Making a QR code useful isn’t rocket science

Scan this QR code for more information...A technology that’s often subject to much criticism is QR codes, those square symbols that enable a barcode scanning app on your smartphone to interpret the data they contain and deliver information to you when you scan them

Much of the criticism is about how QR codes are presented by those who create them, often in ways that are simply lame or even mind boggling.

But when you see a great example of how a QR code is being used to convey useful information on a practical level, that’s when you see how genuinely useful they can be in terms of the information they enable you to access or the experiences they enable you to enjoy, or both.

I’ve written about QR codes quite a bit in this blog, highlighting the good and the not so good. Here’s another example, definitely for the ‘good’ list.

I spotted this QR code one evening recently as a key element of a sign on a bus stop in Wokingham, the town in southeast England where I live.

Next bus

Quite simple – scan the QR code to get information on when buses are due to arrive at that particular bus stop.

So you scan the code with your phone, and get a result like this:

nextbus

It tells me quite clearly when I can expect the next bus. If I were waiting for a bus at that stop, perhaps just arriving there, I’d find that useful. As the sign shows, I have other options to get information. There’s also the real-time display on the bus stop itself, bringing in bus timetable information by wifi to display.

Plenty of choices.

While this is a simple example, it does demonstrate how to add a method of access to information that will appeal to some people, some bus travellers in this case. Not everyone will be interested or even have a smartphone with them. But if you are and you do, then this is a good example of offering something useful to your audience that will appeal to some of them, and that requires little effort (or real cost) to implement.

Crucially, it is available to the consumer at no cost other than any charges related to data use via their carrier’s cellular or wifi network.

It reminds me in a small way of the Monmouthpedia experiment a few years ago – access via QR codes to useful information in a town where you could get a great network connection (and, so, access to the content) that will appeal to some people, not necessarily all of them.

monmouthpediaqrshirehall.jpg

The biggest barrier that stands in the way of wider acceptance and use of QR codes is the simple fact that every mobile phone with a camera needs a barcode scanning app in order to make use of QR codes. Currently, no phone from any UK carrier comes with such an app already installed – you have to find one in an app store, download it and install it.

As soon as such apps come with a phone – perhaps as part of the core apps, or the extra software mobile operators typically install – we’ll all be ready. Then it’s up to the advertisers, marketers and communicators to attract our attention, interest, desire and action with the application of something imaginative and compelling.

Something that will make me scan your code. Because I can.

The surveillance structure that underpins us all

GCHQ listeningHere’s another paragraph to add to the debate about privacy, surveillance, spying and the whole gamut of who does what, how and why with digital information that you think is yours and private but in reality is in the spies’ domain.

Last night, Channel 4 News broadcast a 10-minute report in its evening news show that revealed how Cable & Wireless, one of the UK’s largest communications firms, had a leading role in creating the surveillance system exposed by Edward Snowden in which the GCHQ plays a leading role.

I didn’t hear the words “alleged” or “allegedly” mentioned in the report.

The essence of Channel 4’s story is this:

[Cable & Wireless], which was bought by Vodafone in July 2012, was part of a programme called Mastering the Internet, under which British spies used private companies to help them gather and store swathes of internet traffic; a quarter of which passes through the UK. Top secret documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by Channel 4 News show that GCHQ developed what it called “partnerships” with private companies under codenames. Cable and Wireless was called Gerontic.

Watch the full story:

This is just another revelation in a litany of exposure of government surveillance – due largely to the actions of Edward Snowden – that suggests there is nothing any of us can really consider as private.

If what Channel 4’s report portrays is true, then fiction really is fact.

It’s not only governments, though – private companies are equally as bad, according to two reports in recent months.

Wired-Telegraph-data

Take a look at a sobering report in the November edition of Wired magazine in the UK that recounts the experiences and findings of reporter Madhumita Venkataramanan in her investigative piece entitled My identity for sale:

Earlier this year, I became curious about the personal-data economy. It has grown relentlessly into a multibillion-pound business of tracking, packaging and selling data picked up from our public records and our private lives. As I dug deeper into the world of trackers, it reinforced my anxieties about a profit-led system designed to log behaviour every time we interact with the connected world. I was aware that the data generated by apps and services I use daily – from geolocation and cookies to social-media tracking and credit-card transactions – was building a record of my past. Combine this with public information such as Land Registry, council tax and voter-registration data, daily location routes and social-media posts, and these benign data sets reveal a lot – such as whether you’re political, outgoing, ambitious, pessimistic, uptight or a risk taker. […]

And there’s more – check this report in the Telegraph on October 10 in which Sir Iain Lobban, Director of the GCHQ until the end of October 2014, says that big companies snoop on the public more than GCHQ does:

[…] In his first print interview, Sir Iain told the Daily Telegraph that the public should be more concerned with what private companies were during with their personal information.

