sábado, 31 de agosto de 2013

Can You Trust the Cloud?

Marcus asks,

"Is it safe to trust the cloud? I've heard over and over again about how the benefits of "the cloud." I'm worried though that if I store all my data on someone else's servers, it won't be secure. Or even worse, the government will have access to it. Can I trust the cloud?"

Great question, Marcus! Cloud computing isn't a new concept — it's been around since the 1950s — but over the last decade, the term has really taken off in a big way.

In the past, one of the primary concerns about the cloud was reliability — could you count on it to be available when you need it? Today, most major cloud offerings are at least as reliable as any other solution. Instead, we've seen concerns shift to the "security" of data stored on the cloud. (Thanks a lot, NSA.)

Whether or not you can "trust" the cloud often depends completely on what you are doing and what type of service you are using.

When we talk about the cloud, we're usually talking about a few different things. First and most commonly, we have consumer or business facing cloud-based applications and services. The most popular example here is something like Dropbox or Google Docs. Rather than running an application off of your computer, you run an instance — usually in a web app (but you can do it using mobile too) directly from the Internet.

The other part of "the cloud" is the broader idea of cloud computing. This is what companies such as Rackspace and Amazon Web Services and Heroku, where you can power applications, databases or tools that you specify, using clustered groups of computers. Instead of having to maintain your own rack of servers to create an application, you can rent time and computing power from companies that will only charge you for what you use.

For the sake of simplicity, we're going to ignore cloud providers for now, and just focus on the trustworthiness of consumer and business-focused cloud services.

Find Out If You Can Use the Cloud

Not all data can be stored on a "public" cloud — meaning a cloud server that is maintained by someone such as Google, Amazon or Rackspace.

As we discussed earlier this month:

Individual states and countries have different laws governing how data is stored, according to the report. This is especially important for data sets containing sensitive information or otherwise raise privacy concerns. Make sure you know where your data centers are located and what those states' or countries' regulations are regarding data storage. (As an example, the report revealed that storing your data in a cloud with data centers in the United States may make it possible for the U.S. government to look at your information through the Patriot Act).

If you are working with data that has certain types of security requirements, no, you probably can't "trust" the cloud. In fact, that's why Adobe has a version of its new Creative Cloud software that is decoupled from the public cloud — specifically because some government organizations or businesses have policies that preclude using software that can interact with a public cloud.

Look at the Security Features For Your Cloud Service

Most major cloud services — including Google and Dropbox — offer a level of security and encryption for data. Still, some data is safer than others.

Google recently added AES-128 bit encryption to its Google Cloud Service.

Dropbox uses AES-256 bit encryption and it works with Amazon to keep data secure. Microsoft also offers good AES encryption for its Azure libraries.

Something to consider when sending data to the cloud is whether or not you can send it in an encrypted state. For example, I use the password management app 1Password. 1Password stores my password database on Dropbox, so that it can sync across my devices.

However, 1Password doesn't just rely on Dropbox's security. It also encrypts the data before sending it to the cloud.

Any time you have the opportunity to encrypt data before sending it to the cloud, take it. That way, even if the cloud is accessed, your data still has another layer of protection.

How Safe Are Alternatives?

Government regulations and policies aside, it's important to consider how trustworthy alternative solutions are.

For instance, even though Windows and OS X are very secure operating systems, users are still the victim of phishing attacks that can allow nefarious persons to remotely login and access their files. You should consider, "Is the cloud any more secure than my own computer on an open Wi-Fi network."

Moreover, in most cases, a major cloud storage company is going to have better security for its setups than a locally managed server you maintain yourself.

Make Sure You Can Trust Yourself

When cloud solutions are compromised, the people that suffer the most are those that do a poor job protecting their passwords and access to their accounts.

Remember how we talked about the importance of two-factor authentication? Regardless of the trustworthiness of the cloud — it makes sense to do your part of keeping your passwords secure and different.

Full disclosure: I trust the cloud with all kinds of sensitive and important information. I just make sure that the most important data is encrypted first, encrypted on the cloud server and that I use good passwords.

Do you trust the cloud? Let us know in the comments.

Mashable composite, images: Flickr, theaucitron and Ged Carroll/renaissancechambara.

How to shift from ecommerce to 'c-commerce': four steps to follow

Ask the question your competitors aren't: 'what would my customer expect?'

Today's consumer is fickle and expects the world. Now. Whether looking to purchase a safe new car, a coat for the winter or plane tickets for a weekend getaway, each individual or business customer has a unique process to identify the right product and a long list of demands the delivering brand needs to meet to make the sale.

These include offer value, trust, best price, easy purchasing experience, customer service, and engagement with relevance. And the list could go on.

For a company to be on the top of the consumer's purchasing list, or at least in the short list of contenders, it needs to understand every aspect of the consumer and establish a comprehensive commerce strategy that will give the consumer not only what they want but what they expect. Now.

The digital consumer and a game of dominoes

Consumers may not realize it but they are playing dominoes with every brand they are engaging.

The consumer begins the game by selecting a digital channel, or channels, to peruse their retail options (mobile, tablet, PC, social, etc) then they review their many options and make a purchase, completing the initial ecommerce exchange from the consumer's point of view.

But the game doesn't stop there, as a lot continues to happen behind the scenes for transactions to be executed smoothly and set the stage for future opportunities with customers. And the same is true in the business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce realm.

Perhaps the most significant tumble of dominoes comes with the convergence of digital marketing with ecommerce within businesses around the globe. 

Today the CMO or brand manager is collaborating with the ecommerce team to develop an aligned strategy to provide the best experience to the consumer on all channels.

No matter where a consumer is in the purchasing cycle, the business should be able to offer timely and relevant marketing communications such as search advertising banner ads or a social media response.

Why is this important? Effectively marketing to the consumer is now just as important as the purchase transaction as it also has the power to establish and impact continuous engagement and purchases.

