Thursday, 29 December 2011

Web 3.0... it's just around the corner

My phone keeps hold of my ID, my accounts and my money. My wristwatch is what keeps those things close to me and helps to notify me when stuff happens. And because of those two devices, it's easy to log in or say who I am when I use a computer, a console, a tablet or a TV.

It's coming soon, and I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Drew and Arash present 'Dropbox' in 2008

As presented by a couple of pretty recent graduates when Dropbox was Beta, now CEO and CTO. One year later, Dropbox boasted over 2 million users.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Raspberry Pi

"An ARM GNU/Linux box for $25"

Fascinating invention from these Cambridge-based folks running a charity dedicated to technical education. What you see above is a circuit board that has memory and a processor, supports HDMI output at 1080p and has USB 2 and optional Ethernet ports. It will cost around £20.

Better than Lego, cheaper than a computer. Reminds me of the kits you can get from Maplin for a spot of hobbyist electronics, but far more interesting because it's PC standard stuff.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Why Digital and Marketing still don't get on: The Process and the Point

I had a great time as one of the judges at Brainyhacks London last night. Brainyhacks is a bit like the NABS pitch university course, but faster, and with more booze. A real client sets a real brief to a pub full of aspiring digital marketing sorts, and they get an hour and a half to crack it. Then the work is judged and a winner is announced. Great idea by Pixelgroup, and a lot of fun was had by all.

The client was from Spark & Mettle, who are doing some seriously great work getting young people started in their careers. I want to hear more from those people!

There were some great ideas flying about in the room, but I couldn't help noticing that there were two schools of thought which really didn't seem to fit together well. This is an endemic problem in the industry. It's where digital and marketing still don't fit together well.

The problem is, some creative ideas were about the Process. And some were about the Point.

The Point is easy to understand. That's the whole... point. All good marketing campaigns have a really clear point. The point is the hook, the Big Idea. Creative Directors love ideas with a really clear Point. You can usually wrap up a point in a very few choice words. It's sunshine in a breakfast bowl. It's Open Happiness. It's The Lynx Effect.

The Process is a little more subtle, and a lot more involved. Quora is great because valuable answers get pushed to the top. And the engine that searches questions for you is terribly terribly clever. The Process is often about fitting into people's lives in a way that is so surprising and innovative that it feels like second nature seconds after you've started.

The Process is what makes Twitter so amazing. But what's the Point of it? Sure, you've got some easy-to-latch-on-to words to describe it. You Tweet people. There's a blue bird. It's news. It's social. It's immediate. But it's not really a hook that your Grandma might understand. It's a Process. It's complicated. You have to be there.

Digital innovation is about creating new and exciting Processes. Marketing innovation is about creating new and exciting Points. These disciplines are worlds apart really, except that they're both about innovation and emotional attachment and stuff that makes people tick. Oh, hang on, so they're not worlds apart, then. They live in each other's pockets.

It's just an observation but it seems that a lot of people can only see the value of one or the other. Some sneer at ideas that are all Process and revel in ideas that are all about the Point. Other people do exactly the opposite.

Really, we should value them both.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Quotes from Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson

The Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson is actually very good. I wrote a few thoughts about it straight after I read it.

I read it on Kindle, and here's some of the quotes I marked in there.


'Jobs revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing. You might even add a seventh, retail stores, which Jobs did not quite revolutionize but did reimagine.'

Steve Jobs: "Edwin Land of Polaroid said something about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that's what I wanted to do."

'He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology, so he built a company where leaps of imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.'

Jobs: "When I realized that I was smarter than my parents, I felt tremendous shame for having thought that. I will never forget that moment."

The calf, and hardware and software

'He saw a calf being born, and he was amazed when the tiny animal struggled up within minutes and began to walk. "It was not something she had learned, but it was instead hardwired into her," he recalled. "A human baby couldn't do that. I found it remarkable, even though no one else did." He put it in hardware-software terms: "It was as if something in the animal's body and in its brain had been engineered to work together instantly rather than being learned."

Jobs: "People who are serious about software should make their own hardware."

On intuition

Jobs (on his visit to India in 1974): "The people in the Indian countryside don't use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world. Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That's had a big impact on my work."

Jobs: "If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does there's room to hear more subtle things - that's when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It's a discipline; you have to practice it."

Written on the back cover of Buckminster Fuller's Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of Jobs' early influences: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish."

Jobs: "Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them."

Apple philosophy

Jobs: "You should never start a company with the goal of getting rich. Your goal should be making something you believe in and making a company that will last."

Jobs: "The journey is the reward."

From Markkula's formative one-page paper titled "The Apple Marketing Philosophy", outline three guiding principles:
Empathy: "We will truly understand [the customer's] needs better than any other company."
Focus: "In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities."
Impute: "People do judge a book by it's cover. We may not have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities."

Jobs: The aim of Apple, from the beginning, was to "make a dent in the universe."

Jobs: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

From Inc Magazine, the first magazine to put Jobs on the cover: "When Steve Jobs speaks, it is with the gee-whiz enthusiasm of someone who sees the future and is making sure it works."

Drive for perfection

'Jobs's father had once taught him that a drive for perfection meant caring about the craftsmanship even of the parts unseen. ... This passion for perfection led him to indulge his instinct to control.'

Jobs: "When you're a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you're not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You'll know it's there, so you're going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality has to be carried all the way through."

Jobs: "Picasso had a saying - 'good artists copy, great artists steal' - and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas."

