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.