Monday, 22 December 2008

Best Present this Christmas?

Discovered the Guitar Hero: Air Guitar Rocker in John Lewis yesterday.

Got to be up there with some of the best, daft Christmas presents. Perfect for who I bought it for.

VAT Reduction worth more than 2.5%

VAT notice in M&S

I was Christmas shopping with the boys yesterday and was struck with a realisation about the VAT reduction. At checkout after checkout, the price was always a little bit lower than I was expecting.

Most retailers haven't changed the price tickets, so it's not till you get to the till that you see the saving. On a £30 clock it was 75p, not a huge amount but still cheaper.

The feel-good factor was far in excess of 75p.

The continuous little reductions were adding a little shiny glow to each purchase. Put shoppers in a good mood and they'll spend more. Simple but effective.

Like many people, I had some doubts over the impact of the VAT reduction and questions remain over the affordability. However, I didn't consider this benefit of retailers not being able to change the price tickets quickly.

Some good Christmas retailing figures certainly won't harm sentiment and as we've learned recently, sentiment seems to be the foundation of the Western economies.

Picture credit: Simon Aughton

Friday, 12 December 2008

Wahay! My Photo Was Selected

Melbourne - Trips & Activities - Fitzroy

Seems I'm one of quite a few, but hey.

I'm trying to like Rummble, I really am

Rummble has real potential to be a mobile location service I would use. The promise of being able to:

  1. find out what's good where I am right know
  2. add my own views and contribute to the knowledge map

is a tantalising proposition. With Rummble, unfortunately, it still remains just that.

To really succeed, a service like this has to operate from my mobile. If I've got something to say about somewhere, I'm far more likely to be there rather than in front of my PC. I'll be still queueing because I'm in the middle of a bad service experience or (just finished) enjoying whatever I want to share with the world so they can experience it too.

Enter the Rummble iPhone App, perfect device for this. GPS built in, advanced user interface capabilities, fantastic connectivity. Problem is the Rummble app has taken advantage of the first two and assumed the last one.

If you build a mobile app, you can't assume it will be connected to the internet

I've tried a number of times to Rummble on the move now and it's just painful. For a start the start screen takes an age to load, even on my work WiFi connection it's ponderous. Immediately barriers are preventing me from expanding the network of knowledge.

Trying to add a Rummble when you haven't got 5 bars worth of 3G coverage is a joke and has resulted in a number of app crashes. What's really cute is how the app doesn't remember anything you've typed in so you have to go through the whole painful process again. Probably fair to point out that this hasn't crashed on me since the latest update.

I'm in danger of this turning into a rant and that wouldn't be fair at this stage. I've developed enough apps in my time to understand the issues and I'm also a big believer in the concept. There is still time for Rummble to rethink their mobile app architecture.

I believe mobile apps should be built from the ground-up to be able to operate without network coverage. Especially if they're capturing data. Work from that base and make the app synchronise when the connectivity is available.

The key thing Rummble needs is data, it needs to get enough reviews in enough places that I visit to be useful to me. It must allow users to enter these into the app without connectivity. Even if that means creating stubs that I then need to complete when I'm next online, either with the app or on the website.

The really valuable information is in my head right now, allow me to write a comment quickly, get it off my chest. If I can complete the review there and then marvellous, but don't deny me just because my mobile network isn't giving me the coverage the app needs.

I wish Rummble every success, it would be great for a UK company to succeed in this space.

It's all about the resources


Our new web application, codename Doyle, is being built on the ASP.NET MVC framework. The primary driver for this was enabing Test Driven Development for web apps. Increasingly frustrated with the brittleness of the traditional approach this represents a fantastic architecture for building robust web apps.

The big challenge however has been conceptual. Patterns the team are comfortable with, have turned out to be unsuited to this approach. Discussing one such question at the whiteboard yesterday, it occurred to me that the issue we were having was we thinking in terms of method based architectures rather than resource based.

To date, our approach has been to have thin Data Objects that are passed to facades and sub systems that perform operations on them. We're a messaging shop so I guess that's where it came from. A message gets passed around, operations are performed on it, decisions are made about it.

The term Controller implied a co-ordination role with knowledge of controlling one or more sub-systems. However MVC tells us that is bad, Controllers should be thin and Models should be fat.

A good example is our new send message page.

The first pass involved the controller iterating through the recipients, constructing message objects and passing them to the Esendex ReST API SMS Message Dispatcher via our C# SDK.

Very quickly the controller got fat, validation, error condition handling, suddenly it was squatting behind the view like a Sumo Wrestler tucking into his 7th chicken of the day.

The light-bulb moment was the realisation that rather than thinking about sending a message, we were actually sending a batch of messages. Enter the MessageBatch resource.

All the controller has to do is load up the MessageBatch resource with the parameters (recipients, body, etc) and call Send. This returns either true or false, successful or failed.

The controller then just has to make one decision go to one page if successful, or another if not. Safe in the knowledge that the MessageBatch object will be duly populated with an error/validation info required for the view to render and give the user the option of what to do next.

Yes this has just moved the logic to another part of the system but being in the Model layer gives the opportunity to refactor, inherit, and most importantly, mask the complexities of sending a message batch from the front end. We're comfortable unit testing and doing it this way forces as much logic as possible into units.

So, if you're making the transition to MVC then consider looking at some of the thinking behind ReST web services (I read: RESTful Web Services as a good primer). I've come to the conclusion that ReST and MVC are intrinsically linked.

Photo credit: alarch

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Business Messaging - Your Server's Gone Down

Server monitoring is key to the availability of many business systems so knowing as soon as a server or services is having an issue is critical.

It's also not just the engineers that necessarily need to know. Other stakeholders like support personnel, account managers (who are going to be taking customer calls) and even key customers can all benefit from being kept in the loop about issues.

Most system monitoring solutions can send an email in response to a monitoring event. Just wire that up to an Email SMS service and you can notify anyone, pretty much wherever they are.

However there are times when SMS is not enough. They can be missed. If there are key people that you need to notify and need to know that they've got the message a Voice SMS is a great option.

Using IVR menus you can have the recipient acknowledge receipt of the message. It can keep ringing them until they do or your escalation rules kick in contact someone else.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Business Messaging - Your Taxi's Outside

A local taxi firm, DG Cars, schedules a call back when your taxi is on its way. This is a great way of improving customer service as well operational efficiency for the cab firm.

This can also be achieved simply be sending either an SMS or Voice SMS message direct to the pickup as the taxi is approaching.

  • The customer knows when to come outside/get their coat on/say their goodbyes
  • The taxi not sitting idle waiting for someone who's not ready when it could be moving onto the next fare sooner.
  • Include the drivers mobile number in the message and the customer can all the driver if they're held up.

Dead simple and dead effective.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

5 mobile services I actually use

Thought I'd collate my current list of mobile services I'm loving or would find life difficult without.


This has been a bookmark in every phone had I've since 2001. This mobile version of the National Rail enquires web site is a must have for any train user in the UK.


Is on my iPhone dock bar in place of the phone application. Still the original and still the best.


The best twitter client for the iPhone. Simple and fast, two must haves for any mobile application.

GoogleTalk for BlackBerry

BlackBerry have got push nailed, their platform allows third party apps to raise message alerts and push them into the system inbox. The GoogleTalk IM client embraces this and allows me to maintain conversations wherever I am.

Rummble iPhone App

This is a new one and it's early days but it seems more useful than BrightKite. It allows you to log your location, send status updates and post photos but also to "Rummble" about where you are. If it gets critical mass, this could be a winner.

Business Messaging - Stories from the front line

It's occurred to me recently that we have a wealth of knowledge about how to use business SMS, MMS and Voice SMS services currently "locked" up in our customer base.

We have some fantastic case studies, from companies like Ocada (using SMS to communicate with both customers and workers) and Taptu (reliable SMS using our API). The problem is this is a tiny sample of the 5000+ Esendex customers, let alone companies that don't use Esendex.

I know it's hard to imagine but some companies actually use other service providers.

I'm going to start posting a series of thoughts, ideas and real life examples (without names) about how business messaging can and is being used to delivery real commercial benefit to companies that embrace business messaging into their processes and workflows.

Follow them here: Business Messaging

Thursday, 27 November 2008

What is Online PR really made of?

Nice post from Julian about online PR: What is Online PR really made of?.

