Huge Cafe Atlanta

I had such a great time working on this, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this project. Apple Watch? Check. Anticipatory Mobile App? Check. Coffee? Double check! One of the things that I believe is (or should be) on everyone’s bucket list is a chance to create something that’s never been done before. This was my opportunity to check that off mine. Richly rewarding, amazingly collaborative… and let’s be honest, cool as hell. This is why I love doing what I do.

At the time, it was such a radical idea: An agency opening up a coffee shop. In hindsight it seems like such a no-brainer. Where else were we going to “eat our own dog-food”? If we’re going to pitch our expertise, what better way to do it than by seeing it being done in the real world? Creating an anticipatory experience using the Apple Watch was one thing, building a solid business case for the watch was the real win. By building a service layer on top of the cafe’s POS system that integrated the watch directly, we empowered baristas and enabled seamless integration with our customers’ cafe experience.

Along the way we got to eat a lot of delicious dog-food. 

USMC Mobile Website

This week, ahead of schedule and under budget, my team delivered a hugely successful mobile deployment for the United States Marine Corps. A terrific example of powerful teamwork and collaboration, this project represents a continuation of the increasingly complex work we’re doing in mobile. With a mobile display layer that accommodates a huge array of handsets and screens, this one was a nice sized effort that required tremendous oversight and a lot of planning & strategy.

One of the biggest challenges with this project was leveraging the existing CMS for content, while presenting larger, longer-form experiences in smaller, bite-sized chunks. We needed to build over an existing infrastructure, a way to take content that was originally (and optimally) designed for a desktop experience, reduce it in both size and scope, and wrap it in a mobile display layer that still reflected both the brand and a look & feel consistent with the desktop experience.

Mission accomplished. Check out some of the shots below, and make sure you take a look at the website in your mobile device.

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Pennzoil Fuel Calculator

How do you demonstrate the value of switching to Pennzoil? How do you take a bunch of car data, mash it up with fuel efficiency formulas and communicate (effectively and in an engaging way!) why you should switch to Pennzoil? How do you show, in a tangible way, what those savings represent?

This week, my team launched a Pennzoil Fuel Calculator on Pennzoil.com. I was once again completely blown away by the work my Creative Technology group did on such a fantastic jQuery parallax calculator experience. The Pennzoil Creative team knocked it out of the park with their design work and guidance, and we were able to pick up on their vision and make it a reality. I personally enjoyed watching what happens when you sit creative down at the desk next to developers and get out of the way. Remember, the cleanest lines of communication are the shortest. Put the guy (or gal!) building it next to the guy (or gal!) whose idea it is to build it, and you get sweet, sweet results.

The Arduino/Raspberry Pi Challenge

When you’re responsible for technology, sometimes it can become all too… tactical. You begin to quickly get to “the solution” place and by the time you’re reading this, we’ve already arrived at the end and are just waiting for you to get here. It’s an engineering trap. Forgetting you’re creative. Forgetting that you have a spark, or a natural curiosity; a desire to create things, build stuff. Sometimes you simply forget to come up for air and look around and smell the proverbial flowers.

So one of the first things I did when I took over Creative Technology, Database, and Analytics for JWT was work very hard to focus on the idea, “sure, you’re a developer, I get it… you’re an engineer, but you build stuff… you’re inherently creative and you work in a creative environment… embrace that shit”. I wanted my gang to enjoy using the right side of their brains. So I offered them up a little somethin’ somethin’ to get their creative juices flowing: I would buy anyone who wanted to sign up a Raspberry Pi and Arduino and let them do anything they wanted. Client related, not client related, fun, experimental, new… whatever they wanted. The only catch was, you had to come back in 90 days and give a presentation on your project. You had to tell us what your big idea was, what inspired you, and how you did it… oh, and you had to demo your project.

