Pinterest as professional companion

Pinterest is definitely designed as a recreational tool with categories (animals and pets; hair and beauty; health and fitness etc) that are more passion than profession. That shouldn’t preclude Pinterest’s use within workplace type settings where you’re looking to create relatively unstructured collections of visual materials where text driven tools such as Delicious and Pinboard may well fall short.

The use of the Pin It Button for Chrome makes it relatively easy to grab images and videos (Youtube or Vimeo) straight from a webpage.

Pin It Button

Users also have the option of creating private boards, keeping resources out of the prying eyes of competitors. You just need to remember that you can make a private board public but not the other way around.

Pinterest definitely has some limitations. Unlike with resources like Pinboard or Delicious, you place resources on boards individually rather than tagging them, making it more laborious for resource that have different aspects to them. An example would be a visual which showed mobile commerce usage on WeChat in China.

I might consider adding the resource to boards for WeChat; mobilecommerce and Mobile Messaging but the workflow means that you have to go through the add process for each board rather than simply adding it to three boards in one simple flow.

Similarly when retrieving materials, you’re limited to digging around in each of the folders rather than performing one search limiting by multiple aspects (eg WeChat and Mobile Commerce).

That being said, it’s still a great tool for pulling together photos, graphs, infographics, videos and other visual material.

Below you’ll find a small selection of some of the boards that I’ve pulled together which might give you some clues as to how you might get some value from using the service:

Technologies & Tech Trends

360 Video; Ad BlockingAugmented Reality ; Blockchain, Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies; Device Usage & OwnershipDrones & UAVsEcommerce; Internet of Things; Mobile Ecosystem;  Mobile Commerce; Mobile InternetMobile Messaging;  Mobile & Tablet AppsMobile Payments; Online VideoOnline Video CampaignsPCs & LaptopsQuantified Self; Robotics & Employment AutomationSmart HomeSmart WatchesStartups & Venture CapitalTablets; Television

Marketing & Media

Content Marketing; Experiential CampaignsFacebook & Facebook Based CampaignsInstagram and Instagram Based Campaigns; Media LandscapeMobile Messaging Based Campaigns; Online Video Campaigns;  Pinterest & Pinterest Based Campaigns; Search & Search Marketing; Tumblr & Tumblr Based Campaigns; Twitter & Twitter Based Campaigns;

The Big Hitters

Alphabet & GoogleAmazon; Apple; NetflixUber;

Markets that Matter

China; India;

Audiences

Families & ParentingTeenagersYoung Adults;

Important Issues

Climate Change;  Economy & Wealth; EmploymentGlobalisationMigration & Refugees; Work, Incomes & Inequality

Some Personal Favourites

Classic Cycle Posters & Illustration; Classic CyclingCycle Touring & Bikepacking; Cycling Art & IllustrationRuin Porn & Urban Exploration; Street Art

Good lucky and happy pinning.

The featured image is a Noneck mural in Yogyakarta, Indonesia published in Ekosystem.

Events: Getting the word out

We are moving to a world where organisations are looking to engage rather than simply broadcast to their communities (customers, members, stakeholders etc).

Online media is making it increasingly easy for organisations to publicise and manage  these. I put together  a deck recently looking at some of the more prominent solutions as well as an emerging platform. This doesn’t propose to provide a comprehensive list but it does showcase some of the more prominent solutions and business models.

Meetup and Facebook provide social networks with added on meeting functionality, facilitating the process of recruiting participants. The flip side to the coin is that these options  are also keen to keep providers locked in making movement to other platforms more difficult.

Meetup differs from the majority of other providers in charging users a monthly subscription regardless of whether events take place.

An interesting alternative to this approach is Microco.sm forum platforim which provides event functionality and data portability but doesn’t come with the inbuilt  audience of say Facebook or Meetup.

Eventbrite is the most widely recognised of the online ticketing providers and it has looked to capitalise on its popularity by providing event organisers with an additional channel to publicise their events through its website and mobile apps.

Eventbrite doesn’t charge for free events, making it easier for event providers to start small then  graduate to paid events. I’ve also profiled eventbee but among the other more well known providers which I haven’t covered are guestlistRegOnline and eventsbot.

