Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Social Factor of Search

Online analytics tools are often used retrospectively to report on marketing campaigns and standard online KPI's such as visitors and bounce rate. But the power of todays available tools extends beyond historical analysis.

The ability to plug into trends in consumer demand is an amazing resource for an organisation to have at their disposal but one that is rarely used. In a previous job, we examined trends in destination searches to predict future holiday hotspots. For example, if there was a lot of interest in Cape Verde, it would be examined as a potential holiday destination.

It is important though not to confuse online interest with affection. Just because people are searching for a particular subject does not mean that they necessarily feel positively towards it. Nothing demonstrates this power better than the online buzz that surrounds TV talent shows.

Looking at the X-Factor finalists in 2009, Olly Murs was consistently the most searched for contestant throughout the series. Looking at the search volumes in November, it would be easy to predict him as the eventual winner. This trend only seemed to change in the final weeks of the competition, perhaps after Joe McEldery wowed the judges with his rendition of Elton John's "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word".

According to the data, it would not have been wise to have placed any money on Dagenham based Stacey Solomon as she never received as many searches as her rivals. She did however overtake Shaun Ryder to become the most searched for contestant and the eventual winner of this years I'm a Celebrity Get Me out of Here.



Looking at the same analysis for 2010, controversial teenage rapper Cher Lloyd went into the competition as  the most searched for contestant. A string of news stories surrounded the precocious talent since her impressive first audition.

Eventual winner Matt Cardle had a surge in search traffic after his performance of Roberta Flack's classic "First Time I ever Saw your Face" but has remained in third position with the searchers despite his popularity with the bookmakers.  

Liverpudlian Rebecca Ferguson received praise from the judges since the competition started but failed to gain much interest from the online public, receiving consistently fewer searches than any of the four finalists. Given this evidence, it was perhaps surprising to see Rebecca in the final two.

Boy band "One Direction" appeared to be the dark horses of the competition to date. There was not much hope for the newly formed band at the beginning of the competition as they suffered from comparatively  poor vocals and a lack of cohesiveness compared to the more established bands. Since that point, the band benefited tremendously from the power of the Simon Cowell PR machine and the popularity of group member Harry Styles and this is demonstrated by their growth in online searches.














So, like Robin Goad at Hitwise, the free online tools incorrectly pointed to One Direction becoming the first group to win the X-Factor. The fact that the two finalists received the lowest search volumes throughout the course of the competition, shows that it is dangerous for brands to become over-reliant on search volume as a measure of product sentiment.

Increasingly brands should endeavour to understand the context of the interest and tailor marketing strategies appropriately. For example, is the context surrounding the product searches positive or negative. If there is a negative context surrounding an existing product then vendors should use this information as important market research. For positive context marketers can identify key themes to utilise in marketing. For example, Cape Verde visitors may be complementing the value of the destination or the weather.

Search queries represent a free and vital source of product feedback with a sample size larger and more economical than any alternative. In the past five years, the importance of online sentiment has had an increasing affect on customer purchase decisions. Customers rely on reviews and feedback from within social circles to fuel purchase decisions.  In 2011 sentiment will play an increasing part in ranking algorithms as well.    

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Track 5: Search Engine

From the new album SpaceJams by Logistics. Great track, not sure about the video!


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Tech Slam!

Google recently introduced Demoslam, a rather brilliant way to demonstrate Google products and services to mainstream audiences. Users upload their innovative demos to YouTube before submitting them to the Demoslam site. There is a real emphasis on creativity and fun when demonstrating the benefits of each product. This is a great example of how technology should be demonstrated.

My current favourite is Instant Elements, by Tom Lehrer. At first look, his catchy song demonstrates the power of the recently released Google Instant search. Look a bit closer however and I think there are some real insights into the power of viral marketing to accentuate natural search positions as well as the importance of optimising for universal results.




In my opinion, introducing products to mainstream audiences in a way that encourages adoption is one of the greatest challenges technology companies face. In the majority of cases, the speed of innovation is far greater than the speed of adoption. 

As an example, I regard Gmail as one of the best products available. At the Beta launch in 2004, it transformed the landscape for email providers by providing a far simpler user experience and increasing the inbox capacity to over 100 times the size of some of it's rivals. In 2010 however, it still has only one third of the amount of subscribers of rivals Yahoo! and Hotmail. For a new online startup, acquiring this market share in six years is incredible growth but for Google, is this really success? It will be interesting to see Facebook market their email product as they look to diversify their technology offering.