B2B ecommerce is an area that continues to get more attention within businesses. And it should. Without a proper B2B focus, the channel in which a product is created, dispatched and delivered to the consumer could be mismanaged and falter.

When managing a B2B commerce strategy, companies need to look at both the internal digital multichannel options and also how the company is working with its external resellers, distributors, partners, etc to ensure all are run most efficiently to meet the consumer's expectations and demand.

For instance, in the pharmaceutical industry, businesses need to examine their relationships with distributors and doctors to make sure the patients are properly taken care of to maintain loyalty and brand support.

Four steps to achieving c-commerce

C-commerce is defined as collaborative commerce, but I believe it should also stand for 'customer commerce' as the customer should be at the center of all decisions a business makes regarding its commerce strategy.

Businesses should create a B2C and B2B ecommerce strategy with the goal of achieving c-commerce: collaborative and customer commerce.

Here are four recommendations, based on a recent Accenture study, which companies should follow to accomplish this goal in today's multichannel environment. 

1. Adopt a customer viewpoint

The only way to properly deliver to a customer is to know their motivations and expectations, and then making business decisions based on this heightened customer viewpoint to meet or better yet exceed their needs and ultimately benefit sales.

When following this rule, companies can take a huge step toward ensuring all the B2B, B2C, and multichannel marketing strategies work toward this same goal.

2. Create a new organizational framework

Extinguish silos and create the framework for an integrated channel experience by establishing a new organizational blueprint with inputs from across the business.

A variety of members should be seated at this new collaborative roundtable – CMO, CIO, CSO, etc. – to create a well-rounded and seamless c-commerce approach for the customer. 

This strategy will also help stop each channel from cannibalizing each other or competing for the same customers.

This new approach can be challenging and may require a cultural shift within the business, but it is vital for everyone who has a stake in this approach to be heard.

3. Tap technology

Companies should focus on developing an integrated digital platform that is well understood and used by the entire organization, across brand and geographies.

The platform should also be scalable and adaptable that will grow with a company as technology evolves and allows for continuous testing to drive innovation.

Analytics is also a key ingredient when it comes to developing an IT and commerce strategy as the insights garnered from consumer data can help multiple departments,  from sales and marketing to supply chain, to make educated decisions that could positively impact future business and the bottom line.

4. Nurture external relationships for your customers

Engage with external channels (partners, affiliates and franchises) that sell your products or services for yet another way to provide the customer with a seamless, easy and positive shopping experience.

This can be done in a number of ways and a few examples include sharing product information with key retail partners to use on their sites where most customers shop, enhance websites with information that makes buying easier even if customers don't purchase from that website directly, and include trade promotions or digital coupons redeemable at retailers. 

If a company's commerce roadmap isn't up to par with a customer's expectations, the brand could encounter a drop in loyalty, a loss in sales, or negative comments on social media that could domino to other customers and impact further purchasing decisions.

To gain a competitive advantage by creating greater value for the customer, companies need to develop a commerce strategy focused on customer behavior across channels that can be implemented at scale. 

Helping fund a non-profit: the digital donation funnel

When it comes to generating donations we all know that there is more to digital fundraising than simply broadcasting to your supporters.

It's important to understand who the audience is, whether they likely to convert into volunteers and/or financial supporters and what the best method is of communicating with each stakeholder group to get the best return on resources.

A non-profit's unique donor conversion funnel, steps that a prospective online supporter goes through before donating, is not a new concept to many third sector digital marketers.

Though each process is exclusive to the charity in question there are some basic similarities in the marketing process that we can explore:

Donor Funnel

Understanding your audience

By gaining a solid understanding of your market segments and their location in your donor funnel you can focus on providing them with the right message at the right time to improve their chances of converting into a paying supporter.

Marketing personas are a fantastic tool to create a well-rounded view of your charity's market segments by forming a personification of your market segments to use as a reference point within campaigns.

Gather your existing data

Start by gathering all available qualitative and quantitative information about those who have already interacted with the brand; from recent event signups and newsletter subscribers to regular financial contributors.

When searching for demographic data for your personas, look no further than your own organisation's social network profiles.

People freely volunteer their demographic information on social networks providing you with information such as age, gender, location and language about those already engaging with your non-profit. You can also gather information on demographics based on the advertising profiles of websites.

There are a number of great tools that can be used to mine persona data such as:

Don't forget to have a look into your own website analytics data as this can be a great source of data to help identify intent and offer other clues about user behaviour.

Probe for more detail

Finding demographic data is great but it often needs supplementing with further information to get the full picture. Expand your research by gathering more qualitative customer feedback to deepen your insight into your chosen segment's decision-making process.

Use wider market research (Econsultancy's own resource section always a good source of information) to look for commonalities that align with the data you have already captured.

Build a data-centric set of personas

Using all of the data gathered you can begin to piece together a set of marketing personas that blend all of your research into a series of documents, each focused around a single personification of a market segment as this example highlights. Remember to maintain your persona profiles by adding in new data to keep them fresh.

With the persona completed, you now have a (hypothetical) person that represents a whole market segment. This allows you to imagine, understand and plan your campaign around how they might act in response to your charity's marketing methods.

Awareness

Being aware of what affects a donor's decision-making process is vital and allows you to tailor each of your marketing activities to guide prospective donors through the donor funnel, beginning with an awareness campaign focused on each persona's specific characteristics.

This is the stage in which you can begin to raise the awareness of your cause in the mind of the supporter. Though each campaign needs to be creative and innovative there is value in learning from past attempts from similar organisations.

There are some fantastic examples of broad awareness campaigns in practice such as Water is Life's great #FirstWorldProblems campaign.

This not only raised awareness of the good work the charity does but also gained monumental support from national media. Raising your awareness of your charity's issues through real stories can be a great way to humanise a digital entity.

Use your social media accounts to share insight into the good work being done, the people being helped or the situations that need assistance from your supporters.

