Monday, August 29, 2011

Blame Social Media - then think again

Social media has been blamed for the riots across the UK last August and since then there have been numerous several cries from politicians and other senior people to shut social networks down to stop them being used for organising disorder.

As you may have read in a post I did on this several weeks ago, I thought the whole idea of blaming social media itself pretty ludicrous.

But politicians and leaders carried on this chain of thought, all the way up to the front doors of the social network providers. But there it seems to have stopped thankfully, as now senior UK politicians have backed down in their rhetoric to shut down or restrict networks such as BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook or Twitter.

After apparent 'positive' discussions a Home Office spokesman said that the “The Government did not seek any additional powers to close down social media networks.”

Hurrah.... we don't yet live in a dictatorship.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

So I have a mobile app developed - now what?

In today's final guest post from Mark Walsh from Nation of Apps, he answers questions on the important subject of what to do once you have your mobile application actually developed for you.

Do I need to promote my mobile app once it has been launched?
Well actually, the promotion should start before launch so that you have already generated interest in the app and your target audience are waiting in anticipation. Once the app has been launched you then have about a week to really push it and take advantage of being featured in the ‘new app’ sections of app stores. After this, you need to follow an ongoing programme of activities to maintain interest in your mobile app.

So how do I go about promoting my app?
There are a number of ways to promote your app and many depend on the type of app and target audience. Some ideas are:
- Consider a website to promote your mobile app
- Consider the use of social media to promote your app : Twitter, Facebook
- Present a YouTube video
- Post blog entries on your and other people’s blogs
- Consider getting app reviewers to review your app at launch to generate interest.

What if my app doesn’t work properly and I need to get it modified?
If bugs are found, resilience is poor, users are having navigation issues etc. then it is possible to get the application developers to make the necessary changes and re-deploy the app.
However, if this proves to be the case, you may well have missed the boat as it is likely users will have stopped using the app and maybe even deleted it. The app will also probably get bad reviews which will impact future uptake. It will be very difficult to recover from this and that critical week 1 impact will have been lost.
This is why thorough app testing is vital. Prior to launch, not only must the app be tested for technical issues but it should be tested by the target audience to ensure they ‘get it’. They need to know exactly what the app does without having to stop and think, be able to navigate easily, and achieve the desired result intuitively.

Mark's details:
company site:
blog :
Twitter: @nationofapps

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The financial low down on mobile applications

Following on from yesterday's post about getting your app right first time, Mark Walsh from Nation of Apps anwers more questions. This time around the finances involved.

So how can I make money from my App?
There are two main options to consider regarding mobile application monetization.
1. Offering Consumers A Free App And Make Money From ....
- Advertising
- Charging for extra functionality
- Charging for upgrades
Free apps receive significantly more downloads than paid for apps therefore you are guaranteed more downloads and could then use this as an opportunity to make money from displaying adverts, offering extra paid for app functionality, offering paid for functional upgrades.

2. A Paid For Mobile Application
You can charge consumers to download your app. If you are planning to do this ...
- How much would you charge?
- What do you base your charge on?
- Have you researched what a consumer might pay for a similar app?
- Are you prepared for less downloads than if your app was free and possibly have a more aggressive marketing campaign?

3. How much does a mobile app cost?
Mobile application development cost can vary depending on the type of app required. The key factors that have impact on the cost of an app are:
- How many features will need to be incorporated
- Complexity of the features within the app
- Goals and expectations
- Has a similar app been developed before or is this completely be-spoke
- Time required to create a good design
- Estimated app development time / duration.
- Server development and infrastructure costs
- Amount of project management required
- Amount of testing required

So is it a good idea to try and get the cheapest app developer I can find, or should I use a mobile application development company who might charge me more?

There are ways of paying less than the going rate to get a mobile application developed, but the old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ very often applies.

Inexperienced mobile app developers can leave you with a mess of poor quality code that is unreliable and impossible to maintain. In addition to this, using offshore app developers can lead to communication issues and difficulty in them understanding the culture of the target market. The risk exists that you will end up with an app that you can't use properly, can’t maintain, and gets bad reviews because it crashes or behaves erratically.
It’s a common occurrence in mobile application development that clients come to us to recover ‘botch jobs‘ whereby attempting to do things on the cheap has backfired and proved a false economy. For all the above reasons, it is therefore vital that you understand the risk of cutting corners and recognise the value of handing the development of your application to a reputable mobile application development company.

Mark's details:
company site:
blog :
Twitter: @nationofapps

Monday, August 22, 2011

How to get your mobile application right first time

I get asked quite a bit these days for advice on mobile platforms & applications. So I have asked Mark Walsh from Nation of Apps to answer a few questions on developing and delivering the right mobile app for businesses.

