Monday, December 5, 2011

Mobile eBook Templates - A Technology Solution to Save Costs for Interactive eBook Development

Publishers are increasingly interested in developing interactive ebooks accessible from tablets, smartphones and book readers. The cost of development can be prohibitive, depending on the type of content and level of interactivity desired. There is no getting away from mobile ebooks, because the emerging digital tsunami of newer mobile phones, reader devices and tablets continues unabated, and publishers must catch the new wave of eBooks by supporting these devices - web publishing for computers is not enough. 

One factor fueling the growth of ebooks is the aggressive pricing set by publishers.  With price tags as low as $0.99, readers are flocking to these books. 

At the same time, cost of development is an important consideration. Publishers need effective technology options for supporting interactive content development with minimal costs. 

One such option is template-based content development. The attractiveness of this option has been known. At the same time, the development of platform-specific templates can be costly. With industry standard specifications and formats such as HTML5  and ePUB, however, it has become more realistic to attempt building cross-platform templates.

Based on my experience of work with leading publishers in this area, here is a short checklist for template developers.

·         1. Adjusting to form factor: 
         With each form factor the screen real estate varies and the content template needs to adjust to the reading area. The new standards like ePUB3 with HTML5 support, which are capable of self-adjusting to the screen sizes, are fast picking up.         

            2. Loose coupling between interactivity and back-end computing: 
         Often e-books include back-end computing engines. For example, in an e-learning context, there may be a score computation. The reader is evaluated as he/she is working through an interaction. When the template provides flexibility to easily replicate/replace such interactions keeping the scoring and other logical computations intact, we say that loose coupling has been achieved. This is desirable in many situations when you want to re-use back-end computation while changing the front-end interactivity.

·         3. Device Capability Utilization: 
         With ongoing releases of newer mobile platforms and devices the publishing output must be well supported on these. Templates must be designed to keep minimal efforts for achieving compatibility. For example, a template should have hooks where native device capabilities such as text-to-speech could be accessed from. Other examples of native capabilities include touch/swipe gestures or sync with audio, accelerometer or device orientations.   
       4. Digital Rights Management (DRM) support: 
         The templates need to honor the DRM configurations to ensure content copyrights are protected.

·          5. Annotation support: 
        Truly participative reading experience and user generated content is another trend evident in new ebooks. They provide the ability to bookmark, highlight texts, annotate and share. The templates need to provide flexibility to carry all the metadata configurations for such user activities.

Overall the mobile ebook templates would have more challenges to address but the payoff is worth the trouble. Mobile templates help create more interactive and engaging experience for the readers affordably. 

- This post was contributed by Umesh Kanade, our guest author.  Umesh Kanade has architected numerous content publishing solutions and works as DGM - Technology Solutions with Harbinger Systems, a Harbinger Group company.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Free the TV: What SmartTV Apps Can Learn From SmartPhone Apps

I'm in the market for a new television for my father. He wants me to decide between LCD, LED and Plasma. Regular and 3D. Sony, Samsung, LG, Sharp and Philips. Prices vary. I'm curious to see how the sales person at the retail store helps us differentiate between the choices. I'm expecting to hear about picture quality, power management and 3D capability - what I hear instead is wifi-enablement, internet access and apps.

Has something changed again? You bet. And I can see why. A 50+ inches screen that is web-connected sounds like an attractive idea. Both to me and to my father.

So I get a hold of Pravin Kulange, my colleague at Harbinger Systems - who has worked on all kinds of interactive applications for over a decade. Pravin is an accomplished software engineer and an avid gadget admirer. The Q and A with him goes thus:

Where is the interactivity on television going?
Vendors are trying to leverage the natural advantages of TV over other display devices: big screens, powerful sound systems and so on. For starters, search is a killer app. Users will increasingly get the ability to use TV wifi and search for video content and create custom playlists.

What kind of other apps will we see?
Social networking can coexist with entertainment. You will see sidebars that feature Facebook, Twitter and other updates.  And of course, there are games you can play from the remote. 

