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March 05, 2015

SMS Alert System for Pregnant Cows is Up for Design of the Year

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There are some weird and wonderful uses for SMS messaging out there, but one of the innovations up for this year’s Design of the Year award is milking the technology for all its worth.

The 76 nominees were announced last week by London’s Design Museum; they will go on display from March 25 to August 23, with the winner announced in June. Designs range from new Norwegian banknotes to high-profile projects like Google’s self-driving car.

But the gadget that’s got us most excited is a new SMS-based monitoring system that tells farmers when their cows are going into labor. If you’ve never had any experience of dairy farming you’ve probably never even realized such a gizmo was necessary, but the brilliantly-named Moocall is a promising solution to a problem that’s largely invisible to the general public.

The gadget hooks onto the tail of a pregnant cow and sends a text message to the farmer when the animal is within an hour of giving birth. It uses 3-D motion sensors and a roaming M2M SIM card to ascertain when a cow is going into labor. Other birthing monitors exist, but they are notoriously invasive and uncomfortable for the cow. Most farmers simply opt to keep vigil over pregnant cows in order to maximize the chances of a live birth. Moocall promises a reliable alert system that causes minimal discomfort and frees up vital resources that would otherwise be spent on watching and waiting. 

Designer Niall Austin first conceived the device for use on his own farm in County Offaly, Ireland, and hopes to break into cattle markets in North and South America. He told Irish Tech News: “Losing a cow and calf during birthing process is heart-breaking and very often completely preventable.” 

Created with the help of Irish tech firms Motech Engineering and Dolmen, Austin’s innovation went through a long development process, with a series of prototypes - tried ‘in the field’ so to speak - helping them shape the design to withstand the elements and the animal’s clumsy heft (sorry, cows - no offence).

Moocall is another example of the diversity of SMS messaging. If it didn’t send a text message it would require some other pieces of hardware for farmers to receive the alerts. That would drive the cost up and give farmers more hassle. It would also make the gadget a much less marketable product. By combining sophisticated birthing monitor technology with the simplicity and near-universal availability of text messaging, Moocall seems to provide a solution to a major setback facing dairy farmers worldwide.

March 02, 2015

Mobile Marketing is 'Next Big Thing' Says Mediacom Boss

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The fundamental differences between mobile marketing automation and web marketing automation must be thoroughly understood by marketers so they can provide a great user experience “across all touchpoints.” This is according to Ben Phillips, Medicom’s head of mobile.

While advertisers have pushed automated content on mobile devices for awhile now, an ambiguous view of how people switch between platforms has marred efforts. A form of mobile automated marketing that “goes beyond” the standard mobile app is set to become more ubiquitous as proximity triggers and push notifications increase in use.  

Phillips emphasizes the idea that mobile is no longer limited to phones, and that brands must take this into consideration. He notes the most successful advertisers are those who have designed creative mobile strategies first and “appreciate how their audience chooses to engage with them and provides the correct response.” In retail, for example, it’s a good idea to connect the experience with CRM, and personalize ads with relevant context rather than pushing random ads to shoppers as they browse aisles.  

The Mediacom boss also notes the role creativity will play in automated mobile marketing, “as many brands start to build 'mobile first' content that is relevant to the consumer regardless of point of engagement. Automated mobile marketing will enable deeper CRM learnings and processes that lead brands to a more personal one-to-one dialogue with their consumers.”

Audience data is essential to craft personalized dialogue with customers, and Phillips predicts “the race this year will be to obtain a persistent tracking identifier for an individual across platforms. By this I don’t just mean mobile and desktop, we need to be able to verify individuals against wearable devices, a smart TV a connected car and internet of things.”

Brands must step up their automated mobile marketing game and fully understand the wide spectrum that is mobile. Medicom is arguably ahead of the game, as the company is working on partnerships similar to its relationship with advertising technology platform Celtra. This means Medicom can create rich media ad units for both desktop and mobile.

“I believe [brands] aren’t doing enough because they aren’t being directed, taught or educated in the right way,” remarked Phillips. “Our industry will begin to consolidate and roll up into digital within the next year. The 'systems' lead thinking approach will win out as it becomes ever more apparent that mobile sits in every marketing and advertising discipline and not as a siloed specialist function.”