Five teams signed up. I was impressed right off the bat that it wasn’t individuals that signed up, but that my offer spawned several conversations among like-minded, organic groups (who, I might add, didn’t normally work together… so there’s that!) that evolved into formal ideas. There was a demonstration of Raspberry Pi running Xbox Media Center (XBMC), the open source Home Theater Software. A terrific idea involving geo-fencing/mapping, and outdoor location. One of my lead developers put together a demo/presentation of a larger idea for a “Holiday Card” that could potentially bridge the gap between two remote locations in a fun, engaging, and ultimately very impressive manner (that one I kept in my back pocket. As soon as I saw the idea I just told everyone in the room, “okay, we’re building THAT one this Christmas… you watch”). An iPhone powered paintball gun that was one of the highlights of the demonstration and created such an active discussion in the room, that it went from “An iPhone Powered Paintball Gun” to a “Twitter Powered T-Shirt Cannon” in less than five minutes. Finally, one of the engineers on my team who’s perhaps the quietest person I’ve ever met (he literally sits all the way in the back corner of the office) decided to take my offer of gratis computer power, marry it with a couple of hundred dollars worth of hardware and create a Microsoft Kinect powered, wi-fi enabled, remote controlled car. The beauty of this idea was that you didn’t even need to be in the same room as the car. The car contained all the computational power and network capability, and using node.js, was able to maintain a connection to a remote server that was coordinating the motion and movement. Theoretically, you could control a remote-controlled car on the other side of the world using just your body.

Crazy shit, right?

I relish my technology leadership role, but too often it can become mired in the tactical. The “throw it over the fence and build it” that sort of naturally occurs in these environments with their deadlines and requirements. It’s not bad. It’s the job. It’s just that sometimes it’s nice to stop and smell the roses.

How to have a great conference experience.

My table spot for the conference.

Nothing like a pen and a pad of paper to organize your thoughts

I just got back from “An Event Apart” in Atlanta. This is the second AEA that I’ve attended, the first being in New Orleans several years ago. If you’ve never attended An Event Apart, it’s a truly inspirational conference. Creatively merging design, development, and mixing them all in a tall glass of web standards, it’s really the one other conference, besides Adobe Max, that I feel is a legitimate, “must-attend” learning experience. It’s not for the feint of heart however, it’s a lot of information over a small amount of time. You’re exposed to an eclectic mix of speakers and topics ranging from high level design discussions to low level, technically challenging sessions like the nuts and bolts of CSS, or technical executions of cutting edge HTML5 solutions. It’s not like MAX, where you’re moving from venue to venue over the course of a couple of days, interspersed with keynotes and scoping the sponsor pavilions. You’re essentially in the same place for two straight days (three if, like us, you attended the additional “A Day Apart” session on devoted solely to “Content Strategy”).

Spending two days in the same room can sometimes try even the most patient observer, but the topics breeze by and the challenge instead becomes, “how do I make sure I’m taking this all in?”. Luckily, the brilliant guys and gals at AEA make the presentation slides available to attendees, and armed with an iPad, I quickly discovered the best way to keep up. Each day, before that day’s sessions, I would download all the presentations to my iPad and set it up at my spot, allowing me to keep up with the talking points on a provided pad of paper. Yep, good ol’ pen and paper worked better than anything I could come up with, and leaving my laptop up in the hotel room enabled me to really concentrate on what was being presented.

In fact, this worked so well I think I’m just gonna plan on attending future conferences armed with a moleskine  and a pencil.

Web Directions Unplugged, day one thoughts.

I don’t think I’m going to use the word, “mobile” anymore.

I just don’t think it’s an accurate description of what’s going on. Laptops are mobile. So are tablets. Phones are inherently mobile. It just seems that mobile is redundant at this point, and it doesn’t seem an appropriate portrayal of all of this.