“Look, who has the info on you? It’s the commercial companies, not us, who know everything – a massive sharing of data,” he said.

“The other day I bought a watch for my wife. Soon there were lots of pop-up watches advertising themselves on our computer, and she complained. ‘It’s that b***** Internet’ I tell her.”

Reality: anything you say or do online is up for grabs by the spies, whether from the government or from private companies. Reminds me of MAD magazine’s Spy vs Spy comic strip back in the day.

Spy vs. Spy

Yet this is no laughing matter.

(Photo at top by George Rex, used under Creative Commons license.)

Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch – some initial impressions

Samsung Gear 2 Neo home screenLast month, I bought a Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch. It’s been on my wrist every day over the past few weeks, replacing my usual traditional watch that tells the time and shows me the date.

Of course, a digital smartwatch can do a lot more than just that, one of the reasons why people buy them.

You want to check your heartbeat? Count how many steps you take walking, or running or hiking? Track your sleeping time? The Gear 2 Neo does all of that and more. I’d argue, though, that dedicated fitness devices such as a Fitbit or Jawbone Up do that much better and in greater depth – that’s what they do.

So if such health-focused activity-tracking uses are of primary importance to you, a smartwatch like the Gear 2 wouldn’t be your best choice.

But if you want to do things such as receive notifications of messages from social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Yammer and more; receive texts from your contacts on WhatsApp, Hangouts or via standard SMS; get reminders from your calendar on upcoming appointments; read email from your Gmail or corporate email accounts; or receive (and make) phone calls from your wrist, then a Gear 2 Neo might be right up your street.

And, as I use a Samsung smartphone – a Galaxy S4 at the moment – the fact that this smartwatch is geared  to work seamlessly with 17 supported Samsung smartphone models including the S4 was a big selling point.

So that’s what I want today from a smartwatch.

All of the above was the primary reason why I went for a Gear 2 Neo rather than any other comparable smartwatch currently on the market, many of which will also do some or all these things with other brands of smartphones: iPhones as well as Android-based devices.

In my view, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo is at the most favourable price point for what you get with your device, better than anything comparable I looked at.

You use a Gear 2 Neo in conjunction with your Samsung smartphone and the Gear Manager app you install on your phone. The first thing you do is pair your two devices via Bluetooth, and you’re set – from that point on you’ll get all the notifications you want on your Neo, from any of your installed apps, once you’ve set them up with the Gear Manager on your smartphone.

Samsung Gear ManagerManage Notifications

As long as your two devices are within range of each other, you won’t need to whip out your phone just to see a notification. It’s a very handy feature, possibly more so than you first realize.

One thing I find really appealing are the extensive ways in which you can customize your Gear 2 Neo, from the obvious and visual (wallpapers or coloured backgrounds) to the useful (watch styles and faces), and a great deal more, from how you’re notified and by which apps, to privacy locking and finding your Neo using your smartphone.

WallpapersClocks

I’ve experimented a bit with the aesthetics! At the moment, my Neo screen has a November the fifth effect as the wallpaper. I expect to change that in the next week or so, once I’ve found a good alternative (a good resource for Gear 2 wallpapers is Tizen Experts website).

I’m only scratching the surface of the Gear 2 Neo at the moment, not yet having explored in depth the apps that come with the device – some of which are tuned to Samsung smartphones, eg, S Voice and Voice Memo – never mind what’s in the Samsung App Store. And there is a surprisingly large quantity of apps in that store.

All that’s yet to come. Meanwhile, a handful of quick impressions:

