Don’t waste this wireless opportunity

Miraflores in Lima, Peru has free Wi-Fi in all public spaces.

Miraflores in Lima, Peru has free Wi-Fi in all public spaces.

Simple offering = higher usage = benefits for the area

With any new public project there is the potential to get it very right, or very very wrong, and with Cardiff council’s announcement of their intention to roll out free Wi-Fi throughout the city centre and Cardiff Bay they have the opportunity for it to be amazingly useful, or amazingly useless.

Free public Wi-Fi would mainly appeal to three groups; business users, tourists and casual users. It would be very important not to target, or exclude, any one group.

As an “anywhere worker” I use free Wi-Fi regularly, mostly provided at coffee shops, bars and restaurants where the connection is unlimited and unrestricted.  They’re usually protected by WPA (encryption), so you just ask for the password, or at bigger chains like Starbucks it’s connect and go.

Having free Wi-Fi or not is a deciding factor on where I spend my mornings/afternoons working. For example, I spend more time at Caffe Nero than I do at Coffee#1 because Nero has free Wi-Fi and Coffee#1 do not, however when I’m not working I prefer Coffee#1. Caffe Nero therefore get about £10 a day out of me while I sit there for the life of my laptop battery and work.

Free Wi-Fi is also a bonus for tourism – I recently visited Lima, Peru and one of the districts, Miraflores, has a big public Wi-Fi initiative and has connected all their public spaces. People sit on benches surfing on their iPads and kids peer over their friends shoulders laughing at pictures on Facebook. There is no registration, you connect to the hotspot and go.
For me, being abroad and with mobile data turned off on my phone, free public Wi-Fi drew me to the parks to sit and catch up with news, email, and friends on social media. It is also a talking point between tourists, as it’s a unique feature. The result is a lot more people in public spaces, because there is more to do there.

Bringing people to the area is the main aim of a project like this. The idea is that if people gravitate somewhere for this service then they will spend more time there and spend more with the businesses in the area, or it could be used to fill up public spaces that may currently be underused.

Here are some “features” that could be thrown in that would kill it, and make it wholly undesirable:

Compulsory log-in/registration
Requiring a user to register for a service like this is pointless. The service cannot be tailored to the user with any real benefit. Details cannot be verified so to cite taking user details for “security purposes” would be fruitless; who is going to register using their real details and then commit crimes online, seriously? The only purpose for registration with a free Wi-Fi service, as you have with The Cloud and other providers, is to collect data which is later sold for profit. Cardiff’s free Wi-Fi offering should be connect and go.

Time limitations
Why? The cost of the service to the council will not vary based on how many minutes somebody is connected, or how many megabytes they send and receive, so why limit their online time? The point of the service is to draw people to the areas that it is available, why only keep them there for 30 minutes?

It’s a simple concept really – set up lots of hotspots with good range to get good coverage, set it up to be click and connect (perhaps a welcome screen with a “connect” button could be tolerated), and have no limitation on how much of it you can use.

The Virgin Media Player – Why did they even bother?

Anybody who follows me on Twitter will know that I have recently returned to Virgin Media for my television, fixed-line broadband and telephone after moving back into a cabled area, and they will also know the major issues that I have been having with the service that I receive from them, particularly with regard to the broadband – allegedly the fastest in the UK, but rarely able to even get near to top speed and consistently suffering from outages.

So now they have launched the “Virgin Media Player”, a model not dissimilar to that of the BBC iPlayer or Channel 4’s 4OD – offering television shows and movies on-demand, in this case to customers who subscribe to their full television package, which I do.

The first question has to be, will it work? And the answer, almost immediately, is no.
The site looks very good, the aesthetics are pleasing to the eye and it makes use of AJAX technologies, programmatically it is very advanced, but the pitfall comes when you try to watch content – surely, the reason that it exists.
On my 50mbps broadband pipe the playback is of poor quality and is stuttery. I made three attempts to get an episode of South Park to play before giving up, it just would not load.

Advertising banners point out the fact that they have a mobile version of the site where I could watch videos on the move – the question I had to ask myself here was; “Do I want to give myself a coronary trying to get it to work?”, and the answer was … let’s do it.

Unfortunately it was a very short test, I pointed my mobile browser, a very recent and popular handset – the BlackBerry Bold 2 9700 on an Orange 3G contract, and I was immediately told to “Please use a browser that is supported and make sure you are on a 3G connection.”

First thing to wonder here is; why are Virgin Media not supporting one of the most popular handsets on the market at the moment? The RIM BlackBerry is currently doing very well for itself and is increasing its market share month on month, Virgin Media are clearly cutting out a very large proportion of their user base.

The second thing to wonder is; If my handset was supported, would I only be able to use the service when connected to a 3G data source, and if so, why? I mainly use my BlackBerry for browsing when I am on WiFi. Are Virgin saying that I have to be on a slower connection to use their mobile service, and if so, why? This makes no sense at all.

