What is the number one app you should use more than others?

There is one app you should use more than any other. But which one is it? The result might surprise you.

Collection of mobile apps There are probably hundreds of apps on your phone or tablet device. Typically we use only around 30 of these apps on a regular basis. Most of us have several more apps available that we hardly use. They seemed a good idea at the time, but we haven’t actually got much use out of them.

Most phones come pre-filled with loads of apps these days, all vying for your attention and wanting you to use them. Often, though, they are merely cut-down replicas of apps that you are already using, so they simply take up space on your device as you often cannot delete them. This is called “bloatware”.

Apps will change

Eventually, of course, this bloatware will disappear. Manufacturers of phones and tablets will realise that maintaining software that hardly anyone uses is just a waste of their resources. Why use a phone manufacturer’s email app, when Gmail is available, for instance.

In time, too, we all start to deplete our apps, deleting those which we haven’t used in ages and taking a more cautious approach to adding ones that have few reviews, low star-ratings and so on. Over time, it appears that we slim down our mobile activity to a hard core of apps.

But which ones are the fundamental ones? Which apps will we be using in five years time?

One thing is for sure – some of the apps we know and love today will not be here in five years time. Several online services that we once knew and loved are no longer around – such as Friends Reunited or Ecademy. Others are morphing and changing our approach – people are moving away from downloading music from iTunes to using Apple Music, Spotify or other streaming services. Eventually, the download of music as a concept will be sent to the backwaters of apps, fading from our view.

Apps are transient. What we knew and loved a couple of years ago, we will not be using in a few years from now. Except one.

One app will survive forever

There is just one app that will be with us, whatever happens in the future. That is the app that has a telephone symbol on it, the one that allows you to make phone calls. It is the app that lets you talk to someone.

Talking to people will be here for ever. The telephone app is the one app that allows you to talk to people in real time, naturally. It has been around for almost 350 years since the first string telephone was invented in 1667.

If (perhaps when) Twitter disappears, or SnapChat expires, or email becomes unusable, talking to people will still work. Your phone app will still work, even if every other application on your device has bitten the electronic dust.

However, there is a problem. Some people are spending so much time on email, social media apps, chat apps or other mobile device electronics that their experience of making telephone calls is diminishing.

If you want to future-proof your business, start making more phone calls.

Most businesses could collapse in the next decade

Research shows that businesses are unprepared for the current digital world, let alone considering how they will cope with the digital future.

Let’s face facts: the digital world is fundamental to all businesses. Even if you sell offline or operate mainly in the “real world”, the digital world has an impact on your business. Whether it is for communications, such as email, or as a starting point for buyers researching your business, the Internet is central to customers.

The problem is that most businesses themselves use the Internet as a “nice-to-have” and not as central to their business. When I speak to Chief Executives and point out this difference they nod their heads in agreement. But then they say it is “impossible” to change their business to focus on the Internet because it would involve too much change.

Now, though, they are in for a shock. The highly respected consultancy firm Forrester has said that unless businesses make this change they will “face an extinction event” within the next decade.

Graph of Forrester Research

They are saying this because their latest research shows that only 21% of companies have a clear vision for the future use of digital within their business. That’s in spite of 90% of firms agreeing that digital will revolutionise their sector within the next 12 months….! And they are not the only consultants sounding the warning bell – just three months ago Capgemini published their own research suggesting that businesses simply have to make the Internet central to their company, regardless of their sector or industry.

According to Forrester, businesses are now just “bolting on” the Internet to their existing business structures. But what is required, they say, is a complete “re-set” – a fundamental shift in the way businesses are structured and run. Business leaders I meet are totally unprepared to do this because of the seismic shift required. Yet the warning from Forrester is stark: do it or die.

When you look at successful businesses online they are mostly businesses which focus their firm on the Internet – Google, Facebook, Amazon for instance. But it is not just technology-based companies like these online startups which have embraced digital as central to their business. Back in 2012 Starbucks transformed itself into a digital centric company.

Business leaders, used to a non-digital world, find it hard to make the transformation necessary. So, what is the solution? The first step must surely be to conduct an immediate review of the kinds of people setting strategy and plans for your company. The data from Forrester and Capgemini both point to the need to use the services of those “digital natives” in central roles in your company. The future of your business could well depend upon giving the strategic reins to your grandchildren.

World Wide Web – is it really 25 years old?

Who invented the World Wide Web? When was the World Wide Web invented? Today these questions get definitive answers but who knows what the next 25 years will bring?

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, founder of the World Wide Web Foundation and World Wide Web Consortium.World Wide Web – three words, huge impact. It is so much an every day part of our lives these days that it is hard to believe it is only 25 years old. Or is it?

Today, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, is amongst many people celebrating a quarter of a century of dramatic progress. But it isn’t really 25 years of the web.

The 12th March is the date on which Tim Berners-Lee submitted a paper suggesting the use of hyperlinks to connect pages of content. However, it was not until August 1991 that he actually turned his notion into a functioning website. Even then it was only text-based with no fancy formatting at all. The first websites as we know them today were not created until May 1993, because it was not possible to include any kind of graphical formatting until that time.

So whilst it is true that the paper that heralded the web was put forward on this day 25 years ago, it is only 21 years since the web as we know it was created. And even then, it didn’t look anything like the web we have today. Just take a look at how Google looked on its début in 1998.

Google in 1998

And if you think they haven’t moved on a lot, take a look at one of my original websites from 15 years ago…!

gjoldwebsite

Things have moved on, not just in design terms but in functions. After all, when the World Wide Web was first proposed a certain Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and originator of Facebook had not even started school. At just four years old he was still probably playing with Lego, blissfully unaware that there was developing technology that he was going to master.

Even though the commercial web we use today did not really arise until 1996, a lot has happened in the short lifetime of the idea that is the World Wide Web.

So what will happen in the next 25 years? The person who is going to revolutionise our world again is probably in a nursery school right now, hands deep in a sandpit. Maybe it is your child or grandchild.

One thing is for sure, though, in 25 years time we will look back at the websites we have today and laugh at how simple and relatively useless they all were.

