Certified web and mobile developer,
social and digital strategist,
tea and coffee supreme!

Using Google Currents to give another new life to old content

The public launch of Google Currents this week was an interesting one for anyone that has used, and in my case loved, the Flipboard application. At first sight it really looked like a poor man’s version, using HTML and JavaScript to recreate effects and wrapping it all within an application to quickly make Google Currents cross platform. However the reason Google have done this is that unlike Flipboard, the content is not curated it is fed through the Google Currents publishing website by the website owners.

The Google Currents publishing site, which even at this very early stage in the application life cycle, is feature rich with masses of potential. If the product begins to get traction. The online application, which of course requires Google Chrome to run, is effectively a content management system. But the content doesn’t need to be written within the system, it can be fed from existing content streams. In real world terms this means that web sites can output content they have already made and use it within Google Currents to create a new channel for people to access it.

Features

With a spare few hours I thought I would have a play to see what the publishing site can do. Here are my findings:

Managing content

The first thing which is very apparent about the product is its link to Google; the content you use has to relate or complement the suite of products which Google already offers. However this still means that Google allows content such as photos, videos and social media (and strangely imports from ePub) which can be feed into separate sections.

Using very simple wizards, it’s really easy to set up automatic feeds of existing content from 3rd party sites as well as your own site, which will update as new content is released in the future. After import the author can either opt to edit the pages to make them more bespoke to the Google Currents system, or simply leave them as they are. The benefit of this tailoring is that the content can be made richer by adding photos, slideshows or videos.

Styling

The biggest surprise for me was the styling engine which Google have added, which admittedly is not for the faint hearted but provides a lot of capabilities for any budding web developer. It not only allows the author to add specific imagery to act as cover and promotional images, but it is also possible to use bespoke Google Current mark-up within the HTML together with CSS selectors to completely change how the articles,within the sections and the application, appear. Which can create a very professional magazine feel with a lot of scope to make the pages to look 'on brand' and like small microsites.

Combine social media

I have added this even though in my opinion it’s the worst part. Sadly I imagine if I spoke to any of the developers of Google Current they would agree. Google have made the decision to only natively support Google+ and leave out Twitter and Facebook without integrating using RSS, which is such a shame. It also means social connect features and real-time social media integration is lacking. But I am hoping whoever is high up at Google, who wanted to push Google+ and nothing else, has a change of heart before it’s too late.

In summary...

There is so much I like about Google Currents. In just a few hours I had cobbled together something which was fairly impressive and with the right amount of time and consideration a new channel with potentially new audiences could have been created. Sadly there is a few things which stop me wanting to take it further. The first is how each content types is treated almost in isolation, which in fairness to Google is the same with any content management system as everything is so generic that sometimes synergies are lost and content often presented in single strands instead of being mixed together. For example images from Flickr are within their own section, displayed in a single grid out of context, where it would better if they could be merged with other content types. Secondly, Google are not great at promoting some of their services making it hard for large organisations to find the investment to develop within them. It would not surprise me that without the interest from the general public, a lot of the early adapters such as Metro, Guardian, Techcrunch and the like might stop supporting the system. Fortunately I personally feel it is like RSS in the way it is easy to setup, and can run pretty much unsupervised, therefore providing a quick way to create a new channel to read content.

Social Context with Social Graphing

Whilst creating my new portfolio site I thought it would be an interesting experiment to bring all the social medias which I use, or interested me, into a single social graph; a place where I would be able to view, at a glance, what has happened in my life. A bit like a diary of my life but bringing together the unique function of each social media to make the visual more contextual by bringing them ll together to create the whole picture of my life.

Rocket science this is not and Facebook no doubt has an application for each and every social media platform I wanted to use which I could integrate into a single Facebook timeline. However on timeline, the entries are very much autonomous and display too much detail and extraneous information. So I thought I would create my own streamlined version.

The obvious commonality across all social media is time; a simple concept bringing each social media together. Everything happens at a particular time and at a certain instance thus documenting your life in chunks. I have used this notion and pieced the chunks together to allow the user to see the whole picture of my social interaction: my pictures from Facebook, my tweets, my location from FourSquare etc etc

The aim of this being that if I wrote a tweet on Twitter regarding a place, instead of the location information in the tweet being enough, I would post a check in Foursquare too therefore building information on a second network. And if the opportunity at this place arose for me to take a picture, a third media such as Facebook would be used to increase the scope and detail of the social graph I was trying to create. Furthermore, if at this location I fed my coffee addiction I would log this within Fitbit. This could go on forever, but the main point is that each social network is individually growing and documenting a story of my life which I bring together into a single picture – a picture which now has more depth, more meaning and more detail about my life.

