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.

What’s the point of Yahoo?

As Carol Bartz is sacked we ask if the problems at Yahoo are simply caused by bad management.

The CEO of Yahoo, Carol Bartz, has been ousted from her job after just over 2 years at the helm of the rather troubled internet giant.  Apparently, she was informed by telephone that she no longer had a job and true to form sent a rather inappropriately worded email to all Yahoo staff announcing her sacking.

It could be argued that she’s been responsible for a lack lustre financial performance along with some questionable deals that included signing over their search operations to Microsoft.  Additionally, advertising revenues have remained flat during her time at the helm even though the market has been growing significantly.

So, Ms Bartz, you’re out of a job and the blame game is successfully in play.  But we at The Levels think that the problems at Yahoo are far more deep-rooted than simply some bad management.  What is the point of Yahoo?  Are you a media company, a technology giant, a communication provider?  When you look in the mirror what is it that you see?  Until you can answer this question we don’t think it matters who’s at the helm the problems you’re facing will only get worse.

As Microsoft, Apple & Google continue to carve up the digital world in a land grab that reminds us all to clearly of the Age of Empires (& no we don’t mean the computer game), what is the future for Yahoo without a clearly defined identity and raison d’etre?

So, if the board of Yahoo are listening we’d like to make the following suggestions:

1. Sell off your Asian assets

2. Don’t try to take on Facebook – do we really need ANOTHER social network?

3. Concentrate on what you do well and define yourselves through that.  See yourself as a communications provider and deliver the very best services out there.

4. Hire some good ad sales execs.

As we go to press we hear that an All Hands meeting of the Yahoo board and senior management is under-way.  Hopefully we’ll get some of those answers!

Read the original report of the sacking at AllThings D

Microsoft and Apple find common purpose as they gang up on Google

Apple versus Google in mobile warsHead on over to the official Google blog and you’ll find a very interesting article posted yesterday (August 4th 2011) entitled “When Patents Attack Android” that went on to spark a very pubic and very bitter argument  between the technology giants.

Chief Legal Officer at Google, David Drummond, used the original post to launch a highly critically attack on Microsoft, Apple & others for buying up mobile technology patents with the direct intention of limiting innovation and forcing up prices for handsets using the Android operating system.  In Drummond’s own words

“Android’s success has yielded…a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents”

This is what seems to have happened.   A group of companies (Rockstar) led by Apple and Microsoft have acquired a number of old patents previously held by Novell & Nortel that cover mobile operating software.  They were purchased for the princely sum of $4.5 billion, 5 times more than the pre-auction estimate.  A hefty investment and one seemingly made to inflict maximum pain on Google’s ambitions for the mobile space.

In doing so they are now able to levy a $15 licensing fee against every handset that uses the Android system.  They’re taking violations of these patents very seriously and have already launched suits against Samsung, HTC and Motorola.

Google have hit back and called upon the US Department of Justice to look into this purchase citing it as anti-competitive.   Google claim that the Rockstar group are both stifling innovation and limiting consumer choice and that rather than competing “by building new features or devices, they are fighting through litigation“.

At this point  Microsoft’s General Counsel Brad Smith disputed Drummond’s version on the Novell patent issue on Twitter.

“Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no,” Smith tweeted in response to the blog.

And so it seems to go on with executives from both sides taking shots at each other over the issue.  But with the mobile market continuing to expand and the prize of dominating the (non-Apple) mobile OS space being granted to the winner of this fight we think it’s going to get much worse for both sides.

To read the original Google blog post go to

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/when-patents-attack-android.html

 

 

 

 

Business issues you should consider before you launch your website

Website launch party imageAt The Levels we agree with the mantra that it’s all in the planning!  Every now and again we’re asked what we think are the most important business issues to consider when launching a website and we keep coming back to that mantra.

Write your business plan, consider your customer, understand your market and your place within it.  Once you’re confident you have a great product, you’ve engaged with a web development agency and you’re about to hit the “Go Live”  button stop for a minute.   Take a look at the site afresh and go through the following check list.

