Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Power of product placement

We've recently become hooked on TV's Homeland. One of the main characters supposedly grew up listening to Miles Davis, though I confess I'd never heard of him or his music before the TV show.

However, each episode has included a little snippet of his music. I'd not really noticed it before this week when he got a mention from one of the characters, and I used the Shazam app on my iPhone to listen and tell me which track was playing...

Next day I did a Google search and read some online reviews of the album. They were all glowing and, a few buttons later, the album was purchased, downloaded and playing on my iPhone.

In years past I'd never have been able to learn about his music so quickly and effortlessly, and I'd probably not have gone out to buy it specially. By making it so easy and "frictionless" to discover and buy the economy has grown as my bank account has shrunk!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Broken processes

Today one of our major clients woke up to no email service.

When planning a company merger our client had grabbed and registered a domain name with a hosting company. Some considerable time later we are helping them to rationalise and move to a smaller number of suppliers. Four previous domain name moves went without a hitch, but mostly because they were not being used and no one noticed that the supplier we are moving from has broken processes...

Simply, their internal process releases a domain name and deletes the record immediately. They should disconnect those two steps because their record delete should only take place after the new host has taken ownership. By doing the delete prematurely there is no lookup for the domain name on any of the Internet name servers and email, web, etc is not able to work.

The problem is that the host we are moving from is being unhelpful, whether out of malice or not. And there is nothing we can do about it. We just have to wait for the new record ownership to percolate through the Internet name servers.

Their customer service is not great; but at least we have the consolation of knowing that we were right to want to make the move!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Don't tell anyone, then"

Today I met with a potential client, a director of a private security company. He mentioned how he often tells people not to use computers, phones and the other paraphernalia of modern society if they have stuff they want to keep private. It's a lesson the "bad guys" seem to have learned as they abandon satellite phones that can be tracked and targeted in favour of word-of-mouth couriers and old-fashioned low tech.

Then, later, I was brought up short when I saw a post by Jodi Wilkinson about what sites see when you use your Facebook login...

  • Name

  • Hometown

  • Location

  • Email address

  • Gender

  • Work: employer name, location, position title, start date

  • Education: school, location, year, course specialisation

  • Timezone and more...

Jodi writes that this is the minimum information that Facebook provides; and most sites request more. She gives an example of how one request for her data released "2,054 lines of data containing gps coordinates of all my check-ins, photos I’ve been tagged in, and everything someone has said on my wall in the last 6 months as well as the full name and facebook ids of my friends who posted on my wall."

So, even if I never use my Facebook details to login on other sites, if I've posted on a friend's wall and they login with Facebook then some of my info will leak to those sites!

Of course, the security guy is right: if Jodi hadn't put that info in Facebook in the first place then it wouldn't be available to be released. But how many of us have been far-sighted enough to think that way?

There's a growing American outcry against the poorly-drafted CISPA legislation there; and stirrings in the UK against planned government moves to mandate more Internet monitoring. Seeing the range of information that just one site, Facebook, has on individuals makes me a bit queasy and to agree with Tim Berners-Lee, 'father' of the world wide web, that this sort of legislation turns its subjects into a nation of suspects with nowhere to keep their thoughts private once they enter the electronic realm.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Technology: spoilt for choice

Today the team has spent half a day carrying out some internal account planning to work out how best to support a major client, keeping our communications and collaboration tight to hold down costs and maximise our effectiveness. We began with brainstorming and rapidly came up with quite a list of all our business-as-usual, current and future planned activities that we need to coordinate. The problem then become one of how to stay on top of all this activity: OneNote, Excel, SharePoint, Project, or mind-mapping software or one of a host of other tools... Including paper.

Yesterday I had a meeting with a client and spent a hour trying to understand his business needs and then helping him to work out the best technology fit that will work for him.

Even as private individuals within the household we now have to work out whether to use Google Calendar, the Calendar app on our iPhones that syncs through Apple iCal or some other alternative.

Increasingly we all have to know enough about technology to make rational purchasing decisions and intelligent deployments. Normally each option comes with costs, benefits, and occasionally "gotchas" that mean you are painted in a corner you don't want to be in.

Yesterday I told my client he needs to know enough about technology to know he's getting value for money and the right solution ion for his needs. But he needs to trust our team to do the best for him with our specialist expertise.

And I'm reminded of a recent ironic tweet from someone who claims he daily gives thanks for IT complexity because it's kept him able to pay his mortgage for twenty years! Looks like at least that aspect of the future is secure, even with the proliferation of "easy to use" consumer devices!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Courtesy in the online world: Keep moving

When people send me an email, especially if it has an attachment, they don't know if I've got it, or if I'm taking action on it, unless I tell them.

It's a basic professional courtesy to keep others informed; and you'll get into less trouble with frustrated colleagues if you set expectations about what you'll do, and when you'll do it. Then deliver on those expectations.

My rule of thumb is to keep the conversation moving at a reasonable pace. In principle I reply to everything I receive so that the ball is back in the other's court.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Courtesy in the online world: making the right impression

Yesterday, Sunday, we got two enquiries on the company website; both from the same person. First time, he gave us his name and email address. Second time, a minute later, he gave us his phone number and the nature of his enquiry, too. Trouble is that his enquiry was simply, "any apprenticeships?" (sic - No capital letters.)

As my colleague said, "No there aren't, if that's the best you can do."

In our business we are looking for colleagues who'll make the right impression; who'll go the extra mile and be diligent, as well as be fun to work with. That's not an exhaustive list, but the truth is we aren't going to get to explore whether this guy fits the rest of the list because the first impression he made is just so poor.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Courtesy in the online world: Reply All, embarrassing?

