New media –

May 24, 2011

What is is a URL shortener which focuses on allowing people to share ‘slices’ from their life and ‘toasting’ it.

It shortens links, syncs to Twitter and Facebook, and provides click analytics data. Its unique selling point is that it helps users promote brands, interests and charities through a full-page interface. has reinvented the future of URL shortening by turning it into a promotional tool.

When you click on a link, you aren’t immediately taken to the webpage it directs to. Instead, you are taken to a web page created by the person who originally shortened the link.   These pages are called ‘toasts’ and can be used to promote anything from a brand message to a charity you support. will pick one of their ‘toasts’ at random and display it for 5 seconds before showing the requested domain.

Who will use and why?

While isn’t public yet, Lady Gaga, The North Face® and a host of other brands already have ‘toast’ pages. even offers an Explore function that lets you see which brands, causes and profiles are the most popular.

However, the creators of Br.ead claim that the service is not about showing people adverts. Rather it is a highly personal service which adds to the overall user experience.  Each time you click on a link, you will be shown a personal recommendation from the link creator. The idea is that every ‘toast’ you see has been specifically selected – and has been chosen as it is relevant to the destination URL which you are being sent through to. founder Alan Chan has stated that people have causes they want to promote, whether it’s their company or a charity they are passionate in supporting. The aim of, then, is that it is a simple and effective way for them to display this passion.

The Future’s closed beta launches in the next few weeks and it will be interesting to see which brands attempt to leverage ‘toasts’ to push relevant brand messages. It is a great tool to allow people to share their favourite brands and causes and should prove to be a great way for brands and influencers to share something without disrupting the user experience. Indeed, would argue that they are adding to the user experience as ‘toasts’ will be based on the URL you are being directed through to.

Promotional tools like this one could prove to be the future of web advertising. At agency:2 we especially like the way the ‘toasts’ are presented as clear, attractive images and can certainly see the potential for brands to use to connect with their loyal fans.

New media: Storify

May 4, 2011

This week Storify became available to all. The site allows users to create their own story by dragging and dropping content found on social media channels including Tweets, audioboo recordings, photographs from Flickr and YouTube videos. This can then be embedded onto a news website or blog page.

It is essentially a publishing platform that has been built specifically for the social Web, allowing people to turn social media posts into compelling stories. Storify essentially lets anybody become a news curator.  It has been claimed by some that Storify sits somewhere between blogging and journalism and in this way could transform the way people put blog posts together or even how some online publications curate the news.

Who will use it and why?

Even in private beta, with an invitation required, the site became so popular that the brand name became used as a verb, with people asking someone to “Storify” an event or social media conversation. In the 8 months since its launch more than 5,000 sites, including The New York Times, the BBC and The Guardian have embedded Storify stories, and the stories have gained more than 13 million views, with March 2011 seeing 4.2 million views on its own.

It’s clear that this is a platform that has been enthusiastically taken on board by bloggers, PR professionals, journalists and major news organisations. It’s not hard to see why. This is because the tool is so much simpler and easy to use than traditional blogging platforms. By cutting and pasting social media content you can produce stunning rich media stories.

The future

With this initial success the big question remains: will it go mainstream? Now that Storify has gone public the site needs to decide exactly who their target market is. They have already stated that “This is still very much the beginning of our journey. Here at Storify, we have a lot more work ahead of us to realize our vision of a publishing platform built for the social Web.”

Events in the Middle East have shown how important social media can be with Twitter and Facebook at the heart of popular uprisings across the region. Al-Jazeera English has acknowledged this influence by launching The Stream. Storify is similar in its ideas to The Stream, which incorporates Twitter, Facebook and YouTube posts into its 30 minute show. The plan is to create a seamless presence between the web community and the programme.

It will be extremely interesting to see if Storify gets adopted by the mainstream in the same way. It needs to be recognised as the place to go when major events occur. Indeed, the single day with the most views came in March when the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan with more than half a million views of its articles. It’s clear that Storify must position themselves as the site to use when major events happen.

The rise of Instagram

April 21, 2011

This April Instagram, the photo sharing app, passed 3 million users. It reached this number after only six months. For a service that is only available on iPhone this is a staggering figure.

Instagram is a phenomenon. The rapid growth of the service means that it’s one of the hot topics in social media.  To recap: Instagram is an iPhone app that enables users to take a photo, enhance it using 12 different possible effects and then share it on Instagram.  It’s simple and easy to use interface makes it an attractive proposition to users.

However, what also makes Instagram such an appealing platform is that it is also extremely social. People can follow other users and comment on their photos, meaning you can build an entire network of friends around your Instagram photos. The app has also managed to add seamless social integration to sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, FourSquare, and Tumblr.

There are also plans for further growth. Its founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, have set out a strategy that would see the app evolving from being ‘merely’ a photo platform for friends to share photos, into something larger and more powerful. Their vision is for the platform to be seen as “a storytelling service” which allows people to connect with news events in a rich way.

Instagram and brands

These features are obviously very appealing for brands. Indeed, Instagram is proving particularly popular among brands. Innovative brands are already using the app. For example, when Starbucks unveiled their new logo, they immediately shared it on Instagram to get feedback. Burberry has over 13,000 followers and promote Instagram hashtag campaigns like #TheArtOfTrench to help build brand engagement.

