The richness of WordCamp London 2015

This past weekend, as many as 600 people got together in North London to talk about things WordPress, the content management system that is the platform of choice for more than 75 million websites worldwide, and is in a market-leading position with blogs.

It was WordCamp London 2015, a three-day event comprising a contributor day on Friday, and the two-day conference over the weekend that I attended, with speakers from across the WordPress community, with talks for designers, developers, writers, business-owners, freelancers, anyone who is at all interested in WordPress.

As a blogger whose blogs run on WordPress – and who first experimented with WordPress in 2004 and launched this blog on the platform in 2006 – I took part in the event to listen, learn, meet some interesting folk and generally increase my knowledge of what you can do with WordPress.

It was actually the third WordCamp I’ve attended in the UK, the last time being some while ago in Cardiff in 2009. That one was especially memorable as it included WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg giving a talk.

In any case, I am very pleased with the time I spent at WordCamp London 2015. The event itself was an excellent example of terrific organization, very professional with no obvious gaps in anything that I saw. It illustrates how things have moved on in just a few years where a seamless experience is what you expect even from a community-focused event like this – and that’s precisely what you got.

It included a delight or two, over and above an expectation. The official swag, for instance – not just a t-shirt but also a very nice woollen scarf. That was unexpected and wholly delightful.

I was impressed with the sheer number of people taking part. Men and women, young and old, coding geeks, developers, designers and “regular folk,” WordCamp London 2015 included everyone who represents today’s WordPress community. It’s quite clear to me that WordPress is now part of the mainstream of what makes up the internet, not just the social web. And everyone knows it.

In the early days (pre-2010), it was just a few who really understood how WordPress works, how to make the most of its capability with themes and plugins, and how to create those themes and plugins. Now, such knowledge is widespread. What’s more, as more people learn about, use and become familiar with WordPress, so overall knowledge increases and spreads and becomes widely accessible as the WordPress ecosystem grows. That means getting help for your questions, or sharing your own knowledge and experiences, is so much easier today as the pool of knowledge continues to expand.

A few highlight impressions from some of the sessions I attended on Saturday and Sunday plus other experiences:

I had an opportunity to get some questions answered about a new feature in the Jetpack uber-plugin for WordPress when I encountered the guys from Brute Protect, a company that makes a security plugin that was acquired last year by Automattic, the people behind WordPress.com.

There was a really good presentation by Luke Wheatle and Sophie Plimbley, two of the key individuals behind a huge WordPress presence at News UK, who talked about building a scalable WordPress. Best phrase I heard: “WordPress is great for news, it’s so easy to use.”

SEO expert Jessica Rose led a great talk about search engine optimization in a packed session that ranged from how to optimize a WordPress site for search to the fundamentals of how search engines rank content. Most useful. Best phrase I heard: “Wow, this is the only time anyone has asked me for help with Bing!”

Tibdit, a service to make and receive micropayments or donations on your blog using Bitcoin, was one of the companies presenting their wares in a small exhibition area in one of the venue buildings. It could be an interesting tool for bloggers looking for small-scale monetization. I plan to try it out to see how it works, etc.

Dave Walker had a good perspective on things:

Two standout messages from Jon Buchan in his most refreshing session on content marketing – “How much money is wasted by experts creating crap?” and “It’s not what is given, it’s how it’s given that matters.”

I learned quite a lot in Bruce Lawson‘s session on responsive images, starting with that very phrase, “responsive images.” He is a good story-teller and his entertaining session was highly popular and pretty full in the largest presentation room. Best phrase I heard: “Safari, the North Korea of browsers.”

A thought-provoking session on user experience in WordPress was led by UX expert Sara Cannon who also shared her knowledge and experience of some really terrific-looking plugins, all of which I will check out:

And she shared her presentation deck.

It’s also worth highlighting a feature of just about any event these days where everyone and everything is so connected. Good friend Christopher Carfi in California noticed that I was at WordCamp London and tweeted to me and his colleague, Mendel Kurland, suggesting we ought to connect.

And so we did…

That’s what I call serendipity!

Check the hashtag #wcldn for all the Twitter chat and for news on other posts, picture uploads, etc, that undoubtedly will come from others in the coming days.

Apple Watch: How desirable and disruptive will it be?

Samsung Gear 2 Neo

For the past six months, I’ve been wearing a smartwatch, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo you see pictured here.

As I have a number of Samsung mobile devices, this smartwatch is ideal for me as it’s geared, so to speak, to work with a wide range of Samsung smartphones including all the ones I have. Currently it’s paired with my Galaxy S4.