Engagement

Awareness campaigns are great in getting your cause in front of new audiences but to drive real value from those messages you need to engage with your new found friends.

Evaluate the responses to your awareness campaign and you will begin to identify influential evangelists that have shared, commented on, written about and helped broadcast your message. These people are fantastic to interact with as they are already open to your brand and interested in furthering your cause.

There are many tools on the market that attempt to measure the social influence of a user such as Klout and PeerIndex. These can be really useful as long as you understand the limitations social influence apps like these have.

Now that you have a list of prominent users, by reaching out to them to discuss your next campaign we can help drive social sharing of future releases and use their influence to create a network of vocal supporters.

This can be especially effective when working with bloggers as new relationships with their audiences as well as the SEO benefits you gain can drive real value.

Donation

Once a user has been engaged they are much more likely to convert into a paid supporter of your cause as they not only understand the need for their donation but also have a genuine relationship with the brand that further extends their empathy for the cause.

The key to success at this stage is to understand that the web has made us all incredibly lazy and impatient. Make donating easy. Keep web forms fields to a minimum and make sure that your website load times are kept to a minimum to stop users from bouncing away from your signup forms at the last minute.

How do you tailor your marketing approach to your organisation's unique conversion funnel? Let me know in the comments below!

Customer service: the move to ‘help yourself’

Self help

In this post I'll be looking at the growing importance of self-service. I'll look at some brands that do it well, and some that don't, and offer advice as to what self-service entails.

Research recently carried out by Zendesk indicates that over 50% of customers want self-service and 67% prefer self-service to speaking to someone.

Combine this with the fact that self-service is cheaper than web chat, which itself is significantly cheaper than a running a call centre, and it's definitely a trend we'll see continue online.

With customer satisfaction rising as we come out of the financial slump, many companies will be riding this trend and getting their customer contact in order.

Customer retention is the new black

But let's begin briefly with the broader picture. Customer service has traditionally been viewed as starting with a negative. The challenge is to use response time and self-help to remove the negative, and begin to use regular contact with customers to enhance a product or service.

Customer service is now intrinsic to customer retention, seen as cheaper and more sustainable than customer acquisition in these difficult economic times. 

Reasons for the importance of customer service: 

  1. Unless customer questions are variously deferred, siphoned and remedied, the tidal wave of enquiries will cripple your workforce or go unanswered, leaving unsatisfied customers.
  2. Getting it right, giving customers an experience in-keeping with the product you provide, will differentiate you from most of your competitors.
  3. Product development depends on knowledge of your customer base. Without an appreciation of what's missing, or what's not working, it's hard to get that next innovation just right.
  4. Good customer service is likely to swell your marketing efforts, with word of mouth and social mentions increasing as a result of good service. 

With all that out in the open and starting to be taken seriously by lots of companies, self-service is demanded more than ever.

SAAS solutions also the new black

Increasingly, understanding and tackling customer service is being made easier by a variety of SAASs.

Any company that uses tech to communicate with customers can consider a ticketing system, possibly linked to CRM or social CRM, and possibly with addition of a self-help area on site that delivers articles, FAQs and a place for communities to develop.

The platform is no longer a particular supplier, as 'back in the day' many companies would rely on a favoured tech vendor. Now the platform is simply the cloud, and more generally the web.  

Who is setting the self-service trend?

Gov.uk

I think of this rightly applauded new site as a giant self-service machine. Granted, most of it is in the form of FAQs and information, rather than forums, live chat etc, but it is done supremely and to avoid costly phone calls.

 

Sky

Sky is the epitomy of a community based around, at times, a complex set of products and technology. Sky's super users are kept sweet, as they solve a large amount of problems and queries on the Sky Help Forum.

Super users are nvited to meetings and given product access, all to keep them ahead of the game.

On top of this brilliant community, the CMS makes recent relevant info is surfaced, and contact details are still available. Sky will also be using some software to proactively search for brand mentions, and hunt down problems before they get out of control or cause bad PR.

Who is falling behind? 

Arguably, the sectors most associated with aggrieved customers e.g. travel, utilities, telecomms - these have the hardest task when it comes to keeping customers happy.

If, like Sky, they aren't ahead of the game, the customer backlash is hard to avert when things go wrong. United Airlines is often included in lists of poor customer service, and it's certainly a company that could benefit from improved resources online. 

What does self-service entail? 

Data to monitor FAQs and response time

Salient data and usable analytics should allow companies to scale their customer service efforts efficiently. 

This can be highlighting a particular user bugbear that is flagged up often, and adding an appropriate FAQ to a help centre. This step is vital in reducing customer contact and allowing them to help themselves. 

Data also means keeping abreast of response time (typically the most important metric for active customer service) and success rate (perhaps a difficult but important metric for self-service).

Branded CMS

Updating the content provided to your customers is vital.

If you are integrating a self-service centre and community into your website, there are a couple of considerations.

  1. The interface should fit with your brand.
  2. The content should be easy to update in-house.

These are often competing needs. More SAAS's are starting to give the option of customisable help centres. Here's a shot of CharityWater's FAQ section:

Mobile

The Nielsen study quoted earlier also shows that in Q2 2013, 26% of self-service users were on mobile compared to 17% during the same period a year earlier.

If mobile usage is only increasing for customer service, you have to be sure your various platforms work for the mobile customer.

Self-service in the round

Support, service and engagement are sides of the same coin. To that end, the three prongs of a help centre are

  • A knowledge base – library of articles and info.
  • A community –the 'customer service nirvana' of your customers helping each other.
  • A customer portal – personalised view & history for each customer, to allow them to jump back to previous solutions, contact, billing.

Internal use

Self-service could be thought of as one way to describe parts of working for a company. SAAS's have come far enough that many companies are solving internal issues such as supply chains or invoice approval with customised ticketing software in the cloud.

