Writing by James

Articles and opinions on technology, social media and innovation


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Writing by James – The Top 5 Most Popular Posts of 2013

It’s the end of 2013, and that means it is time to look at my most popular posts of the year. Without further ado, the Top 5!

#1 – Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation

The run away winner this year, and up from number 2 last year, this article still seems to be hitting the spot. I still get comments and emails around the subject, as it seems that nothing has changed – the number of people still searching for ‘Scribd Facebook’ on Google has not decreased.

#2 – RE: The Walking Dead – A call to Frank Darabont

Last year, when this rolled in at number 1, I said:

“When I first wrote this post, it was only intended to vent my own frustrations with the first season of the Walking Dead, but it seems that there are a lot of people who feel the same way. Luckily, my main issue with the series – not enough zombies! – has been answered.”

I’m extremely glad to say that Season 3, which finished a couple of months back on UK terrestrial, was the best yet. It had a strong story-line, plenty of zombies, and some very fine moments between the Governor and our band of survivors. How I’m managing to keep away from reading Robert Kirkman’s original comics, I have no idea…

#3 – Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation – an update

In this follow up article to the original, I looked at how the rest of Facebook’s launch partners for ‘Instant Personalisation’ had fared. The quick answer? Not very well.

#4 – The album that saved my (musical) life

I’m glad this is still in the top 5. Pixies are a group that I hold close, they’ve had a massive impact on my musical direction. Without Pixies, I can’t imagine that I would ever have ended up listening to my current favourites: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Tame Impala, and Radiohead. This look at how they were using old content in refreshing new ways across social channels to engage with the next generation of fans was a pleasure to write.

#5 – Product Review: Testimonial Monkey

Rounding out the top 5 for 2013 is this product review of Testimonial Monkey. I don’t write a lot of reviews, but once in a while I get approached and asked to look at new products, services, or books. If you’ve got a product that you would like to put forward, please let me know using the contact form on the About Me page. Testimonial Monkey simplified the process of getting customer feedback and had some nice features, so it was a good review to write – it’s always more difficult if the product or book isn’t as good as you had hoped. Luckily, I haven’t had many of those.

Thank you!

Many thanks to all of you who have read my articles this year, whether you left comments or not; I hope they were useful and informative. I hope to see you all again in 2014.

Cheers, James.

LeWeb Paris Audience


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3 important takeaways from LeWeb 2013

LeWeb is a fantastic conference.

All year I get invites to attend conference after conference, but LeWeb is the only one that really interests me. Why? Simply because it has a broader outlook, better speakers, and a more philosophical approach than other events (it even had a session on meditation!)

Where some events focus on the ‘doing’, LeWeb looks at the ‘why’. As a result the content is fresh and invigorating; it actually makes you think.

In London this June, the focus was on Sharing Economies (which I wrote about for Forbes). This time around, in Paris, it was looking at the Next Ten Years. The interesting thing about a conference like this is not in what the individual speakers say, although they are very interesting, but in the feeling that you get from the conference. There’s a sense of it being one giant ‘meta-presentation’, with trends leaking out and pervading the atmosphere around you, and speaker after speaker adding to the big picture. So, in light of this, here are three trends that have emerged from LeWeb 2013 that I want to share with you.

Trend 1: Human experiences, not technology, will rule the next ten years

Just to be clear, technology is still underpinning everything – in fact I can’t think of a more exciting industry to be working in at the moment – but the face of this technology will be human. Technology will be applied to create human experiences and meet human needs, it will not be a goal in itself.

Forrester CEO, George Colony, described the next ten years as ‘The Age of the Customer’ – an age in which enterprises will need to reinvent themselves in order to be successful. This age will require completely frictionless customer experiences to be created, based around the maturing technologies of mobile, sensors, location, social, and data. Products will be highly personalised and anticipatory in nature – knowing what you need based on where you are and what you are doing. Robert Scoble’s ‘Age of Context‘.

Colony, quite fittingly, gave the example of a taking a trip to a conference. In this example the products and services were completely transparent: when entering the airport you would be directed to your gate automatically, your seat would indicate itself when you came near, and when you got to your hotel the lift would take you to the right floor by communicating with your phone, with your door unlocking  itself when you arrived at your room.

