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Yesterday, Instagram announced changes to the existing privacy policy and terms of service. These changes will go into effect on January 16th 2013. You can read the brief announcement here.

The impending changes have serious implications that could impact users in an extremely negative way. The most significant change is that Instagram — much like its owner Facebook — has now granted itself the perpetual right to sell user-generated content (images) without payment or notification being sent to the user. This means that Facebook has the right to sell all public photos that are shared by users on Instagram to companies or any other organization for advertising purposes. Unless users of the social sharing network delete their accounts prior to the January deadline, they will not be able to opt out of how their images will be used.

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Leveraging Mobile Apps to Increase Brand Awareness, Customer Loyalty, and Revenue

In todays society with everything being on demand, we are infatuated with the use of mobile for convenience and accessibility. There has been a significant change in the online landscape where mobile devices are the vehicle for more than half of all internet access. Consumers use their mobile devices to find information they want immediately, often depending on the instant accessibility of mobile apps to quickly provide them with what they need to know. Businesses are having to adapt to this evolution in consumer lifestyle. People are constantly on the move making today’s consumer a moving target. These consumers are also savvy shoppers leveraging technology to access market research as well as assist with purchasing decisions. They communicate via social media to source information from their trusted network about brands and products. This weighs heavy with their purchase decisions and                                                                                  brand preferences.

Businesses are challenged with engaging these consumers, and having a mobile app can be a great way to keep your brand in front of them as they are on the move. The mobile app has become the tool of choice for consumers, and businesses that have adapted to using this technology are seeing significant returns on their investment. There are a multitude of different apps in the marketplace. Some of these are classified as informative, others meant for convenience, and some are purely for entertainment. This medium of engagement isn’t for every business and finding the right solution to meet your business needs requires a great amount of knowledge about your customer base. It is critical to understand their demographic information, lifestyle choices, purchase preferences, and overall experience with your brand.  It is even important to understand how specifically they are using mobile devices in their daily lives.

A recent study conducted by mobile carrier AT&T found that the predominate reason for using mobile applications was in order to save time, according to 62 percent of respondents. Twenty-nine percent stated that cost-saving was their primary reason for using a mobile app. This same study polled more than 2,200 small business owners (with less than 50 employees) and found 72 percent were utilizing mobile apps in their businesses. A quarter of these companies were using apps for social media marketing and location based services, while 20 percent had bought in to mobile credit card payments. The most dominant use of mobile applications on the list was GPS and mapping, which is being used by nearly half of those surveyed.

Many businesses are leveraging mobile apps to not only assist with their operations, but to increase brand awareness, customer loyalty, and more importantly revenue. IBM’s Retail Online Index reported that retailers experienced a 15 percent growth in sales from mobile devices. There are many different ways to go about achieving these goals and it starts with understanding different ways a mobile app can be leveraged to connect with your consumers. Apps are used to appeal to people in primarily three basic ways.

The first is to make their lives easier by simplifying a task or streamlining a regular process. Second, is to save them money or provide additional value in some way. Finally, the third is to make things more fun and provide a source of entertainment for the user. If your app can provide one or more of these things to users then you’re well on your way to having a successful mobile app.

Here are 10 things you can do with a customized mobile app for your business in order to build customer loyalty, increase traffic, and ultimately boost your revenues.

  1. Build customer loyalty and make them feel special by offering discounts, coupons, and promotions just for using your app.  Create or integrate your customer loyalty program within your mobile app.  With Apple’s release of iOS 6 many companies are leveraging the new Passbook app for loyalty programs.
  2. Utilize push notifications to promote events, offer special deals, and provide relevant information about your brand to users.  Push allows you to deliver instant messages to your customers’ mobile phones whenever you wish.  While only 4% to 10% of email marketing messages get opened, push notifications get read 97% of the time.
  3. Create a viral buzz by leveraging your biggest asset, your army of existing customers. Let them quickly tell all of their friends about you using the built-in sharing capabilities of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.  Ask users for their opinions and engage in contesting through these social media channels. Integrating with these networks allows your business to tap into users trusted groups of friends and acquaintances for cross selling opportunities.
  4. Grow your list by gathering names and email addresses directly inside your app. Request an Opt-In or Sign-up and give them a reward for providing you with that valuable information.  You can then easily export that data into your favorite email marketing campaign service.
  5. Promote special events by providing up-to-date information about where your brand will be or that your hosting something at your locations.  Use an in-app event calendar to outline monthly shows, dinners, open houses, guest appearances, product launches, etc.  Take it a step further and direct users to your website to pre-book, pre-pay, or even pre-order.
  6. Use location based marketing to engage users with customized marketing messages based on their specific location and preferences.  This can be done with a blend of technologies including location based services, GPS, geo-fencing, bluetooth, MMS, and near-field communications.
  7. Keep your customers informed about new developments, product launches, guest appearances, and other unique things your doing that would interest them.  Fill your app with information about your business, service offerings, menus, and more.
  8. Connect with ease making it simple for customers to reach you using one touch calling, email, link to your website, and GPS directions all from inside your app.
  9. Get instant feedback and use it to improve customer service or to further product research.  Create a survey or run a poll then show them that your listening by taking action on their feedback.
  10. Track your success through app analytics and results from different marketing campaigns.

