Monthly Archives: May 2010

Technology

Useful Links: May 2010

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

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So you think Social Media is a fad?

One of the videos I saw presented at last Tuesday’s Dell B2B Social Media Huddle was Erik Qualman’s (@equalman) Social Media Revolution (refresh).  Set to the tune of Fat Boy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now, this video gives a whole load of statistics (the sources for which may be found on Erik’s Socialnomics Social Media Blog):

For those who can’t see the video, here are the stats:

  • Is Social Media a Fad?
    Or the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution?
  • Welcome to the revolution
  • Over 50% of the world’s population is under 30 years old
  • 96% of Millennials have joined a social network
  • Facebook tops Google for weekly traffic in the U.S.
  • Social Media has overtaken pornography as the #1 activity on the Web
  • 1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. met via social media
  • Years to reach 50 million users:
    • Radio 38 years
    • TV 13 years
    • Internet 4 years
    • iPod 3 years
  • Facebook added over 200 million users in less than a year
  • iPod application downloads hit 1 billion in 9 months
  • “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.” - Erik Qualman
  • If Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s 3rd largest
    [behind China and India, ahead of the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh...]
    Yet QQ and Renren dominate China
  • US Department of Education study revealed that online students out performed those reciving face-to-face instruction…
  • 80% of companies use social media for recruitment
  • % of those using LinkedIn…95%
  • The fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55-65 year-old females
  • Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears have more Twitter followers than the entire populations of Sweden, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, Norway, [or] Panama.
  • 50% of mobile Internet traffic in the UK is for Facebook
    Imagine what this means for bad customer experiences
  • Generation Y and Z consider e-mail passé
  • Some universities have stopped distributing e-mail accounts
    Instead they are distributing eReaders, iPads, Tablets
  • What happens in Vegas stays on
    Facebook
    Twitter
    Renren
    Kohtakte
    Flickr
    YouTube
  • YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine in the world
  • While you watch this [4' 26" video] 100+ hours of video will be uploaded to YouTube
  • Wiki is an Hawaiian term = Quick
  • Wikipedia has over 15 million articles
    Studies show it’s as accurate as Encyclopaedia Britannica
    78% of those articles are non-English
    If you were paid $1 for every article posted on Wikipedia you would earn $1712.32 per hour
  • There are over 200,000,000 Blogs
  • Word of mouth [leads to] World of mouth
  • 25% of search results for the World’s Top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content
  • 34% of bloggers post opinions about products and brands
  • Do you like what they are saying
    about your brand?
    You better…
  • People care more about how their social graph ranks products and services than how Google ranks them
  • 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations
  • Only 14% trust advertisements
  • Only 18% of traditional TV campaigns generate a positive ROI
  • 90% of people skip ads via TiVo/DVR
  • Kindle eBooks Outsold Paper Books on Christmas [2009]
  • 24 of the 25 Largest Newspapers are Experiencing Record Declines in Circulation
  • 60 million status updates happen on Facebook daily
  • We no longer search for the news, the news finds us…
  • We will no longer search for products and services
    they will find us via social media
  • Social Media isn’t a fad, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.
  • Successful companies in social media act more like Dale Carnegie and less like Mad Men
    Listening first, selling second
  • The ROI of Social Media is [that] Your Business Will Still Exist in 5 years
  • Still think social media is a fad?
  • Welcome to the World of Socialnomics
  • Are You Ready?

The video is really an ad for Erik’s book (Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business) but those statistics are pretty compelling… so, do you still think Social Media is a fad?

Me neither.

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Highlights from the second Dell B2B Social Media Huddle (#DellB2B)

This post comes with an apology: to all the tech readers of this blog, I’m sorry for including a marketing post.  Don’t worry – I’m still a geek at heart but I’m also getting involved in some marketing-related activities around social media, which meant that I spent a really interesting day in the company of senior communicators and marketing professionals at the Dell B2B Social Media Huddle earlier this week.

The event was hosted by Microsoft Advertising, and organised by For Immediate Release and Dell, with speakers from a number of organisations.  It was the second B2B Social Media Huddle – the first was back in December 2009 and these events aim to plug a gap as there are many people looking at the use of social media for Business to Consumer (B2C) communications, but there seems to be less focus in the Business to Business (B2B) space. 

The day included a B2B Social Media Overview from Neville Hobson (@jangles), Benjamin Ellis (@benjaminellis) talking about building a business case for B2B social media and a panel discussion with representatives from Dell, Intel and Microsoft, before a networking lunch, an unconference with several social-media-related topics (e.g. why CEOs don’t tweet, how to become an Internet private eye) and a number of roundtable sessions to mop up at the end of the day (before retiring for another form of socialising in the pub).

Rather than duplicate the content here, I’ll link out to the slide decks (they were all on Slideshare before the event was finished – several large technology companies could benefit from following a similar approach. Yes, I mean you: Microsoft, VMware, Citrix…).  I’ll also include some of the tweets on the #dellb2b hashtag along with some notes I made in order to summarise the key messages from the main presentations [hashtags and presenter names have been removed for clarity, spelling mistakes corrected]:

A quick tweet from during Kerry Bridge’s (@kerryatdell) introduction:

Is Social Media a Fad? Some interesting quotes in [corrected link: http://bit.ly/9tsqdx] [@markwilsonit]

My notes, followed by others’ comments on Twitter during Neville Hobson’s talk on B2B Social Media Overview:

  • Social media is not about Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (or any other site) – it’s about the connections made with people (if you forget that, it adds to the perception that it’s all a waste of time with no ROI).
  • It’s a seismic shift, and very disruptive in some organisations – hence the reason to be clear about what you are setting out to achieve.
  • It matters because of the increasing importance of word of mouth on purchasing behaviours – social media amplifies and accelerates word of mouth, rapidly shaping and influencing opinion and can help foster a genuine connection between a company and it’s customers, partners and employees.
  • Understand where and when people talk about your brand, with who (precisely) and aim to take this from awareness to acting as an ambassador (if that’s your goal) – the connections made might help her to bring your brand into their peer network (informal, highly social) and form a trusted partnership.  Other engagement methods are formal – the unstructured informality of social media jars against this.
  • Formula for success involves knowledge (understand your marketplace), clarity (listen and learn with precision), influence (identify locations of influence and influencers) and content (focus on syndication and conversation).

