Category Archives: Life in the Cloud

How Digital Is Affecting Your Local Coffee Shop

With digital currency on the rise–hello, Bitcoin!– it’s not crazy to think that one day loose change and wallets will go the way of CDs, film and landlines. But how do these digital currency trends translate to everyday life? Following, we take a look at a few that might someday be used (if they aren’t already) at your local coffee shop.

Coffee Shop

Coffee shop frequenters who pay with plastic don’t often throw a bit extra toward their favorite barista. They have no cash on hand. In fact, only 27% of point-of-sale purchases were made with cash in 2011, according to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research, and that number is dropping every year. That’s why the tip jar is getting a makeover with the advent of DipJar.

DipJar lets customers tip with the convenience of plastic. A fixed amount–usually $1–is listed on the front of the DipJar. With each “dip” of a credit card, a tip is sent to the retailer.

It doesn’t get much easier than that–unless you didn’t even have to pull out your wallet: If some companies have their way, the future of the wallet will be no wallet at all. Your smartphone will be your wallet. LevelUp is an app that lets consumers pay with their smartphones after they have securely linked their debit or credit cards to an account. Filter, a coffee shop in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, is one of the 5,000-plus locations that currently accept LevelUp.

Filter doesn’t accept plastic because of the high fees associated with it. Customers who want to purchase a coffee can choose to pay with cash or they can open the LevelUp app and place the generated barcode in front of the LevelUp scanner on the counter. Phones vibrate when payment has been accepted. There’s even an option to add a tip before scanning.

The PayPal app works in a similar way. It’s now accepted at retailers large and small, from Dunkin Donuts shops to Home Depot to the local Chinese restaurant down the street.

When it comes to digital currency, what is your threshold? Are you on board with paying with your smartphone? Or tipping with plastic? Or would you rather pay cash? It’s a whole new world of currency.

 

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The Perils of Locking and Losing Devices

Locked Smart PhoneIf you’re the proud owner of a new iPhone 5S, you’ve likely said goodbye to the traditional four-digit passcode and hello to Touch ID. Apple’s upgraded security feature lets users unlock their phones quickly and easily with their unique fingerprint.

But what about those techies who have yet to splurge on the latest iPhone? And what about the people who have iPhones but don’t use the passcode option? Apple claims that more than 50% of users don’t lock their phones with a passcode. After all, it can be a pain to punch in four digits every time you check your phone–which is an average of 150 times per day, according to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ annual Internet Trends report.

Although a misplaced or stolen iPhone can be relocated with the free Find My iPhone app, that doesn’t prevent the device–or the data it stores–from being compromised. The best way to protect your device and the data on it is to not lose it in the first place. Luckily, a technology trend called “wireless leashes”–a concept similar to the invisible fences that keep your dog in the yard–can help prevent loss and, in turn, theft.

ZOMM is a poker-chip-sized device that wirelessly tethers to your Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. ZOMM alerts you if you and your phone should ever separate by more than 30 feet. Clip ZOMM to your keychain or throw it in your purse. An alarm will sound the next time you’ve left your phone behind at the restaurant, in the taxi or at a friend’s house.

ZOMM is just one of the recent developments in cell phone safety, like the Bluetooth-enabled Tile system, that we’ve recently blogged about. But ZOMM takes safety to another level–and even doubles as a Bluetooth speaker. Say your phone rings while you’re driving but it’s buried at the bottom of your purse. Just click the ZOMM device that’s now hanging from your keychain and start chatting away.)

You’ve got to love a device that pulls double duty.

ZOMM is available for $40 on Amazon.com.

 

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How Two Websites Turn Smiles Into Pageviews

Websites Turning Pageviews into SmilesYou own a business, website and/or blog, yet the adage “build it and they will come” does not always seem to apply. Indeed, driving uniques, repeat visits and page views is extremely challenging. Successful sites demonstrate that you can make it work by making people smile.

Feel-good viral sites Buzzfeed and Upworthy make it look easy. They have successfully figured out and applied the secret for creating and curating share-worthy content. In August, BuzzFeed reportedly received 85 million visitors to its website. Upworthy, with its 22 million monthly uniques, can’t go toe-to-toe with Buzzfeed, but the traffic it generates would make most site owners drool.

What are they doing right?

Both Buzzfeed and Upworthy are using a combination of heavy visuals, must-click headlines, need-to-read listicles, and stories that are touching or simply make people smile.

Why does it work?

There are a number of reasons why this content mix works. In short, images increase engagement, the right headline can make your content go viral, and lists are an easy sell for readers because they make “a very specific promise of what’s in store,” according to Copyblogger Founder Brian Clark.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, smiles turn into page views organically.

