Device Agnostic

I realised the other day that I am a device agnostic.

Or should it be called technologically diverse?

In any case I was driving between meetings and looked down at the passenger seat. ON it lay my personal phone – a Windows Lumia 950, my work phone – a Samsung J7, and my work iPad 4. I was covering all the major mobile computing operating systems.

windows-phone
Lumia 950 – Windows 10
samsung-j7
Samsung J7 – Andrios
ipad
iPad – iOS

On top of that I have a Chromebook (from which I am writing this) and a PC running Windows 10 at home. The only system I am missing is a Mac… but having one of those would be silly right?

Well maybe not.

To me, as a consumer, each of these devices, and the operating environments, offer me different alternatives.

I bought the Windows Phone as it has a great camera and does the majority of things I need a phone to do. It also came with an Xbox One which was an added bonus. This OS integrates with my home PC so it’s easy to sync data from one to the other.

My home PC is setup as a gaming rig as well handling all the other necessary ‘home’ related computer stuff, like streaming video and images to the TV via the Xbox, or surfing the web, or for Anji to run her business and the girls to do homework or play videos. We use it to store and upload out photos to our Google drive and more.

The Chromebook is light, it’s fast to load and does an amazing amount of stuff for what is essentially a web browser in a notebook. It is not for playing games but for doing stuff on the fly or web browsing or writing blog posts in the field.

For work, the Samsung Android device is easy to use for the basic on the fly emails, calendar and even some limited web browsing. It also acts as a phone really well! Which truth be told is the second main reason I have one – email and phone calls!

The iPad picks up the larger scale work stuff and is perfect for in the field details when talking with clients. We can show web stuff, PDF’s and other images, get surveys completed and take notes or email back data. We are getting laptops soon so that will help even more and allow me to do more in the field…

It falls apart with Cloud storage. I choose what platform I want to use to store data, be that a Windows server for my work email or Gmail for personal. I could have cloud storage on iCloud, One Drive, Dropbox or Google Drive. Yet the manufactures of these devices want me to lock into their particular brand. I get that to a certain extent however I am not alone in having multiple operating systems.

I use my Google Drive across all of these, aside from the Windows Phone, and that’s the issue.

I am the user, the one who interacts with these devices each and every day.

Nor is there anything wrong with me having a range of devices – however the sooner they allow me to access all I want across all of them the better the world will be. Or else we become slaves to the one system, the one way of doing things.

Mobility means we can shift our digital world to be anywhere. It comes with us as we travel for work or for play. It should also come with us as we travel between devices and operating systems.

At least that’s in my opinion…

 

Personalised Websites – Creepy, or Useful?

It’s the next phase in evolution for the digital world – websites that show content that YOU want to see or hear about. We see it already in tracked advertising, Google display ads (or similar) that promote items you have search for or looked at on sites. These are the hidden in the cookies and tracking data that follows you around the net.

For instance I was looking up some new computer parts, just wishful dreaming on my part, but low and behold when scanning through my Facebook feed what display ads come up? The very items I was looking at on my preferred computer parts vendor website. It’s a direct call to action – hey you looked at these ram chips, don’t you want to buy them? If I clicked on the link I would go straight the page with the item, a Buy Now (or add to cart) button sitting right there for me to press…

But that’s not personalising the website, that’s just marketing (or more rightly advertising) based on my habits or interests.

Website personalisation is about making the experience of visiting a website for an individual, personal to them. Or at least to their assigned persona. Examples are easy to find in the e-retail industry. We have all experienced Amazon’s amazing ability to use our past purchases, wishlist or views to predict other items we might want to buy. This goes beyond the hint of, “other people who have bought X also buy Y, W and Z”.

Amazon Image Personalisation

It’s about pushing items to the users homepage that the algorithms suggest they would like to purchase. These items vary by user based on their history and data gathered about each individual users. The way Amazon can do this is through the user login in and thus identifying themselves to Amazon. It all comes down to analysing the huge amount of data a company like Amazon can collect on it’s customers. Not only limited to purchase and search history, or what pages or items you have viewed. It can also use demographics such as age, sex, location to start to make connections, creating a persona and comparing that with other users within that cohort and analysing their spending habits and what might be similar.

