Barclays Pingit. A baby step in the right direction.

Within 2 days of launch over 20,000 Brits have signed up to use Pingit, the mobile money transfer service at the heart of the Barclays’ emerging channel strategy.

We are The Levels have long been waiting for a Google Wallet type service to be launched here in the UK and we were horribly over excited when rumours started to emerge about what Barclays were up to late last year.  Pingit is a small but significant step in the right direction allowing you to transfer money to others in the UK via your mobile phone.

If you decide to use the Pingit service, your recipient will receive a text message when you send the cash.  All they need to do is to register with Pingit, either by downloading the app or register online at  www.barclays.co.uk/pingit.  All rather slick hey?

There are some downsides -Barclays accept no responsibility if you Ping the wrong person (so make sure you’ve got the right mobile number!) and they also retain the right to hold your mobile number and that of your recipient for marketing purposes. If you want to opt out of the marketing messages you have to, quite literally, send them a letter.

We’re pretty sure that the novelty of the service will wear off and within a few months it’ll be seen as just another way to pay your friends for the half of the bar bill you “forgot” on Friday night.  But, we at The Levels see this as an important step by a British bank to get us, the great unwashed in the UK, used to mobile money transactions and the concept of micro-payments via mobile.

Banks, retailers and financial institutions have a vested interest here, a cashless payment is far cheaper for them to handle so of course Barclays et al want us to Ping for our coffee in the morning and for our taxi on the way home. Horribly convenient for us and more profitable for them.  We all win.

The MD of PayPal UK, Carl Scheible agrees.

“We’ll see a huge change over the next few years in the way we shop and pay for things. By 2016, you’ll be able to leave your wallet at home and use your mobile as the 21st century digital wallet.”

If you fancy debating the pros and cons of a cash-less society with us, we’re very much up for the debate.  However at this point we’d like to emphasise the better access to financial services that mobile micropayments present to all and above all the simple convenience of the whole process of mobile micro payments.  Well done Barclays for taking this baby step we look forward to see what happens next.

Has Android killed the video games star?

As sales of Android powered smartphones soar across the globe, Nintendo announces drastic cuts to it’s profit outlook and slash the cost of the new 3DS by up to 40%.   Has the Google effect finally hit the video gaming mark?Image of Nintendo 3DS

In a striking reversal of fortune for the world’s largest video game maker, Nintendo drastically cut its annual profit outlook on Thursday and said it would deeply discount its new 3DS hand-held device as it struggles to stem a flow of users to casual gaming across other platforms such as smartphones and tablets.

On August the 12th , Nintendo will cut the price of the 3DS, introduced in March, by 40 percent in yen and 32 percent in dollars, a remarkable drop so soon after a game system’s debut.

Nintendo said it lost 25.5 billion yen  in the three months that ended June 30, the first quarter of its fiscal year, as sales plunged 50 percent from a year earlier. The loss prompted Nintendo to lower its annual profit forecast 82 percent, to 20 billion yen ($257 million) for the year ending in March, down from a previous estimate of 110 billion yen. The company also slashed its annual sales forecast by 18 percent, to 900 billion yen.

The gaming giant had been looking to the 3DS, its first major innovation since the launch of the revolutionary Wii home console, to propel them back to the heady days of the success they achieved with the console so memorably advertised by Jamie Redknapp!  This hand-held machine lets users play games that appear in 3-D, without the need for the weird geek-boy glasses that accompany most current 3-D technology.

But sales of the 3DS — which went on sale in February in Japan and in March in other parts of the world — have fallen short of expectations, hurt partly by the device’s worldwide release date, just after the devastating earthquake that struck Japan in March.  However, this isn’t the root of the problems.

Nintendo have been badly hit by the huge up turn in sales of the Android powered smartphones that are being purchased in such large numbers that Samsung overtook Apple in terms of sales in Q2 of this year.

Smartphones that run Google’s Android operating system are the perfect platform for causal gamers to play instantly downloadable games and critically don’t require gamers to carry multiple devises as they travel.     Smartphones also allow users access to games played within social networks like the now ubiquitous Farmville.

