Content is king but so is the delivery platform

CW

One of the benefits of being a member of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is the bi-monthly magazine, CW.

Every other month, the printed publication originally known as Communication World would come through your letterbox filled with useful and highly-readable content that offered knowledge, insight, interviews, case studies, how-to features and a host of articles addressing issues, trends and the actualities of modern communication management, internal and external, as practiced by people across the world.

In my two-plus decades of IABC membership, I regarded CW as among the top three most valuable member benefits, alongside professional development and member connectivity. I was an occasional contributor to the magazine for a number of years since the early 90s.

Some months ago, it emerged that IABC would cease publication of the printed CW and offer it only in digital form. On May 14, IABC announced the first edition of the new CW digital that will be published monthly, available on desktop, mobile and iOS devices with an Android version coming (and which is now available).

[...] “The great thing about going completely digital is that Communication World will be available to download anywhere — on your smartphone, computer or tablet. And all the content is shareable with a tap of your finger, even video,” said Natasha Nicholson, executive editor for Communication World. “Having CW available as an interactive app is going to create a much better, more interactive experience for the reader.”

One of the main reasons the magazine went completely digital was because some overseas members of IABC wouldn’t receive their copies for several weeks after mailing, making the content far less timely. Nicholson explains that by going digital, everyone will be able to receive each issue as soon as it becomes available.

There’s more to IABC’s news, too. For the next four months, IABC says that CW digital will be free of charge to anyone.

[…] the magazine will be available to anyone in the world for free for the next four months (until the end of September 2013), at which time the subscription will continue to be free to members while non-members will pay $119 per year or $12.99 per issue.

I think this is a great move by IABC although I can imagine the complete shutdown of the print publication won’t be easy for some members to warmly embrace.

Part of winning those hearts and minds to the new-format CW will be what the “CW digital experience” is like, one that ought to be utterly compelling so that you don’t really miss not having the paper magazine in your hands.

I would define “utterly compelling” as a combination of things like these:

  1. Great content which, in IABC’s case, can literally go without saying.
  2. Easy access and seamless retrieval of each edition, whether that’s downloading or reading on the website.
  3. Mobile apps that not only aid the pleasurable content-consumption experience but also enable and encourage reader/author/publisher engagement.

Based on my experience with this first edition of CW digital, the content is unquestionably terrific! However, IABC has some major work to do with the other two items I’ve mentioned.

Some screenshots illustrate what I experienced.

Accessing CW digital from the link in IABC’s press release produced a visual mess in my default Chrome browser on a Windows 7 desktop computer.

cw-chrome

I just couldn’t get that menu to reduce or minimize or whatever so that I could see the content itself. Maybe a glitch at the time I accessed the publication. But it did this every time I tried it.

The only success I got was using Internet Explorer. It’s not a browser I ever use unless I have to…

cw-ie

Not a good start.

I decided to download the publication from the download link at the top right of the screen display. Clicking it produced a little window telling me that a 4-meg PDF would download. Another click to begin, and the magazine arrived.

cw-pdf

To be honest, the last thing I ever want to do is read a publication as a PDF file on a computer. It’s not an experience I associate with a good time. One option I have is to load it onto my Kindle ebook reader. What would be great, though, is if IABC made a version for Kindle available. Easy to do.

What strikes me most about these steps – apart from  the hurdle-jumping I had to do – is how the digital magazine looks just like content output from a print-publishing system. It’s what CW was like before.

Maybe that’s part of the plan but it seems to me that something huge is missing in the evolution to digital only: look at the example of what Atlantic Media has done with Quartz magazine.

I have Android mobile devices so I was very interested when the news came that the Android app was available. I thought I’d install it on my Android tablet, a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 LTE from EE, running Android version 4.1.2.

When I went to get the app from Google Play on the tablet, imagine my surprise and disappointment to see the message “Your device isn’t compatible with this version.”

cw-tabletgoogleplay

I tried again, this time from a Samsung Galaxy SII smartphone also running Android 4.1.2.

Success this time. But the app offered me a confusing and unsatisfactory experience, starting with being given choices that suggest I need to subscribe or at least pay for the issue (it’s supposed to be free until September, remember?).

cw-sii-1cw-sii-2cw-sii-3

In summary, CW digital has great content. It’s a good move by IABC to migrate its flagship publication to a digital format, for the reasons they mention in their announcement (and others, too, I imagine, eg, cost savings).