I have a Kindle 2, I have explored the new range of Fire products, what’s on my homepage? See the image above!

This is much like the above computer part example – however it’s all contained with the one site, Amazon.com, and not using advertising to bring the user back to the site, its about supplying content that meets my needs based on my past purchases and searches. It is also delivered in a way that is unlike traditional advertising. The best way for a e-retail site to sell to a user is by subtle and almost accidental provision of the information.

personalized-nytimes

Media or News sites also do this, by personalising a users home page based on their past interests or pages they have viewed before. Some sites even allow users to select what topics interest them. This provides the most dynamic and ‘of interest’ items to the user. It’s about giving users what they want to see and making the use of the site easy and relevant.

The above example of the New York Times shows a different homepage based on the user preferences, or past interests. Delivering content that the user wants to consume and therefore will want to return to the site and consume more. This isn’t about selling something specific like the e-retail sites.

So can you, or should you, personalise your website?

There are three ways that websites can personalise;

  1. Implicit – based on a users past history, purchase history or search terms, could also be the IP address of the user
  2. Explicit –  chosen by the users, could be defined via a login process or membership “I’m interested in…”
  3. Hybrid – combination of the two

A national based company could easily identify the location of users by the IP address information. We see this in global e-retail sites that convert prices to nation of user, or an electricity retailer who provide packages based on your State of origin. These could be further enhanced by a question like, “prices are in AUD is this correct?” or “packages are applicable for Victoria, change state here”. These are implicit and do no require the user to enter anything (unless they want to change the settings).

Once a user logs in or creates an account the wealth of information that can be gathered gets bigger and more specific. It then becomes a matter of analysing the data and creating systems and rules to deliver the right content to the right person.

Obviously you can combine these two systems to serve your customers and users better.

All in all the reason to personalise a website is about answering a users need, whether that providing products or services that compliment and enhance their experience. In essence making the website relevant to the user.

There are risks to use of personalised websites. Many customers might feel like their privacy has been invaded, or might wonder if big brother is watching them. It can seem creepy when a site keeps delivering items or content that feels like it’s reading your mind.

Would you personalise your website for your users? Do you dislike or find problems with personalised websites? Let me know in the comments.

Life in the Cloud

A little over a year ago I was fortunate to win a Dell Chromebook (this one in fact) with it came 100 GB storage on Google’s cloud service – Drive. I already had the ‘free’ 15 GB which gave me a total of 115 GB of cloud storage.

I have used various cloud storage systems both personally and professionally and while I find Dropbox useful in my work environment (many clients and project partners use it to share large files across multiple individuals). What I like for my personal files is the ease in which I can share, access and use them via Google Drive.

The integration with the Chromebook is, obviously, a big part of that. The limited on board space of the machine (16 GB plus any SD card I might add) certainly means I am more inclined to use the cloud system. The only down side to the Dell Chromebook is the need to be on a WiFi or Wired connection – no ability to add a SIM card. However, with a mobile phone I can easily tether the laptop and download what I need on the fly, then work on that document offline. The ease in which is updates once I am back connected to the internet is superb.

So when I am off playing our monthly D&D session I can make notes on a Google Doc, which will update when I return home. The only downside so far is that I can not edit a PDF in offline, they really need to fix that! A use the official D&D PDF character sheet which is great, the fill-able fields auto re-size the text to fit and I could upload an image of my character. The downside is I have to print off a hard copy to make notes on, which I then correct when back online.

With the size of the storage on Drive I have been able to back-up all our digital images, having them in one safe space means I can rest a little easier knowing that if a fatal error occurs on one of our drives (yes I have them on the PC storage drive and a back up external) they are still sitting safe in the cloud. This also means they are accessible anywhere, at least anywhere I can get an internet connection.

It goes without saying that I also have Gmail, which I now only view via Chrome browser, I no longer have the need to down load my emails or store them separately. Folders and rules within Gmail help me to manage my personal account and the ability to access them all from anywhere is so useful.