I think it’s better if we all just agree to use the phrase, “device development”. That’s what we’re talking about, right? We’re talking about Galaxy Tabs, Blackberry Playbooks, iPads, Xooms, GoogleTVs, a host of smartphones… the only constants seem to be, A) they have screens, B) they have browsers, and C) they have network connections. They all seems to implement some kind of “App Store”, but the implementations vary. Native Apps seem like a perilous journey, as you’re hitching your horse to a chosen cart. Granted if it’s an Apple cart, your chances seem pretty safe, but what about the rest of the world? Are you comfortable making that choice for a client? Or worse, are you comfortable selling a client on a “multiple native app strategy”?

I spent lunch chatting with a nice gentleman from a very large global airline. His airline has an iOS app. They’ve also got an Android app… and a Blackberry App. He oversees three different teams of developers all with different skillsets that he has to somehow manage and maintain. He’s got a creeping codebase, and from the top, he’s getting pressure on the cost of this whole endeavor. He was in the middle of an epiphany that was fun to watch. He realized, “you know, none of our apps rely on any particular native feature. We’re not using geolocation yet (they plan to down the road, but it’s not something that’s high on his list of “wants” right now) and there’s nothing in our app that couldn’t be replaced by HTML5, CSS3 and jQuery Mobile.” So now he’s rethinking their whole mobile strategy, and I gotta tell ya, I was right there with him.

I’ve said before, I don’t think these technologies are going to replace native app development by any means, and let’s be clear, Apple has a huge… we’re talking giant, interest in keeping native apps at the forefront. They’ll (rightfully) point out that there is a lot of things that Web Apps simply can’t do and for speed, games, graphics acceleration, animation, etc, native apps will always “win”.

See, that’s awesome… if I needed that stuff. But I don’t… really, and there’s the rub. I could take care of my current (and future) clients’ needs with about 99.9% of the features that a web app exposes… and I’d be doing them a service (I think). One codebase, a consistent UI, an effective experience. What’s not to love?

I spent today seeing example after example of open, standard, solutions to the need to create a consistent experience across multiple devices, and I’ve been convinced. I think we’re at a real watershed moment in the development for all these screens and I’m happy to see that the maturity of these tools has allowed such a large and diverse group of developers and designers to move forward in this way. HTML, CSS, Javascript (jQuery)… these are well known, ubiquitous, mature, robust languages and the community has really demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt (at least to me) that the future of mobile hasn’t been written just yet.

Whoops! I mean, “the future of device development hasn’t been written just yet…”.

It’ll take some time… old habits die hard, right?

Sleepless in Seattle… at Web Directions Unplugged.

I arrived in Seattle yesterday for “Web Directions Unplugged”, which begins in a couple hours. Thanks to an early flight and a time-zone shift, it’s 5:30 AM (which is roughly 2:30 AM East Coast Time) and I’m wide awake brewing single cups of Starbucks in my room and getting annoyed by the looping Sheraton Starwood promo on Channel 1.

Why do I always turn on the TV and just leave it on that stupid channel? I only realize it ten minutes later when I hear the words, “Vibrant Social Spaces” for the forty-fifth time.

Anyway, I’m here for a terrific mobile conference that really couldn’t come at a better time. I recently (this past week) upgraded to Adobe Creative Suite Web Premium 5.5 and, as I’ve said before, it’s the most significant upgrade to the product that I’ve ever seen. Integrating jQuery Mobile, PhoneGap, HTML5 and CSS3, this version facilitates the creation of Mobile Web Apps like no other product I’ve ever seen. So like I said, the conference is just absolutely the best conference at the most perfect time. Billing itself as, “two groundbreaking days of practical development and design presented by leading experts in the exploding field of HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript based mobile development” it’s going to be jam packed with terrific speakers, including a couple of speakers from Adobe. Greg Rewis will be speaking on “From Web to Mobile App in 60 seconds” featuring, what else, Dreamweaver CS 5.5, which I can’t wait to see.

