Branch

BRANCH COMPLETE

What is Branch?

Another new launch from the company behind Twitter, Branch is a conversation platform. Each branch is a conversation. An invited group of individuals discussing a specific topic, like a conversation or discussion on twitter, but without character restriction, and with a curated list of members.

History

Released in January to the public, the platform was available to a limited number of users. demonstrating a dedication to listening to its early adopters and involving them in the discussion of new functionality, paired with rapidly rolling out new features, the branch.com platform has already become a really valuable mine of discussion and tool for facilitating conversation where twitter is simply too brief.

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How is it used today?

Three key features really stand out.

Invite only branches – I was initially sceptical about the idea of allowing only those who you hand-pick to be part of a branch, but after continued use, I’ve realised its strength is in holding a salon, rather than a free-for-all shouting match. The ability to ask to be added allows outside voices if the moderator approves the input, based upon their ‘pitch’ to join in.

Highlighting – taking ‘likes’ or ‘favourites’ on to the next level, rather than liking an entire post, you can highlight specific comments or statements within a post, to really zero in on aspects of the conversation you appreciated. This gets around the ‘Curate’s Egg’ of many blog posts or random musings.

Branches – the eponymous feature, being able to fork off a conversation into a separate branch allows you to take discussions off at a tangent without diluting the main flow. This directly supports the disparate thinking that often leads to really interesting debate and thought, without leading others away from the theme at hand.

How could it be used?

At its simplest, it’s a glorified thread of comments, but at its most interesting, it’s a salon to host debate. It can be easily embedded in to other sites, continuing twitter’s relentless march on ‘owning the experience’ of their products. Conversations and branches can be grouped to build up rich collections of discussion around topics or themes.

For publishers, the immediate value and opportunity will be around offering discussion salon content quickly and easily, almost like a written panel debate, easily instigated and rolling, and will no doubt offer new forms of content and structured debate beyond its current format.

For brands, the opportunities are less clear yet – perhaps the facilitation of conversations, inviting key figures or remarkable minds to talk around topics close their heart, perhaps open consumer panels around product development, perhaps collaborative democracy tools to make decisions in the open.

From a data perspective, being able to see which users are commonly highlighted and respected against particular topics will offer some real insight and quantifiable metric of authority and respect, which goes way beyond tools like Klout to identify and understand influencers.

Branch list of a handful of interesting applications in a recent blog post on their first year in beta: http://bulletin.branch.com/post/39326984196/2012

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The future of Branch

Branch are actively talking to publishers and media companies who wanted to utilise Branch functionality on their platforms. It is another example of ‘quality over quantity’ type platforms (like SVBTLE and Medium) where the aim is to improve the signal to noise ratio of content. The invite mechanic means it is less about free form conversation, but rather like inviting a group of people around to your house for dinner.

How to think about Branch:

A virtual dinner party / salon, where your guests are invited, rather than an open door policy.

Stats:

They’re being tight-lipped about data right now, but its currently a fairly small but passionate audience, however is open to anyone to use with a twitter account. Think of it as a platform or tool to use, rather than a mechanism for reach. We’ll update the post when we have more data.

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Every week in 2013, we’re posting a crib sheet on a particular technology, from AR to Zeebox. If you’d like to have a particular technology featured, leave a note in the comments below

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Vine

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What is… Vine?

Vine (twitter.com/vineapp) is the most recent product from the people behind Twitter. It’s a mobile app which captures looping videos no longer than six seconds long, and shares them for viewing either via the app, or via twitter.

History

There’s not much of a history to speak of – it launched in late January 2013, however the concept of a long photo, or a short video, isn’t a new one. Flickr experimented with the format some years ago, Seesmic was once a platform for sharing ‘video’ based tweets, and short looping animations are the domain expertise of the practically archaic but much loved GIF format, which has in recent years gained new traction through tumblr and the creation of ‘cinegraphs’, or static photos with small or subtley animated sections. Vine, then, is the lovechild of looping gifs and twitter itself – short, timely and hashtagged video content, shared rapidly.

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Why is it interesting?

The interface couldn’t be simpler – press and hold on the screen to record video. The wonderful aspect of the application design, however, is that you don’t need to hold for the full six seconds, you can simply tap, and the application will record in short bursts – allowing users to easily create animations, or edit short sequences together, leading to quite different to just uploading videos shot on your phone. As it is easily embedded via twitter, it makes the content extremely portable, and builds upon twitter’s aim to own the presentation of content on its platform.

How is it used?

Porn. Seriously. It isn’t even a week old, and Twitter have already had problems with people uploading lots and lots and lots of Porn. Some of the early posts on the platform have lovely charm and show some innovative animation, film-making and storytelling techniques, but within days of its launch, users started flooding it with nsfw content.

Brands have also jumped quickly on the platform and started experimenting with how they could use it, check out @thinkmodo, @msnbc, @UpDesk, @thedailybeast, @NBCNews, @BuzzFeed, @barbariangroup, @CNNEEfans, @CellJournalist, @InternetUK, @AlMonitor, @imaginateonline, @techdotmag, @UrbanOutfitters, @Gap, Birmingham City FV (@BcfcDotCom), @Moose_Tracks, @PBS, @RedVines, @WheatThins, @confused_com and @generalelectric – in fact, there’s already http://brandsonvine.com/ sharing activity which brands are creating on the new platform.

We’ll update this post in six months once the platform has bedded in though.

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How could it be used?

Very early to really tell what the Vine platform could become, or be used for. In its purest sense, it could be used as a story telling mechanic – brands could show off product in a ‘long photo’, or tell short stories and content exercises where tweets simply aren’t sufficient.

We will, without doubt, see a handful of short film competitions, requests to ‘tell us what your favourite flavour is’, abridged film plots, and plenty of fairly obvious applications of short frictionless video sharing built around hashtags and responses.