These 10 things are all effective tactics a business can use to get the most out of having a mobile app. No approach will guarantee success, but a blend of these along with a unified marketing message throughout your communication channels will certainly put you ahead of the competition. By recognizing this evolution in online access and consumer behavior you’ll be able to address the business challenge of engaging these mobile consumers. Leveraging mobile apps will be a necessary piece of your long term business strategy. Big chains and brands already get it and have aggressively launched into the mobile application space. They are willing to pay the cost necessary to be in there customers hands and realize if they are not that someone else will be there.

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Companies are Better Served by Using Custom Software

As we emerge from the recent recession and continued economic turmoil, companies are surveying their operations to determine where they are going to invest in to ensure efficiency and stability for their future. Many are adding back workers to labor forces that were slimmed down to get them through the economic uncertainty of the last few years. Some are looking to make large capital expenditures, now that rates are low and money is cheaper to borrow than it has been in years. Others are looking internally at their operations to see where optimizations can be made to position them for growth.

Companies looking internally to make improvements are looking at every aspect of their business to find where they can leverage technology to create increased capacity, as well as realize operational efficiencies. Information technology is a hot button for many key decision makers — and whether they will admit it or not — they prefer IT to be out of sight and out of mind. At the same time, they expect it to just work, and well as so much of their business depends on it.

The flow of information through a business can be like a supply chain, one that is critical to an organization’s ability to scale. Several business executives I’ve spoken with have told me they are looking to ensure that their employees have the best tools available to be highly productive in their roles. All of them agree their workforces need to have the correct information, at the right time, in order to execute effectively and make daily progress towards achieving their long-term business objectives. To these executives, being successful in business depends upon the performance of those individuals, and those individuals rely on the technology they’ve been given in order to execute.

What many executives are now realizing is that the intelligent use of software can lead to increases in both their team’s productivity, and performance. An abundance of business software has been introduced into the market, but very few products have been able to accomplish two primary objectives for companies to get a solid return on their investment. The first is that it provides a straight-forward workflow — providing a simple interface for the end-user to operate. The second is that it meets all of the business needs it was initially purchased to fulfill in the organization.

The majority of commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) products have the ability to meet forty to sixty percent of the business needs it was initially purchased to fulfill. The reason being is that these software packages were designed not for a specific business, but to work for the broadest market possible. These software packages are constructed with the lowest common denominator of a target market in mind, and rarely take into account the nuances of individual businesses. Unless your business fits nicely into the box these software providers determined when creating their product, you’re likely to be left with gaps in what these solutions can do for your company.

When it is determined — usually after a gap analysis — what needs the COTS solution can’t fulfill, key decision makers are left trying to creatively piece something together that will work. I’ve come across many of these types of solutions, and none of them are sustainable once the business begins to scale. It actually will end up costing a business more by relying on a solution that was realized this way, then it would to have paid a third-party to do it right initially. The cost of building a custom software solution is in today’s market is very competitive with COTS options, especially when you take into account all the additional licensing costs.

It is important for businesses to address the total cost of ownership (TCO) when exploring a software solution, and there are some distinct benefits to building custom, in relation to purchasing a commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) package. Let’s look at some of the important factors in understanding the difference between these two solutions, and what the best fit will be for your organization.

