RSS

Category Archives: Digital Publishing

App review: Meerkat

The other day is saw a discussion about whether Meerkat will or won’t last. Meerkat is a simple video app which lets people stream live to their Twitters. It launched about two weeks ago and has been talked about (and used) a lot since. Let’s do a quick review of the app:

  1. How did the app come to my attention? – Simple. My wife told me about Meerkat about a week ago. I also came across the app on ProductHunt.
  2. My quick summary of the app (before using it) – This app lets me stream live to my Twitter follows.
  3. How does the app explain itself in the first minute? – The first time I open the app, there’s a screen that introduces Meerkat’s ‘rules of conduct’, explaining that “Everything that happens on Meerkat, happens on Meerkat” and thus making it clear that my Meerkat recordings will be shared on Twitter (see Fig. 1 below).
  4. How does the app explain itself in the first minute – The Meerkat login screen says “Tweet Live Video”, which clearly suggests that I’ll be able to tweet live video streams. At the top of my personalised screen I see a text field which says “Write what’s happening …” with two big calls to action – “schedule” and “stream” – underneath (see Fig. 2 below). I’m not quite clear about what will happen when I write something in the text box, or what to expect when I click on “schedule” or “stream”. Nor am I clear on why certain posts appear under the “upcoming” header; I’ve got three upcoming streams from Index Ventures in there, but I don’t understand where these posts have come from. Are they based on Twitter accounts that I follow or are they just placeholders to deal with an initial ‘cold start’ problem? Also, I know I’m not a designer but the light grey font used for the “upcoming” header doesn’t work particularly well against a dark grey background in my opinion.
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like – I type in “Playing with Meerkat” (see Fig. 3 below) and then click on “schedule” to put in a time that works for me (see Fig. 4 below). Et voila, a tweet announces my live stream and off we go (see Fig. 5 below).
  6. How easy to use was the app? – Fairly easy. I guess I personally could have done with a bit more to better understand how Meerkat works and perhaps see some examples of other live streams. For people like me who don’t do video that frequently or who are who conscious of the things they share on Twitter, a bit more context on the app would be helpful. For instance, I can see on the Meerkat leaderboard that Nir Eyal, who I know and trust, is an avid Meerkat user (see Fig. 6 below). It would be good to see some of Nir’s video streams directly from the app.
  7. How does the app compare to similar apps?Qik, which is now part of Skype, and Periscope, which is currently in private Beta are similar to Meerkat in a sense that enable live video streaming from a multitude of devices. It will be interesting to see what Periscope will look like when it goes live and to learn how easy to use the app is in comparison to Meerkat.
  8. Did the app deliver on my expectations? – Yes. The app is simple – perhaps a bit too simple in places – and does exactly what it says on the tin, nothing more and nothing less.

Main learning point: It will be interesting to see what Meerkat’s usage is like once the current hype has subsided and once competitors like Periscope have entered the fray. The app is easy to use, but I feel it could yet do more in terms of its explanatory interface and enabling users to discover content. Considering that this is only the first release of Meerkat, it feels like a good and effective product.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of the Meerkat screen which introduces the Rules of Meerkat

Meerkat 1

 

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of my personalised screen on Meerkat 

Meerkat 2

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of my personalised screen on Meerkat after I’ve typed in something in the free text field

Meerkat A

Fig. 4 – Scheduling my live video stream via the Meerkat app

Meerkat 5

Fig. 5 – Screenshot of my tweet announcing my live video stream on Meerkat to my Twitter followers

Meerkat B

Fig. 6 – Screenshot of the leaderboard on the Meerkat app 

Meerkat C

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://quibb.com/links/on-meerkat-and-why-it-won-t-last
  2. http://www.theverge.com/2015/3/9/8164893/meerkat-live-video-streaming-twitter-yevvo-periscope
  3. http://www.producthunt.com/posts/meerkat
  4. http://www.wsj.com/articles/twitter-acquires-live-video-streaming-startup-periscope-1425938498
  5. http://hunterwalk.com/2015/03/14/meerkat-the-value-of-slow-graphs/
 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Sharing my love for Product Hunt

