Sunday, 31 October 2010

You never know who's listening

I suppose it comes into the category of a story that will run and run: it has legs, as they say, even though the problem was caused on wheels. What am I on about?

It looks as if Google Street View could be in breach of some laws in the UK, after having had similar problems in other countries and been blocked from the odd village for 'snooping'. It even shows our neighbour, frozen forever in the act of reading a book in the conservatory in front of his house while we all wait for our bins to be collected. I was in but Elaine was out, according to the cars in front of the house. Do I care?

Not about the photos, but if I thought that Google had recorded a snippet of my Wi-Fi traffic then I might be. That seems to be the nub of it: incidental and, apparently, inadvertent recording of data. Data that might contain part of a confidential email exchange or even a password sent unencrypted to an FTP server. The interception was, as I understand it, done to match a WiFi router's MAC code to the physical location. This would enable, say, a mobile phone to check its location by looking to see what transmitters of any kind were in range. Those of you with iPhones will have seen that blue dot dance that occurs as the Google Maps application refines your location, from a combination of cell tower information and WiFi until it can, finally, use GPS to give you the real location. The story goes that some extra code from another project got into the Google car system and instead of just recording the WiFi's location it also recorded some of the traffic.

There is a lesson for us all here, which is the danger of amalgamating code snippets without fully understanding what they do. The 'snooping' code was presumably attached to something less contentious but both were incorporated in the street view system. On the one hand it's good coding practice to efficiently reuse your legacy code ... to not reinvent a software wheel ... but it is vital to look in detail at what that code does. In turn that comes down to documentation and code comments. It also comes down to making sure that any code put in a routine for testing purposes is removed or disabled in the release version.

There is also a great temptation to cut corners with code for internal use; but you never know when things will get out into the wild. In radio they tell you never to swear in front of a microphone because you never know when it might be live. Treat code the same way.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Rights, cyber crime and us!

In some ways it isn't surprising that cyber crime has risen up the government's and country's agenda in the revamp of expenditure in the recent security strategy review in the UK. For those working in this area we've known and understood the possibilities. And just as we've had to endure spam waves, identity thefts, and piracy, the possibility of electronic attack on nuclear power stations, electricity supplies and electronic espionage is not, unfortunately, the stuff that dreams are made of.

Just as some are hell bent on exploiting the fringes of this amazing communication revolution, others are still working to regulate aspects of it to tidy up loopholes such as the rights issues. There are still the administrative necessities of clearing literary rights in text on web pages, rights in the computer code behind the running of the pages, electronic database rights if so warranted, artistic rights in the sound and visuals, and so on.

You'd have thought that by now many of the traditional rights issues would have been addressed for the electronic age but there are still clashes of expectations and actuality in the use of the Internet creating a large gap when general market demand is held up by legalities they don't understand.

Take for example a request we had recently (not the first from ex-pats, I add) where there was a genuine disappointment about not being able to access the BBC iPlayer from abroad. The ex-pats would have paid for access and downloads of the programme they wanted if they could, but they were not given a choice as access is denied outside the UK.

Of course for those of us in the industry it was easy to explain why that is the case, but the reaction from the general public was akin to taking sweets off kids. Now, these were adults who could make sense of the legalities once we explained - the need for electronic rights clearances from all the actors/producers etc. with or without residual payments, deals done country-wide for releasing programmes only via the established land TV network at their time and scheduling convenience, and the restriction on BBC releases to other countries because of the implications of only UK taxpayers paying for the programmes in the first place. Those are some of the issues affecting release of BBC material, but although the ex-pats understood the words, they were genuinely gutted by the denial of their consumer demands.

In the end, I suppose what I'm getting at is the span of legal and illegal activities that the electronic revolution has given us to consider in this new world. It's an ethical question as to where we stand in this mêlée – where do you stand?

P.S. Yes, we do know how to work round some of these issues so don't send us your answers as many are still not legal , but you may not have fully appreciated it!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Business benefits of websites

Yes, it is very competitive at the moment in iMedia. There are loads of web companies trying to win fewer clients. Companies are demanding more business-focused results before committing their shrinking budgets. So, you have to work smarter. You have to explain the potential benefits of your work and be able to show you can achieve what you promise. You need to talk their talk too which means adapting your generic benefits into sector-sensitive benefits that make undeniable sense to the client you are talking to.

