Radar

New technologies are emerging every day. Here’s what you should know about them.

Use your market’s news as inspiration

December 13, 2012

Boxing glovesSometimes you can find new ways to innovate simply by reading news headlines.

Over the past couple of weeks there’s been a firestorm in the Twitterverse after a change in policy from Instagram, one of the most popular mobile apps for photo sharing. As you may recall, Instagram was acquired by Facebook earlier this year. For reasons that aren’t exactly clear yet, Facebook decided to change how Instagram photos show up on Twitter; instead of showing up right in the tweet itself, Twitter users now have to click the link to the photo to see it on its own instagram.com page. (Facebook’s version of the story is that they made the change either to provide a better experience for users, and pretty much everyone outside of Facebook thinks they’ll eventually put ads on those pages.)

What happened next was kind of interesting. Many tech and mainstream news outlets played the story with a bit of sensationalization, using headlines like “Instagram photos will no longer work on Twitter”. Users, many believing that they’d no longer be able to share their Instagram photos on Twitter (not true), panicked and started looking for other options.

In the wake of the story, Twitter announced that they’re releasing a new version of their mobile apps with a lot of Instagram-like functionality built-in. And yesterday Flickr announced a completely revamped version of their mobile app that also includes sharing, filters, and more, highlighting in a blog post that “your photos look gorgeous no matter where they are viewed, on or off Flickr”.

Here’s the thing: a relatively small change in policy from a photo sharing giant has caused what may be the next wave of innovation in that space. Twitter and Flickr listened to what users were saying, understood their frustrations, and did something to make their experience better.

What’s happening in your industry that your company could address? What frustrations do your customers have with your competition, and how can you provide some relief for them?

We see news of companies innovating every day. Will yours be next to make headlines and grab new customers?

Thanks to Kristin Wall for sharing the photo in this post with a Creative Commons license!

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Justin is a web and mobile developer 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.

How your company can benefit from iPhone 5 & iOS 6

September 20, 2012

Yesterday Apple released the next version of the guts of their mobile devices, an operating system called iOS 6. If you have the iPhone 3GS or newer or if you’ve bought an iPod touch or iPad in the last couple of years, you can grab the latest batch of goodies in your Settings app now.

With all the buzz around Apple’s product launches, sometimes it’s tough to put things in perspective and figure out how the new releases can help your business. Here are a few new ideas to consider that are now possible thanks to iOS 6.

Smart app banners

If you have an app in the App Store – or if you decide you’d like to make one – iOS 6 adds the ability to automatically put a banner when someone loads your site in a web browser to indicate that you have an app available for download or purchase. When the user clicks on the banner at the top of your site, they’ll go directly to your app’s page in the App Store (or open the app if they’ve already downloaded it).

Single-app mode

Using the new Guided Access features in iOS 6, you can lock an iPhone or iPad into a single-app mode; in other words, you can limit what people can do on a device to a specific task. There are lots of possiblities to make great new applications using this mode:

  • Surveys to fill out and then return to a company representative
  • iPad-based guided tours of museums that people can take around with them
  • A product portfolio or an email newsletter signup to use at a trade show

If you’ve ever wanted to single-purpose iPad application, Guided Access will be music to your ears.

Passbook

iOS 6 includes a great new app called Passbook. It’s a central place to keep tickets, coupons, passes, and more to all your favorite shops and events.

The great news about Passbook is that it doesn’t only work with national chains and major airlines; it’s relatively simple to create coupons and passes for any store – including yours. Imagine your shop’s name listed on someone’s phone next to the likes of Starbucks, Target, and more.

Passbook makes shopping and saving really easy for customers, and it’s a great opportunity for your business. Reach out to us if you’d like to talk about making passes for your store.

What will you do?

iOS 6 and the new iPhone 5 opens up many new possibilities to reach your customers wherever they go. How will you use them for your company?

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Justin is a web and mobile developer 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.

Your business on Pinterest

February 21, 2012

Pinterest logoHave you tried Pinterest, the latest social craze? It’s a fairly new social network, but its popularity is exploding – there’s probably a good chance you’ve seen pins shared to Facebook, or little “Pin It” buttons on some of your favorite sites and blogs. The users on this digital version of a corkboard or scrapbook are pinning their favorite products, fashions, wedding ideas, and much more.

The idea’s simple: you find a page you like on the web – say, for a recipe – and “pin” the site to one of your boards on Pinterest. The site grabs an image from the page you pinned and shows it on the board. If any of your friends like the pin, they can “repin” it to their own board. It makes it really easy to share ideas, photos, and more.

