Author Archive

12 September
2011

Let’s Get Ready to Beta!

On the whole, we’re a bunch of geeks here at Outside Line. It’s fair to say, with some random exceptions, that we’re not the types to be found in the VIP section of some hot new club launch. Luckily, the internet offers similar, but completely different, and yet just as exclusive scenarios in the form of beta trials – where you’re invited to be the first to try out something that everyone else (at least in the industry) is virtually clambering over themselves to get access to. There’s also great satisfaction in being the one to invite the rest of the office in on the action – like reassuring the doorman that your mate is ‘alright… honest’.

Beta [pronunciation like the old SEGA intro] trials are notoriously hard to get onto. The smart and talented folks at internet start-ups have a whole heap of things to consider when seeking people to test their product. Can you sacrifice the need for feedback in order to get maximum buzz from the cool kids? How many people do you invite without your company becoming last minute’s news?

So how do you become a beta tester? There’s definitely an element of luck involved. These are normal people you’re contacting when you request access. They might just like the cut of your jib at that exact moment. If there is an email option, always take it, and make sure you personalise your message.

If it’s purely about reputation and Klout (a realistic tool for start-ups to select beta testers) then a lot of us, myself included, wouldn’t stand a chance. But start-ups know they need people who will actually try their products. Can they expect decent feedback from someone so in demand for their influence 24/7? Demonstrating a genuine interest in what you are registering for and being prepared to give both positive and negative feedback is surely a key reason you are selected.

Recently I’ve been lucky enough to be included on two beta trials.

First up was the Forecast app for Android. Upon learning a colleague was using the iPhone equivalent, I was tweeted an Android version was coming soon. One email later and I was included on the trial.

Forecast is a nice extension to Foursquare. Using its API it allows you to Forecast when you’ll be at a Foursquare location. It’s a genuinely novel and useful app. Will it catch on? That all harks back to the debate we’ve always had raging about location based check-ins (I will continue to be a fence sitter). Being in the beta does let you see genuinely substantial changes being made at short notice. Your suggestions sometimes get considered and each version does show an improvement on the last. Forecast has improved their Android app on a near daily basis, which is great to see.

Vizualize.me – Firstly, annoying spelling for my UK spell check, but a really strong and visually appealing service. Sure to be popular, it syncs with your LinkedIn profile and instantly produces a series of funky looking CVs that you’ve always wanted, but always known you’re incapable of producing. Infographics have changed the way we look at many things. With the increasingly popular trend of sexing-up of the dull (CVs are rarely that interesting), it will get popular fast, but will need to produce more and more templates that are practical as well as nice to look at. It’s important that it remains new and unique rather than just becoming the new version of a Word template, and this is the kind of feedback I intend to give the creators.

Above all, be a good beta tester. For starters, playing around with the app will help a lot. Don’t ignore the opportunity you’ve been given and make sure you deliver some feedback. There’s probably nothing worse than not receiving anything from a tester. Assume your praise/criticism has never been noted before, at this stage the developers aren’t necessarily looking for you to massage their egos, instead they’re looking for ways to make their app even better, so be honest. It’ll make you feel like a pioneer, promise!

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posted by Welton at 13:33   _comments (0)
8 August
2011

Metal winning in Social Media?

It seems like only yesterday everyone was going mental for MySpace and the role it played in helping talented folk like Arctic Monkeys ‘make it big’.

The true power of the internet was on display, as bands ‘bypassed’ traditional routes and promoted themselves directly to the fans, and had great success doing so.

But as MySpace sits alongside other struggling virtual ruins, bands have naturally moved to where the kids are at.

How do new and smaller bands make the best use of these channels?

Facebook didn’t initially light up the music industry with its design and functionality, but with the creation of tabs there are options to show off the music behind the band ‘brand’. But what’s more interesting is the total dedication and intimacy bands are creating with their followers on Facebook and Twitter.