SMS is the New Black

I caught up with Patrick Smith at the recent Future of Mobile conference. We hadn't bumped into each other for a while and I discovered much had happened, not only had he set up Joshua PR but he'd also started a new blog.

SMS is the New Black is a much needed answer to the fanboy hype surrounding many of today's mobile apps as everyone looks for the next big thing. The key focus is on what mobile apps and services work for Normobs not just technology obsessed geeks.

How refreshing.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Mobile Industry Review Christmas Draw

Don't forget to get involved with the Mobile Industry Review Christmas Draw.

It's a fantastic idea that I'm whole-heartedly behind. Just look at what you can win.

As well as standing the chance of winning you will make a real difference to someone who is in real need.

Now if that's not true Christmas spirit then I'll skip around Market Square, Nottingham in a pink tutu singing "I'm one of Santa's happy little helpers".

Crowd sourced marketing

I received an email yesterday from Schmap to say one of my Flickr photos had been shortlisted to appear in their new Melbourne Guide.


I'd snapped this with my iPhone on one of my visits to Esendex Australia.

Whether my photo appears or not, this is great marketing. It made me feel good, I'm sharing that with you and am pretty likely to check out the guide when it comes out. All raising Schmap's profile.

I'll let you know if it gets in

BTW you can now refer to me as Adam Bailey Bird ;)

Monday, 24 November 2008

SMS Home Routing, it's all about trust

The report from our lunch discussion has now been published: Home Routing Under the Spotlight it's worth a read.

The subject matter is admittedly quite dry, it's fairly technical subject but it is one which has potentially serious commercial implications for the mobile messaging industry and the wider business community.

Firstly a big thank you to Michael and Ralph at Tyntec for treating us to a first class venue. Along with Mike Grenville of 160Characters, they had assembled a great cross section of the industry to talk through the issues.

Home routing lunch

The Trust Issue

The big concern for me is the potential erosion of trust. It's this key factor that, I believe, threatens to derail the burgeoning enterprise SMS market.

Here at Esendex we are increasingly seeing customers use SMS as part of their business workflows. The expectation they all have is that when a message is indicated as delivered, it means just that, the message has been delivered to the handset.

This delivery event is used to drive business decisions, work flow events, SLA compliance and trigger a host of events and processes as a result.

This is great for business. Using SMS opens the door for all sorts of process improvements, efficiencies and cost savings.

One of our clients (case study not signed off so can't name them) use our service to assign jobs to freelance contractors. They have a process SLA that requires the contractor to respond in 15 minutes from job assignment indicating that they wish to accept. No response in time, no job, no money.

The delivery receipt is key. If the message is on the contractors handset at a known time, there is no dispute over whether there was sufficient time to respond.

In the opaque SMS routing scenario, described in the article, this 'knowledge' about whether the message is on the handset can no longer be relied upon, trust is broken.

All it takes is for one or two bad apples to implement home routing in this way and the whole use of SMS to drive enterprise workflows is brought into question.

This is obviously bad for service providers like us and operators. Enterprise use of SMS represents a big growth opportunity that we would all miss out on.

It's also bad for business. They will lose the opportunity to improve and save, perhaps at a time when this is needed the most.

I'm a big fan of home routing, it represents a huge step forward in the functionality that SMS services can offer (just so long as the operators give us wholesale access). Let's now ruin the market in the process.

Always nice when a client appreciates you

Taptu logo

Esendex Taps Into Social Searching With Taptu

At Esendex we pride ourselves on the reliability of our service. Problem is anyone can say that to a prospect, as a differentiator or USP, it's hardly a competition killer.

Thanks Taptu, stories like yours add important credibility to our claims.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Beeston Cycling Club Kit

After our ride from Nottingham to Paris in May, raising money for our childrens' school in the process, we've decided to set up a cycling club. The idea being to promote cycling in the local community for young, old, experience and inexperienced alike.

Every club needs a kit. This is our rather splendid one. Hot from the designer's mind. We're going to look the business.


Future of Mobile, unfortunately the operators hold the cards

I've been pondering the Future of Mobile conference this week. Many better people have posted on the conference (Helen Keegan, Alan Patrick) but rather than regurgitate the same review, I wanted to share what I felt was the really fundamental issue.

Not, how did Rudy de Waele get Michael Madsen to stand in for his press shots; or even that Rich Miner of Google must have been 12 when his was taken. Check out the FoM home page, it's all there.

More that while the vision espoused by Tomi Ahonen, Jonathan MacDondald, Andrew Grill, et al is all eminently sensible, fundamental logical and absolutely the way forward, it relies on one party to play ball, the network operators.

Problem is they don't like the rules, and anyway it's their ball and actually it's their pitch and if you don't like it you can...

I've worked with the operators for several years now and one thing I have learned is that they're not risk takers. They are very dull utilities, addicted to their existing revenues that leave the risks to other people.

How exciting do networks get? All the 'exciting' stuff is left to the handset vendors. Who, let's face it, are hardly pushing the envelope. Oohh I can get a 8MP camera instead of a 5MP if I get the new Sony Ericcson thingamy-wotsit. Wow guys, you really went wild this time. How did you squeeze those extra 3 million pixels in you crazy things?

I remember an episode of House where he was interviewing new students and he ripped a poor lad apart (he was an actor so it was OK, it wasn't real) for thinking he was so 'out-there' for having a tatoo. House made the point that the real rebels were those guys working all the hours to succeed while the rest of you the students were partying and playing at being rebels. I'm paraphrasing but you get my drift.

Being revolutionary isn't necessarily about bells and whistles or being Web 2.0 or being the new black. It's about pushing on in the face of detractors, staying true to a vision and always adapting and tuning until it works. It often starts slow and builds and builds until it's a freight train that no one can stop.

It's that slow start that operators just don't get, or they're not setup to support. Give them a big presentation, loads of credentials and predictions of millions of pounds of revenue and you might get through the door.

You need a big story to stand a chance of pushing through the next hurdle which is the internal politics. As Rich Miner says of his experience at Orange launching the SPV (I had one, I know how crap it was) political infighting derailed the whole process, as well as Microsoft not being prepared to patch a critical bug for 18 months, and of course it being a pile of crap.

The kinds of changes discussed at FoM require a fundamental shift by the operators. If the vision laid out is to become a reality then the operators have got to open up. Invest in the platforms for the next generation of mobile services. Provide the access points to allow companies, startups and established, to leverage those platforms in ways never imagined.

If they're concerned about haemorrhaging value, it's time to get innovative with the commercial models. With startups, what about taking a stake in the venture. I'm sure many would jump at the opportunity if Vodafone or Telefonica turned round and said we'll support you. Established companies can look at JVs.

The Internet and mobile worlds are converging. The Internet world is looking at the mobile world and trying to work out how to replicate the models. The operators are looking at the Internet world, terrified that they'll go the way of the fixed-line ISPs. Problem is, it's that erosion of value in access that drove the innovation.

I, and I'm sure many other people, have so many things we want to achieve and bring to market. Convincing the operators to let us prove it shouldn't be the hard bit.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Bringing the noise inside

I've been using twitter for a while now ( and am increasingly finding it an indispensable view on the world. The constant stream of information and notable happenings, as well as the distinctly un-notable, give me a finger on the Internet pulse.

It can also be very useful. As I'm writing this I've also been trying to contact a potential supplier and had a bad experience. I whinged about it on twitter, twhinged?, and one of their team were listening and reached out to me.

Yammer logo

Enter Yammer, a twitter clone for companies. You can have the same twitter style stream but only accessible to people in your company. I signed up a few weeks ago and 'convinced' the rest of the company to as well. I thought it might be worth sharing some of our experiences.

Not everyone is comfortable with noise

Twitter is noisy, you have to be able to filter and ignore what's going on. It's certainly not something that comes naturally to most people. It took time for people to get used to letting it wash over them rather than religiously reading every post.

It's a new way of consuming information

Even in a technology company like ours has a mix of people. Early adopters like jbjon will wade into pretty much anything new and a bit flaky to give it a go. Most people however take time to find their feet and get used to a new tool.

The value isn't immediately obvious to most people

Having used twitter for a while I could see a company stream being of real value. However, for many it was just another thing that management, ie me, were foisting upon them that would get in the way of them doing their jobs.

What's interesting is how a few key events can demonstrate the value to people. The key is to wait for these events to draw people in rather than try and force the issue.