Biggest comms challenge facing businesses today: Authenticity and transparency. Employees need to be able to speak freely [@guy1067]

What is B2B social media? Important to define it or understand what you want to achieve with it [@guy1067]

It’s about the connections you make with people it’s not about Twitter Facebook etc. Relationships not channels that matter [@guy1067]

Why social media matters – increasing importance of word-of-mouth recommendations in purchasing decisions [@joiningdots]

YouTube: Best Practices for the B2B Marketer: http://bit.ly/bfDROf [@markwilsonit]

Am I the only person who doesn’t see the point of foursquare? [@sukhysukhy]

[She wasn't... but...]

“This is just the start of location services” Too true [@ciaranj]

Formula for success in Social Media = Knowledge + Clarity + Influence + Content [@msadvertising]

3 key steps to B2B social media: 1) Listen 2) Plan 3) Engage [@tbush]

My notes, followed by others’ comments on Twitter during Benjamin Ellis’ talk on building a business case for B2B social media:

  • The Social Media business case is often expressed as ”believe” (together with some “stats porn”) but “believe” is not a business case!
  • “Buy my stuff” is not marketing – everyone wants to buy – no-one wants to be sold to.
  • Failure is a learning experience – whatever you do in social media will have an element of failure.  Allows us to learn.
  • Social media is a new set of tools – and it’s an input (tell you where things are not quite right).  If business thinks everything is perfect, then you have a problem.
  • You can’t buy attention any more.
  • Move from me = brand, you = customer (adult/child relationship) to a partnership.
  • When marketing, we speak “vendorese” – if customers/audience are advocating a company, brand, product or service, they write in a language that’s understood.
  • An audience is not a community – if you spend the social media budget on audience, it will not return business value – a community sticks together.
  • To create a community there are three options: build one (inexpensive, but how to you get people to go there), buy one (e.g. fund a user group – but be careful about how you do it), or borrow one (join and existing community, or pool resources with competitors to build an ecosystem).
  • For resources, you’ll need everything you can lay your hands on – not just money (social media platforms are free, time is expensive).  Understand who there is within the organisation that you can work with (some CEOs are charismatic – others are not) – and don’t forget the “engineers” (they may mumble, but can produce technical videos that are passionate and engaging).  Personality is key!
  • Tone of voice does not work for social media – understand what the personality of your business is – aspirational branding is fine, but what is your business actually like? Social media may not bring transparency but it does bring directness.
  • Slip social media under the research and development budget – what is your marketing R&D strategy?!
  • Experimental becomes core – look for return on innovation.  What was the business case for a B2B website a few years ago? Social media channels are a new form of this.
  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint – be in it for the long run – ROI calculations do not work well for social media (or marketing in general).
  • The best strategy is to think big, move fast, act small. Build big strategic plan – think about where you want to be and where social media fits in (in an ideal world), then plan backwards, then plan forwards. Ask, “what’s the smallest next action that I can do?” Start to execute the plan in small steps – and do them quickly.
  • The biggest ROI question: are your prospects, competitors, or customers active on Social Media?  What’s the cost to your business of ignoring social media?
  • And think about who you hire: not just what they say in social media whilst they work for you – afterwards too.

Know who the influencers are know what they’re saying about your brand… social media isn’t always about marketing [@guy1067]

Business case around B2B social media often revolves around the idea of  ‘believe’. Enthusiasm isn’t a business case [@guy1067]

Most businesses don’t have a ‘discovery’ budget when it comes to social media [and] marketing [@arunsudhaman]

Whatever you do in social media will involve an element of #fail …failure however gives the opportunity to learn [@guy1067]

Traditional media = interruption; digital media = engagement; social media = advocacy [@markwilsonit]

An audience is not a community! [@tbush]

Marketers speak “vendorese” – if customers/audience are advocates they speak in a language that’s understood [@markwilsonit]

B2B – to build a community takes 2 to 3 years or you can buy a community (easier) or borrow (take part) [@cofacio]

“Don’t start what you can’t finish” is particularly relevant to social media (and it never finishes…) [@joiningdots]

Understand the personality of your company as that’s your brand [@heatherataylor]

Walk away if your bosses are looking for a fast return on social media investment [@robshimmin]

What was the business case for a B2B website a few years ago? Now switch that thought process to social media [@markwilsonit]

Social media still a marathon not a sprint. If can’t commit for the long-term risky to commit at all [@joiningdots]

Last updated 96 days ago… Don’t be that Twitter account! [@tbush]

Followers mean very little. Engagement is key! [@tbush]

Decide what you want to achieve with social media and work back from there in small steps be flexible [@cofacio]

“The rewards are there including financial. But they’re unpredictable” [@joiningdots]

When building a social media strategy – think big act small move fast [@markwilsonit]

If your prospects/customers are on social media not being there is like not having a telephone [@eepaul]

“Who you hire” is now part of your B2B social media strategy; employees talk about your business [@eepaul]

“Employees have the microphone”; “Think about who you hire”; Nice point[s] [@grahamsm1th]

Great Q: Would Gerald Ratner be a #fail now[?] A: He’d be a hero; and ironic humour would be recognised – 20 years of change! [@markwilsonit]

