‘Tis the Season…Again…Virtual Character Engagement

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First, yes, it’s been awhile since we’ve updated our blog here (or, wow, the entire site could use some updates!)…

Much of our focus in the past year has been with our baubleApp.com imprint – But, particularly in the lead up to the Holiday Season, we are still managing our virtual characters and interactive narrative experiences, especially, our children’s apps, which tend to increase in concurent users during the November-December period.

The above clip is just one sample of thousands that take place each month with our virtual characters.  Sure, not all run 16+ minutes (that clip was pulled while a chat was in progress), but, it’s not unusual to see a good percentage of the User sessions run in excess of 10+ minutes.

While we haven’t built a new app for our own release in quite a few months, our English as a Second Language (http://eslAI.com) apps continue to be used in over 80+ countries per month, likewise demonstrating strong engagement analytics.

But, end of the day,  the length of the sessions and number of messages exchanged is only an indicator of the quality of the engagement – For the detail level, we review the chat logs themselves (anonymous logs) to refine the apps and keep them current with changes in language use.

We anticipate a fascinating 2014 for our contentAI studios platform – particularly, as we converge some applications with the baubleApp product line and near field communication (#NFC) triggers.  Stay tuned…

Conversational Mobile Experiences with a Twist

Our sister division, baubleApp.com has launched a new product line in association with Cheesehead.com that falls into the “conversational mobile” space – albeit different from contentAI studios, we share many of the same mobile tools and resources.

Introducing:

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*  Fan Merchandise

* NFC Tags

* Player media content (video and audio)

*  Fan Engagement through audio participation on SOUNDCLOUD

It’s a mobile conversation.  It’s fan engagement, sports marketing and fan merchandise all wrapped up in one.

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End of the day?  It’s just a lot of fun.  The magical quality of NFC tags coupled with foam Cheeseheads?  What a great combination.

NFC Jewelry + Mobile App = Cross Platform Fun

Typically, when we refer to x-platform storytelling, we’re thinking about a story that spans multiple screens.

But, we’re venturing into a slightly different space to extend the definition of “x-platform” (cross-platform) – With a line of NFC jewelry for children (based on a character; and designed to be integrated within real-world “play”) with an NFC (near field communication) tag, that leads to a speech-based daily mobile app.

Our children’s apps (produced in association with our parent company, zyntroPICS  inc.) do exceptionally well – with some months resulting in tens of thousands of Users.  But, we want don’t want kids to live solely with their eyes glued to digital screens – So, we have designed the first iterations of a line of jewelry that includes NFC.

How the heck are iPhone User’s going to access the app?

Well, unfortunately, iPhone Users can’t get that “magical” tap experience that NFC offers, but, they can save a URL as a “favorite” and access the app – But, the UI/UX with NFC is what we think adds real value to the user engagement – especially, with the youngest of early-adopters – Kids.

The idea of intuitively linking objects to mobile applications via NFC is an area we are deeply focused.  People still really like “things,” stuff they can look at and touch – extending the story from an object to a mobile app is an obvious next step for us.  Plus, we’ve gotten a whole new range of experiences in manufacturing and production of “things,” which has been a nice evolution.

The character and new app are an extension of an existing contentAI conversational app (which has strong, daily traffic).  We’ll see how migrating that character into other mediums helps support the original app as well.

Links and updates will be posted soon.

Ads that Talk Back to You – Nuance Joins the Party

Anyone who’s been following contentAI for awhile knows that we’ve been offering and producing prototypes for mobile ads that can “talk back” to the consumer (via text conversations) for quite awhile.

The most basic notion of talking to a characters on a cereal box seems obvious to us.

And, incorporating speech-to-text or voice recognition is quite easy to achieve with our core platform – The value is in our engine that delivers the “right response,” not just random noise!

Well, one of our colleagues sent us this article today from AllThingsD that NUANCE are announcing an ad unit that “talks back to the customer.”

http://allthingsd.com/20130401/coming-to-your-phone-ads-that-talk-back-to-you/

There’s additional detail over on VentureBeat:  http://venturebeat.com/2013/04/01/nuance-voice-ads-launch/

Nuance are a terrific company – We like their voice recognition technology alot.  But, from the sound of it, their new ad units are more random than conversational – Less nuanced (pun intended) than the contentAI platform; and the “push” conversational pitch at the end is what we achieve through a more natural, motivated virtual character (along with personalization and variations on the pitch, based on the User’s conversational input).

But, clearly, if NUANCE have joined the conversational ad unit party, then this space is going to get alot busier.  Each company and conversational engine will have their own specific upsides.  We’re fascinated to see this space garner more attention and a higher profile.  A company like Nuance can raise the tide for all…we hope!

contentAI Autumn Updates

Summer was (as always) far too brief.

Here @ contentAI, we spent most of the summer working on our consumer-facing English as a Second Language (http://eslAI.com) conversational applications, especially a children’s series (the abcDog series).  We also expanded to release all of our apps on the Chrome App Store.

But, as the clouds return to the Pacific Northwest and temperatures drop, we’re pleased that the calendar has turned to Autumn.

So, what’s in store?

*  First, we found a “vertical scroll” issue in Android 4.0 and above devices.  Both with Native and web apps.  That’s #1 on the list.