  • Battery life is excellent in my experience, at least two days between charges, sometimes three days. Much depends on how you use it, of course, but this is my experience by and large. Only once did I use up all the juice in one day when I was doing a huge amount with the device including making and receiving quite a few phone calls and playing around with the various screens and options. But for typical usage, I’d say you can expect about two days on a single battery charge.
  • The way you charge the battery is via a little clip-on charge pack that fits on the back of the device. It’s small and very light = very easy to lose; I’m taking special note of where I put it. You can’t just plug your device in to a power source as you do with your smartphone – the only way to connect a USB cable is via the clip-on pack, and it’s the only way to charge your Neo.
  • The huge battery hit is on your paired smartphone because of the Bluetooth connectivity. In a typical day, I need to charge the phone during the day and again at the end of the day (where, usually, it’s only once at the end of the day when I charge it). Much depends on what you use your smartphone for and how you use it, as well as how long or how frequently you connect to your Neo via Bluetooth. Being permanently connected, with Bluetooth running all the time, is a nice convenience but maybe not really essential. So short battery life isn’t a device issue, it’s a battery issue – and extending battery life is undoubtedly one of the next key development frontiers to cross with battery technologies for mobile and wearable devices.
  • Usability as a device paired with a Samsung smartphone is excellent where the two devices work hand in glove, pretty seamlessly from my experience so far. If you think about how you use a smartphone where some of your time is spent just looking at it to see notifications, with limited interactions, then a smartwatch surely is a more convenient way to do that especially in some situations, eg, in a meeting, on a bus or train, etc, where a gentle vibration alerts you that a notification is coming, and you can give a discreet glance at your wrist.
  • The Gear 2 range including the Neo run the Tizen operating system, not Android. From my experience, that’s not an issue at all as Linux-based Tizen is actively supported by many mainstream manufacturers (including Samsung) and has a growing developer environment with more apps coming all the time, with plenty of incentives for developers.

The smartwatch market is getting most interesting now. Samsung just launched its Gear S in the US, an advanced-level smartwatch and health/fitness tracker with built-in cellular communications functionality – no paired smartphone required; Apple’s much-anticipated Apple Watch is reportedly coming in Spring 2015; more devices within Google’s Android Wear framework are coming soon; and news keeps popping up of more brands releasing their own smartwatches.

There are also developments with useful things you can do with your smartwatch. For instance, I look forward to flying with an airline where I can show my boarding pass on my Gear 2 Neo, as you can do with Iberia – far easier than grappling with a bit of paper or a smartphone along with all your hand baggage when you board.

And in the workplace, think how useful it would be to get notifications of events from your ERP system, such as the working proof of concept from enterprise software vendor IFS (a client) that they developed to deliver notifications from their IFS Applications software to the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.

This is just the start. So I’m happy to be in a good place to learn right now with a Gear 2 Neo.

Friction-free donating with SnapDonate

SnapDonate

Sometimes you see an app for mobile devices that’s simply brilliant in the idea and concept of it.

Such is the case with SnapDonate, a new app for Android devices that lets you make a snap decision, ‘snap’ the charity, and donate there and then – I guess that’s how they came up with the name – right from your smartphone or tablet.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Load the app and point your phone’s camera at a charity logo wherever you see one.
  2. The app will automatically recognize it if it’s one of the nearly 70 it currently can (and you can find more with the app’s search tool).
  3. Select an amount to donate, starting from the minimum of £2 (about €2.50, $3.20).
  4. Add a message, your name and an email address if you want a receipt (all optional), or connect with your Facebook account.
  5. Hit the send button and your donation will be on its way to the charity of your choice via JustGiving, the world’s top platform for online fund-raising. (You can also save your intent for later – handy if there’s no network connection where you are at that moment.)

I tried it – installed the app on my Galaxy S4 and went through the procedure that really is simple and fast.

SnapDonateSnapDonate

SnapDonateSnapDonate

There’s no doubt that, from capturing a charity’s logo where you see it – in my example, Macmillan Cancer Support from the logo on their website – you can complete and send a donation in less than a minute.

I did encounter some flaky behaviour using the app, though – it crashed whenever I took one of the screenshots – and it didn’t actually get me to the completion point: sending the donation. I sent in crash reports each time. I see the app on Google Play is version 1.0.0 and requires Android version 2.3.3 or later (my S4 runs 4.4.2) so hopefully things will be fixed in the next update soon – reinforcing the wisdom, perhaps, of waiting for version 1.0.1 of anything. Note that a version for iPhones is coming soon.

Still, the idea is excellent even if the execution is a bit flawed at the moment in my experience.

I like the idea a lot, especially for situations such as when I come across a charity volunteer collecting outside the supermarket or in the High Street, and I don’t have actual cash on me. It always sounds pretty lame when you say, “Sorry, I don’t have any cash.” If the collector sports a big logo, I can snap it and donate cashlessly there and then or save for later.

With Christmas fast approaching, the pressure on everyone to support causes with donations will be mounting. While no one can support everyone, SnapDonate will certainly make choosing a favoured charity simpler and actual giving easier while you’re on the go.

