Mobile Inc

Mobile and Web Product Designer from London


Can The Next Instagram, Hipstamatic, Klout Or Angry Birds Be Born Within An Agency?

This is post I’ve been meaning to write for a quite some time now, it’s spawned from a number of conversations I’ve had with people in several digital and mobile agencies around London.

Aside from an odd 14-months at Nokia, I’ve spent all of my professional working life within agencies and it’s always felt like the right fit. The combination of creative and technical minds plus big brands has always had that lure and promise of creating amazing work. The process of getting a bit of paper containing a brief and turning it into a real life experience is pretty great.

So with all the right ingredients, creative juice and technical ability on tap I posed the question – Can The Next Instagram/Hipstamatic/Klout/Angry Birds Be Born Within An Agency?

Actually my question was more like why hasn’t this already happened? Why aren’t more agencies making bets and try to build products and services that would make venture capitalists in Silicon Valley jealous?

I’m not just talking about internal projects that agencies do in spare time (or better still, dedicated time) but for client work too.

In my opinion it comes down to a mixture of two things – clients themselves and agency culture.

The sad truth is that if you’re expecting a client to drop a brief and a lump of cash in your hand that sparks off The Next Big Thing™ then you’ll be waiting a long time. It’s rare to see a ‘big idea’ digital or mobile brief from a client that isn’t suffocated by its own bullshit.

Instead of spending the time to create a 50 page deck containing arrows and buzzwords, why doesn’t the client ever take the time to step back and think ‘Who the fuck is going to do this and why?’

Brands need to realise that the available hours and minutes of the people they are trying to reach are being eaten up by Facebook, IM, Twitter, Foursquare, Angry Birds and browsing the web. What makes them think that people are going to spend time interacting with yet another augmented reality app for any longer than a couple of minutes before getting back to flinging birds and reading tweets?

Adam Glickman makes the fantastic point on Fast Company:

Startups and agencies alike always ask themselves, “What is the problem we’re solving?” If agencies want to think more like tech startups, they might focus less on clever storytelling and more on utility. In today’s media rich, attention-poor world, offering people something of use is the best way to cut through the noise.

Nike’s “Write the Future” and the Old Spice guy were the year’s best ad campaigns. I loved them as much as anyone. But I didn’t spend more than a few minutes with either–I was too busy devoting my spare moments to a relationship with Angry Birds and Foursquare.

I get that not every brief needs to turn into the next Facebook and I totally agree that there’s is nothing wrong with 1 million people using your app once as part of a short-term campaign.

But we can do better surely. How about 1 million people using your app every day? How bout every hour? Year after year?

Do clients and agencies want to keep creating branded fluff or do they want to build temples?

There’s no reason Hipstamatic couldn’t have come from Kodak’s agency. Or a global agency build something like Klout or CoTweet and have brands and rival agencies eating out of their hands paying to use it.

Agencies are just as guilty as clients, we pander too much for their insistence of ‘new’. Too happy to take their cash in return for some bollocks app that might get your client a couple of pats on the back in the boardroom but ultimately will be forgotten by the 5000 people who used it for a week or less.

I keep thinking back to another quote from the article on Fast Company:

Tech startups begin with the big idea, then seek to monetize.
Agencies start with a budget, then seek the big idea.

Two guys on a limited budget can get together and build Instagram, getting 7 million users in less than a year, a couple of guys at Odeo can start a side project called Twitter and become one of the biggest things ever. But at agencies we are consistently unable to turn a app costing 5 or 6 figures into something that can engage people for longer than a campaign (if that).

There are realities of course, I’m no account manager but I know that calling out your client for lack of sense and ambition isn’t the best way to keep people paid and the lights kept on.

So why aren’t more agencies (mobile epecially) creating stuff off their own backs? I know first hand how many amazing ideas get binned in pitches and projects, why not take a punt and prototype one that could benefit the agency (or brand)?

In my personal experience there is a extreme fear of failure and lack of desire to do anything innovative outside of paid client work which stems from the very top of the organisation. There must be 15-20 mobile agencies in London at the moment, how many of them have created apps that were part of side-projects or R&D initiatives?

It’s not like there’s a lack of will. Here’s a little secret – creatives and developers are ITCHING to do cool, innovative stuff and have great ideas every day. Some of these ideas might just be your agencies ticket to new clients, press, talent or revenue.

Try this test – if you’re reading this whilst working in an agency, when was the last time the creative and tech team all got together to launch something fun and interesting outside of client work?

The majority of the time the answer is either ‘a long time ago’ or worst ‘never’.

How are agencies meant to stay relevant and keep staff engaged without exploring technology and ideas in this way?

There are some agencies leading the charge – ustwo (@ustwo) based in Shoreditch have a portfolio filled with a mixture of client work and in-house projects.

They have heavily invested in their own IP and openly talk about the risks they’ve taken, one app called MouthOff has made them £123,456 through sales and licensing to brands, whereas another cost £80,000 of studio time and “utterly bombed”. Did this failure deter them from trying again? Nope! They currently have another big project in the works. Remember that Twitter spawned from the failure of Odeo…

I think I’m slowly finding where I sit within this industry. In the past I use to think that winning a award was the ultimate recognition of great work and aspired to produce campaigns that might get a sniff of a D&AD or Cannes Lion.

But fuck that. I’d rather have users who love and regularly use my app/service than any advertising award out there.

I want to build great products that people love and want to use. I want to solve problems by combining awesome experiences with technology and data.

Can that happen at a agency? Or is the only place for this sort of desire at a start-up or going it alone?

