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New blog location… March 15, 2013

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Government, Hardware, Internet, IT Services, Outsourcing, Software.
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Thank you for visiting the Thomas Eggar technology blog. We have moved the blog to our main website – please click here to be taken directly to the latest version of the blog!

Southamptons Itchen Bridge

 

Photo by Steve licensed under Creative Commons

Poor design hampers gamification in the enterprise November 27, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, IT Services, Software.
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Gamification is a great way to use the principles for gaming within a different environment, to make a task or process fun. Think for a moment about the badges you are awarded for adding more reviews on Tripadvisor or the awards like ‘Mayor’ status awarded on Foursquare for users frequently checking into specific locations.

Many commentators have predicted that the enterprise workplace can be improved by ‘gamifying’ many of those dull corporate systems we are forced to use at work. Imagine a sales system for example where sales associates need to enter details of calls to prospects – usually that’s a fairly dull CRM system. Change it to start featuring league tables and awards and even the same information can now seem a lot more interesting.

But industry analyst Gartner has warned that most enterprise systems are too clunky to change easily.

Speaking to Computer Weekly Brian Burke, research vice-president at Gartner said:

“Organisations are simply counting points, slapping meaningless badges on activities and creating gamified applications that are simply not engaging for the target audience. Some organisations are already beginning to cast off poorly designed gamified applications.”

It’s clear that these systems need more than just pretty badges to work, a wake-up call that should have been obvious to the enterprise technology managers, but then a gamified system is really a complex motivational device – not just a piece of software with badges.

Managers of enterprise systems might want to ask why consumer systems are so easy to use. Think of Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. If internal communications and systems were as easy to use as the tools we all use at home then how much more productive could your team be?

Space Invader

Photo by Fabian Ortiz licensed under Creative Commons

Facebook Deletes Fake Likes on Fan Pages September 28, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, Software.
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Facebook has started deleting fake ‘likes’ on fan pages after confessing that around 8.7% of all likes were probably false.

The BBC’s technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, tried an experiment earlier this year where he set up a company page on Facebook – offering bagels – and despite having no information about the products on the page it quickly attracted over 1,600 ‘likes’.

Many of the most popular Facebook pages have started shedding a large number of ‘likes’ including pop stars such as Lady Gaga.

This might all be seen as just a storm in a teacup by many, tinkering around with algorithms in much the same way as Google does all the time when they have a regular review to improve search results. But it is more significant.

Advertising is now a significant source of income for Facbeook and the number of times a product or company page is ‘liked’ has an effect on how often that page appears in the news stream of fans.

For Facebook to continue building a business model based on genuine fans with a genuine desire to learn more about products, they need to demonstrate to companies that fans on Facebook are real people – not robots automatically liking every new page.

It is significant that Facebook is undertaking this clean-up, but it is worth noting the flipside of the argument, that over 9 out of 10 ‘likes’ are by real people – and now the fakes are being removed, brands can be assured that figure is getting higher and more trustworthy.

Facebook

Photo by Urs Steiner licensed under Creative Commons

Samsung v Apple: The fight goes on August 31, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Hardware, Software.
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Who would have thought that intellectual property law could suddenly become so interesting? Two of the biggest tech brands in the world – Samsung and Apple – are slugging it out in courts across the world.

An American court awarded Apple over $1bn in damages when it declared that Samsung had infringed several key aspects of proprietary software and technology design.

Subsequently a Japanese court awarded Samsung victory in a battle over the way their phones synchonise data with personal computers. It’s going back and forth as the giants argue over design issues and who is copying who.

Of course intellectual property needs protection, but the real loser at the end of all this is going to be the consumer. Take cars as an example. You can go out and buy a Ford, VW, or GM vehicle and be able to drive it immediately. You don’t need to spend a day learning how it all works before you are familiar with the controls.

Isn’t this analogous to mobile phones now? They are complex devices, but there are many basic controls that are the same; settings, web access, email, apps. I just moved from Android to an iPhone and it took me a couple of days to become familiar with the environment – even though I use several other Apple products. What if I move to an Android phone in two years? Will I have to learn everything again to get it to work?