All the options with the exception of Event Espresso are hosted applications, minimising users technical needs but also arguably reducing the options for customisation. Event Espresso requires users to licence the software rather than charging users on the basis of ticket purchases made.

A new entrant into the field is Attending.io, from London based startup Makeshift that’s looking to provide a stripped back user friendly alternative for organisers of free events. Attending.io does away with QR codes, entry manager apps and APIs, instead providing an uncluttered device agnostic  platform which allowd you to quickly get your word out.

Slideshare presentation below gives you a run through of each of the mentioned platforms.

Feel free to provide your own commentary on these and other alternatives in the comments section.

The featured image is by Russian artist Morik in Perm, Russia and was found on Graffuturism.

 

The Forum is Dead, Long Live the Forum!

We get a lot of coverage of ‘the next big thing’ in the media, creating a  hype cycle which all too often leads to the trough of disillusionment as consumers find services that don’t fulfill consumers’ expectations or they simply move on to the next service to to be championed.

This is particularly apparent in the social media sector where we have seen many services emerge and decline. Among the winners and losers are Friendster, Myspace, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest and more recently, the emergence of mobile centred channels such as Tinder, Snapchat, Instagram and WeChat.

Predating what we now generally know as social media where bulletin boards which evolved into what we now know as internet forums. These typically provided an open environment based around particular interests with conversational threads which discussions can coalesce around.

The growth of social media has taken much of the media’s attention away from internet forums with the possible exception of Reddit which is something of a special case. But forums continue to play an important role in crowdsourcing expertise, particular in more specialised areas where knowledge is evolving and/or far from formalised.

The typically open and searchable nature of the content makes it easy for the novice user to see if content is available and post a query should the answer not be available (albeit at the risk of being flamed). Wikipedia plays a similar role in capturing and ultimately formalising information and Quora (and arguably Twitter) offers a Q&A platform. What these mediums arguably don’t have is a passionate community of interest that can be readily reached by the uninitiated.

Online forums have also provided an important bridge between the virtual and physical, as online communities move into real world spaces.  I can remember clearly the trepidation of going to my first LFGSS forum gathering with the inevitable ‘what’s your forum name?’ heard many times.

But forums also have considerable utility for organisations as well as communities of interest. Research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University published in the Journal of Marketing Research pointed to the value of online forums including those run by the brands themselves as Pratik Dholakiya comments:

In other words, it would be extremely foolish to assume that the traditional media coverage was more important than the community activity. In reality, sales were being primarily driven by community activity, reflecting what we learned in the first study above. Just as importantly, blog and traditional media coverage were being driven, in part, by community activity.

This study also brings with it an important insight: these discussions were taking place on forums, and most of the discussion was taking place on Kiva’s own forum.

Research from one forum does not make for a sound statistical forum and Kiva’s audience will have some different characteristics to the typical Western organisation. But unlike Facebook and Twitter, communities and brands have the opportunity to own their own channel for a relatively nominal sum, avoiding  the social media toll collectors.

A New Forum

Given the  opportunity that online forums provide, it has been exciting to see the launch of Microco.sm. The London-based startup aims to bring the forum forward into a more contemporary social media age with a cleaner interface , adaptive web design, built in events functionality and exportable data.

Microco.sm is not simply resting on its laurels, with a pricing strategy that sees it undercutting the market incumbents whilst offering an enviable feature set.

Microcosm Compare & Pricing

You can get a feel for the platform on the Islington Cycle Club’s forum which was the first client to launch and if you want a more hands on experience, Microco.sm are enabling consumers and organisations to launch their own forum for a month for free. For those of you still hungry for more information about Microco.sm, I’d recommend checking out the ShedCast interview with founder David Kitchen.

The featured image is Fish by Evgeniy Dikson

Taking a Mobile First Approach to Retail

I gave the following presentation recently on the application of Mobile First within a retail environment. You can find the accompanying text and references in the post below.

Slide 1: Cell Towers by Rebecca Rothfus

Slide 2:  There’s no escaping the fact that mobile is here as smartphone and tablet penetration increases.

Slide 3:  Mobile is now taking the lion’s share of growth in ecommerce sales with tablets performing strongly and sales from smartphones growing particularly fast.

Tipping point reached in e-Retail, as mobile now accounts for all online growth, IMRG, 2013,

Slide 4:  Whilst sales are on the increase, it’s also important to look at mobile as an important contributor to offline and online sales.

