The Agency Record Blog

Google+ Allows Safe Sharing

I’m so puzzled by Google+. I understand the value of having a social media community that’s automatically plugged into the largest search engine in the world. Users’ content will be completely searchable/findable between Google and Google+, and that’s a major asset for online marketers, web developers, and businesses. It’s also incredible that when using the mobile application for Google+ any images you take with your smart phone will automatically be uploaded to Google+ so you can share them easily.

One of the most revered assets of Google+ is the application of circles. Now, instead of posting pictures, status updates, and articles to ALL your followers, you can organize followers into categories and share information only with specific circles (friends, family, etc). If you have a work related article to promote, share it exclusively with your clients. Similarly, if you’ve uploaded a picture of your wild bachelor weekend, you can share it with the circle holding your friends’ profiles so your co-workers and family members won’t see it.

This new feature does make social sharing more private for those who are worried about sharing too much with the wrong people. On the other hand, if you’re worried about what certain people will think about what you share, do you have any business sharing it in the first place? In other words, if you’re worried about who is reading what you’re sharing, you’re not practicing safe sharing.

Google+ makes safe sharing possible, but it negates a powerful piece of social etiquette. If you’re not comfortable with everyone reading what you’re sharing, then you probably shouldn’t share it. I foresee millions of Google+ mishaps where the wrong information is shared with the wrong circles. Is this the worst thing in the world? No. But by separating social circles, Google is allowing irresponsible sharing to happen all across it’s social community.

Google+ is taking the social world by storm, and it will be interesting to see where the road leads. Despite the ability to share with certain people, I hope the networking world continues to leave its social doors open.

Google No Longer Posting 3rd Party Reviews On Place Pages

News flash! If you were relying on Yelp, Angie’s List and InsiderPages to get extra reviews on your Google Place pages, you won’t be anymore. Google, under a torrent of criticism, has stopped scrapping those sites’ reviews. 3rd party sites have long complained that Google was using their content, or content generated on their sites, to boost it’s own review service, Google Places. Yelp has been particularly vocal with their displeasure.

This has created a bit of a quandary for small business owners that benefited from having reviews of their businesses aggregated in one place. Now, if you go to a company’s Place Page, it might look a little bare. Only reviews from registered Google users will appear there.

The winners in this scenario are clearly the 3rd party sites. Google will no longer be able to piggyback off of their hard work to bolster it’s own review site. Plus, I think Google will really have to improve their user review process. The losers are users of Google’s search. It will be a bit more time consuming to do research on the companies they are looking into. I don’t think Google is affected in any particularly large way. Their place page results are still going to appear at the top of the SERP’s (Search Engine Results Pages).

What does this mean for business owners? It means that they are going to have to send their satisfied customers to multiple places to post their reviews. I don’t think this is a bad thing, though. For the time being, more people are engaging sites like Yelp and Angie’s List. However, do not ignore Google Places. Not only does it appear at the top of the SERP’s, but it is also gaining traction in the mobile app world. In other words, if you diversify your online presence, you won’t have anything to worry about.

Catching Up with Carter Harkins, Part 2

I’m back with part 2 of my conversation with Carter Harkins. Here we talk more about what a client should think about with their video, and how the different video formats work both online and with mobile technologies.

Jonathan Sanders: What are considerations potential clients must take into account when thinking about adding a/v to their website?

Carter Harkins: Audio and video are sometimes viewed as being expensive, but the initial costs will provide many years of continued value for the business that uses them. In order to make the most of an online video strategy, I like to help my clients think about offline ways the same content could be used, or to see if there is a strategy that makes sense for purposing the same content across multiple marketing channels and projects.  This way of thinking helps to unify the brand message, and keeps costs considerably lower while increasing opportunities for exposure across many additional mediums.  It’s a large commitment to deploy video on a web site, but the returns have been huge for several of our clients.

