The 2014 American Folk Festival App

August 19, 2014

2014 AFF app home screenWe love the end of August here at Sephone. For a weekend each year, the Bangor waterfront transforms into a musical space full of cultures and sounds from across America and the world – and we’re fortunate to bring information about it to Festival-goers through the official website at americanfolkfestival.com and through the Festival’s mobile app.

The app is a great indicator of how the world’s turned to mobile more and more each year. Last year, we saw a 75% increase in the number of people downloading the app compared to 2012 – and the numbers are still growing. We love having an app, too, because it allows people to have the information they need quickly and easily.

In addition to favorite features from years past (including the ability to build your own schedule, push notifications to alert you of upcoming performances, information on who’s currently performing and who’s scheduled to perform, and up-to-the-minute schedule changes), we’ve added a new vendors section with information about all the amazing food and craft vendors throughout the Festival. And if you want to support the Festival but don’t want to miss any of the music and don’t see a member of the Bucket Brigade nearby, you can now donate online, right from the app.

Make sure you have the latest version of the app before you head to the waterfront! Go into the App Store app on  your iOS device and click on the Updates tab, or go into the My Apps area of the Play Store on Android. Updating only takes a couple of minutes!

Don’t forget to share photos from the Festival from the app, and tweet to your heart’s content about what you see using the #AFFBangor hashtag! See you on the waterfront.

By the way, we made a two-minute video talking about the site, the app, and how the Festival has changed over the years. We hope you like it!

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

HTTPS and Windows XP

August 15, 2014

WARNING:  This blog post will be semi-technical.

First and foremost, if you are using Windows XP, you need to upgrade. Mainstream support ended years ago, extended support ended months ago. The last release of XP was over 6 years ago. Really, just upgrade. Okay, on to the heart of the matter.

IP Addresses

IP addresses are one of the core pillars of how the internet works. An IP address is  used to locate a unique host on the internet, sort of like a phone number or a regular street address. The internet is running out of version 4 IP addresses (IPv4). There is a solution, version 6 IP addresses (IPv6), but there is issue if you are using Windows XP, your operating system only supports IPv4.

sslSo with time ticking until we run out of IPv4 addresses, it’s getting harder and harder to get them. That presents another problem. Secure certificates. These things are what provide encryption on the web so you can securely transfer your private information, credit card numbers, etc. Often times, a browser will show a lock in the address bar along side the” https ” to show you that you are secure. You need a unique IP for every secure certificate, or you used to at least. There is a newer thing called Server Name Identification (SNI) where you don’t need an IP for every secure certificate, but again, XP does not support that, so it’s irrelevant.

What we are driving at is, Sephone is not likely to host new secure certificates that support Windows XP, they no longer support it, so neither can we. You need to upgrade. We will continue with the “grandfathered” ones we have, but it’s time to stop letting Windows XP keep all of us from using the proper technology to do the job. Do the job right.

 

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Alan has been creating websites since CompuServe was huge. Today he still is developing websites using technologies such as CSS3, HTML5, jQuery and CakePHP.

App Permissions: What Can and Can’t Apps Do?

August 6, 2014

One of the aspects of mobile apps that make them great is that they have the ability to use some of your phone’s native features like its camera and its contact list. Our American Folk Festival app, for instance, allows users to take photos that can be submitted to the Festival for use in a Facebook album. If you have a gaming app, you may want the app to access your contacts to see if anyone else you know is willing to take part in a head-to-head matchup.

Lock on a doorRecently there’s been some controversy surrounding Facebook’s push of its Messenger app for chatting with friends. Some users have noticed that it asks to do a lot – record audio, take photos, and more – and some posts go so far as to say that it might record ambient audio or take random photos without your permission.

This is a good time to take a look at app permissions. Each app has its own set of actions it wants to take with your phone, like the examples above. App developers use these permissions to allow their app to access parts of your phone’s operating system (for example, iOS or Android). And despite what you may read, you have control over what your phone’s apps can access.

iOS

iOS 7 lays out a few categories for feature access, including photos, microphone, and geolocation. When an app first requests access to one of these areas, you’ll see a prompt asking whether you’d like to allow access. If you do, you can turn access off later (or see a list of apps that use that permission) by going into the Settings app, tapping Privacy, and then looking at the permission you’d like to control. If you don’t want the Messenger app to access your microphone, for instance, go into the Microphone area and toggle the line for the Messenger app.