Yammer makes a difference

A good example of this was our recent launch in Germany.

As information about the first leads, support cases and ultimately new customers, filtered through the ether there was a palpable ripple through the organisation. This real-time view of our new venture made everyone feel part of it's success.

So for me it's been a real success. The whole team can tap into the pulse and their part of the living, breathing entity that is Esendex.

Monday, 10 November 2008

SMS Home Routing, discussion update

Well we braved torrential rain in London today to meet, eat and discuss at length the issues raised by mobile operators implementing SMS Home Routing. Most stakeholder types were represented (vendors, operators and service providers) which drove a lively discussion around the subject.

There will be a formal report on our discussions from TynTec and/or 160 Characters, and it would be wholly inappropriate of me to comment prior to that.

Suffice to say, I left broadly optimistic and well fed.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

SMS Home Routing - the discussion is starting, finally

I posted a while ago that the SMS industry need to start talking about SMS Home Routing: SMS Home Routing, let's have a discussion before it's too late. Thankfully the process has started.

Mike Grenville of 160 Characters has organised a lunch, sponsored by the chaps at TynTec.

Several industry heavy-weights, and me, will be discussing the threats and opportunities presented by SMS Home Routing and hopefully we'll come up with a co-ordinated response.

Couple of other posts from me on the subject:

And one by TynTec CEO Michael Kowalzik:

Will keep you posted.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Microsoft taking a leaf out of Phillip Morris's book

This struck a chord with me. We've recently been looking at schools and I was shocked/concerned about the approach taken to ICT. As far as I could ascertain the lessons were how to use Microsoft Office and Windows rather than using computers to support learning.

I appreciate that MS is pretty much all pervasive in business so there is benefit to children being able to use their software. But as the only ICT element of a curriculum, I think not.

Richard Stallman Slams OLPC for Switching to Windows: "

Friday, 31 October 2008

Who is the cloud for?

Cloud computing is being hyped out of it's socks at the moment. Microsoft being the latest to enter the fray with the launch, or at least preview of, Azure Services Platform. On the face of it the case is compelling, but I'm left wondering if many companies are actually going to make the jump.

Tech startups are an obvious customer for this. My own experience with a simple Rails app I developed (to better manage our employee absence records) and wanted hosting bears this out.

I know next to nothing about linux and setting up and environment to host Rails. I signed up for an account with and my application was running and hosted with the hour. All for $1 a day.

A startup has zero legacy and puts a premium on time saving over anything else so it can focus on delivering it's new product/service to market. I look at Esendex and think that we've probably past the point where it's beneficial.

We, like many companies, have already invested in the infrastructure and personnel to support our IT requirements. Moving to a new infrastructure with less control and lower SLAs (Amazon offer 99.95%) than we're used to doesn't seem to make business sense.

Take a larger organisation than Esendex and the case seems less compelling.

Maybe it's the control freak in me, but I couldn't imagine twiddling our thumbs waiting for our service to come while Amazon resolved an outage.

I suspect there may be elements of cloud computing that we may find use for, archive storage strikes me as one possibility, but a wholesale migration is certainly not on the cards.

So if only startups and new projects are going to use the cloud, is there enough business to go round?

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Apple seem a little unfair

Just received notification that my MacBook Pro has shipped. In a weeks time I should take delivery of my new beauty.

Just after that I received notification that the 3 year AppleCare cover for the laptop had started, when it shipped!. I lose a week of cover.

That seems a little unfair to me.

And another thing. Take a look at this order status page. Given today's date is the 22nd October, they seem to be able to see into the future as well.

Maybe I'm just crotchety because I'm waiting.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Outputting a calendar without a gem

Had some fun yesterday with an application I've been working on to track employee absences. One of the requirements we identified was to publish a calendar that could be viewed in Outlook, iCal, etc, showing who was off and when.

As I was using Ruby and Rails, my first thought was to use a gem. I found this one iCalendar — Internet calendaring, Ruby style and was soon publishing the calendar. Marvelous, well not quite.

After giving up trying to setup an internal Linux server to host this application I've been trying As this was a test project I didn't want to take resources away from the our Ops team, big mistake.

Morph seems really easy to use, I love the batched release process with capistrano, however there was a problem. They don't have the iCalendar gem.

Again this is as much a test project as anything so it seemed over the top to try and get them to host it. It occurred to me that I could use an ActionView template to achieve the same thing.

Here it is:

<% @absences.each do |absence| %>BEGIN:VEVENT
DTSTART:<%= absence.starts_at.to_datetime.strftime '%Y%m%dT%H%M%S' %>
DTEND:<%= absence.ends_at.to_datetime.strftime '%Y%m%dT%H%M%S' %>
SUMMARY:<%= + ' - ' + absence.absence_type %>

The code to render the view is dead simple:

@absences = Absence.find(:all)
headers["Content-Type"] = "text/calendar"

And being Ruby on Rails, I have a nice functional test that confirms the output.

Only tinge to the cloud is that I'm having a bit of a problem getting the timezone to appear in a format that Outlook recognises, any thoughts welcome.

Friday, 10 October 2008

US Carriers finally realising how to stop SMS spam?

This cropped up in one of my feeds today. Verizon are increasing wholesale SMS charges by 3cts to around 5.5cts.

No doubt there will be uproar from the US mobile community but I say, bring it.

Charging spammers is the single most effective way of stopping them. Stop them and you'll drive acceptance and usage of useful and desirable messaging. The kind that has a real value to the recipient.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

iPhone MMS, a request to O2

Just received another of those awful text messages from O2 because someone has sent me an MMS message. Tried the web link in the SMS from my iPhone and it was a dreadful, dreadful experience.

Questions to O2:

  1. Why is this web site not iPhone or even just mobile phone optimised? You are the only carrier who carries the iPhone, with much fanfare, so surely making it work across your web estate, especially in this instance where the first instinct is to pick up the message straight away.
  2. You know I have an iPhone so why not convert the MMS to an email and send it to me, missing out the whole sign-in, pin, UI disaster in the first place? You've even got my email address already, I'd just need an SMS to confirm I want this feature enabled and we're away.

Do get in touch if you'd like any help implementing this. Esendex has all the skills and experience required.

Google alerting yourself

I have many Google alerts set up for tracking the web activity around Esendex and associated keywords and of course I track the term 'Adam Bird'.

It's quite entertaining seeing what 'you're' up to. I'm, among other things, a singer/songwriter, photographer and Gillingham FC fan.

A new one popped up today that is my favourite to date.

I'm so proud!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Is Genius a shortcut to banality?

Like many others I've been enjoying the Genius playlist feature in iTunes 8. I've been generally pleased with the results until a realisation struck me tonight. It only really plays singles or well known album tracks.

It's like listening to Now That's What I Call Adam's Music.

I can't remember hearing an obscure album track that made me think wow, yuck, mmm or in fact anything. It was all very easy to listen to.

This weekend I spent a good couple of hours putting together a playlist for my son's birthday party. Basically a list of upbeat numbers that he likes from my collection, censored for rude words and inappropriate content.

That said, I couldn't resist Simian - La Breeze which I'm sure is about SBDs (Silent But Deadlies), perfect for his age-group.

I then got the tracks in order merging nicely, taking the tempo up and down and throwing in various timely numbers. I got Kaiser Chiefs - I Predict A Riot bang on, just at the point when they decided the winner of pass-the-parcel need a victory circuit of the room on their shoulders.

While I haven't got the time to do that for every playlist, it made for a very different and enjoyable listening experience. AS you can probably tell, I was quite proud of it.

Judging by the privacy warning I had to agree to to start using Genius, I'm guessing that it uses appearances in someone's playlist as a positive indicator that songs should be played together.

If this is the case ,what happens as people save these Genius playlists. The 'greatest hits' content gets fed back to the mother ship, self validating the Genius algorithms.

Systems like this can easily tend to the lowest common denominator, in the case of music this means banality. Commercial radio style scheduling at your fingertips.

I'm sure there are other drivers but playlists are probably high on the list.

So until we can find out otherwise, I urge you all to use Genius sparingly and whatever you do DON'T SAVE.

