Other Habits You Can Break With the Help of Mobile Tech

Breaking Habits with TechnologyA recent study revealed how mobile technology can help smokers break the habit. As a reformed smoker (butt-free for more than three years now), I can empathize with a smoker’s struggle, and as a techie, I can appreciate how technology continuously looks to improve our lives.

With that said, I got to wondering what other bad habits could be curbed with the help of mobile technology. Do I have a study, similar to the one conducted by researchers at Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh, to back up these claims? No way. Are these dangerous habits on the same level as smoking? Not a chance. The following is just a light look at how mobile technology can help cure us of questionable social graces and minor shortcomings.

Missing Anniversaries

Sometimes it takes more than a Zales commercial to jog the memory and recall that today is your five-year wedding anniversary. Unless you enjoy your posture-wrecking sleeper sofa, it’s probably a good idea to add important, recurring dates into your smartphone’s calendar.

As an aside, even though a traditional wedding gift for your fifth anniversary calls for something made of wood, resist the urge to get your wife a set of really cool nunchucks. Stick to something that comes in a little box, not something that comes with a big warning.

Partying Like It’s 1999 at a Work Function in 2012

Two words (OK, actually one word): YouTube. It’s fine to have one or two Malibu Bay Breezes (if that’s your tipple) at a work-sanctioned get-together. It’s not, however, the smartest of career moves to call for yet another round of Tequila Slammers before hitting the dance floor (which isn’t really a dance floor — just a spot on the floor where no one is standing) at your boss’ retirement party.

It seems technology has advanced much quicker than our common sense, and before you can say “Macarena,” your dance moves (and your career’s demise) are sure to be captured on video by four out of five co-workers’ smartphones.

Forgetting How to Have Fun

Your smartphone or tablet is much more than a device used for work-critical communications and support. It’s an arcade, a closet’s worth of board games and a blank canvas resting quietly among your car keys, Mentos and money clip (because you’re classy).

For all the seriousness surrounding technology and the business-critical capabilities of mobile tech, it also has the ability to keep us entertained and gives us permission to have fun. Need proof? One word: Frogger.

 

 

Cloud Roundup and Links of Interest – April 23

How Small Businesses and Local Authorities Benefit from Cloud Computing

A bright idea has emerged from a small Italian local public authority, the Asolo Ulss, near Venice. This public health company produced a charter, the Castelfranco, which provides a set of recommendations to help public authorities adopt cloud computing. The idea, launched in an international conference tour, is simple yet useful to promote cloud computing adoption, and could also apply to private companies willing to take up the technology.

The most relevant economic benefit of cloud computing is associated with a reduction of the fixed costs of entry and production by shifting fixed capital expenditure from IT into operational costs depending on the size of demand and production. This contributes to reducing the barriers to entry, especially for small businesses.

Some of the charter’s recommendations include:

• Operate on a redundant broadband network, for the connection between the company, the customers and the service providers.

• Ensure “private cloud” usability as a preliminary step before agreeing to switch to a “public cloud.”

• Establish a road map to move systems into cloud computing under sustainable economic, management and security conditions.

The iPad vs. Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime

Apple’s new iPad may be the top attention-getter since its arrival last month, but the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime is earning a respectable amount of tablet buzz. As the tablet wars continue, Apple hopes to stay ahead of the competition while Android-based rivals such as the Transformer Prime are doing their best to grab techies’ hearts and minds. Many are eagerly debating which reigns supreme.Computerworld recently put the latest iPad up against the Transformer Prime, and the results may surprise you. Computerworld commenter John Faur noted: “I have the Prime and I love it, aside from the random reboots which they are working on. I waited till the release of the iPad 3 and decided to go with the Asus. I too am a Mac guy and love my 27″ iMac but i think the Android devices are more versatile.”

Mobile Technology May Help Stub Out Nicotine Addiction

Smoking is a tough addiction to conquer, but mobile technology may help, according to researchers at Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh, who recently published a nicotine-addiction study.