I believe that we shall see an increasing amount of technology companies advertising in the mainstream media. Google have already advertised Chrome on billboards and on TV. Microsoft have advertised BING on TV and it is only a matter of time before we see more of Facebook and Twitter in the mainstream media. 

I may challenge my team to record a slam. Looking at the competition however, I think it would take quite a lot of training to gain a title shot.We don't want to put in an Audley Harrison performance.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Conference Season

The beginning of Q4 is the time when most e-commerce organisations are finalising plans for the important Christmas trading period, January 2011 and beyond. Therefore it is no coincidence that a number of suppliers and agencies concentrate on this period to acquire new leads. This push for new business manifests itself in an increase in cold calls and a flurry of conferences over this period.

With a number of conferences available, it is always difficult to identify the best ones and quantity the return on investment. Prices usually range from between £300 and £1,000 but price is not always proportional to value; some of the best conferences I have attended have been free. Every conference features sessions with enticing descriptions from big name brands and agencies. The titles of these sessions usually capture current trending buzzwords but this is very often deceptive. One speaker recently admitted during their session on "monetizing social media" that the title was just to get people in the door.

It surprises me that speakers and sessions are not subject to the very reviews and social scrutiny that are very often discussing. This would surely help to increase the standard of presentations and help attendees and prospective attendees decide whether the session is worth attending.

This year, I was fortunate enough to attend two conferences in October. For anyone that is interested in attending conferences next year, I shall weigh up the pro's and con's of both below.

AFU Expo - Excel, London - 12th Oct
Cost - £495

The A4U Expo is a an Affiliate Marketing Conference aimed at merchants, networks and affiliates but the breadth of topics covered make it a worthwhile conference for anyone working in online marketing. 

At any conference, attendees will always enjoy the session thsat resonates with their own challenges. The most valuable session of this year was Helen Southgate, Senior Online Marketing Manager at SKY. 

Advantages

+ Networking. The networking opportunities are extremely good. Although most affiliates are London centric, there are others that rarely venture down South. I usually capitalise on this to meet with a number of key suppliers and affiliates within the same few days.

+ Layout. Once you eventually get to the Excel Conference center (see disadvantages below) the layout was great and has been improved upon from previous years by moving to the West side of the Excel Exhibition centre. the rooms had considerable space

+ Party! The parties associated with A4U have always been really good events. This year the A4U organising committee put on a pre-party, a party on the first night and a closing party. I only attended the first night party but these are always promise to be late affairs and the smell of alcohol is dominant throughout the second days lectures.

Disadvantages

- Transport. The Excel is one of the most challenging venues to get to in London. For most people it takes a minimum of three modes of transport to get there. The 0900 start time for the conference means that it is an early start for most people.

- Layout. This year saw the introduction of a live conference area which was placed in the middle of the exhibition hall. This area played host to some very interesting speakers but it was too distracting to listen to them above the general noise. Particularly as there was a popular driving simulator situated directly behind the stage.

- Repetition. Like the affiliate industry in general, there is not much in terms of a fresh new content or presenters. Brilliant though some of them are, on the whole it is the same individuals presenting and the same subjects covered.  
  
I have attended this conference for the past three years now and it has become progressively less value to me. Potentially this is as my career has progressed and I am now interested in different challenges. There is no doubt that the A4UExpo has been of value to me over the past three years. It has allowed me to graduate from an affiliate novice to a confident practicioner. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to increase their affiliate knowledge but this was probably my last year.



JUMP - Old Billingsgate, London - 13th Oct
Cost - £875
This conference was aimed at capitalising on the current positive sentiment towards multichannel marketing. It was organised by econsultancy and featured 8 rooms of speakers.

Advantages

+ Content. At any conference it is always important to try and distinguish the valuable sessions from their cryptic titles. I made some mistakes at JUMP but on the whole the content was of a great quality. The sessions from Matthew Tod from Logan Tod on Actionable Analytics and Rowan Gormley the CEO and founder of Naked Wines on founding a truly social business were the highlight for me.