Need proof? Read three Buzzfeed stories and watch three videos on Upworthy. In all likelihood, you will smile several times while consuming this content. You will likely also feel compelled to act on the content–sharing it so that others can feel the joy, too.

After all, a smile is contagious, and, in our digital society, one endorphin high can be the catalyst to making 20 or–if you’re George Takei–20,000 people’s day.

What can businesses learn from this?

Your content should strive to make your customers happy–even if you’re not in the media and publishing business.

The easiest way to start is by talking like a real person–the era of artifically stiff business-speak is over. If your content makes your business easier to relate to, users are more likely to remember it. They are also more likely to share news about and content from your business with the people they know–potential new customers.

The authenticity may even make ‘em smile.

 

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Textbook Assault Looks Change How Students Buy Books

While the digital age has changed much about education, the same cannot be said about how college students buy their textbooks. Twice every school year, broke students flock to their local bookstore and inevitably overpay for required reading materials.

Greg Brooks, the founder of Textbook Assault, thinks there should be a more student-friendly alternative.

“There is an oligopoly with the textbook industry,” said Brooks. “Over the last 30 years, five major publishers have essentially bought up all the smaller companies and now control the price of books. They set the prices of textbooks sky high: the price has risen almost 750% since 1978 (compared to less than a 250% increase in inflation).”

For whatever reason, the internet hasn’t done much to corner the untapped market either. While Amazon.com is a popular outlet, it doesn’t always boast the lowest prices. And if students want to bargain hunt, they might have to search upwards of 20 textbook websites—individually—before stumbling upon that one adequately priced copy of Introduction to Organic Chemistry.

Brooks believes there’s an opportunity to change how students shop for textbooks. Textbook Assault’s approach is to become the “Kayak.com of textbooks. “Like Kayak.com does for flights, Textbook Assault instantly searches the internet for the cheapest textbooks options. The key difference, however, is that users can checkout directly from Textbook Assault—even though the company doesn’t actually possess any inventory.

Brooks also feels a sense of responsibility for the Cup Noodles-consuming generation.

“If one of our textbook partners cancels the order, we refill it for the student—often at a loss,” said Brooks. “And even if something gets lost in the mail or a student wants to return a book, we take care of that as well.”

Textbook Assault claims that the average site user saves over $3,000 as compared to either the traditional college store or inefficient internet options. Because Brooks’ site is essentially the first of its kind, the founder is equally excited about how the textbook industry could evolve.

“The textbook industry is ripe for innovation and it will come sooner than later,” said Brooks. “We know what the status quo is and it was easy enough to provide the best solution for the status quo so we quickly did that. But, the innovation is what students need and that is what we will provide in the future. What that actually is, only time will tell.”

 

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Forget waiting in actual lines. WaitAway will text you when your table is ready

WaitAway AppLike owners of other businesses, the biggest fear for restaurateurs is often the lack of customers. But being successful in getting people through the door can be a double-edged sword in the dining business. Having a line that extends from outside the front door to along the sidewalk and around the corner can be bad in the long run if diners realize the food was merely good, and not worth the two-hour wait a second time around.

But now there is a solution that won’t trap diners in crowded waiting areas, or confine them within 5 meters of the premises (how far do those blasted restaurant pagers allow you to wander anyways?), so you can go off and explore the neighborhood until your table is ready.

After requesting a table and giving your phone number to the host, WaitAway will text you immediately with an estimated wait time and once again when your table is ready.

My first encounter with the app was as a diner at the Meatball Shop in Greenwich Village, NYC. I arrived more than an hour early for the proposed dinner time because I was in the neighborhood earlier, running an errand.

“Danny, party of 4,” I told the hostess after asking how long the wait would be.

“75 minutes” is what I vaguely remember due to my awe and shock, realizing, What a coincidence! The rest of my party will arrive in about 60 minutes!

Almost immediately, I received a text confirming my reservation with a link that would allow me to check my wait status.

Drats! I’m one of the few iPhone users without a data plan. Let’s just hope the estimated wait time is accurate.

To my frustration, my guests arrived later than they quoted — but just in time. To my surprise, the table was ready almost at the exact time the hostess estimated (give or take a few minutes).

Oh, mystery software, how I love you.

At the time, I was unaware the program that pinged me with my wait information was the WaitAway app. But whatever it was, I was excited someone had come up with simple, user-friendly technology that let me avoid claustrophobic anxiety.