Conclusion

So, as self-service is demanded by always-on customers to whom immediacy is all, expect SAAS solutions to proliferate.

As an example, having CRM linked to your social CRM, linked to your ticketing system and website CMS/help centre won't be an exceptional or messy set-up in future.

It will just be part of the new trade off in data and business – offer your data up to the cloud, and receive some powerful customer-delighting functionality in return.

How NYT Could Have Shielded Itself From Hack Attack

On Tuesday afternoon, the New York Times' website became inaccessible and was spotty much of Wednesday. How could one of the biggest media companies in the world go down for a day or more?

Turns out the New York Times' website was hit with a domain name system attack, in which hackers target the system that matches a website URL — like nytimes.com — to the servers where that website's content is stored. None of the New York Times' content was affected; people just couldn't find it.

The kicker: Simple security etiquette might have prevented the attack.

The New York Times' DNS records are managed by an Australian-based company called Melbourne IT, a domain registrar similar to the American company GoDaddy.

It appears that the hackers who hit the New York Times were able to penetrate Melbourne IT's security by acquiring an administrator's username and password.

Marc Frons, the Times' chief information officer, said in the paper's own article on the hack that the culprit appears to be "the Syrian Electronic Army, or someone trying very hard to be them."

That doesn't tell us much. The SEA is a group of hackers that appears to be loosely affiliated with or sympathetic to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The SEA has also been very active lately: in the last few months, it's claimed responsibility for attacks on The Onion, National Public Radio and the blog of British reporter Jon Snow (no relation to Game of Thrones).

What Is a DNS Attack?

DNS is an essential part of the Internet's information architecture.

"DNS has been in place essentially since the Web started… [and] from its very origins it was not built to support the Web as it exists today," said Kevin O'Brien, an enterprise solutions architect from Cloudlock, a cloud-based data security company.

According to O'Brien, DNS has a number of structural flaws, which the New York Times hackers exploited to bring the website down.

Here's how DNS works: When you want to go to a website, you type in that website's domain name. In the New York Times' case, that's nytimes.com, the rights to which it purchased from a domain name registrar, in this case, Melbourne IT.

When Melbourne IT registered that domain name, it created an entry in the DNS registry that connected "nytimes.com" to the Internet protocol address of the New York Times' servers, 170.149.168.130.

This registry is necessary because domain names were designed to be easily understood by humans, not by computers. Domain names do not point to Web content in a way that a computer can understand. Similarly, IP addresses are not user-friendly for humans.

So when you type "nytimes.com," your Web browser connects you to one of the many DNS servers on which the registry is stored and matches that text to the corresponding registered IP address 170.149.168.130.

The hackers zeroed in on the source. They acquired a Melbourne IT username and password, entered the registrar's system,and altered the DNS records that then went out to DNS servers across the Internet.

O'Brien likened DNS servers to a phonebook: people can search the book by a person's name and find the entry that connects the person to a telephone number. What the hackers did is like changing the number next to the New York Times' name in the phonebook.

That alteration probably took about 15 minutes to make, O'Brien said. Once the hackers made the change, it took a while for that change to propagate to the Internet's DNS servers.

For a brief window, typing nytimes.com into your browser led you, not to the Times' servers, but to a SEA-themed website containing the message "Hacked by Syrian Electronic Army."

Most of the time, though, browsers were simply unable to locate an IP address associated with the domain name www.nytimes.com, resulting in a browser error message.

Technically, websites don't need domain names, and the Times site never really went down. But to access it, you would have had to know the IP address 170.149.168.130 and enter it into your browser.

How to Prevent a DNS Attack

Could the New York Times have prevented this attack? As is always the case with online security, there's no such thing as foolproof. That said, there are a few things that the Times, and Melbourne IT, could have done to make this attack more difficult and perhaps even impossible to pull off.

For example, they could have done a registry lock. Often, DNS registrars give their customers this option, which when implemented makes it very difficult for anyone to alter the DNS records that govern the links between a domain name and an IP address. The disadvantage of a registry lock is that it lengthens the amount of time necessary to make any structural changes to the registry.

However, O'Brien pointed out that the hackers didn't do any fundamental damage to either the New York Times' or Melbourne IT's website architecture. Rather, they acquired login credentials, either by theft or by tricking an employee into revealing them. It's the difference between bashing down a door and stealing a key.

"The reason I would characterize this hack as relatively immature is [because] someone got a username and password and got into the [Melbourne IT] system. They didn't do anything super-technical or complicated. It wasn't that Melbourne IT fundamentally failed, it's that precautions weren't put into place."

Precautions that could have been implemented include two-factor authentication, which requires people wishing to log into a system to know a password and then enter a second piece of information — usually a string of numbers texted to a cellphone. Without the correct cellphone — which is harder to steal than a password — hackers would be unable to penetrate the system.

But what about the DNS architecture itself? If the backbone of the Internet is fundamentally flawed or outdated, is it time to replace DNS with a better system?

"This crops up from time to time, and there are ideas for other kinds of record management," O'Brien said. For example, some experts have suggested some type of browser extensions that would help "share the load" of connecting domain names with IP addresses.

However, implementing that kind of sweeping change would mean a massive overhaul to the way the Internet works. "You'd need someone with authority on a governmental level, and probably an intergovernmental level, to create an Internet that didn't rely on DNS," O'Brien said.

Internet architecture hasn't changed in years, which means it's not likely to change any time soon.

"You can go back to the mid-'90s and see that at the time some pretty significant vulnerabilities [in DNS] were being exposed by prominent hackers," said O'Brien. "And here we are in 2013, and we're still vulnerable."