Maybe next time

I wondered what else I could do with this data other than the social graph it produces and I thought Experiment Two could be to create a trending/analysis engine for the information I have created. This might be just me, but how cool would be it be to go back to the social medias where I originally sourced the information from and see if I find out anything interesting, scary or shocking? For instance, I could mine from Flixster what rating each movie I watch I gave and from that determine what is the average rating I give for certain actors. I could then also mine from Fitbit how many films resulted in feeding my coffee habit and then find out if I listened to any music from the film's soundtrack. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be expecting a Nobel Prize for my work, but it would be a nice geeky outcome of using social media.

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Examples of my work...

A sample of work across my skillset which will hopefully float your boat. Some work has been created in my day job, others to earn a few extra pennies.

Record Payment Newsletter

Promotions Group

Using the open source platform OpenCart to create a feature rich eCommerce system for a office supplies company.

The build involved creating a suite of add ons to tailor the system to the business needs of the organisation. They included displaying more meta data on products, introducing tiered pricing depending on quantity levels and turning the checkout process on its head by converting it into a quoting engine.

The project also included strategic direction in regards to SEO best practices and customer data analysis to help guide advice regarding buying new products.

In the first three months of the website relaunch the site increased profits by 20% month on month.

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My 1st million...

I have a few bedroom projects which I use to learn new skills and test out ideas. Who knows? maybe one day they might be the next Facebook. As the projects develop I will journal the progress.

companyApps - Asset Cloud

With so many Small/Medium Enterprises undertaking ISO audits alongside government legalisation requiring all organisations to monitor the hardware and software purchases, the demand for midrange asset management systems has increased.

About the project

A bespoke build asset management system was created from the ground up. This included a Windows client to be installed across the network, a cloud based asset management console and a marketing site to promote the whole package. Furthermore, a Mac based client has been begun development to complete the offering.

Cloud Portal

Reports

Report Creator

Using a cloud based system has the benefit of all reports regarding the total spend, software and hardware allocation available for all key stakeholders, without the need for further software installs or administrator access from IT managers. Reports are also easily exported into standard formats for Excel, for easy use for ISO/organisational reporting.

User asset allocation

Software Overview

Each user is provided an allocation of software licenses, which they have easy access to through the cloud system as well as a detailed inventory of the hardware installed on the device which they have access to. The software allocation list includes other cloud based systems such as BaseCamp which the organisation has subscribed to. The usage of the software is monitored to help key stakeholders make decisions on reallocating the software for projective software/hardware spends if a similar job function joined the organisation.

Web Service

All the data regarding the system which the client is installed on from potentially any operating system is sent to the web service to feed the central cloud asset management system.

Marketing Portal

Marketing Website

Tone of Voice

Trying to emulate the new wave of modern tech businesses, the tone of voice throughout the site is very much tongue in cheek. The target market for the site is SME level and therefore the approach is to demonstrate a solid modern product to provide a solution to legal requirements which can take up a lot of time if someone was to manage it. The product is not targeting large organisations with thousands of computers and it was important that every part of the marketing site demonstrated this.

Jumping on the cloud bandwagon

Understanding that 'cloud' is increasingly becoming a new business buzzword associated with cost savings and ease of access we decided that the product name should follow this tend. All information gathered from the local devices must be accessible from the ‘cloud portal’ and users of the site should be able to access this information quickly. This is unlike similar software which requires an asset management server to be installed. This means that the IT manager is often the only person in the business who can report back on the network scan.

Pricing strategies

The pricing strategy for the product is based around a free trial. Due to the cloud based nature of the application the cost to run the it for an organisation as low. There are few overheads in the running of the application, the main costs are in developing features, enhancements, security and design.