The Gear 2 Neo does everything I expect a device like this to do as I mentioned in my initial review of its features and functionality last November. Things like:

  • Shows me the current time.
  • Gives me content on things I’m interested in, such as meeting reminders, updates from social networks (I’ve set it to show me updates from Twitter, Facebook, Google+ at the moment), instant message texts, WhatsApp messages, emails from various email accounts. Note that social network updates, etc, are the actual messages not just notifications of them.
  • Incoming phone calls which I can answer on the Gear 2 Neo if I wish (a surreal experience when at the supermarket checkout), and notification  of missed calls.
  • Contacts list and a dialler to make outgoing phone calls from the watch via Bluetooth connection to my phone.

It also offers health-related apps – pedometer, heart rate measurement, how many hours I sleep – plus others like a voice-recording app for notes, S Voice (an “Ok Google”-like app to ask questions), a music player for music I can store on the watch or stream from the phone (or from the net via the phone), stopwatch, weather reports, and more.

Plus there are myriad ways you can customize the device, from its look and feel to adding features and functions with apps via the Gear Manager app on your phone.

The bulleted list above describes the features and functions I currently value most. So health-related apps aren’t of much interest to me as they are pretty rudimentary: I’m sure that devices like Fitbit or Jawbone that focus specifically on such features are much better as that’s precisely what they do.

I’m also experimenting with apps on the phone that deliver breaking news topics to the watch that alert me of that breaking news, and which I can read on the watch. My current app for that is News Republic; it’s not bad.

And yet.

I want more than all this in a smartwatch. I want to see the word smart mean a great deal more.

I don’t care what shape the device is – square, round, whatever – as long as it looks good (a highly-subjective way of regarding it) and delivers the features and functionality that I want that helps make my life better organized, easier, more productive, fun, etc.

In reality, I’m not really sure exactly what more I want until you, Mr Device Manufacturer, show me what there is that I may want. It could be cool apps. Or maybe – and perhaps more likelier – it could be a really cool device that runs cool apps that do things in really cool or new and interesting ways, far more than just showing me the time, how many steps I’ve walked today and notifications from my smartphone.

Perhaps my current watch, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo, represents the peak of expectations from this type and generation of device and its capabilities at the moment. Maybe the coolness of it right now is as much as I’ll ever expect.

But I see nothing else out there at the moment, from any manufacturer on any platform, that lets me believe there’s a better mousetrap to consider.

Then, of course, there’s Apple Watch that’s due in April and about which Apple will be talking at an event in San Francisco at 10am Pacific time (5pm GMT) today, Monday March 9.

If I were looking at what I read about Apple Watch at the moment and consider where all that reporting and narrative would fit on any Gartner Hype Cycle, it would unquestionably be approaching the peak of inflated expectations.

"Gartner Hype Cycle" by Jeremykemp at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

And yet.

I think today’s event – with expectations that are undoubtedly huge and possibly inflated – will include some eye-openers for anyone who a) has any current brand of smartwatch, b) has a menu of things they’d like to see in a smartwatch that they currently don’t see, and c) is wondering how a smartwatch is going to play a role in business communication and in the workplace.

Much of what I see people saying about Apple Watch in recent weeks has focused on features and functionality of the device itself. In the absence of any word from Apple on such topics – and there isn’t any – it’s all so much speculation and opinion until that event at 5pm GMT today.

Some of it, though, is informed opinion, worth paying attention to and setting some worthwhile expectations.

For instance:

Ars Technica, March 5: What to expect when we “spring forward” with Apple on March 9:

[…] What we’re likely to get on Monday is an actual launch date, more specific pricing information for all three versions of the product and their bands, and some kind of showcase of third-party apps. At iPhone and iPad launches, Apple usually has at least one or two devs come on stage to walk the audience through a demo that shows what the new hardware is capable of. iOS still enjoys the widest and deepest third-party support of any mobile platform, so we’d expect third-party support to be a major selling point for the Apple Watch as well.

WIRED, March 6 – What to Expect from the Apple Watch Event Monday:

[…] We should hear about clever functionality, like how the the Apple Watch can unlock your hotel room and your car. Apple execs will likely show off myriad health-tracking features, as well as the “Power Reserve” mode that strips the device’s functionality down to being just a watch—and might save you from having to charge it twice a day. Tim Cook will probably show eagerness about using it to buy food at Panera, because Tim Cook apparently loves using Apple Pay to buy food at Panera.