Image: Flickr, Angela Hu

This article originally published at TechNewsDaily here

Target Ticket, Target's Video Download & Rental Service, Nears Launch

Target's answer to Walmart's Vudu, Netflix, and iTunes, is preparing to launch. Employees at the Minneapolis-headquartered retailer were told this week that Target Ticket, as the service is called, will soon be offered to consumers, allowing them to rent and purchase digital copies of movies and television shows like they do on Apple's iTunes, then play them back across all the devices they own, including smartphones, tablets, TVs, Blu-ray players, and game consoles.

Details surrounding Target Ticket were first revealed earlier this year, when word got out that the concept was in testing with employees. At the time, the beta website appeared, saying that Target Ticket would offer users instant access to 15,000 titles, including new releases, classics, and TV shows. The company then would only say that the service was in a trial period that would help it gather data to help inform its future plans.

Most movies on the soon-to-launch service will cost around $14.99 (though some were less at $12.99), and movie rental prices will be on par with iTunes at $3.99/$4.99. Individual TV show episodes tend to be around $2.99, depending on the show, and TV seasons will be around $34.99, again depending on the show.

However, Target Ticket doesn't offer a comparable alternative to iTunes' "Season Pass," as you can't purchase a TV season until after it has aired.

Networks including ABC, AMC, CBS, CW, Fox, FX, HBO, The WB, NBC, Showtime, Starz, and USA have content on Target's service.

target-ticket-tv-1

The TV shows and movies can run nearly anywhere, including on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, as well as on streaming players, TVs and gaming consoles like the Xbox 360. However, support for the service on TVs is currently limited by manufacturers. Employees were told that only Samsung TVs and Blu-ray players will work with Target Ticket during training, but now the site lists Samsung, Panasonic, LG, Philips and Funai brands as "coming soon" under compatible devices.

Unfortunately, Apple device owners will not have quite as smooth of an experience as those on other platforms, as it seems that they'll have to first download the movie to their computer, then sync it to their devices manually. The iOS app itself only displays the movies you own, but doesn't offer a purchasing option.

Beta applications for iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android were published to the app stores earlier this year, but received a significant update this month. Currently, the app description says that Target Ticket is only for "team members and REDcard holders," the latter presumably being beta testers. (It's worth noting also that on iOS, the app says it can play back content already purchased on TargetTicket.com while the Android version says users can "stream or download movies and shows in your library.")

After renting a movie, you have 30 days to start watching it, but after starting, you have 48 hours to finish viewing it. You can also watch it as many times as you want during that period. The 30-day window is similar to iTunes, but iTunes U.S. users only have 24 hours to watch their movie, while outside the U.S., it's 48 hours.

The company is offering some movies available for purchase ahead of DVD releases, including Paramount's "Star Trek: Into Darkness," and more will be available in the future.

Movies have also been organized into collections for end users' ease of access, like "End of World Movies" or "Marvel Movies," for example.

target-ticket-screen-1

target-ticket-collections-1

Target has partnered with UltraViolet, the digital movie locker service backed by studios like Sony Pictures, NBCUniversal, Fox, and Paramount, Warner Bros. and others on Target Ticket. Designed to allow DVD movie buyers to keep digital copies of movies in the cloud, UltraViolet also powers things like Walmart's Vudu's disc-to-digital program, Flixster's movie streaming, and Paramount's standalone website.

Internally, Target is positioning Target Ticket to employees as an alternative to Netflix and Hulu, as well as iTunes, but that's not entirely accurate. Although some of the content may be the same, you don't pay a monthly subscription fee for all-you-can-eat access on Target Ticket, but rather pay for individual rentals and purchases.

While the pricing is competitive with iTunes, Target will be incentivizing its customers to choose its service by tying it to the company's REDcard discount program. Target REDcard holders will see their same 5 percent in-store discount applied to rentals and purchases made in Target Ticket just like they would on Target.com, and employees can also use their 10 percent discount here.

target-ticket-kids-1

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target-ticket-kids2-1

Another aspect to Target Ticket which Target is asking employees to tout are the parental controls. Parents can create profiles, and then limit access not only by MPAA and TV Parental Guidelines, but also optionally by Common Sense Media more fine-grained controls. That's a step up from the profiles and controls Netflix recently introduced, as Common Sense Media ratings include both an age-appropriateness score and overall quality rating that help parents choose not just "safe" content but also "worthy" content.

The retailer has been busying itself with digital initiatives this year, having recently launched a Facebook-enabled digital savings program and mobile app called Cartwheel, which now has over a million members, for example. But in terms of competing on the digital movie landscape, Target is late to the party. Walmart, as noted above, already offers Vudu, while Toys R Us launched its own family-friendly movie service last fall with some 4,000 titles. Walmart encourages users to sign up to Vudu by offering 10 free movies, and Target Ticket, apparently, will do the same.

Target declined to comment on these specific details, saying again that it's just testing the service with team members. Of course, the Target Ticket app store description already indicates that the service is opening to REDcard holders. On the main website, non-employee testers will be able to enter a promo code to sign up ahead of the broader public launch. Employees have now been trained on the service and how to pitch it to customers, but have not yet been given the go live date.


The 'ins and outs' of PureView zoom on the Nokia 808

PureView basics

Let's start with the basics. Your Nokia 808 PureView has a 41 megapixel sensor, but not all of it is in use at any one time. For starters, assuming that you're running it in the default 16:9 aspect ratio (so that your photos match the screen layout), you're 'only' using the central 7728 by 4354 pixels. This is still quite a lot, around '34' megapixels, which is why the default is to output a 5 megapixel 3072 by 1728 'PureView' image, with every pixel in the photo deriving its value from up to seven pixels in the underlying sensor area, i.e. there's oversampling. In addition to getting a more accurate readout of colour and intensity, the oversampling also means that random digital noise  (due to the quantum nature of light - photons, etc., plus random electronic fluctuations in the sensor) is averaged out and virtually eliminated.

With me so far? In fact, the paragraph oversimplifies things slightly, in that the actual sensor pixels are either red-sensitive, green-sensitive or blue-sensitive and a Bayer algorithm is run at a low level to combine these into a virtual array of 'proper' colours - nearly all digital cameras work this way and for all intents and purposes we can ignore this ultra low level processing.