Yes, the 3D technology is amazing and Nintendo have produced another revolutionary product but unlike the Wii this handheld is facing massive competition on multiple fronts.  Will casual gamers invest in this technology when smartphones are delivering a good (if not great) experience but critically a massive choice of available games, many of them free?    So with cost, portability and gaming choice already stacking up against the 3DS, do Nintendo have any choice but to slash prices?

Nintendo has dominated the last generation of consoles with the Wii  but for now, players complain of a lack of games for the 3DS, a problem that plagues most new systems. Nintendo said Thursday that two flagship titles for the 3DS — Super Mario 3DLand and Mario Kart 7 — would go on sale in November and December. The releases are expected to improve sales of the device.

But unless more consumers start buying the 3DS soon, third-party developers could be discouraged from making games for it, leading to a vicious cycle of fewer games released and fewer 3DS units sold.

Nintendo is hoping that the steep price cut will help drive sales. From August the 3DS will cost 15,000 yen in Japan, down 40 % from the original price of 25,000 yen.

In a letter posted online, Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president and chief executive, offered a profuse apology to Nintendo users, saying that lowering prices so soon after a game machine’s release was a painful move.

“Never in Nintendo’s history have we lowered prices to such an extent, less than half a year since the product launch,” Mr. Iwata said. “But we have judged that unless we move decisively now, there is a high possibility that we will not see many of our customers enjoying a Nintendo 3DS.”

Social Media Tips for Small Business

As social media evolves and it becomes harder and harder to get your voice heard amongst the noise there are a few pieces of best practise that all businesses should follow.  These are especially pertinent for small to medium sized firms who are launching themselves into social media for the first time.a street with shops

1. Stick to what you know. If you’re a garden maintenance business we don’t want to hear about your views on the Alternative Vote. What we want are your tips for growing the perfect sweetpeas and a nudge when it’s time to get the tomato plants in. Remember you’re the expert and your customers will listen to you if you demonstrate these skills and give them genuinely interesting and informative information.

2. Tell me that you’ve joined the party. Let your customers know that they now have a new way to communicate with you. Put up a sign in your shop, email your customer database or add Facebook ‘Like’ functionality to your website. No one will know you’re there unless you tell us and talking to a void can be depressing for even the most optimistic of us.

3. Give me a reason to be your friend. Social media is a crowded place with everyone competing for your customers’ attention. How do you stand out in all that noise? Give them a reason to be your friend. If you’re an independent coffee shop will you be offering free refills for everyone who ‘Checks In’ with you on Foursquare? If you’re a fashion retailer can I be notified of sales and special offers via Facebook? You need to make your customers feel as if they’re being rewarded for their loyalty to you.

4. Make a plan and make some time. We all know how precious time is when you’re running your own small business and it may seem daunting to think about adding yet another task to the daily list of must-dos. The trick with social media is to plan ahead – think about what you want to post and pull together a weekly plan of attack. You can then use a service like Tweetdeck to schedule these updates well in advance and it’ll then go away and publish them for you across Facebook and Twitter at the right time and in the right place.

5. Remember that this is SOCIAL media. You need to be prepared for your customers to talk to you through these channels as well as listening to you. It might also be the case that they aren’t always saying nice things about you. If they have a reason to complain about service and they do this through social media this isn’t such a bad thing. Resolve the issue in public and show everyone just how much you care about customer service. Don’t ignore the complaint, deal with it and show all your customers how important they are to you.

Google takes on Facebook’s Like Button and gets a little more sociable

Google social

“The web’s a big place so sometimes it helps to have a tour guide”.

This is how Google describe their +1 technology, a recommendation system that allows you to  flag interesting or relevant pages within search results, sharing these recommendations with people you’re connected to through Google.  As Facebook carries on it’s relentless expansion this is another move from our friends at the search giant to make their results and services ever more “social”.    It’s simple, elegant, easy to execute from a users perspective and in time will give a deeper more human feel to search results.   What’s not to love about this.