This free trial provides us with a marketing database of sales leads. If they don’t choose to purchase after the trial, their information is still retained which enables us to pursue their custom through promotions. More importantly, they have invested time in allocating licenses and installing the clients across the network. The lost framework suggests that the likelihood for purchasing at a later date is greater.

iWriteReadRate

The growth of the ebook market in recent years spawned the idea to create a eBook store focused on unpublished talent. Picking a market where individuals are willing to promote their own work through the website.

iWriteReadRate Homepage

About the project

A bespoke built ecommerce website for aspiring writers to sell eBooks and receive qualitative and quantitative feedback on their work.

Problems to overcome

Usability

By targeting individuals without large marketing budgets we knew the system would have to manage the production of all imagery and conversion of the book from a commercial document standard (Microsoft Word) to familiar eBook standards such as PDF and ePub.

Payments

A simple pricing strategy was required to create an incentive for the authors to use the system, including a quick reimbursement system. The PayPal Adaptive Payments API provide a system whereby whenever an eBook is purchased, an automatic payment is sent to both the site and author; the website covers all transaction costs.

Customer Engagement

We felt we needed to immerse the site with unique functionality to create customer engagement. A new social module was designed and implemented from the ground up. The social feed is a combination of the Facebook wall and tweeting, providing users with a platform to follow favoured authors and then communicate with them publicly or privately. This communication can be automatically feed to Twitter though the Twitter API. Furthermore all publishing, purchasing and rating of eBooks is fed into the stream to encourage further conversation and create a platform of social e-commerce.

As the inaugural year comes to an end...

As the first year comes to an end a lot of lessons have been learnt, tweets been written (15k+) new Facebook friends (500+) made and the functions for the for next 6 months drawn up. I am looking forward to having a play with Facebook Social Graph and working on intelligent ways to profile the user base based on followers, purchased books and rating history.

Mobile

Due to issues surrounding Apple requiring a percentage of all in-app purchases, it was decided that a native application build would not be required for this project. However the need for a responsive mobile and tablet based interface for the site was required to produce an easier and simpler way to access and purchase eBooks from the store.

jQuery Mobile

The mobile site was built on early releases of the jQuery mobile extension which created its own challenges; needing to implement fixes to the core library. However the search and theming engine made the final solution simple, easy to use and feature rich.

Features:

  • Registration
  • Product search
  • In app purchasing
  • ePub/PDF integration with 3rd party applications
Future roadmap

The roadmap for future releases includes incorporating a full HTML5 eReader to prevent the reliance on 3rd party eReader applications as well as incorporating the social feed into the web app to further the idea behind social commerce by creating an engaged community.

jQuery Mobile

Social media

It was noted early that the site required a community of authors to provide the necessary content  to make the site viable. From the kick off the project had a simple holding page integrated with Campaign Monitor and a Wordpress blog to create a platform that would drum up interest and generate a targeted mailing list.

Furthermore social media channels were used to identify key, passionate and talented authors from across the globe who might be interested in using the site. Relationships were established and nurtured as the community began to grow. At the point of launch both the Twitter account and campaign database had very promising figures.   

Since launch, Social media campaigns have been initiated and developed to keep interest and generate loyal followers. Every week 'eBook Tuesday' highlights a publication from the store and every Friday 'Quote Friday' Twitter followers are encouraged to provide literary quotes around a topic.

Our social media elements

A collection of social media functions have been added to the site to aid engagement and interactions with the user which include:

  • eBook 'First thoughts' which is a simple like/dislike function.
  • The rating and feedback system which is an all used 'gamification' technique across the community.
  • The social media feed (described within customer engagement and demonstrated below).

SocalStream Wireframe and Implementation

A year in the life of...

There are so many online tools recording my parts of life, I thought it would be interesting to pull them all together and see how my world shapes up.

Takeaways

Indian

0 times.

Thai

0 times.

Chinese

0 times.

McDs

0 times.

Tea vs Coffee

Tea

0 mugs.

Coffee

0 mugs.

Fitness

KMs ran on treadmill

0time.

Running personal best

Distance: 0 km

Time: 0 minutes 0 seconds

Social Media

Music tastes

Whilst I work I always listen to something. Sadly I often listen to a lot of tat, therefore I apologise in advance.

Powered by LastFM

My body is a temple

A really big temple, which is constantly expanding. Will this year be any better?