Comments from Twitter during the panel discussion with WCG’s Neville Hobson interviewing Kerry Bridge from Dell, Microsoft Advertising’s Mel Carson (@melcarson/@msadvertising) and Laura Conger from Intel (@intelitgalaxyuk):

Dell has now made $6.5m out of Twitter use [@arunsudhaman]

Be transparent [and] give everyone press training: Laura Conger from Intel on “How to keep the lawyers at bay” [@nathanmcdonald]

How do you keep lawyers at bay? Common sense inherent knowledge of what’s right/wrong [together with] some guidelines [@guy1067]

Microsoft rep thinks Looking Glass is next big thing? Pity no one knows what it is… [@sukhysukhy]

[To be honest, Mel Carson had gone against the spirit of the event with this blatant product marketing (although he sees it as evangelism)... whereas Dell and Intel were talking about broader issues... so, in case you were wondering...]

@melcarson referring to Microsoft’s Looking Glass tool – video embedded at http://bit.ly/98WMgQ [@joiningdots]

Panel agrees the next big thing in social media will be mobile. Do you have a mobile strategy in place? Are you prepared? [@zoe9]

Within B2B who should be responsible for social media? General answer seems to be cross-functional [although] Intel thinks [social media should have its] own dept [@guy1067]

Another good Q – personal vs corporate identities online who owns the content and what happens when they leave[?] [@joiningdots]

Who owns social profile if you leave your company? context + relevance but still no definitive answer [@guy1067]

[Kerry Bridge later explained to me that Dell has three types of Twitter account: personal, newsfeeds and business discounts (generally B2C) - also look out for unauthorised accounts - maybe using your logo/brand but often not positive - find out who they are!]

Can social media give biz competitive advantage? That’s a yes across the board; gives open dialogue with people [@guy1067]

1st step in social media? Go where audience are ask ‘why?’ start small and build how you can add value to the conversation [@guy1067]

How do you get social media buy-in across multiple depts? Difficult[.] Dell has leadership team with reps across depts [@guy1067]

Microsoft Advertising’s B2B social media white paper (learn and earn) http://bit.ly/bIU7Gh [@markwilsonit]

Totally agree with @melcarson “social media isn’t just about Facebook and Twitter[;] it’s about community questions and answers” [@cofacio]

Social Media Spend tiny despite huge growth http://bit.ly/bgMDR6 [@mrmrboulton]

Microsoft talk about getting internal commitment [for] Social Media success. Easy to say but HOW do you do this? [@sukhysukhy]

ROI on Twitter etc… can be reduced costs for call centres etc. [@ciaranj]

Dell [and] MS monitor employees social media output but there has to be an element of trust and training [@cofacio]

Interesting Intel [and] MS consider blogs are their most important social media tool [due to] interaction [and] discussions[. Microsoft also] mentions SEO [@cofacio]

Content is king and blogs are best social media tool for your marketing [@shivseo]

That covers most of the conversation from the main sessions: I’ll write some follow-up posts for the two unconference breakouts that I found most useful (so watch this space).

Finally, if anyone is thinking “I wish I’d been there”, then the recorded sessions are available on UStream.  Mel Carson has also posted his photos from the event on Facebook, including yours truly chatting with Sharon Richardson (@joiningdots).

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Overview of Windows Phone 7

One of the best sessions I saw at the recent Microsoft UK TechDays events was when I crossed over to the developer side for a couple of hours and listened to Charlie Kindel (a Group Program Manager for the Windows Phone Developer Experience) giving an overview of Windows Phone 7.

Before he got started, it was interesting to see the audience split in terms of device usage.  Remember, this was a geek audience, there to learn about Microsoft products, and in the UK – so, not really indicative of the broader smartphone scene – but, based on a show of hands:

  • 40% were using Windows Mobile.
  • 40% were using the Apple iPhone.
  • 15% were using Android.
  • A handful of users run Blackberry with a few more for Nokia devices.

Charlie Kindel spoke about how Microsoft is changing their game when it comes to mobile development and how this change manifests itself in a number of ways:

  • Design – the end user comes first. Previously, Windows Mobile was designed for handset manufacturers – even down to important functionality like the phone dialler!
  • Platform – aiming to provide, richer, deeper, easier applications. Windows Mobile was never really a first class citizen in the Windows platform – and the corresponding developer headcount at Microsoft has increased from a handful to a few hundred.
  • Hardware – faster to market, with less heavy lifting. Windows Mobile had many form factors, which could be seen as an advantage but the user experience varied widely.  Microsoft is now taking the view that too much flexibility dilutes the brand and fragments development. As a result, Windows Phone is based on a homogeneous hardware ecosystem.

So, why does heterogeneous hardware work for PCs but not for phones?  Charlie Kindel explained that Microsoft has previously given developers tools for a la carte phone product development – compared with an extensible Windows general purpose operating system - and this fragmented the implementation as developers could not rely on a given feature being present – in effect, they designed applications for the lowest common denominator.

Audience

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is looking to “do a few things really well” based on a target market.  For Windows Phone 7 Series, the target market is what Microsoft calls “Life Maximizers” (sic).

So, who are the Life Maximisers?  Microsoft characterises them as:

  • Busy, personally and professionally.
  • Living a rich, active life.
  • Settled in a relationship rather than seeking (i.e. have family pressures, etc.).
  • Juggling priorities.
  • Valuing technology as a means to achieve goals.

In short, the target market for Windows Phone 7 Series is trying to balance an insanely busy personal life with the stress and pressure of work [Hmm... that sounds familiar!] and the things that are important to these people are:

  • Not feeling overwhelmed.
  • Balanced priorities.
  • Growing, personally and professionally.
  • Living life to the full.

Smart design and integrated experience

Windows Phone 7 is about building a product that’s different, for good reasons, considering things like smart design and integrated experiences.