Conception and execution are equally important

'There falls a shadow, as T.S. Eliot noted, between the conception and the creation. In the annals of innovation, new ideas are only part of the equation. Execution is just as important."

Bill Atkinson, lead developer of Apple's GUI: "I got a feeling for the empowering aspect of naivete. Because I didn't know it couldn't be done, I was enabled to do it."

'At age 25, Jobs was worth $256 million.'

Naming Apple products

'Since Jeff Raskin thought it was sexist to name computers after women [like the Apple Lisa], he redubbed the new project [codenamed Annie] in honor of his favorite type of apple, the McIntosh.'

'Jobs had been referring to computers as a bicycle for the mind; the ability of humans to create a bicycle allowed them to move more efficiently than even a condor, and likewise the ability to create computers would multiply the efficiency of their minds. So one day Jobs decreed that henceforth the Macintosh should be known instead as the Bicycle. This did not go over well.'

Management style

Nolan Bushnell of Atari: "I taught him that if you act like you can do something, then it will work. I told him, 'Pretend to be completely in control and people will assume that you are.'"

Hertzfeld on Jobs: "The reality distortion field was a confounding melange of a charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will, and eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand."

Jobs used his infamous 'reality distortion field' as 'a tactic for accomplishing something.'

'Jobs's tendency was to see the world in binary terms. A person was either a hero or a bozo, a product was either amazing or shit.'

Chrisann Kottke on Jobs: "He was an enlightened being who was cruel."

Jobs: "It's too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players."


Leonardo da Vinci's maxim, that became 'the defining precept of Jobs's design philosophy': "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

Jobs: "The was we're running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let's make it simple. Really simple."

Jobs: "It would be better to miss [the scheduled completion date] than to turn out the wrong thing."

Jobs on why Apple never conducted market research prior to product development: "Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?"

Think Different

Advertising copy to support Apple's Think Different campaign:
"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."

Friday, 2 December 2011

Imperfect systems

... are exactly where the good stuff is.

Evolution depends on imperfection.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Every detail matters

Every detail matters. Every single one.

You're in a pub. You meet someone you like the look of. That's how you'll think about that pub next time. It matters.

You hire a car for the weekend. The gears feel a little bit flakey, and the gearstick isn't quite where your hand wants it to be. That's why you won't buy that brand of car. Ever. It matters.

You visit a website. There's an unusual delay between pressing a button and getting a result. They've lost you. They're obviously untrustworthy. It matters.

Sometimes the detail matters more than the big picture even. It's not just about presentation or perfectionism. It's about attention and assurance.

The only get-out clause for brands who get it wrong is that people might not recognise that it's your fault.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Voice recognition detects emotion in your voice

Following hot on the heels of my article about voice, touch and usability, I found a short video published today on Mashable about a system for tailoring voice recognition according to imputed emotion. That is, if you're angry, your voice recognition could interpret what you say with that in mind.

At the moment, it's intended for call centre systems. Sounds to me like it could be the start of a much more nuanced approach to voice control for computers.

Here's the link to the academic research behind the excitement:

Friday, 25 November 2011

The future is voice, touch, and incredibly exacting usability

For most people, what are the easiest ways to control something? Clue: it's not by typing words out, letter by letter, and nor is it by moving something around on a tabletop.

Voice control

Apple has Siri, Google has Voice Actions for Android, and other stuff for Search. Amazon recently acquired Yap for their voice recognition software.

Voice is not great yet, and it is after all stunningly complicated. Leaving aside that accents vary the sound of the human voice a great deal, vocal communication is a beautifully subtle human art. More so than with the written word, it depends on context, intonation and inflection, and any face-to-face vocal exchange is generally augmented by all sorts of gestures and facial expressions. Wow, you wouldn't want to be the computer that has to reduce all that lot to noughts and ones.

It's not only difficult for computers though. It's hard for us fleshies too. We're not used to stripping all the good stuff out of the way we speak and reducing it down to commands.

We might hate to admit this, but we're all computer programmers these days, sort of. "Start my application." "Quit it." "Make a calendar appointment." "Delete something." Techie types are totally used to communicating like that when they're pressing buttons on a computer keyboard, but even they find it awkward to be so purist when speaking. It almost feels like a bad habit to get into: being so expressionless.

Also, voice is all about immediacy and flow. How comfortable do you feel when someone pauses for 10 seconds before responding to even your most basic comment. Bit of an idiot, no? That's what it feels like talking to a computer, which has to upload your voice to the Internet, where it gets processed and returned as something more usable.

Siri has captured the imagination precisely because it's the most natural voice control we've seen so far. All those amusingly human exchanges with Siri are exactly what makes Siri feel usable. Sure it's very clever and capable too, but throw in a few funnies and it's far more reassuringly human.

However, it's still a bit like ordering your half deaf Grandmother to do your domestic chores for you. Perhaps not your proudest moment. Especially in public.


What I love is that touch is getting increasingly gestural and expressive. Inertial scrolling is the most obvious example. You fling your content around, and it behaves like it's been flung. Very reassuring. We live in a physical environment - and the more accurately our digital systems reflect behaviours that we're used to, the better.

I'm sure there's a long way for touch to go too. Touch keyboards are generally unsatisfying, partly because haptic feedback is so poor. (Haptic feedback is when something gives you tactile feedback which helps confirm that you've done it. A physical button that presses down with a satisfying click for instance.)