Of course, instead of oversampling, you can also use the extra resolution to crop into the sensor, so that even at a 5MP output resolution, you're effectively taking the central block of pixels from the sensor, using all the original information. This means that you've effectively zoomed in, yet without using any fancy (and usually bulky) optical moving parts (other than the usual tiny focussing movements).

If you do the maths, it means that on the Nokia 808 you can effectively zoom in when taking a 5MP photo by a factor of 2.5x - this is usually rounded up in Nokia's marketing materials to "3x", though in fairness if you use the Creative 2MP mode instead of 5MP, you can effectively zoom in by 3.7x - though this is rather artificially low in terms of resolution, and of course you're not gaining any actual detail - you're still using the sensor at 1:1 when fully zoomed in.

Zooming in on the Nokia 808, as you'll know, is done by sliding your finger up the viewfinder. To zoom back out, slide it down again - and you can stop any any point, halfway, if needed or appropriate.

Examples and caveats

So take a typical scene with plenty of light, in this case down at the lake:

Sunny boat scene

It's the perfect opportunity to try out the Nokia 808's PureView 2.5x zoom, to get closer to the boat and its detail. Here's the same scene, but zoomed in real time on the 808:

Sunny boat scene, PureView zoomed

Pretty impressive, but what I wanted to investigate in this feature is what downsides the loss of oversampling has. In other words, every pixel in the zoomed shot stands on its own, essentially derived from a physical pixel in the sensor - there's no combination of pixel information to reduce noise and improve colour accuracy.

With that in mind, here are (slight blow-ups, in the unzoomed version's case) of the central regions of both the above photos, roughly matched in terms of framing so that we can compare recognisable details - the wording of the two engine brands are good for concentrating on. Obviously, the detail from the zoomed photo is the second one, beneath:

Sunny boat scene, zoom comparison

Quite a dramatic difference in detail, as you'd expect from the 2.5x zoom and, seemingly, with little downside under these conditions. There's so much light that there's no real danger of digital noise creeping in - though the 808's sensor at 1:1 like this does seem to mute colours just a little bit.

If you're out in good light then, there's little reason not to use the full PureView zoom if it means getting closer to a subject that you can't get closer to, physically.

But what about when light levels start to drop. Here's a typical scene at dusk, around sun down. Notice the boat in the middle of the frame:

Low light boat scene

Again I took two photos, the unzoomed one above and one zoomed in by the full 2.5x factor. Again, let's take the central subject and crop/magnify in, to look at the distant boat in detail. Again, the crop from the unzoomed image is on top, the one from the zoomed image below:

Low light boat zoom comparison

Things are less clear cut here. Yes, if you look closely, you can see more detail in the photo that was taken while zoomed. But there's now significant paleness in the colours in the zoomed image, plus definite digital noise creeping in. In contrast, the crop from the unzoomed image is richer, with more solid, believable colours and lower noise. The jury's out, overall, but it could well be argued that for a great photo you're best off not using the PureView zoom and simply accepting a less detailed but beautifully oversampled image...

To prove the data point above, I took a second photo a few minutes after - note that it was quite a bit dimmer than the photos make it seem. Here's the full cottage scene:

Low light cottage scene

And again here are frame-adjusted crops from the centre of the unzoomed (top) and zoomed (below) images:

Low light cottage zoom comparison

Again, there's a richness to the oversampled version - it's somewhat amazing that, despite 2.5x less actual resolved detail, I prefer the top, unzoomed version. It's painfully avident from looking at, for example, the black posts in the zoomed crop, that the lack of oversampling results, in this poor light, in fairly horrible noise and artefacts.

Note, by the way, that the zoomed image defects being highlighted here are still quite a way better than what every other smartphone camera would produce, attempting the same scene, probably armed with traditional 'lossy' digital zoom.

Finally, let's take things to extremes and look at a night scene:

Night scene

And again here are crops from the unzoomed/oversampled version (left) and the zoomed version (right):

Night scene zoom comparison

The noise and artefacts in the zoomed version are at this stage quite unpleasant, while the PureView oversampled, unzoomed crop maintains its dignity with some fairly solid areas of shade and very little digital noise, despite an almost complete absence of light. Truly, when light conditions get this bad, a photo needs a seven to one oversampling ratio, in order to cancel out the digital noise in the sensor.

Conclusions

It's worth codifying the advice given above, then:

  • In good light, feel free to use the Nokia 808's PureView 2.5x digital zoom to its fullest. You'll only lose a little richness in terms of colour and you'll gain a whole load more detail on your intended subject.
  • In really bad light, avoid using PureView zoom at all. Your photo will need all the help it can get from the oversampling to stay looking good. Zooming in will just get you artefacts and no extra usable detail.

What about in between, when you're outdoors and the light is murky, or when you're indoors and relying on artificial lighting or the 808's Xenon flash? The trick here is to use your own judgement. Note that I said above that you can stop the PureView zooming process on screen at any point by not swiping your finger all the way up or down. So, in fact, it's quite practical to shoot a 5MP photo with (say) 1.75x zoom and still a degree of oversampling (around three pixels into each 'superpixel'). So you can get a bit 'closer' and keep the digital noise down too.

As with everything in the photographic world, it's all about experimentation and the Nokia 808 is a great camera phone to try all this with. Let us know how you get on!

viernes, 30 de agosto de 2013

Life Hacks Parody Offers Not-So-Useful Tips For Everyday Dilemmas

While we're suckers for a great life hack, sometimes videos claiming to have so-called "hacks" for everyday problems fall short of actually being useful.

YouTube channel Kipkay, known for quick hack and how-to videos, has created a parody that offers not-so-useful tips for your day-to-day challenges.

