Friday, 16 December 2011

Copyright consultation rumbles on

The next stage of the UK government's copyright consultation is now under way. This follows on from the Hargreaves report and picks up several specific points on which comments are requested via a web page at the Intellectual Property Office.

It's a complex set of proposals and I've only just started to look through it but things I note initially are:

Copyright exception for archiving and preservation
Current law allows limited copying for preservation but this, surprisingly, does not extend to sound recordings, films, broadcasts, or artistic works. The irony here is that material which has most difficulty surviving in a digital age is excluded. The proposal is to extend the exception (to more kinds of work and to allow more copies) and to allow more kinds of institution to do the copying. The consultation refers to 'such as museums and galleries' in this context so we might assume any other kind of organisation or even an individual who feels the need to copy to preserve an artefact they possess would be excluded. Would a music company, for example, be allowed to copy masters to preserve them ... assuming their contractual arrangements did not already allow this. There is also an assumption that this exception would not apply to anything that was otherwise available to be bought.

Exception for use of quotations or extracts of copyright works
This, like other proposals in this consultation, intends to bring UK law into line with a wider European legal framework and, at present, UK law only allows use of extracts for the purpose of criticism, review or reporting current events. I assume that use of an insubstantial portion of a work under fair dealing fails because things worth quoting in this way are probably not insubstantial.

Exception for copying of works for use by text and data analytics
This is the so-called Data Mining exception. The proposal here clarifies the question (for me at least) significantly and applies to cases where you already have legal access to material (by subscription for example) but could make further use of it by copying into a database and running analyses.

Protecting copyright exceptions from override by contract
Primarily this seeks to level the playing field for organisation such as libraries who currently have to either take note of restrictions on individual sources of material or adopt a worse case approach. In the light of the data mining exception above, such protection seems to me to be essential.

Copyright Notices
As Hargeaves suggested, the plan here is for the Intellectual Property Office to produce legally-binding opinions on rights questions, called Notices. There would also be 'a duty on the Courts to have regard to any Notices published'. This is designed to help businesses. While I really welcome this I don't think it goes far enough and a more general set of such notices, forming a kind of copyright Highway Code, should serve the public as well as those small businesses who feel restricted by the cost of legal opinions.

Orphan Works
Yes, TwistCo reares its ugly head once more. In fact, the analysis in the Intellectual Property Office document here seems well-considered. It does however hedge the qualms of the photographic community, of 'active orphaning' by stripping metadata, more than somewhat. Given Hargreaves side-stepped moral rights altogether I am of the opinion that the link between moral rights (particularly attribution) and orphans needs a lot more thought. I also note that the wish of the photographers for any use of orphans to be non-commercial has been ignored.

All the sections (and more) are linked from the main page I linked above.

And that's all from us for 2011. Elaine and I wish you a happy and restful seasonal break and a successful 2012.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Signs of the times

A British motorway sign has just been added to the collection of the Design Museum in London. Road signs in the UK have been standardised for years now based on designs by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert which included icons, colour schemes and type faces (called transport and motorway). There's a story about this on the BBC web site and it got me thinking about what we used to call normative icons. The idea, dating back to early graphical user interfaces, was that a simple button icon should clearly identify what the button does. As the advertisement/catchphrase says; it will do exactly what it says on the tin.

We are used to quite a few such icons still, even making their way from computer screens onto other devices such as mobile phones. There's the wastebasket, the piece of paper with a folded corner, the loudspeaker cone with waves of sound. Often they are called, or confused with, GUI widgets (depending on whether you consider a scroll bar an icon or a widget). Embellishments like drop-shadows and polished highlights may come and go, but some icons stay with us.

The key thing, the object all sublime, of such things is two fold: they transcend language and (with luck) culture, and they save space. Language sometimes doesn't cut it: I recall being told that Danish had no word to carry the meaning of eject (a floppy disc) so when the Mac user interface was translated in Danish the term put away had to be used. You see the word STOP on French road signs, presumably because arrettez-vouz is a bit long-winded. Some do say arrêt but isn't this a noun rather than a command? The English is usefully ambiguous. However, pretty well all stop signs are the same shape and colour: octagonal and red. You notice that long before you read the words.

Computer screens, having grown larger and with more pixels as time went on, were lulling us into a false sense of security over our icons. The arrival of mobile devices brought the problem of designing icons back to its origins. Have a look at any web pages or mobile apps you use or design and think about how you use icons and how you use text labels in your navigation.

And remember the notorious Welsh road sign incident and always check with someone else.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Usability - hints and tips update

As the iMedia sector has matured and splintered, so has all the associated expertise around the sector. And this includes usability intelligence. The tools used to assess the reactions of users have developed out of necessity. So now we can eye-track how users relate to screens, layout and functionality, for example. We can assess emotional engagement with sites if that is considered important. Gone are the days of large numbers of users being tested - unless you need quantitative testing.

But usability companies claim to need only up to half a dozen users now to discover the key usability problems with a site. Often, the usability experts can utilise their knowledge and assess common problems just by themselves. This is now a sophisticated offering in its own right.

What does your company do about usability? Do you outsource offering it as a cost addition to the proposed project? Do you have an affiliation with a specialist usability company? Do any of your clients ask for such a service? Because more money is spent on interactive advertising than traditional print advertising, more clients are concerned with feedback from users to understand how to influence them better through technology.

If you just want to keep abreast of what is happening in this area there are sites and associations to help.
Usability is a fascinating subject that has risen to the challenges of iMedia. We do need to understand our users in each interactive environment we develop for. How we do this and whether we involve any experts is open to debate. Any thoughts?

Friday, 18 November 2011

Collective Intelligence – we do this

A growing international market is there to be won by creative ... businesses that are able to innovate and do not see any inherent conflict between creative excellence and commercial success.
This quote from a NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) report, Creating Growth, 2006 started our first chapter in Managing Interactive Media in 2007. We wondered what this "independent body with a mission to make the UK more innovative" was covering now, so we took a look at them at:

This proved to be timely as they are spawning some interesting events for the UK iMedia Industry now under the Silicon Valley comes to the UK 2011 16th-19th November with many speakers including representatives from Google, Linkedin, Nokia, MySpace, and venture capital firms. (Note the social media and open information site bias)

This is a strategic-focused UK company that hasn't really taken on the wider iMedia Industry difficulties as we have struggled in the past and continue to do so with recognition of the technology-led, inter-disciplinary nature of what we do, but they have latched onto interactive segments like social media and gaming. We're glad to see they are beginning to broaden their perspective.

They have a draft report online where they invite comments. See Draft Discussion paper on Collective Intelligence October 2011.

We have to admit that the draft paper is VERY HEAVY STUFF. Don't think you can just skim it at all; you get nothing that way. It isn't web-friendly reading and obeys none of the tacit rules we know offer better absorbtion rates for electronic information. (They are actually wanting to study the effects of large amounts of data on "entrepreneurial cognition and creativity" ... Page 26). But, if you persevere, in bite-sized pieces over some time, some of the paper might begin to make sense. Their hearts are in the right place, probably. Please contribute for our industry's sake.

Collective Intelligence is seen as a strong contributory factor to the success of innovative companies who are driven by technology. It is defined tentatively as an attribute of groups and systems of people that enables them to employ their distributed intellectual faculties to behave more as if they were a single agent, thus generating outcomes beyond what could be achieved by their participants. Actually it seems to characterise the popularised Star Trek 'Borg' behaviour more than anything else, don't you think.

Getting serious here, we reckon that we have had to listen and learn from our diverse group of specialists – interface designers, programmers, graphics designers, interactive marketers, learning technologists, users, and so on - depending on the type of interactive project and technology platforms we have had to deal with. We've been doing this for years and have had to recognise each wave of tech-savvy response from the 'collective' user to affect our design and interaction models just to keep ahead. This intelligence hasn't been gleaned from traditional educational methods but from close contact and street-wise (web-wise or interactive-wise?) gut-feel initially, followed up by digital market statistics later.

There is some recognition of a team's and organisation's role in this 'collective intelligence' analysis on Page 17 of the NESTA document where what we're doing features as visible at the micro level. There's a meso level applied to industries, regions and communities, and the macro level of whole economies and societies, mankind (hello flowers, hello trees!).