Also, does touch make you feel clumsy? Great big sausage fingers getting in the way of the screen or accidentally pressing the Backspace button when you meant to press "M"? Any time computers screw up, or the UX is poorly thought through, we blame ourselves. That's not a good experience.

I wonder if reverse-mounted multi-touch screens will help? The PS Vita looks like it'll be the test case.

Digital experiences that suit human beings

It strikes me that all of this is part of the same movement. Digital device form factors, and their software, are integrating more and more tightly with the needs and natures of the human body.

This is simply because people can fit decent technology into almost anything now. As a result, we're no longer devising crazy ugly machines just because we can.

Usability is the absolute key to the success of modern hardware or software. That's all there is to it. There is greater opportunity for this than ever before.

This is also proof that usability is becoming more subtle than ever before. In the case of either hardware or software, the tiniest flaw can knock an entire experience askew, and it may well be harder than ever before to identify that flaw. We users become more exacting as the computers become more capable.

We are getting ever closer to parity between devices and their use cases. It's a very welcome advance, but it makes users more critical than ever before, and it makes designing successful software or hardware even more demanding than ever before.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

On becoming a 'social media guru'

I've decided to become a social media jedi professional savant guru. This will raise my day-rate exponentially as I waltz into high-powered meetings spouting nonsense about trending top of mind, reach and virality (not virility).

@JohnLewisQuotes is a new Twitter account I'm using to experiment with new l33t social media skills. Why John Spedan Lewis? He's a personal hero of mine and there's very little available online of what he actually had to say. He had great insight into capitalism and democracy, so in these days of massive twitter-savvy Occupy protests, I hope that might give me some traction. Also the John Lewis Xmas TV ad went off the scale on Twitter, so that's another angle.

I know you're reaching for the +1 button already, but steady yourself: here's what I've learnt so far in my quest to make @JohnLewisQuotes more popular than @StephenFry.
  • Use the tools for the job. I tried Tweetdeck, the official Twitter software, Echofon, Tweetie, CoTweet and SocialOomph. Mostly clunky Air apps, the quality is generally poor. I settled on Hootsuite, a browser-based application with all the main features I need.
  • Stay in character at all times, as an actor must on-stage
  • Ignore the trolls. A few naysayers will try to drag you into a deeply negative, one-on-one disagreement. Don't engage.
  • Consistency over genius. Use scheduling features to keep up the momentum even while you're elsewhere
  • Auto-DM (on follow) is generally frowned upon. Hootsuite don't offer it and other products implemented it then took it out.
  • A watched pot never boils - sitting waiting for re-tweets is depressing. Better to check back every few hours.
The experiment started 48 hours ago and while my follower count remains low, my first tweet has been retweeted over 100 times and I've a meeting lined up with Peter Cox, author of the book 'Spedan's Partnership'.

What are you waiting for? Follow @JohnLewisQuotes now!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Minecraft: opening reel

This from the recent 'Minecon': the first conference entirely dedicated to Minecraft, the game started by Swedish developer 'Notch' for a bit of fun that somehow gained traction and has now sold over 4 million copies. And you've never heard of it? Let's fix that.

Dominating through delivery

Put a person in front of a computer, or put a decent phone in their hand, and they have access to a mindblowing universe of content. Because it is now so readily available, it is increasingly clear that part of what makes content wonderful is its diversity. From Amy Winehouse's new single to Uncharted 3, and from Ansel Adam's classic photos to some guy torturing cheese, there's an amazing range of stuff just a couple of clicks away.

So us humans like things to be nice and simple and well categorised, right (or is that just me?). There's a fairly clearly defined, simple set of types of content, even though what gets filed under those types is so fantastically wide-ranging and exciting. These types aren't definitive, but when a whole new type of content emerges it tends to rock our worlds pretty fundamentally.

Here they are. These are the ones with a lot of attention and therefore, one way or another, a lot of revenue attached to them.

Types of digital content:

They all follow the same pattern. They are treasured by their audiences. They are deeply specialised, and, largely thanks to the Internet, they are also impressively democratised too. In each case, no matter how complicated or even impossible it would have been just a few years ago, the tools are now readily available to create and publish your own contributions in each one of these categories (assuming that you have a computer). Sometimes the free world is a really great place to be (assuming that you have a computer).

The megacompanies have moved in

All well and good, but now something interesting is happening. The biggest companies on the Internet have noticed that these are the categories to fight over, and they are massively dominating the delivery mechanisms for each area of content. The big companies are now publishers, because that's where the money is. It's getting to be a little bit uncanny, and they've nearly completed their dominance. As this table shows, there's a few spots left which haven't been fully fought over yet, but we're nearly there.

Megacompanies dominate delivery

So what does this mean? There are a few scary implications here.
  1. Content producers are increasingly dependent on a limited number of publishers.
  2. Content naturally has to conform to the requirements of the publishers. Publishers aren't censors, but they need content producers to play their game to get noticed.
  3. If anyone else tries to become a publisher, they will be squeezed out by these mighty organisations.
I'm not saying any of this is dreadful. Sure, it does mean there's an awful lot of eggs in a very limited set of baskets. But those baskets are amazing places, and the people who own them are benevolent, right?

My main point is simply that the model is changing. To succeed as a content producer, you have to play the big boys' game. And to succeed as any kind of publisher, it seems like your best possible outcome is that you get bought by one of the megacompanies.