1. SEO AUDIT

Run a full SEO technical audit of the site: However good (& or expensive!) your web development agency is, it’s vital that you take another look at the site from Google’s perspective.  It doesn’t matter how powerful your content is or how numerous your site back links may be, if you don’t have a clean & searchable site you’ll struggle to place well at Google and the other search engines.  An SEO audit of your test site will allow you to fix any major issues before you launch.

2. ANALYTICS
In order to measure the success of your site and to spot any usability issues it’s vital that you’ve deployed an appropriate web analytics tool.  Spend some time with your provider or your web development agency configuring the tool to measure  the success metrics applicable to your business and to flag any usability issues that might present themselves after launch. If you’re spending any money marketing the site then ensure that your agency or marketing department is using your analytics tool to track these campaigns as well.
3. eCRM PROCEDURES & POLICIES
We all hope that no one will ever be critical of our site or the business we run but in reality everyone likes to complain some of the time!  Before you launch you need to understand exactly how you will deal with negative comments or complaints.  Have a clear & documented eCRM policy in place.  Ensure  that everyone in the organisation is aware of this and understands escalation policies. 
4. CONTENT POLICY,  CHECKLISTS & TRAINING
If you have a team of writers or contributors adding to the content at your site you need to establish the ground rules.  Work with them to establish a tone of voice and brand identity that will colour all of the content you deliver to your users. It’s also vital that they’re considering how their content will be consumed on-line.  Are they trained to write for the web? Are they aware of SEO considerations when uploading content?  Have they been fully trained on your content management system?  If you’re running a content heavy site it’s worth considering a “Writing for the Web” training course to refresh even the most experienced journalist on the latest trends and techniques.  

5. CHANGE MANAGEMENT
As with any business it’s vital that everyone involved in the launch and development of the site has clear sight of the change management responsibilities and procedures.  You must have well defined & documented sign off polices in place and quality checking on any changes that effect the user experience.  Many a great website has been ruined by a lack of change management. 
6. TEST, TEST & TEST AGAIN
Before you launch you need to test every element of the user experience again and again. Have you delivered a site that meets the needs of your users or the assumptions you have made about them?  If you have the resources to run lab tests to observe users travelling through your site then do it.  If your launch budget doesn’t run that far then ask your friends, family and colleagues to play with the test site and let you know what they make of it.  It’s better to delay the launch of a site which subsequently meets the expectations of your customers  than to launch with a substandard product.  TEST, TEST & TEST AGAIN

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

Amazon launch their Android Appstore with rumour of exclusive Call of Duty app.

Angry birds at Amazon imageIt would appear that Amazon are using all of their normal market busting tricks as they launch their Android Appstore.   Loss leaders and exclusive releases are being used by the retail giant to secure their position as top of the pops in the Android marketplace.

The store opens next month but news of their proposed pricing and exclusive products were leaked by Androidnews.de  yesterday who picked up on a prematurely published page at the Amazon website.

The page was briefly seen at amazon.com/apps but as expected it’s since disappeared whence it came.  Our friends at Androidnews.de did manage to take a few screen shots first though!

 

We’re all aware that they’ve already secured the exclusive launch of  Angry Birds Rio. But news is that our favourite megastore has secured four other exclusive titles, including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Force Recon to celebrate the launch.  Angry birds and angry boys; what more could we Levellers want!

It’s no surprise that Amazon are going to be offering some amazing deals, but it would appear that they’re pulling their normal tricks of undercutting the competition by offering a selection of loss leaders on popular apps, in essence offering them for less than the developers are selling them for.   The developers have no need to worry though as Amazon will still reward them with the commission set at the non discounted price.

There’s still no official launch date for the Appstore but we can’t wait to see what they’ll have on offer for us.  Anything that opens up the app market and helps chip away at the power of Apple’s impenetrable walled garden is good, good thing!

To read the original article go to; http://www.androidnews.de/amazon-appstore-apps-prices-leak

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