UK communications regulator Ofcom has released a report that gives a fascinating snapshot of digital society in the UK. It highlights the dominance of mobile, and the centrality of social media in social interactions and relationships. The change has been brought about, not by improvements in fixed broadband but by the availability of larger, more capable phones and faster 4G mobile networks. Phones and 4G are in turn facilitating communication through a variety of channels, especially social media. Bigger phones allow people to do more In terms of the importance of mobile, 33% of UK residents now view their smartphone as the most important device to connect to the Internet compared to 30% who chose their laptop. This switch in preference has come about because of the general increase in the size of phones. The release of Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6S in response to the popularity of Android phones of the same size has helped cement the larger form-factor as a standard. People can now comfortably carry out many of the tasks that would have normally been reserved for a laptop, PC or tablet. 4G is the other key enabler of move to mobile The second reason has been the increase in speed of the average smartphone connection. 45% of UK smartphone users have access to 4G networks, a 28% increase on the previous year. The faster speeds have not only resulted in greater use of mobile data generally but has shifted what users will do with their phones. 4G users are more likely to use their phones to access audio-visual content(57% 4G users compared to 40% non-4G users). They are also more likely to use their phones to make online purchases and use online banking. Faster fixed broadband plays a smaller part What is interesting is that the changes brought about by the increased use of smartphones have had more impact than the increase in speeds of fixed broadband services to the home. 83% of UK premises are able to receive broadband speeds of 30 Mbit/s or higher. 30% of homes have connected to broadband at these higher speeds. Mobile 4G users were less likely to use their home wireless than those not on 4G showing a general trend to “cutting the cord” even in the area of Internet access. Changing communication and social media UK Internet users believe that technology has changed the way that they communicate and that these new forms of communication have made life easier. Traditional forms of digital communication such as email and text messaging are still dominant but 62% of online adults use social media and 57% instant messaging to communicate regularly with family and friends. Technologies such as Skype, Facetime and Google Hangout are also used by 34% of adults. In terms of social media use, Facebook is by far the dominant platform with 72% of adults having a social media profile and 97% of those having one on Facebook. Although teenagers are likely to use other social media platforms, 48% of social media users use Facebook exclusively. People are also spending greater amounts of time on Facebook than any other service. In March of 2015, users spent 51 billion minutes on Facebook’s website and apps compared to 34 billion on Google’s. YouTube was also watched by more people via mobile devices than on desk/laptops. Change, but not in productivity Although digital technologies have brought about a major change in society in the UK, this hasn’t been reflected in any changes in productivity in the UK economy. The UK continues to rate behind France, Germany, US and even Italy in terms of worker productivity. The results of surveys such as these enable several important points to be underscored. The first is that investment in fixed broadband infrastructure is not necessarily as important as investment in universal high speed wireless access in terms of its impact on society. Second, although we may see radical changes in social norms through the use of digital technologies, it won’t show up in increased productivity. The last point has to be qualified however. It may well be that existing businesses do not show any improvements in productivity but new forms of industry and business are enabled by a mobile economy which may well bring about radical changes in productivity. Uber, Airbnb, and other industries as part of the so-called “gig economy” threatens to disrupt industry and this will only be possible through the use of mobile phones and high speed wireless. David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Facebook has begun trials of its Facebook at Work service, a cloud-based platform that allows business to create social networks for staff, with the project led by an engineer who launched one of Sydney’s most successful startups. Development on the project is being led by Lars Rasmussen, who was the cofounder of a Sydney-based mapping startup called Where 2 Technologies that was subsequently acquired by Google and rebranded as Google Maps. After his success with Google Maps, Rasmussen went on to lead the development of Google’s ill-fated Google Wave project, which was intended as a real-time collaborative document editing platform. TechCrunch reports an app for Facebook at Work has appeared on the iTunes app store, with an Android version set to go live shortly and another version accessible through the Facebook’s website. News of the service first leaked in November last year. Facebook at Work will also give employees the option of either using a single login for both their work and personal accounts, or the ability to keep both separate. Facebook at Work is set to compete against collaboration platforms such as Microsoft’s Yammer. Microsoft announced it is combining its business-focused Lync video conferencing and instant messaging app with Skype to create a new package called Skype for Business late last year. This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.