To look at integrated experience it’s worth asking why, for example, can’t Zune and Xbox work together? Why is Office over here and Windows over there?

“Microsoft appears to be pretty good a presenting our organisational boundaries to customers”

[Charlie Kindel, Microsoft, 16 April 2010]

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has tried to overcome this to present a unified design that draws on technologies from across Microsoft; producing a phone that’s optimised for the mobile experience but remembering that it’s not a PC – and so it won’t be successful if standard desktop metaphors are applied.  The phone design uses typography, motion, and a light, clean user interface to make it easy to glance at the device and pull out key information.

The Windows Phone design system (formerly codenamed Metro) is intended to provide users with a consistent, and authentically Windows Phone, experience with great information and flexibility, inspired by metropolitan signposting (street signs, transportation, etc.).  There’s a design guide and language for designing applications and their structure, drawing on the concept that many phone usage scenarios are “glanceable” – designed for a quick look, maybe with a few steps to get in, and to get out again and carry on with the things that are important in life.

Indeed, Zune users have enjoyed a similar interface for a while – even here in the UK (where the hardware devices are not available), the Zune software can be used as a media player and Kindel suggests its a way to see where Microsoft got a lot of the experience that led to the Windows Phone design concepts, drawing on a number of principles:

  • The user interface should be clean, light, open, and fast.
  • Celebrate typography – font design and how it’s used is key to the user interface.
  • Motion should be used effectively to “delight” the user (e.g. when something cool happens) without being gratuitous.
  • Focus on the content – not the chrome (indeed, there is hardly any).
  • Authentic experience, whether it’s built in to Windows Phone, or provided by a developer.

Looking at Metro another way, the goal is to focuses on the individual and their tasks, helping to organize information and applications.  This is not a device centric model – it’s very user-centric but there are a number of hubs that provide an integrated experience (together with the panoramic approach used for the user interface):

  • People: a social centre for all contacts and status updates; Facebook, Exchange and Windows Live integration; the ability to update status and photos on multiple networks.
  • Productivity: a hub for handling work and personal e-mail effectively; managing work and personal calendars together; viewing, posting and synchronising documents on SharePoint sites; using pinch/zoom and rich document support to easily view, comment on and edit Office documents (Word, PowerPoint and Excel); taking and synchronise notes with a PC using OneNote ; integrated search including integration with Bing Maps and provision of Deep Zoom capabilities.
  • Pictures: a simple, powerful photo wallet; synchronised with PC over USB or Wi-Fi; the same photo libraries are available on PC, phone and Xbox; with live updates of albums and comments from social network contacts.
  • Music and video: a single media player for music, streaming audio, FM radio, podcasts and video; the full Zune Player experience; music and video libraries available on PC, phone and Xbox.
  • Marketplace: a large selection of applications; merchandised and filtered for simple delivery; a convenient purchasing process; applications connected across PC, phone and Xbox.
  • Games: a destination hub for casual and Xbox live social games; easy to discover new games though spotlight recommendations; Xbox Live avatar and gaming profile available on the phone; ability to play games with friends across PC, phone and Xbox.

The use of these hubs, and the ability to flick left and right between them on a single panorama (with up and down scrolling for more information) is where Microsoft sees the innovation in the Metro user interface and the integration with other Microsoft products drives home the “three screens and a cloud” message that we’ve heard about for a while now in Microsoft keynotes (PC, Phone and Xbox/TV).

Hardware

For the reasons outlined earlier, Microsoft wants to enforce a consistent set of hardware capabilities for Windows Phone 7.  That’s why recent devices such as the HTC HD2 will not be supported, even though they are technically able to run the Windows Phone 7 software.

There are some limited choices such as screen resolution – at launch the will be support for a 480×800 display although a 320×480 option will come later – and the provision (or not) of a hard keyboard but all Windows Phones will share common hardware elements:

  • The same touch input.
  • Consistent CPU/GPU.
  • Same amount of available RAM.

Microsoft’s goal is that the Windows Phone hardware will be made up of common hardware elements, providing a consistent platform so that there can be a focus on quality.

Application platform

Microsoft’s biggest competitor in the market they have selected for Windows Phone is Apple.  The iPhone was innovative when it launched but so may consider that it’s become stale [I would be one].  But Apple has a big advantage over Microsoft – their App Store.  Sure, they’re annoying some developers and alienating key software vendors (e.g. Adobe) but they have a huge market presence.  Coming up behind is Google, with a raft of open source developers looking to build on Android so what has Microsoft got in store for Windows Phone?

As with the rest of Windows Phone, Microsoft has stepped back and taken a look at how to “change their game”.  The came up with new philosophy for the application platform. Most of today’s mobile applications are powered by web services and Microsoft wants to make it easy for developers to create applications with both client and server-side components.  Applications may start with a web API behind a website, exposed via a browser but then along come the optimisations for different clients, for example: a PC with a nice keyboard and a high definition display; a TV with a remote control; or a pocket-device such as a phone that is intended for glancing at information.

The resulting philosophy is about experience, rather than applications, built from a combination of people, standards, server code and client code.  In short, services power experiences.

Microsoft’s platform goals for Windows Phone are about helping end users to personalise their phones, helping developers to be profitable and enabling cloud-powered experiences.  The key elements of the application platform for Windows Phone are:

  • Runtime: code you write on a client.
  • Tools and support: tools you use to design and develop.
  • Cloud services: code you write on a server.
  • Developer portal services: tools you use to ship and sell.

