Things are moving very fast with Affino, so to help everyone get up to speed, and to provide insight into where Affino is evolving. Here’s a quick recap of the key milestones we’ve hit this year (there have been quite a few), the current projects we’re working on and the plans for the next six months.
This is very much a Big Picture overview.
We started the year by rolling out the first phase of Affino as a Social Commerce Hub with the Twitter integration and the Social Campaigns. We then built on this when we rolled out the direct integration with Facebook. We also greatly improved incoming feed handling, with custom integration with Twitter and YouTube feeds.
The roll-out of the eCommerce APIs was a big step forward for standardising Affino’s integration with 3rd party accountancy, stock-control and accountancy solutions. The biggest strides have been made around the checkout and conversion process which has seen the single-page-checkout become far more streamlined and dynamic, with much tighter integration with the leading payment gateways.
We also greatly improved Affino’s SEO abilities, to get Affino sites top billing on Google and other search engines. The evolution of Topic Channels, and the phenomenal results they are able to get show just how far Affino has come. The roll out of canonical links and SEO page titles has further improved the ability of sites to rank highly. On-site search now has predictive search and refined results browsing, fully integrated with the shopping basket.
We also rolled out dozens of media enhancements with new Document and Artwork listings and streamlined the media uploader with great Zip file handling. The Media Editor has also been extensively reworked to be more effective.
To make the user experience more engaging, we’ve introduced or significantly enhanced a dozen Design Elements which make Affino pages much more dynamic and engaging, including: Photo Stack, Blog Highlights, Main Menu, Highlights Scroller, Stunt, Carousel, Related and Recommended Products, Detailed Standard Section, Tips, Video Carousel, Video Player, Newsletter Sign-up, Login and Welcome.
The social side has seen significant updates, especially Groups which have been evolved very significantly over the past couple of releases and will reach maturity in the coming release. The developments will put groups right at the heart of your communities. Newsletters have seen dramatic improvements with the introduction of event triggers and filters; it means they are now one of the most effective tools for targeting your community.
A lot of work has also gone into improving Analytics in Affino with the further roll out and evolution of Affino Dashboards. More significant has been the full integration with Google Analytics and Google Website Optimiser as well as improved integration with Google Webmaster Tools.
Big improvements have also come for users rolling out new sites with the introduction of Structure Copy for copying whole website trees and Affino’s greatly improved support for CSS for page styling.
Team productivity has been boosted with numerous Forum and workflow enhancements and the roll out of the Team Time Status Board and activity reports. The enhancements to My Messaging allows for a much more effective on-site messaging experience.
Finally, throughout we have rolled out dozens of usability and productivity enhancements such as the updated Live Editor, improved Blogs, nicer forms, upgraded Application Bar, better recommendations, and easier creation of content relationships.
For the full picture you can always go to the Affino Update History.
I’m not going to go too much into this as it’s going to be a separate post I’ll be doing next week, but it’s fair to say that the upcoming release is going to be very significant. Key highlights are: Google Base and eBay integration; eCommerce 3.3 (aka greatly improved order processing and ecommerce management); on-site PayPal payments; further checkout enhancements; user generated Ads; localised recommendations; a lot of new community monetisation capabilities; and a whole lot more.
There will be many projects Comrz will be working on to enhance Affino over the coming months. These are the key ones:
We have a constant focus on making Affino more usable, and this past year has seen much of Affino transformed when it comes to key tasks, especially when rolling out new sites. The focus for the coming six months will be more on learn-ability rather than usability. Most of the interfaces are now pretty usable, there are still some less used ones which could use a makeover, but increasingly the issues our users are facing are not in terms of being able to do stuff, rather the issues are based around Affino’s amazing scope and flexibility, and how to make the most of it. This boils down to learn-ability. We have some key projects in mind that will help guide users through their tasks.
On a simple level this means many more To Do lists such as the one found in Commerce control panel. A much more significant project will be the re-working of many of the key control screens to create clustered panels focused on tasks, i.e. creating a Newsletter or setting up a new micro-site.
We do have dozens of smaller usability-based projects lined up and every release will see a number of improvements.
Every release of Affino will see wider and deeper integration with the leading social, commercial and media sites on the web. The reality of the ’splinternet’ is that many users experience the web in safe and familiar locations. The key social ones are without doubt Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Affino already integrates with both the former, and will integrate with the latter in the near future. On the commercial side people increasingly rely on Google Product Searches, eBay and Amazon as key commercial aggregators which they buy from.