A Melbourne-based startup is looking to make it easier for dog owners to socialise with one another and organise trips to the park or beach with their pets. Barklife, an iPhone app, includes map integration software and instant messaging so users do not have to give out personal information – such as a phone number or email address – in order to organise a play date for their four-legged friends. Co-founder Matt Sanger told StartupSmart he and his partner Louise came up with the startup after coming across a problem they figured was a “fairly common experience” for other dog owners. “We’d take Blakeley down to the park as it’s really good for any dog to socialise for their mental health and physical health,” he says. “And some days we’d go down and there’d be no dogs there that she likes, but you’re hoping you can catch up with the dogs she likes playing with. And it’s a bit of a weird thing to go up to someone and ask for the phone number so your dogs can hang out. It’s invasive.” Sanger says while there are a number of pet-based startups in Australia, he hopes Barklife’s simple design and all-in-one concept will help it stand out in the crowd. “It’s about convenience for you as an owner,” he says. “But also it is significantly about the health and wellbeing of the animal.” Sanger and his partner come from a hospitality background, and do not have any prior experience in building apps. He describes building a startup as “daunting” right from the get-go. “We fortunately are good friends with an app developer who has developed apps for the ANZ bank and realestate.com. We got some advice from him and spoke to app development companies in Singapore.” Ultimately, the pair decided to build the app locally for a number of reasons – including convenience if something were to go wrong or need tweaking. Sanger says his advice to people who want to build an app but don’t have any development experience is to plan ahead. “Having an idea is really only a drop in the bucket of everything that needs to be done,” he says. The startup has been self-funded so far, and Sanger says the next step – apart from refining the product – is scaling it. “We know for a fact we have a great product – now it’s a question of putting it into the hands of all the people who would benefit from its use,” he says. “Over the next few months we’ll be putting brand ambassadors out there in the parks to talk about the products. Having this great idea is only one small part – if nobody knows about it or uses it, there’s no point in having a good idea at all.” Barklife is available for free in the iTunes store. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
There is a lesson for us all in the continuing revelations from stolen Sony emails being splashed over world-wide media. It is a lesson that Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairperson Amy Pascal could have benefited from before sending emails with racist comments about President Obama. Or an email calling Leonardo DiCaprio’s behaviour “Absolutely Despicable” when he decided to pull out of a planned Steve Jobs biopic. The lesson is a very simple one. It is that when you are writing an email (or any other corporate document), imagine that it will inevitably one day end up on the Internet for everyone to see. Even without the hacking episode, there have been enough horror stories of private emails being accidentally sent to the wrong people who have little issue with making the contents public. The emails of Amy Pascal and other Sony Pictures’ executives reveal damaging internal discussions about business practises and commentary on a wide range of people that the company relies on to do their business. It is hard to imagine how those involve retain their credibility as more of the emails become public. The dangers of emails being used against an organisation was something that former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates discovered the hard way during US antitrust investigations. After that point, Microsoft internally discussed a practice of not keeping any emails for longer than 6 months. In many other cases, emails have been obtained by journalists and others and used against the owners under Freedom of Information requests. Deleting emails after a set amount of time would have helped a great deal with Sony’s problems but it comes with its own issues. Many organisations, including universities, are subject to legal regulations governing how long official records need to be retained. Emails can be considered part of official records and so it is sometimes difficult to apply a blanket policy that requires all emails to be deleted after a relatively short time. The problem of email could also potentially be solved by using other forms of electronic communication instead. There have been suggestions that email could be replaced with instant messaging. This is certainly the case but many of these services keep records of conversations. Google for example, allows individual hangouts to be switched into “off the record” mode, but does not allow this setting as a default for all conversations. To delete the record of the conversation, it has to be done individually. Special software that automatically deletes conversations can be used such as messaging apps Telegram and OneOne but these require widespread use. In terms of the types of email exchanges that were highlighted in the Sony releases, it is unlikely that the participants would have had the presence of mind to use more secure communications in any event. Although companies should be advising all of their staff, especially the senior ones about good email hygiene, there is still a much easier way of avoiding all of these issues by not writing the email (or document) in the first place. If that is not possible, then there are a few definite things you should do when writing email: 1) Always keep it brief. The more you write, the harder it is to check you haven’t said something you will regret. 2) Never write email when you are angry or emotional. Leave it for 24 hours before writing, if at all. 3) Never write email when you have been drinking. 4) Never include personal, intolerant, or insensitive statements in corporate email. If it helps, it is also useful to imagine a prosecuting lawyer looking over your shoulder as you write every email you send. This article was originally published at The Conversation.