Company websites are history

Company websites are no getting less and less traffic as people look elsewhere for business information. Focusing on a corporate website is a waste of time for many businesses.

Website development process over blue background.

The chances are that as you read this some business, somewhere is signing a contract for the development of a new website. Meanwhile, a meeting is being held in a boardroom somewhere that is discussing the future of the company’s website. At the same time, those companies that have yet to get a website – 47% of all businesses in a recent study – are making the decision today that they are going to get a website after all.

Yet, while this is all going on, Internet users are abandoning company websites in their droves. According to one study, there has been a fall in visits to company websites of 23% in the past 12 months. Seven out of ten companies in the Fortune 100 have reported drops in visitor traffic. Another study found that 28% of audiences thought that business website content was “in the dark ages” and that 60% of all web content produced by companies went unread.

Businesses are busy producing more and more content for fewer and fewer visitors. Madness.

What is going on?

The fact of the matter is, Internet users have moved on much more quickly than businesses. Most companies are lagging way behind what visitors expect. They no longer want an all-singing, all-dancing website. What they want is a company’s “presence”. They expect a businesses they want to engage with to be on social networks, for instance. They expect to engage via YouTube or Vimeo. And they expect the company to appear in forums and to have apps available as well. Going to the website for a business is so “old hat” these days, at least that’s what Internet users appear to think.

Nowadays, when people want to find out about a company they’ll pop along to visit the company page on Facebook or Google+. If they want to know about the products a company sells, they head over to the relevant LinkedIn product page. If someone wants to read your press releases they can find them on Google News. And if they want to check out your financial picture, then Yahoo! Finance can help. In fact, people are spoilt for choice as to the places they can go to find out about a business. They don’t need to go to a corporate website.

Companies, however, think differently. That’s because to them it is about control. They want to be “in charge” of what people see about them online and so by having their own space, their own company website, they can feel they are controlling what people get to know about them. This misses the fact that their customers can be busy chatting about them in Facebook, promoting the company or being negative, over which there is no control. Companies are struggling to accept that the Internet has changed the balance of power and removed much control from companies.

So, that’s why they cling on to running a corporate website. It gives them a sense of control; it make them feel in charge. Meanwhile, Internet users are ignoring them because they have their own sense of control, being able to decide where they go for company information and how they get it.

Companies need to admit it – corporate websites are history. Time to move on and starting working on “web presence”.

Is your business missing the most obvious technology?

Businesses are striving to use the most up-to-date technological advances. However, that strategy might be misplaced. The best technology for your business may be the human brain.

Connecting with the digital brainTechnological advance is rapid, there is little doubt about that. Indeed, we probably live in times when advances are so fast we can hardly keep up. I recall my Dad coming home when I was a youngster with the first ever “electronic calculator”. It had bright green lights and could do adding up and taking away and we were able to type in a series of numbers to spell out rude words when you looked at the display upside down….!

There were no personal computers at that time; even the “whiteboard” had not been invented, my teachers still used chalk on a blackboard. Gosh I am old…!

In my lifetime things have moved on dramatically. Now a teacher in Thailand can deliver a lesson to a student in Turkey “live” using an “electronic whiteboard”. Not only that, but the student can send their work back across the ether and it can be marked and sent back, arriving home within hours, in spite of the thousands of miles of separation. It used to take a few days for my Mum and Dad to get letters from the school, just 15 miles from my home.

Many people are now surrounded by technology. There are those clichés suggesting your mobile phone has more power than the mainframes that sent men to the moon.  But it is worse than that. Your mobile phone has more technological power than that desktop computer you bought just a couple of years ago. Moore’s Law suggests that the power of technology doubles every 18 months. Technological capability appears to be growing exponentially.

This means that we are all aware of the immense power of technology and so we often seek solutions to problems by looking for a technological answer. The retail sector is a good example where technological solutions can have a clear impact on the business.

Imagine you are a supermarket owner and you need to adjust the price tickets on the shelves. That takes time and people to do it. The law requires you to display prices, but as a good retailer you want to adjust your prices on a daily basis to make sure you maximise profits. But in doing so, you have to accept the cost of changing all those price tags on the shelves below the products on sale. Enter the electronic shelf tag. This is incorporated into the shelving and as someone changes the price on the central database which runs the checkout prices, it also updates the shelf price across all your stores. This is a clear technological advantage, enabling supermarkets to increase their profits.

However, focusing on technology can sometimes drive a business in the wrong direction. For instance, there are now companies working on “emotion detectors”. The idea is that these will be placed in retail stores so that a computer can analyse the emotional state of shoppers, leading to adjustments in displays to help pep-up the shopper. Nice idea, a great technological advance. But shops already have a fantastic emotion detector – a sales assistant. The human brain has millions of years of evolution that has led to a significant emotional sensor inside each of our heads. You know you can sense the mood around you without even looking at people. The “emotion detectors” are nowhere near as good as the technology inside your head.

Similarly, clothing retailers are experimenting with “virtual mirrors”. The idea is that people will be able to try on several different kinds of clothing and see how they look in various outfits all at the same time. Essentially, it is a large screen that stores images of each outfit a shopper tries on and then shows all of those images simultaneously. However, even if someone is able to compare themselves wearing their outfit they’ll probably get home for their partner to say something like “why did you buy that colour?” Often, people are unable to decide what suits them, but other people can spot instantly what clothing looks good. Rather than a virtual mirror, all you need is a friend with you who will use the more advanced technology inside their head to say what looks good on you.

Sometimes, we get so hooked on technology we assume that it must give the answer to our problems. For instance, you can now get a myriad of technological add-ons to manage your emails. Yet you have a better management system already, the technology in your brain where all you need is to reset your attitude to email and suddenly it is managed. People are now spending hours managing the apps that manage their emails when all they need to do is use their brain.

Businesses could well increase their profits if they ask a simple question before looking towards a technological strategy for their business: could a human being do this? The answer is frequently, “yes” – and often at a lower cost. Perhaps it is time to think people first, technology second.

The end of human communications as we know it

Google’s new patent implies the company thinks it can communicate on your behalf better than you can do yourself.

