Microsoft fluffs its Content App Sprightly

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If April came early, this would have been a nice joke. Microsoft released a content creation app called Sprightly on the Google Play store.

Initially I was mildly surprised that Microsoft Garage would incubate the concept for this app and release it as it is.

Now, it is billed as a really a tool for creating flyers, pricelist, catalog and eCards.

After I took it for a spin, I didn’t know what to say. I had to drown myself in absinthe and feast on rotted cheese to clear the memory of that experience.

I do not know what to say.

Microsoft isn’t the most creative company in the world. After a string of misses, they still do not understand what people want. Which makes me wonder if they are at all serious about content creation.

These are the folks who set the bar for Microsoft Office. Since then, they have wallowed in the mud, stepped on a few landmines and followed a sure path down hill.

Real World Applications

Why is Sprightly so bad?

Let’s say you wanted to create a catalog, of say four items to showcase on your instagram or Facebook page. The first thing you will realize is that you have no control over the cropping of your images, you have to crop your photo to the correct shape before using it on the template.

There are no tools to beautify the image either. So if you didn’t enhance your photo before you took it, you are pretty much fucked.

Then you have no creative control over the fonts used. It is as if the 21st century never happened. It has only ONE font option and you can have any color for that font as long as it is black.

Then you have the sad lack of creative layout for template choices.

I know. Microsoft is as creative as a culinary chef from McDonalds. They recycle ideas from the last century and hope you don’t notice but no one told them they got found out.

Content is all about Catching your Eye

This is where Microsoft gets it all wrong. By coming out with a vanilla grey Sprightly app, they think you should communicate in black and white.

The creative option is as rigid as adamantium. You can’t add borders, or for that matter use a different paper color. It is also is unable to make things attractive to the eye with creatively curated fonts.

All you do with the Sprightly app is to drop in a picture, fill in the descriptions and maybe the price and leave it at that. There is really nothing else you can do with it.

Is it simple to use?

Yes. If all you want is to drop a pix and add a price, yea. But that’s not to say that you can’t do this on other apps.

The multipage feature may sound brilliant but is hardly useful.

The flyer option is dead boring. How would you want an flyer that bores the hell out of people when you send it to them?

I suppose the idea behind this app is to integrate a host of services that Microsoft offers online but this addition is by no means cohesive.

You don’t fetch files from your skydrive or import excel files into your Sprightly document.

Maybe I am being harsh here after all, it is Version 1.0. Who knows what might happen with Version 2.

For now, I think that the app is probably suitable for the more geriatric members of Microsoft  who probably think that dropping a picture and adding a description is probably all you want to do when sending out a sales list or catalog.

As insane as it sounds, they might be right but I can assure you, the rest of us will disagree.

 

Instagram: Now everyone can post in Landscape

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In a highly anticipated move to allow you to advertise, Instagram goes live with Landscape pictures as of well today!

Weeks ago, the Facebook owned picture posting network decided to do away with the limited advertising potential via direct dealings and open the flood gates for just about anyone to advertise. Unfortunately at this stage, you can only do so using selected Instagram partners to do this. More on this on a later date.

Landscape isn’t new. Some apps on both Playstore and Appstore allowed you to crop photos which are in landscape to fit Instagram’s square frame. What you lose however is the extra spaces between the picture and the square frame and that wasn’t ideal. Even by all accounts, having the photos enlarged, the old square frame of 640 pixels square wasn’t going to yield a better picture up close. This was probably why they decided to ditch the lower resolution for mid resolution pictures recently.


Now that ads will appear on your home feed, Instagram feels that you should be able to dump the Square format pictures and post in landscape as well.

When Instagram was first launched on iOS, it was a homage of sorts to the Polaroid SX-70’s square format pictures that won the hearts of consumers in the 70s. Dr, Edwin Land, inventor of the polarising lens and instant picture camera thought that it would be easier for people to compose pictures in a square format instead of a landscape format. He had, at that time, other cameras that could capture pictures in landscape using a peel away instant film. So to discourage people from throwing away the peels, he decided to redesign the system by making the camera smaller which produced the square format pictures without the peel away layer.

Instagram experienced a mutiny of sorts during the last revision, that was to introduce an Android app. Stalwarts barked and left the network as they had perceived Instagram was diluting its user base to include unworthy Android users.

This elitist exodus was welcomed into other picture sharing communities that eventually failed. Needless to say Instagram won its day.