On work front I have been able to add the VMWare app which means I can log on to my work virtual machine and be able to take the lighter, longer lasting Chromebook to work events (as long as I have access to WiFi) – this has been very beneficial for many meetings and off site events. It means I am connected and virtually in the office. I have full access to my share drives, all the applications and email! Basically I am in the cloud for work as well – all with a very inexpensive, light weight yet powerful enough machine.

Google Drive is a super useful cloud storage option, coupled with the suite of programs Google offers for free (Docs, Slides, Sheets etc) provides a great integrated platform for most people’s home and indeed work needs. The additional 100 GB costs $1.99/month (full rates) and in my opinion is well worth the costs. Even the free 15 GB is able to hold a large amount of docs and emails.

I know that I was ‘lucky’ to get the Chromebook as a prize, but I believe it was only a matter of time for me to step into the world of Cloud, this was just the push (and tool) to allow it to be done almost seamlessly.

Passwords and Children

A recent post on Boing Boing regarding teenagers sharing passwords with friends and significant other has raised some questions with me – mostly based around my daughter and the world she will grow up in.

Now I regard myself as someone who at least is aware of most of the technology and the advances that it offers to our lives – I advocate for the use of new tech at work and I am always looking at ways to improve what we do. I love the fact that for Christmas using a Smart Phone, Skype and WiFi Daughter was able to show Nanny all her new presents and talk to Nanny’s face… this is now simple tech – available to everyone with a broadband connection and a few cheap devices.

But what about the future? What will my daughter grow up with and what will count as ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ in her life. Maybe it is my recent read of 1984 that has raised this, but what will be safe for her? I read alot about internet security and identity safety – do the current generation of young adult really understand that what is on Social Media sites is owned by the site? So they realise that Big Brother (the corporate world) is watching everything they do and say. Targeted Marketing is nothing new but so much more powerful with the use of Social Media and information data warehouses that are built from them.

Even this humble blog is not safe from it. The Google ads that are on this site are targeted to the posts that I write… If I write about my guitar lessons you see self help guitar ads, or guitar sales. This is what Google does best by the way and not necessarily a bad thing – but when does it become too much and what do we need to do about saving the future so that our children grow up safe…

I boil it down to trust. Like the article quoted in the Boing Boing post parents need to develop ways to create trust with their children… and so should these super corps with their customers and clients… Remember there are always alternatives and sometimes we just have to walk away…

There are different ways that parents address the password issue, but they almost always build on the narrative of trust. – The NYTimes

Another articled linked from Boing Boing details how parents can normalise password sharing. So will we require daughter to share her passwords with us? Not sure… will we want to be ‘friends’ or part of her social media networks? At this stage Yes! I am part of my nephews and nieces networks and even though I don’t interfere I can see what they are doing and sometimes pass on private messages when I think it is appropriate. But will I need to access their private accounts? I don’t think so – that is a trust issue and while privately they could be sending messages or doing things – that should remain their business…

My wife and I have separate bank accounts and a joint account for the normal life expenses – we have separate passwords and access to these. I don’t have or want her passwords for her Social Media pages and sites and she likewise – the trust we have in each other is formed by that. I don’t feel I need to have that part of her. That is her private business – If I need to post something about us or her I have my own accounts to do that.

We will need to be aware of these challenges as Daughter grows up… and I hope we do the right thing by her – but I am prepared to fail at some of it and hit the mark with others… That my friends is LIFE.

The full New York Times article

Old Tech

Oh boy… This article is a MUST read for all tech heads… Mind you, you’ll probably know about these but it is fun to remember them – or at least remember a time when things like

  • The Lisa
  • the Psion
  • Commadore 64
  • Atari – before they where just a publisher
  • and many more

I loved the Nintendo Game and Watch – I had some driving game, but my friend had the TWO screened Donkey Kong and I used to play that as much as I could… of course he loved playing outside so we never really got to play it as much as I liked (he also had all the big Transformers – but I had Optimus Prime, so that was OK)

To think we are now in an age where our hand helds are joining up with our consoles and we can play against each other, or in co-op with hand helds… I love how technology makes all these things possible and there is still so much more to be achieved.

What ever will be THE next things… will iPhone really be the way ahead or will Nokia come out with something more spectacular…