Archive | September 30, 2013

BRCK & Project Loon – Two approaches to get Africa connected

loon

Recently I read an article about a crowd funded project named BRCK (pronounced as Brick) that wanted to create a solid way to provide internet to harder to reach areas such as the southern part of the African continent, where many projects have failed to provide internet due to the lack of infrastructure in many African countries. Another project that is currently trying the same is Project Loon, a very ambitious project that has been started by Google. In this blog-post I would like to introduce you to these two relatively new projects and discuss their advantages and disadvantages.

BRCK – Internet in a brick

BRCK first started as an idea to connect various areas in Africa to the internet. The founders of the project, all together under the name of Ushahidi, wanted to overcome several challenges that make it harder for areas in Africa to get connected. One of the main problems is the simple lack of a stable internet source. BRCK is able to connect to a lot of different internet sources like a simple ethernet cable, WiFi or Cellular Data (like 3G or 4G). Because of the capability to switch between these sources when required, it can form a much more stable source of internet. Together with this, BRCK runs on its own battery and can currently last up to 8 hours without recharging. In an e-mail conversation with one of the project managers, they indicated that the sun might be a reliable energy source for the BRCK in the future, making it even more suitable for those areas.

(Dis)advantages

BRCK has some advantages but also some disadvantages that should not be overlooked.

Because of the capability of the BRCK to adapt to different internet sources, it can make use of any available source;
Project has already reached the target on Kickstarter (See source link);

  While BRCK provides a very reliable internet connection when one or multiple sources are available, it does require at least one source to be present;
  The energy source that is currently provided only lasts for 8 hours;
  Still relying on crowd funds.

 

Project Loon – Hot Air Internet

A while back Google announced a very ambitious project named Project Loon. Both pointing to the huge scale of the project (only a lunatic would be able to come up with something like this) and to the fact that they want to use hot air balloons to spread the internet. As Google explains in their Blog post about Project Loon, before Google many others have tried to use high-altitude platforms to provide internet to areas that currently do not have access and are hard to reach. They are now using the winds in the stratosphere (±20 km height) and solar power to control their balloons at high altitudes. Challenges they had to face were for example keeping the balloons in the right path around the globe. By using the solar power they can control the balloons, allowing them to change their altitudes and bring them in a wind that will bring the balloon(s) to the desired location. They also designed very complex algorithms to keep the balloons in the area where they want them to stay near.

(Dis)advantages

Google has access to computing power, algorithms and has a good financial basis.
The balloons can cover large areas because of the height (20 km)

Is it really possible to send up enough balloons to provide solid internet? Many researches, scientists and even balloonists criticize Loon (see sources)
While Google has a very good financial basis to start the project, Google still is a commercial company, what is in it for Google?

Discussion

There are a lot of different views on this subject and even within the different projects views about how to execute the project differ. Project Loon seems to have very good intentions but I doubt whether the project will make things better for the inhabitants of the continent. I suppose they have other things to worry about than their WiFi connection. BRCK seems promising in the way it tries to combine different internet sources to establish a reliable internet source, but as displayed it has the disadvantage that it still requires some internet source, while that is exactly the problem in some areas.

Your comments/views are welcome as always!

Sources:

BRCK:
Meet BRCK: Internet for Africa (TED): http://www.ted.com/talks/juliana_rotich_meet_brck_internet_access_built_for_africa.html
BRCK Kickstarter Project: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1776324009/brck-your-backup-generator-for-the-internet
BRCK Official site: http://brck.com/

Project Loon:
Official Google Africa Blog: http://google-africa.blogspot.nl/2013/06/introducing-project-loon-balloon.html
Loons Official Site: http://www.google.com/loon/how/
Criticisms on Loon: http://www.techradar.com/news/internet/famed-balloonist-per-lindstrand-pops-google-s-balloon-powered-internet-dreams-1182968

 

 

 

Vending machine personalizes your purchases

The days of inserting small change into a vending machine and watching how your bag of chips gets stuck on the way down may be history! A new innovative technology developed by SAP Hana, allows the customer to use his or her smartphone to purchase a product. The vending machine is provided with a sensor that connects with your smartphone application if you hold your device against this sensor.

CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO so it all becomes clearer:

Afbeelding

Source: http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com

Using cloud technology the vending machine can personalize your purchase. Customers have to install the SAP Hana application on their smartphone and the cloud can easily identify the user and build a personal profile based on purchase history. Besides, customers can easily give feedback on their purchases and they can send gifts to their friends who also use the application.

This (in my opinion) ‘nice innovation’ can provide vendors with a lot of transaction and personal data that was not possible before. However, one has to take into account that this kind of application takes its risks regarding privacy violations due to the storage of sensitive personal data.

How do you fellow BIMmers think about this application? Would you use it?

References

Vending Machine Uses Cloud Technology to Personalize Your Purchases. 2013 [ONLINE] Available at: http://mashable.com/2013/09/30/vending-machines-cloud/. [Accessed 30 September 2013].

The Online Corner Store

Presently I am working at Oxolutions B.V. and one of my projects is relevant to last week’s topic about B2C E-commerce.

Problem statement

More and more retailers are hit by the economic crisis. Disposable incomes fall, a growing group of people prefer online shopping and the big grocery stores are constantly lowering their product prices. A possible outcome for the small retailers is to start an online store to offer their products. A lot of retailers we spoke are not capable of doing this. They often do not have the knowledge, time and budget to start an own web shop. We also spoke to some retailers who are capable of doing this, but these retailers indicate that an online competition against the big grocery stores is completely hopeless. De small retailer’s possibilities are limited and currently they are finding themselves in heavy weather.

Facts

Image

This figure shows the heavy weather mentioned above. We can see a constant decline of the retailer’s revenue and sales volume in the years 2010 till 2013. De blue lines represent the average change of revenue made by the retailers. The orange lines represent the average change of sales volume sold by the retailers.

The Online Corner Store

Oxolutions B.V. tries to provide a solution to the problem mentioned above. We developed an online platform, which looks and feels like a web shop, for the small retailers. Every small retailer who participates in a certain shopping mall is allowed to use this platform to offer their products.

By doing this, the retailers create an online shopping mall were consumers use one platform to shop at different shops at one time. The products offered are not only groceries but also products like clothes, daily food, pies, home accessories, shoes and so on. This offers the costumer to  order their products of their favorites local shops online. When visiting the website, customers can select their own shopping mall on a digital map. The online shops are branded with the same logos and using the same recognizable colors as they use in the physic shopping mall. All Orders are collected during the day. At the end of the day, retailers drop off their orders at a central point from where distribution to the customer takes place.

Benefits

The first benefit is that. By combining forces, retailers are able to go “online” so that they can participate in the growing online market. The second benefit is that customers are able to buy their products online from their well-known local retailers.

Disadvantages

At this moment Oxolutions B.V. faces a few obstacles. The first obstacle is the delivery process.

The delivery of all kinds of products, like shoes, , frozen food and fresh products is a big challenge when your goal is to keep the quality at a high level and the shipping costs down. At the moment Oxolutions is in negotiation with various pizza-couriers and retailers, to overcome this obstacle. The second obstacle is the start-up of the project. Retailers only want to take effort to put their products online if the platform really generates customers. On the other hand customers will only visit the platform if the platform is filled with products from all the retailers and when a variety of products can be bought online.

References

http://www.cbs.nl/nl-NL/menu/themas/handel-horeca/publicaties/monitor-handel-horeca/monitor-detailhandel/archief/2013/2013-k2-dh-db.htm

 

Apple the new #1

Today, Interbrand posted the new top 100 of Best Global Brands 2013 in which they determined brand value based on financial performance, the influence the brand has on consumer choices and the strength of the brand has to require a premium price. For the first time in thirteen years there is a new leader. Apple, not surprisingly, became the most valuable brand in the world, taking over the top position from Coca Cola after thirteen years. Interbrand estimates the value of Apple at $98,3 billion; this is 28% more than in the 2012 report. Apple is haunted by the #2 on the list, Google, with an estimated brand value of $98,2 billion (a raise of 34% compared to last year). With these figures I can’t wait for next year’s list to see whether Apple will be able to maintain its top position.