Their findings, which used mobile technology and software to track smokers as they tried to quit, offered insights into why some tobacco smokers quit the habit on the first try while others have to quit repeatedly, or never succeed. The study, published this month in Prevention Science, “demonstrates the potential for technology to help us figure out the processes involved in withdrawal,” said Stephanie Lanza, scientific director of The Methodology Center at Penn State and a lead author on the study.

 

 

How a More Visual Firewall Can Help Protect Your Network

Any business with a network needs a firewall to keep the bad guys out and the data safe. And it has done so behind a complex dashboard that was difficult to navigate and operate.

But lately a few vendors have begun to offer a more visual take on this venerable category, placing a premium on the User Experience. For smaller businesses this can be especially useful. Let’s look at what is involved with these products with some samples from McAfee, Palo Alto Networks and Sonicwall.

In olden times, firewalls were anything but visual dashboards. You had to navigate long lists of rule sets that would take a lot of expertise to craft correctly. The order of how the rules were listed were also important, as the firewall would process one rule at a time. Each rule would either permit or deny a particular kind of traffic to a particular port and protocol. They had dashboards like this one from Cisco’s ASA firewall that had densely-packed information.

That was great back when the Internet was young but these days playing ports and protocol games is more complex. Just about every new application uses the Web ports 80 and 443, so filtering on those doesn’t help much. And for corporations that want to be more sophisticated in what they block, you want something that offers more granularity and understands the way particular applications behave. For example, let’s say I want to allow people to use Gmail but not Google Earth. So my firewall has to distinguish between these

two actions. Here is how the McAfee Firewall handles it. You can see a long list of Google applications here in the screen capture above. It is very easy to click on the particular situation and quickly set it up to block other Google functions.

McAfee has a add-on option to its Enterprise Firewall called Profiler that includes a very graphical mechanism for managing its operations.

You can use its graphical interface to spot trends quickly, make adjustments to firewall rule sets, and see the results of your changes instantly, without having to plow through network traces and protocol details.

In the screen capture below, we are looking at the main Profiler screen and you see these bubbles that indicate by color whether traffic is allowed or blocked by particular user department and application category.The size of the bubble indicates the volume of traffic that is involved in a particular situation.

Some of the firewalls come with very graphical real-time monitors, such as this display from Sonicwall’s unified threat appliances below where you can see traffic patterns and drill down if you spot something that doesn’t look quite right.

Palo Alto Networks has this interesting global map of all your network traffic, again to help you spot some particular network flow to a country where you normally don’t do any business. Many of the firewalls have geo-location features where you can block traffic originating or destined for particular countries too.

These are just some of the more innovative firewall vendors out there who have begun to harness visual information displays to help you manage your network traffic and operations. If you are still looking at long lists of log files or rule sets, you might want to investigate one or more of these products.

 

 

Junk Your Company Intranet

Remember when Intranets were all the rage? I do, I wrote a paper on them way back in 1995 that was at their height of interest. The idea was to produce a corporate Web portal that was just for internal use, to enable staff to share documents, best practices, customer information and the like. Well, the time has come to retire your Intranet, and look at the new crop of enterprise social networking products that are designed for that purpose.

Originally, these products were called microblogs or Twitter-behind-the-firewall. The latter appellation was because they took the Twitter user interface and presented a small text window to type a brief message in, and then displayed the stream of status updates in a similar fashion.

But in the past several years these products have become more capable, and can be very useful as the next-gen Intranet. For example, you can share files with comments them, such as if a team is collaborating on a presentation slide deck for example. Altimeter Group’s Brian Solis has written an excellent analysis of why you should use these products here.

These tools might also be a better place to start than using a standard blogging tool such as WordPress or even Facebook for your internal communications. A recent study from UMass at Dartmouth shows that nearly 3/4s of the Inc. 500 (the fastest growing 500 American private companies) are using Facebook or LinkedIn, which is about twice the percentage that are using corporate blogs. “Ninety percent of responding executives report that social media tools are important for brand awareness and company reputation.  Eighty-eight percent see these tools as important for generating Web traffic while 81% find them important for lead generation.  Seventy-three percent say that social media tools are important for customer support programs.”