COTS software is licensed and not owned. With custom software, you own the source code, and there are no recurring license fees. This has a huge impact on a businesses budget when committing to this type of solution, when an organization is locked into an increase in annual operating expenses. Annual support and maintenance fees are normally not locked in forever. Many companies will give a 1 -3 year period in which the fees cannot be increased. After that period, they can increase the fees.

COTS software cost is typically not limited to the initial up-front licensing fees. Most companies charge around 20 percent of the initial license fee in recurring annual support and maintenance costs. Over a five-year period, that basically doubles the investment they’ve made. For example, if they purchase a $50K license, they will pay $10K per year for an additional $50K over five years and a total cost of $100K over five years. When you look at it that way, the comparison of a $25K custom software project vs. a $50K COTS application looks a lot better when the customer’s investment in actuality is $25K for custom vs. $100K for COTS.

With COTS software, the customer has little or no ability to customize or modify the way the application works. With custom developed software, they own the source code and are in control of what features and functionality they have built into the software. Obviously this comes at a cost for the development work, but offers the customer more cost controls, given the custom development process. It allows for the feature sets to be turned up or down, given the selections that provide the most impact to the organization. These can be rolled out in sequential versions of an application, as a businesses budget allows that cost to be incurred.

Many vendors of COTS software packages only support a limited number of versions. For example, current version and the version prior to the current version. This can force a customer into doing upgrades more frequently than they want to when they have no compelling reason to upgrade, other than the requirement to do so in order to have a supported version. Certain providers have even released a newer version that requires upgrades in the businesses hardware and technology infrastructure.

Ultimately, it makes more sense for businesses to explore building a customized software solution that is tailored to the specific needs of the organization than settling for something that almost fits. If you begin with the end in mind — identifying what business problems a software will solve — it can be built to meet those specific demands. Utilizing a phased approach becomes more cost-effective for the organization over time, and better serves the end-users, as it doesn’t restrict them to working in a contrived way. It will allow an organization to get something up and running within budget, and build onto it based on input sourced internally. Most of the valuable information that will be required when building out future versions of the application will be sourced from end-user feedback after an initial release.

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Adobe Photoshop CS6 Beta Preview

Adobe has released a beta of Photoshop CS6, the newest version of the photo editing software, and the changes couldn’t be more significant.  Updates include a simplified user interface, several impressive new editing tools, the refinement of existing editing tools, and for the first time video editing capabilities.  The new additions are aimed at eliminating the need for you to go between other applications and Photoshop to meet the majority of your post-production editing needs.

Photoshop has long been a great tool for creative professionals, but usually required the partnership of another piece of software or two to completely manage an editing job all the way through to output.  The new enhancements will have you spending more of your post-production time in Photoshop.  For those who are already proficient using a previous version of this software, you will love this update.

New Interface

The brand new user interface in CS 6 is built on a minimalist approach that provides the necessary flexibility to customize the interface to suit your unique workflow.  It appears much cleaner than previous versions of the software, removing clutter and streamlining the editing panels.  This simplified and customizable workspace should translate into a more efficient workflow, along with a new look that will appeal to the individual user’s eye.

Imaging Tools

Camera Raw 7.0

Adobe has included a new camera raw 7.0 image editing palate in CS 6 that is similar to what you might find in Apple’s Aperture or iPhoto software. The palate includes slider bars that allow you to selectively manipulate highlights and shadows in an additive or subtractive way.  Selective processing provides enhanced control across the histogram.  I was particularly impressed with how well the subtractive adjustment on the highlight slider recovered detail in overexposed areas of an image.  The enhancements of camera raw 7.0 might inspire you to open up images that you previously sent through post-production and tweak them further using these new features available in CS 6.

Adaptive Wide Angle

There is a new tool for photographers who enjoy shooting with a wide-angle lens called the adaptive wide-angle tool.  This tool will automatically detect which lens created the image, and assist you in correcting common issues that occur in wide-angle shots.  Distortion and convergence plague photographers who love capturing scenes in a wide-angle format.  An adaptive wide-angle tool allows corrections to be made easily in post-production.  These manipulations can be used to straighten curved lines, create a more natural looking horizon line, and better shape a scene to suit the viewer’s eye.


