Category Creative

Is Bigger Always Better?

Really liking my new HTC One S…It’s fast, great screen and most importantly the camera works impressively well in low light.

Though I have to say these new, larger screens are great to look at but makes it hard to operate with a single hand. Even the HTC One S’s 4.3″ screen is hard to reach the far corners without moving your hand in ways that compromises your grip. Ironically, Android 4+ has moved primary controls into action bars on opposite ends of the screen.

After using the One S all weekend I had to see if this issue was all in my head and thankfully it wasn’t. My older (and much complained about) LG G2X (4″ screen) fits nicely in the palm of my hand and I can reach the entire screen without compromising my grip. To show what I mean I’ve created this map of what I can reach with my left thumb while holding the phone comfortably in my left hand and not compromising my grip.

Is anyone else experiencing this? Have you switched to using two hands to use your phone? Will Apple stick with the smaller form factor and use reach as their reason?

Will Facebook’s new Pages be able to turn online marketing into a conversation?

Today Facebook announced Timeline for Pages and held an all day conference for marketers to learn the ins and outs of the new features. Facebook also took the opportunity to re-explain how social is core to social media marketing. They spoke of creating stories and not ads as the key to the new Facebook. They showed examples of how social media should be by showcasing brands like Red Bull, Ben and Jerry’s, and Macy’s (I’m guessing they still get perks for Miracle on 34th Street). They talked to industry leaders who all echoed the social media mantra. Still, it’s going to take some time for it all to sink in.

To this end Facebook presented a number of features in order that should empower those that want to embrace to the social of social media marketing. The Timeline is a huge step in showcasing a brands interactions online. It’s literally their social history. Sure, they can remove posts, but how much are you going to trust a brand that’s been online for years and has nothing to show for it. The Timeline will also feature posts from a user’s friend that mention the brand. This may include negative rants, but this is still to be seen. Lastly, the Timeline is a break from the marketing pages of yesterday (literally) which often featured “like-gated” content so the marketing team could brag about the number of Likes they had.

Other features to support the humanization of pages include the ability for a page (read: brand) to have direct correspondence with individual users, limitations of the types of images that can be used in the hero image (no “like us”, “50% off”, or other promotional type images), and highlighting the user’s friend’s brand related activities (mentioned earlier). They also added the ability for brand posts to be apart of the both the desktop and mobile news feeds (paid service, like Twitter’s promoted Tweets), though this one seems to support the old ad model more than socialization.

So the question is, will Facebook’s new tools along with the reminder that social media is a bi-directional conversation help change those clinging to the broadcast mentality? Will these new tools help champion the social among the social marketers or will they be bastardized to support the old regime?

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Watch the presentations here: http://www.facebook.com/business/fmc

Toyota’s Intellegent Typography Experiment

This is a few years old but still pretty cool. Back in 2009 Toyota teamed up with Please Let Me Design to create this IQ Font (above) as a way to promote their new micro-car.

The idea is simple enough but the execution is really nicely done. The designers (Pierre and Damien) worked with Stef van Campenhoudt (driver) and Zachary Lieberman (software developer, using OpenFrameworks) to track the car’s path as a way to draw each letter. The resulting font is clean, quirky with lots of character and classic details. Even the “making of” (below) is fun to watch.

Xbox App = Pure Brilliance

The Xbox community is pretty rabid and many use the service for way more than just gaming. As such Microsoft just released an app for iOS devices to give access to your account from anywhere. Not only does it increase the value of having a XBox account they slyly put WindowsPhone 7 on your iPhone.

The app itself is build using the Metro framework but it also includes the default nav bar from their OS. So visually other than the status bar at the top of the screen you’re in WP7 land. What a way to introduce the masses to WP7 without them having to give up their iPhones in the process.

Outside the visuals, the app is pretty impressive. From the animated avatar that reacts to your actions (shake phone, poke, etc.), to full access to your account including messaging and setting of beacons. Beacons on their own are a brilliant move, but together Microsoft has a killer marketing tool disguised as an app that you’ll want to use.

