Author Archives: Bryan Yeager

About Bryan Yeager

Bryan Yeager is a Senior Consultant for InfoTrends’ Production Workflow Solutions Consulting Services. Bryan covers a number of existing and emerging software and technology markets that enable cross-media marketing communications. He is the author of several in-depth Ultimate Guide reports that span across a variety of software categories, and provides insight through research, analysis, and consulting. He can be contacted via e-mail at bryan_yeager@infotrends.com or via Twitter (@bryanyeager).

Reflecting on Apple’s Impact in Graphic Communications

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There has been a lot of reflection and praise all across the Web over the past week following the announcement on August 24 that Steve Jobs, Apple’s iconic CEO, resigned from his top spot at the company, likely due to his worsening health condition from a long bout with pancreatic cancer. Commentary has ranged from high praise to personal experiences with Jobs to some people saying “it’s just not that big of a deal.”

Much is being made of Jobs’ influence on Apple’s highly successful products: the original Macintosh computer, along with the seminal line of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad devices. Additionally, there is a lot of talk about Jobs’ influence on Apple’s advertising and marketing efforts, of which many memorable ads have come. One area that hasn’t gotten as much light shed on it during this time of reflection is Jobs’ influence on our own industry of graphic communications. Whatever your feeling about Steve Jobs and Apple, there is no denying that the Macintosh helped spur the desktop publishing revolution and catalyzed a transformation across the media production landscape, including print, video, and now interactive applications.

Much of this revolution can be pointed back directly to Steve Jobs’ influence on the first Macintosh PC and its successors. Jobs once noted during his graduation speech at Stanford University that when he dropped out of Reed College, he still snuck into a number of classes (even though he wasn’t enrolled), and one of those classes was calligraphy. He learned not only about calligraphy but of typography and what comprises good design aesthetic. Good design and typography were, therefore, major factors that influenced the design of software for the Macintosh, as well as the form factors that are prominent in today’s popular Apple products.

The first Macintosh PC had a variety of fonts to choose from, as well as pre-loaded software for word processing and layout. Soon after the Mac’s initial release, LaserWriter printers could be connected to the Mac, and third-party applications like Aldus PageMaker, Adobe Photoshop, and QuarkXPress were developed and initially touted Mac-only support. With creative software primarily available on the Mac platform throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, Apple held a dominant presence in the graphic communications industries.

While Windows-based PCs have made inroads in these industries, especially from a pure business administration perspective, recent InfoTrends research indicates that the Mac platform is still holding strong throughout the graphic communications industries. Apple’s market share in terms of operating systems is comparatively larger in our industry than in other industries, and companies are generally very good about upgrading to the latest operating system releases. With Apple still on stable footing and creatives still attracted to Apple and Mac, it’s hard to fathom this will change anytime soon, even with Jobs’ sudden departure.

All told, Steve Jobs had a tremendous influence on the creation of the Macintosh, which in turn had a significant impact on the core creative processes and workflows we’re all now accustomed to today. You could say that he’s doing it all over again with the rise in popularity of mobile devices, with Apple at the center of that transformation. While it may be disconcerting to those thinking about from the perspective of the future of Apple, Jobs has created an innovative culture that is instilled through every aspect of the business, from product development through its retail stores. It’s definitely hard to imagine Apple without Jobs at the helm, especially considering the downward spiral it went into after he left the first time. This time, however, he has built up a strong team that he can confidently pass the torch to for at least another generation.

Companies Working to Achieve Digital Mailbox Nirvana

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While there’s been a lot of bad news surrounding the United States Postal Service lately, a heightened level of innovation exists  both within the postal service and externally in an attempt to transform the organization, as well as the concept of mail delivery itself. This past June, the PostalVision 2020 conference in Washington, D.C. brought together senior USPS personnel, technologists, analysts, and journalists to openly discuss the future strategic direction of the postal service under the premise of what it should look like in the year 2020. Many companies are engaged in laying down the building blocks of what could potentially be the future of mail distribution and delivery for the United States and even abroad: digital mailboxes.