We provide a two page table of generic business benefits on Page 100-101 of our book, Managing Interactive Media, under the headings of People, Processes, Technology, Design, Business, Marketing and Infrastructure, and suggest that you refine them to suit your clients/market sectors in the Top Tips on page 111. Have you tried doing this? Now more than ever, you should consider this to differentiate your offerings from others. Here's the table.

If you want to get your new client thinking before they start giving you a brief, perhaps you'd be interested in an article, 8 things to think about, from UTC Web Design that make a lot of sense to the rest of us and are aimed at a client – but it's good to have someone else say them!

In the same vein, Adrian does a good job of listing the advantages and disadvantages of websites also in a way that talks directly to a client. This may help you too. Advantages and Disadvantages of Websites for Business, 6th Oct 2010.

You can get an idea of what we mean by looking at some benefits tailored specifically to clients that want a redesign of their website. This is a common project type, but now you'll need to sell it to them more than you used to. They will have to justify their spend more and so they'll need the benefits explained very clearly to enable them to pass them upwards in the organisation. This perspective on re-design comes from Pixelsworld, a content writer from India, but again, it makes perfect sense for us all. Get refining your benefits table for your own benefit.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Interface design trends

We suppose you are Gadget Show fanatics like us – sorry to those reading this outside the UK. This TV show highlights new and emerging trends in gadgets, tests gadgets across technologies and devises challenges for its presenters using technology. Well we were really interested in a feature on emerging computer interfaces in the game world that will have a ripple effect across computer fields too. It's the use of brain waves to drive computer action. Have you seen this? If not take a look at the TV clip at The Gadget Show, Five TV, and move to about 1 minute in to avoid the advert and intro blurb to get to the heart of the interaction with the Canadian company, 'Interaxon'.

This brain-power trend was also featured in CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2009 and is available via YouTube at

It seems that finally the reliance on typing, writing and mouse clicking is being challenged in computer interaction. The speech recognition software continues to improve while the touch/slide interface of the iPhone/iPad has been embraced wholeheartedly. It is difficult to keep up with the trends but as it's part of our profession we need to try. The advances in this field of computer interface design may well shape the careers of the future; so get your head around the possibilities and keep your eyes peeled.

One of the most succinct representations of the emerging trends has been captured by Gartner in July 2009 with their prediction graph for interface design. They plot over 30 trends including emotion detection, augmented reality, haptics, public virtual worlds, home health monitoring and digital pens among others. See this chart from New Scientist.

So if you're inspired by these, why not consider a training break in New York, 15-17 November for the Future of Web Design conference. Looking good.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Collating feedback on your iMedia team – how're you doing?

We have suggested that you evaluate your team members' performance as well as the overall project development process and share this with other project managers in the company a few times a year. The aim is to both improve the contribution from the team individuals as well as refine company processes so that projects run more smoothly. So, are any of you doing this? Has it made the difference it is meant to? The sense is obvious, but carrying out the task may well prove elusive. Hope not.

By way of encouragement to embed this practice into your company, we like the gist of Kiron Bondale's comments in Post Project Resource Evaluation: a forgotten contributor to success, Project Smart 3rd May 2010 where he pushes for each project manager/team leader to evaluate the team individuals at the end of a project using an objective 1-5 scale of performance with five questions defined by the company about expected project contribution. These are then fed into the employee's appraisal with his/her manager so that they can be referred to in the annual appraisal. (Do you have those yet? Strange if you don't.) Although Kiron suggests this when there is a split between the type of work a person does - some functional work according to a specialism and some project specific work - where the project manager is not accepted or seen as the actual manager of the person, this practice may well be useful for us in iMedia. What do you think?

It is as well to remember however that it is up to you to motivate your team and that ongoing timely feedback over the course of the project is essential and your responsibility. Feedback needs to be positive as well as negative too, so remember to praise where praise is due. Michelle Labrosse in 10 Ways to Inspire your Team, also from Project Smart, will remind you of the value of positive reinforcement, among other good points.

Finally if your team is performing as well as they can under difficulties generated by the clients themselves - and that's common in our line of work as we know - perhaps another point of view might help get them to coordinate their input to you. Joe, the web site manager at Water Aid, does a great job of explaining why his charity needed an internal project manager to help the success of their digital projects. Yes, they were doing it themselves but the same principle applies for your clients to feed clear instructions to you if they aren't doing their digital projects themselves. Streamlining communication always helps success. Nice article: Three Ways to Organise Staff for Digital Media Success, 3rd September 2010.

Get evaluating your teams!