A lot has been said about how inefficient email is but not a lot has been done about it. Now, an Australian startup is hoping to shake up the way employees communicate with customers and each other in the workplace. Helloify, a startup based on the Gold Coast, is launching its messaging app today with the aim of allowing enterprises to boost their efficiency by leveraging instant team chat software. The startup allows businesses to install a widget on their website so people can send live messages or register a mobile number to have customers text them. All messages come through the multi-platform app and team members can then read and reply to them accordingly. Co-founder Dan Norris told StartupSmart Helloify will allow customers and staff of a business to access the same level of efficiency that consumers get from instant messaging. “The behaviour of people is changing now,” he says. “[With] email, people will send something long and detailed and not expect a reply straight away. “It’s much more efficient to message now – especially with mobile.” Norris says with the advent of apps like WhatsApp, people are used to instant messaging rather than sending emails and waiting for a reply. “I don’t email my friends… but it wasn’t long ago that people were emailing their friends,” he says. “Now people’s phone notifications are going off all the time and they have a natural way of managing that. People really like getting that immediate response.” Helloify is available as a web app and a native app on Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android. Norris says it might be hard to change people’s behaviour from sending emails to sending instant messages, but that is what the startup will be focusing on. “The first couple of months we are going to be focusing on existing customers and working out what exactly they need.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Half of Australia’s working population are now identified as ‘digital workers’, using the internet to work from home or on the go, with new research finding it actually enhances the productivity of employees through increased flexibility. Research released this morning from the Australian Communications and Media Authority found as of May this year there were 5.6 million adults who used the internet to work away from the office outside ‘working hours’, or to work from home rather than coming into the office. At the time of the research, 5.6 million people composed 51% of the total number of employed Australians. The percentage increased significantly when considering workers with a university qualification, with 70% saying they’d worked from home. The study, which also had a focus on SMEs, found 39% of employers with less than 20 staff allowed their employees to work from home at least one day a week. Businesses with 20 to 199 employees were more likely than small business to allow employees to work from home, with the percentage increasing to 55%. The ACMA communications analysis manager Joseph Di Gregorio told SmartCompany it’s likely more and more people will become digital workers. “Putting it into context, Australians are doing more online, be it commerce, entertainment or interacting with businesses and government, so working is just becoming part of that story,” he says. “It’s a broader picture with regards to the digital economy, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers do increase. The internet is no longer on the periphery; it’s a core part of everyday life.” Di Gregorio says the majority of digital workers at the moment come from industries where employees have long needed to be mobile. “If you look at the nature of the industries where this is most popular, it’s communications and property and business services sectors, so having a lot of people on the go is a natural part of those work environments,” he says. “If you remove the internet, they would probably be a very mobile group of people anyway, so the internet in many ways is actually just keeping them in touch with their resources and improving their productivity.” The study of 2400 households and 1500 SMEs found the highest number of digital workers were from capital cities, aged 35 to 44, were male, employed full-time and had a university qualification. Almost three million people worked away from the office at least two days a week and 4.6 million worked from home when outside of the office. The survey found the major benefits of working from home were increased flexibility (55%) and more opportunities to get work done (30%), and 53% of digital workers identified no negatives of working from home. Of those who did perceive some negatives, 24% said reduced access to communication services was an issue and 20% found there was reduced access to colleagues. The chief executive of the Victorian branch of the Australian Institute of Management, Tony Gleeson, told SmartCompany working away from the office isn’t suited to everyone. “With digital workers you must be clear with what the objectives are and have some sort of way for them to connect with business with where they’re up to, like a database,” he says. “Don’t expect them to work a standard 9am to 5pm day. In my experience they actually end up working longer hours and produce better quality work, but it isn’t for everyone.” He says working from home is best suited to people who are “well-structured”. “They should also be in roles with very clear deliverables, for example if a report needs to be created by a set time and dates,” he says. “It can be very lonely, so some form of instant messaging support helps… it can lead to cultural issues after a while and I don’t think you can do it for a long period of time.” Gleeson says people who are working in the physical office end up assuming those working from home are slacking off, when this is rarely the case, and they end up missing out on the “office politics”. “The third thing is the workers can be forgotten about after a period of time. The managers don’t get to know their personality and don’t know how far they can be stretched. From my experience, you end up being pigeon-holed into a certain kind of work.”
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