Then there is a light-bulb moment on Page 18 where they ask some fundamental questions that we know some of the answers to, don't we?
  • "How do you run an effective innovation team?"
  • "How do you organise an institution or cluster to improve its Collective Intelligence for innovation?"
But they don't want to rate some of our comments because we may be sullied by a bias out of the need to apply innovation to make money: 'commercial' seems to be a dirty word for some of this document which is strange given that collective intelligence is meant to lead to innovative, creative companies that venture capitalists want to back. Maybe they need to be a bit more explicit about the type of companies they mean by these next comments:
“Finally, there is the work carried out by management consultants and technology providers who design, implement and support organisational models and technologies supposed to enhance aspects of Collective Intelligence. Their work is eminently practical, but the knowledge that they generate is not generally available publicly, and where it is should be taken with a grain of salt because of their commercial interest in this area.” (Page 20)
Complex this paper is. But, at least it shows thought for where we are heading in the technological maelstrom. We've often pointed out that we lack the time to think any more. The type of intelligence has changed with the territory. Can and should we continue to apply the old models of analysis/intelligence? Now there's a thought.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Are you a SWOT or a PEST?

Keeping on top of your company's strengths and selling them to your clients is never easy. We work in a volatile market at the best of times and, some might argue, these are the worst of times. Back to basics then and time to re-evaluate your SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This is a standard approach used in marketing to decide on your company's way forward taking into account your core strengths that come through despite any weaknesses, the opportunities in the present climate and what your competitors are up to. However, threats range wider than just your competitors, remember.

This is where PEST comes in. This stands for political, economic, social and technological factors. You can see that the SWOT looks inwards to a company while PEST looks outwards at the market forces. You need to keep an eye on both since both can sink you under certain conditions. So swim hard!

Businessballs offer a free SWOT analysis but their article about SWOT and PEST implications contain a good summary that may help you.

A really positive way to help find your strengths is to take a look at yourselves through the information at SGI Marketing, The Disadvantages of Using Free Websites (27.10.11). They look at the weaknesses of free website development for clients. Now as professionals, surely you can see your strengths from this comparison? This analysis gives great intelligence for you to use with your clients to explain the worth of your offerings, don't you think?

Because you are developing across multiple technological platforms now – web, social media, mobile, for example – you need to apply SWOT and PEST analysis across these platforms because the type of use influences who uses the service and how they use it. There is growing recognition of the type of interaction users want from different devices and this should affect our design and marketing on the devices. You can gain some insights into those companies at the edge of digital development that are using digital marketing to influence their decisions at koozai digital marketing and Mike Essex's blog from 14th October on the Econsultancy Jump 2010 Event Review – unless you were one of those attending the expensive Jump Event.

Digital Marketing has matured. We need to understand our users of each platform to better serve them and our clients. Listen to their findings and apply them to your company. Now, PEST analysis will have to wait till another time. But what headings to stimulate thoughts as the euro and euro heads of state shake – political, economic, social and technological – wow!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A decade of dot-UK domain disputes

Domain names are now so much a part of an organisation's branding that it comes as something of a surprise that it's only ten years since the UK domain manager, Nominet, introduced a process for handling disputes over domain names.

Without such a process, issues over a name would fall back on somewhat costly legal areas, such as passing off or trade mark legislation. The dispute process is the equivalent of mediation or the small claims court in many ways, and cheaper access to justice ... for the accused as well as the accuser ... is always a good idea.

All the good short names may have gone - ATSF's short domain is a testament to the age of our domain rather than any fancy footwork on our part - but more and more people want domain names. We looked at the opening up of the domain name system back in July, and choosing and registering a domain name is still a common part of web build. It's worth reading the BBC web site's story on Nominet's resolution process over the last ten years. Some of the examples are well known: but did you know that a Ryanair 'hate site' lost its domain because it made just a few hundred pounds from ads, and, that a married couple called Starker and Bucknell ran into problems when a relative ran their surnames together in a domain name (think of a chain of coffee outlets)?

There's also more on domain name disputes at the ever-useful site.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Website maintenance issues

Website maintenance is yet another area that has developed into a business segment of its own in the iMedia industry in the last few years. We used to remind you to check with your clients how and when they might want maintenance done, so that you could cost it into the deal for the initial project, but maintenance issues have grown as businesses have recognised the value of regularly updating their content and services because their users expect this.

It used to be recommended that companies take notice of their websites more seriously for updates on look and feel factors every 6 months. However, as web access has become the first point of interaction with a company, the onus on updating has increased too. Therefore, maintenance means more time, more costs, and more resources.

What then does website maintenance cover? If you are offering a maintenance service you would have considered this carefully. It might well cover the following:
  • Editorial updates for content
  • Changes to services/products offered
  • Advice to users in the form of newsletters, blogs, announcements, offers, calendar of events etc
  • Seasonal promotions etc
  • Redesign of look and feel
  • Changing images to give update appeal
  • Review of search engine optimisation
  • Checking on submission terms/timings
  • Analysis of web logs and recommendations
How many people will be involved? Well, that depends on the site, of course and the type of activity needed and how often, but, you'll find this resource from Shane Dillily useful; an abridged Chapter 2 from his book, The Website Manager's Handbook 2006, called Website Maintenance, very useful in answering that type of query.

Have you researched how your competitors are offering their maintenance services? You need to keep an eye on what's being offered and how much it costs. The Websiteaday company have split their maintenance offers into three: Pay-as-you-go, Basic, and Advanced packages.

This might make you think how you are offering maintenance services. Do you give an SLA (Service Level Agreement) to your clients detailing what you will and won't provide for the money? Do they ask for one? These are recommended at Small Business Website Maintenance so you may well get asked for them.

It is hard keeping on top of everything in this business but to survive you do need to charge fairly and offer the type of service the clients want. Lots of food for thought then...

Friday, 21 October 2011

Website content clearance issues

We've all had the client who delays giving us their content for their web pages, mobile pages etc, and faced the knock-on effects of this on development. We have warned against this and recommend that you make it clear upfront that the client has certain responsibilities in project development; such as providing the content when indicated and taking responsibility for ensuring they have the right clearance to use the content electronically worldwide. Actually those both relate to legal issues of ownership and rights in material - very contentious issues at the moment.

The BBC Technology news covers a story around these issues, Websites should carry libel risk for anonymous posts 20th October 2011. You see, although you might well try to advise your clients' on their use of content prior to development, any social websites where the content is generated on-the-fly by users is beyond such control. Usually, unless the web site owner (who is legally the publisher) monitors and removes contentious postings themselves - reactive monitoring - they will respond when someone else points the material out to then. This is known as 'notice and take-down'. There hasn't been any difference between posts by people who give their name and anonymous or pseudonymous ones ... not until now!

A joint parliamentary committee has come out against anonymous postings that breach defamatory rights of individuals. This ruling extends the responsibilities of the website to posting complaints next to an identified offender with take-down rights upon application of a court order. If the offender is not identifiable - has used a pseudonym - the website can take these down immediately unless the author agrees to be identified. There are more details in the article, but, this means more editorial onus on website maintainers.

If any user of social websites posts illegal material - and illegal can mean a range of issues other than rights infringement, who is responsible? For copyright infringement and libel it is generally the 'publisher' (as well as the person who posts the material). It's worth noting that a web hosting company or the postal and telephone services are not seen to be the publishers of content that flows through their channels.

The guys who have been sentenced for inciting public disorder during the UK August riots when they posted Facebook pages urging people to riot, have had their lengthy sentences upheld by the court of appeal recently. See 18th October news article by Owen Bowcott. In this case it was the poster who was responsible, not the 'publishers' like Twitter and Facebook, however, the use of social media and Blackberry messaging came under scrutiny as a result of the unrest. So watch this space.

More responsibilities equal more time and more cost – so just remember that for your next project where you'll be involved in monitoring any content provided on-the-fly!

Our iMedia responsibilities get more and more each day as the law catches up with technological advances.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Who are your key men and women?