The concept of a digital mailbox or digital mail delivery is certainly not new. In the enterprise, vendors like Esker, Océ, and Pitney Bowes offer digital mail delivery solutions whereby each piece of mail that comes into the company is scanned and delivered electronically to employee recipients. EarthClassMail is an early service for smaller businesses and consumers that also scans and manages mail. With a mix of new entrants and existing players, there is aggressive development of digital mailbox services for consumers, designed to reach every household in the United States, just like the USPS. There are a number of key players to watch in this space:

  • Accenture, the worldwide consulting and outsourcing firm, is taking the approach of partnering directly with national postal services to help them develop digital mailbox services. It has clearly stated it is aiming to help global posts design their own services to compete directly against some of the independent digital mailbox services listed below.
  • doxo is a technology start-up that takes a broad approach to the digital mailbox, enabling users to not only import electronic bills and statements, but also many other types of documents that can either be uploaded or scanned in via its mobile phone application.
  • Manilla, started by Hearst Corporation, provides access to over 1,000 companies to enable users to consolidate and manage bills and loyalty programs, including major wireless carriers, cable & satellite TV providers, utilities, financial companies, airlines, and more. Certified Manilla partners can also present targeted advertisements to Manilla users alongside the sender’s content, which offers an intriguing TransPromo play.
  • Pitney Bowes announced its Volly digital mailbox offering at the beginning of 2011, although the offering is still in beta. According to my colleague Matt Swain’s blog post on the service after its announcement, “Think of Volly as an extension of a conventional consumer bill consolidation model, incorporating other types of mail into the same platform.” There is no doubt that PB will be highlighting Volly at Graph Expo this year.
  • Zumbox, another technology start-up, has made waves recently with its million-dollar giveaway contest to get people signed up for its service. The company has a unique twist on its service in that it uses your physical mail address as your digital mailbox address, as well. Like others, its concept is to digitally centralize the management of all mail being sent to a household.

There is a great deal of innovation occurring in this space right now, and considering the rapid pace of technology proliferation and adoption these days, it would not be surprising if these companies and their services make a big splash in the near future. InfoTrends is investigating this market right now, currently conducting a research study entitled The Emergence of Digital Mailbox Services: Moving Beyond Online Bill Consolidation in the U.S. This research initiative will identify the opportunity for secure digital mailbox services in the U.S. and will include a growth projection through 2015. I’m excited to see how this space shapes up, as these services could have a major influence on how we delivery, accept, and manage our mail.

Taking a Look at Digital Outdoor Advertising

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If you do any regular amount of driving on highways (or walking around in major cities), you’ve probably noticed the increased presence of high-quality digital screens displaying rotating advertisements over the past few years. Commonly referred to as “digital out-of-home” or “digital place-based” advertising, these electronic billboards are popping up in a wide variety of both outdoor and indoor spaces to deliver more targeted, relevant, and cost-effective advertising to consumers.

According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), digital billboards make up a small percentage of the estimated 400,000+ billboards scattered across the United States, with around 2,400 digital displays currently in operation. With the Federal Highway Administration just giving its approval for advertisers to leverage “changeable electronic variable message signs” in 2007, the growing presence of digital billboards along the road and elsewhere has been quite substantial. More marketers and advertisers are putting at least some budget toward digital out-of-home advertising, which is expected to increase as more options become available.

Research firm eMarketer reports that outdoor ad spend is expected to reach $6.4 billion this year in the United States alone, and predicts this spend to increase to $7.6 billion by 2016. That’s a significant market with serious growth potential, and results in a lot of printing, especially of the wide format and grand format variety. We already know that digital media and advertising is impacting traditional print media spend related to publications, promotions, and even general collateral. Will digital media have a similar impact in the world of outdoor advertising?

There is certainly potential for digital media to have an adverse impact on traditional media. According to research conducted by another trade organization, the Digital Place-based Advertising Association (DPAA), around three-quarters of media planners surveyed indicated that digital place-based marketing will be part of their media mix spend in 2011 (note that place-based advertising also constitutes digital ads that are displayed inside taxi cabs, at gyms, in malls, and other “non-billboard” applications). That same research indicated that these planners are actually funding digital media by shifting spend from traditional outdoor advertising.

Of course, digital billboards are still relatively in their infancy, and do have some disadvantages. Ads are typically rotated every 8 to 12 seconds. If you’re advertising on a stretch of highway that is prone to traffic jams, each ad can be viewed by a lot of eyeballs. Conversely, with cars constantly zooming by at high speeds, the audience potential decreases (one of the advantages of a traditional, static billboard).