Yet the poor execution of the platform isn’t a good start and, in my view, is a major impediment to gaining enthusiastic adoption of the new publication that now has no alternative form.

I look at it this way: IABC has three months to listen to feedback and get it right – to aim for that utterly compelling experience – before charging kicks in in September.

[Note: I was an active IABC member for 23 years until last November, so I'm currently a lapsed member. I have critical opinions about IABC and its current leadership. None of that has influenced anything I've written in this post about CW; I'm mentioning this fact purely for transparency.]

You’ll enjoy #Attenzi: it’s far more than just a good read

AttenziPhilip Sheldrake‘s new business book Attenzi is published today. Earlier today, I published an FIR Book Review of it as I’d had the opportunity of reading it prior to formal publication.

I don’t do many book reviews these days – our FIR Book Reviews Editor, Bob LeDrew, does an admirable and far better job – and I wanted to prepare well for this one. So I wrote up my notes as a narrative and that’s what made it into the podcast.

As I have that narrative – in essence, the transcript of the podcast – I’m publishing it here as an additional review: the words on a screen that will show up in search results whereas audio yet cannot.

Think of it as bonus content, Philip!

Attenzi review notes

Hello, I’m Neville Hobson, co-host of the For Immediate Release podcast series, with a review of Attenzi – A Social Business Story, the new book by Philip Sheldrake published on May the 15th, 2013.

Attenzi is a business book with a huge difference – it’s not a business book, it’s a novel.

It tells a compelling and credible story of one man’s journey that, unbeknownst to him at the start, would help him and his leadership team “redefine the way we all think about our business and its place in the market and its place in the world.”

With Attenzi, Philip Sheldrake presents a sympathetic character in the story-teller Eli Appel, newly-installed CEO of Attenzi, a fictional international company that makes and sells top-range kitchen equipment and services.

Philip gives us a believable hero in Eli, a man who many readers will easily identify with in his desire to understand the shifting sands of contemporary consumer behaviours, the needs to respond to those changes in ways very different to old management and leadership preconceptions; and his endeavours to knit together a team of people that will be the driving force to enable Attenzi to make the jump to that next level.

As the tale unfolds, we see Eli and his colleagues consider aspects of organizational design, business performance management, marketing, public relations, branding, complexity, and the imminent empowerment of the individuals that make up all organizations.

The story also begins to explore the evolution of the customer-centric mindset that, Philip says, has dominated management thinking for the past two decades.

It’s good writing, good story development, credible characters all. It’s a highly probable storyline of individuals trying to understand the changes in their business world, and in their business itself, figuring out what it all means for them and their business, and working out what to do, who will do it, and when.

The kinds of things that business leaders face all the time in the real world.

Philip has done well in presenting business themes and topics that anyone really could grasp without getting lost or losing interest.

As Eli notes early on in the story, ‘social business’  is the kind of buzz word or buzz phrase you hear about at conferences yet have little belief that even those who bandy the words around have much real idea of what they mean to businesses.

I think Attenzi will make you really think about social business, probably in a way you might not have if you’ve thought about those two words before.

The thinking will be about the very things Eli Appel tells his story about – behaviours, engagement, influence, new ideas, organization culture, change, risks, rewards, and so on. It’s not about the tools and channels of social media.

That’s where I think Philip’s story works well. Yes it’s about social business. But unlike every  other business book on this topic, it’s not a business book – it’s story-telling, it’s a novel, a work of fiction.

In sum, it’s a surprisingly good read on a topic that doesn’t sound like it would be. Social business? That dry old thing?

I think you’ll enjoy Attenzi. It’s not just a good read, a passive activity, though. You could engage with the primary characters, each of which you can find on Twitter. You could add to the content, build on it, with chapters of your own that you can connect via the hashtag #attenzi.

After all, Eli concludes his tale with: “I’m finishing this first part of the new Attenzi story.” In the concluding words of Adam Pisoni, Microsoft Yammer co-founder and CTO, who wrote the foreword, addressing you the reader: “Perhaps you’ll even write the sequel?”

Philip has written this book to give away under a Creative Commons license. The more people who read it, the possibility increases that they’ll talk about it, hopefully favourably, attracting more interest and readers. Word of mouth in action.