You have probably noticed that the world of computing lost two important people during the past few days. One was Steve Jobs, without whom Apple just wouldn't be the hugely successful company it is, but also without whom computers may just possibly be still responding to typed instructions (OK: an exaggeration, but you know what I mean).

The other was Dennis Ritchie. Less well known than Jobs but arguably just as important, Ritchie (as you'll know if you followed that link) created the C programming language and co-created Unix. These two things took computers from being a disparate collection of rooms full of machinery attended by white-coated acolytes to the almost invisible devices that permeate our lives.

These two losses got me thinking about what is known as the 'key person' problem. While the loss of Ritchie is sad his death hasn't raised questions like the Quo Vadis Apple that some ask on the departure of Jobs. I don't want to get into a discussion of how Apple will continue without Jobs but the way he ran the company and turned it around make him an archetypal 'key man'.

Sometimes it is the charismatic and very visible head of a company, sometimes it could be the programmer who knows the password to get into a corporate system but hasn't yet got around to sharing it (I recall a possibly apocryphal story about a Norwegian programmer and a tram). What might happen if this person, to use the usual English terminology, 'goes under a bus' or, more likely, becomes unavailable, even temporarily, for some reason such as a hospital visit or a family funeral?

One the one hand there is insurance, which usually addresses business continuity issues for a fixed amount. On the other there are much simpler tactics such as documentation and planning. I have occasionally met programmers who boast that they never need to comment their code. Don't believe them. Comments don't slow down modern code and don't usually waste space. (Big JavaScript libraries like JQuery are a notable exception but even then you can get a long version and an optimised/unreadable one.) Get everyone talking about what they are doing. If you're a one-man-band then think about asking a friend to act as back-stop for you.

Your client will feel more comfortable if you have some system in place to cope with exceptional circumstances and, in most cases, a deal of a day or two while the backup person gets up to speed will not be a problem.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Emotional responses to iMedia sites: an internal training session

In your scoping of the new client's sites we have recommended that you take some time to question the type of response they expect/want from their users. This should stand you in good stead for the look and feel aspects of the site. Perhaps you've found it difficult to get clear instructions here. That would be understandable. You might have tried getting the clients to look at previous iMedia sites you've designed and have noted their responses. Otherwise you might have asked them to tell you which sites they've liked generally and liked from their competitors. There are various ways to tap into what may be a hidden emotional reaction.

But are you applying the same probing to your own company and your employees? Are you educating your own staff by cross-fertilising their creativity and experience? It will be a complete eye-opener for you to find that the different specialists in your team will probably have a specialist bias in relating to what they consider 'good' iMedia sites. This emotional response will lie at the heart of the potential conflict between the members of your team. Give it a go for an internal training/awareness session, perhaps during one lunchtime.

Get several cross-functional team members together: design, build, project managers, marketing or whatever. Ask them to demo one of their favourite websites (not any of your own) and explain why it is – in 5-8 minutes. Note down the key words they use to describe why it is positive. These should indicate their bias/specialism. If there are common words used across the specialisms, these will be core essentials for website design that underpin your website developments. These in themselves might be surprising. But what about the other concepts that show bias and are mentioned? These might indicate the types of dissension that can happen across a team during project development. They may be 'good' in a narrow specialist sense but not in a general sense. However, a client may want a bias – say a marketing bias – in their site but they haven't been able to vocalise their wish. Then the leaning towards the specialist bias of what is 'good' in a website might become dominant for that project. And so on...

What's your favourite website then? Have a go yourself at this exercise. And to help maybe, here are a few links to what other people consider 'good'.
After your look at websites, repeat the exercise for other forms of iMedia sites too.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The changing world of 'Know your customer'

Knowing your customers used to be a marketing issue. The more you know and understand what your customers want the better you serve them, the happier they are and the more likely you get return business. In our iMedia sense we may need to apply this from two angles – understanding our clients, and understanding their customer base. You might, for example, indicate in the scoping phase of the project, that you can – for a cost – get market intelligence on their customer base to aid targeting them more effectively interactively. They may have this intelligence already and offer it to you if you ask. You would perhaps have needed the first set of information on your client prior to this when you were winning the project. (There are many companies that offer to find intelligence on customers such as Onesource)

But things have got more complex, of course. Now the waters are muddied by the Know your customer (KYC) legislation that has been out in place for anti-money laundering initiatives. You may need to consider this angle when implementing any project in the financial services sector. See the pwc article April 2011, for more on this.

But let's get back to the marketing sense of know your customer. This is good business sense and the basics are covered in a Business Link Guide.

Knowing your clients goes hand-in-hand with knowing your competition, since if they are offering more services for the same or less money, it is easy to see why your clients might migrate to them, especially in the present stringent financial climate. You'd better be sure of your own reputation/branding if you want to counter any client's comparison with cheaper services being offered, or take the hit. Again, the basics are outlined by Business Link.

So, do you know your clients' business well enough to define their needs? Do you know their customer bases well enough to proffer goods and services to them in a way that is visible to your clients? Do you keep an eye on your competitors so you are in tune with your own sector and what it is offering at what cost?

All these are necessary and yes, I know there are so many other things taking up your time too.

Friday, 23 September 2011

The commissioner perspective and website development problems

It's easy to criticise the clients from hell, but commissioners have many bad experiences with their developers too. Often, the criticisms over-lap as one blames the other about the mess they are in.

Lack of experience on both sides leads to confusion, bad definition of what is to be achieved, and delays from both. If either side is experienced then they are sensitised to risks so they can foresee what may happen and take early action to remedy the emerging problem. The clients still have the upper hand so experience within the clients is actually more important because they can initiate action far more easily than the developer.

Here's an article by skyje in January 2011 where he describes 12 Tips for Hiring and Working with your Web Design Company, and the second part about Working with your Web Design Company. In some of the points he emphasises the actions that the client needs to take such as having a good grasp of what they want from the website i.e. the specifications, not causing delays and being prompt with payments if the milestones are reached. That's the experience I was talking about.

Perhaps inexperience is evident in the plea from Dawer on the Graphic Design forum. He wants to know if he can get an upfront payment back from his developer now he has concerns about their work.

At the other end of the client-spend scale, earlier this month the politicalpress group despaired of the sums of money spent on the development of government websites. The figures should make your eyes smart unless you're one of 'those' companies developing them.

The premise is that the figures themselves point to an abuse of developer/client relationship. The expression taken for a ride comes to mind.

But instead of depressing you with such examples as the general news is so glum too, cheer yourselves up by looking at the self-proclaimed World's Worst Website and take heart that despite rooky relationships with your clients, you are doing some things right! Show it to your clients too!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Sticky fingers

I remember a story about the Disney EPCOT theme park in Florida (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow ... a dream of Walt's back in the 1960s) about touch screens. There were some interactive touch screens in the facility and they were popular with visitors. One interesting side effect was that every screen at EPCOT, whether interactive or not, was covered with smudgy fingerprints at the end of the day. What lodged in my mind about this is that touch screens and people go together.

OK, you are probably saying, surely it's gesture-based interfaces that are important now rather than touch screens, and they allow you to stand back. This is a fair point, and the Minority Report kind of remote swipe gesture approach, which now shows up in several TV drama strands such as CSI Miami and NCIS Las Vegas, certainly looks fun; but it lacks the precision of a touch screen and is more like throwing things around the room. There are situations where a big touch interface would seem ideal, such as 'you are here' location maps in museums and even cities.

If you've never seen this kind of thing, here's an example from 2008 ... although MIT was prototyping this kind of thing in the Put that There project in 1979. This is G-Speak from Oblong Industries.

Touch screens go back to the light pen interfaces of early computing. They could be easy to implement (you could even get one for the 8-bit BBC Micro in the 1980s) and easy to program. Detecting a finger touching a screen is more difficult. Early examples used infrared beams shooting across the screen from the surrounding bezel. What we now see relies on electronics detecting the presence of a finger on the display ... the so-called touch current ... using a conductive but transparent layer.

There's an interesting story on Wired UK at the moment, GeekDad's daughter reimagines interactive TV, where the writer's 16 month-old daughter really likes the touch interface on her (yes her) iPad. She's a fan of CBeebies In the Night Garden and one evening tried to drag a character from the iPad screen onto her bed ... and was frustrated when it didn't work.