The companies that can create these experiences will be the ones that thrive.

Trend 2: You are your product

It’s easy to think of a product as something separate from you, but actually it’s more than this. The best innovations come from the heart, and are linked tightly to things you care about solving. In this respect, you are your product. If the product is central to your purpose, if it isn’t your passion, then the chances of succeeding are much lower. Being able to stay on the path, to believe on your idea, and to have the courage to see it through are the outstanding characteristics that will build the successful products of the future. Ask yourself, why do you do what you do? What is your purpose? What drives you to act? It was no coincidence that the majority of successful entrepreneurs speaking at LeWeb had started their businesses based on a very personal experience. This was exemplified by Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber. Uber was founded at LeWeb in 2008, when Travis was unable to get a taxi to the conference. That frustration, and his sweaty appearance onstage, gave birth to the idea that would disrupt the taxi and ride-sharing industry. It’s a personal crusade for Uber, one that has led to bigger ideas in its wake. Expect big things from the $3.5 billion-valued ‘Urban Logistics’ company over the next few years

Trend 3: In future, all companies will be software companies

This is a trend that is very close to my heart, and very close to my purpose. Products are evolving, customers are evolving. In the next ten years, it will be the company that adds value to its products, be it smoke detectors or tyres, that has the competitive advantage. As a result, all companies will be come software companies, as this will be the primary medium through which companies add value to their products. For example, Nest are disrupting the home safety market through building smoke detectors that communicate with you proactively, that give you warnings that are useful to you. What if a tyre company could produce tyres that told you when they ended to be changed, or informed you – or your car – how to drive more appropriately for the current conditions. the possibilities are endless, and it touches every industry, every product.

What next?

I’m really excited about the possibilities for technology in creating a better user experience for us all, actually, a better life experience for us all. It’s going to be great to watch develop, even better to be a part of. The ability to create new businesses and disrupt existing industries has never been more accessible. Even if some of the predictions don’t turn out to be right, there’s no doubt that things will be a lot different in ten years time.

See you at LeWeb 2014!


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Product Review: Testimonial Monkey

Testimonial Monkey - Screenshot

It’s the start of 2013 and time to post in the new year with a product review of the slightly oddly named Testimonial Monkey.

I wanted to review Testimonial Monkey for two reasons:

  1. Those of you who follow my blog will be aware of the guest posts I write for Unbounce – the landing page specialists. One of the key elements of a when building trust with a user is the testimonial, and it’s something that I look for in a well designed landing page.
  2. My wife runs her own business, creating bespoke lampshades and teaching people how to make them (find out more over at Gilhoolie), so I understand the pressures of marketing a small business.
  3. Having worked in the real world for quite a few years now – on the agency and client side of the fence – I know that turning your consumers into advocates is no easy task.

Testimonial Monkey is a service designed to help organisations of all sizes gather and share testimonials easily, so it sounds like it might be the answer to our problems, but the $64,000 question is: does it work?

Getting Started

Testimonial Monkey uses basic gamification techniques to help you complete your profile.

Testimonial Monkey uses basic gamification techniques to help you complete your profile.

Setting up your account with Testimonial Monkey is a simple business. Creating a profile (of which you can have a few) is a simple matter of entering contact details and some basic preference information, and it can be completed in a few minutes. You’ve then got the option of further personalising the service through some additional options, such as uploading a logo, setting your testimonial requirements (do you want to collect job titles, do you want to show all testimonials or just positive ones, etc). It’s easy to use and you’re prompted to complete actions through some basic gamification techniques, such as an account completion progress bar and a list of ‘To Do’ items (see left). They’re a welcome addition,  but I couldn’t help but think that this approach could have been taken further, so that it was a more integral part of the set-up process, rather than an aside.

Once your profile has been set up, you’re ready to send your first request.

As you would expect, Testimonial Monkey provides a number of options for requests: you can send them manually on an individual basis, upload emails in bulk, or – as most will probably do – set up automatic requests.

The individual requests are simply a matter of entering a name and email into a pre-populated form. It’s easy, but for the majority of users will be a last resort, as sending individual requests will become time-consuming. I used it for my testing purposes only. The bulk option allow you to upload a series of email addresses to be used.