More than just offering video production services, we are content strategists.  It’s about the process of evaluating the core activities of a business, and devising a plan to put video to work in roles such as making more sales, answering more customer questions, and telling powerfully motivating stories, among other things.

JS: Are there any formats you prefer to work with (.mov, .wmv, .flv, etc.)? What formats do you find to be more reliable?

CH: I think I let the answer to that slip out in a previous question, but yes, .flv is still my format of choice for web-browser-destined video. I use .mov and .wmv for other purposes, but usually more as an intermediate format for client approval or personal offline use.

This is probably getting a bit geeky now, but since it taps into your previous question about the future of Flash, I must say I am thrilled that Adobe has baked in the H.264 codec for HD quality video at super-low file sizes. I have been amazed at how good some of these large-format videos appear at full resolution, and it really does show that Adobe gets it, and is responding to the changes in its marketplace.

JS: To enable web video we’ve tried faster connections and more compressed video. Now that more services (Hulu, Netflix, Amazon.com, etc.) are streaming long format video, what do you think needs to be done to improve the experience? Do you think we need an upgrade in network infrastructure or more innovative compression techniques?

CH: Perhaps a little of both.  Streaming technologies become much more important for long-format video, so that viewers can jump around quickly to different sections of the linear timeline without having to download the entire file first.  Again, Flash excels here, in my opinion.

There are certainly a lot of companies, both established and startups alike, that are putting their best minds to work on the issues of content delivery.  As “out of the box” TV moves more and more into the mainstream of viewing habits, I anticipate that we’ll start to see motherboards with dedicated HD video chipsets. This would keep the decode/encode load off the main processor, and provide a better viewing experience for most users without sophisticated and expensive after-market video cards. It would also mean that smaller, highly compressed HD video files would be possible for real-time viewing at full resolution without the typical “hiccups” encountered on playback of certain compression schemas, including Flash in the browser.

JS: How have mobile technologies affected audio/video development for the web?

CH: It’s been a pretty profound shift.  We now sometimes maintain several file versions of the same video content, in order to deliver the best experience to each viewer, depending on their device (Android, iOS, WindowsMobile, etc.).  Social video sites are also doing this automatically with uploaded videos now.  The mobile revolution we see unfolding is making it easier to watch video anywhere, anytime, but for content producers, it has made publishing for all these new devices a lot more strategic and labor-intensive. Safeguarding a unified viewing experience across so many devices, screen sizes and resolutions is a myth.  We just stay with industry best practices for each device right now.

Having said that, I am hopeful about the future of mobile internet devices.  When I put my entrepreneur/innovator hat on, I see a lot of opportunity right now.  Seriously, this is a good time to be building apps in the mobile video space.  Know any investors that I should be friends with?

Catching Up with Carter Harkins, Part 1

We spend a lot of time writing about our individual levels and areas of expertise, but this time, I wanted Carter Harkins to express himself through a series of questions and answers. He has a pretty varied background, and it was a lot of fun to pick his brain. Here is part 1 of my interview with him.

Jonathan Sanders: How did you get started providing Audio/Video services for the web?

Carter Harkins: I am a musician from way back, and I play keyboard/synthesizer, so I have always been pretty connected to the technical side of the arts. When the world wide web came along in the 90’s, I immediately got interested in how computers could be used to musically collaborate across distances. These days, it’s no big deal for a bass player to lay down his part in Chicago one day, and put it on the web for the saxophone player in London to add his part. But back then it was The Holy Grail.

Video came later as I started experimenting with digital imagery as part of marketing musicians I worked with.  And at some point, I realized that I had the skills to be able to handle the audiovisual web for clients, so I just hung out my shingle and opened for business. It’s been a lot of fun, from the early days until now, growing into a full-service marketing firm people are taking seriously.

JS: Are there any common misconceptions about how audio/video works online?