The consumer is at the heart of any mobile strategy, so focusing on a well-rounded marketing ploy that includes multiple platform and advertising options is key. Phillips is correct in recommending brands determine how their audience opts to engage them, and to build a mobile marketing strategy from there. The companies that take advantage of this idea are the ones who will figuratively blow competition out of the water in the next few years. 

 

February 25, 2015

DEA Accepting Tip Offs Via SMS

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The McAllen, TX branch of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has turned to text messaging to simplify citizen reporting of potential drug trafficking. DEA Assistant Special Agent Steve Jenkins in the branch office remarked that text messaging is another way to help residents feel safe in their community. 

"We're trying to get the message out to the community that hey this is available and it’s a way for them to help keep the streets safe," Jenkins said. 

Entitled ‘TIP 411,’ the anonymous program makes it possible to text a tip after witnessing possible drug activity. Tipsters can simply type TIP 411 into the “To” line, then use the message box to type RGV with either an image or a description of the crime. Jenkins says the tip will be passed to the DEA office, who will act accordingly. The number of anyone who sends a tip will not be viewed by the DEA agent.  

Jenkins also noted the new system allows the office to keep in anonymous contact with tipsters, as opposed to phone call where the information flow ends once the person hangs up. Texting is also much less personal, and therefore makes it easy for someone to provide information without feeling uncomfortable.  

The DEA hopes younger people will use the program, as it was designed for youth interested in keeping the community safe.  

Other cities, such as New Orleans, El Paso, and Albuquerque, have enjoyed success implementing the program. Anyone who uses the program must be connected with a cell phone provider. 

“This is a way for (the public) to anonymously provide the information to us and communicate back and forth with a DEA agent, via text message,” Jenkins added. “Then, if at some point they no longer want to communicate with us, they can send the word STOP in the message and all communication will be cut off with the agent.” 

Once the tipster texts the word “Stop,” the DEA has no way of getting back in contact with the person. 

Reports of the program have been met with somewhat mixed responses from the public, with some in favor of the idea, and others very much against it, saying the program isn’t particularly safe and is yet another wasted effort in “the war on drugs.” 

Is the program a good idea? Time will certainly tell...

 

January 27, 2015

Net Neutrality Vote Happening on February 26th

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During a discussion at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the commission will vote on a proposal to reinstate Net neutrality rules. The vote will take place at an open commission meeting on February 26th. 

Wheeler also said the proposal will circulate among commissioners beginning February 5th, and while he didn’t delve into specifics, Wheeler alluded the new proposal will “reclassify broadband traffic” as part of Title II utility. Some supporters believe this reclassification will put new neutrality rules on “stronger legal footing.”  

In November 2014 President Obama encouraged the FCC to reclassify Internet traffic under Title II of the Communications Act, though Wheeler has not said whether he supports the president’s suggestion. 

Net neutrality is defined as the idea that all online traffic is subject to fair treatment by broadband providers, meaning no restrictions or preferential treatment is bestowed on certain types of traffic. The FCC is working on new rules that will replace those adopted in 2010.

The issue of broadband traffic reclassification has been one of the hotter issues regarding the net neutrality debate, with large broadband providers such as Verizon and AT&T noting reclassification will “stifle innovation” via imposed, antiquated telecommunications regulation for an industry they believe has evolved positively despite no government regulation. However, other consumer advocates and Internet companies such as Netflix say broadband service reclassification is the only option for ensuring new Net neutrality rules hold up in future court challenges.  

During his discussion with Consumer Electronics Association head Gary Shapiro, Wheeler made it quite clear that the FCC’s approach to the proposal will not include “all of the restrictions under Title II meant for traditional telephony networks to broadband.” Rather, the proposed rules would “forbear or exclude” broadband from clinging to Communications Act provisions that don’t apply to broadband service. 

He said the idea is to make certain that the agency can “provide a legal standing” for rules prohibiting broadband providers from “blocking content, throttling traffic, or offering a paid prioritization service.” The other idea is to ensure Internet service providers manage their wares in a way that is transparent to customers.

"The wireless industry has been wildly successful as a Title II regulated industry," he said. "So there is a way to do it right."

Wireless industry reps disagree with Wheeler in terms of Title II restrictions on broadband. 