The strap line of Product Hunt is “the best new products, everyday”. Product Hunt is a site dedicated to “sharing new, interesting products” and I found over the last few months that it does exactly what it says on the tin:

  1. A community around cool products – The main concept for the guys who started Product Hunt, Ryan Hoover and Nathan Bashaw, was to build a community for product people to share, discover, and discuss new products. Product Hunt is a crowdsourced site and is fully democratic in a sense that its members decide which products get featured and how they rank. For example, on 27 August, Monitorbook – which helps people to track things on the web – topped the list of products, with 466 votes (see Fig. 1 below).
  2. “Reddit for products” – On Product Hunt’s page on AngelList, it says “Reddit for products” which in my opinion is only a partially accurate representation of what Product Hunt is about. Yes, at the face of it, Product Hunt does have a lot in common with crowdsourced news site Reddit; people can submit links, upvote and comment. Even the list-type design of the site looks like Reddit’s. However, I find the design of the leaderboard type lists on Product Hunt much cleaner and easier to read than Reddit. I can see at glance which products got the most votes on any given day and I can delve into the related comments if I wish. It only takes a quick look at Reddit to establish that the design of their page feels a lot messier and crowded.
  3. Product discovery before everyone else does  One could easily argue that sites like TechCrunch already address the need for people to find out about new startups and new products. With Product Hunt, however, this process of product discovery is fully democratic and transparent. Anyone can submit a product to be featured on the site, which will then be curated by the Product Hunt community. I believe this process increases the chances of finding about cool new product ideas before ‘everyone else’ does (e.g. through TechCrunch or Engadget).

Main learning point: I’ve rapidly become a fan of Product Hunt, mainly because of two key reasons. Firstly, if you’re into finding about cool new products and startups, then Product Hunt should be an almost mandatory part of your day. Secondly, I really like how the content on Product Hunt is shaped democratically by a product-oriented community. If you haven’t done so already, please go and check out Product Hunt!

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Product Hunt on 27 August 2014 

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 06.06.17

Fig. 2 –  Ryan Hoover explains about Product Hunt on This Week in Startups

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.producthunt.com/about
  2. http://pando.com/2013/12/04/can-the-democratic-power-of-a-platform-like-hacker-news-be-applied-to-products/
  3. http://www.fastcolabs.com/3023152/open-company/the-wisdom-of-the-20-minute-startup
  4. http://techcrunch.com/2014/06/04/product-hunt-is-the-social-news-site-of-tech-products-read-by-influential-people/
  5. http://ryanhoover.me/
  6. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-b-fishbein/what-the-startup-ideas-be_b_5708211.html
 

Tags: , , ,

Why ‘single purpose’ apps are en vogue

As I’m currently investigating how to best simplify the ways in which user discover new content – as part of my day job as a product manager at Beamly – I have been thinking more about so-called ‘simple purpose apps’.

The words ‘single purpose’ indicate that the apps focus on a singular user ‘job’ (I’ve written about ‘jobs’ previously). For example, Facebook’s “Paper” which concentrates solely on one job; enabling users to upload and share stories. It’s almost like we’re decomposing multi-purpose apps and recreating them into smaller, single task oriented apps.

I’ve thought about this a bit more and looked at some recent examples:

  1. Why single-purpose? – The other day, I heard about a quote from Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley, whose company has just split its app into two: “Swarm” (for keeping up and meeting up with friends”) and “Foursquare” (local search personalised to a user’s tastes). “What we’re starting to see is that the best apps tend to be the simplest, the easiest to use and the fastest to use” Dennis Crowley told the Guardian. “I think there’s a larger trend towards unbundling apps and making very easy, simple, clean and elegant single purpose use case apps, and I think that’s what we’re doing.”
  2. What do users want? – In my ongoing conversations with users, it always dawns on me how much people seem to value simplicity and/or ‘structure’ in products. Whether it’s a physical product or a digital application, my perception is that people like to know exactly what a product is for and what it doesn’t do. Users don’t like getting confused by tasks which aren’t core to the key reason for wanting to use the product in the first place. I really like the “Laws Of Simplicity” by John Maeda (see Fig. 1 below). I believe that the current move towards single purpose apps ticks at least four of John Maeda’s Laws Of Simplicity: Context, Time, Organize and Reduce.
  3. Other benefits of ‘unbundling’ – I learned a lot from Taylor Davidson’s views on the benefits of unbundling and him taking Facebook’s current strategy as an example. Taylor points out a number of valid touch interface reasons which accommodate single support apps (as outlined in Fig. 2 below). Touch interfaces make it easy to surface and access multiple apps, and the data capture of specialised apps. Taylor also highlights some constraints and risks to consider in relation to single purpose apps (see Fig. 3 below). Both risks that Taylor points out – lots of single-purpose apps competing for user attention and capturing data in isolation – make a lot of sense and need to be taken seriously.
  4. Facebook’s ‘social conglomerate’ strategy – Rather than creating one product or app which does everything, Facebook seems to be following a so-called ‘social conglomerate strategy’ whereby it makes targeted acquisitions to include specific services in its portfolio (and which continue to exist under their own brand name and within their own ‘home’). Good examples are Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Oculus Rift. As Taylor Davidson explains in his aformentioned blog post; having a social conglomerate strategy in place enables the likes of Facebook, Dropbox and Foursquare to use different brands and applications “to reach difference use cases, demographics, and desires.”

Main learning point: The unbundling of apps seems like a very logical trend, with companies such as Facebook and Dropbox looking to both simplify their apps and to address different use cases / audiences through separate apps or brands. It will be interesting to see how recently acquired single purpose apps such as WhatsApp will be integrated within the Facebook ‘conglomerate’ and whether there will be cases where the single purpose app strategy backfires due to a plentitude of apps available to users.

Fig. 1 – The Laws Of Simplicity by John Maeda (taken from: http://lawsofsimplicity.com/tag/laws/)

  • Law 10 – The One: Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.
  • Law 9 – Failure: Some things can never be made simple.
  • Law 8 – Trust: In simplicity we trust.
  • Law 7 – Emotion: More emotions are better than less.
  • Law 6 – Context: What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.
  • Law 5 – Differences: Simplicity and complexity need each other.
  • Law 4 – Learn: Knowledge makes everything simpler.
  • Law 3 – Time: Savings in time feel like simplicity.
  • Law 2 – Organize: Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.
  • Law 1 – Reduce: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.

Fig. 2 – Benefits of ‘unbundling’ (taken from: http://taylordavidson.com/2014/apps)

  • The touch interface of mobile smartphone operating systems makes it easy to survey multiple applications to select from: easier than opening up a single app to dig through a menu and list of features.
  • Mobile operating systems unlock a data platform for specialized mobile apps to leverage in a way that isn’t possible on the desktop today.
  • Contacts, calendar, photos, location, storage, and more are all available for an app to access with ease, and that accessibility makes it easy to build a valuable specialized application on top of mobile platforms.

Fig. 3 – Risks to consider in relation to ‘unbundling’ (taken from: http://taylordavidson.com/2014/apps)

  • The problems of customer acquisition and engagement are magnified. In a world where customer acquisition and engagement on mobile are major challenges (read a million other articles about the problems of app store discovery and search, download metrics and tracking, and more), the proliferation of single-purpose apps increases the competition for homescreen and top-of-mind share.
  • Single-purpose apps amplify the amount of siloed data and reduce the data scale held by any one app. Single-purpose apps build deep understanding about interactions about our actions and behaviors in very specific ways (i.e. what we read, what we listen to, how much we work out, where we go), which makes them very powerful sources of data, but also locks that data away from other apps.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://lawsofsimplicity.com/
  2. http://taylordavidson.com/2014/apps
  3. http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20140226/TECHNOLOGY/140229904/whatsapp-deal-exposes-nys-soft-underbelly
  4. http://techcrunch.com/2014/01/29/one-app-at-a-time/
  5. http://stratechery.com/2014/social-conglomerate/
  6. http://techcrunch.com/2012/05/16/nielsen-u-s-consumers-app-downloads-up-28-to-41-4-of-the-5-most-popular-still-belong-to-google/
  7. http://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2014/04/03/why-facebook-is-spending-billions-on-companies-it-doesnt-need/
  8. https://ca.news.yahoo.com/facebook-s-mark-zuckerberg-is-building-a-conglomerate-201436689.html
  9. http://pando.com/2014/05/01/by-splitting-in-two-foursquare-joins-facebook-google-and-dropbox-in-the-great-unbundling/
  10. http://curiousmatic.com/heres-why-facebook-google-and-dropbox-are-unbundling-apps/
  11. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/29/mary-meeker-2015-findable-data-mobile-sensors
  12. http://blog.foursquare.com/post/84422758243/a-look-into-the-future-of-foursquare-including-a-new