Incidentally if you have any John Mayer in your collection might be worth checking how often his songs appear in your Genius lists.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Vitruvian Triathlon

Had some fun this weekend in and around Rutland Water doing the Virtuvian Triathlon

On the face of it, it's a fairly ridiculous thing to attempt, 1.9km swim, 84km bike followed by a half marathon. But I'm not posting to boast about my achievement, more to share what a great event it is. It was very, very hard going but the event was such that not finishing wasn't an option.

There was a huge range of people of all shapes, sizes and abilities. It was the national championships so there were some top athletes vying for important prizes alongside triahtlon regulars as well as people for whom the only focus was completing the course.

The organisation, marshalls, volunteers and venue were first rate. The camaraderie among the competitors was better than any other triathlon I've entered. Everyone felt they were part of something a bit special and the 'finish whatever happens' attitude infected all in attendance. Apparently, it's like that every year.

I did have some dark times, especially on the run leg, but while I was staring into the abyss other competitors took time out to check I was OK. In another event I may have called it a day, but with the Vitruvian that's not what you're there for. Everyone wants everyone to finish.

Yes it's a long way, yes I trained hard, yes I was hurting in ways I never knew possible afterwards but boy was it worth it. I commend this event to you all, it really is something special.

So hats off to the organisers and all involved, especially of course those of you that can now call yourselves Vitruvians

Friday, 29 August 2008

Blogger relief pack

If you're a flagging blogger this could be for you

Hope I qualify

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Can Software as a Service go mobile?

The opportunity for Mobile SaaS is huge, as computing moves from the desktop to mobile devices, it is a natural evolution that software delivered to the desktop follows that migration.

One of the key tenets of SaaS is that the software can be delivered anywhere, as needed, but that anywhere comes with a caveat that is very significant in the mobile world.

The assumption made is that the desktop is always connected to the Internet, usually via a broadband connection. This assumption cannot be made about mobile devices.

To be truly successful, mobile solutions have to adapt to changes in connectivity. The key to their success is handling this gracefully.

As an example, consider mobile email, the most mature mobile SaaS offering. My BlackBerry copes brilliantly with being offline, allowing me to send, reply, sort and organise my emails wherever I am, coverage or not, seamlessly synching when connectivity is restored.

The iPhone Exchange integration however is far less robust, complaining when coverage is lost and regularly restoring emails I’ve deleted and sending emails multiple times.

So the implementation is one thing, but the architecture these applications rely on, conflicts with traditional SaaS implementations where the application is delivered page by page via a web browser. If there is no connectivity then client software is required on the device which then has to be kept up to date.

This is where the iPhone wins hands down. The iTunes Application Store seamlessly ensures software is up to date whenever the device is synched with the owners PC., the self-proclaimed poster-boys of the SaaS revolution have an iPhone app sitting alongside their BlackBerry version that enables offline access to your corporate sales data.

So implementation is key and working offline is critical but this software based solution brings another problem, multiple platform support.

As soon you start shipping software you have to cope with the plethora of devices and platforms that are out there. The beauty of a pure web-based model is that this is irrelevant, however offline working precludes this. So application developers have to focus on a few key handsets that they believe will be most used by the target market for their application, which probably means Nokia S60.

Google have produced an alternative with a technology called Google Gears. This allows a web browser to store information on the PC for later synchronisation, even better news is that they have a version for mobile devices. The bad news is that this only works on Windows Mobile.

However, this may not be all bad. Microsoft have done a very good job of making Windows Mobile the platform of choice for organisations wanting to extend their business apps into the mobile space. They provide a rich and mature set of development tools based around their .NET framework which enable developers to use the same languages and tools that the use to develop desktop and web applications to develop mobile applications. The same cannot be said for the iPhone and the S60 platforms.

Windows Mobile itself seems to be improving with every release and the manufacturers are producing more and more desirable handsets for it.

Another interesting development to match is Microsoft’s Live Mesh, a technology that seamlessly synchronises your data across all your devices. This can be pictures, music, video etc, but there is no reason not to include business data in this mix. Imagine working on a business workflow app on your desktop, stepping away from your desk and being able to continue on your mobile device at exactly the point you left off.

It’s for these reasons that I believe that Windows Mobile represents the best bet of the platforms to support Mobile SaaS, especially for business apps.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Vodafone USB Data Stick - indestructible

Vodafone USB Data Stick - indestructible
Went through the wash at the weekend, still works. If only the Vodafone data coverage was as robust :(

Mobile post from the Esendex BlogIt service

Friday, 8 August 2008

Something hilarious for the end of the week

Recruitment Companies Feeling the Pinch

This popped into my inbox today

With the credit crunch looming above us a number of my clients are becoming increasingly reluctant to part with money for contractors in case they pick the wrong person, despite having urgent projects that need to go ahead.
With this in mind for the month of August I am offering 2 days free trial on any contractor placed at Esendex. Basically this service enables you, the client, to see a contractors work at first hand and also see how they fit in with your team. If you feel they are good for the project we can just roll the contract on (minimum 3 months), if not then I will take them off site and you wont have to pay a penny!

Contractors on free trial, whatever next?

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

What a team

Every so often something happens that makes you realise how far you've come as a business. I had one of these moments last night when we upgraded our core messaging system.

Over the past 18 months we have been investing heavily in the Esendex technical team. Trying to find the right people is always a challenge, last night I found out that we've got it about right.

The upgrade the team undertook was major. A fundamental change to our inter-component communication protocols was something that had been in the making for several months.

The result is massive scaling opportunities and even more resilience added to a platform that already receives plaudits for its performance and reliability.

What was especially rewarding for me was seeing the team take ownership of the upgrade and ultimately of the system. The testing processes, reviews, planning, etc were all completed by a team determined to take their system to the next level.

Like a nervous parent I've watched as the system and technical team I'd built and nurtured were transitioning to adulthood and became independent. But I needn't have worried, all I had to do was make sure they were fed.

A huge well done guys, the system's in great hands.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

More on that iPhone queue in Sydney

Closer inspection revealed there wasn't just one queue. Because the iPhone is available on 3 networks in Australia (Telstra, Vodafone & Optus) there were actually 3 separate queues, one for each network. On the second floor a row of desks where laid out for each network to handle the activation.

Just imagine what would have happened in the UK or US if more than one network had been involved in the activation.

However, I overheard a couple on the way out laughing that there was no one in the Telstra queue. Guess the Telstra iPhone tariff isn't what the people want.

Twitter isn't popular in Dubai then

Friday, 18 July 2008

iPhone queue, Sydney

people are still queueing for the iPhone here in Sydney

Posted by ShoZu

Apple store Sydney, blimey

Posted by ShoZu

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

What was I saying about needing the new iPhone because of my battery?

Well the new one certainly pulls some juice. I can't get through the day without having to charge it. Not great for a device I want to use as my primary.

There obviously things I can do to help the battery life like How To Maximize Your iPhone 3G's Questionably Adequate Battery Life, but I must admit to thinking why should I.

The whole Apple proposition is producing beautiful, elegant products that work. Basically you pay a premium so you don't have to worry about the detail, you can just enjoy the experience.

Now I'm being told I should turn off 3G or WiFi scanning, doing the device's thinking for it, hardly elegant.

I do love the device and I'm going to get a Proporta USB Mobile Device Charger to keep me alive when I'm travelling but it leaves me feeling like an early adopter again which wasn't the iPhone 3G proposition.

Wasn't this the iPhone we were waiting for? The normobs certainly won't stand for it.

Great use of SMS Long Number


Saw this in Melbourne today. The use of an SMS Long Number makes this service so much more accessible and thus useful.

sms meter cut out

Most people are on plans these days so the cost of sending one message is negligible and means even if they do end up with a ticket, they won't be liable.

If the parking authority had used a short code not only would there be concern over costs but also as a visitor with a roaming mobile, I wouldn't have been able to use the service.

Friday, 11 July 2008

No joy

System crashed and they didn't had any 16GB versions anyway. But I did manage to get quite far on Super Monkey Ball

Mobile post from the Esendex BlogIt service

I've succumb, I tried not to

I walked past the Beeston O2 store this morning and the queue wasn't big. Let's hope I get one now

Mobile post from the Esendex BlogIt service

Monday, 7 July 2008

The farce that is integrated transport in the UK

The farce that is integrated transport in the UK. Followers of Julian's blog will know that the two of us are cycling from Bedford to Esendex HQ in Nottingham today. Understanding that taking a bike on a train required forward planning (train from Nottingham to Bedford was my first leg) I booked tickets online in advance, though no saving to be had, and tried to find the option for my bike. Nothing doing.