How about collaboration?  
Of course. Panasonic and Samsung’s Skype enabled television’s are already available.Sony and VIZIO will be shipping Skype enabled HDTVs later this year.

How is the app market evolving?
I think Samsung is by far the leader - although the overall SmartTV app market is way behind its SmartPhone cousin. That said, Google TV with its Android platform will make rapid gains in this space. I recently heard that Philips, Sharp and LG have announced an alliance for an open specification that will help developers build interactive apps. Likewise, Google and Sony will be working tightly together. The critical mass of applications must come together rapidly for this market to take off.

What about the input side?
TV remotes will increasingly have qwerty keyboards. Besides, users will increasingly use their smartphones as TV remotes and input devices.

How about a feature like Samsung's AllShare, so your TV simply takes over a video stream being shown on your iPad?
That is another direction to watch - this might make SmartTV apps redundant. But I think users will prefer a seamless experience where the app resides on TV, not on a computer.

Can TV apps rival tablet apps someday?
Well, today they are fairly lightweight - owing to limited processing power. But I see no reason why TV won't grow in processing power. Not to mention the cloud playing a big role in making apps snazzy.

Now my head is reeling. The possibilities are endless. Where will the smarts reside? In the TV? The Blu-ray player? The set-top box? or simply a tablet?

Buying TV has changed for sure.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Case for a Virtual Audience Response System

Audience Response Systems (ARS) traditionally consist of  remote clickers and slammers. On a cue from the speaker, people in the audience use these devices to key in their responses. Typically used during presentations, such systems enable voting, surveys, contests and games. The central idea of using ARS is to foster audience participation.

All this is fine as long as you have in-person meetings. Increasingly, however, people are meeting online. It is impractical to distribute clickers to all participants in a webinar. In the unlikely scenario that you could distribute them, they won't work long-distance anyway. Here, you need an online equivalent of remotes - namely a virtual audience response system. Such a virtual ARS would be entirely software-based. The remote clicker or slammer would simply be a user interface on a computer or a tablet or a smartphone.

A software-based ARS comes with an added advantage - a rich user interface. This enables the addition of qualitative responses, not just quantitative ones. So, for example, you can conduct a brainstorming session online using virtual ARS, rather than just a poll. And you can gather key takeaways from a presentation by asking people to key in those. This makes a virtual ARS an attractive option for regular meetings as well, in addition to online ones. 

Thus, virtual audience response systems are not only online-friendly, they also come with the additional capability to capture more detailed qualitative responses from the audience.

A recently published white paper describes YawnBuster Connect, a virtual ARS used in conjunction with YawnBuster, the audience involvement software. The whitepaper is available on the YawnBuster web site. Apart from surveys and votes, the ARS supports a wide variety of exciting group activities that YawnBuster provides.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Publishing Interactive ebooks: Are Device Makers Missing the Point?

The Yankee Group report, titled  2011 E-Book Forecast: Get Set for the Next Best-Seller, highlights how the e-book market is set to take off. E-book sales are projected to grow to $2.7 billion by 2013 with a compound annual growth rate of 72 percent, according to them. This is massive growth we are talking about.  By 2013, Yankee Group estimates that consumers will buy over 380 million e-books.

For all you bibliophiles, you will mostly be one of the e-book buyers, and you would be considering the following electronic book-reading options:
  1. Purpose-built dedicated ebook readers such as the Amazon Kindle, Sony eReader, Barnes & Noble Nook Color,  and so on.
  2. General-purpose tablets such as Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Motorola Xoom and others.
  3. Smart phones  for those of you who don't mind straining your eyes a bit.
  4. Laptops and personal computers for those who don't mind spending those reading hours in front of computers.

Dedicated ebook readers don't support interactivity as well as tablets do today. They seem to miss the point. Reading as we know it is changing fast, and so is publishing. Increasingly, users will expect embedded and streaming audio, video and gaming into all kinds of reading experiences. Clearly, device makers will have to recognize the need and build platforms that make this possible.

It's not only the device manufacturers that need to take note. Software developers will need to build apps that enable interactive book reading experiences. One recent examples is Flipboard. Tools will have to enable publishing to these platforms.