The growing influence of mobile in store, Deloitte, 2013,

Slide 5:  I’ve taken a broader view of mobile first, looking at how retailers can better enable their offering to mobile and tablet users. It’s important to note that the retail sector is not homogenous and different strategies are going to work better for different parts of the industry.

Slide 6:  Mobile and tablet devices are getting more and more capable, but their form factor provide some limitations. Among these are more limited keyboard, smaller screen size and less powerful process. This raises the need for a digital presence that’s built with these constraints in mind.

On top of this, further impetus is driven by Google’s search optimisation policy which is penalising websites with slow mobile load times.

2014: the mobile SEO timebomb, Econsultancy, 2013

Slide 7:  Despite mobile device’s technical limitations, consumers expect their mobile devices to deliver a similar level of performance to their desktop equivalent.

The World Has Gone Multi-Screen, Google, 2013

Slide 8: The different formats of mobiles, tablets and PCs provide different optimum use cases.

The mobile screen is great for snack sized content. Tablet screen is a more lean back medium which is great for consuming media. PCs on the other hand are often described as lean forward medium where the user is better orientated to interacting with the content.

But for mobile devices, it’s not all about limitations as they’re increasingly loaded with a range of sensors which give them capabilities not provided by your PC.

There is a real need for digital resources to be designed in a way that reflects these differences. 

From Smartphones to Tablets – The Changing Landscape, immobi, 2013

Slide 9:  Mobile First asks designers to ensure that their designs will work within these constraints and not simply provide a lesser experience.

This has seen the growth of adaptive and responsive web design and…

Slide 10:  The emergence of card based user design formats, all of which look to adapt readily to the different devices form factors.

Designing for mobile use also means legible typography, content that renders in both portrait and landscape, concise content, avoidance of plugins such as Flash, click to call functionality and the minimising of user text input.

Why cards are the future of the web, Intercom,

Slide 11:  It’s also important to remember it’s not simply about the visual appearance but also ensuring that consumers have an easy way to navigate to where they want. This means a user experience designed for navigating by touch and meta data designed to enable the mobile searcher to quickly get from A to B.

The Mobile Playbook, Google, 2013

Slide 12:  The constraints of mobile mobile devices also make payments more difficult than on your typical PC. So it’s well worth giving thought to services such as Amazon Payments and Paypal which reduce the obstacles to purchase for mobile users.

We’re also beginning to see new models of payments emerge with initiatives such as Starbucks’ Tweet a Coffee and the use of mobile messaging platforms to make payments.

The future of mobile payments, Medium,

2014: the year of ‘Buy with Google’? Econsultancy

Hugo Barra, Vice President, Xiaomi Global & Loic Le Meur, LeWeb, 2013

Social commerce, the influence of China and other tech trends for Southeast Asia in 2014, TheNextWeb,

Slide 13:  It’s also important to consider native apps. These typically enable a great degree of personalisation, can make better use of phones’ native functionality, can be used offline and are typically quicker to start up.

Ocado on the Go, Ocado

Slide 14:  Mobile apps also provide a means of getting consumers to engage with your brand outside of just the purchase process. Content that informs and or entertains has the opportunity to put multiple shop windows in front of the consumer. Examples of these include Tesco’s meal planner or for a more light hearted approach, American retailer Home Depot’s mobile game.

It’s important to stress given the increasingly crowded nature of the app ecosystem, you cannot adopt a build and they will come approach.

Tesco Food, iTunes,

Corso’s Cornhole Challenge, Home Depot, iTunes,

Home Depot tackles mobile gaming to score sales, Mobile Commerce Daily,

Slide 15:  Consumers are faced with an endless array of choices, so the content needs to be compelling and the app needs to work well or consumers will simply go elsewhere.

Any mobile app developed needs to be promoted as it’s rare for a resource to go viral without a bit of a foot up.

Mobile app based strategy is not without its hurdles given that development is platform specific leading to the exclusion of users on other platforms. 

As an example, Android has the greater penetration in the UK but research points to iOS users making greater use of their devices’ functionality including spending more online. There’s also evidence that points to different audience profiles for the different mobile platforms.