I then phoned up customer service to be told I had to go the station. Great I thought, London tomorrow I'll get it then.

No, I had to come back during off-peak! By this point I was a little cross. Even more so when I can back and the ticket office was shut at 18:30!

So I'm on the train today without a booking and no-one's batted an eyelid, let alone asked me for my reservation. Aaarrrrgggghhh

Mobile post from the Esendex BlogIt service

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

New iPhone not a moment too soon

The battery is really starting to fade on my iPhone, let's hope the next upgrade is in a year as well.

Judging is complete

Finished the judging for the Esendex Developer Challenge today. A tricky exercise, the entries were diverse, in the end however we were all in agreement.

The winners are now safely tucked away into in a metaphorical gold envelope. As soon as I've spoken to them, we'll announce it to the world.

Worshipping at a Jura-powered altar

It's shiny, has a touch interface, makes a great cup of coffee and is now gracing the kitchen at Esendex Towers. Though everyone seems a little jumpier than usual.

Jura Impressa XF70

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Micro-blogging needs syndication

Phil posted today “Is twitter a serious business tool or just a complete waste of time?”. I dropped him a comment but in writing it, I came to a realisation that I felt deserved it's own post here.

twitter is the most successful micro-blogging platform in town but it still only serves a niche community of hip, internet things who love whatever is new. Pownce and Jaiku are the closest competition but the problem is critical mass, if I'm using twitter do I want to use pownce to interact with friends you follow there and jaiku for another set? No.

Very few people actually read this blog ( steady, there's more to this sentence ;) ) from the website, most read through an RSS/ATOM reader of some kind. They aggregate the feeds from a number of different sources into one easily consumable window on the blogging world. This is why blogging has become so damn successful, because it gives the reader control of how they consume.

In the micro-blogging world I need to visit multiple websites or download lots of clients to keep up to date with each network, which just isn't practical.

If all networks were to introduce a standard syndication methodology, something more suited to live messaging and the Internet like XMPP then clients could take feeds from all the sites that I like to track in one easily consumed form.

If I particularly liked Pownce's file sharing then I could use that through it's desktop client but it wouldn't preclude me from keeping up to date with all my other networks in an easily digestible form. Further if I liked the russian roulette that is twitter's up-time I could stick with that as my micro-blogging platform.

The problem is all these services want to attract audiences and keep them so they can advertise to them or whatever the business model based on subscriber numbers is, so they think they need a closed shop. However, if they don't grow the micro-blogging market, they won't grow themselves. Good ol' Catch-22.

So I ask you, micro-blogging platforms of the world unite, enable syndication and make micro-blogging as relevant and useful as blogging. Then you can concentrate on providing the best platform for your niche. For if you do there might just be a significant market to aim at.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Nokia vs BlackBerry vs iPhone

The web is awash with opinion and comment, so why not add my two-penneth.

I sit here with a Nokia E51, BlackBerry 8707v and an iPhone. When the iPhone morphs into a 3G monster something's got to give and that something is the BlackBerry. Ugly hunk of plastic with terrible browser that it is.

Fantastic email device but that's all it is. It's an awful phone. Exchange access on my iPhone, yes please. I actually like typing on the iPhone's touch screen now more than on the BlackBerry keyboard. Who'd of thought?

I think of all the losers in the wake of the iPhone success, it's BlackBerry that are going to suffer most. They are making a big move into the consumer and SME space. Vodafone here in the UK have most definitely nailed the colours to that particular mast. The problem is the iPhone is just so much better for that market.

Whether or not Apple crack the big enterprise market, or even if the really want to, the Exchange support added to IMAP and POP3 means if you want mobile email as personal or SME user, the iPhone is the one to choose because it's also an iPod and an amazing mobile Internet experience.

So why am I keeping the Nokia? They operate in a very different space and I'll be keeping my E51 because of it. Apple's closed app distribution model will prevent true innovation when it comes to mobile apps. if you want to do things like Qik or Shozu, they're going to come first to Nokia because it is the most feature rich and that is what all the mobile geeks use. That unpaid QA department in the cloud that are happy to work through the foibles of the platform because they desperately want the new stuff to work.

Yes the Nokia OS is a pain to use but the hardware is the business and features allow developers and entrepreneurs to flex their technical creativity.

So bye-bye BlackBerry, all being well you won't be missed.

Security in anonymity

Amazon have had some recent outages (Bots to blame for outages? | The Register) which raise a spectre of doubt for me over the viability of cloud computing services.

These services allow smaller organisations to benefit from large investments in computing power made by a small number of organisations, Amazon, Google, etc and buy IT infrastructure as a service.

The concern for me is that they provide a very, very big and obvious target for people of nefarious intent to aim at. Global brands like Amazon represent a prize for hackers and it would seem if one goes down, everyone goes down. Their being S3 services were affected as well, taking down all customers services that rely on them.

Doing it for yourself, on your own servers gives you the protection of the crowd in much the same way as being in a shoal of fish provides protection to the individual members from predators. Of course, you have to do a certain amount of self protection but being far less likely to be a target makes that a lot cheaper.

The counter argument is that these large cloud services organisations have the resources to hire the best defensive minds in the business to protect their investment, a level you couldn't possible afford or justify on your own. The problem is that these people are defending against the best attacking minds in the business because they're protecting the biggest prize, it's a classic arms race.

Another argument is that these services allow you to scale your service rapidly in the face of unprecedented demand. You never know, your service might become de rigueur and in the Internet world that means millions of hits.'You only get one chance'.

Entrepreneurs lap this one up, being the eternal optimists that we have to be to survive the start-up trials, of course my service is 'the one' I'm just waiting for the market to realise and then I'll be ready. Looking at it a little more pragmatically, this is a million to one shot.

What's more likely, should your business succeed, is that growth may well accelerate but not more than is copable with. The trick is to architect your service so you can rapidly scale it, then it just becomes an issue of cash hardware. If you've got your business model straight then this shouldn't be a problem.

So, home grown for me. It's not hard or expensive these days with so many open source services and stiff competition in the ISP market; and I haven't even got onto the perils of locking your pride and joy to a proprietary app hosting architecture.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Are email read receipts rude?

A couple of people I email on a regular basis request a read receipt by default. I don't send them, partially because I hate the dialog that pops up asking me whether I want to every time I receive an email from them and partially because I'm just plain awkward.

I'd much rather have an SMS style delivery receipt, ie I know it's got there, the transport mechanism has done it's job, I'm happy for the recipient to operate according to their own timescales and tell me when they're ready to respond.

The problem with read-receipts is that they're cross that line into the recipient exposing what they are doing to you. If I read an email, I might want consider a response, I might just be scanning to prioritise and get to it later. Indicating to someone that I've read it implies that I'm working on it straight away and they should ready themselves for a response.

So requesting a read receipt from me will certainly not get a response but you might succeed in raising my blood-pressure slightly ;)

Friday, 6 June 2008

SMS Home Routing, let's have a discussion before it's too late

In my interview with Informa yesterday we discussed among many things was SMS Home Routing and that, in my opinion, it represents one of the biggest threats and at the same time biggest opportunities for our industry. What I was concerned about was no one had mentioned this to the journalist before, a specialist in the mobile messaging arena.

A while ago I added a Google Alert for the term to keep me up to date with discussions, nothing. Absolutely nothing has come through. I imagined that in the vast expanse of the Internet, there would be someone who was worried about this or at least might have mentioned it.

Ewan at SMSTextNews has posted a couple of pieces (Verizon’s banning of abortion discussion highlights home routing issues, The arse with SMS home routing) about this (he's not in favour, can you tell? ;-)) but the comments have petered out.

I'm perplexed as to why industry figures like Mike Short, Andrew Bud, et al. are not leading a discussion into this. Why doesn't the MDA have an opinion?

I firmly believe that if SMS Home Routing destroys the validity of a delivery receipts, enterprises are going to walk away from SMS at a time when they're just starting to embrace it. It doesn't have to be this way, we just need some transparency from the operators.

O2 and the new iPhone, perhaps I might be stuck

Next week it seems we'll find out about the 3G iPhone, and hopefully O2 will put me out of my misery about whether they'll let me upgrade (Will O2 penalise me for being an early-adopter?).