Check it out for your self.

Google Adds Multi-Channel Funnels

Last week Google announced analytical support for multi-channel funnels. This means that you can now see the how users actually get to your product beyond the last click.

It’s long been known in the advertising industry that it takes more than a single exposure to an ad for it to be effective. The same is true online but until now there wasn’t a good place to see how a user came to click on your ad, just that they did. As such all the credit for a successful banner went to the one that led directly to the conversion.

Back when I was designing ads for clients it was hard to back them away from a direct response mentality because direct response was the only way they could prove a campaign was successful. So ads explaining the product or why product X was better, were tossed aside for their “buy now” counterparts.

Gladly, I no longer work on banners but the need to know how and why users are doing what they do is just as important to a website/app as it is for a banner. Data on user activity is essential and data like this is priceless for both sides of the ad industry (merchants and content distributors. If you’re making, designing, or selling ads online this is worth looking into.

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Google’s blog post: Introducing Multi-Channel Funnels: discover untapped opportunities in your conversion path

Want to discover more music on Spotify?


If so, you’ll want to check out Spotibot.com, which uses the data of Last.fm to generate a playlist for you. Or tap into you own Last.fm account for more. After giving this a few tries I’m pretty impressed. This will definitely get me to use Spotify more.

First Look at Adobe Edge


On Monday, Adobe opened up their beta trial of Adobe Edge, their latest tool for creating animations for the web. Being that they are getting hammered on all sides about Flash, instead Edge uses HTML5/CSS/JavaScript as it animation engine. HTML based animation has gotten dramatically better, my test animation ran surprisingly well across browsers and mobile devices. Whether this is Adobe’s little white flag on the end of Flash is yet to be seen but for now we options.

At first glance Edge seems closer in structure to After Effects then to Flash which could be a nod to where Adobe is heading or a way to separate the apps, again we’ll have to wait and see. The application is laid out in four sections: Properties, Timeline, Elements, and the editor window, which is Webkit based. The basic premise application is the simple, add items to a stage and then animate them via keyframes along a timeline. There are no interactions or ability to add scripts with this version of the application. Nor can you create new objects/shapes outside of rectangles, so all your assets will need to be created externally.

The timeline offers auto-keyframing and each attribute can be animated separately. Edge supports the standard set of easing which can be applied individually or to a group via multi-select. Each object/layer is a different color and their attribute list can be contracted/expanded to maximize work space. Attribute values are displayed both in the properties panel and inline within the timeline. Similar to After Effects, you can filter the timeline by typing within the timeline’s search field. Another nice AE style feature is the ability to scale the timeline and manipulate your existing keyframes in bulk.

Since the main editor is Webkit based text is true HTML text as are the CSS styles connected to it. Adobe’s handling of object positioning within the stage has a few quirks. The biggest being an object’s Zero Point being based on where it was initially introduced to the stage and not to top-left or other standard. This make is difficult to quickly create animations or layouts based on numerical coordinates from either external applications (Fireworks) or from object-to-object. For now you’ll need a PNG/JPG to create your gradients. I’m not sure if this is due to the complicated CSS to support gradients between browsers or just something missing from this release. There’s also a few glitches revolving around scaling images but text and divs work as expected.

Code wise, Adobe hides most of the magic in pre-minimized JavaScript files with the external CSS file only defining the initial elements. As long as you keep the stage and associate includes untouched you can edit the rest of the page at will. Which will only help Adobe gain support of this among larger web shops. Despite this flexibility HTML based animations still lack the self-contained nature of Flash’s SWF, which means to view my sample animation you’ll need to click to a page outside of WordPress’s CMS.

Overall, I think this is a great example of where I think web content creation apps need to go. Live HTML in the editor means there is no guessing on how things will look when it hits a browser. I hope they follow this thinking with the next version of Fireworks allowing less web savvy designers to get a better feel for what how their designs will really look outside the false perfection of the current design tools present.