CH: There are a LOT of small technical things that, if not understood properly, can add up to something that sounds or looks awful.  I’ve done a lot of podcasting for clients, and the number one misconception is that the audiences are all listening on iPods. They aren’t. They listen in front of their computers on those dinky little monitor-mounted speakers. So engineering the sound for that environment means that my recordings always sound better to people.

In video there are still way too many codecs and formats for the web, and people tend to only publish their video for the platform they own (PC or MAC), ignoring the other platform entirely. If the video is going to be seen on the web, I go with Flash video, because it is completely cross-platform, and the only format that in natively installed on about 98% of all computers worldwide.  Mobile content is another story these days, so lately we are encoding videos in multiple formats, aimed at and optimized for the devices that are popular today.

But perhaps the biggest misconception about a/v content on the web is that you can do whatever you want to with it. Copyright laws have NOT kept up with the internet explosion, and technology makes it super-easy to rip music and download videos, but just because you can do those things so easily doesn’t mean that it’s legal.

JS: There are a lot of web video standards now, with H.264 being a particularly strong competitor to Flash. Nonetheless, Flash is still the most used format for video on the web. Where do you see Adobe taking it?

CH: Flash now utilizes the “H-dot” standard natively, so there’s no real competition there any longer.  What has always made the Flash environment more interesting to me than other ways of doing video is how it can use video in a rich, data-driven way to deliver user experiences that are built around visual content.  In these applications, video is just the content that fuels other interactions.  HTML5 is starting to touch on these tools now as well, but Flash has been doing it for years.

We have begun to see the full version of Flash supported on phones, tablets and handheld devices this year. That opens up an entirely new playground of fun to be had. Even with Apple and the Flashless iPad and iPhone exploding in popularity, and HTML5 standards making many of the features of Flash less attractive in the browser, Adobe doesn’t seem to be resting on the fact that it has always had market dominance. Things change fast in the online space, so Adobe is still pushing the envelope. It’s still a strong contender for multimedia applications.

Stay tuned for more of this interview.

iPhone Tracks User Locations. So What?

Last week it was revealed that iPhone users might have had their locations tracked by Apple. People are up in arms over what is obviously a major violation in privacy.

Wake up, people. Google reads your mail. Apple tracks your locations. Facebook tracks your user habits. It’s all to sell you stuff.

While I agree it’s a bit unnerving to have a major corporation documenting your every move, let’s get realistic. Apple, Google, and Facebook are relatively uninterested in what you are ACTUALLY doing. In fact, most user information is tracked for the sole purpose of selling you products you will likely be interested in. Emailing about Spiderman posters? Google will target advertisements selling you superhero paraphernalia. Suddenly “liking” parenting websites on Facebook? You may notice Facebook ads for diapers and other baby gear.

Yes, it’s creepy and it borders on unethical. But can you blame them? It’s becoming easier and easier to ignore advertisements on television, radio, and other mainstream forms of media where we were once bombarded with products and services. I’m not condoning Apple’s transparency failure in tracking user’s locations, but I’m not surprised and you shouldn’t be either.

How to Get Reviews Using Google Hotpot

This video outlines a free way to get your local business to appear higher in Google’s search results by having a Google places page, and asking your customers and clients to review your company there.  By the way, we are practicing what we preach here, too. If you are a satisfied client, would you please review us?

Have You Filled Out Your Google Profile?

Did you know that Google has given everyone the ability to create their own profile? Now it has become that much easier to tell the world what you’re about. In an age where we can never truly get rid of things said about us, we can now have at least some control over what’s out there.

This can be a really crucial act of self promotion and online reputation management. Think about it. You cannot control what people say about you on Facebook. Neither can you on Twitter, LinkedIn or any other social media site. However, with Google Profiles, the first thing people see when they search your name can be your Google profile. The one that you created and filled out yourself. You can explain your core values and standards in your own words. Don’t underestimate how valuable this can be to prospective clients or employers.

Online reputation management is becoming crucial these days. You can no longer afford to keep your head in the sand. Take control of the things that you can.