+ Attendees. The event managed to attract a huge number of high profile marketers from some of the most noted online brands in the UK. Therefore I think it would have been valuable to have some round table sessions. Although the panel sessions were extremely well moderated, the time pressure meant that there were a number of questions that remained unanswered.

+ Location. Old Billingsgate is a great venue to hold a conference. Londoners can easily access the venue from a number of different tube stations and it's also not far away from London Bridge, Fenchurch St or Liverpool St station.  


Disadvantages

- Crowds. The morning sessions in particular were very overcrowded. On numerous occasions I was turned away from a session as they were too busy. There was the facility to prebook some of the sessions online but this made matters even more complicated as the staff had no way to distinguish and prioritise the individuals that had prebooked.

- Cost. I was fortunate enough to receive a ticket for free but the door price for this one day event was £895. Given the above I would have been extremely disappointed to have paid the full price fee and not have the opportunity to see the sessions I wanted.

- Venue. This was the first conference I have attended at Old Billingsgate and I was less than impressed with the suitability of the venue. Firstly, the door staff would not allow anyone into the exhibition area prior to the event opening at 0900. This led to a number of attendees half queuing, half loitering  outside. Secondly, the seminar rooms were not big enough and clearly not designed for this purpose. It was distracting to hear the sound overlapping between the different rooms, which were sometimes only segregated by a curtain.

This was a mixed first year for JUMP. There were some obvious learnings that have already been acknowledged in a email from Ashley Friedlein, CEO of Econsultancy. I am sure that Jump 2011 will be an excellent event.


Monday, 18 October 2010

Best Birthday!

It's always a strange experience having a birthday at work. The requirement to bring in cakes and treats to celebrate and the card that does the rounds in the office are just some of the traditions that need to be observed for an office birthday.

This year was my best ever work birthday. My colleagues really pushed the boat out with a custom made card, gifts, balloons, hats and a lunch time meal out at Tummies, the only good restaurant on the Slough trading estate.



All this effort more than made up for last year, my worst ever birthday at work, when being asked to sign a card for my colleagues birthday was the highlight of my day. I may have referred to this event over the past year!


During the lunch we held a competition to design a new tank top for me. The winning entry is a mathematical effort designed by Nisha Shah in Online Marketing. Congratulations Nisha, your free sims are in the post!!
Thanks to everyone for a great day!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A Short Guide to Cookies

Great beginners guide on 3rd party cookies and behavioural targeting, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal (no less).


Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Hello from Samsung

Even as an Apple fan and iPhone 4 owner, I was able to smile at this clever ad from Samsung.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Redirects: Using 302's and Losing 301's

I recently had a very interesting debate with an SEO consultant on the subject of redirects that really challenged my thinking on the use and application of server side redirects.

If you raise the subject of redirects to anyone with basic SEO knowledge, they will inform you that you should always do a 301 server side redirect over a 302 redirect. Others may even tell you that a 301 redirect is permanent and a 302 is temporary.

Understanding SEO best practice is one thing, but understanding the nuances of the algorithm and how the intricate application of server side scripting affects ranking and appearance within the SERP's is what distinguishes the real experts.

Best practice dictates that 302 redirects should never be used. We should always use server side 301 redirects to tell the search engines that a web page has changed address. In Layman's, we are advising the web crawler that the webpage that was once hosted on URL (A) has now moved permanently to URL (B).

However, through the management of the SEO function for an number of complex and inflexible web platforms, I have found a practical SEO use for a 302 redirect. This is best demonstrated using a simple example.

Example.com/productA serves a 302 redirect to a product page with a longer URL, example.com/abc/xyz/cba/zyx. The web crawler will understand that the page content has moved over to the longer URL but the shorter URL will be displayed in the SERP's.

The shorter URL is easily identifiable within the SERP's. It is cleaner and resonates with the user. Any marketing supporting the sale of product A will advertise using the shorter URL, so recall from the SERP's is far more likely.

The disadvantage of using a 302 redirect is that link equity is not transferred between the URL's. Therefore, in the above example, the equity of the first URL and the second URL will remain separate.

If a 301 redirect was used, the longer URL would be displayed in the SERPS. This will help the site reach a higher ranking as all link equity will be passed across. However there is an argument that the less friendly URL may not attract as many clicks, even in a higher ranking position.

Whilst this application of a 302 redirect may be seldom used, I have witnessed occasions where brands have benefited from displaying the friendly URL over a complex dynamic URL.

