Archive for category Information Management

Integrating the Experience across Desktop and Mobile with Pushbullet

I recall that Pushbullet appeared on my recommended apps in Google Play for a while. 

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Now that I’ve had it installed on my mobile and in the Chrome Browser, I wish I had done it sooner.

What does Pushbullet do?

Pushbullet does a number of remarkably simple things really well to generate a more unified experience across Desktop and Mobile.

When the desktop | tablet device & mobile are connected via Internet access (not necessarily the same Wireless access point)

  • Mobile App Notification are Pushed to the desktop (via browser or desktop app)
    • Send and receive SMS messages via desktop | browser UI
  • Share | Transfer files between Mobile | Desktop devices

For example, we are now all fairly familiar with some multi-factor authentication techniques that involve delivering a temporary code to a mobile handset, which then needs to be entered into a validation field on a web page.   While not terribly arduous it does mean accessing two devices and a couple of screen to ‘port’ that code between the mobile and the web page.

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So where Pushbullet makes it so much more easy, you receive the same message in a notification box on your desktop, making it very simple to copy the code and verify it, on a single screen – almost side by side if you wish.

The Unification of Communication through Pushbullet – considering it is a browser extension is quite tremendous.   It almost rivals some Enterprise UCC services for features and seems rather more transferable across devices.  For example:

  • You receive SMS messages that you can also send back a reply
  • Create SMS message direct from the browser 
  • You get notification of a call connection, with the contact details displayed if available from your contacts list. 

Moving files and images from a mobile has normally involved USB cable direct connections, though of course there are several file sync services that offer a holistic synchronisation service (those are normally orientated around the Mobile to Cloud pathway).  Pushbullet allows you to quickly grab an image or a file and Push it across very rapidly – great for receipt images etc.

It also enables you to

Have you tried Pushbullet ?

If so what do you like or enjoy about it? 

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How Google is Useful

Recently I blogged about Orientating around Android Devices.   While I did mention the use of applications and services in that post, I didn’t call out any in particular.

However, this screen shot, demonstrates one really useful service, I have become increasingly fond of and reliant upon.

That service is Google Now

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As a reasonably frequent traveller the information provided is succinct, timely and ultimately useful in assisting me plan, and schedule my actions.

As it covers a number of topics, including sport, useful local information, etc, and it is available on the desktop too – it is a pervasive, multi-device digital assistance.

Certainly in terms ecosystem and service, lock-in and increasing consumer dependency, I think Google Now, leads the field.

What do you think?

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Orientating around Android devices

 

At the start of May I received a replacement for my broken Blackberry 9300 Curve.  I am very glad to say it wasn’t another Blackberry, instead I received a Sony Xperia M – a reasonably modern Android phone running Android 4.3.

Moving to an Android based phone, has been a boon for me as it will nicely compliment my Nexus 7 tablet.  In fact the commonality of Google and Android is the basis for an almost complete repetition and synchronicity of many of the applications and services I use.  I still use a Windows operating system on my laptop, but is not a conflicting factor, as many applications and services are also accessible via the Google Chrome browser.

While of course the Microsoft Windows desktop operating system is still very dominant in terms of usage in the laptop | desktop space and more so with Windows Surface tablets.  Having such good quality access to applications and services  on two Android form factors (phone and tablet), has made me question the necessity of remaining on Windows as the operating system of choice for the laptop device.

Already core Windows Office suite applications and services (Outlook | MS Word, Excel) etc. are already or being made more tablet or browser compatible.  Think of the Office 365 service, and the Office Web Apps functionality, so further diminishing the requirement to have an actual application installed onto a Windows operating system as a necessity.

While most enterprises can’t consider abandoning Microsoft Windows as a device platform altogether, I think the personal consumer and many SME/ SMBs could strongly consider the possibility of an entirely Android (and here I stretch the term a little to include Google Chromebooks) based device eco-system.   Google Chromebooks are now a maturing and full featured alternative to the Microsoft Windows based device. 

Of course Apple also offer a very compelling set of devices, coupled to a very well integrated operating system and application set.  So both Google and Apple offer opportunities upon which to orientate or consolidate on to bring more common device harmony into a business.  We should not discount the option to consider a more explicit Linux based desktop system, such as Ubuntu or Linux Mint etc.,  though having tried them for a while, I believe they will always remain a more niche player in the desktop | laptop space, especially with such dominant competition from Apple, Google and Microsoft.