Current Weight: 74.39 kg

Target Weight: 77.11 kg

Powered by FitBit

Contact Me

You want to ask me something? Thats cool, pop your details into the contact form and I promise to reply.

Address: 14 Sinatra Drive, Milton Keynes BuckinghamshireMK4 4JG England

Mobile:07582 842 776

Send me a message

Who is adam hyphen bates?

An enthusiastic and driven Senior Developer who loves all things Digital. I have had experience in every stage of the development process from technical and functional scoping and POST framework strategy, to database design, front and backend build. Over the last 12 months I have spent a lot of time generating ideas and strategy as well as learning iOS and Android. I also drink way to much tea whilst I work.

a/s/l

Male

Yes I am a man. However, I also really do like romantic comedies.

Age 28

I am getting ever closer to the big 30 but I am okay with that... I think. Although, I think I may be the sort of person who buys a really stupid car when the midlife crisis hits.

Milton Keynes

Yes, I live in MK and even stranger I have quite a soft spot for it. I am not born and bred here and I don't think I will be here all my life. But this strange little city/town allowed me to get my first foot on the property ladder.

Motivations

Design and User Experience

I love good design as in I really love good design. However, I am developer who only just about knows his way around Photoshop. That said, design has always motivated me, as I really love bringing a design to life.

A good design will provide all the ground work for a good user experience. But a good developer will make that experience work, and work well. It's the job of the developer to make the most of the opportunity the user has to connect and explore with the site; we work to focus and channel the user along a journey. Furthermore user experience is becoming a greater challenge for developers and designers through new channels of mobile and tablet devices. The importance of responsive design and way which the user uses the site will less real estate and gestures provides many new challenges. But these are challenges I love to face.

The Wow factor

Sorry in advance if this sounds over the top but I do actually believe in this: developers can create the wow factor too. There is so much a developer can do to that bring a design to life. In a time when native applications allow developers the change to create interactive platforms to engage users, well, the sky's the limit. For me, I love to create innovative ways to make things better and I hate doing the same thing over and over again. That's not what makes me tick. I love finding new spin to put on something.

Skills

Strategy

The fantastic thing about Digital is that it can impact so many business areas and be used across so many changing platforms. For me, I love piecing it all together; creating a plan to work out which personas within which segments need to be targeted, using the most appropriate Digital media for those groups of individuals. Then ensuring it satisfies the overall objective in a way that it can be measured.

Innovation

James Dyson I am not, but an ideas man I feel I am. I have always loved finding a solution and finding new ways to solve problems. I am sure there is more than one way to do something and the more interesting and more tailored the solution, the more likely it will be used.

Tea

Yes this is trying to win some points for being quirky but it is also my life blood. For that reason I am often the old maid making the next brew, which is often the time I take a step back and work out if my approach is the best way or the best fit.

.NET

Commercial experience

Over 5 years

Name drops
  • Aston Martin
  • Nikon
  • Beefeater
  • British Gas Business
  • Mercedes Benz Direct
Qualifications
  • Microsoft Certified Technical Engineer

PHP

Commercial experience

Over 3 years

Name drops
  • Vauxhall
  • WorldVision
  • Chevrolet
  • NHS
Training
  • Completed Zend Certified Engineer Training - Exam booked for May 2012

iOS

Commercial experience

Over 6 months

Name drops
  • Vauxhall
Training
  • 5 day course by Certified Training company Amsys in London.

Android

Commercial experience

Over 6 months

Name drops
  • Vauxhall

Bucket list

  • 1. Do a sky dive
  • 2. Scuba dive in the Coral Reef
  • 3. Save a life
  • 4. Run the London marathon
  • 5. Learn to play the guitar
  • 6. Go to Glastonbury Festival Done
  • 7. Eat dinner at The Fat Duck
  • 8. Fly 1st class Done
  • 9. Star in a YouTube viral
  • 10. Be a man with a dog

Ambitions

  • 1. Be happy Done
  • 2. Get married
  • 3. Work in London
  • 4. Become a father
  • 5. Be successful
  • 6. Buy a fancy car

Traveling

  • 1. Thailand Done
  • 2. Maldives
  • 3. Berlin Done
  • 4. China
  • 5. Hong Kong
  • 6. Indonesia Done
  • 7. USA Done
  • 7. Russia
  • 8. Iceland
  • 9. Brazil
  • 10. India