9to5 Mac, March 6: Sources offer hands-on Apple Watch details: battery life, unannounced features, and more:

[…] The Apple Watch’s battery life has concerned many prospective customers, as Apple said only that the Watch will need to be charged nightly. Earlier this year, we reported that Apple’s development targets for Apple Watch battery life were 2.5-4 hours for heavy app usage, versus 19 hours per day of combined usage between light app access, notifications, and Glances. Sources who have handled the Apple Watch tell us that Apple has improved the device’s battery life, noting that the final Apple Watch should be able to handle 5 hours of fairly heavy application usage, and it and won’t run out of battery during a typical day of mixed active and passive use. However, the source says that the device will still need to be charged nightly, as it will definitely not last through a second full day.

And so forth.

And yet.

I want to hear about something really interesting that let’s me do something equally interesting or new. For instance:

TechCrunch, March 6: The Apple Watch Is Time, Saved:

[…] People that have worn the Watch say that they take their phones out of their pockets far, far less than they used to. A simple tap to reply or glance on the wrist or dictation is a massively different interaction model than pulling out an iPhone, unlocking it and being pulled into its merciless vortex of attention suck. One user told me that they nearly “stopped” using their phone during the day; they used to have it out and now they don’t, period. That’s insane when you think about how much the blue glow of smartphone screens has dominated our social interactions over the past decade.

Nieman Journalism Lab, March 5: The next stage in the battle for our attention: Our wrists:

[…] While checking your phone is still not acceptable in all settings, it still beats the palpable sense of impatience associated with raising your wrist. Checking your smartwatch in company is going to require a new set of social norms to become natural and commonplace. Confusing what’s essentially a miniaturised smartphone with a conventional timepiece is an awkward behavior partially caused by these early smartwatches’ skeuomorphism, the design tendency to create technologies that mimic analog or real-world products in order to make themselves easier for users to understand. Eventually though, one imagines that, as Apple has done before, the idea of a watch as a reference point for these devices will grow less and less relevant.

Distinct behaviour shifts.

And this:

Financial Times, March 6: Apple tests luxury appeal with gold watch:

[…] Apple Watch is the first new product category to emerge from the company since Jobs’ death in 2011. Its ambitious pricing and luxury styling shows how Mr Cook and his design chief, Sir Jonathan Ive, hope Apple can transcend Silicon Valley to enter the more prestigious and lucrative worlds of fashion and jewellery. “I do see that the Watch is a move away from what is traditionally understood as consumer electronics,” Sir Jonathan said at a conference last year. “Apple has always been about ‘affordable luxury': at the higher end of the price range and with a premium feel, but it’s always been within reach of the ordinary consumer,” says Jan Dawson, technology analyst at Jackdaw Research. “This is the first time that Apple has moved into straightforward luxury.”

Bloomberg, March 6: Apple’s Secret Lab Lets Facebook [plus BMW, Starwood Hotels and others] Fine-Tune Apps Before the Watch’s Debut:

[…] As Apple’s first new device since the iPad in 2010, the stakes are high for Apple Watch, and the sophistication of the apps available is critical in wooing buyers. Just as the App Store has been a key reason for the iPhone’s success, tools for Apple Watch will help determine how customers use the gadget and whether it will be a sales hit. The watch must be paired with an iPhone to fully work, and anything less than seamless integration may alienate potential customers. […] Optimism over Apple’s new products, including the watch, has helped send the company’s shares to record highs in recent weeks. Sales of the new device in the first fiscal year may reach almost 14 million, according to the average estimates of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Researcher Strategy Analytics projects Apple will take 55 percent of global smartwatch sales this year, when total shipments may reach 28.1 million units, up from 4.6 million in 2014.

Re/code, March 6: Apple Watch: What to Look For at Monday’s Event:

[…] Apple’s greatest challenge may not be outselling competitors in the wearable space – the first generation of Android smartwatches have gotten off to a sluggish start – but rather, convincing consumers to buy. […] Industry analysts and Wall Street investors are bullish on the watch, and Apple’s ability to energize a nascent consumer category. The company has done it before with the 2010 introduction of the iPad, which ignited the sleepy tablet business.