Furthermore, concerns have been raised about how distracting the bright, rotating ads can be to drivers and also to nearby residents. Massachusetts is currently conducting a crash study on the 11 digital billboards currently being piloted in the state. Prior studies reached different conclusions on whether or not digital billboards increase accidents, with further research needed. Residents of some cities with proposed digital billboards are battling them under the premise of preventing further commercialization of the landscape. Cash-strapped cities like Miami have quickly erected digital billboards to raise revenues, only to later run into legal problems with existing state and federal laws barring their placement. There are sure to be contentious battles between municipalities and media companies like Clear Channel, Lamar, Adams, and others that want to erect what some call “the next big advertising opportunity” and others call “blight” or “monstrosities”.

Regardless, there are plenty of places willing to try out digital outdoor advertising, as it has already made inroads across the United States and will certainly continue to grow. The overall outdoor market is large and on a growth path, but it’s clear that there is a shift in media budgets from traditional to digital in this space. Service providers, especially those with competency in wide/grand format and, more specifically, those that produce the billboards we see everyday, need to consider how they can get in the digital game. Could it be ad creation and preparation for digital formats? Could it be partnerships with out-of-home ad networks or even direct competition with these networks? There are many options, and they should all be explored.

First Impressions of Google+

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At the end of June, search giant Google unveiled its new social networking site, Google+ (phonetically pronounced “Google Plus”). Google+ is the company’s attempt, albeit not its first, to create a social network that rivals dominant services like Facebook and Twitter. Google is trying to differentiate itself from those networks by providing robust tools for managing friends & followers and the type of content that you can share with them. This control is accomplished through a mechanism called Circles, where contacts can be categorized as “Friends”, “Acquaintances”, and whatever other custom categories you’d like to create. When you post messages or share content like photos, links, and videos, you can choose which Circles can view that content.

There are two other primary functions of Google+ that are new: Hangouts and Sparks. Hangouts is a group video chat tool that allows up to ten people at a time to have a conversation. We tried it out at the InfoTrends office last week and it is indeed a pretty cool experience. Also, if you don’t have a webcam handy (like myself), you can still participate in a Hangout via audio. Just one week after Google+ was announced, Facebook announced a partnership with Skype that enabled one-on-one video chat within the Facebook network. The general reaction has been that Google has a leg up due to the group functionality (which can only be enabled in Skype through a paid “Premium” subscription). Sparks is essentially a news feed you can add to Google+ based on your interests. If you find an interesting piece of news or content in your feed, you can instantly share it with your Google+ friends. It has been rumored that Google will integrate and rebrand its blogging service, Blogger, and its photo hosting/sharing service, Picasa, into Google+ in the near future.

Previously, Google launched a network called orkut, which is still in operation and is popular in India and Brazil. In addition, the company tried its luck with social collaboration and messaging through its Google Wave tool, but failed to gain widespread traction. The launch of Google Buzz in February 2010 was marred with privacy concerns when the company opened up Google users’ account information without warning or permission. Did Google learn from its past experiences with its new foray into the lucrative world of social networking?

For the most part, I think it has, and here’s why:

  • Testing and Feedback: When Google+ launched, it was made available to Google employees and a very limited amount of journalists and analysts, with the intent of ensuring that proper, controlled testing was conducted before rolling it out to the masses. Over the past few weeks, the company has opened up invites for longer periods of time, enabling it to quickly amass over 10 million users, which speaks to the exponential inertia of the social Web.
  • Content Control: Google+ is certainly not the same as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other specific social network due to the control it provides over how content is shared. Nevertheless, I think it does take some core elements from existing social networks and implements them in a unique way. There are no such things as friend requests; anyone can add you to their Circles, just like anyone can follow you on Twitter (if you have a public account) at will. Like Facebook and LinkedIn, there is a rich stream of content and information that you can view; Circles act like Twitter’s List feature, enabling you to view this information based on the way you categorize your friends.
  • Preemptive Release of +1: At the end of March this year, Google released “+1”, its version of the Facebook “Like” button or the Twitter “Retweet” button. The button originally premiered in Google’s search results as a way to recommend content and make search results more relevant. In June, +1 was made available to the entire Web, enabling sites to implement a +1 button on all content for sharing purposes. The button has popped up on sites like The Huffington Post, Reuters, Mashable, and many others. The roll-out of +1 before launching Google+ was a smart move as it provides users with an instant way of sharing content on the network.