Best practice of course would be to build the page on the shorter URL but SEO's that have worked on sizable and complex websites would understand that this is not always practical.

Recent evidence has identified that there may be an expiry date ability of a 301 redirect to pass equity. For example, after one year equity will stop being passed through example.com/productA to example.com/abc/xyz/cba/zyx. As a result of this changes, webmasters and developers should aim more than ever to build content on SEO friendly web pages, surrounded by a logical customer facing architecture.

SEO's should understand existing redirects and develop a migration plan for all links coming into the redirected URL.

Redirects and server side scripting is often regarded as the complex side of SEO but the principles are simple to administer, even if the application is not.

Monday, 28 June 2010

They Think it's All Over...

... and it well and truly is for England now. However any World Cup cannot pass without remembering this classic Partridge sketch from The Day Today.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Email Fail

I received the below email from Flybe before embarking upon a recent trip. The email kindly wishes me a good trip, reminds me of my booking details and invites me to check in for my flight online.

The intention is great, despite the fact that it invites everyone to check in online, so securing the best seat becomes a scramble for who can open their email fastest.

However they have made a huge mistake within the design of the email. The large red arrow that contains the call to action to check in online is not hyperlinked.


One of the greatest strengths of online marketing is the ability to deeplink customers into further within a site. This could be to a stage within a purchase or registration process or to a page that contains the relevant content. In this instance any deeplink should land me at a minimum on a page that allows me to log in to the early check-in process.

Unfortunately, it looks as if Flybe have missed an element of the design that is essential to delivering the great customer experience they are intending.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Most Desirable Handset 2010

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Mobile Industry Awards at the Brewery in London. 

Amongst the key prizes that were handed out was the prestigious "Hottest New Phone of 2010" award. There have been some amazing developments in mobile technology over the past three years so there was always going to bound to a number of strong contenders.

This years award was given to the HTC Desire, an Android based phone that demonstrates the continued progression of HTC in the SmartPhone market.
 

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

e-Lection 2010


After the US presidential election of 2008, I blogged about the importance of new media in political campaigning and how the number of inbound links to a website could give a good indication as to the swing of the voters. It's no secret that Barack Obama dominated John McCain in terms of online marketing effectiveness and this was demonstrated by the fact his website amassed over double the amount of inbound links of his Republican competitor.

This is the first real UK election of the new media age so it is interesting to conduct the same analysis into the online marketing activity of each party. Whilst other pundits have focused on social media, I thought I would look specifically at the holistic search strategy of each party.


Labour.org.uk

The website for the incumbent party is a simple site that integrates a number of social media elements such as Flickr photos of Gordon Brown and links to Youtube videos of the manifesto and public addresses.

As soon as the website opens, a pop-up is triggered, inviting the user to tell their friends and followers from Facebook and Twitter that they are voting Labour. Despite this being perhaps a bit of a presumptious move and degrading to the user experience, it is not search engine friendly. We know from Adwords editorial guidelines that Google is not keen on pop-ups and can assume the same applies to SEO.

From an SEO perspective, the title and meta tags are all different and reasonably well structured, although there is some inconsistency as you progress further into the site. The site has an unclassified Google PageRank*, meaning that it has been created or redesigned recently, before Google updated their toolbar with the latest update.

It is also interesting to note that Labour have not devoted much attention to paid search, When searching for "Labour Party" in Google, the top result features the title "Labour have Failed". Labour are not bidding on their own brand name or at a minimum protecting it from being used in rivals titles and descriptions which means that rivals can easily enter and manipulate this space.

It is also interesting to note that Labour have not covered themselves in glory on the paid search front. Searching "Labour Party" in Google results in the following SERP. It appears that Labour are not even bidding on their own brand name, allowing rivals to easily enter and manipulate this space.





Conservatives.com

The conservative party is the only one of the big three to use a dot com domain, which is generally more recognisable to the average user. The site itself is very similar to the Labour site but there is a lot more content and a lot less social media elements which in my opinion, are overused on the Labour site.

Searching for "Conservatives" in Google shows the correct website in the number one position in the natural results with no paid search results above it. However a search for "Conservative Party" features a strongly worded anti-blood sport result in the top sponsored result. Like their Labour rivals, the Tories have neglected paid search when building their online strategy.

