RobPierson (Dot Com!)

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Cardspring, a platform for developing credit card based apps

We typically think of apps as programs that run on your phone or computer, but increasingly often, apps are becoming an everyday part of our offline lives. That trend continues with the recent debut of Cardspring, which allows you to create apps that run off of any US-based credit card.

“We’re at the early stages of a massive wave of innovation in the payment industry,” Cardspring investors recently noted in a guest post on Forbes.com. “It’s like when Apple launched the iOS platform for mobile developers. The platform in this case is the payment network. Software developers will add new capabilities to cards by programming the payment network to link online applications to specific payment events. Consumers will be able to effectively ‘drag and drop’ apps to their smart cards in the same way that they add apps to their smart phones today.”

They noted a few examples of how apps could function, and I’ve included examples of how these ideas could potentially translate to a nonprofit context.

  • Loyalty cards: Instead of keeping separate loyalty cards for REI, Red Lobster and other merchants, one card could function in their place. Similarly, an environmental organization could encourage their constituents to support LEED certified merchants, and partnered merchants could provide a donation to the nonprofit whenever someone with the app made a purchase at their store.
  • Promotions based on spending habits: If someone’s purchase radius is typically centered 15 miles from a store, they could get a 40% off coupon, while someone who generally shops 15 blocks from the store might only be offered a 10% coupon. This approach could be utilized by an organization supporting alternatives to vehicle use to help people track their gas spending and provide incentives to support reduced reliance on cars. The organization could, for example, provide an app that earmarks a percentage of gas expenditures to be saved towards a gift-certificate with a bike shop.
  • Validated Check-Ins and Reviews: Sites like Yelp could send automated emails every time you go to a restaurant, asking if you’d like to review them. If an animal rights organization wanted to create a directory of restaurants rated highly for their vegetarian and vegan options, a similar approach could be used.
  • Quantified self: Apps could track spending habits, allowing people to observe trends and optimize their behavior. An antismoking nonprofit could help people trying to quit by monitoring the amount they spend on cigarettes, and focus email outreach campaigns based on smoking level, perhaps providing a weekly reminder of how much they’re spending on cigarettes and the health impact of the purchased cigarettes.

What credit card-based app could you imagine your nonprofit using?

Crossposted on the Beaconfire Wire

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SEO essentials for startups in under 10 minutes (Video from Google)

Search Engine traffic will often form a majority of your site traffic, so it’s important that you understand what you can do to ensure that your site ranks high in search engine rankings.
If you’re just getting started with Search Engine Optimization, you should definitely take a look at this 10 minute video that Google released this week, which describes the key things to think about to ensure that your site ranks highly. Even if you’ve got a good background in SEO, it’s worth getting a refresher in case things have changed since your last deep dive into the secrets of SEO.

For a more advanced lesson check out another video from Google on how to use Google Webmaster Tools for SEO.

(Crossposted on the Beaconfire Wire)

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Optimizing email design by creating your own click heatmaps

Eyetracking heatmap, created by Amit Agarwal

The heat maps from eyetracking studies can show how users scan through your pages, showing patterns like the golden triangle and other  trends that can help you to optimize your design and curate content. Click patterns can also be useful for seeing trends on your website or emails. As you can see from this screenshot from Google Analytics “In Page Analytics“, heatmaps show where people are clicking, allowing you to then to maximize usability / ROI by adjusting your design accordingly.

Website clickthrough heatmap created through Google Analytics

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The evolution of social networking from online to off

Apple’s recent patent application for making gym workouts a social networking activity was notable as a sign of the continuing evolution of social networking away from computers, and into what we typically think about as our off-line lives. It demonstrates how social activity if returning to its offline roots, transitioning from a technology-centered activity to become more deeply integrated in our daily lives.

Facebook, as the largest social network, provides a useful case study. Socializing on Facebook was initially restricted to activities conducted on their website, facebook.com. Activity was initially limited to the activities established by Facebook’s programmers, allowing you to update your status, and post comments and photos.

The site’s reach was then significantly expanded as they allowed outside developers to create games that people could play within the confines of facebook.com, such as mega-hit Farmville. Then in early 2010, Facebook made a change that let it go “viral”:  the like button. No longer were you limited in being able to use facebook on just their site, now every website on the internet became a potentially social venue.

The like button is allows a limited set of activities, allowing users to “like” or “recommend” individual pages on the web. Options for engagement expanded exponentially once websites gained the ability to automatically populate your facebook feed with activities conducted on their sites and software. Today, without any action by users, we alert our friends to  articles we read on the Washington Post, the music we listen to on Spotify, with an every-growing portion of our online activities becoming a part of our social feed.

Apple’s patent application for making workouts more social gym heralds the next phase in social networking’s expansion, as social networking moves offline. Your daily record of bench presses could potentially be added to your online persona without any action on your part, allowing for people to easily compete among their Facebook friends to see who works out the most frequently. No longer will you be required to use a computer or smartphone to engage in social networking activities, but instead it will become part of our everyday offline lives. Read More

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learning to listen

Since starting Yoga Teacher Training at Boundless, I’ve often stood in awe of my classmates as they describe the subtle movements of muscles and bones that they experience within poses. Before the training began I’d expected that the greatest challenges would be physical, but as it turns out my most significant difficulties so far have been in learning to listen to my body.

In the past I had predominantly attended classes in the more flowing, Vinyasa style. After 2 months of intensive immersion in the alignment focused classes at Boundless, I’ve now begun experiencing yoga in a very different way. While I still love the graceful transitions of Vinyasa, I now realize that I never had enough time to learn to listen to my body as we rapidly moved from pose to pose.

During Vinyasa classes, I realized, instead of focusing on sensations of the body, I would frequently zone out, losing myself as I transitioned through poses that frequently ran in predictable patterns. Muscle memory became the driver and my mind released, bringing about a relaxed, meditative state.

My classes at Boundless typically feature much more unpredictable series of poses, and each session is designed to elicit epiphanies of sensory experience and muscle control. We disentangle the experiences of each muscle group, learning to use specific muscles while releasing others. At the same time, through our practice we develop a conscious awareness of the complex relationships between the bones, muscles, and connective tissue which bind them together. As a result of this intense focus on the actions (and sensations) that comprise each pose, our yoga evolves alongside our knowledge of our self.

Upon discovering the contradiction between the mental surrender of my Vinyasa practice and the self-consciousness I’ve been striving to foster at Boundless, I’ve nearly completely stopped attending Vinyasa classes. Since changing my focus over to alignment-based classes I’ve been excited to find that I’m slowly becoming more attuned to my physical experiences. There’s still much to be said for the fluidity and grace which define Vinyasa, however, and I looked forward to the point at which I feel I’m ready to once again give in to the mental surrender of a flowing practice.

- Crossposted to the Boundless Yoga blog