Where do businesses fit into the mix? Some popular brands have already created boards on Pinterest, and it’s a great opportunity for your company to be a social media early bird like we discussed here last week.

Here are a few Pinterest business tips, whether you decide to set up your business on Pinterest and if you’re a business owner who would like to allow people to share on Pinterest from your site.

Using Pinterest as a business

There’s not really a “right” or “wrong” way to use Pinterest; honestly, it hasn’t been around long enough to have a “normal” way to use the site. That’s part of what makes it exciting! I’ve been using Pinterest for a couple of months, and I’ve jotted down a few guidelines for businesses.

  • Think about what you’d like to see as a customer. If you were following your own business, what would you want to see? New products? Ideas for how to use the stuff you sell? Find a way to excite people with what you do or sell.
  • Don’t just pin your own stuff. Pinterest doesn’t really give you a lot of guidance about what to pin, but their etiquette does say not to always self-promote. Sure, your customers probably want to see your latest products and tips, but you might want to give them a look at some things you find that interest and inspire your business, too.
  • Careful about copyright. We’re not lawyers here at Sephone, but if you’re pinning pages that don’t belong to you, make sure the original owner is OK with having their content pinned. Just yesterday Pinterest blogged about how they’re addressing copyright issues.
  • Be creative. People will visit the pins that interest them. Don’t be afraid to try new things: pin exclusive coupons, fun from around the office, and behind-the-scenes looks. People love to feel like they’re a part of the businesses they love!

Making your site Pinterest-ready

Even if you decide not to join the pinsanity, your site (and your business) can benefit. Some sites have already seen huge spikes in traffic and sales thanks to their Pinterest presence. If you’d like to let people share your items or content on Pinterest, make sure your site makes it easy for them.

  • Add “Pin It” buttons. Pinterest has a “‘Pin It’ Button for Websites” that lets you add an easy way to share pages from your site on Pinterest, just like you would with Facebook or Twitter. It’s a great way to let visitors know you want to be pinned (and remind them to share what they find!). (If you’re not sure how, we’d be happy to help!)
  • Know what people would want to pin. Well-placed buttons are key. Don’t feel you have to throw a “Pin It” button on every page of your site; think about what people would want to share with their friends.
  • Use interesting images. Remember, Pinterest is all about images. Add an image to each post or product page that will entice the people who see the pin on Pinterest to click through and visit your site (and ultimately buy your product!).
Think about whether there’s a way to incorporate Pinterest into your business’s online image. It’s another example of how social media and the web can help you reach new customers in new ways. How do you think you could use Pinterest for your own business – or do you need ideas about what you could pin? Let us know in the comments.
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Justin is a web and mobile developer 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.

Five reasons to be a social media early bird

February 17, 2012

All Attempts to Land Against the Wind Have Failed....

We’ve been talking a lot lately about some of the social networks you might not have tried: Foursquare, Yelp, Google+… and we’ll talk about another new one next week. There’s a lot happening in the social media space, and we know it can get a little overwhelming.

We like to let you know about these new sites so that you have the option to explore them early. Being an early adopter (one of the first people or businesses to use a service) can bring some big benefits to your company.

Let’s look at five of our favorite perks for being a social media early bird.

  1. Freedom to experiment. The first users of a social network are often the ones to shape how the network grows. #Hashtags and @replies on Twitter started as user ideas, for example. The early period of a network is when its users really feel free to try new things, and other early adopters are usually more receptive and sympathetic if a campaign or post doesn’t work as expected.
  2. A rich history. If a site becomes popular over time, it’s helpful to have a long list of posts that users who join later can browse. It helps your company become a respected source for information on that network.
  3. Community kinship. Early adopters on a site feel a sense of camaraderie; they’ll often stick together and feel a sense of pride about how long they’ve used a service. It’s a level of support that can be tough to match.
  4. A new group of fans. It seems obvious, but planting your company on a different network gives you the opportunity to reach a different set of people. Those that do know you can tell others about your business, and those who don’t have a new chance to learn.
  5. Experience to share. If you have a long history on a site, your experiences there make great fodder for blog posts as the network’s popularity grows (“Lessons learned from three years on Facebook”) or other forms of PR (“Coming up: hear from one local business about how they’ve increased their sales using Foursquare”).