We need phone companies to innovate and not just to copy each other, but the consumer will end up paying all these damages. It’s time the phone companies started talking to each other and pooling technologies in the same way DVD and similar technologies are shared between manufacturers.

A slight difference (phones)

 

Photo by Tomi Tapio licensed under Creative Commons

Samsung quashes Facebook copycat rumours June 20, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, Software.
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A very strange story hit the media recently about claims that Samsung was planning to launch a Facebook clone. Samsung immediately quashed the rumours, but backtracking slightly they admitted that the Samsung ‘Family Story’ App – which allows people to share photos and news updates with friends – was going to be expanded and improved.

What is surprising about this story is that critics assumed that by adding a photo-sharing tool to their phones, Samsung would be able to in some way rival Facebook.

Facebook is now a global juggernaut with more than half of all connected people using it regularly. Even Google has struggled to build a social network to rival it, with their G+ hailed as a technical success even though very few people actually use it.

And this is the problem for any new market entrant; the network effect prevents a rival emerging quickly. Consider online auctions as another example – you will always turn to eBay first because it is where most sellers go to list their items and they are listed there because it is where most buyers go to find something.

Facebook has suffered negative publicity over their recent IPO and the incredible overpricing of the stock at flotation, but the company is still in a powerful position to control the vast majority of the time people are online – and therefore may yet justify a value far greater than it presently trades at.

If Facebook moves from being just a social network to being considered almost as ‘the Internet’ then what hope does any rival have, whether they have millions of phone handsets in the market or not?

Samsung F490
Photo by Stephane Vieillot licensed under Creative Commons

Fighting piracy requires carrots, not just a big stick May 10, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, Software.
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The Pirate Bay (TPB) is a Swedish website that links to online copies of music, films, and software – anything that can be easily copied and distributed online. It is possibly the single largest library of illegally copied intellectual property in the world and has been resistant to the authorities for many years, largely because they don’t store the content themselves and the links use very strong cryptography to mask the exact location of copied material.

As the law enforcement authorities have failed to stop sites like TPB the UK courts (after an action raised by the British Phonographic Institute) decided to tell Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to just block access – preventing all but the most determined users from accessing them. This week, Virgin Media became the first UK ISP to stop their users from accessing TPB.

It did not go well. The Anonymous hackers collective attacked Virgin Media’s website and brought it down on May 9th for over one hour. Four other British ISPs have vowed to block access to TPB and BT is about to decide on their position.

The ISPs are in a difficult position as they are being forced to censor their service – preventing access to a particular site – yet they have always managed to stand aside from these debates in the past, arguing that they just provide the infrastructure and can’t be expected to police what people do online.

The bottom line for organisations like the BPI is that piracy will only end when the legal route to owning movies and music is easier than the illegal. Services like Spotify and Netflix are now making on demand legal renting of content far easier than searching for illegal copies. Perhaps they should be focusing on making the carrot, rather than the stick, a lot bigger, because banning access to a single pirate site is like putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound.

Pirate deck at Club Earl

Photo by Earl licensed under Creative Commons

Is technology moving too fast for the law? April 30, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, Software.
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Three people have been arrested by police recently as part of the investigation into the alleged naming of Sheffield United footballer Ched Evans’ rape victim on Twitter.

The right to victims of rape and sexual assault to remain anonymous is an area of the law that faces an enormous challenge in this era of information freedom. Many victims would not go to the police if they knew that their name would be splashed across the newspapers – whether a celebrity is involved or not – and traditional newspapers and broadcasters have always respected the law in this respect.

But now there is Twitter. It takes just one tweet from somebody with inside knowledge of a case and the victim details are published and cannot be erased. Those wanting to avoid detection can easily create a new Twitter account in a different name within minutes.

The implication is clear. Technology can be used by people with inside knowledge of a subject to broadcast it to the media and general public, with very little fear of recrimination.

This affects many areas of life where sensitive information is managed. Jurors tweeting their opinion as a trial proceeds are already disrupting court proceedings. Medical professionals are tweeting about celebrities receiving treatment – and assuming that they can go to a hospital without news of their condition being broadcast to the world.