This brings in a further opportunity to consider moving away from device centric applications and data,  and how the virtual desktop (VDI) and application virtualisation options also need to be considered along side the choice of device eco-system.  

Other aspects to factor into these considerations include

  • Data and content storage and delivery – will this all be cloud based – e.g. Google Docs or Microsoft O365 – or are there other factors to be considered?
  • Do certain use cases necessitate the use of a local application and data set?  (e.g. Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Project)
  • Device management strategy – patching and updates – how will they be managed and delivered

Having also tried a Google Chromebook, (having used one while on a holiday break),  I can see how it could easily cater for 85% of the work and processes and I engage with as an Information | Knowledge worker.  Only that I need to work with and build fairly complex spreadsheets (using Microsoft Excel) is keeping a Windows based operating system as a necessity.  I do also wonder how well a device such as Google Chromebook caters for multimedia activities consumers need around managing and connecting with peripheral devices like cameras and editing videos etc.

More and more frequently I’ve seen the Apple Macbook Pro (or the Osx UI – via web meetings) appearing, and presume those users are benefitting from a harmonised device experience between the Apple Mac and their iphone device. 

Of course Microsoft also offer their Windows Phone based devices, which also offer a similar integrated operating system and application set.  However, the application ecosystem for Windows Phone devices, doesn’t offer the same breadth of application support and availability that Apple and Android devices users have at their disposal.  Which for me is a detractor for opting to orientate around a complete Microsoft Windows device ecosystem.  Though in terms of UI design and strategy, I think both Apple, Google and Microsoft offer are continuing to recognise the need for distinct and yet harmonious and cohesive UI across all their device form factors.

As both device manufacturers and application developers, build services that accumulate pertinent personal data sets (photos & videos, music collections & playlists, quantitative data (location & travel, health & exercise metrics)), so increasing data transfer inertia or lock-in.  I think consumers will need to seriously consider which particular eco-system and device arrangement makes sense for them, as it look likes it will turn into a long term affair, and with not insignificant hurdles to overcome to move or transfer across manufacturers.

  • Do you share this view?
  • Have you already made a considered choice around a particular device set or eco-system? 
  • What were the determining factors for you?   

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The Humble Table of Contents & Hypermedia Navigation

A favourite topic of mine for blogging about is on tools and techniques to help personal productivity or group collaboration.  So you may wonder why mention the “Table of Contents”?

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Well since Quintus Valerius Soranus was credited with a little-recognized literary innovation: Pliny the Elder says he was the first writer to provide a table of contents to help readers navigate a long work.  The Table of Contents has been an invaluably useful tool to assist in content navigation since that introduction.  And remains an expected item to appear in any rendition of literary content whether physical or digital print form.

The advent of computer software and the Internet have brought adaptions, and automation.   Such as dynamically created TOCs in Microsoft Word or in Wikis such as Wikipedia’s (TOC info).

The core principle being the use of hypertext and hyperlinks (reference points) to form the navigation structure and format, so presenting the user with a method of navigation through the document contents.

With the advent of collaborative, content management systems, like Jive and Microsoft SharePoint,  while it is possible to render a TOC within an individual document, to navigate it’s own headings and sub-headings.

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What I find is actually lacking is an automated or dynamic inventory of the content of space, e.g. the actual records or documents that exist within that same.   At this point in time I’m not aware of either existing in the named example of content management systems I’ve given above.  I would be interested to hear of system that supports such a service.

I do create these myself, as a way of recording a breadcrumb trail, to be a record for my own use, and feel it does serve in ease my own navigation around self-service content libraries or document repositories.

It serves me well to store contextual material around such artefacts and I have benefitted from productivity gains by easily finding the article and context around is origin or purpose for storage, long after it has passed from my activity memory.

These manual document TOCs are part of Personal Knowledge Management kit bag.

Here’s an example I call “Key Links”

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I was slow to realise that Evernote has a “note link” functionality, and again these can be constructed and utilised as a manner to navigate and move between notes.

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See this help note “How to use note links to connect between notes” to understand how to create and set these up.