Android

When you first install an Android app, you’ll see a list of permissions it requests. It’s important to note that if you have auto-updating turned on, updates to the app may add related permissions without asking you first, but you’ll still be prompted about any major permission changes before the update occurs. At this time there doesn’t seem to be a convenient way to control apps on a per-permission basis like there is in iOS, though this feature is hidden in some of the latest versions of Android and may be made public at some point.

It’s also worth noting that once you allow access to a permission for an app, whether it’s on install in Android or after a prompt in iOS, the app can use it in some cases without your knowledge – so there is some level of trust needed. As with all software, be careful of its source!

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

You CAN Take it With YOU?

July 29, 2014

Are you a business owner? Or just somebody that has a demanding job?

Maybe you have said more than once,

  • “I don’t know what is worse, the week before I leave for vacation or the week I get back?”

Or how about this one? 

  • “I really need more than one week of vacation, I don’t even relax until about Wednesday then by Friday I am getting cranked up again!”

Idle Thoughts

Some of my best ideas are when I allow myself to just stop for a minute and allow the free thoughts flow.  Otherwise, petty tasks and random thoughts may spin around and round. If I don’t write them down they interrupt more strategic problem solving.  This goes for lots of things, Work things, Camp projects, Grocery Lists, etc.  And if you have kids you have your own “Things to Do” just for them.

All blocking the thinking, the planning you really ought to be doing for your business- direction you want to go, plans for the future.  These thoughts are hard to dig into if the constant interruptive thoughts of “I need eggs on the way home,” are constantly bumping into them.

I Am On Vacation

I worked on this post before I left and I was thinking I have a million apps on my phone (that is with me always,) how can I try and use some oevernote_iconf the time to learn one of them to try to manage my “Monkey Brain?”  There, on my phone was Evernote, downloaded over a year ago and seldom used.  In the meantime, more and more people I know have tried it, I tweeted out asking what people thought of it.  Some people said, “I tried it, maybe I didn’t give it a chance.”  I knew that was me.

A couple weeks ago I blogged about Twitter and really it was more about “Focus” than anything else.  This is the same thing really. As I started thinking about things I had to remember, instead of writing them down, I religiously put them in Evernote, when I was on my laptop, my iPad and my phone.  Whatever was in my hand at the time, I am putting those thoughts in Evernote.

While this is not meant to be another “RAH RAH Evernote!” discussion,  I really had no idea how powerful a tool it could be, if I really used it. Here is probably the best blog post that hit the bullseye on all it can do. (Apologies in advance for some of the geek speak.)

Two Assignments to Myself

Rather to be overwhelmed with the array of options or if I should buy the Premium version, two things I am going to try working with first:

  1. The Note Feature – those random thoughts that I need to get somewhere that need to come up when I am a coffee shop or riding in the car. This is where many people end it.
  2. Web Clipper – for reading later and saving it to a notebook that I set up on my laptop. Take all the thoughts that take me away from vacation, “To Not Forget When I Get Back” and plunk them in Evernote. Get them out of my head and back to my vacation!

As my old boss would say: “Cotiaux, you can eat an elephant – Just One Bite at a Time.  So stay tuned!

 

 

 

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Kelly's been known as the Marketing Maven since before the term was hip. (That means she's old.) As a natural Community Builder, she loves to get people together, bring resources to the table and solve problems!

Create Your Own App?

July 24, 2014

It seems every time I use Facebook, YouTube or Pandora I am presented with an ad for a different “Create our own mobile app” company. In this blog post we are going to explore what these services are capable of.

History

Google acknowledged that they had an automated app inventor in 2010 (about a year and a half after the release of Android). By the fall of 2010, they released the source code for “App Inventor for Android” and gave the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), some funding to continue on with it.

App Inventor was the first of its kind and still is in popular use today. It’s somewhat hard for the layperson, but for the technically minded, you can make working apps with a few hours of effort. With 10 to 20 hours, you can actually get pretty impressive results. And it’s free.

Current Batch of Services

As impressive as App Inventor was and still is, it was not without drawbacks. It does not work for iOS, it’s for Android only (and somewhat does work with Fire OS). And the second issue is that it is hard to use unless you at least somewhat versed with web software.