Once I have an idea for a mobile app, what’s the best process to follow to get it right first time?
There are a number of things that need to be thought through in detail. This starts with defining your mobile application requirements.
- What do you want your mobile app to do?
- What do you want to achieve with your app?
- Who is the target audience? Personas, Demographics.
- Do you have branding requirements?

How should I decide what platform to build for?
One of the key drivers to answer this question is regarding who will be using the app. It is important to understand your target audience and what mobile devices they use. Analytics from websites and apps that your target audience currently use can help with this. If you find the trend to be specifically more Android orientated, or iPhone orientated then there’s your answer.
If the app is targeted for specific business users, then it may well be that Blackberry should be the choice. It has been a common strategy for companies to develop mobile business applications first for iPhone, however this approach has often been flawed and the target audience found to be predominantly Blackberry users.

Mark's details:
company site:
blog :
Twitter: @nationofapps

Friday, August 19, 2011

eCommerce Programme or Project Manager? Part 2

This is the second of 2 postings on the difference between an eCommerce Progamme or Project Manager. The earlier part can be found here.

It’s a natural effect that the bigger the amount of work to be done, the more there is at stake throughout a business. Although this risk is typically financial, it could also have other important effects on your existing business. With this risk comes the responsibility of reporting it to senior people (with the aim that they can mitigate it as much as possible)… who in-turn may have directors, owners or shareholders to keep happy.
Keeping the senior stakeholders informed on a large online project can often be a role in itself and I would always recommend that the Programme Manager contributes or even runs the regular senior meeting attended by all relevant parties. The ability to participate in or even chair these sorts of meetings typically requires additional communication, influencing, or other skills that are usually beyond those needed of a Project Manager.

Coherence of Effort
When your ecommerce requirements need a programme of work, then it is essential to have a coherent overview of all effort. This is to ensure that there is no unnecessary overlap or conflict in tasks & deliverables. Although a Project Manager will be responsible for the effort within one project, the eCommerce Programme Manager must understand all possible touch points across all pieces of work for all projects. If there are any interdependencies, the programme manager must be responsible for ensuring that each Project Manager is aware of them and takes on the responsibility to their project.

Ultimate Value to the Business
A project manager has key performance indicators to report on, mainly that of the project running on time, ins cope and to budget. These are the main factors for a project to align to its business case and if it will be ‘judged’ as a pass or fail.
The ecommerce programme manager however must look at the overall value to the business for each component of the programme of work. They must be able to justify why each piece of work is important to the long term return on investment of ecommerce to the organisation.

All of the above lead into prioritisation of effort and resource allocation – which is fundamentally different between a project manager and a programme manager. The programme manager must have the ability to override a project manager’s plan for the ‘greater good’ of the ecommerce programme of work and delivering the maximum value to the business.

In summary, there are significant differences in both roles and as the key stakeholder of the you need to decide which one(s) you really need to ensure all your initiatives are a success in the long term.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

eCommerce Programme or Project Manager? What's the difference?

I’ve been asked the question several times before, so it is good to be able to explain what I believe is actually the difference between and eCommerce project or programme manager

For me the distinct difference between an eCommerce Project and an eCommerce Programme Manager is the basis of what drives their day to day activities. In essence this can be broken down in 6 areas:

Although the size of the project should not necessarily dictate whether you need to use a programme manager or not, there’s a growing view that when an eCommerce or Multi-Channel project gets to a certain size you move on from needing ‘just’ a project manager. The counter claim is that a project manager should be sufficient to run a single project no matter what the size.
I’m firmly in the latter camp on this one and believe that one eCommerce project should have one project manager… but here’s the important point: when a project is too big for a single person to manage effectively (e.g. a complete green-field project for a multi-national retailer) then it should either be broken up into phases for serial delivery over time or treated as a modular programme of work. For a programme of work, you would then need a programme manager and potentially multiple project managers.

Hierarchy/People Management
Not all programme managers are good people managers and just because someone manages a number of project managers this does not necessarily make them a programme manager.
But once you have both a Programme Manager and a Project Manager working together… then it is an obvious step to have the more junior person report into the senior. I have also seen situations where the Programme Manager has either had matrix or proper line-management responsibility for other members of the delivery team, such as business analysts and the PMO (Programme Management Office/r) or any resource that does not need to be dedicated to a single project for its entire duration. Let’s also not forget that that the practice of eCommerce has been established in many organisations for over a decade now and that you may find a Programme Manager having management of the ‘business as usual’ work-stream as well as delivering new functionality.

Update 19/8/2011: the second part can now be found here .