How do businesses benefit from this kind of software? Sarah Turcotte of FastCompany reports that after the Meatball Shop’s first month using WaitAway, walkaways decreased 30%.

This is absolutely a step up from range-restrictive pagers. Yet WaitAway is not alone in the space. BuzzTable and NoWait are two other businesses offering queue management software.

Mobile communications is exploding. Adopting mobile technology will be important for every business. Business with physical locations will soon have to figure out ways to leverage mobile tech to provide an exceptional customer experience. Otherwise they may be left biting the dust when competitors get ahead of the technological curve.

Programs such as WaitAway provide more convenience and transparency to increasingly demanding consumers, who offer their loyalty to businesses they love and trust.

What new tech are you using for your storefront location?

 

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Gibbon.co and the world of online learning

Gibbon.coThe problem with higher education isn’t just the high tuition fees or low job placement rates. Much of higher education is also marked by inflexibility; stubborn curricula limit the learning experience and prevent students from working at their own pace and from anywhere.

Luckily, there’s another way you can get a world-class education without having to step foot in a classroom ever again.

A new way to learn

Gibbon.co promises its social learning platform will be “the easiest way to get ridiculously smart.”

The site, currently in private beta, will allow users to “Create, share and follow Learning Flows, containing articles, books and videos.” Learning Flows are carefully curated resources that organize information already available on the web to provide a “clear path of what to learn.”

Ever do a Google search to try to learn something? In 0.47 seconds, Google identifies 57,600,000 results for the search term “Ajax programming.” Less than half a second is all it takes to source anything and everything there is to know about “Ajax programming.”

But where to start? And what type of human can afford the energy or time to read through the more than 57 million results? Without proper guidance, you’re better off paying an Ajax professional to fulfill all of your programming needs.

Learning Flows on Gibbon will “guide [users] to the best content available on the web to learn a specific topic.” This won’t be a dull classroom lecture. Discussions are encouraged and peers may offer help to each other.

Since Learning Flows will be user-generated, problems, propaganda and errors are sure to arise. Yet, there are more than enough honest experts and knowledgeable individuals out there who will create Learning Flows that make it really simple to gain the knowledge you want.

Welcome to the world of online learning

E-learning is booming. On the supply side, online learning upstarts such as Skillshare, Udemy, and Coursera are offering an incredibly wide range of courses for free, or for a small fee. Many higher education institutions are bringing courses online too. On the demand side, Coursera alone boasts more than 4.3 million “Courserians” on their homepage.

It is clear there is no shortage of expertise on the web and that many millions are eager-to-learn outside of the traditional classroom setting.

Entrepreneurs should be among the eager-to-learn, since building a business and managing it through different stages of growth requires a constantly evolving and improving skill set. If you run your own business, you — and your staff — should invest in education of some sort for personal and professional growth.

Fortunately, you won’t have to spend thousands of dollars — if you spend any money at all — for you and your team to learn the skills necessary to take your business to the next level.

Go on, start learning!

 

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‘Venmo’ App at the Core of the “Future of the Wallet”

Welcome to Mozy’s App Profile, where we introduce new programs seeking to improve the way we live and socialize. This week, Mozy takes a look at Venmo, an app that enables users to quickly and seamlessly exchange money with each other.

Vennmo Mobile PaymentsThere have been a lot of exciting advances in mobile payment options, especially in the retail and commerce industries.

For instance, Square Wallet enables users to setup house accounts with their favorite stores. Then, using its GPS technology, users don’t even have to take out their phone to make a purchase (they just have to tell the cashier their name).

With a similar pre-setup account, Uber, a GPS tracking taxi service, removes the payment process entirely from the experience, instead focusing on locating a taxi and then (optional) rating the driver.

There are many other prime examples of advancing this credit card-free atmosphere—except for a person-to-person exchange. And that’s where Venmo comes into play. While PayPal is more tailored for interacting with people you do not know or trust (i.e. eBay sellers), Venmo enables users to quickly and seamlessly exchange money with each other.

But what is also unique about Venmo is that it makes payment social.

“Every payment includes a personal note explaining the social context behind the payment,” said Venmo co-founder Andrew Kortina. “People can share these payment notes with their friends, creating a news feed of all the things your friends are doing together when they happen to pay each other back: going to lunch with colleagues, splitting dinner or drinks, attending concerts, taking trips, or just sending friends money for their birthdays.”

The Venmo iPhone and Android apps also connect your phone with your bank, debit or credit card, and you can instantly send money to anyone for free. When you receive money, you can withdraw it to your bank account overnight.