These tools (like the screenshot of Socialcast’s Town Hall feature above) mean more than a “Like” button on a particular page of content: it is a way to curate and disseminate that content quickly and easily. It has replaced the Usenet “news groups” that many of us remember with a certain fondness for their arcane and complex structure.

Let’s look at a few of the distinguishing features for this class of products.

  • Team workspace. You can segregate your work teams by project and have all the materials for that project in a single place for easy access. These spaces can be persistent to serve as an archival record for completed projects, too.
  • Activity stream. The Twitter-like stream is useful to keep track of what your colleagues are doing in any given day.
  • Presence detection. Like corporate Instant Message tools, you can keep track of when your co-workers are in the office or ask them quick questions via text or video chats.
  • Document collaboration. You can edit documents in real-time to shape a particular deliverable for a client without having to do serial emails.
  • External services connections. Many of these products can search and interact with CRM systems, SharePoint servers, Salesforce (see the screenshot below from Yammer), emails, and other external services.
  • Mobile clients. Most products have specialized clients that have been optimized for iOS and Android phones.
  • Public or private deployments. You can start with a public cloud deployment of the product to try out, and then move your system to your own server behind a firewall for the ultimate security.
Obviously, there is a lot to these products that this kind of brief treatment doesn’t really do justice. But if you are looking to upgrade your existing Intranet and don’t want to spend a lot of time or money, take a closer look at what these enterprise products can offer.

 

 

Startup Rules of the Road

Before you start your next business, you should consider a few of my own tenets that I have gleaned from working with numerous startup companies
over the years. There is so much more to a business than the actual day-to-day operations, and finding the right combination of ideas, skills, and people will help you
create the best small business. Take a look at the following rules of the road:

  • First, it is so often said that you have to find your passion. It might sound cliche, but it is very true. If you are going to suffer the long hours and the many frustrations of starting your own business, you need to have something that is going to power you through the darkest times. If you come up with a business idea that doesn’t get your groove on, drop it and think of something else.
  • Identify the narrowest niche you can and fill it completely. It doesn’t really matter what you do. What matters is what everyone else isn’t doing, and how you can complement or fill in the gaps. The narrower the niche, the better. It helps if you can explain your niche in a short sound bite too, because that is what you are going to be doing a lot of. And don’t be afraid to change to a new niche when the market shifts or as you get better at understanding what your customers need, too. You aren’t going to be running MegaCorp (at least, not yet), so being flexible is key.
  • Understand your own limitations and use them to decide on the nature of the business you wish to create. For years I have had a one-person freelance writing business — not because I am anti-social, but because that is my preferred work style. You need to think through the implications of your ideas and understand what you are getting yourself into with the particular business you have in mind. One friend of mine designed her freelance business around a small staff, because that was what she was comfortable with. Different strokes….
  • Building a website isn’t the same thing as building a business. While is certainly is the case that many businesses are going to have
    some kind of online presence, they just begin with the website.
  • If you aren’t technical, find someone who can help and treat them well. Make that: treat them extra well. When I built my first website back in the early days, I hired a kid all of 19 years of age. Now I would hire even younger: they have the skills, and they work cheaply. But sometimes you want to partner with someone with more maturity, and realize when that is needed.
  • Pick domain names, corporate names, and other names to match and be easy to speak and remember. This is so important. There is a site called KnowEm.com that can help you figure out if your chosen name is available on hundreds of social networks, and even search the US Patent and Trademark Database. This is a good place to start. See the screen shot below.

  • Don’t forget about email newsletter marketing. Email isn’t the flashiest mode of communication, but it is still a very powerful tool that can help spread your word and get you customers. One friend of mine built up his business big time with a weekly newsletter: over a year he had more than two thousand subscribers, and a regular business. The service provider that I use for my email newsletter charges me the grand sum of less than $5 a month.
  • Speaking of monthly costs, keep your recurring costs low. It is amazing what kinds of services you can get these days for free or
    nearly so in just about everything. Look at what you can get on open source sites. You can host your own blog, set up your own domain, sign up for cloud-based accounting, and a lot more for less than $500 a year, in some cases a lot less. It used to cost me $500 just to have a server sit in a rack someplace. My friend Bruce Fryer has a site called CheapBastardStartup that has links to running his 100% virtual corporation. He suggests raising $50,000 and get a product and customers and then go after the big money once you have proven your concept. But I suggest starting with
    even less dough – say $5000 – and see how far you can run with your idea with that.
  • Finally, don’t figure on paying yourself a salary, at least initially. My wife has her own interior design business and she is glad when she clears her monthly expenses, at least for the first couple of months. Of course, you want to eventually make some money!

