Another South by Southwest (SXSW) interactive has just finished wrapping up. As tradition would have it Bruce Sterling, Sci-Fi writer, Visionary in residence and Transglobal Futurist gave his annual closing keynote address, this year labelled as “The Ultimate Bruce Sterling Talk”. His thoughts on the current and future state of technology and it’s intersections with people and politics are always something I look forward to hearing.
This year was just as special with Sterling opening his address by lamenting that the state of the world was even worse than last year which he described as a horrible, shameful thing to watch. He talked of the current burden of debt placed upon students who had no possibilities of employment at present calling it a “smart tax on the population”. Moving on from a discussion of Mexico which despite being plagued by Narco-cultura was becoming a new hot bed of artistic talent through to his thoughts on fabricators. His attitude being that now was the time to get on board with 3d printing and fabrication likening it to investing in your first 300 baud modem back in the 80’s way before the internet explosion.
After a conversation about geek art and aesthetics destined to become dominant in mainstream culture Sterling got to the main point of his speech with a discussion that affects everyone on the internet, companies he describes as “The Stacks”. The Stacks are companies that are setting out to build vertically integrated media empires. Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. These companies he says, want to lock you into their stack and they see their future as taking over and replacing the internet. While they are not inherently hostile to the internet they are in favour of their own situation preferring for you to use their eco-systems, a-la Facebook and Apple’s Facetime, making the rest of the internet irrelevant.
These Stacks, he says, offer no prosperity, security or wellbeing to participants, other than shareholders. The internet had users; Stack users are livestock. The Stacks want to reduce you to “dog status” which they see as the easiest way of handling you. People like the Stacks because the internet scares them and the walled garden is a more comfortable experience. While he believes the “lords of the stack are not bad guys” we shouldn’t be so dependent on these Stacks which he thinks are leading to the life blood being drained out of other forms of expression such as music, literature and film. Each stack thinks it’s the future and they think the other four are doomed and irrelevant. Sterling predicts that all five will be rendered irrelevant and be destroyed but he doesn’t think that when the end comes for them it will be pretty.
Sterling’s keynote as usual gives plenty of food for thought. Will his predictions turn out to be true? Will the internet prevail? Let us know what you think.
In recent days there have been grumblings of disquiet over a few vocal bloggers decrying an apparent rampant overuse of Twitter Bootstrap – a toolkit of simple but elegant HTML and CSS conventions used for building web apps. While this nerd backlash may seem to some to be a storm in a teacup, it’s raised a few heckles with developers who find the convenience of the library to be a good thing.
The issue appears to be the “samey-ness” of websites using the framework. Sites such as the Built With Bootstrap Tumblr feed showcase the variety of websites built with the toolkit. When flicking through the galleries a certain style does leap out and, admittedly, some even use the library “as is”. The result though is not entirely unpleasant, and as one wily commentator pointed out it is better than the ‘Geocities look’ that developers would routinely come up with on their own.
Still, there are others fighting in its corner. Dave Winer has run to its defence and compares Bootstrap to the legendary Apple Macintosh, arguing that the standardisation and ease of use it offers allows people to focus on what’s important with a web application. The negativity he believes comes from people worrying that such frameworks commoditise user experience, will block development of alternatives or even somehow remove creativity from web design. Winer believes that the benefits of adapting to resources like Bootstrap allow developers to build ever better software on these foundations rather than wasting time on the basics over and over again.
I heartily concur with his opinion. From my own perspective I have found working with Bootstrap to be a great experience allowing me to concentrate on the nuts ands bolts, nitty gritty of development without having to worry about how form controls look by default. Bootstrap offers a standardised and useful set of defaults that allow the developer to focus on content and usability rather than wrestling with getting the same appearance with a dozen different browsers. All that and it doesn’t look half bad either.
One of the cornerstones of development is to not repeat yourself. Using third party frameworks or developing your own saves wasted time and allows us to focus on the needs of the customer. Bootstrap is the beginning. The rapid take up and support it has generated shows there is a need for such frameworks. Eventually there will be replacements and soon thereafter Bloggers complaining that everything looks the same. Again.
Last week a few of the web industry’s movers and shakers got together at a quickly arranged meet-up under the rather grandiose title of the Responsive Summit. They talked about how, in the post-PC world, web agencies can deliver websites for the reality of a multitude of web enabled devices. Aside from minor moaning on Twitter about the perceived elitism of the internet Illuminanti deciding upon the direction we all need to take, the response to the Summit has been positive. And the information I have taken from it is proving very interesting.
The hard truth that agencies like ours are facing is that mobile is not only on the rise, but will become the primary internet platform. This was recognised years ago and people boarded the responsive bandwagon thanks to such now legendary articles as Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design. In tandem with this a small number of people started doing all web design in the browser. The latest movement to pick up steam is Mobile First, whereby sites are designed for phones first and desktops second.