Publishing formats will need to evolve as well. Most titles already provide readers with standard ways of interacting including text highlighting, annotation, sticky notes, bookmarking and so forth. EPUB and PDF eBooks support some interactive elements, including hyperlinks, cross-references, and audio/video via embedded SWF files. These publishing formats were originally designed for standard narrative text. They will have to push the envelope further and support interactive elements. If not, content creators will abandon ebooks and start publishing apps instead.

Indeed, the very idea of a book is ready for a paradigm shift. People may want to buy individual chapters or sections, and pay differently for the same book depending on the level of interactivity desired.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why All This Fuss about Interactivity?

Very soon, those born between 1982 to 2000 will become the mainstream of  the young work force. People of this generation were raised in dramatically different times compared to their predecessors. They spent much less time with books, and correspondingly more with computers and increasingly smart phones and other gadgets. Their games have been full of multi-sensory interactive media experience. Their social activity has been increasingly through highly engaging online social networks.

In order to attract and maintain this generation's attention - as workforce, as consumers and as citizens -  companies and organizations have no option but to make their content more and more interactive. No one wants long lectures from teachers, boring presentations from bosses, nor pages after pages of insipid web content from web sites. Every kind of content provider now needs to become a dialog creator. They must learn new interactive tools.

Interactivity is not a nice-to-have add-on to content anymore. It is a necessity. It encompasses all walks of digital life, and there is no escape from it. The more we befriend it, the better we master the tools to build it, the more successful we will be in reaching out to all kinds of audiences in the future.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Interactivity for Celebrating Life - e-Greetings Go Interactive

Everyone celebrates something in their lives. Recently I came across a post about, where CEO Mike Robinson shares his vision to have people use interactive celebration cards. is an online service that went live recently, and serves all those who want to celebrate life and its special moments. People get to celebrate events in their lives and the lives of their family and friends, wherever they might be.

Celebrateonline breaks new ground in interactivity by exploring its application to a new niche - greeting cards. An electronic card, as we know, is convenient and easy to share and distribute and environment-friendly. "An interactive greeting card improves it further by allowing to present your personal 'celebration story'", says Robinson, "in an interactive and entertaining style".

The service is designed for average users of the web, who know nothing about programming. First, you select an interactive celebration card style from the menu.: say, a 3D virtual book. Next, you assemble and upload content such as text, pictures, video and sound tracks if any. The site does all the technical work at the back end, and publishes your card. Now you can send a link to the recipients. It is that simple.

Interested? Check out and see it for yourself.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Future of Interactivity - New Trends Emerging

Every once in a while new disruptive technology innovations appear in the market, making the future of interactivity a fascinating topic to discuss. It is particularly so now, with the current year turning out to be the year of the tablet. My earlier post on the future of interactivity appeared on this blog nearly a couple of years back. A lot of that future has already arrived. So I figure now it is time to look into the next couple of years and say what is likely to happen. So here we go.

10. User interfaces will continue to evolve
Devices of the future will employ user interfaces of the future. As an example, look at Kinect - the Xbox companion device from Microsoft that employs the new generation natural user interface (NUI). For those of you interested in the future of user interfaces such as wearable interfaces, heads-up displays, gesture interfaces and so on, there are several excellent online resources. Two such articles are to be found on UX Booth and Cameron Chapman's blog.  They discuss the various new technologies that will change the way people will interface with computers and other devices.

9. Tablets will change everything again
With industry forecasts putting tablet sales in several tens of millions of units in 2011, tablet penetration is set to grow faster than smart phones. Apple, Samsung, Motorola and several others are in the fray. The intuitive touch-screen interface and convenient form factor makes a tablet an ideal device to consume content. At the same time, support for rich apps, wi-fi  and 3G+ connectivity, geo-location sensing, motion sensing, voice input and other features make tablets a rich environment for building interactivity.

8. Advances in graphics software technology will drive better interactivity
Microsoft's PhotoSynth constructs 3D environments by intelligently stitching together regular 2D photographs. Again, Microsoft DeepZoom allows drill-down navigation into gigabit images with minimal performance penalty on low bandwidth. These and other such technologies will continue to drive better interactivity. An impressive application is the Rich Internet Narrative I have blogged about already.