And if you try to produce something that doesn't immediately seem to fit into this eco-system, well, good luck to you!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson

Where will Apple go from here? In losing Steve Jobs, the company has lost its founder, its rescuer, its leader and its champion. Jobs' philosophy is simple. Above all other considerations - such as money, market forces, or popular opinion - Jobs believed in the sanctity of the perfectly simple product. To deliver this he built companies to respect and serve two things: origination and purity of vision. Apple, NeXT and Pixar. "Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page," he said. "People don't know what they want until you show it to them."

Whether you're a technophile or not, you have to admit that the world is a better place with computers that anyone can use. Apple's products are focused on creating a positive and unintimidating user experience - rather than computers that need a technophile to have the patience to bear with their cryptic error messages and idiosyncratic behaviours. Without Steve Jobs, there really is doubt that the industry would have moved in that direction at all. Computers could have stayed forever with the specialists, the nerds and the scientists.

But who will carry that standard now, and can the company maintain it with it's chief exponent gone? Jony Ive is the nearest Apple has to being Jobs' spiritual successor: the mastermind designer behind the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and pretty much all the other popular products too. But Ive was hugely dependent on Jobs. When Jobs was away sick for a period in 2009, Ive was very aware of "how hard it had been to keep things going while he was away".

It seems that simplicity and purity are among the hardest paths to tread - at least in technology and in business.

Jobs' story is one of the greatest examples of the American dream becoming reality. It literally starts in a garage and ends with the most valuable company in the world - a company that genuinely "made a dent in the universe", as intended by its founder from the very start. Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs is extremely well made, and Jobs' story just keeps getting better until its untimely end.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Jony Ive's design philosophy

This is a short quote from Walter Isaacson's excellent biography of Steve Jobs. It's Jony Ive describing his design philosophy:

"Why do we assume that simple is good? Because with physical products, we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to complexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you. Simplicity isn't just a visual style. It's not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. For example, to have no screws on something, you can end up having a product that is so convoluted and complex. The better way is to go deeper with the simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it's manufactured. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential."

Ive was (is!) inspired by Dieter Rams from Braun: "less is better" (Weniger aber besser).

Friday, 18 November 2011

Skyrim and the art of gaming

Skyrim PC
Skyrim's brilliant. I  say that without having played it.

I know it's brilliant because it's by Bethesda. Not everything they do is gold. Fallout 3 was good, but not great. But Elder Scrolls, which started in 1994 and of which this is the fifth installment, is a unique and stunning creation. Every game since that first one 17 years ago, all of which I've played from start to finish, exists in the same world, meticulously curated and filled with magic.

Uncharted 3 is brilliant because when they do the motion capture for the animation they simultaneously record the actor's voices allowing for improvisation. Elder Scrolls is brilliant because of the depth of its Universe.

Most games are made up mostly of the equivalent of those empty plastic TVs they put on furniture in Ikea: imitations that challenge your suspension of disbelief. In the recent Deus Ex for example, you inexplicably see the same 4 books owned by every character in every room. In Elder Scrolls you sense that everyone at Bethesda spends lunchtime writing stories, all gloriously kept 'canon', to fill the bookshelves of the game. The game has over 300 different books - many of which you'll recognise from Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - but are now 200 years older.

"When you're a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you're not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You'll know it's there, so you're going to use a beautiful piece of wood in the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through."
- Steve Jobs

Is it more of the same, as Modern Warfare 3 stands accused? Sure. Will anyone complain? Not a chance. These games are a wonderful flight into fantasy, a connection with a rawer time of magic and strangeness, of limitless adventure and visceral encounters - all with you the main character. Middle-earth doesn't qualify as 'epic' next to this. Harry Potter belongs to a 9 year old's bedtime. Skyrim is a land of 16 square miles with hundreds of inter-related characters soaked in historic feuds and factions: that's a story.

Still, it's just a game. It isn't a great work of art, achieving only the more humble ambition of being great entertainment. That's OK.

But there are movies and there's certainly theatre that moves you, enthralls you, exhilarates you, makes you laugh and makes you cry. The comedy/tragedy masks above every stage, with us since the Ancient Greeks. Has a game ever made you feel intense emotion? "Yes", you might say. But was it able to sustain that, deepen and develop it over the course of the narrative? The games I've played have one or two shining but sporadic moments, the exception not the rule.

Take a pack of cards and you get more drama. The Tarot (major arcana) is the story of the fool as he goes through the dramatic changes of life: innocent, tempted this way and that, experiencing transformation and the shattering of illusions. Most games restrict their plot to 2 or 3 Tarot cards. I'd love to experience one that symbolically attempts the whole deck.

It's within the grasp of game technology to do this, but it needs a vision - a vision beyond assuming your audience is 14 year old straight male gamers that want a massive gun to blast the zombies - and even they would appreciate something better than this poor assumption.

It's time to move on from Pong, Bomberman, Angry Birds and the fairground duckshoot that is Call of Duty. We want games with Shakespearean complexity of nuance, wordplay, symbolism, wit, beauty and mystery. That vision needs ambition, and whatever game you want to say has some of these things, maybe you'll say Heavy Rain or Zelda or something else - I'm sure we need to be far more ambitious, more demanding.

It's time to up the game.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Vertical bar with official share buttons for Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn

So, today we've been setting up this blog.

Part of the reason why we have chosen is because it is easier to customise some important bits and bobs. And among those bits and bobs is the ubiquitous 'share this post' bar. Vertical share buttons. Easy right?