The Google+ interface is very clean; vacant of the targeted ads that exist across the social network landscape. Expect that to change fairly quickly. Google plans to soon offer brands their own tools to create a Google+ presence, which will likely rival Facebook Pages. Additionally, there’s no doubt that, over time, Google will implement contextual, targeted advertising in Google+. After all, it was calculated that it cost Google close to $600 million to build its social network. As we’ve seen, every social network needs a business model at some point or another, and advertising seems to be a winning route to take in most cases.

I’m a big fan of social networking via mobile devices, so when the Google+ iPhone app is finally approved for the App Store, I will likely become much more active on the site. I’ve already connected with a number of folks from the printing industry via Google+, and hope to see many more (you can connect with me on Google+ here).

With all the questions and mystique that seems to still exist around social networking, my suggestion is always to try it out and get a feel for it. Google+ has gained a lot of traction in a short amount of time, in part because I think it does indeed have some differentiating factors when compared to other networks. The key question will be whether the hype can be sustained. There are only so many hours in the day, and there needs to be clear value and a continually evolving platform to keep peoples’ attention. While it remains to be seen if that will happen, Google is certainly off to a good start.

Opportunities in Photo Publishing

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Digital printing is now mainstream for print production, and as such, print service providers and other companies are continuously looking for new opportunities to exploit the technology. A growing area where providers are looking to deliver differentiated offerings enabled through digital printing is photo publishing and, more broadly, photo merchandise.

InfoTrends actually has a service within our Consumer Imaging group that tracks trends within photo publishing and photo merchandise. Applications within photo publishing and photo merchandise (at least by InfoTrends’ definition) include photo cards, photo books, photo calendars, and specialty photo prints. These applications are typically sold in a physical or digital retail environment, targeted toward consumers. We expect that by 2014, the total U.S. market for photo merchandise will reach over $2 billion.

A number of service providers from small to large have gotten in the photo publishing and merchandise game over the past few years, creating a more competitive marketplace. Nonetheless, there are a number of areas that service providers can look at to find success and grab their piece of the billion-dollar photo publishing pie.

  • Licensed Content: According to research firm EPM Communications, consumers worldwide spend over $100 billion annually on licensed merchandise. That’s a huge market, and fits well within many of the applications in photo publishing and merchandise. Some photo publishers are forging partnerships and deals with major brands, sports organizations, and other companies to blend personal photo content with licensed content. One great example is Josten’s OurHubBub photo book business unit, which has a relationship with NASCAR to create custom photo books that blend fans’ photos with official NASCAR imagery.
  • Social Media Integration: Between Facebook and the variety of photo hosting sites like Flickr and Picasa, there are hundreds of millions of users and billions of photos that can be turned into valuable photo products. Many of these services have APIs and development kits to “plug in” or build applications to leverage users’ photos to flow them into photo publishing applications. Companies like MixBook and HotPrints can ingest photos from social networks to create high-quality photo merchandise.
  • Focus on Ease-of-use: While price and quality are the top considerations when choosing a company to purchase photo merchandise from, ease of designing and ordering those products can make or break the user’s choice of completing their product and submitting their credit card info. In addition, InfoTrends research has found that once consumers buy a photo book for the first time, it is very likely they will buy another one in the next year. Making your process as easy-to-use as possible can set your offering apart from the rest.

Photo publishing and merchandise presents a tremendous opportunity for service providers to enter adjacent markets with significant revenue potential… if the offering is strong, well thought out, and differentiated. Licensed content, social media integration, and ease-of-use are three opportunities that service providers should be actively exploring.

Do Mobile 2D Barcodes Have Long-Term Viability?

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While the use of mobile 2D barcodes such as QR codes continue to pop up in print marketing and advertising at a brisk pace, a growing chorus of pundits are questioning their long-term relevance and overall sustainability. Most notably, Dave Wieneke, a digital marketing strategist, wrote a fairly scathing article last week on AdAge titled “Why Marketers Shouldn’t Waste Their Time With QR Codes“. In essence, he states that marketers are trying to cash in on a “cool technology” and that the process for consumers to interact with these codes is too complex. To this point, Wieneke goes so far as to say that the QR code is a “dead-end technology” (similar to the CueCat), serving as a transition to richer mobile engagement technologies like Near-Field Communications (NFC).