Infographic Concept with a Human HeadsYour brain is brilliant. I might not know you personally, but I am certain you have a magnificent mind. You can, for instance, instantly analyse a whole set of data and information in the blink of an eye and decide whether or not is safe to cross the road, all whilst listening to some music or chatting to friends. Your brain can multi-task, it can protect you, make you laugh, give you positive feelings and help you communicate with your friends all at once. Frankly, the human brain is remarkable.

However, Google do not appear to think so. Even the giant Ph.D brains at the planet’s biggest search company believe our brains need support. They have revealed this in a new patent application which is aiming to get the Internet to communicate on your behalf.

Yes, I know there are automated systems that can Tweet on your behalf, or there are email autoresponders which can send replies as though you had done it yourself. But all of these automated systems require human input. They need you to have written the messages in the first place.

Google’s proposal is that it can develop a system which will send out messages and replies as though you had said them yourself, but for which no actual input is required.

I’ll say that again because it is quite stunning. Yes, you read it right, Google is proposing a system which will write your social media messages on your behalf without you even having to do any thinking.

The system will use – you guessed it – an algorithm to determine the kind of things you say in certain circumstances and then  just suggest the appropriate words to create new messages. In other words, someone will send you a message on Google+, presumably, and Google will then suggest a reply to that message on your behalf. You don’t even need to think.

Worse, of course,  you can see the logical conclusion of this. Eventually the “social” network will be full of automated messages talking to each other, removing humans from the loop entirely because no doubt there will be some bright spark who adds a “default” which just accepts the suggested message and the system sends it out on our behalf.

And that means one thing – the social aspect of the network will have disappeared. It will be computers “talking” to each other.

In one simple swoop, this “brilliant” idea from Google could signal the end of Google+ before it has even become established.

Marketers, of course, will love the new idea because it means they will be able to tailor personal messages to potential customers much better. However, those tailored messages will be talking in the dark.

Pointless.

Ultimately, human communication is about people talking to each other based on thinking about what to say. Social networking “experts” seem to focus on the word “networking” and forget the word “social” and what that really means. We are all fed up with automated messages on Twitter and autoresponder emails that are weakly focused and badly written. If Google’s patent gets granted and their system becomes part of Google+ we can expect that annoyance to continue. And guess what will happen then?

That’s right – we’ll all start talking to each other again and wonder why we ever stopped.

What can YOU connect to the Internet?

diary cowsThis might come as a surprise, but there are a bunch of “Essex Girls” attached to the Internet via a special necklace. I kid you not.

They are not, however, white-stiletto-wearing teenagers. Instead they are a herd of cows on an Essex farm. Around their necks they have a device that monitors them and sends back information via a website as to their whereabouts in a field and how fit and healthy they are. The system could save thousands of pound for farmers by spotting ill-health amongst dairy cattle.

It is an interesting example of  “The Internet of Things”. Instead of a computer being connected to the Internet, it is something else, in this case a cow. But there are plenty of other things connected to the Internet.

There is the Internet Fridge from Samsung, for instance, as well as the kettle that sends you a Tweet to tell you it has boiled.

So what in your business can you connect to the Internet?

Book publishers, for instance, could connect books allowing them to monitor which page you had reached and then send you additional material relevant to the exact spot in the book you were reading.

Or what if you run an accountancy practice? You could connect cash registers to the Internet so that your customers’ bookkeeping was done automatically.

And if you run a dentistry service, what about Internet connected fillings that would let you know they needed re-doing before the patient felt any pain.

Oh goodness – the possibilities are limitless. Perhaps.

But the Internet connected cows do make you think; there are ways we can use the Internet to save costs in our business, driving up profits, if only we were thinking more creatively outside the confines of a website and a computer screen.

Photo credit: prayerfriends via photopin cc

Internet leaders show they have stopped thinking

Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, is credited as being a “really smart kid”. His success with Facebook has meant that he has received adulation from his fans and other people in the industry agree – he is marvellous. Indeed, so powerful is this Emperor of the Internet that a whole host of Internet leaders have joined forces with him in his latest venture, “Internet.org”. Nokia, Opera and Samsung are amongst the communications giants that have fallen in behind this so-called “important” development.

None of them obviously feel able to tell the Emperor he has no clothes.

The Internet.org project has the lofty aim of bringing Internet access to everyone on the planet. Everyone. All 7 billion of them.

Currently, 2.4 billion people have Internet access – that’s 34% of the world. Mark Zuckeberg’s Facebook currently reaches only half of them and growth appears to have peaked. So, the “only” option for further growing Facebook is to get the rest of the world online. Or at least that’s the woefully inadequate theory behind Internet.org.

For a start, around 1 billion people lack fresh water. Three children under the age of 5 die every minute of every day because they lack fresh water.

Whilst this is happening, Mark Zuckerber’s Internet.org wants us to connect more to each other. The launch video uses the words of John F Kennedy saying: “I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of universal peace and goodwill of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace. This will require a new effort, a new context for world discussions. It will require increased understanding. And increased understanding will require increased contact.”

Then the video adds: “Today, the internet isn’t accessible for two thirds of the world. Imagine a world where it connects us all.”

Some are muttering, “pass the sick bag” at this blatant – and seemingly inappropriate connection of a speech about the ending of the Cold War to modern commercialism. Indeed, President Kennedy was attempting to prevent the presence of super-powers. Yet an Internet superpower has taken his speech and ridden on the back of it.

If Mark Zuckerberg really is as “smart” as he is credited as being, would he have not realised that perhaps fresh water was more important than Internet access? That poverty would need eliminating before we made better mobile phones that worked in remote locations – another “dream” of Internet.org. Indeed, would he have not realised that the very point being made by President Kennedy is the reverse of what his company is trying to do?

This may all be a clever publicity trick, of course, making people think he is trying to achieve something marvellous – when in reality it is about raising the positive image of Facebook.

However, it may also be one of those occasions when the adulation a leader receives starts to make that leader believe his own publicity. And that is not smart; it is dumb.

It is also an indication of a more pressing concern about the Internet itself. The people who run the Internet are so embroiled in a web-based and app-based world that they are losing touch with reality. And that doesn’t bode well for the future of the web.