(Via TNW)

Sprinklr adds Branderati advocacy to its ‘social at scale’ offering

Sprinklr + Branderati

Enterprise social media company Sprinklr is certainly making big moves in the enterprise social space with news this week of another acquisition as the firm consolidates a credible position at the leading edge of the emerging business of enterprise-level social relationship infrastructure development.

Sprinklr adds a further dimension to its offering with the acquisition of Branderati, an advocacy influencer marketing firm, to give Sprinklr a major addition to its Social @ Scale product that manages the key and increasingly complex social channels of large companies.

Branderati’s service offering is focused on helping companies build their own advocacy networks on Facebook, Twitter and other social channels by enlisting fans and customers to market those companies, their brands, products and services.

In its news release announcing the deal, Sprinklr CEO Ragy Thomas said with 92 percent of consumers trusting recommendations from friends and family more than any form of advertising, “advocacy now must take a more central role, not only in marketing but also in the overall business strategy.” Thomas added:

Branderati has unlocked the key to sustained brand advocacy at scale and having their technology and know-how on board will mean big things for our clients.

The news release also includes some interesting metrics about Sprinklr as it now is:

Sprinklr now employs more than 500 employees in five countries and serves more than 650 enterprise brands worldwide, including:

  • Four of the top five U.S. banks
  • Three of the top six insurance companies
  • Three of the top seven hotel chains
  • Four of the top six retailers
  • Tech titans such as Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, and Dell

With Branderati marking the firm’s third acquisition this year, Sprinklr has doubled in size in numbers of people. Sprinklr raised $40 million investment capital in April. Now there’s more speculation about a potential IPO sometime very soon, even this year according to some opinions.

Whether an IPO is on the close horizon for Sprinklr or not, this acquisition looks a logical step for Sprinklr if you believe that social media will become an increasingly important element in the business strategies of large companies.

If you look at many large companies and what they’re doing with social media and social channels – just check the four names mentioned above – it seem quite clear to me that a firm that can offer a holistic approach to social at scale – two very key words – is in a pretty good place today.

Scaling visual messaging and the attraction for marketers

WhatsApp

The rise of mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp – used by at least 500,000,000 people a month around the world who share 700 million photos and 100 million videos every single day – is one growing facet of a multi-dimensioned object that I call “the visual social web.”

It’s not a separate thing to the social web; rather, it’s a part of it that I think will have greater significance to people who use such a service, because it’s about pictures not only words.

And what about words. aka text messaging? That was the prime reason for many to start using a service like WhatsApp: that and the fact that it lets you send and receive the equivalent of SMS messages without incurring charges from your mobile operator (because it can use wifi not only cellular networks for such messaging transmission and reception).

According to some metrics, WhatsApp users send and receive 64 billion text messages every day – it’s almost mind-boggling – so text is a huge part of overall online communication between individuals.

Yet it’s visual messaging that I think is the more disruptive, primarily because of the appeal it has for marketers who want to get their story-telling out to their target audience across social networks that are richer and more appealing than just words alone. I’m sure you will have seen or at least heard about numerous studies and research in the past year that confirm the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.

The WhatsApp metrics about photos and videos are compelling indeed in this regard, and I would expect: 1) to see those metrics increase even more; and 2) to see more interest by marketers in visual story-telling that actually engages people, not simply broadcast messages to them.

For all that to be in place, you need to know a lot more about those you wish to engage with, what marketers traditionally call the target audience that I mentioned earlier.

That made me think about a dark side that I can see happening. Maybe it’s the big hurdle for marketers to jump over in their learnings about how to really connect with people in the mobile online world.

I’m referring to news this week that Tumblr plans to scan all the images on its site for insight into a person’s sentiment about a brand.

That makes total sense to me as part of the essential need to better understand your target audience. If technology has evolved to make it possible to actually do that at scale, what a tool!

And the dark side I mentioned? Steve Hall at AdRants explains it succinctly:

[…] One wonders what will become of all the people who post “I hate brand xxx” photos. Will the brand police swoop in and pummel the person with trollish commentary? And if someone has positive things to say about a brand will they incessantly be held up as a poster child for said brand on social media? And if anything remotely like this happens, will Tumblr users game the system for their own benefit? Or simply punk a brand by enlisting all their followers for a bit of viral shenanigans?

As someone said nearly a decade ago, it’s not what the software does, it’s what the user does.

Oh, and check this out – ‘Selfie Stick’ Takes Rooftopping Self-Portraits to the Next Level of Crazy:

Rooftop selfie...

The new frontier for marketers?

(Screenshot at top via Mashable)