Here's another telling quote
Our TV screen, fridge door and bathroom mirror are all testament to this, upon which her toddler-sized sticky-fingered smears (or should they be gestures?) give a real insight into the way in which these devices and appliances could instead be more intuitively manipulated.
In the metaphorical vehicle in which the family is driving towards the future of interactive technolgy, the kids are sitting in the back shouting 'Are we there yet?'.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Time, cost, quality variations in Project Management

The traditional project management mantra has related to the time, cost, quality triangle where the project manager controls these variables as well as possible according to the defined scope of the project. But there are variations as we've noted where quality can equal 'scope', 'cost' can be substituted by 'assets/resources' or an extra consideration of 'customer satisfaction' is added.

Are there other variations that have crept in now? Well, you may come across 'quality' being swapped for 'functionality' – that would make sense to us in the iMedia arena. See Spottydog's Project Management web site for more on this approach.

Then the Project Management Blog March 2011 expands the core 3 to 8! Scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, risk, procurement and communication. That certainly should make us think carefully as to whether we should expand our thinking.

Then, although a bit dated in our terms, as the paper is 2007, Roger Atkinson covers interesting ground in his plea for a re-assessment of what he calls the iron triangle to take account of other factors such as 'stakeholder benefits'.

So although the core terms may change the principles remain the same. A project manager will be held responsible for the successful outcome of a project not just in terms of delivering the project on time and within budget but also the satisfaction of the client and (for us particularly), the users. What terms does your company use? Do they cover all these aspects? It seems that we did in our last Managing Interactive Media book, and that the trends we projected still remain true.

Happy project management!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Are website gremlins ‘black swans’?

Well, no they aren’t strictly – but what are black swans? Now, this is an interesting project management concept from IT. Black swans in project management terms are catastrophic risks that happen rarely but when they do, they have dire consequences.

We have used IT project management concepts of risk management in the past as the closest to our field of developing iMedia. The classic risk management assessment asks you to assess the risks to your project, starting with the most frequent and important, so that you control these away in the course of the project by various means. But, black swans would appear low on the traditional assessment, if at all. They are low probability but high impact. They are rare in threatening the business and if and when they do occur, humans have tended to sorted them out onerously. However if the technical system is not designed to deal with them and people come to rely on the systems, it can be too late once someone recognises what is going on. Also, the consequences to the business can be compounded by other factors happening at the same time that have nothing to do with the software.

Take a good look at the BBC Technology article on Black Swans earlier this week, where Auto Windscreens is cited as having been the second largest company of its type in the UK but after trying to implement a new IT system, it went into administration in February.

We have the story and the bubble as salient lessons in our sector – hope you’re all old enough to know about those! The article centres on research from Oxford Uni investigating massive IT project budget over-runs and the causes. Perhaps we should be thinking black swans too? Upgrades (for example) can be a big problem for shared hosting, since updating a web or database server on a system where they are shared by hundreds of different web sites risks some of them being broken by the changes. Unfortunately this results in shared hosting continuing to run using out-of-date software, including missing out of security patches.

And the website gremlins? This is a common concept where small changes to a site can have radical and unforeseen consequences. We’re quite used to the idea that any change must be checked out thoroughly and that it can have unforeseen impacts. Most of us rely on systematic testing to check out any changes, I imagine. But where non-professionals are building and repairing sites often for themselves, these gremlins cause lots of angst and can affect business badly too. Here are some examples to bring a smile to your faces – unless you recognise some of the consequences!
  • P9 forum has a classic rant – a bit old, but amusing nevertheless (I like the boffinus notaclueii).
  • Cast Fireplaces saw a change in customer behaviour when their website developed gremlins.
  • Smart Telecom aren’t immune either as a rant on their Broadband Customer Support thread shows
Look out for ‘Black Swans’ now!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Password with eight characters

It was the best joke at the Edinburgh Fringe, as reported by the BBC and others. Comedian Nick Helm won an award from UK digital TV channel Dave ... and stop me if you've heard this one ...
I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
This got me thinking about passwords. (Yes, there had to be a reason for telling a joke in this blog.) We're interested for two reasons: we need passwords of our own and we set up systems where users need passwords.

Googling choosing passwords brings up over 7.5 million results. The top one, from, is a good summary. I won't go into details about my personal password strategies but I will admit two things:

I have a little program, called Xyzzy, produced by Haxial software ... this can generate pronounceable but imaginary words, with optional numbers added. Unfortunately, Haxial no longer exists although Xyzzy is still out there on the web. An alternative, online, is a Java-based generator from Multicians and there is a JavaScript option.

Passwords are a balance between being able to remember (because we never write them down do we!) and being difficult/impossible to crack or guess.

The infamous hacking song from the BBC's Micro Live put it like this ...
Try his first wife's maiden name,
This is more than just a game,
It's real fun, but just the same,
It's Hacking, Hacking, Hacking.
I recommend you follow the Wikipedia link as it tells you how the hackers got into the system ... and I bet it's not what you think.

My second admission is to put punctuation into passwords ... this includes plings (!) and circumflexes (^) and other seemingly esoteric things. This is a good practice and is the reason why you should not restrict your web site users to alphanumeric characters. The 'difficulty' of a password increases geometrically with every character in the string but also every character that could be in the string, so using anything you can get your fingers on makes sense. But stick to characters in the character set your webpage and server are using: the odd bit of Tamil probably won't work in Europe.

Friday, 19 August 2011

What's in your cupboard?

I've been doing some clearing out. I realised that over the years since we moved to ATSF Towers, and to some extent even before that, I have accumulated a lot of obsolete bits and pieces.

It started with an old Mac that I was keeping around as an emergency backup. Well, the power supply failed and so it had to go in the electronics skip at the local dump. No graceful retirement in central Africa for that old dear ... just crash and smash!

I realised that I actually had at least a whole shelf of software that would only run under older versions of the Mac OS (that is before OS X) and that even where I was into a long upgrade cycle (such as with Photoshop) I didn't need to keep all the old versions. It included boxes of software that installed from floppy discs for goodness sake! I was embarrassed by how long I'd kept this stuff hidden on a shelf and not even looked at it. (At least I'd thrown away my original copy of Netscape Navigator, which I paid for and which came in a box.) There were even a few old Windows things that wouldn't run under Vista they were so old, so this isn't just a Mac thing. The irony there is that an old DOS CD-ROM still works perfectly in my virtual PC ... so that can stay.

With the departing Mac went a SCSI card, although I had copied over what I needed from the remaining SCSI discs (huge capacities of one and four gigabytes) and security-wiped them before they too crashed into recycle limbo. I decided to 'Freecycle' my Jaz, DAT and DVD-RAM drives, and someone actually wanted them.

Why do we end up with obsolete software and hardware? Sometimes it's because it seems like a good idea at the time: the DVD-RAM drive was for backup and archiving but it turned out to be far too slow and then DVDs came down in price instead. I don't think anything I had backed up onto DAT tapes (and even some Exabytes) would run now so I don't regret binning those. Sometimes even the systems you made them for vanish (CD-I anyone?) and, of course, operating systems change over time.

Apple's move over to the Lion version of their OS is causing some grief, particularly because they have decided to drop support for programs that do not run directly on their current Intel processors (see this BBC story). Oddly, Apple did not give people any real notice of this and for most people the way they find out is a dialogue box saying that their application won't run. IMHO this intention should have been flagged with the launch of the previous version of the OS. Discussions on the excellent Mac-In-Touch web site have covered this problem in depth, even suggesting that there may be a way around it. It's unfortunate that a very cheap OS upgrade is likely to lead to a substantially larger bill for updating applications. Personally, I'm putting it off for the time being and whatever happens I'll be keeping an older OS version available for 'special occasions'.

But back to downsizing ...