Are you ready to communicate online?

Is your business ready for the new ways in which people are communicating? Voice over IP is significant in many demographics now.

Graph showing Voice over IP statisticsIn the “olden days” of the Internet all you could do was send an email. Even then it was just plain text and you couldn’t have a memorable email address because it was something like “73456,92@compuserve.com”.  Oh how modern we thought we all were….!

Nowadays, of course, you can have an unlimited array of memorable email addresses, as well as receive messages on SMS, via Twitter, on Facebook, at LinkedIn, or even get a video email or perhaps a Skype call…and so on and so on. Never before have we had so many choices as to the way we can communicate.

This week I was told of a leading international airline which had its induction day for its new graduate recruits. They were given their uniforms, their shiny laptops and their logins to the intranet. They were also given their individual email addresses. But the HR manager handing out the email addresses was asked by one British graduate “what is email for?” It turns out that this young man had never sent an email in his life. He didn’t need to – there are so many other ways he can communicate.

New information from the Pew Internet research centre shows that as many as 42% of people under the age of 29 now make Skype or Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls regularly. For them the telephone is old-fashioned.

So how well prepared is your business? If you are not using VoIP or Skype you could be missing out on the preferred calling method of many of your potential customers. Equally, if you are using email, but not instant messaging you are also eliminating a sector of your audience.

Email is still significant, so too are phone calls as are messages on social networks. But no longer can you avoid communicating in a multiplicity of ways. If you stick with email and phone you really are stuck in those “olden days”.

[box type=”info”]To listen to my podcast on Voice Over IP CLICK HERE[/box]

What comes next after mobile?

Is your business ready for the next stage of mobile? It will come sooner than you think.

Old Mobile PhoneToday is the 40th birthday of the mobile phone; happy birthday mobile. The first mobile telephone call was made on 3rd April 1973 by Martin Cooper an employee of Motorola in New York. In those days, you were lucky if you got more than half an hour talk-time out of your phone’s battery. You also needed a handbag-sized battery pack, which you carried over your shoulder, to keep your phone working. And if you wanted to use the phone in the car, you had to buy a second one which was permanently wired into a box that fitted into your boot. You then plugged your hand-held into a socket in the front of the car and the two phones worked as one. I know – I had one…!

Mobile phones have come a long way since those early days – and the pioneers at Motorola? Well the company is now a subsidiary of Google and is not doing as well as it once was. Apple and Android now dominate and even the king of mobile, Nokia, is not what it used to be. Things have changed in the world of mobile.

But how long have those changes taken? 40 years. These days we use mobile phones for all sorts of things in addition to phone calls – social networking, buying things, storing useful information or sending emails. But each of these things have been added relatively slowly; we have been able to send emails using mobiles since 1993, for instance.

Although many people now accept smartphones as a “normal” part of their daily life, our brains have had time to accept them because the developments have taken place relatively slowly.

That is changing, however. The pace of change is at its fastest ever during the 40-year life of the mobile industry. A new phone was launched recently which can check your pulse, take your temperature and provide your doctor with up-to-date medical information to help monitor your health status. Researchers in America are working on “emotion sensors” which could be added to help transmit your feelings as well as your words.

It is, though, the world of social networking which is helping the mobile sector pick up the pace. If you have an idea for an app today, you can find a developer on one side of the world who can find a designer on the other side of the world all before tea-time. Back in the days of development at Motorola that kind of search would have taken months. It means that nowadays new ideas and products can be produced much more quickly than ever.

It means that the next “thing” after mobiles will not be here within 40 years; it could be just 40 weeks. The question is, is your business ready for that?

What will happen to your website when the world ends?

The end of the world is nigh, well 4 billion years nigh. So what will happen to your website…?

Planet Earth apocalypse 2012Look, I am writing this as quickly as I can because there are only three and a half hours before the world ends. I hope you get to read this in time.

In case it has passed you by, there are millions of people who seriously think that today is the last day of this planet. According to some interpretations of the Mayan prophecy the world will be plunged into darkness for four hours today, 21st December 2012, before the Earth eventually disappears.

Astronomers and physicists, however, disagree. They reckon we have another 4 billion years before the planet finally succumbs to the power of a hotter sun and is eventually sucked into the black hole caused by our star’s demise.

But remember, that too is a prediction based on the “evidence” available to these scientists. The Mayan prediction is merely another attempt to understand our existence based on the “evidence” available at the time it was written. We have no way of knowing whether either of them are right. After all, if we were to come back in 4 billion years time we may well find our descendants all laughing at our prediction of the end of the world.

Psychologically this is easy to explain. Humans struggle with knowing that life is a terminal event. We find it hard to comprehend that the “nothing” we did not experience before our birth was actually something for other people. And we find it hard to comprehend that when we finish our mortal existence that other people will live on and enjoy life. Combine the thoughts on personal mortality with our desire to work out why we are here and you have potent mix for any number of explanations that help us cope with the knowledge that we are mere temporary beings. Indeed, religions of all kinds have at their heart some kind of explanation for life which satisfies our struggle to cope with our lack of understanding for our existence.

The Mayan Prophecy – and indeed the predictions of astronomers – are merely devices to help us cope with our lack of understanding of human existence.

But – many people will ask – what if they are right? What if the world is going to end today..? Well, if it does, bye, it’s been nice knowing you. But of course we have no real way of knowing. Except one thing for certain that we do know is the world WILL end for each of us. One day you will die – that is a certainty – and your world will end.

So what will happen to your web presence when your world ends? You will still be there in the blogs you have written, in the websites you have created and in the social networks in which you have been active. Do you want your online presence to die when you pass away? Do you want your web presence to carry on as some kind of legacy? Who will shut-down your accounts so that they cannot be hacked or negative postings be made in your absence that you cannot do anything about?

We all need to consider what will happen to our web life when our own world ends. The world of the web will continue when you depart this planet – as much as you might not like to think about that fact. So what will you do now to plan for your web presence or lack of it when your world ends?

We must talk to our customers more

Listening to customers does more than give us information. It gives an insight into their emotions so we can better relate to them.

