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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.

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

 

 

 

 

Kelly's been known as the Marketing Maven since before the term was hip. (That means she's old.) She loves to get people together and help when she can to bring resources to the table and solve problems!
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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:

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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.

Alan has been creating websites since CompuServe was huge. Today he still is developing websites using technologies such as CSS3, HTML5, jQuery and CakePHP.
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June 27, 2014

Libby robbing somebody, looking for their phone.I have the good pleasure of being the dad of a vibrant 21 month old toddler. My daughter Libby has taught me many things about life from the mundane to the monumental stuff. In this blog post, we are going to talk about how she has educated me on user experience.

A Developers Goal

One of the things that web developers strive to achieve is a clean user interface with a consistent user experience. Simply put, we want users to be able to use our software. We make buttons that have a common look and placement and have certain important elements that are every page in the same spot, among other things. The goal is so the end user can quickly do their work, stress-free.

Bedtime Routine

Back to my daughter, Libby occasionally uses a kindle fire. Actually, almost everyday, before bed for about 10 minutes. She is very demanding of user interface of both the kindle itself and the apps installed. Here are a few examples. One day, while flipping through photos, she came to a picture of a fire and started backing up saying “hot”, like she has been taught with a real fire. Another time, she saw a picture of a dozen roses in my facebook feed and brought the kindle to her nose to smell them.

I have a great affinity for the outdoors and that was rubbed off on my little girl via way of animal calls. While looking at my facebook feed again, there was a picture of a moose, taken quickly with a cell phone. It was a little blurry and a little too far away.  She started laying down a mean cow moose call while expecting the moose to come closer in the photo.

Lessons Learned

While some of the stories above may be slightly entertaining, I have observed a few constant things from Libby. Of the things that I have learned from her, none are new to me. All are things I have known for quite some time, but now feel as though I understand them better.

So here is my list, most important user experience considerations, according to a toddler:

  • Speed, ability to do stuff before Dad sees.
  • Immediate feedback on actions, to know if it’s working or not
  • Lots of buttons and/or actions will just provoke a user to use them all in vain
  • The most commonly used feature on the screen should be the easiest to engage with

Another benefit of thinking of user interface design from a toddler’s point of view, young kids can’t read. Adults can, but seldom will while navigating through the interface of an application. They want it to work easily and quickly.

Keeping it simple, is not only what a toddler expects out a user experience is actually inline with what an average user expects.

Alan has been creating websites since CompuServe was huge. Today he still is developing websites using technologies such as CSS3, HTML5, jQuery and CakePHP.
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June 20, 2014

Why Relationships Are Paramount to Success

Often left to our own devices, we think that we know what we want. But once we get it, it isn’t right.  We end up not using it and we become frustrated and wasted our money.  Sometimes, we think we know what the problem is so the solution is easy. Of course most of the time, we don’t end up with the right solution because we haven’t worked through what the real problem is in the first place!  This is why we need trusting relationships to help us dig into the details, we actually figure out how to fix the real problem the first time.  Isn’t this true with our doctors and car mechanics?  It is pretty simple when we look at it this way, the foundation is trust.

160 Years Of Experience

N.H. Bragg and Sons had an Open House today.  The company has been in business for 160 years.

2014-06-19 12.44.15

Jon Eames and John Bragg

N.H. Bragg sells Industrial, Safety equipment and supplies.  They are good at it.  They began their business as a blacksmith supply company.

I believe that N.H. Bragg and Sons is still in business today and thriving is because of their strong relationships with their customers and their vendors. Their customers can ask them for advice and can trust that they will be treated fairly and honestly.  And as time marched on, they adapted, they grew and changed, never forgetting their core values of trust and integrity.

 

 

“Back In the Day,” 2005

Sephone’s relationship with N.H.Bragg started in 2005 when they needed an eCommerce solution to handle the needs of some of their largest clients. They also wanted website they could update themselves. Sephone’s content management system, datAvenger   fit the bill for keeping the website fresh and a custom eCommerce cart that could look up inventory, place orders and notify the Accounting Department for billing, Shipping Department for shipping.

Since then, more bells and whistles were added including rewrites to increase accessibility and usability for the N.H. Bragg customer in 2007 and 2012.  N.H.Bragg allowed Sephone access to their process so we could help them maintain the same level of customer service, increase efficiencies as the world moved even faster.  All on the foundation of  TRUST.

The Same “Stuff”

We have so many choices on where to get the “same thing.” But is it really the “Same Thing?”  Many products N.H. Bragg sells are available elsewhere.  But if you can’t find your way to your real problem, how do you know what to buy? Do you know how much to buy?