"Comparisons to the regulatory framework for mobile voice are misplaced and irrelevant," Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO,CTIA-The Wireless Association, said in a statement. "Congress created a regulatory regime for mobile voice under Section 332 and Title II. Congress also created a separate regulatory regime - -explicitly outside Title II -- for other services like mobile broadband. The FCC cannot now rewrite Congress's intent to rewrite the Act or rewrite history."

Wheeler has also remarked that he has “no intention of allowing broadband providers to create a two-tiered Internet of haves and have nots." The vote later this month will hopefully settle some much debated issues around this topic. 

January 09, 2015

The World’s Most Valuable Startup

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As of Monday, December 29th, 2014, the Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has become the world’s most valuable startup. Late in 2014, the company closed its last round of funding, topping off its latest run at $1.1 billion dollars. With that, Xiaomi’s valuation has skyrocketed to $45 billion – past even the controversial pseudo-taxi startup Uber (valued at $40 billion).

If you haven’t heard of Xiaomi before, you are not alone. The company is a giant in China, however, with brick and mortar locations throughout the country. After taking advantage of a void in the Chinese smartphone market, Xiaomi has managed to increase their manufacturing output, and they are now the third largest smartphone manufacturer in the world. In their third quarter report of 2014, Xiaomi sold over 16 million units, an increase above last years’ report by over 3.5 million.

Many people throughout China prefer to purchase Xiaomi phones due to their low-cost. Samsung and Apple are still the power players throughout the world, and they have retained a good deal of the Chinese smartphone market. In the past year, though, sales by these juggernauts have been chipped away by Xiaomi – Samsung’s sales in particular, which has declined by 29 percent in the region. Surprisingly, Xiaomi’s gross sales in China has not come as close to defeating iPhone sales. Apple still retained $25.4 billion in sales in China alone, while Xiaomi only garnered $56 million in sales. 

Some of the controversy surrounding the startup includes a breach of international patents, but these claims have yet to be proven. Though Xiaomi publicly claims to operate under thousands of patents, most cell phone manufacturers own patents in the tens of thousands. And with their tight margins, it is unlikely that they are manufacturing under a series of licensing deals. In any case, the success of their business model is evident: build it cheap, run it with Android-based software, and sell it everywhere (in China). 

Xiaomi has announced that their next step will be to branch out into similar foreign markets, like Brazil and India. While Brazil fits all of the criteria of their business model, India is a bit less likely to embrace it. Historically, India has been wary of Chinese technology, and many consumers fear that the Chinese government will use the devices to spy on Indian citizens. Xiamoi has these and other roadblocks to get past as they expand into the rest of the Asian and potentially the South American market…but ambitions are obviously high.

The upshot for mobile marketing campaign managers is an increased need to cater their strategy to a variety of devices. Mobile marketing tactics that are effective at reaching iPhone users may not have the same impact on Android-based devices. Flexibility and adaptability are the watchwords for 2015, and if Xiamoi's explosive success is anything to go by, the world of mobile marketing and the wider world of tech should expect the unexpected.

 

December 09, 2014

Ethiopian Airlines Goes Mobile

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Ethiopian Airlines happens to be the largest and most profitable airline company on the African continent, and recently announced plans to become a mobile-only operation. The company’s Mobile Short Message Service (SMS) information system launched at the end of November 2014, and provides customers with easy access to flight information and cargo tracking.

Customers simply send a mobile short code SMS text to the 8611 messaging number to receive cargo information and check flight status. Part of Ethiopian Airlines’ ‘Mobility’ project, customers can access vital information instantly while on the road. The Mobility project is designed so customers can perform transactions directly from their mobile devices, whether booking flights, checking in, choosing seats and more.

The Mobility campaign also makes it possible for those welcoming passengers on Ethiopian flights to to check exact arrival times of flights by texting  8611 with “f” followed by the flight number or “r” followed by the expected route. Cargo customers may track shipments by texting  “c” followed by their Air Way Bill number of shipment. Such customers no longer have to visit the Ethiopian Airlines Cargo terminal before the shipment arrives, and texting “i” or “help” accesses system guidelines. 

The airline is also working to further streamline their customer service experience by adding more features to their mobile SMS service. 