Where twitter has forced many brands to rethink their messaging into 140 characters, we might see brands attempting to own the six second format. Perhaps new ad campaigns could tell their story in under six seconds, or very quick news bulletins.

Also, supporting or related services will pop up along side the platform – already vinepeek.com, a webapp which allows you to see vines as they are posted (whether the content is suitable for work, or not) has been developed within days of the platform launching.

How to use it

  • Long photos or short story telling tool
  • Elegant and simple way of sharing video built around twitter

How not to use it

  • As another Youtube channel for your ads
  • In client meetings without pre-screening for porn.

Some stats

No stats yet, but as Twitter has a userbase of over 500 million, there’s a naturally large audience to push their new application to. It’s only on iPhone currently too.

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Every week in 2013, we’re posting a crib sheet on a particular technology, from AR to Zeebox. If you’d like to have a particular technology featured, leave a note in the comments.

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QR Codes

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What’s a QR code?

Other than a piece of now hated technology, a QR or ‘Quick Response’ code is that funny black and white splodge you increasingly see on the side of a packet, the bottom of a poster and the bottom of a voucher.

They’re basically a visual representation of a small piece of information – like a piece of text or product ID. Most commonly now, they contain website addresses, and when captured with a supporting mobile phone app, they redirect the user to additional information online.

History

QR codes are actually really old, they were invented by Toyota in 1994 to help track vehicles during the manufacturing process. They’re clever little beasts, because unlike traditional barcodes (QR codes are commonly called 2D barcodes) like those which get scanned in Asda when you’re checking out, 2D barcodes can be scanned from practically any angle– making them perfect for helping out on fast moving factory conveyor belts – and contain a great deal more information than a number, as most standard barcodes do. They also contain ‘error correction’, which helps a scanner still read the code, even if it is damaged, or intentionally modified, like adding a brand mark or a giant panda.

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How are they used today?

Inconsistently. They’re generally derided by the marketing community, mostly because the experience or information ‘behind’ the QR code is poor (despite it being the marketing community who is generally responsible for that poor experience), and because you need a dedicated ‘app’ to scan the QR code, rather than it being built into a smartphone camera. They’re often slapped on to an advert so consumers don’t have to type in long winded URLs on their smartphones (perhaps a legacy of when our phones had numeric keypads, rather than full touch keyboards), but rarely offer a compelling reason to ‘snap through’. But don’t blame the technology. As a technology, they’re relatively useful, a great way of machines reading data in an image, and of course, if you put effort into creating a valuable, useful, relevant and compelling experience behind the QR, you’ll be winning. However, having content beyond a call to action is not unique to QR, and this is the important point – QR codes are simply a way of quickly responding to a consumer’s request for more information, which they’re doing when they hold their device up at your poster.

How could they be used?

We may have missed the point where consumers have already given up on QR codes, having had years of seeing nothing more than a poorly optimised mobile web version of the brand they’re scanning, however QR codes offer much more than just a quick way of accessing a website – they can be unique. Rather than having a single QR code for a product line, every bottle of Bailey’s could have a unique QR code which denotes that specific bottle. Perhaps you could track the various owners of a donated piece of clothing or tell a story about the farmer who reared this particular pig. In fact, Diageo are currently working with a company called EVRYTHNG to develop a concept called ‘+MORE’, which will use QR codes to uniquely tag products. The content which sits behind that product is yet to be defined, and suggestions of great mechanics which build upon the +MORE platform would always be welcomed by our client.

In terms of tracking, the role for unique QR codes is exciting. Every poster could have a unique QR code and, providing the content is compelling, media owners could suddenly track which poster sites are getting interacted with.

Generating QR codes which are unique to a consumer for installations or sites to be the scanner might be an interesting avenue – turning the QR concept on its head. Mobile web apps can easily create QR codes based upon a consumer’s profile – a camera within an installation could capture that QR code, and transfer information between the two, sending data to the consumer’s mobile.

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The future of QR

QR codes will not go away. They’re a massively valuable technology, especially in the world of digital print, such as e-tickets or vouchering – both examples where there isn’t a consumer proposition around the QR code, but rather the piece of paper the QR code is printed on.

In terms of using it as a call to action, or a clever web address, other technologies are rapidly encroaching upon QR, such as Blippar or Aurasma – the mobile app platforms which recognise images, rather than just codes (ie. take a photo of this poster to win!) and layers interactive content on top of it.

Additionally, thinking about QR codes as a call to action might be damaging. We’re in a funny limbo between full consumer understanding about QR codes and lack of interest. On the one hand, most consumers understand the vague concept that scanning the code might give them access to something, but on the other, those experiences are relatively poor, and there needs to be a dedicated or generic QR scanner in place. If QR codes were just used as a machine readable mark for users to point their mobiles at posters using apps, and we didn’t ask consumers to understand QRs – we might be in a different place, but now they’re shorthand for mediocrity.

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How to think about QR:

  • “It means my consumer doesn’t need to enter a long web address”
  • “It’s a unique printed reference for absolutely anything in the world”
  • “It’s actually just a type of bookmark, we still need to make the book”

What not to do, ever:

  • Use them on television (seriously?), cross-track posters (people will die) or underground (there’s no signal)
  • Put them on an execution without explaining what’s behind it
  • Mention them in front of a creative team.

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Some stats

– 14% of the European smartphone audience actively use QR scanning
– 70% of QR codes link to product information
– Almost 60% of QR scans happen at home

Some References

SmartInsights stats on QR
Comscore 2012 European data on QR usage

Every week in 2013, we’re posting a crib sheet on a particular technology, from AR to Zeebox. If you’d like to have a particular technology featured, leave a note in the comments below

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