“Free” Stuff

Many things are Free on the web, Facebook, blog platforms and even websites.  And Sephone can build them too.  Many of the “FREE” and “CHEAP” may work out ok, but some need to be yours. Look like you. Integrate with “your stuff.”  Then grow with you as the internet, your customers and devices (like mobile) changes. You need to be easy to buy from,  give your customers what they need or they will go to someone else who will.

This isn’t a game. This is your business. Your life .

Does it all come down to “Who can you TRUST?”

Kelly's been known as the Marketing Maven since before the term was hip. (That means she's old.) She loves to get people together and help when she can to bring resources to the table and solve problems!
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June 13, 2014

The internet is such an integrated part of lives that we forget all the behind the scenes processes that take place in order for something like a web search to take place.  Search engines are indexing websites 24 hours a day with complex algorithms and they do their best to understand the data that they come across.

As website owners, managers, editors, designers, developers, etc., we can help search engines better understand the data we present them by using Microdata.

What is Microdata?

Microdata is made up of specialized attributes that can be added to a website’s source code as long as we follow the guidelines made available at schema.org.

For example: If you are a business owner with a website, chances are you have made your contact information available somewhere on your site.  Most of the time, if you are using a WYSIWYG editor, you would type in your information like this:

Sephone Interactive Media
P.O. Box 2357
Bangor, ME 04402
Phone: 207-262-5040

This is a good start , but we can make this better by adding some Microdata.  This involves a little bit of HTML markup and requires you to be comfortable working in source code.

<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Organization">
<span itemprop="name">Sephone Interactive Media</span>
<div itemprop="address" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/PostalAddress">
P.O. Box <span itemprop="postOfficeBoxNumber">2357</span>,
<span itemprop="addressLocality">Bangor</span>,
<span itemprop="addressRegion">ME</span>.
</div>
Phone: <span itemprop="telephone">207-262-5040</span>
</div>

Looking closely, you’ll still see the original data from the address, but we have surrounded the data with special attributes.  These special attributes, such as itemprop, itemscope and itemtype, help search engines understand the data they indexing and better know what to do with that data.

Another Example

Chances are, you have seen Microdata in use but not aware of it.  If I do a search for “Lady Antebellum Bangor Waterfront” in Google, one of the search results that appear is from Waterfront Concerts.

You’ll notice in a light gray text “Sat, Aug 30 – Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion”.  Since the Waterfront Concerts website is using Microdata to help search engines better understand its event data, the search engine is able to display additional information about the event within the results.

You’re not limited to just using Microdata for events and addresses.  You can also use it for recipes, people, real estate, products and more.

For more information on using Microdata, I encourage you to check out schema.org.  If you’d like to add Microdata to your website and need some help, feel free to give our office a call at 207.262.5040 or email us!

John is a designer at Sephone.
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June 3, 2014

iOS 8We watch a lot of product launches here at Sephone. It’s part of the life of a tech worker; it’s great to know what will be coming in the future. Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference is one of the most interesting for us, because often the announcements made there let us know what new things we’ll be able to do on the iOS side of mobile development when the next operating system is released.

It’s always tough to guess what exactly will catch on and gain mainstream usage. After the launch of the iPhone 5 a couple of years ago, we wrote about new features like Passbook and Smart App Banners and how could change how people used mobile sites and apps. Sometimes these features rise to popularity; sometimes they don’t. Whether or not they do, we love to know what’s out there – a little-used feature could be a perfect solution for a specific app or company.

Here’s a look at a couple of the announcements that caught our eyes during the preview of iOS 8 yesterday.

Extensibility

Extensibility is a fancy developer word for saying “letting developers build onto iOS 8 itself”. One of the ways to extend iOS is to build in ways to let apps talk to each other and extend what you can do in apps like Safari and Mail. During the presentation Apple showed that iOS 8 will allow Safari users to translate a web page’s content with a service like Bing or allow sharing on sites like Pinterest.

It will be really interesting to see how apps and companies use this kind of extensibility within iOS. Which sites would you like to share to from apps like Safari, or what services would you like to see available when you’re viewing a site?

HealthKit and the Health app

Health is becoming a huge area of focus for development, between fitness tracking apps, sleep analytics devices, and even blood pressure or glucose monitoring and tracking. Apple’s new HealthKit platform will let developers use a standardized platform for this kind of information in a way that keeps that data secure. The new Health app will be a dashboard showing graphs and statistics about a person’s health history. There’s a lot of possibility for innovation in this space.

iOS 8 will be released in the fall, and it will likely be adopted quickly by many of today’s current iOS users. It’s another step forward in the long road of new possibilities in iOS and Android development.

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.
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