We don’t post about all these networks to burden you with lots of new things to check or do. Our goal is to keep you informed about the options you have for communicating with your customers online. If you already feel like your social plate is too full, that’s fine – but playing around with a new site has the potential to be a huge boost for your business.

Thanks to Dionne Hartnett for sharing the photo in this post with a Creative Commons license!

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Justin is a web and mobile developer 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.

What Facebook’s Timeline means for you

December 15, 2011

If you hear more people than usual talking about Facebook over the next few days, you won’t be alone.

Today Facebook announced that it’s finally rolling out the newest look to profile pages, called Timeline. By now you probably realize that design changes on Facebook aren’t anything new; they typically roll out a change every few months. This change is a really noticeable one, though, so it’s guaranteed to get people talking.

What’s new

Facebook Timeline

The big idea of Timeline is simple: instead of seeing just the latest stuff you’ve posted on your profile, you’ll now see a mix of whatever stories Facebook thinks are most important from your entire history of being a Facebook user. Scroll down your profile, and you’ll see stories from last month, the month before, last year, and years past – all the way back to your birth!

Facebook post menuThat might make you raise your eyebrows a bit. Luckily, Facebook lets you control everything that shows there. You can choose to show or hide it on your Timeline by placing your mouse over a story and clicking the little pencil in the top right – and you can also choose exactly who can see it by clicking the icon that shows up to the right of the story’s date. It gives you all the control you’d ever want, but granted, it takes some time!

The other change is a new review page. When someone tags you in a post or photo, you’ll have the option to review it before it shows up on your page. It’s great to prevent those, let’s say, unflattering photos from showing up on your page.

What you need to do

Facebook’s giving you seven days to review the information on your timeline. That means you have a week to look through the posts that show up there and hide or change privacy for each of them. Make sure you check that nothing shows up there that you don’t want!

Facebook has a couple of other new tools to help you check privacy, and they’re both available right at the top of your timeline. The first is the new activity log. That log shows everything you’ve ever posted on Facebook – but don’t worry, only you can see this!

If you need another way to check the privacy of your Timeline, use the “View As…” option in the gear menu. This lets you put in the name of one of your friends to let you see exactly what that person will see. It’s a handy way to see exactly what other people can see.

Facebook’s written their own blog post about the changes that runs through Timeline in a bit now detail. Enjoy your new profile!

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Justin is a web and mobile developer 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.

Should you join Google+?

July 22, 2011

As you may have heard, Google recently launched a social network of its own called Google+. While it’s not exactly like other networks you may know and use like Facebook and Twitter, they’ve incorporated a lot of the features of these other sites to try to make social networking easier to use and understand.

That’s all great, but let’s be honest: should you join?

How Google+ is different

Google+ revolves around the concept of “circles”, or groups of friends. Circles take the idea of friend lists on Facebook and make them a lot easier for normal people to understand. When you add a new connection on Google+, you’ll be asked which circles you’d like to associate with that person. You can make as many circles as you want, and you can make a circle for anything: “Friends”, “Family”, “Backpacking”, “California”, “Sales Prospects”, or anything else.

Circles really come into play when you share something new. Every time you add something, you can tell Google+ only to show the post to certain circles. If you want to share a post about a new industry development to your co-workers or clients, add those circles. If you shot some photos of your nephew’s wedding and want to limit who sees them to your family members, no problem. It’s really easy to make sure only the right people see what you want to share.

Google’s also added two new areas called “Hangouts” and “Sparks”. In a Hangout, you can have a group video chat with your friends (kind of like you can do on Skype or iChat, only right in your web browser). Sparks are similar to a search on Twitter; choose a word or phrase, and Google+ will keep you up-to-date with the latest content that matches that phrase.

How to decide if you should join

Even with the new features in Google+, there’s really nothing you can do there that you couldn’t do somewhere else (either Facebook, Twitter, or Skype/iChat). It seems like Google+ expects people to enjoy the convenience of having all of these features all in the same place, or they just want to highlight easier sharing, better photo viewing, and more as compared to the other social networks. Right now, Google+ is still in its infancy, and it’s tough to tell if it will grow anywhere near the size of larger networks like Facebook and Twitter.

If you enjoy testing out new technologies, or if you want a new way to connect to more people online, check out Google+. But if you’re still new to social media or have trouble keeping up with the networks you already use, you may want to wait to see how it grows before you join. We believe social media shouldn’t feel like a chore; to be the most effective with online tools, you should really enjoy interacting with your connections. Join the networks that you feel will be the best bang for your business’s buck.