To see the whole list, take a look at: http://www.interbrand.com/nl/best-global-brands/2013/top-100-list-view.aspx

According to Interbrand “Every so often, a company changes our lives, not just with its products, but also with its ethos. This is why, following Coca-Cola’s 13-year run at the top of Best Global Brands, Interbrand has a new #1—Apple.”

To give an example, our lives changed due to the introduction of the iPad just a few years ago. I think no one can argue against the fact that Apple has become a very powerful brand in the world. Due to a great reputation Apple has been able to deliver high quality products and reduce seller uncertainty leading to higher price premiums. New product launches are very successful as we can see by the amount of people sleeping in front of Apple stores, nights before they can acquire the new product (e.g. iPhone 5). All they want is a product that fits their needs instead of focussing on finding products for the best price.

When I look at the top 10 of most valuable brands, I find it not at all surprising that 5 companies are technology brands. Tech brands continue to dominate Interbrand’s Best Global Brands report, the consultancy firm said in a press release, “underscoring the fundamental and invaluable role they play in consumers’ lives.” Technology is a dominant factor in our everyday lives and so will be the technology firms. I think the fierce competition among technology firms will lead to another top 10 next year. Consumer preferences will continue to change even faster in the future challenging firms. Successful firms (not only technology firms) will stay focused on producing what consumers are seeking for so they can benefit frim price premiums and generate more profits.

What do you think? Will Google become next year’s number 1 or is Apple capable to maintain its #1 position? And what about the fact that so many tech brands are in the list, is this a trend that will continue in the future? What should Coca Cola for example do to become the #1 again?

Future will tell us!

References

http://www.nu.nl/tech/3588491/apple-meest-waardevolle-merk.html

http://www.interbrand.com/nl/best-global-brands/2013/top-100-list-view.aspx

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/30/business/media/apple-passes-coca-cola-as-most-valuable-brand.html?_r=0

http://www.financialpost.com/markets/news/Interbrand+Releases+14th+Annual+Best+Global+Brands+Report/8975185/story.html

 

The Rise of the MOOC

One exciting IT-driven development of the last few years has been the emergence of the MOOC in the educational sector. When considering the possible implications that such a ‘Massive Open Online Course’ could have on the educational sector, I’m starting to fear that I am part of the last generation that physically attends classes on a regular basis. Visions of future students getting tanned on a Bahama beach while simultaneously being taught by an Ivy League dream team have been tormenting my mind ever since I started to read into the topic. Undoubtedly this is just the result of an unfounded overestimation of the MOOC potential – about time to regain my mental peace by assessing the future of the MOOC.

The MOOC is a fairly recent development in ‘distance education’ that allows people to enroll in an interactive online course. A good example of a MOOC-providing service is Edx, which is created by Harvard and MIT to provide students from around the world with the best of higher education (www.edx.org/about-us). The Major MOOC providers (Coursera, Edx, Udacity) generally aim to improve the accessibility of high education and the sharing of knowledge by creating a knowledge platform related to specific topics. The ultimate goal is to create academic communities for students and professors, who share knowledge through both traditional and technology-based course materials. A decent MOOC is therefore interactive; it should go beyond filming and uploading lectures.

Will MOOCS transform the educational sector dramatically? So far, the academic world has embraced the MOOC emergence enthusiastically. An increasing number of universities announced partnerships with the above mentioned major MOOC providers. At this moment, more than 1.5 million people have registered for classes through either Edx, Coursera or Udacity (Wikipedia.nl), and this number is still growing. The number of people actually finishing a course, however, is considerably lower: about 90% fails to get a course certificate (Parslow, 2013:1). According to Parslow, lack of motivation is the main contributor to this high dropout rate. Participants feel isolated; they miss individual attention. This is probably one of the reasons why some feel that MOOCs were 2012’s big educational hype.

