Monday, December 19, 2011

16Pics Automatic Photo Picker: Humans Do Better But Have Better Things to Do

This week I've been testing a new website called 16pics that is designed to take the hard work out of choosing a selection of photos from an album. Once you have set up your account it is very simple to use. You just choose an album on your favorite photosharing site or on Facebook and it automatically chooses a suite of 16 photos that you can share with your friends.

Surprisingly the process takes less time to do than to describe. Assuming you already have your photo album on a photo sharing site the automatic selection takes literally a few seconds. If you are not happy with the choice you can select any of the 16 photos and manually replace it with a single click. For some features you don't even need a click -- just selecting an album from the list starts the selection process so there is no "proceed" button, a time-saving design feature I like.

When I tested it on a collection of 82 photos of Tanzania the initial choice was acceptable and easily tweaked to make it more like I wanted.  Clearly this is not going to be popular with professional or serious amateur photographers who probably want to hand pick their photos, but it will appeal to the average user who is just back from a party with hundreds of photos and needs to get something on Facebook very quickly.

At first I thought that the Flickr-16Pics-Facebook cycle would be too long and complicated to please the kind of user who might want to use the service. In practice it is fast and simple enough when you use it but still the fear of complexity might deter some people. Most likely the best way to use this technology would be to integrate it directly into a social network with photo albums -- Facebook or Google+ -- so that the "choose 16 pictures" function would be more or less automatic. I suspect that the goal of 16Pics is ultimately to be acquired by one of these companies, or at least to license their knowhow.

Tools like 16Pics are emerging as a consequence of the shift from chemical to digital photography. When you had to buy film and pay for it to be processed people were much more selective in the photos they took. With a digital camera you can just fire away all day at no extra expense, the only problem being that you end up with so many photos it is hard to find time to sort through them all. In this context it is inevitable that the trend will continue to even more shooting and the introduction of more tools like 16Pics, similar features embedded in photo sharing sites, or perhaps even integrated into point-and-shoot cameras.

As memory prices fall you could even design a camera that continually snaps photos that are sorted automatically, so the user never even sees the raw photo set. Again this would not appeal to professionals but this is analogous to the invention of fully automatic point and shoot cameras. Serious photographers find them frustratingly difficult to use but people who just want to take pictures and not worry about precise control love them.

The ability to sort photos automatically could also have applications in the automatic curation of content. They will never replace the photo editor at Vogue, but in many applications, though a human is better, that human often has better things to do -- or wants to be paid. Like it or not, automation is here to stay and the function provided by 16Pics might one day be part of Facebook, or even be inside your next camera.

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Related posts on Startups

Social Media Crisis Management: Odimax's Emergency Stop

Trading Influence For Equity Wahooly Boosts Startups, Raises Ethical Questions

Why Gidsys Marketplace for Experiences Will Change Things

Zerply: Three Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Sideways


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Three Simple Ways to Make Video Event Streaming More Effective

In the last two weeks I have seen a best-in-class example of a video streamed event -- LeWeb Paris 2011 -- and I have appeared myself in a conference professionally streamed from the IAE Graduate School of Management near Aix en Provence. I have also seen another example of an event that was streamed less successfully, probably because the streaming was improvised. I won't say who did it to spare them needless embarrassment  but I will explain how you can get acceptable results video streaming an event with no special equipment or skill.

All you need to stream an event is a computer, a webcam (preferably HD), a microphone, a reasonably fast connection and an account with a streaming service like ustream.com, but to get usable results there are three things that you have to get right.

1. GET THE MICROPHONE CLOSE TO THE SPEAKER.  Sound is more important than video because you can follow a speaker when the video is far from perfect but if you cannot hear what she is saying people will just disconnect, tweet angry complaints or both. The secret of good sound is to get the microphone as close to the speaker as you can. A microphone built into your computer, webcam or video camera will not work very well because it picks up mainly the sounds close to itself -- probably background noise, room echo and so on. The ideal solution is a lapel microphone attached to the speaker, but if that is not possible then at least place it close to where the speaker is, or close to a loudspeaker if the event has amplified sound. You can buy inexpensive lapel microphones with long cables that work well in this situation.

2.  ASK THE SPEAKER TO LIMIT MOVEMENT. Unless you are using a camera with an operator who can track movement there is a danger that a speaker could walk partly or entirely out of the frame. With a fixed camera it is a good idea to alert the speakers to this problem and agree with them if they will stand or sit and if they walk how much space they can use. At the same time ask speakers to avoid looking directly into the camera. This may be counterintuitive but it looks better if people look at the live audience. Try also to keep audience members from walking in front of the camera since this is both distracting and unprofessional.

3.  GET AS MUCH LIGHT AS YOU CAN ON THE SPEAKER. Video cameras work with very little light but the quality of the image degrades significantly. Low end cameras are also slow to adapt to changes in light level. Always try to get as much light on the speaker as possible and try to maintain it as constant as you can. The ideal fix is to have a separate spotlight on the speaker so that the screen can still be visible but if this is not possible then consider leaving on more room lights than you would do just for the audience in the room. Video projectors are usually bright enough to compete with normal room lighting so it is not necessary anyway to dim the lights.