Need protection from the sun? A cardboard drink-holder makes a nice visor. Or perhaps you forgot your gun holster at home — why not just D.I.Y. one using a sandal?

Check out how-tos on these terrible tips and more, in the video, above.

Supercut of Almost Kisses in Movies Will Leave You Wanting More

Mainstream movies employ clichés to push a plot forward. And if there's one troupe we're all familiar with, it's definitely the almost kiss.

In its latest supercut video, YouTube channel Slackatory has rounded up clips of characters being interrupted just as they lean in to finally kiss.

This might sound familiar. Your two favorite characters are finally alone, and the conditions are perfect for a romantic embrace. But just as they go in for the smooch, some unfortunately timed distraction gets in their way.

The video above pulls not-quite-kisses from 40 famous films, and will leave you desperately wanting more.

Image: YouTube, Slackatory

Proof That Every Tech Ad Is Exactly the Same

Have you ever noticed that a lot of tech commercials look exactly the same?

They blur together into a stream of smiling faces and bright lighting. And it's hard to remember what product they're even hawking.

College Humor pokes fun at commonplace tech commercial clichés, compiling them all into one parody video. Cue snappy editing, dramatic product shots, repetitive lines and young professionals in creative fields. (And inexplicably, an abundance of bakers.)

What do you think? Does this look like every tech ad you've ever seen?

Image: College Humor

What we learned from trying Google Glass

Here at Econsultancy we try to write about Google Glass when we can, because we know it's of great interest to marketers, and indeed the rest of humanity.

On Friday some of Econsultancy's Content team tried Google Glass at Somo's incredible gadget room in its London HQ, where they develop new tech uses for clients (thanks, Somo).

It was fun, but also revealing, so I thought I'd share some of what we saw and felt.

For the complete run down on Glass functions, you can visit Google's help centre.

Glass is a peripheral

Glass can pick up WiFi, so you can use it on its own. But, out and about, you'll need to sync it with an Android device that has the MyGlass app. The two will interact via Bluetooth. 

Weirdly, I hadn't read this or given it much thought, though it makes perfect sense. Whether a fully developed Glass will remain Android-only, or gradually become available to iPhone users is moot for now.

However, once it's out there on the market and working well, it could obviously be a hardware game-changer. 

One feels a little vulnerable looking up and to the right

The display is necessarily not right in the middle of your eye. This is to stop Glass wearers from falling down holes

However, when you want to consult Glass, there is a slight withdrawing from reality that has to happen, just like when you check your phone. When you decide to look at the Glass display, you are distracted from what's happening in front of you, and it kind of made me want to tell everyone to shut up whilst I used it. 

This is probably just something that we'll forget as we become quicker and more confident Glass users.

The main commands – 'OK Glass', and the NY Times app

  • Take a picture.
  • Record a video.
  • Send a message to.
  • Get directions to.
  • Make call to.

The photos are taken instantly, the videos stop at 10 seconds. These main commands work pretty well, so the device feels like a powerful peripheral that needs a bit of finessing. 

We used the NY Times app, and it delivered headlines in a powerful way, but we found it quite difficult to use to any depth because we were quite cack-handed with the touchpad (see further discussion below).

 

Getting directions is quick and powerful, and is one of the first focuses

Google already obviously has great heritage in maps and directions.  It also has heritage in voice recognition, with voice activated search having been around for a while.

On Glass the directions work well. Our Head of Social, Matt, confidently set walking directions to Paddington Railway from our Piccadilly location. An arrow appeared in view and urged him in the right direction.

Google will be working hard on its WPS (WiFi positioning system) tech to make sure that on a WiFi network, Glass pinpoints its wearer accurately and allows exploration indoors.

The voice recognition is both a strength and a weakness 

One of the main glitches at the moment is the sensitive microphone on Glass. As we excitedly chatted, Glass picked up the words of its wearer's interlocutors. So as I composed an email via Glass, other people's words jumped in.

Similarly at Glass homepage, the device was picking up noise, occasionally moving from the menu.

However, when there was no interference, the voice recognition was very powerful. I composed an email in seconds, and sent it from Glass. Interestingly, when our Deputy Editor put the device on and laughed, Glass pulled up a profile of Korean comedian Ha Dong-Hoon (or Ha-Ha).

Glass contacts are currently drawn from Google Plus

So when we said 'Ok Glass…send a message to…Josh', the app retrieved an email address from Josh's Google Plus profile (he was already in our Circles).

This current restriction is probably to protect the data generated by Glass i.e. no syncing with your Facebook or Twitter apps just yet.

You can see how what is often called the 'vertical stack' is becoming more and more interlinked by Google's single sign-on. Aside from Glass, the easiest way to keep your contacts for life seems to be to add them to your Google Plus and then sync with devices, Gmail etc.

NB, ten contacts can be added directly to Glass.

 

Gestures are a little sensitive and take practice

The touchpad on the side of Glass is hard to get the hang of. This is because it is outside your field of vision, and we are used to swiping phones we are looking at. The pad is also quite small, and one has to perform three or four gestures on it, tapping, swiping back, forth and down.

After a while this is easier, though it's obviously not yet as reliable as a phone's touch screen.

Apps are mostly proof-of-concepts

Seeing that Glass is definitely a working prototype made me realise that a lot of the apps in development (see app directory) are just PoCs. They most likely don't function properly yet, apart from perhaps five or six e.g. Path, NYC and CNN apps.

Way down the line, Glass could have great uses in education

We were trying Glass with our 15 year old intern, David, who rightly flagged up that lecture notes, recording of practicals, sending of handouts etc, could all be done with Glass, as it's being done with tablets.

Hopefully, education (not just consumerism) will benefit, with information being served to us where relevant.

