10 digital ways to brave the economic recession

During our current economic downturn we could all benefit from some good solid advice (help even)… or perhaps just some reminding.

I’ve put together a list of 10 activities that we in some way could use our ubiquitous digital world to maximum benefit especially during these rough times.

1. Use the speed and agility of the internet.
Come up with ideas through prototyping often as you can and put it on the web.

2. Don’t re-invent the wheel.
Use freely available web tools as much as possible. Leverage existing platforms. (e.g., wordpress, basecamp)

3. Go to your customers.
Don’t wait for your customers to come to you. Use the web to find and communicate with your customers in their domain. Doing this will help you identify the customer touch-points.

4. Use the web’s beta economy.
Using this allows you to test, iterate, tweak etc your product. Examples, twitter, social networks, video etc…

5. Change advertising mediums.
Move away from traditional advertising channels like magazines by trying different channels (YouTube, Flash banners). Make use of communities that your customers move within.

6. Don’t just contact the customer engage with them.
Live video, video messages, blogs etc… help communicate your message on a different level. Customers are numb (and bored) of hearing your message through these mediums. Surprise them or make them stand up and notice you for doing something different and remarkable.

7. Focus groups.
Target these groups and get involved. Social networks, search engines (not just the Google) and groups can leverage deep ethnographic information. Their behaviour will help you identify their business needs so you can tailor your offerings.

8. Think outside the banner.
Change the way you look at designing your digital advertisements – your banners.
Create a story, make it interesting, make it fun, make it a purple cow. Aim to make your ads as creative as possible so spend more time at making this happen. Don’t throw the volume card (quantity of ads) at your campaigns rather work on the quality of your ads.

9. Users like functionality.
Impress your users with great functionality. While maintaining simplicity ensure that all the tasks embrace functionality – so they just work. Avoid making ‘complex’ actions clunky. Especially important here are registration forms (ambiguous and lengthy).

10. Listen to your customers.
Create a feedback mechanism. Offer feedback mechanisms to help improve your service. Include A/B testing and experimenting with various offerings. Targeted content offerings will result in conversion improvements. So, in a business that relies on registrations or subscriptions ‘guide’ your users to this task – DON’T MAKE THEM THINK!

Social Portal – Sweetcron

I recently wrote a blog post indicating that I’d look into the new Sweetcron web app. So, over the weekend I dived in and explored its potential.

Sweetcron - Rob Enslin

What is Sweetcron?

A Sweetcron is a free and open source solution for creating a self-hosted Lifestream; a blog-like website that shows your activity across the various websites.
A Sweetcron is very much like a blog that aggregates all your data feeds from your various websites into one site – a website I call my Social Portal. The real beauty of a Sweetcron is the ability to view and comment on individual data-feed inline (no need to wonder off to other websites). A Sweetcron uses the idea of a timeline and gives it the human feel of time progression. Much like the Meghan’s Lifecast where the time is represented horizontally, the Sweetcron uses individual blocks of activity down a mainly vertical axis (is fully customiseable too).

Why do a Sweetcron?

Because like all new technologies it’s important to discover potential solutions. It may not be the perfect type of web app, but with a bit of imagination and business vision solutions will inevitably ‘appear’. This portential is echoed by Web Designer Chris Coyier in his Sweetcron post on Nettuts:
Sweetcron is a relatively new software, but its ease of use, great user interface and extensibility are surely going to be help it take off. I could see it amassing a huge user base and even stealing a little market share away from blogging giants like WordPress.

What you need to setup a Sweetcron?

Unlike many web 2.0-flavoured hosted solutions (WordPress, Blogger etc) Sweetcron relies on you to provide the server platform and setup skills. The hardware/software and skills needed include:
  • Web access – get onto the web
  • Sweetcron signup and email address – download the files
  • FTP access – get the files across to your server
  • PHP Server – runs/understands the installed Sweetcron files
  • MySQL database – a place to store and sort the generated content
  • Text editor – edit the PHP files for configuration
  • Image editing software – amend graphics to personalise it
  • Follow and understand the technical instructions
  • Commenting app (optional) – I used Disqus

Benefits of a Sweetcron?