Looking first at cloud services – there are some integration services and frameworks on the device allowing developer to hook into custom web services (e.g. on Windows Azure or another cloud platform), established services using common APIs (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.), or into the services that Microsoft provides as part of the platform (either implicitly, or via an API).  These platform services include:

  • Location - using GPS is slow and power hungry so Microsoft has a location service combining Wi-Fi, cell tower and GPS data to balance power, speed and accuracy.
  • Notifications – exposed as: a live tile (to glance at updated information); “toast” notifications to actively alert a user and allow them to jump into an application; or pushing notifications to deliver updates to an application that is running in the foreground.
  • Xbox Live gaming service
  • Application deployment and marketplace system.

Moving on to the code running locally on the phone – PC, phone and TV do not follow a “write once, run anywhere” model – they have very different user experiences but a lot of the code (business logic, etc.) is the same, so applications can be built and optimised for a particular device.  This leads to two flavours of applications – Silverlight and XNA:

  • Silverlight applications offer a modern XAML/event-driven application user interface framework  for rapid creation of visually stunning apps using the Metro-themed user interface controls (HTML and JavaScript) spanning Windows and the web.  Note that, the Windows Phone browser is optimised for mobile use – but that there is no support for Silverlight in the browser in the initial release [does that sound familiar to anyone?]
  • XNA applications offer: a high performance game framework for rapid creation of multi-screen 2D and 3D games with a rich content pipeline and a mature, robust, widely adopted technology spanning Xbox 360, Windows and Zune.

The Windows Phone application model was designed to provide a user experience that is predictable (consistent), safe high performance and innovative.  This is facilitated using: the .NET common language runtime (all Windows Phone applications use .NET managed code, so they run in a sandbox); the Windows Phone process model for safe, secure and performant access; and service-based application deployment (i.e. applications are loaded via a web service, fronted by Microsoft’s application marketplace).

From a toolset perspective, whereas Windows Mobile development involves a plethora of downloads, there is a single (free) download for Windows Phone that is integrated with all of Microsoft’s main development tools: Visual Studio; Expression Blend; and XNA Game Studio.  The developer tools package includes an emulator (running a virtualised build of Windows Phone 7 compiled for x86 hardware), including support for 3D acceleration and multitouch but without support for an accelerometer in the current CTP release.  Developers will also be able to unlock handsets for development use and there will be packaging and verification tools (e.g. to allow beta testing without applications being verified).

.XAP is the common format for all Windows Phone application (including games), it’s a declarative, manifest-based installation, and it’s integrated into the security model of the phone.

The basic deployment process (accessible via the Windows Phone Developer Portal) is:

  1. Develop and debug – including beta testing on real devices.
  2. Submit and validate an application – Microsoft can crack the application open and validate it.
  3. Certify and sign – a process to ensure that the application meets all policies.
  4. Windows Phone application deployment service – makes the application available.
  5. Marketplace – consumers can acquire the application.

The application marketplace will offer simple, reliable acquisition – including a “try before you buy” API; payment flexibility (e.g. via mobile operator or credit card); and easy application updates.

Summary

To summarise, I’d like to use a quote from Gizmodo:

“Microsoft’s approach is completely different. Instead of becoming another me-too cellphone, like Android and the rest, the Windows Phone 7 team came up their own vision of what the cellphone should be. In the process, they have created a beautiful user interface in which the data is at the center of user interaction. Not the apps—specific functions—but the information itself.”

On the face of it, Windows Phone looks to have brought Microsoft back into the smartphone market, or, as Gizmodo put it, “Microsoft has out-Appled Apple“.

I still have some questions though:

  • If the hardware choices are restricted, what will encourage a manufacturer to produce a device with no obvious means to differentiate themselves from their competition?  How will what’s effectively a v1.0 phone operating system compete with more established smartphones from other vendors?
  • How extensible is the operating system – for example, it integrates with Windows Live and Facebook, but what about the integration of Flickr albums and my Twitter status into the Pictures and People hubs?  Hopefully the application model allows this without requiring applications to be treated as second class citizens (aside from the obvious issues around the lack of multitasking).
  • Indeed, will developers write apps for this platform when iPhone and Android are already well established (and when Microsoft has essentially told developers to throw away their previous investment in Windows Mobile and write something new)?

Most importantly, will people buy this phone? I’ve heard some people (including ex-Microsofties) saying they won’t because it’s not sufficiently business-focused. It’s not for kids either (that’s the Kin) but I sit right in the demographic that Microsoft has designed this phone for and I want one! I’ve also been an iPhone user since it launched in the UK – but I’m ready to jump ship because, v1.0 or not, I think Microsoft has come out with something truly innovative with a gorgeous user interface (just as Apple did when they launched the iPhone).

I really hope that Windows Phone is, as it seems to be, a Phoenix rising from the ashes of Windows Mobile – an operating system that still has its roots in personal digital assistants from the 1990s – and I hope that the platform continues to develop (it needs to if Microsoft is to avoid alienating the business users who have, so far, propped up Windows Mobile).  Maybe we’ll see several concepts, sharing the same basic framework, so Kin, Windows Phone, and whatever Microsoft has planned for business (a tablet?) can draw on the same underpinnings but each can be uniquely tailored to their audience.  For now, I’ll have to wait and see: to wait for Windows Phone 7 to ship; and to see which models are available in the UK, and on which networks, at what price.

Resources

The following resources provide more information about Windows Phone 7:

Technology

Sumvision Cyclone Micro: some advice for using this inexpensive media player

Last week, Joe Baguley tweeted about a media player he had bought for his kids for just £18 (after discount).  The device in question is the Sumvision Cyclone Micro HD HDMI Upscaling Multimedia Player Adaptor and, as the name suggests, it’s a nifty little box to upscale standard definition/DVD video to high definition (HD).  It works just as well for those who don’t have an HD television as it comes with a composite cable to hook up to most TVs (including my aging Sony Trinitrons).  Basically, this tiny box of tricks takes a memory card or USB 2.0 input and provides HDMI 1.3 or composite A/V output, for not very much money at all.