Good luck with your own startup, and do feel free to share other best practices that you have come across in your travels.

 

 

Cloud Roundup and Links – April 16

Is Cloud Computing a Green Giant?

Many companies have already found that cloud computing can cut their IT costs. A new report found that cloud computing has another benefit to bottom lines: reducing energy costs.

As reported on Greenbiz.com, CDW’s fourth annual Energy Efficient IT Report calls cloud computing a possible “game changer” that’s playing a growing role in energy efficiency.

For the report, CDW surveyed 760 people working in private businesses, nonprofits, schools and governments. Of these respondents, 62 percent agreed that cloud computing is an energy-efficient way to consolidate data centers.

Workers’ Tunes Sucking Up Bandwidth at Work

When Procter & Gamble shut down some access to the Internet, it wasn’t to keep employees from playing around on Facebook or crafting personal emails on company time.

Instead, it was to get them to quit sucking up the company’s Web bandwidth by listening to music and watching movies.

The company told its 129,000 employees they can no longer use music-streaming site Pandora or movie site Netflix at work.

“We are one of the more lenient companies in terms of providing access to the Internet, but there are some sites which don’t serve a specific business purpose — in this case, Netflix and Pandora,” spokesman Paul Fox said in an email, according to CNN.com. “They are both great sites, but if you want to download movies or music, do it on your own time.”

There’s a Tax for That

Responding to Vermont’s business sector uproar against a tax on cloud computing, the state legislature’s Ways and Means Committee approved a bill that would take the extraordinary step of refunding $1.9 million in sales tax revenue.

According to the bill, cloud computing is defined as the use of “pre-written software run in underlying infrastructure that is not managed or controlled by the consumer or a related company.”

Vermont already taxes the sale of pre-written software when its purchased at a store or downloaded from the Internet. And the tax department contends that cloud computing is also taxable.

 

 

How to Use Video Analytics to Improve Your Audience Response

As Web-based video becomes more prominent and more useful for businesses, the biggest issue is figuring out what resonates with your audience. You post a video and then what: how many people watch it all the way through? Should you have broken it up into shorter segments? Did you need additional details? Did people like the video and link back to it? Depending on the video site you use to share your content, you have a number of cloud-based analytic and tracking tools at your disposal.

Lots of companies are using video to spread the word on their products and engage their customers. Here are a couple of notable examples:

  • Wingsuits’s Vimeo channel shows more than 100 videos of those crazy folks that don a suit and jump off high cliffs and pretend to fly. I admit the visuals are stunning, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a customer!
  • MadMapper has more than 60 videos showcasing how their customers use their advanced projector mapping tools to create some stunning visual displays.
  • Infusionsoft has this YouTube channel with 500 subscribers and more than 120,000 views with quotes of dozens of employees about their experience using the company’s software. They also have this Vimeo channel which shows in-depth demos and longer tutorials about how to use their products.

YouTube, first and foremost

Certainly, when it comes to video, YouTube is first and foremost. More than 30 hours of video are uploaded every minute, or is it every second?

Whatever the number, YouTube still has the lion’s share of the traffic and is great for beginners. It is easy to upload a video, embed it or share it across your Web site, and collect some very basic traffic statistics too. But you get what you pay for. Here is an example of the kind of analysis that you can get from one of my more popular videos that I have on YouTube:

In addition to the overall viewership report shown above, you can review demographic information (age and gender of viewer), whether the video was played from the main YouTube Web page or a mobile device or embedded on another site, and whether your audience abandoned watching the video at some point before its end. This last point is very important in terms of feedback. The longer the video the more the audience drop-off will probably be, and this should be good ammunition to create shorter and to-the-point videos.