The website is fortunate enough to feature sitelinks and a site search box on the Google results page, which enables users to use the Google search algorithm to locate relevant parts of their site. 



Titles and descriptions are well organised and consistent and there is a lot of content throughout the site. However, of the three main sites, the Tories have attracted the fewest number of inbound links, indicating a lack of SEO strategy or ineffective online PR that builds interest in the site. As a result, the displayed PageRank for the conservative website is 6.


Libdems.org.uk

The Libdems have used a different format for their site design. It is a bit more colourful and cluttered than those of it's competitors. The Libdems do occasionally show a splash page to their users that arrive from different sources. Whilst showing specific landing pages per source is a good thing, it is not best practice to show these instead of the home page.

These splash pages all have different URL's, little content and no meta or title information which could affect how the overall website is displayed within the search engines. The site itself also has little consistency when it comes to titles and descriptions.

It is interesting to note that the Libdems site has 328,366 inbound links, which is more than Labour and the Tories put together. As a result the Libdems also have the highest visible PageRank of the main three parties with 7.

From a paid search perspective, the Libdems face less aggression than the other parties. They maintain the number one position for the majority of their branded terms and also feature sitelinks below their main listing. Like their competitors, the Libdems do not appear to be conducting any paid search activity which is potentially a missed opportunity.

---

It is reasonable to conclude that despite the best intentions to embrace online marketing and some real innovation in the social media space, none of the main political parties have delivered an effective search marketing strategy. This is a big missing. Google have released their own interface that allows users to track the performance of different aspects of the election. It is clear that search volume is heavily influenced by the televised debates and campaign highlights or lowlights in the case of Bigot-gate. It is clear to see that a lot of people are searching on both party leaders and names and the main issues involved Indeed, even if I ask Google who I should vote for, no party competes for my vote.

*PageRank described is the value displayed in the Google toolbar, not actual PageRank.

Monday, 15 March 2010

G-Force

I read with interest reports from NMA of Google moving into the price comparison space for financial products with Google Comparison Ads. This product has been floating around for a while in the US under the guise of Google Merchant Search but the site of comparison functionality under a search for "secured loans" represents the first sighting in the UK.

The threat of Google increasingly moving into this space must be the cause of many sleepless nights for online comparison websites such as Shopzilla, Kelkoo and Shopping.com. These organisations have built their businesses around a consumer desire for simple online product comparison. The majority of their revenue comes from turning cheap clicks acquired from search engines, into more expensive clicks and sales for advertisers paid on a CPC/CPA rate.

Google have continually denied any desire to move into the price comparison space. A number of years ago, I challenged them on the rumours of a travel price comparison site named Troogle, a new rival to TravelSupermarket and Cheapflights. Although this was categorically denied by Google, the main reason the rumours continue to circulate is that there remains a gap in the market for an all powerful meta comparison engine. I also know some Google staff have made it their life's goal to ensure that purchasing travel online is made so much easier.

In my opinion, one of the main reasons that Google is so reluctant to state any explicit intent to expand into the price comparison space, is the conflict between their desire to innovate and the effect this may have on their cash cow.

Despite continual diversification into new and innovative products and the majority of Google's revenue is still obtained from their original Adwords product. Price comparison sites are traditionally significant spenders in PPC. In the UK, MoneySupermarket is renowned as Google's largest single account. It is also the largest price comparison site.

MoneySupermarket will typically feature and compare the products of many leading brands that also pay to advertise within the Google sponsored listings. Without doubt the competition between direct and indirect advertisers is a major contributor the Google revenue figure (and also one of my personal frustrations).

Whilst Google may see it as desirable for the user experience to combat the additional layer that is the price comparison site and give more value to direct advertisers, there is clearly a risk from the reduced number of advertisers bidding for the top positions.

By creating price comparison functionality within the search engine results pages, Google threatens to bite the very hand that feeds them. They will earn some incremental revenue from the increased clicks from the direct brands that advertise with them directly but I question whether this will compensate for the investment that will lose by marginalising the comparison engines.

I can't help but wonder how this will develop. Comparison Ads infiltrating the UK SERPS, Google Shopping maturing and growing and an increases desire from Google to ensure that they are the first port of call for any activity that takes place online.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Beware! - Rapid Data Recovery

I wanted to put this blog together to retell my experience of using Rapid Data Recovery and hopefully warn others as to the dangers of using a cowboy operation to restore faulty hard drives.