So those drawbacks are what has propagated to the current fleet of app creation services. They are easier to use, as well as faster to having an app, and many handle your app store listing as well. The app store listing is where you upload your app, information, and screenshots.  Of course, with all this simplicity, automation and speed there is a cost, and that is the number of features your app can have. Speaking of cost, most of these services are affordable. On the low end, there are some that are around $5 per month and others as high as $250 per month, all depending on what they provide.

Most of the cheaper services are great at taking the RSS from your blog and making that available on an app, or having some simple content or maybe even having a few forms.  Many of the more expensive options can make complex applications that do many things, but requires you to have some backend APIs (such as REST or SOAP).

So my simple answer boils down to this: if you need an app that is mostly static content or from an RSS feed, the layperson may find success with app creation services. To make complex applications, you need developer skills.

Other options

They are tons of “mashup” type possibilities too. You can pay an “App Creation Service Company,”  to make your app and then get a developer to make the RESTful API that powers the app. If you need functionality in your app that no current “App Creation Service Company” provides, you may just need to go custom. Going custom costs some money, but you get exactly what you want.

Another option that is often overlooked is getting your current site more mobile. There are things like responsive design and adding bookmarks to home screens of mobile devices that can produce good results.  It may not be a bad idea to take a minute and pull up your current website and see how it looks on a phone, or a few different phones.  It may be eye opening in more ways than one.

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Alan has been creating websites since CompuServe was huge. Today he still is developing websites using technologies such as CSS3, HTML5, jQuery and CakePHP.

#Hashtag Heaven? Twitter Isn’t Just For Twits

July 18, 2014

It Happened

For the past year or so, even as mainstream as the Today Show is, the constant Hashtag and Trending reference is staring you in the face before you even go to work in the morning.  It moved from the “Late Night” crowd of Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live to your breakfast table and your favorite ESPN sports show.

From what my clients and friends are telling me they fall into one of three categories:

  1. They have a Twitter account and use it often
  2. They have a Twitter account but still haven’t really grasped why they need it
  3. They think Twitter is stupid and a waste of time.

If you are in the third category this post isn’t going to attempt to convert you.  But I would suggest that if you decide to get a Twitter account, which is still free you may follow some interesting news that you can’t get any other way, or with Twitter you often get the news faster. You may want to try it just for fun, see what your kids are doing, the weather or about an accident or road construction you may encounter on your way home.  It’s up to you.

Twitter

Twitter

For the Rest of You

I am going to confess,  this is something I am guilty of not being skilled in this area.  Here goes, “FOCUS.”  The idea of using Twitter, simple bursts of sending out a message, sharing a message or consuming a message in a 140 characters bursts certainly doesn’t lend itself to FOCUS.  The mere consumption of Twitter can send your head spinning! But the fact that most of people consume it via mobile means it is with them all the time!

Your “Audience” Is the Same Way

If you use your twitter account and I mean USE it, tweet daily, share and reply daily, managing your account, creating lists and following the people you want to can fall by the wayside when your business takes you away from this kind of organizational thinking.  Blurt out something or find something out and then go back to answering the phone or customer emails, right?

But if these Social Media accounts were like papers or files and we had to look at them when we walked into our office, we probably would do something with them, organize, recycle, SOMETHING. These stacks of papers are staring us in the face and anyone else (including a client) that may come into our business, right?  Often once we organize things we can work more efficiently.  Social Media is no different.

Not Sure How to Become More Active on Twitter?

Again, when I make something a priority it gets done.  You may want to write it down or set a reminder to do it.  With Twitter it can be as little as :15 minutes a day to get engaged and make it part of your routine.  Of course your tweet content will evolve over time.

But no tweeting, no sharing, no responding?  No evolution, while your competition passes you by,

 

 

 

 

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Kelly's been known as the Marketing Maven since before the term was hip. (That means she's old.) As a natural Community Builder, she loves to get people together, bring resources to the table and solve problems!

Your hard drive WILL fail someday! Are you ready?

July 11, 2014

Sadly, your computers hard drive will fail someday. Most likely it will be when you least expect it.

The only questions are:

    1. When will it fail?
    2. Do you have a backup?

With the lowering cost of data storage and built in backup solutions found on both Apple and Windows based computers, it’s hard to believe that there are so many people out there who trust their computers with valuable and in some cases irreplaceable information. How about your photos? And all it takes to lose that data is a failed hard drive.

It is important that we realize that even a brand new computer or hard drive can and will fail at some point and time. I have seen hard drives fail right out of the package and on the other side I have seen hard drives last upwards of 10 years. There are data recovery services available, but they are extremely expensive and should not be entirely relied on; especially when you can buy a 1 terabyte external hard drive for about $60-$70.