Users who enjoy using blurring techniques in their images will be excited about the new blur gallery in the filters section which offers three unique techniques to add blurring effects.  The popular tilt-shift effect allows you to creatively draw the viewer’s eye to a selected area of focus, and create those impressive miniature effects to scenes shot at a high camera angle.  The iris blur selection provides a circular type of blur that increases in intensity the further out from the selected focus point. Field blur allows you to selectively blur areas within an image by dropping pins and choosing the amount of blur affecting those particular areas designated by each control point.  By toggling on or off, the blur mask allows you to see where and to what degree the chosen effect is changing the image.  This mask can then be copied and pasted over a separate image to recreate the same desired effect.

The crop tool has been refined, now allowing the image to be rotated instead of the crop area rotating, which is a much more logical way to make this adjustment.  This provides a more accurate view of the potential end result.  You can now straighten a horizon line in an image directly in the crop tool with just a couple of clicks.  In previous versions of Photoshop, if you forgot to select an aspect ratio before clicking the crop tool, you had to back out, but now you can select the desired aspect ratio while in the crop tool without having to retreat.  These changes provide much better control and add logic to how this tool functions.

The text tool has also been updated, providing functions for a faster, more efficient workflow when laying out a web page, or text heavy documents requiring an element of graphic styling.  When selecting the text tool, you can manipulate larger bodies of text using preset paragraph styles, similar to the styles drawer in Apple’s Pages application.  This allows you to change larger bodies of text faster using predetermined styles for titles, headings, and paragraphs.  Character styles can also be manipulated in a selective way, making changes easier to apply, like adjustments to smaller text selections, which can now be done in a multitude of ways.


The content aware technology that is found in the new content aware move tool and the refined patch tool are some of the most impressive advances to come out of the new updates to CS 6.  The power this technology provides can save incredible amounts of time compared to previous techniques.  The content aware move tool allows you to make a rough selection around an object, and then move that object to a different location in the image.

Once the move is complete, Photoshop is able to determine where the object was moved from, based on the neighboring pixels.  It then automatically replaces the pixels with others that fit via the context of the surrounding area.  The patch tool itself has evolved, making it very simple to replace pixels in one area, by simply sampling another area within the image, even along the edges of the image which proved to be very difficult in the past.

Video Editing

Finally, video editing has been incorporated into the latest version of Photoshop.  At first glance, you would think Apple’s iMovie had been integrated into CS 6.  The timeline, as well as the drag-and-drop method of editing sections of video content on separate layers, with a layer for audio proves that the best form of flattery is imitation.  Transition effects can also be added at the beginning or ending of a video clip by a simple drag-and-drop method.  Key framing allows for multiple pieces of footage to be spliced together in the same frame.  The tools used when applying creative effects, filters, text, and adjustment layers in photos can now be used when manipulating video footage, giving you a vast amount of creative options.   If you are already comfortable working in Photoshop, the addition of these video editing tools will help you make the leap to motion editing, without having to learn a completely new application.  This move is in no way meant to keep video editors from using Adobe’s Premier or After Effects, but to open basic motion editing techniques to a new group of users who are comfortable in Photoshop.

The updates Adobe has made to Photoshop CS 6 are very impressive.  The content aware technology is magical in the way it functions, allowing you to change an objects location and patch where the object was moved from effortlessly.  The incorporation of video editing is a huge surprise, but logical since many users are now branching out into other mediums to meet market demand.  I’ve spoken with still photographers who now have to incorporate video production into their skill set to meet client needs.  This gives them the ability to approach a new medium through an application in which they already have a solid grasp, making the post-production work less intimidating.  The new Adobe camera raw 7.0 provides editors a great set of adjustment tools to manipulate images early in the post-production process.  The evolution from previous versions to Photoshop CS 6 will certainly validate an upgrade based on the additions I’ve seen in this beta version.

Image Credit: Art57
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JOBS Bill Serves as Catalyst for Technology Growth

Image Credit: Art57

After the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, strict regulations were imposed on startups and smaller companies by the Securities and Exchange Commission, limiting their access to capital and information that could be provided to their investors.  These tighter regulations limited the ability of companies focused on innovation to successfully scale up quickly.  The Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which passed last Thursday by an overwhelming majority vote of 390-23 in the House, eases rules that have limited these smaller companies growth.

The goal of this legislation — aimed at creating jobs — has managed to gain uncharacteristic bipartisan support from legislators, and is moving to the Senate for approval, with support from the White House.  The challenge to create a bill that aids entrepreneurs came from President Obama, during his recent State of the Union Address.  This bill delivers on that request.  The package of six bills, sponsored by Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee aims to do just that, by removing restrictions on crowd funding, providing temporary reprieve from SEC regulations, and removing restrictions that prevent small businesses from utilizing social networks to solicit investors.  Fincher commented, “Reducing these regulations will help small companies raise capital, grow their business and create private jobs for Americans.”

