Archive for ‘April, 2010’

Chatroulette Examined (from a distance)

The one social media cultural phenomonen which I don’t intend to touch with a very long barge pole is Chatroulette.  It seems to be a haven for trolls and perverts. But believe it or not, some of the more plucky businesses are figuring out ways of using it as a business marketing tool…. find out here:

http://www.inc.com/ss/5-ways-market-your-business-chatroulette

hmmm not for me. If you have no idea what Chatroulette is, this first video explains it all.




Here are my 3 favourite creative uses of Chatroulette that I found on YouTube
Piano Improv




This video has become a cult YouTube hit with over 3 million hits and a number of copycats including Ben Folds in front of an audience 2000+

Ben Folds


Speed Painting
Even if Chatroulette can prove to be a valuable tool in the marketing arsenal alongside Facebook & Twitter, in my opinion it currently falls WAY outside of the scope of Business-to-Business marketing.

mytechlog.net Production Blog Part 1: Conception

I’ve been implementing information systems in the aerospace industry for the past 12 years and one common problem that still hasn’t been fully addressed in that time is how to get vital aircraft utilisation data back to base.

A bit of background
Aircraft are required to be maintained to very high standards and regulations.*  These standards require that maintenance is carried out at set intervals, a bit like cars being serviced annually or at set mileage.  Unlike cars, aircraft maintenance is forecast on flying hours and has to be done in order for the aircraft to fly legally.  In order to be able to monitor flying hours and when maintenance is due, the aircraft needs a Flight Log which is simply a record of the aircraft flights and is completed by the pilot.  It includes various data about the flight (take off time, landing time, cycles, landings, pilot details etc).  In addition, the Flight Log is used to monitor fuel uplifts, defects that the aircraft may have and all the legal documents.  Generally all of this together is known as a TechLog and for the best part of the past 100 years this has been done on paper, usually on pre-printed stationary as per this example.

Usually there are 3 carbon copies of an individual TechLog page: one stays with the aircraft, one stays at the last flight destination and one is sent back to base for processing the data.  What is done with that data is a whole other story – but it is the process of getting that data back to base that I am concerned with here.  If you can get that data back to base as quickly as possible, the better and smoother the maintenance organisation can operate.

Current Transmittal Methods

In days of yore TechLog pages would have been sent by post if the aircraft was due to be away from base for any length of time.  As a worst case scenario, you would simply have to wait for the aircraft to return to base for the Tech Records clerk to retrieve their copy direct from the cockpit. The advent of the Telex and the Fax meant that the pages from the TechLog could be sent quickly and cheaply back to base.  Believe it or not, but that is how things have stayed since.  I don’t have any stats on it, but I’m pretty certain that the fax machine is the world’s favourite way of getting TechLog data back to base.  Obviously maintenance organisations frustrated with the inertia of the technology have experimented with elaborate phone and answering procedures, scanning, emailing and remote connectivity in an effort to consign the fax machine to the bin.  All of which have their own inherent problems.

Since the technology has been available aircraft manufacturers, operators and software developers have been dabbling with the idea of an Electronic TechLog or eTechLog (a term I despise**).  The concept of the eTechLog where the paper tech log entry is 100% replaced is strewn with problems.  First you have the task of fitting or retro-fitting the necessary equipment into the cockpit.  You can’t just go down to PC World, pick up a laptop and plug it into a spare socket in the aircraft – for one thing they don’t tend to have spare sockets in cockpits.  It is a major undertaking to go through the design approval for fitting the necessary equipment onto an aeroplane.  Secondly the processes, procedures and actual software need to be bullet proof to get the authorities to sign off the approval for your system. And thirdly any industry wide process that hasn’t changed by much in the past 100 years is always going to be a challenge to implement.  As a result of all this, relatively very few aircraft today use an eTechLog.

Where does mytechlog.net fit into all this?
We believe that it is in everyone’s interest to get TechLog pages back to base as quickly and simply as possible.  We all want safer aircraft, right?  We don’t have a problem with people using an eTechLog. They’re a great solution and are definitely the way everyone will be doing it in a generation’s time – but not everyone can invest in the millions required to equip their aircraft with the necessary kit.  There’s got to be an easier way.  Our concept has been to not try and enter the eTechLog market, but to rival the fax machine as the best way to get TechLog pages back to base.  We think that if you can build a web app that is simple to use and does the fundamental job of getting the really essential airworthiness data from A to B, then people will find that really useful.  My colleagues at Conduce who are not au-fait with the aerospace industry were flabbergasted when we quoted for an electronic fax system for an airworthiness management client!!
So watch out Fax machine manufacturers – we have your product firmly in our sights……

*Credit to the nice folks at A2BAero for sanity checking our regulatory accuracy here.

**Question: When cookers moved from burning fossil fuels to using an electric induction coil why weren’t they were called eCookers? When Iceboxes became the fridges, why were they not called eIceBoxes? When the light bulb was invented why wasn’t it called the eCandle?  
Answer: Because it’s lame!!

This is what we believe: Web Apps

We are building a web application called mytechlog.net.  This is a list of the factors that we are using as guiding principles to steer our entire team to build a great product.


