Posted by Jason

Internet video is pretty much on its way to becoming, well, the Internet. Cisco says Internet video will account for 84% of all U.S. Internet traffic in four years, up from its current 78%. According to YouTube, more than 400 hours of video content were uploaded to its platform every minute last year. And, of course, marketers have a lot to say about the topic. Here’s a mess of stats around it.

But I bring it up here not so much to talk about Internet video, but to talk about video on Facebook, which if Zuckerberg and Co. have their way, is also headed to being, “well, the Internet.”

Facebook seems to be changing how we consume video, in both small and large ways. For instance, here’s a surprising stat: 85% of video watched on Facebook is without sound. That’s right, Facebook is sending us back to the silent film days.

From a certain perspective this makes sense. We’re on the Internet approximately 100% of the time, but not always alone with it. Video sound popping up at work or on the bus or while watching TV is annoying to us and rude to others. So I can see us silently checking out the video, reading the closed captions, and moving on in our perpetual Internet grazing. But I also wonder how much of that 85% is just autoplaying video on devices with the sound turned down already (because who knows when random video ads will start playing on any tab we have open). Facebook users could be playing the video without even knowing it as they scroll through their feeds.

But it’s not just that Facebook is causing us to watch video without sound. Facebook wants us to skip ahead to the good parts…on live video. They’re doing that with their Facebook Live offering by measuring the comments and emoji reactions to the stream. When a part of a live stream gets a lot of reaction, Facebook marks it as a “good part,” and lets latecomers to the stream jump right there without having to sit through the boring bits.

And then of course, there’s Facebook’s heavy investment in virtual reality, what with the Oculus Rift and all, which will change video in ways that we can’t yet foresee.

But what these changes point to is that Facebook is making video more consumable. The worst thing about video on the Internet is that you have to consume it at the pace of the video, while the rest of the Internet is consumable at your own pace.

Now if we can only figure out a way around starting a video with a video ad.

Photo credit: Travis Ekmark

Posted by Jason

Two years ago on this blog (two years!!), in a post called Sticky Pages, we looked at what seemed to be at least a lull in the U.S. ebook market. Before that point, the market had been rising fast enough to draw the comparisons to the fast digitization of music and, well, everything else on the planet. However, the Wall Street Journal article explored new findings that people were buying less ebooks and then were not always reading the ebooks that they were buying.

Now, new stats have surfaced in the UK from the Publishers Association that have caused some commotion online. The association found that last year ebook sales fell in the UK for the first time since they started tracking them, while print sales have risen for the first time in four years.

There has been quite the varied reaction to the news:

Simon Jenkins at The Guardian, says that the resurgence of books was inevitable and that only the “technodazzled” thought that ebooks would replace them.

Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader says that the stats don’t give a full picture since they only cover 75% of the market and believes the findings would change if indie and self publishers were included.

Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool says that the findings makes sense to him since comic books have also flattened out when it comes to ebook sales.

Author Damien Water says on his blog that this is only that moment for physical books when the sinking ship pauses before starting to sink even faster.

And I’m still watching with rapt attention. All of these writers bring up interesting points. For instance, that much of the dead tree growth was due to the sudden interest in adult coloring books. On the other side, eve Amazon itself, which is mostly responsible for the rise in the ebook, just opened its first physical bookstore this year in a planned chain of them. And ebook-only publisher Samhain recently went of business due to a “steady decline in ebook sales.”

Meanwhile, very few in those circles are talking about audiobook sales rose 29% in the UK in 2015…without a single adult coloring book inflating that stat.

Photo credit: Lucas Combos

Posted by Jason

“We should send this to the client before every software development project,” one of my colleagues said to me in a Slack message. It accompanied a link to a TechCrunch column by Jon Evan about the oxymoron that is a software estimate. It outlines why software projects are almost always late, more expensive than originally thought, and hard to corral as a project. Here’s an excerpt:

Writing software is rarely a matter of doing something you already know exactly how to do. More often, it involves figuring out how to use your available tools to do something new. If you already knew exactly how long that would take, it wouldn’t be new…More typically, the thought process is more like: “I can see how I’d do it if I were rewriting that whole controller from scratch, but that would take days … is there an elegant hack where I can change the inputs to this function in such a way that I don’t have to rewrite its code? … what if I monkeypatch it at the class level? … wait, maybe there’s an API call that almost does what I want, then I can tweak the results — hang on, what if I outsource it via an asynchronous call to the external OS?”

In our experience as software creators here at Maark, there’s a lot of truth in the observation. Creating software is a complex task, both intrinsically and due to other factors such as the proliferation of platforms and devices out there and requirements that change in situ. Even something as simple as a change in a design element, something that’s relatively simple in a creative project like a brochure or a PowerPoint presentation, could have far-reaching effects on the development of an app and its timeline.