Even though Venmo is more or less the first of its kind, that hasn’t stopped Kortina from thinking even further down the line.

“We’re continuing to improve [the person-to-person] experience, but now also expanding to other types of payments,” said Kortina. “For example, Venmo Touch allows you to pay with one touch inside different apps on your mobile device, so you don’t have to constantly re-type your credit card details.”

While Venmo replaces a lot of transactions that might previously have used cash, it also may enable new spending behaviors. For example, next time you want to send a friend who’s home sick $5 for chicken soup, your smartphone makes possible what wasn’t possible with cash.

 

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Top Apps for Back to School 2013

Schoolboy With Digital Tablet Sitting At Desk In Classroom“We are heading towards a paperless classroom,” says Sherry Maysonave, a former educator and author of the children’s e-book series EggMania: Where’s the Egg In Exactly (for the iPad). Maysonave has become an expert in technology in the classroom and emphasizes the benefits for both teachers and students. “Digital media offer children a whole new way to learn. Some people mistakenly think of ebooks as digital pacifiers when, in fact, they’re actually vitamins for the brain and can open up whole new stimulating worlds for children,” she said.

According to Maysonave there are now more educational apps than ever before. Many are for students, but there are also several for teachers and parents. Whether it’s helping to boost a child’s reading skills, make a teacher more organized, or helping parents stay in the loop, digital technology is adding several new tools for education.

Here is a look at some of the best apps for the upcoming school year:

iHomework

Students can manage everything they do inside and outside of the classroom with the iHomework app. Quickly enter homework assignments, course and teacher information, important tasks, and reading in a fun, intuitive, and convenient way. Keep up-to-date with school work, grades, to-dos, teacher’s information (create a contact list of all teachers!), and almost everything else you need during the school year. Set reminders so you never miss assignments or tasks. This ultimate school organizer is available for iPhone/iPod touch, iPad, or Mac ($1.99).

Remind101

Remind101 gives teachers a way to use text messaging to connect with students and parents. The free app, which is used by more than 200,000 teachers, allows teachers to send a message to a single student, group of students, or whole class, without displaying any phone numbers. It’s an easy way to communicate outside of the classroom without risking privacy issues on either side.

gFlash+ Flashcards & Tests

Available for both iOS and Android (free with upgrades available for varying fees), gFlash+ is a handy and innovative learning tool for students of all ages to create digital notecards. Its goal is simple: make studying easy and fun. Its integration with Google Docs allows users to create and share flash cards easily and on the go. gFlash+ allows users to create, download, and edit flashcards in any subject they would like. In-app purchases are also available and allow students to upload flashcards with information on specific tests (SATs for example) and subjects.

TeacherKit

The ultimate app for helping teachers get organized, TeacherKit helps instructors avoid piles of paperwork and combine all notes and grades into one simple digital system. With TeacherKit teachers can take attendance, keep a gradebook, maintain a seating chart, compile notes on student behavior, and even upload student ID photos. It’s truly an all-in-one app for instructors of all grade levels. And best of all, it’s free.

Pencils, Words & Kids

Pencils, Words & Kids (PWK) is a creative writing app that helps teachers and students with the creative writing process — specifically, to make it more fun and get the school year started right. PWK ($4.99) is based on the premise that writing is like weightlifting: every repetition makes you stronger. PWK has 203 inspiring photo prompts and 81 entries of kids writing, original artwork, and inspiring scenes. The photos show what real writing looks like and will fuel brainstorming for stories, essays and poems. Reading is emphasized as part of the PWK creative writing process, so the app includes commentary from authors and writers on the books that inspired them to write.

My Words

This is an app that makes life easier on special-needs children who are non-verbal. Created by the mother of an autistic son, My Words ($9.99) facilitates communication for people with a wide spectrum of special needs by allowing users to simply tap a word in order to play it audibly. Users can create custom word lists in which each word is associated with a sound and a picture. My Words has also been used by people who are trying to learn a new language.

Make your (or somebody else’s) side projects happen via Sideprojectors

SideProjectorsIf you’re a creative type, you may have an endless list of world-changing projects that you have brainstormed, blueprinted and prototyped.

If you’re a businessperson, you are probably capable of executing and growing great projects, but are short on things-to-build.

If you fit into either category, you’re soon-to-be in luck.

SideProjectors, formerly a tiny community of creatives and moonlighters who showcased things they were working on or had worked on, is developing a marketplace to buy and sell side projects.

The revamped site is to-be-launched, and promises to be a dead-simple solution for finding “someone who can potentially take over your projects. Alternatively, if you are looking for interesting projects that others have paused on, SideProjectors would be a great place to discover them.”

