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How Mobile Devices are Shaping Websites and Software - Part 1

9th June 2015

The dramatic rise in the use of mobile devices is evident all around us: business people on benches in the park scrolling through the latest news articles on their lunch break, new parents using price comparison apps to ensure the weekly nappy spend is within budget, and of course for every street gathering of children or teens, at least one is guaranteed to be checking their phone. Here in Oxford during tourist season, phone cameras have greatly eclipsed regular digital cameras as the method of choice for documenting a rainy summer abroad.

According to a study by Cisco, the growth of internet traffic on mobile devices is predicted to grow by 66% each year until 2017, at which point total mobile internet traffic is anticipated to exceed fixed (or "non-mobile") traffic. Sales of tablets are predicted to overtake PC sales in the next couple of years and more apps are being produced to make viewing online content on mobile devices quicker and easier. The way we view the internet continues to rapidly evolve.

Mobile Technology

To keep up with the changing way we view the web, most new websites are optimized for tablet and mobile. Existing sites are redesigned and relaunched with mobile-friendly interfaces, and even the kind of information they display - the very purpose of these websites is evolving in order to stay relevant. But how? And do you need to alter your website?

As mentioned before, apps are increasing in number. Popular business networking site LinkedIn was initially designed as an online CV and employer database with embellished functionality. Now it has five mobile apps to carry out different functions to help tailor site experience to various user categories. For example, the 'Recruiter App' was produced to connect job seekers with recruiters. LinkedIn also bought newsreader service app 'Pulse' last year, hoping to increase regular site usage with informative industry and business articles. However, there needed to be an underlying reason for such an expensive takeover and the costly developer time needed to produce these apps. LinkedIn plan to monetize extra page visits by using advertisements.

Mobile devices, are best equipped for information consumption on the move, rather than content creation (mainly due to slowness and inaccuracies of touch-screen keyboards or tiny keys). The commute to London on the Oxford Tube is made much more palatable with a tablet to hand. Engaging daily articles from Pulse and simplified viewing and navigation provided by the other apps should make them much more appealing to this sort of audience. Additionally, regular site updates also improve Google and other search engine rankings and therefore increased 'hits' - the benefits of a dynamic site in the vast majority of cases can't be disputed!

Although LinkedIn is a successful company attaining yearly growth, as things currently stand, their takings are mainly obtained from recruiters paying for database access. When you compare its figures to other popular sites, it is clear there are better revenue models in existence: Facebook boasts over one billion users visiting at least once a month compared to LinkedIn's 200 million (out of more than 300 million members) coupled with a slower rate of income growth. Although LinkedIn has never called itself a 'social network' it realizes that the ad models used by content rich sites such as Twitter and Facebook will increase its growth, allowing it to keep pace as one of the world's most prominent websites. Increased phone and tablet usage from commuters and casual evening and weekend browsing is propelling a web-wide increase in content-driven sites.

Taking mobile development a step further, online photo and video sharing site Instagram, created in October 2010, was one of the first companies to adopt a 'mobile first' ethos; the Instagram website wasn't rolled out until early 2012, having existed purely as an app for Apple and Android products prior to this date. Instagram entered the market with a dynamic, innovative attitude and armed itself with endless quirky, retro photo filters to appeal to a growing hipster community. Its pioneering 'mobile first' approach: primarily designing for small screen access, worked well for the company. Their app pre-empted a genuine need of a public platform to upload and share photos taken on-the-go with phone cameras. However, the 'mobile first' design method is only suitable for certain applications which fulfil similar market demands. In truth, few such companies have achieved great commercial success: it has always been difficult to predict market paradigm shifts in technology development. As the pace of change quickens, predicting the next trend in technology usage is viewed by most as a black art.

Apps are currently only economically viable (and constructive) for large businesses. However, we'll discuss excellent alternatives for smaller companies in later sections of this article. In 'Part 2' of 'How Mobile Devices are Shaping Websites and Software', we expand further on the history of paradigm shifts in technology and discusses the widely criticized Windows 8 operating system.

The website that grew - part 14

8th June 2014

(for previous installments, try the tWtG category)

As the position on search engines improved, the site's popularity gradually grew. But Kate knew that search engine position wasn't the only way of drawing in customers. Some customers would be interested in connecting with the shop via social media channels, or receiving a newsletter which would give them discounts from time to time. So it was time to look at some of these methods.

First of all, Hugh showed Kate a chart of some of the common methods of online communication with customers.

some social media channels - email, facebook, twitter, quora, pinterest, google plus, website

"You've got to take into consideration what suits your customer base too" said Hugh. "Facebook is a consumer oriented medium, and your customers are consumers, so putting up a facebook page and getting "liked" is important. Once you're on people's facebook streams, it would be crucial to maintain a slow but steady stream of special offers and customer feedback.  But for the non-facebook users, those offers should probably be repeated in a monthly email newsletter."

Kate agreed, and was also quite interested in setting up Google+, twitter, and pinterest accounts, but realised that she did not have time for everything.

"We've talked about return on investment with the Google ads." she asked; "How does it work here?"

"Although we're working with a digital medium, it's sometimes a bit more like traditional advertising when you work facebook," said Hugh, "but you can measure clicks and buys from social media and emails.  So it's really important to do that, and that will give you a very good feel for how much all this work is worth."



Can a social media presence replace your website?

17th March 2014

I recently attended a business meeting with a wide mix of businesses represented, and a presentation on social media. In the presenter's opinion, social media had made websites outdated.

If social media supplies a need for your business, that's great; we're making use of social media too, and many of our customers do, in different ways. But what it doesn't do is obviate the need for other forms of e-marketing and e-provision (not all websites exist for marketing!).

Take a business that doesn't sell anything online, doesn't have a great deal of information to get across, and doesn't have any online provision for such functions as customer/member service. Do they still need a website?

Assuming they sell something that people look for on the internet, then yes, I would suggest a website even if they have a social media presence on various platforms, simply to provide a base for describing what they sell, and pointing to the various social media sites.

The one constant in social media (if we are talking about facebook, twitter, pinterest.. - menshn closed last year, by the way) is that. as a user, you are faced with a rolling list of new topics, latest at the top.  

So as a business, if you have to constantly re-state your USPs in order to keep them in people's minds, you're using the wrong medium!

What's worth $19 Billion?

22nd February 2014
Categories: business, facebook, whatsapp

There has - unsurprisingly - been a great deal of internet chatter about the staggering $19 Billion which Facebook is paying for Whats App.

Is a messaging app worth $19 Billion?  Of course not.  There are many messaging apps, and if you paid a couple of developers more than $50k each to build a decent one you would certainly be cheated.  I built a basic local messaging app for a 12-PC Northstar Horizon network, pre-internet, in 1984, and it took me just a few hours.  Messaging is not rocket science!

What Facebook are paying for, of course, is a half-billion user base. One 14th of the planet.

But is half a billion users worth $19 Billion?  Using standard-ish multiples, given a turnover of (very roughly) half a billion a year, you'd expect to pay $1 - 2 Billion for the business, but it goes without saying that a business with half a billion users is anything but standard.  

But... how is Facebook going to make its money back (that's what investments are for, after all)? It remains to be seen whether Google, Microsoft, or someone else is going to start poaching dissatisfied users who resent the fact that their app is now property of Facebook.

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