But there is a secret to software estimation. It’s the same secret that is the key to everything in work and life: communication. The client needs to know before any SOW has been signed what they’re in for, especially if those clients are new to software creation.

It’s like old-school Catholic marriage counseling, where the priest sits down the prospective couple who are aglow with the potential of their marriage together and gives them a reality check. That marriage is hard, full of risk, and not something to be entered into lightly.

Actually, that’s a more apt analogy than at first glance. Software isn’t your usual agency project, where when it’s done, it’s done. At some point you call cut on a video. At some point the campaign launches. But software is a commitment. By both parties.

On the vendor side, it’s a commitment to being up front with the client when there are potential issues. To not being overly confident in estimations and timelines. To walking clients through documentation until they definitely understand it. To make sure costs are kept reasonable. To ensure that the software works. It has to work.

On the client side, it’s a commitment to putting in the effort to understand complex information architectures, wireframes, and requirements docs. It’s a commitment to understanding the ramifications of change. It’s a commitment to constant QA. It’s a commitment to upkeeping that software throughout its life cycle.

Because software is never, ever done. Not until its completely obsolete. The changing market of operating systems and devices and browsers and other platforms ensures that, not to mention changing IT and user requirements.

If a client isn’t ready for that type of commitment, maybe they shouldn’t be creating software…that is, unless they’re willing to go through software counseling first.

Photo credit: Omar Parada

Posted by Jason

A new J.D. Power survey finds that most people don’t use the new technology auto makers are putting into their cars. According to the survey:

At least 20 percent of new-vehicle owners have never used 16 of the 33 technology features measured. The five features owners most commonly report that they “never use” are in-vehicle concierge (43%); mobile routers (38%); automatic parking systems (35%); head-up display (33%); and built-in apps (32%). There are 14 technology features that 20 percent or more of owners do not want in their next vehicle, including Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto, in-vehicle concierge services and in-vehicle voice texting. Among Gen Y, the number of features unwanted by at least 20 percent of owners increases to 23, specifically technologies related to entertainment and connectivity systems.

The angle of the survey can be seen in the headline of its press release, “Automakers Spending Billions on Technologies That Many Consumers Don’t Use.” That’s a relatively fair angle. But then again, how many of the built-in features of anything do we use? Like in our phones, the thing we fiddle with the most? Or Microsoft Office? Or video cameras? Most people use only a fraction of the features in any technology.

The study itself cites the predilection of people bringing in their own tech into the car, making many of the features redundant. It also mentions the very important point that the main purpose of a car is to drive it. It’s designed to drive, and for most of us, that’s all we’ll do with it.

But really, this is all part of the inevitable evolution to self-driving cars. After all, it’s real easy to see the headline of the article go from, “Most people don’t use the tech in their cars” to “Most people don’t use anything in their cars.” Except maybe the seat, of course.

Photo credit: Abdullah AlBargan

Posted by Jason

It’s been said for years: Every business is a software business. Whatever your product or service, whatever your industry, how your clients interact with what you provide will more often then not be through a user interface. That app will be your touchpoint, your brand impression, your differentiator, and often, it will become your product. It will be the experience that you are actually selling while selling other things. So everybody needs to get good at the branded software experience or hire somebody good to help them with it.

But a recent Bloomberg Business piece highlights a surprising-but-I-guess-not-surprising outcome of that shift.

The LeBron James Family Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to helping students succeed academically, needed an app to track how its students were doing. So, since they had a world-famous figurehead, they naturally went after a world-famous software developer…JP Morgan.

Seriously. They went to a bank to develop an app. And I don’t mean for a loan to fund the app, but to build the actual app.

And this isn’t an anomaly. The story cites Wells Fargo developing a Christmas app for a mall client and Goldman Sachs building an app store.

There’s a few reasons that the story lists for JP Morgan doing this, including as an add-on value for financial customers and a way to fight off those pesky financial start-ups that are software to the bone. But it really all comes down to the fact that the company realized it needed that software to be competitive for its financial clients, developed the capabilities for it, and can now sell those capabilities separate from their main business.

If there was only a financial services term for what that is.

They end the article conservatively but appropriately, that JP Morgan isn’t looking to be in the pure software business, but can see itself evolving into a consultant that brings in third-party developers. Then again, we’re third-party developers here, so of course we think that’s a good idea.

Making app development capabilities a priority, whether you build those expert capabilities in-house or partner to bring in those expert capabilities, is the only way a modern business will compete and innovate. And who knows what other doors those capabilities will open.

Photo credit: Karen Roe