In the shower this morning, location of most of thinking, it occurred to me that if they did let me upgrade, I'd be left with a 'useless' iPhone, at least in the eyes of Apple and O2. My purchase agreement prohibits me from jailbreaking it so as soon as my number is ported over to the new device and the SIM deactivated it's officially a brick.

Apple are very public about their dislike of jail-breaking  but I'm sure the networks will be equally keen to upgrade people and extend their contracts. All those early adopters with a 'spare' iPhone will head straight to eBay via an unlocking service to recoup some of their outlay.

In many ways this is the most environmentally conscious approach. Make sure the device, that is still in excellent working order, can still be used by someone. Rather than ending up in a landfill somewhere,  leaching it's delectable cocktail of heavy metals and other substances in to the surrounding ecosystem.

An alternative is for Apple + operator to provide a return scheme, probably with a cash back or new contract penalty if the original phone isn't returned when it's deactivated. If this is the case, it will be very interesting to watch the prices on eBay to see whether money's to be made.

This would be expensive for Apple as they still have to do something with the phones when the receive them. If it happens it will have probably come down to a battle between the Apple Cool Police and the money men over how much control freakery really costs.

Unfortunately this is all personal conjecture as there is a still a significantly less appealing alternative, no upgrades. But that doesn't bear thinking about...

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The great British iPhone mystery | The Register

This popped up on The Register today, well worth a read.

The great British iPhone mystery | The Register

I've currently got a Nokia E51 so I can do some R&D as well as trying out some of the new mobile apps which all seem to be for Symbian S60. It's a great bit of hardware but the OS is a real pain to use, Nokia really need to pull their fingers out if their to remain at the top of the smartphone market.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Is it cool to dis Twitter?

I don't know about you but I'm getting a little fed up with hearing about how hard it is for the guys at Twitter to scale their service. What's recently tipped the balance for me was the call to the community for assistance with their architectural problems: Twittering About Architecture.

In an interview with the founders (Scoble Interviews Twitter Founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone) they appear quite candid about the problems they're having but also appear to contradict the above blog post by saying they have ex-senior Google engineers and plenty of VC cash in the bank and don't need anyone else.

During the interview the founders admit to getting out of their depth technically when Scoble probes a bit deeper into the architecture and I wonder if that is part of their problem, the technical people don't have enough power. If they did maybe they would have recognised that twitter is a messaging system earlier.

It's a neat service but I'm perplexed as to why the community is giving them so much leeway.

As soon as VCs get involved, the notion of altruism quickly exits stage left, they've invested to make money so why should the rest of us help out.

I can only guess that it's just not cool to give them a hard time.

I, like probably most messaging system architects, reckon my team and I could have a pretty good stab at building it properly. The challenges they are facing are very similar to ours. Developers of content based web apps often underestimate the complexities of messaging systems,

That said, the most robust and technically excellent systems are useless if no one uses them. What ever magic juice twitter has got in it's lunchbox is certainly giving them plenty of time to get it fixed.

They just better hope it doesn't run out before the bell rings and people have to get back to class.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Qik vs Youtube is a great service. Rock solid throughout my trip to Paris and really added something special to the media mix on our event web site. You can see the results at

My original plan was to video throughout the day and upload them to Youtube later. Qik was far,far easier and more immediate because you could do it straight from the handset but it also had another advantage over Youtube it doesn't try and work out what else you might want to watch.

I uploaded a video to Youtube on the night before we were due to leave only to get a phone call to say there was a link to something inappropriate video appearing.

Seems that Youtube had linked this to a video of a children's party where the attendees were having a swearing competition, or something like that, not at all good for a school affiliate web site.

So link to Youtube video removed and Qik was a our broadcast medium of choice for the trip.

Not sure of the long-term business model for Qik,I'm imagining that it's a technology play with the hope that someone bigger buys them. That said I can see some features that I would probably be prepared to pay for but I'm probably in the minority.

SMS Engagement

I posted on the Esendex Blog about SMS Blogging to Paris. I'd built a web site ( for the event and thought it would be a great idea if the riders and support team could send SMS messages in to the web site in order to keep our supporters at home updated. It was a stellar success.

I only gave the virtual mobile number to the team members as I was a little concerned about there being no moderation controls on a web site for a school affiliated event. The genie however was already out of the bottle.

A couple of the riders gave the number to their families and the dam was breached. Messages of support came flooding in as the number spread quite literally around the world. We had people texting in from as far afield as Australia.

The riders were clamouring round my laptop every night to see if anyone they knew had posted a message and/or replied to their posts throughout the day. Two-way conversations were happening between riders and children at the school.

Whether we'd have had the same response if I had provided a form on the web site for people to post comments I don't know but I do believe that using SMS as the transport medium added certain features that made it more successful.

Firstly anyone could do it anywhere, fundamentally important for the riders but I postulate that this also helped the viral spread of texting in. Our friends and families back home would have been bumping into each other, share what they knew about the service and it could have been acted on straight away, rather than having to wait until they were back at a computer.

Secondly, I think the constraints inherent in texting from a mobile handset kept messages short and succinct meaning a lot more messages could be displayed on the web site. Rather than a long message dominating the home page, lots of messages gave a more dynamic feel to the site, encouraging more usage.

The results were astounding, it was a huge motivational boost for the riders but it also engaged our friends, families and supporters in an unforeseen fashion.

Nottingham to Paris on a Brompton

I made it.

Not doing it again.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Will O2 penalise me for being an early-adopter?

The 3G iPhone is imminent, I'm about 7 months into my existing contract (11 months to go), will O2 let me upgrade?

I sincerely hope they do and I don't think I'm necessarily being unreasonable.

The handset was unsubsidised so that's not part of my monthly charge. If O2 offered me the an upgrade but required me to extend my contract by another 18 months I'd probably go for it. They keep me as a customer for an extra 7 months and I get the shiny new iPhone.

Love the existing version as I do, and I really do, the data speeds are something that I put up with.

If they don't I'm going to decidedly annoyed. Hopefully I'll find out in a few weeks time.

Great support from Garmin

I've got a GPS device for my bike so have the desktop software loaded on my PC. Recently it failed to start on bootup and gave me an error dialog with a request to email contents to their support email.

Would had preferred option for just a button click to push to web service but the key thing is someone actually got back to me.

Had a personalised email from what appeared to be a real person explaining what the problem was and how I can avoid it.

Very nicely done

Mobile post from the Esendex BlogIt service

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Service Level Agreements for SMS Services, pointless?

I attended a presentation about the need for SLAs in the SMS industry by Michael Kowalzik, CEO of Tyn-Tec, at Global Messaging 2008 last week.

I wasn't going to go as I had seen him speak on the same subject last year, but it was on a track I was interested in. Thankfully he spent less time this year trying to promote Tyn-Tec's services and more on what they were and why they were needed.

The 2 main areas for SMS services that differ from standard IT services are

  • Message Throughput
  • Time to first delivery attempt

Message throughput is fairly easy to measure and report on but time to first delivery attempt is trickier for many of us providers as it relies on the network operators passing the information back.

Tyn-Tec make a great play of running their own SMSC infrastructure, hosted on Manx Telecom's network in the Isle of Man. They have complete control and thus can get the interim delivery receipts required out of their own SMSC.

We don't run our own SMSC but connect into network operators around the world to perform the delivery on our behalf. One of my periodic bang my head against the desk tasks has been to try and get our suppliers to give us the information so we can measure their performance, report that to customers and offer SLAs on the whole delivery process not just until the message leaves our system.

That finally looks like it's bearing fruit, the operators are realising that businesses are using SMS to drive business processes and that SLAs are a minimum requirement.

Great you'd think. Possibly.

I can't help thinking that operators implementing SMS Home Routing (see  SMS Home Routing, should we as an industry be worried?) is going to invalidate the SLA in the eyes of the customer.

Giving an SLA on first attempt is all very well but the customer expects that attempt to be to the handset rather than an interim system on the destination network. The value of the SLA is immediately watered-down when you have to introduce backside covering caveats about the SLA not representing handset delivery to certain destinations.

I concluded in my previous post that SMS Home Routing was an inevitability that we has an industry had to adapt to. I wonder if its corruption of SLAs will end up representing an opportunity lost.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008


I met a number of people at Global Messaging 2008 once we'd set the messaging world straight and we talked more socially the topic of my impending cycle to Paris ( often came up.