“Ethiopian is first and foremost a customer service organization,” says Tewolde Gebremariam, Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines. “We are continuously looking at ways and means of availing to our customers the best possible travel experience both on the ground and on- board. In today’s digital era, customers want to have access to real-time and personalized information at the tip of their fingers using mobile devices. The launching of this SMS service is only the beginning of a grandiose plan to use a new system called “Mobility” which is mobile digital channels for enhancing customer experience.” 

Ethiopian Airlines received the Passenger Choice award for the Best Airline in Africa in August 2014 following a highly-extensive survey of passengers in the industry. A global Pan-African carrier, Ethiopian currently serves 84 international destinations on five continents. Current aircraft technology, including B777s and B787s, is used on the airline’s some 200 daily flights.

Will Ethiopian succeed in becoming a mobile-only operation? And if so, will other airlines follow suit? In today’s increasingly mobile-driven market, it’s entirely possible, and could up the customer service convenience factor considerably. 

November 04, 2014

How Spamming is Helping Fight Ebola

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Spamming is aiding the fight against Ebola.

Operators of text messaging system Tera, which provides advice and help to people fighting Ebola in the Sierra Leone region, are looking to extend the service to seven other African nations—Mali, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Burkina Faso. Ebola kills victims via dehydration and multiple organ failure, and more than 4,000 West Africans have perished from the disease.

The network allows Red Cross and Red Crescent charities to “send SMS messages to every switched-on handset in a specific area by drawing its shape on a computer-generated map.” Automatic, appropriate replies to incoming texts are also featured. Both charities aim for expansion completion over the next nine months, but cooperation of local mobile authorities and networks is needed.

"It's been doing an excellent job in Sierra Leone, sending out in the region of 2 million messages per month, helping the communities there to prepare themselves, try to avoid getting infected, and then if they do, to know what to do about it," notes Robin Burton from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “Unlike TV and radio, if we send them a text message it's retained on the phone."

The trick is quelling each nation’s concerns or fears about joining the network.

"The thing operators might have a problem with is that they are basically being asked to spam millions of their customers, and people often object to that," says Ken Banks, an SMS expert who advises the UK's Department for International Development. "When people in Haiti received messages asking them to donate blood [after the 2010 earthquake] that were blasted out willy-nilly some were not in a position to do so, and they found it annoying.”

However, Banks notes operators can’t really argue this one, as no one wants to be accused of blocking potentially life-saving messages during an epidemic. He adds that the significance of the Red Cross as an organization will also fuel the proverbial fire. The IFRC also wants Tera to appear as "network friendly" as possible, and allow individual subscribers to opt out and operators to apply exclusion lists.

The network is specifically designed to send texts to powered-up handsets. This avoids build-up of millions of undelivered messages, and therefore potential network strain. Staggered texts are yet another way the network is preventing overload, and the system is location-sensitive, so messages are sent to affected areas only.

An inexpensive system to operate, Tera may be utilized during natural disasters and for relief effort feedback, potentially emerging as one of the key factors in helping to limit the damage from both natural and human-spread calamities.

October 27, 2014

Integrity of Whisper App Questioned

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The firm behind social media app Whisper is tracking the location of its users – despite claiming to be ‘the safest place on the internet’ in terms of anonymity. The company is also sharing information from phones known to be used in military bases with the US Department of Defense, according to a recent Guardian expose.

Whisper users currently publish around two-and-a-half million messages a day. Their principal selling point is anonymity, but the Guardian report alleges the company has developed an in-house mapping tool allowing them to locate users to within 500 meters. The British newspaper also claims Whisper has been handing user locations to the Department of Defense. 

According to the Guardian, Whisper has been storing data since their 2012 launch. At that time, much of their brand image was predicated on a policy of holding data only for ‘a brief period of time’ and allowing those who don’t wish to be tracked to opt out of geo-location.

But the Guardian claims Whisper has been storing data even on users who specifically opted out. The news will be particularly alarming to military personnel who have used the platform to unburden themselves of traumatic events witnessed or experienced in the line of duty. Many soldiers use the app to share suicidal feelings and symptoms of PTSD and to discuss other topics they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about on social media outlets like Facebook. 

The Guardian says Whisper has shared user data with law enforcement agencies, the FBI and MI5, a practice Whisper contends is standard in the tech industry – and only in situations where there is evidence of criminal behavior or imminent suicide.