Though Edge is only in its first beta release it’s pretty solid app and could easily be used to create complex animations for websites, banners and other strongholds of Flash. You can view the my test animation I created for this review. Future versions promise support for increased support SVG and the Canvas tag which will only make this more powerful tool for web animators. Will HTML5 really be the death of Flash? If so, Edge is a smart bet for Adobe to keep relevant in this new world.

All is Not Lost – OK Go’s Viral Tribute to Japan

Once again OK Go has created a great viral video experience. This time they’ve teamed up with Google Japan, director Trish Sie and Pilobolus (a modern dance troupe) to create All Is Not Lost a tribute/message to post tsunami Japan.

The entire video is shot from below making for some interesting visuals all on it’s own, but add the multi-window tiling of video and you get a crazy kaleidoscope effect. If that wasn’t enough there is the viral/personalization feature where you type a message and OK Go and Pilobolus will write it out with their bodies. Simple concept, great execution.

Technically speaking, the use of HTML for syncing multiple videos is still pretty impressive. Be forewarned that this may be taxing on older computers as I know last year’s video/experience for The Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown gave my laptop a bit of a work out. For more about how they made the video check out Google’s blog. Regardless of the technology used the most impressive thing is how this all came about as a tribute to a post tsunami Japan.

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Links:
All Is Not Lost (video)
OK Go
Pilobolus
Google’s blog
The Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown

Quick Take on Spotify

Last week Spotify launched in the United States, though It’s been available abroad for years. If that wasn’t enough buzz, invites were hard to come by so congrats if you were lucky enough to get an invite, find a loophole or paid your way in. For those that haven’t had a chance to check it out here’s a quick rundown of the service.

Spotify is a subscription/free streaming music service boasting over 15 million songs in its catalog and offline listening (subscription only). According to Spotify’s promos “Spotify is any song, any album, any time”. I tested out a few of the more obscure bands from my college years and it found most of them that had more than one major label release. Song wise there were more gaps but overall pretty impressive. Their catalog also loaded with new releases, not just forgotten tracks from yesteryear.

The Spotify application is pretty simple and it layout is reminiscent of iTunes and other music apps. Rather then having the play controls front and center, they’re located across the bottom of the app, similar to Grooveshark, which took some getting used to. The search box is located at the top left, hinting that it’s a primary tool for getting around Spotify’s offerings. When using search it returns a list of potential artist, albums and in the main window all the songs that are a potential match. This allows you to go from search to playing pretty quickly.

Despite the top placement of Search the UI seems focused on playlists. To help you get jump started you can import you music and playlists from iTunes. Though beyond the jump-start I don’t see much value with this feature unless you pony up for the premium subscription giving you at-will offline access to your music on your phone. Additionally, located above the playlists is a “What’s new” and “inbox” where you’d find the latest pop hits and music friends shared with you (respectively). Overall it’s a solid service with a large catalog of music that is worth checking out but it does have some issues.

I know Spotify isn’t alone in their pricing model treating mobile as a premium feature. Regardless it still tops my list of issues. Though the app on both Android and iOS are nicely designed they do little more than offer access to music you already have on the device. Streaming and offline access to Spotify’s music are $5 and $10 a month. On the plus side it does offer the ability to sync via WiFi. Who knows this could change as popularity of free services similar to Amazon’s Cloud Player and Google Music gain more traction.

Another issue is how focused the app is on playlists and albums. Honestly I don’t always have time to create playlists and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. They need to add a “genius” feature, basic stations or any sort of lazy mode if only to showcase the vastness of their catalog. Currently, despite having 15 million songs if I can’t think of it, I don’t know they have it or I’m stuck listening to albums which isn’t always what I’m looking for. If you love Pandora’s ability to create an instant playlist based on a single song/artist I’d say stick with Pandora for now.