This article prompted dozens of responses in the comment section, with some agreeing with Wieneke’s assessment and many others coming to the defense of mobile barcode utilization in marketing and advertising. Ultimately, while I think Wieneke’s statements are a bit overblown, the viability of mobile 2D barcodes well into the future is a fair question to ponder. I generally agree that many marketers, advertisers, and print service providers are implementing mobile 2D barcodes in their campaigns and collateral without much consideration of the context of placement and end-to-end user experience. I highlighted just one of many examples of poor execution last month.

The truth is, if companies keep blindly throwing mobile 2D barcodes on their campaigns and collateral, Wieneke’s and otherspremonitions will come to bear. There are a few things that companies looking to use or currently using this technology need to consider to ensure 2D barcodes are being used in a smart and effective manner.

  • Marketing Principles: One of the biggest issues I find with the inclusion of mobile 2D barcodes in marketing is that many seem to throw marketing principles out the window for the sake of using a new technology. Why are you putting a 2D barcode in your campaign in the first place? What’s the call to action? What will make people “click” on the code to enter an engaging experience? If there’s no value communicated to a viewer as to why they should engage further with the campaign, then they probably won’t.
  • Context: What application are you going to leverage the 2D barcode for and where will it be displayed? Putting a QR code in ad at a location where there’s no wireless data service (e.g., the subway, dead zones) is a surefire path to failure. Also, who’s your target audience? Remember that smartphones with capabilities to actually scan and process these codes, while growing, still only make up roughly 30% of the overall mobile phone market. Furthermore, many of those smartphones don’t come pre-loaded with code readers, requiring a third-party app download. If your target is upper middle-class or affluent people between the ages of 13 and 30 that have an affinity for technology or gadgets, 2D codes may be right for you.
  • Education: Perhaps there is some debate about how to marketers and advertisers approach educating people about how to scan the code they are plopping on their visuals. Many campaigns simply feature the 2D barcode with no instructional guidance whatsoever as to what to do with the code. Others do provide some type of guidance as to how to interact with the code; sometimes rather short, sometimes rather long. Since many applications are still emerging, my suggestion would be (in most instances) to include some sort of instructional text in association with the code. Even simply pointing viewers to a specific mobile app they can download can go a long way for heightening awareness and education about how to interact with mobile 2D barcodes.
  • Optimization: I’ve highlighted this before, so I won’t go into too much detail, but please please please make sure the site you are linking to is optimized for viewing on a mobile phone. If you don’t spend time on the full, end-to-end experience that the user will receive, why put the code on your collateral in the first place? Delivering a bad experience does a disservice to those that really want to leverage this technology in a smart and effective manner; don’t do it.

Ultimately, it’s consumers that will decide the fate of the use of mobile 2D barcodes. If they don’t find them valuable and useful, they’ll simply stop interacting with them, and then these codes will indeed be ancient relics, just like the CueCat.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of independent, third-party research about consumers’ and marketers’ perspectives on interacting with and using mobile 2D barcodes. InfoTrends is in the process of launching a study titled Mobile Technology: Making Print Interactive, that will be one of the first independent studies on this topic. It will include quantitative research of consumers, marketers, and service providers, as well as complementary qualitative in-depth interviews with key industry players. The study plans to launch in July. If you’re interested in sponsoring this research, please drop me an e-mail; the study is expected be completed by the fall.

Electronic Use of Transaction Data a Catalyst for TransPromo Across ALL Channels

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Over the past year or two, I’ve had the impression that the term “TransPromo” is perceived outside the printing industry as being very print-centric. I have this impression because that’s what people outside of the industry that I speak with about TransPromo tell me. Perhaps because the terminology was so talked up in our own industry that the perception is warranted, although as an analyst that’s covered this area to a certain degree, I’ve always tried to emphasize that TransPromo isn’t just about print. Leveraging transactional data to drive the delivery of targeted, relevant messaging can be executed for multiple output channels to varying degrees of application and immediacy.