 
Speed
The application has to be super quick.  Speed has to be foremost in our thoughts with whatever we do. Whenever we make a decision we have to think about how speed will be affected. Then we need to look at the results and figure out how to make it quicker again and again.  If we can’t do something in the application quickly we shouldn’t do it at all.
 
Instant
There needs to be ultra simple and quick setup to get a user started and using the product.  What is the bare minimum information we need to get the user signed up and using the product?  Stick to these essentials; anything else can be done later. The same goes for using the app. Take away any faffing about with mandatory setup.  Do only the essentials right away and worry about the options later. The user needs “instant utility.”

Character
The application needs a personality, a voice and a requirement to be both useful AND pleasurable.  The application needs to contain the essence of “us”… We have a particular way of working which isn’t stuffy and rigid.  Our product brand needs to reflect that entirely.

Do Less
Less is more!!  Let’s focus on doing the one thing that our app needs to be able to do and let’s do it perfectly, simply and super quick.  We can worry about the rest later.  We must not over build features.  We must always ask “can I take anything out of this?”

Programmable
We must allow others to connect to our product and add value themselves.  We need to design the product from the ground up with the intention to allow others to connect it to their own products.

Discoverable
The application must have Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Social Media Optimisation (SMO) built into it from the ground up.

Simple
 The application must be easy to use, easy to learn and easy to remember.  The ultimate aim is to make the help file redundant.  The user interface is key to achieving this.

Mobility
We need to assume that the application shall ultimately support all mobile devices.  Native applications shall be compatible with very weak signals and shall support offline utilisation.

Reliable
No fail whales please.

Communal
The product shall be configurable and personal to allow users to make it their own.  Users shall be supported through community driven features such as forums, API assistance, blogs, rewards, events, etc….

None of this stuff is new – you will have heard similar ideas a thousand times before and may disagree with some of them.  But it is these elements, as well as no small amount of passion that we are pouring into mytechlog.net

These people have helped shape these beliefs through their products and their teachings.  Thank you for the source of inspiration:
Jason Fried is the co-founder of 37Signals and co-author of Rework.
Joel Spolsky is the co-founder of FogCreek software.
Fred Wilson is a technology Venture Capitalist.

Word Reappropriation – Customary

CUS-TOM-ARY [kuhs-tuh-mer-ee]

-adjective

1. behaving in the manner of a customer
2. having the opinion that they are always right.

Example:

The Sales Director was a customary sort of fellow.  He was so customary that the Technical Suppport department appointed an Account Manager especially for him.

#ukelection

I’ve been struggling to think of a blog topic for the past 24 hours… #nickcleggsfault

That’s a typical tweet you would have seen today after the Liberal Democrat Leader was flamed by several Newspapers this morning. The #NickCleggsFault hastag has been trending for most of the day and has been picked up as a newsworthy item by many media outlets…

I’m writing this whilst the second leader’s debate is on in the background, but my attention is firmly on the Tweets related to what’s going on.  At 9pm six of the ten UK trending topics on Twitter are about the UK Election.  No big deal there…. but not one is about Gordon Brown or Labour; two are negative/fun threads about the David Cameron & the Tories; two are positive/fun threads about Nick Clegg; the other two are generic threads about the election and the debate.

A week ago I wasn’t sure that Social Media was having as big an impact on this election as I thought…. now I’m not so sure about that.

Chirp News Distilled

Last week saw Chirp, Twitter’s first ever Developer’s conference being hosted in San Francisco. As you would expect, news and announcements trickled out one tweet at a time.  Here is the essential update on all the significant news coming out of the conference.

75% of all tweets come from outside Twitter, via external web and mobile apps. So there is a thriving development community.

Android is finally getting an official Twitter App very soon

Link Shortening – Twitter is getting its own link shortener.  Speculation was rife about various domain names owned by Twitter and it is rumoured that link shortening rivals such as bit.ly are to be blocked and crushed.

The Library of Congress
is going to be archiving all Tweets posted since Twitter’s inception in March 2006.

API News
– Twitter have acquired Tweetie and are now building in house core features that were previously being filled by external apps.  This change in direction is ultimately going to render many third party apps irrelevant.   So bad news for the Twitter development community?  Not so apparently.  To date more than 100,000 registered applications have been leveraging Twitter’s API.  Third Party development is far from dead with the announcement of new API tools and features including:

•    Annotations – this allows Twitter clients to attach metadata onto a Tweet. This could allow Hashtags to be migrated to the metadata layer; review ratings such as 1 to 5 stars could be automatically added to a tweet; or the user location’s weather description could be automatically built into a tweet.
•    Places – this is a Geo-Location feature that has existed for some time, but is being enhanced to tag tweets with more than just longitude/latitude co-ordinates.  It is being speculated that this feature will match locations to actual places such as businesses and places of interest and eventually challenge the likes of FourSquare and Gowalla
•    @Anywhere – this allows web developers to easily interact with Twitter. The platform allows you to easily add Tweet Boxes, hovercards and Twitter Connect buttons with only a few lines of javascript.
•    User Streams – this allows twitter activity to be streamed to end-users in real time.  This will enable third party apps to be updated automatically without the need for polling or refreshing.
•    Dev.twitter.com – this is the Twitter hosted site/forum which provides all the necessary tools and resources especially for Twitter developers.

Disclaimer: I didn’t go to Chirp – this blog post is just a by-product of me consuming all the news from the event.