7. Flash or HTML5: Who will take us there?
Both have their advantages. Flash is great for its ubiquity and cross-browser support, audio-video embedding and programming support. HTML5 is an open source technology, taxes the CPU minimally and keeps mobile devices' battery power going longer. I won't write off either. Developers will use both alternatives to build interactivity.

6. Interactivity building tools will get better
For those who are not inclined to write programs, end-user-tools for building interactivity will continue to evolve and get better. A host of licensing options will be available - SaaS (subscription / freemium), perpetual and pay-as-you-go alternatives will emerge. 

5. Applications of interactivity will expand
With better spread of interactivity building tools, the applications of interactivity will expand.  From presentations, web site enhancement and e-learning to interactive advertising, e-books, social media and other market niches, interactivity will continue to find application.

4. Interactive ebooks will change the ebook landscape
Gone will be the days of page-turning ebooks. Video, audio and animation will become integral part of content. Navigation will be non-linear. Children's books will look more interesting.   Formats such as epub and pdf will have to either evolve to support interactive elements. Purpose-built ebook readers such as Kindle, Nook and Sony ebook reader will face competition from tablets.

3. Traditional categories of social media go interactive
Be it blogging or viewing your twitter stream, traditional social media experiences will get better and better with interactivity. Services such as tumblr and flipboard are great examples of this trend.

2. App stores will promote interactive elements
Application exchanges such as the apple app store will make the distribution of applications and widgets easy. Free versions will induce users to try new interactive applications, and create demand for full-featured paid versions.

1. Content creators will become dialog creators

Interactivity is about a dialogue, a bidirectional communication between the content publisher and consumer. Every type of content creator will now have to become a dialog creator. Whether you are preparing a slide deck, designing a web page, crafting an ad copy, writing for an e-book or developing training material, the rule is the same. Think like a dialog creator and the resulting content will be interactive.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tips for Designing Interaction Templates

Interaction models are ready-made program modules that content creators can custom-configure quickly and easily with new content. Interaction models are also known as interaction templates.

A simple interaction template for a web site could be a visitor poll. In a presentation, a drill-down pie-chart could be a useful interaction. In e-learning, a learning quiz show game can be a good interaction template, with customizable questions.

Planning your template library
Good templates result in meaningful, rather than superficial interactions. Here are some tips on designing a good interaction template library.
  1. Think of  templates that add value (not just jazz) to the content
  2. Consider where the interactions would play - a browser, a presentation or otherwise.
  3. Consider the end-use and its impact on the selection of templates
  4. Organize templates in logical categories
  5. Tag templates with meaningful keywords to enable easy search
  6. Considerations implications for systems integration - will the templates have to import / export data to other applications?

Designing individual templates
Each individual template needs careful design considerations. Here are a few.
  1. Determine customizable parameters: What will change from one interactivity to next?
  2. Clearly identify the stages of customization: Are there parameters that can be customized in a wizard pretty much using form-filling? Are there other parameters that require a graphic input while customizing?
  3. Set sensible defaults
  4. Allow import and export of content: An interactive graph can be built by importing Excel. An interactive discussion can be summarized in a PDF export.
  5. Address multiple rendering options at run time: Depending on what device the interaction will be played on.

When are templates appropriate?
When you have a repetitive use of an interaction with changing content, templates are essential. If you are building a unique interaction that you will hardly need to modify ever, there is no point bothering with templates.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Small Enhancements to Websites for a Small Fee Make a Big Difference

Value innovation is about finding new ways to create and deliver customer value. Value innovation rarely limits itself to the product alone - often it has to do with the pricing and the revenue model that goes with the product.

Enhancing websites is one of those exercises we put off once too often, until the site starts looking like a dinosaur, several pending design changes accumulate, and before we realize what is happening, it is time to look for budget to fund another big web project. To avoid this fate, every webmaster would love to have a site-enhancement tool that enables micro-enhancements - a new widget here, a cool animation there - on an on-going basis.