We will be rapidly evolving Affino’s integration with these key portals so that they are much deeper and more dynamic. On the social side we will be integrating with Facebook and Twitter as closely as possible to share content, media and networks. We will be rolling out increasingly dynamic interfaces and using the full capabilities of the Facebook and Twitter APIs.
Commercially we will be rolling out a F-commerce integration, i.e. Facebook / Affino store integration. More significantly we’ll be extending the eBay and Google Base integration further into a much more dynamic full sales-cycle integration. We will also be rolling out full sales-cycle integration with Amazon. These projects won’t happen over-night, but will be continuously evolved over the coming six month period. We will also be integrating with more of the key commercial promotion sites as the requirement arises.
What may well turn out to be the biggest undertaking (if not the Social Commerce Hub) is going to be the roll-out of the new Affino Mobile platform. We will be evolving Affino for Mobile in the same way as we are evolving Affino for Newsletters. It means that a sub-set of the Affino components will be optimised specifically for mobile publishing.
Right now mobile development is evolving in two ways: device specific apps and mobile web apps. For the coming months our focus will be on Mobile Web Apps. The key reason for this is that we will be looking to develop cross-mobile-platform apps which will work with the leading mobile platforms. Initially we will optimise for iPhones / iPads / iPods and Android, we next see us also optimising for MeeGo.
In practice there will be a new Mobile Zone which will partner with a Web Zone. These will share the same User-base / Community (User Profile) and Store (Store Profile), both of which will be extended with mobile components.
We’re expecting the development of the mobile platform to be very dynamic and there may be significant changes of direction during the roll-out as we take on board all the feedback from each roll-out. Expect public Alpha and Beta versions during the autumn / fall.
Affino now has five active member targeting dimensions: interests (topics), network (friends / contacts), location, triggers (i.e. user behaviour), security (membership / partner), as well as all the passive targeting of related content, ’people who bought x bought y’, trending products / content / members etc.
We feel that this is fairly comprehensive in its breadth, but there is a great deal we will be doing on the depth, i.e. more trigger events, improved awards, and more localisation enhancements / database integration. We are very open-minded about this area and expect it to evolve consistently over the coming months.
We will be doing significant upgrades on the public profiles. The first stage will be to completely revamp the Main tab on each member’s profile. Instead of being independent spaces where users post media, status updates and comments, we’ll be consolidating it into a single feed so that users can chose with a click to post a simple update or upload an image or an embedded YouTube video.
The feed will also include member’s recent blog posts and latest articles. It will also be possible to comment on each item. It means we should see many more conversations happening within the community.
Game Mechanics - we will be introducing game mechanics to Affino for the first time. These will be points and badge based and can be used both for fun and for more serious customer motivation / targeting purposes. Depending on projects, we may even take this one step further and tie it directly into payment / cash values / rewards.
Affino is already something of a media hub since it can handle many forms of image, video and audio content. The incoming media feeds, in particular YouTube feeds mean that it functions very well for aggregating media content and creating topical media pages.
The next stage will see the integration with a lot more 3rd parties, but more significantly we will be turning Affino into a video distribution hub. It means that if you upload a video clip with the associated meta data, Affino will automatically distribute it to the leading video portals including YouTube and Metacafe.
We will also be integrating directly into 3rd party video online production and encoding solutions. It means you can upload a video and have it transcoded / video thumbnails created. This will be essential for the shift to HTML 5 video which has now become a nightmare of codec support requirements: H.264, Ogg Theora and WebM.
We will be developing HTML5 based MP3 and video players, but this technology is still very rough around the edges. The clear priority will be to support WebKit, i.e. iPhone / iPad / iPod, but there are clear limits on what we will be able to do here in the near term.
We have a lot of plans to further round out Affino’s ecommerce capabilities and to improve the back-end management interfaces. We’ve started on what is going to be a major ongoing effort over the coming months with the eCommerce 3.3 project, but that is just the start.
We’ll be developing many more of the traditional ecommerce management functions such as stock management; supplier chain management; and direct integration with couriers. There are a number of areas we can evolve Affino on the ecommerce side, and it will all depend on customer priorities.
As always, priorities will evolve so the end result of the coming month will be somewhat different from that outlined above, but many of the projects mentioned will have been started and completed.
We will continue to roll out new Affino releases every two months or so, so be prepared to embrace all the new enhancements coming your way and to make the most of them.
Let me know if you feel strongly about particular projects, or if you feel there are other aspects we should be looking into. Hopefully you’ll be as excited about what’s coming as we are.