Jeff Ballweg Web Design Now CloudWorks Media

CloudWorks Media New Zealand

For the last few years I’ve been working hard for local businesses in Christchurch, around New Zealand and further afield in Australia and the US. We’ve made it through earthquakes, spent serval weeks without full facilities, and had a lot of hardships to deal with, but we’re proud to have done some really excellent work and helped our clients earn a lot of money.

Other than some weird, post-quake economics, business has been great. Demand is high and the quickly evolving nature of the internet yields new and exciting opportunities nearly every day. Small and medium businesses are embracing the web and seeing the huge amount of potential it provides for expansion and market research. In fact, these days we spend as much of our day doing statistical analysis and optimisation as we are strict coding, which illustrates the huge demand for this type of service.

As such, we’ve found the business has become quite a different entity than when we started. At a web business – like the internet itself – change happens quickly. Today we can analyse and measure so much more than small businesses ever could. We can collect vast amounts of data, and with analytics and statistics tools we can make the kind of results-driven strategy decisions that was previously only the domain of corporates with teams of consultants. It really is an exciting time to be in the business. Never before could a small business on a shoestring budget manage to test, analyse and refine a marketing ideas on such a short timeline and for so little money.

Gone are the days of planning a Yellow Pages advert one year and mulling a design change a year later. Today we can easily manage hundreds of variants of an advert on Google Search or the Display Network. We can determine which words, designs, specials and features draws the most customers in a matter of days or often hours.

Today we don’t simply focus on building a website; we focus on bringing the best possible results for business from the entire web marketing strategy. With our holistic approach; we get websites on the front page of Google Search, we analyse how the website works with social media like Twitter and Facebook, we study how clicks from online search and display advertising flow into website pages, and how we can improve the user’s experience both on and off the site to get the desired results for our clients. We evaluate return on investment on a per-click basis and can precisely calibrate ad spend to the channels where it is giving the best results.

We’ve done great things for the businesses we’ve been working with, and there is a tremendous demand for our results-driven approach, so the business is formally evolving to it’s second generation. We’ve rebranded and renamed. Jeff Ballweg Web Design is now known as CloudWorks Media.

We offer an expanded range of services, including performance analysis, search engine optimisation (SEO), online advertising and marketing through Google AdWords including DoubleClick and AdMob as well as other advertising systems like Facebook.

Most importantly, we tailor our services to meet the needs of each client. Whether you’re a charity interested in finding volunteers, an e-commerce business seeking more sales or a company trying to increase brand exposure, we can deliver analysis, reporting and strategy that delivers real, measurable results.

If you’ve got a website that isn’t giving you the results you’d hoped, or you’re looking to build a new site that actually gets results from the start, have a look at our new site at CloudWorks.co.nz.

Onward, upward.

Contact us in New Zealand on 0800 00 2024, from the USA on +1 (608) 554-0060.

Balance in the Economy of Foursquare

If you’re not familiar with Foursquare, here’s a primer: Foursquare is a location-based social network with gaming elements. To play, you download the Foursquare app onto your AndroidiPhone or Blackberry device (or go to m.foursquare.com if you have something else). When you’re out and about – at a pub, cafe, restaurant or anywhere else – you open the app and “check-in.” The app will use your phone’s GPS to see if you’re near a venue in it’s online database. Screenshot of Foursquare on iPhoneIf Foursquare finds a match, just tap a button to check-in to that place. If the venue isn’t in the database, type a name to add it. Straightforward, but why would you do this? Well, if you have friends that use the service, you can see if they’re nearby, or maybe they’ve left some tips about the place. You might share things like “Best pizza in town” or “Skip the pasta, try the salmon.” As more of your friends use the system, you should develop a better awareness of where you live, find cool places to hang out, explore the city and have fun based on the recommendations and information from people with similar interests. It’s an exciting concept, because it brings social networking closer to real life socialising.