It seems easier at the moment. DVDs for archiving (in duplicate and reburned every few years) and even hard discs since they are so cheap. The Mac backup system called Time Machine regularly backs me up to a separate internal disc (which is due for an upgrade) and even lets me dig back to previous versions if I really mess something up. Projects for the web using open source systems like PHP and MySQL don't require boxes of software, just the occasional O'Reilly book to help understand them. Even Word, Powerpoint and Excel are currently replaced by a version of Open Office. It just leaves dear old Photoshop and Dreamweaver among the regulars and even their boxes have got smaller.

So look under your desk, open those cupboards at the back of the room. What can you chuck out or recycle now? I just shout 'millstone' every time something goes out. It's a good feeling as long as I don't think about the money it cost at the time.

Friday, 12 August 2011

The business mindset – are you adjusting?

Allthough we're in the iMedia business, our clients by and large are from traditional business. As such they have a different mindset to technology and innovation – but is that changing? In the past you might have found clashes of approach with your clients. Remember, you need to convince them of your proposed solutions to their business problems so you have had to talk to them in their terms. That has meant understanding their businesses and mindsets and tailoring how you speak about your proposed solutions to their needs so that they line up with your proposals.

But, the general business mindset has shifted a lot faster than before in the last five years; maybe as fast as our expansion in the use of technology platforms. We need to line up with our clients' mindsets so what are they?

Christoph Smaltz from Headshift gives some well founded advice for us in his blog July 25th, From traditional business to social business. He analyses the shift in traditional business thinking to the socially aware business thinking - driven by social media. He puts forward four key changes.
  1. Businesses have moved from 'transaction' where they supply products/goods for their customers and finish the communication with them, to 'interaction' where they are concerned with the customer 's experience with them, they listen, amend, accept criticism etc. They just don't sell goods/services or whatever.
  2. The older classifications of B2B and B2C have changed to P2P (person to person). The premise has changed to a person wanting to interact with a person, not with an anonymous business entity.
  3. The past was about control or 'gatekeeping' information and communication within a business. Now it's about facilitating communication between all levels and with customers. This means that the business has to provide a communication platform (technology driven) to facilitate rather than control.
  4. The last concept he develops is the change in communication within and around the traditional company. Traditionally communication was hierarchical – the top-down approach. Social communication via technology has shifted this to be networked even inside companies. Communication is equal between employees and customers.
Well worth a look, Christoph's blog might help you communicate some of your thinking to your clients. It may prompt you and your management to rethink some of your business strategies of how you communicate with your clients. Mindsets change; but we have been used to them shifting slowly. Now we have to recognise that the speed of technological advances can and does have spin-offs for the way our clients conduct business and that we have to notice the shift in business terms!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Government buys into copyright 'update'

Last week the government response to the Hargreaves report on copyright was published. It seems that they have accepted the report pretty well lock stock and barrel, which may at least save the report from the black hole the Gowers report seemingly fell into. It will also suit many in the interactive industry, who wrote an open letter to the powers that be urging acceptance and then welcoming it.

There is much common sense in the recommendations. Format shifting is something 'we all' end up doing and I have always thought it a bit ingenuous of rights owners in granting a licence that only allows intangible use of something while tying it to a physical artefact such as a CD. There is a circle to square over making this work in a European framework that asks for reasonable remuneration for rights holders in such cases (such as a blank tape levy). A right of parody possibly seems better than it actually is; the existing French right includes a requirement to be funny, which must be an interesting thing to argue in court. Data mining (by which I think they really mean indexing) should be OK as long as you can't reverse-engineer the original from the bits that you mine.

No, the 'were they listening at all?' moment comes over orphan works. In principle, the idea of being able legally to publish a work where you really can't find out who owns it or can't track them down to pay them makes sense. The difficulty is that it could open a hole big enough for unscrupulous or ignorant publishers to drive a bendy-bus through, and that was what really worried the photographers. A compromise solution was to agree to non-commercial use of orphans (whatever 'non-commercial' means exactly), but even this has been ignored. I can't see a compelling case for orphans licensing outside of the heritage sector. If you're the British Library or the BBC and you have an item in a box with no label on it that clearly has an historic relevance to your project then I can be persuaded. Using an orphan photograph of a polar bear instead of getting one from a library is not what such legislation means at all.

Two things could ameliorate this: better treatment of moral rights of authors/photographers (particularly as manifested by metadata attached to photographs on the web) and a better way for an aggrieved photographer to take action. Sadly, Hargreaves had no brief to consider moral rights, so that battle is still on-going. En passant I note that the moral dimension is perhaps more a subject for the Culture minister, Jeremy Hunt, than Business minister Vince Cable. The watchword is that copyright is the means by which culture does business, and it should be a two-way street.

There is an unexpected bit of good news in the government's response. It's on page 12:
The Government will, subject to establishing the value for money case, introduce a small claims track in the Patents County Court [which deals with all kinds of intellectual property, not just patents] for cases with £5000 or less at issue, initially at a low level of resource to gauge demand, making greater provision if it is needed.
This is something I and others have been banging on about for a while: for small (ie SME) creators, the fees you get for an individual publication of your work are relatively small and so a court for such small claims is overdue.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

That old scoping question!

We realise by now that the key to successful iMedia project development lies in the analysis performed upfront with the client – otherwise known as 'scoping' the project. There are different ways of approaching this dependent on your expertise, the market sector of the client, the business objectives and the proposed users. However you approach this important phase of your project, you can and should constantly improve it by learning from your mistakes, listening to your colleagues and checking up on the trends in your competitors.

In recognition of the difficulty of this scoping task, some companies are now offering it as a separate paid service. Now that's interesting, don't you think? They offer to go in and help the clients write a briefing document for other companies but they may well end up doing the project themselves, of course. Many iMedia companies know how difficult it is to get a client to state exactly what they want and then stick to it or pay for changes. There is constant pressure to begin a project before the true scope is known. How ingenious that some side-step this hassle by separating the process out into a piece of paid consultancy. Not bad, eh? Take a look at a few who offer this and see how they sell their service. It seems to make good sense.

webdev Studios use this approach quoting $80 an hour for it.

dotAgency approach this stage from a slightly different angle where the fee for scoping is a percentage of the larger project fee. They don't cut themselves out of the development part but offer a service to help with the definition of the project.

HP go for the middle ground where they will do a scoping document that the client can take on to others, but they are happy to develop the project as well taking the fee for the scoping off the full project budget (or building it in to the budget costs, as we see it).

All positive moves to demonstrate to clients the importance of this initial stage, we reckon. What do you do? Could this be an answer for you?

Just to remind you of what happens to your projects if the scoping is skimped, Tadd Barnes has some advice in, Scoping an Enterprise Website? Keys to avoiding Scope Creep.

He examines the role of revisions, testing different browser versions, adding a mobile version of a site, and integrating backend systems with the site as the worst offenders for causing scope creep Do you agree?

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Interactive media testing - what type?

As the interactive sector grows new interactive market segments emerge. Many are adjuncts to traditional media that are used in interactive ways – so we get interactive social video on Facebook and YouTube sites, for example. We get interactive ways to audition and buy audio and video downloads using applications like iTunes. We get interactive retail of 'real' goods through sites like eBay and Amazon. Because interactive media is now able to command contact with so many of the public because of the plethora of interactive channels available, the push to match the interactivity with the particular market segment needs becomes important. This means testing out various aspects of the interactivity from concept to performance in use.

Take a look at the range of research that can be (and is) utilised by the larger players at Interactive Media Research and learn what will be expected by the medium and smaller players in the interactive market in time. They quote User and Market evaluation, Concept and content testing, website usability, user profiling, brand evaluation, and Ad and sponsorship tracking, as what they offer. All these mean assessment in some form. Remember the difference between evaluation and testing is that evaluation has a broader remit to assess the development, delivery and reaction to the interactive offering; whereas testing means pre-defining criteria of assessment and then testing to check the performance of an application. Testing is part of evaluation methods.

The Human Factors Test Centre (HFTC) at Fraunhofer takes a slightly different approach, citing their offerings as Usability Tests, Expert evaluation, Accessibility Tests, Design studies, User Requirements analysis, and market research.

Maybe it is time to evaluate your own company's approach to testing? We would have to add many options to our Testing section in our Scoping Questionnaire now instead of just listing 5 common options and then adding the 'other' category as a catch-all. Remember to decide whether you'd do these as in-house tests or contract out to specialists when working out the budget for your clients. Have your clients started demanding such wider ranging testing yet? They will. Are you ready?