The conference has three tracks that focus on three different aspects of mobile development. There’s a “Design Track” featuring content strategy, CSS3, UI prototyping, and touchscreen design (remember, it’s fat fingers, not tiny cursers!). The “Development Track” is going to take a look at maximizing speed and efficiency in your mobile app, HTML5 canvas, offline storage and geolocation. The last track is a “Platforms and Solutions Track” and focuses on the various mobile platforms, devices, and services. They’ll take a look at Android, iOS, and something called, “Blackberry”. Javascript frameworks and packaging technologies like jQuery Mobile and PhoneGap are also going to be featured as part of the Platforms and Solutions Track over the course of the next couple of days.

So like I said, it’s just an excellent conference that’s happening at a perfect time and I’m really excited to get started. I’m going to try and blog my thoughts about all of these technologies and platforms over the next couple of days. Rather than try to “liveblog” the event as one running post, I’m going to switch it up a bit and drop smaller posts about sessions and speakers as they inspire.

First, however, I wanna go get some breakfast. Damn it’s early.

“I hate that place”

I hear that so often these days. From friends, from co-workers, from Twitter followers. Seems like everyone hates Facebook.

So why are so many people still using it?

I don’t post pictures there. I don’t upload video there. My only participation is to use it as a broadcast medium to point to the place where I control the universe. Here. I might share a link or two, but they’re also shared here as well. I don’t want Facebook to actually have any of my content. It’s mine. Not theirs. They don’t have any right to my family photos, my videos, my thoughts, my ideas. They make money off my stuff. If all of a sudden everyone stopped giving Facebook all their shit, Facebook would be completely value-less. Facebook’s whole value is wrapped up in your eyeballs. Increasingly, they’re becoming a walled garden. I saw a post the other day comparing them to AOL, and I thought, “that’s perfect”. AOL used to be a lot of people’s “internet experience”. You’d sign on to their world, play around in their playground, interact with their users, then log off. Once you started sniffing around outside their walls, they were essentially done. People went, “waitaminute, you mean there’s all THIS out there? Why didn’t you tell me?”. Then it was all over for AOL.

Seems like the same thing’s happening with Facebook.

It’s the end of the year. Time for people to start writing those “retrospective” posts looking back on “the year that was” and a lot of them seem to be themed around the idea of “moving on from Facebook”. People seem to be coming around to the idea that there’s life beyond 500 million users. That juggernauts can be stopped cold in their tracks. That there will be a “next big thing” and they’re already starting. That can’t bode well for Facebook, but it could be good for users.

See, I think, as an idea, Facebook’s great. Share shit with your friends and family. As a platform, it’s been great as what I would call, “the first iteration” of that idea. Sort of a “here’s how you do it and make it easy for people”. What I think it’s failed at miserably though, is the obvious obsession with monetizing the idea. In an effort to somehow get money out of an idea that’s inherently NOT a money making idea, they’ve had to open the “social graph” to people who weren’t part of your conversation in the first place.

I was talking with my friends and family. Who invited Coca-Cola and Toyota?

Then there’s the whole notion of Facebook making money off of my life. Seriously? You take my photos, my videos, my thoughts, my ideas… and you monetize them so YOU make money? And you don’t offer me a cut? How does that work?

Turns out it doesn’t. At least not very well. In order for Facebook to make that money, they’ve got to run completely counter to their idea. They have to open what was originally a very closed idea. I liked it when the idea was closed. I liked it when I had friends, I could share, they could share, and that was our world. Now, this whole, open platform environment runs counter to my comfort level and the comfort level of most users. You think I want all my friends to see my activity on Huffington Post? Do I want everyone I’m friends with on Facebook, business Friends, personal friends, family, to see what I like on Buzzfeed? You think that’s appropriate? I don’t. It’s also not the deal we signed up for.

So what happens now? Well, it’s anybody’s guess, but judging from some of the conversations out there, we won’t have to wait long to find out. There are a lot of really smart people out there who see this coming and are already working on solutions to “the Facebook problem”. I’m confident they’re smarter than Zuckerberg, too. Here’s the best part, you don’t have to “train” a new audience what the idea of Facebook is now. All you have to do is be the one who comes up with the next, “It’s Facebook, but better”.