The Guardian/Observer, March 8: Crunch time: how the Apple Watch could create a $1tn company:

[…] Despite the pundits, on Wall Street and in the industry it is hard to find anyone to agree that the watch could flop. James McQuivey of Forrester Research said last week that “20 million people in the US alone are inclined to buy something new from Apple, giving Apple an easy shot at converting 10 million people to buy one between the US and international markets. We stand by our initial assessment that 10m units sold by year-end is likely.” McQuivey sounds like a pessimist compared to Huberty, who forecasts 30m, and Robert Leitao of Braeburn Group, who suggests 40m by the end of the year. The most pessimistic is Gene Munster, a stock analyst at Piper Jaffray, who reckons 8m.  The lowest of those numbers would dwarf the existing smartwatch market, where the biggest player, Pebble, has shipped just over 1m units in two years, and devices using Google’s “Android Wear” from companies including Samsung, Motorola and LG shipped just 720,000 in 2014. In all, 6.8m smartwatches shipped last year, according to research company Smartwatch Group, at an average price of $189, creating a market worth $1.3bn.

With so much opinion floating around, you’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to really pay attention to and what to largely ignore.

Whatever we hear from Apple today, I think it will be news that will mark the beginning of the second stage in the development of the smartwatches segment of the wearable technology industry.

Apple Watch

It could also be as disruptive to the watch industry – all watches not only luxury brands – as the launch of the iPod was to the music industry just after the turn of the century, as the launch of the iPhone was to the mobile phone business barely half a decade later, and – as some media reports point out – the launch of the iPad was to the tablet market just five years ago.

And finally, if you compare the Apple Watch image above with the photo of the Gear 2 Neo at the top of this post, you might notice how similar the watch faces look on both devices. That’s because the one on the Gear 2 Neo is actually the Apple Watch Watchface created by Jehezkiel Eugene S and available to buy in Samsung’s Gear Apps Store. It’s the best-looking watch face I’ve seen to customize my Gear 2 Neo.

Apple Watch – already making a visual impact.

  • If you want to watch the Apple event online as it happens, you can as Apple will be live-streaming the event. However, you will need Apple devices running Apple OSes to do that (ie, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV) and a lot of patience as you compete with thousands of other for the bandwidth. Alternatives will be mirror videostreams that others may set up, Apple’s live blog and many other live blogs, eg, TechCrunch (one of the best at events like these).

Brian Solis and Chris Saad launch Context Matters podcast

Context Matters

A new voice joined the ranks of business podcasts this week in the form of Context Matters, a new audio podcast from Brian Solis and Chris Saad.

The podcast’s focus is clear:

Context Matters is a podcast featuring discussions at the intersection of business, technology & culture.

The first episode was posted on February 4 in which the two hosts discussed Uber, Microsoft HoloLens and “why ‘Women Shouldn’t Code’ according to some people.”

It’s just over 35 minutes. Give it a try:

It’s terrific to see voices of Brian’s and Chris’s calibre start a podcast. Their collective knowledge, insights and ability to convey their opinions with credibility and subject-matter authority auger very well for Context Matters to become a must-listen resource if you are interested in that intersection of business, technology and culture.

I especially like their approach to topic development:

One of the novel things we’re going to try with this Podcast is to involve the audience in choosing topics and providing perspectives. In this section of the site we will post the topics we’re thinking about ahead of time and invite you to provide feedback.

So, speaking as a fellow podcaster, I bid welcome to Brian and Chris!

You can easily subscribe to Context Matters via iTunes and SoundCloud. Follow the show on Twitter: @ContextFM.

Finally a fix for the noisy fan on a Fujitsu Stylistic Q704

Fujitsu Stylistic Q704 Ultrabook

For the past few months, I’ve been enjoying the experience of using a Fujitsu Stylistic Q704 Ultrabook computer. This is one of the new breed of multi-purpose devices defined by the word ‘Ultrabook‘ that are coming from a wide range of vendors to offer a compelling mix of computing power, contemporary usability and portability.

I’ve written quite a bit about the Q704 as a “Fujitsu Insider,” part of the Master Your Business blogger programme I’m in that’s run by Fujitsu.

The Q704 is a terrific device that I’ve found extremely useful and enjoyable to use especially when out and about, as I’ve said in some of my posts on the programme blog. All the independent reviews I’ve read agree – it’s a great device. Yet there’s one thing many reviewers also agree on, especially those who dive deep into the technical characteristics of the device, and a point I’ve been aware of too – the noisy fan.

Not only noisy but also loud: obtrusively and annoyingly so, to the extent that it could well be a show-stopper when you add up the pluses and minuses of a device you’re thinking about whether to purchase. The only easy way to reduce the noise is to enable an eco power plan that also severely throttles the Intel Core i7 Pro CPU.