*  Due to the popularity of our free children’s apps, we’re opening up our My Tooth Fairy Chat as a free app for the Season.  We’ve got some nice reviews but want to see more kids enjoy the app; and we’re also looking into sponsorship relationships so that we can keep the app free

*  ’Tis the Season – Yup, after two successful Holiday Seasons of upgrading and releasing our My Santa Talk app, we’re considering what enhancements we can incorporate into this year’s iteration?  Due to the nuances of Google Play store, we may have to set up a new listing…app stores are remarkably inconsistent in how developers can submit revisions; especially major revisions built with new tools.  More info on this to follow.

Overall, our focus for commercial work shifted over the summer as “2nd Screen” application became more of a realistic business model.  We’re continuing to pursue and explore unique ACR relationships and engage Network’s digital departments in discussions.  Our initial tests of combining storied television content with virtual character chat shows amazing potential.

Evolving Distribution Patterns in Mobile and Browsers

While the Native v. HTML5 pseudo-battle waged over the past year, we pretty much stayed away from it – We’re platform agnostic – We work with nearly all formats (including ye olde Java apps)…

But, for our own proprietary Apps it’s been fascinating to see how one of our strongest release channels has been the CHROME STORE, as “browser based” apps (which is really a fancy book mark in many respects).  But, the numbers have been truly surprising, especially for children’s content and educational content.  While (for comparison) the Amazon App Store and Kindle Fire Store are great…CHROME is hitting a 2x – 3x factor over Amazon.  Even compared to PLAY, CHROME has been exceedingly strong.

The strange thing is that we have done virtually zero promotion for our CHROME STORE apps.

Maybe we should…though they seem to be doing really well, all on their own.

NFC Tap to Chat with Virtual Character

We’re fans of NFC (near field communication) technology for creative applications (looking forward to payments as well)…

We’ve been testing and watching the user interaction off of Beta apps where an NFC tap leads to a chat with one of our virtual characters – And, comparing this to alternative triggers, such as shortcode SMS, QR codes, URL shorteners, etc.

Hands down, NFC wins.  It’s a great user experience because (a) it’s habitual and (b) it’s a mindless gesture, more instinctual than thought driven.

These are NFC Tags from TAGSTAND (we also use their Android app, TAGSTAND WRITER, for encoding)

If you’d like a sample NFC tag encoded to reach any of our applications sent to you, just CONTACT US.

2nd Screen Apps Featuring Virtual Characters

 

 

 

We’ve been very focused on 2nd Screen applications for our platform and are in discussions with companies we can work with for broadcast solutions which we feel are exceptional (Hint:  They do NOT use audio for automated content recognition).  Nothing wrong with Audio ACR, but there are other approaches which are faster to integrate (and also don’t require native apps).

But, at the same time, we’ve been tinkering around with “disconnected” viewing solutions for syncing screens during online video viewing with some in-house efforts.  We’ve got some working demos available and will be releasing public versions in the near future.

The premise is simple:

*  The #1 activity for people on their 2nd screen is text-chat with friends and family

*  Now, they can text chat (via mobile web or app) with on-screen characters

*  Mobile is Personal.  Therefore, ad units and story extensions need to be personalized for EVERY individual

*  Extending story, or even “ad stories” to the 2nd screen SHOULD involve the fundamental elements inherent to the first screen:  story and character.

It’s truly exciting to watch a video and then have an opportunity to chat with the character on a 2nd screen.  In many respects, this is WHY we built the contentAI studios platform (we’re old film and tv people at heart).    If you’d like to see a Beta demo of our online video sync, just CONTACT US.

Cheers.

Keep The Front-End (REALLY) Simple – Mobile UX

It was really refreshing to read a post today by developer Christian Heilmann entitled:

ON SINGLE PAGE APPS

Which has been a primary focus for contentAI since the earliest days of designing the platform.

A few standout quotes:

The first load sends you the shell of the app and it stays in the browser – this means it can be a very quick experience

The experience is sticky – you stay in one interface and load content into it which is what “real” apps do

All of the complexity resides in the backend, away from the customer.  A clean interface is one which never forces the User to “hunt around.”

It’s why we’ve believed that Natural Language Processing for mobile web experiences is an excellent UX.  With the mad rush to create NLP “virtual assistants” who can Search across multiple APIs, we’ve remained focused on “brand agents” with specific knowledge pools and perhaps more importantly with brand specific “voices” (even in text) rather than a generic spokesperson who “speaks for many.”

We’ve continued to simplify our front-end design and UX over the past half-year, continuously “removing” visible elements in order to keep the interface as direct as possible.  While we could create more hyperlinked activity with the inclusion of graphics, video and audio, we are endeavoring to keep everyone on the “single page.”  From our analytics, we see this working exceptionally well.

Virtual Agents Designed for Mobile First

The contentAI platform was specifically designed for “mobile first” engagement – With virtual agents and characters who differ greatly from “online” bots and virtual agents.

That key difference is with our “proactive” (or, “motivated“) virtual agents/characters who view each engagement as if it’s a short scene that has a logical conclusion (contextual to the mobile location; even if that location is someone’s couch).

It was refreshing to read the analysis of Fred Wilson’s recent “mobile first” post on Venture Beat this morning:

http://venturebeat.com/2012/07/01/vc-fred-wilson-says-mobile-is-where-the-growth-is/

With some key take-away lines:

 …mobile doesn’t not reward “feature richness” but rather “light services.”

And:

 The companies that treat the mobile and web experiences differently are likely to prosper.