This week one of our business partners has repeatedly forwarded on the emails he's received from a third party: the other guy just doesn't "get" the 'Reply to All' function, it seems...

If Alice, Bob and Charlie are communicating by email then it's rude, naive and unprofessional of Bob just to hit 'Reply' and shut Charlie out of the loop; and it causes extra work for Alice to forward stuff on to Charlie to bring him back to speed. Bob simply learning to use 'Reply All' solves the problem.

Of course, 'Reply All' can be misused, and it often is. Some organizations are so political that people add others to the circulation list of emails 'just in case' and to protect their position. In this environment 'Reply All' becomes a serious pain and a drain on productivity.

To be an  effective professional in the online world, you have to think hard about these little details of presentation. I don't always get it right,
  • but I try to keep my "To" list for emails restricted to the (few) who need to take action; 
  • "Cc" is for those who absolutely have a need to know, but I'm not expecting them to do anything; 
  • "Bcc" is something I try not to use, much. A good example, I had to correct a situation by email: I wrote to 'Bob' - and only him, to spare his blushes - but put 'Charlie' in the Bcc list because he needed to be kept in the loop. I then explained to Charlie why I'd done what I did, to protect Bob from further embarrassment. It worked.
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Skype 'Click to Call' privacy

I need to do some research: with the recent upgrades to Skype I've been invited to install their 'Click to Call' function. It means the phone numbers on the websites I browse become active buttons - pressing them dials the number so I can place a voice call, using Skype.
  • It'd be convenient, if that's a function I intended to make a lot of use of. Mostly I prefer text (email, Twitter, IM, etc) to voice
  • It's a great way for Skype to increase revenue - I'd soon burn through the Skype Credit for making calls and either have to buy more, or get a subscription
But, I wonder, does this Skype 'toolbar' function have an in-built 'phone home' facility so that Skype (and Microsoft/Bing who owns it) have the means to monitor which websites I'm browsing, and for how long I linger on each page?
Until I'm reassured about this, I won't be installing the toolbar: there are already so many ways people I don't care about can monitor my web browsing, I don't want voluntarily to add more, even though I don't visit any sites I'd be embarrassed about.
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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Courtesy in the online world: punctuality

I had a meeting booked at 10am today, by phone and just with one other person. I was delighted when he called me right on time. I made an immediate judgement about him that set the tone for the rest of the conversation.

In the virtually-real world the traditional non-verbal clues are mostly missing: we can't make judgements based on buildings, furniture, clothes and other factors. Yet we still have to form relationships and work effectively together, even if we never meet in person.

One of the best ways to establish rapport is to be clear and professional in setting up a meeting: What date and time? What time zone are you operating in? Who is expected, who is optional? What phone number(s) or other technology (like screen-sharing) will be needed?

Then, when it comes time for the meeting, make sure you're on time, even if others are not. And don't be early, by much, either: if I expect you at 10am then a call at five minutes before might be just as inconvenient as if I'm left wondering whether I got the details right if you're five minutes late!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The power of the link

It seems to me that the driving force behind much of the current technology revolution is to be found in hyperlinks. One way of looking at Facebook and other modern web services is as a means of making it easy for people to make links between different bits of content.

Whether it is connecting to articles, PDFs, web pages, photographs, videos, email addresses, LinkedIn profiles or more ... New, powerful discoveries are made through a combination of search and the serendipity of clicking on the links that others have left behind.

This is a bottom-up (rather than top-down) democratically-inspired creation of content. It changes the balance of power from the centre to the edges; and we are witnessing, in some quarters, a battle to hold on to the power to create ideas.

But it's when organisations risk allowing others to mix, match and link to new content that creativity sparks best and fastest. Central approval just slows things down.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Got iPad: Who needs a laptop?

I was wrong, and I'm very happy to admit it. For eighteen months I scoffed at the iPad, so much bigger and with less function than my beloved iPhone that is with me 24-7. Why would I want something bigger that does less?

Reason Two: I've got long battery life.
Now I use the iPhone so much that I regularly have to charge it more than once during the day. I can't take a day's business trip without carrying the phone charger along, too. But at least it lasts longer than my PC laptop which barely lasts an hour of intensive work before needing to be plugged back into a socket somewhere.
The iPad (WiFi only, no 3G data on my version) happily runs all day on its overnight charge. Yesterday afternoon I started a long phone meeting, talking to one of my VOIP phone sessions on the iPad using a Bluetooth headset. It was 4pm and I still had 73% battery life, plenty of juice left for some evening games and catch-up TV viewing. 

Of course, some software just won't run on the iPad. I've solved that problem by using remote desktop software to access a virtual PC in the office. This way I can run all my Windows apps, almost as effectively as if I were sitting in front of a keyboard with a mouse.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Got iPad: Who needs paper?

I was wrong, and I'm very happy to admit it. For eighteen months I scoffed at the iPad, so much bigger and with less function than my beloved iPhone that is with me 24-7. Why would I want something bigger that does less?

Reason One: I don't need paper any more Yet again today I didn't bother taking a pad and paper along to a business meeting.

When I wanted to illustrate my point, I turned to Sketchbook Express which has a range of pens, colours, shapes, text and more...

I can use AirSketch or one of the whiteboard apps to project my drawings for others to see.

And I don't have to spend time hunting through, or lugging around, reams of paper. Everything I create remains on the iPad until I choose to delete it. And it is backed up without me having to make room to store a photocopy.