How Landscape Changes your Post

It does change the way you create a picture but that doesn’t mean it will kill your audience. Instagram’s last big change was from its 640 pixel square to a 1000 pixel square. It didn’t impact people much since it is after all still a square picture. What it gave was a better resolution picture and this incremental change in picture resolution paved the way for landscape pictures. This however does not in any way give you a bigger picture in Landscape mode. There is no way to pinch and zoom to admire the details in Instagram so you would do well to avoid having tiny details in your landscape pictures which have been seen up close to be admired.

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The change to landscape mode for picture taking will be off putting at first because of how you need to hold the camera. By tipping the camera on its side, you need to have a steady hold on your camera while using your thumb to hit the shutter button. Whereas in portrait mode, you can hold the device as you would normally do capture a square picture.

For smartphone photographers who already capture using landscape mode, this isn’t going to be a big deal.

For content creators who wish to stamp their mark on their photos, you could of course capture landscape photos and within it, put your own social message.

Landscape images are ideal for such scribblings as there is sufficient space to add your two cents worth to the image content. Done artistically, it has its merits. You can still post in square format if you so wish but landscape is far more interesting for content developers like myself.

At the present moment, there is no hidden algorithm to hide post from your friends or people you follow. This could be adjust in view of the potential of those adverts I was talking about earlier. If you follow a lot of people, there will be a lot of post on your timeline. Once this happens, there would be a deluge…a problem that is being observed in G+. Instagram will have to find its own way around this.

Blackhat Tactics of Using Instagram

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You would have heard by now that Instagram is open for advertising. Mom and Pop stores are all ready to take the plunge but the folks at Instagram isn’t opening a rate card for advertisers when they said they were taking promotions. Why?

How User Experience is important to the User

Facebook is a good example of something that is spinning out of control when it comes to advertising and promotions. Every nook and corner is being used to show you some advertising and they now appear on your mobile feed as well. That is probably one reason why the app got so bloated that they had to take out the Messenger functions and put it into a separate app.

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Instagram will stand to lose users if there is an advert appearing in your feed all the way. This is why they are only negotiating with big brands with between US$500,000 to US$1 million to spend monthly on Instagram advertising.

This sort of advertising will appear in your Instagram photo feed as a ‘sponsored post’. So if you suddenly are seeing Ben & Jerry’s adverts in your photo stream, hey, you probably used the hashtag #icecream a little too often.

Besides, Instagram sponsored post are location targeted. So if your Ukrainian hryvnia can’t buy enough dollars for an Instagram campaign, what are you gonna do?

Black Hat Techniques

There are only a few which you can take advantage of. The reason is simple, you can’t post active URL links unless it is part of your profile. So that limits the amount of spamming, but spamming can still happen.

First, you need to have an active account where you post a regular feed. Don’t be lazy on this as people who eventually follow you want to know if you are one of those fly by night entities where they post a whole load of stuff for one day and then silence is all they hear. The rest of the work is detailed down here.

#1 Use the Follow4follow Method to grow your followers

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Getting followers without paying for them is very hard. What’s more it makes no sense paying for fake followers as they don’t convert to anything meaningful.

So get down to the basics, search for hashtags of things which are related to your business. If you are an online shop, so much the better as the world is your oyster. You can start adding people from all over the world. Add the #follow4follow or #followback tag. This will help you get even more people. Once you have those #f4f fans, you can grow it even more by going through their own followers to add them to your account.

This is a lot of leg work but that’s what you have to do when you don’t have a million dollars to spend on Instagram advertising.

#2 Use location tags to find followers to add follow

This is a little more tricky but it can be done. Look out for tags of locations within your sphere of business. If you live in a city like NYC then look out for #nyc or #newyork. Problem with this method is that there are a lot of cities in the US which have similar names to cities in Europe. So do your homework, add those by checking their feed using Iconosquare. This site lets you see stuff on their feed and know the relevance. If that person is just visiting a place of your business sphere, chances are you have to add them to find out if they would be interested in coming back.

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Restaurants, cafes and even retail shops should use this method to best optimize their reach without having to pay a cent.

#3 Use that one link available to you in your Profile

Think of this as your one phone call while in jail. Nothing else matters. So think very hard on where you want this to lead.

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If you had to put a link that says something about your business or service? Will that be an impressive site that you spent time on? Or just another template website to bore the hell out of people? Think very carefully about this as people do not want to click on a link to a sales pitch.

#4 Use hashtags to find followers of similar Interest

If you sell waffles, of course you would follow people who post waffle pictures. Engage them if you like, and hopefully they will return a favor.