Yang (2012) describes the development of MOOC’s along the line of a typical hype cycle: the technology received a lot of media attention right from the start, initiating a hype that reached its peak late 2012. After a while, too much had been said about the topic and people got tired of MOOC’s, or at least not as excited about them as in the beginning. Yang asks himself the question whether or not we should still care about MOOCs, now that we are on the other side of the hype cycle. The importance of accessible education for people all  over the world leads him to think we should: MOOCs might have an important part to play in improving worldwide affordable, high quality education.

At this point, the future of MOOCs is unclear. The technology has already improved accessibility to education, but the lack of personal attention and control seem to seriously hinder massive (future) adoption. All and all, I’m inclined to think that the MOOC technology lacks the disruptiveness to transform the entire educational industry – such a pity for Bahamas Air.

References:

Edx: http://www.edx.org

Parslow, G.R., 2013: ‘Commentary: Massive Open Online Cources’, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mooc

Yang, 2012: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dennis-yang/post_4496_b_2877799.html

Social media marketing in Rotterdam: How these companies do it right.

Image

If you live in Rotterdam, chances are that you’ve heard about the quote “010 isn’t just a code”. And if you pay attention when you’re outside, you will notice the long line of guys standing outside of barbershop Schorem before they open. Nultien kleding has 45.000 likes on Facebook, where Schorem has 73.000 likes. For comparison, bigger companies like de Bijenkorf (360K), Coolblue (150K), Albert Heijn (172K) and Bol.com (326K) only have three to four times as much likes. Why are these two small companies so successful?

Nultien kleding (010 Clothing) is a small clothing company that started out as a webshop. They sell t-shirts and hoodies with a quote or picture that is related to Rotterdam. They currently have a webshop and one small shop in Rotterdam. Schorem is a barbershop located at the Nieuwe Binnenweg in Rotterdam. They run a 1950’s style barbershop, where only men are allowed inside.

Mangold and Faulds state that people are more likely to communicate through both word-of-mouth and social media when they are engaged with the product, service or idea. This is exactly what these two companies do right. People in Rotterdam are proud of their city and want to express this in some kind of way. Nultien kleding satisfies this desire by designing clothes with which the customer can express himself as a “proud Rotterdammer”. Same goes for Schorem. They are a no-nonsense barber. You can’t make an appointment, woman aren’t allowed in the shop, you can choose from only a few different haircuts and you get a cold beer while you are waiting. Apparently, this was what lots of guys were missing. Waiting times of 4 hours are common. Not because of the haircut, but because of the feeling of being a men.

Another factor for succes that the authors identified is that you should provide exclusivity. This is because people like to feel special. Nultien kleding and Schorem retweet tweets of their customers. Schorem invites people via Facebook for a free haircut by a barber in training. Nultien kleding had a promotion where customers could win a 100 Euro gift certificate by making photos of 010-billboards and tweeting them. These are all ways to make the customer feel special.

Kaplan and Haenlein state that you have to pick the platform to use wisely. You can’t use all social media platforms. It is important to allign these platforms and use them in the right way. Schorem uses Facebook mainly for telling longer stories and posting media, Twitter for short announcements and Instagram for professional photo’s of their barbershop. Same goes for Nultien kleding. Both companies use only a few social media platforms and use them in the right way.

I personally think the most important dimension about social media marketing is being social itself. Kaplan and Haenlein identify five factors about being social, namely; be active, interesting, humble, unprofessional and honest. I think the two companies did exactly what the authors of the article found out. They post new content every day. Sometimes a story on Facebook, a retweet or a picture on Instagram. They tell interesting stories, because they know what their customers would like to hear and actually listen to what they have to say. They communicate in a way which the customers understand and don’t tell lies.

What do you think? What is the driver behind the succes of these two companies? I would really appreciate your opinions on this case. Of course, ther feedback is always welcome.

Bart Mol

References:

“Social media: The new hybrid element of the promotion mix” W. Glynn Mangold, David J. Faulds.

“Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media” Andreas M. Kaplan, Michael Haenlein.