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why your eCommerce Project needs an eCommerce Project Manager

Let’s imagine a situation that is becoming a pretty regular occurrence these days…
You have been given the go-ahead for developing (or re-developing) your company’s online store or multi-channel retail proposition. As the ‘business stakeholder’ you are far too busy running day-to-day operations (or fighting fires) and do not have the bandwidth to deliver this work yourself. You have a ‘sizeable’ budget to implement the right solution without cutting any major corners, but you have to have it live within pretty tight deadlines and it must be ‘right first time’
(Question: Does anyone get told “oh, its ok if you screw it up this time around, you’ll have plenty more chances to get it right in the future except politicians?”).
There are a number of things you can initially do to get things on their way, but here’s why I suggest you look at getting an eCommerce Project Manager in first.

1. Market knowledge
Unless you have recent prior experience of the eCommerce landscape (e.g. the vendors, products, prices and all their associated short-comings) then you are stepping into a virtual swamp, where three letter acronyms (TLA’s) abound and the initially-offered price of some web services could be overpriced from anything between 20% and 300% … or beyond.
Someone who has managed a project similar to the solution you are looking for should have some idea of the available services and be able to hold your hand through the early stages of the project.

2. You don’t always have the right person internally
It is an obvious statement to make, but to stand the best chance of having a well-managed project you need a project manager with the relevant experience. If you do not already have someone within your organisation that can correctly fill the eCommerce PM’s role then you really need to look outside. I’ve seen all sorts of people in the past drafted into the role who were clearly not able to run the online project. Examples include: a graphic designer who was friends with the chief executive’s wife, an IT manager who clearly had other important things on her mind (like running the IT department) and a member of the ecommerce team who “didn’t have anything else to do”. In each case project either failed to deliver completely or had to be rescued by stakeholders and/or external assistance.

3. If you don’t…. it will be you that gets asked to deliver it…

In essence….. If you really want an eCommerce project run well and do not want to be given the run-around by the project, then you need the right person to manage it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

10 things to consider when building a new website

We often get asked to provide best-practice advice to clients about their websites and I felt it was best to put this information in the public domain.

  1. Before you start – Take time to understand the purpose of your site and who your users are

  2. Build on good foundations – Get the site map and user journey right and the structure and navigation will become apparent

  3. Content Is King - What is the message and is it conveyed correctly? Without engaging content people will leave and not return

  4. Present the content in a coherent way – Web pages are often structured to be a familiar UI to the user, allowing them to instinctively know how to use and navigate to the content they want to find. Presentation and navigation needs to be clear engaging and guiding in a way that represents brand values correctly online.

  5. A site is for life - Content is key to engagement but be sure there are people and processes in-place to keep it up to date

  6. Compatibility – There is a growing number of browsers and devices in the market today, so check your site has cross-platform compatibility from desktop to mobile.

  7. Don't Exclude – Ensure every visitor can use the site. Accessibility is increasingly more important with new legislation being written and passed all the time.

  8. Standards should be followed. Wherever possible:
    a. Use text and not images (able to be read by screen readers). This also helps with SEO as search engines can search all the text on the page.
    b. Use web-safe fonts (or approved webfont rendering techniques)
    c. Make navigation and links accessed via the keyboard
    d. Make images and headings are appropriate to the content and use correct alternative text.
    e. Test, test and test again.

  9. Less is more – A simple interface can say a thousand words, by minimising visual clutter a message and key points can be strengthened. Good use of whitespace to ensure the areas of the page are clearly set out and uncluttered.

  10. Engagement – The web is becoming a more social arena having the ability to contribute, share and interact with the site will help to develop a community and a reason for return visits.
    Note: Special thanks to Ben Kilby for initially putting this list together

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Don't blame social media for unrest

I live in Ealing in West London, where some of the riots took place the other night. I spent a lot of time listening to police sirens & helicopters overhead and throughout the disturbances I followed the news online (via the BBC) and on Twitter & Facebook.

In the last few days a lot of things have been cited as the cause of these riots, however one constant theme mentioned by Newspapers, TV & Radio channels is that "Social Media is allowing people to riot".

Quite frankly, this topic is a pathetic attempt to create headlines that are nonsense. Riots have existed before social media, and before TV and other channels. Note: I've yet to check if there was 'technically' a riot before the invention of the printing press... but you get my drift.

Social Media, just like the telephone and every other method of communication we have is not the cause of social unrest.... it is merely a facilitator, the channel via which people now interact with each other. Blaming it is like blaming the air for transmitting an influenza virus.

And just like air, Social Media has become just another thing we now take for granted in our modern lives. However there have been calls by some political leaders to shut down various social media (most popularly Blackberry Messenger / BBM because it is far less traceable). But as several overthrown rulers of several North African countries will testify.... trying to shut these sources down really didn't help matters....

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mallify : Facebook Commerce made easy

John Smith is Sales Director for Mallify, a social commerce application that enables businesses to have a store in Facebook. He’s taken the time to answer a few questions on his product.

a) How would you describe your product to a non-technical audience?