Monday, 18 July 2011

Updating the glossary of iMedia project management

The terms keep coming, don't they! Even though some aspects of technology have stabalised somewhat, the plethora of terms spread out as the once niche markets grow into separate segments.

What am I going on about – well, take for example the following terms that are now commonplace but have only emerged in the last few years.
  • Social Media
  • Mobile media
  • Digital signage
  • Twitter /Tweets
  • e-retailing
  • Web analytics
  • Creative technologists
  • Crowd-sourcing
  • User-generated content
  • Content personalisation
  • Apps
  • Vouchers (mobile and digital)
  • Location-based data/services
  • Cloud-based services
You may think you understand these terms. They sometimes seem self-explanatory. However, often their meaning shifts over their lifetime and that can be relatively short. Technology terms shift quickly so the meaning of terms changes too. At present here are the definitions that we reckon attach the market meaning to these terms. Anyone want to pitch in with any more – and don't forget the definition too!

Social media – an online conversational dynamic media where the participants shape the creation of the content. The content can take the form of interactive text, graphics, audio and video in whatever form the creators wants. It is dynamic because it is collectively constructed as an ongoing dialogue between people. Check out 30 Social Media Definitions by Heidi Cohen to drill down a bit on this evolving concept.

Mobile media – the mobile technology platforms such as iPads, iPhones, tablets, MP3 devices, laptops, that allow us to access information/data on the move. You might be interested in the stats given in the GSMA Mobile Media Metrics Report.

Digital signage – Use of computer or video technology (or both) for applications ranging from simple direction signs to advertising billboards. This has the advantage of both versatility and instant updating combined with the ability to manage a large number of sites at once over the internet. The technology can be very sophisticated, including use of 3D and pseudo-holographic imagery.

Twitter/tweets – an instant messaging system that allows text messages up to 140 characters to be sent to a listing of followers. Twitter is the system designed to allow colleagues and friends to stay in frequent touch throughout the day via tweets, the individual messages. But its communicative power has migrated to wider communication serving commercial, political and celebrity users among others. Tweeting is a part of social networking/media. Subjects being discussed can be marked with hashtags (a word preceded by a # symbol) to facilitate searching.

e-retailing or e-tailing – the use of interactive media platforms to sell items. The development of Amazon is often used as an example of a successful online e-retailer.

Web analytics – the analysis of data about visitors to a web site or other online facility. This has grown from simple counting of hits to pages to look at users in more detail, sometimes even their other browsing habits, and to study the paths users take on their online journey. Some web analytic techniques, which may track users across many web sites, are seen as unnecessarily intrusive.

Creative technologists – a new job title that tries to plug the gap between creatives (as in agencies) and technologists (as in computer geeks) where the combined skills are necessary to achieve an interactive solution rather than the solution being skewed towards one skill or the other.

Crowd-sourcing – large numbers of people providing information or even data for a project. Examples include the Geograph project, where people take photographs in every 1km square of the UK national grid, and Wikis, which are written by a (sometimes) large number of users.

User-generated content – From a social media perspective, this means content that is created and uploaded by the users themselves, then shared with others. This can grow as users cite and then link to a particular offering they like.

Content personalisation – From a commercial point of view this is what is offered to an online user that can be tailored to their specific interests based on analytics or location-based information. This is mostly used to restrict advertisements shown to those considered most likely to elicit a response based on what is known about the user.

Apps – applications have often been called apps by programmers but the term is increasingly used to denote small focused programs especially on mobile devices. Angry Birds – a top selling game on the iPhone and Logmein good for business/commercial people wanting to log in to their work computer from a mobile. See a recent top ten selection for the iPhone.

Vouchers (mobile and digital) – a number of companies such as Groupon and Voucher Cloud ( negotiate discounts for their 'members' with retailers and service providers. These offers can be accessed by printing out a voucher or by showing a voucher on the mobile device screen.

Location-based data/services – services that take note of the user's location to tailor the offering. This could be based on geographic mapping of computer IP addresses, often used to restrict access to content by people in the 'wrong' country. In mobile services the location of the device (determined by cell tower, wi-fi hot spot or GPS) can be used to accurately offer local services such as 'where is my nearest restaurant?'.

Cloud-based services – the ability to use online storage at an indeterminate location ('in the cloud') instead of physically located in the user's premises. At one level this allows a small user to take advantage of security and instant scalability offered by large data-storage offerings but it also means the user can access the cloud storage from any physical location and, if appropriate, the data can be shared with other users anywhere in the world. There are some security concerns with cloud storage, both in terms of privacy but also protection from corruption or loss of data. However, it can be argued that the scale of commercial cloud storage allows more sophisticated security techniques to be used than most users could employ themselves.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

What's in a (domain) name

On the one hand it has been difficult to understand restrictions on what could be made into a domain name. After all, the domain name system works by looking at a string of alphanumerics (plus the odd bit of punctuation) in a database that then tells your computer the IP address that matches that domain. But there have always been restrictions.

Some were localised, such as Nominet in the UK does not allow third level domain names to be made up of just two letters: so is not allowed. Some were more general, such as the use only of letters in the basic non-accented roman alphabet. (I should point out that we should not think of these as characters with accents, they are different letters. In Danish the letter Å comes after Z in the alphabet ... making it difficult to find Århus in a gazetteer ... but in DNS terms it is 'unaccented Roman letters' that count.)

Actually my favourite historic oddity is that back in the early days of domain names, academics tried to get us to accept a domain name structure that had a descending hierarchy (ie rather than on the basis that it was more logical. They had a point, if you think about it, telephone numbers work this way around, so why not domains. However, they lost that battle.

DNS, as it is called, is all about to change in a big way, because ICANN, who 'run' the domain name system have thrown the doors open to non-Roman characters (including things like Arabic, Hebrew and Chinese) and are also freeing up the so-called generic top level domains (known as gLTDs) so that 'anyone' could devise and set up their own equivalent to .com. The former has to be a good thing since the world has come a long way since upper case ASCI characters were considered a suitable way to communicate. The latter is a little more complicated.

The cost of entry into this brave new DNS world is not going to be cheap. $185 thousand is the starting price, and the published FAQ says
Any established public or private organization located anywhere in the world can apply to form and operate a
new gTLD Registry.
This would exclude individuals ... but then is running a domain registry something an individual would do?

So what kind of organisations might apply to set up new gLTDs? Some will be brands, and I could be cynical and say this looks like another way to part large companies from their money in the name of brand-protection. So there might in future be such domains as .bbc, .sony or .macdonalds. However, such addresses would probably map to web pages already in an existing domain. Some gLTDs might provide a focus for beliefs and opinions, so we might see .vatican, .democrats or .flatearth. Some could even encompass spaces with a more artistic or emotional intent, so I may consider registering .photography, .thaifood or even .funonafridaynight.

For those of us with clients to advise on domains this may not, at first glance, be a big issue since few of them would want to bear the cost and hassle of running a registry. However, we need to keep an eye on what is registered, since one or more of the new gLTDs could be tempting to a client ... and remember, the registrar of the gLTD will be setting the price.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Types of Interactive Media Projects

With the increase in platform availability from web, mobile, and iTV, and the widening of use from business to social media, the range and type of interactive media projects has increased dramatically over the last few years.

This places an added burden on developers since the type of project together with its intended audience shapes the relevant content and interactivity (interface). The platforms dictate their own interface limitations on top of the concept of relevance as well. So, the mix of decisions has escalated, the work with the client to define the scope of the project has splintered, the need for a strong project management hand in the developers has increased.

We had problems enough to define the type of interactive projects in a business context a few years ago. In the end we took a project management stance looking at the context in which they succeeded and what clients had found going wrong. This included things such as the objectives of the business changing from the agreed objectives during the lifetime of the project so that although the project was completed according to the original scope, time and budget, it didn't then meet with the changed business/market direction. We highlighted other dilemmas where the developers knew more about the interactive market needs than the clients, but the clients didn't listen and then the ultimate project was found by them not to work in the market as they wanted. Finally, we admitted that sometimes projects don't succeed because the users find them too problematic to use. This might occur because the clients dictated the interactive interface without understanding or trialling use, or that the developers didn't stress this as an absolute so that their design didn't function as it should.