You can download a copy of Attenzi free of charge in a variety of digital formats: HTML, PDF, ePub, Kindle, and iBooks. There’s also a version on Scribd.

All available right now from www.attenzi.com.

If you have comments or questions about this FIR Book Review, or suggestions for future reviews, please share them in the online FIR community on Google+. You can also email us at fircomments@gmail.com; and connect with us on Twitter: @FIRpodcast.

You can find more information about the For Immediate Release podcasts, including the weekly business show The Hobson and Holtz Report, at www.forimmediaterelease.biz.

Thanks for listening.

Philip’s set up the foundation for a community surrounding the book, and its broader concepts, on Google+. Well worth being part of that in developing, influencing and extending the conversation.

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EE ups the 4G game

A daily commute

If you’re a customer of EE on a 4G cellular service plan, you’ll relish the latest news from the UK’s only mobile operator with a commercial 4G service.

EE announced today that it is doubling the speed and capacity of its 4G network that, the company says, will boost headline 4G speeds to 80Mbps plus, and double the average speeds for 4GEE customers to more than 20Mbps.

EE says double-speed 4G will initially be available in ten cities by the summer: Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield.

If you’re like me, what you’re interested in knowing is what does that mean in your daily use of your 4G-capable mobile device on EE’s 4G network?

Here’s how EE describes it:

What it means for 4GEE consumer and business customers

With double-speed 4G for mobile broadband and smartphones:

  • Pictures can be uploaded and downloaded in HD, on larger screens, with greater resolution.
  • HD video can be uploaded and shared, and peer-to-peer video can be pin-point sharp and viewed with zero delay.
  • Multi-tasking on the move can become even quicker, with support for image and video-heavy online shopping, while uploading to Facebook and downloading an HD video.
  • ‘Always on’ technology, constantly taking in and sharing information from what we’re seeing and doing, can be supported.
  • Files so large that they previously required a fibre connection can be uploaded and shared, or stored in the cloud – all on the move from a mobile device, revolutionising working practices for content-heavy businesses.
  • A truly mobile office can be a reality, with smartphones, tablets and laptops connected by a 4G Mobile Wi-Fi device, serviced by average speeds around 20Mbps.
  • Streaming an HD video while uploading a presentation and speaking on a video conference call over IP, all in real time on mobile.

4G cellular service has now been available in the UK for about six months after EE  – the combination of Orange and T-Mobile – launched its service, dubbed 4GEE.

As a user myself of some of EE’s products on its 4G network – first, a Samsung Galaxy SIII LTE smartphone and, most recently, a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 LTE tablet courtesy of EE and the ambassador programme I’m participating in – the most significant aspect of it clearly is how it enables you to get things done faster.

You may have seen some of EE’s TV ads featuring Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon. Mixed opinions about the ads and Bacon abound. I like them, though: this one, for instance, from last November, very apt in light of today’s announcement about faster speeds:

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

EE’s 4G service is currently available in 50 UK towns and cities across the UK: Amersham, Barnsley, Belfast, Bingley, Birmingham, Bolton, Bradford , Bristol, Cardiff, Chelmsford, Chorley, Coventry, Derby, Doncaster, Dudley, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Harpenden, Hemel Hempstead, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Lichfield, Liverpool, London, Loughborough, Luton, Maidenhead, Manchester, Newbury, Newcastle, Newport, Nottingham, Preston, Reading, Rotherham, Sheffield, Shipley, Slough, Southampton, Southend-on-Sea, St Albans, Stockport, Sunderland, Sutton Coldfield, Telford, Walsall, Watford, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton.

EE says it’s aiming for 98 percent of the UK population to be covered by the end of 2014.

Soon, EE’s competitors in the UK will be rolling out their own 4G services. That’s when things will get really interesting in the mobile market in the UK from a business and a consumer perspective – what it all lets you do (faster), and how much it will cost to do it. Meanwhile, EE has a head start and is clearly intending to extend its footprint to maximize its first-mover advantage.

Read EE’s full announcement in their press release, embedded below (or see it in EE’s online newsroom).

(Picture at top of page courtesy CNET.)

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4G LTE experiences and faster everything

4G mobile phones

4G – the marketing term that covers the next-generation cellular standards LTE, HSPA+ and WiMAX – is rolling out worldwide and LTE is currently available in more than 60 countries.