Talk To Your CustomersMany businesses these days never talk to their customers. When was the last time anyone at Amazon had a conversation with you? If you use Pay Per Click advertising, who at Google AdWords has been chatting to you recently? The chances of you talking to someone for most online businesses are next to zilch. Such companies collect all sorts of data – Amazon, for instance, knows your every move on its website and uses this information to predict your likely purchases and thereby increase its sales.

The whole notion of what is being called “big data” suggests that you can use the details of your online customer behaviour to help you sell more, come up with new ideas and redesign your website. It’s a great idea and there is plenty of evidence that by collecting the right data and managing it well you can indeed improve your online performance.

But this ignores entirely the power of the human brain. Good retail sales staff, for instance, don’t need to collect data from your shopping behaviour to know what you are interested in. They talk to you. And within seconds they know what they can steer you towards. They also sense if you would be willing to buy more and whether you are in the mood for a major shopping spree.

The salesperson’s brain assembles all this information from things like tone of voice, micro-expressions on your face, body language and the words you use in response to their questions. They don’t need to analyse all this “data” – they simply “know”. True, much of the information is “crunched” by their subconscious brain, but this means they can react within seconds to an encounter, enhancing their sales. Even Amazon with its fancy software can’t do that. If only Amazon staff could speak to the company’s millions of customers, they would dramatically increase their sales because of all the extra rich information they receive.

Practically, of course, this is nigh on impossible for big stores like Amazon – but a new experimental App points the way. This simple bit of technology developed by psychologists at the University of Rochester is surprisingly accurate in determining the emotional state of someone speaking. It means that in the not-too-distant future it could well be possible for smartphones to provide an emotional assessment of your customers in much the same way as we do when we speak to them face-to-face.

In the meantime, though, speaking to your customers rather than emailing them or saying “Hi” on a social network is the best thing you can do. You will collect much bigger data than any big data technology you might develop. You will discover new ideas for blog posts, you will find out how to improve your products and services and you will be able to spot gaps in which you can sell things. The Internet has been responsible for many businesses reducing the amount of time they speak to their customers which is ultimately not good for any of us.

Even in another 20 years you’ll be texting

Text messaging is vital to business. Companies could use it more imaginatively to build customer relationships.

Duchess of CambridgeNo doubt the Duchess of Cambridge will have received several text messages today congratulating her on becoming pregnant or sympathising with her for having to endure extreme morning sickness. It is fitting that on the day that the world hears about a new member of the Royal Family that it was also the 20th Birthday of the humble text message, the SMS (Short Message Service).

But even though Kate may have received dozens of text messages from her family or the Royal Household, they will only add a tiny number to the 8 trillion text messages we send each year. Two decades ago when engineer Neil Papworth sent “Merry Christmas” to Vodafone Director Richard Jarvis he could have had little idea of the impact his company’s invention would have.

Having said that, however, only 40% of phone users actually send text messages. So there is plenty of scope for growth. Equally, many companies who cold use text messages do not do so in spite of the fact they can be used to enhance and deepen customer relationships.

For instance, some organisations send text messages to confirm appointments, to send order details or to provide information to add to emails or other communications. There are plenty of creative ways your business could use text messaging – perhaps even saying “Merry Christmas” to your customers, adding a little promotional code for them to spend with you.

Text messaging is largely untapped for business relationship building, probably because when it is used it is done badly with SMS Spam being a particular invasive problem. Yet it is a useful communication tool – so useful that we send tens of thousands of the little blighters every second, putting Facebook and Twitter messages into the shade. True, these are growing areas – but not everyone wants to get messages from their suppliers on their personal Facebook account or clogging up their own marketing Twitter account.

So on this day of birth announcements could you give birth to a new way of deepening relationships with your clients?

Content curation reduces information overload

Content curation is the next big thing online. You can make your mark by being a content curator.

If there is one thing we can all agree on about the Internet it is the fact that it is stuffed with information. Every day, the internet grows by a phenomenal amount. Indeed, according to the Executive Chairman of Google when he spoke at a conference in 2010, the amount of information being added to the Internet every 48 hours was equivalent to the entire amount of human information that had been amassed  from the dawn of time to 2003…! And since 2010, the amount has clearly gone up again.

Information Overload

We are living in an information-rich world where we can have vast amounts of information on almost any subject we care to name, all within seconds. But how do we sort through it all? After all, we cannot read it all or watch it all. For instance, if you want to find out about “colour psychology” you’ll find that there are almost 7 hours worth of videos on YouTube to watch, as well as over 80 documents on Scribd to read, 47 articles on Ezinearticles.com to look at and a further 59,300 results on Google to check out. Unless you are going to devote your entire life to one narrow subject there is no hope of ever being able to process all this “stuff”.

Not only that, the amount of material being added just goes up and up and up. Over 100,000 new WordPress blogs are created every day, there’s 40 hours worth of video uploaded to YouTube every minute and there are 5,340 new websites created every hour.

HELP….!

Luckily, “content curation” is providing the answer – and it gives you an opportunity too. Content curation is where a trusted individual, or company, trawls through the web for all the information on a subject and then presents regular summaries and updates with links to the most relevant material.

All you have to do is find a good curator of a subject and follow their activity. You can trust them and rely on them to find the good stuff online, saving you time and effort.

But it can also provide a way of reducing information overload amongst your potential customers, thereby giving them a reason to stay loyal to you and make it more likely they will buy from you. Equally, if you curate content in specialist areas relating to your customer needs, you will gain reputation, visitors, followers  – all the things you need to ensure your online presence is high.

So how do you curate content?
The first step is being “in the know” for your own specialist topic. Use something like Google Reader to collect all the RSS feeds of the top bloggers in your area or have something like Netvibes to pull together a range of websites and feeds on a particular topic. Whatever you do, you need to have the raw content to begin with.

But once you have content, how do you curate it and where can people get your collected materials? There are several options. Either you can add your content to your own blog, set up a new blog just for curated content, or add the material to a curation service.

If you want to add content to your own blog there are several software options you can choose from. For instance, there is CurationSoft or PageOne Curator. Both are similarly priced and do similar jobs, though PageOne Curator has more options.