Unfortunately, many of the forums/online retail sites that review the product are full of people saying “it doesn’t work”! I spent some time working on some of the issues that people were having and thought I’d post the results here in the hope that it’s useful to others.

What’s in the box?

Unfortunately many of the questions I saw on certain forums were asking (repeatedly), “does it come with…” so, just to make it clear, this is what you get in the box:

  • Media player.
  • DC power supply (5V, 2A).
  • Remote control.
  • Composite out cable.
  • Mini-CD with instructions.

There is no HDMI cable, and European users may need a composite to SCART converter (which should cost no more than a couple of quid at your local electronics store).

Remote control issues

The remote control looks cheap (it is!) and has blue text on black background making it difficult to read.  In addition, the buttons may be difficult to press but it’s functional.  Some people are complaining of interference with their TV functions – I didn’t experience that but I guess it depends what TV you have.  Remember this unit only costs around £20 and you get what you pay for!

If you don’t want to use the remote control that comes with the Cyclone Micro, there are reports that it will work with a Logitech Harmony One.

Unable to access external hard drive

This issue seems to be pretty common and is probably one of two things:

  • Disk (partition) format: according to Sumvision, the Cyclone Micro can read USB devices with a FAT, FAT32 or NTFS file system, or MS, MMC, SD or SDHC cards with FAT or FAT32.  Note that does not include ExFAT, or any Linux/Unix file systems. I’ve used an 8GB Sandisk Extreme III SDHC card (straight from my wife’s Nikon D40) to view pictures (in .JPG format) on the Cyclone Micro, as well as a FAT32-formatted USB thumb drive and an NTFS-formatted external hard drive with a variety of media types.
  • Power: If your hard drive won’t work with the Cyclone Micro, it’s probably down to the power it needs.  Some drives need more power than others. Sometimes they are supplied with a Y-split USB cable and, as the Cyclone Micro only has a single USB port, that won’t allow enough power to be provided.  If your device works off a single USB port, or has its own power supply, it should be OK.  I used a Freecom ToughDrive 120GB with no issues.

Unable to play .AVI files from compact cameras

I have a Canon Ixus 70 and, like many compact digital cameras, it can record video.  The resulting files are 640×480 @30fps, in a .AVI container format and GSpot informed me that they use the Motion JPEG codec.

Although the files show up in the menu on the Cyclone Micro, any attempt to play them results in an unsupported format error message.  Converting the files to Xvid format (e.g. using WinFF, with default settings), resulted in a .AVI file that could be read and played by the Cyclone Micro. [Credit: I got the idea of using WinFF from Jake Ludington's post on converting AVI to iPod-compatible MP4]

Unable to play MP4 files

I’m still not entirely happy I have found the final answer to this but, according to Sumvision, the Cyclone Micro can play MPEG1/2/4 (.MPG, .VOB or .AVI), DivX (.AVI), or Xvid (.AVI), as well as ISO files using these formats.

Certainly none of the MPEG4 files I produced worked (they were not even displayed in the menu on my Cyclone Micro, which is running firmware version 3.3) but programs like WinFF or Handbrake should help here (indeed, in testing, I successfully converted an H.264 .MP4 file to .AVI using WinFF).

Alternatively, ripping DVDs to .ISOs is faster than transcoding them, and it seems to work a treat.  Windows users could probably use something like Lucersoft ISO Creator (or any number of tools) but I followed Slash Dot Dash’s advice to create a .ISO CD/DVD image on a Mac:

  1. Insert media.
  2. Type drutil status to get the device name for the DVD drive.
  3. Unmount the media using diskutil unmountdisk <em>devicename</em> (e.g. diskutil unmountdisk /dev/disk1).
  4. Create a .ISO using dd if=<em>devicename</em> of=<em>filename</em>.iso bs=2048 (e.g. dd if=/dev/disk1 of=myvideo.iso bs=2048).
  5. Sit back and wait for a while (you should be able to hear the DVD spinning so you’ll know its working).
  6. Test the image by mounting it with hdid <em>filename</em>.iso (or opening it in Finder).
  7. Eject media and (optionally) burn the .ISO or, in this case, copy it to a device that can be read by the Cyclone Micro.

The resulting .ISO file should play on the Sumvision Cyclone Micro. Just to be clear, I’m not condoning making copies of copyrighted material (although it may be legal to make backup copies for personal use in certain jurisdictions, sadly not in the UK though) – I’m assuming the DVDs that you want to copy are home movies, etc.

Summary

This post covers some of the more common issues that might be experienced when working with the Sumvision Cyclone Micro.  Whilst it’s not without its faults (H.264 and Motion JPEG support would be a huge step forward), I guess issues like the ones described in this post should be expected with such an inexpensive device. If I find any more tips and tricks, I’ll post them on this blog.

Further reading

The following resources may be useful for additional technical information:

Technology

Configuring a Cisco IP phone for VoIP using SIP – revisited

Cisco logoA couple of years ago, I blogged about getting my Cisco 7940G IP Phone working with SIP firmware and an external VoIP provider (in my case, it was Sipgate).  I also wanted to get a couple more Cisco IP Phones working – the Cisco IP Communicator softphone and a 7911G for my wife’s business but, unlike the 7940 and 7960, these phones use a different configuration file format – an XML file that I’d never managed to get working properly.

Now, with the help of Garry Martin, I’ve got the 7911G working.  Hopefully the IP Communicator will follow soon but, for now, this post describes the steps I needed to take.

Installing the SIP firmware

Just as with the 7940, I needed to load the firmware using a TFTP server - in my case it was a simple case of adding a few extra files to the existing server – I used v8.5.4 of Cisco’s SIP firmware for the 7911 and, once the phone located the server and found the term11.default.loads file, it pulled down the remaining firmware images and updated itself.