Specific regulatory changes in this legislation include an increase in the maximum limit of shareholders from 500 to 1,000, that would require a private company to completely disclose its financials to the SEC, just like a public company.  This particular regulation has been a significant factor in the impending Facebook IPO later this year.  If this bill had been enacted last year, Facebook may not be going public. With over 500 investors, going public is more beneficial than just handing over their financial information to the SEC.  Also, any individual giving $10,000 or less will not count towards that maximum number of shareholders.  The offering threshold was also increased from $5M to $50M, before requiring registration with the SEC.  Companies selling less than $700M in stock would only be required to provide investors with two years of audited financial results before they go public, instead of three years.

These regulatory changes could spark a resurgence of IPO’s in the technology sector, starting this year with companies like Tumblr and Dropbox, who are considering a potential IPO.  The tech sector as a whole has rebounded significantly over the past two quarters, and this legislation will only help sustain the solid growth we’ve already seen this year.  The creation of jobs through the bipartisan support of these bills merits lawmakers a pat on the back, but facilitating support for small companies committed to innovation through deregulation warrants a hearty handshake, and maybe even a few votes.

Tim Cook Steve Jobs
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Death of a Showman

As we anxiously prepare for the launch of Apple’s next generation iPad, I can’t help but reminisce about previous launches I’ve experienced, and specifically the anticipation leading up to those keynote presentations.  My nostalgia for these presentations is due in large part to a key element which will be absent from the stage Wednesday.  That key element is Apple’s legendary showman, Steve Jobs, who was known for his remarkable stage presence as well as his familiar attire.  The appearance of Apple’s former CEO and frontman on stage in his signature black mock turtleneck, blue jeans, and New Balance sneakers became a staple at these highly publicized events.  The charisma and command of the audience Steve Jobs elicited while on stage can only be compared to perhaps a Kennedy or a King. Without his showmanship, these events can seem less exciting or stellar.

As consistent as the recent increase in Apple’s stock price has been, so too has the success in generating demand for new products due to these performances.  As the new torchbearer takes the stage on Wednesday, I seriously doubt Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook – a soft spoken southerner who spent most his career outside the spotlight – will be capable of delivering the same captivating and impacting performance that has become the norm for these product presentations.  Tim Cook is no showman and that has been evident each time I have had the opportunity to watch him speak.  He is effective at delivering a clear and concise message, but in no way connects with the audience in a way that leaves them hanging on his every word the way Steve could.  This was never clearer to me than after watching the iPhone 4S announcement with Tim on stage in Steve’s place.

The purpose of these events being planned, choreographed, and conducted has not changed over the history of Apple product launches.  It continues to be staged to serve two primary purposes — to build excitement and create demand for the product before it is available to consumers.  The artfulness of Jobs past deliveries can clearly be correlated to creating demand for the product being showcased.  The excitement produced from these events was due in large part to the delivery and audience engagement which were true gifts that Steve possessed.  The efficacy of generating hype for the iPad 3 now falls in the hands of Apple’s new leadership, and I will be watching very closely to see if any changes in style have been addressed since Tim brought us the iPhone 4S.

There is no possible way to ever duplicate what Steve accomplished during these events.  Some stylistic changes will be necessary for Apple’s new leader if he hopes to effectively serve those two primary purposes for hosting these events.  Building a buzz that translates into lines of customers waiting days, paying hundreds of dollars to get their hands on Apple’s next hero product requires something magical to take place.  In my opinion that magic starts on the stage where these events are hosted, and requires flawless execution by the event hosts.

I’ll be there with a critical eye, watching Tim’s performance.  What I hope to see is a significant leap in Tim’s ability as a showman.  The future success of Tim’s presentations may need to rely on a combination of two skills — communication and connection.  Achieving this level of connection with the audience will be central for Apple’s new leadership to generate the desired effect from these events, after the death of their iconic showman.

This time, we will see an iteration of an already successful product, but what will it take when Apple’s leadership is faced with delivering something totally new?  By the time we see the next new Apple product none of us realized we could live without, Tim better emerge as a true showman to present it to us for the first time.