My last big issue with Spotify is their advertisements. I know they have bills to pay so I’m not complaining that there are adverts in general but they are either three in a row, feature samples from songs I have zero interest in or worse yet fail completely and not time out forcing me to restart the app to continue to the next song. Their ads also bounce around the user interface, great for advertisers, horrible for the user. With advertising it’s all a game of balance and it wouldn’t take much to fix that balance.

There are a few things smaller things they could fix and be easy wins for the service. An iPad version of the app would be welcomed a welcomed addition, especially since the service is so playlist focused the added screen real-estate would be a blessing. The share feature is a nice addition but the method to do so is a bit retro and more obscured than it needs to be.

Though the big issues aren’t enough for me to stop using the service immediately they also don’t drive me to becoming a paid subscriber. The ironic reality is even though two out of three of my issues would be alleviated by subscribing their existence keeps me from wanting to subscribe. I’ve been in the industry long enough to know I’m not alone in this either. Overall, Spotify isn’t dramatically different than other services available (Rdio, Napster, Rhapsody, Grooveshark or even Amazon and
Google’s new music offerings), it does work well and has a huge catalog. Will that be enough for Spotify to convert people into subscribers?

Pros:

  • Huge catalog (15+ million songs)
  • Connection with social networks
  • Quality search results
  • Off-line access (paid)

Cons:

  • No streaming to mobile without subscription
  • Off-line access additional
  • Playlist/album/search focused
  • Obnoxious commercials
  • No error detection

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Ways to get a Spotify invite:
Don’t Have A Free Spotify Invite? Use Your Klout Perks
Get a quick and easy invitation to Spotify
Spotify Invite Fever Strikes: How to Get In Now

Links:
Spotify
Rdio
Napster
Rhapsody
Grooveshark
Amazon Cloud Player
Google Music

Looking back at the Techcrunch Disrupt Hackathon


The idea behind the hackathon was to turn an idea into reality in 24 hours. Well at noon Arpit, Gabo and myself were still trying to figure out which one of our ideas we should work on. Luckily, when we checked in we came to a consensus. We settled on creating a commenting platform that would be site agnostic and simpler to find relevant content. The full concept includes integration with blogs and sites replacing their silo-ed system with one that helps spread the word and lowers the bar for participation. Obviously, the full package couldn’t be completed in 24 hours so we focused on building and testing the basic concept.


We got off to a rough start, plagued with technical glitches and an overloaded wifi. Since our project, called Yatr (pronounced yatter), was using a number of web based API’s the wifi’es were kinda important. As the night went on our table mates decided to call it quits, as did others. Despite the late hour and reduced numbers there was still a energetic vibe in the room. No doubt the cans of Red Bull and endless coffee had something to do with this.


When the sun started rising my eyes wanted to do the opposite. Thankfully a quick walk outside helped me get my energy back. At that time we were wiring up the designs to the back-end and dealing with some minor bugs. So we were feeling good about making the 9:30 deadline. By the time 9:30 hit I was busy working on the presentation and making sure I could explain our work within 60 seconds. An hour later we piled in to the auditorium (of sorts) where each of the teams sharing with the world what they’ve been working on for the previous 24 hours.

The first one out of the gate was Docracy, a online way to validate legal documents. Very cool idea and definitely set the bar for both concepts and delivery. Not surprisingly they were also one of the winners for the day. Sixty nine teams later it was my turn to present. Almost no one likes presenting to a crowd let alone trying to do so while compressing 24 hours into 1 minute. Since I had been practicing for a while I felt ready. Still 60 seconds is both forever and over in an instant.

Yatr didn’t win, but it’s not just about winning. Instead, we walked out with a working product and a architecture to take it to the next level. We also got a chance to see what other people feel strongly enough about that they would spend 24 hours working on a solution for. There was some really great projects beyond the few that got called out on TechCrunch and exhausted or not staying for all the presentations were just as rewarding as making Yatr into a working product.

UPDATE: If you would like to know more about Yatr, see how it works and why we did it check out Arpit’s post Yatr: Our hack for the Techcrunch NYC Hackathon.