This morning in the post was a cheque from one of those people donating to our cause.

I hadn't asked anyone for sponsorship, he wasn't a potential supplier trying to ingratiate himself with me, he stands to gain nothing directly from doing this. His only motivation was offer his support to a cause he felt was worthy and make a positive contribution to someone else's life.

Thank you, the world truly can be a nice place.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Mobile working back from Cannes - another coverage on trains rant

Following on form my post Mobile working to Cannes, I'm not going to report on the whole trip but I have one observation from the return leg.

For a number of reasons I ended up flying back to Heathrow then getting a cab back to Nottingham. Complete carbon disaster compared to the outbound leg.

Sitting in the back of the cab I fired up the laptop, plugged in the Vodafone USB modem and was greated with very good coverage for a good proportion of the journey up the M1. Given that most cars contain only one person and thus cannot take advantage of this data coverage, this makes the lack of a decent mobile service on the nation's inter-city rail routes even more criminal.

Is the M1 is benefiting from intersecting more urban coverage? It seems wholly wrong that where it is safe to use mobile coverage you can't (the train) and where it isn't (when you're single handedly piloting a tonne of metal and plastic) you have more than you can shake a stick at.

One of the people I met last week, who worked for a UK operator was explaining to me that much of the issue rests with Network Rail and their desire to cream as much out of the network operators as possible for putting rail-cells on their property.

He was actually advocating nationalising the cell infrastructure and let the network operators provide services on top. Not sure of the merits of this given his complaint about a monoplistic player preventing the establishment of the infrastructure.

If this is the issue, I do think there is a case for the government to step in and require Network Rail to facilitate the establishment of a network of cells to give full and reliable coverage to at least the intercity routes. I'm sure the train operating companies would be prepared to get involved if it meant providing better facilities to their customers.

This would also serve to increase the attractiveness of the train as a viable transport option to businesses. Thanks to this nation's obsession with personal transport, trains have to try much harder to attract passengers. Providing customers with the facilities to support proper mobile working would tip the balance for many people.

And who knows, we might just get a few more cars off the roads in the process.

Voice SMS is so much better than texting a BT landline

There are times when you don't need to work to sell in the benefits of a new service, the incumbent service you're improving on does it all for you, as it was with Voice SMS the other day.

A customer calls up very irritated that SMS messages he sent to a group of BT landlines had taken over 16 hours to arrive. The mobile recipients had received their messages almost instantaneously as usual.

Our support team investigated and all seemed fine from our side, as far as we could deduce there was some kind of delay on the BT side/operator interconnect. Unfortunately that was all the information we could glean.

"Try Voice SMS to the landlines instead" we suggested, "let us know what you think".

Result: another happy customer. He can see what's happened all the way through the message delivery process and has the added benefit of an acknowledgement.

I love it when a plan comes together ;-)

Friday, 9 May 2008

SMS Home Routing, should we as an industry be worried?

SMS Home Routing was a key topic discussed at Global Messaging 2008 this week. It's introduction brings with it the potential to seriously disrupt how we in the mobile messaging business deliver our services, especially cross-border. I made it my mission this week to try and understand what it means from the operator and vendor perspective

Firstly, I should probably explain the problem. SMS Home Routing means that whenever a message is sent to me it always passes through my home network, irrespective of where I am in the world. Normally when roaming, my home network never sees the message as it sent directly from the originating network to the network I'm roaming on.

Great, my operator can give me all sorts of value add services, like O2's Blue Book,SPAM filtering, twinning, out of office replies, SMS forwarding, etc, etc. To do all of these, the operator need to be able to intercept the SMS and apply some rules on it before passing it on to my handset.

It's the implementation of this interception that is the cause for concern. I spoke to, and heard from, senior figures at vendors like Airwide, Telsis and Tekelec who presented opposing views on how they recommend that their customers, the operators, do this. Similarly when I spoke to the operators they were also divided.

In the blue corner we have the transactional advocates. They believe that the transactional nature of SMS should be preserved. When a request is made to send a message to a handset, their systems proxy the request in real time. It handles delivering the message onto the handset and returns the ACK (delivery indication) back if the handset accepts the message. The sending SMSC know's nothing other of what happens behind the proxy but when the home network router reports the messages as delivered, it is.

In the red corner we have the store and forward advocates. Their systems will store the message and return the ACK back to the sending SMSC before it attempts to deliver the message to the destination handset. This unfortunately breaks the transactional nature of SMS and one of the key features that certainly most of our customers buy into, knowing whether the message has got to the handset.

I'll be honest, I arrived at the conference passionately backing the blue corner, a delivery receipt should tell me when the messages has actually arrived at the handset, but one of the vendors I spoke to certainly gave me some use cases that cause me to question this stance.

  • Security - send me an SMS and you can find out which country I'm in, what if I don't know you or want you to know where I am.
  • Status - a delivery receipt implies something about my status, I'm accepting messages therefore you can accept a response, what if I don't want you to know.
  • Twinning - where an SMS is sent to two or more of my handsets simultaneously when is it delivered, when it hits one, two, all?

I guess this comes down to a question of who owns the message, the sender or the recipient? Home routing allows the recipient to delegate the job of message handling to their operator instead of their handset thus allowing the recipient to take advantage of all sorts of value-add services.

The business case for these systems that came up time and time again was SPAM filtering. The network wants to protect their subscribers from nefarious senders of unsolicited messages which generally originate from off the network.

I starting to believe that this is perhaps a bigger threat. The move by the Spanish operators to outlaw the use of alphanumeric originators, except those that have been pre agreed and do not originate off-net appears to be conducted under the banner of SPAM prevention.

The evidence I hear around the industry of legitimate messages being quietly discarded when sent to certain networks because of 'quality' issues is not the fault of home routing but more likely overly simplistic SPAM filters.

The subject of alphanumeric originators, network interconnects and the operators general distrust of A2P (application to person) traffic is a topic I will be returning to as I believe this is a more fundamental issue affecting us that could very quickly get out of hand.

Coming back to SMS home routing, I believe ultimately we have to accept it as an inevitability. As one operator contact told me, "I don't like it, but because xxx have done it we're going to have to as well". And let's be honest there are some really cool things it allows my network to do for me.

Much as we'd like not to, we have to accept that we faced with an oligopoly whose interests are not necessarily aligned with ours. The concept of delivery receipts and the knowledge they give us about the status of a communication is changing and we going to have to swallow that pill and adapt our services accordingly.

The rules have changed, but innovation thrives in times of adversity

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Loving Windows Live Writer

Like Microsoft have created some blogging software, that's like free and like works with everything that's not Microsoft and is like really useful and like really works and like doesn't pollute your markup with loads of MS specific guff.

Who'd of thought?

I really recommend you check it out: Windows Live Writer

iPhone maps rescue me again

Not for the first time I've been very lazy and just turned up somewhere thinking I could find my way to where i was going using only my instincts.

After walking far too far along the beach in Cannes I used the iPhone maps to find my hotel. Only to find that I'd walked past it a far while ago.

While tools like the iPhone and GPS devices are accused of dumbing us down. They don't half make life easier.@

Mobile post from the Esendex BlogIt service

Mobile working to Cannes

I decided to take the train to Global Messaging 2008 in Cannes,France. Last year I did it overnight which was sort of fun. This year I'm heading down during the day and seeing whether it's possible to do a days work while I spend the day travelling.

So armed with a my Sony Vaio, Vodafone USB Modem and BlackBerry I attempted to spend the day travelling but so that no one would notice.

3 trains required (if you ignore 2 stop on the RER in Paris):

  1. Nottingham to London St Pancras
  2. London St Pancras to Paris Gare de Lyon
  3. Paris Gare de Lyon to Cannes

Nottingham to London - East Midlands Trains

This first leg is well known to me. I was able to use the power point to keep my laptop battery topped up but no WiFi and mobile coverage is shocking as usual. I've pretty much got used to not being able to do anything connected while on the train to/from London. That said my BlackBerry does an excellent job of exchanging emails when coverage allows.

Same goes for voice calls. Pointless trying to have a conversation.