This is not a device to use in a quiet workplace. That’s hardly acceptable and it’s the only major negative I felt about the Q704.

I’ve thought that the solution to this surely must be in the hardware somehow. Maybe a hardware fix that involves a recall (hardly likely) or a firmware fix in the form of a BIOS update (more likely).

Fan improvement tool updateAnd so a pleasant surprise happened on Friday when I discovered that a “fan improvement tool” was available that included a BIOS update, bringing the version to 1.28.

The Q704 was running BIOS version 1.22, shown on the Fujitsu product website as the latest version. Running the update flashed the BIOS to the new version.

And running the Q704 since then, I’ve not once heard the fan, certainly not any noise at the high levels before. I’ve not noticed the device feeling hotter to the touch than usual, nor have I observed any noticeable difference in performance using the business-focused programmes I typically run on this machine, whether docked when in the office or in pure tablet mode when out.

The Windows Experience Index as measured by the Winaero WEI tool for Windows 8.1 shows a processor score of 7.2, the same as it was before the update. All other elements in that index are similar to before as well.

So with this BIOS update, I reckon Fujitsu have solved this niggling problem of high fan noise. Thank you!

If you use a Fujitsu Stylistic Q704, I strongly suggest you install this BIOS update. If your system hasn’t notified you of it yet – it was published only on January 20 – you can manually download it from the Fan utility for STYLISTIC Q704 vPro page. As the update is specific to this Q704 model, be very sure to check it’s for your machine and that it runs a supported Windows version.

Show-stopper eliminated!

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.

Marking eight years of Twitter

Signing up for TwitterI remember when I first started hearing about Twitter, in the summer of 2006 less than six months after the service started earlier that year.

As the year progressed, the name kept popping up in blog posts and comments – what social media was, really, back then – until I decided to see for myself what this thing was all about.

And so, today marks my eighth #Twitterversary – eight years ago on this day, I signed up with the handle of @jangles. My Twitter ID number is 47973. (Did you know every Twitter handle has a corresponding ID number?) I’m still not sure if that number has any significance that makes it generally interesting.

For instance, does it signify that I was the 47,973rd person to sign up on Twitter? It sounds like it could be, given the numbers in 2006, growth since then (especially since 2010) and compare that to today with over 284 million monthly active users worldwide. But I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.

twitteractives

Incidentally, I often get asked what my Twitter handle means or where it came from. It’s actually the first part of the name of my avatar in the virtual world of Second Life, a place I was spending a lot of time in during 2006.

In any case, over the past eight years, Twitter’s analytics tell me that I’ve created almost 76,000 tweets. In averages, that works out at…

  • 9,500 per year
  • 792 per month
  • 26 per day
  • Just over one per hour (make that 3 per hour if we look at an 8-hour workday)

Are such metrics what Twitter’s about? Isn’t it more about the people you connect with? Well, according to Twitter, I have…

…so I suppose it is about that (assuming at least 50 percent of followers are not bots) as this chart suggests.

Engagements

Yet what is Twitter, really? Is it…

  • A social network
  • A tool for writing very short posts
  • A place to connect and engage with others online and chat
  • A useful means of sharing links to content of mutual interest or potential interest
  • A way to talk out loud and share your thoughts with the world wherever you are at any time
  • A channel for anyone to broadcast messages about anything and everything
  • Another channel for marketers and advertisers to promote their brands
  • A way for people who want to change their society to connect and communicate often more safely than they could otherwise
  • A tool for politicians and activists to spread their words
  • A means of communicating abuse and threatening others online

It’s all of those things, the good and the bad (and the ugly), and much more. If you use Twitter in a way that I’ve not mentioned, then that’s what Twitter is to you.

Twitter is also a mirror on society, reflecting the behaviours and actions of people that really is little different to behaviours in the actual world. There are consequences in what you say in a tweet and Twitter has come of age in this regard where the law is catching up with the wild west.

Twitter also came of age when it became a publicly-listed company on the New York Stock Exchange in September 2013. And naturally, it announced its intention to file an IPO in a tweet.

And so Twitter today is very much part of the mainstream, used in all those different ways by people to express opinions, share interesting things and engage in dialogue with others. I’ve always believed Twitter is what you make of it.

I like to look on the bright side about Twitter and human behaviours. And I can think of no better way to illustrate that sentiment than this terrific video from Twitter on the 2014 World Cup through the collective lenses of millions of tweeters.

One big milestone on the continuing journey.