  • Free
  • Relatively easy to instal and configure
  • Good looking
  • User-generate content in the form of comments
  • Easily customisable
  • Self-hosted
  • Open source and some…

References:

Files and Installation: http://sweetcron.com/
Lifestream examples: Chris Coyier, Yongfook, Rob Enslin (me) and Satish Kanwar.

My Social Friday – wiki, sweetcron, ia, contextual ads

It’s 7.00am and it’s a lovely morning in Dorking, Surrey. I’ve left my house and walking to the train station. I’m on my way to London Waterloo via Dorking. I chat a little about what I’ve got planned for the day – my Social Friday (media day).

Other than continuing with all my wiki rollout sessions – getting folk signed up – which is very time consuming, I plan to take a closer look at Sweetcron (The Automated Lifestream Blog) – web app pulling in all types of content – your social identity, news, videos, blog posts, pownce, tweets – personal social portal.

Sweetcron signup

Sweetcron signup

I’m also planning to continuing my work on information architecture documents for a few new projects. This afternoon, I’m looking at thePublican.com‘s spec documents for Firstlight ERA‘s contextual advertising project integration.

I’m really looking forward to it. Hope I can get onto Twitter.com at some point too ;-)

Blog Action Day: Poverty meets digital

Today is blog action day so I decided to blog about how digital has in some ways helped relieve poverty. When I refer to digital I’m referencing mobile digital. The two words ‘poverty’ and ‘digital’ are worlds apart and hardly ever used together – they’re certainly not synonymous with each other.

As a South African, who immigrated to the UK ten years ago, I know that in 1998 (when there was poverty in many communities) virtually no one had mobile devices. A mobile phone was a luxury. I recently went to South Africa on holiday where to my surprise I found real evidence of advanced mobile infrastructure

Boundaries

I read with interest (and surprise) how countries buried in poverty are using mobile phones en mass. In many other parts of Africa where poverty exists the take up of the digital mobile is driven by marketing and not through community efforts. The digital boundaries are breaking down – commercially and physically. This is helping communities directly (access to help) and indirectly (job creation). Mobile phones are now ubiquitous in many impoverished communities.

Costs

Mobiles come in so many forms – from cheap to very expensive. Ultimately, no matter how technical/expensive your mobile device is the content that is accessed is hugely valuable – whether it’s SMS, web pages or the telephone.

Real life examples

An example of mobile systems helping poor communities include the M-Pesa system.

It’s a system of phone-to-phone payments useful to people who don’t have a bank account or nearby bank – i.e. most people in rural Africa.

The information carried on the new networks spans public health, medical care, education, banking, commerce and entertainment, in addition to communications among family and friends.

All our lives are rapidly being transformed by digital. One of the most profound areas evident of this is the mobile phone. Kudos to commercial Africa finding workable digital solutions.

To Digg or not to Digg?

I recently read that Kevin Rose, co-founder of digg.com, plans to expand digg.com to Europe and Asia. At first I thought that’s fantastic then, after I finished reading the article, I began to wonder what the point was? I mean digg.com is global…the web is global. The only well-known websites that use a regional address is Google and Yahoo! Kevin also mentioned wanting to included local language versions too, which I can understand. But, what’s the point Kevin?

I posted a comment on the ‘Digg plans global expansion‘ story and whilst looking for my comment I noticed the related digg.com/Kevin Rose article: Kevin Rose’s top eight tips for getting on the Digg front page. Looking at the list there are some great tips worth mentioning:

1 Write article about current stories in the news. The bigger and more popular the news the better.

2 Love what you write about so be passionate.

3 Make sure you know what you’re writing about – do your research. Have your facts and research to hand.

4 Go niche…it’s the future. You’ll be amazed by the stuff people are interested in

5 Lists are king. Many popular digg stories are based on lists. (Just like this one: 5 great tips to boost your digg’s)