A Google account’s required to use this new feature and allows users to share their recommendations through Gmail, Google Chat, Google Reader and Buzz. Currently, the button is only available on the search results page, but in the future Google has plans to provide this button to companies so users can +1 their site without ever having to leave the page.    You’ll also be able to +1 Google Ads that you find beneficial.

In Google’s own words:

“Say, for example, you’re planning a winter trip to Tahoe, Calif. When you do a search, you may now see a +1 from your slalom-skiing aunt next to the result for a lodge in the area. Or if you’re looking for a new pastarecipe, we’ll show you +1’s from your culinary genius college roommate. And even if none of your friends are baristas or caffeine addicts, we may still show you how many people across the web have +1’d your local coffee shop.”

And here’s where things get interesting from an SEO perspective; look again at the last line “And even if none of your friends are baristas or caffeine addicts, we may still show you how many people across the web have +1’d your local coffee shop”.

Matt Cutts recently went on record saying that one of the best things you can do to improve your ranking is to get “social”.  So, together with this statement we can see just how vital a carefully executed social media strategy is to search optimisation going forward. Getting people to +1 your content is going to deliver more organic traffic and better results.  We’re also hoping that’ll deliver cheaper paid traffic too if +1 ranking is incorporated into their data.

So all in all this seems like a great move all round.  An elegant and useful service for the user and a simple way to improve Google’s results based on the service and reputation of the sites it’s indexed.

We’re now sitting back and waiting for the multitude of “Get more +1’s at low low prices” emails from every black hat spammer out there!

To read the original Google post to go:

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/1s-right-recommendations-right-when-you.html

Is the Facebook v Google battle about to get interesting?

Google vs Facebook imageThis weekend the rumour mill went into overdrive at SxSW as Google once again refused to comment on their plans to take on Facebook with a social product. A Google spokesperson told The Next Web blog “We do not speculate on rumor and speculation”.

But despite the lack of any firm information it’s looking more and more likely that a big announcement will happen this year’s I/O developers’ conference in May.  Back in September Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt confirmed that a “social layer” was coming to all of their products  and we’ve seen this start to materialise as search results become more social and location based reviews are added to Google Maps.

We at the Levels are very excited by the possibility to this launch if the rumours are correct.  It’s thought that the product will be called Google Circles and that it is being developed in line with the thoughts of the ex-Google social technology researcher Paul Adams.

In a number of essays and presentations Adams says that what’s wrong with Facebook and many of the other social networks is that there’s no context given to your contacts and the information you publish.  We all operate in life with many different personas; work, friends,parent etc but when it comes to social networking all of our friends are lumped into one bucket making it impossible to target messages and communication to different social groups.   If Google find a solution to this, letting us publish and share with our different Circles of friends it will be a major step forward both in terms of use but also the privacy of information held within social environments.

After the failure of Buzz and Wave Google must be hoping that this will be third time lucky for them.  They need to crack the nut primarily in order to maintain their advertising revenues but we at The Levels would like to see an alternative to Facebook that’s driven by respect for privacy and a greater understanding of the complexity of human relationships.

What has been Facebook’s response to this? Well Mr Adams now works for them!

To read the article at The Next Web http://thenextweb.com/google/2011/03/11/google-reportedly-to-launch-google-me-in-may/

For Paul Adams presentation The Real Life Social Network go to http://www.slideshare.net/padday/the-real-life-social-network-v2

Foursquare gets a make over but will it make a difference?

Foursquare imageIt’s been 2 years since Foursquare was launched and after obsessively checking in where ever we went & “making life a game” we Levellers pretty much lost interest in this social media service that asked for a lot yet seemed to give little in return, especially here in the UK.

Now, according to a company blog post of late last night, Foursquare is finally getting a make over and a whole lot more functionality. The aim of the game is to drive engagement and loyalty and stop the churn that’s been a big problem for the service in the past.

So, what are the new features?