The Responsive Summit was an attempt to view all these developments in light of business realities and offer ideas of how agencies should move forward. So far, one of the major issues discussed is the applicability of the old print design method that has been passed down to the web. In this set-up Photoshop ‘proofs’ are produced for sign-off by clients before being constructed into a website, pixel for pixel. The argument is that this is ridiculous in light of the fact that these sites will now be viewed on screens of massively varying dimensions and resolutions.
Is the answer to produce proofs for a variety of screen widths? This would prove to be exhaustive and expensive work. The suggestion then is to follow what at first glance appears to be a process more in line with that old favourite of developers: agile. This brings the new philosophies together within an iterative development framework with designers working closely with developers to produce working responsive mock-ups for delivery to the client. Using a mobile first mindset and developing primarily in the browser the hope is that we can deliver sites that meet the clients requirements that are workable across the vast swathe of devices on the market.
This would be a large change to the established waterfall development pattern that agencies and clients are used to. Can agencies change their methods so completely? And will the client buy into this?
More information is still coming out of the Responsive Summit and there is a lot to digest, but this is the start of the conversation we all need to have. The future is both exciting and daunting for web developers…
Due to popular demand, eSterling has launched a social media training course for our clients.
We have found that many of our clients are aware of the value of social media sites, but are unsure how to use them for their business. Many also find that they haven’t got the time to spend getting to grips with the technology and therefore keep putting it off for another time.
That’s why the team at eSterling has devised a three-hour training session that will get you up and running. The aim is to give you the confidence to run your Facebook or Twitter account without feeling overwhelmed.
eSterling social media training is jargon-free, with everything simplified into terms that you can understand. We actively welcome your questions during the training session and you will be given handy worksheets to take away so that you can refer back to your notes.
Our training course is one-to-one and can be tailored to suit which social network(s) you are interested in, whether you are looking to use Facebook, Twitter or another site such as Pinterest. As each training session is tailored to suit your needs, you can request topics of interest that you would like us to cover.
Examples of topics covered include:
- Twitter/ Facebook layouts
- Twitter trending topics
- Suggestions of what to share using social media
- How to increase followers
- Social media reporting
As we predict that social media will have more of an influence on Google rankings over the next two years, it really does pay to get ahead of your competition and make a start with social media.
To book your training session please call Cassandra on 0121 766 4080 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year we’re bringing you a little light relief on the eSterling blog with Fun for Friday. There are so many weird things on the internet; we thought we might as well share them with you all.
Today’s Fun for Friday is good clean fun – the Facebook shower curtain. If you’re someone who checks Twitter on the toilet, this social media bathroom accessory is just the thing you’ve been looking for. All you need to do is put your face in the transparent ‘profile picture’ window and set your status to ‘I’m in the shower. LOL’.
The social shower curtain is available to pre-order from website www.spinninghat.com.
Why do I use Twitter and what do I get out of it? First of all I read many articles about how great Twitter is and how to use it but I don’t see many articles about what people get out of it. So here’s my take on why I personally use Twitter and how to get the most out of it.
First of all, I should tell you I have a lot of hobbies and interests. Im not one of these people who get’s home from work and sits in front of the TV – I’m not having a go at people like that – hey, whatever makes you happy.
I like to create stuff. My main hobby is music and in particular writing and recording music. I use twitter to find out about all of my favourite artists – news, gigs, interviews, videos, documentaries, new releases and memorabilia. For example, I first found out Noel Gallagher was recording his debut solo album from Twitter, not BBC News, not google or the NME, but Twitter. A lead singer from a band that were in the same recording studio tweeted Noel Gallagher was in the studio opposite recording his new album! Brilliant!
When it comes to my hobby of writing and recording music I follow people who will help me to improve what I do. I use Garageband to record my music so I follow Garageband experts and Garageband Software Developers who help me to improve the production of my music. Simple. From Twitter, I learnt of a piece of software that would give me a brilliant drum sound for my songs, I brought the software and it’s improved my songs 10 fold! I would never have known about it if it wasn’t for Twitter.
I first learnt of the deaths of Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse on Twitter and I don’t follow any news corporations. News travels fast on Twitter and you tend to be on the cusp of every major news story around the world.
I remember watching the shocking scenes of the London Riots live on my TV and simultaneously checking my twitter feed to hear the latest goings on from people I knew in those areas. Eventually a whole movement was created from Twitter that night. An every day person started a campaign to ‘Reclaim the Streets’ eventually amassed thousands of people to help clean up the streets of London the very next day.