Wistia

There are other video hosting services besides YouTube, and one that I use frequently is from Wistia.com. They actually provide several things in one neat package:

First is its own flash embedded player that allows you to easily adjust the size of your video window to match the dimensions of your Web pages. You can easily choose the thumbnail that you want displayed when the Web page is first viewed. Wistia isn’t alone in this particular space: Kaltura for example has a popular WordPress plug-in. But adding a Wistia embed tag to a custom WordPress self-hosted site is easier and no plug-ins are required to play your videos.

It is also a video hosting and sharing site. You have up to 20 GB of storage included, with additional storage available at $2/GB/month. Included this 20 GB figure is just the size of the uploaded video files, and not any additional storage for encoding or processing.  Videos can be shared with your project team, where they can make comments (like Facebook) and downloaded, saving you the trouble of trying to send videos as email attachments. As video files can be larger than email attachment limits, this saves a lot of time and frustration.

Finally, Wistia has excellent analytics too.  Like YouTube, you can see gross viewership by day, some demographics, how they got to your video (via organic search or some other Web site). But unlike YouTube they go into lots more detail with these “heat maps” as you see below.

This is a nice service: you can see who your potential customers might be and what part of the world they live. (I’ve masked the IP addresses visible in the above screenshot.) You can also see here where each viewer stopped watching, or rewound it to see again (in red). Again, this provides valuable feedback on whether your subject is relevant to your viewers. It is also a good report to share with your management to convince them of the value of your efforts.

Wistia has three differently priced plans, starting at $79 a month. You can try it out for 15 days for free.

 

 

Why the Cloud Resonates With Consumers

Cloud ComputingMany services and technologies have come and gone over the last few decades. Some stick. Others have to pack it in for numerous reasons. Right now, it seems cloud computing is on an upward trajectory and shows no evidence of letting up. While the technology enabling the cloud is what drives its success, many factors have to go just right for a service to experience this type of buzz.So far, cloud computing has hit the right notes and is enjoying its moment in the spotlight. Here are just a few reasons why the cloud has consumer appeal.

The Name

What sounds more appealing? Software as a service (Saas), utility computing, infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or the cloud? Referring to this technology simply as “the cloud” took it from the depths of some server rack in the back of an IT department and placed it front-and-center for both consumers and IT staff. “The cloud” is more accessible and more colorful than “utility computing.” Without the moniker, who knows if cloud computing would have been given the chance to reach its potential.

And who, you ask, coined the phrase “cloud computing?” That depends on where you direct the question. There are references to the cloud going back to 1997 when a trademark application for the term cropped up (the trademark attempt was later abandoned). It was a term mentioned in The New York Times in 2001, described as a “cloud of computers.”

In August 2006, Google’s Eric Schmidt described its approach to SaaS as cloud computing. It seems this was the first mainstream use of the term as its currently understood.

According to author John M. Willis, “I think this was the first high profile usage of the term, where not just ‘cloud’ but ‘cloud computing’ was used to refer to SaaS, and since it was in the context of Google, the term picked up the PaaS/IaaS connotations associated with the Google way of managing data centers and infrastructure.

“Much like ‘Web 2.0,’ cloud computing was a collection of related concepts that people recognized, but didn’t really have a good descriptor for, a definition in search of a term, you could say. When Schmidt used it in 2006 to describe their own stuff and then Amazon included the word ‘cloud’ in EC2 when it was launched a few weeks later, the term became mainstream.”

The Freedom

A big key to cloud computing adoption is that it has achieved an ease of use that anyone with an email address and credit card can start to see what the fuss is about. Free, limited accounts with simple sign-ups have gotten many people comfortable enough that they’re willing to try out paid, full-service accounts.

And there is a sense of freedom at being able to get stuff done without having to physically be at a work station or in the home office. This ability can be very liberating, especially when you’re on the road and need to access something important. The cloud allows you to go about your life and work in a streamlined manner, and if an emergency arises where you need specific information immediately, the cloud has you covered.