It’s generally seen that LTE is the fastest 4G service and is the one that is the subject of a just-published report by Open Signal, a UK-based network testing company. The report examines the state of LTE around the world and contains some useful trend metrics for the lay reader:

  • 62 countries already have at least one LTE network.
  • LTE will be present in a projected 83 countries within the next two years, which will drive the production of lower-end LTE-compatible smartphones.
  • LTE’s dramatic improvement in speed and latency from 3G shows that it has the potential to be as transformative an advancement as the evolution from 2G to 3G was – especially true in countries that do not have established fixed line internet infrastructure, meaning that broadband internet can be made widely available through cellular connections.
  • The arrival of cheap handsets that are able to make use of LTE will help expedite mass adoption, leading to the potential for dramatically increased broadband penetration in developing countries.

One really interesting technical point of the many that Open Signal makes is regarding 4G network speed compared to other connection types. All mobile operators talk about how fast their 4G is compared to 3G and even compared to wifi.

It helps to see what that means:

LTE speed vs others

These are averages, according to Open Signal, across all the countries they reviewed. But the numbers do appear to support the high 4G (LTE) speed claims of the mobile operators.

For the past few months, I’ve been enjoying the experience of “faster everything” on a mobile device, a Samsung Galaxy SIII LTE courtesy of mobile operator EE and the ambassador programme I’m participating in. The SIII connects me to EE’s LTE network in the UK. It’s the only 4G network in this country at the moment.

EE’s network is fast: my experience behind the phrase “faster everything” is one that is very noticeable when compared to 3G, when you do the kinds of things you, well, do on a modern mobile device: take and post Instagram photos, tweet, like something (or someone) on Facebook, +1 on Google, add a comment to a discussion on LinkedIn, watch a video, do your email, etc.

I’m convinced that device hardware capabilities are a big part of that overall “faster everything” perception: LTE-optimized hardware (and software) and a speedy network, the two go hand in hand.

So I was a bit surprised when I saw Open Signal’s chart that shows the speeds you can expect in the top nine countries they reviewed – and the UK wasn’t one of them:

How speeds compare

Then I spotted that they’re measuring download speed rather than overall speed. That’s something that still puzzles me in my “faster everything” experiences.

What I typically get on an LTE network connection is a pretty slow (comparatively) download speed, and a faster upload speed according to speed tests I’ve run with the mobile testing app from Speedtest.com.

Faster upload speeds

Actually, you can see that my LTE download speeds aren’t that bad – the first one in the list, for instance, is better than speeds shown for seven of the nine countries in Open Signal’s chart.

I realize these are just a couple of tests and may not reflect a constant in any way concerning network speeds up or down. Yet it seems to go against what research like Open Signal’s talks about. And I never see any network operators talking about upload speed – it’s always about download speed.

Even cable broadband companies like Virgin Media only talk about download speeds (although with their pathetic less-than-5mbps upload speed, I’m not surprised)

Still, I suppose I shouldn’t be concerned about being puzzled when I’m able to just get things done on EE’s 4G LTE when out and about in London, much faster than I can with 3G. It’s not as if upload speed is a factor mentioned in the pricing element of service; neither is it highlighted in any operator’s marketing messaging (those might become more important, though, once 4G LTE competition heats up in the UK later this year).

Meanwhile, I’ll keep calm and carry on!

(Via GigaOm)

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Getting things done faster with 4G

EE coverage UKIt was good to see news last week that EE’s 4G cellular data coverage now extends to nine more towns across the UK.

That translates as 4G currently available in 28 towns and cities covering 45 percent of the population, with another 27 towns planned to have 4G by the summer.

The UK’s first mobile operator to offer 4G is on record saying it intends to make its higher-speed mobile data service available to 98 percent of the population by the end of 2014.

4G hasn’t yet arrived where I am, Wokingham, about 40 miles west of London. EE says 4G came to Newbury this week: I was in Maidenhead last week and got a strong 4G signal there, so being in between those two places gives me high expectations that it’s coming my way very soon.

I have a 4G smartphone – a Samsung Galaxy SIII LTE, courtesy of EE and the ambassador programme I’m participating in – so I make the most of its capabilities in that area typically when I’m in London, usually once a week or so.