Im also interested in gadgets (boys toys) so I follow Apple news and rumours. I hear all the latest about gadgets from all over the world. I learnt about ‘FaceTime’ on Twitter when the news broke months before any major news station caught on. I learnt of the death of Steve Jobs on Twitter and the subsequent fall out all came from Twitter
I know what your thinking – ‘You’ve got loads of interests – How would I use it?’
Well my Wife has no hobbies but she too is a Twitter user. She follows actors and actresses, music artists, celebs, friends and family members. She loves it, she’s forever asking me if I’ve seen this tweet, or that tweet.
An old friend of mine who I only see about 3 times a year is a regular tweeter and I get to hear about what he’s up to so when we meet up its all the richer for conversation pieces.
The simple fact is that Twitter is for everyone and everyone can get something out of it. Sign up and search for things you would like to know more about…its that simple
There’s no doubt that Facebook and Twitter are the big hitters in the social media game that everyone (yes, you!) should be using, but there are other social networking sites that are well worth a look this New Year.
Pinterest is one of the developing social networks that I’ve just discovered. Using Pinterest, you can ‘pin’ your ‘interests’ using the ‘online pinboard’ interface. This works like a virtual pinboard and is great for making and sharing collections of anything you are interested in. Once users gather their pinned items together they then group them into categories and share them with others, who can then comment and share accordingly.
Pinterest’s main users are women between the ages of 25 and 44. 58% of Pinterest visitors are female and the most popular ‘pinned’ topics are fashion, lifestyle, homes, weddings and food.
If your target customer fits into this demographic, then Pinterest could help to boost your social media engagement in 2012. Think about your customer – would it be helpful for them to be able to collect and save your products in this way? I think back to when I was choosing a wedding dress last year… I collected images of dresses I liked online and then contacted suppliers to track down what I wanted. If I had used Pinterest back then, would it have been helpful come across wedding dress shops in my area? Absolutely!
Although Pinterest is mainly about social networking, it can also double as a workflow tool. If like me, you constantly bookmark websites just because you like one picture on the page, or save interesting images to your desktop, Pinterest is the way to get organised. Sharing this process with your potential customers is a sure-fire way to engage them with your brand.
Pinterest is now in the top 10 websites in social networking and forums – so it’s definitely one to watch in 2012. I’m pretty much sold on the idea, but the downside is Pinterest is still invitation-only (which makes me want it all the more!). I’d better start looking for an invitation – I’ll keep you posted!
In my last post about Twitter for business, I talked you through the layout of Twitter and how to construct your first Tweet. Hopefully you have already had a look around Twitter to see how this works in practice, and the next thing you’ll want to know is how to gain Twitter followers.
You can see the number of followers you have on the right hand side of your Twitter homepage. Next to this you will also see how many people you are following. If you are familiar with using Facebook, it might be helpful to think of other Twitter users as ‘friends’ – but remember everything you broadcast on Twitter is public and should be professional!
So how do you gain followers?
- Start by following Twitter users that interest you or work in the same sector as your company. Some of these users will return the favour and follow you back. You can search for users using the ‘Who to Follow’ tab and over time Twitter will recommend accounts based on who you follow.
TIP: Don’t forget to ask your friends and family if they are on Twitter – this is an easy way to get some followers!
- Once you’ve picked up a few followers, start to follow people you want to follow you. Interact with these influential people by replying to, or re-tweeting their Tweets. They might then start to follow you.
- Make sure your own Tweets are interesting and provide relevant, useful and interesting content. Link to your own blog or product pages to encourage people to visit your site – but make sure you don’t overwhelm your followers with constant promotion.
TIP: Humour works well on Twitter – don’t be afraid to be funny!
- Provide your followers with insider information about offers and discounts and give out coupon codes or discounts to your Twitter followers. Competitions work brilliantly on Twitter – try asking your followers to re-tweet one of your tweets to be entered into a prize draw.
- Pay attention to trending topics. These are shown to the right of the Twitter homepage and reflect what Twitter users are talking about. If a trending topic is relevant to your business, you could include a link to your website in your tweet about that topic. Use the hashtag (e.g #Birmingham) to convert the trending phrase into a link.
- You can also use the hashtag to Tweet about a live event. On a Saturday night, you could Tweet about the #xfactor, for example.
- Take part in Follow Friday with the hashtag #ff. Using #ff you can recommend other Twitter users to your followers. Always tell your followers why they should follow the user you are recommending – e.f ‘#ff @eSterling group because they did a great job on my website’. The people that you recommend for Follow Friday will be likely to start following you, or re-tweet your recommendation to their own followers.
The more you put into your Twitter account, the more you will get out of it. Don’t be put off if it takes a while to gain followers. Just concentrate on Tweeting about interesting, relevant, humorous and valuable topics as well as interacting with the users around you. Your Twitter account will soon get off the ground.