Finally, Android has a more fragmented environment with a much wider range of devices and operating systems complicating any app roll out.

Android and iOS Demographics In The US, AVC, 2013,

Alert: Mobile Traffic and Sales Surge on Christmas Day 2013, IBM, 2013

Building Android first, Kidogo,

App Store Distribution, Apple,

Dashboards, Android,

The horrible state of Android fragmentation, iDownloadBlog,

Slide 17:  Whilst the majority of social networks function on PCs, it’s often on mobiles and tablets where they come into their own, particularly when it comes to the sharing of content and it’s on these devices we’re seeing the strongest growth.

Mobile users are nearly twice as likely to share content on social networks as desktop users, Social Media Marketing: The ROI is not MIA, Mobile Marketing Watch, 2013

Facebook’s Monthly Active Users Up 23% to 1.11B; Daily Users Up 26% To 665M; Mobile MAUs Up 54% To 751M, TechCrunch, 2013,

Slide 18:  This raises the need to optimise social channels for mobile users.

Whilst many of the principles remain the same as for desktop, there is even greater emphasis on brevity of content and the use of strong imagery to catch the eye of users.

Mobile users are nearly twice as likely to share content on social networks as desktop users, Social Media Marketing: The ROI is not MIA, Mobile Marketing Watch, 2013

UK retailers make a splash on Twitter as Christmas nears, Twitter Advertising Blog, 2013,

See yourself in Times Sq. on #NYE! Twitter, https://twitter.com/MasterCard/status/416657951428857856

What You Need To Know About Facebook Mobile Ads, Entrepreneur, 2013,

Slide 19:  Instagram, Vine and Snapchat are all built on Mobile First principles and provide great opportunities to reach consumers in a way that takes the best advantage of the limited screen space of the mobile phone with paid and earned media campaigns.

Are mobile social ads overhyped? Mobile Marketer, 2013

Co-op claims retail ‘first’ with Snapchat campaign, Marketing, 2013

Nordstrom: Vine on Vine, Brands on Vine, 2013

Slide 20:  Pinterest has been a powerful generator of retail traffic with the platform offering a strong mobile presence. Driving traffic to Pinterest provides a great means of increasing consumer engagement with retailer’s brand and potentially to purchase. 

It’s also important to consider other opportunities in the social space with Polyvore in particular standing out with its ability to generate sales traffic.

Mobile users are nearly twice as likely to share content on social networks as desktop users, Social Media Marketing: The ROI is not MIA, Mobile Marketing Watch, 2013

One social network you’ve never heard of drives 20% of all social commerce, VentureBeat, 2013 ,

New iPad and iPhone Updates: Collections, Shop on iPad and More, Polyvore Blog,

Slide 22:  Despite the growing penetration of mobile and tablets, the media world has still to adjust their spend to reflect this change. 

At a basic level, adding the use of mobile media in conjunction with traditional advertising brings an incremental lift in marketing campaigns.

Study: Mobile Video Ads Complement TV Campaigns, AdColony, 2012

Slide 23:  But where the concept of cross media activity really comes into its own is where different media are used together, increasing consumers’ engagement with the message.

The World Has Gone Multi-Screen, Google, 2013,

Slide 24:  A good example of this is the use of augmented reality apps, bringing traditional static media to life and providing a response channel for consumers.

Tesco Homeplus ‘Virtual Supermarket’, Streething, 2011,

Layar Creator brings interactive augmented reality to print media, The Verge, 2012,

Track My Macca, Protein, 2013

Slide 25:  We are also seeing the integration of mobile functionality into television advertising that goes well beyond simply providing a URL or hashtag.

Twitter now provides the opportunity to target advertising at Twitter users who have identified themselves as watching a particular programme, Kia is asking users to play tennis against their television and mobile app Shazam is being used as a response channel for viewers. We’re likely to see a whole lot more of these initiatives going forward.

TV conversation targeting launches in the UK and US: Coming soon to Brazil, Canada, France, and Spain, Twitter Advertising Blog, 2013,

Kia Game On Tennis, Google Play,

Expedia drives mobile bookings via TV campaign, trip-a-day giveaway, Mobile Commerce Daily, 2013,

Slide 26:  Where it gets really exciting is when different digital screens are combined creating an altogether richer interactive experience. Google has been doing this with its Chrome Experiments, and Orange had a go at it with it’s Hello 2014 campaign that ran over New Year’s Eve.