In the digital age, data is so precious. Photos, videos, memories and media are all stored on hard drives rather than portable media such as DVD's. Therefore, when your hard drive goes wrong there is not a lot that you won't do to get it repaired.

Rapid Data recovery and their parent organisation Fields Data capitalise on the emotional attachment that users have with their data to get them to invest large sums of money in data recovery services.

My first conversation was with a gentleman by the name of Daniel Reece, who was polite and informative about the services offered. I explained my problem, a 750GB Maxtor hard drive full of my treasured music, video and pictures that had become corrupt and unreadable. I also explained that I would pay more if the exact folder structure of my original drive

The standard practice for this organisation is to allow them to examine the hard drive before they are quote a price for recovery services. Having only a phone contact for the organisation, I was a little bit nervous about simply sending it by post so I asked if I could drop the hard drive off at their registered offices. Upon visiting their offices, I was denied the possibility of speaking with any of the staff at Rapid Data Recovery and asked to leave my valuable hard disk at reception with a note, something to which I reluctantly agreed.

A number of days later, I received a phone call from Mr Reece stating that a full recovery of my data was possible complete with the full, original folder structure. Needless, to say I was delighted and happy to pay a reasonable fee for such an comprehensive piece of work. The price proffered by Mr Reece was £435, which was substantially more than the initial estimation but something I was delighted to pay nevertheless.

I waited the given five days for my hard drive to be returned to me but received nothing. After contacting Rapid Data Recovery, I was informed that it had been delivered. I later discovered that the drive, holding so much of my personal information, had been delivered to a neighbour. When I contacted UPS on this, they informed me that the organisation sending the package has specified that this is perfectly acceptable. I would ask anyone contemplating using Rapid Data Recovery to ask whether they trust their neighbour with their personal information.

When I eventually managed to recover my hard drive and plug it into my computer, I immediately noticed that the original folder structure I had been promised and paid a premium for, was not evident. Therefore, syncing with my iTunes music library was not possible.

Using iTunes, I was also easily able to cross-reference the number of records recovered, with the number of records in my iTunes library. The recovered data was short by missing approximately 33% of the total records. Worse, when I reluctantly loaded the recovered files into iTunes, none of the files appeared to work.

I immediately tried, calling Rapid Data Recovery and left answer phone messages, which nobody returned. Occasionally, on the rare occasion I managed to speak to someone, they would simply put me on hold for as much as twenty minutes, or until I lost patience and hung up. I emailed both Daniel Reece, his manager William Lewis and the generic quality control email available on the Rapid Data Recovery website.

With no repsonse I then spoke to Fields Data Recovery head office and was forwarded to their customer services team who promised a reply within the day. I later received a response from Abigail Richards at Rapid Data Recovery who drew my attention to the following line from the Rapid Data Recovery terms of service.


6.1. The client accepts that Rapid Data Recovery will not examine the contents of any files contained on the media supplied to them. Rapid Data Recovery further accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the contents,integrity, functionality, corruption or usefulness of any data recovered.


This clause seems to distance Rapid Data Recovery from any blame for delivering services that were unsatisfactory. My issue is not their unsatisfactory work, it is the false promises that were made prior to the work being carried out that I believe to be deceitful and fraudulent.

I therefore replies to Abigails email and have sent three further emails without reply, no matter who I send them to. Unsurprisingly, Rapid Data Recovery is amazingly illusive when you are not trying to spend money with them. What originally I thought of as excellent customer service, actually translated into a desparation to take my money from me.

The result, my data is in exactly the same state, I am missing approx 15,000 iTunes audio and video files which cost me a small fortune to buy over a number of years. The drive is also in such a state that no other organisation can perform any sort of recovery on it.

Now I am pursuing via trading standards and if necessary the small claims court. Whilst this process is in place, I want to advise everyone of my experience and to use the comment section of this blog to share their own experiences of Rapid Data Recovery.

I realise that this is but one opinion, so I would urge any doubters to read this thread or this thread or share your experience on this website.

One of the major threats to e-commerce is the faceless nature that some organisations can adopt in order to conduct unethical and sometimes fraudulent services. Better authorities are required in order to take action against such organisations without the potential cost of a legal pursuit.

