Best iPad apps for children

Anyone who is lucky enough to have both children and an iPad will know what a great combination they make…

After exhaustive testing, here is my top 5 ipad apps for children

  1. Toca Hair Salon.  The team at Toca Boca have got iPad games for children completely sewn up.  Innovative, playful and delightful, from the quirky illustrative style to the intuitive game play, their games are some of the best around.  It’s hard to choose a favourite but Hair Salon wins for me because it appeals to all ages, from 4 up to around 10.
  2. The Monster at the End of This Book.  It’s Grover from Sesame Street and he’s very worried about the monster at the end of the book, so much so that he will try to stop you turning the pages.  You probably won’t get hours and hours of use out of it but it’s very funny and engaging. Perfect for ages four to six.
  3. Tiny Bang Story (see screenshot).  I’m not sure that strictly speaking this was created solely for children but my 10 year old loves this beautiful, immersive game.  There are no instructions and you have to work out what to do.  If you like clear game rules and direction then you may find this frustrating but I think the reason it appeals so much to children is because they aren’t yet in the adult mindset of rules and instructions.
  4. Monkey Preschool Lunchbox.  For younger children, around two to five years, this is a cute, fun game where children have to count, recognise colours and play simple games.  Get a game right and they can choose a virtual sticker and put it on their wall. Have never met I child who doesn’t like this game.
  5. Angry Birds.  Unless you live on the moon, chances are you’ll be aware of this game. Equally fun whether you’re 5, 10 or, ahem, slightly older.

Is self-employment falling out of favour?

I’ve been self employed for over 10 years.  When I first started working for myself I was worried about whether or not I would enjoy it.  I was always the kind of person that liked to be surrounded by others at work, for conversation, inspiration and the social side of things.  But sometimes other decisions are more important (young children etc) and so I embarked upon my life as a sole trader.

Mostly I’ve really enjoyed it.  Of course twitter and social networks have made life as a self-employed person so much easier than it used to be.  And the benefits of working for yourself are obvious: flexibility, control, variety.

Recently however I’ve noticed that a quite a few people who have been self-employed for years, have taken positions in companies or agencies.  Stephen Davies, Jonathan Hopkins, Brendan Cooper, all extremely experienced and respected in the industry.  Not sure that you could classify it as a trend as yet but it got me thinking about why it might be.

There are, of course, downsides to working for yourself, at times it can be isolating, there is the feast or famine syndrome which, if you’re not careful, can result in you stretching yourself too thinly and heaping pressure on yourself, and as an ‘outsider’ to a client organisation, it can be difficult to really affect change.

Over the years I’ve been offered a few positions, most of them not really of interest but a couple of them more recently did give me pause for thought as to whether it was worth giving up the benefits of self-employment.  The answer was no, but I admit I was tempted.  I also have the added issue of being a shareholder and director in a business, Pyjama Drama, so it’s not really on the cards for me to ever go back to being an employee (although hopefully I’m not tempting fate with that comment).

But I’d be interested in what others think.  We’re constantly hearing about the move to a more flexible workforce and less of the traditional 9-5 work pattern but I wonder, in the digital industries at least, if the demand for really experienced and skilled individuals and the lure of roles that offer real scope to make a mark, is starting to pull people back into employment?

* You can read the full Storify of the conversation on twitter here. (I haven’t got around to updated WP yet so can’t embed it)

Thinking Digital 2012

This year’s Thinking Digital was much anticipated (particularly after my love fest last year…) and it didn’t disappoint.  Once again, an eclectic mix of speakers enthralled, entertained and amazed the audience.  I always think that reading about live events is similar to listen to someone talking about their dreams; to them it was staggering, to you it seems less incredible.

But once again I would urge you to put Thinking Digital on your list for next year.  It’s not just the speakers that makes it great, it’s the intimacy of the event that is perfectly placed to encourage conversations between like-minded souls.

It’s incredibly difficult to single out highlights but if forced…

Our social media panel at TDC University: it’s probably cheating to choose something I was involved with (as panel chair) but with such knowledgeable set of panelists, there were some great debates around the future of established and newer platforms and emerging trends, such as social discovery, niche networks, privacy issues and social businesses

Mikko Hypponen : an eye-opening and somewhat alarming talk about the dangers of internet virus.  Clearly we saw a tip of an (albeit frightening) iceberg.  I dread to think of the things this guy has seen but it’s good to know that people like him are on the case.