 

 

Tags: , , ,

Barnes & Noble doesn’t only do books and tablets, it also does recommendations

I’m always intrigued to find out how digital businesses tackle the issue of user engagement through tailored recommendations. Content providers like Netflix and Amazon notoriously spend a lot of money and effort into their recommendation engines and it was interesting to find about how Barnes & Noble (‘B&N’) are now handling recommendations through their latest “NOOK” device.

Personalised recommendations are a though one to get right. I guess most of us have experiences with using Amazon to buy Christmas gifts and subsequently receiving recommendations on floral craft books during the rest of the year. With the NOOK, B&N introduces ‘Channels’ to try and address this issue:

  1. Based on personal interest – The idea behind creating specific ‘channels’ is to base each channel on a specific theme that’s likely to interest a group of customers. The titles of Nook’s existing 300+ channels vary from “Janes Austen & Heirs” to “International Intrigue.”
  2. How is each channel curated?  Each channel contains 40-50 titles, mostly curated by B&N booksellers but also taking into account algorithmic info and user data (e.g. customer profiles and purchasing behaviour). The channels currently only consist of books, but B&N are planning on including other content (like movies and apps) over time.
  3. Keeping it dynamic – Like I alluded to earlier to with regard to Amazon’s classic ‘floral craft’ example, B&N customers can improve the channels and books recommended to them by ‘liking’ or ‘not liking’ suggested titles. As new titles get released, B&N will add these to the relevant channels (or create new channels around them).

Main learning point: the idea of enabling users to discover new content through ‘channels’ is a great one. The ongoing challenge for content providers like Barnes & Noble is to get the content of each channel ‘right’. This means finding the right balance between human curation and automatically generated recommendations. The value of the ‘channel’ concept for users is that they can access a continuous stream of recommendations within a genre or a topic they like. For B&N, the value comes from being able to retain users (and retain their spend) through an ongoing selection of titles.

Related links for further learning:

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-09-26/barnes-and-noble-s-new-nook-tablets-sell-discoverability

http://www.engadget.com/2012/11/22/psa-bn-nook-tablets-uk/

http://reviews.cnet.com/2300-3126_7-10013914-24.html

http://blog.laptopmag.com/barnes-noble-unveils-nook-hd-9-inch-tablet-for-269-updates-7-inch-slate

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Understanding more about Amazon Cloud Player and storing music in the cloud

Last week saw the UK launch of Amazon’s Cloud Player, a service enabling Amazon users to play their music stored in the cloud (through Amazon’s Cloud Drive) from any computer or Android device connected to the Internet. The service was launched in the US back in July, and now Amazon’s UK customers will be able to experience the same service. These are the main propositions that the Cloud Player is promising to offer:

  1. Your Music. Everywhere. – Seamless access to one’s music is rapidly becoming a ‘given’ when it comes to offering music services. Irrespective of the device one is using – smartphone, tablet, PC or ebook reader – users expect to be able to access music wherever, whenever. No surprise then that this is the main underlying promise of the Cloud Player: your music is available on a range of devices (e.g. Android, iPod, iPhone, Sonos, etc.) and the experience will be consistent across all of these devices and platforms.
  2. Import your music collection – Like iTunes Match and Google Play, Amazon’s Cloud Player will enable users to upload their own music collections, with Amazon matching the music on your PC to their 20m track catalogue. This means that music purchased from Amazon or iTunes or from ripped CDs will be matched against Amazon’s catalogue, upgraded (to a better audio quality where possible) and made available through the Cloud Player.
  3. Secure and easy to use – Amazon promises that for all the MP3 songs and albums users purchase or have purchased in the past will be automatically saved to Cloud Player, which means you’ll have a secure backup copy of the music you buy at Amazon. The ‘secure’ and ‘instant’ aspect are key to any service of this kind. I haven’t used the Cloud Player yet but this would be main challenges to any product or service which promises a great user experience. Is is easy to use? Does is ‘just work’?

I haven’t yet tried the Cloud Player, but reading user and expert reviews gives an interesting insight into this new service. The main thing that struck me is that users are restricted from buying songs through the Cloud Player app on Apple devices (think iPhone, iPad and Mac). This means that one can use the Cloud Player for listening and streaming on an Apple device but not for buying music. I know I’m biased (since I work for 7digital, a competitor of iTunes and Amazon Music) but this defeats the purpose of using a service that promises to work ‘everywhere’.

Main learning point: I guess the main caveat to this blog post is that, as I say, I work for a (smaller) competitor of Amazon in 7digital. At 7digital, we always try to concentrate on a consistent user experience that ‘just works’ irrespective of the device or operating system one uses. Services like Amazon Cloud Player are good solutions for anyone who wishes to ‘consolidate’ his/her music collection. I guess the main downside of using the likes of Amazon and iTunes is that they are pretty ‘vertical’ which means that their products only work totally seamlessly and as intended on their own devices and operating systems, which has bearing on the overall user experience.

Related links for further learning:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/amazon/9550721/Amazon-announces-cloud-player-in-the-UK.html

http://www.techradar.com/news/internet/amazon-cloud-player-heads-to-the-uk-1098144

http://lifehacker.com/5930593/amazon-cloud-player-adds-scan-and-match-to-save-you-time-when-uploading-your-music?tag=streaming-music

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ewanspence/2012/09/19/amazons-cloud-player-arriving-in-the-uk-is-a-vital-step-for-kindles-success/

http://allthingsd.com/20120903/demystifying-amazons-cloud-player/

http://cloud-music-player-review.toptenreviews.com/amazon-cloud-player-review.html

http://download.cnet.com/8301-2007_4-20048416-12.html

http://lockergnome.net/questions/129952/will-you-use-amazon-cloud-player

 

Tags: , , ,

Will Bardowl become the Spotify for audiobooks?

I recently came across Bardowl, a British startup that is looking to become the ‘Spotify for audiobooks’. Bardowl provides a streaming service for audiobooks, currently only available as an iPhone app. This new service is looking to upset established audiobook download business Audible (owned by Amazon). How is Bardowl looking to do this?

  1. Streaming – Bardowl streams audiobooks directly to your (iPhone) device rather than downloading audiobooks (like Audible does).
  2. Subscription – Users will pay £9.99 per month for a Bardowl subscription which entitles them to unlimited streaming of audiobooks (applying exactly the same model that the likes of Spotify and Rdio use). In comparison, Audible offers a subscription model for its download products, with users  paying £3.99 per month for any audiobook download.
  3. Social features – Bardowl users are able to extract 30 second clips from an audiobook (think of a favourite quote or a good line) and to share these with others via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. As a user, I can select and share a quote that has already been generated by another user or simply create my own.
  4. Instant streaming – An important factor in Bardowl’s future success will be the overall user experience, particularly thinking of the instantaneousness with which users can stream their audiobooks (after purchase) or the ease with which a user can continue to listen to a chapter even when he has lost 3G or Wifi access. Bardowl says that the app saves chapters in the “cache” so that users can listen to a book for up to 3 hours even without a signal. I liked the app’s “sleep timer” function, whereby a user can set the time after which the app should pause play. This feature will come in handy for those users who tend to listen to their audiobooks before going to sleep …
  5. Catalogue (1) – Like with all these subscription-based streaming services, the breadth and depth of Bardowl’s catalogue will be critical to its success. Typically, users expect the assortment of audiobooks to be pretty comprehensive; if what they are looking for is not there, they are likely to go and look elsewhere. It will be interesting to see what happens when Audible launches its own subscription-based streaming service; I can imagine that this Amazon owned competitor will have a head start on Bardowl when it comes to breadth and depth of audiobook catalogue.
  6. Catalogue (2) – At launch, Bardowl only offers business audiobooks but is looking to extend its catalogue soon. Publishers like Penguin, Macmillan, AudioGo, Wiley and audio-focused publishers Summersdale and Creative Content are already on board. As much as I enjoy listening to “The Maverick” by serial entrepreneur Luke Johnson, the group of people who share this pleasure is likely to be to be fairly small in comparison to, let’s say, people wanting to listen to bestsellers like “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