In technological terms, the genie has already escaped. We cannot turn back the clock to an age before Twitter so it appears that the approach to this problem can only be the improved education of professionals who deal with sensitive information and greater measures – such as immediate dismissal – for medical or legal professionals who misuse social networks. It is not ideal, but then the world has changed forever.

Scales of Justice, Old Bailey, London

Photo by Andrew Middleton licensed under Creative Commons

Iceland goes Open Source March 21, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, IT Services, Software.
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The Open Source software movement has always suffered an image problem because people brought up to respect copyright and trademarks struggle to understand the concept of how intellectual property can be free.

Advocates of Open Source argue that free generally means freedom rather than free of cost – the software itself may be free, but users will always need to pay for installation, maintenance, upgrades and customisations. It is never entirely free.

Open source has long been in the mainstream for those who specify and design technology systems. WordPress is a free content management system – often used for blogs – and yet brands like CNN, Reuters, Sony, VW, and UPS use it as the basic framework for their websites.

But there are also Open Source operating systems and office tools – replacing the need for licensed products such as Microsoft Windows and Office… Excel and Word for example. These have not really taken off in the enterprise because everyone works using those formats – you want to use Word and be able to send a document to anyone else.

But if the Open Source tools can recognise those file formats and work in just the same way then perhaps the end is in sight for expensive licenses in the enterprise? The government of Iceland certainly thinks so. As a cost-cutting move they have just ordered all public bodies to ditch licensed products from companies like Microsoft and Oracle and to migrate to free solutions instead.

Iceland needs to save cash, but if an entire government can plan for a migration across all departments with just a one-year time frame for migration then just imagine what most companies could achieve too…

dancing  Auroras
  Photo by Álfheiður Magnúsdóttir licensed under Creative Commons

Time travel with Facebook December 13, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, IT Services, Software.
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Facebook has launched their new Timeline feature to the world this week. Much attention has focused on the improved look and feel of the user interface, particularly the large cover photo that now dominates a Facebook profile.

But much less attention has been paid to the more interesting aspect of the Timeline – the ability to move back in time to any point and see what the user was doing at that time. In effect, Facebook has created an open diary because you can go back in time on your friend’s profile to see what they were posting on the system last year – or even on a specific date.

This is an interesting development, not least for those interested in privacy. It used to be that you updated your Facebook and as the update dropped off the screen because new ones replaced it, that would then be lost forever. Now users can move back and forth in time examining every little post you made.

Many web watchers have already warned avid social networkers about the danger that they will arrive at a job interview only to find the interviewer has found some compromising photos online. But with the ability to move back and forth in time scanning the entire online history of a person, this danger just became a whole lot more real.

facebook like button

Staying alive – retaining innovation in IT September 22, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Internet, IT Services, Software.
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The history of information technology is littered with the names of companies that were once great and fell on hard times. Whatever happened to Imagine Software, Wang, Pr1me, Commodore, and many others?

Of course one of the greatest success stories in IT, and possibly in any business environment, is Microsoft. They grew from small roots, and a fortunate licensing deal to install their operating system on IBM PCs, and the rest is history. Now, almost all new PC-based computers come with Windows pre-installed.

But the world is changing. Microsoft has been talking publicly about their ideas for Windows 8 and it does not seem clear whether the world is listening any longer.

Almost 4m people in the UK use a tablet-based device and the dominant operating systems are from Apple and Google – with their Android system that is also becoming the key smart-phone operating system.

It would be wrong to suggest that Microsoft is finished because they don’t seem to be able to compete in the tablet and telephone market, but the entire computing market is changing. For years Microsoft has enjoyed the twin cash cows of Windows and their Office platform of office automation software – Word, Excel, and so on.

Windows is clearly becoming less relevant and valuable, but so too is the shrink-wrapped software market. Office automation tools are available free, in the cloud, from people like Google and at a low cost from other suppliers.

How do once dominant companies react to such changes in the market? If anyone can do it then Microsoft can. They have cash, intelligent people, and an attitude that focuses on innovation.

But do they have the will to entirely change the company? One only has to look at a company like Nokia to see that ignoring a changing technology market can bring industry giants to their knees. For the sake of the industry, let’s hope that Windows 8 really is as revolutionary as the Microsoft bosses suggest.
Microsoft Logo