Pam Warhurst from Incredible Edible: nothing to do with digital or technology but everything to do with the power of working collaboratively and just getting on with getting stuff done.  There were quite a few damp eyes in the audience by the end.

Sugata Mitra: Having seen Sugata before at Guardian Active8, I was aware of the incredible work done by this charming, humble man. Genuinely revolutionising the way we think about education and the way in which its delivered.  Go read about his work.

Richard Banks: an interaction designer at Microsoft who made us all consider our digital legacies and how future generations will deal with the mountains of content we are all creating.

Jennifer Gardy: Every audience member fell for this intelligent, engaging and funny scientist, who spoke about her work researching contagious diseases.  The little book she ‘just wrote’ showed that she’s also an amazing cartoonist and writer.  Is it fair for one person to have so much talent?

I conducted a few audio interviews.  A cracking one with Tom Scott, which sadly crashed half way through and I didn’t find out until much later (gutted as he’s such interesting character with an usual skill set – how many programmers do you know that can do stand up comedy?).

Sarah Hartley about notice and the future of hyperlocal journalism

Will McInnes about running a business that has an open and transparent business model

Adrian Hon from Six to Start (creators of the hugely popular Zombies! Run) about how he turned his agency into a product company and  funding projects through crowd sourcing sites like Kickstarter.

Thanks Herb.  Until next year.

SXSWi 2012 Social Media Talking Points

SXSWi 2012 was its typically brash, exhausting, delightful, frustrating self.  Rather than rehash what I’ve already written, you can read my summary piece on .net about the hot topics around social media at this year’s event, suffice to say that, as usual, there was plenty to discuss.

And here is a more rambling audio round-up.

*photo: tumblr giveaways, for those braving the torrential downpours at this year’s sxsw.

Raspberry Pi – Will Some Children Be Left Behind?

This morning there is much excitement in the media and on twitter about the launch of Raspberry Pi.  A small computer developed to help children to learn how to code.

Rory Cellan-Jones talks about how it will offer “every child in the country a cheap computer on which they can learn to programme”. There’s no doubt it’s brilliant, long overdue in a country where our education system (with a few exceptions) has largely confined classes featuring computers to learning about how to use word processing packages, rather than what’s under the hood.

I went to school in the early 80s, when learning to programme really was something for the hardened coder.  It didn’t even feature on most people’s radar as being relevant or interesting or something that was worthwhile.  But as we know now, the geeks shall inherit the earth, and programming is officially cool.  Largely thanks to the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Steve Wozniak et al, everyone appreciates the opportunities that can come from being a good programmer. And now there are so many resources available for anyone to teach themselves, with initiatives like Codecademy aiming to make it as accessible as possible.

So middle class parents, striving to give the best to their children, will no doubt be rushing out today to buy their Raspberry Pi’s to help give their child a head start (they may have to wait actually, stockists are already showing as sold out, presumably because vast swathes of middle aged men have already snapped them up…). And I think it’s fantastic to develop this kind of knowledge in children, I certainly will with mine. But I also worry that there will, inevitably, be a whole section of the population who will be left behind.

Martha Lane-Fox has long championed the need for digital inclusion, and Race Online 2012 is an admirable attempt to make a real difference to getting previously marginalised sections of society online.  With the launch of Raspberry Pi, we need to ensure that as well as encouraging people to get online, we also ensure that all children have access to these tools.  Because actually, programming is one of the few skills that really allows you to make a name for yourself with very little but your brains and dedication.  You don’t need friends in high places, or a daddy’s connections but you do need to have access to the tools.  Let’s hope Raspberry Pi really does make a difference.

*photo websmith (under Creative Commons)

Top 5 favourite tools & apps

A quick post to share my current top 5 favourite tools & apps (this isn’t a post about new apps, more those tools I’m using a lot):

*ifttt – With the tagline: ‘Put the internet to work for you’ – is a brilliantly simple yet clever idea which automates your use of the web.  For example every time I post to Instagram, ifttt saves it to Evernote for me.  Every time I favourite a tweet, it plugs it into Instapaper.  There are some fantastic ‘recipes’ from other people you can use or you can create your own.  Which bring me on to….