I recently discovered a band from Norway called Blood Command (I thoroughly recommend you check them out). Leaping onto their social media channels I was happy to see numbers weren’t enormous, it gave me a sense of ‘discovering’ a band early.

But what is so impressive about Blood Command, is their open attitude to these channels. The difference to Myspace is staggering. Leave a message on their wall and they’ll happily (or begrudgingly based on the enquiry) get back to you with a personal reply. When we first discovered them there was even a Twitter discussion with the band about getting them to play a local pub in London.

Add to this, I’m increasingly seeing members of bands set up their own personal page on Facebook (Twitter has always been the case). Greg Puciato from the Dillinger Escape Plan for example is active across Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. Impressively all these accounts are generally used uniquely to each other but again, the interaction level is really decent.

It’s often the case to get the most exposure is to do something controversial. Social media sure isn’t hampering bands in this respect. Take iwrestledabearonce. In a move that was considered a huge leap, the band announced to their fans and through a carefully circulated press release that they would now be a black metal band. This was naturally picked up on music blogs and discussed. Fans on the whole recognized the gag but the metal community covered the news en masse with a surreptitious ‘O Rly?’.

Successful troll was successful!

When the band’s new song with its much promised new direction was leaked through a partner blog the site crashed through the demand of fans and haters alike. A brutal new track it was, but black metal it was not. This deception gave them even more coverage, especially from those who didn’t take to kindly to being trolled (see Gun Shy Assassin). As a fan, it made me love them even more!

Myspace was a revelation. A free service to connect your music to the masses. But it was one way, old-school communication. A service that could pump your music, news and events out to your adoring fans.

Facebook and Twitter, when used well, are building stronger ties between the artists and their fans. It’s no longer about one-way communication and purely promoting your own stuff. It’s far more personal.

Metal has always prided itself on a loyal and passionate fanbase. For a smaller band, what better way to forge ties with fans early than being human and responsive? It’s natural that those embracing social media are winning.

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posted by Welton at 09:32   _comments (0)
31 March
2011

Canv.as: Moot’s Friendly(er) Face?

In Super Sad True Love Story, set slightly in the future, Gary Shteyngart shows a world submerged in constant online connections, including live video streams and social networks. The all-powerful ‘GlobalTeens’ network is the ‘Facebook’ of the future which comes with a warning when you try to send a message: “GLOBALTEENS SUPER HINT: Switch to images today! Less words = more fun!!!”

While the book paints a very dystopic version of the future, the suggestion from GlobalTeens to use images is not that far wrong when we look at the sheer popularity of images on the internet.

Tumblr, 4Chan, Reddit and others are examples of pictures ruling. It’s fair to say that a lot of interactions can be summised with a simple image. I could easily spend a day reacting and replying to emails only using image macros (challenge accepted!)

4Chan in particular thrives in this medium, having famously been the source of memes-a-plenty (Lolcats, etc) so it’s no surprise Moot’s newest venture is an image-centric community.

Canv.as is currently in beta stage, as Moot says he wants to let it build its own community and a few of us have been lucky enough to have a play.

Like a never-ending wave of images, Canvas is centred around rating and remixing images in topics that are of interest to you. Using the waterfall scrolling effect gives the sense of never ending images = hours wasted!

Like something? Time to give it a sticker.

The choices are a mixture of the common and the unique with ‘cookie’ (or wookie depending on what day you go on) and ‘monocle’ both taking advantage of past memes and already sweep the community (placing ‘Cookie’ stickers in your image in order to generate cookie stickers for your image…profit).

The great thing about Canvas, in comparison to sites like 4chan for example, is that it encourages newcomers to contribute easily while still rewarding the more experienced memers. The functionality and UI are simple and flawless. Take a new image, pop it up in its original format and people can ‘Remix’ it there and then using a couple of basic drawing tools, no need for PhotoShop or even Paint – traditionally the tool of choice. This gives you threads and threads of macros developing from origin to mashup, it’s a great way to see how memes evolve into the polished versions you see replicated on tumblr.