During the webcast don´t forget to monitor both the video and audio.  Make sure you have another computer or tablet to monitor the results to make sure that the result is usable. Use headphones or a headset to check that the audio is understandable, too. It´s also a good idea to monitor the event #hashtag because if anyone can´t hear or see they will probably tweet a complaint and they will assume you are watching for that.  You should also test the speed of the Internet connection using a tool like Speedtest.net just before you start the webcast -- not hours earlier when nobody else is using the network -- to make sure there is enough bandwidth. During events don´t be surprised if the network speed drops alarmingly. A good plan B for these cases is to keep a USB 3G key in your pocket to be used when the Wifi isn't fast enough.



Related Posts on Video, Audio, Photos
Three Simple Ways to Make Video Event Streaming More Effective
You Don't Like the Way You Look in Photos? Here Are Five Things to Try
I Hate the Way I Sound on Radio Practical Tips for Politicians, Entrepeneurs
Recording Audio Podcasts: Five Best Practices for Fast, Professional Results
So You Hate the Way You Look Sound in Video? Here's What You Can Do About it
Recording Video Interviews Three Non Obvious Practical Tips

Coaching, Lectures, Workshops
For more information about coaching, lectures, workshops and writing on this topic visit http://andrewhennigan.com or email conseil@andrewhennigan.com or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Trading Influence for Equity, Wahooly Boosts Startups, Raises Ethical Questions

[ 2 February 2012: Wahooly has started now. See note at Google Plus Wahooly Post ]

Perhaps one day people will run out of ideas for new Internet startups but I don't think that we are there yet. Alongside all the me-too photo sharing and social network sites there are some brilliant new concepts that remind me how creative people can be. Wahooly.com is one of these.

Wahooly is a new web service scheduled to roll out in January 2012 that effectively trades influence for equity in startups. Their business model is simple yet compelling: a startup approaches Wahooly and offers a small percentage of their equity in return for the support of influencers to get their business started.  This is an intriguing idea though there are some ethical complications, as we shall see later.

Let's just suppose you have a new video sharing service -- not a great idea, but this is just an example -- and you need a critical mass of early users.  You offer 5% of the equity to Wahooly which then signs up a certain number of Wahoolians who will support your company in return for a share of this 5%. In other words, you use your time and influence to help the startup actually get started up and in return you get a small share of the equity. Maybe one day there is an IPO or an acquisition and you can cash in your stake.

Like many interesting business ideas, Wahooly brings together two groups that have complementary needs. On the one hand there are many startups needing help to get traction at the beginning -- maybe their first million users or their first million uploads. On the other hand there are plenty of people who wished they had an initial stake in Google, Facebook or Twitter and would like a chance to have even a tiny stake in new startups.

You can join up on the website but the first startups won't be available until January. The only company available today is Wahooly itself, and this little detail is, in a way, very reassuring. Warhooly effectively eats its own dog food and is one of the startups that you can get a share of. The first 25,000 users to sign up will get on average around 0.0002% of the equity though the exact figure depends on how much influence you contribute, a factor that will be calculated with some help from Klout.

While the idea is brilliant it does have one major downside risk: to many people there are ethical issues associated with promoting a company that rewards you with some material benefit -- even if it is long term and uncertain. It might also breach some rules if this conflict of interest is not disclosed. Personally I do not see this as being a real problem because people who are seriously influential are not likely to risk their reputation for the sake of a few dollars, but it is likely to be a PR issue for the company. Maybe the founders have a workaround for this problem, or maybe someone will be inspired by this example to make something new that isn't tainted by ethical doubts. Whatever happens it will be interesting to see how the story unfolds when the service officially starts.

Disclosure: to write this post I joined Wahooly's inaugural class so presumably I have a very small stake in the company. There is a possibility that I might materially benefit from the company one day, though to be honest I am not counting on it for my retirement.


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Related posts on Startups

Social Media Crisis Management: Odimax's Emergency Stop

16pics Automatic Photo Picker: Humans Do Better But Have Better Things To Do

Why Gidsys Marketplace for Experiences Will Change Things

Zerply: Three Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Sideways

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Managing Across Cultures: Three Non-Obvious Problems to Watch For

When you are managing people from other cultures you probably expect that they see things differently in some ways, but there are also many deep cultural differences that can cause unexpected problems. Here are three of the most common culture-related surprises I have encountered doing intercultural workshops, and what you can do about them.

1. HIERARCHY HEADACHES.  The world is divided into cultures where hierarchy is very important and those where it is not. Hierarchy enhancing cultures are actually in the majority, but whatever side you come from you are likely to have problems one day. Some effects of hierarchy are clearly visible -- like the way managers in hierarchical cultures distance themselves more from lower level employees -- but some effects are less obvious. If you are from a relatively flat hierarchy culture, for example, and you are managing people who are from a highly hierarchical society you will find that someone might do no work for a time either because you didn't tell them to do anything or they didn't understand. In their world it is the responsability of the boss to know what everyone is doing so they feel it would make you lose face if they pointed out that you forgot them or that your message was not clear. In these cases you have to adopt a more directive style of management and remember that you need to find out what people have problems with because they will not come to you.