The References

The cloud already has worked its way into pop culture. On FX, a comedy called “The League” features a group of friends who participate in an NFL fantasy football league. “The League” is probably not a show that you’d want to watch with children or grandma because a.) it’s on FX, b.) double entendres galore and c.) common decency. But it’s well-written, topical and, in my opinion, super funny.

One of the characters named Taco, a slacker who’s not quite with it, waxes philosophic on the cloud during a conversation with characters Ruxin and Kevin.

Ruxin: “Are you baked all the time?”

Taco: “Oh, not this baked! I just wish I could walk around in a cloud of it all day long. ‘To the cloud!”

Kevin: “All right… you realize that that’s just a cloud of data pushing itself wirelessly through different devices?”

Taco: [snorts] “Now who sounds baked?”

 

 

Mozy and Enterprise – Ready for Each Other

This week, Mozy announced a renewed commitment to the MozyEnterprise service and for many that begs, the question, “Why now?”

MozyEnterprise

Over the past few years, the Mozy Enterprise Backup Solution product has enjoyed many successes and endured some bruises, and we’re proud and excited to go public with the fact that the software (the Mozy business) and the business (Enterprise customers worldwide) are finally ready for each other.  Here are the main reasons:

  1. Mozy’s enterprise cloud backup solution has enjoyed years of hardening and testing.  It may not be perfect (cause claiming perfection is a sure fire way to anger the software gods) but it’s pretty dang great.
  2. Businesses, even very large businesses, are accepting cloud solutions as enterprise-ready and really great choices for their IT needs.  We no longer have to sell enterprises on the power of the cloud – the cloud has proven itself.
  3. Enterprises are seeing the complexity of their backup and file accessibility needs explode – from remote workforces to Bring Your Own Device policies, IT no longer maintains strict control over the places and devices where people need access to their data, and enterprise cloud backup (specifically MozyEnterprise!) is well-suited to the needs of a diverse workforce.

We are very excited to re-introduce MozyEnterprise to the world of large business backup software and can’t wait to revolutionize the enterprise with the best backup and data access solution out there.

To learn more about MozyPro and MozyEnterprise and the difference between the two, make sure to watch Mozy Product Managers Jamie Morningstar and Todd Esplin discuss the differences between each offering.

 

Cloud Link Roundup – April 9

Google’s Online Art Project Now Includes the White House

Google announced a significant expansion of its Google Art Project, adding artwork from the White House and museums around the globe. Powering the Google Art project are Google’s Web services and cloud computing infrastructure.

Google’s Art Project now includes the White House galleries and notable international museums such as the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi, India and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

“Since we introduced the Art Project last year, curators, artists and viewers from all over the globe have offered exciting ideas about how to enhance the experience of collecting, sharing and discovering art. Institutions worldwide asked to join the project, urging us to increase the diversity of artworks displayed,” Google said in a blog post. “We listened.”

What Cloud Computing Really Means

Cloud computing is all the rage.

“It’s become the phrase du jour,” said Gartner senior analyst Ben Pring. The problem, according to InfoWorld, is that everyone seems to have a different definition of cloud computing.

Some analysts and vendors define cloud computing as an updated version of utility computing: virtual servers available over the Internet. Others go broad, arguing anything you consume outside the firewall is “in the cloud,” including conventional outsourcing, according to InfoWorld.

InfoWorld talked to dozens of vendors, analysts and IT customers on various components of cloud computing. Here is InfoWorld’s rough breakdown of what cloud computing is all about.

Can the Cloud Revive Manufacturing?

Cloud computing could help usher in the next wave of technological innovation and, with it, provide a new engine for economic growth, according to the authors of a study on the emerging cloud computing ecosystem.

“Cloud-enhanced services” promise to take up much of the economic slack caused by the steady shift over the last several decades from manufacturing to services. Despite the loss of those U.S. manufacturing jobs, “direct linkages” persist between high value-added services and manufacturing, said John Zysman, coauthor of the cloud study and co-director of the Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy.

“We contend that cloud computing is historically unique by simultaneously being an innovation ecosystem, production platform and global marketplace,” the study said.