Next up, I created two configuration files: XMLDefault.cnf.xml (note the case); and SEPmacaddress.cnf.xml.  Just as for the 7940′s SIPDefault.cnf and SIPmacaddress.cnf, these configuration files provide default and device-specific settings respectively.

The TFTP logs show the phone attempting to load some other files too (CTLSEPmacaddress.tlv, English_United_Kingdom\tc-sip.jar and English_United_Kingdom\g3-tones.xml) but the fact they don’t exist doesn’t seem to matter.

The last file that the phone downloads is dialplan.xml.

SIP Providers

I mentioned that, with my 7940G, I connect directly to Sipgate and I initially tried to do the same thing with the 7911G but it doesn’t work.  This is where Garry helped me out – he’s already been through this with a 7965G - and he found that the newer Cisco IP phones will attempt to register using a high port number but expect a response on the configured VoIP Control Port. To make this work, they append the rport parameter on the VIA headers in SIP registration.  This is RFC compliant but doesn’t take into account the symmetric network address translation (NAT) workarounds that some providers have in place to maximise device support.

In Garry’s testing with a few different providers, he found the SIP Proxy Voxalot had a Web UI option for Symmetric NAT enable/disable that allowed his 7965G to succesfully register, and both SIP Providers VoIPtalk and Orbtalk worked without modification. However Sipgate (like me, his main SIP provider) failed consistently.

The workaround we used was to use another SIP Proxy (Sipsorcery) to act as a broker between SIP providers (although, in my case I only use one provider). Working with Aaron (Sipsorcery creator and admin), two changes were put in place. The first was for Aaron to remove the troublesome rport parameter in the top VIA header for phones registering against Sipsorcery with a specific UserAgent. In Garry’s case the UserAgent string was “Cisco-CP7965G/8.5.3″, and in mine “Cisco-CP7911G/8.5.3″. The second change was to apply a dialplan on our accounts that modifies the bindings for SIP responses that use high port numbers.  My dialplan is called incoming and it contains the following Ruby code:

bindingURI = sys.GetBindings()[0].ContactSIPURI
bindingURI.Host = bindingURI.ToSIPEndPoint().SocketEndPoint.Address.ToString() + ":5060"
sys.Dial(bindingURI.ToString())

Once I’d made sure that my SIP account had appropriate incoming and outgoing dialplans, my registration authentication failures went away – for reference, the outgoing dialplan that I use contains:

sys.Trace = true
sys.Dial("sipgate")

Where sipgate is the name of the SIP Provider that I have registered on Sipsorcery.

A few more things to know

Unlike my 7940G, the 7911G configuration needed to know about my external IP address for NAT purposes.  Without the <natAddress> parameter I could call out, but the phone didn’t ring for inbound calls and so I didn’t answer, meaning that callers were redirected to my Sipgate voicemail.

At this point, my configuration should have been working but there were still some issues. Rather than embarrassing myself by pointing out my stupid firewall (mis)configuration issues, I’ll highlight some key facts:

The control ports that are needed for SIP communications are:

  • SIP: TCP and UDP 5060.
  • SIP-TLS: UDP 5061.

Some more ports are needed for the actual communications – these are called media ports (RTP/RTCP) and are configurable in the phone configuration files but both TCP and UDP ports are required, generally for Cisco products in the range 16384 to 32766.  Two ports are required for each media stream – an even numbered port for RTP and the next higher odd numbered port for RTCP. So on a 2-line Cisco phone, you need 4 ports (say 16384-16387), and on a 6-line phone, you need 12 ports (say 16388-99).

If you use multiple phones, you’ll need to think about assigning different port numbers (e.g. 5062/3 for SIP) and using IP address reservations with appropriate IP filters set on your firewall.  I haven’t done this yet – it could be the subject of a future post as I still need to get the 7940G and the 7911G working in tandem, once I’ve sorted out a second power supply, or some Power over Ethernet (PoE) for the handsets.

Remember that, just because you have selected a certain range for media on a given device, doesn’t mean that the remote party will use the same range so only set the destination port numbers in your inbound firewall rules, not the source port numbers (i.e. allow responses from any source port to be passed through to the appropriate destination media ports).

Finally, some tools that may help (if you don’t have a good friend who’s already gone through this, like I did!):

  • Wireshark is great for seeing what the SIP/RTP conversations look like (e.g. SIP authorisation issues, one-way conversation streams, etc.).
  • Sipsorcery has its own console and, not only can the event * filter be used to trace proxy activities and interactions but event full gives an extremely verbose log.
Uncategorized

Enabling website compression to reduce bandwidth use

After years of steady growth, markwilson.it has seen a small drop in the number of blog subscribers in recent months.  To me this means one of two things:

  • Perhaps RSS is no longer the most useful way to consume blog content (for example, I rarely read RSS feeds these days and rely instead on what friends, peers and industry contacts “talk” about on Twitter to understand what’s worth reading.  I know that many of my readers follow me on Twitter @markwilsonit too).
  • People don’t like my posts.

If I’m brutally honest with myself, it’s most likely to be the latter – after years of blogging furiously, I have seriously scaled back – partly (mostly) due to a lack of time - and so I guess some people have assumed that I’m no longer blogging (or at least not blogging enough that’s interesting enough to keep in their feed reader).  That’s a shame – and it’s not really something that I want to see becoming a continuing trend.