Last year in fall, SiteJazzer was introduced in the market as a web site enhancement tool. SiteJazzer, presented as a SaaS subscription, generated a considerable interest among website owners who wanted to bring their sites alive with interactive elements. Soon enough, a SiteJazzer desktop license was introduced, this time allowing a one-time license fee. Further along, a pay-per-use option was also introduced, allowing micro-payments as low as $10 per enhancement to your site.

With micro-payments, webmasters have a very convenient option in their quest for site enhancement. They can try out a small enhancement to their site for free: simply sign up and customize any interactive element a.k.a. jazzer. Once they know it is useful and want to keep it, they purchase only that jazzer for a small payment. This keeps the web site up to date with enhancements, avoiding big expenses later.  Small change at a time for a small fee, making a big difference.Take a look at SiteJazzer, if you haven't already.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Playing Flash on iPad - New Solutions Based on Transcoding

There's a lot of Flash content out there, and iPad users are yearning to use it - but unfortunately, Apple won't support Flash on iPad. Is there a way out?

Consider iSWiFTER, a solution that has been around for over six months now. According to their own description, iSWiFTER is the industry's first cloud-based Flash streaming service specifically built for mobile devices including smart phones and tablets, spanning mobile platforms such as Apple's iOS and Android.

How does iSWiFTER play Flash on iPad? It seems their servers in the cloud run abstraction software that converts browser-based Flash content to a form that is optimized for individual mobile devices, complete with multi-touch gesture support for interaction, and accommodating different screen sizes.

ISWiFTER's free client app connects to their  servers in the cloud to download streaming content live to the mobile device.

When I tried it, it worked pretty well for some of the SiteJazzer, YawnBuster and Raptivity interactions that are Flash-based. Of course, the HTML versions run smoother on iPad. Little wonder, since the differences in user interactions with laptops vs tablets (think mouse drag-drop and multi-touch, for instance) make it nearly impossible to replicate the flash experience on iPad without rewriting code at some level.

So, HTML5 is here to stay if you want to replicate the interactive experiences. Other than that, ISWiFTER's Flash video transcoding is the closest thing to having real Flash software on your device.

I was also wondering if Apple would have had some issues with approving the app - it does not drain the battery for sure, but the loading time can compromise user experience, something Apple is fanatic about.

Anybody tried Skyfire?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Hundred Ideas to Make Your Presentations Sizzle

I am preparing for a press conference scheduled for tomorrow. I'm nervous. No, it is not about what I am going to say. It is about how I am going to say it. I meet this group of journalists - mostly business reporters from local bureaus of national newspapers - quite regularly. They are familiar with my style of presentation - yet I worry about making my slide deck interesting, attention-worthy and entertaining.

All of us have had this experience of butterflies at one time or another. What do most of us do about it? Nothing much. Sometimes we stop by at a bookshop and buy a book on better presenting. Won't it be nice to take some time out and discover the latest in tools and methods of presenting?

A good starting point is a free e-book titled 100 Resources for Presenters. This e-book, brought to you by Raptivity Presenter, is nothing short of a treasure for anyone interested in better presenting. New interactive platforms are deeply impacting the ways of preparing and disseminating presentations.  You can build presentations better and faster using templates, make them interactive, present them online and leave them online for review, discussion and feedback. Leading gurus and thought leaders continue to blog and write articles about new tools and techniques that advance the art of presenting a notch every now and then. All of this is captured in this e-book.

Here is what the e-book gives you.
  • 15 Great ways to share presentations online
  • 15 Useful blogger websites on PowerPoint Presentations
  • 15 Useful tips on effective use of Raptivity Presenter to make presentations interactive
  • 15 Well known PowerPoint‐ Microsoft Valued Professionals
  • 10 Highly useful presentation tools for sales & marketing
  • 10 Websites for PowerPoint templates 
  • 5 Great articles on how to make presentations interactive
  • 5 Popular presentation conferences & events worldwide  
  • 5 Reasons for webinar marketing
  • 5 Well known communities & forums for presentation resources
You can download the e-book free by clicking here. Good luck for your next presentation.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Kinect - Microsoft Promises a Platform Shift from GUI to NUI