Whisper has denied the allegations, saying it ‘does not follow or track users’ and dismissing the suggestion they were monitoring people without consent as ‘false’. CEO Michael Heyward issued a ten point riposte to the Guardian and suspended his editor-in-chief when the allegations came to light. He insists Whisper is only sharing information with the DoD when there is an investigation into frequent mentions of self-harm, adding “[We] are proudly working with many organizations to lower suicide rates.”

Heyward has been summoned to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee to answer questions about the app’s privacy policy.

Whisper has experienced rapid growth over the past two years and is now valued at more than $200m. The app tapped into a growing demand for private, confessional platforms which purport to foster more candid public discussions about sensitive issues like suicide.

Whisper has updated it’s terms and conditions since the story broke. 

October 15, 2014

Mobile Marketing Mushroom in Ireland

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Mobile marketing campaign managers in Ireland are flush with success right now. The country is undergoing a mobile device boom, as consumers increasingly turn their attentions away from desktop and towards smartphones and tablets.

A study compiled by marketing company ZinMobi looked at some of the country’s leading retail, restaurant and fast food brands and found mobile marketing tactics were the most effective way of delivering the biggest ROI. ZinMobi’s boss, Brian Stephenson, said the results were indicative of a growing awareness of mobile marketing tactics, and a concurrent drop off in use of conventional methods. Says Stephenson:

“What excites me about these results is the way that brands have recognised mobile as the instant marketing channel with campaigns quicker to deploy, and delivering instant results.

“We believe that every business knows enough about its customers... to deliver highly-targeted and trackable campaigns,” he added.

The study also found that mobile marketing tactics were regarded as the quickest to set-up, and 61% of respondents said they delivered the fastest results. The research found only 10% of companies did not plan to be using some form of mobile marketing campaign by this time next year; right now, 26% of Irish companies do not use some kind of mobile marketing strategy. These figures clearly show a growing awareness of mobile marketing among firms who are late to the party.

Companies with a well-established mobile marketing strategy are expanding their current campaigns in order to better engage with consumers. Mobile coupons and special offers are proving highly effective methods of retaining and nurturing existing customers.

These trends reflect an overall swing towards mobile in Ireland. Mobile web access is up 59% on last year according to a report from StatCounter. The more consumers move towards mobile devices, the more we’re likely to see marketers follow suit and creating mobile-specific campaigns. Ireland, like the rest of the world, knows which way the wind is blowing.

 

October 02, 2014

How Smartphones Are Helping the Fight Against Drug Addiction

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Can smartphones help users overcome drug addiction? 

Research says Yes! Back in 2011, an 80-person study by the National Institutes of Health found smartphones highly beneficial to those overcoming drug addiction. The study was based out of East Baltimore, Maryland and featured smartphones programmed to let addicts track when they craved and used drugs. Phones were set up to beep randomly three times each day, and ask questions such as “Where are you?”, “What are you doing?”, and “How are you feeling?”.

"We want to know the events surrounding that," lead researcher Dr. Kenzie Preston said at the time. "We're really interested what's triggering drug use, relapse."

Phones were partially disabled to lower their street value; however, associate scientist David Epstein noted no issues with phones becoming lost or getting stolen.

"We tell them, if you lose or break one of these, we'll replace it and that's fine," he said. "But if you lose or break a second one, we're going to detox you from the methadone and you can't be in the study anymore. And we hardly ever have to do that. People know that they'd rather stay with us."

The study was meant to pinpoint the precise moments addicts decided to use, as Epstein remarked on the difficulty addicts have recalling the specifics of their relapses. This isn’t to say addicts lie about their relapses; rather it’s more about how the brain functions.

"People, whether it's someone who's addicted to drugs or anyone else in the world, make up stories that sort of explain their behavior," he said during the study. "But if you could've been monitoring them in real time, you would see that things didn't happen quite the way they remembered."

Smartphones allowed researchers to obtain data in real time. The study also included addicts carrying pager-sized GPS monitors to track their movements, which made it easy to log where addicts go. For example, an addict could be sober for weeks, then visit a certain block or neighborhood and have a relapse. Knowing where addicts were hanging out helped researchers understand what type of environments encouraged drug use.

Epstein said the study could lead to new smartphone-based treatments.

"A sort of clinician in your pocket," he said. "You can give them on the spot feedback... and that does seem helpful."