Glass isn't the height of sartorial elegance

The proof is littered through this article...(fyi, I was holding a bottle of spirits as it was a Friday and we were filming a Vine, which we may release at a later date - we didn't drink the vodka and we don't condone excessive consumption). 

jueves, 29 de agosto de 2013

Come To The Disrupt Hackathon, Leave Smarter - Here Are The API Workshops (And More Tickets!)

The Disrupt SF Hackathon is so damned close that we can almost smell that rare amalgamation of sweat, excitement, exhaustion, and pizza grease in the air.

We're just over a week away from the big event, where hundreds upon hundreds of coders and designers will be locked in a battle to build the coolest thing they can build in a single 24 hour stretch. The prize? Fame. Glory. Oh, and a nice stack of cash.

Even if you don't win, you'll probably walk away with the most important prize of all: knowledge*.

[* Yep, pretty sure that's the cheesiest thing I've ever written.]

We've got some pretty great API workshops lined up for the first day of the Hackathon, where you'll learn the ins-and-outs of a few APIs right from the folks who help make them.

(We've also got one of the very last batches of Hackathon tickets available at the bottom of this post — so if you're still not in, go quick!)

Here's what to expect:

Amazon Web Services (AWS):

If your mobile application continues to run in the cloud, even when the application is closed, how do you go about providing your customers with useful information about background events? For example, if your application is a game with a leaderboard, how do you notify your users that their leaderboard position has been overtaken by another player? Or, if you've created a traffic application, how can you warn users that there is slow traffic ahead? With Amazon Simple Notification Server (SNS), you can transmit push notifications from backend server applications to mobile apps on Apple, Google and Kindle Fire devices using a simple, unified API. In this session, we'll discuss the benefits of using Amazon SNS for mobile push messaging, and we'll demonstrate how easy it is to use.

Chevrolet:

Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is now one of the world's largest car brands, doing business in more than 140 countries and selling more than 4.5 million cars and trucks a year. Chevrolet invites developers to explore what's possible with in-vehicle and Remote API apps to help drivers bring their digital lives into their vehicles. Add the capability to control millions of vehicles to your app, including location, navigation, remote start, unlock, telemetry & more.

Find out more about Chevrolet's APIs at http://developer.chevrolet.com

Clover:

Clover is transforming the face of brick-and-mortar commerce by developing Android-based hardware, cloud services, and an open platform for third-party developers, complete with a marketplace enabling merchants to purchase and distribute your apps to all their devices with a single tap. And we've partnered with the world's largest credit card processors to provide you massive leverage.

Michael will give you an architectural introduction to Clover, present our Android and REST APIs, and show some examples of integrating popular apps and services with Clover. He'll show real-world examples of integrating your existing consumer- and merchant-facing applications with Clover, and how to publish your Android app in our marketplace.

For API documentation see: https://www.clover.com/developers

Dropbox:

Dropbox isn't just for files anymore! With the recently launched Datastore API, structured data like contacts, app settings, and game state can be synced instantly and effortlessly. Datastores work across platforms (iOS, Android, and JavaScript), support offline access, and resolve conflicts automatically. Of course, Dropbox also has rich APIs for accessing and manipulating files from both web and client apps. Join us in this workshop to learn about the full range of the Dropbox APIs.

Find out more about the Dropbox APIs at https://www.dropbox.com/developers.

Evernote:

The Evernote API lets you tap into the functionality offered by the Evernote service and gain access to the millions of users around the world who use it every day. Using the same API that powers all of Evernote's native apps, you get full access to a user's Evernote account, allowing you to create new notes and access existing ones.

In this workshop we'll introduce the API and look at Evernote's SDKs, then discuss creating new notes, rendering notes, searching for existing notes and other common operations. You'll learn how your application can store its data in Evernote, how to tap into the information that a user has already stored in Evernote, and why Evernote is great for more than just note taking.

Find out more about Evernote's API at: http://dev.evernote.com.


If you've yet to attend to one of our hackathons (we tend to throw one on the weekend before each of our biggest conferences), it's hard to adequately explain what you're missing. We've seen projects of all shapes and sizes, from smart door locks to angry, knife-wielding robots. We've had impromptu, 50-person NERF battles break out at 2 a.m. We've had projects spin out of the hackathon and go on to be sold for millions.

Plus, everyone who gets on stage and presents a finished project gets into the main Disrupt conference (and all the parties) for free! That's a $2000+ ticket, on top of the chance to win some massive prizes. If you've got something you've been dying to build, you'd be crazy not to build it here.

Here's what you need to know:

  • As long as you're building something, participating in the Hackathon is free. Interested sponsors, give us a shout.
  • After 24 hours of building, hackers present their projects to their peers and a panel of all-star judges (we'll announce those judges in an upcoming post).
  • Every hacker who finishes their project and presents on stage gets a free pass to the entire conference, normally valued at around $2,000. Why? Because you're awesome and we love you.
  • The team behind the best hack of the day takes home a cool $5,000, and the top three teams all get to present their projects to the Disrupt audience. There will also be a bunch of prizes awarded by the Hackathon sponsors — more news on those in a few days.

The Disrupt SF 2013 Hackathon runs through the night on September 7 and 8, and we've just released the a big ol' batch of tickets. What are you waiting for?

Our sponsors help make Disrupt happen. If you are interested in learning more about sponsorship opportunities, please contact our sponsorship team here sponsors@techcrunch.com.


Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub Finally Meet, Hearts Melt

Two of the most famous celebrities of our time, Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub, were finally given the opportunity to meet Wednesday, during the Internet Cat Festival, currently being held in Minneapolis, Minn.

Both cats tweeted Vine videos, along with adorable images of themselves mingling and strategizing world domination.

Tardar Sauce (aka Grumpy) looks nonplussed by the whole affair (probably just trying to play it cool), and Bub looks slightly frightened at first (surely, just nerves). We're predicting BFF status in a matter of hours.

Beware though, what follows will turn you into a squealing puddle of fur:

BONUS: 15 Adorable Things That Delight Lil Bub

Image: Mashable