And usually, 4G is very strong wherever I am, from Hammersmith in the west to Shoreditch in the east.

What 4G means in practice is that I get things done far quicker than if I were doing those things with a 3G connection, the current standard in the UK from every mobile operator. Those ‘things’ include posting photos to Instagram, streaming a video from YouTube or the BBC iPlayer, opening a large file on Dropbox, sending and receiving emails: all the things you might want to do as part of your daily routine, whenever you want to do it.

It also means you don’t think much of what network you’re connected to. And with 3G, there’s such a speed gap between it and wifi but such a gap isn’t that noticeable between 4G and wifi. Take a look at this screenshot from the Galaxy SIII LTE to see what I mean – it shows a sample of some recent speed test results, two on wifi connections with three on 4G:

EE Speedtest

4G download speeds are great, far faster than what you typically see with 3G – up to five times faster in my experience.

The curious thing, though, is the upload speeds, often much faster than the download speeds (and much faster than wifi upload speeds). I wrote about this before and I’m still a bit puzzled by it.

And the 4G speeds I’ve experienced so far aren’t the best – I’ve heard from some of my fellow EE ambassadors about their experiences with download speeds in London almost twice as fast as what I’ve seen.

Still, I’ll just enjoy the ability to get things done faster, whatever the speed that’s better than 3G!

It’s an interesting overall experience trying out a new service as it rolls out. This is a window of great experimentation opportunity, as 4G will also be available later this year from competing mobile operators. There are signals already of how the competitive landscape might shape up: for instance, Three says there will be no price increase to tariffs when their customers use their 4G service.

Competition – great for businesses and individuals.

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The peculiarities of cellular network speeds

Speedtest resultsIt’s easy these days to see how fast your mobile network is – just run a test on your mobile device with a service such as Speedtest.net and it will give you measured results.

But – as I expect you would guess – there’s more to it than simply looking at download/upload rates and ping speeds such as you see in the screenshot.

What this shows is the results of occasional network speed tests I’ve run over the past month on my Samsung Galaxy SIII LTE smartphone, which I have courtesy of EE, the UK network that’s notable for rolling out the country’s first commercial 4G service. I’m taking part in an ambassador programme for EE, organized by Andrew Grill.

4G service hasn’t yet reached my neck of the woods – it’s coming this quarter, says EE – so when I’m not in London (one of the 16 UK cities that’s currently got 4G from EE), I’m reliant on the 3G service that every mobile operator offers, when I’m not connected to a wifi network.

So every now and again, I run a test to see how fast things are.

The trouble with testing this way is that you could run another test five minutes after one test, and get entirely different results, better or worse. Much depends on obvious things like where you and your device are: inside a building, out in the open, near a cellular signal mast, etc. Then there’s the technical stuff that engineers worry about. Load balancing on the network, signal strength, how many users are connected to a given cell, transmission issues, the weather, that sort of thing.

And an important note: tests like this mean nothing to voice and text messaging – they’re all about data use by your mobile device.

Still, tools like Speedtest’s are widely available, people will use them and come to conclusions based on the results they see.

One thing I was surprised to see, in most tests I ran when connected to EE’s 4G network, was how upload speed was considerably more than download speed by a massive factor at the times I ran the tests. Great if I were uploading loads of files (as my fellow EE ambassador Paul Clarke often does with large video files); not so good perhaps if I were updating a dozen apps from Google Play or streaming Africa on the BBC iPlayer app for Android (as I did do the other day).

But in reality, my experiences with such things have been great so far. That’s as much a testament to the Galaxy SIII LTE itself and its quad-core processor, Android version, fast graphics, overall memory, optimized stuff for 4G and other hardware and software that make up the device, as it is to EE’s 3G and 4G networks (and the cable broadband internet providers such as Virgin Media I connect to via wifi).

I guess my concluding point is that speed testing of cellular networks in particular isn’t really going to give you insight into, or satisfaction about, your experience at any given moment unless you’re testing something  specific – and know how to analyse and interpret the results.

It’s a good-to-know kind of thing, I reckon, useful when you are experiencing something obviously not up to scratch like a noticeably slow data connection and you need some specific metrics for when you call the support number or as a screenshot for a blog post or tweet.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying my experience with EE so far, even if it’s not yet via a 4G network where I am. Can’t wait for that in my area!

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