As it says:

One of the coolest things you can do with Note Links is create a Table of Contents for a set of notes inside of a notebook. This is particularly useful if you are sharing a notebook with other individuals.

And the Evernote Blog article:

Quick Tip: How to Use Note Links

Here is a youtube describing the functionality.

Evernote Note Links

My recommendation is always add a link back to the TOC document you have created, so you have the ability to go and return via hyperlinks with equal ease, there is no point linking somewhere and ending up stranded.

Like this:

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Do you use TOCs in this manner, in Evernote or elsewhere? 

Have you found an automation tool to do this?

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Evernote’s Web Clipper Update

Evernote introduced another to their Web Clipper product. (v6.0) – the initial release available for Google Chrome

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Here’s the introductory video:

Evernote Webclipper for Chrome

The Web Clipper is one of the best features of the Evernote product set.  For me it’s key for collecting and saving web content into my Evernote.

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Interestingly this particular update includes several features I associate with Evernote Clearly, another Evernote product I like and have posted about previously (link).

      • “Simplified (NEW): We brought in features from our Clearly extension to strip the page of all distractions for easy reading and clean clipping.”

It’s also integrated elements from Evernote Skitch too:

      • “We’re bringing features from our Skitch app right into the Web Clipper to let you overlay shapes, arrows and text on top of the page you’re viewing.”

I think these integrations with the other products are a good step forward.   Many of comments on the Evernote blog post – offer similar sentiments, and indeed talk about removing the need for Evernote Clearly extension at all.  To be honest I would welcome that too, it seems to me Evernote are positioning themselves to have a single integrated browser extension.

What do you think – 1 single web browser extension or keep them separate?

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Updated Spotify Discovery View with Audio Preview– Big Data in Action

Spotify the online music streaming service has updated their client discovery page, with a Pinterest-like scrolling magazine view with an audio preview function built-in.

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The click and hold Preview action as shown above, makes easy to sample a recommendation and discover more artists and their music, with the slick UI and making it simple and straight forward to move through the recommendations. 

Behind the scenes it shows that Spotify are paying attention to the usage profile of their users, and displaying recommendations and suggestions based on tunes played and playlist content.  While an individual users’ play history and playlist settings may be quite small digitally.  As Spotify has millions of subscribers to the service, cumulatively this must equate to a significant data-set and require Big Data hosting and analytics services behind that to drive recommendations and observe other trends within their user base.

For further information on the Spotify’s analytics set-up see this blog post from Spotify Labs

Analytics at Spotify

Some quotes from that post:

At the heart of Spotify lives a massive and growing data-set. Most data is user-centric and allows us to provide music recommendations, choose the next song you hear on radio and many other things.  We do our best to base every decision, programmatic and managerial, on data and this extends into the culture.

Most of our recurring data is added to our analytics pipeline by a set of daemons that constantly parse the syslog on production machines looking for messages we have defined along with the associated data for each message. Matching data is compressed and periodically synced to HDFS.  Typically data is available in our Data Warehouse and Dashboards within 24 hours, but in some cases data is available within a few hours or even instantly through tools like Storm.

So there you go, Spotify bring music, culture and Big Data together.  I for one appreciate this useful combination.

Have a look at Spotify through their looping video here.

Do you use Spotify, what do you like about it?

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When Google Replies– Voice Activated Search

Google has had voice enabled search services on multiple devices (mobile, desktop, laptop, tablet) for a while (see >> “search by text, voice, image”).

However, at the recent Google I/O (2013) they announced a “conversational” search experience which has been extended to the browser and desktop experience.

This means Google search responds to an audio search request with an audible answer.

Voice search starts with a click on the microphone icon in the search bar.

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giving the “Speak now” prompt

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and then the “Listening…” prompt

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it captures into text the voice request spoken…

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The search result returned show all the usual feature giving and provides an audible voiceover of the summary text from Wikipedia (where possible).

It also often says “Here is some information about [request]”.

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Often the request is not picked up or understood correctly and the following appears:

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Interestingly, the voice accent and gender are different for different Google domains.

e.g. (google.com – female voice with an American accent, google.co.uk – male voice with an English accent)

At the moment I find it a little flaky and error prone but I presume it will continue to improve as more people engage verbally with Google.

Have you started making use of this service?

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