We went on to define the type of project an interactive company does according to where their time was spent. This fell under the categories: client, bread and butter, investment projects, Maintenance projects, quick fix, R and D, Good will, Pitches/tenders. (See Chapter 1 of Managing Interactive Media: Project management for Web and Digital Media.)

How one categorises the type of project depends on many factors. Although our concept remains good in principle, it needs expanding perhaps. But where you spend your time and effort might still work for you as a company.

The only other place we can hope to see a definition of project types might lie in the categories of awards put forward by the interactive associations. Take a quick look at these because each awards group defines them very differently and/or concentrate on particular aspects of development. It's fascinating – well we think so. Maybe it'll encourage you to enter some of your projects for awards. Many categories are still open for 2011. Good luck.
  • BIMA (British Interactive Media Association)
  • IMA (Interactive Media Awards)
  • IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group)
  • Europrix

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Scope creep - not our problem

Well wouldn't it be nice if we could say that! It's the bane of every project. But we can and do take measures to control changes/creep, don't we? It's always a good thing to remind ourselves of basic sound principles that will work in our favour and that's the point of this week's spotlight on recent insights into dealing with creep.

Just in case, scope creep means changes to a project that necessitate extra work often wanted for free. Ah! Yes! Remember what it means now? It's those projects where clients keep expanding what they want as they go along after a price has been established for a particular set of needs. There's a lovely admission of guilt from a client who realises they do this at I'm a self-inflicted scope-creeper! Arggh, on Bracket Project's web site, and the comments on this read reassuringly too.

Mind you, sometimes it isn't just the clients who get inspiration and want to change a few things. These ideas can come from your team and management too. Someone has to stand firm and focus all back on the objectives agreed. Is that person you? Often it is part of the project manager's role.

Patsy from Front - web strategy, design and technology studio - in Manning up your project crew defines the roles needed on a web design team recognising that someone has to stand firm on the scope creep issues. She defines the person as a Guardian. Perhaps that appeals to you more than the title Project Manager.

If you're sitting there wondering that it's all very well but how do we stop creep, How to identify and clarify a Project Scope, Dwight Dunkley 6th June 2011, gives strong sharp advice. Do scroll down to the Tips and Advice part of the page to get the most benefit.

Of course we address this a lot in our Chapter 3 Scoping the project in Managing Interactive Media - Project Management for Web and Digital Media, but we're always willing to listen and find a new perspective; anything that can help in one of the most crucial issues to affect our projects. Any more advice is very welcome.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Conflict resolution and the workplace

Those of you that did our project management course will know that this is one of my favourite topics. iMedia teams are necessarily cross-functional with their skill sets and this can lead to more differences of opinion/perspective as a result. Then add in the different personalities and the risk for conflict increases again. It still has not been appreciated that conflict in the workplace has increased in businesses perhaps as a result of workers being squeezed for more work and the tougher working conditions during and continuing after the recession.

I was pleased to find that some figures - meaning monetary values - had started to be put against the cost of conflict in the workplace. Often it is only once a problem has been quantified in terms of money that management realise that minimising this can bring dividends. See Workplace Mediation - Dispute Resolution at Coaching 4 Success, and How to stop Conflict in the Workplace before it Happens, at eHow by Coleen Reinhart, May 2011.

£33 billion in the UK annually makes you think, doesn't it? So much management time, so much team member time and emotions all operating against productivity.

We advocated the use of ground rules where all team members (including management) agree on how to conduct themselves in any discord situation, what procedures to follow and who to use as a mediator if necessary. This signing up to ground rules continues to be a strategy that is recommended but we realised that the culture of some of your organisations might not find this acceptable. The concept of ground rules is reiterated and expanded in the Interest-based Relational Approach (IBR) section of Mindtools , Conflict Resolution - resolving conflict rationally and effectively, and Barbara Bradbury addresses the concept in a lighter fashion in Resolving Conflict - 7 Inspired Tips for leaders, May 2011.

And, just to end on a visual note for those that have a more pictorial learning style, you'll appreciate the myriad images used to try and capture that conflict moment! Which makes most sense to you?

Happy resolutions!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Clients' prior business experiences and the consequences for us

In these financially constrained times it means more to retain your clients rather than put your time and effort into finding new ones. That is, of course, unless the client has more than taken advantage of the relationship to the point that the people involved are in danger of losing your company money!

That said, do you know your company's churn? The average online company churn as of 2 years ago was reported as 98.7%! 60% of first time clients dropped their company within six weeks! See Harris Interactive Src Risk, Churn Win Back Workshop, slide 9. Harris Interactive states that if you retain clients then their value/spend increases with time. Now that can mean a lot.

Why do your clients leave? Have you any intelligence on this? Perhaps you should try to find out. It tends to be the role of the Account Manager/Project Manager to understand the reasons for leaving, but is the intelligence brought together and analysed in terms of your company performance?

Harris Interactive cites several reasons for clients defecting: unmet expectations, low perceived value, competitive attraction, and unexpressed/unresolved complaints. (See slide 14 Causes/Effects of Risk and Churn.) How are you defining defections?

It is hard to find general business information on client reactions and their impact but harder still for interactive media businesses. However, Garry, in his Intelligent Positioning Blog, the Integrating Value section of The Value in Understanding the Customer Journey, May 2011, makes clear statements about the failure of some companies to fully understand the customer experience of their clients. He says that only 30% had looked at mobile habits and only 34% had taken account of social media behaviour.

If what he says is true — that winning a new client costs up to 5 times more than retaining an old one — shouldn't we be analysing the risks of churn?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Working together – the client/developer relationship

The key word here is relationship. We know that interactive project management is a collaboration between client and developer. Each needs to know their specific role and responsibilities within the project for the project process to flow. The 'relationship' element in the partnership has to be managed sensitively especially in interactive projects because the risks of misunderstanding between client and developer increase over and above other types of project. It's that cross-functional communication again - potentially causing gaps - let alone the changes/slippage syndrome.

The people that have bridged the relationship gap in iMedia projects have had various job titles depending on the background culture of the company. So we can have Account Managers, Project Managers/Team Leaders, and Client or Customer Relationship Managers. The Account Managers come from the Agency type of culture and has been deemed more on the creative side; the Project Manager/Team Leader is from a newer breed of iMedia companies and emerges from the software side; the Client/Customer Relationship Managers hail from the business and management side.

The Account Managers have traditionally had a more hands-on and personal relationship with the clients whereas the client/customer relationship managers are linked with the use of software packages that track and flag information about the clients that action responses from the managers. The Project Managers are in the middle of this. Whatever the role is called, it is a difficult one. A successful relationship manager has great people skills, keen business skills and a strong sense of commitment to finish a project that is successfully perceived from all sides. Hard, yes.

It was difficult to try to define this relationship role. There are some definitions of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and so by inference what a CRM role is: see Verbatims - and is there parity across all the definitions?

Then there is an Account Relationship Manager's job description sample at Great Sample Resume

Andrew Sobel has defined 15 common pitfalls to Client Management in his Client Loyalty newsletter (PDF). Take a look and assess if you fall into any.

Finally - just because I'm a stirrer - have a look at the salary scale for Client Relationship Managers at, SalesTarget.

These don't answer all the questions raised by the various people in iMedia projects who fulfil the 'relationship management' role, but it starts the conversation!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Copyright back on the political agenda

I have written in the past about some of the currently contentious issues in intellectual property, such as orphan works and the use of metadata to preserve a creator's moral rights.

Recently there have been two calls for public input into the copyright process. One was a call for evidence by the Culture select committee, which has been put on hold for the moment, and the other was the Hargreaves Report.

Hargreaves had been touted as the 'Google Report' since it was suggested that one of its issues, changes to our copyright exceptions (called fair dealing) to match the American fair use model, had been somehow suggested to the Prime Minister by Google, by saying that our rights regime prevented the Googles of this world from starting here in the UK. Rory Cellan-Jones at the BBC put that very point to Google's Eric Schmidt, who admitted that getting a business underway in the USA was easier than in Europe but said he was "not aware" of Google saying this was a rights problem.