Whether or not the “TransPromo” term sticks around is not really of my concern; what I can say with great confidence is that it’s happening today, especially in the electronic/digital world, and it’s only going to grow over time. Why? There have been a number of recent developments and announcements that highlight how transactional data is being analyzed and utilized to drive highly-targeted and relevant messaging, with many signs pointing to increased investment in this area in the near future:

  • A number of companies are either starting up or creating new offerings that enable real-time digital transaction- and behavior-based marketing. Cardlytics is a provider of inline targeted advertising for financial institutions and currently partners with the likes of Fiserv and others to deliver coupons, rewards, and ads to recipients. CLOVR Media promotes a similar offering that it calls “Card Linked Offers”, which are tied in with financial institutions’ loyalty programs. Cartera provides eCommerce solutions to industries that have loyalty programs and is also getting in the game with analytics-driven digital marketing and offer management services.
  • Online consolidator services that help consumers aggregate their online financial accounts and provide tools for tracking and budgeting (e.g., Mint.com, Pageonce, etc.) are becoming more popular due to ease-of-use and value delivered. These offerings have access to thousands of peoples’ consolidated transaction information and the companies that run them are using this data to deliver targeted, relevant messaging, marketing, and advertising to users.
  • Last week, Google announced its foray into the world of mobile payments with “Wallet”, a service that leverages up-and-coming Near-Field Communications (NFC) technology embedded in smartphones to enable “contactless” point-of-sale payments at retail merchants. What does this mean for Google? The ability to access, mine, and analyze your transaction data virtually in real-time, enabling them to deliver targeted, relevant marketing and advertising, including coupons, loyalty reward points, and more. It’s highly likely that Google will implement a marketplace where advertisers of all sizes conduct real-time ad buys to instantly reach users.

Many of these developments are happening strictly on the digital technology side, but I still consider the application to be of the transpromotional variety. Furthermore, I believe that these developments, despite being digitally-focused, will ultimately bode well for print communications. Many of the issues that have plagued the push toward achieving TransPromo for print communications, including organizational alignment and technology infrastructure, may receive a thrust toward resolution with the new era of real-time transaction-based messaging, marketing, and advertising being touted by the likes of Cardlytics, Google, and others.

There’s a wealth of information that can be gleaned from this type of data, and if pure-play digital tech innovation is the catalyst for increased use and awareness across all channels, I’d say that’s step in the right direction.

“Opening Up” the Printing Industry

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It’s no secret that proprietary technology powers the printing industry. Over the years, there have been several significant milestones that work toward “opening up” systems that power printing, such as the introduction and adoption of JDF & JMF, the standardization of PDF, and the growing presence of open interfaces to connect disparate systems together. Despite these developments, I bet there are still plenty of prepress operators (and managers) out there that become incensed when they try opening up a client’s InDesign CS5 file when they only have CS4 installed. There is a great (and somewhat ironic) story from the Social Science Resource Council about their experience publishing a report on software piracy and having to deal with multiple Adobe Creative Suite versions.

Despite these issues, it’s my view that the proprietary nature that many companies operate in have contributed to research, development, and advancement in the industry as a whole. Still, my belief is that there is a place in this industry for open, collaborative projects that can be accessed and contributed to by anyone that help move the industry forward. In 2007, while I was still at RIT, an initiative called the Open Publishing Lab, or OPL, was started in the university’s School of Print Media to address these issues. According to its Website, the OPL’s mission comprises three “E’s”:

  • Extend existing publishing platforms
  • Enable new publishing products and business models
  • Empower individuals and communities to easily tell their stories as never before

All projects conducted and released by the Open Publishing Lab are “open source,” meaning that each project is released freely to the public, including the base source code, to help meet the OPL’s aforementioned goals.

I was not really involved with the OPL while I was at RIT, although I support its mission and principles, especially because one of its core functions is connecting print-focused students with IT-focused students to collaborate on systems-based projects. It has done some great work to date including Page2Pub, a tool that enables content aggregation from the Web into an EPUB eBook for reading and printing, along with Innovation News, a platform used for the rapid collection, preparation, and production of news stories for print and electronic output. The most recent effort by the OPL is Drop2Print, the details of which were released last week in a research monograph by RIT’s Printing Industry Center. From the monograph’s executive summary:

The challenge of connecting customers (end users) to print service providers that can best meet their needs is mirrored by the challenge that many smaller print service providers face in making potential customers aware of their services. Lack of a commonvocabulary and the communication of job requirements (customer) and servicesavailable (print service providers) further complicate the process.