Red Bull has also been inventive in its Instagram presence, posting a ‘daily awesome’ image and naming the winner of its first #redbullwinter hashtag contest.

The introduction of hashtags has opened the service up to social media brand campaigns. It means that brands can organise content using a hashtag and push out content to fans creating powerful communities.

The fact that it also works across social networks means that brands can expand the portfolio of their social media offering. Kate Spade’s (Fashion label) Instagram presence features not just product shots but also pictures of New York and iTunes songs. These are regularly posted onto Tumblr and Twitter which can leads viralability.

The future of Instagram

Brands and users will be even more excited by news that the founders are looking into creating an Android app and website. However, their grander goal for the product goes beyond this with the service becoming something where people use it to see the world as it happens.

The founders have a clear vision for the service and how it can be developed, most notably how they will monetise the platform. They recently told TechCrunch: “We’re moving in a very clear direction that will allow us to make money in the future. In the history of advertising the most profitable avenues of advertising have been pushing images to people. As we see outside of the digital world those verticals are struggling in one way or another, money is moving online. We’re going to be one of the largest ways to push images to people, that entertainment platform I was talking to you about. That puts us in a really interesting spot in terms of making money on advertising in the future.”

It will be extremely interesting to see how this idea develops as more and more brands develop a presence on the app.

New media: Quora

February 23, 2011

The rise of the Q&A site, Quora, seems almost inexorable if you believe reports. The premise is a simple one. The site describes itself as “a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it”.

In some ways Quora is a social search engine. It allows you to ask a question to real people, instead of a search engine, and then wait as users provide answers using their knowledge, experience and opinions. The ultimate goal of Quora is that each answer page becomes the best possible resource for someone who wants to know about that specific question.

Who will use it and why?

Quora opened from private beta to the public in June 2010 and in the last 8 months it has grown extensively.

It has been claimed that Quora has broad enough appeal to rival Facebook and Twitter. However, despite these assertions, at the moment it does not seem to be proving attractive to the average internet user and it is still dominated by those in the tech, media and social media industries.

It is these groups that Quora is proving most useful to – journalists looking to gain insights on topics they are researching as well as those in the tech industry who need answers to specific questions. Recruiters will also be able to make great use of Quora as, by following their chosen industry and topics, they can find candidates more quickly than they can on LinkedIn.

This is the great benefit of Quora – the ability to search through a vast collection of previous answers and track the responses. This allows you to see who the experts are in your industry.

This functionality means that companies can use it to track what people are saying about them and to answer questions about their business. Following questions allows you to keep up with the conversation, keep track of the competition and monitor the responses publicly. It also means that you can establish expertise in your field and mark yourselves out as the number one in your industry.

The future

Some have claimed Quora will be bigger than Twitter, others that it has the potential reach of Facebook. However, Quora does not currently have a mainstream audience and cannot come close to rivalling either of these platforms at the present time.

2011 should see the focus of the site shift due to the growth of the site and the subsequent arrival of a lot more non-technological users – there will be a broader range of topics and the site will be less tech-centred. It certainly has the potential to provide a platform for discussions that many other social networks have found difficult to achieve and in this way can be much more useful to the average internet user than platforms such as Twitter.

The competition

It does have rivals. StackOverflow has established itself as the best site in terms of problem-solving-for-programmers and gains sixteen million unique visitors a month. Since then StackExchange has been launched – a collection of sites, each based on answering questions for different categories.  In addition to this there are also Yahoo Answers, Cloudy, and ChaCha, LinkedIn Answers, not to mention Facebook Questions which has been tagged the ‘Quora killer’.

So can 2011 be Quora’s year? Well, the SEO benefits are good, with results already starting to show up in Google. The high expectations and buzz around the site have seen a raft of new users. However, with more people signing up there may well be an increase in the volume of answers – but perhaps not in the quality and value. It will be interesting to see how Quora grows and whether it can deal with the clout of Facebook.

New media: Qwiki

February 2, 2011

Qwiki boasts that it is a new ‘information experience’. In simple terms, it is a video encyclopaedia; a multimedia experience which mixes heavily read Wikipedia-sourced articles with photos and videos.

Qwiki would say that they are working to “deliver information in a format that’s quintessentially human – via storytelling instead of search”.

Who will use it and why?

Qwiki claims to offer a new way to consume information – whether you’re planning a holiday, evaluating restaurants or doing research for school – this is a tool that will help everyone.

The platform presents data about millions of topics in a highly visual way. It has about 3 million reference topics at the moment and, according to their press release, hundreds of thousands of users.

Whether you enter the name of a famous person, place or thing, Qwiki will bring up a unique narrated slideshow with a voiceover detailing facts pulled from a range of media sources. From this page you can then click on sub-topics or related topics to access more Qwikis. Users can also “Improve this Qwiki” by recommending a photo or a YouTube video, making it a social experience.

The future

Since its initial soft launch Qwiki has already added features in the public alpha including “Share” or the ability to post, tweet, email or embed Qwikis as well as a text-based Contents section that includes all the information in a given Qwiki.

Qwiki plans to build on the initial buzz around its service by utilising new content sources, building an iPad app and eventually releasing a custom publishing platform which will allow publishers to transform their own content into a Qwiki.

While it is not a competitor to Google or Wikipedia at the moment, the whole idea behind integrating text, pictures and video into one entertaining, easy to consume package is what makes Qwiki so unique.

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