I trawled around on the Internet and I found loads of variations on this theme, several referencing Mashable's share bar, which seems popular. I also found all sorts of untrustworthy crap marked for the attention of site administrators who don't want to use their brain to customise or learn anything whatsoever. It's a scary world of dodgy bloggers out there!

But I didn't find any that did exactly what I want. This is what I want:
  • Simple. I'll sacrifice complexity for simplicity, any day.
  • Encapsulated. I don't want to have to link to someone else's stuff, and have my site compromised if theirs goes down.
  • Customisable. I'd love an amazing wizard that helps me customise the bar, but on the other hand I want simplicity and tidy encapsulation, so I'll settle for code that's well enough written for me to mess around with directly.
  • Official. I want the official share buttons from the official sites. Lots of bars don't do this. Don't know why.
So, basically, I made one that does exactly (and only) that stuff.

I'm focused on sharing this site on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus and Facebook. So that's what this bar does. You could easily add other stuff though (like StumbleUpon or Digg or whatever).

I've annotated the code so that you can see where the official share button came from, in each case.

Get all the code you need to install this on your blog right here.

Installing the share button gadget

  1. Download the code, which is a single txt file, right here.
  2. Go to the Layout page on your blog.
  3. Click 'Add a gadget'. You can put the gadget anywhere on the page, as it's going to float to the left of your site anyway, but personally I'd stick it under the Header.
  4. Select 'HTML/JavaScript' from the selection of gadgets in Basics.
  5. Don't bother adding a title. It won't show up anywhere.
  6. Copy and paste the text from the file you downloaded from here into the big box.
  7. Customise the code, which is quick and easy. See below.
  8. Click Save.
  9. You're done. Have a look at your blog.

Customise the code if you like

There is one thing you must do. You must edit the bit near where it says TWITTER that says data-via="elecmal". Change "elecmal" to your Twitter user name. Then the tweets from this will say via your user name, rather than mine.

If you want to add other social sites, I'd recommend that you type into Google "official share button" + the name of the site, and you're sure to find a very easy wizard to create the button you need, provided by the official site itself. (I've linked to the ones I used in comment tags in my code.) Once you've got the code, paste it in just like the ones in my code, surrounded by a <div class='sharebutton'> tag.

Otherwise, you could change the layout by fiddling with the code in the <style> tag at the top. I have glued the bar to the bottom left of the browser with the code "bottom:0px; left:0px;". You could change this - maybe "top:30px; right:0px;". Some people prefer the bar to be bolted onto the right or left of their blog. To do that, use something like "top:15%; margin-left:-155px;". Try it out and see what works for you!

Installing MongoDB on a Rackspace Cloud server (SOLVED)

Just to get this technical note on the Internets for general helpfulness of humanity..

After following the main MongoDB instructions, I was stumped with "Error: couldn't connect to server shell/mongo.js:79". Mongod had started but I couldn't 'mongo'. This was NOT a mongoDB problem, despite all the rest of the advice on the internet telling you to set the datadir, check permissions, uninstall the packages, try a different package etc.

I should have thought earlier to use my own brain. The problem was the server's own firewall preventing mongo from accessing port 27017. Specifically, the Rackspace sample iptables ruleset does not allow an SSHd user to 'mongo': Rackspace Cloud sample iptables.

So if you followed the official YouTube video on setting up your Rackspace Cloud server you'll hit this issue. Rackspace Cloud setup video by Chad. My cloud server is Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid but I expect any Rackspace cloud server configured as above will encounter this. To save you the hours of troubleshooting I've just undergone, this will sort you out:

[After following the MongoDB 'Quickstart' instructions and the stuff on the page above, installing from the mongodb-10gen package]

sudo iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 27017 -j ACCEPT
sudo iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 28017 -j ACCEPT
sudo iptables -A INPUT -s -j ACCEPT
sudo iptables -A OUTPUT -s -j ACCEPT
sudo bash -c "iptables-save > /etc/iptables.up.rules"

This assumes you followed Chad's instructions (around time 10:00) to reference /etc/iptables.up.rules from /etc/network/interfaces:

pre-up iptables-restore < /etc/iptables.up.rules

Do that, reboot your cloud server from the Rackspace web management interface - and you'll be able to 'mongo' on your server (and remotely).

Make sure you add 'auth = true' to /etc/mongodb.conf (also adding an 'admin' user via mongo) so that the web interface on isn't too useful to people.


Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Data speeds up evolution; Aesthetics makes revolutions happen

Reading a great article about Apple vs Google - focusing on the difference between two hugely influential companies. They are clearly even more different than notoriously dissimilar chalk and cheese. And there's a very interesting theme in there.

As the article states, Apple believes in the power of design ("It’s really hard to design products by focus groups,” Steve Jobs said in a 1998 BusinessWeek interview. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.").

Google believes in the power of data (Both Page and Brin "both shared a core belief in the primacy of data," says Levy in his book In The Plex.)

Ben Parr makes a great point in his Mashable article (referred above). Apple are responsible for a series of largely unexpected revolutions in technology. Google are responsible for hyper-evolving several existing markets.

Personally, I've never found my thrill poring over data to find its hidden secrets. Seems like a simple question now: do you want to speed up evolution, or are you looking for the next revolution?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Google fail whale

RSA Animate: Ken Robinson on Changing Education

If you haven't seen it already, you really should. A great talk. A great speaker. Great ideas.