Mallify allows you to set-up a store with the Facebook website. It therefore makes use of the social shopping experience that can happen between users, encourages viral activity, lets them like and recommend & products and this way spread them to each-other. However the most important thing about Mallify is that enables them to buy your products directly with Facebook, so you don't lose customers by navigating them away to another website.

You get an F-Commerce store that is easy to set-up and easy to administrate. You therefore save time, use your own e-commerce processes behind the scenes and you don't even have to learn, trust or use a new online sales system. It’s a really flexible solution, where you can add and sell your products in your own way, get the customer data you wish and also use the payment gate/method you wish instead of being forces to use someone else's choice.

b) What are the key benefits:

Mallify has a number of benefits, but the main three are:

1) Most simple
It is really easy to start, understand and use Mallify, thus getting you trading online quickly and having an immediate short-term benefit

2) Most flexible
From a mid-term perspective you can customize your store and your products to fit, therefore running your online business how you want to.

3) Most social
By launching your store on Facebook, you not only joint the World’s fastest growing marketplace, you do it in an environment that encourages social sharing and group activity, thus helping to boost interactivity, engagement and therefore sales conversions in the longer-term.

c) Do I need to install any specific software?
No specific software is needed, only Facebook in any modern browser. Mallify is simply a Facebook app (approved) that you can easily add to your Facebook Page within a minute, this makes it easy to set up.

d) How do I get my products, prices and inventory into it?
The simplest way is to add the products manually into our system. For doing this we have a
special interface, the same one used to maintain your inventory (change prices, update the info, etc).
After you have created you Facebook Page you simply add the Mallify Store app to it. When this is done you will get a Mallify Store icon on your personal Facebook page - click on it and you will end up in the administration area where you can add, edit and delete company information and products.
As an administrator of the Facebook Page you can directly see statistic and sales, you can also add pictures and text to your store without leaving the Facebook Page.
If you're using a common e-commerce system, you can connect it to Mallify via the "Integration plugin". Just send us an e-mail and we will give you access to our API.
In our "Enterprise” price plan we even can build an API integration to your chosen system.

e) What payment service providers can I use?

The current supported Payment Service Providers (PSP’s) are DIBS and PayPal. However we are planning to quickly add more to our list as we have clients requesting them.

f) Is it secure?
Our system (the one that is storing your products, personal information, etc.) is well-secured using an SSL certificate .The payment process is further secured by the Payment Service Provider.

g) What is the cost of your service?
We have 3 plans and each plan has a set up fee which covers the implementation and API integration. The price plans are on our Facebook page - and at

Here is a quick summary:
Basic: £50 per month
Pro: £170 per month
Enterprise: £425 per month

h) Do you provide me with any help to set up my online shop?
It’s easy enough (and have a free 30days trial) to start by yourself. However should you need help there’s a support team available and further assistance is provided in higher
price plans. We can even do all the launch work for you - it's in the "Enterprise" plan
i) What UK/European clients do you currently have?

Hammarby Fotboll

Live Loud

Gynna P

Childrens Gift ideas (launching v. Soon!)

plus many other in a free trial phase right now.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Screen scraping: not dead, just renamed

A few years back I blogged about the act of screen scraping and why it was wrong to do this.

Since that time I've seen clients (primarily eCommerce ones) develop feeds for:

  • Affiliates

  • Google product search

  • 3rd party applications (e.g. Mobile apps)

  • and other such things

This however means that a decent website may quickly end up developing a number of different feeds that all do different things. It can therefore create a mesh of XML files & API's that can become quite complex to maintain and manage.

One approach is to create a single feed that is then used for everything, perhaps going via a marketing agency, who can then reformat it for different purposes. However this can turn out to be a pretty bulky file (e.g. if you have a large catalogue, this can quickly become several megabytes in size) or can contain details that you might not wish all parties to have (e.g. links to your hi-res images from your Content Delivery Network that you may be paying by the megabyte for).

So I was reasonably interested in this article from eConsultancy that seemed to address this very issue. Had they really found a decent solution to this problem? One that I think will only get worse over time as the needs of eCommerce sites grow.....

Well the answer lies in this part of the posting:

Next-generation data feed solutions allow feeds to be generated and deployed
quickly and at low cost by extracting the ‘front end’ product-related HTML code
from the website, with no requirement for any ‘back end’ data – or expertise on
the part of the merchant. By harvesting elements such as pricing, availability
and product attributes directly from the merchant’s website, it is possible to
ensure that the extracted data feed is comprehensive and accurate

So let me get that straight. This 'next generation' method doesn't use an actual data feed from the site owner. It works by 'harvesting elements' from the HTML of the merchant's site without their actual involvement.

And that's not screen-scraping how exactly?