This multiscreening approach offers real potential but doesn’t come without its own problems.

The varied nature of mobile devices brings technical challenges, although the rise of HTML5, WebGL and other technologies are proving important enablers. More generally, different media platforms have been developed on different principles and cross media platforms are requiring the development of common frameworks.

hello 2014, Orange,

Orange Rings in the New Year with a Dual-Screen Experience, Counsel, 2014

Slide 27:  One of the key differentiators of mobile is its portability, raising place as an important variable. Location based services provide retailers with the opportunity to help get consumers into physical stores and keep them returning.

To put this in perspective 57% of smartphone users look for information at least once a week and 25% of smartphone users look for information daily.

Google statistics quoted in Optimizing Your Local Presence for Mobile Search (and vice versa!), Distilled, 2013

Slide 28:  Retailers need to ensure their physical stores are findable, with locations in online map services, retailers own mobile properties and location based services such as Fourquare and Facebook Mobile.

Attract new customers with local ads on the Google Maps app, Inside AdWords, 2013,

Tesco Groceries, iTunes,

 Slide 29:  Building on the earlier location based services is the finding of products, services and information instore using third party resources such as Google maps or via owned media.

Let indoor Google Maps be your guide this holiday shopping season, Google Maps, 2012,

Lowe’s personalizes mobile shopping via in-store app features, Mobile Commerce Daily, 2013

Slide 30:  It’s also worth encouraging customers to check in via Foursquare and Facebook, providing the retailer with free publicity across the consumer’s social networks.

Location based marketing is seen by many as a godsend, offering the opportunity to reach consumers when it takes them the least effort to purchase. The problem is that close proximity alone is not necessarily a good indicator of whether the consumer would make a good prospect. The best results come when location is paired with other variables to give a robust means of targeting consumers. We also need to be acutely aware of overloading consumers with marketing messages which could lead to their abandonment of this channel.

Powerful yet simple to use, Foursquare for Business,

Slide 32:  Mobile is coming to play a significant role in the instore retail environment.

The growing influence of mobile in store, Deloitte, 2013,

Slide 33:  Mobile apps like Amazon’s Price Check have raised the spectre of showrooming, as ecommerce operators aim to turn bricks and mortar shops into the display stands for their own operations.

And there is plenty of evidence to support consumers using their mobiles to check prices.

The Mobile Playbook, Google, 2013

Slide 34:  But international research by the Columbia Business School points to consumers engaging in a broad range of activities instore and it’s not simply a case of try there and buy elsewhere.

Showrooming and the Rise of the Mobile-Assisted Shopper, Columbia Business School, 2013,

Slide 35:  The use of instore maps provides a means of getting consumers to your goods and services, but where smartphones really come into their own is enriching the retail environment. This has traditionally required the sometimes clumsy process of scanning QR codes but NFC and Bluetooth Low Engery Beacons are providing a more seamless experience for mobile users.

This provides smartphone users with the opportunity to find out further information about the store and its products and services. Like an Amazon user, an instore shopper has the potential to pull down consumer and expert reviews, product demonstration videos and comparisons whilst keeping within the retailers’s digital and physical environment.

Apple’s iBeacon and NFC, DigitalLab, 2013,

Slide 36: We are also seeing smartphones used to deliver offers, promotions and rewards. A lot of noise is currently being made about the introduction of beacon based programmes enabling users to receive location specific deals, discounts and recommendations.

What is shopBeacon?   shopkick

Cartwheel by Target, Target

Macy’s Dips Toes in Brave New Marketing World, TechNewsWorld, 2013

Slide 37:  Mobile payments is another area we are seeing a significant change, offering consumers an easier way to purchase instore whilst avoiding unnecessary queues.

There are a range of solutions currently on offer, with mobile payment providers such as Google Wallet, Paypal, Masterpass and Square but it’s in the area of retailer specific solutions that we’re seeing the greatest success.

When considering mobile payments and beacon based initiatives, it’s also important to think about how any instore promotions will be integrated with retailer’s loyalty programmes and discounting campaigns which are also increasingly mobile enabled.