Main learning point: it will be interesting to see if Bardowl can indeed become the ‘Spotify for audiobooks’. I believe a lot will depend on Bardowl’s ability to quickly ramp up its catalogue as well is cross-platform reach (think tablets and different mobile operating platforms). Irrespective of what happens with Bardowl, I defintely think it is a very interesting service with a lot of potential.

Related links for further learning:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/appsblog/2012/jun/25/bardowl-iphone-app-audiobooks

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/9345170/Bardowl-plans-to-be-Spotify-for-Audiobooks.html

http://bookmachine.org/2012/06/21/bardowl-launches-streaming-audiobook-subscription-service/

http://www.tapmag.co.uk/review/492667930/bardowl

 
1 Comment

Posted by on August 14, 2012 in Digital Publishing, Startups

 

Tags: , , , ,

DRM free ebooks!? It is going to happen …

Last year I wrote about J.K. Rowling, author of the immensely successful “Harry Potter” series, breaking out of the traditional publishing mould by offering Harry Potter ebooks through her own site. Another interesting recent development within the ebook world is digital publishers slowly starting to drop digital rights management (‘DRM’) from their ebooks.

The main thing about DRM is that it is meant to stop piracy and to stop people from sharing content. However, DRM also makes it harder to read an ebook across different devices, limiting users to a single technology to read ebooks with.

This BBC post explains this problem very clearly: “At present a user who buys a DRM-encoded book via Amazon, for example, can only read it on one of the firm’s Kindle e-readers or a device running one of its Kindle apps. They cannot transfer the title to a Sony Reader, Kobo eReader or use it with Apple’s iBooks.”

Last month, sci-fi publisher “Tor” announced that it will release all its digital titles DRM free as early as July 2012, citing author and reader requests as the main reason for this bold move. Tom Doherty, president of Tor, explained about his readers that “they’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”

Going back to J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore site; she also chose to offer her ebooks DRM free (mind you, this only applies to ebooks sold through her site directly). The only thing she did do instead was inserting a digital watermark to prevent users from copying her books illegally. The question remains how many other, less ‘niche publishers will start releasing their ebooks without DRM protection. It is interesting to note in this respect that Tor  is part of Macmillan, a publishing giant, who seem to have gone for a strategy whereby DRM is dropped on a small scale first, to then roll it out across a much larger catalogue of – more mainstream – titles.

Main learning point: it will be interesting to see how many other, more mainstream publishers will follow Tor’s lead. One could argue that the effectiveness of DRM protection in light of battling piracy is limited and that therefore a better user experience should prevail. The publishing industry seems to be going for a ‘softly softly’ approach where DRM free ebooks are introduced gradually, which makes a lot of sense. From a purely personal point of view, I welcome any move towards DRM free ebooks since I think it will force publishers to rethink their anti-piracy measures and improve their readers’ user experience at the same time.

Related links for further learning:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17851822

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12702081

http://www.theverge.com/2012/4/24/2973132/macmillan-tor-forge-drm-free-ebooks

http://paidcontent.org/2012/04/24/macmillan-tor-forge-removes-drm/

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/04/more-on-drm-and-ebooks.html

 

Tags: , ,