Or if you want to add content to a curation service, then try something like ScoopIt – my Business Blog section on ScoopIt is updated every day, for instance. If you don’t like ScoopIt, try Storify.

Alternatively, there is Paper.li which allows you to produce curated content which people can subscribe to via email. There is also Xydo which lets you curate content and send it out as an email newsletter.

But whichever system you choose, the mere fact that you are curating content will help your business because in the explosion of information which is happening right now, people are looking for clarity. The people who provide that will be the winners.

You can see a couple of quick examples of curated content which I produced in minutes before I wrote this blog post. One is on the psychological impact of social media and the other is on free content curation software.

Related articles

Internet experts invent the past

Website content is fundamental to your website success. But content has always been vital to every business – it is not a new idea.

The advertising world is agog with the news from The Huffington Post that they are going to help brands develop content sites. It seems we are all rather bored with advertising and that increasing numbers of people are coming to the realisation that what we really like is “content”. In other words, people are much more interested in information than they are in being sold to. Well knock me down with a feather will you?

Website Content is Vital

Sometimes you see stuff online and you think, really…? Didn’t they already know that? Content is King, says the mantra on many websites as though this is some kind of revolutionary idea. Tell that to John Brown Media who started out in 1987 producing magazines for brands like John Lewis. Indeed, try telling me that…! I produced newsletters for brands over 25 years ago, well before the web was invented. Many big businesses realise that advertising merely reminds people of a product’s existence, but that to really get inside the brains of your customers you need information – these days called “content”.

Over the years that information, or content, has taken the form of company magazines, product brochures, videos, public relations activities, competitions, newsletters, handouts, posters, exhibitions and a whole host of marketing collateral. In recent years as new businesses have been set up there has been a tendency towards “sales copy” and then much debate as new business owners discover this doesn’t quite work. Then they discover “content” and leap on it with enthusiasm as though they have found the keys to heaven.

Let’s get this straight. Content is nothing new. Content has always been King. Content is what your customers want. The only thing that is new is that The Huffington Post have now realised it.

Facebook Optimizes Ordinary Links

All People Require Informative Links which explains the Facebook Optimized Ordinary Link system revealed today exclusively on this site.

EXCLUSIVEFacebook has invented something which every other leading web company has been hoping for. In an “off the record” conversation with someone “close to” Facebook I can EXCLUSIVELY REVEAL that the social network is about to revolutionise the concept of links. According to my friend, Facebook believes that “All People Require Informative Links” and so they have invented the “Facebook Optimised Ordinary Link” to achieve this.

Basically it means that instead of people having to enter things like “http://www.something.com” Facebook will instantly recognise any words and phrases you are thinking about when you look at a web page and automatically produce exactly the link you want. The industry experts I have spoken with are claiming this is essentially “A Psychic Response Interpreting Links”.

When Facebook introduces the system – expected to be exactly one year from today’s date – it means that you will no longer have to worry about codes, underlined links or anything that is the “old way” of the Internet. Instead, when you look at a web page and you wish a word linked to something useful, it will. You’ll be able to click on that word – any word – and it will take you to an informative link.

As my friend “close to Facebook” said: “You’d be a fool not to use it.”

Is Google having a panic attack…?

Google is a fine company – let’s get that straight at the beginning. They provide you and me with plenty of useful services. Even if you only use their search engine, can you imagine life without? We all depend on Google to a smaller or larger extent. And as a business, they are not doing badly – billions of dollars cash in the bank and massive revenues based on an average transaction price of less than a dollar. Not bad eh?

Is Google having a panic attack thanks to Facebook?However, Google has a problem – and it knows it. Traditional search engines have a limited life; new ways of searching which are more accurate, more relevant and more speedy are going to be required as the volume of Internet data grows at exponential rates. If Google does not adapt its search engine to the new online world, we will give up using it – and with it the company’s revenues will decline.

The good folk at Google are not daft – gosh they have more PhDs per square foot than Oxford I reckon…! For a number of years they have adapted their search engine, improved it and spent hours in their laboratories looking at “semantic search” – search which knows exactly what you mean when you type.

Consider the kind of problems Google has to face. Just type in the word “apple” to Google. Seems simple. But Google has to work out do you mean Apple, as in the company, apple, as in the fruit, or Apple as in the girl’s name. Just which one did you really mean? At the moment, all Google can really do is take an educated guess. For most searches it does a reasonable job – but here’s the problem: 50% of all the search terms that are typed into the Google search box each month have NEVER been typed in before in the 13 year history of the company. Each month, half of what it sees is brand new and that means it has an ever increasingly difficult task of making sure it can deliver. Semantic search will help – but Google now faces another problem: human search.

If I simply ask you “Apple?” you will probably say “no thanks, I’ve eaten” or “I prefer oranges”. But if I look at you strangely you might then answer, “oh sorry, you want an apple, I’ll get one from the fridge for you”. And then, even if I say no more, but set-aside the apple you have given me, you’ll say “don’t you like Royal Gala apples then?” and even if I continue with my silence, you’ll say “Oh I get it, you want to look at my new Apple computer”. At which point you flash me your iPad and I’m still not impressed and you say “Oh, where did I get it?”, I smile, and you say “PC World have them back in stock now”.

One word and nothing else and you can get to the exact thing I want. One word into Google and it fails, unless it can make a really, really good guess (and to be fair it does that quite a lot). But humans are better at working out what other people want to know than mathematical algorithms. If I ask you “where is the best restaurant near here where I can take my wife for a slap up birthday meal” you can tell me, in an instant. Google can’t. It suggests I might be interested in a website on “television tropes and idioms“. Wrong!

And guess what – people are discovering in their millions that Twitter and Facebook are fantastic search engines – because you can ask questions that only human beings can answer and to which you get accurate, rapid answers. Google, of course, is aware of this and realises that as people gradually discover that humans are better at providing answers than search engines, they could lose traffic themselves over the coming years – and that will reduce their income.