What steps can you take to ensure that you keep your data?


Apple Users:

Apple has a piece of software called “Time Machine” and it can be found under your device’s System Preferences. Simply, purchase an external hard drive from a local retailer that is Mac OS ready. A 1TB (terabyte) hard drive will be more than enough for most users, and might be a little overkill depending on how big your computers hard drive is.

Plug the external drive into your computer and open Time Machine. It will then ask you where to backup the data. In which case you will point it to your new hard drive. After that, Time Machine will take over and backup your data every hour. The great thing about Time Machine is that even of you deleted a file you can go back to the day you started backing up the computer and retrieve that file. You can also use it to set up a new Mac computer and it will automatically transfer your preferences and your data with little to no frustration.


Windows 8 users:

Windows 8 has a piece of software built into the operating system called “File History”. Simply, purchase an external hard drive from a local retailer that is “Windows ready.” A 1TB (terabyte) hard drive will be more than enough for most users, and might be a little overkill depending on how big your computers hard drive is.

Then, plug it into the computer and swipe in from the right edge and then click search. Type in “File History Settings” and select it from the list. Click “select drive” and turn on File History. File History will allow you to recover old files as far back as when you started your backup. It can also allow you to retrieve old versions of a file that you may have been working on.


Now that you have set up a backup for you data you can rest a little easier knowing that if your computer fails or that new hard drive fails (I have seen it happen) your data will be safe. Also remember that power surges from electrical storms can be a contributing factor in a hard drive failure.  Remember surge protectors can help but unplugging your sensitive electronics while your away or during storms is always a good idea.

If you would like more information on how to setup a backup on your computer you can try one of these helpful links:

About the Canada Anti-Spam Law

July 2, 2014

July 1, 2014:  The Canada Anti-Spam Law (CASL) went into affect. If you run any type of newsletter or email list, hopefully you have heard about already, if not, here is a primer on it.

To Whom Does CASL Apply?

CASL, first of all, is a Canadian law, which means that we are talking about Canadian citizens, computers, mobile phones and tablets. Mostly, it’s about email, but also includes text messages and some social media items (like direct messages). Also it’s only applicable to messages that are about commerce, marketing and promotion, but not personal communications.

Given that Canada is our friendly neighbor to the North, chances are,  you have a Canadian somewhere in your subscriber list. Unless you know for sure that you have no Canadian subscribers, assume that you do. It’s super hard to tell if an email address is Canadian and virtually impossible to via email domain alone, unless it ends in “.ca” of course.  But many Canadian companies have .com addresses.

Getting Consent

You need to get consent to email to people/devices covered by CASL. “Consent,” by definition in CASL, is as follows:

  • You need to state the reason you are asking for their information and provide a description of the content that they will be receiving.
  • Your full contact information needs to be on the page, as well as your promise that they can unsubscribe at any time.
  • A record of this consent needs to be recorded. Also, all forms on your website need to have a positive action to subscribe somebody. Meaning things like checkboxes can’t be pre-checked.

Here are the times that you don’t need to get consent or it’s considered implied consent:

  • Messages to an employee, consultant, or people associated with your business
  • Responses to a current customer, or someone who has inquired of in the last six months
  • Messages from a charity or political organization for soliciting contributions
  • Messages that provide warranty, recall, safety, or security information about a purchase by the recipient
  • Messages that provide information about a purchase, subscription, service or other ongoing relationship
  • A single message to a recipient without an existing relationship on the basis of a referral with the full name of the referring person in the message
  • A recipient has purchased a product, service contract, or membership with your organization in the past 24 months
  • You are a registered charity or political organization, and the recipient has made a donation or gift, has volunteered or attended a function
  • A professional message is sent to someone whose email address was given to you, or is conspicuously published, and who hasn’t published or told you that they don’t want unsolicited messages

More Requirements

In addition to getting and recording consent, there are few more requirements to be in full compliance. You need to put your name and contact information (such as mailing address, website and/or phone) in all of your communications. All messages sent must also include an unsubscribe mechanism/link.

This post is just a brief introduction, if you need more information, you can read the Canadian law directly or see their FAQ.

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Alan has been creating websites since CompuServe was huge. Today he still is developing websites using technologies such as CSS3, HTML5, jQuery and CakePHP.