Foursquare is unique, because in addition to the social networking aspect, it’s also a game, the object of wich is to collect virtual badges and “mayorships” by checking-in to more and different types of places. Check into a dozen coffee shops in town, and maybe you get a “coffee snob” badge. Check in after 3am Sunday through Thursday and you get a “Out on a School Night” badge. Be the person with the most check-ins at your favourite cafe and you’ll become the “mayor” of it. As such, some businesses have even started giving deals – say, free coffee – to the reigning mayor, adding real-world incentives for virtual social activity which creates a fun and potentially viral marketing angle to the traditional loyalty punch-card scheme.

There’s just one little snag with the game: it’s easy to cheat. You don’t have to be a hacker to do it either, though some have gone that route. You simply check into places you’re not really at. Because your GPS is only so accurate, and because most “places” you’re inclined to go are indoors, the little GPS (or radio-assisted aGPS) chip in your phone can only determine your location to within a few dozen – or a few hundred – meters, depending on your device and conditions. This is good enough to give a ballpark estimate of your location for the purposes of finding out if any of your friends are nearby, but it’s not accurate enough to give a definitive location or to verify a check-in. So, if I’m sitting at a pub in the CBD, checking-in to Foursquare, the GPS can’t actually tell if I’m at the pub, the shop across the street, or the cafe a few doors down – so I may as well go and check into them all. If the cafe next door wants to offer free coffee to the reigning mayor of their shop, they might soon find that none of their best customers are able to snatch the title away from the punters who frequent the pub next door.

I’m guessing that the game mechanics were layered on top as a marketing angle, which is a clever way to increase the user base, and bring people into the system. Allowing cheating to become commonplace, however, leads to “data pollution,” as those who cheat aren’t adding any value to the community, thereby depleting the usefulness of the service as a whole.

As a human living in a civilised society, your first thought is probably to bring cheaters to justice. Create a police department – punish the offenders! But on the internet, that doesn’t work, because policing cannot adequately scale as the system grows. The people who run Foursquare will never be able to find and stop everyone who cheats, undo every fake check-in and delete every fake venue. So discouraging such behavior has to be built into the game.

This is where we can learn from economics. If another layer, let’s just call it “credibility,” were linked to your ability to gain rewards, you’d add a reason not to cheat, to balance out the reasons you’d want to cheat. Your economics professor would probably call it “introducing moral hazard.” But that doesn’t really matter, here’s how it’d work in something like Foursquare: Everyone starts with a normal, medium credibility which allows normal, medium privileges. You can add places, you can steal mayorships and you can check-in at a new place every five minutes or so. Abuse the system by making too many check-ins too quickly or by adding useless places and  you run the risk that another user will catch on and flag you. A single flag would not lead to serious consequences – it might only slow down your maximum check-in rate to 10 minutes, which most people don’t do anyway. But if you continued your campaign of abuse, you’re likely to run into more users, who would also notice that you’re checking in all around town, and flag you as well, increasing your minimum wait between check-ins to 30 minutes. Or several hours. Or maybe days.

The theory is that the more prolific you become as a cheater, and the more broadly and blatantly you cheat; the more users would take note and flag you. The distribution, breadth and credibility of the users you’re being flagged by might also influence your penalty. If you’re simply checking into the pub across the street from the one you’re really at,  no one may take notice – or care – but if you check into every pub in town you can bet that dozens of folks would pick up on it. Your credibility would also be tied to your ability to attain rewards, so the best stuff might only be available to those in good standing.

If a credibility layer is implemented, I think that it should be used positively as well. The system could be more useful by using these points in the background to rank and display tips. For example, if I take the advice of a friend to get the salmon, and I really like it, I can indicate that I took their advice, improving their status and giving their tip a higher ranking in the list of tips for that venue. Maybe tips would always be listed in order of their writer’s credibility. Not only could this model limit cheating, but it might encourage people to provide more helpful tips, limit trolling and create a more useful system – being the most credible Foursquarer in town would be something to aspire to.

Dennis Crowley, co-founder of Foursquare notes that there are a lot of fake check-ins, but that they haven’t put a lot of effort into the problem of tackling cheating systemically. He seems to favour approaches that more closely validate your checkin.

I feel the phenomenon is rooted in economics. Wherever you create incentives, people find ways to use the system in unintended ways to get them. Such a system must also have disincentives, things that people do not want, which limit your ability to gain the incentives, and thereby balance the system. In the real economy, big rewards bear big costs, and so would it be in a micro-economy like Foursquare. Lasting success can only be gained by adding genuine value to the community, which can only be earned as the player becomes more respected by their peers.