Hey, here’s a question…

…and I genuinely don’t know the answer.

I recently attended the Adobe Max conference and was one of about two thousand lucky recipients of a new Google TV. The unit, a Logitech Revue, arrived last Thursday, and I blogged about my initial reaction on Friday. Since then, I spent the weekend playing around with it more, customizing the UI a little, adding my own bookmarks, deleting some that I won’t use, moving some stuff around, and generally playing around on it, and I have to admit, it’s not bad. Combined with a nice little, entry-level HDTV (40″ LCD, 60Hz, HDMI) it’s a pleasant experience, and I stand by my initial reaction. It’s not bad, in fact, once I realized that I could watch Lynda.com videos on my TV over the weekend, my appreciation of it skyrocketed. I don’t have an HD converter box in my back room, so it’s just straight cable, and as a result, I’m not using the box to its fullest (no DVR functionality, no “Live TV”). I also still stand behind my sort of “consumer confusion empathy” point of view as well. I see the potential, but I don’t know if the mainstream consumer walking into a Best Buy is going to think, “oh, I need that” and move to spend $299 on a device that, at least in my mind, competes for Xbox, Playstation, Macbook AIR, and iPad eyeballs. Each makes a compelling argument. If I’m going to spend $299, why not just spend another $200 to get a dedicated little portable tablet that can browse the web, view video, and has the added benefit of being portable?, etc.

So it got me thinking. Google just reportedly offered $6 billion for Groupon. That’s a lot of money. Why couldn’t Google spend a portion of that subsidizing the shit out of Google TV? Why is it $299? Why not $49? Why not offer every television, DVD, Blu-Ray, game-box, manufacturer subsidized versions of Google TV as well? Why not offer every set manufacturer a $500 incentive to pass along to the customer? Imagine you walked into a Best Buy or Target to buy an HDTV and there were two models, both 42″ or 50″, whatever. One was $1500 and the other was $1000? Or more realistically, one was $1000 and another was $500, then on sale it was, say, $399? The only difference being the cheaper one had Google TV built in? Or even better, what if, for every HDTV you bought, Wal-Mart offered you a free GoogleTV? Imagine the ancillary sales for Logitech for cameras, Harmony remotes, etc?

Part of my frustration was the lack of content and apps when I powered mine up. Now early adopters are used to that. I had an Android phone for months before there was even one compelling app to download from the marketplace. I played Rainbow Six online with the same dozen or so complete strangers for months before anyone else I knew was on Xbox Live, so I’m used to being in virtual deserts, but how compelling would it be, from a developer standpoint to know that after this holiday season, everyone who bought a television was going to be a Google TV user on December 26th? Six billion (with a “b”) is a lot of fucking money. I think it’s technically a shit-load. One sixth of that is still more money than I can fathom, and I can fathom quite a bit. If you’ve got 6 billion to drop on something as ridiculous as Groupon, don’t you think you could put a little of that cheddar behind something you actually own and developed in an effort to see it gain traction?

What am I missing here?

Logitech Revue with Google TV: First thoughts.

Okay, so my Logitech Revue arrived yesterday and I set it up in the back room on a 40-inch Toshiba 1080p LCD HDTV.

Quick thoughts, then I’ll spend some time with it this weekend and maybe discuss it in a little more depth over the holidays.

The setup was stupid painless. I’ve seen postings online about how long and arduous the setup is, and I think these must be some seriously jaded people. There was nothing in the setup that felt overcomplicated, or unnecessary. You’re hooking up a pretty damn complicated device that has a lot of moving parts in terms of technical touchpoints. Do you have an HD converter box? Do you have cable or satellite? Do you have an AV receiver? Do you want to use the keyboard as a remote? Unfortunately, it’s inherently a little “more” than an AppleTV and as a result is going to suffer from a bit more of a setup process. Not to mention, it’s not an Apple product designed to talk to other Apple products, so there won’t be that sort of Fisher-Price Apple setup as a result. It just simply is a little bit more or a device.