We are fortunate that these organisations remain the minority, else the ability to make transactions over the world wide web, that some of us strive for every day, will remain an aspiration.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Getting Streamy

Whilst spending time with family over the festive period I started to miss my media. Music, TV, shows and films that are stored on the hard drive of my home computer that I am constantly accessing. Whilst researching ways to access this, I uncovered a wealth of different software and services available to stream media to various different devices.

Therefore I thought I would take this opportunity to review the various streaming devices I have experienced in order to offer some assistance to users that are potentially experiencing the same problems I had when trying to stream from a singular source.


Windows Media Player
Windows users will be able to take advantage of the default media stream
ing service via Windows Media Player 11. The service is able to stream media to a number of devices. The method of setting up a shared library is unnecessarily complicated for the user as both library and network options need to be addressed.

In my experience the streaming service offered by WMP11 is tempermental at best, suffering from intermittent crashes and failures over even a wired LAN connection. Currently there is still no support for mobile streaming. This is on the horizon for Windows Mobile operating systems but unlikely for iPhone or Android users at present as Microsoft try to take advantage of their operating system doninance in order to grow their mobile base.

According to recent reviews, Windows 7 which features Windows Media Player 12 offers a far better experience when it comes to sharing media across multiple devices but mobile is a medium that remains unsupported.

However, I am still nervous about updating my operating system for fears that WMP12 is not all it promises to be and I am faced with incompatibility issues with any of my alternative solutions.


Tversity
If you encounter any problems when streaming media from your hard drive to any
playback device an online search for the relevant error messages will always result in a strong recommendation to use the media streaming software alternative, Tversity.

The free version allows access to a limited amount of the users media library but $30 allows the user to share their full library across multiple devices. The console is intuitive and illustrates a guide to setting up media streaming for a particular device.

However on the negative side, whilst Tversity does claim to support iPhone playback, in reality this feature materialises in slow, clunky and tempermental performance. It is adept at playing the Quicktime default formats of MP4 and MOV but struggles with MPEG or AVI formats. This is because live conversion is not supported so each file needs to be converted to an appropriate format before it can be played.

Air Video
This solution manifests itself in an application that can be downloaded for
Mac or Windows operating system and an application that can be purchased from the iTunes store. Users can purchase the free version which restricts the user to a limited view of their media library but a one time payment of £1.79 removes this restriction.

The application allows Remote Access over WIFI which is very easy to set up on both core and satellite application. It also allows upscaled playback via the component cable output which is incredibly useful when wishing to access movies or TV content from another WIFI destination.

The only downside of the application so far is that depsite claims on the website and within the iTunes store description, it restricts use over a 3G connection. However, restrictions on media streaming are not unexpected as operators rapidly try and upgrade their infrastructure to cope with the exponential increase in demand for bandwidth triggered by mass smartphone adoption.

TVCatchUp
This website has become a cult sensation amongst the SmartPhone comm
unity. It allows users to access TV streams from the most popular FreeView channels including BBC, ITV and Channel 4 services. Indeed the number of channels has grown significantly since launch and the service now offers access to 30 free channels over a computer or iPhone.

The application can be accessed via any web browser over WIFI and 3G connections and is free of charge, although further attempts to monetise the product are surely on the horizon in 2010.
The user interface is clean and simple and the ability to upscale using a component cable is again supported.


SkyMobile TV

This SKY application allows access to all the main SKY Sports Channels as well as ESPN, At the Races and SKY News services. The user experience throughout the sign up process is made complicated due to the necessity to register for a SKY ID and set up the direct debit for the regular £6 per month payment.

This applications shares the same restrictions on 3G playback as Air Video. However component video playback is not available which dampens enjoyment somewhat. It is understandable that SKY would want to protect the base of users that are persuaded to subscribe to their full channel packages in order to receive Sky Sports but watching live sporting events over the iPhone is simply not practical.


This serves a quick roundup of some of the software and services available for online streaming, I am sure that this number will grow significantly in 2010 and inevitably some of the bigger software providers will increasingly get involved.

In the future however, I envisage that content will be stored in the cloud and users will be required to pay for ownership or access to the content. It is such a waste of resource that users download content to their machines when it can so easily be stored in a central hub. Playback will be available on a multitude of media devices and screens including computers, TV's & mobiles. At the current rate of innovation, this future may become a reality very soon.