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For example, I post pictures of drones used in aerial photography and Instagram users who use that hashtag often will follow you base on that. This is also where the ball gets rolling and as long as you add more, then people will follow you back in kind as you have the same interest.

This can also be a branding exercise, if say you are pushing out your own special brand of toys or for that matter drone related accessories. Just with those drone pictures alone, I have people asking me questions on where to buy them or if I can sell them one. Now that’s what I call a sales lead without even trying very hard.

#5 Bait your comments to an Instagram Feed

This is the last trick in the book. People know that user accounts are clickable. What you do is to insert a secondary Instagram account that is nothing more than your product catalog. Link baiting is something Instagram cannot avoid as these are they are users. Some companies create entire catalogs on Instagram, This was how Ikea for Russia created the catalog.

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By citing the @useraccount in the comment section of a post to any of your followers, you are actually baiting them to come take a look. This eyeball method is what you basically need to optimize traffic. Sometimes you can follow a celebrity and do the same thing….it’s called link baiting by Facebook, and by posting something like that on a celebrity who has a million followers, you could slide your product catalog in on the sly.

The Last Frontier of Social Media

Social media campaigns and marketing is a lot of work. Do not think for one moment that you can spare the dime and do the time. Many will eventually give up because it is a full time affair posting, creating and crafting content for Instagram.

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However Instagram is relatively free of interference from its owners, Facebook. There are certain blocked hashtags you can’t use on Instagram but you can always get around this to find similar minded users by browsing their feed. This manual method of identifying of customers is what builds your followers. And once you do that, you can engage with them directly.

The outright sales pitch is probably not very useful. You can of course use Instagram for branding as well. Contest wise, it’s less visible as the web site Iconosquare is the only place that let’s users engage with brands provided they bother to user the site to log in.

Right now, there are no real third party apps which can access Instagram APIs fully on a mobile app. Some allow you to browse your feed but not manage your post. It is probably this stage of Instagram which is not yet regulated makes it a real challenge for mass market spammers.

The idea behind the instagram black hat strategies is not about spamming but chosing your content to market to like minded folks. This, takes time and the rewarding part is seeing your content post do its magic without having to part with a million dollars for Instagram advertising.

Free Mobile Friendly Blog Apps

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There are some statistics thrown about that a businesses that host a blog has a 55% greater reach than one that doesn’t. So this means one thing. You need content baby! Don’t even think of letting a moment slip so for this you gotta be mobile.

I have in the past given you a whole list of stuff you could do for social media marketing but creating engaging blogs or content isn’t easy if you don’t know where to start and for small businesses, this is getting more difficult as we roll along.

Don’t bet on Facebook pages. It is suicidal if your post only reaches out to 4 to 6  percent of your fans thanks to its algorithm limit on business type pages. You gotta pay Zuckerberg and gang to gain a bigger reach. This is money out the window even before you start rejoicing at your wildly charismatic blog post you made in the hope to drawn in those eyeballs.

Let us assume for one moment that you are going to stick to your guns and bit the bullet and create your own content and connect your post with Twitter. Should you want something specific to your locality, you need to hire writers from where you live and not from outside of say….Guam. So if your needs are non-technical, why not do it yourself while you are on the go?

The Best Mobile Blogging Tools

Sadly, there isn’t many around. Mobile blogging tools are created in a linear format, allowing you to easily create a post with pictures or movies on the go but editing and tweaking the features is another thing coming.

Pay your Way to Host

For those with money, there is Squarespace. It cost just under US$200 a year to host a blog and a online boutique to sell your wares. Based on the templates available, it looks to be a more upmarket boutique than an online pizza store. Squarespace recently updated its iOS app to make it more user friendly. It looks fab but the Android version isn’t ready as we speak.

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Pictures are scaled automatically upon uploading for served in appropriate sizes for tablets, smartphones and desktops. There is no restrictions on bandwidth or storage which is nice. Until it makes it to Android, I won’t be reviewing this. There is another, weebly.com, which does a similar deal but it appears to be buggy—they don’t tell you which is a PRO feature and the app won’t post. But let’s focus on those which are free, which I am sure is what attracted you to this site in the first place.

WordPress Mobile App

Value for money. That’s the term for what I would associate with WordPress for now. Over the years, this open sourced platform has come of age and its mobile app is one of the best free apps available now for mobile blogging. You can of course host your own website for less than 100 a year these days with a domain name thrown in for free with a free domain hosted email management account. Going with WordPress.com for the full works cost more. a blog with e-retailing cost US$300 a year. WordPress themes are now based on responsive web design principals, so you don’t have to worry about getting scuffed when surfing from a smartphone.