Like the use of instore beacons, mobile payments is very much a nascent field in which we’re seeing a rapid evolution of best practice.

Apple Store, iTunes,

KFC’s Mobile Shopping App sees 90pc of users placing orders via mobile, Mobile Commerce Daily, 2013,

KFC Fasttrack, iTunes

Walmart, iTunes,

2014: the year of ‘Buy with Google’? Econsultancy, 2014

I’m Still Waiting for My Phone to Become My Wallet, New York Times, 2013

Target leverages Facebook to bolster downloads for new mobile deals app, Mobile Commerce Daily, 2013

Slide 39:  The above quote comes from the New York Times paints a rather unwelcoming picture for the bricks and mortar retailer, but it’s not all bad. Mobile has the real potential to strengthen the hands of retailers with a physical presence. A more positive note was recently sung by IBM who have touted buying local as one of the key forecasted trends over the next five years driven by the opportunities of a more digital enriched shopping experience.

eBay’s Strategy for Taking On Amazon, New York Times, 2013

Buying local will beat online, IBM, 2013

Medium vs Squarespace vs WordPress

I have been keen to have a blogging platform for publishing more substantial pieces than my Tumblr currently provides. Tumblr can support text based blogging, but its certainly not playing to its strengths (visual content) or its audience.

Initially the plan was to compare Medium and Squarespace but a bit of convincing saw me add WordPress to the list of contenders (there are obviously others but these are the more high profile contenders). All operate in the upper left quadrant of Ben Thompson’s Social/Communication Map, but have some fundamental differences. What you will find below are my first thoughts and observations on these platforms.

Medium

Medium provides a lot of obvious parallels with Tumblr with its ease of use making it extremely easy to jump in and start writing. The designers have put words at the heart of their platform although with support for embedded images and Youtube content. Just don’t expect to be able to present content in a format outside the standard Medium container, with personal branding limited to the left hand icon and the ability to collate your own writings onto one page.

The content is published via a web based WYSIWYG editor, allowing you to quickly get a feel for how the content will appear to viewers with articles published onto a responsive design web template.

Currently writing needs to be done via Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers and posting from mobile devices isn’t currently supported although this is likely to expand to other platforms over time.

Readers of Medium content are given the opportunity to Recommend content, with the most popular content publicised to the wider Medium community.

You will be reassured to find out that Medium doesn’t make any claims on copyright or intellectual property for material published on their platform.

Finally, Medium provides a dashboard which tracks viewership and readership for your content, but it’s nowhere near as detailed as you would get from Google Analytics.
Medium Dashboard

Squarespace

Squarespace aims to provide users with the autonomy of running your own website but without many of the hassles associated with other fully featured publishing platforms.

Squarespace is designed as a content management system solution rather than simply a blogging platform with a range of 24 templates to choose from with selections designed for businesses, portfolios, stores, restaurants and personal sites.

A lot of thought has been put into the layout of Squarespace’s templates, enabling site owners to make strong use of visuals and with responsive designs that adapt to different devices.

The greater flexibility that Squarespace provides in functionality is reflected in Squarespace’s content management system. Users add multiple ‘blocks’ to webpages, enabling a rich array of different content types.

Product Review: SquareSpace CMS, Website Experts
Product Review: SquareSpace CMS, Website Experts

Supporting the platform are a range of tools including image manager, SEO, social media and Dropbox integration, WYSIWYG editor, mobile apps (iOS with Android in development) and a developer platform allowing users to customise the platform.

What really sets Squarespace apart is the relatively closed nature of the platform and the support provided. By operating in a controlled environment (much like Apple’s iOS), Squarespace is able to provide a more user friendly environment where users are unlikely to experience problems with poorly integrated elements. Squarespace also backs up their services with tremendous support with tutorial videos, forums, email and chat support.

The platform provides support for Google Analytics as well as having an analytics package developed specifically for Squarespace .

This kind of service unfortunately doesn’t come for free, with monthly pricing running between $8 and $24 per month.
Squarespace Pricing
Squarespace enables you to export your site’s content in WordPress format, reassuring users concerned about being locked in to a subscription based tool.

Squarespace also gives you the chance to trial the service for a couple of weeks, enabling you to see what you can build before committing more fully to the platform.