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Justin is a web and mobile developer 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.

Making sense of “the cloud”

June 9, 2011

The end of the nice weather?There’s a good chance you’ve heard some news about “the cloud” lately. When we in the tech industry mention “moving to the cloud”, we’re not talking about those cumulous or stratus ones in the sky. “The cloud” is the Internet: your data stored on web-connected servers.

You may already store some of your information in the cloud. If you use any kind of webmail service (like Gmail or Yahoo Mail), you’re already there. Over the last couple of months, though, companies are trying to expand the amount and types of data that are stored online.

The technology behind cloud services is still relatively new, and it’s a bit confusing to understand how it works. On top of that, the big players – Amazon, Google, and Apple – have different ideas about how your cloud data should be accessed. Let’s take a look at where we stand.

Why would I want my data stored on the Internet?

Have you ever downloaded a song on your computer at home, headed out to a meeting or commute, and realized you forgot to move the song from your computer to your mobile device? Cloud-based services allow you to access your data no matter where you are; as long as you have a device that can connect to the Internet, you can access your files.

But it’s more than just music. Do you have a presentation to do? With a cloud-based service, you can create the show on your home computer and then access it from your iPad or laptop when you’re at your meeting or event. You never need to worry about where your files are or what version is on what device; everything is kept up-to-date in the cloud.

Amazon and Google’s view: access data online through a browser

May was a big month for online music. Amazon launched their Cloud Player and Google began inviting people to use their Music Beta. Both are really convenient ways to access your music wherever you are. Upload your music from your computer once, and you’ll be able to access it anywhere you have an Internet connection.

With Amazon, you can also store photos and documents on their Cloud Drive. Google has Google Docs to let you store and edit your documents from right within the browser.

Here’s the bottom line with Amazon and Google’s services: your music, documents, and photos are stored on a server online. If you want to play or edit them, you work from the copy on the server. There’s nothing to download or sync; you work with the file directly in the cloud, and you can stream your music from the cloud anytime you’re connected to the web.

Apple’s view: keep copies on all devices up-to-date

On Monday Apple introduced iCloud, their new service to allow you to keep music, documents, photos, documents, and more up-to-date on your devices. iCloud uses a lot of the same concepts as Amazon and Google’s cloud services, but they do it a little differently.

Instead of working directly with a version of the file on a server, Apple creates copies of your data on all the devices you own. If you make a change on one device, those changes are pushed to an Apple server and then automatically updated on all your other devices. The end result is the same: if you’re working on your presentation on your home computer, you’ll be able to see the latest version regardless of the device you use to view it. Pick up your iPhone and the latest changes will be right there.

Which is best?

All that said, which flavor of cloud services is best? There’s no easy answer to that. With Google and Amazon’s services, it’s really quick and easy to access and edit your changes on any computer or device without downloading any special apps or viewers. The downside is that you need to be connected to the web to access your data. Apple’s iCloud automatically keeps all of your devices up to date, and you can access the latest version whether or not you’re connected online. You need to have a computer or device that supports iCloud, though, and you’ll have to download music to your device when you first buy it instead of the instant streaming Amazon and Google offer.

Whichever option you choose, cloud services let you worry less about the location and versions of your files and let you concentrate on the important stuff. And remember, we’re just getting started; with cloud services, the sky’s the limit.

Thanks to Tambako for sharing the photo for this post with a Creative Commons license!

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Justin is a web and mobile developer 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.

Google Alerts for your business

February 9, 2011

We launch new sites just about every week here at Sephone, but last week I launched one of my very own. next:maine is a collection of news and stories about the innovative technologies and businesses people create in Maine.

One of the best parts about working on a personal project is that it gives me a chance to try out new tools not only for developers, but also for site owners. To find the latest news about Maine innovation, there are two free tools I use the most. One’s Twitter Search, and the other is Google Alerts.

Think of Google Alerts as a regular Google search that lets you know anytime there’s a new result that matches your search. You can choose whether you want to be notified of new results with a daily or weekly email, or you can also have results delivered as they happen with an RSS feed.

There are a ton of possibilities for using Google Alerts to help watch things that are important to you and your business. For example, you could add an alert for:

  • your company name
  • regional news about your industry (“maine construction”)
  • conversations from potential customers (“boothbay harbor trip”)

Try out Google Alerts today. You can set up as many as you want for free, and it’s a great way to stay on top of the latest news about your business or industry.

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Justin is a web and mobile developer 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.