Graph showing bandwidth growing and exceeding quotaStrangely though, as my blog output has dropped significantly, and my subscribers have dropped (ever so slightly), my bandwidth usage has continued to rise – to the point that my hosting provider actually dropped the site returning a “bandwidth exceeded” message to readers recently (thankfully, this was resolved within a very short time of me noticing and bringing it to their attention).  When I started to look into this, I found that the biggest jump in bandwidth usage related to my upgrade from WordPress 2.2 to 2.9 in January.  I couldn’t understand why the same database, same theme, etc. running on a new version of WordPress would result in a significant increase in bandwidth usage until I saw that WordPress no longer contains an option to compress content for clients that support it, or, in WordPress parlance: “WordPress now leaves compression as a decision for the server”.

There are loads of plugins out there to enable GZIP compression on WordPress 2.5 and later; however I found that the WordPress guys are right – the simplest way is often to let the web server handle the compression – after all, I’d like to compress content (and save bandwidth) for all of my content, regardless of whether it’s served from WordPress.

I found the answer in Ryan Williamscomment on a post at Il Filosofo - by adding a few lines to my .htaccess file (after checking that my host has the deflate module enabled in Apache), I saw a 72% reduction in the bandwidth required to serve my home page.  This is the code I added:

AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html text/css text/plain text/xml application/x-javascript application/json application/x-httpd-php application/x-httpd-fastphp application/rss+xml application/atom_xml application/x-httpd-eruby
Header append Vary Accept-Encoding

In a nutshell, this tells the server to deflate various text-based document types.  Job done.  There are various tools available on the ‘net to see if a site has compression enabled (such as GIDZipTest) but my favourite is Is My Blog Working because it also tells me about some other items that I might like to look into to potentially improve the efficiency of the site.  Hopefully now I’ll see my bandwidth fall back within my quota – which should also please my hosting provider.

Uncategorized

Reassigning recommendations in LinkedIn

This week’s new job means time to update LinkedIn. Previously, I’ve taken the view that all of my time with one company was a “position”, but when I look back at what I’ve done at Fujitsu in the last 5 years, it’s actually pretty diverse and better represented by three separate positions. That’s not a problem – LinkedIn let me edit the dates and provide details for new positions – but then I found that some of the recommendations people had provided for me needed to be matched to a different position.

LinkedIn doesn’t provide a method to reassign recommendations between positions – at least not directly within the user interface – but Garry Martin told me a way to get around the problem – this is what you need to do:

  1. Select the position that you would like to move recommendations away from and click the Edit link.
  2. Make sure that you have a copy of the details contained within the position (some quite cutting and pasting into a text editor should be enough) and click the Remove this position link.
  3. When LinkedIn prompts for confirmation that you are sure you want to delete the position, click the Yes, delete button – as the site suggests, any recommendations associated with the position will remain, but they will remain hidden until they are associated with another position. Contacts are unaffected because they link to an individual person, rather than a position held.
  4. You should see confirmation that the position has been removed – click the Add Current Position link.
  5. Recreate the position that you just removed, using the information that you saved before deleting the original position. Click the Save Changes button.
  6. You should see confirmation that the new position has been added – repeat steps 4 and 5 for each of the positions that you would like to add to your profile.
  7. Click on the Profile link and select the Recommendations dropdown to manage recommendations – at the end of the list you should see some unassigned recommendations which were orphaned by the deletion of one or more positions earlier in the process. Click the Show recommendations link.
  8. Select a relationship for a recommendation (i.e. the position to which it applies), ensure that the Show this recommendation in my profile checkbox is selected, and click the Save Changes button.
  9. You should see confirmation that the recommendation has been updated. Repeat steps 7 and 8 for each unassigned recommendation.

After completing this process, you should have reassigned each of the recommendations that were originally associated with a position to one of a number of new positions.

Uncategorized

IT Tweet Up number 4 (#ITTU4)

For a few months now, a group of IT guys have been meeting up every few weeks for “IT Tweet Ups”.  Although the numbers have been small, they’ve been a great opportunity to expand my network (I missed the first one, but was at the last two) and I’ve met some interesting people.  If you think you might like to be at the next one, the details are below, including some of the people who might be there for a chat, some drinks, and some of Ye Olde Mitre’s now legendary toasted sandwiches! Unfortunately I have another commitment that evening and can’t be there (I lost out in the twtpoll for the date), but will hopefully make it along for #ITTU5!

Site notices Waffle and randomness

New job/full disclosure

For some time now, this site has carried a disclosure notice and I generally avoid talking about my work here (for reasons of confidentiality – but also to prevent potential conflicts of interest).  Today I’m going to make an exception, because it’s the first day of a new job for me.

I’ve been a Senior Customer Solution Architect at Fujitsu since August 2005 and, in that time, I’ve worked on customer-facing project implementations; pre-sales consultancy and bid work; and, more recently, have carried out some internal roles evangelising technology, developing capability within our architect community and leading the technical strategy and direction for client device services, including the adoption of Windows 7 within our desktop managed service offering.  Whilst these roles have been interesting and varied, I was recently presented with an opportunity to join the Office of the CTO as a Strategy Consultant and today is my first day in that new role.

I’m not going to say too much about what I’ll be doing in the new role except that I’ll be promoting Fujitsu brand and opinion on a variety of topics and that’s why I felt it appropriate to write this blog post.  Regardless of my professional activities at Fujitsu, this site will still concentrate on the technology issues that I find interesting and it’s not going to become a marketing channel for my employer!

I’ve spent 6 years and many late nights building up this site, along with another year building a my reputation on Twitter and in other social media outlets – that’s my personal reputation as ”Mark Wilson, Technologist” and not “Mark Wilson, Strategy Consultant at Fujitsu”.  So, just to make sure there’s no confusion: this site (markwilson.co.uk/markwilson.it or whatever domain name I might assign to it in the future) is my personal website;  the views and opinions here are personal and are not endorsed by my employer; if you see me commenting elsewhere on behalf of Fujitsu… well, that’s the day job – you know, the one that pays the bills!

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