Enter Google Plus, the FIFTH attempt at social networking produced by Google. Former efforts, such as Jaiku, Buzz and Wave have already been consigned to the Internet trash can. Only Orkut remains, and then almost only in Brazil. And Google Plus is not as successful as we think. True it is the fastest growing social network ever produced – but also the fastest falling. Traffic peaked and dropped. The only significant advantage it had over Facebook was “circles” and within days the engineers at Facebook added “Friends Lists” which provides exactly the same function.

In the meantime, Google is clearly concerned about the way we are searching using social networks and the way that the advertising industry is predicting where they will spend their cash in the coming years (70% of it on Facebook). So, Google appears to be pulling out the stops to make us aware of Google Plus and want to use it. But their attempts seem more driven by panic than strategy.

For instance, Google news is widely regarded as an objective compilation of news from world journalism. It is a brilliant system. Until now. Google has now added photographic “bylines” to the articles it lists. But those bylines are only produced if the writer is a member of Google Plus. In other words, Google has now added subjectivity to its otherwise brilliant product. The message it is sending out is that the writers of some articles are better than others BECAUSE they are on Google Plus. Not necessarily true, of course.

Meanwhile, over in the search team, Google is making search more “secure” – but actually what it is doing is preventing website owners from seeing the keywords that their visitors typed in to get to them. This is crucial information to online businesses, but Google is “in the interests of privacy” preventing website owners from retrieving such data – oh, unless they happen to be using Google advertising products and then it is OK. Call me a cynic, but the much needed move for greater privacy appears to be mere window dressing for a strictly commercial move to get people to spend more money with the company.

At the same time as all this is going on, the team at Gmail have upset hoards of people with an iPhone app that was so derided they took it down from the web TWO HOURS after launching it. And there are loads of blog posts and comments all complaining about the “new look” of Gmail, which appears to make using it really great if you happen to be a PhD engineer in San Francisco.

On top of this the company now wants to charge businesses for using Google Maps and it recently closed down the Google News Timeline, which was an essential tool for many academics the world over. Plus if you paid for Google Apps, you couldn’t have a Google Profile attached to it – yet Google ranks profiles highly for an individual’s name. Indeed, when Google was in love with its Buzz product (now dead) it didn’t let its paying customers have access to it via Google Apps. And to cap it all, the re-configuration of Google Reader has its fans up in arms because it simply cannot use it the way they always have.

Oh and one more thing – if you used the Advanced Search on Google you may well have used the plus sign (+) to find words together. That has been part of the advanced search facility of Google for over a decade. They quietly switched it off last week, because they clearly are keen on preserving the plus sign as an indicator for Google +; never mind the fact that millions of searches now won’t work.

It all looks like Google is in a bit of a state. They are annoying people left, right and centre – which is not a good idea when many of those people are finding human search on social media is producing more accurate more rapid results for many categories of questions. Indeed, you only need to ask a question in Quora or LinkedIn these days and you’ll get an answer pretty quickly. And the answers are often much better and more incisive than the educated guesswork of a bit of mathematics.

Clearly, Google can overcome all these difficulties – they have the experience, the expertise and the money to be able to do so. But at the moment, the company is rather looking as though it is in a bit of a panic because it realises that the advertising spend is slowly but surely likely to leak out to of Facebook. And we will go with it, as we increasingly rediscover that human search is superior to an algorithm in many instances.

Online businesses can learn from Woman’s Weekly

Woman's Weekly provides lessons for online businessThis week, Woman’s Weekly magazine is 100 years old. Happy Birthday, old gal. And in spite of the magazine market exploding since the introduction of the 1d (one old penny) magazine, it remains the best performing magazine in the sector, with sales slightly up in a market that has seen an 8% drop. Even at 100, they’ve still “got it” at Woman’s Weekly it seems.

And when you peek inside that first edition – reprinted in its entirety this week – you’ll discover that not a lot has changed in the past century. One woman was so incensed that her husband dared to complain about her handling of the household finances, she told him to get on with it himself. Needless to say, he made  hash of it. Another contributor made the point that the real reward from her nursing career was seeing people get better.

Both of these women are essentially pointing out that there is more to life than money – the other rewards and the way they were treated were also significant factors in how they felt. And that’s exactly the kind of conclusion you can draw from today’s younger generation, according to a study by Cisco. This found that today’s young job-seekers consider the Internet to be fundamental in any work they do. Indeed, one in three of the participants in the survey say Internet access is the same kind of requirement as having water or electricity.

The study also showed that many youngsters want unrestricted access to social networking as part of their job. The use of Facebook and the like has become so much part of their way of life, a company that does not allow access is unappealing in terms of career suitability. Indeed, the young people in the Cisco research said the presence or lack of free Internet use in the workplace is a game-changer. In other words, businesses that block web sites or restrict access are reducing their appeal to their future workforce significantly.

What this Cisco study shows – rather like the articles in this week’s Woman’s Weekly – is that people are more interested in other aspects of their working life than they are in the money. It was this way 100 years ago it seems – today the “other aspects” just happen to be Internet-related.

Studies have already shown that businesses which restrict Internet access have lower productivity levels compared with the time when their offices had free web access. Now, it seems, such firms won’t even be able to attract people to work for them any more.

The Cisco study is a reminder of what those women said 100 years ago – money isn’t everything. And if your business thinks you can attract the right staff and support simply by paying more, think again; it is not the salary that matters, but the other things which go with the jobs you offer, such as enjoyment, challenge, stimulation and – nowadays – the unrestricted use of the Internet.

Did Prince Charles or the Pope invent Twitter?

His Royal Highness Prince Charles was responsible for a considerable change in the conversation in Washington, DC, when he and his wife – Princess Diana at that time – were due to visit the political centre of the USA. Some eight weeks before the couple’s planned visit in 1985 the chatter in Washington was no longer about politics and economics, but about the Royal Couple. Indeed, according to The Evening Independent, Washington was “a Twitter” over the visit. The article describing the change in mood in the American political capital also uses the term “social media”. What’s this? “Twitter” and “social media” being used in the same article prior even to the invention of the world wide web? What’s going on? Quick – we need a conspiracy theory.