I understand that a lot of these social tools are more social experiments than anything, and that cheating on Foursquare is hardly breaking-news, but I find it fascinating that any time the concept of reward is introduced to a society, even if it’s a tiny one like on Foursquare, you invariably find economics and game theory at work.

Update: Foursquare launched a new version today, and I’ve updated the screen-grab from the new version.

Dear Mr. Whippy, Please Use Twitter

Recently, Julie and I serendipitously crossed paths with the Mr. Whippy man at the end of a fun run. It seems that the only way we’re currently meeting is by happy accident, so while he was dipping my cone in chocolate, I suggested that he use Twitter to update his location so that I can plan my next summer Saturday around ice-cream stops. His response was more along the lines of “ussa-twitta-who?” Granted, I was at the front of a queue of children waving money in the air, so there wasn’t a lot of time to give my pitch, but suffice it to say, in the few seconds I had, he wasn’t really won over by the concept.

Me eating a Mr Whippy Choc Nut cone.

First, let’s just take as a given that there are people who are willing to plan their day around ice cream. Second, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that there might be a small cultural divide between those of us who spend our days fanatically trying out all the new stuff on the internet, and those that spend their days making delicious treats for children – so allow me to introduce the two of you:

Twitter: Mr. Whippy is a purveyor of soft serve ice cream, who roams the streets of New Zealand in search of children (ok, adults) that like ice cream.

Mr. Whippy: Twitter is a website where you post short messages to anyone who is interested in following you. You put where you’re at, or what you’re doing, and anyone who is interested can be updated in real-time. Think of it as a sort of public text message that anyone can receive. You can post a message (called a “tweet”) by sending a text to the service, where it will be broadcast for everyone. So ideally, Mr. Whippy will post something like “I’ll be in North Hagley, near the rugby fields for the next few hours.” Moments later, I’ll look at my phone, see your “tweet” and ride several miles out of the way I was intending.

Ok, now that we’re sorted on the introductions, let’s get you set up:

First, go to Twitter.com and get signed up. Pick a cool name like “ChchWhippy” or something like that – something people can remember. Add a little photo of a cone or the truck to flash it up a bit.

Next, grab your mobile and text “Start” to 8987, a special number just for Twitter that works on Telecom and Vodafone. Twitter will reply with a series of prompts. Tell it the cool name you came up with in the fist step and your password and you’re done. Try it out by texting “Who loves Mr. Whippy!?” to 8987. Save that number to your phone so you can post to Twitter every time you move the truck.

That’s it. Tell your friends to follow you, put a sign with your Twitter name on the truck or just let word spread. Soon, all the Mr. Whippy fans who use Twitter will be following you, and when they need a Whippy fix, they’ll know where to go.

Advanced Option:
If you really want to get nerdy, you can get a fancy internet-enabled phone like an iPhone or Blackberry. With one of those you can download a third-party apps like “Tweetie 2,” “TweetDeck” or “UberTwitter” that will let you attach a photo or GPS coordinates to your tweet, so people don’t even need to know their way around town to find the truck.

If you do me this one little favor, I promise to start bringing cash on bike rides.

Download Audiobooks from the Christchurch Library

I spend most of my time in front of a computer, which means I spend a large part of my day wearing headphones. Much of what i listen to is music of course, but a few years ago I started listening to podcasts to get my entertainment fix. Eventually that lead to an appetite for Audiobooks to listen to while I’m drawing or spending long spells working in Photoshop. For me, it’s a great way to stay up to date or to learn new things while working or doing chores around the house. I know that Audiobooks are also quite popular for those who spend lots of time driving or working in the garage, and they’re great for any time you’re working with your hands, but would like to take in a story.