The goal of this research project was to create a prototype and model for a simple, easy-to-use tool for end users to discover the specific print service providers that meet their requirements for production and fulfillment. The resulting prototype, Drop2Print, provides an easy-to-use desktop application that leverages the technical specifications of an end user’s PDF document to simplify the discovery of appropriate print service providers. This desktop application is linked to an online database that allows the Drop2Print application to determine the print service providers in a specific location that are able to meet the specifications of the print job.

In other words, Drop2Print is designed to be an easy, interactive way for potential print buyers to find print service providers that meet their specific printing needs. Drop2Print is just one example of distributed production print solutions that have been launched in recent years. We’ve seen similar types of models come into existence in the marketplace, such as HubCast and more recently, QuarkPromote. We’ve also seen large outsourcing management organizations like InnerWorkings leverage this type of model in the enterprise. What I like about the Drop2Print model is that it’s simple, it scales to organizations of all sizes, and it’s open.

Drop2Print still needs to be developed out further, and there is a high-level road map included in the research monograph of what’s in store. Regardless, it’s an important and well-done exercise in looking at the industry, defining a need, and working to develop a solution to meet that need. Best of all, it’s developed and documented in a completely open and transparent way, helping it serve as an educational tool for the industry that can be built upon by a broader community. I think the industry needs more of this type of open collaboration, and it’s great to see the OPL engaging in activities that work toward that goal.

Following Best Practices for Mobile Engagement with 2D Barcodes

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For better or worse, living in Boston means that I am subjected to quite a bit of marketing and advertising. As I drive in and out of the city, billboards plaster each side of the highway. When I visit any number of watering holes across the region, there’s bound to be an ad or two in the restroom.

Public transportation, in particular, has been overtaken by advertising: quite a number of buses are partially or fully wrapped in ads, the trolley cars have ads on the inside and on the outside, and many stations are plastered with a cacophony of advertising. The commercialization of a public entity like the transit system has a lot to do with the woeful amount of debt the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, or MBTA, has to somehow deal with. Of course, one of those ways is to create ad space where a large, captive, and diverse audience exists. Many other public entities are using the same strategy of selling ad space to raise revenues under tough economic circumstances.

Because public space is now scattered with marketing, advertisers are trying new things to engage with people in new ways, particularly through the use of integrating a mobile engagement mechanism with a print campaign. One of the more popular engagement mechanisms is the mobile 2D barcode, including the popular QR code, among others. As I’ve written about in the past, these mechanisms are merely that; tools to extend the ad experience beyond the print campaign into a relationship with a person. That means the tools need to be used effectively to garner a successful result.

Yesterday, as I stood on a platform at Park Street station in Boston waiting for my train to come in, I noticed an example of mobile engagement gone awry. I wanted to share it to help those venturing down the path of using mobile 2D barcodes avoid some key pitfalls and perils that can derail any chance for mobile engagement. I looked across the tracks and noticed a large print ad from the Berkshires Visitors Bureau, promoting the outdoor activities that one can presumably experience while visiting the Berkshires. On the bottom-right corner, I noticed a blurry box with a number of square dots… oh it’s a QR code! This example breaks one of the cardinal best practices of utilizing mobile 2D barcodes: make the barcode big enough for the placement of the application.

The image photo above is a pretty accurate representation of what I initially viewed on the platform. Below is a closer look at what the ad looks like, using my iPhone 4’s digital zoom capability:

Finally, I tried using the greatest amount of zoom possible on my phone to see if I could get a clear, “scannable” or “clickable” image of the QR code:

While the size of the QR code may have been big enough for an ad that where someone could walk up closer to it for scanning purposes, the application across from tracks where commuters aren’t supposed to walk on is a significant misstep.

My guess is that before this ad was rolled out into the subway, it wasn’t adequately tested to make sure the code scanned even if a person was at an appropriate distance. Why? There’s no white space surrounding the QR code; all four sides directly abut the imagery in the ad. Another important best practice, particularly with QR codes, is to ensure there is adequate white space surrounding the barcode to ensure that the anchor points can be detected by the scanning application. Without white space, most scanners will have trouble or may not even be able to scan the QR code.