Quick summary of some good bits...

Education is still built on Industrial paradigms: directing children into academic vs non-academic streams; teaching children in batches, according to their date of manufacture; and ensuring that they are anaesthetised to swallow irrelevant and dogmatic content during an aesthetically exciting and diverse times.

Great talks inspire change. I love this stuff.

It is not facts that inspire people to action - it is the opinions they hold about those facts.

Websites are software - a lesson for marketing companies

Why are so many websites produced by marketing companies so poorly received by users? Come on, let's face it. There are times when every agency has thought to itself, "Why did we get such unimpressive stats on that project? Why didn't users revel in our exciting new web project just as much as we slaved away producing it?"

The answer is bloody simple. Marketing companies generally don't get that websites are software. They treat websites as perfect renditions of a brand or campaign thought, probably with an awkwardly crow-barred-in attempt at social media engagement. And they expect all those lovely little Mohammed's crawling around on the Internet to come to their fantastic new mountain. And they're heartbroken when they don't. (Or alternatively, since the agency has probably already been paid, maybe they don't give a stuff.)

Software isn't like that. Software provides a service. If it isn't clear on what that service is, or if it provides that service poorly, or if no-one wants that service, then the software isn't worth making in the first place. Also, software is generally pretty interactive, and pretty customisable. It's my software, not yours. I use it to do my stuff, and I like it best when it let's me do my stuff my way, without distraction. The emphasis for software is massively massively massively on user experience. It's not generally about passively looking at someone else's creative or informational ramblings, and occasionally being privileged enough to click my way through a navigation system to find something more or less appealing.

Software self-consciously adapts its feature set according to tech capabilities and emerging user requirements. Photoshop added more vector tools when they could, and didn't drop them when they found people liked them. Functionality is crucial, and goes way beyond the front end 'skin' of your website. No amount of dressing up an empty cardboard box will make it into a bijou residence. You need to work out what your business can deliver and what your users are demanding from you, and then make a front end for that.

Apps are a great case in point. They're so self-consciously software - and most of them are web-enabled. So they're a bit like websites too. Hooray! Now ask yourself how many apps there are that just let the user browse around a fixed set of unchanging designed screens. Good apps help people do things they want to do - whether those things are utterly trivial or completely critical. And they have development cycles, and they invite user feedback, and they have ongoing programs to maintain them, develop them and evolve them.

And yet marketing companies and their clients still roll out barely functional websites with painful deadlines and big bang launches, pretty much totally abandoning them shortly after. Well done. You've just clogged up the Internet with more abandonware.

All of the websites on the World Wide Web are software. All of them: even the marketing sites that barely anyone ever visits. It's just that they're crap software.

Projection mapping for LG Optimus Hyper Facade in Berlin

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


OMG. Check this out... you press buttons a computer, and THIS happens in real life. Right before your very eyes.

Made by these people:

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011

Steve Jobs died last night. He will be remembered for his uncompromising vision, and his exceptional commerciality, creativity and engineering.

"The world has lost a visionary."
Barack Obama

"A genius who will be remembered with Edison and Einstein, and whose ideas will shape the world for generations to come."
Michael Bloomberg

"Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
Steve Jobs

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

New Kindle, new world domination


So, Amazon have launched a new Kindle, the Kindle Fire, and it's an Android tablet with an Amazon front end.

At $199, it looks to me like it'll be an iPad-for-the-rest-of-us. (Not me, mind you - I'll get both.)

Goodbye, competitors in the tablet space.

But I think the most interesting thing is this:

Amazon have just completed the chain to lock down their position in The Big Three - by which, I mean Apple, Google, Amazon. There's three companies who are working away on almost exactly the same ground, and totally blocking out competition (for now). Amazing.

More specifically, each of those three companies has a roadmap which includes linking up an impressive chain of links that tie consumers into their lovely buyable worlds of stuff.

Here's the chain:

Post-PC device > O.S. > Browser > Services > Ecommerce

For Google, the tablet strategy involves a massive range of third parties.
  • The O.S. is their own Android.
  • The Browser is Chrome.
  • The Services are search, video, and a billion other things that keep the web spinning.
  • The Ecommerce is mostly leveraged by having so many consumers.

For Amazon, there's the Kindle Fire, and the Kindle Touch and stuff.
  • The O.S. is a skinned version of Android.
  • The Browser is Amazon Silk.
  • The Services are books, music, video and stuff.
  • The Ecommerce happens through

For Apple, there's the iPad and iPhone.
  • The O.S. is iOS.
  • The Browser is Safari.
  • The Services are music and apps and stuff.
  • The Ecommerce happens through iTunes and the App Store.

Wow. We're being locked down by the megacorporations. There's only gonna be a few massive companies, and they're going to do everything.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The observation of a moment

Tick, tock, tick, tock. Time is not what matters to people. Time can fly by unnoticed, or drag endlessly on. Time is unimportant, except in that it serves as a scale by which we can track what really matters to us.

What matters to us is moments. Moments can be joyful or they can be heart-breaking, they can be fascinating or excruciating. They can be turning points, filled with importance, or they can be seemingly irrelevant. They can be intensely private, or they can be shared on a global scale. They can smash into our lives, changing everything, or they can slip quietly away, unnoticed. They can even time travel, returning unexpectedly from an age ago to haunt us.

A moment is a human observation, as simple as that. Our observance of moments, and our reaction to them, is what makes us so uniquely human.