1. Discovery – The new “Explore” tab aims to deliver recommendations to you based on your past behaviour, the behaviour of your friends and your loyalty to certain places.  The recommendations also include a bit of sophistication around time of day & day of week targeting. This information is driven by check ins, so arguably the more the check in the better the recommendations will become.

2. Encouragement – The concept of “Life as a game” has always been central to the Foursquare concept and this makeover sees a dramatic change in the leaderboard functionality to encourage us all to play a little harder.

The old leaderboard (and its simple points system and Sunday night reset) is replaced with a sliding 7-day barometer of you and your friends. Check-ins now trigger points for dozens of different types of actions – everything from discovering new places, trying new types of restaurants, visiting new cities, getting groups together, hanging out with old friends, and a few things you might not expect.

In their own words “From the early days, we’ve heard stories of foursquare’s game mechanics being a subtle motivator for trying a new restaurant or venturing a little further away from your local haunts. We’re excited to see how some of the new elements we’ve added will encourage people to actively explore the world around them.”

3. Loyalty – To self centred and materialistic folks like us, what we get back from a service that asks for as much input as Foursquare does is pretty important in getting us to use it.   So, Foursquare have introduced a whole lot more functionality aimed at merchants and businesses that are looking to reward our loyalty.  They’ll now be able to offer Specials to groups of friends, regulars, new customers, Mayors or simply anyone and everyone.  As users we’ll also be able to see Specials nearby, so it’s easier to find places that reward foursquare users.

So, in short a whole load of new stuff that aims to get us playing more but importantly rewarding us for doing so.  Will it get us back in the game?  Well, in our case, if the rewards are good enough, then the short answer is yes.  But will this be enough to drive global expansion of the service and compete with the likes of Facebook Places?  We’re not so sure it is.  To our minds Foursquare remains the domain of the hipster urbanites who can actually get value from the service but it’s difficult to see this rolling out to a more general population.  But good luck Foursquare, any social media service that tries to take a little bit back from Facebook is a good thing.

The new functionality rolled out on Android and iPhone last night, so get updating!

To read the blog post in full http://blog.foursquare.com/2011/03/08/foursquare-3/

An app to please the music moguls. Welcome to FanTrail.

Fantrail logoSome may argue that the music industry only has itself to blame for it’s current ill health and lack of sustainable revenues. Clinging on to a past of the Sunday night Top 40 and the promise of wealth from the sale of singles to adoring teenage fans did nothing to future proof this industry that is now almost extinct on the high street at least.

Social networking sites have played a huge part in the discovery of new talent and the promotion of signed artists but the majority of labels still feel very uncomfortable about an environment that they can’t control and can’t directly commoditize.  So, when news of the launch of FanTrail (www.fantrail.com) hit our screens we knew that this would make a lot of moguls very happy indeed.

FanTrail is an iPhone app that allows artists / bands and their fans to connect but crucially provides a space their management to track and understand fans behaviour, purchase patterns and demographic profiles.  It’s free for both the artist / band and their fans.

FanTrail’s being launched at US music & entertainment gathering SXSW in Austin Texas next week and is a lovely piece of work.  It allows bands and artists to control and better still, start making money from their social networking space.  There are loads of cute innovations inside the app, but in short bands and their management can start of segment their fans by location, dedication and activism.

So what does this mean?  If an artist is up and running on FanTrail and they have some new material to test out they can send out an invite for a private gig to only their most active fans (the ones that buy the most music say) in a specific location, rewarding these guys with a money can’t buy opportunity.

The app also has the ability to release short sound bites, interview, samples of tracks etc to fans and once again this can be targeted by activism or location.   Fans score points by buying music through the app (& iTunes) and by checking in at gigs and concerts.

We think that there’s a rosy future for FanTrail.  The labels will love it as it has the ability to make them money, the management will love it because it makes their life just a little bit easier and the artists themselves will love it as it’s a lovely little app that allows them creativity.

So all you wannabe rock stars get yourself over to FanTrail and tell us what you think. (www.fantrail.com)