*Instapaper – Save web articles to read offline.  Brilliant on the iPad and equally useful on the laptop.  I constantly come across interesting stuff on twitter and elsewhere, now I tend to store them up and read them in a bunch, and (obviously) you don’t need wifi access.

*Feedly - I still use RSS loads, to catch up on new stuff.  Feedly remains my favourite way to sort through my google reader subscriptions (although yes, Flipboard is very pretty), particularly as I can switch between views – from ‘latest’ to individual topics ‘history’ or ‘saved’ stuff.

*tweetbot – twitter client for the iPhone.  Very slick and intuitive UI.  Miles better than official iPhone (although who remembers how much we loved tweetie?)

*Evernote – Note taking on steriods.  After years of persevering, I’m finally starting to get real value out of this.  The more you use, the better it gets.  Although I still feel like I’m barely scraping the surface of all the ways I could be using it

What are your current favourite tools & apps?


Number 10′s social media story

Storify is one of my favourite online tools

Every time I’ve ever demoed it to someone unfamiliar with it, they always love it and it’s not hard to see why; it has a great UI, is simple to use and has a ton of different potential applications; from curating a news story, a conference or event, to pulling together a discussion taking place on twitter or other places on the web, used in the right way it gives a story depth and resonance.

It was with interest then, that yesterday I saw that Downing Street has started using Storify. The irony of course was this was just as the news broke about the fact that Olympic volunteers have been tightly restricted from using social media while at events.   Storify makes perfect sense as a PR tool, you can carefully craft exactly the story you want your audience to see, with no messy bits that haven’t been approved.  But what number 10 need to understand is that, like any good story, it’s only going to be interesting with colour and variety; if you create a corporate, vanilla version of an event, no one is going to give it a second glance.  The ‘Olympic Cabinet meeting – 200 days to go’ Story from Number 10 is little more than a glossy press release with no commentary or content from third parties (which is of course, the beauty of Storify).

So Number10gov you may find that Storify doesn’t work for you, because if you insist on having complete control over every element of your social media ‘story’, you’ll find that no-one will give it a second glance.

Social Media & Digital Predictions for 2012

Tech and media bloggers fall over each other to herald in the new year with predictions that 2012 will be the ‘Year of….’
I’m adding my voice to that cacophony but with the proviso that I will come back in December, revisit them and we can decide whether I was completely off the mark, somewhere near or, in fact, the leading new oracle.

So my 5 predictions for 2012:

1. From real-time to slowing down. Heard a lot of talk about this at sxsw in 2011 but seeing an increasing number of blog posts about it from tech early adopters and certainly feeling it myself. Have we all gorged ourselves on ‘real-time’ instant communications to such an extent that we are feeling the need for abstinence? Inevitably when these new technologies were created, we all crammed ourselves with them in a feeding frenzy. But frequently now I want to shout “SLOW DOWN”, it’s not a race. Faster isn’t always better.

2. The rise and rise of the storyteller. It’s arguable that storytelling is already the comic sans of the digital world, so much is the term being banded about but there are two sides to this that I want to flag up. Firstly, this is the year that I think more and more organisations will come to understand the importance of storytelling when developing their content for social media content and secondly, the rise of live storytelling in the UK (see The Moth for an idea if you’ve never been to a live storytelling event). The first London Storytelling Festival took place in October 2011 and other small events are popping up all over the UK, like Tales of Whatever, in Manchester. This can only be a good thing. There is nothing and I repeat, nothing that warms the heart as much as a good story.

3. Listening as much as reading. Audio is on the up. Audio stories (see no 2 above and please, if you’ve never done so, go to This American Life this instant and listen to one of the podcasts) and audio for reporting. I know this isn’t new but I think 2012 will be the year that audio in social really explodes.