Time is one of our most powerful tools for measuring moments. It allows us to plan them, mark them, log them and file them away. With time as our tool, we can see the sequence of moments that runs through our lives, and from this we can better deduce their relationship with other moments, and their size and scale. Effectively, this scientific tool for noting the impact of moments on our lives helps us to step outside of the blooming, buzzing confusion of our subjective experience.

We humans are inventive - impressively and endlessly so. As we progress and construct invention after invention, we have better and better tools for measuring and making sense of moments.

Moments are now tracked in unprecedentedly granular detail. We live our lives by the watch on our wrist, by the calendar on our computer. In the last few years, we have fallen in love with an explosion of amazing enhancements for capturing moments - all available through our mobile phones, iPads, laptops and TVs. Facebook captures exchanges between friends the world over. Google organises our world, making a reference to any and every experience just a few clicks away. We share photos. We share videos. We share commentary. News is no longer just up-to-the-minute. It is practically up-to-the-second. If someone works something out, or adds something new, almost anywhere in the world and at any time, it can be shared as a global moment within an instant.

Imagine the farm labourer tilling a Yorkshire field in the Middle Ages. I'm sure he couldn't tell you exactly how old he is, let alone the date of his wife's birthday, let alone any news from anywhere more than a few days' walk away.

Our world has not become smaller through technology. It has become incomparably larger. Digital tools are not separating us from the flow of our lives in the real world. Far from it. They are allowing us to pore over our lives in incredible, unprecedented detail. Through technological tools, the human race is becoming a master of it's moments.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Nautilus super computer predicts the future and stuff

Nautilus is one of the most powerful computers in the world. And they're using it to predict the future, by reading all the news there is to read and spotting trends. Like a kind of supercharged We Feel Fine (

Here's the not very interesting page that proves the computer exists, but does little else:

Here's a BBC story about it predicting the future:

And here's Charlie Brooker summing it up for the rest of us:

"That's how Nautilus works, see. It sits there reading the news and calculates what's coming. Earlier this year it sifted through 100 million news reports, analysing them for general overall "mood" using a process called "automated sentiment mining". Yes, "automated sentiment mining". Women come equipped with that as standard, whereas we men have to build computers to work out what our fellow humans are thinking."

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Scan books and turn them into ebooks

Great idea... but will it get released, and could it be used to scan photography books?

Check out the video, if only for the exciting racy music.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Press Refresh - Adapting digital marketing to work better in our service economy

Here's an article I wrote for Campaign just recently.

It's about how marketing is built to serve a production economy, even though we're now living with an economy that is overwhelming based around service. Basically, marketing is built on out-dated and increasingly creaky foundations!

Our long overdue upgrade


Our whole industry is built on ageing foundations. The upgrade we need will come from digital techniques, embodied by new approaches such as Service Design.



The Internet is one of the most exciting catalysts for change in all our working lives. We work our little digits to the bone trying to keep up. As an endless barrage of digital innovations brighten our laptop screens, it's tempting to focus on what we could do with it all - perhaps missing the point of what we should do to support the changing shape of modern business.

This essay may feel more like playing the tortoise than the hare, but it's worth taking a moment to understand the long game. Sometimes legacies from the past hold us back from making the most of the future. After all, it's not what futuristic technology that you use, it's the way that you use it. That's what gets results.

So let's rewind to the last comparable revolution, long before we got familiar with typing "www" in front of everything.

Marketing shows its age

The first marketing agencies sprang up as the industrial revolution launched into full swing. Production capabilities dramatically increased, and companies found themselves with an exciting emerging need to promote products to a wider audience. Suddenly, they could go national. Suddenly, every household in the land became a potential consumer. Companies happily commissioned external agents to make the best of the job. The job required skills in announcement, broadcast and capturing people's attention and affinity. Our industry founded itself on persuasion, disruption and targeting: a marketing industry built around the needs of a production economy.

That was a long time ago. We are no longer an economy dominated by production. Service industries overtook manufacturing share of GDP around the 1970s, and now make up over 75% of UK & US GDP. The businesses we operate, and our national consumption patterns, have undergone a seismic shift. In tandem with this, we are well set into the digital revolution. Digital has grown out of a service economy, and has also accelerated the growth of that economy. The digital revolution and Europe and North America's developed service economies go hand-in-hand.

The marketing requirements of a service economy are different to those of a production economy. This is no longer about announcing the availability of commodities, and chasing a series of disparate sales. Service-based businesses have a much stronger behavioural component than product-based businesses. Just as with products, any given service can gain competitive advantage through unique and advantageous features. For instance, a banking service can have a better interest rate than its competitors; or a holiday company can offer more cost effective package deals. But a lot of what convinces customers to buy into a service is in the way that service provider behaves. Will this bank pick up the phone when I need them? Will this holiday company treat me like cattle, or like a rock star?

When a brand's behaviour is a critical deciding factor, the agenda for that brand's marketing changes. Where marketing for a production economy was about announcement and persuasion, marketing for a service economy is about interaction, personalisation and integration. That is, customers want to experience your services before they buy - they want to interact with you. They want to know if your service can deliver a good fit for them personally. And they want to be sure that your brand is genuine - that you are who you say you are, wherever you are met.

New generation, new approach

I believe we are only now starting to upgrade our marketing model to suit the conditions of the age. It is not really digital technology that's driving it, but it is native digital techniques.