The keyboard is cool. Period. It’s got a lot of features beyond a keyboard, and I loved how it immediately set up as a remote to the TV. It took me a couple of times playing with it to figure out how to switch Video sources from TV to Wii to GoogleTV, but it’s all good. That could be frustrating to people who aren’t natural tinkerers.

It immediately saw our NetGear Stora on the network, and within minutes we were selecting from hundred of movies, thousands of pictures, and an endless supply of MP3s that we’ve archived over the years. All of our family movies, taken on our FlipHD and stored on the NAS were available, streamed flawlessly, and looked brilliant on the TV. To me, this is THE feature I was most looking forward to. We literally have the entire Disney library on the Stora, and having access to that outside of Xbox was a Godsend.

Netflix Streaming, again, perfect. I understand the frustration with it using the older API which doesn’t allow for searching. That has become the number one feature over on the Xbox, but my wife remarked, “well can’t we just go to netflix using the browser and edit/add/delete from our Queue?”. Now you know why I love the woman. She’s right. We don’t miss it. It looks great, and again, we’ll use the shit out of it in the back room of the house (while some of us play Fallout in the front of the house…).

Flash? Okay, well that kinda sucked. We went to Cartoon Network, because I had already spilled the beans to my daughter that she’d be able to play Finn and Jake on the HDTV in the back room on a MUCH bigger screen than her laptop (4 years old and she’s all over Cartoon Network with her laptop) and she was all over that. Sadly however, when we went to Cartoon Network and headed over to the Adventure Time page, the animation was so slow and gruesome that my daughter said, “Daddy, can you close that because it’s going so slow that it’s not fun when it does that…”. How sad, a 4 year old child already knows what to do when, “your Flash is slow”.

Web browsing and YouTube? Again, pretty sweet, but that shit’s all pretty much WebTV. I don’t really see using it much beyond maybe looking up something you need quickly on Google, or checking weather… I’m much more inclined to reach for the iPad for quick browsing. Likewise, I don’t think either of us will be checking email on the TV. We just won’t. That experience I think is much more “personal” than feels comfortable doing on TV.

Overall? I think I’d have to give it about an 8 out of 10. If I had an HD converter box in the back, and set it up as a DVR, then I’d probably bump it up to about a 9.

But here’s the thing. It’s $300. If I’m about to drop $300 on something, I’m MUCH more inclined to start looking over at iPads. I just don’t “see it” as something people are looking at and considering buying. But I’m likewise on AppleTV. I have no desire, even at $99 to go out and buy an AppleTV. I don’t care how much it integrates with my “iTunes whatever”.

Also, the lack of content is noticeable. No Hulu (actually, it’s blocked. You go there with the Chrome browser, and you get a nice note, “Hey there, we notice you’re using a Google TV. Unfortunately, fuck you and the horse you rode in on…”) and none of the other video content providers outside of social/shared video services like youtube and vimeo, which I suppose are okay, but certainly not content I give two shits about watching.

So it’s cool. I think it’s pretty sweet overall, but I absolutely see why people are hesitant to get it, why it just seems like it doesn’t fit into any sort of “consumer experience process” and why it’s going to be quite the uphill battle going forward. If developers figure it out and deliver some compelling apps for it, you might see it start to catch on. People are warming up to the “mini OS / App experience” on devices I think and this could easily be the first of a trend that heads over to Television. I already see an opportunity for an app that I might consider working on over the holidays that might plug what I think is a hole in the experience with shared/networked media. That’s why I thought I’d spend a little more time with it over the holidays and perhaps blog a little more about it later.

Since you made it all the way down here to the bottom, I thought you deserved a little prize. Enjoy.