Twitter is a social media platform that is growing in popularity, with over 300 million users ‘tweeting’ on a regular basis. Our customers often ask me about Twitter, and with this series of blog posts I hope to explain how you can use this social networking tool to your advantage.
Firstly, you need to get familiar with Twitter and understand the way it functions. Twitter is known as a ‘micro-blogging’ website because users post updates, known as ‘tweets’ in 140 characters or less. This doesn’t give you much room to get across what you need to say – so you need to be savvy with the Twitter techniques that you will find below…
You type your tweets in this box.
*Top Twitter Tip – If you use Facebook for personal use, it’s helpful to think of Twitter as being similar to the Facebook newsfeed, with a tweet being comparable to a Facebook status update. Your followers on Twitter can be compared to your friends on Facebook.
- # – this symbol is called a hashtag and converts text into a link.
e.g ‘eSterling provide web design and SEO services in #Birmingham’
Twitter users can then click on #Birminghamto see other tweets related to this topic.
- @ – use this symbol to reply to another user, or mention them in your tweet.
e.g ‘@eSterlingGroup Thanks for helping me with my website today.’
or ‘Just ordered my new website from @eSterlingGroup – can’t wait to see the results.’
The user you mention will be notified of your tweet.
- Re-tweet – forward another user’s tweet to your own followers. You can do this by hovering over the tweet and the selecting ‘re-tweet’. This will then appear in your followers’ timeline.
- Links – use your tweets to link to your products and services, which is the ultimate goal for using Twitter for business.
e.g ‘Take a look at our blog post about web design and SEO: https://blog.esterling.co.uk/2011/11/15/web-design-and-seo-go-hand-in-hand/’
Twitter will automatically shorten any links you include in your tweets.
Once you’ve mastered these basics, you will be able to construct tweets that your followers will find interesting and helpful. And this will in turn gain you followers and spread the word about your business. In the next Twitter blog post, I will be discussing how to gain followers and keep them – so don’t forget to check the eSterling blog next week to find out more.
Currently one of the hottest buzz words in the web development space, Gamification, is beginning to supplant old favourites like social media in mindshare. Gamification, as its name implies, typically involves bringing the mechanics and innovations of game design into web design. The purpose of this is to improve the users’ experience and increase their engagement – to make a website have the enveloping effect of the latest gaming hit. Gamifying a website doesn’t necessarily mean to create a game but to apply the ideas games have of dynamics, mechanics and design in an appropriate way.
Seeds were planted for Gamification to become one of the next big things when social media websites like Facebook partnered with companies such as Zynga – famous for Farmville – who sought ways to increase the engagement of users with the use of points, levels, badges and more to capture interest. The benefit for Facebook was users kept coming back to the site for more, each looking for gratification by increasing their scores and piles of virtual goods. Other companies have boarded the bandwagon early and introduced their own game elements. Foursquare, for instance, challenges people to earn badges and status amongst their peers by ‘checking in’ at locations and events.
While a relatively new term the concepts behind Gamification have been around for a long time in the e-commerce space. Auctions websites such as eBay use a form of Gamification wherein goods are placed for sale and customers ‘compete’ to win the offer. Amazon has extended this thinking to ‘Black Friday’ deals whereby the first set number of customers will win the offer and gives hints and clues as to what the potential deal may be so you can be first in line.
The success of social gaming lies not with avatars or virtual goods and farms, but with the communication between users. This is where a positive feedback loop can be introduced. By personalising the site to the needs of the customer you can create relevance and interest. By giving your customers choices you can improve the chances of them taking positive action – adding items to their basket or purchasing those items – which leads to further collection of data to better improve the personalisation. By providing a great feedback loop you can improve the chances of successful interaction between the customer and website.
Of course it is clear that there has to be a reason for your customers to be playing, beyond just handing out an achievement badge or adding points for the sake of it. These are elements that cannot just be introduced because it is the hot new thing. It may well be that your customer base is not appropriate and more sober approaches should be taken.
In this case a more appropriate response may be the introduction of personalised elements to the site. The idea that the homepage and layout of the site should be the same for every visitor is archaic. If you think of Amazon you will note that when you return and are identified by the site you are directed to items that may be of interest to you rather than the standard ‘our selected items’ that are presented to each visitor.
In addition further recommendations and related products can be tailored to the behaviour of the customer. Why be showing samples of everything you stock when the customer only sticks to one particular category of item? The potential for improvement in conversion and user engagement by targeting customer behaviour is huge. In an increasingly crowded marketplace of e-commerce stores, the ideas Gamification brings to the table can help distinguish you from the competition and make your website hugely enjoyable for your customers.