It's always perplexed me as to why the mobile network operators have not invested in coverage for train lines. Little sardine cans of punters desperate to be communicate or consume content because there's nothing else to do.

conclusion: 3/10 great to have power, connectivity shocking

London to Paris - Eurostar

Aarrgh no power. Luckily I've invested in another battery for my laptop as the spare battery that came with my now 2 year old Vaio couldn't make it to Paris (the original battery gave up long ago). I guess though that a lot people's laptops will survive the 2hr journey so this shouldn't be too much of a hindrance.

I remember when Eurostar first opened and the trains seemed so glamorous, now they just seem tired and sadly lacking in basic facilities. Power points being one.

If they are trying to provide a business service then power is a must and I think WiFi would be a key asset. GNER (now National Express) seem to have done a great job on the East Coast Line, why not a premium route like London - Paris.

However this was when the Vodafone modem came to the fore, especially on the French side. I got 3G coverage almost all the way from Calais to Paris. I actually managed to use some web applications. Properly review some emails, respond completely. It was like being at my desk at home.

Voice calls no problem.

conclusion: 7/10 connectivity pretty good though WiFi would be beter, could really do with power

Paris to Cannes

This was going to be the real test. The first 2 legs are less than or about the 2 hour mark. If all else failed you could probably catch up with things at a coffee shop at one of the stations. 5 hours of whizzing through the French countryside was really going to put this experiment to the test, and it did.

I had high hopes for this train trip. The French being well known for their super fast train service, tearing round the country brimming with socialist pride. I imagined it would be well setup for the travelling business person.

I booked way ahead so travelled first class and was greeted by a nice big seat on the top deck (thought that might be better for mobile coverage) with my own power point.

No WiFi again, but as we left Paris I was hopeful as 3G coverage remained but this soon gave way to 2G, which in turn gave way to very patchy indeed. For large chunks of the journey it was unworkable. Especially as it seemed to stop connecting automatically, maybe that's a roaming setting.

Voice calls were also tricky, especially given they seem to be frowned upon in the carriage. Nothing like a mobile phone etiquette faux-pas in a foreign country to endear yourself with your fellow passengers.

conclusion: 6/10 power and seat great, data coverage varied

So is it workable? Certainly Eurostar, though more on the French side than the British. Given they've shortened that bit recently, I guess it's less of a problem ;-). The key at the moment is to know your route and know how to work round it's foibles.

Having used the WiFi on the East Coast (London to Edinburgh) line it's difficult to understand why other rail operators aren't putting it in across their fleet. You look in any rail carriage these days and the number of laptops as just mushroomed. Couple that with WiFi capable phones and PDAs and there's an army of people that would be quite prepared to pay an additional charge for WiFi while they travel.

I might be getting a little carried away, but I wonder if the government has any view on the national productivity hit of having people stuck on trains, unable to access their work. Could a government subsidy drive adoption as well as our GDP?

Searching for my twitter identity

Ewan of SMS Text News came to see us at Esendex yesterday. One of the subjects we chewed on, over Coke and tomato juice (boy it was a wild afternoon ;-)) was twitter.

I've followed twitter for a while and been intrigued, if not wowed, by the service it provides. "What are you doing?" is a question potentially of interest to a some people I know but in the most part, they're probably not interested in everything.

I decided to try and start using it last week and was soon tweeting about a trip to Legoland with the family, the triathlon I competed in, an 'interesting' thought on mobile I'd had. I've setup twitterfeed so whenever I post a blog entry that appears as well. I dropped the widget on my blog and sat back, proud that I was embracing the latest in social networking, communication, thingies. But then I looked again and realised it was just noise.

It was a stream of consciousness with no theme and questionable relevance to it's audience.

People I know in the industry and with whom I discuss trends, happenings, etc are likely to be interested in my thoughts on my trip to Global Messaging 2008 as I am with their's. If we're to shape an industry this kind of collective knowledge sharing is fantastic. Unfortunately most of those guys don't care about me building part of record breaking Lego tower. In fact, having that on my stream is a positive hinderance when we're all following multiple people and trying to discern what everyone's doing relative to the mobile industry.

Likewise my mates with whom I cycle and race with will want to know of my racing exploits. My Mum want's to know about Legoland and her grandchildren. That is assuming that these groups actually use twitter, given most of them aren't geeks that is unlikely, but that should probably be the subject of another post.

So it comes down to a question of identity. What should my twitter persona be? Do I need multiple twitter personas? What if I want to overlap those personas?

The ideal scenario for me would be to be able to categorise my tweets, set up sub-micro feeds. Your own categories could be presented as a optional set of check boxes on the update page. The main feed would still work, but these categories would be presented as sub feeds.

SMS input could still be preserved by twitter providing multiple text in numbers that can be mapped to your mobile number and category. Meaning, multiple people could use the same numbers with different categories. They'd only need as many numbers as the maximum number of sub-feeds people would need/be allowed. I can't imagine it costing them any more money.

However, for me this would only solve part of the problem. A big question is. "Is the world tweeting about something of relevance to me?". It's all very well if the people you follow know about something but the world is a big place. The new iPhone goes on sale and they're all broken, my customers are complaining about my services, a band I desperately want to see have just released tickets for some surprise gigs, there's an impromptu demonstration about human rights abuses happening NOW. All of things would really require a common syntax, semantic tagging, to be accurate. Something I'm chewing on and will post on later.

So, for the moment is going to become an extension of this blog, alongside BlogIt and the good old fashioned web browser. Another means of registering and diseminating my thoughts and views on Esendex and the industry as a whole. Let me know.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Live Mesh

I had the 'honour' at being at the launch of Microsoft Live Mesh yesterday.

It promises a lot: ultimate, seamless connectivity for all devices, cameras, PCs, smartphones, even Macs. Unfortunately at the moment that's all it is, promises.

I have been given access to a special invitation preview, that I've signed up for but hasn't yet yielded an account. From what I can make out though, at the moment all it is is file storage. Put some files in the cloud and access them later. useful, but not ground-breaking.

Now, I know there is more than that to come, but at the moment that's it. It feels to me like a rushed announcement before the ink is dry on chapter 1 of the Live Mesh novel. I'd expect to at least get to the end of the first act.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

The iPhone is useless without data coverage

The iPhone is useless without data coverage
I'm in the US at the moment and being too stingey to pay exhorbitant data roaming charges, I'm hopping from WiFi point to WiFi point where possible but generally I'm frustratingly unable to access anything useful

Tim O'Reilly said today that we are moving to a vision of one computer encompassing all computers and devices glued together by the Internet.

At the moment my iPhone is not paticipating in that utopian vision

Mobile post from the Esendex BlogIt service

Monday, 7 April 2008

Alphanumeric sender restrictions come to Spain

Spanish operators seem to be clamping down on the use of alphanumeric sender aliases. Instead the messages must come with a valid reply-path be it shortcode or MSISDN (standard mobile number).

This is in an attempt to combat SPAM messages being sent to their subscribers. The theory, it would seem, is that if a number is used then the sender can be identified. Allowing the recipient to identify and reply to the sender to unsubscribe from the service.

These kind of restrictions are very broad brush approaches to problems caused by a minority that have a big impact on the majority. I've talked before about these kind of restrictions in Web-sent SMSs now face restrictions. It's puts in an interesting situation.

Many of our customers make heavy use of the facility to brand their messages with their own company or service name. A quick mystery shop round other SMS service providers in Spain reveals that it's business as usual. Alphanumeric senders are fine, they're happy to carry the traffic.

Currently, we have a number of routes into Spain that allow traffic with alphanumeric senders to pass, the messages are received and delivery receipts returned without issue.

That said one of our routes is having issues with alphanumeric senders to one of the Spanish networks. Is this a standard technical issue or this symptomatic of a tightening up of the restrictions?

So do we give the customer what they want while we still can along with everyone or do we self-police our customers and use one of our Spanish virtual mobile numbers for those that don't want the extra cost of having a dedicated number?

The risk if we do the former is that routes get summarily blocked to all traffic rather than just traffic that fall foul of the restrictions because that's pretty much all the operator can do at an interconnect level. This means customers with legitimate messaging have their service disrupted.

However, if we do the latter, we risk losing customers to other service providers who are prepared to carry the traffic.

We're going to put it in the hands of our customers for as long as possible. For those that rely on our service to get the messages through without any potential downtime, we will recommend using our Spanish virtual mobile number service.

We'll just be ready to switch it on for the customers that are happy to risk an alphanumeric alias for the meantime.