4. A return to long form. Five years ago, Twitter turned the heads of bloggers and they skipped off into the sunset holding hands, leaving behind a trail of broken and abandoned blogs. This was desperately sad as many brilliant writers went from posting 3 or 4 times a week to once a month if we were lucky. It’s great that so many are returning to those blogs, dusting them off and reacquainting themselves. Yes I know that blogging generally has continued to grow in the last 5 years but I’m talking about the really good, thought-provoking bloggers that you can’t wait to read. There aren’t many of those.

5. The year social media stopped being talked about as a separate ‘thing’. Will 2012 be the year that the overall knowledge level as risen to such an extent that we can stop the echo chamber discussions about whether social media ‘matters’ or how to measure engagement. Personally I’m hoping on this one but realise it’s a long shot.

So they are my wise {sic} predictions. Let’s see how we get on…

*Image: J W Waterhouse’s The Crystal Ball, courtesy oubliette (reproduced under Creative Commons license)

The 7-day no phone crash diet

I’ve just done something that I haven’t done for over three years, well 10 years depending on which way you look at it.
About three weeks ago I was coming out of the gym, pulled my iphone out of my pocket and wham, dropped it on the floor and completely smashed the screen.  So it had to go away to be repaired with the words buzzing in my ears from the insurance company that it could take “up to 10 days to be fixed”.  10 days?!! Were they out of their minds?

Now I pause at this point to acknowledge that I fully realise not having a phone for 10 days is hardly catastrophic in the scheme of things but it’s given me a short sharp shock into the reality (positive and negative) of a life lived in the thrall of the small screen.

So what did I find?

*I am utterly and completely addicted to tapping away on my bloody iphone.  There I said it.  Obvious, right? Well yes and no, I did realise how much time I spend swiping up and down timelines, checking in, checking emails, sharing photos, looking at photos, commenting on photos, updating, sharing, searching, listening to podcasts, checking the weather and numerous other trivial and not so trivial actions but when it’s not there anymore you really feel the gaping hole that was there and appreciate just how much time you waste spend on it.

*Without the phone, I let go of twitter since without the real-time aspect, I lost interest.  It just didn’t have the same grip.

*The three things I missed most: Instagram, mobile search and my beloved This American Life podcasts, particularly while travelling.

*For a couple of days when I was out and about I borrowed my son’s, basic to the core, Samsung (see the pic).  And for a brief time there was something nice about having a phone that only does two things: make calls and send texts.  Without any clutter on the phone, I didn’t have the ever present, unconscious ‘tap tap’ in my head, that causes me to launch twitter, check email, browse Instagram and on and on (from the minute I wake up until, quite literally, the moment I go to sleep).  I’ve always been someone with a surfeit of nervous energy.  In that respect technology is bad for me, it compounds my tendency to be constantly fiddling with stuff.  Without my phone I was, stiller.

So, I missed my phone and…I didn’t miss my phone.  I was inwardly ashamed at how utterly delighted I was when it turned up a whole three days early, you’d have thought I’d was being reunited with a long lost love. It was interesting (although I don’t want to repeat it). I’m trying to learn from the experience and be more mindful of how technology can seep under your skin without you really noticing how deep it has embedded itself into you.

Acting the part

When I was growing up in the, ahem, 70s, big budget advertising was the only way in which we came into contact with brands, it was how a brand established itself; set out its stall and companies jostled with each other to create the next BIG advert.  And so it was that some brands went for the option of working with a ‘proper’ actor, either as a one off or in a series of ads, certainly during the 70s & 80s it was a popular option.  If done well I guess it has the benefit of aligning a brand with certain key attributes of that actor but these days it seems less common. Is it the cost? Perhaps it doesn’t seem clever enough? And of course the decline of the mass market audience means that brands are frequently diverting money away from the ad budget to other ways of communicating with their audiences.

The new advert from American Airlines sees a return to the big tickets actor approach, by using Kevin Spacey in its latest advertising campaign.  I am a huge fan of Kevin Spacey after seeing him a few years ago in Richard II and of course his other various amazing performances in American Beauty, American Confidential, The Usual Suspects plus many other brilliant film roles , he really is an incredible actor.

I like the new American Airlines ads, I think they use Spacey’s talents well.  They made me nostalgic for an era of big name ads. So welcome back Rutger Hauer & Guinness

and of course, Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter (non better).

With thanks to various friends on twitter who reminded me of some of the old school ads.