So, this entire test was a major fail. The Virgin Media Player appears to have some good content, mostly what is on the “On Demand” section of my HD set-top box, but unfortunately I cannot access any of it, despite using “the UKs fastest broadband”, so what chance has anybody else got?

The Virgin Media Player is available to XL television package subscribers and can be accessed at http://www.virginmedia.com/player

Twitter starts its cull

With Twitter rapidly losing money through lack of revenue, it must start to bring their platform back to themselves as the first part of their plan to get into the black.

As it stands the third-party application is King, in February 2009 only 31% of Twitter activity was performed through their website, Twitter.com, the other 69% was done through various third-party applications, on desktop and mobile devices, like Tweetie for iPhone, Ubertwitter for BlackBerry and Tweetdeck, for iPhone and all desktops.

In April of this year Twitter announced that they would be taking back their service – launching new features and their own mobile applications, including apps for iPhone and BlackBerry, but are these any good and have they been successful so far?

Twitstat keep a running total of the most popular Twitter clients and are currently showing that Twitter.com is still the most popular single "client", but its usage has been chopped in half to 16%, a momentus drop. Tweetdeck retains its second place and Twitter for iPhone, the official application, is all the way up there at #4 with 6% share. This does hint that the attempts by Twitter thus far to take back what is theres is working, on one platform at least, albeit one of the biggest platforms. Official apps for Android and BlackBerry do register on the list, but at lowly 23rd and 29th places.

So what next for Twitter? With their core gateway, Twitter.com, taking such a massive hit, can they continue to plod on with their plans to monetise their service? Surely the website is where they will make their biggest profits as revenues through mobile are still relatively marginal. What can they do to attract people back to the browser?

Brands using Twitter – My tips for them

Brands of the world, it seems that whoever you have employed to manage your social networking presence does not know what they are doing and you need to sort it out, now!

I am finding more and more that certain brands are monitoring keywords using Tweetdeck or similar applications to reply to tweets either with a sales pitch for their similar product or even to try to redeem themselves in a “pro-active customer service” move.

The first point that I must make is that if you’re going to take the latter stance, appoint somebody who knows the product and is familiar with twitter etiquette. I recently had my broadband company reply to a rant about their service, to which I replied to them with the issue and didn’t hear another thing for a week. I then commented on this lack of response, after-all, they contacted me, and they replied, quite snappily I might add, insisting that they had DM’ed me. Well, anyone who had been using Twitter for more than 24 hours would know that you cannot send a direct message to somebody who does not follow you. And why would I be following my ISPs customer service department? So of course, I didn’t get their DM.
When I did get a response to my technical question, their response didn’t make any sense. Apparently my ”IP address email addresschanges daily”. The question I asked them was about the LAN IP addresses that their router gives. Duh.

Another experience was with UPS who clearly monitor the use of “UPS”. Unfortunately it seems that only their US branch use Twitter so when I complained by way of a tweet to the world and they contacted me, they clearly didn’t look at my location before offering assistance, as when I replied with my issue they said they couldn’t help and to call the UK call centre (by this time I had already).

Other companies monitor for use of words that are attributed to their product, or even their competitors company names in an attempt to poach customers. This may all be fine, as long as they are offering you a comparable service or product – not something that is 3-4x the price or isn’t in any way the same.

Twitter can be a great way to get your companies names onto the computer screens of customers or potential customers, as long as it is executed properly. The rules of the real world still apply in Twitterland. It may be a new way to be in contact, but that shouldn’t change anything.

My top tips

  • Your brand is not my friend. Do not pretend that it is. Don’t @ me after randomly finding me through keyword searches offering comment only to lead up to a sales pitch.
  • If you’re going to offer customer service by twitter, offer to take my telephone number and call me. I’m sure that most issues cannot be sorted out in 140 characters.
  • Know how Twitter works. Don’t DM me when I can’t receive it because I don’t follow you. Oh, and don’t @ when you mean to DM, that could be disastrous.

Follow me on Twitter.

Firefox & Windows 7 not playing nice.

I downloaded the Windows 7 RTM last week using my MSDN subscription. Great OS. Not going to get into a review right now – I’m sure you can find many of them.

The one thing that was annoying was that Firefox was crashing, pages were taking an age or not loading at all, especially javascript heavy websites like Gmail or Facebook and after moving to Google Chrome for a week and complaining a lot on Twitter I decided to do something about it.

First I loaded Firefox up in safe mode. This cleared up the problem. Then I found from a Windows 7 forum that apparently some add-ons (extensions) don’t sit quite right with Windows 7. This seems plausible, especially since I’m using the 64-bit edition. So I disabled all of my extensions and switched them back on – one by one.

Low and behold, luckily I went from bottom-to-top as the offending plug-in was … Skype Extension for Firefox. With this add-on enabled the browser grinds to a halt almost completely, eats all memory and stops JS from working almost entirely.

So if you get this problem, check for this extension, disable it and let me know the results in the comments. I can’t be the only one experiencing this, surely?