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The WordPress mobile app rocks. It has everything from posting pictures to video and blogging tools. But I must warn you that e-commerce themes don’t often work that well with WordPress apps. A basic wordpress blog is free to register so if you don’t want to pay to host, WordPress is a good start.

What you can do on your mobile app is amazing.  Go ahead change your theme, view stats of your blog site and even has a Reader option for you to read wordpress blogs that you follow. The app is free and it doesn’t get any cheaper than this. WordPress is available for both iOS and Android.

Blogspot or Blogger App

To be fair, this is not the most responsive blogging platform. It does not have a lot of the bells and whistle themes found on WordPress. However the themes can be customized by a geek and if you are good with code. You can add stuff onto it. Responsive Web Design principals is not on tap for all the themes available on the Internet. You can of course download the Google approved version but at Blogspot, you can upload third party themes. This can present its own problems. For example, third party theme features such as a picture slider is not supported on the mobile app.

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There is no e-commerce engine that comes along with Blogger but you can still link it to a webstore that is hosted outside of blogger. Editing the theme will need some coding skills so you have been warned. Android and iOS mobile apps can be downloaded from their respective stores and is free to use.

The mobile app is good but not great. Blogger isn’t the most advance blogging system on the planet but it does it job without being too complicated. All you can create are linear type blog post to your site. It won’t even allow you to create or edit individual pages. So for this it gets the thumbs down.

Blogger is free with your Gmail or Google account registration. The app does very little in terms of giving you control over your site. There are no statistics, now does it allow you to change themes. All this has to be done from the desktop browser (which you can access if you happen to have a large Tablet). As a mobile blogging app, it does the job but is severely limited.

Tumblr App

In the last 12 months, the smartest buy on the planet has to be Yahoo when they purchased Tumblr for US$1.1 billion. It is very easy to see why Tumblr is the most happening blogging platform on the planet. Besides being the most popular, it is also a content savvy place. Tumblr has a good mobile app, it is literally idiot proof and very slick. This also means that it does all the basic stuff like posting text, photos and videos without much effort. Some of the tricks like stats and fan mail messages are found only on the desktop browser version but for general mobile use, Tumblr is a great app to have.

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You can buy themes on Tumblr that will do almost everything EXCEPT ecommerce. Yup, it sucks but heck, you can’t expecting a dancing bear to drive a car can you? Tumblr excels as a blogging space. It can also be used as a company blogging space, a corporate website, portfolio for artist, etc. The premium themes cost US$50 a pop, well worth it if you are in the market to look different but remember that it depends on your content. If you happen to have an image library to show off, then pick a theme that best demonstrates this. You can register and use your own domain but no email domain support. Tumblr is free to use for everyone.

Tumblr’s own mobile app is easy to use, with all the blogging capabilities of its web browser cousin. Both the Android and iOS app are free. The management tools are not supported, so you need to go back to the desktop version to tweak code. If you have geek like talents, you can even edit the themes you bought to show up Adwords advertisements, but there is no automatic integration for that on the mobile App. Right now the danger is that Tumblr will start to monetize your site. This means even more ads will show up but we have to wait and see if this happens. This might eventually conflict with your need to get advertising in the future.

WTF, Just tell me which is the Best for my Blog?

Sorry but there isn’t one that is perfect. If you think that anyone is going to create a kick ass mobile app well it has to be WordPress. Nothing out there comes close to this. To realize the full power of the WordPress blog platform, you need to have unlimited hosting. This means you can add widgets and extensions with impunity. But a word of warning on those who have not used WordPress, some of these third party extensions are dodgy, and riddled with scam ware. Some pretend to help you do stuff but instead they hijack your site to another URL. These same extensions can be downloaded directly from WordPress themselves and is by no means safe.

Tumblr is probably the most user friendly. It is both a blog reader and a blog client. For me, this gets top marks for ease of use. Blogspot or Blogger on the other hand is spotty, but you can’t ignore Blogger at any one time since it is part of the Google squad. Your search rankings depends on this.

The bulk of the mobile blogging apps available all suffer from platform woes, some support only iOS while others have taken the scenic route in porting the app to Android.  Drupal and Joomla have very weak support for mobile clients  even though they are CMS leaders in their own right.

Mobile blogging is a very important part of the Content Creation sphere. You cannot be at your desktop creating post. Instead, you can do that on the go, at a moments notice when you have time to spare. It might seem like hard work but it’s a fantastic way to engage customers and clients.