We’re heavily into R & D at the moment in the Comrz Virtual Research and Development Labs. Three projects in particular are going to have a big impact over the coming year.
One of the things we get asked about the most is "when will the next generation of Affino Messenger come out so that we can re-enable instant messaging on our site". The good news is that it is now well under-way and we are looking to release a Beta version with the next Affino release.
The nature of the Instant Messaging hosting setup is that this will only be offered as a premium service. Not just that, but there will be different levels of service depending on whether it’s just text chat or you want voice and video as well.
You can see from the screen cap above that we’re at the very early discovery phase with a lot of the technology but have got working prototypes for text and voice chat.
We’ve already tried (and discarded) a number of approaches and have ended up deciding to write the core messaging client and server ourselves. We tried hard to work with existing standards such as XMPP, but the problem is that nothing we tried came close to doing what we want to achieve.
The tech we’re going to be using is Adobe Flex 4 and Adobe Air 2.x. We’re also writing our own Java Sockets server; with ColdFusion based webservices which will link together each Affino site and community with our new centralised Affino Messaging Service; which in turn we’ll be hosting on the Amazon EC2 cloud.
Our twin goal priorities are reliability and security, so everything we do will only be released when we have confidence it will perform effectively. The key feature priorities we have are:
As you can see, there’s a great deal we’ll be doing with this over the coming months and there’s a lot of exploratory development under-way which will keep this as a definite Beta project for many months.
It’s a real waste to have to re-enter your details every time you come to a new site, it would be so much better if when you were asked to join a site you could simply provide credentials and your profile would then be completed for you. Over the years there have been many initiatives introduced to make this work, most significantly OpenID. The problem with all these initiatives is that most people don’t really maintain their OpenID profile, nor do they use it on a daily basis.
What people do use is Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Not only do people key in many of their details, but they also have their networks here, as well as their status updates, media libraries and in the case of LinkedIn, their CVs. That is a huge amount of very useful information that both users and site owners can benefit from.
A user who is new in a community could automatically have all their information pulled in, their latest status updates highlighted, and their ’personal brand collateral’ presented to the new community without having to spend hours or even days building up a profile in the new community. Clearly this is a great benefit for users who don’t want to waste their time or simply don’t have the time to start all over again for each site they use or community they join.
Site owners benefit greatly when users can instantly populate their social profile because their networks develop much faster, equally they benefit greatly because they can profile and target their users much more effectively.
A massive priority for us is to integrate as well as possible with the major social platforms so that we can deliver all these benefits to all Affino users. We also have an additional incentive which is to reduce further the barrier of membership by allowing users to create Proto Profiles. Proto Profiles will be created when users simply connect through the site using Facebook Connect, Twitter Connect, LinkedIn Connect or even just sign up for a newsletter.
It’s much easier for people simply to push the Connect button than to type a few letters, and increasingly this is how users connect with sites. In practice the accounts created are identifiable users who can be profiled, targeted, and transitioned to being full members. The Proto Profile is a significant development, at the end of which users will be able to simply Connect with the site without being members. Currently only existing members can Connect their social accounts.
What is more exciting is what we’re going to be doing with all the profile information in terms of allowing users to auto-populate their profiles, as well as evolving our profiling and recommendation engines so that if someone ’likes’ something on Facebook then that is incorporated into the on-site recommendations.
For site owners we’ll be extending the Community Management and Automated Customer Ladder to offer improved customer profiles, incentives and automated alerts. One of the Conversion Events we’ll be monitoring is if someone with a significant social following registers on the site. You will be able to set your own guidelines, but say a Twitter users with a million followers registers you can have an alert sent to your team and you can automatically present them with a VIP membership and other incentives to become an active participant in your community / store.
The first steps we’ve taken can be seen below (f you scroll through the images) where we’ve implemented the Gravatar integration. Gravatar offers a great service whereby you simply provide your email address and your avatar. When you register on any site with that email address you are offered the option of using your Gravatar avatar. This is a simple service, but it’s allowed Gravatar to become the eighth most popular social site today.
The other thing we’re doing is a load of prototyping to discover all the information we can get from the social networks via the official APIs, and it adds up to a great deal. Once users have connected via Twitter / Facebook / LinkedIn we have access to their network stats, names, thumbs and IDs; their current professional profile (not so much their historic CV); their news feed including status updates, images, videos; and their interests and likes. That is a massive amount of data and media and opens up all kinds of privacy issues.
Initially we’ve created Profiling panels which are available to Community Managers and which will help us to identify the real-world data which is available (rather than just the theoretical) and is a great stepping stone to the deeper automation we’re aiming for.
We’re also having conversations with Burning Glass and Rapleaf. Burning Glass have smart AI for scanning CVs whilst Rapleaf are the company behind all the info which is available through the Rapportive Gmail plugin which tells you everything in knows about the people who are messaging you.
It should give you a good idea of where we’re going with Social Profiling. If you’ve got any thoughts on this (which you should) then let us know.
On the surface Media Templating is not such a great innovation, but it means we’ve completely ripped out all our previous media display code, and have re-written all the core media components from scratch to allow us (and all Affino site owners) to create custom media presentations. This will reduce the time it takes to roll out custom media interfaces by up to 90%.
It is also opening up great new possibilities for media libraries in Affino, and the roll-out of the Video Wall and Video Browser as standard media listing options will make it much easier for sites to have great looking video presentations without having to create any new Skins (page designs).
Of course ripping out all the existing media displays has meant that we’re going through a pretty significant QA process right now. Fortunately we’re already working on a great media commerce project for Essential Nails where we’re rolling out some really great innovations. We’ll keep you posted when this site goes live.