Elsewhere in Rory's BBC blog, and that of Arts colleague Will Gompertz there were postings on Hargreaves. What I recommend you do is read the comments, for the Battle of Waterloo will these days be won on the playing fields of blog comments. I have chipped in (and bit my tongue on several occasions) but ... within the severe size limits currently imposed by the BBC on such things ... the comments expose a lot of the obsessions and occasional ignorance of what is a very arcane area of law and very difficult for people to understand.

Apart from the fair use and orphan works bits in Hargreaves ... and a welcome call for format shifting and parody exceptions, one theme is of what I might dare call an improvement in fairness and openness in rights dealings. The Intellectual Property Office is urged to give examples of what you can and can't do, which would have some force of law, and the government is encouraged to make it more practical, and cost-effective, for small rights owners who have been infringed to gain redress.

One omission is that moral rights don't get a look-in. There will be areas of the creative industries, including the small corner where I shine my light, that will find that a serious flaw.

Oh, and the report (PDF here) also asks that it doesn't suffer the fate of some previous such reports and that the government acts on its recommendations. It looks as if copyright is back on the agenda.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Cookies ... half-baked or crumbling?

The Information Commissioner's Office has been busy with not one but two brand new documents for us to look over.

The first is a Data Sharing Code of Practice.

Those of us who handle data related to web sites are most likely to be doing this on behalf of a client (which makes us data processors rather than data controllers) although for our internal business purposed we will probably have some data that needs to be carefully handled in a controlling capacity, even if it is only personnel records.

However, even as data processors we have responsibilities, and you should make sure that the person responsible for your data looks over this code of practice.

In some ways that's the easy one. The other is yet another piece of legislation about cookies.

Just when we thought we'd covered ourselves for using cookies by explaining opt-outs and making sure we really needed to use them, those nice people at the European Commission are tightening the rules and the ICO has provided some guidelines.

Whereas clause 6(2) used to say we needed to advise the user about how we used cookies and told them how to opt out, now the clause says we have to advise the user about how we use cookies and get their consent.

There are exceptions for repeated visits (It looks to me that you only need to ask the first time) and for'strictly necessary' for a service requested by the user, which the ICO suggest is things like shopping carts. A user can also set global consent levels in a browser to signify consent.

Now I know you can set such things in a browser at the moment (no cookies, cookies only from the web site I'm visiting, any cookie) but the web site can't interrogate this. I'm sure the major browser manufacturers will have this sorted in time (sarchasm alert). Would a consent in sign-up terms and conditions be enough? What do you do about systems which already have signed-up users?

Oh ... and we have until May 26th to sort this out.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Responsibility in projects - what it's all about

A project manager is the person that has the responsibility to complete the defined project within the time, budget and resources allocated. Sounds straightforward doesn't it? But we know differently. Andy says the best project manager he ever worked with used to say he was the man who had to say 'no' in the morning when the creative boss came in with new ideas. Many projects (not that one) are poorly defined or even undefined which makes the job well nigh impossible. Often the project manager has to do lots of ground work to contain the area of responsibility by defining the boundaries. We all know about project 'creep' if the boundaries aren't established, and 'creep' spells the downfall of the project – be warned.

How about the people who cause the 'creep'? How do we control them? Can we? It is people who change the boundaries that cause project creep so once the project has been defined it is the people who need to be managed. Not easy. Jamie Flinchbaugh, in his blog 30th April 2011, 10 Management Traps - and How to Avoid Them, puts it nicely when he says, “It is as important to design people out of the process as designing people in to the process.” That's experience talking.

People push boundaries. They will be vocal especially if they are managers in their own right. But expertise in fields often drives people to think they have the right to push the boundaries too. And we know that the mix of expertise in digital projects is greater than many other forms of project. It is this mix of other managers used to having their way, and experts, who believe their greater knowledge in one area gives them the right to be heard and influence the outcome of the project, that contribute to the difficulties of digital project management.

The right to be heard is essential for all. The right to influence the outcome of the project lies in fewer hands - those with the authority to negotiate changes to the project boundaries with the consequences on the time, budget and resources. This is where using a RACI chart in your project can really help. Remember RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. It's a chart that maps the amount of influence any person involved in the project has and determines who you need to listen to and act on the instructions. If you need a refresher on the RACI chart process, look back through our blog and/or see: The Project Notebook 22nd May 2009, Expectations, RACI and Raci-VS.

There may well be very vocal people who don't have the necessary authority to command the influence they want. They may use sheer force of personality - a common approach. But you can have a measure of control if you show that it isn't you they need to influence but X, Y and Z people in their organization who have the authority to make changes to the project and accept the resulting impact on time, cost and quality. This can throw the responsibility back to others and away from you unless the pressure is coming from your own organization! Then the same applies but you will need to handle it and possibly decide whether you take up the baton and ask for changes yourself based on the input. However, this will keep the communication flowing better around and through the people in the project while giving you some protection.

Some project managers have found the definition of Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed confusing. Alternatives have been used instead and may suit you better. Define your own if from your experience the traditional RACI indicators have not worked for you. The principle is good – which people have the power and authority to make changes – usually the sign-off people you've identified as part of the defining process, and which people should be kept informed for different purposes. Some examples of alternative definitions can be seen at the Wikipedia entry.

It's a difficult part of project management but one that can work for you particularly if you have had difficulties with people butting in where they shouldn't. You are not alone in that, we can assure you.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

User-centred design: how good is your usability?

If you are working across industry sectors, this question of usability can get complex. There are, of course, some basics that prove valuable for general usability of iMedia sites and we won't repeat those here. Jakob Nielsen's Useit website has an established reputation because of his long involvement in the area and it's a good place to start if you want a comprehensive updated overview.

If you haven't visited his site for a while you'll notice that the usability research area has become divided by business sectors and age groups. Those are telling in that usability guidelines have found variances according to the function and profile of use for the interactive user, be it for web, mobile, or smart phone device.

An increase in usability means more satisfied customers ... means better return from the exchange whether that is monetary or affinity to the brand/information. The increase in awareness of the importance of usability has led to a proliferation of Usability jobs. If you're after a usability job or need pointers for advertising for a usability professional, you can browse various sites and we nominate Total Jobs as another indicator here.

If you're involved in producing UK government related web sites, they have issued new usability guidelines in the past week so you may need to check your offerings to this sector to make sure you'll conform for the future and/or revise your current offerings accordingly. Take a look at the COI for the latest where they cover page layout, navigation, writing content, content elements, forms, search, QA and standards and common pages.

If you're involved with e-commerce sites then there's a timely article on econsultancy's site by Paul Rouke with an eye-catching title, WTF does usability best practice mean?, 27th April 2011. Do take a quick look at the Lakeland research that he notes written up by Graham Charlton 7th April 2011, Ten Best Practices from the New Lakeland website. There you'll see examples from their revised site in action with apposite analysis.

It's been a while coming but the sites influenced by Location-based services have a strong following that is growing because they make good sense to any user. Just think of trying to live without the train arrival and departure board information on your smart phone if you regularly use trains, or sat-nav in your car. What about Google Earth/Street maps/view and their spin-off apps? Social media shared information can lead to business opportunities for local businesses when they may least expect it. Lots of people didn't know where Carlilse/Cumbria is even though they'd bought tickets for an event there online. The anonymous blogger realised that many would be looking for accommodation nearby as well as other services and that if the local businesses hadn't placed a Google map app on their sites they would lose business. See: Location-based- marketing will find its feet this Summer. 20th April 2011

If you are working on smart phone apps then you'll also need to keep up with usability issues specifically related to their use: see Where News Apps Come Out On Top in Ground-breaking App Usability Study, 15th April 2011.

This is why usability experts are in more demand than ever. Do you have some? Do you have an alliance with a specialist company or two? Are you costing usability into your project budget breakdowns and if so how? Usability research methods vary a lot and their costs vary in tandem. Not an easy subject but usability methods will have to wait for another time.