tickets to T4’s Stars of 20##. It’s a fun afternoon of drinking and watching the pop artists of the year doing their greatest hit. This year there seemed to be less pop, and the crowd were loudest for The Wanted and Ed Sheeran.

I knew Ed Sheeran had a strong fan base but I was not expecting the reaction he got. On stage, alone, playing acoustic guitar through effects pedals, he had the entire audience hanging off every note and singing along. He’s not a conventionally attractive boy but you could tell that girls loved him.

I’ve always believed that kids’ passion/obsession with pop bands when 11-16 gives them a love of music that grows into a proper appreciation when 16+. Boy/girl bands are important to this. Take That/Spice Girls led to a shift to more serious music of the mid-2000s. Now we have girls getting far too excited about One Direction.

In the past, the ‘serious’ music has been grunge, indie, rap and singer-songwriters. I’m willing to bet the influence of Ed Sheeran will lead kids to pick up guitars and in a few years we’ll have a new breed of guitar bands.

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Streetview photography

A New American PictureI’m fascinated by photographs by decaying America. Usually it is photos of closed diners or cinemas but there’s also something moving about seeing streets in the supposedly developed country that are crumbling with poverty. I always wonder about the photographer’s set-up: were their photos staged, did they take hundreds of pictures to get that one shot, did they just chance upon that location?

Via Mashable I found Doug Rickard’s A New American Picture. His photos have the poignancy and power of other photos I’ve admired, but they are just more grainy and blurred.

The reason for this low quality is they are taken from Google Street View. This puts their ‘realness’ without doubt. And the answer to how many photos were taken is millions. I suppose Doug had a good idea of what streets to look at but it is still an impressive project. It makes me want to try the same in the UK.

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Pricing psychology

Woolsey MenuThis is not new but something I saw an enlightening talk about recently. It will come as no surprise that pricing is all about psychology and making you feel comfortable about paying more.

Restaurant menus turn this into an art form. As Wired explains tricks include putting an expensive dish top to make the others look better value. Boxes draw the eyes and statistically diners are more likely to order whatever is in them. And something as simple as removing the £ signs increases spend.

For digital services it’s all about the tier pricing plans. Here the free plan needs to be just enough to tempt you in, start using the service and then find it doesn’t quite give you everything you need. Then there needs to be at least three paid-for tiers with the middle one being the feature set you know most people want.

The cheapest should do just a few things that probably don’t add much to the free offering. Price this just below the middle one, so it looks like you get everything you need for just a few pound more. Go to town on the most expensive offering features most people don’t need for a much higher cost. This makes the medium one look like great value.

The expensive one will still make money. There’s a small group of people who panic at seeing choice and always go for the full expensive package just to be sure it does what they want. There are also the corporate clients who aren’t spending their own money and don’t want to risk buying something cheap which doesn’t deliver.

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