What about wireless broadband reception? If an ad with a mobile 2D barcode is located in a subway, doesn’t that mean there’s no access to the Internet to experience what’s behind the code? At least in Boston, voice and data services from a variety of wireless carriers have been expanded to numerous subway lines, including Park Street station. Nevertheless, wireless Internet access is an important consideration when thinking about using mobile engagement mechanisms.

It’s not clear who exactly placed this QR code on this ad. It could be an ad agency, another type of service provider, or the Berkshires Visitors Bureau itself if it does its own internal design. I’m sure that the group had the best intentions for the use of a QR code. The fact remains, however, that the small code size, the inherent distance from the ad, and the lack of white space all contribute to the fact that this ad will generate zero hard impressions from the barcode itself. Again, a mobile 2D barcode is a tool for engagement; following best practices for use will ensure that mobile engagement with a print campaign can be done effectively.

Location-Based Services: What’s it All About?

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I’ve been seeing some great posts lately on the The Digital Nirvana that cover many different aspects of mobile marketing and technology, including mobile 2D barcodes, mobile content delivery, and more. In light of a number of very recent events, and to build upon my last post about data security, I wanted to cover one additional aspect of mobile marketing and technology: location-based services (sometimes referred to as LBS). In the context of mobile, location-based services leverage the GPS and wireless broadband capabilities in a smart mobile device to drive hyperlocal applications.

One of the more basic applications of LBS is the GPS feature on your smartphone. Perhaps you’ve taken advantage of some of the more advanced applications built on location-based services, as well; you may have checked in to your favorite restaurant on foursquare or Facebook Places, found a good bookstore close-by on Yelp, or even found the nearest post office on the USPS app. These apps use your device’s GPS to determine your exact location and then use your wireless broadband connection to deliver localized information or entertainment to your screen, all in the matter of a few seconds. This accomplishment is pretty astounding when you think about it, and in many situations, highly useful.

If you’re not familiar with the prior example of “checking in”, it is typically a function of a location-based game or social network where a user “checks in” or submits their coordinates to prompt a location-based action. In LBS games like MyTown, your check-ins earn you points to level-up in the game. In LBS social networks like Facebook Places and foursquare, the place you are visiting is shared with your friends, and you’re even able to redeem coupons or discounts from the businesses you frequent.

Especially in major metropolitan areas, local businesses use these types of offers through something like “foursquare for Business” to generate loyalty with their plugged-in customers. Foursquare also works with brands to do location-based marketing for hyperlocal engagement. Some vendors and service providers, including Konica Minolta and Harte-Hanks (respectively) used foursquare at recent trade shows to engage with attendees and bring traffic to their booth.

While there are lots of impressive, useful applications of location-based services and significant growth is expected in this area, location data privacy has been in the news quite prominently over the past twoo weeks. Researchers recently announced their finding that Apple’s iOS tracks location data and stores it in an unencrypted file on your mobile device, which you can actually visualize using a desktop application the researchers created. Apple stated that some of this information is shared to help improve user experience over time. Later in the week, it was revealed that Android phones also track location data in a similar type of on-device cache. Apparently Microsoft does the same thing with its newest Windows mobile OS, as well.

What do these findings mean? In the end, probably not much if you’re a law-abiding citizen (these location databases have been used in forensic analyses for law enforcement). Still, with recent data breaches on our minds, and the prospect that these location caches are not encrypted in any way can certainly stir up thoughts of how this location data can be used if someone steals your device, for instance. Many users are clearly concerned about their location data privacy. Companies throughout the entire mobile ecosystem, from carriers to device manufacturers to app developers, need to be transparent about what data is stored, how it is stored, how it is shared/used, and how it can be protected. By clearly communicating this information and giving users the option to easily opt-out of location services (and make sure that opt-out actually works), the stigma around location data can be lifted.

There is immense potential still to be reached with location-based services, especially for local businesses trying to connect with their customers in new ways and for brands that want to engage with people in a unique way. Through transparency, choice, and clear value, LBS can move from a privacy concern to an effective tool for marketers and consumers. Service providers that are getting more involved with digital media need to seriously analyze if and how LBS fits within your suite of services; the opportunity is still too large to ignore.