In both cases, you can select a questionnaire that will be appended to the email. These questionnaires can be created through the administration tools, and add depth to the data you can collect. Be aware though, the more information you ask a user to complete, the less likely it will be that they will comply. If you want to collect more structured data, it may be worth doing this separately.

Finally, the automatic requests can be configured through the use of a personalised email address created for your account.  This email address can be bcc’d on any email communication you have with your customer. Once the blind copy has been received the system will automatically send a request a number of days later. Like a lot of the integration features available on Testimonial Monkey, its easy to use and set up.

Although it does have the questionnaires, Testimonial Monkey doesn’t have features that some of the competitors do (including the ability to record audio and video testimonials), so you’ll have to make a call as to whether that’s important to you or not.

Sharing your success (or failure)

So you’re all set up and you’ve sent out your first request for a testimonial, even better, you’ve actually got a response; so how do you share it? This is where things can get onerous if it’s a manual process, but Testimonial Monkey covers the bases with a range if options that are flexible enough for most needs.

Testimonial Monkey's Facebook integration in action.

Testimonial Monkey’s Facebook integration in action.

You get a hosted reviews page as standard, but the flexibility comes with the integration options. Dependent on your package, there are standard connectors for Twitter and Facebook, two or three widgets – including badges – to allow you to display the latest testimonials directly on your website, and an RSS feed for general use.

Each of these can be set up to display testimonials with a minimum rating (so only 4 or 5 star ratings for example) and there are basic theme options available too.

Regardless of the options selected, the integration is seamless, with posts appearing a regular intervals once received. It’s easy to use and requires no further interaction – which is perfect.

Packages and features

As with most services, Testimonial Monkey comes with a range of packages, ranging from Lite to Enterprise.

There is some confusion on the site in respect to pricing, as the Plans and Prices page shows a different set of one-time costs to the ‘Free Trial’ page, which quotes costs on a per month basis. I’m sure this will be cleared up.

Regardless of this, the features don’t really start kicking until the Professional level. It’s here that the vast majority of functionality becomes available. The Enterprise level adds the ability to completely white-label the product, removing the Testimonial Monkey branding that is otherwise displayed throughout (including customer emails and review pages). I haven’t seen the Lite/Essential version working, but without the ability to share via the social networks, it won’t be as useful to the majority of businesses (as they bring social media marketing into their marketing mix).

Does it work?

Yes, overall it does. The set-up is fairly easy to complete and the site does a pretty good job of keeping you on track. The site isn’t perfect, I think it could be slicker and more streamlined in taking you through the initial set up, and it would be nice to have more inline help available at times, but it’s a satisfactory experience.

It would be good to have some better advice on how to use the testimonials you collect. There’s functionality available that allows you to limit the amount of testimonials you publish through each of the channels (five Facebook posts or five Tweets for example) and this is more important than it seems. New users might be tempted to push all their positive testimonials out of the door and into the public limelight, but it is judicious use that is more effective. There’s space here for Testimonial Monkey to be our guide, not just our conduit. This approach is hinted at in the free eBook you receive when signing up and the appointment of a ‘Success Manager’ for Enterprise customers, but it could be more obvious.

Would I recommend it? Would I give them my testimonial?

In the spirit of testimonials, here’s one to finish.

Testimonial Monkey is effective at delivering and sharing testimonials with minimum effort and input. A little more polish on the administration side would help, but it doesn’t detract from what is a well-thought out and focused product. 4/5.

James Gardner, 8th January 2013

Have you used Testimonial Monkey or a similar product? How did it work for you? Have you seen an increase in conversions or responses? Let me know your experiences and thoughts in the comments.

Disclaimer: This is an independent review based on a professional account supplied to me for the purposes of reviewing the service. I have no business relationship with TestimonialMonkey. I have not received any direct monetary incentives or payments, but they have allowed me to keep the account if I so desire for no cost. I don’t need to write this bit, but I think it’s always good to be completely transparent.

20 top web design and development trends for 2013

.NET Magazine posted its annual predictions article today. There are some great thoughts here, and if last year’s effort is anything to go by, it will be bang on target. So for all you developers and designers out there – go take a look!