In November 2010, Microsoft unveiled Kinect, a new type of user interface device for the the Xbox gaming console. Unlike traditional graphical user interface (GUI), Kinect relies on facial expressions, voice and hand gestures of the users - thereby making it a natural user interface (NUI), according to Microsoft. Earlier this year I had seen a Kinect commercial demonstrating how users 'talk' to their Xbox using body language, if you will. It looked very impressive. At a recent meeting at its Redmond campus event, Microsoft revealed that they plan to provide a SDK API for developers to build applications using Kinect. They went on to suggest that there will be ways for developers to build and sell programs based on Kinect through some sort of an application exchange.

In the interactivity space, we see Apple taking a lead and dominating in several categories including media players (iPod product line), tablets (iPad) and smart phones (iPhone). This of course is in addition to the Apple TV and the Macintosh line of computers. Gaming consoles is one area where we don't see Apple yet, and Microsoft has its position there with XBOX.

According to Microsoft, a large number of XBOX sales included the $150 Kinect since its announcement, and the company may see the two bought together a lot in the future.

The parallels between Xbox - Kinect combination and Windows-Office juggernaut of the last century are hard to miss. Microsoft has excelled in creating platforms, building a select number of critical applications and attracting developers to build the rest.

After several forays with mixed results in the spaces dominated by others (think Zune and Kin - for example), will Kinect prove to be a game-changing new introduction for Microsoft? If that happens, we will have another innovation in interactivity to celebrate. Developers will have another platform with fundamentally new interface capabilities to build interactive applications with.

Anybody wants to share insights which way Kinect is going? What kinds of applications can you think of?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sharing Presentations and Letting Everyone Get on a Different Page

Webinars and online meetings, where you share a screen with other users, do a great job of keeping everyone in sync, no matter which location they attend your meeting from. You flip to a slide, and the whole audience, spread in different corners of the world, sees that slide. Everyone is on the same page.

This works great for the most part. When you come to questions and answers, though, people need to refer back to earlier slides. What one person needs to refer could be different from what another person needs to. This is what brings us to the need for letting everyone get on a different page. This is an example of an asynchronous interaction.

Asynchronous interactions are slow-time, or near-real-time.

There are several tools that support asynchronous interactions of varying depths. A trivial example would be Google Sites,  where you can form a group and everyone updates content at their own convenience. Another example would be online forums where discussions span several hours or days. However, webinars and online meetings need something more structured around the presentation.

A particularly interesting example is the presentation sharing activity in TeemingPod. Here, the interaction starts when someone uploads a presentation to TeemingPod. Once a presentation is on TeemingPod, the synchronous part of a web meeting is accomplished as usual - with a online conferencing software such as GotoMeeting, GotoWebinar, Adobe Connect and so forth. The fun begins when someone has a question. Any person that is a member of that Pod simply  goes to a slide, makes a comment or texts in a question, and waits. The meeting host gets an alert, goes to the same slide, and answers the question. In the meantime, other people's questions are queued on their respective slides. The answers are also displayed on the respective slides.

Recently I used TeemingPod for an online team meeting with over a hundred members, and it worked swimmingly well.

Monday, March 7, 2011

5 Tips for Presenting Graphs and Charts Interactively

Many presentations - in-person or online, real-time or slow-time - tend to involve information that is best shown in graphs and charts. Imagine presenting financial data, sales information, survey findings, employee data, scientific correlations - the list is endless. In each case, you have the daunting task of showing all relevant information, yet focusing the audience on key highlights, findings or takeaways.

One way to make your graphs and charts really talk to the audience is to present them interactively. How on earth does one do that? Well, here are some tips.

1. Plan your content with minimal text
The big value of a graph or a chart is in its graphic content. You don't want to distract viewers with a lot of text in the surrounding areas. Yes, I know there is a lot that needs to go on the slide, but you can use your judgment and prune the content to bare essentials. This enhances the effectiveness of your graphs. For example, let's assume you want to show the negative correlation between product price and quantity sold across the company's product line.  You could do a bubble chart with quantity and price on the axes, and the bubble size would show the revenue of each product.