Most libraries offer Audiobooks on CD for checkout. Some charge a small rental fee, and you’re limited to what you find on the shelf, or what is within reach of the library’s lending network. Despite listening to plenty of Audiobooks, I’ve checked out exactly zero of them from the library. If you’ve lifted one off the shelf lately, you no doubt noticed the size and weight of the thing. If you’re planning to walkabout town listening to a tome like the unabridged audio version of Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat,” be sure to bring a backpack so you’re prepared to carry the boxed set of fifteen full length CDs. Include in your load a discman and a quiver of batteries, and you’ll soon be toting around a few kilos. You’ll probably find the hard cover version to be more portable. This seems ridiculous when you consider that even a long book like Friedman’s can be represented by about 300MB of data, which would fit 10 times over on a memory card small enough to swallow.

I haven’t bought a CD in years, nor have I any idea where I might find my antique discman, so what I really want to do is get Audiobooks the same way I get podcasts and music: by downloading them from the web and syncing them onto my iPod or any device that plays MP3s. While podcasts are generally free, Audiobooks delivered digitally can be quite dear. I’ve used services like Audible.com, where you can download an Audiobook for between US$7 and US$27. Audible has a subscription scheme where you can buy credits at a discount, but if you really love to listen you can easily go through an Audiobook in a few days, leaving you to wait for your credits to arrive at the beginning of the month, or just leaving you to pay full price. The system works well, but your Audiobook habit can quickly become more expensive than Sky TV or your internet connection itself, especially when you consider that few people plan to listen to an Audiobook more than once.

That’s why I was very excited to learn that the Christchurch City Library now has an OverDrive Audiobook Collection. If you’re not familiar with the system, it’s pretty straightforward. You go to your library’s website, and click through to their OverDrive portal. There you can browse the collection and download what you like, sync to your iPod or MP3 player, or even burn it to the aforementioned mountain of CDs.

OverDrive Media Console on Windows

OverDrive Media Console on Windows

To get started you’ll need to download OverDrive Media Console. OverDrive uses a proprietary player, which is necessary to manage and enforce the lending period, as that kind of functionality isn’t built into any of the media players you may already have installed, such as Windows Media Player or iTunes. Once that’s ready, you can log into the catalogue with your library card and have a look through the available titles. If you see something you like, and it’s available, you can simply add it to your basket and click checkout, just as you would when buying anything online, except you’ll be asked to log in with your library card and pin. After checkout you’ll be prompted to download a file. This file is not actually your media, but a .odm file. Think of it as the ticket for your media files. Once downloaded, simply open this file with OverDrive Media Console, and the program will begin to download the Audiobook media. The media is broken into many parts, and you can begin listening as soon as the first part is downloaded. In most cases, you have a fortnight to listen to the title. When your time is expired, the title will be “returned” to the library, meaning it will be removed from your computer, whether you’re finished or not.

If your title is not available, you can place a hold on it, and you’ll be notified by email when the title becomes available. You’ll have a few days to check it out before it’s goes to the next person waiting on the list.

Publisher Restriction Key in OverDrive Catalogue

Publisher Restriction Key in OverDrive Catalogue

The system does have a few drawbacks. As a Windows Media Player-based solution, most titles are only available as Windows Media Audio (.wma) format files, which only playback on Windows PC’s. Those with Mac’s can use OverDrive’s new Media Console for Mac, but due to publishers’ restrictions, Mac users will have less titles to chose from. You can sync most of the .wma format files to a Windows Mobile-based phone, but not all titles are available to sync onto your iPod, and fewer are available to sync onto a non-iPod MP3 player or burned to a CD, which limits the usefulness for those of us that like to listen to an Audiobook for those long drives in the car. It should also be noted that if the catalogue indicates that the title is available for iPod, but not for Mac, that means you can use it only on an iPod formatted for a PC, so you won’t be able to use your Mac-format iPod as a workaround for lack of support on your Mac computer. The array of restrictions and caveats probably says more about the state of the publishing industry, and less about the OverDrive system or your library, but it’s something to be aware of before you check out an Audiobook, and it’s a mute point if you plan to listen on your Windows PC. Fortunately the OverDrive catalogue makes it as easy as possible to navigate the restrictions. Each title in the catalogue has a key of icons, indicating which titles are available for which platforms, so that you can see at a glance whether or not your title will be available for your needs.

Overall it’s a wonderful and modern use of the library’s classic mission, and a welcome addition to Christchurch City Libraries.