Well, we can find it if we trawl back even further through the archives. Back in 1962 the Pope at that time, Pope John, decided to give his staff the day-off to help celebrate his 81st birthday. And what did he give them time-off from? Well, it seems the Vatican was in the midst of discussions of “social communications media”. That’s right, the Pontiff had Twitter in his sights 44 years before it was even invented. You can see the conspiracy theory forming now – it has all the necessary ingredients; Prince Charles, Princess Diana, the Pope and secret American technology.

But what this journey through the News Timeline at Google really shows us is one fact: the phrase “social media” has been around for a lot longer than what we now thing of as “social media”. Many people believe that “social media” is a fad, a here-today, gone-tomorrow kind of thing. In fact, back in 1938 The Montreal Gazette reported the existence of “social media” in the 19th Century, when Dickens was busy writing. Which all points towards the notion that “social media” is not as new as we might think it is – and neither therefore is it some kind of faddish thing.

And indeed it isn’t – media of all kinds have been social for centuries. Dickens himself was very social with his media – reading out his own stories in public and sharing them socially. Err..we call that Facebook nowadays.

One thing is different, of course. These days you need a “social media expert” to help you do something which people have been doing naturally for the past 200 years or more. Indeed, being a “social media guru” is now a whole new career path for “digital natives” – people who have grown up with a computer virtually strapped to their arms.

Back in Washington a quarter of a Century ago, there were no “gurus” to help the chattering classes there get “all-a-twitter”; they did it themselves, naturally. Likewise, Dickens didn’t need an “expert” to help him share his stories and talks; he just got on with it. The reason is that like the people in Washington he just saw it as “normal”, part of the world he inhabited and so it just happened.

When you see something as “special” or “different” that’s when you need a “guru” to help you because you have over-complicated it. Remember The Beatles flying in their meditation guru? When you over-complicate relaxation, mind-emptying and personal reflection and give it a special name, that’s when you need help  to do it. But when you just call it relaxation or reflection on your lot, well, hey, you can do that without any experts advising you.

It’s the same in many other areas. Take “personal development” for instance. Successful people often “just get on with it” and simply have a goal in life and strive each day towards it. Others who call this “personal development” need gurus, DVDs, tapes, workshops and a whole host of other support to tell them the same thing every time – set yourself a goal and get off your butt and do something about it.

Today “social media” is in the same arena. Trawling through the archives shows us that it has been going on for donkeys; but now we have allocated a special name to (don’t tell anyone I told you this, but it is called “talking to people”), then we over-complicate it and then we need experts.

True, I admit, you might need practical guidance on what to do. But you don’t need special advice on “being social” – you already know what that is and how to do that. Which is why Twitter isn’t new – people were doing it in Washington 26 years ago. Facebook isn’t new – Dickens was onto that 150 years back. And the Pope? Well each one of them has been engaged in social media for centuries – how else does any religion survive without it?

So perhaps Prince Charles did not invent Twitter and neither did the Pope. But then neither, really, did the folks at Twitter. All they invented was a technology that allowed us to do what we have always done in the real world, online. Social media is not new; don’t let any of those gurus tell you otherwise.

And that’s why, quite soon, business owners will realise that what the gurus are telling them is, well, common sense and stuff they already know. The result? “Social Media Gurus” will disappear to be replaced by the next so-called “online fad” expert. Fancy being a “semantic search marketing guru”? They’ll be popular in a couple of years. Or how about being a “Social Search Guru” – gosh, social search is taking off big time now, so we must need “experts” in that area. Oh…you don’t know what “social search” is? Well, just ask a friend, they’ll know. Whoops – given the game away; there goes my opportunity of being a social search guru.

You can get people to pay for websites

The Times is due to charge onlineReaders of The Times online are going to have to dig into their piggy banks come June; The Times and The Sunday Times are to start charging for access to their websites. You will need to pay £1 a day or get it discounted to £2 a week. If you subscribe to the print edition – £6 a week – you get the online access free of charge. Is this commercial suicide? Almost certainly for a newspaper; yet for other businesses such charging models could do well.

The problem that Rupert Murdoch faces is two-fold. Firstly, the circulation of The Times is plummeting. The latest figures, released in February, show that the newspaper is down 17% in the year since 2009. That’s the biggest drop of any national daily newspaper and compares with circulation increases for The Sun and The Star. The Sunday Times is down by almost 8% in the past year. With falls in circulation – and the resulting drop in income – there is also a reduction in advertising fees. Advertisers don’t like paying standard rate card fees when the circulation is falling; inevitably they negotiate the costs downwards too.

The second issue which faces Mr Murdoch is the increasing demand for online news. Indeed, The Times gets almost five times as many people reading the newspaper online than it does buying a newspaper. A recent study showed that people now prefer to access online news instead of physical newspapers. But with the plethora of online news sites, people are spoilt for choice. And that means if The Times charges, readers can simply opt for a free news site, including The BBC which has confirmed it will not charge for online news.

Clearly, the chances of success are not stacked in favour of The Times. They are stuck in an old-fashioned business model in which charging for news was acceptable – because that was the only way we could get it. But with Twitter, for instance, world news can be spread to millions of people the moment it happens and without any need for the costs of journalism. The old business model doesn’t work. For the newspaper industry, they need to think again. One possible model would be free online news and then access to the in-depth material published as a print magazine, or video material downloadable at cost, for example.

And therein lies the secret to how you can charge for your website. People are not prepared to pay for information they can get for nothing elsewhere. But they are prepared to pay for analysis and in-depth support which is specifically geared to their particular needs. The Guardian, for example, has hinted that this is the direction it will take – charging for in-depth analysis and special sections, rather than the general material which can be obtained anywhere for nothing.

Thousands of websites already exist using a subscriber model. But the basic set-up is always free. The paid-for material is then the specific, in-depth, analytical stuff that helps people improve their situation. So, what in-depth analysis can you provide your potential online customers?

With the “free” model for information so well-established online, you are only going to be able to charge for material that goes beyond what other websites provide. That’s the point that has eluded Mr Murdoch and his cronies. Don’t fall into the same trap, assuming that people will be happy to pay because of who you are. They won’t; they are only happy to pay online for highly targeted, in-depth and supportive analytical material they cannot find anywhere else. Your challenge, as ever, is to be unique.