2. Don't show everything at once
If you can build up a chart part-by-part, do so. Rather than see it all at once, the viewer finds it easier to see what is on each axis, to get the frame of reference, to watch the first series build up and then the next, and so on. Animations are also good attention-getters. A pie chart that shows - slice-by-slice - details of each segment is more catchy than one where all labels appear at once.

3.  Relate the graph to data
If you can afford the space on your slide, show a data table next to the graph. Again, remember rule #1 and #2. Not all the data, and not all at once, but only after the graph builds up, and preferably on-demand. Imagine the rich user experience where hovering the cursor over a row of the table highlights the corresponding line graph, and  conversely, clicking a line graph highlights the corresponding data set.

4. Allow selective viewing
Even after a graph has fully built up, allow the use of filters to turn off some data-sets and view a subset of the graph. For example, in a column chart of quarterly sales in five regions over past eight quarters, there are 40  columns to see. A user might find it worthwhile to select one region at a time and study the sales pattern. Another user may be interested in selecting a recent quarter and study how the five regions contributed to sales in that quarter.

5. Provide interpretation
A graph is only useful if it points to a trend, a historical perspective, a correlation or such other insight that jumps out of a cluster of data points. Since you have prepared the graph, you presumably have such an insight and want to share it with the viewers. This is done easily by providing a hyper-linked annotation on parts of graphs. Each annotation pops up when that part is clicked, and viewers learn more. This will help you explain that dip in revenue, or that outlier in your employee productivity chart much more easily!

Sounds interesting? You can see examples of such interactive graphs built using Raptivity Presenter by clicking here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Flipboard: A Harbinger of Magazines that Read People?

Early in December 2010, Apple named Flipboard as the best iPad app of the year. Flipboard unpacks the underlying articles and images from your social streams like Twitter and Facebook, and presents them in a magazine-like format. So, you leaf through your Facebook, as it were. The user experience is remarkably rich, due to the aesthetically pleasing layout, typography, generous white spaces and attractive graphics.Once you start experiencing your Twitter streams on Flipboard, it is addicting.

Flipboard is free, and has already  been downloaded by over a million people. (I confess, I did not make it to the first million, just started using it recently.) It seems to me that Flipboard ushers in a fundamentally new way of consuming content on touchscreen tablets.  The page flipping action is a perfect navigation method on the iPad, which is all about touch.

Flipboard lets you pull in Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google Reader feeds and other custom feeds. It grabs photos, text or video from Twitter streams and stitches them into a magazine-like layout.  In essence, it helps you design your own visually rich newspaper - which is always up to date.You get to read the content you care about, posted by people you care about.

In that sense, Flipboard is a magazine that reads you - your interests and your social networks - to build itself. Sounds like a holy grail for advertisers. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Building Digital Narratives - Microsoft Research Showcases Cutting Edge Technology for Rich Internet Narratives (RIN)

Imagine flying over the majestic Himalaya mountains and slowly descending on to the Domkhar valley near Ladakh. You enjoy a panoramic view of the lush green valley and wonder how it looked in winter snow. You pause a moment, and with a click of a mouse, contrast the view, now brimming with life, with a desolate winter not too long ago. You land and enter the village. Now you reckon it is time to enter an ancient monastery. Presently you are in. As you hear the incantations you look around. You find a wall showing several images of the Buddha, each illustrating a different symbolic sign. You can't just walk by, you need to know more. The narrative pauses. You approach the wall, go take a closer look, turn around and the narrative continues. The whole experience is media-rich, interactive and immersive.

Microsoft Research recently showcased a new technology called Rich Internet Narratives (RIN) that combines the best of two worlds. On the one hand you have the power of storytelling narrative, which traditional media such as video, audio and text provide. On the other hand you have the exploratory freedom offered by new technologies such as 3D scene construction from photo images, gigapixel image navigation and interactive maps. RIN brings these two together in a compelling interactive narrative.

Curious? Check out the Digital Narratives website.