2. DIRECT DISASTERS. In a few cultures people are very direct in their communication, in others people are very indirect, most are somewhere in the middle. Direct speakers are often perceived by indirect people to be very rude and indirect people are sometimes perceived as being evasive or even sneaky. But some of the effects are not so obvious. For example, if you are a direct person managing very indirect people they will very often misinterpret what you say because they read into your words hints that you never intended. So if you say "You finished that quickly" they assume that you really meant to say you are not happy with it. To address this problem is more difficult and probably the most effective method is to explain the difference to everyone and then check what people have understood when you have said something. In addition be careful about what you say because it might be misinterpreted as an order.

3. INDIVIDUALIST INTRIGUES. In some cultures people are strongly individualistic -- this is especially common in younger nations like the USA, Australia and so on -- while others tend to identify more with a group, sometimes very strongly as in the case of most Asian countries. This, too, can have effects that sometimes catch managers off guard. People from individualist oriented cultures, for example, tend to reward individuals with bonuses, plaques and other signs of recognition for successful work. This can actually have a negative effect in cultures where people are more collectivist and to be singled out for recognition will embarrass an employee and can even lead to them actively trying to avoid this "humiliation" in future, providing a negative incentive. It is very simple to deal with this issue once you recognize it, rewarding  the whole group or team rather than singling out one person.

There are many other factors that can affect the way you manage people from other cultures, but these three problems are the ones I have heard most often when doing workshops on this topic. Master these three issues and you have already made a good start but to be fully effective you will need to attend a workshop or find a coach/mentor to help.

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Related posts about intercultural issues:

Why the Office Weasel Can Play a Useful Role in Hierarchical Organizations
Managing Across Cultures Three Non-obvious Issues to Watch For
Three Non-Obvious Ways Culture Affects Email
Three Non-Obvious Issues in Multicultural Meetings  
Culture, Innovation and the Curious Case of Pandora Radio.  

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching on intercultural issues.

All of these articles are based on lectures, workshops and webinars on intercultural communication and management created by the author. For more information about these visit andrewhennigan.com contact me by mail at conseil@andrewhennigan.com or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

How Brunel Built Bridges, Railways & Steamships Without Email

How did Brunel build bridges and steamships without email, powerpoint and other modern communication tools, asks a recent question on Quora.com.  You don't have to go back so far; at the end of the 1960s NASA sent men to the moon and returned them safely to the earth with little more than slide rules, typewriters and carbon paper. But the question is interesting because when you think about it Brunel was perhaps better off not having email.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the Elon Musk of the 1800s, pioneering  modern railways and metal steamships that could cross the Atlantic. His list of achievements is more than impressive and he is rightly considered one of the greatest engineers who ever lived. Brunel lived in interesting times where he witnessed the development of the postal service and the electric telegraph but for most of his business communication he relied on paper messages hand carried by messengers -- just like people did until the 1980s.

Until email went mainstream businesses relied mostly on paper messages carried by mail room employees who walked around the offices, collecting and delivering mail several times a day. An internal memo left in your outbox would be in someone else's inbox within a few hours at most. This might sound slower than email if you consider only the delivery time, but in any communication you have to also consider the overall time between sending a message and getting a reply, In theory you could get a reply to your email in seconds, but take a look at your inbox now and ask yourself how many messages you will answer in less than half a day. It is quite likely that your actual performance is not really much better than in Brunel's day.

Thanks to a combination of the mail service and the fast-growing railway network, Brunel could get a message to anyone in the country within the same day. With the electric telegraph he could also get urgent news much faster. If email had been invented then I am sure he would have used it but I am not so sure it would have made much difference to his work. This is partly because the time spent preparing a reply is often longer than the delivery time, but also because email can often impact productivity  as people spend too much time on low priority mails or get distracted by incoming email alerts.

Many people now recognize the negative impact of email and some companies -- like Atos in France -- are planning to eliminate at least internal email, replacing it with other tools or simply more real interaction between people. You could argue, though, that with better training people could use email more effectively. Most unwanted traffic can be eliminated simply by teaching everyone how to use mail effectively, using techniques like the ones I mentioned in Three Timesaving Tips for Email.

Meanwhile email is being replaced more and more by newer tools that allow more natural interactions between people. Younger people often communicate more through Facebook than email, many others prefer video chats like Google+ Hangouts and others like simple text chatting. As these people enter the workforce we can expect a natural decline in email use. Email was a great idea when it was invented and it changed the way people worked in offices, but it was never indispensable and eventually the time will come when it becomes another historical curiosity like the telex machine and the telegraph, though the lack of interoperable standards means this will not be happening any time soon.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing
For lectures, workshops, coaching and writing on this and other communication topics visit http://andrewhennigan.com, email me at conseil@andrewhennigan.com or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81

Related Posts about Email
Three Timesaving Tips for Email 
Three Non-Obvious Ways Culture Affects Email
Why New Solutions Fail to Oust Email in Business Communications