As an aside, my own contribution to this years article – thanks to Craig Grannell for asking my thoughts – is discoverability. It’s something I may cover in a post, as I believe its going to be a key area for the big content producers this year. As the amount of content increases (apps, videos, etc), finding the right content becomes more and more difficult. The company that cracks this problem is going to really reap the benefits.

* UPDATE *

Following on from yesterday’s article, I was particularly pleased to see the following article on PandoDaily this morning: “Game discovery platform Chartboost is on fire, scores Sequoia in $19 million Series B“. Maybe we won’t have to wait too long for this prediction to manifest!

Also, for those looking for additional information on 2013 Web Development trends, check out HTMLCut’s “Trends, Expectations, and Truth About Web Design 2013” – it’s a good overview of all the 2013 trends and tips articles published over the last few weeks.

What do you think will be this year’s trends? Do you agree with .NET? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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Writing by James – The Top 5 Most Popular Posts of 2012

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It’s the end of the year, so alongside the rest of the blogosphere, that means it is time for a retrospective look at my most popular posts of the year. For those of you who have taken the time to read my articles this year, guest posts or otherwise, a heartfelt thanks. I hope you found them useful and informative; I’ll do my best to make 2013 just as productive.

Now, without further ado, the Top 5!

#1 – RE: The Walking Dead – A call to Frank Darabont

When I first wrote this post, it was only intended to vent my own frustrations with the first season of the Walking Dead, but it seems that there are a lot of people who feel the same way. Luckily, my main issue with the series – not enough zombies! – has been answered.

#2 – Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation

Unlike my rant at the Walking Dead, this was an article that had some substance beyond the personal. Scribd’s use of Facebook Instant Personalisation hit all the wrong notes and deserved to be pilloried.

#3 – Unfollowing those who don’t follow back? You just don’t get it…

Another rant, this time at the misconception of some Twitter users that you should only follow someone if they follow you back. Poppycock, I say! You should follow people who you think add value, not just for the sake of a followback.

#4 – What is… Groupon

Groupon has had a tough year and is no longer the poster-company for the IPO generation. For those of you who are still unsure of what Groupon is, and what the fuss is about, here’s a starter guide.

#5 – The album that saved my (musical) life

The Pixies truly did save my musical life! They are also a great example of how to use social media channels to reengage an audience, both new and old. Old in my case…

Thanks again, and see you in 2013.

Cheers, James

The Top 10 Unbounce Blog Posts of 2012

On the 21st December, Unbounce published a list of their Top 10 Most Popular Posts of 2012. I’m really pleased to have two articles in the Top 10, at number 3 and number 7; it’s been a pleasure contributing to the blog over the last twelve months. Editor Oli Gardner (no relation, just coincidence) even gave me the unofficial title of MVP Guest Author!

The Top 10 article can be found above, but if you want to catch the two articles directly, you can access them at:

#3. 20 Landing Page Designs Get Picked Apart & Analyzed for Conversion

#7. 12 Surprising A/B Test Results to Stop You Making Assumptions

If you were one of the people who read them the first time around, thanks!


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Unbounce – Return of the Honey Badger!

Unbounce - LogoLike the Hulk, or to be precise, like Bruce Banner, I’ve been trying to keep my alter-ego under wraps for the last couple of months. Unfortunately the pressure was too great and after an internal struggle full of tension and pulling silly faces, he escaped.

THE HONEY BADGER HAS RETURNED!

You can catch up on the damage he did to other people’s landing pages over at Unbounce, but don’t say I didn’t warn you if you find it distressing. This time the landing pages are focussed on cloud services:

Cloud Services are seen as a way to introduce technology into an organization simply and easily, without the need to get bogged down with IT processes and procedures. That may be an over-simplification, but the audience for these services cannot be assumed to be technical, so the approach taken with landing pages has to reflect this. Jargon is out, features are in, and there should be a focus on simplicity. It’s also imperative to build confidence quickly, creating trust in the solution with the audience.

In this article we’ll look at cloud services offering everything from file sharing through to innovation, and see whether they make the right first impression with their landing pages.

Even for those familiar with landing page design it’s worth checking up on the latest trends in design, but just in case you don’t fancy the article, here’s Hulk doing what he does best in The Avengers (2012).