Some nice little details include a bar that can be dragged across any picture to see what it looked like originally, to show off its evolution (much like the ‘before and after’ earthquake photos that have been so effective at showing the impact on cities). This feature was actually created by a user and implemented within a few days across the site, showing the willingness of the creators to experiment and the value they put in the views of the users. Another cool feature is a play button for gifs, no doubt speeding up the site no end.

If you believe what you read, 4chan has not reacted all that well to Canvas. Their burning issue seems to be whether this is a legitimate attempt to create something commercial that Moot can cash in on, a la Zuckerberg. Having played around for a few weeks now, you can see why they might think it. This unique API would work splendidly for websites for photo voting or photo captioning contests (to look at it at a very basic level).

Another reason Canvas appears to be heading mainstream is the ability to flag and downvote images. The content definitely seems lighter, not to mention the confidence people seem to already have in posting using nicknames rather than anonymous.

Ignoring the ominous nature, “Switch to images today! Less words = more fun!!!” sums up Canvas. A place to get lost, creative and have a right good laugh all at once. If someone offers you an invite, take it immediately. If you talk to some of the Outside Line team nicely they may even wing one your way.

Check this out
posted by Welton at 14:21   _comments (0)
15 February
2011

Taco Bell vs the World

How do you want your beans and flour arranged?
by Welton



First up, this isn’t a statement on the quality of the food. Bill Hicks’ damning set on Taco Bell will always be gospel in my opinion; “Why does Taco Bell even have a menu?” This is, instead, about responding to a crisis using social media.

Recently, a lawsuit was taken out against Taco Bell regarding its advertising. Apparently their beef doesn’t meet requirements in the US to even be called beef.

Bad press without question and there’s no doubt that the PR and marketing teams at the fast food brand must’ve freaked upon learning the news.

But let’s give some credit where credit is due. In a world where news travels so fast, Taco Bell were on top form and were in no mood to be bashed left, right and centre without getting their guard up.

Social media can be unforgiving and does not allow for much leeway on responding in a crisis. Inaction is suicide.

For Taco Bell, they went on the offensive and in a typically bold move, shared the news and their response to the lawsuit with their followers on Facebook. They shared a video of their CEO on The Colbert Report discussing the matter – obviously far more fun than some objective news story. They also used ads to draw in people who were trying to find out more about the story (ingenious!)

Why bother keeping schtum on an issue so many of your followers will have been reading about? Users see Facebook as a forum more and more, a place where they can expect an official reply to their queries, and Taco Bell knew its 5+ million fans might want to know what’s going on.

But really, you’ve got to imagine that not all their fans care in the slightest. Does the food taste good? Is it cheap? Fine. Super Size Me didn’t kill McDonald’s.

But what we’re seeing is an approach that has energised and celebrated its community on Facebook. Taco Bell has managed to create an “us vs them” kind of attitude (“Thanks for suing us”) and if shouting about how much they love their fans wasn’t enough, they also gave away a whopping 10 million free tacos!

Form an orderly queue everyone!

This isn’t about trying to influence the outcome of the lawsuit like some have suggested. This is about spotting an opportunity to create an even stronger bond with customers despite all the bad press. Undoubtedly, battle plans are already being drawn up no matter what the result is in court. We’ll be watching intently if they lose… will they continue to front up? Perhaps 20 million free tacos are being made as we speak!

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posted by Welton at 11:49   _comments (1)
1 October
2010

Watch it go – Celebrating a bit of disregard

A brand is like a Brad Pitt right near the end of Benjamin Button. It’s probably gone through a whole heap over a bunch of time to get there…but it’s a baby that needs to be protected.

And that’s perfectly understandable. It really is. Millions of pounds and countless hours of brainstorming, development and actual work goes into making an effective brand image.

But sometimes it’s just so good, things might slip out of your control.

Read the rest of this entry »

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posted by Welton at 11:26   _comments (0)