I think Don Draper sums up how I feel in this epic quote:



Launched! Instabam! The Location-Based Mobile Web Site Powered By Instagram

A few weeks ago the popular photo-sharing iPhone app Instagram revealed that it was opening up its data for developers to use through a private API before going public and that anyone with a decent idea should apply for access.

I was straight onto Brendan [@frasiocht] who knows mobile web development inside out and asked if he wanted to stop everything he was working on (another project we’re doing together which actually has a direct impact on whether we’ll be able to afford to eat and put a roof over our heads) and create something cool. As always Brendan was on board.

Then came the basis for the idea – it would have been very easy just to make a mobile web version of Instagram, but we wanted to do something that wasn’t possible with the iPhone app and that could live on it’s own. Our application form sounded something like this:

Explain your idea:

Viewing your current location through the eyes of others is strangely mesmerising and slightly voyeuristic. We want to enable every touch screen phone to see their area through the eyes of other Instagram users, following the ones they like and making the service more personal.

Last weekend I found out the application was accepted and after a few hours work on Sunday we had a working demo. A few bug fixes and I am now proud to announce it is live!

[alert-green]So try it for yourself! Point your mobile browser to and let me know what you think! We’ll be adding more stuff over the next week or two. [/alert-green]


Is Facebook Going To Become A Mobile Advertising Network?

There’s been much talk recently about how Facebook’s move to location-based features will impact services such as Foursquare, Gowalla and the like. Whilst everyone debates who will be crushed/acquired first, I think it’s time for some other companies to start shaking – online & mobile ad networks.

Back in early 2009 when I was doing mobile advertising mashups at Nokia, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to use someone’s Facebook social graph to create mobile ads that would be more engaging for users. My main goal was to combine the features of the Nokia device (location, music, games etc) with the immense amount of data Facebook has about you and your friends, resulting in highly relevant and targeted ads.

I started to really get stuck into Facebook Advertising, which is Facebook’s ad network used for running those tiny ads you see around the sidebar and various other places on the site. Anyone can go in and place an ad but the killer feature is the huge amount of targeting options available to you. From age all the way through to interests, and you can also target by applications installed, even events! (Check out my own campaign for an example). It quickly dawned on me that Facebook was in a perfect position to turn this into something that could give Admob a kicking.

In August Facebook launched its location-based feature on the iPhone called Places. It enables users to ‘check-in’ to wherever they are and push that location to their news feed for friends to see.

This means that not only can they add your real time location to the list of targeting data, but also all your friends locations too. The possibilities with all this information are endless for advertisers.

There’s already rumours of Facebook testing a Places powered deals service which rewards a user with freebies for checking-in at a location with 3 or more friends.

It’s not hard to imagine what a easy transition it would be for Facebook to become a fully fledged mobile advertising network. All they need to do is connect the dots between Facebook Advertising, Places and Connect.

I’m not talking about running text and banner ads on their app and mobile site, I’m talking about the bigger picture, taking on Google and Apple. Read More


Nokia N97 Promotional Video VS Real Life

I was having lunch with a mate yesterday and watched them get out their N97 to send a text message. Noticing the crappy transitions on the screen, I suddenly remembered the N97 promotion video from last year which basically makes the phone look god-like.

The real life story is somewhat different, I was actually going to put together a video myself then I found someone had beaten me to it. It speaks for itself – watch this:

Read More


Introducing The Twettle Project – The Kettle That Tweets!

[symple_highlight color=”yellow”]Update: The Twettle has gone global! Featured in Wired, The Sun & Metro Newspapers as well as about 100 other sites. Click here to read more [/symple_highlight]

The following post is a blow-by-blow account of our mission to design and manufacture a socially networked kettle that can update to Twitter/Facebook. It’s a bit lengthy, for those of you who can’t be bothered to read it all and just want to look at the pictures, head to the bottom 🙂

How it started

Six months ago myself and good friend Ben Perman (3D designer @Beyond) were out in Clapham, trying to get drunk in the wonderful chain bar Vodka Revolution on the high street. Unfortunately our attempts were disrupted by a barman who had never served a drink or given the correct change to anyone in his entire life before that day.

During the 40 minute wait for the creation of 3 drinks and a shot, we began a conversation about how we could make some Google-style moneyz, or at least enough to buy a boat and a few steak dinners. After several ridiculous (and slightly illegal) ideas, I suggested to Ben that we needed to exploit some trends while we had the chance, number one on the list – Twitter.

Sadly like 95% of my friends, Ben did not use Twitter. This presented quite a challenge considering I was asking him to put his time and money into an idea based around a service he barely knew. If I could sell the concept to Ben, then surely I could win over the Twitter massive?

One of my strongest predictions for the near future is that we’ll start using devices and services that automatically contribute to our ‘life stream’ more and more. Whether it’s updating your Foursquare account whenever you use your Oyster Card or the TV remote that updates Twitter to tell followers what you’re watching – it’s clear that we’re going to need help constantly telling others what we’re doing.

But how could we jump on this bandwagon? I started to like the sound of Twittering hardware, if we could cheaply and effectively produce the tech that enabled any manufacturers device to seamlessly ‘talk’ to open APIs (i.e Twitter, Facebook and more) then we would be onto something.

However making a circuit board with some fancy firmware wasn’t very exciting, both me and Ben come from creative backgrounds and wanted to get our teeth stuck into this a bit more. This technology needed to come to life within a working product. Something we could design, play with and eventually sell in shops.

Read More

Newer Posts