Keeping side projects alive

Instead of quitting a languishing side project entirely — it’s always difficult to let go — put it up for sale so you can live vicariously through its success or watch it burn in flames knowing at least someone tried.

The entrepreneurial-minded no longer have to start from scratch and can move on from the wannabe stage, ridding themselves of the excuse, “If only I had a great idea…”

Of course, not every side project will become a full-blown business that will launch you into the Wall Street Journal. Many are destined to fail. Some will evolve into completely new ideas.

Side projects are good, but startups are better

Side projects allow creators and developers to build things for fun and feed their entrepreneurial spirits. But there is a caveat: turning a side project into a successful business requires a committed entrepreneur.

David Hauser, founder of Grasshopper writes, “The biggest problem with side projects is that the lack of commitment dilutes the startup talent pool, hurts the side project or startup, and in turn kills great startups from succeeding. If you’re looking to start a business, take some time to consider whether or not you’re ready to be all in.”

That’s where the SideProjectors marketplace intends to help. Not only can it help vet ideas, it can also find that committed entrepreneur that good projects need.

Sign up for an early invitation into the SideProjectors community at its website.

 

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Chirpify: A Social Media Wallet

Welcome to Mozy’s App Profile, where we introduce some of the new programs seeking the way we live and work. This week, Chirpify makes buying on social media easy.

The prestige of carrying cash is for the Baby Boomers generation. Credit cards are convenient for swiping inperson, but aren’t always the most seamless option while shopping online. And while PayPal is the most secure online payment form, the tool itself simply hasn’t kept up with the infrastructure of new social media.

A recent study by Experian indicates that Americans now spend an average of sixteen minutes per hour on social media websites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Chirpify hopes to be the new way to click and buy on these platforms.

Chirpify has developed an integrated, in-stream technology that would enable users to buy, sell, raise money, or even donate simply. Unlike competitors Ribbon or Soldsie, with Chirpify, all users have to do to purchase an item is reply with “buy” or a “like,” and the funds are instantly withdrawn from your account (which can be linked to PayPal). There’s no email confirmation barrier or off-site voyages–it’s all streamlined.

The on-the-fly ease of Chirpify makes it an instant marriage for small business owners who actively market their products online. In fact, that’s how Chris Teso, the founder and CEO of Chirpify, found his inspiration to create the payment tool.

“The impetus for Chirpify came from spending many years in the advertising industry.,”said Teso, whose Oregon-based company currently employs just around a dozen people. “Working with big brands, I saw again and again that their advertising was limited to creating ‘awareness’ or ‘engagement’ — which they hoped would eventually lead to a conversion or transaction — but there was no way to connect the dots directly. I built Chirpify to give that advertising a way convert instantly, in the moment, wherever it lives.”

The approach is already being adopted by the billion-dollar sports and music industries.

Back in February, Tim McGraw, who has sold more than 40 million albums, began to integrate Chirpify technology onto his Facebook page to boost the sales of his latest release. To date, Chirpify has also partnered with Adidas, Green Day, Lil Wayne, and Snoop Dogg. And the Portland Trailblazers, Timbers, and Thorns–all professional sports franchises in Chirpify’s hometown–also decided to utilize Chirpify to integrate an untapped medium to interact with fans. .

“The Portland Timbers and Thorns [for instance] have been offering their fans exclusive experiences via social channels — such as VIP passes to pre-game warm-ups and post-game autographs — using Chirpify as a direct social response platform,” Teso said. “It’s mainly a way for them to thank and reward their fans, but also to establish Facebook and Twitter as a two-way channels for more than just cheering on the team.”

Chirpify is free to use for buyers, but sellers incur slight fees. For the “basic” account, sellers incur a 5% (of the purchase) plus $.30 fee. The basic account also enables sellers to place their item or product on Chirpify’s “social storefront” web site.

If you plan on using Chirpify a little more often, the site offers an “Enterprise” account too. Enterprise sellers get a discounted 2.9% (plus $.30) fee, as well as a flurry of tools. These additional tools include promo/coupon codes, giveaways, e-commerce integration, umbrella accounts, priority support, real-time data, branded registration, account direction, and promoted listings.

With Chirpify adding upwards of 300 new users every day, and boasting a 5% conversion rate, the company is steadily building a new atmosphere of e-commerce. Assuming all the security intangibles are sorted out, it wouldn’t be surprising to witness a huge influx of clothes, electronics, and other big industries jumping on the Chirpify bandwagon to make online retail that much more seamless for prospective customers.

 

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