WordPress

WordPress provides an open source blogging tool that has subsequently developed into the world’s most popular content management system, which is reflected in the broad range of sites using it.

You can select from a large selection of free and paid for themes (or skins) either via WordPress or a wide selection of independent providers with designs that will fulfill most needs.

Customisation of the website is done via the WordPress dashboard (see below) with the download of plugins enabling additional functionality (social media functionality, analytics etc).
WordPress Dashboard
The open source nature of WordPress has enabled a vibrant community of contributors but unlike Squarespace or Medium, there is no active manager of the platform. This leads to a situation where plugins are inconsistently implemented and supported which can be bewildering for first time users used to the managed landscapes of environments like Squarespace or Tumblr.

Here WordPress leans heavily on the wisdom of the crowd, using user ratings and reviews of different resources to give website developers a steer on what resources are best. You will also find support for the more popular WordPress plugins from an active community of bloggers, as long as you are prepared to spend a bit of time going through Google search results.

WordPress does not natively support WYSIWYG editing of site content although a paid for plugin has recently been launched supporting this functionality.

Site analytics are enabled through integrating Google Analytics.

For those of you looking at WordPress, one of the key questions that you will need to answer is what hosting model you go with.

WordPress.com provides a variety of free and paid for packages with different levels of functionality and support.
WordPress.com Sign up
You also have the option of self hosting using downloaded software from WordPress.org. This requires you to take on responsibility for site hosting and domain registration and will require more technical knowledge or at least the willingness to learn.

There’s also a range of self hosted options including shared hosting, virtual private server,cloud server and dedicated server offering different levels of performance and cost.

The range of options makes it harder to get a clear view on potential pricing. For my own self hosted solution, I am currently paying a US$2.96 monthly fee although costs will go up moderately when I have to pay for the web domain after the first year.

There are also plenty of other opportunities to spend more on a WordPress site with premium themes, security services, storage and backups and developer fees but these are by no means essential.

An Overview

I’ve found the processing of setting up blogs on Medium, Squarespace and WordPress a tremendous learning experience.

Medium has been great for quickly getting words on the screen but you lose the opportunity to do so in an environment you have created. Think of it as like a colouring in picture where you work within the more limited frameworks provided.

Squarespace provides a more user friendly mediated environment for those less comfortable with tinkering and needing more assurance about systems working as designed. Think of it as like Duplo, where you can be sure that the different bricks are always going to slot together in an easy manner.

WordPress provides a less structured environment where much more of the onus for development is typically with the user. It provides a broad range of opportunities with its rich ecosystem, but it will require patience, particularly on the part of first time users. Think of it as like Meccano with the opportunity to create a more tailored solutions, but where getting there isn’t always as easy as simply putting one brick on top of another.

As for me, I am going to continue using Medium and WordPress as blogging platform. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Squarespace for those looking to develop a website or blog, but I am enjoying the challenges (and rewards ) of getting WordPress running as I would like.

Ad blockers: Consumers friends or foe?

The media sector is going through a period of transition as it moves increasingly from print to online. A potential complication in this move is the increasing growth of adblocking software by consumers.

Adblocking software typically acts as an extension on browsers, allowing users to block a range of advertising formats including banners, pop-ups and video ads including content on Facebook and YouTube.

Adblock Plus is the most well known of the extension providers and has argued that it aims to promote advertising that is more user friendly — although their position is somewhat undermined by their unblocking of advertising from some sites for a share of their revenues.

For internet users faced with an increasingly disruptive array of online advertising formats (driven by falling response rates), this provides a welcome relief and is reflected in the growth of these services. A recent report from PageFair estimated 22.7% of internet users are employing adblocking software with an annual growth rate of 43% per year.

Media outlets do have the option of blocking viewers using adblocking services but many appear reluctant so far as seen by Ars Technica’s approach. As the use of adblockers becomes the norm rather than simply an edge case, this is likely to be revisited.

Reductions in online advertising revenues are also likely to bring forward the introduction of paywalls and the move towards native advertising where the line between content and advertising is blurred. Neither solution present particularly attractive solutions for consumers looking for a free ride.

As for me, I am going to continue to use Adblock Plus, but I am adding those sites I care about to the list of manually whitelisted domains. This way I can hopefully see this sites continue to offer advertising sponsored content well into the future.