At the forefront of this change is Service Design - a new discipline to focus on the total user experience of a service. It has an obvious parallel with industrial product design, which emerged as a distinct trade not too long after our first marketing agencies appeared. The agenda for product design was to tailor the functionality and experience of a product to suit its user. Similarly, Service Design aims to appraise and develop the complete experience of a service, and tailor it for its target audiences. What product design is to a production economy, Service Design is to a service economy.

Service Design does not only apply to service provider brands. Almost all production-based businesses benefit from increasing their focus on the service they provide. Service, at its broadest, is the front line of a brand's behaviour towards its audience, and the experience that brand aims to create.

The language of Service Design is noticeably similar to the language of User Experience Design. While digital agency UX professionals are used to talking about digital interfaces, Service Designers talk about the service interface, which is the complete set of touchpoints for that service. Customers, shoppers and consumers are generally referred to simply as users, and service design goes through stages of persona creation, user journey mapping and prototyping. There is an obvious parallel between how digital has been causing marketing to develop, and how Service Design is now emerging out of a mature service economy.

Press refresh

The new .com companies are already fluent in Service Design principles. Companies like Runkeeper and Evernote use all of their media touchpoints to provide increasingly capable and customisable services for users. In fact, they seem far more focused on using touchpoints for service provision than for traditional marketing usage. They rely on social reputation more than on broadcast advertising. They don't try to put users onto regular email programmes in order to squeeze more sales out per customer. They don't use apps or other tech as naive, zeitgeisty novelties. They think about data capture primarily as a benefit to their users rather than themselves. They think of media planning as ways of serving their users more comprehensively, at times and places that suit them best.

The paradigm has shifted. It is almost impossible to tell whether digital is a cause or an effect of the new agenda for modern service economies. But it is certainly at the forefront of the change. As agencies continue to digitise, and as our clients' business models do too, I predict that we will get an increasingly clear view of a new model for marketing.

Although digital technology will always be about innovation and upgrades, I'm not so much interested in upgrading technology as I am interested in how we use digital to upgrade the marketing model.



  • It's not what technology you use, it's how you use it.
  • How we use digital is too often pinned to an antiquated marketing model.
  • The needs of our service economy require different priorities, perfectly suited to digital.
  • Service Design characterises the upgrade that we need.

Richard Neville is the Chief Strategy Officer at Elvis

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Designing websites with the right screen width

Deciding what pixel width to design your website for is still a pain in the ass, even after all these years.
Here's a few thoughts to help make a more informed judgment.

First point: Browser size is not the same as screen resolution

Screen resolutions are going up year on year, partly due to increased monitor sizes, but mostly these days due to increased PPI (pixels per inch), such as on 'retina display' screens.
Browsers are increasingly able to intelligently scale their content, rather than display content at 100% pixel dimensions (e.g. iPad / iPhone / Android browsers).

Second point: We need to distinguish between pixel width and viewing width

Pixel width is the width of the website as a designer would see it in Photoshop.
Viewing width is the width of the website as a proportion of the user's field of view at a comfortable reading distance.
For normal websites in normal use cases, we could refer to viewing width as on-screen width, and measure it in centimetres.
Websites will be able to increase their pixel width as technology improves, but they will not keep on increasing their viewing width.
This is because what makes a comfortable viewing width is more to do with human perception than it is to do with technology.
Eyes don't like to strain at something tiny. Nor do they like to scan too much around the place.
For instance, body text is nice to read when there's about 12 words to a line. It's more 'scannable' when there's a few less (but not many), and it starts to become hard to track when there's a lot more than 12.

Third point: We should aim for a good viewing width, not anything else

The only reason we should care about pixel widths is because they are proportional to viewing widths on standard browser setups for the vast majority of our users.
Design for the viewing width that suits most of your users.
Here's how to calculate that, far better than just looking at your stats and saying "Most people are on 1280 wide, so let's set up our design like that."

Finally: Calculate what your users will be comfortable with, not just what they can accommodate

1. Look at your stats and get the screen resolutions used by the majority of your users.
2. Based on those resolutions, consider the physical dimensions of the screens that your users are most likely to be looking at.
3. Make intelligent assumptions about the likely comfortable viewing width as a percentage of those screen sizes. People with smaller screens tend to set their browser to full screen. When screens get past a certain size, their users tend to stop stretching the browser to fill the screen.
4. Multiply the viewing width percentage by the screen width, and you have a reasonable proxy for your users' comfortable (or preferred) browser width*.
5. From that, you can work out how many of your users would be comfortable with your proposed screen dimensions.
6. Additionally, you may wish to consider whether your users could accommodate your screen dimensions. That is, do they have enough screen size to stretch their browser to your proposed screen dimensions. This will generally be the width of the screen minus around 24 pixels for scrollbars and borders.
Aim for something that most of your users are comfortable with. And avoid something that only just accommodates them.
This spreadsheet should help you work out the 6 steps above.
Google doc: Calculate the right screen width for your users
* A useful reference for whether you have reasonable estimations of comfortable browser width is

Steve Jobs has resigned as Apple CEO

Inaugural post!

Quick summary:

Steve Jobs' resignation note:

A couple of tributes by Tech Crunch:

Steve Jobs the Patron Saint of Perfectionists

Steve Jobs: The End Of An Era

And finally...
Tim Cook to replace Jobs as CEO

Whatever you think, it's big news for computing, the Internet and all those devices that we know and love. And it's a rare clear line marking one era passing and a new one beginning.